Drought

There is a dripping sound in our bathroom. It’s been there for months. We thought it was the air conditioning/furnace in the attic above. And it was. Ironic that in this drought, in this period of desert living, we’ve had a hot water leak under the house and an air conditioning leak in the attic. So we had it fixed and stood in the bathroom and marveled because there it was still. The dripping. Hubby has crawled under the house; he has battled the attic; he has searched for any indication whatsoever of wet, dripping something. Nada.

But there’s a crack in the tile of the bathroom floor. IMG_5863It is new in the last months, and it is growing. And my friend has a pool that is sinking on one side, and there are articles that the land is shrinking because of the drought, and so is it possible that our phantom drip is no drip but rather a cracking and shifting?

The drought. There are dire reports that this is just the beginning and California is going to turn into desert, that the lush green and fields and trees and agriculture that feeds our nation are drying up.IMG_5872 IMG_5873

There are talking heads saying this is just the beginning; judgment is upon us. Conversely, there are weather forecasters projecting an El Nino winter full of hearty, drenching, reservoir-filling rain.

The drought. And the moms meet at the poolside and watch the kids splash and they compare their sub-par gardens and their conservation efforts and the dirt of their cars and the grime behind the ears of the kids and the water bills.IMG_5875 IMG_5877

But the kids are in the water; there is water when we turn on the faucet; there is water to wash the scrapes and cuts of summer, to cool a feverish head, to wash away grime and to quench the sandy throats of summer.

Yes, the specter of turning on the faucet and watching the last drip of water eek its way out is there… off in the distance… and we’re praying for God to shelter us from that reality… and we’re saving water with a measured frenzy. And the government agencies are singing their 2-song showers and chanting their 50% reduction slogans, and we hope they’re making plans to be better stewards themselves.

But there is water in this drought.

And now there is water at Chalabesa!

Back in 2011, I wrote about Chalabesa:
The situation at Chalabesa Mission Hospital in Zambia is similar. The clinic is run by a Polish nun, Sister Marta, and is the only one for miles. Sister Marta has been reporting that the solar-powered electrical system hasn’t been working and the water for the clinic comes either from a wind-powered pump that is leaking and that only works when there is wind or from a river 160 yards away. This river is visited by elephants and other animals who not only drink its water but who grossly contaminate it. To compound things, measles, deadly diarrhea, typhoid, and malaria are striking in epidemic proportions due to the drought in that part of the world. In one day alone, with flashlight in hand, Sister Marta took care of over 240 patients who had walked miles and waited hours in the dark, crowded rooms of the clinic. These patients were thirsty, feverish, ill, dehydrated, malnourished, and fearful for their lives. Chalabesa is their only hope.
Currently, the CareNow Foundation is raising funds to supply the Chalabesa Mission Hospital with a “bucket brigade” of relief. They would like to dig two new boreholes, erect two new 2,600 gallon tanks and necessary pipework, and purchase two solar pumps plus associated solar panels and control electronics.

On June 17 of this year, we received confirmation that there is now running water in the hospital! All the necessary pipes and pumps and panels are installed and running!

It has been a long process, one complicated by what we lovingly call “Africa time,” a pace that can seem aggravatingly slow compared to our rush-life. Thanks to our friends at Mission Medic Air for their part in arranging the supplies and the workers and for their aid in accomplishing this monumental task! How thrilled we are that patients at the clinic can now access running water, that treating patients can be both easier and more sanitary, and that precious time helping people can be reclaimed from hauling water from the river. Hooray!

It reminds me of something. Sunday, during church, I watched a dear friend walk up the aisle looking for a place to sit. She saw another sister of the faith and joined her in the pew. But not without the kind of embrace that speaks volumes to the depth of the friendship. Witnessing this, I thought of the struggles that friend has gone through. And I thought of the storms and the deserts she has weathered and traversed. And I thought of the new paths God is showing her. How incrementally He is gracing her with new beginnings, how He has been faithful this whole time to walk with her and to even carry her through those storms and across those deserts. But witnessing it in someone else’s life… oh, the joy!

God has been faithful in bringing water to Chalabesa. He has been faithful in bringing my friend through her drought period. He will be faithful in this drought, too.IMG_5622 IMG_5602

And one day soon, the skies will open and water will fall and we’ll go dance in it, letting the moisture sink in deep, deep into the cracks in our foundations. Because when He is your foundation, the shifting, shrinking earth all around can’t shake you.

The Something-Not-Someone

“Are you guys going to get a divorce?” my little girl asked one day. The question took me by surprise because Hubby and I weren’t fighting, there was no particular stress between us. Struggling to understand where the question came from, I hesitantly said, “No. Why?” The question stemmed from things she was hearing in school. Friends, classmates were experiencing rifts in the family, a breakdown of communication, love, joy, safety in the one area of life where there can’t be a breakdown. Not without major complications and ramifications.

“No, “ I plowed on in my answer. “Daddy and I made a promise when we got married. We made the promise to each other and to God that we would stay together. And we intend to keep that promise. God will help us.”

Today, we’re celebrating that promise made 19 years ago. But my heart is heavy for a friend who wrote to me late last night saying, “I need something, not someone, to believe in.” She’s whirling in a divorce vortex currently and is seeking the life-buoy that really saves.

