Wednesday, November 29, 2006


This week has left me experiencing my own cave of Adullam. So much I believe, has been in my own mind, but when it seems all physical influences of leadership are arrayed either against a body, or have not declared a situation of being "for" a person, or by circumstances are no longer in place, you tend to feel on the run from everyone. I suppose it is human nature to need someone in authority to be validating our decisions, direction in life, ideas, leading of the Spirit, all those things. For a woman it can be doubly hard, because according to scripture and by nature we are continually under men. I don't believe this is a bad thing, but I sure don't understand the way you guys think sometimes. And when I receive validation and agreement, I feel equally lifted because we oftentimes do think so differently.

I'm still smarting from a few harsh words that were not meant to be that, a few really insensitive attitudes that were also not meant to be that, and I ran out of the strength and patience to be positive and understanding. David's example in treating a mad (insane) and mad (furiously jealous) king and father-in-law is so remarkable I find myself always wanting in the way I view and treat authority figures if I feel I'm in the right. Or have been wronged. He refused, at the peril of his own life, to lay a hand against God's anointed. More than once I've been tempted to lay a hand, a foot, verbal insults and barbs, sarcasm, backtalk...oh, yeah. What patience he had, and what respect. I have to remember that.

After a very difficult discussion about God's leading and future planning with my husband, in which I was tempted to do all of the above, or give up like a spoiled child, I got a phone call. Another man in leadership, someone who is a total type D and not given to gentle behavior, called to say I'd been on his mind, and did I know how much what I do is appreciated and how much his ministry interest felt I was called to be a part-an important and needed part. It's amazing how one or two sentences can change the world in a moment. I should not have needed that validation to go on, and in truth, I didn't. But it was like life-giving water to me at that particular second. It was that because what he shared was true. It was not insincere backscratching. We need to be seeking God's leading for each other because we are members of one body, and we need to respect authority. That respect will flow down if we first raise it up.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

controlling myself-how it's going

I am still in the middle of my studies on self-control, and wouldn't you know it, that was a big chunk of last week's church sermon. I've needed to ask myself, within the context of my own life, where's the problem(s) and how do I practically deal with these issues. I would say without question the problem is how I handle (or don't) my emotions, particularly negative ones. There are two areas that come up consistently and while they aren't necessarily sins in and of themselves, my motives are suspect in the way I use them to excess. I eat and I write. I think I nailed them pretty well because at this moment I am attempting to exercise moderation in both, and I'm starving and having nervous ticks in my fingers.

I confess here and plain I can't consistently eat three meals a day and be satisfied. So many places in the world this would be a luxury, and to me it is spartan living. I don't feel condemned, only constrained to understand how I am so hungry having presumably all I need. I'm not a large person, yet my stomach was growling all night after a day of what I felt was more than enough. This tells me my extra intake must be great, and that was downright discouraging because I do not eat junk or fast food. My paradigm of enough needs to change!

As to the writing, where I'm needlessly pouring out my every thought, I know I need to first take those thoughts captive and examine what is good to say. My benchmark for letters is a friend out West. Due to the fact that he is incarcerated, we must use paper (old-fashioned, I know). But what it has done is forced me to accept conditions of discipline because I either accept them, or I don't write at all. It takes a week for a letter to reach it's destination, and a week for it to come back after a reply is written. I can whoop it up and write a novel when it's my turn, but then I have to wait two weeks again. It has forced me to change my perception of what is important to communicate. I've bludgeoned people to death with e-mail, and I know it is according to the relationship that I gauge my responses. I'm starting to feel deep conviction about certain ones, so my two-week rule will extend to that, if not more.

In the meantime I will just have to be hungry and nervous, and find other ways to deal. I am journalling, and that helps. I am eating alot of apples, and that helps. I will survive and in the end thrive I know. The scriptures say a person who lacks self-control is like a city with broken down walls. Anything can come in, so I'm laying bricks one day at a time.

Monday, November 27, 2006

o worship the king

My scripture study this morning took me to Ecclesiastes, and Solomon. He was the wisest, richest, most powerful human king who ever graced this planet. He did more than any man of means in terms of physical accomplishments. He set himself to gaining wisdom through experience, both negative and positive, both hedonistic and industrious. And what echoes down through the ages to us are the words, "There is nothing new under the sun...everything is meaningless and folly". What an epitaph to human existence! Is there no antidote? My son basically said the same thing with his excessive life, a life that craved more and more experiences, could never find enough thrill or just enough to remind himself that he was alive, until death overtook him. The door of excess slammed in his face, not giving him his heart's desire, but taking it away.

I have thought carefully about my life. It is the beginning of the Christmas season, where excess in the US is at an all-time high. We buy and buy and buy, hoping to fill up the coffers of our soul, to find happiness, to fit in and do whatever anybody else does...and more. Yet the holiday season produces more depression and suicides than any other time of the year. I think about the passing seasons in terms of my faith, and how much Jesus Christ is actually the chosen King and Prince of Peace in my own territory. I must admit, I long to see Him crowned. I am so tired of sitting on the throne, trying to control everything, trying to make sense of a life that cannot be understood outside the context of His complete lordship. Seems like every Christmas another stroke is added to the portrait of His royalty in my heart, another jewel set in His crown-but I long to see Him rise up off the throne, mount His horse and ride right through this landscape of my life. I wish to see everything bow to Him, because maybe I've lived long enough, and excessively enough, that I know I cannot find happiness if my Lord is not free to survey all I have. It's His anyway, no matter what I do. I just long to bow before that Presence in my life and affirm the truth of the matter.

Solomon wound up his book by declaring that God's gift to us is enjoyment of what we have in this life, and the whole matter of living is fearing and obeying Him. We have it all backwards-our gain comes through giving everything up to Someone else. In this alone we find content. We also find the power to accept gratefully all that we do receive from Him in the end. I find so often, and have become so glad, that I'm not given what I desire until God sees I can have the enjoyment of it. And sometimes that means doing without for a long, long time. My son lost all that was dear to him by his own hand. And in the absence of those things, I believe he will learn the lesson of the prodigal. For myself, today I would worship the King.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

a tale of two worship sets

Yesterday was a funny contrast in two similar situations. I had a worship practice in the morning for my church, and a practice/performance at a meeting in a different church in the evening. The morning was greased wheels, a piece of cake, like falling off a log, sweeet, no problemo. The evening....was not. Being that I cannot ever really keep my mouth shut and do stuff because I figure no one else will, or else they do not understand how organized I am and what I am thinking (imagine that!), I do land myself in trouble when I encounter new situations, and situation number 2 was one of those.

