Pennies

I went to such an interesting play last week. Called “Mary & Joseph: A Bible Story,” it played at the Idiom Theater in downtown Bellingham, so I knew it wasn’t going to be the sweetly sad story from the gospel of Luke.

The play opens in Mary and Joseph’s dingy apartment – they’ve just become engaged and moved in together. Mary has a vision in which the angel Gabriel tells her she’s going to give birth to the son of God. She shares this with her boyfriend, who flips out because he’s had a vasectomy at her request. So clearly she’s been cheating.

So the play goes on, the couple struggles. CPS intervenes and commits Mary to the care of Dr.  Herod who tries to seize the child for its own wellbeing, as Mary, who still insists that this child is God’s son, is clearly not fit to be a mother.

All of the characters begin the play as atheists (as is the writer). Mary says at one point after she’s come to believe that she really is carrying the Son of God, “I spent so much time hating something that I  thought didn’t exist.”

Joseph says to his dealer [paraphrase]: “There’s 7 billion people in the world. God can’t keep track of all those people. That’s like a guy having $70 million. You could lose one or two million dollars and not even notice. No one notices all those pennies.”

The dealer replies: “God ONLY sees the the pennies.”  Worthless items that weigh our pockets down, that the government is always considering eliminating. Things no one wants.

I prefer to find my truths in clearly labeled boxes, not scattered around the streets of Bellingham.  But I’m thankful that God can use anything–even an atheist’s words–to impart the Truth.

 

Harvest Time

Ok, so you can probably tell from the title that this post has been languishing for quite a while.

When I started this post in Word, the first paragraph was true. However, then my computer deleted it (seriously, when I opened the Word doc the lines of text deleted themselves before my very eyes as I pounded frantically on the keyboard.  Then my wonderful laptop autosaved the “revision.”

I finally remembered I’d copied it as a draft in WordPress, so all was not lost. Then I went away for two weeks. And then, really, most of the reason for the delay, I was just incredibly lazy.


 

 

pumpkins

It’s harvest time here; the pumpkins, gourds and apples are out but the air is still, today at least, summery and warm. Growing up, harvest was a nearly-magical time – not quite as beautiful as winter with its sparkling snow or spring with sticky baby leaves unfurling on the trees, but a warm, orange, spicy beautiful season.  Harvest time meant glowing stands of aspen popping out on the hillsides amidst the lodgepole pines. The energy in the air was high – school was fresh and not yet tiresome. Workbooks were new and crisp, peechees uncreased, and crayons and pencils still long and sharp.

At home on the orchard the days were long. “Straddle” trucks came and deposited rows and rows of wooden bins, and canvas picking bags were retrieved and laid out. The fieldman from the warehouse cooperative came nearly every day to test the sugars to see if the apples were ready for picking.  Single Mexican men were hired by the dozen, ready to be called into action and Dad waited for the day the fieldman said “go.” Once picking started, the air rang with musical Spanish shouted from row to row in the laden orchard. Sometimes one of the men burst into song, exotic and romantic sounding to my little Anglo ears. At night, mariachi and Mexican pop music blared into the late darkness.

apples_bin

Cider apples

The warm fall air was spicy with ripe fruit as the occasional apple fell from the tree or was tossed, rejected for size or bruising, by a picker. Trucks and tractors filled with heaped apple bins came and went between orchard and warehouse all day, all week, as long as there was light to see by. We girls were careful to stay well back from the straddle trucks, as we’d heard of people getting their feet and arms squished as the two sides of the truck trailer frame came together around the full apple bins.

Ciderpressing_grinding

Grinding the apples

Later, we might gather up the apples from the ground under the trees and haul out grandpa’s old cider press and some plastic jugs.  This became an end-of-harvest tradition for many years.

Ciderpressing

Pressing the ground up fruit.

It’s no coincidence that Thanksgiving shows up right after Harvest time. Gathering your goods around you – jars of peaches, jams, tomato sauce, – maybe you’re more ambitious and do your own jerky and hams; perhaps you have a cellar full of root vegetables cozied up in bushel baskets (I always wanted a root cellar full of bushel baskets).

