2015 Predictions

Happy New Year, everyone!  2014 was very good to me in many ways, and my confidence has grown enough to make some wild predictions for the new year.

I predict that by the end of 2015, this is what life will be like:

1 – Hovercrafts all around!!

2 – Everyone who wants to will be able to work from home (and who doesn’t want to?).  This may make fast food a little more difficult to get, but what a small price to pay, right?

3 – All the children of the world will hold hands in peace and unity, and sing the song of the joyous and well-fed.

4 – I will have a balanced and clear-cut understanding of God, and of Scripture.

Or possibly…

1 – Instead of owning hovercrafts, mine and Hercules’ cars will get one year older, and we will be thankful to keep them running, and getting us where we need to go.  Oh, but by this time next year my older son will have his driver’s license.  God help us.

2 – We will stick with our current day jobs.  They’re not exciting or impressive, but they pay our bills and give us evenings and weekends off.  We are both very thankful to be gainfully employed in jobs that we more or less enjoy.  But hopefully I will be able to devote more time to writing.  Eventually I would love to be able to make a living at it, but I know I have a lot to learn before that can happen.  I’d also like to introduce you to Hercules’ writings.  He has a beautiful way of expressing himself, especially through poetry.  He’s a great guy–you’d like him!

3 – Unfortunately, I doubt that all the children of the world will be happy and well-fed by the end of 2015.  But we will keep sending our $35 a month to our World Vision sponsor child, and maybe we’ll be better sponsors this year and write to him more often.

4 – I have no idea whatsoever what my understanding of God, Scripture, Christianity, faith, or anything spiritual will be by this time next year.  I’d like to think I will be at least a little bit closer to knowing what I actually believe, but it’s entirely possible that 2015 will be a year of further unlearning, deeper unraveling, expanding doubt.  I do feel confident that God will continue to be with me, that I will continue to feel His hand at my back as I travel further up and further in.

Now your turn.  Leave a comment and give me your predictions or wishes for 2015.  I can’t wait to read them!

Great News

I realize I seem to have fallen off the face of the earth, right after starting to post here.  After starting a new “series,” even!  But I have a good reason.

My wonderful Hercules, the love of my life, asked me to marry him.  And I said yes.  And we somehow, amazingly, managed to pull off an absolutely beautiful, near-perfect wedding in a short amount of time without spending an excessive amount of money or brain cells.  This, my friends, is not normal.  It is, in fact, nothing short of miraculous.  But that’s kinda just how we roll…how our entire relationship has been from the beginning.  Right from the start, our conversations were frank and comfortable, even as we delved into subjects that were probably much too deep to delve into as soon as we did.  I spent a long time waiting for the other shoe to drop.  And yet, it’s only gotten sweeter with time.  Even when we argue, even in the times when one or both of us would swear the other is from a different planet, we still fit together.  The places where we are different just fit together like the pieces of a puzzle.  I love this man like I’ve never even imagined loving anyone else.   I am thrilled beyond belief to announce that you may now call me Mrs. Hercules.  (Or Hope.  Hope is good, too.)

There is more to say.  This event (or rather, collection of events), and the rest of life that hasn’t slowed down for it, have stirred me up and caused me to learn and given me so much more to write about than I would have thought possible.  But some of that will have to wait.  Right now I need to go see what my husband (Mmmmm, doesn’t that sound sweet?) has planned for dinner.

The Church is Too Much Like the World (But Maybe Not in the Way You Think), Part 1

I’ve been trying to compose a post about how the church is too much like the world these days, but not in the ways I always grew up hearing about.  But once I started exploring the subject, I realized the problem is more broad and deep than I had first imagined.  My “post” threatened to be about 300 pages long.  So I decided to make a series of posts.  I don’t know how many there will be, as I’m sure I will find more and more to add as time goes on.  I’ll start by sharing an experience I had a couple of years ago that got me started thinking about this whole topic to begin with.

