Monday, January 31, 2011

Love is patient. Love is kind.

Yesterday I stayed with my dad while my sister took my mom out for a fun break. We watched men’s figure skating championships, and although Dad announced he might nap, I was delighted he stayed awake and engaged the whole two hours. By engaged, I mean this:

During Jeremy Abbott’s first number, Dad exclaimed, “You know, when he jumps, I can’t tell how many times he goes around.” I answered, “Yeah, he spun so fast, didn’t he? Our only clue is if the announcer says it’s a triple axel or something.” He looked a bit puzzled, so I added, “Then we’d know it was three spins.” He nodded.

During Ryan Bradley’s first number, Dad exclaimed, “I just can’t count how many times he spins in the air.” I answered, “They really twirl so fast, it’s hard to count, isn’t it?” He nodded.

Richard Dornbush’s number elicited Dad’s now-familiar, “I just can’t tell how many times he spins in the air” and my now-standard response.

On this interaction went, punctuated by a few wows and did-you-see-thats, through the first round. When the second round began and Abbott was once again airborne, Dad continued his commentary mixed with awe and frustration. The same for Bradley’s, Dornbush’s, and the others’ second performances. I continued affirming the skaters’ dizzying speed, occasionally noting that the skater had referred to a “quad” in an interview, so he must have spun four times. Imagine that! Dad smiled and shook his head in awe.

Patience with my dad was abundant and natural because I know Alzheimer’s renders him incapable of more, and I was so delighted to be sharing this experience with him—on any level. I regret to admit I do not exhibit equal patience when my husband mentions three weeks in a row [let’s see, would that be a triple? :-)] he will check the windshield washer fluid in my car. I also wish I didn’t have to admit how much more patience my husband has with me when I perform a triple—promising three weeks (only with mending, it’s probably more like three months) in a row to sew a button on his shirt.

And then, there’s God’s patience with me, too. Yesterday in church during one worship song, I thrust both hands chandelier-ward (where apparently God resides during services) and belted out lyrics gushing my surrender of all that I am and all that I have to my Lord—who knows, in fact, all I’m holding back from surrendering. He loves my wanting to surrender all, even though He knows I’m not capable of even understanding that right now, let alone doing it.

I need to remember God is molding everyone’s clay just as He desires. As God pulls someone out of His kiln and paints on glaze, I might not need quite as much patience because s/he can already function as a teapot whose spout has been tested or as a graceful vase that doesn’t leak. But with people still wobbling on God’s spinning pottery wheel, I need to be patient with wet-clay slip that flies off and slaps me as they spin. I see today how slip-spattered God’s cheeks are with what’s flying off me as I spin on His wheel. Strong divine fingers that firm up my clay are bumpy with sloppy gray blobs of my broken promises, weak resolutions, selfish acts, and God’s quadruple axels unfathomably fast for my eyes. Yet He is patient with my limitations. And He is kind to me—way more tender than I deserve. And He delights that I want to share His life as I am able.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The King's Speech

The King’s Speech, nominated for a number of film awards, tells the true shame-to-fame story of King George VI of England, who overcame a debilitating stammer to powerfully, verbally, stir his country to stand up to the encroaching evil of Nazism. How did King George overcome the humiliation that had kept him cowering in the background most of his life? He submitted to unorthodox techniques of an unorthodox speech coach. Granted, he was desperate—other speech therapists hadn’t worked and he was suddenly thrust into the limelight by family circumstances. He had to do something, so he tried the new guy. As the movie unfolds, we see how difficult the process was. Submitting was difficult. Exercising was difficult. Believing the exercises might help was difficult. Confronting his impediment’s emotional roots was difficult. Practicing was difficult. Making public speeches was absolutely terrifying. He had to wonder if the pain of this retraining process wasn’t worse than the pain of his humiliating stammer.

This week, two friends challenged me to discover what keeps me cowering in the background instead of boldly pursuing success in one of my cherished goals. I’m asking God about this and awaiting His answer. But in the meantime, I see myself in the beginning stages of King George’s process—admitting old lies, submitting to new truth, exercising, and practicing. I can picture sunlit cerulean sky above the mountaintop that I believe God wants me to jump from, trusting Him to fly me atop His wings to wherever He deems success is. But below on the hillside, I see myself stuck in a bush, ankles tangled in vines, preventing me from walking freely up to that breathtaking precipice. Today one friend suggested that perhaps God has already loosened the vines around my ankles and I’m willfully lingering in the safety of the bush. Ouch. I admit the bush’s leafy branches have shaped themselves into a comfy chair and if I don’t flex my legs, the thorns in the vines don’t hurt too much. What’s this trickle of blood on my shins? Am I going to tuck up my legs again, or step out?

