Monday, September 28, 2015

Quilting Bees, Flat Tires, and the Presence of God

Long ago but not so far away I was invited to a quilting bee. Yeah, laugh. I did. I am not the most crafty of people on the planet and I did not grow up with those pioneering skills so popular among my corner of humanity. As I sat there among the women, most of whom were younger than me, I was shocked to find that I was the only person there who did not know what I was doing. There they sat, these competent women, chatting away with their nimble fingers, zipping needles through fabric as my stubs made feeble attempts to do a stitch here or there, with miserable results. I was baffled. How did they know how to do this? I asked.

"If you want to know how to do something you just learn, Ginny." There was impatience and exasperation and condescension in her voice. I wasn't trying to be whiny or complaining or pathetic. I was just curious. Did these women all grow up with quilting grandmas or something? I felt chastised and ashamed. It was up to me to make sure that I had the competence that was up to snuff.

For the record, a few months later I did teach myself how to quilt. Sort of. Of course the thing fell apart after I washed it but BY GOLLY, I had made a quilt with my own two hands, thank you very much. This time my bootstraps worked. I had (sort of) made it a few steps up the competence ladder.

Not so long ago and even less far away, I had a flat tire. I was alone and pulled into the gas station about 3 miles from home. I called my husband. I wanted so desperately to be competent. To know what to do. How to do it. But I wasn't so sure. He came to me. He stood there and patiently talked me through the entire process. I am sure that it didn't look so good to see a man just standing there, hands in pockets, while this 120 pound woman rolled (yes, literally, rolled) around on the pavement, wrestling a tire into place (it is harder than it looks) and we laughed at what the passers by must have thought.

But I wanted to learn. And he wanted me to learn. So he stood there. Protecting me from other cars. Patiently giving me instructions. So I could learn. So I could do. He did not leave my side until we were sure that the tire was securely in place. And I had learned a new skill.

Long. long ago and far, far away there was a man named Moses. God called him to go to Pharaoh. To talk to Pharaoh. Moses thought he couldn't do it. He didn't have the skill. But God went with him.

Paul Tripp, in his book New Morning Mercies, says it this way:
This life-changing fact is that the God of glory and grace, who calls his people to do his will on earth, always goes with them as they obey his calling. He never sends them without going too. When he sends you, he doesn't give you a bunch of stuff to help you along the way. He always gives you himself because he is what you need and he alone can give you what is required. 
Life is hard. It is scary. We all face things that we are so totally unprepared for. But God does not tell us to just do it. To just pull ourselves up and dig up our own resources and figure it out for ourselves. Like my husband as I changed the tire, God is there with us. Standing over us. Protecting us. Giving us not only the instruction, but the very gift of his presence.  In his economy, companionship trumps competence. And for that I am thankful.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Doing the Loving Thing

I don't think I have ever seen so many images of the Confederate flag paraded before my very eyes before and I grew up here. By "here" I mean in the American South. South with a capital "S." I grew up around plenty of people who were really proud of the South. Of their Southern heritage. Even my mother grew suspicious of anyone without a southern accent and referred to them as "Yankees."

My mother married one of those Yankees, ensuring that I have ancestors who fought on both sides in what I always knew as the Civil War or the War Between the States (though some people I know still refer to it as the War of Northern Aggression). My father was from Massachusetts and preferred Clam Chowder to fried chicken and Welsh Rabbit to blackeyed peas, so our household was tempered a bit, I suppose, when it came to just how truly southern in culture we were.

I married a Missouri man (my mother even called him a Yankee) and while we spent our first year of marriage in Atlanta, we lived in Philadelphia for 3 years before settling for good in North Carolina. So, other than those 3 Philadelphia years, I have spent all of my life here in the South.

I know a lot of people that are pro-South. I mean...rah...rah...let's go. Let's fight the Civil War all over again. These people usually talk up the ideals of State's Rights and the heroism of Stonewall Jackson and such. They usually know a whole lot more history than I do. I would never begin to get into a debate with them on such things. So for years, I just avoided the who "Southern Heritage" shootin' match and politely bowed out of those conversations.

Then a few years ago, the issue of "Heritage Not Hate," a popular bumper sticker displaying the Confederate flag, was brought home, quite literally.

My teenage daughter, all in to horses and trucks and sweet tea and all things "country," asked me what I thought about her wearing a pair of Confederate flag earrings a friend had given her. Wow! I didn't see that one coming.

Now, we live in Western North Carolina. The population of our county is only 6% African-American, and it is even lower in surrounding counties. And even though she had lived the first 9 years of her life with African-American next door neighbors, my daughter had rather limited experience with racial issues. To her reasoning, and what she heard from her friends, this flag was all about being southern. It was about heritage.

There was no sense arguing on that standpoint. Not with her. Not with my Civil War scholar friends. But this is how I see it and this is what I told her and this is what I am still telling people when the topic comes up:

Jesus calls us to love our neighbor. Even if the flag means something perfectly innocent and good to you, it does not mean that to other people. To a lot of other people, one look at that flag brings back a wave of horror for all the atrocities visited on an entire race of people strictly because of the color of their skin. To clamor to have a right to wave whatever flag you jolly well please is looking out first for your own interest, not the other person's.

