Category Archives: Gospel living

widow and orphans. not really. part two.

It has been interesting in these last two years, while Ry has been wearing The Uniform full-time, to hear what people think about military folk, both the soldiers and their families.  The word that sticks out to me most is “hero.”  And I’ve heard it applied both to the one in uniform and the supportive spouse.  But here’s the thing:  I am not a hero.  My husband is not a hero.  We are 100% human.  Just as human as you are.  And just as needy for our spouses as you are.  You know how in love with and in desperate need of your spouse’s presence you are?  Yeah.  me too.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  I’m not whining here.  I just have a strong desire to stop the “hero” narrative.  Because I think it pushes soldiers into this supra-human category–this echelon above reality, where all the magical creatures live, like the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy and Spiderman.  And my husband ain’t no Tooth Fairy.  Well, actually he is the Tooth Fairy, but that just means that he’s more willing to stub his toes in the dark messy kids’ bedroom than I am and I hardly think that qualifies him as on the same par as Spiderman.

My point is, I think by calling soldiers and airmen and corpsmen (and those guys who float on and under the water) heroes, rather than demonstrating your great reverence for what they’re doing, you are actually diminishing their sacrifices by attributing their willingness and capacity to do what it takes to some sort of Super Power, or other-than-human characteristic.  What I hear is “You have something I don’t that makes it possible for you to do this.”  Embedded in that, whether you know it or not, is the implication that it’s easier for my husband and me to do this thing because we’ve been gifted with some . . . well, something, that makes it easier for us to do this than it would be for you.  So in some weird, backdoor way, it lessens the weight and cost of our sacrifice.

Now, I realize that people who use these words are trying to say the exact opposite.  I do.  You’re struggling to put into words your appreciation and your admiration.  And I so appreciate it!  So, please don’t misunderstand.  I’m trying to help you in the struggle and tell you about language that isn’t so helpful.  And, maybe it’s just not helpful for me.  So, maybe I’m just helping you help me.  But maybe I’m also inspiring you to ask the soldiers and soldiers’ families you know how they feel about the “hero” talk.  Ask them if it helps them feel better about what they’re doing.  And if it does, by all means! continue to tell them that.  Because I know that more than anything, you’d like to help and support and express your appreciation for soldiers and for their families.

For me?  What I find most helpful?  Words like this:  “Wow, you must be dying a little bit inside every second your husband is far, far away.  I know that’s how I would feel.”

Actually, I have a real-life demonstration of what has been most helpful.  A very kind woman came to me, looked me straight in the eye, asked me how I was doing, and affirmed that “Yes.  This is so hard.”  And then she proceeded to equate my struggles and challenges with those that she faced when she was widowed.  She didn’t say, “Well, at least your husband is alive.  [Mine is dead.]”  She in no way tried to point my attention to the bright side.  She stood with me.  Eye-to-eye.  And said, “This is like being widowed.  Even if it’s temporary.  He’s gone.  And you’re here trying to do everything on your own.  And you’re trying to hold it all together for your children, be mother and father to them, while your beloved is gone.  It is so very difficult.”  I could have kissed this woman.  If that wouldn’t have totally violated my rules about strict boundaries of my personal space.

And this widow is not an anomaly!  Some of the most helpful and supportive encounters I have are with yet another (relatively young) widow in my life.  She checks in with how I’m doing.  She talks as if we have something in common, as if we speak the same language.  I’m humbled by her, because I am very cognizant that my situation is not exactly the same.  My husband is alive.  And he will be coming back to me.  And I still get to talk to him on the phone and see his face via Facetime.  I am in better shape than either of these women.  And yet, and here’s what’s most important, I think, neither one of them for a second suggests that my situation could be worse.  Neither one of them lifts up before my mind the things about this deployment business for which I should be grateful. Not a single, “Buck up!” or “Suck it up!” Nor, “Look on the bright side!”  No.  They look me in the eye.  They know and respect that I’m suffering here (on my own scale) and they neither minimize nor deny it.  They do not hide from my pain.

And maybe that is the real key.  We humans have a tendency to run the opposite way from pain.  I know I do.  When I can.  Even when we see pain in others, our first reaction is to “RUN AWAAYYYY!! RUN AWAAAYY!!”  And maybe widows have gained the capacity to stare pain and suffering full-on, to stand in the midst of it, to feel and experience the full weight of it.  They know there’s no escaping it; that there is no way around it, only through it.

