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.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Casserole4

TV preachers often have bad reputations, and I think it's because of people like the guy who's been asking people to give $50+ million so that he can buy a new private jet. Seriously? I think I've completely lost respect for the guy.

In contrast, the pastor of my church -- who happens to preach on TV -- told us yesterday that our church building's debt is completely paid off now. That's awesome. I'm not debt-free yet (far from it!), but I sure am glad that my church building is. And they didn't even ask for donations for that particular item in the budget.

Incidentally, Jesus didn't ask for donations to buy a donkey. From what I understand, He just borrowed one for a one-time ride. But, you know, whatevs.

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The content that I'm about to share in this segment of the casserole is very deep and personal to me, so I debated on whether or not I should share it at all. But since this is basically my online diary where I process and document stuff, and since the things going on in my life could hopefully encourage somebody else on their journey (and since I felt like God nudged me to share it), I'm gonna go for it. And, due to copyright issues, I'm going to keep some details vague on purpose.

A few days ago, an out-of-state church held a conference in my area, and my church choir was invited to sing along with the worship team one night. The fact that they were recording live tracks for their new album -- with our voices -- was extra cool.

During soundcheck that afternoon, I recognized the melody from one of their new songs -- from my head! I had been wanting to write a song around almost that exact portion of the melody. So, for a few seconds, I was jealous. (Hey, that's my song!) Then I realized that since nobody ever sings my songs, anyway (except me), I'm glad that that particular melody will be recorded and sung by somebody. (I mean, it's not like the out-of-state church people invaded my living room while I was composing and stole my tune.) Then I realized... wait. I actually hear stuff?

I've been writing worship songs off and on for the past 20 years. The closest I've ever come to cutting an album was the one time when a friend set up a mic in another friend's living room; I sat on the floor with my guitar and played my repertoire for a couple of hours. (I still have the CD, but its content is pretty raw and unedited, like a collection of demos.)

A few years after that amateur recording session, I was part of a worship team, and I got to lead one of my songs one evening for a church-department gathering. I believe it was the pastor of that department who approached me after the worship set and told me that a line in my song was theologically incorrect.

So, I wrestled with that for a while (because the whole point of me including that line in my song was to express my heart to God). I even met with the worship pastor at that church, I think to ask for his counsel. He explained that as a songwriter, people are always going to suggest new lyrics for your songs whenever you sing them publicly... but that he could understand why some people could take that one line in the song the wrong way.

So, I ended up revising that song twice. I've been happy with the final result, but nobody really sings it but me. (My poor little Frankensong. Heh.)

One thing that God has been showing me lately is that my church isn't going to sing all of my songs, and I need to be OK with that. (I've been at my church for almost nine years now, and lots of people write songs that nobody really sings anymore... so hopefully I'm in good company.)

At any rate, I haven't written music in a long time, and I'm nowhere near as prolific as I once was. (I think maybe a pastor telling me that my lyrics were theologically incorrect kind of threw a wrench in the works for a while.) Hopefully, songwriting is one of my talents that have been in the bank collecting interest in the spirit of Matthew 25.

But I think that might change soon.

As I was saying, my choir sang along with the worship team from an out-of-state church during a conference one night. When we got to the song where I recognized the melody from the song that I had wanted to write, God told me, "Watch this." After a few moments, I realized that one phrase from the first verse and another phrase from the second verse are also in ANOTHER one of my songs -- my poor little Frankensong that nobody sings but me.

At every stage of development -- from the accidentally theologically incorrect version to the final version -- I've sung that song to God dozens if not hundreds of times throughout the years. But on that platform, while my choir was singing with the out-of-state church, God poured that song back to me.

And I finally remembered that I HAD written that song with the cool melody after all. (I had just forgotten about it. Cuz we artists can be spacey like that.) So, in that one new song were not one but TWO of my songs.

So, while we were singing that song, written by people from the out-of-state church, sounding a lot like my music, I felt like God asked me, "Are you ready to start something new?"

While I've sung on the worship platform with my church, there have been two or three moments between me and God that were so deep that I ugly-cried, sobbing almost uncontrollably. That night was one of those moments. (If you hear sobbing on the new album, it might be me.)

I felt like that very special night validated me as a songwriter. This out-of-state church is known worldwide for its music, and if I can hear the same musical frequency that they can, then I'm not a screw-up. I have all the tools I need to proceed with that aspect of my calling.

