Courage is Not the Absence of Fear

courageI feel pretty confident as a writer –it comes naturally and it’s in my wheel house, but public speaking on the other hand, has been a long process over the last ten years of trial and error, practice and more practice and an unfailing trust that God has got my back even when I’m TERRIFIED.

I used to be one of “those” people they quote in statistics; you know the ones who would rather die than get on a stage and open their mouth?

Clearly God has a sense of humor about my current occupation as writer/speaker.

So, I’m finally to the point where I’m mostly comfortable up front and can laugh and joke and poke fun with the crowd, but I’m still learning how to handle the unexpected without getting my feathers flustered.

Like last Monday night at Frister’s when the powers of evil tried to take me out in the women’s restroom.

I pulled up to Yorba Linda Friend’s church a few minutes early and managed to get lost in the massive worship center before I located the area I was to speak for the young women’s group.  Then I searched for the bathroom. 

Not to be too graphic…but I had to tinkle –BAD.

Yep, I was doing the potty dance and when I finally located the long bay of restrooms I ran in with great relief. 

And since I had a really full bladder, I figured I had a minute or two to check the Twitter feed on my iPhone for the Boston Marathon bombings.

(No judgment please)

Within a few seconds, I was totally engrossed in the news and pictures and terrible sadness when all of a sudden the lights turned off.

And it was pitch black, darker than dark.  

I’m not kidding –it was the absence of all light.

No windows existed in the cavernous ladies restroom of the Friend’s Church and I couldn’t see an inch in front of me except for my trusty iPhone.

I managed to button up and stand, slightly panicked, when my tiny source of illumination and hope flickered out.

My iPhone died.

Seriously?

Now real panic set in.

I figured I was in one of those bathrooms where the lights are triggered by motion.  So I frantically waved my arms around like a crazy person.

BAD IDEA SAM.

This resulted in bone crushing pain to my right arm but still no light.

Clutching my arm and purse I finally got the lock open on the door, staggered out and crashed into the sink. 

As I howled in pain, jumped up and down and dropped more BAD words than the FRIENDS probably ever heard, the lights FINALLY turned back on.

I glanced in the mirror and groaned. 

There I stood, three minutes before go-time, with black mascara and tears streaming down my face, hair and clothes completely disheveled and an arm I couldn’t lift.

How was I supposed to pull this train-wreck together?  I was pretty sure my arm was fractured. 

And then I thought about the marathon runners in Boston who gave blood after running 26 miles and the rescue workers trudging on and the people fighting for their lives with blown off limbs.

And I knew the power of a God who raised Christ from the dead could get me through the next hour.

Seconds later I walked out of the bathroom from HELL and did the job God called me to do. 

Fast forward sixty minutes and now I’m praying with a young girl in tears convicted to end her life of promiscuity.  It was humbling and healing and so REDEMPTIVE.

And I thought about our responsibility as ministers and representatives of Christ.

My job is not to entertain or put on a show or dazzle with words. 

It’s really just to show up –real and wounded and raw. 

And somehow, in spite of all our fears and clutziness and epic bathroom debacles he uses the scared and the weakest of these to show HIS glory.

 

How does God show up in your weak moments? 

The Face Plant

It was one of those perfect winter days masquerading as spring.  The sun warmed my toes and a soft breeze tickled my ears.  The trees overhead swayed back and forth and in the distance I heard Kolby’s high pitched giggle as her little legs pumped high on the big kid swing. 

We were at one of our favorite parks in Old Town San Juan Capistrano.  We stopped for a glass of wine and a yummy appetizer at Sundried Tomato, picked up a latte at Hidden House Coffee, petted a few stinky llamas and alpacas at Zoomars and then headed to the park.

Daddy laughed along with Kolby’s screams of glee and pushed her higher and higher on the swing while I lounged on a wooden park bench in the sun.  My eyes got heavy and finally closed as I listened to the happy sounds of kids playing and the train off in the distance. 

Until I heard a high-pitched scream that woke me up fast.

I jumped up from the park bench and raced to the swings where little Kolby lay face down in the wood chips.  Her feet had dragged and with a violent smack she face-planted. 

I gently picked her up and blood poured out of her tiny nose.  It was her first big Boo-Boo.

Daddy and I cleaned up her face, checked for a broken nose and tried to cheer her up with a promise of ice cream.

Kolby’s blood and tears dried fast but daddy’s cheeks remained ashen. 

This little girl means the world to him. 

