Pressing On in Gethsemane

“Sometimes He calls us to go where our friends do not follow,” she said to me.

It was six years ago last week that someone’s prayer for me shed new light on my walk with Jesus. We were on our women’s retreat and the speaker had just sent everyone out for some alone time with God. But, I did not want to go. I stayed in my seat, with my head down, afraid to press on.

I was not surprised by my reaction to this invitation. I had been running scared for about three months and was finally asked to do the one thing I had been avoiding. Only now, it was in front of all of my peers. I knew I could go outside and just pretend. But, slowly that art was being taken from me as well.

I got up and sat beside the speaker, Kim. “I’m afraid,” I said.

She was kind and asked a few questions. But, really all she needed to know was that He was calling me to go into a place I did not want to go. He was pressing on some deep hurts that I did not want to feel.

Avoiding them though had brought no peace. Only fear and angst. And loneliness.

My friends had walked with me for a long time, and yet this felt different. I knew that I would never be above needing their encouragement, but I was being called to go into a darkness without them beside me.

Kim prayed a simple prayer, and gave me a vision to help me on my way out the door that day. She spoke of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, and how He absolutely did not want to go. He did not want to press on into the final chapter of His life here on earth.

But, for the joy set before Him, He did, she prayed. And He did it by himself. He agonized in those dark hours before His death alone, so that we would not have to go into our darkness without Him.

Her last words were, “Please Heavenly Father, let Carrie get a glimpse of your love for her, because she was the joy set before Him.”

I thought to myself, “I think He just did.”

Soaking It All In

I woke up early on Wednesday, March 30, 2011 to a hellacious storm. It was thundering and lightening as the rain came down in torrents.  I got up to  have some quiet writing time because the day ahead was full of activities for me and the girls with very little rest in between. It also happened to be my 37th birthday.

I was a bit miffed about such a demanding schedule and the gross weather for this particular day. Though, my contrary feelings were not going to change any of what was required of me and the wretched sogginess with which I was called to participate.

So, I made a conscious choice to be open-handed and receptive to what the day would bring. My birthday gift to myself was to go through the day with a posture of gratitude. For the rain, for my girls, for their music, for our Women’s bible study and the wonderful ladies who attend, and simply for another year.

Thankfulness is never an easy decision for a realist whose glass seems half empty. I just naturally look at something and see the negative seeping through or the potential disaster that is lurking in the shadows. And I happen to be a professional disaster speculator.

My daughter only has to say “Mom! Look at me!” and before I have craned my neck to see her perched high in a tree elated, I envision her slipping, falling to hit every branch, and breaking an arm or a neck. In my mind’s eye, I’m carrying her into the ER before I can muster a two thumbs up, hysterical and partially convincing, “That’s great honey!”

It is a squinting, eye straining effort for me to see the beauty in God’s hand and what He has poured into my cup, but it is an attempt worth making for myself and for others.   This season of Lent, I am also trying desperately to keep my eyes on my own cup and not be distracted by what other’s are sipping.

When I arrived at Bible study that Wednesday morning, I was drenched but happy. It was my birthday after all and I’d rather be with these lovely, funny ladies than most any other place.

I got a hug from one of my best friends who also happens to be my partner in crime. As the other ladies trickled in, I received a sweet card from my friend Lindsay. Not to be confused with the text from my friend, Lindsey that read, “How about a Starbucks for the Birthday girl?” YAY!!!

The wonderful thing was that I thought about stopping there to purchase a little treat for myself but was too late in getting out the door. No matter because receiving this from another’s hand made it taste so much better.

Jen began by opening us up with a time of worship. She said that she had chosen a new song that was not in her 7 chord repertoire and that we all needed to help her by over singing along.

The mystery tune began….”Happy Birthday to you.” Another present, a very funny but endearing serenade. These simple gifts of friendship, I did not expect nor demand. I just soaked it all in.

