Maybe Life is a Little Bit More

For some reason, I have lost my blogging mojo! I have not lost my enthusiasm about the blog; I love writing and I love my blog. It is as if I have lost my energy and concentration. It is at these junctures, I need to push myself into deeper water. In deeper water, I can either give up and drown or dig into that well of reserves and swim with more determination.  So, here I am swimming with determination, but in what direction? I am floundering with what to whittle out, though in reality the pickings are truly abundant. Hey, there’s a word — “abundant.” Seems like a great word for the Christmas season. Now, I am not talking about prosperity, I am talking about abundance. Prosperity, on the other hand, has more to do with material possessions and affluence. Scratch prosperity, that is not what I want to talk about, though I think the two get mingled together into one ideology never considering the distinctions.  

Prosperity theology (sometimes referred to as the Prosperity Gospel or New Thought) peddles a controversial religious thinking filled with accusations of hypocrisy. This notion promotes the will of God as always being financial blessings and the alleviation of sickness and poverty. Faith, prayer, positive speech, and donations to religious causes will increase one’s material wealth. If humans have faith in God, He will deliver security and prosperity; after all, it is God’s will for His people to be blessed. One prominent proponent of these teachings is Joel Osteen. Osteen owns a $10.5 million, 17,000 square foot mansion with 6 bedrooms and bathrooms, 5 open wood fire places, 3 elevators, a guest house, an outdoor pool, and pool house in River Oaks, Texas (a ‘burb’ of Houston, Texas, paying over $260,000 in property taxes yearly.) *Picture below

Joel Osteen’s Mansion

His lifestyle includes fancy cars (for sure a Ferrari), private jets, yachts, tailored suits, a wife refined by lavish jewels, attired in top quality garments, etc. His estimated net worth is $50-60 million. A satirical joke by the Babylon Bee circulated during Hurricane Harvey saying, “Joel Osteen Sails Luxury Yacht Through Flooded Houston To Pass Out Copies Of ‘Your Best Life Now.’ ” (it is worth a little chuckle!) Now, I am going to just leave this right here because I am not a proponent of this doctrine. However, I will toss out a couple questions to ponder:

  1. Who is the primary beneficiary of the prosperity gospel? The leader?
  2. Wouldn’t Jesus have been the wealthiest man on earth?
  3. How do you explain the persistence of suffering, sickness, and disaster among Christians?
  4. Where are treasures laid up under this religiosity? – “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth…”

I really want to try to keep this simple. Abundant living is not material blessings as I interpret scripture. I believe abundant living is quite the opposite. Abundant living is:

  • Faith and hope in Jesus; eternal life –
  • A true personal relationship with Jesus – “…the LORD your God is God; He is the faithful God…”
  • Pray, Pray, Pray about everything – “Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us.”
  • Reading the Bible – learning and maturing in wisdom and knowledge of truth – ““Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways!”
  • Trusting in God’s power and presence in your life – “”I am the LORD, the God of all mankind. Is anything too hard for me?”
  • Trusting that God is all knowing – ““I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me. I make known the end from the beginning…”
  • Desiring God more than what the world offers like material possessions, status, achievement, recognition, popularity, approval, acceptance, attention, idolatry, fulfillment of the flesh
  • Practicing the fruits of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control
  • Confessing our sins regularly; asking forgiveness from God and others; apologizing; swallowing pride and humbling oneself to specifically say “I’m sorry for…”  – “The LORD is gracious and merciful; slow to anger and great in loving kindness.” The LORD, the LORD God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in loving kindness and truth…”
  • Asking God for help and helping others – “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy.” “And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.”
  • Choosing gratitude, being thankful for EVERYTHING – “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in ALL circumstances” (not some), “Oh, how abundant is your goodness, which you have stored up for those who fear you and worked for those who take refuge in you…”
  • Contentment in ALL circumstances – “And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” “O, taste and see that the Lord is good…”
  • Choosing joy and peace amidst grief, difficult circumstances, and painful struggles (the list is not comprehensive, but here are many to contemplate choosing joy and peace amidst the pain) –

