Troubles


Mail AttachmentOver thirteen years ago, I found a sudden desperation to dwell deep, in a spiritual sense. We were walking through a strange crisis – living in the aftermath of 9/11 in a Muslim country. No one knew what would happen, and we hunkered down for over a week. Our email inboxes exploded, full of stressed questions and wonderings from other foreign friends. Gracious neighbors brought condolences, while offering to get us groceries and reporting rumors of happenings as we waited breathlessly for something to give.

With a newborn in the house, there were lots of late nights and early, early mornings. I could, and did, watch tv – admittedly there were a few movies I never would have seen otherwise. But there was an ache of not knowing what form the ominous, warlike specter outside would take next, and this rebuffed any such entertainment as a means of real relaxation. By day we seemed to be surrounded by others with high anxiety, and I didn’t find entering into that mess to be a healthy long-term prospect. The fatigue was overwhelming.

It was time to do something different. To find a way to enter into real peace with such chaos swirling about would take real strategy. I’d tried meditating before many times, with some measure of success for short periods. This had to be radically different, even intentional for it to really work.

This is what I plan to do, both for myself and for you reader friends: to lay out the steps identified that have helped in a personal pursuit of working out meditation as a follower of Christ. It is a practice as ancient as the hills, but relevant for today’s hectic pace. I look forward to hearing your input, as well.

“…little by little, we enter into prayer without intentionality except to consent… and consent becomes surrender … and surrender becomes total receptivity… and, as the process continues, total receptivity becomes effortless, peaceful… It is free and has nothing to attain, to get, or desire … So, no thinking, no reflection, no desire, no words, no thing … just receptivity and consent.” Thomas Keating, Heartfulness: Transformation in Christ

Are you trusty? Author Seth Godin asks that question. He defines trustiness as the “appearance of trust,” instead of the real thing. We can work to make ourselves look better than we really are. Integrity requires truth, even when it’s inconvenient, or is even harmful to us personally.

We’re in a tough situation as a family, with some serious injustices done against us over the past two months, largely by people we had invested in and trusted. When you hear the truth is being twisted to make people and their past actions look better – noble, even – it can get under your skin. There’s a temptation to get in the game and set everyone straight. Or worse, to join in by exaggerating what you know through extrapolation and presumption. But ultimately, we answer to no individuals and no groups of people. Careful, there. Guard the truthfulness of your heart.

I heard a short part of a radio sermon while away for Christmas. I don’t even know who it was, but it was timely (Hey, God somehow does that coordination thingy when we’re not looking). The preacher talked about church unity, and how disunity is traced back to at least one individual who lacks personal integrity. Integrity is based on personal conviction. How serious is it, really, to please God? Does he truly want our obedience, or is he willing to whistle while we fudge?

“For the LORD gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding; he stores up sound wisdom for the upright; he is a shield to those who walk in integrity, guarding the paths of justice and watching over the way of his saints.” Proverbs 2:6-8

Keep a trustworthy heart, not one holding to “trustiness,” then. No matter what others choose to do. If we want his hand of favor, and to please him no matter what, we stick to truth.

Over the last year, no – more like the last three years – I’ve started thinking in terms of another generation. Not that I can engage my grandparents in the discussion, as they’ve all passed away. Instead, I’m looking at the way they lived their lives. Patiently, frugally. Not grasping or demanding. There were no expectations that someone else would provide for their needs. They worked and waited, saving toward things they needed and grateful for gifts they were given. Both families, both my mother’s and father’s, had a good number of kids. Dad’s family had ten that reached adulthood, and Mom’s had six. Both mothers lost a baby. There was never an abundance in either household. Dad’s father was a truck driver. Mom’s was a carpenter who was regularly unemployed. Both families managed to send their children to parochial schools. My maternal grandmother babysat and took in ironing for years in order to feed and clothe her children.

