Friday, November 28, 2003

Sorry for the long silence. Times have been very busy here. The thing I have been afraid to pray for has come to pass. My son's pee wee football team, the team my husband helps coach, is going to the Superbowl. Tomorrow.

This should be a time of utter joy for us. They have been doing this together for 7 years. As close as they have gotten (several times, I might add), this is the first time they made it all the way "to the show" as my husband likes to say.

Now comes the confession -- my struggle with God. My BIG struggle with God. I have held my breath over football many times over the years. You sports fans understand it all: the agony and ecstasy of victory and defeat. But for me it's something deeper. I don't trust God with this. I believe He is setting us up at the brink of happiness just to pull the rug on us at the last minute. ("You can look at the menu, but you just can't eat..." ) I am completely aware how awful my attitude is, but I have been unable to muster up hope for so long now, all that is left is cynicism. ...But you're going to the Superbowl,
you might be thinking -- where is the disappointment in that? Last weekend when we won that final playoff game, I was almost there. I could almost enter into the promised land. But still that pesky voice: "there's a whole week before the big event, " I heard my self warn me, " a lot can happen between now and then". In other words, don't count those chickens before they hatch.

And here it is. The Superbowl is tomorrow. And my son is sick. Real sick. He's been sick since Wednesday. He actually dragged his sick self to practice with my husband the coach, so he can stand on the sidelines and learn the plays. Just in case he's well enough to play.

I have been doing a little fist shaking toward heaven. "How could you do this to him AGAIN?" One year it was chicken pox -- he played his heart out to the playoffs and couldn't finish the season due to chicken pox. It broke his heart. ( And moms know what that means--- it broke mine to see it.) And now the Superbowl. Is there a lesson in this? Please, let me know, because I really can't see it.

I have thought in terms of Moses-- leading the people to the promised land, but never going in. I heard a miraculous radio message yesterday about Moses learning that "nothing is impossible with God", so with whatever faith I could muster I prayed over my son with miracles in mind. "Lord, nothing is impossible with You. Heal my child so he can realize his dream." Then I think, if nothing is impossible with you, then why are you doing this to him?

I am ashamed of my attitude. Really. I wish I could just embrace the joy of the reality: We're going to the Superbowl! This is in and of itself miraculous. I know that it was all God. He answered our prayers -- because nothing is impossible with God.. My son knows this and does not falter (despite his illness), my husband knows this and does not falter. But me, I expect the worst and usually get it.

So here is my plea -- to anyone who might read this -- my message in a bottle. I know that there are people who are sick and dying, cold and hungry, hurting and alone. I am none of these things. I am blessed beyond my ability to understand. Yet I am stuck -- jammed in this negative, cynical place -- unable to push past it. I feel like I am stealing something to ask for more blessing. As if I'd better save the prayers for the really important stuff in life. I don't want to see God through these glasses any more. He's distorted. I think, really, I hope, that I could enter into the promised land, if only I could get through here.

Please pray for me, a sinner. Please pray for my son and husband. They're going to the Superbowl. This is the sum total of their dreams at this place and time. I am the paralytic right now, and I need you to help me pray that they will play to win. That my son will be well, and able to play his best. That the team will come to play. That each boy would be well and able to play his best. That they would all see God's glory in this miracle. And I pray that this would only be the beginning of the dreams that will come true.

Tuesday, November 18, 2003

I've been thinking about a young woman I knew in college. I can't remember her name-- can hardly remember her face really -- but I remember her -- the feeling of her, the presence. She was in one of my study groups -- I can't even remember what class. She was a newlywed. (Married students were a novelty on my campus, so that alone made her unusual.) I seem to remember seeing her husband. I don't think I met him. If I did, he didn't leave much of an impression on me. They lived off campus with their really big German Shepherd. They were Orthodox Jews and kept a kosher home. She always wore a covering of some type over her head. Our blog discussion a while back about Beth Keck's uncovered head brought her to mind, and she hasn't gone away since.