The morning left me laughing and blessed in that I'm glad to be understood, respected, liked and appreciated, and in that environment, I was. I suppose given the fact that it's been almost ten years in the making, faithfully working and proving myself, the fruit is evident. The evening left me drained, defending myself (at least to myself), frustrated at other's people's lack of understanding at how fortunate they were to have someone as experienced as myself, marveling at the slipshod way things can be handled, or so I perceived it-we have work to do here. I certainly hope it does not take another ten years.

In the end I realize the blessing I have enjoyed being in the familiar, and I understand the challenge I have in the unfamiliar. I see my leadership skills being sharpened and developed. I see other people learning to see me in that role. I have to take the strengths of the first situation and apply them to the second, and hang tough, picking my battles. The result of working through what I know and what I don't fruited a good time of worship in the evening, finally. Yes, I did want to hit a few people, but only temporarily. It's back to Sunday to tank up, and be ready for the next Friday night.

Friday, November 24, 2006

controlling myself

I'm on my final big hair Beth Moore study week. Actually, we missed Thanksgiving Thursday, but I went on anyway because I was anxious to get to the very last fruit of the spirit, the dreaded issue of self-control. I'm ready. In a way, all roads are leading here because in my 12-step group I'm approaching step four, which is the practical application of self-control to areas of life where I don't have it. In fact, I opened up my workbook after all that turkey, pie and whipped cream, and jumped in to the first segment, and there appeared a checklist for action which is everything I'm trying to accomplish even now, before reading the section. I've identified areas of weakness, I found an accountability partner and sponsor, I'm journaling-everything is in place. It's gotten to the point where I know with certainty I will not grow if I do not address certain issues in my life, or I won't grow like I could.

As ridiculous as it sounds, for many people it is addressing what they do, a habit. My habit is something I do not do, and that is, properly estimate my self-worth and act appropriately. As a Christian it is right to be self-less. However, sometimes that involves being selfish to a degree, for a lack of a better word, if the self-sacrifice involved is rooted in pride and insecurity, not obedience. I do not take care of myself. I do not close the door to particular relationships that are at the least draining, and at the worst, destructive to my mental health and spiritual health.
I allow myself to get completely overwrought about things that have nothing to do with me because I make myself responsible for things I'm not responsible for. Nine tenths of the population would say I'm insane-don't we all feel guilty enough? But I don't, apparently, so I find other ways to do it. I don't value myself the way God does, and I need to take physical steps to begin doing that. It may mean letting go of people and situations that perpetuate the cycle.

I'm pondering the statement of the Apostle Paul that all things are lawful for him, but not all things are profitable. What a truly incredible statement! Who could make such a claim, when so much of our righteousness is based on outward prohibitions-all things are lawful?? How this mighty man of God cuts right to the chase. His mind and heart were so immersed in God's that he had the self-control to make moral distinctions in any situation apparently. Oh, how I aspire to do the same, based strictly on what the Father requires in the moment! That is such freedom! But for now I need training wheels and a way to begin.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

giving thanks

It's our official, national day of giving thanks. Hopefully a body doesn't need an official, national day of thanks, but since it is, here is my official, national (and personal) thanks...on Tuesday, my daughter, Dena, who is in college and a few hours away, came home. Instantly the house came alive, like a huge electric switch being thrown over everyone and everything. Seeing her face and hearing her voice in my day brought quiet thank yous to God for her. Her birthday falls on the day this year! And this morning, as I was at the computer, I heard a key in the front door lock, and went to grab the door. I yanked my other daughter practically through the door and she jumped a foot in the air, not expecting it! We both howled, and went into the kitchen to address the turkey and pumpkin cheesecake. The clinking of dishes and whirrr of the mixer in our warm kitchen made me smile in gratitude. Then a letter came yesterday as well. My son weighed in with a warm "Dear Mumsy" and signed with much love at the end of a lively, typewritten letter that made me laugh. I can almost hear his voice, and I'm grateful.

I got a call yesterday evening around 4-ish. It was my husband, calling from work to let me know he wasn't feeling very well and was planning to stop at the ER on the way home from work. It isn't the type of call you'd expect on the eve of a holiday celebration, and I felt so oddly out of sorts and alone. I knew everything would be ok, but it made me realize how much I take the status quo for granted. I thanked God right then for the years we've had together without too much concern that each one would be there for the other, and there would always be a way to get through whatever came.

Then I got an e-mail message from my pastor reminding about worship practice that week and giving the list. One of our singers who is away at college will be in, and the list favors her lovely voice. I thought of how I'd seen her grow up on the team and how good it will be to see her again. I read my friends' blogs and felt grateful to know people who have so much to share about life where they are, in difficulties, but still bringing a thoughtful word or laugh. I thought about the web of friends and family I have spread all over the world pretty much, and how fortunate I am to be able to pick up the phone or e-mail and connect in a moment's notice.

And I know our country has it's challenges, but it is a blessed and a wonderful place to live. I don't worry about going through a church door, or writing an editorial or thinking I may not have food on my table tomorrow. I'm not afraid of my neighbors and know that strangers would help me if I needed it. I can think what I like and do what I want, and disagree or agree with my government without impunity. This is a place of hope, which is why so many foreigners seek her shores. I know, too, that I belong to another country-a heavenly kingdom, and that will be my permanent home, so I bow to my King in thanks for all that He has gifted me with. One day I'll be able to do that in person. But for now, I'm throwing kisses to heaven from a distance.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

the fourth step

I've heard over and over that the most difficult step of a 12-step recovery program is the dreaded number four, the fearless moral inventory of ourselves. In all truth I've wondered what I might list about myself. It seems the immediate and obvious is to list outward effects of inward causes. (In a drunken rage I murdered, in a drug-induced haze I hurt my family over and over again...I DID something). What did I do? It isn't necessarily what I did, but how I am reacting to what was done that concerns me. I represent the other side of the coin, not a victim necessarily, but as to the what, an innocent. Yet not.

