(p.s. Sense of humor required.)
Thursday, November 25, 2010
Cheri graciously shared this video with me.
It epitomizes my desires for the holidays...
That the sublime may invade the mundane.
That the holy may interrupt the secular.
That joy may triumph over worldly cares.
I pray these things today for all of us.
Not for perfection, but for moments of joy sprinkled through the mixture.
I dare you to watch this with a dry eye.
Tuesday, November 23, 2010
My grandson James has always had pretty sweet manners for a little guy. “Tank-tu” was among his earliest expressions. I seriously doubt that he understood the concept, however. He just realized that the use of those magic words meant he would be more likely to receive MORE of whatever it was.
Preschool has been a wonderful experience for James. He has matured in every way. He is lavish in his thanking these days. “Thank you, Mimi, (for) washing Thomas the Train.” “Thank you, Mimi, (for) giving me crackers.” “Thank you, Mimi, (for letting me) come to your house.”
Still, I wonder if he really understands what it means.
I wonder if I do.
In examining my heart, I realize that thanking God is often a perfunctory ritual for me.
Or possibly for the ulterior motive of receiving “more.” More blessings. More provision. More protection.
I suspect that there may even be a subtle, subterranean fear hiding beneath layers of obligatory obedience: “You better thank him, or it might be taken away.”
There are moments, of course, when the sheer goodness of God overwhelms me and fills me to overflowing with inexpressible glorious gratitude.
I wish this happened more often.
Giving thanks doesn’t always come naturally to me. But I believe it is something that can be cultivated with practice.
Thank comes from the same root as Think. Basically, to think and feel gratitude. The outward articulation should be a reflection and expression of the inner attitude. Fortunately, the auditory articulation then reinforces the thought… strengthens the neural pathway.
Although my thought-life has been mostly wild and unbridled throughout my life, I am realizing more and more just how much control we humans actually have over what goes on in there. My mini-education in Brain Science has confirmed scriptural truths in this regard. Science asserts that it is possible to retrain the brain. Spiritual truth teaches that it is possible to renew the mind.
“…we take captive every thought…” (II Corinthians 10:5)
“…be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” (Romans 12:2)
I desperately want to develop a greater level of intentional gratitude. I want to train my brain to think thanks almost as an involuntary reflex. I want to restructure the inner pathways to “Oh, yes!” instead of “Oh, no!” no matter what is going on.
This will take some work.
Consistent effort. There may be a lot of negative thoughts to chase, capture, and imprison where I can no longer hear their lies. If I want to think thanks, then I am going to have to practice praise as a spiritual discipline. I know that will not always be easy. There may be times when I do it through figuratively clenched teeth.
But it will be worth the effort if I develop a deeper understanding of what it really means to give thanks.
Something that happened recently makes me think that maybe James is starting to get it. To understand that ‘thank you’ means more than ‘abracadabra.’
We had walked to the little market down the street to pick up a few staples. I had to remind him to thank me for buying him a begged-for treat. “What do you say?” Magic words. Obligatory thanks.
It had been a tiring day, and I strolled him home slowly. A sudden noise made me turn around.
Behind us, the November sky had turned a brilliant aqua blue. It was dark and light at the same time. Dusk, but still vivid. The dazzling full moon played hide-and-seek with the impossible pink clouds racing across the sky. It was shockingly beautiful.
I knelt down on the sidewalk by James’ stroller. I wanted to make sure that he could see the show from his vantage point.
“See the pink clouds, James? Aren’t they beautiful?”
“Yes, I see them,” he nodded through sticky lips.
“Just beautiful,” I said again, under my breath.
“Bootiful,” he echoed.
“Let’s thank God for them, okay?”
He nodded and clasped his messy hands.
Kneeling on the sidewalk, a rush of organic joy and awe and gratitude came flowing out.
“Amen,” said James.
It was a purer form of praise.
