Tuesday, October 31, 2006

the voice of my complaining

Yesterday morning I did something I have never, ever done before. I gave another motorist on the highway the universal gesture for disapproval. I was driving to work, navigating the beginnings of rush hour traffic. There is a two lane exit that merges onto the highway running through the valley area I live in, and cars that are taking the exit are supposed to be in the left lane, or prepared to merge left. I was in the left lane, wheel to wheel with a huge truck that wasn't speeding up or slowing down. So, being the good defensive driver that I am, I gave him the right of way to merge even though I didn't technically HAVE to. Being, though, that he was quite a bit larger and heavier than my own car, I felt it was prudent, so I did. Well, at the moment the two lanes turned into one, another car whipped past me behind the truck and cut me off. I laid on our little weeny horn as long and hard as I could, and then gave him (or her) my goodbye greeting.

I guess it all started before that. My mother-in-law was scheduled for open heart surgery that morning, so my husband left it to me to hold down the business fort while he stayed at the hospital. I was more than glad to do that...in theory....but when the actual time came to get up with him in the wee hours of the morning, see him off, wait and get our daughter up, see her off, and then get myself into work, I was feeling put out. I have no idea why. I work with him part-time, so what I was doing was not anything outside of the ordinary. I was just irritated as heck and did not want to go. Maybe I resented the fact that I HAD to go. I was so out of sorts by the time my drive ended it was hard to concentrate. Then I looked at my work bench and it was full. There was not a half day in sight. I faced a steady stream of things that demanded my full concentration, plus phone calls and reports from the hospital. I didn't want to be bothered but I had to be.

I started to pray and ask for patience (man, I cannot get away from this subject!!). I'll admit I acted like a spoiled child, heavy sighing, throwing instruments around, telling myself I'll just go home when I can't do any more. I have my own car, so I can go any time. But I knew really, I couldn't. If I did it would mean another half day back the next day, and my husband needed me. I just voiced my complaint before God, and apologized. Seems like the whole morning was that way. I kept talking to Him, pouring out my frustrations. Then somewhere in the day I began to get a rhythm going. I noticed I was talking less and working more. Before I knew it my husband was back from the hospital, everything was fine and I was almost done. I even volunteered to do deliveries for him.

I got home wanting nothing more than a hot shower and the washing machine to do my filthy clothes because I had forgotten to bring a smock, which at first was another cause for complaint, as was the lunch I forgot to bring and I had no money. But my daughter came home from work hungry, so I got her dinner, tried to eat myself and the phone rang. It was long distance, a mutual friend who I know is going through some things. He's very mellow and doesn't complain ever, but this time I heard it in his voice-frustration over everything, a stream of constant events that would drive a sane person crazy. Finally I was hearing some normal emotion over them, and I understood perfectly. Every other sentence was, I'm fine and really doing well, but...and then another totally stupid situation he was facing. In the Psalms David had no trouble complaining before a holy God. I've heard that that is one thing totally unique to the scriptures and our faith. We actually believe He cares about this daily "stuff" and hears us. Complaints and bad feelings are recorded in our book of Life. I, for one, am grateful. I did apologize about the aforementioned bad gesture, but I have to admit, it sort of felt good exercising my voice.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

in the Greek

There is a word I'm becoming familiar with in the context of life and a study I'm trying to complete on the fruit of the Spirit. It is a Greek word, makrothumia. This is the word for patience in the Galatians 5 passage that lists the fruit. It has the connotation of forgiveness and mercy, and the exercise of it's virtue toward people because of that. I got stung in my study this morning by the statement that the perfect vessel of God to exercise makrothumia is one with every right to be angry and hold a grudge. Zing...that's me, and in a second and one statement I saw what God is doing in my life. I'm a self-righteous vessel being filled with patience toward those with whom I'd rather not. This is perfectly consistent with the arc of my whole existence now that I think about it

All my life I've been touched by people who struggle with alcoholism or chemical dependencies. I've been more than touched, I've been bulldozed. My personality, life, thoughts and actions became a response and a reaction to my father's addiction. When I was small I didn't know what it was that made the atmosphere in our home so tense. I only knew it was very, very important for me to be a good little girl and make daddy happy by being obedient and working hard in school. Guilt was an emotion I could never escape. Maybe it was easier to blame myself for his unhappiness than think it was random and without some reason that could be addressed by things we did for him. I always wanted to fix it, to fix him, to fix our family. The scenario raged out of control by the time my mother was terminally ill with cancer and finally admitted to us older girls the extent of the problem. She was forced out of hiding. After her death my father married a woman with a cross-addiction problem, and the added dynamic of trying to deal with her possessiveness of him set us children up for continual conflict. If he couldn't help himself in the first place, he couldn't help us now. My stepmother ran the show.

I knew all along forgiveness was right. I accepted Christ as a teenager, and I loved my dad. But it is so hard to offer forgiveness and mercy to someone who continues in a behavior that is destroying your life and your siblings' lives as well as his own. It was as though as long as I held on to the anger the problem was present and real. I felt simply forgiving would be denying the truth. I have since realized that my anger was only really hurting me. But it was not without reason or foundation, and allowing God to work is the only solution. He is the only righteous Judge and Lawgiver. I had to turn that judgement over to Him, but I also had to survive the process, and help my sisters survive as well.

That all took a toll. I prayed my children would not be touched by the demons that invaded my childhood home, but it was not to be. My older son and daughter both had their internal struggles that led to wrong behavior-my son particularly, and all of those emotions and struggles I had in the past came rushing back. Just like with my dad, I wanted to protect my son, even from himself, but I could not. The law stopped him. It also tore the veil away from things I kept covered for a long time. God's expediency in working touches all people concerned in every way. So back to makrothumia. My father is dead and my son in prison, so therefore I cannot practically and actively exercise this towards them. Well, with my son I can but not in the way I could if he was living at home. So I'm led to people who have injured their families and are finding the way home themselves. God has picked up this dusty cup, blown His breath onto it and poured His life inside, that like the Samaritan on his way I may hold a cup of life to the parched lips of those dying for makrothumia and find it myself.

Saturday, October 28, 2006


Today was sort of a strange day. I really didn't have anything pressing to do, which is good. You need those sorts of days. So in reality I suppose I did what everyone else in our culture seems to do on a Saturday-go to the mall to shop. I didn't need to go. Well, actually, I did need one thing-transparency sheets for worship music. That you really can't get at a local store. But that wasn't the reason I went. My daughter needed one or two items for a costume she was putting together, and they had to be found today, and they had to be found at the mall.

Every time I go to the mall I'm reminded how little I seem to enter into the standard idea of what to do when you live a certain way, make a certain amount of money and want to keep up with the latest things. I felt uncomfortable, tired and claustraphobic for most of our journey, and actually, my daughter did, too. I found absolutely no pleasure in looking, only finding for her. Things only seem to have real significance for me if I'm buying or looking for someone I care about. Or I have a very pressing need, in which case I go on a mission, buy my thing and go home. Or, I feel very moved to do something for someone else. This has nothing to do with my own personal virtue. It is normal life to me, the most fulfilling and interesting way I can think to live.

