Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Good Versus Evil

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.  Romans 12:21


In 2013 Evil gave Good a run for its money.   You could say that Good had a huge fight on its hands this year, as it fought to defeat the many ways Evil tried to pummel it out of existence. 
And the result?

Here’s my good versus evil story: I entered 2013 still throbbing from the pain of disillusionment and sadness over the loss of my church family a few months earlier.  I went from that into what I didn’t realize would be my final trip to Liberia- the most awesome mission trip ever where I worked my tail off, experienced amazing breakthroughs in relationships and local acceptance, poured my soul into a people that embraced me back, and a birthing clinic I was prepared to spend the rest of my life working in. Within one week of returning it was all shockingly turned upside down, and my time with that ministry abruptly and painfully ended.

From these two experiences, the entire year, in a deeper sense, has been an attempt to overcome one of the ultimate evils- becoming bitter and cynical.  And God gave me plenty of help with that, by blessing me with good things expressly for that purpose.  I experienced the love of a best friend who, in spite of being a pastor’s wife, flew all the way to Texas from Washington on Easter Sunday, to be with me for no agenda other than friendship.  I experienced the love of a local pastor and his wife who have interacted with me regularly and had me in their home on more than one occasion.   These two persistent high-quality relationships in particular pretty much kept me from legitimately being able to spew hyperbolic venom about how all pastors and Christians in leadership or ministry are hypocrites.

There were other friends too, those whose good relationships were a part of the rope that kept me from going over a cliff of depression and losing hope.  A life friend I’ve had since I was 19, my boss (that I’ve also known since I was 19) and other beautiful midwife colleagues and apprentices at work, a Wycliffe missionary couple married almost 50 years, still going strong in respect for each other and both dedicated to a life of integrity in missions, a faithful weekly prayer partner, and numerous other meaningful moments with various friends spent over food or coffee, were all relational strands that held me and kept me from going over the edge.

My dear grandmother went to heaven this year, and that also was a deep sorrow, accentuated by the small turn out at her funeral and limited interactions with those there.  Juxtaposed on this pain was the overriding joy of many high points with my children as my closest family members now becoming older, more supportive, and more fun.  They have defied all statistics by turning out remarkably well in spite of being born into some pretty screwed up circumstances that weren’t their fault.  And by the way, so do my beautiful nieces and nephews on my ex-husband’s side of the family.  For the second summer in a row some of us got to meet in San Antonio for a mutual vacation.  I never cease to wonder at and appreciate the close family culture my kids have maintained with their cousins- that happily often includes me- in spite of two divorces that could have split us forever.  A visit from my “sister-in-law twice removed” all the way from Switzerland was more balm of goodness in the wounds of lost and missing relationships.



And of course, there was the goodness of attending thirty births as the primary midwife or supervising midwife.   Every time the light of life comes into this world, it’s another moment of hope for the planet.  Witnessing that ignition of a baby’s first cry, has often fanned into flame what was but a smoldering ember of my own struggling life energy.
Others besides myself have battled this year not to let their good be overcome by evil.  A birthing center being painstaking build by a small NGO in the Philippines was mostly swept away in a landslide, on the heels of a typhoon that flooded most of their homes.  Even as these individuals- ill from being attacked by water-borne disease- struggled to rebuild, another, larger typhoon hit their country.  And this brave little NGO (Mercy in Action: www.mercyinaction.com) fights back against the great evil that tried to overcome their good, with an even greater blow of good. They went into the disaster zone and set up a free birthing tent to help the victims.

They are there doing that good now.



You probably have your own 2013 story, of how Satan’s evil tried to overcome God’s good in your part of the world, in your circumstances, in your family, in your relationships, or perhaps most dangerously, in your heart.  Maybe you aren’t sure at the moment who won.
Hang in there.  It’s a new year.  Join me in making Romans 12:21 a verse to live by in 2014.  Let’s be intentional, by our behavior, our words, our attitude, our investments of our time and resources, and most of all, our belief and trust in a God who is ultimately good, to not let evil win in us, or around us. 

As it says in the Message’s translation of this verse: “Don’t let evil get the best of you; get the best of evil by doing good.”

If you need help getting started, that whole chapter preceding that verse- Romans 12- has some great ideas.
“Give your bodies to God…be a living and a holy sacrifice…let God transform you…don’t think you are better than you really are…speak out with as much faith as God has given you…serve well…encourage others…take responsibility seriously…don’t just pretend to love others, really love them…hate what is wrong…hold tightly to what is good…never be lazy…serve the Lord enthusiastically…be patient…keep on praying…practice hospitality…bless those who persecute you…don’t curse…be happy with those who are happy…weep with those who weep…live in harmony with each other…don’t be proud…don’t think you know it all…never pay back evil with evil…do all you can to live in peace with everyone…never take revenge.” 

With God’s help, let’s do it. 

Let’s knock out evil in 2014.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

An Unexpected Birth



A couple of weeks ago Bilbo Baggins and a company of dwarfs made off for the second phase of their epic trek toward the Lonely Mountain, Smaug the dragon and their long forgotten gold.  To be more exact it was the much publicized Hollywood movie version of Tolkien’s classic story of the famous hobbit’s journey.

