Monday, April 28, 2003

Writing is not just jotting down ideas. Often we say, "I don't know what to write. I have no thoughts worth writing down." But much good writing emerges from the process of writing itself. As we simply sit down in front of a sheet of paper and start to express in words what is on our minds or in our hearts, new ideas emerge, ideas that can surprise us and lead us to inner places we hardly knew were there.

One of the most satisfying aspects of writing is that it can open in us deep wells of hidden treasures that are beautiful for us as well as for others to see.
Henri Nouwen, Bread for the Journey
I have often said that I don't know what I think about a subject until I have written about it. In writing, we let words play off each other in our minds, bouncing against emotions, rubbing against unformed ideas and nuzzling our deepest convictions.

Like a chemical reaction, these ingredients come together and result in something new and unique. Once the words are down "on paper," we can never completely separate out the parts that made them up. Sure, we can diagram the sentences and check the spelling, but the kitchen of inspiration never serves the same dish twice. If you have ever lost something you've written and tried to reconstruct it, you know how true this is. You can try to convey the same thoughts, but you can hardly ever generate the same words.

One of the joys for me in blogging--and in reading the blogs of others--is the participation in and witnessing of the daily creative miracle of language. I think it is safe to say that in the history of humanity the two hundred or so words I've written here have never been organized in precisely the same way. I am claiming nothing special about myself of this post; it is simply a truth about language. Small wonder that our Lord and Savior is known as the Word.

Friday, April 25, 2003

I learned something important as I fasted on Wednesdays during Lent. Like most important things, it's pretty obvious once you discover it. For me, the truth I discovered is that it is okay to be hungry. This isn't a universal truth--my father, for example, is diabetic and has to be careful about getting too hungry--but it's true for me and comes as a bit of a spiritual insight. I often struggle with the physical side of my spiritual life. It's all too easy for me to focus on study, prayer, and meditation at the expense of activity, labor, and experience.

As a result, I could lose 25 lbs today and no one would miss them! To do that, though, I need to get over the thoughts I have lived with for most of my life: "I'm hungry. I have (or can afford) food, so I should eat." Fasting during lent taught me that I can deny myself and be no worse off. It taught me to live, however briefly, with a feeling that countless people in our world live with on a daily basis. It reminded me that a rich life consists of both a rich spiritual and a rich physical existence, and just as it is often productive to sit quietly with an empty mind, so it is also useful to sit with an empty stomach. The time to eat, like the time to think, will return soon enough.

Wednesday, April 23, 2003

We have emerged on the other side of the Jordan! We're in our new house and the computers are set up. We've still got boxes upon boxes (including at least 50 boxes of books...I don't know where they will go), but we're in our new home. My children are adjusting to the new location, new daycare, etc. The pets have made themselves right at home. One of our new neighbors even brought us cookies!

I love the new location. We're convenient to all the necessities--and many of the luxuries--of modern life. Yet we back to a horse farm. Yesterday morning was a glorious spring morning and I sat on our deck for my morning devotions. I listened to the horses wake up and move out to pasture, and in the distance I heard a train whistle as it ran along the Chickahominy River. I put my reading aside for a moment and basked in the glory that God was offering to me, and it was the richest prayer time I've had in months.

So, it's good to be back. I don't know how often I'll be posting here, particularly until we get more settled. But I hope to at least get back to reading blogs regularly, as I miss the update from all my brothers and sisters out there.

Monday, April 14, 2003

This was our last Sunday at our current church. We're definitely going to miss it, but I'm looking forward to finding a new church and getting involved again. On Saturday, a friend from the church (and the former youth director) threw us a going away party. It was gorgeous weather and we spent a wonderful few hours saying friendly goodbyes. Then last night I had my final Covenant Discipleship meeting with my group. They through me a surprise party and gave me a copy of Henri Nouwen's devotional, Bread for the Journey. I will certainly remember them as I use it during my devotional time. The CD group has been a wonderful experience, so I will try to join or start one once we get settled in a new church home in Richmond.

Ultimately, I know I'll see many of these friends I've made again in the years to come, since we are only 2 hours apart. Whether it be while visiting the area, or through conferences and gatherings related to the church, I feel certain our paths will cross again. But there is still some sadness tinging the edges of my excitement about our upcoming move.

Wednesday, April 09, 2003

For those of you who have sent condolences, I give you thanks. You probably won't see much new in this space over the next 2 weeks. Our move is not less than 10 days away, and every moment of free time is filled with preparations. Blessings to you all this Easter season.

