Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Jack and Jill...

The last time I was in a pool was back in 1995.  It was not that long after I was diagnosed with MS and honestly did not understand the ramifications of this disease.  My niece, twelve at the time, and I were in a very large indoor pool, hanging out in the deep end.  Before I realized what was happening, I had become so fatigued I couldn't keep myself afloat.  I yelled for help, but the cacophony of the indoor pool was deafening and no one heard me.

Terrified, I started trying to tell what her what she would need to do to tow me to the edge of the pool.  She had never done a head lock or knew anything about water rescue.  But I couldn't help her.  I had reached the superlative of wet noodle status.  Somehow, my niece, now terrified herself, managed to keep my head mostly above water and dragged me toward the edge.

Just before we got there, seemingly 1,000 whistles sounded and splashes surrounded me as every lifeguard jumped into the pool.  I couldn't even help them lift me out, not one muscle was cooperating.  So, they dragged me out and dumped me on the side of the pool.  I was covered in blankets and allowed to rest.

I have never been in a body of water since.

From time to time, I have wished to go to the ocean or to a pool, to be in water again.  But how could I?  I mean, I would have to have someone with me. But how do you ask someone to be there to rescue you?  How long would it take now?  In water, you use so very many muscles all at once, so fatigue happens more quickly.  Could I be in for 30 minutes or 20 minutes?  Even 10?

When I was a little girl, we would visit Galveston regularly.  My favorite thing to do was to swim out past the waves to where the swells were. I would lie on my back and allow the ocean to rock me.  The tide would drag me away from our family spot, but my parents did not care, nor did I.  Eventually, I would swim back to shore and walk up the beach until I eventually found my family.  Once there, I would swim out past the waves once more, each time allowing the tide to carry me further and further down the beach.  I was very little, too little to really be in the ocean alone.  But I was.  And I loved being rocked by the water.

And the silence.  When your ears are in the water, or when you are completely beneath the surface, all sound fades away.  All life fades away, really.

Recently, I have been told heat couldn't possibly affect me the way that it does.  Not by medical personnel, but by others.  It is hard to bear such a thing, especially since I have worked so hard to stop bowing to pressure to do things outside.  I keep getting, oh it's not really that hot.  But hot to you and hot to me are worlds apart.  Read about MS and you will see that air-conditioning is my best friends (well, just behind Bettina).  I recently angered someone who wanted me to walk around Mt. Vernon.  I refused.  For one, it is too hot. For another, I cannot walk around but more than about 45 minutes now, before I start getting tired and my legs start hurting.  Then the hurt and fatigue builds until I cannot walk and am essentially trapped wherever I am.  I was told how selfish I was for not going, for refusing to do something friendly with others.  All I kept thinking was: Why is it not selfish of you to ask me to do something that is dangerous to me? 

Still, that criticism/doubt has been ringing in my head.  So, I took a bath last night.

I cannot really describe how it felt to allow the water to fill over my head and to find the peace of that silence.  The tub was so full that I actually floated the tiniest bit.  So, I lay there trying to remember being rocked by the ocean swells.  The hot water, my hair floating about me, the silence, the comfort.  Well, it was great.  It was what I needed.

When I was first diagnosed with MS, one of the wonky things that was happening is that I would take a hot bubble bath, reading a book, and then become incredibly weak when I got out.  I often fainted before I made it the few feet to my tub.  Once I learned why that was happening, I took baths a few more times and then quit. I gave them up.

From time to time, I have tried to ask someone to stay with me (not in the bathroom) while I took a bath, thinking that if I just had help getting to my bed, I could sleep off the heat-related effects because once a person with MS cools down, the symptoms will abate.  With extreme heat, the weakness and such can last for a long while, but the fainting, the confusion, etc. will get better.  But no one safe ever really wanted to do so. I guess that was an inappropriate thing to ask.

But knowing the cost, I took a bath last night, thinking more about that doubt, that criticism, than what I know is healthy for me.  I savored the time in the tub.  That profound silence, the stillness, being awash in a place where the world faded away was something I really, really needed.  I guess I just need to find another way to achieve it.

For I did not make it to my bed.

Instead, I stumbled about on the way to my bedroom, tripped on the floor rug, and then went headfirst down the stairs, landing against the bookcase.  It fell.  Those darned Harry Potter books tumbling all over me again.  Only this time, I was so weak from the heat of the bath, I couldn't move the bookcase off of me.  All night.  I actually slept beneath it.

Jack and Jill went up the hill to fetch a pail of water.
Jack fell down and broke his crown.
And Jill came tumbling after.

Lying there beneath the bookcase, I kept thinking about a line from a poem someone read to me on Saturday:

Hymn to God, My God, In My Sickness
                                     ~John Donne

SINCE I am coming to that Holy room,
Where, with Thy choir of saints for evermore,
I shall be made Thy music; as I come
I tune the instrument here at the door,
And what I must do then, think here before;

Whilst my physicians by their love are grown

Cosmographers, and I their map, who lie
Flat on this bed, that by them may be shown
That this is my south-west discovery,
Per fretum febris, by these straits to die;

I joy, that in these straits I see my west;

For, though those currents yield return to none,
What shall my west hurt me? As west and east
In all flat maps—and I am one—are one,
So death doth touch the resurrection.

Is the Pacific sea my home? Or are

The eastern riches? Is Jerusalem?
Anyan, and Magellan, and Gibraltar?
All straits, and none but straits, are ways to them
Whether where Japhet dwelt, or Cham, or Shem.

We think that Paradise and Calvary,

Christ's cross and Adam's tree, stood in one place;
Look, Lord, and find both Adams met in me;
As the first Adam's sweat surrounds my face,
May the last Adam's blood my soul embrace.

So, in His purple wrapp'd, receive me, Lord;
By these His thorns, give me His other crown;
And as to others' souls I preach'd Thy word,
Be this my text, my sermon to mine own,
“Therefore that He may raise, the Lord throws down.”

I am not even sure what it means...I shall be made Thy music...but I savor that thought.  There will come a time when I no longer disappoint, when I no longer fail, when I no longer cast such a poor reflection of all that He has given me, when I am no longer confused.  There will come a time.

I will no longer be wrong in my thoughts, feelings, opinions, and desires.
I will no longer need to be anyone, any way, but who I am.
I will no longer be hungry for the Gospel and to understand its doctrine.

At His feet, I shall finally be what He created me to be.

Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief!

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Luther...ah, Luther!

Were "Manna" here right now, I would fling my arms around her neck and kiss her cheek in sheer gratitude.  That woman!  Oh, that woman packed up a box of books and sent them my way, including some Luther for me!  Ah, Luther!

The package actually had many treasures, chief amongst them a booklet on "Manna's" family history and one of the cookies she baked for her daughter's wedding.  I like that, the way she is including me in her life.  She also gave me a copy of The Knight of Rhodes by Bo Giertz, translated by Bror Erickson and two Philip Yancy books.

But to the Luther:  The first is Through Faith Alone, 365 devotionals readings from Martin Luther.  Who wouldn't want a bit of Luther each and every day?  The second is Luther's Large Catechism with study questions (no, sadly there are no answers).  I shall enjoy being able to carry the LC around more frequently, since my beloved Book of Concord is rather cumbersome.  The third...well...here is the feast!  "Manna" sent me Martin Luther's Basic Theological Writings!

Now, you know that I bought Luther's Works on CD and regularly peruse that.  Mostly, I find a reference somewhere online and then go look up the context.  Unfortunately, the CD is part of Libronix Digital Library, an interface that is worse than Greek to me.  So, I have not really been able to understand all that I have in there.  For example, is there some master table of contents?  

