Saturday, December 27, 2008

I had thought I’d be lonely, but I turned out to enjoy spending the day alone. The house was so warm and cozy in spite of the pouring rain that I wound up in shorts all day, working out, writing, reading, Bible studying and playing the piano. Yesterday’s musings now have a melody—I like it, I think. At least I like it today. Would I had recording equipment.

Freckles was rather delighted to see me in the morning and we took a romp together. I will never cease to be amazed how quickly she can cover the ground. With me running full throttle, she loped at my heals, periodically springing up to nip my backside. No doubt she thought the surprised gurgles I made meant I enjoyed her performance. By pinching her mouth shut I soon set her straight and we played with less awkwardness thereafter.

If Michael Card and I were exchanging brainwaves, we couldn’t have been thinking more alike. As I listened to his newest CD, “The Hidden Face of God” (a Christmas gift from Nathaniel and Lauren) I was blown away by the similarity of his thoughts and words to my own from last night. His music weeps with the simplicity and intricacy of agonizing truth. How real is the pain of the world. How real the deceiver who delights in our suffering. How real God’s infinite love for a world at enmity with Him—though He can’t bear to even look upon our sin. How real the grief and wounds born by Jesus, our Healer. How real the redemption through His blood. How real the hope to which I now cling—fully assured that through every heart-ache, every sorrow, pain or grief, the Lord is working for good, for beauty, for His glory.

Lord, aid my sin-dimmed eyes to see
Thy plan throughout eternity
The workings of Thy majesty,
‘Tis Thou defines reality.

When truth and my perception part
Renew my mind and cleanse my heart
To put my hope and trust in Thee
In theory and reality.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Early this morning, through the haze and fog, the rest of the family loaded up in the car for the trek to Kansas City. I do feel ever so slightly left behind. How must Papa feel? He came looking for me several times during the day, no doubt lonely. I spent the day sorting through, throwing out and cleaning the whole house. It hardly needed cleaned and I’d just been through everything in my room. I’m thankful for the plenty that I have, but I just have too much! Being with Grandma, I’ve felt guilty constantly turning her down for gifts.

“Do you like it?” she asked, displaying her pink and silver china. It was very nice china. Not really my style, even for china, but still very nice. I knew what she was really asking and hastened to assure her I liked it, but didn’t want any china. I just don’t. Ever. Why in the world would I want a fancy set of dishes that I might use a couple of times a year, but when I do have to treat like…well, china. Not to mention all the space they take up for having little real purpose. No, Grandma darling, I’m just not a china person. I’ll pencil myself in for a nice set of stoneware or something and a pile of plastic for kids and fun times and that will do it for me, thank you. Papa beats me out on practicality, though, with his affinity for white Corelle. Color me something a mite more cheery, please. Useful, yes. Colorless? I hope not. Poor Grandma. I think she must have offered me half a million different objects, all of which I attempted to turn down graciously. She must think I’m the most persnickety person ever. I know friends have often lamented their inability to find me something appropriate. The mainstays of womanhood—jewelry, lotion, perfume, knick-knacks, purses, candles, decorative dishes, even flowers and candy—all of it is wasted upon me, I fear. Ah, but kind well-wisher, simply find me a good book or a box of fine tea and I will love you forever.

Or a nephew or niece. That’s always a winning choice of gifts. Our Christmas package arrived from Nathaniel and Lauren and I had strict instructions to try to get Mom and the crew on the phone while Papa opened it. Which I did. The ultrasound was taped to the back of Michael Card’s new CD. The family was delighted, but not terribly surprised. After all, Nathaniel had seemed terribly anxious for us to get this package. And he’d dropped hints like, “I think you’ll like it,” and “It’s something Lauren and I made.” Lauren’s mom cried when they told her. Her dad punched Nathaniel in the stomach and said, “What are you doing getting my daughter pregnant?!” Then he laughed. First grandbaby on both sides. This will be one spoiled baby. I’m betting on red hair and brown eyes.

We interrupted our quiet day of study and cleaning for an appointment with Kelley, the realtor who sold us our house. The mission: to look over a property in which Glenn and his family are very interested. Snatching up my camera, I followed Papa outside and nearly rear-ended him when he stopped abruptly. “Do you have any keys on you?” I grinned sheepishly. Oddly, I had contemplated my key ring long and hard and finally opted for leaving them lying placidly in my desk drawer. Apparently he had done the same. There we stood, looking at our feet, locked out of the house with no keys to the pick-up either. And the hidden rock with the hidden key proved to be better hidden than either of us remembered. Finally a phone call to Josiah revealed the hiding place—in the shop cabinet of all places—and we retrieved the keys and went on our merry way. I’m not entirely sure Mom was wise when she chose to leave me home to take care of Papa. He and I are two pleas in a pod. For some reason the whole house filled with smoke this morning, thanks to the fire place in the living room, and neither of us could tell why. And I completely forgot there was such a meal as lunch until he came looking for me, his tummy growling like a cornered grizzly.

