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WHAT did he just say?

28 Sep

Alrighty folks.  I tend to lay low, or relatively low, politically.  I have been prejudged by too many folks in this my-side/your-side political environment that we live in these days based on my political position.  I find that I often don’t love the activists on either side of the aisle, but cling fast to the values of the political party that I claimed as a child.  I am a liberal.  I am not a Republican hating liberal.  I am not an atheist (and as the Seinfeld show would say, “Not that there’s anything wrong with that.”)  I opted to stay home with my children, and forgo a successful career in mortgage banking.  I am not the picture most people like to paint of the liberal community.

Having grown up during a time when the vocabulary regarding the rights of women that we use today was created:  women’s lib., ERA, date rape, glass ceiling, dress for success, girl power, etc. I had always considered myself a feminist.  When I used that term, I meant it to imply that I had the same rights and freedoms as a person born a male.  It meant that I should be able t choose for myself what my life and family would look like.  It did not mean that I hated men, or thought they deserved to be diminished, and it did not mean that I thought women who did not pursue a career outside of the home was ignorant or enslaved.

I don’t get overly vocal about my feminism, because people misunderstand the term and will tend to generalize who I am based on what they presume my political (and religious) beliefs are and what the presume my perspective of men and boys is.  I have found that if people are able to categorize you before they know  you, they will never get to know you.  However, if they discover that you think differently (either religiously or politically) after they get to know you, they tend to be more receptive to actually sharing ideas – not for the purpose of conversion, but for the purpose of understanding one another.

When I do discuss my perspective that women and girls still are a marginalized population, I am often assured that based on the great strides of my mother’s generation (and to some small extent my own), women are essentially free from sexism and discrimination.  I am presented evidence of female construction workers, women practicing high-level medicine and even women in combat.  I agree, that we have indeed seen progress since the time I was born, and certainly since the time my mother was born.  However, progress in and of itself does not represent an accomplished goal.  Women still do not live in an equitable environment, and I would argue that neither do men.  Emma Watson addressed this insanely eloquently in her address before the General Assembly of the United Nations where she identifies the many ways that boys and men face discrimination of a different variety.  It sometimes seems that sexism only exists amongst “feminists” who sift and scour through our culture and our society seeking opportunities to identify disparity.  These people who have co-opted the term “feminism” have done a huge disservice to women, and men, who live in a disparate culture.  However, many of us who don’t have a platform, a soapbox or an agenda will tell you, indeed sexism still lurks in our world nourishing itself on “jokes” and “don’t be so serious” comments and actions.

While I could pull out the regularly used evidence of disparity of unequal pay for equal work, you would likely dismiss me.  Although, to be honest, I can’t understand why.  To my mind that is such a fabulous black-and-white example that is exceptionally unbiased and objective.  However, it is addressed so frequently, I think people’s eyes glaze over when it is brought up.  I could share abundant anecdotal evidence of unwanted and undesired groping and “cat calls” that women and even young girls are subjected to on a day to day basis.  Many people dismiss this with a plethora of “equalizing” comments:  “Women are as bad as men.  These days they objectifying men, and are equally inappropriate.” or “You can’t dress sexy, and expect not to get treated that way.  You dress that way to get noticed.”  Firstly, there are women who behave inappropriately.  They are bawdy in their actions and language.  Their behavior, while wrong, does not excuse the poor behavior of men.  I am sure you must have heard the expression, “Two wrongs do not make a right.”  Furthermore, in regard to the dress and appearance of women.  The fact that we continue to fall back to the “she had it coming” justification for behavior is discouraging.  I agree that there are women who dress in ill-advised ways when we consider the realities in the world.  However, it is a man’s responsibility to address his own behavior.  We can not expect to live in a civil society where one population can excuse their actions because of the behavior of another person.  I monitor my daughter’s clothing not because I feel she is responsible for any behavior of the boys she encounters.  I monitor her dress because I want her to firstly respect herself and not package herself in a package that does not suit her merely to please a male population, and pragmatically because I know that we live in the real world and that there are men who will hurt her if she dresses in a way that they construe to be an invitation.

I could argue that sexism is pervasive in our schools through ridiculous dress codes designed to protect boys.  My daughter’s first year in public school has been a wardrobe nightmare as she has been advised that sleeveless tops (even collared and button up non-fitted), leggings with loose tunic tops, any yoga pants, etc. are all violation of the dress code.  Yoga pants are completely disallowed.  Leggings can only be worn with modesty-plus dresses.  Nothing that reveals shoulders can worn.  Jeans with tears (even with leggings or patches) are disallowed.  This would be limited essentially to an annoyance if that was the end of it.  However, when the reason provided for their policy is so that boys won’t be distracted, my eyebrows are raised, and I again question, “Really, the world is equal?  The world is equal when my daughter is held responsible for the distraction of a boy who sees her shoulder?”  Truthfully, while we like to mock the school dress codes of the 1950s, girls were never advised that there shoulders were too scandalous to be seen.

