Sunday, September 08, 2019

Tension #1

I saw a picture of you today.
You wore a big smile and you looked genuinely happy.
And I was happy you were happy
(though a part of me wished you were unhappy and missing me).

That I was happy you are happy
just confirmed what I always knew;
that what I felt for you,
what I still feel for you
is,
was,
always will be
love.

True love.

And my hearts breaks all over again.

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Definitions



Dedicated to my Pastor, Rev. H Leon Ben-Ezra on the occasion of his retirement

def·i·ni·tions

You taught us what those church words meant
Always pointing to the One He sent.
“Believe the gospel. First repent.”
You taught us definitions.

Through many sermons some of us wept
And I confess through some I slept
But even so, I did not forget
All those definitions.

Hope – waiting on God His promises to keep.
Joy is optimism
Glory – His beauty that runs so deep.
You taught us definitions.

“It always begins with prayer!”
You showed us to not despair
For when your life was not so fair
You lived those definitions.

And now it’s off to Illinois you go;
To Peoria and Chicago
But as you leave always know
You’ve left us with true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, praiseworthy

Definitions.

Monday, July 29, 2019

Her Name Was Dora - A Eulogy



Her name was Dora.

She first joined our household in October, 2004. The organization through which I'd adopted Grace just a few months before,  Because You Care had contacted me asking if I would be willing to foster a dog. She'd been found wandering the streets of Northern Millcreek Township and was only captured after she was too hungry to care. She was coaxed to come in with lunch meat.

She was so scared the volunteers called her Sissy.  When Sissy was brought to my home she was literally dragged in, wrestling and fighting the entire time. But she didn't bite or snap. She didn't want to hurt anyone, she just didn't want to be hurt herself.

I thought it was mean to call her Sissy, highlighting her fear so I renamed her. Initially I called her Cora, for courageous. But after a week I remembered I had a friend who had a daughter named Cora and I didn't think she'd appreciate me naming my dog the same so I tasked with changing her name once again. Because she'd already started to respond to "Cora" I looked for a name that sounded similar. Perhaps Nora? That didn't fit. Maybe Flora? Ick-NO. I tried Dora and she responded so the name stuck. People assume she was named for Dora the Explorer, but that wasn't the case.

Once in my house she backed away from Grace and me and barked. Eventually, when people came to visit she wouldn't run away, but stand behind me - possibly for protection...and bark. Finally, feeling a bit more comfortable in her surroundings she would stand in front of me - possibly to protect me(?)...and bark.

Dora barked at the mailman. She barked at the UPS driver. She barked at the neighbors when they sat on their porches. She barked at repairmen - at my home and the neighbors.  She barked at all the people who walked up and down my street, and I live on a street popular with walkers. When giving directions to my house I told people to not bother looking for the house number just listen for the house with the barking dogs. They always found the right house.

I have no idea of what she was trying to communicate. Sometimes to alert me. Sometimes because she was happy. But I think it was most often because she was afraid and anxious. I had her a few years before I could look in her eyes and see she trusted me. Years! I was only supposed to foster her, but I knew that in spite of her progress, relocating Dora would ruin her so I kept her. (Come to think of it, I don't think Because You Care ever charged me the adoption fee!)

Dora wasn't a particularly playful dog. She didn't chase a ball or catch a Frisbee. But she loved to run! Once I felt confident she wouldn't run away from me, I took her over to the GE softball fields and let her off leash.  She would run like a shot! Maybe she was part greyhound or maybe gazelle. She was beautiful to watch, the sun bouncing off her sleek black coat looked as if sparks were flying as she sped across the field. And she was happy! True joy shone from her face, her eyes, as she outran all the fear and that surrounded her.

Another activity she enjoyed was sliding down the slide at Napier Park. Many years ago, Olivia (Barbling #3) coaxed her up the slide steps and I stayed at the bottom to catch her. Dora loved it and kept running back to the steps to try it again.  Finally, on one trip down her claw got caught and she hurt her paw. She didn't enjoy the slide as much anymore, though every couple of years I could convince her to take a trip.

Finally, the years caught up to her, as they do all of us.  Her eyes clouded over, she slowed down quite a bit, and her anxiety was keeping her (and me) up many nights. At times her breathing was labored and I suspect she was concealing pain. I decided her time had come and the loving thing would be to put her down, so I made the vet appointment for Saturday, July 27.

On Friday night Dora, Lucy and I made a final walk to Dairy Queen, where they each got a Pet Cup - a cup of vanilla ice cream with a dog biscuit garnish. Normally, the three of us split a small cone, but the occasion warranted their own servings.

