I have been thinking a lot about recent events, both private and public. Don’t tell anyone, but I am sixty-six years old and, in a week, will become a great-grandmother. I am going to take a moment here to pause because I still have a hard time saying and accepting that. My life has had many twists and turns along what Robert Frost describes as the road less traveled. I have been standing at an intersection recently, but have made a decision to follow a path where I feel led.
So many times in my life, I have chosen to stand and wait, offering only “thoughts and prayers” to my journey. While taking time to think and pray before acting is essential, often I stop short of doing anything. I have been reminded that choosing to do nothing is a choice. This is true not only of my life journey but in my day to day actions as well.
The facebook posts after the school shooting last week followed the same pattern as other such tragedies. Posts offering “thoughts and prayers” follow shock and anger. Heated debate and name calling are next to appear. Soon everyone forgets as we await the next shooting or child abduction or horrific stories of abuse. Please hear me as I say that prayer is powerful and much needed. Yet, I have to ask if it is enough. I was reminded of a story that still haunts me.
A few years ago, I was driving on a busy four-lane highway to my church prayer lunch. The road is one where no one slows down for anything. People pass and bounce from lane to lane without the benefit of blinkers or common sense. As I made my way to church, suddenly the tail lights on the cars ahead of me flashed red as cars in both lanes came to a sudden stop.
I tried to see what caused the delay when I saw what looked like the front of a broken shopping cart coming across the front of the line of cars. I was surprised as I saw a broken walker being pushed by an elderly man. He walked so slowly that I wasn’t sure how he got into the road at all since traffic is usually constant. He had only one good arm; the other seemed to be at an angle as if he had an injury or perhaps the remnants of a stroke. He walked with a bit of a limp, as well. The walker had front wheels, but there were no wheels on the back. He made it past the cars reaching the safety of the grass median. However, the grassy area seemed to make it harder for him to push and maneuver.
My heart ached as a watched his broken body push the feeble walker. There was no expression in his eyes or face. It appeared that his spirit was broken as badly as his body. As the cars began to move, I felt a battle raging in my heart and head. I wanted more than anything to pull my car into the grass and see if I could help him. The logical side of my brain wondered how in the world I could help. What if he was violent? What if he was mentally ill and didn’t understand my gesture or offer of help? What if he was ill and I was exposed? Would I offer him a ride? What would I say?
I pulled into a parking lot for a down the road to think for a moment. I fought tears as I wondered if this man had family or food or a place to stay. I certainly had nothing I could offer him. My finances were already limited without trying to help someone else. Maybe I could go back and just say a kind word to him. The logical side of my mind asked what good that would do. Sure, go and say, “Hi, I saw you struggling to get across the road. I don’t have any way to help you but just wanted to say Howdy!”
In the end, I didn’t turn around even though I felt led to do so. I don’t know why this man touched my heart the way he did. I did say a prayer for him. I believe in the power of prayer. There have been many times in my life where I felt so very broken, and I prayed for someone to reach out to me. I am so grateful for the people who took time to pray for me, talk to me, and help me. How could I not return what had been so freely given to me?
I don’t know the life journey of the man I saw that day. I don’t know if he had friends or family or anyone to help him in his brokenness. All I did for him that day was pray. I know in my heart praying wasn’t enough.
Matthew West’s song “Do Something” encourages us to take the time to do something for others: I Said, “God, why don’t You do something?” He said, “I did, yeah, I created you.”
None of us can solve all of the world’s problems. None can address every issue or the challenges faced by others. Yet, each of us can find a way to take action. Yes, I pray and continue in prayer. I didn’t stop and help a broken man a few years ago, but I choose today to offer my thoughts and prayers – and then I take the next step. I find a way to do the next right thing to try and make a difference.
It is January 2018 and the beginning of a new year. This is the time that we all make decisions to go to the gym, eat healthier, made amends, go to church, or make other life altering choices. I will admit that I too have been guilty of waiting for January to make changes that could have and should have been made long before. Instead of feeling guilty, I choose to see this as a positive thing – at least I am willing to make changes and when better to start than January.
