PS To All My Facebook Friends

“While they were there, the time came for her to have her child, and she gave birth to her firstborn Son. She wrapped Him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.” (Luke 2:6-7)

I hit a bit of a quandary yesterday. After I hit “Publish” from my blog so that my latest post would go to my Facebook, Twitter, Linked In, etc. accounts, I realized how many friends of mine would likely have birthdays between Ash Wednesday, earlier this week, and Easter Sunday. If I’m not on FB, I won’t get the notifications to wish them a “Happy Birthday!” So this post is short and sweet and to the point: Happy Birthday to Everyone who has a birthday between February 14, 2018 and April 1, 2018.

May God bless you & keep you!

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Lenten Vows

“When you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites. They neglect their appearance, so that they may appear to others to be fasting. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash you face, so that you may not appear to be fasting, except to your Father who is hidden. And your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you.” (Matthew 6:16-18)

Yesterday was Ash Wednesday. I took my turn at the altar in church to receive the ashes that seal my promises to the Lord throughout the 6 week season of Lent:

1. I will write 3 pages every day of my novel. (This is a discipline-building vow; I’ve grown lax)
2. I am giving up all forms of social media (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.) except for the link between this blog and my social media accounts. In other words, people will still receive my posts through these mediums but I will not be checking my accounts for any messages or reading the feeds for 6 weeks (and I hope all of my friends see this so they’ll know I didn’t fall off of the face of the earth; call or write the old-fashioned, real connection way!)
3. I am limiting my music video viewing on YouTube to only 2 hours per week; some weeks I spend several hours on a rainy Monday afternoon instead of writing the aforementioned book or finishing up a homework assignment…and I won’t mention all the myriad chores piling up about the home and homestead.
4. No sugars outside of my daily cuppa tea

May God bless you & keep you!

Christian Support for LGBTQ

“The wrath of God is indeed being revealed from heaven against every impiety and wickedness of those who suppress the truth by their wickedness. For what can be known about God is evident to them, because God made it evident to them. Ever since the creation of the world, His invisible attributes of eternal power and divinity have been able to be understood and perceived in what He has made. As a result, they have no excuse; for although they knew God they did not accord Him glory as God or give Him thanks. Instead, they became vain in their reasoning, and their senseless minds were darkened. While claiming to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for the likeness of an image of mortal man or of birds or of four-legged animals or of snakes. Therefore, God handed them over to impurity through the lusts of their hearts for the mutual degradation of their bodies. They exchanged truth of God for a lie and revered and worshiped the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen. Therefore, God handed them over to degrading passions. Their females exchanged natural relations for unnatural, and the males likewise gave up natural relations with females and burned with lust for one another. Males did shameful things with males and thus received in their own persons the due penalty for perversity. And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God handed them over to the their undiscerning mind to do what is improper.” (Romans 1:18-28)

Yesterday was one of my patented “Oh, crap (G-rated version of expletive), I’m running late again!” mornings. It was Sunday and I didn’t have to be at church until 8 a.m. instead of the usual mad dash to be on the road before 7:30 like most Wednesdays through Saturdays. Of course, that was the problem. I had “plenty of time,” or so I thought. But that is neither here nor there and I’m getting off topic. To keep the long story short, I got to church about 10 minutes late. With many blushes, I slipped into a back pew, got down on bended knee and then settled myself to listen to the next 40 minutes or so of the homily. Of course, being late, I was still working through that last minute adrenaline rush. For those first few moments, my mind continued to race and dart about, unable to focus.

And then I was brought up short.

Did Father Ben just say what I think he said? Did he just ask us to love our brethren…yeah, I’m used to hearing about loving and praying for our brethren regardless of the color of their skin or economic status, etc., etc., etc., but…regardless of their lifestyle? He didn’t label it as a choice (because it is not); he simply said lifestyle. I confess, it is the first time I have heard any member of the clergy utter anything that might be loving towards anyone identifying as LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer (or Questioning)). In fact, I’ve even heard horror stories of some clergy (and it extends across many denominations) refusing to give even a eulogy for someone who is LGBTQ.

I smiled. This sermon’s been too long in coming.

Father Ben is new to my parish. Father Elson left the parish last December to return to India. I miss him, as do many other parishioners, for he breathed new life into our parish in so many ways. Well, it seems Father Ben is doing likewise. And, to confirm that, yes, I did hear what I thought I heard, he went on to ask us to extend the hand of fellowship to all of God’s children…from every shade and tone of skin, walk of life, culture, country of origin and, yes, even if homosexual. (Yes, he uttered the word)

I felt this warmth settle over me. And I’m sure Father Ben knows the passage of Scripture I quoted at the beginning of this post even better than I do. If I’m not mistaken, I believe Catholic priests spend something like 12 years in seminary (maybe more). So, yes, he knows this passage that so many quote to malign and ostracize those who identify as LGBTQ.

