"As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame; / [ . . . ] Each mortal thing does one thing and the same: / Deals out that being indoors each one dwells; / Selves -- goes itself; 'myself' it speaks and spells, / Crying 'What I do is me; for that I came'." --Gerard Manley Hopkins

29 December 2005

Birthday Time

The Young Man turned 15 yesterday. Hard to believe he's been around that long, except when it seems he's been around forever. He's been practically an only child for half his life; sometimes I find it hard to remember he's really an uncle to all the itsy bitsies rather than, say, a cousin. They adore him. He loves the attention, even when it's a bit harassing at times. (He will probably deny this when he reads it.)

His nearest sibling is nine and a half years his elder (and has three children). I call him my tag-along, and I've never once rued his arrival. I recall the awe on the faces of the other four as they gathered in the hospital room the evening of his birth and vied for the opportunity to hold him. Once home they would gather around him and urge him to talk; he seemed to be trying his absolute best to shape his mouth in imitation to answer. (He talked early and had the language skills of above an eight-year-old before he was two. I have always assumed that was because of six people talking to him all day long every day.)

I think of the nights of colic, when we'd take turns walking him about the living room, the second son seeming the most patient as he sang "Jesus Loves Me" over and over and over while trying every possible baby hold to help him feel more comfortable. I think of his sisters' automatic mothering skills as they loved him and cared for him while I was gone during the day at work. I think of him in his too-small tux (thanks to the rental company ignoring our size requests) beside his oldest brother at his wedding, so little and cute but standing tall and proud. So many memories . . .

And now I have to look up a bit to look in his eyes, and I think I can see him growing yet taller as he stands at the sink washing the dishes each night. At times he drives me crazy, then he says, "Need a hug?" and I remember all the ways he enriches my life, all the ways he serves me and tries to please me, all the ways he is growing up . . . and how grateful I am, always, for this precious gift.

Happy birthday, son. You're a wondrous gift from God, and I have never doubted that for a moment. I love you.

14 December 2005

Blessed Christmas to All

My mother was born on Christmas Day. Her father, when I was a freshman in college, died on Christmas Day. We had always opened gifts on Christmas morning, but for some reason I can't recall we opened them on Christmas Eve that year. Granddad died at 3:00 a.m. We have opened gifts on Christmas Eve, after the candlelight service, ever since. Since that time, Christmas has always held a kind of dissonance for me: celebrating my mother's birth, remembering my granddad's death.

But isn't this part of the season's glory? Not just that the Baby was born, but that He died? Had He been born and not died, we would still be dead in our sins. And His death and resurrection remind me that the death that claims ever more people I love has been long conquered. Death's victory is hollow and temporal; the Son's is filled with glory and eternal.

John Donne said it long ago:

DEATH be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadfull, for, thou art not so,
For, those, whom thou think'st, thou dost overthrow,
Die not, poore death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleepe, which but thy pictures bee,
Much pleasure, then from thee, much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee doe goe,
Rest of their bones, and soules deliverie.
Thou art slave to Fate, Chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poyson, warre, and sicknesse dwell,
And poppie, or charmes can make us sleepe as well,
And better then thy stroake; why swell'st thou then;
One short sleepe past, wee wake eternally,
And death shall be no more; death, thou shalt die.

It is a wonder indeed that He came -- yet an even greater wonder that His mission in coming was to die.

As I travel to visit my parents and other family (taking perhaps a hiatus from the web), I pray for you who read a blessed Christmas, that as you celebrate with family and friends you will remember why the Baby was born and allow the wonder of His death -- for you -- to wash over all that you do.

09 December 2005

Grace for the Moment

I led a discussion group of a few gals this semester as part of one of the Bible classes here at the college, and we spent the last few weeks looking at what the Bible says about womanhood. In our last meeting, we looked through Proverbs 31 -- at the woman who always so intimidates me.

Usually I just feel remarkably lazy after reading the chapter. This time, however, something different struck me. Verse 25 says "she laughs at the time to come" -- the future holds no fear for her.

I am always finding ways to fear the future. One of my "projects" last summer was trying to live day by day. Oh, of course I did things for the future, but I tried not to live in the future. It's not the planning that's the problem; it's the trying to find strength for it when it isn't here yet.