That day, scheduled months ago, my friend Erin was to lead our time together. She chose to guide us through a 45 minute, quiet devotional time in what she referred to as “a good soaking.”

We turned the lights down and all got comfortable as she began with scripture followed by a reading out of the Valley of the Vision, a collection of Puritan Prayers. Then she played a CD of soothing worship songs and contemporary hymns prepared specifically for our time together.

All that was required of us was to rest. No phones. No emails. No laundry. No needy little ones. No demands.

We were to just receive as she showered us with the quiet love of God.

Immediately, I felt my body relaxing. I am always a bit surprised when I do things like this by just how braced for life I am. In motion going from thing to thing, there is very little room or time to notice that my body is crying out for me to slow down and breathe deeply.

Which explained why for the rest of the day, my chest was sore and achy; it had the blessing of resting its muscles for almost an hour with no idea of just how weary they had become.

I spent some time jotting down thoughts and writing phrases I heard from the old hymns that moved me. I thanked God for making me a lover of music, and how it brings me closer to Him.

At one point I wrote, “Why would I ever choose anything over this…over being in your presence unafraid and at rest?”

That was when I realized I had left the simple gifts and crossed over into the miraculous.

We quietly ended our time. I thanked Erin for stepping out of the box and giving us the gift of quiet stillness, two very foreign concepts in Charlotte. She handed me her home-made “soaking” CD and said, “Happy Birthday, Carrie. I hope it is a great day.”

It already had been.

I opened my discontented, selfish heart to the unknown blessings that a day can give. And it soaked it all in.

The Prodigal Returns

Lucy, our yellow lab, does not like the cold. So, it takes mere moments before she throws herself at the kitchen window to let us know she has had enough of the outdoors. I don’t mean she taps at our kitchen window. I mean she tries to impale herself.

Last month, while conducting my morning ritual of tea and breakfast making, I ushered her out the door into the back yard. I went about my tasks, ate breakfast, read to the girls, and began school before I realized our dog had yet to make her reentry desires known as expected. I got up, looked out the window to see that the back gate had been left open.

Her going on a “walk about” doesn’t particularly unnerve me because much to my husband’s dismay, she usually returns. But, I do worry a tad as we have a woman two doors down who LOVES her outdoor cats. And she has a lot of them to admire.  With a horrible coincidence, “terrorizing the feline” happens to be Lucy’s favorite game.

I opened the front door and called her name. There was no sight or sound of her. Years ago, I learned the degrading futility of trying to chase her when she gets out.

It was an early spring morning, I was still in my pajamas and bare footed. Panicked, I followed her to the cat lot. I had her leash in hand which ensued the most ridiculous comedy of errors that I have ever had the privilege to be a part of…although it was only funny to the onlooker.

First, she had me chasing her around the woman’s parked car. I went one way, and Lucy went the other. Then she would stand still until I got close enough to become over-confident. At the precise moment my hand reached her collar, she took off again. Smirking. Laughing at me over her shoulder.

Desperate, I had to go all in and vigorously hounded her around this woman’s back yard which then led us into the woods. I cackled maniacally while chasing her.

I don’t know if you have ever tried to catch something that hasn’t the least intention of being trapped, but there is very little dignity in the effort.

Finally, after about 10 minutes,  I looked at my dog and yelled, “Forget you Lucy!!” I turned my back and started to walk home, not caring if in minutes or hours she would be raking a tin cup across the bars of a doggie prison for cat killing.

It took 5 seconds until she was following me home assuming our play time was over.

So, I don’t go after her anymore.

But, her return this day was taking longer than normal. I called her name, and whistled out the front door. Then my youngest gave it a try. We waited and nothing happened.

My oldest put down her book, got off the couch, and said, “I got this, Mom.”

She walked out the back door onto the screened in porch. She put her hands around her mouth and in a high-pitched voice, hollered, “Dinner!” “Lucy, you want some dinner, dinner, dinner?”

