In the Between

I am working. But I am not working just now. I am waiting. I am in the in between.

It’s September. Its half way in between what is fully autumn and summer that has been.

It is Wednesday, in the middle of the week- work before is almost equal to the work that’s done.

It is noon time, and the day is midway through, half way through is daily trek we see the sun.

In between, in time and space the day is wearing on- soon it will all be winding down- the work, the day the week. Soon the fall will sit full born, its leafy leavings on the lawn.

Between is just a moment- like beginnings and the ends, they come and go and if we blink we don’t see them at all.

We all  have moments in between, where we can catch our breaths, and take the time to worship God- and enjoy his promised rest.

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Softly singing

There’s a song in my heart
And it echoes all around me
Although, no one can hear
It’s notes but me.

I knit words to each note
As I try to contain it
As I try to find ways to
Make it sound.

Sing my heart- so free
Sing my soul- for me
Let the music you hear
Break out

Sing my soul of your King
For He’s good
And He is able
Sing thing song to Emanuel
The King.

Jesus- my wonderful redeemer
Jesus- my glorious King.
You have given me music
You have given me songs
I return them in worship
To you.

 

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Ramen, Burgers, and Humanistic Piety

Everyone knows that ramen noodles are bad for you. When I scanned my cupboard for a package of cup of noodles, I ignored images that floated into my consciousness that had adorned my Facebook news feed, decrying the evils of ramen noodles. Apparently they are a wholly unhealthy food substitute.  I had to put the same thoughts down again when what I found to make instead was a package containing a brick of noodles with its powdered broth packet that been the focus of the “do not eat this” warning. I made myself feel better by emptying some freezer burned mixed veggies into the pan with the water and noodles and seasoning packet, and wondered why it was that people hated this version of “fast food” so much that they took the time to create the warning to be distributed by like minded food judges via Facebook. I suspect that it is the same kind of people that condemn fast food restaurants for not serving salads that are cheaper than hamburgers.  It is easy to single out the food choices – the ramen, the cheap burgers, the chips or fries- of the purchaser and assume ignorance is to blame. When ignorance is encountered, the cure is always to education. People spend a lot of time thinking that the people around them are ignorant and in need of good information. They blithely take up the challenge of passing on all of their good information to everyone around them, as is apparently their duty to stamp out wrong thinking.

The flaw with this thinking is that it makes some basic assumptions about people and situations that simply are not correct. They focus on a problem through the lens of their own experience, and can’t figure out why it would be that other people come up with different answers to the questions they ask.  Take the fast food restaurants and their burgers that are cheaper than their salads. They believe that because they can go to the grocery store and pick up salad ingredients and hamburger ingredients and manage to put together a salad for less than a hamburger, that restaurants whose core business is selling hamburgers and french fries can and would want to do the same thing. They act as if there are no logistic problems that make the cost of producing the salad more costly than a hamburger.  They don’t take time to think about things like the difference between the shelf life of a frozen patty of meat or french fry versus the shelf life of the salad they are championing. They don’t consider the savings available to purchasing large amounts of items with long shelf lives, or the wastage that happens when salads don’t sell at a store that specializes in burgers. They believe, based on their own experience of buying things at the grocery store, it is almost criminal that a “good” salad costs more than a burger at a burger shop.  They blame the corporate giants for making their fellow citizens fat with their unhealthy offerings, and congratulate themselves on mentally fixing the obesity epidemic in America. Then they consider the matter closed but feel a twinge of guilt when they find themselves in the drive thru of one of those unwholesome corporate monoliths, because they know they didn’t come to get a salad.

The same process of reeducating goes on over and over again. People take their own experience and superimpose it on what they consider the problem to be, mentally fix it, and then congratulate themselves for being clever. Of course, in the process, they have decided that the other person is ignorant and in need of reeducation.  This is how many people reinforce their feelings of superiority on a daily basis. It makes them feel good to “help” those who do not think like they do by constantly disseminating information about what is proper.  Eating ramen can’t be healthy, so lets plaster its evils across the internet so that anyone who chooses to eat it will know just how bad they are being to their bodies. But wait, there’s more sanctimoniousness just around the corner, condemning those who are content to use regular noodles with their empty calories instead of opting to transform random vegetables into noodles with the latest nifty gadget. And there we find the word that reveals the flaw- the idea that one is better than one’s neighbor because of the food choices one is making. Like any kind of self righteousness it stinks.  It makes interacting with others in an honest open dialog difficult because the idea that others are inherently less than one’s self makes one discount the other’s thoughts and ideas. After all, if they would willingly choose to eat something so bad for them, how smart can they be?

