Tuesday, March 31, 2015

What I learned in March

What did I learn in March?

Goodness.  My mind is so blank, I'm appalled.

I should always be learning.  I hope I learned something.

I am in the center of a process of learning to trust God with my children's futures.  It is one thing to steel oneself for trials and trouble that may come.  It is another thing entirely to hand over the fate of your children to the Lord, blind yet trusting.

Even though I was never in control in the first place.

Perhaps I am learning that I am not in control, although I'm not sure I thought I was.  Anyway, the One who is in control is infinitely more qualified than I.  Yes, He is.  I am learning to live by this, although in my head I have always believed it.  I know that it is logical, and I do not understand why it is so difficult for me to feel the peace in turning life over to Him.  He is good.  He is wise.  He is attentive.  He is faithful.  He is zealous.  He is all I need Him to be, and more.

I was reminded that although the package says to plant your daffodil bulbs 4 inches below the surface, I never used to do that.  I used to plant them with their bottoms 4 inches down, and their tops just barely below a delicate layer of soil.

This past fall, Shawn and I planted 40 daffodil bulbs.  He dug and I stuck, and we planted them 4 inches down, following directions.  This spring, they have not been coming up and I've been fretting, comparing them to my neighbors' vibrant sprouts.  Finally, my friend Melinda suggested, "Well, you could dig one up and see what it's doing down there."  So I did, and I found a bulb, and it had a tiny, pale green shoot coming out of it, searching for the sun somewhere up above all those inches of dirt.

I am not sure exactly what I learned from this, but I think it is related to not assuming that the planting directions on a bag of bulbs are correct, and also something about the need to go remove a few inches of soil from everywhere that I think daffodils may be submerged.  Oh my.

I learned that it doesn't work to substitute ground up oatmeal for all-purpose flour in your favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe.  Nope.  Well, it tastes good, but it doesn't come out looking like cookies, and the best way to eat the crumbly mess is out of a bowl with a spoon.  GF woes.

I learned the names of the children in my maternal grandmother's family.  This may be interesting only to me.  The girls were Martha and Esther (my grandma was Esther).  The boys were Theo, Ezra, Silas, Reuben, Aaron and Benjamin.  Another thing that is interesting to me about this:  My sister's boys are Aaron and Ben, and I have a friend from New York whose boys are Reuben and Ezra.

Friday, March 27, 2015

The Health Insurance Debacle

When our kids were little, I used to joke that I would only like to play football if everybody would play by my rules.

"What are your rules?" David would ask.

"Everybody has to throw me the ball, and nobody can knock me down.  I like it that way.  It's very exciting!  I get to make a lot of touchdowns."

"That's not fair!"  David would exclaim.

"Oh," I'd add, "Everybody also has to get out of my way when I'm running."

This always made me smile, the thought of catching a ball and running, unimpeded, across the goal line time and again.  It made me happy, but it made David very angry to think of.  I guess he was not imagining that he would be on my team.

Well, may I submit that most of us are not on the health insurance company team?

As the wife of a man who has worked for very small companies most of his adult life, making a decent wage (though certainly not exorbitant) but not having access to big company health insurance policies, we have noticed something about health insurance.

The premiums go up astronomically, year after year, while the coverage declines shockingly.  For instance, a few years ago, premiums cost $300-$400 per month for a high deductible family plan.  We were responsible for all our costs, out of pocket, up to our deductible, which was $2000 per person, and $4000 for the entire family.  After we met our deductible, costs were covered at 100%.  Last year, we paid $1000 per month for a high deductible family plan.  We paid out of pocket until we met our deducible, which was $6000 per person and $12,500 for the family, except that if a person reached $6000 before the family had reached $12,500, his costs were still out of pocket, which I do not understand, but there you have it.  They make the rules.

Yes.  They make the rules.  Like me on my fantasy football team, except in real life.

And, get this, then the president made a law that said every American has to buy a health insurance policy or be penalized with a big fine, payable to the government of the United States of America.

So, by law, we all have to buy health insurance.  This is the case even though the only health insurance most people can afford is the high deductible, where they pay out-of-pocket for all their costs, and the healthy-ish ones would certainly be money ahead just to pay their costs and save the $1000 per month ($12,000 per year) in premiums.

But yes, there's this law: "You have to buy health insurance."  And then what does the government do?  The government goes to the health insurance companies and says, "How do you want to work this?  How would you like to structure it?"

