Monday, December 30, 2013

Without One Plea ~


 
Just As I Am, Without One Plea ~ part two
So they didn't know why we came that morning, and the pastor boogied out at the end of the service. Not only was this becoming laughable, it was getting predictable.

It wasn’t the first time a pastor left just as we showed up. Nope, it was at least the third. Our son saw it happen once and laughed as he sat through the formal announcement. Then, in private, he pointed a finger at us and said, “It’s you guys, man, it’s you guys.”
Apparently, we are anathema to the local church.
Right after the visit with the little underground group, all their sandwich boards disappeared from Queen Creek. We didn’t even tell our son. We knew what he’d say.
That’s when we got tired and dropped out of the game for a while. Truthfully, we dropped out for a few years, except for visits to our daughter’s church for special events. Last week, her five-year-old asked me,
“Where do you and Chief go to church, YaYa?”
“We don’t have a church, honey,” I answered, “but we watch a pastor we really like on TV on Sundays and almost every day during the week.”  That's an answer I never thought I'd give. I felt pretty sad.
But there was no condemnation.  Kids are wonderful.
“You and Chief have church at home!” she said enthusiastically, and suddenly I wasn’t ashamed that we’d rather be fed encouragement from a guy on TV than be sitting targets for pew dumpers.
pew dump-er, noun
1.      a religious leader who relies on the use of guilt to coerce parishioners to come to the front of the sanctuary at the end of an unsuccessful altar call, admit their imperfections, and enable the religious leader to feel effective
 
2.      manipulator
Don’t get me wrong. More than I can express, I miss being in a community of believers who love one another and gather weekly to worship their Savior. I just can’t find one where no gets beat up during the sermon . But I keep hoping.
Back to this morning. We thought we’d give a church a second try. We’d visited this one a few years ago while it was a church plant holding services in a nearby theater.  It was a fairly positive experience. At least I was used to being anonymous in a setting like that. Still, they  all seemed happy to see one another. That was a plus. And you could eat popcorn in church. Another plus. Everyone had their own rocking recliner to sit in with a built-in cup holder.  So far, it was almost like holding church in our living room. But only the pastor said hello to us that day. And since friendliness is at the top of our list right after ‘Send People Home Happy About Jesus”, we called it a day . . . again.
Until this day. The Sunday after Christmas, when we assumed everyone who loves Jesus and now have their own building will still meet together in all three of their advertised morning services to rejoice that He was born.
Wait til my son hears that they canceled church today. On the first Sunday in over a year that we’ve tried to find that elusive group of friendly believers who want people like us in their church family. We, in all our notorious splendor, showed up on time. And church was canceled.
Maybe it is us.
Well, fine. We can take a hint. Lock up the church without explanation. Send the pastor on sabbatical. Hide all the sandwich boards! 

I guess we’ll just keep having church at home with that pastor guy on TV. So far, he hasn't heard about us or our reputation, so let's just keep this among ourselves. I don't know what I'll do if they send him on a sabbatical.
I'm starting to think that, compared to us, Walter Mitty was a realist.
 
 
 

 

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Just As I Am

It’s Sunday morning.
So, naturally, we went to the movies to see The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. On the upside, there aren’t a lot of people clogging up the middle row—or any rows—at movie theaters on Sunday mornings. On the downside, sitting there in the dark wasn’t our first choice today. But the church we tried to visit was closed, surprisingly, and the theater was open, so we went where we were welcome and where they were happy to take our money.

