In God’s Waiting Room

Yesterday someone at church asked how I’m feeling. “No changes,” I said. “I feel like I’m in God’s waiting room.”

He grinned and said, “Well, at least you know you’re going to be seen.”

Sometimes words make their way out of my skull into earthly existence and I think about them and wonder where they came from, especially when they’re slithering as they go because I’ve just said something really stupid, insensitive, or crass – like I did on the way to church when I growled at one of our boys to “quit acting like a jackass” and then minutes later when I leaned over to Sikki to whisper that “I hate these repetitive old Pentecostal choruses” at the outset of what was supposed to be a time of exuberant worship to God, and for Him, with zero of my self-serving opinions requested, needed or desired.

I hadn’t considered the waiting-room metaphor before that brother inquired: it just came out. But it was apropos, because I don’t like waiting. I don’t like waiting rooms. I don’t like long periods of uncertainty and silence. My primary objection to going to the doctor is the sitting and sighing I do as I’m drumming on my knees, listening to passersby in the hallway and through the thin walls of the adjoining rooms, looking at worn posters of exposed, gloopy-looking red-and-yellow anatomical parts and muted artwork on blandly painted walls and torn magazines from 2006, going drymouthed and chaplipped wondering why it’s 90 hellish degrees in there, and by the time the doctor finally shows I usually have to pee besides everything else. I can’t think anymore. I don’t care if I have an arm dangling. I don’t have a medical problem. Why’d I come here? Lemme out.

That’s how things feel right now. But what he said is true, too. Eventually I’m going to be seen.

What’s wrong goes deeper than just a pulmonary problem that hasn’t improved much in the past eight weeks. God searches the depths of the heart, the dark places, the light places. The light in us can even be darkness. Perhaps this irony has been true of me: a bad, evil eye skews my vision and discolors the truth of God and the nature of reality in His Kingdom and the joy of serving Him.

Crisis precedes revelation.

The eye is the lamp of the body; so then if your eye is clear, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light that is in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! — Matthew 6:22-23

And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized. — Acts 9:18

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Through a glass, darkly.

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For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known. — 1 Corinthians 13:12

Ships to Tarshish

O thou my threshing, and the winnowing of my floor, That which I have heard from the LORD of hosts, The God of Israel, have I declared unto you. – Isaiah 21:10, JPS Tanakh 1917

Time marches inexorably forward and I awoke its prisoner by God’s will in day number 14,746 at 6:30 A.M. when my wife’s alarm went off. It is now 10:30 and I just finished a bowl of oatmeal and the twice-daily inhalation and pill-popping routine I have termed “The Million-Medicine March.”

I stayed up all hours reading The Stand again. Earlier in the evening I took the kids to church for their Wednesday group and to pray with some saints who gathered. At the start of the meeting Brother Ronnie, an elder who hears from God, explained that the other day he had been praying for various people in the church, including me. He said the Lord spoke to him about me in particular, along these lines:

That though I am tried, even by fire, it is certain that I will come through the testing, because the Lord is pleased by my constant faith. That the house is being cleaned and swept, and when the house is purged and the things of the past that have troubled me have been removed, I can be assured that nothing will be able to come back in. That no troubling spirit or opposing thing of the past will find entrance, because the Lord has completely filled the house.

It was encouraging for a couple of reasons. For one thing, it’s nice to know that some people actually pray for other people. Brother Ronnie is a man with many serious trials and tribulations in his own life, yet he spends time in prayer for others. This shouldn’t be unusual, but I believe it is. For another thing, it’s good to be reminded that God cares about our situation and that He remembers our frame, that we are but dust. My spirit bore witness that Brother Ronnie’s words were from heaven, confirming the promise I have received.

Establish Your word to Your servant, As that which produces reverence for You. – Psalm 119:38

On hearing his words my thoughts turned to those things that are being flung skyward by the winnowing fork like the threshing of wheat, to my frequent desire (expressed in prayer) to have a burning coal from the altar applied to the historically unclean areas of my life.

Pride. Stubbornness. Desire to be right. Slow to hear, quick to speak. Even my writing and desire for health in the past have been tainted by self-serving vanity.

