Sunday, August 5, 2018

Numbers, numbers everywhere

I recently noticed that the mileage on my car was 120,666. I humorously freaked out ever so slightly. (Because of the number 666.) But God was like, “You’ll never see numbers as being unlucky ever again.” 

Earlier that day, I balanced my checkbook and discovered that I had just barely over $13 until my next paycheck (which is more than I thought I would have). God showed me that I would never see the number 13 the same way again.

He’s right. 13 is a mighty blessed number indeed.

“But I have trusted in Your mercy; my heart shall rejoice in Your salvation. I will sing to the Lord, because He has dealt bountifully with me.” (Psalm 13:5-6)

About a decade ago, I had a crush on a guy in my Sunday School class. What made this guy different is that he actually liked me back – a rarity indeed! (I’ve probably mentioned him before here on my blog.) However, the deal-breaker – besides the facts that 1) he was a smoker and 2) he didn’t like to sit in the worship services – was that he had been involved in the occult off and on, and he didn’t really seem all that serious about leaving that lifestyle. 

But he said something that stuck with me: He would always see something that reminded him of the pagan-y lifestyle anytime he would see numbers. In other words, whenever he would notice numbers in everyday life (e.g., on his alarm clock), I guess he had difficulty in not seeing some type of divination potential or occult-y connection of some sort.

I don’t know about all that, but I do know one thing: God created numbers. And regardless of how the devil may have tried to steal them, God can always redeem them.

There are Bible scholars who can explain what certain numbers mean in Scripture (e.g., 5 means grace, 10 means testing), so I won’t go into all that here. But I think it’s cool how God has been highlighting certain numbers in my life lately and showing what they mean to me.

This year, the number 911 has been sticking out to me. It hasn’t been uncommon that my eyes will just happen to be looking at a clock whenever it’s 9:11. At first, I thought maybe it was God’s way of telling me to pray/intercede for somebody/something. But then He showed me that He was just trying to speak to me in my language.

Of course, in my culture, 911 is the number that we use to call for help. (Which I’m sure the terrorists were acutely aware of back in 2001.) So, this year whenever I’ve seen 9:11 on a clock somewhere, it was God’s way of saying that He sees me. It was like His way of saying Hi. But I think He’s taken it a step further.

The other day while I was driving to work, I noticed that the clock on my car said 7:47. I felt like God told me that I’ve been noticing 911 this year, but now I would start to notice 747 (like the jet). All year long, He’s heard my cry for help. And now, He’s going to respond like a 747 jet.

Can you guess how much I had after I balanced my checkbook this morning? $7.47, of course.

I’ve been in trouble. And He’s coming to help.

“Sing praises to the Lord, who dwells in Zion! Declare His deeds among the people.” (Psalm 9:11)

So, here I am again at that time of the month where I’ve breathed a sigh of relief because I’ve been able to pay my rent, but I’ve begun to worry because I’ve crunched the numbers and am not 100% sure how I’m going to pay next month’s rent. And buy gas. And buy food.

But why should I worry? In Matthew 6:34, Jesus said to just take it one day at a time. That’s an important lesson I’ve been learning in this crazy season.

He’s brought me this far. Why would He quit now?

 

He’s provided a way for me to take care of this little one. He’s provided a way for her to eat, drink water, and have a litterbox like a civilized house cat.

He’s provided a way for me to eat, drink water, drive a car, earn a living, and exist in this world like a civilized human being. I’ve been eking out my existence in ways that I never dreamed were possible, but I’ve been making it.

Because God has been helping me. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be able to make it at all. I need Him. I depend on Him.

These are lessons that I’ll be able to carry with me into the next season... whether it begins in 3 weeks, 3 months, or 3 years.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Desert reflections


“Trust in Him at all times, you people; pour out your heart before Him; God is a refuge for us.” (Psalm 62:8)

When I went through a round of psychotherapy about four years ago, my therapist instructed me to journal. I ended up doing so in a spiral notebook for a month and a half. I had forgotten about it until I found the notebook in a box recently. WOW. I was a psycho nut job. There were a couple of pages where I had had a terrible day at work and vented in my journal with a ton of profanity. The issues I was working through at the time were loneliness, rejection, abandonment, and neglect. Um, sound familiar? (No worries, I know why I deal with those, and now I know when they flare up.) I’ve been working through these recently again, probably at a different level/layer, probably at a different intensity.

Perhaps the fact that I’ve been working through them yet again is actually an answer to my own prayer at the end of that spiral-notebook journal: “Thank You for my issues. Help me to work through them completely, and help me to use them to catapult me into Your arms.”

That’s true, you know. Sometimes a crisis drives you to the Word, or drives you to seek God’s face more intensely than you’ve ever sought it before. Because you’re desperate. You need answers. You need freedom. You need peace. You need Him, and you can’t rest until you find Him.

And sometimes we just carry stuff inside us that we don’t know is there. The safest place to squeeze/pour it out is in God’s presence. And sometimes God takes us to a special place where we can do just that.

“Therefore, behold, I will allure her, will bring her into the wilderness, and speak comfort to her.” (Hosea 2:14)

“Behold, the eye of the Lord is on those who fear Him, to deliver their soul from death, and to keep them alive in famine.” (Psalm 33:18-19)

I think I might be ripping off a flagship Bible verse of a local ministry, but Hosea 2:14 can describe what happens when God pulls us aside for a brief season and lets us work through stuff privately.

