Thursday, August 6, 2015

Treasure Trove

Our basement flooded, again. It’s the second time in the three years we’ve lived here but it’s also the second time in less than six months. It looked like complete devastation down there. Now our basement wasn’t the organized HGTV basement you see. It’s boxes upon boxes that have been dug through, from attempting to find objects from the last move. But it’s not only our boxed stuff down there, it’s some of my dad’s, after he passed away. We also have my mom’s and granny’s stuff. My sis-in-law is using our basement as storage and then of course I’ve collected future “projects” that I’ve never gotten around to doing. 

When something like this happens it forces you to take inventory of what can be saved and what can’t be. Who I am kidding, there’s no inventory taken, I just start throwing out what looks like it’s in the worst condition and go from there. I thought I had thrown out a lot from the first time it flooded but it still looks like a wreck down there. And since trash day was upon us, which comes every week, I decide to work on it again. Now let me say, it flooded again like a month ago but it was too overwhelming for me to tackle because of the shit I’ve been going through, so it’s taken me this long to get back to it. This isn’t unusual or out of the ordinary behavior for me though. When something unfortunate happens to me or I receive bad news, whatever it may be, I tend to have a delayed reaction. I act as if nothing ever happened when something too hard comes my way. In my attempt to pretend or as I like to say, “Floating on Denial River.” I’d rather not deal than, well-deal. 

Paralyzed. Unable to do anything. Frozen at the sea of wreckage. Kinda like my life. Grief upon grief is what I’ve experienced. A decade ago our family lost close to a dozen family members, within a year and a half. They pretty much went in sets of three with one here or there scattered in between. We got used to going to funerals. Then five years ago my dad decided to die. I’m sure he didn’t decide to die but damnit why did he have to die?! Then a month later my son, who was sixteen, announced that he and his girlfriend were pregnant. It was my son and my husband who had found my dad dead, laying on a patch of grass between the driveway and walkway to his house. My poor son. My heart breaks knowing he experienced such trauma at an early age. 

Each time I go downstairs to do the laundry, the wreckage is before me. So much stuff. No organization whatsoever. Just paths here and there. I can’t. It’s too much. Too many memories, too much pain of loss to go through. I want the people I lost back in my life, not their stuff. F the stuff. Except they aren’t retuning. Death does that. Once it takes you, it won’t let go. Swallowed up by a grave or ashes or however you decided to dispose of them. As horrific as that sounds, so is death. I repeatedly say, “I hate death.” And I do. It was never meant to be. One minute they’re here and the next they're gone. With the gasp of their last breath, they're no more. Their bodies may lay before you, much like my dad’s that fateful night he lay there for what seemed like hours, til the moment you go through the motions of the showing and funeral. And then all your left with is their stuff. The good, the bad, the ugly. 

My parents were never the organized type. Piles and piles of paperwork, important and unimportant alike. I’ve pretty much taken after them in that department. I’ve tried to get organized but the hugeness of the task overwhelms me and I just sit and stare and don’t do anything at all. Now I’ve organized for others and I do it well. It gives me great satisfaction to help other people sift through their overwhelming mess. It feels good to help, to lift their arms and support them when all’s too much for them. But when it comes to my own junk, I just sit and stare. I’ve spoke about it numerous times and even got promises out of a couple different close family members to help me since I’ve ever so graciously dug them out too many times to count. But their offer was eons ago and two floods later. I finally asked my daughter-in-law for help and she actually said yes! Thank goodness! Maybe we were gonna make head-way. Maybe we’re gonna put a dent in it. 

Looking at the side of the road, where we put the trash and carried out a number of boxes that were water logged, it seemed like we removed a lot from the basement. But, and I say a big but, to look at the basement, it doesn’t look like we removed anything! Ugh, the task is daunting. I wanna go through every box but then again I don’t. I just wanna throw the crap out! I started to do that with one box but when I asked her if I should open it or not, her hesitation told me to look in it. I mean all it had written on the box was VHS. Who the hell has a VHS player any more? We don’t. I couldn’t even play them if I wanted to. I struggled to peel the tape back and what my eyes laid upon brought back a flood of emotions. The many VHS movies that was before me was owned by my dad. They represented him. I couldn’t throw them out. Not yet. 