“…and one thing more, dear Father, grant us grateful hearts. Amen.”
With gratitude to this community for their inspiration ...
(p.s. Picture at top is just to give you an idea. As usual, I didn't have camera or Iphone. The reality was even more breathtaking because of the moon.)
Monday, November 22, 2010
Jesus was not harsh with many people.
But it is interesting to note with whom he was harsh.
It was not the whores.
It was not the town drunks.
It was not the homosexuals.
It was not the unjust rulers.
It was not the insane or the possessed.
It was not even the white-collar criminals.
The only people to whom Jesus ever spoke really harshly
were the religious ones.
The self-righteous ones.
The judgmental ones.
The ones who thought they were better.
That’s really something to think about.
Tuesday, November 16, 2010
This typo appears in my texting almost every day.
My fingers aren’t as agile as those of my children, who are able to text as rapidly as they talk. If I try to keep up with them, crazy words appear on the screen. One daughter will fire off three or four more questions before I’ve even finished answering the first one. At that point, I text “Just call me!!!”
You’d think that Iphone would self-correct the typo in question. Don’t they realize that more people are trying to say “Love u” than “Live u?”
But it gives me pause every time I see it.
Is there more of a connection between the two phrases than mere proximity of letters on a keyboard?
I love you.
I live you.
Sleuthing around in etymologies a bit, something jumps out at me. In German, the verb to live is translated as leben. To love is lieben.
The difference of one little ‘i.’
“Ich liebe dich,” my father would say to me at bedtime, a souvenir of his time in Germany during and after The War. I love you.
I remember the first time I saw each of my newborn babies.
I remember the way I felt. (The way I still feel, although I have to pretend not to be so intense.)
My heart beats with your heart.
It hurts when you hurt.
I give you my life’s breath.
You take my breath away.
I love you with every breath that I take.
With every drop of blood that runs through my body.
I would give my life for you.
Is this what incarnational Love is all about?
I live you.
I live with you. I live for you.
I live in you.
Because I love you.
Sunday, November 14, 2010
So, after experiencing Russia first as a pagan and then as a capitalist, I went back as a missionary.
We lived in St. Petersburg in a crumbling building that was used as a foster home for troubled boys. They had been shipped out to primitive “summer camps.”
I ended up in a room with five other women. There were three ancient, rickety bunk beds with mattresses that were three inches thick. For once, I didn’t fight for the top bunk. Whenever my friend, who is more agile and athletic than I am, climbed up, the whole structure shook as though it would topple over any minute.
But there was plenty of entertainment. The boys had left charming pictures on the mattresses for us… skulls and crossbones drawn in indelible marker. Russian obscenities. And, boys being boys, they had left other souvenirs as well. Messages written in nose matter decorated the walls inches away from our faces.
And they’d left their pets behind. We awoke the first morning to discover our bodies covered in tiny red welts. Bedbugs.
Of course there was no temperature control, so we left the window open for air. Even that far north, the heat can be oppressive in the summer. Swarms of mosquitoes flew in off the swampy Gulf of Finland. Once, something even worse flew in.
We were all tested in some way. I was tested in every area that elicits my gag reflex.
I suffer from ornithophobia. It probably goes back to childhood, when a mother bird went after my cat, and then me. Add the viewing of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds at an impressionable age, and you’ve got a full-blown phobia. Birds hate me. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been dumped on. I can’t get near them without panicking.
But when the bird flew in our open window, I wasn’t the only one screaming. I have repressed the details, but after some brave soul chased him down and escorted him back out, I plopped down on my bottom bunk. Heart racing, I collapsed back on the hard pillow. When I had collected myself, I sat up and smoothed my hair back. Smoothed that juicy white bird poop all through my hair.
Like I said, I’ve blocked out as much as I can. But I‘m sure I must have hightailed it to the claustrophobia-inducing 2x2 closet that served as the one shower/bath for 20 people. It was right off the main hall, so it was not unusual to bump into a male member of the team while streaking back to your room in a towel.
