Thursday, May 23, 2013


So much that shames me I cannot bring myself to speak of, though I long to be free from that bondage. Yet there are other things that bring shame that I am learning to speak because they are a documentation of sorts of what is happening to my body.

My body. SIGH.

I believe that I have written before that during the process of applying for disability, I wrote and revealed changes in me that I had not spoken of to any doctor.  I feel ashamed to be that person.  For one, to be a person who drools.

Even before the drooling, I started having trouble with drinking from glasses.  My ultimate solution is that I use straws for practically all my drinks.  To some around me, my use of straws is a joke or even an object of ridicule.  For the most part, milk is the only thing that I do not drink from a straw.  But I only drink it from a glass I have found to provide the least chance of spilling.  Yes, before I drooled, I regularly spilled my drink all over myself.

A while ago, when I was working on my laundry, I spotted a ceramic coffee mug that was among the seminary grad student's travel coffee mug collection.  The reason this caught my eye is that I really enjoy brewing and then drinking a pot of tea.  However, I cannot drink tea from a mug very well.

So, I went looking and found a ceramic coffee mug with a silicone lid.  Spending money on something I was not sure would work was hard for me.  Not finding one in GREEN was harder.  I finally found one in an earthy brown with some sort of abstract leaf pattern.  I brought it home, brewed a cup of coffee, and dared a sip.

It worked.
I did not spill.
A single drop.

Discovering my ability, my endurance, for puttering about the yard has decreased greatly from last summer was hard.  Discovering that I had, indeed, gone to the restaurant I had been hankering to try was devastating.  Wanting to talk about the changes, large and small, that I am experiencing in my mind and in my body is overwhelming.  But so many of them carry a level of shame for me.

Today, I had two different people ask me if I wanted an electrical outlet in space that will be an official half bathroom once the wall in the parlor is completed.  I asked them both why would one want an outlet in such a space.  Both answered: so you could blow dry your hair.  Setting aside the fact that I do not know why anyone  would want to dry their hair in a main floor half bathroom, what I wanted to blurt out is that I have not dried my hair in years because of the strain and pain of holding my arms up long enough to do so.  The whole truth is that I have not even brushed my hair since I cut it off to help with the constant pain in my head.

Has it been a year?  Two?  Somewhere in between?  I cannot tell you for I do not remember when I cut off what, for me, has long been a part of my identity.  What I do know is that I did so after moving here and I have lived here for two years and six months.  In any case, I am a woman who no longer brushes or combs her hair.

The reasoning is sound.  Whenever my arms are raised above my heart, it has to work harder.  And whenever I am standing, it has to work harder, as gravity is pulling blood away from my heart and the autonomic process of increasing my heart rate and my blood pressure to compensate no longer works.  This is why hammering and drilling have become so hard for me, why I huff and puff to drill a hold and put in a single screw.  Why I am sweating and shaking and nearly faint if I attempt to do more than a single hole.  Why the final improvements to this amazing 1920 home of mine ought never to be made by me again.

But a woman who does not brush her hair.  I don't want to be that kind of person.  Unkempt.  Personal care in disarray.

Only, I have no choice in the matter.

I want to talk about the things that are changing within me.  I want for my friends to know so that they can comfort me in the battle of facing such changes, so that they can pray.  Yet I am ashamed to speak of them.  If in mind, because I used to be rather intelligent.  If in body, because I cannot truly care for my person, at times, in the manner in which I should.

Oh, the weight of shame....

I am Yours, Lord.  Save me!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The inevitable...

I have been hankering to try this Mexican food restaurant I oft pass by because it looks like a hole-in-the-wall sort of dive.  In the DC metropolitan area, those were the only Mexican restaurants who had any sort of notion about real Tex-Mex.  Frankly, since my last visit South in 2005, I have not had a proper plate of refried beans.  I miss them terribly!

Last night, while driving back from Chili's—oh, those chocolate shakes—with Sandra, I mentioned that I wanted to try that place.  I had, in fact, mentioned the same to my realtor and my neighbor when out and about with them.  Much to my surprise, Sandra said we already did.  I thought she might be pulling my leg.  She wasn't.

I do not remember a single moment of being at that restaurant with her.  Her telling me then or in the time that has passed since.  Nothing.  Not a single moment, glimpse, glimmer, smidgeon of memory of going there with them.

I wanted the world to just stop.
Stop for a moment.
It did not.

Yet what does it really matter that I do not remember?  

Being an avid fan of sci-fi fan, I feel like I am on the accretion disk of a black hole, frantically trying to ignore where I am, what's coming next.  When I am faced with such moments, I tend to do anything and everything to turn my sight away from what is before me.  After all, if the world does not stop and take note, neither shall I.

Cleaning, organizing, writing, watching shows and movies, grooming Amos, begging others for volunteer work, reading, and hiding.  Hiding in the Living Word.  Hiding in the Book of Concord.  Typing out all the psalms for the Praying the Psalter blog—especially the work of 119—has been an incredible blessing, hiding and thinking and savoring all wrapped up in one.  A sort of sorrow is creeping over me as I approach the end of this task.

I have a new project, but it is so large, rather enormous actually, that I am hankering for something achievable sooner.  I found myself prowling about the house, looking for something, anything, that I could organize, reduce, simplify.

It is just me.
Just my small and oft silly life.
And yet I still want the world to stop and take note.

There is nothing in my mind from that dinner with Sandra and Isaac.  Nothing.  Not only a day lost, but one that passed as if I never existed.  The blankness within is growing, swallowing ever more of my life, of me.

I am Yours, Lord!  Save me!

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Gospel Harmony Joy Note 14...

Whilst it might sound a bit ... odd ... to say that I have found a bit of comfort in the confusion I am encountering in my parallel Gospel at the moment, I have.  I have found comfort in that I am apparently as confused as those listening to Jesus!

Well, I do have the Holy Spirit and the hindsight of history going for me, but I freely admit that some of what Jesus is saying is confusing to me, to what I know of the Gospel. Yet it does not distress me. Perhaps that is because I feel as if a painting is being worked on before me and I, as the audience not the artisan, could not possibly know or see what the whole of the painting will be until it is revealed.

Does that make any sense at all?

Today, I read from where I left off with John sending folks to ask about Jesus up to where the parables begin. As a whole, I am not sure I followed well the journey and the teaching of Jesus. But several points to ponder did arise for me:

Matthew 11: 20-30 speaks woe upon Chorazin and Bethsaida for not repenting. First, I am trying hard to remember (and am failing) if the message of repentance has been presented as strongly previously as it is here. But what struck me most, within this passage, is how paramount context really and truly is. Once again I was confronted by a set of verses I knew but yet had no knowledge of its context: the come-ye-who-are-weary verses.

Matthew 11: 2-19 and Luke 7:18-35 conclude with the problem of disbelief (and dismissal). To the Pharisees and all those who served as detractors to Jesus and Ministry, John wasn't good enough because of what he was not eating and drinking and Jesus wasn't good enough because of what He was eating and drinking. Neither were good enough to be prophets, to be from God. The human ideas of who and what and how God's interaction with man should be colored and twisted all that the Pharisees saw.

Then, we move on to Jesus speaking woe in rather sharp comparisons. I mean, the reference to Sodom is harsh and horrible. Sodom and Gomorrah are the epitome of the sinful, fallen world, places where no faith existed!  Chorazin and Bethsaida were worse??

Yet all this pointing out of the need for repentance is not followed by suggested acts of godly behavior or holy living. Instead, it is followed first by Jesus giving praise to God that His message is hidden from the worldly wise (scholars and teachers of the Law) but yet revealed to the worldly un-wise, babes those who are not strong enough or have the wherewithal to attempts to follow all the precepts of the Law themselves. Jesus giving thanks and praise for the hidden things of God.

And then, second, He invites all those who are weary and heavy laden to come rest in Him, He whose yoke is easy and light.  Thus, the answer to repentance and rest is Jesus, not man or man's works.

I wondered, today if those weary and heavy laden included not only the ones of which I had been taught (the ill, the distressed, the struggling), but those who are weary and burdened by the impossible task of following the Law. I wondered if Jesus was speaking to the Pharisees, those would would boast on their wisdom and strength, as much as He was speaking to the weak who throw themselves at His feet!  Could that possibly be?

The next section is exactly that, is the story of the woman who threw herself at the feet of Jesus and cleaned them, kissed them. In Luke 7:36-50, the word repentance does not come up again, and yet the woman is clearly repenting of her sins. In addressing the woman's actions with Simon, Jesus compared her care of His person with the one who was supposedly serving as host. The woman honored Jesus far more than the host. Yet when Jesus spoke the word of forgiveness to the woman, it was not for her actions, but for her faith.