She’s right that one person can’t be the one we place our hopes and dreams in; although, that is the romantic vision of our world. In the first flushes of romance and burgeoning love, we are quick to pin our hopes and dreams on that other person. But as the glow fades and we’re left with the ring-around-the-collar, and the stains, and the habits that grate, and the quirks that we’re pretty sure we’ll never understand, and the ways he/she does that that annoy and astound, disappointment grows.

So you either stop getting annoyed and your lower your expectations, or you go seeking the next best thing.

Or.

Or you look at the promise. You look at the “in sickness and in health” and the “for richer or poorer” and the “to death do us part” and you remember that this is a pledge you made before family and friends and at the feet of God.wedding

Nineteen years ago, I donned the white gown I’d been planning for months. Last minute changes to the veil came to fruition. My girlfriends were there laughing beside me and spirits soared. unnamed-7But one thing… actually two things… we had agreed to before our wedding. 1. There would be no forced kissing. I hate (even to this day) the tradition of hitting a glass with a fork or knife just to make the bride and groom kiss. There would be none of that at MY wedding. And 2. No reading of Ephesians 5: 21-33.

And further, submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.
22 For wives, this means submit to your husbands as to the Lord. 23 For a husband is the head of his wife as Christ is the head of the church. He is the Savior of his body, the church. 24 As the church submits to Christ, so you wives should submit to your husbands in everything.
25 For husbands, this means love your wives, just as Christ loved the church. He gave up his life for her 26 to make her holy and clean, washed by the cleansing of God’s word.[b] 27 He did this to present her to himself as a glorious church without a spot or wrinkle or any other blemish. Instead, she will be holy and without fault. 28 In the same way, husbands ought to love their wives as they love their own bodies. For a man who loves his wife actually shows love for himself. 29 No one hates his own body but feeds and cares for it, just as Christ cares for the church. 30 And we are members of his body.
31 As the Scriptures say, “A man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one.”[c] 32 This is a great mystery, but it is an illustration of the way Christ and the church are one. 33 So again I say, each man must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.

Nope. I didn’t want this at our wedding.

Silly, naïve me.

Ironically, this has become the backbone of our relationship.
That girl walking down the aisle 19 years ago really hadn’t a clue what this kind of love really looked like. Truth be told, I didn’t understand a God who would send His son to die. How do you do that? How do you love so deeply you are willing to sacrifice a part of yourself? How?

And so consequently, how do you submit? How do you take the screaming parts of yourself, the needy parts, the parts that disagree, rebel, and cringe, how do you take them and then do the opposite of what they are screaming? How do you place the needs of someone else first?

How?

You pray. Not just the “it’s the end of the day and I’m falling asleep so I better shoot something up to heaven” kind of prayer. But the “I’m at my wits end and I’m feeling waves crashing over me and I need to fall on my knees and weep like I’ll never smile again” kind of prayer. Where you lay it all before Jesus.

There were times over the past 19 years where Hubby and I stood near each other, each hurting in really deep and profound ways, hurting so deeply that we couldn’t even reach out to each other. There were no words for the pain. Just ache.

There were times we were tempted to blame, to point fingers, and even to run and hide.

But Hubby told me, in the middle of these deeply painful times, that he was praying for me.
And that was the spark of light and hope I needed. Because I was being lifted to the throne of God, and God was on His throne. He must listen.

And He reached down… He the perfect model of love and sacrifice and submission… and sang over my soul. The singing heals, the weeping washes away the pain… because He weeps with us. And He says over and over in a hundred different ways, “I love you.”

And if He can love me, broken and cracked and flawed, then maybe I can look at Hubby, at the ring-around-the-collar and the OCD about certain things, and love that too. And Hubby can love me despite the dirt on the floor and the pile of dishes in the sink and the bad mood and the way I do that that drives him nuts.

This is a kind of love that also rejoices… in all things.

A few Saturdays ago, I woke up in a foul mood. It just felt like it was going to be a lousy day. But Hubby came into the kitchen where I was making pancakes and with a few wise cracks and silly antics had me laughing. I turned to my little girl and told her, “When you go to find a husband, somewhere long down the road, look for a man who makes you laugh. Because life is hard and you’re going to need someone beside you to make you laugh through it.”unnamed-6

And you’re going to need that something-not-someone in which to believe. When God is in the center of a strong marriage, in the center of a single life, then there is the perfect example of grace and mercy and forgiveness, of submission and healing, and above all love.

At our wedding, I did allow this reading: 1 Corinthians 13
If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing. 3 If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it;[a] but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing.
4 Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud 5 or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. 6 It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. 7 Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.
8 Prophecy and speaking in unknown languages[b] and special knowledge will become useless. But love will last forever! 9 Now our knowledge is partial and incomplete, and even the gift of prophecy reveals only part of the whole picture! 10 But when the time of perfection comes, these partial things will become useless.
11 When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things. 12 Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity.[c] All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.
13 Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.

No. The something-not-someone to believe in is the God who is patient and kind, not jealous or boastful or proud or rude, but the God who never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and who endures through every circumstance. He was in the beginning and He is the end. And He is in the middle of it all. Forever. And ever. Amen.

More Lessons from the Ball Game

Apparently, I have lost my sense of humor. Apparently, it is okay… and not just okay but perfectly acceptable… to repeatedly tell a player how badly he “sucks.” My ninth grade science teacher would have been appalled at the flagrant use of the word “suck.” Mr. Bedillion, rest his soul, always took issue with his students saying so-and-so sucked. “Sucked what?” he would ask with a mischievous twinkle in his eye. But I digress.

