Feeble Knees

Friday, December 31, 2004

No Forwarding Address

It's been about two and a half years now since I left the church that I still struggle with in my mind. There are still moments when I yearn to pick up the phone and call certain people. A few times I've even Googled names of people to see if they're still where I left them, and I wonder if anything has changed.

When I started going to my former church, I didn't really want to go. I was still just getting back on my feet after a period of somewhat riotous living, and I felt like I needed time to sort things out on my own. But a friend really wanted to go, she herself was coming out of some bad situations too, and I felt guilty. Ironically, it was my mother's church - but she only went on Sunday mornings and sometimes Wednesday nights. She wasn't there when the real indoctrination & membership classes took place, so she didn't know. The first two or three years were actually very good for me in many ways. I needed self-discipline, and they certainly taught that. I needed a new network of friends that would make it easier to walk away from my old lifestyle. I got that. But I never quite felt like I was ever going to measure up in the holiness department. That's when most of my trouble and strife began.

Unfortunately, I could not erase my past. Unlike a lot of the young men and women my age who had grown up in the church, I had "a past". Because I had zealously and naively confessed most of it by publicly "giving testimony" they all had the goods on me. It was like segregation - we were equal in the sight of God they said, but the subtle separation told a different story. There was always this nagging sense that I needed further purification to be truly accepted in the beloved, that my sins, though forgiven, relegated me to a lesser existence within the church. Once my testimony was out of the bag, it became as an indelible mark on my forehead. I was marked for life.

In an attempt to compensate for this, I went on a holiness binge, joined as many ministries as humanly possible, attended every service, every bible study, every prayer meeting, every ladies' retreat, every church clean up day; you name it, I did it. I poured over my bible, reading it endlessly and delving into deep study on my own time. I out-prayed, out read, out studied and out-ministered, yet it still didn't seem like enough. I knew God's hand was upon me, and that I truly did want to glorify him, but over time, my motives became a mixture of desire to bless God and desire to gain acceptance within my church family.

My very best friends within the church ended up being people who themselves had seen a bit more of life. We were a bit of a black sheep fraternity, unable to identify completely with a pastor whose worst boyhood indiscretions appeared to consist of swearing once or twice, and once refusing to go to church with his family. "Good Lord!" I thought. "Is that all you've got?". Granted he was very penitent about these sins, and I don't mean to belittle anybody's struggles. But given all I'd done and seen, I needed some industrial-sized assurance that Jesus' blood could cover me too. Seeing my pastor confess in shameful tears and agony that he once used the church phone to make a long distance call home, and forgot to reimburse us for it, made me fear that my grip on grace was tenuous at best. If he, a pastor, was in danger of hellfire for that, the odds that someone like me could make it were not looking good at all.

But my close friends understood, they shared many of my same struggles, or had even crazier things to overcome than I did. They were the ones who taught me God's grace truly was big enough to handle the likes of us. We had private jokes about past experiences, often giving eachother knowing glances when the preaching touched on a topic we knew more about first-hand than our fellows. In heart-to-heart conversations we admitted our struggles with some of the church's' perspectives and teachings. Was the wine at Cana fermented wine (yayin) or new, unfermented wine (tirosh)? When the Lord said touch not my anointed, did He mean all priests or prophets? Or where false prophets fair game? These and other frank discussions kept me sane during the churches increasingly erratic pursuit of holiness, spiritual warfare, and revival.

It was these friends that I thought would remain even if I left the church. I honestly believed that even if I moved on to a new fellowship, I would always have these sisters in Christ. Some of us even "cheated" on our church by scoping out other new churches in town on occasion. We'd slip out after teaching Sunday school and head over to the other church in time for worship and the sermon. I thought these friends would understand when it was time to move on, perhaps they would too in time. But the last day I attended my former church was the last time I've seen or heard from any of them. The fellowship was broken, I was officially backslid and that was that. Poof!

Ironically enough, the friend who guilted me into going to the church in the first place left before I did. However, because her phone number and email remain the same, she still gets harassing phone calls. Members call her and tell her all the reasons why she's a bad person and everything's her fault. They try to appeal to her loneliness by offering to get together, then pour on the guilt. Seeing what she's gone through has given me pause about getting back in touch with anyone. Better to let sleeping dogs lie, I reason.

I remember years ago, before things got bad, there was this couple that used to attend my church. They were truly beautiful people, always with a gentle spirit and smile. Call them Harry and Bess. After many years of marriage and faithful attendance, Harry passed away. His funeral was among the most joyful I'd ever seen, because we all knew Harry had gone home at last. Bess was shaken, and devastated, but the unmistakable hope that she would see him again gleamed in her teary eyes. After a few months had passed, I stopped seeing Bess on Sundays. Until one day she came back for a special service. Happy to see her, I made a beeline for her after the service.
Before I could get my greeting out, she blurted: "No, I'm not dead, and I'm not backslidden either! I was taken aback by her greeting. Why on earth would she think anyone thought that of her? I knew she loved Jesus! The thought never even crossed my mind. I gave her a big hug and we talked, she told me about the new church she'd begun attending, since she was having struggles with the memories of Harry in our church. I understood perfectly.

Apparently others didn't. Overnight, she'd been classified a fugitive and a backslider. She got the concerned phone calls and letters, the admonitions and warnings. It was all in vain; she never did come back to us.

I think of her and all the others every day. Some I don't miss so much, though I pray they are well and growing in the truth and grace of God. Others I miss like you'd miss a severed limb, and there are still days when it seems impossible to cope without one of our heart-to-heart chats. I wonder about their children and their parents. I still pray about certain ongoing situations that they've been struggling with. I pray for them. I pray that though we're apart, God would watch between us, and keep us from bitterness.

Who knows what the new year will bring. Thoughts of reconciliation float here and there, but who knows? Am I strong enough to withstand the temptation to go back? Was ours a necessary division, whereby I would come to learn how to lean wholeheartedly on Jesus alone? Would I be received?

Soon we'll come to the end of life's journey
And perhaps we'll never meet anymore
'Til we gather in heaven's bright city
Far away on that beautiful shore

If we never meet again this side of heaven
As we struggle through this world and its strife
There's another meeting place somewhere in heaven
By the river of life

Where the charming roses bloom forever
And where separation come no more
If we never meet again this side of heaven
I will meet you on that beautiful shore

Oh so often we are parted with sorrow
And action often quietens our pain
But we never shall sorrow in heaven
God be with you till we meet again

~author unknown

Up Late, Reading

I think we needed this. A forty dollar gift certificate to the local book store. Some tea. A holiday tomorrow. Two cats and a stack of books. It's a perfect night to stay up late reading.

I am ploughing through Jhumpa Lahiri's The Namesake and could hardly put it down until the end of a particular chapter, when I was overcome with tears and on the verge of sobbing. One reviewer's comment said that her writing is so good, you forget you're reading. I'll second that. Unbelievable that this is a first novel.

Mr. F is reading Revolution in the Valley, yet another book about Apple Computers and the people behind the Macintosh.

We've been so engrossed that we only just noticed what time it is. Thankfully neither of us have to get up at any prescribed time tomorrow.

Thursday, December 30, 2004

The Goodness of God

If God took everything away from me, and offered only Himself in return, what would I do? Would He be enough?

This question is nagging at me today. If I were that one who clung to a tree, watching the destruction of every person and thing that I held dear, and was left with nothing but God Himself, what on earth would I say to Him?

It is so, so easy to sit here in my warm house, surrounded by all my Bibles, with a hot cup of tea and food in my belly to presume what I might say. But if I stop for a moment and really consider it, I have to admit I don't know what I'm made of; my faith has never been pushed to that kind of limit.

A commenter suggested that perhaps God allowed the Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunamis to happen so that the rest of the world would know that He is God. Truthfully, my instant reaction was to be aggravated. It bugged me all morning.

Thinking it over, it occurred to me that God has no end of means at His disposal for proving to the world that He is God. Using catastrophe and utter destruction to promote oneself doesn't seem like very good PR to me. Hear me out on this, I mean no disrespect. We need to go deeper into the heart of God at times like this.

In the Old Testament, we read that God told Jonah to go to Nineveh, as wicked a city as there ever was, and proclaim that the city would be overthrown. (Jonah 3:1-4). This in itself was not unusual. God had been using prophets for some time now to proclaim impending judgment, and we see in subsequent books of the Old Testament that He continued to do so. So this is not an unheard of MO for the Spirit of the Lord.

But this story ends differently:

So the people of Nineveh believed God, proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest to the least of them. Then word came to the king of Nineveh; and he arose from his throne and laid aside his robe, covered himself with sackcloth and sat in ashes. And he caused it to be proclaimed and published throughout Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles, saying,

Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything; do not let them eat, or drink water. But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily to God; yes, let every one turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands. Who can tell if God will turn and relent, and turn away from His fierce anger, so that we may not perish?