I could see, how, one could read this and want to immediately set about washing the feet of others (or its modern equivalent) in order to achieve such a level of great forgiveness and the status of being greatly faithful. But what passed through my mind is that Jesus spoke of her love and her care, but said she was forgiven because of her faith. So, therefore, was this really a fruit born of faith example? The fruit does not save; faith does. But faith produces fruit and fruit is one of the tangible evidence of faith to which we can point.

This thought drew me back to that pesky petition in Part Three of the Large Catechism. Forgive us our sins as we forgive others. Boy, does that ever sound like Law! And knowing how I struggle in the forgiving of those who have truly harmed me, at times, that one petition terrified me. Understanding Luther's teaching in that bit of the Christian Book of Concord was a mighty battle. Yet at the end of it, I finally grasped that what Luther was saying was that our ability to forgive comes from being forgiven ourselves. Thus, our being able to forgive is a sign and a seal that we are, ourselves, forgiven.  So, we are speaking of the fruit that gives testimony of the faith and by that faith we both are forgiven and can ask for forgiveness.

Fruit came up in the next section, Matthew 12: 22-37 and Mark 3:20-30. Incidentally, this reading was another shocking encounter/example of the need to read and consider the context of verses. In this case, I speak of the house/kingdom-divided-against-itself-cannot-stand set of verses.

Imagine my utter surprise to discover that those verses are couched not in examples of how families and churches and businesses cannot succeed unless all are working toward the same goal, but are actually encompassed in the story of Pharisees condemning and judging Jesus for casting out demons, saying that such action proves He is not from the house of David, but of Beelsebul! What???

The whole divided passage is basically Jesus pointing out the fallacy of the Pharisees argument, of their logic. If Jesus was actually serving Beelzebul in the casting out of demons, He would be hurting the house, the cause, the work of Beelzebul. He would be undermining Beelzebul and causing eventual failure, ruin, collapse. Now, if Jesus were going around saving demons (however that would look is beyond my imagination), well then the accusation of being from the house of Beelzebul would fit.

In this section, Matthew 12:30 stands out in its simplicity (another juxtaposition moment): "He who is not with me is against me; and he who does not gather scatters."

From there to the end, the focus is on what is spoken, what is confessed. By their own words, the Pharisees, the blasphemers would be condemned. Reading that made me think of the bits of the BOC that are fills with such fierceness when it comes to preserving the Gospel, the pure doctrine. Those bits ring with the intensity of being a matter of life and death. What we believe, teach, and confess matters. 


Matthew 12:38-45 made me laugh. A great big guffaw. Then, of course, I wondered if it is wrong of me to laugh. But there you have folk asking for a sign and Jesus refusing. His refusal, as with the call to repentance, is filled with harsh comparisons. My goodness! He adds Ninevah to the mix of Sodom and the rest!! All throughout the history of man are littered requests for signs. It is as if are saying to God, "Yes, I remember the deed of old, but what have You done lately?"

Or maybe it is equally apt to say that we are constantly asking, "How could this be?"

Michael Card, in writing a trilogy of albums on the life of Christ, has a song about Joseph.

How could it be this baby in my arms
Sleeping now, so peacefully
The Son of God, the angel said
How could it be?

Lord, I know He's not my own
Not of my flesh, not of my bone
Still Father let this baby be
The son of my love

Father show me where I fit into this plan of yours
How can a man be father to the Son of God
Lord for all my life I've been a simple carpenter
How can I raise a king, how can I raise a king?

He looks so small, His face and hands so fair
And when He cries the sun just seems to disappear
But when He laughs it shines again
How could it be?

Father show me where I fit into this plan of yours
How can a man be father to the Son of God
Lord for all my life I've been a simple carpenter
How can I raise a king, how can I raise a king?

How could it be this baby in my arms
Sleeping now, so peacefully
The Son of God, the angel said
How could it be? How could it be?

Poetic license abounds, for sure.  But two thoughts in this song have remained with me over the years: 1) The struggle Joseph must have faced in raising the Son of God and 2) The fact that man's inclination is to reject encounters and images and actions of God that do not fit with what we believe they should be.  

Chief among those:  How could it possibly be that Jesus is a King?  Other than speaking and teaching with authority, nothing in the life Jesus lives spoke of, evidenced royalty and power and dominion.  Jesus often fled from those wanting to be His "subject."  He led no military coup.  He set up no kingdom.  He made little sense.  He was poor.  And He died as a criminal.  Just a few of the reason why He could not possibly be a king.

The readings end with a sundering of sorts.  The people of Galilee, his neighbors and leaders of Jesus' community have rejected Him.  His family have questioned His actions, His choices, and seemingly come to stage an intervention ... perhaps.  But when Jesus is told His siblings and His mother have arrived He is response is to establish the bonds of spiritual families as being as strong as that of families.

Were I not so exhausted at the moment, I would look up the references of the talk of families in the Psalter.  Talk of betrayal.  Talk of abandonment.  Truly, the more I read in this parallel Gospel the more I realize just how much Gospel is contained within the Psalter.

And I wonder ... is reason God had me hiding out in the Psalter all this time so that I could finally read and see and understand the Gospel apart from the thick glasses of works righteousness that have been blinding me and distorting its message all of these years?

Would that it were this be true!  

I confess that the next section header noting parables are next has me trembling a bit in fear and in dread of failure.  For I am quite certain that the majority of what I know about the parables is all Law and little, if any, Gospel.

Lord, I believe.  Help my unbelief!

Monday, May 13, 2013

Not that, but this...

When I really want to write, I do not. Fear, I guess ... since fear drives so much of my life these days ... inhibits me, hinders me, paralyzes me. I am learning to accept that change ... a bit ... but I also would like to find ways to write even when I am afraid of what I want to say—to capture before it is lost—to do so anyway. Writing settles me. Writing soothes me. Writing contains, at least in part, the things within me that cause the upsettedness I do not always know is there, is happening, is causing my world to be more challenging that it need to be.

I found this article. This really, really good article. It says all the things about what people say that I find hurtful in words that are not my words. It says the things that I want people to hear as something important and worthy of being considered, rather than merely Myrtle being ... upset.

It it is an article sort of like the Eat This, Not That approach to making choices in what you consume, but with regard to making choices in what you say. What you say to those who are chronically ill. The article is about two particular diseases/conditions, Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, but I believe that the heart of the message holds true for all chronic illness. It holds true for Multiple Sclerosis, Dysautonomia, Reactive Hypoglycemia, and Arthritis ... just to name a few more.

There are two parts of the article in particular that I would like to point out. Two during which I wept and and two over which I despaired. Wept because I discovered I was not alone. Despaired because instead of what the author suggests how-to-respond, I usually hear the how not-to-respond. Those responses are crushing.

Do Not Invalidate
Sometimes people think that individuals with CFS or FMS are lazy, exaggerating their symptoms, or suffering from a psychiatric condition. They may mistakenly believe that their loved one just needs to push herself a little harder. People with CFS or FMS often feel invalidated when they hear:

“You look good to me.” (Underlying invalidating message: “You don’t look sick, therefore you must be exaggerating or faking.”)

“Oh, I’ve had symptoms like that before.” I get tired like that too.” (Underlying invalidating message: “So, what’s the big deal? Everybody gets tired. Get some rest.”)

“Have you tried (a suggested treatment)?” (Underlying invalidating message: “If you don’t take this remedy or do anything to help yourself, it’s your own fault that you’re still sick.”)

“Are you still sick?” (Underlying, invalidating message: “What’s wrong with you? It’s your fault that you’re still sick.”)

Acknowledge and Validate the Person’s Experience

People with CFS or FMS often face a number of challenges, including:
  • Not being taken seriously by their families, friends, employers, and even their doctors and other healthcare providers
  • The unpredictability of their illness
  • Decreased ability to participate in previous levels of professional, social, educational, and personal activities
  • Dependency and a sense of isolation

Many people use denial to deal with a loved one’s chronic illness. Rather than listening, believing, and showing compassion for what the person is going through, they discuss the facts and minimize the severity of the situation.

When you fully acknowledge your loved one’s situation, you are letting him or her know that you truly care, love, and support her. The following tips can help:

Acknowledge the Difficulty: “I can’t imagine how difficult all these changes must be for you.”

Acknowledge Losses, Sadness, and Anger: “I’m so sorry that you had to give up your job.” It must be horrible that you don’t have the strength to continue your education.”

Inquire and Listen With Compassion: When you ask your loved one how they are feeling, they may be feeling ill, tired, achy, or depressed. If you only want to hear that your loved one is feeling good, stop asking how they are feeling. Otherwise, they may sense your expectation, disappointment, disinterest, or inability to understand. Instead you might want to ask: “How are you managing things today?” or “What’s going on?”