Well, after reading 27 days of the devotional book, I picked up the theological writings and skimmed the table of contents.  Immense hope flared in my heart when I saw the 12th writing:  "A Brief Instruction on What to Look for and Expect in the Gospels."  Could this help me with the whole Lutheran filter thing?  I immediately flipped to page 104 and read it through.  Then I did again.  Four times!  This, in my humble opinion, is simply the perfect beginning if you have a Protestant curious about confessional Lutheranism.  I mean, there still remains the whole language barrier, but this...well...this actually explains the meaning of Gospel!  The Gospel!

It is a common practice to number the gospels and to name them by books and say that there are four gospels. From this practice stems the fact that no one knows what St. Paul and St. Peter are saying in their epistles, and their teaching is regarded as an addition to the teaching of the gospels, in a vein similar to that of Jerome’s1 introduction.2 There is, besides, the still worse practice of regarding the gospels and epistles as law books in which is supposed to be taught what we are to do and in which the works of Christ are pictured to us as nothing but examples. Now where these two erroneous notions remain in the heart, there neither the gospels nor the epistles may be read in a profitable or Christian manner, and [people] remain as pagan as ever.
I had heard that...that the bible is not an instruction book.  I didn't really understand what that means, though.  Luther goes on to explain! 
One should thus realize that there is only one gospel, but that it is described by many apostles. Every single epistle of Paul and of Peter, as well as the Acts of the Apostles by Luke, is a gospel, even though they do not record all the works and words of Christ, but one is shorter and includes less than another. There is not one of the four major gospels anyway that includes all the words and works of Christ; nor is this necessary. Gospel is and should be nothing else than a discourse or story about Christ, just as happens among men when one writes a book about a king or a prince, telling what he did, said, and suffered in his day. Such a story can be told in various ways; one spins it out, and the other is brief. Thus the gospel is and should be nothing else than a chronicle, a story, a narrative about Christ, telling who he is, what he did, said, and suffered—a subject which one describes briefly, another more fully, one this way, another that way.
For at its briefest, the gospel is a discourse about Christ, that he is the Son of God and became man for us, that he died and was raised, that he has been established as a Lord over all things. This much St. Paul takes in hand and spins out in his epistles. He bypasses all the miracles and incidents3 [in Christ’s ministry] which are set forth in the four gospels, yet he includes the whole gospel adequately and abundantly. This may be seen clearly and well in his greeting to the Romans [1:1–4], where he says what the gospel is, and declares, “Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy scriptures, the gospel concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and designated Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord,” etc.
There you have it. The gospel is a story about Christ, God’s and David’s Son, who died and was raised and is established as Lord. This is the gospel in a nutshell. Just as there is no more than one Christ, so there is and may be no more than one gospel. Since Paul and Peter too teach nothing but Christ, in the way we have just described, so their epistles can be nothing but the gospel.

That, in itself, is really remarkable to me.  The Gospel being more than Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.  I guess, though, in a way I already instinctively understand this because the sweetness of the Gospel is oft found outside those four books.  Consider just the two bits about prayer:  Christ being our yes and amen (I Corinthians) and Christ never ceasing in His prayers for us (Hebrews).  When people read aloud to me from the epistles, the call is as strong, the comfort as profound.

Yes even the teaching of the prophets, in those places where they speak of Christ, is nothing but the true, pure, and proper gospel—just as if Luke or Matthew had described it. For the prophets have proclaimed the gospel and spoken of Christ, as St. Paul here [Rom. 1:2] reports and as everyone indeed knows. Thus when Isaiah in chapter fifty-three says how Christ should die for us and bear our sins, he has written the pure gospel. And I assure you, if a person fails to grasp this understanding4 of the gospel, he will never be able to be illuminated in the Scripture nor will he receive the right foundation.

So, Gospel equals a proclamation of Christ. 

Be sure, moreover, that you do not make Christ into a Moses, as if Christ did nothing more than teach and provide examples as the other saints do, as if the gospel were simply a textbook of teachings or laws. Therefore you should grasp Christ, his words, works, and sufferings, in a twofold manner. First as an example that is presented to you, which you should follow and imitate. As St. Peter says in I Peter 4, 5 “Christ suffered for us, thereby leaving us an example.” Thus when you see how he prays, fasts, helps people, and shows them love, so also you should do, both for yourself and for your neighbor. However this is the smallest part of the gospel, on the basis of which it cannot yet even be called gospel. For on this level Christ is of no more help to you than some other saint. His life remains his own and does not as yet contribute anything to you. In short this mode [of understanding Christ as simply an example] does not make Christians but only hypocrites. You must grasp Christ at a much higher level. Even though this higher level has for a long time been the very best, the preaching of it has been something rare. The chief article and foundation of the gospel is that before you take Christ as an example, you accept and recognize him as a gift, as a present that God has given you and that is your own. This means that when you see or hear of Christ doing or suffering something, you do not doubt that Christ himself, with his deeds and suffering, belongs to you. On this you may depend as surely as if you had done it yourself; indeed as if you were Christ himself. See, this is what it means to have a proper grasp of the gospel, that is, of the overwhelming goodness of God, which neither prophet, nor apostle, nor angel was ever able fully to express, and which no heart could adequately fathom or marvel at. This is the great fire of the love of God for us, whereby the heart and conscience become happy, secure, and content. This is what preaching the Christian faith means. This is why such preaching is called gospel, which in German means a joyful, good, and comforting “message”; and this is why the apostles are called the “twelve messengers.”6

Alas!  This is why reading the Living Word to me works even against my own emotions, my own feelings!  My heart is hearing, receiving that which my mind cannot fully grasp.  Does that make sense?  I am not even sure that is the best way to say what I see in this part, but when I read it, all I could think is about Luther's comment in the Large Catechism about the Living Word being all that God is and does.  In a way, the power of the Living Word is precisely because of the Gospel, what is being proclaimed.  The message.  Oh, the message!

Concerning this Isaiah 9[:6] says, “To us a child is born, to us a son is given.” If he is given to us, then he must be ours; and so we must also receive him as belonging to us. And Romans 8[:32], “How should [God] not give us all things with his Son?” See, when you lay hold of Christ as a gift which is given you for your very own and have no doubt about it, you are a Christian. Faith redeems you from sin, death, and hell and enables you to overcome all things. O no one can speak enough about this. It is a pity that this kind of preaching has been silenced in the world, and yet boast is made daily of the gospel.
Now when you have Christ as the foundation and chief blessing of your salvation, then the other part follows: that you take him as your example, giving yourself in service to your neighbor just as you see that Christ has given himself for you. See, there faith and love move forward, God’s commandment is fulfilled, and a person is happy and fearless to do and to suffer all things. Therefore make note of this, that Christ as a gift nourishes your faith and makes you a Christian. But Christ as an example exercises your works. These do not make you a Christian. Actually they come forth from you because you have already been made a Christian. As widely as a gift differs from an example, so widely does faith differ from works, for faith possesses nothing of its own, only the deeds and life of Christ. Works have something of your own in them, yet they should not belong to you but to your neighbor.

This is the heart of what has been bothering me deeply:  my foundation.  The more I have learned, the more I can see that all the wonderful truth, all the pure teaching I have been receiving is still being overlaid on a foundation that is really Moses, not Christ crucified.  How do I start with the proper foundation?  I know that so much of what I have been taught is in error, but I cannot always discern that error, for it is more familiar, more right than anything else.  But just because something is familiar, does not make it good, meet, and salutary.  This I am learning in other parts of my life, yet I believe it is most important here, in my understanding of doctrine.  Oh, how I could wish there were pages and pages more of this, that Luther would have spent more time on this!