The film was long and breathlessly awaited by the Andersons.  Tickets for the midnight premier showing were duly purchased weeks in advance.  Arrangements were made to arrive early and wait in line.  And just as we settled ourselves with the other fans on the dusty carpeted theater floor behind the velour cords and tarnished brass posts, the texts started coming.  

A client. Contractions.  And other details my kids would classify TMI. Some back and forth, some waiting, some confirmation of more signs, much more obvious than any moon rune on a Middle Earth map.

In fact, things accelerated so quickly that, not unlike Biblo, I went flying out the door on my adventure, forgetting not just my pocket handkerchief but also my coat.

As I drove down the dark highway, shivering in the not yet warmed up mini-van, I reflected on the difference between Hollywood filmed adventures and real-life ones. My kids were back in the warm theater, putting on 3-D glasses to view spectacular images and professionally choreographed action scenes.  They were seeing amazing acting, and listening to sound through huge speakers.  But in all its epic explosive glory, their journey was still – pretend.

And then, there was my real adventure.  A first baby.  A difficult journey.  Facing challenges greater than the getting out of Mirkwood, overcoming fears bigger than dragons, being innovative beyond the cleverness of hobbits, exhibiting a fighting spirit beyond the bravery of warrior dwarfs and elves, enduring pain greater than an Orc’s black arrow wound. And then, when all hope seemed gone of completing the journey, the explosive triumph of birth, quickly followed by the concern of needing to resuscitate. Believe me, never did a last minute tear jerking come back to life scene on Hollywood match the joy and tears of relief of parents and midwives upon hearing a baby’s first delayed cry. 

I love adventure stories, and the films that tell them well.  But for me, they will always pale in comparison to the real adventures I get called to take part in.

Today:  I stand in church, my eyes closed, holding the elements, reflecting on Jesus’ birth and death.

I feel my phone vibrate silently.  I glance at the screen.  It’s a text.

About contractions. 

I finish my moment with Jesus, and slip out of the church.

I’m off, on another adventure.




Wednesday, November 6, 2013

One poem

It's pretty rare to have a poem written about you these days.  If you do get one, it's usually from a smitten boyfriend or girlfriend, and badly written.

I'm glad my one poem was written to me as a midwife, and not as a lover. 


I'd like to thank Jenny for this gift.  We were friends before I was her midwife, and have been ever since. 



Thank you Jenny. 

My Midwife
by Jenny Sevy



Suppressing chaos encompassed my being

A lilting pain twirled my limbs

Lord, I cried. Help me. I need your peace
A strong gentle voice drew me in
Look into my eyes,  breathe
I had a calm focus
I could feel the Lord's strength flooding my body
By His strength, I would pull through
Hazel eyes gazed intensely at me
Giving strength
Giving encouragement
Restoring my faith and energy
Swirls of green, gray, blue like healing waters
Flecks of gold reminding me of our Father's majesty
It is finished. Sweet relief
Praise the Lord for sending His sweet angel
She is my sister in Christ
She is my midwife



Saturday, October 26, 2013

Midwife. Natural Childbirth. True Story.



From the day I heard the word “midwife” spoken, I knew that was what I wanted to be.  Before I knew anything about labor, or birth, or life itself, somehow I knew that was my destiny, what I was created for.

I began attending births as an apprentice at the tender age of 18.  I was at my sixth delivery at Family Birth Services, that hot July of 1988, when I realized why my DNA had called out for this job.

We were attending a reserved Muslim woman of Arab decent, age 32, having her first child.  She had dilated efficiently enough, but then, because the baby was posterior, had trouble pushing her daughter out.  As the midwives did what midwives do- repositioning, encouraging, coaching, maneuvering, consulting, trying new positions- I ended up doing what the apprentices often naturally did at that time- taking the role of support person and doula. I ended up on the bed next to her along with her concerned husband, providing not just emotional support, but physical, as we got her into a variety of positions together in an attempt to bring her baby under the pubic bone.

As she pushed, she became less and less inhibited, and more and more desperate.  With her arms around my neck, her hand in a vise grip around my hand, and her sweat mingled with mine, she bore down in response to her midwife’s directions. I felt the pain and the anguish and the desperate desire for the baby to come right along with her.

When at last she triumphantly delivered her first born daughter after three hours of pushing, she and I together explosively burst into tears of mutual joy and relief.  As she grabbed my face and kissed me passionately in gratitude, my life’s calling fell into place.

I wasn’t able to define it at the time, but I can now.  Under what other circumstances would I been seeing, much less sharing the agony and joy of this woman?  She and I, and her husband, and the midwives, in that brief eternal three hours went beyond the veil of social, cultural, racial and religious boundaries that would have normally separated us, dropped all our inhibitions together, and brought her child forth.

The more I attended women, the more I noticed the uniqueness of that day or night when the outside world ceases to exist, creating a bubble of time within which a woman labors.  Inside this bubble, the rules change. Under what other circumstances does a woman lay aside her coverings- both literal and emotional and become so utterly without reserve, pretense or hypocrisy?

