Thursday, November 27, 2008

A Thankful Heart

Katherine insisted that I come home (to Georgia) for Thanksgiving.

It has long been one of my favorite holidays. Christmas is ridiculous these days. It makes my head hurt. But the capitalists have never quite figured out how to capitalize on quaint little pious people with funny hats, collars, and shoe buckles. I guess the whole concept of “giving thanks” is somewhat alien to Madison Avenue anyway. It doesn’t come naturally to any of us.

I’m trying to teach James to say “please” and “thank you.” Of course it is usually during a feeding time. As he is twisting, bouncing, pointing, and grunting for MORE, even with a full mouth, I slowly refill the spoon and tell him to say, “Please, Mimi.” Then, once I plop the bite in his mouth, I say “Thank you.” (Actually, I say it the way a baby would...“tank-tu”...sorry, Purists.) He is completely clueless. What do these words have to do with the Divine Right of Kings (and other small tyrants) to be FED? That is our first perceived need, and we demand that it be met right there on the delivery table. HOW DARE YOU NOT FEED ME IMMEDIATELY??? I DIDN’T ASK TO BE BORN, BUT SINCE I’M HERE, YOU’D BETTER SNAP TO IT!

We carry much of that “entitlement attitude” into adulthood. Especially in this country. We have our inalienable rights! We want what we want, and we deserve to get it! At a very young age, a child learns all about “me” and “mine.”

Sometimes it’s hard to be grateful for that which we consider a right, not a privilege. Human beings being as we are, I think it’s (unfortunately) necessary for us to live through some loss in order to develop a truly thankful heart.

Like it says in the song, “Don’t it always seem to go, that you don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone...”

***************

Being home, the New Reality seems like a dream.

When I arrived, my sweet husband had the house completely decked out with all of our old Thanksgiving stuff. Fresh flowers are everywhere, aromatic fall candles glow, a cozy fire burns in the family room. Even though everything about our lives has changed, it seems the same here. The halls are lined with pictures; every chest of drawers is covered with them. A relative refers to the stairwell descending to the basement as our “Wall of Fame.” All of my girls’ corny Olan Mills school pics are there, vying for space with high school and college honors. There is Katherine beaming beatifically at age 4. Awkward at 10. Aglow with life at 16, holding flowers. Gorgeous at 20, wearing crowns. Smiling, smiling, smiling, smiling...

There was so much to smile about.

Who knew that a smile could become such a rare and desperately-sought-after treasure?


I’m not going to beat myself up about having been so disgustingly unappreciative of the wonderfully good times of the past.

I can still conjure them up in my mind and savor them like a delicious meal. I can sneak back and take a peek into my grandmother’s fragrant house packed with 50 people for Thanksgiving lunch. Every surface laden with decadent dishes...uncles arguing over football in the den...kids playing football in the backyard...the women laboring over one last preparation for the feast...and the children, dressed up like Pilgrims and Indians, getting ready to sing for us. Katherine, as the first great-grand, was always the director of the motley little choir. “Come, ye thankful people come...” they sang, as feathers bobbed and collars slipped.

The irony is that when the blessings are bountiful, we tend to take them for granted. But through the telescope of change and loss, we are enabled to see them as the gold they always were. Then, finally, comes a rich, warm flood of gratitude. Since God exists outside of time and space, I like to think that retro-thanks pleases him as much as timely thanks.

I am more aware than ever that nothing here lasts.

Now the joys are sweeter than before. The peace is deeper. The gratitude is greater. I have never had so many reasons to be thankful. What could possibly be greater than the gift of a life?

But there are still reasons to be sad. That happy, smiling little girl of mine will not be eating her third piece of chocolate pecan pie today. Her Thanksgiving feast will be delivered via a tube in her abdomen. She will not be running around the house making the party happen. She will be sitting in a chair struggling to communicate, while the party flows around her.

I wish God would fix her today. But even if He doesn’t, I am going to thank and praise Him anyway. And in doing that, I will be offering Him a feast on Thanksgiving Day. I believe that the thanksgiving offered out of our places of sorrow is especially sweet to Him. “For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come. Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praisethe fruit of lips that confess his name. And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.” (Hebrews 13:14-16)

I will choose to praise Him in the storm.


On this day of thanksgiving, may you know how very deeply you are loved.

It is my prayer that each of us will be enabled to receive the gift of a truly thankful heart.......even before the next earthly loss comes.

Because it will.

God bless us, everyone.

**************

“Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe." (Hebrews 12:28)

“And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.” (Colossians 3:14-16)



Now thank we all our God,
with heart and hands and voices,
who wondrous things has done,
in whom this world rejoices;
who from our mothers' arms
has blessed us on our way
with countless gifts of love,
and still is ours today.

