Futbol is Family

The notification comes as you’re walking out of the hair salon:  “Alyssa came home from school with strep.”  Immediately, your mind snaps away from the glorious feel of your new cut-n-style to the reality of that night’s soccer game.  OK…, you think. That brings us down to 6.  We can do 5+1 with no subs.  Rough, but doable.  Thankfully, it’s not a terribly hot day.

It’s 5:45 and you arrive at the fields for warm-ups and drills before the game.  You’re walking to the field when you’re intercepted by another player’s older brother, a baseballer.  He informs you that his younger sister had come for the game but got sick and went home.  Now the cuss words start flipping through your mind.  The absolute minimum you can have and still play is five, and that’s what you’re looking at.  And they’re going to have to play the entire game, no subs, no choice.

Your coaching assistant has let you know she’s pushing it to get there and she’ll have to leave early.  She’s not happy about it, but it’s outside of both your controls and your older daughter is happy to stand in as assistant – not that you really need one.  She says, “I don’t know what to do as assistant,” to which you flippantly reply, “Help if someone gets hurt, cheer, and make sure I don’t cuss.  Loudly.”  Then the ref shows up, and you’re beginning to wonder if you’ll make it through this game without drawing a card.  He’s young, inexperienced, and has more desire than skill.

You confer with the other team’s coach and ask if he’s willing to go 4+1 or if you should reschedule.  Since everyone is out there already, you decide to go ahead and play.  The game goes well.  It’s not a total shut-out.  Your five players are incredible, and you switch them around between goalie, offense, and defense in order to give your hardest runners a bit of a respite.  By the fourth quarter, they’re dragging, you know they’re dragging, and it breaks your heart to have to run them this hard.  They’re strong of spirit, though, and they keep pounding through.

The sweetness of the ball in the goal

At one point during the game, your spouse side-line coaches your daughter to “cover 9,” referring to a player on the other team.  She’s in front of said player and can’t read her number on the back of her jersey.  You know her as the other coach’s daughter and a former teammate of your child’s from last season, so you call her by name.  Your daughter sees the other girl and starts chatting her up.  Oy…  Like defending on a corner kick is the optimal time to catch up with old teammates.  Then again, distraction is an excellent defensive strategy.

The ref is as frustrating as ever, though he has improved some.  Beside you, your teen daughter keeps asking, “Can I cuss, yet?”  “No,” you respond.  So she just mutters, “Period.  Period.  Period” over and over.  It’s her G-rated version of “bloody hell”; you just let it go.  Your team takes hits; one of your goalies takes a ball to the face with enough force to make him cry.  Leather slamming against chilled skin is enough to make anyone cry.  Your daughter’s arm gets cleated accidentally by a teammate.  You want to throttle the ref for calling tripping on one of your players (coincidentally, your child) when the player had tripped over his own feet – a particular skill he practices much throughout the game.  From that point on, it’s like this much bigger boy has it in for your daughter.  You grit your teeth, but amidst the irritation is the reality that this is soccer (a very physical game), and that he must feel threatened by your little soccer diva, so a vein of pride creeps through, because, hey, she’s good.  By the time the game ends, your older daughter says, “If you won’t email the president about how bad he is, I will!”

The game ends, and by the time the last whistle sounds, you’re pretty sure that, if there were superlatives given to coaches, you’d win “Most Likely to Draw a Red Card.”  But once more, you’ve successfully filtered; successfully held on to your temper; and poured out some serious pride on your tired, battered, happy team.

Your team is scheduled for a game for the next day.  Your daughter takes an herbal bath and sleeps hard through the night.  The day dawns grey, and this is the first time you’ve ever wished for a rain-out.  Your team gathers before the game and runs through a few drills before lining up for the ref’s check.  You’re delighted to see that it’s another young ref, but one who does a good job.  You’re still at 4+1 fielding with no subs, though the little girl who’d gotten sick the evening before is feeling better, per a text from her mom.  You have no idea how this is going to go.  Your team is still recovering from the night before; thankfully, there’s another cool day for them.

You take the field.  Earlier in the week, you’d been at the fields working with one little girl, and this led to a half-field pick-up game in which other girls joined you.  One of them is on the team you’re playing today, and she gives you a big smile.  She’d been a sweet, shy flower when you first met, but she’s a fierce little dynamo on the field.  Dang, little soccer divas are cute!

The game begins, and your team gives it its all.  You make an allusion to Star Wars to your assistant; she comes back with Harry Potter.  Laughing, you comment about what geeks you are.  Your team draws first blood, and their team quickly brings it to a tie.  It’s an awesome game!  The ref misses a few calls, but it’s little stuff and balanced.  You notice one of the other team’s players is delivering some high kicks, and about the third time he nearly takes off a player’s head without the ref calling it, you bring him to the ref’s attention – very discreetly.  You, again, swap players between offense, defense, and the box, doing everything you can to maximize their strengths while giving them slower playing zones in which to rest.

Your daughter is hustling, and she and a little boy on the team have developed this super-sweet combo; they move like they’ve been playing soccer together forever, and they intuitively work together extremely well.  You haven’t spoken to his mom, yet, but you really, really hope he stays with soccer and will be on your team again next season – and every season until the two age out.  All throughout the game, they set up combos which lead to some goals.  You work an offensive strategy you pulled out of your butt at the previous week’s game – which worked beautifully – and you hear a parent from the other team say, “Good hustle, number 5!”  The thing is, the other team doesn’t have their #5 on the field; she was complementing your #5.  Do I even need to mention that this is your child?  Soccer is family.

