Tuesday, September 28, 2010

When the Severe Pain Ebbs

Sunday School. Just down from my husband and me sits another couple that I see every week, yet haven’t had an opportunity to get to know. A “hello”, a nod, a smile. 
Their son is a friend of my daughter’s in youth group. She isn’t in Sunday school with him today, she stayed the night with a friend and is visiting another church. 
Sunday School is over, we all file into the sanctuary and worship together. Our family, this other family. Many families. Many that I know. Many more that I do not. 
Fast forward about 30 hours to Monday night.
Last night.
We all file into the sanctuary to worship together. Again. Our family. This other family. Many families. Suddenly we are all family.
But, the family from Sunday School is minus One. The one in youth group with my daughter.
So many tears. So many broken hearts. So many questions. So much pain. 
Yet...So much rejoicing. So much faith. And hope. So much victory in the midst of loss. Prayers unite. Strength surrounding, scripture declaring, songs lifting our eyes from ourselves and our anguish to Christ who has vanquished. 
Even so, I cannot keep my mind in the moment. My storytelling brain takes over. The writer in me goes into third person and I find myself observing glimpses of the future that will bring back the pain, fresh and ferocious. 
I do not know these parents. But, I am a parent. I am a mother. I know the heart of a mother. 
The agony that sears and tears with intensity right now will mellow. Who could survive such heartache if it did not? God has sent the Comforter. This mother, this father, and sister...they will be comforted. They will come to a place of acceptance and a place of motion, where the world goes on and they move forward with it once again. 
A place where the severe pain has ebbed. Replaced by the sweet ache of missing someone you love beyond measure.
But I see the unexpected stabs of pain that loom in the near and distant future. Hiding behind the little things that will catch this mother, and the others, by surprise. Little things that will feel like big things, making them catch their breath. The questions, the “what ifs”, the “remember whens”. These thoughts, these pictures, these stories are what choke me with tears, what makes me pray for this family more. 
A long vigil over time seems like a good idea. Remembering to pray for this family is a marathon and not a sprint. To pray that Christ would carry, would comfort, would heal even as each memory wields a clever strategy to bring heartache. Opportunities for bitterness and anger will spark, hoping to find purchase, hoping to steal joy. We must--- I must--ask God to keep bringing this family to my thoughts so I can bring them to Him in prayer.
I think we all kind of hope, maybe even expect, that a real-life crisis will occur like it does in the movies. Foreshadowing takes place in scripts. Not in life. It would be so handy to have a string of events to look back on and see how it was all leading up to this...as if the person knew it was going to happen.
I bet this young man left his room a little messy. He plopped some books on his half-made bed, left his shoes laying around, needed to empty the trash. His room seems to be expecting him back at any moment.
There is school work left incomplete. What was he going to write about for his assignment in Literature? Was he finally getting the hang of quadratic equations? And, oh, look at that lousy handwriting! No wonder he wanted to do everything on the computer...
His basketball schedule is still on the calendar. He was looking forward to the tournament at the end of the year. His favorite movie was going to be released next week; he and some friends already planned their weekend around it. 
Mail will come addressed to him. So presumptuous.  
Do the couch cushions hold some treasure from his pockets to be unearthed at a later date? A crumbled up scrap of paper that he scribbled on or folded around a wad of gum.  Like a time capsule. That will be a precious find! Precious but painful.
Notes in his Bible. Notes on his desk. Reminders to himself become reminders of him.
A glimpse in a crowd, when-- for the moment-- it will seem natural that he is there. A case of mistaken identity that leaves the family member yearning...
These stories play in my mind when I contemplate their loss. Each of my children become this young man. Though I cannot imagine their depth of pain...in some small way I can. We all can.
I wish I could make it all better. Wish I could make that pain go away. Wish I could bring back their young man. Wish I could at least arrange a proper “good-bye”.
Yet, I remind myself of the promises of God. I embrace His sovereignty. I believe he is gracious and loving and good all of the time. And so does this family. It is very evident in their life. 
It is right to encourage them with scripture and hugs and tears and prayers. I believe all of that will help to heal. It must be done. It is being done. 
I just know the unexpected moments and memories are destined to come and I wanted to tell them that it is ok. Those times will be like a brief, sweet connection that can be savored. Like a quick visit. 
It will hurt. It may make them wonder if it will ever hurt less. I don’t know for sure. I just felt like I had to put into words what many of us already have had floating through our minds. We chastise those kind of thoughts. Won’t allow ourselves to “go there”. Such pondering doesn’t seem very spiritual. 
But it is very human. 
Sometimes these bodies of flesh and emotion demand attention. Demand to be recognized. Must be allowed an outlet. Not an excuse to sin. Not a reason to be bitter. Just permission to feel and to hurt and to swell up and gush over in tears. We are wired to find relief in releasing our emotions. Jesus allowed himself to deeply love and openly hurt. Jesus wept.
It must be ok. 
It is ok.
I pray God will remind us all to keep carrying the burdens of those that mourn as life resumes and the severe pain ebbs.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Be Careful What You Wish For!

