Open Your Mouth Wide

School begins in a couple weeks…maybe. Who knows in all this uncertainty? The one thing I’m told to accept in this season is change. So. Much. Change.

I cannot think of many things that are certain besides what we will have for dinner…if the grocery store has all the ingredients, of course.

I wish this what I made for dinner but we can’t be happy ALL the time, can we?

As the pandemic continues my tolerance of change is wearing thin. I want to know things. I want to be sure of something. I want to be able to tell my kids a piece of information I’m certain will not change.

Right now, I want to do something normal. I want to buy school supplies. I want there to be a list and I want to buy everything new, neatly packaged and put it in a backpack because it feels normal.

But I don’t need all the things on the list. I don’t know if my kids will darken a school door in a historically “normal” way. But I don’t really care.

I want the order to calm the storm that is happening around us.

When I check the news or social media, it provides mostly grief. We are all trying to latch onto something certain like desperate people drowning at sea.

Maybe its a politician, a plan, an ideology, or conspiracy theory…but we want a life preserver.

And when we think it will save us, we latch on hard. So hard.

One phrase in my readings of the Bible comes to mind often when I feel so much want that I don’t know what to do with it. Where do I go with these impossible longings for a life that looks different than our current reality?

Open wide your mouth and I will fill it.

God wasn’t just talking about food. He is talking about total reliance on Him to fulfill our needs, wants, and desires. In the context of this verse, God’s people are going to many, many other people for stability.

It’s worth noting who they were going to:

Spiritual leaders who promised peace when God was promising captivity.

Political leaders who promised power when God’s power was with other nations.

Foreign leaders who promised alliance when God said rely on Him.

Material objects that promised fulfillment when God said only He could fulfill.

And nothing has changed, has it? I still want to go to these things and claim a place of power, of agency over my circumstances. More than many other turbulent times in my life, this era is unique in its universalism.

The whole world is scrambling.

The whole world is longing for the same things. But will we go to the One who is truly capable of providing for us?

I don’t know. I hope so. I labor towards that end.

And I open my soul mouth wide, naming all my hungers, and I wait and trust that God will feed me.

Somehow. In some way. Because He promised He would.

I don’t know how He will do it, but I am eager to see.

What if…

So much news predicts such a grim future. Life as we know it gone. Futures forever changed. This generation will suffer the worst.

I’m glad I don’t know the future. Anticipating the unknown has usually proved more awful than actually walking through it for me.

But, what if all the adversity predicted is the severe road to a better future, a different life lived from a different source, for us and our kids?

Along those lines, I wrote the following lines…

What if all the losses taught us to mourn?

What if all the mourning taught us to empathize?

What if all the empathy taught us humility?

What if all the humility taught us our poverty of soul?

What if our poverty taught us to search?

What if in our searching we found God? Who knows loss. Who mourns. Who empathizes. Who endured poverty. Who meets our needs?

Our need for Him to restore our dignity. Forgive our wrong. Heal our wound. Feed our mouth. Guide our path… Replace our heart.

With a new heart. A heart warm, not cold. A heart alive, not dead. A heart that feels, not numb. A hear not sick anymore.

What if our hope was not on the stock market, the cure, the vaccine, the vindication, the political party, the back to normal?

But in Christ

Who makes all things new

Even this broken world

Even we broken people

Would we then welcome the losses that taught us to mourn?

The mourning that taught us empathy?

The empathy that taught us our poverty?

The poverty that taught our need?

And the need that taught us to search?

And the search that brought us to the heart of God?

To me, the stairs are the adversity and the joyful girl at the top, my daughter, like the joy of finding God along a hard steep, path in life.

Being Still

I expected Easter weekend to be full of far flung friends gathered for a special wedding celebration—a dear friend united in marriage in the witness of many other dear friends.

A big celebration surrounded by many other little celebrations of a community separated and once again united for a weekend.