How many plantation owners used biblical passages to “justify” the ownership of another human being before the American Civil War?

This is also the second “nudge” I feel He has given me in as many weeks to write this post. The first was last week’s anthropology class reading about how many Native American tribes refer to LGBTQ as people “gifted with ‘Two Spirits'” and have a third gender identified in their culture for “those born with both the male and female spirit”(MindEdge, Inc, 2016, 5.26). Rather than reviling someone for their orientation, they hold them in very high regard. These people of “Two Spirits” often become holy men and women within the tribe because it is said that they have a deeper understanding and empathy towards others, having the body of one but the inclinations of the other. This wouldn’t be the first time I’ve looked at my Native American heritage with so much respect and admiration. Despite being termed as “savages” by early settlers, and having had no formal teachings, or readings of the Bible before Europeans arrived, our First Nations’ people have/had a deeper understanding of the Lord and His teachings than many more “learned” members of the clergy (and I believe the first part of the above passage would explain that, being so close to His creation (nature) as they are/were…). Would that the values and beliefs our native tribes held for each other have been embraced by greedy European settlers who saw instead a land of great wealth and sought only to cheat and rob them of their land…and even their culture, in some cases. But that’s a different rant for a different day.

I’m procrastinating.

You see, this blog post has been written and re-written numerous times. And I’m still dipping that proverbial toe into those turbulent waters and pulling it back out again repeatedly. I confess, I have shied away every time before hitting “Post”. This is a controversial subject. Oftentimes, it leads to heated discussions. It has even escalated into acts of violence in some instances. And I avoid conflict like the plague. If you accused me of timidity, I’d probably turn on you like a viper; you’ve hit a nerve. I could blame it on a childhood where violence and abuse were re-occurring events but I can only blame the childhood so far. It may have left me with a bitter taste for conflict but it is no excuse for not standing up for what I believe is right and true. I believe God is telling me that He can’t use me if I’m going to play it “safe” and avoid the conflicts. If I’m going to follow Him, I have to be brave. I have to trust that He’s got my back. And that He knows my heart, knows that this post comes from a place of love. His love. He isn’t asking me to go looking for the conflicts; He’s asking me not to shy away from them. When they matter.

I am hetero. I don’t say this out of any phobia. It’s simply a fact of life. And there’s a point to it if everyone stays with me here…both Christian and non, hetero and LGBTQ. I was born with this orientation. Both ex-husbands were male. And any dating has also been with men. That’s not going to change today, tomorrow, next week, or next year. It is as natural to me as breathing to date men. And I have to believe that for anyone who identifies as LGBTQ, the same is true…but yet the opposite. I.e. it is as natural as breathing, for example, for a homosexual male to seek another man when dating as it is for me to do the same…even though I am female. In other words, again, it is not a CHOICE. We are born with our orientations, whatever it is for each of us.

And I firmly believe that.

I have two cousins who are in same-sex relationships, one male, one female. In fact, they are both in what our society terms “civil unions” with their partners. They were also brought up in Christian homes. I can’t imagine the courage it took to open up about themselves, and the people they ultimately fell in love with, but I can tell you one thing: not a single member of our family was the least bit surprised. You see, though one is female and the other male, biologically, they each had certain…I’m going to say “elements” of the opposite gender. (Or maybe I should borrow that Native American terminology and say they had ‘two spirits’…) The female cousin is of my own generation. We spent our early childhoods together but then my family moved out West. When we returned to New England, that first Christmas home, my grandmother hosted a Christmas party in her basement. I was looking forward to seeing my cousins again; it had been many years. And then my eyes settled on someone behind the bar, someone I didn’t recognize at first. I remember asking one of my other cousins who the boy was behind the bar. It was my female cousin. She hadn’t opened up about her sexuality yet; she was still only about 15 and, doubtless, finding her way, coming to terms with it all…maybe building the courage to speak up, as her parents had left the Catholic faith and become born-again. I imagine their church may have taken a harder line on homosexuality. The other cousin, a boy, is closer in age to my much-younger brother. I never mistook him for a girl but, even as young as 4 or 5 years old, the age he was when we first returned home, you could see the two spirits lighting him up from within. And at 4 or 5 years of age, I seriously doubt he was even thinking about his sexuality yet. Yes, each chose their life’s partner, just as I chose my ex-husbands. But the orientation that pointed them in the direction their dating life took was not a choice.

