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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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

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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

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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

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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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Hurry

 

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Hurry

BY MARIE HOWE

We stop at the dry cleaners and the grocery store   

and the gas station and the green market and   

Hurry up honey, I say, hurry,   

as she runs along two or three steps behind me   

her blue jacket unzipped and her socks rolled down.   

 

Where do I want her to hurry to? To her grave?   

To mine? Where one day she might stand all grown?   

Today, when all the errands are finally done, I say to her,   

Honey I’m sorry I keep saying Hurry—   

you walk ahead of me. You be the mother.   

 

And, Hurry up, she says, over her shoulder, looking   

back at me, laughing. Hurry up now darling, she says,   

hurry, hurry, taking the house keys from my hands.

 

Poem copyright ©2008 by Marie Howe, and reprinted from “When She Named Fire,” ed., Andrea Hollander Budy, Autumn House Press, 2009. First published in “The Kingdom of the Ordinary” by Marie Howe, W.W. Norton, 2008.

 

I first heard this poem when the author, Marie Howe, read it aloud on NPR’s On Being at https://onbeing.org/programs/marie-howe-the-poetry-of-ordinary-time/.

[I don’t know why this link isn’t working, but if you do a search for “Marie Howe On Being,” the entire transcript of the interview pops up.]

I can relate to the mother in this poem so well; my guess is that most mothers can. We spend our lives running (quite literally) from one task, job, chore, errand, children’s activity, meeting, class, rehearsal, party, event… to the next. What often happens is that one or more of your children get dragged with you as you decisively mark off each item on your “to-do” list. You spend the entire day in drill sergeant mode, saying, “Come on honey, we’ve got to get going…march, march, march!” All of this urging does nothing, of course, to get children moving. No matter what the age, asking children to “Hurry!” is, as some say in the South, like asking milk not to pour—it is a futile effort.

I am in the process of slowing down my life, not by my choice, but by Cancer’s choice. Cancer has become my “parent” in a way, dictating what my next few months are going to be, overturning my schedule-encompassed, productive days. The surprise has been that Cancer doesn’t say “Hurry up,” as the parent does in the poem above. Cancer steps in, fairly suddenly, always quietly, and says, “Excuse me a moment, but I have some things for you to think about. I have miracles to show you. I have stories to tell. I have secrets to whisper, visions to experience. Sit down. Put your feet up. Wait and see.”

It has been an act of complete submission on my part. When recovering from surgery, your body does not give you a choice; you must rest and let go of your hectic life. You must lie down in your bed or on your couch. Your job, laundry, vacuuming, the grocery store, errands, exercising, cooking dinner…all the things that grasp you until you feel you might be pulled apart, limb from limb, all fall away.

I have made the surprising discovery that the earth does indeed keep revolving, even if I have to stop and rest in the day. To be honest, it has been a relief. It has been an excuse to re-learn how to relish the ordinary things in my life that I’d forgotten were there. This summer, I will be receiving six weeks of radiation treatments five times a week. That means that, every day, I will have to pause and do nothing for at least fifteen minutes while the treatment is happening. I need to determine what I will think about during those minutes, because time to be still—with purpose—is a precious commodity not to be wasted.

So, instead of planning tons of summer activities for my kids, I’m going to find things we can do that are close to home. Even though they are teenagers, I want to proactively be near my kids. We are going to go on more picnics in our backyard. We are going to watch more movies on Netflix. We are going to pick our favorite board games and have a marathon. I am not going to worry if the kids and I have been productive or not; but we will, I am certain, “produce” things whose value cannot necessarily be weighed or accounted for. I am looking forward to it.

 

 

 

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Open

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Open your eyes.

        What do you see?

        A roof above your head. The sun streaming through the blinds.

What do you hear?

        Birds calling. A dog snoring.

What do you feel?

        A bed, soft beneath you. Blankets cuddling you.

What do you smell?

        Spring riding on the tendrils of a breeze. Coffee gurgling in the kitchen.

What do you taste?

        The promise of pancakes. The hope of daily bread.

