Wondering

squirrel-snow-storm_47916_990x742

The wind keeps swirling snow around and around outside my window. As I drive through the thick snow, barely seeing far enough ahead to stay on the road, my eye catches movement on the ground to the right. It’s a little squirrel, sitting by the road as calm as can be. He is unfazed by the biting cold, stoically chewing a little tidbit he’s scrounged up. I wonder where he’ll go after that and where he lives. I wonder what he thinks, if he thinks anything at all. I wonder if he knows that there is One far above all who sees to it that there is food for him to find. Continue reading

Dad Said I Was Pretty

the-princess-diaries-miaA few days ago, I was talking to my sister, Monica, on the phone about our bringing up and how thankful we were for the many things our parents did right. The context for this discussion was a memory I had. A girl I heard of who had grown up in a loving, well-intentioned home where the father, thinking he must prepare his daughter for what her life would inevitably amount to, told her that she would probably never get married because she was not pretty. Just thinking about that makes my gut sink to the floor. He meant well, but it was such a damaging thing to say. I also mentioned an article that I’d read by a woman whose husband, contrary to all her protestations, told her she was beautiful every morning before they got out of bed. She went on to describe in humorous terms what she usually looked like every morning—messy hair, sweatpants, stretch marks from carrying three children, extra girth around the waist…you get the picture. Yet to her husband, she was a beautiful, beautiful woman. I scrolled down through the comments, and most of them were lovely. But there were also a few that smacked of the “spirit of the age.” “Seriously, there’s no reason to let yourself go like that. Your husband would probably like it if you lost some weight. He’s just too nice to tell you.” Most heartbreaking to me was the woman who wished her husband would act towards her like the husband in the article. Her own husband was distant and had lost interest in being close to her emotionally or physically. He was, in fact, saving up his money so she could get a tummy tuck.

Backtrack with me about seventeen years. Thirteen-year-old Amanda stands in front of the mirror. Staring back at her is a huge pair of thick glasses, a smattering of pimples over whatever face isn’t covered by the glasses, a smile that reveals some crooked teeth, clothes that stick out in every awkward direction because she’s too skinny for most of them to drape nicely, a flat chest, and…oh, those glasses. Just like Anne Hathaway in the Princess Diaries, she finally sighs and mutters, “Well, as usual, that’s about as good as it’s going to get.”

She walks out into the kitchen where her family is gathered for breakfast. Her Dad looks up, smiles, and says something along these lines, “You’re so pretty, Amanda.”

Incredulously, she shakes her head, sits down at the table and begins to eat.

Talking to my sister on the phone the other day, we remembered how similar events played themselves out over and over. In spite of our protests, Dad told us over and over again how pretty we were. Often, he upped the ante and told us we were beautiful. Monica said, “Of course, I never believed him.” Neither did I. Why? Who knows. We silly females focus on one or two features we don’t like and forget everything else, I guess. We want, so desperately, to believe that we are lovely, but will contradict anyone who tells us we are. It’s a way of curbing disappointment before it happens, I think. Still, I could see the sincerity in my dad’s face whenever he told me I was beautiful. And even while I shook my head, I still thought to myself, “Well, Dad thinks I’m pretty, so maybe I really am.” Sometimes a little glimmer of hope is all you need.

Now that I’ve been out of my “awkward stage” for quite a few years, I’ve just realized how important my dad’s words of praise were and how they protected me. Those words enabled me to reject the desire to seduce that I believe every girl is born with and every girl, physically plain or beautiful, is capable of. When I am loved and found beautiful, there is no need to seek out the attention of short-sighted men with alluring glances and clothes designed to draw their eyes where they don’t belong. Later on, those words kept me immune to the men who make a practice of flattering in exchange for favors. I can tell the difference between sincerity and lust.

Dads should always tell their little girls that they are pretty. Even if the physical symmetry is not there, a good dad knows a secret—the image of God makes everyone beautiful and love can see that beauty. A human being is so much more than the sum total of his brains and body parts—it’s a soul, and that’s where its beauty resides. I would suggest to you husbands who cannot see the beauty in your wife’s tired body that the fault is not in your wife but in your ability to love. I would suggest to you wives who are secretly pining for a six-pack and gigantic biceps that the problem is not in your husband’s limited muscle tone. The problem is in the quality of your love. The good news is that while we may have a very hard time staying in shape, there is no limit to the ways our love can grow. And you may be very surprised to find how little buds can bloom when love is strong.

The Happy Island


Some pieces of music are like food to my soul. I can play them over and over again and never get tired of them. They evoke a response from me that usually involves silence and awe. I’m listening to one of them right now. L’isle Joyeuse (The Happy Island), is a composition for piano written by Claude Debussy.  Trying to figure out exactly what the music means to me and verbalizing it is the hard part. That is the task ahead of me today. Before reading any further, take five minutes to listen to the recording I have posted above, played masterfully by Marc-Andre Hamelin. Otherwise, none of this will make much sense.

