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.

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.


Sunday, February 26, 2017

Nestled

When I was a little girl, we bought Dad a present (I think for his birthday). It was an LP record of Barry Manilow's 1982 album Here Comes the Night (which was relatively new back then). It was a terrible album, but I didn't know that because I was only about 7 years old when we bought it. Dad barely ever listened to it, but my birth sister and I would listen to it over and over again. I particularly liked the first song on the B side (pictured here).

I studied that album when I was a little girl. It had liner notes, I think on the record sleeve, that had the lyrics and all the legal information for each song. I think my birth mother liked to help me read the lyrics. I listened to that album over and over again, especially after we figured out how to record from LP record to cassette tape, so the lyrics and melodies are embedded pretty firmly in my brain even to this day.

Unfortunately, the lyrics to these songs aren't appropriate for a little girl to listen to. (Wikipedia tells me that the album was released in the UK with the title I Wanna Do It With You.) Rather vulgar words were covered very neatly with easy listening, jazz, and blues melodies. Seriously, if you have this kind of thing in your home, at least try to hide it from your children. Thanks, Mom and Dad, for being excellent parents. #sarcasm

But since I had absorbed that music from that obscure album for years, it's never really left me. (Wikipedia also tells me that a couple of major music reviewers gave the album either 1 or 2 out of 5 stars. Heh. I knew it was a terrible album.) Recently, I prayed about it and felt like it was OK to download a couple of the harmless songs from iTunes recently (the one I mentioned above as well as Barry Manilow's beautiful rendition of "Memory" from Cats)... because I've never really been able to get the music out of my head. So, I'm hoping these two songs will stay harmless for me (song 1 from the B side has already been rather cathartic) and that something good will have come from something that was probably subconsciously disturbing for a musically impressionable little girl. Especially since she grew up to be a woman who has struggled with lust. Thanks again, Mom and Dad, for protecting me from all that. #sarcasm

Thankfully, I have a new Father who knows how to take the bad things that have been nestled into my life and turn them into something useful... and He also knows how to take His children and nestle them permanently into a destiny that nobody will ever be able to reverse.

"Let them shout for joy and be glad, who favor my righteous cause; and let them say continually, 'Let the Lord be magnified, who has pleasure in the prosperity of His servant.' " (Psalm 35:27)

The other day, I got to church a few minutes early and took a photo of the auditorium. I almost posted it on Facebook with a caption that would have said something like, "This is where I sit every week and pretend to not stalk the worship team, especially since I may or may not have a crush on a certain worship leader." I know. LOL. But then I got to thinking how wrong that was -- not wrong to have my eye on someone, but wrong to think that I'm like an outsider looking in. I'm involved in the worship department at my church. That means I belong with a bunch of worshipers. I don't have to stalk them like some creepy groupie.

I'm at a place in my life where I finally feel like I belong somewhere. I don't have a nervous churning in the pit of my stomach when I drive to work in the mornings anymore. I don't entertain out-of-control thoughts of trying to impress people when I'm at church anymore. I just show up and do my thang. I just show up and be myself. I feel like God has carved out a life for me. I have a place here. I'm settled here. I belong here.

At church this weekend, a pastor said something to the effect of, "As parents, our job is to show our kids that they're valued and loved." Unfortunately, I immediately thought of my birth parents. Because they did such a wonderful job raising me. #sarcasm

Actually, they flunked so badly that God told me to leave them permanently -- that He didn't want them in this part of my life.

I can see why now. They kind of had a knack for throwing a monkey wrench into the inner workings of my life. They breathed chaos, they criticized everything, and they stifled me almost completely. (In addition to neglecting and abusing me.) Last night when I read Psalm 35, the part about God taking pleasure in my prosperity stuck out at me. My birth parents took pleasure in advancing their own agendas, but I think my new Father takes pleasure in me prospering in the life that He's prepared for me. He wouldn't throw a monkey wrench into it. Why would He?

