Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Breathing Praise

During our year in Bangkok, we quickly realized that emissions standards were not exactly what they are stateside.  Unmuffled motorcycle noises had no difficulty rising to our apartment on the 21st floor, and the air down on Sukhumvit, the main thoroughfare closest to our home, was positively grey with exhaust from cars, buses, bikes, and street vendors' charcoal fires; long periods of engines idling in heavy traffic didn't help matters.  This Texas girl quickly missed seeing vast expanses of blue sky.  We typically wore earplugs outside to protect against the noise, but for some reason, maybe unavailability or simple vanity, we never tried filter masks for the pollution.

The poor air quality really hit home when we were walking through a mall and saw what appeared to be a medical kiosk, with several people sitting in chairs breathing through plastic masks.  It turned out that some clever entrepreneurs had turned the pollution to a profit by selling oxygen to shoppers, a literal breather before heading back outside.

At that time the discovery was a cultural experience and a shared laugh.  Almost six years later, it ripened into the following poem:


Like ten minutes of breathing
Pure oxygen
Bought from a booth
On the mall esplanade
As fortification
Against the diesel fumes and incense
Oppressing the lungs of the passersby
On Sukhumvit outside.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Glimpses of Gratitude 6: A Dog's Life

Hi, dere.  Dis Ebony Dawg here.  My mama sez I gots to do dis today cuz she's on staycation or sumpin and not working on compewter dis week.  Not sure what dat staycation word means.  "Stay" I git.  "Cat" I git (blech!).  The "ion" part at the end I'm not so sure about but I hope it's fud or a belly rub or sumpin else good like dat.

Or sittin on de couch keepin de peeples out of trouble with a cartoon.  Still gittin dem trained.  Honestly, sometimes it's like herding cats.

So anyway, dat's what's going on here dis week.  Oh, and I'm sposed to say thanks for some stuff, too.  Here's my thankful list:
  • a family to love me and bring me home from the shelter
  • bacon
  • belly rubs
  • rawhide bones and my Kong and my treat ball
  • blankies
  • my couch and my big chair and my beds
  • walks with Dad by the creek
  • bacon
  • licking the peeples' frozen yogurt cup
  • chasing squirrels
  • bacon
  • havin all my peeples at home where I can keep my eyes and paws on them
OK? OK.  That's it.  Bye now!

holy experience

Friday, September 24, 2010

Nature Walk

The change of seasons has taken the edge off the heat here, and I am surprised to see the changes on the walk down the driveway to the mailbox and back, which is still more or less my limit.  The big, showy changes like fall color or the first blooming trees and bulbs of spring always attracted my attention on my once-habitual long daily walks, but when my world was bigger the smaller details under my nose escaped my notice.

This year, I see, really see, that liriope blooms have filled the bed under the live oak;

the lantana by the curb is covered in gold;

and the live oak itself is dropping acorns.

The back garden still looks like summer, with roses, Turk's cap, okra, and cantaloupe not yet ready to close up shop.


Wherever Providence has you today, kind readers, may the Lord open your eyes to the beauty in your world and fill your heart with gratitude to Him who made it.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Landmarks on the Journey

This illness flare has been a strange experience for me.  The onset of symptoms was as rapid and dramatic as sliding down a mountain.  Once the doctors unraveled the various issues involved, the recovery began.  To continue the metaphor, the healing has resembled ascending the same mountain on a winding trail that only gains a yard in elevation per week and sometimes levels off or dips back down for a while.  It does seem that my health is improving, but it's as slow as sanctification.

As on any trail, there are mile markers and geographic landmarks along the way.  In this journey, for me, those are taking the form of special events on the calendar or activities resumed.  Going to church for the first time in six weeks: mile marker.  Going to church and being able to stand for the hymns even though I couldn't sing: mile marker.  Leaving the house for a date night meal: mile marker.  Video night at my parents' house: mile marker.  Doing laundry by myself: mile marker.  Changing the bed linens almost independently: mile marker. Driving the mile to the library book drop and back: mile marker.

