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Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Genesis 1-3 Reflected in My Days 1-3 at Seminary

I'm seeing a pattern in my first three days at seminary, and it ties in sort of, if I'm allowed to reach and "read in too much" (a phrase I've heard so many times already I'm almost afraid to have a thought of my own!), to how the days here have been going for me.

I arrived full of excitement and anticipation. It was like the point when the world is new and all is very good and we're just waiting to see how much there is to do with this new place. Day 1 was even overwhelming in the torrential availability of new resources to me. I wanted to access it all.

But day 2 was more like the day of the Rebellion (or you may say, Fall). It's not that I rebelled, exactly, but the effects of that Rebellion hit me on day 2. Loneliness set in. The discussion led into topics such as personal responsibility to make decisions and to act, and yet, the potential for deep, serious consequences when one makes a wrong decision. How do we, sinful, fallen, rebellious creatures now, appropriately fulfill our design and purpose from the good, unfallen creation: to go and do and make something of this world, with the resources we've been given, and do a good job of it, to cause no harm but continue to move the creation forward? The topic of fear-filled Christian paralysis came up. It's a topic I know personally well. And though it was discussed, it was discussed pretty much as "a problem some people have and how do we (the ones not affected by it) address that with them." Us and them. Only this time, I was the them and not the us. I felt myself becoming pushed away from the rest of the class, isolated, segmented out. And the intellectual discussion did nothing to help address the real, hollow, uncertain longing need in me to have that very issue met in the real and practical context of being both a culture maker and a culture consumer, and always an image bearer of my Creator in this mess of life between the two creations. Aaack! I wanted to yell. I'm your case study!

But that would have been. . . inappropriate.

So I sat quietly while tears burned behind my eyes and tried to listen to find empowering wisdom in a conversation I could not partake in.

Meanwhile, I was having technological problems--the modern-day equivalent, I feel sure, of the initial introduction of viruses and harmful bacteria into the new creation. So too do bugs (if not ghosts) in the machine infect my second-only seminary class. I needed online access. I had not brought all my books, including my massive study Bible, with me to class on day 2, after realizing that we needed only one text at a time, and that I could quickly access any scripture passage through Biblegateway. Or could I? Not on day 2. I was participating in this class in the midst of the thorns of the field of technology, and yes, that was sweat on my brow. The Internet would NOT cooperate for me, so I found myself struggling to keep up, holding multiple passages of scripture in my head as best I could through discussions that truly dissected those passages word for word at certain points. I felt like I was a blind person at the circus. Tell me what you see, and I'll adopt your imagery as best I can.

And then class ended, and everyone went his and her separate ways. I didn't even stay on campus to read. The day before I had stayed for a few hours, sitting on a bench alone. A few people passed but only one stopped to introduce herself, and she was a staff member. So on day 2, I just followed suit with everyone else and launched out of there, back to my hotel room. It's brown. And it overlooks the parking lot. And there are, perpetually, sketchy-looking characters hanging out at all the entrances and exits of my hotel and the one next door, generally just smoking cigarettes and probably being completely innocent and harmless. But I'm a woman traveling alone, and my creep meter is tuned in, and I didn't want to venture out after I got inside.

So, if you know me, then you know that those three things above can pile up into one giant trigger for my particular "bruised reed," fear-filled extroverted self. And depression began to work its way through me. I admit, it was a full-blown depression "episode." I went to all my doubts and fears: I can't do this. It's not the right setting. I'm too fear-filled. I can't think straight. No one likes me. I don't fit in. I need to talk this stuff out and I'm the only person left in the world who learns that way. The distance learning classes are going to kill me. This is my one shot and I'm missing it.

All bad. All gloom. All doom. All hopelessness. That's what depression does. And when you're far from home and know no one and are afraid to walk past sketchy guy, there's not much to do.

Except get chocolate.

So I got a few dollars and went to the candy machine. I stood there for no less than three minutes, I'm sure, staring at the brands and types. Do I want nuts? Is there a dark chocolate option? Peanut butter? Nougat? M&Ms? Oh, the choices. I had to make THE RIGHT choice, you know. So finally I decided and I went to feed my dollars to the machine's bill slot (which, have you ever noticed, looks EXACTLY like the "blah" smiley symbol. :/ Check it out next time. Especially if you're a little depressed.) And guess what? The machine's all dark. No lights at all, anywhere.

I shove the dollar toward the "mouth," and it just wrinkles and folds up. Take it! Take it! You stupid machine! I'm far from home, I'm lonely, I'm realizing that I'm not as equipped for this degree program as I ALWAYS thought I was, and I need chocolate, darn you!

But it wouldn't take it. So I had to go back to my brown room alone and serotonin deficient and well, pretty much hopeless. I needed to read and the words weren't going in. But then my friend Cathy called. Oh, that blessed human voice. I just needed a person and there she was. Isn't it such a mercy that we are not living in the first R (or even the overlapping first and second R's) of the Creation, Rebellion, Redemption, Re-creation segment of history entirely alone? It seems that way sometimes. Maybe often. But it's not true. There's mercy. So much mercy. And Cathy's better than chocolate. (Now Cathy PLUS chocolate might have been even better still, but I'm not trying to complain here.)

Still, I wasn't convinced that I was going to make this program work. All these years, 22 of them, trying to get here, and I was ready to cry "Uncle!" and throw in the towel on day 2. I didn't finish the reading but I did what I could. I listened to a sermon I missed on Sunday, and then I went to bed a little early.

And it's true. His mercies are new in the morning. Sleep is a really good thing. And I think the Holy Spirit spoke to me in that rested state. Spoke through the intellectual content of the class and into my specific deficiencies. You see, one of the broad themes of this class is how we are designed with purpose by God to act in his creation. It's his world. He made it. But then he put us, humanity, into it to do something here. There's the broad directive that applies to all of humanity: Do something with this. But then there are the very individual equipments that he gave to each of us: Use this specific set of characteristics given to you to do something in your own personal sphere. And this morning, I realized that I was trying to plug into the big broad directive while denying my own specific, individual equipment.

I am an extrovert. Period. I am one. It is by his design, but while here, I have been denying the full usage of that design. I have been trying to fit in among the introverts, or the very busy, in the exact way that is not how I am designed. I've been trying to hold my tongue in class and not draw attention to self. I've been trying to process The Story and humanity's place in it and my place in it without referring to my own story and what has brought me here. I've been letting everyone else slip away, and then resigning myself to slip away too. I've looked for a silent, dark chocolate dispensing machine and a bag of dry beef jerky to meet me because I'm afraid of the flesh and blood human strangers sharing this construction with me this week. And all of that is denying who I am and the unique ways in which God himself is working out the bearing of his image in me.

