Merlot Mudpies

Can a blog be about gardening, cancer, family, food and life all at the same time? Oh good.

Seeing and Being Seen July 25, 2009

When she was a senior in high school, my mom was nominated for and then won the Miss Elsinore contest in the little town she grew up in.  She went on to get a runner-up slot in the Miss Riverside contest that same year.  I remember being agog at the fact that my very own, every day, utterly normal (only in a kid’s eyes!) mom was a beauty queen!  I would press her for all sorts of details and was constantly left a little disappointed because she seemed so completely uninterested in it all.  She would say things like, “Well, it wasn’t ME on that stage.  I had on 10 pounds of make-up!” and “Oh I hated that picture…but you know, I DID get to leave class one day for that photo shoot and that was pretty fun.”

The first time what she was saying to me really started to make sense was when I was a teen.  I’d brought the story up again and begged her to drag out the photos and she told me a few details of that week to make me happy.  “Mom, were you SO popular then?”  She laughed.  “Well, I had a date every day that next week!”  The thought of it made my toes positively curl with glee.  “And did any of them end up being your boyfriend?”  “Oh, love, NO.  No.  They didn’t want to go on a date with ME.  They wanted to go out on a date with Miss Elsinore.  To say they’d gone out to dinner with the local beauty queen.”

And there, plainly, was the crux of the matter.  Mom did not feel like, when she won that contest, it was based on real things.  She did not feel that she had been really seen.  She didn’t feel that it really had anything to do with who she really was at all.  Any real piece of her that had been there for judging had been slathered under pounds of stage makeup.

When I fell in love with my husband, I barely remembered how to put makeup on.  It was in 2001 at the tail end of my mother’s first bout with cancer.  It had been a grueling year and I felt stripped of artifice of any kind.  When we met I wasn’t looking for a relationship at all — I was utterly unprepared to be charming or beautiful or socially acceptable.  I was in a stage of my life where I grossed people out inadvertently by just explaining the day-to-day basics of our lives.  What we found funny at home other people in non-cancer world did not find funny.  When people asked, “How are you?” I couldn’t gracefully tell anymore whether they really wanted to know or if they were just asking because that was how conversation was supposed to go and the next line was supposed to be “Oh, fine thank you!  And you?”

I remember walking toward Ryan one night at a little dive we used to go to after coming out of the ladies room and realizing that for the first time of any that I could think of when he looked over and saw me and lit up with a smile, he was smiling at me.  All my cracks and dings and rawness were right there in front of him and he was delighted to have me coming over to slide back into the seat across from him.  As much as I loved him for so many wonderful things, I loved him for that.

There is something, I think, about being laid bare, recognized for who you are, and loved in the face of it all.

This is, in the end, what makes the love of my Savior so intoxicating and breathtaking when I stop in day-to-day business and ponder him.

Think about it:  There are stars in the sky so far away that our very strongest telescopes can only pick them out as specks of light in the vast distance.  Yet our physical beings are determined by 25,000 human genes that were not fully mapped until less than a decade ago and are contained in such microscopic detail that no human eye could ever decipher them without powerful aid.  Romans 1 declares that what can be known of God has been made plain to men and that His eternal power and divine nature are clearly seen in the things that have been made.  What creation tells us is that our God is unfathomable.  He is greater than we can even begin to comprehend.

With the greatest of care and imagination He knit each of us together in our mothers’ wombs.  He named us before we had names.  He knew us before we could be known by any other being and knew us more fully than we even know ourselves.  Every hidden dark place, every decision made wrong, every hatred, every cheat, every selfishness, every slight given was before his eyes when he then chose to love us with a deep, never-ending, fierce, perfect love.  He holds back nothing in that love.  Nothing at all was too great a sacrifice — not even the cross.

If, tonight, you are needing to feel love — ponder on this for awhile.  As unlovable as you may feel you are loved beyond what you can possibly imagine.  If you are God’s and springing to the front of your mind is “Yes but you don’t know what I…” — I can tell you that no matter how you finish that sentence, no matter how dark the ending, God knows and he loves you anyway.  If you acknowledge him, if you love him, if the darkness of the things you keep tight in your heart make you understand your need for the cross and, therefore, thankful for it then I can assure you that He knows and loves you still with a love that makes all things good and new.  He sees you and He has allowed himself to be seen.