It reminded me of the first time my son Kyle took a spill, face planted and ripped open his lip after I encouraged him to try a big slide.  I felt like a tool for pushing my 12 month old to go big and take a risk before he was mature enough to tackle it.

But years later I recognize it was those very risks and  encouragement that allow my son to dream big.  Kyle might eat it when he tries new things and he might occasionally even fail but he believes in himself and fear does not define him.

Kolby  told us later on that night she would “never go on the big swing again.” 

Tim looked crushed.

Then I reminded my three-year old of how great she did on the big kid swing and how maybe in a few months when she grew a little bit bigger that it would be fun to try again.

She considered my words carefully and sighed big.  “Ok, mommy.  I will try again soon, but I need to eat more vegetables and grow before I try that scary swing again.”

Daddy and I nodded in agreement and affirmed her willingness to get back in the swing.

I love how with just a little encouragement Kolby turned her fear into a challenge to grow. 

(And I’m really thrilled how my eating vegetables brain-washing is sinking in)

I know there will be many more scrapes and bumps along the road for my youngest girl.  And I know my husband will have his heart wrenched a thousand more times as he watches his first (biological) daughter grow up.  

Their daddy/daughter love story reminds me of my own journey with God–a loving father and a scared little girl who sometimes winds up face down and bloodied in the wood chips.

But she gets back up because she is loved.  And next time she will swing even higher.

Have you taken any big risks lately? 

We’ve Got (the) Spirit ,Yes We Do! We’ve Got Spirit, How About You?

Sometimes the title of “Christian” makes me cringe. 

I love God.  I walk beside Jesus and I believe his Word to be true, but when I see Christians browbeat others with rules I want to hide my fishy bumper sticker and run.

In a bizarre series of events a girl on my daughter’s cheer team went AWOL.  It’s not a big deal normally when a girl quits a team, but it’s a big deal when the girl quits the team the day after the group has won a spot to Nationals.  Without the sixteen members the team would be forced to forfeit.

The coaches suggested finding another girl to replace her.  The girl was not on our roster although she was of the same age and skill.  There are rules to protect teams from adding a “ringer” or a girl with superior skills, but this instance was not aimed at gaining an unfair advantage.  If anything, the replacement was more of a disadvantage in the added effort and time spent to bring her up to speed—although the switch might not have technically adhered to the letter of the law. It was a gray area scenario they wanted to investigate further.  They acknowledged that if someone wanted to make a big deal regarding the replacement the team could be disqualified.  They asked the parents if we were willing to take the risk.

All of the parents agreed to move forward understanding the consequences.

One mother walked up to the emergency meeting late.  She had not heard the full and detailed explanation but only picked up the last few words of the conversation.  She then interrupted, “I will not have my daughter be a part of anything questionable. I am a strong Christian and I don’t think this promotes the right values.  If we decide to move forward this way I am pulling her out.”

She walked off grumbling about how the Holy Spirit made her speak up in the midst of deceit.

If she had stopped for a moment and turned around she might have noticed the havoc her words left; in her wake of righteousness stood fifteen girls –including her daughter sobbing their hearts out. 

Now missing two girls, the coaches threw up their hands and canceled the rest of the season.  All their hard work went down the drain –in the name of being a “good Christian.”

OUCH!

Now if the Holy Spirit told her to speak up then by all means she needed to voice her concerns.  We are all held accountable to God for our actions. 

But I have to wonder if this wasn’t an example of the spirit of the law vs. the law?  Were these girls hurting anyone? No.  Were they trying to steal or cheat their way into an award? No.  They simply wanted a chance to compete –something they earned. The letter of the law is the rule that is put in place “not to add a un-rostered member.”  The spirit of the law is “don’t bring in a highly skilled cheerleader to get an advantage.”

I don’t know the mind of Christ.  His will is a mystery.  But I do know he was a bit of a rebel.  He healed on the Sabbath; he touched lepers and bleeding women and Samaritans.  He messed with the money changers and turned over tables in a fit of anger. 

And I imagine he might care more for the hearts of impressionable young girls than for a rulebook made up by a bunch of business savvy/aging cheerleaders who charge way too much money to let our girls climb on a stage and perform. 

Was this an issue of integrity or legalism?  While I don’t disagree with the focus on honesty I do take issue with self-righteousness in the name of Christianity.  It seems like what the parents and the girls heard that night was “because I am Christian, you don’t get to compete.” 

Only 16 percent of non-Christian young people under 30 say they have a “good impression” of Christianity, and a mere 3 percent feel that way about evangelical Christianity, according to the Barna Group, a Christian market research organization. As recently as the 1990s a majority of non-Christians viewed Christianity favorably.”

