Thursday, November 22, 2012

Giving Thanks

Thanksgiving was not invented by the Pilgrims.

I am one of thousands and thousands of women who have read Ann Voskamp's One Thousand Gifts, and this is not the first time I have used her thoughts as springboards, and I awakened this morning with the book on my nightstand (actually on the floor next to the nightstand because the nightstand is already too crowded with books) thinking about what a posture of gratitude looks in my life.

Because thanksgiving is not just a day, an hour, a few minutes when we bow heads and join hands and say grace over the bounty–

–thanksgiving is a way of being, the posture of my heart, the shape of my mind, the inclination of my thoughts.

It wasn't until after I read One Thousand Gifts that I began to be aware of just how absolutely bursting the pages of the Psalms– my go-to book in Scripture– are with thanksgiving.

Oh give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; for His steadfast love endures forever!
You are my God, and I will give thanks to You; You are my God; I will extol You. Oh give thanks to the Lord, for He is good, for His steadfast love endures forever!
 (Psalm 118: 1, 28-29)

A song bound fore and aft with thanksgiving.

You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; you have loosed my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness, that my glory may sing your praise and not be silent. 
O Lord my God, I will give thanks to You forever! 
(Psalm 30: 11-12)

And this rash, wild burst of thanks (give thanks forever? Holy hyperbole? I think not!) comes after a heartache plea for mercy: To You, O Lord, I cry; and to the Lord I plea for mercy: "What profit is there in my death, if I go down to the pit? Will the dust praise You? Will it tell of your faithfulness? Hear, O Lord, and be merciful to me! O Lord, be my helper!" 

The darkest moment, when life despairs and the head bows and then after the cry, the folded hands suppliant, out of the darkness comes such reckless declaration: I will give thanks to You forever!

Can I say as much? Can I declare like that? Whatever comes, Lord... no matter what... I will give thanks...?

I awakened thinking of the blessings innumerable: the house! (With room and to spare, to welcome in family and friends.) The Pilot! (Cocooned in blankets and well-deserved slumber beside me, this husband a means of grace a thousandfold over, his arm across me as I snuggle in.) The bounty! (We're brining the turkey and it steeps in broth and spices the way our lives are steeped in abundance.) Welling up, spilling over, gift upon gift, day after day that my eyes used to abundance forget to see and my heart forgets that it is all a gift and...
... a gift undeserved.

Ann's words whisper to me: When I realize that it is not God who is in my debt but I who am in His great debt, then doesn't all become gift?

The lies of the world would have me believe that I am entitled, I am deserving, I have earned and all that comes to me is reward but that is the fastest way to the tight-fisted life, the grasping, the hoarding. Life gluttonous for more but never satisfied.

Ann quotes a Chesterton poem which for a while I taped next to my bed so I could read it at night:

Here dies another day
During which I have had eyes, ears, hands
And the great world round me;
And with tomorrow begins another.
Why am I allowed two?


Why indeed?

Who deserves any grace? Ann asks.

Thus the true Thanksgiving hymn is that which calls this grace for what it is: Amazing!! How sweet the sound that saved a wretch. Lost becomes found, and entitlement become humble kneeling and the hands uplifted.

Thanks becomes more than words but the daily life–

–every day–

forever.


Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Rhapsody on The Final Final Paper

I can smell the freedom.

But you are in the way.

Dear Final Final, you are the Last.
The finally finality, the concluding conclusion. And how I wish to conclude you!


Of all the Finals that I have finally completed, you are infinitely
the worst.
You sneer and smirk like
 the rest did
 you deprive me of freedom
       of happiness
                 of contentment
                           like the rest did, but YOU!

                                                 You stand in the way of Peace.

You will be the termination of my term.
Beyond you lies
                           infinity,
                                 eternity–
all that speaks of health and wealth and wisdom,
outside of this brief span
of years and grades,
textbooks,
professors.

You haunt me
like a spectre;
 you rap upon my chamber door
and quoth you:
                  "Discuss the identities accepted and rejected by these four African writers..."
You are the dagger I see
before me in the dead of night
As I lay me down to sleep and
not to mention during the day when I'm doing the dishes.


