A Lament

Downcast eyes and tears and my heart like cupped, pleading,

beggar hands.

Have mercy on me, O Lord.

How long, Father, since I raised the cup to my cracked lips?

Since I beheld the mystery of Your broken body in a piece of bread?

I miss You, dear God, meeting me there.

My body is well fed and my soul is thirsty and hunger-stricken.

It feels like exile.  What are the words You can give to sustain me in this place?

Oh, God, be not long in coming for me upon the waves.

I see You there, on the waves, coming

and, I see the next frame, my face buried in the folds of your garment,

pressed achingly close, your strong arms ’round me.

But I never see the in-between, the rescue, or how long it was

between near-drowning and safe.

Give, Father, oh please, some driftwood upon which I can rest my head

’til You rescue.

 

 

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What The Wave Can’t Take

Sometimes the sermon isn’t scratching where it’s itching.  It was on marriage and keeping up the “puppy love” and such, and I looked at the trees dancing in the wind out the window.  It’s not that we’ve arrived when it comes to blissful matrimony, but it’s that we’re learning something else right now.  We’re learning about suffering and dying to self and having faith that the Lord provides when the bills stack up high.  And as it goes in the upside-down world of faith, we’re quite close, quite one.

We have to stare down a startling set of facts at present; the reality that this week we need to pay a bill for $1,800 for prenatal care.  Our tenant just moved out after not paying rent for four months, leaving us $4,000 short.  School taxes are due, which add a few more thousand.  We don’t have the sorts of margins in our accounts to absorb these figures.

Puppy love is the last thing I’m thinking about.  But money can’t be the first thing either.

I lifted Henrik up and out of his crib.  He was still asleep, his bum sticking up in the air, his little feet crossed, his cheek smooshed into the mattress.  As I lifted him, his legs squinched-up and his back arched in that way that the littlest of babies do when they’re picked up asleep.  It undoes me every time.  Cradling him close I carried him down the stairs, making sure of each step, because I never know when a Lego piece or a stray shoe could send me flying.

Henrik is bringing me my gloves as I type this.  He’s wearing these fuzzy blue fleece footie pajamas and a wool hat I made for him out of a thrifted sweater.  He’s gloriously cute.  All that blue makes his blue eyes radiant in the soft morning light.  Sometimes, when you can see the tsunami wave coming, it feels like God comes alongside and shows you some exquisite shells on the beach.  Um, God, shouldn’t we be running or something?

“I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” -John 16:33

The morning light is growing stronger, bold rays catching on the rungs of the dining room chairs, and wave or no wave, the laundry needs to be started.  Yes, God, I’ll keep walking with You, and I’ll keep noticing and appreciating the glory You pepper everywhere.  I’ll slip my hand into Your scarred one and trust that when the wave hits at least I’m not alone.  Never alone.

shell

 

 

On Incongruence, Living a Blessed Life in a Hurting World

It could be the pregnancy hormones or the fact that the world is outright brimming with glory and horror.  The tears are so used to riding my lower lids, to being blinked away fast or let run in a stream down my cheeks.

I curled up on my prayer bench and watched the wind move the boughs of the tallest of pines.  Edison was mowing the lawn, hovering over a bare patch and laughing as he was engulfed in a dust cloud.  There are reasons I have to scrub a dirt ring off the tub and a reason I smile out the window at my son.  Because I don’t deserve any of this joy and a man was beheaded yesterday because he was a Christian.  I watch the boughs sway and I just pray, “Lord, have mercy”.

Here the oatmeal raisin cookies are baking in the oven and there the village is without water for days and children are dying.  Children are dying and how can that not give your soul a shock?  My eyes ride heavy.

It’s the incongruence, see?  The blooming flowers and dark red tomatoes and Henrik smiling his pie-eating grins and the baby kicking at me within and all this beauty and safety and peace.  And then over there, ebola ravaging whole cities, ISIS on a killing spree, women and children forced into sexual slavery, and temporary truces in an ancient grudge gone ballistic.

So, yes, we pray and we give, but I hurt for those suffering and I feel a deep shame that my small problems make themselves large in my mind.  So what else can I ask of the Lord, beyond His mercy, His intervention?  I ask to be kept brimming tears.

I ask to be kept vulnerable to the pain of others, I ask Him to beat back hopeless apathy, I ask Him to keep me awake.  I ask Him to keep my wallet open and my heart merciful, and my soul full of intercession.  I ask Him to snuff out the heresy that prayer doesn’t shake the very foundations, that it doesn’t effect powerful change.  I ask Him to keep me thankful for His gifts, but with the very real sobering sense that it’s rare to have so many.

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Faith Like Perfume

It’s four days into summer break and it’s been four days of rain and gray.  Which keeps all the four inside with me with no open spaces to vent their considerable energy.  I directed some of that energy into cleaning projects.  While de-junking the boys’ room we unearthed three library books and a bevy of orphaned socks.  We had a great shoe trying-on-athon and managed to part with the scrappiest of broken velcro sandals.  School papers were purged and backpacks cleaned out, and I felt I could exhale a bit.

