Sunday, October 31, 2010

Happy Halloween!

I know a lot of you have been told that this is the most evil holiday invented by man. And maybe that is true, but I am going to invite you into the Spook House of my mind and consider it from a different perspective.

What other holiday can we be whoever and whatever we want?

I typically dress up as a fairy. Something small and unalarming, but packs a big wallop. It is who I wish I could be, complete with wonder working wand and glitter that can make you fly. I would sprinkle it liberally on all my friends, because I would have an endless supply. I could heal wounds, pick locks, and put bullies in their place just by being that dazzling light that zips around
their heads.

What would you be if you could be anything? Take off your limitations, and smash your inhibitions. Dream big, and see what you learn about yourself. Are you a princess, a mutant turtle? Superman? Batman? Wonder Woman? An animal? A concept or idea? (One year Lauren went as a figment of my imagination.) Do you have special powers or just dazzling in your beauty? Are you terrifying and why? What would you wish to scare? There is so much to learn when we let our minds go and let ourselves dream beyond the mundane.

And besides that, what other holiday allows us to ask perfect strangers to give us stuff?

What could be more honest than that?

I want you to give me sweet things, and I will hold out my bag expectantly waiting for your compliance. And why do you give me sweet things, because I had the guts to ask – no matter how many pumpkin lights and fake spider webs you have on your doorstep.

It is a lesson I want my children to learn and learn well. Sometimes we have to face our fears to get what we want, and most of the time the things that scare us the most are just for show.

I don’t do this on Christmas, getting what I want requires more than a request, more than just being there. I have to behave properly, and hope that I get what I want from people I love and claim to love me. I don’t transform into I want to be, I become who I am expected to be all for the sake of bribe wrapped in shiny paper and a red ribbon.

I don’t do this at Thanksgiving. I go and mind my manners around a table loaded with things like yams, cranberry sauce that looks like a can, and mushy squash casserole. No asks me who I want to be, or if I would rather have snack size snickers. It is tradition and all bends before the weight of it.

I don’t do this at Easter. I look for eggs that might give me food poisoning if I ate them. I get cheap chocolate, just because it looks like a rabbit. I wear a frilly dress made of pastel colors, and try to look cute – something I was never good at. If I am really lucky, I might get Reese’s egg, but usually custom dictates Cadbury Cream one – gag. Everything is sugary sweet, and I am expected to be so also.

I can’t deny there are many aspects of this holiday that bother me, but on the flip side, there is so much to learn. It is the one day a year where we are conditioned not to be upset if a stranger knocks on your door and demands us to give them things. Why can’t we be like that all year?

It is the one day when our real lives, responsibilities, or anyone else’s expectations limit what we can be. It is the one time when we are given the permission to envision a different reality, a better one where we truly sparkle and shine. I wish it was a freedom we could experience every day.

So let’s take the good things we can learn from this day, and make them our own. I hope you chose to meet strangers with sweetness, meet a request with ready response. I hope your home is filled with wonder and hope of a reality greater than the one we see. I hope you chose to be something amazing today, and every day. Happy Halloween.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Waiting for God, and Hoping He Doesn’t Show

Lately, I have been talking a lot about taking risks. What it looks like and how I hate it, but it is at times like this I remember a point in my life where God showed up in the middle of freefall.

I was working selling tools and lawn equipment at a major department store. I had been approached about taking some management training, and moving up the food chain. It would have been a nice, safe move, one that would have guaranteed that I could pay my bills, feed my children, and all that trivial stuff. But I kept looking around at others who had chosen that path, listening to their conversations, and all they could talk about was how soon they could retire.

All the while, somewhere in the back of my head was this nagging sensation that I would never be happy unless I was doing something that had to do with my faith. I didn’t know what that would look like, what I could do, but that little voice turned into a scream that could not be ignored – not without killing off a part of who I am.

I woke up one morning and I said enough, and I began making phone calls. The whole time I am grumbling about how stupid it was for me to go back to school. I was going to have to take out loans, drive at least an hour to get to class, and hope to God that I could balance getting an education and taking care of my kids. I kept listing off all the reasons I should not even try. I didn’t drive in Tulsa. I didn’t type. I didn’t even own a computer, nor did I have the funds to purchase one. This was the height of insanity and I knew it all too well.

