Thursday, December 18, 2008

“Hello, I’m hangin’ on your every word, you know…” My cell-phone sang and I wriggled into a more convenient corner of the dressing room. Rustling yards of shimmering, white material out of the way, I found my phone and answered. “Are you busy?” April asked me and a spark of mischief ignited within. “I’m just…well…trying on wedding dresses.” Silence. Then, “I’m not sure I heard you right…did you say you’re trying on wedding dresses?” “Uh,” I answered, doing my best to sound hesitant. “Yeah.” Silence again. Then, “Am I allowed to ask questions?” I laughed. “Sure,” I answered. “I’m trying on wedding dresses for a friend who’s getting married.” Then came her long, relieved, “Oh.”

I arrived at Choices just as Becky and April were preparing to pray. Hardly late at all. Apparently April had related my prank. Becky was disappointed I didn’t come dolled up. And then began the task of training April. Nobody told me that everyone else would be gone, so I found myself solely responsible for her behavior. April can be very difficult to control, but today she proved to be so nervous about getting everything right that she behaved beautifully. It was an odd mix of my two worlds—campus meets crisis. “When the phone rings,” I began and was promptly cut off by the obliging phone. “Here, you answer it.” Her big, brown eyes grew even bigger as she stared at me. “Are you serious?” I grinned. “Yes, you’ll be fine.” I didn’t point out that we have caller ID and I could see that it was a familiar person—in fact, one who knew April. Reluctantly she reached out and lifted the received. “Choices, this is April.” “Hello,” the voice came over the other end. “Can I talk to Abigail?” She practically shoved the phone down my throat in her eagerness to be rid of it. And I thought I hated phones. April will make an excellent mentor or receptionist as soon as she realizes how capable and perfect she is for the job.

Three o’clock rolled around and we waved good-bye to the little, tan house. This is the last time I’ll work the front desk or run copies or answer the phone in two-thousand and eight. Who knows what I’ll be doing when I come back next year?

It’s the end of the year and I’m not sure what to read these days. In thinking of the upcoming celebration of Jesus’ Advent (“It means coming,” Papa says. “Why don’t they just call it His coming?”) I turned to Isaiah for some of the most sadly beautiful prophecies of the Savior. Chapter fifty-three is always one of my favorites, because I am not so unlike the rest of those who hope in Jesus—and this chapter is so full of hope—through pain. “Surely our griefs He bore and our sorrows He carried.” But we didn’t get it. We thought God was punishing Him—and He was, but for our sin! Like a whipping boy of ancient times, “the chastening for our well-being fell on Him and by His stripes we are healed. All of us have gone astray like sheep, but Yahweh has caused our iniquity to fall on Him.” Then the contrast between us, who went astray like stupid sheep and Jesus, who was the perfect sacrifice lamb, silent before His accusers. Because, had He answered them and purchased His own life, ours would have been forfeit. Instead, He is allotted a portion with the great because he poured our Himself to death, He bore the sins of many and interceded for sinners. In the gospel—Jesus—we see the culmination of God’s eternal plot and the story He plays out again and again through history, past, present and future: first the cross and then the crown. Even Jesus had to learn obedience through the things He suffered. Yahweh was pleased to crush Him as an offering, but as a result, Yahweh will see it and be satisfied. Often it seems we are called to suffer as well. When I cry out for answers why, I am brought to my knees at the foot of the cross. For God’s glory, is the answer, and for my good. I will learn obedience through the things I suffer. Because of Jesus suffering, I was justified. My own suffering works for my sanctification. And always, always, Jesus stands by me, having born more pain and anguish than any human ever could. He is my perfect Comforter.

Lord, I always seek relief
When I should seek renewed belief
That Thou art good and doest good
Whatever I misunderstood.