What was a choice was for past generations of LGBTQ to marry someone of the opposite gender, even knowing their attraction was to the same gender (or maybe both…or maybe they just liked wearing the traditional clothes of another gender–we could go on). I’m going to guess that maybe some thought there was something “wrong” with them for this preference. And sometimes their religion (if any) rained fire and brimstone down on their heads, quoting passages like the above, so that they were too afraid to open up about their orientation. Because such things weren’t talked about in past generations (I’m a 50-something woman). Being openly LGBTQ 30, 40, 50 years ago was a serious taboo. You could lose your job or your career; be denied housing; be denied the right to serve your country in the military; be beaten…even killed for something that is inherently a part of each of us and cannot be changed by something as limiting as a “choice”. Our orientation is like our hair or eye color. Sure, I could open up a bottle of Clairol and dye my hair red or blond (and I have done both in the past) but, when my hair grows out, it will grow out brown again (okay, brown with lots of silver highlights…). I can insert a contact lens to make my eye appear brown but, underneath that lens, the iris is still blue. It’s an illusion, a lie.

Much like one hetero and one homosexual person marrying and trying to make it work.

Perhaps, in past generations, some have managed to make it “work”; I’m sure, though their orientation was towards their own gender, they still loved their spouse…much like I might love a sister, a mother, my best friends. But, if we could talk to those people, what would they say? No, this isn’t about fulfillment or completeness; that’s a fabrication of our instant gratification society. This is about something that, for the person experiencing it, feels dreadfully wrong to them. It’s something that must surely have made these past generations feel very uncomfortable…as many of us who are hetero would feel with someone of our own gender. That’s just not how we’re oriented…and the shoe fits on the other foot, so to speak. It takes courage to open up about your orientation…even in today’s world where it has become more commonplace and accepted.

But what about the above Scripture I quoted in the beginning? There’s some pretty specific stuff there against being with someone of the same gender. Granted, it implies that these were adults who chose to start worshiping idols and following the adversary…and so He punished them by making them “burn with lust” for their own gender. It doesn’t say anything about children growing up with one body but having the mannerisms, or “spirit”, of the other. It doesn’t say anything about orientation. Of course, it also doesn’t say anything about these people loving each other. It says they lusted after each other. That may be the key word here. But, to play a bit of devil’s advocate here, why would God create a person with an orientation towards their own gender if He would also consider it a punishment to burn with lust for such? And therein lies the slippery slope that a lay minister, such as myself, with only two semesters of theology, does not have an adequate answer for. So maybe I’m wrong about the “choice” thing. (Again, everyone, please stay with me here…)

However, what if I am wrong? What if it isn’t a choice? In my heart, I don’t believe that it is a choice, based upon both the strength and confidence in my own orientation, and what I have observed in others–both friends and family members alike–who are of the LGBTQ community. But I am willing to explore both sides of the “debate”.

If I am wrong, and our orientation is a choice, how does ostracism and bigotry against someone who makes a “choice” that doesn’t fall in line with our own, show Jesus’ Light and Love? How does pointing the finger of judgment awaken a conviction in people to walk with Jesus? Jesus commands us to love our neighbor as ourselves. This statement qualifies: it doesn’t quantify. It doesn’t say only to love those neighbors with whom we agree or approve of. How would we feel if someone looked at something about us, a lifestyle, a skin color, or any other thing and rejected us in His name? That may be why our churches are half-empty each week. Whether a choice or not, our brethren in the LGBTQ are children of God, the same as us. And, in almost every one I have had the grace to know–and love, I have seen His Light in them. If there is sin in their lifestyle “choice”–and we are all guilty of some sin; no holiear-than-thou attitudes allowed here–it is a choice to love another person. Despite the above biblical passage, I’m having a hard time equating “love” with “sin” and calling it “wrong” in the same sentence. Sure, we could argue that the person we love–even if it’s not an orientation thing–is all wrong for us but, if this were a hetero relationship where we felt the two individuals didn’t suit, we wouldn’t condemn them for loving each other. We might point out our observations, our feelings, our opinion…and hope they might come to that realization themselves in time…but, most of us, wouldn’t condemn their feelings for each other. We may not see it but they see something in the other that speaks to their heart.

Again, I may be wrong. But it is not a choice. It is how a person is made. Perhaps our orientation is one of those crosses we have to bear in life (i.e. because of others’ intolerance and discrimination). Perhaps people are being created with so many different orientations to teach us to be more loving and tolerant. And, yes, I’ve heard that the word “tolerant” isn’t in the Bible. However, it’s meaning is: love your neighbor as yourself.

Father Ben said to extend that hand of fellowship.

To everyone.

Regardless.

Blessed be the name of the Lord.

May God bless you & keep you!

REFERENCES

MindEdge, Inc. (2016). Introduction to Cultural Anthropology. Waltham, MA: MindEdge, Inc.

