Saturday, June 22, 2013
When I was younger, before the days of CDs and MP3s, my brother and I listened to dramatized stories on old records or cassette tapes, stories we would play and replay until we knew them by heart and could repeat the lines along with the characters. Fortunately, as we exhausted listening material, they continued to make more, and at some point we acquired the audio version of the abridged Pilgrim’s Progress, part two (we read the book version for part one). The allegory was so lengthy we eventually just replayed our favorite parts, usually the tapes from about the middle of the story; the most exciting parts, we felt, were the parts when the pilgrims were fighting giants, though other parts of their travels and travails merited occasional listening.
Oddly, it is one of those “other parts” that is one of my favorites now. In the series, on the last cassette, Jim Pappas adapts Bunyan’s ending by quoting Ellen White in words that have always been etched onto a little plaque on a shelf somewhere in my mind. After the narrator paints a word picture of the peaceful land the travel-weary band finally arrives at near the legendary river, he proceeds in his scholarly voice to intone: “On those peaceful plains, beside those living streams, God’s people, so long pilgrims and wanderers, shall find a home.”
Home. By my estimate and memory, the number of residences and moves I’ve experienced totals up to somewhere around 23—the same number as years I’ve been alive. I don’t even know what to call home anymore, so anywhere I stay at for any length of time starts to get referenced as “home.”
What does home mean? It’s one of the first things we ask complete strangers when we meet: “So where are you from?” or “Where’s home for you?” Home. We all know it’s important. It’s part of our identity, the place we claim as ours.
Despite its importance, “home” is difficult to define. I not always sure if it’s quite the place or the people there or maybe it’s a combination of the two, but I feel like it must be related to happiness, security, and stability—anything less just wouldn’t be “home.” And so we long for it, whatever it is, and everything it embodies.
“So where are you from?” asked a gentleman I met at a hostel while backpacking through Europe with my husband, more or less homeless. At a loss, I explained with a smile that I don’t really know—mid-west U.S.A. is the closest I can get. “It’s not where you’re from that matters…It’s where you’re going,” he penned on my crumpled manuscript of signatures I collected as a souvenir of my travels.
Maybe it wasn’t exactly an epiphany, but I found a moment of clarity in his words. It’s okay if I don’t know precisely what to call home, if I’m not sure where to say I’m from, because I do know the part that matters—it’s where I’m going. I'm a pilgrim, not a homeless drifter. I have a home. It’s the place I heard described eloquently by the narrator in his scholarly voice while I lay on the floor of half a dozen different houses, listening to the cassette player, while my brother and were growing up. “On those peaceful plains, beside those living streams, God’s people, so long pilgrims and wanderers, shall find a home.”
Saturday, September 29, 2012
There are any number of things that can go wrong on a long journey; trekking about in foreign places seems to have a way of bringing out the occasions where stress, forgetfulness, and confusion coalesce into one menacing package. For David and I, one month into a three month honeymoon backpacking trip through Europe, those occasions haven't dampened our enthusiasm for our journey, but I'm uncertain that they're quite teaching us patience either.
Thursday was one such instance. After spending a day in Poland visiting Auschwitz and Krakow, we were at the end of an overnight train ride that would roll into Vienna about 6:45 a.m. The swaying, heaving motion had lulled me into a rather deep sleep despite the less than cushiony bunk beds and the fact that my husband had been booked in a separate sleeping car; the conductor unceremoniously shook me out of such peaceful slumber and announced that we would be arriving at the station in 25 minutes. Somewhere during my half-alert teeth-brushing, face-washing session, David popped in with my second, smaller backpack that he had been storing overnight, and I mumbled something unintelligible before he left--not knowing that it would be the last time we would see each other for quite awhile.
There was a brief, preliminary stop at Wien Miedling where I glanced out of our window into the semi-darkness to see if we had arrived, but almost as quickly the lurching, swaying motion began again, and with some commendable will power, I snapped my mountainous luggage into place on my back instead of drifting back to sleep. Moments later we reached the end of the line--Wien Westbahnhof--and I alighted without much grace and began searching the platform for David. A few minutes passed, all the passengers from our train flowed past in sleepy parade, probably collectively pulled along by the thought of coffee somewhere nearby, but my husband wasn't among them. Though I didn't think he would leave the platform and go into the train station without me, it seemed like the next best idea, so I walked inside and looked around the upper level near the entrance. No David.