Death of a spouse
Divorce or Marital separation
Imprisonment
Death of a close family member
Personal injury or illness, major surgeries
Mental Illness
Abuse
Job termination or resignation
Retirement
Change in health of family member
Loss of Pregnancy or child
Sexual difficulties
Change in financial state
Death of a close friend
Change to different line of work
Foreclosure of mortgage or loan
Bankruptcy
Disability
Change in responsibilities at work
Child leaving home
Trouble with in-laws or family members
Spouse starts or stops employment
Change in living conditions
Revision of personal habits
Change in residence, moving
Change in church
Change in sleeping habits
Change in eating habits
Christmas & Holidays & Anniversaries
Home invasion, theft of property or threat of
Loss of Trust, Betrayal, Loss of Approval, Loss of Safety  

  • Deep, abiding peace that passes all understanding that does not come from deep breathing and counting to ten
  • Choosing to live a changed new life as a new creation through the power of Christ
  • Surrendering our will and desires over to God – one example is addictions, which includes failing, recovering, adjusting, enduring, overcoming, over and over until we have victory
  • Resting in God’s sovereignty and timing – “He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.” “I the Lord do not change.”
  • Loving and giving to others – “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.”  “…give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.”

You see, the abundant life is NOT an abundance of tangible “stuff” purchased at stores or online amassed in our homes or owning finer things keeping up appearances or keeping up with the Joneses, accumulating treasures here on earth. The abundant life is about the abundance of Jesus. I have often looked around our home and wondered what if I literally sold it all? A young man approached Jesus asking what good thing must he do to receive eternal life. Jesus replied, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” Just think about that for a minute. What if we sold all our material prosperity and gave the money to the poor? What if?

Charlie Brown struggled with the meaning of Christmas and the trappings of consumerism until Linus tells him the true meaning of Christmas.

And, even the Grinch in all his grinchiness finally grasps:

“He hadn’t stopped Christmas from coming! It came!
Somehow or other, it came just the same!

And the Grinch, with his grinch feet ice-cold in the snow,
Stood puzzling and puzzling. “How could it be so?

It came without ribbons! It came without tags!
It came without packages, boxes, or bags!”

He puzzled and puzzled til his puzzler was sore.
Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before.

Maybe Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store.
Maybe Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more!”

The abundant life is about eternity with Jesus – “setting our minds on things above” and “storing up treasures in heaven.”  The abundant life is a state of being from within and living it outwardly toward others. The abundant life is a continual, un-ending season of giving; it is living out our faith through good deeds and blessing others. The abundant life is following Jesus.

Love you, mean it!

Book: The Little Way of Ruthie Leming by Rod Dreher

A friend loaned me this book with high accolades. I would rather not say how long ago she passed it my way, but I am seeing her tomorrow and was determined to finish reading it. I am typically reading multiple books at the same time, but of late have been trying to dwindle down those numbers.

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The book summary on the jacket cover reads:

When his little sister Ruthie Leming was diagnosed at age 40 with a virulent form of cancer, cosmopolitan journalist Rod Dreher was touched by the way the community he had left behind – St Francisville, Louisiana (pop. 1,700) – rallied around her. On visits home during her illness, he was afforded glimpses of a world he had turned his back on as a teenager.

A concert at the town sports park, dubbed Leming Aid, raised $43,000 to help Ruthie, a local schoolteacher, and her husband, Mike, an Iraq war veteran pay their medical bills. At the event an old friend pulled the author aside, pointed to the crowd of people there to support his sister and said, “This is how it is supposed to be. This is what folks do for each other.”

Dreher was also struck by the grace and courage his sister displayed in the face of death. Back home for Ruthie’s funeral, Dreher began to wonder whether the commonplace life Ruthie led in Louisiana was in fact a path to hidden grandeur, even spiritual greatness, concealed within the modest life of a mother and teacher.

