Category Archives: Holy Living

Get Out of the Sewer!

If you don’t like the shit, get out of the sewer!

I made that up earlier this week.  Clever, huh?  There is a point to my opening a faith blog post with vulgarity.  Hang tight.

I hear over and over from people about how someone from their past keeps slinging crap at them.  They threaten the other; they cause drama in their lives; and they often will, in some way, prevent the target from moving on and living a rich, fulfilled life.  Yet, so many times, it’s because the victim chooses to be in that position and to stay there.  One friend told me that she’s enjoying bugging her ex, yet she doesn’t like her ex texting her. In other words, she is choosing to live in the sewer but complaining about the shit there.

Paris boasts a phenomenal labyrinth of sewers – over 2,100 kilometers of a waste-carrying network winding under this bustling, thriving, beautiful city.  Modern technology, innovation, and understanding of sanitation have led to the Paris sewer system being what it is today.  However, in the 14th-19th centuries, the sewers did more to contribute to the problems of the city than they prevented, helping with the spread of bubonic plague and typhoid.  They were more conduits for diseases than a significant help in city sanitation efforts.

picture of Paris sewer

Part of the Paris sewer system

Why were the Paris sewers so vile?  Because they were full of crap – and dirty water, animal refuse, animal carcasses, and spoiled food that might have washed into the system.  The sewers were disgusting, putrid, and perfect breeding grounds for disease and death.

Some people’s lives are that way, too, all because of choices they make.  Yet, they make the same choices over and over again.  (I’m not talking about those situations where we get tossed into life’s sewers against our wills.  These are all about choices.)

What are the sewers in which people stay?  A lot of it seems to be relationship-based, but not entirely.

Sewer – Staying emotionally involved with an abusive ex to “get back at him.”

Sewer – Ignoring the fact that woman you’re “madly in love with” has 2 ex-husbands and is living with husband #3 while she’s sleeping with you and wondering why all the drama.

Sewer – Being that woman who keeps cheating on her husbands and finding yourself in divorce court time after time.

Sewer – Feeling like your family life is getting stale and stagnant when you spend too much extra time at work.

Sewer – Allowing your children to be spoiled, egocentric, manipulative little jerks who have no respect for others – or you.

Sewer – Forcing your children to be something they’re not, making them unhappy and not liking you.

Sewer – Being chronically late for work and showing up hungover and getting fired from job after job after job.

These are all life choices we make that have detrimental effects on our lives, our relationships, our jobs, and our happiness.  As I look back over this list, I notice that none of these sewers exist in vacuums; each and every one not only affects the person in the sewer but other people in their lives as well.

I tell my children all the time:  If you want different consequences, make better choices.  If you don’t want to keep putting up with the shit, then get out of the sewer.

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Finding Home When You’re Far From Home

Or, The God Thing

Our family went to church this morning. In the midst of our evacuation, we had gone to church our first Sunday in exile; just keeping up with the normalcy and routine of Sunday morning worship helped us feel more settled.

When my teen was researching the material for her speech on refugees and immigrants last winter, she learned about a member of a church a couple of hours from ours who had been detained, arrested, and deported by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). In the course of preparing her speech, she corresponded by email with two of the man’s pastors. When I discovered how close the church is to our temporary home, I suggested we attend worship there.

Our first worship service there made me thank God that we evacuated, because that worship time filled my empty, stressed-out heart and soul. The people at this church were the friendliest I’ve ever encountered at a church. As I was chatting with this lady or that one, a woman about my age came up. I recognized her instantly as a classmate from Divinity School. She was sitting with another couple from school and her husband was on the pew in front of her. It was like a mini-reunion – five of us from school all sitting in a cluster.

The pastor got up to preach. She was on week two of a series based on Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s The Cost of Discipleship out of the book of Mark. Bonhoeffer is my favorite theologian, and this book has a challenging theme. The message bothered me, challenged me, convicted me. Pastor Lauren talked about being willing to go against the law of the land for the sake of the Kingdom, for the greater good of showing mercy to the persecuted. It was, in a word, perfect.

M and I met the associate pastor with whom she’d emailed, as well as the senior pastor. I found out that one of my husband’s former customers is still a member there and active in the church. It’s always good finding out that kind people are faring well. My younger daughter has the unique ability to make friends wherever she goes, and she has the unique ability to befriend even little boys who are still firmly entrenched in the “girls have cooties” stage of life.

Around mid-week, we discovered that our period of exile was coming to an end. Along with firm plans to return home came plans for the weekend. There was a much different mindset at that point. No longer was it a matter of indefinite waiting and wondering. Now it was about having fun for the weekend. It came as no surprise when H, my younger daughter, asked if we could go back to “that church” this Sunday because she liked the preaching. That was a no-brainer; of course.

At this point in our evacuation, we truly miss home. We are frustrated by how cut off we are. We are frustrated by there being a need for willing hands to work and our inability to lend ours to help those who’ve suffered much worse than we have. We yearn to sleep in our own beds on our own pillows. We crave the routine of home – the Wednesday trash pickup, services at our own church, M’s and my nightly streaming of House and Gilmore Girls.

