Thursday, December 25, 2014

We Three Kings Disoriented Are


Ever since I was a kid, I’ve loved nativity sets.

I'm not a purist, though. From Precious Moments nativities where everyone, including the wise men, are children, to the Peanuts version with Linus and Lucy and Woodstock in the manger, I love them all. 

The standard, though, has always been a traditional set like the one my parents had. I really liked that one. Each Christmas, every plaster of paris character was handled with such care that setting up the manger scene was practically as holy as the baby’s actual birth. I was nearly grown and married before they trusted me enough to put the shepherds in the stable.

So, of course I passed on the tradition of fear and mistrust years later when we finally got our own fragile nativity set.  Finally, after I saw he was using both hands to arrange the Holy Family, I let my husband help with the display.
So it makes me pretty happy that my grown children and their families love crèches, too. Plus, it makes Christmas shopping pretty easy. Every time I see a unique manger scene, I buy it in duplicate, wrap it up and give it to my daughter and daughter-in-law.
Last year, I found a homemade wooden crèche cut with a jigsaw into puzzle pieces that rested inside a wooden frame. When stood on end and emptied of the puzzle pieces, the frame became a stable and the pieces represented each nativity character.
The grandbabies loved it. It was safe, it was educational, and it was compact. But it was not completely kid proof.
“Will’s not allowed to put anything in the garbage can anymore,” my six-year-old granddaughter told me last week. Her two-year-old brother is working on his fine motor skills, as well as Cause and Effect experiments. You gotta admire a toddler with a penchant for cleaning house, though.
“Why not?” I asked, putting away dishes from the dishwasher.
“Because we think he threw Mary in the trash,” she said casually.
I nearly choked on a sugarplum.
For some reason, her matter-of-fact statement cracked me up. Still, that just doesn’t seem like a nice way to treat the mother of Jesus. I considered the sublimely ridiculous and realized that at least he threw her away after the incarnation. But Allie was still talking.
“And we broke the head off another Mary last week,” she said, chomping on some walnuts.
“Rough day on the Mary’s around your house, huh?” I said with a twinkle and another barely smothered chuckle.
“Yeah,” she answered. “Juliet broke a leg on one of the donkeys, too,” she added. “And a wing got broken off an angel.” She took a drink of milk.
“Wow,” I responded. “It’s amazing our Savior survived with you guys around.”
Allie’s eyes grew big and she nodded in solemn agreement.
So, I got to thinking. Since it sounded like there were some gaps in the Brady family's manger scenes, maybe I could help out.
The next day, my husband and I headed over to my favorite antique store during its Christmas extravaganza. I was on a spiritual mission and, in no time at all, found exactly what I was looking for—an entire display of random characters from the Christmas story. There were enough Mary’s to stand by Joseph for at least a couple more weeks, plenty of two-winged angels to fill the celestial choir, and an odd assortment of shepherds.
Most of the tags on the pieces labeled the characters along with the prices. I guess that was to prevent anyone from mistaking a wise man for Mary’s betrothed. It seemed unnecessary to me until one little statue caught my eye. I couldn’t figure out if he was supposed to be Joseph or a shepherd or one of the three kings. The truth was he looked a lot like a Buddhist monk. But there he was, standing right in the middle of a bunch of Josephs and Mary's. Even the vendor didn’t know where this character belonged, and finally just wrote on the price tag, “Nativity Guy.”
I kept the tag. I had to. All these years, I never knew we were missing such a key player in the Christmas Story as the “Nativity Guy.”
I wrapped up the spare manger people, put them in a Christmas box, and gave them to our daughter’s family this morning for Christmas. I knew she’d really be happy with our thoughtful gift.
I’m a little worried, though. It turns out it’s not that hard to find a new Virgin Mary or the whole wise man entourage.
But if Will goes on a cleaning spree again, I don’t think I’ll be able to replace Nativity Guy.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