That’s why I love most about being a part of this special time of labor and birth.  You can’t pretend during natural childbirth.  You can’t act like you have it all together.  You can’t bluff your way through and act like it isn’t hard.  You can’t act at all. 

You have to be real.  And those who are with you when you birth share that moment of realness. Because un-medicated childbirth is as real and raw and honest as it gets in this life.

Now that I’m more than twice the age I was on that pivotal July afternoon, I’ve come to value honesty and transparency even more than I did then. I’ve learned that people have many motives for the things they do and say that aren’t fully honest, and many ways they act that are misleading.  I’ve come to despise insincerity above almost everything else short of a full lie.  And I’ve been told plenty of those too.

But when I go into the birthing room, I leave the insincerity and lies behind, and go to a place of ultimate realness.  This is the place I am most at peace, where I find the antidote for the superficiality that inundates most of the human experience.

The blue light of early morning slips in between the blinds of the same birthing room where I was sweating twenty-five years ago. Today I calmly sit in front of a woman from Nigeria pushing on the birthing stool.  My hands hold the head of her crowning child, and my eyes hold her eyes.  She tells me she can’t.  I tell her she can.

And her baby slips out into my hands.






True story.



Footnote:  The pictures I posted here are not from either of the birthing stories I wrote about in this blog- because there were no pictures taken at those births.  These pictures are from Sarah Warnick's birth, photo credits: Reflecting Grace Photography: http://www.reflectinggrace.com   I chose them because I felt they were an accurate "reflection" of the theme of this post.

Monday, September 2, 2013

One year



My daughter remembers the exact date.  It was one year ago, exactly, that we left the church where she had been since she was nine years old.  From ages nine to fifteen, that was the other center of her life, besides our home. My youngest was six when we started there, and hardly remembered going anywhere else.

 There are a couple of reasons for that.  One, we home school.  Church, for most homeschoolers, is more than someplace to go on Sunday to learn about Jesus.  It becomes the place you socialize, the place you learn to sit in a class of kids your age, the place you learn to respect and relate to other adults besides your parents, and the place you go for extra-curricular activities.

 At least it was for us.

 Another reason is, I’m a single mom.  When you have a single parent family, your church becomes more important to you- a family extension that fills in some gaps left by your broken home life. 

At least it did for us.

The us includes me, and my three children.  And since my church was my social hub and my family extension, I invested there.  Teaching in children's church, teaching Missionettes, volunteering at VBS, volunteering in missions- it was all very intentional on my part.  Because my kids were receiving there, I wanted to put back, and I did.

And it wasn’t perfect, but no one and no place is, and I knew that and accepted that, because we aren’t either.  We stuck it out through occasional individuals involved with church programs who were rude or hurtful, general personal slights, you know, real life stuff that happens everywhere, and you just have to get over.  And I always told the kids when they complained about someone or something, look, this is life, rude people are everywhere, even church, this is as good a place as any to learn how to respond in a godly way to negative people and circumstances.

Because there are good people everywhere too, and look at all of those- some of our best friends are here. Plus, if we accept people the way they are, imperfect and sometimes different from us, we can expect the same grace for us, because we need it too.  I was very firm on the fact that changing churches would not prevent people issues, and we might as well stay where we were and be faithful.  This is part of our identity in Christ, to be a part of a body of believers for better or for worse.

I did that for my kids (as much as for myself), to teach them about life and relationships and people and church.  And I think that message got across pretty well.

Up to a point.

I don’t want to go into details here of the events that led to us leaving our church.  What I do want to do is address leaders, pastors, and children’s workers and make a small point that might be helpful if your goal is to actually understand and care for people- you know, pastor stuff.

Particularly children.

You see, I don’t think you realize how deeply you are affecting the kids in your congregation. 

Particularly homeschooled kids, and kids from single parent or troubled homes.

When you, dear senior pastors, associate senior pastors, children’s pastors, women's pastors, elders, church administrators, small group leaders (have I missed anyone?) start having issues with a person or family serving in the church, stop for a minute and consider the effects of what is happening on their children.  You may not think the parent has the right vision, or the right doctrine, or the right DNA, or maybe they are high need or you have other concerns, but have you considered their children’s vision, doctrine, DNA, needs and concerns?  You see, YOU are in their children’s vision.  You are the embodiment of Christian doctrine to the kids.  They see you as representative of Christianity, and of Jesus' DNA.   And they are watching you, and what’s going on between you and their parents. 

In case you missed it, children and teens have an unerring nose for anything done for religious purposes or show.  They can tell real from performance in a heartbeat. They are not always, as someone more than once suggested to me, picking up the prejudices of their parents in their attitudes toward a pastor or leader.