I marvel at how God in His vast wisdom and terrible gentleness reaches down with gifts to assist us in our journey. In my desire to force some sort of compartmentalized "that's what's wrong!" inside, to isolate one small section of road, I've overlooked a rising light beginning to illuminate my whole interior landscape. It is an unlikely one in the form of a person, and for so long I did not see colors beginning to appear out of the darkness, showing me the whole horizon of where I've been. Sometimes another life acts as a mirror to our own, and the reflection is complete and true in the moment in time we so desperately need it to be. In my case it is someone behind bars. Someone who has freedom and a life within themselves, so much so that it could be said of this man as the Apostle Paul said of himself, "I have learned in all things to be content". In wealth, in poverty, in want, with plenty...I have learned. I peer through the bars at him in my mind think, how is this possible? How is it possible for an intelligent, energetic and right-thinking person to find content locked in a cell the size of a public restoom with a toilet, a flat, hard mattress and maybe a table and chair?

Contentment. That is the nut. It is not whether my son has done something to profoundly change our lives. Anything might do that. Can I accept this? The prison I dwell in resides in my mind, if there is one. And there is. Someone else who has survived and thrived in the actual shows me where I live. Not only shows me, but holds out a key to me. That is what true content is able to do-completely forget self and focus on others in loving concern. The power of such a life breaks chains, but it is up to me to take the key. The reason I've held back is because it is so humbling to me to acknowledge my low estate firstly, and secondly, it is even harder for me to receive acceptance at such a deep level from another human being without any "dids". I'm used to earning, striving, showing the world what I can do. Someone who has nothing, and everything, has shown me acceptance is the key. The question is, can I accept myself as I am, where I am, and with what circumstances? Perhaps that is the way to approach the dreaded step.

Monday, November 20, 2006

don't worry...;-)

On a random leap into bloggerland, someone reminded me to savor the moment and remember the women on the Titanic who passed up dessert! In my inbox were birthday party pictures from my sister of her son's Star Wars' inspired celebration complete with brown tablecloth robes. Suddenly I really wished I was wearing one,'s all been too heavy lately, like a bad fruitcake. I seriously need a life drawing session. There's nothing like drawing someone naked to break up the monotony. Maybe a trip to the bakery is in order. I've spent the entire morning typing worship transparencies-it might be sort of fun to purposely mess up the words. There was a park bench add for a local church that read "Come Warship With Us" for about six months. I wish they had left it that way...

Hey, my incarcerated friend-orange never looked better on you! Thanks for helping me laugh at my own ridiculous seriousness...

And to a dear soul who loves me in lime, dittoes. Even miles away you're the life of the party.

To my family who loves me even when I pick out bad fabric and don't get the joke, I'm so glad you're mine.

Mountain Momma, it's been like heaven on earth to go from roller skates to our kids' dates and be no worse for the wear-you always did like a circus!

Thanks to my precious sisters for loving the cookie page! We'll be together again one day...

And to my adopted sisters on Wednesday, we can always find a good word about dentures, men and dear sweethearts, thanks for the laughter and tears (what a blessing you are)..

and the Thursday girls-I can always count on you for cookies!!

Ok, there's plenty of party left in life! I just gotta get my robe on!

Saturday, November 18, 2006

through the mists

It's good to be in front of a computer screen blogging, even at four in the morning. I'm freshly bathed and powdered, java-ed and ibuprofen-ed up because my back hurts from a full day of travelling and sitting yesterday. But it's husband and I went to visit my son yesterday. During the four hour trip there and four back a song by DeVotchKa kept running through my head like a carousel, The Fabulous Destiny of Charlotte Mittnacht. It's a wistful beauty of a melody carried only by an accordian and snare drum, and it floated through the mountain mists and the stark late fall landscape as we drove on. With this visit, unlike the last, my mind and my heart were prepared. I credit the wings in my soul to the prayers of beloved and faithful friends, and the words of one young but wise man-the only thing that bothers us is us. I was determined this time, that instead of being bothered by my own fears and lack of trust, I should embrace this step in the dance of life and let the Father of lights, in Whom there is no shifting shadow, lead the waltz.

It was a long day, no question, and the temperature dropped from 60 degrees at four in the morning yesterday to 40 degrees at eight-thirty am as we pulled into the SCI parking lot. We both ran into the building through a cold drizzle and quickly made our way back into the visitation area. A grizzled but smiling prisoner greeted us-he was completely surprised we were there. We drank in the full six hours of visitation time before that last four hour stretch beckoned us home again, and enjoyed the rhythm of conversation and just being in our son's presence. I could not discern a trace of sadness or self-pity in him, only the straightforward walk through this jungle, hacking away at time with his sharp observations of prison life and devastating stealth humor. No one can pull up a lung-pumping hilarity out of the most mundane life routines like my son! How I miss him! And yet, the visit was enough. I memorized his smile line and the sound of his laughter to take with me back through the mists. One gem he did share with us-the way to clear a room post-haste is to mix prison peanut butter with a meal replacement packet. Within minutes of ingesting this combination produces gas that will peel paint.

It always seems like that last hour going either way just puts me over the edge from really tired to just plain exhausted. But in the midst of the return trip I had to get in touch with a friend back home due to circumstances that transpired shortly before we left. I'm part of a two-person worship team that plays at a recovery meeting Friday night. Of course I couldn't be there yesterday, so I left it to my partner, a young man about my son's age. Through events neither one of us had any control over, he also could not be there and I didn't know it. The reason he could not be there was that his father had died, and he also was headed in the same direction as we were, unbeknownst to me. I thought to myself how quickly the cord of life can be snapped, in a moment-it all could change and any opportunity to love and to share time could be gone. I came home so relieved and reminded that the cord between my son and I is still strong and a lifeline of love will exist as long as time does. That is all that is important to me now.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

please mr. postman

There doesn't seem to be much to say today. I have a longing hang-over, the type that nothing seems to fill and no one seems to answer. I've been told again and again I have an artist's temperament. Well, being that I am one, I suppose it makes sense. Does anybody want to take it for me? The faucet is never off, the door never shut to wanting to express something, in paint, pencils, in writing, in another person's life. I feel love only to struggle endlessly with lust and selfish desire. I want to translate this into something good, but I don't know the language. For me, not to feel is to be dead. For other people it means their heart has stopped. For me it means there is nothing left to express and no one left to love. Some days I can't decide which state is more profitable. Truly.

