October 28, 2011
It is the season of dying things…gardens, leaves, mosquitoes…and of funerals. Our ‘small group’ lost a member this week. Funerals have a way of bringing life as we know it to a halt and making us look at the life just beyond this one, the life we have a hard time keeping in view as being really real and accessible in the snap of a finger…The fellow who left us was born in 1965, making him younger than me. He was a whole-hearted believer. He was confident too that God would heal him, but the time-frame wasn’t what we earthlings had hoped for.
This eternal life we’ve embarked on has no such limitations. It goes on and on, but the best of it begins just where life as we know it stops. There’s the bump in the road that causes so much grief—to the ones left waiting for their turn.
Paul saw life clearly in this respect, perhaps because he was given a glimpse of life in the heavenlies. He came right out and said it: “My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better”. (Phil.1:23) He had no delusions about life here being something to cling to for selfish reasons. He had already dedicated his life entirely to the cause of the Gospel, intent on honoring Christ in His body, whether by life or by death. Life here wasn’t about himself. (gulp) Consequently, he was ready and waiting to go be with the One who was His Life. And at the same time, he was content to ‘do his time’ imprisoned in his physical body if it would mean an opportunity to serve His Lord by building up His Body here and now.
Maybe I don’t fully share his perspective because my life here and now still has some ‘perks’ for me. I’ve woken this morning for instance, in the home of my grandbabies!--here to visit for a week, and hear sweet baby talk and the patter of little feet racing to and fro for the sheer joy of it!
And there’s still beauty in this world. The drive yesterday was awesome, in the true sense of the word. The dark evergreens are scattered with brilliant splashes of gold. And reds and oranges punctuate the world before it fades to winter’s sleep. Really quite remarkable that trees go through this surprising metamorphosis—leaves don’t just turn brown and crumble into nothingness. First there is the parting brilliance. For our brother this brilliance wasn’t seen in a supernatural gift of physical healing, but in the confidence that he would see us all later. He went out declaring his to be a win/win situation--either “supernatural or see-ya’ later”.
Ha! is that what is meant to happen in the fall of our lives? We don’t just descend to the grave. First we are alight with the hope of the world beyond, a glimpse of things eternal, a faith that overcomes our fears and lights our faces…the indelible mark of the Spirit of God housed within and breathing life eternal…O death where is thy sting? Grave where is thy victory?
This is where all the ‘good things’ of this life point isn’t it? The innocence of babies, the carefree laughter of children, the beauty of nature—all are meant not to bond us to this world but to point us to the next, to point us to the place His glory dwells in its fullness. A glory from which all the beauty and wonder and sweetness in this life is derived. Ahh let me keep my bearings, celebrating this fall season and its glory, but not clinging. Ready to live or die as pleases my Maker, for His glory…
I need to remind myself often of Paul’s perspective: “our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like His glorious body…” Phil.3:20,21
And I couldn’t help being reminded of it when I saw this picture taken by my sister. It is of an old old house that stood all our childhoods abandoned on a neighboring acre… hidden from our view amongst trees…It stands clearly in view in this photo because all the surrounding trees have been cut down-- a housing development is moving in and this house is the last to fall, thus the picture just before the devastation… Reminds me of Paul’s words, and with them I close.
…though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal…
For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens…For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling…so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight (IICor.4:16ff)
Do you see the brightness in that window? As if something were shining from within? May such be true of us—shining with the treasure inside all the days of our lives!
October 20, 2011
What is a mother to do? How is it that our gene pool can extend so far as to produce progeny so unlike us, so extraordinarily different, so wired as to cause us to shake our heads in wonder (and bewilderment)…
Not just once this has happened, but by the fifth time a mother should have her response figured out! Nevertheless, here is #5—defying my innate tendencies, pushing the edges of my cautious hesitance, chomping at the bit to do things that haven’t been done, to try things for which I haven’t paved the way, to go where no Skelton (or Weaver) has gone before…
What is a mother to do?
Some mothers are gifted with vision and drive and are go-getters themselves. They’re ready to champion any cause their child shows interest in, to knock on doors, to lead the way, or at least be outstanding cheerleaders! Others of us can relate more to the wallflower motif…the church mouse…the sheepish schoolgirl. My husband used to tease me about having grown up in a ‘sheltered environment’. I always protested. Now I live happily in his pumpkin; he was right. Fear and self-interest live here too, uninvited but quite at home. But then came Rachel.
She’s a dreamer of many dreams, of places she’ll live, occupations she’ll hold, ministries she’ll start, impacts she’ll make on her world. She is not the wallflower sort. Her motto is: “Stand out; don’t fit in!”. All she needs is a foothold up, an assist with the nitty gritty details, a place to start. “Mom, how do I…” “Mom, what do you think…” “Mom, aren’t you so excited!”… “Mom, when can we…”
For a mother whose favorite pastime is being at home in the predictability of her own routine these questions are all a stretch. Anticipation, excitement and pretty much all things untried and unknown (except maybe trails and ice cream flavors!) are routine killers. They put my mind in overload mode, useless for anything but worry and anxiety.