 

tomatoes and basil When I had a garden...

Either way, gathering your harvest together makes you realize you have a lot for which to be thankful.

So, a late Happy Thanksgiving to all of you and a blessed Christmas season.

Writer’s Block? Not Me!

Old fashioned typewriter.

The writing prompt this week is “Writer’s Block.” This is the first time I’ve posted in the group. Ironic. Writer’s Block is not exactly my problem. I can write all day long in my head. Canada Geese arrowed overhead, darkly silhouetted against the dove-grey twilight sky, I noted as I went for a walk this evening. The pavement glistened darkly in the rain, reflecting golden streetlights, I added in my head.  I saw a man in the Safeway parking lot getting out of his vehicle.  A half-inch of ash quivered at the end of the cigarette that dangled from his slightly open mouth, seemingly just stuck to his lip as damp paper is wont to do. How did it not fall? I wondered. Sounds like a line by Raymond Chandler. I can even edit in my head. But what I write is sentences, not stories, not essays. The thoughts never fully form themselves into anything coherent.  Sometimes there’s an opening, a beginning. Sometimes there’s a sort of middle where the words carry on for a while and ideas form. But there’s rarely an ending, a resolution.  I just get tired and stop. Then I run a word count and find only 300 words on the page.

My real problem is Writer’s Discipline. Of which I have not a shred. When I sit down at the laptop with an idea, it’s not too many minutes before I see a chore that needs attended to immediately. Facebook isn’t going to look at itself, people.  Recipes and craft project ideas aren’t going to pin themselves. Eventually, even washing the dishes appears to be extremely urgent.  The couch calls. I need to go for a walk. I need to organize my shoes. I need to shop for new shoes. It’s fall – I need new fall outfits. What’s on sale on Amazon today?

I saw a pin just today that said “Write until it becomes as natural as breathing. Write until not writing makes you anxious.” I pinned it to my “Write like no one’s reading” board. Something I did write earlier this year was a confident assertion that I did not plan to live my life filled with fear, but I fear that’s what my lack of discipline actually is. If I never get around to writing anything, I’ll never find out I’m a terrible writer. There will always be something to hope toward, always something to look forward to–someday–“someday” is a running joke in my family; it was what my dad always said: Someday, I’ll build you girls a playhouse. Someday I’ll get that roof fixed. Someday I’ll get those old cars out of the yard. And someday, I will start writing.

Homeless, Homeless

And we are homeless, homeless
Moonlight sleeping on a midnight lake

Sometimes the Paul Simon lyrics echo through my head for no reason. The song has absolutely nothing to do with me and my life but in my dramatic moments, the refrain “homeless” sticks.

There has only been one real lasting effect of the whole divorce episode. I feel homeless. I lost a husband, and then a few years later, he took my house. I miss the house. It was just a little home, 840 square feet, with any of its 1939 charm renovated out of it, but it wrapped its four walls around me and held me close and kept me safe during the hard days. It had a garden and lavender, rosemary, and bay laurel bushes that grew tall and strong, even neglected.

My childhood home, as it looked before it was demolished.

My childhood home, as it looked before it was demolished.

The home I grew up in was demolished a couple years ago, just a pile of rotted lumber now. The yard is overgrown and the tree with the swing is half dead. I used to read books about people returning to their childhood homes, inheriting their childhood homes – I knew even as a kid that that wouldn’t happen, but I somehow always hoped that the land would be there –the sunny sagebrush covered hills dotted with wildflowers.

OldHitchnerHouse

My cousin Drew stands on the floor of the old garage. The house used to be where the pile of rubble is now. The tree next to the rubble used to have a rope swing on it.    (Photo by Jut Hale – thanks for letting me borrow it!)

Today, Okanogan County is burning down. The news reports say that 150 – 200 homes have burned to the ground. Up to 200 families homeless.

Homeless. 