Today while I was talking through some worries/concerns/stuff with God, He reminded me that a desert is SUPPOSED TO be hard. It’s supposed to have extreme conditions – cold at night, unbearably hot during the day, no water, cacti that contain their own water sources just so that they can survive there. Why would a loving God create places like this? I believe it’s to remind us of what a hard season is like.

From what I understand, even Jesus went through a desert. Matthew chapter 4 says that he was led into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. When we talk about this passage, we usually focus on what happened AFTER He spent 40 days in the wilderness: The devil tempted Him, and He overcame those temptations. But what about during those 40 days when He was fasting? Did He work through some emotional stuff? Did He kick and scream? The Bible doesn’t say. (Regardless, He made it through that rough patch without sinning.) Jesus is God, but He’s also human, and I think maybe even He needed some privacy for 40 days. And when it was over, He began His ministry. I guess you could say He entered His “promised land.”

As you probably know, I’m nearing the end of a hard season financially. I’ve dropped a full pants size (at least) because I can’t afford to buy as much food as I used to. I’ve lost so much weight that I’ve discovered bones on my skeleton that I didn’t know I had. I’m incredibly behind on several of my credit accounts, and I’ve been praying that they won’t sue me. The best news I had today was that my current electric bill, after that huge heat wave that we experienced in my area, is only $69 and some change.

But, speaking of change, I feel that it’s coming my way soon. I felt God’s pleasure over me today as He said, “You’ve had enough.” I also felt like He reminded me of how we’re always surrounded by so much harvest during the fall season (which is just around the corner). I felt like He said that I would see a “bumper crop.”

That would rock my world.

But meanwhile – as crazy as this may sound – I’m content here in the desert, where I haven’t gone hungry, I haven’t been without appropriate clothing, I haven’t lost my mind, and I haven’t died. (Or, hopefully, only my “self” has died.) And – as crazier as this may sound – I might even miss it after I leave.

 

MeepMeep is in heat (again) as I write this, so her feline expressions are currently intensified. Her emotions are more aggressive than usual. And her separation anxiety is pretty acute. When she freaks out, calming her down isn’t a formula, so I have to see what kind of mood she’s in to see what will work. In this photo, she joined me on the couch after I whistled at her. See how relaxed and adorable she is here?

I feel like she’s gotten to know my character during her little crises. She knows I’ll never leave her, she knows I want what’s best for her, she knows I won’t give up on her just because she’s going a little crazy, she knows I’m patient and gentle with her... and she knows I’ll put my foot down if I need to. (I mean, Mama needs to sleep, right?)

I’m sure you know where I’m going with this analogy.

It’s in the hard, rough, dry places that we get to experience the parts of God’s character that we may have never experienced before. When we’re dealing with our mess, and when He rolls up His sleeves and comes alongside us to help us clean it up, we bond with Him. Then after we make it through our rough patch, we won’t want to leave His side, because we know we can’t make it through life without Him.

The trials, the rough places, the deserts – they eventually end up catapulting us into the arms of God.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Brazen reflections

God told me that I would look back on this season someday and laugh. I think I’ve already been laughing at the crazy situations I’ve found myself in. I guess that’s just the nature of survival.

One day, I took a bag full of change to the grocery store and bought a week’s worth of food for $1.88. Another time, I sold a huge stack of books to a bookstore for 78 cents. I’ve been popping popcorn to eat with my lunches because it’s cheaper than buying potato chips. I discovered that you can buy a bag of 100 corn tortillas for $1.99, so I’ve been buying those and making my own tostadas. A few of my creditors have been relentless with me, and I’ve continued to brazenly communicate to them that I can only afford to send them a tiny little amount every month right now.

I think I’ve mastered the arts of coasting and using cruise control to save gas. One time, I dug through a box in my closet and fished out a couple of old sewing kits so that I could mend a pair of pants (instead of buying a new one). During this really hot summer we’ve been having, I’ve gotten used to keeping my apartment’s thermostat set to 81 while I’m gone during the day and anywhere from 78 to 83 while I’m here; I’ve sat in the dark so that I wouldn’t have to turn any lights on; my cat doesn’t seem to mind, and my electricity is free between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m. (I mean, you gotta do what you gotta do.)

 

But one day, I chopped up a Slim Jim and turned it into chilaquiles. And the other day, I drove nearly half a mile on a flat tire, on purpose, because I thought maybe my car could make it to the tire store. (I really don’t recommend doing anything that I mentioned in this paragraph. Kids, don’t try this at home.)

And I recently started writing sci-fi and fantasy stories, just because they’re genres that actually pay money. (THAT came out of left field. I’m pretty sure it’s God’s idea, because He likes to keep stuff like that up His sleeve.) I haven’t finished, submitted, or sold anything in these genres just yet; but when I do, I think the magazines are going to be dealing with a brazenly seasoned writer, rather than the timid little amateur that I was a couple of decades ago.

I’ve turned down job opportunities because 1) they would have violated an agreement that I made with my previous employer, or 2) the work could have made me stumble, or 3) the hours would have completely conflicted with my church commitments. I’ve been honest with people, I’ve been assertive with people, I’ve tried to be careful with people, and I’ve been in the process of forgiving people. I’ve waited and waited and waited and waited and waited. And I’ve been just plain crazy.

But I don’t think I’m the only crazy one.

