Sad day

Sad day

My sister had to put this little guy to sleep this morning.  At 6¼, he had a long and beautiful life.  Mr. Skeffington was a very special little pig, and he will be much missed.

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The incomparable Mr. Skeffington

Pets probably won’t outlive us, and sometimes give us pause to consider mortality.  Don’t be lulled into the false comfort of muddling through.  Don’t be distracted by all the unimportant things in life and miss life’s fragility and preciousness.  We live life in a tension between now and eternity.  If you have been duped into the false idea that each moment as it comes is the only thing that matters, you are living a lie (and attempting an impossibility).  Yet to live only in the past for nostalgia or regret, or to look only to the hope and promise of the future is equally wrong; missing every moment of today because you are looking only to yesterday or tomorrow is just as wrong.

I will never cease to sing the praise that life — always, and whether you like it or not — is a very precious gift.  Life is always beautiful — even amid suffering, even in the darkest moments, and even in death.  Life is still life, and everything about life is an unfathomable miracle — is it so much an unfathomable miracle as to be completely beyond our power to comprehend its miraculousness?  Life, even in suffering, can bring gifts and love to others.  Life isn’t just “muddling through” and “taking up space” in the world, life (no matter how small) matters.  Yes, even the ants and roaches and the germs that make me sick matter…they just happen to be enjoying their sanctity of life in my personal space, and my sense of self-preservation rules that they have to go.

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But life — even amid pain, suffering, sadness, and death — is profoundly beautiful.  Never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever allow yourself to forget it.  Life is dirty, messy, painful, shocking, uncomfortable — sometimes unbearable even — but still a very precious gift.  Never deny that, dismiss it, forget it.

There really isn’t a place for the idea of “an animal” in my mind.  By no means do I discount humanity’s distinction as the creatures made in the image of God, but I know I am but soul and dust, and if I am alive on this planet I am just as fragile and made of dust (and to return to dust) as every other creature.  I have been in the presence of death — of the very moment of death — many times.  It isn’t pretty, but you know what?  Birth isn’t that pretty either.  Life is beautiful and precious, it just is.  And while I suppose I understand their perspective on some level, I’m always left generally speechless when people argue that the #1 reason they do not want a pet (especially when they could seriously use the love and companionship) is that they can’t deal with death.  Don’t get me wrong, I have fallen on my face howling over the death of belovèd pets, but it just seems so wrong to deny oneself the deep love and joy possible in sharing life with others — pets or humans — if our focus is on the idea that we will someday lose them to death.

Mortality makes me want to love more, not less.

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I was reading a passage from Thomas Merton’s autobiography The Seven Storey Mountain yesterday afternoon as I ended up on an accidental bus misadventure through a good portion of Los Angeles.  As he introduced his thoughts on the delight of discovering the life and writings of St. Thérèse of Lisieux (her autobiographical reflection, The Story of a Soul, is in queue for me to read after I finish The Seven Story Mountain), Merton wrote the following reflection:

It is a wonderful experience to discover a new saint.  For God is greatly magnified and marvelous in each one of His saints: differently in each individual one.  There are no two saints alike: but each of them is like God, like Him in a different and special way.  In fact, if Adam had never fallen, the whole human race would have been a series of magnificently different and splendid images of God, each one of all the millions of men showing forth His glories and perfections in an astonishing new way, and each one shining with his own particular sanctity, a sanctity destined for him from all eternity as the most complete and unimaginable supernatural perfection of his human personality.

If, since the fall, this plan will never be realized in millions of souls, and millions will frustrate that glorious destiny of theirs, and hide their personality in an eternal corruption of disfigurement, nevertheless, in re-forming His image in souls distorted and half destroyed by evil and disorder, God makes the works of His wisdom and love all the more strikingly beautiful by reason of the contrast with the surroundings in which He does not disdain to operate.

Just stop and think about that for a minute…that as completely messed-up as the created order is, as completely messed-up as we make it — as completely unnecessary as we are for God’s completeness or sovereignty (and, arguably, things would probably be a lot less messy for God if we didn’t keep messing them up) — God doesn’t just “tolerate” us, he loves us.  Indeed, if we are his saints as disciples of Christ, we are his adopted sons and daughters as co-heirs to the very Kingdom of Heaven with Christ (see Ephesians 1:3-14).

For if God thought life was that beautiful and precious, do we not owe it to him to consider a little bit on its beauty and preciousness ourselves?

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Life is beautiful and precious, but so too is death a part of life.  I will miss my sassy, fuzzy, silly little Skeffy friend very much, but I also know that I always wish to live with as much joy and love as he did.  I always wonder why it is that — so often — the lesson which our fellow creatures can teach us is how to truly embrace and enjoy this very precious gift that is…life. — VKS

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Wind in my sails

Wind in my sails

(This is painted on a cross hanging on my wall...)