Christians are called to lay down their life and take up their cross. Sometimes that means letting go of something we may hold dear because that something is hurting somebody else.

I am all for it. I am all for taking down the flag. It won't do anything to make right all the wrongs. But neither will it continue to offend and break hearts.

Let's do the loving thing. It is time to love our neighbor.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

We Want to Matter

Much is regularly posted about the role of women in the church, in society, in family life. There are the egalitarians and the complementarians, the patriarchy people and the militant feminists. People have their views that they can back up with wagon loads of scripture (well, maybe not the militant feminists) with, at times, a side serving of attitude.

A while back I wrote an blog post touching on this. It was a plea to the male powers that be to take women seriously. To listen to, respect, and protect the female members within their midst. Based on the stories coming in from all over....from news, blog posts, personal friends, and my own experience, that is easier said than done.

A while back I read these words regarding women:

"But their hearts, minds, opinions, experiences, feelings, and everything else that makes them self-consciously who they are is completely irrelevant."

I was blown away. Blown away because these words were spoken in connection with pornography, yes pornography (read full article here), yet it described perfectly my, and others', experience within the church.

Sometimes conservatives get all bent out of shape. We check boxes to make sure we are within the appropriate confines of Doing It Right. Any concern or complaint about the place of women is met with a retort of male leadership and "I didn't make these rules, God did."

Funny thing is, I don't know women who are dying to preach or divvy up the bread and the wine or run the show. I think, more than anything, women just want to matter.


We have so, so, SO much more to give than culinary or childcare skills (not that there is anything wrong with food or babies, I am fond of both). Our thoughts, our experiences, our wisdom and even our FEELINGS (gasp!) needs to count for something.

We are half of the church. In fact, based on my observation, we are MORE than half the church. Find out who we are. Where we've been. What we've seen. What we've learned. What gifts we have. Please, please, seek us out. Listen to us. Believe us. Value us. We want to matter.

Father's Day

Every year it comes and every year it is hard and every year I wonder if I should be open and honest about it and write a post and every year I am afraid. I don't want to be told I am ungrateful. I don't want to be called a complainer. A whiner. This year I didn't write about it either. Not on the day, at least. But I am writing about it now because I know that I am not alone. And sometimes the hurt hurts less when you know you aren't the only one doing the hurting.

Father's Day. Ugh! Why do we have these holidays? It seems to me that there isn't a holiday out there that divides up the Haves and the Have Nots like Father's Day. Every year the posts are there. I scroll down my Facebook news feed and there they are. Tributes and photos of beaming fathers and smiling daughters. Accolades. Special memories. He was, to them, a source of wisdom and strength, a friend, a rock.

With each post, I wince. My heart cries out. Not only for my own pain but also for the pain of so many who will never know that kind of love and care and support and security.

There seem to be so many of us who hurt. Death, divorce, desertion, dysfunction. The entire country is buying cards and giving presents and having cookouts to celebrate a relationship that is beyond the comprehension of so many. A Hallmark spotlight on a gaping hole.

The fix for us, supposedly, is to just think of God as our father. If I had heard this once I have heard it a thousand times. As if it is that simple.

Part of the problem comes in the word itself. Father. Just the word means so many different things to people. What does father mean? What is a father like? What does a father do? It is like vocabulary class. Learning a definition. And if we learn the wrong definition of what a father is, then we will view God in that very same way. This "think of God as your father" just doesn't help very much after all.

For some people the very word "father" stirs up confusion or frustration, sadness or terror. Depending on their experience, they view God as a cosmic form of their earthly father. God as cruel taskmaster. God as demanding perfectionist. God as detached workaholic. God as groping rapist. God as disinterested. God as powerless. God as gone.

It has taken me years, and will take me many more, to get around this and to learn that the very definition of "father" that is etched in my soul is wrong. I have started on the path of learning anew what a father really is.

In the 1986 movie Crocodile Dundee (watch clip here), the main character and his girl are held up by a gang of thugs. One pulls out a switchblade and demands his wallet. The girl says "Give him your wallet. He's got a knife." And, in the most famous line of the movie, Crocodile Dundee pulls out a huge machete and says, "That's not a knife. THAT'S a knife!"

So to all my dear friends who struggle with God because of the pain associated with an earthly father, I say to you "that's not a father." And after examining the character of God...God as merciful. God as compassionate. God as wise. God as creator. God as protector. God as ever present. God as completely and utterly safe...I proclaim, "THAT'S a father!"

Broken Bootstraps and the Spirit of Despair

I went through a period earlier this year when I was scared to read the Bible. I know that sounds silly, but I was. I was so afraid that I would open the Bible and not find God to be what I so desperately need him to be. I was terrified that the condemnation and rules and shoulds and musts and the demands and finger pointing and posturing that I experience out there, in the world at large and, unfortunately, in the Christian community in particular, was in the Bible. I was convinced that I would be met face to face with the fact that God is disappointed in my performance and lack of theological prowess and really wishing he hadn't wasted his time on me.