So I made a deal with God. If he would get me a computer I would go to school. I counted off the days until the classes began, and there seemed to be no sign that he was doing anything to get me what I needed to do what I thought he called me to do.

The first day of class began, and I refused to buy my books because I still didn’t have a computer. But I didn’t see the harm of showing up for class. I reasoned that surely I didn’t need a computer for the first day, but the thing was once I was there, sitting in those seats, hearing what I could learn over the next few months I wanted to be there. I needed to be there. So I went to the bookstore, where I ran into one of the men in one of my classes.

I only intended to say hi, but I heard myself saying, “If you know any place where I could pick up a computer cheap, or even better free, let me know.”

Without missing a beat, he said, “Come by my house Monday morning and pick it up. My wife and I have one we want to give to someone who can use it. We just had the hard drive cleaned and updates installed.”

That computer got me through four years of school without a single glitch. You would think that I would have been thrilled over the fact that God provided for me so abundantly, but no. I even grumbled about that because I could see my excuses for a safe existence slipping over the horizon.

Now, maybe I am projecting just a bit too much, but I think a lot of us are like that. We ask God to show up and then complain when he does. I mean, after all if he is silent than we can justify our cowardice. We can hide behind the excuses of not having what we need to do what we should.

The other lesson from all of this is, sometimes we have to wait until we really need it before God gives us what we need. And that means we have to start down that path even before we are fully outfitted. I never would have gotten that computer if I hadn’t shown up for class. I would have been sitting at home, going to work peddling wrenches, feeling sorta smug as I lamented the fact God hadn’t provided for my needs.

In my desk is a piece of paper. It says, “It is a shame to ask God for help and not be prepared to receive it.” It is my reminder that I have an obligation, not just to ask, but live like I expect God to show up.

And again, maybe it is just me, but isn’t it time that we started living a life that shows we believe that God is out there expectantly waiting for us to make a move towards him? Towards his provision? Isn’t it time that we stopped putting our great ideas of how to serve him on hold, and actually started pursuing his will for us? Sure it’s scary, and yeah, I hate that in between feeling, but faith without works is dead. And I don’t think that James was referring just to the safe acts of going to church and reading our Bible, because after all, how much faith does that really take?

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Ice Cream Anyone?

The other day a friend of mine got pulled into a bit of a disagreement that ended with the statement, “If you don’t know Hebrew or Greek then you really don’t know what the Bible says.”

In some ways this is an absolutely correct statement. Knowing the Bible in all the glory of the Hebrew and Greek is one of the most incredible things a believer can ever experience. I tell people it is like growing up with a thirteen inch black and white television and then being taken to the IMAX.

In other ways, the argument is amusing beyond belief. It is the logical equivalent of shooting yourself head so the other side doesn’t get the satisfaction, because typically they don’t know Hebrew or Greek either. The only reason to throw the idea out there is to make the typical Christian flinch. It sows a seed of doubt in the believer’s minds that grows into the thought – “I am not qualified to share my faith because I don’t know Hebrew or Greek.”

Since the criteria of knowing the languages has now been set as the only basis for winning the argument the Christian shuts up. The opposing side continues to rattle, and the Christian feels like he/she is a failure before God and man.

There are a couple of things to keep in mind in situations like this:

1. We weren’t called to engage and win every argument about our faith. God is a big God. He can take care of himself. We were called to love, and Paul warned us about foolish debates.
There will be times when we need to be ready to share, but save your breath for people who are really looking for answers. Too often we waste it on people looking for a fight, so don’t engage. Keep your cool. Smile. Bake them cookies. Take them out for ice cream. It is really hard to be ugly to someone you are actively blessing – and it is harder for them to argue with their mouth full.

2. For your own sanity, you need to know that knowing God does not require an advanced degree in the Bible or ancient languages. The people who translated this book are passionate about God’s word, the accuracy of their work, and communicating the Word as effectively as possible. You can trust their work, and not everyone was called to devote years of their lives learning about dead languages and cultures – there can be more important things to do with your life.