I’m just a little bit agog about all of this tonight and so I thought I’d share.  Maybe now my brain will quiet down enough for me to sleep.


A Monument to Joy in Loss July 7, 2009

When we knew my mom was dying — really dying and soon — family began to pour in to see her at the hospital as we waited for hospice to be set up so she could come home.  We still thought that perhaps we had a few weeks with her but there was a certain urgency in my heart to say something to her.  To say…what?  I thought a lot about the things that people say in deathbed scenes in books and movies and on TV.  So many people feel the need to plead for forgiveness for that last wrong they thought of, that last hurt that had gone buried all those years, to confess, to clear the air, to leave no potential stone of regret unturned at the end.  I felt no need for any of that with my mom at her deathbed.

Throughout the Old Testament you read about the people of Israel raising monuments as reminders to themselves and all who observed them of the glorious things God had done for them and through them.  In the beginning of the book of Joshua, after 40 years in the wilderness, the people of Israel finally were able to cross the Jordan and enter into their promised land.  The first thing they did after crossing over the Jordan was take 12 stones, one for each tribe of the people, and build a monument with them.  Joshua instructed them to do this so that when their children asked what the stones meant, the people would be reminded to tell the children of God’s mighty work of stopping up the waters of the over-filled Jordan so that his people might pass safely on dry ground.

On the one hand, it’s sort of funny to think that a people would need a monument to remember a story like that.  You know?  HOW could you forget seeing the water piled up on itself as Scripture said it was, waiting for you to cross into the new home you’d been waiting your whole life to reach?  It’s preposterous!  Well, it’s funny and preposterous until you stop and take a good look at the frailty of your own memories and how they can be changed so easily and quickly sometimes.

We’re told later on that the people fell into sin and disarray almost immediately and that it was because they did not teach their children to remember the mighty ways of what God had done to deliver them.  They did not remember themselves.

And can’t you hear it?  Imagine, say, even fifteen years later, how the story might have been twisted at first.  “Daddy, really did God stop up the water?  Did it really pile up so high while you crossed over that it was taller than your head??” “Oh son, I was so young then and so small!  Why, I was shorter than you are now.  So perhaps the water seemed very high but…”  “Oh son, it was so long ago.  But the water was very shallow.  Perhaps it had been a dry season that year and we were so releaved to cross over that it seemed as if the very hand of God stopped the water and dried out the sand…”

But no.  No that was not how the story went at all.  And the people all together that first day lay those stones and all acknowedged the supernatural greatness of what had been done by their mighty God.  They acknowledged it together so that later together they could help each other remember how it really happened and so that they could continue to praise their mighty God and teach their children to praise him as well.

And so this is the monument I want to raise — a monument to the joy I was allowed while losing my mother, because of the God she loved and served and who I love and serve as well.  I nearly lost this memory, it very nearly got changed in the telling, and so I want to preserve it here now.

This was the last real conversation I had with my mom:

Sitting and holding her hand while my dear husband looked on, I was able to tell her thank you for her love and for the fact that I did not feel the need to beg forgiveness for anything.  It was not my own perfection that allowed me to feel this.  Rather, I felt no need to beg because I knew that forgiveness had been freely and openly given already and I rested in the peace of that — thankful, so very thankful that because of that forgiveness I could simply bask in her love and my own love for her.

I hurt my mother deeply through the 29 years of my life with her.  Sometimes I hurt her unintentionally and sometimes I did it very intentionally.  Sometimes I did not mean to be ugly and sometimes I was ugly just to feel the power of the effect it had on her.  I was, indeed, sometimes that kind of daughter.  And we did have wonderful, sweet times together — they far outnumbered the bad times.  But they did not make up for the bad times at all.  There was real and deep hurt there.  But Christ went deeper still.

