God’s Home …and Mine

God is building a home. He’s using us all—irrespective of how we got here—in what he is building. … Now he’s using you, fitting you in brick by brick, stone by stone, with Christ Jesus as the cornerstone that holds all the parts together. We see it taking shape day after day—a holy temple, built by God, all of us build into it, a temple in which God is quite at home. Ephesians 2:19-22 The Message

 

I walked into church yesterday feeling a little low, depressed, anxious. My smile was in place…but inside, I wasn’t nearly as happy as I looked.

It had been that kind of week.

On Tuesday, my sinus/asthma condition flared, requiring yet another round of doctoring. When we discovered some major food allergies a month ago, we’d hoped changing my diet would be the all-encompassing health solution we’ve been looking for. Obviously not.

Thursday, I heard another friend died. I’ll miss his laughter; the wicked twinkle in his eye. Again, I don’t grieve him; I know he’s well and happy. But every death leaves my life a little lonelier, my world a little darker.

Then, what one writer calls “the never-ending news feed” made me want to scream, shut my ears and run to a desert island somewhere.

Finally, we woke up Sunday morning to skies as dark and heavy as my mood. Snow in the air.

No major problems, really, but just enough to take the edge off my faith, my joy, my optimism. Honestly, I didn’t expect much when we went to church, but that’s when God seems to do His best work.

It happened at the communion rail.

There we stood, all kinds of people with different backgrounds, abilities, needs, ages—from twitchy little kids to us elder folk with our slow steps. Many carried burdens far greater than mine.

The worship team struck up “Amazing Grace” and, without prompting, the whole congregation softly joined in. Suddenly I was reminded what we all had in common: that God had rescued us all and put us together here to be shelter and comfort for each other. This was my church family. I belonged here. They cared about me as I did about them. God was here, among and with us.

My eyes filled. I could feel my heavy heart lift, my hope raise and my faith finding its feet. Somehow, we could make it through all the problems and trials of life, large and small.

Together.

I came away comforted.

Now I well know the church is not a collection of marble saints, but of very human beings subject to the faults and foibles of all people, all families. Over the years, the church has failed repeatedly, has not lived up to its calling to be the body of Christ. I’ve lived through some of that failure myself…and been part of it.

But when it works as Paul describes it here, when all the stones fit together to be a temple, when we laugh and cry and comfort and support each other, the church is a beautiful thing, a place and a people fit to be the home of God. And I’ve seen that, too.

This morning, I thank Him for my church. I wouldn’t want to do faith—or life—without it.

 

 

A Feast is Coming

My mother used to say, “Old age isn’t for sissies.” The older I get, the more I realize she was right.

Aging is a season of loss: loss of friends, one after another, loss of ability, agility, strength, loss of the things I used to do and enjoy.

The latest one came just recently.

I’ve had this sinus/asthma condition which doctor after doctor has been sleuthing for three years now. For the first year or so, I was really sick…to the point of wondering if I would ever be well again. I had sinus surgery which helped a lot, but didn’t cure it. They’ve tested for all the common environmental allergies: dog dander, tree pollen and so forth. All negative…

Until my doctor decided to try testing for food allergies and found I am allergic to milk and eggs. After being raised on cows’ milk from tiny babyhood…and not just any cows’ milk, mind you. My mother fed us golden guernsey milk laced with thick cream that would rise to the top of bottle. I grew up relishing the taste, the way cream gives you that “party in your mouth,” as Oprah once described it. I still do! Who would’ve guessed, after all these years, I’d be forced to give it up?

If this is the key to my health issues, as my doctor suspects, I should be happy.

But the news rocked my world.

Think of all the food I can’t have anymore. Butter. Cheese. Scrambled eggs. Christmas cookies. Eggnog. Pumpkin pie. Birthday cake. Sweet rolls at the Farmers’ Market. To say nothing of the foods these allergens are in. Reading the labels on packaged food is a whole education.

I was surprised to find substitutes that taste surprisingly good—even ice cream made from coconut milk. And, as time goes on, I might be able to have very small amounts of forbidden foods once in a while. But the doors-open party, as I knew it all my life, is over.

Why now…after seven decades of life on this planet? Most likely, my immune system is wearing out and can’t fight off the challenges as well at it used to.

One more loss I can attribute to the aging process. I know there’s only more—and worse–to come. If I let myself dwell on that fact, I could get downright depressed.

