Saturday, August 20, 2016

A Promise

In this day and age, the thought of giving your life for a cause can seem a bit out there. Suicide bombers, for instance, are regarded quite suspiciously. 
"What ever could bring a person to this point?" we wonder. 

On the other hand, we readily honor those who valiantly risk their lives to save another from peril, such as the firefighters at 9/11. We build memorials, and rightfully so. We inwardly wonder and even dare hope that we would do the same if ever confronted with such circumstances.

However being thus confronted turns out to be quite rare. I, for one, have not encountered a time when I could do something as bold and courageous as jumping into a raging river to save a child. Nor have I bravely faced a house ablaze, risking my own life to bring someone out to safety.

But years ago, I was confronted in another way.

Having given my life to Christ, He faithfully began teaching me exactly what that looked like. And He began meddling.

Luke 9.23 (NIV) - Then he said to them all: "Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me."  (emphasis mine)

There it was. A deep challenge, an earnest call. This was just me and Him. His quiet voice alone calling me to lay down my life, to die to myself, to let go of all I was, body, soul, and spirit. No one was preaching at me, sharing with me, nudging me. Just Him.

And no one else would ever know. There would be no glory if I did this; there would be no failure if I didn't. 

No one else would ever know - seemingly.

But in fact, the choice is on display everyday, for good or for bad. It is worked out in quiet ways, seen in small choices and large, in little things and grand. 

In time, a stigma of peculiarity akin to being "a bit out there" is attached to those who have agreed to give their entirety to Him. An aroma - a perfume, if you will - emanates from our daily living because an offer has been made and the promise is a good one: His life in exchange for ours.  He is now alive in us if we daily choose the cross, if we daily die to ourselves.

I never grow tired of this message. It has been for me a source of extreme joy and fulfillment, a paradox divine.
Give and receive. Die and live. Sacrifice and be fulfilled.
His life for mine. Holiness for brokenness. Joy for sorrow. 

Most certainly I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains by itself alone. But if it dies, it bears much fruit.

Monday, August 08, 2016

Childhood memories, Pt. 2

So many ideas for writing float through my head, but I want to finish this first, this recollection of a precious generation, lest it be forgotten and overlooked.

My Grandma and Grandpa On the Street. I wrote previously about my mom's folks, Grandma and Grandpa On the Farm. Now for my father's parents. Since both sides used Grandma and Grandpa as names, my brothers and I came up with our own distinctions for them: On the Street and On the Farm.

My family lived out in the country. My mom's folks lived out in the country. But my Dad? His childhood home was clearly unique in our world -- he was a town kid! His folks had neighbors within a stone's throw on all sides, even across "the street". We lived on a road like everyone else, but this -- this was a street!

Grandma's backyard was pretty much a postage stamp and much of that was dedicated to her beautiful roses. Her gardens could have won competitions. Climbing curtains of white and pink, huge blooms of reds and yellows. Always immaculate and healthy. And beyond the back fence of that garden were the grounds of the public elementary school with swings and slides and even a ball field, if I recall correctly.

Grandma and Grandpa kept things "spit spot". Even Mary Poppins would have been pleased. I don't remember much about the garage but in my memory it is tidy, with a place for everything and everything in its place. A garage boasting the kind of order that elicits a calm sigh.

Grandpa was the head maintenance man at the public high school. As a very young girl I would visit him at his office and tag along as he performed his duties. Walking down those long, empty, shining hallways lined with locker after locker was always delightful to me, knowing all of this was under his charge. How important he was and how well he cared for his domain. He would always chuckle and smile with a twinkle in his eye as he shared a pleasant word with those who worked for him. My favorite duty was checking the pool. What strange smells as he tested the water and added needed chemicals. How very HUGE this pool was to me! Grandpa was wonderful and he knew so very much!