I have often tried to understand why this piece holds such an appeal for me. The only way I can describe the music is by using words like ethereal and frantically excited. I think the key to understanding the piece is its title, The Happy Island. You can’t stay on an island very long, you know. Resources begin to run out. Eventually, you have to move on. Happiness is kind of like that.

In its own unsettled way, The Happy Island is beautiful, a celebration of transitory happiness. It is an island we might meet once in a life time, surrounded by a sea of sadness, pain, and suffering.

I have an odd view about happiness. I suppose a fair amount of Christians would disagree with me. I do not believe happiness is the purpose of life, nor do I believe it is the perpetual state of Christians. Now joy! That’s a different thing entirely. People can go through great hardships while rejoicing in their Lord. But that’s another topic for another day. Happiness is different. Happiness is the seasoning of life. I suppose it could be a tiny glimpse of what we were created for and what we’ll find in eternity. But in this life, it is not meant to last. And something very odd and unsettling begins to happen when people cling to happiness as their mainstay. They do strange, selfish, and generally unethical things when their happiness is threatened. They’ll leave children and spouses to pursue a more fulfilling relationship. They’ll buy things until they can’t afford them anymore, then go into debt and buy more. They’ll cut people out of their lives to ensure their own comfort. In short, they’ll do whatever it takes. Instead of sailing to their happy island, thanking God for it however long it lasts and gracefully waving goodbye when He gives the word, they cling to it and only leave when forced, kicking and screaming.

As I began to read up on the circumstances around L’isle Joyeuse’s composition, I began to understand that this is exactly what Debussy’s life reflected when he wrote it. To say that Debussy’s life was a mess would be no overstatement. He carried on a string of affairs with various women, some married and some not, that began at the tender age of eighteen. He finally married one of them after she threatened to commit suicide if he did not. A great start to a marriage, no? The two were married for several years before discontentment came knocking. Debussy found his wife intellectually dull. She had prematurely aged and was unable to bare children. Again, in search of ever-elusive happiness, Debussy took up with a married woman, Emma Bardac. In 1904 they both left their respective spouses on the sly and vacationed on the island of Jersey. It was there that Debussy completed L’isle Joyeuse. No doubt, the brief time they spent together was quite happy, and a depiction of that happiness transferred to Debussy’s composition. But it was not to last. When they returned, Debussy made it known to his wife that their marriage was over. A few months later, she attempted suicide and failed. Still, all of Debussy’s friends and society in general learned of his infidelity after the incident, and life became very difficult for the pair. The two were eventually able to obtain divorces and marry, but as you can imagine, their marriage was tempestuous until the end, producing one daughter who died shortly after her parents succumbed to various illnesses.

Happiness…such a passing fancy, like our lives. We are born and live a few years that pass like the wind and then we die. How miserable we make ourselves and the people around us by clinging to those things that will never last! But if that is all there is, what other choice do we have? How tragic. We get little enough of either. Thankfully, life and happiness are not all. Each of us is given an immortal soul and access to an immortal God through Christ. How much better to develop and cultivate our souls and learn to know our God than to obsess over things that will run out and hopes that will inevitably disappoint?

When I listen to L’isle Joyeuse, I’m reminded of James 4:14, “…For what is your life? It is even a vapor, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away.” Life is fading fast like The Happy Island, giving way to eternity.

Debussy on beauty

Jesus Died for All the People (All the Toxic People of the World)

57e2ecdbb7d90d3f92f9b7cdf542eb2cI like Pinterest. I like all the colorful pictures and home decoration ideas and recipes. But, because I am a writer most likely, I find myself drawn to the “quotes” category more than the others. I scroll through, rolling my eyes at the slurpy love quotes, being annoyed by the coarse jokes and stopping in wonder at some of the gems of thought I find after a thorough search. But then, there are those other quotes, those statements taken out of context, those half-truths that do so much damage to susceptible minds. I’m often tempted to add them to my quotes collection but don’t because there are either fatal flaws in the ideas or the ideas only represent a grain of truth or the ideas are flat-out wrong to begin with no matter how well-written. It wouldn’t be a good thing to take them to heart because, to quote Richard Weaver, ideas do have consequences.