The day started out lovely. The temperature was nearly perfect and the cottony clouds in the sky above made delicate patterns through the brilliant blue sky. I actually listened with interest to the starting line-up and felt a bit a part of the camaraderie in the stadium. Then, the fans around me started booing a player on the opposite team. Like whole stadium booing. I asked hubby what was the offense. Manny Machado apparently took issue a few games back with a play made by the Oakland A’s Josh Donaldson. Machado was thrown out of the game and even had to sit out a number of following games for his poor behavioral performance.

And the fans at the Oakland stadium decided not to let him live it down. Repeatedly, and by repeatedly I mean every five minutes, they started a chant that was some variant of “Machado, you suck.” Yes, they took down his grandmother verbally and booed everything he did.

It was disgusting. Especially because it grew louder and louder each time. And the kids around us were asking, “Why, why are they being so mean?” Leave it to the kids to get it.

Because booing another person is just mean. I don’t care what they’ve done.

We live in a society ever-ready to point out the bully. And often, rightly so. But in a sports stadium, bullying is acceptable. There’s power in the mob and the mob bully is the most powerful bully there is. That still doesn’t exonerate the bully’s behavior.

The mob. It sickened me to watch the first hecklers, for sure, but then to see other people, turning, laughing and joining in, even egging on the original instigators. For me, it was like being in a jeering fun house where all the mirrors reflect back the same evil joker’s face. Ugly en masse.

My kids could see I was getting really upset with the heckling. And trying to set a positive example, each time the chant got going, I countered with a more positive, “Let’s go A’s.” Because that is why we came to the stadium, today, right? To cheer on our team, to encourage them toward victory, to enjoy ourselves? Or did we come to tear down another person? That is not good sportsmanship.

As if us fans have never made a mistake, have never done something we regretted later. As if any one of us was on the field the day of the offense. What right do we have, ever, to ridicule another because they made a mistake?

There was a woman once, in a very dry, dusty place. She was caught in the act of adultery. She lived in a place and a time where and when the law said that she should be stoned to death for this. The mob followed the leaders and led her to the local temple where a wise teacher sat. “Our law says to stone her,” the mob cried. “What do you say?”

The teacher knelt down and began drawing in the dust with his finger. Stalling, perhaps, taking the air out of the mob, probably, weighing his words, reading the heart of the woman, quietly communing with God, definitely.

Finally, he raised his head and gave the ok with one stipulation. Only a man who had never sinned could throw the first stone.

Anxious looks are followed by heads bowing, chins resting on chests, sighs, eyes lost in memories of the past. “There was that time when…” and “I know I shouldn’t have done that…” and “I hope no one ever finds out about that…” and the incriminating past was howling in everyone’s ears. And they dropped their stones and shuffled away while the teacher continued his drawing in the dirt.

When he finally looked up, only the adulterous woman remained. “Where have they gone?” he asked her. “Where are your accusers? Didn’t anyone throw a stone?”

Alone, and yet now surrounded by the realization that she is not alone in her sin, she shook her head. They took their pointing fingers and went home. They took their boos and their heckles, and shamed by them, they went home.

The teacher, standing and dusting off his knees, touched the woman’s shoulder, looked her in the eye, and he who could have thrown the first stone, he who really was sinless, said, “Then I don’t condemn you either” (John 8).

At the beginning of the game, we went through the tradition of singing the National Anthem. I love the words of the song, the imagery it paints, and I remarked today as I often do that the crowd goes wild when the phrase “land of the free” is sung. Why does the crowd rally to that? We love our freedom! We’re a nation of people who believe in freedom… and our rights and our entitlements. But today it struck me that no one really cheered for the following phrase “And the home of the brave.” As I surveyed the faces around me, I was struck by how quickly everyone went back to gorging on hot dogs and popcorn and peanuts and nachos filling an entire helmet. And I wondered if we are really a brave people any more.

When the heckling started, bravery seemed lost. True bravery is forgiving. True bravery is welcoming a brother, loving another, embracing instead of condemning. I can safely and bravely say that from this side of the computer screen. I realize that is a tempered bravery, a less-than-bold bravery. Ugh.

I started crying on the way home from the game. “Why, Mama? Why are you crying? Are you so mad?” the kids asked. “No.” I answered. “I’m heartbroken.” Heartbroken that I still live in a world that is broken, where the mob rules, where people can’t be decent to each other, where booing and heckling a brother is “just part of the game.” I’m heartbroken that this is the world for my kids. And if nothing else, I’m going to be brave enough to teach my kids that this is not how Christ would have it.

You know, for years, I wondered why people made posters with John 3:16 printed on them and took them to ball games. For the first time, I realize that a sports stadium is actually the best possible place for such a message. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son so that he who believes may have eternal life.” And with that kind of assurance, one can be brave enough to look in the mirror and drop the stone in hand.

Play Ball

It was the head-bangers that boggled my mind first. Every time Shawn Doolittle came out to pitch, his trademark heavy metal song was piped through the stadium and a large section of fans stood, waved flags, and head-banged until my head was pounding. Then there was Mr. A’s himself, in his white linen sport coat and white jeans and his green or gold shirt underneath working the crowd as if he was in his living room. And the cow-bells and brooms and drums and yes, even the skulls on a stick that serve as rattles… looking around me I was pretty sure I had traveled well beyond my comfort zone.