So I go into today with this bucketful of stuff from days before, trying to turn it into something solid and worthwhile. Or I'll try to empty it all out on the lawn and not have to carry the the weight of it with me all day. There are people I wish I could see, but I cannot. I have them from a distance. There are people I wish I could reach, but I cannot. They hold themselves at a distance from me. There are people yet to be known in my life, but I don't know them now. My whole life is a walk among this tangled garden, waiting for things to be renewed, watching each relationship flower and die, reseed and try again.

Today there are no letters in my inbox or my porch box. I just have to wait.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

temptations must come

I spent yesterday in front of a mirror. At least, I realize that today. It's a special sort of mirror that, as long as I live, I fear, because of what it inevitably shows me about myself. It is the mirror of temptation. I've walked with God for enough years to know about this state of soul examination, that to be tempted is not to sin, nor is it an invitation to guilt. We are flesh as well as spirit, plain and simple, and the nature of flesh is to harbor sin. On the face of it, minus any untoward reaction or evaluation, temptation is the means by which God gauges our faith and grows us to maturity. Were it not so utterly painful to experience, that seems like a good thing. Who wants to look in a mirror that reflects the state of the soul, when we know it's going to be the worst bad hair day, morning scuzzy picture, forgot to take off your mascara and were crying the night before sort of thing? But truthfully, it's an invitation to reality and a benchmark as to how far we've come.

But that doesn't stop the pain, the discomfort, the bright light interrogation feeling of it all. I see how well I do not love. I see my desire to own people, to control them, to take from them what I want, not give to them what they need. I see my pride, my ability to manipulate and use my faith for selfish gain. And every time something good comes into my life, I run the temptation gauntlet. I have to remember that Jesus was lead into the desert before His public ministry, TO BE TEMPTED of the devil. God does not tempt. I wish my temptations came at such a worthy state, after 40 days without bread. There's a compelling reason to create some out of rocks if you're starving! Mine seem to come when I know I have a feast in the dining room, and I can't help sampling the goodies in the kitchen.

I had a headache all day, imagined the worst possible, debauched, unrepeatable scenarios in my head, and I wanted to at first. But then there came a moment when I realized, and hopefully much sooner than in times past, this is useless. It's worse than useless, it's negative energy flowing unless I say stop. This isn't love, this isn't anything that leads to life. I want to love the right way. I want God's way and God's least after 24 hours of processing through slime I can say that. Wouldn't you know I was watching tv in that evening trying to relieve the unrelenting headache the day brought, and there, in front of my face, was a character acting out the very situation I was wrestling with. I have to commend the writers of the program, because in the most painfully graphic way the consequences of acting out the sin was demonstrated. Oh, God, how much I need You and Your mirror to help me see!

Monday, November 13, 2006

dishing the prison dirt

Well, it's my son's turn to take the entry today. He got a typewriter, so his letters are much more compact and easier to read. He included a story about someone who has a problem with gay men and showering, which is sort of comical, so enjoy...

"See, this dude is absolutely paranoid of gay dudes. Scared to death, and self-conscious to boot. Like me he lives on the bottom tier, and when you live on the bottom, you shower on the the open queerbait showers. He solution: sneak up top to the closed ones, or don't shower at all. Well...the guard on duty wouldn't let him sneak up, so he was stuck. For a MONTH. Funny part was no one ever noticed except for one of our lifer buddies let us in on a secret. I was 1st to know and I didn't want to say anything. I thought it was funny, I sort felt sorry for him, and I never noticed. If no one else knew, why should I be the one to spread it? Didn't take long for the others to find out, and we had an "intervention". True Life: I don't shower. By now you're prob'ly roaring. We ground him up for weeks. It was Yard Out, no holds barred. Slim was singing his own rendition of "Dirty Deeds" by AC/DC called "Dirty Dude". Poor kid almost never heard the end of it. "Dirty Dude! No shampoo!..." Then we forced him to wash his sweats, which he claimed were permanently stained. When those bastards finally came back from the laundry they looked white as the wind-driven snow. Subsequently he was harped on for that. When you get serious dirt on people (hey, a pun!) nothing in the world is going to stop a healthy ragging...that may last for months on end."

Well, I guess that's it for this prison version of Tide Country brought to you by Bob Barker brand incarceration bathing products, no lye!

Sunday, November 12, 2006

negative capability and evangelicalism

I recently received my Image Journal in the mail, which I greatly enjoy reading. But this issue contained some articles that I found about as comfortable as slipping on the proverbial hair shirt. One was a recollection by writer Todd Shy entitled, "Recovering Evangelical: Reflections of an Erstwhile Christ Addict". What made me sit up and take note of this particular piece was that Todd Shy was an assistant to John Stott, a man dubbed by the former Archbishop of Canterbury as the "unenthroned pope of worldwide evangelicalism". Our adult Sunday school is currently studying through the Stott classic, Basic Christianity. I read through it with a sort of morbid curiousity, trying to sort out where I stood in relation to this man's particular shift from categorizer of people to acceptor of the mystery of life itself. I did not agree with all of Mr. Shy's conclusions, but I had to admit I agreed more than disagreed.

One quote, "The anguish of the believer striving for inner obedience will be clear to anyone who has been immersed in the evangelical world. There is a kind of correlation between all the promises of peace, the assertions of joy, and the reality of inner turmoil. Since, as we used to tell each other, the Lord comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable, it was by any measure better to be afflicted. When every thought, and not just every action, must be obedient to Christ, and faith is fidelity to what you cannot actually sense, the result is a formula for zeal, to be sure, but also for pious stress, and even breakdown. I know something of this firsthand. And while my experience is momentous for only one man, it is nonetheless a window looking into a world that warrants both criticism and respect."