I'm not sure how to address my culture and generation. I know we all have things we care about beyond the material. I'm not sure if understanding all the cultural trappings is a way to understand people. Maybe it is. Alot of that stuff is trends set by the powers that be for the motivation of profit. You can't help but want some of the cool, pretty and new things that are displayed to maximum advantage, but it is someone else's idea of what is cool and pretty. Our old Honda sets us apart in a parking lot immediately. By the looks of things, owning new is normal, and with the cost of new cars, that puzzles me. Is normal life being in debt up to your eyebrows (as my daughter puts it) to look nice, new, shiny and successful...and cool to everyone else? Once again, I'm not sure. I guess advertising really does work.

I'm afraid the type of life I would try to sell is not terribly attractive displayed on a shelf. In fact, you probably wouldn't see it displayed in a way that draws attention to itself. It works in secret. It doesn't need outward trappings to speak for it or identify it's possessor. That is a tough sell. I don't think it would be at the mall.

Friday, October 27, 2006

under the umbrella

There was something about my last night big hair Bible study that just made me want to go "Yesss, uh, huh, ok, thaz right!", but not before my uneasy peace was yet again disturbed by something-or someone, should I say. There was a new woman who came, which is great news, but I was in no mood to be ingratiating. I just wanted to be there with my homeys, enjoy cookies and chocolates and sit without being disturbed, like a visit to Grandmas, and strangers only took my cookies. I didn't even have to know this woman to take an instant eeewww attitude toward her. All week long our studies have been on peace, and all week long I've been painfully cognizant of how little of the stuff I have, how easily I get riled, how circumstances and certain people just needle me without even trying. That morning my mother-in-law was taken to the ER with chest pains, and she called the house at 5 am in a panic. Once again, my grrr indicator just shot up when I looked at the caller ID. My first impulse was not to be really worried. It was to be angry that she's "putting us out" yet again.

Well, back to my study. What caused the great, good reaction inside me was a familiar scripture in Isaiah-"For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given. And the government shall be upon His Shoulders and His name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father and the Prince of Peace". Even typing that glorious piece of scripture makes the hair stand up on my arms. There is something about reading the conferred titles of God that excites my heart. My spirit joins with God's Spirit to say, that's right, that is right!! I know He's all of those things. The speaker, Beth Moore, focused on that scripture to say that the acquisition of peace is a matter of rule. My "uh, huh" became a little murky at that point, and she went on to explain. Peace is not a matter of all circumstances being in order, or an answer coming to end conflict. It is not the end of conflict at all, at least not outward conflict. Peace, God's peace, may be given by Him alone, and to the extent that He rules our hearts in any given situation or relationship, we have peace. Whew....ok. Somebody is not ruling in my heart today. Prince of Peace is not just something we sing about at Christmas. It means the Lord Jesus owns peace with the world and people. He is the author of it.

So, I tried to remember that as I was getting some delicious and much-needed sleep and the phone once again rang at 5 am. The conflict in my soul began and the negative thought-stream. Quick study that I am, I rolled over and made my husband answer it. Apparently there was no peace over my mother-in-law today, not from my heart. She goes in for a catheterization this morning. It took me getting up, walking around, thinking about it for a time, to feel any compassion, and further, any desire to go to the hospital. I decided to get a bouquet of flowers and have dinner for her when we bring her home. Ok, it's a start. As to the new woman who would eat my cookies last night, she shared a bit about herself after our dvd study was over. Darn it, it's always something to make me feel compassion-she did have a hard life. But I shouldn't have needed that to energize peaceful intent towards her. I only need the rule of the Prince of Peace.

One thing Beth Moore pointed out, and I'll close. She related a story about a mom going to the grocery store with a toddler, and out of nowhere it began to rain. Mom took out an umbrella to shield them both, and the little girl wanted to hold it. Of course her mommy tried to accommodate this desire, but it wound up with both of them getting wet. Things worked out when Mom picked up the little girl and together they held the umbrella. The moral of the story was, we need to be under the umbrella of God's government in all areas of life. I've really got some umbrellas to give up! Emily Dickinson wrote that the soul "selects her own society", which in the flesh is true. But we're called to be peacemakers as citizens of a new Kingdom.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

bringing in the sheaves

Well, my lovely Wednesday was ending all too soon last night (see yesterday's entry) in too many ways-it's back to work today and a Bible study in the evening, so I thought I'd be smart and type my today's blog last night. I thought and typed for an hour, while still waiting for a phone call from my worship partner who joins me Friday nights for our Celebrate Recovery meeting. I left two message since Tuesday and heard nothing back. My patience was wearing very thin, as Thursday is a bit late to do music for Friday. I like being prepared. At any rate, I went to post the blog entry and realized I had lost my connection to the site. The theme of my post is the next fruit of the Spirit I'm studying, Job's virtue, you guessed it, patience... as I smacked the "publish post" icon repeatedly and said a few things not worth repeating. But I read about another person in the Bible in my evening Charles Spurgeon devotional that I think displays the virtue more thoroughly. She was a lady and a stranger, too, according to a beautiful old song. The person I'm speaking of is Ruth. (And it is now 2 in the morning, so it is technically Thursday, but still Wednesday night!)

I was thinking about the differences between the two people. Job had it really good in the beginning and he knew God. Ruth was a foreigner, a Moabitess, the daughter-in-law of a Jewish woman Naomi, who was in Moab because there was famine in her home. Finally Naomi's husband and sons both died, so Ruth was a foreigner and a widow, and Naomi desired to return to her home, which would have robbed Ruth of her only connection to her husband and leave her alone completely. The girl was between a rock and a hard place right off the clip and she didn't know God. But she watched Naomi, I'm sure, and when it came down to it, she vowed to stay with this woman upon the pain of death, accepting the Jewish way of life and the Lord Jehovah without reservation. In my mind this would be accepting certain death because Jewish people were not to intermarry with foreigners. They were to have nothing to do with them at the very least. She could not join in temple worship. She was choosing, choosing mind you, ostracism by choosing the Lord. It would be like a white person choosing to be black in the South in the 1950's or prior. A thousand insults awaited her-she would probably never marry again, never have children or a heritage. She may as well have closed the coffin lid right then. Why did she stay with Naomi? I think Ruth knew Naomi wouldn't make it on her own, and she truly loved her. She also learned to love Naomi's God.

Well, the story is a tiny gem in the huge expanse of the Old Testament. Ruth goes back with Naomi and begins gleaning in a field so that they have food. It just "happens" to be the field of a near relative, the man Boaz. Boaz is a good and righteous man who knows about Ruth, and makes it a point to notice her-not only notice, but take action. Being alone in a field taking grain without protection and having the aforementioned limitations, she might have been raped or killed. Boaz made sure she stayed with his maids in the field, that his working men did not touch her, even dropped grain for her to pick up, and she lunched with the workers. This was really unheard of, as he was a man of stature. This story is the portrait of two people whose character defined them and who looked beyond circumstances and outward appearance. Well, the story plays out like a Harlequin Romance, and the two do get married. But something else happens here due to the perseverence of Ruth. She is in the ancestral of King David and Christ Himself. She not only reaped food, she reaped the promise of God to His people very literally-in fact she was a component of the promise itself. Ruth in an Old Testament example of a grafted-in Gentile who received from God because she believed and was faithful, even without the hope that patience depends on.