I know I’m not really a widow.  That’s why I stand humbled by the care of these two bona fide widows.  I am fully aware, and fully grateful that my husband will, indeed return to me in the not-so-distant future.  I’m even aware that on the Grand Scale of Suffering, this really is barely a blip.  (Though I would refer you to this post for my feelings about comparing pain and suffering.)  But I am struggling.  And hurting. And, yeah, suffering through these long days and months.

So, am I a hero, then?  No.  No.  Good grief I barely know what time of day it is and generally forget to eat and I use run-on sentences like someone’s paying me based on how many words I can cram between periods.  I am completely human.  As is my husband.  And I love my husband.  And he loves me.  And our day-to-day lives depend upon teamwork, mutual up-lifting and mutual dragging-along, upon laughter together and the sharing of household tasks like cooking/cleaning/laundrying/grocerying/garbage-taking-out-ing/etc. etc. etc.  Our day-to-day lives depend on these things.  Every day.  So, yeah.  For a year (more or less, give or take) apart?  It feels exactly how you would expect it to feel.  Difficult.  Painful.  Sad.  Lonely. Interminable. And all around pretty darned lousy.

Why do we do it then?  Well, because it’s his job.  It’s the vocation to which God has called him.  It’s the work for which he is most gifted and about which he is the most passionate.  Because he loves soldiers.  And he loves to care for them and to be there for them and to support them and to challenge them and to play football with them (and pretend he’s as young as they are) and to be with them. and for them.  To be walking, talking, breathing grace to them.  Right where they are.  That’s why we do it.

Because once our savior stared pain and suffering full-on in the face and did not turn away from it.  Because living the life to which he’s called us requires us to do the same.  May he take our little efforts and bless them and multiply them to be a witness—for as many who see—to the One who truly sacrificed, who suffered willingly and graciously, for true Life, and Life abundant.

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Filed under Army stuff, Family Life, Gospel living, marriage, my husband

Out of the Ashes

I’m not making any plans.  I’m not making any promises.  No schedules, no goals, no nothing.  I’m only here to say I’m thinking I might like to maybe write a blog post again. Every once in a while.  Maybe.  Or maybe just today.

I just went back and read my posts from last February where I talked about the RyLee Adventure in Colon Cancer.  I discovered there that I had discovered then (I’m a little rusty.  and tired.  bear with me.) that, apparently, there’s this pattern to my crazies.  Seems like lots of stuff gets stirred up in my life during the months of January and February and into March.  God comes in and shakes things up, stirs things up, makes some changes, leads us elsewhere, does something that leaves me feeling “Woah! what just happened there?!!”  Or, maybe that’s just how I see this year’s adventure.  I’m not sure it’s always been so LOUD AND IN MY FACE as it has been this year.

Yes.  Screaming.  God’s screaming in my face, but I don’t know what he’s saying.  Or it feels that way, anyway.  Perhaps it’s simply life that is screaming in my face and God’s there talking to me like always but I just can’t hear him for the screaming.

I don’t even know where to begin.  I did this last February and March.  Wrote about the crazy stuff that happened the previous January-March and how it led up to the stirrings of February through March of 2012.  And here I stand again.  Looking at this crazy pile of life and wondering where to begin to lay it all out.  Last year I did a handy dandy timeline.  I don’t feel so linear this year.

Another pattern I was thinking about the other day?  Lent.  Lent is a category in the menu over there on the right side of your screen.  Every year during Lent I pop on here and talk about my ambivalent relationship with Lent.  It’s often accompanied by some Grand Plan to blog every day.  I’m not even going to whisper such a suggestion this year.

Yet, here I am again. Thinking about Lent and my ambivalence toward it.  And here’s why I’m ambivalent:  I don’t want to observe it because I’d like to eschew all things Liturgical Calendar like a good Old School Presbyterian should (I’m not sure if I mean to say that I’m a bona fide Old School Presbyterian or if I mean to say I’m just kickin’ it ol’ school Presbyterian. either way . . . )  I’d like to eschew Lent.  As a creation of tradition, not Scripture.  Kinda like the church’s version of “Mother’s Day is just a ploy by Hallmark.”  Anyway, I’d like to eschew it (tell me that’s not just the funnest word ever, am I right?), and yet every year it seems I get shoved out into the desert during Lent.  To wander around and contemplate my vocation, and be tempted by Satan to just run far, far from God.  To thirst and hunger and experience a spiritual fast.  This year is no different.  In fact, this year might be the desertestest yet.