I can honestly say I also" know something of this firsthand", and know of other people who know of it firsthand. I was greatly challenged personally by this assertion to ask how much of this is honestly true in my own life. I recall going to a Christian youth camp as a high schooler. The sort of pinnacle of the two week long camp consisted of going into a local park with the native heathens to "share our faith". As I walked through the park looking for a potential target of said sharing, I had to question where my faith even was I was so nervous and felt so guilty for not wanting to even be there or bothering people having fun and spending time with their families. We regrouped at the end of the day and I'll admit being intimidated and jealous of those confident teenagers who could skillfully articulate the day's activity in a meaningful context of actual faith. To me it was frightening and pointless, and I ended the day being consumed with frustration and a sense of deep failure.

I'm a long, long way from my youth camp days, and it is worth noting that within the time period I attended the camp my mother died of cancer and my father remarried an alcoholic. I survived those years with my faith intact. I think I learned, without knowing it, a place of being the author describes from a definition by Keats, "Negative capability, Keats wrote, is a state in which people are capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without an irritable reaching after fact and reason." Mr. Shy goes on to explain, "Expansion of vision describes what I was after when I chased unchanging truth. Christianity is more consoling than literature, but literature more patiently lingers with the hard mysteries of life. It is more at home with our contingency." It was a "secular" book, Augusten Burroughs' memoir of his days as an alcoholic finding recovery (Dry) that finally helped me to release my feelings of deep grief over my son's situation. It did not answer my questions, but it did chronicle another human life within whose shadow I could find familiar comfort and that was all I needed at that moment.

The article opened with an admission that in his evangelical zeal Todd Shy burned a Marilynne Robinson book, and in the end quotes that very book. I'd like to end with that quote,"It appears to me that even very thoughtful people discover what terms they have made with themselves only as they live, which prohibitions are conditional, which absolute, and so on. So in the great matter of moral soundness or rigor or whatever, we are as great mysteries to ourselves as we are to one another. It should not be that way, of course. The human condition has an amazing wrongness about it. But if it is agreed that we are in this respect mysterious, then we should certainly abandon easy formulas of judgement."

Friday, November 10, 2006


Change is inevitable, they say. And in a temporal world filled with things that are dependent upon time, this is true. Two things happened this week to remind me how change can be a planned thing, or transpire at a moment's notice, yet the effects seem the same. I have two friends who could not be more different, but both have a very special place in my life. One is my pastor of almost 10 years, and the other is a young man in prison, who I really just started writing to in the past year. My husband and I believe God is moving in such a way right now in our lives that it is time to move on from our home church. It took time to process through this decision, to pray and agonize over whether it was right because of the effects on our church if we left, and the fact that we'd be leaving many old friends behind. Certainly for me, the most significant relationship I'd have to leave would be Pastor Dave. We could remain friends and still e-mail, but things really will never be the same again. We have agreed to stay on until the end of the year, so it is a matter of trying to keep to the path knowing time is winding down. There is a cloud of grief that hangs over our times together no matter how much we know this is right and are wanting to leave with joy and the faith that this will allow both the church and ourselves to more clearly see the path we all need to take for the future. I'm not sure what to do with this except to walk through it.

I found out yesterday that my friend in prison had his sentence commuted. I think I knew it was coming, and I know what good news this is and how appropriate and right the decision is by the court system due to the circumstances of the crime and sentencing. What I didn't expect, as glad as I wanted to be for my friend, was grief that began to spread through my chest like an ink drop on wet paper as I rode to work. It was raining outside, and the rain reflected my mood all morning. I did not realize how much this man had come to mean to me, and the grief told me I'm afraid to lose him. The worst days I had in the past year were the ones where, like a thief, the realization of my son's situation grabbed me around the neck and choked any joy out of my day that I could scrounge up. Oftentimes there would be a snail-mail letter in my box from this man, and somehow his compassion and understanding of prison life, and his encouragements pulled the thief from around my life. In my last letter to him I told him I have never met anyone so free. Prison bars do not a prisoner make. He flew right through those bars by loving his fellow inmates and accepting them for who they are. He learned, grew, wrote and used his time in prison to change. And now that change is a change in his circumstances. I pray he embraces life on the outside like he did in prison, with gratitude and trust. It's a new start, but for me it's an ending of sorts. He'll no longer have the time or focus he once did.

I'm sitting here trying to find the way to hold this sincere grief in my heart without letting it become an unwieldy thing that I can't manage. To love is God's way. This I know. I have let myself love, and I believe my grief is underscoring that fact. All I can say today it, this is right, and I am sad. My life is forever changed from knowing these men and being a friend to them both. It's ok.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

day by day

I ask myself why some days seem so easy to navigate, like a wide open channel, and others are riddled with rocks, blind spots, uneven depths and raging rapids. Today was a channel day. Boy, was I in rare form...organized to a "t", able to slip so easily from one situation to another, readjust myself and deal with tiredness gracefully. I went from seeing my family off to school and work, to preparing for the day and putting a bag of clean clothes and goodies for my mother-in-law in the hospital, getting books together for my small group, calmly driving through the rain to pick up a friend going to group with me, getting gas, helping the hostess, laughing with my pals and getting ready for a long visit at the hospital immediately afterward. Even after that visit I went to get my hair cut and was able to converse with the hairdresser and graciously leave her a good tip. Things continued as I came home, put together a decent dinner, exercised, picked up my scripture study lesson and moved through the evening dealing with one thing at a time as I needed to.

Wow, contrast that with yesterday. Sigh. I did get done what I needed to do, but work seemed endless. I couldn't stop feeling like I wanted to be home. I was tired when I got home, and found myself ripped through by lightening quick stabs of jealousy at something really stupid, and terminally impatient in a situation that required my love and care. I clearly didn't at the moment I needed to. I was angry later in the evening and just plain hungry. I ate half a box of chicken nuggets (probably got my dose of transfats for the century), several stale cupcakes and whatever else seemed to suit my mood. I was totally frustrated with my husband and upset and worried at my daughter who took off after her babysitting job and didn't come home until ten that night. She did not take her antibiotics and I did not know how her arm was. This toxic mix of circumstances and bad reacting led to a bad and fitful sleep. The evening wound up ok-I repented of my green eyed monster attack, impatience did melt into understanding, and my daughter did come home and reassure me her arm was feeling better. Fine, but I still let the rain fall and the wind blow through my soul and reacted appropriately in the flesh.