Grandma On the Street passed away when I was five years old. She died of liver cancer, fairly quickly so I've been told. Therefore, my memories of her were truncated. I wish I had a clearer image of her entirety in my mind's eye, but I do not. Sadly, I recall her demeanor, presence, and character more than her actual physical being. Were it not for photos, I think a clear image would be lacking.

But her stature and roundness of face and features are there. She had soft eyes and plumpness, I think. Her smile boasted straight clean teeth. Actually, she kept everything clean. I recall linoleum kitchen floors shining and crumb-free, polished hardwood, and tidy rooms. Always tidy. Kitchen counters were clear and clean. No clutter allowed in this home!

In one of the spare bedrooms upstairs, Grandma had a large tin filled to the brim with buttons. How I loved touching, sorting, and arranging those buttons! They filled my time at Grandma's house. And in that same room, Grandpa had large silver coins - dollar coins and half dollars. Such treasure - and he let us touch them! And his old pocket watches. This was the stuff of pirate lore!

We spent overnights there on occasion. I would stay in the room with the buttons, and my brothers across the hallway. When in need of a shampoo, my hair was washed in the whiter-than-white kitchen sink with me stretched out along the counter. No "tangle-free" conditioner in those days, and Grandma never had a girl (my father was an only child.) Grandma didn't tolerate much fuss, so I well recall hair-washings and the subsequent combings with Grandma!

Grandma provided meticulously for our physical care, making sure we were clean and properly fed when we spent time at her house. But Grandpa was the one who cared for our hearts. When my brother fell out of bed in the night, he was the one who scooped him up and held him until he was settled. He would play peek-a-boo and let us climb on his lap during TV time.

Grandpa retired a few years after Grandma's death and he moved in with us. Our new ranch house had a finished basement, and next to the rec room was his bedroom and bath. Now his lap, his smile, his "same ol' jokes" were with us continually. I loved him so dearly.

He shoveled our snow in the winter, mowed our lawns in the summer. He drove us back and forth to after-school rehearsals and ball games. Sometimes he took us to the diner if Mom and Dad had other things going on. And ice cream treats were often a part of time with Grandpa. His chuckle and the twinkle in his eye as he smiled are indelibly etched in my memory.

He was no longer Grandpa on the street but was now Grandpa Follette. Louis LeRoy Follette. I love all of those names because of him.

He accompanied us everywhere on all sorts of family outings and vacations. My head would routinely rest on his shoulder in the back seat as we traveled roads to NYC or Boston, or just around the corner to the nearby golf course.

And he smoked cigars. He had a chair - Grandpa's chair - in our living room. This was where he sat to enjoy his afternoon and evening cigar while he watched sports on TV. And there my brothers and I would fight for time on his lap, never tiring of being with Grandpa.

Always tanned from working outside, always puttering on equipment, and always taking his Saturday night bath whether he needed it or not!

He passed away shortly after Carina Beth was born in 1984. What a deep loss that was for me. Even as I write these words, my eyes fill with tears. How I loved him.

What a dear special man he was; his presence fills all of my childhood memories. He was always there. Always.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Childhood memories, Pt. 1

This morning I'm reflecting on the length of a lifetime, and the brevity of a lifetime.

King David's lifetime is recounted in some detail in several chapters of scripture.

And, too, his life is summarized in one verse. Okay, three: "Thus David the son of Jesse reigned over all Israel. And the period that he reigned over Israel was forty years; seven years he reigned in Hebron, and thirty-three years he reigned in Jerusalem. So he died in a good old age, full of days and riches and honor; and Solomon his son reigned in his place."

I'm wondering how mine will be summarized.

In the meantime, I'm recollecting bits of my childhood. Today I am particularly aware of my mom's pattern of interest and investment in her parents. Consequently I have fond memories of their home because, it seems to me, that every Saturday we made the trek to the farm to visit them. I'm sure it wasn't every Saturday because I also clearly recall Mom saying, "Better head to Mom and Dad's today since I didn't get there yesterday." (Sunday afternoon, I suspect.)