I’m in school now, you know.  Nearly a Master of Theology now.  They teach us fancy theological terms like desertestest here.

Where to begin to tell the story . . .

Well.  The past five months have brought me hurricane, ER-worthy injury to the small and vulnerable, pest infestation, flood, and fire.  All while I’ve been–in practice, not reality–a widowed mother to orphaned children.  This year my life decided to go Apocalyptic.  I might spend some time writing about that in these coming days or weeks or months.  Or I might not.

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Filed under blogging, Gospel living, Lent, theologizing

Seminary is stupid.

There.  I said it.

You get caught up into this net of This Is The Most Important Thing Ever!!  Getting the reading done (or close!) (or thinking about reading at some point when you have the time), preparing a precept discussion, papers papers papers!  Each paper is going to get to the bottom of this giant mystery, you will solve the problem!  You will enlighten everyone!  Exams!  Oh! The exams!  The pressure, the pressure, the pressure.  What will be asked?  How will it be asked?  What will I say?  How will I remember this and that and that and this and OH! how can I do this??!!  And what if I don’t get an A?  And will I be able to get into the Ph.D. program where I want if I don’t get an A?  Will my professor see behind the curtain and realize I’m just a big bag of hot air?  a joke?  that I have no business whatsoever of being at an institution such as this? of sitting and learning in these rooms where some of the world’s biggest and bestest theologians of all time have sat?  Will they know?  are they laughing as they read my paper?  “She thinks she can get a Ph.D. with this kind of work?!  Is she kidding?  How did she get in here?!”

and on and on and on it goes.  While you neglect your family, neglect your home, neglect your health, drink more coffee than anyone ever should drink ever unless, of course, they’re trying to convert their blood into coffee.

Meanwhile . . . there’s this woman in Lebanon, a refugee from Syria, there with her five children aged 4 to 14, in a tiny room/home/shack.  With next to no food.  Sleeping fully clothed.  (for warmth? for lack of any other clothes?)  Her husband back in Syria (doing what? safe? not?).  And her children are all clean and neat and tidy, with combed hair and clean (old, worn) clothes.  And she spends five hours a day teaching and educating them, so they don’t fall behind, so they can move forward and succeed.  And staying positive for them.  That they won’t feel the full impact of what’s going on in their lives.

And you hear this.  And you weep.  Because your children haven’t had a haircut in four months, they bathe once or twice a week, their hair is combed but never neat.  You’re freaking out on them from the stress on such a regular basis that your five-year-old is a basket case, fearful of the next blow-up.  You’re sending them away from you for a weekend so you can devote your time to your work.  To what?  To learning about the church from a hundred years ago.  To writing about the church of 500 years ago.  To learning about some people with some pretty freaking crazy ideas about god and how this god works and what this god does and what they need to do to get and keep in touch with him.  Because this.  this.  is what consumes you these days.  This is what is piled all over your kitchen counter right around the dirty dishes piled above the clean dishwasher because you don’t want to take the time away from all these “important” papers and tests so that you can create a neat and tidy and comfortable home for your family.

What the hell are you doing?  And why?

Because you hope.  And you pray.  That somehow.  Some way.  Through the insanity of all this time and energy focused on this pile of papers, you will indeed get to the heart of some problems.  That you will indeed have some insight.  Gain some wisdom.  That you can share with the Church.  That you can shape her so that she can witness to the Light.  The Light that shines in the darkness.  So that she may go and teach and baptize and bring Light and Life and Hope into a broken, broken world.  That she can point to Truth.  And Mercy.  And Justice.  And the source of true Peace.  You hope and pray that because of your study of the church’s history where there is nothing new under the sun, the Church will fulfill her mission of witnessing to the Coming Kingdom of God that has already broken into this fallen world and is yet to come in fullness.  Where peace reigns, where there is be no more war, no suffering, no pain, no tears, no brokenness.   Witnessing to the One who will bring it in fullness.  That in the midst of war and hunger and fear and suffering, people will know we are not without hope.  That there is a Savior who came and who is to come.  And that his Way is the way to and of and for Life.