On Another Night


“I don’t know if I want to go through this ever again.”
I understand. I felt like she did. Twice. Some women feel like that a dozen times, depending on how things turn out. And some would do whatever it takes to go through it at least once, but they never have the chance.
There’s enough sorrow on all sides to make us wonder why it has to be this way.
It’s a consequence, I guess. We can trace it back to that unfortunate snack attack of the first Mr. and Mrs. If only they’d been happy with plums and bananas, instead of acting like chocoholics on a midnight binge. Then maybe the ‘fruitful multiplying’ that followed would have been as easy as an apple falling from a tree.
I guess we’ll never know.
But sometimes I wonder—why did birth pains have to be the price for the woman’s sin? Why must something so miraculous cast such a fearful shadow? “I will greatly multiply your grief and your suffering in pregnancy and the pangs of childbearing,” He told her, as she listened in dread. “With spasms of distress you will bring forth children.” (Gen. 3:16)
Every mother does. And that’s only the beginning.
As if parenting challenges aren’t enough, we’re never the same after childbirth—even our psychology changes. For example, to the best of my postnatal memory, I was once an adventurous girl. I dreamed of going to France as an exchange student. I wanted to jump out of airplanes and ride horses wildly across a ranch. Somewhere. Not on the same afternoon, of course. I didn’t get a chance to do any of those things, but I did eat a homemade pizza covered in sautéed rattlesnake—once. And I waded through an alligator-infested river beside my damaged canoe while I was pregnant. Actually, that one might have been kind of stupid.
But once I gave birth, everything changed. I gave up serpent chow for meatloaf and threw away my oars. Because now I wasn’t living for myself—a couple of helpless little someones depended on me for their very life.
It’s not just a woman’s psyche that changes in motherhood—she pays a price with her body to bring a new life into the world. Girlish figures change forever—hips get wider, boobs get longer. We all have scars, inside and out.  Listen, getting that kid out can leave a mark. The pain we each undergo is unimaginable, known only to other women who have endured the same thing. But ask any mother you know and she’ll tell you it’s absolutely worth it.
Men have no idea.
No, there is one Man Who understands.
He also suffered unimaginably so He could give us Life. Agonizing alone, he literally sweated drops of blood in His distress. Ironically, all these years after His resurrection, His imperishable body is still scarred from His ordeal.
God sent His Son, but where was He while His Son suffered? He was right there, “in Christ Jesus, reconciling the world unto Himself.” That’s not the picture most of us have of Him, is it?  God is not a Punisher Who stands at a distance, reveling in the miseries we bring upon ourselves. He stepped down into our dimension and experienced, in flesh like ours, the distresses of our lives.
Why did He do it? “For the joy set before Him, He endured the cross.” (Hebrews 12:2) What joy? How could there be joy in such suffering?
Maybe the clue lies in another night, thirty-three years earlier. Remember? A young woman, virtually alone, endured childbirth’s spasms of distress in the worst of circumstances. But for the joy set before her, she endured. And the world has never been the same.
I am amazed by that courageous young mother, as I am amazed by every woman’s courage in her uniquely painful circumstances. But it is the extravagant love of God that makes me catch my breath. He took on Himself the curse of our sin so we could become His very own children.
Maybe the shadow that fell across childbirth was a foreshadowing of the pain God Himself would experience one day so we can have new life. No wonder Jesus told Nicodemus he had to be born again.
There is no life without birth. And no matter what it costs, it is absolutely worth it.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

I Think That I Shall Never See . . .

It can't be helped. We gave it our best shot. A year ago we spent big bucks to save it, but now that it got so big, it’s coming down. That just seems . . . illogical.
 
I am a sap about trees.
What makes me such a tree hugger? They’re only majestic, beautiful, reliable, resilient, and immoveable. Usually. Unless there’s a chainsaw involved. Stop it—you’re just adding to my guilt.
A friend gave me a Hallmark card once that compared our friendship to the safe haven of a shady  tree. “You are an oak,” it finished, right above the flourish of her signature. I don’t think that’s what my doomed paloverde would say this morning. “You are an ungrateful traitor,” is more likely what’s on its mind.
Oh, come on. You know trees have opinions.
I gotta say, I agree with my tree—I feel like a traitor. That thirty foot giant was perfectly healthy. For the last seven years it’s grown tall because we watered and cared for it, hoping it would grow tall and give us privacy and shade and . . .
This isn’t making me feel any better.
But hear me out. We get so little rain here in the desert it’s a waste of time to measure it, so plants and trees have to be as clever as camels to survive. That means shallow roots stretching along the surface to grasp every droplet of water so the sun won’t get to it first.
Which spells trouble for thirty-foot tree owners.
We also have violent summer storms made up of powerful, swirling winds every monsoon season. And paloverdes, trimmed up like majestic green umbrellas, uproot and fly off like Mary Poppins, or snap into pieces like colossal peppermint sticks and, the next thing you know, you’re spending thousands of dollars to rebuild block walls and replace your neighbor’s pool pump.
That’s why our tree is coming down today—it can’t keep its branches on. Shameless hussy.
I know—I’m just trying to justify the annihilation of an innocent tree. But hey. We’re not laying waste to it like they do in the rainforests—we’re replacing it with its very distant cousin, an oak. Like the faithful one on that Hallmark card, only a lot shorter.
I’m not feeling any better about this.
Here’s the thing. We hired a guy to assess our tree dilemma who knows more about trees than the guy we originally hired to plant this plant. And this older, wiser, tree guy explained to us that our paloverde is a hybrid. Its genes have been rearranged by scientists who wanted desert plants to grow unnaturally tall unnaturally fast, and then it was planted in the worst possible place in the world—right next to a block wall with no room to branch out. This Frankenstein belongs in the middle of a pasture, acres away from block walls and new pools, where it can break or fall or fly off to its delight and never hurt anyone’s bank account.
I bet you’re thinking now that it’s stupid to mess around with plant genetics. You’re a genius. And that’s food for another blog.
What’s on my mind as I mourn this tree is how often I, too, want to grow like a hybrid paloverde. I am impatient. Maturity takes too long. I want to loom tall with the illusion of strength and wisdom like that oak on my Hallmark card but at microwave speed. You don’t develop robust, resilient trees in seven years with minimal moisture, though. It takes seventy years of deep watering and exposure to storms to produce something that won’t uproot, break down or fall over in a strong wind.
Which is why, today, we are exchanging our misplaced paloverde for an unabridged oak. Because now, when I sit on my patio and look at the smaller tree in the corner of my yard, I’ll have something to look up to.
And, someday, deserve that Hallmark card.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Vine Life


