Friday, October 29, 2010


I have generally found the book of Exodus to be a real downer.  After all God does for those people, how do they repay Him?  Rebellion, disobedience, complaining, and that debacle with the golden calf.  They even go so far as to kvetch about the food. 

The kids and I  have read through the book of Exodus chapter at a time over the past couple of months.  So much of the story I love, and I see its role in the foundation of the people who would bring us Jesus.  But then it gets to the hard part: desert life, complaining, outlandish rebellion, and amazingly long and detailed explanations for the construction of a Tabernacle.  My dilemma was whether we should continue reading or skip all those lengthy details.

We plowed ahead, and a little research into the symbolism and meaning of the implements of worship in the Tabernacle paid off.  Our lessons led to interesting discussions and blessed us, but I was still bothered by the backdrop of disobedience.  It didn't matter that I had read this book before, I couldn't help but wonder if anyone would get out of that desert unpunished and alive.

Then it hit me.  Exodus 39:32 - "Thus all the work of the tabernacle of the tent of meeting was completed; and the sons of Israel did according to all that the LORD had commanded Moses; so they did." (NASB)

Through it all, there were always people who stayed obedient.   They followed God's instructions.  There is no record of anyone doubting, stealing a little excess gold, or disobeying the instructions.  I dare you, just take a look at the specific instructions God gives for the construction of that Tabernacle.  If I were given these instructions and commanded to build a Tabernacle, I might just sit down and cry.  I was proud of myself for successfully putting together a ready-to-assemble table I bought for my daughters.  Never mind a couple of mysterious pieces left over and instructions written by someone whose native language is Chinese, I put that thing together!  That is the extent of my talent.  A Tabernacle?  No way!  But they did it.  They trusted God when He said that he would give them the skill and the knowledge.  They pressed forward, and relying wholly on God-given skill, they crafted the holy implements, tools and furniture that would serve in the Temple for centuries to come. 

Through it all, through the darkness and confusion, despite being surrounded by people who would never let go of evil, there were obedient and godly ones.  There were people who took a hold of what God had revealed to them through His miracles, and never let go. Suddenly, Exodus is not so enigmatic to me.  Suddenly it is here and now, real and tangible. 

We live in a world where children are still sacrificed, but we have changed the names of the idols.  Pharaohs still rule, but their titles are different.  Golden calves may not be so common, but scratch the surface of so many false things, and that same rebellious spirit is apparent. The good news is that there are still people who hear and obey, people whose hearts are attuned to God's leading, people who use their lives to create something beautiful and holy in service to the Lord.

Thank you Exodus, I needed that fresh, gentle breeze of hope. 

Monday, October 18, 2010

O Pioneers!

" . . . there are only two or three human stories, and they go on repeating themselves as fiercely as if they had never happened before; like the larks in this country, that have been singing the same five notes over for thousands of years." Willa Cather, O Pioneers!


 A rare experience indeed. This past weekend, I hosted a visitor from the past, someone who died twenty-five years ago, someone who had lived out his life when mine had barely begun - an ancestor.  The form in which my grandfather came to me should have been no surprise: a novel.

O Pioneers! by Willa Cather has been around since 1913, so how had I overlooked it for so long?  Maybe I wasn't meant to read it before now; I would have disdained its themes and mocked its deceptive simplicity.  Well, life and wind have weathered me some, and I can see great wisdom in this slim volume.


I must confess that my father's ancestors have always intrigued me more than those in Mom's family.  Vibrant and dramatic, they traveled and lived in exotic places.  The numbered among their ranks refugees, rebels, runaways, and one who met the firing squad for being on the wrong side of politics in his country.  There were enough secrets among them to fill a book about family dysfunction.  My mother's family just did not compare: Swedish farmers in Iowa.  Stoic and undemonstrative, they talked about rainfall and crops.  They shook their heads and wondered at those who had all the sense educated out of them.  They tinkered and puttered and built.


I remember grandpa inspecting his garden daily, handing us sweet peas and green onions to sample. He planted seedlings in egg cartons, made plant food from kitchen scraps, and made his own rose hybrids just to see how they would turn out.  He noted every sunrise and the thickness of morning dew, and knew all the farmers' folklore about geese migrating early and fat squirrels portending a hard winter.


"Her mind was a white book, with clear writing about weather and beasts and growing things.  Not many people would have cared to read it..." 


He was amazingly patient with us kids.  He let us putter with him in the garage, and always found a job suitable for small hands.  He took us fishing, and likely considered it the most glorious thing he could share with us.  There were no movies, no indulgences of candy, toys or praise, and only rare hugs and smiles in his grandfatherly repertoire. 


"There is often a good deal of the child left in people who have had to grow up too soon." 