It was unusual how the flood waters would engulf one box but not the box right next to it. Kinda reminds me a tornado. They are erratic with the path they've chosen. Just when you think you know the direction they're headed, they abruptly shift and go in another, missing one house yet demolish the next five. That’s sort of how it seems to be in the case of our boxes. One box would be completely soaked and molded, because it’s been a month since the flood. Then the very next box would be perfectly fine. How could that be? It doesn’t make sense. Yet in the confusion of it all, as we were going through this and that box we found treasures of old in some of them. One box we were carrying out to the curb, I found a pile of pictures in them. What sweet memories pictures are able to bring forth. Some of the memories not so sweet. But memories to say the least. 

That’s really all we hold onto don’t we? Memories. The good, the bad, the ugly. Sometimes when we look back all we see is rubble. Piles and piles of rocks, destroyed by floods, tornados, tsunamis of events. We can’t see what’s of worth between all garbage that’s been mixed in. Or we see it all as garbage. Like me. Until I begin to open up each box and actually put my hand on each book, photo, or VHS tape. We place great value on things. It’s hard to let go. It’s hard to say, “I don’t need to carry this with me anymore.” But there shouldn’t be any forcing. You get to decide when you’re ready to say goodbye and no one else. You know when your heart is ready. My basement still looks like hell. There’s still plenty to go through but it doesn’t all have to be done in a day or even two. Give yourself a break and allow yourself to process what you’ve just handled. Like the VHS box. My dad was important to me and although he is no longer physically here, things that represent him are. Even if it seems silly, like stupid VHS tapes. Things represent time and space that were filled with people. People that once were in your life. Like my former best friend. That stills hurts. Every day I choke down 2 vitamin D3s because she’s the one that recommended that I take them with my magnesium. But I know that advice is good for me to follow, I looked it up on my own and read about it, even if the relationship is no longer. 

We attach people to inanimate objects and the objects become them. Especially when they’re no longer here. That’s why there are basements filled with stuff from years past because we can’t let go. Because it’s hard. It’s painful. It’s overwhelming to go through it alone. Sorting through what’s worth holding onto and what’s not. Like life. As much as we don’t like the fact that death is a reality in our lives, especially me, when I’ve had so much loss, with death comes new life, new births. With the death of winter comes spring. Newness. A chance to be reborn. A chance to take inventory, even if it takes time. With a new birth comes a washing off of the old, a chance to look at things differently, with a new set of eyes so to speak. A new you. That sounds really nice. New and fresh beginnings. A new road to journey down. Take your time though. No need to rush. Take it all in. Every smell, every site your eyes land on and stop and receive. 


The road I’m walking down right now in my mind is a solitary road but I’m okay with that. There’s peace there. There’s a wheat field to my left and to my right, green foliage. The gentle winds are blowing and the stalks of wheat are dancing in unison. I stop to take it in. The beauty of it. I take in a deep breath. I close my eyes. I allow the winds to encompass me and comfort me. I begin to walk again. I reach over and allow my hand to run through the swaying wheat. They are gentle to the touch and they reach back, allowing me to intwine my fingers and dance with it. This road may not last forever but it’s taking me off the beaten path just long enough to give me a new perspective on life. Kinda like finding treasures in the memories in my basement. It’s not all bad. There’s beauty in recognizing that not all is ruined and I can find joy in discovering newness from what I thought was all lost. 

Notorious

The phrase “Those who have forgiven much, love much” has been swirling about in my head the last couple days. A friend of mine said it to me while we were on the phone a couple months back. I knew it came from scripture somewhere but, at the time, didn’t have much meaning to me….until now.

I fell pretty hard in my Christian walk. I didn’t just trip, I fell smack dab on my face and went skidding, what seemed to be a good hundred feet or more. I didn’t just stub my toe, it was a whole body fall. I would say that I was pretty unrecognizable, even to myself. It felt like was swimming but I didn’t realize how deep I was. I found myself in the impact zone and didn’t even see the wave coming. I was officially in the spin cycle. I didn’t know if I was coming or going and couldn’t make heads or tails of where I was at. Every time I went up for air, I was slammed again with another wave. It reminded me of the time when I almost drowned as a teenager. As soon as the top of my head touched the surface of the water, I opened my mouth, gasping for air. I fought to take in a deep breath but I was pushed back under. What was suppose to be air, water rushed in, over, around, swallowing me up like a bottomless grave. I was in the process of dying yet fighting for my life. Panic set in. Flailing and grasping and clawing. But at what? Nothingness. It seemed like the very friends that encouraged me to go for a swim had left me to drown…maybe even they were the ones that were pushing my head under. How could I go from fighting spiritual warfare at the beginning of the week, speaking life from my lips, to swimming in the deep by week’s end? 

