Saturday, December 31, 2011

Through a Glass, Darkly

Two a.m. Searing pain in my right eye. Suddenly awake, I stagger to the bathroom mirror to see if a sword has pierced my head. Can’t see one, but then in the dark and only able to open my left eye, I can’t see much. After performing my usual migraine-mitigation routine, I return to my soft pillow with dim hope of sleep.

Eight a.m. Smoke stings my nostrils and still-aching eyes. Stumbling to the window, I see a dense lint-gray cloud lazily tumbling low to the ground from a mound of raked leaves. My husband can’t smell smoke but he turns on fans to try to suck it out of the house so my headache doesn’t worsen.

Ten a.m. Smoke hangs in the house. In our neighborhood, though smoke is no longer visible, its acrid odor is heavy in the air. I can’t breathe; I have to leave. I drive halfway across town, get out of my car, and am still surrounded by the smell. Mysterious Migraine Monster has mercifully removed sword from eye, but has now placed anvil on head. I drive to the far end of town—yup, smoky there, too—to have my glasses adjusted, which helps a little. Now, although every other inch of my face hurts, the bridge of my nose doesn’t. I ask the vision tech what’s up with the heavy smoke smell all across town. He shrugs.

Eleven a.m. All I want to do is go home and sleep and cancel my lunch date with a friend. But with a smoke-permeated house (and town), I can’t go home. I thank God for this empathic reminder to pray for two friends who currently face true homelessness. We are all homeless without God’s presence. My problem is so small. I have to get away from the smoke; I may as well drive south and muddle through lunch. Too early for lunch, I take refuge in Barnes & Noble. First stop: restroom. My pinched visage squints back at me through a hazy mirror. Are the bows of my glasses vise-gripping my temples so hard, my eyeballs have cracked like eggs? I take my red eggshell cracks sizzling around burning yolks out into the store, past Judy Collins’ blazing sapphires, past Candice Olson’s perky peepers, past Daughter of Smoke and Bone, past The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind—would that this boy could have blown away this morning’s smoke—past 1,001 slow-cooker recipes, past George Clooney’s minky orbs twinkling next to his political opinions, highly sought since he plays a politician in a movie—and finally trip into the B&N café. 

One p.m. My friend and I have lunch. She is in the most miserable throes of a cold and confesses she almost cancelled. That makes two of us who just want to be able to shut our aching eyes for a long, long time, until our owwies go away. 

When we part, we stand three feet apart and make hugging motions in the air between us. Though motivated by consideration for me, an air-hug seems somehow symbolic of this broken day when so many things do not work as they should. Despite my pain and my friend’s misery, I can laugh at our empty, robotic jerks, because I know the truth.

Although this truth looks blurry in today’s smoke and mirrors, my heart rejoices that a complete and clear day is coming …
1 Corinthians 13:12 Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Christmas 2011: No More Band-Aids

Often, reason-for-the-season messages talk about Jesus saving us so that we’ll go to heaven after we die. Well, I’m thinkin’, “God, don’t just leave us here. What about now?” Jesus’ coming to earth has benefits for us now, too. This Christmas, I want to focus on the companionship of God in our day-to-day trials and triumphs.
The desire of God’s heart has always been—that we would be His people and He would be our God. First, for that to happen, Jesus came to Earth to pay our debt so that we could become God’s children and be with Him forever. Second, for that to happen, we simply tell Jesus we need Him and want Him in our lives now and for eternity.
Now—2011 has been a very difficult year for me emotionally. Between grieving gradual loss of health of people I dearly love and sudden loss of our little Charlie-dog, I’ve often felt heartbroken. Add to that sadness, everyday disappointments with people, circumstances, and yes, God. Don’t we all sometimes feel rejected and alone, discouraged by physical, emotional, even corporate setbacks, or wounded in big or small ways? I love the quote by French priest S. Rougier, “Dieu nous dit: “Ta blessure, c’est ma place.” God says to us, “Your wound, that’s my place.” Isn’t that precious?
We all have our struggles, our moments, like the loneliness of wondering if those closest to you will ever fully know you (the answer is no, but we continue to long for this), your own heartbreak over loss … outrage at  injustice … fear of the unknown … setbacks. Think for a moment about your frustrations and disappointments with spouses, parents, kids, friends, bosses, clients, coworkers, HR departments, students, politicians, vendors, and yes, God. Life on earth is full of this stuff.
What do you do with all this? I have found that all this world has to offer me to bind up my wounds is Band-Aids—more chocolate, more introspection,  more exercise, more toys, more parties, which don’t seem to truly heal anything, and more friends, who inevitably, eventually poke a pointy fingernail into my rejection wounds—and twist. Band-Aids also can’t give me strength or peace or guidance.
Where in this world can we turn for refuge, comfort, healing, and peace that baffles human logic? The only perfect friend—the one who always acts in your best interests, and oh, by the way, has the power and authority to change things—is God Himself—all three persons of the Trinity. God the Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit never leave you or forsake you. Remember the desire of God’s heart? To be your God and for you to be His people. The bible says “I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine.” This is a very intimate thing to say. And it sounds even more intimate in French!  Mon bien aimé est à moi, et je suis à lui. God says this to us. Furthermore, the bible says He rejoices over us with loud singing!  
Yeah, God wants us to spend eternity with Him in heaven after we die. But—Like any loving father, God wants us to bring our hurts to Him now, in the dailiness of life. He wants to send His Holy Spirit to comfort and guide us. He wants us to know deeply He loves us. Jesus came to Earth to walk with us now, too, to heal, to help us forgive, to give purpose to our lives—not just so that we can be with Him in heaven someday.
Another reason I’m grateful Jesus came is, because He did, God is not just a lofty deity, He understands every human emotion, from jubilation to dejection. Although in some of this year’s owwies, I did seek the chocolate Band-Aid, mostly I leaned on God to carry and strengthen me. I don’t know how I would have navigated 2011’s storms without God’s companionship and healing love steadying me.
I couldn't pick just one Christmas carol that expresses all this, so I plucked sound bites from several:
O come to us, abide with us,
Far as the curse is found,
A weary world rejoices.
Emmanuel, God with us,
Risen with healing in his wings.
O tidings of comfort and joy.