Of course, reading the article as a whole would be helpful to understanding the lives of those battling chronic or fatal illness who cross your path.  It helps explain things such as needing extra time to do things or to process things. Just a smidgeon of what life is like, just a glimpse of the struggle, but filled with very practical, very feasible things that family, friends, neighbors, and fellow parishioners can do to help.  To really help.

It is not helpful to tell someone to get over it or to move on, to try harder, or to give examples of how you struggle with forgetting things, dropping things, being tired, etc.

Myriad things in this life are truly exhausting.  Raising children most assuredly is chief amongst them.  But being exhausted and battling true fatigue are as far apart as the grand canyon.  And, as the article points out, exercise is not the answer.  But trying to put words to such debilitating fatigue or pervasive muscular weakness is nearly impossible.  I honestly doubt anyone can understand what you are trying to say unless he or she has experienced it.  

I do believe that, across chronic or fatal illness, exist experiences with transference applicability in regard to understanding.  Pain, for example.  Dealing with chronic pain, of any type, colors your life, sometimes nearly every aspect of your life.  Several times I have had people share about their chronic pain and then immediately dismiss their own suffering by saying it was not as great as mine.  I actually do the same thing, sometimes, noting how my own agony would pale in comparison to that of someone with bone cancer.

Those who talk to me of their pain invalidates it.  I invalidate my own.  And it crushes me.  It is hard, though, not to do this when those around you are essentially encouraging you to do so.  And, I believe, as the article covers, all of this is based in a denial of sorts.  Or, another way to put it, in my opinion, is pretending.

People around you pretend you are well ... or at least better than you are.  They pretend not to see, to hear, to understand.  It is easier for them.  Perhaps it is even, at times at least, easier for you.  You pretend for them.  You pretend for you.  Everyone pretends.  We are all good at not acknowledging and not validating.  Masters at it, really, are we.

My best friend is learning, striving to learn, what I need to hear.  But she has her own life and her own battles, ones she downplays in comparison to mine, yet ones that can be just as brutal to her.   I need her to learn, because I have no one else.  But she needs her own acknowledging and her own validating.  This I know.  So, even as we struggle to accept and face and life we did not expect, we try to help one another ... and often fail.  If only more people around each of us understood how to listen, rather than to fall in the trap of pretending ... or of fixing.

Oh, how we like to fix things!  However, unless that is our specific vocation, with training in a specific area, we should leave the fixing to specialists.  Our fumbling with fixing can also be crushing.

Instead of fixing, listen.  
Instead of fixing, allow.
Allow people to grieve, to suffer, to struggle.

As a conclusion, I would like to add my own two cents, perhaps more bluntly than I have ever written before, to round out the message of the article:  The Living Word is enough.  It. Is. Enough.

I have come to believe that most Christians, even pastors, have forgotten this.  With their mouths and in their doctrine they might confess it to be enough, but they do not really believe it, trust it, walk in it.  All to often, the Christian laments for something more to say, something better.  In the longing for more, for better, the Living Word is sometimes not even shared, as if to do so might somehow be an offense of that is all that is offered.  Because understanding its real and actual power has somehow been lost. The comfort of the Gospel has become an adjective or even a metaphor rather than a verb, the nominative case of the Gospel.

However, I certainly have found it to be enough.  Absolutely enough.  It calms me, soothes me, heals me ... in mind and soul, if not in body.  Not because I believed this from the start.  I mean, I have always treasured the Bible as the Word of God, but I did not know, much less believe, that the Word of God is and can do all that God is and does.  I did not know.  Nor did I believe.  But the power and efficacy of the Living Word is not limited to or by my knowledge and my belief.  The Holy Spirit works by and with and through the Living Word.  He does not work by and with and through our will, our commitment, our understanding.  So, the Living Word is enough.

Read it.
Sing it.
Pray it.

All that God is and can do is given to us, for us!  We do not need to come up with our own answers, our own fixes, our own comforts.  God has provided a very real, very powerful, very effective comfort:  The Gospel.  The message of Christ crucified for us.

I shall speak even more baldly now.  

Some time ago, I had a pastor, more than one actually, tell me that I was too (insert various adjectives for broken and ill here) for any pastor to help me.  None could.  There was no training to deal with someone battling trauma and illness and loss all at once.  Yes, psychologically speaking, pastors are not trained for this.  But healing of the body, mind, and soul lies with God.  Spiritual healing is just as important as psychological healing.  Let me repeat that:  Spiritual healing is just as important as psychological healing.  And pastors are trained in spiritual healing, in the sharing and giving of the Living Word, in the administering of the Sacraments, in speaking the Word of Absolution.  

But, for a while, I believed that pastor, those undershepherds.  I believed that there was no spiritual help for me.  Then someone asked me to do a hymn index for the Pastoral Care Companion.  Always hungry for volunteer work so that I can feel not quite so useless, I happily provided one for him.  However, in working my way through the text, I discovered that there were over two dozen categories in the index that fit me.  Change.  Illness.  Abuse.  Job loss.  Grief.  Doubt.  Sadness.  There was help from the Living Word for me!

I rejoiced.
I wept.
And I struggled with anger ... over being told what was not true.

To me, the best part of the volunteer work was that I got to keep the copy of the Pastoral Care Companion.  So, in addition to hiding in the Psalter and the Christian Book of Concord, I often pull out that small book, chose a category that fits my struggles, and read the promises of the Gospel for me to myself.  I put my name in the prayer provided. I read the passages of Scripture. I look at the hymns.  I give myself the comfort of the Gospel.  Or, rather, the Holy Spirit gives it to me. Through the Living Word.

So, I repeat:  The Living Word is enough.  Do not discount it.  Do not set it aside.  Do not wish you had something more to say, sometime better to say.  Speak it.  Read it.  Pray it.

Share the Living Word.

Lord, I believe.  Help my unbelief!

Friday, May 10, 2013

The bits I can sing...

I know there is a way to chant the Psalter. However, I cannot read music and, thus, do not actually know any of the tones. Besides, I really like singing. So, I have been thinking about the psalm praise song I wrote about the other day and thought I would put all the ones I know together here, singing them as I type.

These first two, I learned sitting on the beach in Liberia, Africa.  Two Liberian girls sang them to me over and over and over again until I could sing with them.  The waves were crashing at our feet, dampening the lappa cloth we wore as skirts.  Their joy was so full that I could have listened to them forever.  

They had no Bibles, but memorized everything they heard when missionaries came out to their small congregation in the heart of Buzzi Quarter—a place that made Calcutta look upscale—tucked within the capital of Monrovia.  The knowledge of the congregation had been passed from missionary to missionary and those who dared to leave the compound to teach on Sundays, always made sure when their tenure was over that someone coming after them would find their way to this small flock. 

Some Canadian missionaries I met in training carried the torch, so I started going with them to teach Sunday School classes. I confess that I was always scared, terrified really, as I left the streets of the capital and entered this place where I could find no place for my eyes to rest that did not break my heart.  The solitary source of water was a small trench running through the rows of shacks and it was literally florescent green. Not everyone had clothing and most of that were really more tattered rags than shirts, pants, and skirts.  People huddled around communal pots of rather dirty rice and palm butter, a thick lard made from the nuts from palm trees.  Small small shelters made from cinderblocks filled the quarter, with roofs merely a sheet of metal held in place by rocks.  Inside, a palette took most of the floor space, a single bed for usually generations of family members. 

Yet the first time I heard that small, utterly destitute congregation sing, I wept.  For me, it was the one time in my life that I was sure worship, not singing, was taking place.  I confess it grieves me deeply that those hungry Christians were not fed the True doctrine.  I shudder to think of the burden of Gospel as law, of works righteousness I heaped upon them.

For my flawed teaching, filled with fear and trembling for where I stood, these girls visited me on the compound and taught me to sing the beginning verses of two psalms:

He that dwelleth in the secret place of the Most High
Shall abideth in the shadow of the Almighty.
He that dwelleth in the secret place of the Most High
Shall abideth in the shadow of the Almighty.

And I will sing of the Lord and of His refuge.
His fortress in Thee will I trust.
And I will sing of the Lord and of His refuge.
His fortress in Thee will I trust.

Hear my cry O God
Attendeth unto me.
From the ends of the earth
I call out to Thee.
When my heart is overwhelmed
Lead me to the rock
that is higher than I,
That is higher than I.

For Thou hast been
a refuge unto me
A tower of strength
against the enemy.

When my heart is overwhelmed
Lead me to the rock
that is higher than I,
That is higher than I.

