Monday, July 3, 2017

And they told two friends...

Bill and I spent a week of mornings herding cats at
our church's Vacation Bible School.
I promised myself – and the wide world of Facebook – that once summer came, I would write some blog posts… because I have been seriously lame in that department. Who am I trying to kid with all these reposts, right? And promising myself is one thing – the only person who cares if I break that promise is me! But the Facebook people? I really feel like I need to do right by them! I mean, they provide me with so much joy and entertainment! 

Foremost in my mind, these days… and probably in a lot of people’s minds… is that it seems like there’s a terror attack or shooting nearly every day now – somewhere in the world! It’s awful, isn’t it? I guess I don’t need to really say that, though. Who would think otherwise?

Children at a concert… goofy middle-aged dudes playing baseball… people just hanging around London Bridge… They’re all just minding their own business and some crazy-ass person shows up and goes to town with a gun or a van or a bomb or something. Seriously, what is WRONG with people? 

I guess this is where I share the gospel and you (may or may not) think to yourself, “Christians think they’ve cornered the market on truth”… and I do believe that Jesus was and still is the living embodiment of TRUTH… but if I have this knowledge, it’s through no goodness or smartness of my own. It was given to me and I didn’t reject it… because at that time in my life, I was nearly dead and needed a remedy… I was DESPERATE.

And that’s what I am seeing and feeling right now … a lot of DESPERATION!! So shouldn't I share with people what helped me?

That said, it’s a tricky time. Christians are on a lot of people’s sh*t list… I don’t think we’re being persecuted or anything – that’s silly… I’m just saying a lot of people are wary of us or mad at us… because… you know… of the whole voting into office a guy who is corrupt, ill-equipped, not very smart… and is just really mean!

And I know that we ALL didn’t vote him into office – I didn’t, for one… But he sure did have a lot of prominent Christian leaders’ votes – for a guy who brags about just grabbing women willy nilly… Did those guys even CARE how every single woman in their respective flocks might feel about that? I guess not.

Anyhoo, I feel sorta helpless in the face of all this, but God is still good and Jesus still saves. So how do I communicate this to the world?

Bill makes himself a human
barrier to keep two of our kittens
from escaping.
This brings to mind something that happened while I was helping with Vacation Bible School at church. Bill and I worked in a class of three-year-olds, and I gotta say… it was a challenge! These kids were so cute and mostly sweet, but it was, as they say, like herding cats. They all wanted to just go and do whatever they wanted to do… if we were supposed to be coloring something, some kids dutifully scribbled away, but some wandered off to check out the toys or disappear into the little playhouse… if we were on the playground, one or two would always try to get back in the classroom… occasionally a frustrated kid might hit or shove another kid… Of course I’ve had a toddler, so I know the drill, but we had 13 of them! It was completely fun, but also completely exhausting! 

One morning later in the week, I found myself praying that the kids would be good and follow the rules… but then I literally sat up in bed and thought, “No! That’s not right!” I realized that I should pray instead that the children would learn that I love them and that God loves them. 

And I think that’s the whole problem! We Christians tend to place more emphasis on molding people into following God’s rules, when our primary concern should be to communicate the actual gospel to them – you know, the love and grace of God. The John 3:16* of it all. Yes, we stand up for what we believe in, but do we believe in keeping transgender people out of the "wrong" bathrooms**? Or do we believe in Jesus as the way, the truth and the life? Does the song say “They’ll know we are Christians by our LOVE?” or does it say “They’ll know we are Christians because of our moral outrage?” 

I don’t think it’s my job to shape the morals of people who don’t even know Jesus, outside of what’s legal, anyway. At VBS, we had rules – 2 to be exact: “Be quiet when the teacher is talking,” and “Keep your hands and feet to yourself.” And these rules were not do or die — they were just helpful to keep things on track, more or less. You know, kind of how laws keep us from killing each other. 

I’m not saying that God doesn’t have do’s and don’ts… or that they’re not important… I’m just saying that in this rough and hurting and desperate world, sharing His love should be our main objective. If the hearers develop a relationship with Him, they can work out the moral stuff between them. 