Lust. Expressed through several channels of iniquity, seeking instant fulfillment.

Wrath. Impatience. Taking control to force the issue. Anger directed at men, at my wife, at the Church, at God.

Insobriety. Food, drink and sex being an escape from reality and the process of God, like a ship going to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord.

These are some of the trees whose shade has been pleasant, under which I have sought comfort to my harm and to my family’s detriment. These are some of “the things of the past.” May they be consumed. And may the Lord find a place of satisfaction and rest in the midst of His people.

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Abide Under the Shadow (CUTG #13)

This the eighth week of my mandated seclusion. I’m still having a bunch of physical problems but I’m tired of talking about them, so I won’t. Yesterday I received a couple Stephen King books which I ordered because I needed something easy to read; the steroids are giving me the shakes and putting the kibosh on my abilities to comprehend anything. I’ve always wanted to read The Stand, which King himself called a “long tale of dark Christianity.” Last night I got through the first 150 of its 1150 pages of girth.

In addition to all the physical stuff, the older kids got in trouble at their homeschool group and that has caused some high stress in the household.

I read in Isaiah and Jeremiah this morning. One thing that struck me is that when God said, “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope,” it was right on the heels of His telling His people to settle down and seek the welfare of Babylon, the city where they were exiled.

Black Lung

I slept three hours last night. My face is starting to look like a skulking ghoul’s. I could play in a Tim Burton movie. It’s hard to be certain, but I think the lungs are getting a bit more air today. Maybe the Xolair is working, though the doctor said it could take a couple months and I only got the first shots last Wednesday. I spent a half hour doing some strength training in the garage: it was rough going and I felt gobby and faint inside, but I felt better afterwards. You know…when I stopped exercising.

Last night I hit the wrong button somewhere and downloaded 9,000 emails from the past ten years onto my hard drive. I spent some time today looking through some of the older ones. Quite a few were to people who have departed this life: my dad, Torrey M., David C. Even more were to people who are out of my life for reasons other than death.

I still have a draft of Torrey’s first novel, an attachment in one of those emails. He eventually severed our relationship because I am a Christian, but I liked him and admired his talent as a writer. I was thinking about Torrey the other day that maybe he never had a plan for what he would do if he didn’t get famous. He was ambitious and condescending and often just a jerk. He asked me to critique the book back then, 2006. It was pretty interesting. I don’t know if he ever submitted it for publication anywhere before he took his own life.

Letter to my father 10 years ago.

November 28, 2005

Dear Dad,

Jessica called a few hours ago to tell me you have left this world.

Now I’m on a 747 out of Utah, trying to strike a balance between thoughts of you and many years of family memories both bitter and sweet, while still holding some level of functionality in the bustle of connecting flights, merry holiday travelers, businesspeople making deals, and young children turning in their seats to smile and make silly faces at me while their mother rebukes them and tells them to sit down.

I’m tired. My training has been exhausting, and I’m weary from the stress of driving over ice and snow through strong gusts in America’s high plains. I haven’t showered in two days. I’ve slept sporadically. My fingernails are black with axle grease. I smell of diesel. My eyes are red and swollen; they burn when I rub them. I’m hungry and thirsty, but I haven’t been able to get anything past this swollen throat, this stomach full of empty, hollow ache. Stiff neck. Sore joints. Broken heart…

…Flight attendants. Cleaned and pressed with mannequin smiles, hawking snacks, cocktails and Cokes, flashing straight white teeth, asking how I’m doing. I say just fine and turn away, staring at the jet’s white wing and the grey, formless clouds beneath us. It’s life as usual for everyone.

But not for you. And not for me.

You are gone, my father.

I’ll never speak to you again in this world. Never laugh with you again. Never see you hold my delighted children on your knee. Never take that drive to California we talked about and looked forward to. Never hear your self-depreciating jokes or late night phone calls.

How insensitive I was when I saw you on Friday, the day after your own father passed away. You said you might go to his funeral and I questioned why you would do such a thing. I’ve always been angry at him because I saw firsthand the devastation he wrought in your life, the damage he left on your sense of identity and manhood and value.