No, they are making their own observations.  They notice if you can’t tell them apart from their sibling or remember their name after attending your church for several years. They notice if you have absolutely nothing to say to them but “my how you’ve grown” if you speak to them at all.  They notice if you gravitate to people dressed a certain way and of a certain status.  They notice if you ignore some people and chat up others.  They notice if you never just “hang out” with them or other regular people, or show any interest in sharing people’s lives outside of church events. They notice if you have time for doctrinal debates with their parents, but not to be there for them in a crisis.  They notice if their parents spend all their free time volunteering at the church, but then no one shows up at their house to bring a meal or help when someone is sick.

Mostly they notice how you treat kids, of all ages.   And that becomes the great measuring stick for them to determine your character. And frankly, that speaks louder to them than all your sermons, and means more to them than all your programs. 

In the process of discussing things with my leaders in my final year, of face to face meetings that I initiated to try to work things out, not once did my kids’ names come up.  The discussion was all about their church, their vision, their programs, their plans for church growth, and whether or not we were loyal and fit into all those.  There was no sense from them that it was our church too, and we as a family had something special to offer the body of Christ.

Their vision was not our relationship with Jesus.  Their concern was not our spiritual growth or health, or our emotional or physical well-being.  These things were never mentioned.

Finally, their deepest concern certainly wasn’t anything to do with a personal relationship or future with any of us.  Including my kids.

Sadly, much as I would like to believe otherwise, I really didn’t get the idea from anything that was ever said that the pastors considered how our family leaving the church might affect my kids, or their faith, or their friendships, or their daily lives. Does it matter to them that my daughter cried herself to sleep the night after our last service there and many times since? Does it matter that it impacted her so much that she still remembers the date? Does it matter that I’ve had to work very hard with all three of my kids on trust issues- and still do?

My prayer is that seven years of my efforts to teach my kids positive truths and principles of Christian relationships and respect for church leaders within the context of a local church haven’t totally been nullified by this end result.  Definitely, the kids are the ones hurt the most by the whole thing.

By the grace of God I'm not expecting it to happen in my family, but I know people who went through circumstance like these as kids who NEVER went back to church.


And this isn’t just an anniversary rant for me and mine.  Let me cite a few other circumstances I am aware of where kids are the silent victims in different churches situations.

There are doctrinal differences between one family and church leaders.  The results are that the family leaves the only church the children have ever known.  Shortly afterward, the father passes away suddenly.  The widowed mother and orphaned children are left without their father OR a church family to support them.

A children’s pastor is released or “shuffled” to another position in the church.  The child of a single parent loses the weekly interaction with the father figure in his/her life and grieves that loss on a level similar to that when his/her parents divorced.

The Sunday school teacher who has been faithfully serving for years and loves the kids is determined to be too old and out of touch.  She is removed in lieu of younger teacher who knows how to use the new media system, but has no idea about any of the kids’ personal histories or home life.  Some kids from troubled homes “fall through the cracks” because the new teacher isn’t involved at the personal level with the kids and their parents.

While reorganizing the children’s program, a decision is made to drop the middle school aged children’s church class because those kids are old enough to go into the service.  The fact is missed that some of these kids’ parents don’t even go to the church, and after they lose the security of a small relational group they feel safe with, they stop going to church altogether.

A church is too small to have a special needs class, but the volunteer children’s church teacher is willing to work with the one who is in her age group.  She has a heart for special needs, and the parents feel safe leaving their child with her.  However the church has no care system for their volunteers, and so when this teacher isn’t valued or supported in her efforts, she eventually leaves and goes elsewhere.  The new volunteer teacher they find to replace her isn’t sensitive to the special needs situation.  The parents eventually stop coming to the church because they don’t feel there is a place for their child.

All of these scenarios are real.  All of these decisions happened on an adult, leader, organizational, or program level, and yet affected kids and their families on a deeply individual personal level.

So my request is this:  Pastor, elders, church board members- think about how your decisions are affecting the least of these.  Before you hire that new children’s pastor who can take your children’s program “to the next level,” before you change Sunday School teachers around or restructure age groups in classes, or get a fancy new curriculum, or write the volunteer schedule for the nursery, or chose to let a family leave your church because of disagreements without really making an effort to work things out…. think about the kids involved.  Not the numbers of children, the actual individuals.  Think of faces, think of names, think of their personal circumstances.  Now think of how their lives will change as a result of your decisions.

You are an adult.  You have been through many changes by now, and “restructuring” is no big deal.  But for kids, it is different.  Even a small change is a huge shift in their universe. 

Please stop a minute before you say and do things that are going to rock their worlds.

I know these kids aren’t your “tithing units.”  But they have souls.  They matter to Jesus.  Saying you care about children from the pulpit isn’t the same thing as showing it on a personal, interactive level.

Oh, and by the way.  Don’t try to fake it.

They hate that.


Epilogue:  After five months of visiting churches, my kids and I agreed on one we all liked.  Since then we have attended there every Sunday. We sit on the back row and participate in the services.  We do not volunteer, nor do we have any interaction with any of the pastors or leaders. 

For now.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Burned




I got an email today from a friend and former supporter, asking me to come meet with a Liberian pastor and discuss future work in Liberia. 

My response surprised even me.  I wrote quickly in reply, “I'm still pretty burned after my last experience. I do care deeply for Liberia... just want to be careful in the future.”