If you grew up in church, like me, especially the evangelical variety, you probably heard approximately 248,872 times that the church looks too much like the world.  Meaning, of course, that the world’s music or clothing or hairstyles had wormed their way into the church…insidious little bastards.  How dare they?  Jesus told us to be different from the world, didn’t He?  He said we should be in the world but not of it, right?  So how can we do that if we wear the same clothes and listen to the same music they do?  We need to “come out from among them” and stick out like sore thumbs!  And actually, we should.  Jesus astonished everyone He came in contact with–He was different.  And we should be, too.  But I’ve come to realize that this difference is not at all what I was taught it should be.

“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”  (John 13: 35, NIV)

I used to subscribe to one of those “verse-a-day” emails, and this verse hit my inbox right on the heels of a sound scolding from a well-meaning friend of mine, who I love and admire in many ways.

She worried that I was “ruining my testimony” because of something I did.  I was out with some friends (enjoying a happy hour, which is a story for another installment in this series), and one of them posted a picture of us on Facebook.  A friend of that friend’s made some comments on the photo that were suggestive and obnoxious.  We tried to steer the conversation to a more appropriate place, and eventually I removed the whole stinking post from my wall.  But this wasn’t enough for my well-meaning loved one who had been offended by what she’d seen on my Facebook wall.  She felt I should have done more than just delete the comments.  I should have posted some sort of retraction or apology, to make it clear to everyone that this was not the kind of company I wanted to keep, and that’s not the sort of conversation I want on my wall.  Even though I deleted the conversation and the offender was someone I didn’t even know, the fact that I didn’t make this announcement, supposedly, ruined my “testimony,” or my outward appearance of Christianity.

It’s not as shallow as it sounds.  Following Christ should make a visible difference in your life.  If it doesn’t, then what’s the point?  I truly hope that when a person gets to know me, they can tell I love Jesus without me having to announce it at every turn.  That’s my testimony.  I want my life and my attitude to reflect well on Christianity, and more than that, on Christ Himself.

The problem comes when a person’s testimony is defined by how they dress or wear their hair or makeup, or which buzzwords they use.  It’s difficult to define.  As a Christian, and as a mother, I don’t want to be known for my skimpy clothes and raunchy mouth.  But is modest apparel and G-rated language going to draw anyone to faith in Christ?  Is there anyone—even one person—struggling in their spiritual journey who’s going to say, “I think I should become a Christian because look what He did for that woman.  She never shows too much skin, and she doesn’t cuss as much as other people.”  I don’t think so.  In fact in some cases, that might prevent that person from identifying with me at all.  If I’m honest, I have to admit that my aversion to skimpy clothes has more to do with body image issues than holiness.  And I’ve learned that once in a while, my true feelings can best be expressed in words of the 4-letter variety.  So what’s the answer?  How should a Christian act in order to be effective in this world while honoring the One who created it?

Jesus Himself gave us the answer to this dilemma.  And, true to His form, He answers in a way we wouldn’t expect.  While we want to present the question to Him, “How should I dress, how should I talk, what should I eat & drink, or not eat & not drink, to show people what You’ve done in my life?”  He ignores the pettiness of the question and says, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.

Oh.  That changes everything.

Why did Jesus willingly leave His kingdom in heaven to live in poverty and ridicule, and ultimately die a death so horrible they had to come up with a whole new word to describe how it felt?  (Excruciating – this word was invented to describe the horror of crucifixion.)  Was it so the people of the world would be better dressed, and society would just be nicer in general?  Seems like a poor return on investment.  No, He looked down on a world that had been corrupted by sin, and it made His heart ache.

Now stay with me here—the word “sin” has come to mean anything enjoyable.  That tastes good?  Put it down, it’s sinful.  That woman/man is attractive?  Look away, you’re sinning.  But let’s talk about what sin really is.  Sin is destruction.  It’s stealing possessions that another person needs and has worked hard to get.  It’s hurting them just to get what you want.  It’s treating them like a collection of body parts instead of a human being with a soul.  It’s abusing your own body and mind instead of nurturing it the way God intended.  Hmm…suddenly sin doesn’t sound so fun, does it?  And this is what God sees when He looks at His creation.  He can’t stomach it.  The Bible says he can’t stand to even look at it.  And He certainly can’t allow it into heaven—then it wouldn’t be heaven anymore, would it?

