I AM making all things new

I like logic.  I like things to make sense.  I think we all do mostly.

I like to understand.

I like answers.

I like to have my little ducks in a row.

I like surprises… as long as I see them coming and can prepare for them appropriately…

 

My son loves math and finding a curriculum that continued to challenge him was daunting.  I stumbled upon Sudoku, I had never heard of it before, played it a little and thought he might like it.  He did… initially, until it became a matter of replication of formulae.  Then I found Kenken.  A mixture of Sudoku and math operations, it is harder and goes from fairly simple to hours of work, computation and elimination.  As I taught him how to solve a kenken puzzle, I began to enjoy the process myself.

 

I recently sent Mark a kenken puzzle and wasn’t very surprised that he quickly picked up (without even much in the way of instructions I might add) how to solve them.  The following three pictures are examples of kenken puzzles.  From simple to ridiculous.

 

*Quick simple rules.  Each dark outlined area is called a cage and in each cage the answer is the number, by way of the operation listed.  Each row and column must contain (in the first example) the numbers 1,2,3 without repeating in any subsequent row or column (like sudoku). 

3x3-5499154366842eeb7819c48acd7fa774       img_f16_t150_p1302_i1

 

kenken3  This third one doesn’t initially look as difficult but notice there are no operation symbols, therefore not only the numbers, but first the operation must be discovered.

 

There is no guess work to kenken.  There is some initial supposition backed by process of elimination and a lot of writing and erasing, but there is only one way and one answer to a kenken puzzle.

 

It is black and white.  It is entirely logical.  You do not have to wonder if you got it right.  There is no grading on a curve, no subjectivity if you try real hard…  it is right or wrong, utterly objective.

 

In a couple weeks Easter will be upon us.  If there is a polar opposite to logic and objectivity, it exists in the advent of Easter.  Sometimes we use the etymology of the word, whether Saxony or Hebrew or pagan or Christian, to back our own opinions on whether or not to hide eggs and eat chocolate.  But the celebration exists in the hearts and minds of Christians as the crucifixion and resurrection from the dead of Jesus Christ.

 

Christ’s crucifixion and in fact, his life, was not logical.  It does not make sense.  In chess, we sacrifice pawns, we do not sacrifice the king.  In fact, in chess, the king is never taken.  It is illegal to even move into a position that puts the king into jeopardy.  When we win a piece, we snatch it from the board in triumph, setting it off to the side, out of play, defeated.  Not so the king.  The king is no great player in the game of chess.  He stands alone in the back, rarely even moving and then, only once and out of the way.  He is a defended object.  When checkmate is called, the king’s piece is rarely even removed from the board.  The game is simply over.  He can move no more.  The game of chess is tactical and logical.  Sometimes we see God as we see the king in chess.  Valuable… but only as the end objective, uninvolved, disinterested, separated from our small existence on this round green and blue chess board.  But we are wrong in that notion.

 

Unlike chess, Christ was not captured.  He was indeed arrested.  But capture assumes evasion.  Upon his arrest he did not evade.  Not in his speech, not in his actions, not in his defense, not in his death.  Nor did Christ sacrifice others in defense of himself.  It was completely totally inexplicably illogical.

 

And what of our fascination with the cross itself?  We wear them as jewelry, emblazon them on clothing, and hang them on walls.  They are crusted with jewels or shaped in ornate filigree, finely carved and crafted.  But the one on which Christ hung was none of those things.  It was not an emblem of beauty, it was a blood covered, rough hewn symbol of punishment and torture.  Visible to all, as a sign and warning and deterrence against crime.  The just punishment for the accused.  Go into any jewelry store and one of the most popular themes in design is the cross.  But I am left to wonder… where are the hangman’s noose earrings?  The Guillotine necklaces?  The electric chair bracelets?  Why do we cling to the cross?  It was not technologically advanced, it was not costly or of great value.  A fallen timber, stout enough to hold the weight of a man shuddering in agony.  Of all the mixed messages, the cross offers the wildest paradox.  That the bloodiest mechanism that the Romans used to intimidate, punish, and torture… the emblem of dominion and rule and power and might to crucify men; God used to free mankind by crucifying sin itself.

 

How carelessly and lightly do we toss around the phrase, “I would die for you.”  I think it is a statement intended to show great feeling or sentiment and I think the intent is gracious and I do not judge it when I hear it.  I have never spoken those words, but in my heart that force and commitment beats for a handful of people.  Even so, I would be very careful with those words.  Life is an amazing thing.  Instinctively we grasp, at times desperately at it.  Infants, just born, have an instantaneous response known as the Moro reflex.  Stimulated by picking the infant up from the floor and then lowering him sharply in a simulation of being dropped the baby will quickly thrust his arms out fingers wide as though grasping something and sharply bring them in as though holding on.  The reflex is tested by medical staff as a sign that the baby has a certain level of motor and neurological development.   The reflex is lost shortly after birth but only in its motor reflexive nature.  We all grasp.  We all cling and reach out.  I have done it.  I continue to do it.  Did it just this last week.  As adults, we like to feel the strength of self-sufficiency.  But the truth is, the humbling, sometimes embarrassing and humiliating truth is… we need people.  I reached out to Erin Sisson, to Mark, to Miranda, to my children.  I needed to be caught.  Need… sometimes it seems like a dirty little word.  It smacks of frailty and inability and lack.  But need is part of the human condition.  Need is not desire or want or transient.  The object of our grasp may change throughout life, but the underlying need to hold on… is extinguished only at the very end of life.  We struggle to continue.