My move to the Upstate of South Carolina from the Lowcountry this summer created the opportunity for many changes. These changes include where will I get my hair cut, what doctor to choose, what grocery store is best, and the list goes on. I am grateful that my best friend Jan moved back to this area from Charleston before I arrived. Having a “local” friend is a huge blessing.
Two decisions that would have a large impact on my life were how would I continue my exercise and healthy eating program without my trainer, Arron. I will admit that I haven’t done as well as I had hoped. Going to a new gym with new people and new routines is difficult. There is an amazing gym at Clemson, and I have a membership at Gold’s Gym. I simply need to put on my gym shoes and go. I give you all permission to hold me accountable to my commitment to continuing this journey.
The second decision was where to go to church. This one has taken longer than I thought. I came to the upstate with a church already in mind. I enjoyed the church services, the pastor, and the people there, yet I knew in my heart that I needed to keep searching. Just a few weeks before the holidays, I decided to visit a church I pass every day on the way to school. I felt drawn to visit. It turns out that the pastor grew up in the same church as my best friend. I immediately felt drawn to this church. I plan to make this my new church home.
That takes care of the physical and spiritual part of my life. The harder part of a move such as this is creating a new community. In Charleston, I had an extensive circle of people in my life from my years at Hotline as well as the theater community. It is time to create a new community here. Just as with the gym, I haven’t done as well as I had hoped in this area.
One last change for the new year involves this blog. I have been writing for OdysseyOnLine for the past year, neglecting this site. As of the first of the year, I am not longer a writer for OdysseyOnLine. While this was a great opportunity and provided a larger number of readers, I don’t feel I was able to write in my “own voice” on the site. I am returning to my website and blog for my writing.
I hate change if truth be told. Ask any of my friends; they will confirm this. However, I must concede that change is inevitable. This year will undoubtedly bring many changes. I hope they are all positive, but that is a bit unrealistic. So, I will look at the year ahead and remember the Serenity Pray daily:
God grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change;
Courage to change the things I can;
And wisdom to know the difference.
There are things I could never imagine happening to me. That is saying a lot considering I have a highly overactive imagination. I can imagine an asteroid crashing into earth close my home. My friends will tell you that they are not allowed to mention comets, or meteor showers, or a protentional eclipse. I can imagine a tsunami wiping out a beach as I sit in the sand. I can envision an earthquake while I am in a three story building. I am afraid that someone might break into the house when I am all alone and taking a shower (that might just be a throwback to Psycho). I can even imagine how our country might look like after the current elections. Yet, I could never have believed what would happen this week.
I arrived at my class at school, and we began a group team building exercise. The instructions were simple. Everyone was to stand in a large circle. The professor would read a statement, and everyone would quickly, without much thought or hesitation, step into the circle to the extent that they agreed with the statement. If you strongly agreed with the statement, you would walk into the center of the circle. If you slightly agreed, you would only take a small step or two in the circle. If you strongly disagreed, you would stand in place and so on.
The first statements were innocuous.
“I like chocolate.” Almost everyone was in the center of the circle.
“I like pizza.” People were a bit more spread out on this one.
“I am a dog person.” “I am a cat person.” There were some strong feelings on this one.
The statements then focused more on issues.
“I am a feminist.”
“I believe everyone has the same access to prosperity.”
“I believe everyone should have equal access to education.”
With each of these statements, everyone in the group shared the same opinion. We all appeared to be on the same page when it came to social issues and ideals.
After each statement, the professor would ask us to return to the circle if we had moved. After a few more statements, I heard this one.
“I believe in God.”
Without hesitation, I began my first step into the circle. As I moved, I suddenly became aware that no one else was moving. I hesitated for a split second. Do I keep going? Surely everyone is thinking about the question and will be stepping in. Maybe they are just waiting for the others. I took another step. The room was silent and still.
I kept taking steps towards the center of the circle. I could only see those in front of me or just to my side. Everyone was looking at me in the circle, but no one looked me in the eyes. I felt alone and exposed. I thought of the woman in the Bible who was caught in adultery. Everyone circled around her, pointed fingers, and said she should be stoned. Could this really be happening? I just wanted the professor to direct me back to my spot in the circle.