That’s why I snatched up Max Lucado’s latest book: “Unshakable Hope.” If there’s anything I need to endure this season, it’s that. And Lucado, as usual, does not disappoint.

“(Many people),” I read this morning, “mistakenly think their fondest moment, deepest joy and most profound experience happen sometime between the delivery room and the funeral home. Someone needs to tell them this is just the beginning. As good as it gets? For the Christian this world is as bad as it gets.”

Our best moments in this world are, as my church’s liturgy puts it, “foretastes of the feast to come.” How could I have lost sight of that?

Then he goes on to quote the Apostle Paul:

“So we do not give up. Our physical body is becoming older and weaker, but our spirit inside us is made new every day. We have small troubles for a while now, but they are helping us gain an eternal glory that is much greater than the troubles. We set our eyes not on what we see but on what we cannot see. What we see will last only a short time, but what we cannot see will last forever.” 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 NCV

Thanks, Paul and Max. I so needed to hear that!

I will survive by not giving up, by knowing Better Days are ahead. Loss is not the final word. Neither is death. Because of Jesus, what awaits us will be wonderful beyond our imagining.

For the one who believes, nothing good is lost forever. In the glorious kingdom to come, we will know and experience everything and everyone we love–in a far better form than we have ever known. (See Matthew 19:28-29)

There will be no allergies at the wedding feast of the Lamb.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Major Andre’s Boots

I first read this story in 1976, in a book I’ve been unable to find since. But it’s my favorite Revolutionary War story. In honor of our nation’s birthday, let me tell it again.

It was 1780.

British commander Sir Henry Clinton and his troops occupied New York city. He wanted to take the Hudson River Valley north to the Canadian border, thus isolating New England and breaking the colonies in two. British forces under Burgoyne had tried moving south from Canada in 1777, but had been repulsed at the Battle of Saratoga.

In his turn, Washington sought to drive the British from New York, from which he and his green militia had been routed in the fall of 1776. Now they were camped in Morristown, New Jersey, while he begged an impotent Congress for food, ammunition and clothing for his increasingly disheartened soldiers.

The war, which had begun with such fanfare four years ago, had thus reached a grinding stalemate.

Clinton and his adjutant-general, Major John Andre, hoped to break it by capturing the major American fort of West Point, on the Hudson river 50 miles north of New York.

West Point’s commander was General Benedict Arnold, a hard-fighting, courageous battlefield commander who was responsible for the victory at Saratoga. Unfortunately, Arnold had been grievously wounded in that battle and side-lined, where he sulked over personal slights and lack of respect given him by Congress.

As such, Arnold was ripe for “turning his coat.” Arnold’s wife, Peggy Shippen, from an old Philadelphia Tory family, with her good friend (and possible paramour), Andre, sought to do just that. Arnold finally agreed to surrender West Point to the British for 20,000 pounds and a rank in the British Army. But he wanted to meet Andre in person.

The meeting was set for the woods 15 miles below West Point on the night of September 20.

At the very same moment, Washington was returning from a trip to Hartford, Connecticut where he’d met with the French commander, Admiral Rochambeau, to plan a joint assault on New York. He’d told Arnold he would stop for a visit and an inspection of the fort on his way back.

Andre came up the river on a British sloop, in uniform, planning to return to it right after the meeting. However, morning came before they were done. American troops across the river began firing on the sloop, forcing it to go downriver without Andre.

Now he had to travel south through Westchester County–where I grew up—at that time, a no-mans’ land haunted by partisans, outlaws and guerillas of both sides. Arnold wrote him a pass and persuaded him to change into civilian clothes for the dangerous journey.

But Andre refused to take off his beautiful (and expensive) officers’ boots which had been given him by his mother when he joined the army. Instead, he tucked the plans for West Point into the boots and set off.

Near Tarrytown, he was stopped by three American guerillas called “skinners.” Looking for money and valuables, they forced him to strip. Then their greedy eyes fell on his boots. When they pulled them off, the plans came out. Though only one of them could read, they became suspicious and took Andre to a nearby army post. After some to-ing and fro-ing, Andre admitted his identity.

The jig was up.

Shortly before Washington was to arrive at his house, Arnold discovered that fact and fled, leaving Peggy and their children behind. Though he became a British brigadier general and fought in Virginia, he never received the honor and glory he sought.

Peggy feigned madness and innocence to escape retribution and was sent back to her family in Philadelphia.

