September 26, 2016

Lost Dogs, Metaphors, and Life

Naomi on a silly day.

We lost Life.
The gate was left open. 
We all took out
and wandered the neighborhood.

The girls held their mother’s hand,
walked the pavement in their velcro tennis shoes,
cried out through the chain linked fences,
Zoe! Zoe! Zoe!

Where are you Zoe?
    Pain rained down her cheeks---
grief, on the face of a child. 

Zoe! Zoe! Zoe!

How she longed for life 
to lick her salty tears
with that sandpaper tongue.
Where had Life gone?

The lost lives unaware, 
enslaved to her true nature,
padding along, on the trail of a calico cat,  
sniffing the fragrance of lampposts. 

In hope, we believe that
wanderers will go home
when they get thirsty—the
first step it seems,
to being found.

These are the bones of a poem that has been simmering in me since we rolled up the windows and drove home from Annie’s house last Friday morning. I’ve been thinking recently about how God uses metaphors to teach us deeper things. He uses metaphors in the Bible in abundance and He uses them in daily life if we are paying attention to what is happening around us.

Annie scared me to death when she called on Friday morning. I heard the panic in her voice and my stomach knotted before she told me why she called. She needed help and asked me to come quick. Zoe had disappeared. Naomi had left the gate open and Annie wasn’t sure how long the dog had been lost. She needed help to find her so Jeff and I jumped in his truck and drove over.

We drove up and down the streets south of Moore. Annie called, said a lady had told her she had seen her over there. It was a good ways from the house and I was hoping she was wrong. We turned down toward a day care center thinking Zoe might be trying to make friends with some of the kids playing outside. That’s when we saw Annie walking up the street holding Naomi’s hand. Olivia was running along beside them weaving on and off the curb. It was hot; their faces were flushed and they were sweating. Naomi’s eyes were swollen from crying; guilt was weighing heavy on her. 

They crawled up into the truck and buckled in. Annie was between them. They all called for Zoe out the back windows. Olivia echoed Annie in words and in pitch. Naomi called out too through her tears. We rolled along hollering and looking to see if she might dart out somewhere from between fences and old houses or cars sitting in driveways. Annie wanted to go back to the house to get her car so we could cover more ground. 

Naomi was losing hope after walking all that way. Annie assured her that Zoe was smart and could find her way home. I wasn’t so sure, but I prayed Annie’s confidence was truth. I prayed too because God cares about lost dogs and little girl’s hearts. He knows the pain of loss. It’s one of his specialties—mending lost hearts. The three of them quit hollering when we turned up the street toward the red brick house they call home. As we came up the small grade of the hill, I saw Zoe come loping through the yard with her tongue hanging out. Her eyes were hidden behind a wad of black fuzzy hair. Liv grabbed her up and held her. Zoe thinks Liv is a dog.

Zoe, the word, in the Greek language, means life.

We found life in the front yard.

I couldn’t work it into the bones of the poem—at least not yet— but I’m wondering if there’s a bigger lesson for me about how I need to be more concerned for the lost, to feel grief for those who are far from the garden gate and the God who loves them, who is calling out to them, Life! Life! “Come all who are thirsty and drink, come to the waters.” Come home. You are lost but you can be found. 

This event (what others might consider as a trivial drama concerning a dog) seemed significant to me as far as metaphors go. As we drove away relieved, I felt like God was telling me to remember the lost, to grieve for those who are far from him. It seems that Christians in these times are mad at the lost, angry that people are acting out of their sin nature---like we all have. Why do I not grieve like I once did for those who are lost? Why do I not holler out the windows calling to them, introducing them to Life? Why are Christians hollering accusations out the windows and driving off? Wouldn't it be better to call to them, not to accuse them but to scoop them up and hold them? Is this my responsibility? Is it up to me? Are they not thirsty for something they can only find if they go home? 

I think it is up to me... and it’s not up to me—a paradox that I sit with today.

 I’m feeling a bit thirsty myself but I know there is a Fountain. I think I'll have a drink and I'm hoping to have somebody who is thirsty to join me.

September 19, 2016

Beauty and the Beach

     Jeff pulled a red wagon full of beach stuff to the same spot each day of our beach trip. Despite that, each day we stepped into change. Some days the waves rolled calmly, the water like liquid jade. Other days the waves forced their way to the shore as if they were jockeying to be front of a line. One morning offered an overcast sky; other days the grands and I named the clouds as they floated like sheep grazing in a vast blue pasture. Thunderclouds billowed up late one afternoon after a mostly cloudless day. We became witness to a sunset that laid down its tangerine rays on shallow waves smoothing the powder sand as they rolled back to the "deep end" (the girl's reference to water up to their chins.)

     The afternoon of the storms, Olivia helped me cut the tough ends off of brussels sprouts we were preparing for supper. Through the kitchen window, I noticed the clouds building. Later, after we finished eating, an orange glow filtered into the great room of the beach house. The rain had come and gone.   

    We debated for a moment whether or not to head down to the beach. We knew we had to hustle because once a sunset starts it doesn't last long.

     I grabbed my camera and we scrambled toward the door and down the street to the beach access. Jeff perched Olivia on his shoulders so we'd make better time. We weren’t sure we would make it but it was worth a try.

     As I headed down the boardwalk in the shadow of scrub bushes creating a natural tunnel before opening to a panoramic view of the Gulf of Mexico. I met a woman walking toward me. I thought we had probably missed it since she was leaving. Instead, she commented as she passed, “I’ve got to go get my camera.” I picked up my pace. 

