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 capes 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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Hurry

 

Reading Time: 2 minutes

 

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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Embraced: Why I Love My Church

Reading Time: 2 minutes

 

It was another busy week after follow-up doctor’s visits, an MRI, and another biopsy, not to mention the regular hectic swing of life. I had come to our Bible study group to unwind and laugh with folks—oh, and to do a Bible study, too (we are definitely talkers!). Afterward, one of the members came to me clutching something furry in her arms. “Here you go—it’s a prayer shawl. It’s to put around your shoulders when you pray. Merry made this one for you.” I was so overwhelmed by the generosity of this gift, both for the time it took to make it, and the thoughtful spirit it with which it was made.

 

It is one of the most lovely things I have ever touched—light as a whisper, yet warm and snuggly. The colors are earth tones and muted grays; colors of earth, sand, stone. On the ends are silky tassles that twirl lightly around my fingers. It is a perfect size, as it can be a lap blanket, or it can drape across my shoulders, as it was originally intended. Even when I am not wearing it, I like to sit beside it and rest my hand on it, rubbing its softly between my fingers, or stroking it with my hand. I am unable to put into coherent words the comfort this beautiful shawl represents for me.

 

When I wrap it around me, it is dense, yet not heavy, as if someone were gently putting an arm around my shoulders. Many church members have already done this for me. Every week, they smile at me, and they reach out their arms and clasp me firmly. Several women whom I know, but not especially closely, have sought me out to encourage me. They take my hands and look me straight in the eye and say, “I had breast cancer, and I am just fine. You will be, too.” I receive cards in the mail that are humorous to make me laugh, or are sentimental and make me teary. I receive e-mails and phone calls from church members, volunteering to help me and my family in whatever way we need.

 

Believe me, I already know how generous my church family is. When my husband had colon cancer in 2010, they were there for us in every possible way. There were days where I thought, “I have nothing for dinner, and I am exhausted,” and someone would suddenly knock on my door with a meal. These people can walk through Sheol with you, and let me tell you—they are not afraid, and they thrive on bolstering folks up during a crisis.

 

Perhaps when going through personal difficulties, people who don’t go to church are able to find support and community in other ways. All I know is that I have two families: the one that I am physically related to, and the one that I am spiritually related to. Every morning when I breathe my first breath, I say a prayer of thanks for both of my families, and the fact that they continue to wrap me in their sweet embrace.

Philippians 1: 3-6 [NIV]

3 I thank my God every time I remember you. 4 In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy 5 because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, 6 being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

 

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Remembering Audrey

Reading Time: 3 minutes

 

While perusing our church’s library, I found a compilation of daily devotions by C. S. Lewis. Called A Year With C. S. Lewis (New York: HarperCollins, 2003), the book features snippets from some of Lewis’s most famous works, including Mere Christianity, The Screwtape Letters, Miracles, and others. Also included at the bottom of some of the entries is a fact about Lewis’s life. For example, at the bottom of p. 87 on the devotion for 19 March, this phrase appears: “1956: The Last Battle (the final volume of The Chronicles of Narnia) is published by The Bodley Head, London.” It is an interesting way to both read some of Lewis’s most famous “quotable quotes” while also seeing a sort of time-line of his life.

I admire C. S. Lewis’s work so much, and felt I could use a healthy dose of his no-nonsense approach to God. With every paragraph I read, I have to pause, re-read it, and shake my head in astonishment. I cannot imagine having a mind like C. S. Lewis. He can break down intangible Christian theological concepts into simple, relatable ideas like no one else. Take the “mystical limpet” analogy (I know, I know, bear with me here). This is the idea that a limpet (a type of marine snail or mollusk) could never hope to understand or describe to another limpet what a man looks like. A limpet relates only to what a limpet can see and understand; so, to describe a man, a limpet must describe what a man is not. Lewis’s point is that we often run into the same problem as humans. We try to determine who, what, and how God is and are usually led astray by our limited viewpoint (a brilliant analogy to my “limpet-like” brain).

As I continued reading the devotions, I noticed some underlining, writing, and check marks doodled here and there. Someone else had read this book and wanted to highlight some of the memorable ideas; this was a donated book from someone’s personal library. Intrigued, I looked in the front cover, and noticed the name written in a bold hand: Audrey Sprenger, July ’06. I froze. I did not know Audrey that well, but I did know that she had had cancer, too. I decided to take it home take note of some of the other passages that had appealed to her. Two were particularly compelling.

The first is under the heading “Blurry Visions of God” from Mere Christianity (p. 16). The under-lining is Audrey’s.

“When you come to knowing God, the initiative lies on His side. If He does not show Himself, nothing you can do will enable you to find Him. And, in fact, He shows much more of Himself to some people than to others—not because He has favorites, but because it is impossible for Him to show Himself to a man whose whole mind and character are in the wrong condition. Just as sunlight, though it has no favourites, cannot be reflected in a dusty mirror as clearly as in a clean one.”

The idea here is being open and receptive, and to set oneself up for listening. This requires raising our antennae and waiting. It requires sitting down and quieting the voices, activities, and thoughts that are always vying for our attention. It is a “condition,” as Lewis says—a state of being. God won’t throw a ball at us if we aren’t ready to catch it.

