White Stones and the Deep Soul

My daughter tried to get my dad’s attention by calling to him in ever louder shouts. Poppy…Poppy…Poppy! He wasn’t standing far away and he wasn’t, yet, as deaf as he got later on. So, he really had no excuse.

She kept on shouting Poppy to no avail. Then, MIKE!!!! And Poppy turned his head. We all laughed pretty hard. I think we leaked actual tears.

Ok. He deserves a break. He was less than 2 years into his career as a grandfather. We lived overseas and my brother’s kid couldn’t even talk yet so he didn’t have a lot of practice with his new name, Poppy.

And, I feel this resonate with who I am as a person too. I don’t always know my name. It’s not that I don’t know my given name, its that I don’t know who I am as a person.

So I search. I take personality tests. What kind of animal am I? What are my strengths. My MBTI. A Birkman. Am I a “D”? What number am I? What’s my wing and do I only have one? Is adaptability really a strength?

I was once called a tornado for a certain combination of “strengths.” Tornados are strong, I get that. But a tornado? I’d only find fault if it wasn’t true. It is true, so I have to own that one.

I believe all these assessments can have a place in honing in on how God made us and how we can serve Him more whole heartedly. They can help us understand where we might be blind to sin. I’ve benefitted so much in recognizing certain strengths and sin patterns and learning to honor and trust God for them.

We’re a pretty fascinating thing, we humans. Gazing into how we’re wired and how we are raised and how God made us can get pretty consuming and pretty twisty. Looking into the soul without the guiding light of God’s Word and His Spirit, is like looking into a deep well. We can’t see the bottom. We keep asking our name and keep hearing an eerie echo of our own voices coming back from the void.

When my dad was dying, he talked of the white stones in heaven that have our name on them. It’s a brief verse in Revelation but what great hope is communicated through it. We will finally know our name, know ourselves as God knows us. That separation we experience in our souls due to sin will finally be closed

Can you imagine what that will be like? To have God, our very creator, lean in and smile (I just know He’ll be smiling) and whisper a name that’s just between Him and me. And it will be true, and right, and without shame, and without want, and have nothing to do with any other ill-formed, incomplete opinion.

It will finally be known to me what God has known all along.

My soul. My name.

So, all those efforts we put into knowing ourselves? If they are not united with what He already tells us about ourselves in His Word, they are woefully incomplete. They’re not a complete waste of time but just know, they will never be able to tell you all of who you are.

Only God can do that. And He will do it.

Twilight

I rounded the corner in our orange car. Yes, orange. People do strange things in foreign countries like buy orange cars. I sped up in my orange car to merge into traffic. As I met the sight of the hills I saw everyday, a word sank into my heart.

Twilight.

The setting of the sun on a time, a day, an era. We were still living in Asia, but I knew then in my heart, not for much longer. It was the beginning of the end and the knowledge settled warm and uncomfortable in a deep place in my soul.

In the coming weeks and months, time was infused with meaning. Knowing our life in Asia was passing away, we visited people and places to enjoy them, but also to say goodbye.

I tried to remember the roots of the word, “God be with ye” in the moments that felt too final. I wanted normal. I wanted conversation not to revolve around the present, the twilight time, me, but it often did. Such is the reality of saying farewells. They exist in the present. They are personal. They are hard.

Twilight is also the time for good photos, I hear. The light casts warmth and enhances beauty. So it is with the end of things, or it should be. The harsh light softens the edges. The beauty of what was and is and the hope for what will be comes through in twilight.

I wish I always saw people in the glow of twilight, but I don’t. I forget and I focus on the wrong things. I take measure at the wrong time. I’m human. Flawed.IMG_1282

Now, I’m experiencing twilight again with my father. The soft glow of what matters and the ache knowing the sun continues to sent on his life. Feeling and significance infuse normal life with meaning. But the sun keeps setting and the shadows cast longer and there’s no stopping. How I wish I could push pause.

But, life moves on.