We were acquainted strictly as a result of the study group we were assigned to. I think we were working on a project together. It's funny to me how many details have faded. Funnier to me is how well I remember her. I remember she was bright, self assured and confident. She seemed way older than me, even though she was close to my age. She was recognizable from a distance as a result of her uniformed clothing, her unusual (to me) head covering, and her dog. Her choice to live a kosher life was evident in many outward ways, most obviously in the context of her diet. On occasion, she would refrain from entering certain buildings or touching certain people. This seemed weird to me, but no more weird than other people I knew. She was kind and interested in me. A good friend. She accepted me as I was, so it was easy to accept her. We didn't spend an awful lot of time together, but the time we spent was nice.

The year I knew her, I lived in a place called "My Father's House" -- my housemates were a collection of representatives from many Christian denominations (there were 12 of us). The house was connected to and owned by the local Lutheran Church. My house was a place she would not enter. I wondered at the time if the house was unclean because of it's Christian affiliation. She seemed to be allowed to go into the Lecture Halls, the Library -- but not my house. Funny, she never made me feel unclean. She lived the life she was called to with grace, and never one time judged me. If anything, she made me feel valued. Loved.

Long after our project was done, I was in bed sick with the flu. She missed me in class that day. She made me chicken soup with matzah balls (homemade Jewish Chicken Soup -- from scratch). She brought it to my house in a Ball Jar and left it with a get-well note on the steps leading up to the front porch. She wouldn't step onto the porch, my house was unclean. One of my housemates saw her, leaning awkwardly to deliver the gift -- so as not to touch the porch or step foot on the property. I didn't see her do this, but I can imagine her efforts. Add to this picture snow and bitter cold. It still amazes me.

There was something magical about that soup. It has stayed in my system for 20 years now. It was and continues to be one of the nicest, most memorable gifts I have ever received. It was pure love in a jar. Every aspect of that soup has stayed with me. The effort she made to make the soup, to contain it, to bring it to my unclean house in the snow and cold was outside of the norm for even the best of friends. My own housemates didn't even notice I was sick!

You may wonder how I could let someone so precious slip away from me. How could I forget her name? She wasn't someone who stayed in my life for very long. She passed by. I had no idea how much a part of the fabric of me she would become. There are many who stayed longer, but not many who got in. There is a real piece of her that lives in me today. She comes to the surface times like now and makes me smile. She represents something I know but cannot seem to speak.

In all of this, the thing that blesses me the most is the incredible effort she made to physically place that soup on my steps without touching any part of the property. She believed me to be unclean with every part of herself, yet loved me enough to come near.


Monday, November 17, 2003

Did you ever want something so badly that you couldn't bear to say it? Even to yourself? Even to God? You pray about it, but it's more like you wish it out loud with about a thousand conditions surrounding it --

" Oh Lord, I really, really want this thing to happen -- but if it's not your will I totally understand -- I mean, you're God and all. Maybe you don't want this for me and if not, well, that's okay...I know with your busy schedule it's hard to get to me...and you've done so much for me already -- did I remember to thank you for all that today?....I'm really okay with everything just the way it is, so please disregard this message if I'm asking for too much....In fact, I don't really need the thing I'm praying for, so forget it. I'll catch you later..."

Now, the big generic stuff I have no trouble praying: "Thank you for the roof over my head and the jobs and the good health, please protect my family in body, mind and spirit; cover us with your grace, help us to grow in you..." and I have no trouble with the really Really Big Things, "Heal my neighbor's cancer, heal my other neighbor's muscular dystrophy, bring peace to the Middle East, bring home all those marines we know (and the ones we don't know) safe and in one piece, protect the children" Of course, the Really Big Things are easier when they are for someone else.

The Really Little Things aren't so hard, either. I pray about the silliest things: Help me find a parking space, help me find my keys, help us get to school on time, help me find a great bargain on the sale rack, help me find a public bathroom, please let it be clean -- I know I feel a sense of victory when these prayers are fruitful. I certainly thank God for his answer. But I'm not completely bummed out if it doesn't go entirely my way -- so what if I have to walk a little further now and then? I don't have to challenge my faith much to pray for the Really Little Things.

