Saturday, November 24, 2012

More Roses in November


They may not look like much, but they mean a lot to me!  

Teen cut these from our rose bush last night.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Grateful

Yesterday was Thanksgiving Day.  I had an unusual day, and I'd like to tell you about it.

We had invited seven guests - a man and his two boys, and four singles.  (The invitation process was long and confusing; suffice it to say that I did not know, at any point, how many were invited, much less how many would actually come.)  Two of the seven let us know by Wednesday night that they would not attend.

One guy called us Thanksgiving morning to tell us he couldn't make it.  One girl didn't get back to us at all - we learned she wasn't coming when she didn't show up.  The man with the boys didn't know until early in the afternoon, and he called us two hours before he was to arrive to ask if his cousin could come, as well.  Then, all four of them showed up nearly an hour earlier than expected.

On the surface, this all seems so confusing, and even downright rude.  And I thank God that I've become a more flexible person in the last few months, because my heart was beginning to feel put-upon and used.  Fortunately, I decided to wait and see how it all played out.

The guy who called on Thanksgiving morning is a bright young fellow - the kind of guy whose help you'd want for just about anything.  He's a whiz at computers, and equally eager to help with moving furniture, painting, or being a strong male presence in a hazardous situation.  He couldn't make it because he was called into work.  He's one of those people you call when you're aggravated with a certain appliance.  He's the numbskull you want to chew out when he gives you the answer he's paid to give you, but that you don't want to hear.  In our local depressed economy, a smart, eager young man needs to keep whatever job he can find - even if it's the kind that makes you listen to angry customers on a holiday.

The girl who never got back to us had good reason, too.  She has no phone.  And no car.  She's a teen.  She lives with her dad, who has a terminal illness, and she lost her mother just a few years ago.  She walks everywhere she goes.  She is one of the most dedicated friends you'd ever want to have - always there when you need her.  She's sweet, polite, and hides behind a thick, soft-spoken shell.  We were very sorry when she didn't appear.

The man with the boys is a chef.  A really good one, too.  To make ends meet, he took a job a few years ago at a local college cafeteria.  We've spoken to him a few times in the past weeks (aside from church business) because he has, literally, no food in his home.  His two boys were removed from their mother's partial custody when she was discovered living with them in an abandoned warehouse.  She was arrested for an unrelated matter.  Now he has sudden full custody of two energetic, curious little boys, neither old enough for free public education.  At first he struggled with finding child care.  Unfortunately, the economy being what it is, he is newly jobless.  The cousin he invited is a sweet girl with learning disabilities.  She was sad to be with us, because she had not yet seen her own mother that Thanksgiving day.  Why was he early?  Well, this jobless chef with empty cupboards was serving Thanksgiving dinner at a homeless shelter.  The dinner ended early, so he, his cousin, and his two little boys walked to our house.

When I was young, I couldn't go to church without someone sentimentalizing the idea that you're a missionary regardless of where you live.  The point was always that people need to hear the good news right here in our own back yards, schools, offices, and grocery stores.  I agree with the idea, but I never grasped, then, what I understand today (and what I will try to remember):  true missionaries cross cultural barriers.  And even though I live in the same town, within just a couple miles of each of these people,  our cultures are vastly different.  My cultural expectation is that you will know what you are doing on a holiday, and with whom, and that if I invite you, you will show at the appropriate time, or at least call with an explanation well in advance.  Their culture requires that they do what is needed as it is needed.  And aside from the demands of providing for their families, they give their all to help when they can.  Their culture, which from the outside can seem inferior, puts my petty life to shame.

Made me realize that, far from being the one providing something to the needy on Thanksgiving, I was the recipient of a wonderful blessing.  One I hope to hold onto and live out for a long time.

P.S.  Oh - and my Teen:  As we put away the leftovers, she asked if we could make plates and take them to the bus depot.  I think she gets it.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

A Really Bad Pastor's Wife

..as in the wife (of the pastor) is bad.

Introverts should not be in ministry.  Or married to those in ministry.  Or children or pets of those in ministry.

Sunday morning church was fine, as usual.  I expect an onslaught of huggers and chatterboxes, and I allow for it.  Racing home to prepare dinner for my family and a guest or two has become the new normal, so I'm becoming used to it.  But that is supposed to be the end for me.  After dinner, everyone (except the toddler) is supposed to leave for evangelism ministry for a few hours, then the immediate family members are to return home to spend a quiet, uneventful evening of movie watching and random napping.