The final thing I keep in the back of my mind is – God won’t believe me if I tell him it was an accident, but you probably don’t need that reminder.

God didn’t write his message in some obscure language to keep his true message a mystery. He had it written in the language of the day, one that everyone would understand at the time it was written. Throughout the years it has been the passion of many people, to the point of death, to maintain this great tradition of our faith – God’s word in your language.

If you are called to address the issue, a decision that needs to be made with great discernment, don’t be hesitant to call on those of us who do know the Greek and Hebrew this is why we studied so hard, to share what we have learned. Remember it is not your job to bring conviction, you are only there to share information and God’s love.

Remember it is too easy to get stuck arguing point and counter-point, and in that scenario there rarely is a winner just a lot of hurt feelings. We need to remember that Bible never said we would overcome the enemy through logical, persuasive arguments. It never even promised victory through knowing Greek and Hebrew. It says the enemy is overcome by the word of our testimony, our story, and our experience with God.

No one can argue what you have experienced. No one can discredit those moments you have been in His presence, and no one can deny a faith that truly defines your life. So when all else fails, stick to what you know – a God who has loved you, continues to love you, and will always love you, even if you don’t know Hebrew or Greek.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

An Eternity with Morons

Recently, I was asked if I was sure I was even saved. And not in the “I am deeply concerned for your spiritual well being and eternal residence” kind of way. It was more in the “You disrupted my theology, I don’t like the way that feels, so I will attack you personally in a manner that makes me feel superior to you” kind of way.

At the time I laughed it off. I was rather amused, because the only thing in this life that I am certain of is that I have a real relationship with my God. It is everything else that can be kind of shaky.

But later, the question began to bug me. And not the “Oh my God, could she possibly be right?” convicted kind of way. It was more of the “How dare she even insinuate such a thing” kind of way. Conviction followed shortly after some rather uncharitable thoughts about the person, me questioning her salvation, planning on how I was going to be a great tool - first, in her enlightenment and secondly, her repentance for doubting my dazzling theological intellect.

It is amazing how un-Christians can be when we talk about our Christianity. We get all self righteous, and convinced that we are the only ones who truly know who God is and how He does things. We begin to believe that only those who agree with us can possible be saved and everyone else is going to hell. And I am not so sure that that feeling isn’t accompanied by some sense of relief – as in the “Oh good, I didn’t want to spend eternity with that moron anyway” kind of way.

The essence of the conversation that led to this anger provoking question was God had to conform to certain ideology that provided this person with absolute confidence that God would never do something they did not approve of. I countered with God is absolutely capable of doing whatever He pleases and should He choose to upset your paradigm than He will – and it would not be out of his character or not in keeping with His nature. It is one of the perks of being God, you get to have it your way all the time, except when you chose not to – and then it’s called grace.

Somewhere in the midst of the conversation, I got the “shut up” message from God. He sends them more than I receive them, but sometimes, when He shouts, I get a clue. So I tried to extricate myself from the situation with a little grace, end on a note we could all agree on. It went like this (if you know me then you have heard me say it, so no it probably isn’t you I am writing about.)

“Maybe we should leave it at agreeing to disagree. After all there is so much that we do agree on, right?” I say nodding my head until she began to parrot me.

“God loves us and created us to have relationship.” Agreement was given.

“Jesus fully God, fully man, lived, died and rose again for our sins.” Again we had agreement.

“And we can only experience salvation through him.” Once again, agreement.

We parted warily, liked two armed gun men both aware that the other could turn and shoot us in the back while we retreated. There was no sense of community that arose from the conversation, nor do I think that we fostered any type of relationship, but that could just be me and my wounded feelings.

Theological debate and arguments can be good things. They help us clarify what we believe, and make us articulate ideas and concepts that float around in our heads like fog. They help us weed out heresy, and force us keep some sort of coherence in our thoughts about God, but too often our thoughts about God become our image of God.

There was a reason that the second commandment says we should not create a graven image of God, and most of us don’t break this one – at least not literally. But maybe it is time that we extracted the principle for use in our day, because everyone I know, including me, has an image of God. It is my favorite idea of who and what he is. He is the God I like, and his parameters are well defined.

