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Monday, December 31, 2012

The Stay-At-Home Blues


More and more of us these days are finding ways to stay at home. And once upon a time, the opportunity of staying at home to WORK and earn a living was a new concept that I can call nothing less than a God-send for me.

I made the transition to work from home in 1999. At that time, my career was going full-throttle. I had a secure full-time job that I was pretty good at. I knew my business ins and outs very well. And our company, while not free to be boundless in creativity due to a surplus of capital, was at least adventurous and young enough and seeking out the techie options to be among the first to move key employees off-site to home, rather than risk losing them because of transitions in life.

So when my daughter Emma was born, I was a delighted new Mom, and the way was paved for me to keep my responsibilities at work, keep my paycheck, keep my position, keep my mental engagement, AND be home with my new baby all the time. By phone and email and the amazing ability to run reports and print them out an arm's reach from my more-than-capable assistant who stayed in the office, I had the best of both worlds: stay at home mom and career manager of a business I loved.

Now, 13 and a half years and three more kids later, I still work from home. But the job has changed and the circumstances have changed. The older kids are busy and in school now (after a VERY difficult season of trying to homeschool three at one time, with different learning styles and different attitudes, and my own sense of purpose and optimism eroding day by day, until eventually, it became clear to me I was not equipped to both teach adequately and enjoy life with my children in that context. Now I consider a college-prep, academically sound, well-integrated K-12 Christian school to be the God-send). I am no longer in a management position because the division of the company I started with has been sold, and subsequently, shut down. I now do pure editorial work, and that means very little interaction with the others on my team. A conference call twice a week and a few well-focused emails are the limit of our interaction.

The gilded memory of the first work-from-home situation has certainly tarnished for me. And the days that pass in this very same context, this same house with these same drapes and these same dull views, the vacant houses (because all their tenants are at work or school), the empty streets, the quiet hum of hot water heater and gas logs...the days are heavy. And the days are lonely. The gilded option of the early stay-at-home pioneer, the woman who could do it all, is replaced with the weight of the lost community. With forced isolation.

I am lonely.

It's more than a state of mind, I think. Though I do not deny that I am at once hereditarily programmed, personally hard-wired, and environmentally conditioned to need human interaction more than some of you do, I say that and simultaneously adhere fully to the Both/And principle here: I need interaction. It's a condition that can be mitigated somewhat by training the mind to accept circumstances, but I do not believe it can be completely affected. There's a human need for community and common purpose. And that community and commonness of purpose is absent for me. The fuel I need to work well by myself is inadequate to keep me feeling engaged and content in isolation.

I have temporarily suspended the use of social media for this first month of the New Year (if it takes that long), because I need to accomplish some pretty big deadlines: a magazine to get to the printer and a major essay to write. I also hope to establish some good sleep patterns for myself, so that I am better able to make use of my time as well as cope with the ups and downs of life. But the distracting buzz of the Facebook News Feed in the background was the closest thing available, I think, to offer a counterpart to the footsteps from the office next door to the break room, or the sound of the other young person tromping down the hall and leaping to smack the EXIT sign before bounding down the stairs from my hall dorm to the student lounge below. Activity buzz from the past, pleasantly distracting and letting me know that I was still part of the world, even if moderately sequestered at the time.

So today, it sunk in. This creeping feeling of being closed off from the world around me, here in this one spot for most of the day, pressing keys clackety-clack on the laptop that applies less than two pounds of pressure to my thighs. My senses are underused. Seven billion people in the world, and how many will I see or talk to today? Tomorrow?

I sent out a call for help: the silent dispatching of a single email with three recipients generated one very alive phone call from my emergency first-responder. God, thank you for that. The apocalypse has not happened. There's still life out there, at least in Alabama. I'm no Legend and neither, really, is my friend in Alabama (though I suppose that depends on who you ask), but the relief of a friendly human voice who either really likes me or does a great job of pretending he does so stoked me back up to stable status and the ability to rise, stretch, pace a little, and find a reason to put on some lipstick and run a comb through the Merida-like locks that hadn't had such treatment yet today.

So, I realized it. I truly have it: the stay-at-home blues. I don't know that this will work for me forever. It filled a need for a season, but it became such a phenomenom that now, most workplaces actively seek for ways to keep their employees off site. Cut the rent. Cut the overheads. Shrink the parking lots. Reduce the coffee and bottled-water bills. And for some, it's a perfect arrangement. The work attire budget shrinks as does the gas-tank budget. The flexibility to manage hours around kids' schedules and to run errands during the work day can be a plus, as is moving a load of dirty laundry from the washer to the dryer at lunchtime, or taking a run mid-day without having to worry about offending with the odor or image of old sweat afterward. But I don't think I can do it. I need the vibrant interaction and the changing scenery of being out and among others.

For me, life opened up when I went to college. Lonely and always feeling a little like I didn't belong in the social circles of my preteen and teen years, I took on a challenging major in college that thrust a select number of us into tight quarters for most of our days and nights. I was desperately busy and confined primarily to one of two major spaces: my own drawing board in the studio, overlooking the drawing boards of dozens of others with whom I shared triangles and fine-quality pencil pointers and erasers often singing out loud together to the music the first arrival set to play when the hands on the clock reached 5:30 and our profs headed home to leave us to burn the midnight oil. Or I was in my own dorm room. There I worked on the floor facing the open door that led to the hall where traffic regularly tromped by, popping in for a hello or an invitation from time to time.