There is a lot of sanctimoniousness going on these days. There are a lot of informative posts that are shared not out of concern for others, but out of a kind of humanistic moral superiority.  In a world where the only one who can save a person is themselves, it is right to hold a person responsible for their bodies breaking down. The magic solution to bodies breaking down prematurely is proper diet and exercise. Science tells us over and over again what we need to be healthy and demands that we follow its instruction,  even though those instructions change over and over again. It is believed that science, with its empirical evidence, has replaced scripture as the font of all factual knowledge about humanities past, its future, and its current state of affairs. It must be heeded, it must be obeyed, or one risks being at fault for one’s own descent into death. As if science has found a cure for death, or can prevent the unthinkable from happening to perfectly nice people who always eat right and faithfully follow the latest advice for healthy living.

It seems to me that we all want our foibles to be forgiven. Whether that be the occasional indulgence in food as worthless as ramen noodles or oversleeping and being late to the big meeting, every person is prone to making choices that have negative consequences.  It would be generous to assume that the choice for ramen was not made out of ignorance but rather a decision to indulge the taste buds. It would be generous to assume that burger restaurants are more interested in providing their product to the poor who are splurging at a price point they can afford than being the dietary police of the nation. It would be generous to assume that the other person has good reasons for the choices they are making, and the thoughts they are thinking, the feelings they are feeling, and opinions they are expressing. We need not constantly educate our peers. We may however, need to learn to respect that our peers opinions and thoughts matter to them, and learn to allow them to be expressed without our judgement. We want to receive mercy- it is time we act mercifully.  We want to be received generously, it is time to be generous in our reception of others. We want to be shown respect. It is time we respect others- even if they are making ramen noodles for lunch.

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Far Off Dreams

It is safer to dream of far off lands and unknown faces than to hope that in the places you know the people that you have met will open their arms and welcome you into their hearts.

We are broken people who are like the rest of the broken people in the world, walking through a life jerry rigged to function as close to normal as we can manage. We have learned what we must do to keep our children as happy and healthy and safe as possible.  It has cost us much, but we live in a peaceful home most of the time. We are not constantly being pressed to our limits in spite of the chaos that comes with the autism that is afflicting two of our beautiful boys. They have yet to master  language let alone the complex social codes and expectations of people who  cannot tell by looking at them that they are different. It takes more than misquoted Bible verses to take care of their needs.  We still maintain the same level of vigilance and care that one expects to give a toddler, even though the younger of the two is fifteen. They can dress themselves, but there are still some issues with toileting and bathing that need parental attention. They can feed themselves, but they eat different foods from the rest of us, and cannot manage to make their own meals yet.  When things do not go as they expect, they can quickly descend into a full blown tantrum and they express their anger hurting themselves or those who are trying to calm them down. We try to avoid tantrums.

How do we join a community greater than ourselves when we are broken people? We are defacto members of a number of communities.  We are part of the body of Christ, even though bringing our sons to church has never worked out very well. We share an understanding of our unique problems with other parents who were blindsided when their children were diagnosed by this pernicious thing, which is a type of community. We live in a small city which is our physical community. Yet even though we are technically members of greater groups, we struggle to build necessary relationships with people outside our family, and we struggle to maintain healthy relationships with our extended family.

