Friday, November 15, 2013

It's Just A Number



My husband forgot his keys today. He keeps them in his briefcase and left his briefcase in his office while he attended a funeral for a co-worker’s wife. Then he left the funeral and drove home. Without his briefcase. Or his keys.
Eventually he remembered that he’d forgotten his keys when he pulled into our driveway and turned off his car. Forty miles from his office where his briefcase was. With his keys inside.
“I’m driving back to my office,” he texted me, and explained why. Because I wasn’t home, either, so I couldn’t let him in.  I was an hour away at the zoo with our daughter and grandbabies. The dog was home, but she doesn’t have a key. She doesn’t have hands to unlock doors from the inside either.
Now that you mention it, though, she did mysteriously open the screen door a couple of days ago, so maybe he should have asked her to open the door before he drove another hour and a half roundtrip to get his briefcase. To his office where his keys were hiding.
“I must be 60,” he texted sarcastically a few seconds later.
Wow.  Sixty years old. He turned sixty this year.  I’m only fifty-five. Wow. Fifty-five years old. That’s impossible. We’re both so young still.
Sixty is a lot younger than it used to be, I think. I’ll probably be even more convinced of that in about . . . five years. Sixty.  Sixty! Fifty-five. Fift—oh, sorry. I think my brain froze there for a minute.
I guess we look our ages to some people. Like the ticket sellers at that movie theater who’ve been trying to give me a senior discount for the last ten years. Bunch of whipper snappers. And the twenty-something construction workers who are always trying to cut me off in traffic.  I’m old, but I still drive fast. The last time I proved that to one of those guys, he used every last drop of gasoline to get by me so he could show me how cute one of his fingers is.  I tried to show him one of mine, too, but I wasn’t quite sure how to do it.  I think I told him I love him in sign language instead.
I met my husband thirty-nine years ago before he was my husband. He was just a quiet airman about to turn twenty-one and I was a quiet piano player about to become a high school junior.  It’s amazing we ever said hello, both of us being so quiet like that and all. Boy, was he surprised when he found out I was sixteen. He thought I was older than him.
We fell in love and soon he called his parents to tell them about me. I was shyly listening in on the other line. Okay, I was eavesdropping. They lived two thousand safe miles away and I was still afraid to say ‘hello.’
“You kind of robbed the cradle there, didn’t you, Son?” his dad said. 

I can’t blame him for reacting like that. He probably thought I was just after Rob’s penny candy money. I proved myself to him, though. Rob got orders for Germany within the year and for eighteen months after that we dated by mail. We stayed true to each other and took our vows two weeks after he was discharged. He wouldn’t marry me til I finished high school and I wouldn’t marry him til he got out of the Air Force. See, I wanted him to get a real job so I wouldn’t worry about becoming the widow of a soldier. That’s why he became a firefighter—because it was safer.
So, next summer we’ll celebrate forty years of knowing each other.  I don’t think I’ve heard of a record like that since my grandparents had been married for forty years. And I might not have even been born back then.  I’m younger than I look, you know.
Growing older is weird. Having an empty nest is weird, too. One minute you’re up to your ears in diapers and bottles and Band-Aids and boogers, and the next you’re shelling out money for college and weddings. It’s all go, go, go! from the minute your water breaks until they all move out and your heart breaks. There you stand in the middle of all the tulle and cake crumbs and empty chairs and wave good-bye to your kids and your parenting career—all in one split second.
It’s quite a night. And quite a change.
After a few years, of course, if your kids are practical and traditional like you were, they’ll get a little settled into their own marriages and give you some grandbabies. Grandbabies are the reason old people like us keep trying to stay young—so we can help them gang up on their parents. Grandbabies think grandparents are the best thing since popsicles and we think grandbabies are better than popsicles.
It’s just one big mutual admiration society.
But there’s a big difference between being a parent and being a grandparent.  Energy. Old people like us don’t have any. That’s why we buy it now from the Power and Light Company. Now young people—they have too much energy. That’s the reason places like Cancun and Lake Havasu can stay in business. There’s only one way to rein in all that hormonal hyperactivity—hand those party animals a couple of kids to take care of. I’m tellin’ ya, after a few months of midnight feedings and all night colic, young people like them turn into old people like us and the world is fair again.
What’s not fair is how fast time flies. It’s flying even faster now that we’re grandparents. Our oldest grandbaby turned five just yesterday and in a couple of months she’ll be six. I think the reason time speeds up is because I don’t live with them day in and day out.  We see them once or twice a week. Or once or twice a year in the case of our son’s family who, unfortunately for us, put down roots in Kentucky and refuse to get their pilots’ licenses so we can babysit their girls here—in Arizona. Selfish.
I did the math on that. If a baby learns to crawl at, roughly, six months and a grandmother sees the baby once a week, then to her it’s as though her little angel went from a newborn to a pre-toddler in six days. That’s why old people like us are always walking around shaking our heads and telling pre-teens, “You can read already?! Why, wasn’t it just last week I changed your diapers?” That’s another reason grandparents stop being cool to their grandkids, too.  Word to the wise.
All I’m saying is that grandkids seem to grow up faster than their parents did when they were kids. And the reason, I think, is because parents don’t get any sleep for twenty years, so to them parenting lasts forever.
I did the math on that, too.  My son and daughter were born two and a half years apart and lived at home through college minus one year because my daughter got married first and, well, then my son moved out the next year to go to seminary, but he didn’t get married for another three years so that’s 365 days times 26 years or 9,490 days straight with no sleep. Roughly.
That’ll catch up with you. And in my professional opinion it caught up with my husband today, which is why he locked his house keys in his office forty miles from home and then drove all the way to our house believing that the dog would let him inside. And turn off the alarm first.
I worry about him sometimes. And then it hits me—I’ve got five more good years and then it’ll be me locking my husband in our office and driving the dog to work. 
I think I’m gonna buy one of those bumperstickers for when I turn sixty. The one that says, “Of all the things I’ve lost in life, I miss my mind the most.”