Without knowing me, you might think this blog is about my love of all things fermented. Things like beer (nope), and wine (not exactly), and sauerkraut (maybe). I understand. The name is a little misleading.

But The Winepress has nothing to do with fine merlot. I am alcohol ignorant. I’d never heard of cabernet sauvignon until I got married and I didn’t take my first drink until I was in my thirties. Honestly, until I learned that people can drink responsibly, I was afraid of the stuff.

So it might surprise you to learn that my best beloved and I just spent our anniversary in wine country—Sonoma Valley—because he does know a thing or two about wine. And among the apparently thousands of vineyards in northern California, he found one with our name on it: MacLeod  Family Vineyards. Of course, we had to go there.

Because he loves wine and I have a Winepress and we are a McLeod family. Ta da.

We joined the wine tour already in progress—because I am the navigator and . . . oh, let’s leave it at that. Four other couples sat comfortably on hay bales as we arrived, surrounding a dungaree clad man lecturing from a plastic lawn chair. Mr. MacLeod himself, who took a barren hilltop thirty-seven years ago and transformed it into a fifty acre vineyard full of merlot, ladyfinger, sauvignon blanc and zinfandel grapes, to name only a few. He was fifty-six years old at the time.

That was my first lesson of the day. You’re never too old to follow your dreams.

“I never worked a day in my life after I planted this vineyard,” he told us. “That’s the trick—find the thing you love to do and it’ll never feel like work.”

I’d kind of been listening politely, holding the glass of rose (ros-ay) I’d been handed, spinning the stem casually like I knew what I was supposed to do with it when I was really thinking that 10:30 in the morning was awfully early to begin drinking and would he be offended if I didn’t like the stuff?

Suddenly I snapped to attention as he told us how the grapes have ‘a relationship’ with the vine tenders. “Are you listening?” I heard the Lord whisper to me.

I was. I remembered Jesus talking about grapes and branches and how He is the Vine in John 15. Somehow it came across as kind of a frightening passage, with all that talk about pruning every branch that doesn’t bear fruit. I don’t know about you, but I’m not crazy about getting cut down to size.

Instead, I was about to learn the day’s second lesson. Pruning is not a punishment. It’s life giving.

“Pruning is one of the most important things done in a vineyard,” the old gentleman was saying. “Leave too many buds and there will be too much fruit for the vine to ripen properly.” I didn’t  know there was such a thing as too many grapes. But there is. Get too greedy and you’ll wind up with a crop that won’t reach maturity.

Branch by branch, bud by bud. “. . . He Who started a good work in you (He) will carry it on to completion . . .” (Philippians 1:6) All the branch and grapes have to do is hang out and enjoy being attached to the Vine.

But Mr. McLeod was still teaching from his plastic lawn chair. “Grapes are sensitive,” he said. “When you know how to listen, the vines will tell you in a dozen different ways whether or not they’re happy. If you want to grow quality grapes you want to make sure that your vines are happy.”

And that was lesson number three. It’s a gift to be sensitive.

We don’t value sensitivity very much in our culture. Being sensitive is often seen as a weakness or, at the least, a handicap that needs to be overcome. There’s no place for sensitivity in a dog-eat-dog world.