After college, I transferred much of that same type of environment to the workplace. Again, a desk or an office in the middle of the flow of other purposeful traffic. Life was whirling by, and my work was accomplished independent of but fully integrated with other people. Even if we didn't exchange much in the way of conversation at times, there was the implied community of individuals working toward a common goal, and needing the work of each other to get there. It was alive and vibrant. And life here at home is not.

At least today I came to understand why I have such difficulty staying here with only myself for company most of the time. At least the reason for my lack of contentment is identified. But don't be surprised if it's not too long before you see me, desperately crying out at the door of some office somewhere, like a farm cat climbing a screen, demanding, "Let me in! Let me in! I will work for fellowship!"

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Holy Ghost Story #3

It's that time again. One more Holy Ghost story told at our all-family Advent gathering tonight.

If you are close enough to see me, you can tell what this is on my wrist. Who knows what this is? Yes, it's a bracelet. What kind of bracelet? A pearl bracelet, right. And see these: matching pearl earrings. Those are going to be important in this story. This is a Holy Ghost story, and it's also a prayer story.

This one began some years ago when I was in a Bible study led by Mrs. Drake. We were studying the book of Matthew. You know that the book of Matthew tells about Jesus' life. Remember that Jesus told stories? They were called parables. Well, in the book of Matthew there are two short parables recorded that kind of go along with one another. They're so short they are barely more than a sentence each. The first one says the kingdom of heaven is like treasure buried in a field, and when a man found the treasure he gave up everything he had to buy the field and own the treasure. That's what God is like: so important we should give up everything to know him. The second parable is like the first, but it turns things around. This one says the kingdom of God is like a merchant who finds a pearl of great value. The merchant wants the pearl so badly that he gives up everything to own it.

What we realized in that study is the the treasure refers to God, but the precious pearl refers to us. Jesus was like the merchant, who gave up everything when he died for us, in order to have us. Well that parable really impacted me. I mean, I knew that God was something wonderful and desirable, and that I should want him more than anything else. But I had really never realized that in God's eyes, I was also something wonderful and desirable, so that when he gave up everything to have me, it was because he really, really wanted to! That's how God sees us, as something really beautiful and desirable, so much that he would die for us. We are his precious pearls.

When I realized that, I got so excited by it that I talked about it and talked about it and talked about it for weeks. I told everyone I came across about this new understanding. So when Christmas that year came around, Mr. Cochrane (my husband) gave me these pearls as a gift, because the symbol of the pearl meant so much to me. And I loved the reminder that they are. So, remember that: precious pearls.

Now, on to the story. One time when we had a newborn baby (that would be Miriam), there was a party here at church. It was a luau. Do you know what a luau is? It's a Hawaiian party. It's lots of fun. It was outside on the lawn and I hadn't been out of the house in too long, so I really wanted to come. I got dressed up and I put on my pearls and we drove over here, and parked in the parking lot and walked through the building and out on the grass and talked to people. The Freelands were here then, and they were the ones giving the party. If you remember the Freelands, then you know they really liked to have fun, and at their parties, you don't sit around. You DO things. We talked and played games and did the limbo and had a buffet--which is a long table with food that you go to and then back to your seats. So we were all over this place for that party.

While we were there, Mrs. Perry told me a Holy Ghost story of her own. She said that she had been doing laundry recently--maybe even that day--and looked down to notice that the diamond was missing out of her ring. That's a very precious stone, like the precious pearl. She was just sure she had lost it forever, but she stopped right then and prayed, asking God to help her find her diamond. Then she went back to the laundry and found it--caught in the fabric of a piece of laundry. She was so thankful, and I was thankful for her!

After the party, we weren't quite ready to go home--well, I mean *I* wasn't ready to go home. So I rounded up about a half dozen more people and we went out downtown. We drove into downtown and parked, and we walked around town, and then we went to a tea house and had some tea together, and walked some more and then walked back to our cars and eventually went home.

When I went inside to take off my jewelry, though, I reached up to my pearl earring and found that one was missing! It had fallen off somewhere over the course of the night. I was so upset! My pearl was special and I thought of everywhere I'd been that night: East Asheville, North Asheville, in the building, in the parking lot, outside on the lawn, downtown--all over downtown, the tea house, the cars... How could I even know where to begin to look for that one tiny pearl earring in this whole city? I felt helpless. But I remembered Mrs. Perry's story and so I stopped right then, standing in front of my mirror, and prayed, "Father God, you know that this pearl means something to me. It reminds me of me and you. Please, God, I know you know where that pearl is. Would you please let me find it, like Jill found her diamond?"

And then I decided that all I could do was look around at home, because I couldn't go all over Asheville. I wasn't really expecting to find it, not really, even though I had prayed. But I went back out of the house, down the walkway to the driveway, and I opened the car door. And there, right on the front seat, in the very center of the front seat, as if it was just waiting for me, was my pearl earring. Right in plain sight.

And that's a Holy Ghost story.


OOOOOoooooooo!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Holy Ghost Story #2

In keeping with our Advent tradition, we had another Holy Ghost story at our church gathering tonight. Here's the one I told the kids tonight:

This story is not only a Holy Ghost story. I also like to call it a friendship story. Sometimes the way God shows us his own love is to use good friends to share in it.

This story actually starts out as our Pastor Drake's story. Almost exactly two years ago, on a Wednesday night after Advent, he got some hard news. He found out that his dad had died. You know that was really sad for him. It is very hard when someone we love goes ahead of us.

Well, just a few months after that, my mother died. So Pastor Drake and I had a kind of similar thing going on at the same time. We were both experiencing sadness and learning how to do life again in a new way, while missing a person who had always been there--each missing one of our own parents.

