Uprise

Reading Time: 3 minutes

This past weekend, my teenaged daughter and I attended the Uprise Festival in Shippensburg, PA.  Uprise is a gathering of some of today’s leading contemporary Christian bands.  Friday and Saturday featured concerts by some of our favorite artists—Hawk Nelson, Blanca, Skillet, For King and Country, the Newsboys, and the pièce de resistance, Toby Mac.  We set up our chairs and umbrellas on the side of a hill overlooking the huge mainstage and spent both days jamming, scarfing down food of questionable nutritional value, and shopping in the merchandise area.

When gushing about the weekend to a student of mine, she looked at me quizzically.  “What?” I asked.

“I guess I’m just surprised you’d go to a concert like that, and even enjoy it,” she said, shrugging.

“Why?” I asked.

“Because…because you’re a musician,” she answered.

The thing is, a few years ago, she would’ve probably been correct.  As an operatically-trained singer and lover of classical music, I will openly own it:  I used to be a music snob. That snobbery had gradually worked its way into my thoughts about music’s place in worship, and I had always been convinced that “Lift High the Cross” and Bach, were the way to go to “Sing to the LORD a new song ” [ Psalm 96:1 ]   (or should I say, “Sing the BEST, HIGHEST QUALITY song to the Lord”).  Luckily, God can take our most deep-seated convictions and turn them upside down.

A few years ago, my kids’ youth group went to take part in a youth night at our local Christian radio station.  Since I knew they would be on-air, I listened to what they were doing.  I made a jaw-dropping discovery that night—I loved it.  I heard my first Toby Mac song that night, and immediately became obsessed with contemporary Christian music.  It was no longer “cheesy” sounding to me, lacking in form, melodic interest, or textual depth.  Instead, the words were saying exactly what I needed and wanted to hear, and there was a groove.  Something had breathed in my ear and my heart and sparked alive something in me that I never knew existed.  I began to listen to contemporary Christian music every day, whether in the car or on my iPod.

What I appreciate about contemporary Christian music is that the songs have meaning and a message, unlike much of mainstream pop music of today. I realize that a few artists have been socially or religiously awakened by the 2016 election, which is hopeful to see; I have yet to really hear this in the majority of our current Billboard Charts artists, however.  With the myriad of subjects available—climate change, racial inequality, poverty, healthcare issues, the plight of common folks in the “Rust Belt”—why are the main themes of songs on the Top-10 radio about partying or hooking up in a club? This is why I find some hope in contemporary Christian music.  I finally hear songs that I can dance to while hearing lyrics that deal with optimism for the future, staying faithful, owning your flaws, and seeking truth.

I also enjoyed hearing different band members discuss some of the recent struggles they have encountered and how their music helps them deal with and process the negative influences in their own lives.  Sometimes, I almost felt as if I were in church hearing a sermon.  The most memorable of these moments happened during the Newsboys concert.  Lead singer, Michael Tait, was chatting with the crowd between songs and made an astute observation.  He said, “It seems some Christians nowadays are very busy hating the sins of others.”  The simple truth of this statement is what makes it so elegant; grace usually is. It has the ring of something Jesus would have said to his disciples, or perhaps even to the Pharisees.  As Jesus said, it sure is hard pointing at the splinter in your friend’s eye when that two-by-four in your own eye keeps swiping everyone around you.  We must stop fixating on sins and trying to set them up in some form of a tiered system, especially if that tiered system benefits us above others.

Seeing the healing and uniting power of music is an amazing thing. Looking around the crowd, I saw so many different faces and skin colors—some folks with ear gauges, some with tattoos, some wearing revealing clothing, some wearing conservative clothing.  Just people, who for a moment, forgot how they shouldn’t get along with one another, but who were able to unite their voices together in the Newsboys’ anthem “God is not dead, He’s surely alive, He’s living on the inside, roaring like a lion…”

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S_OTz-lpDjw

 

 

 

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Insomnia

 

Reading time: 3 minutes

 

I was suddenly roused from sleep by the sound of my dog shaking himself noisily.  He finished this spastic dance with a loud, staccato sneeze.  I turned over and fluffed my pillow.  I moved to my left side, my stomach, my back. I was hot, then just as suddenly, cold.  I was awake, and was not going back to sleep any time soon.