The toilet situation was similar, leading to weeks of constipation for anyone who happened to be anally retentive.
Such was our temporary home. But it was nothing compared to the orphanage where we worked every day. Each morning, we boarded a bus and drove to the nearby city of Pushkin. (Formerly Tsarskoe Selo, the home of the last Romanovs.)
The first day, we entered tentatively, not certain what to expect. I remember it as being dark, the air heavy with aromas of overflowing bathrooms and antiseptic and boiling onions.
The kids were as tentative as we were, checking us out. Yet another pack of rich do-gooders from America there for a temporary visit.
The orphanage was for kids with special needs. The majority had a living parent, but all had been entrusted to the State. Our Russian co-worker and resident angel, Sasha, explained that there was a cultural shame in Russia attached to having a child who was not “normal.” Basically, their parents had abandoned them.
A gang of older, tougher-looking kids followed us around from a distance, talking about us and laughing among themselves. Pretending to be much tougher than they were.
I had gulped down a large bottle of water on the bus, so it was soon necessary to locate a bathroom. One of the tough kids, a girl with short hair dressed in boy clothes, was enlisted to escort me. We roamed down long, smelly halls until we reached the primary source of the smell. The floor was covered in inches-deep liquid. Not thinking, I did what I normally do. Concentrated on the squatting. When I stood back up, the bottom of my pants legs were soaked up to mid-calf.
When I came out of the stall, my escort died laughing. So I laughed, too, dripping in six-inches of someone else’s urine. To cheer me up, she indicated that she wanted to show me something. She disappeared, then ran back in with her pet. A very large white rat. She wanted me to hold it.
I took a picture instead.
God’s sense of humor just astounds me sometimes.
Internally, I echoed St. Theresa’s familiar words, “Oh, Lord, if this is how you treat your friends, no wonder you have so few of them!”
This is the point:
Each of us on that trip was forced outside of our personal comfort zone. Our “ME” zone.
And in the process, we discovered exquisite joy.
In losing ourselves, we found ourselves.
In The Weakest Link, I mentioned that we performed a Bible story for the kids. We went from one classroom to the next every day. Over and over again, I read the parable of the prodigal son until the words of that most beautiful story were engraved upon my soul.
“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.” (Luke 15:20)
In addition to bringing needed supplies and hands-on love, it was our ‘mission’ to help those abandoned, damaged children understand how very much their real Father loves them. Hopefully, we did. But in the sharing, we came to understand on a much deeper level how much we are loved as well.
How much I am loved.
The conditions on that trip were the worst I’ve ever personally experienced.
But we cried when we left.
After our return, we were asked to share our stories with the church. I showed them the electric curlers I took. I will never forget the testimony of my friend, the other ‘unlikely’ one that almost dropped out when I did.
She lived in the finest mansion in town. A mansion that has been in magazines. Her husband was a very wealthy man. No expense was spared. Her lifestyle of luxury was one that few can imagine. But she is the opposite of a Beverly Hills housewife.
My friend proved to be indispensable on the trip. She did things that none of the rest of us could do. She dealt creatively with several unpleasant issues.
As she recounted her experience, tears welled up in her eyes. Then she said something that seemed a little shocking under the circumstances: “I have never been that happy in my life. Never.”
I realized then, in a fresh way, that it is possible to be happy in a hovel and miserable in a mansion.
Having everything doesn’t make you happy. Fulfilling your life’s purpose does.
I want to thank those of you who are still with me for allowing me the privilege of sharing these Russia stories, and in doing so to remind myself of the lessons I learned there.
Because I’m struggling right now. Circumstances are hard.
It is vital to hold on to the memorial stones of remembrance. Reminders of how God has been sufficient in the past.
Everything is preparation. Everything.
I am grateful that God has showed me before now that when I am weakest, He is strongest.