God designed me to be a worship pastor, and I didn't know it until recent years. As I've wrestled through that -- Lord, is this really what You want me to do with my life? -- He's shown me that it's a no-brainer. I'm artsy-fartsy, I'm gifted in shepherding, I'm motivated by relationship, I'm into music, I don't have a problem ripping demons' heads off with my bare teeth, and I need to consistently check my heart for obsessing over or worshiping things or people other than God. I'm a worship pastor, whether I get a paycheck for it or not. It's who I am. It's a no-brainer. I know that now.

In fact, it's nestled so deeply inside me that it's as hard to shake as a terrible 80s album that's been etched into the fiber of my being for life... OK, so that's probably a terrible thing to compare it to, but I hope you understand what I'm saying.

But my birth parents didn't know about my calling. If they had, they wouldn't have approved. (Or they would have accepted it only through the lens of their denomination... or maybe Mom would have tried to talk me into being a music secretary instead. Seriously.)

The truth is, I belong.

I belong in His church. I belong in His house. I belong in His family. I belong in the shadow of His wings. I belong between His shoulders. I belong smack-dab in the middle of His embrace. I belong there, and I get to remain nestled there forever. #sincerity

Sunday, February 19, 2017

The Christian life be like...


I took this photo about a year or so ago, during a time in my life when I was watching a lot of episodes of Chopped on YouTube. (That's Macho sitting next to my laptop.) Chopped is a very popular show on the Food Network; it's a competition in which four chefs each receive a basket of ingredients and are given 20 or 30 minutes to create a dish using those ingredients. There are three rounds, and the last chef standing will win $10,000. (It's kind of like Iron Chef with a shorter attention span.)

It's a fascinating show to watch, even if you're not a foodie, because it's a reality show in which anything can happen. The basket ingredients aren't always normal things like chicken, eggs, or tortillas; they're odd twists on normal things like game hens, ostrich eggs, or pastry dough (which you could maybe use like a tortilla... but would it cook in time?); or they're abnormal things like a butchered goat, durian fruit, or a giant jawbreaker (in that one episode, I think three jawbreakers rolled off the counter and landed on the floor while the contestants were trying to hammer them open, and one of the chefs ended up sharing their pieces with the other three).

Each competition has three judges (all experts in the culinary industry) who are watching the chefs' every move while they are cooking (sometimes yelling passionately, as if they're watching a football game on TV) and who offer very candid feedback in which their nitpicky comments contribute to the final outcome. And all of the four contestants have interesting life stories. Some of the chefs are underdogs who have a fighting spirit because they've had to fight for everything their entire lives; others are refined culinary artisans who have been honing their skills for years; and others are people who may not really be cut out for kitchen work after all. (One guy who dropped out of high school to pursue a cooking career ended up getting chopped after the first round, and one of the judges explained that he should at least get his GED.)

Each episode is predictably unpredictable, and yet I've noticed a few things:
1) Pretty much every contestant who flirts with any of the judges ends up getting chopped.
2) Almost every contestant who behaves like an arrogant jerk ends up getting chopped Proverbs 16:18-style.
3) Every contestant who gets lost in the details ends up forgetting something crucial such as a basket ingredient or forgetting to check on part of their dish that ends up burning or neglecting to adequately cook something that needs to cook for a long time.
4) The judges always have something nice to say about a contestant who works hard, works smart, and appears to do their very best, regardless of the outcome.
5) Anytime a contestant makes the best out of a bad situation (such as their entire dish burning and then they have to start over, or having to substitute an ingredient because they can't find what they're looking for in the pantry, or having to use a different piece of kitchen equipment because the other contestants are already using the equipment that they need, or finishing their dish despite cutting or burning themselves)... their episode is always a MacGyver-esque pleasure to watch. I have zero interest in the culinary arts, but I'm always inspired by the things that I see on this show.

