Sunday, November 28, 2010

Alone In Eula-Land

My husband, my hero, has never doubted the goodness of God in his life. He has rarely felt alone in his circumstances, as far as I am aware. I, on the other hand, am a walking desert island, keeping curious sailboats at bay with ‘No Vacancy’ signs posted at every port of entry. I don’t actually want to be alone. Which should seem apparent when you realize that the fear which terrorized me during Rob’s heart surgery and ginormous blood clot ordeal last year was that Rob might not live, and alone is exactly what I would be.

Surprisingly, being alone is the way I’ve tried to control the piece of real estate known as Eula-Land. Of course, everyone knows that no matter what the Title Deed says, when this Monopoly game is over everything goes back into the box - the houses, the hat, the shoe and your little dog, too. Ownership isn’t real. Wealth is temporary. And control is an illusion. A lonely illusion.

Though I’ve spent much of my life believing that controlling my life would give me peace, the gargantuan effort such a fruitless task requires brings overwhelming anxiety instead. I’m tired of trying to outrun the Life Who courses through my veins.

Finally I am beginning to see God as my trustworthy Father Who loves me more than anyone ever has or ever will for always. The One Who loves me more than He loves His own life is in control of mine. Maybe, just maybe, that makes Him trustworthy.

I was listening to a Transitions podcast by Wayne Jacobsen recently. He said that faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God. Finally I heard rhema about my trust dilemma. When people tell you to ‘just trust God’ while you’re in a crisis, not only is it one of the worst things you can say, it’s empty advice. Faith is produced in us when God speaks to us directly. Faith is not produced in a vacuum of communication from Him. Not only don’t I generate faith, I can’t generate it. Faith is a gift from God. Faith survives on the solid surface of truth. And God is our only source of truth. Faith is also a fruit of the Spirit. But when people reduce my anxiety to the pat answer, “just trust God”, it suggests that faith is a fruit of my labor. If I don’t work hard enough then to produce saint qualifying trust, believe me -- condemnation follows in short order.

God doesn’t want my imitation of faith. He doesn’t need me to defend Him to others. He wants me to be still. To know that He is God. To know that He is a rewarder of those Who diligently seek Him. Not of those who diligently act like good Christians should act. Agony puts me on my face before Him, crying out for His mercy, knowing that He is the spring from where it flows. That is faith. And so is standing alone in a hospital corridor, shaking index cards full of Biblical promises in Heaven’s face, reminding God of what He told me. This kind of trust is not painless, but it’s authentic. It’s not fatalistic, it’s not pragmatic, it’s not on display in a wax museum. It’s the real deal, on exhibit in my flesh and blood life.

This may seem startling to some, but it’s a place of relief to me. And I can rest there.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

A Little Bread and Whine

 "Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their forefathers to give them. Be strong and very courageous. . . . Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go." (Joshua 1:6,9)

Don’t you just hate it when God starts off a conversation like that? That’s how He said hello to me recently. I’m making like Gideon, hiding out in a winepress, throwing a bunch of wheat around, when God gets in my space and tells me to be strong and courageous. Doesn’t He know I’m allergic to courage? And strong people don’t hide. Hello! I thought that was always perfectly understood. I’m a big fat el pollo. Southern fried.

Then He says (follow along in your Bibles), “. . . because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their forefathers to give them.” What is that supposed to mean? Thanks a lot. Boy, you picked the wrong chick for this one, Papa. Then He says it again, “Be strong and very courageous.” He says it THREE TIMES. Because He knew I was going to ignore Him the first time. And the second time. Actually, it was because Papa tells me things in three’s. He knows I’m looking for rhemas three times. “Do not be terrified . . . “ WHAT???!!!!

Moving on.

“ . . . do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.” I still don’t know. The wheat’s all flying around down here in the winepress and I’m getting a little dizzy from the effort and the fumes. Plus, my allergies are going nuts.

"But Lord ," Gideon asked, "how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family. So Gideon took ten of his servants and did as the LORD told him. But because he was afraid of his family and the men of the town, he did it at night rather than in the daytime.”

Well, truth is truth. That’s what he did. That’s what I would do if I were in his sandals. And God didn’t chew him out for it.

