Isaiah 56: 3-8

“Here’s the thing,” says God.
“Don’t you go saying that you don’t belong to My family,
And don’t you go thinking that because you don’t ‘produce’ I’m going to throw you out.
I don’t work like that.
At all.
If you love Me
If you embrace activities and ideas that please Me
If you hold fast to the promises I have made to you
Then I will give to you something better than any fame, fortune, or power you might receive from the world for something you did
What I have to give you is better than a large family or even one successful child
What I have to give you is a name —
A name that will forever tie you to Me.”

“And if you think you don’t belong in My family,
let Me ask you this —
Do you love Me?
Do you serve Me?
Do you help others because you know Me?
Do you set aside time
when you aren’t working
and just think about Me?
Do you lay in a grassy field on a Sunday afternoon,
look up at my blue sky, and utter a simple thank-you?”

“My door is always open to you
because you are family.
Mi casa es su casa.”

“You are family.
You are welcomed with great joy
and big bear hugs
(even though you say you don’t like hugs).”

“Come.
Sit with Me in the quiet.
Whisper to Me.
I am always listening.”

“You may think that you’re an outcast,
but I am gathering you in My arms
and holding you close.”

Family

Family

Stuck in a Hole

Ryan North’s story of being stuck in a hole has been on my mind. If you haven’t seen or heard it, you can read it here: Storify, or watch it here: Global News.

Recently someone read me this story/poem from Portia Nelson’s There’s a Hole in My Sidewalk:

I walk down the street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I fall in.
I am lost… I am helpless.
It isn’t my fault.
It takes forever to find a way out.

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I pretend I don’t see it.
I fall in again.
I can’t believe I am in the same place.
But, it isn’t my fault.
It still takes me a long time to get out.

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I see it is there.
I still fall in. It’s a habit.
My eyes are open.
I know where I am.
It is my fault. I get out immediately.

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I walk around it.

I walk down another street.

We live in a world of holes.

Ryan’s problem in the hole wasn’t that there wasn’t a way out. It was that he needed to get both himself and his dog out.  He couldn’t climb the sides holding onto Chompsky.

I spent a lot of time the past few days thinking about Ryan and Chompsky in their hole.

Mostly because I’ve been feeling stuck, like I have no good options.

Like Ryan, I don’t want to leave anything behind in a hole.

So I sit there, lost and helpless.

But Ryan’s adventure changed my prayers.

No longer am I looking skyward and saying, “Get me out of this hole!”

Now I’m saying, “Okay, Lord, where do I let go — what do I put down — so I can get out of this hole?”

Letting go can be the hardest thing.

But it can also be the thing that helps the most.

 

The Milk House Window

Across from my parents’ house a little building we called the milk house used to stand.  I don’t know that it was ever used for milking animals. We incorporated it into the pig pen at one point and later, when we had no pigs, used it for storage. The milk house was filled with shutters and windows and bee hives and rusty things and broken things and stuff.

And then the roof caved in.

My brother-in-law and my sister drove up from Florida with two carpet cleaners.  After cleaning some of the carpets in my parents’ house, Gil went to work on the old milk house. When they drove back to Florida, they left behind the carpet cleaners and had in their car a cast iron pig trough and an old gate. It was the family version of the trading-up game.

Three walls of the milk house are still standing, one with a window facing the road.

A lonely pane of glass remains in an upper corner, dirty and dusty, care-worn. It’s my new favorite place to view the world.

My window in the world

My window to the world

If it weren’t so close to the road, and if trucks didn’t drive past not following the speed limit, roaring like monsters and shaking the earth, I might sit on the bank for hours and watch the spider weave its web and the leaves change color through that window.

I’m quite sure that somewhere in that window is at least one deep spiritual truth.

The Trinity framed out.

Trinity

The light pouring through.

Light

Now I see through a glass darkly, but with a slight shift of my eyes I see face to face.

a darkened glass

The undeniable brokenness, no matter how neatly it is stacked.

Broken

Broken

What treasures lie in broken things!

My sister and her husband got a rusty pig trough which I have to admit was pretty cool, but I think I got the better treasure — a window to the world.

Life Preserver

I have some friends going through some challenging situations. I feel helpless.

And this came out —

The Life Preserver

IMG_7289I wish
I could throw you
A life preserver

I’m trained, you know,
In doing such things

Standing on the rope,
With my foot beside the knot,
Holding the coil of yellow polyethylene
In my left hand
While in my right
I hold the ring buoy

White
Round
Hard
Buoyant

I know this isn’t a carnival game
“Ring the Drowning Person”

If I aim for your head
I may hit you

So
I throw past
And pull to

I call encouraging words:

“Grab on!”
“Hold tight!”
“I’ve got you!”

I know this works in water —
In pools
And ponds
And lakes.

I’ve practiced.

And been certified.

But the sea of life

I don’t know

What floats on heartache
Disappointment
Sorrow
Despair?

