Thursday, December 29, 2011

Aren't I Pookey?

It was a long time ago. All my brother and I could remember of the moment was my friend’s face at our car window. Someone must have doubted that his name was what he said he was, and he came to me to settle the matter. “Aren’t I Pookey?” he asked, confident of my confirmation.

Pookey. Pookey Edwards. I don’t remember your other name, but yes, you are indeed Pookey and apparently proud of it.

It’s important to know who we are.

In her book, One Thousand Gifts, Ann Voskamp explores the wonder of naming things—how putting words to something you might have otherwise overlooked, makes the “invisible become visible.” I linger over the quote she takes from Alexander Schemann: “ Now in the Bible a name . . . reveals the essence of a thing . . . To name a thing is to manifest the meaning and value God gave it. . . to know its place and function within the cosmos created by God.”

Adam named the animals.

God changed the names of his chosen ones to reflect their new nature with Him.

God revealed himself through His names.

Jesus gave me new name—no longer child of wrath but child of God.

Sometimes I forget. I let testy relationships or mucky responses convince me I am not who He says I am. I run to Him in the early morning hours and look for His confirmation, “Aren’t I Pookey?” Your daughter, your loved one, mucky and testy regardless.

And because He is who He says He is, I find comfort.

Each year I ask the Lord to reveal something of Himself to me through one of His names. Always, I hold Creator close to my heart because of the awe and wonder and worship His creation inspires, but over the years He has emphasized different aspects of His relationship with me. The first name He revealed to me personally as I sat desperate, penniless, homeless, in a church basement, was I AM.

That year I learned He is indeed I AM –all that you need or desire. I AM GOD.

Another year, at a time of frustration with myself and everyone else around me, I ran off to a lonely hillside to host a pity party and He revealed Himself as The Living One Who Sees Me.

This year I am asking for a deeper knowledge of Him. I will watch and wait and expect to hear Him flood my heart with His chosen name with which He will draw me into a closer relationship.

And I pray that the turn of year brings you, friend who has lingered here, a renewed, a restored, a refreshed understanding of who you are because you see more clearly who He is. May you hear the name He whispers over you.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Christmas lights and the decked-out deer

When it comes to decorating with Christmas lights my husband takes on the philosophy of one of our previous pastors: he who has the idea to do something needs to take charge of getting it done. And so the task of illuminating our corner of the neighborhood usually falls to me.

I can get a little OCD about it.

One year (this was a long time ago and my tastes have since improved) I became fixated with purple and aqua colored lights. I bought a strand of each and carefully replaced every other light with alternating colored bulbs, making my own unique arrangement, which I proudly strung over the yew bushes in my front yard.

 The next morning I noticed deer tracks trailing across the lawn—right up to my yew bushes. But it was the glimmering specks in the snow that really caught my attention—aqua flecks, purple one too. Upon closer examination I discovered half the strands of lights were missing, pieces of them trailing off to the nearby woods.

Apparently a young buck munching on my yews, bit through a wire, got shocked, and took off with my lights tangled in his antlers. Imagine some hunter’s surprise as he peered down his scope and saw his deer decked out in aqua and purple!

(There is really nothing enlightening about this story!)  But...

 This year, as I look out at the white LED lights strung around the dogwood in the driveway, decorating the Christmas tree in the living room, and brightening the fireplace mantle, I think about how comforted I am by every tiny beam of light in darkness.

Surrounded this Christmas by some of my children and grandchildren, I pray that I would be a reflection of the One who is the Light of the world, the One who brings comfort and gives hope to a darkening world.

Lord, You are clothed with splendor and majesty. You wrap yourself in light…great are your works. I pray that each one stopping by this post would drink from your river of delights, would see light in Your light, and receive hope in journeys through darkness.

Merry Christmas

Thursday, December 15, 2011

A life for a life: the hitchhikers, the housewife, and the old man passing by

One of the memories my brother recounted during our week-long vigil around our mother’s bedside was of a time when evil came calling, but a providential encounter carried it on by.