Other landmarks have been more disappointing.  Family events, holidays, church opportunities rise into view ahead on the trail, and I think, "Maybe by [my nephew's birthday, my sister's move, Labor Day, the women's conference, our vacation] I'll be strong enough to participate and enjoy it."  Then the path winds around again, and the landmark turns out not to be straight ahead after all.  We were able to eat at a restaurant instead of at home for our anniversary, for which I give thanks, but otherwise these hopes may as well have been heat mirages on a Texas highway in August.

One of those landmarks, a Beth Moore simulcast at my parents' church down the street, came and went this past weekend.  I marked it on the calendar in May or June, but it was not a good idea to spend my limited energy on attending even part of the day's teachings.  Another marker lies ahead next week, the time off from work Al scheduled back in May.  We have stopped thinking, "Maybe by vacation I'll be strong enough to go for long walks, attend a concert, travel, visit the botanic garden, . . ." but we still plan to enjoy the time with each other and away from schedules, alarms, and as many chores as we can manage to avoid.  All three Lord of the Rings movies are ready for the player, too.

Looking back to the missed women's event and ahead to a vacation different than we'd expected, I am remembering last year's Living Proof Live event, "The Heart of Your Desires."  In a number of ways, I was in transition, and I arrived at the conference anticipating that something in the message would meet me at the point of my need.  I knew God had brought me to that place and had a purpose in that time.

Through the course of the messages, Beth talked about how, when God says no to the desires of our heart, He may be taking us deeper, to the heart of our desires.  Sometimes the desire we're most aware of is only the surface desire and actually masks something deeper that can only be revealed and satisfied by stripping away the superficial longing.  She also regaled the listeners with a story of her grandson becoming so obsessed with the chocolate sheet cake to end the meal that he refused to eat a single bite of the supper which was the prerequisite for the cake.  After the laughter died down, she challenged us to examine our unfulfilled desires to see if there were some "vegetables" we needed to eat first.

These ideas applied to me in two ways then.  First, I looked at the renewed desire to finish the seminary degree put on hold when we left for the mission field.  Did I want to learn Bible and theology, or did I mainly want letters after my name and a new line on the resume?  The peeling away of a layer of that desire prompted me to work out a study schedule for the fall as a way to focus on learning, the more important desire that was in reach already.  The intentional, disciplined pursuit of growing in understanding also served as eating my vegetables, in a way.  Beth's story showed me that even if every obstacle to further schooling were removed in an instant, I was too out of practice at intensive study and had forgotten too much Greek to take advantage of the opportunity.

Second, I looked at the desire to share writing with others again and realized there is a difference between the desire to testify in words of God's work in my life and the desire to be a Published Author.  One was well within reach, and the other not so much.  That's when the blog idea started to develop, but it took some more no's to more desires to shift the idea into action.

As I was thinking this weekend about missing the conference, I prayed for the women who did go, that they would hear what they needed as surely as I did last year.  I also rehearsed the lessons of that conference last year and listened to see if they still spoke to me today.  They did.  The Lord is still sifting and purifying my desires, saying no to the superficial ones to grant the better, deeper ones.  I'm still seeking daily grace to eat my vegetables faithfully, too, because somewhere farther down the trail, there will be cake.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Glimpses of Gratitude 5: Bookish Edition

Alternate title:  Where I Spent Summer Vacation

Summer is not the friend of lupus.  The intensity of the UV light can trigger symptoms and flares.  Consequently, we are learning to shift travel to fall, winter, and spring for best results.  (Our lack of children's school schedule to navigate helps immensely in this.)

That said, this summer has not been void of exploration.  Big Al and I began June with a museum day in Fort Worth and a visit to my grandmother.  July started with nearly a week in New Braunfels with his family.

Then the doctor grounded me.

For the rest of the summer, I had to content myself with questing in Arthur's England;  a glimpse into the life of a writer with lupus through her letters from her mother's farm in central Georgia; English village politics and pots of tea; and visiting mid-century Midland, Texas, and traveling to halls of state around the world with a former first lady.

And all that with a passport which expired in July!  But, um, that should probably be our little secret.