The other team has a player who’s a few years older than any of the other kids.  A slightly built boy, he is on the autism spectrum with minimal soccer skills.  But he’s happy to be out there, and he just loves to play.  The other coach has him on defense, and you’re proud of and happy for him when he gets his foot on the ball and breaks up some plays; he’s improved.  If he gets the opportunity to drive the ball and go for the goal, your offense will become a little bit slow, your defense will soften, and your goalie will just miss nipping the ball.  You see, giving this boy the opportunity to score will be well worth whatever your team has to sacrifice for that point.  In debriefing after the game, you’ll have the opportunity to impress upon these 6- and 7-year-olds about kindness and compassion, and the all-important lesson that the point is to have fun.  It is, after all, simply rec league soccer.

It’s somewhere in the second quarter.  One of your players obviously hasn’t recovered from the previous night and is barely moving.  She finally engages, breaks up a play, then gives a little roar of “Girl power!”  It’s delightful!

Third quarter comes.  The teams swap points back and forth.  You’ve identified the other team’s weak points and coach your players to exploit those without shame.  Your daughter has the ball and is driving to the goal.  She kicks, and as soon as the ball leaves her foot, the referee blows the whistle, signaling the end of the quarter.  The ball is technically still alive, and it sails past the goalie into the net.  You’re whooping and hollering with joy and pride, because it’s her first goal of the season, and it was perfectly executed.  She’s beaming, too, and you pick her up for a little proud-parent spin.

Fourth quarter…  The score is once more tied, this time at 5-all.  The other team is driving towards the goal, delivers a strong kick, and your defender’s head gets in the way of the ball before it goes out of bounds.  Your player is still standing, but the ref is on it and stops play while your assistant and you do a quick neurological check.  You don’t like that the ref gives the other team the throw-in since your player was the one getting hurt, but you concede that it’s a fair call.  Reluctantly.  Your team regains possession of the ball and scores one last time, bringing the score to 6-5 and giving your team the win – their first win of the season.

You’re yelling with your team, you’re giving out hugs and high fives and cheering.  A part of you will worry later that you were maybe celebrating too much, that you perhaps were being a bad sport, but truth is, in those brief moments, the other team doesn’t even exist for you.  This isn’t a celebration that they lost; this is a celebration of pulling out a win under the most unlikely circumstances, against seemingly unbeatable odds, at the end of a really good game against a strong opponent.  It takes an incredible team to have played like they did, but it takes an extraordinary team to pull off such a win.

You take a moment to thank the ref for the good job he did as you line up for the handshake.  You are facing the shy-flower-turned-soccer-diva, smiling at each other as you begin the walk.  Then the rest of the celebration happens.  You congratulate your team on a job well done, and secretly you think to yourself that you’ll have two players back the next game if all goes as planned.  Yet, if you’ve learned nothing else this season, it’s that not everything goes as planned.  One of your players could only cheer from the sidelines for this game, but she comes over to join in the celebration.  You hug her, welcome her back, and tell her she was a part of this win.  You remind them of the next practice and, as it’s the day before Mother’s Day, you tell them to ask their dads to help them wash their uniforms.  Jahaziel, a sweet Hispanic boy and one of your goalies, tells you he already knows how to do his laundry.  He’ll make someone a good husband one day, and your esteem of his parents ratchets up another notch.  You drop the word about an end-of-season party to the kids, and you’ll work out the planning with the parents in the coming week.  You take a few to talk to Jacob’s parents, advising them on a plan of care in case he’s suffered a mild concussion; it involves Tylenol for headache, ER if he starts throwing up, and keeping him awake for at least four hours.

Now it’s time for your other daughter’s game.  You take your place on the bleachers and prepare to watch.  As you catch the end of their drills, you wonder why the coach takes so much time doing goal-kicking drills when only a third of the team will ever be in the position to drive for the goal, anyway.  Sure, it gives the goalie practice, but this team needs more passing work.  You’ve noticed their sense of “team” has eroded some since early in the season, and their heavy-footed kickers are more likely to score field goals through the uprights behind the net than points in the goal box.  Unfortunately, despite many pleas and petitions to the league’s management and the refs, they won’t let the teams nab a quick three points when that happens.

Oh, now this is interesting.  Both of the refs from your games are on the opposing team, and they’re excellent players.  Your daughter’s a defender, and you wonder if she’s caught on to the fact that the ref who’d irritated her so badly the night before is a striker on the other team.  You know that, if she can just break up one of his drives, she’ll feel like the universe has been realigned and all will be right.  Sadly, it doesn’t happen, just from lack of opportunity.  And miracle of miracles, you see that the frustrating ref actually can follow a ball.  You hear a comment that your team gave it more in their game than your older daughter’s team of teens did in theirs, and you can’t help but agree.  The ref in your second game is goalie in this one, and even though it’s his first season reffing, you think he does a better job than these more experienced refs – and there are three at this level.  Although your daughter plays well, a win isn’t to be for them this week.  It’s time to go home.

In the midst of your time at the fields, you’ve dealt with the administrative aspects of coaching, texted the moms of the sick kids to find out how they’re doing, done all the in-game-coaching things, and loved up on your team.  You’ve cheered your other daughter’s team throughout their game and looked over to see your younger daughter playing in a pick-up game involving players from three levels.  You’ve chatted up another team parent; she’ll be on the opposite side next week.  You’ve felt anger at the bad ref anew when you found out he let play continue in the day’s first game, despite a downed, crying player.  You took a few to talk to one of your friends – an opposing coach.  And you’ve talked to former players and former team parents, because soccer is family.

Then Mother’s Day dawns.  Actually, it’d dawned two hours ago, but you’d woken up in the wee dark hours of the morning thinking about your amazing team and gone back to sleep.  Two texts await you, one from your coaching assistant, the other from another player’s mom, both wishing you a Happy Mother’s Day.  The player who’d taken the ball to the face is fine, the one who’d taken a ball to the head has a slight headache, but nothing worse.  You reply to their texts, returning the wishes, and then post such wishes to the whole team.  This is the first time this has ever happened to you.  This year, more than any other, you truly feel that soccer is family.  Or, to put it more alliteratively, football is family.