“Then the Lord awoke as from sleep, like a mighty man who shouts because of wine. And He beat back His enemies; He put them to a perpetual reproach.” (Psalm 78:65-66)

I think God is proud of the way that He’s been taking care of me during this crazy season. The day that He provided a way for me to buy a couple of new tires, I saw a picture of Him proudly standing over me. I was a little bit frightened until He leaned down and asked, “Who’s your Daddy?”

I knew where He was going with this. “You’re my Daddy,” I replied sheepishly.

If I remember correctly, our “Who’s your Daddy, You’re my Daddy” exchange continued in my spirit for a while that day.

I don’t remember the exact words of our conversation, but think I also asked Him, “Life requires money. Can I please have some money?” His reply was basically, “So you ARE worth it.” He reminded me of previous conversations we’ve had where He’s impressed on my heart, “Don’t regret living your life.” In other words, don’t regret spending (or borrowing) money when you needed to. Because you were just living your life. If you regret living your life, well... then you could end up in a psych hospital. (Kids, for real, don’t try this at home.)

As I look back on these past 11 months, I’m amazed at how God has been carrying me through. He’s helped me avoid snakes and scorpions in this dangerously hot desert, just like He said He would. I’ve prayed for Him to multiply my resources, and when He does, I look at my bank account – or the food in my kitchen, or the toilet paper in my bathroom, or whatever it is that I was needing – and I’m like... Wow, You did it. And He’s like... Well, you asked Me to. He’s gotten in my face and insisted that He has a reputation to uphold.

Indeed, He does.

“He restores my soul; He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.” (Psalm 23:3)

“He also brought me out into a broad place; He delivered me because He delighted in me.” (Psalm 18:19)

“He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also He has put eternity in their hearts, except that no one can find out the work that God does from beginning to end.” (Ecclesiastes 3:11)

I’m learning how to take things one day at a time. I’m learning how to be OK with keeping some things a mystery. I’ve had to make some attitude adjustments, I’ve had to make some health and lifestyle adjustments, I’ve had to make some entertainment adjustments, and I’ve had to make some relational adjustments. I’m confident that it’s because I’ve needed to change, and I think it’s also because God has needed to prepare me for the next step.

You’re almost there, Tirzah. Just a little more. Keep going. You can do it!!!

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Validating, dancing, and leaning

I have a few different ideas swirling around in my head for this post, but I’ll try to combine them in a way that makes sense.

Lately, I’ve been watching a lot of web-based cooking shows on YouTube (each video is usually around 5 to 10 minutes long or so). I’m not a foodie, honest; it’s just that watching rated-G cooking shows doesn’t make me stumble. Since I don’t have a mom anymore, it’s nice to get cooking ideas from other people. And I’ve always enjoyed watching teachers do their thang.

I stumbled on a few shows that are especially interesting: Great Depression Cooking, Trailer Park Cookin, and Simply Sara. When I first started watching these, I was like... whoa, they cook just like I do. They use what they have. They don’t have fancy ingredients, so they just make do. And they don’t get all hoity-toity like the foodies on cable TV shows do; they’re not ashamed to use the processed foods that you can buy at Dollar Tree.

The host of Trailer Park Cookin really went off during one of her episodes and was like... when you’re a single mom who has to feed her kids but makes too much money to qualify for food stamps, you have to either go to a food bank or buy stuff that’s extra cheap, and it’s going to be fattening comfort food, so don’t judge me. You go, trailer park lady. I ate a Slim Jim sandwich for lunch the other day, so I’m right there with ya.

So, these YouTube shows are entertaining and educational to watch, but frankly they’re just validating for me.

 

“The Lord will command His lovingkindness in the daytime, and in the night His song shall be with me -- a prayer to the God of my life.” (Psalm 42:8)

MeepMeep has been in heat this past week, but I think I’ve gotten used to this process. And I think her overly potent hormones have been working their way out of her system. The way her condition has been manifesting itself has been more through separation anxiety and a skyrocketed energy, and less through her little exotic dance. She wakes me up in the middle of the night demanding affection, and during the day she demands that I play with her. Lately, her feet will stiffen, and I’ll play with her by twirling her around on the couch or the floor like a little feline pinwheel. And for those times when she absolutely needs to bust out in her little exotic dance, I gave her her own playlist on my phone. (The first song on the list is the “Macarena.” It’s OK to laugh.)

When she howls for me across the apartment (or even just a few feet away from me in the same room), I can often calm her down by whistling at her. She’ll usually trot over to where I am and sometimes sniff my lips (or playfully bite my chin). Trying to convince her that I’m a female human (rather than a boy cat) has been kind of a slow-going journey, but I’ve been learning how to handle her because I’ve spent time with her and have gotten to know her. I think she’s learning that she can trust me because I’ve been consistent with her. (And later this week when she gets back to normal, she’ll resume her regular routine and I’ll get to sleep through the night again.)

Of course, the way that God handles me always comes from Him knowing me, too.

The other day when I got off work and popped a CD into my car’s stereo, I felt like listening to “Hey,” a Julio Iglesias song from my childhood. I felt like God wanted me to shut up (rather than sing along) and pay attention to the first verse so that He could sing it to me. It goes something like... Hey, it’s wonderful to see you once again, to see you smile and hear you call My name; there is so much to say. I think I may have ended up singing the chorus to Him, which goes something like... It’s true; I’ve had so many other loves to share, but I could close my eyes and You’ll be there; no matter where I go, You are everywhere.

