Wednesday, May 26, 2010

An Uncommon Building

“Then the temple of the Lord was filled with a cloud, and the priests could not perform their service because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled the temple of God.” ~2 Chronicles 5.14

When King David had been gathered to his fathers and his son Solomon had succeeded him as king, artisans and laborers from all over the land were conscripted to build the temple which was to house the ark of the covenant of God.

After thirteen long years, the temple was finally completed, and Solomon stood before the altar in front of the whole assembly of Israel. He spread out his hands toward heaven and issued a prayer of praise and supplication: “Not one word has failed of all the good promises [the Lord] gave through his servant Moses,” Solomon declared. (Not one word!) “May the Lord our God be with us as he was with our fathers; may he never leave us nor forsake us” (1 Kings 8.57-58).

When Solomon finished praying, fire came down from heaven and God’s glory filled the temple - that work of art which had, in a manner of speaking, been commissioned by God Himself as an acceptable place for His glory to dwell.

Speaking nearly a thousand years later, in a letter to Corinthian believers, the apostle Paul utters this remarkable phrase: “You are… God’s building. ...Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you? ” (3.9,16).

The Spirit of the Living God has now, because of the propitious death of Christ, seen fit to dwell inside me. My body is His temple – a living temple, a living work of art! – which houses God’s Spirit. How wondrously far beyond my ability to grasp - and yet it is a truth worth pondering, especially in light of the apostle's fearsome warning: “If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him; for God’s temple is sacred, and you are that temple” (1 Cor. 3.17).

"God's temple is sacred, and you are that temple." If we have received Christ, we are a temple whose sacred doors and windows are ever flickering with the light and energy of Christ. God’s Spirit has not come to rest in a building made of stone, but of flesh – and in the same way that His Spirit has come to rest in me, He bids that I live always in a state of resting and abiding in Him.

But this does not mean that I am a static thing, like a forgotten painting hung up in a cobwebbed corner of a museum; or a statue, standing frozen on a rotating pedestal in a mirrored showroom – exhibiting the looks and features of God’s latest model. No, as Oswald Chambers says, “God never has museums.” Instead, His works of art are alive with action. What is more, we were created to perform the good works “which God has prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2.10).

Thus each moment presents me with an opportunity -to reach out my hand and obey the promptings of the Holy Spirit; to make the natural spiritual, and by my obedience manifest Christ to the world.

Then the temple of the Lord was filled with a cloud, and the priests could not perform their service because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled the temple of God. I too, when once I begin to glimpse the barest bones of this truth, become like one of Solomon's priests – unable to perform my duties for sheer awe at the glorious thickness of the cloud.

For those who visit temples do so in the hope of encountering the Spirit of the god for whom the temple was erected. Lest I begin to think that I am 'all alone in the world' - that my battles are mine to fight in isolation, I must remember that, because my body is His temple, I have the opportunity of encountering His presence all the time – I am never alone and never forsaken, proving that Solomon’s words were indeed a foreshadowing of what was to come.

“…[B]ecause God has said, "Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you." So we say with confidence, "The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?"(Hebrews 13.5-6).

*Photo by MommaLove*

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

We are leaving tomorrow for Portland... Uncle Ry is graduating law school on Saturday and there will be a great many festivities to attend. I'm not sure if I have remembered everything, or if I have packed the right kinds of things, but so long as my family is with me I will have all I need.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Auntie "Nay"

It is not uncommon, when Audrey asks to do something that is out of her league, for me to respond with something like, "I'm sorry, baby. You're too little. Someday when you get bigger you can do that..."

Tonight we met Auntie "Nay" for dinner to celebrate her 21st birthday. Afterward, with our bellies " too full of pizza," we strolled next door for gelato. When "Nay" asked if she could have a taste of her bubble gum ice cream, Audrey winced and wagged her head. "Sorry," she began, "you're too big. Someday when you get little then you can have some o' my ice cream."