I can’t sing any worship song these days without blubbering.  We’ve visited many churches but have yet to find that peaceful certainty from God that “this one” is “it”.  Oddsfish though, in all this uncertainty and bumbling, my faith is strengthening.  I feel it like a firm floor beneath my feet, sure and steady.  It comes as the whispered assurance daily, “You are held.  God knows.  He is in control.  Trust.”

It isn’t logical; that my faith would be stronger in the midst of disconnect with the Body, disconnect with our beloved vocation of overseas missionary work.  But so it is.

I’d always heard that perfume is made of potently stinky (and disgusting) ingredients.  That smelled full strength they’d near knock you over, but at a certain dilution they round out a sweetness, a freshness, a zing.  In there is castoreum, a product of a castor beaver’s genital scent sac.  Or musk, a sexual secretion of the male musk deer.  Or ambergris, which is, simply, whale vomit.  But put together, at the right dilutions, in the master hand of a perfumer, something altogether surprising and pleasant is made.

So in the oddest of ways, via suffering and flagging hope, disappointment and heartache, my faith and trust in my heavenly Father have grown.  This is both a mystery and a grace.

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Just. Walk.

IMGP4158 Sometimes my kids make squirrel herding sound easy.

What is it in kids that makes them zigzag back and forth while walking, makes them climb every set of steps, and tip toe across low retaining walls, and swing around the sign posts?  What makes them take a dead stop right under your feet or walk backwards or make mad dashes that knock a sibling over?

We walked home from a church gathering tonight and as usual the children were scampering everywhere, catching lightning bugs, wrestling, and carrying on.  Sometimes this makes  me smile the benevolent smile of a content mama.  Other times it makes me cranky and weary.  “JUST.  WALK.  FOR.  THE.  LOVE,” I’ll bite out between clenched teeth, like enunciating would soften my words too much.  Some days I just can’t handle one more moment of exuberant wildness.

This pregnancy has been a rough one; lots of exhaustion and nausea, probably exacerbated by taking care of four other high-energy little ones.    Not trying to complain, but it helps to frame why my reserves of patience and good humor are running on fumes.  But just here is a place where deep change can be wrought.  Just here where the world would say, “Yeah, see?  THAT’S why I’ll never have that many kids.”  Just here where suffering is taken to be an altogether horrid and avoidable thing.

I get cranky when I fast.  My temper grows short and I feel like a walking ball of irritation.  How does a grumbly tummy cause such a sour attitude?  Because we are mind, body, spirit, not divided in neat boxes but smeared all through and through.  A sad thought produces our eyes to drip.  Embarrassment flushes our face red.  An empty belly makes us hangry (hunger-angry).  But I don’t avoid fasting because it’s unpleasant; I know too well the humbling that chastens my heart as I see my sins so very un-masked, so very laid-bare.  Because we feel we are awfully good and nice when we’re well-fed and feeling super.

Suffering, if not run from, if borne well, can serve our souls.  Through it God trains and breaks our whining flesh, making us stronger from the inside out.  He causes us to know our selfishness, our self-centeredness, our weaknesses thoroughly.  Knowing them, we can watch out for the rearing of their ugly heads.  We are awake.  Pain awakens.

The breaking of the alabaster box and the anointing of the Lord filled the house with the odor, with the sweetest odor. Everyone could smell it. Whenever you meet someone who has really suffered; been limited, gone through things for the Lord, willing to be imprisoned by the Lord, just being satisfied with Him and nothing else, immediately you scent the fragrance. There is a savor of the Lord. Something has been crushed, something has been broken, and there is a resulting odor of sweetness. –Watchman Nee

 

If thou art willing to suffer no adversity, how wilt thou be the friend of Christ? –Thomas à Kempis

 

We all know people who have been made much meaner and more irritable and more intolerable to live with by suffering: it is not right to say that all suffering perfects. It only perfects one type of person …… the one who accepts the call of God in Christ Jesus. –Oswald Chambers

 

But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world. –C.S. Lewis

My husband has little caches of Aleve all over our vehicles, our home.  When he gets a twinge of headache, he pops a few.  He doesn’t want the pain, so he avoids it.  He has no patience with his wife, who flatly refuses to do likewise.  “The pain is information,” I say, “My body is telling me something.”  So I’ll go lay down, drink water, be quiet.  Both choices are valid, but not when we do the same spiritually.  When we categorically avoid doing things which might involve suffering.  When we don’t listen to the pain, nor to the God who permitted it to cross our paths.

I walked a mile with Pleasure
She chattered all the way;
But left me none the wiser
For all she had to say.

I walked a mile with Sorrow
And ne’er a word said she;
But oh, the things I learned from her
When Sorrow walked with me.