And so on, and so on...
And honestly, I have no idea how to communicate God’s love and my love to the hurting people of the world… I guess using words is a good place to start – words of the love and grace of God… And I really don’t know how my words can solve the problems of the world (see above)… I guess maybe each new person who trusts in God is one less person who feels desperate enough to perform a desperate act? 

I mean, the church started with just 12 ornery guys… telling people about Jesus and loving and serving each other… So maybe it still works that way? I imagine it like that old Faberge shampoo commercial… I told two friends about Faberge Shampoo and they told two friends and they told two friends… and so on and so on… 

*For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

**um... no

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Ripping Yarns – repost

Because I'm excited about the T2: Trainspotting film coming out... a repost!: 

Our church always has a lot of groovy things going on, and one of them right now is having the people read the same book at the same time. I mean, at any given time, I’m going to guess that many of us are reading the same book at the same time – the Bible... but that’s not what i’m talking about. We’ve all been encouraged to read a book called The Story, NIV: The Bible as One Continuing Story of God and His People.

I've heard it called the
Greatest Story Ever Told.
The title pretty much says it all: it’s sort of like the Bible, but just edited so that it reads as a narrative... you know, plot, characters, etc... Now, it did pop into my mind to wonder: Is it just a marketing/money-making ploy? A way to sell more Bibles to people who already own them? In our house, I’m guessing we might have around 10 different Bibles in various forms and translations... especially if you count the ones that are written as stories for children... Which, honestly, is what The Story reminds me of. But, even though we have all these Bibles... I bought The Story. Not because I needed yet another, but because I thought it would be sweet to be involved with other members of the church in this endeavor. I’m not really a fitter-in, but I can do this. 

I’m trying not to think about the publishers as cheesy money-grubbing marketing guys, but as guys (or gals) who thought it might be easier for some people to read the Word of God if it were kind of like a novel... and that, for people who have read it plenty, it might lend a fresh perspective... 

But even if you don’t read it all in a row like this, the Bible is what you might call a ripping yarn... a wild story – especially the Old Testament. It’s got a woman pounding a tent peg into a dude’s head, a king getting stabbed while he’s on the crapper, a talking donkey, and a whole army being routed by one guy with the jawbone of an ASS (teehee)... 

Yes, all this stuff is in there. But mostly, it’s the story of an infinite God and the people He loves. It’s a romance, for sure... but also a thriller, a mystery, a classic, a memoir, a biography... It’s got history, poetry, self-help, humor... And even the crazy parts are full of truth.

For some reason, my son asked me the other day if every story had a moral. I told him that some stories were just for entertainment, but sometimes even those could teach you something if you really thought about it. It’s the best way to make things NOT a waste of time in my opinion. I mean, if I’m watching a brainless comedy, sometimes I turn it over in my head for a while and may (or may not) glean a kernel of useful information from it.

Only watch this 
movie if you have a 
cast-iron stomach.
I realized I could do this when I went to see the movie Trainspotting, which, being a stomach-churningly grim tale about Scottish heroin addicts, is FAR from a brainless comedy.  In fact, it has a LOT to say, but it would have been easy for me to shut down, and see it as merely an over-nasty diatribe about the dangers of drug abuse. And as the characters struggled with that most heinous of addictions and the lifestyle that usually accompanies it – depicted in the most disgusting way, I might add – it was easy to think that if they could just get the monkey off their back, everything would be cool... but there’s this really great scene where they leave the squalor of the city for a train ride into the curvaceous green countryside that comprises much of Scotland... “Doesn’t it make you proud to be Scottish?” one of the guys asks in wonder... 

The answer? Well, I could give you the exact quote, and while you know I’m not stickler for proper language, I think it’a a bit much for a blog that says “Christian” at the top. Basically he says that being Scottish is terrible – colonized by the English, a bunch of effete jerks... the lowest of the low, and all the fresh air in the world wouldn’t make any difference. So they recognize that the problem is bigger than just their personal addictions. It might be something that is inherently wrong with their country. 