O may this bounteous God
through all our life be near us,
with ever joyful hearts
and blessed peace to cheer us;
and keep us still in grace,
and guide us when perplexed;
and free us from all ills,
in this world and the next.

All praise and thanks to God
the Father now be given;
the Son, and him who reigns
with them in highest heaven;
the one eternal God,
whom earth and heaven adore;
for thus it was, is now,
and shall be evermore.
(Martin Rinckart, 1663)

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Next Right Thing

Okay, so now there’s all this pressure to say something Meaningful and Profound.

Sorry, but don’t expect consistency in that department here.

Sometimes the best thing you can do is just show up.

Period.


When every fiber of your being is screaming, “NO, NO, NO!”........ you still make an appearance.

And that is enough.

The grace is sufficient.


A beautiful, old, battered friend of mine once told me, “Kim, you just do the next right thing.”

No matter what.

Do the next right thing.


Don’t look down, or you’ll drown.

Do it even if no one’s watching:

THE

NEXT

RIGHT

THING.


That is all.


Really.

Friday, November 21, 2008

A Day In The Life...

6:00 a.m.-Loud gibberish on the baby monitor
6:30- Loud crying...Granny gets up
6:32- Change diaper
6:35- Watch Baby Einstein (aka “Baby Crack”)
7:00- Fry egg with screaming baby on hip
7:05- Feed baby egg, oatmeal, and cheerios
7:30- Wrestle baby to ground and dress him
8:00- Help his mom finish getting ready
8:45- Wave byebye
9:00- Play with toys, read books, watch more Baby Crack
10:00- Put baby down for morning nap
10:05- Collapse on sofa, check email
10:25- Straighten house up
11:00- Shower, dress
11:50- Baby cries
12:00 p.m.- Fix baby’s lunch: grilled cheese, banana, string cheese, peach, milk
12:10- Wash breakfast dishes
12:15- Daddy and Mommy back from rehab
12:30- Eat lunch
1:00- Go to “grocery store” recommended by son-in-law
2:00- Go to real grocery store to find missing items
3:00- Unload groceries
3:30- Prepare to take quick nap
3:35- Baby wakes up from 2nd nap
3:40- Play with baby while everyone else takes a nap
3:45- Try to convince baby to play nightnight; play horsie instead
4:30- Resort to more Baby Crack
5:00- Change 6-wipe stinky diaper
5:15- Bathe baby
6:30- Feed baby supper
7:15- Baby goes nightnight
7:30- Fix grownup’s supper
8:15- Eat supper
8:30- Watch tube
9:30- Wash dishes
10:00- Baby wakes up and cries
10:10- Pat baby back to sleep
11:00- Get ready for bed
11:05- Read for 5 minutes
11:10- Go to sleep
12:30 a.m.- Baby screaming
12:35- Change massive diarrhea diaper
12:40- Still screaming
12:45- Walk around living room and 'ticka ticka'* on couch
*(Arnoldese for "tickle," as in a back)
12:50- Fall asleep with baby on couch
1:30- Sneak baby back to bed
1:32- Go back to bed
4:00- Baby screaming
4:05- Stumble around with baby
4:10- Get in bed with baby and 'ticka ticka'
6:30- Wake up with baby’s finger in eye
6:31- Praise God, from whom all blessings flow
6:32- Kiss baby all over his beautiful snotty face

7:00 a.m.- Fry egg with screaming baby on hip...

Friday, November 14, 2008

Jesus and Bridget Jones

I have something to confess...


I absolutely adore “Bridget Jones' Diary.”

Yes, I know it’s raunchy and silly. I know it contains gratuitous sex and foul language.

Still, it remains one of my all-time favorite tragi-comedies.

One of my kids got this the other night. She and her sister were watching it on the tube in LA, while I was back in Athens doing fun things like voting, getting a flu shot (hear that, Mother?), and a mammogram. That particular daughter and I had exchanged some ‘difficult’ words the night before I left LA, so I was elated to receive the following text (verbatim) from her:

“we’re watchin Bridget jones.....It’s true....I LOVE YOU just as you are. what would i do without you? xoxoxo.”

(Oh, the charming complexities of the mother/daughter relationship!)

But back to Bridget: She is the archetypal Everywoman. (And –man, actually.)

She’s a mess. Bridget sets self-improvement goals which she can’t keep. She makes vows and breaks them. Her daily fare is a foot sandwich, chagrin on the side. Her psyche teeters torturously between delusions of grandeur and abysmally low self-esteem. But even though her best is never quite good enough, she keeps trying. She ‘gets knocked down, but she gets up again.’