Then God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God relented from the disaster that He had said He would bring upon them, and He did not do it. Jonah 3:5-10, NKJV

God did not bring the destruction to pass. He spared the Ninevites, because given the opportunity to clean up their act, they did. God gave them a warning, brought them to a place of decision, and when they responded, He relented.

Would not the thousands of dead have done the same, had they known what was about to befall them? Where was their chance? Was anyone storming the beaches and resorts proclaiming the word of the Lord to these people? Why would they not be afforded the same chance the Ninevites had?

It seems too easy, too pat to say that God did this just to prove that He is God. Might I also say that were that true, I could not blame atheists and those who do not believe in the God of the Bible for being absolutely horrified by this train of thought. I'm kind of horrified by it, truth be told.

God's decision to spare Nineveh produces a very curious reaction in Jonah. Does Jonah fall down and praise God for His merciful loving kindness? No. He whines about it. Really. It's amazing, but true.

But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he became angry. So he prayed to the LORD, and said, "Ah, LORD, was not this what I said when I was still in my country? Therefore I fled previously to Tarshish; for I know that You are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, One who relents from doing harm. Therefore now, O LORD, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live!" Jonah 4:1-3, NKJV

Goodness gracious!

Far be it from any of us to ever have such an attitude. But I fear that there are some who would rather see the destruction of the world than the mercy of God. There is a subtle trap laid for us dear brothers and sisters. In wanting to prove the power of God and the truthfulness of His Word so desperately, we find ourselves almost cheering on Armageddon. "Who's laughing now? That'll teach ya to not believe!" I've done this. I've caught myself doing it. I'm not proud to admit it.

Perhaps Jonah feared he would be seen as a false prophet when his prophecies did not come to pass. The penalty for false prophecy in those days was no laughing matter, so on one hand, you can understand Jonah shaking in his boots at what might become of him if God relented and never made good on His threat. Perhaps Jonah wanted to prove to those godless Ninevites for once and for all the supremacy of his God. Perhaps he wanted so much to be right, he let his emotions cloud his reason. Because I've been there, I'm trying to give Jonah the benefit of the doubt.

Jonah and I are not the only ones who have been prone to getting testy with the world. Jesus himself rebuked James and John for similar thinking. Read it here for yourself:

Now it came to pass, when the time had come for Him to be received up, that He steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem, and sent messengers before His face. And as they went, they entered a village of the Samaritans, to prepare for Him. But they did not receive Him, because His face was set for the journey to Jerusalem. And when His disciples James and John saw this, they said, "Lord, do You want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them, just as Elijah did?"

But He turned and rebuked them, and said, "You do not know what manner of spirit you are of. For the Son of Man did not come to destroy men's lives but to save them." And they went to another village. Luke 9:51-56

In past times, yours truly has been guilty of wanting justice and judgment over mercy. I have prayed that my views and my God would be justified and vindicated. Throw down some lightning, crumble the earth under their feet! That'll learn ya to mess with my God!

Dear readers, when we think like this, we know not what manner of spirit we are of. This is not the spirit of Christ, who himself said he sought not honor for himself, but to glorify the goodness and mercy of God.

Which brings me back to the terrible events of the last few days, and the shock and the horror that has gripped us as the news reports come in. With the psalmist our hearts cry:

I had fainted, unless I had believed to see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living. Psalm 27:13, KJV

All of us are grappling with questions about God's part or lack thereof in this. We yearn for signs of deliverance, for testimonies and miracles; we are on tenterhooks, waiting for God to answer His critics with an incredible act of mercy. Some large part of our faith and hope is riding on it, and we want to protect God from the blame, I admit it.

But may I respectfully suggest that may be overlooking an important aspect of God's character and will if we believe that those killed and injured and orphaned must necessarily all be godless sinners under judgment. Consider Paul's rebuke in Romans:

And do you think this, O man, you who judge those practicing such things, and doing the same, that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance? Romans 2:3-4 NKJV

Perhaps you still believe that the earthquake and the devastation was a call to repentance, and a sign to those of us still living that we need to get our house in order. I would agree with you that it is not a bad thing if all of us who remain from hereafter become actively engaged in examining ourselves and asking God to forgive us and help us to be more like Him. But tell me, when we have the Bible, and we have millions of books, radio stations, TV stations, and now Christian blogs to send us this very message, why would God indiscriminately kill over 120,000 people to get the message across to me or my neighbor? It is akin to saying that God will strike down someone in Great Britain if I don't stop indulging in my weakness for gossip. Why would He not rather convict me in my own heart?

It was God's mercy and goodness to me that drew me to Him. The fear of His judgment sends me scurrying, like Adam and Eve, for the nearest place to hide myself from His presence. It is the love and protection and provision of God that will no doubt make the difference in the lives of each survivor. So many have nothing left. No homes, no family, no food, no hope. Yet God is there, offering Himself. He is the only thing any of these people can lay claim to in this their dark hour of need and desperation. Only His goodness and mercy stands between them and death.

Would you tell such a one at such a time: Repent!

Or rather would you say, grab a hold, and hang on! Hope thou in the Lord!

We who know that there is a day of reckoning coming, what manner of persons ought we to be? Let us be those that account the longsuffering of the Lord as salvation (2 Peter 3:15), and as our Lord before us, we should likewise not be willing that any should perish. (2 Peter 3:9)

Let us then prevail upon the mercy and goodness of the Lord, knowing His heart's desire is to save, and not to destroy.

A New Year

New Year celebrations in Malaysia have been cancelled, this from Messy Christian and IreneQ. Instead, people are being asked to remember the dead, missing, and suffering. Now there's a concept, a very wise one indeed.

I credit the Malaysian government for this, it seems the honorable thing to do.

My husband and I generally don't get into the whole New Year thing (it's a tough holiday for those who don't drink) but this year will probably be especially subdued.

As an American, I admit we do have a tendency to want to bounce back quickly from things. We have this almost irrepressible urge to celebrate life even in the face of tragedy. Growing up this way, I assumed it was honorable, even inspiring. I never realized that this is potentially offensive to folks from other cultures. It took me a minute of thinking to realize that it could be construed as the height of insensitivity or a lack of reverence for the dead. I wish I could convey somehow that it's never our intent to dishonor the dead or diminish the suffering of those who remain.

Sure there are some noodleheads out there who just live to get liquored up for any reason at all and act like imbeciles. But that's not what I'm talking about when I talk of the American psyche's innate need for celebration, even in the darkest of times. It really isn't about carelessness or sloughing off pain. Perhaps it has more to do with a deep appreciation for the indomitableness of the human spirit.

The determination of Americans to celebrate in Times Square right after 9/11 comes to mind (although there was no small amount of pride and defiance mixed in with that). I wasn't charging down to the square myself, but I could understand the motivations of those who did. It was with a measure of pride, worry, and not a little satisfaction that I watched my crazy countrymen revel in the heart of New York City that year. It was important to our country, our culture as a whole to celebrate that moment, even if it was tearfully done.

But this year it seems more appropriate to be subdued, meditative, prayerful. It's a time to reflect on the knowledge that we are not guaranteed the promise of another breath, much less a whole new year. There is a time for everything, so the Preacher said. May this be a time for grief and reverence, tears and giving, sorrow and hope.

Wednesday, December 29, 2004


Joe Carter at The Evangelical Outpost attempts to put the numbers in perspective. Slashdot reports several scientists claim the earth's rotation was affected by the quake. Closer to home, Mr. Standfast is strugging with a loss that is as sudden and senseless as any that occurred overseas.

Under normal circumstances, I'd think I was having a bad day today. But in light of the death toll that is now climbing unthinkably higher than 80,000, I feel very, very small.

I can't stop thinking about Janel Cadman, the now widow of Mr. Standfast's friend John. To be only just newly married and then suddenly widowed, oh my dear Lord the thought rips me apart. My heart goes out to her, and I think of her too as I think of those lost and missing in Asia. Hers is a tragedy that the world at large will miss, but it is no less significant. Her life is forever changed too. God knows, and He is there with her too.

Had it not been for these things that are weighing so heavy on my heart, I would have been feeling very bad for myself today. After waiting and hoping for two weeks, it turns out that I'm not pregnant. A dear friend is about to make the mistake of his life by marrying the wrong person. And this morning the vet called with sad news about our wonderful old kitty whose picture graced this blog earlier in the week. We will do all we can to make him comfortable, happy and loved as his kidney failure progresses.

While I love our friend and our kitty, and dearly hope for a family of our own someday, these things pale in comparison to what some people are having to deal with today. While one young wife prepares for her burial, thousands others seek desperately for news, any news of their loved ones. Thousands are being buried unceremoniously in great haste as the fear and threat of pestilence grows. The need, the pain, the heartbreak is too great.

What kind of God can bear all this?