 

“To live is Christ, to die is gain.”  I used to read those words and I understood them on some small level, like a thin film over a plate glass window.  Paul said a lot of paradoxical things.  Perhaps none so profoundly perplexing as this.  Sometimes when we fixate on our light and momentary troubles, we lose the greater focus and full weight of the gift of both life and death.  In Paul’s letter to the Hebrews he says, “let us run with


the race marked out for us.”  In the NASB translation, which I read most frequently, it says “the race set before us.”  I do not think of myself as any member of a brain trust, and this is precisely an example of why.  For some reason, reading that just this morning, hit me differently. Never in all my life of having tripped carelessly over these words….  has it hit me before that perhaps, just maybe, I have a raced marked out for me.  That my race was in fact uniquely designed for me, and that I have not been asked to chart its course, only travel it.  Too often I have tried to control its path, to see beyond the next curve, missing the scenery as I go.  I would love to fit my race into a neat package.  A package of my own design.  I would like the roadmap of my race on a turn by turn GPS with perhaps James Earl Jones narrating my next move.  “In one point five miles veer left toward your college degree.”  “In three miles take the exit toward your new home, on the left.”  But James was apparently booked when I needed direction and God was seemingly quiet (though not absent) on the subject.  What I have slowly (because …. I am NOT a part of a brain trust!) learned is that God has placed people in my life, with a voice of more value than James’ not because of the timbre or tone of their voice, but because of the quality and commitment of their hearts and minds.  Mark and Miranda are two such people.  They have been, in some very real ways, a sort of GPS for me.  A light in a dark place.  We can ignore the GPS, and the GPS is not always the most expedient, nor is it always up to date.  But it gives us clarity and clarity lends comfort and strength and resolve in the face of pain, weakness and uncertainty.

 

In college I took up competitive swimming.  I was not fast but had a good deal of endurance.  I began to train for a one mile national swim meet held annually in Huntington, Indiana.  During the course of training I met someone who was a competitive triathlete.  This last week, this conversation replayed in my head and the implications hit me particularly hard between the eyes, probably right where I needed it most.  I asked what he thought of when he was racing.  How did he keep going through all the stages and the distance.  His response was, “I double down.”  I asked him what that meant, as I had never heard that term before.  He told me that it was a reference to the game of Black Jack.  I said, “That doesn’t help me, contextualize it for me.”  This was his response.  “I hit my stride 10 miles ago, I went through the pain, the tired, the boredom.  Those were the little battles along the way, my temporary focus.  Now past all those things, I double down to keep going.”  I asked him, “Do you focus on the end line?”  His reply is what rings in my ears this week.  “I keep that in my sight, but there is race to be run in each and every step up until the very end.  If I stop one foot before the end, I haven’t finished.  Finishing strong has nothing to do with the 26.1 miles I just endured.  It has everything to do with the .1 before me.  Every step of that .1 is savored, because it is pain and heart and grit and tenacity.  It is the very hardest and the very best part of the race.”

 

It was mildly interesting then.  Poignantly more so now.

 

I have no idea how Christ made it to the cross.  I have no idea why he chose that path.  It could have been a quick end.  An instant death.  It was the finalization that was redemptive.  The resurrection that was perfecting.  Why did he choose the pain and suffering?  It was not logical.   It did not fit neatly into a kenken puzzle, something completely understandable, something black and white, right or wrong, yes or no.  If we could but figure out the X axis, we would subsequently have the answers to what lies on the Y axis.  But faith is not logical.  Nor is faith the mystical and magical contrivance we so often see in flowery sentimental poetry and annoying, seemingly deep tautologies such as, “it is what it is” in an attempt to explain it.  Faith, in simple words, is fairly easy to define and intensely hard to live within.  Faith is a choice.  It is a choice to have “confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.”  It does not come from a place of proof, it is planted in the soil of the doubting human heart.  How paradoxical that God gave us the ability to choose to deny faith… or live abundantly in it; the consequence being, we must always be in a perpetual state of not quite knowing and yet ever choosing to trust in our blindness and his vision.  His roadmap, carefully laid out, and sometimes ever a mystery.  His ways are not our ways.  We were not called to understand the road map, only travel it.

 

Never fall into the falsehood that Christ’s death was pity for fallen man.  Or that His love was sentimental or nostalgic.  His death was the curse of sin, taken with full knowledge and understanding.  His own bloody and painful roadmap.  The difference being, every step along the way, he knew led him to one hill and a borrowed grave.   The measure of holy God’s hatred for sin, poured out on Calvary into the body of His perfect son, the Lamb of God.

 

Quickly following Christ’s words, “It is finished.”  are the words, “He gave up his spirit.”  In every reference in the Septuagint to the death of the patriarchs this word, גוע in Hebrew or (later) Greek, κατεπαυσε is used.  It is translated, “to cease.”  But the words, “he gave up his spirit” in reference to Christ on the cross is this phrase:  παρεδωκε το πνευμα.  It is translated, “He delivered up.”   Christ’s death was not martyrdom.  His life was not taken, it was given.  He did not merely die… he was in complete control of the relinquishment of his spirit.  And he submitted to the will of his Father, to the point of death.  The propitiation was completed on the cross in the death of not only the Son of God, but the sin of the world.  But only one of those two things remained nailed to the cross.  Crucified and dead. Christ’s bloody body was dropped to the ground, a mass of flayed and swollen skin.  A shell, a corpse.  But…  hope springs as morning breaks.

 

Morning has broken, a pretty song, NOT written by Cat Stevens though many attribute the song to him.  It was written by a timid, shy woman of 50 years of age in the 1930’s.  Eleanor Farjean.  She spent her childhood surrounded by books.  She did not feel she fit in with friends at school and retreated to writing as a way of expressing herself.  She wrote children’s books and poetry but is remembered mostly just for one small Gaelic tune.  Morning has broken.

 

Easter does not end at the cross.  Easter begins there.