And then there was the jumbo-tron demanding the attending fans “make noise,” be “louder,” clap their hands and jeer at the opposing team’s pitcher as he and his coach held a meeting on the mound. Or the incessant rounds of “Let’s go A’s” circling the stadium. Really? I found myself thinking. Really? Do I have to follow what you are telling me to do? Can’t I just cheer at my own level and in my own way?

As a family, we’ve loosely followed Oakland A’s baseball for the last 9 years. The stadium is easy to get to, many of the local teachers are huge fans and share that love with the kiddos at school, and the A’s do a lot in the community to raise reading interest among other things. But this year, we’re sharing season tickets with another family so we’ve spent many weekend afternoon and evenings at the ballpark. Sure, we’ve had a lot of fun as a family and have learned a lot.

For example, the only way, seemingly, to get our little boy to sit still long enough is to repeatedly feed him. Corn dogs longer than his arm and a bowl of nachos usually tame that beast.unnamed-5

We have grown to look for certain personalities … like the guy who pedals pizza. His voice and method of calling are so unique that he is a crowd favorite eliciting many “echoes” as he climbs the aisles. And that one time he lost his voice, the crowd called for him!

We enjoy the traditions… the long-standing tradition of singing of the National Anthem at the beginning of the game and the singing of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” during the traditional 7th inning stretch as well as the larger than life hall of fame “bobbleheads” who race, hand out beads and t-shirts, and who are slightly cool and borderline creepy. Of course, we love Stomper the elephant.unnamed-3

Our section, along the third base line, is relatively fluid and mild-mannered. There are some familiar faces now after half the season, but overall we’re surrounded by new faces each game. And yet, when the homeruns are hit, everyone becomes best buddies cheering and high-fiving and toasting with a beer or when the A’s forget to bring their game those best buddies still develop as conversation grows around who should be brought in and traded and what strategy should be followed. The camaraderie grows… maybe because we’re all crammed in like sardines, or maybe because we can make assumptions about people. Like, “You’re here, you’re routing for the A’s; therefore, you must be alright. I can talk to you.”10306089_10204098901730925_2200846511345265592_n
During commercial breaks for the at-home crowd, the A’s run a series of give-aways and challenges and games. When these involve real people attending the game and not just some animated, computer generated gizmo on the jumbo-tron, the question always comes up, “Share with us a favorite memory from an A’s game.” Repeatedly, the answer has something to do with how the fan grew up watching A’s baseball with grandpa or dad or some other figure and how A’s baseball has been a part of life for as long as memory stretches. Many fans connect with this comment as attested by their apparel and tattoos. Yes, there is a family feel to the ball game and yes that makes it a beautiful way to spend time together as a family. And now, about halfway through the season I hear my kids asking questions about the game and the players and the rules. They are starting to feel the tug as well. This is true Americana! Maybe, soon, we won’t need the corn dog to pass the time!

Nevertheless, baseball, as is true with all professional sport, remains entertainment. And yet, there are people who come to the games always wearing the same thing, who go through certain motions while at the game, who have their own personal traditions… as if they are as important to the game as the players on the field. As if they the fans can somehow influence the outcome of the game. Like, if I don’t don my green full-body bodysuit and walk around with my friend in his green and gold Darth Vader helmet every single game there is no way the A’s can pull off the win. Or if I don’t stand and head-bang for 5+ minutes, there is no way Shawn Doolittle can pitch a no-hit inning.

Between the booing of players and this… I’m not sure which makes me most uncomfortable.

The front page of the Wall Street Journal this morning brought it to my attention again. There’s a man in Cleveland holding a sign that shows LeBron James arms outstretched and chin tilted high. Above James are the words, “The King has returned.” Click here to see.

Am I the only wacko out there who sees in this all kinds of religious imagery?

James, arms outstretched, like Jesus on the cross? The words King… king of basketball, king of the Jews… has returned. James is back in Cleveland, his more-or-less birthplace, the much-anticipated return of Jesus. In both, there is hope. James will bring a championship ring to the Cavaliers and to a fandom that is parched for success. The return of Jesus will bring the final days, the judgment and making right of all things, the wiping away of tears and the donning of robes of pure white and an eternity of living back in the Garden, at the feet of a God of light and good and mercy.

Baseball, professional sport in general, is a religion. A worshiping of false idols.

Several weeks ago, we were watching an A’s game on TV at home. We had a better view of home plate and could see the advertisement there for the next big promotional… a Coco Crisp garden gnome. Oh we laughed long and hard over that! Yes, let’s decorate the garden with Coco Crisp! Turns out we had tickets to that game and as the date approached we strategized our game plan for early arrival so as to be within the first 20,000 people at the game. We were by no means the first in line. Clearly other people had the same idea. As we got closer to the gate, my son began to fret. “What if they run out before we get there?” Like the world would stop if we didn’t get a plastic, poorly made and poor representation of an A’s player who is good now but who will quickly fade into oblivion in 50 to 100 years. Right. The gnome was procured and peace was restored. Pictures were taken.unnamed-2

Inside the stadium, Coco Crisp came near the wall in front of us to sign autographs. One young lady came back to her seat beaming as if she had just had a religious experience. Her backpack was covered in autographs, but she explained repeatedly, “I said Coco, you’re the only one I don’t got.” As if having this last signature will complete her life.

It leaves me a little heart-broken. And maybe you’ll say I’m reading too much into things. But looking at the fans around me, at this culture that pays sports figures millions of dollars to play ball, at this culture that elevates the news of where James is going to play basketball over the news of what is happening along our borders or around the world in places like Israel and the Middle East where rockets are firing and it seems like any sort of relative peace is completely imploding, at people who pin their hopes and their identities on the teams they follow… yes, it leaves me a little heart-broken.

