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What Makes a Handful?

"You sure have your hands full!" said the older woman in Target, watching me try to corral four independent-thinking and adventur...

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Stranger Than Fiction

Do you ever get the feeling that you're a character in a novel, with the music and the voiceover, even the real-time edits going on all around you?

For all the "pick yourself up by your bootstraps" advice, the "world's your oyster" comments, the "you're gonna make it after all" theme songs, I can't shake the feeling that my life is somehow deeply intertwined with others, and they've all got the scripts and the red pens and I'm just waiting in the wings until someone else holds up the cue cards.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Crying, "Abba! Daddy!"

I was 22 years old when I first became a believer. I can never forget the process. The blossoming on the inside of something completely out of my control. Beauty forming within while the hard, scaly exterior was peeled off. (Think of Eustace. Yes. It was just like that.)

I remember the confident, self-sufficient, driven young woman I was, and how firmly I stood with a fist in the face of the world.  I would have my way.

But I was changed. Softened, yes. Refocused. But something else changed too. I no longer was out to prove myself. I remember sensing with great, rich fullness that I belonged to the family of God. I knew myself to be his daughter. I felt his loving, gentle, tender presence and I could feel the envelopment of the Spirit securing me as a child.

My pastor at the time, Mike Massar, was the first to tell me that "Abba" literally translated "Daddy." I call my father "Daddy," and even though he'd prefer I didn't--he began referring to himself as "Dad" a couple of decades ago--I still hold to it. He's my Daddy and I'm his girl. Period. There is something inherently tender and intimate about the term. I won't give it up.

Seeing God as my "Daddy" really was the defining characteristic of our relationship, and in it, I shone. I felt his delight and his loving hand, steering me through the choices of young adulthood. I felt secure, and I felt his pleasure as I took steps dedicated to bringing his glory to fuller expression in this at best dusty and at worst dark and dismal world.

But over the years, the hardships have mounted and I admit, they've been more than I can bear. A few years ago, I fell into such despair that it can be called nothing short of an emotional breakdown. There has been much loss in recent years--loss of ideals, loss of relationships, loss of unborn children, loss of loved ones, loss of focus, loss of confidence, loss of self, identity. And loss of the same type of drive and focus to see the steps for bringing God glory in all things, whether by life or by death. And somewhere in all of that, I lost the sense of being a daughter of the Living God, an heir, a beloved child who brings delight to her heavenly parent.

I miss my "Abba, Daddy." I see Lord over my life. I see Sovereign. I see the Omnipotent One. But I can't find my Daddy in my experience right now.

One week ago, at our evening worship service, our assistant pastor told us that in the book of John alone, Jesus refers to God as the "Father, Abba, Daddy" more than 50 times. (I knew there was some real reason I love the book of John so much.) I kept turning that over in my head. The next day, Monday, July 23, I wrote this in my prayer journal:

"Father. Jesus said it scores of times. Father. Am I your daughter, like the little girl who crawled into my bed last night and I didn't kick her out? She troubled my sleep and took the pillow and blanket, and yet there was no lost patience with her. I kissed her and cuddled her when she came. She was welcome. Loved. Can I crawl up into your lap like that little girl, feel your presence, your safety, your warmth? Can I be with you now and be safer and more secure than anywhere else? Or will you push me away until I am more admissible, more acceptable? Are you just Lord, or are you Daddy too? I need a Daddy who can help me. Daddy, I have a broken heart. I want to tell you all about it. I want to feel your arms reach down to hold me and bind it up. I can't be sure I am obeying you. I don't know if you want me to change or persevere. I need you to show me the way."

Yesterday we decided the summer months were a good time to visit a church I have been interested in for some time. It's an Acts 29 church plant. Visiting does not mean that we will change churches. But whether we do or not, one thing is sure. Missio Dei is where I needed to be this morning. In casual, completely accessible language, the pastor spoke plainly and directly to me today. This is what I heard, six days after writing the above in my prayer journal:

"Be real in your prayers. Christians are the only people in the world who can talk to God just like Jesus did. God is Jesus' father. God is your father, your Abba, your Daddy. Just talk to God like you would talk to your own father. That Jesus reveals God as Abba was revolutionary. The Old Testament had no sense of God as a relational person in such intimate familial fellowship. In his prayers, all but one time, Jesus calls God "Father." Jesus is saying God is the best Daddy there ever could be. He loves and delights in you. He desires and works for your best, your maturity. God is *for* you. Being a child of God radically changes things. You will be held, nurtured, loved, adopted. Ask for what you need. You have a good Daddy, who is able and will provide everything you need in order to return praise to him. When a little child raises his arms and says, "Daddy, help me" he expects his Daddy to do just that--come to get him. We can expect no less."

