And Coming...

"She-Bear in the Beautiful Garden" is an allegory for children of all ages, written and illustrated by Ellen Gillette. Order from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or at

Tuesday, July 10, 2018


I attend, for the most part faithfully, a writers' group called Use Your Words. The Inner Truth Project, an outreach to victims of sexual abuse and violence, hosts us, but we are a group of women and man (occasionally more than one) who share about current projects, do homework, respond to writing prompts, and eat chocolate. Sometimes a guest facilitator or speaker runs the show, but most of the time, sweet Wendy Dwyer keeps us on track, or at least sort of. Writers, nay, women, often get sidetracked.

The homework assignment for the last session was this: Write about an area where you'd like to do better. I left it until the day of, which happened to also be the day I got a Dictionary Word of the Day: ullage. Could be the amount by which contents fall short of filling a container, could be the quantity remaining in the container that has lost part of its contents by evaporation, leakage, or use.

How appropriate for the assignment, I thought. The ullage of our lives could be said to be that which needs more work to fill us completely up, round out our character, etc. And at the same time it could also refer to a measure of what has been used up between our birth until this point.

The irony of one word meaning both things is that we are containers. As babies, we are mostly full. Fill us with joy and love during our infant years. Think of all the nurturing we receive when people hold us as if we are worth all the gold in the world. In that moment, we are precious. Fragile. Complete strangers will sniff at us, as if faced with expensive ambrosia. Our skin is stroked gently. We are bounced up and down rhythmically and immediately when grandmothers (not necessarily our own) get to hold us.

Early on, then, many of us are full. Over time, however, we leak, the holes and cracks we get in our containers the result of stress and strain or outright damage. We give of ourselves, using our storehouse of joy and love and patience on others because it feels good to us, or it's the right thing to do, or to get something in return. Sometimes we do, sometimes it's from a different source than the one we expected or thought we needed. We are neglected and the good, the love, the feeling of being in sync with ourselves and with the universe begins to evaporate.

How to make up the ullage? Where we actually lack – in knowledge, needed skills, hobbies to embrace – we can learn. We can increase the contents of our vessel. But we can never stop giving out, either. There will always be the ullage, because we will have always lost part of the contents. The trick is how we lose it. As with so many things, the choice is ours.

I don't want to evaporate. I don't want my love or joy or peace to respond to the heat of stress or anger by vanishing, little molecules of me breaking off and being swallowed by the negative force coming against me. I would say this even more strongly: I refuse to evaporate. There are people who ignore me, or neglect me, or act as if what I want or what I say is not important. Whatever. I refuse to go up in their puffs of prideful smoke. I'm here, and until God calls me home, I'm here to stay. Ignore me at your peril – or at your preference. I'm still here.

I also don't want to leak through rifts of unforgiveness and bitterness I've allowed to develop and widen. When you ignore a crack too long, there will be a break eventually. A shattering. Spillage that is difficult, if not impossible, to sop up. Never does it all get put back together as it was before. Not to say we can't heal, we can and do. But the fault lines remain, even if we find ways to hide them. They say it is easier to build men than to repair them, which is true. When a tiny crack appears, I want to address it. Forgive the one who hurt me, or ask the one I hurt to forgive me. Keep short accounts, in other words. When we don't forgive, we give our offender power over us, a power that he or she doesn't deserve.

The best way to have ullage, I am thinking, is to use what we have, and find a reliable source for replenishment. Spiritually, the source will be God, not a religious thing but one of relationship with someone who has proven to be trustworthy and faithful. We only scratch the surface, any one of us, in true understanding of how unfathomable the depths of his love for us are. Fortunately, we don't have to understand his love to accept it.

Back to the writers' group assignment, though. What area would I like to improve? Beauty. Not physical beauty, although I definitely need to stay on top of things like my weight and health, the message I communicate to others through my appearance – do I value myself in this moment? Am I confident? Do I feel beautiful, and if so, why? Does it depend too much on this or the other, or another person, or can I hearken back to that moment in my infancy when all I knew, from everyone I encountered, was acceptance and love and affirmation? That all-encompassing awareness of love was the first awareness we experienced. Life has a way of throwing up roadblocks, but knowing we are loved is still important.

As a pre-teen, I remember reading something in a book titled Calico Palace. It was about the gold rush days in California, but what I remember was a man telling a woman that "every woman is as beautiful as one man thinks she is." That's always stuck with me. You could pick that apart and analyze the psychology of it, the political incorrectness, but it is part of who I am today.

Physical beauty – or knowing that we are confident and attractive and enough for whatever comes our way – that's one thing. But where I want to grow is another. Creating an atmosphere of beauty around me. Beautiful words. Beautiful artwork. Beautiful smells and tastes. Recently, I had the privilege of attending an artist's private showing in her home. Everywhere I turned, there was something clever and creative, something that said "A clever and creative woman resides here." It was invigorating. I felt like a little sponge, soaking up the artistic atmosphere.

My world is too silent. Too drab. Often I am a quiet English countryside when there is a touch of morning fog and a lone whippoorwill sings out now and then. There is a time for that. But I also want to be a raucous Calcutta marketplace full of overpowering color and spice and heat, a tabla and sitar speeding up their beat and melody in the background as my heart is beating faster and faster, exhilarated by life.

In what area of life would I like to do better? In living, really living, every moment. There is beauty inherent in life, all around us. I want to do better at sensing life, enjoying life, and celebrating its beauty.

