Tuesday, December 30, 2008
But, sometimes, I appreciate it even more when someone says: “Oh my God, how I hurt for you.” “Your precious baby......” “Your sweet Katherine.....” “I know how hard this must be for you....”
And I appreciate it still more when someone just hugs me with tears in their eyes, and says, “I love you so much. I haven’t stopped praying for you and your girl since this happened. I will continue to pray for all of you every day until she’s well.”
(Just FYI.........for future reference...)
But of course there’s absolutely no way anyone could know this unless they’ve been through it themselves.
No one else could possibly know.
I wouldn’t even have a clue.
But it really is okay.
Friday, December 19, 2008
Possessing all Kingdoms and crowns,
He gladly laid them down
At the Father’s feet, to give up his seat
At God’s right hand.
Willingly leaving his sovereign land,
He took a place most lowly:
Disguising what was holy.
He chose to pose a humble child,
Weak and helpless; yet he smiled
When at first he looked around
And smelled the mess and heard the sounds
Of simple earth and simple beasts
And simple, foolish us.
(He never even made a fuss.)
How circumstances change so fast!
Those first will, by the end, be last.
The wise, the rich, the proud, the strong-
In storming heaven’s doors, proved wrong.
And if I want to enter in,
I must become a child, like him.
The poem was written a few days before one of our good old-fashioned stress-laden insanity-producing Christmases of the past. Probably about three or four years ago. In a frantic last-ditch effort to tack a little Jesus on to the pagan parade of materialistic magic, I decided that instead of giving my friends one more knick-knack they didn’t need, book they wouldn’t have time to read, or high-caloric health hazard to eat, I would give that money to worthy causes in their honor. I chose two ministries which are close to my heart, having worked a little in each. One is in Russia, the other local and inner-city, but each involves children.
Being me, I decided that a notice about the donation wasn’t, by itself, sufficient as a gift-substitute. I had to spruce it up a bit before licking the envelope. I sat down on the bed with a legal pad, and the poem wrote itself in less than 10 minutes. Again, I’m not thinking this is Shakespeare or Donne. But the likelihood of me doing that without a “helper” is slim to none.
‘My’ words so often come back to haunt me.
Our ‘circumstances changed’ in the blink of an eye.
‘And in a moment...’
...life changed forever. Yours could, too, someday.
From the top to the bottom; from the front of the line to the back of the bus; from the heights to the depths. From a position of strength...to a position of weakness. From take-charge independence to child-like dependency.
(Which is where you finally learn to receive.)
There is someone who wants to give.
My reading yesterday: “Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must become your slave. For even the Son of man came not be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matt. 20:26-28)
The Creator of the Universe condensed Himself into the form of a poor Jewish baby in a cow trough...so that I could understand how to receive...
...like a helpless little child.
God bless us, everyone.
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
Sunday, December 14, 2008
I’ll condense it down to one thing:
It can be easy to feel hopeless in December. The chill of winter is more than just a matter of body temperature. It can seep into hearts as well. Leaden skies and shorter, darker days...holiday stress...not enough rest...impossible expectations...meaningless activity...reminders of loss...
...another year down the drain, with so many unmet goals...
...the cavernous gap between what is and what should be....
It is all overwhelming.
I think it’s the perfect time to pick up a warm little memorial stone from among the coals and hold it next to my heart.
This past October, I flew from California to Arizona to meet my husband for a family-inclusive business meeting. Shortly before take-off, an attractive, jet-setty-looking couple rushed aboard the plane. He was tall and handsome, with the air of an English aristocrat. She was younger...tiny, tan, sexy, and Euro-chic. Unfortunately, but typically, the airline had split them up. She stayed in the front of the plane as he loped down the aisle to the empty seat next to mine. I thought (briefly) about being polite and offering to switch places so they could sit together, but the flight attendant was already giving the safety shpiel. Instead, I just gave him a fairly civil half-smile/nod and immediately went back to my important reading material. (I believe it was either “Us” or “OK.”) I have mentioned before that I am not exactly a friendly flier.
IPod earphones in place, I stayed in my own cozy little cocoon for the entire flight, unaware that God had placed another unlikely angel next to me.
As is always the case, everyone on board bolted up the second the plane landed...and just stood there. For a good, long while. My upbringing finally got the better of me, and I made an attempt at polite conversation with my neighbor. Something to the effect of, “Are you traveling for business or pleasure?” When he answered, “Both,” I took a stab and said the name of my husband’s firm with a question mark at the end. Yes, he smiled, he was from the company’s office in Switzerland.
Immediately, we’re like family. That firm is adept at building a sense of international community. Unchauvinistically, he asks where my office is based. I explain that my husband works out of the company’s office in Athens, Georgia, thinking, “You really don’t want to ask me why I’m flying out of LA..” Of course it is the next logical question in the parlay of civilities. I want to simply tell him that it’s a long story, but decide that would be rude. I say something about being on the West Coast indefinitely because of a sick child, knowing that I will likely get one of the usual responses, “Oh, I hope it’s nothing serious” or “I hope he/she will be well soon.” The ‘Reader’s Digest’ version of the story unavoidably comes out.