Have pity upon me.

My brain died two weeks ago, and yet you still expect me
               to prod it into sentience when I feel like
                a somnambulist;
             you require finesse
          when all I can provide is
                      fumbling.
In short,
you want my brain to Work, when it lost all usefulness some days ago!

Have pity.

We can work together, you and I–
 I will help to appease you,
somehow I will scrape from the black goo of Academia words enough to satisfy you,
                               to fill you,
                                 to make you complete–
                                  I will!
                               I vow it!
                     I swear it to you on my transcript– only–
               be kind to me, dear Final Final–
 
be kind.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Dance!

It has been very long since I wrote. I have been too busy tripping over my own feet.

Dance! says Sally Lloyd-Jones in the beginning of her new book Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing.

In the beginning, God sang everything into being– for the joy of it– and set the whole universe dancing.
God was in the center, at the heart of everything.
Like the dance of the planets before the sun– turning, spinning, circling, wheeling, revolving, orbiting around and around– God made everything in his world and in his universe and in his children's hearts to center around him– in a wonderful Dance of Joy!
It's the Dance you were born for.

I read that on the stay-at-home while sister and mother and nieces and nephew went to the zoo day, the husband-has-sinus-infection day, the brain-tired body-tired heart-tired day. The tiredness has been insidious in the last month; like a creeping weed, kudzu or poison-ivy, choking everything else. I opened the new book that my sister brought as a late-birthday present, and I read, and I began to cry.

I had lost the steps to the Dance.

There are lots of ways to lose them, but the fastest is to try to put myself at the center of the Dance.

The Pilot is fully immersed in training by now, which means very long days, and study-nights, and getting up in the morning dark. Time together is chopped– I feel resentment. If I were in charge of this Dance, the Air Force would value our time together more!

And I trip.

The end of college– I've reached the last circus-ring to cross, and I shuffle along grumbling about the the last set of hoops to jump through, the class I don't like, the teacher who doesn't care, the assignments that don't make sense. If I were in charge of this Dance, school would be about learning the things I want to learn!

And I trip.

Housework and planning meals. We eat a prodigious amount of food. And somehow the floors and the bathrooms keep getting dirty. Shouldn't housework come before hanging-out-with-friends? If I were in charge...

... and I trip.

Shouldn't I be happy? There is nothing really wrong, is there?
But my heart isn't singing and my feet aren't dancing. There is something wrong.


What if the planets put themselves at the center instead of the sun... We put ourselves in God's place... and now our hearts are out of step with God and the universe and each other and our own selves.


Child-simple. I read and I cried, because I wanted to dance again. I wanted my heart to be full of song, not grumbling and tiredness and selfishness. I want Joy– not fleeting height of emotion, not security from good circumstances, but Joy rich and thick and lasting, Joy that doesn't melt with the Pilot's long days or college circus-hoops or housework. Joy to know and believe and cling to, dig in with fingers and toes and clutch with my soul.

Well. Sally Lloyd-Jones said something about that, too. Sometimes I wish all theology was written in a style for children like this book is. It's so much easier for me to understand.

But God had a Plan.
And a Rescuer... Jesus would come to take the cataclysm of our sin into his own heart. 
And lead us back into the Dance of Joy.

Can I ever get away from it– this leading back to Jesus, always? Of course not– because every trip and miss-step is a Savior's gentle invitation to let Him lead me back to my proper place in the Dance. As long as I try to make myself the center, I cannot have Joy.

But if I step back and start following His lead–

John Piper explains it this way: God created us for this: to live our lives in a way that makes him look more like the greatness and the beauty and the infinite worth that he really is.

So the chopped-husband-time and the tiredness and the last-college-class and the housework and meals can be part of the dance: these things that swell resentment in me are part of a life, my life, the life that can dance beauty before a beautiful God. If I let myself. If I follow the steps, take the eyes of my heart off myself and onto the Leader of the Dance– who will dance with me into Joy everlasting.