From the gratitude journal list, #936-948:
936. No new dental issues from last week's check-up
937. No vision complications from lupus medications (the other annual check-up this week)
938. Opportunity to trust the Lord with my vision anyway, as tests showed a tiny cyst that could cause problems if it grows (more diagnostics next month)
939. Ability to read
940. A terrific library system
941. Freedom to explore other times and places through books
942. Parents who taught me to read and read to me often
943. Grandparents' examples of voracious reading
944. Decades of friendships sourced in books and discussions about them
945. Help with my own "stuff" as I look through the windows of story into others' journeys
946. Encouragement from unexpected sources
947. An embarrassment of riches in free access to multiple Bible translations in my heart language, on paper, online, and in my ears.
948. Those hard at work translating the Scriptures to get Bibles to the Bibleless

holy experience

Friday, September 17, 2010

On Facing Sinus Surgery

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart (Hebrews 4:12, ESV).
Wield Your Word-scalpel;
Lance pockets of bitter soul-sickness,
Cut away scar tissue,
Divide even joint and marrow
To unblock channels for Your quickening pneuma to flow in.
Slice open;
Wound to heal.

~crm, 4/15/10

Note: This surgery already happened, in April 2010.  No new additions to the health concerns list!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Legalism and Dental Hygiene

Sprinkled over the next few weeks of the calendar are assorted regularly scheduled maintenance appointments on this jalopy-body I have.  First up comes the dentist and my semiannual cleaning.  This should be only a minor inconvenience and discomfort, and I have an excellent dentist and gentle, thorough hygienist who do an outstanding job in every respect.  Even so, these cleanings have become an object of dread and dismal forebodings.

Despite scrupulous (obsessive-compulsive) compliance with every prescription the dentist has given me for care of my adult teeth, the last five years have brought a spate of issues requiring drilling and novocaine.  Consequently, I have begun approaching these routine visits with high anxiety and low expectations.

When the verdict comes, on the outside I smile politely, nod, and ask the usual questions about what needs to be done, how soon, and how much.  In the secret places of the heart, however, my inner 2 year old is pounding her fist, stomping her foot, and wailing, "But it's not fa-a-a-air!!!!  I did everything you told me to, and the only reason I did was to avoid this very thing.  This should be happening to someone who drinks sugary soda, eats candy all the time, and never flosses!  I demand a recount!"

Clearly, a few bastions of legalism* still need to fall before the gospel.  In many areas of life, my thought-habits reflect my stated beliefs that all comes of God's grace and love.  The pleasant things are much more than I deserve, and the unpleasant things are much less (and moreover intended for good and blessing).  For whatever reason, my attitudes about dental hygiene, the Department of Public Safety, and the IRS retain the old self's expectation that I will sow what I reap and can generally sow well enough to prevent reaping unpleasantness.

At home again, I look in the mirror and see how ugly this reflection is.

In the mirror hanging at the foot of our couch I see my image to the right of the scene, in the scowling, arms-crossed elder brother.  The lost son who stayed home and didn't even know how lost he was.  The son whose pride blinded him to his father's love.

In another mirror I recognize myself in Job's miserable comforters, whose legalism leads them to accuse him of bringing his horrible sufferings on himself through sin.  By the end of the book, God indicts them on charges of folly and failure to speak truth about Him, and only burnt offerings and Job's intercession spare them from reaping the dire consequences their words have unwittingly sown.

Pastor Alistair Begg said in a recent message, "The presence of anxiety is directly related to the absence of humility."  I see my reflection in that, too.

Thanks be to God that there is a remedy for all this in Christ Jesus!  The distance between the elder brother and the grace-embraced ragamuffin or between Job and his friends can be bridged simply by building an altar and climbing up.  Surrender--again, daily, continuously--is the best vantage point to see Jesus and discover my own reflection transforming into his.

Even if dental work is the prescribed beauty treatment.

*On this blog, you may find me using "legalism" in two ways:  first, in the sense of elevating human traditions to the status of universal divine commandments; secondly, to denote the quid pro quo attitude that if I do _________, God will be honor-bound to reward me with __________.  Today I'm using legalism in the latter sense.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Glimpses of Gratitude 4: Wayside Pulpit

I went looking for grace—
    At a dot-com storefront
    (Books or yarn, today?);
    In a dressing-room mirror,
    Sighing over silk more pleasing on the rack;
    In red-gingham pastry paper
    From a neighborhood bakery;
    In romantic comedy,
    Players trying too hard to delight my discontent.