When my mother died, I went to my dad's home and stayed there with him and my brothers for over a week. We were going through the papers my mother had left for us. She didn't want a funeral. All she wanted was for her family to get together and remember her with music. There was a piece of paper she had left and on it she had written a Bible verse from John, and then the name of a song. The song was called Whispering Hope.

At first, my brothers and dad and I just kind of looked at each other. The song name sounded kind of familiar, like something we ought to know. But we didn't recognize it right then. You see, that is a very, very old song. Do you know how old it is? It's older than radios. That song was written way back in 1868. That means the song is 144 years old! We had to look it up on the Internet, and we did find it. It starts out like this, "Soft as the voice of an angel, breathing a lesson unheard..." It's a song about finding comfort in God while you wait through being very sad. It's a song about having hope. We copied off an mp3 and I think one of my brothers put it on a cd for my dad. For the next several days, we played the song a few times, so by the time I left to come back home to Asheville, I knew it pretty well.

So some time passed and I was trying to get back to normal life here at home. One day, I came up to the church during the day. I was talking to someone out in the hall, and Pastor Drake heard my voice. He came out of his office and said, "Hey, I heard you out here. Come here, I want to show you something." So I went back into his office with him, and he told me that his brother Jerry had been cleaning out some of his parents' things. Jerry had found a recording of their mom from long, long ago. She had sung a song and it had been recorded--and all this time the boys had never heard it. Pastor Drake said, "Listen to this! This is my mother singing!" and he turned on the music. And I heard his mother sing these words: "Soft as the voice of an angel, breathing a lesson unheard..."

My eyes grew wide and I stopped to really listen. Was it the same song? It was! I started saying the next words along with her, and Pastor Drake was surprised. He said, "What is this? You KNOW this song?" Then I told him about my mom's paper and this song being on it. Now this is why I call this a friendship story as well as a Holy Ghost story: You know how sometimes when you are sad, it helps to have a friend to share with? Well, that's how this was. Pastor Drake is my friend. And he and I were sharing the same sort of sadness. So we sat there together, and we listened to his mother sing to both of us the very words my mother wanted us to know and remember when we thought about her leaving ahead of us. His mother sang to us about comfort and hope.

And I call that a Holy Ghost story!


OOOOOooooooooo!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Holy Ghost Story #1

To read Miriam's miraculous birth story in its entirety, please follow this link.

Each year during Advent, our church has a series of all-family Wednesday night gatherings. One of the pastors has all the children (from toddlers to whatever age is too "cool" to go forward as a "kid" for story-telling and game-playing) gather around him down front. Advent candles are lit, and then, before an activity of some sort designed to light-heartedly explain the evening's theme, someone tells a "Holy Ghost" story in the dark.

A "Holy Ghost" story has to be a real event which happened to the individual speaking, or to a very close friend or relative. The best Holy Ghost stories are eye-witness accounts. The story recounts some unusual--some might call "coincidental"--event with a surprise at the end that makes us all go, "Oooooooo!" The idea is to show evidence of God working to orchestrate events in our lives. It's not to be disrespectful or flippant, as if to suggest that "God makes small talk." However, it is to point out possible examples of his involvement.

This year, I've been invited to tell one so far. I'm going to share that one with you here now. Tomorrow night, unless something more amazing and as-of-yet unknown is brought to mind, I will be sharing another. Then there's one more Advent gathering before Christmas. It is possible I'll get to share a third at that meeting too. As I do each, I will enter a new post here with the closest thing to a transcript I can provide.

This is how the story was told to the children around me, and the rest of the congregation in the pews.

Here is "Holy Ghost Story #1":

Miriam and Mrs. Weber


Some will remember how God blessed us by preserving the life of our little Miriam, now 7 years old, at her birth in July 2005. Something went wrong during delivery and she had to be born by an emergency surgery. The doctors and nurses thought they were too late. Miriam didn’t breathe and they had to put her on special equipment to make her lungs work.

The doctors at first said she wouldn’t live, but she did. God made her better and better every day. Soon she was breathing on her own, but the doctors thought she had gone too long without oxygen. They said her brain would never be right. They said she would be very sick and have trouble learning to do things other kids do easily.

When she was a baby, we had to take her to see special doctors every few weeks or months. The doctors would check her over and watch to see what she could do. Did she sit up on time? Could she use her hands correctly to pick up toys? Did she smile? Was her hearing good? They expected things to be wrong with her, so they wanted to watch her very closely.

We wanted what was best for her. If she needed a doctor’s help, we wanted her to have it. But all those doctor’s appointments were very, very expensive. We were running out of money to pay all the bills. But of course we wanted what was best for our little girl. So we took her to the first appointment. And then to the second.

At that second appointment, she was just beginning to sit up by herself. Three doctors sat in the room near her. They watched Miriam for 20 minutes. They watched her sit up by herself and eat Cheerios which were placed in front of her one at a time. And then they sent us home.

A week or two after that, I got a bill in the mail. It was for the appointment with three different doctors in the same room. It was for more than a THOUSAND dollars. Now we had been told that she should be seen every two months for about two years. Who can do good math here? How many times would we have to take her to the doctor? About 24 times. So how much money are we talking about? Right. About 24 Thousand Dollars.

Well, we decided we had to try something different to help our little girl. So I called my cousin in Alabama. She works with children who have special needs. I wanted to know what she thought we should do. She told me that there were services available through the government for Buncombe County. There were people who could watch Miriam and tell us if they saw anything wrong. Then we could find the kind of treatment she needed—if she needed anything at all. That was on a Friday. The office was closed, but my cousin even looked up the phone number for me. I was going to call them for an appointment on Monday.