Despite all of my chattering to God, I often don't give him things that are important to me -- in fact I talk myself out of these things. I convince myself that this stuff of life isn't that important to me---maybe because when it doesn't work out it's one less thing to blame God for (ouch). Maybe if I don't admit that I really wanted something, I won't be bummed out when I don't get it. (even just saying it makes me feel like the spoiled brat I am...) Maybe I fear the unknown (I read the "Monkey's Paw" -- I'm well acquainted with life's ironies. Would I trade what's in my hand for what's behind door number 2? No thanks. Too Scary. Been down a few dark allies in my life and I don't want to risk it...) Maybe I have no faith....

I know this "be careful what you pray for" mentality doesn't fit the character of God. I've been to the 'Father Loves You' conference -- I know the tunes ... but I do it all the same. It's hypocrisy, I know. It's ugly. (Blugh) But I can't seem to step through it. It is the consequence of my own sinfulness. Perhaps a consequence of my own unrealistic expectations: expectations about life, expectations of how God should answer my prayers, other peoples' prayers....I've come to accept that life is disappointing in subtle ways. And really, I was okay with this gray zone until now --- because now I see it in my children. Tarnished Faith.

Lord, I'm sorry I don't trust you. I have an ungrateful heart. I feel that my faith is tarnished. I want to believe that I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength. I know that without you I can do nothing. Please help me to work through life's disappointments in a healthier way. They don't go away if I pretend they aren't there. I may have convinced myself that I don't mind -- but you know. And I suppose so does everyone else. I'm a big emu with my head in a hole. Thank you for loving me anyway. Now fix me. I want to come out.

Monday, November 10, 2003

I appreciate the comments. Thanks. I inherently know that "the church" is in the relationships--and there are those that remain. I know God is in this journey--and I am still searching. I must say, I am comforted by this odd communion of voices here within the blogs. But where am I going? I don't know.

I've been giving a lot of thought to the handicapped man in my dream, and how different the man I met was from the man I expected. Although I can't entirely get my head around this, I know it is connected to all we have been discussing. I promise I will work on the linking thing one of these days---but until I get the technology straight, you'll need to review the last paragraph of my last entry for the dream details.

In my dream, I am feeding homeless people. Although I don't really know this to be true, I conclude that these people are destitute. Needy. Why else would they be coming for food? Even as I write this I see and know the error of my thinking -- yet we all do this. We make judgments based on what we believe and expect. I am feeding the homeless with the expectation and belief that I have something to give them that they need -- I am in the power position here. They couldn't possibly have something for me. I am the feeder here, they are the fed.

God speaks to me in my dream as He does to Peter at the end of John. "Do you love me?" "Yes" "Then feed my little lambs." It is only after I answer 3 times that the handicapped man appears. He comes for food, I pray for him and he is healed. As I said in the last entry, I've watched for this guy. I expected him to be the most destitute of the group. After all, he is homeless (I conclude this) and handicapped. Again I conclude that he comes to receive what I have to give. The needy guy. The needy handicapped guy.

In the course of 16 years I no longer feed the homeless people at the location of my dream. I don't actually feed them anywhere, if you want to know the truth. I do however live in the vicinity of that dream. Amazing, really, since I never really intended to stay here. I actually own a home here. My children are locals. The people who led the food ministry are long gone. They have relocated; moved on. I remain. I have noticed the occasional homeless person here, and I wonder about my dream. They are regulars, too. I offered my help to a couple of them over time. Some received my occasional offers politely, others rejected my offers of help. Every time I see them, I am reminded of my dream. If I am looking, I can find them every day. Not one of them is handicapped, not on the outside where you can see.

