Thursday, April 29, 2010


It's funny how different the color of the sky is from day to day, but this is Central New York.


Here I go again. Agonizing over worship.

I recently found a blog by a man named Bob Kauflin. He seems to be genuine and sincere, intelligent and Biblically based. I really respect a lot of the things he says and most of what he stands for. He demonstrates humility and a burning passion for the glory of God.

He is a church musician, a.k.a. "worship leader." And therein is my stumbling block. The a.k.a. part, I mean.

It is so hard, so very, very hard for me to live with the idea that "my worship" is how I respond to the music in my church. There is something about this idea that just sits very badly in my spirit. It causes me no end of angst. I don't believe that Jesus meant for it to be this way.

I read Mr. Kaufman's blog and was impressed. I wondered if the Lord were convicting me of a wrong heart towards contemporary Christian music. I prayed and resolved to approach things at my church with a fresh perspective. I listened to samples of Mr. Kaufman's music (he writes a lot himself). I actually kind of liked a few of his songs. Some of them I did not care for very much, but I could recognize that concern for the centrality of Jesus' sacrifice and attention to theological detail had gone into the crafting of the lyrics. "Is God calling me to learn to like contemporary Christian music?" I wondered. If that's what God wants me to do, I need to be willing to do it, otherwise I am in disobedience, whether or not worship is more than musical expression in a corporate gathering.

On Sunday, I went to church with a hopeful attitude. Surprisingly, most of the songs on the program that day were older ones (from the 1990s) that I actually knew; they were not all new, unfamiliar ones. Although I can't remember what they were, I relaxed into the music and began singing in a looser way than usual, less binding up in my heart and throat.

I relaxed and sang, closed my eyes and let my head fall back. I felt good. And then, suddenly, I realized what I was singing: "In all I do, I honor You... In all I do, I honor You... In all I do, I honor You..." My mind kicked back in, and I realized, "I do not honor God in all I do. I should honor God in all I do. I hope to get to a point where, at least, I honor God in most of what I do. But I most certainly do not honor God in all that I do. I am lying. Over and over. In church. I am standing in church, repeating a lie over and over to the Lord." And that was the end of me being able to engage in the music for that morning.

What is vexing is this: I cannot even remember what song it was to look up the rest of the words. This is a thing that I really used to like about hymnals. If you blanked out for a moment and failed to concentrate, you still had the whole song on the page in front of you, and you could scan with your eyes to see what you had been singing about and how the words all worked together, even beyond the ones you were singing in that exact moment. When we only get a few lines or phrases at a time on a video screen, we can lose the meaning of the song quite quickly as words disappear. At least, I can, but perhaps I am unique in my propensity to have a mind-glich now and then while singing. Probably everybody else is completely overwhelmed by the glory of God, and I am just standing there, distracted because the video screen has an apostrophe in the wrong place, and I am just that nasty type of person who would notice. I remember once I was in an assembly, and we were singing a song, and we got to the end where we began to repeat the last line over and over and over, as there is a tendency to do these days. The line was, "Here I am." Over and over. Those were the only words visible on the screen. All around me, people were holding up their hands, weeping. I had no idea what was going on. "Here I am." Well, yes, there I was, desiring to focus on my Lord--the One who created me and redeemed me. But apparently all I was supposed to do was to tell Him, "Here I am," which, as far as I could tell, was just a painfully obvious fact. Painful, because my toes were freezing and the constant emphasis on my own presence was making me repeatedly aware of them.

I feel really bad about myself. But then, on the other hand, I wonder about all the other people who were singing, "In all I do, I honor You." Did they really believe that they do truly honor God in all that they do? Maybe they are all that much more sanctified than I am. I guess I am not supposed to judge. But really, aren't we all in this sanctification thing together, with responsibility to help and encourage one another and hold one another accountable? Aren't we? Or aren't we? Maybe the other people are just as "middle of the journey" on the path of sanctification as I am, and maybe they even know this about themselves, but then why would they sing those words? Is it an issue of mental (dare I say intellectual) disengagement?

I often feel that the goal of the song leader is--subconsciously of course--to get the singers to engage with the music and disengage from "life" (a.k.a critical thinking, and by that I mean critical in the sense of "involving skillful judgment as to the truth," not critical in the sense of "inclined to find fault"). Whenever I am walking in the grocery store and hear the song that goes, "Give me the beat boys, and free my soul, I wanna get lost in your rock and roll and drift away..." it reminds me of the way I feel in church during the music, the uncomfortable, on-guard feelings that rise up in me when I sense that someone is telling me, "Let go... stop thinking... engage with the music..."

