Lenten Prayer

I read a quote by Lancelot Andrews from a sermon given nearly 400 years ago in which he bemoans that “our tears, if any, dry straight.”

What does that even mean? I asked myself.

Then I watched the girl bending over her father in the waiting room again and again, weeping all the while. Her tears were anything but straight. They stained her cheeks and his, her sleeve and his collar, her chin, his hair. Her tears did not fall in neat little lines down a stoic face. They were passionate and heart-rending.

I thought of my friend Rebecca who feels things so deeply.  She would be weeping thus. I would be struggling to hold it all in.

So I wrote this prayer for Lent based on the full quote.

May my tears not dry straight
As I am moved by what moves You

May my prayers not be tedious
But approached eagerly
And lifted to You
In awe that You hear me

May my giving not be pitiful
But rich and generous

May my fast be slow and deliberate
Not pulled aside by small occasions

May my repentance be deep and true —
A repentance needing no other

Waiting At the Cancer Hospital

We got the call on Wednesday afternoon that Bud needed to report at 5:45 AM on Thursday. We quickly made the decision to drive there that night, leaving as soon as Bud got home from work, and stay in a hotel. The hotel connected to the hospital, so getting over there first thing in the morning was easy.

One waiting room

One waiting room

We were the second to arrive and check in for surgery.

By mid-morning, the waiting room was full.

What is NOT at the cancer hospital: patients with broken bones needing to be set; feverish children with glassy eyes, runny noses, and wet coughs; ambulances arriving with trauma patients; the frantic hustle-bustle of a “normal” hospital.

What is present: Live music. Quiet talking. A therapy dog. A complimentary coffee cart. Hugs. Tears. Mostly full waiting rooms.

Early on, I started noting who was in the family-members-with-a-loved-one-in-surgery cohort.

A 50ish woman was the first to check in. Her husband sat down and focused on the television news. After his wife was called back, he stared at the television blankly and I realized he wasn’t watching it but was lost in thought.

A girl wearing red scrubs sat down next to me. Her father was in the next chair over. His face was expressionless, like a Parkinson’s patient. She kept crying. He spoke in such a soft gentle voice, trying to comfort her — and he was the one going in for surgery. “I have to go upstairs to work,” she said, and the tears were streaming down her cheeks. She hugged him and kissed him, left to go to the elevator, then came back to give him another hug.

Later I sat next to an older woman wearing a black beret. Her husband had watery eyes, a portable oxygen tank, a cannula in his nose, and a hair-tie in his beard. Donald Trump was on the television, and she kept saying, “I don’t understand that. I really don’t understand why people like him.” I laughed and agreed. Then she was called back to surgery, and her husband sat there staring at the floor.

A family of four had come in at some point and I wasn’t sure who was the patient. The mom wore pink camo sweats. The son wore jeans that looked like they were going to slide off his bum. The two girls had green hair — one, a soft green mixed in with her light brown curls, the other, a bold blue-green mohawk flanked by jet black short-short hair. It turns out she was the patient.

A father with two young children waited for a family member. Their mother?

Three generations — an elderly woman, her middle-aged daughter, and a young adult son — conferred in a corner. A clergyman wearing a collar sat with them for a long time.

So many people waiting in the waiting room.

And that was just on the third floor.

Unseen in the waiting room were Hope and Fear. I pictured them like the little cartoon devil and angel that used to sit on a Elmer Fudd’s shoulder telling him what he should do.

“It’s all going to be fine,” whispers Hope.

“This is bad,” whispers Fear.

We spend our lives waiting, even if we aren’t in a cancer hospital.

Each person waiting yesterday is still waiting. Waiting for the pathology report. Waiting for the recovery. Waiting to exhale. Waiting for the other shoe to drop. Waiting for the next roll of the dice to know how many spaces to move.

Who we sit with in the waiting room is a little bit chance and a lot of choice.

I kicked Fear off my shoulder weeks ago.

I am choosing to wait with Hope.

Ash Wednesday Phone Calls

Two years ago, early in the morning of Ash Wednesday, my sister called to tell me that my brother had passed away.

“Stewart had a heart attack,” she said, and, in the microsecond pause that occurs between words, a thousand possibilities raced through my mind. He was in the hospital. Or, it was minor but he’ll be fine. Maybe this will be the wake-up call that he needs to exercise more and eat healthier. A thousand possibilities.

Except the one she said.

The Columbarium where my brother and my mother are laid to rest.

The Columbarium where my brother’s ashes are laid to rest.

“And he died.”

Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust.

It was a somber beginning to a heavy season.

Today, I’m expecting a phone call.

The news it will bring is neutral, neither bad nor good, just a time. What time is Bud’s surgery tomorrow. He is having a larger excision of his melanoma site and a sentinel node biopsy.

From that phone call, we can figure out what time we need to leave to get to the hospital.  What time we can anticipate getting home. What time should my praying friends be praying. What time.

Then, we have to wait for another call, one that will come in two weeks with the pathology report.

Has the disease spread? Was it in the lymphatics? The answers to those questions will set our course.

Even though I expect good reports, beginning Lent this way is a reminder of our mortality — of my husband’s mortality, of my own mortality.

Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust.

And so, today, ministers around the world will smear ashen crosses on congregants’ foreheads, whispering the words, “Remember, mortal, that from the dust you were made, and to the dust you will return.”

My own ashen cross will not be a smear. It will come as a phone call.

 

Lovable

Several years ago I was walking Maggie in our little town and ran into a woman who was walking Maggie’s twin, a mostly black dog with some white markings.

“What kind of dog is yours?” the lady asked.

“They told us that she was a shepherd-boxer-akita mix at the shelter where we got her. Basically, she’s a mutt,” I said.

The woman smiled and said, “Mine, too!”

We stood and talked for a few minutes about how similar our unrelated dogs were. Unrelated, yet entirely related.

“Don’t you think,” she said, “that if we took all the dog genes in the world, put them in a big bag, shook them up and then pulled out a dog, it would look like this?”

Yes, she has crooked ears.

Yes, she has crooked ears.

I laughed and agreed.

Since that conversation I have noticed so many dogs that look like Maggie.

I suppose that would say that she’s a common dog.

But she isn’t.

Our neighbor who walks Maggie for us while we’re away — and sometimes, even when we’re aren’t — often comments on what a smart dog Maggie is. “I usually only have to tell her once and she minds right away,” she tells us.

Maggie is smart. And fun. And energetic.

She can sit, stay, shake, lie down, die, and come. She carries a fish on her walks, chases snowballs and squirrels, and howls at the noon whistle. When we come back from being away, she races around the house in a doggy-happy dance. What more does a dog need to do?

Catching a snowball

Catching a snowball

Balancing a dog biscuit

Balancing a dog biscuit

This past summer we got a kitten. She’s supposed to be a working cat, taking care of the mouse problem at my father’s house, but she’s still in training, slaying ladybugs and cluster flies in abundance.

She’s all black with a few white hairs like a little bow-tie.

Once we went on a field trip to a cat rescue organization and their shelter was full, mostly with black cats.

“They’re the hardest to adopt out,” the lady told us, “and seem to be the most common color.”

Our Piper was a freebie from a farm. When I took her to the vet, they asked for her breed.

“She’s just a cat,” I said.

I’m guessing that if you took all the cat genes in the world, put them in a bag, shook them up and pulled out a cat, it would be black.

But Piper likes to sit on my shoulder and lick my ears. She pounces on my feet from under the bed while I’m getting ready for bed. She snuggles on my lap in the morning, and rolls onto her back when my brother stops by so he can rub her belly. She is a special cat.

Perched on my shoulder

Perched on my shoulder

Sleeping in the sun

Sleeping in the sun

Conquering cluster flies

Conquering cluster flies

All this is to say that I think the least aspect of any creature is pedigree. Or color. Or any other externals.

What’s inside is unique and wonderful, waiting to be discovered and nurtured into maturity.

Lovable.

 

when the straight line breaks

It’s only when the straight line breaks and heals a little crooked that you ever see the grace…

Andrew Peterson, “We Will Survive” on The Burning Edge of Dawn

My father’s middle and ring finger on his right hand are slightly bent. The last part of those fingers, the distal phalanges, can’t fully straighten.

As a little girl, I used to be fascinated by his crooked fingers.

You can't really tell, but the fingers are crooked...

You can’t really tell, but the fingers are crooked…

“How did that happen?” I would ask, and he would tell me again how he hurt them playing softball and that they never healed properly.

PICT0224

My dad at work

Yet they never stopped him from doing the things he loved. He not only golfed, played catch with his sons, coached Little League, did renovations on the home, put in fences, gardened, and raised chickens, but he was a fine and respected physician.

His hands cared for people. A lot of people.

Those crooked fingers never slowed him down.