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I think one theme or motif of my life right now is vindication. Every time I see a certain Baptist leader in the news (the guy who has messed-up views on women and abuse), I remember that he was the guy who fired Dad. His name was not a popular one in my house while I was growing up, mainly because Dad's layoff launched an extended poverty in our family. (And possibly because Mom never really learned how to forgive people.)

So, now that his name isn't exactly a popular one in the entire Baptist community anymore, well... let's just say what goes around comes around.

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I think it's simultaneously interesting and ironic that God gifts shy, introverted people with creativity -- a gift that requires an audience. I might be a private and reserved person who keeps to herself a lot, but if you put a mic in my hand and put me on a worship platform at church, people will look at me. The irony is that I don't really want everyone to look at me; I'd rather be in my living room singing or creating something by myself. But it's interesting that someone like me who's terrible at making small talk and chitchatting with people has a calling with a built-in conversation-starter: "Hey, you sing on the worship team!"

But I love the worship platform. I feel like the more I show up and do my thing, the more confident I am when I do it. And, of course, the whole point of me being up there is for people to look at me, for me to point people to God, and for people to be encouraged to worship Him. When people look at me, they need to see Him.

Unfortunately, I don't think everyone realizes that that's the whole point of being on the platform. I've learned that when you have a mic in your hand and a camera in your face, you instantly become a celebrity. When people see you in the hallways at church, they feel like they know you, and they start talking to you. Sometimes they offer you some pretty heavy flattery. I've seen people kind of make fools of themselves when they're in the presence of a worship leader who's just minding their own business at church.

And then a few weeks later, you show up for church on your day off in a T-shirt and blue jeans, and they completely ignore you because you're just another face in the hallway.

And all of that is OK. As long as people worship God and I don't get in the way, it's all good. I wouldn't trade that for anything else.

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One morning while I was waking up, I saw MeepMeep's adorable little masked face in the dark, and I thought to myself, It's almost impossible to say No to that face. I felt like God basically said, "I feel the same way about you."

I think this truth is still steeping into my spirit. If I'm God's child, He wants me to be bold enough to ask Him for stuff. (Like MeepMeep demanding some affection as soon as I wake up.) He wants me to be brazen enough to approach Him for things, to ask some tough questions, and to express my heart to Him in ways that I can't express to anyone else.

He delights in me. He wants to be close to me. He wants to make sure that I have everything I need. And He feels that way about ALL of His children.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

The beasts

Early this morning, I dreamed that I took Macho to some sort of vet clinic (which, unfortunately, was a frequent occurrence toward the end of his life). Either the technician or the vet explained that they would need to surgically remove Macho's lips, and they were surprised and almost angry that I didn't understand that the operation needed to happen. (I suppose it never really occurred to me that cats actually had lips.) Then I woke up.

What an absurd dream. I don't think it had any meaning other than how God explained it to me: Macho used to invade my lap in real life, and this morning he invaded my dream. Then I sort of cried.

 
Before Macho was my lap cat, he was my roommate's cat. (He's the humongous orange one in this photo.) Last night, I was randomly thinking about something that happened when Choochie and I lived with Macho and my roommate.

We lived in my roommate's family's old 1940s house. She had noticed a small caved-in spot in the bathroom floor; so one night after a lifegroup met at the house, she asked one of her friends to venture under the house and examine the spot. (I may have told this story before on this blog, but I think it bears repeating.) The crawlspace door was located in the floor of my closet, so we moved some stuff out of the way, opened the door, and let our friend examine the spot under the bathroom. When he was done, we closed the door. Everybody left, and my roommate and I proceeded with our getting-ready-for-bed routines.

Meahwhile, Choochie suddenly decided to snuggle closely to me, as if she were saying, "You're my best friend."

The next day was a normal day until my roommate came home from work that evening. She was frantically calling out Macho's name, looking outside for him and everything. She said she hadn't seen him since we opened the crawlspace door and that she kept hearing some ominous meowing afterwards and didn't know where it was coming from. She suspected that Macho was trapped under the house.

Sure enough, she opened the crawlspace door in my closet again and pulled him out. He was shaky, spastically meowing, and had a little ring of dirt around his tail. If you've ever seen a cartoon where a cat freaks out, the scene looked kind of like that.

Choochie snuggled closely to Macho, as if she were saying, "You're my best friend." (Perhaps if she could have talked, she also would have told us the night before, "Um, in case you haven't noticed, that giant bum is trapped under the house.")

In hindsight, I don't think my roommate was a true cat person. If she were, I don't think she would have allowed herself to go to sleep until she knew where her baby was. "I thought he was with you," she explained to me. Nope. Not until I took full custody of him some time later. Then it was till death do us part.