30 The men of the town demanded of Joash, "Bring out your son. He must die, because he has broken down Baal's altar and cut down the Asherah pole beside it."

See – that’s how it is when you get voted in as the leader. Ten other guys helped tear down this stupid idol, but the crowd came after Gideon, the local drunken baker. And am I supposed to find ten people to link arms with me when it’s time to take a stand? If there’s safety in numbers, where did those ten guys go after they trashed the town monument? I think at the end of the day, it’s always going to be just you and God standing there facing the music. I hope He wears something bright and visible when it happens. He’s a sturdier target than me.

39 Then Gideon said to God, "Do not be angry with me. Let me make just one more request. Allow me one more test with the fleece. This time make the fleece dry and the ground covered with dew." 40 That night God did so. Only the fleece was dry; all the ground was covered with dew.

I guess it’s time to ask for a sign. One scripture just isn’t enough. I ate all the bread and drank all the wine. Soon it’ll be time to leave this Italian restaurant and face the mob.

Judges 6:12 When the angel of the LORD appeared to Gideon, he said, "The LORD is with you, mighty warrior." "But sir," Gideon replied, "if the LORD is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are all his wonders that our fathers told us about when they said, 'Did not the LORD bring us up out of Egypt?' But now the LORD has abandoned us and put us into the hand of Midian." The LORD turned to him and said, "Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian's hand. Am I not sending you?" "But Lord ," Gideon asked, "how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family." The LORD answered, "I will be with you, and you will strike down all the Midianites together."

I sure don’t feel like a mighty warrior. I am Eula Marie – well spoken one who is no longer bitter and has been made sweet. The other night our friends, Greg and Peggy, came for dinner and laughed at the craziness I’ve endured with a name like mine. They roared with laughter when we told them McLeod means ‘son of ugly face’, from Nordic/Viking descent. Though God has literally changed the meaning of my first and middle names, I thought there was nothing we could do about the meaning of our surname. But Peggy thoughtfully interjected, “Well, Viking explorers probably had scarred faces because they were brave survivors of a lot of battles. So, really their marked faces were handsome reminders of their true identities – mighty warriors.”

Sigh. Is that another rhema? Okay. Then here’s the fleece, Papa – I have no script. I don’t know what to say. I need clarity of thought, calm emotions, clear vision and reasonable expectations. Until then, I’ll be here in the bakery with a glass of Stella Rosa. Cheers.

Friday, November 26, 2010

A Melancholy Pelican

It was bound to happen. The best songwriter the world has ever known . . . lost it there for a minute. Lost me there for a minute. David (you know, sheep farmer turned royalty) has given us so many great word pictures in his music. But this one? I’m having trouble wrapping my brain around it.

“I am like a melancholy pelican.” What? A melancholy what? I didn’t know they even had pelicans in the Sinai desert. As far as I can tell, the closest body of water David may have visited was the Dead Sea. And fish don’t even visit the Dead Sea. What would a pelican be doing hanging around a vegetarian lake like that one?

Even if David read about pelicans in his wildlife scrolls, what made him think that they are emotionally depressed creatures? Well, of course, the obvious thing is how hungry they’d have to be trying to dive for non-existent fish in the Dead Sea. And then there’s the whole humiliating experience of being stuck beak-first in salty mud once you completed that 9.5 flying forward one and a half somersault pike. That happened to me once. I don’t want to talk about it.

Maybe David just ran out of logical analogies by the time he got to his 102nd Psalm. He had to be worn out coming up with lyrics for new worship songs all the time. I mean, look at me. I’m only into my fifth or sixth blog here and I’m already reduced to talking about birds. I don’t even like birds.

I decided to get to the bottom of this. It could just be a translation thing. There are so many versions of the Bible out now, maybe the guy who put together the one I like to read lives near a grove of mulberry trees and can’t get a moment’s peace and quiet for all the fowl racket in his backyard. If that’s the case, he probably daydreams about melancholy birds, picturing them as too depressed to tweet.