We quickly moved on to our next activity. I don’t remember much about what we did the rest of the class. I still felt as if I was standing alone in the middle of the circle. That feeling would stay with me for a while; in fact, I am still carrying a bit of it with me as I write.
I would not have been surprised if no moved into the circle had the statement been, “I am a Christian” or “I am religious” or “I go to church.” I know many people who want nothing to do with organized religion. I understand those who have questions about faith. I certainly have many questions about God, the church, the Bible, and theology. I am still shaken by the fact that no one moved into the circle. Even if someone had moved just a step or two into the circle, it would have been easier to understand. How could these people who share the same values about social issues and social justice not believe in God?
I have been thinking about this all week. As I began to process this, I looked at the world and the events of the past years. I remember bombings and killings in the name of God. I saw religious people who hated those who are different, people who say that God hates those who are aren’t like them, people who claim to follow God but turn their back on the poor, sick, and lonely. Politicians have been throwing around claims about God for months. Churches are splitting because they can’t agree to love one another any longer because of issues surrounding race, gender, who you can love or which bathroom people can use.
I must wonder if these bright, talented, young people I know, who want to change the world, look at all of this and decide that God can’t exist. In his book, “Blue Like Jazz”, Donald Miller writes about his experience at Reed College, a secular liberal arts college in Oregon. He and a few Christian friends discuss a way to talk to people on campus about their faith since students seemed hostile to their views. They come up with an idea to offer a confession to the other students. The confession below expresses what I have been thinking:
“So this group of us on campus wanted to confess to you,” Donald said.
“You are confessing to me!” Jake said with a laugh.
“Yeah. We are confessing to you. I mean, I am confessing to you.”
“You’re serious.” His laugh turned to something of a straight face.
“There’s a lot. I will keep it short,” Donald started. “The thing is, we are followers of Jesus. We believe that Jesus is God and all, and he represented certain ideas that we have sort of not done a good job at representing. He has asked us to represent him well, but it can be very hard. Jesus said to feed the poor and to heal the sick. I have never done very much about that. Jesus said to love those who persecute. I tend to lash out, especially if I feel threatened, you know, if my ego gets threatened. Jesus didn’t mix spirituality with theology. I grew up doing that. It got in the way of the central message of Christ. I know that was wrong, and I know that a lot of people will not listen to the words of Christ because people like me, who know him, carry our own agendas into the conversation rather than just relaying the message Christ wanted to get across. There’s a lot more, too.”
There is a lot more! I want to confess and apologize for not always carrying the message of Christ in my life, but I am going to keep trying.
I write about church and faith quite often. If you have followed my blog or read any of these posts, you might recall that church and I have had a challenging relationship over the years. (You can find these posts under the Faith tab on the blog.) I only returned to traditional church about six or seven years ago. I church shopped for a while before I found a place to stay for a while. I was part of this church for about five years, however just a few weeks ago, the congregation voted to disband and close the church. I won’t go into the reasons since this blog isn’t about that. It did however create the need opportunity to visit churches over the past couple of months.
As a child, I learned that the church sanctuary was a solemn place to be treated with absolute reverence. There were many rules including no running, no talking above a whisper, no laughing; you get the idea. Music was never that toe tapping hand-clapping sort of thing. It was more along the lines of hymns written in earlier centuries to tortoise paced classical organ accompaniment. It was only in the fellowship hall that we could have a piano with more lively music; however dancing was still out of the question.
On my summer visits to my brother in West Va., we would attend small charismatic type churches. Their music was piano, guitar, and a bit more old-time gospel. The preacher was scary. He screamed, threw things, and often took off his coat and tie with armpit sweat stains showing the intensity of the sermon.
Over the years, things have changed in worship style and music in many churches, but not in the one I was attending after my return to church. Occasionally the congregation might be moved to clap after the choir anthem, and someone would usually have an “Amen”. One of thing liked about this church was that the people enjoyed talking to each other. Before church and during the time in worship when people greeted one another there was a buzzing of voices, and it was sometimes difficult to get everyone seated again. As time went, on the voices and noise faded.
