Exile

IMG_8693

This morning I awakened in the kind of pain that makes it difficult to move. I knew what it was, knew what was needed, and so for the second time in ten years, I called in to work to let them know I would be staying home today. I’ve been resting, using ice, and stretching. I am doing better—still moving gingerly, but better. My friend Shelly says that if we neglect our Sabbath time, sometimes we will enter into a time of forced Sabbath. I must admit this feels good—to stay in my PJs late into the morning, listen to my body and heed its call.

The truth is, work has been hard lately. Just yesterday I suffered a bit of disillusion after an exchange with some of my colleagues. Sometimes a system can feel too big to change unless we work together, and often the people we serve take the brunt of this kind of stagnation. Sometimes a system can feel so big that individuals get caught up in their own agendas and resist working together for change because it might require much. I feel myself being pulled toward this way. Yesterday, in a very small way, I felt like Jeremiah—my voice falling on empty ears. It was a hard place to be and I didn’t like it. So, this morning I am resting my tender heart, collecting the manna of this moment.

Eugene Peterson defines exile as “being where we don’t want to be with people we don’t want to be with.” Of course, he was speaking of the Jewish exiles in Babylon at first, but he is skillful to draw a quick parallel to our lives today. That’s how I felt yesterday. Like I was in exile.

When the Israelites are in Babylon, Jeremiah sends them a letter from Jerusalem. “Build houses and make yourselves at home,” he says. “Put in gardens and eat what grows in that country. Marry and have children. … Make yourselves at home there and work for the country’s welfare. Pray for Babylon’s well-being. If things go well for Babylon, things will go well for you.”

“The aim of a person of faith,” says Peterson, “is not to be as comfortable as possible but to live as deeply and thoroughly as possible—to deal with the reality of life, discover truth, create beauty, act out love.”

Today it feels like I am hiding from the reality of life. But tomorrow? I pray I will be able to jump back in, to “discover truth, create beauty, act out love.” I will continue in this discovery of what it means to belong to God in this place I do not want to be.

Exile.

 

Everything Over the Sun

IMG_7209

Every morning I look out the kitchen window to the clearing in the meadow. I long for a glimpse of the spotted fawns we saw frolicking; I wonder about them: where are they? Are they safe? Will their spots disappear as quickly as the baby fat on my boys? Will they snack on the tenderettes in my garden tonight? I watch the golden rod bend over, heavy with nectar, and for the bazillionth time puzzle over how quickly time dissolves—like sugar in warm water—until all that is left is the memory of sweetness.

Last night, I took my son out shopping for some things he needs for his dorm. He begins his second year of college next week. Second year. When did that happen? I’ve grown used to having him home again. I’ve grown used to sweeping up his long red hair from the kitchen floor, to his shy smile greeting me when I return home from work in the evening.

So I wanted to buy him some better towels this year—fluffy towels to hug his body in softness when I cannot. He needs a new shower caddy and desk lamp, some underwear and perhaps a smarter pair of shoes—if I can talk him into it. So we set out on our quest only to be foiled by a terrible accident on the interstate. A semi hauling Resees cups east crossed the median and ran into another semi traveling west, erupting into a ball of flames. One truck driver was killed and several others injured. The interstate was closed for hours and traffic poured into our little valley—people trying to find an alternate way home. We were trapped in gridlock, stuck in a sea of vehicles along our little valley road. Instead of shopping, we pulled into a local restaurant and dined together, hoping the traffic would be cleared when we finished. As we ate, I prayed for the victims of the accident. I prayed for the truck drivers and their families, for those stuck in traffic. As I prayed silently, the sky opened up and rain thrummed the roof above us, poured down on the firefighters trying to extinguish the flames of burning diesel, on the people waiting in long streams of traffic, on our little valley that stood witness to it all.

We decided to try to find a shower caddy another day.

This morning, when I drove to work, all that was left of the accident was a mangled guard rail and some heavy equipment that must have been used to remove the debris. All along the interstate, for miles and miles, semi-trucks were parked along the side of the road—the drivers forced to sleep where they were due to a closed roadway. As I passed the site of the accident, trucks behind me and trucks before, I felt I was entering sacred ground. And these brother truck drivers stood sentinel, a testament to the fragility of our human lives.

In my Bible study this week, the author talks about how King Solomon uses the phrase “under the sun” a lot in the book of Ecclesiastes. As in “there is nothing new under the sun” or “the work that is done under the sun was grievous to me.” Wiersbe says, “It defines the outlook of the writer as he looks at life from a human perspective and not necessarily from heaven’s point of view.” Solomon was so wise and gifted. And I wonder if he was really saying that it is only when we take account of that which is over the sun can we fully live into this life we are given.

So many things under the sun can discourage and disappoint. A tragic accident, the way time slips through my fingers, saying goodbye to my boy again … All of these things matter. The things that happen in this life matter. They matter to the world; they matter to God. This life matters. We are not simply here to wait for a better way. Scripture tells us Jesus came so that we might have abundant life. But this life is nestled into a bigger story. These hardships in this life, when taken in context of the bigger story, allow our hearts to be prospered—to grow richer and deeper and abundant in love. But only when I am able to keep an eternal perspective—to think on things over the sun—am I able to feel the fullness of the sadness but also of joy.

When life feels meaningless, I will remember. There is a bigger story. And I am a part of it.

