When Holidays are Hard

I lack time today for a fully-written-by-me post. I ran across the image below while browsing social media. Rick Warren lost his son to suicide two years ago. His son was twenty-seven, and he had suffered from mental illness all of his life.

I cannot imagine the pain of that day nor the continued anniversaries as his family mourns. If you are blue around holidays due to any number of reasons, remember that God longs to be the Comforter in your life. He came to earth as man, died on a cross, and was the first-born among the dead. All of this was done to reconcile you to Him.

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Dream

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Building Dreams With Our Hands: Translated from Spanish

There were noises near the front of the house. People were beating on the door, trying to get in. Why wasn’t the dog barking? Then I realized it was a bad dream. There wasn’t a mob at the door, pushing to get in.

Perhaps, I can blame late-night television viewing. I am not sure if watching The Walking Dead after 11:00 pm is a good idea. Whatever the cause, it doesn’t matter. It wasn’t real.

Some dreams are not entirely imaginary. We call those daydreams, or some, ideals we wish were true. Maybe we dream of a perfect lover, friend, or spouse, or on a more broader level, a world without suffering, starvation, or want.

Considering the state of current events lately, I don’t know if the latter is likely. It seems evil is quite prevalent, palpable and frightening as we watch beheadings, killings, and wars unfold in real-time on our computers or televisions.

But what is our response? For many, it seems to call for more of the same. We desire righteous wrath on the evildoers.

What if we had a better ideal in mind? What if we embraced the outrageously, seemingly impossible way of Christ. What if we actually turned the proverbial other cheek, not reacting in violence and fear? What if we loved our enemies as He commanded?

Blessed are the peace-makers, Jesus said.

What I mean when I say clean

My friend, Sandra, visited my house a few weeks ago. She had never been to my place. The first thing she said was, “It smells clean.” She could scarcely have paid a sweeter compliment.

My dad was from a clan of cleaner-than-thou folks. His mama could wear out a wash rag on a kitchen cabinet. His brother kept a can of spray Lysol in the glove compartment of his car. My dad’s mechanic shop had a floor that one could perform open heart surgery.

My sister and I inherited the clean gene. Since I have been in college, we have engaged in a ritual of vacuuming when we see each other, before we eat, before we chat at length, we clean. A good clean sweep clears the air between long spells.

You can scarcely imagine how I was affected by my first extended stay in Honduras. I was volunteering with World Vision for eight weeks during a break from teaching. My guest room was in the patio of a middle-class home. The place seemed alright, except that the city was repairing sewer lines in the street.

For 8 weeks, raw sewage assaulted my senses every morning and every night. To make things worse, my worksite was in Villa Franca, a neighborhood that lacked basic services such as garbage pick-up. Mounds of refuse with the accompanying starving dogs greeted me at the entrance of the colonia. The toilet at the kindergarten and clinic was a hole in the ground that, for modesty’s sake, was enclosed within a wooden shack.

Not surprisingly, I had one of my best years as far as weight loss. I may be fat now, but by God, but there have been lean years, too. Those smells and sights there helped motivate me to shed a few pounds.

After I moved to Tegucigalpa, Honduras, I realized that Hondurans are not on a mission to be unsanitary. It’s just hard work to stay clean when one is poor and government services are not up to US standards.That’s why after I was there a few years, I began to ask my guests from the US to attempt to try to not appear horror-stricken at meal times.

My US friends looked like they were indulging in a sacred rite, more holy than Communion, when Purell was pulled out of a backpack. Conversation ceased, hands were held out, and the alcohol flowed freely.

I still like clean. In fact, I love the smell of clean. I just know now that Honduran housewives work very hard to keep themselves and their homes clean. We should all try hand washing our clothes for a week. Or dishes for that matter outside because most lack plumbing.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThen it’s time to bathe. We will use a bucket, a bar of soap and a towel behind a small curtain in the yard. That’s how most of my Honduran friends keep themselves clean.

“Wash me and I shall be whiter than snow,”  is part of a prayer in Psalm 51. Jesus referred to unclean spirits as afflicting people. He came to bring something utterly holy and clean in exchange for the stain of sin and the uncleanliness of evil. The wonder of God’s word is how universal it appeals. Most of us want to be clean. Spiritually, to be clean, is something I think we have to receive from God.