Ewan McGregor in Trainspotting
And in the end, they find that it’s not just their country, although it’s a convenient scapegoat for their problems... They may leave behind their addictions, with its pain and graphic hallucinations, and they may leave their country... for anonymity and not-so-grimy living in London... but they can’t leave themselves and their own soul-sickness. Because they have made heroin their god and England their anti-Christ, but failed to come to terms with their own sin. Even in the end, the main character, played by Ewan McGregor – if you can buy clean cut Ewan as a junkie – comes out and says, “I’m a bad person”... He vows to change, but he clearly knows that just being clean and adopting a middle-class lifestyle is not going to fill the gaping hole in his soul. 

And again, I could have gotten bogged down in the endless scenes involving bodily fluids, domestic squalor, even the horrendously tragic death of an innocent child, but I allowed myself to stand back and let the real meaning seep in: If I allow something to be god in my life, unless it’s actually God, it won’t serve me well. If it’s heroin, it might even kill me. However, just getting rid of my false god isn’t enough. 

What Ewan McGregor
usually looks like...
A couple of real smart guys have something to say about this: Augustine of Hippo said this (addressing God): “You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are rest-less till they find their rest in you.” And Blaise Paschal said this: “What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace? This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are, though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God himself.”

And that’s what I saw when I saw Trainspotting... A gaping hole that needed to be filled with the God of the universe. The world is full of stories that can teach us truths, and this movie is one of them. HOWEVER, if you want to go straight to the source, the Bible is full of stories, full of truth. And even the crazy ones can give you a picture of who God is. Our pastor gave a full-length sermon about the woman killing the guy with a tent peg, and another one about the king who got stabbed on the crapper. Because this book, even at its most outrageous, doesn’t just point to the gaping hole, but gives you the information you need to fill it.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Christmas (Stop and Smell the Baby Head!)

Darlene Love performing Christmas
(Baby Please Come Home) one final time on
The Late Show with David Letterman.
You know what I miss? Darlene Love singing Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) every year on The Late Show with David Letterman. In its absence, I’ve been watching this video of the last time she did it. It’s so perfect… her voice, the wall of sound, the set, her dress and hair… and when it starts to snow, I start to cry! Every time!! It’s just about the coolest, Christmas-y thing!!

And lest you protest that Christmas is NOT about snow and pop songs and glamorous ladies in gorgeous red gowns, consider casting this tune as a gospel song. See, Darlene Love loves her some Jesus. Her father was a minister, so of course she grew up singing gospel music. If you watch this video, you can see that she is completely on board with our Lord and Savior! I love the part where she says the Holy Spirit spoke to her through this song that we’re talking about right now!!!

And while Christmas Baby Please Come Home will never speak to me as pointedly and directly as it did Ms. Love, I hear it as an invitation from God to mankind—among the hustle and bustle of the season—to connect with Him. 

If you’re a Christian... forget all the cooking and shopping and wrapping and all that stuff that MUST get done before the 25th...  and snuggle up to Jesus personally. Lean in and get a good whiff of His immense love and grace.* Be the Mary in the Mary v. Martha story! You know that story in Luke: 
As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” 
Mmm... baby head... go on, take a whiff!!
“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” 
And if you’re not a Christian, then... Baby, Please Come Home! Nothing would please Him more!

*Since the Christmas story is about Jesus as a baby, I just thought about how whenever I hold my friends Jim and Lisa's baby Charlie (pictured, right), I take a huge whiff of baby head! Who can resist?!!!

Sunday, December 4, 2016

He hadn't stopped Christmas from coming – it came!

Our cards through
the years
So.... this might be the sourest Christmas thing you'll read all year, but don't worry – it ends well!! Here goes...


I’m not proud of it, but I’ve been kind of obsessed with what Donald Trump is doing. What oddly inappropriate person is he appointing? What childish thing is he tweeting? What incredibly unpresidential thing is he doing? What colossal lie is he telling? But this is not how I want to live my life, and the other day I realized that if I allow this to continue, it’s going to flat out RUIN my Christmas!