One night, in complete despair, I flung open the Bible (a la Bible bingo, I suppose) and started reading and found this:

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives
 and release from darkness for the prisoners,to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor   and the day of vengeance of our God,to comfort all who mourn,

 I didn't get any farther than verse 3.

   and provide for those who grieve in Zion—to bestow on them a crown of beauty   instead of ashes,
the oil of joy instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.

When I got to the word despair I stopped dead in my tracks. I am no stranger to despair. No stranger at all. It seems to be my common mode of operation. So I backed up. Something about a garment of praise. Yeah, yeah. I hear that. You must praise God. You must thank him. You must, must rejoice. I could hear their words. Their commands. You must. You MUST. You must DO this.

But that isn't what it said. I backed up further. To bestow. This is talking about Jesus, the Messiah. He is the one doing this. What is he doing? He will comfort all who mourn. He will bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes. He will bestow on them the oil of joy instead of mourning. And he, HE will bestow on them a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.

This is something HE will do.

What I found in Isaiah wasn't an army general commanding me to discipline myself, get with the program, and pull myself out of the pit with my own bootstraps. I found a God of good news. And compassion. And strength. I found a God who knows that the pit is deep, the gravity is strong, and my bootstraps are broken. I found a God who knows I cannot perform my way out of despair on my own. So he provides. He provides healing and freedom and vengeance and beauty and joy and praise.

He is, after all, exactly who I need him to be.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Dud Mom at the Finish Line

Last Saturday I had the joy of standing at the Finish Line as my daughter completed her very first half marathon. She only started running a year ago and her first race was last month. She rocked this race. It was awesome. I was amazed. Yet all that joy was tempered. Well, more than tempered. It was smashed.

There I was. Standing on the sidewalk with grandtoddler on my hip and my bum knee throbbing a "you'll never do that" throb,  as cute, fit woman after cute, fit woman (some of them apparently MY age) crossed the Finish Line. Every pointing, condemning, accusing finger on the planet was pointed at me. THEY were doing it right. THEY had discipline, toughness, perseverance. I, on the other hand, was lazy. An old, flabby, out-of-shape, lazy dud.

I know this sounds crazy to some. But it is what it is. I regularly battle to retrieve my sense of value from the grips of beauty or competence or fitness or toughness. Anything...ANYTHING other than who I am in my heart, in my being, in my soul, tends to define who I am.

As time progressed that morning, my dissatisfaction with who I am physically progressed to who I am emotionally, mentally, spiritually. What  pathetic, self-centered being I must be to cloud the joy of my daughter's first half marathon with my own pathetic insecurities. Oh! The guilt!

Fast forward a few hours later. I was at home, eating lunch on the deck and trying desperately to keep the hounds from lapping up my yogurt and berries (it is an actual skill, this Doggie Interference Jig is) and I decided to dig deep.

I had just forked over the bucks for Paul Tripp's new book, New Morning Mercies: A Daily Gospel Devotional. The first sentence for June 6 was this: "Every human being places his hope in something, and every human being asks that hope to deliver something. Where have you placed your hope?"


I am not kidding. Like an iron skillet up the side of the head or a dip in Lake Supeior in May. BAM! Where is my hope?

Am I really hoping in my physical toughness to give me of value? What am I thinking? Be it physical toughness, brains, beauty, competence, a way with words, excellent parenting skills....whatever. From an eternal perspective, that is freakin' ridiculous.

Just to drive the point home, God ended this particular daily reading with these convicting, haunting words:

If your hope disappoints you, it's because it's the wrong hope. 
And my hope has disappointed me so much these past years.

This all necessitates a complete paradigm change. One that transfers my hope from WHO I AM to WHO HE IS. From the CREATED to the CREATOR.

It may take a while for this old dog, this old, graying, tired, slightly flabby, doofus-esque, emotionally tender dog to learn some new tricks but I pray that God will continue to focus my mind and my heart on the source of real hope. A hope that that will never disappoint.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

So Much Silence

I wonder how many people have never told. Have chosen to forget. Have fought to forget.

Sometimes you succeed at forgetting until the evil rises up through your skin like oil on the surface of the water. And people scoff at the oil. And call you dirty.

Maybe they call you weak. Or weird.

And wonder why you haven't cleaned yourself up.

In Christian circles they say you  "just need to trust Jesus."  They think that enough theological knowledge will fill the gaping, bottomless void that is the damaged soul.

The damaged goods become suspect within the community that should be the safest place in the world. Obedience becomes the key. Emotions become the enemy.

There are no victims, they say.
Take responsibility for your own sin, they say.
Sort your own junk, they say.
Get over it, they say.

How? Just how?
When you have been rendered voiceless, personless, powerless.

How do you grab onto bootstraps that are broken with hands that were severed?

Statistics say that at least one in four women have been sexually abused in some way by the time they are 18. At least.

And one in six men.

And yet the silence. So much silence.