Returning to teaching after my sabbatical and post-radiation has been as I thought it would be—challenging. The insanity of accomplishing my day presses on my chest like the elephant in the COPD commercial for Spiriva.  My mind teems with a seemingly impossible to complete to-do list. I lie awake, fretting, How am I going to make it through the day tomorrow (or should I say, TODAY)?  I’m going to be so busy.  I need all the energy I can get. I’m going to be exhausted. I’ve battled with insomnia for several years now.  It doesn’t happen to me frequently, but when it occurs, it can be extremely annoying. I decided to get up, as I usually do, and read to reset my sleep routine and calm my racing mind.

I settled into a chair, snuggled up in a blanket, and began reading.  I have been reading the Old Testament, revisiting all the classic narratives of the establishment of God’s relationship with humans.  It’s all there—infidelity, murder, war, plagues, rape, incest…as well as hope, love, faithfulness, peace, passion, freedom.  As I began reading 1 Samuel, I realized I was being reintroduced to a fellow insomniac: Samuel. Of course, it wasn’t poor Samuel’s mind that was keeping him awake, but the voice of God.

The story is in 1 Samuel chapter three.  As a baby, Samuel’s mother promised him to the Lord, and has begun his apprenticeship in the temple to the priest there, Eli.  Samuel and Eli have gotten comfortable and are nodding to sleep, kept company by the dimly glowing lamp of God.  As his eyes are closing, however, Samuel hears a voice sharply call his name.  Instantly, Samuel wakes and rushes to find Eli, asking what Eli wants of him.  Eli, grumpy at being awakened after just going to sleep, tells Samuel to go back to bed.  The same thing happens two more times before Eli realizes what is happening. When Samuel comes to him for the third time, Eli gives Samuel instructions:

1 Samuel 3

 So Eli told Samuel, “Go and lie down, and if he calls you, say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’” So Samuel went and lay down in his place.

 Samuel does exactly as Eli orders, using Eli’s exact words.  It is with this statement that Samuel begins a dialogue with God that lasts his entire life. The life of a prophet is a dicey one, as a prophet’s job as a mouthpiece of the Lord is often to proclaim uncomfortable news.  This happens to Samuel right away when he realizes it’s going to be his unpleasant job to explain the Lord’s displeasure with Eli and his family… not the most comfortable position to be in for Samuel, as The New Prophet On the Block.

After re-reading Samuel’s story, I am trying to view my insomnia through a different lens now. When I am awakened, I pause, and I try not to be immediately annoyed. I give myself a chance to fall back to sleep, but if I don’t, I get up, find a comfortable chair, wrap up in a blanket, and wait.  I hear the gentle tick tick of the clock on the wall and listen to the creaking of our house as it settles.  I breathe quietly, slowly, rhythmically. I whisper Samuel’s (actually Eli’s) words exactly: “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” I haven’t gotten a direct response yet, but I have spent much more quality time with God in the dark hours of the night. My guess is, He’s appreciated it more since I’m too tired to bug Him about everything else I’ve been casting at His feet (not that I don’t do that as well, too).

Then, I read a bit and return to bed. Usually, I go right to sleep. Such a precious commodity, sleep. I hope I get some tonight.

 

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Eclipse

 

Reading time: 2 minutes

Yesterday was the first Monday where I have not gotten up to make my 8:30am radiation appointment.  I could sleep in.  I could eat breakfast when I wanted to.  I could sip my coffee to my heart’s content.  I was free to enjoy the morning as I saw fit, until I had to take my son to an appointment.

So why did I feel a twinge of sadness? Why would I miss beginning every day with getting zapped by radiation? I didn’t, really.  What I missed was something deeper.  I missed the intensity of emotion that pervaded my days this summer.  There was a relentless focus on something beyond my control, something outside of my understanding, something that utterly absorbed my attention.  Something like a solar eclipse.