OK, I seriously digressed.  The point is, you have heard all of this before, and a good portion of our society has elected to dismiss these concerns for a variety of reasons.  It doesn’t seem to progress the dialogue to even raise them at this point.  Before the words are out, your counterargument is formed.  However, last Wednesday, a national news program presented a feature piece on the first female fighter pilot from the United Arab Emirates.  The program, “The Five” is broadcast on Fox News, and tends to come from a more conservative perspective.  Being that I am liberal, I frequently disagree with their take on current events.  However, in this particular broadcast, it felt that the issue wasn’t between liberalism or conservatism, but rather straight-up “old school” sexism as it was offensive even to the shows co-host.   Kimberly Guilfoyle, one of the show’s co-hosts, presented a feature on this first UAE female fighter pilot and her role in a recent bombing of terrorist targets.  She underscored the significance of this event by noting “I hope that hurt extra bad from you because in some Arab countries, women can’t even drive.”  As she wrapped her story, her male co-host, Greg Gutfeld, snarked, “Problem is, after she bombed it, she couldn’t park it.”  Guilfoyle was obviously discouraged as she commented, “Why did they ruin my thing.”  Immediately, this is followed by co-host, Eric Bolling, commenting, “Would this be considered boobs on the ground, or no?”

Clearly, in today’s society, this did not go unnoticed, nor should it have.  After a major uproar by the public and media, stretching around the globe, Bolling offered an apology the next day:

“A personal comment before we go to break. Earlier this week I made a comment that was wholly inappropriate, and I apologize for it. The comment became during K. G.’s One More Thing honoring UAE bomber pilot Major Miriam al-Mansouri, who bombed ISIS. My remark was not intended to be disparaging of her, but that’s how it was taken. I should have known better and used better judgment”

This half-hearted apology that basically said that the ol’ ball and chain at home nagged at him into it, was not well received, and so he finally offered a second apology:

“Yesterday I made an apology on this show, but it was inadequate. Fox News has received letters from viewers, including from women in the military, and I’ve taken them to heart.

Therefore let me speak clearly and sincerely – I am sorry for what I said. I believe that Major al Mansouri is a hero. She is courageous, brave, and she deserves our praise, not inappropriate jokes.

I appreciate that she is fighting the extreme radicals that threaten all of us. She has my admiration and my gratitude.”

While it seems he finally got the words right, it is hard to feel this is sincere given context.  Both Bolling and Gutfeld’s “apologies” can be found here online.

The point of all of this?  1)We’ve excused the disparity in pay 2)we’ve excused blaming women for the offensive and violent actions they take 3)we’ve excused the requirement that my daughter dress covered from collar bone to ankle to “protect” the boys in her school … BUT gosh darned it (this is not the language you would be hearing if you were speaking to me in person right now) … What is your excuse for firstly pulling out a overused cliched reference to women’s driving to mock a member of the armed forces, secondly WTF right do you have to make any reference to a soldier’s (or anybodies) anatomy in response to her significant individual, national and international accomplishments. and FINALLY, how F***ing unprofessional and condescending to undermine and disrespect a co-worker like that.

Save your justifications … zip it.  When a nationally broadcast “news” program host feels comfortable making comments like this we are not there yet.  When one inappropriate comment is made, and it is followed by guffaws and further comment rather than immediate outrage and a defense of their co-host who was wildly disrespected, we are not living in an culture that is equal.  When the, most assuredly well discussed, apology consists of “I got the look” so sorry, our work is not done.

Women and girls are abused in all manner around the globe, their bodies objectified and violated, their credibility and abilities questions on the basis of their anatomy alone, they are subjugated and teased and consistently reminded that they are forever, ultimately going only so far as the male dominated society will allow them … so stay pretty, stay cute and don’t push the wrong buttons.

Things have gotten better, but until this fundamental truth changes, we are not done and there aren’t excuses enough to dismiss the bottom line reality … I have not finished preparing the world that I want for my girls.

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Giving

25 Aug

picasso quoteIt is rolling into fall soon.  Kids go back to school next week.  The days are getting shorter, and football is everywhere.  If you are a regular church attendee, there is one other thing that inevitably is associated with fall as well.  That’s right, it is soon time for the annual stewardship campaign.  Pulpits everywhere will be primed for “stewardship moments”.  Christians will be instructed on how their giving serves missionaries abroad and ministers to the needs in our community.  Letters are being proofed to be mailed to the homes of congregants everywhere.  Pastors dread it.  Congregants dread it.  The church finance team won’t sleep for weeks.  It is a special time of year that is set apart to talk about that nasty business of money and budgets.

