And Coming in 2016....

"She-Bear in the Beautiful Garden," to be published by Cranberry Quill... an allegory for children of all ages, beautifully illustrated.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

December 27, 2011 Fruit of the Loom

My life is but a weaving between my God and me
I do not choose the colors he worketh steadily.
Oft times he chooseth sorrow and I in foolish pride
forget He sees the upper, and I the underside.
Not til the loom is silent and shuttles cease to fly
will God unroll the canvas and explain the reason why
the dark threads are as needful in the skillful weaver's hand
as the ones of gold and silver in the pattern he has planned.

I was given that poem (author unknown) in a simple black frame some years ago from a long-ago high school boyfriend. We had maintained sparse contact over the years since he and his family moved out of the area but spent several hours one evening on the telephone catching up. There had been a time in both our lives when we were sure we would get married one day. There were other family members who were just as convinced.

Nice fellow. Handsome. Smart, funny. Good, solid family. Shared values. Mutual attraction, same interests and hobbies. He taught me to water ski; we refinished furniture together. Off and on for years, we would date, he'd break up with me, we'd date, he'd break up with me. Once, he called me long distance to propose, which may have been the proverbial straw. (To guys reading this who want to get an affirmative answer from their ladies: show up and do it in person. Just saying.)

The last time we broke up, I broke up with him and called him about a year later to tell him I was engaged. To someone else, a very different man then, a little older, a lot quieter. We went to the same church but had little in common --not that we really knew that then. We hardly knew each other! But we both had a gut-level knowing that we were meant to marry.

So when High School Boyfriend and I talked for hours, there was no wistful wishing we had taken the same road, but appreciation for the fact that our lives had progressed, apart, the ways in which they had. Married with kids, he had built a business and made it a priority to be the kind of dad he'd longed for growing up. Married with kids years ahead of him, ours were grown. I was a grandmother already. My husband and I had buried a son; High School had buried both parents.

There were times over the years, he told me, that he had grieved the loss of our relationship, but finally came to the conclusion that God had been at work through everything. He had focused on the tangled thread on the underside of the tapestry of his life and only glimpsed at the beauty of the intricately woven scene on the other side much later. Even the sorrow of lost loved ones -- whether lost through the choice of someone else through a break-up or divorce or door closed on a friendship...or the separation of death-- added, in the final analysis, to the final pattern. He had read a poem about it and said to look for a copy in the mail.

No one loses a friend or a love without wondering, from time to time, how life might be different now, but for things that happened or did not happen in the past. In the case of our high school romance, both the young man and I came to see that while we'd thought Plan A was (at the time) an excellent prospect, Plans B and C far surpassed it. Or maybe THIS is Plan A, and we came perilously close to missing it. Whatever. None of us is living the final version of our lives at any given point, anyway. There will be still many, many changes over time. Some will be sad, others will be ecstatic. We are each "in process" until our final breath.

The point is, as someone once said, don't "should on yourself." The shouldda, wouldda, coulddas of life will eat you alive, making it impossible to enjoy what you have now. We can relax and rely on one of the greatest promises of the Bible, found in Jeremiah 29:11-14a:

"For I know the plans I have for you,” 
declares the LORD, 
“plans to prosper you and not to harm you, 
plans to give you hope and a future. 
Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, 
and I will listen to you. 
You will seek me and find me 
when you seek me with all your heart. 
 I will be found by you,” 
declares the LORD.

Please note that it is the LORD who knows his plans -- not anyone else He is almost always annoyingly reticent to share his plans ahead of time. He asks us to trust him, to trust his love and his character, his sovereignty and his abilities, his mercy and his grace. It's not a bad arrangement: we trust the Creator of the universe to have a clue about what he's doing, we seek him rather than trying to run the show, and he delivers out of his own greatness. A good return on our investment of faith, wouldn't you agree?

I know -- life rarely resembles the Hallmark quality of the poem up there There is unspeakable and unspoken pain all along the way. A wife may suffer in silence for years before finding the courage to break away from an abusive husband. A child may grow up in anguish because of the neglect displayed. Betrayals and tragedies and addictions hold nothing of the perky hopefulness that poem conjures up. 

But.

This life is just a breath. Two seconds, twenty seconds, hardly more, compared with eternity. And look at all the moments of joy and love we can cram into such a tiny slice of existence! Of course, there are hiccups and tears, no even flow of happiness. But we can trust that even then, laughter will work its way back to us again. We aren't stuck with this particular dark thread in the shuttle forever.


Randy with Randy III fishing

P.S. I am very grateful for the "thread" in my own tapestry that is my son-in-law Randall Keith Blanchard, Jr. Today is his birthday, and I don't even want to think about what our lives would be without him in ours. Happy birthday, Randy! We love you very much.


