Exploring where life and story meet!

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Weird and loving it!

So yesterday I took a slight detour in cyberspace and ended up wandering around for hours in a neighborhood I had never previously visited; it was something of a culture shock, but enlightening in its own feral way.  I don't tend to spend much time meandering along the various boulevards of the 'interweb,' rather I tend to visit a very few specific sites, conduct my business there, and move on.  But I had a little time and a google search led me to an article which led me to a website that inevitably sucked me in.  It was a 'gasp' website for parents, particularly moms, though I had heard of it previously I had never ventured thither.  What intrigued me was not the articles and their content, but rather the people behind the articles: those who wrote and read them.  It was something like the time I went to a 'big' movie theater for the first time in ages and found myself rather astonished at the clothes people chose to wear for a night out and their behavior thereupon.  I sometimes forget the ways of the world at large!

While some of the information was helpful, even encouraging, and often amusing, it was more the language and the writers' way of viewing the world that caught my attention.  I often forget that to some people, certain four letter scatological adjectives are as necessary to their grammar as breathing is to life.  I would also never have kids after reading about them on that site, but that is another article entirely (and yes, I am a parent).  But the one thing that really caught my eye was an anonymous post in their 'confessional' message board where you can post your worst mommy moments, etc.  It was a brief statement going something like this, 'I finally made a friend with a fellow parent at my kid's school but…'  The author went on to state, 'I am an agnostic, bisexual, and a liberal,' (I wanted to interject, 'who isn't?'), but she ended with the words, 'and terrified.'  That gave me pause.  And the reason for her disquiet?  The friend in question is a Christian.  That was pretty much all there was to the post, but I found it both tragic and intriguing.  Why was this person terrified?  It was certainly an interesting look at how the 'world' sees the church.

Now if the person in question was a zombie or a werewolf or a vampire, that would be cool (to most moderns).  Or if they were Buddhist, New Age, or a fellow agnostic, that too would be hip.  Their race, gender, sexuality, doesn't matter, except the more 'diverse' the better.  If they were a sociopath or a serial killer, that might raise a few eyebrows, but I had never thought of myself as terrifying!  What's weird about this whole perception is that apparently every other group/religion/race/occupation/gender/sexuality/organization on the face of the planet is composed of flesh and blood people, but the church is something utterly different and you can't be friends with its adherents without taking your life (or at least your social standing) in your hands.  But then if your only exposure to so-called Christians is through the media, this view is unsurprising as it is the last 'group' you can safely depict as evil, annoying, stupid, etc. in our obsessively politically correct culture.  But the church is just like any other group of people: there are smart people, not so smart people, nice people, mean people, saints and jerks, introverts and extroverts, etc., to say we are all weirdos just because we are Christians is stereotyping, or is it?

This is far from the first time in history the church has been seen as weird or even dangerous.  The Romans accused early Christians of being atheists and cannibals.  Peter calls us sojourners and exiles.  Jesus Himself said we'd be hated because He was.  I guess the church is weird and was always meant to be, for it has something the world both desperately wants yet utterly despises.  Which got me thinking about another matter that has always puzzled me.  Why is Christianity so despised in modern culture when everything else is either tolerated or ignored.  If you want the church to die a quiet death, why keep drawing attention to it?  This is like telling a toddler to leave something alone, hoping it will place his thoughts on anything but the forbidden object, but it achieves exactly the opposite: he can think of nothing else.  Why not just ignore the church and hope it goes away, vanishes into obscurity like the Cult of Zeus and the worship of Molech?

But there is always some new book claiming to debunk scripture or a TV program aimed at explaining 'what really happened.'  If anyone who can even remotely be associated with the church does something mean or stupid, the media can't quit talking about it.  Every Easter and Christmas, another issue of a certain magazine proclaims the 'truth' about Jesus.  I really love the 'controversy' over 'God's wife,' inspired by some little scrap of parchment, considered by most to be a forgery, but it crops up every now and again on a slow news day.  The entire collection of the Dead Sea Scrolls never got that much attention.  Why so much effort to discredit what should be an obscure religious sect?  You never see this sort of stuff aimed at Hinduism, New Age, Wicca, Islam, etc.  If the world is trying so hard to make the church look weird and stupid, perhaps there is truly something there to be afraid of.  

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Someday my finch will come

In my experience, the best way to find something is to look for something else entirely (your car keys).  This applies to bird watching as well.  The spring migration has begun and we northerners (at least those of us crazy enough to know what a limpkin is) eagerly scan the ponds and bushes, hoping for the chance of seeing something we have never seen before, a new species to add to our much feted 'life list.'  There are various birds lumped into the category of 'northern finches,' and as we moved about as far north as one can and still be in the lower 48 states nearly eight years ago, I was eager to add a few of these unique creatures to my list.  In seven years and countless attempts, I never saw any of these coveted birds.  Then we moved 500 miles west and south and all my hopes of seeing those particular birds sputtered out, though I found myself in an area with a plethora of new and interesting birds to discover, I was a little disappointed, but life goes on and cannot revolve around one's obsessions.

