Wednesday, June 30, 2010
Thursday, June 24, 2010
Ralph Bellamy: “I like him - he's got a lot of charm.”
Irene Dunne: “He comes by it naturally - his grandfather was a snake.”
~from the film, “The Awful Truth,” circa 1937
It was our last day together in Oregon. I was in need of a little relaxation, so I convinced Dutch to fill his pockets full of party spoils and stroll with me across the glistening street to picnic in one of my favorite Portland parks. It was one of those luminous Northwest afternoons – it had been raining on and off all day and the sun was finally breaking through a host of silver clouds. Glittering rain-flecked rays of golden light pierced the sidewalk so that everything – grass, trees, and flowers – shone with a newborn brightness.
We meandered through the park, which covers a square city block with a half dozen rolling hills of green, a pond, and an old stone gardener’s cottage, until we found a quiet spot of shade beneath a giant oak tree. After feasting on a fine spread of crackers and cheese, chocolate-covered strawberries and champagne, we picked at an enormous leftover slice of lemon cake until our bellies bulged.
Every time I looked up at the silver sky its voluminous gray clouds had rearranged themselves into some gloriously new formation. “It’s like looking up at a canvas whose paint is constantly in motion,” I told Dutch, then leaned back on my elbows and watched a flock of mallards wade into the pond beneath the flickering shade of a weeping willow. An egret swooped and circled, its wavy white reflection sparkling on the surface of the water like a mirage.
I sighed, taking in the clean, sweet, earthy smell of grass; the soft, smooth surfaces – moss-covered tree trunks, velvet bark, pillowy earth. At the far end of the pond, a bed of peonies bloomed in brilliant shades of magenta; closer to us, white and yellow wildflowers were scattered all across the wide green lawn, their tiny petals glistening like fallen stars.
“Have I died and gone to heaven?” I asked Dutch.
“You might have,” he said.
“I can understand why God chose to place Adam and Eve in a garden. I could easily make my home here.”
We lingered until five o’clock when Dutch had a conference call. By this time, the park had emptied itself of people. He walked ahead of me, his soft murmuring voice the only human sound, while I trailed behind on the black curving path beneath the shadow patches of the great, tall trees, stopping now and then to examine a pine cone or fallen chestnut or to admire some thick square of sea-green moss that was growing up the side of an enormous stone.
By the time we stepped back onto the street the light had crested and was fading. Large raindrops were falling. The air had grown suddenly cool. Once more I looked up into the hairy brown arms of the trees, all atremble with green and yellow leaves, and sighed again, mournful that the day should have to end.
When I arrived back in Arizona, the desert had never seemed so – desertous.
A full day of errands left me dust-blown and wind-beaten, the tragic heroine of my very own western movie. Never had the dead, hot miserable summer seemed so acutely suffocating. The snake that slithered across the black tar road; the dispiriting sight of dodging jackrabbits and scurrying quail, the cactus needle that bore its way into the bed of my heel – all evoked a sense of loathing as well as a longing to return, for the summer months if not forever, to what had seemed a “paradise.”
Was it possible that I could be so beguiled by just one stroll in a park?
I recognize that I am more romantic than most women. Nevertheless, I cannot help but wonder whether the evocation that overtook me in the park wasn’t precisely the kind of seduction that overtook Eve, enticing her to act against her better judgment and eat from the forbidden tree?
What is more – and here is the rub – is it possible that my propensity to romanticize or idealize is a trait which I inherited from Eve? After all, the Scripture does say, “…it was the woman who was deceived” (1 Tim. 2.14), implying that Eve’s deception was related to her nature as a woman.
But to say that Eve was more easily deceived is not to diminish her intelligence. For all deception, when it strikes, suspends the intelligence, or at least momentarily confounds it. In fact, the word deceive is constructed from the prefix “de,” a Latin preposition meaning “down from,” or “off;” and the French root “capere,” meaning “to take.” Thus to deceive literally means: “to take down from.” To deceive a person is to cheat them; to trick them into betraying the true “good” for the counterfeit.
Deception always begins with an idea; to take effect the idea must be given symbolic representation. For Eve the idea – of a richer, more satisfying life – was represented by the forbidden fruit; for the contemporary woman, it may be the skyline of New York City, Paris, or Rome; a seat at the boardroom table; a pair of size four jeans; a princess-cut diamond set in a shimmering band of gold; or a house on a hill that is populated by a charming set of curly-headed children.
The symbol becomes synonymous with an ideal; and the ideal becomes an idol – something which we not only, in the most obvious sense, worship but which paradoxically controls us, dictating our behavior to the point that we are willing to sacrifice (or forfeit or neglect) present gifts for the abstract and nebulous possibilities of the future.
Eve was dazzled by the idea of what the fruit could do for her just as I was dazzled by the beauty of the park. She became, as the word implies, dizzy, “mentally confused, stupefied.” She was "struck with splendor." Thus: “When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise, she took from its fruit and ate” (Genesis 3.6).
