Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The thing about loss...

The thing about loss is this:  It is not a learned skill.  To me, it seems the world tends to treat it that way.  It is not.

A while ago, I wrote about my driver's ed training and the lessons therein that have remained with me: get the big picture and leave yourself an out.  Another set of lessons that have remained despite the failings of my mind are things I learned during a semester studying death and dying and then training for hospice work afterward.  In my opinion, every single person on the planet could benefit from studying the work of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross.

One of the first things she noticed, when she started her work, was that the doors of the patients who were dying were left closed and those patients had less visits from hospital staff than those who were going to survive.  People did not want to face death, even medical personnel trained to deal with it.  When it comes to loss and its companion grief, we are still shutting doors, still avoiding those facing it.

Another lesson I remember was how she taught that loss was loss, and that we navigate the stages of grief with "small" losses as we do those which are "larger."

Think of a time when you lost your keys and you were running late for work or to pick up your child from school.  You cycle through the grief of that loss:

  • There is no way I have lost my keys again!
  • I cannot believe I am so stupid to have lost my keys again!
  • If I find them, I promise I will _________. [The silent prayer to whomever.]
  • My entire day is ruined.
  • Well, I've lost my keys. I have to make other plans.

I am not trying to be simplistic about this ...  and yet I am.  We grieve.  Day in and day out.  We have loss all around us.  Things that derail our schedules, our routines.  Things that threaten our well-being.  Things that destroy our families.  Small losses.  Large ones.  We classify them that way.  Only loss is loss is loss.  We have to face each one.  We grieve each one.

Sometimes, I wonder why I have read no articles about the mass grief being experienced in America for the past few years.  Job loss is a loss whose grief can eat away at a person's psyche, particularly confidence and certainty.  It is a burden that grows day by day.  Its mark oft remains even when a job is found again and, Lord willing, financial stability regained.  The question looms in your mind of when it might happen again, rather than if.

It isn't just because there is a truth that if you have lost a job it is likely you might lose one again.  After all, down-sizing often begins with the last hired.  It is the fact that it happened.  Possibility became reality.

When a parent loses a child, he/she/they often become exceedingly protective of the other children in their/her/his life.  If it happened once, it can happen again.  That is the real cruelty of loss.  It makes the uncertain certain. It makes realities of the things we would rather never face in our lives.

I have written before about grief, about how it is a companions of sorts, with whom we learn to live. But, again, I would say that grief is not a learned skill.  It is not something to be conquered.  In a way, grief is like the old Adam within us.  We will never be free of him until we die.  Yet, by the grace and mercy of our triune God, we can live more through our baptism than we do by our grief.  The joy of our salvation truly is the best companion to help us in our grief.

Not only does God promise that in Him there is no darkness, or as I prefer to think of it, no darkness that the Light cannot overcome, but He also tells us again and again and again that He knows of our tears, of our weeping, of our grief and that He will, one day, turn our mourning into joy.  The prophets, the psalmists, the Lord Jesus Christ.  This is their refrain.

wounds bound
captives freed
sight to the blind
ruined cities rebuilt
shame removed
plowmen over take the reapers
mountains drip sweet wine
life like a watered garden
mourning turned dancing, to joy

The Creator of the universe, His Son, our Redeemer, and the Holy Spirit, our Sanctifier, a trinitarian force the world will never understand, and yet a God who captures our tears in a bottle, who hides us in the shelter of His wings, and sings with joy over us ... over those whose nature fights Him and flees from Him at every turn.


In order to retain the Gospel among people, He openly sets the confession of saints against the kingdom of the devil, and, in our weakness, declares His power. ~BOC, AP, V (III), 68

There are some bits of our Confessions that I cannot hear enough.  That astound me so much the comfort of them is ineffable.  This is one of them.  Primarily because it is not about our strengths, about our worship, about our works.  It is about our weakness.

But back to the thing about loss.  It is not a learned skill.  And to treat it that way deepens its wound.

There are some things I remember well, few things.  One of those is the moment I learned how common miscarriages can be, twenty-four years ago.  I was sitting with a bunch of women missionaries, all telling their birth stories.  As the only single woman there, I was fascinated by my crash course on pregnancy and child birth.  None of what I was hearing resembled the Hollywood births I had seen.  Then someone told about her miscarriage.  She was talking, really, about the unexpected twins she had afterwards.  Until the day of their birth, no one knew she had two children in her womb.  The way she told it, her second child was a gift from God for the one who died before.

No matter what I think about her philosophy, right after she spoke, another woman told the story of her miscarriage and then another and then another.  They had all had them. I was stunned.  I had no idea.

So often the "comfort" given to those who experience loss goes something along the lines of: "You have gotten through this before; you can do it again."

Set aside the focus on the reliance on human strength (or the lack of clarity about just how it is that the person "got through it"), and what you left with is the idea that repetition makes things easier.

If my best friend lost her daughter, and then later lost her son, I am certain no one would comfort her with the fact that she survived the first death.  But we do this with miscarriage.  We do this with small losses.  We do this with great ones.

But loss is not a skill to be acquired.  Grief is not a companion who ever completely leaves, not a journey ever completed, until that day we go to our true home.  When Jesus wipes away the last of our tears.

For the third time in a calendar year, I have suffered the same loss.  I am, at the moment, rather felled.  I am numb and I am drowning in a raging sea of loss and fear and doubt and weariness and, yes, hopelessness.  Since last Thursday, I have heard, several times, "You have gotten through this before; you can do it again."  Those words hurt.

I have also heard, "I can see how that would be difficult for you." Those words hurt, too.  Oh, I know that they were spoken in sincerity.  But I do not want the other's understanding.  I want God's.  I want the Psalter. I want to hear every verse of doubt and despair, of weeping and fear, and of confidence.  I want to hear the faith I cannot feel, I cannot see, I cannot taste, and I cannot remember.  And I want to know that God understands where I am in the moment.

There is another lesson from Kübler-Ross that I have never forgotten.  It is about stories.

I believe I have written about this before.  But I cannot remember.  So, I will start with the end, rather than the beginning.  While studying for my Ph.D., I read The Call of Stories: Teaching and the Moral Imagination.  It is the first part of the book that I remember most.  Robert Coles is a psychiatrist.  One day he was talking to a mentor, essentially despairing about the efficacy of his work, the lack of his patients' progress.  His mentor's response astounded him: That is because you are not listening them.

I could hear the frustration in Cole's retort, probably sputtering with indignation, that listening was all he did all day long, day in and day out.  His mentor, nevertheless, told him to start listening.  So Coles set about trying to listen, even though he was certain he was already listening.  In doing so, he stopped listening to what he expected his patients to say or what he anticipated them saying, but to what they were actually saying.  And he began to think about what he heard.  Essentially, this was the beginning of Cole's work on the role stories play in our lives, how we navigate our lives by the telling of stories.

For me, it was a wild moment.  One that harkened back to the study of Kübler-Ross' work, but also one that opened my eyes to just how much storying was going on around me.  It was the beginning of my journey of listening to those stories, of trying to hear what needed to be said.  [I just ignored my own.]

Kübler-Ross talked about death stories, about the stories that we all tell about the death of our loved ones, our neighbors, our countrymen, our fellow humans.  We all have a story to tell about the deaths that impact our lives.  But not everyone's story is the same.

Take a couple who've lost their child.  Each has his own story.  Each has her own beginning.  Sometimes the story begins years before, months before, the day of, the funeral, weeks after ... do you see?  Do you understand?  When, how, why ... a skilled counselor will guide the parent through his loss; that is the vocation of counselor/psychologist/psychiatrist.  But we, as family and neighbors, we can listen to the story.  No matter how many times it is told.

Telling the story is difficult.
Listening to the story is difficult.
Waiting for it to be finished is difficult.

Grief is hard, brutal, ugly, painful.  It is an agony of body, mind, and spirit we would rather be kept behind closed doors.  But Kübler-Ross warned that each has a certain number of tellings necessary to finish speaking that which needs to be said.  If, for example, a mother needs to speak of the death of her  son 17 times and we only listen 16, all that listening is negated when we turn the grieving away.

"You don't have to go through that all again."
"It's time to move on."
"You have to let it go."

Not to be flippant about the Living Word, but if we are told to forgive not seven times, but seventy times seven, surely we can listen as many times.  The beauty of the body of Christ is that not any one of us needs to do all the listening.  Not any one of us is required to face all that pain, all that grief by ourselves.  Even counselors do not.  Yes, they might be the only one in the room with the patient, but all counselors have supervisors, mentors, back-ups.  They share the burden even if not the actual story.