We lived outside a village—two neighbors on the town side of our dirt road, a cow pasture framed by a view of Camel’s Hump Mountain in front of the house, and a stretch of woods between us and the neighbors a mile up the road on the right side.

An old man who often drove by would always wave. We didn’t really know him, but people who traveled the same country lanes shared a certain sense of camaraderie, so we waved back.

One day when Mom was home alone with the kids, two guys came walking up the road and, seeing my mother, turned in the driveway. Although we never locked our doors and never worried much about strangers, these two wore evil like a stinking cloak. Mom was immediately on guard.

At that moment, the old man drove by. Whether he perceived a dangerous situation or whether, as befitted his friendly nature, we’ll never know, but he stopped and gave the two a ride.

There was a frog pond at the end of the stretch of woods, and that day two of our friends were mucking around in it. When they heard a car stop, they peered up over the edge of the pond in time to hear the shot and see the two men take off with the car.

A man died that day; a woman lived. A life for a life. Why one and not the other? I do not know.

The secret things belong to God. To the God who willingly, knowingly gave His life for you, for me.

And this I reflect on when life doesn’t seem fair, when trouble turns in my driveway, when lack of understanding drives me in a fit of frustration: He loved me when I was a sinner, how much more does He love me now that my life is hidden in His.

Jesus, Redeemer, Immanuel, God with us, sometimes I just can’t get my mind around what you have done for me, but this I believe, I cling to, I speak into the shadowy places:

My soul exalts in the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior, for the MightyOne has done great things for me and holy is His name.-Luke1:46-47,49

Today I pray for someone reading this, that your heart would lay down its sorrows and need for vindication at the feet of the One whose sacrificed life is the door to life. May you rest in the goodness of the Lord and rejoice in God your Savior.

Friday, December 9, 2011

A week of dying

Moms are tough to say goodbye to. 

Within six weeks of receiving a diagnosis of brain cancer, my mom went on to glory.But in that time we got to enjoy her in ways that all our old roles and family dynamics had clouded.

In the process, I learned there are ways to give dignity in spite of the indignities of dying, there are times to laugh in spite of the sorrow of goodbye, and there are memories to be recounted in spite of the end of new ones.

During her last week, four of us, my brother and his wife, my sister, and I were present around the clock, each of us trying to minister comfort as we each thought best. (Sometimes conflicting, but being grown-ups and not wanting to cause a fuss and have our mother rise up and scold us, we settled our differences by going to our own corners until the cloud passed by.)

My brother has an incredible memory. He sat on one side of the bed, I on the other, and told story after story. Mom looked as though she were asleep or unconscious, but in the manner of mothers—she heard a whole lot more than we thought.

“Remember when we’d sneak into the pantry (which was stuffed with treasures) and take out Dad’s WW II bayonet?” Mike said. “We weren’t supposed to touch it but you and I loved to go in and get it.”

“Remember when we went up White Face Mountain and Mom crawled on her hands and knees cuz she was afraid of heights?” I said.

  “Remember when…” Sometimes a smile would escape her weary face, sometimes a raised eyebrow.

  At one point Mom opened her eyes and said in her raspy voice, “I have four eyes. Just thought you’d want to know.”

 My sister thought she was trying to tell us she was seeing double, but I wondered if she was warning us that we might want to be careful of confessions!

 Reluctantly she relinquished the care of her body over to her children. But at one point when my brother (who had been a medic in the service) told her he was going to give her a suppository, she rolled over and with all the authority of motherhood proclaimed an adamant          

“NO.” And no, it was. Sometimes you just don’t argue with Mom.

I don’t know why I never realized how funny she actually was. In defiance of the insidious disease marching through her brain, she’d gather strength to surprise us with her humor. One day we had a problem with the oxygen tube, and she was having trouble breathing. I stood at the foot of the bed with an electric fan.

 “Oh Queen Nefertiti, I am your slave,” I said, waving my fan like a palm frond. Mom tried to speak. 

My sister, Jan, bent over her. “Marcia, I think she’s trying to tell you something.”

Expecting some profound last words, I leaned in, at which point Mom raised her head up and said loud and clear, “Faster!” And with a satisfied smile lay back down.