For weeks leading up to yesterday, August 21, 2017, the buzz about the total solar eclipse has been all over social media, TV news, the radio, newspapers…everywhere.  People have been madly trying to find protective eye glasses approved by NASA and to find a place to gather that will afford an unimpeded view.  We have prayed harder for clear skies more than we have in years.  There is an intensity and purpose to our plans.  We are excited, because we know what is going to happen, but it is something we have never experienced.  Because we don’t know what to expect, there is a tinge of fear, too.

It was indeed as amazing as we imagined. We saw our fellow eclipse watchers with their dorky glasses on (and hoped we looked cooler than they did).  We saw the curve of the moon as it progressed slowly across the sun, like the thickening silhouette of a scimitar’s blade. We felt the supernatural stillness in the air and the eerie cast to the afternoon light. Now, it is the day after.  The eclipse has passed, and like the day after Christmas, so has our excitement.

My personal “eclipse” is mostly over now as well. There was definitely stillness and darkness, but there was anticipation and intensity as well during this process.  All of my focus was on lying on that radiation table, arms splayed above my head, waiting patiently for the radiology nurses to say “Hold your breath…OK, you can breathe!”

Now, it is definitely time to stop holding my breath.  It is also time to not allow myself to return to my “normal routine,” to “business as usual.”  This experience has shown me I am made of stronger stuff than I thought–God continues to remind me of that.  “The God of Brilliant Lights” is truly shining down on us.  That means you, B-Flat Christian.

 

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NEW

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Revelations [NIV]

21 Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,”[a] for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’[b] or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life.”

This passage from Revelations is what began my blog-writing process.  Like the apostle John, I was witnessing something new in my life—a “New Jerusalem,” if you will, that required my attention, my contemplation, and finally, my acknowledgment.  Scholars have argued over the true meaning of the rhapsodic imagery described in Revelations.  Most agree that the New Jerusalem is an idea, and it is this: it is a dwelling place for the Lord that is no longer constricted by bricks or mortar, by tent-poles or canvas.  The New Jerusalem is a holy temple that dwells with and within people.  Within us. We are all to become new little churches, or as C.S. Lewis puts it, “to become a little Christ” (from Mere Christianity). When the New Jerusalem comes within you, the old way of doing things dies to make room for what is new. The New Jerusalem needs “heart real estate” to thrive, of course.
We all know that “new” can be exciting, but “new” can also be daunting.  “New” always serves as a marker between beginnings and endings, and is, thus, a source of discomfort, too.  At this moment in my life, I am watching several close friends and family members jostle up against “new” in ways that are amazing and terrifying.  I am watching my sister, Terry, take a leap and move from her long-time home in Knoxville, TN to begin a “new” life in Virginia, for example. I am watching my father-in-law, Buddy, mourn the loss of his wife, begin the process of selling his home, and decide what the rest of his own “new” life will look like. And, I am watching myself begin a “new” school year, bidding an agonizing farewell to what have been the most painful and joyful months of my life.
While pondering the “new,” one can feel paralyzed, yet it is crucial to look for the hope that is concealed within it.  In flowery and poetic language, the passage from Revelations above describes how The New Jerusalem is prepared lovingly and appears dressed in her finest wedding gown, glowing with anticipation.  God invites her to come forward—this is a planned wedding, after all, and all present will drink from a fountain gushing not with chocolate or champagne, but with the living water to which Jesus alludes in John 4:10. It is the water of self-discovery, of blessings known and unknown, of grace heartily undeserved.
Join me as we sit by this fountain, raise a glass to your New Jerusalem, and take a sip.  Cheers.

 

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Mountains

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Psalm 121[NIV]

A song of ascents.

I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,
the Maker of heaven and earth.

He will not let your foot slip—
he who watches over you will not slumber;
indeed, he who watches over Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.

The Lord watches over you—
the Lord is your shade at your right hand;
the sun will not harm you by day,
nor the moon by night.