And so sitting there wanting badly to say the right last things, the most important last things, I found that all there was in my heart was love and thanks and more love and more thanks and a whole lot of expectation for the time when, after I spend the whole rest of my earthly life missing her, I would get to see her again as we worshipped at Jesus’ throne.  And so that’s what I told her and she understood me perfectly.

You see, my mom knew herself before a perfectly righteous and just God.  She knew herself to be a sinner.  She didn’t think that, on her own merit, she would someday stand before His throne and hear “You did good, kid.  We’ll call it even.”  In fact she had a sense of her own sin that was so sincere that it seemed sometimes ridiculously out of proportion to the sweetness and the love we all knew from her.  But because she wasn’t comparing herself to the rest of the world but rather to her perfect Savior, she knew keenly that she fell short.  And that made the love and forgiveness she found at the foot of His cross so precious to her.  It was so precious, so powerful, so all-encompassing in its enormity that it changed her utterly and it made her like Him.  And because she was learning to be like Him I found in my mother love and forgiveness and tenderness and self-sacrifice all wrapped in real joy that taught me about Him, too.

And so, at the end of that confession of all that was in my heart to her, do you know what my mom said?  She didn’t deny that there were things that had had to be forgiven.  She acknowledged that all of what I’d said and known of her heart was true.  And then she told me that she was proud of me because she could see the fruit of Jesus’ love for me in my life and that other people had shared with her that they could see His work in me, too.  And she told me that she loved me.  And we cried — a lot.

It was the best deathbed confession I could have possibly come up with, only it wasn’t contrived.  It was what was in our hearts and it was real.

You might wonder why I’m writing about this now, almost a year and a half later.

Over the course of a few months this last year my memory of this time with my mom began to change a bit.  What I remembered were the parts of what I’d said to her about having no regrets to come to her with.  Somehow my memory changed and left out the parts that had to do with our mutual knowledge of God’s forgiveness in our lives.  I didn’t remember at all her response to me.  Rather, what remained in my mind became a picture of me blithely and somewhat insensitively refusing to acknowledge the full picture of our relationship together and insisting that it had been good enough for me to have no regrets.  I started to cringe at myself.  I no longer thought of that time with her at the end with peace in my heart and it started to color all of the other memories of that sweet and painful time of loss over the next few days before she went home.  Suddenly, where there had been none before, I had regret.

God is faithful where our memories are not and one day in my kitchen I paused over a counter I was scrubbing and was suddenly overwhelmed with the need to remember what she’d said to me.  WHAT had she said to me when I’d so calously informed her that I had nothing at all to be sorry for?  I paused and closed my eyes and forced myself to think through the hot shame that this partial memory brought and remember what she’d said in response to me…she said…that in me she could see the work of Jesus.

And the rest of it came flooding back.

Oh what relief to see that whole picture again!  Jesus!  He is mighty to save.  He is faithful to forgive.  He lives and pleads for me!  HE was the reason we had no regret.  HE was the reason losing her was suffused with joy.  HE was the reason, He was the topic, He is our mighty God.

When I read the story of Isreal and their monument at the Jordan I though to myself, “I must raise one of my own.”

Here it is.

God brought me over the trecherous river of my faulty memory safely and reminded me of the joy and peace only He could give.

Truly, He is my Rock and He is my salvation.


Being Pharaoh April 24, 2009

I realized something this morning. It isn’t pretty. As per usual, it’s come from observing my toddler.  If anyone’s sitting there thinking right now that I’m mean for saying I’ve learned something bad from my toddler, I’m assuming you’ve never had one.  But for those of you who aren’t too offended to keep reading, I continue.  🙂

We’re at this stage with my son, who just turned three. It’s this stage where he has learned to follow rules, but his heart has not understood what it means to obey. Some of this is a lack in our parenting and example, I’m sure. Some of it, though, is that he is a fallen being and he was before he hit zygote stage. Scripture is clear on this.

This morning, Eamonn got up way earlier than usual. I have been getting up at 5:00 AM to have some time to myself — some time of peace where I can drink enough coffee to wake up and pray myself into the day. One of my prayer requests is that this time won’t keep getting shortened by Eamonn’s getting up earlier and earlier as he did this morning. So, finally, at 6:30 he was up for a bit and what I thought was for good.