The house proved to be Arkansas epitomized. At least four-score and twenty outbuildings on ten acres, with a home about half built. But it might suit the Schriebers just fine and we told them so. It’s always difficult to try to render judgment for someone else. I’m not certain I know what they would and wouldn’t like. “It’s spacious,” I told Glenn on the phone. “And seemed very solid, structurally.” Like I know anything. I didn’t even think to check the plumbing.

One last project called my name when we arrived home and I wouldn’t have heard my phone ring except the vibration alerted me. “Aw,” I thought, for once in the mood to chat with some unknown friend, “I wonder who is calling me?” I whipped my phone out of my pocket and read: Taylor. Nevermind. I do believe Josiah makes and receives at least as many calls on my phone as I do.

A quiet day like ours would be incomplete without a sudden burst of activity on the telephone. Sure enough, come supper time, suddenly the whole world remembered our number and decided to find out if it was still connected. Probably the most interesting was ZW from Washington (as he told me), a grandson of a friend of Grandma's, living in Fayetteville and very lonely. “Something bad” happened to his wife, by some other man, while he was overseas in the military, he told us, and she wound up divorcing him because she couldn’t view a man the same again. Then he was in a terrible car wreck and now has a back that barely supports him. He moved here to be near his daughter. And he’s been feeling pretty down-low and lonely. It must have taken some courage to call some complete strangers just because your grandma recommended it. Or some sheer loneliness. What a sad story. He can’t be very old and already his life is ruined. Or so it seems. What might the Lord have yet in store for him?

Isn’t that the truth for all of us? Don’t we all have ruined lives? Even the most picture perfect person is empty without the filling of the Holy Spirit. Broken. Helpless. Wounded. Fallen. Fearful. Deserted. Hopeless.

Ah, but the Great Physician heals all wounds and brings beauty from ashes. I’m clinging to that promise for tonight and for every night to come for the rest of my life—until I see Him face to face and He wipes away every tear.

See this fallen world is wounded,
Bleeding, broken, stained and scarred.
Yet Thou knowest all our frailty
For Thy body, too, was marred

Beyond beauty, beyond grace.
This fallen world tore Thy back, Thy hands, Thy feet, Thy face.

Lost in anger, pain and sorrow,
Each wounded woman, each scarred man
Lashes out in tiger-fury
And drives each nail in Thy hand.

Beyond beauty, beyond grace
This fallen world tore Thy back, Thy hands, Thy feet, Thy face.

That first wound that grew and festered
Passed from Adam’s sin to Cain’s
Each single sin a foul rejection
Each wound a deepening, spreading stain.

Until the climax of this sickness
Cried “crucify!” in wounded rage.
The greatest wounds, the cruelest sorrow
Could heal the pain of every age.

Beyond beauty, beyond grace
This fallen world tore Thy back, Thy hands, Thy feet, Thy face.

Wounded for this world’s transgressions,
Scourged to purge away our sin
By Thy wounds, our own are healed,
By Thy piercing, we are sealed,
By Thy death, the cure revealed:

Beyond beauty, beyond grace
Thou rose and conquered sin and death to heal the human race.

Christmas Day, Thursday, December 25, 2008

Josiah neatly shot a nail through the ball of his finger and into the birdhouse he was building for Grandma. It’s a good thing finishing nails have no heads. “That was stupid,” he grimaced, sucking his finger and waiting for Lydia to return with a band-aid. “I knew I should be more careful with the nail gun.” I hardly thought a band-aid sufficient. The birdhouse turned out adorably.

If I had anything worth reporting, I wouldn’t need to be so brief.

Lord, the year is almost past,
It seems I lose momentum fast,
My emotions never last
Beyond the first commotion.

Oh, teach me what is faith to Thee
That I would learn devotedly
To follow Thee in purity,
Endurance and devotion.

Christmas Eve, Wednesday, December 24, 2008

“Someone you care about seeks reconciliation.” Behold the introspective depth of the Chinese fortune cookie. I don’t believe I ever keep any sort of ongoing quarrels with anyone I care about. I don’t believe. Do I? Perhaps I’m silly, but my thoughts did turn to the passage in Matthew—if you are offering your gift to God and there remember that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift. First be reconciled to your brother and then worship. I spent the rest of the afternoon lost in a desperate attempt to recall anything I might have done to offend anyone. My mind seemed a blank slate, though I know I am often unkind, judgmental and disrespectful. Even more often in thought than word.

