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Sunday, January 24, 2010

A Day of Rest

"So on the seventh day, He rested from all His work. And God blessed the seventh day and made it Holy..." - Genesis 2:2-3

Since the summertime, my husband and I have taken a rest from formal church-going. Various factors in our lives led us to this point, and perhaps some would say we sin in doing so, although I sincerely hope not. However, we have not deserted the universal church--the fellowship of the brethren. And I find that in foregoing church proper--the sermons, the Sunday outfits, the obligatory over-the-church-pew handshakes, the little plastic communion cups, the bad music--I have found better rest on Sunday than I have in many years. Rest and healing, which we both needed.

Those of you who know Martin--which, now that I think of it, is all of you-- know that he is a rebel, but a rebel for Jesus. He seeks truth, not just to know it but to live by it. Since I am his daughter, and know him at his Sunday afternoon sleepiest and Monday morning grumpiest, you know I mean what I say. The point is: well, it is Sunday morning, and we are at my father's house, resting and worshiping. My mother and father, myself and my husband, my brother, and my daughter, and a few close friends. A handful of rebels for Jesus, seeking rest and fellowship.

I am as sensitive as any to the unbearably tacky and overly sentimental, so please forgive the pseudo-poetic format, but I feel moved to describe how I feel about this.

The pale winter sun filters through naked trees. Worship has finished. Voices lighten with conversation, laughter. My little brother jumps up, happy to be free. My daughter rests at peace in her grandmother's arms. Three men--father, husband, and friend--play jazz in the living room. Doorbell rings: friendly voices, greetings, hugs. Fellowship flows into lunch. Food passed around a table. Chicken, vegetables, hearty fare for hungry people. Chink of dishes in the sink. A Christmas toy brings smiles to adults gathered around the table. Feet on chairs. Whir of the microwave. Cups of coffee passed from hand to hand. Creamer? Sugar? Peaceful, interested conversation. Friends and family sit close, heads leaning in.

Church is worship.
Church is communion.
Church is laughter.
Church is food.
Church is conversation.
Church is family.
Rest, rest, and rest is church.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Aw Shucks...

Like I was telling a brother today, there aren't many things in life that can test the mettle of one's faith like death. So, to continue what I started in "A Whiff of Heaven" I went back to the Darlene G. Cass Women's Imaging Center on Tuesday of this week to get my cyst aspirated. If the fluid was too thick to aspirate they would then switch to a bigger needle and do a full-on biopsy (think geological core sampling). Well, you can imagine my relief when I saw the cyst on the sonogram monitor begin to deflate like a slowly collapsing balloon. The doctor (he turned out to be a brother who attends PCPC) told me that the fluid would be sent off to a lab and the results wouldn't be known until later on in the week. In less than 30 minutes, what had taken years (?) to develop within the inner recesses of my flesh, was now gone. Zip. Nil. Nada. But hold the bus. The fluid could potentially be packed with tiny psychotic cells hell bent on taking down its human host; i.e., me. Wow. Could this be it? Could this be how the Lord takes me out of this world and into the next? Is this the moment of truth when I actually get to find out if what I've believed for over 30 years is actually true? I can honestly say (and I'm not saying this because of supernatural courage on my part) that I was somewhat disappointed when the doctor called me yesterday and left a voicemail telling me the good news that the cyst was benign. Big sigh. I guess the Lord will take me another day in another way. Blessed is His name.

Aging Epics

From mother’s breast to death’s cold endless reign,
Children run to taste the fruit of eden,
But bitter is the taste of life’s first pain,
Only sorrow fills the place of heaven.

O if man could only see his shadow,
Surely he would scourge the darkened image.
For letting dawn’s light waken cock’s to crow,
Only burdens sanity’s self-scrimmage.

Would death find peace for those who yearn for it?
May it never be—for death finds fire.
Nor does splurging non-chalance soothe reaped guilt.
Its truth hardens hearts mirage of mire.

The nonage of man seeks his entity;
Yet aging epics fail maturity.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Have you ever been so hungry that you ate so fast you never even really tasted what you were eating?

I love people.

Weird segue I know, but hang in there and maybe it will make sense.

I love how people get excited and flap their hands so hard they knock their drink over then turn a bright shade of red as they try to scoop up an ocean of soda with the tiniest bit of napkin.