The telling is a way of working out what is in our heads, in our hearts, in our spirits.  The telling is the path to the balance we need within.  The telling is not an acquired skill.  It simply is what it is.  The story of our loss, of our grief.

Just because a person has survived one loss or ten does not mean that person is ready or able to face another.  Loss fells us.  Loss fills us.  Loss skews our perspective.  Loss distorts our hearing.  Loss blurs our vision.

In a way, the need to speak of the losses in our lives--losses of security, family, health, balance, serenity, faith--is evident in both the specific words of the Psalter and in the quantity of psalms given to us to pray.

I know there is all this scholarship on biblical numbers and their meaning.  I confess sometimes I turn a bit skeptic when such is spoken.  Yes, there are clearly repetition in numbers.  But I have heard three as being the completeness in number; I have heard seven as being the completeness in number; I have heard twelve as being the completeness in number.  So which is it?  Frankly, to me, if you wish to talk completeness, speak to me of the number one hundred and fifty.

Were I some great computer nerd blessed with the added skill of graphic art design, I would find a way to overlay all 150 psalms, visually, so that we could see the repetition within them.  Repetition of thought and feeling, repetition of structure, and repetition of near words and phrases and exact words and phrases.  A multi-layered, color-coded, diminutional representation of the petitions found in the Psalter.

How long!?!
Why are you in despair, O my soul?
My enemies ___
Works of Thy hands
Save me!!

In many and myriad ways, the words of our hearts and mind and souls are presented, again and again and again in this collection of prayers that is the Living Word.  Written this way.  Repeated that way.  Quick prayers.  Focused prayers.  Sweeping sagas. Whirlwinds of emotion.  Shouts of praise. Whispers of fervent hope.

Many and myriad because we are known.

The thing about loss is that it is not a learned skill.  
The thing about grief is that it is not a learned skill.
The thing about living in a fallen world is that it is not a learned skill.

"For although the whole world should work together, it could not add an hour to our life or give us a single grain from the earth." ~BOC, LC, I, 166

But the one who Created us can!  He knows us.  He provides for us.  And, in many and myriad ways throughout the Living Word, He comforts us with letting us know that He knows we will struggle with loss, small loss, great loss, loss of health, loss of safety, loss of life, loss of hope, loss of our grasp of the certitude of His saving faith.

The Psalter is, to me, God's rather loud and long shout: "It's okay that you struggle.  I love you anyway.  Your weakness is why I sent my Son to die.  And the confession of such is how I retain the Gospel in this world."

I wonder why it is, then, that God can tell us that it is okay to struggle and doubt and fear and weep and yet we either shut the door on such in others or try to tell them something different.  God doesn't tell us to practice, practice, practice until we hone living in this world into a perfect witness for Him.  He tells us we will know trouble.  He tells us what we might think and feel in that trouble.  And He then gives us the hope and joy and confidence of faith that we need in such times.

In my opinion, those struggling with the wounds and grief of loss would be better off if we took a page from His book instead of trying to flip through ours.

I am Yours, Lord.  Save me!

Friday, January 25, 2013

Praying the Psalter...

On Monday, I started posting the Psalter, one psalm at a time.  Partly because I savor them so.  Partly because I wish, as I have written before, others might find the comfort and solace I have discovered in praying them.  Today, I decided to create an archive of psalms, in the same way I created the quotes from the Christian Book of Concord (BOC) archive.  In that case, I had several people ask me for a way to reference them since I was posting them on Facebook.  On the BOC archive, I added labels to all the quotes, so that it could be searched.  For example, here are all the quotes that are marked "anxious souls."

Fifteen percent of the quotes I've posted thus far.  Only, really, for me, I could mark every single BOC quote for anxious souls.  Every single one of those posts soothes me, comforts me.  Each a facet of the sweet, sweet Gospel.  Even those about the Law.  For Jesus is the One who fulfills and teaches the Law.  What we know of it, understand of it, we know and understand through Him, as taught by the Holy Spirit as He works through the Living Word and the Sacraments.

I struggled the labels.  I struggle more with the ones on the Psalter.  Only five psalms in, I doubt and question each I chose.  Because of this, I created the Praying the Psalter archive a bit differently.

In addition to the main page, where the psalms are listed, I added a page about going about praying the Psalter, the text of which I plan to add below, a page repeated the post I wrote about how praying the helps us understand that we are known by God, and a page about labels.  It is my hope that should I miss some obvious labels or label things that are a miss, someone will speak up.  Of course, even though I posted a link to the new blog on Facebook, the stats show no one has looked at the additional pages.  Still, I am hopeful that I might at least have a bit of help on the labeling.

The labels are there for searching.  And because it is becoming more and more common for people to ask me for psalm suggestions for other people or specific situations.  Of course, as I wrote on the second page, all the psalms are good one.  In fact, the more I pray them, the more I discover how applicable they are to many and varied hearts, minds, and souls.  In other words, I find new verses all the blooming time in the Psalter.  It shouldn't surprise me, but it does.  It also humbles me. 

But there is another reason I created the blog today.  Funny that.  Tonight, I watched an episode of Bones in which the very reason for the hours of labor I spent today.

In it, Angela was talking with Brennan about living with fear.  Brennan said that she talked with those who had lived with greater fears, endured evil and great darkness.  Angela asked what she learned from them. Brennan said that they got through their anguish by focusing on one thing, a single achievable goal.

That is what I did with my day ... and why I did it.  This goal, well, it will also take 145 more days to complete.

I am Yours, Lord.  Save me!

Praying the Psalter

The Psalms are prayers that Christ, the Living Word, prayed for us, prays for us, and gives to us to pray.  Praying them is simple.  Simply start.  Read them.  Read them aloud.  Speak them to our Triune God. Pray them to our Triune God.

I first prayed one at a time.  Then two or three.  Then many.
I first prayed them once a day.  Then twice or thrice.  Now all the time.
I first prayed them an entire psalm at a time.  Then verses here and there.  Now I do both.

There is no right way to pray the Psalter.  There is no wrong way.  There is only prayer.

My own greatest fear at starting ... besides feeling a bit foolish reading them aloud when I was the only one in the room ... was that I did not know the meaning to most of them.  How can I pray something I do not understand?  But then the promises of Romans 8 and Hebrews 7 occurred to me:

"For I consider the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.  For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God.  For the creation was subjected to futility, not of it own will, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God.  For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body.  For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one also hope for what he sees?  But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it.  

And in the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness, for we do not know how to pray as she should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words; and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saintsaccording to the will of God.  And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.  (Romans 8: 18-28) [emphasis mine]

Now if perfection was through the Levitical priesthood (for on the basis of it the people received the Law), what further need was there for another priest to arise according to the order of Melchizedek, and not be designed according to the order of Aaron?  For when the priesthood is change, of necessity there takes lace a change of law also.  For the one concerning whom these things are spoken belongs to another tribe, from which no one has officiated at the alter.  For it is evident that our Lord was descended from Judah, a tribe with reference to which Moses spoke nothing concerning priests.  And this is clearer still, if another priest arises according to the likeness of Melchizedek, who has become such not on the basis of a law of physical requirements, but according to the power of an indestructible lIfe.  For it is witnessed of Him, "THOU ART A PRIEST FOREVER ACCORDING TO THE ORDER OF MELCHIZEDEK."  For, on the one hand, there is a setting aside of a former commandment because of tis weakness and uselessness (for the Law made nothing perfect), and on the other hand there is a brining in of a better hope, through which we draw near to God.  And inasmuch as it was not without an oath (for they indeed became priests without an oath, but He with an oath through the One who said to Him, "THE LORD HAS SWORN AND WILL NOT CHANGE HIS MIND, THOU ART A PRIEST FOREVER."); so much the more also Jesus has become the guarantee of a better covenant.  And the former priests, on the one hand, existed in greater numbers, because they were prevented by death from continuing, but He, on the other hand, because He abides forever, hold HIs priesthood permanently.  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.

For is was fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners and exalted above the heavens; who does not need daily, like those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins, and then for the sins of the people, because this He did once for all when He offered up Himself.  For the Law appoints men as high priest who are weak, but the word of the oath, which came after the Law, appoints a Son, made perfect forever. (Hebrews 7:11-28) [emphasis mine]

So the sum of these promises is:  The Holy Spirit takes our prayers to Jesus, who in turn takes them to God, who will always hear them.