Being Present to Black Friday

We don’t call it “Good Friday” here, because, in those moments, there was nothing good about it.  After enjoying dinner, twelve disciples watched their leader get arrested.  Then what happened to them?  All we know is that Peter followed along, likely staying close to hear what was going on but even so, denying knowing Jesus at all.  Judas committed suicide out of remorse for his betrayal of Jesus.  As for the rest?  They probably scattered in fear.  Likely we all would.

As Peter followed Jesus and the crowd as the guards dragged Jesus first to the Sanhedrin, then to Pilate, then to Herod and back to Pilate (in Luke’s account), he was scared to death.  Unsure.  Hesitant.  Too scared even to admit to knowing Jesus.

Then Friday dawns.  Jesus is bruised, beaten, bloody.  He hasn’t slept, opting instead to pray for hours during the long night after dinner.  He’s been betrayed, he’s feeling friendless – he’s alone, for all intents and purposes.  Soon he will be forced to walk the two miles from the Praetorium to Golgotha.  Some gospel accounts have him carrying his cross the whole way, others have the Roman soldiers conscripting Simon of Cyrene to carry it part of the way.  Regardless, he picked up his cross.  He accepted the death sentence.

And now it’s 9 a.m.  The soldiers nail Jesus to the cross.  They laugh and jeer, as do people in the crowd.  They divide Jesus’ things amongst themselves and cast lots for his robe.  For the next six hours, Jesus will hear the taunts and jeers of the soldiers, the religious leaders, and the rest of the crowd.  Even one of the thieves beside him would taunt him.  John tells us that Jesus looked down and saw his mother and his “beloved disciple,” giving them to each other, commissioning John to take care of Mary.  The rest of Jesus’ followers?  Who knows where they are.  Probably hiding out in fear, not wanting to be discovered, not wanting to be found guilty by association.

Noon.  Darkness falls over the land.  Jesus continues to suffer, breath coming harder.  The crowds and soldiers continue to watch and mock.  Crucified people slowly suffocate and die, eventually becoming too weak to push up against the nails or ropes, the weight of the body as it hangs preventing the lungs from taking in enough air.

Three p.m.  Jesus gives a loud cry and dies.  The Roman soldiers don’t need to break his legs to hasten death as they had to to the thieves.  The eleven remaining disciples are nowhere to be found.  Two members of the Council, secret followers of Jesus, now come out and one approaches Pilate, requesting the body of Jesus.  The other helps him take the body down.  They wrap the body in herbs and linens before laying it in a new tomb.  The women who followed Jesus follow the two men, noting where Jesus was before going home for Sabbath rest.

Sunset comes and with it, the Sabbath begins.  We don’t know what the disciples did, but we can imagine how they felt.  They would have felt fear and uncertainly.  They were heartbroken about losing their friend and teacher.  The disciples were crushed with disappointment, because they truly believed that Jesus was heralding a new messianic era, a time when the Israelites would rise up and destroy their Roman oppressors.

In the evangelical church, we grab hold of “Sunday’s coming!”  We want to skip right past the ugly, emotional events of Thursday night and Friday and get to the joy of Sunday.  As I was growing up, we went from Palm Sunday with its Hosannas to Resurrection Sunday with its Hallelujahs.  In fact, there was the unspoken belief that the suffering of cancer, miscarriages, and chronic illnesses was because of one’s sin, so such issues were kept secret and private to avoid judgment.  We didn’t talk about suffering at all, not even the life-changing suffering of Jesus Christ.

However, are we not first followers of Christ?  We need to embrace the pain that Jesus and his followers faced.  We need to understand the pain, sense of betrayal, heartbreak, disappointment, sadness, the mind-melting fatigue, and the fear of those first disciples.  But why?  Why do we want even to visit this place of darkness?  We do so, because we will visit this valley in our lives.  We will feel all of these emotions, and we will experience the paralysis that comes from overwhelming inundation of feeling many of them at the same time.

Yes, we have the hope of the resurrection and new life in Christ, but that doesn’t take away the reality of the pain.  Sure, “Sunday is coming,” but the disciples didn’t know that, or, rather, they didn’t believe it.  And Sunday coming two days later does not, in any way, change the reality that today is Friday and today is dark with grief and fear.

So let’s stay here for today – and tomorrow, too.  Let’s understand and feel the richness of the emotions of this day, even when they’re not all pastel, fluffy, cotton-tailed happiness.  Let’s be present to these emotions, realizing that we must have sadness in order to appreciate best the joy of the empty tomb and what that means for our lives.  To do less than this is to cheapen the value of Jesus’ sacrifice for us, ignoring it because it makes us feel uncomfortable.

Doing it Daily – All Over Again

There’s this beautiful song by Train called “Marry Me.”  Perhaps you’ve heard it.  Although it was released in 2009, it was 2013 before I heard it for the first time.

I love the line, “Marry me, today and every day.”  We get married (hopefully just once), and we have that one wedding where we make promises to each other in front of an officiant, God, family, and friends.  There’s music, there are flowers, there’s cake, maybe dancing, and it’s a glorious affair with people looking tres belle and tres beau.  Afterwards comes the honeymoon, a delightful period of romance and spending time together as husband and wife in a great location.

But what happens after the couple comes home, unpacks, and gets back to the day-to-day business of being a married couple every single day in the real world – a world without the flowers, the music, the cake, the honeymoon?  Unlike the pink-edged cream rose I have growing in front of my house, marriages don’t thrive on neglect.  They need daily attention and devotion, as do spouses.

