Thursday, June 30, 2011

Sometimes we keep secrets from others. Other times, we keep secrets from ourselves. This is of the latter.

I am turning thirty in fourteen days. That is not the secret. In fact, I've made sure people know. What is largely unknown about this event is the intense grief that is weighing on me as a result. This milestone birthday, combined with the death of a close friend's eighteen-year-old son a few weeks back, has brought to light a bleak understanding of my own mortality and a sense that time is running out. Everything is hurried. Everything, too much, is sacred, all moments irreplaceable- lost to time's greedy hands. It brings to mind a childhood nightmare, a clock with wildly spinning hands- a signal that time is flying away from me- and panic sets in. Faster! Run faster! It's almost over! You don't have much time! Remember everything!

In light of this, I need to tell you a story.
And like so many of my revelations today- and all the time -and for all people-, this one has it's root deeply buried in the past. This story has been told only to my husband, and only just today when I myself fully came to understand it's implications.

There was a life before the farm in Sandy where I spent the majority of my childhood; a span of time before the gardens and the duck pond and the sounds and smells of horses came into my world. Before divorce or threat or bitterness. It was brief, but real. My memories from those years are faded, sunlit. In every one of them, it is summer. I can see the house, the hills of grass, a glass gazebo standing, full of sun, in a corner of a garden. If I close my eyes, I can see through the moss-coated branches of the maples outside my bedroom window, see how the diffused light moves through them, through my window, and plays across my face and hands, how it turns the leaves to emeralds. It was centuries ago, it seems. Twenty six years or so. I was four.

My parents did not attend church and did not talk about religion. And so, looking back, it seems out of place that a very young child would have such a firmly held belief in God. But I did. I cannot say I loved Him. But I did fear Him. And I knew soundly that He was in control and that, quite possibly, if I was good enough, and pretty enough, and asked often enough, God would hear me. And perhaps if He heard me, He might do the one thing I so longed for Him to do, the thing I needed Him to do. I wanted Him to save my mother.

I remember countless hours spent in my bedroom, looking up through the maple branches towards the sun, that place in the sky we all imagine God to be, and praying with everything that I was for God to keep my mother safe.
"Please don't let my mother die....please don't let my mother die..." And then my memory fades and life moves on. Nothing stays the same forever. It can't.

And yet, I believe, He heard. And more importantly, He did something I did not; He remembered.

Many years later, on a farm in another part of the state, the nightmares had begun. Only one comes back after all this time. It haunted me even in my waking hours, right up to this morning. In the dream, I am in a long, tall, white room, rectangular in shape, and brightly lit; sterile. I am strapped into a straight-backed wooden chair in one of the narrow sides of the room. On the other side, far from me, hanging twenty or so feet in the air, is a clock whose hands are spinning wildly, too fast, frightening. And below the clock, a tall ladder stands. Near it's top is a man in a white lab coat and he is laughing maniacally. My time is almost up and he controls the clock. For twenty years I have thought he was a scientist.

This chronically bothersome dream, along with the grief surrounding The Dirty Thirty, are what drew me into a friend's office this afternoon after dropping off the kids.
"Am I too young to have a mid life crisis?" My first words upon entering.
And because after all these years of friendship nothing surprises either of us; "Melissa, If anyone could have a mid life crisis at thirty, it'd be you." came the reply.
I proceeded to lamely articulate my deep sadness about this birthday, my nearly overwhelming sorrow over the loss of my friend's son, my fear of death...and finally, the dream.
"That's a weird thing for a ten year old to dream about." My friend looked at me, trying to figure me out, a hopeless pursuit.

I left with those words in my mind. A weird thing for a ten year old to dream about. And I went to coffee. The cafe was quiet. I ordered iced tea and sat near a window, watched people enter and exit for a few minutes before the words returned. A weird thing for a ten year old to dream about. And then The Voice, the One believer's know so well, asks, "What was happening to you at ten, Melissa?" Three things came to mind:

Horses. Divorce. And, a secret I won't let myself think about: cancer.

I was in the fifth grade when my mother was diagnosed with stage two breast cancer. A tumor had been found and cancer cells had spread to the lymph nodes beneath her arms. She would have surgery, radiation, possibly chemo. Nothing else was known. I recalled those long ago hours of prayer and prayed again,
Please don't let my mother die.

The months that followed were marked by daily trips to the hospital, several surgeries, and stress related hair loss. I went to the hospital but I did not get close to her, did not ask questions, did not want to talk about it. She was attached to tubes, her head covered in a scarf. She was thin and quiet. I thought if I touched her she could break. I stood in the shadows and said nothing. I learned to be solemn, still, detached. Somewhere in those days of darkened hospital rooms, phone calls from doctors, and visits from family, a clock began to tick.

As I sat in the cafe today, remembering my mothers cancer, the familiar dream returned. For the first time in twenty years, I knew who the man on the ladder was. It all made a terrible sort of sense. The man who held my life in his terrifying hands was not a scientist as I'd imagined.
He was a doctor.

I was never able to connect with my mother in quite the same way again. Fear of loss keeps us from all sorts of things. I began spending more and more time with friends, and less time at home. I have never talked to her about cancer, illness, death or fear. Have never asked a question about it. When ten years of remission had passed, she casually mentioned it. The chances of the cancer metastasizing in other places drops significantly at that point. I think she thought that would help me. It did, but I never said anything. I still can't look her in the eyes and I have never known why. Something about her scares me, though she is the most gentle person I have ever known.

