Stumbling In The Waning of Dawn’s Early Light

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The cast iron pan takes the butter and I lift the pan handle to swirl the melting yellow; frothy and waiting. I am making pancakes. A frost has come in the night and the furnace rumbles underneath the floorboards and I want pancakes with blueberries. First light is barely scraping over the trees in the front yard. It is a sign of what is to come; that darkness will arrive early and leave late. Autumn, despite her radiance, sounds a trumpet heralding the coming winter in her falling leaves, dead underbrush and diminishing light. It is in the diminishing that I am beginning to feel small, too.

I pour creamy batter into the butter pooled pan. The medallions crisp up around the edges. I spoon wild blueberries on top of each pancake because I am teaching today and I don’t want the tips of my fingers stained blue,even though the kids would probably get a kick out of it. They love asking about every scrape or wart or wrinkle they see on me, yet it’s funny they don’t think me old. And I’m not, really; but there are signs pointing in that direction. I flip the pancakes and push brew on the coffee pot. I squint at the back window trying to see the thermometer. I may need more than a sweater today.

There is only black.

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I grab a white plate from the cupboard and flip the pancakes onto it. A lost blueberry sizzles in the pan. I stab it with my fork as nothing will be wasted this morning. The pancakes need more butter, of course, and as it slides off the top pancake, I pour the syrup. I’d  finished up the real deal earlier, so I am left with the store bought stuff. I try to console myself that it doesn’t contain high fructose corn syrup. No matter. It’s not and never will be the same.

I place the plate, steaming, on the counter. The coffee is done. I pour cream and watch the swirl of white and black mix into each other to make a new color. I see that the kitchen is brighter. My husband bought me new light bulbs. They are the kind that illuminate a room as close to natural sunlight as can be contained in a tube of twisted glass and wattage. I didn’t ask him to buy them, he just presented them to me the other day. I wasn’t thinking the bulbs we had needed changing out, but then he said the new ones might help. Help with what, I wondered. When he twisted out the old for the new it was then I remembered. Like a deer that thirsts for water, I thirst for light.

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In the summer it is so easy. I wake at dawn. I am unable to stay in bed in anticipation of all that might transpire, the encounters I will have, the joy of working at something percolating, spilling.  I always stand at my kitchen window with a steaming mug, absorbing the sky, the trees, the birds. But now that darkness enshrouds the morning, I linger on the pillow. I wait until I absolutely must get up. I stand at the kitchen window and there is nothing to absorb. I cannot see a thing past my reflection enveloped in a coffee steam cloud staring back at me against the black.

I feel thirsty.

It is not that I am immobilized by the lack of light, but I do feel a weight. I know that many suffer long and hard this time of year. I don’t pretend to know the depths of that sort of suffering.  I am acquainted, however, with a melancholy that wears like a too-heavy coat on a too-warm day. It is in October when I begin to spend the better part of the next three months fighting to keep the coat from suffocating me.

The truth is, I am a follower of Jesus and I am a stumbler.  I stumble to find beauty in ashes. I stumble to find peace in the storm. I stumble to maintain joy even though I am following hard after the most Joyful, Peaceful, Beauty-Finder there is. I am like Peter, the great Stumbler, who realized that the only way to move forward was to keep his eyes on Jesus the whole time.

Fixed, is the word.

Glued.

Fastened.

Not. Coming. Off.

How to stay fixed looks like me grabbing His Word, His light-unto-my-path- promises over and over and over again. It looks like me shedding my wants to bless another’s needs.  It looks like me not giving in to the stumbles of fear blaring ebola, devastating weather patterns, or invading terrorists. It’s me accepting sunshine light bulbs from a husband who remembers what I want to forget.

This is where I find Jesus, the Redeemer of all Stumblers, who restores my soul, lifts me from all my stumblings and reaches past all my gropings in the waning places.

The Strategy of Retreat

We, my friends, are at war.