I thought, “Someone ought to make a meme of Donald Trump as the Grinch and call it ‘the Donald who stole Christmas.’ ” And I’m a graphic artist – I could do it… One year our family Christmas card featured BILL as the Grinch! I’ve done all kinds of photoshop magic for our cards… but I’m not going to do the Donald as the Grinch….

Because, as the Whos down in Who-ville discovered, no matter what the big, grinchy orange guy does, Christmas is UNSTEALABLE!!! Right? He can be the biggest jerk in the world as he is wont to do, but… the no room in the inn, the baby in the manger, the star of Bethlehem, the shepherds and the wisemen… it all still happened!! And it's so much more than that story. It's the story that saves the world, man. Saves – present tense. It's saving it even as we speak!

The day after the election – I was just plum shattered. I know the results were good news for some people, but I was scared that a guy who just doesn’t seem very smart would have his finger on the red button. I was hurt for all the people that felt marginalized by the election results. And I was disappointed in Christian leaders who supported such a hater for president.* 

Anyway, that Wednesday, the only thing that consoled me was reminding myself over and over… that God is with us. He’s with us. He’s here. He’s real, and He’s with us. That’s what Emmanuel means, by the way – God with us. And that’s Christmas… and no one can steal it because it’s magnificent. It’s for every race, political party and gender... it's physical and also spiritual, and it’s now and also eternal. In the lovely words of the prophet Isaiah:

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end.
Can I get an AMEN everybody? 

*I realize too, that some Christians may be disappointed in ME… that my vote didn’t consider the rights of unborn children above all things… and I get that… I just feel like the other option is pro-life in other ways.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Thank you, thank you very much... (repost... sorry!)

The place mats that made Bill glad
Because I'm apparently incapable of coming up with something new, here's a Thanksgiving-y repost from days of yore - 2012 to be exact! Happy Thanksgiving, y'all!

Stores like Pottery Barn and Williams Sonoma are fun to browse in, but at our income level, browsing is mostly what’s going on in there for us. Sometimes, though, they put stuff on sale, and we can’t resist. Like last winter when Williams-Sonoma put a Cuisinart ice cream maker with two freezer bowls on sale for $50... And sometimes they put the seasonal stuff on deep discount, and that’s always fun, 'cos our house is all about holidays. We love’em, I tell ya.

So the other day, when we saw these Beatrix Potter Peter Rabbit laminated cork-backed place mats on sale for $5 each, they pretty much jumped into my hands. So we brought them home and replaced, yes, the Christmas mats that were still somehow gracing our table. (Bill’s mat was so sticky and gross no matter how many times I cleaned it that I had to throw it away!) And that night when Bill was setting the table, he spotted them – brilliant, observant child that he is. He let out a little gasp, and ran up and hugged me, saying over and over: “Thank you, thank you, thank you!” Of course my heart melted... Other times, when he’s having a great time – like last night when we let him stay up late to watch a movie with Rowan Atkinson who is famous for playing Mr. Bean – he’ll exclaim, “I love you, Mom!” (or “I love you, Dad!” – depending on who he’s with.) I have to say I’m glad when he does stuff like this because it shows that he’s not rocking that “sense of entitlement” I’ve heard about. No thanks to us, I might add – as parents go, we’re terribly indulgent. But I find it hard to not shower him with ... everything! Although I like to make sure he gets more affection and hugs than STUFF...

The movie that made Bill glad
So the other night, I woke up around 4:30 a.m... Grace tells me that this is normal as we get older. Nice. So after I had peed, I’m lying in bed and I suddenly felt huuuugely convicted: The way Bill acted when he saw those mats, the way he yells out, “I love you!” at random happy times... that’s how I should be behaving all the time with God. And, really, I hardly ever just thank God for things. Ooooppsss... Now, fortunately I have an oh-so-soft, but decidedly firm cushion of grace around me... but if God gets even a drop of the warm fuzzies I feel when Bill says thanks, then I should be doing it much more often. Every night, though my cooking is marginal at best, Tom says thank you after our dinner... whether I’ve made something from scratch or just thrown a couple of hotdogs on the George Foreman... And it’s always so nice to those two little words, “Thank you!”