All of a sudden, about 200 yards away, my youngest and I see a yellow blur shoot out of the woods. Lucy comes tearing around the neighbor’s house at light speed. She jumps up onto the front porch and tries to stop at the door. But because of her tremendous speed, she slides half way down the porch. She gathers herself, runs into the house and goes immediately to her food bowl.

The Prodigal returns. No need for a fattened calf.

“You rang?”

Calvary Love

We are in the midst of observing Lent, the 40 day period leading up to Easter Sunday. In some traditions, it’s common to make sacrifices during this time. To give up something and by so doing, create a trigger for being mindful of Christ’s sacrifice for us.

As a Presbyterian, this practice is not imposed upon the members of our church, because we rest in Christ’s atoning work as the Ultimate sacrifice on the cross for our sins. It is by grace through faith that you have been saved. (Eph. 2:8) And certainly, we are not accepted more by God for giving up desserts or caffeine for six weeks.

But, I like celebrating and participating in anything that helps me slow down and be intentional in my observations. Especially when I can be made aware of just how much I turn to something other than Christ to define and ‘rescue’ me. I often sail through life unaware of how much my heart is set adrift.

For our family devotional time, we are reading the book of Luke while using Caleb Voskamp’s beautiful The Way of Light Advent/Lent Wreath(pictured above) to gain perspective that Christ’s road to Calvary was in fact a journey. One which consisted of sweet communion with His Father, but was also fraught with an agonizing separation from Him.

In Paul Miller’s book A Praying Life, he talks about Christ’s connection to the Father, and how “Jesus was the most dependent human being who ever lived.” That irony is not lost on me.

The fact that Jesus continually confessed He could do nothing without the Father in a world that scoffs at dependence, weakness and and asking for help. God in the flesh could not function alone though He had access to legions of aid with one word. Access to the very powers of Heaven.

I think about Jesus’ time on earth, how it was filled with engagement but also with withdrawal. Engaging with people to be poured out, and withdrawal to the Father to be filled. To be loved.  Miller goes on to say, “That’s why contemplating the terror of the cross of  Gethsemane was such an agony for Jesus. He had never experienced a moment when he wasn’t in communion with his Father. Jesus’ anguish is our normal.”

Feeling separated from God is often times my normal, because as I said before, there are many distractions in my life that cause my eyes to look away in hopes of finding security in other places. I tend to live a skittish life much afraid of the unknown dangers of this world. Sadly, lots of them are not unfamiliar to me.

I also like affirmation and  stuff, because it makes me feel included living in a city that glitters.  That’s why this Lent, I’ve decided to “fast” from my tendency to compare myself to others. Which is a ruse, because comparison is so deeply ingrained in me that the mere suggestion of another way to travel through life is foreign.

It simply does not compute, because judging myself in light of others is instinctive; a natural reflex. Just like getting tapped on the knee by the doctor and my leg responding.

Lately though, I’ve felt the ironic pain of being kicked by my own knee jerks when the urge of comparison presses on my nerves.  I’m feeling bruised and battered by the constant striving to come out ahead or to be ‘enough’ in a world that knows no such finish line.

I cannot even check out groceries without the colorful pages screaming at me to be thinner, prettier, healthier, more successful as a home maker, more creative as a mom, and more sexy as a wife.

Sometimes it feels like a heavy burden that I drag around with me where ever I go.

And I long for another way. The Way. The Truth. And The Life.

I do hope that setting aside this season in awareness of my tendency to avert my eyes in search of something ‘better’ or always relying on worldly meter stick to validate my standing before God and others will teach me something about how lonely and fruitless that strategy truly is.

How there is so much more offered to me when I fix my eyes on Jesus, who fixed His eyes on the joy set before Him as He traveled that long road to the cross. Because what could make me feel more loved on this earth than pondering the fact that I was the joy set before Him.

As if there could be anything better than resting in the shadow of His Calvary love.

Where there and there alone, I see the truth.

That I am not enough to validate my own standing, and none of my feeble attempts would have made it so.