And it challenges me. Because if there are people who spend their paycheck to take their son to see a game or to buy a fan jacket or to tattoo “Athletics forever” on their arm… they may have a passion I don’t have. While they put their hope in that new pitcher or the third baseman or in a season (this is our year baby!), I put my hope in a man who died over 2000 years ago, who died on a cross, one of the worst, most humiliating forms of death man has ever created. He lived a humble, itinerant life, teaching, healing, instructing, loving. His greatest accomplishment seemed to be irritating the religious leaders of his day… and raising people from the dead and healing them from life-long illnesses. He was viewed as wacky by the people in power with his claims to be God’s son and his way of overturning their cozy little powerplays. Oh, and yes. He died. But three days later he began to appear, first to his scraggly band of followers and then to larger swaths of the population. Men wrote about him hundreds of years before he was born. Men wrote about him after he died. He continues to visit people, to touch hearts, to lead lives, and to influence culture. This is who I put my hope in.

I spent several years in Cleveland. I know first hand the thrill of a winning team in town. I remember the days when the Browns were something special, when the Indians had a run at a World Series. And I learned quickly that players and teams have slumps. Players get injured, get traded, move away. Teams move too. Putting our hope in a player or a team is a transient kind of hope, dependent on the location, the season, the strength of the athlete(s). Putting our hope in Jesus is eternal. There are love songs that he sings through my life, ways he blesses me and encourages me and strengthens me that I could never find in a person, or a team, or in anything earthly.

But do I have the passion to follow him as fully as a “true fan?” Do I make enough noise? Does my life show him to the world? Does the way I dress, do the things I say, and does the example of my life clearly tell the world where my hope lies? And do I live as if God’s plan can’t win if I don’t play my part? Do I faithfully take up my part? And when the going gets tough, do I continue to cheer in full faith and hope? Maybe I have more to learn from these fans about living loud and fully committed. Because in the end, the game of life is the one that truly counts. And I better play my part well.10402577_10203940894980855_4703814435724589571_n

Beautiful Things

“I don’t see anyone in here wearing a mini electric chair or needle full of a lethal injection hanging from their neck. That would be the moral equivalent for those of you wearing crosses today,” he said.

Yes, the point was valid. As an instrument of torture, the cross was horrendous, humiliating, inhumane.

Rome had perfected public punishment in this particular instrument.

I fingered the cross hanging from my neck, it’s edges so familiar to my fingers as I traced the heart laid over the top. My cross, marked with Isaiah 40: 31, marking my life as Christ’s, the sign of the mark made on my life when Jesus chose me and I chose back, marking a public declaration of where my true love lies. My cross so beautiful, so much a part of me, so much more than jewelry. I’m not the tattooing type. So I wear the jewelry.

And the message on the back: “But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint.” Perfect promise perfectly captured.

No, for me the cross is beautiful and as he talked more about the ugliness of the cross, my heart cried no. Jesus died and made the cross beautiful, elegant, a visible emblem of hard work with enormous pay out, of elemental love and sacrifice, of eternal salvation. I can look on the cross now and see nothing but beauty; I can look beyond the instrument of torture to see the instrument of grace. It isn’t even a stretch.

In fact, the beauty of the gift of salvation so far outweighs the ugly, that I often forget the hideous, humiliating, inhumanity of the thing around my neck.

Not long ago, I paused over my cluttered desk and I looked up into the corner at my wall of love. Drawings my kids have offered as tokens of love array the space. It’s good to look these over sometimes. When offered, I adored them, oohhed and ahhhed over them, complimented the work that went into them and the talent showing through each picture. I hung them on the wall to show my appreciation, but I closed a door inwardly, not accepting the words offered as possibly true for me. As if my kids were actually addressing the mother of their dreams, not the flesh and blood person in front of them. Then, I went to the sink and brushed my teeth, hardly glancing in the mirror, and wondered why I have a difficult time accepting these words from my children.IMG_5673 IMG_5672 IMG_5674 IMG_5671

And as I fingered my cross this morning, these musings came back.

The work on the cross was bloody, ugly, horrendous agony. But the result was beautiful. Salvation, death conquered, law reduced, God lifting the veil that separated Him from us and inviting us directly to come to Him.

Repeatedly scripture tells us that through Christ’s death on the cross we are made new. The prophet Isaiah (43:19) announces God’s will,

 

“For I am about to do something new. See, I have already begun! Do you not see it? I will make a pathway through the wilderness. I will create rivers in the dry wasteland.”

 

2 Corinthians 5:17 says, “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.”

 

Romans 6: 3-7 says, “Or have you forgotten that when we were joined with Christ Jesus in baptism, we joined him in his death? 4 For we died and were buried with Christ by baptism. And just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glorious power of the Father, now we also may live new lives.
5 Since we have been united with him in his death, we will also be raised to life as he was. 6 We know that our old sinful selves were crucified with Christ so that sin might lose its power in our lives. We are no longer slaves to sin. 7 For when we died with Christ we were set free from the power of sin.”

 

And in Revelation 21, God proclaims, “Look, I am making everything new!”

 

Me and you, made new.