He gives me a very intense look when I finish. “Tell her never to give up hope. NEVER,” he asserts passionately in his upper-crust Australian accent.
I stare at him, surprised at such compassion from a stranger.
Of course there’s a story:
His sister had such a devastatingly severe stroke in her late 20’s that the doctors told the family she’d remain a vegetable. Everyone was in agreement that it would be most merciful to turn off the machines. Except for the mother.
But Bruno’s sister went on to make such a complete and miraculous recovery that she was able to give birth to three more children after that. There actually was a story in the real Reader’s Digest about it!
I’m sure the other passengers on that plane had no idea why the delay at the arrival gate was necessary. I suppose I should feel a little guilty about it. If I’d been friendlier in the first place, God’s message could have been delivered in the air, and they probably could have rushed right off.
Because I’m so hard-headed, God pounded his message into me for the duration of the company trip. Although there were about a thousand attendees, my husband and I ran into Bruno and his girlfriend every time we turned around. We bumped into each other on the dance floor, in the elevator, by the bar, at the pool. Bruno is one of that rare breed of my husband’s height (6’6”), so it was hard for us to miss each other in the crowd. We became friends. We had dinners, drinks, and laughs. And with every encounter, we received a dose of encouragement about Katherine’s situation. The similarities in the two cases were surely not coincidental. The message was loud and clear. Hope. Hope some more. Never stop hoping. Impossible things happen. (...a future and a hope...)
At breakfast one morning, Bruno’s girlfriend and I looked up to discover that we were spooning fruit out of opposite sides of the fruit tray on the buffet table. The men were already in a meeting, so we had breakfast together and lingered over coffee until they cleaned the table out from under us. In her charming Spanish accent, my new young friend opened up about the tragedy of her mother’s recent death to cancer. But it was not a story devoid of faith or victory. She said one thing that I won’t forget: “Hope is the last thing you lose.”
Think about it.
In this time of winter blues, I’ve had my moments of that old hollow, lifeless feeling. I’ve gotten run-down and exhausted, and drifted down into the dark, gray place of faded, stale hope. I’ve even caught the Stones’ “Paint It Black” running through my head a couple of times. (And I want to kill whoever invented Daylight Savings Time. As the winter solstice approaches, it gets dark here around 4:30. The moon’s out by 3:00 p.m.!) I know I have to fight it, but it’s especially hard to cling to hope when you’re feeling crummy....and it seems that nothing’s changing or ever will. I have to remind myself of the signs received along the way, reexamine the evidence, and break it down to basics.
The word “hope” has become synonymous with wishful thinking. (i.e. “I hope it snows at Christmas.” “Hope Santa’s good to you!”) I don’t know about you, but I have a lot of wishes that don’t come true. That’s probably a good thing.
In reality, “to hope” is a much stronger verb:
intransitive verb1: to cherish a desire with anticipation
synonyms see expect
In my (supposedly) daily reading yesterday, this verse jumped out at me:
...And His name will be the hope of all the world. (Matt. 12:21)
It reminded me that I am not just wishing that the 'Fates will allow' things to get better. Or that improved karma's coming my way. Or that medical developments will accelerate at such a rapid rate that everything broken about Katherine will be imminently repaired. I am not fantasizing of better days to come with my fingers crossed...knocking on wood....holding a rabbit’s foot...rolling the roulette wheel...consulting a horoscope...chanting chakras...channeling positive energy.
When I read that verse, the Stones were replaced in my head by an old hymn. I grew up in a church which was founded in the 1820’s, and whose current structure was completed in the 1860’s or so. The original windows are probably 25 feet tall. I remember the rich notes of that hymn pouring out of the wonderful old golden organ pipes until those windows vibrated. The congregation sang:
“My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus' blood and righteousness;
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly lean on Jesus' name.
On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand
All other ground is sinking sand...”
I was clueless at the time...probably hungover from a high school Saturday night out in the college town where I grew up. But I get it now. In my long life, I’ve put my hope in lots of things that have sunk me right down into the miry clay frequently mentioned by the psalmists. I’ve put my hope in people and man-made structures and systems and institutions...in religion...in relationships... in myself...intellectualism...wealth...medicine...
appearances... being good,doing good... in luck and fate and in happy endings and fairy tales...
But there has only been one place I have ever placed my hope and not been disappointed...
...and His name will be the hope of all the world.
Oh, if only all those cutsie Santa signs emblazoned with “We Believe” represented a true belief in the Living Hope, instead of just a wishful, sweet, old myth...
Maybe there wouldn’t be such a letdown December 26.