Yesterday, out of the blue, one of those 'northern finches' wandered into my life.  A whole flock of red crossbills had invaded the neighbor's yard and I was within four feet of three of them busy at the bird feeder.  Life is kind of like that: when we least expect it, we trip right over something that changes our lives forever.  When we look to the future and try to plot and plan and hope, often there comes no clear answer, but then we lay aside thoughts of our 'destiny' and then run headlong into something amazing when we weren't looking for it.  If you need proof that there is a God or that He has a sense of humor, just look back at your own life or listen to the tales of others.  His timing and provision are perfect, it is our impatience and demand for immediate satisfaction or perhaps our longing for something we cannot have or that will not be good for us that drives us to think that He is absent or uncaring or non-existent. He answers prayers, but often the answer is 'no' or 'wait.'

I still don't like waiting, I want to open my christmas presents now (yes, it is April), which would utterly ruin a year's worth of planning and anticipation on the part of my family and friends, rather I must quietly abide in dire curiosity and pray that I not burst with the effort.  Rather than focusing all our attention and hope on something: a vacation, a future career or love interest, college, owning a certain house or car, getting rich…perhaps we should focus on Someone and we'll trip over the relatively minor details whilst our attention is focused elsewhere.  This is not to say one should not plan and prepare for certain things, but all our Joy should not be found in the fulfillment thereof.  The thing desired cannot become an idol to draw our attention away from the One who provides everything, else all is vain, for no 'thing' can ever fill the gap in our souls that is the source of all such longings.

Again and again, I have fallen into the trap of 'life will be awesome when…' even though I know better.  He has faithfully provided again and again, but yet I still fail to trust Him or look to Him for the easing of that eternal ache that can never be truly healed in this broken world.  But rather, when I do focus on Him, the wait is not nearly so bad, and suddenly the thing desired is before me long before I thought to look for it, or so it seems, for when I am waiting for 'something,' the days are long and the hours cruel, but when my attention is fixed on the Source of all good things, when my hope is set on things 'not of this world,' time is swift indeed.  The wait can be a blessing or an agony, why must I always choose the self-torture and the pain?  If I can trust Him to provide the sparrows, can I not trust Him with the far more important aspects of life?

Monday, April 6, 2015

Waiting...

My goal to beat our adoption agency's record for fastest placement has (not surprisingly) failed, so we are doomed to wait indefinitely with all the other record non-breakers.  But interestingly, this has reminded me that waiting seems to be what we spend most of our lives doing: waiting to grow up, waiting for a dream vacation, waiting for Mr. or Mrs. Right, waiting to graduate, waiting for the perfect job offer, waiting….but looking back at my life, in retrospect at least, it seems to have passed rather quickly.  Did I not once think I'd never be done with school yet it is nearly ten years since I graduated from grad school!  Strange how that works, you cannot wait for 'it' to happen and then it does and suddenly it was last month or last decade or even last century!  I even get impatient waiting for my seeds to sprout in the spring, so it not a thing innate to adoption or even parenting, but to life itself

In our technologically obsessed society, waiting seems all the harder when we are blessed (or cursed?) with almost instant gratification, remember the days of dial up?  Or think what it must have been like waiting for a letter to cross continents and oceans via horse or wind driven ships.  And we fret and fuss when it takes five minutes for someone to respond to a text.  But yet, even with all our technology, there are some things for which we must still wait.  We have not found a way to speed up gestation, the seasons, or high school gym class; they must pass one second at a time, as they ever had.

But can we not do something with all this waiting?  Can we not use it for our good or that of others?  I believe it is in these valley of waiting in which we grow most as people (and no, I'm not talking about physically from all that stress-induced chocolate consumption).  It is in these 'trying' times we learn who we are and stretch the boundaries of who we might become, or not.  We are told to 'redeem the time, for the days are evil,' that is, put it to good and productive use.  Just because you are waiting, does not mean you get to stand idly by with your hands in your pockets, besides, that's an easy way to drive yourself mad: waiting with nothing to do in the interim!  But then, there are also times when we must, 'be still and know.'  Perhaps we just need to quit fussing and fretting, relax and use the time to reflect on that which is most important, rather than the thing waited for.

