Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Candy dish 3

This post is a (very belated) sequel to my (unintentional) "Candy dish" series. If you'd like to check out my previous posts, here's a link to this one that I posted almost 3 years ago and this one from about 2 years ago. Enjoy!

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I know I don't look my age. My prepared answer for "You don't look that old! How come you look so young?" is "I've never been married, I don't have kids, I don't drink, I don't smoke, I don't like to be outside, and I'm Mexican." I guess it's nice to not look like I'm 41 years old, until people start treating me like I'm half my age. Or until I start crushing on a guy who's around my age but who keeps his distance because I look (or possibly act) like I'm half my age. Well, excuse me for being myself.

 
So, whenever I find a gray hair, I celebrate. (Because these little treasures are few and far between.) When I found this one a month or two ago, I was beside myself. Yesssss! I am TOO an old lady! You gotta respect your elders, you know?

At any rate, God doesn't seem to have a problem with me being young at heart. So there. I stick out my tongue at you.

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The other day, I bought an ice cream cone at McDonald's for $1.07. I think that's one product that hasn't really seen any inflation in the past 20 or 30 years -- it's always cost the same. I think that's refreshing.

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Recently, I came across a spiritual gifts test that I took at church (a test that almost all of our members take) about seven and a half years ago. According to that particular test, my number one spiritual gift was exhortation, and there was a three-way tie with martyrdom, prophecy, and pastor for second place. In a nutshell, I think that means that I have a spiritual grace to do the following:

1) encourage people to do a certain action
2) take a bullet for the team
3) speak the truth, cuz it's the truth
4) attack lions and bears head-on, cuz nobody messes with my sheep

Yep, that pretty much describes me. And I think it explains a lot.

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Today as I noticed that this is the third time I've been unemployed while I've lived in this part of Texas, I was thinking that this whole unemployment/poverty thing is getting old. Then I heard the wistfulness in God's voice as He replied, "I think it's beautiful."

Eh?

He showed me a picture of a groom carrying his bride over the threshold. I was like, "Are You saying that this is the third time I've gotten married?" He showed me that when a young groom carries his bride over the threshold, the bride is completely dependent on the groom to carry her -- to not knock her head against the doorpost, to support her, to value the package that he's carrying. The only thing the bride can really do is hold on and enjoy her groom.

Hmm. So, that's why this is such a romantic notion to God. I bet He felt the same way when the Israelites were released from bondage in Egypt. They were dependent on Him for their every move, including how they would find food (manna) in an otherwise foodless place (the desert).

So, I won't complain.

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It still cracks me up whenever a car dealership mails me a spam letter saying that they want to buy my car from me because it's a popular model and people keep wanting to buy it. Um, let's use a little common sense, shall we? If people want it, it's probably because it's a good car. So, I'm keeping my car. Just sayin'.

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A leader who isn't vulnerable isn't worth following.

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My apartment has become a feline nursing home once again. Towards the end of Macho's life, he had problems with diarrhea. And now, at age 17, Choochie has developed problems with constipation. So, I keep an eye on her, and I regularly check my carpet for little surprises.

 
Sometimes I worry about her, and I think maybe she's finally come to the end of her life. Then she does something very kittenish like explore my wet shower curtain after I've used it. No problem, kitty. Do your thang. We feisty old ladies gotta stick together.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Unemployment again

I seem to be becoming an expert of sorts on unemployment. This is the third time in six years that I've found myself between jobs. Not bad for a starving artist, eh? In 2014, I wrote a twelve-part series of blog posts on Unemployment that you're always welcome to read if you like. This post is a nod to that series, especially with a current photo of my pantry. (Don't worry; I'm not starving. I don't store all my food in my pantry, and I'm currently typing this on a very full stomach.)

My blog is like my journal that I keep online. I talk about my life here. Metaphorically speaking, I slice my heart open and show you what it looks like while it's still beating and healing. You're welcome to take a look anytime.

So, long story short, I was basically forced to quit my job about two weeks ago. Upper management got wind of the fact that I was unhappy there and told me to pack my things. How dare I work there only for a paycheck!

Anyway, moving on. I feel like I learned some important lessons while I was there, and I'm glad I get to take those with me. (No, they're too big to fit into a cardboard box.)

So, I'm unemployed again. This is familiar territory, and I talked through some of my old familiar fears with God, and lately I've been feeling OK. Thankfully, one good thing about familiarity is that I know what to expect. I thought I'd make a list of some of the things that I've learned during the unemployment bumps on my journey through the years:

1) I'm a survivor. Cue Gloria Gaynor. Years ago when I lived with parents -- and struggled through seasons of unemployment with them -- they treated me like I was some kind of helpless little kid. Well, excuse me for growing up in an abusive home where I wasn't taught any life skills. I think if they could see me now, they would be shocked at how much of a badass I've become (please pardon my French). During my years of emotional healing, I've learned that a major strategy of demonic attack on little fighters like myself IS abuse, which is pretty ironic, and which ends up biting the devil in the butt later on. In a really big way.

