Sunday, July 2, 2017

Waiting and waiting and waiting

TMI warning: If you don't like to read about blood, needles, or any other medical stuff, you may want to skip this post.

As I mentioned previously, I got new glasses a few months ago. During a routine eye exam, my eye doctor found a cotton wool spot in my right eye. (I'd try to explain what that is, but I think Wikipedia does a better job at that.) He said it was probably caused by hypertension, diabetes, or extreme stress and that it could possibly heal on its own. During the follow-up visit, he saw that the spot had healed but that another spot had formed, along with a hemorrhaging spot. So, he referred me to a retina specialist.
 
While I was at the specialist, they did an angiogram so that they could examine the blood vessels in my eye. It was an interesting procedure that was kind of Blade Runner-ish; they took pictures of my eye while I had a needle stuck in my arm. (The technician explained that my pee would be a highlighter-yellow color for a while afterwards, and he was correct.)

The retina doctor said that I have two hemorrhaging spots in my right eye, so he ordered some bloodwork. He said that they would follow up in several weeks, unless they found some abnormal stuff in my bloodwork.

 
So, a couple of days later, I got my arm poked again. (In the above photo, it's the tiny bright red spot swimming near all my tiny moles.) I haven't heard anything yet, but no news is good news. (Which, by the way, is a lesson that I learned in a previous season.)

I hope this means that I'm not diabetic, my blood sugar is OK, and my blood pressure isn't dangerously high. I hope all of this eye drama is only being caused by stress and that my body will continue to heal itself. (And, ironically, I also learned that I can currently see better out of my right eye than I can out of my left one.) If that's all this is, it would definitely confirm that 2017 is supposed to be a year of rest for me -- yet another stop on my lifelong journey of learning how to rest, relieve stress, enjoy life, and not feel guilty about doing so.

I don't know for sure yet. I just need to keep waiting.

"Wait on the Lord; be of good courage, and He shall strengthen your heart; wait, I say, on the Lord!" (Psalm 27:14)

In the body of Christ, people preach all the time about the concept of waiting -- waiting for your promised land, waiting for your dreams to come true, waiting for God to move in your life, waiting to live out your calling, etc. They usually present it like a one-time journey, like God did with the Israelites in the Bible. They usually say something like if you grumble and complain, God will leave you in the wilderness until you learn your lesson, and then He'll bring you into your promised land. They usually say something like if you keep getting hit with the same trial over and over and over again, that means God isn't going to let you move on until you learn the lesson that you're supposed to have been learning. And then when a spiritual light bulb comes on for you, you'll be done waiting, and you'll live happily ever after.

And I think to a degree, all that's true. But maybe it isn't exactly true for everybody.

I recently watched a sermon online for fun. It was a Holly Furtick message called "Waiting Room." I think she shared a lot of good wisdom. She explained that a waiting room can be a dangerous place. For example, if your kids are sick and you take them to the doctor, they could catch something from somebody else while they're stuck in the waiting room.

But what if your time in the waiting room is like mine was at the retina doctor?

I waited in the waiting room multiple times, in multiple ways, for multiple reasons, during the same visit: waiting for my name to be called, waiting for my eyes to fully dilate, waiting to see the doctor, waiting for the technician to perform the angiogram, waiting to see the doctor again... I think I ended up going back to the official waiting room about two or three times, in addition to waiting in multiple exam rooms. All for a tiny little retina.

(This is why I don't like to go see doctors; they usually just tell me that I'm as healthy as a horse and that I need to take better care of myself. And then they charge me money to tell me something that I already knew.)

But the waiting room was a scary place for me earlier this week. Suddenly, I wasn't a 41-year-old woman with a hemorrhaging retina; I was a little girl who was going to countless doctors' appointments all over again. (I was always getting sick (and sometimes pretending to get sick) when I was a kid, and at one point I had begun to develop a peptic ulcer (which college dorm food suddenly healed my body of, in a scared-straight kind of way).)

This is the kind of thing that shows me what I'm made of. And it helps me bond with my Father.

"Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend into heaven, You are there; if I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there." (Psalm 139:7-8)

After I got home that evening, I pulled out my guitar and poured out my heart (and my eyes) to Him in song. And lately as I've been rebuilding my guitar calluses, I've noticed that I've been able to play my guitar because my wrist hasn't been hurting. 

If you followed my blog last year, perhaps you remember reading about how my wrist hurting was kind of a big deal to meAnd I can't help but notice that God helped me through that. 

So, He'll help me through this current health drama as well. It looks like I'll need to keep taking it one step at a time.

I really think that's how life in general unfolds: one step at a time. Maybe that's how God often leads us, too.

"Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path." (Psalm 119:105)

I often see people around me living cool lives that progressed in a pretty regular fashion: grow up, meet somebody, get married, have children, find a meaningful career, retire, travel the world, live happily ever after.

But not everybody lives that way. And the sudden course changes in our lives aren't always our fault.

Maybe suddenly your life will be interrupted with a divorce, a job termination, the death of a loved one, the death of a dream, a horrible accident, a terrible health diagnosis, or all of the above, or a crazy mix of all of the above, or anything else that I haven't mentioned. Maybe all of that could even happen all at once. (Maybe Job could vouch for that.)