Do you see what’s missing in the actions above?  Stealing, violence, abuse, promiscuity, addiction and other destructive behavior?  What’s missing is love.  God IS love.  Without Him, we will inevitably disintegrate into these destructive patterns.  He took on human form and came down to infuse HIMSELF into the human race.  He came to save us from our sin.  In other words, to save us from killing and feeding on each other, physically and emotionally.  By this everyone will know that we are His disciples, if we love one another.  If we give more than we take.  If we build up instead of tearing down.  That’s what makes Christians different.  So it’s not when we fail to make our position clear in the presence of obnoxious people—it’s when we fail to show love to each other that we ruin our testimony.

Are you seeing this radical love–this willingness to get dirty and uncomfortable for the sake of someone who’s flailing around in the filth of sin–in the church today?  Thank God I do see it, but it seems to be the exception, rather than the rule.  Most churchgoers I know would rather associate only with people who dress, eat, act and think like they do.  They would rather act…just like the world.

Mind Games

I play a lot of little games in my head.  Like when I’m having a bad hair day or feeling particularly unattractive, I pretend I’m a supermodel who’s going incognito–you know, to avoid the masses who want to clamor around my beauty.  It sounds silly, but it really does help me walk a little taller and have a better day.

Another game I play with myself is to imagine my self from a year ago (or sometimes five or ten years ago), stepping into my life today.   What would be the same?  What would be different?  What aspect of my life or even my own actions would surprise me the most?

So, let’s see…one year ago today…I was pressing forward into my new church.  I had been feeling unfulfilled for a while, and figured what I needed was to step up my level of service.  I was already helping with the children’s ministry, and had recently taken over for the church bookkeeper, who had moved away.  I made a point of committing to any church-related activity I could, in order to feel that connection people always say the church should provide.  Would I be surprised that now, a year later, I have officially left that church?  That I have, in fact, decided to take a break from church altogether, to keep my Sundays free for a while?*  Yes, I would be surprised.  I had always had a nagging feeling that this wasn’t my forever church, but the thought of not going somewhere would have seemed…well, it just never would have entered my mind.

*Which leads us to another mind game.  I actually am attending a church right now, and in fact their theology is relatively conservative.  But their presentation is modern, and they offer services on Saturday nights.  So I can still have the safety and encouragement of going to church every week, while experiencing the freedom to sleep in on Sundays for the first time in my life.  So on some level I still feel like a bit of a rebel.  (My strict, “churchy” friends are gasping right now and my liberal friends are laughing at me.  I’m learning to live in that spot.)

One year ago today…I was lonely.  I had been on several dates since my divorce, but hadn’t found anyone I could really click with.  Friends would tell me I needed to “find someone.”  Yeah, right.  I’ll just run right over to the boyfriend store and pick one out.  Whatever.  Who knew I was just a couple of weeks away from meeting Hercules?  Yeah, that would be a surprise.

How about five years ago?  That was less than a month before I left my husband.  I was making my tenth or twelfth last-ditch effort at saving our marriage.  I was working in a dead-end job.  I wasn’t happy there, but it was familiar and steady, and I knew the rest of my life was too unstable to risk a change.  I don’t think I would be surprised to know my marriage had legally ended by now–by that point I was admitting to myself that I hadn’t been married in any meaningful way for a long time.  I wouldn’t be surprised at having a different job, either.  But what I think would surprise me is how crazy, stupidly happy I am.  The job I have is much better than anything I would have thought I could get back then, and single life has treated me very well.  The steps I was so afraid of taking ended up being steps into a life of amazing possibilities, and even…crazy thought…confidence in myself!  Wild.