2) It is possible to live on peanut butter and raisin bran. It isn't kind to your digestive system, but I won't go into details. "Tirzah, have you lost weight? You look good!" Yeah, thanks. That's, uh, because food costs money. Thankfully, I took a pay cut so that I could work at my previous job (evidence that I was NOT unhappy there the entire time), so I had to cut back on spending anyway. Also thankfully, I currently have more than just peanut butter and raisin bran in my kitchen. (And I don't plan on letting it get that bad again.)

3) Sometimes God gives you unexpected vacations so that you can take care of important life-stuff. I think this is what He was trying to show me during my brief unemployment period back in 2011, but I ended up finding full-time work after approximately one month of searching. Way back in 2001, Choochie was a kitten and needed to get spayed; I was out of work, but I'm glad I was available to help her through her healing process. Fast forward to this year: God has been teaching me about rest, so maybe unemployment in 2017 shouldn't have come as a surprise.

4) Online job applications are SO unpredictable. Some of them only take a few seconds to complete, and others can take an hour or two. (At least.) But it's worth the shot, so just push through until it's done.

5) Never underestimate the phenomenon of being in the right place at the right time. Incidentally, that's how I got my previous job. Employers can make their job descriptions as specific as they want (seriously, who has four years of experience in writing for a marketing agency?), but ultimately it will boil down to how desperate you two are for each other. If you have what an employer wants, and if they have what you want, and if the price is right, you've got the job.

6) Don't be surprised when potential employers suddenly show up at your door AFTER you finally find a job. (Seriously, where were you people when I was living on peanut butter and raisin bran??) Ecclesiastes 11:1 says, "Cast your bread upon the waters, for you will find it after many days." I'm still not sure why some employers will suddenly show an interest in me two or three months after I apply for their job, but at least this gives me hope that if I keep sowing, eventually I could reap.

7) God is VERY serious about taking care of me. The last time I was unemployed, I found a job six months after I started collecting unemployment payments -- during the last week of unemployment. I had been checking an online job board for a long time and had been applying for jobs there, but no one was interested in me. Then one day, I suddenly saw a job that I hadn't seen there before. I followed the instructions on the job listing, got an interview, took a writing test, got a second interview, and got hired. In the nick of time.

8) I AM WORTH IT. Every time you see a resume, you see a list of job experiences, qualifications, education, and skills... but what you're really seeing is a person. You're seeing a human being who's dressed themselves up to look presentable enough to fit into your company culture so that they can earn a paycheck. So that they can earn a living. So that they can live. Sure, it might be inconvenient to call them, ask them a few questions, invite them to your office, ask them some more questions, check their background, check their references, and repeat the process for every job candidate that you have. Maybe your company specializes in some very specific things, and you're afraid that somebody new is going to just waltz in there and mess it all up. But maybe that somebody is willing to adapt to your company and pour themselves into your mission and work their fingers to the bone so that your baby will live to see another day. Because your livelihood is now their livelihood, too.

I am a human being; therefore, I am worth going through that entire process. Jesus thought I was good enough to die for -- just because I need Him and because I'm still breathing. That means I AM good enough.

That means I AM WORTH IT.

Cuing Gloria Gaynor, weren't you the one who tried to break me with goodbye? Did you think I'd crumble? Did you think I'd lay down and die? Oh, no, not I. I will survive. As long as I know how to love, I know I'll stay alive. I've got all my life to live. I've got all my love to give. I will survive.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

"I'll be right here"

When I was growing up, movies would stay in theaters longer, and the marketing for each new flick was ubiquitous. So, I heard all about E.T. before I had actually seen it. Pictured here is a little reward that my first-grade gym teacher gave me (probably for showing up?). "Did good" comes from the movie quote "Be good." I've kept this little slip of paper in a little scrapbook of sorts all these years.

Back then, E.T. was the holy grail of kid movies. My parents were broke when it was in theaters -- so I think this may have been the movie that I donated the $4 I had in my piggy bank so that my family and I could watch it in the dollar theater. (It was either E.T. or Annie. Those were the two big movies when I was in the first grade.) A few years later, my sister got a storybook version of E.T. on a 45 record. I ended up memorizing some of the movie's lines that way.

From what I understand, Steven Spielberg vowed that he would never put E.T. on VHS. Then I guess he changed his mind, because it ended up in video stores I think when I was in junior high (several years after it was in theaters). While my family and I watched the movie on video, we fell in love with the robust piano solo that plays while the end credits begin to roll.

