My husband has a quirk about speed limits; he believes you will get in big trouble with the police if you do not drive at the maximum speed limit. He also believes other cars will run into you and not slow down when you slow down. You may believe, like me, that they will merely go around you; but you would be wrong.

Someone in his family got pulled over for putt-putting along on a busy highway once during his formative years, and it warped him for life. This has been a challenge and a problem for a couple of reasons: not only does he inevitably pass up destinations (see below), he also tried to pass on his sub-speed limit phobia to our daughters when they were learning to drive. I had to take them out separately and reteach them. I don’t think society wants 16 year-olds always going the maximum speed limit, do you, Society? I didn’t think so. You are welcome.

Me: The address is 13021 N. Cleveland

Him: uh-huh

Me: (watching buildings go by from the passenger seat) 14200, 14080, 13890, we’re getting closer…

Him: uh-huh

Me: 13458, 13340, 13200, we’re really close now….

Him: yep

Me: There it is……..you just drove past it! Why did you drive past it?

Him: (As he pulls into the next driveway and realizes he can’t get there from here) I didn’t know it was so close.

Me: I was counting down, I told you we were really close, why didn’t you slow down when I told you we were getting close?

Him: I was going the speed limit!

Me: (As we are driving two miles further down the road, over a bridge, into the downtown area, and on one way streets, trying to find a place to turn around) I KNOW, that is the problem! The speed limit is a maximum amount you are allowed to drive, not a minimum; you do not HAVE to stay at the speed limit. If you stayed at the speed limit when you made a turn, you would run into the building!

Him: I didn’t know it was close. I thought the sign would be bigger.

Me: That is why you have a navigator. I am your navigator. You are the driver.
Did you know that Jimmy Carter once gave his wife the gift of never again being late? And she said that was the best gift he ever gave her. And he never was late again. If you would give me the gift of slowing down every time I ever tell you we are close to our turn, that would be the best gift you could ever give me. How many MILES have we driven out of our way during our marriage so that you could turn around after passing up our turn??

Him: (silently wondering what Jimmy Carter has to do with anything, but wisely choosing not to ask at this particular moment) Sorry!

Math problem:
Multiply the above times the number of strange cities my husband has ever driven me around and then take that total to the tenth power. The final total equals the number of gray hairs on my head.

I couldn’t have brought myself here today. I’m so depressed.  It can’t be a good time to try a new church. But my husband is ready and has been so good to me while I’ve been down….and this may help me focus outside myself. So I try to sink down into the bright red pew chair in the small chapel. Ahh, small churches – I’m hiding in plain sight.

A woman asks “Have you ever participated in this kind of service before? Let me show you……here’s what you do…”  She has one of those smiles that make you think she didn’t wait until she got here this morning to start worshipping. Looking into  her eyes is like getting a sneak preview of what’s coming.

A processional with lots of little and big children. An ironic thing often happens when I am really broken; beauty becomes much more visible. These children – they are glowing. The priest is praying for them, touching their heads, smiling at them like he is the father of them all and he truly loves each one.  Hmmm. This high church thing…..maybe I understand a bit. He represents The Father. I think about how these children will have this impression and carry it into adulthood.  He looks like this is the best time he’s had all week, loving on these children.  Well. Am I the best part of God’s week?

Liturgy, kneeling benches, a sweet quick little chime. This is good. I am too weak to participate on my own motivation and energy, but I can read responsively, I can listen, I can kneel. This structured service helps me redirect. It is a relief to say more to Him than “God, help me”, and to remember how big He is.

A sermon, and a surprise. The priest interjects something into the flow of this highly structured service.  God has told him someone is depressed and needs prayer. I want to shout “It’s me! It’s me! Everyone else can go home now because this is for me!” My husband has obviously been listening to the sermon  – he whips out his hanky and shoves it at me as fast as he can. He knows how I needed to hear this.

God has my attention. The priest rebukes this depression. He rebukes? I didn’t know a priest would rebuke.  His words are startling in the personal intimacy they convey from God. I can’t even hear much of the rest of the sermon because in my head I am bowing in worship of a God who brought me to a strange place to hear a stranger give me words from His lips. The hanky is wet with comfort.

Communion time. People seem eager to get to the altar. There are things going on behind there….these priests, they have a lot of steps to remember, and it fascinates me. I thought it would feel like ceremony, but instead I am caught up in their actions. 