Monday, April 07, 2003

Friday evening started routinely enough. My wife was travelling, but was on her way home from North Carolina. I fed my boys dinner and handed them popsicles for dessert. I went to the back door to let my 2 dogs in so that they could have dinner. Only one of them came in. With a sense of panic I rushed out to see if Zelda (for that is her name) had managed to get out of our backyard. I saw her at the bottom of the stairs that lead up to our deck. She was sitting up with her back legs splayed awkwardly underneath her. I knew immediately that something terrible was wrong.

I first determined that she wasn't in pain, then lifted her into the house. I set my 3 1/2 year old boy to petting her so she wouldn't try to move. I located the nearest emergency vet and then got my boys and finally Zelda into the car. I drove to the Veterinarian hospital and an orderly helped take Zelda inside. While I waited for them to examine her and take x-rays, I called my wife whose flight had just landed. "Don't go home," I said. "We're at the emergency vet. office. Zelda is paralyzed in the back half of her body."

My wife arrived and the Doctor brought us into an examination room He showed us Zelda's x-rays. There was no sign of trauma and based on the fact that the paralysis appeared to be sudden, complete, and that she had no sensation at all, he suspected it was an infarction on her spinal cord. I learned that swelling in that area can cause sudden paralysis. The only way to know for sure was to perform a myelogram, or they could just start treating her with steroids and see if she improved overnight. We chose the latter option and left her for the evening.

By Saturday morning, Zelda had shown no signs of improvement. She still had no sensation at all in the back half of her body. A surgeon was scheduled in during the early afternoon, and he could perform a myelogram to determine the cause of the paralysis. If it were an infarction, they could continue treating with steroids. If it were a disk or other damage, he could operate to relieve the problem. A couple hours later he called with the results, and they were far worse than we ever imagined. She indeed had an infarction, but it was a "massive event" similar to a "stroke on the spinal column." There was swelling at both ends of her spinal column, but in between there was about 4 inches of dead spinal chord--the infarction had essentially destroyed a third of her spinal chord. Even if they treated her with steroids, she would never walk again, never wag her tail, and never be able to control her bodily functions. "It's days like today that I don't want to be a vet," he told us, "but I think this has to stop."

We knew in our hearts he was right, and so less than 24 hours after I found her sitting awkwardly in our back yard, we had Zelda put to sleep. She was 5 years old. I praise God that she never seemed to suffer any pain, and I believe she knew that we cared for her up to the end. Just minutes before they put her under for the Myelogram, my wife visited her and gave her a treat to eat. Later that afternoon, we told my 3 1/2 year old what happened, as best we could explain it. He seemed to understand. As we said prayers over dinner that evening, we asked him if he wanted to say a special prayer for Zelda. He paused a moment, then said "Thank you for Zelda. Thank you for taking her to Jesus' house. Thank you for making her better in Heaven. Amen."

I've been repeating that prayer ever since, because I can't improve on it. We are heart broken to lose her and to know that she won't be part of our exciting move to a new home in just 2 weeks. Our change of address cards have her name on them too, so we'll have to include a little obituary for her as well. This post is a bit of therapy for me to try to write that obituary. I still cannot talk (or write) about her without tears in my eyes or swelling in my throat, but I think I am getting to the point that I can offer a fitting tribute to her. As a final tribute, though, we are having her ashes shipped to us at our new home. We'll bury her in our new yard and plant a tree in memory of her, and though she'll never frolic in that yard, she'll always be a part of it.