Andre was hanged as a spy in Tarrytown.

Washington, saved by the discovery from possible capture and death as a traitor, went on to win the war and become “the father of our country.”

News of Arnold’s betrayal brought indignation throughout the colonies and rededication to the war effort. General Cornwallis and his troops surrendered at Yorktown, Virginia, two years later. The war was officially over in 1783.

But none of this would have happened had Andre not kept his boots.

On such tiny pins do the hinges of history turn.

Coincidence or the hand of God? I know what I think.

 

 

And Perfectionism

I love quilts. I have one for every bed in our house and a few extra stored in a trunk downstairs. One even hangs on our living room wall.

All my quilts are important to me. Most were made by my mother-in-law. Two—including the one in the living room—were made by special friends. And there’s this beautiful Amish quilt that I bought at a fair in Pennsylvania a few years ago.

I am continually amazed by their careful, patient work–all those little pieces of fabric fitted so precisely together–patterns within patterns, squares within squares.

Perfection.

No, not quite. The story is that the Amish always leave a mistake somewhere in their quilts to remind themselves that “only God is perfect.”

Ahhh, right. The sooner we understand that truth, the happier we will be.

I was raised by two generations of anxious perfectionists for whom good enough was never good enough. Well do I remember a junior high sewing project which my grandmother ripped out of my hands and finished herself because she couldn’t bear to watch me mess it up. Or our summertime to the beach which were so hemmed in by my mother’s rules we could hardly relax and have fun.

I, in my grown-up turn, nearly drove myself to exhaustion trying to do everything right. I would always find one more chore to do or one more weed to pull, like Martin Luther walking out of the confessional booth, thinking of one more sin he hadn’t confessed. Even if I had done as much as I could, my kids would come home from school and mess up everything I’d worked at all day.

I could never do it perfectly.

Instead of recognizing the impossibility of perfection, as the Amish do, I would think if I just tried harder—made a better plan, drew up a better list—I’d finally get there. Only to fail again. I was hard on others, harder on myself and not a lot of fun to live with.

Then I began to notice that the more I tried, the more imperfect I was.

For example, one year when I was working as church secretary, the pastor (who also struggled with perfectionism) decided we would do an absolutely perfect bulletin for Christmas Eve. We proofread it over and over. We read it out loud…even backwards. But after it was printed and distributed, it turned out we spelled his stepdaughter’s name wrong!

What I slowly began to understand is that perfection is a gift, not an achievement. If, by chance, I do happen to do something perfectly, I can enjoy the moment and thank God for it, but should not expect to repeat it.

Why? Because perfectionism is a subtle and powerful sin. Like impatience, it’s related to pride. We want to “be as God” (Genesis 3:5.) He simply won’t allow that.

Moreover, if I could achieve perfection on my own, time after time, I would become too proud of myself and too scornful of those who couldn’t do what I could. I would not be kind, loving or merciful—to myself or anyone else. And that’s not how God wants me to live.

Joyce Meyer writes, “People do not need to be pressured to perform perfectly; they need to be loved and accepted.”

How true. I learn any new skill better, for instance, when my teacher encourages me about what I’m doing right than when they continually point out what I’m doing wrong.

Let’s give ourselves and everyone else some mercy. While we do our best but we recognize, that perfection belongs to God, not us, and mistakes happen. Let’s resolve to forgive them, fix them if we can, laugh and move on.

We’ll be a lot more relaxed and happier…and so will everyone else.

 

 

 

 

A Little Lesson in Patience

But let endurance and steadfastness and patience have full play and do a thorough work, so that you may be (people) perfectly and fully developed (with no defects) lacking in nothing. James 1: 4 Amplified

 

 

I 

 

Do you need patience in paradise? I did, late one morning, on our recent trip to Hawaii.

I was, in fact, ready to scream. For there, in front of us, was a line of cars as far as I could see. Stopped. No one was going anywhere–least of all, me.

All I wanted to do was go to the beach. I had been aching to go all morning, in fact.

It reminded me of those summers of my childhood when we were—theoretically—on vacation at my grandmother’s house on Long Island. The object of our trip was to go to a beach on the south shore where my grandparents had a membership.

The beach was my family’s only “happy place”—the one time when everyone, even the adults, could relax and have fun. All I longed to do was get there but I had to wait—forever, it seemed–while my father took and made endless phonecalls, my mother made her perfect lunches, my grandmother did her interminable ironing.