My mom worked outside of the home from Mon.-Fri. so weekends were usually the best option (though perhaps she would slip down on a rare weeknight if she knew the weekend promised to be busy.) She didn't always insist on our accompanying her, but we usually did.

Grandma died when I was in 6th grade, at Christmas time. She was 62. Until then, visits to her cozy yellow house made for so many happy memories.

If it was summer there was gardening in her flower beds, sitting in yard chairs in the shade on the front lawn, slipping away unnoticed to her always cool living room to find Bach minuets on the piano open and ready for a read-through, exploring the back woods with the meandering creek with my brothers. Or riding on Grandpa's big red International tractor through his beloved orchards.

Winter-time visits meant attic expeditions where I found miniature Beatrix Potter books that I adored, eating warm-from-the-oven powdery molasses cookies shared with my twin brother (I always put two hands out, "One for Darryl, too, Grandma!"), and sitting on Grandpa's lap while he played "slap your hand if you don't move quickly enough" games. And the cellar. We loved the cellar furnace with the window in it. We would watch the flame dart and change forever, or so it seemed.

The farm also boasted a big ol' barn with an attached chicken coop. Haylofts, corn-husking machines that my ever-curious older brother discovered still worked by inserting his thumb resulting in a quick trip to the ER, old cow stalls, and dusty long low-slung rooms in the coop, perfect for hide-and-seek. There was never an end to fun when discovering new corners with ladders to climb up to "who knows where" and echoes to make by shouting and singing at the top of our lungs. And it was always better when cousins happened by at the same time!

Out in Grandpa's woods was an old lean-to for escaping a sudden downpour. Next to it was a freshwater spring with a tin cup tied to the neighboring tree, insuring a fresh drink was always on hand (more than welcome when working in the orchard on a hot summer day.) And, of course, a taller-than-I-can-imagine rope swing attached "somewhere in the top of that tree" provided more fun than the most expensive roller coaster could dare boast.

The cool air of their home in the summer, the spicy fragrance in the winter; Grandma and Grandpa's weathered, worn hands that often held ours and would reach out to catch me in a hug that held me to her floured apron or his fresh-air overalls; the warm smile she gave and the ready glance from his bluer than blue eyes; Grandpa's ruddy complexion from long outdoor days and Grandma's strong sinewy arms that churned butter and rolled cookies. These are things I remember like it was yesterday. And yet it was another lifetime it seems.

This was my heritage from my mom. Farm folks, hard working, simple and upright. Grandma was educated to be a teacher. In fact, that's what brought her to my hometown of Williamson, NY from her hometown of Potsdam, NY. There she met Grandpa, son of a merchant (I believe it was a hardware store), who bought land and became a fruit farmer. They had 6 children, all raised on the farm, my mom being the only girl.

It was Grandma that taught me by example to pray. I would often sit by her side on the wooden pew in our Presbyterian Church. And always, as we slid along the bench upon arrival, she would fold her hands and close her eyes. As she bowed her head, I knew she was talking to God. And I prayed, too. I saw her draw near to God and this has become a lifelong endeavor of mine. I draw near to God and pray to Him. Always.

Before I went to school my grandmother babysat my twin brother, Darryl, and me. But one warm afternoon she was out working on her hands and knees in her flower garden when she suddenly clutched her chest and huskily told us to "get Uncle Ed." Somehow, we managed to do so. It was a heart attack. The first. And it was the end of her babysitting us. She went on to live, as I mentioned, until I was in 6th grade. My Grandpa, I recall, was deeply sorrowful at the loss. I spent a night at their home shortly after Grandma died. I remember star gazing out of my upstairs window that night when I noticed him. He was standing in the cold dark night on the backdoor step, looking up at the same stars I was looking at. I could see that his bluer than blue eyes were heavy and misty, and his strong shoulders hung a bit. My heart ached and cried for him. And I missed her, too.

Grandpa Lockley passed away shortly after I became engaged. Rick was never able to meet him, something I have always been sorry about. He was so precious to all of his grandchildren. A wonderful loving man.