Research reveals that young people today consider their churches as fear-based, risk-averse, isolated, shallow, antagonistic to science, simplistic and judgmental about sexuality, and inhospitable to questions or doubts.

The biggest complaint on the under 30 crowd is that “Christianity in today’s society no longer looks like Jesus.”

Fortunately, our coaches found an airtight and “100% by the cheer rulebook” way to work in a new girl which I am confident they would have done to begin with, because their credibility was on the line too. 

God did provide another way, one I think we are all more comfortable with.  I believe the rules are in place to protect although in some instances I believe the heart trumps being right for right’s sake.

I’m thrilled my kid still gets a chance to compete, but I still have a sour taste for the damage done to young girls who will never forget the night the “Christian lady” crushed their fragile hearts.

 Source of Photo: http://pinterest.com/hannahschliep/

Traveling Light

This might sound crazy to some, but I was slightly depressed the day I couldn’t fit all of my stuff in the trunk of my car.  Renting a U-Haul to schlep all my junk was so…emotionally draining.

Did I really need all this STUFF? 

Need or Want?

It’s a question I battle every time I go to Target.  I fill up my cart and then before I check out, I stop and go through each item asking myself, “Is this a need or a want?”

Need: Toilet Paper   Want: Hunger Games DVD

When I saw this article on Nicolas Berggruen, “The Homeless Billionaire” something within my spirit resonated. 

I strongly believe in simple abundance and I found a billionaire who follows my ethos!

What is Simple Abundance?

Here is what simple abundance entails: It’s the idea of not being tied down to stuff or allowing THINGS to control me.  Simple abundance knows that every new thing carries a cost of maintenance and it only allows the truly important things to define me.

Nicolas sold both of his homes and his personal island, now traveling the world with “what little he owns in storage and travels light, carrying just his iPhone, a few pairs of jeans, a fancy suit or two, and some white monogrammed shirts he wears until they are threadbare.”

Now, I am not as extreme as Nicholas.  I have a mortgage and I deeply value both home and family.  I want to create a safe haven for my loved ones, but Nicholas reminds me I don’t need to collect and hoard things.

In the words of Pastor Kenton Beshore, “It all goes back in the box someday and you can’t take it with you.”

What defines you?

So instead of buying boats and clothes and more STUFF, I want to collect relationships and experiences with people.

I think Jesus would have been a simple abundance kind of guy. He traveled light. 

How about you?  What do you collect?

For a great fashion blog on this concept, check out The Twenty Pieces Project-Life With Less.

Photo Credit: From isleofviewblog.tumblr.com

An Experiment in Motives

I’m not very good at fasting.  Only once, did I manage three days without food, and it was traumatic enough to avoid repeating –ever.

But I recently came across an idea –or motto really, I thought was worthy of emulating.  It was a line in a mediocre movie that somehow made the film memorable because it stuck in my head and won’t go away, lodged in like a piece of sticky gum to the indent of a shoe. 

The depressed male protagonist reaches for a drink and offers one to the lovely lady he desires.  She admonishes him, pushes away the cocktail and states, “I don’t drink to feel better, I only drink to feel EVEN better.”

What a line!  A string of words so powerful I’m still thinking about it six months later.

Hmmmm? 

Do I drink to feel better or do I drink to feel EVEN better?

So, after much contemplation, I decided to try a little self-examination and take a month off of drinking alcohol, noting my motives and becoming self-aware of the moments I might be inclined to reach for a glass of wine or order up a frothy margarita to feel better. 

Now, I’m not a big drinker.  Some of my friends call me neurotic regarding my self-imposed limitations.  I almost never have more than two drinks unless its vacation and the effects are extended far throughout the day.  It’s a control thing, and a Jesus thing, and an issue with idiot’s thing –namely I don’t want to act like one.

But that being said, I’m no teetotaler.  I do like the mommy sippy cup on a Friday night, the skinny margarita on a Saturday afternoon, and the soothing mimosa of a Sunday brunch.  When I check off the box at the doctor I fess up to three drinks a week –maybe four.

It’s been ten days now of my self-imposed drinking fast and this is what I’ve discovered.

When it’s been a tough week of work, I feel entitled to a drink.  Stress, fatigue, kids…these all make me long for release, for the languid relaxation a good Cabernet has to offer.  If the wine accompanies chocolate…it’s even better.

