Thursday, February 23, 2017

One body, made of some messy parts...

"Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. " Ephesians 4:2-3
"For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us." Romans 12:4-6
" For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ...." 1 Corinthians 12:12-27

These verses were heavy on my heart/mind today. With my classes I've been using different informational texts for Black history month. We've had some good discussions about the injustices and unfairnesses that occurred and have occurred through history. Today one particular text led to a discussion on bullies.  I found an article that talked about different reasons why people bully others. One of the reasons is that the bully perceives the victim as different in some way - smarter, weaker, whiter, blacker, more easy going, more anxious, etc. The bully might have a big ego and think he/she is better than anyone else, that his/her ways are the best ways or the only ways. The bully might be jealous and have a problem with low self-esteem. There could even be a pack situation.

So here we are in the Body of Christ, a collective of broken people who recognize their need of a Savior. People from all kinds of walks of life come together, called by God, at all different places in their spiritual growth. People with all sorts of different gifts. People with all sorts of different ways of doing things. People who are different from each other. Sometimes very different. Now, whoa, wait - can you figure out what I might be getting at? Bullies within the body. The Apostle Paul must have dealt with this - he writes in 1 Corinthians 12 "The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.”  On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty,  which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it,  that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another.  If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together."

We are not going to be just like each other. Some of us may have old habits or behaviors that need the Holy Spirit - or we ourselves may have them and someone else's actions are revealing our personal not-so-good-junk in our reactions. They may want us to be clones of them or we may want them to do things our way. BUT the body needs eyes, it needs knees, it needs hands, feet, ears... It needs some of the parts that some may find less than presentable.  This is where being completely humble and gentle comes in. We need to be patient with others and pray that they are patient with us. We need to humbly realize that we, too, are imperfect and should bear with each other in love. It is our responsibility to make every effort to keep the unity in peace.  We are not the same and YET we are loved by our Lord and should love one another.

As I was writing this, one of my graduate school classmates shared a fantastic devotion with my from John Piper's "Desiring God" page, featuring Philippians 4:6 and 4:19. Don't be anxious, make sure that in all things you pray with thankfulness and let your requests be known to God and rest assured that God will supply all your need out of His riches. Therefore, if you want unity - ask. If you want to be accepted, understood and treated with compassion, pray. If you might be reacting with a less than humble and gentle spirit to another member of the body, present your problem to God. He will supply you with what you need to overcome the battle you are in. Now, it is a shame, that sometimes we must feel like we are in a battle with other members of the same body but again, this is apparently a thing that has gone on since the early church. Nothing is new. People are people and until we meet our Lord, we are bound to experience friction. We must patiently and prayerfully allow the Lord to knit us together.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Being blessed in many ways...

Lately when I run into people who don't see me regularly I am greeted with tender glances of concern and questions regarding how I am doing. Just last week I got three super sweet notes of care in the mail. How precious this is! (I *adore* mail). It has been seven months since Pat passed; I must say, it is extraordinarily sweet to have friends out there who are still reminding me that I'm in their prayers. In the words of Leo Buscaglia, "Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around."    

Langston Hughes once said, "When people care for you and cry for you, they can straighten out your soul."  Daily I'm out there with my James F. Bell attitude telling myself that "Fear is met and destroyed with courage," but I know darned well that it is the folks behind the scenes praying and lifting me up to the Lord who have given me the strength to go through this grieving process, to start two new jobs, to go through all the chaos and craziness that ensues when your partner is torn from you and your  life suddenly does a tailspin.  So - how am I doing? Thanks to the grace of God and the prayers of His people I'm alright. I am really and truly alright.

I'm working two jobs - teaching middle schoolers by day and teaching 5 exercise classes a week.  I can't even begin to say what a blessing this is. Yes, it is hard sometimes to come home and have to rush right out the door again BUT -- and this is a big BUT -- I am doing what I love. How many people get to do what they truly love? Lighting fires, teaching kids to love language, to love learning, to find better ways to communicate -- I adore this. One of my 7th graders told me last week, "Mrs. P, I admire you for your empathy." I was impressed that he understood the word and ecstatic that he saw that in me because I try so hard to feel what they feel, to figure out where each of them is coming from so that I can get them excited and involved in learning. And then there is the gym - To give people a good hard work out, to help them feel good about the things their body can do and to help them believe in themselves and their potential - that energizes me.

Steve Jobs hit the nail on the head when he said, "Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do." I know I'm really flinging the quotes around tonight but these words from Kahlil Gibran hit home: “Work is love made visible. And if you cannot work with love but only with distaste, it is better that you should leave your work and sit at the gate of the temple and take alms of those who work with joy." When I'm teaching, I'm teaching out of love, out of wanting to impart some knowledge or start the wheels of cognition grinding in someone's mind - and I love it when the lights come on and I can see the "Aha!" moment like a neon sign flashing. I love when I've challenged someone's body and they thought "I can't do that" and they find themselves saying, "Hey, I DID THAT!"

