Friday, December 26, 2014

What Cancer Means to Me: A Creative Writing Essay by Judi Murphy

Do you remember elementary school? Those silly creative writing assignments: "What Christmas Means to Me." I don't think I ever wrote that Christmas means long hours and chaos; Christmas means a lack of, or completely ineffective planning, and cramming hundreds of thousands of packages through a building equipped for far fewer. Christmas means short tempers and even shorter periods of sleep. Christmas means managers you haven't seen all year standing over your shoulder anxious to help -- and by "help," I mean tell you how to do a job you've done for over ten years, a job they've never done. Christmas means uncertain arrival times for aircraft, uncertain departure times for tractor trailers, and an endless stream of phone calls regarding said uncertainties. Christmas means upper management popping in to high five their partners, congratulate themselves and exchange gifts, while you remain another nameless peon in a sea of nameless peons. Christmas means warm lunchmeat sandwiches, and cold, crusty refried beans left over from the night shift's Christmas buffet.

As I left work this morning, I couldn't help but feel some sense of accomplishment for making it through my twenty-fifth Christmas ("peak season" as we refer to it) with UPS. I was thrilled to be making my way home to enjoy Christmas Eve with my family. But by the time I got there, the rain had soaked through my shirt, the sinus infection I'd been fighting had KO'd the top of my head down to my throat, and the "other thing," that thing we weren't going to discuss had gripped my heart. I'd been looking forward to Christmas, to the phones at work falling silent, to the glow of candlelight piercing the darkness of the sanctuary of Christmas Eve, to the joy of time spent with family. But with Christmas Eve finally here, it dawned on me that "the holidays" had arrived, and in just a few short days they'd be gone, and dealing with "the thing" would be back.

"The thing" is cancer. The "Big C." The thing I thought I'd been rid of last summer. The thing that showed up in my last round of blood work. "We'll talk about it after the holidays," the oncologist had said. And I'd been OK with that. The holidays seemed so far away. But now...

So, once again, my husband is a nutcase, and I am vacillating between trusting God for good health and facing the reality of bad health. I trust that God is good - no doubts about that -- but, I'd like to know the end of the story. I'm terrible when I'm really invested in a good book. I will turn to the last chapter and not read, but skim, for a name I know, a character I like -- "Did he make it OK? I'm not going to get all wrapped up in this guy if he's not even going to make it 'til the end of the book." It's  no different with life. If I'm going to have to undergo radiation I'm going to live differently than if my next three sets of tests show negative. If I'm going to be sick for a while there are things I wanna do now; if this was just a mistake in labs, I can go on about my business.

When I really start to break this whole thing down, and focus on specifics, I have to ask: What, exactly, would be different if I knew these things? Would I do that whole "live like I'm dying" thing? Skydiving. Rocky Mountain climbing. Or would I just take care of those things that mean something to others: the Last Will & Testament, the final thoughts, the "where to find the buried treasure?" Or is it simply doing all the stuff we've been talking about: switching insurance companies, refinancing -- silly details crossed off my list, so I can concentrate on getting better?

But life is not a book, at least not one in which we can peak ahead. With the same tenacity and persistence I do what I am called to do, what I've been trained to do, with the same patience and calm I refuse to get caught up in the panic and emotion of "peak season" at UPS, I will move forward in life. I will trust that God is good, that He holds the future -- my future in His hands, that He loves me; I will serve Him no matter how blindly, day after day, hour after hour. And will one day feel that sense of accomplishment as He says to me, "Well done, good and faithful servant... Enter into the joy of your Master."

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Never Miss Christmas Again!

My son, my firstborn was born more than twenty-four years ago. In less than a day, my life changed forever. I'd waited more than nine months to meet this little life, growing and changing, reading and learning, but nothing could have prepared me for the love, the almost instantaneous bond, the dependence between us. His first communication, a loud, strong, "crackling" wail gave me goosebumps, and rings in my ears even today. His scent, his tininess, the softness of his fingers, the warmth of his body against mine as he nursed, his coos, his infantile and unsteady movements -- all turned my heart inside out. I had become a "we," and nothing could ever be the same.

Last night, Christmas Eve, I should have been at church celebrating the arrival of A Holy Babe. Instead, I was at home, in pajamas, nursing the cold that has been plaguing all of us for the past three weeks or so. I was disappointed, sure, but mostly I was out of sorts. I don't like staying home from church under any circumstances, but on Christmas Eve... As I looked on Facebook today, at the many pictures and posts of last night's celebrations, I became even more out of sorts. If I can't celebrate it "properly," it's almost as if the holiday has completely passed me by -- like some Scrooge who never woke up from his dream, I have slept through Christmas Day. I suppose, if I were like Scrooge, living alone and choosing to remain cut off from folks, I could stick the tree out for tomorrow's trash, stow away all the lights and bows, pack up any remaining gifts, and vow to give it another go next year. But does Christmas stop being simply because I missed the hoopla, or even if I were to refuse to acknowledge it ever happened? No more than my son has ceased to exist to the people who were not present the day he entered that room.

Jesus, our Savior entered the humblest and neediest of bodies, under the simplest and most insignificant of circumstances, so that He, the God of All Creation might be joined with us, might know deeply and experientially our struggles and joys, might understand our limitations, might bond with our needs and emotions, might prove to us His inexplicable love for us, might be the perfect substitute for us as He fully accomplished something necessary and wonderful for us. Now folks can deny that, can change the story to some grand myth or allegory, can hide under their bedsheets or behind their "civil rights," but denying something has never made it cease to exist; calling something a fairytale doesn't make it Mother Goose; rejecting someone doesn't negate their authority over, or devotion toward you.

My son and I have a bond, through blood and tears, laughter and love, that no one would ever think to deny. Whether you've "missed Christmas" or you've been sitting in that same pew for the last thirty-four years, no one can change the story that changed the world more than two thousand years ago. Love it or hate it, deny it or accept, nothing will ever be the same; it is my prayer this Christmas Day that you will not be either.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014


Over the last few years, friends of mine and I have sat around -- as old folks tend to do -- meditating and pontificating on the current condition of society, and projecting and prophesying about what is to come. Some of those friends, like me, have found themselves frustrated and fearful at the reluctance of "today's youth" to learn from mistakes -- ours as well as theirs, to heed wise instruction, and to turn from their impulsions and compulsions in order to create for themselves a better life, and create for those around and after them a better world. One word has appeared over and over in our discussions: entitled. "Why does this generation think they are so entitled?" And we shake our heads and crinkle our brows at the arrogance of these children, our children, our future. "They weren't raised that way."

In studying the story of The Advent this year, I was struck by the humility of this very young couple, Joseph and Mary as they arrived in Bethlehem after a long and arduous journey, and searched for a place in which to simply rest, at a time when they were awaiting more anxiously than anyone, the birth of the long-anticipated Messiah, the King of all kings, their very Savior, a baby.

This year our family welcomed two babes -- a granddaughter in July, and a grandson in November; both mothers and newborns received the most skilled and sanitary care available. While we are all aware babies are born everyday in some of the most rustic and difficult situations, the thought of a child being delivered in a manure-infused stable amidst farm animals, with a few old blankets or hastily shredded cloths upon which to lay either mother or babe, and only the light of a few reeds or clay jars to guide the way -- well, let's just say, knowing what my truck looks and smells like after one thirty-minute trip to the vet with two dogs, and in today's super-sanitized, bleachy wiped, brighter is better world, I can't quite get my head around it. Who wouldn't expect better conditions from the God of the Universe for the arrival of His Son into the world? When the inn keeper said there were no clean, comfortable sheets on which to lay this child God had entrusted to them, did these young parents say, "Oh, no, we have to keep looking then. Surely God would not want His Son delivered amidst bovine snot rockets and sheep urine." Why didn't Joseph demand better for his dear Mary and the child that had caused him so much distress, and at the same time, so much joy? Did Mary, possibly in the midst of contractions snarl, "Do you not know who I am -- who this is?"

And hours later, after Jesus had nursed and fallen asleep in Mary's arms, when "honored" guests arrived to see their Redeemer. Shepherds. They may very well have smelled worse than Joseph and Mary's animal companions! And so much noise and commotion. "I just got him to sleep!" From what we're told, Mary seems to be the quiet, reflective type, not some attention-seeking drama queen. A "house" full of guests -- complete strangers -- shortly after such an emotional and intimate event was probably not what she envisioned or maybe even desired. Did Mary close her eyes and whisper, "Really, Lord?"