Luther puts it another way, to offer comfort and solace to those who doubt about their prayers, when teaching about the Lord's Prayer in Part III of the Large Catechism:

Indeed, the human heart is by nature so hopeless that it always flees from God and imagines that He does not wish or desire our prayer, because we are sinners and have earned nothing but wrath. Against such thoughts, we should always remember this commandment and turn to God, so that we may not stir up His anger more by such disobedience. For by this commandment God lets us plainly understand that He will not cast us away from Him or chase us away. This is true even though we are sinners. But instead He draws us to Himself, so that we might humble ourselves before Him, bewail this misery and plight of ours and pray for grace and help. (10-11)

God does not consider prayer because of the person, but because of His Word and obedience to it.  For I rest my prayer on the same commandment on which all of the saints rest their prayers:  Furthermore, I pray for the same thing that they all pray for and always have prayed.  Besides, I have just as great a need of what I pray for as those great saints; no, even a greater one than they"

Let this be the first and most important point, that all our prayers must be added and rest upon obedience to God, regardless of who we are, whether we are sinners or saints, worthy or unworthy.  We must know that God will not have our prayer treated as a joke.  But He will be angry and punish all who do not pray, just as surely as He punishes all disobedience.  Furthermore, He will not allow our prayers to be in vain or lost. For if He did not intend to answer your prayers, He would not ask you to pray and add such a severe commandment to it. 

In the second place, we should not be more encouraged and moved to pray because God has also added a promise and declared that it will surely be done for us as we pray.  He says in Psalm 50:15, "Call upon Me in the day of trouble; Iwill deliver you."  And Christ says in the Gospel of St. Matthew, "Ask, and it will be given to you; ... for everyone who asks receives" (7:7-8).  Such promises certainly might to encourage and kindle our hearts to pray with pleasure and delight.  For His testified with His won work that our prayer is heartily pleasing to HIm.  Further more, it shall certainly be heard and granted, in order hat we may not despise it or thinking lightly of it and pray based on chance.  (16-20) [emphasis mine]

...God expects us and He Himself arranges the words and form of prayer for us. He places them on our lips for how and what we should pray, so that we may see how heartily He pities us in our distress, and we may never doubt that such prayer is pleasing to Him and shall certainly be answered. (22)

Psalm 50:15 is such comfort.  For it reads not that He will consider our prayers but that He will answer them.  However, truly all of those bits of wonder Luther shares in those passages help, such as:  1) that God doesn't answer prayer according to the person, but according to His promise; 2) that He welcomes even the despair we carry to Him; and 3) that He understands that our nature causes us to not only sin, but to doubt and flee from Him, no matter how much we may also long to serve Him.

These things are true because we are His created.  And, as He created, we are not unknown to him.  Nay, we are known.  We are known and so God gives us a set of prayers that cover all of life in a fallen world.

It is okay if you do not always understanding the meaning.  The Holy Spirit does.  You can pray them in confidence because Christ has already prayed them and is praying them for you still.  And you can pray them knowing that the understanding will come, in time, for faith comes through hearing the Living Word, as we are taught in Romans 10:17.  

All throughout the Psalter, too, you will find the instruction to have the Word on our tongues, in our mouths, falling from our lips, and in our ears.  So, pray them.  And in praying them, I know ... I know... you will find the words of your heart laid out before you.  All your hopes and dreams and fears and doubts, in body, mind, heart, and soul.  They are there, written for you.  And I know ... I know ... that the more you pray them the more you will begin to understand them.  The more you will see Jesus woven throughout them.  Jesus come to you.  Jesus saving you.  Jesus washing you clean.  Jesus sustaining you through the Living Word, through Baptism, and through His body and blood.  Jesus hiding you within Himself as a refuge from your enemies, even when that enemy is yourself.  Jesusfor you.

So, pray the them.  
Pray these prayers our triune God caused to be written for you.  
Pray the Psalter.

Lord, I believe.  Help my unbelief!

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

A waste...

I really, really struggle with not working, with just existing.  And, for that matter, doing a really poor job at the latter.  Several things of late point to this.

For example, Sandra came by to drop off her son on the way someplace.  Because I forget so much, I followed her back outside to give her two booklets that I had kept back for her in my most recent downsizing.  On my way to the car, the two pastors with her popped out of the car to meet me, to meet the person one of them knew only online.  I am not sure if the other one of them knew anything at all about me.

I was mortified and horrified and every other "ied" in the English language along those lines.  For one, I had not brushed my hair since my bath.  I was in my men's lounge pants and a hoodie.  And, most importantly, I had no time to rehearse the moment. I had no time to prepare.  Of course, one of them stuck out his hand with this wide and friendly grin on his face.  I would have given everything I owned at that point, save Amos and his food supply, for the ground to open up and swallow me.

I cannot shake hands. I mean, I can, but that is a boundary I set for me.  No hugs or hand shakes or other social touching unless I ask for it.  For the sake of honesty, I will admit that I cannot bring myself to ask.  Of the very few instances since I set that boundary when I craved, when I really needed someone to reach out and touch me, I couldn't ask.  And I would give anything I own, save for Amos and his food supply, for my pastor to trace the cross on my forehead and give me a blessing.  But he doesn't.  And I cannot bring myself to ask.

But I digressed.

Tonight, I was able to do two things that made me feel as if I were not a waste of space on this planet: 1) I baby-sat Sandra's son again and 2) I got to edit a friend's paper she's presenting.  As to the former, I actually took her son to a store so he could make a purchase and then took him out to dinner (which a wi-fi connection), so he could eat tasty food and play electronic games to his heart's desire.  We actually closed out the restaurant.

As to the latter, this was my third edit of the paper.  On the first edit, I did not finish the paper, but made some directional comments that provided a new path for the author to take.  On the second edit, I suggested a wholesale re-ordering so that the sweet, sweet Gospel of her topic pealed over what might been mis-perceived as Law later, so that it might be received as the Gospel it really was.  The author did a fantastic job of taking the edits and making them hers.  On this round, I honestly believe I added the icing ... or perhaps just some whipped topping and a cherry ... that took the paper sailing past the victory line.  Oh, how my heart sang at being able to edit, to write, to craft something that had a real purpose, rather than the shouting at the wind I do here.  Such a mercy it was and is that she let me edit her work!

Mostly, though, I struggle that some days all I can do is feed Amos and myself.  I try, really, really try, to accomplish at least one other thing in a day than seeing to our bodily needs.  Dusting a bit, dishes, straightening, cleaning the bathroom sink or floor.  Sometimes it is grilling up several chicken breasts or preparing several bags of steak to marinade for a while so that I can make beef jerky.  Other times I work at making things a bit easier about the house for me or writing note cards or researching something about which someone has mentioned needing to learn.  And I have been reorganizing, reducing, recycling, and setting things aside for donation.  My, nearly two years of systematically downsizing my life from being surrounded by stuff to keeping the useful and a bit of the desired and letting go of the rest.

One of the things that has driven me in this is the thought of my trustee having to tend to my estate.  Selling the house will be a task in and of itself.  Much of the work I have done has been both for me and along the lines of ensuring all things needful are brought up to code. I know full well any buy inspection will find something needing repair, but I doubt, at this point, there would be anything that would stop a seller.  For example, there is a bit of a shifting in the garage, but it does not bother me and would not stop a sale.  After all, the garage is as old as the house.  It fits a single car well and the saddle doors slide extremely easy, given their age.  I have updated the wiring to the garage, burying it in the ground, replaced the lighting, and added a separate GFIC two-gang outlet not controlled by the light switch.  Additionally, outside the door to the garage from the house side, there is an automatic flood light.  For an old garage, it is cleaned up, brought to code, and very serviceable.

Within the house, my primary concern has been ensuring all the electrical work needful to modern living was completed.  All the open GFIC plugs are now grounded, every outlet and switch have been replaced, outdoor GFIC outlets are now in the front and the back, the living room has additional grounded outlets where a television might go and on either side of the couch, all ancient light fixtures have been replaced, no more knob-and-tube wiring exists, and strategic lighting and switch changes has taken place, such as adding three-way switches to the both entrances to the kitchen and to each of the entrances to both spaces in the basement.  Finally, spaces have been improved, such as adding lighting and outlets to the parlor bath, both halves of the basement, the front porch, and the upstairs hallway.  Even then there was a bit more electrical work not included in that listing, but it makes the point.  All the wiring is safe, to code, and is properly loaded in the electrical panel.