As I began visiting churches, I became interested in the church noises. One of the first I visited had a full band with music I love from contemporary Christian artists. I know many people love this type of “concert” setting, and while I enjoy it, I like a blend of more traditional hymns. From the moment, I entered the building, an excitement and joy could be felt. The next few churches I visited were much mellower. There wasn’t much noise at all, even during the worship.
I attend service at a small country church in the upstate every few weeks when I go to stay with my friend. I love this church. It has a history stretching back one hundred years. The organist/pianist is a precious 95-year-old woman. A small group of children in choir robes sing with a guitar accompaniment. The choir is small, but powerful. The sounds of children and babies create a sense of delight. The noises in that church are truly joyful ones.
I recently visited a church, and as I entered, laughter and chatter filled the foyer. Before I could find a seat, several smiling faces had welcomed me as if I already belonged. During the time in worship for greeting one another, the people seemed genuinely happy to be in worship with one another. Each time I have attended, children and youth have been part of the worship. Excitement and wonder are the noises that fill this place. I think I might just stay a while here. I like the noise.
Of course, I have to add a quote from Anne Lamott:
“I live for Sundays,” she says. “It’s like going to the spiritual gas station to fill up on fuel and clean the dirty windshield and mirrors. I usually show up nuts, self-obsessed, vaguely agitated, and I am at once reminded not of who I am, but Whose I am.
“Then everything falls into place, and I smile again at how crazy I (and most of us) are, but how at church, in fellowship, in the arms and eyes of Jesus […] I remember the truth of my spiritual identity. I love to sing in a group – more than anything, and to do the holy dance of swaying, and clapping. Plus, they say that clapping in church scares away the devil.”
The text below is an assignment for my Religion and Society class.
“Experiment with Ahimsa,” following the model of Gandhi and his autobiography. After re-reading about Gandhi’s understanding of ahimsa and his experiments with Truth, conduct an “experiment with non-violence.” For some set time (3-7 days), attempt to refrain from all forms of violence towards other human beings and animals, including (but no limited to) anger, hate, gossip, personal criticism, evil thoughts, jealousy, and physical violence toward any other being. Try to remove violence from speech, mind, and action; and try not to support others if they engage in violent speech, thought or conduct. You must maintain a record of your experiences and “experiments with Truth”, using Gandhi’s book as your model to emulate.
As we discussed this in class, I asked about food and football. The Professor smiled and explained that we would have to make our own determination about how far we were willing and able to go with food in this process. Since football is a sport and there is no intention of harm, I am going to say that watching football wouldn’t be a hindrance to this process. ” In fact, he (Gandhi) was a path-breaker of sorts, even in football, when in 1896, when Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, still a young, relatively unknown lawyer in South Africa, was amongst a group of pre-dominantly Indian men, who helped form the Transvaal Indian Football Association” (Ayush Srivastava – The Goal). There was even a team called the Passive Resisters. Later, Gandhi would say that while his country was in turmoil against the British, people should be more interested in changing the country than sports.
While reading about Gandhi and his idea of ahisma, we learned that Ghandi believed non violence went far beyond “doing no violence or harm”. Gandhi taught that ahisma was non violence in our thoughts, intentions, actions, and our lifestyle. It was about compassion and love.
“Happy old age” was always an enigma. I didn’t know any “old people” who seemed happy. Bitterness, anger, and loneliness seemed to be the destiny for anyone that lived past fifty. I will admit that perhaps my vision was a bit skewed.
From the time I was four, I lived with my grandparents and my great grandmother. Vacations each summer were spent with another set of grandparents. Each of them was miserable in their own way. None of them showed any signs of a happy old age.
When I think about each of them, I remember the frowns and downward pointed eyebrows. None of them had that sparkle of joy or peace in their eyes. Their voices were dull and mean. Yes, that is the word I needed to find-mean. Perhaps all of that anger, bitterness and loneliness had poisoned their spirit to the point that their words and actions spewed meanness.
