Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Late December Assessment

I gun for 100 posts per year.  I've never accomplished it, and won't this year either.  I'm falling short, which I'm sure is a blessing for anyone who reads here.  Perhaps a better goal would be 64: 4 posts per month, except during Thankful November when I'd shoot for 20.

Sorry for the lack of photos lately.

A friend of mine is moving away, which is tragic, because I just met her and she is amazing.  The last time I saw her, she said, "My goal right now is to become un-offendable."  That struck me in the heart.  I'd never thought of such a thing.  How beautiful would the world be, if we just didn't take offense at one another?  It would be terribly difficult to become completely un-offendable, but I do think we could all work to become less offendable, to choose not to be offended.  We can choose not to be offended by other people's bad moods, awkward comments, unfortunate actions and questionable choices!  What wonderful news!

This past weekend, an ice storm coated our city and its environs with slick, gleaming surfaces.  Arctic temperatures and hazardous roads stranded people at home over the entire last weekend before Christmas.  I woke up on Saturday morning at 4 a.m. with a headache, perhaps due to the low pressure.  Discouraged, I drank some water and went back to bed to try to sleep it off.  At 6 a.m. I awoke again, my head throbbing harder than before.  Again I tried to sleep it off, fitfully, but by the time I tried to muster the forces and become productive at 8 a.m., I had developed a full-fledged migraine with convulsing waves of excruciating pain.  The morning was swallowed up in ibuprofen, caffeine, ice packs, an epsom salt bath, deep breathing, forcing liquids, gagging on oatmeal, lying still with a shade over my eyes and finally getting the pain under some sort of control.  Shawn was a champion nurse.  We did zero Christmas errands.  On Sunday, the headache still hovered in my forehead and pressed on my eyes, although it remained at bay.  Church and home again was the limit.

Yesterday was Monday, and I went to the mall.  Mainly, I was going there with the intention to walk.  It was a Very Bad Choice.  You see, on Monday, the weather had cleared.  It was still cold, cold enough that they cancelled school, 4 or 5 degrees.  The sky beamed blue and radiant as only an arctic sky can do, while the ice on everything sparkled and crackled, ten million pins of light piercing the eyes of the world in stark contrast to the stormy gray days of the weekend.  It sparkled, but it did not melt.

Across this ice plane, under the clear and brilliant sky, our entire population--school being cancelled--skidded to the mall and filled the parking lots to the very last corners.  Everyone had to catch up the entire last weekend before Christmas.  I did finally find a parking spot, and headed in to walk with a friend, whom I located near the Gap.

Mall walking was not as bad as you might imagine, given the number of people there.  I guess they were in the stores.  The sales were tremendous.  Who knew merchandise would be marked at 75% off, on December 19?  Near the end of our walk, we ventured into some stores and were shocked at the bargains that abounded.  We decided to split up and buy some things before leaving.  I found a few (very few) small (very small) items and proceeded to wait nearly 30 minutes in a Very Long Line to purchase them.  I nearly fainted at one point, and had to squat down on the floor, there being nowhere to sit.  When lupus strikes, I have no dignity.

Upon finishing and escaping, I went out into the deep freeze and located my van.  The vehicles scrunched together like pickles packed tight in a jar, so I climbed in carefully, making sure not to bang my door on the next car.  Starting the engine and craning around to watch behind me, I slowly backed out of my spot until I was nearly in the middle of the lane.  Then, before turning hard on the steering wheel to execute the final maneuver, I turned forward to check the nose of the van and make sure it wasn't going to hit anything on its end.  Satisfied, I reverted to my rearward view so I could finish backing up, only to be horrified by the sight of a pickup truck backing out across from me, straight toward my van.  He was moving slowly, but he was not stopping.  I paused a split second as I ascertained that, indeed, he was not stopping.  No.  He was creeping steadily towards an impact with my prone vehicle.  Gulping air, I depressed my horn, but the beep did not deter him.  Frustrated, I then honked two more times, loudly, obnoxiously.  He stopped.

I breathed, both relief and embarrassment spreading over me.  Three or four pedestrians, walking up the hazardous lane toward the mall from their remote parking spots, stopped to survey the situation, jockeying between the hind ends of the pickup and my van.  The pickup pulled sheepishly back into its spot.  I was mortified that all these people had seen me honking, and I felt desperate to leave.  I wondered how long I was obligated to wait for the pedestrians.  They seemed to be shrinking back from the scene rather than forging ahead, so I decided to seize the day and get myself out of there.  Yes sir.  Out of there I went, still very carefully, but once I was able to change my gears from reverse to drive, I did not look back.

Un-offendable, eh?  Shawn tells me that it is different, that being offended is not the same as acting in self-defense.  He says it is a good thing I honked, because the pickup driver wouldn't have wanted to hit me any more than I wanted to be hit.  I'm not sure if I was offended; I was a little perturbed that anyone could just go ahead and back up in crowded parking lot on an icy day without looking carefully in all directions.  But mostly I felt embarrassed that I had honked like a maniac in the midst of a crowd like that; I felt offensive.