So you see that the gospel is really not a book of laws and commandments which requires deeds of us, but a book of divine promises in which God promises, offers, and gives us all his possessions and benefits in Christ. The fact that Christ and the apostles provide much good teaching and explain the law is to be counted a benefit just like any other work of Christ. For to teach aright is not the least sort of benefit. We see, too, that unlike Moses in his book, and contrary to the nature of a commandment, Christ does not horribly force and drive us. Rather he teaches us in a loving and friendly way. He simply tells us what we are to do and what to avoid, what will happen to those who do evil and to those who do well. Christ drives and compels no one. Indeed he teaches so gently that he entices rather than commands. He begins by saying, “Blessed are the poor,7 Blessed are the meek,” and so on [Matt. 5:3, 5]. And the apostles commonly use the expression, “I admonish, I request, I beseech,” and so on. But Moses says, “I command, I forbid,” threatening and frightening everyone with horrible punishments and penalties. With this sort of instruction you can now read and hear the gospels profitably.

Funny, so much of the ways to enlarge, increase, and deepen one's relationship with God, getting right with Him, growing one's faith that I have been taught, though not with threatening words are actually those threats..for they place success on our shoulders, not God's.  They depend on sinful, flawed, weak humans.  What hope is there in that? 

When you open the book containing the gospels and read or hear how Christ comes here or there, or how someone is brought to him, you should therein perceive the sermon or the gospel through which he is coming to you, or you are being brought to him. For the preaching of the gospel is nothing else than Christ coming to us, or we being brought to him. When you see how he works, however, and how he helps everyone to whom he comes or who is brought to him, then rest assured that faith is accomplishing this in you and that he is offering your soul exactly the same sort of help and favor through the gospel. If you pause here and let him do you good, that is, if you believe that he benefits and helps you, then you really have it. Then Christ is yours, presented to you as a gift.
After that it is necessary that you turn this into an example and deal with your neighbor in the very same way, be given also to him as a gift and an example. Isaiah 40[:1, 2] speaks of that, “Be comforted, be comforted my dear people, says your Lord God. Say to the heart of Jerusalem, and cry to her, that her sin is forgiven, that her iniquity is ended, that she has received from the hand of God a double kindness for all her sin,” and so forth. This double kindness is the twofold aspect of Christ: gift and example. These two are also signified by the double portion of the inheritance which the law of Moses [Deut. 21:17] assigns to the eldest son and by many other figures.

[I do not understand this double portion reference.] 

What a sin and shame it is that we Christians have come to be so neglectful of the gospel that we not only fail to understand it, but even have to be shown by other books and commentaries what to look for and what to expect in it. Now the gospels and epistles of the apostles were written for this very purpose. They want themselves to be our guides, to direct us to the writings of the prophets and of Moses in the Old Testament so that we might there read and see for ourselves how Christ is wrapped in swaddling cloths and laid in the manger [Luke 2:7], that is, how he is comprehended [Vorfassett] in the writings of the prophets. It is there that people like us should read and study, drill ourselves, and see what Christ is, for what purpose he has been given, how he was promised, and how all Scripture tends toward him. For he himself says in John 5[:46], “If you believed Moses, you would also believe me, for he wrote of me.” Again [John 5:39], “Search and look up the Scriptures, for it is they that bear witness to me.”
This is what St. Paul means in Romans 1[:1, 2], where in the beginning he says in his greeting, “The gospel was promised by God through the prophets in the Holy Scriptures.” This is why the evangelists and apostles always direct us to the Scriptures and say, “Thus it is written,” and again, “This has taken place in order that the writing of the prophets might be fulfilled,” and so forth. In Acts 17[:11], when the Thessalonians heard the gospel with all eagerness, Luke says that they studied and examined the Scriptures day and night in order to see if these things were so. Thus when St. Peter wrote his epistle, right at the beginning [I Pet. 1:10–12] he says, “The prophets who prophesied of the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired about this salvation; they inquired what person or time was indicated by the Spirit of Christ within them; and he bore witness through them to the sufferings that were to come upon Christ and the ensuing glory. It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but us, in the things which have now been preached among you through the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things which also the angels long to behold.” What else does St. Peter here desire than to lead us into the Scriptures? It is as if he should be saying, “We preach and open the Scriptures to you through the Holy Spirit, so that you yourselves may read and see what is in them and know of the time about which the prophets were writing.” For he says as much in Acts 4[3:24], “All the prophets who ever prophesied, from Samuel on, have spoken concerning these days.”
Therefore also Luke, in his last chapter [24:45], says that Christ opened the minds of the apostles to understand the Scriptures. And Christ, in John 10[:9, 3], declares that he is the door by which one must enter, and whoever enters by him, to him the gatekeeper (the Holy Spirit) opens in order that he might find pasture and blessedness. Thus it is ultimately true that the gospel itself is our guide and instructor in the Scriptures, just as with this foreword I would gladly give instruction and point you to the gospel.
But what a fine lot of tender and pious children we are! In order that we might not have to study in the Scriptures and learn Christ there, we simply regard the entire Old Testament as of no account, as done for and no longer valid. Yet it alone bears the name of Holy Scripture. And the gospel should really not be something written, but a spoken word which brought forth the Scriptures, as Christ and the apostles have done. This is why Christ himself did not write anything but only spoke. He called his teaching not Scripture but gospel, meaning good news or a proclamation that is spread not by pen but by word of mouth. So we go on and make the gospel into a law book, a teaching of commandments, changing Christ into a Moses, the One who would help us into simply an instructor.

Both things in here I am intimately acquainted with, much to my sorrow.  I have been systematically taught the Old Testament is not for me, but for Israel.  It is there for me to learn the nature of God and the whole of His plan, but to cling to promises written for Israel is wrong.  

You whom I have taken from the ends of the earth,
And called from its remotest parts,
I have said to you, "You are My servant,
I have chosen you and not rejected you.
Do not fear, for I am with you;
Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you, surely I will help you,
Surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.
                                                ~Isaiah 41:9-10

This is an example of a passage I clung to as a promise for me despite that teaching, a passage I stubbornly hoped was for me.  That God was with me, upholding me, even when I could not discern such by the circumstances in my life.  I clung to it because, as a good Lutheran would say:  God spoke it; it is so.  I never could understand that if the Bible was God's Word, why all of it was not true, why all of it was not for me.  I actually wanted to be Jewish at times because there are so many comforting, hopeful, loving bits in the Old Testament.  Unfortunately, I did not hear/receive much love in the New Testament other than the love that held Christ on the cross.  The cross that was then, not now.  But the Old Testament was over and done with.  In a sense, so was the cross.  But Lutherans teach neither is over and done with.  The cross is now.  Forgiveness is now.  Salvation is now.  Now and on-going.

What punishment ought God to inflict upon such stupid and perverse people! Since we abandoned his Scriptures, it is not surprising that he has abandoned us to the teaching of the pope and to the lies of men. Instead of Holy Scripture we have had to learn the Decretales8 of a deceitful fool and an evil rogue. O would to God that among Christians the pure gospel were known and that most speedily there would be neither use nor need for this work of mine. Then there would surely be hope that the Holy Scriptures too would come forth again in their worthiness. Let this suffice as a very brief foreword and instruction. In the exposition9 we will say more about this matter. Amen.

