Saturday, June 30, 2007

Updating blog

Just a short note-- I'm in the process of bringing my myspace posts over to this blog. You'll note that there are about 10 new blogs reaching back to April 2006.



Oh, and we also had rain. Second day in a row! Happy ferns are living on my porch!!

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Fruit

Here's something the Word says: Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God (Phil 4:5,6)

This passage is so rich. But I am struck by the first part of the verse: Let your gentleness be evident to all. The word gentleness... The Amplified expands the word to its closest Greek meaning, listing unselfishness (your considerateness, your forbearing spirit) as a fuller definition. The Greek is, phonetically, "epieikea" (minus macrons, etc.) which means moderation, patient and gentle.

They sound so much like personality traits-- and traits which do not necessarily fit my hyper personality. When I look at these words simply as definitions, I think of a sweet, mild, quiet type of person-- the girl who shows up as the future-makeover in a made for TV movie: she's quiet and unassuming and none of the boys see her true beauty. She is pale and not scary.

But I don't believe the writer was talking about a personality type. How much trouble would every one of us be in if we were judged by God on our personality type? Instead, I've been thinking about the spiritual manifestation of His gentleness in us....

Joshua ended up in the middle of PRIDE festivities (Gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans and queer) downtown this weekend. He plays ultimate frisbee and they had a game scheduled at Piedmont Park. I love my stepson-- he's always in the middle of something. Anyway, he was telling me that one of the things that most struck him was the presence of street preachers hollering "God hates fags" and "He made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve" and "Turn or burn".

When has that ever been an effective way to let people know that they are deeply loved by God?

And how is that gentle?

And really, practically speaking, how do they even imagine that their actions are even remotely effecting the change they desire?

And where in the Bible does it say that God hates "fags"?

Anyway.

Gentleness. When I think of that word, and the writer's exhortation to us to let it be evident to all, I wonder how often we keep our gentleness hidden. Like our light. Under a bushel. What does it mean to be gentle? The word says in 2 Timothy 1:7 that God has not given us a spirit of fear but of power and love and a sound mind-- I wonder if, perhaps, He is the author of that gentleness as well. Perhaps, when we are walking in His spirit, He manifests Himself through us in gentleness.

Have you ever felt broken, like you have fallen on a rock and been smashed to pieces? Did you long for judging faces? Criticism? Gentleness touches without pushing. Gentleness does not hold a grudge. Gentleness is supernatural patience. It is not a personality type-- when we allow our "gentleness to be evident to all," we are allowing His gentleness to speak of His beauty and salvation. If we would let our gentleness-- that gentleness which took up residence in us when we said yes to Him-- be evident to all, would we beat each other up with our words? Would we pummel unbelievers with our theories? Would we make assumptions about people who live their lives differently?

This is not a permissive gentleness. Rather, it is humble. I have seen men standing on street corners, screaming at me to give my life to the Lord. Glaring down at me with glowering eyes, with hatred, telling me that the end is near and that I am a lost piece of scum. Where is their discernment?

Granted, the men screaming in Piedmont Park this weekend and on street corners everywhere are not even slightly good representations of the church-- and my friends who are gay and lesbian know that and are used to those guys. But those men, totally devoid of gentleness, completely dedicated to showing the world a side of Jesus which I never have yet uncovered in His word, are what so many lonely, hurting people see or think of first. The voices of the street preachers are louder than ours in the midst of people He would love. Why?

Gentleness. The writer exhorts us to let the lovingkindness of Jesus be evident to all. To let the mildness of the Lord be evident to all-- His utter lack of meanness and criticism. To let the patience of the Lord be manifest in us, evident to all-- even those who exhaust us, who will not listen, who make the same mistakes again and again... people exactly like ourselves. And if it is a question of salvation, I wonder how many hurting people feel drawn to a source of anger that they perceive in the church? I have sat with so many friends who recount horror stories from the church. And it occurs to me that, when we walk in criticism and meanness, we are actually maligning the name of the God we claim to love. And as far as that goes, have you ever been misrepresented by a friend? How did you feel about it? How might we assume our God feels about it?