Dad and I eat in the roar of a good diner full of people in their own worlds and we in ours. We prepare for the night in this twilight morning. How to walk through widowhood with my mom. We talk about finances and relational anchors and the practicalities of funeral arrangements.

I’m not as frightened by the night of grief and sadness that comes. It weights heavy on my heart as grief is prone to do, but I know morning comes after the night. There is a time for everything. The trouble is not knowing how long is the night.

Grasping at time, as I’m prone to do, exhausts me. Not every moment can drip with significance. Sometimes you have to do the dishes and vacuum the floor. I’m left with the aching experience of living the times and receiving the gift in all its broken beauty.

We call it a severe mercy from time to time.

P.S. There’s a good book by that title, A Severe Mercy. Worth a read.

What is Narrative?

Narrative plays at the forefront of my life as a writer.  I googled the definition of narrative yesterday because the extent of my definition was “story”.

nar·ra·tive
ˈnerədiv/
  1. 1.
    a spoken or written account of connected events; a story.
    “the hero of his modest narrative”
    1. the narrated part or parts of a literary work, as distinct from dialogue.
    2. the practice or art of telling stories.
  2. a representation of a particular situation or process in such a way as to reflect or conform to an overarching set of aims or values.

I noticed a handy graph below the definition. It told me the use of the word “narrative” doubled in the past 60 years. My skills of deduction aren’t awesome, but I know this means narrative is an important word today.

Dan Allender writes in his book To Be Told, “We grow up in a sea of stories told in a way that fits what we want others to know about us.” Whether we know it or not, I believe we often fashion our lives to “reflect or conform to an overarching set of aims or values.” To build a narrative.

Maybe our narrative is the religion we practice, the philosophy of life we hold, or even the nickname given to us in childhood. Whatever it is, it is a system of beliefs and we live accordingly.

Narrative, like this cross-stitch piece, is one story with all elements serving the theme.
Narrative, like this cross-stitch piece, is one story with all elements serving the theme.

YOLO. The bucket list. Original sin. Science. Angst. Goth. Fame.

In my life I’ve discover my narrative acutely when I’m disappointed, angry, or sad. When things don’t turn out they way they should, I’m left with puzzle pieces. Sometimes it seems like I have pieces from different puzzles jumbled together.

I think I believe one thing, but I act according to a different assumption. Crisis, pain, transition, betrayal. They open my eyes.

Sometimes the crisis is minor like speeding around to get my errands done. Why do I feel anxious about time? Does time run out? Obviously, I think it does. My actions portray it.

Perhaps its a little deeper. I like Keurig machines for convenience but the sheer square footage of shelf space bugs me. Then, I read that none of those little cups are recyclable. Yikes. Why do we save the environment? Do we only live once? Is earth and all it holds all that ever will be?

We parent our kids. It’s easy to want to avoid pain in their lives, to shield them from heartache. Yet, I also think that pain builds muscle. Are the highest goals in life safety, happiness, well-adjusted kids, kindness, generosity, or productivity.

Often evil leads me to the deepest questions. War rages and I despair about the state of the world. Are people basically good? What do I do when people who share the same faith die for their beliefs? Does my narrative answer the questions that arise from the atrocities and apparent blessings visible in the state of the world today? Are the other narratives out there as benign as the news seems to want me to believe? Or is there something at their core that leads them down a violent path?

I’m still thinking about this concept of narrative and how “story” plays out in our lives. It’s a popular word these days. Just listen to the latest Presidential address. It’s what drove me to look up the definition. I’ve heard it too many times to not know what it means.

What’s your story? Do you live by a certain narrative? How does it affect your life? Do you see inconsistencies? What do you do with them?

Here is a link to the usage graph for narrative:

https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?year_start=1800&year_end=2008&corpus=15&smoothing=7&case_insensitive=on&content=narrative&direct_url=t4%3B%2Cnarrative%3B%2Cc0%3B%2Cs0%3B%3Bnarrative%3B%2Cc0%3B%3BNarrative%3B%2Cc0%3B%3BNARRATIVE%3B%2Cc0

Old Thoughts on New Years

New always seems exciting…better somehow.  The New Year is usually the holiday I count down and celebrate with a cheer.  But, this year I felt a bit of trepidation.  New feels a bit scary this year.