And if you are in health insurance, I guess you sing, "Jackpot!"  Because by law everybody has to buy your product, and you get to design the whole system that they have to buy out of.  Like me playing football: you have to throw the ball to me, and you can't knock me down, and you have to get out of my way.

So they raise the rates again.  And I expect that next year, they will again.  While denying coverage for everything they can possibly draw a loophole around.

Who gets hurt?  The small business owners and the people who work for them.  Basically, average middle class people.  Crazy rich people are in decent shape because they always are.  They can buy their way into a tolerable health insurance situation because they have money, and money equals leverage.  Poor people are okay, because the government always has safety nets for them.  People with government jobs are mostly ahead of the game because the government takes care of itself.  But poor old Joe-American is strapped.  For now.  Before too long, all his life savings will be bled away to pay for required preventative procedures, and then he can fall into the group at the bottom that lives in the welfare safety net.  This is not what he worked and saved all his life to achieve, but whatever.  Right?  Oh, except by that time the whole country might be bankrupt and there won't be any healthcare for anyone anyway, except on the black market.

If they thought we needed healthcare reform before, well, we really, really need it now.  They took a broken system, and then they took the health insurance companies (the health insurance companies!  I cannot get over this), the people who had the most to gain by exploiting a system of requiring citizens to purchase health insurance, and they said, "Hey guys!  How do you want to set the game?"  Dealing with the system this way is sort of like taking a broken chair and throwing it down in the middle of your driveway and backing your car over it a few times.  And then pouring lighter fluid on it and throwing out a lit match.

So.  Now that the Affordable Care Act has made healthcare (which was always expensive) completely unaffordable for most hardworking people, can we please agree that the system is terminal?  The Healthcare system in the USA is beyond resuscitation.  People would rather die quietly in their homes than go to the doctor and then try to navigate the plethora of befuddling and traumatizing bills that will result.  Can we please agree that this is not the solution we were hoping for?

I wrote once before that you cannot successfully combine socialized medicine with wildly profitable private health insurance companies.  It is true that this cannot be done in the way it is currently being done.  It might be possible to do, if we killed this system (well, since it's already dead, all we have to do it bury it, really), and started over.

What they need to do, what Obama needs to do, is gather a group of very thoughtful, very intelligent people from universities, medical schools and hospitals.  There should be people who understand poverty, and people who understand healthcare, people who understand how medicine works, people who understand how billing works, economists, and even some psychologist/sociologist/social worker types who understand how people work.  There should definitely be doctors and ethicists, probably representatives from various religious organizations.  This group needs to study and work together to figure out a sort of minimum healthcare foundation: what should the US government provide to its citizens as a reasonable and compassionate level of healthcare for every person?  This might include things like vaccines and immunizations, health education, simple antibiotics for common infections, emergency treatment for injuries, reproductive care, and palliative care.

Like public education, public health could provide a basic level of healthcare for all citizens, with assurance of compassionate palliative care for those whose conditions are too complex and expensive to be promised cures.  There could be public clinics, like public schools, where anyone could go at any time to receive these types of healthcare, free of charge.  It would be covered by our taxes.  Perhaps these clinics could be staffed largely by medical students, overseen by attending physicians. This would be so great.  It would circumvent the whole problem of uninsured babies going to the ER for amoxicillin when they have an earache.

Anything over and above this basic level of healthcare would be the patient's responsibility, and here is where private health insurance companies would come in.  Private health insurance companies, private hospitals, private clinics offering concierge services would all exist and compete for customers.  The private clinics and hospitals would be where research would center, and they could offer all the best, cutting edge technologies.  They could also do pro-bono work.

People would likely fuss about a system like this, complaining that why should this child over here die of cancer while that one over there gets treated because her parents can afford it?  This is a difficult issue.  I do not have all the answers off the top of my head.  This is why I think we need a highly qualified, highly intelligent, highly sensitive committee of doctors, economists and ethicists working out what is reasonable for the government to provide for its citizens.  I do not believe that anyone should die of strep throat, or a similar common illness for which we have easy cures.  But what about asthma?  Diabetes?  Lupus?  Cancer?

People do die when they come down with serious conditions.  People die.  In fact, every person who is born is someday going to die.  We are not an immortal species, and we should not approach healthcare as though we were.  The government simply cannot be held responsible to spend millions of dollars to keep alive every single citizen who comes down with a deadly condition.  That's what private health insurance should be for, if you can afford it, and if you can't afford it, the government should not make a law forcing you to buy it.  The government should let you figure it out for yourself.  You might get knocked down while you're carrying the ball, but hey, that's only fair.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Legacy words

Back in September, I had a lupus flare.  It was bad.