What happens as I field these questions is that I put myself in her shoes and imagine ME having to do what SHE is cut out for. Once upon a time I held a Candy-striper job at a big General Hospital in my county. I was young and inexperienced then. And yes, sheltered. People smoking was beyond my comfort zone even (which is what coworkers did on breaks in those days). I liked the idea of sorting the internal mail (mundane, orderly, methodical) but doing drop-offs and pick-ups throughout the hospital… using elevators with silent strangers… going up and down and who-knows-where?...I did not like. To this day I have scary dreams of elevators going not only up and down but side-ways in a disturbing random way, where one never really knows where they are going!
Volunteering and being useful was a nice idea, but finding my way alone to the sundry collection points all throughout the hospital in quest of urine and blood samples for the lab, I did not like… I was too inexperienced and too myself I guess, to recognize what I needed or to communicate it…I didn’t ask for help. I didn’t express my troubles. But one day I mustered enough courage to escape! I walked into the volunteer office and QUIT that bad experience and when my mom picked me up that day, I told her what I’d done and burst out crying, to her (and my) complete surprise. It was left in my mind an unresolved trauma. I still don’t fancy hospitals. And to this day, I don’t think my poor mom has any idea why I quit. For she herself is a go-getter.
And now our roles are reversed and I am the mother with the daughter beyond comprehension. But as I agonized this morning over my unfitness for this job it struck me that without her I would not have to face my fears or shun my self-centeredness. I would be left with myself in my pumpkin--unchallenged, undeveloped, and unchanged. Perhaps this is why God gives us children. Some show us who we are. Others, who we are not. But each one is God’s instrument to shape us into all He wants us to become.
I have a fresh appreciation for Mary and Elizabeth today…each given a child like no other, a child who would so outstrip her achievements as to be incomparable. A child for whom she could not pave the way, only watch and marvel and treasure all the wonder in her heart…Even the neighbors wondered what little John would become. Not only did he not take his father’s name, but he lived an eccentric life besides. It is recorded that people took notice of his birth saying: “What manner of child shall this be!” And the hand of the Lord was with him. (Lk.1:66)
That’s the key isn’t it… the Lord’s hand is at work in these unpredictable wonders that we call our children. He’s with them and for them and using them as His instruments of righteousness for His glory and our wonder!
And tucked in with the gift of each child comes the assurance: “For with God nothing shall be impossible” (Lk.1:37) He’s in the details I can’t fathom, and I can rightfully follow Mary’s fearless example: “and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” (Lk.1:47) So for today I will rejoice…and get on with that job resume Rachel’s needing help with! God’s mercies are new every morning, his grace enough to enable us to do the ‘impossible’!
“His mercy is on them that fear Him from generation to generation…” Lk.1:50
October 14, 2011
I guess I did not anticipate the upheaval this trip would bring to my soul—There was grace for the going, grace for the doing and the being there (though not without some fear and trembling). There were ‘travelling mercies’--companions along the way to shorten the journey with conversation, and empty seats when silence was preferable, smooth and timely flights (well, we won’t count the first turbulent leg, a lesson in NOT starting the day with a hearty breakfast before a flight!) But anyway, the trip was all it needed to be. The many prayers offered upheld my comings and goings. It was the return to ‘normal’ that caught me off guard.
I arrived home on the verge of Thanksgiving weekend (celebrated early here) feeling flat, fatigued and disjointed in spirit. I was eager to be home, why then this discontent with everything?! Why did the house not feel like home? Why did the weather have to be so wet? Why is it getting dark so early—where did summer go? And how on earth am I to parent these kids into adulthood? And who’s this man I married anyway?! I was home but not at home. Since when am I so sensitive to change? How did I morph into this monster under such a little bit of pressure and transition. Yikes!
Suddenly I was faced with exchanging ‘worlds’ again--my mind caught up in the one, but needing to be present in the other. I did not anticipate the pre-occupation with Alzheimer’s and wondering if and when I’ll be next, the flashbacks to moments that still trigger an anxious unsettledness to rise, the continual nagging of unresolved situations that beg answers but defy solutions…the wondering how to be involved with this ongoing need, and still focus on my present world.
Snippets of journal reflect my waffling responses to this week of transition…”God of my Father, care for him today. Give courage and faith to Mom to see beyond the present with hope, and to make critical decisions before there is a crisis—work in each of them what is pleasing in Your eyes—preparing them for glory—preparing us the same.”