I dream of an ideal life, one where our sons talk to us and learn how to function as other people outside our family expect young people to act. I dream of showing them the world outside the four walls of our house, skipping over the fact that I struggle to help them navigate the valley outside those four walls as they are now.  I dream of taking them to meet people who are important to them but live far away as they could be, skipping over the fact that taking them as they are now to be with relatives has made them so unhappy and so frantic that it was a miserable visit that ended with us not doing it again for years. I dream of showing them the Mississippi, the Great Lakes and the oceans in the distance but struggle to figure out how to share small streams and the relatively tame river that threads its way through the valley. I dream of a summer full of travel with them as I want them to be, but do not take them out to the mall or to the store if I can help it. In the past, they ran away from me as fast as they could into traffic or across the store hooting and hollering at the top of their lungs while I chased behind begging forgiveness of strangers whose shopping experience had been thrown into chaos by a wild young man.

I dream of taking them to the churches and ministries we join with on-line on a regular basis. I dream of taking them to Fort Worth, Texas and Branson, Missouri. I dream of sitting in the sanctuaries I see through cameras and being a part of a service in person with them quietly sitting by my side. I ignore the fact that every time I have taken my sons with me to churches near us for simple social events where nothing was expected of them but to hang around with people they don’t know and eat food they like, it ended with them either melting down or bolting to get away from the strangeness of the situation.  Other times we have spent services with me trying to keep them entertained in a basically empty room with a video playing on a small TV while they were far more interested in trying get by me out the door or looking through cabinets and cupboards for things that weren’t offered to us, because I had hopes that they would calm down and be able to participate with the group. No one ended up edified when we did that. We were just tired, worn out and wondering why we were there in the first place.  I had naively believed that church would be the easiest place for us to figure out how to be a part of our common community.  We came back to live in this small city because we had lived here before and knew people here. We had been part of the church body here. We weren’t strangers off the street. We still  haven’t figured out how to make it work.

Being a part of a community requires spending time with people, and spending time with us is hard. When we moved back we had old friends over to our home. Our kids were unpredictable with other children.  Our demeanor was far from carefree and easy as we tried to be both good hosts and good parents and did neither role the justice it deserved. In the end we couldn’t remember how to pick up where we left off.  Our friends still care, but it takes work to be at ease in our home with its noise and the unexpected antics of our sons. We are costly people to be friends with- not fiscally perhaps- but emotionally and physically it is hard to filter out the chaos we are used to and have a normal conversation in our home. Spending that time with others outside of our home is even harder for us, and for our kids. We manage to socialize with a couple of the boy’s cousins who visit us regularly, and with their grand mother spends a couple of hours with us on holidays. We work to maintain our marriage, slipping away from the noise regularly, and we work to maintain a good relationship with my mother in law, visiting her away from the kids so that she can be at ease when we talk.

We may be broken. But we were made part of the body of Christ. We need to have our lives entangled with our brothers and sisters in our Father’s house. We need to serve and we need to be served. It is one of the things I ask our Father for on a regular basis. We need a local body as much as we are blessed by good preaching of the word on-line. We need local lives involved with ours. We need to pour out into other lives and we need to be poured into. Waiting until we are no longer broken to spill into the lives of others may be more comfortable for us and for others, but Jesus didn’t come people who had it all together. He sat with tax collectors and known sinners, and he loved them into the kingdom. He saw people being trampled by the powers of darkness and he reached out to them in their turmoil and torment with the light and love of God. He didn’t care if it was supposed to be against the rules to heal on church day- He saw someone who was suffering and he made changed their lives for the good- even if it made a scene and disrupted the religious leaders he was with.  He is with us, in our house, daily strengthening us and giving us what we need, but we are part of his body, and we need the rest of his body. The rest of his body needs us to doing our part for the kingdom. Maybe when we are finally where we are supposed to be with who we are supposed to be with than our brokenness will not be what defines us so much as what God has done in spite of it.

 

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God is Good

God is good to me- all the time. All the time, he is good, to me. He is good to me. All the time. All the time my God is good to me.

It may seem redundant to say God is good to me all the time, but we live in a world where it God is constantly accused of being capricious and fickle. The point of this constant barrage of accusations against God is to keep men from believing that He is good and from putting their trust in him. All one has to do to see how these accusations have been embedded into the fabric of our cultural understanding of God is to read an insurance policy or even a terms of service where things are described that are out of the ordinary and out of the control of the company providing the insurance or service. It is common place to have a disclaimer that states something along the lines of excluding time of war or acts of God. It may be frowned upon to publicly proclaim ones belief and faith in God, but it is perfectly commonplace to call earth quakes, tsunamis, tornadoes or hurricanes acts of a God that isn’t supposed to exist.

