Category: CHRISTIAN LIFE
Breathe in, breathe out and try to relax
When I lived in Atchison, KS, my younger brother by nine years came to move in with me in order to finish high school. The very first piece of advice I heard? “Keep him away from the black kids.” When Chuck started school? He found every single student of color he could find and brought them to the house!
What they didn’t understand about me and my brother was that we’d been friends with more than a few people of color as we grew up. I thought that meant I understood them, that I “got” them. I didn’t. Not really. And I know that I still don’t, but I will never pretend to.
Let me explain. When I was in St. Louis, MO for a conference in college, my friend and I thought it would be wise to locate the building we’d need to find in the morning. So we took off, just a couple of white girls driving down the street, enjoying the opportunity to be away from classes for a few days. Everywhere I looked there were White Castle restaurants, which we didn’t have back home. The weather was perfect for leaving the windows down. It was wonderful!
We found the way to the university easily and then tried to find the route back to the hotel. This was a bit more problematic. Not realizing that White Castles were everywhere, we started using them as landmarks, confident that if we saw one, we were on the right track. As dusk set, the landscape began to look different. “Jane” I said, “When we drove to the university, there were white people in the White Castles. Now I only see black people. So either people ate shifts based on your particular shade of skin, or we’re lost.”
Oh, we were definitely lost! It was time to end our tour of St. Louis’s White Castle chain and find our way back to the hotel. As we waited for the light to change at the intersection of 14th Street and Martin Luther King Drive, a black teenager approached the car. Great! We could ask directions, which we got after this young man asked if we wanted to take him and his friend home. My heart absolutely shattered. This kid should have been home studying; instead he was offering himself to anyone who would pay him for the use his body for a price, as if it didn’t belong to him or had no other value.
We got back to the hotel, a little wiser and a lot more disheartened. What could we possibly do about it?
The next morning, I got up early to go to a nearby store to pick up some pantyhose. If the night before hadn’t been enough to unsettle me, my shopping experience sealed the deal.
As I looked for the pantyhose, it slowly occurred to me that there were none called “Nude.” In fact, there were none for a light-complected white girl like me at all.
Curious, I went to the cosmetic aisle. There were absolutely no cosmetics for someone of my color at all. In the hair products I saw products I didn’t even know existed and had no idea what any of them did. It brought to mind the time a friend of mine said she was going to perm her hair later in the evening. I told her the thing I hated most about perms was getting all the curlers in. She patiently reminded me that she didn’ t want or need to make her hair curly; her perm was to straighten her hair. (Here’s your sign!)
I walked outside the store empty handed and realized I hadn’t noticed the billboards. Every single one had attractive black people showing off their product. Not a single white person to be seen. No one who looked like me, outside a store that didn’t have me in mind when they ordered inventory. A strange and uncomfortable thought came to me: I had a right to be able to buy what I want when I want it! How could anyone not carry the products I needed? I quickly squashed that thought but was ashamed by it.
I have never forgotten the moment when I realized my skin color excluded me from buying what I needed. It was profoundly disconcerting to have people with my skin color unrepresented in the images around me. In fact, as I looked at the people on the sidewalks, I began to search to anyone else who looked like me. I had an unfamiliar desperation to at least see another white person because this very small part of the world did not include me. Not because of any nefarious plan, discrimination or injustice, but simply because of demographics. And that sense of privilege and entitlement I’d felt earlier was a surprisingly ugly thought that simply came because I had never had what I needed or wanted unavailable to me.
I’ve had years to think on that snapshot of my life experiences. I look around and see white people in television and movies. Santa is white. Jesus is white (though I’m pretty sure that’s not accurate!). I see white people in political offices and upper management. It’s all very comfortable for a white girl like me to see the world when it reflects my ethnicity, my experience, my goals and dreams.
See, a lot of white women my age have grown up playing with the same toys, had the same celebrity crushes, the same encouragement and opportunities. We understand each other because we “know” each other. But we aren’t educated in what black women our age experience. We don’t “know” them as well.
While we can and should respect their experience, we simply don’t understand what doesn’t reflect ourselves. I don’t think it’s because we don’t want to! We just don’t know how to educate ourselves. I know that in the wake of George Floyd’s death, people have shared book and video titles that would help. But those books and videos only provide knowledge, which is a good start. It would take relationships to gain wisdom and understanding. It will take a lot more for us to understand how it feels to have people not look us in the eye as they pass by because we’re darker. To have someone hold their purse a little tighter because we’re darker. To be seen as someone to be afraid of or suspicious of because we’re black.