This has to be intentional, though.  We can’t give our marriages our attention today and come back to it in a week-and-a-half.  My husband and I have a routine.  I don’t mind drinking day-old coffee.  Sure, I prefer it fresh, but I’d rather not waste it.  On Saturdays, I pour myself the day-old cup and make fresh for him; on Sundays, he gives himself the old cup and makes fresh for me.  This weekend, though, he did something different for me.  I woke up yesterday and poured the old coffee into my cup before making the fresh pot.  When I went back to the kitchen a little while later, my coffee was missing.  The cup was still there, but it was empty.  My husband had poured the day-old coffee into his cup.  He did that this morning, too.  It’s a tiny little act of service (my love language), but it made a huge impact.  Likewise, each day, I tell him something great I’ve observed about him or something perhaps that the girls have remarked on.  The key isn’t about being flashy or loud in the affirmations, it’s simply about being consistent.  As a result of these little acts – just small little things – we have grown closer and we have become more solid as a couple.

Discipleship requires just as much intentional daily attention.  Jesus says in Luke that if we’re going to follow him, we must take up our crosses daily and follow him.  As this call to the spiritual discipline of evangelism fell on my ears, as we read the corporate prayer of confession in church this morning, it hit me that I really don’t do as much as I’m supposed to.  I don’t  enter into a time of confession of my sins on a daily basis.  I also take the Gospel for granted.  I know it.  I’ve read it (multiple times), studied it, taught it, and preached it.  In fact, because I know it so well, the story isn’t fresh and new, this Good News more something I might meet with the excitement of my tax refund showing up than with joy that rivals fireworks, because, people, this is GOOD NEWS!  The BEST news!  It’s not exclusive, judgemental, or condemning.  This gift is for EVERYone, and I’ll open my arms wide and share it with absolutely everyone.

God loves us, has loved us from the beginning of time.  In fact, God loves us so much that God became incarnate in Jesus Christ and came down to earth to suffer the just punishment for our sins.  And when we accept this free gift of grace, we have eternal life.  No, it’s not physical immortality; our flesh will still age and die.  It’s spiritual immortality – our souls uniting with God in Heaven.  This is the good news.

And each and every day, I need to remember this good news, remember how it’s impacted my life, remember what it has called me to do with it, remember to share it.  Every day, I need to be intentional about devoting myself anew to the Lord, just as I do my husband, and publicly sharing my love for God, just as I publicly share my love for my husband.

Share your story.  Share the good news this week – how God has worked in your life.

 

My Two Cents’ Worth

Sunday and Monday, I was pounding the pavement, rocking my almost-three miles each day, getting the heart pumping happily.  Both days as I walked, I found two pennies on the street.  Finding these on Sunday was remarkable, but I shrugged it off:  I’ve been walking those streets 3-4 days a week since October and had never found money before.  Finding these coins two days in a row, though, seemed to be a sign that needed attention.

As I walked Monday, those two pennies clinking softly in the pocket of my running pants, I thought about two cents.  What good, of what value, is a mere two cents?  It depends on your frame of mind, I guess.

To a millionaire, a couple of cents would be dispensable.  What’s two cents out of hundreds of millions?  To most of us, we can take them or leave them.  Maybe we wouldn’t want to touch dirty pennies.  Or, if you’re like me, you toss them in a jar until you have enough to roll – or save them to use as math manipulatives.

English: Large amount of pennies

English: Large amount of pennies (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For one woman in the Bible, though, two cents was absolutely everything she had.  Mark relates the story of Jesus and his disciples standing in the narthex of the Temple, watching people placing their tithes and offerings in the offering box.  Most placed their ten percent, the Pharisees making a production of such.  One poor woman put in a whopping two mites – two small coins, probably worth a cent each.  What are those worth compared to the tithe of a rich person?  Jesus commended her offering to his disciples, for she had put in far more than anyone else; she had put in everything she had.

Those two cents made me remember, we need to give everything we have.  Some have the sheer faith literally to turn over everything they have to the Lord and trust God for all their provisions.  Others (I fall into this camp) recognize their blessedness in all they have, however much it is, and strive to honor God in how they use and treat it.  In doing this, I have come to see the blessings even in the clutter (God did give me those children who make it), but I have also taken it as a discipline to put the stuff in its proper perspective.

Our church has been doing a study the past few weeks on living generously, and we spent an easy two weeks talking about how we can live more generously if we don’t think we always need more.  I pretty much mentally checked out of the study at that point, because I don’t want more, I don’t need more, and I don’t think I need more.  In fact, we are steadily getting rid of stuff, putting perfectly good furniture we were storing at the curb for others to take and selling and donating clothes (with monies going towards the girls’ soccer this season).

We also need to dedicate our work and play to the Lord.  We need to play in a way that points people to the Lord, and how we go about our work needs to be a witness to God.  This means working with integrity and not trying to get by with less-than-responsible behavior.  It means not trying to get by with stuff.  My older daughter and I discussed how I could do something and no one would ever know.  I could get by with it, technically it wouldn’t harm anyone, but it still wouldn’t be right.  Integrity – doing the right thing even when no one is watching.

In our play, we also need to give all we have to God.  This manifests itself in good sportsmanlike conduct in team sports, discipline in practice, and, for those of us crazy fortunate enough to coach, modeling the right behaviors.  Coaching soccer is like ministry to me, and I am constantly aware of how I can show the love of God to my players, both on and off the field.  Giving our play to God also shows up in how we treat others, even in our casual pick-up games.

As you go through your days, give you all to God.  Our offering is more than just 10% of our paychecks; it’s time, talents, and gifts – all which come from God and all which we can use to glorify him and lift others up.  As for those four pennies…?  They’re going in the offering plate.  I’m trying not to denigrate them as “just four cents.”  I’m going to trust God will multiply them as the Lord has done before, and those four pennies will end up being far, far more valuable than four cents.

Follow Christ? Then you can’t hate Trump

I know, I know.  He’s racist, misogynistic, homophobic, xenophobic…  Everything Christ wasn’t, everything we as followers of Christ absolutely should NOT be, practice, or endorse.  But we as followers of Christ and people in relationship with YHWH are held to higher standards of behavior, and we are called to love the unlovable and pray for even the most vile of political leaders.