Daddy, help me. With arms raised, I wait. I expect. Lead me gently by the hand. Show me how to glorify you. Bind up the brokenhearted, the bruised reed, the frightened child. Be my Daddy. I'm crying, "Abba! Father! Daddy!" Your little girl misses you.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Break of Daylight--Shine on Me

It’s a new day.
In a way, for me, it’s a new year.
There are more reasons than the obvious for the newness of this year, with this big anniversary behind me. I can’t explain it all here. But there is a song, a song my mother loved, called Whispering Hope. Maybe you’ve heard it, especially if you had parents or grandparents who sang or listened to the radio much. It says, “Wait till the darkness is over.”

Cancer and old age and miscarriages weren’t the only darknesses of the last years of life. They were significant, but they weren’t all. And though the darkness was pressing in full-force a year ago, I woke this morning with a hope that maybe the passing of a year is like taking that first step into a new world. A new life. A life that begins with the simple victory of having lived through the last epoch, endured the horror, and had a time of rest. Sabbatical.

In 1 Kings 18, God’s prophet (one who heard the voice of God directly) Elijah is called to stand before all the “prophets” of Baal. Baal. The anti-God. The Lord of the Flies. The Lord of the “Dung” (to put it politely) Heap. Decay. Manure. Offal. Every bit of sin in this world could fall into the category that we politely here call “dung,”—the stuff God would smear on the faces of the men of Malachi instead of letting his own face shine upon them, or his image be displayed through them—though I admit in this case, because of the reality of its offensiveness, I prefer the term used freely by fellow brother in Christ and musical legend Bono. All that is evil belongs to Baal. All that is dirty and hurtful and foul.

And here’s Elijah. One guy. Standing up for God in front of 450—a veritable army!—of those who promote the shit in this world. Just a chapter earlier, Elijah had told the widow he was living with, “Do not fear.” Easy to say when all you’re worried about is a little bread. But what about this setting: One against an army of evil? The king and his sinister bride despise Elijah. The nation’s power is focused on him as the “troubler of Israel.” Jezebel has a vendetta out for him, swearing she’ll find a way to take him down. Who are his friends? Who supports him in this battle? I imagine the air might have even felt electrified with the magnification of that many evil-seekers in one place. I imagine Satan thought the hour was his. There is strength in numbers. Elijah’s got to crack, and then the gap is breached.

The years of Baal-infiltration into the community of God’s people was coming to a head. Decisions had to be made. Evil brought to the light. The fight was at a climax.

But Elijah stands firm, alone: “If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.” And the gauntlet is thrown.

God proves himself that day, before the false prophets that have worked their deception throughout the people like leaven, before the people, before Elijah. The people’s eyes are opened, and with a word from Elijah, the 450 prophets—the officers in the army of hell on earth—are seized and destroyed. Slaughtered by the brook.

Now if I were Elijah at this point, I think it would be time for a margarita under the terebinth tree, don’t you? The evil has been faced. The one man stood before it all, proclaiming God. God won the day. It’s over. Let him exhale. And he does.

What Elijah does is like the last year of my life. A year ago, the evil ended. But it had been a long, hard trial to endure. I was still breathing at the end, but barely, and then, only with conscious effort.

Elijah sat down. He sat down under the shade of a tree in the wilderness. He was so weary and overwhelmed—not energized by the victory, but overwhelmed by the effort it took to get there—he is now ready to be done. “It is enough,” he says, and he lay down and slept. How long did he sleep that first time? It doesn’t say, but at points, angels came, woke him, ministered to him, left him again to rest. They, God’s messengers, acknowledge, “The journey is too great for you.” Eat. Rest. Be refreshed. He knows our frame. Overall, 40 days and 40 nights—“a time” of biblical significance. But even then, he doesn’t exactly rise refreshed and ready to go back to service. Not yet.