I love how a girl will move the same piece of hair out of her face thirty times before she digs in her gigantic purse to find a clip, but instead finds her new tube of drama queen chap stick, smoothes it on her lips and goes back to moving the hair out of her face at least thirty more times before she remembers she needs a clip.

I love people who scream way too loud at football games. I love people who play soccer even when they’re “old.” I love songwriter’s who make me laugh. I love visual artists who use junk. I love people who cook fried foods and eat them! I love the cadence of certain people’s prayers and I treasure up the sounds of their voices in my heart. I love people a bit on the crazy side and I seem to attract some of the most broken. And if I talk to you for over, oh, say . . . ten seconds, you are my friend. Period. Which means I must love you.

There is nothing wrong with loving people, but the way I loved in the past was a bit wonky. People didn’t go into my heart the right way and I developed a strange sense of responsibility. I was responsible for everyone and everyone had the same level of priority.

For many years, I ran around crazy-eyed, stuffing people, with all their glorious intricacies and destructive tendencies into my heart. A friend said maybe I was starved.

That maybe my co-dependent cycle of spinning, self-sabotage was the result of pouring out what had never been given to me . . . stability, sanity, love. That the whole time I thought I was loving by “helping, rescuing, fixing” was just an attempt to be . . . loved¾truly.

When I finally hit a wall and the spinning stopped, I could barely move. I didn’t know how to go about in the world, what my motives were, what love really meant. I stopped using the L-word for a while. I didn’t trust it.

But I was still surrounded by people. My friends and family made sure of that. SO, what was I to do?

My friend Judy who loves to be around people once opened and closed her hands like the claw in that pizzeria vending machine game while saying “people, people, people.” She was hungry for them.

And I knew exactly what she meant. Only, it seemed to me, she new how to nourish people and be nourished by people, while I had just been on a hard-core binge.

But I couldn’t stop loving people just because I was doing it wrong. I just had to scrap about nine-tenths of the ideas I had about love and start from a sorta scratch, continuously reminding myself that God loves me, even if people don’t.

So now, I am in be still training. Not tame, but still. When I’m still I can listen to God and He teaches me. One of the things He is teaching me is that his treasures are meant to for me to receive as a blessing, not for my indulgence.

That any blessing He bestows on me, is just that, a blessing, not to be devoured hungrily in place of His love, but to be enjoyed as a result of His love.

Oh, the love of Jesus.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

...As Long As We Shall Live

Well, I've come full circle. I ran with my own challenge to see my life through the lens of God's goodness and as a result added new words to the lexicon of grace. There is a fog (I think it's referred to as a "veil" in the good book or, according to Joe, a "brain cloud"), that fills my mind, keeping me from seeing things the way God sees things. I call good evil and evil good. I see pain coming my way and interpret it only as a malevolent force of evil, failing to see the good intent of God. If a good atheist read my thoughts over the last week, s/he could easily conclude that I closed my eyes to what was really going on and chose to live within a delusional state of mind where I only saw what I wanted to see. So be it. In the end, it seems that all insight can't help but be subjective and prone to corruption. The gospel doesn't deny the corruption of all things. It doesn't baby us, telling us that we are really good children who will live pain free lives if we only believe. The Savior revealed the path by walking it himself, showing us what to expect. Yes, we believe in the pie-in-the-sky resurrection, but before that comes the blood-on-the-ground cross. The atheist is impacted by evil and comes to the natural conclusion of a godless, meaningless existence. I see the evil and, by the grace of God alone, come to the conclusion that grace abounds even more the way light appears brighter when it is surrounded by darkness. Pray for me as I pray for you to taste and see the movement of grace in all the varying facets of life—in sickness and in health, for richer, for poorer, for better, for worse, in sadness and in joy, to cherish and continually bestow upon him our hearts' deepest devotion, forsaking all others, keeping ourselves only unto Him as long as we shall live.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Rightly Dividing Life