Assessment?  I might have done better to quickly shift the van to drive and pull back into my spot and out of the way of the pickup, had I thought quickly enough.  Honking is embarrassing, but Shawn is right, it beats car repairs and insurance claims.  Christmas shopping is the cause of much stress and even conflict.  Malls can be very scary, on many levels.

How could we maintain the spirit of love and generosity at Christmas time, while reducing stress and financial strain?  I had an idea:

What if we just gave everyone an ornament that symbolized something about the year, along with a dated letter explaining the significance of why we had chosen that ornament for that person, that year?  We could keep the letters in Christmas Files, and each year as we retrieved the ornaments, we could read over the memories in the files.  Christmas could become a time of remembering our lives' milestones and commemerating them together as we decorate and review.  On Christmas Day, we could unveil the new ornaments and read the letters aloud to one another like benedictions.  What do you think?

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Christmas List Update

Last weekend, I lost my list at the mall.

Once I lost the master list for Jonathan's graduation party.  I was beside myself.  Shawn was working at home, and he was on an important call.  I wrote him a note in my most tragic handwriting, tears streaming down my face, "I lost my list."  Since he was busy, I went away to fold laundry.  There was always laundry, back then.  Shawn finished his call and came to find me.  "Would that be the list that you told me it would be the end of the world if you lost it?" he asked.  I nodded.   He continued, "The one I scanned for you so we would have a copy if this happened?"  I had totally forgotten about that.  He produced a computer printout of the list and I went merrily along with party planning.  Weeks after the party, I found the original list plastered into the bottom of a defunct Aldi box in a corner of the garage.

The list I lost at the mall was not a master list, and, in fact, some items on the list had become irrelevant due to my husband encouraging me to hire someone to do some things I'd been intending to try to do myself.  Still, losing a list leaves an empty feeling in my hands and at my side and in the corners of my brain where I wonder what thoughts will never be retrieved.  For the rest of the time we were at the mall, after I realized the list was gone, I found myself looking at my hands and rubbing the tips of my fingers down the insides of my thumbs.

Today I completed all of the items on my List for Today which was scrawled on an ancient pharmacy receipt that had been stapled to a prescription, and which I had retrieved from the bowels of the pantry because we were trying to figure out some health insurance things before we quit in search of a better attitude.

It's going to be okay.  As long as God grants us peace and good weather and health, it will all be wonderful.  I can't really say what God will do, because He is God, and His ways are not my ways.  But He is kind and compassionate and faithful, so I can always hope that my next lesson will be an opportunity to learn through seeing His mighty hand work on my behalf, rather than an opportunity to learn through adversity, which is always more difficult to be thankful for, at least in the middle of it.

Time to start tomorrow's list.  (Writing it.  Not doing it.  Not yet.)

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

What about those who fall away?

A few people in my life have fallen away from the Lord in the last few years.

I really hate this.  Hate is not too strong a word.

I want people to love Jesus, to appreciate His great sacrifice on our behalf, to know His peace, to look forward to eternity in a perfect, redeemed creation, reunited with God and all His goodness.  I want us all to be together, living in fellowship, community and love under the care of God Himself.

Scripture has some scary things to say about believers who fall away.  I don't like that, either.  Quite literally, it makes me feel sick to my stomach.  I don't know what these things mean, Mark 3:29 and Hebrews 6:4-6 and 1 John 5:16.  These are terrifying passages.  I suppose everyone must have a part of the Bible that makes him recoil, that he hopes does not mean what it appears on the surface to mean.

I've been taught that we can interpret the difficult passages in the Bible through the lens provided by the passages that are easy to understand.  When we do this, we must be careful not to confuse "difficult to understand" with "difficult to accept."  This requires greater intellectual honesty than most of us can regularly muster.

At the end of the day, all we can do is trust God to do what is right, because of His character which He has revealed to us through His word.  I go back to His attributes.  He is able, almighty, beautiful, bountiful, caring, compassionate, our Deliverer and our Delight.  He is eternal, faithful, forgiving, gracious, gentle, good, holy, our Helper and our Healer.  He is invisible, immortal, joyous and just, kind, our King, and full of love.  He is mighty and majestic, and near to all who call on Him.  He is omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient, powerful, perfect, yet quiet when He approaches us.  He is our Redeemer, righteous, sovereign, triumphant, true and unfathomable.  He is victorious.  He is wise and wonderful.

God is xerophilous--He makes life flourish in barren places.  He yearns for His children, and He is zealous for their salvation.

These are only some of God's characteristics, His attributes.  He has revealed these things to us throughout His word.  He redeems.  He forgives.  He heals.  He restores.  He makes new.

I think the one sin you cannot be forgiven for is the sin of rejecting Jesus, and I hope that this sin is not final and unforgivable until the end of a person's life or the end of our present creation.  Otherwise, why would we be given the parable of the Prodigal Son?  He rebelled.  He fell away.  He left his place in his father's home.  But he came back, and he was received with joy.