Grace fled in all these pursuits;
Or was it I myself fleeing grace,
Knowing without knowing, deeper,
Its wild autonomy,
Selecting as it wills,
To lavish or lament?

This savage grace apprehended me
With gentleness;
Penetrated windowless chamber, deadbolts,
Surprising me in duty’s dictated path—
    Blush-pink arms, laden with blossoms,
    Reaching heavenward from creekside litter,
    Lifting gratitude for spring;

    Sunset-pink roses aflame, alight
    Against charred shell of home,
    Fiercer burning mere days past;

 Chalk-scrawled command,
    In after-dinner-mint pastels on pavement.

I found grace,
Insistent on tenacity of hope.
~crm, 2009

Where has grace sought and found you this week?  Here are some of my grace places from the list:
817. Able to worship and take communion with my husband
818. A solid sermon on the Spirit's filling
819. Diverse mix of ages and cultures worshiping with us
820. The heroes who laid down their lives for their neighbors on 9/11/01
821. The heroes laying down their lives for others day by day
822. Long Saturday sleep
823. Patient, cheerful tech support
824. Reminder that fear and anxiety indicate need to yield control to God
825. Husband who fixes me almond butter and honey sandwiches
826. Frozen yogurt for dessert
827. Cards sent and received
828. Healthy nephews beginning to learn soccer
829. Choosing gifts for people I love (and UPS delivering them)
830. Bloggy glimpses into my friends' homes and daily lives

Sunday, September 12, 2010

National Day of Encouragement 2010

Did you even know there was such a day?  I didn't either, until Dayspring enlisted participation through their (in)courage blog earlier this month.  To encourage their blog readers in encouraging others, they sent out 400 packets of Hope and Encouragement cards for commenters to play with.  As previously mentioned, notes of encouragement are one thing I have been able to do this summer, so I jumped at the opportunity.

All 10 cards will find new homes in short order, but the first one goes to a mom I know.  She has three active sons, ages 3 years and under.  In the last year, she has shepherded her flock through three moves, one of them across state lines while suffering from mononucleosis.  In addition to all that, she is a pastor's wife active in the women's ministry of their church.

(Whew!  I think I need to go lie down.  Wait a minute, I am lying down.)

She has my love and profound admiration.  She amazes me, and I tell her so.  But not often enough.

While I wish I could drop by her house at least once a week and spell her, that's not currently an option.  What I can, I do:  help pray her through her days, rejoice in her triumphs and cry for her when things are hard, and send her day-brighteners from time to time.  The envelope for this card seems big enough for some ice cream allowance.

Encouragement makes such a difference in my days; it is the least I can do to pay that grace forward.  Small gestures can have an impact:  gestures like adding an African violet to the grocery list, taking time out from a busy day to send an e-mail or a note, doing someone else's chore without being asked or expecting acknowledgement, offering a hug or a smile, thanking a service provider by name, or even simply asking, "How are you?" and waiting for an answer beyond, "Fine."  All these things can pour courage and strength into someone to face at least the next few minutes of her day.

None of us knows the battles facing the people we meet today, but we know our own.  Let us be gentle with each other.  More often than not, I find more courage in my tank after I have poured some into another soul.  Grace is funny that way.  May the Lord come alongside each of you with the encouragement you need today and use you as His instrument to encourage someone else as well.

Friday, September 10, 2010


Our roses weathering Wednesday's storms

“Lord, don’t You care that I’m drowning?
If one more wave breaks against my little boat,
Surely I cannot survive.”

Wind and waves,
Fulfilling His word.

“Lord, how can I live through another blow?
At Your word these trials must cease.
Have mercy; hear my cry.”

His touch on my hip, my strength, my health.
Pinned flat.  Nowhere to look
But at Him.

“Master, how can I serve You like this?
Unless You withdraw Your hand, I must perish.
Have mercy; hear my cry.”

Heard at last:
It is that “I” whose death I fear,
Not the storms at sea,
Which causes pain. 
Yet only after death
Does resurrection come.

“I will not let Thee go
Until Thou bless me.”

