Sunday, December 25, 2011

Happy Christmas!


It’s Christmas Day!
And, in many homes the baby Jesus will be placed in the manger. In ours, like many others, the Christmas story from Luke 2 will be read.
In all of time—since time began, the triune God planned for this day—when the Godhead would split and in a unique and temporary way, no longer be one in the quite the same way.
Can I understand such an event? I cannot.
But, perhaps, when one has loved another for so long and so deeply—who is no longer here—maybe, just maybe—that one has the tiniest intimation of something so outrageous—maybe.
I don’t know what was happening all those months in Mary’s womb, but there came the moment of birth and God, very God, entered our world.
The angels sang, the shepherds watched, the wisemen worshiped, Herod plotted, Joseph protected, Mary pondered, and the Creator became the created, of a sort.
And should the Savor of the world not come as a babe—the very symbol of hope in a heavy, weary world?
For Mary there would be days to ponder, days to forget, and days to weep.
For Jesus there would be days to submit, days to love and instruct, a day to die, and a day to reclaim His glory once more.
Wisemen look for a Savior and wisemen still find Him—
Is there any better place to find Him than in the lives of us who bear His name?
Happy Christmas, all!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Joseph


If Herod had a mortal antithesis, it was the quiet unassuming Joseph. So much of the incarnation centers around Mary and the baby, yet Joseph was very much front and center. After Mary’s first encounter with the angel, it seems to be Joseph whom God leads through dreams.
He must have been a godly man, one who was more concerned with his relationship with God than what other godly men considered to be godly or religious. Seriously, how does one explain to his family and friends that he is going to marry his betrothed after she returns pregnant from an extended stay with her cousin? He doesn’t; he simply marries her. And when the baby is to be born— obviously too early—well now, people haven’t changed. What do we think?
Joseph was a risk taker, not the careless, flamboyant type, just the careful, contemplative type. So it’s Joseph who guides Mary first to Bethlehem and then to Egypt and back again to Nazareth. Sometimes in life we end up back where we began. Sometimes that’s good, and sometimes it isn’t. Sometimes, that’s just the way it is. Did he recall all the prophecies that he was helping to fulfill? I doubt he had time to think about it.
But, today is a good day to consider the man bearing the responsibility of his young wife, bearing a child he could not understand. For who could grasp Messiah as a baby? —Messiah, who would redeem them (and us) from bondage.
So then as today, Christmas is close at hand:
—Helen waking to the first snow in Heidelberg and exclaiming, “Oh, Brecky, it’s Christmas!”
—Flora grasping her too large cowgirl hat in the children’s Christmas program, singing, “Welcome, welcome…”
—Callie and Ellie, wide-eyed, stashing candy canes from Aunt Lora’s tree and stuffing them in their bags…
The children know it’s Christmas, and they anticipate it with joy. Somehow, in Joseph’s planning and care, I believe he looked on the coming birth of Messiah with joy.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Herod


I’ve never seen a nativity set that included Herod, and of course not, he wasn’t there—or was he? Though absent in body, Herod was a figure that should be acknowledged and reckoned with within the structure of the incarnation.
I see Herod sitting in a palace hall on a cold, moonless night—the sparks of the fire before him reflected in dark, calculating eyes. He purses his lips, and with squinted eyes he gazes into the flames.
 Herod’s very name raised awareness and caution. And the closer one was to him, the more there was to fear. No one was exempt—not brother, not wife, not child.
But, perhaps on this night, there was relief in the palace as Herod’s thoughts had turned from Jerusalem and bent toward the nearby town of Bethlehem.
The wisemen had come and gone; those knowledgeable in prophesy had kept no secrets. And Herod waits—waiting, staring into the fire.
As my vision of him retreats, viewing his back—head cocked to the side—I can hear his words still echo in the corridors, “Find the child, and send me word—that I, too, may go and worship him also.” And, just before the scene of Herod closes, I think I catch the hint of a smile and a gleam of satisfaction in those dark, foreboding eyes.