At one point, I thought I was going to die.  Of course, nausea always knocks me for a loop and makes me feel tremendously aware of my mortality.  I probably was not nearly as near to death as I felt, but notwithstanding, I thought I was going to die.  Nausea, purging digestive system, fever, chest pains, headache, backache, shortness of breath, congestion, ringing ears, heart palpitations, dizziness, swollen glands and lymph nodes, you get the idea.  I remember sitting in the bathroom with my head against the wall and tears running down my cheeks because I was sure I would never hold a grandbaby in my arms.  My thought was, "I wanted to write them each a letter, but I guess I didn't get the chance."  I was thinking about my beloved children.

I told God, "It's okay.  It's okay.  You are sovereign. You can take better care of them than I can."  And of course He can.  I have failed more often than I have succeeded, and He is the one who holds them in the palm of His hand.  He is the one who knew their life stories before they were born. He is the almighty God of power and wisdom and might.  It truly is okay, even though it may not have been what I was hoping.

Then I recovered!  I've been doing quite well.  I might still be around to play with the grandchildren after all, and tell them that I love them, and nurture them with the grace and patience I lacked as a young mother.  I would be so grateful to be able to do that.

Most days, I don't think about writing each of my children a letter (the way I did when I thought I was dying), a letter full of all the important things I should have told them, celebrating their gifts and abilities, exhorting them to surrender their weaknesses to Christ to be transformed into their most powerful assets.  You don't remember that the roof leaks except when it's raining, right?

Today I want to write a general letter, something for all my children.  No personal secrets will be addressed here, nothing private, just my heart desire for my children, my family.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * 

Dear ones,

How I love you.  Not a day goes by when I don't think of each of you, multiple times.  So many things bring you to mind: a container of food in the refrigerator, the shiny black piano, the adorable dog, a book on a shelf, a song, a sweatshirt, a container of moisturizer, a candle, a blanket, a TV show, a scent in the air outside, the slant of the sun through a window, a photograph (of course).

My love is flawed.  I made many mistakes, for which I am grieved.  Perhaps as you grow older and experience more of life, you will be better able to understand and to forgive me.  Please try to remember good things, fun times when we laughed around the table over plentiful meals, late nights when you came into my room to talk as I lay in bed before I fell asleep, times when life was vibrant and hope was natural and we had victories, successes, joy.   Remember how I read you the Chronicles of Narnia and broke down weeping every time Aslan wandered into a sentence, much to your consternation.  Please remember how hard I tried, understand how much I loved, and believe how hard I prayed.

Oh dear children, forgiveness is so important.  We must all forgive one another as God has forgiven us.  Forgiveness is grace, and we cannot live without it, because none of us is without need of being forgiven.  We all mess up, we all make mistakes, we all sin, and therefore we all stand in need of grace from God and from each other.

Forgive those who have hurt you.  People hurt each other; it is the way of a fallen world.  The Bible tells us that love covers over a multitude of sins.  Anger and condemnation do not fix sin.  The only way to overcome sin is by loving, so love, give grace, forgive.  I am not yet proficient at this, but I am learning, and the more I learn, the more I discover the blessings of grace and forgiveness, both given and received.  Jesus died so we can be forgiven, and so we can forgive.  It is costly to forgive, but it is priceless to be forgiven.

Another thing: never judge God by those who call themselves Christians.  Many have claimed the name of Christ but have not walked according to His purpose or His plan.  Jesus said that all men will know who His disciples are because of their love for one another;  yet, people constantly fall short of loving one another.

So here is my advice:  Read your Bible.  Read it often.  Read all of it, not just your favorite parts.  Read it with an open heart, praying that God will reveal Himself and His truth through His Word.  Please do not claim that God doesn't speak to you, if you are not reading His Word.  Read your Bible and listen for God's voice, seek His face.  Then, on the basis of God's Word, be discerning about those who call themselves Christians.

I guess what I'm trying to say is this: Use the Word of God to determine whether people are really God-followers.  Do not use people who claim to be Christians to determine whether God is relevant or good or real.  People are so fallible, even the ones who are honestly trying to do what is right.  People must never be your standard of measurement.  Only scripture should be your standard of measurement.