Thy Son, who bore our grief and shame
Learned to rejoice in through hellish pain
By fixing His own eyes on Thee
And pressing toward eternity.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

I described Freckles to Lauryn as “short, muscular, super cute and hyper.” “Hmm,” she said. “Sounds like the perfect Scott dog.” She’s absolutely insane and irresistibly charming. Impish. Adventuresome. Runs like the Energizer Bunny. I never thought I was a dog person. When I was much younger I loved cats—well, actually kittens. In fact, I so badly wanted one that, in spite of the knowledge that my parents would never approve, I circumvented their authority and had a chat with my Father about it. Lo and behold, a stray cat with a lame leg showed up on our doorstep. Dumped, no doubt. She was a charmer as well. In all honesty, she didn’t behave like a cat with a haughty “I own you, so there” attitude. She lived happily ever after with us until shortly after we moved into the country and she was killed by a neighbor dog. Popcorn was the only pet we’ve had in my entire life. Excluding the beta fish, that is. Fish hardly count. Now we’ve got a wired terrier and all I can say is, “we should have gotten a dog a long time ago.” Funny, though, how the ones that show up turn out to be the best pets. I attempted to teach Freckles to sit, but she seems to have associated the desired action with the pressure on her rump instead of the word. Now whenever I pet her she cheerfully plops her little bottom down and cocks her head to peer up at me with huge puppy-dog eyes.

In lieu of any real snow, Lydia and I sat on Mom’s bedroom floor tonight cutting out snowflakes. Mine turned out to have a rather African flair. If there’s such a thing as African snowflakes. Lydia’s, on the other hand, looked decidedly springish. Somehow it seems that we’re both missing the point. Or perhaps we’re just thinking longingly of warmer days. Our bedroom keeps a constant heat index of perhaps forty-five degrees. When we come out to breakfast in the mornings we can slide our hands up near someone else’s backside and they’ll holler about the cold radiating out. Patrolling the energy usage has been next to impossible. We run the electric fan in our bathroom for dressing and showering, but I still keep shaving off goose bumps. And we sleep under electric blankets with only our noses sticking out the top. In the morning our noses are red. Hale and hearty we both must be, for we’ve still not contracted a cold.

“Who did you want to talk to?” Tabby asked when she answered the phone and apparently couldn’t believe her good fortune when I insisted she was the woman and prepared to drop my explosive. “What do you think? Would you like me to take some engagement pictures for you this weekend?” A gasp. A strangle. An excited yelp. An explosion. “HHHHOW would you do that?” she finally demanded. “Oh,” I answered casually, “I have a super powerful telescoping lens.” It’s still hard to believe she’s really getting married. We’d become so close—always going through the same things, it seemed. Suddenly, no more. Nick wouldn’t even believe me when I tried to share the good news with him. “Cliff?” he asked, incredulously. “I was there all summer. I know Cliff. There was nothing happening there.” “I realized I have no clue what I’m doing or where to start planning a wedding,” Tabby confided. “Can I—well, will you help me?” I embrace my part as wedding planner extraordinaire. It sounds as though I’m supposed to be experienced, or something. I’m delighted. Tabitha Faye has been the best friend and deserves the best guy and the best wedding and the best happily ever after. I only wish I could actually be there to help her out.

I don’t know how Lauren could have ever kept her big secret from me. She’s bursting with new little tidbits all the time. “I figured out today that sleeping in is my worst enemy!” she announced. I could have told her that. Instead I dug out a pleasant assent from my storehouse of appropriate phone conversation pieces. Sadly, my storehouse is very limited. But it’s growing. Surely and steadily. Working at a pregnancy clinic has completely altered my thinking. Who’d have thought I’d somehow or other know so much about pregnancy? This little niece or nephew is another hard-to-believe. Lauren reminded me of the birthday card I'd sent her: “I heard you’re expecting…another birthday! Scared you, didn’t I?” Humorously, that would have been just about exactly in time for the little person’s creation. I should have sent it much sooner.