When we come to Christ, it is as if we are taking off the old, ugly, worn-out clothes of our life and putting on a coat of beauty and grace and forgiveness and freedom. Like when I shed the clothes I’ve been painting in, shower and dress for an evening out… that kind of new. Sort of. That changes the external. But Christ’s changes are from the inside out… eventually. Living free… free from the fear of death, free from the ancient’s law of ceremonial clean and unclean, free from eternal judgment.

Gungor sings it this way:

All this pain
I wonder if I’ll ever find my way
I wonder if my life could really change at all
All this earth
Could all that is lost ever be found
Could a garden come up from this ground at all

You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of the dust
You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of us

All around
Hope is springing up from this old ground
Out of chaos life is being found in You

You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of the dust
You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of us

And as we sang these words this morning, I thought of the cross, of Christ’s death making it beautiful. Of how His act took the awful and made it artistic, of how His love took the twisted and the maimed and straightened it and healed it, of how gnarled and blood-soaked became lily-fresh.

But me. God tapped me on the shoulder and said, “You too.” Like the cross, Christ takes my life and the ugly and the horrid and the horrendous and the inhumane, all the broken, gnarled, twisted, blood-soaked splinters of my cross-life and turns them toward redemption. He tapped me on the shoulder this morning and said, “I’m doing this to you, too. Taking your dust and growing a garden.”

And I realized that I have to accept that I can be beautiful. That I am already beautiful through Christ. That the words my children picture for me are true. This. Is. Truth. Truth I need to pickle in, not just accept but relish and believe. If Christ can change the most horrific method of torture into a thing of beauty… now worn by millions of people, then what can He do with me?

My dear Prosy, my Ugandan “daughter,” how He has taken the broken bits of that life of horror and redeemed them, saved her, made beauty where there was dust and ash. All the lives now at Village of Hope Uganda… for them all He has made beautiful things.

In the heights of hubris, I’ve closed the doors to this, just as I’ve closed the door to the words of my children, preferring, clinging to, embracing the lies I’ve heard from other parts of the world. As if those lies of “you’re nothing” and “you’re so broken you can’t be fixed” are the final assessment and the final horror of life. If I accept the lies as the final answer, then I am also turning my back on hope, on the greatest gift ever offered.

It’s time to fling wide those doors. Just as Christ flung wide His arms on the cross and took the pain for my gain, it is time to fling wide my arms and embrace His words for me. It’s time for beautiful things.

Tea Floats

IMG_5261The day turned hot, and intensive spring-cleaning made it hotter. Moving furniture and vacuuming and rethinking room plans consumed hubby and me. The kids hit their boredom peak as the sun tipped toward the west, and we sent them into the pool for a cool down. And I headed to the kitchen.

Our family chooses not to drink soda. There is no need for that much sugar in our diet. We get plenty, to be sure! So, what does one do when an afternoon is screaming for a Root Beer Float?

One makes a Tea Float instead!

IMG_5262That afternoon, I chose our new Sweet Chai tea. I mixed 1 cup brewed tea with ¾ cup of sparkling water and then added vanilla ice cream. I’ve also tried our Creamy Earl Grey. The results are dreamy! The Sweet Chai float reminds me of a Root Beer Float with its sweetness and subtle bite. The Creamy Earl Grey float tastes like an iced latte. I have plans for trying Coconut Oolong the next time I get to the store and remember to buy vanilla ice cream. Really, I think we have a lot of flavors that would work brilliantly. And the summer is new and fresh, so we have plenty of time to experiment!

What flavor Tea Float will you try?IMG_5260

Perspective

IMG_5256Meet Dragon. You may look at this and think, “Why did she name that walrus Dragon?” That is an appropriate question. First of all, the walrus in question is my son’s… not mine. Secondly, this creature in question… is a dragon… and a walrus. It’s complicated.

Let me explain. We walked into our favorite toy store and Joseph began his usual systematic hunt through the store for the best “I want.” He approached me after awhile and showed me this puppet.IMG_5255

“What is this?” he asked.
“A walrus,” I replied.

He wasn’t happy with my answer. He asked the clerk. “Umm, excuse me. What is this?”
“A walrus,” she replied.

And then he explained the look on his face. “No, this is a dragon. See.”IMG_5258

I still didn’t see really, but I pretended. “Oh, yes… flippers, wings, yes! Very good.” And the walrus came home with us.

It wasn’t until later that day that I really sat down and looked at the walrus, trying to see him with my son’s eyes. Upside down walrus. No, dragon.

And then my eyes glazed over and my heart flip-flopped and I saw what he saw. Tusks became horns. Beard became fluffy-top-of-the-head hair. Tail… still tail… but more dragon-like upside down.IMG_5259

Walrus… dragon… it’s a matter of perspective.

Now, what is this?

Be sure to crush your loose tea leaves before measuring!

You probably answered, “Tea!” And like my walrus answer, it is a correct answer. But let’s reconsider. Let’s turn it upside down and look at it from a different angle.

Because maybe it is this.

Stina and Nurse Susan hug. That's Dr. Mac in the background.

 

Wendy and Scovia

Fred leaves with Beatrice for the 40 mile ride to the closest x-ray machine.

Fred leaves with Beatrice for the 40 mile ride to the closest x-ray machine.

Fred, in blue, being prayed over by his friends.

Fred, in blue, being prayed over by his friends.

 

 

 

 

 

And this.0-43

Sister Dlimani, Community Caregivers, Dawn's daughter Karin, and Stina take time for tea.

Some of the happy faces coming to day care.

I'm a 1000 HIlls Kid -- it is so good to belong!