Friday, December 16, 2011

The Wisemen

The Wisemen—

Now that we have a grandchild in town, and since Mardels had a great sale on them a few weeks ago, we’ve purchased the Fisher Price nativity set. Being in America and being the 21st Century, the wisemen are very politically correct—one’s white, one’s black, and one’s Asian. Jay’s convinced that the Asian wise-person is a girl. (I think it’s just the hair, myself.)

Though tradition tells us there were three, there may have been less or many more. I like to think there were 5—enough for Herod to take notice of, yet few enough to slip through his clutches later—but it really doesn’t matter. They were wisemen—

What does it mean to be a wiseman?

Well, these wismen came seeking a king—a Savior.

So many things we seek: knowledge, wealth, acceptance—but maybe if we were wise—truly wise—we’d seek the Savior. And once we found Him—we’d bring Him our gifts; we’d  fall on our knees, and worship him—the Savior of the world.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Of Shepherds and Angels

"And there were shepherds watching their flocks by night…” 

Who were these shepherds? Some of them might have been quite young—like David when he tended the family’s sheep. I see the shepherds as regular people, people who go to work each day, do their job, and are happy when something good comes their way.

I imagine they spent a great deal of time alone out in the wide, wild places of the world. There could be worse jobs.

Time alone gives one opportunity to ponder. Time in nature gives one plenty to ponder about. Shepherds may have dreamed big dreams, but each day probably found them walking the same hills and each night, guiding their flocks back to the fold.

Perhaps, they’d noticed a strange light in the sky. Perhaps, they were discussing this very phenomena when from the familiar heavens a host sang forth to them: “Glory to God in the Highest. Peace on earth; good will toward men!”

And as they bolted toward Bethlehem town, did any stay behind to care for the sheep? I bet you, not a one.

Angels are creatures of mystery, and it puzzles me that the whole village wasn’t awakened with their song. Maybe the heavenly beings chose only to reveal themselves to the shepherds. Maybe the shepherds alone had eyes to see them.

I desire to see beyond—to see beyond the shortsightedness of humanity. If the angels sang a song today, would I have ears to hear them and eyes to see? —to see the miracle within my reach?

Without wealth, fame, and admiration, the shepherds saw the angels from the world beyond—beyond humanity’s shores.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Portraits of the Nativity


Jay sometimes gets frustrated with the details and background information that I often give him when I’m recounting an event that’s happened. But hey, I’m an English teacher, and those elements happen to be meaningful to me.
So, this cold (and un-snowy) night, I’m thinking about the characters of the Christmas story that’ll be reiterated in countless homes this season—
My thoughts drift back over the changing of seasons—one century, two. Beyond globalization, past European domination, into the heart of civilization’s birthplace, to a tiny village so insignificant that later people would exclaim, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”
From wooden figures on my mantel to living, working people, clothed in flesh, not so unlike my own—with aspirations, sorrows, perseverance, and joy—more characters of my imagination than biblical descriptions—I often picture Mary on the back of a donkey. I know nativity scenes must portray her gazing lovingly on the infant child, yet I still can’t help seeing her hunched over, wrapped in a blanket with the frigid winter wind chapping her cheeks.
This night the initial events of the coming Christ must have seemed so very far away—the angel’s visitation, those intimate conversations with Elizabeth, the hushed and private marriage ceremony, the dependable arm of Joseph she’d grown to lean on—
And now, they’d gathered their meager belongings to leave—to seek out refuge in Bethlehem. Certainly more than a census had whisked them out of Nazareth, away from family, condemning glances, the place she once called home.
And as she wrapped her covering more tightly, did it all seem too distant and too fantastic to actually believe?
Oh, how I have doubted in the harshness of life the path that once seemed so sure, so God’s will for me. Did Mary doubt too?
Did the small form in Mary’s womb ever seem more her baby than her God? Did she ever wish this happening on another? Did she ever simply wish for warmth and acceptance on a cold and blustery night?
Somehow, I always picture Mary on the back of a donkey—