The truth of the matter is that ministry cannot happen without money.  Somewhere there has to be a check writer.  I am such a John Lennon idealist and love the love, but hate the money talk.  One of my pastors, however, years ago helped me to see that there are a whole lot of not flashy expenses with the church … light bulbs for example.  However, I feel like each year, no matter which church you are affiliated with, everything to do with stewardship is REALLY clumsy.  At the core of this I think it is that we loose sight of why we give.  Giving is Biblical.

Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts.  But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a fraction of a penny.  Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others.  They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything–all she had to live on.” (Mark 12:41-44)

There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales (Acts 4:34)

Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” (Matthew 19:21)

Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys (Luke 12:33)

Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.  Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share.  In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life. (1 Timothy 6:17-19)

If there is a poor man among your brothers in any of the towns of the land that the LORD your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward your poor brother. (Deuteronomy 15:7)

Honor the LORD with your wealth, with the firstfruits of all your crops; (Proverbs 3:9)

So now that we have that out of the way – Hopefully we agree, that if we consider the Bible to be a source of truth and guidance, then it seem really evident that there is an expectation to be generous.  In that respect, as a member of a church, it is appropriate to give to and through the church.  However. the aspects that are frequently overlooked during the stewardship campaign are individual giving outside of the church, sharing of time and the use of our talents to advance the Kingdom of God.  What needs to be realized is that most stewardship campaigns are conducted for pragmatic reasons and are driven by the finance team.  The fact is the church is an organization, and like it or not, it must operate under some version of a budget.  Corporations do projections on sales and such, churches do stewardship campaigns to forecast giving.  Depending on who you talk to, you will have different takes on how appropriate this is.  Jeff and I tend to be renegades in this area.  We are sometimes literalistic.  If we learn in Sunday Sermons that we are to seek truth through prayer and guidance of the Holy Spirit, and follow that with the faith that God will provide the needs for what we are called to, we kind of figure the church should take the same leap of faith and budget based on what they feel the church is being called to and have faith that God will provide the means.  I do, however, get why it isn’t necessarily that way, despite my yearning that it would be.  I understand that there are mortgages. salaries, contracts and such to be dealt with.  Most mortgage companies aren’t cool with late payments, even if you tell them it is all part of God’s plan.

So. I have determined that I am not likely going to change the course of church tradition and the pragmatism that to some extent must exist.  I am however, going to raise the bar in my own personal discussion with God.  So, if you know me, you know that my “prayer closet” happens to be a shower.  Every great idea, or at least most of them, happened while taking a shower.  Over the last several weeks I have been feeling really convicted about the overabundance of “stuff” in my life.  There is absolutely too many things in our home.  It literally some days is impossible to find a clean surface to set something on because of the piles.  It sucks my energy … it weighs on my spirit … and maneuvering through all of this stuff takes a lot of time.  So, I was already determined that there needed to be a substantial purge.  One thing I did decide though was that I didn’t want to arbitrarily just heave-ho it in the direction of the nearest thrift store.  I wanted to be intentional in my giving.  I wanted to manage it in the same way I would if I was giving cash.  If you came into money and decided you wanted to give away $1000, odds are you wouldn’t give it to the first and easiest person/organization asking for money.  You would be intentional.  I felt that my years of accumulation, what was bad, could be made good through blessing others.

However. while in the shower, God started up His chit-chat again.  (I think it was the cool air reminding me that stewardship season is around the corner.)  He was asking me what will I give to build His Kingdom.  So I told him I was going to give Him all my old stuff.  One would have thought he would be delighted, but I’m pretty sure I saw Him roll His eyes and offer up a sarcastic “thanks…”  Realizing that in many respects the purge was for me as much as it might benefit others.  I began to consider what is often the call of the stewardship campaigns?  It is to give … To give of your time, talents and treasures.  This is where the Holy Spirit guided me to what God is calling for me to offer.

I have decided to put a time frame on the project, because “forever” is way to big for me to feel good about.  While, I am hopeful that these will turn into forever habits, I know that in order to take the first step I need an end date.  For me, this date will be October 29th.  This gives me a little over 2 months to be particularly Kingdom-minded.

My Time

I think in many ways our time is even more valuable than our money.  It is so limited, it can’t be regained and it is absolutely finite.  I know that my time is probably the thing I treasure most and regret misspending the most.  God has called me to spend my time in a way that will advance His Kingdom.  While I am hopeful that every moment I have is spent in a way that brings glory to Him. I know that most of my time is spent in ill-considered ways and is not necessarily Kingdom building.  There are three ways we are called to spend our time:  In study, in prayer and in service.  In reading the gospels we are reminded, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:37b-40)  So, for the next two months I will tithe my time.  10% of each day will be spent intentionally with the purpose of building His Kingdom.  Each day 2.5 hours will be spent on devotion and prayer and absolutely on service. 