My last experience.  In January 2010 I signed up with a small NGO, working exclusively in Liberia for the purpose of helping to open a birthing clinic.  I’d already made one trip and spent months praying about it.  I had no way of knowing that four more trips, three and a half years, lots of hard work, thousands of dollars raised and invested, many Liberian friends and my whole broken heart later, I’d be writing my resignation.

Now I'm burned.

(Which is different from “burned out,” ‘cause I’ve been there too, and come back.)  

I was reading Hebrews 11 the other day, and noticed that the first Faith Hall of Fame-er mentioned was Abel.  Abel, who by faith, offered a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, his brother.

Yeah, and as a reward for his faith and his excellent sacrifice… he got stabbed in the back.  

By his brother.

So, in case someone wants to imply that a person doing the right thing with the right attitude will always have a good outcome in this life…

Wrong.

And I know it’s wrong, but sometimes I still hope.

It’s that hope that has kept me coming back to church, coming back to ministry, coming back to missions again and again in spite of numerous Abel experiences.

A better sacrifice.

Sacrifices get burned.

Sometimes the one offering it gets burned too.

But it doesn’t mean the sacrifice was in vain.  Abel’s life looked like a total waste in Genesis 4.  And then we find in Hebrews 11, that God saw it differently. “By which sacrifice Abel obtained a witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts; and by it he being dead yet speaketh.”

No evidence of success in this life.

But plenty in the eternal Word and in eternal life.

That’s a good word for the burned.


People hate truth for the sake of whatever it is that they love more than the truth.  They love truth when it shines warmly on them, and hate it when it rebukes them.  – St. Augustine





Saturday, May 18, 2013

True Eulogy


This morning I went to my grandmother’s funeral, and listened to a pastor she would have considered young, who didn’t know her at all, say a lot of nice things about her.

This afternoon, I’m in the house in Midland, TX where she lived since 1979, sitting in her electric lift chair where she spent several of those years.

I’m here to write a proper eulogy.

My grandmother, Lillian Juanita Nichols, was so much more, and so much less, than what was said today. 

They called her a woman of faith and prayer who loved Jesus.  And she was.  But by the time they got done they made her sound like Mother Teresa.  And she so wasn’t.

Yes, she prayed.  But I never heard her pray out loud, not so much as a blessing over the food.  She was insecure about praying in front of others, and kept that something she did quietly between her and God.  She always told you she was praying for you, and responded positively when you told her you were praying for her, or if you prayed out loud for her, but it wasn’t something she did for show. 

She just did it.

I was also pretty hacked that the pastor had the nerve to call my hard-working grandmother the energizer bunny.  My grandmother pre-dated the energizer bunny, thank you very much, and had much more complex motives for always being the last person to sit down to the dinner table after everyone had been served. 

Besides, she hated to wear the color pink.

By the time my grandmother was my grandmother and not just a mother, she had softened into a much more understanding and sympathetic person than I believe she was as a parent, but even so, I hardly think she would qualify as “sweet.”  If she had been sweet, she wouldn’t have survived her hard life.


The pastor said the other word that described my grandmother was “excellence.”  He said one of her favorite things to say was “If you can’t do something right, don’t do it at all.” 

I never once heard her say that.  She usually said things to me more along the lines of “Pray and do the best you can.” And in my eyes, that’s what she did, and how I would personally sum up her life.

She thought an education was important, and always regretted that she hadn’t gotten more of one.  She got married at the age of 17, and commenced to having her seven children, but told all of her grand-daughters to get an education and travel before getting married.  When we pointed to her example in contrast, she would always say, “Yes, but I was too dumb to know any better.” 

Yet she took excellent care of her children- in the way her generation defined excellent.  That would be in spite of being a poor working class family, they always had clean clothes, a clean house, went to church, went to school, were taught a strong work ethic, were good citizens, and were expected to go to college.  However she often expressed regret to me later in her life that she didn’t know or comprehend the importance of playing with your children, or connecting with them emotionally, or spending what would later be defined as “quality time” with them. 

She said to me on more than one occasion, “We didn’t have all these books on parenting the way you do. We didn’t know we were supposed to play with our kids, we just knew we were supposed to provide for them.  I wish I had known then what you know now.  Now, don’t make the mistake I did- you be sure you spend time with your kids!”

She also expressed deep regret as a mother for not recognizing her daughter’s (my mother’s) mental and emotional illness for what it was and getting her appropriate treatment.  “We just treated her the same way we did the other kids,” she would say to me apologetically when we would discuss it at length after I became an adult.


Many years later when my mother’s undiagnosed disorders advanced to the point she refused to speak to me for the last few years of her life, my grandmother filled the void as both mother and grandmother to me. For several years I would call her every week and we would have long conversations.  No matter what I told her, she would always encourage me that I was doing a great job as a mother and how good my children were, words I never once heard from my own parent.  Every time I came to visit in person I would put my head in her lap and she would tell me the same thing.