God, promise me that you are big enough. This is she of the little girl faith talking here, because my adult mind can't begin to process the enormity of all these deaths. Promise me that you feel every loss acutely, that the numbers of the hairs on each dead and dying person's head are numbered by you. You know their breaths, their thoughts afar off. I am grieving people I have never met. You are grieving men, women and children that you knew from the very moment they came to be.

Our hearts and minds stagger under the numbers Lord, but you know their names. You know their faces. Not a one is unknown to you. For these you died Jesus. For every last one you poured out yourself. Did you see this day, did you know, as you stood and wept over Jerusalem, that one day it would come to this?

Father God I don't accuse you, you know my heart. Help me to understand, help me to read your heart and have your mind. God I tremble to think of your anguish; and the very thought that were I to experience a thousandth of our pain I should likely die on the spot. There is only so much a human being can take.

How much can you take God?

Lord, your servant Jeremiah said you have made the heavens and the earth and that there is nothing too hard for you. Throughout history you have proven your ability to care for the sick, the broken and anguished. For your good name's sake, God please help. God, my heart tells me that you are not indifferent to us. I don't know how, but I believe you can move in the midst of this situation and rescue those whose lives hang in the balance. Please Lord, please. I don't know how, but I believe you can comfort Janel, and so many other grieving families that have been torn apart.

I am in awe of your power to do these things Lord, though my mind cannot comprehend it, in my heart I believe. Do what only you are able to do in our hearts, minds and lives. In faith I ask these things of you, believing it is in and with the Spirit of Christ I pray.


Blogroll Updates

Like IreneQ, I feel it is somehow inappropriate to write about anything other than the SE Asian tragedy. However, again this morning I find myself wondering what on earth to say so I did a bit of housekeeping instead. I've updated the God Blogs blogroll by adding some blogs that I've been reading for some time, and a few others I've just started reading. They always seem to have something genuine and thought provoking to offer, and even if we disagree on something, I truly enjoy reading their points of view.

The new additions are, in alphabetical order:

I've alphabetized the God Blogs blogroll as well. Generally these are the folks I read on a daily basis using Firefox's live bookmarks feature. I've learned a lot from them and continue to enjoy hearing about their experiences as we all travel down the road of life and faith.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004


Messy Christian has opened a virtual prayer room on her blog. Go there and read, even if you choose not to add.

And pray. Please pray.

Don't Anyone Dare

Messy Christian has already encountered someone running around spouting off about God's judgment as being the cause of the earthquake and tsunamis. Before anyone else starts doing their best Jerry Falwell impersonation, let's just nip this thing in the bud, shall we?

It is not easy to stop and think rationally at a time like this. But before things get too out of hand, let's try to address the inevitable inane and stupid things that some people are going to end up saying, if they're not saying them already.

Is the Southeast Asian Disaster God's Judgment, or Just Symptoms of a Flawed Earth?

After thirty-three years of living and learning, I know just about enough to be able to say this definitively: I don't know.

When we look at the instances of Judgment recorded in the Bible, we see that more often than not, judgment begins in the house of the Lord. That is to say, it is the people who claim to be called by God's name, those who identify themselves as His people who are judged the harshest. I believe this is always the case. A parent cannot discipline someone else's child. But his own, whom he loves, he chastens. God has said this over and over again in His word, that he will correct those of us who claim to follow him. Judgment begins at the house of the Lord - which means we are the ones who are the most accountable for what we say and do. You do not hold a two year old child to the same standard of accountability as you do a thirty year old. Likewise, I do not believe God holds those who don't know him to the same level of accountability as he does those who claim to minister in His name.

Also, as Matt over at Wheat and Chaff points out, Jesus remonstrated those who assumed the victims of a tragic accident are being singled out for harsher penalties. Jesus says this is not so:

And Jesus answered and said to them, "Do you suppose that these Galileans were worse sinners than all other Galileans, because they suffered such things? I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them, do you think that they were worse sinners than all other men who dwelt in Jerusalem? I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish.
Luke 15:2-5, NKJV

I added the emphasis here. Jesus himself is saying that people who died in tragic accidents were not singled out for horrific death because they were worse than any of us. "I tell you, no." He said. That's Jesus' own words there. Take that to heart and consider it.

Romans 3:23 suggests that we are all on a level playing field where it comes to sinfulness; No one person can claim to be more or less sinful. The fact remains that all have sinned. No one is blameless, ergo, no one, neither I nor Jerry Falwell have anything in ourselves in which we can boast. Another reminder is in order here:

For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.
Ephesians 2:8-9 KJV

We do live in a fallen world, one that is imperfect and fraught with danger and peril. The Bible never attempts to mislead us into thinking we'll always be safe from calamity. Job himself testifies:

For the thing which I greatly feared is come upon me, and that which I was afraid of is come unto me.
Job 3:25

If God is Omnipotent, Why Did He Allow This?

I don't know.

Does God Hate Unbelievers?

Absolutely, positively, unquestionably, no, He does not.

John 3:16 says that God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son so that we would not perish.

Hebrews 12:2 says that for the joy that was set before him (Jesus) endured the cross, despising the shame.

These are not the actions of an unloving God. These are also not the actions of a capricious deity bent on toying with us. The death of Christ should prove to us the utter seriousness with which God is determined to redeem us from our own bondage and reconcile us to Himself.

Remember how it is we all ended up outside the bounds of paradise in the first place? Since that moment we willfully put all mankind outside the protection and provenance of God. Since that moment God has been actively at work to seek and save that which was lost, because He better than anyone knows the perils we face on our own.

Why are Christians so Smug and Quick to Proclaim Judgment?
Spiritual pride, pure and simple. Those that go about wagging the finger and heaping ashes on the poor devastated survivors should be ashamed of themselves. Why are you not weeping? Why are you not devastated? Abraham pleaded with God for the lives of those in Sodom and Gommorrah. Jeremiah was completely inconsolable over the fate of Jerusalem.

Oh that my head were waters, and mine eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night for the slain of the daughter of my people!
Jeremiah 9:1

Jesus himself wept and cried out over what was to become of Jerusalem. It is hardly Christlike to stand there shaking one's head with arms folded saying "I told you so." Dear reader, if you are among those who think these people "had it coming", with all due respect, go soak your head.

Do not imagine for a minute that God will hold you blameless for such an attitude. Shut your yap and make yourself useful, do something to help alleviate the suffering of these people. Show them the love of God. Maybe if you do, someday they'll actually want to hear what you have to say, maybe not. But the fact is, it is situations like these that show the world what we're really made of. Do I need to remind everyone of this?

(Jesus said) for I was an hungered, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in:

Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.

Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungered, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink?

When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee?

Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?

And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.

Matthew 25:35-40, KJV

A Prayer
Dear Lord, Where can we turn but to you? Who has the power, strength, and spirit that is so desperately needed? It is not in governments or organizations that we trust, but we look to You who knows the names and hearts of every life that was lost, of every survivor and grief-struck person.

Provide what is most needed for each - food, shelter, medicine, compassion. Send people who are willing to comfort and help, equip and strengthen them with your steadfast love. Help them to work tirelessly to distribute aid and hope.

Soften our hearts Lord, and teach us to be humble representatives of your grace and mercy. Help us to pray. Teach us to love, comfort, strengthen, help, protect, provide, and bless.

Jesus, we don't understand, we can't begin to fathom all that has happened. We are awed and humbled. Be with those for whom this tragedy is a stumbling block to faith in your love for all people. I don't know what to say to such a one Lord, but you do. Help me to be loving and kind to those who are doubting and angry.

Your word says that the fervent prayer of the righteous man avails much. Lord I don't feel effective, and absent your grace I am not righteous. Jesus, please receive the yearnings, cries and pleas of my heart, and all the unspoken things for which there are no words to convey.


Monday, December 27, 2004

Give What You Can

I'm following Rick at Brutally Honest's lead - please visit this site and do what you can to help.

My husband read about several software companies that have pledged to give a portion or all of their profits next week to aid the relief effort. Joel at Fogcreek Software is pledging 50% of their profits towards Oxfam. Until the end of this month, Nick Bradbury is donating everything he earns from sales of his software to the Red Cross.

I wish all businesses would be so socially conscious and responsible. I'm so glad some people out there are stepping up in a big way.

EDIT: To clarify: Nick Bradbury is donating his entire revenue for the remainder of the month, not just profits.

God Bless the Ukraine

My thoughts are also with the people of the Ukraine today. Way to go folks!

TulipGirl has truly had an experience of a lifetime, to see this all unfold with her own eyes. I pray that her family's ministry there continues to grow and bless these beautiful people.

On a somewhat related note, it turns out that Amy Ridenour knows Mrs. Yushchenko and writes about her here. Very interesting indeed. She sounds like quite a lady.

My life and concerns seems so small in comparison with both the great joy in the Ukraine and the great anguish in southeast Asia. While we are limited, I am so glad that God is not; He is able to rejoice with the Ukrainians and grieve such a tremendous loss in Asia. It boggles the mind.