****

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.  ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!”  Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life.  Those who are victorious will inherit all this, and I will be their God and they will be my children.”   Revelation 21:3-8

 

*Warning…  The video below does contain graphic images, taken from the movie, “The Passion of the Christ.”

 

Thank you Father, for this horrible wonderful awfully hard gift.  The gift of your Son, his blood, his resurrection and our hope for the future.  Make me new.

 

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WWM&MD

Remember those “WWJD”  (What would Jesus do?) bracelets that were big 10-15 years ago or so?  I never had one.  I didn’t like them so much.  No huge reason why I guess.  I simply felt that wearing a bracelet wasn’t going to be what made me behave in a given fashion.  Well.. maybe any bracelet other than a “WARNING, DIABETIC, IF FOUND IN A STATE OF MENTAL IMPAIR, PLEASE FEED DOUGHNUT ASAP”… that bracelet is going to get you somewhere…. maybe the ER, but you will be going somewhere!

 

I also don’t have a little greek fish symbol on my car.  I am a fairly … confident … driver.  I like to drive fast.  I’m a good driver, one of the few things at which I have confidence.  Neither reason is a defensible position to law enforcement and I get that.  I also realize that while I am driving, people will see any bumper stickers, little fish emblems etc., and they will make parallels or judgements based on that.   I do not like for others to take a hit because of their association with me.  The very reason that from the beginning, I wanted to make it clear that Mark and Miranda should not be judged or criticized for any tom-foolery or slips or lapses in judgement within this blog.

 

I have not written in a while.  The reasons are no good excuse, but a few things in the last couple weeks have driven home a couple important points to me.  Just a couple of weeks ago because of a few different circumstances in my life, I called both Mark and Miranda in frustration, on separate occasions.  Encouragement is powerful and without sounding like a guru or mystical swami, which I am not, encouragement is a healing art.  Both encouraged me and listened to me.  It occurred to me that we all need the encouragement of someone who has earned our trust through repeated faithfulness.  Both of those qualities is vitally important.  They follow closely on the heels of one another.

 

I hope that it can be said of me that I was giving and encouraging.  But I have not always been so…. not proud, and this little story will show you why.

 

There may have possibly been a man named Brian (I have NOT changed the names because he is not innocent… nor am I) who was a prominent dog trainer in the area where I also trained.  We did not know one another personally and I’m sure we were both mutually fine with that.  We diverged on more than a few things.  He did have amazing skill and talent for marketing himself well which is not the same thing as possessing ability in the area of training.  What irked me to no end was his opinion of others and more importantly himself.  Those opinions were at constant and polar opposites, his opinion of others abilities and worth being somewhere between dust and roaches.  I’ll let you figure out the polar opinion in which he held himself.

 

Attending a large conference on dog training one summer, there were over 900 trainers and attendees staying at an upscale classy hotel.  Brian was vocal about his lifestyle, which was pure and pristine and put the saints to shame.  He didn’t wear t-shirts, strike one.  He didn’t like to get his hands dirty, strike two.  He had no patience for “underlings”  … he actually used the term underlings!  I’m not sure he actually stooped to drive himself anywhere, cook his own meals, pour his own coffee or use the bathroom for that matter.  Well, that was pretty much it for me.  It was difficult for me to look past any skill he might have with dogs when his abhorrent lack of skills with people was smacking me in the face.  He was picky about everything.  He was … dainty….  I don’t like dainty in female friends, and I SURE don’t like it in a man!  During a meet and greet the first evening in the hotel lobby while smartly attired waiters served champagne and hors d’oeuvre, a young woman approached Brian with a question.  She had little experience but her sincerity and interest were obvious.  He laughed loudly and proclaimed that perhaps if she abstained from drinking as he always did, she would be able to learn more and ask less simplistic questions.  I was shocked and it appeared that I wasn’t alone.  There were quite a few lifted eyebrows and lowered jaws.

 

I am an underdog.  Always been one.  I am unremarkable, unmemorable, of moderate talent in everything I do.  So I am for underdogs.  I expect underdogs to step up to the plate and stand up for themselves, but if they can muster that courage, they will almost always have me in their corner.  She stood firm and responded with class and withdrew quietly to talk to other more receptive and helpful people.  Which was pretty much any and everyone.  She was gracious, and probably of far better character than the author of this blog post.

 

After a few more proud boasts about his clean living and upstanding moral standing, and more than one reminder to the rest of us dullards, that the hosts of the training seminar had put him in the Presidential suite on the 7th floor,  I had about had enough and retired to my lowly room on the 3rd floor.  As I went, I thought… which those of you who know me will realize is probably not an entirely good thing.  Pondering has gotten me into more than a little trouble on more than a few occasions and I was now pondering the information that I now I had in my possession.

 

The next morning Brian was in his element.  He really could have benefitted from a black cape.  It would have suited him.  He swept into the room to less oooh’s and aaahhh’s than he probably felt were his due, but nevertheless, his bright and shining (plastic and fake) smile radiated confidence in his subject matter.  He expected adoration from his audience, what he got was attention, but I’m not sure he truly would have understood the difference and he launched into his speech with gusto.  He was speaking about a program called Vest-a-dog, which is a not for profit organization that provides body armor Kevlar vests for police dogs as well as other protective gear for working canines.  It is a great organization.  During the course of his talk, he mentioned the concern of dogs overheating.  A new product was being tested and soon to be on the market and he, Brian, claimed that he, Brian, was “tantamount to the success of the program.”  I leaned over to the person next to me and said, “tantamount?  I think maybe he meant paramount.”  To which the stranger whispered that he had attended this seminar in 3 other states because he was a vendor and Brian was the pimple on everyone’s forehead.  You couldn’t hide him, and you couldn’t pop him!  I thought it was gracious of him, and probably only because we were strangers, that “forehead” was the anatomical location he chose….   I became disinterested and began to leaf through a pamphlet until I heard the words, “laws of thermodynamics.”  I was intrigued when Brian claimed that these new Kevlar vests, made of the strongest and lightest pure titanium alloy, were designed utilizing higher science formulations that we (stupid people) would not ever understand.  He therefore would graciously spare us the unnecessary information on the science that went into the making of the vest suffice it to say that  “This vest before you, was designed utilizing the knowledge we have gained directly from the second law of thermodynamics.”  I can hear his nasally voice.  I sat up a little straighter and leaned in to listen.  I might have been holding my breath… I might have been smiling…. It is also quite possible that I could have benefitted from a cape as well.  I was now completely immersed in the topic and wanted to hear more, so much more.  I was desperate for the Q & A session when he might ask if there were any questions from the audience, because they were stacking up in my brain.

