Thursday, July 16, 2015

Sunday’s message by Thursday

I am still struggling with blogging. I had hoped to approach Sunday’s message by Thursday with more confidence, but I’m not quite there yet. I’ve decided to look at an earlier message today, rather than last Sunday’s because I so enjoyed the book A Practical Guide to Prayer, by Dorothy Haskins and I wanted to make some notes before my fading memory caused my notes to turn from lovely salient points to gibberish.
Any way, here goes:

Today’s post concerns May 31st message. Pastor Stephen spoke on Philippians 3:12-4:1  and titled his message, “Planned Neglect” after a statement in Dorothy Haskin’s book, A Practical Guide to Prayer.
This passage opens with Paul speaking to the Philippians about spiritual maturity. 12 Not that I have already reached the goal or am already fully mature, but I make every effort to take hold of it because I also have been taken hold of by Christ Jesus. 13 Brothers, I do not consider myself to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and reaching forward to what is ahead, 14 I pursue as my goal the prize promised by God’s heavenly call in Christ Jesus.
Out pastor pointed out that looking behind rather than ahead causes us to dwell in the past. He compared the time-line of all eternity to a tiny little piece of our earthly lives. He elaborated that facing backwards is the enemy of Christ. It places our focus on earthly appetites. He went on to say that facing backwards is the opposite of spiritual maturity. Facing forwards shows our spiritual focus. He directed us to Hebrews 12:1-2.
What lives still for me in this message was the notion of planned neglect mentioned in Dorothy Haskin’s book. She says to neglect everything until devotion to the Lord is satisfied. She makes the case that all else is trifling compared to time with God.
In a similar way to Paul, Haskin’s is saying to choose wisely what you do, how you spend that portion of time here on earth.
In the language of care giving, a bit of panned neglect until devotion is satisfied, has eased me from worry about not getting enough done in a day to tending time with God.
This morning I read in Ecclesiastes 2 how meaningless and fleeting are our appetites when set against the wonder and mystery of God. It echoes a passage in Isaiah 40:7-8 which ends with the word of our God remains forever.
Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Care Givers and Living Heart Doners

So, I’m trying to enter the blogoshere’s melee, but I’m have trouble with intros, first lines and first paragraphs. Fancy that, a writer wanting to have a great opening line.

Maybe I’ll just snitch my writing friend’s soon to be opener, “that was before we knew my grandmother shouldn’t drive.”

Actually, the line does work here because the protagonist in my current work, hopefully out the fall, ultimately cares for a two older women that shouldn’t drive.

Several years ago, actually, (gulp) roughly seven years ago, my mother had her second series of mini strokes and I began a complaint to God. I’m not proud of my complaint, because I truly breathe rarified air and I thank God every day for the privileges I enjoy, but I am no care giver. I frequently refer to myself with a line from the movie, Sabrina, as ‘the only living heart donor.’ In any event God called me into a sea of doubt and fear in tending people I dearly loved that formerly tended me.

Every step I took, disturbed me and I finally decided the only way I could show my love was to bring a little cheer. Distracted and daunted, I armed myself with small treasures, my first roses of the year, a goofy poem, an anecdote meant to delight, or the latest of my seemingly endless embarrassments. I would stay for twenty to forty minutes and quickly run out of material necessitating running from the house that had been my home decades earlier. I tried to visit daily, but four or five times a week became the norm, after my father hired a service to tend to Momma’s specific needs.

I learned how to clean and change a bed ridden person and thankfully only had to help with this a handful of times, and I learned that managing care-giver services especially competing women in the same household required a lot of looking the other way.

After the strokes, my mother couldn’t speak and my father was miserable. If it weren’t for my mother’s housekeeper’s constant encouragement and superb skill with both my parents, I would have given up, but she wouldn’t let me and some of the care-givers were driving her over the edge. This was when I began to wonder about the actual ministry of care – what it meant to be a care-giver. Whatever it was, it seemed forever out of my reach.

I began writing Gabby Care partially as a way to examine this and partially because I almost knew something about it. Unfortunately, most of what I truly know is frustration at how we care for the elderly in our country, and how we’ve turned a ministry into a business. Don’t get me wrong, I have no solution. I’m too stuck in the box, but I know the Church has work to do in this area.

Countless times deacons from our congregation and friends brought food or cheer or just stopped by to wave. Half the times, I could see there lips move in prayer as they left the house. As I write this, once again, I thank God for these good people. Their ministry brought light and life to a dying house.

One particular incident comes back to me. It wasn’t the first visit our retired pastor made, nor the last but I was present for its entirety.  He wheeled his little red truck into the driveway after Momma died. He was there to visit my father. The vehicle was fitted with a wheelchair crane. He engaged the wench and maneuvered himself into the chair and up our walkway. He stayed with Dad for fifteen minutes. They spoke a few words shared some silence and enjoyed a memory. The pastor ended with a prayer. It was such a simple act, but hard won and filled with mercy and love.

In the aftermath of that visit, Dad smiled. He seemed himself once again and at peace.

For those struggling with aging loved ones what have you learned? What are your frustrations?

Thanks for reading.

Monday, July 13, 2015

The Buffalo Soldier, Chris Bohjalian
Image result for Buffalo Soldier bookChris Bohjalian’s, The Buffalo Soldier opens with the death of twin girls at the hands of a flooded Vermont river. The book also ends with a flood which provides a frame to the novel The dramatic opening thankfully distances the reader by using an omniscient voice.
Two years after the flood the parents of the girls, Terry and Laura Sheldon, agree to foster parent  a young black boy. Terry and Laura’s neighbors, Emily and Paul Hebert, give the boy a book on Buffalo Soldiers that follows the life of Sergeant George Rowe and his native American wife, Veronica. Bohjalain briefly sketches the story of Sergeant Rowe as a Buffalo Soldier by using quotes from interviews, newspaper articles and other historical research, as a short preface to each chapter.

