Thursday, September 28, 2017

Nature-Watching at the Golf Course

Whenever possible, we try to attend one sports game per young nephew (AKA minion or wild thing) per season now that they live close to us. Occasionally two are possible; for baseball season this year, none were. One of them has had trouble finding his sport, but now he has: golf. Since we've seen the fewest games for him, we gave him the first slot this fall. Last Saturday we spent a lovely afternoon and evening watching him play and enjoying the beauty of the public golf course. Here is some of the beauty for you.


Great blue heron and turtle

Great Egret (or white heron)

Photo by Amore

Red-bellied woodpecker

Monday, September 25, 2017

C. S. Lewis: Advice on Writing

In the little volume C. S. Lewis: Letters to Children, the editors include a number of his letters to a young woman named Joan. From his side of their correspondence, it is clear she was an aspiring writer. (I wonder what became of her in adulthood.) In one letter he includes a short list of writing tips which I found convicting instructive:

  1. Always try to use the language so as to make quite clear what you mean and make sure y[ou]r. sentence couldn't mean anything else.
  2. Always prefer the plain direct word to the long, vague one. Don't implement promises, but keep them.
  3. Never use abstract nouns when concrete ones will do. If you mean "More people died" don't say "Mortality rose."
  4. In writing. Don't use adjectives which merely tell us how you want us to feel about the thing you are describing. I mean, instead of telling us a thing was "terrible," describe it so that we'll be terrified. Don't say it was "delightful"; make us say "delightful" when we've read the description. You see, all those words (horrifying, wonderful, hideous, exquisite) are only like saying to your readers "Please will you do my job for me."
  5. Don't use words too big for the subject. Don't say "infinitely" when you mean "very"; otherwise you'll have no word left when you want to talk about something really infinite (p. 64).
As a doting aunt who has frequent occasion to talk with my youngest nephews, I find it interesting throughout these letters what a straight-shooter Lewis is with the children who take books and writing seriously. He doesn't coddle or condescend but gives their work the respect of honest criticism as well as honest praise. I can learn from that, as well as from the investment he made over years in the lives of young people he only ever met through his books and exchanged letters.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Under a Friendly Sky

One of the habits I've developed with regard to my "One Word" focus for the year is to keep a list where I record occurrences of the word in Scripture as I encounter them in my reading. Another is to set aside a section of a commonplace book where I can copy out quotes including my word. (I also have a virtual commonplace file in Google Keep to copy and paste quotes discovered in digital reading.) It's amazing how the choice of a word opens my eyes to see it everywhere, and these small habits make a big difference in my growth in understanding my word.

This year my word is "good." Last week I pulled out my well-worn copy of A. W. Tozer's The Knowledge of the Holy and reread its chapter on the goodness of God. The following excerpt helped me. May the Lord bless it to your encouragement too.
Divine goodness, as one of God's attributes, is self-caused, infinite, perfect, and eternal. Since God is immutable He never varies in the intensity of His loving-kindness. He has never been kinder than He now is, nor will He ever be less kind. He is no respecter of persons but makes His sun to shine on the evil as well as on the good, and sends His rain on the just and on the unjust. The cause of His goodness is in Himself; the recipients of His goodness are all His beneficiaries without merit and without recompense.
With this agrees reason, and the moral wisdom that knows itself runs to acknowledge that there can be no merit in human conduct, not even in the purest and the best. Always God's goodness is the ground of our expectation.... Prayer is not in itself meritorious. It lays God under no obligation nor puts Him in debt to any. He hears prayer because He is good, and for no other reason. Nor is faith meritorious; it is simply confidence in the goodness of God, and the lack of it is a reflection upon God's holy character. 
The whole outlook of mankind might be changed if we could all believe that we [who are in Christ] dwell under a friendly sky and that the God of heaven, though exalted in power and majesty, is eager to be friends with us (pp. 128-129).
Those of you who have been reading my posts in chronological order may be wondering how this fits with the previous 2 posts about our recent family bereavement. I don't pretend to understand the mystery of God's goodness in our suffering, but I accept that it is true, because the Bible teaches it. Preaching truth to my feelings instead of letting feelings drown out the truth has become a very important spiritual discipline for me, and it doesn't happen automatically or accidentally.

The times when the love, faithfulness, or goodness of God are least palpable to my soul are the times I most need to seek diligently for their evidence. The best place to do that is Scripture, but the testimonies of wise Christians, past and present, also help. Casting back in my own memories to recall and meditate on God's mighty and gracious works is also important. Like the Israelites in the wilderness, we must actively remember, lest we forget.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

In Memoriam: Cynthia (Cindy) Kay Moore Davis (1957-2017)

Only goodness and faithful love will pursue me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord
as long as I live.