Today is Sunday. We got up and dressed for church, returning to Greenwood Forest Baptist. I can’t speak for my husband or daughters, but my reasons for going were pretty self-centered – to receive the benefits of a great communal worship experience and to hear a word from the Lord. No sooner had we sat down when my gaze landed on a lady in the front row, a lady from our home church, one we’d gotten to know when she was in college and a part of our church’s college ministry. H was off socializing. I grabbed Mary’s hand and said, “Come on.”

She asked, “Why?”

I replied, “Look at the front row.” She instantly recognized Jazzmone.

Picture of friends

Jazzmone and me

It was about this time that the lady happened to spot us as I’m half dragging my teen down the aisle. We embraced, my younger daughter joining us for an enthusiastic, tearful, joyful group hug. We’d found home.

This is where the God moment happened. As the four of us were standing at the front of the church in full view of everyone in the sanctuary, Jazzmone shared that her heart had been burdened for home. The road conditions have prevented her from getting home to her family, friends, and our church, and she missed home. She missed all that was home for her, including the people from home. As we embraced, she found home.

Jazzmone had just messaged me a few weeks ago about how much she missed the girls and exclaiming over how much they’d grown since our paths had parted. She had kid-sat the girls on a few occasions and had formed bonds with them then.

I went to church today to get something for myself. Instead, I gave something far more precious to Jazzmone. Happiness filled her heart probably even more than it filled mine. Sometimes we find ourselves in less-than-desirable situations, and sometimes it’s because God is going to use us to touch someone else.

Post Script: We arrived home the day after I keyed these words. Our home was undamaged and our property survived unscathed (though our grape trellis and fig tree look a bit sad). We left my husband’s parents’ house with the excitement of knowing the interstate was open to 13 miles before our exit, so the journey home wouldn’t take much longer than usual. As I stopped for gas, a notification came in informing me that the interstate was completely open all the way to its east-bound end. It is good to be home, and we still have many reasons to be grateful, just as we did throughout our entire evacuation.

Evacuation

The storm was barreling toward us at 17 miles per hour. A week ago this moment, my older daughter and I were enjoying the beginning of a peaceful, blissful weekend of bonding. We were ignorant of any of the storms in the Atlantic, let alone their potential impact on us. As I learned of the looming hurricane halfway into our trip, I started texting my husband with plans and thoughts. With the promise of Hurricane Florence slamming straight into the coast of the Carolinas at significant strength, there was much to do, so much to plan.

Early in the week, we vacillated in indecision. Do we evacuate? Do we stay? My in-laws agreed to let us use their home; they have an unfinished room that’s perfect for our cats. I wanted us to be safe, but I also wanted to stay hunkered down in our own home. Regardless, with the amount of flooding the meteorologists were predicting with this storm, we had to secure our most precious things.

This is the point where the reality got real. Over 1,500 square feet of living and storage space containing old furniture, cherished furniture, technological stuff, collectibles, pictures, jewelry, clothes, books, and toys – all the detritus of daily life in a family of four people and three cats. Yet, we could only take what we could fit into two vehicles alongside of seven warm bodies. With care, I gathered up photographs and albums, lovingly placing them in zip-closed bags. Framed family photos went into bags and then into drawers in chests on the upper floor. My fine jewelry came with us.

We each packed clothes for a week. We brought DVDs for entertainment and books to read. I grabbed my two favorite stuffed animals. My younger daughter brought a few magnets from our fridge and a book of Disney stories I’d had when I was a child. My teen brought a couple of books and her journal. My husband brought the necessities and his jewelry – his wedding band and a necklace I gave him when we were dating that he never wears. We brought food and water; the food would have gone bad at home when the power went out and even inland, there’s the risk of power outages with the winds from the outer band of the hurricane. It was remarkable to me what we brought with us, or, more like, didn’t bring. My older made sure she brought every bit of her new clothes, makeup, and jewelry. But neither daughter brought her cleats, shin guards, or ball; neither my husband nor I brought our billiards cues or fishing rods.

Even amidst the planning and preparation, there was still vacillation. My husband felt strongly about staying. My gut said it’d be safer to go. At that point, the hurricane was expected to hit as a category 3 or 4 and linger at the coast for 24-36 hours before weakening and moving west. The announcement of a mandatory evacuation settled the matter for us.

With mere hours to get everything together and move out, we pulled together to get things done. None of us had ever dealt with an evacuation before. Frankly, I was scared, my anxiety level nearly to the point that I was having trouble thinking and focusing. At the same time, everyone was looking to me to lead them in the preparations, to tell them what needed to be done and direct them to do it. What happens when the leader can’t lead?

We made it out. My husband had some minor car trouble – and he was the one with the cats. Traffic was fairly light, many people from Down East fleeing the coming storm; however, we were at the tail end of the evacuees. We arrived at my in-laws’ house in the evening. My mother-in-law had texted with “warnings,” I guess you’d call them. “We turn off the cable when we’re gone, so there’s no wifi.” Ouch, but OK. We can get 4G on our phones and have movies, games, books, and school for our entertainment pleasure. “The hot water heater is on vacation mode, so there’s no hot water.” With her guidance, we took care of that problem. (Can’t wash dishes with cold water.)