Even grown-ups love a Cinderella story. Masquerade by Nancy Moser escorts our inner- princess into the late 1800’s where high society flourishes and the lower class barely survives. And never the twain shall meet. Nor would it be proper for them to associate.
Lottie Gleason is born into the British upper-crust and has been comfortably insulated from the likes of problems with politics, business and even struggles within her own home. She gets a crash course in Adulthood 101 on her 19th birthday when she discovers her family is being shunned thanks to some indiscretions by her father. Before her ship can totally sink, Lottie is forced to accept a marriage proposal from a wealthy American who hasn’t caught wind of the tarnished Gleason name “across the pond” in New York. Lottie doesn’t want to marry this stranger and Lottie is used to getting her way.
Dora Connors is Lottie Gleason’s maid. She has lived on the streets and experienced life in the gutter. Since the age of 13, however, she has been attendant and confidant to Lottie. They are very close, yet they both know their place. Dora is to accompany Lottie on her voyage to America, where she will start a new life as well.
Somewhere across the expanse of the Atlantic, a plan forms in Lottie’s mind. A plan to escape the restraints and expectations of her family and chase her own dreams. Dora can be Lottie Gleason, Dora can marry this strange man, and Dora will be glad to do it because it is a chance to better her life beyond her wildest dreams.
And so each girl assumes a new identity and they both live happily ever after. 
Yeah, right. While Dora steps into New York society with only the occasional stumble, Lottie falls flat and hard and finds herself seeing how ‘the other half” live. More than seeing, she is experiencing it first hand. 
Both girls find that “a man makes his plans but the Lord orders his steps” as they discover their masquerade is not the neat little package they had hoped. The character issues that are addressed and the relational honesty that is necessary for love and friendship to flourish are learned in the fire of the streets--and the mansions--of New York. 
Masquerade is a cinderella story. One of the best kind. No fairy godmothers here. Rather, the God of the universe helping two girls find their purpose, their love, their friendship and their true identity.
***In exchange for my honest review, Bethany House Publishers supplied this book to me free of charge.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