Rockin’ Religion

“John said to Him, ‘Teacher, we saw someone driving out demons in Your Name, and we tried to prevent him because he does not follow us.’ Jesus replied, ‘Do not prevent him. There is no one who performs a mighty deed in My Name who can at the same time speak ill of Me. For whoever is not against us, is for us. Anyone who gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ, amen, I say to you, will surely not lose his reward. Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were put around his neck and he were thrown into the sea’.” (Mark 9:38-42)

You know, I totally “get” why some people steer clear of organized religion. As a 50-something-year-old woman, I have certainly seen my fair share of hypocrisy and over-zealousness. And in more than one church. In my case, it seems to be centered on my choices of music:

The minister and his wife who visited our apartment in St. Louis when I was 14 or 15 years old, saw the posters of Kiss and REO Speedwagon on the walls of my bedroom…and came back a few days’ later with holy water to sprinkle around my room??!!? It’s a wonder I wasn’t traumatized away from any church right then and there (although I do remember refusing to go to that church again after they left…)

The Iron Maiden/Twisted Sister concert my Uncle Brian and I attended when I was 17 or 18 years old. Young Christians approached us, as we waited for my stepfather to pick us up, with pamphlets and warnings of fire and brimstone. They even questioned the hoop earrings I wore because one had a star and the other a half moon on them; they thought there was some “hidden” meaning to them. Nope. I spotted them in a booth at the local flea market one Sunday afternoon and thought they were pretty. End of story.

The uncle who had a conniption fit seeing “DOKKN” (shortened variation of DOKKEN) on my license plate because they were a metal band. He asked me what they sang and I made the mistake of listing one of their latest singles at the time, Kiss of Death. He immediately jumped to the conclusion that that was devil worship…until I calmly explained that they were terming HIV/AIDS as a “kiss of death,” a warning against promiscuity and what it could lead to (Brown, 1987; Hunt, 1988).

In later years, the minister who stated emphatically in a sermon that there was “no such thing as Christian rock”. I beg to differ. If the devil can quote Scripture to suit his needs, then surely God in His infinite wisdom and mercy can use even rock and roll to further His Kingdom.

I also “get” the excitement one feels being a Christian, especially when one first accepts Jesus as their Savior. You want to share your faith with the world, which is what we are called to do, but I am reminded of the words of St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 3:2: “I fed you milk, not solid food, because you were unable to take it. Indeed, you are still not able, even now.” Too often over-zealous Christians push and poke and prod because they don’t really understand that it is just that pushing, poking and prodding that often turns people away…not just from that particular congregation but from God altogether. It’s standard Psychology 101: the more you protest, the more they want it (whatever you’re deeming their vice); if you push too hard, or hold on too tightly, people sense a trap and run away. No, I’m not saying that we shouldn’t correct our brethren if we see them going astray; certainly the Bible tells us that is our responsibility. However, when we hammer incessantly, especially on a “new” or “young” Christian who is still finding their feet in the church about their lifestyle choices, we often close the very door we are trying to open. They’re still drinking that milk St. Paul tells us about.

And, yes, many in the rock and roll genre do glorify things like promiscuity, infidelity, drug use and alcoholism. There are many, especially in the metal arena, who flirt a little too much with the adversary when indulging in their theatrics, looking to shock and garner a bit of free publicity for themselves. I am certainly not defending their actions. And, yes, a young person, especially one with no religious background whatsoever, might be lured by the “coolness” of that theater aspect. It’s the same mindset that compels people to read thriller novels or watch horror movies. For the young, and often impressionable, that might not be a good combination. However, let’s also give kids…from 1 to 92 as the old Christmas carol says…a bit of the benefit of the doubt. For many, they’re just looking to relax, unwind and enjoy a bit of music.

I mentioned earlier about an uncle who initially freaked over a song title but calmed down and apologized when I explained what it really meant. I think that’s the key. If we’re going to pick apart every word, every movement, every nuance of entertainment, searching for the negative, we will find it. But, for the average person listening/viewing, is that what they’re getting out of it?

For me, though I’m pretty all over the place with music today (i.e. I listen to most styles of music, not just one genre), when I was a teenager, it was strictly metal (REO Speedwagon being the one exception; I was in love with Kevin Cronin…both as an artist and as a teenage girl with her first attack of hormones). I was growing up in a household with alcoholism and a stepfather who often became violent after imbibing and who wanted a bit too much to do with me, if you take my meaning. The loud, blistering guitars and earth-shaking drum sequences reflected the anger and confusion and the feelings of injustice churning inside of me. Banging my head to the music in the privacy of my own room; in the car; at a concert with friends seemed a healthier way to express that anger and confusion than acting out in some way…like hurting others, or hurting myself.