At any rate, being stuck under the house for 20 hours changed Macho forever, in a good way. He became much more assertive. Shortly after the incident, I was in the living room talking to a friend on the phone (it was a landline that was plugged into the wall, so I was sitting down during the conversation). Macho sauntered up to me; I believe he was carrying a toy in his mouth, and he dropped it on the floor when he reached me. After staring at me for a few seconds, he demanded, "MEOW!!!" I suddenly felt compelled to tell my friend, "Sorry, I have to go now. My roommate's cat wants to play."

So, my humongous lap cat had quite a loud meow for the rest of his life.

 
Macho is long gone, but now the cat with the big personality in my life is MeepMeep. A couple of days ago, she went into heat again (after a three-month break). I've learned that there's nothing I can do to stop it. I just need to let it run its course.

Fortunately, I can have a bit of fun with it now. I realized that her little exotic dance matches the rhythm of the song "Macarena," so I downloaded it onto my phone, and I play it for her sometimes when the mood hits her. Heh, heh.

Sometimes when I interact with her, the words that come out of my mouth remind me of the way that God talks to me. Yesterday, I heard myself tell her while I was holding her anxious little body in my arms, "Your adorable little agony will be over soon."

Macho was forever changed while he was trapped under a house. I wonder how MeepMeep will change while she's experiencing another hormonal hurricane.

"Thus my heart was grieved, and I was vexed in my mind. I was so foolish and ignorant; I was like a beast before You." (Psalm 73:21-22)

Last night, I was angry-blubbering to God during my "quiet" time. My language wasn't pretty, and I'm very glad no other humans were in the room with me while I was fuming. But God didn't swat me away. Instead, I felt like He grinned and said gently, "Tell Me more." The entire conversation was like that. After I finished and was winding down for the night, I sighed with relief. I felt like He basically said, "Didn't that feel good?" Why, yes, it did indeed.

Psalm 62:8 says that we should pour out our hearts before God and that He is a refuge for us, and that's exactly what happened. His presence is the safest place for a meltdown to occur.

Frankly, I think the best example I've had in my life of how to respond to a person who's falling apart, raging angrily, or having a meltdown has been God Himself. He rebukes me when I need it, but He mainly just listens and lets me puke it all out. He lets my little moment run its course.

I hope I'll be able to follow His example someday, because sometimes people just need a safe place to unravel.

But for now, I'm hoping that this season -- in which I feel like I'm temporarily trapped, and in which I'm caught in a desert storm that I can't control -- will change me for the better. Maybe I'll become more assertive like Macho. Or maybe I'll become more attached to my Provider like MeepMeep. Or hopefully both.

 


In the meantime, maybe MeepMeep will give my heavily scabbed arm a chance to heal while she, uh, is obsessed with other pursuits. (Or while she silently plots to steal my pillow.)

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Casserole3

I'm learning a lot of interesting things during this season that can definitely come in handy later. For example, creditors are a lot like Pharisees. They seem very interested in you as long as you do things their way (e.g., making a minimum payment every month), and if you go above and beyond (e.g., making a one-time really big payment), they'll send you a birthday card and call you "family."

But if you fall behind, there's pretty much zero grace (well, maybe just for one month). If you fall very behind, they'll lecture you like a child and hunt you down like a criminal (kind of like a preacher behind a pulpit during a witch hunt). They'll harass you over the phone (like a spiritually abusive church lady) until you pay up. They'll make ridiculous demands like, "Hey, we can cut your debt in half! All you have to do is pay $2,600... in 90 days." (Like a delusional pastor who makes everyone in his church win one person to the Lord every six months.) Um, yeah, I can't even afford to buy coffee creamer.

Or when you're finally able to make a real payment, and you feel good about yourself... it's still not enough. The harassing phone calls start all over again, in addition to the snail mail letters and the registered letters, because you're still behind. And when you finally call them back and explain that you can only afford to pay a tiny little amount every month... they're like, "Oh, well," and completely drop you out of their thoughts. (Like a bunch of "church" people who kick you to the curb while you're going through a rough patch.)

K, fine. I don't need this in my life, anyway. I'm just looking forward to maybe buying coffee creamer again someday.

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I've been revisiting the idea of getting a tattoo. Then I look down at my mauled arm and realize that MeepMeep already gives me little tattoos every day. (For free!)

My little cat is ferociously affectionate. It can be painful for me, but I know that she's only expressing love in the way that she knows how. And I wouldn't have her any other way.