Fanatical is the perfect word to describe the woman I read about today—from Iran. She began as a fanatical Muslim. Praying until her body was swollen and sore, memorizing the entire Koran, pleading and begging to know Allah personally. Until the day she came face to face with a picture of Jesus and fell to her knees in broken repentance. After that it was one little thing after another, as she was able to learn about Jesus, be changed by Jesus and become fanatical about Jesus. She started sharing Jesus everywhere she went, with everyone she met and the Lord started turning lives upside down. She holds Bible studies in Muslim beauty parlors, disciples prostitutes, distributes tracts and hope in nearby cities, hosts a home church and reads and memorizes the Word every chance she gets. Oh, and she’s twenty. Twenty years old. Tears came to my eyes as I realized her devotion—to the truth. Her search had always been for the Truth. And when she found it, she poured her alabaster jar at the feet of the Master and lives a life of radical worship. I was humbled to be caught up in her simple story and realize how boring she would find mine. I want to be like her. I want to be carried away with the joy of the Lord, the power of His grace and the impact of His truth.

We’re in relatively little danger now, facing relatively little opposition. And still I’m a coward. But tribulation stands veiled on the threshold. Now I have a little time to practice before I may be called to perform this dance of life and death. Lord, strengthen me, empower me, discipline me, overwhelm me to share Your precious truth wherever I go.

Lord, we place a greater value
On that which costs us greater pain.
Yet that which costs us greater pain
Often yields a greater gain.

And so, it seems, I place the value
Of Thy secret now revealed
Much lower than my precious sister
Who, daily praises Thy blood spilled.

Teach me, too, to love so greatly
Recognizing that Thy grace
Is poured as richly on my shoulders
By the Lamb who took my place.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

I should have mentioned that my lingering search for a treadmill and total-gym finally paid off and we no longer have need of anyone else’s workout room. Tonight we gathered in the parent’s suite in search of the toasty warmth and also eager to lubricate the treadmill belt. “It’s slipping still,” I informed Papa, and he bravely climbed aboard to try it out. Sure enough, it slipped throwing him forward, then backward until he looked to be doing an Indian war-dance. While Josiah tightened, Papa kept walking at break-neck speed. With an impish grin Josiah winked at us and then grabbed the edge of the belt, causing a ginormous slip which nearly sent Papa tumbling off. We held our collective breath to keep from laughing. “Whoa!” Papa exclaimed. “Better tighten that at least another quarter turn.”

I also neglected to mention that Nick moved in with us yesterday after finishing up his last final. The agreement is that he’ll put in several hours of work per day. This morning he smelled strongly of Windex as he gave every window in the house a thorough shining.

Perhaps I shouldn’t have begun working out again. My bright idea today was sparked while at the Ware’s, cleaning house. A shiny, new shower head lay in the guest bathtub begging to be lovingly placed into its new home. Simple instructions decorated the back, so I slit open the package and installed it. And I did a lovely job, except for the part where it said to screw the hose to the head and finger tighten it. I only used me fingers. I promise! And I hadn’t really even begun to tighten when I heard a sickening “crack!” I waited in trepidation to tell Travis when he got home, but he just laughed and said he’d buy a new one. A better quality one. I crept home in relief.

We finished up Revelation last night and started in on an interesting study tonight. Papa is beginning to feel reinspired to work on a book about the church meeting and we get to help him! Sometimes I hear the words “First Corinthians” and am overwhelmed by an enormous faintness. Is there no other book in the Bible? Sunday night I struggled to pay attention as I heard again a teaching I’ve heard so many times. But today I skimmed through my journal from the first six months here in the not-so-sunny south and was overwhelmed, amazed and reminded of all that I had learned. This book is Papa’s vision. It’s his dream for ministry. I don’t really understand it. I lack his enthusiasm, his drive, his goals. But this is his vision. My joy, my place is in catching his enthusiasm, encouraging his dream and helping his endeavor.

Life stirs within this languid breast. A faint flame is flickering. I must catch it and fan it into a blaze! How have I been languishing and dying all this time? How have I been weeping for myself and avoiding all that is best?

“It takes courage to worship,” says Shai Linne, speaking of the High Priest of bygone days. But worship yields such fullness. Such joy. Such delight.

Here I am to worship.