Psalm 23:6, HCSB

Amore, age 6, through his sister's eyes and pencil

Amore and I had been married 5 years when I first met Cindy. She and her husband, Jim, were serving as missionaries in Papua New Guinea at the time of our wedding and couldn't come. She did, however, write me a long letter soon thereafter on special air mail paper, thin and white, with a red and blue slashed border. The paper folded in on itself to become its own envelope and make the most of every gram of postage weight. She expressed her regret at missing the wedding and her delight at the family's reports of her new sister-in-law. That letter meant a lot to me, and I know it survived the purge of our possessions when we moved to Bangkok. Sadly, I have not yet located it in our new home, though I'm sure it's here somewhere, probably with my bookmark collection.

Nearly 5 years later, Jim and Cindy, with their children, were back in the United States on furlough, and a family reunion was planned where they were living during their leave. I was only a month out from major surgery, but we flew out to meet everyone in the snow-covered beauty of eastern Tennessee in January. I had heard much of this eldest sister and her artistic talent (which was considerable), but this was the first time we met. I was nervous and a bit intimidated.

The pipes froze in the condo where we were staying, along with another of Amore's sisters and her family. None burst, but the lack of running water did make a coffeemaker mishap difficult to clean up and postponed hot showers until the late afternoon sun thawed things out a bit. More inconveniently, it made the sisters' preparations for a surprise birthday tea for me a bit more complicated, as they had to prepare everything at Cindy's house and carry it to where I was staying and the tea was planned. That was my first real taste of the legendary Moore missionary flexibility. They all adapted as though they had planned it this way all along, pulled off a lovely tea party, and carted all the dirty dishes back to Cindy's like they did it every day.

Then Cindy and her family went back overseas, while Amore and I stayed put. For the next 8 years, we only got to see and visit with her a couple of other times, even after her family moved back to the States.

After Cindy and her husband moved to Texas in 2012 to help her parents, we began to see each other more regularly, including 2 more family reunions, and I gradually began to feel less awkward and intimidated and more comfortable with her. Amore and I spent a week visiting the New Braunfels family at the end of 2015, and she and I chatted about yarncraft and family. She graciously looked at our Alaska photos. She could have pointed out any number of flaws in them and told me how they could have been improved, and she would have been right, I'm sure. But she didn't. She encouraged me instead.

Weeks after that visit, Cindy wrote her siblings with the news that she had been diagnosed with cancer. Surgery was not an option for her sort of cancer, but chemo was. She and Jim were determined this was "not going to rock their world," because God was in control. They hunkered down to fight this.

Fight, Cindy did. She experienced all sorts of strange adverse reactions to the medicines intended to poison the cancer. She had one frightening infection her body couldn't lick for weeks. She and the doctor worked out a treatment plan her body could tolerate and kept going. Then the tumor numbers, which had approached but not reached remission levels, started rising again. Chemo wasn't working. She switched from fighting the cancer with chemo to fighting it with fully naturopathic treatments. When that didn't work either, she traveled to a different oncology center out of state that combined Western and complementary medical approaches.

The chemo seemed to be working again, until it didn't. In July her family made the decision to begin hospice care. Cindy passed away August 20, 2017, with her sister at her side singing a hymn and the same hospice nurse who had cared for her father until his death monitoring her vitals.

The week that began with her death continued with a solar eclipse and a hurricane ten times worse than Katrina. The heavens and earth seemed to echo the feelings of those who loved her.

Cindy and I only really began getting to know each other after her move to New Braunfels. We only really grew to be friends, at least from my perspective, after her cancer diagnosis. I couldn't cook her dinner or clean her house or drive her to medical appointments, but I prayed my heart out for her and encouraged her as much as I knew how. Her need drove me out of my awkward shyness. The series of quotes here from The Shepherd Psalm appeared in her honor and for her encouragement after she told me in January that Psalm 23 was her favorite passage of Scripture.  Even in her illness, she continued to encourage my attempts at photography, though she could do (and had done) much better. I did not receive special treatment in this. She loved to encourage those just beginning to explore the art she loved so much and had taught classes between relocating to New Braunfels and being diagnosed with cancer.