If home is where the ones who love you are, then where is home for those like me, or for the widows and widowers? Is it my funny little apartment with the vintage kitchen and my cat? Sure, that works, but the cat and the apartment could be anywhere. There’s no more reason to live in Lynden as there is to live in Seattle, or Boise, or Okanogan, or London. The people I love are strewn across the Pacific Northwest, and truly the people are more important than the hills and the sunshine.  I feel just as at home in Lynden as I do in Okanogan, which is to say, I feel at home everywhere, and nowhere.

Homeless, homeless.

I guess if I want to drag a spiritual application into this and Jesus juke myself, I would remember that Matthew 8:19-22 says that the Son of Man (that’d be Jesus in all his humble humanity) didn’t have a home or anywhere to lie down to call his own, surrounded by all His comfortably and familiar possessions. But the Son of Man had a high and holy purpose to His life and it’s somehow easier to not sweat the small things when you can see your purpose.

Perhaps if I were only more spiritual I would sing full of feeling like Building 429:

All I know is I’m not home yet
This is not where I belong
Take this world and give me Jesus
This is not where I belong

But nope, this world is very definitely my home for as long as God lets me be here. I like the things that make me feel at home. I live in a town small enough than when I go for a walk, I’m assured of running into at least two people I know.  Last time, it was four friends and neighbors. Sometimes I avoid Safeway after work because I’m just too tired to talk to people.

And let’s be honest, there’s some envy here. Being a homeowner, having an actual home, confers a certain status in this society. Once you’ve bought a home, you’ve made it. No one has to know that you’re living paycheck to paycheck when you can paint your walls any color you want and have as many pets as you like without incurring the wrath of a landlord and risking your damage deposit. It’s the American Dream.

May I take this opportunity to remind you, and myself, that in our last visit I rattled on about reframing my own narrative, so home will just be wherever I am at the moment. And I will work hard at believing that.

Once Upon A Time, I Agreed

Once upon a time written in an old book

Well, so this whole WordPress platform was supposed to make me disciplined about Writing Things. And joining that Christian women writer’s group was supposed to make me want to Write More Things. Because, saving face. And commitment. And stuff. However, that is clearly not the case. WordPress has been neglected for two months, and I think I will get kicked out of the group if I don’t write something for the prompt.

In a weak defense, I have been moving and have been without internet for nearly two weeks. And I can’t write anything longer than Facebook snark on my phone. 


 It is now less than a year until I turn forty. Forty – that effingest of all eff words, hissing and clunky with none of the sleek glide of “twenty” or the musical trill of “thirty.” Nothing graceful about it. Forty. By forty, I was supposed to be married and happily staying at home chasing after a handful of kids entering middle school or even high school, a homeowner, a dog owner, wife to a Godly man, blessings abounding.

Instead, I have a cat, a vintage apartment, an ex-husband, three nephews, and job in a dying industry. I have complete freedom and no encumbrances and just enough education to know that I can write my own narrative, and just enough experience to know how hard that is.

I have a friend who often feels the weight of the past; who knows that no matter how fabulous life is from this moment forward, the chance for the fairy tale is over. The fairy tale allows only purity and light and does not allow for prior failures. But the failures, the tragedies, the enormous errors of judgment – this is where the stories of the world come from. Those who live the fairy tale have no stories to tell; all they can do is look out their castle (or new craftsman-style) windows at the world going by; they have no stories of grace, they don’t laugh through their tears and cry through their laughter.  I tell my friend that we are the ones with the nearly unbelievable stories of neglect, abuse, mistresses, divorce, despair, grace, faith, and finally, hope. The charmed have no such redemption stories.

So forty doesn’t look the way I thought it would and yet I am the only one who gets to say what it should look like, and I have determined that it will look beautiful. I have the opportunity every day to shape my own narrative, to reframe the story I tell myself, the way I live my life.   

It’s tempting to let other people define oneself, and I allowed that for a long time. I grew up around many, many people who had a tendency to state their own opinions followed by the phrase “don’t you agree?” Of course, being a shy child, I always agreed and eventually, I suppose, this informed people’s opinion of me as an agreeable child. But worse, I began to believe my own agreeances.  Oh,yes, I agree that when I’m a teenager I’ll want to put curlers in my hair so I’ll be pretty. Oh, yes, I agree that college papers won’t seem as important once I’m married and have kids. Oh, yes, I agree that I’ll definitely want kids and a husband some day and will want to stay home and cook and clean and take care of everyone Oh, yes, I agree!