Church shopping is as frustrating as Walter Mitty’s unrealized dreams.
Here’s the inside scoop. We’ve been shopping for six years. Rob, my husband, said I should call this blog, “We’re Too Picky.”  Back in the day, when he and I were among the vertebrae in the backbone of the local church, I looked at people in our current position with a critical eye and prayed for their backslidden souls. Now I understand.  But praying for myself just gives me a headache.
Don’t worry. I still love Jesus. I love Him now more than yesterday, and each week I love Him more than the one before. Better than that, He still loves me. This isn’t about acceptance from Jesus. This is about how hard it is to find acceptance in a community of believers. And how hard it is to find shepherds who lift up the sheep in attendance instead of beating them down with their staffs every week.
Too harsh? I have bruises, and I bet you do, too.
Maybe Rob is right. We are picky. We’ve left a few churches after spending years of our lives there because we couldn’t take being abused from the pulpit anymore. Finally, we found a fellowship which, after quite a bit of convincing, accepted us as the friends we knew we would be to them. But seven years later they closed their doors with the intention of starting a new church in the freshly cultivated fields of Queen Creek.
It was the first time a church ever left me.
Unfortunately, the church plant never got off the ground. That reality hit us a year after we  ourselves moved to Queen Creek. It seems not everyone was willing to sail twenty miles east Sunday after Sunday on the Good Ship One More Church Plant. Our ship ran aground with only two survivors—Rob and me. Okay, and our little dog, too.
And that’s when we first got on the church shopping carousel, going round and round to the same melody and the same dizzying view. We decided to find some other church plant and throw our lives onto their altars of service. There’s a popular way of doing church now, based on two successful megachurch models. It’s called the Seeker Friendly formula, and the assumption is that if you make church a non-threatening environment which appeals to our culture of high energy and short attention spans, more people will stick around after they visit.
Here’s the problem we ran into—only the greeters make eye contact and seem happy to see you. For the most part, the members of many churches aren't friendly to seekers. Or maybe they just didn’t like the way I did my hair. People gave the obligatory handshake during the Meet and Greet portions of church services, but they always looked past us while doing it. At the very least, I don’t think it’s asking too much for Christians to look a person in the face when they say hello.
Adult Sunday School used to be a good way to get to know people in a smaller setting on campus where your voice could be heard and your name repeated. That’s not the Seeker Friendly way. The way to meet and connect with church members now is in a small group which meets on another night in someone’s home.  
Here’s the thing—it’s hard to visit small groups when you’re not even a church member. But you can’t meet people to see if you want to become a church member unless you visit small groups. Now I understand the phrase Catch 22, even though I’ve never seen the movie. But I might if they decide to re-release it at my local Sunday morning theater.
So I decided the way to find friends would be to join a women’s morning Bible study. I went for a few months and then one day, when I arrived late, I was chewed out in front of the group for my tardiness and I never went back. I’m pretty sure Embarrassment isn’t one of the fruits of the Spirit.
We began reviewing the shrinking list of churches to visit. About every three or four months, a new church plant—or maybe just a new church name—shows up on a plywood sandwich board on the corner across from our grocery store and there I am, googling hope again.
One weekend, I spotted a name I really liked a lot and, after a confusing search on the internet, we finally located the fellowship, read up on their beliefs, drove to their address (close to our house—yeah!) and set our alarms to visit the church of our daydreams, Walter Mitty style. We pulled up in the driveway Sunday morning and, boy, were they surprised to see us! They had no idea why we were there.
“How did you hear about us?” we must have been asked a dozen times by the tiny congregation.
“We saw your signs,” we told them, feeling pretty confused.
“We have signs?” they asked incredulously.
“And we went to your website,” we added.
“We have a website?” they echoed. We began to feel like we were trespassing on private property.
That morning the pastor announced he was taking a four month sabbatical.

We decided to follow his example and get off the carousel for a while. . . .


Part Two Tomorrow ~ Without One Plea



Photo courtesy of Lotus Carroll's photostream at Flickr.com
http://www.flickr.com/photos/11248435@N04/6818007261/in/photolist-bou52k-9F5MsX-fPJ6Lc-aC9Mh2-bRngRK-d9YPMn-7T9TwG-7T9Tuf-7T9Tw9-7Ta3L7-7Ta3Kf-7T6CQ2-f33PUQ-7T6MTr-7Ta3Ju-ea8DhF-aJLa8e-9igM2V-9ijNiw-92pSsG-9FKZBW-datJoP-cTrAL1-8FNChL-8FKq5z-8FNBd1-cRnoXJ-cRnpPd-cRn7mq-cRnaS9-cRngrJ-cRnhmG-cRnngS-cRnqDh-cRnbPY-cRnfzU-cRnuGE-cRnsXq-cRns4Q-cRn93A-cRndMJ-cRnjYC-cRnrpw-cRno8A-cRntKN-cRnmyU-cRn8b7-cRna3m-cRnidC-cRneE3-dtzhzD

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

On The Edge


I passed it in the hallway just now, hanging on the wall above the Merry Chrismoose Family. It’s written on a star that hangs on the Christmas tree in our family room. And there’s a scroll saw version of it, painted country white, which rests on an end table year round. It’s charming.
Why is it so hard to do more than admire it?
Right now it’s a pretty popular saying. I didn’t buy any of its clones at the Family Christian Bookstore. I think I bought them all at Kohl’s or Walmart or something. They’re easy to find. Everyone thinks it’s good advice to follow, but nobody tells you what it means.
All they tell you is just do it.
Believe.
I have a favorite line from the original Miracle On 24th Street movie. Have you watched it yet this Christmas? The disenchanted child of a disillusioned mom comes face to face with the person she most wants to trust. But the conflict is that, if she believes, she will step away from all she’s been told is truth. In the end, she steps away. Hesitantly. Half heartedly. Tentatively. Then she whispers to herself—and the camera,
“I believe, I believe, it’s silly but I believe.”
Only after believing does she see, because seeing is not believing, as the popular phrase goes. Instead, believing is seeing.
The easy thing for any of us to do is trust in ourselves. Trusting someone else can be a whole different story, particularly if you’ve ever been let down.  Let’s say someone promised to love and care for you but didn’t. After that kind of rejection, the only one left to depend on is yourself, right?
You’re always going to watch out for you, especially if you’ve seen the ugly side of a pretty promise. It’s up to you to protect yourself when no one else will do it. “I’ll take care of me,” becomes our motto and, suddenly, we become the source of our own truth. But that’s not the definition of truth. That’s just the definition of opinion.
How can we ever risk believing again? Who is worthy of our trust, our confidence, and our reliance?
Only One. Only the One Who knew before you were taken hostage that you would need a Hero. Only the One Who took off His crown, put on a disguise of flesh, and walked among us. Only the One Who gave up His Life for the love of His life. For you. And me.
That’s Who we can believe in. In the One Who always keeps His promises. “God Himself has said, I will not in any way fail you, nor give you up, nor leave you without support. I will not, I will not, I will not in any degree leave you helpless, nor forsake, nor let you down, nor relax My hold on you!”
Remember, believing is seeing. If He lied about this, then He’s not God.
Merry Christmas. It’s safe to believe again.
 