That was a beautiful car ride home, and God and I enjoyed a very nice evening together. He’s like my Father, my Husband, my Boyfriend, my Friend, and my God all wrapped in One.

During most of my “quiet times” at night, lately He’s shown me a specific psalm to read. He usually ends up sending me to a psalm or a verse/passage that described my day. During that particular Julio-Iglesias evening, He led me to Psalm 42 (which is significant to me because that’s my age), and verse 5 jumped out at me: “The Lord will command His lovingkindness in the daytime, and in the night His SONG shall be with me.” Because He sang over me.

He knows exactly where I am. He knows exactly what I need. He knows me.

“Who is this coming up from the wilderness, leaning upon her beloved?” (Song of Solomon 8:5a)

In these days as I’m wrapping up a season of sorts, my prayer is that I’ll come out of the wilderness leaning on my Beloved. I don’t want to leave this season bitterly. I don’t want to leave this season defensively. I don’t want to leave this season fearfully. I want to leave this season in love with and in awe of the One who has lovingly taken care of me every step of the way.

Wasn’t that the whole point of God taking the Israelites through the wilderness in the first place? So that they could worship Him? Maybe He wanted them to learn how to love Him. That’s what happens when you’re dependent on Someone to feed you your next meal or lead you to your next destination -- in a place where the conditions are so harsh that you would surely die otherwise.

You bond with them forever.

Sometimes I wonder if I’m crazy for putting myself through all this. I wonder if I’m just being foolish or immature. But what if I actually heard God? What if I’m actually just obeying Him? What if I’m really just following Him? What if He’s actually leading me very meticulously through very rough terrain? And what if this is my one chance to get it right?

Knowing that other people have gone through similar rough patches helps me to validate my own. Seeing how I’ve grown to patiently interact with my little exotic dancer helps me to understand how God patiently interacts with me whenever I go a little crazy. Hearing God sing over me in the wilderness just makes it all worth it.

You gotta go through the wilderness to get to the promised land. Ain’t no way around that. Just hold tight to the One who knows the way.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Casserole5

There’s a Toys R Us store on my way home from church. As you probably know, that retailer filed for bankruptcy, so the store has had a going-out-of-business sale going on for quite a while. I stopped in last night just out of curiosity. What I saw was pretty sad. Most of the store had empty shelves, and we were only allowed to shop at the front part of the store which was cordoned off and lightly stocked with the last remaining items. I believe the sign on the front of the store said the sale would last for six more days.

What I saw last night wasn’t the Toys R Us that I grew up with. When I was a kid in the 80s, going to Toys R Us was always a magical, anticipated, epic treat. The store that we would go to was huge and was stocked with every toy you could imagine. (Or maybe it seemed so huge because I was so little.) The sale items, marked with yellow or red price tags, were always a welcome sight -- especially when your dad was out of work and money was tight for everybody. When I got older, I used to shop more in the video game section (for our Atari), but I always thoroughly enjoyed my visit to that store (and I’m glad I bought what I did, because I was able to sell most of it on eBay years later).

But last night, it seemed like they had been emptying out the dark corners of their warehouse. There was a huge shelf full of plastic troll figurines, a display of personalized cheap-looking plastic Christmas ornaments (that were supposed to light up but didn’t seem to work), maybe like two or three Star Wars action figures, and dozens of C batteries (which, even at 60% off, would still be a better deal at Dollar Tree). There were also still some Babies R Us items for sale. I was kind of hoping to find some candy at the checkout lines -- which is a pretty standard sight at almost any retailer nowadays -- but there wasn’t any. (Purchasing a cheap little refreshment on my way out is sometimes my way of saying, “Thanks for letting me browse.”) Unless they already sold it all.

As I drove away without buying anything, I thought about how my favorite childhood toy store was probably yet another dead retailer that failed to change with the times. I mean, if you sell toys in close proximity to breastfeeding accessories, who are you catering to? Stay-at-home moms. And how do they shop? As cheaply as possible. Where? Online, of course, because you can buy used stuff there without having to lug your family around to any garage sales. And if they bring their kids to shop with them at your actual store, it would be retail suicide to not stock your checkout lanes with candy.

Rest in peace, Geoffrey. I’m glad I was a Toys R Us kid.

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Last night and this morning, MeepMeep has been displaying some signs of going into heat yet again -- separation anxiety, insatiable appetite for affection, nestling her head towards her chest. (This photo is completely unrelated to this phenomenon.) I’m hoping her hormones have just been petering out each time she gets like this, but I’m still prepared for anything. (And hopefully all of her current behavior is just a false alarm.)

And yesterday morning as I was trying to fall back to sleep, she scratched my eyelid. I think it was a playful act, considering that the sight of my closed eye peering out from underneath the covers was probably something that stimulated her feline curiosity. But for the rest of the day, I wondered if perhaps I should plot to trim her nails. (Macho and Choochie used to let me do that once a month, but MeepMeep hasn’t been as, er, submitted to my household leadership in this particular area.) And she’s kneading her long claws into my arm while I’m typing the remainder of this paragraph. Ow.

And yet, I wouldn’t change her for anything. Her tremendous energy, strength, and appetite for affection all contribute to who she is. There is a taming process that needs to be ongoing, but I don’t regret that she is who she is. In fact, I like her that way. And the more I get to know her, the more I like her.

I daresay God feels the same way about me. Maybe that’s why He hasn’t spiritually declawed me or given me some kind of lobotomy. He’s given me the Holy Spirit to help me walk in self-control, and then He instructs me to go get ’em, tiger. Rawr.