In the final months of her illness, my sister's oldest boy was so impressed by Cindy's pastel drawing of Ebony that he decided to write her a fan letter. Of course, a fan letter to an artist ought to be on the back of a drawing. What did Cindy like? "She's a girl, so she likes beautiful things that girls like... flowers and things like that." What else did she like? I thought for a moment. "Tea. Cindy really likes tea." With one of my teacups as a model, he drew her a teacup of his own design. Then he cut it out and wrote her a note on the back. I mailed it to her, but it came at a really rough week for her, so I wasn't sure she had even felt up to reading it.

She later acknowledged it in a text message conversation we had during her next chemo trip and said she enjoyed it and wanted to write him back. I sent her a photo of the nephew's own drawing of Ebony, which he made after he saw hers. She sent back applause and a smiley face. She said he was clearly very talented.

She was deeply happy that day, having just received her doctor's thumbs-up to delay her new chemo a couple of days so she and Jim could go visit her adult kids in the Pacific Northwest while she was feeling good. She said she was "besited." That was a new word for me, and she explained that Amore made it up when he was little as a combination of "beside myself" and "excited." He only used it once, but the rest of the siblings apparently adopted it as their own.

As Providence would have it, that was our last conversation. I sent love and messages to her through others in the final weeks, but I was unable to see her in person, and she was unable at that point to talk on the phone. That saddens me, but I'm thankful that she was so happy in our last interaction and so typically encouraging still of budding artists.

As her husband noted in his remarks at the Texas memorial service, I truly thought the Lord would heal her. Even a couple of days before she passed away, I knew that the Lord could raise her up from her sickbed if He wanted, like He did for Dorcas or Peter's mother-in-law. She had so much left to do.

In His love and wisdom, He answered our prayers for healing in the other way, the permanent one. She defeated cancer, not by remission but by walking through it into the presence of Jesus. (She must have been besited indeed in that moment.) She is beyond cancer's grasp now, beyond pain and weakness. Someday we will be able to pick up our friendship where we left off, and both of us will have whole resurrection bodies untouched by sickness and frailty. (Is there hot tea in heaven?)

For now, for those of us left behind, we remember. We grieve. We hope. We pray for her husband and adult children, for her siblings and boarding school friends who became like extended family. We give thanks for whatever amount of time the Lord gave each of us to know and enjoy this beautiful, brave, gifted woman who added so much beauty to her world.

In addition to Cindy's missionary service in Papua, New Guinea, she and Jim also worked in Zambia. They both grew up on the mission field in Africa and met at Rift Valley Academy. They celebrated 32 years of marriage in 2016. Cindy left behind three adult children, four siblings and their spouses, her mother, numerous nieces and nephews, and many, many friends around the world.

Father of mercies, comfort our afflictions.

Here are a few more glimpses of some of her artwork, as it was displayed after her memorial service (with apologies for the reflections):

After a stormy weekend, we emerged from her memorial to blue and white skies.

You may also like:
Through a Shadowed Valley (the first post here about Cindy's illness)
The Gift Nobody Wants, a poem about trials
Kingdom Suffering, about some of the Lord's good purposes in hard things

As of September 18, 2017, Cindy's YouCaring page is still active:

Monday, September 11, 2017

On Suffering for the Good of Others

My husband delivered the following remarks at his sister Cindy's memorial service on August 28, 2017. He has given his blessing to share them here. May the Lord bless these thoughts to your edification.

It’s been a hard few years for the Moore and Davis families. We have experienced a great deal of loss and suffering (although I do not think in the least that we are unique is this). I am surrounded by people who also have a great deal of their own burdens and difficulties to bear. I have seen others experience great and profound loss. The reality is that suffering and loss seem to be more the norm than the exception in this life, something that Christ affirmed when he told His disciples, “In this life you will have trouble…” (John 16:33).

I have reflected on this a lot in the last year: learning of Cindy’s cancer diagnosis early last year, watching the final days of my father’s life earlier this year, and now having watched Cindy slowly succumb to this disease. Often, when faced with such deep suffering, we struggle to make sense of it. This is especially true when it is someone like Cindy, someone with such a beautiful heart, someone who by our estimates does not in the least deserve such a lot in life.

We know the common platitudes about how difficulty and suffering make us better people, and that can be true. St. James says as much when he exhorts us, saying, “Consider it all joy when you face trials of many kinds, knowing that your suffering produces patience, and if you let it, patience will finish its work, making you complete and mature, lacking nothing” (James 1:2-4). However, in cases like Cindy’s, I confess that, even though it is the Scripture, sometimes such a sentiment leaves a bitter taste in my mouth. I am happy to apply that verse to myself, but not to her.