Lord, I take the faltering step
To come inside the rended veil
To worship at Thy holy throne
To live again within Thy court
To rediscover joy in Thee
To pray with renewed energy
To hope for better things to come
To chase Thy Priest, the Lamb, Thy Son.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Burning sun scorches down on a weary child, decked in the armor of a warrior, wielding a mighty sword. Weeping, struggling to survive, crying out for help she watches as the mighty antagonist swings his murderous weapon. On her knees, with her face to the earth and her mind in heaven, she cannot be struck down. Her victor stands over her and destroys the enemy. That was me not so long ago. I fought. I bled. I wept. I prayed. And Jesus, Son of Almighty God, stood by my side and captured the victory. Ah, but the victory had no sooner been sealed than another foe from behind struck me a blow and I wheeled, blood and bile filling my mouth, my world reeling and crashing around me. I dropped my sword. My plea for help died on my lips and I watched as he struck me again—foul fiend. And again. And again. And battered me to the ground where I lay, eyes wide and staring, soul fluttering inside like a trapped moth, spirit dead. And I did not rise. The weight of defeat and darkness spread over my body like a paralysis and left me empty of everything but despair.

To rise again was too painful. To call for help required me to muster my voice. To grip my sword begged my intense concentration. Instead I lay broken and bleeding.

Until yesterday.

As I cleaned the neighbor’s house, the dam inside trembled. I hadn’t wept since the day the Lord had worked in two hearts for an outcome I thought was right. It seemed we’d won. A couple of days later my dreams crumbled when those for whom I'd prayed rejected what had happened and walked their own way. I was too weak from the battle. Used up. Empty. I sank to the ground and never rose.

Until yesterday.

Josiah came to join me and read me a rap song he’d just written. “Is it encouraging?” I asked him. “I need something encouraging.” Then the dam broke and the flood rushed through and down my face, burning my eyes and cutting paths in my cheeks. The tears started and wouldn’t stop. I spilled frustrations, discouragement, anger, doubt, confusion, helplessness. Some to Josiah, some only to the Lord.

And I cried for help. I pleaded for mercy. I begged to be raised from the dead.

Josiah went outside with my phone and I know he called Nathaniel. I finished cleaning alone, weeping, praying, whispering, pleading. Like a person rising from the dead, casting off the burial clothes, free to walk again, to stand again, to see again, to speak again. Free to love again. To feel again. To hope again. To ask again.

Yesterday the Lord picked me up off the battlefield, wounded, bleading and broken-hearted and bound my wounds and reminded me that in Him is peace, in Him is hope, in Him is joy. And in Him is the strength to seek Him.

Today my artificial happiness had vanished, words died on my lips and silliness vanished from my heart. I didn’t need them. They were only a cover for the deeper, darker despair that was eating my soul. Today things were different. Today supper actually looked appetizing. Today I was able to climb out of bed in the morning and face a new day. Today I rejoiced.

And tonight I could face my journal. Tonight I could reflect on the day knowing that the Lord was with me—not because I am worthy but because of His great love.

Child of weakness, I give you this wisdom without a price:
Seek thy strength in the arm that delivers.
Seek thy peace in the hand that calms hurricanes.
Seek thy help in the fingers that scattered the stars.
Seek thy joy in the presence of Almighty God.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

“You’re still discouraged?” Lauren asked me. I hate that I simply can’t shake this heavy feeling of despondency that has settled over my shoulders like a wet blanket. I struggle for truth. I read and read. But I don’t write. Not really write. What would I say? I feel shallow when I talk to people. Lost on the surface of a mirror—just reflecting them back, blocking out any view of deeper inside myself. I laugh a lot. I talk more than I used to. I’m hyper and prattle to Lydia in ridiculous voices. But I feel empty. Lost. Frozen. My heart has become a lump of ice that burns with intense cold inside my chest. And I’ve become secretive again, shutting people off from me. Even Tabby. Because Tabby and I are no longer at the same place. She doesn’t really need me any more. I don’t begrudge her anything—I’m thrilled to see what the Lord is going to do. I just don’t have much to tell her any more and it’s easy just to listen to her tell me about what’s going on in her life. Nothing painful or difficult anymore. She doesn’t really need me.