As shut downs and shelter-in-places spread across the world, the celebrations are delayed, the wedding postponed as we all wait for the unknown.

Our plans all yielded…

We may never be so closely linked in experience or feeling with the followers of Christ this Easter season. The joys of Spring Break in early March feel like Palm Sunday when life seemed like it was going well. An expectation of wonderful Spring!

The snowball of our restrictions parallel the turn of events during Holy Week as Jesus went from a heralded king to a hunted and betrayed man. Life turned upside down for Jesus’ followers.

A much anticipated celebration season flipped to unexpected mourning.

As they witnessed Jesus’ procession with His cross, this man they had followed everywhere for three years, did they think what we think now about our plans…this should not to be? I never saw this coming?

And, when Jesus’ body was placed in the tomb and the Sabbath began, and they sat in their homes did they sit stunned like we do now?

I don’t know what is next? Life as I know it is flipped upside down. What happens when this is over? When we emerge from our homes to a new reality? The ones passed over and not taken by this pandemic.

We wonder about our jobs, whether our kids will go back to school, what our community will suffer. The disciples also worried about their jobs and their lives… what they would suffer when those in power came looking for them the first chance they could leave their home.

Our world, with so many people, has never been so still as on this Passover, this Easter weekend. I have never experienced alongside so many others such uncertainty about what is next.

With all the unexpected quiet and stillness in my home right now, all the itching eagerness to escape and do something, anything else…I identify with Jesus’ followers in a new way this weekend.

Unlike them, I have the hope of knowing the next part of the story for us as followers of Jesus. The joy of the resurrection. The assurance of redemption and the security of a new purpose as His follower that the disciples would soon discover.

But, this weekend, I can identify with them…a party weekend upset and turned into a weekend of wondering quiet waiting for a new, uncertain day.

Truth and Morality

I like to peruse the Nextdoor app, well, daily. It’s fun to see what’s happening in the hood…sometimes its just entertaining. Other times its downright chilling to see how people respond to events in our community.

People are posting pictures of folks they don’t know who aren’t following the law of social distancing. They’re sharing some pretty extreme hostilities towards those who are stockpiling toilet paper. We don’t even know who’s stockpiling it, but someone is because there’s no toilet paper!

By the way, you can use this handy toilet paper calculator to assess how long your stash is going to last you. The advanced feature is pretty awesome. If its going to last you til September, well, you might be the one people don’t like very much right now.

But its really struck me how morality is at an all time high. There is a right and a wrong way to act during this crisis according to many, some of them actual scientists and doctors. The right way has to do with protecting others, looking out for others, and not thinking just about yourself.

And, its based on truth. This itty, bitty, tiny, little organism we can’t even see with our naked eye is passing between us, killing people, and bringing the entire world to its knees. The closer we stand and the more we interact, the worse it will get.

Facts. Math. They support this reality.

We cannot escape the truth though we act sometimes like it doesn’t apply to us. Acting like it doesn’t apply doesn’t make it not true. The reality of “the curve” will show us how well we are aligning with truth as a whole community.

Right now, it don’t look so good. And why should it? Morality and truth have been situational for so long that when we are backed up into this kind of wall, its so confusing! At the grocery store or neighborhood park, its not ok anymore that “you do you.” It means someone you may not even know will pay the price. The noblest act of love in the era of Covid-19 is to deny yourself for others.

And truth has never been so valued as it seems to be at press conferences right now. What people say and what they have said and done matters deeply. Did elected officials trade on inside information? There is a very significant and important judgement to be made that depends on what is true in that situation.

Do we want to elect such people to make decisions for our society. Most people, I think, would say no. So truth matters. We want people to follow a code that is fair and considers others, not just ourselves. We must judge these matters fairly in an age when not being judged is pretty popular.

Right now, there is a ban on elective surgeries where I am. The central basis is to look out for the life of others by conserving beds, medical supplies, and limiting risks for exposure. This week, my mother’s doctor had to defend, document in detail, and be prepared to explain the surgery my mom needed in ways he didn’t have to before. Waiting on her surgery would certainly mean an urgent risk to her life in the coming weeks when beds, supplies, and exposure will be much worse.