And weeks later, upon entering the temple with the minimal sacrifice for Mary's purification -- the minimal sacrifice -- didn't Joseph question why God would allow His Only Begotten Son to grow up in abject poverty? Had Joseph missed something? Was there something he, as Jesus step-father should be doing? "Father, why would you give this child to me? And why would we, earthly guardians of the Most High King, continue to live as the poorest of the poor?" Did Joseph shake his fist and cry out to God, "I am so tired of living hand to mouth; I would have at least thought You'd want better for Your Son!"?

Entitlement. From what the Scriptures tell us, entitlement was not what these young newlyweds felt. They were honored. They were humbled. They pondered, and learned, and grew in their own walk with The Savior. They were servants and instruments. They obeyed and sought to serve their Lord of lords in all they did, and spoke, and thought. You'd think if anyone deserved to feel entitled, it would have been these two. Selected, called, tested, persecuted, grieved, over and over again.

Feelings of entitlement seem to be part and parcel of the human condition. If you've ever been disappointed with your raise, if you've ever purchased something you couldn't afford, or if you've ever been annoyed by the success of others, chances are you have felt in some way entitled. Entitlement is not just a condition of youth -- today's youth or otherwise. Entitlement does not just infect those who take advantage of others or pride themselves on being better than the rest in some way. Entitlement has spent a little time with each one of us. The question is I suppose, this Advent will you allow the humility that is found on your knees, alongside a feeding trough, gazing at a helpless but Holy Babe to replace that entitlement? He is Lord over you, He is Lord over all -- will you live in that way?

Sunday, December 14, 2014

A Season of Grace

'Tis the season. What season is that, exactly? To gather with family? To exchange perfect gifts and warm sentiments? To feel nostalgic? To deck the halls (whatever that means) and sing songs we only care to sing when the hot cocoa is flowing and Jack Frost is nipping? To put ourselves in debt keeping up with our snooty sister-in-law's holiday spread last year? To lapse into depression and an alcohol-induced coma until it's all over? To dust off the shiny shoes and head to church for the first time since Easter?

This week I've been thinking about the beginning. That first "Christmas." Which, when you read the story, wasn't really Christ-mass at all. No incense. No uncomfortable wooden pews. No shiny shoes. The Portuguese call Christmas "Natal" -- much more accurate, I think. Anyhoo, I was thinking about Mary, specifically. No disrespect intended, but I was thinking about who I was at the age of fourteen or fifteen. I know culturally and chronologically there are vast differences in Mary and I, but even as a woman in my forties, I can't imagine being "worthy" of such an honor. I know Catholic tradition teaches Mary was without sin but Scripture doesn't teach that, so you are free to move on if you don't like where I'm going with this. But, when we look at the Nativity, when we bask in the glow of this radiant mother and Child, when the corners of our mouths begin to curl up at the serene yet contemplative smile on the lips of the tiny virgin, do we ever think about Mary teasing her sister with the big nose and bad teeth, or tearing off the sweater her mother made her wear, as soon as she rounds the corner? Truth is, God is not a works-based God. He doesn't love us because of anything we have done. He doesn't count us worthy because of our good intentions, or mature countenance, or charitable nature. And here it is: Mary was no more worthy to be named "Mother of the Messiah" than you or I. Just let that roll around in your head for a minute. I am scared to think how this story would have turned out were an angel to have appeared to me twenty years ago much less, when I was in my teens!

We are told in the Scriptures what went through Mary's mind. Initially she was disturbed by an angel telling her she was favored. She knew the lies she had told and the things she had coveted. She knew she was not worthy. Can you imagine? "There must be a terrible mistake! This angel obviously has the wrong address. If I let him think it's me...well, I just can't let this charade go on!" After the angelic announcement, it is recorded that Mary merely questioned the logistics of it all: "You do know I'm a virgin, right? I'm going to be married in a few months; I've stayed pure almost to the chuppah, and now you tell me this? You're not asking me to do anything I shouldn't, right?" We're not told that Mary adopted anything but a heart of submission and obedience, and I'm sure the Holy Spirit had a lot to do with that as well, but this young woman was specially selected to be the Mother of the King of Kings -- personally, I can't believe she didn't wrestle with the whole concept. There were so many things to consider, and those are the things upon which I have been meditating.

  • Why me? and are You sure?
  • This is not what I had in mind. This could change my whole life.
  • What will people say? This could ruin my whole life.
  • I am so not ready for this.
  • I am so alone.
  • What if I fail?
Did days pass when she felt nothing, heard nothing? Did she ever think she was mistaken? And when it came time to make the journey to Bethlehem -- an arduous, dangerous journey, thirty-nine weeks or so into this very young woman's first pregnancy -- where they would find no place but a feeding trough to even lay the Newborn King, did guilt or doubt slither in beside to rob her of what God had bestowed on her?

Whatever God has spoken to you, whether He has called you serve Him in full-time ministry or simply to visit that church down the street, whether you feel led to give all you have or just want to break the chains of abuse that have bound you most of your life, whether something is causing you to question the lifestyle and relationships you have fought to keep for so many years or you have walked closely with Jesus for as long as you can remember, God calls us because of His grace. And sometimes He calls His children to what can appear to be complete insanity -- a virgin birth, a sixty-mile camping trip in your ninth month of pregnancy, a King wrapped in rags.

In this season, this season of warmth in spite of cold, this season of light springing from darkness, this season of glory wrapped in the humblest of circumstances, reflect on the grace given each of us by the Almighty God of the Universe, who claims us not because of who we are, but because of Who He is and what the tiny Babe was born to do.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

I Wish I Knew

Anyone who has ever loved someone knows just how important it can be to please that someone. Obedience is thrust upon us as little children, and takes root in our behavior because of the fear of unpleasant consequences. In my childhood those unpleasant consequences regularly included "the belt." Call me a very slow learner. But as I matured, I learned that obedience was a great way to please someone you really like. Watch little hands shoot to the sky as any Kindergarten teacher scouts for volunteers. Granted, some children, or some part of each child enjoys the enormous prestige associated with being Line Leader or stowing storytime tuffets back in their cubbies, but children that age generally desire to please authority, even authority that doesn't seem to particularly like them. While disobedience brings an unwanted yield, they learn that obedience and acts of kindness result in smiles, praise and a much more pleasant harvest.

As I grow in my faith, I become more eager to please God. There again, a portion of my desire stems from wanting things to go smoothly. If I obey the commandment "Do not kill," for instance, I avoid regret, jail time, and having to clean DNA out of the wood chipper -- just kidding. But, when I pray for God's will in my life, I greatly want to seek it, to know it, to follow it, out of obedience to Him. I want to show Christ to others -- in my kind words, my generous giving, my patience and love for them. I want to show grace to others, and demonstrate that the things which matter most to me are not the things of this life -- temporal, fleeting, mortal -- but the things of heaven.

All that being said, come with me to the mailbox, where today, December 13, 2014, I find a bill. A bill for insurance. Insurance that has gone up by fifty dollars a month! And sit with me while I do a bit of filing. Water bill. Sewer bill. Medical bill. Pay stubs from a job that raises the cost of my benefits annually -- an amount that exceeds my raise each year! Top execs will, no doubt, give themselves another nineteen percent increase. Attaboys all around! Would you like to ride with me in my fourteen year old vehicle? Almost 200,000 miles on her. Feel the engine race as it prepares to accelerate but my transmission does not. It's taken me three transmissions so far, to get that unique lack of shifting capability. The only question left unanswered is whether I will actually be able to get my credit card paid down enough so I have room to put yet another costly repair on it, or I will be calling AAA to pick up my truck and my trans for scrap first. "Account Balance: $12."