At this point, there are multiple other verses which must be brought in, so I'm off to my journal. But here is what I am sitting with today: I want the gentleness of Jesus Christ to be evident to all in me. I want His goodness and kindness to be obvious. I want to smell like Him (2 Corinth 2) and bother people with His stubborn mercy.

And at the same time, I want to find those street preachers who hurt countless people this weekend and stumbled my stepson, and I want to forget about gentleness for about 30 minutes.

But I digress.

***Please see the comment section for Sarah's response***

Monday, June 18, 2007

Money doesn't grow on trees...

This summer has felt like one big reminder course in What I Believe. I never imagined that the transition between college and “real life” would be even a blip on my screen—I’m an adult, I’ve been independent for years, I “found” myself years ago. But here I am, a 36 year old woman, nervous about starting a new job, nervous about changing campuses, wondering if I have what it takes, and wishing money grew on trees and that I had an orchard of those trees. My mother-in-law reminds us often that our Father owns the cattle on a thousand hills, but I would really like the money tree right this second.

The Lord is stretching us like crazy. And I have had to relearn some lessons. One, don’t discuss finances with people unless you are interested in their well-meaning but not-always great advice (thing I’ve been reminded in this: I love friends who just listen, or who ask more questions, helping you to figure out what’s bothering you. Generally speaking, unless an individual specifically asks for advice, confidences which are accompanied by tears are not generally requests for directions). Two, even if it seems like it’s the end of the world, it’s probably not. The Lord always provides (eventually) for our needs. People fail us, don’t follow through or forget (as I know I’ve done to others as well), but He has never failed us. I cannot name an instance when He did not take care of us in an extraordinary way. When Don broke his neck, the miracles were never-ending—my late friend Billy would ask me “If God were watching out for you, wouldn’t He have prevented Don from falling off the scaffold?” To which I would reply, if that was what He was going for. But God was redirecting the entire course of both our lives and it took an event of that magnitude to get our attention. Don’s whole career changed as a result of that fall. And He showed us what the Church can really be. And He saved him miraculously from dying. That season was stretching, too, and He came through with all of the grace/elasticity that we needed.

My Dad asked this question yesterday: “How do we grow in trust in any relationship?” I believe that relationships have to be tested. I believe that the Lord allows circumstances in our lives which might inspire us to question His goodness (asking questions like, God, where are You?), and we find Him stepping right in with beauty and grace. Over and over, as an adult believer, I have found myself in the Psalms saying, “ohhhh” in a way I never did as a child in Him.

Lord, all my desire is before You; and my sighing is not hidden from You” Psalm 38:9. I am always amazed at His tenderness. All my desire is before Him…He hears my sighing… Have you ever just sighed deeply, alone, with no words to put to the heaviness in your heart? He hears it—believer and nonbeliever, He hears it all. He hears the deepest hopes, fondest wishes, most intimate longings.

But I get so angry with Him lately. And He never deserves it. I wonder what it is that is happening in my heart that He is the first person I get angry with, the first person I blame. And I grieve deeply over it and repent and recognize that His love for me remains constant. And it’s just this season--but there’s this passage in Hosea…

Come let us return to the Lord. For He has torn us, but He will heal us; He has wounded us, but He will bandage us…” (6:1)

He was talking prophetically about Jesus, but there is something there… I feel torn and wounded, but I sense Him bandaging me, too. I look around at my close friends and I see similar seasons in their lives: divorces, jobs lost and found, indictments, cancers and bills and lost babies…. Life happens to us, then the Lover of our souls draws us close and kisses our wounds.

And His provisions… the more tight finances become, the more miraculous small things seem (one of my leaders in YWAM used to say that we were not broke, but rather in an opportunity for financial blessing). The other night, I walked in from a meeting and noticed a dollar bill lying on the counter—this is how broke we’ve been, that I notice a dollar bill and ask him, “Hey, where’d you get that?” He smiled at me and pointed to the front yard. He’d found it. It was just lying there in the middle of the yard. It’s true that money doesn’t grow on trees, but I have a God who is a Poet and the King of all things subtle and who is able to make it fall from the sky…

Monday, June 11, 2007

the whole house to clean and not one paper due...

I've been off my game, blog-wise. For the last year or so, I've waxed poetic in my myspace blog at a pace of about twice a week. Several of those blogs were great pieces of writing, but almost all of them (good or bad) shared one thing in common: I was avoiding a paper when I wrote them.