The story’s conflict centers around Laura’s and Terry’s different struggles with grief while also adjusting to having the wary youngster, Alfred, in the house who is subtly ostracized for his race in the small rural community.

The catalyst for character growth comes from the Heberts. In their seventies at the time of the novel, they decide to acquire a horse. Mesa, a docile Morgan mare, comes home with the Heberts and Alfred takes care of her likening himself to Sergeant Rowe.

Alfred speaks about need early in the book. “She was being needy again. Needy, he knew, was a hard place to be and he had always avoided it at all costs.” And though he clearly tries to avoid being needy, his needs for a home, family relationships, and a purpose shine through his words. The Heberts, Sheldons and Mesa fulfill those demands in stages throughout the novel and Alfred strives to be like his hero, George Rowe.

I enjoyed the depth provided, by the ancillary tale of Sergeant Rowe. I also enjoyed the heroic ending in a way that I enjoy many fantasy novels where a young man acts bravely to save lives.

At times slow, the book unfolds in six points of view claiming different chapters, each of the Sheldon’s, Pheobe's (the extra-marital love interest's), Alfred’s and the Herberts which are actually dips into Paul’s or Emily’s thoughts.
I mostly enjoyed the Heberts and Alfred, finding the Sheldon’s points of view slower and less compelling.

In his grief Terry cheats on his wife, and I found his justifications over-worked and inconsistent with the original character as if the plot were forced on the wrong man. This is a minor complaint.

Usually, I am not fond of stories where a main character is a preteen, the exception being fantasy fiction, but Bohjalian handles Alfred’s character well. I followed the youngster’s story without too much grumbling. I’m certain some will say he has no right to be in the head of an orphaned black boy, but I enjoyed the character and felt that the author met common ground for all humans.

I read another complaint based on the false tidiness of the ending. I didn’t read the book in the same way. Terry’s extra-marital affair is heart-breaking throughout, and couldn’t have a clean finish. Just because a character exits the stage doesn’t mean she exits our thoughts. In my mind, Bohjalian assures the reader of ensuing complications without continuing the story, relying, instead and the two floods to begin and end the book.

This is the first of Bohjalian’s books I’ve read and I would like to read another. It is a strong story that holds together. My complaints are small. I give this book three stars, because it was a good read, but not a book I will return to.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

I woke up this morning with an old hymn ringing in my head: the Rhea Miller/George Beverly Shea song, I’d rather Have Jesus – specifically the chorus: Than to be the king of a vast domain, And be held in sin's dread sway, I'd rather have Jesus than anything, This world affords today.

I’d rather have Jesus, I thought, Him, Savior, I would, Lord help me remember in the midst of sin’s dread sway. Were you singing over me, Heavenly Father? Why would You sing over me a poor sinner?

In Zephaniah 3:17, God rejoices over us: The Lord, your God, is in your midst, a warrior who gives victory; he will rejoice over you with gladness, he will renew you in his love; he will exult over you with loud singing (NRSV). In Psalm 116:2 He turns His ear to me – Because He has turned His ear to me, I will call out to Him as long as I live, but really all of Psalm 116.  One more Psalm tells me that God bends low: Psalm 113:5-6, Who is like Yahweh our God— the One enthroned on high, who stoops down to look on the heavens and the earth?

My troubles are small. I tell people I breathe rarified air. I am a Christian wife mother and Commissioned Lay Pastor, a farmer, writer and occasional gardener and seamstress. Roughly twelve years ago, this current incarnation of me-ness, was interrupted. My mother had a series of small strokes. One morning towards the beginning of her slow death, she came to my old, shabby farm house in her heels, house and jewelry, a runner tracing one shapely calf as she stepped from her gorgeous Mercedes-Benz.

My mother was seldom vulnerable. She had Polio as a child and after five children and growing up the daughter of a Nazarene minister who gave her Christ in her heart, but awkwardness in this world, she had a strong, if lovely, shell. On that crisp morning, autumn full in the air, Momma was struggling. She told me she was glad to find me and asked if I could make her something to eat. I had nothing that would suit, but I set about with what I had. At a cluttered table in a dirty home (two things she couldn’t tolerate) we shared buttered toast with apricot jam, strawberries, and tea with heavy cream.

I was embarrassed for the state of my house, for my failures, for my sins, but she looked at me, her soft worn hand over mine. “This is perfect,” she whispered. “I don’t believe I’ve tasted anything so good.”

The idea that God bends low over our shabby houses, our sin filled worlds, our worn tired shells, filled me when Momma spoke. It wasn’t that she represented God, only that she, my mother who had often bent low over me as a child, bent once again and allowed me to serve her. In her words it was perfect, it was completely sufficient to the task, not too much, nor too little. The sins, the house, the failures were all forgiven, unnoticed, wiped clean in a moment of grace among humans.

Psalm 116:5-9 says:
The Lord is gracious and righteous;
our God is compassionate.
The Lord guards the inexperienced;
I was helpless, and He saved me.
Return to your rest, my soul,
for the Lord has been good to you.
For You, Lord, rescued me from death,
my eyes from tears,
my feet from stumbling.
I will walk before the Lord
in the land of the living.

Thank You Father.