Posts Tagged ‘lent2008’
April 24, 2003
I knew she was alive. I could hear her arguing with the paramedics, but I couldn’t quite make out my sister’s words.
Each time I tried to move closer to the tangled twist of metal that had been her minivan, an emergency worker would prevent me. “You have to stand back, ma’am.”
“No, I have to be with them,” I wanted to cry out.
Somehow I tamped down the scream and watched helplessly as two EMTs loaded a stretcher carrying my 78-year-old mother into the ambulance. They’d told me she was conscious; that’s all I knew. But they’d had to cut her out of the passenger side, which had taken a direct hit from a pickup traveling about 60 mph. The door was crumpled, the headlight and right front quarter panel were gone, and the wheel was bent at a 45-degree angle.
With adrenaline pumping, I observed the scene in that detached yet hyperinvolved way where time seems to expand as your brain endeavors to process too much information at once. Even with the flashing lights of emergency vehicles, the intersection was dark, and I carefully inched toward the streetlight to lean against the pole. My right foot was throbbing; I’d fallen and fractured the little toe just moments before I received word that my mother and sister had been injured on their way home from the grocery store.
Closer now, I could distinguish Laurie’s words. My sister, still in the driver’s seat, was refusing to let them place her on a back board, the rigid plastic board ambulance crews use to immobilize a person with a possible spine or neck injury before transporting them to the hospital.
“You don’t understand,” Laurie said, her voice firm even though she was crying. “My neck was like this before the wreck. It doesn’t bend.”
For several long, agonizing minutes she argued with the paramedics. She explained that she’d had rheumatoid arthritis since she was four, and that the vertebrae in her neck had fused on their own by the time she was a teenager.
Ultimately, she had to give in because they would not remove her from the car without putting her on the back board. It was on her terms, though. “Atta girl,” I thought as Laurie gave them orders about how to handle her.
I’m sure they tried to be gentle. Still, she screamed as they laid her on the board and tried to straighten her body enough to strap her down. She was just too bent to lie flat on her back. I held my breath until they finally closed the back door of the ambulance, turned on the siren, and sped away from the scene.
When I first saw Laurie in the emergency room, I gasped. As she had tried to tell them, the cervical brace would not fit, so they had placed a rolled-up towel under her neck, another one across her forehead, and then used duct tape to secure her head to the board. Her face was red and swollen from the force of the airbag when it deployed.
While I dealt with the admissions paperwork, a nurse began to take a medical history and check Laurie for injuries. Besides the neck trauma, her right elbow and one of her fingers appeared to be broken. They brought ice packs. X-rays and lab tests were ordered. Several times Laurie asked for something for pain, but the answer was always that the doctor had to see her first.
And all this time she was still lying flat on her back, still strapped to the board, muscles freezing in place, the number of broken bones yet to be determined.
After more than an hour without seeing a doctor, I became the squeaky wheel, trying to get the attention of somebody with the authority to get Laurie something for pain. It takes a lot for my sister to cry–she has a high pain threshold–and it was killing me to stand by her side, dry her tears, and watch her suffer.
Another nurse came in and began to go over the same territory we’d already covered. “On a scale of 1 to 10,” she asked Laurie, “how bad is the pain?”
Laurie lost it and began to sob. “It’s excruciating!”
Amazingly, the nurse paused just long enough to look up from her notes, then repeated the question.
“Twelve!” Laurie shouted.
Evidently a number, even though it was outside the required range, was the right answer. She left the room and went to get the doctor. I helped Laurie blow her nose and wiped her eyes.
She surprised me when she spoke again. “I shouldn’t have said ‘excruciating.’”
“Huh?” My own pain and fatigue were setting in. I’d been standing on a broken toe for a couple of hours by this time.
“It means ‘out of the cross.’” Her voice was soft, her tone reflective. “His pain was excruciating, not mine.”
Four days after Easter Sunday, while suffering intensely, my sister put her own pain in perspective by remembering the passion of Christ.
I have never understood my sister’s ability to cope with pain, other than as a gift of God’s grace. That she spoke disparagingly of broken bones and what turned out to be a bad whiplash humbled me at that moment and to this day.
The following day Laurie was on the cell phone, trying to work from her hospital bed, with me hobbling around and fussing at her. Mother had a punctured lung and more than a dozen rib fractures. Miraculously, her legs were not broken even though they had been jammed into the dashboard.
In a week they were both home from the hospital.
a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering.