That Sunday, we went to church. I was still wondering about our baby. "Miriam could sit up. She could reach for toys. She seemed normal to us. But how could we know for sure?" 

That Sunday was an elder group Sunday. That means we would meet in small groups after church to share a meal together. When we went to dinner at someone’s house that day, there was another family there. We had met the husband, Mr. Weber, before. But his wife and son had just moved to Asheville. It was the first time we had met them. I sat down at the table across from Mrs. Weber (or Katie). She was very nice. I introduced myself and asked her, “Katie, what do you do?” (That’s what grown-ups always say to each other when they meet: “What do you do?”) She said, “I work for Buncombe County. I do in-home visits to watch children who are at risk for developmental delays. I help their parents know if their children need a doctor to help them.”

I was shocked! I said, “I have your number in my purse! I was going to call you tomorrow about our baby Miriam!” But God knew better than that. He knew before I even made that phone call that he was going to send Katie Weber to our church, to our own elder group, and that she was going to sit across the table from me and tell me she would watch our Miriam for us. 

We never again had to have those expensive bills for people to tell us Miriam was OK. Every month, Mrs. Weber held Miriam and talked to her and watched her. She told me over and over again, “There’s nothing wrong with your baby. She is healthy.”

And she was right! God knew JUST WHAT WE NEEDED, and he gave it to us at just the right time! And that’s also what we call a “HOLY GHOST STORY!”

“OOOOOOoooooooooo!”



To read Miriam's birth story in its entirety, please follow this link.



Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Facing the Holidays

Last year, the holidays were just a blur. Just get through them. One foot in front of the other. Breathe in, breathe out. Put on a smile as often as you can.

Sometimes grief is forced to wait. But never think that means it won't have its way. Grieving is inevitable. And it will keep resurfacing until it runs its course. However long that takes.

It hit today. The day before Thanksgiving.

Why do we do this? Generate this huge feast. I don't need massive amounts of food in order to be thankful. Food is for people. Quantities of food for quantities of people.

We're all posting on Facebook about the progress we're making in cooking and preparing. I know, because the background buzz of everyone else's busyness is running along in a room down the hall from my kitchen. When I need human contact, I check in to see what the others are up to. How many pumpkin pies are complete. Who's got chess pie versus apple pie or cobbler or cheesecake. Who's making homemade cranberry relish and how that's coming along.

And I want to scream at the computer: IS THIS REAL?

There are shadows of the missing everywhere.

I am making my mother's sweet potato casserole. The one with the marshmallows on top. (I can't help but wonder who ever thought of putting marshmallows on top of sweet potatoes, but there you have it. It's a tradition now.) It's never as good as hers was. I don't know why it always comes out just a little bit different, but it does. Emma will be making my grandmother's home-made Southern biscuits. They don't really pair all that well with the additions I've brought to the feast, but we never had Thanksgiving dinner without them, and so, there you have it, again. I doubt we'll bake them quite as long as Grandmama always did, though. She always wanted a brown biscuit.

Why can I not be satisfied without the hubbub of extension at the holidays? Why is this longing for kingdom community so deep in me? Why is going through the motions not enough? I don't like cooking alone. I love festivity. But I want it to mean something, and I want to share it on a broader scale than just our household, but a smaller scale than what the Pilgrims and Indians might have had. My social anxiety is too ingrained still for me to breathe in a big, overwhelming group.

My Dad is coming for the meal. He will drive four hours, eat, stay for a bit, and drive four hours home. We couldn't talk him into spending the night with us. I long to see him. I wish he'd stay. It feels thin and empty and transient. Vaporlike.

This is part of the process. Seeing what is. Living through what is. Accepting what is.

But it hurts sometimes.

Monday, November 5, 2012

What Will You Leave Behind?


 The Bridge Builder
by Will Allen Dromgoole

An old man, going a lone highway,
Came, at the evening, cold and gray,
To a chasm, vast and deep and wide,
Through which was flowing a sullen tide.

The old man crossed in the twilight dim;
The sullen stream held no fears for him;
But he turned, when safe on the other side,
And built a bridge to span the tide.

"Old man," said a fellow pilgrim, near, 
"You are wasting strength with building here.
Your journey will end with the ending day;
You never again must pass this way.
You have crossed the chasm, deep and wide--
Why build you a bridge at the eventide?"

The builder lifted his old gray head:
"Good friend, in the path I have come," he said,
There followeth after me today,
A youth, whose feet must pass this way.

This chasm, that has been naught to me, 
To that fair-haired youth may a pitfall be.
He, too, must cross in the twilight dim.
Good friend, I am building the bridge for him."



We've just returned from an athletic awards program. There were a few great accomplishments noted, seniors honored, letters given. We're proud parents, as our 6th grader was recognized for her toughness and endurance, her drive to always finish and never give up. Our 8th grader was recognized for dramatic improvement over the year, moving from the middle school team to varsity mid-season, earning a varsity letter, and awarded the "Run Hard--Run Smart" plaque for her ability to demotivate opponents on the steeper hills.

But the award that most got my attention was called the Bridge Builder award. It went to a lovely senior on the women's varsity team. This particular girl's name has been mentioned in our household many times this fall. She too is one of a family of four girls. Our Emma has referred to the encouragement and support she received from her throughout the season. The coaches noticed it too, it seems. The award was given to reflect how much she left behind, as a legacy in the impact she had on the younger runners.