On Saturdays when I am with my family and friends I want to celebrate.  I think my motives are the most appropriate here.  I’m happy, content and genuinely desire to enjoy relationships, a good meal and rejoice in my blessings.

But the toughest one to admit is I how much I long for a drink at brunch on Sunday following church.  And this one could go either way regarding the “feel better or EVEN better scale”.  Certain Sundays I feel encouraged and buoyant with joy and determination, but there are other days I feel exposed and prickly. Maybe the pastor hit a little too close to home and my emotions are in a tangled turmoil.

But out of rote habit I order a drink because it’s just what I do on Sunday –not a very good reason.

I also noticed when we cut out the drinks how I reached for sugar instead.  I wanted to stop and get a mocha coconut frappachino after church if I couldn’t have a glass of wine –darn it!

This little experiment has made me inordinately aware of my coping mechanisms and the emotions behind them.

I want to be the kind of person who takes every hurt and tension to the Lord.  But the truth is, I sprinkle a few burdens at the gym, drop off some more on a good run, hand a few over to chocolate and release the last voluntary dregs to a margarita. 

Then, and only then, do I hand over all the stuff I can’t control to God.  I can imagine him watching me carrying around my big pile of junk and chuckling at my woebegone state…just waiting for me to come and lay it at his feet.

We have about twenty more days of our drinking fast (I roped my husband into doing it as well) and it’s been deeply revealing about the state of my heart and where I turn to cope with the beautiful chaos of life.

How about you?  Do you drink to feel better, or to feel EVEN better?

 

Dr. Gandhi, Yoga and a Stress Test

I took a stress test yesterday but strangely enough it wasn’t too stressful.  It might have actually been the most relaxing part of my week. 

A stress test involves getting hooked up like the Bionic man with wires and sticky patches that suck your hair right out of the follicle.  Then they place you on a treadmill and slowly turn up the pace from a leisurely stroll to a Mt. Everest run/climb.  I was holding on for dear life at the end and panting like a dog on a hot day. 

But it felt good to run hard and work off some steam.

Work has been extremely stressful, finances tight thanks to our new Lion(i.e. private school tuition for Kyle), Kolby had the hand, foot, and mouth virus all week and then there’s my pesky little heart issue –which makes me more stressed.  It’s like a slippery slope of heart palpitations, fever blisters and sweaty pits.

I know I’m supposed to give this all to Jesus but clearly I’ve been grabbing my burdens back and stuffing them in my backpack. 

My Dr. came into read the results.  He almost didn’t let me take the test because my blood pressure was all wacky when I arrived-probably because I came straight from work, but then he remembered he had the day off on Friday and he didn’t want to miss his golf game so he let me take the test.

Here’s the crazy part –after I worked out my heart rate looked all pretty and even –in nice little up and down rhythms.  Once I let go and relaxed into the run my body fixed itself. 

The Dr. looked at me strangely.  “Usually when we test, it goes the opposite way.  Which means you are stressing yourself right into a pace maker.  Do yoga, cut back on the stress and figure out how to relax young lady.”

But Dr. Gandhi doesn’t realize how much I hate yoga after a bad experience with a man in front of me who forgot his underpants and wore tiny shorts.

So, unless I want a pace maker I guess I better learn how to chill.  The funny thing is I’m a pretty mellow person and I don’t even realize I am stuffing stress.  I have a secret little pocket in my heart where I hide emotions and cram pain into a bunch of toxic ickiness.  Then it explodes into shingles or heart issues.

I keep singing “Jesus take the wheel,” in a raspy little voice hoping for a Holy Spirit band-aid when I should probably be on my knees begging for a fire-hose washing of the gunk weighing me down.

I really don’t want to go to Yoga…

But maybe I’ll try to run again and whisper to God and find my rhythm.

 

Is God Real?

I didn’t grow up a Christian. Pagan might be more appropriate title. I thought Jesus was related to Santa and as far as I knew, he lived in the mythical world of leprechaun’s and Easter bunnies.

But if I’m honest, I’ve always known God. I just wondered if he knew me.

It started in high school with the Christian Club. Mildly curious, I snuck into the back of a meeting one day, but when I saw who gathered, I turned on my heels and fled. It was the goody-two shoe kids –the ones who smiled to my face and gossiped behind my back. I was pretty sure their beaming faces were not motivated by the love of baby Jesus, but were masking a snarky agenda. Beyond skeptical, I figured they were merely looking for a new sucker to clap and sing along so they could get a new patch to stitch on a shiny Jesus vest.

So I kept my distance –I played it safe.

