Friday, September 11, 2015

Alan Jackson, Big Bird, and C.S. Lewis -- A 9-11 Recollection

I wrote this four years ago to share with my writers' group in response to an assignment to share a 9-11 recollection. I decided to share it publicly (well, semi-publically) this year. This was written ten years after 9-11 occurred. Four years later, I am still amazed at the healing, grace and redemption of our story that we have found in Jesus. He redeems everything.

"Where were you when the world stopped turning?" Alan Jackson’s voice mourns as devastating images of the crumpling World Trade Center flash across the screen. I am sorting laundry that has reached epic levels. It is September 11, 2011. Ten years ago today the world changed. This date has become for my generation the "Where were you when . . .  " question. I am mesmerized by the programs of remembrance airing on this somber anniversary. 

My 13 year old enters the room, stops, and stares at the screen. For a split second, I think I should lunge for the remote control and quickly change the channel to something happier, more pleasant. But she is mesmerized now too . . . .

Suddenly, in my mind it is ten years ago. I can’t remember exactly what I was doing when I first heard the news. Perhaps I was sorting laundry then, too. It does seem to be the task that never ends. I do remember deciding not to go to work that day. Things felt too unstable, unpredictable. Allison, then three years old, seemed perfectly content with the idea of playing hooky from preschool and promptly planted herself in front of the television to watch Sesame Street. I slipped into the bedroom to watch more news.

I was glued to the screen as the world learned that the Pentagon had been hit. "What in the world is going on?" I mutter . 

I wander down the hall to check on Allison, who is now giggling because Elmo is talking to his goldfish, Dorothy. She's fine, oblivious. I return to the utter horrors being revealed on the other television set. Now a fourth
plane has crashed. I have never experienced a national crisis of this level. I am afraid.

But I have a preschooler who needs to be checked on so I shove fear aside and traipse back down the hallway. Big Bird is working on his counting skills. 12 cookies, 12 doggies, 12 flowers. 

She senses my presence. "Hi, Mommy".
   "Hi, pumpkin."
   "The number of the day is 12! I can count to 12!", she says exuberantly.

"That’s wonderful, honey",  I stumble back to the bedroom. Nothing has changed on CNN except perhaps things seem even more horrific.

"Oh God. My little girl is so innocent, so carefree, so happy. She has no idea what is going on. She doesn’t know that evil exists and that some people hate. How will I ever tell her this? How can I ever
help her understand this when I can’t understand it myself?" 

The rest of the day is a blur.

Somehow, life, as it has a tendency to do, goes on. The images of horror fade, and the rhythm of everyday life resumes. My joyful preschooler becomes a tween in the blink of an eye. I watch her grow with delight.

But then things begin to change.

It didn’t happen overnight. It was gradual, slow. But my normally joy-filled, optimistic child seemed to be losing her happy approach to life. She seemed a little more withdrawn each day. My heart so desperately wanted to believe that it was just normal adolescence, but there was a nagging concern that maybe it was something more. 

Unfortunately, this time period coincided with the one where Moms can do and say nothing right. In fact, I was convinced that in my daughter’s eyes, sometimes I didn’t even breathe right. I was walking on eggshells, afraid that if I tried to approach her, I would cause things to escalate and create a distance between us.

"God, I know I need to talk to her. I need her heart to open back up to me. But I’m so afraid. I don’t want to say the wrong thing or make it worse. I don’t have the courage to do this. Please help me."

Wednesday night rolled around. "Mom, I want to go to youth group tonight." She hadn’t wanted to go for weeks, but, rather than ask questions, I grabbed the keys and we hopped in the car. In what I now see as divinely orchestrated circumstances, they watched a video about a suicidal teen. As
she told me about the video on the way home, I realized God had given me the open door I had prayed for. (He's so faithful. Sigh.)  

"Have you ever felt that badly about yourself?" I gingerly ask.

The floodgates opened. It turned out that bullying she had experienced two years prior had a much deeper and more profound effect on her than I knew.

 "Mom, I can’t forget what they said about me and did to me. They made me feel so badly about myself and no matter how hard I try, I can’t get past it."

Healing began in that moment. We cried and prayed together and agreed that she should talk to someone on an ongoing basis about the bullying and its effects on her self image. 

We found an awesome Christian counselor who became a partner with us in helping Allison to reach her full potential. Allison forgave the people who hurt her with a grace that I can only aspire to.

I began to see her joy and optimism resurface. She had an open heart again.

So, as we watch the commemoration of 9/11, I have a grateful heart. We see a clip of rescuers finding a portion of the steel that remained erect and formed a rugged cross. There is beauty in the ashes. God can redeem anything. He has for us.