Come, Lord Jesus.  Come.

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Filed under academics, Gospel living

Leaving town . . .

for a whole week.  A week.  Leaving town for a week.  Just me.  Not the whole family.  Me.  Going to go to two different conferences where I plan to use my brain to its fullest, soaking up religious studies and American church history goodies.  And I will not cook.  And I will not clean.  And . . . who are we kidding? this is the real difference:  I will not feel guilty for not cooking and cleaning.  I will also spend a weekend on my own, with no conferences to attend, simply a dear friend to lunch with and other dear friends to dine with.  And I will be staying across the street from one of the bestest theological libraries in the universe.  ::happy happy sigh::

So, this seems to be a good time to talk some about what I’m going to be doing next in my life, now that we’re over the whole colon cancer thing and Ry is fully engaged in his Army National Guard thing.

We are anticipating Ry’s going on an extended journey sometime in the near-ish future.  So, what seemed like a good way to pass the time?  I’m going to go back to school.  In September, I’ll be packing up my children and (hopefully) half of the things we currently own–having thrown out/sold/or stored the other half–and moving to my seminary alma mater.  I will be pursuing a Th.M. (master of theology), which is a one-year program, while my kids are all spending their days being tended by the state in public school.

It’s a bit of a crazy adventure.  I’m looking forward to seeing if my brain is still functional, and if I’m capable of writing in a way other than rambly and conversationally and stream-of-consciousness-ly.  I’ll be working in the Church History department, primarily, including a focus on missions, ecumenics, and history of religions.  Readin’ and writin’ and talkin’ fancy ideas by day; cooking, cleaning, feeding, bathing, tending, homeworking (my own and others’), loving by morning, night and weekends.

Crazy adventure.

My kids are mostly excited.  A little anxious, of course.  But mostly excited to go somewhere new.  Well.  Somewhere kind of new.  To be more specific, in keeping with the varied personalities of the 5.5-foot and under crowd in this house, each one feels a different sort of excited.  Isaac is super excited to be going somewhere new and different, on a whole new adventure.  Hannah is excited to be moving somewhere old and familiar–not that far from our old house, nice and near two sets of beloved friends-family, and close enough to our old church that we will be jumping right into the community of faith there.  Ruth?  Well . . . Given that Ruth still talks about anything in the past as having happened “yesterday” and anything in the future as “tomorrow,” I’m not sure what sort of grasp she has on the whole thing.  She’s sad to be leaving her bestie, though.  And I’m sad for her to have to leave her, too.  Because she really has gained her bestest and sweetest friend this year in pre-K.

I’m excited to be moving near our friends-families, too.  And I’m excited to use my brain.  And I’m praying God will use these months to help me sort out what it is I’ll be doing next.

“What’s that?” you say. You don’t know what you’ll be doing next?”

Why, no, I say.  I have no real idea.

“Well, what are you going to do with this Th.M.?”

I don’t know.

“Well, why are you getting it?”

I don’t know.

“What?!”

Well, it seems that God is once again telling Ry and Lee to pack up and move out, with no clear vision for what will come next.  We’re feeling a bit Abrahamic at the moment.  Packing up, leaving Ur, knowing we’re promised something really good “out there,” knowing that God has something specific in mind, but not knowing what exactly it will look like.  In keeping with the way God has spoken to us throughout our time together, God has us on a “need to know” status, leading us one step at a time.  And we’re following him.  One step at a time.  And, right now, the first step is move from this town we love, from 1/3 of a mile from the sister I love, from the school district and friends we love, to school for me.  And so we’re going.

Over these three years of being in the stirrings zone, of feeling an unsettling, of knowing some changes were coming, God has been kindly and gently preparing us for this next step.  He has gently, step by step, moved us from feeling content where we are, convinced we’d be staying forever, to where we are now:  standing on the edge of what comes next.  It’s not all been easy, it’s not all been completely neat and tidy.  But it has been slow and gentle.   Bit by bit over the course of the past two years, things have been broken down–like a camp being broken down, piece by piece, folded up, put away, until now I feel like I’m looking over the blank campsite.  With just our tent–our house–left to pack up and move on to the next encampment.