To explore this revelation, Dreher and his wife, Julie, decided to leave Philadelphia and move back to his hometown. There he would help with family responsibilities, be there for Ruthie’s girls, and raise his three children amid the rituals that had defined his family for five generations – Mardi Gras, LSU football games, and deer hunting. As David Brooks poignantly described the move in his New York Times column, Dreher and his wife “Decided to accept the limitations of small-town life in exchange for the privilege of being a part of a community.”

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For me, the book started out slow, perhaps that is why I felt like I was dragging it around. However, the book does depict very real issues. Sibling rivalry is a current running throughout the pages. I could not understand Ruthie’s opposition and misperceptions she held against her brother for choosing to pursue his dreams beyond the small Louisiana Parish. Her resentment toward Rod strangulated the potential warm relationship they could have shared and placed undue awkwardness on the family system. Clearly, this was in sharp contrast to the relationships she maintained with her husband and children, the community, the church, and her professional peers. These two contrasts blur her true character for me. I wonder if the author’s rearview mirror was rose colored in an attempt to honor his sister’s life, tempered with trying to bring understanding and closure for him.

The issues of cancer and the far-reaching effects on everyone involved are sad, but West Feliciana Parish, Louisiana showed true value of community. Ruthie seemed to manage her fate with grace. The story does lead the reader to ask questions about what really matters in this life. Her story brings in a little focus on how faith in Christ helps sustain a strength, perseverance, and peace beyond understanding.

I felt half of the book dealt with Rod’s life (the author and brother.) I wonder if the book was away for him to probe and workout his personal life decisions. From an early age, his heart leaned toward escaping the small town. He wanted to pursue bigger opportunities that were not possible if he remained in a small community. He had a constant wrestling inside over his choices of leaving home, which religion he would align with, employment, and cities to live in, a constant mental struggle reconciling his life inclinations.  I got the impression that he grappled with giving himself permission to have his own unique identity and preferences. A point of interest to me was Rod’s spiritual life. I felt a true spirit in pursuit of God. He began as a Methodist in the tradition of his family, but soon ventured into Roman Catholicism, finally establishing himself in Eastern Orthodoxy. Despite these transitions, I sensed a true reverence for God.

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A few quotes from the book:

“She was just kind of magical. She saw something good in everybody, even as a child.”

 “There was something particular about Mam and Paw that made our house a center of community. They did not have a lot of money, but there was always room for more at our table. People dropped by constantly, and stayed for dinner—and sometimes into the night, even during the week. They wanted to be around Mam and Paw, who were boundlessly hospitable.”

“There has to be balance. Not everyone is meant to stay—or to stay away—forever. There are seasons in the lives of persons and of families. Our responsibility, both to ourselves and to each other, is to seek harmony within the limits of what we are given—and to give each other grace.”

“Contemporary culture encourages us to make islands of ourselves for the sake of self-fulfillment, of career advancement, of entertainment, of diversion, and all the demands of the sovereign self. When suffering and death come for you–and it will–you want to be in a place where you know, and are known. You want–no, you need–to be able to say, as Mike did, “We’re leaning, but we’re leaning on each other.”

Church 102

From my prior blog, Church 101, I wrote, “I had no emotion over our departure. However, I must admit in the wake of leaving the church, I certainly did not leave much behind, in fact quite the opposite. I packed myself numerous boxes of substance and toted them right out those church doors. One box contained my precious salvation and baptism along with a few spiritual disciplines like daily praying, reading my Bible, listening to my Christian music LP’s, and the various convictions of living a moral life. I lugged out a heavier box crammed with legalistic rules that I had witnessed and been taught to believe was the mark of the accomplished Christian soldier. I hauled a box brimming to overflowing with all the reasons I was unlovable and unacceptable to God and everything I ‘should’ be doing to gain His love and favor. I carted off a box of glass shards each representing the countless times I was mocked, laughed at, ridiculed, and exploited by those church kids.