She stayed married to my grandfather for 74 years, and put up with a lot of crap from him. (I loved my Papaw, but still sayin’.) She once told me, “Women always have to forgive the most and put up with the most, that’s just the way it is,” and her life certainly exemplified that belief. Yet she never once criticized me over the fact that I got a divorce after I explained the circumstances, which I considered remarkable.

My grandmother’s name was Mom, which kind of got confusing since that was my mother’s name too.  I called them both Mom when I was little which for some reason made perfect sense to me, but then it was decided my grandmother would be “Mom Nick,” and the name stuck and became widely used by most of the extended family.



When I was little she sometimes came to my house in Corsicana for my birthday, and sometimes for just random visits.  I remember her and my grandfather’s arrivals being the most exciting events in my little world.  She would usually clean the house thoroughly, and then cook a roast dinner on Sunday, which didn’t happen at other times.  When I got a little older and my mother was teaching me basic cooking, she insisted Mom Nick be the one to teach me how to make breakfast gravy, since hers was undoubtedly the best.  And so, one summer, she did.


I still love breakfast gravy.

Mom Nick liked things clean and in place, and she liked people to dress neatly and stylishly and match. She liked boys – and girls – to have short haircuts, which was the way she kept hers.  In spite of being thrifty to a fault (after all, she survived the Depression) she still went to the beauty shop to get her hair “set” almost every week of her life. She always noticed and commented favorably when I had my eyebrows plucked and my toenails painted.  The last two visits we had with her, my daughter Cassandra gave her a manicure and painted her nails, which pleased her very much.

“I think this nail is a little darker than the others, though,” she commented as she examined her hands after the last one.

Mom Nick worried about her family constantly.  If she wasn’t worried she was worried about not having something to worry about.  For this reason I became more and more reluctant to tell her when I made overseas trips for missions.  “You aren’t going OVER THERE again, are you?” she would ask me when we would talk on the phone. I would reluctantly admit that I was, and she would say,

“Now you be careful OVER THERE.”

(Over there was any place outside of America.)

However it is worth noting that my grandmother actually made a trip to the Holy Land with her son in her sixties, and a trip to Hong Kong to the wedding of yours truly when she was 78.





She liked to keep up with what everyone in the family was doing, and then tell the rest of the family the news when they called or came to see her or when she wrote them letters.  She would usually gloss over the fact that some family members seldom called or came to see her and say of them, “They are busy, I guess.”  And although sometimes a wistful expression would cross her face when certain names came up, she never criticized them. 

My grandmother believed in seriously dressing up for work and for church (she was southern, after all), although she would complain the whole time she was pulling on her control top panty hose and squeezing into her girdle. The minute she came in the front door after work or church she started undressing as she made a beeline to her room to change into a loose fitting house dress before making another beeline to the kitchen.

At bedtime there was another sacred routine of beauty preservation that would include washing her face with miracle water, rubbing in cold cream and wrinkle reducer, putting clips in her hair and putting on a hair net, applying lotion to her hands, and later, taking out her false teeth.

After it was all finished she would look in the mirror one last time and sigh regretfully.  “Don’t get old,” she would admonish me.

My mother often told me I was more like Mom Nick than I was like her, and honestly, I considered it a compliment.  I liked coming to her neat house.  I liked the way she paid attention to her appearance and encouraged others to do the same.  I liked the way she made sure everything got done before she sat down to read a book or watch the Andy Griffith show or Perry Mason while she ate her “chummies” - left-over corn bread and buttermilk out of a glass with a spoon.

I admired how she pretty much did what needed to be done, no matter how she felt about it.  Even if she complained while doing it, even if she cried while doing it, she got stuff done.
So, when I arrived at Mom Nick’s house yesterday, for the first time since she died, it’s not surprising that the first thing I did…

Was to clean her kitchen, and put things back in the same places where she kept them for the past 30 years.

Yes. I am Mom Nick’s grand-daughter, and proud of it.

My kids have their own memories of their great-grandmother.  My daughter Sabrina says she reminds of the outspoken  and long-lived grandmother sloth “Granny” in Ice Age 4.  It might have been her false teeth.  Or maybe it was the line, “I’ll bury you all and dance on your graves.”



My son Daniel’s first words when he saw her in her coffin were, “She isn’t wearing the red nightgown she said she wanted to be buried in.”  He also said regretfully, “I wish we could have had one more birthday together.” He was born on January 3rd, 2001, her 84th birthday.  She always called him her special boy.



Cassandra remembers Mom Nick always spoke her mind, and had definite fashion opinions.  She didn’t like French manicures or think boots looked good with a dress.  

However, I do think she would be happy with her final hair do.  The family had her personal hair stylist Sheri come to the funeral home to do it according to Mom Nick’s very specific preference.




And finally, back to her spiritual side.  Mom Nick never sang out loud.  She liked hymns, she liked music, she would hold the hymn book in church and follow along with her eyes, but I never heard her actually sing.  She said her voice was too bad, that she couldn't carry a tune, and that if she sang everyone would get up and leave.  If we protested she ended the conversation by saying she would sing when she got to heaven.  So when I spoke with her dear caregiver Haidi and asked her about her last week on earth, I was shocked to hear that she spent the entire week singing.  Apparently even before she fully entered heaven's gates she lost her shyness and began to use her voice. 