I would go nearly crazy with impatience.

This morning, I’d waited for the weather to clear, for my husband to read and respond to his emails, get himself ready. Suddenly, I was eight years old again, holding the lid on my temper with both hands.

Now, after we finally got launched, we hit this infernal traffic jam.

The island’s fragile infrastructure has been strained to overflowing with the press of tourists crowded together by the closure of the north shore due to April’s flooding. With the need to rebuild the roads and bridges, plus necessary scheduled maintenance in this ocean and jungle climate, road crews are doing something somewhere close to 24 hours a day.

Including the time I wanted to go to the beach.

A little understanding, please.

And a little remembering the lesson I thought I learned well years ago: impatience is a form of pride. It says, “I’m so important I can’t wait for anything. My schedule, my plan come first; everyone and everything else needs to stand aside.”

Uh-oh. Got me. Apparently, I needed a refresher course in humility. Time for my patience muscle to get a little more stretching.

God loves me. True. Like any good parent, He delights in seeing me happy. He will give me what I need and want in His good time. But more than that, He wants me to grow up—to be “perfectly and fully developed…lacking in nothing.”

So patience must have its thorough work.

Okay. Got it. Again.

And you know what? We went to the beach, after all. And it was fine.

 

The Other Side of the Mountain

Ever sing “The Bear Went Over the Mountain?” Sure you have. If you haven’t, YouTube it! Back in the dark ages before cars had videos, it was my go-to entertainment for my twitchy little boys at the end of a long trip. I would sing it with all the drama I could muster, building up to the point where the bear finally got to the mountaintop.

“The other side of the mountain,” we’d sing, “was all the bear did see” and collapse into the expected giggles.

Well, I’ve just seen the other side of the mountain and that wasn’t all I saw. It wasn’t so funny, either.

Let me explain.

This past weekend was a mountaintop experience—one I haven’t had for a long time.

After nearly ten years’ absence, the Christian renewal group in which I once was so active invited me back to give a talk. Though I felt a bit like Rip Van Winkle, the timing seemed right and I agreed.

I had nearly forgotten how exhilarating it is to spend a whole weekend with people of deep faith. We laughed and cried and prayed and sang together, learning from and supporting each other. There was Jesus, “in the midst of us” (Matthew 18:20)…and we knew it. I’ve been on many such weekends, but this was one of the best.

I’ve learned you can’t live on a mountaintop, even a good one like that. I also know the Enemy redoubles his efforts when you’ve had such an experience. There’s nothing he likes better than to steal our joy.

Sure enough, Monday morning, there he was. Waiting.

We woke up to snow…again. Really? Then someone in an organization we support was dealing with a huge conflict. Could we meet and discuss it? Okay… Oh, and had you heard about the flooding on Kauai? Do you think your condo is okay? What…? A quick check of the internet revealed pictures of someone paddling a kayak through the shopping center at the end of our road. Uh-oh.

Then, the worst challenge of all. Monday night, I woke up coughing and gasping, unable to breathe. Twice. I grabbed the inhaler, the cough medicine, the decongestant and staggered back to bed. As I lay there, listening to my bronchial tubes creak like an old barn door in the wind, my weary brain whirled round and round.

Here we go again. I’ve been wrestling with this condition for almost three years now, while one doctor after another searched for solutions. Back came the weariness, the discouragement, the defeat. All the happy, uplifted feelings I’d come home with drained away like water out of a bathtub.

But…

The snow melted. This morning, the sun is out; the grass is blindingly green; I can see fat buds forming on my lilac bush as I type. Spring is here, after all.

Today I understand we’re not responsible for that organization’s conflict, or its solution. I have peace about praying for all parties concerned and leaving it with the Lord.

Now it would seem our condo escaped serious flood damage which happened to the north and west of us. As we saw after hurricane Iniki, Kauai is an incredibly resilient place. We can contribute to and pray for recovery, but that, too, is out of our hands.

And, best of all, I think the doctors are finally zeroing in on a solution. At last, I’ve heard a possible diagnosis. I’m taking a new medication that’s helping a lot. Best still, I think we might finally know the “name of the beast,” and how to fight it when it flares. Such relief!

Yes, “the other side of the mountain” is a difficult place. The world, the flesh and the devil await with all their problems, temptations and complications. But I don’t have to be afraid…

Because the same Lord Who welcomed me on the mountaintop walks with me on the other side.

Jesus is here, too.