These boxes were sealed tight with an encryption that only I could decipher. They contained my interpretation of what a Christian should and should not be, what they should and should not wear, what they should and should not do, where they should and should not go, and what makes a Christian acceptable and loved by God. In other words, I was inherently a bad person on a mission to attain these perfect standards. Then, and only then, could God possibly accept and love me, as well as these church people — or anybody else for that matter. I might as well have been an Israelite trying to live under the letter of the law, conditions of a narrow, rigid moral code that imprisoned me spiritually. And here is the kick in the teeth; I knew no difference because there certainly was no one at church or home explaining anything! These beliefs seeped into me without my awareness. These beliefs coupled with my home life constantly whispered in my ear, “You are unacceptable, a disappointment, and totally unlovable.” These beliefs drove me! I had mountains to climb to achieve that which I desperately longed for – to be acceptable and lovable by God and as a Christian.  

My mother took me to church as an infant onward. Weekly, faithfully we attended Sunday morning Sunday school and then the morning church service directly afterward. Of course, I began in nursery, graduated to toddlers, and then into Sunday school for certain age groups, progressively. When I was five, I shared with my mother that I got saved. She insisted that I was too young to understand what that meant. For two years, she contended I was not saved. At age seven, I had a Sunday school teacher who I thought the sun rose and set on. I lagged behind one Sunday morning after Sunday school helping push the chairs in – it really was not about the chairs, it was about being with her. She asked me if I was saved. I told her no because my mother drilled it into me that I was not. She shared Jesus with me that morning and I got re-saved. She told me I had to go forward during the morning worship service so that it could be announced to the congregation. Huh? You mean walk down that long footpath in front of all those people and tell the pastor I got saved? With fear, trepidation, and my little heart racing, I made my way forward in front of all those people to proclaim my salvation. Two weeks later, I was baptized. As I waded out into the deep baptismal, I heard a gasp hover over the congregation and then this hush of silence. On the way home, my mother told me that those sitting around her turned to her and said it was like seeing an angel walking out. I was wearing a white robe furnished by the church and had white blonde hair. In all truth, these two events were pivotal phenomena in my life. God knew that I would need Him at such a young age to survive all that was happening and all that lie ahead. He became the very foundation upon which I found my hope to keep trying. Without Jesus, I would not be who I am today. At this church, I was further strongly commanded to be reading scripture, memorizing scripture, and praying daily. This is the one box I took from that church that I cherish and hold with deep gratitude.

Now, children’s church felt like overwhelming chaos to me – lots and lots of kids from well to do families who attended the church academy huddled in their groups of friends. Oh, not me! I was fat, which made me a huge target for being ridiculed and laughed at; I owned one dress that I wore week after week as opposed to those who wore the newest trends; I attended public school and not the church academy, which made me an outsider; and I was not in attendance every time the church doors were open, which relegated me to being less than. To make it worse, somewhere between seven and eight years old, my mother began a path of irregular church attendance, which naturally played out in my life. Some weeks we attended both Sunday school and the morning church service; some weeks we attended just Sunday school and would scurry out the door to head home before the morning church service began; and some weeks we did not attend whatsoever. There seemed to be no rhyme, reason, or pattern behind the confusion of what each week brought, but this disrupted pattern of attendance placed me under a huge spotlight. You see, they took attendance. As I entered the Sunday school room or children’s church, someone took my name and checked me off some list. The woman taking attendance for children’s church would inevitably ask me why I had missed the prior week or weeks. Every time, I would tell her, “I don’t know.” One Sunday morning my mother planned to go to Sunday school only. I asked her if we could please stay for church. She asked me why and I told her because the woman keeps questioning me each time I am absent why I am gone. My mother looks at me and says, “You tell her it is none of her business.”  I proceed into children’s church a couple weeks later praying the woman would not notice I had been absent. Not on your life!  She again asks me why I had been absent the past few Sundays and, not knowing anything different, I say, “My mother told me to tell you that it is none of your business.” Granted, I was never questioned again, but it took me years to realize that that response was inappropriate. To this day, I simply say good morning, hi, or if I know the person well enough I might say, hey, I missed you, but I will never ask anyone why he or she was not in attendance.

