Thursday, October 27, 2011

The clearer my vision the more blurred it becomes...

Last December, I had my vision corrected for the first time in longer than I can really remember.  I suppose, at least since I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in 1994.  Yes, I still have spells of blurred vision and double vision.  The more fatigued I am, the less I can see clearly.  However, that day in December was such a miracle to me.  I have not gone back to find that entry, but if you did, it would a marvel of how the doctor actually listened to me and then was will to step outside the tried-and-true approach to help me.

You see, when I looked at the white bar with black letters, I would see three of them.  The questions: "Better One?"  "Better Two?" would sink me into despair.  I couldn't tell if One or Two was better because I couldn't figure out where I was supposed to look.  Which set of letters?  How can I tell when they are slightly overlaid each other? I would try to speak my problem, but no one really listened.  I could never really see clearly.

I found it rather ironic that just before I was moving, I found this wonder of a doctor who corrected my vision because she listened.  She listened to me.  And she wanted to help.

Of course, when she started the tried-and-true, I started weeping.  Small tears, but tears nonetheless.  So fresh was my grief. The doctor was surprised.  She said an eye exam should never drive someone to tears.  I explained my problem.  She said we could try a different approach.  Her idea was rather simple. And, for me, it was brilliant.  She ditched the smaller letters and went back to the second largest ones.  Two simple Es side by side.  She told me to focus on the edges, the corners and we went from there. And she told me to close my eyes as the lenses were being flipped so as not to distract me.

Close your eyes.  
Don't look.  
Now.  Open them.  
What do you see?  
Describe it for me.  
Okay, close them again.  
Now open them.  
How is it now?  
Describe for me how you feel about the difference, not just what you are seeing.  
What are you thinking as you look? 
Where does your eye fall first?
What troubles you still?
Close your eyes.
Don't look.
Okay. Open them.
What do you see now?

Slowly, starting with the easiest step before moving on to the smaller letters.  Only when I felt safe and sure and certain did she switched to the third set.  Then the fourth.  And the fifth.


I could see.  Of course, on the way home, I wept.  I called Bettina in joy and wept.  I could see!  I could see leaves on the trees again. I could see street signs.  All the way down the streets, I could see.  It was glorious to me.  Simply glorious.


Only the strange thing is that with my vision properly corrected, I could no longer see anything close to me.  My vision is now rather incredibly blurred. In fact, I am, for all intents and purposes, blind.  I cannot hold out a paper or a phone or a watch far enough to make a difference. I cannot read anything.  I cannot see anything. The strain of trying--because my brain will not cease to try--makes me dizzy and sparks instant pain in my head.  To me, it is rather remarkable.

And disconcerting.

For the longest time, as my life has...unraveled...I have simply worn my glasses.  I only had the one trial pair of lenses that I took home.  I wasn't really going anywhere.  What I could see or not see did not matter.  And in many ways, with my glass, it is easier to see the things close to me.  With them, I can simply remove them to read, to look at a watch, to make a phone call.  But a while ago I purchased new boxes of contacts because I do want to see better when I am out.  When I am driving, especially, since I still do not know the streets here.  And driving by memory, as I was doing in my last locale, is not an option.

Yet it is disconcerting to not be able to read or dial a phone or even really to see the dash board.

I drive with reading glasses.
I need stronger ones.
I keep forgetting to purchase them.

I actually wear reading glasses much of the time when I am wearing my contacts.  It is simply easier to do so.  Yet sometimes I leave the house for an appointment and forget to check my purse to make sure that I have a pair of reading glasses with me.  I have to ask people to read things for me, to look at things for me, to tell me what to do.

Where to sign.
What is the right bill in my wallet.
What day it is.
What is the time.
What is the phone number.
Where the right button on the elevator is.
Which is office.

With no correction, I can read but not see much past a few feet.  With correction, I cannot see anything within a few feet.  At least not anything small. At least not anything useful.