It is a warm and happy feeling to know that I've got friends out there praying me through this widowhood. I am certain that the road would be much harder if it weren't for your visits to the throne room on my behalf. Every hurdle that arises, every obstacle that looms ahead, I'm hedged in with the knowledge that God's got this. Romans 8 all the way. :)  And -- God has blessed me with a prayer partner who has been praying with me every morning and every night. If I were to write an infomercial script about why everyone should have a prayer partner, it would start with "Would you like your prayer life be transformed with a spiritual practice that will maximize your results?" Matthew 18:19-20 tells us, "If two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them" Praying with a partner is uplifting, encouraging, humbling, and simply beautiful.

And on that note, Mondays are one of my few nights to play "catch up" around the house. After a busy Friday/Saturday, I was waylaid by that nasty stomach bug all day Sunday and it lingered into this morning. I've got mountains of laundry to put away and chores galore.  God bless!

Friday, February 3, 2017

Death and taxes...

Benjamin Franklin once said, "In this world, nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes." These things are said with resignation. As humans, we must be resigned to the undeniable fact that we all are going to die and we are all going to be required to pay/file taxes.  An unfun part of this time of year for me is having these two collide.

I have the task of filing taxes jointly with Patrick for the last time and having to check off a "deceased" box with death info on my 1040. Throughout this whole ordeal there have been times that bring about suffocating horror like taking his name off insurance, documents, property, etc.,  or stabbing pain like being stumped when filling out emergency contact information and not putting his name on the paper. Sitting here seven months from the day his heart attack turned my world upside down, the wound will be torn a bit as I go through the ordeal of taxes and realizing the finality of his death once again. It's not like it's not there in little ways daily, but a big ticket item like this certainly salts the wound. (The fact that I substituted for seven districts last year and have to enter info from ten W-2 forms doesn't help make the chore any easier).

Now, Pat never helped with taxes. It's not like in doing the deed, I'll be missing much of anything. He lurked somewhere at a safe distance while I muddled through the chore; he made himself available for occasional whining or griping. He preferred avoiding the stress and listening to how things were going from just far enough away to hear without being sucked into the ordeal. Nothing has changed - I do the taxes, I do them well.  I randomly complain loudly, I'm sure the dogs will also keep their distance.

Tax time is just another hurdle to cross. I'm sure the burn and the aching reminder of "Yes, my husband is dead" will pass. Then there will be Valentine's Day, birthdays and an anniversary and such is life. A whole bunch of "first withouts" will come, be survived, and time will continue to march forward. I'm doing things - whether I really want to or not - that need to be done. There is a feeling of accomplishment that comes with every item checked off my list. Sometimes it is satisfied accomplishment; sometimes it is the "WHEW!" glad that is over sort. There are things to freak out about, but I know God's got my back and I'm shielded, covered and in the best of Hands. Regardless of what is my current situation, I'm plugging away and moving on to the next "must do."  " Pat's death happened. My husband is gone. The clock ticks, the sun rises and in the words of Miyamoto Musashi "The Way of the warrior is resolute acceptance of death." And hey, the truth of the matter is that in the mundane or in the horrific, the banal tasks or the noble challenges, Romans 8:37 rings true: "In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.

"It is only through labor and painful effort, by grim energy and resolute courage, that we move on to better things," said Theodore Roosevelt. Lest I sound too heavy on the "grim" and to light on hope, God has been blessing me. Romans 12:12 says to  "Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, continue steadfastly in pray."  The Lord has definitely been throwing joy into my life with encouragement from friends both old and new, (thank you Anna for the card!), opportunities to talk about Him, and lately a prayer partner to help me start and end each day (thank you, thank you).

Death and taxes may be colliding in my life this month, but dancing around them are irrepressible hope and the certainty that my God's on my side.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Finding Boaz...

Ruth is a good go-to story for widows everywhere to illustrate that love can come a second time around. It makes for a good romance novel in general - there are obstacles and yet they are overcome.

In the biblical account, Ruth is a Moabitess married into the family of Elimelech who had escaped a famine in Israel. Tragedy seems to track down this family as her mother-in-law, Naomi, is widowed. Within 10 years, Naomi's sons, Mahlon and Chilion, have also died.  This leaves three widows destitute and fortuneless.  One daughter-in-law, Orpah, returns to her people with Naomi's blessing; however, Ruth clings to Naomi and will not abandon her.  Together they head to Naomi's home of Israel where the barley harvest has just begun. Naomi is older and unlikely to ever remarry. Her hope had been that Ruth would find a husband among her own people; however, Ruth tells Naomi that basically the people of the Lord (Naomi's people) are her people and she will go with her wherever she goes.