Haidi told me the hymn she kept coming back to over and over was Higher Ground.  Which totally makes sense when you read the words:

"I'm pressing on the upward way, New heights I'm gaining every day, Still praying as I onward bound, "Lord plant my feet on higher ground."

"Lord lift me up, and let me stand, By faith on heaven's table land, A higher plane than I have found; Lord plant my feet on higher ground."

"My heart has no desire to stay, Where doubts arise and fears dismay; Tho' some may dwell where these abound, My prayer my aim is higher ground."

"I want to live above the world, Tho' Satan's darts at me are hurled; For faith has caught the joyful sound, The song of saints on higher ground."

"I want to scale the utmost height And catch a gleam of glory bright; But still I'll pray till heaven I've found, 'Lord lead me on to higher ground.' "

"Lord lift me up, and let me stand, By faith on heaven's table land, A higher plane than I have found; Lord plant my feet on higher ground."

Interestingly, a hymn my mother also often sang. 

Even more interesting to think of the two of them singing it together now, probably with my great-grandmother Campbell chiming in.


I hope Mom Nick took a break for a minute and looked down to appreciate the fact that although I was too upset to sing much at her funeral service, I did get my eyebrows waxed and my toenails painted before I came.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Shattered Blessings


I am overwhelmed at how blessed I am.

Shall I tell you some of the many ways I have been blessed in the past few years?

My father died of a heart attack on the same day I found out my husband had been unfaithful to me for all seven years of our marriage.

I went through a divorce after four more long painful years of praying desperately for God to keep it from happening.

I had to give up the ministry I had with my husband on the mission field of Nepal and lost all the work and relationships I had invested in there for years.

I had to move out of my dream house into an apartment in a bad neighborhood.

I had to go back to work after being a full time mom for all of my children’s lives.

I had to endure the stigma of being the “bad guy” because I divorced my husband.

I've had to live was the ongoing stigma of being a divorced single mom.

My mother and my Baptist pastor step-dad both died on the same day in a murder/suicide after refusing to speak to me for several years prior to their deaths.  

After my divorce, after seven years of commitment to a local church, it was determined I “did not have the right vision” to continue to serve.

That was just a few months ago.

I responded to loss of my beloved mission field of Nepal (and to the fire for missions in my heart that just wouldn’t go out) by finding another missions ministry to serve with, another country to work in, another people to love.  After four years of working with this ministry, I find I am again, shall we say, “incompatible.”  (There is no appropriate way to further explain publically the pain I feel over this situation, so I will leave it there.)

That was just last week, right after returning from my latest trip overseas.

Wait.

I thought you said blessings. 

Are you being sarcastic and bitter?  Are you ranting against the hypocrites of the world?  Are you trying to publically expose people you are mad at or having a passive-aggressive online pity party in order to get sympathy?

Nope. 

I’ve done plenty of ranting over the years, don’t get me wrong.  (Not to mention last week.) And cussing and fussing and crying and raging interspersed with periods of checking out emotionally and lying in bed staring dully at the walls. 

And plenty of asking why.  Stuff along the lines of, “Why me, God?  Why me?  I’m not a bad person.  I only wanted to serve You.  I only wanted to be a wife, to be a mom, and to be a missionary.  And when those dreams fell apart, instead of getting angry and bitter, I picked up the pieces, glued them back together and went on.  And then they got jerked out of my hands and smashed again. And again.

I could understand why this kind of pain would keep coming to me if I was living in sin.  If I had given You the middle finger after getting screwed by my (fill in the blank) Christian parents, Christian husband, numerous Christian pastors, leaders, counselors, etc,  and gone off to find selfish pleasure somewhere, abandoned my faith, forgotten my responsibility to my kids, left the church, ignored missions and rejected You, it would have made sense.

But I didn’t do any of those things.  I keep trying to do what was right even when I had been done wrong.  And You continually reward this effort by letting more pain come into my life?  Really?  I haven’t hit the life time pain quota yet?

Why did you let me get into these relationships with people, churches, and ministries where You knew I would get so deeply hurt?  I was seeking Your will.  I was asking for direction.  You could have stopped me. You could have stopped them. You could have ‘shut doors’. ”

And, of course it gets personal when there is a person perpetrating the pain.  And my questions start going something like, “How can You let him treat me this way?  How can You let a so-called Christian (parent, husband, pastor, leader) get by with this?  Why isn’t someone holding him/her accountable?  You see how many people he/she is hurting in Your name- why don’t You stop him? Are You not my defender? Are You not all powerful?  Are You not the righteous Judge?”

Here’s the deal.  If you ask those questions long enough and if somewhere in the swirling morass of your pain you actually have a miniscule part of you that wants a real answer and not just pain relief… 

Look out.

When you start invoking God’s justice, look out.

You are going to get an answer from God Himself, and it is not going to be what you expect.  Because if you pound on God’s chest with your fists and scream long enough, He will eventually oblige you.  He will wrap His hands firmly around your wrists and force you to look into His eyes.