It starts way back in Exodus.  When the Lord is handing down the law to Moses for the Israelites, he says, “Don’t curse God; and don’t damn your leaders” (Ex. 22:28, The Message).  The leaders are put in place for a purpose.  We like to think that that purpose is single-handedly to bring back a revival that will hasten God’s kingdom on earth, starting with the good ol’ U.S. of A, especially since we like to layer a bunch of religiosity on our nationalism.  (Yes, nationalism; we’re shifting away from patriotism to nationalism currently, which usually leads to mass persecutions and a strong “us versus them” mindset, even when the “them” are fellow citizens.)  But what if there’s a higher purpose?

The writer of 1 Timothy exhorts his readers:  “I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness” (2:1-2, NIV).  Hold it!  What???  We have to pray for leaders we don’t like?!  Isn’t that just a disturbing, uncomfortable thought?  But there’s a reason for it – it’s for our own good.  The Greek actually reiterates this idea of “peace,” as the Greek for “quiet” here is more of a meditative silence – peaceful.  Sounds like a pretty nice life, huh, being free from conflict?

In writing to the church at Rome, the Apostle Paul instructs, “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God” (Romans 13:1, NIV).  Similarly, Peter writes, “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority…” (1 Peter 2:13, NIV).  Honestly, it just keeps getting harder to hear, doesn’t it?  The idea that God established – put in place, orchestrated, whatever word you want to use – this incoming administration feels like a betrayal to how Jesus himself taught us to live.  And the fact we’re supposed to submit to it…?  It seems we’re put in an impossible situation.

But maybe it’s not.  Maybe the Lord’s purpose isn’t to place the incoming president in a position to bring about the peace we crave himself, but to force us as Christ-followers to take a stand that can bring our eschatological hope closer to us.

It is easy to see Trump as “the enemy,” but, again, Jesus is clear on how we’re to treat our enemies.  He says in Matthew 5:44ff to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us.  I think it’s clear that we’re not to pray for their destruction, though it’s certainly tempting.

When I was in Div School, I did a text analysis on this passage in which I sought to answer the question, “Who is my enemy?” (my little play on the question the expert in the law asked Jesus in the intro to the parable of the Good Samaritan).  There are nine words for “enemy” in Hebrew, specifying particular enemies.  In Greek there’s only one.  However, Jesus spoke Aramaic, which is very similar to Hebrew, so I wondered, Which word for “enemy” did he use?  You know, so I could know exactly which enemy(ies) for whom to pray.  Well, it was a good idea at the time, but truth was, hours of research later, I didn’t have my answer; no one knew, so I had to rely on the Greek.  Through the work, I came to realize that it doesn’t matter.  Who cares to which enemies Jesus was referring?  At the end of the day, we’re to pray for all our enemies.  So I did.  I didn’t have personal enemies at the time, but in the post-9/11 months, we could certainly count Osama bin Laden and those in Al Qeada as our nation’s enemies.  So they are for whom I prayed.  Wanna know something awesome I discovered?  When you pray for your enemies, your heart about them changes, and you no longer think of them as your enemies.  They don’t necessarily change, but you do.

If we’re going to trust God’s message, then the incoming administration is here to fulfill some part of God’s purpose.  We don’t know what that is; we have to trust without seeing the big picture.  At the same time, the word of God is clear about what we are called to do:  We are to pray for our leaders.  Further, we are to be advocates for the poor, the widow, the orphan, the refugee, fighting for justice for them, because we are all at some time strange people in a strange land.  The first century writers were instructing their fellow believers against the backdrop of unimagined persecutions at the hands of the Roman Empire, a time when churches were meeting in homes and believers were hoping not to be martyred for being one of “them.”  White Christians most likely will not suffer personally throughout the new presidential administration, but there’s the disturbing potential for our friends, neighbors, coworkers and fellow church-goers who aren’t White Christians to suffer extreme persecutions.  It is up to us to be loud, vocal advocates for these people who, like us, are Americans and who, like us, may also be Christians.

The cross offers us free grace, but it’s not cheap.  We need to extend that grace to all, no matter the cost.

Bidding a not-so-fond farewell to 2016

I’m not going to whine about and harp on all the celebrity deaths this year.  While some were timely (Gene Wilder) and some were tragically early (Prince and a bunch of others); and my girls and I will miss Alan Rickman’s smooth, deep voice <3, the truth is, I didn’t know any of them personally, so their deaths aren’t as painful to me.

Between January and July, we attended six funeral or memorial services, including our private graveside service as we buried Miss Kitty, a sweetheart of a torti and the first cat my husband and I adopted after we married.  Not including Kitty, the mean age of those who died was 60 – way too young.  My grandmother died Memorial Day weekend; she was 90.  I thought maybe we were done with death for the year, but no.  A lovely saint at church died on Christmas Day at the age of 93, and the 34-year-old son of a dear friend of mine died in a snowboarding accident two days before Christmas.

Last New Year’s Eve, my car was in the shop and my knee was in a brace.  I despaired of ever even being able to walk without a limp, let alone kneel for any reason.  This year, while I’m painfully aware of how vulnerable my knee is to injury, it’s pretty much back to normal and I’m looking forward to hitting the soccer field again.

My husband got laid off in July.  Thankfully, we had months of notice, during which time he created a plan to start his own business.  It was tense; the lay-off date kept changing, so we never knew month-to-month or even week-to-week when he’d be getting his last paycheck.  We wanted the wait to be over already, but then again, we knew him starting a business as I was deep in my rebrand would be awful.  In June, I rebranded my business.  I don’t know what happened or why, but my web developer/friend dropped out of existence, leaving my new website undone and me absolutely at a loss as to the coding.  I haven’t heard from him since.  We weren’t in conflict at all, and we’d always worked together well.  I miss him.