At the same time, be diligent in your own life.  The famous Oswald Chambers book is called My Utmost for His Highest.  The title alone is a worthy sentiment.  We must strive in the utmost to accurately reflect the glory of God to a fallen world.  Although we should not measure the worth of God by the worth of His people, we must recognize that the world will do this, and as bearers of His name, we must pray daily that He will shine His love, compassion, kindness and glory out through our lives.  We are ambassadors for Christ, the only "Bible" many people will ever read.

Too often, churches lambaste their congregations with admonishments to go out and share the good news of the gospel, but I think they fail to realize that it is not our glib recitation of a gospel acrostic that will bring people to a saving knowledge of Christ.  It is Christ in us, the hope of glory, the beauty of God revealed in the redeemed lives of His loving saints.  Live a life worthy of the Lord who has called you.

I know, I know.  I have failed in this task seemingly countless times.  I have been unforgiving, bitter, critical and angry.  I have lost my temper, and I have failed to trust the Lord.  I have been unloving and unkind; I have both spoken and acted in sin.  I have been prideful, arrogant, haughty, and I have also been fearful, discouraged and despondent in the manner of one who must have no faith at all.  And yet, when I confess my sins, He is faithful and forgives me, cleansing me from all my unrighteousness.

I think you can learn something from my experience here:  Never give up on the power of God's forgiveness.  You may need to humble yourself over and over again in asking for it, but never give up, because He promises that He will never stop forgiving and cleansing.  He is so pleased when we come trembling before Him in humility, asking for His help to do what we can never do in our own strength.  He loves us so deeply, we will never understand, but we must run to Him in faith.

Lastly (there is much more I'd like to say, but I have gone on far too long, so I will end with this), seek His joy.  God wants us to have fullness of joy.  Jesus came to bring us abundant joy.  Although He warns us that in this world we will have trouble, although the New Testament is full of words to encourage perseverance through suffering, still: Knowing God is truly the way to joy.  In fact, it is the only way to true joy.

Psalm 37:4 (ESV) says, "Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart."  This is a most beautiful and potent promise.  Be careful in how you apply it; it does not say, "Delight yourself in the Lord, and then as a reward He will give you whatever you wanted in the first place."  No!  It says that when the Lord Himself is your delight, then He will give you the desires of your heart.  One might surmise that if the Lord is your ultimate delight, then your ultimate desires are related to His presence in your life, the opportunity to apprehend His glory, and the coming of His Kingdom.

Ezekiel 36:25-27 speaks of how the Lord promises to give His people new hearts that are inclined to love Him and to follow Him, actually cutting out our hearts of stone and replacing them with hearts of flesh.  Pray for that kind of heart.  Pray that God will make you love Him--delight in Him--desiring what He desires, rejoicing in the things that cause Him to rejoice.  

Pray that the Lord will mold your heart to love righteousness and hate evil, and that even in hating evil, you will be filled with His compassion and lovingkindness for a lost and blinded world.  Pray that you will be like Jesus: faithful to the Father, tender toward the oppressed, and courageously confrontational when those who bear His name do so in an unworthy manner.  Pray that He will be real to you, that He will show you signs of His presence and goodness every day, that He will reveal His beauty and His way through His Word (and pray that He will give you an unquenchable thirst for His Word).  Pray that He will fill your heart with assurance of His love and His faithfulness and the inevitability of the completion of His Kingdom, that you will have steadfast hope resulting in daily joy.

Don't worry about this life.  Comforts will come and go.  There will be times of plenty and times of want, times of safety and times of oppression, times of gain and times of loss.  In His strength, you can weather it all, and through it all there is hope, and His constant abiding presence.  Nothing and nobody can ever take away your hope, the faith with which He has imbued you, or His abiding presence.  And when we arrive at the end, everything will be okay, marvelous, in fact.  At the end, we will live with Jesus in perfect paradise, forever, and there will be no more danger, fear, pain, sorrow, shame or death ever again.  All the brokenness of this world will pass and be replaced with comfort, safety, health, light, love and everlasting life.  He promised, and He is faithful.  So be joyful and hope in the Lord.

With all my heart,

Monday, March 23, 2015


Spring is mostly here, early spring.  This is a very good thing.

My daffodils are not poking up yet, although my neighbor's are.  I am a little bit concerned.  I do have the beginnings of some crocuses, some red shoots that might turn into tulips, and a few tips of rhubarb in the back.  But no daffodils.

