Archives for January 2011

Say What?

Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy in the opening sc...

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It was the first day of Bible Study and introductions were in order.  As one of the leaders, I stood up in front of the women with my partner in crime (AKA my co-leader), and we modeled an interview style of the proverbial “get to know you” exercise.  

I handed out a simple questionnaire to the women so that the game might not get out of control and also to keep us on track.  So, as per the instructions, my co-leader and I began to fill out the form, which was rather easy, because we know each other pretty well. 

My co-leader inquired of my hobbies.  I answered, “Reading, writing, exercise, and my kids…”my babies.”  My implication was that with three munchkins, most, if not all my spare time is consumed with my children and their activities.

What she heard was a different story. 

My co-leader is a beautiful young woman.  She is energetic, wise, and rambunctious.  She is also slightly deaf when her allergies are bad.  I like to tease her about it because I tend to rush about muttering out directions as I move around like a whirling dervish.  Unfortunately, due to fluid backed up in her ears, she can’t hear me… at all.  And so the comedy that ensues is classic Laurel and Hardy.

I will ask her to help me carry something in and instead she turns and walks away.  I call her name and she turns and looks around, but in the wrong direction.  Now, if she were really deaf, I would never tease her, but the occasional hard of hearing day when the pollens are high, is dare I say…amusing?

So, on this fateful day, when she introduced me to the group of about forty women, she started with my name and noted that I was the pastor’s wife.  Then talked about my family, work, and writing.  Finally, she got to my hobbies.

“So Sam likes to read, write, exercise, and “make babies,” she shares; completely serious in her demeanor, straight-faced and dead pan.

And the room erupted in a roar of laughter; the hold your belly, from the bottom of your toes kind of laughter. It was pure ruckus that reverberated off the ceiling.

I turned and protested.  “I did not say that!”

Right back at me, she said, “Oh yes you did!”

My face turned scarlet and the group laughed all the more. 

There we stood arguing in front of the study, like two buffoons, my co-leader stubborn in her stance on what she had heard, and me, stuttering like a fool in defense at what I had said.

Later, after the laughter had died down, I reflected on my own struggle with deafness in the spiritual realm.  How often does God communicate with me, and just like my friend, I hear something entirely different.   My Lord speaks, and at times, I plug my ears like a child and shake my head in defiance, hearing only what I want to hear. 

Ironically, my husband and I have been praying about having another baby.  I’m still not sold on it, though God may be trying to drop a very loud hint.  Because apparently making babies is my new hobby.

Bad Neighbor/Good Neighbor

Colonial Street

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I get puppy-dog tail wagging happy driving home into my neighborhood.  And it’s not just because it looks like Wisteria Lane.  I honestly think I might live in an RV, as long as my neighbors parked their RV’s next to me. But it hasn’t always been like this.  I lost my “neighbor” way for a while. Oh, I said “hi” to the guy down the hall in my condo complex, and took flowers to an old lady once, but I never had them over for dinner.  I didn’t lean in and my friendliness stopped at the threshold of the door. For at least a couple of years, I have been an admittedly bad neighbor.

But this place I have moved to is different.  It’s, dare I say…”magical?”  I can’t bring myself to shut the door.  It cries out to be open.  I could be the poster girl for Ladera Life.  It really is “that” good.

Something in my heart is being reawakened to the acceptance and warmth of a community that embraces and doesn’t let me hide. I couldn’t tell you when my “neighbor “light burned out.  I can’t remember the day I started rushing into my home and avoiding people. Maybe it was after my divorce. Maybe it was when the explanations and tears ran dry.

The problem with neighbors is that they “know” things.  You can’t hide the proverbial white elephant when he’s pooping on your neighbor’s lawn. In my old neighborhood, everyone knew I got I dumped. It’s not like you can hide the single mom status.  We pretend that everything’s ok; deluding ourselves in a fog of denial, but in all reality, Mrs. Busybody down the street has got our number.