This seemed to be such a contradiction since all of them (except my grandfather) talked about loving God and hoping for the glorious day when they would see Jesus in Heaven. My grandfather was a drunk, so his meanness came straight from a bottle. Grandmother took me to church every Sunday morning and then again on Sunday evening. When I was younger, she would take me with her to her church group “circle” meetings. The old women sat in a circle and talked about a Bible verse of two for a while, and then went directly into bashing anyone not there, as well as other church folks. Time for refreshments meant time to discuss the terrible state of the world, the disappointing youth of today, and to ask the host for the recipe of the treat of the day. Of course, they chatted amongst themselves as they left about “those treats she made” and the recipe was thrown out at home.
At church I heard sermons from an amazing pastor about God and his love for us, but at home Grandmother told the story of a different God. Her God was vindictive and just about as mean as she was. God was clearly judgmental, and perfection was required for His love. I never measured to the standard my Grandmother set for God to love me. He was just another grey haired, white bearded, crotchety, mean old man in my mind. When I was in my late 30’s I left the church, and after 25 years I felt drawn to return. I attended a variety of churches and denominations looking for a place to call a church home. One Sunday, I was looking for a church and “accidentally” found a different one. It was the farthest thing from anything I would ever have considered, yet it was where I was supposed to be-for many reasons.
The congregation is an older one with some of the most beautiful grey haired, faces with wrinkles, older women you will ever meet. I come complete with tattoos and ever-changing hair styles and colors, and they have accepted me without question. Many of them have been friends for years, and they truly love and cherish each other. The ages range from 70 to well over 90. Every Sunday and often at Wednesday prayer lunch, I look forward to seeing these special women. Their faces show wrinkles and eyes are often clouded by cataracts. They may have to use a cane or walker. Yet, all I see are sparkling eyes and beautiful smiles. I listen as they willingly share stories of the church, their childhood, marriages, families, and more. Laughter often accompanies their stories. When one is sick or has to be away, you can feel the sadness from the others. These women all love God and Jesus, but they don’t have to tell you that. You can see it in the love they have for each other, their church, their lives, and the way they welcome anyone who enters the doors of the church. I can clearly see the God of love that the pastor of my youth shared with us.
I used to be afraid of growing old. I worried that I would become a bitter, angry, lonely old woman just like my mother and grandmothers. I’m not afraid any more, in fact, I look forward to watching my children, my grandchildren, and yes, even my great-grandchildren as they grow and change. I have some very special friendships that I cherish and plan to take them with me as I journey towards old age. My prayer is that I may be just as precious and joyful as the women at my church.
I was determined to take some time to catch up on reading for pleasure over the holidays. I looked at the titles of books I want to read or reread trying to decide what to start today. I was drawn to a book I “read” last year. When I first downloaded the book to my Kindle, I didn’t take the time to really read and focus on the book. I skimmed some and read some. It wasn’t that the book wasn’t good; it was that the book hit too close to home. I needed to really invest myself in reading this story. I decided to start “Peace and Freedom are My Names” by Irene Frances.
I “met” Irene on the internet last year. I read her blog and knew this was someone I wanted to get to know. I connected with her in reading that first post and made contact through the blog and facebook. I was excited to find that she, like I, at our delicate ages were both going to college. I am doing undergraduate work, while she is attending the Brisbaine School of Theology in her home country of Australia. I have loved watching her posts about studying Hebrew and taking tests. She has encouraged me when I felt overwhelmed at times. You can see her faith and genuineness in her smile.
I also connected with her in other ways. She is a survivor of an abusive childhood and learned to live with mental health issues, all while maintaining a strong and steadfast faith in God. We have both had our challenges with religion and church, but God has never given up on us. Her faith and journey have been an inspiration to me.
As I began to read her book again, I was reminded in the first paragraphs of the similarities in our stories. Many facts are different, but the feelings and ways of surviving were much the same. This passage pulled me in today: I was a nothing and a nobody. Nobody wanted me; I didn’t even have my own name. And I was worth nothing. It was a pitiable start to life of hell and torment that would eventually send me into a pit of madness from which it would take a lifetime to claw my way out.