My white
Round
Bible verse
Isn’t meant
For throwing

It may smack you
In the head

It may hurt
Instead of help

While waves of hopelessness
And bitterness
Rise
And swell
Crashing into you

Filling your mouth
Your throat
Your lungs
With salty sadness
And surrender

So tired
Of fighting the fight

I have nothing to throw past
Nothing to pull to
Nothing to use for encouragement

Just trite words:
“Grab on!”
“Hold tight!”

I wish I had a ring buoy
For hard life events

All I can do
Is stand in my safety
And reach out
In prayer

Opal

On the first day of camp Opal [not her real name] walked in, looked around, and announced that she knew she should have brought her Kindle.

“That’s not really necessary,” I told her. “I have a lot of books here you can read, plus there are art supplies, journalling supplies, domino blocks, games, and puzzles.” She rolled her eyes.

At the end of the day she asked me if I did any other camps. “Yes,” I told her. “I run a camp called Red Sails to Capri.”

Red Sails to Capri sounded so boring,” she said rolling her eyes. “I mean, all you do is read one book for the whole week.”

For the record, in Red Sails to Capri we read through the book by Ann Weil in one week and did activities based on what we were reading. We built model sailboats and raced them in rain gutters, mined for Herkimer diamonds, journeyed into Secret Caverns, and visited the Fenimore Art Museum. The camp has filled up quickly both years that I ran it.  I didn’t argue with Opal though. She had already made up her mind about it and besides, it was a moot point. Red Sails was past.

Her mother was 20 minutes late picking her up. “Traffic was awful,” she said as she rushed in.

The second morning, Opal walked in holding Dragon Rider by Cornelia Funke. “This book is 544 pages long,” she told me. “When I finish it, it will be the longest book I have ever read.” Having said that, she flopped on the couch and stretched herself lengthwise on the cushions.

“You need to do a journal page first,” I said, pointing out the photographs I had printed from our outing the previous day. “Choose a photograph to put in your journal and write a few sentences about what we did.”

“Do I have to?” she asked, rolling her eyes.

“Yes,” I said.

Picking blueberries

Picking blueberries

She sidled up to me later when we were picking blueberries. “Do you know why I’m reading that book I showed you?”

I confessed that I didn’t.

“Joe Brill [not his real name] – he’s this kid in my class — he’s never read a book that long,” she confided. “When I finish it, I’ll have beaten him.”

I understood Opal better and pitied her. She wasn’t reading to be transported. She was reading to fill a hole.

Her mother was 20 minutes late again. As Opal frumped around our room, waiting, I suggested that she write about our day.

“I hate writing,” she announced. “Just because I like to read doesn’t mean I like to write.”

“Often people who love reading are good writers,” I told her.

“Not me,” she said.

“C’mon, get your stuff,” her mother said without even glancing at me. No hello. No good-bye. No sorry-I’m-late.

On Wednesday, Opal flopped on the couch with her book again. I prodded her to create a journal page.

“I started an even longer book,” she said. “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. It’s 896 pages long.”

“Do you like the Harry Potter books?” I asked.

“I’ve only seen the movies,” she replied and she pressed her lips together as if she were trying to stop talking so much.

“I’ve only read the books,” I told her. “They’re wonderful.”

“I already know what happens so I don’t need to read them,” she said. “This one is the longest one. 896 pages.”

Mother — 25 minutes late. “I can’t believe she doesn’t apologize,” Helen said after they left.

On Thursday, I asked Opal how Harry Potter was going.

“I only got to page 2. It was boring.”

“I don’t like picture books,” she told me every day as I pulled out the Caldecott award-winners I had chosen to read aloud. “There aren’t enough words.”

“A picture is worth a thousand words,” I told her, “and these have beautiful pictures in them.”

“I like real words,” she said.

Opal is just a little girl, 10 years old, but she is as abrasive and rude as a person who unapologetically keeps people waiting. Every day.

She loves to tattle. She loves to complain. The world is boring.

This morning I read a prayer by Charles Foucald —

O Lord, grant us faith
the faith that removes the mask from the world
and manifests God in all things;
the faith that enables everything to be seen in another light;
that shows us the greatness of God
and lets us see our own littleness;
that shows us Christ where our eyes see
only a poor person….

I stopped and reread those last words. Lord, I prayed, could You show me Christ where I see only an impoverished child?

Because Opal is as impoverished a child as I have ever met.

My 20+ hours with Opal this week will be only a drop in the ocean of her life. She won’t remember them. They won’t change her.

But they can change me. Inside, where I bristle at the rudeness and fail to see it in any other light.

Lord, help me to see Christ in Opal.

Taking a Stand

A few months ago I read Elie Wiesel’s book, The Town Beyond the Wall. In it, a young Holocaust survivor named Michael goes back to his home to confront “the face in the window,” a man who stood by while the Jews were rounded up, sent to concentration camps, and murdered.