The Lord will keep you from all harm—
he will watch over your life;
the Lord will watch over your coming and going
both now and forevermore.

 

I have come to the conclusion that I hate Highway 81, with a deep, crimson passion.

My husband and I were headed back to Pennsylvania after spending the weekend with family in Virginia.  I grew up in the Shenandoah Valley, and it will always retain a special place in my heart.  My heart at the moment was actually a bit heavy, as we had just left my kids with my sister-in-law. She and her husband had graciously agreed to take them with their family to The Great Wolf Lodge for three days of waterpark fun. Unfortunately, I couldn’t go because I had to continue my radiation treatments at home. So, as we drove north on 81, I was already on my way to a pity party. The party was interrupted by something worse, however: a blinking sign, stating that a major accident was blocking both lanes and all drivers needed to find an alternate route. Great.

My husband and I got out the map to consider our options. Two highways run relatively parallel to Highway 81: Route 11 and 42. Route 11 (on the east side) and Route 42 (on the west side) are two very old roads that, at one time, were in regular use before Highway 81 split them down the middle.  The exit to Route 11 was backed up for miles, so in a split-second decision, we chose to take an exit toward Route 42.

Route 42 was surprisingly empty, and it wound gracefully through some of the most beautiful countryside I have seen in Virginia.  We passed stately old brick farm houses, majestic red barns, serene cattle and sheep, and countless deep-green fields, all nestled between the Appalachian mountains on the left and the Blue Ridge on the right.  We realized that as long as we were headed north and the Blue Ridge mountains were on our right, we would eventually make it back to an exit that would lead us back to 81. Those mountains have been a source of wonder and comfort to me my entire life, and resting my eyes on them calmed me, as I recited silently Blue Ridge on the right.

I was immediately reminded of the famous Psalm above, as its words are contained within Leonard Bernstein’s “Simple Song,” from his Mass. The words from the song include the phrase “For the Lord is my shade, is the shade upon my right hand.” Why is the shade provided by the right hand? More than likely because most people’s dominant hand is the right hand (apologies to my left-handed friends). It is strong, and therefore, is a symbol of protection in the Bible. (Keeping the sun off your back could save your life, after all.)  Furthermore, in laying on hands for blessings, it was the right hand that was placed upon the head of the one receiving the blessing (Gen. 48:18, for example). Being seated at the right hand of a host was culturally significant and constituted favor as well; according to the Creed, remember, Jesus is seated “on the right hand of God the Father Almighty.”

Even more interesting is that research indicates many scholars view Psalm 121 as a Psalm for travelers.   Its subtitle claims it is a “Song of Ascents”—as in climbing up something.  In his article, “Psalm 121: A Psalm for Sojourners,” James Limburg claims that “ascents” is “a reference to the “going up” to Jerusalem for the annual festivals held there” (p. 181). Each verse offers strong encouragement and assurance to the traveler as s/he climbs. In a nutshell, this Psalm says to me:

“In every uphill climb in your life—every stumble, every rock, every burning ray of sunlight—God is watching over you. He does not prevent every fall, but he will stand by you. He may seem quiet; maybe He even seems to be asleep. He is not. If you are not sure, then look up to those mountains and the clouds above them, and remember who created them. Don’t look down at your feet; look UP.” Blue Ridge on the right.

We made it home safely and avoided the accident on 81, but we were also thankful to traverse “a road less travelled.” It was a wonderful diversion from the curse of Highway 81.

My cancer journey is almost over.  As the highway winds through the valley, my heart continues to whisper:  Blue Ridge on the right. Blue Ridge on the right.

Limburg, James.  “Psalm 121: A Psalm for Sojourners.” Word  World: Theology for Christian Ministry, 5/2 (1985): 180-87.  Luther Northwestern Theological Seminary, St. Paul, Minnesota.  Viewed on August 7, 2017 at http://wordandworld.luthersem.edu/content/pdfs/5-2_Psalms/5-2_Limburg.pdf

 

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Robes

Reading Time: 2 minutes

I suppose we must look for humor where this is none.  For me lately, it has been about hospital gowns.  As most of you know, I am undergoing radiation treatment after a breast cancer lumpectomy last May.  It has been a whirlwind of MRI’s, CT scans, and other appointments, and in nearly all of them, I have had to wear some type of hospital covering.  I say “covering,” because not all of the coverings are actual cloth gowns; and many could not even really be called “gowns,” either.  So, to pass the time, I came up with a classification system of hospital attire.  Bear with me, and laugh with me.