Early spring is not the most beautiful time of the year.  It may actually be the ugliest.  Walking in the park or driving across Wisconsin (we went to Minnesota last weekend), the dull gray of snow-moulded leaves dusts the face of the earth and bare branches spread, fatigued, into the chill March sky.  On a walk in Minnesota, we passed a yard where someone had turned on a sprinkler, an attempt to green up the lawn, but the grass was still brown, and icicles glistened on the twiggy limbs of a young tree that came under a spray of water each time the sprinkler oscillated.  Still, there is hope, so much hope, so much promise of green and growth, flowers and fruit yet to come.

I am sure it is no accident that the Lord set Easter in the springtime. After a long, cold, dark season, it is right that the Resurrection celebration should accentuate the earth's new life at the end of every winter.

The earth is tired and worn.  All creation is subject to bondage and decay, as in the same way we are, in our frail and earthy human bodies.  Just as we await our redemption, the earth awaits its.

We don't talk about this enough.  We talk about "going to heaven when we die," but we don't talk about the New Heaven and the New Earth, the new bodies that the Lord has promised to us.  He says, "Behold, I am making all things new."  It will happen, just as Jesus rose from the dead, just as spring comes every year.  Total redemption for all of groaning creation.

I am so tired of hearing people claim that there could not possibly be a god, because there is suffering in the world.  Clearly they have not read the Bible in their quest for God, because He tells us there, over and over, that suffering is a normal and expected part of life in a fallen world.  This is exactly why redemption is necessary.  This is why there will be a New Heaven and  New Earth: because we broke the original heaven and earth through our sin and our pride, our desire to be like God and to make our own decisions apart from His wisdom.  We live in a broken world that our ancestors messed up, but God has a perfect plan to restore it all, and He invites us to be a part of it.  He is taking His time in the process because He loves us, and He wants as many as possible to learn about Him and believe in Him before the end of this world.

And so we continue in this place that is full of beauty and wonder because He created it, but also full of sorrow and horror, because we rebelled and brought in sin.  There are flowers and oil spills, newborn babies and wars.  We have mountains, sunrises, sunsets, grapes, horses, dolphins, puppies, waterfalls and vegetable gardens.  We also have hurricanes, tornadoes, child abuse, sexual predators, stomach flu, racism and thieving politicians.  We have love, and we have cancer.  How can all these things exist together?  It's because everything God created was good, but He gave humankind the freedom of choice, and the choices we made were bad, and the tarnish began and has continued to this day, the perversion of evil twisting the inherent beauty of God's creation.

Still, there is hope because He is faithful to His promises, and way back in the garden of Eden, before He even threw them out, God promised Adam and Eve that the seed of the woman would rise up and crush the serpent's head.  After the fall into sin, the entire remainder of the Old Testament is about how God was preparing the world for Messiah, setting up pictures, patterns, symbols, ancestors, parables, signs and prophets, everything pointing to the One who would come and put things to rights.

And then He came, Jesus came.  He fulfilled the prophecies, teaching, healing, restoring, reviving, and ultimately dying and rising again.  He came to bring us back into fellowship with the Holy God who sent Him.

"Why can't I just do what I want, if I'm not hurting anybody?  Why shouldn't I be able to have premarital sex, and abortions, and be homosexual if I so choose?  Who says I can't do what I want?  How am I hurting anyone or anything?"

Couldn't Eve have asked exactly the same question?  "Who says I can't eat this fruit?  It looks so good.  I'm sure it's very tasty.  How could a loving god possibly tell me I can't have this lovely piece of fruit?  That would be so mean."

It all comes down to pride and humility.  Are you humble enough to surrender to the God
who created you (and the entire Universe), and admit that He knows more about how it all works than you do?  Can you believe that the Creator understands His creation and knows what is good for it, and what is not?  Or are you pridefully determined that you know better than God?

If there is a God, and if He created all things intentionally and intelligently, as the Bible says, then it is rather silly even to imagine that you might know better than He does.

Of course, if you don't believe the Bible, you don't believe the Bible.  I guess that's another choice you make.  But your choice does not determine the ultimate truth of things; your choice is either right or wrong.

If you want to explore more, you can read these posts from the past:

On suffering (start series here).

On the the existence of God and the Bible.

On God as Creator of all things.

Friday, March 6, 2015


I long to go out on my sunporch, sit in the sun and read.

It is too cold.

My throat swells thick with the longing to be out there under the gleaming windows, quiet, bright, comforted.