It made me think carefully. I tend to think of the fruit of the Spirit as these detached qualities, but they are connected to a hope, a promise, all that God is. That is what gives them life and causes them to grow. We are called according to God's purpose, not our own, and will reap in due season if, like Ruth, we faint not. Oh, my partner called while I wrote the ill-fated post last night and apologized 12 different ways for not calling sooner. We'll be fine. The thing about patience is, it needs time to be exercised. I keep forgetting that part!

the gift of wednesday

Today is a gift. I know sappy calendars and fortune cookie fortunes say things like that, but today, Wednesday, October 25th, 2006, is a lovely, unfettered day to do whatever I would like to. There was only one thing I absolutely had to do, and that one thing fell under the category of a working pleasure because it entailed framing miniature art work for my daughter and myself. This will be our first time exhibiting together at a beautiful, tiny gallery in the woods, and the show is always lovely. My friend, David, runs the gallery and flower shop. He's short like me, wears glasses, is an incredibly gentle person and gay, and has sold work for me in the past. In fact, as long as I've been painting I've known David and shown work in his shop. He always goes all out for this one show and the shop becomes a magical world of sensory delights amid the fall foliage and winter landscape. So anticipation filled my heart to get the job done and the work dropped off, but only because the night before I got a call that today's 12 step meeting had been cancelled. Had it not, I would have been rushing like maniac to finish. Every day for the past ten day until my gifted Wednesday has been like that, making my temper short and my nerves way too sensitive.

Another gift came in the form of blog and e-mail messages I read and answered. I love to write, love the luxury of thinking about words and crafting them especially for people I care about. I love it when the words of others move my heart and my passions, or touch a dry and lonely place inside. It is days like today that really help me to drink in the pleasure and I wanted to give myself totally to the keyboard and my dear ones. I have yet to write a "snail mail" letter to my son, and it is fun to relate to him the days that pass in exaggerated and silly language, a thing that he and I share. Few people know how to bring out the color, comic elements and nuance of any story or situation like my son. So I look forward to that pleasure, to give it all the time it needs.

No one really understands except another OCD type how much cleaning a beloved space is a pleasure. After I'm done here I'm going up to my studio, putting on my cd player and cleaning my creative hide-away. It is littered with two days worth' of framing supplies, mat board, wire, screws, my mat cutter, pieces I didn't finish or use for the show-so now it is time to put everything in little piles that match, rearrange my supplies, sweep the floor and maybe light a scented candle. And dream of new things to create. I may not be famous or the greatest talent of my day, but I do love to create, and I am good at that. In fact I managed to finish a piece for the mini show even this morning, because I had my lovely, luxurious Wednesday with no deadlines. I'm particularly good at using colored pencils, and I was able to work on a little sunrise, something I'd already started but laid aside. I realized how wonderful this large piece looked cut down to a smaller size, and kicked up with some pastel. What a joy to frame this bonus and put it in the show. I felt fully confident that all my efforts were worthwhile and represented the joy I experience creating.

Another pleasure I exercised this morning was going alone to our church, unlocking the door and playing and singing to empty chairs. I don't know why I find this such a pleasure, but I do. As I sang and tickled the ivories, I thought about all of the people who influenced my life and my music. My mother was one of those first of all, my dear piano teacher, Joe, who believed in everything I tried and spent time with me playing duets and encouraging me to perform. Many people in the church did the same in their way, complementing my halting first efforts at worship, and who inspired me with their talents-dear pastors and their wives, friends...so many memories. I am so grateful for them, and I anticipate the ones to come.

I suppose the greatest part of the day, the frame and beautiful table centerpiece was my time in prayer. The Lord of my life was the Author of this Wednesday gift, and I had to thank Him first of all. He knows me so well, and honored and blessed one little person in the entire universe with the exact thing I needed. Thank you my dear Abba. This is the day You have made and I rejoice in it.

Monday, October 23, 2006

the sacrifice of a broken heart

The title is a line in one of my favorite Matt Redman songs (I Will Offer Up My Life), and I was awakened after midnight tonight with that song playing in my head, as well as his other song, "Facedown". While I was listening to the latter, I could picture myself spinning around in a shower of gold, like flakes or the shimmering ash of a fire that was clinging and sparkling on my clothes. The lyrics of the first song go something like,

I will offer up my life in spirit and truth
Pouring out the oil of love as my worship to You
In surrender I will give my every part
Lord accept the sacrifice of a broken heart

Savior what can I give, what can I bring
To so faithful a Friend, to so loving a King?
No my words cannot tell, not even in part
Of the debt of love that is owed from this thankful heart

It made me think of the Old Testament sacrifices, and how we are now called to be a living sacrifice. The priests of old received the sacrifices from the people, and spent much of their time preparing and offering them to God. Now our High Priest, Jesus Christ Himself, lives inside of us, so it is a huge mystery how together we give our own selves to Him and He prepares us to be acceptable. None of those sacrifices that were given remained unchanged. They were killed, washed, perfumed, mixed with other thing, cut to pieces, boiled, roasted, baked, eaten-changed completely from one thing to another that was pleasing and suitable for use. The smoke smelled pleasing as the baking, boiling and roasting was happening, so I guess the image of smoke filling the air is what made me associate the golden shower with the sacrifice, and the words to Facedown (God, I'll fall facedown, as Your glory shines around). Also, as the fire went up God's presence came down to the people.

I just know tonight I can hardly contain the thoughts. They woke me up and I don't know what to do except let the Lord joyfully take my broken heart and change me into something good tasting and sweet-smelling, creating the savor as I allow Him the freedom to mix, boil, chop and roast away for my good, His pleasure and the nourishment of those around me.

Blessed be Your name
On the road marked with suffering
Though there's pain in the offering
Blessed be Your name

another letter day

I haven't quite recovered from the weekend yet and feel like my life is like a mountain of puzzle pieces dumped out of a box. I have to start putting pieces together in some logical order, but for now I'll let Brandon have the floor. There was a letter waiting for us when we got home.