Because they had no bibles, I taught them my favorite song I knew straight from Scripture, though not the Psalter.  It has just a single word changed (to change to unto) to fit the cadence of the song.  For me, the joy of it came decades after I learned that it was about Jesus coming to us.  I do not know how many times I sang it to them, but before they left, they sang it back to me, for me.

"The Lord your God is in your midst,
A victorious warrior.
He will exult over you with joy,
He will be quiet in His love,
He will rejoice over you with shouts of joy."

Shout for joy, O daughter of Zion!
Shout in triumph, O Israel!
Rejoice and exult with all your heart,
O daughter of Jerusalem!
The Lord has taken away His judgments against you,
He has cleared away your enemies.
The King of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst;
You will fear disaster no more.
In that day it will be said unto Jerusalem:
“Do not be afraid, O Zion;
Do not let your hands fall limp.

"The Lord your God is in your midst,
A victorious warrior.
He will exult over you with joy,
He will be quiet in His love,
He will rejoice over you with shouts of joy."

The rest of these are the psalm songs I learned in the 80s, when I was finally allowed to go to church.  They are the only praise songs I know, aside from the ones based on Micah 6:8 and Revelation 5:12-13, that are taken from Scripture primarily word for word, even if there is some repetition built in.  Thanks be to our Triune God that I understand them now, that I know they are prayers petitioning God to be heard, to be remembered, to be rescued.  

Laugh if you will, but they are my shower songs.

Give hear to my word, O Lord.
Consider my meditation.
Hearken on the voice of my cry,
My King and my God.
For unto Thee wilt I pray.
My voice cries to Thee in the morning.
O, Lord, in the morning
Will I direct my prayer
Unto Thee and will look up.

O, Lord, in the morning
Will I direct my prayer
Unto Thee and will look up.

Hear O Lord and answer.
I am poor and needy.
Guard my life for I am devoted to You.
Hear my prayer, O Lord
and my cry for mercy;
in this day of trouble I will call for You.

Hear my prayer O Lord.

Hear O Lord and answer.
I am poor and needy.
Guard my life for I am devoted to You.
Hear my prayer, O Lord
and my cry for mercy;
in this day of trouble I will call for You.

I lift up my eyes unto the Lord
From whence shall come my help.
My help comes from the Lord God,
Maker of heaven and earth.
He will not give to the moving of your foot.
He who keeps you will not slumber.
Behold He'll not slumber, nor will He sleep.
He who keeps Israel.

Thou, O Lord, 
are a shield about me,
You're my glory.
You're the lifter of my head.
Thou, O Lord,
art a shield about me.
You're the lifter of my head.

Alleluia!  Alleluia! Alleluia!
You're the lifter of my head.

Create in me a clean heart, O God
and renew a right spirit within me.
Create in me a clean heart, O God
and renew a right spirit within me.

Cast me not away from Thy presence, O Lord,
And take not Thy Holy Spirit fro me.
Restore unto me the joy of Thy salvation
and renew a right spirit within me.

Unto Thee, O Lord
Do I lift up my soul
Unto Thee, O Lord
Do I lift up my soul

O, my God,
I trust in Thee.
Let me not be ashamed;
Let not my enemies triumph over me.

You let none that wait
On Thee be ashamed
Yea let none that wait 
On Thee be ashamed
O, my God,
I trust in Thee.
Let me not be ashamed;
Let not my enemies triumph over me.

Show me Thy ways
Thy ways O Lord
Teach me Thy paths
Thy paths O Lord

O, my God,
I trust in Thee.
Let me not be ashamed;
Let not my enemies triumph over me.

Remember not
The sins of my youth.
Remember not
The sins of my youth.

O, my God,
I trust in Thee.
Let me not be ashamed;
Let not my enemies triumph over me.

In writing the post the other day, I realized that while I still grieve the loss of the Bible verses I had memorized and the Bible stories I knew because of the way my brain is being ravaged, I still have these songs.  So, I actually still have the Living Word within my mind, within my grasp, for when I am crying out to God whilst writhing from innards agony.  How merciful is my Creator, my Good Shepherd, my Comforter!

Would that it were I forget not this bit of remembering and realizing that took place this day.
When I do forget ... again ... remind me what I know.
Remind me what God planted long ago for times such as this.

Come visit me, and I will sing them all to you.  Of course, this is in addition to praying many psalm with you and for you.  And reading some glorious bits of the Book of Concord, too.  Perhaps, too, having you sing some Lutheran hymnody to me.  Don't worry about having to think of which ones, I have a list of hymn I ache to hear ready at hand!

I am Yours, Lord.  Save me!

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Gospel Harmony Joy Note 13...

One of the best parts of reading a parallel Gospel happened with the next section I read.  Reading Matthew 8:1, 5-13 and Luke 7:1-10.  I am not sure why, but the words servant and slave are so very different to me.  I suppose I could call someone who knows the Greek, but I suspect it is my knowledge of American History that colors my response.

What master would seek healing for a slave from someone bruited to be a prophet, perhaps even the Messiah?  Wow!  That kind of care, of commitment, is as extraordinary as what came next.  Healing from believing.  

At church, for the Monday evening services, Divine Service Setting One is used.  In it is an offertory that we do not actually sing, which comes right before the Service of the Sacrament.  In that offertory is the same stance that the centurion took:  Lord, I am not worthy.  For the centurion, he was not worthy to have Jesus come to his house.  For us, we are not worthy to approach the Lord's Supper.

One of my most favorite parts of the Large Catechism, as I have oft now said, is Part V.  In particular, start reading at paragraph 55.  There begins this wonderful exploration of the journey our sin and doubt takes us down.  Down and away from the forgiveness, the healing, the sustenance waiting for us.  Oh, yes, I am a wretch, I think as I read.  And Luther agrees.  Yes, you are.  Your worthiness will never get you anywhere.  Because I am unworthy, I am worthy in Christ.

Faith is what earned the slave his healing.  Not even his own faith, but the centurion's.  Not even the centurion's, but the faith in Christ, of Christ, given to him.

All that for a slave, for someone history deems sub-human, viewed as property.

What I am trying to say is that I knew the story as a servant, not a slave.  To me, with all my knowledge of servants and slaves, I appreciate the difference between the words, the class, the perspective.  And it humbled me.

That same awe and humility came in reading one of the signs given to speak back to John the Baptist:  the poor having the Gospel preached to them.  The poor!

There is a praise song that used to be sung in evangelical churches ... long, long ago:

Hear O Lord and answer.
I am poor and needy.
Guard my life for I am devoted to You.
Hear my prayer, O Lord 
and my cry for mercy;  
in this day of trouble I will call for You.

From the Psalter, yes.  I find it sort of ironic that the praise songs that I liked the best stemmed from there.  When I was a missionary in Africa, I learned to sing some straight from the Bible. Those I loved the best.  So, I still sing this song and the ones I learned in Africa.  But, tonight, just now, the poor and needy suddenly made sense.

The psalmist ... and me ... is not poor in money, but in the Word of God.  He is needy in his sin and the sickness, the poverty of being separated from God.  He knows is.  And He knows that God is generous and merciful in the giving of His Word.

Well, at least to me, that is the way of poor and needy.

And I am.

I am Yours, Lord.  Save me!

Monday, May 06, 2013


Last night was my second attempt at grass aversion therapy with Amos.  My poor little puppy dog is terrified of the stuff (unless he is distracted by the need to race across the lawn in order to chase the wild rabbit that lives in our yard from his presence).

During the day and now at night, I have tried sitting in the grass and wooing Amos to me.  I have sung songs, spoken invitations, and told him silly puppy dog stories.  I have held out his Babies and laid out a path of treats.  All to no avail.  Primarily, as I labor to cajole Amos out onto the grass, he makes circuits about my perimeter by navigating the brick edging of the beds, the sidewalks, and the stepping stones.  Sometimes, he just sits on the steps.  Most of the time, he is begging me to come back to him.

If I carry him to the grass with me and attempt to set him down, he returns to the safety of a non-grass surface so quickly that he becomes a fluffy white blur.  I am not sure why, but his fears are growing deeper, stronger.  Within their grip, Amos becomes near paralyzed and his entire focus is getting to a place of safety.  Oh, how I understand my puppy dog!

I do find it odd that as some of my fears have eased, Amos' have grown.  Now, he is more at ease in the house with people coming to visit or stopping by.  Once he has met someone, he seems to remember that person the next time ... not  that I have a lot of visitors.  But his barking and shaking and climbing atop my shoulders is much, much, much less inside the house.  With the seminary grad student's fiancĂ©, Amos battled only the slightest bit of fear, before finding his ease.  Seeing that made my heart sing. So, I am not sure why out of doors has become an even greater problem.