For the last year, I prayed for God to bless me with some friends that I could connect with and relate to.  I sorely needed companionship, though I really didn’t have a lot to give.  Yes, I know that’s a selfish request, but it’s where I was at.  Moving into a brand new community with my relatively new husband, having a baby, three kids, a career, and starting a church just didn’t leave a lot of time for fun. So, I specifically prayed that I would find friends that were also convenient; in the midst of all this chaos I call my life. I wanted healthy and low maintenance friends.  I find it best to be specific with God.

And God is so ridiculously faithful.  He amply provided a bevy of beautiful gals, right in front of my stinking house, that I can laugh with, delight in and wail to. How’s that for a loving and merciful God!

Sometimes I feel like I am eight years old again, walking across the street to see if Keri can play.  I keep my eye out for Stacy ambling down the street with her little girls, or I look for my fun friend Lindsey who can hear the tinkle of the ice-cream truck a mile away. 

I never expected God would heal my “neighbor” wound by restoring the very thing in me that I resented.  And, oh by the way, answer my friend prayer with these same neighbors, the ones that come over for just a second and end up staying two hours.

Searching for “Triple X”

I have this nifty little tool that tracks the words people type into Google, or any search engine for that matter, to find my blog or certain topical areas that I have written on.  The only problem is that “said” nifty tool just happens to also expose the desperately evil “topics” that random people search for.  Let’s just say that there are some sick puppies out there.

I wrote an article, not too long ago, suggesting the Keep a Breast Foundation devalues women battling breast cancer with their I Love Boobies Campaign which targets Jr. High boys.  And because Google bots crawl around and pick up certain trigger words, here are just a few of the  keywords and phrases that people type in, and thus end up in my search box on a daily basis.

Past searches include:   “boobies”, “I heart big boobies”, “saucy boobies” “pile of boobs, ““Jr. High girl’s boobies”, and my personal favorite…”grandma and child hot sex.”

Really? Do people really type in this filthy tripe?

I know, I know… wake-up check,  “oh sheltered wife of a pastor.”

But, sometimes I forget, maybe on purpose,  how depraved people really are.  I put blinders on and plug my ears from the noise.  I live in a Christian bubble of nice people and vanilla pleasantries. Everyone is pretty and well dressed, smiling and socially aware of maintaining the “good” facade. Certainly, everyone minds their manners around the pastor and his wife.

And so, I am surprised and shocked when sins are so blatant and in my face, even though I am painfully aware of my own hidden darkness.

My baby illustrates how good we are at the game of image management.  She is always watching and always copying mama and daddy.  Her second sentence was, “How are you?”

If you ask baby the same question she will respond, “Oh, fine.”

She mimics what I do everyday.  The subtle pretend that we all do.  If I were honest, my baby would answer,”Oh, a tad bitchy, exhausted, overwhelmed, and pissed off at that idiot who just cut me off.”

I point my finger at the sick puppies, even though, I am constantly aware of my own nasty sin-nature and inequity apart from Christ.  It’s just so easy to call “that” guy a pervert and justify my own wicked heart.

So when “Mr. Obscene,”  who types in “Grandma and child hot sex” ends up reading my blog.  He searches for the darkest of porn and finds my simple little blog instead, the one that talks about faith, Jesus, and our desperate humanness embroiled in sin. But hopefully, he also finds someone who understands loneliness and the void in life when hope is dim.

Now, that is food for thought.  And maybe, just maybe, God uses this nifty little keyword tool to lead people into His light when they get lost along the way.

So, here is my message to those who read this post “accidentally.”

I’m glad you showed up. 

Sinners and perverts are welcome.

Beth Moore and the Bumbling Backup Leader

Image representing iPhone as depicted in Crunc...

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Yesterday morning the ministry bat phone went off (ok, maybe it was my husband’s I Phone, but you get the point).  A red alert was issued for the women’s bible study that very night.  The leader was down, hospitalized with a vicious migraine, and backups were being called.

Back-ups, oh right…I guess that means me. Sometimes I forget that leading the Women’s Ministry also means being the understudy.

It was the very first night of the new ministry season, kicking off the working women’s study, and canceling the event didn’t seem to be much of an option.  So, I took off to work in a panic and picked up the leader guide at lunch, skimmed over it during the day, grabbed the workbooks, and then rushed home from work to throw my kids in the car and head over to the church for set-up.  Whew!