We cried with laughter. Oh, Mom.

But now,  having gone way over my 400-word blog limit, I end my tribute for today. I still have a few things to say about goodbyes to Mom, like, “Remember the time the two men started coming up the driveway when Mom was all alone? . . .” 

Love your mom today.

Monday, November 28, 2011

No tail to wag, but lips to praise

You can set up a murder, burn down the house, and lose a lover, but don’t kill the family pet, writers are advised. People are very touchy about their pooches and other furry or feathered friends.

I’m not here to defend lopsided values or recount the psychological and health benefits of canines and company, but I am going to confess that now I too, have crossed over to the dark side—uh—dog side, as a recent trip over the holiday revealed.

For years I resisted having any pet, especially canine, that depended on me for its survival. My main concern was that I wanted to be free to travel and not worry about what to do with Fido.

But a while back, our daughter came to visit with a puppy and then left several months later without it. The dog, undaunted by my lack of alpha mother spirit, followed me everywhere, snuggled as close as she could get, and made so much ado about my comings and goings that when we decided to take a trip over the holiday, I found myself fretting about boarding her.

“I think I’m becoming a doting old fogy,” I said to my husband, as I spread the dog’s new velour blanket over the sheets on his side of the bed. “You have to sleep on it tonight so it will smell like you and she won’t get lonely at the kennel.”

The next day after I packed our bags, I packed the doggie’s bag—blanket (now smelling like hubby) toy and treat. Although unnerved by all the canine chaos at the kennel, I quickly handed her over and left.

As we drove away, I thought about the things that endeared her to us. Although I suspected she’d probably leave me in a second for a squirrel, she certainly expressed enthusiasm and contentment to be in our company, and she loved to be touched and praised.

Don’t we all.

I reached over rubbed my husband’s neck. I may not have a tail to wag as he came in the door, but I probably could show a little more enthusiasm in welcoming him home.

 A word of praise, a touch, an undistracted interest in someone’s conversation. A moment to just be content in another’s presence.  

We humans have a way of making things overly complicated. I think I need to take a lesson from the pooch, who, by the way, did just fine at the kennel and is now snuggled up next to me as I write.

Others may not remember a word I say or thing I do, but they will remember how I made them feel. (A paraphrased statement credited to several people.)

                                                Oh, Lord, may I love as you love me.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Going to Jerusalem from my couch

 Right now my sister, who usually calls me either at 8:15 on her way to work, or 5:15 on her way home, is in Jerusalem, which is not a phone call away on my particular plan.

I wish I were there too.

So what I’ve decided to do is follow her itinerary from the comfort of the sag in my leather couch. I’m using a beautiful book, Reflections of God’s Holy Land, written by Eva Marie Everson and Miriam Feinberg Vamosh to help me absorb the sights and history as my mind fills in the sounds and emotions.

Today was our first day in Jerusalem.  But I didn’t get very far. My tour group left me at the Pinnacle of the Temple of Herod the Great. As I looked at the picture of the massive edifice towering over the Kidron Valley, I was overcome with sadness.  

Maybe it was the history that exuded from the sheer massiveness of the stones, the thought of the millions of pilgrims drawn, over thousands over years, to this place hardly larger than the state of New Jersey.  Maybe it was an awareness of the presence of good and evil, God and devil, both in times past and times to come. Or maybe it was just my own heart longing for clearer perception of God.

One thing is clear. This is no common place. This is God’s Holy Land.

It is so mind boggling to look at a map of the Mideast and see the “David” with its population less than that of Manhattan, surrounded by the “Goliaths.” Can there be any doubt that Israel’s very presence is nothing short of God’s providence?

We are told there is yet to come another time when “Goliath” will threaten and wreak carnage. A time of great sadness and seeming defeat.