So I looked up this verse in other translations. Some say “vulture of the wilderness.” Yeah. That sounds just like a pelican to me. Sheesh. Another said “desolate owl of the waste places.” Well, if I was an owl living in a waste place – what is that, like a garbage dump? – I’d feel desolate, too. It still makes me think that David may have slept through his ornithology classes, if he thought that owls and vultures and pelicans could all be stand-ins for one another.

My husband grew up on the Gulf Coast of central Florida. We’ve watched a lot of pelicans dinging around in the waters there. They all looked pretty happy to me. Of course, there ‘s quite a vast supply of seafood there to keep ‘em fat and sassy (which is an old Southern expression for feelin’ fine.) So, maybe our sheep loving, psalm writing, kingdom ruling buddy David was in such a funk when he penned Psalm 102 that he felt like, excuse the expression, a fish out of water. Or a pelican in the desert.

Well, now we have something I can relate to. There have been some pretty low points in my life since I moved back to this part of the Sonoran desert. I’ve felt dried out and displaced many times. And I usually rant and rave at God, too, when my beak is stuck in the mud. David accuses God in verse 10 of picking him up and casting him away, even though it was really his enemies who were making his life so miserable. You gotta give him some credit for being gutsy, though. He didn’t mince words when he was ticked off at life, blaming his Creator. He put it out there, got it all off his chest, and the next thing you know-- right there in the same psalm—he starts talking about how good and strong and merciful God is.

The truth is, when I need to cry it’s one of the best things I can do to reduce my anxiety or fear or anger. I just need a safe place to vent. Sometimes friends can help with that, but usually it’s just me and God alone with a fresh box of Kleenex. All of this makes me realize God prefers honesty to bogus claims of loyalty. He can handle it when I don’t trust Him. He never stops being God just because I get lost and forget who I am. And once I’ve cried it out, He “satisfies my mouth with good so that my youth, renewed, is like the eagle’s – strong, overcoming, soaring!” (Psalm 103:5)

I guess it’s okay to start out as a dysfunctional sea bird. But it's a relief to know I'm one good cry away from soaring like an eagle.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

A Little Child Shall Lead Them

"Please, YaYa, outside? YaYa, outside please?” My conversation with Katy was suddenly hijacked by her little two-year-old sitting on the counter between us. My darling granddaughter took matters into her own hands - literally - and, placing five small, determined fingers on each side of my face, turned my head so that I would look into her big blue eyes. Now that she had my full attention, she repeated, “Please, YaYa, outside?”

Suddenly, nothing else mattered but the little curly-haired blonde who has stolen all our hearts. She’s been saying my name for over a year. I gotta say, I feel pretty special about that, too. I was third in line for name recognition with top awards going to Mama and Dada, respectively. I quickly scooped up this two syllable gibberish and claimed it as my own. No other grandmotherly names quite fit, and since she could say “yaya” which is Greek for “grandma”, and since my first name is, technically, Greek - well, there you go.

Can’t you just feel your heart melting as you picture it? Sweet little toddler fingers cupping my face, turning my head until we were eyeball to eyeball, and then politely asking me to take her outside and play with her. She wanted to play with me. I don’t know what captures my heart more - that she loves being with me or that she knows how to cut through adult busyness with a simple invitation to join her in childish delights.

I’ve been amazed at the response in me with the arrival of this little darling in our world. It’s been almost fifty years since I was her age, but she’s teaching me to slow down and enjoy life from her perspective. For example, coming from a hairdo junkie like me, it’s practically jaw dropping when I scooch under a blanket with my tiny tutor and play peeky boo. I don’t even care that I’ll look like the bride of Frankenstein when I emerge. Knowing I’ll make Allie giggle is worth every static strand of flyaway hair. And I am so surprised to realize that I have genuinely retired from motherhood’s responsibilities. Now I can barely stand to watch my daughter put this little one in time-out. She might as well say, “Allie, you and YaYa go sit in the corner until you can behave and YaYa can stop making excuses for you.” No one but me seems to understand that Allie’s not having a temper tantrum - she’s just tired or thirsty or hungry or understandably frustrated with us or too short . . . I figured all of this out sitting cross-legged facing a wall last week.