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

“Behold, I go forward, but he is not there; and backward, but I cannot perceive him: I look for him on the left hand, where he doth work, but I cannot behold him: he hideth himself on the right hand, that I cannot see him: But he knoweth the way that I take: when he hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold.” ~Job 23.8-10

It was a week before my thirtieth birthday and I was on my knees, covered in dust, before the open hallway closet. Stacks of boxes and unfiled paperwork had me surrounded, but my determination was singular and singularly focused: I was going to take one stack at a time, for as many afternoons as it took, to sort, toss, or file them until there wasn’t a stitch of paperwork that wasn’t in its rightfully ordered place. Then, and only then, could I exit the second decade of my life with ease and enter the third one – a real-life, living, breathing adult with a working filing system.

I was making decent headway – I mean, how many copies of drafted stories does one truly need from one’s earliest attempts at writing fiction? Real writers usually burn theirs, anyway – when one box in particular, an old, square storage box covered in blue and white ticking, seized my attention, invoking an oddly simultaneous sense of interest and aversion: it was from our first year of marriage – a time marked, principally for me, by a sense of existential despair and hopelessness – and I hadn’t had the courage to open it since we moved to Arizona.

I stared up at the box for several seconds, thinking, and then I straightened my shoulders and blew a strand of hair off my forehead: I was over all of that, wasn’t I? I had really come to terms with God’s gracious workings in my life, hadn’t I? I pulled the box off the shelf and dropped it heavily onto the only visible surface still left on the floor at my feet. The corners were split and fraying, the sides dented and misshapen, as if the box had spent considerable time rolling around in the belly of a cargo ship.

Placing a tentative hand on the lid, I felt a sudden likeness to the mythical Pandora, who loosed all evils upon the world by opening her jar. Was I prepared to face whatever feelings were evoked by the contents in this box?

I wasn’t sure.

But I decided that the point wasn’t whether or not I was completely over all that; the point was that our marriage certificate was inside and needed to be filed.

I lifted the lid and found bundles of old letters, forgotten photographs, and copies of graduate school applications with letters of recommendation attached. To remember those days, and the malaise which had settled over my life like a steely storm cloud, made my heart seize.

Before moving to Arizona, I’d applied to two graduate programs. The first program accepted me, but the second, which I applied to as a desperate, last minute resort because it was here, in Tucson, had rejected me unequivocally.

I lifted the stack of papers, intent on putting them aside, when a single oblong envelope fell smartly onto my lap – it was a sealed, dated, and signed letter of recommendation from my most revered college professor and I’m ashamed to admit I couldn’t, or wouldn’t, resist the urge to open it. One swift tear and a hurried unfolding of pages and I was pouring over paragraphs filled with glowing phrases and a conclusion in which she offered me her highest recommendation.

Old wounds, buried but not forgotten, suddenly announced themselves: “Let me introduce myself – my name is Doubt and this is my cousin, Bitterness!” ‘Why hadn’t I been accepted?’ I wondered, ‘Why was life so unfair?’

Immediately I heard Dutch’s voice sounding in my head - Fair is where they take the pigs. – and I couldn’t help but laugh.

My mind circled back to my morning reading - about the glorious mountain-top encounter between Moses and God in which Moses is given the Ten Commandments. I had been struck by the notable fact that the negative commands vastly outnumber the positive ones: “Thou shalt not steal…” “Thou shalt not murder…” “Thou shalt not commit adultery…” Why was this?, I had wondered.

And now I sensed God giving me the answer: it is because it is easier to say what something isn’t than to say what it is. It is easier to say, in concrete terms, that holiness is not stealing, murdering, and committing adultery than to say that it is patience, kindness, and self-control.

The same principle applies when it comes to the life of faith. God sometimes leads us by negation – that is, by closing doors.

This would sound rather – well, negative, if not for the overarching positive that the Person who is leading is none other than Jesus Christ Himself. In fact, though He may have slammed the door on those things which I once insisted I needed, just as earnestly as Eve needed to take a bite of that glittering green apple, His door is always open. Indeed, He claims, “I am the door; and if anyone enters through Me, he will be saved” (John 10.9, emphasis mine).