The day will come, eventually, but fretting about it won't bring it any faster, instead, enjoy the time you have and put it to good use, and the day will be here before you know it!  Now if only I could take my own advice…

As it was recently the Easter season, it is interesting to reflect on One who knows what it is to wait.  From the very Beginning, a Promise was made, a Rescuer was expected.  Kingdoms rose and fell, the whole face of the world changed, and yet, He did not come.  Then on a night no one expected suddenly He was here, only it was shepherds and cattle that bore witness to this wondrous moment.  Then thirty years would pass before we hear of our Hero again, save a little vignette of an incident in His youth, we know nothing of what happened in the interim.  What would it be like to be God, yet dwell in mortal flesh for thirty years before starting your mission?  That is patience indeed!  We are called to be like Him in every aspect, I suppose this is no different.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

To number our days...

As a kid watching the six hour version of 'Pride and Prejudice,' I used to think it very tedious, when were they going to get to the good part?  Why must we linger on forever waiting for the fate of the Bennett girls to be decided?  Not that I viewed my childhood much differently, when are we going to get to 'the good part?'  Then it was on to college and I couldn't wait for graduation, grad school, career…'the good part.'  Then you get old and realize you aren't going to be young again, that all that impatience was rather uncalled for, because now you will spend all your fading days longing for your youth, or at least that is the modern fad amongst Westerners.  We are never happy with what we have but always anxious for that to come or pining for that which is lost.  This is a delightfully horrid scheme to steal our joy and it is quite effective with the modern mind, this permanent state of discontent.

There is nothing wrong with being excited about what is to come, but if it costs us our joy in the present, it becomes that old fashioned sin of covetousness: envy, jealousy, discontent which force us to dwell in bitterness and misery all our days when we should be enjoying our youth or college days or whatever is currently before us.  We cannot alter the past nor hurry the future, rather we can only decide how to live Today and therein we must be content or forever be discontent, having found the limits of our mortality.  Will we sit by the wall of our finitude and sulk, or make what we can of the time we are granted?  Are we determined to be unhappy until we are parents, get married, have a certain car, own a house, graduate from college…whatever it is?  But that will not make us happy, it may be exciting for a week or a day, but the shiny newness will soon wear away and we will be stuck pining for something else, never satisfied and life will soon pass us by.  Rather we must decide to find joy Today, rather than waiting for some distant 'what if' and should that 'what if' come, we'll be all the happier on that day.

There is a story in the book of Acts that ends with the intriguing phrase: 'and he went his way rejoicing.'  The fellow involved had just had his erstwhile companion literally spirited away and was left all to himself along a dusty stretch of road; he was all excited about what he had just heard, literally knew next to nothing about it, and his only source of information was suddenly gone, but instead of sulking or getting angry or annoyed or wondering when next he could learn more of this matter, he picked himself up and 'went his way rejoicing,' trusting the answers would come, but for the moment so excited about life and his part in it that he had no time to worry about the details.  I want to live like that!

As an exercise in 'practicing Joy,' I have decided to live life as an expectant mother.  I missed out on such an idea with our first adoption, so busy with work, stress, life, etc. that I had no time to for happy anticipation, let alone enjoying the wait (who enjoys waiting?), besides, what if it never happens? What if it never happens?  I still have the joy of my anticipation (or the stress and dismay of thinking the day would never come), regardless of the outcome.  I am a bit jealous of pregnant women who know the approximate day and likely the sex/number of her child(ren) and can tell a stranger on the street without too much trouble, it is a bit more complicated with adoption.  Your child could come tomorrow or five years from next Thursday or never; it could all fall apart at the last minute, you never know, but rather than dreading what may or may not happen, this time around I will wait with hope and joy, rather than doubt and fear, and if it never happens, at least I have not wasted the intervening days.  Life is too short to live ever in the shadow of dread and fear and discontent.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

The not so new family

'And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful to divorce one's wife for any cause?” He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” They said to him, “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?” He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.”  The disciples said to him, “If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.” But he said to them, “Not everyone can receive this saying, but only those to whom it is given.'  (Matthew 19:3-11 ESV)

I always found this conversation between Jesus, the Pharisees, and his disciples rather interesting and the disciples' reaction a little humorous.  We moderns like to think we've cornered the market on 'progressive thinking' and 'human liberation,' namely in restructuring traditional social norms to suit our own needs, but as this passage testifies, such thinking has been in vogue for at least the last 2000 years, and as implied by reference to Moses and the Pharisaical law, it has been far longer than that, probably since the very beginning, since human nature has not changed, only our technology.  We think we know better than God and therefore feel free to do things exactly opposite to that which He intended and thus must endure the consequences.  Ever since the only rule was 'don't eat that particular fruit,' we've somehow managed to screw it up and our lives and all creation with it.  And we keep on making the same mistakes, like headstrong toddlers that just don't understand why their parents are so 'mean.'