I don't know how to do it better at the moment. Duality strikes again. I want to walk in the Spirit, but I don't appropriate that strength consistently. Life isn't consistent. Thinking that I can be sane and calm 24/7 is ridiculous. I'm on a long learning curve-it's going to last until this old, saggy body is feeding worms and pushing up daisies. The Lord is the only consistent in the mix, and believe it or not, that frustrates me as much as it reassures. I think of the old hymn, "Yesterday, Today, Forever", and it's true. It's just that, I don't like to be reminded of my need so pointedly. I know we're not to make provision for the flesh, but doesn't life itself scream out for it? So, bring it on and help me to keep on truckin'.

in and out of control

Last night after worship practice my pastor said something, quoting from the author of a book he is reading, and just like he said this statement hit him, it hit me, too, but for my own personal reasons. The author wrote something to the effect that being the adult child of an alcoholic, control was very important to him because he associated being out of control with pain. Well, I fit that category and well remember how fearful and uncomfortable it was to be a child with out of control care givers. This is hitting me again as I am needing to trust God at this point in my life, when it seems so chaotic. I know God is all good and loving, and not like the human examples I had to follow, but I associate God with the chaos because I have given Him my life. I am in a period of life where so many new things are happening all at once I can't put a handle on my schedule entirely. Some people thrive on living for the moment, spotaneous is their middle name, and it's all good. I'm not some people. I like things like that if after they happen the result is good and I don't wind up looking irresponsible or a fool and I can pull off a convincing reaction that doesn't look like I'm passing gas.

I'm moving away from a place where I have a spiritual head who knows me to being under people I'm not sure about. They do seem very good, but I don't know, and I've been in more than one situation in the church where people seem to go nuts in the name of some pet thing their protecting. I'm not sure how quickly I want to put myself under the control of another person if I don't know them well. I'm being depended on alot more by strangers whose reactions I cannot be sure of because, once again, I don't know them. I'm being asked to be flexible, to respond instantly to needs and requests, to quickly assess where I belong or don't belong. All of this harks back to totally trusting in a loving God to guide me, and I'm not sure how well I'm doing with this.

Probably the worst thing in the mix is having to let go of long-time associations that do represent some sort of stability and control. This is truly uncomfortable for me. I think as humans we tend to those things that respond to our routine and become a part of it, even if those things are not perfect or even sometimes not good for us. They are the familiar, and familiar is comforting. Sometimes these things are not what they appear to be, but I make them into what I want to comfort myself and once again, control a situation. But the control is better than not having anything to try to control, or facing the truth, that it's all a facade and I'm as helpless as I appear to be in the end.

Once again, it all goes back to trusting the only One who is trustworthy in heaven and earth, even when it seems that that isn't the case. When the road is unclear, I have to go back to the timeless words of scripture and use that as my road map. What I can always control is what I lay myself down to in trust.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

the road home, cont.

Yesterday morning I decided to call my doctor to examine my daughter's arm. It didn't look any worse after a night, but I couldn't tell if it was better, and I did not want to take chances. I called as soon as the office opened at 9 am. I was told I'd receive a call-back, so then decided to go on with my day, get my walk in and go to the church to pull and practice worship music. I wasn't gone hugely long and realized there was a message on the telephone answering machine waiting for me, that my daughter was worked in for 10:30 am that day. I woke her up and told her to just put shoes on, and we'd go to the office immediately. Thankfully it's very close, so we got there in no time.

I've been a patient for Dr. Mouallem for years and years. I would guess he and I are about the same age. He is part Indian and is very attractive, but as the years go on I can see he's losing his hair and little wrinkles are beginning to form around his eyes. In all honesty, it isn't his physical appearance that makes him such an attractive person. It's his genuineness-he is kind and patient, tells the truth, seems truly glad to see me whenever I'm there, listens carefully and takes the time to do what he needs to do. I felt visibly calmer and more relaxed just knowing he'd see my daughter. I trust his opinion implicitly, and if her condition didn't improve, I wanted him tracking it. I was told he was busy that day, and he said the same thing when he came in to the exam room, but the more he looked at my daughter's arm, the more he was convinced he needed to take the time to cut and drain an area that had become very inflamed due to infection under the skin and caused my daughter real discomfort.

He told her it would hurt as he hurried around to gather anesthetic and a needle to numb the site. He also told her she would feel great relief after he pushed out the pus and junk, but the process would not be pleasant. He had a nurse come in to hold my daughter's hand and talk to her while he was doing his thing, and she did wince a bit upon seeing the scalpel, but told him keep going. I stood up at that point and grabbed her ankle because so much stuff was coming out of the wound. The doctor forced the infection to the surface and it took several minutes to get everything. He told my daughter that in an hour she would feel real relief from the pain and pressure. He then told me he would not have prescribed the particular antibiotics that she was taking because we had gone to the ER the day before. I asked for a new prescription, but he said to call in a day or two if things weren't noticeably better, and he'd put her on a different course of meds.

I was reflecting this morning on the total trust I have in Dr. David Mouallem. He could have told me to do anything for my daughter and I would have done it, because of the years of communication and relationship we have. He is never out of character-I always get the same person each time I go, caring and concerned. He never scolds me, but I know when he disagrees with me about something I decide or don't do that he recommends I do. I feel complete relief when I'm dealing with him. I need to reflect on why this is, and begin to think about God this way. I want to, and perhaps I'm just not seeing the obvious. I know at times He has had to cut, but I suppose I didn't see the seriousness of my wound. Dr. Mouallem would not have caused my daughter undue pain. I must understand that the Lord never does-His hurts heal us. I want the relief of being sure of this like I felt yesterday. Trust is the road home.