1 Jerome (ca. 342–420), Eusebius Hieronymus, was the foremost biblical scholar of the ancient church and a friend of St. Augustine. He translated the entire Bible from the original Hebrew and Greek into popular Latin (Vulgate).
2 In the prologue to his commentary on the Gospel of Matthew, Jerome writes, “It has been clearly demonstrated [on the basis of Ezek. 1:5, 10, and Rev. 4:7–8] that only four gospels ought to be acknowledged.” Migne 7, 20.
3 Wunder und wandel may be the equivalent of die Wunder und das Leben Jesu according to WA 10I, 1, 729, nn. 9, 22.
4 Wahn is the equivalent of Meinung and the Latin opinio. WA 10I, 1, 10, n. 1.
5 I Pet. 2:21; cf. 4:1.
6 Tzwellff botten. In Middle High German the singular form of the composite word was used to designate a single apostle. Luther derives the term for “messenger” (Bote) from the term for “message” (Botschaft). Cf. Grimm, Deutsches W├Ârterbuch, XVI, 1437.
7 Martin Bucer’s Latin translation of 1525 adds, “in spirit.” WA 10I, 1, 13, n. 2.
8 Papal and conciliar decisions, decrees, and pronouncements had been assembled and supplemented through the centuries until they constituted a very sizeable “body of canon law.” Luther had consigned the entire collection to the flames on December 10, 1520, along with the papal bull which called for the burning of his books. Cf. LW 31, 381–395; and E.G. Schwiebert, Luther and His Times (St. Louis: Concordia, 1950), pp. 19–20.
9 The reference is to Luther’s commentary on the various texts of the Wartburg Postil to which this Brief Instruction was intended as a foreword. See the Introduction, pp. 115–116.
Luther, Martin: Pelikan, Jaroslav Jan (Hrsg.) ; Oswald, Hilton C. (Hrsg.) ; Lehmann, Helmut T. (Hrsg.): Luther's Works, Vol. 35 : Word and Sacrament I. Philadelphia : Fortress Press, 1999, c1960 (Luther's Works 35), S. 35:III-124

Thank you, dear "Manna," for such a precious gift!  I am overwhelmed by your generosity.  I am overwhelmed by the gift God gave His children through the pen of Martin Luther.  I am humbled by this glimpse of the true Gospel, its breadth and depth.


One final thought:  I heard today that Jesus bears His wounds still now.  What does that mean???

Lord, I believe.  Help my unbelief!

Friday, August 27, 2010

twists and turns...

I honestly did not think I could be hurt more than I already am.  But yesterday I was given more words that deepened an already crippling wound.  I honestly am ready to give up talking to or emailing anyone ever again if it does not pertain to my job.  Last night, I drugged myself into oblivion (legally) and crawled into bed very, very early.

That was really my plan for this entire weekend.  I climbed into my pajamas, pulled out the sofa chair bed, piled upon it all the pillows from my bed, and plopped down mere moments after coming home from work, planning to stay here until Monday morning.

I am sure I could be more exhausted, probably so much more so I could not even imagine the comparison.  But I have never been as fatigued as I am now, overwhelming fatigue clawing at me, making every movement hard. Despite this, however, I have not been able to get much sleep.

The lower dose of the dysautonomia medicine does mean that I am not throwing up all the time, but I am still constantly nauseous.  It is never ending, a constant companion.  But lest I have a moment's reprieve, the new medication to even out my blood sugar is making other parts of my digestive system very, very unhappy.  Again, I am supposed to give it a few weeks so as to try and get used to the medication; however, doing so truly is miserable.

Working is also so very difficult, but I am getting much, much better at hiding how I am feeling.  I do tend to spend more time with my door shut, but I am also trying to focus on very, very small things, breaking down each task into small bits that I can accomplish.  Today, I was concentrating so hard on something that when my boss walked into my office, I literally screamed because she startled me so.  While that was not the best, at least I have been working through my list each and every day and this is the first Friday in four that I have not been off ill. 

Yesterday, probably because I had already been filleted, I started crying over this war I was having with my boss over lunch.  Lunch  is another boundary I need to set with her.  Only setting boundaries is exhausting and I fail at it miserably and I am too weak to really keep this up.

Really, it is all meals.  But she will announce she wants me to go eat lunch with her off-site, with my personal laptop, so that we can get some work done away from the office.  I agree.  She says she will be there by noon.  She gets there around 2:00.  She promises she will just do one thing before we can go.  Then we walk out the door between 4:00 and 5:00, if I am lucky.  By that time, I am hungry, exhausted, and struggling with my temper.  And then I often do not get home until 8:00 or 9:00.

So, I emailed her in the morning to double-check we were on for lunch.  At 11:00, I gave her an update on my morning and mentioned lunch again.  At noon, I emailed again and told her that I would need to eat by 1:00.  That got her attention, but only for her to tell me to snack until she arrived.  We went round and round with her telling me what I should be snacking on and what I should be eating and all sorts of things that exhaust me just thinking about them while I kept trying to stick to my 1:00 deadline.  So, by 12:45, I was in tears at my desk, wishing for all the world that Christ would come back that very moment and I could just fall at His feet.

Both of the women I work with came into my office for something during that time and it was all I could do not to snap at them.  Each time, I apologized for my terse words and stopped what I was doing to help them.  At 1:00, my boss called to tell me she would meet me at the restaurant she had chosen and what I should order for her.  She didn't arrive until 2:00.

I didn't even want to eat, but I did.  In the restaurant, I sat there thinking about the battle I had had with her and how I could have possibly avoided it.  I mean, why can I not just say, "That won't work for me." when she tells me how I can just snack until she's ready for lunch?  How did it come to the point where she tells me what to wear, what to eat, what to write, what to say, who to talk with, who to avoid, where to shop, what to buy, what pets to have, when to go to church, when to help people, when to refuse to help...the list is endless...how?

A young woman who worked in our department last year, slowly broke down, left the job, and tried to kill herself.  Everyone knows what my boss does, how she is, and no one does anything.  We do not have a human resources department or manager or director.  The CEO is aware of the situation, but has chosen to do nothing.  So, until someone pointed out to me last spring how much I let her treat me as she does, I did not believe there was anything I could do but quit.  But I also believe God gave me this job.  Even if I could miraculously pay a mortgage without a job, how can I quit something He has provided to me?

Hence, the arduous setting of boundaries.

The child in me, though, keeps telling God that if setting boundaries is what He would have me to do, could I not be doing so whilst feeling better?  I am fighting battles with my health and fighting battles with my boss and failing right and left at any and all attempts to be social and to be a part of a family and to be a part of a church body.  Seriously, I really and truly am looking for that cave!

But a good thing happened today.

Pastor F made one of his wonderful videos on my beloved Book of Concord, mentioned the booklet I wrote to help others discover the joy that is the Book of Concord, and posted a link on his YouTube site.  Several other pastors then posted the video.  I called the man who created the website for the booklet to let him know that it would probably be getting hits now, and he told me there were already ones from German, Australia, Kenya, and Sweden before today--over 400 in total!  At the time of the call, today the site had over 100 visits just this day.  I had a few friend requests on Facebook (I am still very conflicted about being on there) and I had several people email me to ask how they could get a copy of the booklet (one person asked via my "wall").

I cannot begin to put into words how that made me feel.  I care not that I created the booklet; truly the worth of it is from Pastor M's good words about this amazing resource.  But seemingly nearly all the Lutherans I have met do not know the joy that is the Book of Concord.  Even pastors who love it and teach it from the pulpit and in their homes do not think to give their children copies of it to study and mark up and make their own.  I am such a messed up woman with a Protestant heart and mind despite all her attempts to shed and eschew that doctrine and yet the confessions have blessed me so very mightily.  Think...just think for a moment...how God could use them in the lives of those who actually are real Lutherans!

I was so darned giddy at the thought of more people discovering the joy that is the Book of Concord, that I rashly messaged a man who had friended me.  When he did, I couldn't figure out why, but I feel pressured to accept anyone who asks because I know how much it has bothered me that some of the few I dared asked have never responded.  Then, when I looked at the newsletter I received in the mail today, I saw he is a teacher at the parish school.  So, I offered my services if he ever wanted someone to come read to his students or teach a mini-lesson on found poetry.  I immediately regretted sending it.  But he ended up pinging me on Facebook's chat.

[Lest you wonder, I stink at chatting with strangers.]

The whole chat thing did not go all that well because I kept getting confused and I think I was confusing him.  So, he suggested we meet for coffee. I laughed since I hate coffee and countered with Panera.  So, despite doing just about everything wrong in the electronic exchange, tomorrow, I get to talk literacy instruction with a teacher!  After a week in which I spent two entire days printing, cutting, stuffing, and stamping things, I actually get to use my brain!