And then there is no looking away, no pulling away, no changing your mind about the whole thing.  You pushed through the outer courts of your offense into God’s bedroom after visiting hours were over, busted down the door and demanded an immediate answer to your innermost pain. 

And why did you do this?  What is that innermost pain?  Regardless of what happened to you (yes, I know you've been through crap too), I believe it is this- You believed in God’s love for you, and although your circumstances deny that reality, you won’t give up on that belief.

And that’s why He’s going to answer you.

You see, I speak from experience.  I do still believe God loves me in spite of all the things that have happened to me. And so, in the face of this very paradox, I have thrown my tantrums and demanded that God meet my gaze and speak to me.

And when He does, I am undone.  The pain of that gaze is the sweetest agony, simultaneously most terrible and most welcome.  It relieves the fear that He won’t look at me at the same time it feels like it is killing me- because the fear I feel in God’s Holy Presence is better than the greater fear of being ignored by Him. At that moment of anguishing intimacy, God never speaks to me about what someone else did.  He doesn’t even have to speak.  He only looks into MY soul, and I see it reflected in His eyes, from His point of view back to me.

Because I am the one who busted down His door.  I’m the one who is here looking into His eyes, not anyone else.  There is no one else’s heart in this room to reveal but mine.

And here is where I begin to see things from a different point of view.  I say begin, because I can still only claim to have seen through a glass darkly, but at that moment of illumination in the eyes of my Creator I see just how dark my vision has been and catch a glimmer of the light piercing my sinful consciousness.

 Here is where it begins:  I see my self-righteous attitude of entitlement in the echo of my questions.  “God, I’ve been “good,” so You owe me good in return.  I deserve better.  I’m not like those people who used a dysfunctional family or a bad marriage as an excuse to live sinfully and selfishly.  I stayed in church.  I homeschooled my kids.  I didn’t even seek a second marriage but solaced myself with Christian service instead.  

I should have sufficiently earned Your guarantee that things would work out well for me because of all these brownie points.  And didn’t those right choices mean I was under the umbrella of Your protection from getting hurt again?”

Can somebody say filthy rags?  How about Pharisee?

I’m ashamed that the next thing that dawns on me as I look into God’s eyes that nothing less than such terrible emotional agony could drive me to this point of busting down God’s door and demanding His attention.  Because until I got into this much pain… I didn’t care enough to come here.  I only came because I had a terrible need for emotional relief, not because I love God enough to come of my own pain-free will.

I didn’t knock gently, come in quietly and put my head on His chest to be with Him for the sake of bringing Him pleasure.

So basically I’m seeking God selfishly as pain relief and a fixer of problems. 

But then, it dawns.  It was my pain that brought me here.  And, I’M HERE.  I’m in God’s Presence. Nothing else matters but Him right now WHICH IS THE WAY IT SHOULD HAVE BEEN ALL ALONG.

Because as long as everything was going well- life, relationships, church and ministry- I didn’t (oh God, forgive me!) have time to seek His face. Instead I jumped out of bed, said a quick prayer, checked Facebook, made coffee and went charging into my day. And because these were all good things I was busy with- homeschooling, church work, missions work in Africa, relationships with Christian friends, talking with them about God… I was substituting good things for the best thing. 

And it wasn’t until the good things, and my dreams to do good things, hit the fan and got chopped up and bloody and splattered all over the walls that in my despair I turned my full attention to the Best Thing. He was standing in the middle of the room all this time, waiting for me.

So that means… all those bad things that happened… the betrayal, the lies, the loss, the shame, the grief… and the rinse repeat cycle...

…the loss of the good things I desired (and thought I deserved and had earned by being good)- a good relationship with parents that loved me, a godly marriage, a ministry in missions at my husband’s side, a position of service in a healthy local church, a “second chance” opportunity to serve overseas…

The many shattered dreams…

They have driven me into face to face encounters with God that I might never have entered into otherwise.

And these face to face encounters with God have revealed my sin:

My pride in my goodness and my performance

My sense of entitlement

My idolatry of relationships with people other than God, my willingness to be satisfied with lesser relationships than my one with Him as long as things are going well.

I have been given the opportunity to repent and put those things on the altar.

Therefore, how can I not call these events blessings?  They have brought me face to face with God, again and again, in encounters of Divine intimacy and purging many never experience.

Because when you see God, really see Him, even for a moment, EVERYTHING it took to get you there is worth it, no matter how painful.

Yes.  I am incredibly blessed.

(In the spiritual grieving journey I have been on this week, I have found a great deal of challenging applicable truth in the book "Shattered Dreams" by Larry Crab, and am super grateful to my friend who listened to God and gave it to me.  I am also indebted to the few select friends who have been witnesses to my cussing and fussing and crying and raging, and who have pulled me out of the bed (virtually and literally) when I stayed too long staring at the wall.  I'm extra grateful for the grace that has been extended to me by my children. Mostly though, I'm grateful to God who makes sure I have just enough human support at these times, but not so much that I forget what the whole point is- to come to Him.)