Monday, November 06, 2006

the road home

I've come to realize lately that my biggest problem in life is not trusting in what I know to be true. I had to take my daughter to the ER yesterday. She was diagnosed with cellulitis in her right arm. My husband and I came home from sort of a long morning at church and then visiting my mother-in-law at the hospital, so I was tired and anxious to be home. But when my daughter raised her arm and showed me the inflammation there, I already knew what it was and my worry alarm shot straight up. I tossed down some lunch, quickly changed my clothes and tried hard to find the strength from somewhere to go back to the hospital for several more hours. I did not want to worry her, so I tried to keep a stream of funny and pleasant conversation going so she wasn't bored. After the type of eternal wait that seems to define an ER was over, the shift doctor and PA confirmed what I already was sure of but hoped it wasn't, as this is the type of thing that can be no more threatening than the common cold or cause an amputation, depending on it's course of action.

The main thing I know to be true in life, even if way too often is only in my head, is that God is my Father, my real dad, my Abba. Why can I not access Him in times like these? Would He not have been the one putting pedal to the metal just like I did if I were in sick or in trouble and He could be here in the flesh? When I went to my CR group last Friday, we were discussing step four of the 12, which is making a fearless moral inventory of yourself. I had to admit to the group, my greatest struggle is that I can't embrace God the Father with confident and open arms. I know only at a distance way too often. My heart is empty and cold. The place where I experience this love in fact is often at my Wednesday small group, among a bunch of ladies who are recovering from various types of addictions. They seem to have nothing to lose and no airs at all. The reluctance and the fear that dogs my steps so often and shows me what I really am isn't in them, and I'm so grateful to have that type of acceptance and affection. It is so healing to me.

In the last, say, three days, I've read over and over and over from different sources that we need to be as children, trusting and open, before God. I know it's not another thing on the spiritual "to do" list from God's perspective. He simply longs for that kind of trust, as any parent does. And I feel so disappointed in myself that after all this time I still hold back. Here I sit this morning after a terrible sleep, littered with nonsensical, worry-generated dreams, sick to my stomach from using cookies and cupcakes to soothe my jangled nerves from the day before. What the heck am I doing to myself? Why do I always insist on not trusting? I keep watching, like a flip book in my head, the story of the prodigal son, and I keep seeing that Father continually peering out the window, sighing through his day, alone at night telling an absent son he's loved, and then that incredible picture of the day when the boy appears on the road and the dad runs to meet him. I want that so much. I realize the son didn't earn that love, it was just there for him and he didn't see it until then. I don't want to wait. I want to be home right now.

Friday, November 03, 2006

drawing out

I'm working on a drawing for a friend I write to who is in prison. It has taken me some time to get started. The picture is of this man and his parents on a visitation day. It's a picture that could be described as really sweet and endearing, minus the orange jump suit. It's good enough to use as photo reference for a portrait drawing. The expressions on each face are very genuine-that is apparent and rather amazing to me given the circumstances under which the photo was taken. I guess that's why it is hard for me to get started. I feel like I'm a peeping Tom in a way, as though my presence is an intrusion into a poignant and private moment, certainly one of the few these people have shared as a family while their son is in prison. He's from the UK, so I'm sure visits are even fewer and further between that a family living in the same state, let alone the same country.

There is a further element in this story. I did not expect to receive the photo at all. It's like the very fact that my friend parted with this precious keepsake for the purpose of allowing me to see it and actually do a drawing represents a leap in the relationship. Let me be frank (even though I'm a girl)...I sincerely do not understand how people can play with an intimate relationship. Maybe for men this is easier, being that they are more physically than emotionally motivated. It is as uncomfortable for me to share truthfully as it is to think about sex. Both are equally difficult territory because each thing represents a letting down of a person's guard, an exposing and leaving unprotected the very essence of the self, for each person. Even with wrong motives such an act or exchange leaves each participant so vulnerable they cannot remain unchanged no matter how hardened the heart may be. It is my feeling that at least sexual immorality is at an all-time high, not because suddenly everyone has become lust-hungry maniacs, but because there is such a desire for a human being to known and exposed for what they are. We are repelled by the idea of needing other humans so desperately, but push down the internal walls because we cannot remain alone and be well. I'm not suggesting living immorally, only observing that a world which keeps us so isolated is not normal. I forget who made the statement to the effect that every man knocking on the door of a brothel is searching for God.

I feel the same way sharing personal things in a mixed group, even though they are Christian people. It leaves me feeling weak as sure as I am that everyone respects me deeply and would never, ever take advantage. I know sharing with other people is healthy and healing AND necessary. But I'm back to the picture. I am entrusted with the charge of this intimate moment, and to do the job I must I have to enter into that trust and into the moment with this family and with my friend no matter how uncomfortable it makes me feel. Love does that sometimes. I guess I think of the old Simon and Garfunkel song so often quoted, "A rock feels no pain, and an island never cries". That is not the way we were designed. We're flesh. The scripture says God takes away our stony heart and gives us a heart of flesh. Flesh bleeds, flesh feels pain. This is not an accident, it is a thing to be embraced. So I pick up my charcoal and draw myself into my friend's joy and pain.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

loving me to death

I'm not naturally good with people. I like them on the whole, but when it comes to developing relationships, I struggle. I don't trust easily and I don't feel comfortable around people immediately as a rule. Up until about 6 months ago I had pretty much the same connections I did for the past ten years with not much change. I can't say I ever lost a significant one because I make so few of them. I suppose God felt I was ready to learn how to develop more important relationships in my life, because in the past couple of months, and weeks, at least twenty more people have come into the picture through involvement with small groups. A few are becoming very close. These relationships require various levels of commitment and help from my end, such as giving rides, phone calling, doing ministry together and my time and presence requested. Yet another person walked into my life last week, needing a ride to and from my Thursday group, and much more, it seems.

This woman is just now coming out of a period of being bed-ridden and alone. She's 44 years old but looks closer to 60. She is on disability and can't work, and is more or less forced to live with her mother, having nowhere else to go. She's lonely and seems to feel very comfortable around me. I don't mind her smoking in the car, and don't mind listening to her. She has asked me to call her, and I've told her to call me if she wants to talk. Our children are close in age. This one relationship, minus all the rest, would have been a stretch for me a year ago. As it is now, it requires patience that I haven't had up to this point and more. I have to make sure she doesn't fall getting into the car and offer my elbow when we walk from the curb to the house where we meet. She talks very slowly and very freely in the small group. The temptation to be irritated is great, and yet I know for sure God is bringing people into my life specifically.