There are many, many details, and much wisdom to be gained from looking at their lives. As I’ve talked with my mother and other relatives, I’m piecing together some thoughts, and realizing some changes that we’ve made and will likely make in the near future to our lifestyle that relate to the conclusions I’m reaching. In the coming weeks, I hope to share some of them with you.

“Guard my life and rescue me; let me not be put to shame, for I take refuge in you.” Psalm 25:20

I wondered about doing this. Really, the safe thing to do is wait until it’s all over, talk about what a struggle it all was, and how we were eventually victorious. We could look back and see God’s faithful hand at work. But there is something about the testing of our faith in the middle of trials that shows us how real our God is, how well we grasp and cling to him. We began to have problems with vandalism over two years ago (see this last post), and it has been frustrating, to say the least. This anonymous person has done a good deal of damage. It’s not simply the financial cost, of course, but also the loss of security that is unsettling.

On Friday, though, the anonymity was stripped away. We’ve been pretty sure we knew which family in our neighborhood was initiating this trouble. In fact, while Keith wired my tomato cages together (after our third incident), I watched discreetly from our bedroom window. Someone from the suspect family observed from an upstairs window in their house. This past Friday morning my husband found a dead rabbit which had been thrown in the corner of our yard, near my garden. It died from a head wound and appeared to have been stretched out. It was meant to instill fear. I felt a flash of anger, instead. How dare this person work to intimidate us?!

“He is the God who avenges me. . . who sets me free from my enemies.”  2 Samuel 22:47-49

Later that same afternoon, just three days ago, I backed out of the driveway to go meet a friend. A familiar white car flew around the corner, stopping parallel to me. A youngish man, roughly 25, sneered at me and started screaming. His face was defiant, hateful. My window was up, as the weather was hot. Although I know he speaks English, his words were completely incomprehensible. I was still, and shocked. For perhaps twenty seconds, he continued the tirade, then was off like a shot. A flash of anger, then great fear took me. This was face-to-face. This was serious. The police could do nothing without evidence. I shook while dialing my husband. He would confront them; I asked that he find a neighbor to go with him. It didn’t work out to have a witness, but Keith confronted a young man at the house about half an hour later, who confirmed that I had seen him, but that he was simply “waving and saying ‘Hi’.” Right. We now think he’s covering for his older brother.

We’re talking with our other neighbors. I see concern on their faces, both for us and themselves. No one else wants to be targeted. Police should be called if anything suspicious is seen. Yes, yes, we all agree to be watching.

I’ve been praying constantly since then. Sometimes about this; sometimes for others. The personal trial always moves back to the forefront. The anxiety and the nightmares have made this an exhausting weekend. Now in the middle of a three day fast (there go those trumpets!), I’m asking God to give me perspective, and asking what we should do in the face of evil. Some friends are encouraging us to move. It’s not that easy. I’m willing, but moving takes time, energy and a bit of cash. Not to mention the right buyer and seller. And it’s not necessarily the answer. We are doing what we know to do. But our God who sees all and has a greater perspective has more creativity, knowledge, guts and power than we could ever muster. We appreciate the concern and prayers deeply, but we must hear from our Father.

This morning, I had the strong sense that I was to turn to Psalm 29, that it was mine to take in and digest. It’s all about God’s power and glory.

“God’s thunder sets the oak trees dancing; A wild dance, whirling; the pelting rain strips their branches. We fall to our knees – we call out “Glory!” Psalm 29:9 (The Message)

It really seems that he’s directing me to reform my thoughts. Fear, vengefulness and anxiety have no place. He is powerful. Dutch Sheets teaches that we appropriate and actually send out the Holy Spirit to do God’s will and God’s work as we pray. I’m choosing this morning to turn my attention to a more worshipful focus, while asking him to show his glory in this trying situation. Stand with us, if you will, and ask the Father to show himself to us, to this person or people harassing us, and to our entire neighborhood.

Oh, and by the way, Psalm 29 ends with:

“God makes his people strong. God gives his people peace.” v. 11 (MSG)