I was busily working in the kitchen when Grandma made some comment about my love of cooking. I paused with the salt shaker half tipped before I dropped a bomb that would rattle her timbers. “I don’t like cooking.” Her eyebrows shot up with the speed of bottle rockets. “What do you mean you don’t like cooking?” she demanded. I fumbled for words. “I don’t really like to cook.” Obviously I didn’t really come up with any. “Well,” her voice came out in a huff, “for someone who doesn’t like to cook, you certainly do a lot of it.” I shrugged. “Well, yeah. I have to. I mean, cooking has to be done, so I do it. But I don’t particularly like it. That’s why I never use recipes. I just go for simple and quick.” She shook her head. “All this time I thought you really enjoyed cooking. What do you like to do?” “Actually,” I grinned from ear to ear, feeling foolish. “I really like to clean.” Again her eyebrows nearly bounced off her hairline. “You like to clean? I never heard of such a thing! I just do it because it has to be done.” How is it that I so successfully get everything almost entirely backwards?

After supper we worked a puzzle, drank fizzing apple cider, ate chocolates and opened gifts. Mine from Grandma was a suspiciously hard, flat shape—with a defined binding. With a couple of quick rips came my Christmas revelation: she’d given me a cookbook. Perhaps I should seek reconciliation with Grandma? She just chuckled as I held it up to thank her. “Well,” she said. “You may not like cooking, but at least I had something to wrap up. If I gave you only a check, you’d never spend it and I wouldn’t have the fun of watching you open something.” I’m sure it must have been entertaining watching my face as I unwrapped a cookbook, knowing the whole time that I’d just made the declaration that, contrary to popular opinion, I don’t like cooking.

Sometimes I say really stupid things.

We read the familiar “Christmas Story” and rattled off to our own rooms.

I wish I could enjoy cooking. It just seems like an exorbitantly necessary waste of time, for the most part, and as quickly as it’s done it’s gone with nothing to show for it. I know that was contradictory. So are my feelings toward cooking. I know that the Lord has called me to cook, as a service to my family, and I struggle to keep my mind on the task at hand. Cooking’s not so bad as long as I don’t have to think about it. The thought of making menus makes me break out in goosebumps. Talking about recipes bores me. I take no pride in meal preparation. I should. I should embrace every aspect of making a home as something of eternal value. Jesus never considered Himself beyond the call of feeding multitudes. Is a servant greater than her Master?

Lord, revive my heart, renew my mind
To trust in Thee, and trusting find
That joy in doing what is right—
A sacrifice for Thy delight.

Teach my hand my faith to prove
By taking captive to Thy love
The scornful thoughts that, bitter, lurk
And hate to do Thy daily work.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

It just didn’t seem fair to keep Locks of Love waiting any longer. For days my curly locks have gotten tangle in my scarf, snaggled by my coat collar, captured by the backs of chairs, entangled by the straps of purses and generally, frequently closed in doors. I took a deep breath before launching into an outstanding appeal. “Papa, can I cut my hair?” “How much?” he looked at me out of the corners of his eyes. “Locks of Love needs ten inches. I could cut off a foot and still have it here,” I drew an imaginary line just below my breastbone. And that was that. I couldn’t believe how easily I had secured his permission. Grandma, who had come home with us for the week, was equally enthusiastic. Josiah and Lydia were curious. Mom simply came up with a mile-long list of to-dos that prevented her from finding time to make the severance. A thin disguise for her unwillingness to see me shorn. Finally she was persuaded to lop my locks, which she did with a constant chorus of, “Are you sure you want to do this? Well, it’s gone now. I can’t put it back on.” As soon as she finished layering I took a quick look in the mirror and stared, aghast. With short, straight hair, I’d just gone back to being twelve again. My ponytail lay forlorn and lifeless on the tile counter. “I think it looked better long,” Josiah said quietly from the doorway. Well. What’s done is done. I shrugged, bagged up my ponytail and went to take a shower.