Now, I really, really want to just sleep away the weekend.  And, thanks to my primary doctor who so well understands me, I have the means to do so despite the pain I have and the nausea and the stomach cramps and all the other ills brought on by the medications I am taking. However, I shall hold off sleeping round the clock until tomorrow evening that I might go and talk literacy.

If only I could do so through an intermediary that I might not screw up the whole social interaction part.  SIGH.

I plan on bringing my laptop to show some of the resources I have and a few examples of favorite readalouds.  I also plan on rehearsing how to be normal.  Laugh if you will, but I asked Brother Goose if he would call and just chat with me, give me some practice.  He's supposed to do so tomorrow morning.  Perfect timing!

I guess I cannot wear my lounge pants and sweatshirt jacket?

Yesterday afternoon, we had a baby shower at work.  While being social there, I sat with two other pregnant women, each radiant in her joy of new life.  All I could think was how ungrateful I am for the life I have been given.

A few days ago, I had asked someone about works, because she is an ex-Protestant and oft writes things so very clearly for me.  She had not much time, but offered the following to me:

"Works" terminology is just different, or from a different perspective for a Lutheran.  We see things, hear things through a different filter as Lutherans.  The book of James is received in a totally different manner for a Lutheran.  All of scripture really.  Rather than looking at works/scripture as a prescription or instruction book for getting to Heaven we understand "works" as fruit.

Now, "fruit" is a loaded word for me right now, the most ubiquitous word in my life, I think.  However, it was not that word that caused me to start weeping when I read this.  I already know Lutherans have different terminology; they use the same words as Protestants, but the meanings are often very, very, very different.  If nothing else, consider salvation.  The question, "When were you saved?" is a very, very, very different question to a Protestant than to a Lutheran.  And I am not surprised at all James is received differently for parts of it have been crushing me of late.  But I wept because I all I keep thinking is that I have been begging for someone to teach me that Lutheran perspective.

To be honest, I believe if I were a child asking for such, I would have it in spades.  If nothing else, I could go to catechesis classes and ask questions to my hearts desire.  Many of the class descriptions I have found online at different parishes include having to write papers on topics!  Oh, how I wish I were a child once more!

I tried ask-the-pastor, and the pastor did not really want to answer questions.  I tried asking the new parish pastor, but he does not have time.  Asking during bible study or bible class does not really work either for both have agendas outside delving into the Book of Concord and parsing decades of Protestant teaching.  I have tried emailing, but I often get answers based on assumptions that I understand those Lutheran terms...and thus I feel the dunce, am left confused, and basically just wasted the time of the person who so generously tried to answer the question for me.  I tried teaching myself, but I just go round and round in circles with questions to my own questions.  I have learned much from Walther and Forde and Krauth and Kleinig, but mostly what I have learned is how much I have learned wrongly and how much I still cannot see clearly and how very, very much I do not know.

Pastor F coined a funny term in one of his videos:  gLAWspel.  Only...it is not so funny.  Sometimes I wonder if any pastor I know truly understands how twisted a Gospel is taught in the Protestant church.  Not in malice.  Not at all.  In misunderstanding that can only be borne of the devil's relentless drive to obscure the things of God with the things of man.

I want that Lutheran filter mentioned so badly it hurts.  I am desperate for it because I know that shedding the works righteousness and the condemnation of a failing at faith is my one and only hope for healing and for freedom and for peace.  I would gladly, gladly, accept nausea and weakness and pain and cognitive dysfunction and fainting and all of that increased ten-fold if only I could have the instruction I need to set in place that Lutheran filter.

I love the Living Word.  I do.  How I feel about it now is so much greater than before I discovered the joy that is the Book of Concord it really is akin to the difference between hate and love.  How I revered it, how I cherished it was but a pale reflection of what I understand and feel now.  I know its power.  I know it is the source of all Truth.

In Pastor F's John 8 sermon that I have listened to at least four dozen times now, at one point he is talking for Jesus, saying, "My Truth will set you free.  My Words will make you know the Truth."  [I think I have that right.]  Each and every blooming time I listen to that part of the sermon, my heart leaps.  Lord, will your Word really make me know the Truth?  I think that is the very notion that keeps me shoving the Living Word and Lutheran Doctrine into my head as much as humanly possible, praying the Psalter morning, noon, and night.  Why I am so very greedy about hearing the Gospel, wanting the Living Word to be spoken to me, read to me, sung over me.

But I have learned you can be too greedy about wanting it taught to you, at least such is the case if you are an adult.

My old pastor used to point out this verse that says we need pastors to instruct us.  We cannot instruct ourselves.  I have lost the verse, just like I lost the Jesus is our yes and amen verse until it was pointed it out to me again (2 Corinthians 1:20), but I do not need a bible verse to tell me such a thing. I know it. Therefore, the following verse, a promise really, is one to which I am actually trying to cling.

"For I know the plans that I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart.
~Jeremiah 29:11-13 

In my head, I think, but this cannot be for me because I am not searching with all my heart.  In fact, my broken heart has caused me to stop searching in the one place I should not abandon.  But I am hoping that is a LAW thought:  that the reason I have not found what I long to find is because I am not trying hard enough.  Would not the God who created my rather weak and weary heart, a heart that truly longs for a cave since being me is not all that good of a thing where others are concerned, also know that I am searching, that I am seeking with all the heart I have?  Is He listening?  Will I ever find Him as He truly is, not as man has made Him to be?

"For I know
the plans 
that I have 
for you," 
declares the LORD, 
for welfare 
and not 
for calamity 
to give 
a future and a hope. 
Then you 
will call upon 
and come 
and pray 
to Me, 
will listen 
to you. 
You will seek Me
and find Me
when you search
for Me 
with all your heart.

Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief! 

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

another "it is finished"...

The beginning of Walther's Eighteenth Evening lecture caught me off guard.

Back at Easter, I was surprised and humbled to finally understand what "It is finished." means.  All my Christian life, I had supposed those words meant the death was finished, the act of killing Jesus Christ was completed.  However, the Holy Spirit opened my eyes and my ears and my heart to show me that the "it" was so very much more.

It is finished.  God's promise.  God's plan from the moment of our fall from grace, our entrance into sin and death and damnation had finally come to fruition.  Now, the rising was yet to come. But it could come now, because the dying was complete.

When I look up my crucifix, when I hold the small one in my hand, I think about those words, that Word.  [I wonder what crosses Brother Goose's mind when he gazes so fondly upon that new crucifix at his church's altar he's photographed so much!]

Can you imagine that the loving, kind, gracious, and merciful God has done nothing to make us certain that we have the forgiveness of our sins and that in yonder world we shall enter the mansions of eternal peace and rest?  Did He really do nothing to rescue us out of our dreadful condition?  Is it impossible that He should have done such a thing.  Assuredly, God has done something; yea, He has done something so great that it exceeds our conception.  

He sent His only-begotten Son into this world, had Him become a human being like us, laid the burden of our sins upon Him, and gave Him up to be crucified for the atonement of our sins.  

It is impossible to image that, having done all this, He would during our whole life leave us in a dreadful state of ignorance whether He is still our enemy and whether our dying day will be our Judgment Day.  No; as soon as the eternal Son of God had become man and entered into this world, the highest messenger was dispatched from the throne of grace to this earth to proclaim to the shepherds at Bethlehem, and in them to us, to all of us, to the entire world:  "Behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.  For unto you is born this day, in the city of David, a Savior, which is Christ the Lord."  Luke 2, 10,11.  

After Christ had finished His great work, after God the Father had raised Him from the death and therewith pronounced Him, our Surety and Substitute, free from all guilt, and had justified and absolved us all in Him, Christ commanded His disciples: "Go ye into all the world and preach the Gospel," that is, the joyous message of the finished redemption, "to every creature," Mark 16,15, adding these words, "Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world,"  Matthew 28,20.  With these words Christ testified that the joyous message which He was committing to His disciples is to echo throughout this terrestrial globe unto the Last Day.

