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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.