Even though he is just a puppy dog, I have started giving Amos choices.  I ask him questions and he responds.  True, he may only be able to recognize one or two words in the question, but he does not always decide the same way.  For example, when we have been outside for a while without any sort of production, even though he has made known his need to be outside, I will ask him if he wants to go poo-poo-outside or to go inside.  He does not always choose the safe haven.  Another case in point, shockingly, when I ask Amos if he wants some food, he does not always choose to rise from his snoozing spot.

Amos has also learned more than I have taught him (I am proud to say that he has learned the command "come").  By this I mean that he has learned the patterns of my life and responds to them.  Those, too, include their choices.  For example, he has learned that when I get out of bed and pick up the ice packs, that means I will be going downstairs to fetch new ones.  Before, Amos would never allow me to leave his side without following, but now, most of the time, he merely waits in bed for me to return.  If I am slow (usually when I also check my blood sugar and then inevitably have to get something to eat), Amos will move to the top of the stairs and wait there.  So, he makes choices according to his comfort level and he has learned to trust that I will return.

Since I now live my life by alarms going off from my phone to remind me of what I need to be doing all day long, when an alarm sounds whilst the two of us are lounging in the GREEN chair, Amos will automatically get up.  When I shut the laptop at night, Amos will get up and head upstairs.  In the mornings (or what passes for Myrtle mornings), if the alarm sounds in my bedroom, Amos leaps up and is all ready to get out of bed.  But if I get up without an alarm, Amos waits until I tell him that it is time to "get up" before he moves.

When I get ready to go out (spend time standing in front of the mirror in the bathroom, Amos lies at the end of the hallway by the stairs, because he knows that I will be leaving.  As we move downstairs, he follows me.  When I grab my bag that I take with me (to hold medical stuff and my pocket Book of Concord and my Kindle and such things as to help me pass the time), Amos will then go sit at the front door.

When I get out the purple beach towel, Amos knows he is getting a bath and heads to the tub rather than the basement door (standing at the laundry sink to bath him hurts too much now).  When I get out the nail clippers, Amos goes and hides behind the pillows on the couch, tucking his paws between the seat cushions.  When I fetch this one particular pillow, Amos will oft beat me to the bathroom where I am going to writhe on the floor for a while.

I have also stopped punishing Amos or even speaking or moving in a negative manner when Amos has what I call a "fear poop."  When he is really frightened, Amos poops.  Even if I try to be proactive, such as when I know a stranger will be in the house, and have Amos conduct his major business just prior to the stranger's arrival, Amos still manages to poop again if his fear gets the best of him.  His indoor "accidents" rather bother me and it was not uncommon for my upsettedness to be visual and vocal, as well as internal.  Recently, however, I realized two things:  1) The result is from fear, not willfulness, because he asks to go out when he is in need and 2) my ire primarily stems from the feeling like I have failed as a good puppy dog owner when he has an accident inside.  Neither of those are reasons for punishing Amos or making him feel badly for what has happened.

It used to be that when Amos had a fear poop, he would run and hide because he knew what my reaction would be.  Now, he only backs off a bit, although he does still hang his head.  Sometimes, I have to work at controlling my emotions at the sight (or rather smell since that sense if oft the first indicator of a problem), but I will simply fetch a stretch of toilet paper, some paper towels, and cleaner.  I do not praise Amos for the accident, but I allow him in the GREEN chair, once I am settled back down, without out any sort of fuss or negative response to his joining me.

Thus, Amos has learned my routines, my patterns, what my movements mean.  And he makes choices based upon them.  I am also giving him choices, and he responds to them.  In short, Amos has adapted to my life as it has changed over the two years we have been together.

Would that it were I had, too.
I have not.
Realizing this has weighed heavily upon me.

Tell me that I should get over something or accept something, and you are putting me under Law.  Tell that it is okay to feel badly, to struggle, to not want the life I have, and you are giving me Gospel.  Freedom.  Mercy.

I want that from others.  I need it.  But I also want and need it from myself.  I do not believe that I can, by myself, change me or heal me.  Psychology is important, but so is spirituality, at least for those who live a life in Christ.  Wanting to believe does not always mean that believing will be easy.  Understanding the gift of Mark 9:24, however, can give you the freedom from the law of having to believe yourself. "Immediately the boy's father cried out and said, "I do believe; help my unbelief."

Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief!

This same juxtaposition of belief and unbelief, in a sense, can be found in the first part of Psalm 119: 94, "I am Yours; save me...."

In the psalm, the psalmist spends much of the time giving argument for his piety and his faithfulness and much of the time begging for salvation, for instruction, for refuge.  To me, it is that same pendulum of faith and doubt.  And, as I told someone recently, I have come to understand how it was that Luther could have developed his theology of the cross from the Psalter.

There is a part of me that ... pridefully, I guess ... is disappointed that the Praying the Psalter blog I created simply does not get much traffic, even though for 105 straight days now, I have posted psalms to my Facebook wall from it.  I thought people might like it, might begin to start reading the psalms, praying them, for few that I know actually do so.  I thought the blog might be a tool for showing how rich in comfort and solace the Psalter is, just as how I hoped the Book of Concord Snippets blog would do the same.  For, in both, I have come to see how intimately I am known by God and have, thus, found both a measure of peace and a weapon against my relentless foe.

But even if no one else uses it, I find myself going back and perusing the list of labels and considering the frequency of specific topics.  Granted, with Blogger's 20-label limit, it is not a perfect referencing index, yet it is informative.  For example, in 105 psalms thus far, the cry "how long" occurs 11 times.  A longing that is not triumphant in faith, but rather a tad doubtful or despairing or weary.  Consider the frequency of some of the other labels in those first 105 psalms: afflicted (22), refuge (25), rescue (8), save me (11),  restore (6), remember (12), adversaries (13), enemies (34).

I wish I were still a researcher and could properly code and analyze the content of the prayers of the Psalter.  I know the end of the Psalter has lots of praise and rejoicing, so no accurate conclusion can be drawn, yet, upon the Psalter as a whole.  But in my experience I regularly encounter the struggling sinner rather than the rejoicing saint.  Sometimes, the doubt and despair swing on a pendulum in the same psalm, such as with Psalms 42 or 77.  Sometimes, I see the exact same cry worded identically or nearly identically across several psalms.  And those cries are ones seeking help, refuge, salvation, and recompense.  Recompense for the petitioner and recompense for his enemies.

Why are you in despair, oh my soul?
When will You remember me?
Will I be forgotten forever?
When will Your anger against me cease?

The psalmist speaks of a broken body, heart, and spirit, of a weariness so deep and so heavy that he is consumed by it.  He waits for rescue.  He wonders if he will be rescued.  He remembers God.  He longs for God to remember him.  He is taunted by his enemies.  He taunts them.  He drowns in despair.  He walks in hope.  That is faith.  This faltering belief.  This wavering conviction.  The two sides of the coin being certitude and doubt ... a coin smelted from everything in between.

In the midst of this, I have begun to recognize a pattern.  In some psalms it is very obvious.  And so I wonder if it is also in others, merely subtly and thus beyond my notice.  In this pattern, the psalmist counters his own unbelief with a recitation or a remembrance of the deeds of the Lord, of the works of God.  The psalmist steps outside his thoughts, feelings, and/or circumstances and chooses to focus on God.  Extra nos again.

I wonder if part of Luther's inspiration or impetuous behind including so many specific things to say to our foe in times of struggle in the Large Catechism is because of this pattern in the Psalter.  There is a conversation with the self mingled in with these prayers that is the same as a conversation with our foe.  When you ask yourself, answer this.  When satan accuses, respond that.  Luther gives very concrete examples of making a choice to speak what is True, to remember it, in times of doubt and despair.

Again, all throughout the Confessions, are references to the anguished and anxious soul.  Many times it is to them the author points as the very reason for the Gospel.  In so doing, we learn of the very real, very effective comfort of the Bible.  It is not an empathy or a sympathy, but an actual comfort that guards and protects, that soothes and heals.

In the Psalter, it is a listing or acknowledging or remembering of who God is and what He has done, is doing, and will do that is the counter to anguish and anxiety, to suffering and despair, to doubt and hopelessness.  There is no condemnation for those struggles, but a response for them.  And, to me, often that response is this conscious choice of the Psalmist to let God's Truth be refuge or weapon or both.

