Saturday, August 28, 2010

Unpacked, Falling Asleep, and Grateful

David, Mom and I took a red eye flight from Anchorage to Houston to Tampa last night after spending 10 days exploring Alaska, enjoying the scenery and wildlife and COOLNESS and many great meals.  As ususal, I took bunches of photos - until I inadvertently smashed our camera against a table and bent the lens.   This  sunset view is from our lodge, north of Talkeetna.

We took a flight seeing Mt. McKinley tour with Sheldon Air Service and landed on Eldridge or Etheridge glacier for a few minutes of taking it all in.  A real treat.

Mom and I stopped to examine so many different kinds of lichen and mushrooms whenever we were out walking.  I have no idea what this type is or even if it IS lichen or mushroom...these were like flexible rubber cups.

These guys/gals were really enjoying their lazy afternoon of sunning in Resurrection Bay/Kenai Fjords.

I'll try to post some more photos on the Temple site later.  No sleep last night...must turn in soon.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Multitude Monday: Tasting Joy

holy experience

The overcast morning with periodic sprinkles, spits, and spasms of rain made me reconsider a solitary bike ride to the beach.  While the gray sky and light rain part are perfect for the soul that is drying around the edges and feeling the need for outdoor solitude, the spasms of rain are not only uncomfortable but also downright dangerous to a cyclist on a road where drivers are already often more engrossed with the scenery than the bike lane occupant on their right.  

So instead, after a brief survey of the back yard I grabbed garden gloves and branch cutters, climbed the ladder and tackled the overgrown bougainvillea.  A few minutes of battling physical thorns should provide the space my mind needed to unkink and stretch....and savor gratitude moments, tasting the joy once again :

36.  for the empty, lid-less plastic jar near the front door. signalling much recent bug and lizard catching activity

37.  for the 3 year old suddenly dashing out the front door and who, when questioned, announces "I'm going to let the lizard go so he won't die"....

38.  for the sunset so wide both in color range and height that I had difficulty keeping my eyes facing forward, eastward on the road in front of me, instead of staring in my rear view mirror

39.  for the gift of a morning walk in the park accompanied by sunlight AND a gentle rain

40.  for the 5 year old boy so entranced by the stories and people of The Chronicles of Narnia that he peppers his conversation with character exploits and Narnia trivia questions

41.  for the severely raw throat I garnered as consequence of screaming in rage at my husband of 35 years (I am all for mining the gold of natural consequences - in my life or others)

42. for a reliable, safe, "kiwi green" car to drive 

43.  with effective A/C 

44.  and a bike rack on top

45.  and flexible seating and storage 

46.  and plastic, not carpeted floors, 

47.  for vacuuming out sand from the beach that stuck to small feet

47.  after a morning of play at beach and park

48.  for the playground merry-go-round - an "old-time" treasure 

49.  amidst challenging play structures

50.  and climbing rocks

51.  on a playground shaded by moss-covered oaks

52.  peopled by active day-campers playing capture the flag

53.  and kind middle school girls who don't retreat from the "social strange-ness" of P,

54.  who invite her to conversation and a moment of inclusion.

55.  for sauteed spinach 

56.  and portobello mushrooms

57.  and onions and ham

58.  folded into egg and white omelet 

59.  with swiss and fat-free feta cheese

60.  for a "savor every bite"  sunday morning breakfast

61.  for 4 month old boy who now snuggles up close, wrapping his arms so his hands grip the sides of my chest 

62.  and who stays quietly content wrapped just so, while I sway on the couch or sit on the chair

63.  his eyes open, peacefully gazing at mother and father

64.  or eyelids drooping, heavy with sleep

65.  the coos, chortles, and quiet "conversation" of this same boy with his mother and father

66.  his mimicry of their speech so obvious, so intent

67.  for this repeated miracle lesson about the development of speech

68.  and how we are all formed and shaped by our relationships, within family

69.  for the wonderfully consistent love and provision and nurture my parents gave me

70.  and its doorway to healthy personality and trust in a God who Loves

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Where in the World...? One

Hide and seek is a popular game with our grandchildren.  Reading - or more accurately "studying" Richard Scarry books (or other books illustrated with a great deal of detail that enhance learning about our world) is a past-time loved as much by Isaac and Eli as it was by their dad.  Instead of simply reading the story, the adult reader finds tiny details in the story for the child to search for - like "where's the pickle on this page?" or "who can find someone who is spilling something?"