So, can you blame me when I say she has me wrapped around her little fingers? Especially when those little fingers are wrapped around my face? Knowing that “a little child shall lead them”, I just can’t help thinking this is one of God’s favorite ways to get my attention, too. He gently places His hands around my heart and turns my full attention to Him. He isn’t rude or brutal or angry. Rather, He’s gentle, confident and direct. He just loves to put the busyness of my life in perspective and invite me to slow down, hide with Him for a few minutes and enjoy His delight.

It’s a far different picture of God than the one I’ve seen painted for most of my life. I suppose it might even seem irreverent to some people. But I’ve never been able to cozy up to a God of righteous indignation and high expectations. It’s exasperating to hear a well-intentioned teacher admonish that God wants to have a personal relationship with me just as soon as I clean up my act, dot every ‘i’, and smooth every stray lock. This is the gospel according to many sincere people. But it’s deadly. It’s crippling. It’s a lie. The truth is that God took a leave of absence from His Holy Hideaway and came down to my level. He experienced life as I do, overcame it, and invited me into His world.

I hold few illusions of what a great Christian I am anymore. I’ve given up the charade for Lent . . . Or Groundhog Day . . . Or Cinco de Mayo. Take your pick. I’ve taken off my mask. I’m too tired to wear it anymore. The kind of perfection I can create is lifeless and hopeless, while the kind of life God offers is full of hope and peace. This is a no-brainer. It's a better deal when I can put aside being responsible for everything and put myself instead into the capable hands of the One Who has always held me close, inviting me to rest in Him.

"Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you'll recover your life. I'll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won't lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you'll learn to live freely and lightly." (Matthew 11:28-30 The Message)

There’s no shame in being a child when you are a child. I'm His child.

Strong Crying

I realized recently that when I’m embarrassed about my worry and anxiety in the presence of other people who are handling things so much better than me, that there’s a very good reason for that, and it isn’t a spiritual one: this is not their trial. Of course it’s easier to be confident about the outcome of someone else’s situation!

I thought of that about the time that a scripture began echoing through my memory again. Something about Jesus crying strongly, or, loudly, or . . . . I just remember Jesus crying. Which is not the normal thing you think of when you think of Jesus. Normally He’s depicted in portraits as a somber, holier than thou (can I be struck dead for saying THAT?) Bible character, staring up into heaven with His hands folded properly, or caressing the hair of perfectly groomed ancient children leaning against Him. I hate those pictures. Just like I hate Bible movies. But that’s another journal entry . . .

I do have a picture of Him, though, that I LOVE. It’s a laughing Jesus. I love it because it makes me think that He’s really that relaxed about everything and that nothing EVER worries the King of Kings.

But there was a time when He lived here on planet earth like me, and He cried. I looked up the shards of that verse this afternoon and here’s what it says in Hebrews 5:7:

“During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, He offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the One Who could save Him from death, and He was heard because of His reverent submission.”

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a picture of Jesus crying. I was thinking that He was often described as getting away by Himself alone to pray. There have been times in the last several years when I’ve had loud cries and tears. Always when I’m by myself, and hopefully not when the neighbors could hear. I wonder if that’s one reason He got away to be alone when He needed to do that. It makes people uncomfortable and a little panicky when someone’s in the next hovel yelling and sobbing.

I’m just so encouraged today to know that it’s OKAY to do that. I’ve been burdened by my shame of crying and reacting strongly to trials in my life because I felt that if I had faith in my Father I wouldn’t experience such grieving and extreme emotion. Isn’t there a Bible verse that says, “God has always loved a cheerful liver?” Wait . . . what does my liver have to do with it . . .

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Watching The Sidewalk Dry

It's a gentle rain, warm and sweet smelling. The dusty street I drove this morning glistens now, damp, celebrating the moisture. Even through the dirty window screen, I can see raindrops bouncing irregularly on the pavement. They seem jubilant.

We're so parched here in the desert. Any tiny, immeasurable amount of precipitation stops all of us in our tracks. Facebook will go nuts here in a minute with the news, causing East Coast bloggers to laugh and point. They don't get it - we value every single droplet that loses its way and falls haphazardly on our dry soil. I stood outside a few minutes ago, priming the pump with my own tears, willing the gray clouds I've been watching on the horizon to sweep by my house, however briefly. Begging.