"I received your last three letters (and money orders) in rapid succession. Seems like the whole family decided to have their collective crises all at once. Being in jail gives you a rather exclusive sense of helplessness in these situations. Sure, there wouldn't be much I could do it I were free, but at least I would have the option to make a trip if necessary. It's like being in a coma only you catch up on events you missed in near real time. I always thought we were about as close and traditional as a modern family outside of a gated community could get. That we are immune to getting cancer, jail time, divorces, or losing our homes. I stopped kidding myself about all that years ago, but I'm still surprised when it happens. You have to ask youself: when one sister goes to jail and the other's a lawyer do you call it convenience or irony? Still, prison will never help Lindy. It doesn't help anybody except help protect the homeless from bad weather. It only serves to punish. Even then it falls short. I believe jail should be reserved for those who commit crimes against their fellow man. That may seem self-evident, but I still see some of the harshest sentences dealt out to those who evade some sort of tax. Or don't pay parking/speeding tickets, or fines, or parole/probation/house arrest expenses. Think about it. If drug dealers paid income tax would any of them see the inside of any correctional institution? This gives me the impression I can do as I please as long as the U.S. Treasury is the beneficiary."

Well, that is the reality of prison time for all of us. These next few years will be spent trying to keep Brandon informed about our lives, but it is hard to do in the pages of a letter or in a compressed visit of just a few hours. I can't believe I didn't see him for two months. The time went by so quickly and I cannot remember everything that happened. It takes me mental and emotional preparation time to go see him, and then more work to leave him. I'm trying, and I know he is, too.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

S.C.I. days and nights

My husband and I just returned from visiting our son who is in prison clear across this great state of Pennsylvania. It's a long state, and our four hour travel is plenty enough for me-just long enough to be tiresome and annoying. And that is how it began, with not much sleep the night before, and four hours of travel mostly in the rain, and partially in the dark and the fog. I was irritated and lacked any real peace going out. The first thing that happened upon waking in the morning at 4:30 was that I could not locate my overnight bag anywhere. My faithful Thursday ladies' group prayed for us the night before and I asked them to pray that it would be a joyful visit, as we have been studying the fruit of the Spirit. I suppose that may have been the wrong request, like praying for patience, because it seems surely such a prayer invites every little irritation to force a choice in the matter-am I going to be angry every time, or choose joy...that morning I only felt total frustration.

Well, four hours of non-stop rain, lots of mountains and bad jokes, cramped legs and slow moments of just wanting to GET THERE ended with a smiling guard and a good visit. Friday unfolded like a satin sheet, and my joy-mometer began to rise, though the sun never seemed to. We left for our hotel room in good spirits, having been allowed to stay until visiting hours were over. Conversation flowed easily and we all laughed alot. We had a nice dinner and a good evening.

But once again, the mattress in the room was really, really hard, and neither one of us slept well. The continental breakfast was raisin bran and stale Cheerios (man, I don't know what continent those are from!) and I couldn't get the cereal dispenser to dispense!! That stubborn irritation was beginning to rise again. We got to the prison, right on time we thought, and faced a huge line of people, but not before our car was searched. We then waited in line for half an hour and faced a very sour guard at the desk. First he typed in the wrong prisoner number, so we almost missed our place in line through the metal detector. Then, despite my absolute insistence that it was my underwire bra that kept tripping the silly gadget, he put me through the entire list (rings, watches, belts, no, no, and no....) to the wand, raise your shirt-by then I could feel my internal fists begin to clench and I wanted to punch a hole right in his doughboy stomach. Jerk. Then it was external drug testing-palms, shoulders and pockets swept by a machine that vacuums for drug dust. Ok, we've done that, but after so many times a body has no patience.

Then we sat, and sat and sat waiting...people that came in after us were going down and we weren't moving. Once again I could feel my internal fists rising, needing to punch a hole in a wall or something. I watched the people coming through the detector and walking up from the parking lot after the car search. You really couldn't tell they were coming to a prison. They could have been going to the movies or a concert-there were young ones, older folks, Mennonites, handicapped folks in chairs. Even the vending machine guy was thoroughly searched by the ignatz at the desk. It was then that it hit me...that the law is impartial because it lacks compassion, and God is impartial because He is all compassion. The desk dude didn't care if you were in a chair-he made a woman with knee replacements stand up out of her electric wheelchair to be totally searched. I hate that guy (sorry Lord, I'm not you). But anyway, he didn't care. His job was not to care, it was to find contraband or anything that would get you chucked right back out the door. God's job has always been to get us in the door. I was fearing we wouldn't by the time our names were finally called. (And oh, I forgot the dog drug search which also happened as well before we went through the final door).

The law shames us. The law is blinded by it's own focus on our sin and it's inability to do anything but point it out. Like the sun finally shining that second morning, I saw a clear example of the reason the Lord Jesus had to put Himself under the curse of the law and all of its requirements. He's the only one who would come up clean every time, and the law cannot stand goodness. Goodness robs the law of it's power. He took our sentence and imputed His goodness in us, so that is all that God the Father sees when He looks at us. There is no need for drug testing, sin testing-we do we think that is what He is about? His focus on our sin is only to heal, not punish. I found joy rushing back into my heart when I contemplated this very thing, and the trip back not so bad after all. Now if I could just apply this principle to my husband's snoring!

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

instant messaging

Lately I've been spending time around people who have been very dramatically saved from drug addiction and alcoholism. I seem to always find myself on the other side of prison bars, the glass or the needle, trying to understand people who one day were one way, and the next day completely changed. I know there are also many variations of this scenario and many people who struggle aren't instantly changed, but I'm very curious about those who are, especially those who use the experience to bring other people to God immediately. Seems to me that nothing brings home the validity of Scripture that we are saved by faith, and not by things we do...and also, that anyone who is in Christ is a new creature more than such people. Any one who meets these folks would see this truth walking and talking and be amazed. It is especially striking to me coming from a church setting where while people believe and do right quietly, rarely did I see their lives bring others to Christ. This also causes me to question.

Of course, I question my own life and ask myself what I am doing among such people. Is not any life changed by God at that moment new? What proof positive do I have that I am such a one? I have no drama to offer, no quick and powerful costume change to pull off convincingly. It has taken years of slow shaping for my life to change into what the Lord would have me be, one scenario of struggle after another. Yet I find myself energized and helped by these who have changed so greatly in such a short time. My faith is strengthened and the ones they attract I may strengthen in turn. But I find myself thinking, will what I have to say be helpful? That it took 32 years for me to be here with you who came in a day. They do accept me, but I cannot readily identify with the people they bring to God.

So then I question the usefulness of my salvation...is not being saved by grace a miracle every time no matter how it happens? I know this is true. If I lose sight of that fact I lose everything my faith is based on. I know all are not called to be certain things, and trying to do too much too fast is not good. I am told I have experience to offer. That seems rather dull in comparison. I know God is faithful because after all those 32 years I'm still here, still serving, but I fear sharing my life because it was a hard climb. We all pray for revival and new life, but when it comes, are we confident enough in our own faith and God's working in our lives to help nurture it? I find myself overawed by what is happening and not entirely confident of my role in all of this. But it is not what I think of myself and my experience that matters. It is what is true-God has worked in my life and continues to do so-that is true. We are changed in an instant when we call upon God in Christ. Like typing a message and sending, once the message is sent, it is sent. A reply may be long in coming, but the message is instantly received.

the worst curse

There's one word that to me, in any language, is a curse. It's the word, "goodbye". That word and I do not get along at all. I see nothing "good" about it. It came into my vocabulary again this week in a way I've been dreading enough for my sleep to be disturbed and my mind to be filled with anxiety. I had to say goodbye to a person and a place that has been a part of our lives for nine years now. My heart was calm up until the very minute the news was broken, and then it was, too.