So, this morning, I chose, after that realization, to do today just a little bit differently, and that's all it took.

I didn't eat breakfast in my room. I went to the lobby to sample, as Kevin calls them, "the continental carbohydrates." There was still no chocolate there, but there were people. No, none of that interaction turned into some great conversation, but there was a bored toddler waiting for his dad to bring him his oatmeal and we played peek-a-boo around a house plant for a little while. There was a very busy and (at least on the surface) thoughtless businessman who, in and of himself, hadn't the peripheral vision to realize that he really wasn't the only hungry person in the buffet line today, until I spoke up as gently as I could manage in my small Southern voice to ask if he wouldn't mind handing me one of the salt shakers I was unable to reach. And then he seemed to wake up, realizing that others were likewise inconvenienced by the persistence of his presence over all the utensils and condiments. And I discovered that the interior of the building, unlike my own room, overlooks not the parking lot but a lushly landscaped, bright, open, and many-tiered courtyard, with balconies, a pool, colorful umbrellas, and plants in full bloom. What a difference a little venturing out and perspective make.

I arrived at class in enough time to again discover that the Internet wasn't going to work for me yet, but at least this time I had brought not only my text but also my Bible, and I had had the forethought last night to download a pdf of the class syllabus and outline to my desktop, so that I could access those even if the Internet was being bothersome. So I was prepared. But just a moment later, there appeared a Michael-Stipish looking fellow with a laptop, a briefcase, a nametage, and a business card that said "IT services" on it, who just happened to ask if anyone in the room was having connection problems. I just reworked all the servers on Friday, he said, and I heard some PCs were having trouble getting through the firewalls.

So now I believe there are angels named Gabriel, Michael, and Jerry. Jerry checked out my machine and found that just a month, one month, in release date of some sort of driver can make all the difference in the Internet world, and within a minute of the start time of class, I had access.

With sleep, perspective, a hardcopy of the Bible, and a live Internet connection all at hand, class content exploded open for me and again, it was as thrilling as day 1 had been. Again, a torrent of information, but this time, not screened through shortcomings and failures and strife and bad attitude. When an opportunity arose to address another student's perplexed ponderings, I didn't squelch. I raised my hand and offered a response from scripture and my own story. And both profs took those comments and added to them, fleshing out an idea that reached farther then even for me and seemed to bring light and clarity for the other student.

After class, I lingered, taking my time winding up my cord, and Dr. Williams came to sit on the edge of my table. Another man in the class also stayed, and in a few moments, Dr. Matthews joined us. And it developed: that detailed conversation that I had been longing for, the one that flows from class content to one person's circumstances, gets added to by another, then back to the class content, and around again to bring in another person's perspective.

Are not conversations one of the most amazing of cultural products? It was said today that a "moan" is nature. But a "word" is culture. And if a word is culture, then a conversation between several individuals, in all its organic development and growth, reaching out from one and into the others and vice versa, has to be a veritable Tower of Babel of human culture. It was lofty and exhilarating, and I confessed to those three, in very little detail, the difficulty I had experienced on days 1 and 2 with leaving the classroom and having no further interaction. I also confessed, thinking it was revelatory, that I am kind of a hyper-extrovert, and surprisingly to me, both professors simultaneously laughed deep belly-laughs at that statement. As IF we didn't already know THAT! said Mike, followed right afterward, in typical deadpan style, Brad's Can always spot an extroverted processor.

And I felt known. I had no idea I was known already. I thought I'd been pretty well-behaved and contained. I must be more overwhelming than even I realize. But it was comforting and good to find out that I was known. And that it was OK. It's my design. When I don't live it, I'm not getting what God wants me to get from this life and his stuff, and I'm not giving what he wants me to give to life and his stuff.

I ate my lunch in the student center today, rather than returning to my hotel room alone. It was mostly empty, but at least there were a few hellos, and there's a Starbucks coffee machine that does work and doesn't spit crumpled dollars back at me. And I was out there, where I belong, and the sun shone and somewhere on campus there must be a cottonwood tree, because God kept throwing puff balls from nowhere at me on my way to the car. I drove back with the sunroof open.

So day 3 moved me from the dirge of Rebellion and its effects to the glory of Redemption within this current evil age. Yes, there is overlap. Yes, the challenges will come again. Depression will get me again, later rather than sooner, I hope. But there is still purpose and there are still mercies and it's all his, but he gives us a place in it.

I wonder now, at this moment without fear and gloom, what day 4 will hold. But for now, it's more reading.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Reflections on My First Day as a Student at Seminary

I left my hotel room terrified that everything would go wrong: I would get lost. I would be late. I would not be able to keep up with the flow of discussion. I would be too old. Too female. Too far removed from the technology of the classroom so long after my last degree was conferred.

Not everything went wrong. My car sputtered and coughed and acted like it was going to cut off before I made it out of the parking lot--despite having spent four full days with the mechanic before making this trip. But it did pull through and get me to the campus and back. The error code simply says "random, multiple misfires." There is no recommended solution or identification of the source of said misfires. The one and only person I know on the campus right now gave me her phone number. If the car dies, either she or her husband will come get me to take me to and from class for the week.

I arrived on campus in enough time, despite that little incident, and I'm thankful I wasn't late, because the class had been moved at the last moment--and not just moved to a different room or floor, but all the way to a different building. I had time to find it. I wasn't late. I'm not too old. I'm right smack in the middle of the age range of attendees. There are 30 students in this class. I took my own little census to try to find some way to make myself fit it. (You know that "Christ is what we have in common" mantra? Yeah, well, I'm human too. I'm still looking for my own demographic everywhere I go--some outward evidence that I might really belong.)

The class is roughly 30% female and 70% male. About 15% are African American, 5% Asian, and the rest Caucasian. The age range runs from one who appears to be very early 20s all the way up to one or more in their late 60s or perhaps even beyond. But the bulk of the attendees appear to me to be between 35 and 45, with the next largest group in the late 20s to early 30s. So it's a good mix and there's nothing to make me stand out as unusual within it.

