Oddities

Bible study is enlightening, but sometimes it’s also hard, or downright weird. Have you ever read something and stopped to wonder just why that detail was included? Have you ever read something and just laughed at how absurd something sounds? I cannot stop laughing when I read in Exodus about Moses confronting Pharaoh with the plague of frogs, “Frogs will jump on you.” This is what it says in almost every translation I have read. “Frogs will jump on you.” Frogs everywhere sounds like a pretty gross problem, and smelling their rotting carcasses sounds even more disgusting, but, “Frogs will jump on you,” just sounds a little hilarious. You’re just walking down the street, minding your own business, and out of nowhere… (Welcome to my brain. It is a terrifying jumble of stuff, but it’s never boring here.)

Another Moses story that always grabs my imagination is when Moses must hold his arms up during an entire battle against the Amalekites: “As long as Moses held up the staff in his hand, the Israelites had the advantage. But whenever he dropped his hand, the Amalekites gained the advantage. Moses’ arms soon became so tired he could no longer hold them up. So Aaron and Hur found a stone for him to sit on. Then they stood on each side of Moses, holding up his hands. So his hands held steady until sunset.” Exodus 17:11-12 NLT

This sounds like a terrible battle plan. Why would the outcome rest entirely on the arm strength and physical endurance of one man? Why is this detail important enough for it to be included in the Bible account? Can you see Moses standing at a vantage point overlooking the battle, already tired from traveling and incessant complaints from his people but holding the staff up over his head? This sounds like a simple task, but after a few minutes, it gets hard. Your arms start shaking, your shoulders ache, and you just want to put your arms down to rest for a moment to stop the ache. But if Moses put his staff down, his people died. Can you imagine the despair he must have felt at such an impossible task? Do the physically impossible, and your people win; fail, even for a second, and people you are responsible for will die. I have no idea why God would choose such a strange setup. I imagine it was to teach Moses and the people around him an object lesson.

Not even Moses could do it alone. His entire leadership of the Israelite people depended on the people around him, sometimes because of his fear, but mostly because the job was too big for any one person. When he first went back to Egypt, God gave him Aaron to be his speaker because he was afraid to go to the Israelites alone. When he was judging disputes among the Israelites after they fled Egypt, his father-in-law Jethro told him he was doing too much and suggested appointing judges to handle small disputes so that Moses himself only had to handle difficult cases. In this battle against the Amalekites, the job was again too big – impossible to accomplish without help. He physically needed Aaron and Hur to lift him up. One man alone cannot accomplish God’s work, however simple the task may appear.

We all need Jethros and Aarons and Hurs in our lives. We need a reminder not to try to do everything ourselves. We need people to come alongside us and lift us up, or rather we need to allow people to help us. We must be willing to admit that we cannot do life alone, and we must be willing to be vulnerable enough to accept the help. I am horrible at this. I hate to admit defeat. I hate to admit that I can’t possibly accomplish my to-do list, and I hate to be a burden to someone else. You know what? I am an idiot. I can’t expect to only offer help without also being helped. If you ever find me being obstinate about this fact, please be my Jethro. And if you are my Aaron and Hur, thank you, and I’m sorry I’m such a pain in the rump about letting you do the task God has given you.

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Biased

I am a middle-class white Christian woman living in Alabama. I am not looking to add to the chaos and clamor surrounding every discussion of race I have heard in the country and in my state for the last two years.  I certainly have no wiser words to add than have already been said.  We have provable systemic problems that need to be corrected. We have men and women in police uniforms being targeted and maligned for the actions of a few bad actors. We have men and women of color who are right to point out that there is inherent discrimination, and they are right to fear the “system” as it exists. I only want to add an admission to this discussion that bias exists, and it isn’t the same as racism.

How do I know this (besides the hundreds of well-researched studies and papers about this very topic)? Because I saw it in my own thought process this week. Having jumped back on the writing wagon with both feet, I have been working on a book about processing grief, and I’m plotting a novel to write after I finish the grief project. In my free brain time, like commuting, I have been dreaming up characters and mapping the town for my novel; I imagine their faces, and I give them personalities and quirks and voices. I was running through my cast of characters a few days ago, and this realization slapped me into rethinking my characters: everyone I had imagined was white. Every. Single. One.