 I expected the study to be small, just a few women gathered to dive into the word, but as our church has grown, so have the studies.  Women quickly filled up the room.  Women who were all staring at me for guidance. I felt the weight of their expectations drain the lightness from my heart.

The air was thick with awkward giggles and pauses.  The very same women, who would eventually spill their tender and fragile hearts, now eyed each other with cool appraisal.  They were anticipating a spiritual giant and here stood a bumbling and unprepared third string quarter-back.

I tried to break the ice by playing a silly name game, which generally has a high success rate at connecting groups, but they were a wily bunch, and weren’t buying my juvenile ploys to get them to relax.  So, I rambled  a bit more, tried to sound like I wasn’t winging it, did some introductions, and then finally, gratefully, turned on the video DVD by Beth Moore

The women seemed to enjoy the video, but I was acutely aware that a certain element was missing.  The group hadn’t bonded and I had only fifteen minutes left.  A spirit of suspicion seemed to permeate the room.

“Oh, Lord, what do I do?” I prayed.

I sensed that prayer was the right direction, but the group was so big, if we all shared it could take hours.  So, I went out on a spiritual limb, asked the women to split in pairs and pray with each other.  I knew I was taking a risk in a group this big, not really knowing if some of the women had ever even prayed out loud. Mutiny was looming in the back of my brain.

And all of a sudden, as if a bomb went off, the room exploded in voices.  They were happy voices that rang out and reverberated off the ceiling.

I sat and watched dumbfounded, realizing a profound truth.  Even though women say that Biblical learning and instruction are a priority, from their reaction it seemed like what they really wanted was connection. And it was desperate greedy need.  

More and more often, I am confronted with the idea that our community of believers is literally starving for human interaction.  People are becoming tremendously isolated, despite the advances in technology (or maybe because of them) and working women, maybe even more so, because they miss out on the community of mothers and play dates, classroom parties and volunteering. Sitting in a cubicle all day staring at a computer does little to strengthen the bonds of communal living.  And it is eating away at our very souls.

We weren’t designed for this.  God created us to be in relationships within in a community of believers and to live in fellowship.  Our relational connection was never intended to be fulfilled with an I Phone, Face Book, and Tweets. 

And so, women come to Bible Study for far more than the Scriptures. They come to find friendship, solidarity, and support in a world that is destroying the very nature of our relational design.

Lesson learned for this Bible teacher.  Next session we do group time first, and then study time!

Intentional, interactive, chatty time that is cathartic for the soul; for a generation of women that are subconsciously mourning the loss of a shared lifestyle and needing nothing more than a smile, a hug and a little empathy from some Godly gals.

Oh, and maybe a little chocolate too.

The real housewife vs the “Real Housewife”

Pink nail polish.

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For the third time this year, I got a pedicure.  I divulge this not so you will think I have sad and neglected toes, but as a pastor’s wife, I always feel like I have to justify frivolous spending. So, there I am, sitting in my bucket seat with my feet soaking, reveling in the sheer sacredness of sitting still, when in struts a “glamazon” otherwise known as “A Real Housewife from Orange County,”  a reality show on Bravo that claims to follow real women in the OC.  Now there are many words I would use to describe this woman, but “real,” wasn’t one of them.

I tried not to stare, but I honestly couldn’t help myself.  The woman, quite simply, commanded the room.  She was striking, toned, tanned, enhanced (and I do mean enhanced), luxuriously clothed, styled, over made-up and had a slight air of arrogance. I imagine she is used to be ogled and gawked at, so it’s not surprising that she would be a tad defensive in her demeanor (and yes, that was me again trying to justify that I just called someone arrogant…bad pastor’s wife, bad!).

I confess, as I sat there in my sweaty workout clothes and ratty pony-tail with baby snot stains on my arm, I felt a tad underdressed for the occasion of nail grooming.  The “Real” beauty, on the other hand was camera ready, ensconced in a black silk jumpsuit, roped in at the waist with a big chunky belt, delicately flowing down to skim the top of her sky-high heels that she peeled off and placed in the soaking water.