I’ve been told most of my life that I’m too sensitive—I cry too easily, wound too readily, feel too deeply. But here sat a ninety-three-year-old man who told us that the key to excellent wine is the careful handling of sensitive grapes.

If it matters to the Vinedresser to keep his grapes happy, it must be all right if they are sensitive.

I drank some of the rose, walked through the sloping rows of vineyard, sampled a few dozen grapes right off the vine, and listened to the other guests with gifted wine palates extol the intricate flavors of three MacLeod wines at the tasting table.

But what I really learned on that shady hill in Sonoma Valley is that the Gardener loves His vineyard and His relationship with sensitive, dependent grapes.

I’ll drink to that.


Quotes reinforced by content from "Journey To Harvest" by George M. MacLeod, published by George and Greta MacLeod, copyright 2014

Friday, September 12, 2014

Listening to the Lullaby

I sat on a black leather sofa in the dimly lit family room—listening to her voice and processing our afternoon together.

“Jules has some kind of virus and is very sad,” her mama texted me earlier. She needed some things from the grocery store. “I could use a bit of help.”

Katy doesn’t ask for backup very often and Jules hardly ever cries when she hurts. It was an SOS if ever I heard one. Calling my daughter for details, I could hear her little four-year-old sobbing in the background. On Sunday she spiked a fever and for the next two days she had a pounding headache. They’d had a long week and it was only Tuesday.
I know I went through it—the whole sleepless, clueless, endless mothering thing. And when I got Katy’s text, I thought something empathetic like, “Poor thing. It’s so hard to be a mommy.” But until I walked through the door and saw Jules’ swollen eyes and took in the whole weary scene, I forgot what it’s like to be in the trenches with your children.
I read once that becoming a mother is “to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.” You’re permanently vulnerable—it doesn’t matter if it’s a limp weed-blossom bouquet offered by sticky fingers or your own frightened imagination stirred by childhood illness, every gift is priceless and every attack on your babies targets you, as well.
That goes for grandmas, too.
So I hung with the other two kids, giving me a chance to read and cuddle with them while my daughter took Jules to the doctor—who ran some tests, scratched her head, and sent Katy home with no final diagnosis. Maybe they can’t be certain until the patient gets well. A few times when my kids were small and got sick, the doctor actually wrote “F.U.O.” on the billing, followed by the amount I owed him for that professional opinion. I’m not sure “Fever of Unknown Origin” was worth the co-pay.
Katy knew what to do, though. By the time the night was over, she had comforted her little one with warm baths, head rubs, pizza, meds and an impromptu tea party. They don’t teach that kind of care in medical school.
Lost in thought on the sofa, I waited while she ran through the bedtime routine with her kiddos. Suddenly Juliet stood next to me. “I have a present for you, YaYa,” she said, and put a purple unicorn in my hand. It was one of her treasures, handpainted and marked with a “J”. What do you say to a four-year-old who forgets how much her head hurts and gives her favorite unicorn to you just because she loves you?
She hugged me and ran off to bed, while a six-year-old breeze filled the void. Her older sister, Allie, always running at high speed through life, sprinted past me into the living room, grabbed a forgotten book, and spun around to run the other way. Abruptly, her arms were wrapped around my neck and she gave me a second good night kiss.
“Please come again soon, YaYa,” she pleaded with big, expressive blue eyes. “I love it when you’re here!” And then she was gone, papers ruffling on a shelf as she flew past.
For a few minutes I was alone, my hands filled with a ceramic unicorn and my eyes full of tears. Quietly, serenely, my daughter’s soprano voice floated down the hall. I sat in the shadows while she sang a lullaby to her babies, comforting and reassuring them again that she would be there to protect them.
A priceless drama had played out before me for the last four hours, culminating now in the soothing acapella which soaked into my own worried heart. I’d been there before, playing the lead role in my own family’s mini-dramas, and still my heart beat outside my chest as though for the first time.
It was just me and that unicorn, listening to the lullaby, and pleading for mercy before an audience of One. The One Who heals, the One Who laughs, the One Who created music.
And the One Who held us all in His arms that night, His heart beating on the outside, too.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Whine-o

Can I gripe a little bit here? 

Fair warning if you’re only looking for ‘positive energy’ from me  today. Maybe I should have called this blog, The Whinepress.