In college, the whole Jesus phenomenon was catching on like wildfire, but once again I held back, despite being surrounded by a posse of friends all dying to drag me to the Harvest –whatever that was? But I watched those who claimed to follow Christ –like a hawk.

Secretly, I struggled with the idea of how someone could say a prayer to Jesus and then all their problems would be magically resolved. A + B = Easy Life. It seemed too simple and trite. Besides, I liked brooding, emotion and drama, and these happy Christians types annoyed me. I perceived phoniness in “my grandma died, my dog died and I ran out of money…but praise the Lord” rhetoric. I didn’t want to be anyone’s project and then there was my irrational fear of being hijacked by a cult of ghastly Sunday singers with tambourines.

I’m not musical.

But one day I ended up in church, because a guy I liked wanted to go, and it wasn’t the saccharin-y sweet crowd I expected. I didn’t have to check my intellect at the door or even sing if I chose not to. It wasn’t the Happily Ever After message –it was simple and straight forward and the words connected to my spirit.

It didn’t feel like a traditional church, but more like a movement. The people wore jeans and flip-flops and offered genuine smiles. The music was like nothing I’d heard before and formed a knot of emotion in my belly – it embraced me like a child holding out soft pudgy arms for a squeeze. And they offered to give me a free book –a big navy blue bible, which I cracked open that evening. For the first time, I tentatively approached Jesus one baby step at a time.

I was in my Jr. Year at UCLA studying history and political science with my head immersed in the postmodernists –reading Nietzsche, Foucault, and Heidegger right around the time I began this tentative dance with faith and hip Christians and wacky liberals. The cacophony of voices shouting for my attention blended into a dull roar in my head.

The two worlds of church and Godless academia could not have clashed more. Every day at school I was exposed to the belief that all truth was subjective and the study of history was not about exploring factual evidence, but rather acknowledging the perspective of certain cultures or a person throughout time.

In this scenario: NOTHING IS ABSOLUTE.

Many narratives of the same story (i.e. told by the soldier, the general, the historian and the token woman) gave credence to a historical account, but in a vacuum of certainty everything was up for reinterpretation. My paradigm for accepting knowledge was deeply shaken and subconsciously I began to question everything –not a good place to be when you’re already an over-thinker.

Postmodern thought breeds skepticism, tolerance, distrust, and disrespect for authority. In the absence of truth, faith becomes a childlike malaise that one needs to cure by throwing more knowledge at it. Reading excerpts of Nietzsche is hauntingly similar to the words of Solomon. Everything is meaningless under the sun.

But Nietzsche forgot the “Without God” part.

And that messed with me!

Postmodern thought is completely satisfied with leaving out the conclusion that nothing makes sense without God. To Postmodern teaching, nothing makes sense period!

I couldn’t sleep at night thinking my existence in life was a random accident.

I was twenty-two years old when I decided to hedge my bets on a carpenter from Nazareth. Each Sunday I drove seventy miles from West LA to Newport Beach, CA to attend Mariners Church to learn a little bit more of the person and the message of Jesus Christ. I might have been dragged there the first time but I came back because I heard something different and terrifying.

A STILL SMALL VOICE OF LOVE

I began to consider a life guided by one truth, one absolute, and one savior. Against all my faculties, my heart and mind waged war against the simplicity of the Gospel.

I had constructed a life built on achievement –do more, be more, shine the brightest (and hide the bad stuff) and this tore apart the very fabric of my foundation. I didn’t need a rescuer because I had it all figured out.

But late at night, in the recesses of my soul there was a ravaging fear that I was alone, unlovable, and unworthy.

But Jesus –not religion, or formulas, or a magic pill –changed everything.

Once exposed to the truth it chased me down. God pursued me. Even though the Bible contradicted all that I considered to be true about relativism, something within me responded when called.

I’ve been walking with God now for eighteen years and here is the ONE THING I KNOW TO BE TRUE –God’s love is radical and it’s for you and for me and the redemption of the world.

Tambourines are optional.

God’s word tells me I was created to rest and abide in a relationship with him finding value, meaning and mission. He tells me I am forgiven and loved and worth dying for.

But how do I translate the truth about this reckless love into a culture bombarded by strategic assaults on our very method of interpreting truth?

The postmodern culture or relativist pluralism that I encountered fifteen years ago in college has morphed into a similar but different animal after 9/11. The irrational idea that all opinions or views are equally valid is now juxtaposed with an emerging awareness of “being”.

Threatened with terrorism, a blatantly consumerist culture, the organic backlash of the Occupy movement, and a burgeoning environmental consciousness; modern thought has turned introspective and idealized.