Because of my father’s negativity about the church and my mother’s free-flowing feelings at home about her personal scrutinization from the church, I already had the strong sense that we were a diseased family of rats attending church amongst the snakes. The way I was treated by the other kids further supported my notion of being eaten alive. To the depth of my soul, I so wanted to fit in and be a part of the kids at church. It would have meant the world to me. But that simply would never, ever be, as hard as I tried. I had not one friend. There was one girl who was the ringleader and literally reminded me of Nellie Oleson from Little House on the Prairie – prissy and spoiled, and displayed a vicious and manipulative personality. One Sunday they announce that our Sunday school class is having an outing. They are going to somebody’s farm to go horseback riding. I desperately wanted to go. I love animals and had never ridden a horse. However, I had no one to go with. As the time got closer, the desire to ride a horse outweighed the fear of going alone and risking the mockery of the other kids. My mother dressed me in a white speckled shirt two sizes too small and off I went. When I arrived at the church, we were instructed to get on the bus. I was last in line to enter the bus and there sat Nellie. My throat choked as she squealed in her shrill voice, “How much do you weigh?” The entire bus erupted into laughter as I deflated, hung my head in shame, and made my way to an empty seat. When we arrived at the farm, the horses were lined up on the opposite side of a wooden fence. We were told to stand on the opposing side of the wooden fence. As would be my fate, a horse walked up behind me and in between the slats of the fence, proceeds to lick me across the top of my suffocating tight white shirt leaving a huge grass stain swiped across the top. Once again, Nellie erupts into laughter and in her shrill voice announces to the entire group what happened causing a ripple effect of laughter. I wish the ground had opened up and swallowed me whole. The humiliation was crippling.

My mind was continuously trying to think of ways to fit in and gain acceptance from these kids. Around my sixth grade year, in an effort to gain acceptance and fit in, I asked my mother if I could attend the church academy. She was sitting at her sewing machine, as always making herself quite the attire, when I approached her with my novel idea. When I asked, she said, “Now why would you want to do that?” I said because I do not have any friends at church and I want to fit in with the kids. She said, “That is no reason for you to attend that academy. Those kids are no better than you are for attending that academy. Besides, we cannot afford to send you there. Do you know how much that costs?” Case closed! I continued attending public school. And, I continued to be the friendless laughing stock each time I attended church.

On another occasion, when I was in seventh grade, the 50 some year old teacher of the Sunday school class I was attending announces that we will be having a back to school pizza party at her home the following Saturday. Now my motivation to go had nothing to do with pizza or being with the kids. Truthfully, I would have rather played in traffic than be the fat girl scarfing down pizza in front of Nellie. My motive was the Sunday school teacher’s niece. Remember the Sunday school teacher that I thought the sun rose and set on, the one who shared Jesus with me? That was her niece. Her niece was the co-teacher of our class. She was not present in the class every Sunday morning, but I knew she was helping with the back to school pizza party. I wanted to attend the event because I wanted to see her. Did I mean anything to her? Not so much, as the years revealed, for that matter we never had conversation. But if you recall that emptiness that I spoke of in a prior blog, I was chasing after love from birth and other than my grandmother, she was probably the first female I wanted to love me. What a mistake to go to this party! What a BIG mistake!  You know how the Grinch’s heart grew 3X larger that day? My body had grown up and out over the summer and literally I had no pants that fit. Now my mother was a fine seamstress and in her brilliancy, rather than make me a new pair of pants, she decides to take a pair of my treasured undersized knit peach pants and sew (no kidding here) a 6-inch lace on the bottom of each leg of the pants. In a panic, I tell her, “No, I cannot wear those. I will look like a freak!” She convinces me that the lace makes them look really nice, they will not be too short, and everyone will think I look so cute. I wanted to puke the entire ride there. My mother drops me off at the end of the driveway. I see the kids playing baseball in the yard. I begin walking toward the area. I hear a piercing “Look” that split the atmosphere like lightning. Nellie begins pointing and laughing hysterically creating a riotous scene. As I got closer, the niece of the Sunday school teacher is standing on the porch watching the entire incident playout. No one stopped it. I had no way of leaving. I fell into a silent world of pure hell! This was the last attempt to participate in any church activity – no more Sunday school parties, no more children’s church, and no more youth activities. Remember those  boxes – the one overflowing with all the reasons I was unlovable and unacceptable to God and the other box of glass shards each representing the countless times I was mocked, laughed at, ridiculed, and exploited by those church kids – they both also contained blood from the wounds that dug so deep into my very soul.