But, that He is enough to satisfy, and I was enough for Him to leave the 99 sheep grazing in the field in order to pursue my heart that was/is lost in a wilderness of striving and comparison.

Amazing Love. How can it be? That you who knew no separation from the Father would experience just that so that I would never have to. May I not take that lightly today and may it give me heart.

Hebrews 12:2-3 “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”

“An Outsider Looking In”

November 5, 2008 had me up earlier than normal. I needed the extra time to mentally prepare for the day’s events which consisted of getting myself downtown to the Charlotte Courthouse by 8:00am for jury duty.  For this directionally challenged, suburban housewife, it was going to be no easy task. Map in hand, behind the wheel of my minivan, I headed North with the rest of the professional workforce.

After lots of confusion and aimless ventures, I manage to find the courthouse and the proper parking deck. I note ‘proper,’ because I had to pay a fee to get out of the two other incorrect one’s that I had entered by mistake. As I walked the streets of downtown Charlotte, with my North Face backpack and confused expression, I felt like a foreigner in my own city. Like an outsider looking in.

I was more settled when I found my place in line with about seventy other registered citizens. At that point, I felt less conspicuous. We were all uncertain of how the next 9 hours were going to play out, yet powerless to change or influence our station for the day.

We were herded into a very nice facility with many sections to stake our claim.  I set myself up, alone in the cafe, on a very high stool. I had packed my phone, Ipod, journal, and some books to arm myself against certain boredom.

About 20 minutes into my stint, someone came over an intercom asking everyone to make their way to the center of our holding pen for a brief orientation. They put on a video that thanked us for our ‘willingness’ to participate and explained the schedule for the day. It actually made me see the bigger picture of my part in the judicial system. Even so, I hoped that I would not be picked.

As sat back down in the cafe, I noticed that I was joined by two older African-American men about my father’s age. One was a blue-collar fellow. The other, a man in a business suit.  I put my i pod on ready to completely check out until I was needed. Right away, I could tell someone was addressing us again over the intercom. I took out my headphones and heard they were going to put on a movie. It was then that I noticed a TV in the cafe and several others throughout the larger rooms.

The voice announced that the morning movie was going to be The Great Debaters.  I perked up a ton, for I had wanted to see this movie for months.  I did not know much about it, save that it was based on a true story.   I moved aside all of my equipment, leaned back in my chair, and happily put my feet up. If I had any idea of what I was going to witness, I would not have been so casual.

The film began innocently enough, telling the story of an African-American debate coach named Melvin B. Tolson. He wanted to put the black Wiley College debate team on equal footing with white colleges. But, as the movie progressed, I began to feel the tension of the plot intersecting with the setting, because this story took place in the American South during the 1930’s. A time when Jim Crow laws exsisted and lynch mobs were a real fear for African-Americans.

The movie gathered momentum as the unlikely team began to win debates and soon found themselves at the pinnacle of their season, which was a chance to compete against the national champions.  The first African-Americans ever to do so.

But, one night as Melvin Tolson drives his team to a competition, they come across a lynch mob surrounding the charred body of a young African-American hanging from a tree.  It was a very powerful scene. One that took my breath away and left me in shock.  I watched the main characters torn between terror and shame as they dropped down into the floor boards in hiding.

I had to turn my eyes away for a moment, and it was then that I remembered that I was watching this movie with two older African-American men. Just the three of us sat in the cafe. I felt sheepish as I searched their faces. Their eyes looked straight a head. Their expressions were quiet and unmoved, as were the faces of everyone else I could see in the other rooms. I wondered if we were all watching the same movie.

The movie ends with the debate team’s final competition. An argument on Civil Disobedience against the reigning champions of Harvard, an all white institution.  I do not know if this was the topic for the actual debate that took place 80 years ago.  But, I do know that Wiley College won.