“Heather, my perfect will for you is not X; neither is it Y. Can you accept this, even when you don’t understand, and hold fast to Me?” The point is always abandonment to Jesus Christ, going where He leads, saying what He says, and believing what He reveals.

And yet one thing is certain – any time God ‘deprives’ us of a thing we want, or which we feel entitled to – no matter how great or small it is – it hurts. We feel like dying because a part of us, the sinner’s part, is.

But this should bring a certain degree of comfort - a certain increased sense of conviction to hold tight and fast to Him, for as in all the great stories, death is never, ever the end, but only the beginning. Besides, if Eve taught us anything, she taught us what poor judges we are of determining what is in our best interest.

Only Jesus knows what is truly best for me; He is the author and perfector of my story; and if I'm truly wise, I'll do nothing to stand in the way of His writing it...

“I love to tell the story of unseen things above,
Of Jesus and His glory, of Jesus and His love.
I love to tell the story, because I know ’tis true;
It satisfies my longings as nothing else can do.

I love to tell the story; more wonderful it seems
than all the golden fancies of all our golden dreams.
I love to tell the story, it did so much for me;
and that is just the reason I tell it now to thee.”

~Katherine Hankey, 1834-1911

Sunday, May 16, 2010


It was almost nine o'clock when I finally tucked Audrey into bed. She was wearing her princess jams and her blonde hair splayed against her pillow in a pouf. We had spent an hour after-dinner sorting the toys that carpeted her bedroom floor and now all was clean and quiet in the warm glow of the Van Gogh nightlite.

"Mommy?" Audrey ventured, fingering the frayed edges of her blankie.


"Mommy?" she said again, her eyes gazing past me to the darket corner of the room. "Mommy?"

"Yes," I said, a note of impatience creeping into my voice. Sitting on the edge of her bed, I crossed and uncrossed my legs, trying not to think of the dishes still in the sink, the piles of unfolded laundry at the foot of my bed, or (most important of all) the husband, who was waiting for my company. "Audrey, what is it?"

" Mudder," her eyes snapped back and locked mine. "I love you."

"Oh, I love you too, baby. And now it's time for sleep."

"Okay. Mommy?"


"I halfta go to sleep... I have to go to sleep cause, cause, be-cause - it's dark outsdie. But then, when I'm waking up in the mornin', I'm gonna come in yer bed and then I'm gonna snuggle you and then, then - then, to-morrow you wanna watch the rest of 'Okla-homa with me?' Wanna do it, Maw-maw? You want to?"

"Of course," I said.

And then this morning, very early, just as the sun was beginning to fall in streams across my pillow, I heard the sound of a door clank, and then the swish-swish of a princess dress rustling across the hall, the clap of bare feet against the granite floor. Before I realized what I was doing, the covers were thrown back and I was enveloping a tousle-headed three-year-old into the warm marshmallow cloud that is my comforter.

"Hi, baby," I whispered. "Did you sleep well?"

"No," she said, "I didn't. I fell out my bed because there's a monster in there so I halfta come in here and sleep wit' you."

"I'm so glad you did," I said sleepily.


"Yes, Aud?"



"Mommy, I love you the mostest in the world."

Thursday, May 13, 2010


Whoever coined the phrase, "terrible twos," had not lived to experience life with a three-year-old. I am not saying it is terrible - far from it - but Audrey certainly poses more of a challenge - to me and my authority - now than she did a year ago.

But at least she makes up for it by making me laugh. Yesterday at breakfast she said, "Mom, I don't feel good."

"What's wrong?" I asked.

She clasped her throat with both hands like a character from a Bronte novel. "It's my throat!" she exclaimed, "It's got a frog in it!"

"A frog?"

"Yes," she said, "and he's sayin', 'Ribbit! Ribbit!'"

