Archives for March 2015

After the Tears


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We are moving to the midpoint of Holy Week and I am feeling the loneliness of this season. The empty tomb awaits us, the glorious garden story, the triumph of Love over death.

But right now?

It’s dark in this heart of mine. Not without hope, no, never that. But dark, nonetheless. As I do every evening, I spoke with my aging mother on the phone tonight. Very briefly, as she cannot tolerate more than about 2-3 minutes without being overcome by confusion. As I said good night to her, the tears pricked.

Those tears.

I find them behind my eyes a lot these days. Watching a valiant, loved mother lose herself, piece by piece, is a painful and difficult process. There are days when it feels never-ending, when there is yet another jagged piece of reality thrust in both our faces.

I listened to an interview on the PBS Newshour tonight, a conversation with an author who tweeted his way through his mother’s death a year ago. He has now written a book about that journey and it sounds intriguing.

But as he talked, I realized that his journey was very different from the one I take with my mother. He lost his mother over a few days in the ICU, with her fully awake and cognizant until the very end. I have been losing mine for the last six years, watching her slowly unravel and as she herself put it last week, ‘losing pieces of myself’ from minute to minute.

Yes, the tears are ever-present in our journey. I find myself saying, “I am so sorry, Mom,” repeatedly. And there is a lot of repeating going on in our conversations now. In our regular 90-minute lunch together, I will tell her at least ten times that I am her daughter and she is my mother. Each time, she is delighted to say, “I never knew that.” I also recount each of the places she has lived in her long life, tell her that she was married for 63 years. “I was? I was married? Is he alive?” “No, Mom, he died ten years ago.” “Oh, no! Did I take good care of him?” “Oh, yes, Mom, you took such good care of him.” “Well, at least I did that right.”

Oh, sweet Mama — you did so many things right! So many.There is so little left, your story has become so very small.

Some days I wonder if there is any evidence of Easter in this sad story we tell together. Is there hope? Is there resurrection? 

The answer is ‘yes’ — and I find Resurrection Hope by looking in two directions: directly out at who she is right now, and forward, to what she will be once the dying has stopped.

Right now, my mother is beautiful. She smiles at everyone, she says ‘thank you,’ over and over again. She tells me I am a wonderful person and that she is so glad to be with me. She cheerily greets all who pass us on our slow progression from car to restaurant, from hallway to recliner chair. She finds delight in the beauty she can see — the sunlight on her back, the distant view of the ocean, any small child she sees on our weekly outing. These things are lovely to watch.

The pieces of my mother that remain fairly shimmer with kindness, joy, hope, light. All of her life, Mom earnestly sought the face of God. And now that Face shines out of her eyes, sparkles in her smile, and echoes in her diminishing vocabulary. These lovely things are the seeds of resurrection. Such beautiful seeds — these are what I see when I look at the now.

And when I look ahead? What I see there is restoration, relief, refreshment, reunion. She talks about it from time to time, always with wonder in her voice, and I find myself occasionally praying for her release, hoping that she will fall asleep in her cozy bed, pictures of her family lining the walls, and wake up walking the streets of heaven, hand-in-hand with my dad.

I used to feel vaguely guilty about such prayers but I no longer do. I offer them with deep thanksgiving for who she was, and yes, for who she is. Even in this terrible time of losing and failing, my mother fairly radiates Easter Hope. 

So, I’ll take her a lily on Sunday. I’ll kiss her on the cheek, give her a big bear hug and I’ll wish her a Happy Easter. And then, I’ll drive south with my husband, south to younger family, vibrant family, family she made possible, family she loved and who love her still. 

And I will carry in my body and in my spirit the seeds of resurrection that my mother has planted deep in me, seeds of promise, of beauty, of hope.

Happy Easter, Mom. I love you.

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A Lenten Journey: The Wilderness Trail — Day Forty-Two

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John 12:20-36, The Message

There were some Greeks in town who had come up to worship at the Feast. They approached Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee: “Sir, we want to see Jesus. Can you help us?”