Do you feel the panic setting in? I do. "Shut out the lights!" "Stop wasting milk!" "Maybe I could get another part-time job." "If I stop eating altogether..." "What's the going rate for a pint of blood these days?" Hardly sounds like the same person who had her heart set on obedience just a bit ago.
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own." ~Matthew 6:25-34
I don't have an answer. I wish I did. The stress I feel when it comes to paying our bills sometimes overwhelms me. I would love to be debt-free. I would love to look at the balance in our checking account and know that -- at least -- our bills would be covered this month. Some say I can. That God is faithful. He will provide the money to pay our bills and put food on our table. Some say He might not, but He will be with me wherever He calls me. And I say I'd have to listen to a lot of complaining in the meantime. Irony is, the one who does the most complaining is the one costing me the most! This spoiled housemate of mine. Blame always follows panic.

So, how do I trust? How do I lose the panic -- and the obnoxious whiny voice that screams out "What are you doing?! You had that on for fifteen minutes! You can wear it again!!"? How do I stop blaming others and start focusing on my responsibilities? When I find out, I will let you know. Meantime, I'll just be walking with Jesus and holding His hand.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Grace Is the Final Word

Once upon a time, there were two women -- sisters -- and they lived together. Word got around that a very famous man -- a superstar -- was coming to visit them, and he was bringing his entire entourage. Their house was nice enough, and cozy, but would it be nice enough for such a highly regarded public figure? And their furniture was almost brand new, but would it fit his sense of style or meet the standards of comfort to which he was accustomed? And food! What on earth would they do about food? They'd definitely have to go grocery shopping. The one sister -- we'll call her Martha -- took charge. After all, that's the kind of person she was -- a doer. She handled the planning, the procuring, the cleaning, the cooking, the decorating. In short, she did it all. While Mary, the other sister, sat around absorbing the moments of anticipation -- or some kind of silliness like that. Mary was all about living in the moment. (Who really "gets" those type of people? How can you live in the moment when things haven't been made ready, flawless?)

The day arrived, and so did their guest. By this time Martha had just about had it with her lazy, crazy sister.

"Mister," Martha said to their famous guest, "look at all this work! Look how I'm sweating! My nails are chipped from all this cooking and pot washing; I haven't even had a moment to change into something decent after all this cleaning. She'll listen to you -- tell Mary to get off her duff and help me out!"

Their prestigious guest replied, "Martha, it's OK. I didn't ask for all of this. You've gotten yourself all uptight over trivial things, but Mary's heart is really where it's at. I'm not going to take her peace or her grace from her. In fact, you oughta try it some time."
Every time I read this account in Luke 10:38-42, I get a little miffed. You see, for years I have been a Martha. I watched my mother scrub baseboards and iron white cotton curtains like a madwoman in the days leading up to the holiday season. When I got my own place, I was proud of my things and my ideas for decorating; I wanted everything to stay just as it was -- on display, like some kind of museum of good taste and refinement.

Well, there are so many things wrong with all of that. First, the obvious: Greed. "Don't touch my stuff. Don't flatten my cushions. Don't handle anything you might break." And with that comes Pride. "It's all mine. I did this." Thirdly, there's the silliness of missing the point. We are supposed to enjoy our guests, enjoy the time spent with friends and family -- not spend it popping up and down like some kind of neurotic prairie dog, hurrying and scurrying to make things just right. It's time spent with those we love that lasts, not impeccable decorating or spotless tableware. Fourth is delusion. It will never be flawless. Why waste whatever time you have with those you've invited, pursuing futility? Fifth is fear. The fear of others judging you. "Did you see her TV? It's not even a flat screen! And one of her dining room chairs had a big scratch on it!" Who gives a rip?! Anyone who judges your stuff should be more than happy to add you to their Christmas list.

But the sixth problem with Martha's (and my) attitude is the ignorance of grace. And folks, the Lord just brought this to me today -- this passage in Luke is about grace. Martha was doing all of these things to make herself and her home ready. She was working to appear acceptable and worthy of the company of such an esteemed guest -- a King, the King, Jesus! She wanted to impress Jesus with her ____ -- well, you fill in the blank. Things? Works? Abilities? For years I believed being a Christian was about getting it together, being righteous, living an exemplary life, smiling through the pain, denying myself through gritted teeth. And then I'd snap. I'd be some ranting, crazy shrew who was sick and tired of doing everything herself, who couldn't take another minute of the ignorant swine and indolent freeloaders around her. "How can I ever be the kind of Christian I'm supposed to be when I'm surrounded by people like this?! Lord, do something!"

The truth is, for Martha and all the Martha's like me, He already has. Mary chose to rest in the knowledge that no amount of toil could prepare their home or her heart enough for a King. That she must step aside and let God's grace make things right. That getting ready for the King to stay with you means nothing more than opening the door and listening to Him, looking toward Him, staying near Him. Our work, our scrubbing, our straightening out, our redecorating will never hide the true shortcomings from a God who formed us and knows the innermost parts of us; it will never be enough to fully make the homes of our hearts good enough for Royalty. We must come to Jesus exactly as we are, sit down and accept His grace. It is finished.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Could You Use a Bit of Good News?

Back in the days of homeschooling, I gave my daughter Christine (now an Army-chick, Army wife, and mother) a writing assignment: write the news as if it were really news. This was not some commentary on the lack of intelligent newscasts that flood todays networks -- "In tonight's special report we go behind the scenes at the local McDonald's to see if customers really are 'lovin' it,'" OR "An out of control car careens into a corner full of school children killing nine, a masked vigilante holds a pedophile hostage in a local synagogue for six hours, but in tonight's BIG STORY, rain hits our region again." What I had in mind for this little project was for her to see our world as it really is -- broken, dying, corrupt -- and to recognize this is not news. What is really news is that even on such a planet, among a sinful and selfish bunch of people, the goodness, kindness, peace and love of God exist. Who doesn't look at the News from time to time, and wonder just how bad its going to get? Who doesn't marvel at the depths of depravity to which we have sunk? This is not news. We have removed God from every facet of public life in this gross misinterpretation of church and state. It is much more appealing to crush candy on Facebook or press the "On Demand" button, than to pray and do family devotions. In a society where workaholics and up-and-comers are lauded and genetic lottery winners are promulgated as the status quo, why is it Breaking News that a "quiet, gentle man" snapped and mowed down coworkers in a hail of bullets, or a "wonderful wife and mother" drowned her two small children in a bathtub so she could be free to run off with her crack-dealer? Please don't think I am dismissing any personal responsibility or mitigating the severity of these crimes, but I ask, given our efforts to police ourselves, to remove any obligation to a Higher Authority, to render subjective things like standards and truth, why is this "News?" What, exactly, did we expect?

So, I have decided to complete my own writing assignment. I give to you, Murphyville's Local News at Noon:

Good afternoon, and welcome to the noon edition of Murphyville News. Our top story today is the story of Althea, whose husband has an undiagnosed nerve condition which causes excruciating pain and burning in his legs. Her husband, Larry also suffers from seizures and mini-strokes brought on by a brain aneurism. Althea is trusting God to provide for her and her family, and to heal Larry from his medical conditions. She does get a little down from time to time, but her own story of God's healing and faithfulness is proof to her that God loves her and Larry very much. She clings to the life and the hope she now has in God after He brought her from a life-threatening accident and addiction to a relationship with Him.

A Murphyville man is also crediting God with bringing him out from a life of addiction. It has been three years since Darryl has touched a drop of alcohol, and six months since he has misused pharmaceuticals. He says the Lord gives him strength for the fight everyday. He also believes God was present during the times he was tempted to give in to his addictions, such as when he lost his job. "It was difficult on the entire family, but a group from church took up a collection of food items to stock our pantry, and met with my wife each week to pray for us and shower her with encouragement," he says. Darryl's fellow brothers and sisters in Christ became a visible symbol of the love of God, and ministered to his family in their hours of need. 

In other news, the serial rapist that once threatened the neighboring town of Mount Inez has been apprehended. Police say it was the work of conscientious citizens and prayer warriors that put a stop to this man's reign of terror and his heinous attacks. They believe that without the intervention of Almighty God, this list of this rapist's victims could have grown at an astounding rate. Victims are encouraged to seek treatment at a local counselor. The rapist will be spending his time in incarceration undergoing therapy for his issues and seeking to rid his life of sinful compulsions through Bible study and prayer. One local church has begun praying for each of his victims; another is praying for the rebirth of the rapist himself. 