However, there is another side to this equation that is often missed, and that is what has helped me the most: that is, Cindy was not suffering so much for herself, for her own betterment; she was suffering for me. If that sounds strange, then bear with me.

Foundational to this, though, is how we understand the purpose of life at its most fundamental level. If you believe the constant message of our society, then you are setting yourself up for despair. If you believe the popular trope that the purpose of this life is to make a name for self, or to accomplish some dream, or to have a successful career and retire happy, you are going to be disappointed. Even if it is some nobler goal such as making the world a better place or serving in some great ministry, you will still find those leaving you in despair when you come face to face with suffering and loss.

No, the purpose of life is this: to become the friend of God. This is what we were created for, and this is the end to which all of our life is ordered. To put it another way, again quoting St. Paul, “For this is the will of God, your sanctification” (1 Thessalonians 4:3). You see, I have been dancing around the heart of the issue, which is the problem of evil. Especially for those of us who believe in a good God, we have to answer the question of why does He allow such evil to exist, and that comes back to fundamental nature of creation.

God did not create humanity to be his subjects, but to be his friends. God is fundamentally love, and as such the creation was an outpouring and overflowing of His love, culminating in the creation of mankind, a creature who like Himself was free, created in the image and likeness of God; a creature who was to reciprocate freely the love which is inherent to God Himself.

Love can only exist in freedom. If there is any form of coercion or necessity in a relationship, then it is no longer love. We, at the prompting of the devil, have squandered that freedom and turned away from God. Thus, evil—death, the destruction of God’s good creation—was born out of disobedience as a parasite on the love of God.

Yet God has not abandoned us. He has rescued creation from its bondage to evil, the devil, and the consequence of death. He has reconciled us to himself through the incarnation, life, and death of Christ. And he has again extended to us the hand of friendship. When we take that hand, we begin a lifelong journey of deliverance from the power of evil over our lives and participation with God in His redeeming work in the world. All our circumstances, good, bad, and indifferent, when experienced through our relationship with Christ, become tools in his hand to transform us into His likeness, to become His friend. Through them, He is extricating from us the parasite of evil, which tarnishes and blackens our souls.

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, in his famous work The Gulag Archipelago, says this about evil:

Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either—but right through every human heart—and through all human hearts. This line shifts. Inside us, it oscillates with the years. And even within hearts overwhelmed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained. And even in the best of all hearts, there remains ... an un-uprooted small corner of evil.

Since then I have come to understand the truth of all religions of the world: they struggle with the evil inside a human being (inside every human being). It is impossible to expel evil from the world in its entirety, but it is possible to constrict it within each person.

(Actually, as Christians, we would say not just to constrict it but eventually, to overcome.)

But let me bring this back to Cindy, for we are here today to remember her. What does all this have to do with her?

Well, Christ suffered for us. He bore the full weight of humanity’s evil, and He has conquered it and established His eternal kingdom, where all things are set right and evil is crushed beneath the weight of His glory. Moreover, He has set about to bring the realization of His Kingdom, the deliverance from evil and perfection of love, into each of our hearts. When He finds a willing heart like Cindy’s, not only does He do something beautiful in their lives by transforming them into His image, but if they are found worthy, He allows them also to share in the suffering that He suffers for the sake of the world. He allows them to participate is a special way in the work of redemption that He is doing in the world and their suffering, her suffering, becomes a tool by which He works on those of us who had the privilege to care for her in her suffering.

Paul has this enigmatic, at least to me, little verse in Colossians where he says, “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the church…” (Colossians 1:24). Within the context, it is obvious that he is talking about his suffering as a minister of Christ, and that is a common theme throughout Scripture. However, it is this idea of filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ that I never quite understood until recently. You see, Cindy’s suffering, and my father’s before her, have driven me to prayer more than any finely crafted sermon or book or exhortation. Some small thing, usually something of beauty, in the midst of my sometimes crazy life would remind me of her and in my grief for her, I would cry out to Christ for His mercy. In praying, I draw closer to God. In drawing closer to God, my faith in His goodness is strengthened as He answers my cry in small but significant ways that let me know He is not aloof to my pain but shares it with me.

Also, in the vacuum of service that Cindy has left—because, let’s face it, she served a lot—others of us have had to step up to fill the gap. That sacrifice is not without cost to our selfishness and a small death to our own wills and desires. We have had to give up some things that we would most assuredly rather be doing in order to serve Cindy and fill the gap she left behind. In those sacrifices, we become a little more like Christ who, although He was the very form of God, did not consider equality with God a right to be demanded or asserted but emptied Himself to become the very form of a servant, suffering even so far as death on a cross (Philippians 2:6-8). Love is fundamentally other-focused, self-emptying service. Because she bore the suffering of cancer, we all had to choose, to will, that we would love her through sacrifice and service. Actually, it wasn’t hard to love her.