Why is that? Why is it okay for people who claim to not even believe that God exists to blame God for vast destruction? According to the Bible, it is impossible to please God without faith (Hebrews 11:6).  To have faith in God requires more than just believing that there is a God. According to the book of James, while it is good that one believes that there is one God, it takes more than that belief to trust God, or to have faith in God, because even the demons believe that there is one God, and tremble (James 2:19).  According to the writer of Hebrews,  there are two things we must believe about God if we are to have faith in him.  We must believe first that He exists, but also that he rewards those who are serious about seeking him. (Hebrews 11:6).

This is why saying God is good as a general statement doesn’t require faith on our part. We can look at the creation and be awed and know that a good God made that. We can read the Bible, and see how God demonstrated his goodness to people in the past and say to ourselves, “Yes, God has demonstrated that he is good.” But we are constantly bombarded by the accuser, the spiritual adversary to God and God’s right ways and God’s kingdom, who is constantly accusing God of doing things we know are bad. Because of this constant stream of accusations that surrounds us, agreeing with God’s word that He wants only good for us and has good plans for us takes faith, especially when there is natural evidence of things that are not good in our lives. Yet, God’s word is truth. It never changes, because He never changes.  What we see and how we feel and what we perceive is constantly changing. Yet we are trained to put more faith in those shifting understandings and perceptions and feelings than in the unchanging word of God.

So, again I will say- God is good to me. All the time God is good to me. I will say God is good to me and does good for me when I am facing things that are clearly not good. Because God is not responsible for the curse that is in the world. Adam and Eve brought the curse into the world, and allowed the accuser to have access and power in the earth. Jesus came to destroy the works of the devil. He came that we could have life- abundant life. He came so that God could reconcile mankind to himself, and He became the curse to abolish the power of the curse over those who put their trust in Him. Just as Abraham believed God, we can believe in Jesus and be part of God’s family here on earth, and partake of God’s life both now and always. Jesus and his victorious resurrection and ascension to the right hand of God has given to me a victorious live.

God is good to me. All the time, God is good, and he does only good for me. God is good, but more than that, God is good to me.

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Dreams, Faith, and Trusting God

At the beginning of summer break, when May was finally winding down into the last weeks of school with final testing, ending projects, ceremonies and more ceremonies, I dreamed of what my “perfect” summer would look like.  I even blocked it out in my calendar.  The first week of June would be spent in Branson, Missouri, at the annual marriage meeting hosted by Faith Life Church. The last week of June to the second week of July would be spent in an extended road trip to Chicago to  meet my husband’s family and see his old stomping ground. The last week of July/first week of August would be spent in Fort Worth, Texas at the South West Believer’s Convention.  Every week would be full of adventure and spent living life to the full.

It is now the beginning of the third full week of June, and we didn’t go to Branson. The meetings were very good. I watched them via the live stream as I have the past several years. I also spent that week trying to figure out how to pay the bills we had with the money that was available while still reserving enough money for food and other necessities until pay day on the 15th.  Now that that day has come and gone,  I don’t know how we will make ends meet until after school starts up again in the fall. We are looking for summer work, but so far haven’t been able to secure anything.

My dream of a perfect summer is crashing into the reality of the twin giants that have plagued us since our children were small.  One giant’s name is autism. It jerks us back from doing so much – as we adjust over and over again to the needs of the boys.   On a good day they can melt down just from being  together in the same room for too long. Their inability to cope with normal life has kept us out of church, out of fellowship with friends and family, and painted us into a corner so small that our other boys who are not afflicted with the disorder are as bound to the house and the smallness of our lives as the ones who are. It is wrong, but the giant is relentless in its bellowing and punishment of even our smallest attempts at breaking free. The second giant is our finances. Ever since the “good job” went away, we have been swimming against the current, barely keeping our noses above water. This is not to say that the mercy of God has not sustained us, because it is only by the grace and mercy of God that we haven’t failed and gone under completely. Yet, even when my husband had a good job, we had struggled. We have done our best to keep the cage we find ourselves in as gilded as best as we can.  We have invested in virtual escapes to replace real ones, so that the confines of our prison would be more bearable. This has meant maintaining computer and gaming systems that would allow access to the world outside our walls via the internet,  as well as access to games and virtual diversions, allowing us to see the world, even if we can’t be a part of it. The Bible says we are more than conquerors through our Lord Jesus Christ, but just as 10 spies who went into the promised land saw themselves as grasshoppers compared to the giants who lived in Canaan, it has become hard to see us as victorious, for the constant clamor and relentless noise of the giants screeching at us.