I know that in reality, even though they beat the reigning champions, the Great Debaters were not allowed to call themselves victors because they were not truly considered to belong to the debate society. African-Americans were not admitted until after World War II.

As the credits rolled, I looked up at the older man in a janitorial uniform. His eyes were brimming with tears. I felt like an intruder and tried not to stare. Then he turned to the other man and asked, “How old is you?” The man in the business suit responded, “I’m 60 years old.”

He said, “I’m 65 years old, and I remember every bit of that kind of hell.”

To which, the other replied, “Yes sir. Amen to that.”

There was a lingering quiet, but it wasn’t oppressive or unsettling to me.  It was one of those moments when you are awed into silence. I thought about the night before. For the first time in our nation’s history, an African-American had been elected President of the United States. Regardless of my political stance, I sat happy in the awareness of how far we have come as a country.

It was a good day, and I was thankful for the opportunity of jury duty. For a chance to leave my normal routine.  I was certain that this was the only place I could have experienced this with these two men. Though honestly, they did not notice me. Because I was merely an outsider looking in.

A Gift

According to Gary Champan’s book, The Five Love Languages, one of my love languages is “receiving gifts.” To the average onlooker, this could be misconstrued as materialism.  Just as with any of the love languages that are not your own, they are often misunderstood. But he describes “Receiving Gifts” like this….

  • Receiving Gifts

    Don’t mistake this love language for materialism; the receiver of gifts thrives on the love, thoughtfulness, and effort behind the gift. If you speak this language, the perfect gift or gesture shows that you are known, you are cared for, and you are prized above whatever was sacrificed to bring the gift to you.

Though I love to get gifts, I have a very difficult time receiving them. I embody ambivalence and contradiction, because I fear what I long for. And too often, gifts can be very deceptive and grossly conditional. For a long time, I did not know that they came in any other packaging.

Until recently.

For Christmas, my friend and her husband gave my family an amazingly generous gift. She came over a few days before the holiday commenced and handed me a folded piece of paper.  “Merry Christmas,” she said casually.

I opened it, and written in a very familiar, ‘lightening’ font, was my gift. It was 3 nights with them on their family vacation in Orlando, so that we could all go to Harry Potter Wizarding World together. I was undone. And so very excited.

Our plan was to drive down this past Monday. We were going to spend one day at the park and the other swimming at the resort. Driving over 18 hours in four days to see a ‘fictional’ place and a swim in a heated pool….I was not above it.

But on Sunday afternoon, less than a day before our departure, I received a call from my “Fairy Godmother.” She asked if I would want to go Disney’s Magic Kingdom on Wednesday if I had free tickets.

Well, I LOVE Magic Kingdom and believe that my address in Heaven will be Main Street.  Because this was our reception on Wednesday morning upon our arrival.

Everyone is always so happy to see you.

For two days my head and heart were swimming with rapture. But, there was something else as well. Underneath the joy and elation was an unsettling discomfort, because I knew that I would never be able to repay such a gift. Not that anyone was asking me to.

As we walked around the parks in delightful anticipation, as we enjoyed the beauty of a “Magic Kingdom,” I felt the temptation to “bail” emotionally because it was all too much.

From the invitation to see the place I had believed in ever since reading about it in fiction. To the free tickets to Disney World for me and my girls, who had not been since they were very young.  To the loving kindness of my husband who sent us with his blessing but not himself due to his many conflicts. I was overwhelmed with the value of what I had unwrapped, which ensued an internal war.

My old self tried diligently to separate from the experience due to my inability to EVER reciprocate, because I have spent a lifetime trying not to owe anyone anything. But, then there was a smaller word longing to be heard over the clamor. It was whispering, “receive, Carrie. Receive this gift from these people who love you.”

It has taken years for my wobbly legs to securely stand on the uncertain ground of friendship. To trust the process of living life together in community with all of its glorious messiness.  But, in doing so, I have received an even greater gift. The ability to know moments of trust and rest with people.  To know freedom from performing and trying to ‘earn’ my way into their lives.