We hear of cancer patients facing different and limited decisions for treatment based on these factors. What a month ago would have been the best plan is now not because of risks of exposure. What a tough position to be in. Yet, there are law cases advocating for surgeries for non-life threatening, but very deeply difficult issues, like unwanted pregnancy.

Our society has to face these very moral questions now. Does one person get to use up medical resources to deal with a non-life threatening (but very physically and emotionally difficult) issue while another person with a life threatening issue cannot receive surgery?

When the main code for most behavior as it relates to our interconnected society is to preserve the lives of many we do not even know, our culture is inconsistent. We still want what we want and we still don’t really want to look out for others in key ways.

So, what are we to do with all our inconsistency? What do we do when we are backed up against a wall of morality and truth? When the issues don’t seem like life and death, its easier to squirm away.

My hope in all this upheaval and chaos is that we, as a world, will acknowledge that we all have an innate sense to some degree of morality and truth and it is a good thing. But it also leads us down a path we must follow to the end.

Where does this moral code and truth come from? Why do we have it? Why does everyone seem to agree worldwide that lives matter enough to shut down everything to save 1-2% of our population?

If you’re an atheist, it doesn’t make sense. You should welcome the culling of our weaker population. It is more consistent with an atheistic position it seems to me. No need to socially distance. Of course, I would think that the atheist must hope they are not considered in the 1-2%.

If you’re agnostic, the universal morality and desire for truth must mean something. If you can’t abide the atheistic mindset, its no longer the time to sit on the fence. If life matters, then its time to really decide who God really is. If God’s a God that values life and has fashioned us with a similar innate mind…to value life as well…wouldn’t life be better lived aligned with Him?

If so, who is God? The search must begin and be carried out in earnest.

To the Christian, this really exposes us. Do we care about lives as much as we say we do? As much as God does? Do we love like God loves? Do we know His love enough to trust Him with our futures economically, in matters of life and death, to talk about how much He loves people and doesn’t want anyone to die without knowing Him and His forgiveness of our incredible selfishness?

With the world at its knees, its time to talk. Or if we don’t really know His love for us, to dig deeper and get to know the trinitarian God of the Bible more deeply. My experience is that drawing closer to the God of the Bible has driven me towards His love and towards loving others.

Many will say God does not love the world. That He does not even exist or things wouldn’t be like this. That He is judging the world and He’s being really unfair and harsh.

Love like God’s love is not to be trifled with, true. It is pure and rejecting His gift does leave people in the cold. But it is fair and it should compel us to urgently invite everyone in to sit at His table.

But what is true about God—whether He exists, whether He has the right to say what is true and what is not, what is right and what is not—it matters whether we live by it or not.

Ultimately, at the end of life, there is no squirming away. If its true that God is the source of truth and morality, we will be at His mercy.

If its not true, what does it matter how we live our lives right now? There’s really not many people that would say that out loud right now. They’d be relegated to the depths of social hell for the rest of their lives for acting in their own interests.

So, Covid-19 puts us up against the wall. It’s time for us to decide about God, who He is and what it means for our life and the lives of those around us.

Spoiler alert, it’s not so bad, in fact, its so, so good to be at peace with God.

Exposed

Shopping is exciting these days. I’m used to empty shelves from time to time from my life overseas. Like when a rumor floated around in Asia that salt would undo effects of radiation after the Fukushima plant melted down. Then, overnight, there was no salt at the grocery store. None.

Or when I found Dr. Pepper overseas and cleared the shelf myself. I mean, why not?

Right now, shopping is a little too exciting, like a hunt. I’m not used to that in the US. I’m used to hunting food overseas, going to multiple shops, making expensive trade offs. I’m not accustomed to needing those skills in the land of plenty, America.