Jesus said, "God is Spirit and His worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth," (John 4:24). I think we've got the worship in spirit part down, but I really cannot quite relax about the truth part.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

A memory I had tried to repress

The other night I actually went to bed kind of early, with a book.

My husband came into the room, kissed my mouth and said, "You smell really good, and you look smart." This, people, is romance in your mid-forties.

I smelled really good because I had doused myself with essential oils as I always do in my bedtime routine. I do this because my peri-menopausal skin responds only to my own homemade concoction: grapeseed oil with lavender, sweet orange, calendula, and a drop of clove. Anything else either gives me a rash or makes me break out. That particular night, I think I had also massaged all around my hairline with pure lavender essential oil, because I had a headache coming on and lavender sometimes stops it.

I looked smart because I was wearing my reading glasses, the ones with black rims that I bought at Kinney Drug. Also my hair was in something that vaguely resembled a bun because I had wrenched it back with a scrunchy in order to get it out of the way when I was washing my face. But I really think it was the glasses and not the hair that gave me the scholarly appearance.

The reading glasses were there to help me read The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James. My tenth grade English teacher, Oscar Johnson, had told me that I really needed to read that particular book. I have a very old copy of it; I'm not sure when or where I got it, but I think it was during college, and I do know that I got it because Mr. Johnson had told me to read it, and I was curious.

I've had the book for years and years, and never finished it. I guess it just isn't very good. It's by an American, after all. Now that I am old, I have read quite a bit of Dickens: David Copperfield, Great Expectations, Bleak House (Bleak House was not my favorite, but I did finish it). I am actually old enought to appreciate Dickens. The Portrait of a Lady on the other hand, is not all that good, and also I have a terrible sense of foreboding as I read it, that it will have a Great Gatsby-ish ending, and I am not in the mood for that, ever.

I was trying to read it that night, though. I had picked it up a while back and made a fair bit of progress in it, but that "while back" was when I had my colonoscopy. I know this, because the instructions for preparing for the procedure were still in the book, my bookmark, in fact. Ugh!

I never wrote about the colonoscopy because (1) it was a fate worse than death and (2) I was incredibly embarrassed to mention it, which is exactly why it took me so long to get to the subject just now. Romance in your mid-forties. Yeah right.

My sister, and I love her anyway but I will never again take anything she says seriously, my sister told me, "I had a colonoscopy and it was fun!" She loved drinking the solution, it wasn't bad at all, she said. She loved feeling all clean on the inside and out. She said the anesthesia was gentle and effective, and she was completely unaware of the procedure itself. "It was fun!" she repeated, with a glowing smile.

That recommendation alone would not have induced me to go through with it, but I have been wanting my husband to have a colonoscopy for quite some time. "Those types" of cancer run in his family, and he has always been plagued with a tricky bowel. So I thought, "If I have a colonoscopy and show him how easy and pleasant it is, then he will have one, and we will be able to rest at ease about his intestines." Also, our insurance deductible had been met, so I thought I might as well get as much free stuff as I could before the turn of the year.

So, at the beginning of last December, I found myself in the kitchen with a huge jug of solution (four liters, I believe) that I had to drink. The ladies at my church were having a Christmas fellowship that evening. I was not, although I certainly did think of them on more than one occasion. Probably with covetousness in my heart.

My first indication that my sister is either out-of-her-mind insane (is that redundant?) or a pathological liar was when I poured myself the first glass of solution. The nurse had told me, "What do you like to drink? Do you like iced tea? Mix it with iced tea, or something like that." I thought, "My sister says it is delicious, and no problem at all." That was what I thought. Naively trusting my sister, I did not buy any iced tea, or lemonade or anything else. I poured up my first glass, approximately 8 of the 135.26 ounces that I had to drink before bed that day. I lifted it to my mouth and went to chug it down. Imagine my surprise when my body simply refused to take it in. It was the slimiest, vilest stuff you can imagine, and my gag reflex went into overdrive.

I felt panicked. What was I going to do with all this solution? How was I going to get it down? I poured it into a larger glass and cut it half and half with cranberry juice cocktail which enabled me to get it down, but I realized that there was no way I could double the amount of liquid for the whole amount and do it all that way. I would explode (oh wait, I was going to be exploding anyway...).

The worst of it was, you were supposed to drink a glass every ten minutes until it was gone.

I sent David to the store with my credit card to get a can of lemonade mix.

I will try to spare you the monotony of what ensued, but I found that stirring lemonade mix into the solution just before taking it, and then drinking it with a straw aimed at the back of my mouth, I could fulfill the instructions.