 

I was 22 which meant that I was stupid but thought I wasn’t.  At dinner one evening my roommate began to discuss something she had heard in her physics class and the only thing that I recognized was her definition of “vacuum” because it was a good explanation for my complete lack of knowledge in the subject.  I hated not knowing stuff.  Random stuff.  Trivia and useless stuff.  I didn’t care, I wanted to know it.  I spent the next month reading textbook upon textbook on applied and theoretical physics.   It just so happens that the laws of thermodynamics featured prominently in both branches.  My roommate failed her Physics class.  That was a word that haunted my life and it caused a bit of conflict in our apartment for the next few weeks as I followed her around like a lost puppy explaining Bernoulli’s law, Kepler’s laws of planetary motion and Transverse waves.   She didn’t appreciate it.  Probably one of the myriad reasons we were roommates for only a short time.  I didn’t blame her.

 

Seminar over, and question time began.  I choked.  I disliked Brian’s grandstanding.  I disliked his condescending and pretentious treatment of the woman at the meet and greet the night before.   I disliked misinformation, no matter how inane and unrelated to the subject matter.  But I also disliked people who publicly humiliate others.  The technicalities between the difference of what he had done to that woman in the lobby and what I was considering doing at the moment began to needle me.  Semantics.  I was currently heavily vested in a degree path that dealt with formal, lexical, and conceptual semantics.  How we choose our words.  Why we choose the words we choose and to what desired end.  My desired end was not to better Brian.  My desired end was little different than his had been in dealing with that young woman in the lobby.  Scorn and disdain are the dirty twins of excessive hubris and my conscience was pricking me that mine was no less than his.  The only difference perhaps being that his condescension and superiority had become so deeply ingrained that he now subconsciously denigrated people on a regular basis, quite possibly unbeknownst to him.  But I knew, and that made me responsible.  I am not a quick thinker.  And while I mulled this over in my mind, the moment of Q & A ended and attendees were gathering their things and leaving the conference room.

 

I stood in the middle of the room absent mindedly watching as people filed past me while two or three people stood looking at the samples of vests and equipment set out at the front of the room.  Brian was packing his briefcase to leave and as he walked past me he smiled and said, “It’s a lot to take in isn’t it?  I’m sure you have questions.”  It was clearly rhetorical.  I felt the full weight of the intended and well rehearsed condescension.  The tone he likely used with everyone.  I stuck my hand out and introduced myself.  I was confident that he would never remember either my name or face and I felt a twinge of relief.  I was no longer in a Q & A session.  The time for questions was over.   I leaned in and quietly said, “Kevlar is synthetic plastic, not titanium.   It is made stronger by the polymerization of long chain molecules.  It’s relationship to thermodynamics is only in the fact that it is indeed matter.  The first law of thermodynamics states that matter can be changed, rearranged or manipulated, but not destroyed.  The second law of thermodynamics, the one you connected to this Kevlar vest, follows where the first leaves off.  It states that the continual changing of matter, through its dispersal and manipulation, creates a state of entropy which then continues in an ever-increasing state of decay.  So… to equate this Kevlar vest with the second law of thermodynamics, was to say in essence that it will simply get weaker and weaker over time.  You might want to rethink that logic on your next sales pitch.”  I smiled my best smile, which isn’t very impressive and has never gotten me much, and turned and walked away.

 

On the third day of the convention, in the morning as people gathered, there appeared before Brian’s wonderful Presidential suite on the 7th floor, a veritable buffet of empty wine bottles, beer bottles, and possibly a pair of ladies silky undergarments.  It appeared that someone had written, “Thanks Brian, you were great.  Thanks for explaining some of those canine things so well.”  in bright sin-red lipstick on his hotel room door.  I have no idea who might have done it, but I applaud that champion of underdogs.

 

I do not know if that woman from the first night at the conference ever got her question answered.  I don’t know how Brian’s attitude affected her.  I do know how it affected me.  My response to Brian was my own, and for my part, I do not think that it was the best response I could have offered.  Words like:  inspire, encourage, and motivate; are verbs.  By definition, they describe an action and most often their purpose is to evince change in the status quo.   Most often we use these verbs in a positive sense, though not always.  Did my words to Brian produce a change in him or his lecture?  I don’t know, but I can take a guess.  Change and investment in people’s lives rarely comes through a few snide sentences, no matter how technically “right” they might be.  Change is born in the heart and mind.  It is best and most often the offspring of sincerity partnered with truth.  Sincerity itself is not a moral endeavor.  The world is filled with examples of sincerity to inaccuracy.  We must learn from those who have held the standard.  Not in sincerity alone, but in correct thinking, right acting and sound motivation.

 

So who and why and what do we look to, as our guides and teachers?  It is an important question, because if we have teachers who are sincere, but sincerely wrong, we learn deeply held beliefs but wrong skills or behaviors.  If we have teachers who teach from a place of correct thinking and sound motivation, but lack the sincerity to invest in or encourage their students; we learn correct actions, but slowly and inefficiently, lacking passion or commitment.  We feel disconnected and lost in the process and are often incapable of expanding on that knowledge in any different situation.