Tuesday, December 13, 2011

December 13, 2011 A Christmas Carol

This past Sunday, I had the privilege of participating in a Christmas show produced by RubyLynn Productions with three performances held at the Pineapple Playhouse in Fort Pierce Dec. 2-4, and two at First United Methodist in Hobe Sound. The cast sang, danced, did skits -- both venues supported local causes. "We hope we've jump-started your Christmas," director Ruby Lynn Baker told audiences.

During part of the show, cast member Don Brown told the story of Silent Night's origin. I looked up the story on the internet and found several accounts with slightly different details, but Don's story was the first I'd heard, and so I choose that version of the truth:

A priest, Joseph Mohr, was unsure what to do. The organ in his Oberndorf, Austria church -- appropriately, the Church of St. Nicholas -- was damaged, and it was Christmas Eve, 1818! He was in a meditative state as he made his way home. New snow covered the countryside, and the beauty of the night brought to mind a poem he had written years before. If only there was music, what a fitting Christmas song! He went to Franz Gruber, asking that he write accompaniment. There may not be an organ to play, but Gruber was a gifted guitarist as well. Christmas Day, the church's little congregation heard the first performance of Stille Nacht, translated now as Silent Night.

Today, it doesn't matter whether or not Father Mohr was well-liked by his congregation, or whether or not he was a gifted priest. The words he penned have kept his thoughts alive for almost 200 years. It is sung in 44 languages, has been recorded by 300 artists. Bing Crosby's version sold over 10 million copies. Neither Father Mohr nor Franz Gruber could possibly know the tremendous impact their little song would create.

Perhaps you are guessing that I will turn this into a neat little Christmas present-feel good-story. I'd originally planned to segue from the story of one Christmas carol to cleverly (!) sharing about significant Carols in my life: Carol Creech, one of the few friends I remember from Cullowhee, North Carolina; Carol Bryan, dynamic Christian wife, mother, and mentor from my teenage years and beyond; fellow flutist Carol McNees Johnson    whom I saw again this year and who invited me to Toastmasters -- what looks to be a great training organization I'm planning to become more involved with in the future.

Instead, I'm going to go another way altogether. It struck me, looking at the various accounts of Silent Night's origins, that the details do not always matter nearly as much as the outcome. "The devil is in the details," as they say (which, interestingly, was originally "God is in the details") and details are important. But as we see with Silent Night, whether the organ was damaged at all, or who sang it first, or if someone found the original and had it marketed years later...who cares, now that the entire world is familiar with the song?

How much time do we spend fretting over details that don't really matter? As we approach Christmas, is our time actually better spent stressing out over recipes and menus that will be soon digested and forgotten, or should we spend that time on activities with eternal significance...or, barring that high expectation, activities that will bring a smile to someone's face today?

Peace is a rare commodity in a household such as ours, and it saddens me that I am often one of the stumbling blocks to its presence. It is easy for women, especially, to become entrenched in the details of life, perhaps because we are so often judged by others based on those details. Numbers (age, weight, bra size, amount of time we exercise regularly, times we've failed in the past), degrees (level of education, level of housekeeping abilities, vicarious success - or not - through our kids and grandkids), emotions (perky today? PMS-ing?  nurturing or not so much?). Details.

Proverbs 31 doesn't help, you know. Details surrounding the definition of a Good Wife ramble on and on for almost the entire chapter, each verse a potential stab to the heart of many a good woman who reads it and immediately recognizes how far she falls short of the ideal. Details can wound. Kill, even, the hopes and spirits of those of us still "in process" who haven't attained the full measure of our worth. 

My Christmas wish for such women, who are striving each day to be the Perfect Wife or the Perfect Mother, or the Perfect Size, or the Perfect Christian, or the Perfect Whatever.....relax! It's not about you. It doesn't depend on you...and if it does, it shouldn't. Do your best, obviously. Develop your talents and skills and abilities, certainly, so that you are able to do what you do better. But know this: two hundred years from now, the details will not matter. You will not be around to know this then, of course, so learn it now.

The best we can be is to be the person God created us to be. He might have seen to it that I had different weaknesses, but we are all born with them. He might have arranged for my hopes and dreams to be fulfilled long ago, and yet hope is still, at 53, very much alive. Others may focus on the negative details they see all too prominently displayed in my life, but the God I trust and love, loves me just the way I am. The person I am now. The person I was yesterday. The person I will be tomorrow, and next year, and 10 years from now. That's a lot of details.

So I'm going to give that Christmas gift to myself as well. Peace is more important than plans. Relaxing in the joy of the season will matter, in the long run, much more than buying just the right gift or baking enough cookies.

All is calm, all is quiet....may that be true in our hearts this Christmas, and beyond. I am reminded of  Robert Frost's wonderful poem Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening: 


Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow. 

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year. 

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound's the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake. 