 
(Hebrews 13:5 Amplified Version)

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Sweets to the Sweet

Strawberry Shortcake. Yummertime in the summertime. Picture polka dotted fruit with big happy smiles holding hands with pink-haired girls,and you’ve got yourself nothing like the dessert your mama used to make.

I’m not sure my granddaughters even think of fruit and whipped cream when I ask if they want strawberry shortcake. But I’m positive I’m not dreaming about Berry Bitty Adventures whenever the name comes up. Have you ever seen the line-up of characters in one of these cartoons? Lemon Meringue, Blueberry Muffin, Raspberry Torte, and Plum Pudding.

What we have here is a generation gap and a serious sugar craving.

My husband and I got to babysit last night. There we were, anchored down on the sofa by cuddly granddaughters, cozy blankets and a wiggly twenty-six month-old grandson who doesn’t care if a doll comes with blue hair or a camo shirt—as long as it can be thrown across the room, it’s a ball.

The girls had permission to watch some TV with us and they chose Strawberry and her team of short cakes. I have to admit, this is a gang of characters who have staying power. They’ve been around for about thirty-five years and, even though my baby sister played with them and so did my daughter, I’m still confused about why little girls love them so much.

With one hand on my grandson’s foot and arms around both of his sisters, I did my best to follow the plot of last night’s cinematic masterpiece while I played a seated version of Twister. Apparently the Berrykins, who tend the strawberry patch, were too little for some clothes Blueberry Muffin wanted them to wear so she magically sprayed then with glittery perfume and they transformed into Super Fruits.

Somehow this threw off the delicate balance of life in Berry Bitty City and then my grandson fell off the couch and I missed the climactic ending and now I'll never know if the GMO strawberries are still sweet or if they left the Berry Bitty City to go eat Tokyo.

What ever happened to the Flintstones and Mickey Mouse?  Those were my people.

Never mind. Since the most provocative thing Strawberry Shortcake ever wears is a big smile, I’m grateful for her innocent influence and lack of boyfriend characters. What would those be called, anyway—Captain Crunch? Lucky Charm? Pop Tart?

Gives me the shivers.

So I cuddled the girls and let Chief corral his grandson and then my mind began to wander. I know, hard to believe, considering the Academy Award worthy film in front of me. If I wanted to be known by a dessert name instead of YaYa, I wondered, what would I like to be called? Well, obviously, chocolate-something. Peppermint Mocha or Chocolate Fudge or Lindt Truffle.  Yum.Oh.

Practically in a sugar coma now, I decided to ask the girls for their opinions.

“If I were a character on Strawberry Shortcake,” I said suddenly, interrupting their viewing pleasure, “I think I’d want to be called Chocolate Cake. Allie," I asked the five-year-old, "what dessert name would you like to be called?"

She sat transfixed by the fascinating plot unfolding on the TV screen, but she’s pretty smart—she knows if she gives me any answer, I’ll stop asking questions and let her watch her movie. I think she’s been taking lessons from Chief. Without even looking away from the video, she said, “Chocolate Chip Cookie.”

Right. Well, that’s what everyone would like to be called. She wasn’t even trying. I gave up and turned my attention to the three-year-old.

“Juliet,” I said, “what dessert name would you choose for yourself?” I questioned.

Juliet’s face was barely visible in the crook of my arm, and the blue fuzzy blanket she was curled up under muffled her voice a little, but she’s a quick learner. Following her big sister’s lead, she gave me the answer she knew would let her finish watching TV in peace.

“Chicken Nuggets,” she said, and then popped her fingers back in her mouth.

Nothing shuts up a nosy grandmother like a rhetorical answer to a ridiculous question. Bet she learned that from Strawberry Shortcake.

For two little cutie pies, they're both a couple of smart cookies.



Photo courtesy of Sunfrog1's photostream at http://www.flickr.com/photos/12616828@N00/2195317777/in/photolist-4kZzuv-4vNrry-4BgbMo-4DA3QZ-4FKp4q-4GnxN2-4HWTnV-4Mxeia-4MPgrR-4MPgHg-4MPgZv-4SvBc6-4SvBhM-4VDDZ5-4WedE3-4XazZc-52gZ82-52Wtzk-531JEm-531JF9-53ESks-54zkyw-559xhj-56nP9y-56tkPR-56xw7Y-5aZX7r-5b4sAM-5iRAF5-5kBgsS-5sG918-5sLvvW-5sLvw3-5sLvw7-5sLvwh-5sLvwq-5Hv6wR-5Np1kA-5Spfog-5WrnaX-5WUCaP-5WUXuR-5ZPVCo-615VvF-65GAhA-677SoF-67c8eq-6bAaWd-6gWnAk-6qXNKz-6qYh7A


Monday, December 16, 2013

The I's Have It


 
It’s a blank page I’m staring at this morning.