My Talent

God has blessed each of us with certain gifts and talents.  While we naturally experience joy when we use them.  If you cook, you know how much joy you receive out of the sounds and smells in the kitchen.  If you are musical, the feeling of the music in your body soothes you.  If you work in the garden. the feeling of the earth under your feet rejuvenates you.  We are meant to feel blessed through our gifts.  Too often though we get busy with the day to day tasks that we forget to exercise and use our gifts.  It is through our talents that we glorify God, and it is through these gifts that we advance His Kingdom.  It is not vain to believe you are good at something. but it is sinful to neglect those gifts.  I often get confused on what I am good at, but I do know that whatever gifts I have are meant to be used for the glorification of God. and that can’t happen if I won’t acknowledge them.  So, for the next two months, I am going to dedicate myself to exploring where my gifts and talents are.  I will commit to exercising these talents each day in such a way they benefit others.  Frankly, if you guys have some thoughts on this one, share away 🙂

My Treasure

What a squanderer I am.  I often overspend money that will be needed down the road.  I buy things I don’t NEED … such a big difference between need and want, and they are so often confused.  My home if filled to the gills with stuff.  My excessiveness has brought heartache, and managing it has been the source of anger and pain.  My greatest blessings have been found when I have had the least.  Truly I have never been allowed to crash and burn.  So far, there has always been an 11th hour blessing.  I hold on to the things I have for fear that I will have a need.  I hold onto them as a source of pride – keeping up with the Jones you know.   I hold onto them sometimes because I am too derned lazy to deal with what I already have – “Whoops forgot to bring a knife.  Eh, I’ll just buy a new one.”  The next two months I am committing to get rid of at least 10% of everything I own.  I will do my best not to arbitrarily toss it, but will be prayerful in my disposition of these things.

I apologize for this very long-winded post, but I had to put it in writing.  I had to publish it.  Otherwise it is just another really good shower idea that I am held unaccountable for.  So, if you are a praying kind of person, say a prayer for me.  Hold me accountable and encourage me.  I know that if I commit to this stewardship campaign in my life, I will come out the other end wildly blessed.

First comes love … then comes marriage … then comes a house full of hungry teenagers …

13 May

ImageAwhile ago some friends were chatting on Facebook about how there just around blogs and forums addressing moms of teenagers.  If you are a young mom with infants, toddlers or even young elementary students there is blog after blog about the ups and downs of daily life.  You are surrounded by people to commiserate with and to share your adorable moments.  When you hit middle school the echos of voices lingering in random corners is all that is left.  By the time high school arrives, it is a crazed conversation you are having by yourself in the shower.

Why is that?  Why do we rally around new moms, toddler moms and moms of young school children.  Why do they seek out one another and share and build communities, but teen moms sit quietly alone.  The biggest reason I suppose?  The biggest reason I think is because our teenagers can read, and there will likely be consequences that come with disclosure.  I think we also respect our young adults privacy.  Our three year old stripping in the front yard is embarrassing while simultaneously adorable.  We share the story, the three year old is never the wiser, and no one will judge our bitty person for this serious social faux pas.  However, if our teen does something that doesn’t involve medals, scholarships or positive recognition of one kind or another, we stash it.  If we were to share about a child’s expulsion from school, we’d humiliate our child, we’d embarrass our selves and people would judge our teen unfairly.

The frustrating thing is that I suspect I need more of a community now than I ever did when the kids were in preschool.  I know I needed support through baby years, and probably through toddlerhood, but goodness gracious those have nothing on teenage life.  Most days i spend in a confused haze, second-guessing every decision.  Should I take the computer away, or is that their only lifeline to friends that they need to help them through.  Should I crack the whip, or has the world already smacked them around enough that I need to handle them more gently.  Should I invest in what seems like fruitless pursuits at the expense of what seems like their hope for a future?  It is a tough business, and I do it alone.

Even in light of this post shared in the spirit of disclosure, you aren’t going to know everything.  But I need to let you know that if you are overwhelmed by the waves of seemingly critical, maybe even life or death, decisions – you aren’t alone.

I fluctuate from feeling that God has blessed me with the most perfect, most beautiful, most … (keep plugging in fabulous adjectives preceded by “most” and you get the idea) … to what the heck kind of mental illness does this kid have that makes him so insensitive, maybe even cruel, and dressed like that.  Clearly their father is harboring some seriously questionable genes.

I cry because they hurt me …

i scream because I … because I … because I am just so confused and frustrated …

I sit quietly for fear of doing or saying anything wrong …

I look for answers …

I pray.

God in his wisdom decided I should be blessed with three teenagers at any given moment.  While one is aging out of teenagedom, I have one that just turned twelve and is getting ready to kick it off.  Meanwhile I have two in the middle.  To ensure that things stay lively, no two kids are ever alike … similar enough to make you over confident, but not enough to ensure that you have any real solutions.

God has blessed me with boys and girls, so I can be sure to have a well rounded perspective.