In view of this, are we not blessed, highly favored men?  Our bliss beggars description.  Heaven and earth are full of the goodness and grace of the Lord, our God.  Anyway and everywhere all things cry to us:  "You are redeemed; your sins are forgiven; heaven is thrown open to you.  Oh, believe it, do believe it, and you have this bliss." (179-180; paragraph breaks save for the last mine)

Before reading this, I had not really known the great joy of the good tidings the angels brought.  I suppose that sounds horrible.  I mean, I sort of just thought of this as a birth announcement...pass around the cigars, sent out little blue cards.  But, actually, this is the first proclamation of the Gospel!

How could I miss that?  Really...how?  SIGH.

Walther then moves on to just how it is that God comforts us with the assurance of our forgiveness:  baptism and absolution.  I shall not write more on this lecture, for I have too much to ponder.

I have been asking, for a while now, what is forgiveness?  Recently, I have had forgiveness given to me that seems too good to be true.  I have had forgiveness that feels rather conditional, though I have been told it is not.  I have asked for forgiveness and have not received it.  And I have had forgiveness given by someone whom I learned actually holds something against me and has told others about it even after assuring me that all was forgiven.  So, I honestly do not know what forgiveness is at this point.

What I do know is, that despite how I feel about making the sign of the cross on one such as I, each time I have been in Church for the past two months, I have stopped at the baptismal font, dipped my fingers in the water, and crossed myself in remembrance of the washing away of my sins that happened a year ago July 19th.  The new parish pastor keeps the font filled for that very purpose.  He understands the ramification of "I am baptized."  Sometimes, I have approached the font with fear and trembling, all too aware of my sins, feeling the fraud.  Yet I approach anyway because of the Word spoken over me.

Truly, I shall have to ponder more of the rest of this lecture before I try to grasp it, but I shall lay down tonight understanding the joy of glad tidings, that first proclamation of the Gospel.  And I shall do so, in part, because Christ, in His infinite mercy, had "Manna" call me and sing to me once more, reminding me of that sweet, sweet Gospel this day, this moment, for me, of the true life I shall have once this one is over. 

Christ Jesus Lay in Death's Strong Bands

Christ Jesus lay in death’s strong bands,
For our offenses given;
But now at God’s right hand He stands,
And brings us life from Heaven.
Therefore let us joyful be,
And sing to God right thankfully
Loud songs of Alleluia! Alleluia!

No son of man could conquer Death,
Such ruin sin had wrought us,
No innocence was found on earth,
And therefore Death had brought us
Into bondage from of old
And ever grew more strong and bold
And held us as its captive. Alleluia!

Christ Jesus. God’s own Son, came down
His people to deliver;
Destroying sin He took the crown
From death's pale brow forever:
Stripped of pow'r, no more it reigns;
And empty form alone remains;
Its sting is lost forever. Alleluia!

It was a strange and dreadful strife
When life and death contended;
The victory remained with life;
The reign of death was ended.
Holy Scripture plainly saith
That death is swallowed up by death,
Its sting is lost forever! Alleluia!

Here the true Paschal Lamb we see,
Whom God so freely gave us;
He died on the accursed tree—
So strong His love!—to save us.
See, His blood now marks our door;
Faith points to it, Death passes over,
And Satan cannot harm us. Alleluia!

So let us keep the festival
Where to the Lord invites us;
Christ is Himself the joy of all,
The Sun that warms and lights us.
Now His grace to us imparts
Eternal sunshine in our hearts;
The night of sin is ended! Alleluia!

Then let us feast this Easter day
On Christ the Bread of Heaven;
The Word of grace has purged away
The old and evil leaven.
Christ alone our souls will feed;
He is our Meat and Drink indeed;
Faith lives upon no other! Alleluia!
                                     (LSB 458)

Oh, how beautifully God guided Luther's pen!

Lord, I believe.  Help my belief!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

does prayer matter in a marriage...

I had planned on Walther today, on delving into that treasure to take my mind off things, but something has been bothering me greatly and I finally thought I would try to capture it here for later.  If ever later comes for me.

For fourteen months now, I have been longing to talk about prayer, really talk about it.  I heard something in church, when I first started attending a confessional Lutheran church, that truly disturbed me.  What I have heard since and what I have experienced confuses me.  But that conversation has been put off time and time again.  And so I wait.

While I have waited, I have wondered more, grown more confused, and sometimes questioned if I even know a single thing that is true and right about prayer.

A while ago, someone pointed out Hebrews 7:25 to me:  Hence, also, He is able to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.  Christ is always praying for us, for me!  That was new to me, welcome news, and something I cling to rather tightly, a promise I dare to believe.  And Pastor F pointed out that Christ is our "yes and amen," as found in 2 Corinthians 1:20:  For as many as may be the promises of God, in Him they are yes; wherefore also by Him is our Amen to the glory of God through us.  Remember how he prayed Psalm 51 with me during confession?


Create in me a clean heart, O God (yes and amen) 
and renew a right spirit within me. (yes and amen) 
Cast me not away from your presence, (yes and amen)
and take not your Holy Spirit from me. (yes and amen)
Restore to me the joy of your salvation, (yes and amen)
and uphold me with your free Spirit. (yes and amen)

Since that night with him, I have never been able to read this portion of the Psalter, to pray it, without hearing him repeat "yes and amen" in the stead of Christ after every line.  Heady stuff.  Sobering.  Exulting.  I have a list of things I cherish more than life itself.  That night, this lesson, is near the top of the list.

So, perhaps I know two things about prayer.  SIGH.

As I recorded earlier, my confusion over prayer grew exponentially during Lent, for so many sermons seemed to make it a work...and a work at which we fail.  But, I protest, this is the ONE thing I happen to think I don't fail at because how can you fail at talking to God????  Kleinig's section on prayer in Grace Upon Grace was just fodder for that fire.  SIGH.  [Note:  Lest you think I discount the worth of that book, Kleinig's lessoning on how our Christian life is actually a life of reception is on my list.]

I shall not try to write out the turmoil in my heart where prayer is concerned, for it will only frustrate me further, but I shall add to my observations that I have stockpiled here in my online journal.

A while ago, I was talking with a younger woman who asked me what I wanted in a husband.  [Yes, I burst out with a great big guffaw of disbelief at her question for the husband ship has most certainly sailed for me.]

During the conversation, it came out that she would be rather open to an arranged marriage and had even approached the idea with her father, I think in an off-hand manner.  I get the impression he didn't want to touch her love life with a 10-foot pole.  What father would these days?  Yet she is serious.  I, for my part, was a bit dumb-founded that I am not alone in that opinion.  I oft have told others they are free to find me a husband.  I am rather certain they thinks I am joking.  I am not.  Arranged marriages have survived for thousands of years and they were not all bad.  If two confessional Lutherans were open to it, open to sharing a life in Christ, would that be such a bad thing if someone who knew them both put them together?

Ah, but I digress.

Do you know what her number one requirement for a husband is?  Guess.  Nope, not a face to rival a Greek god.  Not a love of football.  Not a willingness to do dishes.  Her number one requirement is that he would pray with her.

A husband who will pray with his wife!

Her parents do not pray together.  Her father is pastor and her parents do not pray together.  When she mentioned that little fact, you could have blown me over with a feather.  An undershepherd doesn't pray with his bride?  Ever?

This is not, by the way, the first time I have heard of a Christian husband and wife who do not pray together.  Nor is it the first hearing this amongst my new Lutheran brothers and sisters.  Actually, praying together, whether married or not, just doesn't really seem to be all that popular outside the Bible belt.  Definitely not praying aloud together.  Certainly not spontaneous prayer.  That just bloody boggles my mind!