The atmosphere is very casual. Even the profs are far more relaxed in their appearances and presentations than they were when I visited during the regular semester last fall. Dr. Brad Matthews, a lanky, dead-pan, seminary version of Jeff Goldblum some 20 or more years ago, wore flip-flops. The typically straight-laced and formal Dr. Mike Williams  was in an untucked polo and denim-colored Converse. (Yeah, I'm wearing mine tomorrow.) They wandered around the room and sat on desks or backwards chairs much of the time, rather than lingering too long stationed on the platform behind a podium.

We took only one short break--less than 5 minutes--in the entire 3.5 hour class, and covered a great deal of material on the subject of man's Calling, Vocation, and Work in this created world. By necessity, an intensive class has to always be moving forward. And so I left with one main and consuming realization:

One does not come to seminary to find answers. One comes to raise more questions.

There is no way in a week of classes I can possibly begin to address all the new thoughts, connections, questions that have been raised in my own mind from just the 3.5 hours of lecture and discussion! It's a torrent of information and the class must stay on focus--the tangents and derivatives simply cannot be followed, explored, taken until scripture says, "Stop. This is a dead end, or a complete revelation." And so, while I loved the class for sure, I am also very heavy hearted. I have so many expectations to surrender.

A seminary education, even if I manage to make it all the way through this degree program, won't even be a drop in the bucket of the largeness of who God is and all that he is doing, has been doing, will continue to do in the history he is writing. But one new thought that was presented today by Dr. Matthews brings some comfort. And that is that our existence and work in God's creation never ends. It never ends.

I realized that I've tended to think of eternity in God's presence as a sort of static existence. You die, you enter his presence, you're finally transformed, and with that transformation, not only is your sin all gone, but your knowledge is somehow immediately updated. Mysteries revealed like uploading a file to a server. Click! Now you know. Then you get on with this sort of static state of "glorifying" him and it all seems so repetitive and vague to me: How does that work out in the reality of the eternal new creation?

But Brad said, no, teleologically, there is no end to our work. Eternity is infinity. God made the first creation good. It wasn't broken then. But even so, he put mankind in it to change it--to work it, tend it, keep it, take dominion over it. Man's efforts in creation would bring about change, and if there was no sin and rebellion, then those efforts would have been moving that creation forward, further and further toward something else, also good, even more mature. We can't grasp that in our black & white thinking. Good always ends with a "period" in our thinking, but that's not the case really. (Genesis even tells us this. All was good. Then God made man, and then woman, and it still got better. Very good. But even that wasn't intended to be the end. Obedient mankind's work as vice regents would continue making it even better. A gift of being a subcreator!)

And so it is with eternity, renewed earth, transformed image bearers, in his presence forever. I am eternal and all of us will be eternally moving even the new, repaired creation toward something more perfect, more mature, more complete--because God who creates is infinite! And we will be always knowing God more as we do this work in the new creation. The new creation will continue, forever, to offer us opportunity to change it, but perfectly, because we will then be conformed to the image of Christ, who is THE IMAGE of GOD, and we will then be incorruptible. So the muddying of our present-day insights, the harmfulness (at worst) or uncertainty (at best) of our actions will all be removed. We will act in clarity and growing knowledge and understanding, forever.

So it doesn't matter that I can't get everything answered and discovered and connected here, in a week-long class, or in a multi-year degree program, or even in an 80-year life. In fact, this reality of the impossibility of squaring it all away now is a reflection of the great truth that I will NEVER exhaust the knowledge of the mysteries of God, not even in his presence in my fully redeemed state. He is revealing, yes. But there is so much to him that the exploration and revelation continue infinitely, as we act and change his creation, as vice regents acting out our image-bearer status again in his presence incorruptible.

And part of the corruption that will be gone is this frustration of my own finite limits in understanding, in time, in resources. No longer will the creation or the creatures be subjected to that frustration. And the aspect of the Fruit of the Spirit that is joy and patience bound together will feed one another in a sense of total fulfillment, because each inexhaustible moment will be presenting more of the fullness of the knowledge of the one I am made to crave.

Friday, July 26, 2013

22 Years Later...

So tomorrow is the day I start the drive up to St. Louis, to begin the first class in my graduate studies program. I'll drive about halfway tomorrow, spend the night with my cousin Leslie, and then make the second half of the trip the next day. There are several reasons for this. 1) One can never spend enough time with cousin Leslie, it seems. We grew up spending a week or more each summer together, but the separation of multiple states between us always kept that together time limited. We've had our adventures. Lazy days, long walks, turtle boils (no, not soup: hatchlings) on the beach, hurricanes, ponies and broken bones, Atlanta outings with my dear friend Dave crammed in the hatchback of my two seater car (chivalrous of him, to let Leslie have shotgun). She stood beside me at my wedding. Sacrificed her car keys to my hastily packed luggage. And still, we've never been to Spain together. But at least I can stop to see her on my way to St. Louis for a night. And 2) I can arrive in time for class early Monday morning not too tired from a 11-hour drive the day before.

And tonight, I can't tell how I feel. I mean, I'm definitely going. But it seems sort of unbelievable. And I wonder how it's going to go.

I first felt the certainty that I wanted this very degree 22 years ago. Twenty-two years. I can't believe that much time has passed. I just couldn't get there then, and so much has happened between that time and now. So I've always had to hold this degree thing loosely, and maybe it's because I am holding it so loosely, well-trained after more than two full decades, that I feel a little ambivalent tonight. One class is no guarantee that the MATS will ever really come into being, no matter how badly I want it.

God has allowed me to work in the very area I want to study in for most of those 22 years. At least it comes to almost 19 of them. I've been in various positions of the same company for more than 19 years now, with just a few breaks from work here and there when children were born. I want to add to my knowledge so that I can continue to do my work there better, and reach farther with it, maybe write more, speak publicly more, even teach at the high school, college, or institute level. Face to face interaction about my passion for God's work in this very culture? Another dream to hold loosely.

But I'm not as smart as I once was. I don't think as clearly or as quickly. I think I need to be de-fragged, because my brain seems to store things in smaller, more scattered bits than it once did. Whereas my friend and coworker Wes once said I had "a mind like a steel trap," these days it feels more like a stainless-steel colander. Can I do the work? Can I keep up? Retain? Respond as needed? I'm not so confident, actually.

But I have to go and see. Now that the opportunity is really here, at hand, I have to try. Whether this is one class and the final closing of the door, or the first of many yet to come, I won't be able to say for awhile yet. But tomorrow I take the first step. I load the car. I pack the books I haven't yet finished reading ahead of time. I fill the tank with gas. I put on the shades and plug in the iPod and double check the directions, trip the odometer, and give it a go.