I've said here before that I particularly love bridges. I've also said, maybe not so happily, that I seem to be one. While there is undeniably something noble about helping someone else achieve a goal, arrive at a conclusion, make progress, and so on, I have to confess that altruism isn't anywhere on the list of personal characteristics I feel I could honestly put on a resume, or expect anyone else to put in my obituary. I've complained about being a bridge, in part because I want to experience and celebrate and enjoy with the other person the victory of gaining of the prize.

Tonight I watched this young woman take her plaque, shake hands, give hugs. She'll graduate come May and go on with her life, probably in a distant place. As the youngest in her family, she won't likely even get updates about this very young team of runners. Next fall, the season will start again. She won't know when. She won't see who achieves, who excels, who gets injured and needs encouragement to keep going, who extends that encouragement in her place. She won't know. She won't experience. She won't celebrate or enjoy--at least not firsthand, but probably not at all. I don't think that thought crossed her mind as she gazed out over the smiling faces of her clapping teammates. But it crossed mine. And it stung as it did.

It was never about her. Not really. It was about him who lives inside her. I know this truth too. I know it and I don't know it, but I do know it. It's like the pattern we all live by: creation, fall, redemption, glory. At creation, we all would have known the purity of altruism. At the fall, we all lost it. We no longer know what we know. With redemption, we see it, know it, enacted on our behalf and that experience imparts to us the remembrance of creation imprinted in our DNA. I can do it too. But the fullness isn't always there. Today, I may act in utter selflessness. See an opportunity to give someone else a hand up, a reference or recommendation, a pat on the back, an affirming smile, and go on my way. But tomorrow, I am almost as likely to seek my reward before the sun sets. Not until glory will my spiritual amnesia be cured, my memory established, white stones all around, with new names on them, and utter satisfaction known at the fulfillment of blessings all will share in the words, "Well done, good and faithful servant."

I know it is coming, that fullness, completion, satisfaction. I want more than anything for those coming alongside me and along after me in this life to know it too. Tonight was a time to look backward--at a season finished, accomplishments secured. But it was a time to look forward too--at the potential recognized, the goals yet to be achieved. Wherever you are, there is someone else behind you. As you look ahead, as I look ahead, to our own futures, our plans, our goals--what are we building? Are we building empires? Monuments to our own ideas or accomplishments? Treasures that moth and rust will eventually destroy? Or are we building bridges? Sometimes we achieve success in life, and others learn from it. That's a type of bridge, yes. But sometimes, our aspirations may seem, to us, to be utter failures. I think of the many attempts at settling this land--the Roanoke colonists, the Pilgrims (it is that time of year, after all)--and how much loss they experienced. Could they have known their experience, in their own perspective, as success? Or did they consider themselves a starting point, a way for others to come across, a bridge to the future? And what about that business we've struggled to keep afloat for years? It just never quite seemed to get off the ground, no matter how many gallons of sweat was poured into it, no matter how many times it was reworked and trimmed down and fueled with a little extra capital. Can that be a success? Or was something else, more important, going on there--maybe in the shaping of all those young people who can say they got their first job there, a resume item, a chance to build skills and see how the world works? Was it a waste of a dozen years, or an investment somewhere unseen? A bridge to the next place ahead for someone else?

Our Lord called himself "the Way." For what purpose did he come? For what purpose did he walk the dusty roads, endure mockery and criticism and slander as he chose to put around himself the most despised ones, as he waited--hungry, tired, in the overwhelming heat--to intentionally be caught publicly with a prostitute by a well for the purpose of freeing her of her shame and making her a beloved bride? He gave up comfort, prosperity, ambition, even reputation. He chose intentionally to be weary, underfed, with no place to lay his head. He welcomed the outward appearance of cultural impropriety in order to build a bridge from the deadly toxicity of external piety to the liberating balm of authentic purity. And he willingly took the consummate humiliation of being handed over into the possession of his very own rebellious creatures--those he had designed from nothing--who would strip him naked, expose him, curse and spit on him, and then gruesomely secure him to a cross to die a grueling death in public.

Is that my idea of success? Not without explanation, no. Not without supernatural explanation. But at that point, it wasn't about him. It was about the ones he had meditated on in prayer only a few hours before. The reason for it all, to take those who came from dust and to dust they were destined to return, and instead, "to give eternal life to all whom [the Father] had given him." I'm in that prayer. So are you, I trust. I hope. "I do not ask for these [his best friends, the disciples] only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word..." Those who will believe. Those who were coming after, even 2000 years or more after. As long as there is a future, there will be other "youths" whose feet must pass this way. To dust, or to glory?

What a bridge he built. None other can ever compare. But it's his mark that's on me. What will I build? Like a toddler picks up a toy hammer and smacks away randomly in imitation of his craftsman father, I fear my own ridiculous, juvenile attempts to copy. I fear failure, wasted effort. But then I remember the crude but heartfelt gifts in my dresser drawer--that place where treasures brought by plump, awkward hands--in their youth lacking in dexterity, but more than making up for that deficiency in intention and authenticity--are tucked away. Each morning and each evening, they greet me, and there is that glimmer of joy in remembrance.

Have I any excuse?

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Affirmation

This is me with Alex. She is my admissions rep. I love her. She is so encouraging and full of the Holy Spirit. I wish you could hear her talk. She looks and has mannerisms like Anne Hathaway, but when she opens her mouth--pure heaven! She's from New Zealand. After she and her husband finish their degrees here at Covenant Theological Seminary, they plan to return to New Zealand to advance the fullness of the gospel there. Not many people there live by a biblical worldview, even if they say they believe in Christ.
 Where are we standing? This was once a classroom for CTS in the building called Edwards Hall. Now it is used as a dining room for small gatherings. We had breakfast here with three other potential students and the whole admissions team. Why keep a chalkboard in a dining room? It did seem out of place. But it has historical value. This is the very chalkboard in the very classroom where Francis Schaeffer taught. Never mind that I' m not wearing knickers. I'm standing where Francis Schaeffer taught. Right there. Yep.