I don't understand this part of my faith or life in general. How are we healed through breaking? How do we grow by having parts of us cut off? How do we mend by being torn? I guess the breaking, cutting and tearing have to happen before any of that other stuff does, but why is it necessary in the first place? If I truly give it a bit of the grey matter I realize, this only happens with human beings. I don't think frogs are sad leaving other frogs (well, maybe just a ribbit...) Sigh.

I don't think it is coincidental that I'm involved in a study on the fruit of the Spirit, and the apple I'm biting into now is joy. In looking at the scriptures, I realize that joy, real joy, is entirely connected to our human condition when it is touched by God. Without Him, pain would have little purpose. But with Him, it can be the catalyst for great joy. In fact, the Apostle Paul talks about choosing suffering as a means to joy, because it is connected to knowing the Lord. Philippians 3:10 says this (I'm putting it into my own words), "I am determined that I may know Him more and more completely, the power of His resurrection and His sufferings, so that I may be more like Him". That was Paul's one goal, and everything else fell underneath that umbrella.

If I see goodbye as a part of the process of following my Savior, it does not lessen the pain, but things grow out of it. Great determination to serve more, larger trust in God as one place of safety is left for the unknown, and a healing of the wound in time as purpose is revealed, and multiplication of joy out of the sorrow in the lives of other people. The motivation for saying goodbye this time was to follow the Lord in a different place of service, and while I don't know what is coming, I know blessing is possible out of that cursed word.

Monday, October 16, 2006

besides art and church

The question in the letter addressed to me was, "so what do you do socially besides art and church?" It was from a young man in prison whom I've been corresponding with for several months now. In my last letter I excitedly explained my interest in Celebrate Recovery and how I saw art in my life as a calling from God, in response to his earlier letters and questions he'd asked. But now came the reply with another question, and at first I had to laugh, because as I was reading it I reflected on the last 24 hours and the entire time was spent connected to one of those two categories! And then I realized the joke was on me because I could not think of anything else I really do do!

I wrote back to him in a joking tone, telling him anything I said would certainly sound like a very cheesy personal ad, such as "I love walking on the beach, watching old movies and smearing myself with butterscotch pudding..." I told him I really do like those things minus the pudding, but in truth it made me wonder what I actually do with my time. I work, I'm a mom and a wife and therefore busy by default anyway, my art does take up time and my involvement in specfically ministry-related (the church stuff) activities does about fill the 12 plus hours in a day. What was hard to explain to him, and I feel I can't yet in a way he would understand, that everything I have to do proceeds from one relationship, my relationship with Jesus Christ. I don't think of "my time" as my time. I have time where I relax-I like to ride my bike very slowly around town, and walk. That's about as exciting as it gets, besides my dumpster-diving, which I think is strictly an American phenomenon, and since he's not from here, it may not make any sense or make me look even more like a lunatic to him.

I guess maybe I do need to "get a life", but I really think I've already done that.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

change of he-art

I was a coward tonight. I ran when I should have stayed. I was invited to participate in a very prestigious art exhibit put on by the studio where I formerly studied, and I was invited by my instructor. I agreed, with some reservations, and tonight, I saw that my reservations were not unfounded. I walked into the show and realized after I saw my work hanging among the other studio artist's pieces, I'm not the same person I was eight years ago. In fact I was reminded of this earlier in the day in quite a different setting. But back to the show...I felt that my work was not appropriate. It was mine, without question, and I don't apologize for my style, but it was not right for this venue because I don't belong here anymore. So in my discomfort and embarrassment, I ran away.

I still feel bad, and I know I owe my teacher, who took a large risk inviting me, a huge apology. He'll act like he doesn't care, and maybe he really doesn't, but I do. I also have to admit, though, I'm more comfortable being home and I'll take whatever ill will or problems my decision has caused me rather than go back. After I bored my husband with all the details and whined about it, I started thinking about my day. The majority of my time was spent in worship practice and talking with my pastor afterwards about life's concerns and situations that are going on in the church. I should have left to drop artwork off at another place I needed to, but I stayed to talk. I made my drop at the last minute and would have been content to miss it entirely were that the case. Then I rushed to a women's meeting at a church miles away, got stuck in traffic, feared I would miss the event all together, but I stayed the course. The reason I did was because a missionary was speaking at the meeting, and I have been supporting his family and writing to his wife for years now. This man travelled thousands of miles to be here, and I wasn't about to miss it. I was determined to get there.

Earlier in the day I realized as I was doing laundry that some of the laundry included articles of clothing belonging to a long-time friend of my daughter's who has had continual trouble at home. She is now basically homeless, as her mother threw her out yet again. I wanted to offer her use of our bathroom, kitchen, washer and dryer, but she's too uncomfortable asking or taking help. This resulted in my daughter changing clothes with her so I'd wash them without the embarrassing "asking the parents" part. I wondered if this might finally result in her living with us. I don't know how to handle it, but I realized it is heavy on my mind.

Well, my conclusion to all of this is that my heart has changed. I don't deserved to show with artists who take their work so seriously they spend hours at it, and put together an elegant and high end exhibit. I don't care like they do. God did something in my inner being that made me want to spend my time with my pastor, a missionary, and a homeless kid more than I want to draw. I see no heroics in this-being an accomplished artist is as much a calling as anything else, but it isn't mine. That I do see. And I dishonor my artist friends who do have this calling if I think I can not care and skate by with subpar work. I was invited-people believed in me, but I can't hide from my heart and what my own eyes are telling me. Art has a place in my world, but it isn't first.

I've been painting picture of Egypt,
Leavin' out what it lacks
The future looks so hard and I wanna go back
But the places that used to fit me
Cannot hold the things I've learned
And that road was closed off to me
While my back was turned

(Sara Groves)

Friday, October 13, 2006

enter the package

I mean, in terms of Bruce Lee meeting the USPS...I am a 9th degree black belt when it comes to gift picking, packaging and sending. I concede only to my eldest offspring, who has surpassed the Mastah and does things even Emily Post would drop her knickers over. She has a roman candle imagination and I absolutely love getting an original card and gift concept-it never fails to delight. However, I can hold my own in the best match of bubble wrap, strapping tape, boxes and the hand-picked goodies. In fact it is dishonorable to have to buy a box that fits. The true martial wrapping artist can fill a space with the most disparate and oddly matched items in a way that they will not rattle, shake, bust, rust or collect dust, AND, all in a pre-existing box.