Think about life and the things we must do to confront, engage, defend or advance upon just to stay sane, and for some, to stay alive. The externals are enough to bring the stoutest of heart to fainting.
Ebola.
Genocide.
Tornadoes and drought and double hurricanes. Oh. My.
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Then there are the things that reside closer to home, the stuff that lives in the interior, underneath the surface of maintaining the status quo.
Hard relationships.
Health issues.
Finances and jobs and family blow-ups. Oh. My.
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What is there to be done when one is hemmed in, pressed upon, backed up against?

 

Man's face getting stepped on
Some are inclined to fight harder with shoulders braced and stomachs knotted.
Some are inclined to voice complaint upon complaint upon complaint in a never ending swirl of social media soup.
Some are inclined to deny the pain of being human with plastered smiles and Pinterest perfection.

 

Note on a board

Who has considered the power of the blank spaces? The power of the pull back? The genius of getting low?
Who has considered the strategy of retreat?

General George Washington recognized the strategy of retreat when he engaged his troops against much superior British forces during the Revolutionary War. Washington held the belief that as long as he kept a working army on the ground there was always a chance England could be defeated. This meant that his army was never in a position where they became trapped without a means of escape. Washington’s goal was to always have an army ready for another day. He employed several retreat missions…what looked like running away…to keep his troops alive and in the end be able to defeat a much larger and well-armed foe.

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Jesus knows the power of retreat, even retreat on a cross to bring about the greatest strategic win of all time: Redemption.

Yet He often withdrew to deserted places and prayed.

Before daybreak the next morning, Jesus got up and went out to an isolated place to pray.

Then Jesus said, “Let’s go off by ourselves to a quiet place and rest awhile.” He said this because there were so many people coming and going that Jesus and his apostles didn’t even have time to eat.

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Jesus knew how to get away, how to get low, and many times he brought His friends with him. He was not afraid of the quiet. He was not unnerved by the isolation. He did not avoid the desert places, because He knew they were strategic. If we look closely at the biblical narrative we will see that many of these “retreats” either preceded or followed a major in-breaking of God. Like healing and crazy deliverances and the deliverance of crazies.

Jesus is my Captain.

He is my example for employing the strategy of retreat. It is there that I gain His perspective on everything that may be going right with my life and everything that may be going so very wrong. I am learning the power of retreat for a season so that I can see better, love better and even when necessary, fight better. I am learning to be ready for another day.

I have put away the hard work of writing for much of the summer.  As much I am compelled to put thoughts to paper or laptop, I felt God say to lay it down for a few weeks. I needed to let some things percolate. I needed to let some things go. I needed to let other things rise to the surface and, by retreating from my normal routine, the way has become a bit clearer.

This summer I have retreated to a wedding, a garden, a stream, a beach, a book, a journal, a closet, a coffee shop, a bench, a couch and the inside of a 20 minute nap. In these retreats, I’ve recovered, repented, re-aligned, re-purposed and re-acquainted myself with what is most needed…listening to the still small, voice of my Captain.

All strategies, these, to ready me for the next time I must engage the fight.

We are all at war. Therefore is imperative that we understand the power of retreat to gain in the quiet places what we cannot in the midst of the battle. It may be the bravest thing we can do.

 

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He will win who knows when to fight and when not to fight… – Sun Tzu in the Art of War.

God Wears Running Shoes

Are you far off?

Do you feel like you are in a distant country wondering how you got so far off the mark?  Are you scratching your head thinking, how did my life come to this?

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Or are you lying down in green pastures? Are you wondering why you have been so blessed despite your failures and frailties and for some, fatherless-ness?

 

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Then, perhaps, you have met the God who wears running shoes.
Jesus was always telling everyone about this God who runs.

So he got up and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion for him, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. Luke 15:20

We can forget this part of God so easily because we can’t seem to get our eyes off the ground…off our stuff.

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We are familiar with looking down aren’t we? We have tipped our chin downward toward the natural state of things, whether it’s what is on ourselves, our neighbors, our iphones.  We miss the wonder that, God, in all of His brilliance and majesty and love, would even think of running toward us.

So he got up…

Four little words hold the key to seeing a running, embracing God.
Four little words propel us to look up past the lack, the what-ifs, the how- comes.
Four little words leads us home to a God who isn’t waiting at the door, but is running toward us.

Always.