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Thanksgiving


I don’t post much on my facebook status. When you’re traveling, they say not to publicize it or someone’s sure to rob you; and frankly during the school year, nobody really wants to know what I’m up to. But, last week (having crossed the half way mark of grading essays), I joyfully posted “31 down and 29 to go” and commented on the boring life of an English teacher.
The next day a former student responded with, “Yes, Mrs. Borkert, your life is boring, but….” Though sincerely and ingenuously meant, I just had to laugh, literally—because it is true, absolutely true. Most of life is filled with the mundane.
Just consider all the things that women clean just to see them dirty again—cups, clothes, carpets, kids… So, this Thanksgiving I decided to be consciously grateful for my boring life:
—for dishes that are dirty because there is food to eat.
—for laundry because it reminds me that God dresses us “like the lilies of the field.”
—for cleaning a house because it’s indicative of a home.
—and for graded essays that sit in 60 students’ inboxes. And today, that just might be my favorite of all!
Seriously though, today was for Geri’s wedding: for dreams, for beauty, for faith. And there’s nothing mundane about the hand of God, which directs our every boring step.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Let the Countdown Begin!

The countdown has begun! In less than a week, we’ll get to join the crowd of witnesses to celebrate the marriage of a dear friend. Watching Geri fall in love has been a true experience in “rejoicing with those who rejoice.”
For me, the shower was like reaching back to old friends and experiences from our earliest days in the Springs to recent graduates—each one holding a special place in my heart all these 20 plus years, which reminded me of just how very blest I am.
There were boxes and boxes—white, tied with purple ribbons—and such fun to watch her open every one! Each gift resonated with “I love you”; “I’m so happy for you”; “I wish you great joy.”
So, in anticipation, I ponder marriage—
Weddings are solemn because each is promising to love the other above himself and herself.
Weddings are holy because vows are taken before a righteous and stern God.
Weddings are beautiful because the very face of love is reflected in the couple.
Weddings are precious—like a rare stone—because relationships are both fragile and strong.
Weddings are exciting because we envision all sorts of adventures for them.
Weddings are intimate because the vows will be consummated with the very act that intertwines two souls.
And in some way each spectator, married or single, superimposes himself or herself on the wedding couple, looking back or looking forward, and thereby truly participating in joy.
I say again, let the countdown begin! We’re going to a wedding! There will be laughter. There will be joy. There will be celebration. There will be love—
And, I intend to relish every second.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

A Broken World


I was thinking of my cousin last night when I broke the humidifier. She grieves the death of her dad just weeks ago and now has received word that her son won’t return from Iraq by Christmas as was expected, but will go to Kuwait until July. I was thinking of her and her hurt when the humidifier slipped from my hand as easily as a slick piece of fruit. Indeed, our world is broken, broken as surely as the humidifier that looks fine on the outside but leaks like a sieve from the bottom when plugged in.
We seem to float on a sea of highs and lows—joy and pain. And for many the suffering is great, and the evil of our fallen natures wreak havoc on ourselves and others. For all the beauty and inspiration of nature and song, there’s an underside of turmoil, oppression, forsakenness. Where do we search? Where do we find relief? Where is there security?
In our desperation a good God does look down on us. I love the illustration of James Weldon Johnson’s poem “The Creation” where he portrays God in His creation of man as a “mammy bending over her baby.” Could there be a more tender analogy? Yet, often that image is so hard to see. Sometimes in our frustration we even push it aside and refuse to believe it.
Yes, this is a broken world—filled with pain and suffering. I suppose we could cast a condemning eye on Eve, but really anyone of us, I’m convinced, would have eventually made her choice—and broken a perfect world as easily, and perhaps as inadvertently, as a piece of wet plastic slipping from our hands.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Church


The following is a conversation between our eldest grandson and his cousin when they were four while playing at their grandparents, where both families were spending the summer. 
Breck: “Let’s make a vampire house with bats and spiders and really dark.”
Thad: “Yeah, like a church!”
To put their conversation into context, Thad lives in Vienna, Austria, and even at age four, he’d been shuffled through a plethora of old European cathedrals of the Middle Ages. Their moms just laughed as they overheard them, just as I did when I read it on facebook. But, even now that they are a few years older, Thad’s four-year-old perception of church still intrigues me—maybe even more so because we’ve shuffled through our own share of old cathedrals the last two summers while vacationing with Joel’s family in Europe.