In September, after months of tension, it came time to bid a tearful adieu to a significant relationship.  I was devastated, and I’m still not completely over it.  This came on the heels of the worst betrayal of my life – worse even than that time when my supposed best friend in high school slept with my crush.  Three deaths over the summer and a bitter, heartbreaking betrayal…  I guess some people just can’t handle being present for the hard parts of life – or they don’t like having to take a back seat to in-my-face crises.

I’m not making resolutions; I’m honestly not at a point where I can think that far ahead.  I started a diet/exercise program in early October that’s showing some good results, and I’m going to keep working that.  I have a plan for growing my business with execution happening now.

All I wanted was to get to the end of the year with my loving husband and our precious daughters well, happy, and healthy.  I’m pushing a cold out of my body, but it’ll be OK, because that’s such a minor thing in the grand scheme of things.  And those I cherish the most are here with me – safe, healthy, and happy.  We’re anticipating 2017 to be a much better year with great new promise.

Happy New Year to us all!

Reflections on #NCCPilgrimage16

This week, my 13-year-old, Mary, shares her thoughts and reflections on this year’s Pilgrimage, a weekend-long worship extravaganza for United Methodist youths. 

I had been looking forward to Pilgrimage 2016 since last year, when I went to Pilgrimage 2015.  The youth conference was only for United Methodist youth and was located in Fayetteville, North Carolina at Crown Coliseum.  The youth could bring friends, which almost all the youth in my small church youth group did happily last year.  We arrived in high spirits and had a joyous time singing and worshipping together with 5,000+ United Methodist youth from all over North Carolina in one place, youth of different colors, languages, and pasts.  I learned that we all made “Pilgrimage clothespins,” which were plain, wooden clothespins with inspirational messages on the sides.  We would then clip them onto the clothing of other people and merge into the crowd, knowing later they would read it and it would make them smile.  Getting clipped was an amazing thing, reading at night encouraging and uplifting messages of hope, love, and God.

This year, I began to count down the days until Pilgrimage 2016.  I was excited, as was my entire youth group.  This year, we didn’t bring friends and instead of a hotel we stayed in a camp.  We were looking forward to arriving at the coliseum for a life-changing experience, as we had last year.  I spent half the summer making Pilgrimage clips, painting them in bright colors and putting brilliant life quotes and Bible verses on the sides.  My buddy and I passed out a few of our clips Friday night, feeling grand knowing we made people smile.

Saturday morning, again, my buddy and I passed out clips, giving away my remaining twelve.  We sat down, ready for the hope of an amazing second session of Pilgrimage.  Instead, we were told that if we had a Pilgrimage clip on our being we would be immediately sent home.  The speaker of this year’s Pilgrimage sessions dished out hate at the clips.  Everyone was told to throw away their clips at the trashcans near the entrances; whether or not everyone did and instead risked their time pocketing the clips, I don’t know.

That evening, when we arrived at the coliseum, the cheerful atmosphere was missing from the entire building.  Everyone was more subdued than normal, not much chattering was going on, everyone in almost a thoughtful silence.  Passing out those clips was tradition, and in fact, taking that away angered many adults.  The knowledge of not being able to do that anymore took out half the joy in Pilgrimage, because with those clips, you knew you’d make someone smile.  We all took our seats half an hour before the third session started.  Once it had begun, one of the Pilgrimage coordinators went onstage and explained why we couldn’t have the clothespins.  A few Hispanic, Latino, and Asian youth groups had gotten bullying pins that said, “I love Trump!” on one side and “Build that wall!” on the other.  One of the chaperones from a Hispanic youth group – Stacy – got up and took the stage.

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The beginning of Stacy’s speech was good, explaining how she felt unwanted because of harassing clips her youth group had received and stares that greeted her the day before.  She made mention of how she’d grown up being bullied and understanding how it felt to be an outsider.  In school, she had to teach herself English, because her family didn’t know the language.  During recess, when everyone was playing dodgeball, people would say, “Get out that Mexican girl!  Get her out so she could return to where she came from!”

She explained how hurt she felt as she walked into the coliseum when people were looking at them as if to say, What are you doing here?  You don’t belong here.  However, then she started to make comments, such as how “the message of the red hat and the message of the wall is not the message of the gospel.”  A few youth that greeted her were wearing red Make America Great Again hats, which she found offensive.  “The message of the red hat was not a message of inclusion and welcome; it was a message of disinclusion (sic) and discrimination.”  More of the speech told us that the hat represented a person whose message was unwelcome and discriminatory toward women, Latino, African American, and Hispanic people as well as others.  “And this is not the message of the gospel,” Stacy told the many thousand youth listening.  “So today, we wanted to tell you, if you really believe that the Holy Spirit is here, if you really want to welcome the Holy Spirit, then take off your red hats.”

Being a true American citizen, she had a right to say that.  The freedom of speech is still true, no matter where you are.  But many of us believe that she was speaking to the wrong people.  Here we were, in a place supposed to be a destination to learn more about God and worship together, only the chaperones able to vote, getting politics in our faces.  It seemed as if all us Caucasians were labeled as Trump supporters and racists, even though there were only a few people at fault.  We were labeled as haters towards anyone who is darker colored, and I know that that is not the truth about most of the youth present that night.

See, as Christians, we are supposed to be loving towards everyone, not just people with the same skin tone as us.  Stacy judged us in her own stereotypes, taking the little she knew from the few minutes they stayed the first night and running and accusing all of us of being like that, when I know that loads of youth groups there would’ve welcomed her in.  She tried to blame us all for something only a few people did.  You don’t know the past of the youth who wore those hats.  No one in our youth group saw them.  They might have been using them as warmth, given that inside the coliseum was still really cold.  They might not have had much money, so since it was cold around the coliseum and outside, that one hat may have been the only one in their family.  We never know what the inside story about people are until we get to know them, but we often don’t take time to and instead make snap decisions.  Stacy was willing to tell us about her back story, but she didn’t take time to know the stories of others.  We as people have our own opinions, and if we want to wear a hat with our opinions on it, why should we be stopped?  What Stacy did was right in the respect that she did have freedom of speech, but wrong in many respects.