(c) Ellen Gillette, 2018

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

A Temporary Separation

My mother, Laura Jane Rogers Pendergraft, born on October 17, 1933, was named for her grandmother Laura Ellen Whitley -- I was named for her as well. She passed away January 12 a little over a year after being diagnosed with lung cancer. I was so surprised when we got the report. Mama hadn't smoked heavily ever, and hadn't smoked at all in half a century. She was a heart patient with Parkinson's, so those conditions were more expected to be the cause of her eventual end, but Mama didn't always follow expectations.

She went by Jane, but I only called her Mama. As my sister Rebecca (whom I only call Becky) shared at her memorial service, Mother sounds formal and distant. There are grown children who still call their mothers Mommy. Both our sets of kids refer to us as Mom. But in true Southern tradition, Mama was Mama.

When she was born at home, it was not an easy delivery. Growing up, we heard ... many times ... how the doctor used forceps to literally pull her out. which supposedly accounted for her long neck. Our grandfather said she screamed for three months. It's a wonder we wanted to have babies! This reminds me of something else - "Twilight Zone" was considered too dark for children in our household, and probably came on after our bedtimes. But the next morning at breakfast, Mama would tell us in great detail of the previous evening's episode, so vivid that we could relive every dark and scary moment.

Mama was a bit of a tom boy, but early on, she showed exceptional musical talent. At only 14, she marched into the local radio station and asked for her own show. She was given a spot in conjunction with a local minister, a Rev. Koestline, and she played the organ, specially trained by the organ company for three months. She played for school functions and the Rotary Club. She was also smart as a whip, valedictorian for the class of 1951 and voted as Most Likely to Succeed and Most Talented by her classmates at Albemarle High School. Later, I remember her sighing that she had more common sense than the psychologists she was secretary to at Western Carolina College when we were little, and we never doubted the truth of her statement.

Mama had entered nurses' training, after high school but left before graduating. Then, you couldn't be married in the program and she was discouraged from the long, hard hours taking care of lots of old men, she said, who tried to embarrass the young innocent students. Working at Starnes' Jewelers back home in Albemarle, she met a handsome red-headed teacher who came into the store. He was chaperoning a dance at her old high school, and asked her to be his date. At the dance, everyone parted just like in the movies she loved to watch every Saturday as a child, so that Herb and Jane could take the floor.

They married on December 26, 1953, and stayed married 64 years. They were not always easy years, especially when they lost their third baby, but the two of them taught us a lot about commitment, sacrifice, and carrying on.

Mama was a worker. At some point, she had three part-time jobs, or was it four? When we moved to Florida, Mama continued to work, in addition to being church organist or pianist. Her fingers were nimble, whether winning a typing contest or finishing a tax return, whether accompanying a cantata, or adding to the contemporary worship.

One of my most peaceful, early memories is lying in a church pew at the Methodist church in Cullowhee, North Carolina. The church was empty except for Mama and me as she practiced for the coming Sunday. Her music was flawless, and lying there, listening to her, I felt close to heaven. I think it was an accurate sensation.

Mama's nimble fingers helped her playing cards too. That era's version of gaming involved sitting tother around a table, talking and laughing while Canasta or Shanghai was played. She never, ever "let us" win, not so much a sign of her competitiveness as, I think, wanting us to be prepared for the realities of life: Whatever you receive, you have to earn.

When we were growing up, we watched one channel together, took road trips on the weekends together, went to see the relatives at Christmas together - her parents, Daddy's family, her sister "Susie Q," all the nieces and nephews. We read books together, went to church together. Rarely, to a movie or out to eat, two very big deals. 

If I were to boil my childhood down to its core, I'd say that the two main things Mama and Daddy taught Becky and me were that there was nothing we couldn't accomplish, and that no matter what, they'd always love us. The first was perhaps a form of child abuse - who can live up to that?! - but the second always caught us when we failed.

One of my favorite Mama stories is the night we sat down to supper, David and I, our oldest daughter Terri and her toddler Jasmine. Before we said grace, Jasmine piped up. "I think we need to pray for GG." GG was Mama's nickname celebrating her role as great-grandmother. The grandchildren had called her Grambo or Grandma Graft.

It's important to understand that GG had babysat for Jasmine that day. The WHOLE day. When I asked Jasmine why, she said, "All day long GG kept saying 'Help me, Lord.'" Mama was famous for those mutters, simultaneously quick prayers for grace as well as pointed acknowledgment that things weren't going as she wished.

Mama was capable and strong, and a little, shall we say, controlling? She knew the best way to do some things, and felt a responsibility to share it, because she loved us and wanted us to ALSO know the best way to do it! I have, many times, heard her correct nurses or hospital staff about cleanliness. Because she and Daddy lost their son to a staph infection at a hospital, she was obsessive about germs. To her dying day, she would not let her bare feet touch the floor, at least by choice. That was Mama - refusing treatment to kill cancer, but worried that she might pick up something from eating cheese that might have gone bad in the refrigerator. A complicated woman, in other words.

Even in her last days, Mama would rally for a few seconds to tell us that they were out of paper towels, or remind us of an upcoming appointment. She didn't give up control easily. She was a caregiver who sometimes wished someone would take care of HER. God seemed to grant that request at the end of her life. Treasure Coast Hospice and Lake Forest Park Senior Living staff provided consistent and compassion care for her, for which the family is very grateful. That last week, though, when Ashley, one of the hospice nurses asked her about something, Mama didn't even open her eyes. She was too weak to shrug, but she simply said "Whatever." THAT was as significant a change to the nurse as her not wanting to eat, or her falling blood pressure. Mama was not a "whatever" kind of gal most of the time.