From our Community Page: The tensions between black and white neighborhoods have ceased after a local rally for Murphyville youth. The theme for the three day event was "Created In God's Image," and focused on the differences and the value of differences between ethnic groups. It also celebrated mankind as a single, united race -- the human race. "The fear and ignorance that sparks the fire of racial tensions is not from God," one youth explained. God created us all in His image; we all have immeasurable value. It's our differences that equip us for His work and make our world beautiful. We should never despise those differences."

And so forth and so on. Look, I know it's a little hokey, but let's face it, bad news sells. We all have this intrinsic desire to see the worst, a curiosity about those things we might not go so far as to do ourselves, to shake our heads and feel better about ourselves because "we're not a s bad as that guy." But none of this is news. Adam stood by and watched while Eve was lured into the serpent's deception. Cain killed Abel. People sought to exalt themselves to godlike power. Sin has been going on almost since the Earth's inaugural revolutions. What is really news -- good news -- is that, thanks to a God who loves us beyond measure, we can work with our hands and feet in this world and our hearts and minds in the next.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

How Can Jesus Be the Answer When My Life Is Such a Trainwreck?

I've started this post a hundred different times in a hundred different ways. It begins with the joy of holding my granddaughters and the anticipation of holding a grandson. It begins with the longing for a child to return to their roots in the church, and longings for a child who has never known the love of a church family to begin growing some roots of her own. It starts with the grief and finality of losing a father to whom I could never be reconciled, and the confusion and pain of losing a mother right before my eyes. It begins with weight issues and relationship issues, successes and failures; addictions and recoveries, good deeds and relapses. In short, this is a story of many, but it is the story that I know. It is my life story.

This Thanksgiving, our pastor had asked for folks to share a testimony, the thing for which they were most thankful. In the past I would have sought "the right answer." You know, the answer that would make the pastor swell with pride, knowing his sermons were not in vain. Jesus. But this time I earnestly looked for the answer that was true, and by God's grace it was "the right answer." And the authenticity of that answer -- for me, anyway -- begins and ends with my life story. God has proven to me, time and time again, that He is real, He is faithful, He is love, and He is the answer. Yes, I know it sounds trite. Yes, I know it sounds like I am the greatest suck-up to ever sit in the third row, right-hand side of Resurrection Life Church. And yes, I know too that there are no words adequate enough to describe the importance and the value of Jesus in my life.

As I prepared my testimony, the one thing that kept coming back to me was this:
"I believe in [Christ] as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see [Him], but because by [Him] I see everything else." ~~ C.S. Lewis, Is Theology Poetry? (1945)
When I think of what my relationship with Jesus means to me, Lewis captured my thoughts perfectly. And isn't this true of most relationships and experiences? Why do people remember where they were when John F. Kennedy was assassinated, or the Towers collapsed? Why do soldiers return from combat as entirely different people? Why does the lovesick teenager drop two grade points from one semester to the next? Why do some victims of domestic abuse turn to abuses of their own -- alcohol or drugs? Our relationships and our experiences can color how we prioritize things, or how we view the people around us. If we allow the relationships of this life to control who we are or what we do, no doubt we will vacillate from good to bad and from stable to manic. If we allow our experiences to determine the actions we take in future situations, we might well be apprehensive when we should be bold, or we might rush ahead in overconfidence when we should proceed with caution.

Malachi 3:6 says, "I, the LORD, do not change." Hebrews 13:8 says, "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever." When I view life from the perspective of one who has put her trust in Jesus and has committed to handing over each and every situation to Him, I can rest knowing that He will manage the issue, not my fear, or ignorance, or impetuosity.

Who would plan a vacation around the carry-on they were permitted to take on the flight? "Hm, I can only take this small tote, so I guess I'll only be staying one night." Yet, we fashion entire lives around the baggage we choose to carry, trying to avoid being unprepared, or inconvenienced, or uncomfortable. Would a mother and father beg the obstetrician to deliver their bouncing bundle of joy months before she was due? Yet, we rush through our lives trying to get from one celebration to the next, trying to perpetually relive the joy of Christmas in the long, cold winters of our lives. We want painless. We want sunny and seventy-five. We want microwaveable and one-step. But what kind of a life would that be? Is it even living at all?

Jesus never promises us a carefree story, but He does promise to be there every step of the way, holding us, carrying us, dragging us if He must. He does promise to sustain and bless us (Isaiah 41:10). He does promise to change our hearts and make us complete (2 Corinthians 5:21). He does promise us a new life in Him (2 Corinthians 5:17) -- one that is not beholden to circumstances and experiences. He does promise us a peace that passes all understanding (Philippians 4:7) -- even when this life delivers its worst. He is our refuge and fortress when our knees are buckled under the weight of tragedy (Psalm 46:1). He is good (Psalm 136:1), He is perfect (Psalm 18:30), and He is completely, madly in love with each one of us (Romans 5:8).

Not only are we unable to do all these things for ourselves simultaneously, perfectly, thoroughly, but we certainly can't stop the bad things from camping out on our doorstep every once in a while. God can, and sometimes He does. But if we do all we can to circumvent the bad parts of the story, we have no story to tell. Best to ride out the storms with the One who is my friend and "right answer" -- Jesus.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Thanksgiving Day 2014

It was nearing sunset as we drove through one tiny borough after another, on our way "home." Thanksgiving Day, and for the second year in a row my truck was stacked to the headliner with baby gear and clothing. But that's about where the similarities end.

I'd begun bracing for impact shortly before Halloween last year; I could see the situation deteriorating. For over a month I had denied, prayed, hoped, fixed -- by Thanksgiving it was done. All our son had worked for throughout the final days of summer was gone, and the grief was almost too much to bear. Those early days documented on social media -- the pride he took in his new truck, his goofy "driving hat," the ribbings he would give to "Murph" for being a Ford man. And those last days etched in my mind -- his inability to even hold a cigarette, the homelessness and turmoil he seemed to embrace. The future seemed to be cemented in hopelessness and yet, wildly uncertain. I had no plan, no solution, and certainly no vision for what was to come, but I was doing what I'd done time after time -- trying to restore order to the chaos that flooded the lives of people who love him. Even trying to gather back some of the pieces that had scattered upon impact as if, once the dust settled, he could use them to rebuild somehow. Sometimes I think it's that working to repair that helps us cope and sets us on the road to believing things will one day be livable again -- that, and lots of tears, and lots of prayers. And hope. I always have hope; I know I belong to the God of Hope. But what about my son? Where is my hope for him? Where does he find hope for himself?

Fast forward to Thanksgiving Day 2014. Our son is waiting at home for his fiancĂ© and I to return with her things. He is beginning a new life, and seems to understand that some days are just blocks on the calendar -- work, sleep, do it again tomorrow; that the rush that comes with buying a new car, or having a baby, or starting a new job, happens only every now and again. That most days we must simply "be." But those are the days upon which a life is built, bridges to those monumental days. Days that test our meddle, that make us who we are, and point us in the right direction toward milestone days. And if we fail to establish who we are on all of those typical calendar days, like an addict, we will crave and do just about anything to experience the freedom and euphoria of wilder days, days of celebration and butterflies in our stomachs, simply to mask where we fall short on those nine-to-five days. If we fail to find happiness and hope as we run the gauntlet of day-after-days, we become nothing more than quasars, burning ourselves out as we run at full tilt for the duration of our short lives.

Even as I celebrate the remarkable contrasts between our life last year and our life today, I'm still not sure from what well our son draws his hope. But I do know where I draw mine, and I do know that it is the God of Hope that painted the sunset we drove toward on this Thanksgiving Day.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

God Can; God Does; God Will. God's Time.

My parents had not been in town a week before my father had us sitting in a pew at the church where I grew up. When family vacation straddled a Sunday morning, we were guests in whatever Methodist church opened its doors. Church has always been a part of my life even when I wasn't a part of it. The guilt that would grip me from time to time on a Sunday morning, the pull I would feel to return to what I knew was home, the longing I had to be wrapped in it's familiar embrace -- especially when I was going through some mess I'd created... Church has been my second home longer than any other place. I've been to churches that fit, and churches that didn't. I've been greeted warmly, and completely ignored. I've sat, stood, and kneeled. I've shared a cup, dipped into a cup, and sipped from plastic cups, their crackles echoing for hours after they've been introduced to the tile floor of a sanctuary during prayer. I've worshipped in a myriad of ways, and heard countless sermons -- some good, some bad, some which immediately stirred the spirit, and some which simmered for a period of time. One of the "simmerers" bubbled up again this week...