Recently I have been the recipient of charity, and I must confess that it is a struggle for me to accept it graciously. In this case the charity is not financial, although I have been in that difficult circumstance as well and found it equally uncomfortable.
We sometimes forget that the word charity derives from ancient words, in more than one language, that mean love. Here is what love looks like. The photo shows my pastor, Mark Pollock, and his younger son, Cory. Along with other members of our church family, they spent many hours last week doing strenuous work that my mom, my sister and I are unable to do.
On March 12 we are moving to a new home, combining three households into one, and leaving the property my parents bought in 1970, when this part of Austin was way out in the country. Thirty-eight years of memories stuffed into closets, cabinets, antique armoires, and an entire building where the leftovers of the family business were stored when my late father retired.
With my physical battle (still undiagnosed, still going through tests) comes the emotional battle of worrying how everything is going to get accomplished for the move. And the spiritual battle of being the recipient of an outpouring of love.
Ingrained into my psyche is the apostle Paul’s quotation of our Lord, words that sound familiar even to those who have never opened the pages of a Bible: “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). I was taught to practice charity as a child–taught by the example of my parents, who were generous givers, who shared their home and their hospitality, who demonstrated love in practical ways, day in and day out. It’s simply the way they lived their lives; my mother still does.
As our brothers and sisters in Christ–oh, what depth of meaning is packed into that phrase, words that too often sink into the overgrown swamp of Christian jargon–sifted through the detritus of decades of her life, Mom looked for trinkets and souvenirs to share. A crystal elephant pendant for eight-year-old Carmen, as much an organizer and leader as her mother, Sonya. An antique anvil for Cory–who knew the teenager had taken up metalworking as a hobby?–was suddenly transformed from a hundred-pound albatross into a prized possession for a new owner.
Meanwhile, forbidden to enter the musty storage building because of my respiratory problems, I sulked. I was embarrassed that I was too sick to help. I felt guilty that I wasn’t doing my share of the work. I worried and fretted.
Why do we find it so much easier to give than to receive? True, it is “more blessed to give,” as the scripture says. But in order for there to be givers, there have to be recipients of their charity. When someone refuses to accept an act of charity, they deny the giver the blessing that accompanies the act.
My struggle, I realize, is rooted in pride. It’s easy to perceive being a giver as being in a position of power. Being a receiver implies powerlessness. That’s not a feeling I like, so I chafe against the very notion that I am not self-sufficient. Of course, the idea that I am self-sufficient is a complete illusion. I need to reread John Donne: “No man is an island . . .”
Have you ever been in the position of receiving charity? How did you handle it? Was it as much of a struggle for you as it has been for me?
While prayerfully pondering the topic of struggling (Jon’s suggestion for this week’s posts), the word “staleness” comes to mind…in several contexts. On Friday night, chilled and tired from a long day, a long week, I struggle to write something coherent about Struggling. Here’s part of it:
I am forced to admit that the toughest thing I’m up against in my life as a Christ follower…is me. When the still small voice of God feels muffled and far away, I know what the issue is: I’ve stuck the cotton wool of my own monologuing in my ears. When His living Word reads like stale bread, I know it’s that my appetite’s been dulled by overindulgence in other food, other books and diversions. When I lose another battle to the same old sin again, it’s plainly due to armor which is full of chinks or out of place entirely.
Saturday morning, rested and alert, I look at the book in my hand and see it as a gift direct from God. To explain:
On Tuesday this week I saw several large stacks of books (sight to make me salivate like Pavlov’s pups) on the work counter at church. One title leaped out at me: Study Guide for Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster. I rank Celebration… as a favorite, though it’s been a few years since I’ve read much of it. “Ooh, I’d like to borrow this! I wonder whose these are?” I thought. Later, the books had been moved elsewhere. Sigh. Then on Thursday night in our chapel, while attending a prayer meeting for moms of prodigals (I have two—another struggle), I automatically looked at the room’s bookshelf…and there was another copy of the Study Guide. Without hesitation it went into my purse.
At home I pull Celebration of Discipline off my shelf and note that I first read this book in November of 1995. ‘A few years’ indeed! I am vaguely embarrassed. What does it say of me that an allegedly “life-changing” book has had so little apparent effect?
Foster speaks of spiritual growth as a path, and my heart recognizes a metaphor I’ve been using this season. “We must always remember that the path does not produce the change; it only places us where the change can occur. This is the path of disciplined grace.”