Once we arrived, got the cats settled, and started winding down, it was time to reflect. We had to leave our home suddenly because our lives were at stake. It was scary leaving, not knowing what would await us when we returned. It was also kind of scary going. Sure, we knew we were going to a lovely home that would be stocked in necessities and easily accessible to several shopping opportunities. We didn’t know, however, how the cats would be. We didn’t know what weather conditions secondary to the storm we’d face. Even now, drowsy from the rain and a delicious dinner, able to get updates on our town, our region, and many of our friends, the anxiety still churns in my gut as I wonder what we’ll face when we return. We don’t even know when we will get to return; earlier today, our town manager issued a curfew, and parts of the interstate between here and home are flooded. Our county’s emergency manager has said it could be weeks before residents from parts of the county will be able to make it back home.

Whatever must it be like for those who are strange people in a strange land? What happens when dangerous circumstances force you to leave the only home you’ve ever known to seek shelter and refuge in a new place, bringing only what you can carry?

This is the reality for thousands of people. We hustled all day before driving a couple of hours to get here. Refugees travel over hundreds of miles, mostly on foot or by rickety cart. What if we’d traveled all that way only to be met with hostility and getting turned away at the door with nowhere else to go but back to the danger? The refugees do. Nevermind that they have a legal right to seek asylum in our country; Ronald Reagan made that a law early in his administration. After giving up everything they know, refugees face cruel, hateful treatment and the hostilities of a suspicious people who believe that people of color, especially those hailing from the Middle East or Latin America, are evil, bad, lazy, and dangerous.

Being unplanned sojourners for a while is an unnerving experience. We were able to put some plans in place, but the reality remains that, while we’re here, we are unable to take care of our businesses like we need to. We have just the money that was available to us when we left. Such is the case for those who come here seeking refugee from other lands.

It’s time for us to extend the hospitality to refugees that my in-laws and so many others extended to us evacuees fleeing from the hurricane. Rules are fine and good; everyone has the right to set boundaries on their own property. Nations have rules as well, and as long as refugees are willing to follow the simple rules that make a society function well, there’s no reason to block them from finding a place to find shelter and to make a new home.

Every Super Hero Has a Weakness

I see you, Mama.  You’re worn down.  Physically exhausted.  Emotionally exhausted.  Spiritually exhausted.  Even when people surround you at home, you feel lonely.  You’re Supermom, no question.  You get up in the morning, make sure everyone has a good breakfast, and get the kids dressed and off to school and day care on time.  You go to work where you spend the better part of 8 or 9 hours on your feet.  At the end of the day, you come home, and your second job begins – cooking dinner, cleaning the kitchen, washing the dishes, doing laundry, getting the kids to bed, picking up toys, and putting all the laundry away before collapsing into bed, exhausted to tears.  In the midst of these hours of work, you would occasionally look over at your husband, drink in one hand, remote control in the other, and fight the waves of resentment as he “rests” from his job in front of the TV all evening.

Supermom graphic

SuperMom! Ever notice that no male superhero has as many tasks?

So, what’s the deal?  Why is your man leaving you to do all the housework and childcare when you both work full-time jobs?  And why are you putting up with it?  Here are a couple/few thoughts.

(1) You make it look so effortless.  You’re like a well-oiled machine, organized, able to bring up doctor’s appointments, hair appointments, play dates, sports practices, and parent-teacher conferences with a few taps on your phone.  Bam!

(2) It’s your job as a mom.  After all, your mom did it.  Her mom did it.  Her mom before her did it.  Built into the collective unconscious of women is “The man works all day, so the woman takes care of the house and kids.”  Sadly, this message hasn’t changed with the changing status of women as degree winners and bread earners.  The stereotype of the June Cleaver mom – happily doing housework with dress, heels, pearls, and a smile – still influences us, two generations later.

(3) It’s your job to sacrifice yourself.  This has a LOT of religious undertones to it by religious figures – men, of course – who continue to perpetuate the idea that a woman’s job is in the home taking care of her family.  This gets stretched to include the message that, “If you complain (get tired, feel worn down, etc.), then your faith isn’t strong enough and you’re less of a women/wife/mom/Christian.”

Right here, right now, I’m calling BULLSHIT!!! on every single one of those reasons/excuses, because that’s exactly what they are.

Whether or not he’s your favorite superhero, I think we can easily agree that Superman is a pretty awesome superhero.  He’s got the muscles and the speed and those killer blue eyes.  How easily does he seem to guide a crippled passenger plane to a safe landing!  Then he goes on to foil a bank robbery, fearlessly progressing as bullet after bullet strikes his chest.  (Then the robbers throw their guns at him.  What’s up with that?  Like the bullets won’t kill him, but a 14-ounce pistol will?)  And then his supersonic hearing picks up the faint feminine cries of “Superman!  Save me!” and he flies off to pluck Lois Lane out of mid-air, depositing her safely to the ground and, once more, earning her undying gratitude and devotion.  The citizens of Metropolis look up in admiration and applaud him, so grateful he’s once more saved the day!  Ahhh!  If only we Supermoms got that kind of adulation, at least every once in a while!

But Superman has a weakness that those Metropolitans know nothing about.  Superman knows what it is, of course… And so does Lex Luthor.  Things start going bad in the big city of Metropolis, and Superman is nowhere to be found.  People start wondering, speculating, and worrying.  What will happen to their beloved city if Superman doesn’t appear soon?

In an abandoned warehouse near the docks, Superman is bound against steel beams, weaker than a mere Earthling.  Lex Luthor has left him there, intending to deal with him later.  Nearby, a chunk of emerald green stone glows in the darkness of the warehouse.  A couple of teens ditching school duck into the warehouse, looking for a bit of privacy.  The green glowing rock catches their eyes, and then they see the Man of Steel nearby.  Scared and alarmed, they ask him, “Superman?  What happened?”