I don't think that necessarily means that that kind of stuff happens because you're doing something wrong... or that you're failing to learn a specific lesson... or that God is yelling at you. Maybe it's just life happening. 

At any rate, one thing I know for sure is that God is always available for us to lean on.

"God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble." (Psalm 46:1)

So, I'm learning that sometimes the waiting room isn't just a one-time stop on your way to your dream destination. Sometimes the waiting room must be revisited multiple times while you're en route to your promised land. Sometimes it's just part of the process.

And I think sometimes there is more than one promised land. And maybe there are sometimes a handful of promised lands within a promised land.

God knows what He's doing. Maybe He isn't always in a hurry. Maybe He's strengthening us in ways that we don't need to see yet. Maybe when it's all over, we'll be able to trample scorpions or leap tall buildings in a single bound or shoot laser beams out of our eyes.

Or maybe we can just rest our heads between His shoulders and enjoy belonging to Him.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

A future and a hope

Every year, I do a salad fast during the first two weeks of June (the 1st through the 14th). This is a tradition that I started with my Father (my Heavenly Father) several years ago. And every year, I like to blog about what I learned during the fast.

Before I began this year's fast, I felt like God told me that this would be the most enjoyable fast I've ever had. He was right.


This year's fast was different because I made most of my meals (I only purchased six pre-made salads); here's a small collage of a few of the salads that I ate. I thought eating a homemade salad for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks for 14 days would be expensive, but it actually wasn't that bad. (I think the pre-made salads are more expensive, especially since by the time you eat them, you have to throw some of it out because it's spoiled.) Nothing spoiled. Nothing went to waste.

Making salads is a huge time commitment, and I honestly was reminded why I historically haven't enjoyed cooking: There's so much prep, cooking, and cleaning time involved in something that only takes a few minutes to eat. But for 14 days, I enjoyed the preparation, and I took delight in the aftereffects of cleaning (my sink wasn't constantly overflowing, and my apartment didn't stink). When I first started my fast and gazed upon the chopped vegetables and the colorfulness of my fridge, I thought to myself something to the effect of, "That's an adult's fridge."

Indeed, it was.

And I had fun. I used Romaine lettuce for most of my meals (because it lasts longer and is slightly more filling than Iceberg lettuce). I made my own croutons a couple of times (in the toaster instead of the oven, but hey, they were still crouton-esque). I think for every morning (or at least most of them), I chopped up a Gala apple, I added lettuce and usually raisins, and that was my breakfast. On the weekends, I tried a new version of my birth mother's tuna salad (and, for the first time, I chopped celery without peeling it first). A few times, I made mackerel salad, which I considered to be my personal culinary triumph. And twice I made what I affectionately refer to as "Raisinet" salad (raisins plus broken bits of fancy chocolate bark), because PMS. But I think the tastiest, heartiest meals I ate were what I think might be referred to as "kitchen sink" salads -- they had everything but the kitchen sink (I tossed materials into my bowl so that I would eat them before they spoiled).

This is the type of cool stuff that I've experienced ever since I let God be my only Father.

"For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope." (Jeremiah 29:11 in the New King James Version)

" ' For I know the plans I have for you,' declares the Lord, 'plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.' " (Jeremiah 29:11 in the New International Version)

Whenever I've fasted in recent years, I haven't really spent a ton of time in deep intercessory prayer (although there has been some of that) as much as I've been getting an overall picture of God's character... or maybe a picture of what my character needs to be. (And I've cried a lot... maybe due to physical hunger? maybe due to spiritual hunger? maybe due to the fast in general just kicking my butt?) During this particular fast, I think I caught a huge whiff of what God feels anytime He plans out our lives: tremendous joy in the preparation.

Jeremiah 29:11 is a Bible verse that I've seen and heard quoted pretty much ad nauseam for many years. (Especially at my editing job where I verify Bible verses all day -- trust me, everybody and their grandma quotes this verse.) So, it can be easy to blow it off because you've heard it so much.

But it's true.

You'll be amazed at how many meal ideas you'll get when you're hungry. All kinds of creative ways to prepare food will flood your thoughts when you're hungry. You'll plan meals like crazy when you're hungry. But they're good thoughts. They're good plans. You're thinking of ways that you can satisfy an appetite that needs to be satisfied. You're planning ways that you can save money. You're hopeful for the future.

God is the same way. I'm not the first person to compare Him to a chef in the kitchen. God is constantly at work behind the scenes, especially since He's already seen the future -- He's already IN the future.

And He doesn't waste anything. Here's another verse that's quoted ad nauseam but is always true:

"And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose." (Romans 8:28 in the New King James, cuz that's my favorite version)

I couldn't help but notice that I ended up buying the exact amount of salad materials that I needed for my fast. Pretty much all that's leftover are a couple of almost-empty bottles of salad dressing and a mostly-eaten bag of croutons. I don't think that was an accident.

Another interesting thing that I noticed is that I mainly stuck to a few favorite ingredients: lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, shredded cheese, ham, hard-boiled eggs, and apples. I also used a bag of spinach, a box of chopped button mushrooms, and a couple of bunches of celery. At first, I had imagined myself going nuts in the produce section at Kroger and trying everything in sight, or maybe trying other people's salad recipes. But I ended up only sticking with my favorites. After all, I have a simple palate.