Every cat that I've owned (including *Puff, the angry kitten who ran away when I was four years old) hasn't been a huge fan of human affection... except for MeepMeep. She actually lets me hold her sometimes for extended periods of time. So, if her little affection-package includes a few scabs on my arm(s), and if I know that those are like little love-pats, I will take them.

*I normally don't use my pets' real names on my blog, but Puff really was his name. And he was insane.

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About 20 years ago, I was sitting in a small-group type of setting, and the icebreaker question was, "Which one of the 12 disciples do you most feel like right now?" I said Nathanael, the guy who was under the fig tree. If you'd ask me that question now, I'd say Peter.

I like how the Bible gives some people privacy, and yet it airs out other people's dirty laundry. Reading and learning about Peter's dirty laundry gives me hope. I mean, Peter was the only disciple who 1) rebuked Jesus and got "Get behind me, Satan" in reply 2) chopped off somebody's frickin' EAR out of zealousness for Jesus 3) ended up denying that he even knew Jesus 4) was totally forgiven and restored by Jesus and 5) ended up becoming an expert in shepherding.

Yeah, that's right. The overly passionate, gruff fisherman guy ended up authoring 1 Peter, the epistle in the Bible that we go to when we want to know how to lead people at church: "Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly" (1 Peter 5:2).

From wild zealous guy to meek no-nonsense pastor. That is Peter's story. That is my current inspiration.

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Early this morning, I woke up from a dream in which somebody came into my house and started shooting people. (I know I dreamed this as a result of reading too many news articles.) From what I can remember, my birth family was in the house. I went back to sleep and dreamed a follow-up dream in which I got shot, and I was very grieved that I didn't get a chance to tell my grandfather something (from what I can remember, he was in the house as well). My birth parents basically escorted the shooter around the house and let him have his way. At the end of the dream, I was crying to my birth mother like a toddler. Then I woke up.

I know what the dreams mean. (I have dreams like this every once in a while.) The people who raised me were abusive. John 10:10 says that the devil is a thief who steals, kills, and destroys. Abusive parents basically just hand over their children to the devil and let him have his way with them.

Then their children grow up and become badasses. And God wields them like little weapons and points them right back at the devil.

I've felt like God has been talking to me a tiny bit about the year 2019. He's said, "I'm going to take back what is Mine." So, I'm very much looking forward to 2019 (even though this year still has quite a way to go), because I think it's going to be a royally awesome year.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

In the midst of it

In case you haven't noticed, I'm a very ceremonious person -- a sentimental pile of ooze. Every time I either start or end something big, I like to commemorate the occasion with something tangible like a blog post. (Or at least a Facebook post.) In days of yore before the internet existed, if I were rich, perhaps I would invite friends over to my mansion for a dinner party and offer a toast.

But today, I am neither starting nor ending anything big. Today, I am still living in the midst of an extended trial which, in the grand scheme of things, is still a relatively short season. And I wanted to write some stuff down before I forget it.

 

Almost every Monday through Friday, I eat lunch in my car. I like to park in the same spot, in front of the same tree, whenever possible. (So I won't forget where I park, and so I'll know that my car will be OK.) This is a picture of my view at lunchtime. This is significant because in the middle of my day, I sometimes need to unload a little bit. So, I'll eat my bologna or pickle loaf sandwich and chitchat with God. How's it going? He never changes. Maybe I'll vent to Him about something. Maybe I'll ask Him if I'm doing everything right or if I need to change anything. Maybe He'll encourage me. Or maybe He'll just stay quiet and let me talk or let me think. (Which, frankly, is something that my earthly father rarely did.)

In order to snap this photo that I've shared, I lifted up my car's visor (which I usually keep down). I noticed after I took the picture that that newly planted little tree has really grown since I've started working at my current job.

I hope I've been growing, too.

"Then they said to Moses, 'Because there were no graves in Egypt, have you taken us away to die in the wilderness? Why have you so dealt with us, to bring us up out of Egypt?' " (Exodus 14:11)

"And you shall remember that the Lord your God led you all the way these forty years in the wilderness, to humble you and test you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not. So He humbled you, allowed you to hunger, and fed you with manna which you did not know nor did your fathers know, that He might make you know that man shall not live by bread alone; but man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the Lord." (Deuteronomy 8:2-3)

When I adopted MeepMeep seven months ago, I was unemployed and living on eggs, oatmeal, and popcorn. So, she doesn't love me for my money. I've made a home with her. She inherited everything that used to belong to Choochie and Macho, and I've made some adjustments according to her needs, preferences, and personality.