So, initially I thought about writing about my adventures in watching Chopped and titling the blog post "Life on a plate," but I scrapped that idea because I found out that some band somewhere already gave one of their albums that title.

It's a catchy title, isn't it? Because it's true.

Similarly, we're all put on this earth with the expectation that we will live our lives to the fullest. The fullest way that I know how to live is hand in hand with God, in the arms of God, or clutching tightly to the ankles of God (depending on the situation I happen to be in). But we're not always given the best ingredients to work with. Sometimes we're handed something that makes us go, "Um, what am I supposed to do with this? I've never seen anything like this before," and we only have a certain amount of time to use it in. If we cut corners, or if we cheat, or if we step on people to reach our goals, or if we just give up and act like a baby because things aren't going our way, we will fail.

And the world is watching us to see how we respond to the situations we've been given. Will she make it? Will she accidentally injure herself? Why is she doing it that way? I've never seen anyone do it that way before. It's certainly a nail-biter.

And I've discovered that this life is similar to other things as well.


Almost a couple of years ago, God told me that I needed to play video games. I downloaded one version of Pac-Man onto my phone awhile back, and lately I've been playing it pretty regularly. This version is a bit different than the ones that I played when I was growing up. It uses power-ups (not just power pellets) that you can use to kill the ghosts that are chasing you, it rewards you for eating a certain number of dots, and you can earn coins and use them to upgrade your power-ups (or to continue game play without watching a video ad).

I've noticed a few other things about this version:
1) The blue ghosts basically go around in short circles, and their speed is slower than Pac-Man's, so you can discreetly follow behind them without them noticing you.
2) The orange ghosts are slightly smarter than the blue ones, but you should still avoid them because if they see you, they'll go after you.
3) The green and purple ghosts only go left/right, together, like a little military squad. They're not much of a threat unless they block you.
4) The gray ghosts are asleep until you get near them; then they will chase you. After they chase you for a while, they will fall asleep again.
5) The gray ghosts are always positioned near a pink ghost. The pink ghosts will start to chase you as soon as you move into their line of sight, and they move faster than any of the other ghosts.
6) The red ghosts are the most dangerous, I think, because they move quickly, are extra observant, and will even go backwards/upwards to chase you if they know where you are.
7) All the ghosts (except for the green and purple ones) are moving downward in the maze, into a hellish, electric ghost-graveyard of sorts. Pac-Man encounters the ghosts while he is moving upward in the maze, but if he lingers too long in the ghost-graveyard hell, he will die.

So, this game reminds me of spiritual warfare.

Just like the ghosts in the game have their own little quirks and specific behavior, our spiritual enemies (demons, iniquities, etc.) can be predicted, avoided, escaped from, and defeated straight to hell. If we linger in any hellish mire, we could be goners. The Holy Spirit is like a power-up that equips us to fight the enemy as we make our way through the maze.


Over the past several weeks, I've been dealing with an infestation of ladybugs in my apartment. I thought it was an adorable little infestation until I talked to some friends and did some research online. According to my findings, they're not just cute little ladybugs. They're also Asian beetles (or manbugs, as my birth sister used to call them) -- the orange ones that may or may not have those adorable little spots on their backs. In the wintertime, they hibernate in the walls, and in the late winter months (e.g., February), they come out of hibernation. The problem is, they forget how to get back outside, so they wander around my living room. They haven't bitten me or Choochie, but they potentially could if I don't get rid of them. If I hold one in my hand, and if I scare it, it could secrete a nasty-smelling substance on my hand (I guess it's pee that smells like poison?).

At my previous apartment, I only saw maybe two or three of them the entire time I was there, so I didn't think it was a big deal. But at this apartment, I've seen dozens. (Inside the track of my sliding door, I counted 11 ladybug/manbug corpses which I'm assuming got stuck there last winter.) At first, they started getting trapped inside a floor lamp that I keep in my living room. A few of them ventured onto my kitchen ceiling and window. But then many of them made it to my living room window or my dry bar.

