Monday, January 19, 2009

Sap

Today I wrote in the last two pages of my 2008 journal. I meant to finish it before the new year began, but I kept getting side-tracked. Or rather my writing found voice in other venues: blogs, emails, cards, and notes.

When I pulled this journal out this morning I realized several pages have been torn out—simply because this journal was handy and someone needed a piece of paper. This bothered me. I wondered what would have been written on those pages had they remained. I stopped wondering and simply wrote on the pages that remained.


Winter is here. We are in its clutch. The temperatures have dropped to single digits. There is a light crust of powdery snow skiffed on our sidewalk. The house is dry. The furnace grumbles and heaves as it attempts to keep out the cold. The dogs don’t want to stay outside very long. Zoe-girl comes to the back door barking insistently to come back in the house. Coats, hats, scarves, gloves and boots litter the house. Dark circles of moisture puddle at the front door.

Recently my daughter posted her own thoughts about winter. We both struggle.

We are in winter. Light is low; the brilliance is dimmed and shrouded. And it is only mid-January.

January and February are hard months for me. The holidays are over and the bitterness of winter has settled down among us. I find it is very hard to keep the creeping shadows at bay.

C.S. Lewis was a brilliant man. The connections and insights and wisdom in his writing were extraordinary—birthed from a mind leaning in toward the things of God. I often think about Narnia: forever winter, but never Christmas. This is a stark portrayal of the absence of hope.

Lewis recognized what happens to us when our hope has been reduced or depleted.

We cannot live long or well without hope. We are too frail. Too fragile. Too brittle.

Many equate hope with a wistful dream. Misty and ethereal. Vaporous. This kind of hope is like a fog that dissipates when the sun rises; or like a child’s soap bubble that bursts with the slightest touch. We speak of this hope as if it is an entity which will easily vanish and melt away if we are not careful.

But real hope, the hope Job, David, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Paul and John talk about has a different substance. They are not talking of pensive longing. Their hope was not a flimsy thing. Their hope had its foundation firmly knotted in the character and promises of God. It was not a thread, but a rope tied to the waist of God.

There is an assurance in their hope—not just a hopeful longing—but a reality that is just not visible yet. Their ropes had been tested. They knew that if their rope did break then the arm of God would reach down for them. And his arm is never too short.

This winter is a little different for me. I still feel the shroud of its dark shadows. I still struggle with the lack of brilliant light. And the gray still bothers me, but this year there is a new hope.

I can feel this ancient hope—like a sugar maple must feel the sap as it begins to rise through its trunks and branches.

I feel the sap being held in reserve at the core of me.

And when the right temperatures come, when we get a short reprieve from the relentless cold—a glimpse of spring—and then it turns cold again, this is when the sap will run.

We don’t see this sap unless we tap into the tree. Unless we bore a hole into the bark, it is invisible to us.

I know it will not be forever winter.

I have tied my hope to the waist of God.

I feel the sap.

Monday, January 12, 2009

No Surprises

For Christmas my oldest daughter bought me a new journal. She usually does.

Perhaps it is because she knows I need a place to record (in my own handwriting) what is going on inside me. Perhaps it is because she understands my need for the texture and the tangible quality of paper. Perhaps it is because she knows I like books and in giving me a journal she helps me to create one of my own.

I don’t have to tell her what kind. She knows. She has paid close attention through the years. Black, spiral- bound with college-ruled sheets.

Close to Christmas she called me from the bookstore and asked if I wanted a large or small journal this year. (I usually get a small one). We laughed and talked about Christmas not having any surprises—this would be the year of knowing what you were getting; the year of knowing what was going to be inside the box.

I knew I was getting a journal from her, so I didn’t purchase one. I waited. And sure enough on Christmas morning I opened her package and found my large, black, spiral-bound, college-ruled journal. I said thank you and then put it away until I would need it. (I had to finish the last few pages of the other one first).

My daughter said no surprises.

But she fooled me.

She didn’t tell me that there was something else.