The Perfect Gown (which does not exist)

This gown is the color of your choice.  Do you want a perky, cheerful color, like coral or chartreuse?  Take your pick.  The gown immediately sizes itself to your unique body shape.  It is a wrap-around that has a sassy little tie on the side and Velcro on the top for modesty.  Because it is multi-layered, it won’t gap open unexpectedly while walking down the hall.  The fabric of this gown is silky soft and warm, and is so comfortable, you wouldn’t mind wearing it for the rest of the day.  Unlike the other gowns that are usually available…

Like…

The Drab Depresser

Faded and cheerless, this gown looks like it’s been through way too many washings.  It is a sad, pale blue, with a confusing diamond-like pattern that, at one time, may have been quite fetching.  Its current ashen color does not help lift your spirits, however.  While it is soft to the touch and feels nice against your skin, you look down and realize there are worn patches in the fabric that you hadn’t noticed previously.  Those thin places are indications this gown has been well-worn and loved, but it might be best to find a newer, less-used model.

 The Flasher

No matter how tightly you tie the little neck and side straps, this gown will not close in the back, resulting in a constant breeze wafting down your back as you walk down the hall.  You try holding the gap closed, but you can’t reach back enough and soon, your arm falls asleep.  Be sure to wear your best-fitting and cleanest underwear when wearing this model, because many people will be viewing it inadvertently.

The Automatic De-tie

You have high hopes as you put this gown on, as it looks fairly new.  Its pattern is brightly-colored green boxes.  You slip it on and tie it at the neck and side as usual, but as you open the screen to leave the dressing room, you look down and realize you are experiencing a “wardrobe malfunction” no less dramatic than that of Janet Jackson at Super Bowl 38 in 2004.  You rush back into the dressing room, hastily re-tying the neck ties more tightly.  Looking in the mirror, you give yourself a satisfied nod and try to leave again.  This time, the side tie drifts open, and you realize those undies weren’t your most modest choice for the day (of which everyone is getting a good view).  No matter how tightly you or the nurses tie it, this model is simply not having it.

The Gia-normous Wrapper

As you swaddle yourself in this model, you realize something is amiss.  There is more hospital gown than there is body.  Furthermore, there is a confusing array of snaps all along the neckline down the sleeves.  You pause, knowing you should be smart enough to determine the use of these snaps; you really, really think; you shrug and give up.  You put it on anyway, as it makes you feel thin for the day, which isn’t a bad thing.

The Paper “Why Bother”?

This covering, as it can’t really be classified as a gown, is like a paper-towel vest. The pattern for it must have been cut during the 80’s, as its wing-like shoulders look like something Grace Jones would have worn in a low-budget music video.  You put it on so the opening is in the front, but unless you hold it closed, it’s pretty much open to the world.  Luckily, you don’t wear it for long, and not when walking down the hospital hallway.

The Luscious Mammogram Cape

You could imagine yourself wearing this to a cocktail party some time (perhaps not?). This mammogram cape wraps around the shoulders and hangs loosely around the upper body.  There is usually some type of neck closure, but it covers you discreetly.  The most wonderful thing about this hospital attire?  It is warm and snuggly.  The one consistent thing I’ve noticed about nearly every hospital and medical facility I’ve been in is that they are notoriously COLD.  This cape isn’t thin cotton; it is like wrapping yourself in a plush hug.  If only there were full body versions of this!

Have I missed any?  Be sure to notify me if so, and write a detailed description of a hospital gown you have encountered.  Thank you again for joining me on this journey, and for continuing to bolster my spirits.