"There is no fear in love..." (from 1 John 4:18).  I've written about this before, but now that I said so, I can't find the old posts.  Anyway, I do not know what it means.  I love, and I fear.  I fear for those I love.

In Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant, Anne Tyler writes about a mother who has her first child and is frightened by how powerfully she loves him; terrified, in fact, at the realization of how vulnerable it has made her to the possibility of loss and pain.  So she has another child, thinking that if she has two, it wouldn't be quite so terrible to lose one.  But after the second baby arrives, she realizes that no, it works just the opposite: now she is in double jeopardy of losing.  This is what I call fear in love.

I had a moment this afternoon when I understood why parents sometimes disown their children.  It is not for lack of love.  It is because love hurts so very much when it meets resistance.  The act of disowning is a desperate attempt to shield a vulnerable heart from the intense pain of loss.  This does not mean that I am condoning it, only that I understand the root of it, and feel compassion.

Letting go is tricky business.  Sometimes it is right, good, necessary.  Other times it may be a defense mechanism, an attempt to flush away the devastation.

Thinking is a burden to the mind.  Striving is sometimes the right thing to do, and sometimes a complete waste.

It is in vain that you rise up early
    and go late to rest,
eating the bread of anxious toil;
    for He gives to His beloved sleep.

~Psalm 127:2 (ESV) 

To love is to put oneself at risk.  There is no other true love.

Someday spring will come and I will sit again on the sunporch and read my Bible with the light spilling blessedly over the pages.

In the meantime, I know that my inner yearnings join with the heart of God Himself, who longs to gather us under His wings even though we are always trying to get away.

Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.
~Matthew 23:37 (NIV)

Thursday, March 5, 2015

An observation about Schubert

Schubert loves sofa time.  Both dogs get very excited if they think I am gearing up to settle on the sectional for awhile, with a blanket and the TV remote.

However, Schubert hates my phone.  If I ever get it out, he indignantly takes off for the upstairs bedrooms.  He particularly despises the noise it makes when I get a text, a low, vibrating rumble followed by, "Thrum! Thrum!"  Whenever I get a text, he jumps up, tucks his tail between his legs, looks behind himself disconsolately and takes off for the upstairs bedrooms.

The other night, I was trying to read a book on the sectional in the living room.  I had my phone nearby, since I was in the throes of a number of text conversations as is fairly typical in the early evenings when I strive to make contact with each of my kids (I call it sending out pings to see if they are alive and well).  I noticed Schubert's offended response each time I moved to pick up the phone, but I persevered in going upstairs (repeatedly . . .  a woman must get her exercise somehow), and bringing him back down to sit in my lap.

Then I picked up my large tea mug which was on the end table next to me.  As soon as I did, Schu jumped into my lap, turned a circle and plopped himself down.  I put down my mug and picked up my phone, just to see what would happen.  He scuttled off the sofa.  I put down my phone and picked up my mug.  He came right back to cuddle.

What a weird dog.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Our Chicago adventure

I am not a big city person.

We lived in Syracuse, NY for 25 years, and never once in that time did I set foot in NYC, except perhaps at an airport to make a connecting flight (I have a recollection of walking miles through a makeshift maze on the tarmac at JFK).

So.  When our kids gave us tickets to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra for Christmas, I was quite excited, but also somewhat frightened and nervous.  Chicago is not NYC, but it is a big city.

The day arrived, February 28, and we set out in our car, I clutching a file of information gleaned and printed off the internet: maps, where to park, where to eat, phone numbers, prices, addresses, reservation confirmation numbers, and of course the symphony tickets--which I had an intense fear of losing--securely fastened to the other papers in the file with the biggest, sturdiest paperclip I could find.

Shawn told me in no uncertain terms that I could not wear my new cowboy boots to the Symphony, so I had tried to put together an acceptable outfit from what else I had, ending up with gray and black and white, which turned out to be good.

We drove to Chicago, and the Saturday traffic was blessedly light.  By some miracle, we got a reasonably early start, so when we sat at an intersection on Michigan for three or four light cycles, waiting for a jam to break up on the cross road, we could just relax and watch the happenings and not worry about being late to anywhere.  One irate lady pulled around in a reckless U-turn and peeled away in the opposite direction, just seconds before the dam of cars gave way and traffic resumed its flow.