Next year, I think I'll call the apartment office and have them send an exterminator. But this year, I decided to take care of the infestation myself. ('Cause I'm just like that.)

At first, I was amused by the little clusters of ladybugs/manbugs getting trapped in my stuff. Aww, poor little clueless insects. But then it started getting gross -- the fluttering of wings, the desperation of the doomed creatures, the constant appearance of bugs coming out of nowhere -- I mean, eww. I couldn't just ignore the problem anymore.

The Internet recommended either poison to kill the beetles or vacuuming them up so that you could help them get back outside. OK, I want to be helpful, but if they get too close to me or my cat, they're going to meet their Maker pretty instantly.

The entire situation reminded me of spiritual infiltrators (like demons or iniquities). If I cherish a sin or a problem in my life, or if I ignore it, I'll be in pretty big trouble, right? It's best to roll up your sleeves and just get rid of the problem.

But the deeper I got in my personal extermination process, I realized that the ladybugs/manbugs reminded me of ME. So, when I'm not exterminating the beetles, I'm shepherding them. Go figure.


Years ago, somebody gave me some plastic sandwich boxes (so you could carry a sandwich for lunch in a washable container instead of in a sandwich bag). I got rid of the boxes but kept the lids, which I've been using to transport the ladybugs/manbugs outside. (Kind of like a barge for beetles.)

So, when the weather gets warm and they come out of hibernation, I climb onto a chair or a stepstool, reach up, and coax the ladybugs/manbugs as gently as I can onto a little beetle-barge. Then I open either the front door or the sliding door and let them fly or scurry off to freedom. (Perhaps the neighbors have seen or heard me saying, "Bye! Have a nice life!" to a plastic sandwich-box top.)

The process isn't always smooth. Sometimes the bugs fly off the beetle-barge, and I have to chase them down again. Other times, I have to kind of force them off because they end up liking the beetle-barge. Still other times, I'm saddened to see that not all of them scurry away after I transport them outside. I wonder if either 1) some of them were already on their last leg or maybe 2) I accidentally scared some of them to death or perhaps 3) they had hibernation sickness. ("Who are you?" "Someone who loves you." (That's from Return of the Jedi.))

And other times, I don't feel like using the beetle-barge, so I'll grab a napkin or just use my hand (even if it ends up getting poison-peed on) instead. This morning, I was kind of sick and tired of the whole thing, so I was angrily flicking the bugs onto the beetle-barge with a paper towel, and I'm honestly surprised that I didn't exterminate any of them on the spot.

And during this entire process, I did end up transporting a mayfly back outdoors (and I'm hoping that I didn't accidentally hurt one of his legs). I killed a couple of spiders as well.

So, these forgetful, troublemaking little ladybugs/manbugs remind me a lot of myself.

If I lose my way for a season and get distracted by something that looks bright and shiny, and if it turns out to be a trap, I could be stuck there, and I could be a goner in no time. ("It's a trap!" Also from Return of the Jedi.) Seriously, if this happens, I need Somebody to come looking for me, to dig me out, and to transport me to freedom. Even if I end up poison-peeing in His hand.

God totally could have exterminated me a long time ago. He had every right to. I haven't always behaved in His home. But instead, He chooses to shepherd me to where I need to be, and it's for His name's sake. Sometimes He's gentle, other times He has to be a tiny bit more forceful, and still other times He has to really lay down the law until I finally realize that He's trying to help me... and that I can't make it without Him.

Just because I'll never join the dark side (Return of the Jedi) doesn't mean the dark side won't keep trying. Even though they know that my destiny is to stay with my Father forever.

But just like I'm shepherding a bunch of dumb little beetles back to where they need to be, I know that God will herd me as well. And just like I took care of Macho until the very end, I that know God will take care of me. And I know that I'm more important to Him than a cat or an insect. I'm His born-again daughter who He redeemed, loves, and still wants.