It was a relatively long and slow decline, going from getting tired on the way to the dining room, to needing someone to push her there in a wheelchair, to not leaving her room, to not leaving her bed. It's hard to watch someone so vital, become so weak. It was hard especially, I think, on the grandchildren, who had known her as the silly Grambo making scary faces or giving piggy-back rides. She stopped caring about wearing her wig or make-up, or was (more likely) unwilling to inconvenience anyone by asking for help. My son told her one time that she was the consummate Southern lady, make-up always perfect. That pleased her greatly, and to let that go was just another indication of how determined she was to be done with all this nonsense and get on to glory.

Mama was resolute in her decision to donate her body to science. A heart patient, she also had Parkinson's and cancer. When her grandson, my youngest son Adam, died following a car accident, he saved five lives by being an organ donor. She decided she could help too. We don't know at this time how her donation to a group called Science Care was used, but we're at peace knowing she did exactly what she wanted. Eventually, her body will be cremated, and Science Care will send us the remains. Honestly, we're not sure what we'll do with them then, but Mama did say NO WATER. She can still get us to do what she wants, even from heaven.

One of Mama's greatest regrets was not finishing nursing school. She was so proud when "little" Becky, our youngest daughter, became an RN. But she was proud of all her grandchildren and great-grandchildren. She was what Joyce Landorf Heatherley called "balcony people" in her delightful little book with the same title. Had geography and then her health allowed it, she would have been at every soccer match, every football game, every school program, every celebration. She was thrilled to attend her grandchildren's graduations, promotions, weddings, to be at the hospital for births. She loved playing with kids herself, making faces, dressing up, having them sit by her at the piano. She saved every picture, every card. She treasured us, her daughters, grandchildren, great-grandchildren. She prayed for us. At her memorial service, I asked those in attendance to really think about that. She prayed for both family and friends, so virtually everything each of us encountered or endured or triumphed over, in the midst of every good decision or horrible mistake, Mama's prayers were right there in the midst. 

In her obituary, it was stated that she encouraged everyone she met. She once said she had a "kissing ministry," the perpetual loving mother finding new children to support each day. She called CNAs by name and blew kisses to ladies across the dining room at the assisted living facility. She kept photographs of children whose names elude us. She loved. We didn't always appreciate that, because it motivated her to correct and instruct when we didn't necessarily want correction or instruction, but that's what mamas do.

In her final weeks, Mama said she wished she had something profound to say. There were family situations she always thought that if she'd just said this, or just said that, maybe she could fix it. She was a fixer. I'd remind her that some things may not get fixed, this side of heaven, but we could trust God with the details. She hoped that at the very least, the unity of family and friends at her life's end, would start a move in the right direction. Several things happened that seem to indicate that she, once again, got what she wanted -- good decisions, a softening of hearts, rekindling of friendships and other relationships as we stood around after her service talking of old times, looking at photographs, hugging one another in shared emotion.

Mama was raised in a church-going family, and rededicated her life to Christ as an adult, always faithful in attendance and service until her health prevented it. But even then, a pastor who held services at the facility where she lived said that she would challenge and bless him when he visited. She'd ask deep questions, quote verses of scripture that were especially meaningful to her. She trusted her heavenly Father with her life, as well as her death, although she was getting increasingly surprised, even disappointed, every morning she woke up here. She was so ready to be reunited with friends and loved ones. To see her baby, to see our son again, and her father (George Adam Rogers), for whom both boys were named. Her mother Polly (Pauline Whitley) and sister Marie Tucker. Friends from Lake Forest Park who went before her -- Julius, Howard -- friends from the Lunch Bunch who'd gone to school with her in Albemarle.

When she was diagnosed with cancer, she put in her order with the Lord to go in her sleep. Doctors had explained some of the possible scenarios, and she said no thank you. Like almost always, she got her way. We will miss her, every day. Some will regret not having visited more, or telling her they loved her one more time. When you think about it, no one ever says, "I wish I hadn't gone over as much as I did. I wish I hadn't spent so much time with someone who has passed." I encourage those people to stop.  Life is much too short, no matter how long it lasts, to live with regrets. Instead, let that wistful and wishful thinking motivate us to visit more, love more, share our lives more. 

As people of faith, we believe that this is only a temporary separation. We believe in eternity, in heaven. And if we believe that, then the transition to the "other side" is a promotion, a graduation, a healing to beat all healings. C.S. Lewis wrote that when people die, infants continue to grow until they reach their prime age, and the elderly get younger until they do also. If that is true, then Mama is now slender and beautiful with a full head of dark hair, unfettered by age and infirmity and devices to help her walk.

In Mama's senior year book, each graduate picked a phrase to go with their list of accomplishments at school. Mama's choice was a paraphrase from poet Bessie Anderson Stanley: She has achieved success who has lived well, laughed often, and loved much.

I think that sums up Mama's life nicely.

A link to Mama's obituary and a guest book may be seen here:

(c) Ellen Gillette, 2018

Sunday, December 24, 2017

A Different Kind of Christmas Eve Story

It is, perhaps, a different kind of Christmas Eve story, but one with a definite link to what we celebrate...on the wrong date, at the wrong time of year. Jesus, son of Mary, Son of God, son (supposed) of the carpenter Joseph, who was engaged to Mary at the time of her conception -- even for an unbeliever, it's fascinating reading.