I have come to believe that our walk of faith is less about knowing God, and more about realizing what we don’t know about him. It is about tearing down the image of him I carry around in my mind and can defend so well.

Maybe this is why we get so crazed when we talk about the God we believe in, and someone disagrees. We know they aren’t tearing down God, we know they have walked up to our idol and smacked it with a baseball bat. It tends to set us off, but I have discovered something – only an idol needs our defense, only an image we have made needs us to use dirty tactics to preserve their dignity. God, the real God, is pretty good at taking care of himself. Defense is not our job, loving each other is. And when we get too busy protecting our image of him, it’s the one thing we just can’t do.

And by the way, we should all prepare for an eternity with morons, I am pretty sure I will make it, and I hope you do too.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Dress Codes and Fish Net – This one’s for the girls

Once upon a time – you know it is going to be a great story when you read those words – I was part of an organization that had a dress code. The dress code was put in place by people who wanted to insure that all of us involved were decent and modest in our apparel. An admirable goal, but difficult to define.

I have always tried to play by the rules. Not because I always agree with the rules but because I believe that God places people in authority for a reason and we should respect God’s decisions – that and I really don’t like getting in trouble. So one day I thought I was operating in accordance to the rules and wore a long dress and sandals to our gathering. As I sat sipping my coffee, I was corrected.

Of all the scandalous things I could do, I was showing about three inches of bare leg. Horrors!!!

I was politely but firmly informed that this was immodest and I need to wear hosiery to avoid such impropriety. So of course the next day, I complied. Sorta.

I wore a slightly shorter skirt (it barely covered my knees), tall boots (they almost came to my knees), and the two inch gap (slightly under and over my knees) I covered with the prescribed hosiery. Imagine my shock when once again, I was corrected and admonished not to be so lewd, but a decision had been reached, I had pushed them over the edge and they did not want to turn it into an issue, bare legs were fine.

I don’t know, but it might have been the fish net that did it.

So why am I telling you this story?

Well, once again, I am having to deal with some issues of modesty and appropriate covering for women. And I find myself asking, what constitutes modest dress for a woman of our time? I know Christian women who feel like the only truly modest attire is one that subverts all hints of our sexuality. Shapeless shirts that cover that provocative collar bone, skirts that conceal that alluring ankle, and good sturdy shoes built for comfort, lest we indulge in the vanity of heels.

I know some Christian women who are so unaware of their bodies that their dress is completely immodest, not out of a desire to arouse but simply because they fail to recognize they aren’t covered. Many of us were taught that any attempt at dressing ourselves in an attractive manner is immoral and un-Biblical. Some of us were even threatened with the idea that to dress in a way that betrayed our sex was inviting rape. A few of us were told it was our moral duty to hide our femininity to preserve the morals of the men in our lives, that we are responsible for their purity. I even know a few Christian women who do not believe for one second that they have any obligation to be modest, and dress however they please.

As usual, I can’t just fall neatly into one camp. I have to agree with them all, in part, and then I have to figure out how to live (and dress) in accordance to what I believe is right. And as you may have gathered from my story, that means I have to curb a teensy little rebellious streak that runs through me.

As women we have been a great and wonderful gift, our bodies. Think about it for a minute. Too often we tend to focus on the hormone swings, periods, and the agony of childbirth, but really, how awesome to know that our bodies were designed to give and sustain life. And how great is that all our plumbing is indoors? (Okay, except when you’re camping.)

There is something amazingly freeing when we recognize the value of that gift. What’s more we should conduct ourselves in such a way that others recognize its value, and I don’t think that we do that when we dress like we are ashamed of our bodies. We aren’t asexual. We are women. Designed with care and intent, God didn’t make a mistake and its time we stop acting like it.
Does this mean that we go around displaying our wares? Of course not! That also shows a lack of value for this gift, and there is a huge difference between dressing in an attractive manner and dressing like a . . .well, you know. (And if you don’t ask a good friend, or your kids, they will tell you.)