And when we watch the protests on television, we understand how senseless, destructive and quite frankly wrong they choose to be heard is. But I think we need to consider that, like so many other minorities, they don’t have a voice and they have no leadership like they did in Martin Luther King, Jr. And when you can’t speak, you scream. When there is no platform on which to build, you destroy. You take the only options and tools available and demand to be seen.
This is the same frustration that has lead to #metoo movements and #blacklivesmatter, etc People just want to be seen and treated with some respect and dignity. They want boundaries for themselves that are honored. And it can start very simply in the small details. When someone says “Stop” just stop. When a tall black man of substantial and imposing height walks by you, just flash a quick smile to him like you would to anyone else. When someone definitely looks like she’s “not from around here”, just talk to her.
I’ve never been too shy to draw someone into a conversation, and one day I saw a very nice looking black woman sitting at a nearby table, alone. There were no other diners around, so I went over to her and asked her if she was enjoying our town. She told what brought her to New Ulm. I shared some tips and recommendations on how to best enjoy the town.
When we parted, she thanked me for talking to her, telling me that she’d been in town for two days and no one had spoken to her. I assured her that the folks here are cautious with anyone they don’t know. However, I could attest to the fact that you couldn’t find kinder people. It just took some time, but once they warm up to you, they won’t hesitate to tell you about their son’s ex-wife’s hysterectomy!
Just let them talk and then listen to them. Really hear them!
I certainly don’t support the way some protesters are acting. And I’m definitely not an expert on the black experience! But I know what it’s like to not be seen, to not be heard.
In his devotion for today, Rick Warren shared Proverbs 31:8-9 (NIV): “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.” Besides the black community, we have…
- the poor
- the uneducated
- the handicapped
- the mentally ill
- the babies
- the children
- the geriatric
- the obese
- the single parents
- the nerds
- the homosexuals
- name your own
It’s a long list because there are so many circles to classify ourselves in. But right there in the center of our Venn Diagram, right there in the middle, we find the one thing that we all share. We are all children of a powerful and loving God, who must grieve over he way we treat other children of God. Those of us who know better need to do better when we can.
It’s suffocating to never be heard. And I suppose that’s why George Floyd’s last words will linger for a very long time.
Not Another Crisis!
I’ll be honest. When I hear new details of the George Floyd protests, I get a bit anxious – because the protesters are angry, violent and, most frightening perhaps, unpredictable. When I hear an update on our government, I grow concerned – because some politicians are duplicitous, powerful and, perhaps most frightening, unpredictable. I don’t know what’s true or what to expect. You know the feeling?
We live in a time in which there is very little information we can not access. You may even say too much information, and too many people sharing or creating that information. And far too little experience discerning fact from fiction. Harder still, I believe, is determining what’s true from what is almost true
So what can I count on to be both true and unchanging? What can I take comfort in knowing? The Word of God and the nature of God.
This year has been hard on all of us. Even the introverts are tired of the limitations the Coronavirus has left us is. And at this writing, businesses and neighborhoods are being destroyed in protests spurred by the loss of a black citizen’s life at the hands of a white authority. And none of us really know what to do. About anything. It’s now that I take comfort in my salvation and adoption by my Abba as his child.
This morning, my husband and I were discussing whether our current condition is a sign of the end times. Is Christ about to return at any moment? Will it get even scarier out there before he does. And we determined that we’re no more intelligent or wiser than Christ, who himself doesn’t know when the God who has the moon and stars in his hand will give the charge, so what do we know.
But that brought to mind 2 Peter 3:9:
“The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”
In the same chapter, the church is encouraged to be prepared and to live so as to be found spotless when Christ returns.
Today, it would be so easy, as a Christian, to sit in self-righteousness and be confident of my readiness, to think “I’m ready!” And while checking the news and reading social media, seeing hatred and deception, it would be easy to be the Pharisee who publicly thanked God that his God saw him as a righteous man was not a sinner like the tax collector. We are right with God…unlike the vipers in government and the vandals, looters, and other ne’er do wells.
But before we get too comfortable with this increasing polarization, I want to remind you of 2 Peter 3:9. God is staying his hand so that the people who we’re about to pronounce judgement on still have time to accept Christ as their savior, understand they’re sinners, and repent.
Before Christ ascended into the heavens, he commissioned us to share the Gospel. It’s great to be on Team God! But we can’t just join the team and be done, proud that we’re there. We still have the daunting task of waiting diligently so as to be acceptable at his son’s return. We can’t just stop because we got our Get Out of Hell Free card. We’ve been commanded, by the one to whom we belong, to invite others to join the team. That’s why we’re still waiting.
It’s so easy to look at a fellow sinner and condemn them for their behavior and polarize ourselve opposite them.