There are two genealogies given in the gospels. The familiar Christmas story, read in Christian schools, in churches, by firelight in countless homes each year...this appears in the gospel of Luke. Scholars believe that the genealogy it contains is that of Mary, while Matthew's traces the lineage of Joseph.

Why does it matter? The Messiah's birth was foretold in the Old Testament. Micah 5:2 says “But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days.” Scholars (again) connect this prophecy to Jesus.

Luke tells us that there was a census. Joseph had already decided not to divorce Mary after an angel told him not to (smart man) and had to go to his family's home of Bethlehem, under Roman law. Mary's lineage was also from the house of David the king, but women weren't regarded as all that important at the time. The head of the household was what mattered, and so Joseph and Mary traveled to Bethlehem where, the story goes, the time came for her to give birth to a very special baby, conceived of the Holy Spirit.

For the prophecy to be fulfilled, Mary had to be betrothed to a man of the house of David, even though his bloodline wasn't, technically, the highest priority. Mary is venerated, even worshipped by some, and by all accounts a remarkable young woman...but she also couldn't be betrothed to just anyone. Had to be form the house of David, so that he'd have to take her to Bethlehem. Well, you get the idea.

Matthew's lineage, written to Jewish readers, includes -- amazingly --- four women, and not the ones you might expect. No mention of Eve, the mother of us all, or Sarah, the mother of the Jewish race. No Rebekah, the mother of Jacob, whose twelve sons became the Twelve Tribes of Israel. Matthew included the names of Tamar, a Jewish daughter-in-law who posed as a prostitute to get pregnant by her father-in-law; Rahab, an ACTUAL prostitute who saved Jewish spies in Jericho; Ruth, whose "Whither thou goest" speech is often quoted at weddings but was spoken to the mother of her dead husband; and then...there's Bathsheba, who isn't even named.

She gets credited as the "wife of Uriah." Whaaaat?

The story is not a sweet one. In a nutshell, King David sent the army out but stayed behind, saw Bathsheba bathing on the rooftop, sent for her and got her pregnant, invited her husband (and one of his esteemed Mighty Men) Uriah home for R&R to cover his actions. Uriah wouldn't sleep with his wife while his men were embattled, so David sent him back to war with instructions to place good ole Uriah on the front lines, hoping for his imminent death. Uriah did indeed die; David married Bathsheba, the baby died and David repented. David and Bathsheba lived, if not happily ever after, long enough to have Solomon, who became king, was regarded as the wisest man on earth at the time, and who built the Temple.

That's a lot of history, but at the very least it shows that the Bible is not dull. Why bring this up now? Because when Bathsheba's story is mentioned, it is always (in my experience) slanted. David, hero of the Goliath incident, writer of Psalms, husband of many...he is shown to be the lustful, powerful man who wrongly sends Uriah to his death to cover his adultery. That's fair.

Bathsheba doesn't get a lot of mention at all, other than as sort of a victim of circumstances. Uriah is praised as a man of honor.

That's not the way I see it.

Uriah was one of David's Mighty Men. Respected by his soldiers. Respected by his king (up to a point). But, really? He refused to sleep with his wife because his men were in the field? What did that communicate to his wife, and was it a pattern she had been living with for years?

No wonder she went to the palace when David called her.

I'm not saying she was justified, or that David wasn't wrong. I'm just pointing out that back when Joshua was preparing the Israelites for war, God told him to send home anyone who'd just been married, so he could enjoy his wife. A man is supposed to be intimate with his wife. A wife is supposed to be intimate with her husband. If one of them refuses, no one should be surprised when things  take a different direction.

Uriah would have been better off to have slept with his wife and returned to battle happier and more refreshed. Would he have died anyway? No doubt -- otherwise, Solomon wouldn't have been born. Had David not called for Bathsheba after the rooftop bathing...had he not gotten her pregnant...had nothing wrong transpired...I'll go out on a limb and say I think Uriah would have still died in battle, David would have still married Bathsheba, and they would have still had Solomon. Without all the condemnation and conviction and grief. 

Maybe Bathsheba had had all the neglect she could handle. Maybe she heard that David was in the habit of strolling on his rooftop at a certain hour. Maybe she planned the whole thing. Maybe she hoped that something would jolt her brave, strong husband out of his self-imposed, single-minded focus on Duty and remind him of his responsibility to her. We don't know.

But I like the fact that Bathsheba, even if she isn't called by her own name, gets a little press in the gospel of Matthew. She was a black mark on the beloved King David's reputation, but she didn't put it there all by herself. David was a participant. And so was Uriah.

Fort Pierce artist
Helen Terry's
beautiful "This I Do For You."
I especially like the fact that Matthew lets the world know this: even the worst of the worst, according to polite society, are included in the family of Jesus. There are those who give the world the impression they have to clean up their acts, their faces, and their vocabulary before they are welcome at church, but Jesus came for the world. Warts and all. Sinful, weak, helpless, hopeless, labeled as unfit and unloved. He was born for them, to make a way for them back to the Father who never stopped loving them. For you. For me.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Red Letter Challenge

I found this photo on a Bible commentary site
but liked it because Jesus looks a little
like Liam Neeson, doesn't he?
Maybe you've never read the Bible, not cover to cover, not even the shortest verse ("Jesus wept."John 11:35). Maybe you had one of those evangelical check-the-box mornings and are patting yourself on the back for Quiet Time spent in prayer and the Word. Maybe you're a Bible scholar, maybe you think the Bible is one big collection of myths and fairy tales.