Abraham of the Bible. He was promised by God, that at one hundred years of age, he would have a son. Someone recently pointed out this was not an immaculate conception; Abraham believed, and "got busy," he said. Not exactly a pretty picture, but definitely a poignant one. Abraham was so convinced that God could -- God would -- he lit the candles, put on the Lyre for Lovers CD, dumped the lamb from Tamar's Takeout onto the good plates, and made a little romance with giggling Sarah.

That Sunday, the pastor asked for a show of hands:

"Who believes God can heal and prosper them?"

Almost every hand went up. Then:

"Who believes God will heal and prosper them?"

A pitiful showing. And this was in church! I would think there was a Christian or two present. This pastor then spent the next twenty minutes or so demonstrating what a faithless lot Christians can be, and how we needed to move toward changing the way we thought about God's love and provision for us. Claim God's promises. Not a bad thing, right? Well, I walked out of that service questioning my faith -- deeply. Why were we always struggling to make end meet? Why was I divorced? Why were some of my relationships strained to the point of breaking? I must be doing something wrong, right? I need to get me some faith! Wrong. If faith healed everyone, not a Christian would be in Glory. We'd all be here, rich, healthy, smiling, getting along with each other fabulously.

This week I read this statement:
"God wants us to focus our faith in His ability, not necessarily His willingness, to fulfill our prayer requests."
There might be some truth to that, but I think we're still missing the point. The Bible is a collective, a tapestry woven throughout the history recorded in its pages, a letter -- God's letter to each of us -- not a reference manual. You can't take a story or verse and say, "Ok, this is it, the key to what God wants me to know about..." I heard a woman quote James 4:2 last week ("Ye have not because ye ask not.") in reference to opening up another cashier to handle the long line at Aldi! There's no magic formula. You can't just quote a verse and expect to have a thorough understanding of how God works. Relationship with God is just that -- relationship, and good relationships are never one-dimensional.

Almighty God is the Creator of all life; He has the power to do as He pleases. God can. But God is no holy vending machine. Some who were sick have been made completely whole. Praise God, He does that. But God is also looking at a universe-sized picture, and that includes a body of folks who've endured some stuff for the sake of God's plan -- and some who will continue to endure it until the day they meet God face to face. The Bible is full of promises that we can believe are true because God is not a liar. God will. But it's all in His time. He has a plan -- a good plan, a perfect plan.

So does the diabetic thank God for healing him -- one day? Does the homeless young mother of three thank God for the eventual food they will eat at their eventual table in their eventual home? Certainly. Almighty God is a God who calls things that are not as though they are (Romans 4:17). Why would He do that if they were not meant to be? I'm not talking about God getting you that job as BeyoncĂ©'s personal assistant or dropping that new F-250 off at your front door. But providing food, or a way to get to work, or healing for you and your family? God will -- on this side of Heaven or the next. In the meantime, thank God for it now. 

Abraham was ninety-nine when he stepped out in faith. Besides, there's nothing wrong with a little goat cheese by candlelight.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The Way of Peace They Have Not Known

My husband is a Jersey Boy. Wait, wait, wait -- don't go! Please don't hold that against him. He grew up surrounded by farmland, and running the dirt roads of South Jersey. He's got a hick side to him, despite the fact we have to remove our shoes in the house and we have a "parlor" -- you know, one of those rooms everyone passes through, but no one is allowed to sit in unless you're entertaining "company." (And the way I was raised, if I've known you more than 15 minutes, you're no longer "company." Good luck ever seeing that parlor.) Scott's response upon his first visit to my home was, "I thought you had a real house." I wasn't offended; in spite of my tenure here in the 'hood, through my veins run rich dark soil, the aroma of horse manure, and endless acres of Indian grass. I knew he meant a house you could run circles 'round. I knew he meant a house that didn't come complete with the sounds of your neighbor in the shower -- or worse. I knew he meant a house with a lot less vertical, a lot less alleyway, and a lot more more.

But, he loves me. And with five children between us, his condo -- yeah, Jersey Boy had a condo -- his condo just wasn't going to cut it; he moved with me to the 'hood. That first year or so was constant chaos. Drama with exes. Adjustments with children. Culture shock. Learning. Countless trips to Goodwill as we combined years of junk from two households. Schedules. Planning, re-planning, and scrapping entire ideas. Remodeling the house and our lives. Least of all, but probably the most common, were Scott's phone calls: "Traffic is backed up; how can I get around it?" or "I'm in the parking lot of X, but I want to get to Y. What's the best way?" He relied on me to show him a new way when he only knew the one he'd been taking all along.

In my devotions, I have begun studying Romans -- currently, chapter 3. Today I came to verses 16 and 17: "Destruction and misery are in their ways; And the way of peace they have not known.”

It wasn't long ago that I was living in the ways of destruction and misery. Granted, I was doing much better than years ago. I wasn't botching everything I touched; I was no longer in self-destruct mode. I was handling things pretty well. Sometimes it only required a little white lie to get what I wanted. Sometimes I only felt a little restless and unsure of how it would all turn out. I only reacted in anger when the situation really warranted it; and I was keeping my sarcasm (mostly) to myself. I have to admit, I was pretty content running that road each and every day.

THEN -- and that's the thing about God: there's always a "then." Someone once said, "God loves us enough to meet us right where we are, but cares too much to leave us there." I've never known that not to be true.

Then, He called me to something more. Forgive me, but I need to be discreet about this; there are others involved in these situations, and I don't wish to seem as though I'm telling tales out of school or regretting where this is all leading. (Truthfully, anything that makes me a better person or draws me closer to God is in no way regrettable to me.) Anyway, let's just say, I was asked to fully embrace someone who had burnt me on numerous occasions. I was also asked to do a favor for someone I thought I could trust, but turned out to be not so trustworthy. I was also called upon to richly bless someone I was pretty certain was not going to return the blessing, or even genuinely appreciate it. (Think God was at work here? Yup.)

Now, if I'd been doing this in my own strength, I would have taken the way I knew to go. Maybe drawn up some sort of ironclad agreement. Maybe prayed for God to show me how to protect myself in all of this. Maybe grabbed up a few witnesses. Maybe not "richly blessed" this family, but given a little more prudently. Maybe simply refused. Nothing wrong with me taking any of those roads, right?

Well, there is when GPS (God's Providence & Strength) is telling me, "Go this way."

"But I don't know that way. I've never been there before."

"Trust Me." God says, "It is the way of peace."

And so it is.

I could have chosen the way I'd always gone, but nothing guarantees I would have gotten back what I put into it; even the best contracts or a dozen witnesses couldn't guarantee I wouldn't get burnt. Relationships would have been destroyed; someone would have been miserable. "Destruction and misery are in their ways; And the way of peace they have not known.”

As I mentioned, these situations have not exactly turned out in a way most accountants or attorneys would favor. But my Heavenly Accountant -- the One who will hold us all to account -- has not only led me down a road I've never known, He has deposited into my account a peace that cannot be bought with any amount of earthly currency. If God is calling you to more, I urge you to go; travel that road. It is the way of peace.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

God Is Sovereign, and God Is Good

Heavenly Father, Holy God --

You are so good.
As my heart is heavy with sadness and disappointment,
You are good.

As I struggle with loss and unanswered questions,
You are good.

As I chart unknown territories in my life,
encountering those who would seek to harm, or at least, see me fail,
You are there, and You are good.

As, in sorrow, I retrace steps taken in happier days,
You are there, and You are good.

When darkness falls over the sunshine of my days,
You are good.

When light shines brightly in the depths of my soul,
and joy's smallest ember ignites a raging fire,
It is You, O God,
And You are good!

Copyright Judi Murphy, 2014. All rights reserved.