Why didn’t I give you a hug on that last day I could talk to you? Why didn’t I tell you I was sorry for your loss, for the emptiness you must have been feeling at that moment?

I couldn’t see then how much his death meant to you at the time, how significant it was. I was ignorant; I didn’t know the resounding finality of death. No one I’ve truly loved has died.

Until this morning.

Your sister, my aunt, said that you have “always been troubled, and never got over it.” It’s true. You were one of the casualties in this world–one of those broken, wounded souls that never seems to heal, for whatever reason.

You had your faults. You caused me many pains. But I can’t judge you for them. In fact, I forgave you long ago. Because in spite of your own sufferings, you told me you were proud of me. You hugged me, told me you loved me, made me know that I’d attained to the measure of a man, that I was a success in your eyes. Somehow you passed on to me what your father never said to you, echoed words of blessing and approval your ears longed to hear.

You left this world three days after he did. Maybe you were so tethered to all those hurts and dashed hopes there was nothing left for you to live for. Maybe you were just ready for that anguish to end. Or maybe it was just time.

I know you were ready to go. I think you left because you wanted to.

Christmas is nearing. I don’t remember most of the Christmas presents I received when I was a child, except for one. I was 13. It was a gray Thompson Chain-Reference Bible, King James Version. Almost every time I read it I glance at the front leaflet, where you wrote these words,

Steven,

Let the one most precious thing I leave you be a love for the Word of God and the God of the Word. Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not to your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He shall direct your paths.

That, my father, is exactly what you left me. In spite of your mistakes and my mistakes and the hardships and complexities of existence on this fractured planet, you left me a legacy: I cherish the double-edged truth, and I have no greater hope in life than to be a friend of God in a world that disregards His love. My brother and sister follow this Way as well.

And that was truly the most precious thing. We were blessed to be given to a father who knew the joyful sound, in whose heart were the paths to Zion, the city of the great King.

Teresa and Joel and their families are coming from North Carolina to be here when your mortal husk is returned to the ground. My mother is coming, too. She loved you, even after all the years you have been separated. The family that made your heart glad will be together once more.

On the day before you passed, I was driving through Wyoming. It had been snowing all day. The sky was heavy, the long rolling hills frosted by winter’s chill. But as the sun descended past that long dark sky, suddenly it opened and the whole Western horizon glowed warm and orange. At the end of the day, the light burst through.

Two time zones away, I hope it was the same for you in death, my dear father.

Thank you for doing the best you could. Thank you for raising me, providing for me, teaching and disciplining me. Thank you for being my Dad and friend. I will miss you.

Your life was not in vain.

Find rest in the arms of Grace, and wait for me there. We will meet again.

Your loving son,

Steven

 

 

Poor Wise Man

I went to sleep around midnight and woke at three this morning. I blinked in the darkness and thought, Maybe a prophet doesn’t accomplish much in life in terms of how we measure success. Maybe he doesn’t get his doctorate, buy a house, climb the corporate ladder, network on LinkedIn or leave his kids a fortune when he dies.

The prophet listens to God. He sees the potential and possibilities and casts a vision that others can propel themselves toward with intensity. He points people elsewhere:

And the child continued to grow and to become strong in spirit, and he lived in the deserts until the day of his public appearance to Israel. – Luke 1:80

And this was his message: “After me comes the one more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie.” – Mark 1:7

People don’t become history-makers because they have history in mind, but because they pursue a vision of existence that is not present reality. This very moment there are prophets hidden from public view, growing strong in spirit in the desert places of the world. The mystery of the Incarnation continues to unfold in the lives of mediocre mundane nobodies no one’s ever heard of.

There was a small city with few men in it and a great king came to it, surrounded it and constructed large siegeworks against it. But there was found in it a poor wise man and he delivered the city by his wisdom. Yet no one remembered that poor man. – Ecclesiastes 9:14-15

In the Passenger Seat

The females in the house were slow-moving this morning, delaying our departure for Myrtle Beach until lunchtime. No matter, though. The weather was gorgeous today, sixty-five and sunny under the Carolina skies.