I was talking to Ryan about it several weeks ago.  Saying, “Really?  This is our life?  Just crazy?  not knowing where we’re going to be in 6 months’ time?  just moving from here to there?”  And he said, “Yeah.  Haven’t you ever read Genesis?  I think that’s just how it goes.”  And it landed right for me.  It landed right.  We’re nomads.  We’re being called to go places before we even know where those places are.  To move from place to place, serving God in each new place, in each new way he’s set before us.  And that’s not without precedent.

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Filed under 2011, Family Life, Gospel living, milestones

How did we get here?

Yesterday I made a mighty big promise (though I didn’t actually promise) to finish up the Army back-story stuff in a paragraph or two so that I can return to the colon cancer story.  Yeah.  I’m sure you believed me.  And these few lines here don’t count as a paragraph.  They’re a preamble.

So, you might be finding yourself scratching your head, wondering how we went from packing up Ry’s Army uniforms for good to Ry is now serving on active duty with the National Guard.  Well.  Funny that.  Ry and I try really really hard not to make plans.  I especially eschew the practice ever since I declared unequivocally that, 1.  The only way I would live in the South was if the Army moved me there and 2.  I would never ever never ever never ever never move back to New Jersey after Ry’s seminary years there.  18 months after serving Ry’s first call as a pastor–no Army connection whatever–in Georgia, we returned to New Jersey for me to finish up seminary.  It was then that I determined never to make plans again.  But, apparently, Ry did not get the memo.

We really, truly, to the bottom of our beings, believed that Ry was done with the Army when he resigned his commission.  We moved our family to this wonderful little town where my sister lives–a dream she and I had shared for 10 years! finally coming true!–to serve a wonderful little church full of wonderful, faithful, hard-working, hard-loving people.  And Ry was content.  And I was content.  And Ry declared, “I am never moving again!  I love this church!  I’ll retire from here!  I love our house!  I’m never moving out of it!”  And I said, “I hope we never have to leave this church, this town, this house.”

But, in time it became clear that Ry was not as settled as he had been.  I’m not sure when the unsettling happened.  Perhaps it was three years in to our “permanent” home.  Beset by disturbing dreams about the Army, Ry’s contentment with resigning from the Army began to break down as shadows of regret began to overtake it.  I watched it happen, while continued on his merry way.  His dreams spoke loudly and clearly to me, and this was not the first time in our marriage God had spoken to us through dreams.  Also speaking volumes was the way he put on his uniform to speak at local veterans’ events, and, even more so, the way his uniform hung on the coat tree in our foyer for months afterward.  I knew it wasn’t just due to our usual housekeeping failures.  It was there.  Written all over him:  Ry had left the Army, but the Army had not left him.  Ry’s pride and confidence in his service began to be replaced by what appeared to be shame over having abandoned his post.  And I could watch that no longer.  My husband had been a distinguished ROTC cadet, had served the Army with excellence each and every step of the way.  And I could not bear to watch him enshroud his military service in a cloak of . . . I’m not exactly sure what . . . shame?  embarrassment?  guilt?  regret?

One final episode broke it all wide open for me.  Clarity came through:  My husband needed to return to the Army.  In some way.  In any capacity.  Those uniforms needed to come out of their boxes–well, actually, they needed to be replaced with the new ACU’s that had replaced the old BDU’s, but that’s not nearly as powerful an image–and my husband needed to once again wear the Army uniform with pride.  God had spoken.  Loudly.  Clearly:  Ry’s call as an Army chaplain was not over yet!

It took several months to get the details worked out–although, not as long as it might have.  In fact, a couple months prior to the Final Episode, at a family wedding, Ry had run into a soldier who had passed through Ry’s purview when Ry was mobilized with the Reserves.  Both had left an impression on the other.  And it turns out, this soldier was now serving as a serving as an “officer strength manager” with the National Guard.  His job was to recruit officers for the Guard.  So, when Ry and I finally concluded that he had to get back in uniform, Ry knew exactly whom to call to get the ball rolling.  In fact, Ry had the soldier’s business card in his wallet from when he’d shared it at the wedding.

God.  God’s fingerprints.  All over all of it.