I don’t know what other people’s teens are like, but mine (at least some of them) seem to suffer a lot.  Despite their amazing minds, their generous hearts, their strong and beautiful bodies, they think they are inadequate.  They withdraw and hate the world before it can hate them.  I count myself blessed to have these children in my life, but it is exhausting to mom these introspective children.  There is nothing you say that is valid, yet you cannot sit and say nothing.

Experience tells me each of them will likely pass through this stage, and they will eventually pass out of it.  But the fear lingers, what if they don’t … What if they never get happy again.

Looking at photo albums filled with pictures of 8 year olds with silly grins, little girls in princess dresses, wide-eyed babies and little people filled with hope and joy can be so difficult when held up against the darkness of teen anxiety and self loathing.  I yearn for just one of those days, and every so often there is a momentary glimpse of it.  You will hear a stray laugh in the front yard, or a teen who forgets to dismiss you hops in bed to tell you the cool thing they just learned.

Just this last fall, I sat so still while my nineteen year old fell asleep in my bed while I was studying.  It was my birthday.  He had done little to acknowledge it.  In fact, he spent a good part of it at a friend’s house.  That moment though … I would cash in every card, every washed dish and every considerate notion that I could have had that day … for that moment.

Raising teenagers is not for the faint of heart.  It requires you to be more grown-up than ever.  And in light of this moderate attempt at full disclosure, I frequently fail on the grown-up bit.  They have the maturity to hurt you more than they ever have before.  Their eyes are so focused on their budding world on the horizon, you are often forgotten.  They are almost as self-absorbed as a two year old.  You though, need to keep perspective and not allow yourself to be swept away in the current of hurt.

Despite all of this, the amazing thing that happens is that they become really cool people.  They are fun to listen to.  They have ideas that are profound.  They challenge you to consider things in ways you never have.  They make you so proud that your heart bubbles over.  You will find yourself gasping when you notice the beautiful young woman or man they are becoming.  You will look over and realize that you are living with a not quite done adult.

What i would give for some assurance that all will work out.  I want to see the sparkling eyes and know that they will always sparkle with joy and that the glistening tears are only temporary.  I hate seeing troubles too grown-up for band-aids or hugs, and having to sit on the sideline waiting to be called in.

I apologize for assaulting you with my stream of consciousness writing … but to polish it … well, that would be dishonest … this is the mind of a mother of teens.

She’s back …

15 Mar

I think it has been nearly a year since my last post … I suppose you began to wonder what happen to me … or maybe not … Nevertheless, I am back.

I always do better when I can process my thoughts in writing, and I always enjoy, often anyhow, sharing my ponderings.  When I do, I am often offered perspectives I had not considered, and those perspectives typically give me a whole new outlook on my circumstances.  This often allows me to manage a little bit better because of it.

Many of the folks I know are aware that my family has recently found ourselves in the  midst of a life changing crisis.  So many of the stages and changes we face in life, we elect to participate in.  Even when we suppose we don’t, we do.  We choose to do whatever it takes to be part of a high school or university graduation.  We elect to attend college to begin with.  We choose to move … choose to take a new job … choose to get married … sometimes even choose to have a baby (although in my experience, they sometimes just show up…)  There are, however, life-changing moments you do not choose.  You cannot plan for them.  You don’t take time off of work, or set money aside to cover the expenses, they just happen.  Often these are not the kind of life changing experiences you would choose to be a part of.

This month, this has been what my family has faced.  On Ash Wednesday, February 22nd, my mom suffered a hemorrhage as a result of an aneurysm in her head.  As uncommon as it may be, this is the second time for us.  She had had the same vessel rupture about 10 years ago.  Despite our experience, nothing about this experience was predictable or anticipated.  Suddenly plans to attend church services, work schedules and everything else was thrown aside as my husband and I and my sister and her family drove desperately for 2 hours to reach the hospital where my mother was at with no idea of what to expect.

I praise God for providing me with the man he did to be my husband.  There is only one person in the world who can soothe me like my mom and it is him.  What a blessing to have him with me on this drive.  Desperate calls were sent out to any and every person of faith I could think of for prayers.  How amazing to see the Body of Christ in action … no kidding … the Lutherans, Pentecostals, Baptists, Catholics, Methodists and more were on their knees with one call.  She even received long-distance prayers via a healing service an hour and a half away from her bedside.  It was through these prayers, scripture that was sent via text, hymns and songs of praise and my husbands strength and love that I managed to function at all.

Over the course of the last three weeks we have gone from pleading for  her life and fearfully answering every phone call to an assurance that she will be “OK”.  Today, we prepare ourselves for what “OK” may look like.  While we yearn for an immediate reversal, instantaneous answers and healing today – we know that the process will be slow, but with the right care and love, she will be very much back with us in time.

