Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Laughter, the Heart's Best Medicine

This week I've been teaching music at my parish VBS program. It always feels good to break out the old, tried-and-true Scripture songs I learned as a girl. (Some of them I have to tweak just a bit, theologically speaking.) "How Did Moses Cross the Red Sea?" and "Climb, Climb Up Sunshine Mountain" really get those soulish juices flowing, you know?

In His great Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 18:1-5), Jesus responded to His disciple's bickering over who was greatest by calling a child to Him and saying,

"Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me ..."
Truth be told, most of us are far more at home in the grown-up world; we have a tendency to lose our joy and our sense of wonder in the heat of the battle. We forget how to laugh at ourselves, and have an unfortunate tendency to lash out at anyone who cracks a joke at our expense. Even (and perhaps especially) when there is some perceived incongruity to laugh about.

Judging from His tendency to hang out with publicans and sinners, I'm guessing Jesus used a different approach. He knew how to laugh at Himself, and must have had a good joke or two up His sleeve. After all, this is the same God who created pufferfish and gangly newborn colts. His first earthly miracle was creating wine at a wedding feast (and, unlike my Baptist friends' contention, it was certainly not an alcohol-free variety!).

If Jesus had a mournful countenance and combative presence, and doled out joy by the thimbleful, He certainly wouldn't have been such a welcome addition to those A-list dinner parties.

How do you think Jesus would have responded, for example, if one of His relatives teased Him about settling down and finding a nice Jewish girl? Would He have smiled along ... or smote them all with lightening or incontinence? No doubt He had a serious side -- and yet, just as often He captivated the crowds with His stories and His miracles. He was a Groom in search of His Bride, and knew instinctively what it would take to woo her.

What good is it if in our efforts to "defend" the Church and the faith we hold dear, we alienate the very people Jesus came to save? If we cannot respond to the negative reactions of a secular society in a way that invites them to take a second, closer look ... are we fulfilling the Gospel mandate? If the Church is something we feel we must angrily defend against sinners' advances ... at some point do we lay down our weapons in order to make it the "hospital" Christ intended it to be? Or in our zeal, are we unwittingly adding to the list of spiritual casualties?

"A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger" (Proverbs 15:1). The next time you are drawn into an angry debate, think: What Would Jesus Say?

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Remembering Ruth

Earlier today when I received word of her death, I took down an autographed copy of her Collected Poems, which lies on a special "fire shelf" in my living room (in the event of fire, the contents of this shelf will get snatched up as I exit the house, once my children and husband are safely outside), and touched a blue cut-glass bowl prominently displayed on a kitchen shelf. Both of these are treasures simply because they remind me of a singular experience, an afternoon spent in an unassuming cabin at the top of a winding, gated road in Montreat, North Carolina.

Mrs. Graham was considered by many the "first lady of Evangelical Protestantism." Almost sixty-four years ago she exchanged one holy passion -- to be a missionary in China, as her parents had before her -- for another: to be Billy's wife, and the mother of his children. This turned out to be a monumental undertaking, and in many ways her life might have been much easier if she had stuck with the original plan and wound up an "old maid missionary" serving in some backwater Chinese hospital.

However, "easy" was not something to which Ruth aspired. Neither was "glittering" or "world-famous" or "celebrated." Hers was an unmistakable presence of gracious warmth and sincerity. Sitting on the overstuffed sofas with Mrs. Graham and her daughter Gigi, it was easy to forget that I was sitting where the Grahams had entertained countless notables and celebrities from every walk of life. The carving on the fireplace mantle summed it up perfectly: "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God." It was Ruth who had made that fortress home.

Today I imagine them all gathered together in that place, and my heart aches for them. As Ruth herself observed in her Collected Poems (p.179),

A house
is not the same
when she
who made it home
is gone;
it looks
as it has always
and yet
There is an emptiness
a silence
where her chuckle was.
From now on
it is me alone
who once was "us."

I was still a "single career woman" when I met Mrs. Graham -- I married Craig almost exactly a year later, in 1999. Knowing what I know now about the challenges inherent to the vocation of motherhood, I can appreciate even more what a remarkable a woman she was, and how it took the steadfastness of a "missionary heart" to accomplish what she did. Her secret? She stayed as close as possible to the heart of God, drinking deeply of the Scriptures until her soul was fairly steeped in its revealed truth. And yet, somehow she didn't seem overly "religious." She was lively, she was adventurous, she was funny, she was warm ... she knew God intimately, and that is what kept her centered in a world spinning dizzily off-course.

And so, today I want to remember this dear sister in Christ. May her judgment be merciful, and her reward great ... and may the effects of the rivers of prayer that streamed from her while she was still on earth continue to touch those she left behind. How much more do they need those prayers now!

Grant eternal rest to her, O Lord,
may her soul fly to you unencumbered by sorrow, or regret, or fear.
May she see with uncompromised clarity
the fullness of your glory and the wideness of your mercy.
May she and the souls of all the faithful departed rest in peace.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Gabriel is in remission!

Received this message today from Tom Sullivan about little Gabriel! For regular updates, go to his website here.

Hi All,
In the midst of the trials Gabriel is currently going through, there is some very good news...

Gabriel's bone marrow biopsy from Day 29 came back with 0% Leukemia cells. This is excellent news. It basically means they have achieved remission in under 30 days. We are now awaiting the results of a MRD (Minimal Residual Disease) test which is basically a high powered microscope that can see things deeper in the bone marrow than the normal lab can.The current results also placed Gabriel in a Low Risk category. This means his treatment and amount of drugs will not need to be as severe as the standard or high risk categories.

They continue to dial in tighter on Gabriel's specific type of Leukemia. His long term treatment is becoming more clearly defined with his current schedule of treatment set to last for 3.4 years.Gabriel's cancer treatments have also been suspended until he completes his current battle with Shingles. Currently the Shingles are located in the small of his back and progress along the nerve track leading down his right side and down his right leg. Doctors hope the medications will stop it from spreading to the rest of his body and therefore reducing the pain he feels due to the amount of surface area effected. He is still struggling with fever but his pain level is low and he is handling it very well. Thank you again for all your prayers and support.


Friday, June 01, 2007

Gabriel Update

*** Update on 6/4/07 Gabriel is back in the hospital. Time to start up those prayer lines again! Click here for more information.
Last night I received a wonderful update about our little "leukemia boy," Gabriel Sullivan.

On day 15 we were told Gabriel's lab results came back and the results were so
phenomenal that the lab may have made a mistake. 1% leukemia cells in the bone marrow was almost unbelievable for only 8 days of treatment, the goal is to get him into remission by day 29, and under 5% is considered remission.. So a 2nd bone marrow biopsy was done.

Today Oncology called (10:30am Tuesday May 22, 2007) to tell us, the first test was actually correct. The 2nd bone marrow biopsy came back with 1.5% leukemia cells in the marrow. A deeper test into these results showed NO leukemia cells active anywhere.

His 3 years of treatment will go on, but the prognosis is very good. Alleluia!

Thank you for all your prayers and support,

Thank you for all those who continue to uphold this special family in your prayers. For regular updates, click here.