I grew up in the 90's (yes, I am that old) and divorce was an accepted part of the culture; my own family of origin was quite eager to undertake this social experiment and I can't say the results were good ones, especially for the children.  I had no concept of what a happy marriage was, I assumed it was just another living arrangement and as good as any other (or so my health textbooks and self-esteem classes assured me and as this enlightened woman certainly proclaims).  I was an idiot.  And when I finally got married and started a family, I found out how utterly wrong our current understanding of marriage and family is and how much hurt, grief, and hidden pain yet writhed unknown in my own heart and soul.  Watching my own son and his father, interacting with my husband, has proved to me time and again that God's plans are the best.  Kids need a mom and a dad, yes they can survive with only one parent or step-parents or joint custody or two mommies or being raised by their grandparents or living with their mother's fifth boyfriend who is not their father, but they do not thrive, as the studies show again and again.

But it is insensitive, nay hateful, to say such things for we might make the parents feel bad!  Yet the children must suffer in silence so that their parents may pretend that everything is okay?  This is stupid and downright harmful to the kids involved.  They should be allowed to mourn, to grieve, to know it is okay to hurt and ask questions.  If all this nonsense about all families being equal is true, why am I still grieving over something that happened 20 years ago?  Yes, there are tragic and unavoidable circumstances in this life, and it is not to this that I am speaking, rather it is to those that willingly divorce rather that sticking it out during a rough stretch or those that never bother to marry at all.  Our kids are suffering and they don't know why and we won't talk about it because it is awkward.  They are the ones that must bear the consequences for our stupid and selfish decisions, they should at least have the right to deal with their feelings and pain rather than pretending that everything is okay when we know full well it is not.  There is no easy fix to the mess that is modern society, especially for our hurting little ones, but pretending everything is okay only makes it worse.  Life will never be ideal in this messy, broken world we inherited but pretending brokenness is perfection can only lead to more pain and suffering, rather let us deal with the reality that we are broken, messed up, and far from perfect, thus may the healing begin.  Let us deal with these feelings rather than bury them under a wan, fake smile and then pass this mess on to another unwitting generation.

We've had two recent deaths in our community, one a young husband and father, the other a dear older woman with great grandchildren.  As I sat through the family services and funerals, all I could do was wonder at the people that came forward to say what these people meant to their lives and grieve that I would forever miss out on that for my own part, but perhaps it is not too late for my own children.  I am alone, I will not be able to stand up at either of my parent's funerals to say what a wonderful influence they were on my life and on the lives of my children and their children after them, rather I must sit quietly and refrain from speaking of how their selfish actions broke my childish heart and forever left me adrift in an indifferent world, but for the grace of God, I would still be alone and miserable and not know why, but at last I can grieve and begin to heal and see that the 'sins of the fathers' do not pass on to the third and fourth generation.  I can break the cycle and pass on to my children and grandchildren a legacy of love and joy, rather than sorrow and shame.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Life at a distance?

This quote has been on my mind of late:


“There is no safe investment. To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is hell. I believe that the most lawless and inordinate loves are less contrary to God’s will than a self-invited and self-protective lovelessness… We shall draw nearer to God, not by trying to avoid the sufferings inherent in all loves, but by accepting them and offering them to Him; throwing away all defensive armour. If our hearts need to be broken, and if He chooses this as a way in which they should break, so be it.” C.S. Lewis The Four Loves.

It defined my life for many years and I did not even know it.  Lately I've felt Someone chipping away at the tomb in which my heart lies, and it is not a pleasant process, but I would not trade one tear for the oblivious, uncaring life I once knew.  For at last I am alive, if a broken shattered mess, I have a heart at last.  How many of us live in such a state, nay rather merely exist: drifting from one day to another, oblivious of the pain, sorrow, and hurt experienced by our fellow men, caring only about our clothes or music or food or latest social media status and thinking ourselves happy?  It is a strange thing, Joy, it can be found amid the dust and ashes of sorrow but never in the fickle, oblivious world that is modern culture.  For to have joy, one must know love and to know love, one must risk sorrow.  Our society hates pain of any kind be it emotional, spiritual, or physical, and finding ways to avoid or ameliorate it has become our national past time, hence the growth of vapid entertainment, prescription drug use, and uncommitted relationships.  But in hiding from pain, we also hide from life.

Life is messy and painful and to be fully lived we must embrace both, else we are just passive observers watching someone else's existence on TV though it is our own.  We all want to be happy but no one wants to risk getting hurt, but then we wonder why we can't be happy.  You can't have joy without the risk of sorrow, at least not on this mortal earth.  We need to get out hands dirty, risk getting our hearts stepped on, and actually live, otherwise what is the point?  Go find joy!