The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

Promises, like details, are important, but take some time this season to enjoy the woods...or the beach...or laughter with someone you love. Probably no one else will notice if you're a little late, but I'll bet they'll appreciate the added peace and joy you bring when finally you arrive.

Monday, November 28, 2011

November 28, 2011 The 2nd Tamar

Last week, the Genesis-Tamar beguiled her former father-in-law into sleeping with her, thus getting pregnant and continuing her dead husband's line. For this, she was deemed "righteous" by Judah, the father of her twins. Not only that, she gets a mention in the gospel of Matthew in Jesus' lineage. The Bible doesn't tell us if her life was all that she had hoped for (after burying two husbands) but we'd like to think that she found joy once more, caring for her boys.

There's something special about mothers and sons. I've noticed the same thing with daddies and daughters. My first son, Caleb, is 34 today. We were a married couple for a year when Caleb was born; we were a family of three for less than two years when our first daughter came along. But those months with just Caleb were happy ones. Being a new, proud mother, I loved taking care of him.

The second Tamar's story has no happy endings, no chubby-faced sons bouncing on a mother's knees. In fact, I can't think of how Tamar Two's story could be much sadder.

Here is the context: King David has wives and assorted concubines, but still, he must have the wife of one of his mighty men. The heart wants what (and who) the heart wants. And too, from this spot in history, we know that David had to be married to Bathsheba in order for the wise King Solomon to be born - David's DNA + Bathsheba's DNA at that particular time = baby Solomon. It was, in some mysterious way I cannot fathom, God's perfect will for David and Bathsheba to meet and mate. Probably there was another path that didn't include adultery and murder (see 2 Samuel 11) but I may be wrong about that. I've been wrong before.

So. David and Bathsheba are married, bury a child, rejoice over the birth of Solomon.  He also manages to battle the Ammonites and then, "in the course of time" (How much time? Scripture is vague on this point, as it is about so much.) one of his sons has a heart issue of his own.

Amnon was the son of David and Ahinoam, while Tamar and her brother Absalom were born to David and Maacah. Ahinoam and Maacah get little press, but their children provide quite a cautionary tale. It happened like this:

Amnon fell in love with Tamar. The Bible doesn't routinely describe its characters, but Tamar was beautiful. But get this:
Amnon became frustrated to the point of illness on account of his sister Tamar, for she was a virgin, and it seemed impossible for him to do anything to her. (2 Samuel 13:2, italics mine, of course - Bible do not use them, as you know)
We know right off that Amnon is a skunk, and that his so-called love for Tamar is only an infatuation, a physical attraction, lust - simple, and anything but pure. Real love, however misplaced it may appear to others, is still focused on bringing pleasure to the object of one's desire, of bringing him or her joy. Amnon's "love" is completely selfish.

The words for love used in this passage are the Hebrew aheb and ahab, but clearly, the Hebrews could have used another word for love, just as English could. There's love, and then there's love. We may love pizza, the Dolphins, Tim Tebow, the color blue, a favorite song, the way the water sparkles on a perfect Florida beach. We may love grandchildren, chocolate pecan pie, a friend's new hairdo, the fact that The Glades is back on tv. These loves are as different from what God intends for the crowning glory of his creation as...well, as Amnon was from Tamar.

Amnon is consumed by lust (I can't bring myself to use the word love in his case) for Tamar. He moans about it to his buddy and cousin Jonadab, equally maggot-like in character, who suggests a plan. Amnon should feign sickness, knowing that dear old dad will check on him (which actually surprises me...King David made visits to his kids when they were sick but didn't know what creeps they'd turned into?). 

The oblivious David visits Amnon as planned. Amnon asks that Tamar come and minister to him, fix him some special bread, feed him herself. David thinks it's a fine plan. Perhaps he's touched, as any father would be, that his kids get along so well. Talk about clueless!

Tamar compliantly mixes the dough and cooks the bread before him. I assume they're making small talk during the process, catching up on family news -- when you've got that big a family, it would take time. The Bible doesn't say who else is hanging around, but it's clear that others are there, because when she finally offers him a plate, he won't eat and sends everyone else away.

"Amnon and Tamar" by Jan Steen (year, unknown)

"Bring it to me in the bedroom," he says, reminiscent of the wolf of Red Riding Hood fame. When she does, he grabs her and says...smooth talker that he isn't..."Come to bed with me." Or words to that effect. You get the idea that the writer of the story decided to make the X-rated circumstances as PG as possible.

Tamar, as you can imagine, is immediately upset, but shows her more excellent character. She doesn't knee him in the family jewels or scream for help. "Talk to Daddy," she says. "Don't bring shame on me or on the family or on Israel. I'm willing, if it will make you happy, but don't force me. Don't be a fool."

But he is what he is. He overpowers her, and rapes her. And this is how we know he didn't love her at all. Not only did he rape her, but this poster boy for bipolar suddenly discovers he hates Tamar, and tells her to leave.