I’ve often wondered what I would do in that circumstance. Would I have the courage to speak out and take a stand, to risk myself to save just one innocent?

This past week I’ve been nauseated by the now-familiar video of the physician describing, between sips of wine and bites of salad, how she places the forceps with the help of ultrasound so that she crushes the skull and not chest of the fetus so as to harvest the heart.

I don’t care if the procedure is legal.

I don’t care if the recording was obtained illegally.

I don’t care if the money exchanged does not constitute a profit for anyone.

I don’t care if the mother signed a consent for this harvesting of body parts.

I don’t care if use of fetal tissue has “produced some groundbreaking scientific discoveries” or that it dates back to 1930. (The Tuskegee Syphilis  Experiment began in 1932 and we learned a lot from that, right?)

I don’t even care if you are pro-choice or pro-life.

We are a hair’s breadth away from Josef Mengele, from Jonathan Swift’s Modest Proposal, or from Soylent Green. In fact, I wonder if Dr. Nucatola is as delighted as Mengele was to discover twins. Twice the hearts, you know.

“Surely, some might say, Mengele, for all of this, must have realized he was committing awful crimes. But the capacity of humans to self-justify, to self-deceive is enormous.”

Gerald Astor, The Last Nazi: The Life and Times of Dr. Joseph Mengele

What Planned Parenthood is doing may be legal, but in a country that just legalized gay marriage because no one should be marginalized, and where we fight for civil rights and speak out against injustices done to people of color, how can we sit by and allow unborn babies to be dismembered in utero like the butchery of a hog or a lamb after slaughter? How can we have no-kill animal shelters and organizations like Planned Parenthood supported by the same people?

We have moved far from “safe, legal, and rare,” and “cases of rape, incest, and medical necessity.” We are talking about healthy human hearts that are beating one minute and being harvested the next.

Thirty-five years ago Phil Keaggy sang, “Who will speak up for the little ones?”

I refuse to be a face in the window.

I’m standing up and saying this is morally wrong.

Three Questions — #3: Age 23

Anna Brown asked me three questions. This is the third.

#3 When you were 23, what was your biggest dream?

Me at 23

Me at 23

You wouldn’t know it to look at me, but age 23 was my dark night of the soul.

I wore the mask well, hiding from everyone, even my husband, the deep struggles happening inside me.

My biggest dream at 23? I didn’t have one.

One day my husband came home from school and placed a folder of hope on the kitchen table. He was completing his last semester before becoming a radiation therapy technologist, now called a radiation therapist. His career was in high demand and the folder was full of fliers from hospitals seeking RTTs.

Bud had already placed at the top the announcements from hospitals in upstate New York. We had both grown up in upstate New York. Our families were in upstate New York. It made sense that we should settle there.

But I dug through that folder looking for far-away places. Iowa, Indiana, Illinois, Wyoming. I pulled out the farthest I could find.

“Let’s go here,” I said, pushing the Wyoming flyer across the table to him.

He glanced at it, and then did a double-take. He looked at me questioningly from across the table.

“It’ll be fun,” I said, my smiling mask at its finest. “Nobody will know us. When we meet people we won’t be Bud. And. Sally.  We’ll be BudandSally.”

He smiled. I married a great guy.

We applied to five far-away places — some in those “I” states, and the one in Wyoming. He took the job in Wyoming.

One day at the end of May, we loaded up a Ryder rental truck with all our earthly belongings and started out west.

The trip itself is fodder for a book.

We got separated in Chicago — I was driving our VW bug and he was driving the truck. One of us missed the exit. Miraculously we found each other on the other side of Chicago.

We sold our Volkswagen in one of those “I” states for $200. I thought of the pioneers who left behind beloved items on the Oregon Trail, lightening the load for their westward journey in covered wagons. Our car had engine trouble, major engine trouble. I cried when we left it sitting forlornly in the mechanic’s parking lot.

A tumbleweed blew across the road as we entered Wyoming, and I cried again. The world should have been green and lush, but Wyoming was brown, brown, brown — just like my withered heart.

Our Honda Civic wagon

Our Honda Civic wagon

I cried when Bud started work, and I was left alone to unpack boxes and try to make a home in an apartment on the edge of the prairie.

We replaced our VW Bug with a Honda Civic wagon.

We found a church.

We found friends.

He passed his registry exam and became the second registered radiation therapy technologist in the whole state of Wyoming.

Wyoming sunset

Wyoming sunset

Every night, we took pictures of the sunset over the prairie, because each one was prettier than the one before.

I found a beauty in the barrenness of the brown Wyoming prairies, strewn with rocks, stretching farther than my eye could see.

I learned that even dry hard times have their own beauty.

The big sky of the west reminded me daily to look up.

My biggest dream at 23? You ask a hard question that I don’t think I can answer.

But I can tell you this: my greatest gift at 23 was Wyoming.