I kneel to receive communion, at home on my knees in a place I’ve never been. Mystery. I almost don’t want to leave.  Some sit in the front and receive prayer from the priests and a few women whose compassion is tangible. There is no hurry.  I know I could go up there, though a stranger, and receive healing. But I’m afraid; I don’t know if I can handle so much powerful love directed at me in a place that I don’t know. Even so, witnessing something so genuine gives me hope.

A recessional, and I leave. It is hard to talk on the walk home.  I didn’t expect this experience. The following Sunday, I feel well enough to return all alone. God is love; so are His people. Amen.

My Uncle Mark died a few weeks ago.  He was 59, never married, and childless.   A woman brought a 5×7 photo to his funeral. Surprisingly, the photo was of her and Mark at a prom in the 1960’s. Surprising because I wouldn’t have believed Mark ever attended a prom, but also because the woman looked old.   Though I had seen Mark aging over the years, and this year of illness especially, in my heart he was not as old as the lady with the photo.

He was my dad’s youngest brother, so he was the young, “cool” one when I was growing up. We lived across the  road from my grandmother and him. He served in the Army during the Vietnam War,  in Germany. The photos of him before he left for service are so handsome; clean cut and piercing blue eyes. In his hippie days, which ended up lasting decades, he had long hair, a beard, and dressed to match. But you could still see he was handsome under all that hair.

When he got out of the Army, I was in elementary school. So my personal memories of him start with him as a young man of the early 70’s. In our conservative family, he was the black sheep. He lived upstairs in my grandmother’s century-old home and when we kids would go upstairs to see the attic, we were always cautioned to stay away from his room. I remember he had a painting of a beautiful woman – who was tastefully topless, her wrap falling low in the front. I thought she was beautiful, but I knew my dad probably did NOT appreciate the art upstairs.

Over the years, Mark worked as a truck driver. He got in trouble here and there, lost his driver’s license, had at least a couple of wrecks. He drank too much. He worried and frustrated his older siblings. I grew up thinking that one day Mark would probably die in a car wreck or by setting his bed on fire with a cigarette. In my family, he was used as the example on my father’s side of why alcohol was evil. It is no wonder I couldn’t enjoy an occasional drink until I was well into my 30’s. My parents were early subscribers to the adage, if you can’t be a good example, at least serve as a terrible warning. In some ways, he was that.

But when I think of Mark, the family worry and problems don’t come to mind first. Instead, I think about all of his paradoxes: He never had children, but he loved children, and was very attentive and loving to his nieces and nephews. He didn’t like crowds, but he loved to sit on the porch and talk with family and would do so for hours on end. He served in the Army during a very volatile period, but he loved peace as much as anyone I ever knew. He didn’t keep a relationship with a woman, but he was one of the most committed dog owners I’ve ever known. He lived in a way that sometimes hurt his family, but he was also perhaps the kindest man I’ve ever known. 

The greatest paradox of Mark’s life is also the most beautiful: he was not always the brother, son, or uncle that his family wanted him to be, but he was loved.  I am proud of  my dad and his siblings. Despite all the potholes, they made the journey with Mark to the end of the road and escorted him Home. They remind me what family is about – loving unconditionally, caring beyond reason, doing the right thing instead of saying I told you so when it would be so appropriate. This is how God loves us. This is how I want to love.

It started when I found the chicken breasts were $5.99/lb. Chicken………not steak………..chicken! At the low end grocery store.

Then my car wouldn’t start.

While waiting for a jump start, I watched a woman park in a handicapped space without a handicap placard.

After my car was jumped off and running I pulled out into traffic and up to the red light.

And I heard the woman in the car next to mine blow her horn long and loudly at the driver in front of her – the light changed, but he chose not to pull out in front of the firetruck racing through the intersection with sirens blaring.

My glass was definitely half empty and had a hole in the bottom.

I could have been thankful that I was able to buy the chicken breasts, that I’m not handicapped and in need of the spot that was taken, that my husband was able to jump start my car, that the firetruck wasn’t going to MY house and that I wasn’t in the passenger seat of the woman blowing her horn. But I wasn’t.

Good thing it’s the end of November, because I can tell I’m due a ‘Thanksgiving’.

I left church after the singing today. I went to a store and tried on two pair of jeans that should have fit but didn’t. I guess that’s what I get for being a heathen.