Instead, he lodges in a cave and it’s quiet there. And even when the wind and the earthquake and the fire rage outside, he’s sheltered within. For “the voice of the Lord was not in the wind, or the earthquake, or the fire.”

I’ve been there. Earthquakes: Loud, demanding voices telling me what I *must* do, what *they* would do. Whirlwinds, stirring the emotions: Some speaking out of true concern on some level, but on other levels, just wanting their own comfort zones to be met. Fire: Still others judging me for their own assumptions, filling in gaps with commands that didn’t even fit the story. Words without knowledge. But the voice of the Lord was not there.

What I needed was to rest, to be sheltered. One dear friend put it right, “What she needs is ICU.”

Back to Elijah: After the wind and the earthquake and the fire, there came the sound of a low whisper. Whispering hope. Wait till the darkness is over. Wait till the tempest is done. Hope for the sunshine tomorrow, after the darkness is gone. Whispering hope.

The voice of God was in the whisper. The whisper that came after the victory, after the rest, after the turmoil and chaos outside.

The still, small voice that broke my hardened heart 22 years ago this morning is saying that maybe now is the time to rise and go. There is still work to be done.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The First Year's Passing

A year ago yesterday morning, I was planning to make a visit to my grandmother. I have always loved visiting my grandmother, from the time I was a tiny little girl. We lived walking distance from one another on the farm that had been my grandfather’s. I never tired of her sparkly, lively personality, her loud voice, her strong opinions, her sweet, broad smile.

But this was going to be a hard visit. For the third time, I had to bring her hard news, and this time, the worst of the hard news. Not only did her baby girl have cancer. Not only had years of treatments failed to keep that cancer at bay or send it into remission. But this time, I had to tell her that her baby girl wasn’t coming home from the hospital. Her baby girl had only hours left in this world.

I planned to hold her hand, like I had done the other times. I planned to cry with her and talk about our shared hope. Surely there’s no greater evidence of our need for a Savior than seeing a woman say goodbye to her daughter; a daughter say goodbye to her mother. No one with a straight face and an honest heart can call such as that “natural.”

Moments before I left the house—if I remember correctly, I even had my car keys in hand—the phone rang. I would never have to deliver that hard message to my dear grandmother. She wouldn’t have to hear the words that her youngest child was dying. She had eaten her breakfast, leaned back against her pillow, and peacefully slipped into the eternal presence of God without bearing such a burden. She was 100 years old.

I’m sure that I’ve been given many mercies in my life that I haven’t acknowledged, haven’t even recognized as mercy. But this was not one of those situations. It was clearly a gift from the hand of God that both of us were blessed by this timing, spared from the dreadful focus of the now.

My mother passed 36 hours later. I was with her when it happened. For the last several decades, she and Grandmama had done pretty much everything together. We shouldn’t be surprised that they would leave so closely together.

Additional mercies were evident too. Because of my mother’s expected passing, extended family members were already making plans to come in from out of state. God was organizing before we even knew we needed it. My mother had planned no funeral. She did not want attention drawn to herself. But we, her children, needed a memorial service. We needed the togetherness with family and friends. We needed to hear scripture preached (Love never fails). We needed to grieve and remember and acknowledge. And so, in the absence of a funeral for my mother, we gathered for my grandmother, and her memorial covered it all.

God was at work in it all. One day, I may be able to write about the actual time of my mother’s passing. He was at work then too, but for now, it is too deep, too real, too acute, for me to bring it into the light fully.

What is this hope that endures, that stands, even in the face of death upon death? How is it held? Genuine. Genuine faith. “According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice (yes, rejoice!), though now for a little while (does it seem like a little while?), if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” – 1 Peter 1: 3-7

The tested genuineness of your faith. The assurance that faith is real. It has been tested, it did not fail, I will be delivered. God knows the state of my faith. Do I? Must I stand trial after trial to prove to him that I love him? No. He knows. He secured me himself. But sometimes, yes, I must stand trial after trial to prove to myself that I love him. Tested genuineness. Hope that does not disappoint.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Lacking Convention, yet Magnification

Mary must have looked crazy, unconventional, all her days.