Thursday, April 03, 2003

Stone: Good evening. I'm Brook Stone. It's quarter past the hour and time for the latest headlines. We are looking live at a picture of Baghdad. Our cameras are trained on what appears to be an illuminated street lamp. Let me bring in our military expert here, retired Army Colonel Gerard I. Joe. Colonel Joe, what do you make of this street lamp?
Colonel: Uhhh...
Stone: Does it say to you, General, as it does to me, that power is still flowing in Baghdad?
Colonel: It's Colonel, not General. I think, Brook, that we need to be careful not to be too hasty in our damage assessments. As you recall, about 4 hours ago we saw a lightening strike in Baghdad. It's possible that the lightening hit a transformer and is supplying electricity to this street lamp. Of course, we need to keep in mind that coalition commanders are doing everything they can to avoid striking targets that affect civilians, such as power plants, water--
Stone: I'm glad you brought that up, Captain. Do you expect the U.S. to keep avoiding such targets? Wasn't that part of the failed original plan that the U.S. used at the beginning of this war so long ago?
Colonel: We need to remember that the war is less than 2 weeks old--
Stone: But, Admiral, the Israelis once fought a war in this region in less than a week.
Colonel: That's true, but under different circumstances. But back to your question, I think the war is largely going to plan--
Stone: But given that the Pentagon decided to ignore the Powellian doctrine of "overwhelming force" and chose instead for what we might call "underwhelming force," don't you believe that the war has been a complete and utter failure?
Colonel: Not at all, you see--
Stone: Let's turn now our correspondent, Peter Garnett, who is embedded with the 3rd rifle company of the 4th cavalry unity of the 11th infantry company of the 7th forward brigade of the 11th Marine division. Peter, you had a chance to speak to Brigadoon General Mayhem earlier today. What did he tell you?
Garnett: He told me, and I quote, "We have the enemy in our sites, and we're locked and loaded."
Stone: "Locked and Loaded" eh? Can we get that added to the text that is streaming below me? This could be an exclusive. Peter, I've heard there's been some grumbling among the troops about the food, known as MRE's. Do you foresee a mutiny?
Garnett: It's not quite that bad yet, Brook. It seems that most of the complaints have been about the Jumbalaya.
Stone:Too spicy?
Garnett: No--
Stone: Not spicy enought?
Garnett: It has nothing to do with the taste. Troops here complain that jumbalaya is a cajun meal, and as you know, there is a heavy French influence in Cajun country...
Stone: Aaah. What does the pentagon plan to do about this? Recall all the jumbalaya?
Garnett: Nothing so rash as that, Brook. As you know, the pentagon safe-guards the public's money down to the last penny. No, Secretary Rumsfeld has requested and additional $3 billion dollars for relabling.
Stone: Relabling?
Garnett: That's right, Brook. From now on, the troops won't be eating "jumbalaya," they'll be feasting on "freedomalaya."
Stone: Thanks for that report, Peter. We'll be back in at half-past the hours to go through these same headlines. First, though, please stay tuned for a word from "Liberty Cola," the Official soft drink of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

The preceeding was a piece of satire. No actual news was reported

Tuesday, April 01, 2003

On the calendar of the Anglican Church, yesterday was the day we remember John Donne. Donne was one of the great preachers of his day--the Dean of St. Paul's in London--but he is better remembered as one of the great poets of the English language. Donne's love poems are justifiably famous, and his religious sonnets are well known. Here is one that is appropriate to the season and is not as well known as it should be:

Good Friday: 1613--Riding Westward
Let mans Soule be a Spheare, and then, in this,
The intelligence that moves, devotion is,
And as the other Spheares, by being growne
Subject to forraigne motions, lose their owne,
And being, by others hurried every day,
Scarce in a yeare their naturall forme obey:
Pleasure or businesses so, our Soules admit
For their first mover, and are whirld by it.
Hence is't, that I am carryed towards the West
This day, when my Soules forme bends toward the East.
There I should see a Sunne, by rising set,
And by that setting endlesse day beget;
But that Christ on this Crosse, did rise and fall,
Sinne had eternally benighted all.
Yet dare I'almost be glad, I do not see
That spectacle of too much weight for mee.
Who sees Gods face, that is selfe life, must dye;
What a death were it then to see God dye?
It made his owne Lieutenant Nature shrinke,
It made his footstools crack, and the Sunne winke.
Could I behold those hands which span the Poles,
And tune all spheares at once, peirc'd with those holes?
Could I behold that endlesse height which is
Zenith to us, and our Antipodes,
Humbled below us? or that blood which is
The seat of all our Soules, if not of his,
Made durt of dust, or that flesh which was worne
By God, for his appare'l, rag'd, and torne?
If on these things I durst not looke, durst I
Upon his miserable mother cast mine eye,
Who was Gods partner here, and furnish'd thus
Halfe of that Sacrifice, which ransom'd us?
Though these things, as I ride, be from mine eye,
They'are present yet unto my memory,
For that looks towards them; and thou look'st towards mee,
O Saviour, as thou hang'st upon the tree;
I turne my backe to thee, but to receive
Corrections, till thy mercies bid thee leave.
O thinke mee worth thine anger, punish mee,
Burne off my rusts, and my deformity,
Restore thine Image, so much, by thy grace,
That thou may'st know mee, and I'll turne my face.
Donne is one of those people I admire not only because he was a great artist, but because he too found Christ later in life. Like W. H. Auden, Donne led a rather dissipated youth, only to find truth in the love of the Lord.

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