I made a big deal out of Sikki’s wearing heeled sandals today, because it was the first time since I’ve known her that she has shown bare toes in January, no matter what the weather. She normally dresses in accordance with the calendar date, not the weather forecast. But she got a pedicure recently with a gift card she got for Christmas and I guess she wanted to strut her stuff.

My wife’s small, soft feet were one of the first things I noticed about her when we were goofy kids working at a Christian bookstore. It’s funny what you notice about people, the little things that draw people together. Sex is strange. Attraction is not based on some lofty spiritual dynamic, at least not at first: it’s eyes or hair or shoulders or lips or other assets that make someone take pause, probably at a very specific time and for a very specific reason. Another guy probably wouldn’t have noticed or marked that about her — some other feature might have caught his attention. Sex is weird, the whole thing. I’ve always thought it was crazy beyond comprehension. For a relationship to last, attraction must move past exteriors to deeper channels of heart and spirit. But I still like to look at her feet.

She drove while we were out because I have been feeling trippy. We went to the outlets with the kids and enjoyed walking around though Ryan and Winston misbehaved at times. I stayed in the sunshine as much as I could. Perhaps lack of sun is why my sleep has been thrown off lately. I thrive on sunlight, especially January sunlight, harbinger of summer and hopefully better days coming to a sick and tired soul.

Rebekah, Catherine and I went for Chinese food after we got back. I need to find some kind of walking/light jogging program online to follow, just to have a goal for staying active. I feel sick from just sitting around.

Therefore thus says the LORD: “If you return, I will restore you, and you shall stand before me. If you utter what is precious, and not what is worthless, you shall be as my mouth. They shall turn to you, but you shall not turn to them. And I will make you to this people a fortified wall of bronze; they will fight against you, but they shall not prevail over you, for I am with you to save you and deliver you, declares the LORD. I will deliver you out of the hand of the wicked, and redeem you from the grasp of the ruthless.” – from Jeremiah 15

Waiting

The days are passing quickly though I don’t feel I am accomplishing anything, not even getting better. I am sleeping poorly and feel stupefied at almost all hours. I went to bed last night around 12 and woke up at 5. I was awake until 7, then I went back to bed with Sikki. I have been having vivid dreams. I told Jerry yesterday that my waking moments seem surreal, and my dreams are larger than life.

Yesterday he called and asked if I wanted to hang out for awhile. I said sure and I’d be over as soon as I took my medications, which takes at least a half-hour. I think he thought I was joking, but I have so many of these inhalants and nebulizer vapors that it seems like I sit for an hour twice a day breathing funny-tasting medicine, funny tasting medicine that doesn’t seem to be improving my lungs.

Anyway I parked at his place and then we went out to some land he leases from another man in the church. Jerry is talking about growing and maintaining a multi-family garden there this year, as the land is in a sunny spot and shielded from passing cars and prying eyes. Then we went up to the Green Swamp and drove some of the logging roads before it started to rain and we worried about getting stuck back there in the vast, unmarked maze. After that we stopped in Shallotte for lunch and I had a fried green tomato BLT, then we headed back. Had some good conversation about the life of faith, although it was the first day in weeks I had been up and on my feet the whole day and I felt dizzy and wished I could lie down.

Sikki and I went up to Leland last night. I wanted to buy a lamp for the desk in our room. The corner is very dark and I can’t read or write without turning the big overhead light on. I don’t like big bright lights. We ended up hanging around in Walmart for nearly two hours — her checking the clearance racks for boys’ clothes and whatnot — then we went to dinner. It was nice to feel unrushed. I guess I could learn to feel unhurried, if things keep up the way they are, physically speaking.

Today we are supposed to go to Myrtle Beach to get a few necessaries for the kids.

I sat alone, because your hand was upon me, for you had filled me with indignation. Why is my pain unceasing, my wound incurable, refusing to be healed? Will you be to me like a deceitful brook, like waters that fail? – from Jeremiah 15

A Letter To My Local Church

Saints,

Weeks ago I became ill with an obstacle to functional existence, the culmination of long years of trouble with an unidentified pulmonary issue. My first impulse has been, at times, to pray the problem: “Oh God, heal these lungs. Get me back to work. I have a family to support. Don’t You understand that with good health and being clothed and in my right mind I’m much more useful to You, able to accomplish more for Your glory? Don’t You see how depressed and fat and angry I’m getting down here, how tired I am of the seclusion in my bedroom, how these meds are clouding my thoughts and making me useless?”