I’ve felt so much loss. So much grief. Unexplainable despair. I’ve never been suicidal my entire life, yet I’ve thought about ending my life, a lot. Or just disappearing. I’ve actually thought about that quite a bit. I picture myself on some tropical island, with the expanse of the ocean in front of me and miles of sand on either side of me, with very little people on it, if any at all. I imagine complete serenity. The gentle winds, blowing through my hair. My skin sun kissed. No troubles or worries. But then I remember and reality sets in.

I think about certain women in the bible and wonder how they felt as they were brought forth and shamed. Like the woman caught in the act of adultery. I’ve thought about her and her story many times, as I’ve heard it in messages and read it myself. The first thing I think of is, where is the man she was caught with? I mean if she was caught, he was caught. Then I wonder how did they get caught? Did she confide in someone and they broke confidence and told someone else and it got back to the religious leaders?  Something juicy like that travels fast. Or were the teachers of the law and Pharisee’s standing outside of their window in order to catch them? 

Picture this, Jesus came into the temple courts and all the people gathered around him, and He sat down to teach them. I don’t know about you but that sounds like a lot of people to me. It says that the teacher’s of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery and they made her stand before the group. Oh my word! Stand before the group! Can you imagine how she felt? And again, where the heck is the man that was with her?!! 
I find it interesting that it’s usually the woman who is blamed for an indiscretion like that. Like he didn’t have anything to do with it. Yeah right. What I find funny, not haha funny, but more coincidental funny, is that my sin was forced out into the open as well. It was forced out by religious “friends.” They are also considered religious leaders. And oh, they were using the excuse, left and right, that they wanted to make sure I would get into heaven so they had to “Out” me. My first response was, “How do you know that I wasn’t going to get into heaven in the first place? Are you God?” My second response was, “If you’re gonna be there, I don’t wanna be there!” 

I suppose that’s why so many don’t want to become Christians or go to church because of the hypocrisy that is in the very fabric of Christianity. We tend to tear down instead of build up. Jesus isn’t recognizable within His own body. The very people that are suppose to be representatives of His kingdom, bearer’s of the good news have it only as a title. And maybe that’s the problem. It’s become just a title for some. They don’t know what it really means to represent Him. Words mean nothing without actions. When the going gets tough and love is the only recourse, there’s a hard cold opportunity to actually show the kindness that He’s shown us, our old nature comes rearing it’s ugly head and we become the very man in scripture who begged for mercy, which was granted but as soon as he had the opportunity to do the same, he beat the crap out of the other guy. (My interpretation of Matthew 18:21-35, titled “The Parable of the Unmerciful Servant”) 

If we love those that love us, well that’s easy! The Voice version of Luke 6:32 says, “Listen, what’s the big deal if you love people who already love you? Even scoundrels do that much!” The Message version says it this way, “If you only love the lovable, do you expect a pat on the back? Run-of-the-mill sinners do that.” I love that Jesus puts His followers in the same category as scoundrels and sinners. We all fall short, we all do. Even those who have taken on the title Christian. It’s our walk, not our talk, that determines and reveals what side we’re really on. Out of the mouth speaks the heart. Oh, yeah that little thing. Our mouth reveals where we’re at every time. 