The path does not produce the change. Foster illustrates this with another word picture. The farmer, he says, “is helpless to grow grain…all he can do is provide the right conditions for the growing…” After tilling the soil, planting the seed, watering, feeding and weeding, he has no control over the germination, rooting and growth of the mature plant. This, he writes, “is the way it is with the Spiritual Disciplines—they are…God’s way of getting us into the ground; they put us where he can work within us and transform us. ” (“So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.” I Cor. 3:7)
If the obstacle is ME, the obvious way to navigate it is HIM. When I recognize my struggle, He is faithful to remind me that the work is HIS, not MINE. I’ve been breathing stale air and tripping over my own feet because my head is down, my gaze is inward. In fact I’ve wandered into a bog where it’s hard to walk and the air is rank. Back on the path again, head up and eyes on the Son, I’ll let Him guide my feet. Deep breath. The air is freshening already.
About a year ago, I began the process of falling in love with Jesus all over again for the first time. I say it that way because while this love has a depth, a “what can I do for you?” attitude that usually only comes with maturity, it also has a “head over heels” freshness that more often characterizes love’s first blush.
In my previous 30+ years of Christianity I’ve always struggled to be consistent in bible study and prayer. But now, in this new/old, happy/sad love, more often than not, I struggle to stop, stop reading, stop praying, stop the quiet listening and get on with the day, the actions, the stuff, the feeding of children (what? You’re eating again …).
I finally understand how to love God first, more than my husband, more than my children. I remember saying to someone in the early days of this transformation (for that is what it has been/is being) “I could so become a nun right now …”
But I can’t.
What does any of this have to do with Lent?
It’s like this: In my last post I talked about fasting in a radical way. I was planning to go on a complete food fast for however many days I felt led by the Holy Spirit. But that hasn’t happened. I discovered that it’s hard to fast when you’re the mom, partly because approximately 78% of my waking hours are spent preparing food for my children to eat, but also because I live here, with these people, and one of the things that is really important in the dynamics of this family is the sitting down together at the dinner table.
And I began to struggle with that choice. Because I want to go all out for my Father. I want to gladly “spend myself” for the sake of the gospel. I want to give more and more and more. But my interests are divided. I am glad of the blessing of my family and I don’t love them grudgingly, but I struggle to find a balance between sold out for Jesus and the mom/wife thing (I realize even as I type it that it is an artificial delineation of my own invention).
I’ve struggled with this tension a bit this week. Am I doing the right thing? Am I pleasing God? And then I realized that offering myself to God is done in the grace in which I now stand. There is no value in agonizing over the details. God is only interested in my heart. He is interested in my offering because it represents my heart. He is interested in my fast because it changes my heart.
And I’ve come to recognize that for me and my family, at this time, this is the right thing.
And I’m recognizing that, for myself, in order to walk in the grace, I need to learn to let go of forms and structures to find balance. I need to stop going to meetings and just meet. I need to let go of ministries and minister. And I need to remember that part of whom I meet with and minister to are those inconvenient, but oh, so lovable people that live in my house (and eat nearly constantly).
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.
I was one who said an assigned topic would be helpful. So I’m faced with “sprinting” as the theme of this second week of Lenten blog posts. I have never been anyone’s notion of a runner–I never was athletic at all really. I was tall and thin in junior high, so my times on the 50- and 100-yard dash were not too embarrassing. I had no wind for long-distance running, however, and would be doubled over by a side cramp within the first minute or so. The 600-yard walk/run was tough, and to run a mile was impossible.
Sprinting—a burst of speed over a short distance—doesn’t seem to have any correlation to my spiritual walk. Walk, in fact, is the typical word for my behavior as a Christian. We speak of the journey, the road. “Walk worthy of your calling.” “This is the way, walk in it.” We’re called to perseverance, which sounds to me like we’re in this for the long haul. By definition, sprinting is not something you do for long.
But there are also images of a race course, a track along which others are cheering us on, and we are competing for a prize. “I have run the race,” Paul declares to Timothy. “Let us run with confidence the race marked out for us,” urges the writer of Hebrews. “Run in such a way as to win the prize” (Paul again).
Does the “running” imply speed? Hurry up and finish? Or does it mean the focus and perseverance of an athlete? What is more likely, that I’m to finish quickly or that I need to put everything I’ve got into the race? God’s the one who will decide when I’ve reached the finish line…He’s ordained all my days, and knows the length of the track, and how much I have left. I should keep my eyes on the prize—or better still, the Prize-Bearer, who is Himself the greatest Reward. But I can’t really sprint because I will wear myself out, and I don’t know how much of the race is left. It might be time to sprint if I knew the world (or my own life) would end tomorrow.