But what about physical cleanliness? God isn’t here in human form to wash dirty clothes or bathe children. That’s where you and I have to do our part. We have to care about the poor who don’t have access to clean water.

Last year, I participated in a fundraiser for Blood:Water, a non-profit funding water projects in Africa. I will write a post about how I helped bring clean water to those without access soon. Why not see how you can be involved? Follow the link to Blood:Water for information.

And Then There Was One

Last night, I had trouble falling asleep. Jesus’ words tumbled into my semiconscious state as I began to fall into dreams. There’s a story in the Bible about a shepherd that leaves ninety-nine sheep to find one, just one, solitary, ornery sheep that wanders off.  He pointed out to those who listened that God, the creator of everything, had the unique ability to hear and respond to a single creature who had wandered away from the bleating, eating, butting herd.

When I was really old, at least I thought I was, at the age of eleven or so, I got into the habit of continually thinking about death. I was ready to die. I hadn’t even gotten through puberty, but life was full of angst. I was an existentialist, and I hadn’t discovered the word, yet.

The story could drag on at this point to say that I struggled on with inner turmoil for years. The truth was I did not. It’s all very conventional, but it’s also mind-blowing at the same time. My parents were church-goers, hence I was a church-goer. At eleven, one doesn’t choose his or her social events very often.

I heard this guy talk one night at the local Methodist church. He was talking in a way I understood, not like the gibberish that the theologically-trained ministers talked each Sunday morning.  He talked about being still and hearing. He was quiet and slow as he spoke, almost as if he was listening and speaking simultaneously.

Something was happening inside of me. I can’t describe the inner feeling that some kind of holy and utterly clean spirit was whispering to me.

I tried very hard to resist. I knew I could. I didn’t have to listen. The voice of the preacher man was suggesting that I yield to Life.

I struggled for what seemed like forever, but it was really just about an hour alone later that night in my bed. Yes, I decided. I was not going to struggle against such a beautiful, although unknown, Voice. I realized it was not the preacher’s voice that had gotten hold of me. It was so clean and pure so otherworldly, this Voice that spoke to me within.

Even though I had wrestled with it with all of my eleven-year-old being,  I walked the aisle the next night. I said Yes to all things good. Yes, to life.

However, I was still a pre-teen cynic. I fully expected that it had been just a one-night stand with God. I reasoned that it probably was an emotional moment. I was surprised when I awakened the next morning. The experience was still with me, or more specifically the presence I had encountered last night was somehow within me.

I have had struggles with yielding, with saying yes, and staying true to that Holy Voice since then. Life has not been perfect. However, I can say I no longer thought about death all of the time.

It happened one night. One little soul that was found by God. I didn’t look for him. No, he came looking for me, just like Jesus’ story of the ninety-nine and the one.

There’s always room for just one in God’s economy, I think. It’s not about the crowds, the money, the popularity. It’s really about one life that the Spirit values more than anything else.

Stop in the Name of Love

What if Diana Rostopss was really on to something? What if I stopped ____  in the name of love? What if I stopped hating in the name of love? You know, like Muslims? Or God forbid, terrorists?

Do I have to hate to bring about change?  Jesus told us if someone slaps, turn the other cheek and let him go at it again. If someone forces you to walk a mile, then go two miles.

I don’t think Jesus was being allegorical.

He put an ear back on a Roman soldier after his disciple, Peter, whacked it off with a sword. I know the gospels sounds like the greatest story ever told, but what if it that kind of radical stuff really is the key to God’s Kingdom on earth?

Or, what if in the Name of Love, I stopped ignoring the marginalized. I cried last night while watching Undercover Boss. I am sucker, I know. Or maybe, it’s because I am near menopause.

Undercover Boss featured a CEO buying a house for a janitor who was once homeless and addicted, I wept. One person who was working hard cleaning bathrooms and fixing up an old building got the dream of a lifetime. He’s clean and sober. And now? He has a place of his own.

I  think Jesus, who seems unemployed in heaven now that he finished his work on the cross on earth, would have time to cheer over this type of stuff. I know the Bible says he is seated at the right hand of God, the Father. But maybe, just maybe, he stands, and gives a fist pump when the poor get a leg up. Or, does Jesus do a victory lap when someone scratches their head and thinks,”Uh, isn’t enhanced interrogation just a euphemism for torture?”