The death toll is sure to keep rising. I am relieved to read that Joe and Jane Missionary are also safe and sound. I'm still struggling with the enormity of this disaster, my attempts at prayer seem feeble at best.

What do you even begin to ask of God when a tragedy of this magnitude strikes? What words are there that can adequately express your heart? So many lives! How fleeting!

It is hard to write today, thinking about the loss of life, and the anquish of the survivors. There just don't seem to be words for it.

God, be God.


Thinking and praying today for the nations of southeast Asia that were devastated by a 9.0 earthquake and tsunamis yesterday. I am relieved to know that my Malaysian sisters, Messy Christian and IreneQ are both ok, as are their families. To any other readers from the affected areas, please drop me a comment and let me know you are ok. Praying for all of you.

How do you begin to comprehend what just happened?

Both Messy and Irene this morning are expressing a fair amount of surprise that such a thing could affect Malaysia, which they report is generally safe from natural disasters such as earthquakes. Since 9/11, Americans know how it feels to have the unthinkable happen in your own back yard. It's incomprehensible.

I'm not even sure what to say about it all, other than I'm dumbstruck and devasated for these countries, for all these poor people who were just out enjoying what appeared to be a beautiful day. Twenty one thousand dead! And that number keeps increasing. Unthinkable.

Dear Lord, have mercy!

Friday, December 24, 2004

Tidings of Comfort

There are many for whom Christmas is just another day, for some its nothing less than an ordeal to be gotten through.

I'm missing an old friend today, and wondering what kind of weird and wonderful Christmas she and her family are going to have this year. She was the one who first introduced me to the concept that Christmas doesn't have to look, feel or smell like we all think it should. Sometimes, in drastic situations, you gotta think outside the gift box.

When you are the parent of a sick child, one that requires many surgeries, normal doesn't exist for you. You went down the rabbit hole the first time the doctor spoke the name of your child's illness, deformity, or syndrome out loud. What works for other kids doesn't work for your kid. What's normal in your family would be unthinkable in a healthy family. You do what you have to do to get to the next step, the next hour, the next day. Right? You don't necessarily have the time or luxury of indulging in the trivial - which three desserts to make for Christmas dinner, or whether you're going to have ham or turkey. These things that can seem so important one day, matter so little the next.

One year, my friend's daughter was scheduled for surgery two or three days after Christmas. No one felt like celebrating much. Getting out of bed was hard enough each day, never mind the thought of going through all the Christmas motions. So they did what they could handle. In an absolutely brilliant move, she went out and bought all new bedding for their beds, the rented a ton of movies, got out the microwave popcorn and they had a Christmas bed-in. I kid you not. They sat in their jammies watching movies together. Whenever they spoke of that day, it sounded like the greatest Christmas ever. The first time she told me this story, I was taken aback. But after thinking for a minute, one could see the sense and smarts in it.

Tradition can be a heavy thing to bear for folks who are grieving the loss of a loved one, either through death or divorce. Childless couples and empty nesters grieve the quietness of the house on Christmas morning. Single people feel awkward about being alone. Single parents find themselves in the extraordinary position of having to be Mom, Dad and Santa too. Folks in troubled marriages grieve the separateness between them on a day that is supposed to be so filled with joy.

It's a tough time for a lot of people. As a matter of fact, if it wasn't for Jesus, Christmas would be more of a headache than its worth.

Ah, but there *is* Jesus.

Jesus who deigned to born into human flesh, and that's not the worst of it. He was born in the midst of squalor, a very mean and humble place. That stable wasn't any grand hotel sweetheart. It was as crude and rude as you could get.

If you are someone who's having a hard time today, facing the prospect of a less than ideal Christmas, then it is good to know there is Someone who is not afraid to go down into the depths with you. Even on his own birthday, His focus is not on himself, but you.

And if your traditional ways of celebrating are dragging you down, or the thought of family visits is triggering panic attacks, find a new way to observe the day that works for you. Make it a point to go out and walk for an hour in the woods. When you find just the right spot, sing Happy Birthday Jesus at the top of your lungs. Or just revere Him in silence. Make happy Christmas (your favorite food) with someone you love. Go outside at midnight and contemplate the ancient stars that witnessed Christ's birth. In the quiet depths of midnight, imagine the sound of an heavenly host bursting into song with exceeding joy.

Or like my friend did, get out the flannel sheets and some videos. Do what works best for you, do only what is helpful - and toss the rest!

May you have a deeply comforting and healing Christmas. May Jesus' love touch you in wondrous ways and fill your heart with the blessed assurance and peace that He alone can give.

all the best,

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Is the Ode to Joy Pagan?

One of my biggest pet peeves about my former church was their apparent disdain of literature and learning. One church member once bragged that they never read anything that wasn't written by a Christian (uh hello? how about newspapers you wing-nut?) When I get emails such as the one I received this morning, it makes me want to whack the original author savagely about the head with a ten pound tome of poetry. (In the spirit of love, of course!)

Let me preface this particular rant by saying that it would be completely illogical, even from an agnostic scientific viewpoint, to believe the world as we know it is *not* going to come to an end. Someday. Science already believes that at some point our Sun is going to superheat and then burn out (if I have my facts correct, someone check me on this). Of course others believe that the greenhouse effect is going to do us all in way before then. Regardless of how you think the world is going to end, most people, even if they can't agree on the method, agree that it will, in fact, end.

Ok. On to my point.

I got an email this morning that appears to contain excerpts from this article which seems to claim that the European Union is the revived Roman Empire which will be the staging ground for the rise of the Antichrist. Yadda yadda yadda, yeah I've heard this before. My old church used to do a weeklong series of bible studies every year concerning eschatology and the book of Revelations. It's nothing new that many evangelicals believe the EU and the UN will be the driving forces behind the formation of a one-world government and the eventual ushering in of the Apocalypse.

What got me all in a twist was this bit (quoted almost verbatim from the article above):

Their (The EU's) anthem is "Ode to Joy" --- the lyrics, by a man named Friedrich von Schiller, concern the entering of the shrine of a pagan goddess and the uniting of all men in brotherhood, by the power of magic.

Say WHAT????? You have got to be kidding me!

Let me just say that I deeply love Beethoven's 9th symphony, and the chorus more commonly known as the "Ode to Joy". During some really difficult parts of my life when I had run very far from God, Beethoven's 9th kept popping up in the most unlikely places. Always it had the effect of wooing me back to Jesus and a life in God. Your mileage may vary, but to me, this melody is one of the things the Holy Spirit used to win me back by degrees. (It should be noted that the same melody in Beethoven's 9th is used for the popular Christian hymn, "Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee", another lovely song. Read more about the Ode to Joy at Wikipedia)

I was aware of the fact that Beethoven had not written the Ode to Joy himself, he just set the German poem to music. I had only ever heard the German version, so I Googled "Ode to Joy" lyrics this morning. Here they are, in English:

Joy, bright spark of divinity,
Daughter of Elysium,
Fire-inspired we tread
Thy sanctuary.
Thy magic power re-unites
All that custom has divided,
All men become brothers
Under the sway of thy gentle wings.

Whoever has created
An abiding friendship,
Or has won
A true and loving wife,
All who can call at least one soul theirs,
Join in our song of praise ;
But any who cannot must creep tearfully
Away from our circle.

All creatures drink of joy
At nature's breast.
Just and unjust
Alike taste of her gift ;
She gave us kisses and the fruit of the vine,
A tried friend to the end.
Even the worm can fell contentment,
And the cherub stands before God !

Gladly, like the heavenly bodies
Which He set on their courses
Through the splendour of the firmament ;
Thus, brothers, you should run your race,
As a hero going to conquest.

You millions, I embrace you.
This kiss is for all the world !
Brothers, above the starry canopy
There must dwell a loving Father.
Do you fall in worship, you millions ?
World, do you know your Creator ?
Seek Him in the heavens !
Above the stars must He dwell.

So it seems that the first verse is what has people tied up in knots. This is poetry, it is a metaphor. It is not pagan.

First off, it seems the writer is taking exception with the use of the word Elysian, which *is* a word from Greek mythology. Do you know what it means? It means Paradise. Heaven. It was the pre-Christian era Greek concept of where blessed souls go after death. (Check me out. This is the Merriam Webster Online definition.) So, not to sound like an 8th grade English teacher, but "Daughter of Elysium" may then be translated "Daughter of Paradise" or "Daughter of Heaven". Ok, you say. But there's still this problem of Joy being personified as a woman, a spark of the divine. Does this make Joy a female deity? No. It is a poetic device.