Sprinting, jogging or walking, what does it mean to “run the race” as a believer? Is the analogy really even useful? If by ‘the race’ I mean my life in this world, lived to God’s glory, then my walk/run includes everything: private prayer, Scripture reading, study, meditation, worship, fellowship, witnessing, serving, working, playing, loving my husband, loving my kids, loving my neighbor, the bank clerk, the paper boy…the race is LIFE. So, assuming that my life is surrendered to Christ and I’m living by the power of the Holy Spirit, a new creation and His ambassador, then is there really a difference between walking, jogging and running? Does sprinting imply urgency, panic? Why? My times are in His hands who holds eternity. Does sprinting mean that sometimes I’m more His than others? Or am I trying to impress someone?
If this Lent I feel like I’m sprinting, I’m afraid it’s because I’ve been slacking and I’m out of shape. When I’m feeling exhausted or overwhelmed by living as a Christ-follower, and don’t think I can keep up this pace, could it be because I’m not used to these activities? A marathon runner doesn’t dare take a few days off from training, or he loses ground. (I use much the same analogy with my piano students: two hours of practice one day per week is worth far less than four 30-minute sessions spread over the course of that same week…and I can tell the difference.)
Maybe I’ve been ambling absent-mindedly along the track, forgetting where I’m going. Other, more consistent, runners are passing me and it’s tempting to label them “super-athletes” (Super-Christians). Then I wake up to where I am, and what should be just another faith-full lap for me, a mile closer to the goal, feels like I’m trying to run the one-minute mile because I’ve let myself get soft. I’m out of breath, my head is down, my hands are on my knees as I struggle with what once was matter-of-course.
Once I’ve been moving for awhile, pacing myself, I’ll hit my stride again and then my knees will be for prayer, my hands raised up in praise, and the Lord will keep me not out of breath but breathless in awe. Filled with the Holy Spirit, I’ll press on.
[From Rob Hatch]
Despite the significance of Lent, I struggle with figuring out what God is asking me to do. Being a part of this community illustrates that I am not alone in this.
What do we have? We have the Words and the perpetual unfolding of a relationship. We have prayer and circumstance and some significant events. For some reason though, even during significant seasons, I fail to find clarity. Instead, Lent serves to magnify my daily challenge to discern the calling.
I have spent the last few weeks writing an application for a grant for the non-profit agency I serve. I’ve done it before, sometimes with success, sometimes not. Being fully engaged in grant writing, I am reflecting on the similarities between that process and my relationship with God. If you’re not familiar with grant writing, it is an interesting process that goes something like this:
It starts with an announcement from a granting agency. Needs are stated, intentions are presented, parameters are given, and interested parties are welcomed to apply.
Shortly after the announcement, the parties congregate, filled with hope, opportunity and expectation. A representative from the granting agency is there, a leader who presents and reviews the text of the grant with the group. Oftentimes it is not entirely clear what is meant by the words on the page, and the leader answers questions put forth by the participants.
“In section 3.3 it says that we need to….could you help us understand what is meant by….”
We are trying to understand what is meant by a word, a phrase or a passage. Some are scrutinizing each word. Some are trying to push at the edges of the meaning, hoping it will fit their current program.
The leader attempts to translate the words when he can, but sometimes he points to what is written because it’s enough.
After the gathering, the group departs for their own programs with (ideally) a shared understanding of what is being asked of us. More likely though, the understanding varies from person to person. I ask myself questions like:
“How am I going to fulfill these expectations?”
“What must the program look like?”
“Does it have to change?”
“How many people do I think we can serve?”
“In what way will we serve them?”
Day to Day
Then I go back to my work and life, to decide what I ought to do next. I might go back to the words and my notes. I might call someone else who was there for clarification. Eventually though, I write and explain how I plan to implement our program. Sometimes it requires doing something different, something new. Many times it means reflecting on what I’ve done in the past and committing to continue, or to do more.
Often I go back and forth between the words I read and what I’ve heard, trying to understand and respond in the best way I know how.
Today is the First Sunday of Lent and there are many words on many pages. I will gather this morning with others at my church and listen to Fr. Norm’s explanation of the meaning of some of those words.