Here are a few final thoughts from the trip, and some pictures of our very brief time in the city. We got one quick tour from our friend Mark on Friday evening, and then Bill and I stopped by the Arch just to touch it before we left town for the long drive home to our girls.
 The Arch through the sunroof of my VW Beetle, while we circle for a place to park.

The Arch on approach.                                   Wow! It soars, anti-gravitational.

  

 Bill at the base of the Arch. It's much bigger than I expected. I was impressed.










 Bill touches the Mississippi. Yes, it was COLD!







 I chose just to stand by it. The cold wind was enough for me. Riverboats, probably floating casinos, behind me.






Current reflections about the trip: At this point, I can say that I feel affirmed.

For about 20 years, I had held in my mind's eye a picture of Covenant Theological  Seminary. No matter how many years passed, the picture stayed the same: earnest students, seeking greater knowledge of God for the purpose of application; knowledgeable, humble, approachable, godly teachers with dynamic and diverse lecturing styles; a spirit of humility and transparency and service among all there; a foundational understanding that this God we know is too great to be kept to ourselves.

Had I built it up too much? If you've read anything I write for any length of time, or if you've ever spent more than 10 minutes with me face to face, then you know: I'm an idealist. No, I'm an IDEALIST! Was my image of CTS a reality, or just an ideal of my own imagining?

After two days immersed in the culture of the place, I came away completely satisfied that I had not created the seminary in my imagination. I saw what I was looking for. I saw the spirit of humility and love and mutual respect among the very knowledgeable PhD's and the seeking students of all ages. I saw professors of absolutely diverse styles and approaches to relationship with God (after the basic agreement of creation, fall, redemption, glory) jovially agree to the possibility of co-teaching a class. I heard all over the place, "We can make this happen if this is what God wants you to do." I was met with confidence and encouragement. The goals I took in with me were immediately latched onto and supported as important, valuable, purposeful. Even the reason for waiting so long seemed, now, to everyone there as if it had purpose behind it, though we can't claim to understand fully. All I know is that at this point, home and rested and ruminating on what comes next, it is time for the rubber to meet the road.

Applications to be made, references sought, schedules considered. How much to do from home? How many intensive classes will I be able to do on site? How to get there? Details. Real details.

And I'm hit with this incredible peace about it all. The chihuahua-after-a-double-espresso that lives under the right side of my rib cage is sleeping. If it happens, Praise! If it doesn't, I know, it's still OK. God's got this. He knows the plans he has for me. He knows the plans he has to work through me. He knows the good works he prepared in advance for me to do.

I'm stepping out in confidence, if not certainty. I'm stepping out in obedience. I'm stepping out where I think I hear calling. If it is truly calling, he will keep opening doors. If it is only interest, then I expect him to shut those doors. I'm planning to go until he tells me to stop.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

A Few Seminary Snapshots


My schedule has been so packed that I have had hardly any time to notice the surroundings. I meant to take pictures, but there's been time only to race from one class or meeting to another. However, we did get to catch our breath inside the chapel--Rayburn Chapel--and hear this fellow, Paul, (who was also in the Apologetics class I sat in on) play his clarinet wonderfully. It's a very nice chapel and I look forward to worshiping there with the students tomorrow morning.



This flyer caught my eye because of the title of the topic: living life in the gray. It sounds like both the poetry of and the description of life here, in the in-between being saved and being in glory, that a good friend describes. It made me think of him and his perspective and I wondered what the subject matter would be like. But alas, we'll be gone by then, and the gathering is just for the men. (Though there must be something for the women too, because it does offer free childcare, and so far, I've met no men here with children and without wives.) Still intrigued. I wonder if I could go if I promised I'd need no BBQ.


I nearly squealed at this sign. There is a museum of biblical archaeology here! In the few minutes we had before having to go get ready for dinner, I hoped to poke around in here a bit, but . . .

. . . sadness. :( What a crummy selection of dates for the museum to be closed. Precisely when we are here visiting.

Ah well. Looks like I'll have to come back again. And after my meeting today with the Director of Enrollment Services, it looks entirely likely that I will be able to do that. Not full-time, but maybe once or twice per year, a week at a time or a weekend, or a week plus a weekend. They seem very open to working with off-site students for getting the best possible impact as can be managed through some low-residency, high-intensity classes scattered throughout the regular schedule.

The whole atmosphere here at CTS has been positive. I am greatly encouraged about the opportunity. My image of the place and its purpose and offerings does not seem to be off the mark.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Random Thoughts from a Long Drive

A few minutes ago, it hit me.

This dream is two decades old. I have friends younger than this dream. And here I am.

Today, Bill and I drove across part or all of five states: North Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, Illinois, and now, Missouri.

At this moment, I am sitting in a guest room at Covenant Theological Seminary. I've dreamed of being here since 1992.

In 1992, I spoke extensively on the phone to a seminary student working in admissions here. His name was Jeremy. I had recently claimed the traditional Christian faith as my own real faith--or, more correctly, it had claimed me. I was on fire and I wanted to pursue a Master's degree in theological studies through Covenant Seminary, mainly because of the Christianity and Contemporary Culture program and the Francis Schaeffer Institute with its influence on worldview and engaging the culture. It has been a passion for me, right up there with the brotherhood of the Church Body, ever since I became a believer. But I just couldn't get here. Money, geography, time, family... there were always obstacles.