Oh yes, my master plan for procrastination almost always involves doing something just as significant (however I define "significant" that day) instead of the thing which is due. My house? Never cleaner than when an especially big paper or project is due. Dinner? You guessed it-- 'pert near gourmet when I should be preparing a powerpoint. And of course, when I'm at the computer anyway, and it's late at night because I've cleaned house, painted or called long-lost friends just in from (insert country here), blogging happened.

I wonder if I will ever be able to write again. The last paper I wrote-- a study of Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises from a queer theorist perspective (fascinating, I have to say)-- was particularly...anticlimactic. One of my favorite papers, I think, but as I was drawing to a close, writing for one of my favorite professors, I realized that, unless I return one day for a PhD, it's my last paper to be submitted in this way. And I was a little sad. I was frenzied, harried, freaked out and nervous about a million other little things (it was days before graduation, in the same slot as my oral defense of my portfolio and it was late) and I got a little melancholy for paper writing...

I miss school. Already. There. I've admitted it. So many friends have called and wished me congrats on finishing my master's and have, almost to the one, asked "Are you relieved?" Of course I laugh and say YES, but in a way... I know that I sound 16, but I miss my friends. I miss my cohort-- we were a tight group of people, in each other's lives daily for one year, walking through so much stress and so much good conversation and learning. I'm happy to have a job, and my school is fantastic and crammed with really wonderful people-- including a couple of very, very good friends AND a great friend from my program, too--but it's not Agnes. And I already miss all of those women (and our token guy, and our profs, et al).

I guess I'll start procrastinating when it comes time to grade things in the fall. Except that I'm back to another freshman year, when I don't procrastinate because I'm too scared. I'll be totally on top of my game out of sheer fear of failing for at least one year-- and possibly two. Maybe even three, but we'll see. When will I blog again?

Today, I guess. I'm avoiding cleaning the office. It's still a mess from just before graduation. But avoiding papers is what fires the angst of good writing, so I'm wondering where that's going to come from. Hm. I might have to start trolling for assignments.


In other news, it's raining. God is good and my ferns (still living) are happy--

Sunday, June 10, 2007

He doesn't forget...

I’m thinking about faith. I’m thinking of art. I’m thinking of music and noise and words and all of those things we bump into all day long, and I’m wondering why it is that I find myself being easily irritated with my God lately.

I know that it’s not logical. I know that it’s stupid. I know that there will never be an indictment against Him that will hold water. Not one. And the thing is, it’s like I say: irritation, not anger. I just finished reading a book called Eyewitness at Auschwitz—one of the most explicit accounts of life in a concentration camp—and while my heart cries out to God about the injustice suffered there, I cannot blame Him: even when I walked through the Holocaust museum in Jerusalem, nothing in me questioned His goodness. No, I understood—in so many ways, only half to do with the museum itself—the depravity of man. I recognized that the heart of God was broken at Auschwitz.

I watched my father shuffle across the kitchen the other day, a mark from minor surgery on his face, where a basal cell carcinoma was removed from his chin, the mark of a Parkinson’s patient whose skin becomes more vulnerable to such issues. I do not blame God for the disease that wants to grab my father by the neck and wrestle his strong body to the ground. We live in a fallen world, and my father’s relationship with and understanding of God has come to a place that it has never been before. His paintings are remarkably bright and intense—his teachings full of grace and practical wisdom. His garden blooms under his hand obediently and I know that my God counts my father as a friend—that He has not abandoned him to this disease but is speaking to him through it. He isn’t bitter. His eyes are on God.

But I become irritated with the small things surrounding me. That finances are so, so tight. That our house is so, so small. That things which I believe are natural to expect are not as sure as I thought. That I am concerned about the water bill and Don’s tuition. That I know that I hurt my step-son’s feelings last week and I’m not sure what to do about it. I find myself grumpy and scowling at the sky: where are You, I want to know. Don’t you see that I think I’m developing an ulcer? (hello, Miss Melodrama) Don’t you care?