1) Wrong place, wrong time.  She should not have thrown politics into the matter.  She started off strong, but she quickly fell.

2) How many of us youth could vote?  That’s right, next to none.  Again, she shouldn’t have put in politics.

3) She didn’t respect the fact that we all have our own opinions.  Instead, she made a bigger issue out of it all.

4) She labeled us all incorrectly instead of just the people with the hats.  She labeled us all as haters and Trump supporters, not Christian people who would welcome everyone gladly.

I was grateful when our livid youth leader said that we were leaving after the speech was over.  We decided that since the Pilgrimage pins were taken from us, we would make up some and return to church the next day where we knew we’d be accepted lovingly so we could clip these pins on people.  We were up bright and early Sunday morning to get on the road, and we had fun clipping others.  I have made up my mind that every time I visit that church, I’m going to clip a handful of people.  I can also do it at general places such as grocery stores, restaurants, and gatherings.  I can spread love easily through a simple clip.

On a closing note, I believe that our image of what the weekend was going to be was different from God’s plan.  I was really grateful that we returned to church early, because we made many people smile with the joy we shared and the enthusiasm we brought with us at the sheer idea of returning.  Our pastor was absolutely livid, something I’ve never seen before in my life, and she explained that what happened should not have and that there was no place for it in a church setting.  Everyone went out of their way to show us some extra love after the horrible time we’d just had.  We all learned things from that experience, but the most important of them all was just how it feels to be labeled as one thing when only a few people were the cause.  Such as how Hispanic people are all being labeled as illegal, lazy, and/or drug dealers, when I know many who are perfectly legal, have great jobs, and hate the idea of drugs.  We think that Muslims are in support of ISIS, and that Blacks are associated with gangs and ‘hoods.  But really, it’s not true.  There are White gangs as well, and yet we never want to look at them.  What we don’t want to realize is that there are actually only a few immigrants who are illegal, and yet we want to say that every one of them is here illegally and subject to deportation.

 

But Boys Will be Boys, Right?

I’m keeping this blog nonpartisan, choosing only to address underlying issues.  Please don’t assume endorsement for any candidate.

The media is all abuzz this week after a video came out from over a decade ago featuring Donald Trump saying some pretty vile, disgusting things about women and how, because of his wealth, he was at full liberty to touch women inappropriately.  He blew it off as “locker room talk.”  As I’ve never been inside a men’s locker room, I can’t say if it is or not, and if I ever were to hear men speaking that way with all that false bravado or sheer cockiness, I would assume their big mouths were overcompensating for a significant lack in penile endowment.

BRMHS boys locker room 1

BRMHS boys locker room 1 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This type of talk, though, only perpetuates the whole concept of rape culture.  In the aftermath of this video coming to light, women started talking about when they were sexually assaulted by men who thought they could get by with it, usually because of their seniority in some way (age, position, wealth).

I remember being 13 when it happened to me, though mine was by a classmate.  It was the last day of school before Christmas break, and as I walked down the hall to class, a boy – one of the popular, cool kids – came from behind me and groped my breast.  I never told anyone – never have until now – but I remember feeling so ashamed.  And helpless.  This guy thought that, because I had large breasts – larger than any other girl in my class, anyway – that they were available to be grabbed.  He further thought that, being one of the popular boys, he could get by with it.  (Karma, anyone?  She found this guy.)  I didn’t say anything, because who would believe me?  Boys are gonna be boys, right?  No harm done.  Nevermind that I was painfully self-conscious of my breasts already and that a lot of less-developed girls hated me for them.  I never asked for that particular genetic “blessing.”

The proliferation of images of naked women online perpetuates this idea that women’s bodies exist only for men’s pleasure and consumption.  I have a guy friend who shall remain anonymous who enjoys looking at nude pictures of barely legal young ladies online, and he gives positive reinforcement to those who post those images by downloading, sharing and liking them.  Who are those ladies, though?  Desperate college students who needed a few bucks eight years ago and never thought their pictures would be plastered all over the internet?  Someone’s ex-girlfriend who posed for her boyfriend, never knowing that he’d sell her pictures after the breakup?  However those pictures came to be there, the message is the same:  The woman’s body is only for the pleasure of men.  It does not belong to her at all.

Ten years ago, out of boredom and because I like showing off my creative endeavors, I wrote erotica and posted it online (under a pseudonym, of course!).  The feedback I received was very rewarding for the most part, though some of it was less-than-welcome.  I was honestly surprised at how many men thought I’d want to hook up with them for sex, just because I wrote about sex.  They assumed that, since I put a few sexual fantasies out there for public consumption, that I was eager to put my whole self out there for whoever wanted it.  Absolutely not!  (And my husband has always loved reading these stories, so don’t go thinking that I did this behind his back.  We also laugh at the not-so-subtle requests for sexual favors.)

The popular thought in rape culture is that all women are “asking for it.”  We’re “asking for” the leers, the sexual assaults, the gropes, the frotteurism.  It doesn’t matter how a woman dresses or what she does; none of us are “asking for it.”  So some women choose to show their bodies off; it doesn’t mean the rest of us are going to outside of the proper relationships, nor that we want the touches.

Here’s a novel idea:  Parents, choose to teach your sons the true value of women.  Now I get that there are people out there who totally agree with Mr. Trump about women not being worth more than a man’s thrills.  For the majority of people, though, that’s not the case.  Teach sons to grow up respecting women, teach them that women’s bodies belong only to us women, and teach them that women are not objects.  We are people created by God  in the very image of God to be co-equal and complementary to men.  (Sure, I’m not as physically strong as my husband, but he’s not as emotionally strong as I.)  God loves us women exactly as much as God loves men.  Jesus died for women just as he died for men.  Slowly but surely, generation by generation, hopefully we can eradicate the rape culture prevailing in our world and teach men a whole new appreciation for women.

