Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Entertaining Angels (Unaware)




Neighbor's door in Los Angeles. (Anything goes!) Whatever the season, let us live with hearts and doors opened wide.

There are many Big Stories to be told, but I am not quite up to it yet. (Let’s let them marinate for now.)

Instead, I may shoot out a few vignettes every now and then.

Like this one, written a while back…


It was a complicated day, as they often are in a big city.

Several adults camping out in a small (kinda "ghetto-y," by Southern sensibilities) one-bedroom apartment in LA is not a pretty picture. Stuff piled everywhere. Hard to clean, even if you had the energy to attempt it.

Things are not exactly cookie-cutter cute in my relatively affordable (for LA) accommodations. When friends from Georgia came out in January, one said, “Oh, this reminds me of Seinfeld!” while walking down the stained blue-carpeted hallway to my door. (Actually, Seinfeld’s hallway looked like the Ritz compared to this one.)

Still, I’d hoped to have (at least the bathroom!) professionally cleaned before my husband returned to LA that night for Amie’s most recent jaw surgery.

As they say, it’s hard to find good help. Over the years, I’ve tried several different individuals and cleaning companies in LA, but nothing’s ever been a perfect fit. So I signed up for a new and popular service, hoping for the best.

(Now switching to present tense, for some reason…)

The morning of the appointment, I receive an email from the company. (“Your service provider can’t come. We will try to find a replacement.”) Back and forth, back and forth. Finally I am informed that they have found a replacement.

An hour and a half after the promised Cleaning Genius is to supposed to arrive… just as I’ve given up and started writing a negative review on Yelp… I’m startled by a loud buzz on the intercom.

A young, very tall, very dark, very serious young man is getting off the elevator as I run to meet whomever the company has sent. He is without a single cleaning implement. No vacuum cleaner, no mop, no broom. Nothing. He introduces himself as M.

I ask if he has anything to clean with. He tells me that he is sharing a vacuum cleaner with a friend, but the friend will bring it by to him after he gets started. He goes back out to his car to get the other supplies.

I send him out on the tiny patio to sweep, as Amie is not feeling well and moving slowly. After her shower and meds, she says hello to M. and gives him too much information about her accident in explanation as to why she is missing teeth, limping, etc. (Although, of course, he did not ask.)

At this point, Amie’s friend Mark arrives and immediately gets to work on his computer, trying to finish a project before their day trip to Orange County.

Secretly giddy about the prospect of a little alone time away from my favorite adult-child roommate, I discourage Amie’s idea of going out to eat for lunch. Mark wants to keep working until the last minute. He asks if I have anything they can eat at the apartment to save time.

Although the cupboard's pretty bare, I dig out whatever I can find in the frig. A little sandwich stuff and some leftover 4-day-old Shepherd’s Pie I wanted to get rid of. Not even real Shepherd’s Pie, the healthier fake version with cauliflower instead of mashed potatoes.

While we eat, M. is in the bathroom, on hands and knees, cleaning the floor. When he comes back into the living-cooking-dining room, we’re just finishing up. I feel a little rude.

“Would you like something to eat?” my mother’s daughter asks, expecting him to decline because of his tight schedule and late start for the day.

“Yes, please.

“Sandwich or shepherd’s pie?”

“Shepherd’s pie, please.”

I dish out the left-overs and start to rush around again, but feel bad about him sitting alone at the folding bamboo table that serves as our dining table in exile.

I sit down across from him, and make perfunctory conversation.

“Where are you from?”

“Uganda”.

I make a few pleasantries about Africa in general.

The serious expression turns into a full-blown smile.

“Have you been to Africa?”

“No, but my husband has been to South Africa. He’s always said that I would love it.  Maybe one day.”

He tells me Uganda is fairly safe for tourists.

I ask a little about his life… how long has he been here… how does he like America…

He cleans his plate. I ask if he would like some more, and he smiles, “Yes, please.”

At the end, as he stands up, he says, “This is the best meal I have ever had in America.”

I am taken aback. Almost wounded by his words.

He starts back to work, but the vacuum cleaner never arrives.

When he has done all he can do, he tells me, “I must go to my next job, but I will be back. Please don’t report this to the company. This will be on my own time.”

At 5 or 6 that night, he shows up and starts vacuuming quickly.

I am ready to put on my nightie and get off my tired feet, but I sit on the sofa and mess around on my computer until he’s done.

As he’s leaving, I slip him a ten.

“Thank you, missus. This is the most beautiful home I have ever seen in America. You are the most kind person I have met here. Thank you for your kindness.”

I just stare at him with my mouth slightly open until he concludes with, “I will be praying for your daughter.”


I am a woman whose life is wracked by sin and failure.

But at that moment, I realized that I was the hands of Jesus to that young man.


And he was Jesus to me.


                                                   *****


Perspective is everything.

