Piddling around on the blog yesterday, I found that a couple of people found this site after googling the phrase "man without a nose." So, I went back to read a post (below) from a couple of years ago. I don't know what these folks were looking for, or what they found in the words I had written, but, looking back over this post, I found a very timely reminder that who I am is defined not by my past, not by my present struggle with sin, but by who I am in Christ. I forget that so easily. I need to hear the good news of the Gospel of Christ every single day.
Why was this such a timely reminder for me, besides the fact that I forget the Gospel as regularly as I breathe? Because lately, I've been struggling against a tendency to define myself based on how other people relate to me. How they talk - or don't talk - to me. The comments they make about me to others. Their choices and actions which affect me.
It's like I'm the man without a nose, and I'm painfully aware that every time a person looks at me, they shudder. Or look away. Or withdraw. Or have to deliberately, visibly, screw up their courage to look me in the eye and try to engage. And all those slight, almost-imperceptible flinches, those diverted eyes, those negative comments and subtle criticisms, they all begin to color how I view myself and my place in the world around me.
And that is a so much more subtle, sickly sin for my heart to wrestle.
When my past life or my present struggles rise up like a dark storm cloud to condemn me, I have learned to meet those thoughts head-on. "I am Christ's! I am a new creature! I am a beloved child of the sovereign God!"
But when another person challenges my secure standing in Christ, I buckle. I begin to wonder if Jesus really does love me that much. I'm such a mess. I'm not good enough. I'm an offense. Ugh! And then, I respond to and relate to that other person as if their attitudes and assumptions about me are the truth, as if that is what defines who I am. And that, my friends, is NOT living in a place of grace.
So today, I am encouraged and challenged anew to look to Christ. Look to Christ. Look to Christ! He defines who I am. I am not defined by my past, not by my present, not by the world around me nor the people in it. I am secure, truly and eternally, because Jesus is a most sufficient Savior, and He is faithful.
Lord, help me to me mindful of how great is my salvation, and help me to live and to engage with those around me (even those who hurt me) in the consciousness that You love me. Help me to know - emotionally, spiritually, practically - that Your sweet and unchanging love is indeed enough for me in this life.
THE MAN WITHOUT A NOSE
(originally published 8-8-2011)
There is a man in my neighborhood without a nose. I see him sometimes when I'm out running errands, at Dollar General, at the grocery store, at the gas station.
Did he have to have to have his nose removed because of some cancerous growth? Was it torn off in a fight? Was he born without a nose? I don't know what happened to his nose. I just know that when I see him, I smile and say "Hi" and he nods in answer. It is very, very hard to look someone in the eye and smile when there is a hole in the middle of his face.
I passed the man without a nose as I was driving down the highway last week, and seeing him again got me to thinking. Does he have a family? Grandkids? Does he like to eat fish at the lake, or to drink coffee with the old guys at Autry's? What makes him laugh? What makes him smile? Where does he work? Does he prefer Wranglers or Levis?
In my tiny little mind he is simply The Man Without a Nose. But unknown to me, that man has a wealth of life experiences, of stories, of personal likes and dislikes. He has a history - he is somebody's son, somebody's brother. He is so much more than a man without a nose.
Years and years ago, Steve and I attended Narcotics Anonymous meetings with young Marines as part of his job as the Substance Abuse Control Officer. "Hello, my name's Bob, and I'm an addict." "Hi, I'm John, and I'm an alcoholic." Although I understand there was some purpose in uniting attendees this way, something about that ritual disturbed me. I understand better now what it was. It narrowed each person into the one big, nasty thing wrong in their lives. It reduced them to an addiction, a broken past, a history of failure.
Sort of like my neighbor. When you first see him, you notice one big, nasty thing wrong with him. I wonder how many people get past that one thing to find out anything else about him. And I wonder how he sees himself.
In this fallen world, we all have big, nasty problems. Addictions. Deformities. Sexual perversions. Spitefulness. Critical attitudes. Pride. Gossiping tongues. Discontent hearts. It's a long list of disgusting sins, and we are all on that list somewhere, every single one of us.
But for the Christian, we are not defined by our sin...we are defined by who we are in Christ. By Christ's work on our behalf. By God's unfathomable love for us. By the Spirit's ongoing work of sanctification in each of us.
I am not what I once was. Scripture tells me that in Christ, I am a new creation. That even now, God is making all things new, including me. Although huge chunks of it still cling to me, although daily I must struggle against it, my old sin nature no longer defines who I am. It would be wrong for me now to try to shrink my understanding of myself down to the Big Ugly Sin that plagues me. Nor can my brothers or sisters rightfully pigeonhole me this way either. Bigger things are going on here now...huge, eternal, cosmic things that are swallowing up my sin in the enormity of God's love and grace.