My fingers roll lightly on the keyboard waiting impatiently for the typing command to begin. Which way to take it today? The domino story part deux? Maybe the Christmas collision between romantic tradition and strict fundamentalism? How about the late breaking confusion over whether or not to celebrate my healing scars with an outrageous self-inflicted scar called a tattoo?

Speak to me, blank pages.
I sit here alone with my techno-typewriter and let my heart breathe on cyber paper. Writing is lonely, but writers are usually loners, so it’s a good fit. I’m not famous for being a party animal. I know that’s a shock. Try to calm yourself. I need people, but I also need time alone—a lot of it. Turns out I need large doses of solitude in safe surroundings. And, strangely enough, fifty-five years into life, I’ve only learned that about myself this year. It clears up a lot of confusion for me, though, let me tell you.
Did you know it’s not acceptable to be an introvert?
The word doesn’t even look nice on paper. Let’s break it down.  Intro—is that short for introduction or latin for belly button browser? And how about vert? What’s a vert? I can’t imagine anyone calling me a vert and wearing anything but a sneer on their face while they do it. Put ‘em both together and you’ve got yourself a problematic label.
“Aspire to be an extrovert!”  should be our American motto. Because some people think introverts have “I” problems.
Let’s be honest here.  Everyone wants to be known as an extrovert, not that other vert. That’s because everyone likes extroverts, and most of us want to be liked. Recently, Author Susan Cain wrote a book entitled, “Quiet: The Power Of Introverts In A World That Can’t Stop Talking.” She describes The Extrovert Ideal as a widespread belief in Western society that we should all aspire to be the charismatic, outgoing, take-charge type—in other words, an extrovert.” (1)
I gotta read this book. For the first time ever, introverts, who make up nearly half the world’s population, have a cheerleader. Finally, it’s not only okay, it’s normal for people like me to prefer the company of one person at a time instead of sitting at a table with ten other people all talking at the same time.
When I’m the token introvert in a crowd like that, I often shut up. It’s not that I’m either shy or stuck-up like some people think. It’s just that no one listens when I try to talk, and I already know what I think. What’s the point of saying anything if I’m the only one listening? That’s why groups of people are draining to me and, in the end, social events can become boring. It’s not that they weren’t energetic. They just weren’t personal.
Maybe I should clarify right off the bat here that I have no titles attached to my name except for “Mrs.” I’m proud of that one and I earned every single letter of it with commitment and hard work and the partnership of an exceptional man. I don’t have a degree in anything. Okay, well, I did earn a blue belt in karate once, but that’s as far as I went because I really like the color blue. And it’s not a degree, anyway, it’s just blue.
So, most of what I’ve learned in life has come from self-imposed reading, the School of Hard Knocks, and a fascination for research. I thank God for the internet, which is faster and lighter than the Encyclopedia Britannica. Take my word for it—information at your fingertips is a ton better than driving to the library and carrying heavy books back and forth for hours.
Where was I?  Introverts.
So I googled introvert. Actually, I binged it. And Wikipedia, which is the source of all light, truth and opinion, blamed the tension between extro’s and intro’s on a 19th century Swiss psychiatrist named Carl Jung. I repeat—19th century. Now come on. How much could he possibly know without the wisdom of the internet? Jung defined introversion as a subjective attitude which focuses on one’s self. An extrovert, on the other hand, concentrates on the outside world.
This does not sound complimentary. Unless you’re an extrovert.
I know none of us are truly one type of personality with only one kind of character trait. We’re a combination of many factors. For example, are you a firstborn, a middle child, or the baby? Were you raised in the South or the North? What kinds of trauma have you lived through?  And once you’ve narrowed all that down and educated yourself on what they might mean, then somebody will hand you at least fifteen more personality tests which will analyze everything from your study habits to where you should serve in the local church.
It’s amazing we ever figure out anything concise about ourselves.
Still, at the end of all the psycho-babble, it seems to this under-educated Mrs., that every one of us will eventually wind up on either Team Extrovert or Team Introvert with all the fans in the exuberant stadium cheering for the home team. Maybe we loners need our own slogan.
How about, “Introverts Unite!”
Oh, right. I forgot who I was dealing with.
So, that brings me back to this not-so-blank piece of cyber paper. When I write, I have the floor. I have the talking stick. I have the microphone. And I am seldom interrupted, except by the phone or my menopausal bladder.
In a world that won’t stop talking, I have a chance to be heard when I write. There are no competing voices when I put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard. At last I can finish a sentence and even edit out the things I didn’t mean to say. It’s cathartic, my daughter commented today. It’s an emotional outlet, my cousin said yesterday. It’s healing, my counselor friend said.
Hey! Look at that!
Somebody is listening. 

 

 

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Conspiracy of Love


It was an elaborate plan, cloaked in surprising simplicity.
He enlisted the help of two young accomplices but could have pulled it off without them, of course. He can do anything. Still, there was no doubt they would cooperate. It was the perfect front.