In December of 2009, Ry was once again commissioned.  This time as a chaplain in the Army National Guard.  And our intention, our expectation, our plan was for him to serve out his career doing the “one weekend a month, two weeks a year” thing, while continue to serve full-time as the pastor of this church we loved dearly.  Obviously, it was still the new Reserves/National Guard, but things had settled down considerably since Ry had resigned his commission in the spring of 2005.  And because we were confident that God was calling us to this new adventure, we were confident he would provide all that was needed for the journey–for both us and for our church.

Then came last January, 2011.  Word had already been out that Ry’s unit could expect to be deployed the following January/February.  For a year, then, Ry had been serving his National Guard unit on the standard “one weekend/2-week” schedule.  And then some.  And then a lot more some.  But on January 17th last year, Ry attended a meeting for brainstorming the best ways to provide help and support for his unit, which had recently suffered a tragic loss due to suicide.  Sadly, this was not the first success of several attempts and multiple ideations within his unit in the previous three years.  Out of that brainstorming session came the possibility that Ry would serve full-time for the year leading up to the deployment, providing counsel and support to soldiers who were preparing for ye another deployment. His unit was in need of the full-time care of a chaplain, yet it is highly unusual for a National Guard or Reserves battalion to have a full-time chaplain serving them.  While we thought it would be the best thing for his unit, we knew it was very unlikely to happen.  However, on February 19th, just two days after he was diagnosed with colon cancer, Ry’s orders came through, and, as of February 22nd, 2011, Ry began serving full-time in the Army National Guard.

Because he was serving in the Guard full-time now, he could not serve our church anymore.  Someone was brought in quickly, and this pastor has been able to serve our beloved church in Ry’s absence.  When he first left the church, he did so with the understanding that he would return in two years’ time, after his deployment.  That was the plan.

However.  (and perhaps you’ve caught on to the pattern by now)  Several months in, it grew abundantly clear that there was no way Ry could hang up his uniform to keep it in a closet for all but two days a month and two weeks a year.  He had donned the uniform, and found the exact place to which God has called him for this next phase of our lives.

It was devastatingly sad to leave our old church.  We truly had not expected to leave them, and certainly not after 5 1/2 years.  But our confidence in God’s providence wins out once again, and we look forward to seeing what all God has planned for that congregation.  We remain confident that Ry was called there for those 5 1/2 years.  Ry remains confident that it was indeed God’s call on him to hang up his uniform for those four years.  And now, we rest in God’s provision for the phase of Ry’s military career that will follow his upcoming deployment.

I realize I’ve just written 1188 words and never actually returned to the colon cancer story.  I can’t be trusted.  That much is true.  But Ry’s National Guard thing plays a big role in the colon cancer story, so it seemed a necessary interruption.

The thing with our lives, though–and I’m sure it applies to everyone’s–is that all of the events of our lives all so intertwined and convoluted.  It’s like looking at a tapestry.  You can’t just pull one thread out to follow the whole picture.  Each individual thread is connected to a web of threads that together make up the whole picture.  So, yes.  To tell the story of Ry’s colon cancer, I had to return to the early 1990’s and Ry’s ROTC career.  God has been weaving a breathtakingly beautiful tapestry of our lives.  He has.   I love to take the opportunity to stand back, and look at the whole picture, and then, take a closer look with a magnifying glass to discover how that red thread there is connected and enmeshed with that blue one over there.  How there are no straight lines, even if it appears so, that even the straight lines are intersected and redirected for a time.  God has woven a beautiful story for us.  And I look forward to seeing how it continues to evolve and progress each step of the way.

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Filed under 2011, Army stuff, Gospel living, my husband

Plotting it all out . . .

I’ve struggled to start a post in which I lay out all that we’ve gone through in this past year and all that we have planned for the next.  This is my fourth attempt, I think, because I’m just not sure how to start.  How to make it flow naturally from my thinkings.  But I think I’m just going to create an abrupt beginning.  I’ll just dive right in, starting with a summary of what all happened just over a year ago.

Here’s the list.  In sum:

Thursday, January 20, 2011:  first raised is the possibility of Ry’s serving full-time with the National Guard, working locally.  This looms as a large question mark for the coming weeks.

Monday, January 24, 2011:  Ry visits random doc in family doc’s practice for unusual, disconcerting symptoms accompanying an illness, which leads to abdominal X-rays and a scheduled colonoscopy.