That last box of legalism contained so many rules. And, I believed every single one. They were leverage against myself, indicators of my spirituality or lack thereof, markers of defeat, gages to remind me that I was not worthy to be loved, and guides that drove me just about over the edge.

Now, here is what I did love. I loved walking quietly into the huge sanctuary, locating my mother, quietly sitting in the pew, and listening to the prelude music. I loved singing the hymns. I loved hearing the beautiful choir each Sunday. I loved special music. And, I loved hearing the Word of God preached. At the most important level, somehow God got ahold of my heart and despite the fact that my heart was broken, I believe He held onto me beyond any words that I could ever write.

Love you, mean it!

Book: The Devil in Pew Number Seven by Rebecca Nichols Alonzo

Summary of the book from Goodreads:

Rebecca never felt safe as a child. In 1969, her father, Robert Nichols, moved to Sellerstown, North Carolina, to serve as a pastor. There he found a small community eager to welcome him–with one exception. Glaring at him from pew number seven was a man obsessed with controlling the church. Determined to get rid of anyone who stood in his way, he unleashed a plan of terror that was more devastating and violent than the Nichols family could have ever imagined. Refusing to be driven away by acts of intimidation, Rebecca’s father stood his ground until one night when an armed man walked into the family’s kitchen . . . and Rebecca’s life was shattered. If anyone had a reason to harbor hatred and seek personal revenge, it would be Rebecca. Yet The Devil in Pew Number Seven tells a different story. It is the amazing true saga of relentless persecution, one family’s faith and courage in the face of it, and a daughter whose parents taught her the power of forgiveness.

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I finished this book a few days ago. My first thought upon completion – WoW!! Somewhere along the way, I missed it, but this story has been featured on Dr. Phil, The 700 Club, Lifestyle Magazine, and CNN.com – probably because I do not watch or read any of these media. For literally years, the Nichols family had been the target of threats – menacing phone calls at all hours of the night and day, threatening letters mailed to their home, drive-by shootings, and multiple dynamite bombings close to their home and the church. The local police and detectives were involved, and eventually the FBI, but all evidence was circumstantial and they needed concrete proof. My husband and I certainly feel more aggressive measures needed to be enacted by the police, the FBI, and the church members, but how deep did the corruption travel? Today I wonder if Child Protective Services would have removed the children from the home due to endangerment and an unsafe living environment.  

My husband and I had many discussions throughout my reading of this book. Some questions we discussed were:

  • What would we have done?
  • Would we have left before the violence escalated to such a disturbing intensity?
  • Would we choose to leave rather than put our children in jeopardy?
  • Why would you remain and traumatize yourself, your wife, your daughter, your son, your congregation, the city, etc?
  • Does God call us to remain in a place of service where clearly lives are at stake?
  • Should we sacrifice mental health, the well-being of our children, the congregation, and the town?
  • Would we choose to take a stand against an unethical wealthy ex-politician paying off officials and henchmen to work his evil schemes and cover up his demonic, depraved acts of hostility?
  • What was there to gain by staying? What was there to gain by leaving?
  • Were there other counter measures and tactics that could have been implemented hard core?
  • Was this down deep a power struggle and battle wills?
  • What would have been most glorifying to God?