I think when God makes plans for me, when He thinks about my future, He's probably like, "Well, I'm designing Tirzah to be a worship pastor, so she needs to have some musical skills, some leadership skills, some shepherding abilities, some creativity, and some serious guts. If I deviate too much from that, she could lose focus or veer off course."

Yep. I'm a woman of limited interests.

Sometimes when I talk to God about my future, or when I'm thanking Him for bringing me this far, I'll hear the longing in His voice. He'll say something like, "Oh, child, this is only the beginning," or "Oh, child, you have no idea."

Nope. I don't.

Once, shortly before my fast, I was talking to God about the plans I had for my life -- the ones that never really came to pass -- versus His plans for my life. I used to want to be a novelist. I even got a college degree in writing. But my past attempts at writing a novel totally fell flat. I wrote short stories, and I submitted them to multiple places, but nobody published them. I wrote a play once, but nobody bought it. So, I was talking to God about my novel-writing dream (the one that's died), and He said that it was a pipe dream. Then He added, with a hiss of jealousy in His voice, "You're MY writer." Wow. I didn't realize that He had wanted that so strongly for Himself. I think all those skills I learned in college or in my attempts to get published will come in handy someday -- because He'll use them for His good. (Hopefully they're coming in handy now with this blog.)

Or maybe after I become a pastor vocationally, I'll get to publish some how-to books (like How to Not Spiritually Abuse People, How to Shepherd Diva Worship Leaders Who Always Show Up Late or Not At All, How to Lead People Graciously When You Really Feel Like Slapping Them Upside the Head, How to Embrace Loneliness, How to Cling to God as Your Only Parent, How to be Perpetually Single and Love It, or maybe How to be Yourself and Not Care What Other People Think).

Seriously. I don't know what all God has up His sleeve. But He's got pretty big sleeves -- the biggest sleeves in the universe. He's cooking up something good in my kitchen right now. He's thinking good thoughts about my future. He's making good plans for me. This gives me hope.

I don't think I'm used to feeling "hope." But I could definitely get used to it.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

For our sake

I've noticed something in the past several years. People usually think that those of us who don't have a family (no kids, no spouse, no immediate family) get pretty lonely and depressed during Thanksgiving and Christmas, so they invite us to their homes and let us join them for their families' festivities.

I appreciate these invitations, and I love it when people share their families with me. (And I always like getting free food.) It can be true that Thanksgiving and Christmas can be hard when you spend those holidays alone. But honestly, those aren't the only two holidays that exist. The calendar is full of holidays -- not to mention 52 entire weekends -- that you can spend with your families, and it can be very easy to take all of these family times for granted. For me, frankly, Thanksgiving and Christmas are nothing compared to all the other holidays that I end up spending by myself. Ripping myself away suddenly from my family was a pretty big shock to my system, even though I had prepared myself for it, and I spent a lot of time grieving at first.

But I feel like I've adjusted since then. I can't always depend on my friends to fill in the family void in my life, so I've learned to enjoy myself with just me. For example, so far I've spent this Memorial Day weekend (since it's a grilling holiday) decorating hot dogs and enjoying a Star Wars DVD marathon. (I started with Episode III because I like to see Anakin Skywalker's intense emotional progression into Darth Vader.)

Am I lonely or depressed? Sometimes I feel little flashes of emotion here and there, but I think I'm OK. Honestly, it's hard to be lonely or depressed when you have a loudly purring cat trying to snuggle on your lap while you're trying to type on your laptop. I think I've learned to be happy with what I have.

And I'm even happier that my family isn't in my life anymore.

"So Jesus answered and said, 'Assuredly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My sake and the gospel's, who shall not receive a hundredfold now in this time -- houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions -- and in the age to come, eternal life.' " (Mark 10:29-30)

Today while I was working in my kitchen, I was thinking about this bit in the Bible, and I asked God if I had left everything behind for Jesus' sake or for my own sake (because of the extreme unhealthiness and toxicity of my family). He reminded me of that part in Psalm 23 that says that He leads me through paths of righteousness for His name's sake... so it's both. I walked away permanently from my family for Jesus' sake AND for my sake.

What I'm about to say isn't in any way meant to insult anyone who believes a certain theology. I'm just telling my story, and if you feel like God is softening your heart to agree with me, awesome and thank you. If you feel the need to lecture me for believing the wrong thing, well... let's just say I don't have a problem walking away from people permanently.

In a nutshell, cessationism is the belief that the Holy Spirit moved powerfully and miraculously in the First Century A.D., soon after Jesus ascended into heaven and sent the Holy Spirit to believers in the book of Acts, and that the Holy Spirit ceased moving with signs and wonders as soon as the Bible was canonized. In other words, cessationists believe that we don't need the Holy Spirit anymore because we have the Bible. We have God the Father, we have Jesus, and we receive the Holy Spirit as a seal/guarantee on our hearts when we get saved, and that's it. Get saved, get baptized, read your Bible, go to church, try to not get caught doing anything naughty, and that's it.

Well, I don't believe that anymore. When the Holy Spirit met me, started talking to me, and helped me hear my Father talking to me, that cessationist theory kind of flew out the window.

In recent years, I heard someone say (or maybe I read it in a book) that believing cessationist theology is a type of atheism. In other words, if you believe that the Holy Spirit stopped existing as soon as the Bible was created, you may as well be an atheist; you basically only believe in two-thirds of the Trinity.