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Mr. and Mrs. Stevens Go To Japan

I had to put my feet into to it.

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I had to feel with my soles what had already been worked into my soul. I took my shoes off on the last day and pushed my feet into grass that was damp and a little bit cold from a late afternoon dew.

Ireland can be like that…damp, cold and gloriously green.

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I haven’t gone back, but the ache of returning to a place I hardly know but deeply love lies near the fringe places of my spirit.

My friends, John and Stephanie Stevens know what I mean. They, too, have had an ache for a place they hardly know but deeply love.

My land is called the Emerald Isle. Theirs is called The Land of the Rising Sun. It is called this because from a continental point of view Japan is located in the direction of the sunrise. Yet for the Stevens’ the hope and longing to go there resided in shadow.

At first, it was just to visit. Then, it was to go and pray, maybe to coincide with their 10th wedding anniversary. It was more than a tourist thing.

The desire to go and live with a people group so far away from what they had known growing up in rural Maine was kept near the fringe places during their courtship, their eventual marriage and the raising of their three boys.  It was like being in a dream where the hope of what could be real is slightly out of focus.

Dangling cherry blossom flowers in JapanThere are no words that can do justice to the language of longing. Yet it is longing that, like a pebble buried deep in the ground over time, has a way of coming to the surface of things. It comes out in conversation. It manifests in lifestyle choices like food and literature and movies. It can even show up as artwork on the walls.

In 2012 at Easter time, John and Stephanie realized their dream and visited Japan for a month. It was the year after an earthquake and tsunami unleashed fury on the tiny nation. So much breaking. So much washing away.

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It was on their return trip home that they felt the longing shift.  It was no longer on the periphery. Instead,  Japan and all its wonder and beauty and deep need for Jesus emerged more clearly in view.

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While in Japan,  John and Stephanie had made a connection with Kazuhiko and Andrea Ito, who pastor the Pearl Vineyard Church in Yokohama. This connection proved invaluable as Kaz was able to bring understanding of the culture from a Japanese point of view and his wife Andrea who, being from America, was able to impart a cross-cultural understanding of what it means to live in Japan as a westerner. Thus the threading began.

God’s threads.

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Rural Mainers and Jesus followers typically don’t just up and leave everything like their family, their friends, their home and their ministry to go live in a land where hardly anyone knows Jesus. They don’t usually pack up three little boys all under the age of nine to spend themselves on the behalf of those who didn’t ask for them to come. Rural Mainers most likely have family roots that go back for many generations and those roots don’t come out of the ground easily. There is a cutting away of all that’s familiar.  Yet there is no grafting in without the cutting.  Every good Gardener knows this, therefore every good Gardener carries a sharp knife. He knows pruning yields a greater return.

There is no advancing of God’s kingdom without the letting go of another.

John and Stephanie have been letting go of things these last few months in preparation of grabbing hold of what they believe God has called them to in Japan. From cleaning out their home and putting into storage what they are unable to take with them, to the laying down of their ministry of worship in their local church. Instead they, along with their sons, will become a part of the fabric of the Pearl Vineyard and the city of Yokohama, lending their gifts of worship leading and teaching. In addition,  Stephanie has undergone four surgeries on her feet within the last year in hopes that God will bring healing to an abnormality from birth so she can walk unhindered.

There is a lot of walking to be done in Yokohama.

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It is in community that we are able to get to where we need to be. Even Jesus, on the way where we He needed to be on the cross, asked for his friends to be with him on his last night. Even here He needed the community of friends.

So what is the community connection an Irish girl like me has to all this?  All my life I have been drawn to the Celtic nations because of my Scotch-Irish heritage. I want to live among broken castles and misty mountains. Instead of cherry blossoms, I am more at home in a field of rocks.

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Yet, Japan has always been on a fringe place of my life because I have a Japanese name. My father named me Mitsou after a Japanese woman in a film he saw as a young man.  It wasn’t until I was in my thirties that I discovered the name was more than likely Mitsuko. It’s meaning has something to do with light.

Light. Focus. Threads.  This tapestry of nations is the weaving of God.