She is the secular embodiment of Romans 7. In some ways, I’m a lot like Bridget.

All she really wants in the whole wide world is what we all long for: to be loved just for who we are, warts and all. She wants someone who thinks she’s worth it...someone who believes in her potential whether or not she ever comes close to reaching it. Bridget wants a man willing to fight for her. She wants someone who just wants her, thick or thin. (Pun intended.)

Being a lit-freak, I appreciate author Helen Fielding’s clever transposition of some of the early 19th Century characters (or types) from Pride and Prejudice into 20th Century London. Quite a cultural contrast...yet ‘the more things change, the more they stay the same,’ as the French say.

Just as Elizabeth Bennett is shocked to find true love where she least expects it, so Bridget is obliged to lay aside the prejudice of an initial bad impression and the pride which might force her to cling to it. Faced with a “You can be right, or you can be happy” dilemma, she wisely chooses happiness. (At least for a while.)

The pivotal exchange of dialogue between Bridget and the 20th Century Mr. Darcy:

Mark Darcy: I like you, very much.
Bridget: Ah, apart from the smoking and the drinking, the vulgar mother and... ah, the verbal diarrhea.
Mark Darcy: No, I like you very much. Just as you are.

JUST AS YOU ARE.

And that, my friends, is the bottom line of the Good News.

We are loved just as we are. More than we can possibly imagine.

(...because that kind of love is a rare gift among human beings.)


In the past 6 months, I’ve had the privilege of witnessing this kind of love lived out to the extreme.

***************

A cherubic young man with a boy’s face can’t contain his grin. The sparklingly beautiful bride beams. Handel’s Chorus majestically pours from the church organ, rattling the tall windows of the elegant antebellum structure.

Flash to the reception. It is an absolutely gorgeous day. A too-good-to-be-true Hollywood set day. The November Georgia sky is a brilliant Carolina blue. Heaven’s weather. Delicious breeze. Gorgeous flowers everywhere. Clink of glasses. Tempting aromas. Family. Friends from around the globe. Mellow music outside, rockin’ vibes inside. Uncontainable electric joy ricochets off the columns and floats up into the pale sapphire sky like an escaped balloon.


Laughing and waving wildly, Barbie and Ken are whisked away in a limo to their assured happily-ever-aftering.

The DVD ends.

The mothers of the bride and groom exchange quick glances.

I get up off the sofa and go into the bathroom.

The contrast is so breathtakingly extreme.

***************

I, (name), take you (name), to be my (wife/husband), to have and to hold from this day forward, for better or for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish; from this day forward until death do us part.

***************

But this is not what the boy in the DVD signed up for.

The girl he fell head-over-heels in love with was not the kind of girl who needed a man to hold her up. A young man would consider himself lucky if he could even catch up with her. The girl in the DVD was the kind of girl who inspired songs. The lyrics to a particularly catchy one written in her honor (/at her expense) by a college band included the line, “Hold on, Katherine, you’re movin’ way too fast...” That girl was a mover and shaker. She made things happen.

That beautiful young bride was a force of nature. Heads turned when she entered a room. People listened when she spoke...which was in a loud, clear, articulate voice. She was a passionate, motivating speaker. She was a compassionate, empathizing friend. She was the aroma that drew people in, the glue that kept them together.

She seemed to be uniquely blessed. She won awards she didn’t seek, accolades she never expected. She was a “winner.” She provoked intense loyalty in some, envy in others...as those who run outside the pack always do. She was a klutz who won beauty queen titles, a prude who was adored by the frat boys who chose her as their sweetheart. She was loved and respected by professors and given prestigious responsibilities. She was a bright and rising star, with potential reaching to the skies. She had everything the world considers of value...brains, beauty, talent, popularity, ambition...the whole package. And in spite of all that, she was even a nice person.

So she headed to California to pursue her dreams, which seemed easily within her reach.

The young man said, “Whither thou goest, I shall go...”

Little did he know where that would lead them.

***************

They had to cut her wedding ring off in the emergency room.

Last week, for her fourth anniversary, her husband gave her another one. This one is even more beautiful than the original. It is an “eternity” ring....a circle of diamonds set in white gold. The fiery furnace of adversity has unveiled the true gold of eternal, selfless, unconditional love. The diamonds sparkle as a reminder of the secret treasures they’ve found hidden in the darkness. The circle, of course, represents love without end.