I think this makes sense. This certainly explains all those atheistic/agnostic thoughts that I was fighting off and on through the years. My birth father (one of the biggest spiritual abusers you'll probably ever meet) spent a few years forcing his cessationist doctrine down my throat. I had to spend several years puking it out.

This is why I believe that John MacArthur is the biggest [bleep]hole in the body of Christ, but I digress. ("Grace" my foot.)

In cessationist doctrine, the Holy Spirit is explained away in a similar way that atheists explain away the concept of God. I remember my birth father telling me once that there was a time when he was open to the idea of the Holy Spirit still moving in the same way that He did in the First Century. So, perhaps in an effort to experience the intensity that charismatics sometimes experience, he told the Holy Spirit something to the effect of, "Just flex my muscles." Of course He didn't. Why would He do something so intrusive, so intimate, with someone who was so hard and cynical towards Him?

So, Dad spent the rest of his life looking down on charismatics and teaching against the gifts of the Holy Spirit, even from the pulpit -- even while looking right at me. (Thanks, Dad. I always enjoyed having a public lecture forced upon me. #sarcasm)

"Better a dry crust with peace and quiet than a house full of feasting, with strife." (Proverbs 17:1 in the NIV)

The reason why I said all that wasn't to spark an online debate but to say how increasingly relieved I am that I left my family. In a nutshell, what it really boiled down to was the fact that I had to choose: them or God?

I chose God. And I haven't regretted doing so -- not for one second.

Has it been easy? No, of course not. Has it been worth it? Right down to the very last drop.

My life is peaceful now. My life is quiet now. I can't say that any of the holidays I spent with my ex-family were peaceful or quiet. They can keep their house full of feasting. They can keep their strife. I'll be happy with my dry crust, thank you very much.

 
Speaking of signs and wonders, here are some pictures of my clean kitchen. (It isn't spotless, but it's useable.) Seriously, the fact that I've been developing better housecleaning habits is pretty darn awesome.


That's just one example of something that I couldn't have done during my cessationist days. That's something that God -- the Father, the Son, AND the Holy Spirit -- has needed to help me with. He didn't flex my muscles. He gently led me in paths of righteousness, for His name's sake. For His sake. For my sake. For our sake.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Thank you, Mom

Dear reader, if you followed my blog a few years ago, you know that I've needed to spew some emo-flavored stuff out into the internet from time to time. I think today is one of those times. If this type of thing makes you uncomfortable, please feel free to either skip this post altogether or maybe just skip down toward the end where I talk about my cat. (Because she's harmless.)

I usually end up blogging around my birthday (because it's my way of processing getting old), but I didn't need to blog about my birthday this year. I had an awesome birthday. I had a very nice leisurely lunch with a friend, I watched some mariachi videos on YouTube, and I saw a movie at a theater. My heart was full.

But this year, I've noticed that Mother's Day has been hitting me kind of hard. In recent years, it's been just another Sunday, and I've had fun at church that weekend just being happy for the mothers who were celebrated. But lately, I've felt some stuff churning around inside me emotionally, and I think a lot of it stems from the issues I've had with my birth mother. (Long story short, I don't have a relationship with her anymore because God told me to leave the family. So I left.)

"As snow in summer and rain in harvest, so honor is not fitting for a fool." (Proverbs 26:1)

Yes, honoring your father and your mother is one of the Ten Commandments (as my pastor preached recently). But what if your father and your mother treated you so badly that God told you to cut ties with them permanently? What if it was because they were what the Bible would label as "fools"? What would it look like to honor them on Mother's Day and Father's Day? What sort of homage would you pay for their hand in raising you?

Well, I put together a note to my birth mother that I don't really intend for her to read (I don't really care whether or not she sees it), but I felt like I needed to express it cathartically. I needed to get it off my chest. Especially if your family situation is similar to mine and you'd like a break from all the regular "Happy Mother's Day" stuff, I welcome you to read my therapy note below. Just know that it's dark and very sarcastic. (Wow, it's snowing in July!)

--------------------

Dear Mom,

1. Thank you for being a stereotypically lazy Mexican. You inspired me to grow up to be just like you.

2. Thank you for encouraging me to be a medical secretary when you knew that I wanted to be a writer. Those two careers are so similar. It's like, you GET me.

3. Thank you for incorrectly remembering my 31st birthday and for telling my other family members to celebrate me on the wrong day. And thank you for shooing me off the phone several years after that when I called you to wish you a Happy Mother's Day. Few people on this Earth have made me feel as loved and wanted as you did.

4. Thank you for being so internally stoic and macho and for the major lack of affection that eventually blossomed into weird same-sex attractions at random times throughout my 20s and 30s. I especially appreciated getting to work through those tendencies. I'm sure they made me a real catch to all those eligible bachelors who never asked me out. And my soul especially thanks you for the huge, healthy doses of codependence and enmeshment that made all of the above nice and manageable.

5. Thank you for insisting on doing pretty much all the household chores yourself instead of sharing those responsibilities with me and my sister. Not knowing how to take care of myself as an adult didn't make me feel depressed at all.