With a hoarse voice, he manages to rasp out, “Kryptonite.”  The teens get it.  The girl grabs the stone with a pair of nearby tongs and runs it outside, going to the end of the dock before flinging it with all her might into the ocean.  On her way back to the warehouse, she gasps the story in broken, breathless sentences to a couple of guys fishing.  They follow her into the warehouse, shocked to see their hero so weakened.

One of them asks, “Superman, how can we help you?”  A modicum stronger now, he says, “Sunlight.”  The four work to untie him and they carry his heavy, muscular body outside, laying him down on the weathered wood of the boardwalk.  The midday sun is strong and bright overhead, and it takes almost no time for Superman’s strength to return.

Superman was brought low, and he had to communicate (1) what was making him weak, and (2) how to get his strength back.  Supermom, you do, too.  What is exhausting you?  What is making you feel worn to your soul?  What is making you feel stressed, anxious, lonely, and sad?  What has diminished the light in your eyes?

It’s time to open up some communication.  What is making you feel weak, despite sleeping well, eating right, and having a faithful worship and prayer life?  You have to let your family know these things.  They see the nearly effortless way you handle the home and family and don’t realize you are exhausted.  They don’t know your resentments or your anger.  It’s time to release that, to communicate your feelings in a loving, empowering way.  When my words seem to fall on deaf ears, I turn to writing out those feelings.

It’s also time to speak about what will help you regain your strength.  Do you need space to meditate or practice mindfulness, whatever that looks like?  (There are some faith-based meditations, too.)  Do you need your husband/partner to watch the kids, including getting them fed, bathed, and to bed, so you can take a fitness class or do yoga practice?  SAY that.  Don’t pussy-foot around it and be nice; none of this, “Honey, is it OK if I take this class once a week?  It’s OK if it’s not, and I’ll make dinner and take care of the kids before I leave.”  NO NO NO NO NO!!!  Try this instead:  “Honey, I need to take care of me so I can have the strength to take care of y’all.  There’s this class on Tuesday evenings I want to take.  So I can do this, I’ll need you to cook dinner those nights and be front man on getting the kids bathed and to bed.”  That’s clear, concise, and to the point.

As you start feeling better after a few weeks, make time to thank your partner for supporting you in your continuing efforts.  Also, thank your children for being good for the other parent and making his/her life easier.  Occasionally, make something in the crockpot for dinner so your husband/partner can get a little bit of a break.  Weekly, thank your other half for what they do.  This will encourage them to continue supporting you; gratefulness leads to people wanting to help, and everyone likes feeling appreciated.

It’s time we SuperMoms owned up to our weaknesses and claimed what we need to regain our strength.  I was diligently doing cardio 2-3 days/evenings a week and strength training at least twice a week.  I ate a healthy, balanced diet and got sufficient sleep.  My body was healthy.  I taught Bible daily, prayed at least once a day (not including blessing meals), and still went to church each week.  My spirit was healthy.  Yet, my spirit was also feeling worn down.  My body was feeling worn down.  Why?  Because my mental and emotional health was weak.  I had a big ol’ dose of compassion fatigue on top of anxiety, and those two things were negatively impacting the entire rest of my being.

Now, since my being is tied to others’ beings, my being worn down also adversely affected how well I was doing at the wife thing, mom thing, and friend thing.  Once I realized what was going on, owned it, and asked for help and support from people in my circles (my church circle has been especially supportive!), I am on my way back to complete, wholistic health.

SuperMom, you have got to claim a break for yourself every single day.  All you need are ten minutes a day to be quiet and mindful.  Some days, you need more time, especially if you’re working out.  Your children’s dad needs to realize that there’s more to parenting than his 10-second contribution.  Giving him these moments will help him build bonds with his children that’ll last a lifetime, so you’re doing him a favor, too.

Be Like Little Children

Vacation Bible School has started, and my teen is lead teacher of the 4- and 5-year-olds.  She doesn’t understand why none of the youth jumped at the opportunity to lead them.  Sure, they’re wild, noisy, and hyper, but that’s how kids this age are supposed to be.  They’re also silly, lovable, and enthusiastic.  And for whatever reason, my teen just perfectly grooves with them.  She was telling me about one little boy, a member of the church, who’s cute as can be.  She said, “He’s really ADHD.”

I said, “We never diagnosed ADHD in kids younger than 3rd grade.  God designed y’all to be hyper and not sit still for hours at a time when you’re little.”

My younger daughter who’s 8 piped up from the back seat, “Jesus said for little children to come to him, and he accepts them when they’re hyper, too.”

Let’s visit this for a bit.  Jesus bids his disciples quite a few times to allow the little children to come to him.  He also holds little children up as examples of faithfulness.  We are to be like little children.

What would that look like for our lives of discipleship?

We’d be lovable.  Little children accept and love people, no matter what.  At the same time, they’re open to receiving love and care, too.  They can be amazing caregivers, and they are pretty good about allowing others to care for them when necessary.  In allowing others to care for us, we’re giving them the opportunity to live out their own faith in servitude.