The second passage is also from Mere Christianity, and appears on p. 29 in the devotions book. Again, the underlining is Audrey’s:

“A live body is not one that never gets hurt, but one that can to some extent repair itself. In the same way a Christian is not a man who never goes wrong, but a man who is enabled to repent and pick himself up and begin over again after each stumble—because the Christ-life is inside him, repairing him all the time, enabling him to repeat (in some degree) the kind of voluntary death which Christ Himself carried out.”

This statement to me is a deep, bone-warming truth. It is the idea of a tiny spark of a “Christ-life” burning inside me that gives me strength to persevere. And, yes, sometimes, getting through a difficult time in life feels like a “voluntary death,” but one that we do because we must, and because we trust our source of energy will be further strengthened—and encouraged—by adversity.

Though I didn’t know Audrey that well, I do remember speaking to her daughter many times, especially when Audrey was in the last part of her illness. I feel that it was not happenstance that I found this book right when I needed it, and I want to believe that Audrey was re-reading it with me, pointing to the really good parts.

 

Psalm 139 [NIV, from Bible Hub]

For the director of music. Of David. A psalm.

You have searched me, Lord,

 and you know me.

You know when I sit and when I rise;

 you perceive my thoughts from afar.

You discern my going out and my lying down;

you are familiar with all my ways.

4

Before a word is on my tongue

you, Lord, know it completely.

5

You hem me in behind and before,

and you lay your hand upon me.

6

Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,

too lofty for me to attain.

 

 

 

 

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I HAVE A MOSQUE IN MY BACKYARD

    I have a mosque in my backyard.

    Not an imposing, be-domed stone edifice with spindly minarets—it actually looks like a small, utilitarian, B-Flat type of building. If you didn’t know it was a mosque, you might think it was someone’s home or a private office of some type.

    You can imagine the sidelong looks I get when I say that I have a mosque in my backyard. You can perhaps also imagine the interesting comments and questions, too.

“REALLY? Creepy.”

 

“Isn’t that weird?”

 

“How did they manage to get that past zoning requirements?”

 

“Are you going to move?”

    I tell everyone that is it not “creepy” at all, as the people I’ve met have been quite friendly. To be honest, I’d rather have a mosque in my backyard than any other type of business, like a Turkey Hill or Target. Every Friday, the streets around the mosque fill with cars as the people gather for prayer. Some wear casual clothing while others wear more traditional clothing, such as long robes and hijabs. Saturdays must be youth group day, as the open yard fills with kids shouting joyfully as they play soccer or chase a Frisbee. Their parents join in the game, or sit and watch, chatting in the afternoon sun. It is like any other gathering of folks enjoying a beautiful afternoon of fellowship.

    Ramadan is coming soon in May, and the mosque becomes an even more active gathering place in the evening. One night, my daughter called me in her room shortly after I’d turned out the light. “Mom, what is that “mooing” sound I hear?” I stopped and listened, then opened her window. Floating on the warm breeze came a low, humming murmur from the mosque, not unlike the gently lowing of a cow.

    I smiled. “It’s the mosque. The people are worshipping tonight. Should I close the window?”

    “No, leave it open for a while. Sometimes it keeps me up, but I like the sound.”

    I like it, too. I will say one night around midnight, again during Ramadan, I was awakened by loud yelling out in front of the mosque. It looked as if people were in the parking lot, talking and joking with each other at their cars after the worship service. Children were cavorting in the alleyway, and I had a hard time getting back to sleep.

    I was grumpy about this, and mentioned it to my husband the next morning. The next day, my husband went over to the mosque and talked to the imam, saying that we didn’t want to complain, but that it had been quite noisy the previous night. The imam was extremely apologetic and assured us it wouldn’t happen again. It didn’t. I think they know they are in a precarious position in our current tense political climate and don’t want to disrupt anyone in our neighborhood. They knew any little infraction could bring them much unwanted attention.

    This makes me sad, and makes me question the carte blanche we receive as Christians in small-town America. For example, my own church is two blocks away from me (and therefore, from the mosque). Our church has had many loud celebrations or gatherings outside on our grounds, yet no one in our neighborhood has complained about the noise level (at least, not to my knowledge). We are allowed to be outside freely, playing loud music, shooting basketball, riding bikes, barbecuing, and creating a general raucous without worrying if our neighborhood community might get offended and call the police on us. The difference is that we’re not Muslims; we’re Presbyterians. We get extra grace.

    As a B-Flat Christian, I want to try to be a grace-giving neighbor to my Muslim neighbors. I want to be empathetic to their situation and imagine how intimidating it would be to be the only Muslim place of worship in an area surrounded by a myriad of Christian churches. I want them to know that they are welcome to worship in peace, and I will do my best to assure others in our neighborhood that it is our duty to “3 Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters. 2 Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.” (Hebrews, NIV). That’s the funny thing about angels—you never know if they might be wearing a crucifix or a hijab.

    Some day, we may indeed move, but I can assure you, it won’t be because there is a mosque in my backyard.

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