6. Thank you for yelling at me when I was a little girl when I tried to tell you that I felt like you loved my sister more than you loved me. The Prodigal Son's older brother's behavior is so underrated in Scripture, and I'm glad I got to experience his feelings firsthand -- especially later in life when God would show favor to other people in certain situations instead of me. I've had so much fun working through these entitlement and jealousy issues.

7. Thank you for allowing dirty old men to commit adultery with me (at least in their hearts) at church. I cherish the fact that I get to work through a truckload of trust issues with every Christian man that I will possibly meet for the rest of my life. What happened to me isn't a modern-day version of child sacrifice. Not at all.

8. Thank you for only reading the Bible any time you had to prepare to teach a Sunday School lesson. I've enjoyed riding the rollercoaster of learning how to have a quiet time all by myself. Being raised by a religious hypocrite was especially fun.

9. Thank you for not asking me probing questions after I responded to an altar call when I was 8 years old and everybody thought I got saved, but I really didn't. Thank you for teaching me that I could get baptized and take the Lord's Supper now like a good little Baptist. Thank you for pressuring me to get baptized later. I had so much fun working through those doubts about my salvation, even decades after the fact.

10. Thank you for operating in a Jezebel spirit and for training me on how to follow in your footsteps. What a fabulous journey it has been to escape from Jezebel's nurturing, insistent grasp. She kept coming back for more, too; I loved that about her. Thanks so much for carefully painting that target on my back.

11. Thank you for teaching me how to lie and deceive. It was so awesome getting to cover for you all the time -- like whenever you didn't feel like going to church on a Wednesday and you would tell us to tell people you weren't feeling well, when you were actually just enjoying episodes of Matlock or whatever TV show was so much more important than being in God's house. What an excellent example you set for me.

12. Thank you for always sending Dad to do your dirty work for you anytime you felt the need to talk to me about serious things like sex, my new spiritual beliefs, or finishing college early. Way to take responsibility. Good for you for being so passive and emotionally disconnected from me. You always had a knack for making me feel really loved instead of trapped in a lifelong prison.

13. Last but not least, thank you for all the emotional and spiritual abuse. I've had so much fun over the past 23 years working through all the issues that resulted from all that stuff -- especially when I finally found out several years ago that that's what was making me feel so loved in your house: abuse.

I could keep going, but I think 13 is a good number to stop at. Especially since you were the ultimate Proverbs 31 woman.

Love,
Tirzah

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Seriously, though, Romans 8:28 basically says that God will redeem all that stuff that happened to me. He'll take the manure and turn it into fertilizer. He's been doing that for years, and I think He's continually in the process of doing so.

For instance, I know now that He designed me to be a worship pastor. I don't know exactly what that will look like in the future (why should I know every detail ahead of time? that would take all the fun out of it), but I suspect that I'll need to be prepared for anything. I think I'll need to be pretty strong on the inside. After all the stuff I've lived through, I think my soul is probably buff enough to bench-press a Buick. On top of a Cadillac. On top of a Hummer.

If so, that would definitely be God's handiwork.

 
Speaking of handiwork, mine ain't always so great. One good thing that my birth mother really did teach me was that cats like to play with straws. So, I keep some handy. I thought maybe Choochie was getting tired of the straws, so I got this idea in my head that I should tie some of the straws together and make them into a ball. Pffffft. The above photo is the resulting monstrosity. I tried getting Choochie to play with it, but I ended up accidentally bonking her in the face with it. I mean, look at it. It ain't exactly conducive to safety. (And it definitely isn't a ball.)

So, I bought a little dumbbell (two balls, each one with a bell inside it, both connected together with plastic) the other day. Choochie doesn't really know what to do with it. She and I both just kind of stare at it when I roll it across the floor. But she's almost 17 years old now, and she isn't as playful as she used to be. She seems to be very content napping and snuggling. She seems to have everything she needs.

After Macho died, God showed me that Choochie's needs are different than Macho's were. Macho was a little drama king who loved my attention, and he loved for me to sing to him. Choochie doesn't need music. She just needs me.

Choochie knows me as "Mama" (because that's what I call myself), and I guess you could say that I'm a cat mom, but I certainly don't celebrate Mother's Day for myself. I personally feel that that's a holiday meant for humans to celebrate with one another -- not crazy pet owners. But that's just my opinion.

In terms of humans, I'm not anyone's mother, and I really don't want children anymore. Why would I? I'm 41 years old, and no eligible bachelors currently want to go out with me (otherwise they would be asking me out), much less marry me and have kids with me.

And in terms of having parents, God has definitely been parenting me, filling in the gaps, and healing me. And the healing process is still continuing.

But hopefully I'm not a fool. Hopefully I'm a better "Mama" to my cat than my birth mother was to me. That's kind of sad. But hopefully it's true.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Haircuts, onions, and buildings

I had a weird dream this morning. In the dream, I was trying to get ready for church, I think, and a strange lady suddenly came to our door. There wasn't anything strange about how the lady looked or talked (because she was poised and beautiful) other than the fact that she seemed extremely interested in a bird that was living in a tree in our front yard. My sister and I were the only ones at home, so we interacted with this lady. (I think this was the same house where we lived when I was age 9-15, but in the dream we were living there as adults.)