She doesn't really need much. I mean, she used to live outside. She plays with her tail. (While I was writing this post, she was hunting a lizard through the window.) All she really needs from me is food, water, litterbox, items to scratch on, places to sleep on, time, space, and lots of love. She has everything she needs with me.

And we've bonded. Maybe in the future if/when I become financially better off, and I'm able to buy her more cat accessories... will she really need them? I think she really just needs ME.

It's kind of the same way with God, of course.

Maybe in the future if/when I become more prosperous financially, emotionally, or even socially, and I'm able to participate in more church events, be a part of more ministries, or become more of an influence in the body of Christ... will any of that really matter to me? I guess it would all be fun and cool, but I really just need GOD.

I hope I never forget this season. And I hope I never forget the lessons I'm learning. Here are a few of the big ones.


1) The people who you thought would be there for you may end up abandoning you. This is kind of sad, but Jesus experienced it, too, when He went to the cross. And I'll never be any better than Him.

I think I already learned this lesson years ago, but it's been interesting to have it reinforced in this season. Especially when "Christians" kick you to the curb in the name of a higher cause. But on the other hand...

2) The people who are there for you during your deepest, darkest days are the people who you'll probably be able to count on for the rest of your life. That's how you can identify faithfulness in a person: They show up ESPECIALLY when it's hard for them to do so.

3) Sometimes God lets you experience something so that you'll know firsthand how NOT to treat somebody. Which I've learned before but am learning again in another context. I've been having yet another lesson in how NOT to manage people -- a lesson learned by not being managed well. In my current job, we are encouraged to work independently, but we are rarely checked on, so we often have to fend for ourselves. This results in laziness, gossip, rule-breaking, and a generally poor work ethic. (Which I think is one reason why God told me beforehand to tighten up my own work ethic.)

People need guidance and leadership. People need somebody to go to when they have questions or feedback. People need an atmosphere in which they can healthily express their concerns, instead of constantly having their concerns invalidated or squelched. This can lead to putting on a fake smile and pretending/believing in faith that everything is OK, when it's not, and you're applying for jobs behind your boss' back. (I became somewhat of an expert at this whitewashed sort of behavior while I was growing up in a Pharisee's house.)

If I ever become a manager again someday, I hope I can be the kind of person that people can appropriately lean on.

4) I might not need as much as I thought I did. During these past few months, money has been extremely tight. I've been watching my bank account like a ravenous hawk. I've made many adjustments, and I've had some close calls. One week, all I had left was $1.94; and what a glorious $1.94 it was! I haven't been overdrawn at the bank. God has been taking extremely good care of me.

He told me awhile back that someday I would look back on this season and laugh. I gotta say, some of the things I've been doing to scrimp and pinch have been hilarious. Just to name a few, I've reused dryer sheets, I've ripped paper towels in half, and I've prepared cold ramen soup for dinner in my car.

And I haven't died. I'm still alive and kicking.

In this season, I haven't really been playing my guitar or my piano, and I sometimes wonder if it's been wrong of me to neglect that part of my life. (I've been singing, but the guitar sometimes hurts my wrist, and the piano doesn't always fit into my schedule.) Then God reminds me that I'm in a season of survival. Right now, the tasks I need to focus on are earning money, staying alive, and being ready for God to move me or promote me when it's time for Him to do so. Musical pursuits will always be there for me to tackle in the future.

Not to mention, I'm learning that MANY musicians live this type of starving-artist lifestyle, even in an affluent church, so I think I'm in good company. (Why, yes, of course I'll be able to serve on the platform that day. There will be free food, right? I mean, um... I love Jesus.)

5) God is even more caring and loving than we sometimes give Him credit for. Yesterday, I got the oil changed in my car, which is a big deal because I'd been praying that I would have enough money to pay for it. Some time later, I told God thank You, and He said quietly, "I did it for you. I didn't do it for My glory."

Yes, when we go through trials, etc., an important goal is to make sure that God is glorified through it. But what it all boils down to is that He's just a good Father, period.

He continued our conversation today: "When you feed your cat, do you do it because you love her, or do you do it so that you'll be glorified as a good cat mama?" Well... I do it because I want her to have everything she needs.

And that's why God provides for me, too. That's why He does it for all of us.


I know I won't always get to eat lunch in my car in the same spot, in front of the same tree. But I'll remember the times I shared with Him there. I hope I'll never forget the ways that I've bonded with Him during this time in my life. I'll remember this crazy-short yet crazy-long season when He kept me alive during a famine, when He held my hand through the wilderness, and when He slowly helped me cross the Red Sea on dry land... on my way to my promised land.