It is right and proper that we get our problems out on the table when we go to Him. We’re His after all — we belong to Him. We’re told to “cast our burdens on the Lord,” throw them onto His shoulders rather than try to solve everything with logic and reasoning and strength and fleshly fixing that further drains and damages us and gums up the works with fig leaves where there should be leather (Adam), Ishmaels where Isaacs should stand (Abraham), and brass shields in place of gold (Rehoboam). And it’s just a sad fact that much of the time we don’t seek or find God unless there’s a goad back there somewhere poking our posteriors, moving us from glory to glory onward and upward into Him. I assure you that’s true of me.

The recent exhortations of our pastor have to do with refusing to take up residence in the middle of those problems and patterns of prayer, of allowing ourselves to be blinded and halted by the great limitations and concerns of our encompassing circumstances. After we cast our burdens on Him as a starting point, we must move on to seek Him. It is in seeking God for HIMSELF that we find satisfaction, resolution and change, in seeking to know God because He is mysterious and wonderful and loves us, and not foremost because of all the great things He can do for us.

Steve’s Problem: a bodily ailment the medical community wonders over, cannot explain, cannot answer. They’re guessing diagnoses, predicting prognoses, taking expensive shots in the dark at treatments. They’re marveling. They’re excited, even. They say, “You’re just so young to be having problems like this!”

Now I haven’t been feeling too godly these past couple weeks. To tell the truth I’ve felt like a grouchy old ogre gnawing bones in his cave. I’ve felt angry and alone and far-away from my wife. I was up late recently with insomnia because of the meds and watched the old horror movie The Shining. I thought, If something doesn’t change soon I might start living out this plot. What I’m saying here is that for the last couple weeks I’ve been pretty much the frigid polar opposite of golden heaven-born spiritual ecstasy. I’ve been a sodden heap of bottom-feeding, self-pitying, wheezing flesh.

In spite of this horrible outlook, seven weeks into this obstacle — this limitation, this problem — our Father says, “Sit down, young man.” (Perhaps you understand the relevance of the number.) He doesn’t give me a lot of time and space to freak out and have a colossal tantrum. Just seven weeks. Maybe it took that long for me to grow ears. Then He says, “Come here, now, I want to show you something.” And I think, Praise God! The healing has started to flow, the solution is coming into view!

So what is Steve’s Solution? Instant healing? Quick deliverance?

No. Here’s what He says:

For years your wife has suffered in her relationship with Me because of wounding you inflicted in the earliest days of your union. She’s angry with Me and hampered in her relationship with both of us because of your callousness and impatience. You hold the key of authority to her heart, yet you have not been one with her before Me.

Excoriating, penetrating truth, cutting like a diamond scalpel. Imagine thinking for years that your spouse isn’t spiritual enough or doesn’t have the same heavenward desire or faith or ability and then finding out you — YOU! — are to blame for the whole mess, the whole sense of disconnection. Truth, a doubled-edged sword, dividing joints and marrow, soul and spirit, facts and horse hockey. It wasn’t something I could have identified through my efforts, or read in a book somewhere, or arrived at by focusing my prayer on the physical problem. The problem with praying the problem is that we don’t even know what our problem is.

Son of man, Can these bones live?

Oh Lord GOD, thou knowest.

Sikki and I talked on Monday night, the day after Pastor reminded us that we carry others with us into God’s presence. I held her and confessed my sin and asked her forgiveness. We prayed with tears as one heart before Him and marveled at the undeserved goodness of God, because He went right past my petulant attitude and put His finger on a real and devastating issue that made us vulnerable and hurt us both, of which we were totally ignorant. Her words afterwards: “I didn’t even realize that this was something that needed to be healed.”

Thanks be to God, He knew. The Lord is a God of knowledge, said Hannah. The Lord is good, and His love endures forever.

Praying the solution is seeking the One who manifests Himself in our lives in ways like this.

Yours in Him,
Steve