So, I was lying in bed there feeling totally bummed at my failure to give them to God, the One who really, really warrants it. Even on a day like Thanksgiving, which is, of course, designed specifically for this purpose, I’m often more concerned with other things like watching the parade, fixing the meal, dealing with relatives... And at church, while we’re supposed to be singing and praising God, I’m thinking about the excellent arrangements, the harmonies I’m trying out, whether I’m embarrassing my husband by dancing a little jig, or what I’m doing the rest of the day...

I’ve been reading this crazy book by Neal Stephenson called Anathem, in which the intellectuals are cloistered like monks. They focus on intellectual concerns only, without considering questions of theology. When events cause the main character to leave the cloister and he meets an outside person who believes in God, he has the following thoughts: 

Every day should be for
giving thanks!
“If you sincerely believed in God, how could you form one thought, speak one sentence, without mentioning Him? Instead of which [religious people] would go on for hours without bringing God into the the conversation at all. Maybe his God was remote from our doings. Or – more likely – maybe the presence of God was so obvious to him that he felt no more need to speak of it than I did to point out, all the time, that I was breathing air.”

It would be great to think that that’s how it is with me – that I’m so into God, and so grateful, that I’m breathing it – but truthfully, I’m just distracted most of the time. And, most likely, ungrateful and feeling entitled. It’s not pretty, but... that’s what I’m working with here. Maybe the Bible urges us so often to be thankful because the writers know we have to be told – it doesn't come naturally to us.

So what did I do when I realized this wretched thought? Well, the only thing I COULD do at the moment... I lay there praying, “I’m sorry! Thank you!” over and over. Just like Paul says in Romans: “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!” God Himself is the answer to our wretched ungratefulness! Mostly I think that ANY time my thoughts are drawn to God, it must be a gift from God Himself. So... I’m grateful that He pushed into my possibly peri-menopausal nocturnal musings and made me thankful, however brief that shot of light was. How to make it last? I don’t know... make a habit of counting my blessings? I guess that’s a good place to start... 

In the meantime, after you listen to this song by Sam and Dave, I’m going to guess that you’ll be feeling at least a little bit grateful.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

My Special Huggy Bear Recipe

Special huggy bear chef
When Bill was little, he would get out plastic bowls and spoons and concoct mixtures of odd things like water, gummy bears, food coloring, Cheez-its, milk, etc… whatever I would let him have. It always looked disgusting and I always only pretended to eat it… and he always called it his “Special Huggy Bear Recipe.”

Now that he’s 12, his “Special Huggy Bear Recipe” consists of a Klondike bar on a plate with caramel syrup and a spritz of whipped cream… A tad more sophisticated, and something I would definitely eat. I guess I’ve made it sound like he’s always in the kitchen mixing it up, but really he’s not. His usual method for acquiring victuals is lying around and saying, “Mom can you make me some…” 

And he actually likes my cooking – which is weird. I mean, if you’ve been reading my stuff long, you will have deduced that I am not a great cook. What with my previous food issues, my lack of time, the picky eaters who live in my house, and my unflagging apathy, … it’s just not in me to be a daring or precise cook. I mean, when it comes down to it, I’d much rather be watching a movie or reading a book. 
Thank you, God, for avocados.

That said, I am an adequate cook that sometimes follows recipes, sometimes improvises, sometimes just makes sh*t up. And since I’ve been home all summer on account of my academic job, I’ve been able to take a little time with my lunch, which I have gotten down to an science. And even though I am the LAST person who should be giving out self-devised recipes, and even though you probably don't need ME to tell you how to make this, I’m going to do it anyway because this is the best thing I’ve put in my mouth in a while — honestly the ingredients make it pretty fool proof. God sure did a good job with avocados, didn’t He? 

Poached egg version


2 slices whole wheat bread 
2 tsp. butter 
1/2 ripe avocado
1 boiled egg, sliced
lemon juice

crushed red pepper

Toast the bread on one side in a toaster oven. Turn it over, spread with butter and toast the other side.