Monday, February 7, 2011:  Ry visits family doc who hears symptoms of two weeks prior and expresses total lack of concern, but says, essentially, “Sure, keep the colonoscopy appointment anyway.  It can’t hurt, even if it’s unnecessary.”

Thursday, February 10, 2011:  Ry has seemingly overkill colonoscopy at the GI office of a church member.  “Overkill” colonoscopy reveals giant polyp that must be biopsied.

Thursday, February 17, 2011:  Biopsy comes back:  cancer.  margins not clear.  bowel resection surgery recommended.

Saturday, February 19, 2011:  Ry receives word that he will begin on active duty orders as of the following Tuesday, February 22nd.

Sunday, February 20, 2011:  Ry announces to our beloved church where we’ve been serving for 5 1/2 years that as of Tuesday he will no longer be serving full-time as their pastor, as, instead, he will be serving full-time as chaplain to his National Guard battalion.  He offers to cover Sundays until a replacement is found.

If you go back and look at the dates, you might notice that all of that happened in one month.  One. Month.  Whooosh!

And that one month had an impact on the months that followed, in fact, on this entire year that has followed.  In fact, that month pretty much sent our lives in a whole new direction.  There’s more to the story.  But it really all starts in that one month.

Well.  That’s not true.  God had been at work, preparing us for the major turn in our lives for some time.  I just spent some time looking for those blog posts where I mentioned stirrings and leadings and God-is-up-to-something’s.  I knew they were there, and I found them.  And, funnily enough, I found that they were written around the same time of the year–the same time as one another, the same time as last year’s crazy month, and the same time as this year’s reflections on all of these things.  Weird.

So, on February 14, 2009, I mark the start.  The start of the changes, the stirrings:

I’m in a stirrings zone.  I can feel God stirring me up, prompting me, poking me.  I’m on the cusp of something new, but I have no clear idea of what it is.  But my brain keeps stirring, stirring, stirring.  And while I walk around lost in my brain stirrings, the rest of the world spins right past me.  My house fell into total disarray–although we have recovered the downstairs–and my children are having more time in front of PBS than I prefer.  I’m living life as I think it.  I’m thinking and life is zooming in and out and past and all around me.  Yet I can feel Him.  Stirring, pushing, pulling, molding, calling, leading . . . and when I’m not feeling completely discomfited I’m feeling incredibly excited.

And then the following year, on March 5, 2010, I dedicated an entire post to the stirrings and leadings and what’s-going-on’s.

And I’ve already described what was going on the following February.

And this February?  This February I feel like things have come together.  The stirrings are making more sense, even if the details aren’t completely clear.

On Ry’s first day of seminary, a New Testament professor asked his class how many Gospels there are.  And one student stood up and said, “Five:  Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, and the fifth one is the one we are writing today.”  And I buy that.  I do.  Now the fifth Gospel is not authoritative, but it sure does testify to the Good News of Jesus Christ who continues to live and walk among his people.

I’d like to continue our testimony by unpacking some of those events I’ve laid out up there, as well as repercussions of each one.  Admittedly, it’s possible I want to do this for purely selfish reasons, to see how the whole year has played out, to remember, revisit, and make sense of it all.  But I do pray that my sharing our story will serve to witness to the One who wrote it, to his love, his grace, his strength, his power, and his enduring presence amongst us.

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You’ll Always Have the Poor Among You . . .

Do you know I’ve heard that said as if it were a promise?  that I’ve heard people building their entire philosophy of giving over that verse?

“Jesus said we’d never solve the problem of poverty.”

“I mean, there’s only so much we can do, Jesus said we’d always have the poor among us.”

“It’s OK that I travel and live the good life.  That I have all these things.  Jesus said we’d always have the poor among us.  So, my sacrificing these things isn’t going to put an end to having poor people.”

These are real things I’ve heard real people say.  Really.

And now I’d like to say:  Stop.  Stop and think about what you’re saying.  About what you’re doing.

Did Jesus really say that phrase as a promise?  “I promise you, friends, poverty will never be wiped from the earth.  Those poor aren’t going anywhere anyway.  It’s all part of my plan:  to keep some people poor.”  And did he then imply the corollary?  “So, relax about all your luxuries.  Live it up!”