In my opinion, there is no better example of this than Psalm 42. I had learned the first three lines of that Psalm in a praise song and thought it was yet another unwavering proclamation of faith. Yet another example of a Hero-of-the-Faith praising God.  But it is not.  Read it.  Read it again.  Read it slowly and swing with the petitioner as he moves from belief to unbelief, back and forth and back and forth again:

As the deer pants for the water brooks,
So my soul pants for Thee, O God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God;
When shall I come and appear before God?
My tears have been my food day and night,
While they say to me all day long, “Where is your God?”
These things I remember, and I pour out my soul within me.
For I used to go along with the throng and lead them in procession to the house of God,
With the voice of joy and thanksgiving, a multitude keeping festival.

Why are you in despair, O my soul?
And why have you become disturbed within me?
Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him
For the help of His presence.
O my God, my soul is in despair within me,
Therefore I remember Thee from the land of the Jordan,
And the peaks of Hermon, from Mount Mizar.
Deep calls to deep at he sound of Thy waterfalls;
All Thy breakers and Thy waves have rolled over me.
The Lord will command His lovingkindess in the day time;
And His song will be with me in the night,
A prayer to the God of my life.

I will say to God my rock, “Why hast Thou forgotten me?
Why do I go mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?”
As a shattering of my bones, my adversaries revile me,
While they say to me all day long, “Where is your God?”
And why have you become disturbed within me?
Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him,
The help of my countenance, and my God.


Oh, how my Creator knows me and my Good Shepard saves me, and my Comforter loves me to have caused to be penned this prayer, to give this gift to me!

When Pastor Brown posted on his blog that it was okay to be sad and lonely at Christmas, I was soothed and relieved.  I was also emboldened.  His post gave me the courage to choose to not force myself to go to church during Easter.  Yes, Easter has nothing to do with my past, but the associations remain within me.  Choosing to allow the time to pass without the strain of battling all that is within me and having to be surrounded by joyous folk and all that family togetherness at the same time was good, right, and salutary for me.  I had no migraines this Easter.  I was sad and lonely and I struggled, but I was migraine free.  And my wounds were not deepened, because I neither punished myself nor heaped shame upon myself for not being in church.

All of this is not to say that faith is a choice.  It is a gift.  This I know.  But we do have choices in our lives.  Choices that I believe come from the strength of the Living Word.  

In the Psalter, the petitioner speaks of doubts and struggles and speaks of Truth.  The Truth bears the weight of those doubts and struggles, literally turning mourning into joy.  For the longest time, I thought that transformation was a permanent one, but how could it be here?  We live in a fallen world where the devil, the world, and even our own flesh fight against us, trying to tear us from God.  How, then, could the struggle to believe ever really be over? 

I have given Amos the freedom of choice.  In doing so, I have given him the freedom to be who he is and not who I think he should be or who I want him to be.  Yes, I will continue to try and work on things, such as his fear of the outdoors, of grass, because it is important that a dog be able to tend to his business if he has learned that his business is to take place on the grass (ground) out of doors.  But I will not force him.  I will only speak the truth to him.  I will give him the opportunity to choose and accept his choice either way.

Sometimes, this means that I have to drag myself from the GREEN chair when he asks to go outside repeatedly because his fears drive him back indoors before he can tend to his bodily needs.  Twice.  Thrice.  Four times before his relief is found.  In fact, most of the time this is his choice.  Far less than I want does he look longingly at the back door before taking a tentative step away from the safety of the back steps (and me) onto the sidewalk, onto the surface that will lean him to the object of his fear but also to the relief of his body.

I still find myself terrified as I am writhing in agony from my innards malfunction, but I am learning to choose to let that fear be okay to experience as I work to remember or to recite at least one thing that I know to be True about God about, who I am in Christ, about what the Holy Spirit is doing to me through the Word and through the Sacraments.

One thing.  

That is another gift of the Psalter.  In Psalm 27, the psalmist boils down all his longing to just one thing: to dwell in the house of the Lord forever.  All else can fade away.  All hopes and dreams and desires.  And in focusing on one thing, all doubts and fears and struggles can also pale in power.  Present though they may still be, perspective has set them in their place within the life of faith.  Some day only one thing will be left.  Perhaps not now.  Perhaps not for decades.  But eventually.

Barring some mighty work of God, I am not going to be that suffering saint.  I am not the one to rejoice in my suffering and walk in confidence all the way.  I am Psalm 42 and 77 and a host of others.  I want to be 91 now but I understand that I will be some day.  And I know that Christ is now.  In Him is enough.  Even if my life in Him is a broken, quivering mess.

As Luther advises, greet the taunts of your foe without prevarication.  

"You are a sinner!"
Yes, I am.  But I am baptized.

"You are not worthy to approach the altar!"  
No, I am not, but Jesus bids me come anyway.

"You struggle to believe!"
Yes, I do, but I am not saved by my belief but by the obedience and faith of Jesus Christ.

"You are not holy!"
No, in the flesh, I am not.  But in Christ I am and the Holy Spirit sanctifies my sinful flesh through the Word of God and through the Sacraments and will not cease to do so until I am made whole and holy in glory.

"You are weak."
Yes, I am, but Jesus is not.

"You don't even know what to pray!"
No, I do not, but God arranges the prayers on my lips, Jesus continually prays for me, and the Holy Spirit is always interceding for me.

"You do not have the confidence of the Christians around you."
No, I do not, but Jesus left the 99 to go after the one who wandered away.

"You do not want the cup of suffering!"
No, I do not, but neither did Jesus.  He chose it anyway, for me, knowing that my knowing He did would still not keep me from struggling and doubting and not wanting to suffer.  He forgives me, so I can at least accept who He has forgiven.

"You live in fear."
Yes, I do, but the Psalter shows me I am not alone in those fears.

"You live in shame."
Yes, I do, but the Psalter tells me that God delights in me and recompenses me according to the cleanness of my hands.

"You do not always rest in the Truth."
No, I do not, but the battle is over and you have lost.  Even if I forget that victory for a moment, a day, a month, a year, the outcome is the same because it is not I who clings to Christ, but Christ who clings to me.

As someone who has been "accomplishing" and "doing" her entire life, living a life that is ever dwindling in strength and stamina is a struggle.  I feel the failure. I feel as if I am a succubus upon the world.  I do nothing. I serve no one. I further not the kingdom of God.  If you could see how little time I spend away from resting and recovering, I think I would die of shame.  Honestly, I am not sure I could even be around my best friend and be who I really am ... not mask, not pretend, not over work myself or strain my body and mind to the point of near collapse.  I just cannot be that person yet.

But I can no longer punish myself for that particular struggle.  I can try to do something from the confines of my new existence, even if I am afraid it result in scorn and failure rather than in service.  And I can focus on just one thing in the maelstrom that oft rages around me.  

I am Yours, Lord.  Save me!

Sunday, May 05, 2013

Gospel Harmony Joy Note 12...

As much time as I spent reading all that came before this next section, I have spent reading this one.  I want to move on, but I didn't want to do so until I could write about it.  Only, how do you write when you are not sure of the words or the Word?

Deli meat.  Deli meat is what finally came to mind.

I do not know another person who views deli meat the way I do.  All my life, I have watched others make a sandwich with deli meat where the bread and fixings vastly out proportioned the meat.  Economics always came up if I dared to bring up having just one or two slices of deli meat on a sandwich.  Me? I pile the stuff on.  Pile.  My philosophy is that if you are having a meat sandwich, the meat ought to be the primary focus, not everything else.  Not anything else.

The funny thing is, to me, that those who use but a single slice or two, would mightily protest at such parsimony were they to be purchasing a sandwich from a deli.  If they are craving a turkey sandwich, they do not want to be served a sandwich consisting primarily of bread, lettuce, tomatoes, and/or condiments.

In a way, you could think of the meat sandwich as the Good News.  If the bread is the Law, then the meat is the Gospel.  Of course, Jesus being the bread of life probably negates the metaphor from the start, but consider overlooking that one literary flaw.

Sometimes, it seems to me that the Good News sandwiches being served up these days are rather light on meat.  As if economics are at play ... as  if too much Jesus might be bad somehow.

Right now, in many places in the online Lutheran community, there is this war waging over sanctification.  Too much to write about save for the fact that, in my opinion, few even note the fact that it is the Holy Spirit who sanctifies, not how a pastor preaches or what a Christian does.  We are sanctified by the Holy Spirit through the Living Word and the Sacraments.

So, for me, it is ... strange ... that I came upon this section about the Law in my parallel Gospels at just such a time.

I left off finding that it was fitting how Jesus followed the sermon on the mount, on telling us who we are in Him, by teaching that He came to fulfill the Law, not abolish it.  I have been dwelling up such a marvel, but even so I still cannot puzzle out the next set of passages.