While no one wants to live in dire poverty, our children yearn to live in a more enlightened state of consumption than we did. They are aware of social injustice and their place within a global paradigm. Diversity no longer means a scholarship in the NCAA, but it is the acknowledgment of the marginalized in society. Women, homosexuals, the oppressed, children in Uganda…these voices are being heard by a new generation.

Because of this massive shift, I believe the church therefore needs to adapt and catch up to the culture. It’s not that the message of Jesus needs to change, but maybe the methodology in which we articulate Christianity needs a makeover.

When we view Christianity as a movement and not an institution it changes everything. We don’t have to have all the answers or put God in a Sunday box. It means our faith is dynamic, evolving, and always in flux.

It means Christianity is like the love of a lifetime not a one night stand. It’s the high of racing down the aisle to marry my beloved and the crushing disappointment of day-to-day drudgery as life marches on. It’s the achievements met together, the shattered dreams unrealized and the weary acceptance as I realize conflict is inevitable. It’s looking into the eyes of my aging spouse and aching for something more –an intimacy dependent on the mysterious. It’s the brief moments when our souls make contact and God reveals himself like thunder and rain washing over my heart and I know I am his and he is mine.

Faith –just like love is fragile enough to be lost but strong enough to stand eternity on.

If indeed our faith in Christ is a constantly evolving paradigm, how do we, as ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ, walk on the rushing water of a raging river instead of planting ourselves in a stagnant pool?

These are the questions that plague me.

Join the conversation

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Recalibrating God’s Plan

People keep asking my husband and me if we are knocked up yet.  I’d bemoan the lack of modern civility but since I did post our intent to procreate to the entire internet universe –I might have to own this one and take the hit. 

So, in all honesty I’m a little conflicted now about birthing another child. 

After our recent miscarriage and the most difficult season of parenting I have ever experienced, another baby –even a blond chubby cheeked cutie –represents a future teenager.  And it’s enough for me to hide any atrophied eggs at age thirty-nine I have left when my husband gets that gleam in his eye.

We sensed God telling us to try for another munchkin and we obediently tried.  It didn’t work.  So my thinking is maybe the whole scenario might simply be about listening to God and following his direction.  PERIOD.  And maybe this is where it ends. 

Maybe tragedy can also be MERCY and maybe it doesn’t have to make sense.

Might I need a new equation?

God+ direction=obedience

(Results not guaranteed)

Sometimes the Christian life doesn’t lead to happily ever after and little bow tied Jabez-y blessings.

What if God is more interested in my knowing him and following him than the places and circumstances he leads me to? 

They say life is about the journey and not the destination.  I think it’s about staying on the heels of the trail guide no matter where he takes you.

I think Jesus is more interested in us saying YES to him when he calls, but it doesn’t guarantee what we say yes to will ever come to fruition.  

And isn’t this the mystery, frustration and beauty of the Christian life?

 

Martha’s House, Mary’s Village

 

My dear friend Bruce sent me this story in response to my post Helga the Cleaning Nazi.  It was a great reminder to keep the main thing the main thing-namely the love of Christ working through me- and to let go of the little crap that get me all riled up and cranky.

Bruce Carl Aronson is a true spiritual guide to many at Mariners Mission Viejo Church and his wisdom and heart are off the charts!  I am honored to share his story on a woman who I resemble all too often  I really want to be like Mary, but my inner Martha keeps nipping at my heels.

I hope you enjoy this as much as  did…

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Martha’s House, Mary’s Village by Bruce Carl Aronson

 

Martha was pissed.

She had to watch over her two hair-brained siblings ever since her mom, Enchania, and her dad, Syro, died.  That blighted tower that fell down in the earthquake, crushing both of the parents, and sixteen others, was the beginning of Martha’s great aloneness.  Her exacting soul found great comfort in clinging to the idea that the disaster was not the punishment of God.  Martha’s father had expected much of his first-born daughter.  At least, if I had been born a son, she thought to herself, I could enjoy that, but now it’s just a talent (for Martha a talent was not a skill or ability but a load weighing 94 pounds, in her day)Martha saw her brother and sister as hopelessly scattered, and surely without Martha they would be both homeless and starve.

She worked hard to keep a proper Jewish Home: ordered, clean, and run with a kind of autocratic authority that her sister and brother found withering. 