Consider the topic of toxic people. I’ve noticed a lot of “wise” words about “toxic people” lately, and they tend to bother me. For instance, “Don’t let negative and toxic people rent space in your head. Raise the rent and kick them out.” (Robert Tew) At first, it sounds like a reasonable motto. But what exactly are toxic people? Well, judging from all the wise words I’ve heard on the subject, toxic people are the kind of people that make you feel bad about yourself, those who love you too much, stifle your creativity, impose their standards on you, are negative and so on and so forth. Here’s a helpful diagnostic from Daniell Koepke, “Not all toxic people are cruel and uncaring. Some of them love us dearly. Many of them have good intentions. Most are toxic to our being simply because their needs and way of existing in the world force us to compromise ourselves and our happiness. They aren’t inherently bad people, but they aren’t the right people for us. And as hard as it is, we have to let them go. Life is hard enough without being around people who bring you down, and as much as you care, you can’t destroy yourself for the sake of someone else. You have to make your wellbeing a priority. Whether that means breaking up with someone you care about, loving a family member from a distance, letting go of a friend, or removing yourself from a situation that feels painful — you have every right to leave and create a safer space for yourself.” There you have it. The definition of a toxic person…and subjectivity overload.  I guess everybody just has to figure out who is toxic to them and eliminate accordingly.

Besides the fact that I object to referring to human beings as toxic which sort of puts them on the same level as the chlorine in our water and the fluoride in our toothpaste and just that disposable, here are my main concerns with the “freedom from toxic people” attitude.

  • From the life and example of Christ, we have no precedent for eliminating toxic people from our lives. It just isn’t there. I mean, think about it. What group of people living during the time of Christ would qualify as toxic more than the Pharisees and other religious leaders? If those individuals I quoted above are right, than Jesus was a real sucker. Not only did he not remove them from his life, he engaged them in conversation. He answered their accusatory questions with more questions. Instead of avoiding them, he confronted them. And finally, when they incited a crowd to blood thirst, he died for them.
  • The term “toxic people” denies sin. Like I mentioned before, people are not toxic. Chemicals are toxic. People are sinners. All people. That includes you. You may be successful in getting rid of all the toxic people in your life. Block them all on Facebook, refuse to answer their phone calls or move to a different church to avoid seeing them, be a hermit in a cave, but there will always be one toxic person left to egg you on—you. You sin quite well all by yourself.
  • Eliminating toxic people is all about self-preservation, not Biblical restoration. Getting rid of toxic people has an element of cowardice in it. The only time we are Scripturally instructed to avoid someone is after a very, very long chain of events FOR THE PURPOSE OF RESTORATION! It’s not about you. It’s about the good of the offender and the glory of God. To learn about that chain of events, read Matthew 18 and I Corinthians 5. It involves a courageous act called confrontation. But before confrontation, you have to do one thing that’s even harder than confrontation. You have to get the huge, ugly log out of your eye. Is it any wonder that Biblical confrontation so rarely happens? It’s so much easier to simply swat those annoying people away like so many pesky flies than look into your own heart in fear of what you might discover there.
  • We actually need toxic people. I read this on Pinterest a while back, “Terrible people awaken all of the terrible parts inside of you.” I could not find out who wrote this, but it is true. What you do with this truth is what matters. The “freedom from toxic people” idea suggests that this is why we need to eliminate such people from our lives. But I think we should embrace them. Okay, maybe they’re so ornery they won’t let you physically hug them, but at least thank God for them. God always puts the people you need in your life when you need them. And sometimes those people waken the beast inside of you. They let you know just how bad you really are. They bring all the selfishness, all the pride, and all the anger right up to the surface which is where all that stuff needs to be so you can deal with it before God. Treat terrible people as throw-away objects and you’re the one that sinks. You lose the opportunity to grow, lose the chance to confront your own sin and bring those aggravating people up with you.  

So the next time you see some words like these, “Toxic people will pollute everything around them. Don’t hesitate. Fumigate, (Mandy Hale)” do yourself a favor and toss them in the garbage heap where they belong. (Not Mandy Hale, by the way. Just the words.) In closing, I’d like to share a few words that a Facebook friend, Julie Beeman, said about this subject, “For one thing it [toxic people mentality] presumes that each person’s highest aim is perpetual personal happiness, and that the people around them serve toward that end….a completely unworkable social construct. And it ignores the ‘kingdom’ characteristics of mercy, longsuffering, and forgiveness.” I couldn’t have said it better.

Skinny Souls

Some time ago, I was sitting beside Lake Michigan reading the Psalms. And like many times when I read my Bible, my brain was reading the words and my mind was wandering hither and thither and yon. (An unfortunate reality that you can all relate to.) Suddenly, a group of verses in Psalm 106 jerked me back to full attention. They go like this, “They soon forgat his works; they waited not for his counsel: But lusted exceedingly in the wilderness, and tempted God in the desert. And he gave them their request; but sent leanness into their soul.” Psalm 106 chronicles God’s faithfulness and forgiveness to the children of Israel even while they continually sinned against Him. I immediately knew what the psalmist was referring to in those few sentences. It was the time when the Israelites were so sick and tired of the manna God sent directly from the heavens, that they began to wish for meat. They wanted it so much that they began to weep. So, God gave it to them. While they ate, God sent a plague.