Ten years ago…this is where it gets hard.  I don’t like thinking about what my life was like ten years ago.  But a part of me wants to think about it–I don’t care if it’s irrational, a part of me feels that if I think about it hard enough, I’ll be able to somehow speak to that version of myself, and maybe give her some hope.  How would a day in the life of my 33-year-old self be different if she knew that ten years down the road, the pressures squeezing the life out of her would be gone?  Just…gone?  There would be new problems, of course, and big, fat, hairy ones at that.  But there would be support and solid ground under her feet while she dealt with those problems.  The influences that had pulled the rug out from under her for so long would be non-issues.  Over.  Gone.  Poof.

I wonder, would that knowledge make the burden lighter, or would it only serve to strengthen her dissatisfaction with the way things were?  Would that have been a good thing?  Maybe a bit more dissatisfaction would have spurred me to action sooner.  Or maybe it would have crushed me.  I don’t know.

I guess there are reasons that God doesn’t actually allow us to speak to our younger selves.  I pray for her, though.  Again, irrational, I know.  Sometimes I do that, though.  When I read a particularly horrific story of someone who suffered during the holocaust, or during the days of slavery, I pray for them although they’re long dead.  I figure that time means nothing to God, so maaayybe my prayer could make a difference for that person.

That’s probably a childish game.  Maybe even more childish than pretending to be an incognito supermodel.  But I do it anyway.  Because you just never know.

And away we go

My very first blog post!  So full of possibilities, so full of promise, so full of hopes and dreams and potential and…abject terror.  The terror is dulled somewhat by the knowledge that it’s unlikely more than 3 people will ever read this post.  And one of those people will be my boyfriend, who will love me no matter how bad it is.  Ah, the comfort of obscurity.

I’m going to start by posting something I wrote back in 2012.  Yes, I’m a terrible procrastinator.  I thought about starting a blog back then, wrote this down, and then…life got in the way.  But I think it shows a good bit about who I am, so I’ll share it now.  I hope you enjoy it!

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I have recently become aware of several different bucket lists in my life.  I only have a vague idea of what’s on the one you’re thinking of–the things I want to do before I die.

But before I put too much effort into that, I’ve asked my kids to make their own bucket lists…of sorts.  More like things they want to do before they move out of the house.  There are so many things I want them to experience, but I want to make sure I’m focusing my efforts on things they actually WANT to do.  Why knock myself out to give them piano lessons, if one of them would rather learn guitar, for instance?

Of course, I have made additions of my own.  Hearing an orchestra perform Handel’s Messiah is not on either of their lists.  But it is on my list for each of them.  There are beautiful experiences out there that they don’t know they want yet, but that I want to give them.  I like to think that when they’re grown, they will look back at December of 2012 as a magical time, when they were introduced to the wonder and majesty of Handel’s great opus.  I fully realize they might remember it as one of the most boring nights of their lives.  But either way, this is something they need to experience.

That’s the thing about parenting.  There are certain experiences that we know are important for our children to have, whether or not they prove to be enjoyable.

Here’s the last bucket list I’m coming to terms with.  The one God has for me.  He has some things on it that I never would have chosen…

Marry an alcoholic…check.

Divorce said alcoholic and become a single mom…check.

Submit to antidepressants and psychotherapy for a season…check.

Leave the church you grew up in, against your parents’ wishes…check.

and most recently,

Use a toilet auger…check.

This last entry is actually what made me aware of my Father’s list.  As my toilet backed up, and there was nobody around to fix it for me, I realized it was high time I learned how to unclog a toilet.  I like to think of myself as an independent woman, but the truth is, I don’t really like doing the yucky stuff.  I thought about calling my dad.  Or my brother.  Or even my ex.  But a voice inside me said, “You’ve got this.  You have everything you need.”

And you know, while I won’t pretend I enjoyed unclogging the toilet, I really like knowing that I CAN.  He sure knows how to make a bucket list.

Trust God for everything I need…check.

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Since then, God has added something pretty wonderful to my bucket list…meet the love of your life.  Nowadays, if my toilet backed up, Hercules would be right over to fix it.  But again, I like knowing that he doesn’t HAVE to.  I’m glad that God taught me some measure of independence during my single years so that I can be a better person for him.  I can’t wait to see what’s next on the list.