In many ways, the far vision of my life is being corrected.  Only the more it is corrected, the more I cannot see clearly the things right in front of me. Too, some of the correction is a work in progress.  The lenses are still being flipped before me, so while they are no longer what they were, they are not quite clear.  In fact, some of them are quite blurry.  And, in other ways I am blind both near and far, remembering so little.

Even the good things.
Even the recent things.
Even the things I want to know.

I suppose I have been thinking about this because I have been thinking about the things I see in my life, the way I see myself, the way I see the world.  To me, they are so clear, yet not so much so to others.  At least not in the way I wish it were.  I have been thinking about the New Testament, about the sweet, sweet Gospel.  To me, much of it is blurred, unclear, masked by law and condemnation.  Not the way I wish it were.

I could wish there were a pair of reading glasses for my life. But maybe I should concentrate more on the fact that I have someone working on correcting my vision.  Perhaps, by the time she is done. I shall have no need of reading glasses for the why of me.  Perhaps, I shall simply see clearly both near and far.

Oh, I wish there were a pair of reading glasses for the sweet, sweet Gospel.
No, I wish more than that.
I wish.
I wish I had an eye doctor like the one I met who could help me with the sweet, sweet Gospel.
I wish I had someone correcting the distortion in my vision.
I wish.
Oh, how I wish.

Lord, I believe.  Help my unbelief!

Monday, October 24, 2011

A day of tears, a day of happiness...

I awoke weeping.  I spent the day weeping.  I am weeping now.  Too many things. Too many big things.  Things I have not known.  Things I have known, but have kept hidden.  Things.

But I thought I would try to write about something that has been on my mind.  Only, I have not yet written because it is another topic I think I will not truly be able to find the words that I want.  The words that will say what is on my mind.

A while ago, someone posted a link to this blog entry. Is is about non-schooling, but it is also about happiness. At the risk of seeming to skew the writer's words, I am quoting here just a portion of it:

People are clearly confused about happiness. That’s why professors at Harvard are always writing new books about it, and those books are always becoming bestsellers. That’s why the New York Times has so many articles about it. That’s why we all talk about it. We’re trying to figure it out. What the hell is it? Is it the same for everyone? Is it totally different? Do we have to work for it? How hard? What does that work look like? Do we even recognize it when we have it? Is it completely obvious? Does it involve delicious food? Or should we diet?

We all want to get to happiness, but we don’t seem to know how.

But nonschooling is about reminding ourselves of the things that matter. Reminding ourselves that no one is really sure how to get to future happiness, and no one is certain how much certain kinds of success contribute to it, but I think things might be better for everyone if we just spent more time being happy now.

As an ex-educator, ex-literacy professor, I have very decided opinions on unschooling and non-schooling.  As someone who writes, I find it strange that the writer makes a point about no one knowing what happiness is and then concludes that we are to spend more time being happy.  The very, very, very honest part of me believes that this is a good example of a piece that sounds good but does not really say anything.  Of course, maybe you would say the same about all of my writing.  I would not blame you.

So, why did I quote that?

Well, ever since I read this...after I got over my thoughts about nonschooling...I have been thinking about happiness.  And absolutes.

I have written before that I believe the bible is full of black and white.  For years, I heard a lot about grey areas.  Our world has definitely embraced grey areas.  Everything is relative.  Even truth, honesty, and morality.  The ends justifies the means is probably the core belief of  more people than we would care to admit.  But I believe in black and white.  

In reading the New Testament, I found a hard, narrow way.  Very narrow.  Not so much in church or in Sunday School or on retreats.  But in the Bible.  Granted, most of what I read was skewed by works righteousness, but I did believe in things having one meaning.  Not what it means to me as opposed to what it means to you.  Not a whole mess of for yous, but one for you that covers all.  That is why, essentially, when I began reading the Book of Concord, I felt I had come home, even if I really do not understand what home is.

[Two double entendres in a single paragraph.  A first for me. A prize for you if you can tell me both words.]

