Thursday, March 27, 2014

then there's the moon...

We were reading "Yertle the Turtle" today (a short work by Dr. Seuss--we were using it to discuss the concept of problem/resolution in literature). To catch you all up, it's about King Yertle the Turtle who is discontent with ruling the turtles in his pond. He stands on top of 9 turtles, and claims ownership of a farm with a cow and a mule. Discontent with that, he makes 200 turtles stand in a stack so he can be higher than everyone, and he sits on top ruling everything he can see…

Then he sees the moon. Angered that something is above him, he summons more turtles to make his throne higher. 

This is where I paused the story and my class began to talk. What was the problem? What could happen? How do you think the problem will be resolved?

Amid the conversation, a voice piped up. "When he tries to be higher than heaven he won't be able to go any farther, because he will run into Jesus!" 

"Oh yes," I said. "He would definitely have to stop when he ran into Jesus." There you have it--the solution Dr. Seuss never discovered, neatly summarized by a 6 year old orphan sitting criss-cross on my alphabet carpet. Pathetically literal, pure genius.

Let me file that one for next time I see the moon. Big men, little people, all are the same… we take as much power as we're given; we try to get more; we all stop when we run into Jesus. 

Sunday, January 19, 2014

losing it?

Ever found yourself in a vain bid for control?

This week the theme was painfully evident. My student confidently shared that his mom didn't want to check his folder, morning after morning…while every day he told his mom that I hadn't sent home his folder that day. I was becoming confused. "Ask your mom to check it," I said every morning, as every morning I looked at untouched homework, unsigned folder. "My mom didn't check it today," he'd say. Who knew that a family fight had grounded him from electronics for 2 weeks? He was the boy in the corner with nowhere to run. When the world turned upside down, that red folder was the "override" switch on a plane he couldn't pilot.

I remember being a kid. Back in the day, growing up meant getting to buy all the candy in the store and only giving it to my best friends. It meant eating precisely what I wanted for every meal, only doing the chores that I liked, never hearing Mom tell me what had to be done… When we were "grown up" we would only do the work we liked, only eat what we pleased, and buy what we wanted with all our money.

Funny, growing up never quite shatters that illusion. The illusion of having money that can buy whatever you need…of having time to spend as I please… of always having the best deal, the better bargain, the final word in the matter. 

Then the rug is pulled from under your feet. It happens to us all sooner or later: the inevitable confrontation, the sinking moment when we realize there is nothing we can do, and we have no control.  We are going where we don't want to go, and there is no option. 

Immediately following the conclusion of my Red Folder incident, I found myself in a doctor's office, being prescribed a medicine for a bad cough. 40 minutes and 5 phone calls later, insurance denied coverage and the doctor changed my script to the "approved" medication. And yes, I went on the whole rampage of "this is ridiculous, what are doctors for anyways?" indignant that insurance was telling my doctor what medicine I should have. My sense of justice was violated. I retold my sad tale in righteous anger to numerous indulgent friends and relations. 

There it was. The loss of control. For the first time in my life, I went in to a pharmacy to get what I wanted, and was told "no." I was unsatisfied and no one cared. I was no longer the consumer; I was the recipient (who also paid $45). There was the sting. I had trusted that I would be able to negotiate for myself, that I could provide what I needed for myself, that I would always have my better judgment to rely on. For one moment, my better judgment didn't matter. 

Misplaced trust is a lost battle, my friends.

"Put not your trust in princes, in the son of man, in whom there is no salvation," in Psalm 146-- "when his breath departs he returns to the earth; on that very day his plans perish."

"Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord his God, who made heaven and earth, the sea and all that is in them; who keeps faith forever; who executes justice for the oppressed, who gives food to the hungry."

Friday, January 3, 2014

Farther Along

With suffering comes a new longing to see God. 

It set in slowly since Ben has been gone. It started with the ache of "I know God loves us; why this?" Then came the certain knowing that there is a "because," and the aching comfort in being near a God who will not ordain senseless pain.

Because. What is the because? When the mail came today, I saw that that the RP Witness featured an article on suffering. I thumbed through and saw the usual list. Because. Suffering brings us closer to God. Suffering corrects us of our sins and error. Suffering brings people to God who don't know Him.  Suffering makes us long for heaven. All true reasons… that all seem trite when nursing a gaping hole in the heart that was once full of a brother, a friend.  

Up late with music and a still deformed Bible memory habit (It's January 3, after all), I found myself tracing out words. While we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Christ died for us when we were weak. "While we were still sinners"--that was the right time, and yet it seems untimely even to speak of it. God incarnate walked the earth and had a mom and brothers and sisters and roamed around the countryside speaking to smelly crowds of people, going off and praying to his Father, performing signs… This roaming lifestyle of good news was cut short--not for great people--but for people who could not answer the because. Undeserving people. "Even for a righteous man someone might die," says Paul. But Christ died when there was no good person to die for.  Only a thief received his promise: Today I will be with you in Paradise.

And He breathed his last before bystanders recognized him. "Surely this man was the Son of God!". So it had to be--because we did not long to see God's face as we should.

Christ wanted to be missed. He ended his time here quickly to show us that we also would need to move on. His Father was building a house to hold all of us: I go to prepare a place for you--that where I am, there you may be also. Contrary to reason, the lame and blind, twisted and sickly are those summoned to come and eat with him in his house. Sitting around his table we will know we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.