It's a long-awaited adventure. What does He have in store? I said before, I would be like Abraham. I will go until He tells me to stop. He says His word is a lamp unto my feet. It doesn't say it's a flood light for the entire highway. I can only see the step right before me and not the longer road ahead.

So I'm taking one step. Tomorrow. One step in faith and action.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Losing Liam

I dreamed I misplaced a child last night.

It was one of those dreams so vivid you can't tell it from the truth.

It was a girl child named Terry. I woke up scared to death, truly shaken, and still trapped in that dream. I was sure I had lost her somehow from negligence. Still not thinking clearly, I woke Bill:

Where? I asked.

Where what?

Where did we put - - -? Already my mind was telling me to stop talking, something wasn't right. I counted them in my head, visualizing each in her own bed: Jill, Miriam, Jane, Emma. But where is Terry? She was so real, and I was sure I had lost her. And then the reality hit me, and I realized: You don't have five children. You have only four children. 

All four are OK, safe in their beds where you left them a few hours ago, but you don't have five. I then think I am insane. I must be insane. It was too real, too vivid. I sat on the edge of the bed for several moments. I felt overwhelmed with sorrow and confusion. Something just doesn't make sense. There's a crack in reason big enough to drive a chopping maul into.

I rolled over, pulling the sheet over me in one fluid motion, assumed the fetal position, and willfully subjugated myself to Sleep in helplessness. It was all I could do.

I never chose the name Terry for any of our children. The lost ones I call Liam, Maria, Johns, and Kate--in that order--even though I don't know their genders for sure. Doctors speculate they might all have been boys, but we don't know.

The first was due today. He would be turning 16 about now.

He was the only one I got to see in the miscarriages, other than by ultrasound. I don't know what went wrong, but it was just obvious that the tiny umbilical cord had torn loose. It looked so violently shredded at the end, though still attached to him. But otherwise he looked "on track" for development. Somehow, against my will--oh, my will was in such opposition, screaming internally, no, No, NO--but somehow that will had no control over my body. My body just let go. Let go of Liam and forced him out, far too soon.

I knelt on the cold, white vinyl floor of the white-walled bathroom, next to the cold, white porcelain fixture where my first baby lay--his unsanitary watery grave. I sat by him for a long time. I didn't know what to do, but it seemed appropriate as anything in a situation as wrong as that could be that I stay by him, bleeding and grieving and doing nothing at all. What else was there to do?

There were no pretty, lacy miscarriage wrappers with satin ribbons back then, though I've made and seen dozens of them since through a local grief ministry. There weren't even open discussions among women about what to do. It was all so clinical and private. The doctors' office had just said come back in two weeks, after the holiday festivities were over. We'll do a blood test. Make sure it's complete. Complete? Nothing but the opposite could apply. Cold as white porcelain.

And so I said goodbye there, on the bathroom floor. I took a mental image of the three-quarter-inch bean and his gnarled, bloody cord, and that is all I get to hold of my first baby. That image. Until the days are accomplished. Until that one fine morning when I'll fly away too.

But every year on this day when he should have been due, this one marking that milestone 16th birthday, I pull out that image. And I hold him for a few moments. The grief never lessens. Not for the first. He's still not here.

I miss people I've never known.

Monday, July 15, 2013

The Heart That Longs To Be Fully Known

I have a good friend who, from time to time, puts his own thoughts into writing as he is grappling with a biblical understanding of who he is and how God relates to him. Occasionally his thoughts end up in my inbox and the inboxes of a handful of other friends and family members. Each one is entitled “Fully Known,” and follows with a topic-specific subtitle.

The reference to being “fully known” comes from 1 Corinthians 13. “Now we see as in a mirror darkly; then we shall see face to face… then we will know fully, even as we are fully known.”

Life circumstances lately have prompted me to evaluate this idea of being fully known. It’s scary stuff. Do you really want someone else to know all there is to know about you? If I’m honest with myself, and with you, I’d have to say, “No way!” A one-time favorite song offered this take on it: “If only you knew what’s inside of me now, you wouldn’t want to know me somehow.” I get that. There’s some truly unlovable stuff down in there.

But walking through this life covering up all the time is dreadfully wearying. And opacity and pretending at perfection can lead to the prolonging of deep hurts, far beyond their common life-expectancy. Mark 4 and 1 Corinthians 4 tell us that everything hidden in darkness will be brought to light. It will be fully known. Yikes. Am I the only one who just cringed?

Do I want to be fully known? The honest answer is both no and yes. No because it’s not all pretty, and I fear that with knowledge will come revulsion, rejection by those who don’t have the same ugliness inside, or who cover it up far better—maybe even hiding it from themselves. I think of Jack Nicholson’s character in A Few Good Men: “You can’t HANDLE the truth!” Can you? Can you handle the truth? Can any of us fallen creatures truly handle the truth about the depth of our sin, the blackness of our hearts, the actual distance that condition puts between us and the only standard of goodness?

Clearly, that answer is no. We couldn’t handle our condition ourselves. And because of that, the answer to “Do I want to be fully known?” can still be yes. Yes, I do—but by whom?

I remember it was when I was a young teen that I first began to consciously address this question. I was a naturally smart child who had been taught to be respectful of rules and people. Because of that, I gained a reputation at school of being far and away more “good” than I really was. It wasn’t a blessing. It felt like a burden. I knew it was opaque and dishonest. I knew that the “me” they saw wasn’t the “me” I really was. I wasn’t fully known—nowhere near it—and I felt like a fraud and a counterfeit.

So one time I decided I had to begin to break out a bit and become more real. I had saved some of my own money. I went clothes shopping on my own. Instead of the normal conservative blue oxford, blue crew-neck, navy or khaki pants prescribed for me typically, I chose an entirely new outfit.  It wasn’t distasteful, but it was different. Tailored black pants. A sleeveless white sweater. But here was the kicker: red beads, red sash belt, red earrings, and even red shoes. (They were my first “pumps,” with all of a 1-inch heel.)

My mother despised the color red in clothing. She thought it was too attention-getting, and associated it with “floozies.” Was I trying to be a “floozy”? I have to say that honestly, no, I wasn’t actually trying to be naughty or provocative in any way. I was simply trying to be honest.