The Book of Concord is documentation, really, of Christians who profess that there is that single for you, that there is but one meaning to the Living Word, not the meaning we might like to make of it, meanings that would fit the way we think life should be or the way we would like life to be. It is strange, if you think about it, what freedom there is in a doctrine that teaches one way, one meaning, one opposed to ways and meanings and truths that fit the idiosyncrasies of the existence that is the human race.

The writer of the blog, in my opinion, states that we cannot know what happiness is, how to find it, how to achieve it.  I believe she is wrong.

[Okay...get all your great big guffaws out and all those snide remarks about irony of someone who spent the day weeping claiming such.  Are you done?  Wait a minute...I'm not...okay, now I am.]

The thought that keeps chasing around in my head is that the Bible teaches and our Confessions proclaim that happiness lies in Christ crucified, in life by and with and through the cross.  Understanding this--in part since for now we see but dimly--is the beginning. Also important is understanding Hebrews 12, understanding what is means that "for the joy set before Him" Christ despised the shame and endured the cross.  

I wrote about this in a project I am working on with my new writing partner.  More and more I am convinced that to teach that Hebrews 12 and James 1 as meaning we are to be joyful about suffering is skewing what the Living Word is speaking to us.  Christ is fully man, even as He is fully God.  That means, as a man, he would NOT be jumping with joy at the thought of being beaten, spat upon, stripped naked, taunted, humiliated, and tortured to death.  NONE of that is a joyful thing, NONE are joyful experiences.  However, what comes after those things, after the shame and after the torture, is what fills Christ to the brimming with joy:  new life for all His sheep.  Or, as many a Lutheran pastor has written when mentioning funeral sermons, getting to kick satan in the teeth!  Surely freedom from the wrath of sin for His beloved sheep is a joy beyond all joys. defines "happiness" as the quality or state of being happy, "happy" as characterized by or indicative of pleasure, contentment, or joy, which is why I began with joy. Only joy is not the end of my thought. The end of my thought, really, is the first article of the Creed that is, in my mind, inextricably linked to the fourth petition of the Lord's Prayer.

I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of Heaven and Earth. | Give us this day our daily bread.

I have a few verses in the bible that really irritate me.  I admit that.  One I have wrestled with for decades is Paul telling me that he is content in all circumstances in Philippians 4:11-13.  Only, because of that blog, with which I disagree on so very many levels, I believe I finally found peace with this passage.  [And, yes, I do mean a cessation of hostilities, not some mushy, gushy, soothing feeling.]  

I am no pastor. I am not properly trained.  AND I very deliberately did not go look up that passage in the Lutheran Study bible.  However, I believe that all those years I was taught this wrong, too.  Paul is not telling me to be content with suffering.  I believe that Paul is speaking of joy here, beneath His words.  I believe Paul is speaking of the peace of Christ.  I believe Paul is speaking of being washed clean and forgiven, daily and richly and for all time.  Knowing those things, having that state of being, makes for contentment even as you are also raging against suffering, pain, sorrow, loss, grief, anger, jealously, loss, death, illness, confusion, etc.  The list is as endless as the sins of this world.  Knowing who you are in Christ, knowing what you are given through the Holy Spirit, knowing that the Creator of the universe also is the one who creates and maintains your faith...that is joy, peace, and contentment.

So, then, how do I bring this back around?  Why are the Creed and the Lord's Prayer the key to happiness that is real, can be achieved, by everyone?  

But what is the force of this, what do you mean by these words, "I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth?"  Answer, I mean that He has given and constantly preserves for me my body, soul, and life, my members great and small, all my senses, reason, and understanding, and so on.  He gives me food and drink, clothing and support, wife and children, domestic servants, house and home, and more.  Besides, He causes all created things to serve for the uses and necessities of life. These include the sun, moon, and stars in the heavens, day and night, air, fire, water, earth, and whatever it bears and produces.  They include birds and fish, beasts, grain, and all kinds of produce.  They also include whatever else there is for bodily and temporal goods, like good government, peace and security." [BOC, LC, II, 13-16]

Give us this day, our daily bread.