Our Bible study overview was on patience, and the one thing that particularly stood out to me was the statement that people can be, and often are, assigned to us, and not always because THEY need OUR help. This is pretty much without fail a mutual proposition, each working on the other in the way God has for our individual good, if it is of Him. The difficult ones are often those. Hard does not equal bad. And what works life in one person may work death in the other. I guess I need alot of dying! I have to understand, as well, that it takes the patience of God to keep us committed to these relationships. I have to admit that often the ones I love the most do the most my self-righteousness, my pretentiousness and my pride. So, I guess there's alot of praying and driving ahead!

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

12 stepping with my gals

Seems like when God steps into a situation very visibly it is hard to analyse what happened or how-it just did. At least that seems to be what happened in the small group I attend. It is a 12-step program, but I can't remember ever being with a gathering of women that appears to be so profoundly ordered of God, and such an unlikely bunch. There are seven of us (and possibly eight). Three of the women have serious illnesses. Three are married, four single. All save one are in recovery from drug or alcohol addiction. I'm the token co-dependent, which makes this even more of an unlikely scenario for me personally. It is almost impossible to put a finger on the synergy that happens when we are together. Donna has MS, and is a cross between a young Rosalind Russell and Joan Rivers. Some of her gems today included, to her friend who chain smokes and flicks the butts out the window of her car, "What would Jesus do? In the first place, He wouldn't smoke, and if He did, He'd use my ashtray!" She also related that when asked by her nephew who isn't married but living with his girlfriend if Jesus really thinks marriage is that important she replied, "His first miracle of turning water into wine wasn't at a cook-out..."

Then there's her friend (the chain smoker), Dawn, bald from chemotherapy and beautiful even without hair. Dawn has lightening quick and fearless assessments of the problems that are related between us. She doesn't say much-she doesn't have to. You can't help but like her even as her baldness causes consternation to a stranger who meets her. The discomfort goes away as soon as she smiles. She's only a few weeks clean (again), but is so smart and discerning it's hard to know that. Nancy is our hostess. She has an uncanny ability to make everyone feel comfortable. Without her beautiful home we would not have a central location that everyone wishes were theirs! Lisa is a women I invited to the group from our church. Her coming to our small congregation seems so incredible, and now even more so in the light of being a part of these ladies, as though like a gem she was absolutely designed for this setting to show off her sparkle. She knows our other recovery story extraordinaire, Bonnie. Bonnie willingly faced the possibility of prison to clean her record and do what she felt God would have her do-accept responsibility for her crimes. Miraculously every single felony was forgiven. She has a gift of powerful exhortation and is fearless, and honest-totally herself.

Lastly there is Doris. She's a woman in her 60's who developed a problem with alcohol just now, late in life, as did our hostess. Doris is only weeks out of rehab and struggles with her routine, but wants to come and is completely at home with this diverse and mostly younger group. I guess the glue that binds us is a love that longs to serve each other woman, each in her own place. Also, there is a passion in each woman to serve God in the community of the helpless. Every woman at the table serves others like themselves, except for me. I am called to assist these special ones simply because I understand what it is like to grow up and live with people who struggle as they do. Their actions and attitudes don't shock me, and their stories of past horrors help me to understand the mind of an addict so much better. I feel so privileged to be among them and to serve them through encouragement, my friendship, my insights about my own past, the love that God seems to pour through me for them. Every time I leave our meetings I feel like the Grinch at the end of the story, where his heart grew three times it's size. These women are being used of God to change lives, and I am behind the scenes with them, watching and helping it happen.

in the junk drawer

Yesterday was one of those days that reminded me of our kitchen junk drawer. It was full of a whole bunch of seemingly disconnected and probably really not terribly important stuff that for some reason I think is important enough to throw in the drawer. I know I should be very glad for days I have home from work to do with as I see fit. I realize many women these days don't have large blocks of time to clean, do laundry, put out-of-place things back, think about cooking a good meal if not actually doing so...and I was glad. I hadn't cleaned the bathroom in a couple of weeks except to swish the toilet. Bad, I know. I have such good intentions, and it isn't my massive to-do list that slays the best laid plans. It's the thought that what I'm doing doesn't seem important. Or even the truly good things I might do seem like an interruption, a bore, or something I just really don't want to do at all.

I'm definitely a goal junkie, an "event traffic" kind of person, needing to pin significance on everything I do. When I have a day worthy of a dirty bathrobe and old curlers, it bothers me. When I can't look back on the day and say to myself it was a good one-either alot got done, or something really worth note happened, I tend to throw those in the junk drawer, back to my kitchen catch-all. If I look at it from a simple factual glance, I did do some good things. I spent the morning walking (it was a glorious, warm late October day and I enjoyed it), I went to our little church and picked out a great worship set even though I was totally uninspired. I cleaned the leaves and trash people inevitably toss over our stone wall there. I finally scrubbed floors in the house (another thing I hadn't done in weeks). I visited my mother-in-law in the hospital and didn't get too irritated when my husband kept calling to ask me if I had yet. These are good things. I did my Bible study-later in the day, but I did it. I talked to my sister, wrote some e-mails to friends, copied my son's letters for my sister and sent his address to her yet AGAIN! But that's ok.

I guess I'm too hard on myself. All I could see from the inside was that I ate too much, my attitude was not great, I didn't care to put dinner together for my husband when he walked through the door at 8:30 pm, I watched too much tv and didn't care, didn't care how late my school aged daughter was out Halloweening with friends. Didn't care. I did try to call her, but didn't keep trying. I don't think there's any way to define a day like yesterday. It was my own eclectic and disparate view of living life in two worlds. My flesh just isn't up to the challenge 24/7, and wasn't designed to be. I guess it's normal life in the junk drawer of this world, where we value continual production, high grade action and perfection, and have a low tolerance for plastic cereal box toys and things with no apparent purpose. I have to leave it to God to sort out the worth of what I do. As we say in CR, progress, not perfection...I guess it's some comfort. Lord, I give You my static days and my CrackerJack prize attempts at life.