(This is painted on a cross hanging on my wall…)

“When I stand before God at the end of my life I would hope that I would have not a single bit of talent left and could say, ‘I used everything you gave me.'” — Erma Bombeck

I’m in a temporary small group study for Lent right now.  I am a demographic misfit — an unattached and unencumbered “young person” (Protestants tend to drive these people away, but that’s another discussion).  I was the elected leader of the young people at a previous church.  I was grumbling to a dear friend of mine last month that I would just as soon start my own small group study and volunteer to host and facilitate it if my life were in a better place just to get out of dealing with the seasonal misfit group.

My life is not in a better place.

Some of the reason I’d happily avoid the whole thing is a particular difficult personality.  I’m not a gossipy person, not gonna go there.  To steal a line from the late pastor friend of a pastor friend of mine: we are not called to be “fruit inspectors.”  I’m a strong personality too…moving on.

And yet, for various reasons, my cranky butt keeps showing up every week.

Last night’s topic was “Spiritual Gifts” — what are our gifts and how can we best use them?  I know what mine are, I use them.  A hiccup has been the accident that required me to resign from all of my various ministry activities because I am no longer in-charge of my own transportation to church, but I’m working on trying to figure out “What next?”

Because unless you’re dead?  There is always something in God’s kingdom to be done, even if it is just the dishes (which I totally ROCK at, by the way).

I was writing to a friend this morning (and she will know who she is when she finds this):

Last night’s class didn’t go well for me (and yet I keep showing up…), but was a great session for others.  I really am lost at trying to explain to people that if the Holy Spirit is the wind in your sails it doesn’t matter what you “can” or “cannot” do, because it won’t be YOU doing it.  It just baffles me how many people can’t wrap their heads around “Lord, make me an instrument if thy peace.”  It’s not that hard, it really isn’t, you just need to make room for God to move and let God be God.  Maybe I really am foolish in the same direction as St. Francis of Asissi?  I feel sorry for the next human who intones the name of Mother Teresa in the context of “someone so unattainably great I’m off the hook,” because I am going OFF on that person.  I’m sick of it.  People say she was a living saint.  So what?  She doesn’t get to carry the torch for all humanity, she is just one example of what is possible if a person takes seriously the call to do God’s work in the world.  I think if I went so far as to declare that we are ALL called to be living saints, I’d be run out of most churches.  Because it’s true, and because we are…though how that call manifests in the lives of each of us differs.  I just don’t have an answer for this frustration.

And I don’t.

Many years ago a very dear friend of mine wrote in a letter to me that if we don’t use the gifts God gives us, it is like spitting in God’s face.  She’s right.  There is a big difference between talking about how and where “it might be nice” to serve and actually making the inquiry “How can I be useful?”  If the communion of saints is God’s cheering section, there are no positions for the vocation of keeping the bleachers warm in the Kingdom of Heaven (sorry to disappoint — the job classification doesn’t exist — try hell…).

Life is a matter of life and death, it is not a matter of muddling through.  I have heard some people say that “God grades on a curve.”  Actually, no just God grades on a curve, not really.  You can still be fully acceptable to God with imperfection, but God isn’t going to change your grade on the grading scale by throwing perfection out and grading on a curve.  Grace?  Totally.  Mercy?  Absolutely.  Just?  Unquestionably.  Our imperfection will stand as our score, it’s the judgment as to whether that score of our heart (whatever it is, low or high) is acceptable (Christ as intercessor helps here).

We are doomed to imperfection, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try our best.  I am having a series of small battles with one of the small children in my world who will ask for help before she tries.  That doesn’t work with Miss Val, and trying to scrape through life without trying or applying ourselves doesn’t work with God either.  If the toddler in my world scribbles on a coloring page and declares it “done,” it’s great because scribbling is all she can do.  If the kindergartener in my world scribbled the same scribble it would be unacceptable to turn in to his teacher because he was being lazy and can do better work.  In the Kingdom of Heaven, the perfection of the work is not the thing…what matters is the effort and motive behind the work.

And so yes, I have the argument with Christians quite frequently (I have it so often it’s starting to become an essay): “God is not calling me to be Mother Teresa.”

Really?  Hmm…you don’t know much about Mother Teresa, because, yeah…he kind of is.

Her line was “do something beautiful for God.”

She didn’t set out to become Mother Teresa either.  She was a nun, she saw a need, she asked a question: Can I leave the convent to help the people?

They thought she was a nut (this is NOT DONE!!!!!); the Vatican had to get involved.

She left to help the forgotten, invisible, discarded, poorest of the poor…one person at a time.  She had two hands and two feet and a loving heart and the power of the Holy Spirit, what else could she need?

How about the courage to walk out the door and follow God?

What I say to people is that all Mother Teresa did was do what she could (the best she could) with what she had where she was…with the power of God.  That’s all God can ever really ask of us.

And what happens when people heed the call to follow God outside their cozy, comfortable box?  They “do something beautiful for God.”

Because the truth is that if Jesus Christ is Lord, he can’t be “Lord” without submission to his authority and our service to him: this is the backbone of Christian discipleship

Post-script: As I think on this — just to be clear, this is a general frustration with humanity, not any particular individual or group per se, but so many conversations on this topic have happened over the years. It never really changes. I also certainly don’t have it all figured out. — VKS