We are all sinners. And we are all unworthy and completely dependent on the grace of God. But we are all loved by our Abba.
And so God waits. The house is on fire, we’re safe, and we even saved one other person. What are we going to do about the others still trapped in the house?
“LARONDA, I AM YOUR FATHER”
Have you heard of the phenomenon known as “The Mandela Effect”? It’s named for Nelson Mandela, whose death in prison had become a widely accepted truth in spite of the fact that he was, in fact, very much alive. The Mandela Effect refers to a widely accepted belief that something that did not happen or that something happened differently from the way it actually happened. For example, many people – probably those who did not actually see Star Wars – would tell you that Darth Vader said to Luke Skywalker, “Luke, I am your father” when he actually said, “No. I am your father.”
The Mandela Effect has absolutely nothing to do with this post.
But today I am spending time alone with my Father. I need to because right now, I feel like my life is full of impossibilities, and I need to spend more time with the way maker than I do with the obstacles in my way.
For the past week, I’ve been in significantly more pain than usual, which is already a lot. In addition to the bone-on-bone pain of my permanently dislocated shoulder creating a new place to call home and the accompanying nerve and muscle pain, other bones and muscles are uncomfortably adjusting to my shoulder’s re-location, and they are clearly displeased with the imposition.
The tendinitis in my left hip is getting progressively worse, and I remember all too well the last time this happened because I spent nine months in agony, only able to sleep in my recliner at night – all to get through a 40 hour work week. And most recently, the back muscles on my right side painfully seize up each time I set down my right foot, complementing the grinding pain in my knee. For those of you playing at home, that’s fifty percent of my steps. 🙂 Then I have the the gnawing, unrelenting nerve pain that goes with spinal stenosis spreading through the bottom half of my body. And I may have a hangnail.
And I’ve been trying to work 40 hours a week because we need the money. Even on the days that everything in me cries, “I can’t.” Last night, I couldn’t even lay in bed without my back muscles protesting. That’s when I decided to text my boss that I would not be at work today. I’m worn and exhausted. The pain won’t be any less, but at least I don’t have to feel the pressure of pressing through. Today, I really can’t!
So I’m spending the day with my Father. And a kitten who likes to suckle on my clothes.
I just wish God would give me a small encouraging glimpse of what’s ahead, of where I’m supposed to be or what I will be doing. I could use some tangible hope. To be honest, my preference would be to have the time to write until something really good ends up on paper.
I was delighting myself in this possibility as I got ready for bed. I got out of the straight jacket we call a bra and into the comfort of a well worn nightgown, then I brushed my teeth. When I finally turned off the light and pulled the covers over me, I opened an app from Morgan Harper Nichols and found this:
Yes! My spirit sang for joy at the thought that this was God’s answer. I was meant to be in bed, warm and free from the constraints of a bra! Praise God! I still hurt, but I could deal that thorn as long as I could deal with it in bed.
But I’m not foolish enough to believe this is the good plan God has for me. (Truly, I’m not!) But as I joke about it today, sitting in a quiet house with a perfectly content kitten sleeping on me, a heating pad warming my back, I think there may be an answer there for me beneath the sarcastic humor.
Maybe this is closer to the truth of where I’m meant to be:
“Now may the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.” Hebrews 13:20-21 (NIV)
Now that is appealing! Resting comfortably in my Father’s arms, wrapped in his provision and protection, wanting for nothing because he knows what I need. He is the good Father who delights in me and is the giver of good things. He has a good plan for me and goes ahead of me to make the path straight, lighting the path with his Word so I have no reason to stumble.
I really have no reason to worry about my future because the same powerful, steady hands that hold me up when I’m weak are same hands that gently hold me close to his side now. I never knew the comfort of a father’s reassuring embrace, but I’m beginning to believe that it wouldn’t hold a candle to the peace I feel spending time with him today. My Father is a good father. He knows me. He sees me. He loves me. And he’s got this!
I may wait, but like C. S. Lewis once said…
SPILLING YOUR GUTS 101
Houses are often used as analogies to lives. I think if my life, my personality, were personified as a house, that house would be similar to the famous Winchester house.
Allow me to demonstrate.
Isn’t this a lovely home?
Oh! It’s a bit bigger than it looks, isn’t it?
OK. Now, that’s just wrong!
See what I mean?
Since I started blogging over a year ago, I’ve thought a lot about what I want to accomplish through my writing. I have offered to put any talent I may have into the hands of the God who can make donkeys talk. But even before that, God’s been in the process of stripping away all those things I don’t need and all the clutter I was never supposed to have, all to reveal me to myself the way my Father intended me to be when he formed me in my mother’s womb.
And you know what? The debris crew has a lot of work to do!