I saw him in countless small details in O Pioneers!  He was Emil without Emil's tragedy, Alexandra without her loneliness.  More than a novel, O Pioneers! is almost an epic poem, painting the beauty and struggle of life on the northern prairie. There is the poignancy of being tied to a hard land, of emmigrating from afar, of a new hope and a new land changing the outer self but only distilling ever more the Scandinavian soul.


"Her personal life, her own realization of herself, was almost a subconscious existence; like an underground river that came to the surface only here and there, at intervals months apart, and then sank again to flow on under her own fields." 


For some people, love is not touches, indulgences, and flowery words.  It is time invested, silent tears shed, sweat, and hard work.  Happiness is not what you put on to show the rest of the world; it is being blessed with productive work, it is green things that shoot forth from the soil at your bidding, and the warm kiss of sun that penetrates the cold.  It is provision, a roof, health, and a life spent in meaningful responsibilities.  How fortunate I was to stumble upon my grandfather in this book, and to see him more clearly twenty-five years out than I did when I was at his side.  And like a dim mirror that reflects darkly, I see a piece of my own soul.


"When the eyes of the flesh are shut, the eyes of the spirit are open."

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Monday, October 11, 2010

National Ranching Heritage Center, Lubbock, TX 9 October, 2010

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Left, Right, and Wrong.

I was that kid, the one who had to learn everything the hard way.  The stubborn one who didn't really listen closely because I was happily doing things my own way.  Living in my blissful oblivion, I even learned right from left the hard way.  Here is my sad tale (wink, wink).

I loved my bike.  It had a banana seat, a horn, a playing card clipped to the spokes, and a basket with big, plastic 70's flowers all over it.  It was blue with the words "li'l gypsy" painted on it.  I think Cindy Brady had a similar bike.  It passed for cool in my estimation.

I could not wait to get home from school and head out on my bike to burn off the pent-up energy, and treat my neighbors to renditions of songs I had learned at summer camp, all sung at the top of my lungs.  For those of you who didn't live in the 70's, little girls wore ugly and garish polyester dresses to school.  We wore tights that gave us our legs a Muppet look and sagged at the ankles by the end of the day.  Under the dress was the obligatory slip, a throwback to the many layers of odd clothing women wore in decades past.  I hated the slip, but Mom made it clear that omitting it was not an option.  Then of course, there was some Mary Jane or Saddle Oxford kind of shoe.  Since my mom apparently relished large piles of laundry, all this wardrobe nonsense was to be discarded upon my arrival home on bus #39, and switched out for equally ugly play clothes, sans slip.  Except I was usually in a hurry, and just tucked that stupid slip into my toughskin pants, threw on a random blouse, and went for my bike.

In the back of my mind, some fuzzy guidance from my mother echoed.  Something about riding my bike in the "right" lane.  There was something important about that, but oh well.  It was more important to me to swerve around pot holes, and pretty much meander any way that suited me.  Plus, I reasoned, "right" is the opposite of "wrong", and how was I supposed to remember right from wrong on such a trivial matter as a neighborhood street?

Now picture me if you will: singing at the top of my lungs, my feet propped up on the handlebars because I was going down a hill at high speed, and leaning into a curve with my view of the road ahead blocked by high shrubs.  Oh yea, it turns out I was in the wrong lane too.  That's when I saw the car.

Whenever I hear of people who have traumatically blocked a memory, I nod in understanding.  I remember seeing a big old 70's whale of a car, the shocked look on the face of the woman driving, and hearing the brakes squeal just like they always did on that cop show we watched on Wednesday nights.  But then I go blank.  I have no memory of my bike going under the car and being twisted beyond repair, no memory of flying through the air across the hood and windshield, and no memory of landing in the street beside the car. 

My next awareness is of actually being in their car, in the back seat.  The driver had two kids who also rode bus #39, and they told their mom how to get to my house.  I was tasting blood, crying like baby, and was sure that death was imminent.  My poor mother, I will not ever forget her face when these people carried me to the door.  If Mom were still alive, I would apologize to her today for having given her such a scare.  I was years away from knowing how frightening life becomes when you carry the love and responsibility of children in your heart.

A nurse friend who lived a few houses away came rushing over.  I got a head to toe exam right there in the living room, and the large crowd that mysteriously and quite suddenly gathered got a big laugh out of the fact that I still had that stupid slip on under my blouse.  Amazingly, not a bone was broken.  The bloody mess on my face was due to a couple of broken teeth.  I would live to ride my bike another day.  Maybe my memory of the accident had been taken by the angel who carried me safely over that car, I may never know.

Long story short, when I had my own kids, I got out a permanent Sharpie, and wrote an R and L on the corresponding hands until they had it figured out.  I wasn't taking my chances.