So, the lady was gushing about how wonderful the bird was, and I think she really wanted to take it home with her. (It was just a regular-looking bird, kind of like a mockingbird but less impressive-looking.) I think it crawled around my neck, and I held it in my hand and asked if it would poop on me. The lady said that it probably would. My sister entertained this lady while I scrambled to get ready for my meeting -- sorting through a mess of clothes in the bathroom.

I think I was frustrated because this lady randomly showed up at our door at an inopportune time and bothered us about a random subject that was really none of her business. I think towards the end of the dream, the lady had finally left, and I told my sister, "You're just like Mama (the cool, have-it-all-together one). You don't say what you really mean." My sister was about to make fun of me for being just like Daddy (the nerdy, socially awkward, weird one) when I woke up.

Sometimes when I have vivid dreams like that, I ask God if they meant anything. Usually, He says something like, "It means you were sleepy." (In other words, it was just a random dream.) But this time, He gladly showed me that this dream really did mean something: The strange birdophile lady was the devil, and the bird in our front yard was lost people.

Hmm. If I had known that that was what the dream meant, maybe I would have stayed asleep long enough to kick the lady out of our house and tell her to leave our bird alone.

So, when you grow up in a home that's that messed up, you kind of have a ton of issues to sort through. And I've been discovering that that process kind of takes a while.

 
I was raised by a hairdresser, so I always got my hair done for free. Actually, there was a cost to it: I didn't really have much of a choice in what kind of 'do I would get or how it would get done. Mom was the boss. From what I understand, she suffers from dementia now, but about 20+ years ago, I wonder if perhaps we were getting the first clues about her condition.

During my senior year in high school, Mom would color my hair red. (Not sure why. I'm Scotch-Irish, so I already have bits of natural reddish highlights in my hair.) On the night before she was supposed to drive me to college, to move me into the dorm in August, she colored my hair because she wouldn't be seeing me again until Thanksgiving. So, I was minding my own business, getting my hair done, and then suddenly my cool, have-it-all-together Mom had a hint of panic in her voice and told me to go wash my hair out. So, I nonchalantly went and took a shower, as was my usual routine. When I finished and looked in the mirror, to my horror I saw that my hair wasn't red -- it was yellow.

Of course, I was ticked off. Mom said matter-of-factly that she would fix it. So, she colored my hair again with a brown color that was supposed to cover up the yellow. What got lost in translation were some very important hair-care instructions: When you color your hair, you're supposed to wash it with special shampoo that won't strip the color off every time you wash it. Instead of using some of this special type of shampoo, I used Pert Plus, a shampoo/conditioner combo that we had already purchased along with the rest of my college/dorm supplies. So, while I was away at college, the brown cover-up color washed off rather quickly, letting the yellow color shine through quite brightly.

I'm not sure if I was extra naïve or just extra excited about starting college, but I barely noticed the yellow until my black roots had really begun to show sometime in October or November. (Several paragraphs up is a snapshot of those roots at the homecoming bonfire from my freshman year.) So, every few months, Mom had to color my hair with that brown cover-up color until all of the yellow finally grew out -- right before I started my last semester of college. It took three years for that mistake to grow out.

I have never let anyone color my hair ever again. To this day, I am vehemently opposed to the idea, and I only want my natural color to adorn my head. (I'm actually kind of disappointed that I haven't had any new white/gray hairs sprout on my head in about five or six years.)

So, my college hair-color catastrophe wasn't a quick fix. But every time Mom would cut or trim my hair during that growing-out time, my look was one step closer to being what it needed to be.

"Who is the man that fears the Lord? Him shall He teach in the way He chooses." (Psalm 25:12)

At my church's Freedom ministry department (and probably at lots of other churches), the process of internal healing is often compared to peeling an onion. There are often many layers that need to be pulled back and discarded before you finally get to the heart of an issue. (And you tend to shed some tears along the way.)

But for me, my healing process hasn't really been that much of a layer-shedding one. It's been more of a layer-growing one.

Today, I ventured out to a local mall. OH, MY GOSH, IT WAS CROWDED. Kind of an introvert's nightmare. But I did manage to finally find a blouse that I thought was worth standing in line to purchase. I just didn't realize that I would be standing in line for about 20-30 minutes. I've never seen anything like that at a mall. All of the store's 9 or 10 registers were open, but the line still curved around like a giant snake all the way back to the men's department. I'm used to seeing people get frustrated, set their merchandise down, and leave a store because of an enormous wait time. But everybody just stood in line with minimal complaining, as if standing in the biggest secular retail line I've ever seen was a normal, everyday activity. (I didn't realize Burlington Coat Factory was that popular around here.)

So, while I was standing in line, I felt like God told me something to the effect of, "I wanted you to see how patient you've become."

Hmm. Life can do that to you, if you let it.

"My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing." (James 1:2-4)

I used to be one of those uptight, impatient people who would abandon their merchandise and leave the store just to avoid waiting in line. (Not that there isn't a time and a place to do that. Sometimes enough is enough.) Today, I figured I didn't really have to be anywhere else, so I had time to stand in line. (And I almost bought some snacks, too, because I had the munchies, and there was food just staring me right in the face. Those retail people are marketing geniuses.) The lady behind me kept bumping into my ankles with her fun-kid shopping cart, and I tried to be as gracious to her as possible during the entire 20-30 minute wait.

That was God. Not me.

"Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it; unless the Lord guards the city, the watchman stays awake in vain." (Psalm 127:1)

I'm not the first person to notice this, but Jesus was a Carpenter, so it isn't an accident that there are references to "building" stuff throughout the Bible. I think that's cool.

Last month, shortly after I got new glasses, I realized that they were too tight behind my ears. So, I went back to the eye doctor to get my glasses adjusted. Now they fit me just right. In a few short seconds, an expert corrected something that had been causing me a couple of days' worth of pain.

During that time, while I was talking to God about my situation (cuz that's how I roll), He said, "There's no shame in getting an adjustment." That was very profound, because I know He wasn't just talking about a pair of glasses.

Sometimes God can fix stuff in our lives in a few quick, miraculous seconds. But other times, after He prunes stuff away John-15 style, we have to wait until the new stuff grows.

I recently watched a YouTube video of my church choir from 2012. I was kind of amazed to see video footage of me standing there politely holding my hands together during a song that we were singing. But that ain't how I express myself on a worship platform anymore. Now I punch the air with my fist (sometimes upwards, sometimes as if I were stabbing myself in the side). I have kind of a battle stance with one foot in front of the other. I often have a rather scary look on my face. At least, I hope the demons are scared (instead of the innocent bystanders who I'm trying to lead into worship). Nobody has complained about my style/expression of worship, so hopefully I'm doing it right.

But changing my style/expression wasn't a five-second adjustment. It was about a five-year journey of growth.

2012 was an interesting year. I was leading a small group at my church, and stuff was going on behind the scenes that I couldn't openly talk about. So, I had to be reserved. At the end of that year, I stepped down from that leadership role and moved into a smaller apartment. While I was processing my life, I soon began to fight some pretty serious (literal and metaphorical) demons. During the next several years, I developed some major survival skills, and I became very rough around the edges.

I think God liked how I developed, because He ended up promoting me to more responsibility on the worship platform. Now the entire church gets to watch me rip my gloves off and kick the stuff out of the spiritual forces that used to try to eat me for breakfast.

As long as a strange lady (or the devil) doesn't try to steal any birds (or people) from my front yard, and as long as I don't let her (or him) do it, I think that would be mission accomplished.


I want to let the Master Carpenter tear down and/or build whatever He wants inside me, even though the construction process can be a long one, and even though the paint can take a long time to dry. There ain't no shame in that.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Kiss

Yesterday during the weekly catnip distribution in my home, I rediscovered my Spanish New Testament copy of The Picture Bible. (My cat's little pile of special stuff is in the background of this photo, and my Bible bookshelf is very close by.) It's basically a huge comic-book version of the Bible, but it isn't a literal verse-by-verse translation; it's an artistic interpretation, I think with actual Bible verses thrown in here and there. We had an English one (with both Old and New Testaments) in our home when I was growing up; I think technically, it was my sister's book, but I remember reading it quite a bit. I loved the pictures, and sometimes they pop up in my head whenever I read a real Bible.

Unfortunately, my birth father wasn't fond of The Picture Bible. I think growing up in a Pharisee's house was kind of like growing up in Westboro Baptist Church, minus all the street-protesting, so the guy who raised me would always pounce on artistic interpretations of Bible stories. I remember I got my birth mother a DVD of the movie The Littlest Angel for Christmas one year, and Dad kept criticizing that movie (because it's not really biblical... it's art). Um, I didn't get that present for you, jerk. I got it for Mom, because I remembered her liking the story many years ago.

So, as I've maneuvered through the constant criticism of non-literal Bible art during the course of my life (or as I've endured the tirades of any purist who's criticized any movie version of any book), I've come to what I feel is an important conclusion: Not all art forms are supposed to accomplish the same thing.

The Bible in and of itself is art, and it is literature, and yet it's alive and sharper than any two-edged sword; it isn't just any other book. It's supposed to change me (even if I can't see what it's doing) every time I read it. It's God's Word. If I don't eat it, I'll starve to death.

And any other book is supposed to either stir your imagination or encourage a different way of thinking every time you read it. If you see a movie version of a book, it's supposed to be a 90-minute visual and audio representation of the book that's supposed to elicit emotion and bring to life the moviemakers' collaborative interpretation of the book. You can't stuff every little detail of the book into a movie (or you would make like a 10-hour snoozefest), just like you can't stuff every little Bible verse into a movie (or it would be like a 200-hour epic documentary).

But I did have a nice time reading un poquito de The Picture Bible yesterday en español. (I don't think I've read the whole thing yet because I think I got it some years ago from my late book-salesman grandfather.) I'll talk more about that in a little bit.

"Kiss the Son, lest He be angry, and you perish in the way, when His wrath is kindled but a little. Blessed are all those who put their trust in Him." (Psalm 2:12)

Earlier this year, I was having my "quiet" time one night and felt like God wanted me to read Psalm 2. So, I did, and the "Kiss the Son" part stuck out at me. I think maybe it was in the vicinity of Valentine's Day, and I was like, "Aww, kiss the Son," e.g., give Jesus some affection. But God showed me the word "Kiss" a different way: K.I.S.S.

I believe that's Texan for Keep It Simple, Stupid. Ah, ha ha.

That's consistent with other stuff that God has spoken to me about this year in particular: 1) rest 2) common sense 3) I'm going to be bored. And I have been.