I sat in the cafe, looked out the window, and let the tears fall, glad there were few people around at that time of day. For twenty years I have feared something that never happened. It never happened because the God of heaven heard the whispered prayers of a frightened child and, I believe, He saved my mother, planned to save her before she was even ill.

Today, my mother and her husband live five blocks from me in a historic Victorian which is listed on the National Register of Historic places. She's dreamed of a house with a white picket fence for as long as I can remember, and she has that now. She spends her days reading and gardening and, in the summer months, making more apricot jam than anyone in the family cares to eat. My children walk to grandma's once or twice a week. I cannot imagine my life without her steady presence.

I drove my kids to VBS in Hood River today. As I took the exit and coasted up the hill to the stop sign, a memory came back, so bright and clear that it might have happened yesterday. One of our summers at the lake. My father and I were out on his boat fishing. He was baiting my hook and showing me how to cast, teaching me to sit very still.
I was five and it was my birthday.

I caught more fish than anyone that bright, summer day. A total of five. And I thought at the time that God had given them to me as a gift, one for each year, and I told everyone in the campground that I thought so. Today on the off-ramp, as that memory resurfaced and all the weight of this milestone, my fear of dying, the tragedy of death sat like a great pressing thing on my soul, I did something I don't often do- I asked for a birthday present. And He heard me. Again.

I got up from my chair in the cafe, left a few folded bills on the table. The enormity of what had just transpired over a normal glass of iced tea was dizzying and hard to grasp. I was free. The dream, such a terrifying part of my existence even now- lost it's power in the light of understanding. My mother's cancer, the source of so much fear, was seen for what it was: a miracle story of survival. And throughout; woven intricately over and under and within, there's mercy and the ever present touch of His love.

I no longer need to fear the forward motion of my own life. There is no clock, no doctor, no hospital- but only a just and loving God who holds my life in perfect hands. For the first time in twenty years, I'm awake. The nightmare is over and I am free.

This might actually be a very happy birthday.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Waking in Darkness

This journey keeps unraveling; a tapestry of a life with no end. Just when I think I'm getting it figured out, it changes, deepens, grows, twists- into something completely different, something greater- and the One who leads me points me in a new direction, another route to Jesus. Is He seriously at the center of everything?? Is there nothing that He doesn't touch? I'm confounded and amazed. And I have to say, it's a good thing I love Him now, have discovered this new, radical, Revolutionary Jesus or this would be incredibly irritating. As it stands, it's the most beautiful thing I've ever seen.

I've been asked to give the message at a monthly women's meeting in our community and have been concerned about the topic. Mainly because I didn't have one. But as I sat in prayer this evening and asked Him what He wanted me to tell them, the word shame just kept impressing itself on my heart, the Master's voice whispering it over and over. My response was hesitance. I'm supposed to be speaking to them about the pregnancy resource centers and our expansion plans, not going off in some random direction. Perhaps I should have been more specific with Him, I think.

There are times when I have trouble processing the incredible transformation which has taken place in my life over the last year or so; my family has changed, my heart has changed, my work has changed and changed again. I don't recognize my life anymore, and I won't lie to you, sometimes it's very disconcerting. But I have given myself over, surrendered my life to Him who has called me forward into His unimaginable, perfect plan for my life. And the plot keeps twisting and changing and moving and surprising me.

Less than two years ago I sat here and wrote out my decision to seek out this elusive God who had never really been real to me. Today a different woman writes to you- and says- that God is real, tangible, living...and it is the living part of who He is that I'm dwelling on tonight. It's that Living God that I will follow into the weirdest places, like a women's meeting where I speak on shame- or a youth group where I teach abstinence and personal value...or a church where I speak about rising up and waking up and being what we're supposed to be, for the love of God. The hardest place to follow this God? My own heart. All those places I've roped off, boarded up, left abandoned for the pain. It shows a tiny amount of progress that I allowed it today, surrendered to it. Of course, in part, I allowed it because I was still under the impression that we were talking about other people.

It surprised me to feel my own reaction to the word shame, sense that hesitance. Why does it upset me to think about writing on that subject? Why can't I talk about it? I think it's because I know I don't have the answer for those women- or at least I didn't a few hours ago. Worse yet, I didn't have the answer for myself. Shame was still such a large part of who I was, though I know the Christian terminology and theology behind being "free" of such things. Terminology and doctrine are for the mind, but Christ himself is for the heart. And This was a deep well of suffering in my own heart- a cistern which could not be reached by reason or filled with logic. (Between you and me, it is incredibly frustrating to approach Him with a question about others and have Him perpetually turn the tables and say, "Let's talk about you."

As many of you know, I'm a question asker. I believe fully that He is able and willing to answer my questions as I seek to know Him because He wants me to know Him! And so I asked, because I truly didn't know the answer- Why are we free? The real question of course being, How can I be free at last of these things that still haunt me? Give me the formula, spell it out, just tell me, a heart cry lifting through the broken tiles of the ceiling in a cold, empty room so far from my normal routine.

I know in my own life, there are days when I certainly don't feel free no matter the cost paid for me to be so. I am captivated by so many things, weak so often, wanting so often, lacking this or that or everything which might make it all different, chase away the shadows, bring back the simple joy that once we all knew before the reality of this world, the dark surround, the broken dreams of our hearts, the missing pieces of the lives lived out before us, were fully known, before disillusionment stained our views.

I took a few moments after asking this to be irritated with myself that all of my questions seem so elementary, even after all this time in study, and then was so blessed by His quick response, The Resurrection, the word echoing almost audibly in the small hotel room where I sat in silence, alone with these questions, these thoughts- or as alone as one can be when questioning the Almighty.