The Implications of Marriage

“Why is the marriage relationship more important than any other relationship?” 
This question was posed by a dear friend when we were having a little heart to heart about the state of various things in her life. Valid question, yes. But one that took me by surprise as it seemed obvious to me. Since I think better through my fingertips, rather than in a spur of the moment conversation, this little (make that long!) blog post is my attempt at an answer to my friend’s question. 
I don’t believe this person held marriage in a low-priority position by any means. In fact, I know she knows it is “numero uno”. Yet, she was in the midst of a heart wrenching relationship with one of her children and that was eclipsing all else. She was doing what each of us tend to do: Give the squeaky wheel the grease. 
It is much easier for me to sit on the sidelines and cheer little scripture-like cheers to my friends when I am not the one going through the fire. But, I do think it is essential to rehearse what is true when things are going swimmingly, so that when a flood threatens to overwhelm us, we can cling to what we KNOW. Peace and joy may look precarious in the face of a tsunami, but Truth will remain our lifeline. 
I think we live in an age that devalues marriage and belittles men to such an extent that even churches tend to try and feminize our guys and God Himself. Too many touchy-feely expectations that often rely on experience and psycho-babble, rather than the counsel of scripture. 
With that understood, I’ll go ahead and state that I do believe in submission to ones own husband (as scripture states in Ephesians 5:22...implying women can be awed and influenced more heavily by some other man...even a pastor). Submission does NOT imply inequality; merely the chain of command that makes things flow rather than grate. Frankly, I like it that way. There is freedom in submission...if bad decisions are wrought by my husband, it is between him and God (not to say it doesn’t have an effect on other people, myself included). I don’t want to be an Eve and have my hubby say (like Adam), “that woman you gave me wore me down until I would agree to do this...”. I prefer to keep my hands off. It helps that my husband can smell manipulation a mile away; it would be a total waste of time to try.
So, the above explanation tells of the structure of a healthy marriage (not my opinion here, either. Scripture will back me up on all of that submission stuff). But WHY is marriage so important? Why is it THE relationship that must be cherished and nurtured at all costs, especially when things get really awful in other areas of life? Why can’t we afford to just coexist for awhile, coast along and hope things will get better (when he sees what a jerk he’s been...)? Why can’t I spew all over my mate and expect them to just get over it and move on? We’re both adults, right? They know I love them.
Let’s look first at the origin of marriage. This is an obvious one, I know. Still...restating truth helps to reinforce its application in our life so it bares repeating. The first marriage was ordained and orchestrated by the Creator of the universe in Paradise. Adam and Eve were part of the ultimate blind date match up. Those two were literally made for each other!
The animals were not a suitable companion for Adam, only a woman would do! God could have just made a bunch of people that were an instant little “Village of Eden”. He could have commanded all the independent people to “be friendly and fellowship.” Instead he made one of each gender and then gave them the command to have sex...and he made that something special and symbolic as well. “Be fruitful and multiply,” he said. Oh, and it’s really fun to practice the “being fruitful” part...and the little ones that result will be one of the best things to ever happen to you! 
Even the actual act of consummating a marriage has sacred and symbolic significance. A true covenant relationship is one that is sealed in blood (the blood of animals in the Old Testament, the Blood of Christ in the New Testament). When a virgin has relations for the first time (presumably after marriage), blood is spilt; a seal of the covenant made between the bride and groom. What a beautiful picture--with deep implications-- that most do not fathom!
Scripture goes on to extol the virtue of marriage, to show it as a relationship set apart, as a Holy Covenant that should only be broken by death itself. The intimacy of the marriage bed is used as a term for the way God intimately knows each of us. Song of Solomon is a whole book devoted to the love relationship between marriage partners. Marriage is an ongoing example of unity and intimacy throughout scripture.
Still, there is something more, something that causes marriage to have no equal among relationships between people. If this were to be the only mention of marriage in the Bible, it would be enough to propel it to “numero uno”: Marriage is a reflection and representation of the union of Christ and His church.
Our heavenly Father uses the picture of marriage, the verbiage of marriage, and the sanctity of marriage to show the relationship that the Bride of Christ (the church) has with the Bridegroom (Christ). (See Matthew 25, Ephesians 5, 2 Corinthians 11, and Revelation 21 to name a few). God did not use a picture of teacher and student, or a picture of priest and congregation, but the intimate, loving, stick-with-you-through-thick-and-thin commitment that has two people becoming one in Holy Matrimony. In fact, just look at that term: “Holy Matrimony”...do you recall the relationship between parents and children being termed “holy”, or any other relationship for that matter? On the contrary, Jesus says that for his sake, those relationships may be violently torn apart (see Matt. 10:35).
Truly, being one in the covenant of marriage is a beautiful likeness of what Christ has done to reconcile us to himself through his sacrifice on the cross; collectively as a church, and individually as well (see Eph. 5 for how the husband and wife submit and give all to each other just has Christ has done for us). He is coming for a pure and spotless bride, without blemish or wrinkle. He promises to tenderly care for us, protect us and provide for us. He is preparing a feast and celebration for us when we are with him in eternity. Marriage. Marriage. Marriage. It is a thread woven throughout the Bible; a heartbeat of a passionate and loving God.
Now that we have established the high calling of marriage, what do we do with this information? Tuck it away as an interesting thought to ponder? Make a note in our Bible’s margin? Nope. I say it ought to be of the utmost priority to make our marriages the best possible union; effort given to building a strong foundation, adding to that using the Fruits of the Spirit on a daily basis. 