[Maybe that is why I adore Pizza Man and his Lovely Bride so very much!  It is not because they actually like me and enjoy my company (that still boggles my mind given my utter failure to be social, to be a human being these days), but that they will read the Living Word with me, sing hymns with me, and at least "do" liturgy with me, such as Responsive Prayer 2.]

In some ways, I have learned it is rude, intrusive even, to ask a Lutheran brother or sister to pray with you.  Will you pray for me?  Is translated:  Will you pray for me some time later, when you are praying in private?  Even with pastors, I have learned you most often have to add "now" to the question.  Will you pray for me now?  But even that does not always seem to be welcome amongst undershepherds I have met. 

When I was teaching at a Christian college north of the Mason Dixon line, who's motto is Christ preeminent, I discovered a long-standing dissension between two departments:  elementary education and secondary education.  A grand canyon of a chasm really.  Woe to anyone from one department who ever got caught having lunch with someone from the other!  When I learned of this difficulty, I suggested we have joint faculty meetings to open the lines of communication, to let each department gain greater insight to the needs of the other.  "That will never work.  You'll understand when you've been here long enough."  My next suggestion was that we at least start praying together.  "That will never work.    You'll understand when you've been here long enough."  Apparently, Christ preeminent includes feuds and does not include prayer.  Words cannot express my sorrow upon learning this "truth."

My heart was filled with sorrow for that woman's parents.  And for her.  She never saw her parents pray together.  I didn't ask, but I am assuming she never prayed with them together either.  Maybe I am wrong about that.  Maybe, as parents, they prayed together, but just not husband and wife.  Still, in her voice, I heard this naked longing for the fellowship of prayer.

"If a man cannot pray with me, does not want to pray with me, I won't marry him.  Period."

I had quipped that any man I married had to love the Book of Concord.  But then, listening to her, I  changed my mind, because I could easily woo him to that given time.  I agree with her.  Above all else, if a man does not want to pray with a woman or a woman does not want to pray with a man, they should not marry.  For how, pray tell me, can they be one flesh in Christ if they share not that which brings them to Christ?

But maybe I am completely and absolutely wrong.  After all, my grandparents always slept in separate beds.  Antique twin beds.  Now, the birds and the bees tell me that at least twice they consummated their marriage, but they did not share a bed.  Perhaps it is possible for a man and a woman to be husband and wife, to be one flesh in Christ, and never approach their high priest together...apart from when they sit side by side on the Lord's Day when all are united together in prayer.

I have thought that growing up in a confessional Lutheran home must be the most wonderful thing on earth.  Oh, to share my faith, to share the Living Word, our confessions, and prayer, with my family!  I have thought being in a Christian marriage, even knowing relationships are hard, would be truly amazing.  Oh, to share my faith, to share the Living Word, our confessions, and prayer, with another!  Now, as with prayer, I am no longer sure about either of those things.

Being in a Lutheran family, be it as a child or a spouse, does not guarantee the fellowship of the Living Word, the fellowship of our confessions, the fellowship of prayer.  Even being a pastor's daughter, this woman did not have a copy of the Book of Concord, though she is sure her father has one somewhere.

[She owns one now!  I must say, another great discouragement of mine has been discovering how many confessional Lutherans, even pastors, do not actually read the confessions, are not even sure of what they say aside from things they might have learned in church over the years, much less own a copy.  Given that both parishes in which I have been a part do not have a single class or bible study on the Confessions (one did have a monthly read aloud but not systematic instruction), given that a third parish failed to garner more than a single participant for a class on one section of the Book of Concord, and given that I have heard several Lutherans tell me they were catechized and confirmed without studying the Book of Concord or even the Small Catechism, I guess this is just par for the course.  DEEP, TROUBLED SIGH]

As if my hopes have not been dashed enough lately, another person told me about an upcoming dinner with Lutheran pastors.  I was green with envy, visions of long conversations filled with the Living Word and our confessions.  When I mentioned as much, I learned that actually they were not very confessional, so no such thing would be taking place.

I guess, once again, I have failed to recognize and to appreciate the riches I have in my life, the feast I have been given in knowing Brother Goose, Pastor F, and my two parish pastors, and in the "pages" of the confessional Lutheran pastors whose blogs are linked up to the left.  I truly am an ungrateful wretch, a Gospel-greedy, ungrateful wretch.

Hence, also, 
He is able to save 
those who draw near to God 
through Him, 
since He always lives 
to make intercession 
for them.  
For as many as may be 
the promises of God, 
in Him they are yes; 
wherefore also by Him 
is our Amen 
to the glory of God 
through us.

Lord, I believe.  Help my unbelief!

Monday, August 23, 2010

trying to be patient...

I have been so tired lately, more so than usual.  Yesterday, I slept 8 hours during the day and still went to bed earlier than usual for me.  I have also been struggling with these on again and off again headaches.  There is the constant nausea (though it is better on the lower dose).  And then there is the rash (I still swear it has to be poison oak) that is now across my ribs, at the small of my back, on both my legs, on my right foot, and my right hand...single spots and small clusters that itch like you wouldn't believe.  It is very, very hard to be patient these days.

I start my newest medication today, the one that is supposed to help even out the dips in blood sugar.  The endocrinologist warned that I might struggle with the side effects, but I quipped that nothing could be worse than the theophylline.  It is funny, last week's episode of Royal Pains had theophylline as a major storyline.

I have noticed, however, that I am significantly less short of breath.  Merely going up a single flight of stairs left me huffing and puffing.  The climb to Accounting (two floors up) left me unable to speak. [I try to take the stairs at work since I basically spend my non-work life on the couch.]  Thursday, when I went to Accounting, I could actually speak to one of the women about the paperwork in my hand when I arrived.

However, when I was singing with Sunshine on Saturday, I really didn't last long at all.  She is a true musician, so we sang harmonies.  But our singing was altogether too brief.  Sunshine did, however, sing me one song and one hymn whilst I sat back and soaked in the blessed Gospel contained therein the beautiful music falling upon my ears.

Also, I fell today at work because I was in the process of fainting.  And sitting on the couch with Sunshine, just talking, I twice fought dizziness enough to make following the conversation rather difficult.  And I fainted when I got out of bed this morning.  And, while standing and talk with the CEO, I had to suddenly grab the edge of this metal shelf to keep from toppling over.

I am almost at the point where I would ask to remain on the theophylline because my sats are so much better and I am breathing easier.  However, it does not seem to be doing all that much for the whole fainting thing.

Other than singing with me, Sunshine did something rather remarkable...at least to me.  Before coming over, she emailed me to ask if there was something she could do while she was visiting.  Because I have been so bloody exhausted, I actually told her there were two things I had in mind, but we could play it by ear.  That magnificent woman scrubbed my tub!  Saturday night's shower was taken in complete confidence and an utter lack of fear.  Five times in the past three weeks I have fallen in the shower due to the less-than-clean status of the tub.  She scoured it so hard that I should at least have a couple of weeks of safety if not three!  [Can someone please tell me why it is that soapy water makes for a dirty tub?]

The other task I asked of her was to go with me to the donations place so I could drop off all the stuff my writing student had put into my car.  All in all, I have now donated over 300 books.  Plus, several items I shall not admit to how many moves have they made with me but never used.  My staircase, which had been housing all the books, is now blessedly empty, as is my vehicle.

Very much did I savor my time with Sunshine.  If it were not seemingly silly, I would spell her nickname "Sonshine," for she shines the light of Jesus on me.  For someone who was born a Lutheran to a Lutheran pastor, she has bits and pieces of her which would pass for a Protestant no matter the denomination.  While Sunshine is not interested in the doctrine in the least, I happen to think the emphasis on missions, on bringing the Word to the unreached oft found in the Protestant church, is what is calling her heart for she is interested in the Protestant church.  She served as a missionary in Japan for 7 years, learning and growing in the process, but also becoming disenchanted with some of the bureaucracy.  Believe me, bureaucracy can destroy even the greatest work.