I want to challenge you to read something, whether it's for the first time ever or for the umpteenth time since you got saved at a youth meeting in high school. Commonly known as The Sermon on the Mount, it's three chapters in the book of Matthew. Matthew was one of the disciples of Jesus of Nazareth, a Jew who lived roughly 2000 years ago, who was hated by the religious leaders of his day because he hung out with the outcasts of society and rocked their neat little black-and-white, good-and-evil, heaven-and-hell worlds.

The book of Matthew has 27 chapters. I'm just asking you to read three of them. If you pick up a copy of the Bible somewhere, most of those three chapters may be printed in red ink. Some Bibles print the actual words of Jesus, what he said inside quotation marks, in red. Why? Maybe you assume it is to add significance, as if they needed more. Or so they'd be easier to spot on a page.

Actually, it was a magazine editor's idea. According to Wikipedia, the editor of The Christian Herald in 1899, Louis Klopsch, asked his mentor what he thought of a New Testament with Jesus's words printed in red and his mentor, the Rev. Talmadge, said (I paraphrase) "Well, it couldn't hurt, and it might just help." The Red Letter Bible was born, popular since 1901.

Keep Reading

I challenged you to read Matthew 5-7, and you may be thinking...why doesn't she shut up so I can go do it? Go ahead - what you'll find in those chapters is imminently more important and more beautiful than anything here. But if you want a bit of background before you accept the challenge, here it is.

Today, there's something called the Red Letter Christian Movement that focuses, radically, on just the red parts, because in their way of thinking, what Jesus said is more important than what anyone else said. I have to agree. Not that you throw the rest out, but everything else should be taken in context, as commentary on Truth. Yes, yes -- I can hear pages rattling in the background while you look up the favorite rebuttal verse: Paul's reminder found in 2 Timothy 3:15-17:
 16All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; 17so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.
Remember, though, if you have your ecumenical knickers in a twist, Paul was talking only about the Old Testament at the time he wrote those words. The New one hadn't come along yet. It wasn't even being finished writing, much less canonized (circa 305, there-abouts). Even so, Paul also wrote to the Colossian believers that:

 15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.16 For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him. 17 He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.
Paul, in other words, gave Jesus's words every bit as much emphasis as the folks who printed them in red.

A Quick Overview

The Sermon on the Mount is called that for a very good reason: Jesus sat down on a mountain to teach the crowd that had followed him and his disciples that day. He started out by blessing them, specifically reminding them that God wanted to bless them. They were, for the most part, living under harsh Roman rule, with an occupying army to deal with on top of everything else. That first "blessing" part is why it's sometimes called the Beattitudes, meaning "blessedness." In Sunday school they like to say it's the BE Attitudes: Be humble, be good, be....  But it's cool just the way it is. Why do we have to try and cute-sy the Truth up?

Jesus spoke simply to them about practical matters of their faith (the crowd was mostly Jewish, as he was), but not just "obey the rules." Instead, he consistently went beyond, explaining that although they'd always heard one thing, he wanted them to understand the principle, not just give lip-service or white knuckle compliance.

It is the principles of Matthew 5-7 I want you to consider, at least once in your life if you've never read the passage. It is the principles of Matthew 5-7 I want to jolt you out of spiritual lethargy if you're thinking "Sure, sure, heard it a thousand times. Yada, yada, house built on solid rock. Got it."

You don't.

How can I say that? Because every time I read the Sermon on the Mount, I see something new, and I think you just might too. And because, looking around (and in the mirror) I don't see a Church (or a Christian) that is necessarily behaving and speaking as if Jesus's words had registered. Really and truly registered, sinking down into the deepest consciousness that is able to affect lasting change.

I Dare You

Don't take my word for it, though. Read it for yourself. I dare you. I double-dog-dare you to read Matthew 5-7 straight through, silently or out loud, and NOT hear its simple, yet powerful, eloquence. I'm not asking you to join the Red Letter Movement, or join a church, or believe in Jesus. I'm just asking you to read three chapters in a book. And if you don't have the book, you can read online:

I think you'll be pleased with the words. Comforted. Instructed. Maybe a few "ouches" here and there, but mostly, the refreshing sound of Truth. Oh, and by the way, the passage includes what is commonly known as the Beattitudes

As the Rev. Talmadge said, "It can't hurt. Might help."

(c) Ellen Gillette, 2016

Scripture quotations taken from the New American Standard Bible® (NASB),
Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973,
1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation
Used by permission.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Out of a Job

My granddaughter is 17, and her little brother just turned 13. They both live with me, so it's a different dynamic than many grandparents experience. When they were younger, their mother was often ill, and so a good deal of the parenting was mine. Now that she is able to parent them herself, it's sometimes a challenge for me to, well, not. Sure, I've got more experience. Sure, I actually know a better, easier way of getting something done or seeing a certain outcome, but I'm learning (slowly) to keep my mouth closed. Back off. Stay out of it. Keep a healthy distance.

I wonder if other women nearing 60 suddenly face the fact that after spending most of our lives with huge responsibilities -- the daily rearing, cleaning, wiping bottoms and noses, preparing meals, fixing problems and affixing band-aids to boo-boos, sewing clothes and hanging out the wash, giving advice and wiping away tears, teaching children how to make beds and tie shoes and (in my case, as a 12-year homeschooler) read and write and add -- we are now out of a job. That one, anyway.