Most of life is filled with the mundane. The word mundane is derived from the latin and in time past meant "of the world"—in contrast to things "of the church." So it's sort of a no brainer to say "I live a mundane existence." But, of course, we folk of faith like to divide things up: the sacred from the secular, right from wrong, good from evil, etc. And it is right that we learn how to divide things rightly. That's where, however, we folk of the faith are notorious for dividing things to the point where whatever life was there in the first place has long since departed and gone to greener and brighter pastures beside quieter waters. Could this be the reason why the word "mundane" in recent times (well, at least since the 19th cent.) means "lacking interest or excitement" Well, today, grace came to me through the mundane wailings of a little baby and the excellent combination of Crater Lake Blue cheese on unsalted crackers and a red Bordeaux wine from France. My granddaughter, Miriam, is a delight to my heart. Even her cries for mama or milk are music to my ears. While I was holding her, she began to cry something awful. It was loud enough to rouse Jenny from her studies (Jenny was staying over for the weekend as her hubby, Andrew, went to visit his dad in Houston) to check on me to see if I was OK with a screaming baby. My response? If she's OK with me holding the screaming baby, I'm OK with it. Jenny returned to her med books, and I returned to gazing at my beautiful wailing granddaughter. In about five minutes, however, she soon fell asleep in my arms and looked like an angel at rest—well, at least what I imagine an angel resting looks like. I can't help but think that this is the way the Lord sees us. We're not just teary eyed, hungry babies with empty bellies and poopy diapers. We are precious to him and he delights in everything that we are, and the only thing that really gets him upset with us is when we fail to see him as he truly is: a loving father who delights in his children. Fast forward to dinner time: Andrew came back from Houston earlier in the day but went straight to work. When he returned he came back with a small bottle of Ch├úteau St. Georges, a full bodied Claret produced from the classic Bordeaux grape. He also brought back a little less than 1/2 a pound of Crater Lake Blue cheese which sells for about $23.50 a pound. All the above was eaten with unsalted crackers and other simple but rich fare. Need I say more? The food nourished the body and the conversation nourished the soul. The secular and the sacred met on the plate, the palette, and the interplay between friends and family. Ok, enough already. Grace continues to overflow.
Under Grace,
Martin

Friday, January 15, 2010

Loving the Unlovable

How did I know that I was loved by God today? At least for a fraction of the day, I was able to focus on a number of faces that were not my own. Left to myself, I would simply be all caught up with my own things: my own face, my own thoughts, my own words, my, my, my. To actually see something or someone outside of oneself is a good thing. To actually love something or someone else outside of oneself is a divine thing. I can't help but be self-centered by virtue of the fact that I am always with myself. Wherever I go, there I am. Who can save me from this body of death? From this perpetual orbit around my own pitiful persona? Thanks be to God who saves me through Jesus Christ and the command to love my unlovable neighbor as I love my own unlovable self.
Under Grace,
Martin

Thursday, January 14, 2010

A Whiff of Heaven

Today I had a...a...mammogram. That's right. I said mammogram. Let me explain. I have diabetes and consequently high cholesterol. Anyway, last week I went in for the usual blood work to check my sugar and cholesterol levels, and earlier this week I went in to see my doctor to talk about the the lab results. The results? All good. My A1c (sugar) and LDL (bad cholesterol) levels were down while my HDL (good cholesterol) level was up. Couldn't ask for a better situation other than complete healing. The doctor was happy. I was happy. But just as I was about to leave, I said something like, "By the way, I'm sure it's nothing but I've noticed a... a...lump growing in my...my left...ah...chest area (I somehow couldn't bring myself to say "breast") but I'm sure it's nothing." My doctor sighed and said, "Let's take a look at it." To make a long story short, the next thing I knew I was getting a mammogram and a sonogram at the Darlene G. Cass Women's Imaging Center. To my surprise (and reduction of manly embarrassment) there were a handful of men there as well, and, fortunately, a separate entrance for us to access the exam rooms. Looks like it's not unusual for folk like us (i.e., men) to find things growing in particular parts of our bodies. The results? I have a cyst the size of a pea in my left (OK, I'll say it) "breast." I saw it plainly and clearly on both the mammogram and sonogram. It was a spherical white object in the mammogram and a spherical black object in the sonogram. The sonogram technician told me that "black" means it's a cyst, i.e., a pocket of fluid. The doctor who came in afterwards to talk to me about the cyst told me that I would have to get it aspirated and its contents looked at in the lab. What does any of this have to do with grace? Here are a few musings that popped into my mind: (1) For some reason just before leaving my doctor's office, the memory of the lump just so happened to pop into my mind. Coincidence? The Holy Spirit? (2) The mammogram and the sonogram are amazing metaphors for the Word of God as it assists us in "seeing the things that are unseen." (3) the lump in my chest (there I go again), is a reminder of my mortality. Whether it's malignant or benign, if it isn't this it's going to be that: in other words, nobody is getting out of this alive. Yes, captain, the Titanic is going down. (4) the aroma of heaven, the fragrance of life, is beginning to fill my nostrils. Well, it's just a whiff at the moment, but I'm looking forward to the full bouquet. In fact, let me end this post with a song I wrote called "Longing for Home."