Katherine and Jay have taught this with their lives.

There is always someone better off than you are.

There is always someone much worse off than you are.

I ran across these words on Ann Voskamp’s blog:


Perspective is a giver. Comparison takes.

Perspective is generous. Comparison pares down the loveliness of your life until it appears a thin shred of its former glory.

Perspective carries us through life laughing. Comparison evokes cursing and frowns and grumbling.

(Kate Merrick)


My encounter with M. reminded me:

Our little is someone else’s much.


Let us remember to share the little we have until it multiplies blessing like loaves and fishes.

In the end, it always come back...

with interest.


"Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares." Hebrews 13:2


*Was it a coincidence that the left-overs just happened to be Shepherd's Pie?


Monday, March 6, 2017

(a modern-day) Margery Raves On: Some Thoughts on Lent

(a modern-day) Margery Raves On: Some Thoughts on Lent

Some Thoughts on Lent





Guess what I’m giving up for Lent…

I’m giving up trying to give something up!

Traditionally, Lent has been associated with penance, fasting, and abstinence… sacrificing pleasures or vices as a reminder of Christ’s sacrifice. A time of reflection and repentance, for some Christians it is a joyful, deeply spiritual thing.

I’ve always been an abysmal failure at it.  Basic human nature is such that the more you focus on giving up the thing, the more you want it. C’est moi.

I’m tired of making resolutions I probably won’t keep, giving in to temptation, and then feeling even worse about myself.  A lying voice sneaks up to whisper “Failure” in my ear. Like our original ancestors, I pull away from God in shame. Instead of feeling closer, I feel further away than before.

But, while he was visiting here, Jesus repeated these words from the Old Testament:

I desire mercy and not sacrifice.*

What if instead of sacrificing chocolate or wine or carbs or cussing or unkind thoughts, I asked for MORE.

more mercy, instead of judgment…
more love, instead of indifference…
more patience, instead of aggravation…
more acceptance, instead of bitterness…
more joy, instead of heaviness…
more abundance, instead of lack.

The Christian life is about provision, not deprivation.
Satiation, not starvation.
Bounty, not depletion.

More, not less

Lent is a time when I want to feel closer to God. More God-centric, less Me-centric. When I focus on my shortcomings, it builds up an invisible wall.  Low self-esteem is still Self-oriented, not God-oriented. A sense of unworthiness is a barrier that must be overturned.

How to break down that wall between the Holy and the Un-?

Draw close to God, and He will draw close to you.**

It’s that simple.

Like a child, run back into Daddy’s arms. Clean or filthy, naughty or nice, He embraces the one He loves like no one else. He draws you close to His boundless  heart, glad that you are safely home from wherever you’ve been wandering.

And He will give us More.

Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!”***

The main thing God wants to give us more of

is Himself.

“On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.” ***

Christ in me.

Recently, a wise friend shared an analogy with me. She told me that when she was in a time of having the life crushed out of her, she envisioned herself with an oxygen tube sucking Life out of God. The source is infinite and inexhaustible. There is always more.

The best gift that God longs to give us is more of His Spirit. That is one prayer that is always answered. How much more will your Father give good gifts to those who ask Him!

This Lent, I am coming boldly into the throne room and asking for more from my loving, limitless Father. More abundance, more mercy, more grace…

more of Him.

I am praying that for all those who read this as well.  (Yes, even you.)

...so that the Spirit may flood our beings with such love and joy that selfishness and sin will be flushed away by the flow of living waters.

And the sacrifice we offer will be a sacrifice of praise.


*****


* Hosea 6:6 and Matthew 9:13
** James 4:8
***John 14:20


I have a favor. If you are interested in more thoughts on life and faith from a modern-day Margery, would you please give me thumbs up in the comments? Helps to know I'm not just blowing steam. Thanks!!

Saturday, October 8, 2016

The Sweetest Spot



This morning, my friend Mz. B. unknowingly answered a question I’ve been pondering all week.

The thought process started during a (supposedly) daily reading.

The statement jumped off the page at me:

“Our hearts ache, but we always have joy.*


How is that even possible?

Isn’t that an oxymoron?


(Yet even as those doubts appeared, a deeper truth whispered

Yes.)


My heart has been aching so much lately that it feels more like an overly ripe uterus.

Heavy. Full. Sore. About to burst.

Because our family has been through a somewhat similar catastrophic experience before, there’s a part of me that thinks I should have this thing down pat. There’s also an external expectation that since “we know the ropes,” it should somehow make it easier. This ain’t our first rodeo! We got this!

But, no. 

Although I know from our previous experience (and many others) that miracles do happen and that God does indeed work everything for good for those who love Him, it does not negate the terrible heartache.

My heart is broken… shattered… yet again.

And it’s almost worse this time.

No, it really is worse this time.

But all during this long, hard week, I’ve been whispering that phrase, “Our hearts ache, but we always have joy.”