“Then you will know that I am the LORD; those who hope in me will not be disappointed." (Isaiah 49:23)
And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us. (Romans 5:2-5)
Find rest, O my soul, in God alone; my hope comes from him. (Psalm 62:5)
Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. (Hebrews 11:1)
Friday, December 5, 2008
Hours of wholesome entertainment for the whole family! Forget Wii, trash your Nintendo, just rush out to your nearest retail establishment and buy the little box with the big bang of fun! (Batteries and baby not included.)
Seriously. I could watch this thing for hours. Of course there’s no TV in the miniscule “guest room” of the Casa Colina cottage. After I put James down for the night, or for one of his two (alleged) naps of the day, I come in here and sit on my little twin bed to check and make sure he’s settling down nicely. Forty five minutes later, he’s still rolling, and and I’m still watching.
Few people know of the Secret Lives of Babies.
See, they have this secret language that only they can understand. Babies are actually bilingual, but must feign an ignorance of English in order to escape the consequences of disobedience. (“What does ‘NO’ mean, Mimi?”) They pretend not to be able to walk very well, but in reality they are accomplished acrobats and trapeze artists. James is a one-man circus.
He pretends to be all sleepy and cute, sucking his passie while simultaneously rubbing his blankie and his big, brown, innocent eyes. He lies down without a fuss and rolls over on his stomach, presumably off to NiteNite Land. I close the door and listen. All’s quiet on the Front.
I go wash the dishes or whatever. By the time I return to my seat in front of the mini-tube, the show’s already begun.
James has a very busy agenda. First, he has to lecture all the stuffed animals in Babyese. He talks up a blue streak. He makes impassioned speeches, becoming extremely animated and, evidently, so funny that he can’t resist laughing at his own jokes. Then he practices his English on them. He has to tell Monkey, his favorite, “no no” repeatedly. Then he gives him a giant hug and a head crunch, which ends in a move similar to the one we’ve been instructed to use in extinguishing a fire: “Stop, Drop, and Roll.” Next he practices his new favorite word. Unfortunately, my attempt at instilling proper manners has backfired. Now he says “Thank you” alright; it’s just that he thinks it means “Give me some more!” All through every meal now it’s “Dadu! Dadu!” For impact, he sometimes puts the emphasis on the second syllable: “Thank YOU!!!”
After thoroughly thanking his audience, he picks up the tempo. He grabs his blankie, sniffs it, and says, “Ummmmmmmm!” like a seasoned gourmand. He picks Doggy up and bites his nose. Then he pulls Bunny’s ears. To make up for it, he croons strange and exotic melodies to comfort them.
Then the Circus acts begin. He somersaults across the bed! He spins in circles! He does 360’s on his head, butt in the air. He does yoga moves like a yogi...and then has a little toe snack as long as they’re up there. The bed magically becomes a trampoline, then a jail cell which he tries to escape with Houdini-like intensity. Finally, it is a floundering ship. I think he’s yelling, “Man Overboard!!!” as he hurls his animal friends to safety on solid ground, but I haven’t cracked the language code yet. Then he gives himself an enthusiastic round of applause.
In the final act, James plays the tragedian. He stands up and shakes the bars of his cage one last time, then does dramatic flops on top of his animal friends. He hugs them tightly, as if he might never see them again. Then he plays dead. Just when I’m convinced he’s finally asleep, he stands up and does one last dive. He scoots around until he’s facing the camera. He stares straight into the lense, looking at me looking at him. He knows Big Brother is watching. He puts his hands behind his head, elbows out, one foot resting on the other knee....the picture of nonchalance. He looks exactly like Huck Finn lying on the riverbank, chewing on a straw. He gives me a last triumphant glance, then positions himself in the one corner of the bed that’s out of camera’s range.
I hear heavy breathing.
I had a strange thought the other day.
With all of our peregrinations and perambulations...
...machinations and rationalizations...
...titillations and vacillations...
God’s just sitting there at the monitor, shaking his head.
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. (Hebrews 12:1)
Leslie Phillips God is Watching You
When your life's about to start - God is watching you
When you have a shattered heart - God is watching you
When you're a slave and when you're freed - God is watching you
When what you call love's really need - God is watching you
God is watching you
God is watching you
When you wake up in the night - God is watching you
When you're dancing in the light - God is watching you
When you don't need to use force- God is watching you
When you don't ever feel remorse - God is watching you
When you're a hero to us all- God is watching you
When you take that fated fall - God is watching you
When you hide your head in the sand - God is watching you
When you find a brand new land - God is watching you
When out of fear you judge your friend - God is watching you
When you let a stranger in - God is watching you
When you always have to win - God is watching you
When love requires that you give in - God is watching you
When you play the cards you're dealt - God is watching you
When you won't reveal yourself - God is watching you
When you believe enough to die - God is watching you
When you say your last goodbye -
(by T Bone Burnett and Leslie Phillips, The Turning)