As messed up as I am, I am Christ's beloved, a daughter of the High King of Heaven, an image bearer of God.
I wonder if the man without a nose knows about the amazing love of God?
My chickens - a small flock of Buff Orpingtons - are so very good looking. But their extraordinary good looks are beginning to atone less and less for their stupid and sinful behavior.
I prefer to let the biddies run loose in the yard so that they can graze. Their fluffy golden feathers are so pretty against the bright green of the lawn and the hay field. Plus, when they are loose to eat bugs and grass, they eat less chicken feed - cha-ching.
I learned from Ben's Rhode Island Reds that chickens love ripe strawberries. This year, I was keeping a keen eye on my berry patch so that I could confine my hens to the chicken house when it looked like the berries might start attracting their attention. Buff Orpingtons, it seems, don't care if the berries are red and ripe or not. I discovered last week that the silly biddies had eaten all my hard, green strawberries. It's a wonder it didn't make them sick.
Lesson learned: next year, shut up the chickens when the plants begin to bloom. It was too late to save the berries, but I kept the hens shut up in the chicken yard for two days after the discovery anyway. I guess I wanted them to do penance for their foolishness.
I started feeling bad for the hens, though, all shut up in their chicken yard, so I finally set them free again. My mistake. Having once discovered the berry patch, they decided that, even though there were no green berries to tempt them, this was now their favorite place to scratch and roll. They absolutely wallowed my strawberry plants to pieces.
They've been confined to the chicken yard ever since.
In other news, my neighbor Mr. Bubby DID come over and till up a garden patch for us! He came last Tuesday. The girls and I were out of town all day - arrived home road weary and exhausted to discover that the garden spot was ready for planting. And this at a time when we already were stretched way too thin, with more work to do than we had time for. Sigh! Thankfully, Reuben and Martha tackled the chore of planting the garden on Wednesday morning, while the other kids and I plowed through our impossibly-long to-do list. We have a small garden this year - appropriate, since the household is shrinking over the summer and Helen and I will be the only ones here to tend it. After all the rain this past few days, the squash and peppers and melons and cucumber plants are looking awesome, and I expect to see beans and summer peas popping up any day. Yay! for Mr. Bubby - and Yay! for fresh summer vegetables!
I guess the chickens will be imprisoned indefinitely. Something tells me they would probably start preferring bean sprouts over green strawberries if I let them out of the pen.
We graduated two high school seniors last weekend - WooHoo! I don't think I ever really considered a high school graduation that big of a deal until I became a homeschool mom. Now, it's a reallyreallyreally BIG deal - and so much fun to celebrate. Thank you so much to all the friends and family who helped make this a special event for my students and me! You make my heart feel so full and blessed!
Now, on to other things. The Amazing Son-in-Law graduates from podiatry school this coming weekend - huge kudos due there! And our curly-haired brunette is packing to leave for Japan next week. And the rest of us are busy with summer chores and summer jobs. I'm missing Tom and Nate.
But egg production is up.
No, the hens will not be roaming free in the yard anytime soon. Eggs cannot not atone for their sins. I think I'm finally beginning to comprehend the depth of their depravity. Despite their fabulous good looks.
It amazes me each spring how suddenly the landscape goes from having sort of a chartreuse haze, to everything being fully leafed out. A few weeks ago, I could look through the swelling twigs of the trees to the pasture behind the barn. Today, there is an opaque green curtain around the back yard. Already, the front field needs to be mowed and the first crop of hay harvested. We are eating fresh asparagus, and berries are fast ripening in the strawberry boxes.
I am not a great landscape gardener. I don't know a lot about plants for the yard - sun and water requirements, growing heights, bloom times, etc. Plus, I have an amazing knack for killing things. So, my first choice for bedding plants are those plants that other people regard as rather weedy. You know, the kinds of plants that are prone to take over the flower bed, that you have to always be thinning out and throwing away. The kinds of plants that can only be killed by highly toxic chemicals and voodoo. Also, I don't have a budget for purchasing flowers and such (they are SO expensive), so I'm a big fan of whatever my green-thumb friends are giving away. Thankfully, I know some awesome gardeners who grow plants so successfully that they are often willing to pass along the abundant fruits of their labors.
When we first built this house in the hay field and it stood naked on the hilltop with no trees or bushes or flowers to clothe it, my husband commented that he didn't want a bunch of poufy flowers stuck all around the foundation of the house - as he described it, he didn't want the house to look like it was sitting in "a cloud of flowers." We like green and grass and open lawn - which is a good thing, because we live in a hay field, surrounded by LOTS of green and grass and open space!