"And one day when the sky rolls back on us
Some rejoice and the others fuss
because every knee must bow and tongue confess
that the Son of God is forever blessed. 
His is the kingdom, we're the guests
so put your voice up to the test: 
Sing 'Lord, come soon!' "
--Josh Garrels, "Farther Along"

Saturday, December 28, 2013

songs that take you by the heart

I realize that, coming from a Presbyterian, this may sound a little strange, but I don't have words for God right now. I know, I'm from a theological following that shuns scripted prayers and liturgies. I've been told by pastors and teachers that Jesus denounces "vain repetitions" when he teaches us the Lord's Prayer. Bu like a stroke patient in rehab, I can't move my mouth. My heart has no power of speech, it just gives signals for "yes" and "no."

So I go looking, grasping for what I know. Like a favorite tune long-forgotten, I strain to make out the lines of what had been a familiar prayer. Words are old friends I can't remember.

Songs can take a heart by the hand and lead along,  lend a prayer when no prayer was there, point you down the path when you are lost, lift you up when you crumple in a heap by the side of the road...

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

it's not here

"Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen." 

Being back at my parents for the past few days, I have made a couple forays into Ben's old room--with Mama, with Dan and Anna, alone. Just to look, take in the pile of shoes under the clothes rack, take in the disarray of student work piled about. It's been cleaned, but things are where he left them for the most part--pencils and staples, college textbooks, old Bibles, Air Force pins, worn out running shoes and work boots, doodles and silly sketches...

I found myself looking over things, looking for Ben, hungry for something significant--just one written letter or note, something to hold on to that still radiated his goofy fun-loving personality. Why do you seek the living among the dead? He just wasn't there.

I can't go in there every day like Mama could, so being in Ben's room felt like it should be some kind of special occasion. The last time I spent any time in his room (that I remember) was a special occasion. Ben let me sleep on his bed one weekend when I was visiting with several other people. There were no beds left in the house but he offered to take the couch. He let me enjoy his wool army surplus blanket and sheets… didn't even ask to come in to his own room until I was up and the door was opened. That was special because Ben was still there. Today, by contrast, I felt distinctly the lack of specialness.

What was I hoping for? What did I expect? I was looking for the guy who isn't in his room any more. I was digging around in the husks of a man who shed mortality almost 3 weeks ago. Like Mary, the truth is dawning slowly and I am a slow learner.

When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: "Death is swallowed up in victory."

The hope of the imperishable can't be found in a stack of worn shoes. No, the worn shoes have been left behind --my mortal brother has put on immortality. The seed has fallen and lies dormant; the husk has fallen away and has died. He--like his Savior--is no longer here. The old has been exchanged for the new, awaiting transformation into something new and beautiful.

"He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you…"

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The eaves are dripping.

"I've come at last, said [Father Christmas]. "She has kept me out for a long time, but I have got in at last. Aslan is on the move…"
--The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

Winter is not forever; Christmas is tomorrow. Melting ice and dripping gutters, blue sky and muddy boots stand as a testament of mercy. After the freeze comes the thaw; after silence comes the Word; into the darkness, light. 

Calvin shook melting ice off the tree branches and plants with his "quarter staff."

We stopped to admire ice-encrusted cedar berries...

…and the icicle-covered hillside...

Packed for an adventure: thermoses of peppermint tea and volumes of poetry.

What do these two have in common besides coats and handkerchiefs?
Can you guess? Well, can you?

Thursday, November 14, 2013

A Smile.

God gives little blessings all the time--in the form of a moment to capture, or an extra-special little something that says "Child, you are loved lavishly, extravagantly, above measure, running over..."

This picture is an example. Today I was working on a painting project with some kids at my table, when I was accosted by a 6-year old child on an iPad2. 

"Mih Fitsow, Smow!" (He majors on smiles--not good articulation).

I smiled. Later on during the day I found a KidBlog entry entitled "Ms. Fisher" 

The words were, "Ms. Fisher is My sdrdgB." He read it to me--it said, "Ms. Fisher is my teacher." He sounded out the word "teacher" all by himself. 

Yesterday, the smile came in a bouquet of yellow mums. Sweet smells first thing in the morning. "I have a surprise for you!  Here!" Sunny smile was gleeful, and announced confidently, "If these die, just let me know. I have more in my garden!"

Then there's the moment I look down at two writers, heads bent together over a clipboard and I overhear one saying to the other, "No, don't write the word there. You need a space… ok… now we are writing the word 'it.' You are going to have to sound this out. First write '/i/'…that's lowercase…then "/i/-/t/. There's a /t/ at the end… good..." 

And I thank the Lord for the child who didn't let his buddy copy, but patiently guided him through every letter and sound and space. And what's more, the other child let him help! Amazing. 

Then there was the friend of mine who came by this afternoon and cut out 25 sets of sight word cards--60 words each--and wiped down tables with antibacterial spray, and sharpened all the pencils, and got a good music jam going in the mean-time.

Then there was my dad, who laughed his head off the other day as I recounted workplace drama; laughed himself to tears, in fact, while I repeatedly said (being completely tied in knots, of course), "Yes, I know it sounds funny--except that it's really happening!" and I remember for the millionth time why he makes such a good administrator himself. Because he sees humor in the predicaments of politics. And then he moves on.

God doesn't always wait for me to ask--sometimes He gives good things that we didn't even know we needed or wanted. Unlooked-for flourishes that come home like a letter from a friend, or a like gift when it's not my birthday.