We passed our hotel and continued on to the Millenium South underground parking garage where we could leave our car for up to 24 hours, paying half of what it cost to use valet parking at the hotel.  What a funny feeling to swerve into the middle of the street and swoop down into a secret parking lot under the city.  We parked and then we sat there for awhile in our car together, breathing, feeling the victory of getting this far with no mishaps.

Slightly shaky, I emerged from the vehicle, still grasping my precious file, into which I had now also clipped our parking claim ticket.  While Shawn unloaded our two small bags from the trunk, I photographed our car's location with my phone, for future reference.  Together, we stuffed the six bottles of water we had brought into the larger of our two bags.  And then we were ready to take on Chicago.

Our hotel, the Blackstone Renaissance by Marriott, was quite lovely, although the front desk was not immediately apparent.  When we located it, the service was polished and polite, if not warm and friendly.  I guess big cities just aren't warm and friendly.  We did not pay the $40 upgrade to a room facing out Michigan Avenue over the lake, but accepted the room we got free with Marriott points from previous travel.  It was on the 19th floor and faced south, so we actually had a very decent view of the lake if we were willing to look out an an angle.

The room itself was spacious for a city hotel, finished with a marble floor in the entry and bathroom, and sleek, artistic furnishings.

There is Shawn, checking out the view.

This was our magnificent marble bathroom: marble, glass, stainless steel, and black and white wallpaper.

I have written before about how the current popular style of kitchens done in cold white, gray and stainless does not appeal to me.  Our hotel room had a similar effect.  Although I could recognize that it was decorated with the most up-to-date design style, very nicely, I could not feel quite cozy there.  We turned up the heat, but with marble floors and slick leather chairs, a chill pervaded.

The award winning, iron chef restaurant in the hotel, Mercat a la Planxa, was slightly tempting.  Who is not intrigued by iron chef prepared tapas?  However, the online menu was either written in Spanish, or else carried virtually exclusively items of which I had never heard.  One can be adventurous in such situations when one is not forced to avoid gluten, peanuts and kiwi.  Food allergies put a crimp in one's ability to try new things.

Eschewing the stress of the unknown, we walked a couple of blocks to Lou Malnati's, that famous Chicago pizza joint which, amazingly, offers gluten free options.

After we both warmed up with bowls of minestrone soup (mine sans pasta), I had sole piccata with spinach.  Shawn had pizza.

We ate early, having missed lunch, which resulted in easy seating, good service and plenty of time to return to the hotel and get ready for the symphony.  In fact, we had so much time, we turned on the Duke-Syracuse basketball game for awhile and tried to spot David in the stands.  Being chilly, I looked for an extra blanket in the closet.  There was none, but there was a sort of robe, so I threw it over my legs as I reclined on the bed, and it was a very decent solution to the issue.

I have to say that I like the type of hotel where they offer complimentary hot drinks in the lobby, where breakfast is included in the price of the room, and where they stock extra blankets in the closet.  I just do.  But I guess those kinds of hotels are not in big cities.  I gather that in big cities there are two kinds of hotels: the ones where you pay for amenities, and the ones where there are no amenities.

Walking three blocks to Orchestra Hall, through a light drizzle of hazy snow, was festive.  We were there before we knew it, and then up high to the balcony where we found our first row seats.  My chest was a little tight at the extreme height of it, but it was very exciting.

Once I fell down the steep balcony steps in an auditorium at Eastman School of Music.  We were there for an All-State concert, and I remember the stomach convulsing sensation of losing my footing, reaching out for something to steady me, finding nothing, no handrail anywhere, and landing squarely on the back of a strange man's shoulder, three or four steps below where I'd begun.  This balcony may have been even steeper, but it did have handrails, which I held tightly, and I walked very slowly, and fortunately we were early, not holding anyone up behind us.  I arrived safely at my seat.

That's our program sitting on the sort of shelf that was in front of our seats.  You can see that there were two mezzanines and a ground floor beneath us.  They even had seating behind the orchestra on the stage.  And by the time the concert started, nearly every seat in the house was full!

Here is another picture, showing more of the beautiful architecture in Orchestra Hall.

And then the orchestra came out.  So many basses!  My goodness!

I read the program notes while I waited.  We were there for Tchaikovsky's 6th, Pathetique.   The notes explained that this was his last symphony, and that he died very shortly after introducing it.  At its first performance, it was so emotional and brooding, people did not know how to respond, especially at the end, which just faded away with basses throbbing a note with the unprecedented dynamic marking of pppppp.