The Bible says to live at peace with all people. I believe that whole-heartedly, but I also believe at times peace means not remaining in a volatile situation. Ultimately, our answer is “NO” we would have left to serve elsewhere, but these questions are relative to what a person determines to be God’s leading and what they are willing to pay as the ultimate price. Now, with this all said, I would like to point out that God has used all things together for good. Rebecca, the author and daughter, is a speaker on betrayal and the power of forgiveness and is involved in various other ministries. What a high price tag!

Some quotes from the book:

“And now Danny, the newborn, had signs of a nervous disorder.”

“I knew a thing or two about the impact of losing sleep. When awake, I lived with the constant fear that we were never truly safe. I’d jump at the sound of a car door slamming or at the screech of tires squealing, even if the noise came from someone arriving home for dinner…And when I was asleep, the nightmare we were living followed me into my dreams…”

“Like a puzzle with a thousand pieces, I struggled to fit together into any meaningful order the troubling thoughts swirling in my mind…Night after night, we prayed that this man would have a change of heart. We begged God to take away his anger, to transform his mind by the power of the gospel message that Daddy preached Sunday after Sunday.”

“Lying in bed at night was especially difficult for me. The memories of us living in Sellerstown and the fear that prevented me from falling asleep back then would flood my mind. When the nightmarish thoughts became too much to bear, too loud to silence, I’d get out of bed…”

“Daddy’s fragile condition was severe enough to require heavy medication – even an extended hospitalization of six months…I’m sure his condition was complicated by second-guessing. He had to have wondered about the wisdom of staying in Sellerstown when friends and family had pleaded, begged, and prayed we’d leave before harm was done. Should he have listened? Had he been stubborn? Had this been some sort of contest of wills: Daddy vs. Mr. Watts? Or had the voice of God really confirmed in his spirit that he should not abandon this congregation?”

“But would leaving to save our own skins have been what the Lord wanted? Didn’t Jesus say to take up our cross and follow Him? Did we get a say in where Jesus took us? By definition, a cross, as Daddy knew, was suffering even unto death. The Scriptures don’t paint a rosy picture for those who follow the Lord. Daddy knew full well that Jesus promised, “In the world ye shall have tribulation.” That’s part of the deal, part of what happens when living in a fallen world. And yet Daddy also knew full well that Jesus promised His followers hope saying, “Be of good cheer; I have overcome the world…In spite of what Daddy knew to be true in the Bible, his constant questioning about his decision to stay acted like a stage-four cancer. The speculations devoured his inner being, reducing him to a shell of his former self.”

“Here’s the best way I can describe those years. Imagine taking seven different one thousand-piece puzzles. Then, imagine doing the unthinkable – mixing them all together in one giant pile. Then, after you’ve created the mess, you look at the pictures on the various boxes and realize there are tons of pieces of non-descript sky and fields of grass. Your job is to re-create the seven puzzles. That’s when it dawns on you it might take a lifetime to figure out which pieces fit into which puzzles.”

“It’s always been a mystery to me how God can handle seeing all the pain my family has suffered, as well as all the suffering that goes on every second of the day and night throughout the world. Human understanding is limited. Only the God of the universe could have the capacity and belief to prevent Him from simply closing up shop and saying, “That’s it. I’m done.” Thankfully, no one is broken beyond God’s repair. Our Creator knows exactly how to heal and fix His created.”