Of course, Jesus might just as well be happy that I am not eating boxes of Cheez-its. I am trying to eat less, because I think I should stop overeating, for starters, in the name of love.

The Fat Lady Sings

fat lady 2This post is not about a Wagnerian opera. It’s about me. I am the fat lady.

I joined Jenny Craig in late December when the director called, offering to waive the hefty sign-up fee. All I had to do was buy the food. I had talked to her in November, but I flatly refused to pay hundreds of dollars for the privilege of buying small frozen dinners and a printout of my meal plan for the week.

Four weeks later, and four pounds lighter, I don’t know if this diet is for me. I keep cheating. Just looking at another blue box of Jenny Craig fare makes me think about something better, fresher, and tastier. I have a cycle for most of my adult years: fat, fatter, then wham! thin. Repeat over twenty or thirty years.

Today, I started the day with 2 scones and a cup of Earl Grey tea after dropping off my car at Tire Kingdom. The scones were not low-cal, but they were free. My sister owns a tea shop. Then I walked to a local farmer’s market.

I purchased organic rye bread, a small wheel of goat cheese, and a beef bone. After walking around the center of town for 30-40 minutes, I waited at the tea shop for my ride back to the mechanic shop.  For lunch, I had slices of rye, a smidgen of cheese, and 1/2 an orange. The dog got the bone.

Lucky dog, he is. He has trouble keeping weight on his frame. You can feel his ribs easily. The German Shepherd chases squirrels out of the backyard. If I were to adopt his program, my neighbors might call social services.

Instead, I am walking daily, almost an hour most days. Sometimes I take the dog with me. I feel like the squirrels need a moment of peace.

Tonight,  I will eat home-cooked lentils simmered in coconut milk, served with purple glasses me2rice and  broccoli. I have a box of oranges from my mom’s trees. I picked them a few days ago. They are mind-altering, fantastically fresh and delicious. An orange will be on the menu for dessert, I think.

Jenny would not approve. After all, I am not buying her over-priced frozen entrees.  I think this way of eating, fresh foods rich in protein, fiber and vitamins, may be the key to staying thin for life. I will let you know. It’s not over.

Grace? She passed away thirty years ago!

Honduras Grace. She always dressed like this, no matter how hot it was.
Honduras Grace. She always dressed like this, no matter how hot it was.

For Christmas, when my family gathers for dinner, we stand in a circle to say grace. We are a mixed group of religious and non-religious: Methodist, Roman Catholic, charismatic, and whatever else we are that year, but we recite the Catholic prayer for meals each year.

Except this year we did it differently.

We said the Pledge of Allegiance like the characters in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. Then, because we are a religious lot, we recited the Catholic prayer in unison. Just to make sure we didn’t offend Him overly much.

This past year I needed grace. I have been searching for God knows what as I ended one mission in Honduras, and began another, settling in Louisiana again,  but I was wondering and doubting about many things. Perhaps, Grace had died 30 years ago.

I was bored with religion, rule-setters, and long sermons on issues that I didn’t care about. I heard little about justice, compassion, or being peacemakers in the Honduran or expatriate church congregations. I stopped going to church.  In a nation such as Honduras, that led the world in homicides, I would think the Almighty might want his children to pray, if not talk, about these issues.

In the US, church didn’t seem all that good, either. There were rules, here, too. My church in the US had its code, too. We were very cool, you see.

Do not dress nicely. Never get too excited when singing about Me.  Arrive 10 minutes late. Always, always, always, get a cup of coffee or tea at the kiosk in the lobby, and sip it during the service, showing much more affection to the hot beverage than Me.  That’s cool, you know. I, YWHW, love caffeine. Not much else it seemed.

Well, thank ye the Lord, Grace actually did not pass away 30 years ago. Grace, the improbable, spontaneous, forgiving grace is seeping back into my life.

I am discovering anew that God dwells in the meeting place where my fears, insecurities, and questions are part of the dialogue. If you want to drop to your knees every time the call to worship calls and answer in mindless obedience, then go for it. If you want to count off your memorized prayers on prayer beads, that’s your choice. If you want to spin like a whirling dervish until your body and mind become one, that’s up to you.

I am just going to walk, talk and have debates with God.

And actually, I am back in the house of God, too. With Grace.