After all, who could imagine the Creator would link arms with His own creation to buy them all back?
No one realized what an unthinkable ransom it would take to recover what had been lost. All they knew was a Hero would come. Briefed for years by God’s agents—Isaiah, David, Micah—the communiqués He gave them were passed on faithfully.
·         “A virgin will conceive and bear a son.” 

·         “. . . Oh Bethlehem . . . A Ruler of Israel will come from you . . .”  

·         “He was despised and rejected--a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief. We turned our backs on him and looked the other way. He was despised, and we did not care.” 

·         “He was wounded for our rebellious acts. He was crushed for our sins. He was punished so that we could have peace, and we received healing from his wounds.” 

But even with all the encrypted messages, we didn't recognize Him. The Plan didn’t materialize the way we expected. Few of us could decipher the coded missives. They sounded so poetic, so analytical, so . . . confusing. Sometimes they read like events had already occurred—seven hundred years before zero hour.
Who does something like that?
Don’t feel too bad—even the Evil General couldn’t figure it out. So much for enemy intelligence.
Once set in motion, he could not stop The Plan. He gave it his best shot, though, and used every demonic device up his sleeve. Infanticide in Bethlehem. Plots by religious leaders to kill the Intruder. Demonic attack. Traitor friends. Fatigue, hunger, and rejection.
But the Hero seemed untouchable.
In desperation, the enemy pulled out all the stops until, finally, at the pinnacle of the Infiltration, he executed a full-on assault, all his forces in a pincer attack. He played his ace. God’s Son was framed and murdered. Stopped in His tracks. Silenced. To every eye witness, it seemed the operation had failed.
But it hadn’t.
The enemy went too far. It was a  divine ambush, a strategic move that set up evil's forces. And pride made him the pawn in the Trinity’s liberation conspiracy. Like the most shocking case of mistaken identity ever, humanity’s Hero pushed us all out of the way, and took every bullet the firing squad could unload. He stood in our place and devoured death. Then God raised Him from the dead and, in so doing, He raised us up, too.
Guess who never saw that coming.
The enemy played right into the Hero’s hands. If he had known how to decipher those dispatches, he would never have crucified the King of Kings. Operation Redemption was in the heart of God before sin ever stole His creation.
“Who believes what we’ve heard and seen?
    Who would have thought God’s saving power would look like this?
He took on his own shoulders the sin of the many,
    he took up the cause of all the black sheep.”
His love for us would not allow Him to let us go, so God put on a disguise of flesh and lived among us. Then He dispatched His most trusted emissaries with one final message:
“This will be a sign for you by which you will recognize Him: you will find a Baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.”
The greatest undercover operation of all time . . . began with the cry of a baby.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Kate McBrady Had A Farm



I always wanted to live on a farm.

