Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Before The Throne of God Above

My grandma, the one who had to leave her home last week, told me once that she would start her day by walking a mile and praying for all her grandchildren by name. This morning I made the lunches, drove the van around to all the schools, gave out hugs and kisses, and sent my babies into the world in much the same way I do everyday. Then I took myself and my running shoes to the bike trail and settled in for a handful of slow miles. I like running. It occupies my body so my heart can pray. And it makes me think of my grandma, starting her day lifting up her babies, even without knowing the particular concerns of their little lives. The important thing for her (and for me, I am learning) was the discipline of placing the people we love at the feet of God. Every day.

At a technical level, it is difficult for me to figure out how to pray the names of my loved ones and keep a rhythm suitable for breathing. I have tried a bunch of times, and somehow I can’t settle in, can’t get past the distraction of mixing words (even in my mind) with the need for air. But today, a little breathable phrase presented itself, and I was grateful. It gifted me the words I needed and – maybe more importantly – the image that speaks my heart, reminding me of what the words I am speaking “look” like.

And so I ran and prayed and breathed. It went a little something like this:
The name of Sis before the throne of God.
The name of Mister before the throne of God.
The name of Peanut before the throne of God.

The image of God’s throne room, and the peace and promise available therein, was made into a beautiful hymn a long time back. In 1863, Charitie Bancroft penned these words to Before The Throne of God Above, a now famous-ish hymn:

“Before the throne of God above
I have a strong and perfect plea.
A great high Priest whose Name is Love
Who ever lives and pleads for me.
My name is graven on His hands,
My name is written on His heart.
I know that while in Heaven He stands
No tongue can bid me thence depart.”

There is a good chance, I think, that she had in mind this promise from Hebrews 4:15-16: “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

I like the way this guys sings it.

Amen. And Amen.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Fitting In Can Be Hard Sometimes

Some very nice friends who farm asked if the kids wanted to come out last Saturday and ride along during the garbanzo harvest. Everyone was excited. Dad took the kids out to the farm and the very gracious, long-legged farmer shared the cab of his harvester with four out of the five of us.

I received this report from my husband: "Mr. Farmer is so nice. Where they farm is so beautiful. The kids didn't last long, they kept complaining about being squished.

Dang kids, I thought. So ungrateful. Don't they know what an inconvenience it is for a farmer to (literally) fit in ride-alongs? Then the very nice farmer's wife gave me a handful of great photos from the day. This one is, of course, my favorite (click on photo to enlarge):

Like my mom always said, "Fitting in can be hard sometimes."

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Assisted Living

My Grandma moved into assisted living today. The gradual withering and slipping away – hazards of a beautifully long life – finally making it unsafe, finally forcing the decision. The nine hundred miles that separate me from the situation do not ease the wrenching, even if they spare me the task of helping put her belongings in the suitcases which have been hidden the last year or so. The suitcases have been hidden because the confusion that has been closing in has had my grandma packing up and looking for home – one time making it a mile and a half before a friend brought her back. The suitcases were put away, so she has made due, putting haphazard piles of things (crackers, a brush, four pair of socks) in laundry baskets or cardboard boxes. Asking for rides. Waiting by the door with her head in her hands. Sometimes home was Iowa. Sometimes it was heaven. Sometimes she couldn’t even say. Her mind has been set on leaving.

But that doesn’t make it easier.

My parents have cared for my grandma in their home for some sixteen years, and really, for most of those years it was a mutual caring. They made the meals. She did the dishes. But after awhile she stopped using dish soap, and left the knives pointing up, mixed in with the soup ladles - sharp and shiny warnings of what was coming. So there were years of half-clean dishes, and missing measuring spoons, and dinner around the table.

They had hoped that it would be her last address. They had hoped for a quiet slipping away in a familiar bed. A dignified exit. But my grandma’s care is no longer a one or two person job. Everyone agrees. Everyone knows deep down there is not another way.

But that doesn’t make it easier.

So, my mom, aunt and sister went with Grandma on the tour. Looked around. Said the people were nice. Left Grandma to play cards while they came home to pull the suitcases from the rafters. I couldn’t be there, so I went for a run and committed the efforts of my body to prayer. I ran, with my soul knotted, asking for grace for my mom, asking for grace for my grandma. I worried over the details as I tried to loosen them from my mind and hand them over to God Almighty.