Consider this:

Wisdom crieth without; she uttereth her voice in the streets: She crieth in the chief place of concourse, in the opening of the gates: in the city she uttereth her words, saying, How long, ye simple ones , will ye love simplicity? and the scorners delight in their scorning, and fools hate knowledge?
Proverbs 1:20-21

Wisdom, a gift of God, is personified as a woman by the psalm writer. Schiller uses the same literary device to personify another God-given gift, joy. Referring to Joy as the "spark of divinity" is acknowledging that joy is a gift of the Divine. MANY poets throughout history used mythological elements and symbolism in their poetry (Look up Elizabeth Barrett Browning et al) and no one called them pagan! (Any English Lit majors out there care to back me up on this?)

So if you look at this first paragraph again, it really means that Divine Joy, which is born of Heaven, has the power to bring men together in brotherhood. The joy of the Lord absolutely has the power to do this. Oh yeah, and the bit about entering the sanctuary of Joy - is that not an apt description of the presence of God?

The poem also says "just and unjust alike taste her gift". The Bible says: The rain falls on the just and unjust alike. (Matthew 5:45) How is that pagan? That is biblical!

Ok, there's the whole personification as Nature as a woman as well. Very well. Let's look at the King James Version of the bible, shall we? What does it give by way of an example here?

Let the people praise thee, O God, let all the people praise thee.
Then shall the earth yield her increase; and God, even our God shall bless us.

Psalm 67:6

Ah ha! Does that make the Bible pagan?? God forbid. But note here that this psalm says that as the people join together to praise God, the earth will be blessed and give forth her bounty. How is this *any* different than what Schiller is implying in his poem?

With all due respect, the person who wrote that gross misinterpretation needs to go back and re-take high school English and literature classes. This is a poem, people, not a statement of faith!! The EU may be whatever the EU is, love it or hate it. But I don't think its choice of national anthem is infallible proof that it is the Beast described in the Book of Revelation.

It struck me this morning that Isaiah was to the Jewish people what Revelations is to Christians. There they had all this prophecy that was so incredibly specific down to minute details (hands and side being pierced, yet not bone was broken, etc.) and yet, guess what folks, THEY STILL MISSED IT WHEN HE ARRIVED ON THE SCENE! Could it be possible that despite all our Christian obsession with Revelation, we could end up doing the same thing? Wouldn't that be a kick in the head!

It seems to me that a lot of people like Tim LaHaye & company are making lots of money off the sheep by selling us all this end-times stuff. Pastor sell books about it, and multi-volume sermons. Others gain fame and money by tearing down ministries that they believe are duping the faithful into believing lies. Wonder if the same sort of thing took place among the Jewish nation before Christ finally did arrive, right under their noses?

In Luke 17:20 it is written that the Pharisees demanded Jesus to tell them when the kingdom of God should come. Jesus said:

The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: neither shall they say Lo here! or lo, there! for behold, the kingdom of God is within you. (KJV)
Luke 17:20-21

I do believe the world is coming to an end, and that only God's grace and mercy restrains His hand. All I can do is work out my own salvation, and share the good news. I don't know the day, the hour, the means or the method that will unleash what is to come. It is going to happen, of that I have no doubt. I spent years shaking in my boots during End-Times Bible studies. But as of today I have come to the conclusion that if Jesus saw fit to not divulge the day or the hour of His coming, then for my part I am to simply trust Him and His power to keep me, and work out my own salvation every day as if it were my last. In truth, who knows when then wake up in the morning if they will live to see the sun set in the evening?

When it comes to end-time theology, believe what you will. But if you're going to try convince the world at large that the formation of the EU is a clear and present danger, don't make yourself look silly by trying to use the lyrics from the Ode to Joy to prove it!

Study to show thyself approved people!!

Blogger Doesn't Like Me Today

It seems that something on one or the other of my last two posts didn't play nicely with my Blogger template, so I had to take them down temporarily. I will repost them when I figure out what went wrong.

Sorry for any inconvenience!

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Oh! Christmas Tree???

For a while there, I thought we were going to end up with a naked tree on Christmas morning.

After sitting in the corner of our living room for a week without a stitch on, we finally started decorating the tree on Sunday. I remember when I was a kid, I was the one dragging the ornaments and lights out of the basement, begging my parents to put the tree up the day after Thanksgiving.

My how times have changed.

Ok, so I did manage to go buy a real tree a week ago. Mr. Feeble brought it in from outside and set it up in the stand last Monday night. And there it sat. The cats had a wonderful time drinking the water out of the tree stand (I'm praying the oldest one doesn't make himself sick before his Vet appointment next Tuesday. I don't need the veterinarian thinking I'm a bad mother.)

This past Sunday Mr. Feeble brought the boxes of ornaments and lights upstairs and we began to string the lights. Then it was break time. Ah. Sitting down felt good. Then it was time for dinner. Then we were tired. Eh, at least we got the lights on! Last night after dinner we put up some garlands and some of the ornaments while watching the Patriots game (what a bummer that turned out to be). We ran out of hooks for some of the new ornaments and had to resort to using paper clips, which works surprisingly well in a pinch.

It's looking pretty good. I've got a few more boxes of ornaments to go. It might get finished tonight. Or tomorrow... There's always Christmas eve!

I am kind of glad that of all the things that my former church forbid, Christmas trees was not one of them. I still struggle with guilt over so many "morally neutral" (to borrow a phrase from Joe Missionary) things that I am glad there is at least one thing that I can still do with a free conscience. Speaking of which, Amy Loves Books has a great post about the Santa issue which kind of goes along with my current line of thinking these days. Though I am still conflicted about that. I guess I'll worry about it more when we actually do have children!

Monday, December 20, 2004

The Show Must Go On!

Today is the day to catch up on everything. You don't think I'm asking too much of myself, do you?

Looking ahead for the rest of this week, today is my one chance to wrap up my gift shopping, clean the house, get the laundry going, get the rest of the Christmas cards in the mail, make a grocery list that covers the rest of the week and Christmas dinner, and start wrapping gifts.

Ok, maybe I'm expecting a bit much of myself.

I tend to swing to extremes. I'm either an organized, efficient, super-productive manager in the extreme, or I'm a complete sloth. The trick is to keep moving and making lists. So long as I am in motion and writing things down, the only thing that can bring me down is physical exhaustion (the usual culprit). But if I start off the day with no plan and no list, chances are very good that I'll end up flitting around from one half finished random task to another with nothing to show for it at the end of the day.

My ability to be a mean, clean working machine was learned; I was not born with it. It comes from several years of studying and working in the theatre, which is a lot tougher than it may seem at first blush. It was when I first started working backstage that I really learned how to work. I'd had jobs since the age of fifteen, but nothing quite as mentally, physically and emotionally challenging as getting forty performers, twenty crew, and untold numbers of costumes, lights, sound effects, pyrotechnics, set pieces and props ready for that curtain to go up at 8:10 pm on the nose. It was one big adrenaline rush every Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, plus two a day on Saturday and Sunday.

That was when I became queen of stopwatch, defender of the everlasting cue sheets, and filler of the miraculously bottomless coffee pots. There were so many things and people and times to keep track of: rehearsal calls, costume fittings, photo ops and press interviews. There were floorplans to measure and mark out, missed and dropped lines to correct, and you'd better darn well not forget to call that all-important union break every fifty-five minutes on the hour.

It was wild, and I loved it. Nothing before had ever tested me to this extreme. I was frequently exhausted, continually caffeinated, and emotionally spent at the end of a day. Ah, but when that curtain went up it was pure magic every night. In the hush of the audience and the dimness of light there was this Great Anticipation.

For some productions, that was the most enjoyable moment of the evening - the moment before the lights came up and revealed an unholy mess of a disaster that was horribly miscast and misdirected. Other times it was just the earnest expectation of the sure-fire magic that never failed to materialize when extraordinarily dedicated performers, artists, and crew pulled together and went above and beyond the call of duty because they believed the effort would be worth it, and the audience deserved nothing less.

As I sit here and shamefully procrastinate getting started on all the things I'm supposed to do today, I can't help but think of those days when we worked and labored so hard to hone and perfect the production for that special night when that big heavy curtain was opened and all was revealed to the world.

In the years following my brief stint in the arts world, I was astounded by the mismanagement, lack of cooperation and mediocrity I saw daily at my 9-7 pm desk job world. If only the business world took its work as seriously as we had in the theatre, there'd be many fewer crummy products in the world I thought, and people would be happier to go to work every day and proud to be part of something bigger than themselves.

Hm. Maybe that applies to the Church too? Just a thought...


We were only about an hour or so late getting to my family gathering yesterday. (Why do I always underestimate how long it actually takes to wrap Christmas presents?) Thankfully we didn't miss the best parts of the day. No, the best part wasn't when we handed out our last-minute gifts, nor was it when the several thousand dessert items were served. It was when we all got a chance to look back and remember how far we'd all come.

My dad has been an amateur photographer for as long as I can remember. Over the past fifty years he has dutifully photographed major and minor family events for posterity. On rainy days and rare vacation days he would carefully trim and paste photographs into these big huge three-ring binders. Often he would add in his own comments about a particular image. Over the years he's added volume after volume to this catalog of family history.