I added air-conditioning and replaced the old heater.  I also had to replace the old washing machine, refrigerator, and the hot-water heater.  I am not bothered by replacing mechanicals/appliances.  Such is a needful thing.  In replacing the hot-water heater, as has been noted many times over, I had it moved from the center of the space to the wall.  Wow!  What a change!  Perhaps nearly as shocking in helpfulness was having the new washing machine relocated to beside the dryer.  Why they were separated is beyond me, but a second set of faucets made a drain pipe the only addition needed for the change.  It was actually done at no cost as part of a larger plumbing project in which the basement toilet was restored, a sink hung next to it, the basement shower restored, and the parlor bath sink moved so that eventually a wall could be constructed to easily separate the space into a half-bath and a parlor.  The other major plumbing job was to add an outdoor faucet in the back yard so a hose did not have to be run from the front of the house.

Besides plumbing and electrical, my primary changes have been paint in many rooms, hallway, and the stairwells, updating a tad the main bathroom (sink, fixtures, and half of the lighting), and creating a third floor out of the basement. The latter project was done all by my own elbow grease and on penny budget, other than the professional wiring and plumbing. There is a separate living space and a utility space that included the divided bath, the laundry space with a counter, a utility closet, and a wall of storage shelves.  Paint, flooring, and the updated lighting all made a huge difference.

So, in short, even a modern sort of person would not have a problem buying the house.  The one lack is an updated kitchen, however I have not the funds for that.  And I strongly believe all the other work is an impressive change from the condition in which I purchased the home.  Therefore, I have reached a certain peace about saddling my home upon my trustee after my death.

But the sale is not the only issue.  It is also what to do with my stuff.  I am nearing the point where I have reached a measure of peace about that burden as well.  My clothing, books, movies, and office supplies could be easily packed up and donated.  The antiques sold.  The kitchen items donated to homeless relocation non-profit.  The lawn equipment and tools donated or sold on Craig's List.  And my stuff thrown away.  You know...those little tidbits of your past that you keep for no real reason. The latter is growing smaller and smaller.  Pretty much everything I have is well-organized, grouped by kind, and easily found.

All of this has created a clean and clear space in which I live.  Visual rest is a term I have come to appreciate more and more and more.  So, most of the non-repair/upgrade work has been for me as well as for the one who shall have to deal with my life after my life has ended.  I have done so because I believe having to deal with such is a far different task for a loved one than for a friend/acquaintance/estate manager.  I believe it is a different sort of burden, a heavier burden.  Love, especially family love, makes the task easier or at least less onerous.  I do not want the one who tends to  the closing of my life to bear a burden any heavier than it has to be.

When I can do something along the lines that achieves that goal, such as tending to the yard or house or level of possessions, then I feel less of a waste.  And when I do the volunteer communications work, I feel the same.  Other than those times outlines above, I struggle with my life.

I read about how all life is precious to God.  When I am spending half a day or more writing in agony, merely existing, I wonder how that could be.  When I am not in agony but have not the energy to do more than languish with Amos draped across my person, I wonder how that could be.  And when I come face to face with the fact that I do not know how to be around nearly anyone else in the world without being an awkward, bumbling, social misfit who makes the encounter hard for all involved, I wonder how that can be.

I feel such shame over that disastrous impromptu meeting yesterday.  I cringe and wish to hide from the entire world.  I think how anyone else would have handled it far better than I and no one that I know would remain crippled by shame the way that I am, now, when I think of that moment.

For so long, I worked to make the life that God gave me matter.  I volunteered beginning as a young teenager, I earned a degree in education, I served as a missionary, I taught college, and I finished my career in the non-profit world.  I never thought I would end up single and childless, but I tired to do things that I could do.

And then I grew ill.  And more ill.  And more.  Until now, where a good day is getting laundry done.  Sometimes, even without the burden of a migraine, where all sensory input must be blocked out, I am so weary that I do not even read or watch television or work on the mission's communications work.  I exist ... in the GREEN chair.  Thinking or even not thinking.  Just being.

When I worked with a foster care agency as its communications staff, I met a family who was raising an microcephalic child.  Most babies with such a severe case do not survive.  They are born with an undersized or partial brain.  This little boy was a living medical miracle, life supported by not all that much more than a brain stem.  The foster parents had to monitor/care for the child every minute of every day.  His breathing and nutrition intake were fraught with complexities.  He could not control his movements or speak, though sound came out of his vocal cords, or see much, or participate in his physical existence in hardly any fashion.  At the time I met them, the foster parents were facing growing criticism about not withdrawing care and allowing "nature" to take its course.

I read an interesting flyer about end of life care Monday night.  This being right-to-life week, I would have expected it to be about abortion.  However, it was a presentation on considerations about decisions made at the end of a life.  A guiding principal was about not preventing the natural course of the end of a life if the extension meant an extension of suffering, not a gaining of life.  Another principal was not to hasten the end of a life rather than allow the natural course of death.

For that child, she was not suffering. By that I mean, she was in no pain.  Some believe she tracked the voices of others, but physically, that would be impossible.  She had no brain.  She was loved and cared for and a part of a family who believed her life had value.  To the doctors and therapists, withdrawing care was a mercy because his death was inevitable.  To his foster parents, each and every day was a miracle,  Withdrawing care would be akin to murder.  Practicality, based on a return on investment measure of the cost of his care to the county, verses love, an impracticality to the local government.  It was an interesting, thought-provoking encounter for me.

When I was in college, I trained in hospice care and served as a volunteer.  I know about end of life care.  But, in this girl's case, one side saw end of life and the other side saw middle of life.  One side saw waste and one side saw value.

Sometimes, lately, I think about that little boy.  He died not all that long after I met him.  His foster parents had adopted four other children with profound special needs.  The only reason they did not adopt this little boy was that they could not afford the cost of his care.  As it was, they were the age of most grandparents starting a second family of discarded children.  They had subsidies from the adoptions, but their finances were dire, giving the medical and adaptive care for their other four children.  Few would ever understand adopting those children, but no one understood why the fight for the little boy's life.  So few saw it as a life.

Clearly, I can see and hear and talk and move, though all of those are oft compromised.  Clearly, I can reason and sometimes reason at a high level.  Clearly, I have a life that no one, at this point, would argue the cost of which outweighs continuing my existence.  No one, at least, save for me.

All that money toward my prescriptions, none of them as cure or treatment.  All of them being supportive care.  What value is there in draining all of my retirement savings on expensive medications that make life only slightly more bearable?  To me, I think of it as waste.

I feel like it is a waste.
I cannot see how it could not be so.
I feel like life has ended ... after a fashion.

What do you do? The question I loathe and fear the most.  I do nothing.  Most days ... nothing but hold on to a fluffy, white, traumatized puppy who has at least as many fears as do I.  Who struggles with interacting with others as much as I.  Who takes far, far to long to feel safe with another.  And who inexplicably has new fears pile up on top of old and conquered fears return ten-fold.

What do you do?  I love a puppy dog, do all the wrong things, blather on about things most everyone I know cares little, and accomplish very, very little on a daily basis.

What do you do?  
God gave you an IQ of 151.  What a waste.

How is that not the truth?

I am Yours, Lord.  Save me!

Monday, January 21, 2013

Broken receiver...

My receiver is broken.  I think that's what you would call it ... the way in which I hear things that are spoken/written.

Now, I KNOW the rest of the world believes emails are primarily a poor communication vehicle, but I am a woman of letters and emails are just the modern letter to me.  In a way, I have lived nearly my entire life in the written word.  So, before you start objecting to what I am trying to say about receiving what is written, telling me that the written word lacks the intonation and expression and such of a verbal speech and is then therefore lacking or inferior, I will tell you I simply do not agree.  I do not.  The written word was a sufficient form of communication for hundreds of years.  It is a still sufficient form for me.

Although ... I would welcome a discussion of the problem of how people respond to emails, verses letters.  That, I agree, can be a problem.  A monumental problem.  But the same is true with texts and Facebook posts.  And the same is true with speech.  Even in verbal conversations, the one receiving is oft not actually listening to what is being spoken.  The receivee might be marshaling his own points for his rebuttal or she might be distracted by a problem at work.  Any number of reasons could exist for the lack of attention.  But such is not my point.

My point is that my receiver is broken.  Myrtle's.  Mine.  Broken or, at best, rather faulty in proper function.

There are people in my life helping with this.  I am not ready, nor am I sure I will ever be ready, to fully discuss all of them.  But some of them are easy.  For example, as I have mentioned before, Mary is such a gentle and generous giver of Gospel to me.  I have also pointed out how she well "translates" Gospel into Myrtle-speak, such as with the Jesus as my knight-in-shining-armor when it comes to facing the dragon of death.  Because I know this, I oft send her my thoughts or fears or worries to see if she might help me straighten them out or conquer them.