Now it was even worse, the Rabbi had showed up and nothing was ready.  It was okay for the men to sit around and gab, but a worthy woman washed the feet of each guest, made sure there was plenty of food and drink, and that her guests lacked for nothing.  So that is what Martha did.  It was getting hot outside as the sun was now directly overhead.  Even the cool, dark of her home was permitting some of that heat to enter.  She needed to prepare the biggest meal of the day, after which, everyone but her would take a nap.  She glanced around her home: it did please her enormously!  The family business had prospered, blessed be, permitting them, not the tiny little four room affair that most families squeezed into, but a lavish two-story (with an open third story) wrapped around a small courtyard.  Martha was in the kitchen, which opened on to the first floor looking out on the courtyard, but she could hear the laughing going on upstairs, in the dining room. 

Her hands worked steadily as she plied the pita dough squeezing it, balling it up, and smashing each ball onto the heated brazier above her kitchen fire.  She was squeezing the dough as if to strangle it and when she balled it, she smashed it on the hot metal she was using with rather more effort than the dough needed.  She had just come down from dropping off the last pita’s, butter, and wine.  The previous upstairs deliveries included olives, dates, and apples.  She was tired from carrying all that food up and down the narrow stairs that led to her dining room above.  There the Master was upstairs, on the floor in the center of the woven matt, with everyone hanging on his every word.  He was saying something profound, he always was, but the person who sat directly in front of him now really annoyed Martha.

Mary was not at all disciplined.  Martha wondered, Who would want to marry a girl who did not know her place?  Martha certainly knew her place, but it had done no good: she was now the village spinster at 18.  She had sent Mary up there to fill the water vat, knowing full well it would be a while before she ever came back.  Well, it had been more than a while.  Martha did appreciate Mary’s thirst for learning.  Like Martha, she knew how to stand behind a curtained door or half way up the stairway so as not to interfere with the men’s learning and still partake of it.  Much of Martha’s education had come from deliberately overhearing her father teach.  Now the Master was upstairs with his emissaries, and a few others.  Who was in the middle of all the men?  Mary, of course!

The fourteen year old sibling just did not get that she was not a man and should never sit with them while instruction was going on.  It wasn’t decent.  It wasn’t seemly.  And, no one was asking for her hand, in marriage either.  It was getting late for Mary too.  But, Mary was the pretty one.  Men liked her.  She got a lot of slack because she was gregarious, charming, and had a figure that could not be obscured by the robes she wore.

A cry of anguish slipped from Martha’s lips.  She had not kept her mind on her work and the side of her hand had brushed the hot metal.  She hoped that they had not heard that cry up above!  What would you say about a homemaker who did not even know how to keep herself from being burned as she cooked?  The skin was red all along the fleshy part of her hand.  This was going to hurt.  She was about to plunge her hand in the basin of water that was kept at the ready for such emergencies, when her nose reminded her that something was burning.  It was the pita on the brazier!  While she had been staring at her hand, the pita had blackened.  Now, they were smoking.  Could they smell that upstairs?  She could already hear the gossip at dawn, the next day, at the village well.  “Pitas get away from you, dearie?”  “So much food you can burn it up?  Warming the house with dough these days?”  How they loved to laugh at her!  (Of course, they were all jealous.  That’s all.)

Tears leaked down her cheeks.  Sure her hand hurt, but the shame of everyone thinking you are very competent and then you go and pull a small-minded stunt like this?  Pull it together, girl!  She swept the burned pita down off the brazier and into the fire below hoping that no one was the wiser.  Then, she looked at her hand again.  She thought, what to do?

Catching her completely by surprise, there was the Master scooping up her small hand in his great big ones! 

“Martha,” his majestic, deep voice intoned, “you are working too hard.  Come upstairs and sit with us.”

“Rabbi,” she stared up through her tears, “there is so much to do!”  She knew it was unworthy to complain, but it slipped out, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do all the work myself?  Tell her to get back down here and help me out!”

He reached to her other hand and pulled her up to him, but merely said, “Martha,” as he held both hands.  Somehow his hand was cooling against her burned hand.  The pain seemed to be ebbing away…slowly. 

Martha looked down.  He did have beautiful, massive, well muscled hands.  He lightly turned her hand side up and poured a little olive oil on the burned part.  He worked it in tenderly with a gentle massaging motion.  She still fretted in her heart that he would find her unworthy and stop staying at their home when he passed through Bethany or Jerusalem.

“Martha,” he said again, with such tenderness it made her heart ache with joy.  He fixed his eyes to look squarely into hers.  “You are worried and upset about many things.”

Martha nodded, of course that was true.  She nodded fitfully that she understood.