I grew up looking at pictures from the fifties and sixties - my parents' wedding, their first house, hotels and tourist attractions from all over the world captured during Dad's many business trips overseas, my brothers and sisters as infants and toddlers. I made my debut somewhere in the in the 1970-1972 album, and became a frequent subject in subsequent books, despite my best efforts to evade the camera lens. During the Eighties and Nineties, the tomes got thick with rich, memorable content: our high school and college graduations, the marriages of each of my siblings, and the births of their children; children who are now teens and young adults themselves. So much in so little time!

Watching my young niece play quietly with her brand-new toy pony, I asked her how she liked her horse riding lessons. She immediately perked up and chatted away in her small quiet voice. I felt bad, she seemed kind of disconnected from the older boys and adults. She had retreated into a quiet room to play alone with the horsey, so I tried to think of things to make conversation.

"Did you know that Papa rode a Camel once?"
"He did?" Her eyes widened with curiosity.
"Yes," I said. "Would you like to see a picture? We have a picture of Papa riding a camel."

And with that, the first of the photo albums came out. I told my Dad that his granddaughter wanted to see him on the camel. Well that just made his day. Proudly he retrieved the album and showed his granddaughter the photos from his trip to Egypt, nearly twenty years ago. There he sat, in is business attire on an feisty looking dromedary. My niece was duly impressed with her Papa after that.

This got the ball rolling. My oldest nephew's fiancee wanted to see baby pictures of my oldest nephew, so we got out the album that recorded the very day he was born. Soon all the boys were wanting to see their pictures too. Two of my nephews got to see pictures they'd never seen of their house being built. They also got to see pictures of happier times when their dad still lived with them. It was bittersweet. We saw photos of loved ones who'd passed on, old friends who remain loyal and true to this day, and the gradual march of time that's been changing us so subtly.

I was so happy for my dad, that he got to see the next generation enjoying the albums that he so carefully crafted. It was my favorite moment of the whole day, the whole week and it'll probably be the thing I remember the most about that day. For a few moments the younger generation sat together with their parents, aunts, and uncles and remembered the past with joy, thanks, and a little sense of wonder that we all made it this far together.

Heavenly Father, you remember so much more than we do, truly your thoughts are too great to comprehend. Thank you for your faithfulness to all of us, even when we were far from you and running hell-bent away from your presence and care. The evidence of your tender love for us is in all the faces of my family. We can look at each other and remember specific times and situations where it was only by your grace that we got through. You've sheltered us, provided for us, comforted us in times of great anguish and despair. You've healed our sick and dying, strengthened the weak among us provided treatments and medications and doctors to help us. Where could we begin to speak of all that you've done in our hearts? You've reconciled us to one another, humbled us, protected us and guided us through times fraught with danger and peril. In all these pictures, from the very beginnings of our family to the present day we see the evidence of your love in our lives.

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
~Hebrews 12:2

This morning my heart is overwhelmed, thinking about Jesus. Because he counted it joy to die for us - not just for our redemption, but for the pleasure of giving us of himself, for the chance to impart all the good and perfect gifts of his enduring presence to us. I'm a bit humbled today to think of all the fretting and obsessing I did all last week about food and gifts. How many years have I been walking this earth now, and I still get knocked senseless by the holiday blitz?

It took a bunch of snapshots, revisiting the past, and remembering all the former things to bring things back into focus. Thank you Jesus, thank you for everything.

EDIT: change post time to Monday morning, not Sunday

Saturday, December 18, 2004

Cheap is How I Feel

Today is the day that all of my siblings, their spouses and their children gather together at my parent's place to celebrate Christmas. Or as one nephew puts it: "Time to go hollering with the relatives!"

All together, we number about seventeen, twenty if you include my nephew's girlfriends. It's a lively bunch, it's an opinionated bunch, and it is a loquacious bunch, which means you need to shout to be heard over everyone else's constant chatter. The chatter may start out at a reasonable decibel, but as more opinionated, talkative siblings arrive, the level increases to the point where an uninformed observer could legitimately think we're trying to break the sound barrier. Thus, Hollering with the Relatives is a very apt description indeed.

There will be embarrassing amounts of food involved as well. You might not think it would be possible for people to gorge themselves in the midst of so much talky-talk, but somehow we manage. Mum makes enough for several platoons of men who have heretofore subsisted solely on MREs. They could eat their fill and then some and there would still be plenty of lasagne, ziti, meatballs, sausage, soup, bread and dessert leftover.

We also exchange small gifts. Yesterday my gift idea got railroaded because Mum ended up making the same recipe to serve with dessert. (Yeah, I'm still not over it!) Because I hadn't yet finished coating the homemade truffles with chocolate, this little revelation from Mum didn't exactly inspire me to finish them up. I wanted to chuck them out the window and let the deer have them. But I didn't. Instead, Mr. Feeble and I dashed off to Wal-Mart at 9 pm, desperate to find some substitute. Let me tell you, the pickins were pretty slim indeed.

All my insecurities welled up as I froze, helpless from indecision, between chintzy looking pre-wrapped gifts of wood puzzles and holiday packs of summer sausage and potted cheese. Mr. Feeble did his best to cheer me up, and make jokes about silly things we encountered on the shelves. But still felt awful. Here it is, Christmas, and just like the little boy in that infectious little song I had no gift to bring.

Pa rum pa pum pum.

I wish I could say that it's because I'm such a generous and thoughtful person, and that's why it matters so much to me to give a nice gift. But I think there's something less pretty behind it, like needing approval and a deep rooted insecurity. Maybe it's a need to be thought very well of, to have people say "Oh isn't she such a generous and thoughtful person! Egad.

The whole time we were running around Wal-Mart, an infernal running critique was playing itself out in my head:

"A candle? For goodness sakes there's nothing special about a candle."

"Christmas ornaments? You did that last year, remember?"

"Gift boxes of baking mix and tea? Come on now, you know none of them will use that."

"You don't want to get anything cheap looking, do you?"

And on and on it went until we'd canvassed the entire store, my legs started aching and I just wanted to go to bed.

Once or twice I was tempted to just buy the potted cheese and sausage boxes because my mother would hate it. Then there were these chartreuse green feather covered cones that were a plausible facsimile of what Christmas decorations would look like if they had them on Mars. I put one on my head like a putrid dunce cap and yelled to Mr. Feeble: "This is it! Ugly things! Let's give them Ugly things!"

And I'm searching all the windows for a last minute present
To prove to you that what I said was real,
For something small and frail and plastic, baby,
'cause cheap is how I feel
-Cowboy Junkies

This morning I am coming to the acceptance that my gifts are not going to be that much. They're not going to be the best Christmas gifts ever, and I am not going to swell with pride when they open them. This is pretty tough for an over-achieving perfectionist to swallow. It's on a much, much smaller scale, but it's kind of like that feeling I get when I realize I have absolutely nothing worth giving to God.

If my righteousness is filthy rags, then what of all the things I've tried to do for God? My little frail plastic trinkets of self-effort? What do you give the God who doesn't just have everything, but can speak new galaxies into existence?

It is frightening to think when you get right down to it that there is this impossibly Big and Perfect God that is incredibly interested in you and I. Frail, flawed, annoying, and petty though I am, His heart's desire is towards me.


There's not a thing I can do to re-package myself into something that would be any more lovable in the eyes of God. Me, the lousy-last-minute-Christmas-gift-giving neurotic mess that I am, I'm beloved of God and accepted as-is. That's some mighty mind-bending reassurance.

Boy am I going to need some of that later today.

Merry Christmas everyone, and many happy returns...

Friday, December 17, 2004


Ed Note: This post contains high levels of self-pity. Read at your own risk.
I think next Christmas I'm going to do myself a little favor and give myself the gift of Paxil, because my fear of giving the wrong gifts or unappreciated gifts has reached a new level.

Never again will I do my Christmas shopping as early as I did this year. This simply gave me too much time left before Christmas to obsess over whether or not I made good gift choices. So far this week alone I've returned half of the items that I bought after being seized with giftaphobia, the fear of giving bad gifts. I made some exchanges, but I'm still feeling a little questionable about a couple of items.

My panic reached fever pitch this afternoon. My family is gathering to exchange gifts tomorrow. In lieu of buying gifts, a few years ago we all decided to give each other home-made gifts. Sounds nice eh? It is. Until you start running out of ideas. In desperation this year I decided to just make truffles and put them in tins for each family member. I felt a little iffy about this one, but decided to forge ahead, since I didn't have any better ideas. I'd gotten the recipe from my Mum. I should have realized this was a bad idea.