In the meantime I have learned to love my mom in a new way.  I have found ways to express affection while spooning pureed food and simultaneously holding her up with the respect a mom deserves.  I have had the chance to spend an inordinate amount of quality time with my dad … possibly more individual time than we have ever had in my life.  I have learned to see my relationships with my kids differently and harbor the hope that someday I can mean as much to them as my mom does to me.  I have had the chance to tackle real-life with my sister, and although we are regularly ships passing in the night (since she does weekend shift, while I do weekday shift) we are able to collaborate on this task and even see things the same way 🙂  I see my husband in a whole new light and now can imagine he and I as an older couple.  While there are some scary aspects of that, I have found tremendous peace knowing that God has truly blessed me with the other half of myself in him.

I am ready for this moment to be over, and move on to the slower pace that I failed to appreciate before.  However, I feel so blessed to be able to see God’s gift in this very difficult time, and I am hopeful that as we travel down this road, I will continue to see the blessings God is providing me each and every day …

Live by the Spirit …

21 Mar

Years ago, in my better homeschool mom days, the kids and I would do more devotions, Bible lessons and scripture memorization.  Each week we worked on a different bit of scripture to be learned, we would discuss it during our devotion time and we would do activities that would help us understand and learn it.  During this time, I was also regularly doing morning “spiritual walks” where I would listen to my mp3 player loaded with Christian music and as I walked chit-chat with God.  It was during these walks that God typically offered me the verse and the lesson that I was to share with the children.  Most of the time the Bible verses I knew at least roughly, but one time He gave me a bit from the “fruit of the spirit” from Galatians.  This one I wasn’t at all familiar with – not only had I never taken the time to memorize the list of the fruit, but this verse wasn’t even that.  Ironically, the verse I was the least familiar with, is the one I still have burned in my brain and it has a tendency to pop up at the strangest times and seems to apply to all kinds of areas of my life:  “Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh.” Galatians 5:16

Now if I were going to offer this text up to my high school students, I can pretty well assure that at least the youngest portion of  them would be working to squash the giggles rising up as they considered the “desires of the flesh”.  And I am supposing their interpretation would definitely be one of the “desires” the Bible speaks of, but there are so many more.  I woke up Friday morning realizing I had “dropped the ball” in my commitment to read, pray and write during Lent.  It was easy to forgive myself Thursday.  It was a very busy day and I ended up dropping into bed late completely forgetful of my commitment.  I have nothing to offer for Friday through Sunday though.  Each day I told myself that it was important and a commitment I had made to God, but each day my work was given higher priority than my promise to God.  I liked to kid myself and justify things with, “Well God knows this isn’t fun and lord knows this is a sacrifice too … He will understand … and I was at church today …”  (Have you ever rationalized your choices that you already knew were bad?)  The fact is, as miserable and frustrated as I was with the tasks I was doing … as painful and hard as it was for me to work on … I was living “of the world” (Romans 12:2) … I was “gratifying the desires of the flesh.”  I know you saying to yourself, “What kind of sick-o are you that this is what you choose to do when you decide to gratify your flesh?”  Truth is, it is a sneaky sort of gratifying that I think a lot of us do.  It’s easy to see that eating, playing and relaxing are clearly desires of the flesh – they “feel” good.  However, the choices I made are flesh choices too, even though they made me miserable and I think after I explain you may realize that you have been making some un-fun flesh choices too.  When I consider why I made my work my priority … why I sacrificed the time with God (that I actually enjoy) … I would see that I did it so people wouldn’t be disappointed with me, so people would be happy with me, so people would think I was a hard worker, maybe even so people would respect me more and not think badly about me.  You see, I think some days only God sees what I write here, but my work performance is seen and evaluated by lots of people everyday.  I hate criticism and I hate having people think I either can’t or just don’t do a good job.  I chose to protect my flesh (and my feelings) by breaking my promise to God.  The truth of the matter is that this weekend may have been easier if I had elected to keep my promise.  Had I made the commitment to do the devotional time as God had called me, I would have been equipped to handle the “in the world” tasks at hand.  “Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”  Ephesians 6:14-17

Looking back it seems to be easier to understand how our friends “the chosen people” in the Old Testament continually got led astray.  We have the benefit of hindsight to evaluate their choices.  We read the stories of the prophets and say, “My goodness, how dense do have to be.” as God sends curse and punishment to them time and time again.  However, I think when we evaluate our lives, we most likely have a lot of “dense” moments and while our “plagues” aren’t of the Biblical variety, perhaps, our lives are often cursed by our poor choices.  We find ourselves way off course and lost in the desert.  Our jobs are empty and fruitless, our finances are a shambles, our relationships are hurtful and our confidence is shattered.  How long will it take us to find our “promised land”?  We are blessed to have our “milk and honey” close at hand.  Most of us have access to the Word of God either through traditional bound Bibles, but today with all of our devices, a plethora of digital versions are available as well.  God has given us the Holy Spirit to be with us always to prompt us and guide us.  We are blessed to be surrounded by evidence of His presence.  It all just comes down to knowing the difference between the “flesh way” and the “Spirit way” … the lesson that my children and I worked on when God gave me this verse nearly 6 years ago.