A most recent example is this article that had me terribly distraught.   In it, the woman struggling with illness basically concludes that it would be selfish of her to pray for or desire healing because if she were healed then she wouldn't be able to help others through her suffering.  I rejected the article immediately because I thought it was not doctrinally sound.  But, as I sometimes fear about the comfort and consolation I find in the Christian Book of Concord, I worried that what I thought was reading was only there because I wanted it to be.  By this I mean, is the comfort in a particular passage actually present or am I just wanting it to be there?  Was this author's conclusion actually flawed or did I just want it to be.  Do I reject her conclusion merely because I don't want to suffer myself?

Since I did not ask Mary if I might borrow her words, I will not cut and paste them.  What I will say is that Mary rightly pointed out that the article is all about the author and not about Jesus.  When writing or speaking about faith is about us and not Jesus, it is not really about faith.  I had nothing to fear in those words for they were not about the Living Word.  For me to long to be free of my suffering is not selfish or thwarting God's will for my life, nor would it hinder His ability to accomplish His work in me or in others.


In my inbox are two emails from my pastor about not remembering the Lord's Prayer, the Creed, and Psalm 23.  Clearly, my receiver failed with the first one.  Reading through it, I was hurt.  I thought what he was saying to me was that it did not matter if I do not remember.  Oh, how his words stung!

Yes, of course it does not matter, spiritually, if I remember God because He remembers me.  I understand that.  I do not always remember that I understand that, but I do.  However, struggling to remember these prayers to God in times of anguish and misery is a great loss to me.  They are the way I get through darkness.  They are the way I remind myself that what is happening to me, what is overwhelming me, is not all there is to this life or to my life or to who I am.  They are the sense to which I anchor myself when I am insensible.

In the second email, my pastor shared the most helpful of ideas.  Before repeating it, I would note that the fact that he wrote further on the matter, that he thought further on the matter, essentially mooted my reception of the first email.  Clearly, my receiver was broken at that moment.  But on to the idea:

My pastor suggested that since I have lost, for example, the whole of Psalm 23, perhaps I could work on remembering just one line, such as "The Lord is my shepherd."  Then, when I am struggling through bad times, I could pray the one line, knowing that God understands that I was praying the whole of Psalm 23.  My pastor did not know of my thoughts about inner subjectivity, but that is really what he was saying.  I could rest in the fact that I know that God knows that I know that He knows my prayer is for all of Psalm 23, not just the one line I managed to hold in my mind, managed to cry out to Him.

I believe in God the Father, Jesus Christ His Son, and the Holy Spirit.
Our Father in heaven.
The Lord is my shepherd.

In a way, I could do the same with the Lutheran hymns I learned that I can no longer remember but long to sing, to also pray.

Lord Jesus Think on Me
To God the Holy Spirit Let Us Pray
Through Jesus' Blood and Merit
Abide with Me
A Mighty Fortress is Our God
From God Can Nothing Move Me

And, of course, I could sing the first line of the greatest "song" of all, to me:  the Words of Institution, Our Lord Jesus Christ....

As far as comfort and consolation goes, my pastor's second email was a grand slam at the bottom of the ninth of the World Series, was a successful Hail Mary in the final second of the Super Bowl, was the Triple Crown, the Stanley Cup, the Chase Title, and the FedEx Cup all in one to me, for me.

And I am 99.99% certain that the comfort and consolation in pastoral care my pastor had for me, meant to give me, in the second email was also present in the first email.  It is just that my receiver is broken.

If someone is interested, I am learning to speak things that are particularly helpful to me. And I am learning to recognize responses or behaviors or patterns that trouble my waters.  For example, as I have written before, if I dare to speak how I feel, I am not doing so in want of admonition or advice. I do so in longing for comfort and consolation, in longing for the Gospel and for forgiveness.  If I am seeking admonition or advice, I will specifically say so.

If I speak my physical misery, I am not looking for medical care or behavioral feedback.  I am longing to hear that I am not alone, though I may be the only one in the room.  And I am longing to hear that it is okay to not desire suffering, to want to be free from this state.

For so long, I have been afraid to speak what I think or feel because of the responses doing so garnered.  For so long, I have been afraid to think or to feel at all.  For so long, I have battled things greater than me in ways that served me then, but do not serve me now.

I am learning new ways. I am learning new perspectives.  I am learning the Truth. But, at the present, my receiver is still broken.

I could say my receiver is full of tangled wires, of errant connections, all born of law and of Law.  In many ways, this is a good summation.  But I am sure more words are needful to clearly explain.  Only I do not have them at the time.

In any case, for a while yesterday, I had the bestest time talking about literacy and the Living Word.  I talked about my thoughts about the Transactional Theory of Reading and how the Holy Spirit creates the poems when it comes to the Living Word.  I talked about innersubjectivity and the Psalter.  And I did so with a pastor who has long been thinking about conversation, with regard to our Triune God being three persons and with regard to our Triune God and His interaction with us.  I was immediately fascinated with his brief mention of a few lines of thought he had and wanted him to write a paper or a book like yesterday!

The other day, a pastor on Facebook wrote about using the word "trollop" in a sermon (if he should).  For a while, I got to write about diction and contextual clues and semantics.  And then I got to thinking about gender implications when it comes to quantities of nouns and adjectives in certain areas.

Good times for an ex-literacy professor.
Good times for a writer at heart.
Good times.

All those good times joined up in my mind with those two emails and lightening struck me deaf, blind, and dumb.  When I recovered, it occurred to me that my receiver is broken.  While I have worked hard to dare to ask for help from others for the things that I need, such as hearing the Living Word, having copious amounts of repetition, having things written down for me, and hearing the phrase "It's okay that...,"  I have not worked hard to better understand how the lack of those things that I need affects my reception of what I hear.

I have so many hard things in my life.  To be utterly and completely honest, to stand naked before you, I have wanted church and pastoral care, in particular, to not be hard.  In wanting it not to be hard, I have not worked as much as I should for the thing that matters most to me.  Yes, the Gospel comes to me.  Oh, how the sweet, sweet Gospel comes to me in many and myriad ways!  But I have be a tad hard-hearted in insisting, deep within, that church shouldn't be hard.

Only, the truth is, nothing is easy with me right now.  With what is happening to my body and my mind, nothing probably ever will be easy again.  And that is okay.

Or, by the grace of God, one day it will be.

For now, I am trying to say that if you are ever so gentle about it (and I am talking really gentle), it might be helpful to me ... not as a first response, but perhaps a fourth or fifth response ... to ask me if what is distressing me might possibly, perhaps, be a matter, at least in part, of my receiver being broken at the moment, that might be a good and helpful thing for me.

I struggled so hard to get to Divine Service tonight.  A dream last night turned a 2D memory into a 3D horror that overset both my body and my mind.  My Good Shepherd, who understands my battles, thus gave me a Word that was a most perfect Word for me.

The Gospel reading was about Jesus' first miracle.  My pastor asked us to think about why it might be that His first miracle was not a matter of life and death, was not feeding thousands or healing the sick or raising the dead, but was turning water into wine.  He had more than one answer for us, but one of them reverberated through my whole being before my pastor even spoke it:

Jesus is the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end.  His ministry began with the miracle of turning water into wine and it ended with the miracle of turning wine into blood, in the passion of the Cross, death turned into forgiveness and enteral life that is poured into our bodies each and every time we receive the Lord's Supper.

Jesus is the Alpha and Omega.
He is the Alpha and Omega of my life.
Broken receivers nonetheless.

Lord, I believe.  Help my unbelief!

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Get the big picture...

Today, a Facebook friend who was in town with her husband for the conference at the seminary picked me up to go to the Epiphany Lessons and Carols service.  It was a different sort of Evening Prayer service for me.  In it, I encountered the epitome of when less is not more.

I confess that I did not fully absorb the whole service because sitting in the pew became too painful.  I did not realize how long the service would be and did not plan to or eventually lie down in the pew.  They were rather narrow, to me, and I am not sure if I did ask my companions to shift down the pew so I could lie down I would actually remain in the pew.  By the time I really needed to lie down, I was no longer really capable of getting up and moving to the back where I could more likely do so in private.  So, I reached down into my purse for the crucifix that fits in my hand and held it as I endured the growing pain.  I also meditated more on the first reading than any of the others.  It was from Isaiah 64.