I made a batch a few weeks ago (trial run) and told her how good they were. She decided to try some herself and reported that my Dad really liked them. (You see where this is going?) I've now made 100 truffles that are sitting in my fridge right now, waiting to be boxed up. To my dismay, when I visited my folks this morning, she admitted she made a few more batches of the same recipe to serve tomorrow.

Ok, ok, I realize this is silly and petty. But I am kind of crestfallen, because now I feel like my gifts aren't going to be very special at all. I feel kind of silly. Part of me is feeling resentful for being upstaged. And now there's precious little time left to do something different. Worse, I don't want to go into the holiday feeling all glum and annoyed, but I can't deny that I am. *Sigh* Not feeling very good about this at all.

That does it. Next year, everyone's getting stupid creatures! I've had it!

Season's Greetings

I've thrown in the towel. I've about given up on sending message-heavy Christmas cards.

There was a time when I would turn my nose up at any Christmas cards that didn't contain scripture and a clear gospel message. This could be my only chance of reaching my unsaved family members, friends, and neighbors. So every year I dutifully went Christmas card shopping, analyzing each card for Biblical correctness, appropriately reverent artwork and message. Cards that depicted snowmen, penguins, cats, cartoons, Santa (especially Santa) were just not appropriate. Cards from me had to be spiritually and doctrinally perfect, so that the message might go forth!

Yet this year as I rifled through the displays, I found myself a little turned off. The tone of the cards ranged from mamby-pamby baby Jesus stuff to guerrilla gospel. Yeesh! What to do?

In years previous the only exceptions I'd make were for co-workers, Hindu and Jewish folks. Even at the height of my spiritual correctness I never sent heavy-message cards to these folks unless I knew it would not offend. Instead, I'd send them generic "Happy Holidays" type cards with a handwritten personal message wishing them health and happiness in the coming year. I'd feel guilty about making this concession, fearing that made me a coward and a bad witness. I asked God to forgive me and give me some other opportunity to share my faith with these individuals in a more personal way.

Anyway, this year being no different, I quickly found some suitably non-threatening generic Christmas cards. I just had to pick out my "message" cards. But nothing was jumping off the shelf at me. Too cutesy, too presumptive, too cartoony, too dark. Finally I settled on some relatively balanced ones with a message that was to-the-point but not whack-you-over-the-head-you-heathen. These would be OK for family and friends who know by now to expect such a card from me.

And yet when I sat down to write them all out, I found myself drawing from the generic pile more than the message pile. I caved. I decided to go the safe route. Give 'em what they want and don't argue.

This brought C.S. Lewis' "The Great Divorce" back to mind, specifically those folks who were transported literally to heaven themselves, and yet, after having a looksie around, decided it wasn't for them. I guess I get the same sense from some of my family members and friends. We've talked about the gospel before, they've heard all about Jesus but are all set, thanks. They politely decline Him, time and time again.

Maybe this is why I'm discouraged a little this season. This year is no different than it was on the day of the Lord's birth, if we are to judge by his humble accommodations. His appearance on the scene just didn't generate much interest in those who weren't already waiting and seeking for him. Some things never change.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Fed Up With F-Bombs

Is it just me, or is there a huge obsession with the F-word in the Christian blogosphere?

If I read one more blogger trying to prove his or her Christian hipness by dropping an f-bomb or two, I'm going to throw up. FOR CRYING OUT LOUD, GROW UP PEOPLE.

There appears to be a prevailing attitude among some that being potty-mouthed makes us less threatening, less holier-than-thou, and therefore more approachable. Swearing Christians are cool Christians, or so it seems today. It is almost regarded as a compliment when someone says, "Gee, I can see Jesus in you, but you say f@#% too. Wow!"


It is argued that this word is so common today that it lacks the power to offend. Let me tell you something, it's still an offensive word. It might not be a sin to say it, but it's still uncouth. Manners should still count for something and good ones should be the norm, not the exception. I don't care what your theological persuasion is. This is just universal common decency.

Suppose a bunch of people decided it was no longer offensive to chew with one's mouth open? Pick noses in public? Lift a leg and fart with gleeful abandon? Maybe none of those things are sins either, but it certainly doesn't contribute to the enlightenment or refinement of society. I put cursing in the same category. It's just something polite people don't do, regardless of the audience or the situation. It only serves to cheapen our conversation and our image.

Listen, everyone has had a moment where they let something fly without thinking. It happens. My beef is with those who intentionally pepper their writing and conversation with it in an attempt to differentiate and distance themselves from legalistic believers. It seems to me there are more thought-provoking and intelligent ways to do that than just going off on a blue streak.

Why is there such a move afoot to equate bad manners with authenticity or genuineness? Being bad mannered is just being bad mannered. If you want to be "real", then be yourself. Speak as you would speak. Be interested in the person whom you are addressing. Love them. Be open, honest and forthright in all matters. Live justly and walk humbly. That is enough to show the world you're not like everyone else, and that though you are made of the same stuff, there is a treasure in you that is like nothing else they've ever seen.

It disturbs me that more and more writers and artists are so blase about it. Instead of coming up with something truly interesting or riveting, they just throw out a few expletives to spice things up. Oh, you say, but the cable shows and movies have been allowing it for years now. Yeah and it's a shame. That proves nothing but that there are a lot of bad, unimaginative, and unconscionable writers in the business.

Far be it from me to trample on anyone's Christian liberties. However, I respectfully submit that this has far less to do with being a Christian or being at liberty than it does with just using the brain God put in our heads to keep all our communication civil and decent. Is that so hard?

Letter to the Unwanted

Dear Little One,

For a while now I've been wanting to write and say how much I am thinking of you, and how sad I am that your folks are thinking about not keeping you and letting you live.

Please understand it isn't your fault, you didn't get to choose to be or not to be. It doesn't make you any less wonderful and beautiful. I wonder what you'd be like? What things would you enjoy in life? Would you be serious? Dreamy? Cheerful? What are your talents, I wonder? What gifts could you bring to the world? Would you be a statesman? Artist? Doctor? How needy are we for the perspective and skills that only you posses? Where in the world will we be without you?

If you get to live, there are lots of neat things you'll really enjoy: Sunrises, sunsets, swimming in an ocean or lake, playing with a dog or cat, slides, kites, fireflies, ice cream, fireworks, tickles, laughter, music, thunderstorms, singing, the warmth of the sun, birthday cake! learning to read and write, driving around on a summer day, making friends, being silly, cookies! falling in love, praying, starlit nights, green grass, riding a bike, getting married, helping someone who needs you, loving and forgiving. These things are all too good to miss.

There is much in this world that is awful, that is true. I won't deny that. Some think that you are better off never having to experience the pain and heartbreak that happen here daily. But they don't tell you how beautiful it is here too, that loneliness and sadness can be redeemed in an instant by the unspeakable beauty around you. There are beautiful people here who will meet you and love you. They'll want to help and encourage you when you get sad. They make it easier to live! There are also serendipitous moments when you realize that all the pain and suffering just help you to be more caring towards others who are having a tough time. Given the chance, I just know you could make someone feel special and loved someday. You could be one of those beautiful souls who make life's ups and downs easier to take. There is so much potential, so much promise in your little life!

It is also true that no one here escapes this life without being touched by tragedy and disappointments. We don't always get what we want, and when you live you make mistakes - sometimes big ones. But because of that, we also get a chance to learn about redemption, mercy and Love. This is a beautiful thing to experience first-hand. I wish you could. Oh how I wish you could!

I don't know what to tell you about your folks' reasons for not keeping you. They are probably different from parent to parent. Mostly I think they're afraid. Maybe they're afraid they wouldn't be very good to you, or afraid they wouldn't be able to provide a good life for you. They might be afraid of the responsibility you represent, and how you'd impact the course of their lives. When I think of how fearful and conflicted they must be, I hurt so much for them. I wish the news of you brought them joy and gladness, because you are someone worth celebrating, regardless of the circumstances that brought you about. But as you may be starting to figure out, humans are strange; we don't always do what we should, or react the way you'd think we would.

While you're still with us, I'm hoping for the best for you, I really am. I'm rooting for you and for your mommy and daddy. I'm hoping against hope for a change of heart, for a leap of faith, a willingness to let you live. You see, a few years ago my life hung in the balance, and my parents weren't sure what they wanted to do with me either. Then somehow they decided to let me live. I'm so grateful I got that chance, because a lot of cool stuff has happened, and I really enjoy living. There are some days that haven't been so great, (there always are) but on the whole it's been really worthwhile. Maybe if your folks thought about that, maybe it would make a difference. I hope so.

I'm thinking of you and praying for you today. No matter what, I'll always think of you and I'll never forget you. Whatever happens, please know that you are so precious in God's sight, and that He saw you there in the womb from the very beginning. He breathed life into you and wanted you to be. Someone wanted you, little one. Never forget that.

Never, never, ever forget, you were wanted.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Busy, Busy

This morning I made a conscious effort to attack all those Christmas to-do items at once, instead of getting wrapped up in blogging or poetry.