I am reminded of the scene in The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, when Lucy asks about the character of the Lion, who represents Christ. "Is He safe?", she asks. 

The reply: "Who said anything about safe? Course He isn’t safe. But He’s good."

My daughter now knows there is evil and hate in the world. She has experienced, on a small scale, her own version of terror. But God is redeeming it.   

We are on the brink of 5 more years of adolescence.  Does our life feel safe right now? Not by a long shot.

 But is it good? Absolutely.

Monday, July 27, 2015

My Year of "Lasts" -- #1 -- Last Summer Camp Send-Off

The list is about a mile long – the things I would do to improve our tiny, 50-plus year old house if time and money were unlimited. To counteract the discontent and unhappiness that might accompany the mental compiling of such a list, I start a new list: Things I love about My House. It will be no surprise to those of you who know me well that at the top of this list is the view I have from my backyard. Since the day we moved in, I have loved sitting out on the back patio every once in a while to watch the sunset. Lately, though, I have begun to feel a sense of urgency about this ritual. Something is missing on the days that I am not able to sit and savor the last few minutes of the day. There is usually no place I would rather be when dusk begins to settle in than in my patio chair with a book or my Bible in my lap. It’s become a priority. Sometimes that has meant dropping bags of groceries on the kitchen floor to be put away later. Other times it has meant postponing errands in order to be home in time to see the day slowly slip away. Up until this week, I had no idea why it had become so important for me lately to have these moments of reflection, but I knew I needed them. Now I think I am beginning to understand why . . .

I put my girl on a bus today. She is headed to Hume Lake summer camp with her beloved youth group. There is nothing unusual about this – she has gone to camp in some form or another every summer (and most winters) since the third grade.  She has never been afraid to leave the comfort and security of home and head out on new adventures. When she came home from her first week away, at the tender age of 9, she told me “A lot of kids cried because they missed their Moms. I missed you, Mom, but, no offense, I didn’t cry.”  My emotions at that time were a confusing bittersweet mixture of joy that she had the independence and confidence to be away from me, and sadness with the realization that she was going to need me less with each day that passed.

There is a predictable and comforting routine that goes along with the morning the kids leave for Hume Lake. While waiting for everyone to get checked in, students gather in decorated T-shirts they made with their small groups (at least the girls have decorated Tshirts. I guess the boys probably don’t – but I never noticed. Hey, I only have a girl, so that’s the perspective this is written from.)  J   Parents sip coffee (or Diet Coke in my case), chat, and try to snap a few pictures until the buses roll away.

What made this year’s departure unique?  It is the last year that Allison will go to “summer camp”. It is the beginning of a year of “lasts” for us as she enters into her senior year of high school.  And I am realizing how these past 17 years my heart and my life have been intricately and complicatingly involved with hers. 

So much has been written about the mother-child bond. So much about that bond cannot even begin to be put into words. After all, these human beings grow inside of us! (Or for adoptive mommies, grew in your hearts and souls and dreams until they arrived in your homes.) There is nothing like the overwhelming, scary, sacred, wonderful moment when you bring that life into the world and realize they are completely dependent on you. For everything. For their very survival. No pressure or anything.

For at least the first six to nine months, babies don’t even realize they are separate individuals from their mothers. The bond is that intense. The toddler years then become about them separating themselves and beginning to define themselves as individual human beings separate from their mothers. Individuals with a God-given destiny.

In retrospect, I realize my whole life since the day Allison was born has been about trying to make sure she has the skills and resources she needs to figure out a couple of things: who God has made her to be and how she is going to use her unique combination of gifts and abilities to make a difference in the world.  That has been my focus. With every joy and high point in these 17 years, I have celebrated and been grateful. With every difficulty and hardship, I have prayed that God would use those experiences to soften and open her heart, develop perseverance and patience in her character, and deepen her relationship with Him and her compassion for others. So the ironic thing is that as her life “work” has been about separating from me and defining herself for the past 17 years, it seems mine has become increasingly entwined with hers as I have done my best to give her everything she needs. It is a delicate dance and it is not always pretty. Sometimes I am amazed at how intensely my heart feels connected to hers. Not in a bad, enmeshed sort of way, but in a “this is what I am here for” sort of way.  I have absolutely no regrets about living my life this way for these years. Being her Mom has truly felt like the reason I was born. I am reminded of the Garth Brooks lyrics that describe a mother’s job as “making sure you’re always going to be alright.” That describes a Mom’s role better than just about anything I’ve ever heard.