“’Be anxious for nothing’…could likely be I’m throwing my own strength (my area of weakness) at this situation rather than trusting that God will direct my thoughts and steps in His time…”
I looked again at Solomon’s request and God’s gift of a wise and discerning mind… heard again His promise to all who lack wisdom…
And I noted the “virtuous woman’s” response to winter’s coming: “She is not afraid of snow for her household—strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs at the time to come.” (Prov.31:25) Ah, sweet confidence, the quiet confidence of wisdom. Willing to rest in God’s provision even when the winter storms have not yet revealed their full fury, trusting there will be sufficient clothing…
I read David’s testimony: “In the Lord I take refuge; how can you say to my soul, ‘Flee like a bird to your mountain’!…The Lord is in his holy temple; the Lord’s throne is in heaven; his eyes see…” (Ps.11:1,4)
And as I appeal to my Ageless Father, reminding myself He is a ROCK-- always strong, never changing, never moving away, leaving, or fading in vigor…I find my soul being restored day by day. The process was begun in response to a poignant movie about aging love and loss (“Lovely,still”). It was just what I needed to pry open the floodgates held so bravely closed these past couple weeks and let out the grief to a listening ear. And day by day the restoration has come by returning to the unhurried rhythm of home-made days, by not retreating (as much as I’d like to!) from the regular round of fellowship—of prayer hike, of church, of Bible study. By rest and by exercise too—deep corpse-like naps and vigorous pedaling in fall-fresh air and sunshine—my soul is being restored.
And the season of my soul brightens. My house is home enough. The weather fine enough. Autumn has a bracing beauty of its own. And my family—they are mine and I am blessed in each of them. There’s grace enough for everything when the Lord is my Shepherd…
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil, for you are with me;
your rod and your staff, they comfort me…
…you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever. (Ps.23)
Thanks for your companionship on the journey—for His name’s sake.
October 6, 2011
I’m enroute home in stages, scheduled to fly out of Anchorage in a few hours, having spent the night here with kind friends. My body made the mistake of waking up early and my mind of dashing into conjecture about unseen possibilities and missed planes…Bother!
Now in flight. ( I didn’t miss it!)…
So began my day of travel home, distracting idle fears with composing a blog, banishing butterflies with busyness. It’s been a stressful week and a half; I think I’ve collected a few more gray hairs and now I’m ready to unwind. The surge of acceleration at take-off got me started with tears welling as I thought of what I’m leaving behind, not knowing when I’ll be back or what the situation will be…
I have faced fear this week and stumbled upon two simple strategies to disarm it. (Thank you Lord!) It has been disconcerting to me to find I can’t keep fear and anxiety from rising in my heart. They happen. Especially in the face of the unknown, the unexpected, and the uncontrollable they rise to haunt me. In a household shaped by Alzheimer’s disease this trio is inevitably present. What will happen next? What is he thinking as he walks toward me with that furrowed brow and unfriendly look? When we’re out walking can I get him to turn around and head back home without calling for help or will he keep right on going into the bush unheedful of my warnings? What does one do to manage such adult strength tied to a mind unable to reason and full of fears itself? Every day is a potpourri of the unknown, the unexpected and the uncontrollable.
But I found that though fear may rise in my heart I don’t have to give it a face or a voice. I can still smile--a beaming broad smile with a friendly greeting attached. And in this face that reads: “I like you”, his suspicions are felled and the fierce countenance softens…And I begin to think he likes me too ( :
I learned too the value of singing. I may be quaking inside as I go about my business unsure of what’s going to happen next, but I can sing anyway—a hymn or chorus quietly…and in the process of voicing words of faith and confidence, my heart is ransomed from the grip of fear.
A smile and a song—simple but effective tools to banish butterflies. It is as though these tangible acts persuade my heart that it is safe and everything will be ok. Not only my heart, but my dad’s is calmed and reassured. Everything is going to be ok. He may not understand the words, but a smile speaks and a song comforts. This has been my experience.
Ha! I even tried smiling to myself in the night when I woke. Have you ever tried smiling when worries are on your mind? It’s counter-intuitive. But it makes the worries feel a little silly. It seems to triggers happy thoughts, grateful reminders of good things… and where did those butterflies flit to anyway?!
So, though I haven’t attained to the fearless posture of the war horse—“he laughs at fear and is not dismayed; he does not turn back from the sword”— (Job 39:22), I’m learning to take baby steps. And when this toddler looks at her Shepherd and sees His smiling face, it’s not so hard to whistle in the dark and sing a happy song.
“The LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.” Num.6:25,26
Thanks to all who prayed for me on this journey. I felt very much buoyed up and sustained, and I’m confident that God is making a way where we are still uncertain of the best path. My mom is a marvel, a testimony to God’s daily grace. I could not walk in her shoes! I tried only to smooth the path a little and walk a few steps with her. There are good things to come; we see the glimmerings. And His mercies very literally are new every morning! For this I am grateful.