Saturday morning, before we left for the vet, Dora and I walked over to the softball fields, where I left her off leash. She didn't run, but she did walk at a faster clip than normal. We then stopped at Napier Park where she walked up to the slide and sniffed it, perhaps bringing back good memories. And then we left for the vet's. My friend, Brenda came with me so I didn't have to face this alone.

In just two days' time I already notice less dog hair around. And the house is quiet. Too quiet! Reflecting on our 15 years together I wondered if maybe I should have kept the name Cora.
Though she'd never conquered her fears Dora had lived a good life in spite of them. Isn't that the true meaning of courage?

Fifteen years and it only occurred to me today to look up the meaning of "Dora"! The name is from the Greek, meaning "gift". Dora is the diminutive of Theodora (or Dorothy) meaning "God's gift". In one of those spiritual ironies, "God's gift" came to live with me just a few months after I'd adopted "Sasha", who I had renamed "Grace". Grace and Dora were meant to be together. And they're together now, with the One who let me have them for a time.

Her name was most appropriately Dora.



Sunday, December 30, 2018

Word of the Year 2018

Over the last few years I've seen people adopting a word; their personal focus or theme for the upcoming year. I never participated, not because I didn't find it interesting but because I found it too interesting.

Had I adopted a word for myself I would have had it tattooed on my body, stenciled on my walls, made it the screen saver AND wallpaper on ALL my devices. I would have made a totally unrealistic and unachievable list of goals and tasks which would embed and reinforce said theme in to my psyche for the rest of my days.

When I see articles on choosing a word, I hide.

Well, I used to until last year.

In the final months of 2017 I kept seeing a certain word pop up. I'd see it in books, articles, and posts. I'd hear it in sermons, interviews, and conversations It showed up in a crossword puzzle! This word came up enough that I finally took notice. I felt the Spirit's prompt that it was going to be my theme for the year.

The word? Vulnerable.

Now when I think of the word vulnerable, it's on an emotional level - accessible, open and even exposed to possible hurt. In fact, I began 2018 with a CS Lewis quote "To love is to be vulnerable".

God had other ideas.

At 12:01 am on January 1, 2018 I crawled in to bed to read. I looked up and saw a wet spot above my bedroom closet and window frame. Apparently there was an ice dam on the roof that caused a leak in my attic which worked it's way down to my bedroom. This wasn't a total surprise since this was happening all over town, caused by the massive snowfall (4 feet) that occurred Christmas day.

And so I began 2018 calling the insurance company and finding contractors to remove the ice dam and dry out my walls. Large loud heated fans were set up in my bedroom and attic, where a large portion of the plaster wall was removed to allow better access. Did I mention that the fans were loud? I like to sleep with the droning sound of a fan, but not these fans, so I slept on the recliner for a few days.

Then there was a bit of a thaw where all the ice on the roofs started to fell. This brought down electrical wires all over town. And gutters, too. And the gutters broke things on their trip down. Things like branches, and my fence, and my back porch window. And naturally, power was lost.




Within a few hours the electric company was putting wires back up and restoring power all over my neighborhood.

Except my house.

When they got to my wires they said they couldn't put them back up because they were worn and they appeared to be original to the house.

 My house was built in 1916.

Now I had to find an electrician to update the wires from the pole to the house, and replace the electrical box, which was also dreadfully outdated. I was without power for five days. With temperatures below freezing, the dogs and I had to relocate - me to my friend, Brenda's, and the dogs to a local kennel. I live in a row house so I get some residual heat from the neighbors on either side of me so there was no additional damage from the cold. I did, however, lose all the food in my refrigerator.

Then, my dryer and microwave stopped working, and I smelled gas from my stove. It took a few days, but I was able to track down a repairman who was able to repair the dryer, but the microwave and stove needed replaced.

My definition of vulnerable started to grow.

In April, Erie had a not so freek-ish but not all that common ice storm. The evening of April 14 I let the dogs out in the yard for "last call". After they performed the required tasks I opened the screen door to let them back in, only Lucy wanted to continue dancing in the freezing rain. I, dressed in pajamas and slippers, had to go out in to the dark yard to drag her back in. As Lucy entered the house, I slipped on the icy steps and fell backwards on to the cement walkway, landing on my
hand first, and then my butt.