Instead, I grew up in a trailer park in northern California.  I did my best to pretend it was exciting.  There weren’t any trees to climb, but there was that tongue on the front of our mobile home. We couldn’t have any pets with personality, but I still think tropical fish are kind of cute. At least we didn’t wake up every morning to the smell of manure.
That was the main thing I noticed when I visited my great-uncle’s pig farm in Kansas as a kid, the 'fresh air.' The weird thing is I only noticed the odor when we arrived. By the next morning I couldn’t smell anything at all, which might mean I had permanent sinus damage or I myself had begun to smell like a pig.
I can’t believe I still like pork chops after that visit to the farm.
Anyway, we never did find a farm of our own to live on. We left the trailer park when I was eleven and moved to Phoenix.  I guess I was never meant to live in the country. Farms have too much responsibility for a lazy person like me.  I like fresh dairy and eggs like everybody else, but if animals are as smart as some people think they are, why can’t they take care of themselves?
See? City girl. If the grocery store is five minutes away, why should I have to milk a cow?
When our kids were growing up, my husband and I tried to find a way to buy a house on some land where the kids had plenty of room to play. But it never quite worked out.  So we signed up our daughter for horseback riding lessons and let our son watch “Old Yeller” until the video wore out.  That way the kids could learn about the joy and hardships of a rural life but I didn’t have to get up with the roosters every morning.
But now that they have young families, turns out our kids both like country living. They each own houses with more land than we’ve ever even tried to mow. Last year, Katy and her husband bought the perfect home—close enough to us that I can still drop by and torment my son-in-law whenever I want, but with enough land that he can hide in the backyard and never have to hug me. 
It’s heaven.
They walked in to the place of their dreams—out in the country but close to Target.  It’s an older home with lots of space, but the property is what made their jaws drop. Acreage, outbuildings, raised gardens, mature trees, and a third garage where in-laws could potentially be locked up someday.
They’re like the Israelites who walked into the Land of Canaan right at harvest time. The gardens were loaded with tomatoes, carrots and onions (no garlic), and the tack shed conveyed with a riding lawnmower and every tool a handy guy like my son-in-law could want. Best of all, they bought the only pasture in the state that’s self-mowing.
See, the house came with two goats. Cutie Patootie and Pipsqueak.
One afternoon, Rob and I drove over to babysit the kiddos for a few hours. Katy gave us the rundown for the kids and then casually mentioned, “By the way, there are two extra goats in the pasture. I’ll tell you about it later.”
Since I’m a city girl, I figured out goats must multiply at the speed of rabbits. But Pip and Toot are both females, so I was confused. Too impatient to wait for answers, we waved goodbye to the parents and then got the scoop—from the grandkids.
“Where’d the new goats come from?” I asked five-year-old Allie, who munched on her snack at the counter while I stared out the kitchen window trying to spot the new tenants.
“Daddy got them from his friend at work.”
Weird.  Daddy is a firefighter. 
“Well, what are their names?” I asked.
“One’s a baby,” Allie said casually while pulling her string cheese apart, “and the other one’s called Gomy.”
Sounded kind of biblical to me—Gomy could be short for Gomer, that woman in the Bible who was unfaithful to her husband, Hosea. Are goats monogamous? Then again, she could have been named after country bumpkin Gomer Pyle, but that made it a 'boy' name.  Either way, it looked like Dan and Kate had gone into the goat business.
“So, Gomy,” I said casually to my son-in-law when he and Katy returned, “that’s an interesting name.”
Dan grinned.
“She’s nursing her kid,” he said. “My buddy bought her so he and his family could have fresh goat milk. But he forgot to ask his wife, and their back yard is too small. Right before his wife told him to get rid of it, she named it GOMY.  It stands for Get Outta My Yard.”
I spewed ice water down the front of my shirt.  Best.Name.Ever.
So Dan and Katy brought Gomy to their place on a trial basis. They learned to milk her twice a day and I got to taste fresh goat milk for the first time. I liked it. But one short week later my daughter texted me that Gomy had worn out her welcome. Once again, she was living up to her name.
“What happened?” I said, surprised at this turn of events.
“The owner came and picked up the baby this week, and Gomy started being mean to Cutie Patootie and Pipsqueak. She wouldn’t let them get any hay, so they started fighting with her. I can’t have mean goats in our backyard—then my kids won’t be safe.
“Yesterday afternoon I went out to feed them all, and Gomy went out of her mind! She started ramming the other two goats and then she turned on me! I tried to keep her away from Patootie and Pipsqueak, but I was all by myself out there with just a pitchfork. I grabbed a shovel with my other hand and started yelling at her!  You should’ve seen me, Mom, running all over the pasture chasing a stupid goat with a pitchfork.”
I could picture it, but it’s hard to sound sympathetic when you’re laughing that hard. Maybe it’s not so bad to be a city girl. I never had trouble like that with tropical fish.
Two days later the she-devil goat was gone and Cutie Patootie and Pipsqueak went back to being sweet again. Last month Katy and the family inherited twenty chickens from Dan’s parents and now every day is an Easter egg hunt for omelets. Yesterday they discovered that one of the chickens is a rooster.
That’s not good news. Katy prefers a digital alarm clock.
“Gonna make some cock-o-noodle soup?” I asked.
“Not as long as he keeps his mouth shut,” she answered.
Katy only took the chickens because they were all single. Now there’s a fox in the henhouse. And after a few unsuccessful attempts to trap the two fat cats who’ve never known another home but this one, the previous owners finally turned custody over to Katy and Dan, too.
“It’s fine,” Katy said, even though she’s never liked cats, “we need some mousers anyway.”
Country life is a lot more work than I thought. Especially since Katy and Dan got more than they bargained for at closing—cats and mice and goats all conveyed with the house. Now they’ve got a herd of chickens, a rogue rooster and subversive scorpions. All they need is a horse and a cow and a dog for good measure, and then they can rename their property Green Acres.
I thought Katy summed it pretty well up after her hand-to-hoof combat with Gomy.
“I guess we bought the farm,” she said.
Ee-I-Ee-I-Ohhhhhh.




Photo courtesy of ruffin_ready at http://www.flickr.com/photos/ryanready/431562547/sizes/m/
 

Friday, November 15, 2013

It's Just A Number



My husband forgot his keys today. He keeps them in his briefcase and left his briefcase in his office while he attended a funeral for a co-worker’s wife. Then he left the funeral and drove home. Without his briefcase. Or his keys.
Eventually he remembered that he’d forgotten his keys when he pulled into our driveway and turned off his car. Forty miles from his office where his briefcase was. With his keys inside.
“I’m driving back to my office,” he texted me, and explained why. Because I wasn’t home, either, so I couldn’t let him in.  I was an hour away at the zoo with our daughter and grandbabies. The dog was home, but she doesn’t have a key. She doesn’t have hands to unlock doors from the inside either.
Now that you mention it, though, she did mysteriously open the screen door a couple of days ago, so maybe he should have asked her to open the door before he drove another hour and a half roundtrip to get his briefcase. To his office where his keys were hiding.
“I must be 60,” he texted sarcastically a few seconds later.
Wow.  Sixty years old. He turned sixty this year.  I’m only fifty-five. Wow. Fifty-five years old. That’s impossible. We’re both so young still.
Sixty is a lot younger than it used to be, I think. I’ll probably be even more convinced of that in about . . . five years. Sixty.  Sixty! Fifty-five. Fift—oh, sorry. I think my brain froze there for a minute.
I guess we look our ages to some people. Like the ticket sellers at that movie theater who’ve been trying to give me a senior discount for the last ten years. Bunch of whipper snappers. And the twenty-something construction workers who are always trying to cut me off in traffic.  I’m old, but I still drive fast. The last time I proved that to one of those guys, he used every last drop of gasoline to get by me so he could show me how cute one of his fingers is.  I tried to show him one of mine, too, but I wasn’t quite sure how to do it.  I think I told him I love him in sign language instead.
I met my husband thirty-nine years ago before he was my husband. He was just a quiet airman about to turn twenty-one and I was a quiet piano player about to become a high school junior.  It’s amazing we ever said hello, both of us being so quiet like that and all. Boy, was he surprised when he found out I was sixteen. He thought I was older than him.
We fell in love and soon he called his parents to tell them about me. I was shyly listening in on the other line. Okay, I was eavesdropping. They lived two thousand safe miles away and I was still afraid to say ‘hello.’
“You kind of robbed the cradle there, didn’t you, Son?” his dad said. 