But in the end, the conclusion will be as it was, and David’s words will once more ring out across the plain—“You come to me with a sword, a spear, and a javelin, but I come to you in the name of the [living God] the God of the armies of Israel whom you have taunted.”
And in that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, which is in front of Jerusalem on the east; and the Mount of Olives will be split in its middle from east to west by a very large valley, so that half of the mountain will move toward the north and the other half toward the south. Zech 14:4
And the LORD will be king over all the earth; in that day the LORD will be {the only} one, and His name {the only} one. –Zech 14:9


And if that doesn’t happen by tomorrow, maybe I’ll get catch up with her tour.

Friday, November 11, 2011

That's not what I expected the answer to my prayer to look like

 It was a small country church in northwestern New Jersey—tiny, by Southern church standards, but the clanging Sunday morning bell did manage to rouse forty or fifty of the faithful. Wednesday night prayer was another matter altogether. Only a handful of die-hard believers showed up for that.

On one such night, I had a sudden specific impression to pray that someone, someone in need, would pass by on that lonely stretch of road, see a light on in the church and come in.

A few weeks later, as the usual few of us gathered, the church door opened. I turned to see a tall, thin, slightly scruffy man and equally disheveled young woman come up the aisle. In an instant, I knew two things about him.

He was the answer to my prayer, and he had AIDS.

Of course they sat in the pew right behind me, confirming what I already knew—the Lord expected my husband and I to be a part of that answer to prayer.

His name was Roy. A life of drugs had landed him on the streets of New York, but now, through the ministry of David Wilkerson, he had turned to the Lord. Acting on his measure of faith, he had rescued his companion from the streets and brought her to seek refuge at a relative’s house.

They had seen the light on in the church and came for prayer and for help. He immediately told me his bare naked story; including the fact he had a lump in his neck. I asked him if he had AIDS. He was scared to take the test he said, but would.

The next week he called me to tell me the dreaded verdict.

Over the months Roy came and went between New York and New Jersey. Each time he came to town, he called. At the time I was skittish about his disease but knew it wouldn’t have mattered if he had leprosy—he was the one the Lord had sent in answer to my prayer.

One night we had just finished a steak dinner; my father-in-law was visiting and had gone into the den with our daughter. For reasons unknown to me at the time, I had bought a lot of steak and had plenty left over. The doorbell rang.

There was Roy looking as proud as if he were about to introduce his fiancĂ©. “Hi, I was in town with some friends. We’re headed back to the city, but I wanted them to meet you. They all have AIDS too.”

I wish I could say my heart was entirely without fear or dread, nevertheless, hoping my father-in-law was content with the TV and the dishwasher full of hot water, we welcomed Roy and friends for steak dinner.

The last time we saw Roy, we hugged and kissed. “You know, I used to want God for what He could give me. But now I just want Him for Himself,” he said with tears in his eyes.

The phone rang one afternoon some months later.“I’m not well. I wanted to say goodbye.” Sadness filled the phone wires as I told him I loved him.
God sure has a way of turning our prayers upside down.

 In the beginning, we thought we were the answer to Roy’s need, but in the end, he was the one who blessed us.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Hanging On and Letting Go

 Her frail frame defies the strength of her will. A will hued out of years of tenacious refusal to let the fractures in her life shatter into a thousand broken pieces.

 But now with the husband gone and the children grown, her body, stiff and hard, gives in to the insidious invader that travels its pathways unhindered and sets up outposts, first in her back and now in her brain.

She’s still funny, this woman who used to fill my mind with stories of kings and queens and ancient mariners, who built real domed igloos out of blocks of frozen snow and taught us to find the reclusive jack-in-the-pulpit in early spring.

We laugh as I threaten to pop a wheelie with her wheelchair as we head toward the door marked Pet Scan. Although a grandmother myself, I say, “Ah, Mommy, my pet, now we’re all going to know what you’re made of.”

My sister Jan, who takes care of our mother, had been telling me about mom’s sudden and rapid descent into disconnect, but I couldn’t imagine the woman I had seen just weeks before could be that bad.

“Well, for example,” Jan said, “I told her she was too close to the edge of the bed, so she rolled over on her side, and then stopped and looked at me and asked, “Did you just give me a suppository?”

We laughed and laughed and then we sighed.