Here, now, we consider the poor breadbasket, the necessities of our body and the temporal life. It is a brief and simple word, but it has a very wide scope.  For when you mention and pray for daily bread, you pray for everything that is necessary in order to have and enjoy daily bread.  On the other hand, you also pray against everything that interferes with it.  Therefore, you must open wide and extend your thoughts not only to the oven or the flour bin, but also to the distant field and the entire land, which bears and brings to us daily bread and every sort of nourishment, for if God did not cause food to grow and He did not bless and preserve it in the field, we could never take bread from the oven or have any to set upon the table.

To sum things up, this petition includes everything that belongs to our entire life in the world, for we need daily bread because of life alone.  It is not only necessary for our life that our body have food and clothes and other necessaries.  It is also necessary that we spend our days in peace and quiet among the people with whom we live and have dealings in daily business and conversation and all sorts of doing.  In short, this petition applies both to the household and also to the neighborly or civil relationship and government.

Let this be a very brief explanation and sketch, showing how far this petition extends through all conditions on earth.  On this topic anyone might indeed make a long prayer. With so many words one could list all the things that are included, like when we ask God to give us food and drink, clothing, house and home, and health of body.  Or when we ask that He cause the grain and fruit of the field to grow and mature well.  Furthermore, we ask that He help us at home with good housekeeping and that He give and preserve for us a godly wife, children, and servants.  We ask that He give wisdom, strength, and success to emperors, kings, and all estates, and especially to the rulers of our country and to all counselors, magistrates, and officers.  Then they may govern well and vanquish the Turks and all enemies.  We ask that He give to subjects and the common people obedience, peace, and harmony in their life with one another.  On the other hand, we ask that He would preserve us from all sorts of disaster to body and livelihood, like lightning, hail, fire, flood, poison, plague, cattle disease, war and bloodshed, famine, destructive beasts, wicked men, and so forth. [BOC, LC, III, 71-73, 76-79] 

From the Small Catechism, two other things we ask for that stand out to me are: discipline and honor.

The Creed has come down to us as what we believe, teach, and confess.  The Lord's Prayer are the very words Christ taught us to pray.  The latter is not because He needs us to say them, to worship Him, but because He longs for us to have that which we need, a reminder of sorts of all the things we need, all the things our Creator gives to us by His Son, through the Holy Spirit and those sheep He needs to grow, harvest, manufacture, deliver, and sell us the bread.

The photo of the fire is a favorite of mind from those I have taken.  That photo, to me, represents happiness, represents happiness that I can have because the fire and all things in my life are gifts from the Creator of the entire universe for me, for Myrtle.  Knowing this. Feeling it.  Clinging to it.  In all circumstances.

Yes, I have spent the day weeping.  I have spent the day struggling with something so shameful I cannot even speak it to myself.  I have spent the day juggling so very many other things. Awash in shame and sorrow.  Yet I have also spent the day in happiness.  I have spent the day in happiness because here and there, between the tears, I have had the good gifts of God: in my ears (the Living Word and encouragement and prayers from friends), before my eyes (Words with Friends with Bettina, Star Trek Voyager, a photo of a locker decorated for me) on my tongue (white cheddar cheese, strawberry chocolate, Dr Pepper, and baby asparagus), between my fingers (soil, sand, grass, gardening tools), resting on my chest (Amos), bathing my skin (sunshine, gentle breezes, hot water).

In short, to me, happiness lies in knowing who I am and in choosing to see all the good gifts God showers upon me...even as He is capturing my tears in a bottle, forgiving me my sin, not holding my shame and doubt and despair against me, and sustaining me throughout that shame and doubt and despair.  In my weakness, knowing.  In my brokenness, knowing.