I quickly assessed myself for damage and noted some pain in my left wrist and a bend that hadn't been there before. After a few moments of denial  ("It's just badly bruised. I'll ice it. No, it's probably dislocated. I'll find someone to help me get it back in place.") the painful truth hit me like....well, a hand coming in to hard contact with a piece of cement! My wrist was broken. After a circuitous call for assistance (thank you Brenda & Jim, Bekah & Jeff, and finally Fran) I was transported to the Emergency Room where they confirmed my diagnosis.


I sported this bright pink cast for four weeks, followed by a rigid brace (in basic black) for another four weeks. I was fortunate it was my non-dominant left hand that was affected, but I was surprised by how much I actually needed my left hand. I had neither the grip or strength to perform basic tasks like squeezing toothpaste on to my toothbrush, or blow dry my hair. One needs two hands to pull up one's pants or put on a bra (thank you Laura D for the handy hint on how to accomplish this one-handed). Cooking was physically challenging (the orthopedic surgeon's advice - ditch the cast iron and get aluminum pans).

 Everything took longer to do, if I could do it all. I was physically vulnerable.

 Once my wrist was freed from two months' confinement, I was looking forward to resuming my old life only to discover I'd lost a lot of strength and flexibility from the immobility and disuse. I faced three months of twice a week physical therapy which I had to fit in to my already tight schedule. Life was exhausting.

In June, on my way home from work one night, I zoned out at the wheel as I was turning in to a gas station. I hit a curb, blew a tire,  and bent a rim. Car repairs make me feel especially vulnerable.

The remainder of 2018 was (thankfully) uneventful, though there is still one day remaining! Before looking ahead to 2019 and putting My Year of Living Vulnerably behind me, I've been reflecting on the events of 2018.

First, I was wondering why I'd limited my definition of vulnerable to the emotional in the first place. I've concluded it's because I've always been relatively safe and protected. I've always had a warm home, ample food, supportive and loving family and friends. Even during times of unemployment I had some income that covered my expenses. I just presumed these would always be there. But as these events demonstrate, none of what we have can be taken for granted. We live as we do by the grace of God. Our homes, our health, our constitutional rights and form of government can all disappear at His will. As Job said (and he had some pretty extensive experience with vulnerability) "the LORD gave, and the LORD hath taken away" (Job 1:21).

Then I wondered what was the result of all this? What was accomplished through all these events? I recalled a FB discussion I had back in May about the "power of positive thinking". The other party had posted a meme quoting someone saying we make our own heaven and hell by our attitude. When I disagreed, she said my good reaction to my broken wrist supported her thoughts. Here is part of my response:

My broken arm is a good example. I’ve mentioned to you my many serious bouts with depression. I’m an emotional person. This broken wrist along with everything else that’s happened this year should have sent me in a downward spiral. It hasn’t. Not because of a “good attitude” or saccharin affirmations or the power of positive thinking but because of the power of God through the Gospel.

Joy and suffering are not mutually exclusive. Joy is not a peppy “joy joy joy joy down in my heart” camp tune. Joy is faithful optimism that God will make all things right some day, even if that day doesn’t come until the day I die. Joy is what Paul felt...in prison. Joy is what Jesus felt...in Gethsemane as he cried and sweated blood. Joy is what I’m feeling now...with an ice pack on my hurting hand wondering how I’m going to get laundry done.

Joy is not a choice. Obedience is the choice I made even when it’s made no sense or meant denying my own desires. Joy is fruit of the Spirit.

What was accomplished was a greater sense of God's sovereignty and a deeper joy; genuine joy. Joy comes from submitting to God, trusting His plans are good and perfect. Submitting makes one vulnerable, exposed.

All things considered, I feel the year was a good one, but I'm looking forward to putting it behind me! And I've chosen a word for 2019. That word is prayerful. Because when you're in a vulnerable position, you tend to cry out to God more. I won't have it tattooed on my body, though. I hope by the end of the year it's tattooed on my heart and soul.










Saturday, December 22, 2018

Scripture to Meditate On

Periodically, my Pastor sends out to our congregation a thought he had on a particular portion of Scripture (he also posts them to his blog here). He's retiring next year so in his honor I'm posting some things I thought as I meditated on Psalm 144 today.

"Blessed be the LORD, my rock, who trains my hands for war, and my fingers for battle; he is my steadfast love and my fortress, my stronghold and my deliverer, my shield and he in whom I take refuge, who subdues peoples under me." Ps 144:1-2

There's a progression of protection here. Fortress to stronghold to shield... As I read this I imagined a conversation between a child and parent.

Child: What if a monster attacks me when I'm in the yard?
Parent: Just run inside the house. I'll protect you.
Child: What if the monster breaks in to the house?
Parent: We can lock ourselves in your bedroom.
Child: What if the monster bangs on the door until it breaks?
Parent: We'll hold up our shields and go to battle against it.
Child: What if it knocks the shield out of my hand?
Parent: I'll jump on it and beat it up and save you!