Now, for most my life, I have been a good little evangelical and carried my bible with me everywhere.  Slowly, mostly because I am weaker, I have finally given up the practice, since I also now carry my personal copies of the Lutheran Service Book and the Christian Book of Concord with me and since I have yet to be in a Lutheran service where the text was not printed out in full, along with bibles in the pews.  Today, there was neither at the seminary service!  The pews held only copies of the LSB and the service booklet had only the scripture references.  So, feeling a bit odd, I pulled out my iPod touch and opened up the Kindle app to the NASB 1977 bible I have in there.

My prior experience of Isaiah has been with the middle line of verse 8: "We are the clay, and Thou our potter."  Many a sermon I have heard about being good clay for God to shape and mold, rather than the clay that is discarded as too poor quality to be of good use, to be a good vessel for God.  Many, many a sermon.  And praise songs.  Lots of praise songs about God as our potter and we being clay.  The focus  of Isaiah 64 has always been about being on God's spinning wheel as He forms us to be proper vessels to carry His message out into the world to save people.  Some times the sermons are about how being shaped can be a long process or a violent process (being flattened part way through to begin again).  Sometimes they are about how God, being the potter, decides the shape we will be.  That when we try to shape ourselves, we can create flaws that eventually prevent us from being usable vessels.  They are sermons of God's sovereignty in preparing us to go out into the world to do His work of salvation.

Here is the whole of verse 8:  "But now, O Lord, Thou are our Father, We are the clay, and Thou our potter; and all of us are the work of Thy hand."

Well, in context, all that focus on ourselves that has filled the teaching about that verse seems a bit off.  I mean, most of the verse is about God, not me.

Here, I shall interrupt to interject a snippet of the conversation we had on the way to the chapel.  We (okay mostly I) were talking about the things I learned in driver's ed.  It started because my friend's husband was driving my Highlander since getting in and out of a sedan or coupe is very difficult for me.  When he started out, I told him that I always set the parking break since that is how I learned to drive.  Being closer to my age, it was no problem for him to immediately pop it off.  I then talked about two other life lessons I learned in driver's ed:  1) leave yourself an out and 2) get the big picture.  The former is about making sure that you position your vehicle in such a way that if traffic suddenly changed, you would have a space to swiftly move your car, right or left, or have enough room to stop suddenly.  The latter is about how it is dangerous to only look down the hood of your vehicle as you drive.  You need to look up and out, to get the big picture of the traffic around you so that you are ready to respond to changes as they occur.

So, getting the big was fresh on my mind when the reading started.  Only, I had no idea when it started that the verse about being clay was coming up.

Here is being clay in the big picture:

Oh, that Thou wouldst rend the heavens and come down,
That the mountains might quake at Thy presence--
As fire kindles the brushwood, as fire causes water to boil--
To make Thy name known to Thine adversaries,
That the nations may tremble at Thy presence!
When Thou didst awesome things which we did not expect,
Thou didst come down, the mountains quaked at Thy presence.
For from of old they have not heard nor perceived by ear,
Neither has the eye seen a God besides Thee,
Who acts in behalf of the one who waits for Him.
Thou dost meet him who rejoices in doing righteousness,
Who remembers Thee in Thy ways.
Behold, Thou wast angry, for we sinned,
We continued in them a long time;
And shall we be saved?
For all of us have become like one who is unclean, 
And all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment;
And all of us with like a leaf,
And our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.
And there is no one who calls on Thy name, 
Who arouses himself to take hold of Thee;
For Thou hast hidden Thy face from us,
And hast delivered us into the power of our iniquities.
But now, O Lord, Thou art our Father, 
We are the clay, and Thous our potter;
And all of use are the work of Thy hand.
Do not be angry beyond measure, O Lord,
Neither remember iniquity forever
Behold, look now, all of us are Thy people.
~Isaiah 64:1-9 (NASB 1977)

Since not all I know love my beloved NASB 1977, here is the same in the English Standard Version:

Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down,
that the mountains might quake at your presence—
as when fire kindles brushwood
and the fire causes water to boil—
to make your name known to your adversaries,
and that the nations might tremble at your presence!
When you did awesome things that we did not look for,
you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence.
From of old no one has heard
or perceived by the ear,
no eye has seen a God besides you,
who acts for those who wait for him.
You meet him who joyfully works righteousness,
those who remember you in your ways.
Behold, you were angry, and we sinned;
in our sins we have been a long time, and shall we be saved?
We have all become like one who is unclean,
and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.
We all fade like a leaf,
and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.
There is no one who calls upon your name,
who rouses himself to take hold of you;
for you have hidden your face from us,
and have made us melt in the hand of our iniquities.
But now, O Lord, you are our Father;
we are the clay, and you are our potter;
we are all the work of your hand.
Be not so terribly angry, O Lord,
and remember not iniquity forever.
Behold, please look, we are all your people.

Huh?  That bigger picture does at all seem to be about God shaping us to be His messengers.   Actually, to me, it seems to be a humble begging of mercy from God.  In fact, not only does the passage speak of our state at sinners, where nothing we do for God is good and noting how we are not even able to lay hold of God by our own knowledge or strength, but the passage ends in a plea for God to remember that we are His creation, sinners though we be.  That reminder loops back directly to the pleas to be forgiven, to be saved, since we are His.

I was stunned.

For me, it was one of those moments where I really, really wanted to stand up and ask everyone to stop for a few minutes so I could take in the whole of a passage of scripture that had been previously ignored in favor of plucking out a verse to make a meaning fitting a sermon rather than a sermon fitting the text.  

Up until that moment, up until hearing verse 8, my heart was singing for joy.  Sometimes I wonder if I am just plain weird.  For the Living Word that speaks of my sin is a Word of joy for me.  It is a reminder that I cannot, by my strength or reason, get right with God. I cannot deepen my relationship with Christ.  I cannot achieve holiness or live a godly life.  I cannot.  I cannot there is no failure of faith in being unable to do so.

Then verse 8 came and my biblical foundation was rocked to its core.  What?  Wait!  That's the big picture?  Wow!  Oh, the mercy of God!

Verse 8 has far, far more in common with Psalm 139 than it does with pretty much any of the how-to-live-a-Christian life passages plucked from the New Testament and paired with it!  Verse 8 is not about actively being so we are better at doing.

Instead, to me, it was another moment of inner subjectivity, another moment where I realized that I am known. Isaiah spoke the truth of who we are.  We are not basically good inside.  We are not godly men and women.  We do not give all glory and honor to God.  No! We are deaf and blind to the truth, both because of our nature and because, without the Holy Spirit, we still wear the veil of Moses.  We struggle to believe in a loving and merciful God.  But we do know that our God is a mighty God, who does things that we do not expect.  We should expect wrath and damnation for who we are, but, even so, we dare ask for salvation because, sinners though we be, we are also His creation.

Remember we are Yours, Lord. 
Remember who we are.
Remember and save us.

That is the crux of Isaiah 64, not some preparation for being ambassadors for God. That is the big picture.

While waiting for the service to start, I began to struggle with nerves, thinking about the chapel filling with folk and worrying that someone might come to visit with my companions and then want to be introduced ... and want to shake my hand.  My worries began to overset my mind, so I opened the LSB to the section of psalms.  The page fell open at Psalm 136.  I happen to believe it was a fitting beginning to the service, because it is a reminder of who He is and what He does for His created.  

Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good;
For His lovingkindness is everlasting.
Give thanks to the God of gods,
For His lovingkindness is everlasting. 
Give thanks to the Lord of lords,
For His lovingkindness is everlasting. 
To Him who alone does great wonders,
For His lovingkindness is everlasting. 
To Him who made the heavens with skill,
For His lovingkindness is everlasting. 
To Him who spread out the earth above the waters,
For His lovingkindness is everlasting. 
To Him who made the great lights,
For His lovingkindness is everlasting. 
The sun to rule by day,
For His lovingkindness is everlasting. 
The moon and the stars to rule by night,
For His lovingkindness is everlasting. 

To Him who smote the Egyptians in their first-born 

For His lovingkindness is everlasting. 
And brought Israel out from their midst,
For His lovingkindness is everlasting. 