I have thought on more than one occasion that if I could figure out this dream, I would be free to move on. I have prayed for God to help me figure it out, do what He wants me to do and let me go. But the days have turned to years and moving on would be really complicated. My husband and kids don't want to go. Almost every person I have connected with in the church, however, has moved away. We actually make jokes about this. I have said on more than one occasion, "of course God is telling you to move -- I am the ticket out of the hotel California" Florida, Idaho, Colorado, New York, Oregon -- They eventually all move on. On their way to the place God has for them. Transients. Pilgrims.

The man I met last month completely blindsided me. He was not remotely what I expected, even though he had the exact handicap of my dream. He is a remarkable young man. An inspiration. When I first had my dream 16 years ago he was only a child. Today he is one of my son's teachers. Actually connected to me this way. Feeding my little lamb. He is not remotely destitute. In fact, I didn't even consider him handicapped at first. He has so completely adapted to his incomplete body that he is more accomplished than most people I know. A human marvel.

So here I am. An unexpected turn in the road. A revealing of my twisted thinking. In my dream I saw a broken man, and God fixed him. In life I met a man that looks broken, but is actually more whole than most of the people I know. "People look at the outside of the person, but the Lord looks at the heart." (back to my favorite verse again). God has already fixed him. Just differently than I'd expect. And He didn't need me to do it. The man looks imperfect, but in his weakness he is made strong.

I think there is a church analogy here. In fact, it connects to everything I've been thinking of lately: our inability to interpret God's word without applying our mottled filters, incredible strength coming out of incomprehensible difficulty (E's life story -- sorry about the link again -- October archive), the Body of Christ -- God's faithfulness to me -- I have no answers now, only more questions. My dream is still unresolved, and I know less about where I'm going every day. But I must say, no matter what anyone can conclude or interpret about that dream, no matter what may come, it is a miracle that I was in a location I have stood now an uncountable number of times in the course of 16 years, and for the first time stood there with this unique man. The man in my dream. This is a moment that will take my breath away every time I think of it. A parting of the waters.

My final thoughts on this are unclear. I am confused. I believe God could heal this man if He wanted, but to what end? This man glorifies God in his incompleteness. Are we like this man? Have we adapted to our handicaps so well that we function without entire sections of the Body? Is this such a bad thing? Those without eyes hear more than I can imagine. Would they trade if given a choice? Aren't we but a fraction of what we'll be in heaven? Are we all just homeless and handicapped after all?

Lord, all I can do is put my hope in you. Everything I know to be true could fail. But you would remain. You are the only secure reality. Maybe everything else is the stuff of dreams.

Thursday, November 06, 2003

I have so many questions about church, and I am hoping that someone out there will answer. I really don't know who might be reading this, but then I wouldn't know where to begin to ask these questions anyway. So throwing the questions out like this seems a reasonable alternative to, say, not asking at all. Here goes:

It seems from the unique population that I have been reading on the blog sites that it is on many hearts to build a new church; A completely new, different, outside of the box church. It seems pretty consistent to say that the status quo is not really making anyone happy-- or at least I'm not seeing the blogs of very many happy church-goers. (I do see some, by the way.)

I should tell you that my family is currently "without church", in the sense that the church we had been attending closed down -- merged, actually, with another similar church. We hadn't really been all that happy in the old church, but we felt loyal to the congregation. Like any family, we figured there would be an ebb and flow to the love affair we had with this church. Our kids were pretty content, and so then were we. If I were to be specific about my personal place in the church, I would say I was burnt out. I was ready to be an observer for a while (a receiver, maybe) instead of a participant. This transition didn't really happen for me before the church closed. It had happened in a big way for my husband who had had just about enough of my absence from the family as a result of my duties at the church. He stopped going. He said if I wanted a full time job, to go back to work full time and at least provide a paycheck to the family for my efforts (I was working part time).