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What a privilege to be connected in community to the Great Commission, Jesus’ call to go to the nations. Some actually go. Others give to the going. The resources of prayer, money and muscle are what propels the call of God into action.  My friends John and Stephanie have been blessed by the community on so many levels already. As their launch date in July gets closer would you consider lending your prayers, money and muscle toward the final push?

Please check out John and Stephanie’s website at stevenslors.tumblr.com

Click on the tabs to find out more of their story and there is a donate tab if you would like to give.

 

 

Between The Sheets: What We Really Need

 

caress,cheeks,cherish,close-up,comfort,cuddle,eyelashes,faces,fotolia,gentle,love,naps,newborns,peaceful,portraits,quiet,sleeping,soft,sweet

Sleep.

I laid me down… wanting wanting wanting the in-between place, that place in the middle of awake and asleep where the pillow and the blanket speak a comfort that all is safe and good.

Sixty days without the vulnerability of drifting.

Sixty days without the submission of dreaming.

The heart pound in a middle-aged body out of sync pushed open the door with a bang in the middle of every night for two months dumping a load of anxiety and fear onto the bed like a kid dumps a backpack after a long day at school.

There it sat like a weight in the room. An unwelcome and stubborn mess.

This was no quiet monster under the bed.

When sleep eludes us, when sleep is interrupted we do not feel whole, we do not feel put back together. We were created to sleep well. Upon waking in the morning what is it that we ask our children, our spouses, our guests?

“How did you sleep?”

We are not looking for a literal answer.  What we are really asking is: ” Have you been restored?”  “Have you been renewed, re-charged, replenished for another day?”

Sleep re-orients us  and when we don’t get enough of it we begin to live off-plumb, meaning we are living our lives slightly askew. The sleep-deprived always feel a little off balance, they do life a few degrees off the mark.

As children we fought hard against Winkin’, Blinkin’ and Nod, afraid to miss out on things when we didn’t know that sleep is a gift.

Yet, have we grown wiser with stature when so many of us are sleep deprived still? Must productivity rule the day and the glow of technology steal the night from us because we have to be so connected that we are unable to dis-connect for fear of missing out on things even now?

When sleep is stolen from us due to illness, or put on hold because of babies crying in the night, all we can do is cling to the One who never sleeps, trusting that it will last only a season.

He will not let you be defeated.
    He who guards you never sleeps. Psalm 121:3

 

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We are all children in our beds. Some of us have our legs splayed and sprawled upon the mattress, others keep limbs tucked up tight near the chest. We drool like babies, our mouths open for maximum sleep breathing. When we wake we are embarrassed that we know this about ourselves.  But it is here, in this vulnerability that we receive our repair. We are in God’s body shop and what was taken apart the day before gets put back together for another day. It is in the morning that we are able to receive our new mercies.

Sleep is a reminder that we’ve come from the ground. We began life lying down and we will end it there. Sleep is like death in that way. We lie down in the green pastures of trust, knowing that God will raise us up again, fully restored, fully renewed, fully equipped to move forward. Sleep re-orients us to where we need to be. It gets us to the other side of things.

When you lie down, you will not be afraid; when you lie down, your sleep will be sweet. Proverbs 3:24

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For encouragement, check out the links below:

James Bryan Smith in A Good and Beautiful God explains how sleep is good for our souls and in a TED talk, Arianna Huffington says it plain.

https://urbana.org/go-and-do/missional-life/how-sleep-and-why

http://www.ted.com/talks/arianna_huffington_how_to_succeed_get_more_sleep

 

 

 

 

What’s So Hard About Motherhood?

I am thinking that centuries from now scientists will conclude from all the mommy blogs and Facebook posts, Twitter comments and Instagram photos that motherhood, the mother of all jobs is hard. Really hard.

After all, it’s a fact that millions of moms do not sleep, eat, go to the bathroom, dress or basically function like a human being until their children have grasped a mother’s screeching lament in these seven basic words: “Please leave me alone for five minutes!”

At the risk of receiving The Mommy Death Stare right now (all women on the planet know what I’m talking about. Come to think of it, all men on the planet know what I’m talking about right now), I am here to say that motherhood is not at all hard in the way we like to complain about.