West Virginia Morning: Everything Under the Sun

leaf and raindrop

faded branch with raindrops

This morning, before the sun burned the dew off the grass, we saw three little spotted fawns exploring the meadow behind our house. Last night, our neighbor cleared out a small patch of brambly mélange and mowed down the unruly mess of goldenrod, queen Anne’s lace, and ironweed into a smooth bed of grass. The trio seemed to delight in the freedom to feel out their gangly legs, leaping about and staring over the fence at us in curiosity. I was reminded of the Cultural Mandate—God’s call to us to cultivate the earth, to make it more beautiful. Even our little deer friends appreciate the bringing of order to chaos. Who knew these dear ones were hidden in such a mass of brush?

Meanwhile, I still struggle to bring some order to my own tiny world, internally and externally. Our little town is having a city-wide yard-sale tomorrow and the band boosters are collecting donations for a fundraiser. So I’ve been picking through the attic and basement, looking through twenty years of “oh, I may need this one day” and “I hate to throw this out” items. Items I haven’t given a thought to until this moment. Strange how we hold on to things, is it not? And funny how a little time can give the distance needed to open the hand.

This morning, I started a new Bible study on the book of Ecclesiastes. It’s called Be Satisfied. I was scrolling through my kindle library and it caught my eye because … well, because I haven’t been. Yesterday, in conversation with a new friend, I found myself saying some things that surprised me when describing my life to her. Later in the day, as I reflected on our conversation, I knew I needed some good medicine. The kind of medicine only Truth can give.

Author Warren W. Wiersbe tells me that when Solomon wrote Ecclesiastes,

“he called himself ‘the Preacher’ … The Hebrew word is koheleth (ko-HAY-leth) and is the title given to an official speaker who calls an assembly … . The Greek word for ‘assembly’ is ekklesia, and this gives us the English title of the book, Ecclesiastes. … The word koheleth carries with it the idea of debating, not so much with the listeners as with himself. He would present a topic, discuss it from many viewpoints, and then come to a practical conclusion. …”

Solomon is arguing with himself. I’ve been doing a lot of this lately myself. It doesn’t make for good sleep. I heard a thunderstorm rush through this morning at five a.m. My heart and body were stirred enough to bring me to rise and watch out the window as our little valley received a good scrubbing. An hour later I grabbed my camera and tried to frame up a memory of rain. My lens kept fogging up and the heat was already creeping down my back and my feet quickly grew soggy in the wet grass. These days, nothing seems to go as I hope, nothing seems to measure up to the pictures I paint in my mind.

Dissatisfied.

In the introduction to Be Satisfied, Pastor Ken Baugh gives three principles echoed throughout the book of Ecclesiastes:

Principle 1: I will be satisfied to the extent that I see everything I have as a gift from God.

Principle 2: I will be satisfied to the extent that I notice what is going on in the lives of others.

Principle 3: I will be satisfied to the extent that I trust God during times of distress.

It’s too early in my reading to recommend the study, but I feel hopeful. The lesson this morning was only on the first three verses and already I’m encouraged. I’ll try to keep you in the loop about what I’m learning and reflecting on as I read and examine everything “under the sun”.

 

For Such a Time…

We had our last session of our Esther Bible study yesterday morning.

What an incredible journey it has been. Beth Moore made the characters of this familiar story come alive for us—we all were swept up in the story of the unlikely queen. It was made new for us through her vivid imagination and burning passion.

The end of a Bible study is always bittersweet for me.

It’s difficult to say goodbye to the characters I have spent my mornings with for many weeks. I find I need some time to reflect on what I have learned—to hear what God is speaking to me.

The content of the lesson yesterday was very timely for me. Having just celebrated my fortieth birthday (have I mentioned that? :), it seems that lately I am reminded at every turn of the fleeting nature of beauty.

A few days before my birthday, I received a card of well wishes from my health insurance company.

This would have been very thoughtful if it hadn’t listed all the tests and medical procedures they recommend a woman my age to go through.

I mean, really.

That’s just rude.

Then, a couple days later, I received this in the mail:

It was made to look like someone ripped a page out of a magazine, apparently prompted to think of my aging skin when stumbling across the ad.

This world preys on our insecurities.

Yes, it is tough being a woman.

Yesterday, Beth reminded us that although “In man’s realm, time diminishes beauty”, but “In God’s realm…time perfects beauty.”

I don’t know about you, but this is something I needed to hear.

It’s no mistake that the older we get, the more comfortable we are with ourselves.

“If I had known then what I know now…”

Hmmm. Doesn’t seem fair, does it?

He has set eternity in our hearts, ladies. We were created for more than this world.

Does that give you a thrill as it does me?

I’m camping there in the coming week.

Each time I look in the mirror and notice how that skin is getting thin and papery under my eyes, I’m going to think of God’s calendar. Not mine.

I am beautiful in His eyes.

Amen.

Wanted to share a little of the celebration we shared to say goodbye to Esther. Part of our Bible study group was able to gather together to have a makeshift Purim feast.

Our sweet host and hostess made lamb kabobs and latkes. We all brought some traditional foods to share.


I made the Hamantashen (Haman’s Ears cookies).

Man were they ugly.

Then we watched the Veggie Tales version of Esther (those veggie tales writers are amazingly creative!) to get our hearts warmed up for the main feature. We shared some giggles and more than one hearty laugh.

Then we watched One Night with the King, which we all agreed was kind of the Disney version of the Esther story. But, who knows? Maybe it did happen that way. Sure was a swooner. There was even a great silhouetted kiss at the end.

It was a pretty special evening.

Here’s our group:

Aren’t we beautiful?

You may wonder what I’m wearing.

One thing we learned that was during Purim, the Jewish people sometimes dress up as some of the characters from the Esther story. This was the closest I could get to royal robes!

Anyway…

I leave this study reminded that I am a woman of influence…that I was placed here, in this little corner of the world, for such a time as this.

Thank you, Beth. You always inspire.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]