Starbucks has been my coffee shop ever since that mermaid was a tadpole. Okay, maybe I’ve been unfaithful a few times—trying peppermint mochas at knock-off beaneries—but I always come back to the real deal. It’s my favorite place to blog and my first choice for coffee dates with friends.
But I’ll be danged if I’m gonna spend two or three hours sitting at a table with my legs dangling four feet off the ground.
Which is my gripe.
Why is Starbucks suddenly full of tall tables? Who signed the petition asking for stepstools to sit on instead of comfy chairs? And what’s up with the eight foot tables. Did some designer think, “Hey! Espresso and picnic tables! Awesome!” That doesn’t make me think coffee shop—it screams cafeteria.  Sure, a long table like that could seat eight or ten people. But it never does.
Because nobody wants to sit next to a stranger at the same table.
That only happens at bars. And in tiny towns where you can still get a tuna melt at a Woolworth counter. Wait . . . nope. Even they went out of business. Because nobody wants to sit that close to strangers.
I don’t know. Maybe Starbucks is appealing to college students. But, listen, it’s the middle-aged crowd who has money to spend on overpriced coffee. And this isn’t Europe—we like our personal space here.
Last week I met my cousin in Mesa for breakfast. We did a little shopping and then headed for the real point of the reunion— a couple of iced grande peppermint mochas. We drove around town for an hour trying to find a Starbucks with seating for two that wasn’t in the nose bleed section or rubbing elbows at a communal table. In the end, we drank our five dollar coffees in the car.
Sheesh.
The thing is, there wasn’t an empty café table in sight that morning—only the uncomfortable spots were open. I don’t see how it could be any more clear than that. Nobody wants to share a picnic table, and we only perch like birds when there’s no other choice.
Maybe the timing is right for me. It’s not healthy to drink peppermint mochas all the time. I can blog at home. I can drink generic decaf coffee for a lot fewer calories than a grande three pump in a disposable cup. And now that Starbucks has taken down their welcome sign and replaced it with unfriendly tables, I can take a hint. Stay home, save some money. Sure, I know. This sounds like a ‘first world problem.’
But I live in the first world, whatever that means.
More importantly, they can’t get rid of me that easy.  I’m no quitter.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

The Other Man


I had a date with another man today.
His blue eyes sparkle like sapphires. His smile is sweeter than chocolate. When he hugs me, my heart melts like butter. I’m so in love. Don’t tell Rob—he might worry when he hears I’ve fallen for a younger man. Who’s three feet tall and speaks in short sentences.
My grandson came to play at my house this morning.
On a shelf just inside our front doorway is a plaque that reads, “I may not be rich and famous, but I do have priceless grandchildren.”  And sitting next to that sign are the photos to prove it. We have five grandbabies—four girls and one boy—and we are filthy rich.
We watch our daughter’s three kids fairly often. Sometimes I take the older two granddaughters on a YaYa date. It’s kind of easy to do because they live fifteen minutes away. Our two redheaded granddaughters live in the distant country of Kentucky where their parents are foreign missionaries.  Those1800 miles have put a serious cramp in our grand parenting style, and we owe them some serious babysitting time (which we can make good on now that Chief has retired.) We’re pretty experienced at entertaining little princesses.
But in all his 23 months on earth, today was the first time I’ve ever spent time alone with Will. I picked him up for our date and let him ride in the first class car seat behind me. He narrated the whole drive—I love a man who communicates—and we found every horse and airplane between his house and mine.
His mama has been telling me how different it is to have a son after spending the last six years with little girls. I should have realized—after all, I have a son, too. But it wasn’t until this morning as this little guy strutted through my house, playing with the toy firetrucks his uncle enjoyed thirty years ago that I realized how long it’s been since a little boy last stole my heart.
My own little man will be thirty-three next month. (He’ll hate that I phrased it that way.) But how is that possible? I’m still so young! Images of my son, now grown, flooded through my memory in warp speed as I laughed and watched and held my grandson this morning. I let Lee go to become the man he is today years ago, but there’s still that mother’s heart . . . It’ll sound weird, I guess, but a son wraps his mom around his little finger like he can’t do with his dad, and she is forever changed because of it. My daughter understands this now and reminds me of it often.
So Will and I had lunch together—peanut butter and jelly, of course—and read books on the sofa, and he repeated every word I said like I was the sun in his galaxy. Because this morning, I was. And God gave me a gift of memory in the laughter and hugs from my little heartthrob, Will.
Boy, is Chief ever going to be jealous when he gets home from Florida tonight. I may have to take him on a date to make up for it.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Health Nut