Needless to say, I no longer agree; in fact, I disagree just to disagree, often. There are few things so boring as a group of smug, self-satisfied people sitting around agreeing with each other.  Although it does depend on the group of people. Some do not invite disagreement; they only “discuss” when they can be assured of agreement or, at least, lack of argument.

Maybe one reason we don’t take stronger stands is that we want to save face and not appear wishy-washy if we change our minds?  One of my favorite quotes is part of Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself. In fact, my copy of Leaves of Grass opens to this page: “Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself, (I am large; I contain multitudes.)” The stories of each of us can be anything we want it to be, and it doesn’t have to be the same day to day.

Tomorrow I might go back to being inadequate but for today, the story is a good one. 

 

Some little known facts about my mom:

MomMel.jpg

It’s been just over 10 years that she’s been gone. She’d be nearly 72 now.

She loved John Phillip Sousa’s marches and Steven King’s novels.

She liked the Amityville Horror and let me read it in 3rd grade.

She was addicted to playing Lode Runner and would have loved Facebook and Candy Crush.

She listened to Rush Limbaugh and loved political conspiracy theories. She once said I was a “flaming liberal.”

Her fashion sense stopped in the 60’s, but what she had was great. When I was little her closet floor was littered with stilettos, the height of fashion in my memory. Her tastes evolved from the wildly patterned geometrics of the 60s to the wildly patterned florals of the 80s. She wore her cat-eye sunglasses until they broke sometime in the 90s.

She was relentlessly cheerful, either a master at putting up a good front or really able to see the best in every situation. Shortly after her cancer had recurred and right after I met Jesus, she wrote in a never-sent letter to a friend, “life can’t get much better.”

I don’t know what she wanted out of life because I never asked.

I wish I’d gotten to know her as an adult.

I wish we could talk over coffee now that I’ve learned to be honest and not such a brat.

Someone who hasn’t known me very long asked me if I was going to see my mom this weekend; when I do see her again, I won’t be coming back to tell about it, but I know she’ll have lots of things to tell me then.

Enough!

Fear has been on my mind a lot lately.  This whole blog thing is effort in the face of fear. But even though I write and shout about living fearlessly, being unafraid, fear still lurks in the background.  But every now and then, there’s a moment of triumph, a moment where two or three of us fearful ones have a bold feeling at the same time. Where two or three of us speak out against the fear that threatens to consume our days and destroy our nights, where we can say “Enough!”

Image

We are tired of living in fear. We are tired of living with insecurity. We are tired of not enough:

Not rich enough. Not rich at all.

Not pretty enough, or at all.

Not thin enough, or at all.

This right here. This writing is not good enough. This post is not enough. Who do I think I am, anyway?

The only enoughs that matter are these:

We are loved enough.

We are free enough.

And my Audience of one doesn’t mind if I am not enough of any of these. He loves me anyway.

We are loved by God who has set us free. He’s freed us from sin, death and hell. His atonement on the cross freed my soul from an eternity away from him in Hell and his love freed me to be who He created me to be.

I want to let go of the self consciousness a lifetime of rule-following has engendered because I am free! I am free to worship Him the way He moves me to. I am free to offer my gift to Him in the way He moves me to.  

I am free to run, to dance, to sing.  I am free to live without judgment and without judging (or at least, without hating).  And yes, it’s easy to feel free and boast of my freedom when the sun is shining, the temperature is reaching for 75 and everything’s under control at work. I know that I’ll inevitably run back to the shelter of the cave, to the chains of my comfortable rules where everything is safe and familiar, and to my own crankiness.

Image

Matthew 6 in the Message says “Look at the birds, free and unfettered, not tied down to a job description, careless in the hand of God. And you count far more to him than birds.” God is my provider. That doesn’t mean that I get to quit my job and live in “freedom” but it does mean I don’t need to fret about my day-to-day, because He’s got it covered. I am free daily of the mistakes of yesterday, because His mercies and compassions are new every morning! (Lamentations 3:22-23) I don’t need to drag yesterday around like an anchor, preventing myself from having an amazing today.