One of the things she does is sign off her emails with "Rejoice in the Lord Always!"  Now, Pastor F always signs his "baptism saves."  That is CERTAINLY a reminder I need.  Brother Goose signs his "love," which warms the cockles of my heart, and sometimes adds "much" to the "love" part (superlative cockle warming).  But, mostly, the other Lutherans I know sign theirs "Pax," "Pax Christi," or "Peace."

Okay, the peace of Christ is very important.  Did I not put that bit from Luther about all that is within "grace and peace to you"?  So moved was I by that I have oft signed off my emails that way of late.  And I have come to understand that peace is not a feeling but a reconciliation, the state of being reconciled with God we have because of Christ.  Surely what more could you wish for another Christian if he/she is not someone you would sign off in "love"?

But when Sunshine wrote that, something that was utterly ubiquitous in the Protestant churches I attended, I did not feel the burden of the "law" teaching I had had about rejoicing in the Lord (and often failing, falling short in my rejoicing efforts).  Instead, I thought of the things of Christ I now have to rejoice about:  the profound meaning of "It is finished." and the wonder of "I am baptized."

That is just how she is.  I really am fumbling this, but the part of me that misses some of the fellowship I had in the Protestant church, especially prayer, just soaks up every encounter I have with Sunshine.  What mercy, eh?  

Yesterday, it was difficult for me to remember such, for I truly believe my heart broke.  I simply have not the strength to hope any more for things which really are not for me.  I had tears streaming down my face for over two hours...I could not stop weeping, not violent wracking sobs, but hot silent tears.  Today was even harder for I felt as if I lost the last place of safety in my life and wept even more.  Each day for a while now has gotten harder and harder and harder.

I believe I have mentioned this before, but perhaps not.  In any case, I need the reminder. I need to ponder the whys and wherefores contained therein.

A pastor I know has this way of praying in which he prays the Apostles' Creed, the Kryie, and the Lord's Prayer.  He prays the Creed.  Prays it.  I am sure other Lutherans do this.  It is probably something they do since birth, but he is the only one I know who does.  He also prays the Lord's Prayer more than anyone I know.  Someone once immediately offered to pray the "Our Father" with me when I mentioned that I was feeling nervous.  At the time, I did and was comforted...but I found it a strange thing to offer.

But there is something to saying, to praying, "I believe...I believe...I believe..." not the I of this, not my faith, but the substance of what it is that I actually believe.  At times, it could be an in-your-face to satan.  "There!  Take that, you louse!"  At other times, it is a soothing, gentle, calm, consistent, constant reminder of the Gospel.  Of course, Luther's teaching on the Creed troubles my waters.  This I have written.  This I have spoken. This I have despaired, really.  However, I am not thinking about that just now.  Instead, I am thinking about the fact that in having someone pray those words for me, in saying, "amen" to what she prayed, my grief that had spilled over and brought me to my knees on the floor of my office was contained once more.  Contained in Christ, really, eh?

I know this might sound...well...however...but I spent much of the rest of my day thinking about Job.  Everything was stripped away from him.  So much, so much I have lost.  So much I am losing.  So much I fear I am about to lose.  What is left?  Jesus.  Jesus.  Jesus.  

But I am not as strong as Job, I find myself protesting...

Do not despair, but trust Christ, whatever may be the case.  I do know and understand how scary it all must be, how overwhelmingly hard and difficult it must be even to ponder the future right now.  The devil will work overtime on your heart and mind, as well as your body and soul, as he surely has been doing for a long time.  Remember that he hates youbut the Lord loves you, the one true God, the Holy Trinity; and He has bound Himself to you, and you to Him, in the waters of your Holy Baptism; and He is not only for you, and with you, but in you, and above and beneath you, and on your right hand and your left hand, your fore guard and your rear guard.  He is your Mighty Fortress, and He shall shield you from the flaming darts of the devil.  Whatever cross He lays upon you, whatever suffering and persecution He may permit you to endure, He will work all of these things for your good, for that which is a gracious and great blessing to you and to others.  Who yet knows how He will work it all out?  He does, surely.  And He raised Jesus from the dead.  Cling to that, even when absolutely everything else seems elusive and false.

Elusive. There is no better word for me right now. None.

....remember that all of us are children of fallen man, all of us are the sons and daughters of Adam.  We all have inherited this terribly history and legacy of sin and death, from which none of us can set himself or herself free.  You know there is such an old Adam in you, and that you could not rid yourself of him.  Yet, you also have been taught by the Word and Spirit of God that there is a new and better Adam, who is actually the Firstborn of all creation and the Firstborn from the dead; who is the very Image and Likeness of Godin His very flesh and blood.  He has become a man of the dust, bearing your sins and death in His own body to the Cross and grave, and yet God has raised Him from the dust of the earth, and poured out His Spirit upon Himin His body of flesh and bloodand glorified Him, exalted Him, and seated Him at His right hand in heaven.  That new and better Adam has taken you to be His own.  By His Word and Spirit, He has resurrected you, and He has recreated you in His own Image and Likeness; and He shares His glory with you, by and with His Gospelin your body, as also in your heart, mind, soul and spirit.  Yes, in your body, abused and scarred, sick and struggling, destined for death and dust; that very body is also anointed by the Spirit of Christ, washed in pure water, fed with Meat and Drink indeed, and shall be raised immortal, imperishable, and glorious, like unto the body of Christ Jesus Himself.  Then you shall see Him as He truly isand you shall see yourself and your life as they truly are in Himbecause you will be like Him, forever and ever. Amen.
Myrtle, this is most certainly true, and it is most certainly for you.  God says so.

God says so.  I still have far too many God-demands/requires-this-of-you-to-have-a-faithful-relationship-with-Him echoing about my mind and heart.  God says so is another way, I think, of saying, "This God has promised, for you, Myrtle."  I wish...I really wish I could be better schooled in the promises of God.  I wish with my whole heart I could cast out all the Gospel-wrongly-turned-into-imperatives that crush me, taunt me in my constant failure to be a "good" Christian, to be a "better" witness of Christ.  After all...I could be the only "bible" someone reads...I have to make sure I show them the right sort of Christian so they can see Jesus.  If not, I could keep them from becoming a Christian.  How is your relationship with God, Myrtle?  Are you right with Him?  You can measure this by considering witness, Myrtle.  How is your witness, Myrtle?  Take your spiritual inventory to see how you might be a better witness, Myrtle.  Where can you improve so that you might be a better witness?  Oh, the pressure of that!   

Why, why, Lord Jesus, do I continue to bow beneath the weight of that measuring stick You never intended me to use?

We receive and live each day by the grace of God, and we cherish and care for whatever life He creates and entrusts to our keeping, feeble and flawed though we all are.  Do what God gives you to do, whatever it may be, even though in, with and under the Cross, and know that He will raise you from the dead.  He will raise you from the dead.  He will raise you from the dead.  There is nothing so bad that can happen that He can't fix it.

Really..nothing?  What about the whole you-screwed-things-up-so-you-have-to-live-with-it philosophy?  David's little baby from his colossal mistake with Bathsheba died for his sin.  How is that God fixing a thing?  Was that God wooing David to him?  What of Bathsheba's faith?  How did she feel about losing her child?  For that matter, how did she feel about David taking her to his bed and a child being the result?  Oh, sometimes I really, really wish there were a few more bits to the bible.  

Do not let your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.  In the world you have tribulation, but Christ has overcome the world.  He grants you His peace, not as the world gives or falsely promises, but the perfect peace of His forgiveness and reconciliation with God.

And we are back to peace....

Lord, I believe.  Help my unbelief!