As I’ve said elsewhere,* I’ve been actively looking for joy in the external world. I find it most easily in the faces of my grandsons. But it’s there, too, in the blue skies of LA, the slender palms that sway, the cool breezes that caress in the shade, the vivid flowers that have survived the drought.

But I know that the apostle Paul was talking about a deeper kind of joy.

A secret place.

***

Mz. B. is a special friend who has supported and encouraged me through the tragedies of my adult life. She made me feel sane during the years I was away from home after Katherine’s stroke, not by grand gestures, but by frequent and consistent little things. She would shoot me a text or short email, or leave me a quick voicemail with news from home. A word of encouragement, a joke, a scripture.

Today, I opened her email and read these words:

“The Lord is close to the broken-hearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” (Psalm 34:18)

She reminded me of the answer to the puzzling paradox in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians:

How can we have joy when our hearts ache?

Because the more sorely our hearts ache, the closer God comes to us.

In that place of pain and emptiness, we are stripped bare of our self-sufficiency. Finally, we stop our thrashing around.  The slightest half-turn to the Source of all joy, and He comes rushing in like a white-cap wave.

No matter what is happening in the external world, I can choose to retreat to that secret place of joy. It is the sweetest spot. Corporeal, visceral, as well as spiritual.

A heart-fluttering love overwhelms.

“…in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” (Psalm 16:11)

I am going to crawl into my Daddy’s lap and let Him love.

***

(*2 Corinthians 6:10, nlt)

(This was written earlier in the week. Check caringbridge for more recent updates. Also, more joy pix to appear on my instagram account at kimberlytarnold.)

Thursday, September 22, 2016

A Sturdy Ship



“And I saw the river over which every soul must pass
to reach the kingdom of heaven
and the name of that river was suffering:
and I saw a boat which carries souls across the river
and the name of that boat was love.”


St. John of the Cross



A beautiful young friend, Claire, sent me the quote above soon after Amie’s accident. She wrote, “Although the rapids on your river seem unjustly piercing and terrifying, I am praying there are moments when you can feel the sturdiness of your boat....and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you.

The Sunday morning after the accident seemed surreal and slow-motion. Instead of sitting in a pew, we were sitting in a tiny sterile waiting room outside the ICU. I turned to my son-in-law Jay, and said something to the effect that I felt empty. There was no Rhema* this time.

The moment I’d heard the news about Katherine’s AVM rupture over 8 years ago, words had popped into my head. I had no idea what an AVM rupture was. No idea how deadly and destructive. But as soon as I hung up the phone, strange words appeared: “Talitha Cumi!”*  As I wrote here, those words were to prove prophetic.

But the current crisis seemed different. There was a sickening déjà-vu feel to it all. I felt numb and hopeless after seeing Amie for the first time. Completely overwhelmed.

As I am wont to do in times of trauma, I played Bible Roulette. The Book opened to Isaiah 43. As I read these words, I got a chill.

“Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you.
    I have called you by name; you are mine. 
When you go through deep waters,
    I will be with you.
When you go through rivers of difficulty,
    you will not drown.
When you walk through the fire of oppression,
  you will not be burned up;
    the flames will not consume you. 
For I am the Lord, your God,
    the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.”

Reading the whole chapter, I felt a fragile peace descend. He is about to do something new. (v. 19)

As soon as we were allowed back into the room with Amie, I heard a ping on my Iphone. Looking down, I read this message from a particularly wise friend: “Praying fervently for you. Is. 43:2.”  Then, out of the almost 800,000 words in the Bible, she'd typed out the same ones I typed above.

Eureka!

I mean Rhema!

There was my promise.



I’ve had to cling hard to those words in the face of rising waves of pain and fear.

Yesterday was a frightening day. I sent out a plea for mercy prayers on Caringbridge. When we got back to the apartment, there was a gigantic box waiting at the door. Had I ordered something from Amazon I’d forgotten about? (That happens.)

No, it was a box of abundance from a special group of friends. Overflowing with tangible goodies of every kind, but, more than that, overflowing with things that are ‘exceedingly more that I could have asked or imagined.’ Love. Support. Solidarity. Compassion. Caring. Mercy.

This is the card that came with it:






Thank God for the gift of friends that keep us afloat when waters are rough and winds are wild. 

Thank God that he calms the storms with a word.


And thank God for the sturdy ship Mercy that safely sails us home.


++++++++++++


*The second primary Greek word that describes Scripture is rhema, which refers to a word that is spoken and means “an utterance.” A rhema is a verse or portion of Scripture that the Holy Spirit brings to one’s attention with application to a current situation or need for direction.


**Talitha is an uncommon feminine name meaning "little girl" in Aramaic, given in reference to the Biblical story in the Gospel of Mark in which Jesus Christ was said to have resurrected a dead child with the words "Talitha cumi" or "Talitha kum" or "Talitha koum," meaning "Little girl, I say to you, arise!"