It didn’t take long for me to see, that the only thing they wanted in return was my enjoyment. It wasn’t a demand. They just really enjoyed me, enjoying their gift. (Cause I was kind of a freak in my excitement and sort of our own wandering entertainment.)

Ironically in the end, the thing that gave me the most fear, which was my inability to repay everyone, turned into the very thing that fueled my gratitude. There was a depth of acceptance that I had yet to ever experience as I stood at the intersection of neediness and grace. And it was wonder’full.

As silly as it sounds, spending time at a couple of theme parks gave me a deeper understanding of the gospel.

Because after all, what is the gospel, if not a gift that can never be repayed. A gift that the Father longs for me to fully receive and enjoy.

*Taken from Tim Keller’s book, Prodigal God

The Father runs to his son, and showing his emotions openly, falls upon him and kisses him. This would almost surely have taken the younger brother by surprise. Flummoxed, he tries to roll out his business plan for the restitution. The Father interrupts him, not only ignoring his rehearsed speech, but directly contradicting it. “Quick!” he says to his servants. “bring the best robe and put it on him!”

What is he saying?

The best robe in the house would have been the father’s own robe, the unmistakable sign of restored standing in the family. The father is saying, “I’m not going to wait until you’ve paid off your debt; I’m not going to wait until you’ve duly groveled. You are not going to earn your way back into the family, I am going to simply take you back. I will cover your nakedness, poverty, and rags with robes of my office and honor.”

Taken from Luke 15, The Parable of the Lost Son or Daughter

“Did He Say, Ernest?!”

This is one of my favorite stories on marriage.

Our good friends had been married only a few years when they went to see the movie, “Saving Private Ryan.” This film is based on the invasion of Normandy in World War II. It follows of a group of solders, led by Captain John H. Miller(Tom Hanks), who have been assigned to find a young private whose three other brothers had been killed in the war effort. They were messengers of mercy because it was their job to find James Ryan(Matt Damon) and tell him that he had been granted a ticket home by General Eisenhower.

But when they find the young man, he refuses to go home. He tells them that his comrades are now the only brothers he has, and will not abandon them. This leaves the assigned soldiers in a dilemma. Having lost a few of their own men in the search and rescue mission, they did not want to see their job go unfulfilled and in essence feel the waste of their groups sacrifice. In the meantime, they get caught up in a German assault trying to secure a critical bridge in Normandy with this unit that is not their own.

The movie culminates in a dramatic scene where Captain John H. Miller has been mortally wounded while protecting this bridge in a place he would not have been had it not been for this private. When the reenforcement American P51 planes arrive and success seemingly attained, the captain looks around stunned as he takes in the sheer mass of destruction and loss of life. He looks at Private Ryan, then reaches up and struggles to utter two, very weighty, words. Ryan doesn’t understand him. So, Captain Miller uses the last bit of his strength to pull himself up and in this young man’s ear says, “Earn This.”

At that moment of  entreaty, one that will go on to define this character’s ENTIRE life, my friend leans over to her husband who is completely entranced and locked into the movie screen. She interjects seriously confused and a bit too loudly says, “Did he say Ernest!!??” “Who’s Ernest??!!” Jolted out of this powerful moment, he turned to her and said incredulously, “He said, Earn This.”

I laughed so hard the first time I heard this story over dinner together. The husband to this day will go face down and shake his head when it is told, though about 11 years later he finds it amusing. But, I laughed, partly because I love this woman and find her so funny, but also because of my immediate thought, which was how rare it is that two people are on the same page together at the same time.

I think of this story when my husband and I are seeing the same thing from two completely different vantage points. So much so that an interjection takes the steam right out of the one who is feeling passionate about a matter or an instance. It is a powerful dissuasion, because it is seldom in an instance as innocuous as a movie pinnacle.

And often times it is difficult to get the moment back. Which is why one of my goals this year is to simply, listen better. I know that hearing others more clearly, even what is unsaid, will be worth the earning.