Nobody wanted me. I felt that way much of my life. I didn’t even have my own name. I was reminded of that just this past week. A while back, I wrote a post about my name being changed a couple times in my childhood. You can read it here. My parents named me Carolyn Ann, but at the age of four my grandparents changed it to Cathy (Catherine Ann) when they adopted me. Just a short time before my mother died, she told me that while my name was Carolyn Ann, but they called me Lynn. I wasn’t sure if that was true or the imaging of an old woman. In the blog post above, I shared about finding my old shot records listing my name as Carolyn Ann and (Lynn) listed on one page. I also realized that I lived in Flat Top, W. Va. at my grandparents farm for a couple of years.
Last weekend, Jan and I were working on genealogy sites when I decided to try something to find an old newspaper article I remembered. The article was in the newspaper in W. Va. and featured a picture of my brother and I when I returned to W. Va. to visit when I was 8 years old. Imagine my surprise, when the article appeared in a site with filmstrip from old newspapers. I quickly signed up for the week long free trial and printed the article.
I decided to do a bit more searching when I discovered an article from 1952 about a meeting of the Flat Top Farm Women’s Club. After a brief description of the meeting and food served, the meeting attendees were listed. I froze when I read these names: Mrs. Grady Keaton (that’s my grandmother), Mrs. Joe Keaton (that’s my mother) and her daughter Lynn. LYNN…there it was in black and white…proof that my mother’s memory was intact, and that I was indeed called Lynn for the first 3 to 4 years of my life.
This has been on my mind ever since I found the article. I wasn’t sure why I couldn’t let it go. And, then I starting reading Irene’s story again. In her book, she explains changing her name after her marriage. I am thinking about reclaiming my birth name of Keaton when I finalize my divorce, and I am now thinking about adding Lynn to that name in some way.
I know this will not make sense to many of you and that’s OK. You see, somehow, just seeing that name makes a connection to the childhood that was taken from me. I now know the truth about many things, in spite of all efforts by some to keep it from me. JanF. told me that my life was life a huge mosaic puzzle. I had the easy pieces in place; I had the outer edges. I would continue to add pieces as they were revealed, and one day I would see one of God’s most beautiful works of art. I asked her what piece of art that would be, and she replied, “Why, your life of course. ”
For more information on Irene Frances and her book available on Amazon, please check out her page on Peace and Freedom are My Names.
This blog post is NOT about Phil Robertson, A&E, Duck Dynasty, or the controversy surrounding them. However, it was prompted by comments made by Phil from Duck Dynasty that is featured on A&E.
If you follow facebook, any news channel, or read the paper, you might have heard the huge debate going on about an interview Phil gave to GQ. He has been banned from A&E for his comments. I am not here to argue if he was right or wrong, talk about free speech, issues of race, homosexuality, or anything else. I am writing today because of what he didn’t say.
You see, I was raised by a grandmother who lived most of her adult life as a drunk, along with a variety of other sinful ways of living. When I was about 7 or so, she decided to start taking me to church. She found “religion”, and her life did change in some ways, but she was still the same person inside. She was mean-spirited and did hurtful things to those around her. She wore her religion like a street person putting on a new suit without ever showering or cleaning up. It was all for show.
She used the Bible as a weapon and as a crutch for her way of living and thinking. She would quote Scripture to prove her point, to allow her to judge others, and to control my behavior. One that she loved to throw around was, “Vengence is mine, I will repay says the Lord.” I am sure we could take time and have a long theological discussion about this verse, but I am going to bet that most of you would not interpret it the way my grandmother did. Her use of the verse was to say that God was going to get me if I did bad stuff. I was a kid who had been neglected, abandoned, and abused the first few years of my life, so I was going to have a few issues, and I (like all kids) was going to do things considered bad. I was always waiting for the Lord to punish me and I assumed anything bad that happened to me from being sick to not getting all A’s in school was vengeance being imparted to me.
You see, the thing that troubles me is when we don’t get the rest of the story. My grandmother stopped short of telling the whole story when she used scripture the way she did. I remember when Mel Gibson’s “Passion of the Christ” was released; people asked why I didn’t go see it. I had a number of reasons, but one of them was that it didn’t tell the rest of the story. The film only showed the last 12 hours of the life of Jesus. It only showed the horror of the crucifixion, but didn’t show the resurrection or talk about the things Jesus came to teach us. This is what happened with Phil’s interview. He didn’t tell the rest of the story. He only quoted verse 9 and 10 from the Corinthians passage. Verse 11 is so powerful in this passage. Can you see the difference it makes?