A short time later we all piled into the car for a trip into town for the inevitable shopping experience. I could have done without shopping. Lauryn met us in Belk for a quick “hello.” “I have something to show you,” she told me excitedly over the phone. I paused for a minute to think. “Did you find a car?” Her voice dropped. “How’d you guess?” then the buoyancy returned as she laughed, “of course you would guess.” I got the drop on her with the surprise. She noticed my missing hair immediately and squealed. “Oh, I like it! It’s so cute!” (I didn’t stop to ask her if that was a twelve-year-old cute or a mature, sophisticated cute.) Then she demanded, “What did Zach say?” I blinked. “Zach? Uh…I just did it this morning. He hasn’t seen it yet.” Why in the world did she ask about Zach? Aside from everything being a big deal to him. “He’s so funny,” she went on. “I can’t wait to see what he’ll say. Just the other day he was telling me, ‘Abigail’s just growing and changing so much.’” I blinked again, confused. “Not Lydia?” I shook my head and started laughing. “That makes me sound like I’m twelve or something.” Lauryn laughed, too. “I was like, ‘Now Zach, what do you mean? Abigail’s only like a year younger than we are.’ He never really said what he meant.” We shared a laugh at Zach's expense. He's certainly generous with providing entertainment. I’ve only known Zach for a couple of years. I can’t have grown and changed that much.

The opportunity to see Zach’s response came this evening when he walked through the doorway while I worked on supper. He looked at me hard for a little while and then said, “Did you cut your hair off? Come over here so I can look at you!” Such bossiness. Sometimes he really does make me feel twelve. After a critical examination, he announced, “Wow. You look about twelve.” The rest of the night he talked about my hair. “Are you pretty stoked about it? You’re glowing. I’m pretty stoked about it.” Then he paused. “What did your dad say?” And he proceeded to demand who else knew and make conjectures about how different people would react, stopping periodically to ask questions like how much had I cut off? I have no clue whether it made me appear to be growing and changing (hopefully from twelve to twenty-one), but I would guess he approved. He’d certainly have made it clear if he hadn’t. As for glowing, my nose might have been red. I was cold.

Who’d have guessed a hair-cut would be such a big deal, aside from being a Nazarite and keeping a vow?

This growing and changing thing is nagging me. Changing for the better? Not possible. I’m still so frustrated with myself and dissatisfied with the growth and change I see—or don’t see, really. My heart and thoughts and motives are forever so unholy. So impatient. So selfish. I feel like I’ve taken a huge nose dive, in a deadly spiral just opposite of where I need to be going. I’d hoped no one else had noticed a change for the worse.

Lord, I want to grow and change
Into the image of Thy Son,
And yet I never seem to grow
Or change for better, either one.

I know that Thou hast promised me
That Thou’d complete what Thou begun.
And all that Thou hast done is good,
Through Jesus Christ, Thy perfect Son.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

It’s cold and dark and rapidly approaching midnight, back in my empty bedroom in Arkansas. Lydia’s already sound asleep. I should be as well, but I’m sitting down like a good girl in a desperate attempt to make a whirlwind retelling of the weekend in Kansas. The very cold weekend in Kansas.

Our trip was punctuated by a couple of half-stops at the Day and Willis residence. Deliveries, you know. I brought Tabby several pairs of shoes and several pieces of jewelry I’d been given, which might prove suitable for her wedding day attire. We pored over wedding dress pictures from an online site she’d discovered and I took her measurements for her, so she could have a dress made to perfection. How could I ever explain exactly what went through my mind as I stood in the bathroom, wrapping a cloth tape-measure around Tabby’s waist and scribbling down numbers on a print-out of a wedding dress. It couldn’t have been that long ago that we impishly told the church kids we’d made a pact to be old maids together. They were so upset they begged Jon Day to give us a thorough lecture. Another time we insisted we were already married to twin princes of Rugalia and only came home for the weekends on flying carpets. They’d run distraught to Jon Day that time, too. Each time, he confronted us with laughing eyes and twitching lips. Those kiddos pestered us so incessantly about marriage that I never felt the least remorse for my rather imaginative retaliation. But the night I sat on the dryer and listened as Tabby tried to defend herself for being scared of Cliff and for trying to avoid talking to him, I knew what would happen next. And as I quietly told her, “If he’s worth being friends with, just be his friend and see what happens next,” she knew it, too. Now Cliff plans a house and Tabby plans a wedding and they’ve already bumped the date up and up and up to sometime in March. The formal announcement came after church on Sunday and the resounding answer was “It’s about time!” Miss Bethany whispered to Damaris, “Why are Tabby and Cliff sitting together?” Damaris responded, “Because they’re in love,” to which Bethany exclaimed aghast, “What? They’re in love and they’re not even married?!” We had to cancel the picture shoot for the happy couple. With a wind chill far below freezing, Tabby and I were sure we couldn’t manage any good shots. Instead, we snapped a few indoors, just to have. I’ll admit to tormenting the two of them. “Okay, look at each other…no…don’t giggle!” There they sat, struggling to maintain eye contact without giggling while I pretended to be adjusting and framing pictures. Finally Tabby groaned, “Abigail! What’s taking so long!” Ah, the perfect ending for the secret video I’d been shooting.