A Picture of Ms. Martha’s

Memories are a “funny” thing. They can surface at odd times. Or become jarred loose by similar settings. Recently, I have been remembering a scene of an old neighbor with unusual clarity, and the irony is that I have always been puzzled and confused about that day with her.

Maybe it is because 9 years later, it is finally coming into focus; It was a picture that took a decade to develop. A decade filled with my own processing and development.

During the first years of our marriage, my husband and I lived up the street from an older, widowed woman named “Ms. Martha.” I would stop and talk with her occasionally on my walks with my two small children when she was out working in her yard. She was kind, a bit spunky, and very lucid.

All I really knew about her was that she seemed a very capable,  professional woman in her prime. And that the two beautiful, large maple trees in her front yard, that my oldest loved to climb, were volunteers from Tennessee. She had brought them over the hills nestled in her lap, like small children, during her relocation to the Tar Heel State some 50 years earlier.

So, we would have our casual talks on the front lawn, or I would simply hope that all that was needed from me was a smile as I went on my way. One afternoon though,  she stopped me as I headed up our street pushing my girls in the double jogging stroller. She told me that she had 4 small kittens and wondered if my oldest daughter would like to see them. Emma was an infant at the time. Though highly allergic, I could not pass up such a sight. Especially, because my preschooler’s favorite stuffed animal at the time was named, “Baby Kitty.”

She asked us to follow her around to the rear of the house, so we could enter in through the back door. Crossing over the threshold into her home is what I have never been able to forget but at the same time was not able to fully comprehend all these years. I guess I needed to be older and have lived more.

I do not know why I felt it, but  the inside of this house seemed to be somehow frozen in time. I don’t mean to communicate that it was in bad need of repair, upgrading, or remodeling. I mean that it felt as though no one lived there . The walls were bare and the room had very few furnishings. It had a very lonely feeling. And the irony that had me confused was that this was such a stark contrast to the woman I knew from the front yard, and now watched sitting on the floor with my daughter and four frisky kittens.

I began to look around again with a curious but not critical eye. I noticed on the mantle all alone, was a framed black and white photograph of a very young man. “Ms. Martha,” I asked, “Who is that man in the picture?” She turned to see what I was referring to, and her face changed. It drooped. It got small, and she looked very little.

“That is a picture of my husband,” she said. I told her that he was very handsome, and she blushed. She then told me a little bit about how they met and  were married in their early 20’s. But ended the conversation by speaking quietly and curtly of how he had died there in their home of Leukemia 5 months after a diagnosis. That was all she wanted to say, and I respected her privacy.  It was just a snap shot.

I am horrible at mental math, but remember figuring as I sat there, that they had been married only eighteen months before he got sick and passed away very, very young. They had no children and to my knowledge she never remarried, and she was now well into her 70’s.

That was the first and last time that I was ever invited in. Into her home and consequently into her story.

The Canine Scaredy Cat

We are on our third yellow Labrador Retriever as a family. First there was Gaea, the Queen Bee, who now resides in the Great Hive in the sky.  Then, there was Jake, who was very sweet, but not the sharpest tack in the box. And now, we have Lucy.

Otherwise known as “Looney.”

Lucy is allowed to sleep indoors now due to the colder temperatures at night. But since we are a household sensitive to allergies, she must go into the yard first thing.

The other morning, I woke up to my husband using his stern “inside voice.” He was calling the dog’s name over and over again. It was difficult to make out his warnings from upstairs because of the ruckus caused by her claws scrapping across our hardwood floors. It was clear that she was doing laps throughout the living room, dining room, and kitchen in a hysterical fashion. And would not stop.

I could hear my husband, who is never amused by canine disobedience, actually laughing at her between scolding intervals. After a minute or so, it got very quiet.  That made me nervous. I held my breath until I heard him grab her by the collar to usher her out the door.