I am not talking about wayward children hard, or tragedy hard. This is about the regular day-to-day routine of life that goes into caring for a child.

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Poverty is hard.
Caring for a parent with Alzheimer’s is hard.
Living with chronic pain is hard.
Planting a field in a drought is hard.

I have never broken a sweat changing a diaper or car pooling a kid to their first job. I did not become ill from lack of sleep or build my biceps scrubbing crayon marks from a newly painted wall. I did almost break my toe stepping on a LEGO. I remember I was more upset about yet another mess on the floor and how dare someone not realize I would be walking on that part of the carpet at that moment in time carrying a load of perfectly folded baby laundry that no one would see except me and my fantasies of being the best mother ever,  than I was about the throbbing pain shooting up through my heel.

Motherhood isn’t hard in the way we may think or maybe even blog about. It  isn’t about all the dishes and the endless diapers and projectile demands.

What is more true is that motherhood is inconvenient.

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Inconvenience interrupts the status quo in a way that hurts.   It delivers a blow to the inside parts of me. It is the hard scraping against my will. It is the push against my own comforts. Inconvenience is the tug-of-war of timetables….mine against everyone else’s.

 

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I once told my children they were coloring too loudly.

This incident made the Top Ten List of my worst parenting moments, by the way.

I was expecting my fourth or fifth child and I desperately wanted a catnap. After the regular routine of breakfast, chores and then lunch, I was spent.  I was, after all, lugging around an extra twenty-five pounds and I wanted silence. A little peace and quiet.

One hundred percent peace and quiet, apparently.

I was frayed to the very edges of my little pea brain for the deafening sound of crayons scraping against the box along with the ear splitting swish of the coloring book pages proved too much for me and I log rolled to the edge of the couch and whisper-hissed to my children, “Will you please stop coloring so loudly!”

My oldest son stared at me, his crayon clad fingers frozen mid-air. It was in  that moment I knew exactly what the poor lad was thinking:

“My mother has completely lost it. And…she’s selfish.”

The inconvenience of motherhood has been my greatest and most painful teacher.  I am inclined to preserve all things to do with my self and motherhood set me up to destroy that self-preservation.  It was hard core love, really. That was the set-up.

Hard-core love for five precious babies that inconvenienced me in a thousand different ways and taught me the value of getting low for the sake of someone else. Sometimes the inconvenience leads us to recognize our children’s place in the world. Sometimes it’s when you spend hours carting band equipment or watching yet another film production. Sometimes it’s trying to understand the art form of fashion. Sometimes it’s holding a three tiered wedding cake in the back of the van or a baby born quickly because you’ve suddenly become a birthing coach.

A day’s journey from Jerusalem left another mother inconvenienced, too, when she and her husband discovered their son was not with them. Three days it took to find him. After back tracking, they found him with the learned men in the temple, amazing everyone with his understanding of spiritual matters. But this part was lost on his poor mom, who admonished the boy Jesus:

Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been looking for you anxiously.”

And he said to them, “Why have you sought me so? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?

It’s like he was saying, “Why did you even have to go looking for me in the first place? If you’d known anything about me, you would have known where I would always be found….doing what I was created to do.

I have missed things like this when I’ve focused on the inconvenience. Sadly, I missed some growth moments…some aha moments because I lamented the inconvenience instead.

Motherhood is hard, inconveniently hard.

Just don’t let anyone tell you it’s about the dishes and the carpools and the empty refrigerator and the mountains of laundry. That stuff is regular life.

Motherhood is about getting low for the sake a child, helping them find their place in their Father’s house.  The truth is it can only happen through the refiner’s fire of inconvenience.

 

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We Are All Thieves

It must have taken all the strength he had left to reach for the One in the middle.  A thief reaching reaching reaching with his eyes because the rest of his body was nailed to a crossbeam too.

He did not reach for a pardon.
He did not reach for understanding.
He didn’t even reach for forgiveness.
All he reached for was remembrance.

“Jesus, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.”

It was a faith believing, death-defying reaching into the reality of a Kingdom only a lamb’s breath away and this thief wanted in. He put all of his faith and belief in simply asking, “remember me.”
He somehow knew that in the remembering, the Lamb that took away the sins of the world would claim him as His own, and he too would know another Kingdom very soon.