We’d be enthusiastic.  Whether it’s dinosaurs or a new doll or a trip to the beach, children are exuberantly happy about those things or events.  What would our lives look like if we enthusiastically proclaimed, “I love Jesus!” or said with so much joy, “Let me tell you what our pastor said Sunday.  It was so good!”

We’d be silly.  I’m not talking clown-silly or immature-silly.  I’m talking twirling-with-excitement silly or dancing-in-the-streets silly, all because we have this amazing gift of complete love and acceptance.  We as Christ-followers should have so much joy that it spills over into silliness.  So many believers think that such expressions of joy are unholy, maybe even blasphemous or sinful.  I know someone who I met after she accepted Christ as her Savior.  She’s one of the most dour, unhappy, unsmiling people I’ve ever met.  Someone who knew her before her conversion told me that she used to be a lot more fun to be around before she became a Christian.  What’s up with that?  Sure, our behaviors and attitudes need to change once we start following Jesus, but we should still be people that others wish to be around.

As anyone who’s been around little kids knows, it’s not all silly giggle fits and hugs.  Sometimes it’s tantrums and tired crankies.  Sometimes it’s stubborn refusals to eat what we serve them or to do what we ask.  Sometimes it’s fights with siblings and breaking the lovely (???) vase your husband’s aunt gave you as a wedding present (though, is that really that much of a loss?).  Many times, it’s streaking through the house (quite literally for my wannabe nudist younger daughter) and climbing over the backs of furniture.  Any minute, you expect to see someone swinging from the lighting fixture over the kitchen table.  Whew!  Remember how exhausting those days were?

We have our adult equivalent to those things.  We get tired and irritable and pitch a hissy fit when too many things are going wrong.  We fight with our spouses (or siblings, friends, or that obnoxious drunk neighbor).  And in a fit of pique, we may even accidentally-on-purpose annihilate the tacky serving bowl from a person we don’t remember.

But you know what’s cool?  The Jesus who loves and welcomes little children, the Jesus who practically gathers them up to come over for a story, a blessing, and a hug, even with their stubbornness, hyperactivity, and tantrum-throwing, does the same for us.  He makes it more adult:  “Come to me all who are weary, and I will give you rest.”  The same welcoming embrace that Jesus offers little children is ours as well.  But we have to go.  Jesus bids the children come, and he calls us adults to come, too.  He calls us to bring our pride, our stubbornness, our bad attitudes, and our issues to him and to trade those things in for peace and comfort, for living water and eternal life, for unconditional love and acceptance.

So, what’s it gonna be?  Why not shed a few layers of uptight adultness and wrap ourselves in some exuberant, joyful child-of-God-hood?  I feel lighter and happier already.

Do you want to know more about how to get Jesus’ peace?  Drop a comment below, and I’ll share with you how that can be yours.  The grace is free, but it is costly, because we still have to answer the summons.

 

The Kingdom Needs to Corrupt

What shall I compare the kingdom of God to?  It is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds of flour until it worked all through the dough. (Luke 13:20-21, NIV)

The Kingdom of God needs to be a corrupting force in the world.  That just sounds bad, doesn’t it?  The cognitive dissonance strikes the brain and the ears like fingernails on a chalkboard or the stridency of the bow across the strings by a novice violinist.  After all, Kingdom of God = good; corruption = bad.

What Jesus is saying here and in its parallel passage in Matthew is that the Kingdom is like yeast that a woman is mixing into a LOT of flour.  Yeast is a fungus, and fungi were considered unclean in Jewish culture and religion.  Worse, there is a woman – a second-class citizen – working with this yeast.  What in the world was Jesus trying to say here?  That the sacred Kingdom of God is like fungus and involves women?!?!

Have you ever made bread from scratch?  To illustrate this idea, I talked the girls into making some yeast bread with me (not a terribly hard stretch).  We made a batch that made a short loaf and a scrumptious 9″x9″ fake focaccia (we called it “fauxcaccia”).  It took just one packet, about 2 teaspoons, of yeast to make these, so definitely not much compared to the 4+ cups of flour.  I’ll show off our pictures and share the recipe link, then swing it back to the teaching of Jesus.

 Mixing bowlsOur dishes ready to go

buttered glass baking pans

Pans buttered

Flour in a bowl

Four cups of flour

yeast mixture

Our tiny little package of yeast getting activated in warm water and sugar

bread dough

Everything mixed together – all 5 ingredients!

bread dough in pan and bowl

Part of the dough poured into my loaf pan, and the rest will go to my fauxcaccia.

focaccia going into oven

Rosemary + Olive oil “fauxcaccia” ready to go into the oven

Freshly baked focaccia

This is our fauxcaccia steaming hot and fresh out of the oven. If only you had a scratch and sniff screen!

freshly baked bread

Our dinky loaf of plain peasant bread

Interestingly enough, this recipe is called Peasant Bread.  It’s a 5-ingredient, no-knead, ridiculously fast and easy yeast bread that came out absolutely delicious!  You can find the recipe for it here.

Going back to the verse I cited at the beginning of this…  What is Jesus saying here?  Just as it doesn’t take a lot of yeast to impact cups (or, in the passage from Luke, pounds) of flour, it likewise doesn’t take a great deal of our corrupting our culture with Jesus to make a difference.

It makes no difference who we are, be it a CEO or a “lesser” citizen whose duties are isolated to menial tasks.  We have a responsibility to be that corrupting influence in the world.