2014 Women’s Retreat – Loving God – Session #2

This past weekend was our women’s retreat where I presented a small group presentation. The topic of the weekend was “Called to Love.”   The below is my presentation on “Loving God.”


Loving God

I’ve really been struggling with this topic. I keep having to remind myself that I’m not talking about “God’s Love for Us” but MY love for God. God’s love for us is amazing to talk about – it’s awesome, enormous, unconditional, mind-blowing—any superlative you can think of.  But my love for God—that’s harder to talk about and to define. What does it look like?  Does it even exist—my love for him, I mean? Sometimes I wonder. As I looked into and thought about this topic over the past several months, I realized the impossibility of this task.  I know you all came in here expecting definitive answers and knowing that I above all am the one to provide them (HA!!!)   The topic “Loving God” is beyond enormous and it can be approached from so many different ways – it’s like the tale of the Blind Men and the Elephant:

Image

Six blind men were asked to determine what an elephant looked like by feeling different parts of the elephant’s body. The blind man who feels a leg says the elephant is like a pillar; the one who feels the tail says the elephant is like a rope; the one who feels the trunk says the elephant is like a snake; the one who feels the ear says the elephant is like a hand fan; the one who feels the belly says the elephant is like a wall; and the one who feels the tusk says the elephant is like a spear.

 A sighted man explains to them:

All of you are right. The reason every one of you is telling it differently is because each one of you touched the different part of the elephant. So, actually the elephant has all the features you mentioned.

So it is with loving God;  each of us has hold of a different part of it, based on our own experiences, background and where we’re at in our growth.  That’s what so exciting about retreats and gatherings like this – it’s amazing to see  all kinds of women come together and sharing their experiences and ideas in such a warm environment. So please keep in mind that there’s little likelihood that what I have to say about Loving God will fall in exactly with the way that you love God.  So I hope that most of this time will be spent in discussion, sharing ideas with each other. My thoughts on my part of the elephant: The Romance of Grace A friend of a friend wrote a book called “The Romance of Grace.” In it, he talks about the difference between legalism and grace which he describes as being in love.

“Picture God as a man who is ravaged by love for a woman. Such a man’s first thought is not, ‘How can I get this woman to be more practical and virtuous?’ His main thought is, “How can I get this woman to fall in love with me?’ God doesn’t primarily want our morals; He wants us to fall in love with Him. Love for God, is, after all, the main commandment in which all the others find their roots. Morals were important enough to send Jesus to the cross, but we are the joy for which He endured the shame….His deepest objective isn’t to make us more moral [make us follow the rules and behave ourselves]; it is to get us to love Him back. Virtue is the fruit, not the root.”

Under grace, we fall in love with the Lord. We do the things that we know please him because we want to, and we want to because we love Him. But if we slip up, make a mistake, fall down hard, struggle to get back up – he doesn’t reject us. He doesn’t send us away. He doesn’t even ground us.  He actually leans down and picks us up and helps us get back on our feet like the children we are. If your child fell, would you punish him or her for falling? Or would you go to them, reach out for them, and lift them up? Even if they were all muddy and disgusting? Of course you would. Legalism says the opposite. Legalism says that we have to follow the rules in order to show God we love Him. Image Legalism says I’m so afraid of losing the One who loves me and whom I love that I have to be on my best behavior at all times so I don’t drive Him away. I have to follow the rules (and then, when I don’t find enough—ten isn’t many really and after all, some of them aren’t that hard to keep on a day-to-day basis, on the literal level at least—murder, adultery; so then I’ll invent new ones of my own:  waist length hair, floor length skirts, no television, no internet, no Facebook, no movies, no nothing on Sundays, etc. But unless it truly, truly brings us joy to not do those things, and unless we’re truly, truly doing those works for the Lord—all we’re doing is trying to make ourselves feel better, to try to curry His favor.