As for the lyrics, I really listened to them. I can honestly say, there were very few that I found “questionable”…even with a Christian background. And those that I did find questionable, I stopped listening to.

Despite everything that was going on in my home, I had a great-grandmother place a tiny Bible in my hand when I was born. Years later, I used to sneak into my aunt’s CCD classes to listen…because I wanted to know Him better. I remember receiving this pink rectangle of wood in CCD that had a pewter bust of Jesus mounted on it. It hung on the wall in my bedroom for years. Whenever things got really bad in our house, my 8, 9, 10 year-old self could be found kneeling before it…praying for the scariness to end, praying the only way I knew how; it’s the only thing that gave me strength to keep on keeping on. In short, I had a foundation of faith from a very young age. And I have always maintained that if my faith is so small and weak that a mere song lyric can tear it away, it wasn’t much of a faith to begin with.

Granted, there are many who do not have that foundation of faith. However, again, what are they hearing? What are they getting out of the music? Sometimes it’s not the lyrics but simply the music itself that lifts a blue mood or helps us to relax and focus on a task. And it means nothing more than that to the listener. In other words, maybe sometimes in our quest for saving souls, we take things a little too seriously. And that’s what pushes people away…instead of bringing them into the church, whatever the denomination. In short, whatever our religious beliefs, we cannot substitute our version of holiness and worship for someone else’s. Your time or method of prayer; the passages of Scripture that speak most to your heart; the religion you practice (Catholic, Baptist, Congregationalist), etc., are what work for you. They are a part of your personal relationship with Jesus. These are the paths God has led you down to worship Him. If there were any one perfect religion, then we would only ever have a Catholic church, or a Baptist church, or a Lutheran church. Not a Catholic church AND a Baptist church AND a Lutheran. We fight amongst ourselves about whose version of dogma and/or doctrine is correct and wonder, yet again, why so many turn away.

And now that I’ve had my little rant, let me get back on subject…

Music and ministry…or a rockin’ religion. Why is that a bad thing? Why would I not be able to maintain a close relationship with Jesus Christ just because Within Temptation CD’s sometimes spin in my CD player? We can substitute WT with Megadeth (Dave Mustaine’s born-again, btw!) or Ozzy Osbourne or Doro. And, these days, I’m listening more and more to some of those “no such thing” Christian rock bands: Casting Crowns, For King and Country, Francesca Battistelli, Lauren Daigle, Barlow Girl, MercyMe and Big Daddy Weave, for starters. Regardless, music lifts my soul. If the lyrics sung to it are messages of love, and especially God’s love, then I say, “Hallelujah!” If some of these artists are hitting mainstream audiences, crossing over into rock, pop and/or hip-hop genres, sharing messages of the gospel to those young ears–young ears who may never hear about Jesus from their parents, grandparents or any other traditional role model, then I say, “Amen!” They are not against Him, they are for Him. And we need the seed of hope they are planting for tomorrow.

A seed.

ONLY.

But what a seed! By singing about Jesus, and reaching millions through the medium of rock and roll, maybe, just maybe, it’ll bring some of those young ears into the church. And guess what? Once they are there, those vices–if, indeed, rock music could really be considered one–will fall away all on their own as Jesus touches their heart and they open themselves to the Holy Spirit.

My love for rock music, even metal, has never fallen away…no matter how great my faith grows. In my youth, we really didn’t have a contemporary Christian, or Christian rock, genre. I do remember being in my early-20’s when I first heard Chritian metal artists, Stryper. I remember them being extremely talented artists but, to combine Christianity and heavy metal was unheard of before them. Instead, in those moments of scariness, when I knelt before that make-shift altar at home, and prayed, He often sent those answers to my heart in the form of a song lyric…because music always brought me joy.

I plan on having this one sung at my funeral someday. It is REO Speedwagon’s “Blazin’ Your Own Trail Again.” They do not mention God or Jesus at all but these lyrics helped to bolster a young, impressionable girl…who believed she might be going to hell for the fornication that was never her choice at all:

Sooner or later you will find a way
To feel like sunshine, even on a cloudy day
To feel like morning in the dead of night
Sooner or later it’s gonna be all right
Now don’t go thinking your life’s a mess
Rather start thinkin’ in terms of happiness
And it’s gonna happen
Just decide were you’re goin’
Get out in the open
And start blazin’ your own trail again
It takes time sometimes to figure out
That there’s nothing to worry about
And that there’s plenty to be thankful for
It takes time sometimes to know the score
See, everybody’s got a smile inside
So put it upon your face and wear it with pride
And it’s gonna happen
Just decide were you’re goin’
Get out in the open
And start blazin’ your own trail again

Songwriters: Kevin Patrick Cronin
Blazin’ Your Own Trail Again lyrics © Hori Pro Entertainment Group

Sometimes that loud, blistering guitar and earth-shaking drum sequence is the only thing loud enough to shut out the pain and loneliness and confusion long enough that one can get “quiet” and listen to Him speak.