Today one guest and one child (teen) stayed after the others left.  That was acceptable; teen and the guest are both introverts, as well.  However, just after the guest left, the rest returned - with ADDITIONAL people.

Listen, folks.  People who are on an evangelism team are extroverts, no matter what they might tell you.  And extroverts are loud, and over-friendly, and sensitive.  If you aren't wildly eager to see them, and hugely interested in listening to the day's exploits, then you don't like them and they need to know what is wrong and how to make it right.

I want want WANT to be hospitable and welcoming.  I desire to be warm and Jesus-like to the masses that find my home a place of refuge and rest.

But I really, deep down in my heart, just want them all to leave.  The unexpected ones, the guests, and sometimes even the extroverted family members.

My cat would agree.  She's new to the family, you see, so everyone wants to ooh and aah and pet the wittow kitty.  But she's allowed to run off and hide under a bed, whereas I am supposed to greet, kiss, and feed everyone.

I confess that I was bad.  I had just begun to clean the kitchen when they arrived, and I continued to do so when I should have been smiling and hugging and serving.  Hot, sudsy water and a loud dishwasher can relax me when these mundane things serve as a wall between myself and those who need me.

I don't regularly read many blogs, but I very much enjoy Jamie the Very Worst Missionary.  She recently wrote about being the Very Worst Pastor's Wife.  I snicker at the things she posts; I often feel the same way.  (If you're one of my friends who is concerned with vulgarity or coarse jesting, then I suggest you skip her blog link.  She's very real, in a way that most of us in ministry can't be.  While I don't go to the mental lengths she does, you'd probably be surprised at how close I come.)  But one big difference is that her heart is always in the right place.  Her answer is the right one.  She surrenders and submits to the Lord in all the places that none of us really want to.

I stay in my kitchen and wash the dishes.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Of High Aspirations

My Teen shocked me the other day.  Her stated goal for herself since she was a young girl is to be a foreign missionary.  Now, I know well that this might change, and that's fine with me, but in the church world, foreign missions is a lofty goal.

For the past year and a half she's attended a charter school targeted for those interested in the health sciences.  She feels that having a medical background will open more missions doors for her.  Plus, there is always the possibility that she will not be a missionary, and the medical field seems to be fairly wide open right now.

But these are not her highest aspirations for herself.  She shared with me, one late night when everyone else were in bed, what that other, loftier, goal is.  She'd love to be a stay at home mom who home schools her children.  She spoke with awe in her voice at the grand design of raising children to be their best, before the Lord and in the world.  She realizes, though, that this is a gift and that she might not be given it, so of course she will prepare for life in the working, serving world.

I was stupefied.  Truly.  She wants my life.  And I, to be honest, don't.

I gave up a job I found very satisfying in order to follow my husband toward his dream vocation.  When I left that job, I knew, like anyone knows anything, that I would not last more than two months as a SAHM.  And here I am, 14 years later, still a SAHM, still reluctant.  And this life I defaulted to because there was nothing better available is now my daughter's dream job.  I laughed in pain at the irony.

I wonder how much better at it I would be if I loved this thing that I do - if I saw it as the perfect achievement of a lifetime of desire, as a gift.  Would I be able to  really cook?  Would my home remain clean for more than ten minutes at a time?  Would my children rise up and call me blessed, instead of grumbling when I remind them that there is another English paper due?

This is not something that I can work up, however.  The desire for it is, I think, a gift, as much as the bestowing of the lifestyle is.  I'm like most people who are stuck in a job that isn't ideal for them, that makes them feel inadequate daily, but is how they get by.  I think, though, that knowing there is a level-headed kid out there who would love to be in my shoes just might make carrying this load a little easier.

*****

Today I chatted with Tween.  Since I was curious, we discussed his dream job.  He has two he can't choose between - the pastorate (DH's field) or a train engineer.  I asked him how he planned to go about fulfilling his dreams.  These are his plans:

If he decides to become a pastor, he will go to college and work toward a higher-level degree.  Meanwhile he will volunteer his services at a church that really needs him so he can get some hands-on experience.

If he decides to be a train engineer, he will go somewhere with an Amtrak station and a sightseeing old-time steam engine line.  He'll go to college just in case there aren't any train jobs available, but if they're hiring, even just for a janitor, then that is where he plans to begin.