During the night I heard voices.  Jan, who was not feeling well herself, said, “Mom’s crying.”
Shaking off my sleep, I entered her room. Frustrated between hanging on and letting go, she obsessed about the items on her nightstand: glasses, pills, flashlight and a paper with the name of the kind bereavement counselor—the last representatives over which she had control.

 I crawled into bed, wrapped my arms around her and talked about fun memories and the stinky things of life and hope in the Lord. On her wall facing us next to a picture of her and her parents is a picture of Jesus.

As I prayed over her, I saw her in heaven, her outer shell cracking and hurling off in fragments as her new body emerged full and ripe with the creativity to paint and express beauty and let go of hanging on.

Later I tell her the image. She “sees” it, her eyes open wide. “Yes!” she says and falls asleep.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Harold at the Door

Harold came to my door again today. Stringy, dirty, hungry, his clothes disheveled as clothes tend to be when they’ve been lived in 24 hours a day, several days a week.

“I haven’t come in a while,” he said, apparently keeping track not to wear out his welcome with the “givers” on his handout route.He pointed to the large pile of boxes on the porch that needed to go to the recycling center. “I can throw this out for you,” he offered, as he looked around for a trash can.

I handed him a bit of money.“That’s okay; you can’t carry them all on your bike. Maybe the next time I’ll have some work for you.” 

The first time Harold showed up at my door, I sent him away. Fear, suspicion, and lack of compassion for a beggar ruled the decision. Harold wasn’t discouraged. A month later, he came again. I gave him some money. The next time he came, my husband talked with him about life, and God, and work. Things Harold said he once had and lost and couldn’t seem to get back.

Over the months my attitude toward Harold has been judgmental, self-righteous, and unsympathetic. But today, I am simply thankful my God is gracious, compassionate, and forgiving. He has shown me much mercy, whether my hard situations were by my own doings or not.

 Later I will go to the Goodwill and buy some warm clothes for the next time Harold comes. If my husband is home, I pray I will have the compassion and the courage to offer Harold a shower and a meal.

Because today I don’t want to reason and rationalize.

I just want the heart to respond to the beggar at my door.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort; who comforts us in all our affliction so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.—2 Cor 1:3-4 (NAS)

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

What's a Rambler without reverse?

Twice in my life, I owned Ramblers—a vehicle choice I’m sure determined more by economics than style. One, an old Nash Rambler, (immortalized by the Playmates’ song, “Beep Beep”), got me where I needed to go, much to the dismay of every fresh-air, environmentally conscious jogger on the winding hills outside San Francisco.

As long as it was going at a constant speed, it was fine, but when I stepped on the accelerator to climb up through the narrow Redwood canyons, it belched billows of black smoke. Whenever I saw a jogger ahead, I’d start apologizing, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry” and duck my head as the black cloud closed in around him thicker than the morning fog.

But it was the other Rambler that demonstrated a point I would discover, forget, and cling to again and again—reverse is a necessary direction. Sometimes you have to go backward to go forward.

One day that Rambler lost its ability to back up. I was poor and single at the time and decided to live with just going forward as long as I could. It wasn’t impossible as long as I remembered to never park face-in at a curb. Some days I’d drive all around town trying to find a spot where I could park and drive straight out. But one morning, my mind distracted with thoughts of spring, I pulled into a space nose-to-nose with the parking meter and turned off the key. My reaction appropriately reflected my pre-Christ state.

A Rambler without reverse was a very limited one indeed.

Sometimes we find ourselves in situations that make us feel as though we’ve gone backward, but can’t go forward. Loss often triggers this perspective. Loss of job, loss of savings, loss of loved ones, loss of identity, and worst of all—loss of hope.

My husband and I are just now coming out from a two-year darkness brought on by a bad decision we made. It cost us a lot. And although we had been following the Lord for many years, there were many days in the pit of depression, when we thought the Lord had shelved us—that the glory of Lord had departed the temple as it so tragically did with the Israelites.

Now, we are slowly beginning to see some buds of fruit from that stripping. We are beginning to understand that the Lord couldn’t put new wine in old skins, and that sometimes you have to go backward in order to go forward.