The words that kept pounding in my mind were the last, “And he gave them their request; but sent leanness into their soul.” It was sobering to think that God might give me everything I want and a skinny soul to go along with it. A common theme throughout the Bible is that God usually does give us what we want. That sounds pretty good until you realize that getting what you want isn’t always a sign of God’s blessing or that what you want is a legitimate, holy desire in the first place.

As if by divine intervention, (a little tongue-in-cheek there…I know it was), I was reading I Samuel a few days later. In chapter 8, the Israelites come to Samuel and tell him, “We want a king to rule us instead of you. We want to be like the rest of the nations around here who have kings to lead them into battle.” So, Samuel prayed to the Lord and the Lord said, “Hearken unto the voice of the people in all that they say unto thee: for they have not rejected thee, but have rejected me, that I should not reign over them.” (Interesting that God should say that. As far as I can tell, there is nothing written in the Mosaic law that says, “Though shalt not have kings.” Just a thought for many of us who suppose that sin is a simple matter of chapter and verse—that if we can’t find it in the Bible, plain as day, then it’s okay to do it.) As God instructs him, Samuel tells the people that if they rearrange their government in such a way, they will have nothing but trouble. “And he said, ‘This will be the manner of the king that shall reign over you: He will take your sons, and appoint them for himself, for his chariots, and to be his horsemen; and some shall run before his chariots. And he will take your daughters to be confectionaries, and to be cooks, and to be bakers. And he will take your fields, and your vineyards, and your oliveyards, even the best of them, and give them to his servants. And he will take your menservants, and your maidservants, and your goodliest young men, and your asses, and put them to his work. He will take the tenth of your sheep: and ye shall be his servants. And ye shall cry out in that day because of your king which ye shall have chosen you; and the Lord will not hear you in that day.’” (I Samuel 8:11-18) He painted a rather bad picture, but it changed no one’s mind. So the LORD, as Hosea 13:11 puts it, “…gave thee a king in mine anger, and took him away in my wrath.”  He gave them Saul, who went crazy. He gave them Solomon, who through his lust for many women, led the whole nation idolatry. He gave them Rehoboam, the jack ass whose lack of wisdom split the nation. And the list goes on. There are a few shining stars in the kings of Israel and Judah, but for the most part, they were bad news. Yes, God does give us what we want.

As I pondered these passages, I couldn’t help but wonder how many of us Christians are contentedly living our lives without the blessing of God, our souls so skinny we can’t even see it. How many of us have the spouses we clamored after, the material possessions we wept for, the anti-depressants to keep us from unpleasant emotional sensations, the large families we so desperately desired, the childlessness we worked double-time to preserve, the “responsible” amount of children we approved of, the churches we searched high and low for to tickle our fancies and fit our preferences—all gifts given, not in blessing but in wrath? As Matthew Henry writes, “Not that God was pleased with their request, but, as sometimes he crosses us in love, so at other times he gratifies us in wrath; he did so here. When they said, Give us a king and princes he gave them a king in his anger, as he gave them quails. God bade Samuel humour them in this matter.”

It all makes me want to reexamine every one of my desires and all the motivations behind my desires. Because it would be far better to die a pauper, live in a shack, have my hopes for the future dashed and my life’s work come to nothing than to have everything my deceitful heart wants and a soul that’s starving.

God is Best

red_coatMaybe it’s just me, but it seems that there is something terribly lonely about life. I began to have a vague glimpse of just how lonely life could be when I was a little girl, running home in tears because my little friends decided they didn’t want me to play with them anymore. Later, it got lonelier as I grew into my teens and felt that unmistakable sensation that I just wasn’t quite fitting in, wasn’t really wanted. Lonelier still as I watched people verbally tear into someone I loved–at church where it’s supposed to be safe.  There’s nothing terribly unique in all of this. It’s as common as dirt. Lots of people I know have been through far, far worse. But like the common cold, whose miseries are no less painful than they are common, the loneliness that sets in after trust has been destroyed over and over again is still excruciating no matter how common the circumstances.

I often ask myself, “Why am I so disappointed? I know these people are sinners like me. They almost can’t help but do damage. It’s what humans do best.” I think it hurts so much because, deep down, we know that’s not how things are supposed to be. God didn’t create us to maul and wound and destroy. But that’s what we’ve done ever since the Fall. Even Christians can hurt people. They’re supposed to repent and mend the breaches they’ve caused, but sometimes they don’t…for years. Why? I don’t know. Pride, I guess.

Even though we know it’s pointless, we keep hoping to find some people, maybe just one person, who won’t do that. Who will love us like God meant for us to be loved, conveniently forgetting that we can’t even love the way we’re supposed to. As I think about it, my mind always goes back to God, the perfect lover. God, who is best.