Philip went and told Andrew. Andrew and Philip together told Jesus. Jesus answered, “Time’s up. The time has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.

“Listen carefully: Unless a grain of wheat is buried in the ground, dead to the world, it is never any more than a grain of wheat. But if it is buried, it sprouts and reproduces itself many times over. In the same way, anyone who holds on to life just as it is destroys that life. But if you let it go, reckless in your love, you’ll have it forever, real and eternal.

“If any of you wants to serve me, then follow me. Then you’ll be where I am, ready to serve at a moment’s notice. The Father will honor and reward anyone who serves me.

“Right now I am storm-tossed. And what am I going to say? ‘Father, get me out of this’? No, this is why I came in the first place. I’ll say, ‘Father, put your glory on display.’”

A voice came out of the sky: “I have glorified it, and I’ll glorify it again.”

The listening crowd said, “Thunder!”

Others said, “An angel spoke to him!”

Jesus said, “The voice didn’t come for me but for you. At this moment the world is in crisis. Now Satan, the ruler of this world, will be thrown out. And I, as I am lifted up from the earth, will attract everyone to me and gather them around me.” He put it this way to show how he was going to be put to death.

Voices from the crowd answered, “We heard from God’s Law that the Messiah lasts forever. How can it be necessary, as you put it, that the Son of Man ‘be lifted up’? Who is this ‘Son of Man’?”

Jesus said, “For a brief time still, the light is among you. Walk by the light you have so darkness doesn’t destroy you. If you walk in darkness, you don’t know where you’re going. As you have the light, believe in the light. Then the light will be within you, and shining through your lives. You’ll be children of light.”

Jesus said all this, and then went into hiding. All these God-signs he had given them and they still didn’t get it, still wouldn’t trust him. This proved that the prophet Isaiah was right:

God, who believed what we preached?
Who recognized God’s arm, outstretched and ready to act?

First they wouldn’t believe, then they couldn’t—again, just as Isaiah said:

Their eyes are blinded,
    their hearts are hardened,
So that they wouldn’t see with their eyes
    and perceive with their hearts,
And turn to me, God,
    so I could heal them.

These words are so important
we’re getting them more than
once on this journey of ours.

But it’s the first image
that grabs me this time,
a new image thus far.

An image about death.
Life from death,
which is a distinctly
Christian motif.

In order to live,
we must die.
Truly.

But that scares us,
doesn’t it?
There is nothing about death

that sounds ‘good,’
desirable,
necessary.

We are also taught that
death foils the Plan.
In fact, the Plan
comes to rid us of death.

Ah, but only one kind of death
is defeated on that cross,
and through that empty tomb,
right?

Because we all die, don’t we?

These bodies will stop.
Every blamed one of them.

In fact, we must die . . .
if . . . we are to live.


A paradox.

A mystery.
A wonder.

Glory be.

A Lenten Journey: The Wilderness Trail — Day Forty-One

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Hebrews 9:11-15, The Message

But when the Messiah arrived, high priest of the superior things of this new covenant, he bypassed the old tent and its trappings in this created world and went straight into heaven’s “tent”—the true Holy Place—once and for all. He also bypassed the sacrifices consisting of goat and calf blood, instead using his own blood as the price to set us free once and for all. If that animal blood and the other rituals of purification were effective in cleaning up certain matters of our religion and behavior, think how much more the blood of Christ cleans up our whole lives, inside and out. Through the Spirit, Christ offered himself as an unblemished sacrifice, freeing us from all those dead-end efforts to make ourselves respectable, so that we can live all out for God.

‘live all out for God. . .’

Again, words I nod agreement 
at hearing, reading.
But I wonder.

Am I capable of 
‘all out?’

No, probably not.

Therefore,
I choose to rely
on that unblemished
sacrifice.

To choose freedom
from trying to 
make myself
respectable,
qualified,
enough.

Lord, have mercy on me.
A sinner.