As is true with much of what He says to me, I didn't get it at first. Why would the resurrection be responsible for my freedom? Why was his raising to life after that ordeal even important to the Story of who He was, who He is? His death paid the price. So why the resurrection? Wasn't it over at that point? 'It is finished...' He said as he hung on the cross, so....wasn't it?? Perhaps I'm the only one who hasn't been absolutely certain what the raising of my Savior actually accomplished on that first Easter all those centuries ago. And certainly I didn't stop to ask these questions all those years ago when I lived in the dark room of misunderstood religion. Easter was a dress up Sunday, that much I knew. But the joy escaped me. The beauty escaped me. The miracle of it all escaped me. And most definitely, the why escaped me.

And so I humbly bring my questions now- to the throne of grace where all human questions will eventually come.

Theologically, we understand the resurrection as the climactic moment of Jesus' ministry, the moment when the tombstone is rolled away, the graveclothes left behind, the God of our salvation a slave to death no longer, and we ourselves no longer under it's dark obligation. As if that wasn't enough reason to sing or dance or pour forth joy and hallelujahs! To know the true beauty of what He has accomplished for my tomorrows, my life everlasting, the chapter which will be written when this book is finished- an unending chapter.

A.W. Tozer writes, "It is God Almighty who puts eternity in a man's breast and tomorrow in a man's heart and gives His people immortality, so what you see down here really is not much. But when the bird of immortality takes to the wing, she sails on and on, over the horizon and out into the everlasting tomorrows and never comes down and never dies."

One could not find more beautiful poetry to describe the act of the resurrection power in the life of a believer. "Immortality which sails on and on, and never comes down and never dies." Therein lies the heart of the hope of everyone who is born of God- the possibility of a chapter after this one, an unending story for all God's children- and not just to be forever, but to be with Him forever.

I think of precious Mary Magdalene, the beloved friend of Christ, first introduced to him in Luke chapter 8 and a faithful follower throughout the time she knew him. She was first to the tomb on that fateful day, first to see the stone rolled away and the graveclothes left behind, and seeing all of this, her already broken heart shattered further thinking that those that had killed her Jesus had also stolen his body. Hadn't they done enough!?
What confusion she must have felt when the man approached her in the garden beyond the grave. What joy when He said her name, in the way only He could, in the way she had heard Him say it so many other times, and what relief and amazement to look in His eyes, His perfect, healed, beautiful eyes. I am overwhelmed with the love she must have felt as I read these passages, see her face in my minds eye, hear the catch of her breath as she finally understands that it's Him, that He loves her, that the story is not over, nor will it ever be. So much was known in the soft whispering of her name on that morning outside the tomb, so much more restored than a simple heartbeat or the breath of a man.

Hope was restored. Life was offered back into humanity and death was conquered. Forever.

It's this same man who whispered my name a few years ago, in the way that He'd whispered it so many times before. It was Him, patiently calling and calling and calling- until finally, I heard Him, recognized the sweet cadence of His call on my heart, and answered the One who was offering me my life back, my hope back, calling to me as He had called to Lazarus, 'Come awake!'

These eyes opened into darkness at His shout, my lungs filled, my heart of stone rolled away and light poured in. I am breathing in and breathing out this revelation that life is mine, life for now and life everlasting. Like all of those who've opened their eyes at the sound of His call on their life, His resurrection power is for now, almost as much as it's meant for the unending chapter at the end of our stories. He is still raising the dead. He is still calling us out of the rubble of our deaths, leading us out of our tombs and welcoming us into the light with a whisper of our names.

I am free. And contrary to what I've always thought, I have not been freed by His death, but by His
L I F E.

But what of shame? What of the things that haunt me, haunt us all? I go back to what Tozer has said, "What you see down here really is not much." These things that hang onto us beyond our resurrections to Jesus are merely graveclothes from a life to which we've died, tattered remains of a life that's ended and buried, the wrappings of a decayed flesh which we have left behind at the call of our names, the moving of the stone, the beckoning of the light of Love.

I will let them fall, Beloved, as we all must, onto the dusty ground of the tomb I leave behind. They are no longer mine to wear, nor yours.

For me, and for all who answer His call, He says,

"{I will} comfort all who mourn,
and provide for those who grieve in Zion-
To bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the Lord for the display of His splendor.
...instead of their shame, my people will receive a double portion, and instead of disgrace
they will rejoice in their inheritance;
and so they will inherit a double portion in their land,
and everlasting joy will be theirs.

...I delight greatly in the Lord;
my soul rejoices in my God.
For He has clothed me with garments of salvation
and arrayed me in a robe of righteousness.

Isaiah 61:1-3, 10-11

"When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true,
Death has been swallowed up in victory.
Where, Oh death, is your victory?
Where, oh death, is your sting?"