The wife is now very altered from how she appeared in the wedding DVD of four years ago. I know that there must be times when her husband misses her as she used to be...the sound of her clear, strong voice...her laugh...her infectious energy...her zest for life...her efficiency at solving problems, her ability to make everything okay. But the love he evidences now seems deeper, stronger, richer than before. There is an amazing gentleness as he takes care of her basic needs. There is actually even joy...as he fills her feeding tube, bandages her damaged eye, wipes her nose, helps her with a shower on onto the toilet....as he cooks and cleans and does the laundry and changes diapers....as he plans 1-year-old birthday parties and fields phone calls and emails and fills out grocery bags full of insurance forms.

I have been greatly moved in witnessing the mature love that has grown out of this seeming tragedy. The boy has become a man of whom I am very proud, and for whom I am extremely grateful. At an age when many of their peers are still ‘not over’ college, the love that Katherine and Jay bear for each other has ripened to a degree that many marriages never attain.

Shortly after Katherine’s surgery, a friend sent me back a present I had given her years ago. At the time, my friend was going through a very dark period and feeling unlovable. She was acting out of her pain. I gave her a silver locket with a line from a Shakespearean sonnet engraved on it to assure her that I still loved her no matter what. Now I have this locket hanging from the lamp next to my bed in LA. It is a wonderful reminder for me. The quote was taken from Sonnet 116:


Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments; love is not love

Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove.
O no, it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wand'ring bark,
Whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken.
Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle's compass come,
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom:
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

William Shakespeare


Oh yes, there have been impediments...and alterations...and terrible tempests in the lives of this young couple.

The love of which Shakespeare writes is a love that remains constant no matter what “alterations” occur in the beloved or in the relationship. But as appealing as this romanticized ideal of courtly love is, I don’t believe it is really possible to love that way unless we have first received and accepted an even greater love ourselves.

In The Four Loves, Lewis introduces the concept of “need-love.” I think the majority of what passes for love in this world falls into that category. ("I love you because you meet my needs in some way"... "I love you because of the way you make me feel"... "I love you because of what you do for me")

But in coming to a more mature and complete understanding of how totally, unconditionally, and sacrificially we are loved by our Creator (and always have been), we are set free from the bondage of our needs. Only then are we are free to love with abandon, and in doing so, we set others free from our expectations. Human beings simply cannot meet each other's deepest needs.

When we allow ourselves to be filled to the brim with the love of God, that inexhaustible love flows out of us in a steady stream. My son-in-law knows that kind of love. That love gets up at midnight to walk his wife to the bathroom or change a stinky diaper. (The baby's, not hers!) That love finds her more beautiful with a crossed eye and a shaking hand than he did on the day he looked into her gorgeous aqua blues and put a ring on her finger. (Plus, he's still just flat out crazy about her, as she is of him.)

I thank God that my 26-year-old son-in-law is so "rooted and established in love, that he has received the power to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that he may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God." (Eph. 3:17-19) And from that place of fullness, he is able to live out Christ's call to love my daughter selflessly, sacrificially, and unconditionally:

"A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another." (John 13:34)


If Bridget had just known Jesus, it might have lasted.....forever.

**************

"Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her..." (Ephesians 5:25)

Friday, November 7, 2008

...And Waiting

Several years ago, our pastor and his wife came to our house to pray for our family. We were living through a period that some might refer to as “Under Attack.” One blow came swiftly on the heels of its predecessor, allowing no time for recovery in between. Unrelenting stress and crisis were the normative conditions during this time. My husband and I were both exhausted, sick, and very close to the end of our ropes. We were shocked and disappointed that God didn’t seem to hear our cries for relief.

After talking for a while, our friends began praying for each of us, moving around the room to place healing hands on us one at a time. When they prayed for me, it was comforting, but I didn’t experience any major ‘bells and whistles.’ Then I sensed them moving around the room towards Katherine. I started getting chills. We heard the prayer momentarily cease as they whispered to each other something like, “Wow, did you get that?” accompanied by sounds of murmured wonderment.

When the prayer was over, our pastor said to Katherine, “I feel that God is singling you out for some special purpose...that you have a 'divine destiny.'" His wife corroborated, saying that she was startled by how strongly that impression had been made upon her as well.

We were slightly weirded out. With my active imagination, it was a pleasant fantasy to picture Katherine giving God the glory from the Academy Awards stage one day. At least it was a little distraction from the chronic pain that pursued me. Unfortunately, the prayer seemed to have had little efficacy for me. But later that evening, my husband, who is not in the least prone to exaggeration, reported a remarkable improvement in some of his physical symptoms. I try to keep an open mind about this kind of thing. “Well, good,” I thought/prayed, “at least he deserves some answered prayer.”