Or, to put it another way:  The whole world with all diligence has struggled to figure out what God is, and what He has in mind and does. Yet the world has never been able to grasp the knowledge and understanding of any of these things. But here we have everything in richest measure. For in all three articles God has revealed Himself and open ...the deepest abyss of His fatherly heart and His pure, inexpressible love. [BOC, LC, II, 63]

The world cannot know God.  [Maybe that is the reason for all those books on happiness the blogger mentioned.] The world cannot know God, but we can.  And in knowing God, we can know who we are and what He gives us for Christ's sake because of who we are.  I know that they are different words and words matter.  But, to me, the real meaning of love, joy, peace, happiness, and contentment are all a single word: knowing.  Not mere knowledge, but knowing.  We can know God in plenty and in want.  We can know who we are in sickness and in health.  We can know what He gives us in joy and in sorrow.  We know and, therefore, happiness is ours to have.

Lord, I believe.  Help my unbelief!

Avoiding what is in my head...

I have slowly been working on the stepping stones in the yard (ruining two pairs of pajama pants in the process) by scooting along the ground. [Yes, I garden in my pajamas (lounge pants).] In all, I found 27 stepping stones, either buried in the yard or stuck beneath the back porch (remember the electrician had to crawl under there for his work, so I explored, too).

Two of them I used to extend the sidewalk the entire length of the back steps back when I was making the two beds next to the steps. The other 25 now make a pathway around three sides of the garage. [Yes, I appropriately used leveling sand that I purchased months ago when I first started hankering for this to be done.] They are set slightly above ground height, but buried enough so that I can run the lawnmower over them.

By spreading them farther apart than they were originally set, I was able to have one path go to my bench and the other path to the side gate. However, the last five feet to the gate are stoneless. I also was able to redistribute the rectangles of grass to bare parts of the back yard. [Yes, my yard recovered from my over fertilizing in just the past month with all the rain we have had.]

Free stepping stones, $8 worth of sand, and lots of elbow grease--yard happiness. [And, of course, some lounge pants that are now all brown on the back side.]

It helps me to so something physical when my mind is upset and there is not all that much I can do. It also helps me--greatly--when I organize. My neighbors are very admiring of my pathways now, so I consider my mostly seated labors to be organizing my back yard.

A weird little bit of symmetry: At my first house, I found an old fashioned, brass garden hose sprayer when digging in the dirt. I found a second one here!

I am Yours, Lord.  Save me!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Not the way I thought life would be...

In the affordable housing world, we would always talk about how HUD's guidelines were that your housing expense should be no more than 30% of your income. Last year (because I only have my old numbers), in the DC-Metro area, that would mean a minimum wage earner would have to work over 4 full-time jobs. With our current ability to navigate the space-time continuum only in a linear fashion, that simply isn't possible. It is one reason apartment complexes have problems with 2-4 families living in a single apartment. [This is often called the Sheet Problem, since families will hang sheets from the ceiling to divide up a bedroom.]

Yet the DC-Metro area, as all regions do, simply cannot function without minimum wage and even low-income workers. Stop, for a moment and really, really think about it. Think about how many people who are *working* but cannot meet this threshold. As you drive to work or to the grocery store or to church, think about all the people who make single digit hourly salaries.

A few years ago, a city counsel member discovered that 41% of the residents of the City of Alexandria were in this boat. That meant that 41% of the residents had to work more than one job or double or triple up on living arrangements. At the same time, over 10,000 affordable housing units in the city were lost, primarily to gentrification, usually meaning they were sold for conversion to condominiums or raised to make way for other developments altogether.

Jobs are scarce right now. But even in a strong job market, so very many jobs are for wages that are not really livable for the region. So, sometimes, when people criticize families for having both parents work, it rather drives me crazy. And the sort of blanket condemnation for homeless folk boils my blood. Even for those who live within their means, homelessness is not all that far away. Once there, it is so hard to climb back into housing because of needing first and last month's rent and a deposit and household items and a credit check and a phone number and often a current work history.