Our LORD is not just our trainer, but an active participant in the battle. In fact, he gave his life so we might live. Jesus didn't first give his life at the cross. He began the sacrifice 33 years prior when he laid aside his royal privilege to become man. Jesus voluntarily surrendered his dignity to become a baby who messed his diapers, and relied on others to feed and protect him. The very One who spoke creation in to being lowered himself to become a child who had to learn to talk.

I don't ever recall seeing a cross on a Christmas card or a manger on an Easter card. Maybe they should be.








Saturday, November 17, 2018

I'm Baaack

It's been a while since I last blogged. It's not that I had writer's block or haven't written anything. I have hundreds of scraps of paper scribbled with all sorts of thoughts and ideas. I just never got around to publishing them here. 

But I'm feelin' the creative urges and plan on putting more out here.

In the meantime, here is a book review I sent out to my church family a few weeks ago.

Book Reviews
Yes, you read correctly. Book reviewS, plural. I've read (listened to, as well) a number of books that I thought would interest you all, but I've neglected writing reviews. I won't overwhelm you with all of them at once, but the two I will present here are by the same author, on basically the same topic, presented in the same format.  

They are Things Not Seen: A Fresh Look at Old Stories of TrustingGod's Promises and Not By Sight: A Fresh Look at Old Stories of Walking byFaith, both by Jon Bloom, co-founder and president of DesiringGod.org. Both books have 30+ short chapters presenting reenactments of various persons from Biblical history displaying trust and faith, or learning how to do so.

The pattern of each book is the same. Bloom presents a biblical passage, reenacts the narrative, and then explains how this person demonstrated trust or faith. In these portrayals, Bloom is faithful to the biblical story but fills in some of the blanks with church history, and artistic license, where appropriate.

Some of those presented were the more popular, better-known person like Abraham and Paul. But he also takes on lesser know characters, as well. In a chapter on disappointment, Bloom presents Joseph Barsabbas, the disciple NOT chosen to replace Judas. According to Church tradition, Joseph Barsabbas became Bishop of Eleutheropolis, where he died a martyr (NOTE: I listened to the audio versions so I had to source this from Wikipedia. There was no way I could remember Eleuth...whatever). In Bloom's story, the time is set during JB's tenure as Bishop, where he is counseling a young charge on how to deal with disappointment, as he had had to do when Matthias was chosen over him. In another chapter he takes on the after-story of the Woman at the Well, who in Eastern church tradition was a woman named Photine. 

There were a few reasons why I enjoyed these books. First, using biblical instead of more contemporary examples, we're reminded these men and women of old were real people, feeling and experiencing some of the same things we encounter. At a time when people are saying the Word is not relative to today, this type of handling shows otherwise.

Next, observing the manner is which the author handles and presents the Word gives us ideas on how we can do the same in our own reading. He asks questions of the text (hmmm...I've heard that somewhere before) like "whatever happened to Joseph Barsabbas?" and starts digging in to church history - or Wikipedia. He added color commentary, without straying from Biblical truth, by imagining what the various characters felt or thought; for example,after a day of fishing the disciples probably felt tired, sweaty, stinky, and maybe even grouchy. Reading the Word in this manner is more than just taking in information; it brings Scripture to life and allows the Spirit to transform us by renewing our minds!

As I mentioned before, I listened to the audio version of this book (free on the Hoopla app through the Erie County Library. If you need more info about Hoopla, let me know). Jon Bloom narrated his own book and did a good job of it. For non-fiction books, I usually enjoy it hen the author reads their own work. They best know the inflection and emphasis they intended. Though there are a lot of chapters, they are short and self-contained, so you can read them over time. I also thought these would be great for kids, maybe as young as five. There's nothing that would harm or scare a younger child if they happened to be in the room, but they probably wouldn't get much from them.




Saturday, April 21, 2018

Qavah

Qavah
 
Wait expectantly?
I’ve been waiting
On pins and needles
For decades.
 
How many years
Did Sarah wait?
How many times
Did Hannah plead her case?
 
I’ve been waiting.

On pins and needles.

For decades.
 
The pins feel sharper now. 
The needles pierce my heart
To the point of shedding blood.
 
But you already know what that’s like,
Don’t you?
Being pierced,
Shedding blood.
 
So, I’ll wait some more
On painful pins and needles.
On You will I wait
For You to keep Your promise.