"I Will Lift My Eyes" by Bebo Norman says it all though. Here's a link to the lyrics:
May God's wonder-filled presence grace your Christmas and new year.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

What Recession? And Other Money Questions

We just got back from a restaurant that does not bill itself as a sports bar, though from my seat in the “quiet” section, I could see seven (7!) TV screens showing pro football games. The whole place teemed with adults shouting instructions to favorite players and cheering touchdowns, and children playing tag in the aisles. No blast horns or cow bells, but otherwise very much a stadium ambience. What surprised me ~ besides overhearing intensely serious, loud arguments about tight ends ~ was that the restaurant was so crowded.  From what I hear on the news, families are hurting financially.

Two weeks ago, I met a girlfriend for lunch on a Monday and was also surprised to find a full-to-overflowing restaurant. Eating out twice in one month is rare for me; and maybe it is for the people I saw in these restaurants, too. I can’t know if they’re charging these meals on credit cards they can’t pay off; I hope not. Perhaps they also know having someone else cook and serve their meals is an indulgence and they've budgeted for this treat. I have no way of knowing. I'm just seeing individual restaurants, not the big picture like summaries of how many more meals Pacific Garden Mission serves in recent years. I know appearances can be deceiving. But still, every time I’ve gone out to eat during this recession, I see crowds. And I wonder, “What recession?” 

Almost every week now, one of our inch-high stacks of mail-order catalogs includes a Hammacher Schlemmer wish book. Among many handy gadgets and fun toys priced relatively reasonably, they advertise a $35,000 arcade game and a $65,000 emotive robotic avatar. Do not confuse this with the $2,400 acrobatic robot. Their cheapest “stocking stuffer” items are socks priced at $19.95, $29.95, and $49.95. Oh, and the practical hands-free over-ear book light at $24.95. Not bad. When I think of stocking stuffers, however, I’m thinkin’ … oh, maybe $5 tops for each, since a Christmas stocking usually holds four to five small gifts. When I was a kid, I loved opening stocking gifts of pencils and little candies and fruit. Yes, a $200 iPhone fits in a stocking, but is that really the idea behind Christmas stockings? If only this recession could help us remember gratefulness for simple gifts ...

Remember when pre-Christmas newspapers and magazines offered helpful gift ideas “under $10”? More recently, they gave gift ideas “under $20” or “under $25.” This year, year three of our country’s recession, the articles help me find gifts “under $50.” What on earth are you thinking, Mr. or Ms. Newspaper Editor? Especially this year. With 2011 grocery prices skyrocketing, most everyone I know is cutting back on gift buying. Let’s go back to gift ideas under $10, please.

Did you read about the recent windfall for Pittsburgh drivers? A courier van’s door blew open, allowing about $100,000 in cash to float out. Last I read, only about $400 has been returned by honest citizens. How can the rest of the recipients not understand that what they picked up is not theirs to keep? It belongs to someone else! I have to wonder if our government-sponsored culture of trying to get something for nothing in lotteries and casinos might have contributed to this sad scenario. Back in the day … people actually believed the saying “There ain’t no free lunch,” and they earned their money. A good work ethic was something worth striving for. Now, after decades of watching state and local governments get income by encouraging people to gamble for other people’s money, apparently we think a free lunch not only exists, but now it's also our goal. No matter the degree to which the country’s current recession has affected the drivers who picked up that cash from the road, they can’t believe it is theirs to keep. Please tell me these people will do the honest thing. Please.