It’s unsettling.

Anyone buying a bidet soon?

Because it used to be that when I encountered such difficulty and lack, I knew that Asia would not always be my home. Someday I’d be back in the well stocked stores of the US. Now that I’m experiencing this here in America, I’m faced with another stripping away of the security I’ve placed in lesser things.

And the exposure of the pillars of my security is rather startling. I didn’t realize I placed such a large degree of confidence on the stock market until it started its roller coaster dips and rolls. I didn’t realize I relied so much on being able to control my schedule until my kids schools said don’t send them back to school…for who knows how long.

Early on, there was some talk that the disease spread correlated with national hygiene habits…and now America is pretty much proven unclean by that standard. And I didn’t realize how much I trusted my in my national identity as better than…until it was challenged.

All this upheaval and exposure brought about by a teeny, tiny, microscopic tenacious virus we can’t even see. Rather startling. Rather humbling that something so small has brought pretty much the entire world to its knees.

I’m still a bit stunned, wondering along with the rest of the world how this will all play out. There’s no escape hatch this time to a different land…a land of relative plenty. I’m pressed in to my circumstances and forced to look at what God exposes in me.

So, I wait, and trust, and do what I can do while I hopefully realign my heart more to depend on the Lord.

Leash Lessons with Lily

I’m sure my right arm is starting to come out of socket from walking our dog. She’s only 25 pounds of puppy but I’d like to attach my luggage scale to the leash soon and see how many pounds she pulls on the leash. Our scale might max out.

My son and I joke about what she’s thinking when we go on walks. As Lily pulls on the leash to the point of choking herself we wonder what exactly is going on in that puppy brain of hers.

Their chasing me! I’ve got to get going faster or they’re going to catch me!

Must pant say pant hi pant to pant that pant dog pant.

If I put my ears back, I’ll be more aerodynamic.

Yay! We rounded the corner! We’re halfway home! Time to pick up the pace!

Since we don’t know much about dogs, we google search our training objectives. Apparently, we want to teach our dog to “loose leash walk”, that’s PC dog trainer speak for “stop choking herself to death on the leash.”

I get really excited when I think of Lily walking like that super well-behaved Sheltie we sometimes see on our walks. Oh the joy of a dog that just walks by my side and doesn’t have me worrying about how many people will notice in a few years if my right arm is noticeably longer than my left!

The basics of most dog training seems to be to make the dog realize that fun is not to be had with their chosen behavior. They don’t get us to yank them around when they, say, have a ball in their mouth that you want back. You just hold it still and they realize oh, this is no fun, I guess I’ll let them have it.

The longer we have a dog, I think my husband and I would have worked through a lot of our parenting style issues if we’d started with a dog. Or, we’d just have a really confused dog.

Anyway, I’ve begun walking the dog with the wonderful Sheltie in mind as my desired future.

Lily is learning but its a tough process. The leash is slack for a while then she starts getting after that deer, squirrel, cat, dog, leaf, etc and snap the slack is gone and I’m planning my next visit to physical therapy.

Now, I’m letting her get to the end of the rope and experience the reality that she’s not having fun. We stop for a few seconds until she stops pulling. I praise her and we move along a second or so until we repeat the whole process again. I’d not have much patience for it except that she is slowly learning.

And so am I…but not so much about dog training. My mind wanders to other things which is why I write this blog. I have thoughts.

I’m not a great loose leash walker with Jesus. I’m just like my dog, chasing after the next distraction I think will bring me so much …something…and I’m quickly wondering why life feels a bit…chokey.

Ah! My mind pieces things together quickly, God is after me and doesn’t want me to have fun! If only I got to live life on my own…

And I fail to remember that He feeds me, He gives me a safe refuge, He loves me, and He cares for me. My highest purpose is fulfilled not when I catch that squirrel of an experience…

but when I’m with Him.

Remembering

I’m amazed at how quickly I forget things. Important things. Things people have just told me seconds before. Like names. Hometowns. Family events.