Um.  Given the full scope of Scripture?  I’m inclined to say No.  That was not his point.  And that was not his intended implication.  We don’t have to go very far to find a glaring contrast—from Jesus himself!—to this sentiment.  One chapter earlier, really just a few verses earlier, Matthew 25: 41-46, Jesus himself describes the time “when the Son of Man comes in his glory,” sits on his throne, and stands in judgment of all the nations who are gathered before him:

“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.  For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’  Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’  Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’  And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

I don’t know about you, but that passage scares the pants off me.  In fact, perhaps it should scare the pants right off me and onto someone else who has no pants but is in need of some.  I look around my house full—FULL! Cluttered, even!—of luxuries.  Books.  Enough clothes for everyone to be dressed for seven days without washing anything.  Books.  Toys.  Oh-so-many TOYS!  Food.  Oh, glorious, glorious food:  the remains of several animals in my freezer, fresh fruits on my counter, milk, cheese eggs, rice, flour, sugar . . . you get the picture.  Blankets and heating oil and! Fresh water!  Right there! With the flip of a lever!  And (did I mention?) books!

I want for absolutely nothing.  Nothing.  And I have so much crap, I wish someone would come and steal 95% of it.  Imagine!  I live in a culture where having too much stuff is not only an option, but also a complaint!

Really?  This is right?  And good?  And as God intended?  I have a hard time swallowing that pill in light of the passage from Matthew I just copied out.  It would be much, much easier for me to quickly read down a handful of lines and hear Jesus’s reassuring words:  “You always have the poor with you.”  Whew!  I’ll always have the poor with me, so there’s no point in selling all I possess and giving the proceeds to them.  What kind of crazy nut would expect me to do that?!

Oh.  crap.

hmmmmmm . . .

There seems to be a bit of a conflict here . . . a conundrum if you will.  Scripture must be contradicting itself.  Surely that’s it.  Except only I don’t believe that’s possible. . . . Well, it’s Paul, so I don’t really have to worry about what it says . . . oh.  wait.  It’s not Paul.  It’s Jesus.  On both counts.  So, I can’t use that trick . . .

I’m just going to have to go ahead and consider the two verses in light of the entire witness of Scripture.  Like a good little Reformed girl ought.  I should stop for a minute and count up in just how many verses the Bible champions the plight of the poor, the oppressed, the widows, the orphans, the imprisoned (oh, no.  I’m not even going to go there today!).  How often Israel is punished for neglecting the needs of the poor, the oppressed, the widows, and the orphans.  To say nothing of passages about debt forgiveness and lavish grace.

But you know what?  I don’t even have to go there.  I can just read the rest of Jesus’s sentence.  (Go figure!)

“For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me.”

He’s not making a promise.  He’s not making a promise with a  orollary for life application.  He’s stating a simple fact.  To real people.  Gathered in his presence under difficult, difficult circumstances.  The Man is about to undergo torture and agony.  He’s about to have his body ripped apart, his lungs crushed, leaving him broken, humiliated, and experiencing abandonment the likes of which we could never, ever imagine.  And he’s saying to a woman who is coming to him with her lavish gift, her lavish love, her lavish devotion:  Yes.  Please.  Love me.  Comfort me.  Serve me.  I’m only going to be here for a little while longer.  One jar of perfume ain’t gonna break the bank.  Yes.  Bring me your best.  Offer it to me.  Lay it at my feet.  Give to me lavishly.  Joe who sleeps on the corner is still going to be there tomorrow, but I’m not.

And how do I know he’s not talking in more general, more figurative terms?  Because here he says, “You will not always have me.”  And when I flip just two pages in my Bible, I read Jesus say,

“Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

And that much I know is true.

Perhaps this whole “You will always have the poor with you” line must always be connected to, “but you will not always have me.”  And, perhaps we should live as if the entire sentence is true.  The implications of which, as I see it, give us two options:

1.  We will not always have Jesus because we have passed by someone who was hungry, thirsty, a stranger (at Coffee Hour, perhaps?), naked, or sick in prison, so we will be sent away into eternal punishment.

2.  We will always have Jesus with us, and, perhaps, in the form of hungry, thirsty, strange, naked, sick and imprisoned folk, and we had best love on him as lavishly as we possibly can, with the best of the best of what we have, with our very last penny if need be.

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