God, who wants me. Wants me for His glory, not because of how wonderful or charming or beautiful I am. I never have to worry about keeping His interest or falling out of favor. He will want me when I’m obedient and chastise me when I’m not…still wanting me. He won’t ever leave me, and He doesn’t get tired of my prayers. He’s made Himself available to me every hour of every day and night. For crying out loud, He’s commanded me to talk to Him without ceasing. Not too many people I know want me like that.

God who hurts but not without good reason or purpose, who only inflicts pain as remedy, never for harm.  God who is safe, who I trust with my secrets and my sins, who will never spit them back in my face in frustration. Why would His will be frustrated? It’s always good and inevitable. God who never wields my struggles over my head as a sword, like some kind of power play. He doesn’t need to. He holds all the power anyway.

God, who loves me, loves me enough to keep after me. I forget Him, disobey Him, can never love Him the way He deserves to be loved, and He still loves me.

God is best.

 

So, I’ll be alright and so will you. If we have God, we have everything. Loneliness, after all, only lasts a lifetime.

 

When Good and Bad Get Confused: The Importance of Crystal Clear Scriptwriting

FrozenIt was a cold December night when my brother dragged me to the movie theater to watch Frozen. How appropriate! I wasn’t particularly excited about it. Just one more Disney princess movie with a lot of corny songs is what I was expecting. But I came, I saw…and I really enjoyed it. I didn’t plan on writing a blog post about it. But since I’ve seen its popularity grow, especially the popularity of one of its songs, I’ve become more interested in the Frozen phenomenon.  To be specific, I’m interested in what the makers of the film intended the final message of the movie to be and what actually stuck.

But first, an overview. (I thought I might skip this step, since everyone and their brother seems to have watched the movie, but I’ll do it anyway just in case.) The setting is an unnamed Scandinavian country in a palace where princesses, Anna and Elsa live with their parents, the King and Queen. Anna is a happy-go-lucky, rambunctious little girl. Elsa is a hermit hiding away from the King’s loyal subjects and even her own sister. In time, the King and Queen are both drowned at sea and Elsa, as the oldest daughter, must assume the throne. Coronation day arrives and the palace gates are opened to the public for the first time since Anna was a small child. During the celebration that follows, Anna and Elsa get into a heated argument in front of a room full of people. With a flash of fear and anger from Elsa, everyone finally understands why she has hidden herself away all these years. She has a remarkable ability to produce ice…in large quantities. After this revelation, Elsa runs away to the mountains, leaving her kingdom in chaos, and more to the point, frozen. She builds an ice palace away from her people, declares her independence, breaks with her obligations and settles into a life of smug self-satisfaction. Her only problem is that the fear which caused the ice to get out of hand in the first place has not left her. Anna joins up with clod-hopper Kristoff, a goofy snowman named Olaf, and Sven the moose to find Elsa and bring her back so that, together, they can sort through their problems and put the kingdom to rights again.

Frozen 2

Here’s what I liked about the film. I really appreciated the fact that self-sacrificing love saved the day. It was Anna’s love which caused her to throw herself in harm’s way to protect Elsa. And it was that sacrifice that helped Elsa realize she could fix the situation her icy temper tantrum had caused. How beautiful! And how refreshing to see self-sacrifice and not a kiss from a handsome prince save the day! I also appreciated the fact that Elsa’s liberation (otherwise known as selfishness and pride) was shown up for what it was – a total neglect of responsibility and more fuel for fear, compounding the first problem.  In the end, she realized that running away and shutting everyone out wasn’t fixing anything. She had to have love in her heart to drown out the fear so she could remedy the problems she’d caused and use her gift for good and not for evil. That truly was the take-home theme of this film.

But I’ve noticed a lot of people seem to have latched onto one song, “Let It Go.” This is Elsa’s declaration of rebellion which eventually adds more fuel to the fears that consume her. I can understand why the song is popular. It’s catchy. The visuals are pretty amazing, too. The problem is that the message of “Let It Go,” is the antithesis of the message of self-sacrificing love the makers intended to get across. “Let It Go” is so well-executed and so visually attractive that it kind of upstages the final message of the movie. Take a minute to watch the clip from the movie and you’ll see what I mean. Elsa begins the song in her lovely coronation dress. At the end of the piece, she’s created her palace of ice and her own outfit, which is exponentially tighter with a big slit up the side. Now Elsa looks kind of, well, slinky as she wiggles her hips around during the last few measures of the song. (Why is it that Hollywood’s idea of liberation always involves releasing your inner sex kitten? It’s becoming a little monotonous.) Her new attitude isn’t good. The end of the movie confirms this. But that’s the song all the little girls are latching onto. That’s the song all the little girls are recording and putting up on Youtube. And that’s a problem.