The music began, and I listened.  It did not sound much like Tchaikovsky, to me, but the program notes had said to expect brooding tones.  These were certainly brooding tones, although every now and again I thought I recognized the glimmer of a phrase from The Nutcracker or Swan Lake.  The clarinet was fantastic, and pivotal to the entire work.  A middle movement began and ended with gorgeous, birdlike flute solos.  A percussionist played the tympani, and a lone woman sat still as stone in a chair throughout, rising once to hit a large cymbal.  As the music drew to a close in the final movement, the woman stood up and moved over to the cymbal once more.  The orchestra crescendoed.  As the crescendo peaked, the woman hit the cymbal, and the audience burst into applause.

I thought, "That wasn't right.  Where were the basses?  Where was the mysterious fading away of the sound?"

The lights came up and people got out of their seats.  I sat, confused.  Finally I asked Shawn, "Is it over?"  He kindly explained to me that we had just heard Scriabin's Symphony #2 in C minor.

I had not had any idea that we were going to hear Scriabin.

That was the first hour of the concert.  The second half really was the Tchaikovsky, and sounded like Tchaikovsky.  Really, after the Scriabin, it hardly sounded brooding at all.  Until the end . . .  the basses at the end lived up to all that I had expected or hoped.

So it was a fantastic concert.

We walked back to our hotel, again through just enough snow to make it feel like a holiday.  Upon our arrival, our room greeted us with a puff of warmth; our attempts with the thermostat had finally been effective.  We downed a bunch of our bottled water and fell asleep on a supremely comfortable bed.

Sunday morning we arose, showered, and opted not to order oatmeal from room service for $15 per bowl.  While I packed up, Shawn went down to the Starbucks in the lobby and procured a couple of cups of good coffee.  It seemed rather anticlimactic to walk out of that room, but there you have it.  Suitcases and coffee in hand, we set out up Michigan Avenue once more, this time to find our car.

Which we did!  Without any trouble!  We paid our parking fee with a credit card at a machine, then drove away without saying good-bye to anyone, making a right turn onto Congress Parkway and heading out to Chicago's northwest suburbs where we planned to attend The Orchard Church, church of my favorite broadcast preacher, Colin S. Smith.

Sunday morning traffic was relatively light.  We arrived at the church in about a half hour, half the time the mapping programs had predicted.

We parked.  We walked in.  Shawn pointed over to the right of the entrance.  And there he was, Colin S. Smith himself, in the flesh, chatting with someone.  Shawn said, "He's taller than I expected."

I could not believe it.  The church has four campuses, and Pastor Colin rotates among them without prior announcement.  We'd visited once before, and he had not been there, only a taped broadcast of him preaching (which was still a blessing, and I still remember that he spoke on Joel 2, which on the heels of our move here was exactly what we needed).  But last Sunday, there he was in the flesh.

I tried not to hope too hard.  I thought they may have taped him earlier, and he might not hang around for the third service.

But he did.  He preached.  Live.  Right there in the front of the church which is largish but not gigantic.  He preached about Joseph, which is pretty much one of my favorite Bible stories (except that they are almost all my favorites).

And at the end, Shawn said, "Let's go meet him."  I wouldn't have.  I would have been content just to see him and hear him and stand across the sanctuary from him.  But we actually approached him, and he was so kind, and interested, and not in a hurry.

I could not believe it.  Could. Not. Believe. It.

When you've known someone through his books and tapes, been taught by him from afar, when you've used his CDs--ones you've nearly worn out--to play you softly to sleep at night with his lovely Scottish brogue speaking thoughts about the beauty of Christ, because your husband is away on a business trip and you are scared and lonely and need something to drive out the fearful thoughts, when you have used his materials in small groups and watched him on videos--when you meet this person, and he is kind, and he actually looks right into your eyes with compassion, it is so overwhelming . . .

So overwhelming that you think, "If it is this amazing and overwhelming to meet a teacher, a man, a mortal human, then how absolutely, unutterably, inconceivably wonderful and overwhelming and thrilling is it going to be to see Jesus Himself someday?"  I cannot even imagine.

So.  There was more to the trip.  We ate a nice brunch and had a safe drive home, and finally arrived to discover nine inches of snow, plus all the extra snow that the plow had pushed into the mouth of the driveway.

But it was all good, and surely a weekend I will always remember.  What a miracle that it went the way it did, everything working like clockwork.  Shawn says, "If you are ever tempted to doubt the goodness of God, you will have to remember our Chicago adventure."