Fix the time, the length of your meditation, and do not rise from your place until you have finished even at the cost of being crucified.

— Saint Pio of Pietrelcina

Everything old is new again …

17 Mar

Have you ever considered that sometimes it takes someone who seems to be less experienced, less knowledgable than you to provide guidance.  I expect that sometimes this is because they offer a fresh perspective, and also, I suppose, this has to do with the fact that they don’t have negative experiences to get in the way.  Maybe folks who are “experts” do something in a particular way because there is precedence to suggest that something doesn’t work or is generally not recommended.  I think our “faith walks” can be this way.  I think sometimes we will see this a lot in the churches.  The “authorities” in the church are often so cubby holed that they have trouble growing.  We’ve been to the same sort of Bible studies with many of the same basic messages so many times that we already know the answers before we even read the book.  We know the right responses … It’s as if it is a part of the liturgy.  When __________ is said the appropriate response is ____________.  What can be so frustrating when you get into this predicament is that soon we expect everything to be pat and easy and when things don’t fit in the box, we are at a loss.  We question ourselves, our faith and even God.  We often lose the joy and the passion that we had originally early in our walk. 

Have you been in the church for a while?  Do you remember what it was like when you first had your “aha” moment and just knew what you knew?  Do you recall the sense of contentment, satisfaction and security that came when all the pieces clicked for you?  I do.  I thought, “I finally get it!  Everything make sense.”  i felt so connected to God.  I never wanted to leave the church building for fear that I would forget to think about God as often I as did when I was busy with church work.  I was so happy and confident in everything I did, because it made sense.  I remember looking towards the folks who had been in the church for years or even decades with hunger … “teach me more … show me more …”  I couldn’t wait to be fuller.

As the years went by I was hurt by some of the folks that were those established members of the church.  This was confusing for me since they talked about God all of the time and hung out in His house all the time.  Gradually a spirit of cynicism overtook me.  I continued to participate in worship, in leadership committees and in study but began to be more guarded.  As that guarded feeling slowly took over, I began to withdraw.  I didn’t see a lot of point in participating in studies that were shallow and/or where I felt too afraid to share what I really thought for fear that I would be hurt again.  I learned not to trust folks in the church and suppose that there was a lie in every sweet word spoken at church … whether in the narthex or from the pulpit.  This led to a point where I question the church and it’s role in the advancement of the Kingdom of God altogether.  To exacerbate this problem, the study I had been doing was so shallow, it had done little to maintain my connection with God, his grace and left without the safety net of faith.

Withdrawing or going through the motions eventually left me in a relatively “dry” place.  I knew the right responses.  I knew the proper greetings.  I had lost the joy, the wonder and the confidence that comes with a living faith.  In many ways my spiritual life was worse than before I discovered my relationship with the Spirit – it now included hurt and frustration. 

Sometimes we can learn from someone who is not the expert though.  I wonder when I first came to the church with my enthusiasm and optimism if I might have been an inspiration for other folks who may have been in a dry, desert place in their walk.  What we have early in our walk is a relationship with God … not a relationship with the church or Christians.  We have to recognize that ultimately, this is the relationship we need to be seeking.  Now I want to be clear … the story doesn’t end here … nor does the path.

The bonus is if you can take your experiences from the church, the wisdom you have gained from years of study and service and match them with the joy and the passion that you can regain and restore through a realization that our salvation and strength comes from God, you can grow to a new level.  From this new place you can not only receive the joy that you have nostalgically been looking back on, but you can also better serve to advance the Kingdom of God by looking towards the people of the church not as pillars of perfection and grace, but as people who are imperfect.  There has only ever been one perfect person and he had the benefit of being fully God as well. 🙂 

I anticipate until we seize the joy and refuse to let it go and turn towards the church (and the people who are the church) with the grace that fills us, we will continue to have hurt, frustration and pain in the church.  We will continue to see people turning away. 

If you have been hurt … if you have walked away from the people of the church, try to find the joy that drew you towards the church to begin with.  Recall the grace that filled you and allowed you to feel confident.  Remember we all have fallen short and redemption is available to all of us … (forgive my trespasses as I forgive those who trespass against me.)  If what we seek is truly God’s Kingdom here on earth do not allow sin to discourage you and push forward and rebuild relationships with the joy of a newly “churched” Christian.