From Strasbourg's to Canterbury’s Cathedral, most of the churches we visited were dimly lit. Though the sun filters through astounding stained glass, it presents a mood of somberness. The vast expanse of the ceilings can make one feel small, and the flickering light of the candles and the hushed voices of the masses give the feeling of a place too holy. Though awed by the architectural mastery of each cathedral, I think I understand Thad’s perception of “church.”
And since the church actually is people, I have pondered frequently these last three years the condition of the church I carry around in my own soul. Is it dressed up on the outside with the stained glass of all the Bible stories and verses I’ve learned over the years, yet the only light is in the small flicker of candles in a corner? I sometimes wonder how cold and distant perhaps I feel to those around me?
Though I’ve been taken in by the swell of Canterbury’s organ and the magnificence of the flying buttresses of Notre Dame, I think one of my favorite churches is in Heidelberg, kind of off the beaten path. Entering, I was struck by the brilliance of the light reflected in the white and brightly painted walls. It had a freshness about it.
But perhaps, best of all may be a small chapel in the heart of a Tuscan village. Kim had been there before, and when I walked in some time after her, she stood alone amidst its small simplicity. As I approached, she whispered, “This is my favorite church.” I could understand why. It was a place where a woman could rest her soul, a place of peace and solitude, hidden away from the cares of high expectations and life’s disappointments—where one could set aside all pretenses, fall before an alter as old as time itself and worship the God who sees beyond all human frailty and covers us with His hand.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Thoughts on Eccl. 8:15

"I commend the enjoyment of life!"

Life that is enjoyed is carried over in work and all of one's days.
It's important to enjoy life;
It is precious.
Life itself is reason to be glad.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Send Forth Good Works


Cast your bread upon the waters and after many days it’ll return to you. Eccl. 11:1
The image of the sea and the tide coming in, takes me back to the great oceans I’ve seen and the interminable ebb and flow of the water. From the waves of the North Sea crashing upon the cliffs below Tantallon’s  ruins to the calm flow of the Mediterranean lapping along the Cinque Terre in midsummer, the water continually churns up in a cycle of carrying out and bringing in.
The oceans have always held an awesome wonder for me, probably because I’ve always lived quite landlocked. There’s just something soothing to my ears in the rhythmic flow, something restful to my eyes in the distant gaze where the water brushes the sky. There’s powerful enticement in water too blue to imagine—both dangerous and comforting.
And so, the writer of Ecclesiastics instructs us to send forth good works upon life’s sea—and watch in anticipation for their return. It is the joy of an old one’s soul to see their return after many ages. And who’s to say they won’t return again and again?

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Winter Is Coming


I was washing windows this morning. Whenever I wash windows, I can’t help but remember the “old” windows. I washed the old windows exactly twice in almost 20 years. The last time I washed the old windows was a week when my parents were here. They’d brought their trailer and had taken the kids half way up the mountain to a camping spot. Dad’s truck wasn’t made to pull trailers over mountains, and half way was as far as he dared to go.
Since Mom and Dad had the kids, it seemed like a good time for Jay and me to wash windows, and so we did. They were horrible windows that should never have been invented, aluminum with storm windows attached. Jay washed the outside while I washed the inside, breaking nails and pinching fingers while trying to pry open the worthless storms that didn’t keep out the cold during the severe winters that we used to have anyway. I think we thought we could knock them out in a day and then join everyone else camping. It took longer than we thought, much longer.
I think we washed windows for three days. It seemed like the whole week. It was foolishness on our part. Those were lean years when I saw my parents very little. I think I was bitter, and I never forgave the windows. And I never washed them again, ever! Oh, I would Windex them on the inside, but they were never again actually washed.
Years later, after all of our kids graduated from college, we purchased new windows. We spared little expense since the plan is to live in this house far into our doting old age. The new windows are vinyl and double paned; all on the second floor can be washed from the inside, and it only takes a couple of hours if I’m swishing right along. When we first got the new windows, I think I washed them every month right up till cold weather. I must have felt like I needed to make up for all those lost window washing years. After a couple of summers, I decided that was ridiculous. People who are conscientious about their windows do them no more than twice a year. But, when I wash them, I always remember the old ones and how I wished I’d only washed them once.
Winter is coming both literally and metaphorically, and I do want to be ready. I just happen to believe that washing the windows has very little to do with it…especially if as predicted it snows on Wednesday, in which case I hope it comes from the north—the side of the house with no windows.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Sometimes Life Doesn't Turn Out the Way We Planned