My dreams and hopes are dead. My thoughts are tangled in a web of should and should not, must and must not, might and might not. I don’t even know where to begin to unravel them. Intense loneliness overwhelms me, no matter who I’m with. Somehow I have withdrawn from the Lord or He has withdrawn from me.

When one has known the presence of the Lord, when one has sat at His feet and heard His voice whisper truth, distance is as deadly as hell. People speak kindly to me, but their voices are from another world. My mind drifts from everything at hand and wanders aimlessly across the scope of the universe searching for something I’ve lost. My heart is full of knowledge, but where is the One I love? In His presence is fullness of joy. In His right hand are pleasures forever.

I am not in His presence and I am miserable.

I wandered the length of the galaxies spread
And found it was formless and empty instead
For only in Thee do all things exist
In the world Thou hast made, it is Thou I have missed.

Sightless, my eyes flicker over creation
I breathe without thinking, yet each inhalation
Leaves me still gasping and wheezing for breath
For a soul wand’ring from Thee is dancing with death.

Ah, Father, Thou sees me, wherever I am.
Like the shepherd who follows the wandering lamb
Please find me here lost and alone and afraid,
By the debt of the Passover Lamb, my debt paid.

Capture my heart once again with Thy grace,
Electrify with Thy redeeming embrace,
And lead me in ways that will bring Thee delight.
Teach me the path that’s both pleasure and right.

December 1, 2008

Monday, December 1, 2008

Josiah and I walked through the entrance to Wal-mart laden with return items—a couple of crock-pots, a coffee grinder and a pair of jeans—from the family’s shopping spree on Black Friday. “We have half a million returns,” I smiled apologetically at the lady stickering returns. “I only count four,” Josiah commented dryly. The lady tossed us a sympathetic smile. “That’s all right,” she said, taking the first box from my arms. “When I got married…”

Of course, getting us to Wal-mart required effort. People are like the clocks of old—some run more quickly than others. I’d warned Josiah we were leaving at eight. Right after breakfast and chores. Eight o’clock rolled around and I walked out the door, purse slung over my arm, keys in hand. I opened the garage door myself. I loaded all the returns into the back of the pick-up. Then I backed the vehicle out of the garage and sat waiting. And waiting. And waiting. It’s a funny thing, this waiting business. Seems like my whole life has been spent waiting. Papa used to be the timely one. The first one in the car waiting on the rest of us. Soon I learned to be out the door as soon as he hollered “Let’s go!” Now I’m the one who waits in the car for everyone else. Even Papa gave up on being out early. I get supper on early, call everyone and wait. While the food grows cold. We make plans to start projects at a specified time and I emerge from my den and wait. While everyone else leisurely finishes up whatever they were doing when the deadline rolled around. I wait for others to finish their tasks so I can do mine. Sometimes I just do both because I get tired of waiting. This morning as I sat in the truck, waiting, I could feel the tendons in my neck growing tighter and tighter. I have a schedule, you know, Josiah. It’s planned out perfectly so we can get everything done perfectly. You know we have a lot to get done, Josiah. And we’ve got to get started on time, you know, Josiah. Josiah, I did tell you what time we needed to leave? How long ago did I holler “Let’s go”? How long have I been waiting? Why is my whole life filled with people who keep me waiting?!

Then, as if they sun had burst through the foggy clouds, came my moment of truth. Uh, duh, Abigail. You’re life is filled with waiting because you still haven’t become good at it. And Yahweh knows that practice makes perfect.