Isn’t this what we are all asking for….to be remembered and claimed?

We are all thieves at some point, are we not?
We have stolen identities, or crafted images of ourselves on social media, or pretended and forged our way through life on some level because we are terrified we will be found out for what we really are….broken people in need of fixing.

There was another thief.  Instead of asking, he demanded. Instead of reaching, he hurled and spewed.  He wanted the show, the grand gesture:  
“Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!

Yet, it the one who agrees with his desperate need and recognizes who is before him, then dares…actually dares to ask…it this one who is remembered and washed and made new and restored to wholeness forever.
No matter it is a thief doing the asking.

We are all in need of remembrance.

Our reaching need not be very far.

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Heart Issues

You could call it hammering.

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You could call it pummeling.

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You could call it buffeting or polishing or refining.

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Sometimes you don’t know until it’s all over.

There are days you don’t get what you ask for. Instead of reprieve, you get the opposite. You are thrown right back into the fight just when you’ve come to the realization you’ve got nothing left to fight with.

You are falling down down down.

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But in the falling you have choices.
You always have choices.

Like when a thaw has finally melted away a fair amount of the snow that has hugged the foundation of your house for the better part of three months and then the meteorologist says to keep the shovel handy because another several inches is coming in the night to bury it all up to your calves again.
Oh, and there will be wind.

You have a choice whether or not to believe that under all that snow there are seeds germinating in dark places.

It is at night when the attacks come full force. Call it mid-life out-of- whack hormones or a pesky thyroid disorder, but when the heart races and the feet pool sweat and the trembling threatens to loosen teeth and your husband has to muckle onto you to keep you from running for an ambulance, there are still choices.  You have a choice to believe that, when the waves come and you feel like you are floundering in a dark pool of unbelief; faith germinates in the dark night of the soul.

 … three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea…

What does a person do when shipwrecked for the first time, the body dashed against rocks and floating ship pieces, gasping gasping gasping?

What does a person do when the boat splinters a second time?  Do the “W” questions come pouring out? What’s going on? Why is this happening again? When is it going to stop?  Where are You?

But when the ship wrecks thrice and the person is left all day and all night floating floating floating, do the “W” questions cease because it is in resignation of abandonment that whispers the loudest?

Cloudy skies over a calm ocean

The whispers try to crowd out the still small voice, but the voice is a sword and it always manages to cut through the pounding heart and the adrenaline rush. It cuts through the wires that dangle from the chest hidden under a fresh camisole, the monitor pressed against the belly recording every errant beat. It cuts through children clamoring in classrooms and deep breaths are needed to keep from losing peace when an episode hits and the button needs to be pushed.

Buffeting.

Pounding.

Suffering.

Somewhere in cyberspace someone is reading the rhythms of my heart signaling what might be wrong, what is most probably right.

Somewhere in God’s Kingdom, He is reading the rhythms of my heart, expanding them for others, enlarging them for Him. There are no ship pieces to cling to. There is only Him. The Word of God breaks through the buffeting, the pounding, the suffering, the resignation like a ship breaking apart upon the rocky coast. His voice may come quietly, but it has the power of a mighty ocean.

It is my choice to listen.

 

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Women In Bathing Suits At The Shallow End Of Things

African elephants,animals,mammals,nature,trunks,babies,pachyderm,tusksHer legs rub together, all wrinkled like an old mama elephant’s, loose skin hanging a bit like she’d had a significant weight loss at some time in her life. She bends her knees hard against wet tile and lifts the boy whose legs dangle; atrophied white sticks trying to stand on their own. She gets him to the side of the pool. He shivers. She sweats. Her hair stands every which way on top of her almost wet head. Her face is leather cracked. Maybe she smoked. Maybe she still does.

Another woman walks the edge of the pool, her back ramrod straight, her shoulders pushed back like she’s bracing for a fight. She smiles cracked leather, too. She is in the latter part of middle age, yet under folds of skin too familiar with the local tanning booth, lingers the shadow of a young woman’s toned upper arm. Despite her clipped walk  her belly sags tired at the front of her purple flowered swimsuit. She is leading the way for a boy pushing a walker.