Digressing a little, this is what the Bible says about widows:

“A father of the fatherless and a judge for the widows is God in His holy habitation” (Ps. 68:5)
 “The Lord protects the strangers; He supports the fatherless and the widow” (Ps. 146:9)
“Cursed is he who distorts the justice due an alien, orphan, and widow” (Deut. 27:19)
“This is pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father, to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world” (James 1:27)

Paul talks to Timothy about four types of widows:
(1) The “widows indeed” (NASB; NIV this translates to “really in need”), who do not have family members to care for them (5:3-5, 9-10)
(2) Widows with children and grandchildren (5:4, 16)
(3) Younger widows, who should remarry (5:11-15)
(4) Widows who live for pleasure rather than for the Lord (5:6).

As for me, I know I come under category 3.  I'm too young to be a burden on my children and grandchildren. Too full of life to resign myself to a manless existence. This is what the Bible says to me:

1 Timothy 5:14  I counsel younger widows to marry, to have children, to manage their homes and to give the enemy no opportunity for slander.
1 Corinthians 7:9 But if they cannot control themselves, let them marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion.

I don't want to be category 4 - so it is of crucial importance to me that the man I chose to spend my later days with loves the Lord with all his heart, soul, strength and mind.

So back to Ruth, she and Naomi arrive in Israel basically destitute. No man to provide for them; they are reliant on the good will of the community. Naomi was depressed over the situation and it is obvious that Ruth is a source of comfort to her. As I mentioned, the barley harvest is about to start so Ruth offers to go out and glean the fallen barley, dropped by the harvesters, in order to provide food for the two women. She winds up in the field of Boaz, a relation of the deceased Elimelech. He takes notice of her, asks around about who she is, and then tells her "Don’t go and glean in another field and don’t go away from here. Stay here with the women who work for me. Watch the field where the men are harvesting, and follow along after the women. I have told the men not to lay a hand on you. And whenever you are thirsty, go and get a drink from the water jars the men have filled."  He zooms in on her need for protection. He makes sure that she knows that, not only is she welcome there, but he is going to provide that protection. She is grateful and actually asks him why he is being so nice to her. He lets her know that her reputation has impressed him and he wants God to bless her.

It turns out this is a good place to be - Naomi is pleased and tells Ruth to stay there. Now, Ruth must have already respected Naomi deeply because she chose to leave her own land to stick with her.  Read the rest of the story and see what happens.  Boaz is obviously quite happy that this young widow took notice of him and he gets right to the business of seeing that she can legally become his wife. Ruth asks him to "spread the corner of your garment over me" (Ruth 3:9, NIV) which had several meanings.  The word for corner in Hebrew means "wings," so she is asking him to protect her like a mother bird protects her babies beneath her wings. She was asking him to take her as his wife, to be her guardian-redeemer.

Now widows come with baggage. They come with memories, with the heartache of loss, often children and belongings from the former relationship that death has completed. The guardian-redeemer of the OT willingly understood that offspring from that relationship would be accounted to the deceased relation.  While this is not a practice in our world today, there is still a boatload of baggage that a Boaz acquires when he finds a Ruth that he desires. It is a special, kind and loving man indeed who is willing to take on that role.

Feminists might cry out that women have no need of a guardian-redeemer, they can take care of themselves, very well, thank you. Feminists can keep their opinions to themselves.  I know that for me, I enjoyed a symbiotic relationship with my late husband. We each had strengths and weaknesses that balanced out the others. We stuck to traditional relationship roles and well, I like that. I have no need within me for crying out "I am woman, hear my roar!" I'm more like, "I am woman, hear me purr." So for women like me - young, widowed and not liking this self-reliant thing - I hope you find your Boaz.  A kind, loving man who wants to honor and protect you. A man who respects and honors you, who loves the Lord and is full of faith.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Lights go out...

Don't laugh, but I changed a ceiling light bulb for the first time in my life all by myself - no one to stop me from dropping the globe and breaking the glass dome thing! #impressedwithmyself It was simply was never my department. He could do it without standing on a chair.

After I changed that ceiling light bulb today, it occurred to me that this is the third burnt out bulb that I've changed since Pat passed away. One in the kitchen, one on the back porch (which turned out to be the light fixture and Bob put up a new one), and now this one in the living room. I really needed light for my project so I got the bench he made for me and stood on it. The most solemn sobering thought hit me. I was painting baseboards under that new light and I suddenly realized: Pat had never lived in that light. This light never touched his skin, lit his path or gave me light to see his face. One by one all the lights that he lived in and shared with me will go out. Lights we lived and worked in, kissed, hugged, cried and fought under. One by one, I'll be replacing bulbs and he will never share in this light with me.