That night was a strange one. We had a terrific winter storm, and the power went out. We stumbled around the house by candlelight, trying to pick through the piles of stuff we’d been going through before the lights turned off. Katherine was scheduled to leave the house at 5:00 a.m. to catch a flight back to California, and her sisters and I had emptied our closets for her to pick through our hand-me-downs. It was chaos in the dark.

We finally gave up in the wee hours, and all crowded into the master bedroom for what little warmth the gas fireplace might provide. Unable to find my pain meds in the dark, and not able to use my heating pad because of the power outage, I ‘slept’ in the bed with my mother while the rest of the family crowded together in sleeping bags. I fitfully dozed off and on for a few hours, assuming that the pain would be so severe in the morning that I would be unable to move.

The next morning, I stumbled into the shower, still half asleep, and began washing my hair. Suddenly, I became aware that I was using both hands. I had not been able to lift my right arm above my head without severe pain for almost a year prior to that. Several health-care professionals had told me that it was likely that I’d never have another pain-free day, but we would learn how to “manage” it.

I was miraculously pain-free for the rest of the day. Although the battle was not completely over at that time, my pain level remained greatly diminished for months afterwards. (So much for bells and whistles.)

I began taking those spiritually-intuited words about Katherine more seriously, wondering if they actually might prove to be prophetic in some way.

What could God possibly have in store for her?


Obviously, it was nothing we could imagine.

***************

...And so we continue to await the unfolding of His plan, remembering that “His ways are not our ways, His thoughts are not our thoughts...”

The Waiting Room is not a new place for me...I’ve signed my name in here a few times before. So while I wait to be called back to the examining room, I thumb through the stack of old stories on the table to assuage my apprehension.

I start with the Big Daddy, Abraham. He always makes me feel a little better. (The whole Ishmael thing... pimping his wife not once, but twice...laughing at the angel...!!) According to my calculations, it was 25 years between the Promise and its fulfillment. Twenty five years of believing, doubting, trying, failing, trying again. And just when it seemed completely impossible, The Blessing came.

Then I look at Joseph. Oh, the arrogance of youth! We’re just so cocky until we get the stuffing knocked out of us a few times. I cringe at the remembrance of what a know-it-all I was in my teens and twenties. Maybe young Joseph was just impulsive and lacking in some social skills. Nobody likes a braggart. But it wasn’t all his fault that he was spoiled; parents should never have favorites. He had plenty of time to think about his own mistakes, however, in the 20+ years he awaited the fulfillment of his dream. Years of betrayal, imprisonment, false accusations, broken promises. His character was purged through the fires of burning disappointment until he was a man big enough to forgive the unforgiveable...a man worthy of being a prototype of the One who “blessed those who cursed him.”

Moses: From the decadent palaces of Egypt to the obscurity of the boondocks. Feeling like a pauper instead of a prince, he languished for 40 years of exile in Midian before reluctantly receiving the Call for liberation.

And then there’s Saul. I used to be under the impression that after his moment of enlightenment, when the scales fell off his eyes, he took off running to spread the News. But no. In “The Conversion of Saul,” Robert Deffinbaugh writes, “There may well have been a long time between Saul’s conversion and his arrival at Jerusalem.” In Galatians, Paul (formerlyknownas Saul) tells us that he did not go directly to Jerusalem to connect with his new brothers, as would be expected. Instead, he went away to Arabia and then returned to Damascus. It was over three years before went to Jerusalem and finally met Peter. First he went into the desert. Then he revisited the place where his life had been turned upside down. As driven and Type A as he was, Saul had to wait humbly until he had learned what he needed to learn. I’m sure he was chomping at the bit as the wild horses of his fiery, impulsive nature were being tamed. Snorting and pawing at the starting line, he learned the hard lessons of obedience and submission. And the even harder one of surrendering his will and plans.

Later, after much character growth, he would write, “...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. You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." (Romans 5:3-8)

At just the right time, God’s plan and purposes for Katherine will unfold.

As they will for all of us who wait.

***************

This is what the Lord says:
At just the right time, I will respond to you.

On the day of salvation I will help you...
Through you I will reestablish the land of Israel
and assign it to its own people again.
I will say to the prisoners, ‘Come out in freedom,’

and to those in darkness, ‘Come into the light.’
They will be my sheep, grazing in green pastures
and on hills that were previously bare.
They will neither hunger nor thirst.
The searing sun will not reach them anymore.
For the Lord in his mercy will lead them;
he will lead them beside cool waters.
And I will make my mountains into level paths for them.
The highways will be raised above the valleys.
See, my people will return from far away...”
(Isaiah 49:8-12)



The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness to mean...
(II Peter 3:9)