There are several of these ladies in the water today as I sit poolside watching students from a functional life skills program swim laps. I am sitting next to a pretty girl who isn’t able to swim because of an injury. We are multiplying numbers together. She is having difficulty staying focused because of some boys showing off in the water. I am having difficulty staying focused because of what I witness at the shallow end of the pool.

I can’t take my eyes of these middle-aged, almost old women, lift lift lifting dead weight children in and out of the water.
Children encased in plastic floats and safety gear and neon masks and giant goggles.
Children who flail water.
Children who scream gibberish.
Children who would most certainly drown if it weren’t for the iron grip of women whose bodies have morphed into a flabby fade in loud spandex.

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I wonder where they’ve put their inhibitions. Did they stuff them in a locker somewhere or fold them neatly beneath their underwear hidden in their gym bags?

They don’t suck in their bellies.

They don’t strut the firm body of a younger woman desperate to wear the Hot label.

They don’t do the eye dance women do to other women’s bodies comparing comparing comparing.

There is no hotness here….unless you count the sweat that drips on the brow after hoisting eighty pounds of kid up and down metal ladders all morning long.

Snow banks bleed dirt from sand trucks and the driveway is still rutted with ice and I am putting away laundry when I see my bathing suits tucked into the back of my drawer. I think about summer eventually showing her face and I think about me sitting by the lake in my own wrinkled, pooch sagging skin wondering if I look okay….if I  look my age.

 I should certainly hope not. So says the little phrase written on a badge I sometimes wear much too proudly.

Days later I am getting an education on what real beauty looks like and I realize I am at the wrong end of the pool.

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Ahh, to be propped up with padding or loaded into Lycra in an attempt deny the inevitable leaves more women poolside instead of diving into the shallow end of things where you get to lift someone else to a place of accomplishment or simply, a place of joy.

There is nothing sacred about wondering how to fit things around  a bottom succumbing to gravity.  What is sacred is helping someone else to defy gravity.

It’s a sacred and beautiful thing I am seeing at the shallow end of the pool today. It is a sacred thing helping someone keep their head above water. It is a sacred and beautiful thing helping someone simply to keep on swimming. 

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The Truth About Mahwidge and My One Twoo Wove

” ‘The assumption is that there is someone just right for us to marry and that if we look closely enough we will find the right person. This moral assumption overlooks a crucial aspect to marriage. It fails to appreciate the fact that we always marry the wrong person. We never know whom we marry, we just think we do. Or even if we marry the right person, just give it awhile and he or she will change. For marriage, [being the enormous thing it is] means we are not the same person after we have entered it. The primary problem….learning out to love and care for the stranger to whom you find yourself married.’ ” – Tim Keller, quoting Duke University ethics professor Stanley Hauerwas in The Meaning of MarriageIMG_8045

Once upon a time a young man and a young woman were enjoying pizza and a pitcher of cheap beer at The Rat, or Rathskellar ( a German word for “council’s cellar” traditionally located in the basement of a government building where officials could enjoy a pint after hours.) It was in this cavernous, councilor’s environment that the young woman realized she had met her  twoo wove. He was handsome and so very funny.  Out of the 6.2 billion people living on the planet,  how extraordinary that she found herself in the exact same location at exactly the right time with The Only One For Her. If it wasn’t for his last minute transfer to the same college only weeks before they never would have met.
Whew!
That was close.

A year and half later the couple married on a beautiful winter’s day with just the right amount of snow on the ground to make everything sparkle. No one needed a coat for outdoor pictures and guests still say it was one of the best weddings they had ever attended.

Then the honeymoon happened.

Driving north for a trip to Old Quebec, the temperatures suddenly plummeted to sub-zero degrees. Severe wind gusts blew snowdrifts across the plains and onto the highway making driving difficult and terribly long.  The post-wedding glow on her husband’s face was fading fast but the young woman ignored it and decided to re-count the honeymoon money she’d ripped from all the cards the day before.  After settling into a quaint hotel in the historic village, the couple braved the cold to take in the attractions as much as they could, often ducking into coffee shops to keep from getting frostbite.  Most establishments did not speak English, making communication difficult, but the couple didn’t mind. They were in love. Cold and shriveled, but in love.