A Lenten Journey: The Wilderness Trail — Day Forty, Palm Sunday

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John 12:12-16, The Living Bible

The next day, the news that Jesus was on the way to Jerusalem swept through the city, and a huge crowd of Passover visitors took palm branches and went down the road to meet him, shouting, “The Savior! God bless the King of Israel! Hail to God’s Ambassador!”

Jesus rode along on a young donkey, fulfilling the prophecy that said: “Don’t be afraid of your King, people of Israel, for he will come to you meekly, sitting on a donkey’s colt!”

(His disciples didn’t realize at the time that this was a fulfillment of prophecy; but after Jesus returned to his glory in heaven, then they noticed how many prophecies of Scripture had come true before their eyes.)

How hard it is to
see things as they happen!
We don’t get it.
Our brains are slow,
our spirits are sludge-like.

But afterwards?
Oh, yeah.
Afterwards,
we see it all.

I find this line
strangely heartening.
Even in their slowness,
these disciples
went on to believe,
to engage,
to join the journey
with all of themselves.

Help me to take the next step,
even when I don’t
fully understand
what is actually 
happening.

Help me to trust
that someday,
it will all make sense.

A Lenten Journey: The Wilderness Trail — Day Thirty-Nine

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Mark 10:32-34, 46-52, The Message

Back on the road, they set out for Jerusalem. Jesus had a head start on them, and they were following, puzzled and not just a little afraid.

He took the Twelve and began again to go over what to expect next. “Listen to me carefully. We’re on our way up to Jerusalem. When we get there, the Son of Man will be betrayed to the religious leaders and scholars. They will sentence him to death. Then they will hand him over to the Romans, who will mock and spit on him, give him the third degree, and kill him. After three days he will rise alive.”

You know,
I want to listen.
At least,
I say I do.

But when push
comes to shove,
I’m lousy at it.

I have things to do,
don’t you know.
People to see,
places to be.

But really now.
What person, 
place,
activity
is more important
than 
listening.
Listening carefully.

No one,
nowhere,
nothing
is more important.
Even when what I hear
is hard
and painful.

Like this news,
right here.

The end of the road
is in sight now.
It won’t be long.

Small but Mighty! — for SheLoves

Our theme for this month is “Dangerous Women” and I decided to write something quite personal, known only to our particular family story. Maybe you’ve got a few of such ‘dangerous women’ in your own family tree? You can read the rest of this piece by clicking here.

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Elsie and Harry’s wedding day, circa 1905, two of her cousins as attendants

She didn’t quite make it to five feet tall. Born in the wilds of Alberta Canada at the end of the 19th century, Elsie lost her mother when she was just ten years old and her baby sister was three. Her dad worked for the Canadian Pacific Railway and was often gone for long stretches of time, and for the first few months after her mom’s death, Elsie ran their home.

Until she started buying more sweets at the grocer’s than nutritious food!

After that, she and her sister lived with their aunt in Vancouver, regularly attending the Salvation Army church with their three cousins. By her mid-teens, Elsie was a soprano soloist with the Army, singing on street corners, regularly attracting a small crowd. She attended a secretarial school during those years and worked in an office for a while, but then felt the tug to head to Winnipeg to go into training to become an Officer for the church.

And then — a mysterious and handsome older man heard her sing one afternoon. He was immediately smitten, and so was she. Elsie had just enough of the rebel in her spirit to choose a man 12 years older, divorced and a former gold miner in the Yukon. Very quickly, they were married and the idea of Winnipeg and officer training faded into the distance.

The couple moved to Vancouver Island, living in the town of Duncan, and Elsie’s Harry found a job in a lumber mill nearby. They very quickly had three children and Elsie was pregnant with the fourth when they decided to move to California. That move included Elsie’s sister and their three cousins plus a few friends. They piled everyone onto the train and off they went, into a future that was far from assured and fraught with economic insecurity.

They raised their four children in several different neighborhoods in the greater Los Angeles area, Elsie working full time for most of those years. Her family believes she needed a break from childcare — and all those unmarried women in the family were more than happy to provide help. Elsie Hobson was an early subscriber to the feminist ideal of equal pay for equal work!