When I leave, I will be wondering (as I always do), about what to do with what I’ve heard. I’ll pray and I’ll ask questions. As I move into my day to day, I will write the story, my plan to serve God.
As I began this Lenten season I reflected on what I’ve done well in the past. I’ve made a commitment to continue and to do more. More praying. More listening. More reading. And more writing.
Having decided what to do, even in the context of a busy life, I have been granted the time, the space and the opportunity.
My grant deadline was two days ago. I drove the 5 copies (4 plus 1 original) along with an electronic copy on CD directly to the State House in Augusta. I handed over my sealed package. I received my time stamped delivery confirmation. All I can do now is pray.
(Photo by MykReeve, creative commons)
Peter, a guy known as one of the original Christ followers, knew about effort. He worked hard at fishing. He worked hard at leading the disciples. He worked hard at getting things just right for Jesus.
Peter worked hard.
So when he writes to us that we are to make every effort to add to our faith goodness, it sounds like he is reasserting the old work effort. It’s time, we think, to start working hard at goodness.
Except to think that is to forget that Peter understood that his being good never got him anywhere. Even his sheer determination that he would never deny Christ failed him. Peter’s goodness wasn’t.
But Christ’s was.
Making every effort to add goodness means that we make it our purpose to not try to perfect ourselves, but to allow the goodness of God to work in us. Adding goodness means subtracting our self-righteousness. Rather than struggling to be perfect, we can find the freedom in acknowledging that we aren’t.
To your faith, add [God's] goodness.
And we are on the road to [spiritual] productivity.
I love Rob’s thoughts on lent being a season of doing rather than simply giving up. What can I give you, God? What can I set aside to make more space for you in my life?
I grew up in a denomination that does not formally observe Lent. But I also grew up in a heavily Catholic community. So there was much talk of lent in the hallways and classrooms of my growing up years. And the conversations were usually about what a person was giving up for Lent. But there was never a mention of why or what they would replace it with. It may well be that some of them were giving as well as giving up, but if so, they weren’t sharing that with me.
But the Bible says, fast and pray, and it says for husbands and wives to abstain [from each other] for a time in order to devote themselves to prayer.
Giving up is the flip side of giving. Giving up makes space for giving. But giving up is also a way to identify with our Saviour and Friend. It is a small way that we can participate in His sufferings. I can give this up because you gave so much for me. I love you more than I love this food, or this novel, or this television show. In my own meager experience of fasting it’s this because I love you more than that that enables me to be true to my promise, to stick with it, to persevere, to overcome the temptation to reach for that food, to turn on the tv, to fire up the computer.
Giving and giving up.
I am quite honored to be considered for such journey. Coming from a non-liturgical background that gives little thought to the Lenten season, it is interesting to me that over that past couple of months I have been wrestling with what it means to be and grow as a Christ-follower. Certainly Jesus taught that following Him would require denying self. Yet much of what I hear in Christian preaching is about getting stuff from Christ rather than giving something up for Christ. We know that Jesus’ teachings are full of paradox. It is in denying self that we truly gain.
What began to trigger some of my musings was a book by Dallas Willard called the Great Omission. It is a book on discipleship. Willard contends that no one will make great gains in their journey with Christ without Sabbath, solitude, silence and fasting. These are not obligations but rather gifts – sabbath is a gift of rest, not a burden. Solitude and silence are gifts to allow us to hear from God while shutting out all the noises around us. Fasting is a gift to remind us of our great dependency on Him.
I have chosen to accept those gifts and have set aside one day each week for fasting and prayer with the intent that a portion of that day will be for solitude and silence. If we look at the big picture, denying oneself during lent or any other time is really about a greater acknowledgment of One who is greater.
I was thinking this morning about the idea of sacrifice, as I have during the past five years, focused on doing something during Lent as opposed to giving up something. Most of the time it has been to read (books, the gospels, etc) and pray and meditate on them. I guess I have preferred to think of it in terms of doing rather than not doing something.
What this has meant of course, is that something else had to give in order for me to spend this time doing this I had to find the time, to sacrifice any number of other distractions to devote to each lenten endeavor. It has always ended up being a gift.
So, I ask this…do we need to start from denying to attain the gift? Can we start from a different place? Can we start from strength? Can we start from doing more instead of less? Can we start from hearing a call to spend time in writing (doing and producing) throughout Lent, inviting community (more editing, reading, commenting….talking)?
Already we are doing rather than not doing. Yes, we must inevitably make time (sacrificing something else) but are we not, in the end doing more?