". . . little shall I grace my cause

In speaking for myself. Yet, by your gracious patience,

I will a round unvarnish'd tale deliver . . ."

(William Shakespeare's Othello, I.iii.88-90)

Friday, January 20, 2017

Our Strange Western Sun

A few days ago I was reading to Evan from our current readaloud Johnny Tremain. Johnny Tremain is a boy growing up in Boston at the time of the American Revolution, witnessing events and people firsthand that we today only encounter in history books and movies. At the point we are in our reading, the British army is occupying Boston but no shots have yet been fired. They are about to be, and the chapter we just finished ends with a reference to "a strange new sun rising in the west . . . that was to illumine a world to come."

I wanted to make sure Evan understood the comparison of America to a sun--one whose rise would shine a beacon of freedom over the entire world. I started questioning him, trying to pull the answer out rather than just give it to him, but it took some doing, which surprised me. Then he said, "America isn't as free as it used to be" and I realized that the equating of my country with freedom which is in my mind a given, something I grew up with and feel at a gut level, was not as natural an association for him. Wow. It drove home for me that at the age of 13 the only president he has any memory of is Barack Obama, and what he has heard from his parents for much of his life is talk about how our freedoms in this country are being eroded and how the federal government continues to extend its reach and control beyond what it is Constitutionally given to do. It made me sad.

I told Evan that the peaceful transition of power that we are seeing today, Inauguration Day, is a testament to the freedom that we still have in the United States of America. I am thankful beyond words to have been born an American. I would not want to have been born anywhere else. God bless our country, its outgoing President, and the President-Elect. May we never take for granted the amazing gift we have been given to live under this strange western sun known as America.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Will the Lord take you in?

One year ago yesterday, my mom took a fall from which she never recovered. She didn't break any bones, but the weakened state that she was in at the time, combined with the infection that caused her to faint, was more than she could overcome. After about six weeks, first in the hospital and then in nursing care, we brought her home to die. She left this life on February 22, 2016, at the age of 85.

I was thinking about all this yesterday, and about her, and I reshared this blog post from February 13. I think at the time I wrote it I knew deep down that she wasn't going to get better, but I wasn't quite ready to face it. I was still hoping and praying for a turnaround. It never came.

My mom died with saving faith in Jesus Christ. I had thought she was baptized as a child but in going through her things I found a certificate of both adult baptism and confirmation in the Episcopal church. She also had me baptized in the Episcopal church, but for the first 10 years of my life we didn't attend regularly. Then when I was in sixth grade we moved, and a friend of mine invited us to her church. I asked if we could go, and we did, whereby my mom discovered Roman Catholicism. It was a turning point for her. She became Catholic and so did I. From that time on we were in worship every week. I give thanks for that friend and that church, which changed the course of my mom's life as well as mine.

As I reflect on it, I think that one reason Catholicism spoke to my mom so strongly was that it offered a sense of stability that had always been missing for her. She was an only child whose parents left her to be cared for by relatives. In a life marked by abandonment and insecurity, the ancient Church presented her the opportunity to feel connected to something unchanging and bigger than herself. The liturgy, ritual, majesty and history afforded her a kind of security she had never known. Finally, she felt like she had a family. 

At the same time, though, she heard from the Catholic church that if she just tried a little harder and did a little more she could "work out" her salvation. She looked at the suffering of this life as something that got her a step closer to God, proving her worth. On more than one occasion I talked to her about the gospel as I had come to understand it as a Lutheran--something completely free and unearned, total gift. But it seemed almost impossible for her to conceive of. I wish that before she died she could have somehow found the comfort of knowing that although there was no way she could ever be good enough, she was nevertheless saved by grace through faith because Christ did it all for her.

I spent a good deal of time during my mom's last days singing, praying and reading the Bible to her, particularly the psalms. A recurrent one was Psalm 27, linked above. In her Bible it was one she had marked, bracketing off verse 10: "For my father and my mother have forsaken me, but the Lord will take me in." I decided to have Psalm 27 sung at her funeral and to include verse 10 on her burial marker. The marker was ordered in August but still has not arrived. Hopefully, soon.

My mom did not fully understand the gift of grace, but neither do any of us. Thanks be to God we don't need perfect understanding to get into heaven. We just need faith in Christ, however imperfect and weak that faith is. I know my mom had that and that when she departed this life she was immediately welcomed into the presence of her Savior. What a joy to know she doesn't have to try, doubt or wonder anymore! She is "in"--not because of how much she loved God, but because of how much He loved her. May all of us as God's children cling to that certain hope.