While bread is toasting, mash up the avocado with a squeeze of lemon juice and a dash of salt.

When bread is finished toasting, put it on a plate and spread the buttered sides with the mashed avocado. Top this with slices of boiled egg.

Sprinkle with salt, then with crushed red pepper. 

You can substitute the boiled egg with two poached eggs – one egg on each slice. You will not be hungry until dinner if you eat it this way. You could also use olive oil instead of butter if you wanted to, but butter is just so … buttery, am I right?

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

And Now, for Some Blatant Advertising (repost)

I'm reposting this because... well, you can probably figure out why...! :-P

This isn’t going to be one of those spiritual, thought-provoking posts that (in my mind) some of the others are... No, this is just a bit of housekeeping... revising an earlier misspeak, along with a bit of blatant advertising... 

Because of Nina – we're on, as the
Fleshtones say, "the right side 
of a good thing."
A month or so ago I wrote about our little episode with head lice... and, like so many things, I may have spoken a bit too soon. Yep, I thought we were in the clear, but.... noooooooo....! I kept feeling the itchies, despite repeated treatment and extensive nitpicking sessions. And no, it wasn’t, as I first suspected, “all in my head.”

And as with many problems we begin with trying to solve them ourselves only to find that we must in the end hire a professional. A season of melancholy turns to full blown depression and we stew in it – sometimes confiding in a friend, and finally we may seek professional help. Got poison ivy? Reach for the calamine lotion (rhymes with...), discuss home remedies with the Graedons... until you can’t stand it anymore and find yourself at your family doctor begging for a prescription unguent. 

And this is how we found ourselves after more than a month of homeopathic, over the counter and prescription lice solutions, calling a lice eradication service. Until this summer, I had no clue such a thing even existed! And then, I thought, “It’s probably reeeally expensive... just for rich people... people who have money to burn and are too lazy to do it themselves...” But now I know, this service is also the refuge of the desperate. I mean, I absolutely DON’T have any flammable money, and I had expended a LOT of effort trying to do it myself... I just didn’t have the psychic energy or training to solve the problem myself. Even with the help of my great friend Grace, it just proved too much... and I don't think I'm out of line when I say that Grace had reached the end of her rope as well!

I swear they aren’t paying me a cent to plug them... but I am totally going to do it. It's called Lice Happens and here’s how it works: You call and someone answers. You don’t have to leave a message or go through a bunch of “for English press 1” stuff... You set up an appointment – usually pretty soon after the call, and the “lice lady” shows up at your door with all the equipment needed to render you and yours LICE FREE. I am not kidding.

The “lice lady” who services this area is named Nina and she is super cool. Not only does she get the job done, but she has great taste in music and art and all. You see, you end up chewing the fat a bit while she does her thing, so I was able to size her up, both professionally and as a fellow human being.

No, I don't have money to 
burn... I'm just desperate!
Anyway, she checks the entire family... then all she does is wet your hair and spray some foamy stuff on it – which, she told us, is completely natural and non-toxic. It loosens up the lice and egs and then she has this amazing comb that is like.... velcro... or sandpaper... or something. Whatever it’s like, it really scrapes the pestilence out of your hair. Anyway, with this super lice-catcher comb, she combs your hair over and over and over and over until no lice at any stage of development come out on that super-sticky comb. 

For kids, she’s got a little DVD player so they can watch a movie while she works... because it can be a tedious process. But absolutely NOT as tedious as sitting there while your clueless mom tries to pick each individual nit out of your hair. And when she’s done, she gives you instructions to carry on with the treatment for the next couple of weeks. And again, the stuff you have to do is NOT like picking over an entire head of hair every day. It’s more of a quick comb-through while you’re washing your hair.

And yes, it DOES cost a bit. But you know what? I had already spent a ton of money on special combs, over-the-counter remedies, prescription remedies, doctor visits... I am now wishing I had just called Nina to begin with! Because, as I stated before, sometimes you just have to eat your pride and call in a professional. Not only do I feel UN-lousy for the first time in a long time, but I made a very cool friend.

So, just for Nina, here's a song by the Fleshtones that I think she'd like.