I wasn’t a perfect person. I wasn’t always good. I certainly didn’t go around playing “The Glad Game” and seeking ways to spread cheer and happiness like flower seeds. But while I was suppressing and trying to manage my imperfections, somewhere in there, I was also way more alive and vibrant than I had ever felt free to be. I was also suppressing my vitality. I was so very totally normal, and my new look was a cry for someone to know me—to know that I wasn’t so one-dimensional. “See me for who I really am!” I could have cried out, but I would have added, “And love me both for it and in spite of it!”

Isn’t that what we all want? To be seen and accepted too?

My favorite line in James Ward’s song “El Shaddai” says, “to the outcast on her knees you were the God who really sees.” Beer Lahai Roi—The Living One who sees. That’s who Hagar depended on when she had been mercilessly and helplessly cast out for being the slave woman. I know that state. If only you knew what’s inside of me now, I too would be the outcast on her knees. Because none of us can handle the truth. Not on our own.

But it wasn’t even enough that The One Who Sees should look from afar and know fully. And that’s where this story gets crazy wonderful.

I once saw an award-winning independent film short at a film festival. It was done all in black & white. It showed a view from above of a piece of rotting meat, infested with squirmy, twitching maggots. A wretched sight, those quivering slugs on the grainy, flickering film. The camera zoomed in slowly, and as it got nearer to the subject matter, the viewer sees that the maggots aren’t all simply maggots. Many of them are pale, uncovered, squirming, twitching humans, there among the decay. Helpless. Naked. Hopeless, really. Flinching meaninglessly and desperately on the rotting matter.

If only you knew what’s inside of me now… Would you turn away?

In all his holiness, his perfection, his sublime character, The One Who Sees had every right to look upon the quivering masses of humanity and turn away. He sees fully, and in his sight we are fully known. There’s no opacity there. It’s wide open and bare and stark and brutally honest. He sees to the depths. But even so, he didn’t turn away. He didn’t stay away. Because he loves. Let that sink in:

He loves. He loves enough to be present. To console. To fill the empty space beside the broken, the wounded, the damage, the straying.

Instead of staying at a distance, he entered in, came into this rotting, sin-infested place from glory, to reverse the decay, to conquer it, to claim those who are his own and restore. To create new hearts, to clean out gangrenous wounds. Because he knows fully, because he sees, he is the only one who can repair. His cleansing is like a fire that consumes but does not destroy. A purifying fire. His work is permanent and guaranteed for completion. And because of it, we can be fully known and at the same time handle the truth of our own condition.

It’s too big for my mind to grasp. But it’s a promise. Love never ends, and one day I will know that fully, even as I am fully known.

Friday, July 12, 2013

To Joy and Lyn: Into the Mnaymion

To my dear little sisters in the faith, Joy and Lyn, as you are about to embark on a mission trip to Bulgaria:

I am honored to be a part of watching you go, and helping in some small way by prayer support and other means. And I'm struck to the heart when I read the description of where you will be, and what life is like there for women your age, and how very much you have to bring, in God's providence, to a desperate need there.

Dear Joy and dear Lyn... I've seen you grow up these last few years particularly. It's a cliche these days to use the word "blossom" for young women, and yet, when I think of my own conversion to faith in Christ when I was just about your age, I remember that the only word I could use for what was expanding inside my spirit was "blossoming." So there it is. Blossom you have.

You both have in your physical appearance and form, and in your demeanor and the focus and drive of your hearts, the very essence of what I see as the beauty of womanhood. You are strong. You are lovely. You are kind. You are absolutely devoted to loving your Savior and reflecting him to others.

And I look at your families, and I see there the outpouring of affection for you both that reflects the favor your God has bestowed, poured out on you. You are adored! You are beloved! As well you should be! Precious pearls, treasured and nurtured and prepared for greater work, which you are now about to enter into.

And then, the darkness of the place where you are going. Where young women like you have, since their girlhood, been objects of consumption for others. Where shells of the light-filled creatures they were meant to be is all that exists. And I pray. I pray and I pray that as you go, the One who met the broken, empty, famished woman at the well in Samaria has in mind one or more of those broken vessels for you to help fill with the knowledge of the Truth: The way she should be loved.

The woman at the well came as a harlot. Empty. Needy. Seeking for anything to fill her. Water wasn't enough. Five husbands were not enough. I can almost hear her soul screaming for help. She knows she is going to die and she clings to the next person in the hope that that one will save her, even if just a little longer. But she came a harlot and she left a princess--a daughter of the Most High King, just as you already know yourselves to be. Oh, how He loves you so. There, in Bulgaria, a daughter awaits. She doesn't know it yet. She believes instead that she is a vessel of wrath, if her life has any significance at all. She gave up her soul long ago, because to live in what her life has demanded would have taken it from her anyway. Best to give it freely rather than hang on in that blackness.

Jesus once took a boat across a large lake for one single purpose: to meet and release one man from the demons that held him. He found him in the mnaymion. That's Greek for a word we generally just translate as "tomb." But it's not that simple.

There are two words commonly used for "tomb" in the New Testament. There is "taphos," which literally translates as "a receptacle for the dead." It's just a place for a corpse. It's a place for ending relationship and leaving behind for decay to set in. And then there is "mnaymion." And as much as we might call it a simple tomb, I have come to love the word "mnaymion." It really means "a memorial."

The demoniac lived in the tombs. He cried out and cut himself and represented the Living Dead there. He could not mix in society. He was isolated. Banished. His pain was so great that he sought to hurt his own body. All his power went into violence to rage against the despair of his living death. But he was not dead. No.

He was remembered.

Christ got in a boat. He crossed the sea. He went to the tombs--no, the mnaymion. Because he had not forgotten this one. This one that all humanity had given up hope for. This one that was living a life of death. And Christ remembered him. He touched him and cleansed him and gave him his life back. New. Meaningful. Healed. And then Christ returned to the boat and left him to a new life among his own people, to live the example of the healing power of the one who remembered him.

I think you, beautiful girls, my beloved friends, are going to the mnaymion in Bulgaria. You will get on a plane. You will cross the sea. And you will go to those tombs--no, that mnaymion. And somewhere there is one our Lord has remembered. I pray you find her. I pray you touch her. I pray you can communicate to her that she is not the living dead, but a Bride. A beloved Bride. And I am praying for her to see in you the purity and beauty and grace and mercy poured out on you, and drink of it for herself and know that it is hers, and has been, from all eternity.

Godspeed on your journey! And if it comes about this way, I pray you will let me know, so that I can give thanks for the remembered one by name.