With a strong hand and an outstretched arm,
For His lovingkindness is everlasting. 
To Him who divided the Red Sea asunder,
For His lovingkindness is everlasting. 
And made Israel pass through the midst of it,
For His lovingkindness is everlasting. 
But He overthrew Pharaoh and his army in the Red Sea,
For His lovingkindness is everlasting. 
To Him who led His people through the wilderness,
For His lovingkindness is everlasting. 
To him who smote great kings,
For His lovingkindness is everlasting. 
And slew mighty kings,
For His lovingkindness is everlasting. 
Sihon, king of Amorites,
For His lovingkindness is everlasting. 
And Og, king of Bashan, 
For His lovingkindness is everlasting. 
And gave their land as a heritage,
For His lovingkindness is everlasting. 
Even a heritage to Israel His servant,
For His lovingkindness is everlasting. 

Who remembered us in our low estate,
For His lovingkindness is everlasting. 
And has rescued us from our adversaries,
For His lovingkindness is everlasting. 
Who gives food to all flesh,
For His lovingkindness is everlasting. 
Give thanks to God of heaven,
For His lovingkindness is everlasting. 

~Psalm 136 (NASB 1977) [emphasis mine]

I love praying this with another, with one of us speaking the "refrain" of every verse.  I love hearing the Living Word in context.  And I love, love, love being in a Church that understands and values the importance of getting the big picture.  By this I mean, I love being in a Church that offers the Service of the Word.

Oh, how the big picture is so very important!  

To me, this day, was the epitome of one of the fatal flaws of contemporary worship.  In it lies no real  place for multiple readings of the Living Word.  Over the decades, I watched the readings from the Holy Scriptures dwindle from a couple of passages to a single passage to a single verse to, sometimes, nothing at all.  Stories, jokes, readings from pop culture "Christian" books took the place of the Living Word as folk tried harder and harder to make the service "welcoming" and "relevant."  And so it is possible to arrive at a place where a verse is taken so utterly out of context and posited as representing something that it does not.

I am rather thankful, this day, that my Good Shepherd sent me a brother and sister in Christ willing to ferry me to a prayer service when I could learn the big picture of Isaiah 64 and be reminded of the big picture of the entire Bible:  

Not us.  
Our triune God, the crux of whose work is Jesus for us.  

I am Yours, Lord.  Save me!

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

On being known...

[If you care not for vulgar language, stop reading.]

Vulgar means of the people.  The language of common people.  Plebeian.  Pedestrian.  So, to speak what is considered vulgar is really to speak in the language of common man.  I am common.

Mind you, I know that I am the daughter of a king.  By way of Jesus Christ, I am royalty.  But I am also common.  This I know.

Back when I was a literacy professor, one of the things that I taught were the three aspects of conversation:  collaboration, negotiation, and innersubjectivity.  The first two you know.  To talk with someone, you have work together.  To converse, you have to also have someone who is talking and someone who listening.  The talker and the listener have to work out who gets to talk and who gets to listen. The first aspect of conversation is the easiest.  The second is oft the cause of broken relationships.  The third, well, it is not something you can create alone.  It actually is created by the first two and by time, culture, race, gender, vocation, and experience.

When I was teaching, I never bothered with the long-winded discussion of the definition.  Innersubjectivity is simple: You know that I know that you know what I am saying. And I know that you know that I know what you are saying.

A while ago, I was talking with someone about this episode of Parenthood.  Actually, I hadn't seen it yet, but we both love the show and I didn't mind hearing about it.  [After all, I would most likely forget what she told me happen by the time I saw the episode.]  So, there she was, talking, and innersubjectivity occurred.

"Christina was struggling with facing chemo and Bonnie-fucking-Bedelia pulls out this jacket that has been passed from breast cancer survivor to breast cancer survivor and gives it to her!"

Oh, how I laughed.
And I knew.
Bitter the pain.
Deep the longing.
Overwhelming ... the jealousy.
I knew.

Bonnie Bedelia is an amazing actress.  She is also the epitome of a mother, of a friend, of a neighbor.  The perfection of the moment in the middle of great anguish could only have been carried by Bonnie Bedelia, the actress.  Yet she carried the moment because of the women she represents.  Always.

The woman I was talking with said the word fucking not against Bonnie, not against the drama, not against anything.  It was the utter absurdity, the juxtaposition of Bonnie Bedelia all all she represents with that word.

I knew what she meant. And she spoke because she knew that I would know what she meant.  Innersubjectivity.

Being known.  Knowing that you are known.  Is there anything better?  

To me, that is why our Triune God gave us the Psalter.  To let us know that we are known.

I mean, two of the three Isaiah passages I quote the most tell us that God calls us, knows us by name.

You whom I have taken
from the ends of the earth,
And called from its remotest parts,
And 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, sure I will help you.
Surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand."

 ~Isaiah 41:9-10

But now, thus says the Lord,
your Creator, O Jacob,
And He who formed you, Oh Israel,
"Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name; you are Mine!
When you pass through the waters,
I will be with you;
And through the rivers, they will not overflow you.
When you walk through the fire,
you will not be scorched,
Nor will the flame burn you.

For I am the Lord your God,
The Holy One of Israel, your Savior..."
~Isaiah 43:1-3

These are examples of God telling us, of God talking to us, that we are known.  But, to me, in praying the Psalter, in speaking those Words, we are telling God that we know that we are known, that we know that He knows that we know we are known.  Innersubjectivity.

I admit that I know some think I am a bit ... overly ... passionate about the Psalter.  How much I love reading, praying, and most especially hearing the psalms prayed.  I did not used to think this way, be this way.  Ironically, I didn't know about the prayers.  I never even knew that the psalms were prayers, much less that they were prayers for us, for me, to pray.

While reading Luther, I discovered there was such a thing as praying psalms, that the collection of them is also called the Psalter.  I wanted to try praying mostly because Luther seemed so ... passionate ... about doing so.  As I have written before, I asked my then pastor how to pray the Psalter and he said to just start.

I started.
I read them.
I read them aloud.
I prayed them.
One at a time.
Two or three at a time.
All of them, one after another.
All of them in one night.
Again and again and again.

In doing so, I knew.  I knew that I was known.  Anger. Sadness. Doubt. Despair. Joy. Peace. Longing. Humility. Awe. Terror. Confusion. Certitude. Faith. Truth. Deception. Greed. Revenge. Life. Death. God knows us.  We are known.  Every bit of who we are, who we wish we were not, who we want to be, as human beings, as children of God.  It is all there for us to pray so that we know that He knows that we are known.

We are known even in our commonness and being so is understood by our Creator.    

Would that it were all of God's creation knew that it is known.
This is my desire.
For me.
For you.

Lord, I believe.  Help my unbelief!

Sunday, January 13, 2013

How many today...

Another greeting you could use with me is: How many ice packs have you used at a time today, Myrtle?  Six is a bad number.  Two is acceptable.  None is great.

I have spent the day with my head resting on three, with a fourth on my forehead.  This makes my eyeballs cold, actually physically cold.  Such is a very weird feeling.  Sometimes I wonder if, perhaps, having cold viscus fluid is not the best idea.  But that inner cold helps a bit.

I have also had an evening of writhing, much noisy roiling with intense nausea and pain.  SIGH.

Amos believes the best way to comfort me when I am writhing (and whimpering) is to drape himself atop my mid-section.  That, incidentally, makes things exponentially worse.  We are working to a more consistent compromise: I lie on my side and he perches/balances atop my hip.  Sometimes, even when I am weeping in frustration and despair over the illness I am battling, I burst into laughter at his persistent care of me.

My Good Shepherd gave me a puppy with very strong opinions and unbelievable tenacity.  What a pair we are.

If the end result was something I do not believe should be filmed, I would have taken a video of Amos today.  Twice he worked very, very hard to face his fear and tend to his need.  Truly, it was a mighty battle between the power of biology and the power of fear.  Watching him, I was awed ... and a bit jealous of how he was able to face his fear long enough to take care of himself.

Self care is not something at which I excel.

Lord, have mercy.  Christ, have mercy.  Lord, have mercy.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

The fears that fell us...

The recent rain melted all the snow that had been around for a while now.  So, yesterday, Amos was once again confronted by his greatest fear:  GREEN grass.  In this case, it was worse:  the grass was wet.

I am not sure why it is that his fear grows exponentially when he does not have to confront it on a daily basis.  It is as if Amos was caught completely off guard yesterday morning when he walked to the top of the back steps and saw the great expanse of white had disappeared.  Even though he had not seen to his needs all night, it was all I could do to get him to go down the stairs just to relieve his bladder.  He did so by standing where the sidewalks crossed, so all four legs were planted firmly on concrete.

Throughout the day, Amos did his growly, whining bark that signals his greater need.  However, he simply could not bring himself to walk upon the grass.  In fact, he did not even make his circuit of flower beds and stepping stones.  Amos just stood there, staring at the grass, and turned back to the safety of the steps.