1 Corinthians 15:54-55

Monday, August 30, 2010

"If God has come in the flesh, and if God keeps coming to us in our fleshly existance, then all of life is shot through with meaning. Earth is crammed with Heaven, and Heaven, when we finally get there, will be crammed with earth. Nothing wasted. Nothing lost. Nothing secular. Nothing Absurd...all are grist for the mill of a down to earth spirituality."
Paul Stevens

This has been such a long road, I have to tell you. And it is not over, nor will it ever be, as long as I continue walking forward in this strange and beautiful love affair that is my faith. This is my sanctification, my process, this is Him making me holy, one day, one failure, one temptation, one glimpse, one memory, one hallelujah at a time. This is my dance with a loving Father God who has called me forward. It begins and ends with Him.
As you may remember, this journey began in December. I can once again thank my friend S. for catapulting me onto a rough and rocky road of self discovery when he asked me why I was wasting my life. My answer after much thought, was that I had no idea who I was. I didn't know my value, if, in fact, I had any. I was lost. Broken. Left behind. Waiting....for something. And so, in desperation, in heartache, I gambled with the Almighty. The question to Him was simple:
Am I Valuable and can you prove it?
I gave myself a year. I was convinced that this was the question whose answer would transform me, change me, into the steadfast, worthy Christian woman I was supposed to be. You see, I want so much to be whatever it is that I'm supposed to be in order to please this Savior that I am only now coming to know. And regardless of effort, there seems to be nothing I can do to be worthy of Him, try though I might. I can't describe the desperate effort that went into every word from my lips, every thought and hurt and blessing- they were rich in intention and impoverished in result. How can I ever be enough for Him? How can this scarred and wounded soul ever face Perfection and stand?
My triumphs one day would be crushed with failures the next, the proverbial three steps forward. I could never have found God on the path that I was on. That was a road of self worship. Ironically, I never would have found myself on that road either. It was a circular trail of legalistic nonsense; good behavior and worthiness equals God, which in turn equals good behavior and worthiness, which again, equals God...can't have one without the other, and on and on forever. Endlessly, pointlessly. It is absolutely no wonder that my understanding of my value had suffered.
I had been working day in and day out to be good enough for this elite faith to which I'd given my soul. My standing, my inheritance, my blessings and my ability to accept love were based totally on myself and the good works of which I was sometimes capable. I lived every moment for the affirmation it might afford me when a task was finished well, meanwhile reliving a lifetime of failures in my own mind at days end when the lights were out and my family slept. I was haunted by my shortcomings, promising myself and God that I would be different tomorrow, I would be worthy tomorrow, as if sleep erased my sin. It is a heartbreaking nightmare to wake daily and find that you are the exact same person you were when you went to bed.
The reality of sin is that it is not a series of mistakes or bad choices. As S. has said, we aren't mistakers, we're sinners. We can no more be free of this than we can be free of our skin color, the sound of our own voice or our humanity. I can choose not to steal or not to commit adultery. I cannot choose to not be a sinner. It is my souls state. To deny it is to scourn my humanness, to lose all connection with the world around me and in turn, to alienate those among us who would benefit so greatly from seeing His mercy played out to the end.
What I have to this point, failed to understand is that while my value is not increased with good behavior, neither is it decreased with bad behavior. I am not less valuable if I steal or commit adultery and am not suddenly holier if I avoid those things.
My value does not lie in my accomplishments, my beauty, my sense of humor or my talents.
My value, in its entirety, lies solely in my position as a deeply loved, fully redeemed, grace given sinner who has been purchased out of death, swept away by extravagant mercy and placed in the position of a complelety pleasing child of the Most High God.
I have value because of who God crafted me to be and much more in this than in the tiresome braggart I've contrived apart from Him in the role of a striving, grasping, greedy demi-god of a self-worshipping religeon.
It is a beautiful paradox that only when we see how truly UN- God-like we are, how debased and sinful, how spiritually impoverished, how shallow, petty and selfish, can we look to God as the authentic, loving, holy and merciful Creator who designed us. Only then, being firmly grounded in our realistic position to Him, can we see ourselves clearly; as deeply cherished and jealously guarded treasures of the Father.
Our value comes from Him, flows through Him and returns to Him as we come to fully understand His great and impossible love for us, stepping forward from the shadows of self worship and finding finally, the God-given, grace created role we were meant to fulfill: our vocation...
Our deepest Calling.
To. Be. His.
May you know this, too.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Ice floes...part two

My husband and I spent our weekend in the garden. The unseasonal warmth and sunlight brought out the neighborhood children, including ours, and offered a false sense of impending spring. I fell for it and bought plants. I'll never be sorry for hoping too soon, for spring or anything else.

We have talked of my back story and the winter within. We've talked of war and loss. We've visited the weavers hut and heard the faint promise of a season to come, whispered of from far beneath the snow. But even as the narrator, I cannot tell you what is behind the Weaver's smile, cannot look onto his loom and tell you what the tapestry will be- my interest lies beyond his small house, in the garden, under the frozen layer where a tendril, strong and green, has begun to stir and spin and melt the snow around it with the warmth of its hope.