This is the challenge of writing scripts, as far as I’m concerned. I’m taking a lesson from Frozen, especially since I’ve started my second movie script. Yes, reality has to be portrayed. No, people don’t make the right decisions all of the time. So my challenge, as a script writer is to write realistically without making clearly wrong attitudes or actions more attractive than the right ones. It’s quite a balancing act, but it has to be done. I’ll need to weigh each sentence, each scene, each portion of dialogue. Because words and especially pictures and words together are powerful and they can influence people for good or bad.

And now, for my personal favorite from the film. I see no one’s done a cover for this one yet. It’s about time.

Musings

I’m in a particularly musing mood at the moment. Writing, as far as I’m concerned, is understanding. I write to clarify things to myself when thoughts seem to buzz mercilessly around and around in my head. The thoughts of my head on this day have been troubling, to say the least. The trouble began when I logged into Facebook and noticed that it and all of social media seemed full of the misadventures of Miley Cyrus. However much I would have liked to avoid the subject, I could not. It greeted me wherever I went. The bluster, and the storm and the blogging, and Miley herself. It’s all very saddening. There’s no need to try and figure out how all this happened—how we got to the point where a young woman can sin onstage, degrade herself and throw off all of her feminine beauty and mystery, before a crowd of cheering fans determined to be entertained at any cost. The path is easy to trace if anyone cares to examine it. I am heartbroken because of the acceptance of sin. Have you noticed? When inward sinfulness meets outward approval, a spark is ignited and the explosion can be quite volatile.

I have this sensation of retreat come over me at times—wishing I could shut it all out. When the world seems to rejoice in evil, encourage evil and embrace evil, I think many of us wish we could find some little haven far away to hide in. But there is no solution in that.

A few years ago, I watched a movie called The Village. A group of people, sick and tired of evil influences, took themselves away to a remote clearing in the woods. A generation later, they had forged a life for themselves without foul language, crime, and intrusive technology. People in the village married and had children. The children knew nothing of the outside world except what their parents chose to tell them. Still, the leaders of the village were afraid the children would grow up and leave, be titillated by what they found and sucked back into the evils of the outside world. So, they invented tales of hideous, violent creatures that lived in the woods. They hoped to keep all the inhabitants of the village afraid of venturing away. Their complacency was shattered, though, when a half-wit in the village stabbed another young man out of jealousy. In order to save his life, the young man’s sweetheart determined to go to the outside world in search of medicine. The whole sham was revealed. The leaders had attempted to protect their children from evil by doing evil. In all their efforts to keep evil away from their children, they had forgotten about the evil that lived in their own hearts and would be with them wherever they went.

And there is evil in my heart wherever I go, in yours, in Miley’s, the people that watched and cheered her on, and the people that roundly condemn her in such hatred. There’s a poem that’s been on my mind for the last month and a half, and it has often brought me to tears.

Who Shall Deliver Me? 

Bright-eyed little girl
Bright-eyed little girl

God strengthen me to bear myself;

That heaviest weight of all to bear,

Inalienable weight of care.

All others are outside myself;

I lock my door and bar them out

The turmoil, tedium, gad-about.

I lock my door upon myself,

And bar them out; but who shall wall

Self from myself, most loathed of all?

Fame and fortune
Fame and fortune

If I could once lay down myself,

And start self-purged upon the race

That all must run! Death runs apace.

If I could set aside myself,

And start with lightened heart upon

The road by all men overgone!

God harden me against myself,

This coward with pathetic voice

Hardness around the eyes. Does anyone notice...or care?
Hardness around the eyes. Does anyone notice…or care?

Who craves for ease and rest and joys 

Myself, arch-traitor to myself ;

My hollowest friend, my deadliest foe,

My clog whatever road I go. 

Yet One there is can curb myself,

Can roll the strangling load from me

Break off the yoke and set me free!

~ Christina G. Rosetti

 

That One is our solution. Hiding away from the evil will only render us up to the mercy of self. And self has no mercy at all. The greatest tragedy for Miley is that she has no recourse but herself. I, at least, have my Savior.

 

And where will she go from here?
And where will she go from here?

 

Conversation With a Five-Year-Old

It was my privilege to become an aunt at twelve years old. Since then, five more nieces and four nephews have been added to the family collection. I am thankful for the influence they’ve had on my life. I had two significantly older siblings who I assumed were put on earth to entertain and wait on me. My younger brother was fairly close to my age. So I spent most of my growing up years with little contact or experience with young children. Being thrust into “Aunthood” was a needed change. Suddenly, I had to learn how to keep little people occupied and out of trouble. I had to learn how to give of myself and relinquish my priorities for their benefit. I had to be a good example.  (And believe me, when you’ve heard one too many kids have a pouting, whining, crying fit, the good example bit can be difficult.)