(p.s. I had to struggle not to call this one The Love Boat.  But I knew I'd get "Nerd-Alerted" by Ames when she's well enough to read!)


Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Holding On In The Night



Last day at UCLA



“But hold on to what you believe in the light
When the darkness has robbed you of all your sight”
Mumford and Sons



Immediately following a life-or-death crisis, there is usually a period of grace.

After the initial shock and terror wear off, you are held up by prayers and adrenalin and action.

Eagle’s wings, and all that.

You receive supernatural signs and messages that everything is going to be okay. People come alongside you. You take heart. You desperately try to keep your eyes focused on All Things Bright and Beautiful.

Then, very slowly, you start to notice a little darkness creeping in from your peripheral vision.

Like a migraine, it spreads from small specks of night on the sides…like stars in reverse…until it grows into a blackout curtain that obliterates all light.

The more frantically you try to fight it, the more exhausted you become.

Sometimes you have to sit alone in the darkness for a while.

Maybe even cry yourself to sleep in it. Take a nap.


After that, you feel around for a match, and light a little candle.

And you hold on to that little light of yours with all of your might.


Because what is true in the day is still true in the night.




Monday, September 12, 2016

Screaming Pain


(Substitute Amanda for Alexander)


Sometimes, pain murmurs in the background. Other times it throbs like a living organism. Sometimes it stabs.

Other times, it screams.

We are at the screaming stage now.

Severe pain can either shut you down into a moaning mess, or it can turn you into a wounded animal that strikes out at anyone who tries to help.

It is a terrible thing to witness such pain, and feel hopeless to alleviate it.

Yesterday was a terrible-horrible-no-good-very-bad day.

This morning, I started to run around doing things, but then wised up, got back in my prayer closet (i.e., bed), and (“just happened”) to read these words:

“We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves.

We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed…

That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.” (from 2 Cor. 4, nlt)

Early on in the faith thing, a dear friend shared with me that whatever it is, it is only temporary.

A day is coming when there will be no more death, or sorrow, or crying, or pain.

And every tear will be gently wiped away.
(rev. 21:4)

Friday, September 9, 2016

Weak and Shattered





Day before yesterday, I hit a brick wall. Actually, it was a concrete post.
But I am using it metaphorically.

For 10 days, I'd felt lifted up by an invisible force.

Then, in an instance, I collapsed back into waves, just as we witnessed the jet-packers do in Newport Bay week before last.

There were about 5 or 6 people in Amie’s room, all trying to do different things at once. A sweet Asian chaplain wanted to pray, while a sweet Hispanic aide wanted to bathe. The Eastern European nurse was trying to deal with Amie’s medications, while a male nurse tried to move her into a more comfortable position. Amie was trying to communicate her needs as loudly as possible. It was like the United Nations, with everyone talking at once. Or the Tower of Babel. Attempting to restore order out of the chaos, I started to get rid of some of the many cups of half-drunk liquids that were everywhere. Suddenly, the nurse flipped out.  I'd accidentally thrown out some pain meds mixed with juice that were to be taken orally through a large syringe.

She left the room in a state, and then I left the room in a state and completely lost it.

Lost my composure, my cool, my control.

Thankfully, the waiting room was empty. I closed the door and let the tears fly.

I can’t do this anymore. Why are we here in this dark place of suffering AGAIN? What does the future hold? This is all too hard and ugly and awful. I am so TIRED!!!

I called my husband to vent.

Afterwards, I slunk back into the room, but it was obvious to all what had been going on. I am not a pretty crier. My nose and eyes swell up and turn bright red. By this point, the chair bath was almost finished. The aide looked up at me and said, “Mamacita, you okay? Can I get you some water?” I teared up again.

After a good nose-blowing in the adjacent bathroom, I came out and told Amie that I was fine. I went to the corner of the room where we have hidden away drinks and snacks. Some anonymous angels* had delivered a giant basket of goodies to the ICU. As I foraged through the basket looking for a drink, I noticed the card: 





Many people have written us wonderful words of encouragement since Amie’s accident. Some kind souls have said how “amazing” our family is, how “strong” I am, how “full of faith.” These words have buoyed me up, given me hope, and helped me to feel safer and unalone.

But in compliance with the Truth In Advertising organization, I have to confess the reality. I am none of those things. Our family is none of those things. Please don’t put us up on some kind of ‘suffering pedestal.’

We are just average sinners in need of daily grace.


But we know where to turn for help…

yet again.


*******************


“But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect
 in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses,
 so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties.

For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (II Cor. 12: 9-10)



(*We found out later that it was Katherine's Moms In Prayer group. Thank you, angels!)

Also, the room number pictured above was Amie's ICU room. She is currently in 6623.