1 Corinthians 6:9 “9 Do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men, 10 nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”
Look at that list of sins! Can you see any there that you might have committed or even held in your heart? I can tell you that in my life, I have committed most of them. You see, I am a recovering alcoholic and addict. I hit bottom hard, and I don’t need to tell you the kind of life I lead for a while; you can figure it out. So, according to those first two verses, I cannot inherit the kingdom of God. That is devastating news, almost hopeless.
Yet, just look at verse 11. That is the one that wasn’t quoted by Phil or the GQ article. “And that is what some of you were.” Yes, that is what I was. “But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. ” That was all done for me!
Phil also said, “But hey, sin: It’s not logical, my man. It’s just not logical.” I disagree. Sin is the most logical thing I understand from the Bible. There are many verses telling us that we are sinners by nature and that no one is without sin. It is from the beginning to the end. What isn’t logical is that this all powerful, omnipotent God would bother with any of us. Why not just get rid of us all and start from scratch? Instead, He did something absolutely illogical. He sent His only son to be born as a human and live this earthly life, and die for our sins.
As we celebrate Christmas next week, we remember the birth of Jesus. But, we need to remember the rest of the story. Jesus showed those he encountered the purest love and gave hope to everyone, even the worst of the sinners. He opened his heart and his arms to tax collectors, adulterers, drunkards, thieves, and more. And, that is what He asks us to do.
“I think joy and sweetness and affection are a spiritual path. We’re here to know God, to love and serve God, and to be blown away by the beauty and miracle of nature. You just have to get rid of so much baggage to be light enough to dance, to sing, to play. You don’t have time to carry grudges; you don’t have time to cling to the need to be right.”
― Anne Lamott
I have several friends on my facebook list and blog followers who may wish to debate or help me with my theological understanding of scripture. Instead, I hope they will simply read this and say a prayer for this justified, sanctified, and forgiven sinner.
In 12-step recovery programs, we are taught not to think about tomorrow. Slogans like “one day at a time” or “just today” are drummed into our brain. Another one that I hate is, “if you have one foot in tomorrow and one foot in yesterday, you are pissing all over today.” That one just never made any sense to me. I understand and acknowledge the wisdom in “one day at a time” in dealing with alcohol and drugs. There were many times in my recovery that it was one hour, one minute, or one second at a time.
However, in the real world that slogan doesn’t work. If I truly lived “one day at a time”, I would get my paycheck and buy a new big screen TV or book a mountain cabin for a week, ignoring the reality that in two weeks I have to pay rent and make a car payment. I also believe that dreams of the future are a motivation to do well today.
When I decided to write about Christmas future, I had to think about what I would really like to see. So here is a brief glimpse of some future Christmases…
In a couple of years, I will have friends and family surrounding me as I prepare to graduate from the College of Charleston.
Not long after I finish my MFA, Oprah will choose my newly published best selling book as the gift to give for Christmas.
I will visit my great grandchildren who are the most beautiful and amazing children ever to be born. I will, of course, be visiting my children and grand children as well, but we all know it will be the great grands that take center stage.
The day after Christmas, I will visit the Culpeppers (Either in Charleston or within a 4 hour drive 🙂 ) and the next week I will go to Baltimore and New York to visit my brother and some other friends as I begin my book tour.
I won’t miss my mother, my best friend-JanF, my Mama Pearl, or any of the other friends/family who have passed away nearly as much as I do now. (OK, that one isn’t really going to happen.)
I will notice that as I grow older, I learn more about the gift of Jesus and the joy of celebrating Christmas. I might just become “Jesusy” as Anne Lamott says.
I spent a great deal of life dreading the future and believing that nothing good would ever happen to me. I was always waiting for the next bad thing. I have learned that the next bad thing is going to happen no matter what; it happens to everyone. It’s called life. I have also learned that the next amazing thing is going to happen as well. Sometimes, the next amazing thing comes as a result of that next bad thing that happened.