Tamar, incredibly, is still concerned for Amnon's reputation more than her own. "No! If you send me away, that's even worse than what you've already done!" Tamar was quite a young woman, wasn't she?

And it just goes downhill from there. Absalom takes Tamar in, where she lives the rest of her life a desolate, sad, damaged girl. David gets wind of it and is "furious" but it's all bluff and bluster -- he does nothing. Absalom keeps quiet for the time being, but never forgives Amnon. Two years later, though, he orders his men to kill his half-brother.

David's first report is that all his sons have been killed, but the troll, Jonadab, tells David not to worry. "Only Amnon is dead. This has been Absalom's expressed intention ever since the day Amnon raped his sister Tamar."

Expressed intention. He'd talked about it. Jonadab was a cousin, closer to Amnon -- why hadn't he warned Amnon? Why hadn't David heard about it through the palace grapevine and dealt with it promptly?

Absalom flees, but it's not over yet. He makes a bid for the throne, breaks his father's heart, rapes David's concubines publicly, and is killed in battle. Tragic. 

And you thought your family was dysfunctional. My mother commented recently that she never thought "our family" would be so messed up. And it's true, there are family members who won't speak to other family members. Division, divorce,  personal devastation. Way too much drama. In fact, we've got just about everything within our extended family that King David had in his, or any other messed up family has in theirs. Because that's sort of the point: we are all messed up, to one degree or another. There are no perfect people. Ergo, there are no perfect families.

The best we can do is relish the happy times, like my son's birthday today, or Thanksgiving with so many of our loved ones last week, or getting to talk to my youngest grandson, or watching the other grandkids play together, or celebrating anniversaries this week: our 35th, our daughter Becky's 7th. We cling to all the joys we possibly can, wring out every drop of happiness we can manage in anticipation of the challenges we will face.

Jesus said that in this world, we would have tribulation. We will. If we haven't by now, we will eventually.  We will fail others, and others will fail us. We will, most importantly, fail to live up to the standards God has provided. What makes the happiest families and the happiest people is the knowledge that nothing can happen that will turn true love to hate. The Amnons of the world don't understand that kind of love; they can't. They are not to be despised, but pitied.

Morals of the story: Fathers need to pay attention to their families, or things can get out of hand quickly. David was a man after God's heart, but he let down those closest to him. And if David did, it's a safe bet that we will too. But guess what? God used it all. He still uses it all.

I wonder what Tamar's reaction was when she learned that Absalom had avenged her? From the little we know of her, I'm guessing she wept. She was willing to marry a rapist and cover his sin for the sake of her family. I doubt his death brought either joy or closure. She lost her innocence, and two brothers, and must have lost respect for her father as well.

I told you it was a sad story. Perhaps God wanted it in the Bible to encourage us, much the same way people watch "Hoarders" on television....so we can say, with relief, "Well at least we're not that bad."

While we're sighing with appreciation that we manage to put the "fun" in "dysfunctional," we need to remember tat some families really do have it that bad, dealing with unmentionable tragedy every day. And they may live next door. May we be sensitive to others, grateful for what we have, and attentive to God's wisdom with everyone.

People. Sometimes you just shake your head and wonder what God thinking, and then someone comes along whose love and ability to bring you joy makes you shake your head for the opposite reason.

Caleb's one of those people for me....happy birthday, son!










Sunday, November 20, 2011

November 20, 2011 A Tale of Two Tamars

A young friend of mine texted me recently in anger. She was working on a Bible study, of all things, but she was fit to be tied. Who had stirred her up? None other than King David, the man scripture says was a "man after God's own heart" (1st Samuel 13:14). The author of most of the Book of Psalms. He's in the lineage of Jesus, the Messiah who is called "Son of David" (Matthew 22:41).

Or, if you prefer, the David sung about in one of my favorite pop tunes, Hallelujahhttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kB67HO8tkQs

David was a wreck, no question. He made some very bad decisions along the road, but still, his heart was for God. This doesn't make me angry -- it gives me hope! I also make decisions every day that are far from pure and perfect.


To borrow something else from Shrek (the link above goes to Rufus Wainwright's cover of Hallelujah for that movie's soundtrack) people are like onions. We have layers. Think of our choices, our decisions, our behavior, as outer layers. Further down, beyond the selfishness and pride and lust and fear that often drives us and our decisions, can still beat a heart that truly loves God and wants to see his purposes fulfilled. 


I'd like to think that I am a woman after God's heart, despite the fact that I am, quite often, worse than the king in question.


But I digress. I titled this "A Tale of Two Tamars." Tamar was one of David's daughters, and I'll get back to her in a minute. The other Tamar has just as interesting a story, but with a happier ending. Eventually.