I was raised on five acres. As an adult, that doesn't seem like much. But from the vantage of childhood, that small piece of property was a wilderness of possibility. I knew every tree and path and crossing and spent a good portion of my youth covered in the dirt of that land.
The house itself sat far back from the winding country road, surrounded by ornamental cherry's and the deep green of cedar and fir. In the winter, the quarter mile walk from the end of our drive where the school bus picked us up and dropped us off, was long and snow covered. My brother and I didn't walk those accumulated miles together. He jumped off the bus and trudged ahead, not wanting contact. I let him go.
We walked in silence, his gate so much faster than mine that soon he was out of sight, down the hill and around the bend towards home. I took my time, kicked the snow, watched the sky change to afternoon gray, went carefully so I didn't spook the heron that sometimes stole the bullfrogs from the duckpond. Down the hill and past the lower pasture where our horses stood ankle deep in frozen mud and manure, breathing in the cold air and letting it bellow out of their great lungs like ghostly apparitions in the late afternoon chill. It was a walk in silence and frost and darkness. A walk alone, the way we both preferred it.
As the years passed, season changing into season, I learned which tree's showed springs earliest growth, which lilies woke first and broke through frozen ground. I learned to watch carefully, and listen carefully, for the signs. A relationship formed between myself and that land, those tree's, the row of weeping birch that ushered the child home, the dignified Iris at the corner of my horses barn, the deep foliage of Hosta beneath the deck stairs where it was shady in summer's heat. When I think of a garden, this is what I know; season after season, when it is loved, it remains faithful. It always returns.
At the end of that stand of Birch along our drive, stood a solitary tree. It wasn't a birch and it stood out horribly against the backdrop of those enormous, towering giants. Small and slim and ordinary, it appeared never to grow, remaining a sapling for what seemed like decades. I don't know who planted it or where it came from, but it sprouted right in line with all those glorious birch, wise with their fifty plus years, casting their shade over the smaller. It never blossomed, never twisted, never did anything other than just stand there and be ordinary. But of all my fathers garden, out of all his specimen plants and roses and Japanese Maples and Lilies, this tree was my favorite.
When all the garden was still sleeping in winters ice, this tree began to grow. It became ritual to stop and examine on my way down the long road towards home, to look in on the little tree where she stood in line, proudly defiant, to pull her branch down and feel along the curve for the evidence of buds, the slight lift of bark. And it would always be there, in early February, tiny breaks that would be leaf and branch and spring. Within weeks those breaks were embryonic leaves, tightly curled against the cold. And then, as if they'd had enough and were just going to face the frost, they exploded into green. And that little tree, alone in a line of older, wiser peers, was life, and breath, and promise. It held my hope in it's branches.

When my father left and I began to move from place to place, I left that tree and all the others, all those relationships, behind me. Fall came, and all the once loved leaves of spring and summer, released and fell to die, and it seemed for some time that spring would never come again. I steadied myself from heartache, from orphanhood, and walked forward into a winter that endured indefinitely. No tears would fall, no smile lay fully open to joy, the heart would sit dormant and chilled and wait for peace or hope to find it, beating quietly in this half breathed life.

For some it's cancer, for others it's death or divorce or Jesus, the thing that awakens them to the life in which they live and walk and speak and are. Something happens and then it's as if they know something that everyone else has missed somehow and suddenly they're flooded with maybe...or joy...or understanding. And they are quite suddenly alive.
For me, it's been different. It's been quiet at times and screaming at me at others. It's been laughter over coffee. It's been Long Island Iced tea's on a dark deck, the smell of a friend's pipe tobacco reminding me of my grandfather and simpler times. It's been running, literally, in the middle of winter when it's fourteen degree's and so cold I lose feeling in my face, running and running, miles at a time, and wondering what I'm running from.
When that first tear fell in November, over something small and delightful, a tear of joy, I panicked, worried that it would be like breaking a dam, the flooding destructive, and I struggled for control. When it happened again, I wrote my pastor a letter of concern and told him something horrible was happening.
When we cleaned our basement and I realized I'd wasted ten years of my life storing away my hopes and dreams and 'valuables' on shelves in a basement and not in the people that I truly care about, I wept. In public. In front of actual people as I told the story at a friends house. And as a sign of loyalty, my friend wept with me.
Behind these moments, there has been a sound, steady, continuing, strong. The sound of ice breaking, that eerie groaning that signals danger. And it does, to some extent, signal that for me. But I'm not standing on that frozen tundra. I'm beneath it. And that sound is freedom, too. It's the sound of life returning to the garden, the rush of the creek, the song of finch, the silent growth of that little tree at the end of the Birch stand, unfurling her leaves in spite of the barren winter around her, the steady drip of melting ice falling away, rushing away, in the light of hope.

I can look back now with peace, into that tiny, childish bedroom where my father used to sit and tell me stories. I can see him sitting there even now, head lowered, voice quiet and the child watching every word with eyes full of wonder. I'm a woman at the door. And I can reach, and slowly close it, can say goodbye to that sweet girl who didn't deserve to be left. And goodbye, too, to the man who hurt too much to stay.
It's usually only with time that I can look back and see clearly, as if I have to get a certain distance away before the past really makes sense. I'm happy to say that I think I've finally gotten to that point, made peace with my old hauntings and let them drift back where they belong permanently. I'm an orphan of sorts, and I've found balance in that. I wouldn't want to change it now, even if I could. It's my story. As much a part of me as that tiny tree.
At this discovery, sunlight spills across the floor and beckons to warmth. To hope.
It's too nice to stay inside. Spring is here. And I want to spend it in the garden.

At the Weaver's hut, the snow is gone. That tiny tendril has grown tall in the corner of His garden and has stretched into a strong sapling, ordinary, but lovely. And still defiant. She is the first to open her leaves in winter. She will never be sorry for hoping too soon. For spring, or anything else.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Ice Floes part one

Too much has happened lately to be able to write it in only one part, so I'm unpacking this one in smaller pieces; for my benefit and for yours.
Understanding ourselves at present is entirely dependent upon whether we understand where we've been, who we've come from, what paths we've walked, and this is my time to look back over my shoulder at the places I've been and the people that have touched my life, the ghosts that still linger.
Such an integral part of our stories are the stories that are told before we come to be, stories that weave themselves into who we are and where we're going like a tapestry in time, a fabric of life and love and moments...

y father was fifteen the year he enlisted in the army. The "police action" in Korea was underway and he and a friend stood in line to sign their names and board a bus and take a flight to the other side of the world, to a winter-frozen hell where they would tread in soaked boots through feet of snow on endless marches, huddle together in muddy foxholes while the rain poured down, breathe in the thick air of a Korean summer months later.