In those days, entertainment wasn't always at your fingertips. You had to search for it, even if it meant begging your parents to drive you to record stores until you found what you wanted. Sometimes you were fortunate to find exactly what you were looking for. The rest of the time, all you were able to do was dream.

Nowadays, it's possible to find what you're looking for in a matter of seconds. This past Fourth of July, I spent the holiday watching E.T. on DVD (which I think I bought used on Amazon a few years ago). The end credits started to roll, and I admired that intoxicating piano melody. And it dawned on me that I might be able to download that song on iTunes. Sure enough, in a matter of seconds, I ended up doing so on my phone. Wow! The exact thing I desired was suddenly right at my fingertips.

E.T. is a very intriguing story. (And it's a guaranteed tear-jerker.) I saw an interview in which Steven Spielberg explained that the movie was basically his own childhood fantasy -- a lonely boy in a broken home making a friend. The boy, Elliott, discovers E.T., an alien who was accidentally left behind while a group of aliens was on a mission to earth. The two little guys become extremely close friends, but tragedy strikes when E.T. ends up getting captured by scientists. While E.T. is dying, Elliott reaches out to him and says, "I'll be right here." E.T. dies and comes back to life while his fellow aliens come back for him. Right before he flies back to his home planet, he points to Elliott and says, "I'll be right here." (See? Tear-jerker.)

Taken with a grain of salt, E.T.'s friendship with Elliott kind of reminds me of some things in my life.

Shortly after Macho died last year, my cat Choochie adopted my pillow as her new nighttime napping spot. Every night, as soon as I crawl into bed (sometimes before then), Choochie drops whatever she's doing, crawls onto my pillow, perches her hind feet on my bicep, and purrs. Sometimes she crawls out and continues her nighttime slumber elsewhere, and other times I fall asleep with her there close to me. Yes, I took a selfie with the lights on to document this phenomenon. It's interesting that she knew exactly where to go and what to do, even with the lights on. Because she knows where she belongs.

She belongs with me.

"You are my hiding place; You shall preserve me from trouble; You shall surround me with songs of deliverance." (Psalm 32:7)

"Jesus answered and said to him, 'If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him.' " (John 14:23)

"Then they also brought infants to Him that He might touch them; but when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them. But Jesus called them to Him and said, 'Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God. Assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it.' " (Luke 18:15-17)

I got saved when I was 10 years old. I know that I got saved because I used to cheat on tests at school, but after I got saved, I remember that I stopped doing that.

But my surface-level relationship with God changed dramatically when I was 18 years old -- after I was baptized by the Holy Spirit. I think Pastor Jimmy Evans would say that it's because the Holy Spirit is a Connector; He connects us to Jesus and to God the Father.

Ever since I started living a life empowered by the Holy Spirit -- because I was suddenly able to hear God talking to me and directing me -- I've encountered all kinds of opposition. The worst, of course, came from my own family who tried to deprogram me as if I had joined a cult. And the hardest thing I've ever done was disown myself from my parents and walk away from my family -- probably to never see them again until we get to heaven. (I know I'll be there, but I'm not so sure about all of them.)

Who was with me through all of it? God. Whose relationship means more to me than anyone else's? God's. Who do I come to like a little child and pour my little heart out to because I know I'll be accepted, corrected, protected, and helped? God.

So, the last thing I want to do is destroy my relationship with God... or prevent anyone else from having that type of relationship with God.

I know I'm definitely not perfect, and I've definitely failed, just like everyone else has. But I know that I belong with Him. And I know that I can't survive without Him. Not anymore.

Whether I'm figuring out the mundane details of my life, or whether I'm looking for direction on how to live the rest of my life, or whether I'm walking away from people who are toxic to me, or whether I'm tackling a very challenging new task, or whether I'm learning how to use my gifts, or whether I'm struggling to learn how to do simple things like resting, or whether I'm dealing with an overtly demonic attack, or whether I'm wrestling with loneliness, or whether I'm being stabbed in the back by people who had been friendly to me, or whether I'm listening to antisocial Pharisees bark lies about my pastor through a bullhorn across the street from our church building, or whether I'm choosing to trust God while everything is falling apart around me, or whether I'm needing to live my life one day at a time...

I need to know what do to. I need to be reminded of the truth. I need to cling to the only One who has always been available to help me. I need to listen to the One who's always wanted me -- the One whose heart towards me has always been, "I'll be right here."

So, that's what I'm going to do.

God isn't like old technology. I don't have to beg other people to drive me around town until I find Him (IF I end up finding Him). I don't have to sit at home and only dream about the day that I will have access to Him. I already have access. He's right at my fingertips -- no, He's even closer than my fingertips. I can talk to Him whenever I want. He can talk to me whenever He wants. In a sense, I can crawl up to Him, perch on His bicep, and purr on His pillow, because I know where my place is.

I belong with Him.

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!)

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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.