The housing market is simply insane...and not just because of all the bad mortgages. It is insane, really, that I could have a tiny duplex place that cost me $1,700 in one city and have a single family home that is nearly 3 times as large that costs $437 in another city. True, as a communications manager I would make more money in the first city than here, but certainly not 4 times as much. And those minimum wage workers here would certainly not make more money in the larger city.

My current situation makes me think about healthcare costs. I mean, to live in a way that I can still function (not taking all that I should be, but just the pain, fainting, and asthma meds), is to spend more money on medication than I will on every other expense in my life (housing, food, clothing, communications, TV, auto & home insurance, firewood, puppy dog, etc.). And that "healthcare" expense will not even cover health insurance, much less any visits to anyone for any type of care.

I have had my own health insurance since I was 18, I believe, first through college and then via jobs. Being chronically ill for so long now, I have always valued health insurance. But I honestly have not pictured a life without it. And yet I am uncomfortable at the thought spending near double on health care than all my other expenses just to stay covered...when...I have no job and very likely will not work again. Is that really the prudent use of the funds that I will have? Is that really good stewardship?

I am Yours, Lord.  Save me!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

How do you ever trust anyone...

I learned today that the surgery I had four years ago was not, in fact, the surgery I agreed to have performed. I learned this because the fourth specialist I have seen since then is the first one to actually read the surgical report from the hospital I have submitted to each new doctor as a part of my records. It is a report I never read since it was technical and since I always assumed was about the surgery I needed instead of one that I did not need and would not resolve my problem.

The news was devastating, for my life over the past four years would have been markedly different had I had the proper surgery. At a minimum, I have suffered through a problem that could have been resolved four years ago. And a grief that I have struggled to absorb would never have taken place.

The news was welcome, for it means that the things that did not add up medically, now make absolute perfect sense.

The news was hopeful, for it means I have more options and more positive options in addressing my problem since the surgery was not actually performed (it is one not done twice).

Still, it is simply overwhelming to learn that a surgeon would not only perform a surgery to which I had not given consent but also failed to reveal that fact to me. I only have the report that is NOT a part of my medical records from that surgeon because a doctor who felt I needed to see another specialist logged into the hospital system and printed out several surgical reports for me to pass on as a way of being helpful to the next doctor.

Seriously, if you are having surgery, I am thinking that you should ask every single person in the operating room if he/she knows which surgery you are to have so that, perhaps, someone might hold the surgeon accountable for his/her actions before it is too late.

I am Yours, Lord.  Save me!

Sunday, October 09, 2011

The strands in my hands...

This is the hair that I have lost in the past four months.  I have kept it to show the doctor when I see her on the 19th, for whenever someone looks at my hair, they do not seem to understand why I wail that I am losing my hair. In my opinion, I believe the hair loss is significant. I believe the sudden onset of hair loss that has been rather substantial is significant.  Something is causing this.  And--pardon my screaming--IT IS NOT JUST STRESS!  I have had  many times of extraordinary stress and strain in my life without ever losing my hair.  Something fundamental has changed within my body.  Incidentally, the other new thing that happened during this time is that I have these bruises that appear all over, but mostly on my arms and legs.  Sometimes, I have over a dozen of them at once.  Still, it is the hair loss that concerns me.

I have, conservatively, lost 75% of my hair in the past two years.  For a while, the clumps left in my hand while washing my hair lessened.  Such is the case no longer.

And, to be delicate about the matter, I am losing my hair elsewhere as well. Bare skin where it should not be so leaves me feeling the helpless child once more...someone whom I have tried so hard to escape being.

Four months.

My entire life I have longed for curls, been jealous of curls, tried to give myself curls.  Now, all I have to do to curl my hair is twist it into a bun for a while.  My hair is so thin now, that in doing so, when I take it back down, it stays in a single coil and separating it to brush it out is difficult...and results in more clumps in my brush.

My modus operandi for a very long time now has been to touch my hair as little as possible, either by washing, brushing, combing, or even arranging. Needless to say, I have not had good hair days very often.