The strange thing is, in all my years of being an Aunt, I’ve never really tried engaging my young nieces and nephews in serious conversation…until this year. The result was rather enlightening. My youngest nephew is five years old. He is bright, active and enjoys books, Thomas the Train and pretending. At present, he is not converted. Like most kids, he prefers things to go his way, and like most kids, he tends to view his own discomfort as the principle concern of the moment, regardless of how uncomfortable everyone else is. Naturally, he believes should be made comfortable first.

Early last month, I visited the family. One sunny morning, I was sitting out on the back porch, grooming one of the family dogs. Miles came wandering out with a toy train or something. His dreamy face told me he was lost in his own little world. He was driving his toy around and making up sound effects as he went along. When the sound effects died down, a random thought passed through my mind.

“Hey, Miles,” I said.

“What?”

“Do you think God wants us to be happy?”

“Um, Yes.”

“Why do you think God wants us to be happy?”

“I don’t know…because it’s fun.”

“But some things that aren’t happy are good for us, aren’t they?”

“Huh?”

“Well, like when you do something bad and Mommy and Daddy have to discipline you. Or shots, right? It’s not very fun, but it’s good isn’t it?”

“Yeah.”

I was going to ask another question but he interrupted me mid-sentence.

“Can we stop talking?” he sighed a la Russell from the movie Up.

“Why?”

“’Cause it’s boring.”

I had a good chuckle with my sister when I told her the story. But then I began to think. Miles revealed the natural man to me in that conversation. He doesn’t know it yet, but he’s a hedonist at heart with absolutely no interest in God. In his child-like simplicity and lack of sophisticated lying methods that adults eventually learn to hide their raw selfishness, he pulled the pants down on unconverted humanity.

We want to be happy. We want to be comfortable. We want things to go our way. And we don’t enjoy spiritual discussion, because in light of our own desires and pleasures, God is really kind of boring. When we grow up, we veil our selfishness in socially acceptable behavior. We might even believe in God so long as we can fashion Him into something that never contradicts us.  If we’re smart, we submit to a code of ethics. Because without ethics, life becomes so very unpleasant. And if, per chance, our desires can only be satisfied in socially unacceptable behavior, the simple solution is to mount a public relation’s campaign to make our desires acceptable.

The problem is that God’s great goal for humanity is not to make humanity happy.  He wants something for us infinitely more important than our happiness. And if humanity could only get that through its thick skull, the raging debates on legalizing marijuana, gay marriage, abortion, divorce and the like would be done before they started. God wants our wills and desires to be lost in Him. Like C.S. Lewis puts it so well, “The command, ‘Be ye perfect’ is not idealistic gas. Nor is it a command to do the impossible. He is going to make us into creatures that can obey that command. He said (in the Bible) that we were ‘gods’ and He is going to make good His words. If we let Him…He is going to make the feeblest and filthiest of us into…a dazzling, radiant, immortal creature, pulsating all through with such energy and joy and wisdom and love as we cannot now imagine, a bright stainless mirror which reflects back to God perfectly (though, of course, on a smaller scale) His own boundless power and delight and goodness. The process will be long and in parts very painful, but that is what we are in for. Nothing less. He meant what He said. (Mere Christianity)”

Miles will soon discover this truth. He is surrounded with friends and family that love him and pray for his little soul. I pray that soon he will begin his own journey to sanctification. I look forward to the day, twenty years from now, when I can ask him again whether God wants him to be happy. I imagine the answer will be quite different. He’ll have discovered by then that the process to a better state of being than happiness can be very painful. But it is very good. I sometimes shudder to think what might be in store for me in that process, because I’m not nearly that dazzling creature Lewis spoke of. But I will be, and not far from now, in Heaven.

 

Submit to death, death of your ambitions and favorite wishes every day and death of your whole body in the end: submit with every fiber of your being and you will find eternal life. Keep back nothing. Nothing that you have not given away will be really yours. Nothing in you that has not died will ever be raised from the dead. Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. But look for Christ and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in.” –Mere Christianity

Please! Just Say Thank You

We humans are excessively good at swinging on pendulums from one extreme to another and never finding that very calm and less dizzy spot in the middle on many issues. The one I will expound upon involves the two simplest words in the English vocabulary, “Thank you.”

I was quite young when I had many run-ins with this particular issue. It always happened when people paid me compliments.

Sunday morning

Well-meaning elderly lady: “Why Amanda! Don’t you look nice today?”

Me, turning red and glaring around in my attempts at not looking pleased: “I don’t really. See, my socks are falling down.”

Elderly lady: Looks confused and wanders off to find a seat.