I’ve heard too many women and girls living in fear in their relationship; they do nice things for their spouse/boyfriend because they’re afraid of losing him if they don’t do those things, whether it’s laundry, dinner or sex. But there is no fear in love:  1 John 4:18 “Perfect love casts out all fear.” So I think I’ve satisfied myself, in my own mind at least, that “loving God” is not the same as “following the rules.” So what does loving God look like?

Knowing God – the prerequisite

Before you can love someone, you have to know them. I have a friend who likes to say that salvation is like meeting someone in person after reading about them in a book. You might have an enormous book about me telling all about my life, my, friends, family, etc. But until you meet me, you’ll never actually know me. A book doesn’t contain the multitude of nuances, of personality, of humanity that people are. Then when you meet me, only then can you say “Oh, yes, I know Melody.” When I met the Lord at the time of salvation, I shook His hand, then dodged back and tried to stay out of sight. I was shy; I didn’t know how to “BE” around Him. I didn’t get a clear picture of Him from reading about Him or from hearing about Him and I was afraid. I knew I’d broken the rules, I knew I didn’t have a desire to keep the rules, and I just didn’t know how to act. It’s like going to the home of someone you don’t know very well.  Are you supposed to take your shoes off? Is it OK to put your elbows on the table here? I grew up with an image of God who was a God of fear – very Old Testament, vengeful and capricious, who went around smiting people (ZAP! KAPOW! ZOT!) when they broke the rules.

ImageI spent the first half of my life after salvation following not so much the Lord Himself as the Church.  I did what my parents said, I did what the Church said (with occasional flashes of rebellion). I appeared maybe to be following Jesus, but in reality, I was just going where other people told me to go. It wasn’t until years later when events occurred that forced me to strip away all image, pretense and bare my soul before Him that I really got to know God, that I was able to come into his living room and put my feet up on the coffee table that I could even begin to think about actively loving Him. I started actually liking Him!

Ways of loving God/Showing our love to Him

God hasn’t asked a whole lot of us. These are some of the things He has asked:

That we follow Him

Matt 4:19 “Come, follow me,” Jesus said…at once they left their nets and followed him. That we worship him Matt 4:9 “Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him.” John 4:23-24 “Worship in Spirit and in Truth” Oswald Chambers says “Worship is giving God the best He has given you.” We’re to give to God the first and the best of everything we do.

That we listen to him


Matthew 17:5 “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!” Women (maybe more than men) really want to be heard. Part of feeling loved is when your someone takes the time to listen to you, to hear your words, and to really try to understand what you’re feeling. All too often, it’s in a conversation that the other person is just waiting for their turn to speak instead of actually listening. Worse still is the person who waits their turn to speak and then opens with “That’s nothing, one time I…” and then proceeds with a tale of their exploits to which you’re expected to listen. Either way, they didn’t listen to you; they didn’t hear—really, really HEAR you. You leave those conversations feeling devalued and unloved. When we talk to God through prayer, we have to leave time for Him to answer. There has to be quietness at some point so He can talk back to us. Also, we need to become familiar enough with his voice so e can recognize it (and not fall for false prophets, lying communications).

That we serve and obey Him

Joshua 24:14 “Now fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your ancestors worshiped beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. Matthew 4:10 Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’” Matthew 6:24 “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.

Serve Him by obeying His commandments in His word

1 John 5:3-4 “…this is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world.” And what are God’s commandments? Mark 12:28 – 31 answers that question: “One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?” “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” (NIV) God gave us these commands in scripture, but he doesn’t tell us how to fulfill them – that, he leaves up to us (he did say “with all your mind” after all).

[this blog has a good discussion of the heart/soul/mind/strength distinctions (scroll partway down page to get to the blog posts for each)]

Serve Him by obeying His personal commandments

So He’s given us certain commands as a group in his word; do you think He also gives us certain special commands, just for us? I’ve recently become convinced that when I have a recurring thought or desire to do something, I should pay attention because it’s probably the Lord. The Lord speaks to each of us differently; one of the ways He speaks to me is by nudging or leaning on me – it’s as though I feel a physical pressure pushing me in a certain direction. For much of my life I’ve talked myself out of these nudges – they seemed too outside the box; I just didn’t have experience responding and I gave in to the fear. I think what many of us call a “personal conviction” is one of these private commands from the Lord. If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.” James 4:17. Note it says a sin “for them.”  Not for me, nor for you, but for the person to whom the conviction to do good has been given. Serve Him by exercising the gifts and natural talents He’s given you 1 Peter 4:20 “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.”