It will help, while you're reading about Tamar and her father-in-law Judah, to take yourself out of the realm of westernized Christianity, and try to put yourself in the world of Tamar. Her story is in Genesis, before Moses and the Law, in the Middle East, not our Mideast. People often try to see scripture through the smeared glasses of the West, and that's unfair.


Judah is a big deal in the Bible. Jesus the Messiah is called the Lion of Judah (Revelation 5:5). The very name for God's chosen people, the Jews, is a derivative of Judah, the son of Jacob and his wife Leah. Right off the bat, we come up against our cultural differences: Jacob had two wives, and his wives gave him their two maids to have children by! Instead of gasping in disbelief that God would work through such circumstances, we need to just get over ourselves. Different time. Different culture. Same God.


So. Tamar married Er, Judah's oldest son. Er died (gasp alert: Genesis 38:7 says "the Lord put him to death." WTF? Wrong This Feels!) Big Daddy Judah gives Tamar in marriage to his next son Onan. We don't know if Onan already had a wife (as if that would have married) but we do know that Onan made a name for himself by ejaculating onto the ground, rather than risk getting his sister-in-law-turned-bride pregnant (onanism is  a synonym for masturbation or self-gratification).


See, in those days, if Tamar had had a baby, the baby would have inherited Er's property. In other words, Onan selfishly only wanted children that would enhance his own financial prospects, not those of the line of his dead brother. The Father of Self-Gratification. He didn't, however, live long enough to see his name in lights, or long enough to do much of anything. His actions were deemed "wicked in the Lord's sight" and he got the same divine retribution as did big brother Er.


Poor Tamar! If she was starting to feel like it was somehow her fault, we can sympathize. Judah was certainly thinking along those lines. Next in line for the young widow would have been Son #3, Shelah. Judah told Tamar to go back to her father's house and wait there for Shelah to grow up, hoping to avoid Shelah's untimely death as well.


The Bible says "after a long time" Judah's own wife died. Shelah was a man by then but Tamar hadn't been sent for. Hearing that Judah's time of grieving is over, she set off on a risky adventure. 


This is where you have to set aside your own concept of righteousness and morality.


Picture it: Tamar poses as a prostitute, somehow knowing that Judah will approach her for, um, attention. She agrees to sleep with him for a young goat, and further demands several personal belongings to prove she has been with him and that he is, thus, obligated to her in this matter. He agrees, they have sex, he gives her the things, they go their seperate ways. She, back to widow's clothes at home with her family. He, to his own home.


A man of his word(!), Judah tries to send the goat to the girl, but his right-hand-man is unable to locate her. There ARE no prostitutes around those parts. Judah drops the matter, wanting to escape further embarrassment. She can keep the dang belongings. End of story.


Not quite.


A few months go by and he hears an ugly, troubling rumor. His former daughter-in-law Tamar has apparently been fooling around, bringing shame upon both families. A true sweetheart, Judah demands that she be brought to him in order to burn her to death. (And you think you;ve got in-law problems?)


I'm guessing that Tamar trembles as she delivers the  coup de grace. This is one gutsy lady, going through all of this just to have a child, thereby honoring the memory of her first husband...and, no doubt, helping secure her own position in her society. "I am pregnant by the man who owns these," she announces, handing over the personal belongings Judah left in trust.


Get this. 


Judah says," 'She is more righteous than I, since I wouldn't give her to my son Shelah.' And he did not sleep with her again" (Genesis 38:26). Tamar was not only blessed with one child, but two. Not only that, but the firstborn, Perez, is in the lineage of Jesus. In Matthew 1, Tamar herself is mentioned, only one of four women mentioned there.


Talk about a roundabout way to fulfill God's plan! 


The other Tamar...well, I think I'll wait on her until next time. She didn't have a happy ending, and that's why my young friend was angry. This is Thanksgiving week...not a good week to get angry at God, in case you might agree with her. Always time for that later (but never a good idea).


Happy Thanksgiving!









Sunday, November 13, 2011

November 13, 2011 Blazing Hearths

My young friend Diane Byrne posted this quote on her Facebook page:



‎"One may have a blazing hearth in one's soul and yet no one ever came to sit by it. Passers-by see only a wisp of smoke from the chimney and continue on their way."

                                                                                                                                                  Vincent Van Gogh



I love that! It reminds me of another quote I copied and have kept within sight for over a decade:
I love you for putting your hand into my heaped-up heart and passing over all the foolish, weak things that you can't help dimly seeing there, and for drawing out into the light all the beautiful belongings that no one else had looked quite far enough to find.
I've seen those words in the form of poetry, author unknown, but I prefer them as prose, words one might write to a best friend or close family member. Both quotes imply that while we encounter multitudes of people throughout our lives, only one or two (if we are truly blessed) will take the time and trouble to know us fully. Warts and all, as my mother would say.