My children are grown. We raised them, like the Boy Scouts, to be trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent. Some of the training took better than other parts; of the four, some are better in specific areas than their siblings. Each one, however, is of age. Each one is responsible for his or her own decisions, choices, and behavior.

No longer do I need to be vigilant on their behalf, or instruct them on what is Right. With one daughter and two grandchildren in the home, I still have a responsibility for the house itself, and make reasonable requests (in my opinion) as to their care of rooms or help with chores.

But I'm clearly out of a job. Or maybe the job description has merely changed, because it's not like I've retired. Theoretically I get to enjoy the fruits of my labors, enjoying the company and affection of my adult children, enjoying the company and affection of their children and significant others (and in one case, the children of a significant other). Now and then, my advice is asked. I get occasional texts and calls and emails and Facebook messages. Sometimes, my help is needed, and if able, I'm happy to provide it.

The adjustment hasn't been a smooth road, however. I've clung too long to being needed. My
expectations have been unreasonable. I've wanted my children to make decisions according to my own wisdom (which is unfair, because some wisdom must be attained over time). I've longed to see them walk in complete happiness, free from pain or issues or struggles, because as a mother of four young children, I tried to create that bubble of happiness. Somewhere along the way, the bubble burst. I've blamed this on myself (not true). I've blamed this on others (also not true). Bubbles are simply nice while they last, but they never last that long.

I've decided ... or maybe I should say that I am deciding, because it seems to be a daily process ... that working myself out of a job isn't a bad thing. It may mean that one phase of my life, my womanhood, is not exactly over -- I'll always be my children's mother, no matter how old they are -- but the lines have blurred. The edges of relationships have softened. My role in the play is being rewritten.

Mothers are called upon for so much: we have to be tender, we have to be strong, we have to sacrifice, we have to put the needs of our children first. As we reach this point in our lives, however, even though it sometimes feels harder, it's actually the opposite. We can relax. Take a deep breath. Do what we want. Go where we want. Not selfishly, but taking care of ourselves in ways we may have overlooked.

Many women learn this at a far younger age than I have. Women with different personalities may have less trouble letting go than I have had. Life has a way of knocking us around in different ways, and we learn the lessons we need at different rates. We get the same tests until we pass, and maybe we pass with an A+ and maybe we pass with a D- but that test is done, and it's on to another. This awareness of the job thing is, perhaps, just one more test for me.

I used to have a dream in my head: an Old World compound, filled with grown-ups and children, living and working together, relationships entwined with love and shared responsibilities. Bonanza and The Waltons and The Big Valley all merged into one big happy family. The problem with this is that it was my dream alone. No one else wanted it. My efforts to build it failed, and my disappointment in that failure was in danger of turning me into someone I didn't like. 

My children were raised to be independent and capable, which meant that they didn't need or want a compound. They wanted wings. As they've flown away, they've learned to soar. And I have loved watching their majestic beauty, even from afar.

What do you do when you realize that one dream will never, ever, not-in-a-million-years, come true? Another dream replaces it, hopefully, because everyone needs a dream. King Solomon wrote that "a desire fulfilled is a tree of life" (Proverbs 13:12) but every tree begins with a seed. 

During these last few years of adjusting to my new role in life, I've planted a seed. When there isn't enough rain, I have a watering can. If there's a chill in the air, I'm out there with newspaper to ward off frost. And I'm waiting, praying that this tree will grow quickly, knowing that the roots are deep. The soil is good. 

(c) Ellen Gillette, 2016

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Chrissie Hynde Rocks. Literally.

Since the late 70s, Chrissie Hynde she has been the one constant of the English-American group The Pretenders. She also rocks as a woman who knows who she is, where she's been, and handles criticism for speaking her mind.

The criticism comes, ironically, from proponents of women speaking their mind. Apparently we're supposed to say whatever we want unless it goes against the current notion du jour.

Hynde's 2015 memoir, entitled Reckless: My Life as a Pretender, Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, Vogue, the New York Times, and other popular, well-respected outlets: "frank," "well-written," "humorous". But because of one small part, one tiny episode of transparency and personal honesty, that goes out the window with some folks, and she's come under fire.
has gotten rave reviews from the

Hynde's sin is that she is audacious enough to accept some of the responsibility for being raped.

That goes against the notion that No Means No (which it does!) and that rapists should receive consequences for their actions (they should!). There are lots and lots of generalities with such things, but occasionally, we need to realize that some circumstances are different.

M. Emmett Walsh, as Dr. Bass in "A Time to Kill."
Remember the scene in the movie "A Time to Kill" where a doctor's testimony is completely
discounted because he'd been arrested for statutory rape? What the jury didn't hear was that the girl was a few days shy of the required birthday to get married, and the couple stayed together forever. I may have the details wrong, but you understand the point. Sometimes, the facts don't add up to the underlying truth.

Hynde's rapes are unfortunate, tragic, emotionally harmful, criminal -- just like all sexual assaults. What makes her comments in her memoirs troubling to some is that she admits that she wasn't caught off guard, or stalked, or drugged against her will. Her eyes were wide open when she began hanging out with a motorcycle gang known for sexual misbehavior. She knew the lifestyle, she was aware of the risk involved, and when the inevitable (in her own thinking) took place, her response was philosophical.