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I don’t want to start any political arguments with this ingredient in the casserole; I just want to be honest about how I feel. I’m half-Mexican, and I think I should weigh in on the current hot-button issue of children being separated from their parents at the border. I have mixed feelings about it. At the risk of sounding insensitive, I’ll say it in Spanish: Muchos mexicanos son muy mañosos. That means many Mexicans are very naughty.

I’ll say it another way: Mexican people can be very lawless if they’re not careful.

Here’s what I mean. Mexican people are warriors. That’s who we are; that’s how God made us. We can be quite lazy, and that’s a stereotype, but I think that’s the devil robbing us of our steadfastness. God created us mexicanos to be a very sturdy bunch of people. Many of us are small, fast, and shrewd. (And we’re fiercely loyal, sometimes to a fault.) These are all qualities that are needed on a battlefield. If we use them the right way, we’re like ninjas.

But if we use these qualities the wrong way, we mexicanos can become a very deceitful, lawless bunch of folks who act more like animals than people. My birth mother was originally from Mexico, and she was a compulsive liar who taught us how to be like her, so I know what I’m talking about.

Perhaps you’ve seen news or documentary footage of illegal-immigrant families trying to live ordinary lives here in the United States. If they hear that immigration officers (la migra) will be in the area, they’ll lock themselves down in their own homes -- nobody will go to work, the children won’t go to school, the entire family will hold their breath until the coast is clear. What kind of a life is that? And what kind of lesson are you teaching your children?

I love this country, I’m glad I was born here, I’m glad the Mexican half of my family immigrated here legally, and I hope the folks who want to make my country their home will do so the right way. Have you seen the news lately? Lawlessness is already everywhere, and there’s no need for it to continue to spread.

At the same time, there’s no need to rip a child away from his or her parents -- whether they abide by the law or not. For myself personally, I’m not really sure which would have been worse: Being raised by a deceitful mother or being separated from her when I was a little girl. But there’s no need to put innocent children through that trauma. It looks like steps are slowly being taken to fix this terrible situation in our country. But in the meantime, I pray that those kids who have already been separated from their parents will be reunited with them as soon as possible.

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Remember those cartoons where a prisoner would keep track of how many days they’ve been incarcerated by putting a hash mark on the wall? The other day while I was at work, when I looked down at the paper that I use to keep track of my quota, the hash marks reminded me of that. I guess you could say that I’ve been in a prison for a while, and I guess you could say that I’ll be stuck here for another couple of months.

But I’m honestly extremely thankful for the paycheck, no matter how tiny it is. And I’m extremely thankful to have work, period, because, well...

“For even when we were with you, we commanded you this: If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat.” (2 Thessalonians 3:10)

“When you eat the labor of your hands, you shall be happy, and it shall be well with you.” (Psalm 128:2)

“Here is what I have seen: It is good and fitting for one to eat and drink, and to enjoy the good of all his labor in which he toils under the sun all the days of his life which God gives him; for it is his heritage.” (Ecclesiastes 5:18)

At my previous job, I dreaded and hated Fridays. It didn’t seem fair. Everyone around me was enjoying Friday and looking forward to the weekend. But those of us who worked in my department would have an overabundance of work. People would heap proofs on my desk, in preparation for the weekend, and expect me to finish it by the end of the day. If I stayed late to finish it all, whoever was locking the building at 6 p.m. that evening would pressure me to get out of there, and then I would have to explain to people later why I wasn’t able to finish their work. And if the other editor had taken the day off, it was often worse because I would have to cover for her. Oh, Friday was miserable.

Now that I’ve been working at what is basically a clerical factory, the workload doesn’t change from day to day, so I’ve begun to feel myself actually enjoying Fridays again. I get paid every Friday, so the highlight of my week has been shopping at the grocery store on my way home on Fridays. (Depending on the week, sometimes I’ll go on a Thursday or a Saturday instead.) Oh, it’s glorious! Yes, I only have enough money to buy essential items, but I can barely express to you how gratifying it is to labor for a week and then immediately enjoy the fruit of my labor. I think it’s a beautiful thing.

When I get a better job in the future, if my routine changes, I think I’m going to miss it. And I’ll always remember it with fondness.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Interview

(On a hot almost-summer day, a crowd of people is gathered outside at a park. Upbeat techno music plays. A reporter, holding a microphone, is standing with the blogger and looking into a TV camera.)

REPORTER: Hi, there, everyone. This is Petunia Paul-Tree reporting at Salad Fast '18. I'm here with Tirzah, who has recently broken her fast. Hi, there, Tirzah. (points the microphone at the blogger's face throughout the conversation)
TIRZAH: Sup?
REPORTER: So, tell everyone at home about this event you've just completed. What exactly is Salad Fast '18?
TIRZAH: Well, Petunia, God and I started a tradition of me doing a salad fast every year. The first two weeks of June, I will eat only salads for meals and snacks.
REPORTER: I see. And how long have you been observing this tradition?
TIRZAH: Since 2013.
REPORTER: So, then, this is actually the sixth annual Salad Fast.
TIRZAH: You got it.
REPORTER: Wonderful. Now, is this some kind of religious observance, like Lent or Ramadan?
TIRZAH: No, not exactly. It's sort of like a family tradition with just me and God. This year was a little different because the fast happened on June 2nd through the 15th instead of the 1st through the 14th.
REPORTER: I see. And was there anything else that made Salad Fast '18 unique?
TIRZAH: Yes. This year, I felt like God told me that I could make a salad out of anything -- if I could mix it up and pour salad dressing over it, it was a salad.
REPORTER: Wow. That's kind of a stretch, isn't it?
TIRZAH: Not really. Have you ever heard of fruit salad?
REPORTER: (chuckles) Of course.
TIRZAH: That's fruit chopped up and mixed together.
REPORTER: OK...
TIRZAH: Or potato salad?
REPORTER: Well, yes. That's--
TIRZAH: Boiled potatoes mashed up and mixed together with mustard and/or mayonnaise.
REPORTER: I see. So, what sort of creations did you come up with this year?