This brings me back to my Summer dreams, and the clash between what is happening and what I want to be happening. I can’t say I have earned the right to an adventure filled summer break.  I haven’t worked all year and scrimped and saved in order to make such adventure possible.  In fact, I have never held down a “real” job. I have always worked around my husbands schedule, doing what it took to make life work.  I have always been the one whose first and primary job is to make the family life work. I have been content to be the one who manages the household- an unpaid but time consuming and important position. I am the one who makes sure buses are met, and lunches are made. I am the one who knows if the laundry soap is needing to be replenished, or if one of the boys needs new pants or socks or what have you. I am the one who makes sure that whatever is going to be wanted is on hand, and available for the one who wants to make it for dinner. I am the one who talks to the mechanics, who calls the service guys, who has the number of the owners of our house, and sees if the vacuums needs to be run. I do work. Right now I am looking again for a stop gap job to make ends meet until school and the normalcy and paycheck that comes with it start again. I haven’t earned a nice long vacation, so much as I just really really want to really live and to give a gift of hope and a glimpse of normalcy and what life can look like to my boys who have never tasted such wonders.

The reality I face, which I believe can and I want to believe is being  changed by the truth of God’s word makes having a “real job” a difficult proposition at best for me right now.  The oldest of our two sons who is afflicted with autism is a young man who never grew up, and cannot function without supervision and his daily necessities being provided to him. That means someone has to be here to fix his meals, to clean up after him and makes sure he is safe and secure. That person has been me. This has made holding down a “real” job difficult.  I need to either work from home in a capacity that can work around the excessive noise and commotion that is created by him being here, or I need to find a way to get him out of the house which isn’t the “just send him to a day program” easy thing that people assume it would be. His behavior makes him extra challenging, and there isn’t a good fit for him in the community at large right now.

Now that the giants we face, along with the problems and  commotion they cause have been described, we come back to the truth as the Bible describes it.

  1. Jesus already destroyed the power of autism by going to the cross 2000 years ago. Isaiah 53:4 describes how Jesus would take our pain and suffering- a deeper exploration of the Hebrew words there includes sicknesses and pain.  Further more, Isaiah 53:5 shows us that the same suffering that wiped away the power of sin also restored our peace and healed us.
  2. Further, Jesus was made to be poor so that we could be made rich (2 Cor. 8: 9).

This should not shock us or confuse us. The curse that Adam brought into the world has always included separation from God, physical torment and want. The blessing of God has always reversed every area of that curse, when one believes God. Abraham believed God and was counted righteous. He had fellowship with God and was counted as his friend, even though we know he sinned. He saw his greatest physical brokenness healed as he and Sarah became parents to Isaac. And the blessing of God made him rich. God does not change. His desire to do good for people has never changed, and human’s propensity to believe anything other than God’s word about things hasn’t changed either. That’s why actually believing God will do good for long enough to see God do that good is such a rare thing. Yet those that did and do believe God and kept believing God are the ones whose lives  show us the power of God at work on the earth, and are held up as examples for those who seek walk by faith as they did.

Wishing and dreaming are not the same as trusting God. Neither is begging and pleading or wailing or having a pity party. God tells us to believe Him. In fact it is impossible to please God without having faith. We must not only believe that He exists and is good and able to do good, but that he will do good for those who earnestly seek him (Heb. 11:6). If I don’t have the summer I dreamed about, it is not God’s failing- Jesus came so that we could have life, and have it to the full (Jn. 10:10).