Of these, which is the most precious, the most valued?

        The simple, miraculous fact,

That your eyes opened up in the first place.

 

“The real problem of the Christian life comes where people do not usually look for it.  It comes the very moment you wake up each morning.   All your wishes and hopes for the day rush at you like wild animals.  And the first job each morning consists simply in shoving them all back; in listening to that other voice, taking that other point of view, letting that other larger, stronger, quieter life come flowing in. And so on, all day.  Standing back from all your natural fussings and frettings; coming in out of the wind. We can only do it for moments at first. But from those moments the new sort of life will be spreading through our system: because now we are letting Him work at the right part of us. It is the difference between paint, which is merely laid on the surface, and a dye or stain which soaks right through.”  (C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, Chapter 8, p. 198)

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The Kindness of Strangers

It was finally here—the day of my lumpectomy surgery. It’s a strange feeling you have if you’ve ever faced this. It’s a mixture of intense dread and heady anticipation. The suspense will be over with; no more wondering about the imagined “tortures” that will be inflicted upon you on that day.

I felt strong and ready as my husband helped me slip into my hospital gown. He left me to take the kids to school, assuring me he’d be back. I sat twiddling my thumbs, looking around the cubicle that had been assigned to me for the day. I checked my e-mail. I adjusted my super-sexy hospital socks. I sent my sister a funny text. I tried not to be irritated by the inevitable waiting. And waiting. And waiting. I sighed and changed positions in the bed and decided to sit in a chair instead. Maybe if I read a book, the speed of time would transform from that of a glacier to a kangaroo.

As part of a “You can do it” goody-bag, my sisters had given me a book by Max Lucado, entitled “God Came Near” (W Publishing Group, 2004). I hadn’t really started it yet, so I got it out. I had not even read the first sentence when the nurse bustled in my cubicle. “Hello there, I’m Linda—sorry for the delay—it’s been a crazy morning already and it’s not even 8:00!” She then looked at the book in my lap. “Are you a Christian?” she asked immediately. I said I was. She said, “Well then, God sent me here today to take care of you. You know that, don’t you?” I was momentarily speechless. It took me entirely off guard. I hadn’t realized how scared I was, and I felt tears blurring my eyes, my lips quivering.

Linda came over, sat beside me in another chair, and took my hands. “You know He is with you today; He’s the Author of all things.” I nodded, still not able to speak yet. She proceeded to share with me how she had received a difficult diagnosis and how God had walked with her through it, healing her body and spirit. “I learned a lot about myself. Would you share with me what you are learning about yourself in this process?”

I swallowed. “I’m learning to be patient…or trying to be, anyway. I need to learn to slow down and stop trying to control everything in my life like a maniac. I need to listen to Him more.” I shrugged in defeat.

Linda laughed, and wiped away a few sympathetic tears of her own. “I promise I’ll get you through today. I’ll talk to you, hold your hand, whatever you need me to do. As soon as I saw you, I knew I could help you today. Can I pray with you right now?”

I took a deep breath and nodded wordlessly. I don’t remember any of her words; all I know is that I felt calm and cared for.

Later on, I marveled at how I got the reassurance I needed at exactly the right time. I appreciated that Linda was able to reach out to me, seeing that I was distressed, even though I didn’t even know it myself. I was humbled by her ability to unabashedly share an intimate story with me, to ask me questions about my own personal story, and to pray for and with me. Later on in the evening when I had returned home from surgery, I read a phrase in the Lucado book that resonated deep within me:

“My prayer for this book—without apologies—is that the Divine Surgeon will use it as a delicate surgical tool to restore sight. That blurriness will be focused and darkness dispersed. That the Christ will emerge from a wavy figure walking out of a desert mirage to become the touchable face of a best friend. That we will lay our faces at the pierced feet and join Thomas in proclaiming, “My Lord and my God.” And, most supremely, that we will whisper the secret of the universe, ‘We were eyewitnesses of his majesty.'” (Introduction, p. XX).

Sometimes, God’s majesty can be as simple as the care and prayer of a stranger in a time of deep need.

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