I have felt defective for many of my 50+ years – anywhere from ‘not quite good enough’ to ‘how do you even function?!‘ But I always maintained that a fresh coat of cheerful paint, an attractive wreath on the front door and some bright flowers along the front walk would be good enough to keep up the facade. The KEEP OUT signs managed to keep most people on the sidewalk. Sure, sometimes that fresh coat of paint covered some rust that should have been removed, but I was always afraid that the rust was the only thing holding things together.
A few years ago, our water main broke and we had water slowly and steadily seeping into the basement. The repair was as extensive as it was expensive, and in the end our little half-lot had a section measuring approximately 6′ wide by 8′ long by 8′ deep gouged out of its soil and we had a $4,200 bill. A large lilac bush was also removed in the process, leaving our small deck to sink a few inches on the right side. What was left was an ugly scar through our front yard. To make things worse, we live on a street favored by walkers and joggers. The huge pumpkin vine we’d had growing out of the middle of our yard a few years earlier was at least intriguing, but that’s a whole other story! This was just plain ugly! And absolutely everyone could see it.
A couple of years before that, something very similar happened. This time, though, it was physical. I’d had an emergency open-heart surgery to repair my ascending aorta. Long story, short, I blew a hole in my ascending aorta and could have/should have died. Trust me, it was kind of a big deal, and I’m excited to tell you about it – maybe even in the next post – because it was pretty amazing and key to my current restoration project.
Anyway, I now have a long jagged scar down the middle of my chest. There’s about one inch in the middle of the scar that is now thin and nearly invisible. Below that, the scar is stretched to nearly a half-inch wide and very, very light in color. But at the top – the part that shows above the neckline of all my clothes – is a two-inch long, half-inch wide red scar. It, too, is just plain ugly. And everyone can see it!
So why are these two things so significant to me? Why do they embarrass me? Because for the first time in my life, I couldn’t keep the surface of the water still. I was unable to control and manage the damage. More important, I couldn’t hide it.
Now, most people would look at a surgery like mine and be glad they’d survived it. And they’d look at the lawn and deck and know it’s just a part of being a homeowner. But not me. All I could think was that now everyone could see how “defective” I was. It was almost as if my ‘ick’ has pressed the seams, busted the stitching and poured out for everyone to gawk at in disgust. And I was embarrassed and ashamed.
That is what you’d call pathological thinking. Or just plain mad!
You’d be right.
The night of my open-heart surgery, God did something amazing and transformational. And it seems he’s been working over-time since then to apply enough pressure to my seams to push out and bring to light all the crap I’ve protected and tried to keep hidden from view. Every time something new oozes out and I’m frantically trying to shove it all back in, my loving Father invites me to look at it – really look at it – in the light and decide if I honestly want to keep it…or if it might be time to let it go.
It hasn’t been easy to watch parts of me being removed. These are things by which I can no longer define myself. My signature was once beautiful and flowing. I enjoyed public speaking and community theater. I walked sharply and confidently. I went where I wanted, when I wanted. I could push myself just a little bit further if I had to.
Since my surgery, I’ve had poor balance and waddle to adjust for it. I’ve fallen quite a few times; the most recent resulting in a permanently dislocated shoulder. I can’t even Google that! My speech isn’t as clear as it once was, and when I’m excited or tired I slur more noticeably. I know for a fact that some people have thought I was drunk. I’ve had to give up driving. My handwriting that was once confident and legible is now carefully written, sometimes illegible, and no longer resembles my previously smooth handwriting. I miss my signature the most. I tire very easily and have a poorer memory.
And yet, I still put in a full week as an insurance agent!
I’ve been clipped, stripped and limited. But God’s not stopping there because he knows I’d feel completely broken, defeated and hopeless, which is where I already was the night of my surgery.
When I chip a front tooth, God tells me, “Shush. That tooth doesn’t define you.”
When my husband – the poor man – doesn’t seem to appreciate me the way I want him to, I hear God admonish, “Don’t look to him for your value. He may love you, but I’m the one who gives you value.”
When our bank account doesn’t line up with our bills, he reminds me, “Money isn’t a problem for me.”
When I feel flawed and ashamed, he says, “Lift your head, Child.”
And when I feel hopeless and don’t know who I am, he whispers, “Come here. You’re mine, and I will never leave you. You are so loved!”
The world, and especially he who is in the world, have had over 50 years to do their worst to bring me to condemnation, but I am in the middle of a restoration! And I simply can’t bring home this point better than C. S. Lewis:
“Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of – throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.”
“Yet as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”
Joshua 24:15 (MEV)
Now, excuse me. I think I just saw Miley talking to the demolition team and I’m a little concerned!