Her earrings were the size of my fist and I was mesmerized, like a deer in the headlights at the surreal glamour of her very presence.  Her make-up alone, looked like it took hours to apply and it wasn’t even noon yet.  It was TV “reality” juxtaposed into my reality, strangely an oxymoron, because in all reality, people always act differently, good or bad, when the camera is rolling.

Strange emotions erupted in my belly as I sat in my chair feeling very small.  As a former model, my pride and competitive spirit kicked into high gear.  Apparently, the Holy Spirit was quenched for a few minutes as my devious sin nature took over.  The demon sitting on my shoulder whispered, “Now, if you only had those clothes, a makeup artist, a mystic tan and that purse, you could give that chick a run for her money.  You could make people stare.”

Surprise, surprise…vain people really do think like this, though I might testify on the stand that I was under the influence of nail polish remover.  But the truth is, that even after seventeen years of following Christ, with all the spiritual leaps and set-backs of a long and arduous journey, I still struggle with image management, even though I know the truth that sets me free. 

I know that what looks like success to the world-beauty, power, wealth, and status… is death to the soul.  Before I accepted Christ in my early twenties, it almost destroyed me, as I struggled with an eating disorder and a compulsive addiction to control my appearance.

Recently, I stole my husband’s copy of Why Guys Need God, by Mike Erre. And though I’ve always known that our society has done a disservice to our young women by portraying these images of perfection, I never really understood “the why”, beyond the inherent sinful nature of man. But Erre shed light on this perversion of beauty by tying our culture’s destructive behavior back to Genesis 1 and the curse on humanity.

 Erre describes this consumptive and objective mentality towards women as an assault on the very heart of femininity. As cursed men run from human weakness and overcompensate by trying to control things (women included), it has distorted the relationships between men and women.  If a woman is objectified, and her worth and honor stripped, then a man has control over her and subsequently, a world of detached men and women hungry for connection is born.  Generations of women, starved for attention by the distant men in their lives have created a culture of constant striving to somehow obtain the elusive power to heal the gap of loneliness, not recognizing that the striving only leads to an endless cycle of more detachment.

 Erre suggests that because “real” women can never measure up to images of the world, they either give up or continually compete for the illusive ideal,  starving and distorting their bodies (through surgery or other “treatments”) to create an image subject to the whims of  fashion and man’s desire.  

As a young woman, I fell into the striving category.  Now, I guess you could call me a recovering “striver.”

And so as I sat in the salon, and stewed in thoughts of negativity, the Spirit inside me burst forth, and I turned a proverbial spiritual corner.  Closing my eyes, I took a long breath and prayed for Jesus to comfort me.  I clung to His truth that illuminates the insidious evil of seduction and the temptation to compare and envy, forcing myself to remember that my appearance does not define my worth and that I am beautiful in the light of Christ’s sacrifice, never subject to the world’s obsession with youth and flawless perfection.   

I relaxed into my seat and smiled at the girl tending to my toes. Fortunately, she had no idea of the spiritual battle I had just waged in my head, and then I turned and smiled at the not so “real” woman next to me.  Empathy and understanding crashed over my heart like thundering waves as I realized that my battle was her battle, and that the great deceiver was whispering in her ear too.

The Torture Machine

 

My baby was diagnosed with RSV this week.  It’s a respiratory virus that causes infection of the lungs and breathing passages in young children. After discussing treatment and symptoms with me, the doctor forgot, possibly on purpose, to explain the potential side effects on the mother.  So, while I was adequately prepared for the baby’s illness, I was completely unprepared for my part in this journey.

As the home healthcare van pulled up to my house to deliver the torture machine, aka nebulizer, my insides started to quake.  We were instructed to administer breathing treatments every four hours for one to two weeks to baby.  The directions should have said, place gas mask on the child and brace yourself, because the baby will morph into a feral cat as soon as she sees the machine…a biting scratching little creature fighting for her life.

One week into this illness, I understood on a much deeper level, how God must feel when He watches His children suffer for their own good.  Our baby fears and despises the very treatment that will help heal her. Over and over, her screams rip into my heart as she stares at us with eyes full of distrust and betrayal.

My husband and I sound like broken records, repeating how very much we love her in our best soothing voice.  But it’s not enough. Our baby is mad and angry. She even howls at the machine, as if to rage against the symbol of her supposed injustice.