So, here we are. The church has closed. The new church didn't work for any of us (only my husband didn't try.) I have gone back to full time hours (providing the very needed paycheck, medical benefits, etc.) and actually do have way more time for my family than I did when I was volunteering at the "black hole" (as my spouse so lovingly declares.) My son (13) found not one but two great youth programs that he attends in our community (lots of big churches in my neck of the woods). We started attending a church really close to our house (not regularly -- but at least once a month). I do bible studies with my daughter (just 10) and morning prayer everyday with both kids. I listen to the radio preachers daily (not always my happiest times). I have meditated on what I loved about my childhood church and I started blogging. It ain't pretty -- but there you have it.

On the other hand, there is a huge difference between my "church" status and my "spiritual" status. I feel we have been so deliberate about our relationship with God -- (and each other) moreso without a church to call our own. Although I don't really feel like I want to live without one forever, I am not unhappy. I know if we ever find one, I won't be volunteering for anything too soon. And I also know that we intend to take our time in our quest.

As a result of this upheaval of sorts, I have been considering often what I personally value in a church, and then assessing what I have actually been getting. What have I been missing? The single most missed elements for me in church in my adult Christian life are the traditions, rituals and rites -- the structure provided by the more formal churches. What I missed in the formal church was the Living God, the Holy Spirit -- do you see the quandary? Birgit once said she missed the Liturgy. I do too, so much! Is it impossible to have both? If so, why? I feel like I have had to give up one thing to have the other -- and I don't want to do this. The majority of the many hours I spent at the church were spent building traditions that already exist somewhere else! If I spent just another 10 hours per week, maybe we could have outings for our pre-teens. Another 20, Vacation Bible School. Another 30, a Christmas Pageant. All because we wanted to reinvent the wheel our way. Why reinvent it? Why not breathe life into it? Has this already been tried? Is it impossible?

I really want to know your experiences. Remember, I am the eternal fly in the ointment. My childhood church was the only place I ever really felt loved. From the moment I was saved I was always aware that no matter how much God loves me, the Christian community couldn't accept me just as I am -- There would always be something unholy in me. Something unclean. I never felt that way in the formal church. Never. Everyone was welcome. Was this my unique little church? An unusual experience? Is the alienation I feel in the church a result of relocation? or is it the common experience in the church today? Am I reaching backward to something made beautiful by my happy memories?

My mother was a choir director. My tiny church had a pipe organ that played the most beautiful Bach in the hands of my dear friend "the organist" (every church had one)...I knew the harmonies of every hymn in the Episcopal Hymnal -- flash forward 20 years and my own dear son hearing "Silent Night" playing over the loud speaker in a mall looked up at me with 6 year old excitement and said "Listen, Mom! It's the Home Alone song!!" As funny as that is, it made me cry. I had failed to pass on the tradition, the history. I had thrown the baby out with the bath water. And now, I am hearing many people plan to do the same thing again. Dissatisfied with the way things are: Lets make a new one! Are you sure the old one is beyond repair?

I had a dream that may have nothing to do with any of this -- but then again it might. You choose: It is a recurring dream that I have pondered for 16 years. In it, I am feeding homeless people in a specific location (ironically close to where I live today). I hear the audible voice of God ask me "do you love me" (just like to Peter at the end of John) "yes Lord" "then feed my little lambs" 3 times He asks me, 3 times I answer. After the 3rd time, a man comes for food who has a very real and specific handicap. I pray for him and he is completely healed. I can't tell you how many times I had the dream. Since I first had this dream, I've married, had 2 children, bought a home, belonged to 3 churches, watched the first Gulf War, 9/11, life keeps powering on -- everything I did I looked at in the light of the dream. "Maybe if I would figure it out I could move on, " I'd say. Children's ministry, teaching certification, coaching, cub scouts -- "am I feeding the little lambs?" I ask. "is this what you mean?" I forget about the dream sometimes for months, and then something happens to remind me. Just recently (this month) I found myself at the very location of my dream (I'm there almost every day) and I didn't even consider the dream. Funny, I was there with a man baring the precise handicap of the dream. There was a time I looked for people with this ailment. I began to wonder if it meant something figurative. Then there I was, in the very place of the dream with someone who may well be the exact person of my 16 year old dream -- and I didn't notice. I didn't think of it. I came home that day and told my husband of my encounter with the man, and he stared at me in disbelief. I checked to see if I had food in my teeth. He said simply, "Did you feed him?".