Although she left the Army behind in Canada, her faith was still important to her. Her husband did not share that faith, but agreed that their children could attend church and decide for themselves. So each week, they’d drop the kids off at Sunday school and come back to get them later in the day. . . 

Please come on over and join the conversation. Tell us about a dangerous woman you have known – just click right here.

A Lenten Journey: The Wilderness Trail — Day Thirty-Eight

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Philippians 2:12-18, The Message

What I’m getting at, friends, is that you should simply keep on doing what you’ve done from the beginning. When I was living among you, you lived in responsive obedience. Now that I’m separated from you, keep it up. Better yet, redouble your efforts. Be energetic in your life of salvation, reverent and sensitive before God. That energy is God’s energy, an energy deep within you, God himself willing and working at what will give him the most pleasure.

Do everything readily and cheerfully—no bickering, no second-guessing allowed! Go out into the world uncorrupted, a breath of fresh air in this squalid and polluted society. Provide people with a glimpse of good living and of the living God. Carry the light-giving Message into the night so I’ll have good cause to be proud of you on the day that Christ returns. You’ll be living proof that I didn’t go to all this work for nothing.

Even if I am executed here and now, I’ll rejoice in being an element in the offering of your faith that you make on Christ’s altar, a part of your rejoicing. But turnabout’s fair play—you must join me in my rejoicing. Whatever you do, don’t feel sorry for me.

Energy.
That’s what we need.
Who knew?

But it’s a different kind of
energy, I think.
Not what we usually
picture
when we hear
the word.

And that word is coupled
with these:

reverence
and
sensitivity.

Now that’s 
my kind of energy.

You won’t find me
on the soccer field,
but you might 
find me
sitting and listening.

And you will
definitely find me
being awestruck
at the wonders that
surround us
in this place we call home.

Put those together,
and they produce
exactly the kind of 
‘fission’ that’s 
needed to
shine the light,
save the world.

At least,
that’s what Paul
seems to say.

Oh.
One other thing.
it’s not our
energy, actually.

Nope.
It’s God-sent,
originating
elsewhere.

Well, that’s a relief.

 

A Lenten Journey: The Wilderness Trail — Day Thirty-Seven

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Philippians 2:1-11, The Message

If you’ve gotten anything at all out of following Christ, if his love has made any difference in your life, if being in a community of the Spirit means anything to you, if you have a heart, if you care— then do me a favor: Agree with each other, love each other, be deep-spirited friends. Don’t push your way to the front; don’t sweet-talk your way to the top. Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand.

Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that—a crucifixion.

Because of that obedience, God lifted him high and honored him far beyond anyone or anything, ever, so that all created beings in heaven and on earth—even those long ago dead and buried—will bow in worship before this Jesus Christ, and call out in praise that he is the Master of all, to the glorious honor of God the Father.

Such a sweet relationship.
A small girl,
an older male cousin.
They picture for me
what the Body is
to be like.

Warm, affectionate,
open, loving, kind.
‘Deep-spirited friends.’

That’s an important piece
of this journey we’re on.
Becoming more sweet-spirited.
And opening to more friends, too.

#Small Wonder — Looking for the Little . . . in Me

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It was just a simple photo. A black and white shot of a young, blond girl staring back at the camera, honest, open, sweet, inquisitive. It was one of about sixty photos spread out on a table for our perusal and possible devotional use. I grabbed it, stuffed it in my bag and immediately took it back to my room at the retreat house.

There were eleven of us there, with not much of an agenda except to be quiet for a while, to follow where our hearts led and to sit with God. Sleep, walk, take photographs, try a little art, journal, read, pray, reflect, have a small conversation with one or two others. Just twenty-four hours — not nearly long enough, by the way — a gift from our denomination in exchange for being spiritual directors on-call for pastors/staff/spouses looking for partnership on the journey.