  1. Matthew 5: 21-48 / Luke 6:27-30, 32-36   
  2. Matthew 6:1-18                                          
  3. Matthew 6: 19-7:6 / Luke 6:37-42
  4. Matthew 7:7-27 / Luke 6:31, 43-49
  5. Matthew 7:28-29

One of the features of this book are section headers.  I find them to be very different from the headings in my Bibles.  They are more of an outline, one for which I am extremely grateful in the help it provides in comprehension of the Gospels as a whole.  In fact, at the front of the book is a listing of all of the headings, major and minor, with a five columns listing references from the Gospels and then the page on which the section begins.  I have already gone back to that listing to more easily review previous topics, and I anticipate it being a help long after I am finished with my initial reading of this parallel Gospel.

The five section headings for the passages above are below.  I will note that they are all minor sections continuing the major section entitled Appointment of the Twelve and Sermon on the Mount.

  1. Six contrasts in comparing the Law
  2. Three hypocritical practices to be avoided
  3. Three prohibitions against avarice, harsh judgment, and unwise exposure of sacred things
  4. Application and conclusion
  5. Reaction of the multitudes

While I was reading the first set of passages listed above, my heart sang.  My very first thought was So, this is where Luther got the idea for how he wrote Part One of the Large Catechism!  If you are a writer, once you get over the utter shock of reading how there is no escape from the Law, you marvel at the craftsmanship of how Luther wends his way from the letter of the Law to its spirit.  For me, I especially marvel at his skillful use of juxtaposition of a simple sentence following either a rich and full of description passage or a deep, complex sentence.

But I digressed.  Craftsmanship aside, take the commandment not to steal.  You read the commandment and immediately start congratulating yourself for not being a thief.  But Luther teaches us that not only are we not to steal, we are also to prevent others from stealing from our neighbors, to protect our neighbors' wealth, and to help our neighbors increase wealth.  Not stealing is actually all that?  Luther spins out the fullness of the Law from something we might erroneously believe is in our grasp until he leaves us gasping with the weight of the knowledge that we cannot keep the Law.  Only Jesus can.

In the passages I read (and have been re-reading again and again), Jesus spins out the depth of the commandments about murder and adultery, about deceit and about loving our neighbors.  As the verses piled one upon the other, I thought of the Large Catechism and laughed.  I thought of the Large Catechism and wept.  I know my sin. How could anyone entertain any notion of participating in sanctification, in making themselves holier.  In reading these passages of the Gospel, I understood them for the first time and rejoiced that Jesus is my keeping of the Law before God.

And while I do not wholly understand Matthew 5:48, "Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect," I assumed this was Jesus' way of coming full circle. Obviously, I, as a sinner, cannot possibly be perfect. This, this teaching of the Law from the Living Word, is why the angels proclaimed in Luke 2:14, “Glory to God in the highest. And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.”  I cannot be perfect, but Jesus is.  His teaching demonstrates the impossibility of man keeping the Law, but we already know that with God all things are possible (Luke 1:37).  Maybe a better way to put it is that, for me, Matthew 5:48 was an Alpha and Omega moment.  Jesus is the beginning and the end.  I came to fulfill the Law ... because to do so you must be perfect.

But with the next section and the ones following, the clarity began to fade.  I am not seeing the Gospel within them. I do not understand what Jesus is saying.  At least with most of it.

The parts about giving and praying, again reminded me of Luther's writing, especially all the points he made about the foolishness of the members of monasteries who assumed their lifestyles made them more righteous, more holy, so much so that they sold their "extra" holiness to others.  That sounds so absurd, but all the talk about sanctification bruited about, talk that to me is just the other side of the coin of works righteousness (not that righteousness and holiness are synonymous), sounds just as absurd.  If all talk of salvation, justification, and righteousness must have its beginning, middle, and end with Christ crucified, then all talk of sanctification must have its beginning, middle, and end with the Holy Spirit.  Yet so often then end of sanctification talk is with man and what he does, rather than with the Holy Spirit and what He does through man.

However, the third section and the fourth become more confusing to me, for they read as instructions on how to live, instructions as absolutes.  We are sinners.  We live in a fallen world.  We simply cannot do all of these things.  Do not judge.  Oh, how we judge! Give more than is asked.  Oh, how we are misers. Treat others as we want them to treat us.  Oh how we hurt even the ones we love!  Ignore the false prophets.  Much of the Church in America is enamored with the teaching of a woman who declares she is no longer a sinner. Build your house upon rock. The rocks we oft use are ones of our own fashioning and thus really are sand.

Jesus also speaks of dogs and swine and narrow gates and treasure and fruit and those who think they are His sheep but are not.  Yet in the middle of this instruction piled upon instruction we have Jesus declaring, "Ask, and it shall be given to you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it shall be opened" (Matthew 7:7-8).

That, too, sounds like doing, even if it is filled with promise.  Only is not Jesus the verb of a life of faith?

On an aside, one of the things I find fascinating about Matthew 7:7-8 is its symmetry with Revelation 3:20, 'Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me."  In Matthew, it reads as if I am to knock. However, in Revelation it reads that Jesus is knocking.  In Matthew, it reads as if Jesus is opening the door.  However, in Revelation it reads as I am to open the door.

For me, I choose to put these two passages squarely in the category of one of the mysteries of God of which we (or is it pastors?) are to be stewards of, as Paul writes 1 Corinthians 4:1.  Perhaps I should care more who exactly is to serve as steward, but my focus is on the fact that mysteries of God exist in the first place.  Not all  is revealed to us.  We truly do see but in part, see through a glass darkly (I Corinthians 13:12, at the moment.  Perhaps it is not a coincidence the imagery of mysteries and dark glass resides in the same epistle?

Alas, though, all those thoughts reside in single verses, when what I at least have learned is: context, context, context!

I do not understand most of the sections in this part of my reading in the harmonized Gospels.  As I have read and re-read, other verses and bits of the pure doctrine I read in the Book of Concord flit into my mind, but I have not grasped the Gospel of this part of the Gospels.  I see Law ... or rather I see Gospel as Law, and I know that it not correct, not what is truly being presented here.

The final minor section (of the larger one), just two verses, concludes with the notation that the multitudes marveled that Jesus was teaching as one with authority instead of as a mere scribe.  The multitude did not know, did not understand, that the Living Word was teaching the Word of God.  What greater authority is there than the One through whom and by whom all things came into being, the One who came to fulfill the Law?

I suppose the crux of this note is that while I still am confused, and lack the clarity with which I had rejoiced in all the previous sections I have read thus far, I believe it is time to stop lingering here.  The Holy Spirit will reveal what should be revealed, eventually.  This I believe.  This is my cognitive rest when it comes to reading the Bible.  So, I am working on resting in that part of the Promise given to me, and I moved my bookmark to the beginning of the next section for when I open the parallel Gospel again.

Lord, I believe.  Help my unbelief!

Saturday, May 04, 2013

Shift work...

I am not a shift worker.  At all.

Ever since I was a little girl, I have been one of those who works hard and works long.  In fact, at 11, I was cleaning housing for very good money.  Actually cleaning entire houses by myself.  Including making patterns with the vacuum cleaner, cleaning out appliances, and cleaning all the glass in the light fixtures, on top of tackling bathrooms, the kitchen, dusting, and laundry.

The last three moves, I have unpacked everything and had all the artwork (save for the heavy stuff here since I had to learn how to do so in lathe and plaster walls) hung within the week.  That includes cutting down the boxes and cleaning up all the stray packing materials.

Really, I only know one type of work: Work until the job is finished, even if you drop dead afterwards.

So, while my life has become one that is primarily lived in the GREEN chair, I still have yet to shed this aspect of who I am.  For someone whose disability is making itself ever more known, this is not good.  I need to acquire the skill of shift work.

Even here.

When I finished painting the closet wall/door in the basement living space, I swore ... took a solemn vow ... never to paint again.  I hurt too much.  I mean, who else would duct tape a paint brush to her hand in order to paint?  Me.  I had to finish the job.

In the past week, I have been confronted by the fact that I am no longer capable of doing the yard work that I did even last fall.  I weeded for less than an hour the other day and was certain I was close to meeting my maker.  I shall not mention the number of times I fainted or how knackered I was for hours on end afterwards.  I chalked up the unexpected reaction to a fraction of the time I have spend sitting on the ground mucking about in the soil to it being extra warm day with bright sun.

But.  No.

Yesterday, I went over to a friend's house to edge her yard and dig up a small amount of junk bushes from her front bed.  I wanted to give her some visual rest from the mess in her bed for when she came home from her trip.  [I also arranged for someone to remove the large bushes and created an initial plan to beautify the front bed the previous owners grossly ignored.]  While there, I also unburied enough edging stone to re-establish a border on the bed, since it was only lined at the corners.  With all of the rain, the small bushes practically leapt out of the ground.  However, she does have two more sidewalks (perpendicular-to-the-house ones) than I do.  Even if I wanted to do so, sweeping up the mess I made was utterly out of the question. I lingered there quite a while just to try and gather the strength to drive the single block back to my house.