So far so good. I'm half finished making a double batch of 100 truffles I'm giving to family this weekend. Yep, 100. I may never want to see a truffle again. Blech! Also baked up some spiced biscotti (I ran out of butter and this was one of the few cookie recipes in existence that doesn't require it copious amounts of it.) Eat your heart out Martha Stewart! ;-)

Started on the Christmas cards (where would I be without a laser printer and mailing labels?) but am having trouble with the return address ones, which keep coming out as sheets of inkspots. Hm. Rather than fight with it, here I am, blogging.

I am very grateful that I have the time to fiddle with all this, as I am not working at present. I am also childless (as far as I know at this instant), so I humbly recognize that I have the kind of time and space a lot of people would give their left arm for during the holiday season. (Thanks Mr. Feeble!) Yet if I don't keep my days strictly structured, my brain wanders off into a book or the blogosphere and I have the darnedest time coaxing it back out. This, along with a propensity to think too much are two of the downfalls being otherwise gainfully unemployed.

Some days I wonder what the heck I'm doing. I left my job a few months back because it was eating my brain. More often than not I'd end up crying or ranting out loud during my hour-long commute home each night. I'd taken it because it was a job and we certainly could use the cash. Both of us had fallen victim to the dot-com bust, so we figured any job was a good job, considering the times. During my first interview I correctly perceived that my boss and I weren't going to see eye-to-eye. But they offered me the position anyway because I'd worked for his boss before, and his boss loved me. Though I had misgivings about it, I accepted. Within about a week I realized I'd made a big mistake. But still, I was happy to just have a job and be contributing to the household income.

Before long I realized I was starting to employ the same kind of thinking I'd used for years to convince myself it was better to stay in my off-the-wall, spiritually abusive church. Thoughts like: "if I just work harder, my boss will recognize my efforts and treat me more kindly" and "if I just stay a bit later each night, that'll put me in good stead" and "at least I'm working as unto the Lord" circled in my head. I redoubled my efforts and tried harder to please everyone.

No matter what I did however, it just was never good enough. At a breaking point, I confronted my boss about this. He acted amazed and astounded. Of course he thought I was a great worker and he respected my work. Didn't I now that? I thought we got somewhere, but his demands, constant criticism, debates, and micro-management continued. Many of the emotional techniques that management used reminded me of church. Specifically the tendency to get the whole company together and tell us that "certain people" had expressed doubts or complaints about certain policies and practices. We were told summarily that if said certain people felt that way, then they obviously weren't One of Us™. They did not have the Company's best interest at heart and should seek employment elsewhere immediately. This cowed any would-be rabble-rousers, and everyone would meekly file back to their cubes, heads down, teeth clenched.

It was several months before I realized how similar my working situation was to my church situation, and I was falling into the same old self-flagellation that kept me there. The old habits weren't dying at all, and yet again I was doing a number on myself: doing too much, killing myself to make deadlines, losing sleep to stress, beating myself up for not doing enough/better, and generally making myself a likely candidate for a stroke.

So, with Mr. Feeble's blessing, I quit outright and never looked back. The whole experience has made me realize that I was part of the problem at my former church, because I wasn't able to recognize when I was being manipulated, or rather didn't see manipulation for what it was. I'm a workaholic perfectionist who isn't satisfied unless she goes above and beyond the call of duty with every task. I thought this was something to be proud of, to strive for. What I didn't realize is that people will let you do that and applaud you all the way; no one will stop you. But when you inevitably crash and burn, people are less than sympathetic. They want you to get up and be supergirl again. And again, and again.

It's time for me to realize that my worth as a person is not dependent upon how many hours I can work in a week or how perfectly I perform a task. It is good to be a good worker, and to do things thoughtfully and well. The Bible tells us a lot about the value of hard and honest work. But the Bible also has a lot to say about balance, and a fair measure. I'm thinking that means I need to recalibrate my own self-worth to God's measure, not anyone else's. His is the only one that is fair and true.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

A Thoughtful Gift

Recently someone gave me a slim little volume of poems, The Wild Iris by Louise Gluck. It was thoughtful in two ways; the giver knew that I am lovestruck by all things pertaining to gardening and growing things, and also that I am a writer in search of good reading. She fed two loves with this one gift.

What is ironic is how timely this gift is, how on-target. I don't know that the giver realized how apropos this gift is. Consider this review from Amazon.com:
In an earlier set of poems, The Garden, Gluck retold the myth of Eden; in this sequence it is clear that paradise has been lost, and the poet, Eve-like, struggles to make sense of her place in the universe...[Snip] The reader shares the poet's human predicament of being caught between these material and spiritual worlds, each lush and musical, drawing inspiration from both: from the flowers, a hymn to communality; from the god, a universal view of human suffering.

Most of the time I am drawn to the more lyrical, poetic books of the Bible than I am the historical accounts or epistles. The history and the letters instructs my mind, and yes my soul. But it is poetry and verse that really lifts my feet off the ground and shakes the dust of the world off. The idea that Jesus, the Word Made Flesh is therefore as much Poetry as Rhetoric is soothing, endearing and encouraging.

So my plans to be industrious in several Christmas-related tasks such as shopping, baking, and writing out Christmas cards has gone completely off the rails. Instead I've been entranced by the words of a poet speaking in the language of flowers, and meditating on things both human and divine. This little book, though at first glance seemed lightweight and innocuous is pulling me in and under.

What a thoughtful gift indeed!

Monday, December 13, 2004

Do You Think She Made It?

Last night I was remembering standing by the casket of a family member at her wake, when the assistant pastor of my former church looked apologetically at me and whispered, "Do you think she made it?"

Had I been thinking on my feet, I would have retorted: "I dunno. D'ya think your odds are any better?"

He was, regrettably, not the first person from my church to wonder out loud if this troubled lady made it safely to heaven's shores. Mental illness had long ago robbed her of appropriateness, tactfulness and self restraint. She did not always do the right things. At times she did very selfish, mean, and shocking things.

But don't we all?

For a time she regularly attended church, much to the chagrin of many church members. To some she was just a harmless eccentric. To others, she was emotionally dangerous and hurtful. She could be embarrassing, trying, and frustrating in the extreme one minute, and sweet as sugar the next. On medication, she did pretty well. So it's not surprising that to this day I'd still like to beat the stuffing out of those would-be saints who convinced her God would heal her mind, and that she didn't need to take her pills. Thanks people. Thanks a lot. Go to jump in a lake, 'kay?

She would bless Jesus and curse others out of both sides of her mouth. She gossiped. She lied. She gave exorbitant money gifts to people. She gave me presents of enormous gaudy dime-store brooches and earrings while I was growing up. She smoked, then quit with Jesus' help, then started again. She visited the sick and elderly. She demanded and got attention. She sang hymns alone late at night in her apartment. She knew she was sick. She played people against each other. She cried and cried into her tea, makeup drizzling down her face as she sat there at our kitchen table most weekdays as I arrived home from school.

She was no stranger to this assistant pastor. He knew her, her condition, and her antics, well. He tried in vain to counsel her, and then later us as we attempted to pick up the pieces of bruised and battered people in her wake. Like us, he was on the receiving end of both her affections and her rants. But he was the pastor, he was the one who we figured knew better than we; surely God spoke to him about her plight, just as God spoke to us.

So the shock of that question shot through me like ten thousand volts that morning. I'm not sure which stunned me more: the sheer impropriety of the moment, or the fact that he, her pastor, felt the need to ask me, the nobody important. What the BLEEP!

The night before and the morning of the wake, Mum and I discussed things quietly, prayerfully. The truth is, we didn't know. It wasn't easy to say. We didn't know where mental illness ended and personal accountability began. We thought long and hard about Grace and Justice. We considered that for many years now, we'd been saying that God is perfectly loving and perfectly just. This put our belief to the test. Did we really believe in grace? Did we really believe God was just? Did we believe that someone who professed to have given her heart to Jesus would be forgiven all her miserable deeds as a professing Christian? Was there an insanity clause? Exactly how far does Grace extend? Is there a point of no return?

That day we really began to understand that what appears to be a paradox between God's justice and God's mercy really isn't. Christ's willing self-sacrifice fulfills the requirements of justice in the most perfect, merciful way.

I don't know if she made it. But I don't know if that pastor will either. Who but God knows what transpires in a human heart in the moments before they pass over? The scriptures say there will be those who, from all outward appearances, seem to be absolute shoe-ins. And yet Jesus will say to them: depart from me, I never knew you. And then there are those like the thief on the cross who appear to be the most unlikely of all candidates for paradise who are nevertheless ushered into glory.

I am glad the decision is not up to me, and that while God is an altogether Perfect Judge, Jesus is an altogether Perfect Advocate on our behalf. Therefore, my soul is at peace, contemplating the thought every poor undeserving soul in heaven today, rejoicing in their Savior's everlasting love.