When I think things are impossible, He makes them possible.
In re-telling these stories I have been reminded that the more I forget about my own comfort, happiness, and well-being in serving others, the more outrageous joy I will experience. The more I get over myself, the more God can use me. The more I pour myself out in service to others, the more I will be filled. The more I lose myself, my desires, my selfishness… the more I find my true calling. My peace. My mission.
My raison d’etre.
All of life is a mission field.
What is your mission?
“This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.” (I John 3:16)
“‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”(Luke 15:31-32)
(In spite of how I’ve described this trip, our church has sent other groups on missions that make this look one look like a vacation at the Russian Ritz Carlton. To the Amazon, for instance. Good thing I didn't get a sign about that one.)
Tuesday, November 9, 2010
How does one save daylight?
I would if I could.
I’d grab whole fistfuls of it, and hold it next to my heart. To warm and lighten it.
As days grow shorter, I become more contemplative, melancholy.
I’d love to curl up in a warm, cozy cave and hibernate for the winter.
Wake me up when it’s spring. When everything is bright and new and full of promise again.
I remember the days when the coming of winter had the opposite effect. The brisk wind stirred my soul and brought life to my bones. Exhilaration, celebration.
Now, the random chilling breeze at dusk seems to be a harbinger of malicious forces beyond my control.
The frequent sirens echo longer in the cooler air, haunting reminders of danger and desperation.
Blessed with the gift of uncanny intuition, my grandson comes up and hugs me tight. “Don’t be scared, Mimi,” he encourages me.
How did he sense a fear I didn’t recognize in myself?
“Don’t worwy,” he says, gently stroking my arm.
Why does he think I’m worried?
“It’s okay, Mimi. It’s okay,” he mimics the words I constantly repeat to him, no matter what’s the matter.
Somehow, he just knows.
The juicy kiss on my cheek really does make everything okay.
Even though the neighbor’s dog is howling in the dark at 5:00 p.m.
“Though I have fallen, I will rise. Though I sit in darkness, the LORD will be my light.” (Micah 7:8)
“I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth.” (Isaiah 42:16)
“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:5)
“There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light.” (Rev. 22:5)
Saturday, November 6, 2010
Happy Anniversary, Katherine and Jay.
It is hard to believe that it has been six years. Years of ecstasy and agony. Joy and pain.
You are no longer the innocent children you were in this picture.
Wisdom and maturity have come through the crucible of great suffering.
But you have taught us what love really is.
In honor of the day, I am re-posting the following from Katherine's Mom's Blog. It was written two years ago. Although much has changed since then, the love has grown even deeper and stronger. (Sorry it's so long. I didn't know what blogs were supposed to be back then.)
Jesus and Bridget Jones
I have something to confess...
I absolutely adore “Bridget Jones' Diary.”
Yes, I know it’s raunchy and silly. I know it contains gratuitous sex and foul language.
Still, it remains one of my all-time favorite tragi-comedies.
One of my kids got this the other night. She and her sister were watching it on the tube in LA, while I was back in Athens doing fun things like voting, getting a flu shot (hear that, Mother?), and a mammogram. That particular daughter and I had exchanged some ‘difficult’ words the night before I left LA, so I was elated to receive the following text (verbatim) from her:
“we’re watchin Bridget jones.....It’s true....I LOVE YOU just as you are. what would i do without you? xoxoxo.”
(Oh, the charming complexities of the mother/daughter relationship!)
But back to Bridget: She is the archetypal Everywoman. (And –man, actually.)
She’s a mess. Bridget sets self-improvement goals which she can’t keep. She makes vows and breaks them. Her daily fare is a foot sandwich, chagrin on the side. Her psyche teeters torturously between delusions of grandeur and abysmally low self-esteem. But even though her best is never quite good enough, she keeps trying. She ‘gets knocked down, but she gets up again.’
She is the secular embodiment of Romans 7. In some ways, I’m a lot like Bridget.