So today...cue the bad 70's ninja movie music...I entered the package. My mission began early in the morning, the jeep running on vapors, our bank account in the red. It is Friday, banking day, and before my mission could be accomplished, I needed money and gas. I had selected my box carefully-actually a pair of boxes, and one was partially filled, expertly I might add. Yet I needed a few more items to balance the load. The other item I had needed a frame, so that was also on the list. I hurried to the bank and then the gas station, but not before a quick stop to the church to pick our worship list and practice. On the way out I noticed a huge truck attempting to back into a lot adjoining the church, and my jeep was in the way. I moved it and zoomed to the gas station, realizing only after I was there that my purse was missing. I decided it must have been snatched by the smarmy looking man with a white mustache who was walking up the street in front of the church. The cad! In front of a church! So I zoomed back, practically eating the bumper of the old lady in front of me, thinking the thief was happily throwing credit cards around and trying to get free medical exams. My mission was already in jeopardy, so I quickly parked and found that my purse was safely resting on a chair in the church santuary.

Sigh...it was on to the mall and gourmet food store to find the necessary items to fit my box. I threw in a magazine for good measure and made my way home. The road block that stopped me on the way out also stopped me on the way in, and when I got home I realized my other younger offspring had used up all the strapping tape. GRRRR!!! Every time I wrap a package I have to buy tape. But I decided if I was truly skilled I could get by with scotch for the inside stuff. The sweat was pouring as I assembled the frame and bubble wrapped that item. The bubble wrap attempted to trick me by hiding it's perforations, but I found them. I always find them. Then it was the entire assemblage after the individual pieces were put together. HA-the final strike! No box can resist my craftiness. And now, to check the size and weight...acceptable, though bulky, but nothing moved inside.

Now I must steal my way back outside and to the post office to the honorable worker bees sending boxes to all parts of the world. The final test of my great ability is here, at the postal scale. Once again, acceptable for the items enclosed. How I look with a sneering countenance upon other postal customers who do not understand international mailing...they can't even fill out an Express Delivery. But one day, they will know the importance of such skills. And I await the pleasure of the the recepient of my box, the true test of my art. My mission, for now, is accomplished.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

a new song

Oh, I forgot...it was a white letter day a few days ago. But the really incredibly wonderful thing about that letter was that it was addressed just to me, mumsy divine. Of course I felt that way when it was signed "your dearest son". Yes, he is that. And now my husband and I are working away trying to squirrel a few dollars on the side to get our son a keyboard. It is one of the few things he can have besides commissary stuff and books to keep his attention and have a "toy" to enjoy. He plays beautifully. He tells us the music is one thing that soothes his mind, and I'm very determined to see that he is able to have at least one nice thing in prison. We have always shared a love of music and it is a special bond between us. One of the last things we did as mother and son before everything happened was to see a production of Mozart's Requiem Mass performed by our local symphony and a full choir of home-grown talent.

It made me think of my own childhood, growing up playing piano, being in band and trying to sing. I never thought I had any talent at all. I was so nervous performing I figured no matter how much I practiced it didn't make a difference, but I still loved music. My mom tried to help me, bribing me with a photograph of me playing one day, when taking pictures was really a treat! (The flash blinded me so that ended my practice!) My sisters and I put on variety shows with our neighbors-my poor parents were coerced to sit in the cellar and watch us parade around in our home-made dresses and costumes, singing and dancing badly. My favorite 5th grade teacher convinced me to sing for the first public school variety show I'd ever potentially been a part of, and somewhere deep inside this shy girl there was a ham waiting to be sliced. We sang, get this, "Somebody's Knocking at the Door", which continues, "oh sinner, why don't you answer?...we would have been arrested by the PC police if that were today and my poor beloved teacher thrown in the clink with my son. I didn't do much with music after high school, though I loved band and played a respectable french horn.

It was a fast forward to around 17 years ago, when my first born began to take piano lessons. No, wait, let's back up a year. I began to think maybe I wanted to do music again and prayed for a keyboard. I was thinking, oh, sixty bucks-that might take me a year to save from our grocery budget during those salad days. In other words, it became the impossible dream. My husband had just started a new business, and laundry detergent was hard to come by. But I continued to clip pictures of keyboards and tape them in a journal I kept. Well, one day I got a call from my husband asking if I wanted a piano. You may as well have asked Michelangelo, did he want a block of Italian marble?? So off we went, and I found a beaut-carved roses on the front panel, lovely tone, to die for. Well, the beauty was spoken for, and in a few days we found out someone else took it. Did I want to look at another one, a cabinet grand? Yes...and it was delivered. Days later when I played it I noticed one very unusual feature-tiny carvings in the front panel corners. They were hearts with a dot over the top. When I did calligraphy at that time in my life, that is how I signed my finished pieces. I was told this year that the felts on that grand old girl are so worn they would have to be completely replaced. She's not going anywhere, but is now basically unrepairable I played so much.

My daughter played our grand, and my son, too. Well, learning to play once again led me into church worship and a whole new dimension-performance. Like a baby learning to walk, talk, run and then fly, opportunities opened up. I learned to love classical music as well, and it became a whole new world to me. Where I believed there was no talent, suddenly confidence and style bloomed. I can't brag about quality, but I sure as heck can sit down anywhere and pump out the tunes either by reading music or doing chording. What I thought about today as I considered when to send money for my son for his keyboard is that God is faithful. From a no talent kid to someone who zooms around with a brand-spanking new Alesis keyboard and amp, helping other people to worship and teaching beginning performers, I think about where my son's keyboard dream could possibly lead him. Nothing is impossible to those who believe and put wings to their dreams. I can help him fly, even behind bars.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

irony and/or blessing

I needed a few minutes' break from my drawing. I'm doing a triple portrait, and it's triple tricky to combine multiple images into one cohesive piece. But I love what I do. I have to drop off a double portrait tonight. I always get really nervous showing a client their drawing or painting for the first time. I often get tears of joy, and I'm very flattered when that happens, but I rarely portray people I know. I prayed for the gift of creativity and I was blessed particularly in the area of portraiture. I know the Spirit works in me, and it is happening more and more often that I'm told, it's like I was in the person's head (to quote a recent client).

I believe there is a reason for that beyond just being good and well-practiced at what I do. It occurred to me today-my present studio space is my son's old bedroom, and I often spend my time painting people who have passed away or are separated from their families. I have done missing people and murder victims. I'm so blessed to do this for grieving loved ones, but the irony does not escape me, that I could be working for the family of the person my son killed. And I, too, am separated from him. Out of my own heartache I'm drawing for others in the same situation, either on one side or another. Somehow I have a knowing in my hands and in my heart when I begin to draw, and I'm able to reconstruct a face, even with the most difficult images to copy from, life-like and breathing. I know God is trying to teach me here, but it is one of those blessings that I cannot, and don't want, to analyze. It is grace at work. Sometimes I'm tempted into thinking it is a penance, but then I think about those tears of joy.

I wish with all my heart that like the story of Pygmalion, my creations would live and breath and I could return the loved ones back to their families. It is the story of life in it's most truthful manifestation. We are ever losing and becoming separated from people we love. I do believe because that is true, and because I know how true it is, that long before the world was I had this gift in my hands, and that to me is also an irony and a blessing. We are allowed to question "why", but somehow, I know when I get a phone call someone has been especially led to my studio, and I can only obey and pray once again that a blessing is the result.