I never went downstairs. If David were at the station, I was sure he would have been waiting for me where he knew I would see him; since he wasn't I had to assume he had accidentally taken the first stop. Shifting Mount McKinley on my back, I waddled my way over to the railing overlooking the escalators to the lower levels and stood for a while drinking in the sunrise through the eastern windows. Silhouetted against the pastel clouds was a cathedral tower, darkly elegant by contrast. It was picture perfect, and I started digging through the smaller backpack for my phone to catch the sight for future posterity and Instagram.
Right about then I discovered that David, having collected all our various electronic devices the night before to charge them, had packed them into the backpack he gave me. I had my phone, his phone, the iPod, and the iPad--leaving him with no method of accessing the Internet (our phones are inactive for the duration of our stay in Europe, but they are useful if one can find wifi). I took a picture of the quickly brightening sky gradually enveloping the cathedral.
(See photo here: http://instagram.com/p/QESwVYujOr/ )
It was 7:00. I picked up some free wifi, settled down on a bench near a power outlet, and fished out my ticket. Clearly printed after the arrow from "Krakow" was the station title "Wien Westbahnhof." With a sigh of relief, I noted that I had definitely taken the correct stop and that David had only to look at his ticket to recognize that he was at the wrong stop--and know where to find me. It was just a matter of waiting until he caught the next train in.
An hour later there was still no sign of my husband. I sent him a message on facebook detailing exactly where in the station I was so he would have no difficulty locating me when he arrived. I knew he would find a computer or borrow someone's phone or somehow find a method of contacting me to explain the delay. As time rolled by much slower than the trains breezing in and out, I sent a couple emails just to be on the safe side and plugged my phone into the outlet next to me to avoid running the battery down.
By 9:00 I was hungry, needed to find a restroom, and still missing my husband. Reattaching the luggage I'd removed for the couple hours I'd been sitting in the same spot, I walked a few yards to the InfoPoint across from my bench. Had they possibly heard from my husband or could they call around for him? While they announced his name over the intercom I struggled over to the nearest shop for an apple strudel, and came back. They said they would call the other station, and I spent the interlude dragging my Mt. McKinley up a couple flights of stairs to the ladies' restroom. When I returned there was news: The other station verified that David had been there, but they had sent him off with directions to arrive at my station.
This was encouraging, and naturally I expected him to walk in the door at any minute. I had no way of knowing my extended stay on the metal bench wasn't to end as quickly as I hoped, but I assured my concerned family back home that I wasn't stranded--I knew David would come find me any time now.
But no familiar faces appeared from the masses of people who came and went in the busy station. My seat mates on the hard, metal bench changed dozens of times and still I sat, waiting. I chatted with a few--a young woman designer from Brazil, a young Austrian soldier, a couple bored security guys patrolling the station-and most of them heard about my alleged husband who theoretically was going to come get me...sometime. And before long they would leave, and he still had not arrived.
It was nearing 12 o'clock. It had been more than 5 hours since I had last seen David, and for all I knew I could be waiting in the Vienna train station for days, sitting on the same bench, eating an occasional snack from the concessions nearby, and assuring everyone that my husband was going to come find me anytime now. By the time he did I would probably be speaking passable German and the security guards would have thrown me out half a dozen times.
Just before my plight actually became that serious, I looked up to see the most beautiful face I could imagine coming toward me from across the room. David grinned broadly and opened his arms wide in a triumphant gesture that I might have run toward if rapid movement were even mildly tolerated by my Mt. McKinley.
We excitedly began comparing stories to figure out what had happened. My version basically consisted of me sitting, not moving, waiting. As it turned out, so did his. He had taken the stop the conductor said was his, then immediately discovered I wasn't there. Borrowing someone's Facebook (it wouldn't let him sign in to his own) he sent me a message telling me where I could find him--and then he waited, patiently, for me to follow his directions. But I never came. At last, he had come to my train station and found me.