One of my favorite old movies is While You Were Sleeping. I remember first seeing it at an early showing with my friend Geri, whose wedding is coming up next month. It starts and ends with Lucy saying, “Sometimes life just doesn’t turn out the way you planned.”
I was so reminded of that today when I was talking to my friend Shannon who has just returned from a trip with her son to her cousin’s home in California. Their trip included a day at Disneyland that was beyond “magical,” in a negative sense of the word. With the typical heat and madness of a busy day at Disney, including a potty training faux pas, being vomited on, and totally bewildering the Disney staff, she said it was more like a “comedy of errors” —an experience that they’ll all laugh about long into old age.
And it’s true: Life often doesn’t turn out the way we plan. Sometimes that’s weighty, —with illness, pain, and rejection. Sometimes it’s wonderful, like Geri’s upcoming wedding. And, sometimes it’s just Disney beyond belief. If we live long enough, we get to experience some of each.
Right now, I know people struggling with the hardest things life can send our way and others on top of the world. Most days, thankfully, I live in-between. It’s a good reminder for me to appreciate the mundane—the day-to-day work of teaching kids, grading papers, and walking and eating with Jay each night. To still be mesmerized by the first snow on the Peak, even after 23 years of living in Colorado Springs; to be elated over a baby’s first tooth; to smile and be smiled back at. To know that even when life is dismal, it is still good.
At the end of the movie, Lucy reiterates: “Yes, life doesn’t always turn out the way we’d planned.” Sometimes that’s regretful; sometimes it isn’t. Either way, life is a gift.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Living Intentionally


Callie and Elliott live intentionally. From the moment their eyes pop open in the morning to when they gather their entourage of babies, toys, and computers to take to bed, they are busy, busy… busy concentrating on the “task” at hand.
There’s something to be said about focusing on the task at hand. Women pride themselves at multitasking, but there’s a difference between getting things done and actually experiencing them. I’ve been thinking a lot of late that maybe experiencing a few things is better than doing a lot of things.
Admittingly, I’m not very good at this. Even as I wrote this journal, I paused to take the potatoes off the stove and flip over the meat in the skillet. Then, I added a few lines in the Home Depot parking lot while waiting for Jay. That’s definitely not how I like to write.
If I were to tell you how many papers I’ve graded since the beginning of school and how many more I’ll grade before the quarter ends in two weeks, how many quarts of grape juice I’ve made, tomatoes and pickles I’ve canned, and apples and peaches put in the freezer, that might sound impressive. But in reality I often need to spend more time with Jay than what I do. I need to sit and write because I just need to. I need to pick the last of the roses before the winter’s frost and stop long enough to look at them.
I like to can and I have to grade papers, but sometimes I just need to know when to stop. Jay saved me from myself today by taking the rest of the grapes to school and giving them away.
Another thing about little girls—Callie and Elliott don’t generally spend a long time on any one activity—unless you’re reading them Fancy Nancy books. Then, when night comes, they gather their stuff, throw you kisses and climb the stairs to bed. God gave us dark because He knew we needed rest. We need to be careful how much of that we rob in the name of “doing.” He gave us cool, autumn days to take in before it’s destroyed and made anew next spring. I want to do a better job at living intentionally—even if that means putting aside some things.
—the parishioner who doesn’t do anything