However, as friends began sharing their bulbs and switches from their shrubs, it became increasingly difficult to plant these treasures far away from the safety of the house. You know what happens to a small, lonely plant standing sentinel on the edge of a hay field, don't you? It gets mowed. Or weed-eated. Or trampled by a horse or a large child chasing a ball. I planted a few things out there, in the unprotected green space. Two crepe myrtles are recovering nicely now, after having been whacked off at ground level their first year. The canna lilies, they didn't make it. Nor the blueberries. Nor the little dogwood.
Feeling rather guilty, I began sticking things in the ground nearer to shelter. Daylilies by the front steps. Echinacea and daisies along the edge of the front porch. A patch of irises here and there. Not right up next to the house - I wanted at least a mower's width behind them, to make yard work easier - but, yeah, around the house.
One of the wonderful things about daylilies and echinacea and daisies and irises and such is that they don't die when I plant them! And, they spread quickly. I love walking around the house and enjoying all the colors and smells. Already, we have golden, purple, and blue irises, hot pink azaleas, white daisies, pink roses. The echinacea is forming buds, and the blackberry lilies and hibiscus are growing vigorously. Dead-heading the flowers is soothing daily therapy for me. I enjoy doing the "trim mowing" around my plants with the push mower - guess it's kind of like a mother protecting her children. I like to have my hands in the dirt.
Thankfully, Steve is pleased with the results, too. He commented yesterday how much he liked all the color around the house this time of year. It really is nice, after the dull gray of winter.
And besides, there's still lots of wide open green if we need eye relief...
This week, with the last of the exams behind us and final grades submitted, we begin the process of shifting gears from the school term to summer break.
I really clean my house only two times a year - once in the spring, after school is over, and once in the fall, after a hard freeze kills the spiders outside. Yeah, twice a year. I know that sounds pretty disgusting, but I've learned to survive the mess.
This morning, the kids and I began mapping out the spring cleaning. Today - we tackle the kitchen countertops, the glove and hat bin in the laundry room, and the porch. If today is incredibly productive, tomorrow we can perhaps deal with the cobwebs in the den, bookshelves, and a few windows. Exciting life we lead, here on the farm!
Even with the traditional school's-over-so-we-can-finally-clean routine, this is a weird spring. For the first time since moving to Obion County, we don't have a garden. Mr. Bubby, my white-haired neighbor from a couple of miles down the road, didn't make his usual rounds with the tiller. Which is probably a good thing. I worried about him toodling up and down the highway on his little tractor - drivers out here are crazy, and there have been so many awful wrecks on Highway 21. We have asparagus and the strawberry beds, and Ben scratched up a few mounds for canteloupe, but I'm really going to miss the Granny Mattie beans.
Nate asked this morning what we were going to do with all our time this summer, without a garden to work in. Don't worry Nate - I've got plans! Plans like cleaning out the junk room, and maybe the attic. Writing. Visiting the grandbaby. Yep, I imagine summer will fly by like it usually does!
Except that these last three days have positively dragged past, like an inebriated sloth. Tom left Sunday for boot camp, and I've had a stomach ache ever since. Eighty-seven days to go...
Looks like it will be one of those seasons when the days pass slowly, but the months fly by. Already, I am eager for August.
Braxton-Hicks contractions, then the real deal. The knife edge I-can't-do-this-anymore! of transition. At long last, delivery, and you hold in your hands a brand new soul.
When you think the pain of labor is over, yet another wave of breath-arresting, gut-knotting pressure. The placenta delivers.
Then, when you are quite certain the discomfort of labor and delivery are consigned to the past, to fuzzy-edged memories to be recalled in childbirth stories, here come those contractions again, every time you nurse your new baby. Breathe in, breathe out... Lamaze breathing is a reflex, enabling you to relax despite the spasms in your lower abdomen. Allowing you to over-ride the pain, to let down your milk so that you can nourish this new life.
My oldest children are young adults, one with a daughter of her own. My youngest is entering high school next fall.
And still, there are the long, low contractions.
No longer sharp - dulled now by the years - and yet, again, I find myself fighting the reflex to tense up, double over, fight against the pressure in my belly. Breathe in, breathe out...relax.
The thick, pulsing rope that carried blood and oxygen and waste, that tore away the life-lining knit into my womb, it shriveled and was cast aside long ago.
But the cord that carried soul and spirit, a will to live, the hunger to see and hear and stretch and know, to stand upright and breathe - breathe in, breathe out - that cord, no knife severs. The years have tugged it, pulled it over milestones, and stretched it like phone cord across states and continents.