Olivia de Havilland and James Cagney
My mother is a self-admitted romantic, a believer in true love. She grew up going to movies every Saturday at a time when Hollywood focused on boy-meets-girl and happily-ever-after endings. She sat in the darkened theater in Albemarle, North Carolina as a sort of university of romance, instructed by the likes of Olivia de Havilland and Spencer Tracy. 

And one night, on her first date with a new teacher in town as he chaperoned a high school dance, they took to the floor and danced. Just like in the movies, the crowd parted as kids backed up to watch them in appreciation of their skills. Growing up in Chapel Hill, my dad says he had to learn to dance well to compete, as a high schooler, with college guys. It paid off that night, for sure.

They got married, and lived happily ever after, right? Well...I doubt that either one of them would tell you it's been all sunshine and flowers. They have had many challenges and heartaches. Recently settled into an assisted living facility, they are making new friends and getting involved with people they would have never met any other way or any other circumstances.

Where am I going with this? Just that we come into contact with so many people. Hundreds, thousands, of people who waltz through our lives for a few measures and then are gone. Some of them step on our feet. We step on theirs. Some insist on doing the watusi instead, making us look foolish. Some want us to lead, some want to lead us where we don't want to go. A few hang around for an entire song. Even fewer are there for the whole night, talking to us whether there is music or not.

We may remember with great affection someone we danced with only once, never to see again. We may regret declining to dance with someone else, or may regret dancing with another in the first place. A person can spin us around a few minutes and then retreat into the shadows, just out of sight, only to appear much later and share the best dance of all at the end of the evening.

Peasant Woman by a Hearth
by Vincent Van Gogh
In other words, my parents are meeting new friends at 78 and 80 who may or may not become close friends, over whose lives they may or may not have great influence. Their marriage of over 50 years is, in some ways, sweeter now than ever, simplified as it is by the absence of financial worries and the normal stresses of work and teenagers and life.

And I, at 53, so appreciate those few who have stopped to sit by the fire that is my heart's hearth and warm themselves for a time. Who have looked further into my soul than anyone else, and who love me still.


And P.S. Happy birthday on November 14 to my beautiful daughter Becky, whose presence in my life has been a delight for 30 years. I well remember turning 30, and I hope her 30th year is her best ever. I love you!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

October 30, 2011 Occupying


I'll admit it. I haven't studied the whole "Occupy Wall Street" movement in depth. I did listen to a Dave Ramsey show in which he invited OWS supporters to call in and explain their personal reasons for joining and frankly, I was unimpressed. Every caller was angry about something, but not a single one, even the more articulate angry people (AAP), could offer a suggestion as to resolving the issues that angered him. And I say "him" in the specific, rather than the sexist, sense as every caller I heard was male.


I gather than some people are supportive for that very reason, however: anger is good. It means people are thinking. It means people are asking Important Questions. It means people are doing something.

It just feels like a lot of what they are doing is throwing a tantrum, making a mess where they decide to camp, and messing with law enforcement. It grieved me to read that Scott Olsen, a soldier who served in Iraq, was injured in an OWS/police confrontation, but it grieved me even more that people were blaming the police! Whatever your politics, when the po-po says you've got to stop, you'd better stop, or be willing to sacrifice along the lines of Mohandas K. Gandhi's civil disobedience in India. (There are conflicting reports as to who threw what, but you don't want to see anyone hurt when it could so easily be avoided.)


Note: Gandhi did not throw things, or yell, or spit, or litter. He discouraged anything of the sort. The principal of ahimsa, or nonviolence, pulled the rug out from under Great Britain and achieved the unthinkable--complete independence for India. It was achieved, not by a group of loud, complaining radicals calling themselves Occupy Delhi, but by dedicated people willing to lay down their lives for a just cause.


I just don't think Gandhi would have been there with the Canadian-started OWS. I don't think they would have asked him to speak, because he would have fussed about their behavior. And that alone makes me uncomfortable.

Do we have serious problems in the financial sector of the United States? Absolutely. Is there unjustifiable polarization between the have's and the have not's? Again, yes. The Bible even has something to say about this, although I have yet to hear an OWS quote James 5 (NIV):

 1 Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming on you. 2Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. 3 Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. 4 Look! The wages you failed to pay the workers who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. 5 You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter.6 You have condemned and murdered the innocent one, who was not opposing you.
Them's fightin' words! Pretty strong stuff for those who use their wealth irresponsibly and immorally. Those words serve as a warning to all who oppress the less-fortunate -- justice will come eventually. If nothing else, there is the fact that no one, not Howard Hughes, not Bill Gates, not the Donald, not the sheik, no one, gets out of this place alive. We will all die, all face a final judgment. All debts against God will be paid, whether by standing before the throne and saying, "Well, yes, I was a monumental sinner and screw-up, but I think Jesus has something to say now..." at which point our Advocate takes over, reminding the Father that he already paid for the the sins in question....or by eternal suffering and separation from a loving God.