When I think of new I usually think of good things.  A new shirt, a new baby, a new apartment, a new destination, new friends, a new restaurant, a new recipe. 

But, new shirts need tags ripped off and a good washing.  Sometimes they don’t fit as well as I thought.  New babies cry and demand a lot of attention and care.  Sure, they’re cute and all but…new isn’t just exciting, it’s hard work.

In a new apartment I can’t find my way around in the dark.  New shoes feel pretty awful before I break them in.  It took a good soaking rain storm to make one pair feel excellent and that happened 3 years into wearing them. 

Making new friends takes time and attention.  Time to share memories, experiences, preferences, life.  New recipes sometimes don’t look like the picture and new restaurants are difficult to find.

New doesn’t fit quite like the old and I like comfortable and known.  I don’t want to wait three years for the storm that finally makes everything fit right.

When I celebrate the new year, I bet I’ll indulge in a little more nostalgia for auld acquaintances and times past as is fitting when a new year arrives.  I plan to take a look at the last year which gave us a lot of twists.  We find ourselves a little weary at the end of this year.  I guess I am ready for a little new even as I pine for the old.

Because new flowers are beautiful and new babies are warm and snuggly.  New apartments hold yet-to-be-made memories and new friends enrich my life.  Finding a new favorite restaurant sparks my curiosity and new shirts sometimes graduate to favorite shirts.

New isn’t all bad yet new is a bit more complex than I originally thought for a mere 3 letter word.

What is new in your life this year?

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Themes of 2013

Here in the beginning of a New Year, I like to plod through a few thoughts and pause enough to give some mental and spiritual nods at the passing of a year…a beginning and an end.  That pause took place on New Years’ morning while kids and kids’ friends slumbered away after a night of “partying”.

IMG_0172Usually I like to mark my pause a little more seriously but fever (mine), travel (my husband), and school breaks (one day only) conspired and I found myself sneaking in a moment on New Years’ Day.  I noticed a few things in my review of 2013, the root lines God grew deeper this year.

Farewell:  Flipping back and forth to my review of the year 2012, I noticed a theme of farewells in 2012.  It bit a little because today I bid farewell to another family with even more farewells on the docket later this spring.  Farewell was a theme for 2012, 2013, and will be a theme for 2014.  Hmm.  Not a theme I enjoy but a very present theme in life overseas.

Provision:  I shed a few tears that morning as I listed some disappointments and remembered some painful turns in our path this fall.  That tearfulness stayed with me a for a few days.  In fact, it’s still with me now.

But what brings me to tears is not so much the disappointments as that I was never alone.  And, I saw that I was not unprepared for the journey the Lord prepared for us.  Lots of little provisions and preparations flooded my memory.  That brought tears to my eyes.

Fellowship:  When I hear this word, a picture flashes through my mind of cheap coffee in Styrofoam cups in the midst of a din of talking.  Growing up, the main gathering place at the church was the “Fellowship Hall”.  But that is a cheap and incomplete image of fellowship, I know.  It makes me smile and give thanks for my roots.

No, the fellowship I’m talking of is more of the Fellowship of the Rings type of fellowship.  I only half slept through the movie so I won’t pretend to know all the ins and outs of that series.  But, I do know that the fellowship of the rings was about a mission.  It was a calling followed together by a band of misfits and unlikely heroes that desired to do something necessary  and sacrificial no matter the cost.  The bonds formed in this kind of journey transformed all involved.

That is the true fellowship of the brotherhood of believers and I experienced more of that this year.  Even as I write that sentence I want to say more…but it must wait for another time.  It changes one, that kind of fellowship.  Know that.  It is much more than coffee in Styrofoam cups inside a church.

Farewells, Provision, Fellowship.  Rich soil, I think, for the plantings of this next year, 2014.

