Sunday, July 25, 2010

Did you see that?

Proverbs 27:17 (New International Version)

     17 As iron sharpens iron,
          so one man sharpens another.

Why do I do what I do?

Live the way I live?

Don’t do what I don’t do?

I can do anything I want. I have no one beside me or behind me or before me to make me do anything.

Except for God.

And that’s a big deal.

I do what I do to be pleasing to Him who has given me peace in the storm, provision in the lack, laughter in the sorrow, fullness in the aloneness.

I live the way I live to enjoy the presence of Him who shares with me laughter, sunshine, flowers, stars, friendships, affection.

I don’t do some things that might make me crass, harsh, bitter, foolish.

I do some things out of habit, out of need, out of obedience.

At the very bottom under it all, I really don’t care what others think.

It may appear that my actions are intended to win someone’s approval, someone’s attention, someone’s respect.

That is only partially true. I do want approval, attention, respect – just like every other human being walking on the earth.

But ultimately?

I want the approval, attention and respect of my God.

I think if I can live right before Him, everyone else’s opinion falls into place.

However, I have also gotten to an age where I realize that there are others watching, always.

They want to see how to develop this relationship with God that has grown natural to me. They need to learn how to depend upon Someone to get them through the bad times. They need to figure out what’s okay and what’s not good in cultivating this relationship with God.

They are my children, grandchildren, peers, co-workers, colleagues, associates. Some are new believers. Some have always been a part of a church community.

So I cajole, challenge, question, example and remain mindful that I am never truly independent of the world.

I try to be sensitive to them, to hear how they are really living. To listen to their needs when they are not talking.

It’s hard for me to remember I’m a grown up, a leader. My age and season of life makes me so. I have walked this path for more than 20 years through many, many dark days; have seen incredibly deep blessings; have watched God do amazing miracles. I have crossed some bridges.

When I look in the mirror, I see someone who struggles with faith and purpose and intangible questions. I see my failures and inabilities and the futility of my efforts. I hope no one else is watching my stumbling about.

Two songs from the early years play softly in the background of my life. They seem to define the ambiguity within me.

I’m Not Perfect, Just Forgiven
Author Unknown

     I’m not perfect, just forgiven.
     Haven’t yet arrived! But I’m on my way!
     Since Jesus found me and forgave me.
     Can’t say I’m perfect.
     But I can say I’m saved!”

Oh, I Want to See Him
R. H. Cornelius, 1916

     As I journey through this land, singing as I go.
     Pointing souls to Calvary, to the crimson flow.
     Many arrows pierce my soul from without within
     But my Lord goes ahead through Him I must win!

     Oh! I want to see Him!
     Look up on his face
     On the streets of glory
     Let me life my voice
     Cares all past, home at last
     Ever to rejoice!

I am not perfect, but I have managed to keep walking with Him. I can’t be afraid to share my experience. It’s ok to let the walls down.

I am bound to see Him, face-to-face someday. My Jesus, my Lord, my God.

That is why I do what I do, don’t do what I don’t do and live the way I live.

Monday, July 12, 2010

From the Inside Out

Picture a piece of burlap. Strong. Tightly woven. Complete.

Now picture that same fabric torn, not cut, into five pieces. The ends frayed and torn. Two of them more together than apart, but none of them completely connected any more.

That’s what my family is like.

Two young people in love and ready to conquer the world and beat the odds were overtaken by life’s demands. Push pulled and they were strewn asunder. Not cut with neat edges. Torn. Raggedly. With strands flaying and seeking wholeness.

And yet, one strand, invisible to the outside, still connects those lives. It’s like a band of steel that could not be torn, cannot be broken. It can be ignored or pushed aside, but it remains. Intact. Unchanging.

I have been corrected for using the term “my real family” as though my foster family was my real family and my biological family was something else. I understood the correcter’s point of view, but I am not completely sure they understood mine.

I’ve also been told that I mourned the loss of someone from my real family when my family was torn apart; therefore, I had no cause for sadness when he died. That wasn’t true, either. The speaker didn’t see the thread that would not break. The speaker did not understand the insurmountable strength of that connection.

If you have never been in foster care, I don’t know if you could.

This reflection is meant to express some of that.

From the outside in, we aren’t a close family at all. Rarely are we all in the same space. Few pictures exist of all of us together. Two of us or three of us, now no more than four of us, gather from time to time. Our memories are stilted, disjointed.

Being together takes effort. We make the effort because we enjoy each other, we get something from each other, we understand each other. We are okay apart, but much better together.

My parents met in their early 20s. Married soon after they met. Began a family.

But unemployment, sickness, exhaustion, alcohol, women, little family support took a quick toll. Five years and three kids later, they divorced. Bitterly.

For reasons unknown, really, and disremembered by the players, my parents placed their kids in foster care. For more reasons unknown and disremembered, my brother and sister stayed together with my dad’s mother and I went to family friends.

But I knew they were there. And they knew I was here. We just weren’t often in the same here or there.

My parents went on to other relationships, other lives; but never really another family. My mom’s relationship lasted the longest at almost 40 years as of today. My brother and sister grew up together sharing friends and landscape and experiences.

My foster family sewed up most of my frayed edges. They surrounded me with good things and were my family in many respects. I love them and am grateful for them.

Yet, there was that one string, the one connection, that one feeling that someone I belonged to was not with me.

Our fabric was torn, but we were still oddly connected.

We are all so much older now.

I’m a grandmother, for crying out loud. Our father is gone. We live in different cities with different friends and different lives. We try to get together for Christmas. We call on birthdays, at least. The women, my mom and sister and I, talk pretty frequently, actually. We all work hard to keep the lines of communication open.

From the outside in, we don’t appear very close for a family.

I have no idea what my niece and nephew are involved in. I have to keep asking my brother, “what grade are they in? How old are they?” Other aunts know those things. It goes the other way, too. My brother chats on occasion with his nephews, but has no real clue what makes them sad or happy or angry.

Don’t mistake our distance for indifference. It’s not because we don’t care. It’s just how it is.

My sons are in two different parts of the state living two different lifestyles. One, a family man working hard, going to school, living small-town life. The other, a single, city-man, a barista, a musician responsible only for his own needs.

But let a tragedy come along. Let someone have a crisis. That invisible thread starts to tug. Regardless of financial situations. Regardless of other responsibilities. Regardless of other commitments.

The tie that binds starts to pull taut and the world stops.

Like now. Today. I should be at work and my German ethic is battling with this family need. My sister is on vacation and should be planting her garden. My brother wants to be busy about his own life.  My son wants to be elsewhere doing something.

Mom needs us. Here we are.

My son, the family man, struggles with this. He wants to be here. But he can’t. His responsibilities are not shared enough and he can’t make a four-hour trip. I assure him it’s fine. He can wait until we need him and can’t do without.

There’s nothing we can do. My mom’s heart is breaking and the doctor’s keep saying there is hope for this, but not for that. All we can do is watch as silently as the man who has controlled her life for 40 years slowly ebbs away. We know he hates being where his and we wish we could let him go to the next life.

And so we wait.

Dancing around our responsibilities and our need to simply be together as life and death totter at the edge of today’s stage.

But we wait together.

Even if we try to go on about our lives – the thread keeps tugging. Our minds, our hearts, our attention is centered on one another.

We’re a family. Not like yours, perhaps, or any other. Together we are stronger, more complete.

The burlap is frayed, but only needs to be placed near the other torn pieces momentarily to find the right place, to connect, to become whole.

That’s my family from the inside out.