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

The Potter's Wheel

(While I'm focused on another writing challenge this month, I'll be posting some things here from my private writings.  It's always good to look back and see the journey God's carried you through and realize you've been learning and growing after all. This piece is from 2010.)
 
I woke up this morning with a Tenth Avenue North song playing in my mind.  The lyrics demanding my attention so strongly, I couldn’t sleep anymore.

            You say let it go, You say let it go,

            You say life is waiting for the ones who lose control,

            You say You will be everything I need,

            You said if I lose my life it’s then I’ll find my soul,

            You say let it go.

This has been the most difficult aspect of my journey with Jesus – letting go.  I’ve read in a lot of books that I’ll never be “free” of hang-ups or strongholds or burdens or bondage until “I surrender all”.

“Surrender” is one of the most frightening words in the English language to me.  In church talk it has dozens of synonyms:  “Turn your life over to Jesus”, “Make Jesus the Lord of your life”, “Give God control”.  And there are as many hymns whose lyrics say the same thing:  “I surrender all . . . all to Jesus I surrender, I surrender all”, for example.  All I think is what a liar I am when I have to sing those lines.  It would be more honest for me to sing, “I surrender some, I let go a bit, I don’t trust You, I can’t see You, take what You can get.”

Or, another hymn, usually sung in its entirety during a church’s invitation time, questions, “Is your all on the altar of sacrifice laid?  Your heart does the Spirit control?  You can never be blessed . . . til your all on the altar is laid.”  So this theology says I can only be blessed if I one hundred per cent  (i.e., all) surrender to Jesus.  But to clarify, is that one hundred per cent of each sixty seconds in every minute all day long?  This is not encouraging.  Honestly – and I mean, get honest with me – can anyone do this?  It seems like an invitation to frustration.  “I can never be blessed, cuz I can’t pass the test, guess I’ll pass on that altar today.”

It’s an all or nothing theology, and I don’t think any believer can do this.  There are issues in our lives including addictions, guilt, wounds, grudges, and fears that cannot be packaged all together with a pretty bow on top and shipped off once and for all via UPS to God.  I say this because many of those issues have been pushed down out of sight within us for so long we don’t even know they exist anymore.

It reminds me of our move to Mesa from Chandler.  We’d outgrown our little house and had to box up what amounted to an entire room of stuff, filling a 10x10x10 foot storage unit with all of it before we could show our home to prospective buyers.  The house looked big and welcoming with all the clutter stored safely out of sight.  Lovely to look at, but I knew it was a big fa├žade. Four months and a new house later, I went to retrieve everything and was astounded by the immensity of it all.  By then, I’d lived so long with it hidden, I wondered why I should bring any of it out into the light of day?  Still, it was “my stuff” and since some of it was seasonal, I had to bring the whole mess with me and sort through it all later, knowing much of it would be shoved into a closet again.

My point is I believed throughout much of my Christian life that to be acceptable to Jesus I had to pull out my issues, even the ones of which I was not aware, and give them up, promising never to have those hang-ups again.  It’s kind of like a little kid cleaning out his overall pockets for his mom – first you leave the frogs and snakes and rocks and rodents outside where they belong and then you can come inside the freshly vacuumed house.  Come clean and then you’ll be acceptable and blessed. Of course, once I see what I’ve been stuffing inside, it’s easy to agree those are things that need to be dealt with.   But if I knew what to do with them, I wouldn’t have put them in storage in the first place.  See my predicament?

I thought if I held onto anything, I’d be stoned to death in judgment, Achan-like, for possessing accursed  things (Joshua 6.)  And if I clean out my pockets, I have to try not to fill them up again.  If we really can put our all on the altar, then why do Christians still struggle with anger, fear, lust, overeating, bitterness, impatience, critical spirits, etcetera etcetera etcetera?  It leaves me with the impression that I must fess up and give up.  And both of those strongly suggest that I never have or do those things again, or I’ll be in BIG TROUBLE.  I might even get kicked off the altar.  Now that’s failure – when you’re not even good enough to be charbroiled on a BBQ.

It sounds unrealistic to me, even dishonest.  If I can’t come to God or be blessed by Him until I stop behaving badly, I will come to Him as a liar (which I’m pretty sure is a sin) saying I’ve done something I can’t do, like getting over everything on my own so I’ll be good enough for God.  Or I’ll come to Him truly cleaned up and then wonder why I need a Savior anyway?

As beloved as these old hymns are, and as familiar as our theologies have become, I wonder if they may be the items that belong on the altar of sacrifice.  Perhaps we need to surrender all our misconceptions about what it means to be pleasing to God.  Recently I heard it said that God doesn’t mind a mess.  Obviously that’s the “papa” in Him, not the “mother-hen” side.  He likes getting His hands dirty, which only makes sense when I remember He’s a potter.  While the potter’s wheel spins, it’s pretty difficult to differentiate where muddy fingers end and the clay in process begins.  It’s all a big, brown blur.

Maybe the best way to describe myself right now is “clay in progress.”  I know my Papa has a vision of what I will be.  And since He never fails, it will come to pass.  I just don’t see it yet.  I really wish I could.  It makes me cry to realize God loves His work – both the process and the clay.  I can’t come to him cleaned up of the stuff imbedded in me. I can’t pick out the debris and I wouldn’t know what to do with it if I could.  But I do know how gentle His hands are.  I’m always safely held by them while He molds me, changing me from glory to glory, whistling while He works and I take a ride on the Potter’s wheel.