Last week I was thinking about the new year that was before me. I don’t make resolutions anymore. I don’t make promises, but I do keep a journal. So, I went to get my new journal because I wanted to feel the weight, length, and width of its pages.

Then I found my surprise.

When I opened the cover the first page was not white, not blank, and not empty.

My daughter had written on the first page—in blue ink was a paragraph inscribed in her sweet, distinctive handwriting. I stood poised in front of the window for light, and I read her words.

Suddenly the Christmas that was to have no surprises had one of the greatest ones of all. Her note to me was one of the best gifts I have ever received.

I was alone, but (to no one’s surprise) I cried.

Her words set the tone for my new year.

Because of my daughter’s invocation and benediction this blank new year was now infused with hope.

She didn’t know this was what she was offering to me.

Or did she?(She is incredibly wise.)

In a few days I will start using this journal. I will fill it with words, illustrations, quotes, verses and whatever else moves my being. I don’t know how long it will last. Could be a month, could be six months; I don’t know. Never do.

But I do know that I will often return to her note for me. I will reread it and savor every word.

She said it was a Christmas with no surprises.

She was wrong.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Two Men and a Baby

" ... learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart..." (Matthew 11:29)

Recently I was privy to something rare and lovely.

We had friends over for dinner, and they brought their children. It was their son's first birthday, and we had a mini birthday party for him.

I loved the company of our friends: rich, encouraging, funny. But it was the interaction between the two men and the baby that captured and held my attention.

Mama was holding Lee in front of her on the kitchen table. His little legs were bowed and pointed toward the center facing the rest of us. All attention was on this little boy. Four adults (and all the others who found their way in or through the kitchen) were watching him.

But he was guileless.

Even with all the attention focused on him he remained innocent and unaffected.

Lee was simply delighted that he was making us happy. He would stretch out his little arms and then shake them in utter delight. Chortling and laughing in precious belly giggles. He would reach for the men at the table and crawl into their arms. He would investigate their mouths, eyes, and glasses. And he would give them enormous open-mouthed kisses.

At one point his Mama broke up a chocolate chip cookie and put the pieces in front of him. One by one the pieces disappeared into his tiny, cherub mouth. Several times he turned so he could better see who he was with, and then he would settle back against their chest. His little face was just alight with joy. He would clap for himself, and then look to see if his antics made us laugh. If they did, then he would do it again. So pleased was he, so delighted.

Interestingly enough, the men were unaware they were being watched also. They played with our little boy with unabashed enthusiasm. Silly noises and facial expressions and all. And to Lee's utter delight they would mimic him.

Both men at the table were giants (in more ways than one). And yet the gentleness and tenderness they lavished on this little boy was something to behold. I watched our little birthday boy, but I watched the men even more. His Daddy would look him right in the face and exclaim, " I love you, Lee."

Lee understood. It was quite apparent he had been told this many times before.

I understood.


In Baby Lee I saw why Jesus told us to be like little children.

Guilelessness and innocence are not prevalent in our society.Instead we are taught the craft of scheming and manipulation. And our innocence is robbed or hastily given very early. Sophistication is pursued and naivete is shunned.

In the giant men I saw why Jesus said learn from him.

Gentleness and tenderness are not valuable commodities in our society. Not in women, but especially not in men. These attributes are viewed as weaknesses--hammer blows to the masculine identity. Incongruent with the definition of a man's man. These traits are not desired and certainly not cultivated or encouraged. Often they are discouraged and the slightest growth of either is quickly uprooted.

Yet, Jesus was both.

He was so often tender with those he encountered: the Widow of Nain, the woman caught in adultery, Jarius and his daughter, with the children brought to him for blessing, the demoniacs, Mary of Bethany and Mary of Magdala.

But Jesus did not apologize, excuse, hide or justify his behavior.

Jesus was a strong, gentle man. True gentleness and real tenderness have tensile strength.

Jesus was guileless and innocent, and he was very much a powerful man. (Think about Baby Lee. He ruled the kitchen that night.)

For many these traits seem to be oxymorons. How very sad.

The Men and the Baby were both emulating Jesus.

We should take notes.