I’m wondering these days whether the last few years of adolescence for a mother mimic in some ways the first few years of life for a child. Just as they as toddlers began to gradually disentwine themselves from us, it’s now time to gradually disentwine (I know, it’s not a real word) from our child’s life. My main goal these days is less and less about “making sure she’s always going to be alright”, because as I observe her on the brink of adulthood, full of anticipation and excitement and purpose, I know that she will be better than alright. She is ready to change the world in her own unique way. And the letting go, though difficult and at times painful, is mostly full of joy. It is launching her into the world, setting her free to be who her Heavenly Father created her to be.

Which brings me back to my sunsets and why perhaps it has been important for me to focus on them lately. To watch a sunset is to observe the end of a day. But inherent in a sunset is the promise of a sunrise – it is not just an ending, but the anticipation of a new beginning, a new reason to be joyful. And inherent in the sadness that the coming year of “lasts” might hold, there is so much to be grateful for. I am grateful for a daughter who has made this parenting journey so full of joy that I don’t want it to be over. Grateful for the assurance that she will still need me, though it will look different now. Grateful for Mom-friends in my life who I have had the privilege to watch do this letting go thing well – really well. And grateful for a faithful God who not only has a wonderful, exciting future ahead for my daughter, but who holds wonderful things ahead for me. That’s who He is. And that’s the promise I receive every time I watch the sunset. 

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Celebrating Feet

Celebrating feet (and Maundy Thursday)

I don’t like feet.  Not in the casual sort of “feet are not my favorite part of the body” sense, but in a “I will freak right out on you if you touch my feet or if I have to touch yours” way.  It’s bad.  If my poor husband rolls over in bed and his feet accidentally touch mine, in that brief moment before I talk myself down, I am wondering if “accidental foot touching” is an acceptable reason for divorce.  Okay, not really. Just using exaggeration to make the point --  I really don’t like feet.  

Ironically, I worked in a podiatry office for 6 years. The doctor I worked for prided himself on training all of his staff to be able to work in the front office (customer service and paperwork) and the back office (assisting the doctor and TOUCHING FEET). It is my claim to fame that I was the only employee in the 20-plus year history of that office to get exempted from having to work in the back office. I just could not do it. Luckily, I proved myself valuable enough in the front office to earn the only permanent spot there. J

I sadly have passed a little bit of this weirdness on to my daughter. But when she got a pedicure and told me it didn’t push her over the edge, I sang a little victory song in my head.  I might have passed it on, but it is a slightly improved, slightly less neurotic version of the “I hate feet” gene.

So it is no surprise that the story of Jesus washing His disciples' feet is not my favorite. It’s just uncomfortable for me all around. But I stumble through it, always hopeful that I can get past the intense grossness of Someone washing someone else’s feet.

The foot-washing debacle occurs on what is known as Maundy Thursday. I think I have looked up the word “Maundy” every year since my daughter has been old enough to ask me “What does Maundy mean?” every time Easter rolls around. So there I was again tonight, googling “Maundy”.

“Oh that’s right. It means ‘commandment’ and refers to Jesus’ commandment to His disciples (then and now) to love others as He had loved them.”  Why can’t I remember that? Why do I have to look it up every stinkin’ year?  (On a related side note, I read a cheerful little article today that described how our memory skills and abilities peak at age 35 and decline steadily after that. That means I am 18 years down the decline side of that mountain. Super.    Also, I’m really glad we can google word definitions now because I can’t read the small print in the dictionary anymore. Aging is not for wimps, friends.)

Anyway, Jesus was demonstrating His unfathomable love for His disciples by washing their feet.  What does that mean for me today? If I was there on that Maundy Thursday evening, I sure hope I would be able to overcome my wackiness and let Him wash my feet. But, really, it means something more.

It means letting Him have the parts of me that are hard, or “icky”. The parts of my personality that disgust myself. The fears and insecurities that cripple me. The aspects of myself that I would rather hide away.

Turns out He treats those parts with the utmost gentleness and tenderness. He understands. He washes them clean and makes them acceptable. He redeems them and uses them for His glory.

Hallelujah – what a Savior!  Happy Maundy Thursday – aka Fabulous Foot Day!  

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Celebrating Extravagance

Celebrating Extravagance

Tucked in to the middle of Holy Week, the Gospels tell  us that Jesus was having dinner with his disciples and some others when they experienced an interruption. A woman enters the scene – Matthew and Mark refer to her simply as “a woman” while John  identifies her as “Mary”. She apparently causes quite a stir when she breaks open a very expensive jar of perfume and anoints Jesus’ head, then washes His feet with her tears. The disciples were pretty indignant that she had “wasted” such an expensive item, when it could have been sold, and the money given to the poor.