So there's THAT aspect of what-goes-around-comes-around for the screw-ups of Wall Street (and every other street, for that matter) to bear in mind, but there are also peaceful, workable solutions possible that don't involve littering city streets and engaging in violence toward law enforcement.

And the anger aspect? Aside from the fact that it is bad publicity, there is a time for anger according to this verse:
BE ANGRY, AND yet DO NOT SIN; do not let the sun go down on your anger (Ephesians 4:25, NASV).
We are made in God's image, and God gets angry. I won't list them, but God's wrath against the wicked, God's anger at unrighteousness, it's all there. Look it up. Jesus himself, whom I've never pictured as the anemic meek-and-mild character hung on many Sunday school walls, took a whip to the money-changers who defiled the temple. Sometimes, anger is the reasonable response.

OWS has every right to be angry. So do you. So do I. Our government has failed us in many ways. Financial gurus have created a culture of debt, but whose responsibility is it when we purchase on credit and wind up paying high interest on sums twice, thrice, the original amount we borrowed? That's no one's fault but our own.


OWS (and all the rest of us) have valid reasons for being angry. They have valid concerns -- I'm always skeptical of "demands," especially when the demander has no way to enforce them -- but there are better ways of affecting change than costing the New York Police Department millions of dollars in overtime, and creating a colossal mess in the process. If their motives were all that great and they were themselves obeying the laws of the land, they wouldn't require all that policing. Or, if they were like Gandhi, they would sit there silently and take whatever came. That would, at least, have more impact on the nation.


The question is: does OWS really want change? Or just attention?


Sunday, October 2, 2011

October 2, 2011 Happy New Year!

Anyone who follows this blog know that it is unlikely I am three months early with anything. Not that I am habitually late with this blog, or anything. Habitually is a harsh word, in my opinion. I prefer "tendency," as in I have a tendency to veer off the self-prescribed two week period between blogs.

I refer not to New Year's Day, January 1, 2012, but the New Year 5772 on the Jewish calendar which fell on Thursday, September 29 on the "regular" calendar, the 1st of Tishri on the Jewish one. Also known as Rosh Hashana, the "head of the year," the differences go beyond the date. Rosh Hashana marks not only the beginning of the calendar year, but the beginning of the 10 days of repentance ending with Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. It is a time of celebration, of acknowledging God's kingship over one's life, but it is also a time of introspection and confession.

Typically, Americans spend New Year's Eve at parties or sitting up watching the ball drop in Times Square on television. The more spiritual segment of society  might pass the night at a watch service, in prayer for the people partying their lives away. On New Year's Day in the South, at least, greens and black eyed peas (the food, not the band) are customary in many homes. Some people write a list of resolutions.

My personal, fairly ironclad New Year's tradition involves going to sleep at the normal hour on December 31 and waking up January 1. The past few years, I enjoyed a mimosa brunch with some of the folks at Lillington Presbyterian Church in North Carolina followed by a devotional. This year, I will probably have to pass, having moved back to Florida. More mimosas for everyone else!

I had the pleasure of attending an Ev Rosh Hashanah service last week. There were readings in Hebrew and English, Israeli-flavored worship dancing, singing, prayer, and the blowing of the shofar, or ram's horn. There is something about that lone, ancient sound that goes straight to the heart.

After the service, we ate the traditional challah bread with...bleh....grape juice. Did I mention this was a messianic synagogue's service? Perhaps that is the reason God's original fruit of the vine (wine!) was neglected. At any rate, prayers were said in thanksgiving for grain and vine, as well as for fruit. Apples with honey were included. I doubt anyone minded that the customary fish or ram's head was overlooked.

The following day, there was to be a service at a local river park, which I did not attend. Stones would be gathered representing a particular sin in one's life to be cast into the water, symbolic of God's promise in Micah 7:19 to cast our sins into the "sea of forgetfulness."

So with all this going on, I have been thinking about forgiveness, and the idea that we are fairly clueless about the scope and depth of God's forgiveness, perhaps because we have such trouble forgiving others and ourselves. Do we really believe, as the story goes, that when we have asked for God's forgiveness and then...still feeling guilty... ask again, he says, "What are you talking about?" Do we really believe that Jesus died not only to erase the eternal power of the sin nature we inherited at birth but also each and every sin that each and every person had ever and would ever commit? Do we really believe that forgiveness is not only available but freely given to all who ask for it? Could it possibly be that simple? That Jesus, knowing we were unable to live righteously, offered himself as a sacrifice for our collective sin/sins, once for all, and that it isn't so much our asking God to forgive us, but our own acceptance of what he has already done?