Robert Browning Hamilton

So when the squirrely children have worked on my last nerve, when I can feel anger pouring up my throat, and feel my tongue poised, ready to strike, just there, I can breathe a prayer past all that black, a prayer that God would help me, enable me, fill me, that He’d give me the grace to suffer well, to love well, to persevere.

And God smiles, ready to help.

Dancing In The Pool

poolThere is something about an indoor pool; how the voices and the light bounce around wildly.  I took in the sight of them; flipping, splashing, hollering, sputtering, and swimming with great gusto, their arms slapping the water while their ineffectual kicks didn’t quite break the surface until stroke three.  A young one swimming can bring to mind someone blindly fighting horizontally, all flailing.

I swam away from them, keeping all their precious selves in full view.  Do you pretend any more?  That faithful childhood voyage of the mind into fiction?  If you say “fantasy” anymore only lurid connotations surface, unless, of course, you follow it with “football”.  How telling that we’ve pigeon-holed that word into our culture’s favorite gluts:  sex and sports.

Well…there my arm extended to the side, my slow-moving underwater form all grace and effortlessly on pointe.  I was a ballerina there for some stolen moments, twirling, dancing in the pool.  The kids were none the wiser.  Any passersby would think I was engaged in some water aerobics.  Because adults don’t pretend anymore…do they?

It happens too, whenever I wear a dress shoe with a hard sole; you know the ones that make that delightful mincing click when you walk?  It’s when that click meets stone walkways or brick sidewalks, right there, I am transported by imagination’s fancy, to being a princess in a castle or out in her gardens.  Heck, I can’t even don an apron without a jolt of pioneer-woman stealing over my good sense.

Perhaps why I enjoyed the stage so much.  I got to actually act out a life I wasn’t born into.  I was definitely a method actor, donning not only a costume but a whole new self for the span of an hour.  It made my tears real ones and my emotions ran raw or giddy alongside my character’s.  In one play I was to stage-slap a fellow actor across the face (meaning, I was supposed to slap lower on his neck and not actually on his cheek). Every show I had to apologize afterwards because every time I was so into character that I’d slap him right across the face in indignation.  Oh dear.

I moved back across the pool, satisfied by my temporary transport to the ballet stage, and became, in turn, a shark chasing minnows and a dolphin to ride on.

I thought about pretending, and really, I think it is more commonly engaged than realized.  Even reading a suspense novel, we have our hearts pounding, our palms sweat; we have in a way identified with the character and are living out what happens to them.  Television and movies are certainly voyeuristic and provoke engagement with our imaginations.  On a darker note, porn owes much of it’s consumption from the loneliness and discontent of men.

Pretending.

But here’s what I’ll promise you.  I may pretend briefly to be a ballerina or a shark or a princess fleeing in tippy-tappy shoes through her garden, but I won’t pretend to be okay.  I won’t pretend that life tips always in my favor, nor that my own sins don’t reek of rot.  I won’t pretend that faith is enough to wipe the sorrows away, nor that with Jesus at my side, I can make it through anything.  Because, really, He never said I could.  He only said that He would be with me, ceaselessly beside me, loving me.  I can’t pretend that doesn’t thrill me.  That the Lover of my soul, the Creator of all that is, is ever with me, ever loving imperfect me. That the sufferings of life on this terrestrial ball aren’t the eternal things, much as they pretend to be.

Give Us This Day

daily…our daily bread.

Help us to not ask for tomorrow’s bread, or next year’s bread, or a promissory note for a lifetime’s worth of bread.  For bread security.

Just, let us awake each morning, finding that your care has not slacked.  Finding ourselves unforgotten.

daily1Food for the stomach and words for the soul.  In this time of rupture and grief, how very many biscuits and loaves and baguettes of sustaining words have been given to us.  How many arms linked together and hands reaching to catch us when the floor gave way.

Invitations to churches, to dinners, to communities.  It is overwhelming in the best sort of way.  It is like setting out on a journey, armed with a bit of bread and a bit of cheese, and being called in to a neighbor’s backyard barbecue feast.  And then another neighbor’s.  And then another’s.

Amazing.

Daily bread and surprising bread.  We are being sustained and cared for.  I gave birth to one of our sons in Chile, far from the supportive care of family.  I remember how vulnerable I felt.  And then the midwife drew near.  She kissed my cheeks when the pain came hard.  “Esta bien, mamita, esta bien”, she’d murmur.  I melted into that comfort.  I didn’t feel vulnerable; I felt mothered.

I feel the same now.  It doesn’t take away the pain, but frames it within bounds; it tells the pain that it is not the end of the story, nor the narrative of my life.  It is a passing thing, scream though it may.  It will be endured alongside the love and care of others; it will be borne in empathy.  It will accomplish its work within me and through me, and good will come of it, because God is not in the habit of wasting anything.

And again that verse from Isaiah….

Though the Lord may give you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, yet your Teacher will not hide himself any more, but your eyes shall see your Teacher.  And when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left, your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.”daily2