A piece from the Rose Garden Gazette archives, 2001-2002

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Blessing the Boundaries, Part 6: "Stay"

This post concludes a series on accepting our circumstances.  For the previous posts in the series, please see the following links:

"Stay" was one of the first commands we taught our current dog, Ebony.  We employ it in a range of applications.  For fun, we have him stay in an assigned spot while we leave his field of vision and hide a favorite toy for him to track; this is our family version of hide-and-seek.  More importantly, this command can keep him out of harm's way, out of the driveway as a car approaches or out of the kitchen when a glass has broken or something toxic to him has spilled.  Sometimes, we use it for something simply necessary, to communicate that he has to stay with the pet guardian at the kennel and not follow his desires out the door to the car with us.  He doesn't need to understand or know the reason; his responsibility is to obey until we release him to go elsewhere.

My dogs have taught me a lot about myself and my relationship with God.  This instance is no different.  I, too, need to learn to stay when instructed, whether or not the reason makes sense to me.  The temptation when the mundane continues long and monotonous without respite or when circumstances grow uncomfortable is to seek escape and diversion.  My husband likes to quote an ancient Christian proverb in such cases:  "Go, stay inside your cell, and your cell will teach you all things."  In its original context, the exhortation called monks to seek the solitude of their monastic cells instead of society and activity with each other, to find interior quiet through exterior quiet.  Might it not equally apply to accepting the situation Providence has assigned us?  To obeying the command, "Stay," with a glad and pliable heart?

That command was given me clearly through my doctor this summer, with instructions to stay in my house and rest.  The orders defining my cell were clear, but throughout I faced the choice of perspective.  Would I view my living room today as a prison cell or a monastic cell where God met with me?  Was this house arrest or a house party?  Some days were more challenging than others, and the cell defined by four literal walls proved less frustrating for me, actually, than the walls of pain and weakness shutting me up with myself and my sins.

My youth minister used to say, "Wherever you go, there you are," and there's the rub.  Staying in my cell stripped away the distractions and sin-management techniques that usually enable me to avoid looking too closely at some of the ugly aspects of self waiting for transformation, the places where I had unconsciously said, "Not Christ, but I."  My Master showed me my resistance to receiving without reciprocation, which is really pride; my persistent control-freak tendencies (pride, again, and fear); and that what I thought was acceptance of chronic illness was really the absence of threat to my "Isaacs."

The teaching hasn't all been ugly, though.  Through staying in my cell, I have also been learning that my family still loves and cares for me when I'm not producing and contributing; that I can trust God to meet my loved ones' needs without my help; and that the right the only the best my personal approach to household tasks did not come down from Sinai on stone tablets.  The examples of the Lord's work and power transcending physical confinement in other lives also encouraged me: Paul in prison, John on Patmos, Amy Carmichael confined to bed for decades of her service in India, Gitzen Girl in the present day.  I am learning, I think, to embrace what I can do rather than focus on what I can't.  The elimination of some choices and responsibilities has left me more free to write notes of encouragement, spend time with my mom as she helps, and offer a listening ear.

The command comes differently to each of us.  Whether our cell is a sickbed, a cubicle, a prison cell, a difficult relationship, or a noisy household, may the Lord grant us peace, joy, and the grace to recognize in these boundaries the best possible teachers to conform us to the image of Christ.  May we resist the urge to seek change when it's not God's leading but only our attempt to escape from the discomfort of growth.  May we learn to recognize, heed, and even welcome the Master's voice calling, "Stay,"  knowing He is in the cell with us.

For further exploration of the boundaries idea:  My poem "Contentment" is available in the archives of Communique Journal.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Glimpses of Gratitude 3

Today is Labor Day in the United States.  It is a welcome three-day weekend for us and a chance for teachers to take a breath after the first leg of the new school year.  Let it also serve as a blessed reminder to thank God for the often invisible laborers whose service supports and sustains our lives and comforts.