At least I know God hasn't forgotten me.

Sunday, November 02, 2003

Wow. It's amazing to me still what happens when people talk about women and oppression. I have so much more that I could say about this, and one day I probably will. But today I want to comment on Laurie's note on the last blog. She basically wrote that you don't always land on the path of your choosing -- (I'm paraphrasing greatly, so you'll have to go and read her shout out). She touched a chord in me and I need to expand on that.

I am an incredibly happy Mom. I love that part of my life. I never could have imagined how awesome it would be no matter how many people described it. It is a total gift. A joy. I expected motherhood to bring sacrifice and struggles (and it does), but I never could have known how little those sacrifices compared to the sheer joy of it all. I cannot explain or measure how much I love my children. I believe that I never really knew love before motherhood. It was with motherhood that I realized how little I had actually known of God (as much as I thought I did...), let alone my mother and her mother. I would never trade this life for another -- but there is so much I expected of my life that is different than what you see today. And yes, there is something disappointing in that.

In my very first blog I grappled with this very subject. (Gen, maybe you could help me do that linking thing -- I think I need a permalink here...) (If I never get it going, you can link to it in the archives at the right...) Beth grappled with it as well (another moment that link would be really helpful). And now Laurie brought it back a full circle. We are all of us in some way in a place not of our choosing. For me, God put new hopes and dreams ahead of the old ones, and I am so grateful. But the old ones didn't go away. Sometimes I forget them and wonder if I ever really had any hopes and dreams -- life keeps moving along and I get older and older...and I feel like the dreams were meant for another time and for another me.

I recall an incredibly sweet and heartbreaking moment I shared with my son. He had just turned 4. He turned his perfect cherub face to me one night and asked me out of the blue "Do you remember your Grandma?" He took me aback. She had died 7 years before. "Of course I remember my Grandma." I started to describe her to him and he interrupted me. He placed his tiny chubby hands on my cheeks and pulled my face so I was looking into his eyes. "No," he said in almost a whisper, "do you remember her face?"

I cried that night, knowing that no matter how hard I tried, I didn't really remember her face. I pulled out photos that captured moments in time, but it could never amount to who she was to me. Grief I think is like that, sneaking up on you when you are long past thinking you were susceptible.

Tonight, I am grieving again. Only now I am imagining those chubby hands on my face, looking into my eyes, asking if I remember me. The me that used to dream big and hope for things unseen. The me that met every day head on and couldn't be brought down. The me that believed that tomorrow brought nothing but new opportunities and excitement. I believe that for my kids -- I steer them toward that future -- but I feel it slipping away from me. Those chubby hands have turned into a young man's hands: strong and handsome. And as much as I love the person he is today, I grieve for the child that was.

And I guess I feel the same way about myself. I like who I am today, even though I'm different than I'd ever thought I'd be. But I grieve for the child that was. And sometimes I wonder how many of my dreams were ever meant to be mine.

Tonight I keep hearing Isa 40: 27-31 (Why do you say, O Jacob, and complain, O Israel, "My way is hidden from the Lord; my cause is disregarded by my God"? Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.)

---Lord, I feel pretty stupid and ungrateful when I admit I am disappointed in my awesome life. My faith is so weak: I feel like I hear you and know your promises, but then I vacillate and don't believe I really ever knew anything. Lord help us to sort through our hopes and dreams. Please keep them alive in us. My busy life exhausts me --- but what really makes me weary is waiting on You. How impatient I must seem to You! Be the lifter of my head. Set my eyes on you. Life is hard. Waiting is harder. But going anywhere without you is worse. Steady me, Lord. Direct me. And give me hope. Thank you so much for your goodness to me, despite myself.--