But tonight we drove into this lovely city after dark, the Arch rising above everything else from miles out, lit from below so that it didn't seem to be a concrete structure but like two light beams clasping hands with the St. Louis skyline gradually appearing behind it. It was breathtaking. I am here.

Tomorrow and Friday, I will meet with academic advisors, admissions personnel, financial aid. I will get to sit in on four seminary classes and a chapel. Lunch and dinner with staff and students. It's exciting. It's surreal. But I'm here, so it is real. My hope is to begin with just one class, from home, online, in the fall of 2013. And then within a 5-year window, to complete the Master's of Theological Studies in Christianity and the Contemporary Culture. I hope to further expand my knowledge for the writing I currently do for God's World News, and I hope to teach as well--worldview and culture to high schoolers or possibly even college level one day.

So tomorrow it all begins. Tomorrow, I will be serious. Tonight, I am tired of driving and my brain is full of so many random thoughts that occurred along this trip. So, who is up for a little silliness interspersed with some reflections? I feel the need to express. :)

Bill coined a new word on the trip. I think I might submit it to Merriam-Webster. The word is "millimoot." It is insulting in tone, and it means "so minimal in impact that it is only a fraction of what it is to be moot." Proper usage: "Your input was so pointless it is millimoot."

Tennessee is beautiful. Period. Cities and rolling country and mountains. It has it all.

Kentucky is likewise lovely for the most part, but its shining star must be Paducah. We saw signs for Paducah for hours before arriving there. However, I am intrigued by the "Welcome to Paducah" teaser: "Art, Rhythm, and Rivers." Well, hello Paducah. You definitely have my interest. I would like to visit there someday and see if it really is all that.

Kentucky does have its downside though. We saw the rolling hills, the vast fields of tilled soil, the picturesque wineries, and the wildlife--or the wild dead. Kentucky has more roadkill than any other state I've ever been in: deer, coyotes, countless raccoons, even a turkey. Kentucky is the place all fuzzy and feathery things go to die. That was rather depressing. We saw inmates cleaning trash from the roadsides, but apparently roadkill just stays to decompose and return to dust there.

On this trip, I realized just how very much I love bridges. We crossed several major rivers, and while Bill was looking at the water and the boats, I was gasping over the massive wide-flanges, the intricate detail of intersecting supports, the girth of the suspension cables. I love the idea of a bridge--making a way where there wasn't one before. Man taking dominion over the chasm, the floodwaters, the insurmountable gap. Never, never give up. But I realized something else while studying bridges today. I've always known myself to be a bridge in other people's lives. I tend to fill a gap when someone is in transition, and when the transition is over, the person moves on. I am a bridge to help people get from here to there. It's been a lonely role for me. I invest so deeply, and then experience loss so deeply when my loved ones move on. But something is different in my life now. I can say this today. I couldn't say it and believe it a year ago. I have begun to believe that a handful of beloved people in my life really are here to stay. I have begun to believe that these few (these noble, patient, longsuffering few) truly love me back enough to not just see me as a transition on the path to something else. I am gaining confidence that, while I may still be a bridge from time to time, there are now several of you who have linked arms with me, and together we are spanning the chasm of life's challenges and living in the unity of the love of the brotherhood. And that thought, that realization, that even a bridge person can find stable supports with others, is refreshing and satisfying and comforting. Thank you, my faithful friends. Thank you. You know who you are.

Now, back to the more random thoughts:
Have you ever noticed that, when on a long roadtrip, you can ALWAYS find Journey songs on the radio? It's like "they" know somehow that you're traveling, and you need Journey for your journey. And it's usually the really, really old Journey songs too, like "Anyway You Want It," though I did hear "Separate Ways, Worlds Apart" on this trip too.

And I also realized that even with the convenience of cruise control, it is still extremely difficult to do the Thriller dance when confined within the small space of a VW Beetle and traveling at 75 mph. But it was worth a shot.

Happy evening, everyone. More on this trip later.







Friday, October 26, 2012

The Right Stuff: A Day at the Races



The Right Stuff

Can't you just feel the confidence? This is a mental trick Coach Weaver put on. He had his seven runners pull out before the entire field a number of times, huddle up, and then turn and walk back, casually, confidently, with total, breezy solidarity. I admit I felt it. I was thankful I wasn't running against this team.
Moments later, these seven girls were all in the top 12 at the bottom of the bottleneck, out of a field of 137 participants from about 20 schools.

 


Coach Hammond and the girls in the final huddle.


The team, with Coach Hammond in the background.




Hammond's Contraband
"I don't want to see ONE of you girls lookin' at your watch. You watch the FINISH."
The Team Roster
Runners were Kate, Lindsey, Ruth, Emma, Brittainy, Lauren, Savannah.

Cary Christian School won the State meet for 2A three years in a row. Asheville Christian Academy girls pushed them to their limits this year. Her are our girls waiting for the announcement for runnerup, which simultaneously announces the winner.
So sorry, Cary Christian. This was the year the Lady Lions roared!


2012 NCISAA 2A Women's Cross Country Champions: Asheville Christian Academy

Later, the Men had a great showing too. Josh took 2nd place and Sully took 5th. 

Overall, our ACA guys grabbed that Runner-Up spot. Great job, guys!


Emma sparkles as she shows off her medal...


 ...and her own name and team on the back of the souvenir sweatshirt.