In the ten minute interludes, I read The Portrait of a Lady. It was a very long afternoon and evening. Nobody tells you how cold you get when you drink over a gallon of that solution. And on top of everything else, it didn't make me go to the bathroom. I just got fuller and fuller and fuller and colder and colder and colder. The family enjoyed a spaghetti dinner while I shivered next to the fireplace and vainly tried to warm myself with a down blanket (and, of course, kept downing the stuff).

I never had an urge to push when I was giving birth, and this solution apparently didn't work in my body, either. Well, it finally started to work a little bit, but not very well. I had heard horror stories about people being up all night with it. I was not up all night. I slept pretty well. Amazingly well. Far better than I would have slept had I any idea what else was in store.

The next morning I continued to empty at a very pokey rate. I hoped it was going to be OK. We went to the hospital, or whatever it was, the building next to the hospital where the butchery was to be performed.

When they took me into the surgical prep area, I was supposed to be clean and empty, but I was still needing to go to the bathroom on and off. So there I was, caught between chapters of Portrait of a Lady and trips to the lav. I had to wait a long time for my procedure, which was not reassuring.

The prep area was the same as the recovery room, a long hallway with many beds in a row, with thin cotton curtains pulled between them. As I sat in my bed, in my hospital gown, reading Portrait of a Lady, I heard strange noises, noises that sounded for all the world like compressing whoopie cushions. This gave me a very unsettled feeling.

At one point, I needed to get up and use the bathroom, but the one across from my bed was occupied, so the nurse told me to walk down to the one at the opposite end of the hall. Feeling odd, but knowing that necessity rules, I walked the length, and as I did, on my right, I passed bed after bed, each filled with an unconscious person slumped beneath a sheet, loudly passing gas.

Fear welled up in my heart. "This is not a good place," I thought. "I do not want to be here. I do not want to see these people and listen to their blasted puttering." It was then that I realized, "I am soon to be one of these people." Talk about abject terror. I finished my business and returned to my bed, averting my eyes, trying not to hear the repugnant sounds that assailed me. I picked up The Portrait of a Lady and tried very hard to concentrate on it. It was then that I overheard the nurse talking playfully with some man who had walked onto the floor, "Yes," she was saying, "This unit is doing very well financially. We got the contract with the prison to do all the prisoners' colonoscopies here, right here. It brings in a nice amount of work."

So it was me and the prisoners? Was this a bad dream? Unfortunately, there was no waking up from this one. I wondered if you could just get up and leave at such a point. I prayed to the Lord, I prayed something like, "Please, please help me. Please get me out of here if they are going to kill me."

At this point, I was still trusting that the actual procedure would be a breeze. I started to feel uncertain even about that when they finally wheeled me in, and there was only a doctor and a nurse. "Where is the anesthesiologist?" I asked. "Oh, we do it ourselves," they told me. I didn't panic, but I should have.

Basically, I experienced extreme pain and unbelievable cramping, but I was unable to speak, because, you know, I was anesthesized. When they eventually noticed that I was moaning and writhing, the doctor shouted something at the nurse that my scrambled brain could not decode, and everything finally went black.

In the end, they must have given me a lot, because when they dressed me to leave, I almost keeled over and they quickly caught me and put me back to bed.

Poor Shawn had a very long day in the waiting room that day.

When we got home, I was not right at all. I had intense pains in my side and my arm and shoulder that evening, really intense. I got on the computer and tried to figure out what was happening. I could hardly breathe. I shuddered at going to bed that night, fearing a most undignified death.

I could not eat for days. My digestive system was broken. It had been fine, and it ended up broken.

Now, the pain and discomfort have passed. But I am never going through that again. Never. And neither is Shawn. My entire plan backfired. If he didn't want a colonoscopy before, he will never, never have one now. And you know what? I don't blame him. I was an idiot.

Also, I still never finished The Portrait of a Lady. The other night when I started to try, it brought back not a few bad memories. The foreboding I used to feel when considering the book has been greatly magnified beyond a mere suspicion that it will hold an unhappy ending for a social ladder climber.

But I'm glad my husband likes the way I smell in my essential oils at night, even if I am not as smart as I might look.

Monday, April 5, 2010

my testimony

When I was two, I killed my baby cousin Lydia.

Not really, but I thought I did.

She was a tiny baby, fragile, translucent, with lavender-tinged fingers. They set her in her infant carrier under the windows in our dining room and told me sternly, "Do not touch the baby!"

I was so curious. The baby was nearly hidden beneath blankets and the little canopy over her carrier. I crept closer and closer, and nobody saw. Furtively, I reached out and pulled back the blanket so I could see her tiny purplish fingers. With my own two-year-old index finger I stroked her little, limpid hand. Then, filled with fear and guilt, I ran away.