I think I have a diagnosis for this kind of ailment: it is called an over-active imagination. And I'm not sure that there is anything that can be done about it.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Monday, May 10, 2010

Sunday, May 9, 2010

for the girl who grew up by the name of karen brennan

When I think back upon my childhood it is difficult to say, “Here, precisely, was the moment my mother taught me grave lessons about patience, or discipline, or self-sacrifice.” What I have are vague memories of small kindnesses, dropping a bag of groceries onto the doorstep of a hungry family’s home; bringing a meal to someone who was ill – curried chicken and broccoli! meat loaf and mashed potatoes!; bothering – for it is often such a bother! – to care about ordinary people, and I mean really care, enough to ask the grim grocery clerk how her day was; or to visit with the mail man; to help the little boy in the park tie his shoe.

Likewise there weren’t many ‘brass band moments.’ We never lunched at Claridge’s; never visited the Louvre; never strolled through the Borghese Gardens or the Tuileries, never rode in a glistening elevator to the top of the Empire State Building and looked out over the stultifying city, beautiful beneath a halo of stars.

But I do remember small moments… playing with my porcelain tea set in the stenciled nook; riding my blue and white Superwoman bike with the banana seat and the streamers coming out the handlebars… I remember piano lessons and ballet lessons and walking three blocks to the park in my plaid flannel skirt and white eye-lit blouse, you swinging me on the swingset and braiding my hair.

I remember the Humboldt State Park, with its dizzyingly high slide carved into that enormous tree trunk; and the animal-shaped French fries we used to eat from the concession stand in the Zoo next door. It was you who introduced me to “Mary Poppins” and “The Sound of Music,” to “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory,” films full of so much joy and imagination, which I still relish and relish introducing to my children.

We planted strawberries in the back yard; and watered and picked the sweet peas that grew in tangles up the garden trellis. I remember standing in my blue-collared shirt and purple jellies, holding a bouquet against the shed door – the one with the heart cut through it.

I remember spending hours setting up army man kingdoms in the bark between the two trees where the striped hammock swung. We were happy there; and safe, riding our bikes to the 5th and L market to buy Nerds and Laffy Taffy and Lemonheads with pocket money we earned for doing household chores…

One thing is certain, you always took me seriously. To you, my small problems, being about the size that I was, were just as big as any big man’s problems. My hardships – whether I came home crying because I’d received a red chip at school; or had fractured my femur — always invoked your tenacity – that fighting Irish spirit, always fighting to endure.

Summers you took us to upstate New York, to “the Brennan mansion,” and the pond where you used to lifeguard as a girl. We learned to swim where you had learned to swim; and we bought colored popsicles from the ice cream man that dripped and stained our bathing suits.

Christmases were always memorable. The tree blinking rainbow colors between the two French plate windows. Striped stockings always jammed full of treasures, an orange and a candy cane prized alongside whatever small trinkets you had wrapped in tissue paper … Breakfasts of eggs and jam on toast, hot chocolate, orange juice. A fire in the hearth.

No, these were not great or glamorous moments. But they loom larger now in my memory, more immense and worthy of celebration, than any of the ‘grander’ moments I have lived to see. And I know that none of them would have taken place if you had been absent… No, the same thread runs through them all: you loved us; and your love expressed itself in thousands of infinitely small ways that, taken together, became very, very big.

I love you, Mother. Happy Day.

Friday, May 7, 2010

for sheila

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

treading water

Dutch has been out of town five days now; the nap fairy failed to make her ritual visit; so by five o'clock I was sure the sky was set to fall.

Thus to avoid imminent disaster we preyed upon our friends Ella and Kate ... and at my girlfriend's generous insistence, I devoted twenty minutes to trying out their new exercise contraption: a poolside harness that allows you to swim 'in place.' It was a little odd at first - I was far more buoyant than I'm used to – but once I got into a rhythm I was able to lose myself in thought – or the absence thereof.