They were a gift, these hours away, in a beautiful place, with kind people. And I chose that photo of a young girl to take with me on my inward journey. She sat propped up on the desk in my room for a few hours, then on the bedside table. And she accidentally got put into my bag for the journey back home. I’ll return her to her owner soon. 

But not just yet. 

I need to remember her and to notice the ways in which the girl in my borrowed photo reminds me in of the girl in the picture at the top of this post, the girl who happens to be me at age ten.

Sometimes the little girl inside gets shoved to the sidelines and when she’s pushed over there, she can stir things up in ways that are important. She gets anxious, wondering if she’ll be overlooked forever. So sometimes, I need to stop, look for her and listen.

How are you today, honey? Feeling cared for? I want to take good care of you, I really do. I don’t want you to worry. And I don’t want you to worry me, okay? 

Most of the time, all she needs is a fond look, a pat on the head, a few loving words. That’s it. When she feels safe, she comes right back into the center of things and looks out my aging eyes with wonder and anticipation.

I need her, you see.

I need her to remind me that there will always be a part of me that is young, easily frightened and yet open to learn and be loved. She helps me to be young-at-heart, even when the bones and the joints, the muscles and the skin tone are showing their antiquity.

She is the wondering center of me, a key player in my own sense of self, a gift from long ago to today.

Joining with the lovely Kelly Chripczuk today for her wonderful series (just discovered by me) of short essays on small things each week. Thanks, Kelly.

A Lenten Journey: The Wilderness Trail — Day Thirty-Six

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John 12:34-50, The Message

Voices from the crowd answered, “We heard from God’s Law that the Messiah lasts forever. How can it be necessary, as you put it, that the Son of Man ‘be lifted up’? Who is this ‘Son of Man’?”

Jesus said, “For a brief time still, the light is among you. Walk by the light you have so darkness doesn’t destroy you. If you walk in darkness, you don’t know where you’re going. As you have the light, believe in the light. Then the light will be within you, and shining through your lives. You’ll be children of light.”

Jesus said all this, and then went into hiding. All these God-signs he had given them and they still didn’t get it, still wouldn’t trust him. This proved that the prophet Isaiah was right:

God, who believed what we preached?
Who recognized God’s arm, outstretched and ready to act?

First they wouldn’t believe, then they couldn’t—again, just as Isaiah said:

Their eyes are blinded,
    their hearts are hardened,
So that they wouldn’t see with their eyes
    and perceive with their hearts,
And turn to me, God,
    so I could heal them.

Isaiah said these things after he got a glimpse of God’s cascading brightness that would pour through the Messiah.

On the other hand, a considerable number from the ranks of the leaders did believe. But because of the Pharisees, they didn’t come out in the open with it. They were afraid of getting kicked out of the meeting place. When push came to shove they cared more for human approval than for God’s glory.

Jesus summed it all up when he cried out, “Whoever believes in me, believes not just in me but in the One who sent me. Whoever looks at me is looking, in fact, at the One who sent me. I am Light that has come into the world so that all who believe in me won’t have to stay any longer in the dark.

“If anyone hears what I am saying and doesn’t take it seriously, I don’t reject him. I didn’t come to reject the world; I came to save the world. But you need to know that whoever puts me off, refusing to take in what I’m saying, is willfully choosing rejection. The Word, the Word-made-flesh that I have spoken and that I am, that Word and no other is the last word. I’m not making any of this up on my own. The Father who sent me gave me orders, told me what to say and how to say it. And I know exactly what his command produces: real and eternal life. That’s all I have to say. What the Father told me, I tell you.”

Well, there it is.
Plain as day.
There is no rejection
cast upon any of us
by heaven and 
its inhabitants.

No.

The rejection happens
in us.

We are the ones who say ‘no.’

So yes, I think we will
be surprised.

And yes, we must walk
with the light that we have.
And that may be one of 
the biggest surprises of all —
just who has the light,
and how very little of it
is necessary to
reach our destination.

Time for another,
hallelujah!

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