I can’t blame him for reacting like that. He probably thought I was just after Rob’s penny candy money. I proved myself to him, though. Rob got orders for Germany within the year and for eighteen months after that we dated by mail. We stayed true to each other and took our vows two weeks after he was discharged. He wouldn’t marry me til I finished high school and I wouldn’t marry him til he got out of the Air Force. See, I wanted him to get a real job so I wouldn’t worry about becoming the widow of a soldier. That’s why he became a firefighter—because it was safer.
So, next summer we’ll celebrate forty years of knowing each other.  I don’t think I’ve heard of a record like that since my grandparents had been married for forty years. And I might not have even been born back then.  I’m younger than I look, you know.
Growing older is weird. Having an empty nest is weird, too. One minute you’re up to your ears in diapers and bottles and Band-Aids and boogers, and the next you’re shelling out money for college and weddings. It’s all go, go, go! from the minute your water breaks until they all move out and your heart breaks. There you stand in the middle of all the tulle and cake crumbs and empty chairs and wave good-bye to your kids and your parenting career—all in one split second.
It’s quite a night. And quite a change.
After a few years, of course, if your kids are practical and traditional like you were, they’ll get a little settled into their own marriages and give you some grandbabies. Grandbabies are the reason old people like us keep trying to stay young—so we can help them gang up on their parents. Grandbabies think grandparents are the best thing since popsicles and we think grandbabies are better than popsicles.
It’s just one big mutual admiration society.
But there’s a big difference between being a parent and being a grandparent.  Energy. Old people like us don’t have any. That’s why we buy it now from the Power and Light Company. Now young people—they have too much energy. That’s the reason places like Cancun and Lake Havasu can stay in business. There’s only one way to rein in all that hormonal hyperactivity—hand those party animals a couple of kids to take care of. I’m tellin’ ya, after a few months of midnight feedings and all night colic, young people like them turn into old people like us and the world is fair again.
What’s not fair is how fast time flies. It’s flying even faster now that we’re grandparents. Our oldest grandbaby turned five just yesterday and in a couple of months she’ll be six. I think the reason time speeds up is because I don’t live with them day in and day out.  We see them once or twice a week. Or once or twice a year in the case of our son’s family who, unfortunately for us, put down roots in Kentucky and refuse to get their pilots’ licenses so we can babysit their girls here—in Arizona. Selfish.
I did the math on that. If a baby learns to crawl at, roughly, six months and a grandmother sees the baby once a week, then to her it’s as though her little angel went from a newborn to a pre-toddler in six days. That’s why old people like us are always walking around shaking our heads and telling pre-teens, “You can read already?! Why, wasn’t it just last week I changed your diapers?” That’s another reason grandparents stop being cool to their grandkids, too.  Word to the wise.
All I’m saying is that grandkids seem to grow up faster than their parents did when they were kids. And the reason, I think, is because parents don’t get any sleep for twenty years, so to them parenting lasts forever.
I did the math on that, too.  My son and daughter were born two and a half years apart and lived at home through college minus one year because my daughter got married first and, well, then my son moved out the next year to go to seminary, but he didn’t get married for another three years so that’s 365 days times 26 years or 9,490 days straight with no sleep. Roughly.
That’ll catch up with you. And in my professional opinion it caught up with my husband today, which is why he locked his house keys in his office forty miles from home and then drove all the way to our house believing that the dog would let him inside. And turn off the alarm first.
I worry about him sometimes. And then it hits me—I’ve got five more good years and then it’ll be me locking my husband in our office and driving the dog to work. 
I think I’m gonna buy one of those bumperstickers for when I turn sixty. The one that says, “Of all the things I’ve lost in life, I miss my mind the most.”

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

The Potter's Wheel

(While I'm focused on another writing challenge this month, I'll be posting some things here from my private writings.  It's always good to look back and see the journey God's carried you through and realize you've been learning and growing after all. This piece is from 2010.)
 
I woke up this morning with a Tenth Avenue North song playing in my mind.  The lyrics demanding my attention so strongly, I couldn’t sleep anymore.