“The believer’s ministry is being Christ’s person right where he or she is, in the marketplace or in the home, every minute of every day. This is part of the everyday business of holiness. This is the very nature of loving God.” (Chuck Colson, Loving God)

Whether you have an amazing opportunity to serve in a mission, or whether you just have the opportunity to go to work every day and be someone’s parent, friend, or neighbor, you have a skill, a talent, and a heart that God gave you to use in life.


Discussion and Reflection:

Take 10 – 15 minutes to think about and answer the following questions.  Can you share your answers to a couple of them?

1. List some ways we can worship God.

2. List some ways we can listen to God:

3. Which is harder for you, listening to God, or talking to Him?

4. List some ways we can serve God:

5. “Love the Lord your God with all your ____________ and with all your ____________ and with all your ____________  and with all your ______________.” Mark 12:30
What does this mean to you? How can you go about living out this verse?

6. Has God given you any personal convictions? Have you had to try to obey them while dealing with other people not understanding your conviction?

7. “Virtue Is the root, not the fruit.” What does this mean to you?

8. List some of your gifts and natural talents. How can you love God with those?

9. Describe a time when you were awe-struck by God’s glory.

10. Do you remember when you first “got it?”  When you first realized you loved God with all your heart, soul, and mind? 11. “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing.” Annie Dillard. What am I doing or what can I be doing with my hours and minutes to glorify God as I’m at work, shopping, eating, playing, hiking, watching TV, drinking coffee, etc?

12. What kind of baggage do you carry around with you in your life? What hinders you from receiving God’s love and from loving others?  (things from your past, the way you were raised, criticism, etc).

13. “How would my life change if I actually thought of each person I came into contact with as Christ – the person driving painfully slow in front of me, the checker at the grocery store who seems more interested in chatting than ringing up my items, the member of my own family with whom I can’t seem to have a conversation and not get annoyed?”   How would you answer that question?

14. What part of the “Loving God” elephant do you have a good grasp of? (that is, how is it easiest for you to express love for Him?  Do you feel like you need to “work on” other ways?

The Thing Itself: On the Search for Authenticity by Richard Todd

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Tears. Tears are real, always. Right?

Seeing the wailing relatives of the missing Malaysian flight, the neglected and abandoned Syrian refugee children, the Ukrainians, the Venezuelans, and any number of other world pain sites make me well up. My breath catches; my heart aches. Secretly, part of me enjoys it, is relieved by it—pain and sorrow are real.  I can feel; I’ve not taken too much of the morphine of Facebook, endless TV reruns, on-demand movies, a large screen, a medium screen, and two small screens shouting at me all day long, feeding me images, sound, entertainment, news. The tears say “I’m still here. THIS, if nothing else, is REAL.”

Unfortunately, Todd says no, it’s not. These tears are a just a simulation of the emotion we no longer feel much of.  He says “Tears have become part of the currency of meaning in public life. They are a convenient language of validation. He’s crying: he must really be sincere.”

My wet eyes reflect the tragedy on the screen; the tragedy that I am removed from by a globe, a country, miles, or circumstances. But still, I feel. Therefore, I am not blind or deaf or dumb.  I’ve modified Descartes’ cogito, ergo sum to “I feel; therefore, I am.” Todd goes on “They are treacherous things, these tears. Because they are not about what they seem to be about. These are not expressions of feelings, but self-congratulation on the fact of having feelings. They celebrate feeling anything at all.” I would quote his next line about these tears being to emotion as derivatives are to the stock market, but he lost me at “derivatives.”