May God bless you & keep you!

REFERENCES

Brown, C. (1987). “Kiss of Death.” Back for the Attack. Sony/ATV Music Publishing, LLC.

Cronin, K. P. (1978). “Blazin’ Your Own Trail Again.” You Can Tune a Piano, but You Can’t Tuna Fish. Hori Pro Entertainment Group.

Hunt, D. (1988). “Dokken & Co. Is Back for the Attack.” Los Angeles Times. Retrieved February 6, 2018 from: http://articles.latimes.com/1988-01-31/entertainment/ca-39417_1_don-dokken

A God of Love

“Those who trust in Him shall understand truth, and the faithful shall abide with Him in love; because grace and mercy are with His holy ones, and His care is with His elect.” (Wisdom 3:9)

Yep. Still continuing on with this theme of God’s love. And why not? What better message can there be but that we are loved beyond our human capacity to comprehend?

Sometimes it’s hard to remember that He loves us when the bills are piling up; we lose a much-needed job; a major repair needs to be taken care of on a shoestring budget; a loved one is sick, injured…or has left us, etc. We tend to expect that, once we start walking with Jesus, it’ll be smooth sailing in our lives forevermore. But bills will still need to be paid; maintenance still needs to be done from time to time; illness, injury and, yes, even death, still exist. They won’t magically go away. This is where the expression “walk by faith” comes in. When these little earthquakes come into our lives, we should praise Him just as much as we are wont to do when life is smoothly sailing along.

That one’s a hard one to swallow…sometimes even for the believer. I remember the first time I read this, I questioned the wisdom of praising Him for the hardship. Wouldn’t praising Him for it mean that He might heap more adversity onto my head? What a horrible image! In essence, it is envisioning a God who sits there toying with us and delighting in our misfortunes. Why would anyone choose to follow such a deity? And more, why would anyone witness to others about such a god?

Maybe for the same reasons that people pick up another bottle of whiskey, snort another line of cocaine, or stay in an abusive and/or toxic relationship. Such a deity, that vision of someone toying with us and delighting in our misfortune, has more in common with the enemy of our souls. And, sadly, we humans have a tendency to gravitate towards the very things that are unhealthy for us, to be taken in by the lure…and the lies. We also tend to avoid like the plague the things that are good for us, such as eating healthier foods, exercising…cultivating a personal relationship with Jesus.

I am guilty as charged. I don’t always eat healthy. I get lazy about exercising. Sometimes I even neglect God.

The beautiful thing is He never neglects me.

Those little earthquakes I mentioned earlier? Oftentimes, they are God’s way of getting our attention, of asking us to realign our focus on Him…instead of the things of the world. They ask us to re-examine the course we are on and ask God to take control. Those little earthquakes–and especially the bigger ones, the hard-to-fathom-why-such-a-horrible-thing-would-happen-to-a-good-and/or-innocent-person–are also what the Adversary uses to try to separate us from God. It questions and challenges our faith. And it is then that the Adversary slips in his little worms of doubt. Sure, God can…and often does…use those little worms of doubt to bring about a greater love and faith in Him. It’s sort of like the worms in our compost bin. They’ll eat at our flesh, if we allow them contact with it for long enough, and cause us pain. But, in the right environment–such as God’s hand–those little worms can be used to create something wonderful and new:

Black gold, rich in nutrients for growing nourishing food for our bodies…or a faith so strong, so enduring, that it forevermore nourishes our soul.

Blessed be the name of the Lord.

May God bless you & keep you!

A Day for Nostalgia…and some Postponed Mourning

“Those whom the Lord has ransomed will return and enter Zion singing, crowned with everlasting joy; they will meet with joy and gladness, sorrow and mourning will flee.” (Isaiah 35:10)

Yesterday started out as a bit of an early spring cleaning day. I spent the earlier part of it dusting, chasing away cobwebs on the ceiling and just some general tidying up.

Until I got to the cedar chest in the downstairs hallway.

Originally, the cedar chest has been a place to display family pictures. The wall behind it has a montage of photographs in mixed-and-matched frames; so, too, the top of the chest. Everything of real value that, once Mom, pets and I were safely out of the house, I would run back in to rescue before the flames overtook it (heaven forbid). In more recent years, it has also become the depository for the beloved remains of departed pets, the artwork done by a beloved aunt of special needs and even a few cat toys left in the lane of traffic from the stairs to the rest of the house.