Monday, September 1, 2014

A Season of Leaving

I love to read. When I was a kid, I could devour a Nancy Drew mystery like El Wingador devours -- well, that might be a bad example. Anyway, Nancy and her friends were always visiting Aunt So-And-So in England, or expecting one of Ned's old friends from summer camp circa 1946; if they weren't picking someone up from the train station, they were packing their steamer trunks for a week at sea. As I curled up in the corner of my parents' living room, tucked unobtrusively between the Christmas tree and the heating vent, I'd leave the big brick row house with the threadbare carpet, forget the painted steel doors of the public school to which I'd return after the holiday break, trade in my faded dungarees with the iron-on patches at the knee, and I'd go with my friend, Nancy, to lots of wonderful places all over the world. Sometimes, we'd just stay in River Heights, making preparations with Hannah and Bess -- planning meals, scheduling tours and the arrivals of our visiting out of town guests. The irony is, at my own home -- the one Nancy had delivered me from -- some of these same preparations were being made; Christmas was always "at our house," but no one ever came from any further away than ten miles or so. In my world, calling long distance was not only unnecessary, but if carried out -- even accidentally, was a capital offense.

I no longer wonder what it would be like to find myself submerged in the task of making sure the guest room is clean, or "snacky foods" are well stocked. I know what it's like to rush from errand to errand, somehow feeling that the success of the visit hinges on whether I've mailed the broken tool bit out to Bad Dog Tools for a replacement, or dropped the old pictures I found upon cleaning said guest room, off to my cousin for her to peruse and pass on. I know how it is to anxiously mark away the days on the calendar, crazy with the anticipation of seeing your child for the first time in months, while simultaneously wishing you had just a few more hours to wash the trucks, bathe the dogs, make some of those pastries she loves so much, and repaint the porch rail you just noticed has been peeling where the lowest branch of the dogwood has been rubbing. ("Maybe I have just a few minutes to trim that.") I know what it's like to leave work an hour early just to be home with them -- not because they're even awake yet, but simply because you want to be wherever they are, at least until they have to return to wherever they were.

And that, too, is what I've learned. That the flipside of arriving is departing. That for all the days, even weeks of "arriving," departing happens in the blink of an eye. There are no preparations to be made, no scheduling or anticipating, no errands to run, rooms to clean, or meals to plan. They pack, you watch, and before you know, they are the voice at the other end of the phone, or the winky face on a silly text message. In the time it takes to open and shut a door, your house goes from brimming with a fullness and excitement that could very well resemble utter chaos, to a silent stillness that could impose ennui on a dust bunny -- a very small, very quiet dust bunny. All the time that once lay before you, is now behind; "yet to come" is now "has been;" our hearts are full, and the empty nest is empty once again.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Happy 84th, Ma!

Thursday I took my mother out to celebrate her eighty-fourth birthday. This is the part where you say, "Eighty-four? I hope I live to be eighty-four!" or "Eighty-four? God bless her." But eighty-four is the new sixty-four, right? She should still be playing golf or running half-marathons at eighty-four. She's not. In fact, it's been much harder than I thought, watching my mother age.

Before I left work that morning, I joked with co-workers that I would knock on her door and say, "Good morning, Mom! Wanna go to breakfast; it's your birthday!" And she would say, "It is?! Oh, ok." She'd grab her keys, and off we'd go. I said I could do the same thing the next morning, and it would garner the same response. I was making a joke from something I really don't find funny. I've tried to take this in stride, and sometimes I do, but this is my mom. Beside silly, insignificant things like names and dates, my mom forgets years of her life, and sometimes lives in one other than the one the rest of us are living in.

Sometimes I take Mom to the store just to look around; an effort to stimulate a dimming mind, I guess. We look at sheets and towels, dishes and picture frames. We spend more than an hour just looking at stuff I'd normally race by in my haste to pick up what I need and hit the registers. But the thing she's really interested in, the thing that hangs her up in every store? The stuffed animals. "Oh, I love him!" she cries. And on to the next one. "Oh, I love him!" I have watched my grown mother coo and fawn over every stuffed animal in store after store, while I nervously glance around to see who is watching me. If I catch someone witnessing the display, I blush -- I know I do; I can feel it -- and I gently try to lead my mother on to something else. And I feel ashamed for doing it -- I really do! Why should I care what people think about my mom? What is wrong with someone whose inhibitions, whose sense of social norms has been robbed from them by age, but is still as innocent and childlike as my mother? But I guess that's the child in me.

We reach that age where we'd pass out if our mothers asked for a kiss in public, or did that whole spit on her finger thing to wipe the forgotten piece of Pop-Tart from our chin; but within the four walls of the place she has built, called "Home," she is our biggest fan, our deepest love, our truest friend. We enter adulthood assured we do not need Mom to do anything for us anymore; we can do that because, in most cases, she is there. We become spouses and parents ourselves, and Mom becomes a source of counsel and comfort that few others are -- a dear, dear librarian friend, a wealth of information exclusive to us because she, literally, knows us like a book. Before you know it, your mother, who has been your rock, your strength and support needs you. The tables have been cruelly turned, in some Old Age Freaky Friday, and it is you who now wipes her chin and tells her she needs to go with you to get a haircut. And that's not easy. How does the child become the mother when the mother has become the child? When you become a mother to your own child, it is your choosing. You plan, you anticipate. When you become a mother to your mother, you've not been given a choice. It is thrust upon you, and your options for dealing with it are few.

I had chosen to become bitter. I snapped at her sometimes when I shouldn't have. She was my mother; I wanted her to act like it. I corrected her sometimes when I should have just let it ride. Why does she insist on calling Tinkerbell "he?" I was short with her when I knew it was the confusion in her brain. How many times have I told her the lawn guy and I settle up once a month? Was it too much to ask that she not make loud inappropriate remarks about skin color, hair color, tattoos, piercings, shoes, children, teeth, limps, weight, or any of a myriad of things when we go out together?

Then the day came. I was sitting in the examination room of my doctor's office. I could hear voices in the hall. It was obviously the elderly woman and her companion who had shared the waiting room with me minutes before.

"I have a cat," the woman proudly announced to the nurse.

"Oh, you do? What color is your cat?"

"He is my cat. He sits on my bed."

"Oh, he sits on your bed, huh?"

"He's a stuffed cat."

My stomach lurched. This woman had such a deep connection to her cat -- her stuffed cat. She knew full well it was stuffed. She had no illusions about Mr. Whiskers scratching her or using the litter box, but he was no less the object of her sincerest affection. Unconditional love.

Only a moment later, in the hall outside my door again:

"Hello, Mr. __. My name is Jasmine."

The tremor and gravel of an obviously aging voice responded, "You can call me Lou. Can I call you Jaz?"

This young nurse, had clearly never been called "Jaz" in her life, but the elderly gentleman she was assisting thought it vitally important they forge a less professional relationship which, for him, began with nicknames. As socially unacceptable as some might find this sort of familiarity, he was free, and in a safe place; he could find no reason to be on guard among those he considered to be his friends. Innocence.

As I considered the admonition delivered right to my door, I vowed not to take myself or the situation too seriously. I'm having her over this week for a "matinee" -- Wallace & Gromit, completely "inappropriate" for an adult. I'm planning a trip to Toys 'R Us in the near future, and I'm buying her the first stuffed animal she falls in love with. She's eighty-four; she's not going to be around forever and though it may be my responsibility to make sure she's safe, and sometimes I feel like her mother, I need to be her friend as well.

Strangely enough, when I picked her up for breakfast the other morning, I asked, "Do you know what day this is?"

"I think I do," she replied.

"OK, what day do you think it is?"

"I think it's my birthday! I'm eighty today."

"That's right, Mom. It's your birthday."

Friday, August 22, 2014

I Got One!

The silence is deafening. So is the constant blather.

Adjusting to life as a virtually non-speaking individual has been difficult in some ways. I still go to work each day, but I have discovered, my ability to speak loudly enough is dependent upon the temperature of the room, the humidity, the amount of sleep I've had the night before, even my diet. And if I've been assaulted by the automatic air freshener just as I entered the ladies' room, you can kiss De Oratore good-bye.

I have also discovered how much and how loudly we speak. I'm not sure of the origin -- it seems no one really is (or if they are, they're not saying) -- but there is an axiom: Two ears, one mouth; do the math. And I just pulled this one out of my hat in a discussion with our eleven year-old; she confessed she's a bit nervous about the upcoming school year.