Well, an addendum, post-delivery of the double portrait-the mother and daughter who commissioned the work loved one of the portraits (the one I thought the wouldn't) and hated the mouth on the other (the one I thought they would). I guess that goes along with my duality theme! Needless to say, the only water droplets shed on this one were the ones coming off my back as I ripped apart the frame job and tried to make lips out of teeth. Chuckle (ok, Lord, that wasn't funny...!)

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

wake (up)

I hate wakes. I hate the whole idea, the whole custom...they seem anti-everything death ought to be about. On my list of 100 things I hate most, attending a wake is 101. At least at a funeral stuff happens, like the wax work is put in the ground where it belongs. EEEwwww, is there anything worse than seeing a grieving widow next to the lifeless body of her husband, stroking his cheek and saying how wonderful he looks. I cannot abide hearing that phrase describing a freakin' corpse, for pete's sake. It's horrible. I like a culture that takes a dead person or a dying one home to die or be buried and the preparations are done in the house. Friends come over and help. There is a sense of expectation and understanding that death is part of life. A body does not just appear in it's Sunday best in a satin-lined box like a restaurant entree on display.

I was watching the children who were there, running around, full of life. I hoped that in their generation maybe this custom would "die" out. I know it is from our parents' generation and their parents before them. It is the right thing to do and no one questions why it is done (except people like me). And I mean no disrespect to people who believe it is right and proper. I just feel it is sort of hypocritical to come dressed in a suit to celebrate the death of a person you had almost zero contact with in life, or his family. I met the folks in attendance at my wedding reception and have seen none of them, or maybe one, since then, almost thirty years. I know the family was grateful, I know they expected near and far kin to come, I understand it's what a mature person does, all that. But somehow it rings so hollow and false.

I know where I'm going when I die, and I'll be so glad to go. All I'll want to say to friends is, "See ya later, because I intend to wake up on the other side". In fact, I may have the funeral director rig a voice message that plays when you lean over my coffin. Actually, I'd rather be cremated and have my ashes put in a circus cannon with confetti, and be shot to kingdom come. Now that would be something to dress up for. The thing is, we're designed to go from life to life, from wake to wake, like a ship passing over a horizon. That is number one on my 100 things I'm looking forward to when that new morning comes.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

on target

Lately some concepts have come together in my heart and mind in ways I have never really considered before. I have had to recognize patterns in my life that aren't good or pleasing to God, but they are not things that I would expect to be in that category. I struggle with codependent behavior. I don't subscribe to pop psychology, so that is just a way of defining a blanket of tendencies that I have learned growing up with adults who had chemical dependencies. Is it possible to grow up without these tendencies? Yes. Do I blame my parents for things I do now? No. I simply recognize things in my life that are typically a result of a childhood such as mine, and while they seem normal to me, they are not godly or do not conform to scripture. I've heard it said that living with serial killers might seem normal were there not outside influences to challenge deviant behavior. To an extent our consciences signal bad behavior, but even those signals can weaken and fail over time.

One statement that powerfully struck me in a Beth Moore Bible study I'm doing now was that people who are empty are a stronghold waiting to happen. That means they are magnets for whatever may come along to fill that emptiness. One clue I found in scripture that helps solve the riddle was Proverbs 11:2, which says that pride causes shame and...emptiness. If we are proud we cannot receive things we need. Think about it-if you are too proud to ask for help, you will not receive help. If you think you know it all, you cannot receive knowledge. If you think you don't need people, you can't receive love. The definition of pride in my book is a person so full of themselves they have no room for anything or anyone else. The person most likely to be filled is the humble one who recognizes they need.

What I recognized in myself is that I want to be everyone else's sufficiency and answer. I love to give to people and be helpful. There is nothing wrong with that in and of itself. But if I am more worried about doing for others or helping beyond my capacity, or if my giving is not directed of God, but from my own pride, my self-worth is dependent on my actions, not God. This is what happens to someone who lives with chemically dependent people. They receive their self-worth by enabling and caring for the dependent one, and that appeals to pride. In the case of an addicted parent and codependent child, roles are reversed and the child becomes the adult. Children are not emotionally equipped to do this job. I have come to understand if I don't regard myself as important as any person or ministry I assist, I'm in the wrong. I don't string myself out physically, emotionally or financially. There are limited periods where this might be necessary to a degree, but really, it is not what God requires and is dangerous for someone like me. I cannot be God for people-no one can.

I'm not talking about my own personal happiness. I'm talking about depending totally on God to lead me, and looking completely to Him for my own identity and personal worth as a human being. It is about trusting Him to fill me through His particular will for my life. This may include hardships, but it does not include abusing myself through the impossible demands of my own misguided needs or other people. I have to recognize where the line is. Much depends on staying very focused on what I know God has called me to do. Like an archer aiming carefully for my own target, and not trying to shoot a bull's eye for any one else, I focus every day on taking care of myself as would please God, doing His will, which He promised is not burdensome.

Saturday, October 07, 2006


Yesterday was an interesting day, a day that brought to light something I think is amazing. God is continually weaving a tapestry of our lives. I've heard the old analogy of life to a tapestry, that we only see the wrong side on this life, with confusing patterns and hanging threads that seem to serve no purpose, and when we get to heaven we'll see the beautiful "right side" in all it's glory and everything will make sense. One thing about weaving is that the threads connect in ways we may not at first realize. I think yesterday I got a glimpse of the heavenly side of my own life's tapestry. God is weaving extremely intricate patterns now, and I marvel at the way in which things come together.

When my son was put into the psych ward of a local hospital and then prison, I thought our family was ushered into the most surreal corner of human existence I had ever experienced. It is almost impossible to describe how one minute our lives seemed perfectly "normal" and the next our routine included going places where there was a young, beautiful mother who tried to commit suicide, an apparently healthy teenager whose arms looked like he had been in a tiger cage, person after person being watched 24/7, doing camp craft projects and puzzles or watching tv all day in pjs and hospital-issue slippers. Then the county lock-up...I didn't want to know who was in there but you couldn't help knowing-their faces were on the front page of the paper and the color of the jumpsuit told you, like Hester's A. It seemed like there was no weaving going on at this time, just our lives ripped apart.

But yesterday, particularly at the Celebrate Recovery meeting I attend in the evening, I realized there were people woven into our lives at that time that we did not know about. I bought a brand-new keyboard for worship, and stuck a label on the board, "Property of...." and my name and address. One of the men pulled me aside after the meeting and said, "Are you related to so and so", and he mentioned my son's name. I said yes, and he told me he was the prison chaplain at the county and knew my son. I had just agreed to volunteer in the prison. Another woman in that ministry that I'm getting to know runs a CR group now in the hospital wing where my son stayed for those first weeks. Yet another woman, who is a worship leader in the host church, also works in the prison, and earlier in the day I got a phone call from someone that I did artwork for (a whole 'nother story) who also knows this woman and I found that out because I told her where I was going that night. The links in a chain of relationship, circumstances, God-forged-He knows the very number of hairs on our head! I did not know any of these people a year ago, but they were all there, all in place, a safety net of God's love, serving in these dark haunts of human misery.