And at the bottom of the first hill, at the intersection where lines of cars turn onto campus, a little promise came, sweet and sure: my grandma is a child of God.

His own child.
And known.

And my heart could finally speak the thorny worry tangled up before me. I could finally see that they followed similar lines as the worries I have had sending babies off, alone, into new situations.

What if she is scared?
What if no one notices her?
What if she doesn’t know the rules?
What if she is confused?
What if she is hurt?
What if something happens, and they call me to come, and I am not by the phone?
What if I chose the wrong place?
What if I trusted the wrong people?
Who will comfort her if she cries?
Will they try to make her laugh?
Will they see that she is beautiful?
Will they know that she is treasured?

And to each worry, the answer was the same:

I am God the Father, grieved that my child will have a hard day.
I woke up early to stand guard over her life.
I already asked the questions that parents ask.
I have already covered their answering with grace.
I will make her bed familiar with my presence.
Even in confusion, I will clothe her in dignity.
She is my child.

And so I read Psalm 121 again:
I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,
the Maker of heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot slip—
he who watches over you will not slumber;
indeed, he who watches over Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.
The Lord watches over you—
the Lord is your shade at your right hand;
the sun will not harm you by day,
nor the moon by night.
The Lord will keep you from all harm—
he will watch over your life;
the Lord will watch over your coming and going
both now and forevermore.

No slumber, Lord. No sleep tonight. Stand guard. Hold her hand. You said you would.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Feeding My Children Peace, Love, Comfort

I have been waiting for the right word to pair with some photos I have of this new friend from Venezuela. I have been waiting, and waiting, and waiting, swimming in beautiful stories, but not stories that are mine to tell. Stories of love, loyalty, faith, bravery, fortitude. Stories of loss and crisis and hearts rent in good-byes. But those are not my stories. And so I sit with pictures of an amazing young man and only bit stories of my own experience of him: stories of humor, talent, laughter, patience, and translation.

For a few years now, he has been the translator for the doctor from our town who meets up with Venezuelan doctors and dentists and head into the hills around Bocono for one-day clinics. All day long he translates for mothers, and translates for the doctor, and then translates for the mothers again. And one time, between patients, he played a guitar, or at least pretended to.

He was kind to my daughter.

Ate a bullion cube on a dare.

Took lots of photos of himself (as is common of his generation).

And told us stories, all twinkly-eyed, about his baby sisters (now teens) and how he would brush their hair and get them ready for school in the mornings when his parents started work before the sun. Because he is funny, and wears cool tee-shirts, I would sometimes forget that I was talking to a sage. But then he would say something about how his parents built a home for their children where there was always peace, love, and God’s own comfort, even when there wasn’t meat. Especially because there wasn’t always meat.

So school has started, and I have been thinking about my children in the world. Going to school without me. Pushing kids. Getting pushed. Learning to read. Learning how deep school-yard talk seeps in, especially the mean kind. Figuring out who to sit by in the cafeteria. Riding bikes up and down the street, watching for cars.

We come home in the afternoon spent. Ready to eat. Ready to stop being nice, stop taking turns, stop thinking about others.

Ready to eat.
Ready to rest.
But not always ready to bend, and pick up brick and mortar, and build a house of peace. And offer to each other the sweetness of love unearned, quiet safety, and a comfort like cool water running over hot stones.

But we can do that. Because that fruit is always, already here.
God with us.
His own spirit.
Even, and especially, in the space between arriving from out there and crawling into bed.

My friend shared with me of his parents bravery and grace in times truly hard. I haven't known the hunger of my children. I haven't known a lot of things. But the lesson keeps coming to mind, nonetheless. This young man, messenger of God, reminds me that the road of love, and peace, and warming laughter, is always before me, should I choose to ask for daily grace.

“A meal of bread and water in contented peace is better than a banquet spiced with quarrels.” Proverbs 17:1
So, Brother, in case you are reading . . . que Dios te bendiga. You bring good things to this earth. Your mama told us she has known since you were very young that you were meant for big work. “Se fue,” the woman at the church told her. And the beautiful truth about turning an ear to God is that it inevitably orients the other to the ground, so that you can hear your calling from both high and low. t.q.m.