What would that look like?  It looks like having integrity, which I define as “doing what’s right, even when no one is looking.”  I wish I could remember the original source, but at a preaching lecture led by Thomas Long, professor emeritus from Chandler School of Theology at Emory University, he recounted the story of a man in a group therapy session.  It was near Christmas, and that man had some warrants out on him.  He was planning on turning himself in to the police after that meeting.  That man was corrupting his corner of society by doing what was right.

I’ve spoken before about being counter-cultural and even counter-church cultural.  Is there something you can do to get ahead of someone else, either in prestige, position, or power?  Don’t do that.  Jesus didn’t do that, so we shouldn’t do that.  How, in fact, can we make ourselves low?  Are we willing to inconvenience ourselves in order to raise someone else up?  Are we willing to lift others up – with absolutely NO benefit for ourselves?  Can we do this quietly, secretly, like the way yeast impacts flour when we make bread?  When that becomes our way of doing life, then through us will the Kingdom of God corrupt our society and our culture.

Being Counter Church Cultural

We believers hear it often:  We must be counter-cultural.  We’re not supposed to follow the popular culture; we’re called to be different.  The problem is, our churches are increasingly co-opting to the popular culture.

First seeker churches burst onto the scene.  Seeker churches can be beneficial starting points for those seeking to know more about the Christian faith.  However, these churches rely greatly on brewing up some neurochemicals to stir people up and not so much on the power of the Holy Spirit.  Those young in the faith don’t have the knowledge and experience to discern between the two.  The worship experience might get some oxytocin going, making worshipers feel deeply emotional.  Think about how you feel when you see baby animals or hear a sad story.  That’s oxy.  Worshipers might feel excited, particularly in response to the drums and guitars.  That’s caused by endorphins.  Certain worship experiences cause people’s brains to produce cortisol and adrenaline, making them feel scared, worried, or fearful.  Hellfire & brimstone preachers rely on those chemicals for “conversions.”  Whatever the emotion is, many believers who are young in the faith interpret these chemical responses as the moving and working of the Spirit.

Alongside seeker churches came what we know today as contemporary Christian music, and this music is a crucial part of many worship services around the world.  (Funny to note here…  When I was a teen, Bill Gaither was considered a contemporary music artist.  Now his songs are in our hymnal.)  We used to attend a worship service that features contemporary Christian music.  I enjoyed the worship experience, but I didn’t always enjoy the music, yet I couldn’t figure out why not.  Then I started focusing on the words.  They were very seldom about God at all.  They were about us.  We were the objects of our worship songs.  I recently looked up the lyrics to “I Can Only Imagine,” which is very hot right now.  If the incidences of the ratio of references to “myself” versus references to Jesus/God indicate their relative importance, then I am more than twice as important as the Messiah (46:20).

A lady I know once shared an incident that happened to her.  She accidentally pulled out in front of a car.  Who hasn’t done this?  Right?  The driver of the other car blew her horn at her.  Who hasn’t also done this?  The teacher remarked, “I thought, How horrible to spend your life being so unforgiving!”  I thought, How horrible to live your life being so judgmental!  The teacher genuinely felt that she was the wronged party and the other driver was an awful person for blowing her horn at her.  But this isn’t the Jesus way.  We’re not called to judge others based on one moment of their lives.  We’re not called to think we’re so much better than others.  To do that makes us no better than the Pharisee in the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector in Luke’s gospel, self-aggrandizing because of our righteousness and missing the cries for mercy from people around us.

Being self-centered is the world’s way of being.  Being Christ-centered is God’s way of being.  Judging others is the world’s way of being.  Showing mercy is God’s way of being.  Increasingly, the things I see at church are very worldly.  That leader who uses manipulative tactics to get people to help or to draw people to the church.  That’s worldly.  The worship music that talks about us is worldly.  The cliques and exclusive social groups that prevail in every church are worldly.  Clapping for the “entertainers” is worldly.  Oh, sure, people say they’re praising God with their clapping, but if that’s the case, why aren’t they “praising God” when the offering plates go back to the front of the church or after the sermon by one of those preachers who couldn’t preach to save his life?

We have attempted to make the church counter-cultural, but instead, we’ve made the church completely cultural, just with a little God talk thrown in.  I guess that God-talk is supposed to make us stand out?  I don’t know, but it doesn’t seem to be doing the trick.  Thing is, Jesus pretty much never talked about being in church.  He stated that Peter would be the rock on which Jesus would build his church, but that was it.  Jesus did church.  Jesus went to where the people were and entered into their lives.  Jesus didn’t sit in the same building with the same familiar faces week after week.  Jesus went to people where they were, people who often were different – from a different region, Gentile as opposed to Jewish, diseased as opposed to well.  We are called to do likewise.

When our church experiences are truly Christ-centered, Bible-based, and ministry-focused in deed as well as word, then we’ll be truly counter-cultural.  When we dissolve cliques and factions within the church, then we will be separate from the world and stand out from it.  When our worship once more is all about God and not about us, then we will experience revival.  Then and only then will church once more be transformative in the lives of all who enter therein.

 

Woman, You’re Forbidden to Come!