12:30pm:
The ACA girls raced their hearts out. Lindsey led our team and finished in the 5th spot overall. Lauren and Brittany were not far behind. The top 5 girls on each team score points. Emma finished 7th of the ACA girls (as expected) but broke her PR once again by 30 seconds, coming in at 24:06, a VERY respectable time for State competition.

We are neck & neck with Cary Christian, and waiting for the final count. One girl in the top 30 got skipped at the finish line, and so judges are evaluating the video to determine whether that changes team scores.

The boys are finishing now. All ACA boys finished at or well ahead of the midpoint. Josh took second place and I think Sully was in 5th. Barron is 3rd for the ACA team. (Betty--Jack was up in there with Rory and not far behind Michael--Jack was our boys' team sweeper and doing great.)

Awards at 12:45 if they are on time. With a few straggler guys still coming in now, it may be 1:00 before awards.

It's been a great day for The Pride!
Praise!



10:05am: This post will be updated as possible over the course of the day.

We are on our way to the WakeMed Soccer Complex for the State Championship Cross-Country Competition.

Big news: I just found out last night that our ACA Varsity Girls are ranked #1 in the state for the 2A conference. Our coaches (Weaver and Hammond--thank God for Coach Weaver and Coach Hammond) had t-shirts printed for themselves and the team. A large bull's-eye on the back features ACA in the center spot. The message: We're the ones everyone else has to shoot for.

Emma has been visualizing herself passing other runners on what they call "the hill" here. It's a gentle slope. These mountain goats should have no trouble there. There''s more oxygen in the air here than at home. It seems the competition will be mostly mental, not physical. Cary Christian School has won the women's varsity 2A division here for three years running. They don't release their stats so their competition can't know what they are up against. That's the biggest hurdle--the unknown previous champions.

The little girl who, as a baby, refused to stand up and walk so long we wondered if something was wrong with her is now running on the top-ranked team in her division in the state--at just 13 years old. God is good.

More on the day as possible. GO LIONS! (It's a Pride thing.)


Thursday, October 25, 2012

Blessings NOT in Disguise



A few weeks ago, I shared a meme on my Facebook page. I was only half joking about it. It showed a pen-and-ink drawing of a professional-looking woman, thoughtfully expressing a sentiment I’ve shared but never before spoken outloud:  “I’m ready for some blessings that aren’t in disguise.”

I had to laugh, because from where I stand, with my very limited point of view and my very small seed of faith and my very weak and flimsy and immuno-deficient constitution, this seems like a reality. “I believe! Help my unbelief!” is what a close friend and I have referred to countless times as “the daily cry.” I do believe. I believe God is good. I believe he is always working and even when life hurts, I do believe, I do believe, (remind me that I believe it), I honestly do believe that he is blessing us even then. I just can’t see it. I can't see how it all works out. So that phrase “a blessing in disguise” doesn’t always refer to a blessing that becomes revealed as such. Some blessings may always remain a mystery.

At the points in life when ALL the blessings seem to be disguised, it can become a temptation to believe that he intends no perceivable gift in this lifetime—that it is all intended for eternity and none for now. I find that scary thinking for a Christian. As the Church, we are his Body on earth. What’s a body for? It’s the physical, visible, active presence. It's for the now. I forget, then, that just being able to see my brothers and sisters, spend time with them, encourage one another, know them through the Spirit we both share, is a blessing not in disguise. I forget that the Fruit of that same Spirit that began blossoming in me some nearly 22 years ago is a blessing not in disguise. The hardheartedness that melted away—what kind of trouble would I have caused if I had held on to that with all that life has thrown me, and returned evil for evil at every chance? It’s cringe-inducing, the thought of the escalation that might have occurred. What if we lived in a world with no forgiveness—from God or man? Don't think about it too much. It is more than we can bear.

Those are big-Spirit-issued blessings, and for those, I should remember to give thanks daily. But I also do not want to forget to give thanks in the things that seem less spiritual, daily, even common. Those blessings are still blessings. And sometimes we overlook them because they are so NOT in disguise.

Today my husband, our youngest daughter, and I will drive over four hours. We will spend a night in a hotel. The next morning, we will run from edge to edge in a field, cheering and encouraging and fretting and over a long-legged, graceful, determined, antelopine (yes, I made that word up), sparkly-eyed thirteen-year-old who has driven herself to achieve this semester the maximum her body can produce on the cross-country course. She has quoted Eric Liddell for inspiration. She has fixed her eyes on a couple of prizes along the way and achieved them. She has trained and stretched, watched her diet and nutrition, consumed once-disgusting liquids for the hydration value until she became used to the taste, sweated profusely and bathed in ice, wrapped sore joints and run with steady impact on painful ones. She has watched the shoulders that, at first, disappeared over the horizon in front of her come closer and closer until, finally, she has passed those shoulders and others ahead of them and pulled ahead herself. And she has grown. She has earned her place in tomorrow’s state-level competition.

Competing at State is an honor and a reward. But it is more than that as well. It is a blessing, and an outright, public one. The opportunity to run with this team and this coaching staff is also a blessing and I will publicly say there’s been no disguise there either. Being her parent, longing for her improvement and success, the confidence she has gained, the spirit of unity with the team she can now compete with well enough to serve them with her participation, all blessings.

Blessed means “happy,” or so I’ve read. Yes. It fits. I am blessed today, happy to be enjoying the anticipation of tomorrow. Happy in the moment of feeling “God’s pleasure,” as Eric Liddell said, in this blessing that came unwrapped and lavished luxuriously on us. I'm drowning in gratitude. Thank you, Daddy, thank you!

How are you enjoying the Giver today?