While I wish my brain worked better and I imprinted important things into my mind the moment they happen so I’d never forget them, but I still forget. Like a fog some things get obscured over time by other events that choke out the memory. Other times I feel like that device in Men in Black is out there and someone zapped my memory!

One time, I forgot to pick up my friends child at day care. I didn’t know it until the next day when she called and confronted me about why I had left her there. It was really lame to have to say I had just forgotten. It wasn’t enough.

Or what about the time I forgot I put my husbands keys in my purse after church. I drove an hour and a half away on a short trip before he called me and asked me if I had all the keys to the other car. Yes, yes I did and I drove three extra hours so that he didn’t have to rent a car for the week.

Lately I see where this forgetfulness is present in my relationship with God too. I forget the times when He rescued me or how bad things were going when He rescued me. I forget what I was like in the past. Pain fades in my memory but so does joy.

It’s just weird.

And it reminds me how finite my body is including my mind. Did you know that neurologists believe we use only a fraction of our brain? When my dad was diagnosed with a brain tumor, the doctor lamented the location of the tumor. If it was in the front part of his brain we could take it out no problem because we don’t use that much of it!

In a complete and perfect world without death, my brain cells would operate at 100% capacity and I would use 100% of my brain. I theorize that I would remember everything. It is an attractive thought, but actually…

People with awesome memories may actually have a harder time in life. Take this Time article for example. Maybe a bit of forgetfulness is actually grace? There are definitely things I would rather not remember or feel with the same intensity as when the events happened…like grief.

It’s a double edged sword, this forgetfulness, it cuts both ways. For good and for bad. For the good, I can thank God that He allows certain feelings and memories to fade so I can live and thrive in the present.

For the bad, I can forget how dependable He is, how available in time of need, how much I need Him and His wisdom and direction. I can forget that I’m not God so, so fast.

When I began writing I wanted to highlight all the negatives of forgetting, yet I’m struck by the grace that is there too. The grace that we have a finite life and finite abilities.

To live in this world forever with all that is not right with a perfect and ever-present memory would probably be too much to take.

Green the Grass

We watered our lawn too much. My husband told me this after consulting other lawn experts, otherwise known as neighbors. He talks about lawns like I talk about cooking.

If we water our lawn too much the roots don’t learn to grow deep and seek out water on their own. Who knew? Well, other people is the short answer.  Seeking roots are important when it gets hot and dry. It’s Texas. It gets hot and dry.

So, we backed down on our watering, but not before we felt the pain of our utility bill. Yikes! The first year of home ownership is a year for learning. What that really means is a year of doing lots of weird things because you don’t really know what you’re doing.

Now its summer again and I find I like my lawn to be green and its starting to get a tad light green in patches. I really want to ramp up the watering so it gets dark green again. I’m scared the grass won’t find the water.

What if it dies?

My own life, my kids lives, the lives of students I work with on campus. I see the same truth play out. Surface green looks so good and there’s really nothing wrong with seeing outward growth and health.

The big question is what kind of roots are being trained? Are they seeking roots trained to strain towards sustenance? Am I? Or weak shallow roots that don’t know what to do when drought comes?

When dry threatens, I want to ramp up the watering schedule. It looks good and works fast. And its appropriate at times, too. The lawn gets green pretty quick when I water it more. More attention pays off in the present tense.

But hot and dry always come at some point and not just in Texas.

How have I trained the lawn? How am I training my spiritual life? My children? Am I trying to help so much that I train shallow and weak people who don’t know what to do when hot and dry come in life? Am I afraid that answers won’t be supplied from the depths so I feel I need to supply from the surface?

Watching my kids struggle to stretch roots down to the foundation of things is difficult. Feeling the pain of it myself is confusing.

Searching for depth is just that…a search.