A New Assignment

So I've been asked by the church where we've just become members to contribute to a blog they have for women in the congregation. The deal: I attend worship. (No brainer.) I pay attention. (Also, so far, a no brainer.) I think about what I hear. (OK, got that.) Reflect on it. (Uh-huh.) And write something down about my reflections. That written response will be uploaded to the church blog for the interested women in the congregation to read, think about, and maybe, just maybe, discuss.

And I've known for about a month that I would be doing this. After this coming Sunday's sermon.

And I want to. I really, really want to.

And I'm scared to death!

Do you know the ominous and foreboding sense of the Pressure To Perform? Yeah. That's it.

I'm feeling that pressure. And it's completely irrational. I mean, what do I do for a living? Uhhh...I write. And what do I do for fun and relaxation and when I need to worship about something in particular? Yep. I write. And do I enjoy and always learn from the sermons I've been hearing? You bet.

So why the fear? Why is it that as soon as a date is put upon it, in advance, I feel my blood coagulating and the little beads of sweat popping out and I'm sure, just SURE, that this week is the week when not a single word is going to make sense, and I won't be able to focus, and nothing is going to come OUT OF MY BRAIN?

I should see this as a challenge. My dear friend Jill Perry taught me something once. A simple phrase. "I'm just waiting to see what God will do with this opportunity." THAT is the attitude I should have. It's not my words, my insights anyway, right? It is His word that does not return void, and it is His word I need to relax and let speak to me, as He always, always does.

But would you, my friends, pray for me? I can tell by my stats page that a few of you read what I write here. I thank you. I love discussion. I love the sharing of ideas and the way that they develop and grow when others comment and stretch and add, and it gets bounced around and flung to greater maturity like a round of yeasty pizza dough between various hands and minds. Would you pray for me that God would use my reflections and thoughts on His words, carried through the mind and thoughts of His servant, our pastor, to bring something meaningful and useful to someone, for this coming Sunday?

Thank you. I knew you would.
Let's just wait and see what God will do with this opportunity.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

How Simple Is Radical?

Some of you are aware that for the last several months (or, by now, years), I have become less and less comfortable with the idea that the Christian life should be as comfortable as it is—for me, at least.
I've been abnormally drawn to uses of the word "radical" as well.

Jesus was a radical. Absolutey stark-raving radical. I remember noticing for the first time the outrageousness of a man who would send his friends out in a boat--go on ahead of me--knowing full well that a little while later he was going to blow their minds by coming up alongside them on the sea--ON FOOT!

Same guy, who could and WOULD do something so unexpected, so physically and logically radical, went about his relationships the same way. That's why he got so much negative attention from those rule-makers, who laid on the burdens of social conventions largely for the purpose of keeping themselves well within their own comfort zones. And they called it piety. And he despised that.

So, that's been on my mind lately. At a Truth Project discussion, I got lulled into thinking that all one needs to do to be a Radical Christian is to stand out from the crowd by being willing to do the minimum of right behavior. "These days," there's so much apathy, just doing the smallest expected act of service is seen as radical. For a little while I believed that, and I was comfortable. I promised myself that if I saw an injured person on the sidewalk somewhere, I would be SURE to make use of convenient technology to call for help rather than walk on by. And I called myself a satisfied radical. So set apart from the rest of the world, right? Because most people, “normal people,” wouldn’t even do that much, you know?

But it's been gnawing at me, clawing at me: Sell out! You sold out, didn't you? And I know I did. In my heart of hearts, the sinful one, you know--I want to be "neither hot nor cold." Nice and lukewarm. It's comfy. It seems safe.

But that's not who I'm left to be. Christ came in, and making sure I'm nice and comfy really hasn't been coming through as tops on his priority list. Life has not been comfortable.

So on the afternoon I first wrote this (it has languished, unpublished, for some months, shared only with a few close friends), he used someone he often uses when he wants to clobber me and get me back to the point. I’m asking each of you to read Andree Seu’s blog entry from that day. You can find it here: http://online.worldmag.com/2010/06/29/psalm-408/
She gets the radical nature of Christ’s actions. And she gets that once we’re called, and clothed with Christ and indwelt and neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, there’s something really radical going on.

This picture she gives shakes up social conventions. It steps across gender barriers. It goes way outside of comfort zones. And yet, it is such a simple thing. Her ministry to a stranger is something one needs no training to do. Everyone, regardless of high or low gifts, can love that way. I imagine if I had been there, I would have taken a wide berth. I know I would have prayed, but silently to myself that God would minister. Just not through me. Not directly. Not hands-on, side-by-side. But I want him to. And I’m beginning to see that it’s unlikely he’s going to give me real rest and comfort until I’m willing to let him use me just that radically.

Don’t live life in fear. In love, there is no fear. Perfect, mature love, God-like love, casts out fear.  
Test everything; hold on to what is good. But if we look at an opportunity given by God, and set it up against social conventions that would limit tangibly, radically reaching out, and find no sin in it—what excuse do we have to present before God to justify doing anything else?

I keep coming back in my mind to the parable of the Good Samaritan. All the people who were expected to be the righteous ones, the ones whom we people would look at, passing normally in the street when we had no need, and assume these were the good guys. They were the ones who didn’t stop, didn’t get involved. They kept themselves clean. They kept themselves on task. They could have said, “It’s not my place to help.” And they are the ones condemned.

I can’t get around it, this idea that I don’t get to choose the who I’m supposed to be available to reach out to in brotherly Christian love. Whoever it is that God drops in my path, I’m supposed to help if I can. I at least have to try. I can’t find the “not my place,” “off the hook” catchphrase in the story.

But there’s another side of that. I can’t presume I’m always the strong one, the helper. I have needed lots and lots of help lately. I have been extremely needy. I’m not sure that’s going to let up any time soon either. I have to think of myself as the wounded guy, lying there, helpless, waiting. When he saw that he was about to be touched by a Samaritan, did he sit up and object? “Oh no, not YOU! I’ll just hang around and wait for someone more appropriate, more conventional.”

No, even then, I don’t get to choose. And maybe I’d like to. Or maybe I’d like to choose for someone else. “Look the other way, dearie. Someone else can handle that.” But it’s not for me to say, and anyway, comfy combinations just aren’t how God works most of the time. There’s a reason for that too.

Our God is always active and working, and his mission is one of unity and reconciliation. He reconciles to himself those who are so very not like him. He is holy, sinless, perfect. He doesn’t need anything or anyone else. We are everything but those things. We are common, sinful, broken, and so very needy, incomplete and hopeless without him.