Saturday, September 24, 2011

S- was a cutter


Journal for Christa—
S— was a cutter. Now at that time, we didn’t even know what that was. There were adults who tried to help her. But, I think, even they were over their heads. It might have been nice if one of them would have tried to explain to us. But, they didn’t. When she started stealing, the college had little recourse but to send her back home. I have wondered what we all sent her back to. Whatever it was, she didn’t stay long. She was soon back in town and shortly thereafter married. I hope that things eventually worked out well for her.
How little I used to know, and how little I realized it. I think I started realizing how little I knew after I had kids. From potty training to driving, as each year passed, I felt like I knew less and less.
There is one thing, though, that I am learning—and that’s to listen. I listen best to my grandchildren. Whether it’s a conversation over “Loot Loops” or 3-year-old instruction on how much Kool-aid is “okay” to drink with popcorn on movie night or watching the swans gently float beneath a bridge in Stratford-upon-Avon, it’s easy for me to linger and listen. I wish I’d learned to listen earlier. I wish I listened more often.
If I had listened years ago, what would I have heard? If I listen now, what will I hear?

I think I learned to hear when I learned I didn’t know. 

Friday, September 16, 2011

Listen for the Angels


Today my uncle is dying. He isn’t expected to live beyond the day. My uncles were people who looked on me fondly as a child and an adult—and teased me whenever they had a chance.  Uncles are proud of you and wish you the best in life. This day takes my thoughts to what that I’d written earlier this week regarding something Angela had said—
I’ve been thinking about what Angela said at lunch yesterday—that the children see angels. Her friend who works with terminal children speaks of how common it is for them to see someone that catches their attention the day of their death. “They might mention, ‘Mommy, there’s that lady again’ wherever they go during the last day.” Angela’s friend believes that these visions are angels—angels the children see, that we do not.
And if the children see them when they approach that most terrible translation—to leave all that one has known to go wherein all our hope lies—then they are here, but I don’t see them. Is it that I cannot or that I will not? Yet, the angels are here. They are sent by God. And, if I cannot see them, then let me feel them—to know they walk on each side to guide the path I trod—their only purpose, a messenger of the Most High. And if the angels be near, can His gaze be not far away?
“Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God. Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein.” Mt. 19:14

"For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. after that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.  Therefore encourage each other with these words."  I Thes. 4:17-18
This day, seen or unseen, the angels will make way.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Living Today


When Breck was little, and once when Helen was a baby, on a few occasions people mistook me for their mother. Jay always reminded me that these incidents usually occurred in dimly lit restaurants when Joel and Kim weren’t around, and that the three of us do share certain resemblances.  It did, however, always make me feel good. It’s been a long time now since Breck and Helen were babies, and those days are gone forever.
Monday evening as I walked the greenway, a small girl pointed at me when she and her mom approached and said, “Grandma!”  Eventually, time passes, and all the firming cream in the world isn’t going to dial back those decades.
I firmly believe that people should live in the present. The past cannot be recaptured, and if we long too much for the future, we can end up tossing away days or even years. It’s easy for me to live in the present when things are going well. Labor Day was a wonderful day. Jay and I rose early and went to Memorial Park to see the hot air balloons. It’d been years since we’d done so. At some point the kids got old enough to vote for sleeping in, and then there just always seemed to be something else to do, something to work on. But Monday, we pushed that all aside.
I’d forgotten how fun it is to wander among the balloons and watch the owners fill them with air and lift off. After awhile we wandered over to the lake to watch the balloons dip into the water and eventually took our morning walk around the lake. Yes, when things are going well, it’s easy to live in the present. It’s when things get hard that I don’t do so well with that. That’s when I find myself wishing for the next day, the next week, the next summer—without considering that days (good and bad) are to be lived, not wished away.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Thoughts on Judas