 

This last year I had some difficult decisions to make.  Made more difficult by not completely understanding how to look at the problem from any remotely objective point of view.  Sometimes we need someone who can maintain a little objectivity and still provide us with clarity.  That is also NOT saying that objectivity is the same thing as a laissez-faire attitude.  I called both Mark and Miranda, at different times, frustrated and unsure of what to think or which direction to go.  I am pretty good at reading maps.  I don’t know why.  I would much prefer that someone give me directions in terms of North, South, East, and West, rather than left and right.  It is more direct, it removes inexact options.  I don’t enjoy wandering, though I admit that sometimes wandering is what we need to do to get us to realize that we just might be lost and need help!

 

When I called Mark and Miranda, I learned (only later, because I’m kinda slow) that I didn’t really need an answer, I needed the support and encouragement to find my own answer.   They told me that whatever I chose, they would support.  Support is a funny thing.  Support does not always require 100% agreement, it requires the continued caring and communication of the supporter.  In that, both Mark and Miranda have been there for me.  Entirely and completely.

 

Their responses were each unique.  Miranda was almost immediately upbeat and progressive about what I considered to be a huge decision in my life.  She was excited.  Her excitement colored my view and changed my perception of both her and me, and the situation.  I needed that, though I was initially taken aback by her forthright attitude, mostly because I did not perceive the “problem” as she did.  Where I saw a roadblock, she saw possibility.  …  I needed that.  Which is not the same as saying that at the time I was particularly happy about it.

 

Mark’s response was very different.  Mark would make a good litigator.  He listened a lot but when I started sinking into my ruts (and there are many) he systematically countered.  I like debate.  I happen to be fairly adept at verbal repartee.  This was not one of those times.  I was out of my element and comfort zone and while he recognized this, he also did not allow me to settle there for long.  It is a talent, perhaps a gift to disagree with someone without shattering them.  Most often disagreements, arguments, or discussions that devolve into defensive rants, never produce useful results.  The removal of emotionalism from the discussion, the separation of behavior from personhood, is not an easy thing to accomplish.

 

My point:  I appreciated and needed both approaches.  Recently on the phone with Erin Sisson, we agreed that one of the greatest benefits in working with Mark and Miranda was NOT their similarity, but their distinct and unique differences.  I initially, when I met them, thought that we would hear the same things from each.  While they support and compliment each other, their approaches to the same goal are from different directions.  Like the perpendicular warp and weft of woven fabric, they interweave, but the threads are unique and individual.

 

For the record I will never wear a WWM&MD bracelette either.  Not because I do not respect and admire and trust them.  It would not take a great mind to recognize my opinion of Mark and Miranda.  But I think that possibly one of the best things I have learned from them is their support and respect for the individuality of the horses and people that they teach and serve.  Trainers exist like the colors on an artist’s palette.  There will always be trainers like Brian.  Trainers and clinicians who speak much and say little.   Trainers like Mark and Miranda are fewer and farther between.  They are harder to find, they are quieter, they talk less but say far more.  Sometimes, I have seen them talking not at all, but to think they are not speaking would be folly and simplistic.  For every sentence spoken there are far more thought out and pondered.  Wisdom holds the tongue in check.  This creates a phenomenon known as “weighted words.”  The concept that import comes less from the volume of words spoken than it does the impact and personalization of a few carefully chosen words.

 

This summer Mark and Miranda will be clinicians at the Mustang Family Reunion Ride in June.  I would strongly encourage anyone who has not attended a clinic to come, observe, participate, question and ride.  The options for attending are numerous and the above link will take you to that page for more information.

 

Recently I had a conversation with Miranda about riding my mare and I was discouraged.  She told me something that I will forever remember.  It didn’t take her an hour to come up with and it didn’t have the flowery poetic appeal that sometimes masquerades as wisdom.  It is a poignant example of Miranda’s weighted words.  It was really quite simple and yet somehow so profound.  She said that sometimes in the midst of learning things we forget that horses are there for us to be with and enjoy, go ride your horse.  

 

Merry Christmas

So little to give to two people for whom I care so deeply.  This is all that I really have, a few small words to give.  Mark and Miranda, may your Christmas be ever filled with this kind of love….

 

“Oh Little town of Bethlehem”…  A favorite among Christmas Carols for its sweet lyrics and simple melody.  Bethlehem itself however, held perhaps less appeal than that Carol.   It was known for little other than its sheep.  The lambs used for temple sacrifices, for the atonement of sins, were born and raised in Bethlehem.  The shepherds who guarded and watched over them, were officially labeled by religious leaders as sinners.  They shared a social caste system with dung sweepers, both ritually and socially unclean; and tax collectors, little more than Roman sanctioned thugs and thieves.

 

While shepherding was an important and necessary job, and had at certain times garnered a modicum of respect, at the time of Christ’s birth, the role had fallen into increasingly ill-repute.  Jewish scholars and historians note that purchasing milk, wool or a lamb directly from a shepherd was illegal as it was assumed that the purchase would almost certainly be stolen merchandise.  In the book of Zephaniah shepherding was paralleled with ostracism and a disconnect from the accepted and valued of society.

 

From the beginning of time, the very first murder occurred because of the rift between a shepherd and a farmer.  That rivalry continued.  Egypt was an agrarian society and they despised the unkempt “hillbilly” sons of Jacob.  Egyptian art and literature refered negatively to shepherds and their hatred peaked when shepherds overran and settled in lower Egypt, their flocks devouring the carefully cultivated crops.