"Technically speaking, however you want to look at it, this was all my doing and I take full responsibility. You can’t f--- about with people, especially people who wear ‘I Heart Rape’ and ‘On Your Knees’ badges," she wrote. In a later interview she stated, "You can’t paint yourself into a corner and then say, 'Whose brush is this?' You have to take responsibility. I mean, I was naive. If you play with fire, you get burnt. It’s not any secret, is it?"

Yes and no. And I get that.

When I was 16, I was molested by a family friend. In one respect, I should have seen it coming, and in another respect, I wasn't surprised when he made his first move. Because when I was 14, he'd made an inappropriate remark. I was offended. Red flags went up. I even rehearsed a confrontational conversation with him which I never (unfortunately) delivered.

Could've. Would've. Should've. We can't go back. We mustn't beat ourselves up for choices we made or opportunities we didn't take. But that doesn't mean we can't acknowledge the fact that we played a role in what eventually transpired.  I should have repeated the remark to my parents, rather than plan on handling myself. There's no way of knowing if that would have changed the future, but it might have changed ours. I should have, when he said what he did, told him it wasn't funny, and I didn't like it. That  one thing might have stopped  him from what he did later.

Because I never confronted him or told a responsible adult what he had said, and later, what he did, I had a part in all that happened beyond simply being a victim. No, a survivor. I refuse to let him have any more control over my thoughts, behavior, emotions, whatever. But I also know, honestly, that I wasn't beat over the head and dragged into the woods, either.

I was manipulated, seduced, deceived. That was my own scenario. A smart, modest, raised-right teenager, and I still fell victim. Was it my "fault"? Not at all. I'm not blaming myself, simply owning the part I did play. I could have avoided what happened. I didn't act on the red flags. I didn't alert anyone of the subtle manipulations, because I was too immature to recognize them as such. But there was a time, when I knew something was "wrong with this picture," and I never followed through.

Today I see young women, teens, pre-teens, dressed provocatively, knowing that there are predators who would love nothing more than to rob them of those scanty clothes and what innocence is left. I worry about them. And I also know that some of them are actively asking for trouble, as Hynde admits she was.

Those who aren't...the girls and women who say they can dress however they please and it doesn't matter... I would suggest using a little personal restraint, a little common sense. Open those beautiful eyes a little more and really see where you're walking, and who you're walking with.

Rape isn't about lust, but control, they say -- but there are also plenty of lusty guys who think that what a girl wears on a date is the fashionable equivalent to putting out the welcome mat. Making out (which a girl may hope for and encourage) can easily become a rape... call it date rape if you must, but if a girl or woman doesn't consent to intercourse, it is rape. Report it, prosecute it. But also... avoid situations in which it is even possible.

My granddaughter and I went through a R.A. D. program at our local Sheriff's office. That's Rape Aggression Defense. The very first and most important training is self-awareness. Know who you're with, even in an elevator. Look at people. Look around. Check out your surroundings.

But back to Hynde: she went out of her way to find surroundings that were dangerous. She sought out people who were criminals. And so, she wasn't particularly surprised when they committed crimes and put her life in danger. She'd walked in with her eyes open.

I think it's grand that she can own her part in that. She would have completely avoided being raped (most likely) if she had avoided the rapists. Instead, she waltzed into a house on fire and got burned. She knows she was unwise to be there, and she's honest enough to acknowledge it.

That doesn't make her own rapists innocent nor blame other victims. But it does reflect the honesty of a woman who knows herself, and doesn't mind letting everyone else know her for who she is, not for who they want her to be.

Now, having said all that, let me also say this: it would have been appropriate, and better, and right, if Hynde had reported the rapes, if those guys with the horrible t-shirts and worse behavior had ended up behind bars. Acknowledging that she played a part by simply being around those types of people in no way implies that rape is acceptable. If you have been assaulted, molested, raped ... please talk to someone.

The national Rape Crisis hotline number is 800.656.HOPE (4673). Where I live, the Sexual Assault Assistance program provides victim advocates who will stay with you and your family through the entire process. The Inner Truth Project provides outlets for help and overcoming. Here are some links:

Being a victim of rape, incest, or molestation is never the fault of the victim, but if you can avoid being a victim, doesn't that make sense? R.A.D. teaches to run away from trouble, if possible. I think that's what Hynde is saying, that she could have avoided what happened, because she knew the risks, knew the environment. 

We don't always have prior information. When we do, we should make the most of it. Run. Avoid. Be aware. Use wisdom. And if things happen anyway... get help. Make noise. A lot of noise. By yelling, and telling, by prosecuting if that's possible, you're helping not only yourself, but future possible victims.

Chrissie Hynde bashers should get over it, already.

(c) Ellen Gillette

Sunday, March 29, 2015

A Letter to Indiana From God (a bit presumptuous of me, but He can handle it)

Dear Indiana,
I am known by many names, and many of your citizens know me well, but allow me to introduce
myself to the state as a whole, because the state as a whole is currently in the news: I’m the Creator of the universes which spread out endlessly (I came up with infinity, as well) and have been around since Time began (that was mine, too).

Out of all that I created, Earth has been my pet project. What would happen if I created mankind with a free will, showed clearly the best way of going about life, and let them have at it? Of course, I already know the answer, because I’m outside of time, but it’s been a very interesting process for the last multi-millennia.