Pregnant, unmarried teenager, but without shame. Waiting for God. Trusting in God. Carrying God. Bearing God before the world, literally. Walking obediently to the revelation only she had heard. Suffering under scorn and skepticism.

Magnifying the Lord.

She probably got accused as a parent. “Why are you so hard on James, but Jesus, he never gets scolded?” She was probably looked upon as a charity case by extended friends and family of Joseph, who endured her anyway. They didn’t know. They looked. They saw what they expected to see. She knew the truth. Was she always silent?

Magnifying the Lord.

But she knew him. She knew her son. She knew her God. She knew, always, that she could approach him. She knew that he would hear her. He would see her. “They have no more wine,” she said. He heard her. Tenderly, “Woman, what has this to do with me?” But they both knew. He knew what she was asking. She knew what he would do. “Whatever he tells you,” she told the servants. With confidence.

Magnifying the Lord.

What was her widowhood like? Young enough to remarry. “Why don’t you, Mary? You can marry anyone you choose.” But life’s focus was…different. Deeper. Broader. All of history was hinged and turning right before her. Greater things than convention.

Magnifying the Lord.

How much then was her grief magnified? How deep her own wounds? She walked in obedience. Did it bring her peace and prosperity in this life? She had nourished every cell in the body of God. (She was, then, the mother of the Church, wasn’t she?) She held his warmth in her arms. God walked when her fingers let him go. Let him go. Let him go. To them.

Magnifying the Lord.

How much then was her horror magnified when they nailed him, NAILED him, her child, her God, her Savior, to the crossbeams? Who could hold her body together? How did she not fly apart into a billion atoms of despair? Held together by the God Particle. If scientists only knew. But even then, in his anguish, he saw her. He heard her. He answered her. She trusted.

Magnifying the Lord.

Who else had known his intimate love? Who had been the young one he had nurtured. Fed the Bread of Life at dinner. Felt his warmth against his chest. Taken as a child and turned into a man. Mary must have looked crazy. Unconventional all her days. To the very end. “Woman, behold your son,” and to the man, barely out of his teens, “Behold your mother.” From that very hour. Two who knew him in unconventional ways, provided for by his unconventional command, to Magnify the Lord.

May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. – John 17: 23

Saturday, July 7, 2012

There was light in you even while you stumbled in your darkness.
There was light in me even while I did the same.
“I’m hungry,” you said. “Be filled,” I said.
“I’m under water. I can’t breathe,” you said. “Breathe with me,” I said.
And you did.

The ghost was almost gone, but we breathed together. In. Out. Come back again.
“Hold on,” you said. “You’re beautiful.”
“Hold on,” I said. “I’m grappling for you.”
Did you see it then?

The valleys are deep and they are dark and they are twisted.
The light in you lit my way. You said the same.
There is a higher place. Your high places. My high places.
We found one once, at the same time.

That was when you gave that gift.
“I see you,” and you opened your hand. You gave it to me.
It held the sun. Only it was bigger than the sun.
It was the you I saw in you. It was the me you saw in me.
It was gold.

The wind refreshed. Ghost, come back again.
I saw my eyes reflected in yours. Yours in mine.
“It hurts,” into infinity. “Yet we live,” into infinity.
“He sees,” you told me. “He stays.”
“He knows,” I told you. “He heals.”

“Hold on,” you said. “I see you.”
“Breathe,” I said. “I’ll help you.”
The ghost reminded me. I remembered gold.
For an instant, I remembered.

I closed my hands around the gift, but it shone through.
It was bigger than the sun.
It was brighter than the light in you. It was brighter than the light in me.
It was greater than the parts. Together.

But you looked away. What caught your eye?
The wind was blowing somewhere else.
I caught my breath, lest it suck the ghost from me again.
“Look back,” I said, and opened my hand.
But it wasn’t there.

Dry sand slipped through my fingers.
It was sucked away into a dust cloud between us.
“Look back!” I said. And when you turned, you didn’t see me.
Your eyes had turned to glass.