Restore to me the joy of thy salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.  Then I will teach transgressors thy ways, and sinners will return to thee.  (Psalm 51: 12-13)

Slow down … you move to fast …

15 Mar

Well, yesterday I wrote about distractions and today was designed to be the biggest yet.  Since Ash Wednesday we have been on break, and today was our first day back to classes.  So the real test to my commitment was going to be if I found the time, in a normal and insane day, to have this special “devotion” time with God, and whether this was a real commitment.  I don’t know about you, but I frequently commit myself to new habits and new routines … all sorts of things that make me a better or healthier person .. that never seem to make it past week two.  Honestly, there is really probably only one thing that has remained consistent for a couple of year – besides brushing my teeth.  So, I was in my own mind wondering whether I would be able to follow through on a rough day.  Well here I am!  I am optimistic about the future of my devotion and actually rejoiced at my commitment.  (FYI, it’s OK to say “Yeah you.” to yourself sometimes.)  The added bonus is how much it cheers me up to think about having the OPPORTUNITY to do my reading and writing.  I suppose this is how it tends to go when you are walking in the path you are called to.  I just wanted to share a little “behind the scenes” on the project itself.

Today I was reading from Leviticus 19 and I was tottering along and realized that this was all the laws … ten commandment kind of stuff.  I know.  You don’t have to be a genius to realize that when you are reading from Leviticus (the legal book of the Bible) that you are going to be reading laws, but as I went along I would be matching each bit to the commandment it corresponded with.  Doing a pretty swell job to boot, and then suddenly I stumbled on Leviticus 19:14:  You shall not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind.  I am the Lord.    First, I was really kind of stumped as to which commandment this might correspond to, and then my next thought was, “What kind of jerk does this?”  Now, I am smart enough 1)to know if it’s in the Bible there’s probably a message for me in it and 2)the Bible is one of the best sources for metaphor, simile and literary language.  This caused me to pause and look deeper.  What might God be wanting to communicate to me?  What might be the figurative “deaf person” in my life?  Then it occurred to me, that maybe, sometimes, I am that kind of jerk.  Perhaps I see people with weaknesses and either don’t take the time to recognize what there weaknesses are or worse yet, act in an insensitive way while knowing .

Throughout the Bible we are called to be patient and to minister to one another, but …  Have you ever “cursed” at the deaf?  I think I have … here’s an example of my cursing.  I frequently go to the grocery by work, which is in a more affluent neighborhood where many elderly live.  Typically when I’m there I have moments to run in and get out before I have to be somewhere else.  I suppose youmight be able to see where this is going … I drum my fingers on the steering wheel cursing at inability of the older folks to get across the street; I am perturbed at how long it takes them to manuever their car into a parking spot and, yes, I even get annoyed at their scooters and walkers that block the aisles of the store.  Seriously … what jerky stuff … your lucky that it’s late and I’m tired – this level of confession is normally reserved for bouts of tear-filled self-loathing in my bedroom.  But, there it is, complete honesty.  I have been cursing at the deaf.  The elderly folks have no idea … I work to look friendly and understanding, but I’m not.  They don’t hear me being unkind or impatient, but I am.  The thing about it though is that God doesn’t just want us to make sure people don’t know we’re impatient or annoyed … He isn’t just asking that we whisper our insults and put-downs.  It doesn’t matter that the deaf won’t hear us cursing … we aren’t to be cursing in the first place.  It is the negative action of ours that is the problem, not the fact that someone is there to hear or receive them.  We are to approach others with patience and kindness … not something we can do when we are filling our hearts and spirit with impatience and ugliness.  And, honestly, if you think about it, the kinder you act and the more you are determined to love, the better you feel.  “…the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes; the fear of the Lord is clean enduring forever; the ordinaces of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.  More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honecomb.” (Psalm 19:8-10)  … Yet another case of “Father” knows best 🙂

It is so easy to get frustrated with those who seem to impede your progress:  children who move slowly (or ask “why?” nine-bazillion times), lonely folks who want to chat and won’t let you move along, family members who want to catch up at inopportune times, students who need something explained again … and maybe they aren’t doing anything to enrich your life (although I expect at some point you will look back and realize they did.), and maybe you aren’t ever a nuisance (although I expect you will look back on this point also and realize you were.), but we’ve been called to love one another:  “Love the Lord your God with all of your heart, with all of your mind, and with all of your soul. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the other is like it. Love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all of the Law and the prophets,” (Matthew 22: 37-40).  We’ve been taught that we are to look at person we come across as Jesus and an opportunity to serve this person, is an opportunity to serve Jesus.  That if we want to worship and glorify Jesus, then we are to reach out to His children.  “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.” (Matthew 25:40) and on those days when we growl under our breath at a pokey grandma we need to remember that we are growling at Jesus … “Truly, I say to you, as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me” (Matthew 25:45)

I think it can be particularly difficult when we are faced with stressful times to find the patience that we are called to have … to find the love for folks who don’t show us patience or kindness … I think though that it is in difficult times that if we can find the strength to live by our faith that we can be a light to others who may in turn become a light for yet another …  and eventually we won’t be in the dark anymore.