All she really wants in the whole wide world is what we all long for: to be loved just for who we are, warts and all. She wants someone who thinks she’s worth it...someone who believes in her potential whether or not she ever comes close to reaching it. Bridget wants a man willing to fight for her. She wants someone who just wants her, thick or thin. (Pun intended.)
Being a lit-freak, I appreciate author Helen Fielding’s clever transposition of some of the early 19th Century characters (or types) from Pride and Prejudice into 20th Century London. Quite a cultural contrast...yet ‘the more things change, the more they stay the same,’ as the French say.
Just as Elizabeth Bennett is shocked to find true love where she least expects it, so Bridget is obliged to lay aside the prejudice of an initial bad impression and the pride which might force her to cling to it. Faced with a “You can be right, or you can be happy” dilemma, she wisely chooses happiness. (At least for a while.)
The pivotal exchange of dialogue between Bridget and the 20th Century Mr. Darcy:
Mark Darcy: I like you, very much.
Bridget: Ah, apart from the smoking and the drinking, the vulgar mother and... ah, the verbal diarrhea.
Mark Darcy: No, I like you very much. Just as you are.
JUST AS YOU ARE.
And that, my friends, is the bottom line of the Good News.
We are loved just as we are. More than we can possibly imagine.
(...because that kind of love is a rare gift among human beings.)
In the past 6 months, I’ve had the privilege of witnessing this kind of love lived out to the extreme.
A cherubic young man with a boy’s face can’t contain his grin. The sparklingly beautiful bride beams. Handel’s Chorus majestically pours from the church organ, rattling the tall windows of the elegant antebellum structure.
Flash to the reception. It is an absolutely gorgeous day. A too-good-to-be-true Hollywood set day. The November Georgia sky is a brilliant Carolina blue. Heaven’s weather. Delicious breeze. Gorgeous flowers everywhere. Clink of glasses. Tempting aromas. Family. Friends from around the globe. Mellow music outside, rockin’ vibes inside. Uncontainable electric joy ricochets off the columns and floats up into the pale sapphire sky like an escaped balloon.
Laughing and waving wildly, Barbie and Ken are whisked away in a limo to their assured happily-ever-aftering.
The DVD ends.
The mothers of the bride and groom exchange quick glances.
I get up off the sofa and go into the bathroom.
The contrast is so breathtakingly extreme.
I, (name), take you (name), to be my (wife/husband), to have and to hold from this day forward, for better or for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish; from this day forward until death do us part.
But this is not what the boy in the DVD signed up for.
The girl he fell head-over-heels in love with was not the kind of girl who needed a man to hold her up. A young man would consider himself lucky if he could even catch up with her. The girl in the DVD was the kind of girl who inspired songs. The lyrics to a particularly catchy one written in her honor (/at her expense) by a college band included the line, “Hold on, Katherine, you’re movin’ way too fast...” That girl was a mover and shaker. She made things happen.
That beautiful young bride was a force of nature. Heads turned when she entered a room. People listened when she spoke...which was in a loud, clear, articulate voice. She was a passionate, motivating speaker. She was a compassionate, empathizing friend. She was the aroma that drew people in, the glue that kept them together.
She seemed to be uniquely blessed. She won awards she didn’t seek, accolades she never expected. She was a “winner.” She provoked intense loyalty in some, envy in others...as those who run outside the pack always do. She was a klutz who won beauty queen titles, a prude who was adored by the frat boys who chose her as their sweetheart. She was loved and respected by professors and given prestigious responsibilities. She was a bright and rising star, with potential reaching to the skies. She had everything the world considers of value...brains, beauty, talent, popularity, ambition...the whole package. And in spite of all that, she was even a nice person.
So she headed to California to pursue her dreams, which seemed easily within her reach.
The young man said, “Whither thou goest, I shall go...”
Little did he know where that would lead them.