Look, we don’t put Tiffany crystal in a Wal-Mart bag and we don’t hide set our treasures out on the street corner. It’s all in the balance, somewhere between vanity and denial. It is time that Christian women be beautiful women and we stop believing that our bodies are the source of all evil. It was woman who ate the fruit, but it was a woman who first proclaimed the coming the Messiah and woman who gave birth to our Lord. Those are some pretty great things to be proud of for our sex.

It is time that each time we dress, we dress in a celebration of who we are, who we are created to be. If we dress with remembrance that God decided that we were to be beautiful and our beauty is to serve a purpose we have a pretty good guide as to what to wear.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Wake Him Up First or a Spoon Full of Sugar.

So once again I tried to do something right and failed. Even now as I type, Ty is engaged in a seemingly endless diatribe about how I tried to kill him, but succeeded in only subjecting him to one of the most horrible tortures known to man. He is crying out to God for mercy, both from the effects of what I did and in having me for a wife.

How was I to know that in an effort to save my husband for pain and suffering I would inflict more?

He hasn’t been feeling well today, and the doctor said that he should rotate acetaminophen and ibuprofen and stay relatively inactive until he felt better. In an effort to entertain him during his down time, I put in a movie and snuggled up on the couch with him. It wasn’t long until he fell asleep, but being a good wife I stayed awake and watched the clock until it was time for the next round of meds.

When the time came, I woke him up, gave him two ibuprofen, a drink, and he promptly fell back to sleep. Unless you misconstrue any of that, allow me to clarify a couple of things – He took the pills from my hand and placed them in his mouth. He then took his glass from the coffee table and washed them down. He spoke to me, granted it was in monosyllabic grunts, but all the signs were there that he was awake and a willing participant in my care.

The movie ended, and I decided that sleeping beauty needed to go to bed. So I woke him up once again. His face crumpled in agony and he began smacking his lips in a disgusted manner. “What is that awful taste in my mouth?” He cried in horror, and then began digging at his mouth as if he were going to strike oil. Suddenly, he pulled what appeared to be a piece of forgotten gum from his teeth.

“What have you done to me, woman?” he demanded of me.

It turns out that he had never really woken up. For the entire hour, from the time I gave him the pills and when I tried to put him to bed, one of those little pills, the medicine intended to make him feel better, sat slowly dissolving and seeping into his taste buds. Now an hour after his rude awakening, two more glasses of fluids, and a toothbrushing that he claims removed the top layer of his tongue, he is still groaning about the taste.

So of course, I had to find some redeeming element in the experience- and I found several.

I learned that when it is time to take your medicine, just swallow it. Too many times when taking your medicine, making an apology, owning up to your responsibilities, we have a tendency to try and avoid it. We hold it on our tongue until it turns bitter and invades every part of our being. All we can taste is bitterness and our words and actions become tinged with it. Telling ourselves the truth about who we are and what we have done is difficult enough without prolonging the experience. Sometimes it is best to swallow the truth whole.

I learned that when you are trying to give someone medicine, make sure they are awake enough to know that they need it. So many times we see that someone has an issue they need to address, so we step in, put the medicine in their hands and tell them to deal with it. Unfortunately, they may not realize they have a problem. They may even agree with us, go through the motions of treatment, but if they really aren’t awake yet. . . we could be doing more harm than good. So maybe we need to slow down, make sure they are really awake, and allow them a moment to come to terms with what needs to be done.

Ty still hasn’t recovered. He is reaffirming his faith in Jesus, since I am apparently trying to poison him in his sleep. He refuses to take the next scheduled dose of medication despite the risk of being in pain when he wakes up. He is convinced that what has leeched into his tongue is sufficient to cure all his ails forever.

And that is another thing I learned. If the medicine is too bitter the one in pain may not be willing to risk facing the bitterness again. Sometimes we need to give a little sugar with the remedy, make it easier to swallow. Truth is bitter enough without adding dread to the equation. We may be prolonging their pain if we make it too hard to swallow the next dose. I am pretty sure the Bible calls this grace.

So I promise to never give my sleeping husband medication, and if I do, I promise I will rub his throat and thump his nose – just like I do to the dog.