We’re trying to eat healthy.
Do you have any idea how many versions of “healthy” there are? Paleo, vegan, low carb, whole foods, real foods, cultured foods, low calorie, low glycemic, traditional foods, and Starbucks. Okay, that last one is where I turn when I can’t figure out who’s right and I just give up.
It all started with a book I read about how eating coconut oil is good for you. I couldn’t figure out how ingesting a suntan oil ingredient would do anything but land you in the hospital, but holy guacamole, Batman, coconut oil is edible. And it can heal everything you ever thought was wrong with you, from tooth decay to moles. Well, I have some moles, so . . .
Just like that, I became a believer.
The next thing I knew, I’d thrown out all the Crisco in my pantry, six bottles of two-year-old salad dressings from the back of the fridge, and four bags of stale tortilla chips from a Memorial Day cookout in 2012.
And the sugar. It’s always about the sugar. Sigh. Only Starbucks still believes in sugar.
Years ago, I had a neighbor who went on pantry purges twice a year, loaded up all the poisonous groceries she’d spent a hundred bucks on at Safeway, and donated them to my family. She knew we had no scruples. And, since I had a side job as a pie baker, I was grateful for every ten pound bag of sugar she threw into the mix.
“Yeah, you can have that, too,” she’d say. “We call it ‘white death’, but I knew you’d want it.”
Well, I didn’t much want it after that.
So this spring I read a few radical books about coconut oil and raw milk and Kumbucha, took myself to a grocery store and then tried to re-stock that lonely cupboard with ‘healthy’ food. I wandered every aisle between produce and the dairy case, reading labels and going blind and, when I was finished, there were only two things crossed off my list. Still, my shopping cart was full—of paper towels and toilet paper.
But no sugar.
As much as I dislike the smell of health food stores, they are the only ones who carry all the weird things I’m feeding my husband now. Oh, sure, Fry’s has four aisles of “Natural Choices,” but that’s only enough variety for amateurs. I’m serious about this healthy/organic/alien way we’re trying to eat. And I want options! I’m not happy with two flavors of Mama Chia, I want at least five before I commit. And are those dried garbanzo beans organic? How about the honey—is it raw? And why do we have to use words like ‘raw’ anyway? I always thought raw things gave you worms.
These are the questions that keep me driving my cart in circles for hours while I wear a clothespin on my nose at Sprouts.
Still, after about six months of re-educating myself, it’s getting easier to choose between real food and the imitation stuff. But, for the most part, I’ve had to give up coupons. They don’t really cater to Kumbucha junkies like me.
One afternoon, I flipped through some coupons that came in the mail. I’d never seen a collection like these before. NASCAR had teamed up with our local grocery store and offered some “race day” meal ideas along with matching coupons. You could save fifty cents on a jar of Ragu and serve your family a Mexitalian delight—“Spaghetti Tacos.”
I kid you not.
Photo attached.

I almost spit out my Kumbucha.
Spaghetti Tacos? Crunchy corn tortillas filled with Ragu drenched spaghetti noodles. A “HEARTY MEAL for race fans.”  Ta da. If I was a NASCAR enthusiast, I’d have been offended.
Or not.
So yesterday, in between spine crunching and neck cracking, I described this repulsive dinner idea to my chiropractor. A man who has dedicated his life to helping people like me become healthy. A man who knows that Vitamin B-12 is a better choice than a grande six shot espresso.
But still, a man.
“Sounds pretty good to me,” he said, as he pushed on my vertebrae and showed my backbone who’s boss.
“You’d eat a taco shell filled with saucy spaghetti strands?” I asked incredulously, straightening my shoulders and rotating my neck.
“Sure,” he answered, “it combines my two favorite foods—Mexican and Italian.”
“But there’s no meat anywhere!” I exclaimed.
“No, but if you pour a little maple syrup on top, it’d taste pretty good,” he responded.
I couldn’t believe he wasn't as repulsed as I was. I mean, he's a doctor.
“Don’t you think it’d be the same thing as eating a . . . Sandwich sandwich?” I pushed. “You know, like a slice of Rye between two pieces of Wonderbread?”  I waited for him to come to his senses and realize it was disgusting.
“Well, that does sound a little dry,” he admitted, “but again, cover it with a little maple syrup and I could get it down.” And he grinned.
Either he was kidding or he loves NASCAR. 
See, that’s the reason I never know who to believe in the debate between grain and no grain, dairy or no dairy, taste and no taste. I think that, in the end, all our food choices in life will come down to these two things: is it loaded with ‘white death’ or does it need a little maple syrup to choke it down?
I see another pantry purge coming on. I think I’m going back to my Starbucks diet.
They never confuse me like this.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Tears