I'm reminded of what it says in the Psalms, something to the effect that we cannot go anywhere that God is not there already, from the heights of heaven to the depths of hell itself. We cannot hide, nor are we left alone. The whole concept of this amazes me. He works in the lives of His people and I'm learning not to take anything for granted.

Friday, October 06, 2006

walking in the Spirit

There is a difference in my life, a measureable, noticeable difference. I realized it yesterday, riding home from work. The day was very busy, not a moment to do anything else but get the work out and eat a quick lunch in the middle of it all. This came on the heels of a busy couple of weeks. But the busyness was not the type that required constant motion and little mental or spiritual engagement. It required much engagement, motivated by being led of the Spirit in my life. I always wondered just how that works, choosing to live by the Spirit and you will not fulfill the desires of the flesh. Well, yesterday I began to have real experiential understanding.

In the car I began to have chest pains. A paralyzing fear came over me. I don't indulge myself in many ways, but when it comes to physical symptoms and problems, I'm a bit of a hypochondriac. Immediately I got the clammy palms, a tension headache-in short, fear began to creep up my spine as the pain was intermittent and not leaving me alone. I wondered mentally whether I should have my husband go straight to the hospital. I pondered a 47-year life span and figured I really have done alot and that would be ok, if that is what it was to be (talk about a fatalist!!). But I got hold of myself and began to pray. A slow transfusion of courage overtook the terror inside. I knew what I needed to do. I would go home, take an aspirin, hot shower and a cup of joe, and see how I felt. My larger sense told me a panic attack had set on me due to the overwhelm of sensory and emotional imput, coupled with my busy day. But you know what-I told my body to relax, and it began to. The pain began to go away and I returned phone calls, ate dinner and changed, and checked in with a friend who had been having a really bad week. She needed to get to a Bible study we both attend, so I wanted to be sure she was coming.

This is not the person I was even a few months ago. What I realized in fact is that the Spirit does indeed have power over the flesh, in actual practice-it isn't fantasy or wishful thinking. It doesn't mean being an idiot or ignoring our body or emotions. It means that at any given moment the Holy Spirit's power is accessible, His wisdom, comfort, insight, strength...oh, yeah, WHEN we choose to access it. I needed His power to continue my day and do the will of the Father. Jesus did exactly the same thing-He did what the Father asked Him to in the power of the Holy Spirit. It works, it works, it works. This is fantastic. The implications are beyond what I ever dared to imagine in my life.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

our only hope

I'm sitting here with an application I got in the mail to volunteer at our local county prison. This is surely proof that my life is not the same anymore, since I have a child in the prison system. I didn't plan for this to happen, and I would never have the application were it not for my son. Well, maybe I would, but I really doubt it. I don't know what that says about me as a person. No, I wouldn't have the application. My life would go on in blissful ignorance of the fortress in the next town full of hopeless people.

I've read all the articles in the paper about crimes committed, terrible murders, drug-related circumstances, things I still feel so separated from. It is still easy to say, well, my son is not THAT bad. He wouldn't do those things. Then I have to remind myself, we all could do THOSE things. Human beings are sinful. Period. The prison is a small slice of what we all truly deserve were we found out. The scripture says the deeds of the flesh are obvious-check this list-sexual immorality, impurity, indecency (I think I knocked off about 99.9 percent of the population immediately), idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy (!), anger (there goes the other one tenth percent), selfishness....ok, if you still doubt, it also says there is not one person that is righteous...not one.

There is only one prescription for sinful people, and it's all wrapped up in the only person who ever lived on this planet and was sin-free. It says He was tempted in all ways as we all are and yet without sin. He felt poverty, hunger, pain, joy, friendship, abandonment, every feeling we ever will know and more. The thing is, He came and left humans to do His work on earth. The more I consider the application, the more I know I must say yes. Not out of guilt, but out of responsibility and out of love, one forgiven person to another. There is no hope otherwise.

Monday, October 02, 2006

the Comforter

I finally am starting to feel "normal" again. I made sure yesterday I honored the sabbath by lying on the couch, not answering phone calls, napping periodically and going to bed early. I was able to start the day at the break like I usually do without feeling washed out, jumping right into prayer and study. Many things are happening now and I was anxious to talk to my Father about those things, plus the slips, the mishaps, the yesss! moments, the failures and the good stuff...how fortunate to have a God who never tires of hearing from us. I began my study and reading really ready to hear, and it seems like the ones I am doing now are working together to heighten my awareness of God's working in my life, the life of friends and family, and the world at large. In the sermon yesterday our pastor recounted the story of Elisha, who by the Spirit of God was told all the secrets of the enemy Syrian army, which he then related to the king of Israel (gee, I wish he was around now!). The Syrian king got so frustrated and angry at Elisha he sent his army after ONE MAN to Dothan. Meanwhile Elisha and his servant pitched their tent there, both unconcerned...one from full knowledge and one from blissful ignorance. When the servant peered out from the tent, he saw the whole Syrian army outside...and had sort of a panic attack! I can just see him, white as a ghost, trembling and pointing, trying to get Elisha's attention. When Elisha looked out, he told his servant not fear, and prayed that God would open the man's eyes. When that happened, the servant saw the heavens filled with a spiritual army of angels in chariots of fire. Every time I read that story or hear it chills just run down my spine. Elisha told the man, those that are for us are greater than those against us.

So much said with so few word....those that are for us...actually, He that is for us is greater than any who are against us. I have to remember this. I am reading primarily about the Holy Spirit, and His ministry in us and in the world. The primary result of Jesus' death and resurrection for believers outside of our salvation is the permanent indwelling of the Holy Spirit. The one thing King David begged in the Psalms after he sinned was "please don't take Your Holy Spirit away". The Holy Spirit indwelled only a limited number of people in the Old Testament, but now He permanently makes His home in us if we received Jesus as Savior and Lord of our lives. I can't grasp this-every day, every hour, every moment He is with us, ready to teach, convict, love, instruct, empower, assist, pray when we have no words, fill with strength-what a miracle! It is simply astonishing. I have such a limited view of the spiritual world.

So today, a new day filled with possibilities, things to do, things to learn and places to go, is completely available to the Spirit to control. I find great comfort in that. In fact, one of the titles of the Holy Spirit is "The Comforter". What a beautiful name for God, and how true. When all else fails us, His very presence is there in the midst of anything that may happen to us. I find comfort and strength simply knowing I'm never alone. The scriptures say the Spirit can be quenched or grieved-His heart can be broken by things we do, and His special action in our lives hindered, but only if we choose to make it so. The scriptures also say, walk in the Spirit and you will not fulfill the desires of the flesh. It is so much walking with a beloved Friend right next to you. In time that Friend hopefully becomes the most trusted individual in your life, and loving Him more important than anything else we might do. Jesus said, If I don't go away, the Comforter cannot come. I'm so glad He did.