From Hillary Scott’s “Still”:

You’re parting waters

Making a way for me

You’re moving mountains that I don’t even see

You’ve answered my prayer before I even speak

All You need for me to be is still

 

 

 

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He Knows Your Name

I will give you a name:

It will be special, precious only to you

It will reveal your true self

It will dismantle your flaws

It will release your uncertainties

It will take your misgivings

And replace them with “givings”

You could never count.

Uncross your arms,

Unfold your fingers,

Hold out your palm—

Accept this name.

 

Last Sunday, I preached my first sermon at my church. It was a wonderful opportunity, as it’s a bit like learning to ride a bike—it’s best to try with training-wheels first. My church is my training-wheels, in that I knew they would listen with open hearts and forgive my wobbly bicycle. It was such a safe feeling, to look out on those shining, smiling faces.

My sermon discussed the naming of Esau and Jacob, and how Jacob pulls off the greatest bait and switch deal ever by trading a bowl of stew for an inheritance. What is most fascinating about the story, however, is how the twins are named, and how those names foreshadow their character. The act of naming in the Old Testament is exceedingly important, as giving a name makes an object or a place “known” and “remembered.” Giving a name to a living object, then, like a child, is a spiritual activity that can possibly affect the future of a baby’s life.

When choosing a name, we often choose a family name, or a name whose sound pleases our ear. In Biblical times, names were usually chosen according to their actual meaning in the language, or by the physical characteristics of the child. This was the case with Esau and Jacob. According to different sources, “Esau” is close to the word in Hebrew for “hair”; since he had a great deal of reddish hair when he was born, Isaac and Rebekah name the first of the twins “Esau.” Jacob came shortly after Esau in the birthing process and was holding onto to Esau’s tiny heel. Thus, “Jacob” comes from the word “heel,” but other sources say it is imbued with other less positive meanings, such as “deceiver,” and “supplanter.” Jacob is forever known as a “heel-grabber,” struggling mightily in his relationships with his brother, his father, his father-in-law, his wives, and eventually, God.

As if creating strife amongst his entire family isn’t enough, Genesis 32:22-32 colorfully describes how Jacob engages in hand-to-hand combat with God Himself. Some sources say Jacob’s opponent could have been an angel, as the being is described as “a man.” Perhaps Jacob is even wrestling with himself; yet, it is clear the being directly represents God and speaks for Him. True to form, Jacob somehow finagles God’s blessing from this being. Jacob’s new name, Israel, is a bit grudgingly bestowed, a sign that God recognizes and respects Jacob for his determination and tenacity.

It is an astonishing name, a name that eventually becomes the name of a new people with whom God forges a new type of relationship:

Genesis 32 [NIV]:

28 Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.” 

The name’s meaning is perfect for Jacob, but also foretells the troubled relationship the Israelites (Jacob’s descendants) will experience throughout Exodus, and even beyond. Yet, the most noteworthy aspect of this name, I think, is found in the last part of this verse. Jacob overcomes his battles—those within, and those outside of him. He faces them head on without flinching, and fights for God’s blessings, rather than waiting timidly to receive them.

As B-Flat Christians, we all wrestle with ourselves, with others, and with God. We could all be named “Israel,” in a way, but the critical point is to overcome. Our daily battles are about remaining hopeful in the face of poverty, in practicing empathy instead of judgment, in loving others who definitely do NOT deserve to be loved…in essence, to seek our true names. God knows our hearts and is waiting patiently to gift us with our real selves if we search for them.

What is your name?

 

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SAND

Reading Time: 2 minutes

I can never decide which is worse—packing up for vacation, or unpacking after vacation. Packing is exciting because you are anticipating the fun activities you’ll do. Do you have your bathing suit? Your hat? Sunscreen? Towels? Most of all, what are you forgetting? There’s always something. The thought keeps nagging at you as you drive to your destination until you snap your fingers and think HA! My pillow! I forgot my pillow! Somehow, though, you make do.