 

The Mishnah, the “Oral Torah” of Jewish traditions, states that you must save a lamb or sheep from a fall in a well or pit, but makes it clear that no one should feel obligated to save a shepherd who had likewise fallen into a pit.  Nothing says, “you have no value” more than the socially sanctioned exculpation of your own demise.  It’s ok, it’s just a shepherd… don’t strain your back.

 

Matthew’s account of the birth of Christ starts with his genealogy.  But most people who read this account frequently start at verse 18, skipping over the somewhat tedious list of long, hard to pronounce names.  But that list is important.  There are a lot of lowly shepherds in that list and some other interesting people as well.  Rahab, the harlot.  The role of the harlot in history has always been linked to the fall of a nation, the descent into broken, lewd, failure.  And yet, there she is, her future forever secured not only in her link to Christ, but also through the birth of her son Boaz who married the next odd member of Christ’s line.   Ruth, not an Israelite, but a Moabite and an outsider.   An odd choice, a foreigner with foreign gods, to be related to the King of kings.  Tamar, who took matters into her own hands by disguising herself as a prostitute to sleep with her father-in-law.  Not the tidy heritage we think of in relation to the holy, blemish-free Son of God.  And there hidden in plain sight in Matthew 1:6 that most famous of women, unnamed and yet mentioned. “David was the father of Solomon, whose mother had been Uriah’s wife”  Uriah’s wife, Bathsheba.  And the list includes other notable mistake-makers, David may have topped the list, but he sure had company!  Amon, Judah, Manasseh and the list goes on.  The perfect Lamb of God was not afraid to hold a heritage of stain.  It was, in fact, not a random downline of simple sex and progeny.  It was designed and chosen.  He chose to claim the outcasts, shepherds, prostitutes and blunderers.

 

Odd choices, lowly they seem.  Insignificant and maybe a bit improper.  He chose some illiterate fishermen, a tax collector, a hot-tempered zealot and a cynical doubter instead of religious men to be his closest friends and confidantes.  He chose a borrowed crib and a borrowed tomb.  He chose a mother and father too poor to present the customary sacrifice for the birth of a first-born son and the ritual cleansing of Mary.  Instead, they brought the lowest acceptable sacrifice, two doves.  He chose the path in Jerusalem to an ugly wooden beam through the gate that all lambs travelled on their way to slaughter in the temple, the Sheep gate. He chose a donkey, a symbol of peaceful trade and lowly station for his first ride through the city.   Interestingly his next return will not be as passive or as peaceful.  The clear juxtaposition of choosing first a donkey and then a horse for his second return to Jerusalem was significant not only to the Jews, but to the ruling Roman body.  Horses were for royalty and for war.  Signs and symbols of power and might, they were used not only as transport, but as intimidation, terror and crowd control.  And his return to Jerusalem will not be through the sheep gate, it will be through the Eastern gate, the Golden gate, the only gate that enters from the outside directly to the temple mount facing the Mount of Olives to the East.  It has been sealed  for over a thousand years despite several plots and violent attempts to open it.  It will indeed be opened one day, only once, by only one King.

 

Memorial hospital, here in South Bend, has a little chime that plays for the birth of each child. It rings throughout the hospital.  It is not long or loud, but at any given moment, the tinkling sound lightens for a moment, that bleak house.  It pierces through the painful prognosis, the mechanical noises of IV pumps and infusion sets, the intimidating whine of the radiation room, the click and hum of a hundred different machines reporting on a hundred different problems.  It is a pause in the pain of a difficult place.  It is heard by the patients in the psych ward, fighting their own little monsters.  It is heard by the homeless addicts in the ER and the educated medical personnel alike.  By the staff as they clean, cook, organize and go about their daily duties.  I asked a nurse once if it became so common place that it almost didn’t register.  Her response, “Oh absolutely not.  It is always there, almost like we are waiting for it.”  She worked on a difficult floor.  Hers was the job of caring for high risk cancer patients.  The ones who were not making it.  She was the witness to stand in the room, quietly during the pronouncement that a person has left this Earth.  How fitting that her ears were ever tuned for the uplifting chime of a life entering it two floors below.

 

God chose a chime to herald the birth of his Son on Earth.  The chime of the host of Heaven.  Most assuredly more impressive than the tinkle of that little hospital bell.  I always smile just a little when I read the account of those shepherds long ago.  Not just a day job shepherding was.  Luke refers to them as living in the fields and watching the flocks at night.  An angel appeared and in my mind I think … his first words were to shout “FEAR NOT!”  scaring the living daylights out of the poor witless shepherds.  God’s unique sense of humor.  I admit that’s probably not how it happened, but I always felt the irony.  I am not sure where the notion emerged that angels are fair-haired, feminine, toga-wearing beings who emanate a soft glow and have beautiful white feathery wings.  Biblically, all references to angels are masculine and frankly a little scary! Their descriptions in Revelation are awe-inspiring, but in no way “gentle and sweet” as we tend to see them hovering over children’s cribs.   Ironic too is their presence and proclamation to a group of people who carried no social weight.  A shepherd’s witness was not admissible in the courts of the day, and they were considered less value than the sheep they were tending.  Yet God chose them.  The foolish things of the world, to confound the wise.