There's a country I've never seen—
It borders the edge of my waking dreams.
Sometimes in silence I can almost hear,
Its far off music, sweet and clear.

I can't shake this yearning of my soul,
I'm longing for my home.

Some folk look back to the good ol' days,
To picture perfect memories through a child's gaze.
Some folk see the future with its promises sublime—
I see them as mere shadows of a place beyond time.

I can't shake this yearning of my soul,
I'm longing for my home.

Like a fish out of water,
Like a man lost at sea,
I find myself alone, longing just to be
At the end of the story,
At the heart of each poem,
I can hear the echo of my home.

Behind every rain cloud the sun shines free,
The King and his kingdom surround you and me,
So live life with courage and love without fear,
Hope in the darkness, our home is near.

I can't shake this yearning of my soul,
I'm longing for my home.

Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray the Lord my soul to keep.
If I should die before I wake,
To home the Lord my soul will take.

I can't shake this yearning of my soul,
I'm longing for my home.

I can't shake this yearning of my soul,
I'm finally going home.

Under Grace,
Martin

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Grace in Brokenness

Grace came as I wrestled with how to enter into several people's lives. Their pain was so intense I really had nothing to offer but a deep sense of my own inadequacy. The image is of a little child extending his hand upward with only shattered fragments of a treasured possession resting on an open palm. I couldn't fix them. I couldn't fix myself. BUT that awareness didn't drive me to despair. It drove me to my knees before "him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us..." (Eph.3:20). There is a lightness to being and to the burdens that we have to bear if somehow we are brought to the end of our efforts where we can see with clarity the work (and limitations) of our own hands, but, more importantly, the perfect work of the Savior's hands.
Under Grace,
Martin

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Vast, Unmeasured, Boundless, Free!

Grace came to me today in the form of...
—a hot steaming bowl of steel-cut Irish Oatmeal doused in butter, cream, a sprinkle of Cinnamon, and my wife's fig-strawberry jam...
—a brother who isn't afraid to bare his soul as he struggles with learning how to distinguish between his own voice and the Voice of God. It was added grace when this brother graced my family with a box of Fuji apples.
—news from my doctor that my blood-sugar and cholesterol levels are under control...
—an Episcopalian priest's thoughts on theology and food which can be found in his book entitled "The Supper of the Lamb." (btw, his name is Robert Farrar Capon.) Here's food for thought from his book: "Man's real work is to look at the things of the world and to love them for what they are. That is, after all, what God does, and man was not made in God's image for nothing. The fruits of his attention can be seen in all the arts, crafts, and sciences....how much curious and loving attention was expended by the first man who looked hard enough at the insides of trees, the entrails of cats, the hind ends of horses and the juice of pine trees to realize he could turn them all into the first fiddle." (p.19)...
—a box from Japan which included the costume Jason will be wearing for a film we are planning to shoot sometime in March?
—dinner (ravioli, pasta salad with seasoned shrimp, real butter, bread, tossed salad, house dressing, and apple crisp with vanilla ice cream for dessert) at a neighbor's house where we got to meet and compare notes with a young family who will be heading out soon to Japan as missionaries.
—etc. etc.

And how did I respond to all these (and many more) manifestations of grace? I ate, drank, shared, spoke and listened to, read, looked at, and received it all (well...most of it at least) with thanksgiving.

O the deep, deep love of Jesus, vast, unmeasured, boundless, free!
Rolling as a mighty ocean in its fullness over me!
Underneath me, all around me, is the current of Thy love
Leading onward, leading homeward to Thy glorious rest above!

O the deep, deep love of Jesus, spread His praise from shore to shore!
How He loveth, ever loveth, changeth never, nevermore!
How He watches o’er His loved ones, died to call them all His own;
How for them He intercedeth, watcheth o’er them from the throne!

O the deep, deep love of Jesus, love of every love the best!
’Tis an ocean full of blessing, ’tis a haven giving rest!
O the deep, deep love of Jesus, ’tis a heaven of heavens to me;
And it lifts me up to glory, for it lifts me up to Thee!