This dull ache in my belly reminds me anew what a tremendous privilege it is to be the mother of an eternal soul. I am so very thankful for the gift of this calling.
Breathe in, breathe out...it's the rhythm of a mother's prayer.
In the song "Beautiful Boy," composed for his second son, John Lennon sings these words: "Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans."
Can you relate? You've made plans. You've got a long To-Do list and you're ready to start checking things off. Then, life interrupts.
That's kinda how my day went yesterday.
I had too many things to possibly get done, but I was determined to make it as far down my list as possible.
Item 1: Try, for the umpteenth time, to order a return transcript from the IRS for our 2012 taxes. I've made numerous phone calls, spent over 6 hours on hold, and received a creative assortment of disparate information from the IRS over the past couple of months concerning our 2012 return. Yesterday, still no success. Move that item to tomorrow's To-Do list.
Item 2: Complete two writing projects, both of which are dependent upon input from other people. Project #1, my partner is still working on his part of the project, which was due last week, but promises me he'll have it done by the end of this week. Project #2, my partner is not responding to emails. Move both of these items to tomorrow's To-Do list.
Item 3: Mow the yard. Mower won't start. Ben and I spend a considerable amount of time trying to diagnose the problem and get the mower started, but with no success. Move mowing to tomorrow's To-Do list.
Item 4: Finish reading some of the books I'm reviewing. Picked up the book I was nearest completing, sat down on the couch and began reading. Read myself to sleep. When I woke up, I did finish this first book, but decided I'd better wait to tackle the others until I was more alert. Move "finishing books" to tomorrow's To-Do list.
I could go on with my fractured To-Do list, but you get the idea.
However, in spite of the above (and other) frustrated efforts, I did manage to do schoolwork with Helen, get a card in the mail to a friend, reschedule an eye appointment, wash my bed linens, write on the blog, cook dinner, and take a leisurely afternoon walk back on the farm. Even waded in the creek with Helen.
In spite of my plans, life happened. And it was pretty good.
Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the LORD your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you...Do not fear or be dismayed. - Deuteronomy 31:6, 8b
If you've read this blog for very long, you've probably picked up on the fact that fear is something I struggle with. Timidity. Fear of man. Hesitancy. A propensity for way over-analyzing things. Reluctance to just jump in and enter the fray.
My son and I were talking this past weekend about fear within the church, about a lack of courage that inhibits us from jumping into the fray of modern life. My son recently completed a degree in biology at a secular university. He described his tenure in the sacred halls of organic evolution as a trial by fire. He walked into this profane temple with his eyes wide open, willing to hear out the secular priests, ready to engage and to dialogue. He described his four years in the biology department as grueling, as mentally and emotionally and spiritually exhausting.
He is tired after four years of secular university, but he is also stronger. And, he is zealous to let the world know - and the church in particular - that God is quite equal to the challenge of facing down false gods. Even professional scientists realize that the foundations of evolutionism are crumbling away, and they are scrambling to find something else to explain the natural world - something else, anything but God - before the rest of us witness the crash of their temple. Meanwhile, many of us in the church are so afraid that the doctrine of evolution (or whatever is the current explanation of life put out by the scientific community) will unravel our faith, will render God an inadequate and unnecessary myth, that we don't even engage.
We're like children, frightened by a bad dream, cringing in our beds with our eyes tightly closed, almost too afraid to even breathe.
We lie paralyzed in the darkness, terrified that if we even think about the bogeyman, he might sneak up and bite us. With our blankets pulled up over our heads, we chant silently to ourselves, "I'm not afraid! I'm not afraid!"
But we are afraid. Afraid because we think our adversary may be right, may be too big, too strong.
My biologist son is also an artist. Here, too, he finds that, largely, the church has abdicated its voice and influence. Geoff Stevens writes in the May 2013 issue of Tabletalk: "As Christians, we see so many things in the art world that repel us that we're left wondering if perhaps the problem is inherent in the emotional and subjective nature of art itself. Some may even ask: Should we care about artists and their work at all?"
Oh, how we need to know better the God who saves us! To know His power and wisdom and majesty and sovereignty and justice and holiness! In the beginning, God... This is His world, we are His creatures, and He is more than able to answer our questions, meet our needs, and face our fears. God Himself enables and empowers us to, as Stevens puts it, "thoughtfully interact with our culture as it gropes in the dark for answers."
We don't have to cower in our pews, afraid of the scientists and artists and politicians and philosophers of our day. No, we can sit across the table from them, look them calmly in the eyes and ask, "Tell me what you're thinking. Can we talk about this?"
It is time to open our eyes, stand up on our feet, walk across this dark room, and turn on the light.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God...In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. - John 1:1, 4-5