You know, moms, those mornings, where every little thing — even the easy ones — become a battle? “Eamonn, it is too early for you to be up. But you can sit with me while I finish reading and praying. You may do a hidden picture sheet or you may read a book.” “Ohh…I think I play my dart gun.” “No, no dart gun. That is loud. You may do your hidden picture or look at a book. Oh, or you can do puzzles. It needs to be quiet because I’m not done yet.” “I play your computer?” “No. You may choose puzzles, book, or hidden pictures.”  “Ohhhh.  Okay I do puzzles.”  Which lasted for about 3 minutes when I heard both xylophones being played at once.  “Eamonn, you must play quiet things.” “But I AM playing dem quiet and in my room.”  “No.  This is not what I’ve asked.  I’ve given you three things you may do…” “But…”  I won’t go into anymore detial because it wasn’t fun for anyone.

But so it began. With every single option given, something else off the list was chosen — or, something partially on the list but slightly different.  Of all the available options, each of which he would love had he not been active in resistance this morning, none was chosen as presented. Look, I’m new at this. I’m sure plenty of you would have caught onto the issue way before I did this morning. May I blame it on not having had my second mug ‘o joe? Whatever, I’m getting to the point.

Puzzles were chosen again and I lay down on the floor of Eamonn’s room with him while he worked a puzzle and I started to read in Exodus. (I’m way behind on my ESV in a year reading plan.) I was at the 7th plague. This is one of those stories that you’ve heard so many times since you were a little kid that you sort of shut down parts of your brain when you read it because you think you already know everything that’s in there. That’s how I tend to think about things like Moses and the Plagues, or Noah and the flood, or David and Goliath.

But here is what hit me this morning that I’ve never heard anyone mention before.  Pharaoh obeyed a few times before the first Passover!  Well wait.  Let me restate that.  Pharaoh obeyed…sort of.  Moses said, “Let my people go.” And Pharoh said, “All right!  Go!  Well, okay, the men can go.  But the kids stay here.”  Plague.  Moses said, “Let my people go with all of their belongings.”  Pharaoh obeyed some more and disobeyed some more, “Fine.  GO.  Good riddance.  All of you go.  Oh, but I’ll need all your cattle to stay.”  I’m paraphrasing a little.  

First I thought of Eamonn.  Hooooo boy!  Yup!  My kid’s not just a pharasee — keeping the “whole” Law but rebelling in heart.  He’s PHARAOH.  Keeping part of the law laid down but resisting parts and calling it obedience.  I mean it was just all crashing in so clearly, what his problem was.  

And then a small niggling thought occurred to me.

I do this ALL the time.  I am called to submit to different forms of authority before God and I am the queen of partial submission.  I give on the items in my home especially where I agree and no sacrifice is involved.  But what about the areas where my husbad for perfectly legitimate reasons has an opinion or desire different from mine?  

I could go on and on in all of the areas of partial obedience in my life.  That content alone would constitute a whole fleshed-out category in this blog if I wanted it to.  But instead I want to focus on vocabulary.  It isn’t partial “obedience” at all.  Rather, it’s plain disobedience through and through because any alteration is resistance in full.  It’s hypocrisy at its clearest because it’s made to look like submission and obedience when really, somewhere, I’ve made it on my terms.

This is garbled because that second mug is still sitting on the table getting cold.  But I just had to get this down.  This morning I read Exodus and I identified with Pharaoh instead of the enslaved Israelites and Moses.

The difference, thankfully, is that my heart is not hard like Pharaoh’s.  I am allowed to see, by God’s grace, my own disobedience and resistance. And I am promised help in changing because I’m steeped in Love freely given, not plagues and wrath poured out on my deserving head.  I am hidden away from the final wrath and consequences Pharaoh was dealt because of the blood of the true Passover Lamb.  

So this morning as I go microwave my coffee, now cold on the table, I contemplate full submission and obedience and pray for the grace to carry them out.

And finally as an imitator of my Father like in Ephesians 5:1 and 2 I will walk in love and try to pour myself out well to my son as an example of real obedience and submission.  By God’s grace I will accomplish it.


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