I will point out one more thing. In the face of Cindy’s suffering, I have been forced to consider more deliberately all that I have to be thankful for, and thankfulness is one of the fundamental themes of Christian transformation. Recently one of my favorite pastors posted this comment to Facebook, or as Dad used to call it, “Faceplate”:

There is, however, a relationship that sets all things right and keeps us in our proper position: thanksgiving. Fr. Alexander Schmemann said, "Anyone capable of thanksgiving is capable of being saved." St. Paul said, "Give thanks everywhere and for all things." This is the description of a lifestyle - the only lifestyle proper to a disciple of Jesus.

Despite all the difficulties of the last year or so, there is still so much for which to be thankful. Life could always be worse than it is. When I start to get bent out of shape because of some small inconvenience, I remember what she has endured with such incredible patience and dignity and, yes, even thankfulness on occasion, and I am at once ashamed and forced to be thankful for my own circumstance. I realize, I have got it pretty good. No, I have got it really good. I have been so incredibly blessed in my life.

And so Cindy was found worthy to be a means of my sanctification: an opportunity for my transformation in love. Yes, I suppose she would tell you that her suffering benefitted her also in all the ways we talk about that suffering can be beneficial for the person who is suffering, but I think more importantly, her suffering has benefited me.

So it is with deep gratitude that I say thank you, Cindy, for being worthy to bear that cross for my benefit. It was not in vain that you suffered. Already it has borne fruit and will continue to bear fruit. Thank you for your patient endurance, always, up to the very end, thinking of others, apologizing to me for being bad company. Really? Are you kidding? You have nothing to be sorry for. You were found worthy to share in the sufferings of Christ for my sake. I am the one who is profoundly sorry. I can only hope I may some day, because of what I learned from you, be worthy also to suffer for others and not just for myself. May your memory be eternal.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Holy Light

Full moon, morning of September 7, 2017

Draw us ever closer
To Your holy light,
Lord God,
Like moths to a flame,
That our darkness might be purged and cleansed,
And our nakedness clothed
With the clean garment of Your righteousness.
Though Your holiness alone brings fear,
Your perfect love for us casts out fear,
For You are to us
We worship You.

~crlm, June 1, 1999 (forgotten and just rediscovered)

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

The Sweetness, the Security, the Strength of "Thou Art with Me"

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me....
Psalm 23:4a, ESV

Juneau, Alaska, September 2015

"Do you know the sweetness, the security, the strength of 'Thou art with me'? When anticipating the solemn hour of death, when the soul is ready to halt and ask, How shall it then be? can you turn in soul-affection to your God and say, 'There is nothing in death to harm me, while thy love is left to me'? Can you say 'O death, where is thy sting'? It is said, when a bee has left its sting in any one, it has no more power to hurt. Death has left its sting in the humanity of Christ, and has no more power to harm his child. Christ's victory over the grave is his people's. 'At that moment I am with you,' whispers Christ; 'the same arm you have proved strong and faithful all the way up through the wilderness, which has never failed, though you have been often forced to lean on it all your weakness.' 'On this arm,' answers the believer, 'I feel at home; with soul confidence, I repose on my Beloved; for he has supported through so many difficulties, from the contemplation of which I shuddered. He has carried over so many depths, that I know his arm to be the arm of love.' How can that be dark, in which God's child is to have the accomplishment of the longing desire of his life? How can it be dark to come in contact with the light of life? It is 'his rod,' 'his staff,'  therefore they 'comfort.' Prove him-prove him now, believer! it is your privilege to do so. It will be precious to him to support your weakness; prove that when weak, then are you strong; that you may be secure, his strength shall be perfected in your perfect weakness. Omnipotent love must fail before one of his sheep can perish for, says Christ, 'none shall pluck my sheep out of my hand.' 'I and my Father are one:' therefore we may boldly say, 'Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me.'"

(Viscountess Powerscourt, quoted in Spurgeon's Treasury of David on Psalm 23)

Blogger tells me it's been almost a month since my last post. It has been a maelstrom of a month, full of laughter with young nephews, tears, most especially over the loss of my eldest sister-in-law to cancer, travel, and change in many areas. I still hope and intend to honor Cindy with a blog post of her own, but for now please accept these comments on her favorite passage of Scripture.

With love and gratitude,