Unpacking, however, is drudgery. The fun has happened. The weather was gorgeous. You were free from the normal struggles that pull at you from all directions. Here you are, staring at a suitcase full of damp clothes that need to be washed. There are bags all over the kitchen floor that need to be put away. You have no idea what you’re going to make for dinner because there is only a jar of pickles and mayo in the fridge. This was my state of mind after our vacation.

I picked up my beach bag to unpack it, accidentally dropping it and spilling it on the floor. An assortment of shells, sunscreen, an opened bag of trail mix, and sand, rushed all over the floor. Sighing, I picked up what I could, feeling the grit of the sand beneath my feet as I walked around the kitchen. I found my bag of shoes and, as I pulled them out, more sand sprinkled on the floor. I got the bag of damp bathing suits out and went outside to hang them on the line. Sand slid from every single one. Sand had worked its way in to everything from our trip, an annoying reminder of the fun we left behind.

Returning from vacation was particularly difficult this year, as I knew we would be returning in time for me to begin radiation treatments. I tried to recharge my “joy battery” as much as possible, knowing I would be drawing on its reserves for the rest of the summer. So far, the treatments have been just like that sand—an annoying, daily reminder that will be with me for a while. No matter how I vacuum or brush them off, I know I have to get up the next day and do it again.

I am trying to remember that sand is a wonderful thing, too. I love the challenge of walking in soft dry sand, feeling my muscles work as I cross over a sand dune toward the water. I love standing ankle-deep at the water’s edge, feeling my feet sink gradually deeper and deeper with each wave, eventually disappearing beneath the surface. I love sitting in my beach chair and digging trenches in the sand with my heels, burrowing down into the cooler, wetter sand beneath.

What I really love, however, is picking up shells that have been smoothed and shaped by the water and the sand. Sometimes, those shells look nothing like their original shape. For example, I picked up what I recognized as the interior of a conch shell, its spiral still intact, its outer shell and pointed horns broken off and worn away into little nubs. Despite the fact that it wasn’t a whole shell, it was still beautiful. I rubbed its creamy, peach-colored lip, marveling at its twirling center.

I, too, am being smoothed and shaped by my cancer experience. Remnants of the old me are still here, but I can feel how the “sands” of radiation treatments are polishing me and filing down some of the sharp edges of my spirit. I even have my own plastic container of sand that I gathered from the beach and brought home with me. That way, I can put my feet into it when I need it, to bring me joy, and to make me remember this time of learning.

Psalm 139 [NIV]

17 

How precious to me are your thoughts, God!

    How vast is the sum of them!

18 

Were I to count them,

    they would outnumber the grains of sand—

    when I awake, I am still with you.

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RONDO

Reading Time: 2 minutes

[For Cathy and Judy, and all the Crows of the present and past]

Rondo: [according to oxforddictionaries.com]:

  • “A musical form with a recurring leading theme, often found in the final movement of a sonata or concerto.”

  • A rondo’s form is comprised of a refrain that is repeated between other melodic material, called “episodes”

  • Its form is often A B A C A

Every summer, my family descends upon a wonderful little barrier island in North Carolina called Emerald Isle. Scads of aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents gather together to relax and enjoy each other’s company. The days stretch as long and as wide as the sugary sands of the beach.   The nights are filled with delicious seafood, competitive games (Scrabble and Poker are favorites), and endless conversations, all accompanied by the soundtrack of rushing surf. This year was no exception. It was lovely to see everyone and to see how their children progress, seemingly overnight, from toddling babies into willowy teenagers.

One morning as I sat in my beach chair chatting with my cousin, Tracy, I saw her watching her little boy dig busily in the sand beside my teenaged son (Shelby) and my husband (Doug). “Look at them,” she said, grinning. “You know, I remember being little and Doug digging big holes in the sand for us. Then, when I got older, I remember playing with Shelby when he was a tiny little boy…” She paused and laughed. “Now, Shelby is playing with my little one! Isn’t it amazing?” I agreed. It IS amazing to watch time wash by and, wave by wave, gradually alter the coast-line of our lives. It’s a cycle that is still miraculous to me.