In some obscure folder with no alert sat his message: "Michelle, this is David. I got off at the wrong stop. I am at Wein Meidling; I am in the hallway between/under the platforms. I will not move. Please come find me. I love you." I'd never received it.
However, despite of hours of waiting, delays to our exploration of Vienna, and the inconveniences all that entailed, we were just happy. Relieved to be back together. And very ready to leave the train station.
The next day we were on a train again, rolling toward Croatia and watching the beautiful Austrian countryside unfold along the tracks. With so much time to think, I couldn't help but remember that another bride is waiting for her Groom to come get her. It's been such a long, long wait, yet through all the years that have passed, she insists He will come. Any time now. She watches the eastern sky, and she waits. He will come...any time now.
But He doesn't come, and she wonders why He delays. So she sits, and she waits. Maybe she's missed a message somewhere, where He asked her to do something other than sit still, but at least she waits--confident that He is coming soon. Any time now, they'll be reunited.
And when Christ has waited as long as He can for the church, at last He will come for her, right where she waits, so ready to leave this station. He will smile the most beautiful smile and open His arms wide, triumphantly, to greet her. Any time now, it will all be worth the wait.
Saturday, July 14, 2012
Magazines tell us why we should love it, and we know we want to, but after putting so much effort into acting like we aren't jealous of those annoyingly fit slimsters* who easily jog endless miles, somehow there just isn't any energy left to get out and go to the gym. And even if you do somehow work up the motivation to drag yourself into a room full of buff, compact, human energy bullets who blithely push around more pounds at once than you have moved in the last few weeks combined, the sheer depression resulting is likely to haunt you the next time you think of darkening the door to that jungle of muscles. No wonder everyone prefers going on a diet in America instead of going to the gym--it involves less action in general and zero interaction with those depressingly fit and muscular ones who make you feel like gorging on an entire bucket of donuts. With ice cream on the side.
This week, finding myself to be one of those Americans who wants to work out but doesn't really want to exercise, I went to the gym for the first time in months. Normally I rationalize myself out of this because I work with David doing landscaping and general yard work and, therefore, assume I'm getting all the exercise I need. Also, I don't exactly need to lose weight, so it seems even less necessary. However, recognizing that--like most American jobs--our work consists of finding the easiest, most efficient way to accomplish the project with minimal effort, I finally had to concede that working outside every week doesn't necessarily equate to "working out" and that, since landscaping doesn't seem to offer quite the degree of physical torture that the gym does, I probably need more exercise.
Monday went well, and for that first day I was under the happy delusion that it was going to be easier than I'd thought. Though somewhat sore, I felt satisfied with my achievement and the fact that I could still move without moaning or experiencing overt pain. By Wednesday, something about the 75 lb. bar weighting my shoulders as I did squats made me suspect seriously that there might be a rebellion brewing not far under my skin. As it turned out, I've been limping up and down stairs and wincing at attempts to sit down for the last few days.
Being ridiculously sore and achy has reminded me, though, that there are other ways to exercise aside from going to the gym. As Paul wrote to Timothy, "...exercise yourself toward godliness." (1 Tim. 4:7) And if physical exercise is important for good health and strength, how could its spiritual counterpart not be doubly crucial to our spiritual well-being?
This week I realized that working out consistently could save me the pain of making my muscles get reacquainted with exercise, and that building strength won't happen without some intentional effort. Ordinary daily work is good, but sometimes it's not enough. In the same way, I suspect, godliness won't just happen to us. Sure, instead of exercise we might prefer to go on a spiritual diet and avoid the bad stuff, but that alone won't give us the strength of character that we need as much as Timothy did.
I hope you'll join me in the spiritual gym to work with the Master Trainer. He knows where we are weak and just how to make us strong.
"Only be strong and very courageous, that you may observe to do according to all the law which Moses My servant commanded you; do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may prosper wherever you go." Joshua 1:7
*Yes, that might be an imaginary term, but you know who they are.