Robin Williams died last week.
It wasn’t an accident. Nor disease. It was his mysterious choice, and it broke America’s heart. Arguably the best comedian we’ve ever loved, the well has gone dry, the laughter turned to tears—only questions remain. Facebook is full of his funniest moments, all of us grasping one more second of a life evaporated. Gone too soon.
We “are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.”*
Everyone thinks depression got the best of Robin. I’m not an expert on the subject, though probably just like you, I’ve experienced it.  It’s miserable. What is ironic to me is how many funny people are deeply wounded human beings, harboring sadness within. Still, we love the self-deprecating humor comedians have spent a lifetime honing. We cheer on the honest and obviously flawed person who lets us laugh at his shortcomings.
Better him in the spotlight than us.
Laughter happens when we identify with a comedian's story. That’s what makes a good comic—connecting with the audience. And laughter is good for the soul. “A cheerful heart is good medicine,” a wise man said, “but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.” **
So I wonder—does it ever surprise you to think that the very funny person standing in front of you uses humor to cope with his pain?
I can be funny. I love being funny. I love it when somebody gets my joke and rewards me with outright laughter. Compliments are nice, too, and a few times I’ve won Toastmaster awards for telling hilarious stories. The truth is, though, that whether my writing and speaking brings a tear or a chuckle, the source of my anecdote is often something painful.
And that’s the other irony.
There’s a richness that flows from a melancholy heart. Beauty from ashes, some say. And even when someone dares to reveal a deep hurt, there comes a point where you have to make a joke about it or you would be crushed in the telling. Laughter lightens the atmosphere and gives us hope that we’ll smile again on the inside.
If only someone had been there last week to make Robin laugh. Or maybe to let him cry. How I wish there could be a happier ending.
It’s so hard when the curtain falls on a tragedy. 

 

*James 4:14

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Seeing Red

It caused quite a stir around here.

And I wasn’t even at home when it happened. I just read about it on Facebook. That’s what’s so great about social media—even from the top of a mountain in northern Idaho I know what’s going down in the desert.

It was a flyer. An invitation. A titillating tri-fold mailed en masse to both churched and unchurched families in our town—one per family, please. Bright red letters punctuated the slightly suggestive photo on the front page. (They always use red for messages like these. Kind of makes me wonder what’s up with Christmas colors.)
The out-of-focus photo on the right revealed two red high-heel clad feet caressing another in a high-top Converse tennis shoe—horizontally—while the eighty-point crimson font slid in from the left margin like it just ran a . . . red light.
SEX DRIVE, it proclaimed. Maybe it should have arrived in an envelope or shrouded by a magazine blinder with a warning to parents. Remember—this appeared courtesy of the postal service to thousands of families whose latch key kids bring in the mail every afternoon. And a few of their parents saw . . . red.
Is your sex life what you hoped it would be?” the inside flap asked. “Does something inside tell you it could be better?”
Well, those are kind of personal questions. I’m not sure I know you well enough to discuss what goes on behind our closed doors. Who’s asking, anyway?
Scanning my very own tri-fold, demurely buried between the water bill and my bank statement in the pile of mail on our table, I opened the fancy flyer and stared into four cherubic faces at the top of page two. The children’s program info had lead billing over an ad for junior high and high school classes which promised to help teenagers “make great choices.” And a full page offer to meet some good looking guy pictured holding a red rose adorned page three. There’s that color again. “All first time guests on August 3 will be entered to win a chance to meet Sean Lowe,” the enticement read.
So . . . who paid for this mass mail out?
A church. Finally, at the bottom of the page, a church website took credit for the invitation. A church which, one parent pointed out, holds services for the time being in a nearby elementary school. That really creeped out one of my neighbors.
Boy, did my husband and I ever have a lot to talk about. We looked at this mailing from as many sides as possible, guessing at the misdirected intent behind its flashy form:
1.      Everyone has a sex drive. So people might have their curiosity piqued by the cover question. Yes—people of all ages with keys to the family mailbox.
2.      God created sex (the flyer confirms that). So if people need to learn about sex, they should attend church. Okay, well, that’s better than learning about it from the backseat of a car. But is that why people attend church? Sounds like a misleading way to lure visitors through the door. 