My husband is “concerned” about me; he probably should be. I’m concerned about me, too. It is our third anniversary in that church and I really have no interest at all in attending. 

The music sounded the same for every song. There was an offering taken up and prior to that the omnipresent fall reminder that we are behind “40K” in giving this calendar year and that makes it difficult to plan for the 2009 budget. I recall when I was 21 and working for a newspaper in Lousiana I felt it very unfair to be expected to sell more advertising during a recession than was sold during the oil boom preceding the recession. God is everywhere, so He is in this. Somewhere. I think. I’m conflicted. 

The church wants us on a care team. We got a call from a pastor we never hear from. The senior pastor recently told us it’s “just about impossible” for a member to build relationship with the staff. So why does someone who has no relationship with me think it is okay to ask me for something? Did anyone wonder why we were asking about relationship in the first place?

I missed only the sermon. I can hear it any time on a podcast. I knew my husband would be upset with me, but I just couldn’t convince myself that Jesus would be. I find myself in a strange land spiritually. Not what I expected at this point. But I don’t feel any less in love with God or that He is farther from me. Just that in the past,  I have done a lot of things that perhaps weren’t that important in the Kingdom. And I don’t feel compelled to do them anymore. I am anxious for Him to replace them with something else. But I’m not desperate enough to fill the time with irrelevant activity.

The Daughter Who Keeps Me Humble recently brought up a story from the past that didn’t make me feel especially good. She has a way of doing that. It’s a gift. I think it started when she was 4 and, having seen way too many t.v. commercials, asked me why I didn’t go on NutriSystem and get skinny?

So she says to me, “Hey mom – remember that time you went with some other people from our church to protest the opening of an Adult Store and you all walked in a circle around the building and prayed? Well, me and my friends drove by there the other day on our way to the beach and I told them about you doing that. And they thought is was SO FUNNY! One of them said ‘I bet God let that store go ahead and open because one of those Christians in that circle was secretly a fan of porn, and GOD KNEW IT.'”

Ouch. I told you she was talented. And she wasn’t even trying…………..this was just casual, friendly talk. I smiled a bit and chuckled with her…..and realized once again how far the gap is between how I perceive what I do in God’s name and how others perceive it.

I participated in that little Jericho walk about 8 years ago. I don’t think I would now, even before hearing my daughter’s take on it. I’ve just changed my ideas a bit about effectively living for Christ in this crazy world. About being an alien here. About longing for home and daring to hope God would let me bring someone along with me who might not have gone otherwise.

I won’t lie – it hurt to hear her mock a piece of my journey, and especially to know that she did it  publicly. I  carried her butt to Sunday School and VBS and youth group outings and I followed Swindoll’s parenting series and I wrote out a recommended prayer using Scripture and replacing all the “he’s” with her name. I did all THAT and even made her go back and change clothes for church and remember her Bible and gave her offering money, yet today she is so far away from it all that it appears ridiculous to her and every person with whom she has surrounded herself.

But, I take comfort in knowing she is on her own journey with God. All of us travelers sometimes look back  and see ourselves in an awkward period. There are times in our journeys that we are all back in middle school and our hair is stringy,our teeth uneven and our mamas dressed us funny. But someone loved us even then.  I have awkward periods, too. I know He chuckles a bit as He sees my attempts at fitting in and being on His team and trying to please Him. Even if He’d just preferred we spent an hour in silence listening to Him or playing music instead of slapping on sunscreen and a hat and blowing our trumpets. We survive no less His.

These photos made me think:

Selexyz Dominicanen bookstore

selexyz cafe

With thanks to: http://seandodson.wordpress.com/2007/12/30/gods-own-bookshop/

I do a lot of thinking and reading about the church in our times. When I first saw these photos, they made me sad. God’s House turned into a bookstore!

But more and more I wonder……….what if these were pictures of an active church, not a bookstore? What if you arrived, plugged in your ipod and received a podcast of the sermon? And then you got up and went to a round table with other people who had just finished listening and discussed what you’d heard? And the “ushers” and “greeters” would also be trained facilitators,who went around to the groups and facilitated the conversation? And you could keep your coffee with you at the table?

I would be a charter member of that church……………..

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GREAT QUOTES THOUGHT STREAM

"A biography of any literary person ought to deal at length with what he read and when, for in some sense, 'we are what we read.'" --Joseph Epstein, quoted in Proust and the Squid, by Maryanne Wolf ******************************************
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