Back to my girl, the one I can relate to so much these days. Her in particular, I connect with her story because it’s my story and in some mysterious way I feel a bond with her. My heart aches for her. She was caught and thrown before her community. I’m sure against her will. But these were men. How could she fight them? There was no physical way; for one, she wouldn’t have the strength and for two, there were multiple men that outnumbered her. Really, there was nothing she could do because those kinds of people don’t listen to pleas of mercy. But where they went wrong, yet thought they were right, was by quoting what the law of Moses commanded, for such a woman of ill repute must be stoned. What they hadn’t realized was that the very person they were speaking to was the Word Himself. How did Jesus respond to what the law said? He knew it front and back, for He was there from the beginning. And yet, all He did was kneel down and begin to write in the sand. This must of have really bothered the religious leaders. I mean, they were in fact teachers of the law and Pharisees. Their very position demanded respect. How dare He not say anything! They wanted an answer and they wanted it right now!! So they continued. My family likes to call it haranguing when someone won’t stop beating the same drum so to speak. He finally stood up and responded in a profound way. He said, “If any one of you is without sin, cast the first stone.” Woah. Takes ya back a little doesn’t it. Even I feel like my mouth is hanging open and in need of assistance shutting it. Do you think they whispered to each other, “You do it.” “No, you do it?”  But when no one had the guts to throw the first stone, because no one is without sin, one by one, they left until it was just Jesus and the woman, standing in all her guilt and shame. He asked her where they had gone and had anyone condemned her. All she could muster was, “No one.” And He said, “Neither do I. Go and leave your life of sin.” What amazing love. I would think she wouldn’t want to leave His side. He rescued her from certain death. Although He may not have condemned her, she probably was never looked at the same. She was publicly shamed and humiliated. Her sin was shouted from the roof tops. But Love Himself covered her and set her free. If He didn’t condemn her then why shouldn’t we do the same to individuals like her. Love covers. It reminds me of the story of Noah and his sons when they found him drunk and naked. The youngest son actually found Noah in that state and told his brothers. But the two brothers took a garment and covered their father. That’s what love does. It covers. 

I think I connect with her so much because I was caught in my sin like her. And I gotta tell ya, I have pictured myself being drug out, thrown in front of the crowd, a masked man standing behind me with a large axe. My head has been slammed down on the chopping block with my hands secured behind my back. There’s no one to defend me, my sins were found out and shouts of condemnation get louder and louder. They seem to prolong the swing of the axe to torture me. But it’s the jeers that get to me. The words sting with every shout. So many things being said are untrue but it’s mixed with some truth as well. I promise, I’m really not like the words they say. How could they say it? Don’t they know me? Don’t they know my track record and that I just had a moment of weakness? Even though Jesus does forgive me, I’m still not set free from the chains that the masses have put on me. I now have a notorious reputation for being a woman of ill repute. That’s really not me. I don’t know who that is but they can’t be talking about me. The body of believers is my people. It’s where I belong. Please, all I wanna do is get back in good graces with my people. But sadly, I don’t believe that’s gonna happen. Someone with that kind of rep will never rub shoulders with the keeper’s of the law. I will never be the same. Who will accept me now? I’ll have to go outside of the four walls of the church to find comfort and acceptance. It’s really sad because people like me, like the woman caught in the act, and many more are just crying out for acceptance, for love. Somebody just love me. Jesus does but His people unfortunately don’t. Seems very much like an oxymoron to me. Quite ridiculous indeed. 


Jesus showed the example but you gotta get dirty to love like that. You have to be willing to risk your own reputation to rub shoulders with the likes of her, with the likes of me. So, what’s easier, to go on a mission’s trip half-way around the world, perform some skits and dances, tell about His love then leave? Or to face the drug dealers, users, adulterers, prostitutes and love them in all their filth right here at home? Actions speak louder than words and what I see is that what’s easier for most churches is to shove us out and not accept us. It’s because we’re bad influences and we may corrupt the good body of Christ. So we’re removed and they just go back to comfortable little worlds, loving on friends and far-away mission’s fields. There just has to be another way. 

Bye Felicia

"It began to strike me how awful it was to use that word as an insult, so I stopped." Laura Parrot Perry. 


I've heard the phrase "Bye Felicia" used by so many people lately. It sounded funny to me so I began to use it myself. But for some reason it just didn't feel right to me so I turned to my faithful, all-knowing Google guru to find out it's true meaning. 

What my eyes saw made my stomach turn. 

Bye Felicia means that "you have such little significance that you don't even have a real name. It means that your presence is completely irrelevant and we could care less of your coming or going." 