When I came downstairs, he was incredulous and filled in the gaps for me. Apparently, when he opened the back door for Lucy the first time, she heard someone using a leaf blower….three houses down. Terrified of loud noises, she ran back inside and began to dodge him. Then, she started running maniacal  circles around the downstairs until she tired.

But here is the best part.

When he caught up with her, she was hiding under the dining room table. If you are a member of our household, you know that this space is called “Sacred Ground.” That means that if a chase ensues at any time, there is a safe haven from being tickled, bothered, or caught IF you can only get there.

But only IF you are human.

The Recluse: A Marital Metaphor

Genesis 3:7 & 9-10 “At that moment their eyes were opened, and they suddenly felt shame at their nakedness.”

So they hid from the Lord God among the trees. The Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?”

He replied, “I heard you walking in the garden, so I hid. I was afraid because I was naked.”

My husband is a typical first-born. That means he likes to be in charge and give instructions. It has worked out so far in our marriage, as I am a third child who is used to being told what to do. Though like most younger siblings,  I have the gift of selective hearing.

For almost 5 years, my husband has been telling me to not keep our 20 pound bag of dog food in a garden storage bin located on my front porch. And for 5 years, I have not ‘heard’ his entreaties.

Why ? First of all, it is convenient for me to keep it close to the back door. Secondly, and more importantly, I like to keep the smelly dog food neatly hidden away from all onlookers. And, I am an expert on ‘neatly hidden away.’

As a matter of fact, my tendency to hide things *read* myself has been a huge struggle in our marriage.

I once heard Dan Allendar define shame as “being seen and found to be worthy of rejection.” As I think about that moment back in Genesis, when Adam and Eve looked into each others eyes and no longer found acceptance and safety, it penetrates my heart.  Because not only had they lost a sense of value for one another, they immediately no longer felt at home in their own skin.

In the face of potential rejection and being seen or ‘caught’, it is a natural response seek refuge and to flee for the dark places inside of ourselves. The only problem is that hiding from others robs us of amazing opportunities to experience the gospel. To experience the beauty of being covered by grace and mercy in our weaknesses.

Which brings me to my story.

About a month ago, on my to do list, was to vacuum out this ghastly, dark garden storage bin and return it to an ordered state.  Since feeding Lucy is a chore for the children, the bottom of this bin is often littered with dog food.

It was a beautiful, warm fall day as I reached in to empty out all of the contents. Incidentally, it also houses old shoes, gardening tools and gloves(mine and the girls), and outside yard toys.  It was when I lifted out a smaller rubbermaid tub,  that I saw it. A very large, violin shaped, brown spider.

I froze, not knowing what to do.

My husband( the one who warned me about keeping a viable food source in a dark place) happened to be home, so I called him outside. He looked down, and at that moment we saw one more large spider, and several smaller ones who were not happy about being disturbed.

He said very calmly, “Carrie, those are Brown Recluse.”

He had me bring him some type of heavy duty pest spray. As he began peppering the bottom of the bin, more spiders came out of the crevices. It was a nightmare.

I have done many, many foolish things in my life, but never one that had this many potential ramifications. How many times had my girls or I reached into this compartment in the last few months? I wanted to cry. And I wanted to hide.

It was my husband’s voice that pulled me from my terror filled/guilt ridden reverie. It was so gentle and so kind. He began giving me small instructions. “Carrie, get me some bleach,” he said. When he doused the sides so the spiders could not climb out, still more came out of the nooks. When we thought they were all dead,  we began bagging up the contents. Everything had to be thrown away.

While we worked together cleaning up this horrible mess hiding 15 feet from our back door, I felt very, very sheepish. I wanted to hide and not be seen. It was in that shame that my husband met me. There was not one word of condemnation or an embittered, “I told you so.”

I received his grace and his aid with open arms, and it covered all of me.

**please do not talk about this story around my kids. Thankfully, they have no idea. And now that i have a better system for keeping our dog food, I’d like for them to continue in this chore.:)**