It is a shameful fact that the divorce rate is as high in the church as it is in the world. It should never, ever be so. Our marriage is part of our testimony to the world, it exists to reflect the glory of God and give glory to God. What message is the world getting from us about this holy union? One that says it IS NOT holy, it is merely a matter of taste and convenience. Like a mortgage on a house; it is not something to be taken lightly, but--if times get tough--you can always sell it and move on.
One last bit of food for thought... What if the bride of Christ spent it’s energy trying to change who Christ is? What if we decided to tweak the attributes of Jesus or redefine what it means to be a Christian? Well, that wouldn’t fly, would it? A peek at the churches of Revelation shows how God wants to spew the unfit from his presence and discipline those that are disobedient. We would be defaming the name of Christ if we acted like that. 
What if the church went around bad mouthing Christ to the world? “Yeah, Jesus rarely answers any of my prayers, he’s so selfish and lazy.” Or, “I would be a better Christian if Jesus would just ____(fill in the blank).” Or, “I don’t know who that Jesus thinks he is, expecting me to do this and that.” Yikes! Such speech is unimaginable from a true follower of Christ.
Yet how often do we whine and complain about what we perceive to be wrongs in our relationship to our spouse? Are we guilty of bad mouthing them to others? Are we approaching marriage the world's way, or our own way, instead of God’s? Do we distance our mate and our marriage in our words or our actions, either to their face or to others? Are we tearing down instead of building up? Manipulating and pouting, being bitter and scornful, instead of serving and showing respect with a heart of gratitude? What about shutting ourselves off in cold indifference? 
I believe that our relationship with the Lord is directly connected to how we relate to our spouse. We cannot be a grumpy, judgmental, discontent, whiney-butt with our husband (or wife) and expect to pursue an intimate relationship with our heavenly Father. That holds true even in a marriage with an unbeliever. The scriptures give guidelines for everything, including that! Not to say such a union would be a cake walk, but it still can bring glory to God as the saved spouse relates to the other in a Christ-like way. 
Ephesians gives very specific directives on how we should treat each other in marriage and those standards are not earned by the other person’s behavior. They are what God expects of us as believers in obedience to His word. We cannot control what the other person does, we can only control ourselves, our choices and our reactions. And those things should be under the control of the Holy Spirit or they will only be wood, hay and stubble (aka, works of the flesh).
I know this post may come across as overly simplistic, and very black and white...
I realize that different situations may NOT be simple, but the bible reads gloriously black and white so that we can take those convoluted messes we make and find answers and hope without going crazy. The answers are there if we will take the time to look. They are not old-fashioned and out-dated. They are the tried and true remedies from the mouth of the One who created marriage! Why doesn’t that fact make a difference in Christian matrimony? It seems we often balk at how simple God’s approach is, deciding it really doesn’t apply to us. We stomp off and attempt to fix it ourselves, perpetuating the cycle. Why do we doubt the living God?
When my friend posed her question to me, she surely did not know what a heaping can of worms she was opening! And most of this post is like preaching to the choir to her and many others that may come across it. But I know, as a fellow human being, how hard it can be to get information to transfer out of our heads and into our hearts. I pray that my little diatribe may be used as a defibrillator on things that have grown cold, stale and even lifeless. 
Things like your heart.
Things like your marriage.

At the Intersection of Creation and Evolution: A Dream

The alliterating story below is based on a dream I had several years ago. Please contact me for permission to reproduce.

Darkness devours me.

I am enveloped in emptiness.

Are my eyes open or are they closed? I strain against this shroud of night and still see nothing.

What is this place?

An image illuminates in front of me. A large, leafy tree streaks past and vanishes.

It deserts me to the darkness again.

In a moment, more images appear. A rapid succession of snapshots and thoughts clamor before my eyes and mingle in my mind.

I see seedlings. Several supple shoots have emerged before me and then swiftly stream away.

“The first trees on earth were not seedlings”, my mind observes. “They were not created as small insignificant saplings.”

That thought is rapidly replaced with a vision of a man.

He’s maybe 30; he is muscular and needs to shave.

He fades away.

In his place I see an infant.

A tiny bundle of pink skin upon a soft blanket flickers briefly in my brain.

“Man was created with age,” is the next statement I hear. “Adam did not begin his life as a baby, he began as a grown man.”

The voice seems like my own.

The thoughts do not.

Reeling before me now is a blur of rivers, forests, mountains and even layers of the earth. It is like a movie rushing rapidly before my retina.

The soundtrack of this epic is proclaiming a peculiarly plain concept:

“The earth was created with age. Creation and evolution are not in total opposition. There is a reason that science finds the earth to be quite old: it was made that way.”

Thoughts continue to tumble through my mind; pictures parade before me. I listen in amazement to what seems to be puzzlingly profound and yet rather apparent all at once.

“Adam was created as an adult. Trees and plants were made fully grown.”

I suddenly feel quite certain that, if I were to chop down some of the trees that had been spoken into existence, I would find a range of rings running through their trunks.

“The earth was brought to life with age built into it… just like Adam. He did not begin life as an infant. The earth came into being with what it would need to sustain the life that was created. It was old when it was young. The world was
made with maturity; it was also produced with purpose.”

These thoughts are thrilling. Why had I not seen this before? It seems so simple. Obtusely obvious. Had others not observed this correlation? If they had, why wasn’t it being candidly conveyed?

In the span of thirty seconds I have been ravaged by a radical revelation. I feel the weight of its worth resting on me; it is tantamount to tangible.

I am neither a theologian nor am I a scientist. I don’t claim that the ethics of evolution are completely compatible with the Bible’s account of creation. But certainly Science can come concurrent to creation and affirm our faith with facts.

Of course, the Omnipotent Originator of the Universe is exceedingly elusive to what our mind could ever envision. Above what science could ever extensively elucidate.

Accordingly, creation is confounding too. Each diverse discovery deems it more marvelous to grasp. Many scientists have reluctantly relented to the theory of Intelligent Design.

That’s why, alongside those facts, we also need faith.

Lying inexplicably at the intersection of those two essential elements is an exceptional endowment: the intermittent insight of our dreams.