Of coarse, only a baby would doubt a loving father and mother’s intentions, right? I mean, we would never question our Heavenly Father, even when he leads us into the desert that borders the Promised Land…or would we cry and fight, every single time, just like a little child?

After eight nights of little to no sleep, fretting over each toss and turn, and straining to hear any variation to my beloved baby’s labored breathing, I have pretty much reached the end of my own strength. Her desert has become my desert, and the Promised Land but a memory I cling to in exhaustion. 

This desert has no sense of humor, limited grace, and very little patience for my spouse.  We bicker and pick at each other, ridiculously fighting over who is more tired (me, of course), until we remember who the real enemy is. And so last night, I prayed and cried out to God, to see Him more clearly in this dark night of the soul, on what has become a dry and barren road of nebulizers and endless mucous.

As I closed my eyes, long before my head hit the pillow; I sensed God’s comfort in this rest, more than the usual catatonic crash as of late. I felt drawn into His warmth, as though I were beckoned with waves of restorative manna for both my body and soul.  And though I awoke on the hour, it was enough sleep to sustain me for one more day. 

Today the baby actually relaxed in her treatment, closed her eyes and leaned into her wee mask. She opened her small mouth and deeply breathed in the medication that allows her find the air she so desperately seeks.

For this mother and child, God’s manna is rest. His provision is air to breathe. And his sustenance is not only for us, but for for all the weary sojourners traveling through the deserts of life seeking a glimpse of the Palace Gates and His everlasting  glory.

Is the End Near?

Cover of "Left Behind: World at War"

Cover of Left Behind: World at War

Religious Conspiracy theorists are abounding as birds fall from the sky and dead fish pile up on the shores of the Arkansas River.  Is it a sign of the end times?  Is the rapture around the corner?  Do we need to get out our dusty Left Behind books and re-read details from the Tribulation Force? I bet all those people who bought caves in the desert for the millennium are drooling right now.

Now, I love a good mystery, and if it involves my favorite book in the Bible-Revelation, well, I get all wiggly and hyped up just thinking about deciphering prophecy. But the right side of my brain is telling my inner wacko conspiracy theorist (the left side) to pause, and think about this for a moment.

Could it be that rampant pollution, disease among fish or bird species, hazardous dumping of toxic materials in our oceans, air pollution, chemical pollution, even potential weapon testing could be the true offenders and not God?

I struggle with the idea that Christians are some of the first to point their finger at God.  They say this must be an act of angry retribution for our sin.   It’s God’s iron-fist destroying creation with plagues of fire and brimstone, or smelly fish in this case. 

“Personally, I definitely do believe we’re in the End of Days, and I believe there is a lot of evidence of that,” Steve Wohlberg, an author and theologian who has written several books about the end of the world, told the Daily News.

“I’m an observer of the times,” said Wohlberg, who hosts a nationally syndicated radio show and has appeared on several television documentaries about the Bible and the Apocalypse. “The End of Days will have a parallel to the days of Noah,” he said.

Well Steve, I don’t disagree that certain signs from prophecy appear to be much closer at hand, then say, two-thousand years ago.  But if Jesus didn’t know the time or hour, why in the heck are people so obsessed about it? If time is short, than I recommend inviting more people into a relationship with Christ, not scaring them into submission with threats of floods and the sky falling.
So call me more on the grace side in my train of thought, but when I read the scriptures, I find another theme that seems to make more sense.  And it is this…sin always has a consequence.  And our inherent, genetic compulsion to sin, has affected creation.

So, is it possible that mankind, so sweet and innocent, could be the perpetrator in another case of widespread global damage? Could this punishment they say comes from God, simply be a natural consequence from poor choices made by greedy and self-absorbed men?

When I saw that CNN had interviewed Kirk Cameron and asked for his theory, I almost fell out of my chair.  Cameron is indeed a strong Christian, an actor and proponent of spreading the Gospel, but his involvement in the Left Behind movies does not make him an expert on end-time theology.

I loved Cameron’s response to CNN anchor Anderson Cooper: “Well, I first think that they ought to call a veterinarian, not me.”