I imagined a world that I limited without even realizing it. I restricted the beauty available to my made up world by unwittingly restricting it to a single color. That certainly doesn’t reflect my life – I have a workplace and professional network full of vibrant and diverse people; I have served and socialized with and taught people from all over the world; and I have people I consider family whose skin is very different from mine. But I failed to incorporate that into any of my major characters, not because I am racist but because I am biased. I based many of the basics about my characters on family and people I have known in similar towns, and most of my family is white. That is what I naturally imagined first, which isn’t inherently bad or wrong, but it does reflect my natural bias.

Bias isn’t inherently bad, either, but unchecked and unexamined, it becomes racism or sexism or any other ism out there. I am not advocating for any particular activism or group here. I think it’s wonderful to be part of a group that is helping people, but I also believe activism happens best on a personal basis. I can only control my own thoughts and actions, and I have limited influence on anyone else’s thoughts and actions. I have seen every side of the current political system try to shout the other side down, and I have seen them fail to persuade the masses outside their own party to fall in line with their thinking. For what it’s worth, I think both major parties are wrong right now. And I think both sides are hurting right now over the election results and the responses to it. As a nation we aren’t seeing past our biases.

My only goal in sharing this is to encourage you to closely examine your own biases and to share them honestly with someone once you see them for what they are. If you are like the majority of the country, you aren’t racist, but you might be filtering the news and politics through a biased lens. I work hard to find news reports from every angle to break up the echo chamber that’s so easy to fall into on social media and by sticking to a single source for news. I try to empathize with every side in a story and to wait for facts before choosing a side. In spite of this effort, I realized I am still biased. I say this with no shame and no guilt, but I also know that I must be vigilant to see things from the perspective of “other.” No matter what category your race or gender or age or anything else puts you in, you are implicitly biased; it appears to be a fact of human nature to seek out same and avoid other.

We all just have to work hard to love other as much as we love same. It’s as easy and as impossible as that.

Winging It

My life most always feels like some terribly planned improvisational film experiment; I am enough of a type A personality to want things to be done perfectly but not enough type A to get it all done, much less perfectly. I am a lister – I make lists of things to do, things to pack, crafts to finish, things I want to write about, things I’d like to draw, stuff to donate, stuff to organize… Lists are my way of sorting the chaos in my brain and feeling like I have some level of control. Sometimes they feel like a quantifiable measure of the success or failure of my day – more things marked off, good; not enough things marked off, bad. I usually sit down at the beginning of the week and plan out each day’s list from the Master List of Things I Hope to Complete Before I Die or Jesus Comes Back.

Having a plan makes me feel settled, even if I know I will only ever do about half of what I wanted to accomplish. Most of the time, though, I am just desperately winging it. Somehow over the last few weeks in my Bible reading, verses about God’s Plan from before the Beginning of Time (that’s a much more impressive list title than mine…) keep cropping up. Exhibit A: “For God saved us and called us to live a holy life. He did this, not because we deserved it, but because this was his plan from before the beginning of time – to show us his grace through Christ Jesus.” 2 Timothy 1:9 NLT

We humans tend to crave direction and attempt to discover God’s plan for our lives, and maybe especially because of the pain and loss I’ve experienced, my eyes are glued to passages about God’s plan. I want desperately to know that what I’m dealing with has meaning. Exhibit A sums up the plan: to show us his grace through Christ Jesus. This verse makes it abundantly clear that the death and resurrection of Jesus was God’s plan all along, not just a backup plan when Mosaic law failed to perfect us. Maybe I’m alone in this, but a lot of the ways that I was taught about the Old Testament made it feel like merely prologue or cultural and historical context for Jesus, like a failed experiment in making people right with a system of laws and sacrifice until Jesus came. Paul makes it plain to Timothy that Jesus was always the plan – even in the Old Testament. The law serves to show us our imperfections and to point us to the only one who can make us whole and right.

So maybe in literary terms this makes the Old Testament a prologue to grace, but that’s a pretty shallow interpretation. Throughout the books of the Old Testament, there are stories of God’s grace and redemption (Hello, Abraham, Jacob, Samson, and David to name a very few!). Hebrews tells us that everyone who followed God in faith even before Jesus was revealed was redeemed as part of the plan. God’s grace has always been the plan.