He continued, “…but, few things are needed…”

She nodded again, transported by his gaze.  Generally, she could not say that he was a handsome man.  Yet, holding her wounded hand like this, he just seemed so beautiful.  Would a man like him ever consider…?

He smiled as if he knew her thoughts, “or indeed, only…one…”

All the cares she carried seemed to leave like smoke in a wind.  He was such a beautiful man!

He smiled again.  “Mary has chosen what is better.”

Mary, she thought, why is it always ‘Mary this’ and ‘Mary that?’  Then, Martha’s mind became clear. Mary was so deliberate about knowing the Rabbi well.  Carefully, she gleaned all that he shared.  She went out of her way to really understand everything he mentioned –even the obscure stuff.  Martha suddenly saw with clarity that it was not that Mary was younger or prettier (or luckier), it was just that she cared about relationships.  Mary was all about relationships.  Martha, realized (and it stung her) that she all about responsibilities.  Mary and Martha.  Relationships and responsibilities.

Martha lowered her head against the Rabbi’s broad chest.  He whispered in her ear, “It will not be taken away from her.”  But, she knew what it meant.  You do everything so carefully, thoroughly, and well, Martha.  Now, try Mary’s approach.  She nodded to him as if he could hear her thoughts. 

She looked down at her own hand.  The redness was gone.  The pain was gone.  And he was sliding his arm around her back and gently leading her to the narrow stairs.  Up they went.  When they reached the dining room all the men were silent and noticing how the Rabbi was walking with her as if she were an adored daughter.  People moved to get out of their way.  Mary stood and vacated her place on the mat.  Jesus pointed to that open place and indicated it was now Martha’s place.  She realized that while Mary had taken this place, the Rabbi was giving it to her.

And Mary took a tray of empty dishes downstairs.

How to get old gracefully

 

“Did you see that woman over there?” my husband asked.

I turned my head and tried to subtly glance over to the woman he was referring to.  Her back was against me, but from behind she looked amazing.  Slim, toned and curvy in all the right places.  Then she turned her head and I gasped.

Her face looked like the crypt-keeper.  Pale and taught ghostly white skin was interrupted by strangely exaggerated eyes turned up at the corners.  Her lips were huge and plumped full and it was obvious she had undergone multiple cosmetic procedures to the point of resembling a freakish Michael Jackson wannabe.

I shuddered. Tim smiled at me, “I’m glad you aren’t’ afraid of aging and you would never do anything drastic like that.”

“Hey now,” I said.  “She looks pretty good for a hundred.”

Tim laughed and walked off to lift weights.  But the scary lady didn’t leave my mind.

I secretly stole a few more glances and then thought about my own insecurities regarding getting old. Certainly it’s inevitable and a natural part of life, so why the resistance, the flat-out denial by some folks to step up to the plate and surrender to gravity?

There are certain parts of getting older which I adore. My emotions no longer rule my heart, wisdom has snuck up on me after a multitude of hard knock lessons, and I have an appreciation for relationships and life, like never before.  I have more confidence in my identity, my voice and don’t really care if people like me or even agree with me anymore.

But the parts I don’t like are the parts which resonate with the plastic gym lady. I want to be pretty and in a world and culture that reveres youth, looking old and haggard is less desirable.  I don’t like the weird little age spots appearing on my body, the aches and pains that seem to appear out of the blue after thirty-five, and my metabolism, which is getting slower by the day. These things make me long for my eternal body.

One component of aging that sometimes makes it easier or harder depending on the season, is the personal expectations or goals I place on myself for age thresholds. 

 Twenty-five-married and college degree-√

 Thirty five-have kids-√

Forty-be a successful writer (working on that one)

Fifty-five-grandma-TBD

As I hit the birthdays with my goals checked off, I feel better about myself.  But the year I hit thirty-three and found myself a divorced, single mom, getting older didn’t feel so good.  In fact, the ache was deep and I felt somehow inadequate.  Happy Birthday didn’t feel so happy that year.

I hear the pain in my friends voices when another year passes by without a husband or a child. It’s the same hurt-another year slipping by and another reminder of unfulfilled dreams.

Isaiah once said, “The flowers fade and the grass withers, but the word of our God will stand forever.”

I know in life there will be good years and not so good years, but the years will come, no matter how I try to halt the ravages of too much sun and the gravitational pull on my behind.

But when I keep an eternal perspective and focus my eyes on the road before me, ageing isn’t such a scary place.  If anything, it’s just one step closer to Jesus.

Image: Ambro / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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