“You know, I’m not the religious conspiracy theorist go-to guy particularly. But I think it’s really kind of silly to try to equate birds falling out of the sky with some kind of an end-times theory. I think people love to define codes and signs of future events. I think people just have a fascination with the religiously mysterious.”

Well said…Kirk Cameron.  Well said.

So, here’s my theory…maybe we need to work on treating creation the way God intended, as good stewards, instead of trashing the place and then blaming it all on God. 

And all the fish in the sea and birds in the sky, shouted “yippee!”

In the Shadow

Panoramic Night Vision Goggles in testing.

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There is a simple truth about our culture that can only be found in the midst of suffering.  When great things happen, we rejoice, when good things happen we celebrate, from our normal mundane living, well, we escape, and when bad things happen, we generally do our best to avoid the pain

And this rampant avoidance applies not only to ourselves, but those around us as well. It’s only when you are smack dab in the middle of pain do you see, really see, as if you had special goggles,  how uncomfortable everyone else is with it. 

Ever notice how people are afraid of catching pain? It’s as if divorce, depression or death were viral.   So instead of leaning in and being present in the messy, we stuff it, hide it, and put on the Christian happy face.  We all too quickly forget that joy in Christ doesn’t mandate a perpetual façade of gooey sweetness.

We avoid the old folk’s home, complain about the smell, hide from the abandoned wife at church, and quarantine ourselves away from illness, regardless if it is contagious.  We sanitize empathy down to a Get Well card or some flowers and remain aloof from intimate relationship in the darkest moments. Genuine and heartfelt mourning seems to be so passé, as if they were thrown away with the old traditions of widows wearing black and communal lamenting

My husband has a dear friend who is extremely ill, and the other day, they had a long visit in the hospital.  By my husband’s own admission, it was a visit that was long overdue.  My husband didn’t want to admit or acknowledge that his friend wasn’t doing well, because it was easier to live in the land of hope, where everything remained in the status quo. Fortunately, another friend intervened, and he was forced to confront both his own avoidance and the reality of the situation.

Somehow my husband missed out on the blog that his friend started. It’s an online journal, that keeps his friends and family updated on his condition, and though it chronicles his physical journey with cancer, it also gives voice to his spiritual battle with this unseen and vicious enemy attacking his blood.

After recalling his emotional day, my husband mentioned that his friend noticed an unusual occurrence with his blog. When he updates positive news on his status, the comments and prayers come in abundance, but when the news is dire, which has been more the case recently, very few if any comments show up in the guest book. 

Why is it that our praises seem to dry up when circumstances go down the drain?  And when there are no words left, we conveniently disappear, because suffering interferes with our busy agendas. Mourning, compassion, empathy… the sheer ability to be present in the Valley of the Shadow of Death with anyone, even sometimes those closest to us, seems desperately lacking in our society. 

When I look at Middle Eastern culture, I envy their ability to emote, to wail like banshees and cry and grieve with passion.  It seems so much more acceptable to feel emotions.  The tough guy American demeanor never drops a tear.  It’s probably why I always apologize when I cry, as if tears were an affront to good manners.

Is it our fear of the dark, of death and the unknown that causes us to push away and to hide?   Could any temporary relief of an awkward moment or an uncomfortable confrontation ever be worth the loneliness and abandonment of those dear to us?

Yesterday my husband wept, prayed and laughed with his dear friend.  The cancer was only a reason for their relationship to grow deeper.  They mourned and looked to Christ, unsure of His plan, with unanswered questions and heavy hearts, but resolute in their double fisted faith of a Holy and mysterious God. 

They were precious moments, stolen and sweet, because time has become like gold as the shadow deepens.  These were moments of friendship, based on eternal brotherhood and bonds forged on Christ’s sacrifice.

And so my husband’s friend has hit on a profound truth, we are a culture of avoiders when it comes to pain.  And as the lines between heaven and earth blur for him, clarity comes like waves as he assesses his life.

The Psalmist proclaims that “though weeping may last for a night, joy comes with the dawn.” (Psalm 30:5)

True joy, it seems, can only be discerned on the other side of the deepest pain. For how would we recognize the light if we had avoided the dark?

Rom. 12:5 (NIV) Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn

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