I thought it might be fun to play another blog game called "Where in the world is Sandy's camera?"  I will post several pictures without telling you where they were taken.  You post a comment with your guess.  If a few guesses come in but they are incorrect, I will give a hint or hints as needed.  

Anyone may guess, but I will require more detailed answers from those who live in the area where the photos are taken.  If we have fun with the game, perhaps I'll try posting the gps coordinates with the answers  so you can find the exact spot on google earth or attach a linky tool for blog readers to post their own photos for us to identify.

I will try to post a variety of photo challenges, with some from other locales and some that have already been identified in this or other blogs.   Ok, here are your first three to guess - #s 1-1, 1-2, 1-3.  Questions are allowed.  Have fun!

Monday, August 2, 2010

Seasons of Service

Elisabeth Elliott's book, "These Strange Ashes", about her first year of missionary service, has stayed with me for many years after I read it.  Elisabeth spent her first term of service living with "an unreached tribe" attempting to codify their spoken language into a written language for purposes of fostering literacy and translation of the Bible into their tongue.  After more than a year of working diligently on the project ALL her language work was irretrievably lost.

I was already familiar with the story Elliott told in her most well-known book, "Through Gates of Splendor" about the murder of her husband, Jim Elliott, and several other men, as they attempted to befriend a remote tribe of people, and her subsequent story of remaining for many years, with her children, to continue to get to know that tribe of people and introduce them to Jesus Christ.

It is not difficult to call the loss of the young husbands and fathers a sacrificial service that resulted in great blessing when one looks through the window provided by the results of her subsequent years of friendship with and service to the tribe.  But "These Strange Ashes" is Elisabeth's reflection on the meaning and purpose of the loss of her entire year of literacy work.   

I can't remember whether a storm or fire or something else destroyed her work, but I do remember that her story and her reflection left me feeling unsettled and dissatisfied.  I wanted life to be explainable if not predictable, and to be able to clearly see and name God's movement and purposes in our lives.

Over the past few years I've spent an inordinate amount of time reflecting on the people, motivations, and results of my four decades of service to God and "the bride of Christ", the church, looking for possible purpose and meaning.  I have been sifting fragile ashes from one hand to the other, examining what remains.  

I began this blog in the middle of that reflective season, and the blog title, "These Three Remain" hints both of my struggle to make meaning of the unknowable and my hope, however faint at that time, that faith, hope, and love are truly cornerstones of life that remain when all else fades away.

So Amber's invitation to reflect on and write about a season of service or influencing people and blessing or benefit that may have come to us through or as a result of that service has really challenged me as I've sifted the ashes of my service through my fingers.  

"Personality assessments" I've taken over the years have made me realize that "influencing others" has been a primary motivation most of my life - it's  a very strong thread in my personality, and it shows itself in my history of church service activities which focused far more on teaching and mentoring than on preparing meals, cleaning homes, or mowing lawns.  I did all those things and more as both a "stay-at-home" and working wife and mother, but I didn't routinely help people outside my family in those ways. 

I grew up in small church, so I was put to work at a young age:  helping with a weekly children's program, and annual summer vacation bible school, teaching a 3rd grade Sunday School class, singing in the choir, leading youth group activities, counseling at summer church camps, teaching sunday school to a wonderful group of middle schoolers while in college, and participating in community evangelistic campaigns.

Later, immersed in a much larger home church, I found myself discipling women on an informal individual and group basis as I continued in the church-structured activities of teaching sunday school (7th grade girls, then later 4 year old children ), teaching the Bible in vacation bible school each summer and writing and leading interdenominational women's bible studies in the community.  