If anything, perhaps they gave him even more compassion for people with hurting hands.

~~~~~

I have been slogging through my hardest memorization yet — Isaiah 57. If I hadn’t decided to just go chapter by chapter from Isaiah 51 to 61, I probably would have just skipped this chapter. First read-through — heck, the first month of trying to memorize it — I couldn’t wrap my mind around much of anything in it. Not so that it sunk in, anyway.

But here I am, after a good three months of wrestling, something is finally starting to congeal.

In my own words  — Isaiah 57:1-18

The milquetoast man lives a good life.
He never offends anyone
or makes big mistakes.
He goes to church every Sunday
and works his job the rest of the week.
He does exactly what is asked of him at work
at church
at home
And never raises hackles
or questions
or controversy.
When he’s gone
he is forgotten.
He who made no waves while he was alive
Makes nary a ripple at his death.

And then there’s you —
Born a mess —
Raised in sin —
You think you’re pretty smart, don’t you?
The way you mock and ridicule
You have no self-control
You worship faceless gods
Bringing your offerings and pouring them out —
Like I would honor such things —

Even more,
You have flaunted your sin
You put it out where everyone can see it
You have walked right past me to get there
And made promises
And not kept promises
And looked where you should never have looked

Then, you put on another face for the world —
Being good
Doing good
Having success

You found strength to keep going
But it wasn’t in Me

Who were you afraid of?
Why didn’t you listen to me?

I see your good deeds.
But they won’t help you.
Neither will the gods you’ve been worshipping.

I want someone who takes refuge in me
Who is contrite
Who is lowly

But here’s the thing about me
that may be harder to understand than anything else —
I have seen your ways and they’ve made me angry
BUT I STILL LOVE YOU

Yes, I still love you.

I’ll heal you.

I’ll give you peace.

That righteous guy who never gave me any problem?
He’ll know my peace
And so will you

“Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many are forgiven — for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.”
(Luke 7:47)

*****

Struggling to write these days, so I tried the Daily Prompt: This is Your Song

Finishing the Hard Set

IMG_5889“Coach Zaengle, please!” My swimmer begged, “I’m so tired!”

“Just one more 100,” I told her. “You can do it.”

“Can’t I do breaststroke? Can’t I just do a 50?” she pleaded.

Her cheeks were deep pink, a sign of real exertion. I knew it was a hard set for my group, too, but they were at the very last 100. I wanted her — I wanted all of them — to finish.

“100 freestyle,” I told her. “Go.”

She ducked her head down into the water and left the wall. Halfway down the pool, I watched her throw in a breaststroke pull and kick. Breaststroke was her resting stroke and she was so tired, but she finished that last 100 and I was proud of her.

“When you push yourself beyond what you think you can do,” I told her, “that’s when you really get faster.”

That work, though — that making the heart pump harder, even when it’s already pumping hard — none of us really like it in the moment. We like the easy. It’s human nature.

How often am I like my swimmer? Begging God. Pleading with God.

This is too hard. I can’t do it.

Especially these days.

This morning I read in Luke 7 where Jesus told the story of two debtors, one who owed a small amount and the other who owed ten times as much.  Both debts were cancelled by the moneylender.

“Which of the two will love him more?” Jesus asked the Pharisee.

“The one for whom he cancelled the larger debt,” the Pharisee replied.

Which one will have the greater faith?

The one who endured more difficulties. The one who struggled. The one who fought the fight and fell on the battlefield, only to be lifted by the lifter of her head.

Instead of begging for a different set, I should be thankful. God is training me.

Another 100.

And another 100.

And another 100.

Oh, what a hard coach He is!

Oh, how good.

 

Mystery

A mystery arrived in the mail last week.

I confess that I impulse-buy books way too often. Bubble mailers with reading materials inside are a regular part of our mail deliveries.

But this —IMG_8256

this didn’t look familiar at all. The name — “She Reads Truth” — never heard of it. The hymn CD had some familiar artists — Ellie Holcomb and Sandra McCracken — and five great hymns, but, nope, did not remember ordering it.

Over the weekend I kept picking it up and leafing through, hoping something would spark a memory. Did someone mention this to me? How can I find out who sent it?

The devotional looks fantastic. Recipes, poems, scriptures, blank pages for response, watercolors splashed across some of the pages, open spaces beckoning on others.

Someone knew me well enough to send it to me. This sort of thing is right up my alley.

But who?

‘fess up, please, so we can do this together.

Or, order one ( at shereadstruth.com) because it really looks lovely.

And let me know.

So we can compare notes.

Or doodles.

Or songs.

Ash Wednesday is February 10. You’ve got time.