As a child, the old black and white photographs of the Korean villages fascinated me
, photographs with tattered edges, carrying the faces of people I would never know in a land I would never see. I didn't know then how deeply those other lives, those far distant memories that weren't even my own, those days long past, would carve themselves into my heart, into who I am.
My father rarely spoke about Korea. The hurts were too deep, the scars still present; deep gouges on his legs where the shrapnel remained, where the bullet lodged itself. The scars on his heart were deeper and harder to see. His silence fascinated me, too. Unchartered territory would always draw me.

I can close my eyes now and see his face in the dark, bending over my tiny white bed to say goodnight, to rub his rough face on my cheek so he could listen to me laugh. It hurt, but it was worth it.
Tell me a story, Daddy.
He would sigh and ease his heavy boxers frame down beside me..."Once upon a time..."
"No, Daddy! About Korea! Tell me another story about Korea."
Another sigh.
"My commanding officer was a black man..." He would begin and in his deep daddy voice he would tell of heroism and bravery and courage.

In the quiet dark of my bedroom, with ruffled curtains and an array of little girl toys, with blue moonlight seeping in through the windows of that childish space, my father talked of Korea, of the villages and the people and his company of officers. He talked of the day he was shot and how his African American sergeant carried him for more than five miles to take my young father to the medics. He talked of the day the grenade fell into their foxhole and how another friend pushed him to safety and laid his body over my fathers to protect him from the blast. My father came home with metal in his legs. His courageous friend didn't come home at all. I don't know why he could talk about it then, in the dark of that innocent place, telling it to a child who couldn't really understand, but he did. And I'm so grateful.

I laid very still and listened and loved and was won over by the first hero of a girls heart. Sometimes I fell asleep while he murmured. Other times the stories were too enchanting and I would fall asleep much later, reliving them in my imagination.

I wanted to be just like him.

Those stories touched me and instilled in me a deep sense of patriotism, of pride and also, a deep need for this hero to approve of me. I would spend our remaining time together trying to prove that I was tough enough, strong enough to be his daughter. I wasn't weak or afraid or little. I was a hero, too. And hero's don't cry. They don't tremble. They don't hesitate. Hero's hold their chins up and keep fighting.
Over the coming years I would have plenty of opportunity to practice this hero's mantra. My father would eventually leave without even a goodbye. My older brother, another hero, would also go his own way and I wouldn't see him for almost a decade. That little girl in the dark, quiet room would wait forever for her father to kiss her goodnight, for her brother to come home, but they would not return.
I determined that not a tear would fall for that pain. I wouldn't cry for them no matter how my heart broke. I replaced my brokenness with rage and pride and buffered myself with sarcasm and sharp reposts. At fifteen years old, I could take care of myself, just like my father had. I didn't need anyone now. I wouldn't ask for help, admit weakness, shed a tear, voice a hurt, show love, express joy or come to need another person. Life became a battleground and every encounter was full of possible dangers, other avenues down which my father could walk when he left me again and again and again in memory and in the painful rejections of others. I made the choice to be alone.

And then, as if winter were somehow creeping like darkness into me, the angry cold of bitterness and hurt and utter aloneness formed like a coiling wraith, like ice around my heart. The child was gone. That quaint room with the white bed had faded into dim past and now only the woman remained, a woman who could not weep. Not for pain or joy or beauty or fullness- but who could only live the half-breathed life of self preservation, a life in shadows where the sun never reached, where soil is cold, dormant, frozen and sterile- a life lived in perpetual winter, starving for light.

This is my back story. The history of who my father was and how his life touched mine and made me who I am. This is my tapestry, woven of war, marred by winters frost.

In another room, soft with the glow of candlelight, another Father sits and thinks of his daughter. And he begins to weave, His old hands adding red and green and gold, threads of mercy and protection and grace to a life marred by loneliness and heartbreak. In the soft light He smiles and thinks of how pleased she will be when He's finished, when she finally knows that her father never left her, that He has watched her sleep and held her hand. He has plans for this tapestry of living and his eyes fill as He thinks of them. Suddenly though, he stops, as if listening.
Beyond His quiet weaver's room the snow falls, but beneath it, in the fertile soil of the weaver's garden, something stirs...

growth, it seems.

The weaver nods as if in agreement. Yes, it is time for spring.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Revolutionary Jesus

I want to be honest, and yet it's so hard for me to say this, like this, so publicly; this heresy. But I'm going to do it anyway, because I don't think I'm alone, because it's part of my process and because the very idea that I don't want to do something usually makes me all the more inclined to push through it and do it anyway, if only to say that I completed the difficult task.

I have hated Jesus.

Hated him and not just a little, but in the depths of who I am. I believed him to be an absolute FAKE. What a hoax! Man in God, on earth, to take my sins, pay the price, ascend into "heaven" to be seated at the right hand of God and someday to return to Earth and establish a perfect kingdom and rule forever. Sounds like a fable.
But the fairy tale qualities of this story were not the root of my avoidance, my anger or hostility towards this kind shepherd who's always pictured in clean, white robes and sandals, hands outstretched, red cloak around his shoulders and a peaceful expression on his tan face. Those were Sunday school images and I knew they were the fabric of imaginations. I know that still.
I couldn't know that picturesque Jesus, that man who never made a mistake, or had a personality, or told a joke. That Jesus didn't solve world hunger, heal my cancer-stricken grandmother even though she believed that He would. The Jesus that so many Christians want to follow didn't always do what he was supposed to do. And He wasn't very real, this marvelous lie, not even real to His own people; not in the churches I've visited. Not in the chancel of my own heart.
Modestly dressed women stood in worship in the sanctuary's of those churches, raised their hands in worship and then bit each other in the backs once they were out the doors, ignoring the desperate needs of other women to be loved without judgment, to talk to someone, to relate, to be free.
The suit clad men stood alongside their wives, looking dignified, sometimes humbled, other times strong and straight, exemplifying traditional Christian manhood, even preaching the 'word of god' from the pulpit, all the while having gay lovers waiting in the wings, a bottle in their desk drawer, pornographic websites bookmarked on their desktops, perfection too heavy to carry, humanity demanding to be released, acknowledged, unavoidable though they try, though we all try.