When Teen and Tween were little, I used to worry that they'd buy too heavily into the "you can do anything that you want to" mentality.  I was concerned that Teen might want to be a ballerina and Tween an astronaut, and that I'd have to burst their bubbles and help them set more mundane goals.  Looks to me like that concern was misplaced!

Aim low, kids!

Friday, November 25, 2011

November Rose

On Wednesday evening, as we pulled out of our driveway, I noticed that our rose bush had forced out one last bloom.  Unusual.  Our roses usually bloom in June and again in August, but this was the end of November - yet there it was, proud banner at the very top of the otherwise-dormant bush, looking bright and fragrant and summer-y.  I asked for a volunteer to cut it and bring it in from the impending frost, but no one was willing, so when we got home I cut it for myself, placing it in a bud vase by the kitchen sink.

Every Thanksgiving, my husband invites people to our home for dinner.  There are plenty of lonely people around here.  Even though our home is uninvitingly small and I am a poor cook at best, Thanksgiving is all about togetherness, and no one should spend the day alone.  Typical of those without plans, most of them don't let us know if they will come until just before the meal is served.  I am not usually familiar with the people who are invited, and sometimes meet them for the first time when they arrive at my house.

Being a poor cook, I used to be quite sensitive about having people over.  It's hard to prepare foods for special events when there is no hope of the food being special.  However, over the years I've become pretty good at a few dishes:  turkey, gravy, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, and homemade rolls. While I will never make a Thanksgiving Feast cookbook, my versions are passable and sometimes, by chance, tasty.

This year, however, the potatoes were a problem.  First of all I forgot to buy them.  When I realized on Wednesday evening that I didn't have them, I considered skipping them altogether, but they are a favorite with Teen, so off to the crowded supermarket I went (which is when I spied the rose).  On our return home, I scrubbed, cubed, and boiled them.  Something wasn't right, though.  Some of the potato cubes were overdone, while others seemed undercooked.  I drained and mashed them anyway, but the result was a starchy, lumpy concoction that even I was embarrassed to claim.  I decided it was too late to change plans, though, and on Thursday I put them into the oven with the rest of the food to warm.  To add to my embarrassment, the top and sides ended up a bit crusty.  Ah, well.  No one really expects gourmet meals from me, and there would be plenty of gravy.

All of our guests called with regrets, but at the last minute one man, David, decided to come.  My husband introduced us, then Teen and I set the food on the table and we all sat down to the meal.  After a prayer of thanks, I served as we made small talk.  Everything was going well until I began to serve those potatoes. I mentioned that they'd been a bit of a problem to make.  My husband said, "Oh!  Well, David can help you with that.  He's a chef!"

Gulp.

A chef.

At my table.

On Thanksgiving.

And I'm a terrible cook.

And I've ruined the simplest dish on the table.

I heaped everyone's plates Thanksgiving-full, but went very light on the potatoes.  I didn't want the added embarrassment of having six plates full of potatoes to scrape into the garbage.  Gravy, butter, salt, and pepper were passed, and we began to eat.  The usual compliments were passed, as well: turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes, and rolls all were duly noted.

Then it started.  "These potatoes are delicious!!"  "Amazing!"  "Wonderful!"  Everyone ate their potatoes.  Most asked for more...and more.  The chef had three helpings, all the while extolling the virtues of the incredible potatoes.

Figures.  The one thing I cook fantastically well is not only an accident, it's also not reproducible!  Still, it felt good to have cooked something that everyone genuinely liked.

We enjoyed the rest of the day, sharing family stories, playing Wii, and discussing Scripture.  The table was cleared and our guest left after a very pleasant time together.

Reflecting on the meal and fellowship as I washed dishes, I sniffed my unlikely rose and called it a good day.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

More on Me 'N' Solomon

One the Bible's great mysteries is Solomon's downfall.  God gave him wisdom - more wisdom than anyone who'd ever walked the earth, before or since.  And Solomon walked away from God.

I know that's a gross oversimplification.  After all, he lived a life between being granted that gift and the end of his days.  As the king of a powerful nation, I'm confident that his life must have been full of more stress and trial than I'll ever imagine.

Still, I wonder.  What was the problem?  He had money, prestige, and power.  And he used it to obtain lands, wives, wealth, and, ultimately, other beliefs.