Arizona rain is frugal. The mountains are greedy, taking more than their fair share from every cloud before it has a chance to leave an autograph here in the desert. A few thousand baby raindrops were meagerly tossed our way just now, like candy to a crowd, but the street is already returning to its normal gray. Without a doubt, our big city weathermen will soon tell us not to worry - "it's a fast moving system and the sun will return in all its 115 degree glory any minute!" Yippee.

It's summer in the Valley of the Sun. It happens every year. There's no way to avoid its arrival. The beautiful green spring always makes empty promises and deserts us at the first puff of a hot, dry wind. We are left here to endure, counting the days until October and the certain relief late fall brings.

Ebb and flow, hot and cool, dry and . . . less dry. My heart aches sometimes for rain - blessed, cleansing rain. It clears the air, renews my hope, changes my outlook. I know there's a metaphor here - somewhere - but I can't find it right now. I'm just hanging on to the last few minutes of an overcast sky, thanking God for this small reprieve from the heat, watching the sidewalk dry.

Just Breathe

"It doesn't matter how much protective clothing you wear when you walk into a swarm of bees. You're still going to be surrounded and outnumbered."

It wasn’t your typical claustrophobia attack. No, this one was accompanied by relatives. I tried to figure out why I sometimes feel suffocated at family gatherings. Maybe it’s the whirr of expectation that blows in the door with everyone. Or the agitated energy they can generate. I’m definitely allergic to verbal stings labeled "just kidding." Thanks to this day's reunion, it was all I could do to just breathe. I escaped to an empty room and called my therapist. OK, it was my girlfriend, but girlfriends are just like therapists, only better - they’re cheaper.

Families. Her metaphor made me realize that families have a lot in common with bees. Bees live in hives. Families can give you hives. Bees are found on every continent except Antarctica. Sometimes I want to move to Antarctica.  But where would we be without bees? We need them to pollinate stuff. And thanks to them, I can call my husband “honey,” which sounds better than  “aged preserves.”

I was once surrounded by real bees. A whole nest of worker bees, and they must have been having a bad day in the office 'cause they were really ticked off when I met them.  I was just a kid, hanging out in the woods with a couple of other kids, when I guess we interrupted their coffee break or something. Suddenly, from out of nowhere, came a flock of flying death straight for our eyes, mouths and flailing arms. (Work with me here - I was little and that’s what it looked like to me.)

The other two kids began screaming, slapping at their tiny attackers, running between trees with wild abandon, and yelling for their mamas. Those were real tears and they were getting real welts. But I didn’t even get one sting. I had recently read a book about bees and followed its advice about what to do in a situation like this: stand perfectly still. Eight years old and not bold enough yet to question authority, I did what the book said to do.

Even though I could feel bees flying around my ears, landing on my nose, and breezing across my arms, I made like a statue, closed my eyes and froze. After about ten minutes, the swarm of disgruntled employees decided I really was just a bush and went back to their spreadsheets and phone calls. And I walked back to the house, completely unscathed.

Remembering this childhood incident, I hung up the phone, sat back in my chair and took a deep breath.

Maybe it was a great day to see things as they really were in this neck of the woods, too. It wouldn't do any good to get upset by the bewildering family dynamics escalating in the other room. And lashing out at others would only add to the chaos, leaving me covered with welts. The commotion would die down before long and, if I could stop slapping at every buzz in my ear, maybe I’d survive all of their 'bee-havior' unscathed. 

All I had to do was close my eyes . . . and breathe.

Just breathe. Stand still, let the swarm pass by, and breathe.

Congratulations. You survived again.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

I wouldn't say that bold courage is my forte. Some days wimpering timidity is the best I can muster. And I'm not embarrassed to admit that. Well, okay, maybe a little. But even if I do act like that Old Testament guy, Gideon, and try to live life while hiding in a winepress, it doesn't make God ashamed of me. He just drops in, pulls up a barstool and tells me what's on His mind anyway. He lets me tell Him why I'm hiding and then He reminds me Who has my back. He does. Always has - always will. I'll drink to that.