What also continues to astound me is to watch my nieces and nephews as they have children. These kids (so they’re in their twenties—they’re still frozen in time for me as kids) whom I babysat and diapered are now having babies of their own. “The Kids Table” at which all the nieces and nephews gathered together to enjoy raucous meal times has become “The Second Adult Table.” We will need to buy another “Kids Table” to accommodate the new little beach combers that keep appearing. Our hearts are as full as our beach house now!

The celebration of new little ones is tinged with a bit of sadness, too, because we remember that not all of our family members are present each year. Some live too far away to come regularly; some have other commitments; and some are no longer with us. It is this dichotomy we have come to take part in every year—the predictable “sameness” of the location and the traditions we uphold, juxtaposed by the constant change of new and aging faces. The absent faces may not be here, but they live on through the stories we re-tell about them every year.

I am already counting the days until next summer…

Precious soul, do not delay

Embark on the wondrous journey

To the sea of meaning!

Remember, you have passed through many stages

Do not resist, surrender to the journey.

Wash your wings from the earth’s clay

And follow the trail of those before you.

Do not linger in the potter’s shop

Break the jug and flow with the stream of life.

Rush down from the mountain to the sea

For the mountain offers no refuge.

Do not wander east or west

Aim straight at the sun!

From its light, like the moon,

You will sometimes be a crescent

And sometimes full. [p. 42]

From Rumi’s Little Book of Life: The Garden of the Soul the Heart and the Spirit. Translated by Maryam Mafi and Azima Melita Kolin. Charlottesville, VA: Hampton Roads Publishing, 2012. Given to me by my dearest of friends, Kari Skipper.

 

 

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Community

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[For Mary Lynne]

  • A Christian community shares common goals and communicates (with each other, and with God) through communion.

Community is an old word, actually. According to Merriam-Webster, it has been in use since the fourteenth century, and its root word, common, has been around even longer–since the thirteenth century. All of these words stem from the Latin communis, or “ordinary,” which is one if its contemporary definitions. Other synonyms might be shared, similar, or related.

Today, community is a buzz word some might define in a social context, as in “belonging to a group,” or in a geographical sense, as in “an area of a town or neighborhood.” While these definitions are valid, they really only hint at what community is and what it was intended to be.

Genesis 35

After Jacob returned from Paddan Aram, God appeared to him again and blessed him. 10 God said to him, “Your name is Jacob, but you will no longer be called Jacob; your name will be Israel.” So he named him Israel.

11 And God said to him, “I am God Almighty; be fruitful and increase in number. A nation and a community of nations will come from you, and kings will be among your descendants. 12 The land I gave to Abraham and Isaac I also give to you, and I will give this land to your descendants after you.” 13 Then God went up from him at the place where he had talked with him.

Looking at community in this context, we see that it is a creation resulting from a centuries-old covenant between God and Abraham. God chose Abraham to be the father of a new nation of people who would no longer worship a multitude of fickle gods. This nation, named after Jacob/Israel, Abraham’s grandson, would be unique. They would have a direct relationship with the One God, later revealed to Moses as “I AM.” This nation would see God’s manifestations in clouds of fire; they would hear His voice in the thunder; they would see His writing on stone tablets; they would learn His laws, which at the time, were different from any human law.

This nation would also struggle, rebel, and disobey every law placed before them. They would, as they had years before, lose the intimate relationship they had with God, yet, He would always return to them. God eventually came back to them in the most profound way possible—by becoming one of them. By becoming one of us. By becoming “common” and “ordinary.”  Perhaps this is why the word communion seems directly related to community and common. After the Last Supper, every-day sustenance was transformed into a holy ritual—a reminder of the fulfillment of that covenant made long ago between God and His chosen, wandering people.

No matter how far we roam from God, no matter how our sins transport us away into the Valley of Sheol, He will always be there pursuing us, even unto death. When we share communion, we communicate our thanks to God for promises kept. We communicate with each other by acknowledging openly how far from perfection we truly are, and by recognizing the unfathomable value of every person eating that bread and drinking that cup.

 

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