Over the past two years, I have lost count of how many times I have spoken of this. I try and try with those close to me, but it seems to me, with the exception perhaps of Bettina, that no one is listening or understands or, frankly, believes me.

I have said several times that when the coverage of hair on my head becomes wispy, I shall get out the razor, shave it bald, and transition to wigs.  I will need help doing so, to be sure.  But I do not want to be one of those women holding on to the very last hair on her head.

My hair dries so quickly now, when it used to take hours and hours. Wringing it out in the shower is so strange because so little fills my grip.  And, as I have noted, my thick ropes of braids are now mere strings.

I know that I still have more hair than many, many women.  For that, I am grateful.  But the agony of watching it fall out is so very hard for me to endure.  I have my good days and my bad days, but truly, in this matter, I have never risen to the occasion and taken the high road.  No, more often than not, I sink to my knees in the shower, curl up in a ball, and weep deeply before I can managed to gather myself enough to finish.

My hair has been the only part of me that the other gender has ever noted as being attractive.  My hair has been the one thing that makes me feel feminine.  And my hair has been a covering that lessons my shame. To me, the latter is the only thing that truly matters. Losing it is overwhelming, draining, a constant ache I find difficult to ignore...and terrifying, in thinking about the time I shall be covered no more.

Fred wrote to me this morning, not knowing of the time I spent at the bottom of the tub last night, the following:  ... the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of that world, Jesus takes away ALL sin. ALL of it ....God does not see you the way you see or describe yourself. You are justified, forgiven, made new, a beloved child of God for Jesus' sake. You are beloved by God in Christ. 

I should be able to remember the sweet, sweet Gospel on my own.  But truly I need it spoken to me in some fashion...daily...sometimes hourly.

Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief!

Saturday, October 08, 2011

What place have I...

There was a Facebook conversation on homosexual marriage that left me rather bothered today...not for the homosexual pieces of the conversation, but for the heterosexual ones.  At one point, in a section discussing how marriage should be taught in the Lutheran Church, one person wrote: I think the bottom line is we have to tell people--your boys are called to be, mostly, dads and husbands and provide for their families. Your girls are called to be mothers and wives.

This part of the conversation is exactly why I am oft uncomfortable in the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, despite my continuing joy at having finally found the pure doctrine after decades in the errant, despairing doctrine of works righteousness and egocentric worship that is prevalent in the evangelical church. This is because--it seems to me--many people, including pastors, have completely set aside any positive view toward singleness.  Actually, it is not unusual to come across those taking a swipe at single people, as if they are being selfish in some fashion being single.

Marriage is certainly a good gift and the way that God designed human kind to perpetuate, but not all are called to marriage.  And nowhere have I found teaching from our Savior or His chosen apostles that it is the primary call of a male child to be a husband/father or a female child to be a wife/mother. Some of mankind are single by choice, some are not.  But singleness is not a sin, nor a lesser state of being.

Consider the balanced view of 1 Corinthians 7.  Marriage is good so that people will not fall into sexual sin.  Singleness is good for the person can be more focused on the things of God rather than the things of the world.  Both marriage and singleness is held in a positive view, valuable for different reasons.  

That which I know of the Book of Concord is far, far less than that which I do not yet know.  However, I have become rather intimate with the Augsburg Confession, the Smalcald Articles, and the Large Catechism.  No where in those three expositions of the Living Word does it state that we believe, teach, and confess that children should be taught their primary calling is to be a spouse and a parent.  Nor does it state that we believe, teach, and confess that adults should consider marriage and parenting the highest or main calling of their lives.

Yet from the pulpit to publication to Internet, among confessional Lutherans are stories and examples honoring marriages and families.  Churches have bible studies and gatherings geared around marriage and families. Women’s groups and bible studies oft meet during the day, while men's meet on Saturday mornings…subtlety reinforcing that women are to be available during the day; men not until the weekend.  Retreats and workshops are most often for youth or for married couples. 