I was a truly blessed girl. Another day I will write my memories of my dad's mom and dad.

Sunday, May 01, 2016

Designed A Woman, With Purpose, It Would Seem

I'm a follower of Christ, one who ascribes to the Scriptures as relevant and absolute truth; I believe also in God His Father, the Creator of heaven and of earth and of all things in the heavens and on the earth.

That would include me -- myself. And that includes you.

When I was probably about eight years old I learned the whole of Psalm 100 and have loved it ever since. What profound and absolutely imperative truth for a successful life!

Listen, we spend millions of dollars on books, fortune tellers, and TV shows trying to discover how to live a successful life. Here it is -- FREE! 

Psalm 100 tells us, "Know that the Lord, He is God; it is He who has made us and not we ourselves; we are His people, and the sheep of His pasture." 

And that's it. That's the bottom line, folks: 
He made us, and NOT we ourselves!!! He -- HE -- He is God. KNOW that, People!!!

Recently I learned a new word:
teleology- the belief that purpose and design are apparent in nature; the study of the evidences of design or purpose in nature

A simple principle derived from that definition and employed by scientists is that design predicts function. 

That newly learned word and principle got me thinking about Psalm 100. The owner's manual, scripture, tells me that God made you and me. He was the manufacturer; He made us.

Therefore, we can know that we are His design - not happenstance, but an intentional creation with design and purpose.

Male and female, imago dei. While alike in more ways than not, there are some significant and highly complementary differences.

No offense to any guy readers, but I'm going to explore the female design. I am a woman. I'm concerned first and foremost with how and why He made womankind as He did. But stick around. This affects you, too.

How do we differ from men?

Firstly, a woman has a womb. The peculiar design and function of a womb reveals purpose: to conceive, protect, nurture, and bring forth life. This is the sole purpose of a womb. The Hebrew word for womb is racham, meaning compassion or mercy. It's root is translated "protection from harm". God was most certainly intentional in His design.

A woman has breasts with which she nurtures and comforts her babes. Consider this image from Isaiah 66:10-13:
“Be glad along with Jerusalem, all you who love her.
    Be filled with joy because of her.
Take great delight in her,
    all you who mourn over her.

You will nurse at her comforting breasts.

    And you will be satisfied.
You will drink until you are full.
    And you will delight in her rich and plentiful supply.”
 The Lord continues,
“I will cause peace to flow over her like a river.
    I will make the wealth of nations sweep over her like a flooding stream.
You will nurse and be carried in her arms.
    You will play on her lap.

As a mother comforts her child,

    I will comfort you.

    You will find comfort in Jerusalem.”

Women have wombs; healthy, "egg producing with monthly cycle" wombs.
Women have breasts; lactating, milk producing breasts.

Women, by design it seems (His design no less), were purposed to bring forth life, nurture life, and comfort and protect those He's given to us. If we go with His design, that is.

(Pause. Knit brows together. Tilt head to one side. Breath deeply. Shake head slowly.)
"But surely not," you say, "not routinely, certainly. There must be a mistake. That or you must be kidding.
"Maybe once or twice (a baby that is.) Okay, three times. But definitely not as often as His pesky design would allow. We have more important tasks. This is the 21st century and we know that women have intelligence, talents, abilities. We women can earn money, degrees, pedigree and status.
"But wait a minute. Those of us in the church - we know better than that. We know the shallowness of such thinking."

(Relax - I'm just being cheeky!)

But still, let's be careful here and take this slow. Let's be sure to understand that there is significant ministry to be accomplished beyond giving birth and nursing babies. There are souls to save, believers to disciple, congregations to lead in song, women to teach. There is much to do and we are important and needed. Right?

Hmmm...I'm left with questions. Lots of questions.

Is His design faulty, outdated and irrelevant, terribly in need of tweaking? And how has that tweaking worked out -- what's come of our efforts to neuter women, to "opt out" of the design on a regular basis? How are we faring, we modern day "free from our womb design" women?