He had an amazing father.  King David was no spiritual slouch.  He was exuberant for the Lord.  His praise was lively.  His repentance was deep.  His reliance on God was exemplary.  And the more I think about it, the more I wonder if this was part of Solomon's problem.

My husband's faith is exuberant, lively, deep, exemplary.  He makes no bones about loving his Lord.  Most of the time it's beautiful and outstanding and worthy of emulation.  It can also be perplexing, dismaying, and even embarrassing.  I'm sure some in David's day found him the same, though I'm certain that few had the platform to say so.  Naturally, the Bible would not report such near-blasphemous thoughts.

If David were alive today, would he sit in his car, in his own driveway, blasting the worship music and weeping?  Would he jump and kick before the podium while strumming his lyre?  Would his amplified voice crack with emotion as he pronounces words of redemption?  Would he shake hands with strangers and look deeply into their souls as he shares his savior with them?  Would others' discomfort in these situations even admit itself to his perception?

Men of great passion are hard to live with on a daily basis, particularly for the cerebral.  Those of us who are also spiritual face an internal dissonance.  The man of passion lives all the external ideals of the faith. To disdain his passion is to seem to disdain his faith, as well.  The dissonance must be even greater for an adult child than it is for a wife.

There are few choices in such a situation.  To embrace the passion is to slap one's own intellect in the face.  Living alongside it, without participating, causes the dissonance to crescendo to an unavoidable din.  Outright rejection, the option that perhaps Solomon eventually chose, is unacceptable, at least to the faithful.

There is another option, one that doesn't particularly appeal to me as an all-or-nothing kind of person.  And that is to step in slowly, toe first, as if timidly entering a pool.  A sprinkle baptism of sorts, if you will, with the intention of becoming a dunk...eventually.  The hard part is that it must be intentional.  Rather than waiting for the Holy Spirit to come and shove me into the tank, I've got to bare my own sole and begin the ponderous plunge myself.

If I maintain my gradual immersion, perhaps my kids, who are  guided by my actions far more than by my words, will find their balance better than Solomon did.

***

Some of my earlier thoughts on Solomon.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Picking at Scabs

Why do we do this? When we were kids, we'd peek under the band-aid until it fell off, then pry up the edge of the crusted blood. It hurt hurt hurt, but for some reason we just had to look.

I was on Facebook today, and decided to look over the list of folks Facebook thought would be good friends for me. I was very surprised to see the name of a person with whom we'd had a significant disagreement this past summer. It wasn't your normal relationship thing, either. There were very serious allegations involved, and the outcome was the splitting of a beautiful group of people and a lot of very hurtful finger-pointing.

So did I scroll past the suggestion? Did I close the page? Did I shut down my browser and find something else to do? Of course not. I clicked on the name.

Despite only recently joining Facebook, this person had hundreds of friends. Of the top few, several were former friends of ours who'd judged us, harshly, based on accusations that were fabricated to sway opinion. These former friends never even sought our side of the story - just cut us off.

This person had also set up a brand spankin' new website for the group that had so painfully been split. Naturally, pathetically, I followed the link to view the site. It was very welcoming. It warmly invited all who were interested to join (except those of us who'd been asked to leave, but of course that was not mentioned).

Ouch.

What happens when we pick at scabs? Well, our curiosity is sated. At what cost? Pain. Prolonged time for recovery. And, if we're not careful, infection. The wound now requires more time and attention to heal properly, and is more likely to leave a lasting scar.

Of course I realize that there is no way this wound was going to heal completely to begin with. The laceration was jagged, rough and deep. Those who would have offered aid and relief were the ones who caused the injury. And infection set in very quickly. (Should I admit that I derived a very tiny amount of pleasure from the grammar and spelling errors I saw on the website? Probably not.)

But there was no good reason for me to entertain my curiosity this way. I might just as well have poured salt right into that gaping gash. And not the good, "salt of the earth" kind of salt, either.

So why do we do this? I have no answer. I'd love to be able to say it filled my heart with forgiveness and love toward the people who hurt us. I'd love to say that I wished them well with their new group and rejoiced that they seem to be off to a good start. I'd love to, but I'd be lying.

Time for a fresh band-aid. Maybe some antibiotic ointment - I'll find it in prayer. And maybe my Father will hold me again, despite my foolish picking, and reassure me that it will be all right.