But the moment Eve ate, the fruit became bitter just as, were I to mortgage my belongings and fly north – to greener grounds and cooler climes – I would arrive to find the spell broken: the park just a park; the trees just trees. For any place where sin is present – which is to say, where I am present – is a far cry from paradise.
Moreover, what Eve, as I, failed to recognize was that she had access to all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge within the confines of her garden. As a sinless woman Eve walked and talked with God unashamed. Because of the propitious death of Jesus Christ, I, though a sinner, can talk and walk with God without shame or fear of banishment.
God has not placed me in a garden; but He has graciously given me circumstances which are, to quote a dear friend, “perfectly imperfect” – designed to teach me the habit of contentment; the discipline of gaining character.
In his last letter to his fiance, written from the Gestapo prison at Christmas, 1944, Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes, “…you must not think that I am unhappy. What is happiness and unhappiness? It depends so little on the circumstances; it depends really only on that which happens inside a person. I am grateful every day that I have you, and that makes me happy.”
So it is, or should be, for the Christian who has Christ. Though He manifests Himself in many ways, one of the principal ways I experience Christ is through people. My hardships are forever tempered and soothed by the glorious presence of other heavenly beings - husband and children, family and friends - sent like angels, to comfort, inspire, and exhort me during my long stay away from home.
“I am grateful that I have you, and that makes me happy.”
And that is all that matters.
Wednesday, June 23, 2010
This picture doesn't begin to convey the unspeakable depths of what looking at it makes me feel. Oh, the vastness of a mother's love for her child! It is impossible to put into words - but something about the expression on her face makes me want to try.
She has begun to exhibit a natural preference for dolls. She finds them under the sink of the toy kitchen or hidden away at the bottom of a basket and clutches them to her chest or nestles them comfortably under one arm, waddling all over the house. Today it was Snow White - the faded and many-times-washed princess that we are "borrowing" from Katie-Kat. Evangeline found her beneath the coverlet in Audrey's bedroom. She carried her down the hall, patting her back and jabbering to her as she toddled from room to room. Audrey wasn't nearly as interested in dolls at this age; and I couldn't help but be surprisingly moved at seeing such a little person behave toward a stuffed piece of fabric and ribbon in such a seemingly grown-up way - treating it with such tenderness and affection!
But a moment later, the tides turned. Audrey tried to wrench the thing from Evangeline's hands and all of us were given a spontaneous lesson in tenacity. Evie may be smaller than her sister but, like many a second or third-born child, she has discovered - and much to my chagrin - that what she lacks in size and strength she can easily make up for in lung capacity.
Audrey found this silk nightgown hanging on the hook in the bathroom, an anomaly, since this is usually the place for half-soaked towels. With wide, inquiring eyes, she asked, "What is it?" and "OH, may I try it on?" Dutch didn't see the harm... And since we only wear gowns now, not dresses or pants, but gowns a la Sleeping Beauty - I said what all mothers say in moments of reluctant concession, "Alright, but only this once!"
Thursday, June 17, 2010
I have been singing her to sleep... that gorgeous lullaby from Mary Poppins: "Though the world is fast asleep. / Though your pillow's soft and deep. / You're not sleepy as you seem. / Stay awake. Don't nod and dream." It quiets her every time; and makes me wish I had the power to stop time.
Tuesday, June 15, 2010
There is nothing so good for the soul as watching the bond of two cousins form and grow. My favorite moment occurred on a typical rainy Tuesday. Breakfast was through and Audrey and Silas were busy drawing. When Uncle Jordan asked Audrey to describe her picture, she said, "This is my mom and this is my dad and they're hugging. And this is me and this is my baby sister, Evangeline."
"Nice," said Uncle Jordan. "Silas, what are you drawing?"
Silas threw his father a swift, concentrated glare and responded as any self-respecting three-year-old boy would: "This is an eyeball," he said, and promptly resumed drawing.
Friday, June 11, 2010
"My purpose is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge" (Col. 2.2-3).
We stayed out too late and on the way home I said something I immediately regretted. Blast! Solomon wasn’t kidding when he said that he who controls his spirit is like he who captures a city! Self-discipline is hard. Knowing what is right is simply not enough; one must do the thing. Instead, I am too often willing to forgo what is right in order to indulge my emotions – when in fact it should be the other way around.
By the time I got into bed I was not only discouraged, but mildly nauseous. How could I have been so thoughtless? How can I claim to have knowledge of Christ and still succeed in demonstrating such stupendous breeches of judgment? Unable to sleep, I reached for my Bible and came immediately upon Solomon's words from the book of Proverbs: “If you call out for insight and cry aloud for understanding, and if you look for [wisdom] as for silver and search for it as for hidden treasure, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God” (Proverbs 2.3-6).