I'm learning that when you're waiting for God to bring you into a different season in your life, there are plenty of mundane details to either take care of or wait for Him to take care of. Honestly, I think it's like watching paint dry.

But I think God sees it a little differently.

Recently during one "quiet" time, God showed me a picture of a child walking around a sandy beach. He told me that I've been through a crazy ordeal (e.g., 2016 was like me swimming to shore during a terrible night storm), and before He and I venture into the new territory (e.g., if we've just landed on a desert island), I need to hang out on the shore for a little bit. The child I saw in the picture was playing with some stuff on the beach. Of course I know that the child is me. And I also know how important it is to NOT wander off and play with things like jellyfish or seagull poop. (That would be gross and dumb. Common sense, right?) So, I should stick close to my Father. It's safe here in His presence.

So far this year, I've had to learn to settle down internally and just let the rest, common sense, and boredom happen. Since I grew up in an abusive home (per my previous stint in psychotherapy, this means that I'm addicted to turmoil), this has been challenging. But since I have a relationship with God, it's good that He's told me about it ahead of time so that I can know that it's coming. And so that I can enjoy it.

I think 2018 is going to be pretty accelerated and busy, so I should appreciate 2017 while it's here.

 
So, I've been doing things like settling into my new apartment and establishing mundane routines (and loving them). One thing that I've been doing for mealtimes is keeping those on a simple rotation: cereal for breakfast, whatever I can find for lunch, and usually re-refried bean burritos or egg tacos for dinner. For breakfast on the weekends, I've been making toast on Saturdays and oatmeal on Sundays. Above is a photo of my lunch for today. Instead of a fried-egg sandwich (which has become my typical weekend lunch), I decided to try Chicken à la King on toast. Minus the chicken, veggies, or sauce.

OK, so it was two eggs sunny-side up on toast. It was still a nice lunch.

 
Speaking of simplicity, I recently got new classes in lieu of contact lenses. By the time I got my eyes checked recently for the first time in 10 years (I was so overdue it wasn't even funny), I decided that I was done with contacts. I figured that since I have to read things a few inches away from my face now, and that I'll more than likely need bifocals in the near future, why fight it? I got the nerdiest-looking frames I could find, on purpose, because I'm a bona fide nerd. (I think they look awesome on me, but I've shared the most awkward selfie I could find. Because I'm like that.) Ain't no shame in being who I am.

I'm still getting used to them, but I love them. I can't really see my hair while I'm styling it anymore, so I kind of have to make a blurry educated guess as to how it looks in the mornings -- but I like doing that better than dealing with old, crusty contact lenses. That got painful and terrible toward the end.

Yesterday, I wore my new glasses to church for the first time, and OH, MY GOSH. Everything was so clear and colorful! The service that I usually attend always has a live sermon, except yesterday it was a pre-recorded video. The message was broadcast on huge monitors that I could see very clearly from way back in the balcony where I was sitting. Oh, 20/20 vision, where have you been all my life???

"Unto You I lift up my EYES, O You who dwell in the heavens. Behold, as the EYES of servants LOOK to the hand of their masters, as the EYES of a maid to the hand of her mistress, so our EYES LOOK to the Lord our God, until He has mercy on us." (Psalm 123:1-2)

The night after I picked up my new glasses, when I had my "quiet" time, I asked God where He would like me to read in my Bible, and He led me to Psalm 123. In the previous paragraph, I sort of highlighted the words that stuck out at me. Ah, ha ha. God is funny. And He knows exactly where I am and exactly what I need.

I have a natural tendency to overcomplicate things, and God knows that I need an extended season when I can simplify my life and learn how to appreciate the simplicity. For example, I no longer need to overcomplicate my life with contact lenses and all the time, energy, and expense of keeping them clean, coaxing them out of my eyeballs when they get stuck, and wiping the mucus from the corners of my eyes when they irritate my corneas. Now all I have to do is keep my glasses clean. Simple.

And all I have to do at home is keep my tiny little apartment clean and my tiny little cat healthy and happy. Simple.

Speaking of Chicken à la King on toast, yesterday while I was looking through my Spanish version of The Picture Bible, I came across the story of King Herod getting struck by God and dying. The art was so compelling that I cracked open my real Bible and read the real story in Acts 12. What happened was, King Herod persecuted people in the early Church, and then while his loyal subjects were basically singing his praises, God struck him -- The Picture Bible says with a disease, and the New King James Bible says with worms. Either way, gross, and either way, God got revenge for His persecuted people.

This reminded me of something else in the Book of Acts, so I flipped back to chapter 9 where Saul (Paul) got dramatically converted when Jesus appeared to him: "Why are you persecuting Me?" Then I like how Saul ended up answering his own question in verse 5: "Who are You, Lord?" Yeah, that's right. Jesus is Lord. Again I saw how God got revenge for His persecuted people (and since the body of Christ was being persecuted, HE was being persecuted). But this time, the guy doing the persecuting got to live -- he ended up repenting and being one of the biggest heroes of our faith.

So, I had a rather dynamic "quiet" time -- because I read a simplified version, an artistic representation, of the Bible. It didn't dumb down the Scriptures for me. It led me to them. It brought them to life, so to speak. It helped me.

What's so wrong with that? What's so wrong with keeping it simple, stupid?

I'll tell you what. Ain't nothin' wrong with that.