The following are just some thoughts on Judas as Mark preached on Matthew 7 a couple of weeks ago. Since it’s been awhile, and I’m not always good with quotation marks as I take notes and think about what he says, I’m not positive where Mark’s thoughts left off and mine worked in. Anyway, his sermon did get me thinking about Judas and how someone so close to Jesus could have missed the boat so totally that it ended in his own destruction.
When Judas returns the money to the chief priests, they reveal their vast wickedness. Not at all concerned with truth, they had their man and salved their own consciences by using the money to purchase the Potter’s Field, a cemetery. To Judas, they responded, “What is that [betraying Christ] to us? That’s your responsibility.” And so it was. It’s a sad thing to get to the end of something and realize our fault in the situation; but instead of seeking out the wicked priests, Judas should have gone to the One who could have made all things right for him, but he did not. Instead he tried to fix the mess he’d made, but it simply could not be undone. The priests did not care.
So instead, in his despair Judas hanged himself. There is a lesson there. First, I don’t want to make that kind of mess to begin with. It’s kind of amazing to have walked with Jesus and not have known Jesus; but Judas did. It’s so easy to get caught up in our work—sometimes good work—and make stupid decisions. Judas was not unique that way.
And when Judas recognizes his fault, he did what I so often do: he tried to fix it himself. He wants to change the past, but he cannot. When Judas can’t fix it himself, he discovers he can no longer live with himself either. Judas cannot change the past, and he cannot live in the future.
It’s a dangerous path to think we have all the answers—to seek only what we want—to assume we are in control. Yet, to recognize we can’t do it ourselves—really, what a wonderful place to be. For from there, it is only a short step to experience that God can and does fix things. The chained are those who think they can fix the mess within themselves. And are we not all a mess—at least at some point?

Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Dragonflies!


As I began to descend the hill where the greenway opens into the park, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. All across the lawn, the air was filled with dragonflies—zillions of them! Soaring and zipping around and around, their activity forced me to stop and look intently to see what they really were.

My cousin would have loved them, but not even her fancy camera could have captured even a single one. I wanted to stand there and watch them. There were so many; they were amazing. But, I could not. Pressed for time, I continued down the hill, leaving the dragonflies to their frenzy. But, right before I crossed the bridge, I noticed two go whizzing by—the first to leave the fold. Perhaps they’ll find the lily pads and waterfall in my backyard—


Hovering just above the grass
To soaring heights into the skies,
My eyes beheld a gathered host
Of frenetic, frenzied dragonflies.

Over rivers, dales, and hills,
I sense you by and by—
Not downcast with your grief and tears,
But, dancing with the dragonflies.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Under the Rain Clouds


Some think I live a charmed life, but it is not so. Our lives are as normal as the next person’s. We did do incredible and exciting things this summer. We saw all four of our children, their spouses, and all nine of our grandchildren—no small feat considering where they all live. But, I also looked deep within myself, and I didn’t like what I saw, a discovery made more perplexing because I didn’t know what to do about it.  And sometimes in the midst of the spectacular, a pall of sadness would settle in. Sometimes life is like walking under the edge of a storm cloud.
It rained this evening and I thought the storm had passed; but though the sun was shining when I stepped off the porch, it was still sprinkling. But, as the evening was waning, and I intended to walk an hour (and I’d just put on a second coat of nail polish that I wanted to dry as I walked), turning back just wasn’t an option.
Now, how can the sun also shine in the rain? I don’t know, but it can. As I entered the park, the clouds revealed a rainbow—not one of the spectacular ones we sometimes see, but a rainbow nonetheless. Clear run off gurgled through the drainage ditch—and I walked. And as I walked—across the park and up the hill—the rain and its rainbow melted back into the clouds. Eventually, a coolness washed off the strength-sapping heat of the day.
Maybe walking under the edge of a rain cloud can make us wiser and stronger. I hope so; God knows I need it.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

What Are the Odds?


One of our local supermarkets is playing Yahtzee. So, one afternoon shortly after returning from the UK, Jay and I dragged in our jetlagged fannies, put away the groceries, and sat down at the kitchen table with 9 Yahtzee cards. Jay handed me a coin and we took turns scraping off the silver coating as we made our dice selections. Carelessly, we rarely got two matches in a row. Then, on one card I started at the last row—one 4, then two 4’s, 3—Now, we were more awake—4 and 5! Five 4’s in a row! We’d scratched off what the prize was on all of the other 8 cards: one dollar.
The commercial had said you could win $20,000. I didn’t scratch off the prize on my winning card because I was afraid I was supposed to wait. And, I tucked the winning card in my purse to redeem after church Sunday morning.
On our Sunday morning walk, I said, “What if I won $20,000?” Jay looked over and said, “Honey, you’ve won one dollar.” “Well, if it’s $40, we’ll take the kids out for lunch, and I’m not cooking.”
Later, at the supermarket service desk, the lady said it was perfectly fine to scratch off the prize before bringing in the card. So, expecting to reveal my one dollar winnings, I carefully removed the silver coating to reveal—I’d won—2 more Yahtzee cards—
After we made a few purchases to cook lunch, I held 3 new Yahtzee cards. Jay handed me a coin: “Rub them off right here.” No matches for me, but 2 of the cards’ prizes were for one dollar, and one card, 2 bucks.
What are the odds of selecting 5 matches on a Yahtzee card? Then, what are the odds that that card would be the only one out of 12 cards with no monetary value whatsoever?
That’s why I don’t gamble; that’s why I’m not much of a risk taker. That’s also why I got up and went to work this morning—and the reason I’ll do the same tomorrow.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