Wishing something would happen and even praying something will happen without actually seeking God’s way to do it is vain. We must learn to know His voice and His ways, so he can show us what to do and how to do the things he wants for us to be able to do.  We must learn follow the Good Shepherd to the green pastures and quiet waters he is endeavoring to lead us to. We will never get to those fertile places sitting in the sheep fold wondering if he even cares that we are in the pen, but believing he doesn’t speak to people any more.  We have to follow his lead.  We must be honest and have the courage to take steps into places we don’t fully comprehend, that don’t look like where we want to be going when we are following  His lead. He knows where the good pastures and calm waters are, and we can trust that even if we are walking on a dusty dry path, he is leading us to where we need to go by those paths. We must learn to trust God and to walk in His ways. Or as the Sunday school song says- we must “trust and obey, for there’s no other way, to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.”

Grace and Peace.

 

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The Gallery Wall

One of the staple decorative motifs my mother always kept was a gallery wall. There were always at least one good, framed picture of each of us kids hanging in chronological order somewhere in her house. I probably would have kept her tradition but I have always struggled to get good pictures of Jon and Josh, and for a while nothing I put on the walls stayed on the walls, so rather than fight the impulses of people who had no impulse control over the state of my wall, I had no decorations of any kind on the walls.

The year my oldest son graduated, we had no money. There was no special senior pictures taken. There was no special year book space bought and filled up with memories. There was barely any celebration- in fact I was so far behind the ball that we had to go buy dress pants and shoes the morning of graduation because the piece of paper that had that as a requirement wasn’t produced until the night before he was to walk with his class. His graduation party consisted of going to Village Inn for lunch- a treat considering our finances but it was hardly a traditional shindig.

The year my second oldest aged out of school, and graduated, his teacher was so gracious and generous and made sure he had a senior picture for the year book and offered to make sure he walked. I didn’t have the heart or the courage to watch his classmates graduate, the valedictorians giving their speeches and see the tangible hope and a future before them, while wondering where the teacher and aides were occupying him so until it was time for him to walk across the stage. We bought cookies, but ended up not really celebrating his rite of passage either.

Next fall my third oldest will be the big man on campus in a very small Christian school. Literally. He is not only taller than any of his class mates, but as a senior he will be one of the leaders, one of the young men that all the little ones look up to. His senior year cannot be a laid back kind of affair that we wrestle with alone as a family that has things besides school traditions and cultural expectations to deal with. He will need a senior picture for the year book. He will need a real, honest to goodness celebrations of his life up to this point to share at his graduation. He will need the ability to take a trip with his class, and the prospect of all of this is both everything I want for him, and a bucket of cold water on my face to show me how far I have let the lives of my own children reflect how incapable I feel to be the one who keeps and passes on traditions and our culture to them.

I used to think the gallery wall was just about having a record of how we were. I didn’t realize it was a model of what it could be like to successfully pass on the torch of the past into the future. My mother didn’t have family that was always there for her. My dad’s family literally fell apart when his mother passed away when he was 8.  I had a man who wasn’t even my biological grandfather who I called grandpa, in Sweden. I saw him twice when I was growing up. I had a my father’s aunt who stepped in and made sure she did everything she could for her sister’s kids as possible, but with a large number of kids, and the fact that she was working full time and supporting her mother, she couldn’t take all of them in. Instead, the older ones grew up faster than one would like, and the younger ones went into the care of strangers. She did her best to keep in touch, and her house was home base for my dad over the years. We were their family. Our pictures on the wall were a daily reminder that they had beaten the odds and raised us and launched us into life in spite of all the things that were stacked against them. They had made a successful family, and if they ever needed proof- all they needed to do was look at the wall and be reminded of how far we had come.

I am not sure how I am doing compared to them- but I do know this- when I am weak my God is strong. When I am unsure, he holds me by the hand and encourages me to keep trying.  When I fall down he helps me stand back up and dusts me off and helps me start again. So with the confidence that knowledge brings me I keep at it, knowing that there is still time, and I still serve the God who does the impossible every day.

Grace and peace.

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