Because, as I have written before, I am trying to take a position of no more force ... really with anyone ... I let Amos head on up to bed without tending to his major business.  After all, I was certain biology would over-ride his fear.

But fear is a strange thing.  I am not sure it is really definable, being chameleon in nature.  Nor do I believe anyone clearly understands the power it can wield. When it came time to tend to his needs after breakfast this morning, Amos, again, refused to go near the grass.

This time, I refused to let him come back inside.  I had only been asleep for 3 hours and was hoping for another eight before the game.  It was the hardest thing I have done of late. And I am not sure I was right.  I just knew I would not be able to make it through hours of begging to go outside, being to afraid to do what was needed, coming back inside, and begging to go outside an hour or so later.  I had to sleep when I could because of the near constant pain in my head.

I thought I was right.
I fear I was wrong.

Amos was terrified.  After fifteen minutes, I had to fetch the squirt bottle and spray him right in the face as he repeatedly tried to scramble atop my shoulders.  Over and over and over again, I carried him to the center of the grass only to have race back to the safety of the sidewalk, trembling from nose to tail.  After 45 minutes of implacability on my part, Amos finally managed to take two steps onto the grass and relieve his bowels.  Almost before I could blink my puppy dog was back inside the house, still trembling.

Once back in bed, Amos grabbed Flower Baby and glued himself to my chest.  Breathing with a 22.5 pound puppy dog on one's chest is difficult, but doing so with a stuffed dog toy smashed between your face and your puppy's is practically impossible.

Amos knew what he needed to calm down.  He needed his face pressed against his two greatest loves and to have every part of his person plastered to mine.  I tried to shift him to my side several times, but eventually gave up, waiting until he moved there on his own ... his body finally still.

When we got out of bed at 2:00 this afternoon, Amos, again, stuck to the corners of the sidewalk.  I am not sure what I will do if he cannot tend to his bowels again.  If his fears fell him.

Being oft felled myself, I spend much time pondering fear.

God created us with emotions.  Clearly, even they were affected by the fall.  Life in the garden was not proscribed by shame or anger or deceit before our foe struck his blow against creation.  Before man made that fateful choice about what to do with the faith given to him.

But the thing I cannot quite wrap my mind around is that we are told to fear God.  And then we are told to be not afraid.  Both are present in Holy Scriptures.  Both are good, right, and salutary for God's creation.  To fear and to not fear.

Back in my evangelical days, fear of God was taught as respect.  For the most part, I gave such not another thought.  However, fear and respect are not synonymous.  As an ex-literacy professor, I understand and value the meaning of words.  I believe declaring "it's merely a matter of semantics" is one of the most specious lies we can tell.  A beach is not a shore.  Nor is a shore a coast line.  Though they can be related, how each of these is used matters.  Sometimes it is a subtly of meaning that we are--in my opinion--too lazy to either discern or appreciate.  The original character limit to texting and the launch of Twitter, with its own character limit on individual tweets, really were death blows to written communication.  It is easier to be lazy about language, about words, about communication.

Having not a theological degree, I cannot, at this point, really say what it means when we are called to fear God.  I believe respect is a part of that meaning, but surely it also is wrapped up with acknowledging and understanding and submitting to God's power and majesty and justice because of an intimate awareness of our own sin and what that sin deserves us.  Some glimpse of the chasm between what God gives to us and all that we do, daily, to stand against Him, to reject Him, to chose the way of the world rather than to walk in faith.

What I do know, what I have learned of the sweet, sweet Gospel, is that when our triune God tells us to be not afraid, when He speaks, "Do not be afraid!" God is not speaking in command or condemnation.  He is, after a fashion, reminding who He is, what He has done for us, so that we will take comfort, we will find refuge in that truth to help dispel our fear.

All throughout the Psalter this is woven:  the truth of God is our comfort, is larger, greater, more powerful than what is in our hearts and minds and bodies and lives.  Sometimes it is shown is grand language, such as with Psalm 91.  Sometimes it comes via internal dialogue, such as with Psalms 42 and 77.  The latter is one of my most favorite of all my 150 favorite psalms.  Though, the verse that is the crux of that comfort is not translated the same in other versions as it is in the NASB 1977.  So, most do not read what I do.

I love 77 because the psalmist is in utter despair, flinging his doubts and feelings of abandonment out to God.  Then, in verse 10, it is as if he smacks himself in the forehead as he realizes: Ooohhhhhhh!  "It is my grief, that the right hand of the Most High has changed." [emphasis mine]

I can just hear him say to himself: Dimwit!  Dolt!  Oh, man, have I been blinded by my own thoughts and fears!  
So, what does the psalmist do?  In verses 11-12, he declares: "I shall remember the deeds of the Lord; surely I will remember Thy wonders of old, I will mediate on all Thy work, and muse on Thy deeds."

In a way, this is what happens in Psalm 13, in a much shorter fashion:

How long, O Lord? Will Though forget me forever?
How long wilt Though hide Thy face from me?
How long shall I take counsel in my soul,
Having sorrow in my heart all the day?
How long will my enemy be exalted over me?

Consider and answer me, O Lord, my God;
Enlighten my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death,
Lest my enemy say, "I have overcome him,"
Lest my adversaries rejoice when I am shaken.

But I have trusted in Thy lovingkindess;
My heart shall rejoice in Thy salvation.
I will sing to the Lord,
Because He has death bountifully with me.

Perspective.  We look inward and we find ourselves felled.  We look to Him and we are reminded that ultimately, eventually, victory is ours.  Victory is given to us.

Victory as large as boldy declared in Psalm 91:

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High
Will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say to the LORD, "My refuge and my fortress,
My God, in whom I trust!"

For it is He who delivers you from the snare of the trapper
And from the deadly pestilence.
He will cover you with His pinions,
And under His wings you may seek refuge;
His faithfulness is a shield and bulwark.
You will not be afraid of the terror by night,
Or of the arrow that flies by day;
Of the pestilence that stalks in darkness,
Or of the destruction that lays waste at noon.

A thousand may fall at your side
And ten thousand at your right hand,
But it shall not approach you.
You will only look on with your eyes
And see the recompense of the wicked.

For you have made the LORD, my refuge,
Even the Most High, your dwelling place.
No evil will befall you,
Nor will any plague come near your tent.

For He will give His angels charge concerning you,
To guard you in all your ways.
They will bear you up in their hands,
That you do not strike your foot against a stone.
You will tread upon the lion and cobra,
The young lion and the serpent you will trample down.

"Because he has loved Me, therefore I will deliver him;
I will set him securely on high, because he has known My name.
"He will call upon Me, and I will answer him;
I will be with him in trouble;
I will rescue him and honor him.
"With a long life I will satisfy him
And let him see My salvation."

Can you hear the horns shouting triumphantly in the background as you read that?  Can you hear the angels rejoicing?  If ever there was a "Take that, satan, you feral beast!" Psalm 91 is.  And it is ours to pray ... in our fear.

To me, one of the greatest comforts of the Psalter is that it is filled with all the emotions that fell us, including fear.  For our God, steadfast in His Love, knows His creation and understand the words of our hearts.  He gives them to us to pray ... to pray boldly and without shame.

I wonder why it is that the grass fells Amos so.  He is a dog.  He should not be so bound.  What I think about though, since every fear in him was born on July 12, 2011.  When the pit bull attack ceased, Amos and I were lying on the grass, bleeding.  Amos dragged himself, howling in pain, until he had draped himself over my lap.  Then he growled and snarled and snapped at anyone who approached us. I still do not remember the moment from the time I stood for the last time and knew the next time the pit bull pulled us down I would not be able to get up--that the end had come for us both--to the moment when I realized the pit bull was being held back by a woman and Amos and I were in the grass.

Could, somehow, Amos associate grass with that violent, brutal experience?  The vet has examined his paws.  There is nothing wrong with them.  Grass causes no reaction to his skin, no swelling or hives.  Yet, even when he conquers his fear enough to tend to his needs, after always a very long warm up to actually stepping upon the grass, Amos works hard to have at most three paws touching it and oft tries to tend to his business precariously perched on just two paws.

Amos' fear of grass oft fells him.
Fear oft fells me.  

We are each creatures of a God who knows us, loves us, and strengthens and sustains us in our fear.  I, through the Living Word.  Amos, through a puppy momma who will allow herself to be slightly smothered as long as needful.

Lord, I believe.  Help my unbelief!