What are we to make of this modern day church? What am I to make of this ridiculous, pompous display of our "convictions"!? I am shouting this in writing. No WONDER non-believers hate us. No WONDER they don't believe a WORD THAT WE SAY!


What an arrogant church we've become. What an arrogant people. What an arrogant person I am. I look back over my years as a 'Christian' and wonder if I was ever really following Jesus or just putting on nice clothes on Sunday and showing up at the clubhouse for practice. I hate the Jesus that lived in me because that Jesus looked exactly like the worst parts of myself; prideful, judgmental, critical, arrogant and conceited, 'perfect' and proud of it, better than you. And I don't need that Jesus. I can be all of those things by myself, no assistance necessary. And I'll probably get a lot farther in life because I can stop giving my money to causes I don't believe in or really, know anything about.

I didn't believe a word I said, a thought I held, a conviction I possessed. They were all just 'initiation fee's' for the club I was attending at the time. Did I tell people about Christ? About His love? About a change in my life? Well, no. Because I didn't have any idea what that love crap meant, because there hadn't really been a change in my life that behavioral modification couldn't explain and because I hated Jesus. He was so freaking unappealing. Also, the thought crossed my mind that if I talked about my church to whatever person was in front of me, they might attend. And we can't have just anybody you know.

God forgive me, my soul whispers. Forgive me.

Forgive me for avoiding the eyes of the needy, for pretending to be too busy to acknowledge the homeless, the ugly, the bedraggled, the abused. Forgive me for being choosy about the 'kind of people' I associate with, forgive me for my righteous indignation when someone doesn't live life my way, doesn't worship my way, doesn't take communion my way, doesn't look the way a good Christian should look, behave and be. Forgive me, God, for allowing my personal Jesus to come to the forefront; that Jesus who is the mascot for my own desires and prejudices and for taking up my martyr's cross to follow him. Because, yes, I HATE the Pharisaical Jesus of my own invention. No wonder he's unappealing. He's constructed of fantasy and wishful thinking, formed out of pride and raised to life by the breath of self worship.

I want to walk the lakeshore with a God who is real. That God who whispered to me about His delight in who I am, his presence in the darkness calling me forward to know him truly, to abandon this charlatan Jesus of my selfish ideals and become a follower of the man who fed the hungry and loved the poor, who offered water to the thirsty and gentle grace to the adulteress, the prostitute, the lost. The man who's greatest instruction for our lives was to love one another. Who told me to care for the orphans and the widows, those who suffered, those who hurt, those who were lonely and broken. Would I know that Jesus if He stood before me? I'd like to say yes...

I want a faith who's hands are rough and calloused, worn from action, marred with the beauty of beliefs put to use. I want a faith who's feet are covered in the dust of villages with no running water and tired from walking, running, driving, to those who need a friend, a meal, a conversation, encouragement, love. I want a faith who's heart breaks for the children of our worlds orphanages, breaks for China's mothers who are forced to put their daughters to death, breaks for the fathers of Malawi who watch their wives and children starve and waste away to ashes, breaks for the fifteen year old kid next door who's mother is on meth and who's father died last year, breaks and breaks and breaks, this heart of faith that pounds out it's convictions on the inner workings of my soul.

I am done with this ridiculous image of jesus that I've been carrying around all my life. I don't want the tidy god that welcomes the tidy Christian to church every Sunday. I want the messy, dust covered, blood soaked God that walked the streets touching people with healing hands. I want the God who turned over the tables of injustice. I want to follow that Revolutionary Jesus into a life marked by love, marked by change, marked by growth, touched by grace and full of mercy.

What do I know of who He is? What do I know of this God who calls me? I know the call is irresistible, irrevocable, beautiful. And I'm drawn forward into knowing Him and through Him, to knowing myself, another mystery.

"An identity grounded in God would mean that when we think of who we are, the first thing that would come to mind is our status as someone who is deeply loved by God."
David G. Benner
The Gift of Being Yourself

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Forgiveness Challenge

My list was longer than I thought and it's taking some time. I also procrastinated for almost a week, looking at my legal pad, which is practically attached to me everywhere I go, looking at my pen, also attached, and avoiding them like the plague.
In my mind I could easily list the small wounds; there was the girl who's name I can't remember who was mean to me in Kindergarten (I've also realized through this process that I'm incredibly petty), a rude comment made by my grandmother when I was a teen, several years of verbal abuse from a relative that I wasn't that close to anyway, all the millions of mean things my brother did to me as a child which have resulted in a fear of stair cases and severe claustrophobia, etc. Those things were easy.
But when I thought about the truly difficult things; the way my father left, old rejections that truly, deeply wounded, a bitter and recent betrayal by someone I trusted wholeheartedly, and a few others- I came up against a wall which loomed hugely in front of me. It was a wall of fear...and of pride.
Fear because in order to really forgive someone, you have to take an honest look at what the hurt really was, realistically look at your own feelings, and those things are scary. They hurt, so it makes sense that we avoid them.
And pride because I felt I had the "right" to hold onto my anger and resentment like a hot coal in my hand, yelling, "I won't let go! You can't make me!! It's mine!" Well, yes, it is. But it's also continuing to wound me, debilitating me, with each passing moment. And who's really suffering here? Not my father. Not those who rejected me. Certainly not that mean girl from Kindergarten who I'm sure is a lovely individual now.