We all have a tendency to talk too much. We don't make room in our lives for others when we insist on making our discussions, our experiences, our ideas about us. How can we possibly know if someone is a suitable friend, example, or lover if we spend all of our time telling them who we are instead of finding out who they are? We open our mouths and allow -- however unintentionally -- hurtful, offensive things to simply tumble right out. We pee in the pool before the other person has even had the opportunity to step on in. When was the last time you asked anyone a question? And spent the time listening? Not for a chance to jump in, but really listening to their point of view? Or their vacation details? Or the fear and sadness that lies beneath their griping? Or their need to be heard? In my silence, I have found myself most frustrated by other's assumptions about how I feel or what I think. It's difficult enough to be heard the first time, to watch people squirm as I try carefully to express my thought with an economy of words... But to have to back track, correct, explain or erase? Most people have stepped out to the concession stand minutes ago. Oh, and trust me, the next person that says "small little" or "6 AM this morning" is going to get my foot right in their can! It's just an example of how redundant we are, and how much we truly enjoy listening to ourselves.

And this is a loud society. Oddly enough, spending so much time in silence has caused me to be extremely sensitive to sound. Some mornings I awake, expecting to hear my "old voice." The moment I speak to one of the dogs, I know Betty Boop is still here. Some days I'm actually relieved. After years of having children in tow, and craving just fifteen-minutes to escape to Swiss Farm, crank up the tunes and be an individual again, it seems odd that my car radio's most frequently used preset is "OFF." And absolutely everything hums. The fridge, the nuker, the computer, the battery operated clock, the air conditioner -- even the cable box! My office is the quintessential fourth grade classroom. One person is having a phone conversation, so the next person turns the radio up to hear over the phone conversation. The next person speaks a little more loudly to the person next to her in order to compete with the phone conversation and the radio. The person now entering the room yells above the din simply to ascertain the person they are seeking is, in fact, located in this office. On and on it goes until the teacher -- of late, that's been me -- finally loses her cool and tells everyone to shut-up. Of course, I can't raise my voice to do so, but one look, distributed evenly to all offenders usually does the trick. That is, until it escalates again. I've taken to cupping my hand around the phone like Deep Throat exchanging secrets with The Post. Just about the time I've mastered this method of communication, I pick up the receiver only to find the World's Loudest Conversationalist on the other end.

I'm not sure if or when this sound barrier will be broken -- everyday is a journey -- but I do hope these lessons stay with me:

Talk a little less; listen a little more;

Speak softly, sweetly and carefully;

And if, after multiple attempts, you can't seem to be heard above the din...

That's right. There's always Mr. Microphone.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Why I Wrote the Check

I had managed to stay under the radar for quite a while. I haven’t blogged for a bit. I haven’t really spent much time hanging out on social media as of late. None of this has to do with ice or ALS or being challenged (double entendre intended), however, it has worked to my advantage. Out of sight, out of mind, right? That is, until last night. My husband, our youngest and I were challenged to the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. I can’t speak for them, but I will be writing a check, and here’s why:

First of all, charity is important to me -- always has been. It’s great that people are waking up to the ravaging effects of a disease that has been killing people for years. But, if you haven’t heard, if you aren’t aware, you have been living under a rock. My dumping a bucket of ice over my head cannot possibly make one more person aware that ALS exists, ice is cold, and thousands of people everywhere are choosing to dump buckets on their heads because…

And this leads me to my Number Two. It is in vogue. And most things “in vogue” are picked off by every bandwagon jumper and wanna be that comes down the pike. Just like a Vuitton knockoff, the Ice Bucket Challenge has been corrupted and misused to death -- lots of dumping and not nearly enough giving -- to any charity. While it’s great the challenge has done some wonderful things for ALS lately, this too shall pass. People will go back to living their lives of privilege and “I-want-ness,” totally disregarding charity of any kind. And next thing you know, the “in” thing will be The Yellow Snow Challenge for homeless pets (No? Don’t think it’ll take off?) And it will raise money because people love to be “in.” Sad.

Thirdly, I am bitter. I admit it. Where were all these folks when ALS painfully, slowly, deliberately took the life of Tommy F., one of the first patients I’d ever seen endure something so horrible? I watched day after day as his wife, saint that she was, visited and encouraged and struggled and tried to make merry. I didn’t appreciate her defiant, monumental endurance in the midst of such pain. Today, married to someone for whom I’d give my life, I wonder how her heart didn’t simply give out. She read to him and spoke to him for hours, knowing his mind was sharp as a tack and her husband was there, trapped in a body that was betraying him every moment of the day. She forced a smile when he could no longer eat, and she stroked his hair when the only thing he would spell with his eyes was, “Let me d--“ (she would hush him and refuse to allow him to continue). It’s great these folks are all here now, but why? Because it is in vogue? Because everybody is talking about it? Because fifteen minutes of fame is ours, thanks to social media? Well, if it works, if people continue to give, if people remember the victims and the families who are victims as well, I guess it’s all worth it, right?

So, dump your ice, post your videos, but don’t forget to write your checks and say your prayers.

Friday, July 25, 2014

The Modern Church: No Stuffiness

Hey, Friends!

So, I have found this amazing church, and I really thought I'd brag on it a little.

First off, they have a No Shoes, No Ties, NO Stuffiness policy. (I think the shoes part of it is a joke; I've never actually seen someone show up to church without shoes) But, most of the Youth just wear their favorite T-shirts, like ICP, Adventure Time, OBEY, or whatever, and short shorts or workout wear. Some of the moms and dads do as well -- very casual. Last week the pastor even wore her yoga pants and a T-shirt she got from a local 5K.

They are very community and charity-minded. As a matter of fact, several times throughout the year, members are encouraged to miss church for community events, park and playground clean-ups, sports events, picnics with neighbors, service projects, or simply to support local businesses. They will know we are Christians by our love, right? We have to get out there and be the church to others. You know, not use profanity, show others it's possible to drink in moderation, help others out, and show others that God wants us to have healthy bodies as well as healthy spirits.

The worship band is very cool. They do Contemporary Christian, of course, and lots of secular stuff -- obviously they keep it clean. They really know how to rock. And the preaching is not like preaching at all. We don't use Bibles or anything, and the pastor likes to quote from more current and cerebral sources; most people consider the Bible too difficult to understand, and it sort of stands in direct violation of that "No Stuffiness" thing. When she is quoting from the Bible, she uses a translation that is easy for everyone to understand, and then says the same thing, but usually in more of a parable or anecdote -- all that theology stuff is just too much for people seeking spirituality. And she doesn't cram truth down your throat; I mean, "what is truth?"

One week I walked into the bathroom of my friend's church. I couldn't believe it! There were Bibles everywhere; they all had those ridiculous covers on them, and pens and notebooks falling out of them! So hoity-toity. And some -- a lot -- of the ladies were wearing dresses. So stuffy. And they're wedged in there, talking about prayer and the sermon; I wanted to say, "Give it a rest. You're in church already! Do we have to hold prayer meeting in the bathroom? Not every minute of the day needs to be saturated with stuff about God. New people don't want to see that!" And the service was almost an hour and a half long! I lost count of how many times they prayed. Too much.

I couldn't wait to get back to my church!

Well, didn't mean to bore you or anything, but I thought you might be interested. I hope you can find a church like this; they're springing up all over the place!

Peace Out,
The Prince of This World

Thursday, July 24, 2014

I'd Like You to Meet Annie

I like people, in general. It's the things they do that make me completely bonkers. Which is why I'd like to do you, The Reader, a favor and introduce you to an amazing woman who can never sour my mood. I'd like you to meet Annie, one of the characters who fades in and out of my life, but one of the individuals I feel it is a monumental privilege to know.

I first met her at the hair salon. She was sitting in another stylist's chair -- I say "another," because I was in my stylist's chair right next to her. Now, I like going to my stylist, Marlene, because she is no nonsense. I think I've mentioned her before. She doesn't gossip. She's not a party girl. It's no drama; just a relaxing day being foiled, tugged, dyed, snipped, and singed. That is, until Annie. But I mean that in the nicest possible way.

Her stylist is younger. In her mid to late twenties, I would guess. And still looking for Mr. Right, or Mr. Right Now. Ally, I think her name is. Well, the two of them make an unlikely pair. Ally is white, blond, as I said -- in her twenties, and a little "edgy" in her sense of style. Annie is black (apologies, if you prefer "African American," but Ally isn't exactly "white" either), with graying hair, sixty-six, and somewhere between "beach" and "Bohemian." And Annie too, is in the market for a man. Despite obvious differences, these two ladies played off one another wonderfully; though not to discredit Ally, I think Annie could play off of anyone with even a thready pulse. I left the salon absolutely doubled over in pain, my stomach ached so much from the laughter.