Then on to Grandma’s, where we ate tons, as usual, and refused to eat more than tons.

We made a quick visit to the Knox household Saturday morning. Rachel arrived a short time after we did, Hannah was home for the holidays and Abigail and Shane were present with little Sofia. So much has changed since the days when we were little kids, crawling through Forrest’s engineered hay mazes or swinging on the ragged rope in the barn or swimming in the Baker’s pond. Sometimes I am grieved to see the distance between us growing. My “shadow”, Rachel seems little more than a distant acquaintance. Our paths are so divergent these days. We talked about her long-time desire to become a missionary nurse. “I’m hoping to go to India this summer,” she confided in a hushed voice. “I can’t stand the thought of being stuck here all summer. I’m ready to go somewhere.” It’s something I’ve heard each of the girls say frequently—and Whitney, too. Wanderlust. Dissatisfaction. The desire to go places—far away and exciting. But sudden confusion overwhelmed me. She wants to go be a missionary nurse…why? She didn’t even say a word about the Lord. Every once in a while she mentions God, but rarely Jesus and never much depth about the Word or what the Lord is teaching her or a strong desire just to serve Him—wherever. I tried to push the uneasiness from my heart, but it lingered. I want my buddy, my “shadow” to be all that the Lord has for her. I want her to learn from Him and grow in Him and become conformed to His image. I believe she desires the same, but still, how does it look and sound so different from what the Lord has been teaching me? Hannah was also eager to share the events of her life. Now she’s in an official relationship with Seth (shall I mention I predicted this?), with her parents blessing, still drifting a bit and unsure of the next step, but her spirit is so different—so much gentler and more humble. I loved hearing her share from her heart, but one phrase set my heart racing. “I know this is a God-thing,” she said several times. Every time I hear that confident assertion falling from someone's lips, my chest tightens and I don’t know what to say. I can’t keep nodding and smiling. But do I have any real reason to protest? What is God? How does He lead? Is it possible that He leads in ways so different from how I have learned to seek His will? I know the Lord works with individuals in individual ways. I know He works in situations that are less than perfect. What situation isn’t? But when is God the driving force and when are we forcing God? How do we know what God wants from us? I’ve been over the topic of God’s will so many times—seeking my father’s counsel on so many issues, yet still I second-guess. Who am I to think I know what is a God-thing and what is a Me-thing? Is the Lord in every circumstance that surprises me? Delights me? Wows me? He sent the lightening and the thunder and the violent wind to the mountain where Elijah sat waiting, but He wasn’t in the theatrics. He wasn’t giving guidance through the fascinating displays. It was after the theatrics that the Lord appeared in the quiet, steady voice of truth telling Elijah to just do the next thing. God’s will is revealed one tiny step of obedience at a time.

Good ol’ steady Mandy joined us in the evening and taught us to Speed—with a deck of cards. Josiah’s mind must have been elsewhere since it failed to grasp the concept. Each round left him with a negative score. Then we discovered he’d been inadvertently cheating. His score dropped further. As we were just about to pack up the cards for the night, he suddenly asked, “Wait. You mean I was supposed to be subtracting these points, too?” Mandy and I stared at each other before collapsing in laughter. It seems to me it must take a special flair to be able to play a game and lose so badly in spite of accidentally only recording half your true loss!

The quiet hours at Grandma’s house left me with plenty of time for the character study of Mary, the mother of Jesus. Why did the Lord choose Mary? I used to wonder. What about her caught the eye of Almighty God? My question reveals my ignorance. Mary was chosen because she was available. It is true that her heart was resigned to service to Yahweh, as evidenced by her words, “Behold, I am the Lord’s slave. Do to me whatever.” Her life proved that the Lord had accepted her declaration. She hardly had a happily ever after, but the Lord used her, teaching her true submission to His will and plan through trying circumstances and even reminders from her own Divine Son. In the end, she had to learn what each of us must learn—to trust Jesus. For her it must have been especially difficult. Once upon a time He had depended on her, but His destiny and the will of the Father called Him to be the suffering servant, and in service to Him, she too was called to suffer. Available. She was there when the Lord needed her to carry His Son. She was there when He gave up His last breath on the cross. Ready. Willing. This is true service to the Master—availability to His needs, willingness to obey. “Do to me whatever.”

Lord, make Thy bond-maid ready, willing
To receive Thy Spirit’s filling
Be it done to me whatever
Thou hast planned ere time began.

Teach me to accept as from Thee
Guidance from those placed above me
Trusting Thou to do whatever
Seemest good in Thy great plan.