You may ask why I’m writing, when there are so many other pressing issues. Trust me, I have it well in hand, although you need to remember I see things from a very different perspective. When you see it all from beginning to end, it’s a little easier to see the reasons, but just as a forest fire may look – at a particular moment , to humans – as a disaster, the living forest knows that fire is a necessary cleanser periodically, allowing for better and more productive growth.

I am regularly accused of (1) not existing at all, (2) being cruel for allowing any number of things to continue, (3) being ineffective because I didn’t intervene in this or that tragedy, or (4) needing your help. Aside from  the sheer entertainment value of (1) and (4), I put up with (2) and (3) out of mercy and patience, and the obvious knowledge that my creation’s limited understanding was, after all, built in. By moi.

But there are times, such as the current uproar over your Religious Freedom Restoration Act (Senate Bill 568), that I am inclined to give a little fatherly nudge. I could have sent tornadoes, an alien invasion, the zombie apocalypse, or plague – could, doesn’t mean I won’t…doesn’t mean I ever did! – but that isn’t how I roll. I wrote the book (literally and figuratively) on love. I AM love, if you remember one of my publicists’ words (I John 4:7).

Governments are raised up with my permission and for my purposes. As one of my other writers said, “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God” (Romans 13:1, NIV). Rulers always think they accomplished things by might or wallet or even qualification, and certainly I take all that into consideration, but I’m on an eternal clock. What happens today or next month or the next hundred years is not the pressing issue it always is with you, or them.

But Indiana. I’ve got some thoughts.

This bill troubles many of your citizens. It troubles many of the citizens of what you call the United States. For those with enough vision to see beyond the geographical lines and boundaries mankind has set up, it troubles citizens of the world, not so much for what it says, but what it implies. What it could lead to in the future.

Your governor, Mike Pence, wants to clarify the sticking point of discrimination protection, specifically discrimination against men who marry men and women who marry women, or would like to.

Not so long ago in your nation, Jim Crow laws kept the races separate, as if whites might catch black germs, as if blacks could not be trusted around white women, as if blacks were second-class, subhuman. Other countries went even further, gassing millions of Jews and other so-called “vermin.”  If ever there was a point that I questioned myself, it would be when my creation, my children, are so blind that they lose sight of the fact that they are all, each one, exactly the same below the skin. Same bones and muscle, same veins filled with blood, same brains with electrical energy.

Masterpieces, each and every one. How often you forget this one basic fact.

Your bill, on the surface, seems innocuous enough, providing protection from lawsuits if a person, business, organization, church, etc. refuses to provide services to someone on the basis of the person (business, etc.)’s religious beliefs.  Frankly, I would hope that folks would just as soon take their business elsewhere rather than get their knickers in a twist, so to speak. There are plenty of businesses that are not, for lack of a better word, jerks. Plenty of businesses who are in business to make a profit and not to make a political stand.

People need to be honest about such things.  “This business is owned by a self-righteous hypocrite who still thinks whites are superior.” That might work. Or “We prefer to serve only those who attend our church/synagogue/mosque/coven/temple” – I wouldn’t think such a business would succeed, but it’s worth a try.

Because you see, even with the law in place, the religiously inclined for whom you claim the law is desired,  are going to have a difficult time convincing the public and the courts that they are taking a stand based on religious beliefs if they are, at the same time, doing things that circumvent that very religion.

Religion is man-made, true – all I started out wanting for was that my creation love me, and one another. People have gone in various directions, and this is not the time for further explanations and apologetics. The fact remains that in the U.S. there are multitudes of religions operating freely, and your laws must apply equally, as your Constitution states.

Muslims will have difficulty proving that their unloving business practices are based on religion, since they know me as al‑Wadud, He who loves.  Sikhs profess love of God and his creation (fellow humans included), therefore, good Sikhs would serve anyone. Buddhists strive for enlightenment, which comes through unselfishness – not likely to hold up in court if you are selfishly refusing to serve someone in a restaurant.

And Christians! Not so-called (their name is Legion) but true, sincere adherents to Jesus Christ, will be laughed out of court if they try to convince anyone that being unkind, unloving, intolerant, etc. is due to their religion. Really? Perhaps they mean a different Jesus than the one I know so well.

Religious freedom is lawful, and I make all kinds of allowances, constantly, for the behaviors and attitudes I observe in the United States, because your government places such a high priority on this one universal right. One’s right to religious freedom is not less important than one’s right to obtain services.  We are in agreement here.

Common sense would dictate that if an organization states clearly that it is for men, or women, or heterosexuals, or gun-toting anarchists, or Baptists, or Catholics, or tree-worshippers, that anyone not in that particular category would stay away. Not wanted. Find somewhere to chillax after work. Common sense would dictate that if I want to buy something, and the owner would rather hold on to it than take my money, I can find it elsewhere. (I don’t literally mean myself, obviously…what do you have that I could possibly want…except your love!)

But people don’t always show a lot of common sense. That’s just reality. Every ornery agenda you can imagine is going to latch on to this bill of yours, challenge it, tie up the courts, eat up your budget. What you perhaps intended as a help for your 6.5 million citizens, a speculative protection just in case they ever need it, is overkill. Unnecessary. And it sends the wrong message.

Do you really want to go from the state known as The Crossroads of America, to simply Cross, as in Cross and Surly? Find ways to be more loving, more inclusive, more tolerant. Not less. As my guy said to the Romans years ago, "Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor" (Romans 12:10, ESV).

I can bless that. I will bless that.

Thanks for listening,