 

The Compassion of a Child

I’m sitting in my home along the SE US coast, waiting for Hurricane Matthew to pay us a visit.  Am I worried?  Not particularly, though I did feel a strong sense that we needed to do more to prepare for this storm than we typically do for others.  We’re prepared to this point, though we’ll have a bit more to do come Thursday and Friday.  Worst case scenario, we pack the kids and the cats into two cars and head west; the cars are fueled sufficiently.

This morning as the girls and I tracked the storm, we saw that some people weren’t so lucky.  As we pulled up the tracking map online, we saw that at that moment, the storm was right over Haiti and eastern Cuba, with a course dead-straight to the Bahamas.  While this is devastating for all these island peoples in the Caribbean, our hearts really went out to the Haitians.  It’s like they can’t catch a break!

So we prayed.  Then H, my seven-year-old who’s diligently saving up for a pink sparkly boat about the size of a massive cruise ship, started outlining her plan for rescuing people in such situations.  This plan involves using her boat to take them to safety on her own private island, complete with three hospitals, just to make sure everyone gets the care they need.  (I guess she’d need more than one island, so she’d have options depending on which direction the storms are going.)

As the pink sparkly boat is still quite a ways off, H spontaneously thought about what she could do now.  Her solution?  She wants to donate some of her shoes and clothes to children in Haiti who’ll lose everything in this storm.  I immediately grabbed my phone and texted the children’s minister at church, asking if there’s any reception for those sorts of donations.  No, but there are organizations, like Hope Changes Everything, who already have boots on the ground and need money to supply the Haitians with exactly what they need, be it clothes, food, or housing.  (That link will take you right to their site, and you can donate there.)

Our minister suggested a yard sale.  Truthfully, I don’t relish the idea of putting together a yard sale, but the weather will be good again, and there are a lot of things we can get rid of for this cause.  While I don’t look forward to the work and administration of doing this, I’m excited, because this is something H can lead off on.

I am understandably so proud of my daughter for having a heart that wants to reach out to people who have been so devastated by this storm.  More, though, is how she’s overcoming her own fears of the storm in thinking about others.  All morning, we talked together about what we need to do to make sure our home and property are ready for the storm.  I presented it as, “We need to be prepared, but we’re gonna be OK.  Worrying won’t change the storm at all.”  Still, though…  She is seven, and she’s not so thrilled with regular ol’ thunderstorms, let alone a hurricane due for a direct hit.  Once she started thinking about how to help others, she forgot to be afraid.

H is such a good teacher, even reminding her pastor momma about some truths that are easy to forget in the hustle and bustle of daily life.

  • We need a change in perspective sometimes.  Things look challenging for us this coming weekend, but they’re much worse for thousands upon thousands of other people who have no evacuation routes and limited resources.
  • When we’re afraid, it helps to think about others and become unafraid.  I find it also helps remembering who controls the storm.
  • What we have can be used to serve other people.  This girl has plans for her life, plans that involve a good deal of education and helping vulnerable creatures.  Yet, her heart remains for people and desiring to help them.

The Bible tells us so many things about children.  “A little child shall lead them.”  “You must have the faith of a child.”  And the Psalmist writes, “From the lips of infants and children, You have ordained praise.”  We oh, so busy adults need to stop sometimes and listen.  The still small voice of God I’m hearing this week isn’t coming from a gentle breath of wind, but from the lips of a little girl.

God, Give Me Faith!

God, give me more faith!” I prayed in the shower this morning.  Yet, even as I prayed that, I thanked God for God’s provisions and affirmation the previous night.

As I did my rehab and exercises this morning, I reflected on that prayer.  Uh oh, I thought.  What if praying for more faith is like praying for more patience, where you don’t actually get it, but you get opportunities to practice and cultivate it?

We’re a two-entrepreneur family now, and I told my husband last night in the midst of frustration and discouragement, “I know you’re doing everything you can.  No question.  And I still believe this is what God has led us to.”  There were no buts, no “if onlys,” just a simple assurance that we’re still on the right track.  Within half an hour, I received an order from a customer from whom I wasn’t expecting another order.  Yeah, I see it as a God thing.

“God, give me more faith!”  The story of the man with the demon-possessed boy in Mark 9 came to me.  The father wants to believe.  In fact, I believe he truly does.  Yet, the doubts creep in; after all, his son had been possessed by this evil spirit for years, and it’d tried to kill the boy numerous times.  So the father cries out, anguished, “I believe!  Help me to believe more!”  Some translations have that as, “I have faith!  Help me have more faith!”  That’s me this morning.

It’s a pure, selfless request, the request of the striving, growing believer.  Those moments when our faith slips can lead in two directions:  One, we can say that God obviously doesn’t care and turn away completely; or two, we can pray for more faith.  Pray for it.  Ask for it.  We can’t do anything more than this to get it.  We can’t put our good works into some vending machine to get what we want back out.  All we can do is humbly, sincerely ask.  It is in humbling ourselves that we are most receptive to receiving greater faith.

In the Mark 9 account of this demon-possessed boy, there’s a request, there’s a faith lesson, then there’s healing, followed by God granting exactly what the father needed.  Both father and son needed something on this day.  This morning, I prayed a request, the Spirit led my meditations, there was a revelation (not so much a healing for us), then God gave me what I needed.  While I was doing my rehab, I’d heard my husband come back in after having left for work before leaving again.  I texted to ask if everything was OK.  He’d gotten two voicemail messages, both for estimates, one for a subcontract job with growth potential.  God gave us an opportunity to increase our income (always vital in the new stages of entrepreneurship), and God had affirmed that we were still on the right path.

God gave me more faith!