            You say let it go, You say let it go,

            You say life is waiting for the ones who lose control,

            You say You will be everything I need,

            You said if I lose my life it’s then I’ll find my soul,

            You say let it go.

This has been the most difficult aspect of my journey with Jesus – letting go.  I’ve read in a lot of books that I’ll never be “free” of hang-ups or strongholds or burdens or bondage until “I surrender all”.

“Surrender” is one of the most frightening words in the English language to me.  In church talk it has dozens of synonyms:  “Turn your life over to Jesus”, “Make Jesus the Lord of your life”, “Give God control”.  And there are as many hymns whose lyrics say the same thing:  “I surrender all . . . all to Jesus I surrender, I surrender all”, for example.  All I think is what a liar I am when I have to sing those lines.  It would be more honest for me to sing, “I surrender some, I let go a bit, I don’t trust You, I can’t see You, take what You can get.”

Or, another hymn, usually sung in its entirety during a church’s invitation time, questions, “Is your all on the altar of sacrifice laid?  Your heart does the Spirit control?  You can never be blessed . . . til your all on the altar is laid.”  So this theology says I can only be blessed if I one hundred per cent  (i.e., all) surrender to Jesus.  But to clarify, is that one hundred per cent of each sixty seconds in every minute all day long?  This is not encouraging.  Honestly – and I mean, get honest with me – can anyone do this?  It seems like an invitation to frustration.  “I can never be blessed, cuz I can’t pass the test, guess I’ll pass on that altar today.”

It’s an all or nothing theology, and I don’t think any believer can do this.  There are issues in our lives including addictions, guilt, wounds, grudges, and fears that cannot be packaged all together with a pretty bow on top and shipped off once and for all via UPS to God.  I say this because many of those issues have been pushed down out of sight within us for so long we don’t even know they exist anymore.

It reminds me of our move to Mesa from Chandler.  We’d outgrown our little house and had to box up what amounted to an entire room of stuff, filling a 10x10x10 foot storage unit with all of it before we could show our home to prospective buyers.  The house looked big and welcoming with all the clutter stored safely out of sight.  Lovely to look at, but I knew it was a big façade. Four months and a new house later, I went to retrieve everything and was astounded by the immensity of it all.  By then, I’d lived so long with it hidden, I wondered why I should bring any of it out into the light of day?  Still, it was “my stuff” and since some of it was seasonal, I had to bring the whole mess with me and sort through it all later, knowing much of it would be shoved into a closet again.

My point is I believed throughout much of my Christian life that to be acceptable to Jesus I had to pull out my issues, even the ones of which I was not aware, and give them up, promising never to have those hang-ups again.  It’s kind of like a little kid cleaning out his overall pockets for his mom – first you leave the frogs and snakes and rocks and rodents outside where they belong and then you can come inside the freshly vacuumed house.  Come clean and then you’ll be acceptable and blessed. Of course, once I see what I’ve been stuffing inside, it’s easy to agree those are things that need to be dealt with.   But if I knew what to do with them, I wouldn’t have put them in storage in the first place.  See my predicament?

I thought if I held onto anything, I’d be stoned to death in judgment, Achan-like, for possessing accursed  things (Joshua 6.)  And if I clean out my pockets, I have to try not to fill them up again.  If we really can put our all on the altar, then why do Christians still struggle with anger, fear, lust, overeating, bitterness, impatience, critical spirits, etcetera etcetera etcetera?  It leaves me with the impression that I must fess up and give up.  And both of those strongly suggest that I never have or do those things again, or I’ll be in BIG TROUBLE.  I might even get kicked off the altar.  Now that’s failure – when you’re not even good enough to be charbroiled on a BBQ.

It sounds unrealistic to me, even dishonest.  If I can’t come to God or be blessed by Him until I stop behaving badly, I will come to Him as a liar (which I’m pretty sure is a sin) saying I’ve done something I can’t do, like getting over everything on my own so I’ll be good enough for God.  Or I’ll come to Him truly cleaned up and then wonder why I need a Savior anyway?

As beloved as these old hymns are, and as familiar as our theologies have become, I wonder if they may be the items that belong on the altar of sacrifice.  Perhaps we need to surrender all our misconceptions about what it means to be pleasing to God.  Recently I heard it said that God doesn’t mind a mess.  Obviously that’s the “papa” in Him, not the “mother-hen” side.  He likes getting His hands dirty, which only makes sense when I remember He’s a potter.  While the potter’s wheel spins, it’s pretty difficult to differentiate where muddy fingers end and the clay in process begins.  It’s all a big, brown blur.

Maybe the best way to describe myself right now is “clay in progress.”  I know my Papa has a vision of what I will be.  And since He never fails, it will come to pass.  I just don’t see it yet.  I really wish I could.  It makes me cry to realize God loves His work – both the process and the clay.  I can’t come to him cleaned up of the stuff imbedded in me. I can’t pick out the debris and I wouldn’t know what to do with it if I could.  But I do know how gentle His hands are.  I’m always safely held by them while He molds me, changing me from glory to glory, whistling while He works and I take a ride on the Potter’s wheel.