He is also triune. Three in one.  Can’t get that, I admit it. I can know it and not understand it, but it’s important. Unity out of diversity. Three distinct persons in a perfect unity. And that perfectly united triune God makes it his business to bring together with himself those who are not like him. And then he does it here, too. He lets us know him more, and see the fullness of his grace working more, when he brings us together with others who are not like us already.

Christ bridges every gap and division. God sees all believers without partiality, and that unity is something he intends for us to strive toward as well. It’s already real; we just don’t always get it. Not yet. We will, one day. But in Christ, when he is the joining factor and the Holy Spirit is (always) present with us, there is neither Jew nor Greek—the whole world is bridged by this unity. The races we try to define to make categories to put people in, the nations, the languages. In Christ, all are one. There is neither slave nor free—don’t we so often choose to divide by economic status? Oh, this is a hard one. But because Christ is what I (in my plain little ranch house with the “eclectic” furnishings) have in common with the family of my daughter (in their 6,000 square foot, elegant 3-story newly constructed to their own specs villa), then not even granite countertops can separate us! I can enjoy being with them in their home or mine without the pangers of covetousness stealing my contentment or making me wish for a higher social status. (I admit to temptation at times; but if I confess my sin, he is faithful and just to forgive me my sin and purify me of all unrighteousness, and I promise you, I have seen progress in that area!) The Holy Spirit overcomes covetousness? Even in me? I know, it’s hard to imagine, but I’ve seen it. It’s part of my story. He is that real and that powerful. And in Christ, I am one with even the wealthy believers, and they with me. Male and female become brothers and sisters—how radical is that from the world? Every woman knows she is not safe out there. It’s only predator and prey. But in the family of God, we are not only instructed and called to love and relate to one another with all the purity of siblings, but we are empowered to do it, with the purification of the word of God’s mission: unity out of diversity. And the world will know that it is God within us.

Be open to the opportunity to love someone not like yourself. God does. And when he gives the command to love, he gives the ability to do so too. (I think Corrie ten Boom said that first.)

Thanks for reading. These are the contents of my head tonight. Spur me on then, friends, to love and good works. Radically.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Miriam's Story: Deliverance Into Life Installment #3

This is installment #3 of Miriam's birth story. If you missed the first and second installments, you can read them here: #1 and here: #2.

I knew it was a message for me. And I took a curious and honest—but still hesitant and a little uncertain—comfort in it. But I was worn out. I hurt. The layer of abdominal muscles under the incision burned with a searing pain. It was worse when I walked. I remember that I napped, and then I wanted to go back to NICU. I buzzed the nurse’s desk to ask for a wheelchair lift to the floor above. But no one could come for me. I wasn’t in the mother-baby ward, because I didn’t have a baby with me. They had put me on the maternal-fetal medicine ward.

All the other women on my hall were experiencing high-risk or problematic pregnancy situations. I was the only one who was no longer pregnant. But I was not the only one experiencing fear, trauma, concern, bewilderment—or worse. The woman in the room next to mine was actively losing her child. I remember her screams when she got the news that her baby was gone. My heart still breaks. I never saw her face. She was gone the next morning. I just remember her screaming and screaming. Rachel, weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted. I’ll carry her with me always. I am so sorry.

I didn’t want to wait. I wanted to be with Miriam, every minute possible. So I walked. Less than 24 hours after that traumatic surgery, I walked from my room, to the elevator, up a floor, out into the elevator lobby where a vintage wedding gown was on display behind glass (a wedding gown, in the hospital—I’m not sure why) and through the “family only” door into NICU. And there she was. But she was no longer intubated.

Her cheeks were swollen and chapped from the tape that
had held the vent tubing in place. She kept her eyes squeezed
tightly shut in an expression that I thought suggested that
she hurt and was trying to endure through the pain.

Her little cheeks were red and swollen from being irritated by the tape that had held the breathing tube in place. Her little fists were still clasped tightly, but the gauze was gone. She wasn’t strapped down now. I could see her whole face. Her eyes were still squeezed shut, so she didn’t look like she was resting comfortably—to me it just looked like she hurt and she was trying to shut that out—but she was breathing on her own. She was breathing without a machine! Just a little more than four hours earlier I had been told she wasn’t likely to ever go home. And here she was, free of the machinery that had been doing the breathing for her.

Nurse Sandy couldn’t have been prouder. “You should have seen her!” she said. “We were changing the pad under her and had let her loose for a little while, and do you know what she did? She just grabbed that old tube and pulled it out! Pulled it out all by herself. You know, if she don’t need it, we won’t force it back in. A baby this strong—she’s not so sick after all. You just watch. Yep, I know my baby. I know my baby girl. She’s a fighter.” A fighter. With POWER.

Nurse Sandy probably called all the babies “her baby.” But I took it to heart that Miriam was special. Every shift that Sandy had for the next week, she came in to see how “her baby” was doing. It comforted me to know that she felt such a bond with the little one in her care.

From that point, Nurse Sandy stopped saying, “A baby this sick…” The next day, she confided to me, “She’s not sick enough to be in this section. She won’t stay here long.” It took another day for the amazement to wear off on the powers that controlled her place in the unit, but she did get moved, and not just down one section, but from the most critical care section to the least critical care section, bypassing all the intermediates. I don’t remember the letter designations, but it seems to me she moved instantly from A to something like E or F. And every day, she got stronger and more alert. Every day, her vital signs got closer and closer to stable. Every day, she seemed more and more like a normal newborn. But she was still under close watch. Wires remained stuck to her chest and back, and a wad of tubes and hoses was plugged in through a tiny vein.

On the morning of day 5, I came in to see her. I had a routine now. I had been given a “sleep closet” on the NICU floor after I was discharged as a patient. It was a tiny room with a twin bed in it where I could stay. There was a public shower down the hall, and a breast pump room adjoining NICU. So that’s where I lived while Miriam was in the hospital. I went from my sleep closet to the pumping room, took my milk to a plastic shoebox labeled with our name and stored in a freezer at the center of the NICU facility, then went to sit by Miriam for as long as I could, to talk to her, to tickle her with the t-shirt I had been sleeping with at times to transfer my scent, the shirt I could leave with her at other times when I would be gone, so she wouldn’t forget me. Then back to the pump room, back to my closet for naps, and the cycle repeated. But day 5 caught me by surprise.