And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years.  She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse. (Mark 5: 25-26, NIV)

I was sitting in church this morning, preparing my heart and mind for worship in the silence of the full sanctuary.  There was no music playing, and most people were refraining from talking, or at least talking loudly.  Behind us were three middle-aged women sitting together.  Two rows up was a new mom with her baby and mother.  Whisper, whisper, whisper from behind me, and what I heard were some thin judgments against this mother for bringing her baby to church on such a cold, miserable day.  “I wouldn’t have brought a baby out in this weather.”  “I’d have waited until it was at least 65 before bringing a baby out.”  They didn’t know as I did that this baby had come fully dressed and wrapped snugly in a beautiful baby afghan. The woman in the passage from Mark had had an “issue of blood,” as the King James phrases it.  We don’t know what this bleeding looked like, but having this problem went farther than a mere physical ailment. First, the treatment of the discharge had rendered the woman financially broke.  Mark tells us that this woman had gone to many doctors seeking treatment for her hemorrhage to no avail.  In fact, the woman had spent all her money seeking treatment for her bleeding and was not only left broke, but worse physically.  I’m sure that financial worries certainly didn’t help her physical state any! Secondly, the woman’s discharge of blood isolated her from others.  The Jewish law was very strict about bloody discharges, whether from menstruation or other causes, causing someone to be unclean.  If a person touched this woman at all, he or she would be unclean.  Truthfully, most people went around in a state of uncleanness, and students who came before me have figured out when to do certain behaviors whose “unclean” effects would wear off at sunset.  (Timing is everything!)  It’s one thing for her husband, if she had one, to be unclean, but worship was absolutely forbidden for this woman as long as she had this discharge.  (Lev. 15:25-31) I want to make sure what I say is clear:  This woman was forbidden from going to the sanctuary for twelve years because of this physical ailment. It is hard for us to fathom telling someone “You can’t go to church.”  Women have their menstrual cycles privately, so the person sitting in the pew with us doesn’t know we’re “unclean,” unless that person is our husband.  In fact, many ailments that kept ancient Israelites from worship are no big deal today. Yet, let’s take a look at this new mother who was in church.  She brought her baby with her to a lovely Palm Sunday service when it was very chilly out.  That same mother had had to take her baby for checkups when it was cold out, too.  People want to judge the new mothers (never the dad, though he might be right there with them) for taking their newborns out in less-than-optimal conditions.  But do these folks ever consider the isolation of new motherhood? My older daughter was born in the warmth of summer and a month early.  Since she was little and premature, I chose to wait that month before taking her to church, all for her safety.  My husband would go to church, but I ended up staying home with her.  Were it not for visits from friends from church and school in addition to our parents and my aunt, I’d have gone mad with loneliness.  My friends especially brought Christian community to me at a time when I needed it the most. When we judge others for seeking out Christian community and bringing their babies with them into that community, we are telling them, “You’re not allowed to be here.”  We are communicating to them, “It’s dumb of you to do that.”  We’re saying, “You’re unclean.  You’re forbidden from being here.” Instead, we need to celebrate that the new parents are bringing children to church.  We need to fawn over and adore the sweet little one and make sure the mom especially is doing well and is getting what she needs.  Being a new mom is hard, and being a single new mom is overwhelming as she adjusts to a new normal while also taking care of this precious little life.  Instead of dishing out judgment, we need to be dishing up compassion.

Decluttering From Church

I’m sure it’s the trial of many, many parents of kids in church.  They come home with reams of paper announcements about special events and wonderful, fun happenings.  If they’re involved in anything musical, there are stacks of CDs, built gradually over the years, often two or three a year – special programs and VBS.  Multiply that by multiple children, and that stack can be pretty impressive.

My “crafty stuff” board on Pinterest has new additions – things to do with old CDs.  Some of the ideas are incredibly gorgeous, but I know my schedule won’t allow the time to do them.  My teen and I loved the CD mosaic arts – tables, flower pots, and frames.  In fact, I’m thinking if there’s any way I could whip up some of these crafts in time for my next selling event.  Let’s see…  Two children times six years times average 2 weeks of Vacation Bible School each year, plus 2 children’s programs each year…  I could probably mosaic an entire wall of our living room at this point!

pic of CDs

About what this pile of children’s CDs looks like after a combined 15 years of programs.

Our children are getting to take part in a really fun event this coming week.  Our children’s minister emailed out the flyer for it a couple of weeks ago.  I loved that!  It’s right there in my email until it’s in the past, and it’s so easy to plug those dates into my digital calendar.  Best yet, no paper!  Churches love distributing paper.  In fact, I’ve been offered paper copies of that digital file four times since I received it.  You wouldn’t believe the “you must be the antichrist!” looks I received from some people when I declined it!  When I get paper flyers, I end up having to deal with them later – sort and recycle.  It’s kind of the same with paper bills, which only our utility company sends anymore; all the rest are electronic.  That’s great for me, because less paper means less waste.  Even paper recycling requires fossil fuel to process.  We’re trying our best to eliminate waste in our lives and our environment and working to reduce our carbon footprint as much as possible.  This is a huge part of our family’s environmental ethic as we live it out in our stewardship of God’s creation.