What themes did you see in your life in 2013?

Summer Heat

DSC_0039If I ranked seasons…and I do…summer ranks last.  Dead last.  For some reason God planted me in place after place that heats up to unholy temperatures in summer time.  The furnace of Texas and now the furnace of Asia.

Because I know it is the right thing to say, I say God must know what He’s doing and somehow the heat will lead to greater sanctification of my soul.  And, because I know a seed must fall to the ground and die before producing anything I can give mental ascent that the feeling of dying in the summer heat might serve a purpose.

Yet…I still enter the heat of summer dragging my feet and fighting a dull, pervasive grumpiness of soul.  For three months makeup slides off my face and I feel ugly.  For three months, my kids want to swim everyday in the blow up pool and spray each other with the spray nozzle set to the “kill” setting.  For three months, the grocery store refuses to turn on it’s a/c until 3 pm.  For three months…

I admit I deserve a prize for being a brat.  We do run our home a/c day and night in summer.  Ice constantly occupies our freezer drawers.  My suffering is slight compared to some.  But when it comes to discontentment, comparing with others rarely nips my disease of complaining up at the roots.

Instead my eyes opened a little this week to my need to come before the Maker of summer and submit to His seasons physically and spiritually.  Is it possible I can grow in the Lord just by being willing to live in the heat that He brings for a while?  To even cheerfully set up the pool for my kids in the heat?  To put on makeup every once in a while to cheer my soul even knowing it’s going to disappear in an hour?  To go to the grocery store and refuse to open my mouth to complain about the a/c schedule?

Learning to come under the reality of my days instead of fighting and wishing and complaining is no small task for me.  I just now begin to accept that possibly my whole summer’s spiritual assignment revolves around cheerful submission to the heat of summer.

I wonder what He holds on the other side as I choose to walk through this barrier to contentment.  I bet it’s good whatever it is.

What season ranks last on your list?  Why?

I Was Here…

What is it about our names that we feel the need to carve them in things?  Wet concrete.  Bathroom stalls. Trees.  The Luxor temple .  Names etched all over the world prove the reality of our experience and existence.  At least we hope they do.

I carved my name on the world one time.  After my first two years overseas I wandered my campus, the campus where I learned to speak an incredibly difficult language, and remembered the moments of my presence.  I purposely journeyed and recalled first days in class, first friends, and my purpose in undergoing such trying two years.

Towards the end of the journey I used my key to carve my name in a bamboo grove near a favorite meeting spot on campus.  A key is an unwieldy tool for carving a name.  My name etched in a particularly fat bamboo pole stared at me in all its amateur ugly but it stuck in there solidly white in a background of green.  I took no picture of my name but it looked worse than this one.DSC_0128

Carving my name felt permanent.  I know now that bamboo is grass.  Bamboo grows fast.  Super fast.  People cut it down to use as scaffolding or to hang laundry on to dry.  It floors houses because of its eco-friendliness which rests in its ability to replace itself and fast.  Did I say it grew fast?  Bamboo can grow a few feet a day which is why people feel not the least sad to hack it down.  Hardly the kind of media to use when one tries to make a permanent mark in the world.

But bamboo possesses a strength which makes it suitable for many tasks.  Asians love bamboo.  They sleep on it, eat it, eat from it, hang clothes on it, paint on it, paint it, carve it, write poems about it, feed it to pandas, and build walls using it.   If ever a perfect plant existed for such a numerous people, this might be it.  After 12 years in Asia I understand the Asian love for bamboo.

My name long since grew up and out and over that bamboo grove.  My permanent mark proved anything but permanent.  But the task of marking my name on something stays with me.  The fact that I chose bamboo of all things seems significant.

It reminds me of the strength that comes not from being brittle and hard and tough but from growing from a strong network of roots connected to the Source.

I think about the way it grows so fast and hope that I, too, grow in season.

Bamboo sways and whispers and sings.  I hope my life also sings a melody of God’s grace as I live among others.

Have you carved your name on something?  What significance does it have for you?