TIRZAH: Well, I believe your producer was provided with a little graphic that I put together that shows some of the meals I had. I made quite a few salads with the traditional ingredients -- mostly spinach, tomatoes, and hard-boiled eggs.
REPORTER: (chuckles) You must really like spinach.
TIRZAH: (laughs like Popeye) Yes, but honestly I bought it the first week because the store was out of the type of lettuce I wanted to buy.
REPORTER: (mouth drops open) You're kidding.
TIRZAH: You know, I kind of think that's one thing that God wanted to reinforce during the fast -- because He uses a lot of symbolism with me whenever I fast. There's a verse in the Bible, Romans 8:28, that says that God uses all things for good for those who love Him and who are called according to His purpose.
REPORTER: And that's you.
TIRZAH: Exactly. So, when God mixes up the ingredients of my life, so to speak, He uses whatever is available to Him. Sometimes things don't work out the way He had originally planned, for whatever reason, and so I really think He just mixes everything up all together like a Master Chef and makes something awesome.
REPORTER: I see. So, He's like a culinary Genius.
TIRZAH: Yes, Petunia, the original Genius. And this year when I created my salads, I could use whatever ingredients were available to me. I chopped or shredded them up, mixed them together, and poured some kind of dressing over it.
REPORTER: Like bananas and toast covered in French dressing, I see.
TIRZAH: Yes, a banana, toast, and a hard-boiled egg most mornings for breakfast. Toward the end, I even ripped up some corn tortillas and pulverized some Cheez-Its for lunch.
REPORTER: (laughs) Oh, my.
TIRZAH: Yeah. Right now, money is really tight for me, and I couldn't afford to buy all of the usual salad ingredients that I normally would. So, I used whatever I had in my pantry, and I made it work. There were a couple of times when I got to eat restaurant-prepared salads, and there was one day at work when pizza was provided--
REPORTER: Oh! That must have been a temptation for you.
TIRZAH: Well, it worked out, because they had salad, too, so I just ripped up a couple of pieces of pizza and used them as croutons. And nobody gave me a hard time about it.
REPORTER: Or maybe they didn't even notice.
TIRZAH: Maybe. But I think my absolute favorite was the one where I ripped up a couple of pieces of fried chicken and a roll, and I mixed it all with some tomato and poured ketchup over it as a dressing.
REPORTER: (scowling) And you considered that to be a salad that was acceptable for a fast?
TIRZAH: (smiling and nodding) Apparently God did, too.
REPORTER: I see. And did you and He have any particular deep times in prayer, as people who are fasting often do?
TIRZAH: No, not really. But He did say that I was entering into a season of contradictions. And I gotta say, I think my fried-chicken salad was an example of a contradiction. Was it a salad (uses air quotes), or was it a fried-chicken bowl?
REPORTER: Hmm. That is a deep question.
TIRZAH: And do I work 40 hours a week at a job (uses air quotes), or is it just a way to earn a paycheck while I'm waiting to do what I really want to do?
REPORTER: Another deep question. (looks at camera) And you heard it here, folks. (looks back at the blogger) Anything else you'd like to tell the folks at home about this year's fast?
TIRZAH: Well, Petunia, in addition to the salads, I also felt like God wanted me to not listen to music while I drive, like I usually do -- except on Saturdays, when I observed my Sabbaths.
REPORTER: (nodding) So you could hear yourself think. So, then, Salad Fast '18 was about creativity?
TIRZAH: See, that's what I thought, too, at first. But God showed me that it was really about taking things one day at a time.
REPORTER: Fascinating stuff. Any other deep revelations during this year's fast?
TIRZAH: (shakes head) No, but I think God told me that I would be myself during this fast, and He would be Himself. We spent a lot of time just chatting like a couple of close friends.
REPORTER: Because you are.
TIRZAH: Exactly.
REPORTER: (smiles) Anything else you'd like to tell the folks at home?
TIRZAH: (looks at camera) Um, don't forget to feed your cats?
REPORTER: (laughs) No, I mean, come on. During all of those friendly conversations with your culinary Genius Creator, didn't He give you any big revelations about your future? Like -- and I know your readers are all dying to know -- when are you going to get married and have children?
TIRZAH: (scowls at camera) Seriously? Y'all sent me a gossip reporter?
REPORTER: Come on, now! Do you have your eye on anybody special?
TIRZAH: (smiles at camera) Thank y'all for reading! (twirls the reporter around, grabs her by the collar, and jogs away with her)
REPORTER: (forced to jog along) So long, everyone! This is Petunia Paul-Tree reporting! (laughing) Wow, all that spinach made you really strong!
TIRZAH: (laughs like Popeye)

(Upbeat techno music plays more loudly. Credits roll.)