1045059_10151597323681791_89119693_n

Stina teaches the Community Caregivers how to use their new stethoscopes

Elphus in his tiny room

Where Elphus lives

Wendy and Dawn Leppan get ready to distribute the kits.

Community Caregivers with their new medical kits

 

It could be this also.Day12Meds.162535 Day7nurseJoyceatKareroclinin.160848

I have to ask, then, if tea can be all of these things, why aren’t we looking at tea in this way? Why are you still buying your tea at the grocery store? Why aren’t you buying tea that can be this? Compassion Tea… Share Tea… Save Lives… Tea NOW!

IMG_0257 IMG_8083

Lessons From the Farm

Sometimes people say I run a farm. Sometimes I feel like I run the circus. But with 4 hens, 3 baby chicks, 1 rambunctious doodle, a stray cat picked up along the way, and 2 aquariums, I do have a bit of a farm thing going on. I remind myself of the gentlemen farmers of the colonial period. All dressed up and fancy and hauling slop.

Lately, my animals have been teaching me things and I’d like to pass on this knowledge.

1. When your doodle starts growling and misbehaving, he is seeking attention. Stop and play for 5 minutes and the attention-seeking behavior settles down. This works for kids, too.IMG_4768 IMG_4769
2. If you really want to have fun, you have to let go. Winston will fetch a toy and bring it back to me. But then he doesn’t let go. He stands there with the toy dangling from his mouth waiting for me to play some more. I can’t… until he lets go. So let go, for goodness sake.IMG_5254 IMG_5253
3. Babies grow. And when they do, they need more room. Sometimes that means they need higher walls and bigger space, looser boundaries, or just boundaries that seem less restricting. But they are still babies and they still need protection and boundaries.IMG_5234
4. Baby chickens like to try their wings. So do children. Let them try… when the scary doodle isn’t breathing down their neck, in places and ways that ensure success and not danger.IMG_5243 IMG_5242 IMG_5241 IMG_5240 IMG_5239 IMG_5238
5. Grown-ups don’t like change. The grown hens are completely bent out of shape at the peepings they hear from the nearby pen. Given the opportunity, the big girls will chase after the babies and scare them thoroughly. Gentle, subtle change is better than a full-on meet and greet with the newbies.
6. Handle with care. All of them.
7. Cats and tween girls are very much alike. Aloof and independent most of the time, they come slinking out of their room for food and to have a need met. Like, when they need you to find a specific shirt or to have their water changed. But occasionally, they crave a little love and come wrapping themselves around your ankles. Rarely is the timing good for you. Usually you are in a rush yourself. But if you want to connect and build relationship, you better change your plans fast and stoop down for a pat, a snuggle, and a few kind words. In the blink of an eye, they change their mind and jump out of your arms and scurry back into the cover of their spot.IMG_4662
8. Most of the time, don’t expect too much from either the cat or the tween. Each has his/her own thing going on and will not be hurried, hassled, or otherwise bothered by anything you suggest or offer.IMG_4666 IMG_4665
9. Feed in the light. The fish can’t find the food in the dark (maybe they can, but they look so lost to me!). So turn on the light and then feed them. Feed the kids THE LIGHT… the one true Savior, God, Redeemer. Steer them ever toward THE LIGHT.
10. Take the time to watch and listen. They have things to teach us. And just stopping to watch or play or snuggle is good… really good… for your soul.
Okay, the doodle is pushing my arm with his nose. He’s getting upset, toddler that he is. It’s time to play. Adieu from the farm!

Making Plans

I used to make plans. Sure, I’ll still make the list of to-dos for the day. Grocery lists, an order of errand running so I don’t forget the dry cleaning or the milk or to mail the taxes. And yes, I’ve got meetings scheduled… coffee with her and lunch with them and planning sessions with the team. But planning… like life planning… like dreaming of the future, yearning after things… not so much.

When I was 16 or so, I thought I would become a lawyer or possibly a journalist. I would get married sometime in my 30s and have kids but my career would trump most of that. I hear my daughter saying things like this. That she’s never going to get married or if she does it’ll be a long time from now and kids, well, maybe. And my son chimes in with assurances that he is going to build a cabin in the woods somewhere so he can hunt and ranch and live off the land and who needs a wife and kids for that but mom and dad will always have a place there. So sweet. It used to worry me that my kids didn’t want families. Like, where did I go wrong? Did I complain once too many times about having to pick up after everyone, feed everyone 500 times a day, and oh the mountains of laundry? No. Once I remembered my own carefree ideas of the future from my earlier self’s yearnings, I relaxed.

Because life has a way of reshaping, stretching, replacing and even annihilating dreams.

Or, as God says, “For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.” Jeremiah 29:11.

I was toying around this morning with an idea, after watching a gorgeous grandma deliver her grandson to kindergarten. It was an idea that pondered the future. Could that be me? Would it be possible for me to help my daughter raise her kids? Would I have this chance on the school playground ever again after my own children grew out of the playground? What would that look like and what would be the paths that put us there?

What a siren song that could have been. It could consume, hold me captive in a dream, while life walked on around me.

No, as Maya Angelou once said, “I believe life loves the liver of it.” No, dreaming is okay, but living is better. And turning that life over to God, to His plans, is the ultimate.

I’m probably about halfway through my life. And I believe every step of the journey has had some learning purpose to it. Coming on to the board of Compassion Tea? Early classes in writing, experiences with missionaries, and traveling abroad all prepared me for this stage. My adoption gave me a heart for children without families. My own struggles with having children taught me a reverence for life that I couldn’t have otherwise understood. Raising those kids has softened my heart toward us all; good grief, it ain’t easy being a parent, much less human!