Thinking of this new reality for me and of the needs of my own yard, I spent the evening overwrought not only in body, but in mind.  How in the world am I going to keep up my own yard, even with primarily low-maintenance beds?  Weeds can never be completely eliminated.  And I have this rather pesky ground cover, Snow-on-the-Mountain, I have systematically been removing from the beds I created in all but two locations.  SIGH.

This evening, I tried shift work.

I had three spots where the ground cover had really started to re-establish itself, two of them being on the other side of the brick border of the section I left for the wild rabbit that lives in my back yard.  So, I worked only on a single section at a time, sitting on the ground and using my trowel to hasten the job.  Three rounds meant that I finished in pitch dark (after an evening nap), so I used the headlamp a plumber gave me when I admired it in an effusive manner over the course of a two-day job.  

I supposed you could call this first attempt success, but it has dawned on me that nearly everything I do needs to be shift work.

I should not be doing all stages of laundry on the same day, simply for the fact that doing so means too many trips up and down the stairs.  Cleaning, also, needs to be done in even smaller shifts than I had imagined.  For example, instead of cleaning just the bathrooms, I need to clean only one bathroom at a time.  One.

I have been tackling smaller jobs, but have done so one after another after another.  It is how I was raised. It is also who I am.  The hard worker.

My Ph.D. was completed in less than three years.  I have always been both admired (and chastised) for my rather prodigious production levels at work (apparently being highly productive can intimate others???).  In my first house and this one, I have done an enormous amount of hard labor, repairing and renovating.  Even as my body has been slowly falling apart, I still managed to finish a basement.  From the outside, I am sure I look odd ... or even a tad crazy.  I work in pain. I work in tears. I work even when I can barely move or knowing that when I try to move from where I am working an explosion of pain will come. I work until I faint and then awake to work some more.  There is only me and so I must do the work.  If there is work needing doing, once started it must be finished.

True, I like order.  I like a clean and attractive house. But the truth is that I really enjoy leaving something better off than I found it, from a job to my own home and everything in between.  For example, back when I used to babysit, after the children were asleep (having picked up their rooms and bathed), I would clean the kitchen and even do laundry.  Sitting in a chair watching television or reading a book seemed somehow wrong to me.  If I was there to be of help, then that meant even after the children were in bed.

With this house, I want very much for the next owner(s) to feel as if it is modern and livable even as its historical nature is preserved.  When I was looking at houses online before I moved here (I bought it sight unseen/online photos only), I saw so many that were as old as mine, but that had been gutted and updated so much so that no one would know the house was built nearly 100 years ago.  So, I have made careful choices as I have worked on it in order to balance its nature with modern living.  Creating an inviting utility space/laundry area, restoring a basement bath area, and adding a living space is a part of making this an attractive house that has three living levels, not merely two.

Of course, not working, I had to do most of the work myself.  And in so doing, I ignored pain others would have not endured in the first place and have driven my body to the brink over and over and over again.  However, even if I wanted to continue to do so, I cannot.  This week drove that point home in a harsh and unequivocal way.

Shift-work-weeding, three sessions of no more than 15 minutes, still required one nap, a couple of hours of resting, and enduring pain in my body even as I type this.  For me, now, sitting unaided and/or using my hands for any length of time has dear consequences.  The same is true for standing and trying to walk for extended periods.

How in the world am I going to learn to do things in small increments?  
How am I going to learn to leave work undone?
How can I change who I am?

If truth be told, I have come to another disturbing realization that coincides with what I have learned about extended laboring.  I believe that another part of my body is mal-functioning and discovering that is the real reason behind setting out to get some hard work accomplished.  By this I mean I realized that my reaction pattern to noticing another loss within my body is to act as if nothing has changed at all.  To ignore. To pretend. To mask.

Last Friday, I came back from picking up a prescription and nearly vomited when I opened the door.  The house was filled with such a rancid smell that I immediately proceeded through the house and out the back door to escape the smell.  And then I panicked.  Surely, there was a dead animal somewhere.  Surely, what I was smelling was not the seminary grad student's cooking.

Just in case, I darted back inside, ran the disposal with hot water and lavender dish soap, and then followed that up with spraying Clorox cleaner down the disposal.  Afterwards, I fled outdoors again, voicing my worries about the smell to a friend on the phone.  Finally, unable to find a dead animal, I asked the seminary grad student to come upstairs and take a whiff.  As I did so, I noted it was only on the first two floors.  After being in the kitchen for a while, sniffing here and there, he finally recognized the lingering oder as his dinner.  His dinner that he found tasty.  A normal sort of dinner ... no sardines or anything like that.

My hearing does not work well anymore.  Sounds are distorted. In fact, even the vibration of an open window in the car is so painful to me I cannot bear it.  When I listen to music, I have the bass completely turned down (-5) and the treble completely turned up (+5).  I can hear it better that way.  But when my best friend was driving me to my father's funeral, she could not tolerate what was coming from the car speakers.  What was "normal" to me was painful to her ears.

My vision is the same way ... has been far longer than most everything else.  Even with the right correction to my contacts and now glasses, I often have blurred or double vision.  Several years ago, I went for a new prescription and had a melt-down of sorts in the doctor's office when I looked at the piece of paper in my hand and saw that she had not changed the numbers at all.  How could that possibly be?  I could barely see!

I am ashamed to admit that not only did I weep in frustration, I refused to leave until she tested me again herself ... no technicians at all.  The results were the same.  I had gone to see her because she specialized in patients with neurological problems.  As I wept, she carefully explained that while the lens correction was right, my brain was not interpreting what I was seeing properly.  The nerves were not functioning as they should.  In fact, she was not surprised at what I was experiencing.  Blurred and double vision are, after all, facets of multiple sclerosis.  The color loss, painful movement, and sensitivity to bright light I also battle she marked up to optic neuritis.

For months now, I have been noticing that many of my favorite things to eat no longer taste right to me or no longer bring the same enjoyment when they do not taste wrong.  Suddenly, it hit me.  My smell-a-nator must be malfunctioning, too.  Whatever nerves control olfactory senses surely are growing wonky because I know the seminary student would not be eating rancid food.  And, when he first came in August, I had no issue with what he cooked.  Last Friday was the worst time, but there have been others, of late, where I could not bear the smell of his culinary efforts.

Another loss within me.  Another change.

Of course I care little for how I respond to what the seminary student prepares for his meals, but I do care very much about the fact that foods I savor are no longer savory to me. How did I handle that realization?  By setting out to clean up the yard and tend to the weeds that have cropped up with all the rain we had.  By cleaning and organizing and working at any and everything.  By collapsing in the GREEN chair and then dragging myself up out of it just a short while later.  Even when I am increasingly exhausted because I have had more and more nighttime innards writhing bouts.

Shift work.
I need to learn shift work in chores and in facing the things happening to my mind and to my body.
Only how in the world do I change who I am in such a fundamental way?

I am Yours, Lord.  Save me!

Friday, May 03, 2013

Back here again...

I had become accustomed to less writhing than more. It is back to more. Of the past week, nightly. Hours in agony brings me back to despair and my wordless pleas to God ... though for what I no longer know. Strange, for me, to longer desire death as my release. Yet what else is there from this ... existence? With the times of all my other medications, I was trying to avoid the activated charcoal. Weeping, I now call myself a fool. and yet in the midst of it all, I find myself rather oddly wondering what mercy is it that I beg ... shamefully ... from God?

I am also back in that place where no matter what or how much I drink my thirst is never slaked. Such a small thing in the midst of the agony that is abdomen so swollen I wish for someone to slash it open just for relief. Thinking, primarily that such an action would also stay the nausea and dizziness. Yet all the drinking makes me wonder if I might merely just explode.

And in the midst of all of this are my jumbled thoughts of water ... having begun to notice, with all my labeling of the psalms in my Praying the Psalter blog, just how often water comes up.

Sometimes, I am the woman at the well, wondering what in the world Jesus means by Living Water. What an odd moment for her that must have been ... hearing of something unknown and immediately being filled with longing for it.

Which leads to another label: How Long. The Psalter is filled with that question. For years, know, I have been fascinated by the fact that the question is shared by both Triune God and man within the Scriptures.

Could it be that somewhere deep within my wordless cries to God is that question?

Would that it were I could retain the Words of the Psalter within me so that I might, in such times, pluck from my mind the ones that speak of my heart and offer them to God. I know they are there. I just cannot remember them.

I am Yours, Lord.  Save me!