I’ve been avoiding it like the plague.

Dust? You ain’t seen nothing, honey.

Feeling ashamed and full of sorrow, I took a folding chair and sat down in front of it, duster in hand, and carefully, painstakingly, began dusting off each and every item. The canisters of Bear and Trooper’s remains were tough. I’m not really a fan of cremation, despite my environmental leanings. I hate the thought that a tiny canister of ashes is all that is left of this beloved St. Bernard and mischievous feline, respectively; it seems a sacrilege of some sort. Granted, the countless cats, dogs, chickens, rabbits, ducks, birds, rats and guinea pigs buried behind the house are just as unrecognizable to the lively and lovable creatures who once shared this home with me…and a bit of “hold” for this property that, in my more honest moments, I would love to sell. As this is rapidly becoming a more commercial area of town, the thought that they might be dug up or paved over for the next strip mall horrifies me. So I stay. And continue to struggle…but that’s another blog post for another day.

The beloved aunt was also cremated. However, her ashes were buried behind her parents’ graves in Providence. Still, pictures of her smiling face stared up at me…along with the framed pen-and-ink drawing of an elephant she’d created years’ ago; she had so much talent.

A part of me wanted to abort this mission but I carried on, lifting the lid of a keepsake box atop the chest, and feeling a bit of bittersweet delight in the treasures contained therein: an old felt hat worn by either my paternal grandfather, great-grandfather–or both! It’s a child’s hat. If my grandfather’s, he was born in 1905 so at least 100 years’ old; my great-grandfather was born in 1878. I have photos of both wearing a similar hat as young lads. The crystal candy dish that always sat on the end table between my paternal grandmother’s chair and the sofa, always filled with starlight candies. The…I’m not sure what you would call it…I’m going to say little yellow goblin that my maternal grandfather purchased and sent home to St. Louis with my mother after she’d visited RI for her sister’s wedding…or, perhaps, her brother’s funeral, I’m not sure which. It used to hold a little plastic sign that said: You and Me, Me and You, That’s the Way It’ll Always Be. One of my dogs did away with the sign; amazing that I still remember what it said. But it’s imprinted on my heart. A carefully wrapped Hummel given to me when my maternal grandmother died; it used to grace the shelf in the window by her front door. An Indian necklace of silver and turquoise, also given by my maternal grandfather as a reminder of our Native American heritage. And, for some strange reason, my cap and now-faded tassels when I graduated high school.

After setting it all aside, I finally lifted the lid of the chest. At least a dozen photo albums and countless envelopes of photos greeted me. My heart wrenched even as I picked up one of those envelopes. I took these photos. My photos tend to be predominantly of my pets. And I’ve lost quite a few over the last several years.

Yup. There’s Ariel, younger, healthier, livelier, sprawled out on the kitchen floor, looking up at me with those bright eyes and a smile on her little kitty face. I could hear the echo of her very distinctive “Me-o-ow!” Trooper hanging nearly upside-down on the kitchen chair. His was more of a “Rr-i-owww!” with the mouth doing a little arch as he uttered it. Picture Chewbacca’s voice but somewhat muted. (Chuckle) Megan, Woody, Alice, Roxy and Bear. Tessa, all white-faced in the later years of her life. The almost twin photos I took by the back gate first of Tessa and Hooch when I first moved here; then of Roxy and Bear shortly after they arrived. Rueben the Rat, poking his little twitchy nose out, looking for treats. My first 6 chickens: Rusty, Ruby, Rouge, Copper, Penny and Amber; Delilah Duck. Other chickens, too: Pierogi, Wiggy, Lil’ Peep, Flame, Autumn, Beauty, Charity, Linen, Flax, Patience, Blessing, Black Velvet, Squire, Winnie & Mannie. The budgies: Nigel, Jamaica & Skye. Guinea pigs, Harry, Ron and Hermoine (Yes, a Potter fan!); bunnies, Gizmo, Choo-Choo, Jillian, Isabella, Tango & Cindy Lou, Moxie, Splash, Mr. V, Violet, Rose & Lily, Orion and Lemony Snicket, Rainy. Mom’s dog, Max, lost three days before Christmas; he wormed his way into my heart pretty quickly. And, I confess, my heart started feeling a bit heavy. I realized that some of the depression and lack of motivation in recent years is simply grief. I’ve been in mourning yet, somehow, unable to really let it all out. Sure, there’s been tears with each loss but I’ve tucked most of it away somewhere, where it’s festered and scraped and left this raw, aching hole.