I couldn't help but note what Solomon does not say. He does not say, “Wish for wisdom like you’re wishing on a star. Hope for it like you hope large sums of money will spontaneously fall into your lap. Believe that someday, somehow, by a magic stroke of luck, sage fairies with silver hair will descend from the heavens and sprinkle wisdom dust upon your forehead.”
Instead, Solomon says that wisdom must be sought after like hidden treasure; one must "call out" and "cry aloud," "look" and "search." Just a few chapters later, he adds this charge: “Get wisdom, get understanding; do not forget my words or swerve from them. Do not forsake wisdom and she will protect you; love her, and she will watch over you. Wisdom is supreme; therefore get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding” (Proverbs 4.5-7).
There is nothing equivocal about Solomon’s words; they are not suggestive, but authoritative; he is not offering up a point for my consideration, but an unqualified mandate: get wisdom; get understanding; don’t settling for anything less; seek for it until you find it, even if it costs you everything you have.
This realization filled me with a sense of empowerment: I will do it, I resolved, I will get wisdom! But then two words struck me like the glare of an impertinent child from a vacant corner of the schoolroom: “But how?” How does one go about “getting” wisdom? And what is the best method for acquiring understanding?
I first began to consider the example of Solomon who, shortly after being anointed king, was approached by God in a dream and granted the privilege of asking for whatever he wished. Instead of long life and riches, Solomon asked for wisdom: “I am only a little child,” he said, “and do not know how to carry out my duties. So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong" (1 Kings 3.7-9).
"I am only a little child...so give your servant a discerning heart." God was so pleased with Solomon’s request that He not only gave him wisdom, but made him the wisest man who ever lived (1Kings 3.9).
While it is nearly impossible to imagine - (though I must concede it is possible) - that God could grant me anything like the wisdom of Solomon, this story serves to beautifully illuminate the character of God: He not only gives to those who ask, He gives generously. This idea is reaffirmed countless times in the New Testament. “If any of you lacks wisdom,” writes James, “he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.” “He should ask God who gives generously…and it will be given to him.” “For he who asks receives” (Matt. 5.45).
And yet, how difficult asking is! Oswald Chambers writes, “We will long and desire and crave and suffer, but not until we are at the extreme limit will we ask.” To ask one must stop what one is doing; one must pull the car over and admit that one is lost, that one lacks, that one is but a child and hopelessly poor.
But the moment we do ask is the moment we are blessed (Matt. 5). Indeed, in the moment of asking no powers of hell or darkness can keep us from receiving wisdom from God: Not that I will receive wisdom to do the thing I want – for that is to ask amiss; but wisdom to recognize the thing that God wants.
Thus, when I am faced with my own shortcomings, with the depth of my depravity and sin, I need not utterly succumb to feelings of hopelessness and despair – instead, I must remember the great riches which God has put at my disposal: namely, Christ, “in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge;” Christ, “who has become for us wisdom from God – that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption" (1 Cor. 1.30).
Not even Solomon in all his splendor had this privilege – of drawing near to the Throne of Grace with confidence to find mercy and help in time of need.
Tuesday, June 8, 2010
When Audrey traipsed into the living room I was holding Evangeline on my lap, fastening the last button on a white baptismal dress, a hand-me-down from Audrey which ordinarily hangs on her bedroom wall.
“What are you doing?” she asked.
“I'm just getting Evie ready. Would you mind if she borrowed your dress?” Audrey's eyes flicked open and closed and I saw her expression change from curiosity to solicitation. “Today is her birthday,” I went on, “and I think it would be nice if she had something special to wear.”
Audrey’s eyes roved around the room, from ceiling to window to floor, before finally settling on her sister. “Well, but, but, but – I’m sorry but she’s really too big.”
Evangeline, who looked like a golden-haired cherub just fallen from the sky, clapped her hands and cooed. “I think it fits her just perfectly,” I said, smiling. “Doesn’t she look sweet? I can’t believe that today is her first birthday!”
“Well,” said Audrey, thumbing the corners of her dress, “is today my birthday too?”
“Your birthday is on ‘March Teen,’" I said, picking up my camera. "Today is June sixth – the day Evangeline was born.”
“But why is it not my birthday too?” Audrey persisted.
“Because you weren’t born on this day. We have to wait for March Teen and then it will be your birthday again. But today you get the special job of helping your sister blow out her candle and open her presents. And we get to eat cupcakes and ice cream! Doesn’t that sound like fun - ”
But when I turned around Audrey was gone. Ten minutes later, as I was walking back down the hallway, I heard little racking sobs coming from the general direction of her bedroom. When I looked in I found her sitting in the corner, in her time out chair, crying her eyes out.
“Did you hurt yourself?” I asked.
“No,” she said. “I'm just sad!”
“Be-cause,” she groaned. “You told me I wasn’t born!”
(I snapped the photos at the end of the day after Evangeline had changed into more comfortable clothing. Audrey kept insisting the dress still fit her and… well, I suppose she was almost right.)