God's word teaches hope, redemption.  God's word teaches us to forgive over and over again, because God Himself forgives over and over again.  Forgiveness is His pattern, the focal point of all that God accomplished in Christ.  I cannot believe that coupled next to His great forgiveness would be the message: if you ever fall into a wicked and blasphemous attitude toward your Savior, you can never return.  What about Psalm 25:7?  ("Remember not the sins of my youth and my rebellious ways; according to Your love remember me, for You are good, O Lord.")

I've been told that in loving and interceding for a rebel who is not availing himself of God's merciful forgiveness, one often learns a great deal about one's own heart before God.  "You learn a lot more than they do," I've been told.  My initial reaction was, "But I don't need to learn as much as they do!"

Which, of course, is the putrid unveiling of pride.  The pride in me is so gross.  Sometimes I weep before the Lord, in despair and fear, wondering what He will have to do to me, how far He will have to crush me, in order to purify the pride out of me.  I don't want my pride, but it's so insidious, such a sneaky, quiet part of who I am, that I rarely see it until after it has me by the neck in an embarrassing situation.  Oh, dear Lord Jesus, have mercy on me.

I'm digressing.  My soul is in turmoil, and this isn't what I meant to write about.

I meant to write about what keeps people who think they are seeking the Lord from finding Him.

A number of people who have fallen away have expressed that they spent quite a lot of time in anguish, begging Jesus to show Himself to them, or to speak to them, but He would not.  So they determined that He was not there.  This testimony did not match my experience, or the Biblical promises. "You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart," (Jeremiah 29:13).

After pondering, I decided that the hitch must be in the part that says "When you seek me with all your heart."  You have to let go of yourself when you are seeking God.  You must surrender to Him.  You can't hang on to your own terms and conditions.  You can't demand that God be good according to your definition of goodness.  You can't say, "I'll believe You when You show Yourself to me, and You have to accept gay people in their homosexuality as You created them and let them fulfill their homosexual inclinations, because I know that they are nice people."  You can't say, "I'll believe You when You take away this problem that plagues me so I have an easy life and don't have to struggle and depend on You every day."  You can't say, "I'll believe You when You instantly change my desires so I never have to grapple with my sin nature again."

You can't tell God, "I'll believe You when You act in accordance with what I have determined is good and fair."  You simply can't.  It doesn't work that way, for He is God.  And you are not.

God, in His perfect, immutable nature is the very essence of goodness.  We, as mortal, stained-with-sin humans cannot change that.  Nor should we.  But my point is that we absolutely can't, regardless of any other factor.  Just as surely as I couldn't go out into my driveway and jump to the surface of the moon--actually, more surely than that--we cannot change the perfect goodness of God, whether we like it or not.  Basically (and this may not sound very nice, but it is the truth), if your idea of what is good differs from God's idea of what is good, then you are wrong, and if you refuse to be corrected, you will go to hell.  So that, I suppose, is the unpardonable sin.  Ouch.

People who fall away from the Lord have somehow forgotten who He is.  A root of pride has grown up in their spirits, choking out their ability to surrender to the wisdom and counsel of the Almighty Creator of the Universe.  Imagine a willful two-year-old in a state-of-the-art research laboratory, scribbling on lab notebooks, pushing buttons on equipment, spilling solutions and breaking beakers.  "No!" he screams, "I'm going to do it by myself!"  This illustrates only a fraction of our folly before God when we refuse Him.  His thoughts are not our thoughts, nor are His ways our ways.  As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are God's ways higher than our ways.  This is not a cop out, a cliche or a silly platitude.  This is the literal truth.

The thing is, God loves us.  We needed Him, but we didn't know that He was what we needed, didn't even know to ask.  Yet, in His great love, He has been working since the dawn of history to reveal Himself to us.  We couldn't reach out to Him, but He reached out to us, providing His word, full of truth and promises and hope.  Ultimately, He reached out to us through Christ, the Yes to all His promises, His own divine essence humbled into human flesh, emptied of glory but full of perfection so He could die, the only perfect sacrifice that could ever pay our sin debt.  He did this for us because He is good.  He wants to save us from sin and death and damnation, to deliver us with glorious celebration into the Kingdom of the Son He loves.  Yet, we somehow think we have some human right to go back and quibble with Him over what is a sin and what is not, and what kind of comforts and indulgences He owes us before we get to heaven.  Hello?

Pride is such a stinker, such a wicked, nasty, creeping deceiver.  In every person, pride is there, striving to blind us so we cannot see God, cannot apprehend truth, cannot accept reason, cannot recognize who we ourselves are before God, cannot say we are sorry for what we have done wrong.

Oh God, send Your Holy Spirit to illuminate, to give understanding, to reveal truth so we can repent of our sins--especially our pride--and avail ourselves of Your great gift of salvation through Christ. Help us, for we cannot help ourselves.  Deliver us, heal us, cleanse us, restore us.  Dear Lord Jesus, enable us to receive Your peace and Your joy.

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God 
through our Lord Jesus Christ, 
through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. 
 And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.
Romans 5:1-2