Stacks of CDs and full-color printed flyers that will likely get trashed or recycled…  I look at all this stuff and I look around at our community and can’t help but think, Is this really the best use of our church’s resources?  Posting flyers around the children’s center, an announcement in the bulletin, and an email would more than cover it, I think.  Could the paper/copies line item on that segment of the budget flip to some sort of family crafting event where we make stuff with all those CDs?  Could those be sold to create a scholarship fund for children to go to mission camp?  (I’m just brainstorming here.)  Or maybe that money could go towards one of the fab children’s’ charities we help support in our area.  The potential to create from the clutter is significant.

Take a look at my Crafty board and tell me what you think of the ideas I’ve pinned.  What ideas would you add?  Oh look!  What to do with CDs and 1000+ fish extender gifts.  I think I have time til our next cruise to come up with something brilliant between the two of those.

I Went to Mexico Last Week

A simple vacation changed my life.  My mom treated the girls and me to a week-long cruise last week, with ports-of-call in Key West, Costa Maya, Cozumel, and Castaway Cay.  Costa Maya and Cozumel are in the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico, and Castaway Cay is Disney’s private island in the Bahamas.  A week ago right now, for example, we were just beginning an excursion to Mayan ruins in Cozumel under the expert leadership of our tour guide, Nico.

This was my first trip to Mexico.  This was my first experience being a minority in a predominantly Hispanic place.  Being there, both in Costa Maya with its gorgeous beaches and in Cozumel with its rich history and environmental initiatives, whetted my appetite to learn more about these areas, the people who live there, and their history.

I’m far from a naive traveler.  I know that tourism is the top industry in these areas, and the natives’ solicitous behavior was in the hopes – rightly so – of good tips.  We learned from Nico that the “high season” is November through April, so what income they earn through tours, excursions, and tips must carry them through the six-month “low season” when cruise ships are not as prevalent in their ports.

We had two days in Mexico, one in Costa Maya, the other in Cozumel.  We had planned to swim and snorkel in Costa Maya, but rough seas made it unsafe for my youngster to snorkel.  Still, we enjoyed the beach break and the hospitality of the islanders.  While we were swimming, I overheard a guide with a group of snorkelers ask his group, “And how do we say <indistinguishable> in Mayan?”  To which the group answered, and I thought, “The Mayan language is still spoken?  Cool!”  My mind immediately began humming with questions and trying to determine how to find the answers – not from books, but from people.  Maybe find random Costa Mayans on Facebook?  Yeah, possibly.

Costa Maya

My first view of Mexico in Costa Maya where guests are greeted in a village setting

The next day saw us in Cozumel.  Truthfully, I liked Costa Maya as a place more than Cozumel; the latter was Americanized touristy.  I get that they must present like that in order to keep the Spring Breakers and tourists happy, but I was desiring a more authentic experience.  Both places have awesome stuff to see, however.  In Cozumel, all those questions found their answers, thanks to Nico.  Unfortunately, those answers just spawned more questions.  (Ahh, the joys of being a lifelong learner.)

Ancient Mayan ruins

The ruins of an ancient Mayan temple. The pillars represent the Sun and Moon.

Yes, the Mayan language is still spoken.  Forty percent of Mexicans are direct descendants of the Mayans and are distinguished by their short stature, straight hair, and high cheekbones.  (What about the other 60%?)  After the Spaniards conquered the Mayans, only a few dozen remained to preserve their culture, history, traditions, and customs.  The written Mayan language didn’t last, but all other aspects of the people did.  Mexican religion is a hybrid of Christian Catholicism and Mayan paganism.  I still have questions that I’ll hopefully get to pepper some of the soccer parents with.

Something else happened last week that wormed its way into my mind.  On Disney Cruise Lines, there is a room host for small groupings of staterooms.  These hosts make the beds, tidy the room (Jhe, our host, even folded a couple of my older daughter’s clothes that she was going to take care of after dinner), create the towel animals, replenish bath linens, turn down the beds, and leave chocolates.  Another thing that happens on DCL is, your servers at dinner follow you all week from restaurant to restaurant.  This way, they learn your likes, dislikes, and preferences.  After our first night, our little one never again had tomatoes on her salads, though she did have double cucumbers.

Our servers, Charles and Wayan, were from India and the Philippines, respectively.  Jhe, our host, was from Indonesia.  It struck me that the “brown-skinned” cast members had the least desirable, more grunt-service jobs, whereas the lighter skinned cast members from Australia, Europe, and North America were higher up in the hierarchy – just under the captain, for example, or working directly with the kids in the youth clubs.  They often held supervisory positions as well.  Yet, we seldom saw and interacted with those cast members.  It was Jhe who took care of our stateroom all day, every day, and Charles and Wayan were the ones providing us with exceptionally attentive dinner service.  Being a White American lady, I am aware of the glamour – or lack thereof – of service jobs.  I can also see the color and cringe at what seems to be unfairness.

My youngster only saw “people.”  All of us spoke to the room hosts along our hall on our way to the stairs and elevators.  Whether in her Princess Elena dress or tee and shorts, my eight-year-old dropped a curtsey to Jhe every time she saw him.  She doesn’t know that you only curtsey to nobility; to her, he is a noble person and worthy of her honor and respect.  In the simple act of the curtsey, she elevated him above his position of bed-maker and clothes-folder.  That’s beautiful to me.  How often do we elevate people by our actions each day?  Or would we rather they just keep in “their place” to which the White majority has assigned them?

It takes surprisingly little effort to raise someone up.  Let’s all take a moment to lift up someone in the coming week, regardless of who they are.