Saturday, June 30, 2012
David and I waited in the chilly reception area of the chiropractor's office, seated in straight-backed chairs with the sort of padding and contours that ensure that, by the time the doctor sees you, back pain will be a resounding 'yes.' We had just finished discussing the lack in the English language for a feminine version of the word 'emasculating' when he informed me that he wanted to stop by Aldi on the way home since it wouldn't be out of the way. Now, empirically speaking, the nearest Aldi store was definitely not located "on the way" home. Not empirically speaking, Aldi is not out of the way if that's where your husband wants to go and he is driving (Wife Rule #1: Don't correct your husband's sense of direction, even if it is wrong, and especially if he knows it). I resigned to a trip to Aldi.
Soon we had steered east, taken a couple right turns, and arrived at The Library Center, which, while located on the same general side of town as Aldi, looks absolutely nothing like it once you get beyond the category of "buildings constructed after the turn of the 20th century." David grinned, "See, I said Aldi was on the way home. Now it is!" Now, empirically speaking, making twice as many stops on a detour doesn't suddenly negate the 'detour' factor of that route. Not empirically speaking, a second stop out of the way doubles the purpose of taking that purposeless route (Wife rule #2: Don't correct your husband's math, even if he thinks that 0 x 2 = 2). I was increasingly glad I had no particularly serious reason to be home soon.
Walking past small knick-knack stores, the Mudhouse coffee shop, and various other things I didn't expect to find inside a library, we approached the "check-out desk" that dwarfed most of the furniture in our house, combined. David smiled at the curly-haired girl behind one of the computers, "We need to get my wife a library card."
Suddenly heaven dawned. Of course, how had it not occurred to me that I had moved within the city limits of a town with a library?! I had lived out of city limits (where library access costs $60/year) for so many years of my life that it hadn't even creeped across the stage of my mind that now, wonderfully, buildings full of books were at my full disposal. 'Giddy' would scarcely describe how I felt, but fortunately there were several aisles of references books available to relieve my quandary. One of them would surely house a thesaurus where dozens of similar words would tell me exactly how to describe my excitement, likely advising me that 'giddy' is really the best descriptor, though 'reeling' is a close second.
"Does it cost anything?" I asked David as we prepared to check-out with the nine books I had selected. I'm pretty sure he laughed at me. Apparently, introducing a bookworm to the library is a bit like taking a shopaholic to the Mall of America for the first time, except cheaper. David seemed rather amused at my inordinate excitement over library access and perhaps confused that I considered city residency the single greatest boon of married life.
So everyone was right--married life is full of surprises. Great ones, in my opinion. The best part about it, though, is the part that I was aware of from the minute I said "yes" to David's proposal; the most awesome part of married life hasn't been one of those unexpected surprises along the way. It is the privilege of having someone to love who loves you and of getting to spend every day with the most amazing person you can imagine. City residency and library cards are wonderful, but really, the single greatest boon of married life is being with my husband.
Sitting in church today, I almost didn't turn to the Scripture reading for Pastor Rester's sermon--the passage was familiar enough I could repeat it by heart. "Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also." (John 14:1-3)
The mansions will be wonderful, the scenery spectacular, residency in the most incredible city ever built...phenomenal. But no privilege--not even a library card--that comes with living in the New Jerusalem will ever, ever equal the pure ecstasy of finally spending eternity with Love.
"...and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you." Isaiah 62:5
Saturday, December 31, 2011
Last day of 2011. I'm in Houston, TX to attend the Generation of Youth for Christ 2011 convention. Somehow, in all the bustle from hotels to meetings, from meetings to meals, from meals to more meetings, it occurs to me that I haven't updated my blog in months and in a couple days...tomorrow...today...this is the last day I can do it this year.
2011. I've never been so glad to see a year end. There is no way to over-emphasize how drastically I have come to loathe the year 2011. Many times I've said I would trade this year in on any other year in the book and not look back; there is nothing to make this year worth the time.
Yet here we are at last; having survived 2011, now we face 2012. I'm bringing it in at a Christian youth conference that stimulates a lot of thought and reflection, and I'm sure, no matter where you are, the realization that one chapter in time is closing and another is opening will give you pause to contemplate as well. We all like to think of it that way--an ending and a beginning; wrapping up the previous and starting fresh. Really, though, no year stands completely alone, unattached on either end, with a stark beginning and finish. It invariably borrows from the previous year some jagged attachments and loans its successor the remnants that remain.