It really hit home as I watched a live Periscope, of a group of church folks doing a teaching on it. Now you can see other individuals comment, so a gentleman chimes in and says, "The bible is false," along with a few other comments. Of course the church folks began to defend their beloved bible, throwing in the occasional, "We love you and we'll be praying for you," as if this poor soul had it so wrong. Then all of a sudden another long time church goer pipes in with "Bye Felicia!" I was sickened because I knew what it meant when they basically told this young gentleman, "Goodbye, good riddance. Don't let the door hit ya on the way out." Ugh. My heart sunk. I immediately felt compassion for this person and even tried to look up his screen name but my memory failed me. I wanted to reach out to him and tell him, "You really do have significance! You truly are loved! And it's okay that you think the bible is false. It's really okay! We can be friends and laugh and I'll love you exactly as you are!" 

Oh, I just wanna slap those religious folks upside the head tell them, "We've got to get it right folks!"

My Motley Crew-My Good Samaritans

My life has turned into disarray as of late. I found myself in an unlikely situation, very much out of my character. Much of it is my own doing yet decisions were made without my permission as well. But that is life isn’t it? We live on a planet with seven billion other individuals and we’re bound to be impacted by their choices too. 

There’s a scene floating about in my head of people in bumper cars and the arena we’re driving in represents life. We can’t help but “bump” into each other no matter how well we drive because someone else may not drive as well as you do. Or another accurate picture of walking through life is like people filing through a gate, like cattle. Sometimes the gate is narrow and sometimes wide. No matter how hard you may try to stay in your own space, it’s inevitable that you’re going to collide with, not just one individual but more likely than not, many individuals.

And, like the bumper cars and my own irregular driving, it seems that, though the bumping I did caused damage to other bumper cars, and though I’ve pleaded for mercy, I feel that very little has been given, except only by a select few. Those that I fully expected to show mercy and grace to me, those within the church, were in fact the ones that threw the book at me, so to speak. The main person I believed would stand by my side no matter what was the one that betrayed me the most. 

As I’ve been walking through this very overwhelming ordeal, I’ve thought about Jesus and His closest friends. Many people followed Jesus but He chose 12. What is perplexing to me is that out of his twelve closest friends, one of them betrayed him. What was his justification? How could he do that to Jesus, his friend? Yet, it says that, “when he saw that Jesus was condemned, he was seized with remorse…(Matt 27:3).” I wonder if the friend I considered my “best” friend has been seized with remorse as I, too, have been condemned? Condemned by the very ones that I thought would show me mercy and grace as I have shown those that have hurt me so. We reap what we sow don’t we? Where’s my harvest of mercy? Where’s my harvest of love? From the masses, I haven’t received any. I’ve been written off as the most disgusting in society by those that I considered my closest friends. The “Unfriended Friend” as my unlikely friend, Sue, has called me. One by one they've deserted me. One by one they’ve unfriended me off social media. Which, whether we like it or not, holds so much weight in today’s world. Maybe Jesus felt this alone as His closest friends, not only betrayed him, but “deserted him and fled (Matt 26:56b).” Now I do not hold myself in the same category as Jesus. He was “tempted in every way…yet was without sin (Heb 4:15).” However, I have not been able to accomplish that. I was “tempted and drug away by my own evil desires,” as James says it. 

I already have abandonment issues from childhood but the abandonment I have felt in all of this has been taken it to a whole new level. Or I should say depth of despair. 
And despair is certainly what I’ve felt in all of this. But, I feel, from my merciful God, who I had nearly given up on, He’s in fact shown me that I’ve had some unlikely friends come to my aid. He calls them “the least of these.” People who I feel are the unlikeliest of all.

The first unlikely friend is Sue. She’s the cousin of my ex-best friend. She has her own story of betrayal, from friends, relatives, and church members. I asked her why was she showing me kindness through this and her response was, “I know what it’s like to be alone and I want you to know you are not alone.” She’s constantly reminding me that God sees and knows what I’m going through and that I’m not alone. The 2nd unlikely friend is a gal I’ve known since she was a teenager and has her own story of betrayal. As a matter of fact, similar words were used on her as the main excuse for what they were doing, “so that she would be saved from hell and enter the kingdom.” She loves people, their hearts are what she's drawn to. Her life is colorful, much like the paintings she creates. And she loves God. 