Yet, single people need the sweet, sweet Gospel couched in examples and considerations that are not all about marriage and families.  Single people need encouragement and support for the crosses they bear.  [If nothing else, is it difficult, at times, to remain chaste in a body filled with desires and drives that must remain unfulfilled outside of marriage.]  Single people need fellowship that is not geared toward segregating them with other singles and/or pairing them up.  Single people need home visits and pastoral care.  Single people need to hear and see and experience Christ for them, here and now, without emphasis or speculation for a time when they may no longer be single.

That which I love about the sweet, sweet Gospel, about our Confessions, is the wholeness of the doctrine is utterly and completely outside of myself.  I have joked that the Lutheran Sunday School answer, 99% of the time, is: Jesus (or more accurately Christ crucified).  Pastor Weedon once wrote that Luther will wrap you up in Christ more ways than you ever thought possible.  My new friend and writing partner reminded me that the teaching of the Gospel should never point to yourself, but rather to Jesus.  She also, far more eloquently that I can relay here, spoke of the richness and the fullness and the variety of language God gives us to speak about the Gospel.

She pointed out that our Gospel focus is most often on the forgiveness of sins--which to be sure is the beginning and end of our reconciliation with God, our rescue from the judgment of our sinful state--yet Christ crucified is love and mercy and peace and gentleness and defending and suffering and anguish and death and new life.  And so much more than I can even speak here.  In fact, Luther tells us that in Baptism alone is so much "consolation and grace that heaven and earth cannot understand it" (BOC, LC, IV, 39-40).  Baptism is but one piece of the Gospel, but one of the good gifts God gives us through His Son and the Holy Spirit.  One piece and yet heaven and earth cannot understand it.  We can study a lifetime and never truly grasp but one piece of the sweet, sweet Gospel.

A review of the parables of Jesus would show only a few of them on marriage.  The majority are about working, wages, nature, lost things, doors, and caring for others.  Why, then, is marriage and children the beginning, middle, and end of so very many sermons, blogs, and conversations about the Christian life? 

I struggle when I read such things as I did today, when I hear them all around me.  I struggle when the majority of Lutheran sermons and bible studies and blogs about the Christian life are rooted in family, even if merely at the "application" or "instruction" phase of the teaching.  I struggle because I wonder what place have I in the Lutheran Church, then, being single and barren.

I am Yours, Lord.  Save me!

Monday, October 03, 2011

Cease striving and know...

Beautiful seems so poor an adjective to describe this day.  Truly, I wish I were both brave enough to walk about the neighborhood and had a foot that would allow me to do so.  I suppose I shall make do with the lounge chair in the back yard.

Psalm 46:10 tells us, "Cease striving and know that I am God...." Such a wondrous weather day inspires that stillness.  I have always focused on the first part of this verse...I suppose because in the evangelical world bits and pieces of verses become almost iconic.  This is one.

Be still and know that He is God.  Be still and learn this.  The focus is on the believer.  Only in the verse, the focus is on our triune God.  For the verse finishes..."I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth."  Funny I never noticed the certitude of that second half rests squarely outside of myself.

Even then...that exultation is not for God, but rather what He has done for us.  Our Confessions remind us that Christ had no need of redemption.  Yet He suffered and died anyway.  He did so for us.  God as Creator has no need of such beauty in the perfection of the weather of this day.  Yet He created them anyway.  He does so for us.

I step outside and, to me, it is almost as if God is shouting, "I created this magnificence. I WILL be exalted.  Look closer, Myrtle.  Be still.  I created this perfection for you.  One day, you WILL be perfected, you WILL be magnificent in purity. Be still. Cease striving.  Know that I am God, your God, who has called you by name."

I know that there is beauty in the black skies and wild winds of fierce thunderstorms, but it is easier to see in brilliantly blue skies and gentle breezes.  I am thankful for the ease of today's reminder that He is God, that He will be exalted, and that all of His promises will be as He has spoken me, for me.

I am Yours, Lord.  Save me!