     High above the beach that was a blinding sugar white earlier in the day, the landscape softened to a warm glow, peach and pink and luscious. The low clouds on the horizon, the place where the sun was setting, glowed fuchsia. Another huge thunderstorm seemingly boiling out of the sea appeared to be illuminated from within.

     Lightning streaked from the storm but at a safe distance. We stood on the edge of the salty sea and watched the show in wonder. 

Naomi and Olivia were wearing white tees I had bought them earlier in the day. Naomi’s shirt pictured a mermaid with wild curly hair not unlike her own, and Liv’s had a yellow polka-dotted wiener dog in profile across her chest. The tails on their shirts were long so they wore them like dresses. They ran circles in the shallows in their panties as the light faded on the day.

That evening on the beach, I felt the power of beauty. The emotion was much like the feelings of loving and being loved. 

Beauty begs the heart to be present because the moment will never come again in exactly the same way. It should be acknowledged as a gift from God. I recently read thoughts by poet Luci Shaw who reflected on how God could have made the world only functional, but in his grace, He made his creation beautiful. Beauty is a gift given, above and beyond, out of God’s own love for beauty. He gives good gifts to his children.

Why did we race from the house to the beach? We did it for the chance to step into beauty. We could have missed it that September evening. We could have stayed in and numbed ourselves in the flickering light of the television. Jeff, Annie, the girls and I chose to hurry back to the beach filled with hope. Hope did not disappoint. In fact, the beauty outdid our expectations.

I learned a similar lesson about beauty when we were in Switzerland this summer. The mountains captured my attention and made my heart leap with gratitude on the crystal clear day we rode the trains from Zurich out to the snowcapped Alps. The forecast called for a change in the weather. It came as predicted. Several days later the clouds moved in. The morning we hiked into the Gastern Valley the cloud deck lowered as we walked the level path through the narrow valley. The peaks were obscured from view though occasionally we saw through the veil to the massive rock walls in the hanging valley.  We stood in one place and counted eight different waterfalls within our sight. 

The temptation was to be disappointed in what we could not see. Instead, we entered the beauty of the earth and clouds, the mountain stream carrying the white silt of glaciers  carving a vein into the valley floor. The cold water rushed away to gather itself somewhere we could only imagine—a place where it would enter again into the circle of life to be resurrected to fall as rain upon the sea.

I’m in awe at how God takes the water from a glacier and drops it into the sea. We think we only want sunny days but it’s the clouds that often bring the most arresting beauty. 

Life is fullest in sunshine and cloud.

Artists try to capture beauty with paint, the words of a poem, a photograph, the notes on a keyboard. Beauty moves the soul to record what is quickly fleeting, to acknowledge  the gift before letting it go. We can choose to gather up the beauty as artists, to remember the day when baby girls grew into their curls, ran in circles like sandpipers on the shore as the sun slid away, another day. 

The response to the gift of beauty is always gratitude.

Night falls; beauty turns the page and we whisper the simple prayer, “Thank you, Jesus.”

“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”  (Colossians 1:15-17 ESV)

September 8, 2016

Fear's Offering

Fear attacks in the cover of darkness when all the world is quiet, hounding us as we cast our gaze over our shoulders, again and again. 

They say that you shouldn’t run from a bear should you encounter one in the wild. They (whoever they are) say to stand your ground, to make yourself big, to back away slowly but not too slowly. I’ve never heard anyone say to run toward the danger. If you tangle with a bear there’s a good chance the bear will win. Fear is a different kind of beast. Most of the time fear is puffed up and not as dangerous as it is threatening. Even if what we fear eventually happens, fear will have already taken more than he deserved, distracting us from the beauty found along the path that leads to life. 

The reality is most of the time what we fear doesn’t happen. We gave it our attention for no good reason.

I am not fearless but I am willing to face my fears, at least most of them. I think. Like most people, I am tempted not to go into the forest because of the possibility of encountering a bear. I can’t be destroyed by a bear if I stay in the house. 

    If I do not go I will not smell the leaves under my feet turning to dirt, nor hear the trilling song of birds along a gurgling stream rushing over gravel beds on it’s way to the river. Nor will I pick a wild strawberry and taste its tart acid upon my tongue. I won’t encounter a bear and I won’t live. I will never sing praise in the shade of the forest to the God who created it and said it was good.

 Fear reminds us of our vulnerability. It’s the vulnerability we hate even more than fear. We think we might be able to shake the fear, but vulnerability is a wild thicket of a beast that will never be killed back. We hate that control is an illusion. Even if we never encounter a bear, we know we might die sitting in a chair having never encountered the things that offered us laughter, or tears, or gasps of wonder——anything that would have made the hairs on our arms stand up and tell us that we are alive.

And fear throws his head back with glee to know he has set us up to live in the mire of regret. No one can get back the days given over to fear.

Control is the fruit in the garden. Every day we are tempted to take it into our flesh again. And now, we know who we are. We thought it would be good for us; we deserved to know, to decide for ourselves; being rational, it made so much sense.

 Control has such a bitter aftertaste.

There is hope; there is always hope. God is near, calling our name as we hide in the bushes. He has found us in our nakedness and covered us in his grace. Only in abiding in Him can we step from the bushes to live full, abundant—free from fear. free to love.

Love pitches his tent by a stream by the Tree with those deep, deep roots. Fear puts down his stakes in the backyard, surrounded by a privacy fence. He goes to sleep under the spell of the neighbor’s air conditioner.

Living in fear is not only a sin problem; it’s a trust problem— and at its very core, it’s a love problem.