I don’t know if he’s right. I certainly agree with him that the tears tend to celebrate feeling anything at all. But while he sees that as just another descent down the long road we’re on—from Truth down to—what? I see it as at least, a pause on the slide. So what if they celebrate any feeling at all? At least he and I are not so far down this road that we are amused by these fools who get themselves crashed in planes, buried by earthquakes, killed by HIV or whatever.  At least these circumstances still break our hearts. It’s  a start. But what next? Does this drive me to do something? Or is it truly just entertainment? When I am done being heartbroken will I just change the channel?

Why is it so easy to just change the channel in real life (there’s that word again. Real.).

“I think that we may feel real in direct proportion to the reality that we can grant to others.” (Margaret Bullitt-Jonas, quoted by Todd).

If other people become as real to me as I am to myself—well, that becomes a problem for me. All of a sudden, I face their pain, their joy, as real as my own, no longer entertainment on the TV. If I can keep their pain at a distance, as through a storyline, edited for dramatic effect, then I don’t need to deal with the pain caused, perhaps, potentially, by my own behavior.

Todd’s book, and these words, this screen, right here—in front of me—in front of you—is no more real than anything else. It’s words arranged in harmonious patterns with very little meaning behind them. It’s a small voice whispering into the void along with millions of other voices; a silhouette alone and yet overrun by crowds. It’s nothing and everything. It’s completely forgettable. But it’s real enough that the thought of clicking “publish” makes me break out in a sweat.  Words are real; they may be only stand-ins for something else, but they’re real enough. They are, at least, a beginning.

——————-

The Thing Itself is one of those books where I am well aware that I’m not grasping even a fourth of what the author has put into it, therefore, this is not a real book review…at best, it’s a chapter review, but what a chapter. This is like a five year old’s book review in comparison to the real thing, but this was such an exciting book. It made me want to think Big Thoughts.

—————–

I’m following this book up with “Under the Banner of Heaven” by Jon Krakauer. It’s making me ask the same question–what then, is real? We are so easily fooled by simulated tears and by imagined revelations. The only answer I came up with today is….God’s word. It’s the only thing I can think of that is real and true and unchanging, where the words themselves have actually been made real, where words created reality instead of the other way around.

To be, undoubtedly, continued….

The Day I Cussed Out God

Operation - Heart

One day, I had enough. And I let God know it. I was standing on a chair replacing a light bulb when the glass light shade fell and exploded around me in a circle.  In my bare feet, in the center of a circle of white glass shards, I couldn’t take it anymore.  Two years of healing from my divorce, of going to counseling, a support group, of trying to believe that God had something amazing in store for me, only to see—nothing.  No more growth, no amazing vistas opening up before me, no God-given opportunities arising. Just a lonely summer, the knowledge that I was going to have to sell my house to my ex husband, and a hundred other little things that didn’t go my way.  But that exploding light cover was the last straw. The tears rolled and I started screaming. Screaming at God, asking when would it be enough? When would it FUCKING be enough? When would He be done with me?  In the midst of my rage, I wondered if He would be upset that I swore at Him. Then I laughed.  As if that was the first time He’d heard me swear. As if I was the first person to pour out my rage on Him. Still gasping through tears, the song “Praise you in this storm ” by Casting Crowns started coming out of my mouth.

And I’ll praise You in this storm
And I will lift my hands
For You are who You are
No matter where I am
And every tear I’ve cried
You hold in Your hand
You never left my side
And though my heart is torn
I will praise You in this storm

Thinking about this makes me laugh in amazement to this day.  The ridiculousness of the scene. If anyone walked by on the sidewalk outside, they could’ve hard the whole thing through the open windows.  My rage over nothing. God’s ironic comfort. What a sense of humor He has.  He probably rolled His eyes and shook His head. Here we go again.

The way someone treats you after a knock-down drag-out fight says a lot about the state of the relationship.  If, after one fight, you no longer speak to each other, the relationship wasn’t very strong in the first place.  If, after the fight, the Lover takes the Beloved in His arms and comforts her, holds her, and never holds the rage against her, that is true, unconditional, Godly love. And the relationship is stronger for it afterward.

That incident gave me a lot of confidence in Him.  His love never wavered. I haven’t sworn at Him since, although, there’s always a next time.