Under Grace,
Martin

Monday, January 11, 2010

Of Babies, Broccoli, a Broken Faux Roman Column Plant Base, and a Bench (that nearly broke the ol' man's back)


So did I live like I knew I was loved by God...yesterday? Yes and No. And that's probably as it will always be with me this side of heaven. But first the "no." I was in the car with my wife when she said something (or I said something) that triggered a fit of rage within my soul. It had to do with the past. It had to do with the limitations of my wife's love and my own. It had to do with old wounds that serve as constant reminders that I am still a broken vessel in desperate need of the grace and mercy of God. Any way, I definitely was not aware (or at least chose not to be aware) of the grace of God at that moment in the car. I was aware of my anger and it colored the world red, and something in me didn't want to allow God to change the color. BUT then after a short period of strained silence we came home to the smell of a hot pot of Italian Broccoli soup with twisted strands of pesto-egg noodles that my son-in-law, Andrew, made from scratch—including the twisted noodles that my son, Jason, helped to twist with his own nine-year-old-challenged fingers. It was transforming. Yes, the kitchen was transformed into a war zone of scattered flour, spices and dirty measuring utensils, but more importantly my heart was transformed from a raging beast to a appreciative (and hungry) father-in-law. And then there was The Baby. Miriam, my almost two-month-old grand daughter, is a constant source of grace. Her every movement of eye, tongue, finger or toe is a revelation of the divine. And in-between the broccoli soup and baby, my wife looked into my eyes to see if the beast was still present, and it wasn't, and we gave each other a peace offering in the form of two sets of petaled lips meeting. And then there was the broken faux Roman Column Plant Base. As we were savoring the delicate soup at the table complete with fresh bread and real butter with browned bits of garlic, someone commented on handsome and rather large L-shaped wooden bench that sat in our living room. It is a recent addition to the eclectic collection of furniture that fills the Hironaga household. The comment lead to a quick story about how the man of the house attempted to lift the huge thing on his back from the backyard to the front of the house because it couldn't fit through the back door and in the process knocked over and broke the aforementioned faux plaster plant base which led to a lowering of the bench and an admission of defeat which lead to the wife-of-the-house coming out with her bundled grand-daughter to the back yard to see what all the commotion was about and rather than pointing out how foolish the 50-year-old-man-of-the-house was for trying to carry something on his back that was meant for a much younger and stronger back, she instead made a simple suggestion of tilting the bench at a certain angle which would make it possible to slide it through the little gate instead of the herculean attempt to hoist it over the fence....well, I think you get the point. That the old man didn't get angry at the old woman's suggestion was grace. That there was the bench in the backyard in the first place was grace. How did the bench happen to get there in the first place (along with two tables)? Grace. Here's the story in one breath: went to La Madeleine (a french bakery) on Saturday to meet a good brother for breakfast (a habit we started over 10 years ago) and talked with the manager about how sad it was that all the old scarred and stained wooden furniture had been replaced with sleek new steel-legged mass produced stuff to which she agreed and said that there was still a table or two left in the back and that I could have them if I could carry them to which I replied, "Wow! Really?" OK, I've gone long enough, but I know I could go on a lot more. Well, I guess I'll have to continue this evening. See you then.
Under Grace,
Martin

Invitation to Naming Grace

Brothers and Sisters in Grace,
Do you remember the question I asked most of you when we started our one-on-one (or two or three) meetings? It went something like "Do you truly believe that God loves you?" Do you remember your answer? Most of you nodded your heads up and down without hesitation: "Of course, I do." Do you then remember the invitation I gave to you shortly thereafter? It went something like "Ok, then, what I want you to do this week is at the end of each day, before you lay your head down to sleep, I want you to ask yourself a simple question: 'Did I live life today like someone who knew he/she was loved by God?' If the answer is yes then write down how your life manifested an awareness of God's love. If the answer is no then write down the ways your life failed to take into account the love of God." I then asked you to be prepared to give an account of your week the next time we met. Do you remember the answers you brought to the table? If my memory serves me right, most of you came to the meeting with your heads and hearts a little lowered. We then began (I should say "continued") the journey of learning to "name" the movements of grace (and sin) in our lives. Fast forward to today. What if we all try to answer the same question at the end of each day this week, but instead of waiting until next Monday to give our answers, what if we simply jotted them down in this little safe space so others can share in the glory (or the gore) of what's placed on the table? For what it's worth, I will attempt to articulate the ruminations of my soul. Please feel free to add yours.
Under Grace,
Martin
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