A few days later when I heard that Lydia had died, I was filled with dread and guilt. "She had a heart murmur," they said. "She died in her sleep. Peacefully. Painlessly." That was what they thought, but in my heart, I was convinced that her death was a direct result of my disobedience.

Other cousins had also died. Betsy and another one whose name I can't remember (Nancy?). They were all baby girls. They all died peacefully in their sleep, or so it was said. But Lydia was the only one I had seen and touched before she died. It was my first brush with death, and it terrified me.

Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray the Lord my soul to keep,
If I should die before I wake,
I pray the Lord my soul to take.

They taught me to pray this prayer before I went to bed at night. "If I should die before I wake... If I should die before I wake." It would echo in my mind as I lay in my bed after they had tucked me in and kissed me and turned out the lights. I learned to fight sleep. I was a master at staying awake for hours, fearful of falling into the Great Sleep of no return.

When I was three, I remember Easter at church. This is my first memory of Easter at church, and there was an Easter breakfast. For some reason, I came with just my mother; my father and my brother and sister must have gone ahead earlier. The Easter breakfast was winding down, and the food was largely gone. My mother made me a plate of something which (I think) included scrambled eggs. There were no seats left in the fellowship hall, so she found me a seat at a table back in the corner of the church kitchen. She sat me next to a very, very old woman named Aurabelle Wyman. Then my mother disappeared.

Aurabelle looked vaguely like the wife of Miracle Max in The Princess Bride, except she was better dressed. She was also tiny. I was only three, and my mother was only 5'4", but even from my perspective, Miss Wyman looked fantastically small. She was diminutive, wrinkled and frightening, and I don't recall that she smiled. I sat there and looked at the unappetizing food on my plate, which was also cold, and I knew I was not going to be able to swallow even one bite.

Miss Wyman leaned over with her sharp, birdlike face, pointed at me with a hooked, birdlike finger and said, "They killed Jesus, and they took his body and laid it in a tomb." I pictured a cold, hard place that was white and dark at the same time. I felt fear in my soul. I thought of death and how afraid I was of dying. I choked back tears of distress. Miss Wyman looked deeply into my soul with her cloudy black eyes. "His body lay in the tomb for three days, and then they went to look at it and do you know what they found in the tomb?" I was incapable of speaking , so she repeated herself: "Do you know what they found in the tomb?" I just wished my mother would come back. I was trembling.

Miss Wyman would not give up. She shook her finger in my face once more and told me, "They found nothing in the tomb! Nothing! And do you know why? Because Jesus had risen from the dead!"

I felt a vague sense of relief. I was afraid that Miss Wyman might die then and there, because she was so old. And I was afraid of my own death every night when I was supposed to go to sleep. But on that Easter, I was glad to hear that Jesus had risen from the dead, even though I was not sure exactly what it meant.

Over the next year, I learned a lot about Jesus. I learned that He healed sick people. I learned that He made blind people see and lame people walk. I learned about how He cared about little, short Zacchaeus, and how He saw him up in the tree and invited him to lunch. My favorite was how Jesus loved the little children and let them come to Him, how He held them in His lap and blessed them. I didn't figure I'd be scared of Jesus the way I was scared of Miss Wyman.

When I was four years old, Mrs. Winterfield was my Sunday school teacher. She was rather severe, but not malevolent. We sat at the round red table on the toddler side of the nursery and had stories and snacks. The snacks were usually round butter cookies shaped like flowers with a hole in the center, so we always put them on our fingers and ate them off. We also had red juice because it was 1969 and nobody knew that red food coloring caused ADHD and cancer.

One day as we-the-four-year-olds sat at the round table with our round cookies, Mrs. Winterfield told us, "There is a Lake of Fire. You will go there when you die, if you do not ask Jesus to be your Savior. It is a terrible place full of weeping and gnashing of teeth." I was riveted. Even if you are only four and have no idea what gnashing of teeth is, it sounds really bad, and scary.

I knew that lakes of fire and weeping and gnashing of teeth sounded awful. I also knew that everything I'd ever heard about Jesus was wonderful. He could heal and love and rise from the dead.

That afternoon, I went into my bedroom. I still remember how the sun streamed in from the west facing window. All by myself, I knelt down and asked Jesus, "Please be my Savior so I do not have to go to the Lake of Fire when I die." I felt a peace and reassurance as I finished my prayer. I knew He had heard me.

I went and told my parents what I had done. They were somewhat surprised and mostly pleased, although not particularly happy that Mrs. Winterfield had frightened me with accounts of the Lake of Fire. Nevertheless, it was true, and it worked, and I have belonged to Jesus ever since.

Also, He has relieved me of my guilt over the death of my baby cousin Lydia.