Anne Lamott said in one of her blog posts, ” We religious nuts say, ‘I no longer know what the future holds, but I know who holds the future’.” Of course, I can’t really predict the future, but I can dream. I no longer see my future thought the eyes of nightmares. So, I will continue to dream about my future Christmases celebrating the birth of the One who holds the future.
My childhood memories are scattered in pieces across my mind. While I have some of my own memories, others come from the stories told by family members or friends. For a long time, many of the pieces didn’t make sense, but letters, pictures, and stories helped put the snippets into a more complete picture
From what I learned, my first Christmas was spent with my parents at my father’s parents farm in West Va. We lived with them for the first few months. My mother had just turned 17 and my father was barely 20. After the holidays, they moved back home to Charleston to live in the projects in downtown Charleston. My father was in the Navy and gone for weeks at a time. When he came home, he would drink and there would be fights…verbal and physical. As I got older, I would be in the mix. My mother taught me to hide under a table. The next few Christmases included bringing two more abusive alcoholics (Mother’s parents) into the mix. The Christmas before my 4th birthday, my mother played out a plan that included leaving and separating my brother and me between grandparents.
My parents were in and out of my life. Holidays, particularly Christmas brought dreams and wishes that my mother or my father would somehow miss me enough to come and see me. I do remember many times looking out the window and hoping. Any time I heard a car, I would look to see if it might be one of them; it never was.
My grandmother found “religion” when I was about 7. Christmas meant going to church service at midnight Christmas Eve and coming home to my drunken grandfather. When we got home, I could open one gift under the ugly silver tree with revolving color wheel with a manager scene carefully placed underneath. Gifts were practical for the most part, with one “frivolous” gift like a doll or bike. The only present I cared about was the one my mother would send me. Later, I discovered many phone calls and gifts were never received because of my Grandmother’s intervention.
Christmas finally took on new meaning when I had children of my own. The greatest joy I had was finding gifts for them, yet because of our own financial problems, I often wasn’t able to give them all they wanted. They didn’t seem to care. They loved the tree and decorations. They always took part in the Christmas music and scenes at church. My husband’s parents were so very generous with gifts for the kids and they always had what they wanted, even if I couldn’t give it.
All of that changed, when I started drinking and in time, became a full-blown alcoholic. In the fall of 1986, my husband took custody of my kids, and I was left with visitation only. The pain and heartbreak was overwhelming. December of 1986, I made the decision to move to Baltimore to try to find a better job and get my life together in order to provide a home for children and get them back. But alcoholics can’t move away from themselves. That Christmas, I was able to get gifts and send them back home to the kids, but I drank everyday to numb the pain of their loss. During the next 3 and 1/2 months, I drank and drugged daily, put myself in dangerous places with dangerous people, and lost all hope. I wondered if my children watched out the window to see if I was coming that Christmas, even though they knew, just as I did, that it wasn’t going to happen.
I got sober in April of 1987. My husband told the kids they could come and stay with me for Christmas if I could get them to Baltimore. I didn’t have a car and he knew I didn’t have the money to fly them there. Jan F. told me to pray and talk to my support group and just “let go and let God.” I hated her telling me those thing, but I learned to trust her. I did what she said.
Two weeks before Christmas, a friend invited me to lunch. She pulled out two round trip airline tickets for my kids. She told me that she drank away her chance to ever have children and wanted to help me get mine back. That weekend, we had our Christmas party at work. My coworkers, who had watched me drink myself almost to death and now watched me in recovery, gave me an envelope with $100.00 cash and a $100 gift card to a grocery store and another to Penny’s. That Christmas gave me hope and helped me believe that perhaps God hadn’t given up on me.
It took over 20 years before I would be in a church at Christmas. I wonder if God watched out of the window sometimes to see I was going to come back . Even though I found a new relationship with God and Jesus, I struggled with the idea of church. I started visiting a few churches and a couple of years ago found a church home. Last Christmas, I attended all of the Christmas services and found a new appreciation for Christmas. There was one service that touched my heart. It was the Blue Christmas service. You can read about it here in an article that my friend Jan wrote about that night. It has been a long journey.
In a day or so, I will share more about my Christmas “Present” and then shortly after that Christmas “Future.”