My husband talks about retirement; he plans for it and dreams big. And I listen and smile and encourage; all the while knowing that any and all of those dreams belong to God. About some He will say, “No, that’s not good for you.” About others He will say, “Yes, to my glory.”

Me? I’m just along for the ride. My eyes are watching God to see where and when and how He moves.

Glory, Glory, Hallelujah!

Just yesterday I was driving to an event. My heart started racing. As I become more aware of how this kind of thing gets going in my body and may or may not send me into a full on panic attack, I stop to ask myself why. Why, little heart, is the approach of this event, sending you into spasms. The answer? Because I’d rather be at home writing.

“The Introverted are the people who live in the constant tension between the desire to communicate… and the desire to hide.”
This from Ann Voskamp, another “I’d rather stay home and write” kinda gal. So she wrote it out, her story, and it has launched her into comfort zones far beyond staying home. She says, “…well, when you’ve been revived from the dead, you keep mustering the courage up to communicate this story because maybe it will help just even one other person?”

And today Maya Angelou died and I’m thinking about how her voice was my first experience with poetry that licked my heart as it sang to my brain, how her words opened new doors and suggested to me that form in poetry could be more organic, subtle, sensuous, slithering up the backside. Her voice, husky, grandmotherly, wise, pooled around my high school self and flung wide doors of language.

And I think back to three days ago when I was watching my daughter perform with her choir during a church service and how words, lifting in song, touched people. The choir cast the words of The Battle Hymn of the Republic into air, and I watched as the grey haired ladies in their own special pew popped above the surface to nip at them. Joy spread across their faces and their lips moved uncontrollably, lipping the words, eyes bright. I had glimpses of young girls in those wizened faces. Young, smooth skin under the wrinkles, tossing curls under the white and grey. Age remembering youthful prayer meetings and days spent with beaus and a patriotism that is no longer politically correct. And I thought, “Oh how God loves you, ladies.” More than me, they have seen Him marching on.

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord;
He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored;
He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword;
His truth is marching on.
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! His truth is marching on.

I have seen Him in the watch fires of a hundred circling camps
They have builded Him an altar in the evening dews and damps;
I can read His righteous sentence by the dim and flaring lamps;
His day is marching on.
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! His day is marching on.

He has sounded forth the trumpet that shall never call retreat;
He is sifting out the hearts of men before His judgment seat;
Oh, be swift, my soul, to answer Him! be jubilant, my feet;
Our God is marching on.
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! Our God is marching on.

In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea,
With a glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me:
As He died to make men holy, let us live to make men free;
[originally …let us die to make men free]
While God is marching on.
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! While God is marching on.

It was here, at this verse, that my own tears started, flowing fast, joy … joy that my daughter was in a choir that was teaching and challenging and training her voice and that that voice was singing one of my favorite hymns… a hymn for crying out loud. On the cusp of Memorial Day, it had meaning.
As He died to make men holy, let us live to make men free…
There are men and women who stood up, left their comfort zones, their homes, their cozy and with racing hearts faced the enemy, the freedom takers. Their voices, their stories were shortened, heroic, often unsung, unheard. But their acts made differences, changed tides of battles, changed lives. Their passing may have seemed a blip on the map of strategy, but in God’s great economy, not a drop of blood was wasted.

These words of march and fight and triumph are reserved for Memorial Day, for funerals, for times of passing. But we need them every day. Because every day is a battle. We need to know that there is purpose, a strategy, a plan in place, a plan for victory, and an exit plan, even before we move from our beds in the morning. God’s plan, God’s march, God’s victory.

Plan enacted, sweet son sent. Holy oneness broken for a bit so that holy becomes human. Holy takes on skin but not the depravity of human. Holy walks soil, holy sleeps and eats and touches and feeds and speaks words of love and healing and dangerous words that turn thousands of years of “God says” into “but now.” Holy from the beginning, there in the beginning, there in the early sacrifices that will herald and explain and ready hearts.

Yes, oh sinner. God spent those years teaching his children that certain actions are sin, the most offensive of which is turning away from God.

There must be retribution.

Retribution taken by himself on himself for me so that the swift sword loosed is not for me deserving though I be. Oh be swift my soul to answer Him, be jubilant my feet!

It makes me want to stand at attention, eager along the parade route, listening for the trumpet that shall never sound retreat, butterflies in my stomach anticipating the display that is about to pass. Glory, Glory, Hallelujah! Drips from lips like so much honey.

Can I stand at the parade route and stay home and write too? Can they be one and the same? Can my voice raised in writing be loud and cheering? Can yours?

So, I’m writing and I’m crying, my soul purging. And my daughter comes in and says, “Why? Why are you crying?” Crying and writing, writing and crying? Isn’t that normal? Because it is in the writing that I feel the hand of God, like He is pouring His voice into me, filling me. In the preaching gospel to myself, I touch God, spend an hour at His feet, rest in the beauty of the lilies, glory in His glory. Voice my own hallelujah. Cast it out into air. It’s the introvert way, the God way for me. For now.

He is coming like the glory of the morning on the wave,
He is wisdom to the mighty, He is honor to the brave;
So the world shall be His footstool, and the soul of wrong His slave,
Our God is marching on.
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! Our God is marching on.

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