I was under the impression that if I accepted the compliment it would only make people think I was vain, proud and silly. Besides, my socks were falling down, so I couldn’t possibly look nice. What I failed to consider was the fact that, in my attempts at being humble, I had actually insulted the lady by implying that she didn’t have the foresight to notice that my socks were falling down before paying the compliment and was therefore demented. Besides that, I hadn’t really been humble. Mostly because I was so afraid people would think I was proud. If I had really been humble, I wouldn’t have been thinking about how my response would reflect upon me instead of how I could encourage the lady through my response.

There were far too many instances like that in my life. My parents, noticing the issue often admonished me, “Amanda, when someone pays you a compliment, just say thank you! That’s all that’s necessary.”

“But most of the time, I don’t feel like they’re true,” I often protested.

“So, are you calling all these people liars?”

“Well…no,” I pondered. (Never thought of it like that before.)

“Don’t you think they say these things because they mean them?”

“Probably. I can’t imagine why.”

“Then all you need to say is thank you. That is, ONLY thank you and NOT, ‘I can’t imagine why you feel that way because I’m really not but thank you anyway.’ Just say thank you!”

If you have a problem accepting compliments graciously, you’re probably an amateur theologian like I was, and can come up with very high-sounding and noble reasons for being ungracious. Here’s one argument, “Compliments are ungodly. This is because we are but unworthy sinners who deserve nothing but damnation. We don’t deserve anything good.”

Duh! Kind of like salvation? When we get things we don’t deserve, it gives us all the more reason to be thankful! So just say thank you.

I worked hard to develop a thankful habit. However much it pained me, however much protests rose to my lips, I learned to say a simple thank you to compliments made in my direction.

Having covered the one side of the pendulum swing, I will now discuss the opposite and equally ridiculous side. It is ridiculous because its error is so subtle and sneaky.

Have you ever sat in church and listened to a beautiful hymn sung by a talented individual in the congregation? The song meant so much to you, that you sought this person out after church and told him how much it encouraged you. That’s when it happened—an otherwise clear-headed person assumed a groveling posture, fixed a sanctimonious simper on his face, and said, “Oh, don’t look at me. It was all God and not me. Praise the Lord.”

Now I do understand what people are trying to convey when they say things like this–the general principle that all our talents are gifts of God, that when we manifest good fruit it’s the spirit of God working through us, and we should give all the glory to God, etc., etc., etc. However. I already know that. So when I compliment someone for singing a song, I do not expect to hear sermon number two for the day. All I really need to hear is a simple thank you.

Here’s the deal. If all of those principles about God working through us are true, and they are, then they are true in every facet of life, not just singing in church. Suppose, then, that your mother cooks a fabulous dinner some evening. Sighing with satisfaction after the meal, you tell her, “Wow, Mom! That was so good! Thanks.” Imagine that instead of the usual response of “Thanks, honey” she says something like, “Don’t thank me, thank the Lord.” Wouldn’t that seem just a little strange to you?

To carry the illustration a little further, imagine you’ve been in a car accident, been rendered unconscious, and have stopped breathing. The paramedics are working overtime to bring you back while your weeping family stands close by. Suddenly, you open your eyes and begin to breathe again. “She’s breathing!” someone shouts in joy. Sitting up and wagging your finger, you begin to admonish him, “You know I’m not really breathing. God is responsible for every breathe I take. Don’t look at me, look at God.”

When you finally get to Heaven and God says to you, “Well done, you good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your Lord,” do you really think you’re going tell Him, “You know, Lord, I don’t know why you’re commending me because you’re the one who was working all the goodness and faithfulness in my life”? Certainly not! If you, blinded by His breathtaking glory, can muster up any words at all while you lie flat on your face in front of Him, they’ll be two simple words, three at the most, and they’ll go like this, “Thank you, Lord.”

In closing, JUST SAY THANK YOU!

Addendum 1: Please do not think that I object to giving all praise and credit to God. In fact, there are so many people in my life who are in the habit of saying, “Praise the Lord,” after saying “thank you” to compliments in such a sincere and heartfelt way, that it warms my heart. But there are a few guidelines that should be followed. If you can say, “Praise the Lord,” without scraping and bowing, OR thinking, “If you were more spiritual, you would praise the Lord instead of complimenting me,” OR thinking, “My, look how spiritual I’m being by refusing to take the credit for my singing, playing, etc…,” OR getting super, sugary sweet all of the sudden, then it’s safe to say you are expressing it in the proper attitude rather than parroting a platitude.

Addendum 2: The sentence, “Don’t look at me, look at God,” should be avoided in nearly all circumstances. Since the Bible instructs us to be examples to the believers, saying such a thing does not heap praises on God. On the contrary, it actually directs attention nowhere in particular allowing you to successfully escape scrutiny. Popular culture has a phrase for this—“passing the buck.”