Of course the ultimate example of this is Christ’s death. What looked like the end of everyone’s hope, three days later, proved to be the supreme triumph, as up from the grave He arose!

I pray if someone reading this is stuck in reverse, the Lord will give you a personal word of hope, a buoy to cling to until you have a reversal of fortune.

 As Paul exhorted the terrified sailors about to be shipwrecked:
“Keep up your courage, men, for I believe God, that it will turn our exactly as I have been told”—Acts 27:25

Friday, October 7, 2011

From calligraphy to computers: the "good" in the "bad"

What I really feel like doing is stocking my quiver with poison-tipped, sure-to-knock- ‘em -dead arrows, strapping on my double-edged sword, and going to battle with all the freedom-hating, God-blind “religious” extremists, political leaders, and ignorant people in the news, who are bent on turning our world upside-down.

I want my moment to rant, and rave, and rattle my saber. That being said, I will set it aside for a while because the recent death of Steve Jobs reminded me of a more edifying perspective. So today and for a few more days, I’m going to focus on seeing through the apparent defeats, reversals, and impossibilities of situations (be they personal or global) to the ultimate triumphs.

Years ago, in an address to Stanford students, Steve Jobs related the importance of certain events in his life, which at the time, may have screamed, “Failure!”, but which led, many years later, to highly successful endeavors.

It would be hard to imagine, especially from a parental perspective, the good that could come from someone’s dropping out of college and replacing a curriculum of job qualifying courses with one in calligraphy.  But that’s what Jobs did, although he was pretty scared about it himself, especially since he couldn’t see “even a hope of any practical application.”

Not for ten long years. Not until he was designing the first Mac and the beauty of the calligraphy came flooding back to mind, consequently launching the Mac in a class of its own with its typefaces and fonts and Steve Jobs into a world of wealth and power.

Another catalytic event for him, he said, was when he was fired from the very company he founded. Talk about adding insult to injury. Again, Jobs admits that the insight wasn’t there at the time, but this negative, potentially devastating event freed him to see things in the fresh perspective of someone starting anew, and he went on to start another company, Pixar, no less.

The subsequent achievements of this man’s life attest not only to his brilliance, but to an attitude that looked for opportunity even in the face of adversity. Nevertheless, Steve Jobs is dead. And contrary to some blog posts, he was not God.  We can hope his ability to look at things differently led him to see the One who is.

Good and bad happen to all of us—the rain falls on the just and the unjust. Many of us will succeed because we have wealth, or genius, or optimistic temperaments, or steady grit and go that keep us marching on through apparent setbacks. Spiritual principles work even for the unspiritual. And sometimes it does “all work out,” as so many people resign themselves to say.

But for those of us who find ourselves in a hope- strapping situation, who don’t feel we have the money, the know-how, the wisdom to find our way out, there is a surety we can hang our confidence on—here and now. A certainty that neither deception, nor disease, nor darkness nor death was ever able, nor ever will be able to thwart.

 Regardless of how much of an impossible situation we seem to be in, how useless our present “calligraphy’ course may seem, we who trust in Jesus have a hope that looks forward because it is grounded in the One with whom all things are possible

Sometimes I have to remind myself He is the SAME God who opened a sea to let his people pass through, who remembered a young man imprisoned for crimes he didn’t commit, who sent a whale to swallow a rebellious messenger, who pacified lions (!) so they wouldn’t rip his man to shreds and who opened barred and guarded prison doors, and who stood in a fiery furnace with three people—humans just like you and me.

Because sometimes I reverse my perspective and forget that this world isn’t the one to cling to, that one day it (the mortal) will be swallowed up by life.—2Cor 5:4 (How many of us get that backwards!)

I pray today, that If someone reading this is in a tough spot, you will know Jesus is able to make a “door of hope”(Hosea 2:14) right there in the midst of your Achor, your place of troubling.(Josh. 7:25).

May you receive the faith not to waver in unbelief, but give glory to God, knowing that what He promises, He is able to perform.—R om. 4:20—knowing in due time, He will lift you up.