Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Moo-Moo

When Carol walked into the church office that day some twenty years ago, she had the misfortune of running into a very immature youth minister who had yet to learn that a man should never ask questions about a woman’s clothing, ever. We may have walked on the moon but in the entire history of the human race no way has yet been invented for a man to safely ask questions about what a woman is wearing or why.

Carol happened to be wearing a moo-moo that day, one of those tent dresses designed to cover everything without revealing anything of the form it’s covering. “I didn’t know you were pregnant,” I said to Carol, my mouth open just wide enough for my size 12 loafer to fit comfortably inside. “I’m not,” Carol said, rather plainly, staring right through me.

At this point, you’d think that I would know enough to shut up and look for a safe exit, both from the conversation and the room. Instead, like a snake disjoints its jaw in order to swallow a much larger animal whole, I opened my mouth even wider, enough for my other size 12 to fit comfortably inside, too. With both feet firmly in place, nestled next to my out-of-control tongue, I followed the first question with one just like it. “Then, why are you wearing a maternity dress?” I asked.

It’s a real witness to Carol’s maturity that all she said next was, “It’s not a maternity dress,” no expletives added for emphasis. It was a real witness to my immaturity that my judgment of her life’s condition was based solely on what I could see.

“The Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7, NRSV). Very early on, most of us learn how to disguise what we’re thinking or feeling by changing our outward appearance, chameleon-like, depending on the crowd we’re with. Too bad that, just as early on, we don’t learn to see others as God sees us, from the inside out, not the other way around.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Super Glue

It wasn’t until after I dropped my Blackberry the third time that I finally learned that the devices aren’t made of rubber. When I went to holster it and it wouldn’t fit, I realized it was bent (read: broken) out of shape. It didn’t seem like there was anything wrong that a little Super Glue wouldn’t fix.

Super Glue people must assume that even an amateur handyman knows some basics. At least the $1.05 tube didn’t come with instructions. Like, about the value of punching a good hole in the end of the needle-pointed glue squirter before you squeeze. If you don’t, when squeezed, the glue will get out one way or another. If there’s no hole, it will make a hole wherever it wants, usually squirting out all over whatever fingers are holding the tube and all the while making a sound similar to a flatulent lawnmower that just won’t start!

After I had Super-glued my right thumb and forefinger to the tube, gotten a nice smear of the stuff on my desk pad and a healthy Super-glue thumbprint on the face of the phone, I finally got a drop where I needed it most. But, by the time I could free my thumb and finger and push the broken pieces back together, the glue was already set. My phone is fixed, sort of. Like my golf game, it now has an oversized handicap. It’s fixed, but it will never be the same.

A friend in another city is married to a man who broke their marriage badly. She’s trying but it’s already been years now and, to say the least, the marriage is terribly bent out of shape (read: broken). It’s just that marriages aren’t like phones. When you drop them and they break, you can’t just glue the pieces back together and then go on, as though nothing ever happened.

It’s been a costly lesson, and a painful one at that. Some things can’t be fixed (read: unbroken). They can only be forgiven.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Beau Dog

Beau died July 11. He was, among other things, a fourteen year-old, blonde, thirty-pound Cocker Spaniel-Golden Retriever mix. He was so much more than that though. Clich├ęs aside, Beau was one of my best friends.

Whenever I doubted the presence of God in this world or in my life, a brief glimpse into Beau’s big brown eyes reminded me of our mutual creator. I made many confessions to Beau. When confession was too hard, he’d curl up beside me, rest his head on my chest and close his eyes, as though absorbing into himself whatever was hurting me. The presence of God, in a dog?

Beau gave no warning of needing to leave. So, I was taken aback early that scorching Saturday evening when I heard an unusual noise that included the violent shaking of Beau’s tags. I looked up to see him writhing on the kitchen floor, obviously suffering some kind of seizure. I rushed to him. Nancy was outside. I yelled for her so loudly that I’m sure someone in Des Moines heard it. I was praying that Nancy, being a nurse, might be able to do something to save our friend. It was not to be. By the time she could get there, Beau’s eyes were fixed. He’d already let out some kind of soulful wail, as though he knew he had to go and was saying goodbye. In no more than two minutes, Beau was gone, fourteen years of love slipping through my helpless, powerless fingers, just like that.

Standing over Beau’s lifeless body, I was reminded of the words of an older friend as he reflected on his own life’s fleeting moments. “We cannot hold onto life,” he said. “We can only kiss it as it passes by.” Just this morning, I read Martin Luther’s similar confession. “Many things I have tried to grasp, and have lost. That which I have placed in God’s hands I still have” (Jan Karon, Patches of Godlight, Penguin, 2002).

Later that evening, as Nancy and I laid Beau Dog on the doctor’s table, we bent over and kissed his soft, furry head one more time. Just as I have with all those who matter more than life to me, I placed him in God’s hands one last time, entrusting to God what was never mine to hold onto in the first place.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Taking Out the Trash

Somewhere in a shoebox, there’s a picture of me taken by my dad when I was about fourteen or fifteen. I’m standing in the kitchen, near the backdoor that leads to the alley. My arms and hands are full of sacks of trash, collected from all over the house. It was my chore to carry the trash out to the alley at least once a week or whenever the trash cans in the house got full. I despised that chore. Maybe it was stubbornness or teenage rebellion or laziness, or, all of the above.

I just hated carrying the trash thirty feet to the alley. I’d wait until I absolutely had to carry it out then load my arms and hands as full as they could get. I only wanted to make the trip once. Without fail, trying to carry out that much trash at one time almost always led to disaster. One or more of the sacks would rip and trash would spill everywhere. Then, I’d have to clean up the mess and still carry it out.

Dad absolutely refused to do the chore for me. It was my trash to carry out. Sometimes, he would actually stand there and laugh at the mess my pride and stubbornness could make of things. He told me more than once that, “if you’ve got to carry out the trash, it’s better to keep it up to date, every day if necessary. Sure beats the alternative.”

Our souls get clogged with trash. Unconfessed sin. Fear. Anxiety. Unresolved anger. Disappointment that God has not answered our prayers the way we thought God should. It all adds up. If we wait too long before we dispose of soul trash, disaster can result. Some of the saddest people in the world are Christians whose joy has been robbed by souls too full of undisposed trash. Sometimes, it’s just been too long since our last confession and the soul cleansing that always comes with it.

Now and then, hot tears coursing down my cheeks, tears that seem to have no reason, and a sadness of soul like low-hanging, dark clouds of winter, remind me of that picture my dad took so many years ago, and the lesson he hoped it would always teach.