Church 101

When I was 15, my mother announces we are leaving the large, wealthy Baptist church. She was a charter member, but no longer could tolerate the scrutiny of the pastor and many other members. I had no emotion over our departure. However, I must admit in the wake of leaving the church, I certainly did not leave much behind, in fact quite the opposite. I packed myself numerous boxes of substance and toted them right out those church doors. One box contained my precious salvation and baptism along with a few spiritual disciplines like daily praying, reading my Bible, listening to my Christian music LP’s, and the various convictions of living a moral life. I lugged out a heavier box crammed with legalistic rules that I had witnessed and been taught to believe was the mark of the accomplished Christian soldier. I hauled a box brimming to overflowing with all the reasons I was unlovable and unacceptable to God and everything I ‘should’ be doing to gain His love and favor. I carted off a box of glass shards each representing the countless times I was mocked, laughed at, ridiculed, and exploited by those church kids.

In this church, my mother was unacceptable because she came as a single parent bringing my brother and I on Sunday mornings, sometimes to Sunday School and church, sometimes just to Sunday School, sometimes just to church. My father adamantly refused to attend any church stating that the church was full of hypocrites. I never knew what that meant, other than Sunday morning TV, home repairs, and working in the garage was not what hypocrites did. Hypocrites went to church. The church itself had high expectations that everyone should attend Sunday morning Sunday school and church service, Sunday evening, Wednesday evening prayer meeting, and go door-to-door soul winning and visitation on Thursday evenings. She never met that mark and grew to feel judged, isolated, and lonely, particularly because she was ‘unequally yoked’ and her financial class did not measure up to their standard. I suppose she felt like condemnation was poured all over her. I believe there was solid evidence to support her feelings, but her own nefarious ways as well heaped conviction and guilt upon her soul. When she had a small meeting with the pastor to get ‘wise counsel’ about filing for divorce, it became her worst nightmare as the pastor resolutely objected. From that point on, she felt doomed to a marginalized place where only the poor were tossed a few crumbs. That is when she decided to leave.

As for myself, I heaved my over-stuffed boxes on my back, followed my mother out of that church, and year upon year, walked through life like a pack donkey. I believed those strongboxes contained all of my foundational beliefs; they contained the path and role-models to my spirituality; they contained my performance goals; they contained my spiritual benchmarks; they contained my self-assessment tormentors; they contained my mother’s boxes; and jointly  they continually catapulted me into a troublesome struggle with church and God. Now, of course, I had not a clue of all I jam-packed into my boxes at such an impressionable age. I never opened them to take a closer look and sort the contents all out. I just kept relentlessly trying to apply all these round pegs into my square holes, always expecting different results if I just kept trying harder and harder to become a round peg. For decades, the contents seeped all over my life, but here again I was ignorant and was not able to identify all the boxes strapped to my heart and mind; I was just a donkey loaded down with faceless, nameless burdens. As for the specifics of my personal experiences at this church, I will share in my future post entitled Church 102.

I am entitling this post Church 101 because boy do I have a lot more to say about church(s). Yet, I want to make this clear, I believe to the core of my being that Jesus died on the cross for my sins and the sins of the whole world – that is you too my readers! I believe Jesus is the only one true living Son of God. I believe that He was crucified on a cross, died a completely innocent man as the sacrificial lamb to redeem our sins, was buried in a tomb, and rose again in three days offering all salvation to those who believe. I believe the Bible is Truth and contains everything we need to know about living a life that glorifies God. I believe in reading my Bible and praying daily. I believe we are called to corporate worship. I believe that all true Christians throughout the entire world are the Body of Christ. I am a Christian believer saved by God’s grace and mercy. I am a follower of Jesus. He is my continual atonement!

With that said, I am one imperfect human being!! I have wrestled and struggled with various aspects of my spirituality throughout my life. Some issues have nearly crippled my faith. I have wandered off into complacency on occasion. I have meandered in and out of churches. I have felt deep discouragement. I have been angry with God. I have questioned God. I have read the book of Job about 100 times diminished to tears trying to understand grief and suffering. My pathway has twisted and turned, yet, I believe He is constantly pursuing me, in fact, I pray regularly asking Him to never let me go, to always come find me, and to do whatever it takes to humbly bring me before Him. Oh, and by the way, that prayer is continuously answered — He does not, He does, and He has! My soul truly seeks after Him.

Love you, mean it!