The only really startling thing, the thing I never really got used to, was that no matter how hard I swum, my view of the sky and the trees didn't change. I pulled and kicked and lunged forward, but there was that harness pulling me backward so that I remained suspended in water. Several small insects and a myriad of unidentifiable particles floated past me, providing unmistakable – and rather disheartening – evidence that I was indeed stationary.

I wanted to laugh - indeed, I did laugh, and took in a bit of water - and then the image suggested itself to me as the perfect metaphor for my life. I spend all day doing all the things that mothers do – “pulling and kicking” - dressing and changing, feeding and cleaning - but no matter how much force I put into it, my scenery doesn't seem to change much. There are the dishes still in the sink. The laundry remains unfolded. Even – by time the five o’clock bell sounds – I have become unfolded. If not for the two sleeping children – clothed and cleaned and nestled into bed – you would assume, by taking a quick glance around 'my rooms,' that I didn't "do" anything all day.

But appearances can be deceiving – in fact, are deceiving. At the end of a long day, my view of the sky may be the same; but I am different. Perhaps not noticeably; no, not at first glance. In fact, the woman getting out of the pool looks identical to the one who waded into it twenty minutes ago. But if you follow her long enough into her future, you will find that she is indeed changing... the exertion of her muscles in this, God’s training course, will produce - by His infinite grace and wisdom - an ever-increasing quality of spiritual fitness… so much so that, at a certain point, those who knew her when she started her journey will find that she has become unrecognizable.

For that, in essence, is what it means to walk with Christ.

By a miracle of His own provident design Christ does for us what Michelangelo did for his David. He uses, indeed, chooses the raw material that comprises our physical circumstances, whatever they may be, to batter us into the shape of the vision - the masterpiece - which He has before the creation of the world set forth for us to be.

“In every block of marble I see a statue as though it stood before me, shaped and perfected in attitude and action," Michelangelo said, when asked how he was able to craft such masterpieces of form and beauty. "I have only to hew away the rough walls that imprison the lovely apparition to reveal it to the other eyes as mine see it.”

So you see? Appearances are deceiving. We look with human eyes upon the figure being formed and conclude it is all wrong – no, no, we say, this cannot be the best method for producing a masterpiece! One must go to all the best places and do all the best things! One shouldn’t get hung up on menial tasks – nor hang about with sickness and weakness and failure – leave those for the ordinary works of art.

Of course, the primary difference between Michelangelo's statues and you and me is that we are living, breathing, beings – and the process of “hewing away the rough walls” is often not only discomfiting, but painful. Which is why we have need of trust – but not the nebulous, imbecile wishfulness that ‘things will turn out right in the end;’ but trust – as solid as marble – in a Person, a God Who not only created us, but Who cares more for us than we can ever think or imagine.

As Oswald Chambers once wrote, “The vision is not a castle in the air, but a vision of what God want you to be. Let Him put you on His wheel and whirl you as He likes, and as sure as God is God and you are you, you will turn out exactly in accordance with the vision. Don’t lose heart in the process. If you have ever had the vision of God, you may try as you like to be satisfied on a lower level, but God will never let you.”

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

doll on a music box

It was too windy to play outside. I mean, tornado warnings - in Arizona! So we put on dresses and acted out the Chitty, Chitty, Bang, Bang song, "Doll on a Music Box." We wish we could have done it as well as Truly Scrumptious - but we did our best to fabricate the mechanical key-turning sounds to signal the changes in our posture.

Monday, May 3, 2010

love is walking hand in hand

The picture is of my brother and me - at ages 3 and 2, respectively. We are wearing our parents' down vests which, my mother reminds me, were very 'in' at the time. I love how tightly our hands are clasped; I love how unbridled our joy is, the joy of children before they have become aware that they have 'selves' to project and protect and get in the way of all sorts of things. But most of all I love the little blonde boy in the picture... he is all grown up now, except for - well, except for a great many things. And that is just one of the things I love about him.


Saturday, May 1, 2010