Annie has this incredible zest for life that can never be anything but contagious. The sound of her voice is unmistakable -- somewhere between a lullaby and the sound you get when you suck helium from a balloon. She wears costume jewelry and accessories as though everyday was a garden party. And though I know she would never shy away from an invitation to such aristocratic affairs (and has I am sure, received many), she would change the definition of "lively" in a way no one at those things would ever admit; there would have to be some sort of blood oath that what happens among the petit fours, stays among the petit fours. She is simply at home among people, and thoroughly committed to the notion that all the world is a stage -- her stage.

The next time I saw her heard her, I was in the produce department of a local market. She was explaining to someone that her Nana had great genes, and lived to her nineties, so she probably would as well. I laughed right out loud, knowing the woman Annie had shanghaied was not going to leave the Pathmark unaffected that day. As I made my way to the onions, I saw her -- larger than life, and a sun hat larger than that. She was wearing a flowing leopard print dress, and beads, lots of beads. Her hair was down -- wiry and silver, perfectly suited to her ensemble, and just like her -- a little crazy, but in an attractive and gentle way. She briefly engaged a young man walking through the entrance.

I tried to be as inconspicuous as possible; it was a hot day, and I had milk and eggs from a previous stop sitting in the car, but by the time I hit the register, who was there telling her audience about Nana? I couldn't help it. I mean it, she is thoroughly contagious. I laughed and allowed myself to take the bait. She was now disclosing her plans for an upcoming lunch -- flying to see an old roommate from college, now a millionaire. See, I knew it!

The cashier says, "So, what, are you going to someplace like Tavern on the Green?"

"No, this place is actually a little nicer," Annie replies, as if comparing Pizza Hut and Maggianos. She then talks about her first experience flying First Class, courtesy of her friend, and a trip to Neiman Marcus -- "Needless Mark-Up, I call it," she says; "She goes there like I go to Dollar Tree."

As she was leaving the store, I heard someone yell from halfway up an aisle somewhere, "See ya, Annie, have a great day!"

Letting the bags slide down her arm, and lifting the brim of her enormous hat with the back of one hand, she waves with the other. "You, too! Have a great day!" she yells back.

In the parking lot, I rushed to assess the damage inflicted on my awaiting Dairy. The loud protest of an old door hinge caught my attention. There was Annie, loading her groceries and her celebrity into a rusty, multi-colored Old Mobile. She fired it up and drove away. Every head turned, but I refuse to believe it was entirely the hole in the muffler -- the way she sat behind that wheel couldn't have been anymore regal in a Rolls Royce.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

A Cinderella Story

Everybody loves a good story. I am no different. I love a good story...and shoes. I love shoes and good stories. Now you combine those two elements, and you've got yourself quite a good thing. In fact, it's been done before -- maybe once or twice -- and quite successfully in the form of my favorite story, Cinderella.

I don't think I'm alone when I say, as a little girl I dreamed of my prince, riding up to take me -- unworthy, common, hidden by ashes -- for his bride. But there is irony here, an irony that the story of Cinderella doesn't capture. Most little girls -- unworthy, common, and hidden away beneath the ashes -- reject at least one prince, and choose at least one troll. I was no different. It wasn't until I felt completely worthless, believed myself to be beneath common, and had made myself quite comfortable among the ashes, that a prince came along who accepted me as I was, but loved me far too much to leave me there.

When I met him, he told me right from the door, "If you're sick of the way you've been living, and you want to make some real changes, then stick with me, but if you want me to treat you the same way you've allowed yourself to be treated your entire life, find someone else." What?! He may have been a prince, but this was a guy who had chased me for months; this was a guy who'd been told "No" more times than a six year-old at Toys 'R Us! And he thinks he's just gonna walk away like that? Yep. And he would have, too, if I hadn't straightened my tail out and made a commitment to be better to myself -- for him.

As parents, one of the greatest disappointments is watching your child do something that is going to hurt them. So many times, as I have corrected my children, their first instinct is to apologize, and mine is to say, "I'm not telling you this because you've hurt me, but because I know how badly this will hurt you." My prince loves me like that. He would have never been able to stand by and watch me self-destruct, and there is absolutely no way he could have helped me in it.

But, you see, my prince is merely a picture of another Prince; the Prince who had been there my whole life, slowly, gently, and despite my greatest resistance, coaxing me out of the ashes and into His arms. But I'd always run. I was sure I wasn't good enough -- and I wasn't, but The Prince accepted me exactly the way I was.

I just never saw it that way.

Being worthy, or being uncommon, or even being clean was where He was dying -- literally -- to take me, not where I needed to be. He wanted to walk me through it; to commit to being better to myself -- for Him.

I just didn't see it that way.

Besides, there were a lot of trolls to go around. And, at least a troll was just as filthy and contemptible as I was -- if you stay at the bottom, you never have far to fall. And a troll would never expect me to be anything but unworthy, common, and hidden in ashes -- no grief and disappointment in that. And a troll would always be a troll -- no nasty surprises.

No good ones, either.

Not everyday with my prince, or my Prince, is easy, and not everything works out the way I have planned. But whatever befalls, befalls us. And whatever burdens we have, we share. And the good stuff, we enjoy together, happily, and ever after.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Here's to the Frat Boy in All of Us!

I am a hot mess. I am such a hot mess, my husband doesn't even know what a mess I am!

We all have a different "face" we show the world, but you're supposed to feel comfortable enough to be yourself in your own home, around your closest friends, with your spouse -- right? I do. It's just that I tend to keep things to myself. By no stretch am I an introvert; I love meeting new people, and I will talk to just about anyone. I don't hold grudges; I can't waste my time on drama. I'm not some milk toast that never sticks up for herself; I tend to be somewhat opinionated (HAH!). It's just that I have this really bizarre internal dialogue that doesn't need to be released at every opportunity. I have phrases, and ideas, and metaphors that run around in my head. Sometimes they are relative to what is happening at that very moment. Sometimes they are relative to something that happened years ago. Sometimes they haven't even happened yet, but are based on what I anticipate. (Yeah, if all this doesn't get me 302'd...)

Then there's the "frat boy." And while I'm not sure the voices exist in everyone the way they exist in me, I know the frat boy does. For instance, I drink milk from the jug in the fridge. Not always, and not in front of my kids -- what kind of example would that be? -- but, I do it now and again. Cram a handful of chocolate baking chips from the freezer into my mouth until I look like a deranged squirrel? Yup, I do it. Alone, in my truck, I have liberated some belches that would rival a sonic boom. And the beauty of all this is, it's not just me!

When I was in my 20s, I met a woman at a dinner party. She was eloquent, and refined, and ridiculously worldly in her familiarity with designer clothing, art, travel, and wines -- woody or fruity, and so forth. She was pretty wealthy for a woman not much older than I, and was well versed on current investment trends. Sandwiched amid her tales of achievements and famous associates was a story about having a spitting contest from atop a parking garage. I was so jealous of who she was and what she had, I couldn't appreciate the value of such information. But I certainly do now. That frat boy lives, somewhere, in all of us.

 I have a friend I consider to be "proper." We don't have tea or practice diction, or anything like that, but she was raised in a somewhat aristocratic home, with formal living and dining rooms. Though she doesn't continue that tradition, she married "well" and entertains some important people. That is, when she isn't sniffing her shirt to see if she can wear it on her walk just one more day. The first time I saw her draw this crumpled piece of cotton from the floor of her closet, I thought she'd been dusting. My face crinkled as I saw her hold it to her nose. Lemon-scented Pledge, perhaps? "Sure, I can just throw this on. Will you excuse me?"

One of my dearest friends has taught me volumes about being a good wife and mother and woman. I've witnessed her pitching dirty diapers (just the wet ones, not the loaded ones) from across the family room, into the trash can. I would have never labeled her the athletic type, but she's a pretty good shot!

Sure we're girls. We are dainty, or not. We like flowers, or we don't. Being female does not make us one-dimensional. We sniff things we shouldn't sniff, pick things we shouldn't pick; we are competitive and classless. But we are human, and beside the "frat boy" that occasionally pays a visit, we are many other wonderful, colorful people.