And if all is well (now is not the time to get into the long list of things I think may have gone awry), is there reason to give us pause as we consider His design in earnest, to seek to discover our function based on design? Is there possibly a clue here?

How shall we then live, if indeed a functioning healthy womb is His particular plan and purpose? Shall we spend the majority of our fertile married years avoiding the very thing we were made for? Does this seem like His most cherished plan? Is it most honoring to Him? Is it evidence of our trust in His design, or does it cue a belief that He might have made a mistake and left us stuck with an irrelevant dysfunction?

Is there possibly a significant reason for His design? Could there be some importance in raising multiple children that I in my smallness cannot comprehend?

I leave you with these questions and more. We all must, or at least should, wrestle through them, and wrestle them through. And I feel that my service at this time, dear reader, is to inspire you to such wrestling. I cannot answer these questions as they specifically apply to you. I submit that the Holy Spirit is well able to do that.

Wrestle, dear one. Seek Him for His answers to you. Find faith through His word. And live valiantly. Someday I will share my story with you. Of this I can assure you, He will meet you with answers and faith to walk out those answers if you ask.

Friday, April 01, 2016

"Fierce Convictions" - A story by Karen Swallow Prior

Not long ago I finished a biography of Hanna More, a writer and social reformer born in 1745 in England. And I was thoroughly charged and inspired.

Her life's circumstances were varied and through them all she influenced innumerable people, accomplished great things, and made ripples still impacting our world today - all as a truly feminine, wholesome, God-fearing woman. She never strived for acceptance, didn't elbow her way into a place of influence, honored men completely, and lived a life of devotion to God. I found her fascinating.

Her poetry and play-writing caught the attention and admiration of the giants in the literary world of the day, and she found herself welcomed into a segment of society above her station, for she was born into a culture that had clear bounds. You were either poor or well-to-do with little to no middle class and little mobility of station. Yet not only did she move into this literary society comprised of the well-to-do, but she did so as a woman; it was a male-dominated circle. She became privy to their gatherings, often the only woman in their company, discussing new publications and theater productions. They eagerly heard her voice on all subject matters.

Through these connections she met men, and women, of great influence and became true friends with the likes of William Wilberforce, John Newton, David Garrick, and Horace Walpole, to name just a few.

As she grew in stature, her faith became more focused and was the sole driving force in her life; she was a woman compelled to engage her culture and transform it. She and her sister single-handedly instigated an educational reform movement among the poor, finding great success and transformation. Her writing of poetry and political/moral essays awakened much of England to the abolitionists' cry to put an end to slavery in Britain. And her life's final chapters would find her successfully impacting the prevailing morality of the upper crust as well as the lower classes through the writing of novels and pamphlets, the precursor to short stories and the serial magazine stories of Dickens' fame.

She tackled big things, hard things, addressing issues that left her vulnerable to public slander and accusation. She fell prey to depression at times but God would lift her up again. And her gentle, sincere approach revealed her genuine love and interest for people and allowed her voice to be heard.

She was a woman's woman without that being her goal. It was merely the outworking of a life surrendered to her God - her life, a woman's life. Underscoring a Biblical understanding of male/female relationships and roles, she embraced her God-given womanhood as the good and wonderful thing it was. She was a whole person, embodying the sentiment of Elisabeth Elliot: "The fact that I'm a woman does not make me a different kind of Christian, but the fact that I'm a Christian makes me a different kind of woman."

Above all I think I was struck and encouraged by her lack of striving to be great or accomplish much merely for the sake of finding life's meaning. Her desire was to do something to help those around her. She longed to impact her world for the sake of others, always with a knee bowed in devotion to her God, her life-long love.

She was truly a Christian feminist, not because she was attempting to make that point or because anything was done out of frustration with the status quo. She simply cultivated her personhood, loved others, and honored God above all. She was a truly liberated woman and inspirational in so many ways.

I pray that my final chapters will be lived with such focus and devotion.