The King’s Speech reminds me of my ancestor Moses. His fourth expression of fear about undertaking the task the Lord had called him to was this: “Oh Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue.” [Exodus 4:10] His fifth was asking God to send someone else to deliver God’s people from slavery to the Egyptians. Moses knew the goal was beyond him; he submitted to the Lord’s request by trusting God to use him, to guide him, and to help him. The exodus story unfolds in ways Moses could not predict. He jumped; God caught him and carried him to His goal, in His way, in His timing. I need to do the same. My thundering heart squeezes the breath from my lungs even as I write this.  

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Water from Rocks

This morning Psalm 78 reminded me of God's power. Verses 15 and 16, remembering the Israelites' exodus from slavery in Egypt to freedom in the promised land, are: He split the rocks in the desert and gave them water as abundant as the seas; he brought streams out of a rocky crag and made water flow down like rivers. 

First observation: For His chosen people, He didn't just produce a stingy trickle or a puny, stagnant, puddly oasis in the desert. Think tumbling waterfalls. Think babbling brooks. Think swirling streams. God provided generously, lavishly. Think how much compassion He must have had for the thirst of His people.

Second observation: I have relationships and goals that feel very rocklike. People I long to be able to connect hearts with who remain stone statues after years of my prayers to God to soften their hearts. Dreams I need God's help to realize, but doors remain solidly shut. I can have faith that God's mercy for my thirst is generous. Someday I hope to get splashed by some major waterfalls, but in the meantime, I have the promise of God's faithful compassion and provision.

How about you? Any rocks you'd like to see split open?

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Late Night Television

The other night I couldn’t sleep, so I wandered into the TV room for an hour or two. What I saw was noteworthy—more than interesting simply because I don’t normally see these things.

Jimmy Fallon’s guest was Paul McCartney. I don’t remember ever seeing Paul McCartney just chatting. I liked his story about taking a bus in New York City. Most other bus riders that day privately, silently twittered (and probably Tweeted) upon recognizing their famous fellow passenger. But one lady called out, “Hey, aren’t you Paul McCartney?” He answered yes. “What’re you doing on a bus?” He said, “I’m going to the north side, just like you. Now why don’t you come sit next to me and we’ll talk?” And she did. And they chatted all the way to the north side.

Upon Fallon’s mentioning the anniversary of John Lennon’s murder, McCartney expressed gratefulness to have spoken of babies and bread-making with his friend before his death. That they had spoken about such simple stuff of life was evidence to him that they had reconciled their differences. McCartney treasures this memory.

And then Fallon and McCartney together sang a “Scrambled Eggs” version of “Yesterday.” I enjoyed seeing Jimmy Fallon’s giddiness at the whole thing—the silly lyrics and as well as the pinch-me-I’m-singing-with-Paul-McCartney reality.

The same night on Oprah, her audience was her staff. She showed behind-the-scenes drama in producing some Oprah episodes, and she praised staff members by name for their sacrifices, inventive ideas, tact, perseverance, skill, loyalty. Viewing this was a most uplifting exercise for me, and I loved that Oprah promised that in her new OWN network’s programming, she will only build people up, never tear them down.

Channel-surfing that night introduced me to someone new, too—Gustavo Dudamel. On a Great Performances show, this wild-haired, animated, smiling man conducted the LA Philharmonic in rousing Latin-flavored pieces. Screen captions gave only song titles, not the name of this goofy guy having so much fun zigzagging a conductor’s baton through the air. Oddly, when I switched channels to the Tavis Smiley show, he and Quincy Jones asked a penetrating question: “What price have we paid as a society to squeeze music education out of our schools?” They talked about one solution, El Sistema, the brilliant vision of Gustavo Dudamel, energetic music director of the LA Philharmonic. Switching back to Great Performances, I was just in time to see conductor Gustavo Dudamel’s name roll through the credits.