Personally, I am so very thankful to my Father for
  • kind, helpful nurses, lab techs, and pharmacists
  • sanitation workers
  • road maintenance crews
  • mail carriers, UPS delivery, and all the other people who enable me to shop from home
  • our vet and the good folks at the kennel who take care of our dog when we need to travel
  • grocery employees of all stripes
  • gas station attendants and mechanics
  • baristas
  • cleaning professionals
  • airline staff and pilots
  • educators, librarians, and their support staff
  • government workers, from the parks and recreation team that maintain our favorite park to the utilities workers to the city, state, and federal elected officials
  • the many, many folks involved in food growth, transport, preparation, sales, and service
  • those who do hard, physical labor in the seldom-hospitable outdoors maintaining homes, public buildings, and landscapes
  • the global network of information technology professionals who facilitate communication with distant loved ones, banking and trade, learning, worship for those unable to attend a physical gathering, and so many other things I'm not even aware of
  • and those who put themselves in harm's way to protect the rest of us: the police, fire departments, paramedics, and armed forces
As long as the list seems, there are many omissions.  Please chime in through the comments with your own thanksgivings I've overlooked.  Oh, and if you're counting, these would be #684-699.

holy experience

Friday, September 3, 2010

Blessing the Boundaries, Part 5

How Happy We Would Be!

    Once there was a little Johnny Jump-up with a gold and violet face.  All day long he hung his head and sighed, “Oh me, oh my.  Oh my, oh me.  If only I were tall and elegant like the rose, how happy I would be!”
    On a trellis nearby grew a tall, slender climbing rose with petals like the flush of a baby’s cheek.  All day long she hung her head and sighed, “Oh me, oh my.  Oh my, oh me.  If only I were strong and useful like the apple tree, how happy I would be.”
    Overhead arched the strong limbs of the apple tree, laden with sweet red fruit.  All day long he drooped his branches and sighed, “Oh me, oh my.  Oh my, oh me.  If only I had a cozy nest and a family to love like the robin, how happy I would be.”
    In its branches lived a little robin redbreast, hovering over her nest of speckled blue eggs.  All day long she hung her head and sighed, “Oh me, oh my.  Oh my, oh me.  If only I were free to soar into the sky like the eagle, how happy I would be.”
    Aloft soared the eagle, alone and splendid.  All day long he hung his head and sighed, “Oh me, oh my.  Oh my, oh me.  If only I could fly into heaven itself like the angels, how happy I would be.”
    In the heavens themselves, the angels went about serving God and His children among men.  One sad angel hung his head and sighed, “Oh me, oh my.  Oh my, oh me.  If only I could reign like God, with all things serving me, how happy I would be!”

    “O foolish, rebel creature!” said God.  “There is no God but Me.  Away with you into the outer darkness!”
    “As for you, silly eagle, “said the Lord, “If you flew into heaven, who would show the new strength I promise and the heights to which I call My people?”
    “As for you, little robin,” said the Lord, “If you soared like the eagle, who would show forth My tender care and provision for the smallest of My creatures?”
    “As for you, mighty tree,” said the Lord, “If you nested and nurtured like the robin, who would bring forth sweet fruit for the strength and joy of My people?”
    “As for you, precious rose,” said the Lord, “If you grew tall and thick like the apple tree, who would show the world both the beauty and the pain of life in this sinful world?”
    “As for you, tiny flower,” said the Lord, “If you were tall and elegant like the rose, who would make men smile and forget their worries in the beauty I lavish on the very ground they tread?”
    “O foolish creatures!  If you would only stop fretting over what you are not and enter into My joy in making you as you are, how happy you would be!”

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

A Poem on Intercession

Weary, yet Pursuing
(from Judges 8:4, 4/16/2007)

No shield-maiden of Rohan am I;
No Jael among the tents;
No Queen Suriyothai charging on elephant’s back—

Never did I plead to bear arms
And plunge into the fray
Alongside the warriors.

How much more content
To support the troops from home—
Knitting socks,
Writing letters,
Baking encouragement for care packages.

But when dark princes strike at
My beloved ones,
How can I remain safe
In the castle’s keep?

Now, though, the battle rages on too long.
My arms have long since tired
Of bearing shield and sword.
Send some relief to fight for me
Or strengthen drooping arms,
Lest others fall
Through my failure.

If you are fighting the hard, discouraging fight of intercession today and growing faint with the prolonged effort, may the Lord strengthen your hands to keep pursuing His glory despite your weariness.  As He did with Moses, may He send you an Aaron and Hur to hold up your arms till the battle is won.