 

We wield logic, we rest in faith.  We use logic as a tool in winning an argument to a provable definable end, but we err greatly if we conversely see faith as the weak and passive opposite to logic.  Faith is not passive, it is living and active and permeates our every fiber.  From infancy we form our faith.  Children are creatures of amazing faith, simple, complete and unassuming.  Faith in fact, precedes logic.   But the two are not mutually exclusive and should work together like a finely tuned machine.  A few years ago a friend and I discussed the birth of Christ, his death and resurrection and the hope and faith in his promised return.  My friend disregarded faith as fallible and faulty, unsubstantiated, unprovable, unfounded.  An exercise for the weak of mind.  I reminded him that scientific method must by definition include human perspective.   Was the world flat until we discovered through astrocartography and circumnavigation, that it was not so?  Did the planets and galaxy clusters outside the Hubble deep space telescope’s ever-increasing view exist prior to their observation?  Did gravity exist before Newton formulated that every mass exerts an attractive force on every other mass?  Certainly.  Truth does not require our admission, it does not need our approval or agreement.  It does not need for us to understand it or recognize it or validate it.  Truth exists as a stand-alone, Pro se entity.   I wrote a chemical equation on a piece of paper, C12H22O….. X .  I asked him to solve for X using Pierre Provost’s theory of exchanges.  Provost’s theory is utilized throughout both applied and theoretical physics and I knew he would understand the reference.  He rolled his eyes and I can hear the haughty sneer of condescension in his voice as he shook his head and said, “That is ridiculous.  You can’t solve a Chemistry equation with a Physics theory.”  I smiled.  “Nor can you answer a Faith based question through logical argument alone.”  God will not be mocked.  God created a Universe more vast than any branch of Science can diminish.  He created a universe so exact in its minutiae as to hold a complete and working biome in a single droplet of water or a speck of dirt.  He will not be confused or concerned by our small disagreements and little logic problems.  (By the way… it’s O11… a disaccharide combination of monosaccharides that we call Sucrose… common table sugar.)

In a Micky Mouse special, Mickey proclaims, “Christmas is found by the way that we live, not what we receive, but what we can give.”

It’s a sweet quote and I am all for giving gifts.  I love it.  But to be completely clear, Christmas is NOT about the way we live.  If that notion were true, Christ’s lineage would be filled with people who could be seen to have backed up that claim.  His first birth announcement would have been at the temple in Jerusalem to the priests and religious elite.  His life would have been dedicated to the proper social strata.


Christmas breaks the rules and shatters propriety.  Christmas fulfills prophesy and promise.  Christmas is not logical.   Christmas is the I Am in the form of a powerless baby.  The I Am who slung the stars into space, more stars than are countable.  In fact, we threw out practical mathematics and developed a whole new theoretical branch of math and STILL can’t number the stars in the sky.  Our futile attempt to understand that which was never ours to comprehend.  And that unnumbered canopy that lights the sky at night, is but a small representation of the vast and pervasive love of a Father for his child.  A love that is without end, without comprehension, without explanation.   It is a relentless love that would command the prophet Hosea to marry the whore Gomer, to demonstrate to a wandering and fickle nation, His undying redemptive love in the face of utter faithlessness.   It is a love that cannot be destroyed, dimmed or denied.  It is not only, the soft gentle response of a mother to her child, but the thundering demand for justice from an entirely holy and completely righteous God.  It is an amazing and wild love, a violent and costly grace.  It is the untamed tidal wave, all-consuming and unfathomable.  Christmas is hope through the birth of a child born to die and through death to save.  Christmas is omnipotence wrapped in strips of cloth, with a dirty feed trough for a bed.  The Alpha and Omega in 7 pounds of wailing helplessness.

 

Christmas is radical.  Never in the history of the world has there been a more loved, more despised man. You cannot sit on the fence.  His very existence requires a radical choice.  He cannot be merely a good man, a clever prophet.  As C.S. Lewis put in his great trilemma, He is either liar, lunatic or Lord.   “A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God.”

 

Choose for yourselves this day, whom you will serve…

 

The baby in the manger who grew, struggled, was tempted, lonely, tired, hurt, tortured, abandoned, bled and died; is no longer the helpless infant in that still and silent town of Bethlehem.  He is very much alive and He is on His throne. He has conquered. The war is won, though the battle is coming.

 

The shepherds response to the angel’s message was as simple as they were.  They held no meeting to discuss the possible meanings and outcomes, they did not vote, they took no gifts, they had nothing of value to offer.  They simply came.  They abandoned the sheep on that hill, the lambs that would provide temporary atonement for sin.  They abandoned the temporary lambs to seek the One eternal Lamb, who could take away the sins of the world once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous.  Make me as simple as those shepherds.  May I ever be willing just to come.  May your Christmas be filled with illogical, radical, life-changing faith in the knowledge of Christ’s deep and indescribable love for you.  His willing sacrifice to save you, not corporeally, but personally, intimately and eternally.  You were bought with a price, redeemed through His righteousness.  You were, are and always will remain loved beyond measure.  The very definition of love, the baby, the King, our Savior Immanuel.

 

To not only Mark and Miranda, but to all of you, each unique, valued, individual and precious…

Merry Christmas.

Click Accept

This is the time of year where these little challenge things come out of the FB woodwork.  I am not sure if they are quite contests or programs or little experiments or just things people do.

 

Recently I have noticed a few friends doing something called “30 Days of Gratitude”   No negative comments from me.  I am a fan of gratitude.  I don’t think we see enough of it and I am fairly sure that I do not express it as I should.

 

While I fully support my friends who are doing this, I am not.  It is not that I am ungrateful, it is that I feel inadequate in my words, to express fully how I feel.  I am not entirely sure how to put into words what is in my heart.  It is not a place I visit often.  It is a place that is guarded by jokes and lightness and banter, to protect something more personal.