We all have regrets, things we should not have said or done or thought. Things we wanted to do enough to carry them out, fully realizing  that they were wrong and potentially hurtful to others. Things that were contrary to God's Law, maybe even man's. While I can think of a multitude of things I have done that were wrong, I can think of a few things I was guilty of that have never been completely forgiven by those I hurt. Occasionally, past mistakes still haunt through the helpful "reminders" of others who can't, or won't, let go. It is a good reminder to me, when this happens, to check my own heart: Have I forgiven him, her? Is there anything between this person and me? We need to forgive if only because we need it ourselves so very often.

Maybe you, like me, have not been forgiven by someone you wronged, or who believes that you wronged them. That is not God's heart. God is love, and love "keeps no record of being wronged," according to 1 Corinthians 13 (New Living Translation). The blood of Jesus covers completely. The work of the Cross paid the price for whatever I've done or will do. Whatever you have done. Whatever, I would remind you gently, of whatever will be done to you as well.

May each of us, in the New Year of 5772 (or the New Year of 2012 in a few months) let the truth of God's forgiveness become more alive in our hearts. May we offer forgiveness more freely to those around us, conscious of the fact that we each have need of God's forgiveness on a daily basis. And may we stop beating ourselves up for past stupidity! 

And stop allowing others to make us continue to pay for things even God has forgotten.

Monday, September 19, 2011

September 19, 2011 Does God Want Me To Be Happy?

A year or so ago, that is the question a Bible study group addressed: Does God want us to be happy? We were fairly ruthless in our discussion. I shared a few personal situations in which I saw, with 20/20 hindsight, ways in which I had sacrificed righteousness for the "happiness" I longed for loved ones to experience. I had actually encouraged wrong behavior in a few instances, because I so wanted this child, or this relative, to be happy. 

It backfired almost every time. The very happiness I wanted to encourage got lost along the way of bad choices and poor decisions. I doubt anyone remembers my support in those trying times with fondness, or even appreciation. More likely, the individuals concerned think, "I wish someone had just told me to stop, to go another direction. I wish it hadn't been so easy to take that path."

There are, absolutely, more important issues in the universe than me having a smile on my face, or you feeling particularly perky, but...and it is an important but...I believe that God does want us to be happy.

For one thing, joy ranks high on the lists found in the Bible. The fruit of the Spirit: love, JOY, peace... (Galatians 5:22). The kingdom of God is not meat or drink but righteousness, peace, and JOY....(Romans 14:17). 

Christians are so smug about joy at times. "Joy, yes, but that's not the same thing as happiness," you might hear (and want to slap the speaker...in a good Christian manner, of course). "Joy is spiritual. Being happy is all about being human. It's fleshly."

Bleh.

God is the one who wondrously, awesomely created our flesh, remember. And he took the time and trouble and printing space to include some candid remarks about happiness:
  • For one year (a man) is to be free to stay at home and bring happiness to the wife he has married (Deuteronomy 24:5)
  • To the person who pleases him, God gives wisdom, knowledge and happiness (Ecclesiastes 2:26)
  • Come and share your master's happiness! (Matthew 25:21)
  • May the righteous be glad and rejoice before God; may they be happy and joyful (Psalm 68:3, italics mine)
  • A happy heart makes the face cheerful, but heartache crushes the spirit (Proverbs 15:13).
Is happiness to be the main goal in life? I think not. "God is love," St. John wrote, not "God is happiness" or even "God is joy." And yet, he is the source of the highest forms of happiness and the highest joys. Surely, we should never see happiness in a negative, less-than-spiritual light.

The greatest argument for God's desire that we be happy is that of his role of Father. What loving father does not want his children to be happy? As Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount:
Matthew 7: 9 “Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 11 If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! 12 So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.
Even WE know how to make our kids happy. We are, unless it is taught out of us through neglect and terror, instinctively aware as we become parents ourselves, of our children's need for love, encouragement, training. We delight in taking our children on fun outings, or seeing their eyes glow on Christmas morning. We may not have the means to provide everything our children want, but most of us will bend over backward to bring a smile to our children's faces.

A friend of mine tells me that during a particularly trying time in the life of his family, his wife was not living at home. Taking on the role of both father and mother, he found a creative way to communicate how special his daughter was. If he saw that something was coming on television he thought especially worthwhile, he'd send his little girl to bed early, then wake her up during the night to watch the show with him.

That is cool on so many levels. It made her feel special. It gave them important together time. Maybe it wasn't something the parenting books of the day (or even our day) would have advised, but it worked wonders. When this little girl, now all grown up, thinks back to her happiest memories it is to those days, despite other troublesome factors.

A regular guy knew how to make his daughter happy during what might have been a traumatic, dismal period of her life. Her happiness was paramount to him. Think back to times your parents did something special for you just so that you would be happy.

I am hesitant to withhold that facet of being a parent from the best Father of all. He wants me to grow, to learn, to be holy...absolutely. But he also wants me to be happy. And he has the best ideas of all, about what that will require.