They had to cut her wedding ring off in the emergency room.
Last week, for her fourth anniversary, her husband gave her another one. This one is even more beautiful than the original. It is an “eternity” ring....a circle of diamonds set in white gold. The fiery furnace of adversity has unveiled the true gold of eternal, selfless, unconditional love. The diamonds sparkle as a reminder of the secret treasures they’ve found hidden in the darkness. The circle, of course, represents love without end.
The wife is now very altered from how she appeared in the wedding DVD of four years ago. I know that there must be times when her husband misses her as she used to be...the sound of her clear, strong voice...her laugh...her infectious energy...her zest for life...her efficiency at solving problems, her ability to make everything okay. But the love he evidences now seems deeper, stronger, richer than before. There is an amazing gentleness as he takes care of her basic needs. There is actually even joy...as he fills her feeding tube, bandages her damaged eye, wipes her nose, helps her with a shower on onto the toilet....as he cooks and cleans and does the laundry and changes diapers....as he plans 1-year-old birthday parties and fields phone calls and emails and fills out grocery bags full of insurance forms.
I have been greatly moved in witnessing the mature love that has grown out of this seeming tragedy. The boy has become a man of whom I am very proud, and for whom I am extremely grateful. At an age when many of their peers are still ‘not over’ college, the love that Katherine and Jay bear for each other has ripened to a degree that many marriages never attain.
Shortly after Katherine’s surgery, a friend sent me back a present I had given her years ago. At the time, my friend was going through a very dark period and feeling unlovable. She was acting out of her pain. I gave her a silver locket with a line from a Shakespearean sonnet engraved on it to assure her that I still loved her no matter what. Now I have this locket hanging from the lamp next to my bed in LA. It is a wonderful reminder for me. The quote was taken from Sonnet 116:
Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments; love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove.
O no, it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wand'ring bark,
Whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken.
Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle's compass come,
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom:
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.
Oh yes, there have been impediments...and alterations...and terrible tempests in the lives of this young couple.
The love of which Shakespeare writes is a love that remains constant no matter what “alterations” occur in the beloved or in the relationship. But as appealing as this romanticized ideal of courtly love is, I don’t believe it is really possible to love that way unless we have first received and accepted an even greater love ourselves.
In The Four Loves, Lewis introduces the concept of “need-love.” I think the majority of what passes for love in this world falls into that category. ("I love you because you meet my needs in some way"... "I love you because of the way you make me feel"... "I love you because of what you do for me")
But in coming to a more mature and complete understanding of how totally, unconditionally, and sacrificially we are loved by our Creator (and always have been), we are set free from the bondage of our needs. Only then are we are free to love with abandon, and in doing so, we set others free from our expectations. Human beings simply cannot meet each other's deepest needs.
When we allow ourselves to be filled to the brim with the love of God, that inexhaustible love flows out of us in a steady stream. My son-in-law knows that kind of love. That love gets up at midnight to walk his wife to the bathroom or change a stinky diaper. (The baby's, not hers!) That love finds her more beautiful with a crossed eye and a shaking hand than he did on the day he looked into her gorgeous aqua blues and put a ring on her finger. (Plus, he's still just flat out crazy about her, as she is of him.)
I thank God that my 26-year-old son-in-law is so "rooted and established in love, that he has received the power to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that he may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God." (Eph. 3:17-19) And from that place of fullness, he is able to live out Christ's call to love my daughter selflessly, sacrificially, and unconditionally:
"A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another." (John 13:34)
If Bridget had just known Jesus, it might have lasted.....forever.
"Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her..." (Ephesians 5:25)
Going back to KMB to copy and paste, I realize that I miss some of my readers from those days. Most of them probably just got burned out. But it's weird how many people ask me if I'm still writing, and say they don't know how to get to me anymore. If you know anyone in this category (most likely in my age bracket), please forward them the new address: www.margeryraveson.com. Thanks, Kim