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Gloves off

Disclaimer: I tried to be tame when I wrote this post, but I'm not sure I was very successful. (But then, when have I really been tame lately?)

I'm sure I don't have to tell you about all the ways that recent news headlines have been awash with successful suicide attempts. I'm sure you already know that our society's focus on current events has suddenly shifted from the gun-control debate to mental-health awareness. And if you've followed my blog at all for the past nine years, you already know that my suicide attempt from almost 18 years ago was quite unsuccessful.

Nevertheless, I would like to add to the discussion.

In case you didn't already know, I tried to kill myself nearly 18 years ago. About 20 years ago, I felt like God told me that I needed to leave my parents or it would "lead to death." I didn't, so a few months later, I got hit with a suicidal thought for the first time. The next two years were very emotionally turbulent, and I suffered from depression really for the first time in my life. I would get better, then worse, then better, then worse, etc.

In retrospect, I know now that I was in a spiritually abusive environment that made everything worse. I was enrolled in a missionary training school through my then-church, I had just returned from a weeklong mission trip, I was exhausted; and one day instead of driving to school, I drove out of town. Thinking I was better, I drove back the next day, but on the way home I told God, "I'm going to take my life, and only You can stop me." I bought two bottles of aspirin at a convenience store because I thought taking all of the pills would kill me. After I took the pills, I regretted doing so, and since I was still alive, I figured God still wanted me around. Then a friend drove me to the ER and the people from the missionary school enrolled me in a psychiatric hospital, where I stayed for four and a half days.

Fast-forwarding to today, I gotta say it's good for dead people to get all this sympathy after they're gone. You feel sorry for them, you wonder what you could have done to help them, you miss them, and you celebrate their lives. I think, in a twisted sort of way, that is EXACTLY the kind of celebration that people who commit suicide were CRAVING while they were alive.

It's sad, isn't it? It takes physical death to achieve something that they won't really get to enjoy. Because they were deceived into thinking that death would end their pain. And possibly because they surrounded themselves with people who were WAY too clueless to appreciate them.

While I was scrolling through Facebook on Friday night and seeing all the posts about dead celebrities and people coming out of the woodwork to raise awareness for mental illness, I began to get pretty angry. I'm still a little bit ticked off.

And I'm not afraid to express it, because the basic definition of depression is "anger turned inward." (If I'm not keeping my anger bottled up inside, I won't get depressed, right? Right.)

Here's the thing: People who successfully commit suicide get all the love, attention, and glory. (Oh, poor them! If we only knew what they had been going through!) People like me who have unsuccessfully attempted suicide get all the lectures, shame, and ridicule. (Oh, you're a freak! If you could only get your life together!) We get it from secular professionals as well as from the Church.

The only people we don't get it from are other people just like us. The people who have struggled with depression and/or suicidal thoughts are the only ones who really understand what we've gone through.

Rewinding back to 18 years ago, I gotta say the people who surrounded me during my recovery process were really terrible friends to me. While I was at the psychiatric hospital, the person assigned to my case happened to go to my then-church (I think the head of the missionary school asked her to check on me). One afternoon while I was watching TV in the lobby (which was a miracle in itself, because my then-church basically taught us that TV was evil), she came up to me and asked, "What do you know?"

I replied somewhat facetiously, "The TV's on."

She asked more seriously, "What do you KNOW?"

I think maybe she expected me to answer something like, "God loves me" or maybe, "God has a plan for my life." Well, guess what, lady? If I really had known that, I probably wouldn't have tried to end it all.

During one of our individual sessions, she laughed at me and told me that I wouldn't have been able to kill myself with two bottles of aspirin. She basically said that I stank at suicide, so I shouldn't try it anymore. I know what she was trying to do, but my reply was, "Great. I can't do anything right." Thanks a lot for rubbing my nose in it, lady.

During another one of our sessions (if not the same one), she told me that my roommate had complained about me not paying my share of the bills (because I had no money, probably wasn't tithing, and sucked at meeting my financial obligations). "Are you behind in your rent?" she asked. So, when my roommate and another church leader came to visit me at the hospital, I confronted my roommate and demanded to know why she had told everybody that I hadn't paid my rent.

Anyway, a day or so later, my roommate called me at the hospital and explained that my sister had called for me at the house. (This was back before I owned a cellphone.) She told her that I was at the hospital, which worried my sister. "What should I tell her?" my roommate asked. "Tell her I'm in the hospital for depression," I replied. She did, and my sister was basically like, "Oh, is that all?" and stopped worrying.

¿Cómo que IS THAT ALL?

Then for some reason, the therapist lady insisted that I call my parents and tell them where I was and what I had done. I did so, my mother blamed the school I had been attending, and then she and my father drove all night and arrived at the hospital the next morning.

The therapist lady arranged for a family session with me and my parents. After she left the room, the first thing out of my father's mouth was basically, "Statistics show that suicides happen between the ages of 18 and 24. How could you do this to us?" Jerk. Maybe if you hadn't treated me like a science project in the first place, I wouldn't have believed that I was expendable.

Later that day, I had some sort of session/meeting with the therapist lady, my parents, the head of the missionary school and his wife, I think my roommate, I think my friend who had driven me to the ER, and two of the church elders/leaders and their wives. They explained to me that after I would leave the hospital, I would move in with a church family for a while (I guess because my roommate couldn't handle me living there and because I needed some love?). My mother explained that she didn't understand and said, "She already HAS a family."