Somewhere recently a woman posted this remark in a discussion on Down's syndrome and abortion: "I would certainly abort if I found out I had a Down's baby; I know what I can and can't handle, and I couldn't possibly handle that."

Leaving aside its sheer self-centeredness, the comment says volumes about her faith in God. And someone responded wisely, "You don't have any idea what you can or can't handle. God gives grace for every situation."

My own faith is generally as weak as that woman's. "I can't possibly do that," I so often say. And yet when "that" comes around, I do it. When we discovered that we would have to take overloads next semester, I kept thinking I can't possibly teach five classes, I'm exhausted already with only four. So I've spent a lot of this semester reminding myself of that wise response: "You have no idea what you can and can't handle." And I am claiming God's confidence that I will be able to do what He has given me to do.

God doesn't give grace for trials we aren't experiencing. Christ admonishes us, "Do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble" (Mt. 6:34 ESV).

And Paul prays for us "that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith . . ." (Eph. 3:16-17 ESV).

May I let Him continuously dwell in my heart so that I can always "laugh at the time to come," confident in His grace and mercy. I have had a taste of it; may I desire the peaceful fruit of faith every moment of every day.

05 December 2005

Risks and Raising Children

Thinking on our own disobediences and observing the world around us can indeed cause some hesitation or fearfulness when we consider bringing children into the world.

Even if parents are as perfect as human parents can be, and a child is generally obedient and never strays very far, there will be tough times and hurt enough. For parents will make mistakes, will sin, will fail in all kinds of ways, no matter how hard they try to do the right thing, and children must be trained and discipled and redeemed and finally choose for themselves to walk in the path of righteousness, for they are born bent away from God. And in the process, they too will err and sin and fail. This is simple reality.

Yet, God – who knows it is a fallen world and each of us is born into it bent towards evil instead of good – says “children are a gift from the Lord.”

And in the face of His gifts, ought we to say “I am afraid” because the riches are accompanied by risks? What in this world is not? God took the greatest risk when He created man with a free will, to love Him or reject Him. Every day He sees the horrors of a fallen creation, and chooses every moment to keep loving us and yearning for us.

When we look at what God has endured for His creation, the death of and separation from the Son, the constant sin of His creatures against Him and each other, then surely we are driven to think “the reward must be worth the risk.”

And it is. The babe in arms, the toddler learning to weave his way across a room, the wide eyes of delight in the newness and beauty and richness of this created world, the tiny hand on a cheek and the sweet words, “I love you,” the laughter around the dinner table and the serious conversations about life and love and eternity, someday perhaps the grandchildren’s hugs and precious love . . . It is all worth the risk; it is all worth the inevitable pain.

Obedience and trust always carry reward. Will risks be realized? Often, of course. And yet, and yet . . . greater risks attend fearfulness and refusal, do they not? We can only grow as we trust the One who calls us to live for Him, and we can only trust if we place ourselves at His mercy and set our feet into the water of the river, to see it parted for us in His good timing.

01 December 2005

The Gift of Children

Our older daughter is expecting her third child, our twelfth grandchild. The mystery of new life never ceases to awe; each child is unique and blessed; the reaction is always the same -- how wonderful!

Yesterday a dear young woman I haven't seen or heard from in several months stopped by. I hugged her and as she stepped back I saw the tell-tale bulge and hugged her again.

Every child is unique and blessed -- but some are longer awaited and add a special blessing of faith and hope. A and her husband, after finding that she has medical problems that might have kept her from ever having children, waited and hoped for years, coming before the Lord both with the strong desire for a child and the trust to accept His decision. When I first met A, her quiet faith in the face of a possibility that tore at her heart encouraged me many times.

Because a child seemed not be in the plan, they decided to move to New Orleans so he could go to seminary. Easy, for just the two of them -- she could keep teaching, they could live on peanuts for a few years. Then, just before moving, they discovered a child was, after all, part of the plan. And then Katrina destroyed the seminary plans. And now they are back here, living with relatives while waiting for a house, he working contentedly at his old job, she savoring the months of preparation she thought would never be hers to savor.

She knows something of what Elizabeth must have felt when she found she would bear a son at long last, after hope had died. What wonder and amazement. What deep joy. What awe as a baby kicks and somersaults in a womb believed to be unable to carry him. What a special blessing in the lives of his family, a blessing of gratefulness and wonder given to those who wait with faithful hearts.

Children are a gift from the Lord, indeed.