It is a lack of knowing exactly where the sustenance is but sending out feelers, shoots to investigate. It looks like absorbing long passages of God’s word, the Bible, gleaning and sifting for who God is in new ways. Sometimes searching is finding nothing that feels helpful but absorbing more truth. Later it makes more sense. Or, seeking is trying new things to discover where I fit in the body of Christ.  Learning new skills necessary for a new circumstance in life is a form of stretching to new depths.

The assurance I have is that I will find sustenance, and others will too, if we search for that which truly sustains. It may not always seem enough or produce a green enough lawn to look pretty to everyone, but God will keep me growing spiritually when I am connected to Him, the Giver of life.

My lawn may not look as green as everyone else’s. That’s a challenging reality at times. I am learning again to trust that the exterior appearance of life doesn’t always correlate directly to spiritual health.

Next time I will write about the tree that looked dead for months. Spoiler alert. It’s not dead!

Deep roots, searching roots, trained to send out feelers into the depths during the hot and dry times is health more than shallow and green during ideal conditions.

Not all brown things are dead.

 

A Day for Remembering

I lay on the couch in the morning sun flipping through my photo feed. Memories wash through with each swipe. Sunshine to snowfall. Normal to hectic. One life then another. Change after change after change.

Some photos remind me of things forgotten in the crash of my father’s sickness. The dark chocolate bar the writers gave me upon the publication of my first piece. A monumental event, an event eclipsed by news delivered 2 days later.

Two swipes later clouds and snow from the seat of a flight booked last minute. Then, my parents on face time with family figuring out how to process a terminal diagnosis. Hospital photos, prayer meetings, more clouds from more flights all mixed in with children at school events, moving trucks, beach sunrises and meals at favorite restaurants, hospital room views.img_1404-1

All jumbled together in an impossible array of the unbelievable.
I wonder how we made it, and I remember how we made it. It was life in the moment of what had to be done, constantly shoving aside what must wait until later. Daily listening to my gut when it said weird things like go shopping, buy a nice outfit for each kid for the funeral. Or listening to my friends, buy the tickets, don’t worry about the money.

Coming to accept more deeply that life isn’t as neat and clean as we want, and we can’t make things as neat and clean as we want no matter how hard we try.

Somehow we made it. Somehow we cherished the moments given to us and came through. Scarred, yes. Hurting, definitely. Intact, physically, yes.

And missing.

Always missing what was taken from us in this world. Hopeful and waiting for the day of reckoning. The day of returning what we are promised in Jesus Christ. Life, joy, peace, and fellowship with the ones we love.

A day without tears and without missing.

A sunrise from on high.

 

Walking the Shadows

Time is ticking and I want to make plans. I want to write on my calendar what happens what days and every time I lift my pencil, I think of what I do not and cannot know. I do not know the path of my father’s growing brain tumor. I do not know when he will die. I am not in control.

I long for certainty. Certain of attending a graduation event with my daughter. Certain of attending a dinner with my small group. Certain of chaperoning my son’s field trip. Certain of something.

The only thing I feel certain of is death.

My hand stalls in midair but I press through and fill blank space on the calendar knowing death may interrupt every thing I write.

I do not know the times God plans for my father and his brain tumor. I cannot know the measure of days for him, for myself, for my husband and children, for anyone. So much uncertainty and I want to know, to make a plan I feel certain I can fulfill.

But I cannot. God forces me to open my clenched fists and receive what He gives for today. To sacrifice plans I make if necessary to accept the ones God hands down for today. He forces me to release so much so that I can take hold of what He gives.IMG_1410

I do not like what He wants to give me. I do not want to release my plans, because I think they are better than grief and mourning. They certainly feel more comfortable.

Years of practice and many difficult farewells overseas and I know a shadow of grief. I know it’s pain and  I’d rather not. I’d just rather not write grief, mourning, sadness on my calendar in ink for the next few years. But, that is God’s plan for me.

He’s walked me through the shadows before. Can I trust Him to walk me through the reality of a more final farewell with my father?