The heavens are silent. I know why. Because I’m full of crap. I have lived in times of plenty and times of extreme want—and have grown through both. Truth be told, the times of want have produced more fruit than the lean times, I think. Don and I have walked out all of our early years of marriage broke and whole. And I know that I have felt the presence of the Lord the most solidly when things are lean and our relationship has been solidly forged in fire.

Still, selfish girl gets irritated with the most consistently perfect Friend ever when I get uncomfortable. Will I ever grow up? Sometimes I wonder… I suppose that it’s possible that our lives—like the work of an artist—feature us returning again and again to the same theme, the same weakness. As an artist, I return to oranges and flowers over and over again—I want to work them out, make them right. I return to the “Once upon a time” intro in my writing repeatedly—what can I say? I love fairy tales. As a believer, I return to “Don’t you even love me?” more times than I would like to admit. I hope that I do less than I did as a young Christian.

Of course, I’ve repented of my irritation. I came home from a meeting today grumpy and irritated and a little scared about the bills, threw myself down on my bed and shook my fist (internally) at God—and instead of a bolt of lightning knocking me out cold, turning me into a greasy spot on the bed, a litany of blessings marched through my mind. He wasn’t angry for me, but came like a flood to remind me that right this second, it’s alright. Everything is okay. I can’t know what tomorrow will bring, but today—right this second—everything is fine. And He hasn’t taken His eyes away. He knows just where I am. And He hasn’t forgotten me.

This refusal to lower Himself to my level (so to speak) is one of the most amazing things about this God of mine. How He never stomps away from me is mind blowing. The reality of His power is always before me, alongside the living testimony of His grace. How could I worship anyone else?
(above, most recent work.
a commissioned piece
designed after sanctuary
window, CFUMC)

Friday, June 1, 2007

expanse of possibilities

there is a gate behind our house that leads to a huge meadow, overgrown with pecan trees, fig trees, blackberry bushes, mimosa trees and even some cedars. it's "the woods" really-- the wilderness leads to a small pond, a creek and a big clearing. it's beautiful.

i never go back there.

i mean, seriously. snakes, mosquitoes, coyotes and deer live back there-- not to mention some huge rabbits who aren't even afraid of us when we walk through the yard. we live in the country. north rockdale-- the part of town i used to say someone was from if i thought they were backward...little did i know that my future husband was growing up out here. the only folks i knew to be living out here were the rameys. and that, friends, is enough said.

anyway, i was thinking of janis joplin tonight-- last weekend i watched a documentary about this festival she was part of in june of 1970, just a couple of months before she died. the festival took place in canada over the course of one week. the artists and their bands went by train to each of the three sites and spent the down time jammin in some of the most fantastic jam sessions ever captured on film: janis joplin, grateful dead, the band and others hung out, drunk and high and who knows what, harmonizing and laughing and making up songs that will never be sung again...

have you ever watched janis sing? she didn't just sing-- she ministered. she was a stitch to watch-- all over the place, she sang with that gravel-rock voice and changed words according to what she wanted you to know. she sang advise to her audience. she ministered from the wisdom she had collected at that point in her life. that broken girl was smart and intuitive in so many ways, from what i can see from this seat waaay back in the back. i can't see into her heart, but i know that musicians minister, whether they mean to or not, and that's what i've watched her do. but not now.

and i wonder what she would have done had she survived past those years that so many of us traversed just as stupidly. or practically as stupidly. when she died, she left so much unexplored...

and i thought of my gate. this great big expanse of possibilities. i'm wondering-- what enormous gates have i left unexplored? a bunch. going back to college was one of those gates and it did not disappoint me-- but it led to a whole mess of other gates.

now i don't anticipate dying of an overdose, and i have never bought southern comfort (hm. interesting...), but dying is only one way we avoid the adventure of possibilities. it may sound ridiculous, but i grieve over the loss of janis joplin-- she was adorable. she was crazy. she was brilliant. there's this moment in the documentary when she's sitting in a group of "famous 70's rock artists", harmonizing behind big purple circle sunglasses. she's obviously having the time of her life-- they all are-- when jerry garcia leans over toward her and says, "janis, i have loved you since the first time i saw you." cocking her head to the side, she grins and sort of giggles and there she is: she's a girl, a person, a woman. within months, she was dead-- jerry 25 years behind her, but still too soon.

expanse of possibilities. hm. i need to make a list.