The Thames


Do not be alarmed if I should write of sadness, as life has its natural ebb and flow, not so unlike the River Thames. Daily, the Thames rises and falls with the tide—as much as 20 feet, I’m told.  And I believe it, for I’ve seen it with my own eyes.
On an early afternoon, while crossing the Millennium Bridge, a foot bridge over the Thames in London, I noticed it was full, clear to the brim of the containment walls that Londoners built—I don’t know, maybe centuries ago—to hold back its daily influx.
Then, in the hours that followed, Joel and Kim saw a play in the The Globe, and we and the children took the tube across town to Hyde Park because Breck and Helen chose playing in the park and eating ice cream over a river cruise.
Arriving back (somewhat late) in the early evening, the tide had carried out the flood, revealing a shoreline along the Thames, accessed by a set of stairs along the retaining wall. In its decline, it’d left 400-year-old ceramic pipe stems and shards of broken pottery, all treasures for adventuresome children—and adults. Once they knew what to look for, they were on the hunt, seeking out “treasure” left by the river as it had bobbed along the tops of the walls. Soon, Jay was pulling plastic bags from his pack to hold their loot. The only mishap was an unexpected wave from a boat that swept over Helen’s shoes, soaking them through, which did cause considerable consternation for a time.
As evening turned to nightfall, which is still quite light in London this time of year, we turned our back on the Thames. Reaching the stairs, his face aglow with the excitement of success, Breck handed me his bag and exclaimed, “This was the best day ever!”
Hundreds cross the Millennium Bridge in a continuous stream. I wonder how many consider the river’s ebb and flow, and the flood that would bring destruction if not for the walls and the wake that deposits history—treasures for a child, broken though they be. I don’t know how many ponder the river’s ways. I’m only glad that I have.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

So Many Grapes!



Journal for Christa—
I don’t know if it was the cold winter or the advice Nate got from his dad before he pruned them last Christmas, but in 20 years I’ve never seen so many grapes in my life! Up and over the veranda, huge bunches dangle from the vines.
Traci said she’d read where the harsher the winter, the sweeter the grape. Just looking at them reminds me of this morning’s sermon by a visiting pastor. He spoke on life’s trials—
·      How we live in a fallen and broken world
·      How we as Christians aren’t exempt from creation’s brokenness—from natural disasters to terrible diseases. (And, I would add relationship thorns to that, as well.)
Yet, the end result is good—because it makes us stronger—stronger for the next trial.
But, sometimes, I think it doesn’t make us stronger. Whether we failed or those around us failed, it just didn’t work—I don’t know why.
That’s when I pray that God will come to love us back to Himself—gently, carefully working in our world, not unlike a skillful pruner of grapes.
I’ve often heard of God’s pruning our walk as harsh and painful, but I don’t always see it that way. I want to see the hand of God in my life and others, and it’s not always negative, even when we’ve gone far from Him. I most often see it as gentle, patient, and with an unexpected twist. And even the stuff trimmed off can be beautiful and useful—like the grape vines Mel and Nate twisted into wreaths from his cuttings last winter.
Then, in the end—even when things turn out differently from what we’d choose—we can see good, too—God good.
So here today, I sit staring up at bunches and bunches of green grapes, that in two months time will turn dark, deep black purple. And oh, the smell of them—I always know when to pick them from the wonderful grapy smell on a warm September evening. And this year there are so many! I don’t know whatever I’ll do with all of them!