They had just enough money to eat at one special place and decided on a beautiful restaurant in the heart of the city. They dressed in their best clothes and headed out into a siberian-esque night. The tuxedo-ed, tight-lipped waiter, who did not speak English, handed the couple a French only menu with many dollar signs,  but the young woman was able to navigate through it having taken some French in high school.  The couple laughed at their ineptness even though their waiter clearly did not think Any Thing or Any One was funny. After a delicious meal and plunking down their last Canadian dollar, the couple again braced against the cold and within minutes of entering their hotel room the young woman began what was to become a series of embarrassing trips to the bathroom all night long due to a sudden shellfish allergy.

Wedded bliss hit the brick wall of reality.

The End.

Wait. That’s not right.
It should read: The Beginning.
Meaning: the beginning of refinement and polishing and downright scraping.

My husband and I were launched right from the beginning into the stark reality that happily ever after is a fairy tale myth because no one really just bumps into their one true love. There is more of choosing than finding in the marriage business. Even if the first blush is all romance, at some point the knight in shining armor sheds his steel and the princess lays down her crown. This is where we got all bent out of shape. One can only walk in armor and wear a crown properly for so long. We quickly realized that the person we had just married was not the person we had just married.

We were strangers.

Every circumstance, every curve around the bend brought out pieces of each other that hadn’t been seen before and those pieces sometimes cut, bruised, and buffed up against our egos, our own personal wants and desires.

The ending of the story The Princess Bride isn’t true.  Real marriage isn’t when Buttercup and Wesley finally reunite as they were meant to be, riding off on horseback together. Real marriage is more like several scenes before when Wesley is standing as the Dread Pirate Roberts arguing with Buttercup and she pushes him off the cliff and they both go rolling down the hill, hitting every rock and boulder along the way. It’s in this tumbling and bruising that she recognizes who he really is.

My husband and I have had to learn to make true love over and over again if we wanted to stay in this thing. It wasn’t just about staying together in the same geographical place, it was about staying… friends. It was about staying lovers no matter what feelings or circumstances or inconveniences or weight gains and stretch marks got in the way.  Thirty two years is a long time to wake up next to someone you think you know, and then another layer gets peeled, another depth gets plumbed. You share another crisis or another euphoria happens and you are getting to know him all over again.

He gave me a card with the boy and girl on the tricycle a few years ago.  I keep it in plain sight on my bureau.  Some days I think, yup, that’s us, whizzing along our journey, him trying to go as fast as he can and me with my arms wrapped around him for dear life. Other days I think, yea, right…he’s always wanting to steer, to be the boss, and why do I have to be the one in the back wondering if my skirt is going to fly up? Then there are the days when we’re not sharing the bike at all. We are on our own unicycles riding circles around each other because we are doing our own thing. The problem is we’re not very good at it. We’re always falling.

The truth is, it is better for us when he steers. He buffets the wind when I need a strong navigator. I need someone to lead the way when I am afraid or indecisive or lazy.

The truth is, it is better for us when I lean encouragement into him. I buffet his back when he needs a strong advocate.  He needs someone to cheer, “Keep going.” “You’re the best one for the job.” ” You might want to lean a little to the right”.

We thought we knew all of this on that sparkling February day when I wore Gunne Sax and he made the whole wedding party bust out laughing during photos.

But, we were strangers.

We didn’t know anything.

We didn’t know that loving right can be really hard and, when done right, builds muscle.  Love muscles, like strands twisted, braided and wrought into one unbreakable rope-thing called marriage.
So, we got bent out of shape to be re-shaped by unconditional love that only the Ancient of Days can impart to flawed human beings.

This is what is extraordinary; when two people who essentially start out as strangers are, over time, scraped together bit by bit, piece by piece until they are truly one.

It is no fairy tale.
But it is a great adventure.

Besides, if my life were a fairy tale, I’m thinking it would be more like Shrek.