A couple new things hit me as I read through this passage tonight. For one thing, this woman risked. A lot. She walked into the middle of a group of men who she knew would judge her, and gave what may have been her most prized possession. She must have known she was going to be criticized, ridiculed, and condemned. But she didn’t care. I imagine maybe she didn’t even see the others around her. She knew they were there, of course, but I picture her so focused on the One she loved, that she didn’t care about anything else. She was there on a mission and nothing could stop her.

Another thing. . . she washed His feet with her tears! I have read or heard this story hundreds of times, and it never crossed my mind how hard she must have been crying if there were enough tears to wash His feet. We’re talking Big Ugly Cry here. Again, she didn’t care. Oblivious to the stares and judgments of those around her who didn’t understand, she unabashedly poured out her heart. She wept at His feet.

Jesus, unlike the rest of the guests there, saw her heart. He saw the pure love of someone who had been rescued and forgiven. He told the disciples and others to quit bugging her (my paraphrase) because she had performed an act of great beauty and sacrifice that would be remembered forever. She had loved extravagantly because she had been loved by Jesus.

Oh, how I want to love extravagantly. To pour myself out for those whom God has given me to love. To give sacrificially, joyfully, and with a heart full of gratitude. The best way I am finding so far to do this (since I am sadly lacking in very expensive perfumes, and I’m pretty sure my loved ones don’t want me anointing their heads and crying on their feet anyway) is to simply be present. To lay aside distractions and listen with my whole self. To give up the idea that I have to have answers for every problem and just be there. Sit with. Accept.

I haven’t even begun to figure out how to do really do this well. But I want to. And I have been extravagantly loved and lavishly forgiven by the One who can show me how. 

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Celebrating Nothing New

Celebrating Nothing New

Lately I find myself quoting the phrase “There is nothing new under the sun” a lot. I quote it to myself mostly. I have the kind of temperament that has a tendency to get overwhelmed easily.  Some days my own life overwhelms me.  Other days it’s the state of the world. Either way, I can fairly easily head down a path of doom and gloom.  And for some reason I find it comforting to realize that these struggles are not new ones. There have always been wars, ugly political conflicts, and crime. And on a personal scale, there has always been disease, fatigue, and loneliness.  And so although it might feel to me like the world is falling apart, on a global or personal level, it is really “nothing new”.

On Tuesday of Holy Week, it kind of seems like Jesus had some down time with the disciples. They had a chance to ask him some questions, which led to Jesus teaching them about some signs of the end times.  These included wars, earthquakes, famines, and pestilence.  (By the way, I had to look up the word “pestilence” – it means “a deadly and overwhelming disease that affects an entire community.” I always thought it had something to do with bugs . . . )

Anyway, I’m pretty sure those weren’t the kinds of signs the disciples were looking for. They were probably imagining a future of political conquest, fame, and vindication. I wonder if a few of them weren’t starting to wonder if they had made a questionable choice in following this Jesus . . .

It’s interesting that almost every generation has been able to point to certain events and create a case, crazy as it might be, for arguing that Jesus’ return was imminent. Every generation has known war, famine, earthquakes, etc. There really is nothing new under the sun.  The question I’m pondering is why might  that be a reason to celebrate?

Maybe it’s because the  frustration of “nothing new under the sun”, that gnawing feeling of “how can the world just keep turning this way?” point us toward the fact that we were created for something more. Much more.  Somewhere deep inside, we know that this is not how it was supposed to be.  The same author who said there was nothing new under the sun (King Solomon in the book of Ecclesiastes) also said that God has put eternity in our hearts. Some day there will be something new . . . .

We are promised a better future. One without all the wars, and famine, and ugliness. He will one day make everything right and will wipe away every tear , cure every disease, and right every wrong.

And in the meantime, “nothing new under the sun” also means that the good things keep happening too – like babies being born, and futures being planned, and wrongs being righted one small step at a time.  It’s all a matter of what you choose to focus on -- 

Monday, March 30, 2015

Celebrating Anger? 

The original title for this post was going to be “Celebrating Down Times”. Because I thought pretty much nothing happened on Monday through Wednesday of Holy Week. After all, the other days have names – Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, etc.  If anything of importance happened on Monday, it would have a name too, right?

Although the exact sequence of the events of Holy Week are not necessarily written in stone, it turns out that Monday is apparently the day that Jesus drove the moneychangers out of the Temple and also is the day that he cursed the fig tree.  So I guess if we were going to give Monday a name, it might be “Angry Monday”.