I took an active role in a local women's retreat ministry for about a decade, and though I found myself locked out of the teaching structure of the church (another story for another time) I gave myself to serving in the children's wednesday night program,  singing in the choir, chaperoning field and camping trips, counseling at youth camp, and praying on a very regular basis for my church's leaders, people, and programs.

When I was locked out of the teaching leadership structure after 20 years of teaching, I turned to intercessory prayer (praying for and on behalf of others) as an alternate avenue of "using my life to influence others for God and Truth".  

At first I prayed mostly for my church, on my knees in the tiny prayer room or face down in the sanctuary on weekdays, and tucked away in a less traveled hallway on Sunday mornings.  After awhile, I began meeting regularly with others for the purpose of prayer; sometimes to support interdenominational organizations and efforts in the community, other times to encourage individuals in their prayer life.  

I took to "prayer- walking" not only on my mega church and christian school campus but also in neighborhoods and on busy city streets in my community, often bringing partners along to walk and pray with me for God's blessing for the people, neighborhoods, churches and cities through which we walked.  

For several years when I did not have to work outside the home, I prayed with someone, morning and afternoon, five days a week.  I heartily believed God would intervene in the affairs of men and influence lives as a result of our prayers.

Trying to complete the many "faith assignments" I felt God had for me was usually intuitively and intellectually fulfilling but it was also very challenging emotionally.  At times I risked damage to my reputation or rejection and loss of treasured relationships in order to pursue "the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord" (Phil 3:8).   

For as long as I can remember I have had a major pride problem.  During the years of intense prayer and mentoring activities, I battled pride on a daily basis, asking God to root it out in me, expose it and help me to confess it to others and turn from it.   

So it may be no coincidence that looking back these past few years at the "results" of my decades of service  has seemed more an act of "sifting through ashes" than rejoicing over visible results.   For quite a few months I felt like my decades of service to "the church" had been a colossal mis-use of my time and resources.   

During this season of my life of withdrawal from "church" activities, I have focused on giving simple life-sustaining gifts to my family: preparing many nourishing meals, caring for children, painting and planting, and offering stressed and weary parents moments of respite and a  welcoming home where each person is accepted, respected and loved.  

I've returned with new emphasis to this service that is so very physical and largely restricted to my family mostly because we simply needed it to survive and overcome the challenges we faced, and also because it provided a "quiet" backdrop of work for me to address the unanswered questions, heartache and angst about God and the church which occupied such a large portion of my heart and mind.   

As I have taken up this towel, I've experienced an unexpected new joy and satisfaction in planning and preparing appealing,  wholesome meals as well as surprise that a meal that takes 5 hours or more to prepare will often be dished out and consumed by 8-12  people in less than 15 minutes.  I've experienced a body weariness that clamors for rest long before the day is done, and fed my appetite for learning as I've devoured books and lectures about nutrition, fitness, the brain, and personality development.

In order to serve my family in this way, I've exchanged personal activities and goals I'd looked forward to accomplishing during this "empty nest" season for more cooking and cleaning and childcare.

But I've also tasted recurring delight as I experience anew the wondrous world with and through my grandchildren; reading marvelous books, cooking, baking, working and laughing together; exploring the great outdoors and its many inhabitants in yard, park, and beach; getting messy with mud and paint and glue, playing every ball game imaginable, struggling to communicate with my "special needs" granddaughter, and answering 387 questions a day.

I realize that I've been breaking the commonly taught rules for spiritual health by refusing involvement in the "messy Christianity" within the organized church during these recent years. 

I realize with a clarity I lacked in my younger years just how far I am from loving others as God loves.   

But after 35 years of intensive service to the organized church, investing my energy, gifts and love in that community (and the world through my intercessory prayer and our financial giving),  I am content with this towel and this bowl for now. 

I do not shy from truthful answers or cringe in guilt when I face the questions and responses from extended family and friends about my lack of involement in the organized church.  

For this season, my "family church" has provided more than enough opportunity to practice forgiveness and model imperfection, more than enough pain to stretch my heart, more than enough heartache to keep me on my knees crying out for mercy and grace, and more than enough joy and blessing to keep me lifting my voice in praise to the God who is Love.