3.      Sex is no longer a three letter word. (Are there any three letter words?) It’s the plot and ploy for nearly every tv show, commercial, movie, music video and lyric that saturates our airwaves and overwhelms our living rooms. So why not discuss it in the noble framework where it was designed?  Because most parents still believe it’s their personal responsibility to explain this gift to their children—appropriately and privately.
Maybe this flyer should have been handed out to adult church members. At the very least they could have saved some postage. Maybe members could be trusted to invite a friend to attend the series—you know, personally, where a personal subject like this would be discussed. And maybe the people in charge of creating this flyer should not have assumed that unchurched adults are an easy target if the word “sex” is the lure.
Frankly, that’s where I think they missed the mark. Well, that and the Sean Lowe lottery. I’m still seeing red over that one.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Hope


A joyful, confident expectation of good.*  

That’s what I told her hope is, while she chewed her fingernails and waited for the phone to ring. It’s what God means when He tells us to hope.
“I jumped for joy when I read that!” she said.
Then yesterday – devastation.
“What happened,”  I begged God, my pen accusing Him in bruising speed across the journal page before me. 
“I’m so confused. I think I made things worse. Now here I sit, wishing I’d never learned to type. If faith is leaning on Jesus in absolute confidence in His power, wisdom and goodness, how come I’m always falling down?” **
I bet it’s my anemic faith.
“You are good. You keep telling me in my crises to expect You. But what about in the crises of others? Can’t I expect You there, too? Now I don’t know anything, except she got bad news yesterday—how is that good?”
Where are You, God?
“I’m in the dark again,  questioning Your . . . what exactly am I questioning? Your goodness, Your power? No. Your desire to step up and heal? Maybe. Your willingness to rescue?”
Yeah. That’s the one.
“It always comes back to that for me, doesn’t it? And then it becomes personal again. Are You our Champion? Do we matter to You in our exhausting daily wars? Is it wrong to enjoy this life and ask for a longer visa?
“I know ‘heaven is for real’ and people want to stay there when they get a glimpse of it. But for many of us, it’s the blurry stuff of gospel songs and sweet by & by’s—even fear. The enemy aims at our bodies, but it’s our hearts he’s after. He steals our peace and confidence in You.
“And how about this easy explanation some people give: “God heals perfectly when He takes people home.” You know that’s not what we prayed for. You knew what we meant—You’re not a greasy lawyer with slick answers. And You’ve given us authority to ask for things that will be granted to us.”
What am I missing? Does prayer even work?
“I’m losing ground in the tug of war where I was taught never to believe out loud that You heal the sick and do good. Not today. Not in middle America.
“Please heal him, Lord. Please talk to me. If this is the battle I think it is, if Your women are a great army, then this is just a skirmish and it’s not over yet. Because we’re praying.” ***
My troubled eyes fell to the Bible open next to me.
Be glad. Be in high spirits. Jubilantly rejoice. Sing praises to His name. Cast up a highway for Him Who rides through the deserts. A protector is God. You did restore and confirm Your heritage (us) when it languished and was weary. You, God, in Your goodness, did provide for the poor and needy. (Psalm 68)
Well, it wasn’t an explanation, but it was an answer. Spent, I closed my journal and got dressed for church.
Two hours after my debate with God, eighteen hundred miles away from my friend’s pain, an Anglican priest—his sermon finalized that morning—began to preach. I sat up straight in the pew as he began reading from the same chapter where I’d debated God that very morning—Psalm 68.
“God is [already] beginning to arise, and His enemies to scatter; let them also who hate Him flee before Him!” he read from verse 1.

“For nine days, the Bible says, the disciples and the women believers waited in the upper room, devoting themselves constantly to prayer. It was the in-between time,” he said, “the time between the promise and the reality, the realization.
“Prayer is central to our lives, to who we are as believers. Prayer shapes belief—what we believe about God. And when we pray, we reveal the things we believe.
“We imagine we are somehow responsible for our state in life because of our choices, good or bad.  Therefore, we think we don’t deserve God’s goodness. But in John 17:1-11, Jesus is bold when He prays. He looks to heaven and invites His Father to be faithful to His promises. He puts His Father’s honor on the line.”
I fell in love with Jesus again. He couldn’t have spoken more clearly to me if He’d hit me with a fig tree.
“Look at the story of Lazarus,” the pastor continued. “Look how He prayed at the grave of a man who’d been dead for three days.”   
“ ‘You always hear Me and always answer Me when I call You,’ Jesus told His Father. It was an invitation: Do on earth the things you do in heaven. God alone is in control. Jesus challenges God to be faithful because God is faithful. He’s saying, ‘Lord, prove to your people that You are faithful. We glorify you. Provide for Your people.’”          
My son, the Anglican priest, had no idea of the battle which took place in my soul that morning. He did not hear the way I questioned my Father’s heart before I came to worship Him. It wouldn’t have mattered if he knew. It’s not my faith that’s on the line—it’s God’s. And He has enough for the both of us.****

“Expect the Holy Spirit to show up,” the young priest concluded.
That’s just what hope does. 

 

 

*(2 Corinthians 1:7, Amplified Bible)
**(2 Timothy 3:15, Amplified Bible)
***(Ps. 68:11, Amplified Bible)
****(Galations 2:20)