After I left the hospital, I continued psychotherapy, dropped out of missionary school, stepped down from lifegroup leadership, stepped down from a worship team that I had been a part of, moved into a temporary housing situation WITHOUT my kitten (Choochie), quit my job, and started looking for a new one. Now that I think about it, I had wanted to end my life; and in a roundabout way, I ended up getting what I wanted... because my life as I knew it really HAD ended. I was at rock bottom and had to start over completely.

I continued to have official meetings with people in the church who were following up with me to see how I was doing and to make sure that I had found another job. (I was accountable to about seven people to make sure that I wouldn't attempt suicide again.) During one meeting, the head of the missionary school mentioned that I hadn't found a job yet and said, "This is starting to get frustrating." Um, excuse me? Your life isn't the one that's just been turned upside down. And YOU have the nerve to be frustrated?? At that time, I was learning in psychotherapy how to be assertive (versus being passive-aggressive), so I didn't know yet how to tell him how I felt to his face. Instead, I got in my car, angry-cried, and almost drove out of town again. I turned back around, drove to my new home, and faced the music.

After a few months, the church family that opened up their home to me suddenly decided that they wanted their privacy back and made me move out. My roommate, thankfully, was willing to let me move back in. And my emotional state, thankfully, was able to handle it all at that point in time. (And I was permanently reunited with my Choochie! Pet therapy.)

Reader, the reason I've shared the details of this entire story (perhaps you've read them before?) is to show the ways in which the people who surrounded me -- my family, my friends, and the Church -- failed me when I needed them the most. I needed to be treated like a valued human being, but instead I was treated like a problem.

In today's society, people who successfully commit suicide are mourned and celebrated. Those of us who unsuccessfully attempt suicide -- those of us who realize how wrong we were, those of us who have changed our minds and truly want to live -- are punished and ridiculed. I am not cool with that, and I hope you're not cool with that, either.

It's ironic, isn't it? If a suicide attempt is successful, the devil wins. If it is unsuccessful and the survivor intends to give God and His plan a chance, God wins... but if church people treat the survivor like dirt, the devil wins.

I wish I knew the answer to this problem, but perhaps that IS part of the problem: We think everything has a neat, easy formula that can be followed. But it doesn't. One important thing I've learned in my journey out of depression is that depression situations are like people: No two are alike. The way a person will become free from depression and the length of that person's recovery will just depend on the situation and the person.

For me, I understand now that if I had obeyed God about 20 years ago and left my family THEN (instead of about seven years ago), I would have come out from under their unhealthy covering. I would have been free much sooner from the spirit of Jezebel; a constant torrent of spiritual and emotional abuse; and a cesspool of anxiety, guilt, religion, arrogance, and hypocrisy. I believe this could have cleared my head so that depression probably wouldn't have formed in the first place.

But at least now, God can use my experiences with depression and suicide to help other people.

And my experience was MY experience. Medication helped. Artistic expression helped. Psychotherapy helped. Removing stress from my life helped. Talking about my feelings helped. People praying for me helped.

But what helped me more than anything else was being gut-level real with God. I've said this before, and I'll say it again: Psalm 62:8 tells us to pour out our hearts before God and that He is a refuge for us. I began to finally experience freedom from depression when I poured out the crap that was in my heart and let Him pour His love back into me. I still continue to do that. The gloves come off, and He has never punished me for it. I tell Him to His face how I'm feeling, and He tells me to my face what the truth is.

It's called A RELATIONSHIP.

One night in 2001, a few months after I had been released from the psych hospital, I was experiencing emotional turmoil while I was alone on a road trip. (Does this sound like a familiar scenario?) I don't remember if I screamed this out loud or just in my spirit, but I asked God, "WHO ARE YOU?!? And who am I?"

He replied quite simply, "I am yours, and you are Mine." And that's all I needed to hear. I broke wide open, crying pretty much the rest of the ride home, and that was a major turning point in my healing process.

Perhaps what has healed me more than anything else is the fact that God has been the Father and the Mother that I never had. He has let me lean on Him more closely and more strongly than any human friend ever has. And He hasn't been surprised or disgusted at any of the crap that has come out of my heart or my mouth whenever my mental health has depended on me puking it out.

So, in conclusion, I love the Church. I love the concept of Church. I don't really know how to be myself apart from the Church. But, Church people, if you know someone like me who has attempted suicide, or who has contemplated suicide, or who has been struggling with depression, or who has been battling a combination of any of the above... please don't punish them. I think the fact that they are still alive and breathing shows that they are clinging to some shred of hope on the inside. There is a chord deep inside their heart that only God knows how to play. Let Him do it. Encourage them to open themselves up to it. (Encourage them, don't force them, because they might be angry at God.) Let them lean on you, set some healthy boundaries (because they will probably be pretty clingy and might accidentally think that YOU are God), pray for them, listen to them, let them talk, and encourage them to get the help that they need. Because they DO need help. They might only need you in their life for a short while, or maybe they'll need you to walk with them for the rest of their life. Maybe you can pray about it and see how much of a friend you can commit to be to them.

I can guarantee you that they won't forget how you treat them -- good or bad -- while they're at their lowest. If you do a good job, hopefully they'll respond with gratitude; if you do a bad job, they might need to work through some pain and bitterness later on, like I did.

So, no pressure. Heh, heh.

Just know that you might not understand everything that they're going through... and I honestly hope that you never do. Because nobody ever should.