What are you carrying from the old year into the next 365 days that lie ahead? Have you thought about where this year has taken you, what it has changed about you, and what of it 2012 cannot change? That's the thing about this world--old things never quite go away even if you want them to, and new things are never essentially new even if they are new to you. Solomon knew what he was saying when he wrote that there is nothing new under the sun.
So here we dwell, under the sun, the land of repetitious life, where one year blends into the next seamlessly. Despite all our fresh starts, the new leaf we attempt to turn, and the disappointments, pain, and hurt we try to put behind us, life reminds us that each unwanted reminder always hides there in the shadows of this land under the sun. Move on? It will follow. Embrace the new? Don't be surprised if it feels a lot like the old. There is nothing new under the sun.
Before you find this as depressing as I do, look beyond life under the sun. There is One who isn't trapped in this land under the sun, and He holds the power to make all things new. Above the sun He reigns supreme, He holds the past and the future, and He holds the sun and the shadows. Someday soon, maybe before 2012 threads itself into yet another new year, He will visit our land under the sun just to pull us out of this old life and give us a new one.
He promises, "For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth: And the former shall not be remembered or come to mind" (Is. 65:17). A newness that finally eradicates the old; a fresh start without a hint of the pain left behind. Aside from the new heart God promises to give us, the only thing absolutely and totally new we can expect while living here under the sun is the promise that one day, someday soon, our existence under the sun will give way to a new life, in a new land, where there is "no need of the sun...to shine in it, for glory of God illuminated it. The Lamb is its light" (Rev. 21:23).
What are you looking forward to in the New Year? I'm looking forward to a new year, knowing it takes us one year closer to life with the Son, no longer under the sun. Only God can create anything anew, and it is my prayer that the coming year brings you and me both of the only truly new things we can hope for--a new heart, and a new life in a new land not blighted by the curse of the land under the sun. I want to see the first real end--the end of sorrow, sin, and suffering; I want to see an absolutely new beginning.
It will come, if not this year perhaps the next. If not that one, perhaps the one following. But it will come. We will hear with John the long waited for announcement, "It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End" (Rev. 21:6)
Saturday, September 3, 2011
Some people text at red lights. Others mutter impatiently under their breath, look for something under the passenger seat, or pass along ageless wisdom to the kids in the back seat, such as “The more you ask ‘Are we there yet,’ the longer it will take us to get there.” The list of possibilities is endless.
Apparently there is a good reason that Jesus is called the Good Shepherd, making those following Him His "sheep," like the woolly little creatures that follow almost unquestioningly. We have some nagging, innate need to follow after what we see. Whether that means following the example of the cars around us at a red light, getting an iPhone, pretending to hate Justin Bieber, or whatever else is currently the popular thing to do. Even a group of the most anti-conventional rebels might as well be carrying a banner declaring, "Let's be different--together!" The urge to follow something or something is almost impossible to resist, and while many are eager to stand out, most are reluctant to stand alone.
The question, then, isn't so much if you will be a follower. The question is what will you follow. You can follow what you see, what is popular, or what is familiar. You can follow what is wrong, what is right, what you're unsure of. You can follow the world or Christ.
Whatever you follow, remember the Red-Light Syndrome--when you follow something, the ripple of your influence makes you as much a leader as a follower. If you move forward, chances are that others will follow your example as well...and that doesn't just apply to red lights.
Saturday, August 13, 2011
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us.
We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant,
gorgeous, handsome, talented and fabulous?
Actually, who are you not to be?
You are a child of God.
Your playing small does not serve the world.
There is nothing enlightened about shrinking
so that other people won't feel insecure around you.
We are all meant to shine, as children do.
We were born to make manifest the glory of God within us.
It is not just in some; it is in everyone.
And, as we let our own light shine, we consciously give
other people permission to do the same.
As we are liberated from our fear,
our presence automatically liberates others.