I managed to make it to the Doctor's on time. And then we appeared at the home of Miss Judy and Amber to finish much of the work which we had begun, making their apartment a home. The pictures hanging on the walls and the curtains in the windows add so much warmth and coziness to that little abode. Josiah and I were on a mission today to hang a couple of shelves in Amber’s room—and string up some curtains—lime green, tied back with purple ribbons and a sheer overlay of silver stars. Makes me think of pickle and jelly sandwiches smothered in fairy dust. It matched the rest of her room perfectly. But we didn’t finish on schedule. Quite. “Are you almost done?” I demanded as Emily called, wondering if we were going to make it for lunch. We finished our work in a flurry and made a mad dash for the pick-up and on to campus. And we made it. Barely.

Then, as predictably as the tide, we were back out and on the road home. I still had to clean the Ware’s. I try to make a racket coming in and holler “knock, knock” in case Travis is still home. As soon as I stepped in, I noticed the dark form of a head and shoulder slumped over the couch. Great. He was sleeping. I hate trying to figure out how to wake sleeping people without scaring them. For me, the slightest noise sends me bounding from bed, but I've developed a reputation for sneaking up on people--accidentally. Travis had slept through my vacuuming before. I cleaned the back bathroom and came back out into the living room. There he still reposed. But just then Josiah called. “Hey,” I whispered. “Come over here. Travis is asleep on the couch and I don’t want to scare him.” After all he was an Air Force courier in active combat. No telling what he’d do if threatened. Plus, he just had heart surgery. Josiah arrived post-haste and walked straight up to the snoozing form, scooped it up and displayed his find. “Here’s Travis,” he announced, holding up a black hooded sweatshirt.

It was late when I talked to Jacinda. But later still when we finally hung up as I drooped in a near-slumber posture. I’ve heard others accuse her of not talking. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t talk, but the world is full of people who don’t listen. They assume that those who won’t compete with them simply can’t talk. Jacinda is a wealth of interesting thought-patterns and lovely revelations. Some find her harsh, but she’s at least as harsh on herself as she is on anyone else. She always seeks to speak truth and she proclaims her own faults with more fervor than she ever would anyone else’s. She’s quick to challenge herself and her attitudes and even quicker to seek the Lord in all things. So I let her talk. I love to hear her vent. She says she hates journaling, but when she talks to me I hear her heartbeat as she works through issues, sorts out her feelings, digs for the truth and finally triumphs. “I don’t talk to anyone else like I do you,” she told me, and I grew warm all over. Even if I needed two-by-fours to prop my eyelids open, her words permeated my mind and sent a smile shivering all over my body. Maybe she is struggling with the shallowness of the girls at training. Maybe she is struggling with developing deeper relationships and feeling like others won't open up to her. But I love hearing it all, because that’s the thread of feeling running through Jacinda’s heart. And I feel privileged to reach out and touch it. People don’t realize what they are missing when they don’t listen. The first warbled notes of a fledgling sparrow, proclaiming the Creator’s genius. The veiled tears behind the standard, “fine, thank you, how are you?” The wonder and delight of a child touching an animal. The hesitation in a voice that wishes you would ask more. The heart throb of one of God’s precious children—that only He hears with perfect clarity. In this vast world, I am privileged to hear a tiny bit of what He hears. And all of it is important to Him.

I listen to His creation, but how often do I listen to Him? In those moments between perfect scheduling and frustration, while I wait for that person who is chronically late or wonder when this important event will finally come to pass, my own thoughts clamor for my attention, ranting and raging and railing on the one who keeps me waiting. Forgetting that it’s actually One who keeps me waiting. Because nothing gets off of His schedule. And I forget to tune my heart to hear the subtle truths He would teach me through my frustrations, through my circumstances, through my surroundings. That singing bird is a work of His genius—it trusts Him entirely for every breath it takes, for every moment it flies through the glorious air. He keeps me waiting because He would have me ready—not to do a host of all-important things, but to listen. To hear His voice in the quiet moments of meditation, when He gently reminds me of the truth of His word.

Lord, aren’t Thou, who made the ear
Worth the time it takes to hear?
Thou who spoke the final word,
Must forevermore be heard.

Teach me such an attitude
To listen, with my heart renewed
To hear whatever Thou might say
And hearing, hasten to obey.