When I walked in that morning, the cluster of tubes and wires was no longer in her little arm. It had been moved. It now projected from a vein on the very top of her head—a giant mass seemingly plugged into my baby’s skull. Into the brain, even? What did this mean? It looked horrifying. I grabbed the nearest nurse—it wasn’t Nurse Sandy—and asked what was going on. “Oh, it’s nothing unusual,” she said. “There’s a really good vein in the head. It’s really better than the arm.” Business as usual? I had a hard time believing her, because just then she pulled from a drawer an 8-inch pair of shears and a knitted newborn hat. She whacked the pointed top off the hat, creating a round hole at the top. Then she unplugged the mass of wires, fed them through the hole in the hat and back into Miriam’s head, and tugged the hat over her little skull. If this was business as usual, why didn’t NICU have hats ready-made to accommodate such a situation?

The shock of the unexpected image and the shock of the butchered hat reinforced one another, and I feared there was something she wasn’t telling me. But it seems it really was just that way. A year or more later, I was able to recount this experience to a woman who ran the Helen’s Chapter of Threads of Love, a sewing ministry that provides clothing to NICU as well as beautiful, hand-made gowns for the infants who don’t survive. She developed a new knitted baby hat which already featured a finished, “meant to be there, to show we are prepared” hole in the top, so that mothers like me in the future wouldn’t be so caught by surprise when the giant shears came out to make adaptation for something they could have been prepared for already. I hope they still use those hats with the ready-made holes in them.

Day 5 was the day that nearly got to me, however. It had been such a constant process, such a cycle of routine, such a waiting and watching and being amazed but also being held at a distance—I still could not hold her, I couldn’t yet nurse her. All her feeding was coming through a lipid tube into her vein (in her head now). Sometimes she cried, and I could talk to her, rub her, tickle her with that t-shirt. But I wanted to hold her close. I wanted to get attached. I wanted to mother my baby.

Having recovered my composure after seeing the things stuck into her head, and the improvisation with the hat, I stood by her bed, just talking, singing, touching her as much as I could. It was his day off, but Dr. Jackson came by again anyway to check on us. I was so weary. I was so tired of being strong. I know I was being held by the everlasting arms. I do know it. But I am still only dust, and I was so tired. Miriam started to cry, and I wanted to pick her up and let her feel my warmth. I wanted her to hear my heartbeat again, like she had for most of the previous nine months. It was hard to hear her cry and for her to be there, lying alone, all wired up still. Dr. Jackson prepared to leave, and as he did, he just reached out one hand and gave me a gentle, compassionate squeeze on the shoulder.

There is something so powerful about kindness simply expressed. Bill had been around as much as he could, but he was taking care of the other little girls, taking them to and from his parents’ house, and still trying to get some work done all this time. This had really been a very lonely and isolating ordeal for me, and it had required a lot of me, constantly. That human touch transferred something to me that let me become human again. I felt it welling up inside me, and as soon as the good doctor was out of earshot, it just erupted. I burst into tears with such volatility that the nurse actually jumped. “What’s wrong?!” she gasped, as if something terrible had just happened before me.

“I can’t help her!” I cried. “I can’t DO anything for her! She’s crying! I can’t hold her, I can’t nurse her, I can’t DO ANYTHING!” And sobbing overtook me. Before she could even respond, Dr. Yoder was again on the scene. He had just been a few cubicles over, but he heard the ruckus I was making, and he so reasonably came to my rescue. This time, it was as if I, and not Miriam, was the patient. “Well, let’s just change that,” he said, and he took Miriam’s chart and wrote orders on it for Miriam to begin that day, that moment actually, to try to nurse.

She weighed hardly a thing. I remember how light she felt in my arms. At last! At birth she was just under seven pounds. I’m not sure what her weight was at this point, but I’ll bet it wasn’t more than six and a half. She was small and warm and frail, and as I drew her close to me, I realized that she was HUNGRY! Neither of the other girls (Emma, born a little early, had no idea how to suck; and little Jane had been a “failure to thrive” baby; eating never much interested her as a newborn) had ever attacked a breast like this. She flung her mouth open wide and dove in powerfully toward the smell of milk. The word “voracious” comes to mind. I do believe she made little “nom, nom, nom” sounds as she latched on. But maybe I’ve added that in my foggy memory. The nurse laughed and announced, “Well you sure know what to do with that, don’t you?”

Shortly, she relaxed against me. Asleep. My little Miriam, asleep in my arms at last.

All together, the baby whom I was not to get attached to spent a total of only six days in NICU. The last day was in a transition room, where I could practice all I needed to do beforehand to take her home and care for her on our own. But by that time, she was just like every other healthy newborn. I needed only a little special instruction on how to care for the stitches that the plastic surgeon had placed to reattach the top of her ear, which had been partially severed in the emergency surgery. Today, a fine white line just under her hairline leading to the top of that ear is the only remaining scar to give physical evidence of the events of her birth.

In just a few days, we had seen this beloved child seemingly held by the grip of death. And we had seen resurrection power at work, to restore her beyond all expectation of healing and life. Miriam finished first grade in May. She kept pace with her classmates and seems to be a solidly average student as far as scholarship is concerned. But she excels in creativity and athletic ability—and joy. The baby predicted to have developmental problems all her life walked earlier than any of her sisters. She talked by 10 months and had sentences shortly after the age of a year. At 15 months, she understood the concept of something being “new,” and she had named her favorite blanket (still her favorite, still a constant companion when at home or on the road) “Mike.” Who would have thought of that?

I’ll have to do another entry about the choosing of her name, and all we’ve found out about that name since bestowing it upon her. But for now, I will just tell you, it fits. Miriam she is and Miriam she always was meant to be.

We were told she would need very regular medical oversight for at least her first two years of life. You can read how God provided for that in this blog entry from December 2012. We call it yet another “Holy Ghost Story.” You could call it Installment #4 for Miriam's story.

But I know you won’t be surprised. We know whom we have believed. He is the Spirit of power, and not of fear.

I will leave you with some more pictures of Miracle Miriam, the one we call "Miss Firecracker" because of the power and spunk and fire in her.

Keeping up with big sisters. Emma at 7, Jane at 5, Miriam at 1. 2006
Truly a "big girl." Spring pictures from the end of her first-grade year. 2013. Seven years old.

Now a big sister as well as a little sister: with "her baby," Jill. 2011

To read more about how God has provided for Miriam even after her birth, during those scary months of waiting to see if disabilities and brain damage would surface, please follow this link.