 

It seems here in 2015 that we find ourselves surrounded by attitude more than gratitude.  We hear a lot about “my rights” and not so much about “my responsibilites.”  I didn’t hear about rights when I was growing up.  I heard about responsibilities and priveleges and how the two were directly interrelated.  I did not enjoy getting up before the roosters to build a fire in the kitchen stove, bundle up in the dark and go out to mix milk replacer for our calves, climb into the hay loft and throw down bales of hay and straw, clean soiled bedding, chip out frozen water troughs and feed the waiting and rather noisy horde.  I didn’t enjoy it on Christmas, or birthdays or when I was sick.  I didn’t enjoy it when my best friend, Belinda Imhoff would drive her pony over and tell me she was going to help bale hay, which everyone knows is totally the best job ever because you get to ride on the wagon and play on top of the hayrick.  But I had to stay home to pick weeds out of the cornfield…. by hand… acre after acre after acre.  Which everyone knew was the worst job because it was SO boring!  I would grumble about animals needing roughage and weeds were perfectly acceptable roughage!  I might add that I made sure that the grumbling was done well under my breath!

 

I didn’t like those things.  I didn’t see the lesson or a foundation being built.  But I am grateful.

 

I am grateful for the hard things in my life, which is a very different thing from liking them.  I do not enjoy the struggles of pain or hurt or hardship.   I am grateful not because I am wise or strong or courageous.  I am not.  I am grateful simply because I choose to be.  To be clear and honest, I have not always been grateful.  I am no saint and I can write my own indictment for all my faults and failings.  Make me out to be nothing more than I am, a daughter of the dirt; very plain, very simple, and very flawed.

 

I am grateful for pain that has made me more compassionate.  I am grateful for weakness that has shown me that strength is more than just physical.  Weakness and strength are not mutually exclusive and not always the opposites we see. Uncertainty is a mountain and a monster.  It casts our lives in shadow… if we allow it.  It is a difficult thing for which to be grateful.  But I have tried (and on many occasions, failed) to choose to be grateful for the question marks that lie before me.  It has allowed me the choice to relinquish control …. control that was never meant to be mine in the first place.  Relinquishing control is not the same as giving up.  It is the choice to put my life in the hands of the God that I said (with words) I always trusted.  Now is where the words meet the actions.  I am grateful.

 

This is where this post lists off center.   This is where my awkward leaks out a little.  I can effectively express feeling and emotion in the third person and I often do so to protect myself.  But some things, like gratitude to an individual, need to be first person; hand to hand, face to face, heart to heart.  I find all of those things hard, not because I am so emotionless or cold that I am incapable of feeling, but precisely because the little group of people to whom this post is addressed mean so very very much to me.  More, in fact, than written words will ever be able to adequately describe.  It is being exposed and vulnerable… that too, is a choice.

 

Words come, often, somewhat easily to me.  Sometimes far more easily than they should!  I read a lot, I have a fairly wide ranging and ecclectic vocabulary and I like the spin of a story cleverly told, of words carefully woven together.  But in this post, I sit here completely at a loss.  How many times in the last few days have I shaken my head in disbelief.

 

On Monday evening I received a text from my friend Erin Sisson.  I knew she was having her Andalusian mare, Aurora, trained by Mark and Miranda and was going to ride her for the first time in 5-6 weeks.  She was excited and I was excited for her.  We joked and talked about what it was going to be like and since I knew that she and Miranda would be together, it was no great surprise that she mentioned calling or Facetime or Skype.

 

After working through the normal difficulties of technology, I heard that Skype tone that is so unique and familiar (and I might mention, annoying?).

 

I clicked accept and the first face I saw was Mark’s.  I was thrilled, thinking he might not be there with them.  There we were, 4 crazies crowded around our cold little distant pieces of technology; laughing and smiling.   It made me miss them so much more.  There is an ache that is worse than any physical pain, and it comes from longing to see friends that you hold ever in your mind and heart, but rarely within your physical grasp.  It is almost indescribable and any small dim picture of their face, hearing their voice, seeing them smile and laugh, is so amazingly good that words simply fail.

 

Earlier that day Mark and I had joked back and forth.  He said he was sending me a surprise.  The very first thought when I read his remark was, “If only it was THEM, not a thing.  I don’t want any THING, I want my friends.”  But I ruthlessly banished that thought, because it seemed so unlikely and so far away, and frankly, it was painful.  So we joked and laughed and I buried the hope.

 

Yet, there he was, telling me that he was sharing his wife with me for a couple days.

 

Why?  Over and over, after we hung up, that question filled my mind.  Why would they do this?  All three are business owners.  All three are busy and have more important matters to attend.  I had done nothing to deserve this.  They weren’t coming to train a horse or for a clinic or lessons and the more I wracked my brain for a reason, the more confused I became.   Why?

 

When they got  here they seemed genuinely happy to be here, not as though they felt they should be, but were truly having fun.  Overwhelming.

 

Gratitude is more than just liking something.  It is more than just thankfulness.  I think it would be popularly acceptable to say that gratitude is the desire to repay a kindness.  But there are some things that can never be repayed.  How do you repay a friend?  You can certainly do things for one another, but I have little of value that will benefit Mark or Miranda or Erin in any tangible way.  The fact is we repay debts, but what they gave me was not a debt.  It was a gift.  Gifts are meant to be accepted and enjoyed.  Something hard for me, and for many I think.

 

I go back to hearing that skype tone on my computer.  Two choices you are given as that tone plays repeatedly …. waiting…  You have to make a decision.  The choice is yours.

 

click Accept

or

click Decline

 

It’s really that simple.  To not decide, is to decide.  If you abdicate, choose to not make a decision, you have chosen “decline.”

 

There are things that I can say only personally to these three, because they are for them alone.  But I can say, that one of the greatest gifts that can be given is the redefinition of the word “friend.”  I find it both unmistakable and incredibly hard to articulate.  The depth and breadth of your friendship is overwhelming.  Your commitment and faithfulness to me, someone who can offer you so little, speaks volumes.

 

I pray that God will grant me the time and ability to somehow express my gratitude, broken and faltering though that effort may be.

 

I click accept.

 

Thank you.

Lisa