Uh. oh.

In case you’ve forgotten, I’m a people-pleasing good girl. I don’t do well with anger.

Don’t get me wrong – I feel anger. I just am not the greatest at complicated matters like expressing it appropriately or distinguishing between “righteous anger” and “unrighteous anger”. My anger, when it leaks out unexpectedly, tends to be in the form of snarky little comments (what a good friend of mine once affectionately dubbed “stealth anger”).  These comments are usually “innocent” enough that I can later claim “Oh, I was just kidding about that.”

Other times my anger shows up in a quiet resentment that causes me to sulk alone and throw a private pity party. Those moments are especially attractive (hopefully you can sense the sarcasm there).  

These forms of anger are really no less destructive than violent outbursts or verbal tantrums. In fact, in some ways they are more destructive because they are more insidious.

So where am I going with this? I’m not qualified to discuss the theological implications of Jesus’ righteous anger. Plus it’s not my jam. (I KNOW, I KNOW, I can’t pull that phrase off. I just threw it in there in the event that my teenager ever reads this. It will give her the opportunity to exhibit that adolescent "OMG, my Mom's trying to be cool" eye roll/shoulder shrug thing that they seem to derive some pleasure in offering up. J  (And, don’t get me wrong, I ADORE my teenager. And I think she kind of likes me, too. But we are not above the requisite eye roll/shoulder shrug thing).

I guess what I’m here to say, for myself and anyone else who can relate, is that I’m pretty much a mess when it comes to handling my anger. I’m really good at denying it, pacifying it, or quieting it, until it seeps out in some subtle, yet ugly, manner. In those moments, I come face to face with how inadequate and unworthy I am.

But in those moments when I am sure I am at my worst, when I am pretty sure Jesus is ready to write me off and turn His back on me, I find Him closer than ever. I feel Him not turning away, but , in fact, pursuing me. Meeting me in the mess. Reassuring me of His love. Offering me grace. Picking me up, dusting me off, and whispering that I can rest tonight in His mercy and start new again tomorrow.  The Cross and the Resurrection mean that I never, ever have to fear being the object of His anger.

So perhaps one of the reasons anger is reason to celebrate is because it reminds us that we are no longer the objects of it when we are in Christ.

There’s that, and there’s also the fact that when I see those snarky, subtle, ugly little signs of it in my life, it chases me to the One who can set me free.

Where would I be without Him? Where would I be without Easter?

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Hosanna  --  Celebrating Because I Need Saving  (Palm Sunday Reflections)

I grew up in the church. I took part in pageants and reenactments of Bible stories. So I’m familiar with the word “Hosanna”. But I have to admit, my familiarity with the word did not necessarily mean I had an accurate understanding of the meaning of the word. I made assumptions. When we were kids, we would wave palm branches and shout “Hosanna” and we knew Palm Sunday represented a time of jubilance, celebration, and happiness. So I guess I always assumed that the word meant “Hallelujah” or “Praise”. Surely it had something to do with worship.

It was just a few years ago that I learned the literal meaning of the word “Hosanna” – it means save us now. Save us, God. NOW. Or if we are trying hard to be good, polite Christians, we might say “now, please.”

I was reminded of this translation again at church today. And it has me thinking. A lot. There is an urgency to the word “Hosanna”.  . .  “save me, God. But please don’t wait. Save me now.”

I want to live within the tension of that urgency. My salvation is secure and nothing can change that. By grace I have been saved through faith (Ephesians 2:8).   But every day aren’t there countless things that I need Him to save me from?

Mostly, I need saving from myself. I need saving from the me who, on the hard days, wants to just pull the covers over my head and stay in bed.

I need saving from the me who, on the good days, thinks “I’ve got this, God” and then goes on to live my life completely independent of His Voice, His Grace, and His Love.

I need saving from the voice in my head that says I’m not good enough, smart enough, Okay enough to be loved and valued.
I need saving from the part of me who stays in the shadows, unwilling to take risks, afraid of what other people are thinking.

I need saving from the part of me who is now worried that this post has become “all about me” and therefore will be judged as such by others.

I need saving from the me who thinks I don’t need saving. Truth is I am desperate to be saved. Not just in the eternal sense, although that is obviously of utmost importance. I need saving in the everyday sense. 

Maybe shouting Hosanna is the ultimate form of worship. It is announcing to the world and to ourselves how utterly dependent we are on Him saving us.  Every. Single. Day.

 I need saving now.  Hosanna, Jesus. Save me. Save me now.


(see, this good, people-pleasing girl just couldn’t resist putting that last please in. It’s okay. He understands.)