Part of me is so very, very sad but there is bigger part of me that has no choice but to rejoice for him. In Revelations 22:5 the Word says, "There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever." Here I am, changing light bulbs, facing the strictures of time. Day. Night. Lights on, lights off. Pat is basking in the light of God's presence -- which never goes out.

Posted on Pat's wall:
I changed one of the ceiling light bulbs today. I could almost hear you telling me to wait until you got home and you would do it. It's the third light bulb I've had to change since you died. It occurred to me tonight that those were lights that shone on you. One by one all the light we shared will be gone; new bulbs and light you don't live in with me will eventually be in every room. I hate thinking that, but it is one of those truths that grabs me by the throat and squeezes the tears out of my eyes.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Love? Widows/widowers - what are you looking for...

This will just hang here for anyone who happens to find it.

I had a conversation last week with a man I had been seeing. I felt something was missing - I felt that maybe we didn't have the same wants/needs in a relationship.  So I did the thing that men and women alike dread in a relationship. I said, "We need to talk."  This was a Wednesday. The upshot of it is that by Saturday we mutually decided that we needed to move on. It didn't get ugly. It just was. I can't say I wasn't hurt and disappointed that, after investing a bunch of time (having realized how darned precious it is when Pat passed on), that we really weren't as compatible as we initially thought. The fact that a week out, I'm not heartbroken says that yep, it just wasn't right,

So here is what I wanted to talk about.  What are you looking for in a relationship? This has some twists when it is post-death of the proverbial "love of someone's life." When someone is separated from their spouse by death there isn't the rejection from other types of separation; there is a very different emotional imprint that comes with losing someone via break up or divorce. When death parts people, that love is deep and abiding. It can even seem larger than life.  The bereaved may not truly want to move on from that love to another. They may be merely looking for steady companionship to bide the time until they follow the beloved spouse to the other side. So "what are you looking for in a relationship?" is an important question.

If you want companionship only, someone to come home to and spend the days with until the shadows fall, that is fine - but you both need to know and want the same thing. There is a love that's like a comfortable old pair of slippers or those favorite jeans that are worn out just right. Easy to be in but you just "know" they are there.  You don't take them out just to admire them; you know where you left them and you don't need to slip them on your feet one more time before you start your day or end it. In a relationship you  aren't driven - you don't "need" to hear that person's voice to say goodnight. You can survive without that one more hug and kiss at the door. You walk to your car, you put in the keys, you drive away. Oh, you'll call in the morning and you like that you have "a person" and are even willing to devote time to that person - but something is just missing. Or maybe it's not - maybe you are so whole and complete that they aren't needed to make you feel that sensation. In Randy Travis' song, "Forever and Ever Amen," he sings "you're not just time that I'm killing." In this situation, well, it might feel like exactly like you are just killing time together.

There is another kind of love - and it's the kind I want. Don't get me wrong - I want that comfort and ease, too. However, I want madly, deeply, passionately along with it. I want the earth to move under my feet and the stars to sing. I want the man who has to say "I love you" before bed, whose voice makes me feel warm and alive. I want the talk to be of us, of the future. Oh, when people have lost someone they love, there will be talk of the one who is gone - but it shouldn't dominate the conversation. A constant diet of another woman or another man is a buzz kill.  Back to Travis' song, he sings, "They say that time can play tricks on a memory, make people forget things they knew. well, it's easy to see it's happening to me, I've already forgotten every woman but you." No, you don't actually "forget" the love of your past, but you have so embraced the love of the now that your focus is on this present love, this present life.  It's mad love; it's need to see you one more time love; it's passionate, mind-locking, into your soul kind of love.

You have to stop and ask yourself. Which love do I want? Don't settle for the love that doesn't fit the bill.

Here's to finding the person who wants the same things that you want in a relationship. Here's to a comfortable place to land, a peaceful easy feeling - and for me, I'll take madly, passionately, deeply along with it.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Some my poetry about the power of words...

This was written about someone who didn't feel it was necessary to use words of affirmation.

Make love to me with your words
Stroke the inner lining of my soul
   with your deepest thoughts
Find the soft, secret places of my heart
Ready for the touch of your intimations
With your mind make me plead for more
Make me sigh and shudder with passion
For more -- more of the words you use
Communicate to me of your desires,
Your dreams
Your hopes
Spell them on my skin
Burn them deep, like a fire in my veins
Assurances, commitment,
Make love to me with these
And my body is yours, as well