Worse, seeing pictures of that beloved aunt and hearing her tell me yet again how something is “too much like work”…or asking me “Wasn’t I darling?” when I looked at her baby pictures. The step-father I never wanted to claim as “father” because of his abuse. I’ve blogged about how forgiveness is more for ourselves, how it’s not about condoning the actions of the individual–and I could never condone that; I know how much it hurts, how difficult a hurdle it has been to overcome through life–but a means of letting go of something–hurt, anger, etc–that hurts you more than the person you’re holding that emotion towards. Yes, the forgiveness has been there. But I haven’t really allowed myself to grieve. As if grieving the passing of this man would somehow be hypercritical. And maybe to some people it would be. But without him, I also wouldn’t have a brother, whom I love more than life itself; beautiful nieces and sister-in-law that I wish I lived closer to, had more of an opportunity to know better; another family of beloved grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. I lost that third grandfather, my stepfather’s father, a year after my stepfather. Raw, aching hole…

Hypocrisy be damned.

But, you know what? Even with all the sorrow, the grief that I’ve been holding inside, bottling up, there was also a bit of healing yesterday. Despite the losses, I could look at these photos and, oftentimes, laugh. I could watch Trooper’s funny face hanging upside-down from the kitchen chair and remember his antics with real joy and appreciation for the years I got to share with him. When he showed up on my doorstep that night, my life was truly blessed. Ditto for every other pet, family member and friend. And, along with faces that I will no longer see in this life, there were photos of baby showers, and trips to the Big E Fair; of fiber fests, Christmas and Thanksgiving celebrations. And, suddenly, over the grief slid a sort of wonder and awe at how richly my life has been blessed. I’ve been focused on the negative: the losses. Instead of looking at all the goodness that has also been part of my life.

Of course, I shared the laughter with Mom. Mom’s not good with grief. She understands it, probably better than most, but she’s quick to mouth platitudes that I’d rather not hear, platitudes like how this pet or that is no longer suffering and in pain, or how I should think of all the little children in hospitals with cancer (I’m not sure the logic behind that one being of comfort…whether we’re talking beloved pets or family members or good friends). She means well. But she also gets anxious, as if it is a sin past bearing that one should openly exhibit emotion. But I have to. I have to let it out. Finally. Because I do mourn both human and humane. But I also rejoice in the memories. And was able to share those memories with someone else I love dearly. And that was the greatest healing of all.

May God bless you & keep you!

Embracing the Imperfect

“Although if I should wish to boast, I would not be foolish, for I would be telling the truth. But I refrain, so that no one may think more of me than what he sees in me or hears in me because of the abundance of the revelations. Therefore, that I might not become too elated, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, an angel of Satan, to beat me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I begged the Lord about this, that it might leave me, but He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me.” (2 Corinthians 12:6-9)

We all have things that we could boast about without looking foolish. Maybe you’re one of the most brilliant surgeons in the country and have helped heal countless other people…or animals, if a veterinary surgeon. Maybe you’re an awesome cook. Or have a beautiful singing voice. Our gifts are countless. And, yes, since He gave you these gifts in the first place, He also uses them to heal the sick, feed the hungry, and bring joy to many.

But, guess what?

That surgeon is also late to every appointment. The cook is nipping the cooking sherry while whipping up the filet mignon. And the singer is dyslexic. Sort of makes all of their accomplishments that much more awe-inspiring, doesn’t it?

And that’s the point.

God doesn’t just use our gifts. He uses our imperfections, too. If everything ran smoothly all of the time, would we notice His miracles? Would we understand that it’s all about Him and not about us? If we were all perfect in every way, would we even think to worship God? So He uses our imperfections. He uses them to further His Kingdom. When we, who are broken, are made whole through Christ, it forces the unbeliever to take notice. Sure, they may scoff and sneer, especially if we give the credit where it’s due for our success. But they notice the accomplishment. And are amazed at the adversities overcome to achieve that success. They may not suddenly become believers. But there’s a seed planted. And God will cause it to bloom in His own time.

Do you notice something though? Despite whatever He helps us to accomplish in our lives, those thorns never really go away. I may be a minister, a writer, an artist and a homesteader. But I am also a survivor of child molestation, an eternal procrastinator and I’m perpetually running late, running behind. I’m terrified of flying. I deal with depression and anxiety, low self-esteem and confidence issues, acid reflux, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Psychological Disorder, and Chronic Epstein-Barr. I’m showing you my brokenness…and thanking Him for all of it: the gifts and the thorns. But especially the thorns. Because that’s what people need to see. Those thorns are blessings in disguise. And there are others with those same thorns in their sides who need to hear that they are not alone. So, whatever adversities you are working with, thank Him.

Because there’s a silver lining behind that cloud. There always is.

May God bless you & keep you!