The third person is an outcast of sorts. She’s been betrayed as well, much like my first two unlikely friends. What a beautiful heart that shines through the rough exterior she may try to put up. If she's your friend, she will fiercely defend you! And boy does she love God and is a friend to other outcasts as well.

Another person who has been an unlikely friend isn’t so unlikely because it’s my sister. But she has come to my aid in such a powerful and protective way, it’s taken me back a little. We always seemed to be at odds growing up, due to our tumultuous childhood, but she’s a defender of the weak and downtrodden and I guess that’s where I’m at life and since she’s my big sister, she’s fulfilling her role.

Last but not least, this gal is an unlikely sort indeed. She’s the unchurched. The lady from the other side of the tracks. Rough around the edges, cusses like a sailor, tattoos all over her body, but she’s experienced so much pain in her life and has an understanding of what I’m going through and has offered me the kind of compassion that I expected from the church yet wasn’t given any. 

What I've learned in all this is that suffering unites. It connects individuals on a supernatural level. One by one, I’ve been sent a motley crew of sorts to my aid. To love me, to care for the wounds I’ve induced on my own as well as inflicted by other’s. And then the story of the Good Samaritan comes to mind. In a way I feel much like the man who was beaten and left for dead. As I’m picturing him lying on the ground half dead, I imagine that it’s me. I walked down a road, where I fell into hands of robbers. Now I take complete responsibility that I walked. I chose to go down that specific road. Even though I chose to walk down that road I didn’t choose what happened to me at the hands of other people. I was stripped of my clothe and they beat me. Then as I was lying there, the people I thought who would rescue me, saw me, and ignored me. But just as the man in scripture, who was left for dead, I felt the same. 

I have been perplexed by the response that has been given to me. And I guess what truly surprises me is that this message of love has been preached for over 2000 years. Messages upon messages have been preached in the church, out of the church, on the streets, on mission’s trips, yet to the majority of Christians, the messages are only stories that they may sound good but when it comes to walking it out, the same man is left for dead. The religious cross to the other side of the road and offer no pity whatsoever. Why haven’t we grown as a Christian community in this area? Why hasn’t our love walk been perfected after all these years? How could we just leave him lying there? And as I’m crying out, how could I be left lying there? If this is what mainstream Christianity looks like, who would want to be accept the cost. From my unchurched friend, she said, “You know what gets me is it’s the church. Aren’t they suppose to help, support and forgive!” Yet that is not what I’ve found in my case.  Such an ugly description was given of me that the church shut the door on me. Kicked me out. Didn’t even consider my track record or want to even talk to me or check on me, much like the religious did to the man in scripture. How can this be? Why would the religious leaders betray the dying man like that? He’s wounded and in need of bandage. But it wasn’t the religious that helped him nor has it been the religious that has helped me. It’s been an outcast. A Samaritan. A people group that was considered unclean. A people group that was hated by the Jews and the religious leaders. Much like my unlikely friends in their own way. 

As I’ve thrashed about in pain, each of them have applied soothing salve to my wounds. They’ve wrapped their arms around me, comforting me in my grief. My Samaritans. Those who would be considered unclean in their own way. As I am. 

But Jesus was really good at moving boundary lines, traditions, man made rules and actually showing us what scripture really means by His actions. So, what does Jesus say tell us to do? He prefaced the story of the Good Samaritan by responding to a question that an expert in the law had. “What he must do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus answers the question with two more questions and the expert responded, “Love the Lord Your God with all Your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind; and Love your neighbor as yourself.” As Jesus told him that he answered correctly and to do it and he will live. But it says that the expert in the law tried to justify himself by asking, “who is my neighbor?” Then Jesus told the story. Love told the story of love in action. Walking by, ignoring those who are downtrodden is not the way of love, even if you don’t like the person, even if you feel you’re justified in crossing to the other side of the road. EVEN if they fell into sin, or robbers or whatever. No one should ever be left for dead, especially by the “religious” folk. They should be the first ones to run to the defense of those that have been knocked down. How will the world ever know how good God is if we won’t even show it to each other? It’s no wonder those that have been outcast run to the world, the world accepts them and brings them into their fold. The church kicks them out. The church shuns them, as they've shunned me. But not my motley crew. In all their ruggedness and improperness, they have been the Good Samaritan and I thank them from the bottom of my heart.