In the words of C.S.Lewis, "Forgiveness is a beautiful word, Until you have someone to forgive." and he's right, as he so often is. Forgiveness is not a choice we make once. It's a perpetual release, over and over, for what can often be many years or perhaps a lifetime. My father left when I was sixteen and then disowned me in an email because " if you're the kind of daughter I'm going to have, then I'd rather not have one." I remember those words as if they are engraved in stone, which in a sense, they are. They're written on the granite tablet of my heart.
His rejection is probably the most minor in the list of "impossible forgives" which I have been called to do. This is not to say that I have more of a right than anyone else to hang onto my bitterness, because certainly I do not, but only to say that I have a deep and personal understanding of the battle that we all face when asked, either by our God, or by the mere penalties we face in our lives for hanging onto those coals, to release others from the prison we think we've placed them in.
And, as my dear friend Nancy stated in her comment to The Root of Bitterness, Forgiveness is entirely a personal matter. It's not something we will succeed at simply by advertising that we've done it. We can ask and answer that question only for ourselves.
Last summer, I had a strange experience involving my anger towards my dad. Very randomly, on a day when I was busy doing other things and not really thinking about him at all, I felt a very real prompting to write him a letter. To which my response was, "Are you kidding me?! No way!"
I delayed and delayed, that feeling of prompting getting heavier and heavier, the way it does when you KNOW you're supposed to be doing something and you are NOT doing it. When the constant prompting became too annoying to continue ignoring, I sat down with pen and paper, gave myself a pep talk, and tried to write. Nothing happened. I'm a writer. I can write just about anything because for some reason, that's the way God made me, and I tell you, I could not write that letter.
I started over and over, Dear.....who? Not 'dad' certainly. And 'father' was way too weird. I tried his given name and that looked ridiculous, but a better choice than the familial, so I went with it. And then, where do I start? "Hey, nice to finally be writing. Been awhile. How are things?" Nope. I couldn't even put the words on the page without the anger boiling up inside me. I didn't know what to say. I could imagine him sitting there reading it and picking up the phone. I didn't want him to pick up the phone. I didn't want to talk to him. I didn't even want to be writing that stupid letter to that man! I was furious with him and I refused to be polite! I started again and again, but my letter always turned angry and bitter, full of resentment and accusations, and I couldn't send that! My dad had to know that I'd grown beyond that and that he no longer affected me. That would give him too much power and I wouldn't do it. I just wouldn't!
But I'd been asked to write the letter and that feeling wouldn't let me go. In frustration, I tore off the millionth sheet from my trusty legal pad and wadded it up, an action I loathed because it indicated failure, and I started over. My way. Obviously I had writers block and just needed to get the emotions out of the way before I proceeded.
I then spent the next hour writing the most scathing letter I've ever written to anyone. Obviously his given name was replaced in the introduction for a pronoun more appropriate to my feelings at the time. The rest of that literary masterpiece followed suit. Four pages, front and back. Later, I set my pen down and leaned back in my chair.
"Well." I said belligerently to that still, small voice who had prompted me to write it in the first place. "There it is. I wrote a letter, just like you said." and dripping with sarcasm and hurt, I added, "Shall I send it????"
I didn't really expect a response, but He surprised me with one anyway and said, very simply, very clearly, in the way He does that is unmistakably His own, "I didn't tell you to send a letter. I just told you to write one." ............oh.

And there it was. All my anger and bitterness and rage and rejection, all the words the child was never able to say to the parent that left them, written plainly in pen and ink, in my own words, undeniable. I hate it, though it's obviously needed, when The Lord reveals the contents of my heart. Especially when I'm trying so hard to hide them from myself and everyone else. I just hate it.
I hate it because it makes me weep. Because it causes me to look closely and realistically at the pain I feel, and not just the anger. I hate it because it makes me vulnerable to a God I don't fully understand and never will and because looking at who we really are is often gut wrenching and horrible.
I sat there that day last summer and cried for that child that I used to be. And I suppose that was when I was truly brave, when I accepted that he hadn't just wronged me when he left and said those terrible things. He had hurt me. He'd broken me. And part of me was always afraid that I'd never be put back together.

Now, was I supposed to restore the relationship with my father? Nope. Because forgiveness does not always equal reconciliation. Again, it's not about the other person. It's about us. I was only supposed to release him, and I am still in the process of doing that. I'm not where I want to be, sure. But I'm definitely not where I was! That day was a miraculous day in my life and I'm so thankful that The Lord did what He did, though it was painful at the time, because I have been slowly able to release that hot coal from my hand. And as I am able to do so, my heart is changed. My father's hurtful words are not what I want written on my heart when the book of my life is at it's end.
Forgiveness is a life giving process in the same way that it is a life giving process when someone is released from prison. The doors swing open, the light shines in and eyes that have not seen freedom in ages, look to the sun, the sky, the world, and it is full of possibilities, endless roads that may be traveled now that freedom has been won.

"For where the Spirit of The Lord is, there is freedom..." 2 Corinthians 3:17