How does this translate to my need for a daily plan and my desire to know that all of the crap in my life means something? The short answer is it means that my lists and my purpose boil down to two things: to know God and to make him known. Yes, I have work to do that doesn’t feel like it matters in the grand scheme of God’s Plan from before the Beginning of Time, but my obedience and my work signal my obedience to God and (when I get it right) show a God of order and (when I get it wrong) show a God of grace and new chances. In my daily life, it also means that my plans are temporal, so when God puts something eternal before me, it trumps my to-do list every time. By eternal things, I mean conversations that encourage family or friends, opportunities to help someone in need, moments to just sit down and be with my husband and daughter, time spent praying and studying God’s word.

In the long-term view, my purpose on earth is always just to know God and to make him known. That’s the only answer that matters. Of course, I want to know that I had ten miscarriages for some more noble reason – that my story of struggle comforted hundreds of thousands of women and inspired them to bravely move forward. That is my human pride wanting to feel important and justified here on earth. The truth is, it’s malarkey. I know that I have occasionally written some words that have helped someone else, and I wouldn’t be writing this blog had I not needed an outlet. I have been in a position to comfort others and to offer some advice for those trying to comfort a loved one. Those things matter, but only in the context of the big picture. I have seen God’s grace in my struggle, and I have done my best to share that. Knowing the metrics of how that has specifically impacted the world is pretty much just keeping score; it demeans God’s Plan from before the Beginning of Time by putting it in my human grasp.

Here’s the thing about knowing that God has a Plan from before the Beginning of Time and that I have my miniscule role to play within it: sometimes this just pisses me off. There’s no gentler way to say that. If I think about me as the center of that plan, I get angry that there was no better way in my life to know God or to make him known other than to experience ten miscarriages. Really? One or two wouldn’t suffice? The only answer to that rage and frustration is to know that my only reason for anything is to find Christ in the midst of it and to cling to his grace. Something we often gloss over in Christianity is that Jesus was both fully God and fully man. It’s easy to imagine God being perfect and being a perfect sacrifice; it’s really hard to imagine a fully human brain willing to die a horribly painful death. We all have internal dialogue – what must the conversation in Jesus’s head have sounded like when he thought about God’s Plan from before the Beginning of Time? Really? This is the only way to accomplish your plan? But fully human Jesus stuck to the plan anyway and radically changed the perspective from which we all should view our plans.

Know these two things wherever you are today: Jesus has been where you are, and God never wings it.

How’s Your Grumpy?

Last month I had a week full of the common aches and pains of life – a pulled muscle, a migraine, mild insomnia, achy knees… And I was grumpy. So very grumpy. By that Wednesday I figured I had logged at least ten hours in the kitchen over a three day span; I had picked up the house at least four times (because I’ve been on a mission to keep the house in better order, even though no one else is…), and I was tired and feeling funky. I’m sure hormones were a factor in the funk, but mostly it was a week that I spent taking care of the house and everyone else while ignoring basic self-care.

I was focused on the to-do list and not doing things that I need to maintain a little bit of sanity, like exercise, writing, and crafting with the tiny human. I plopped down on the bed and exhaled all of that grumpy as one long huffy sigh, and my husband asked, “What’s wrong?” Every time he asks this question, all of the things run through my head in an incoherent stream of consciousness jumble, and I want to say, “Everything. Everything is wrong,” as I try to list all of the mess in my head. But I pause to inhale and let the inner dialogue slow just enough to form a coherent sentence. “My head hurts; that muscle in my back is still sore. I’m tired because I haven’t slept well in a week, and I’m very grumpy.”

I would love to tell you that identifying the actual problems made me realize I should slow down and take better care of myself. That night I tried to go to bed earlier, and I felt better physically the next morning. Before we got up, my husband ran through a checklist. “How’s your back?”

“Mostly better, but still a little sore.”

“How’s your head?”

“Better.”

“How’s your grumpy?”

My grumpy was still going strong. Knowing that it was at least partially a hormone cycle issue made it easier to work through because I could tell myself there was a clear end in sight, but I had to focus on ungrumpification for a few days. Maybe I will always fight depression. Maybe all of us feel bouts of mild depression, and I’m more aware now when it happens to me. But my new found power of awareness is useless if I don’t take better, healthier steps to address my grumpy when it happens. With great power comes great responsibility. And we are responsible for taking care of ourselves, too.

It’s easy to forget when we are faced with taking care of family, taking care of work, taking care of home… I cycle through great periods of self-care and then long droughts. I struggle to fit everything I need and want to do in a day, so I let the “non-essentials” slide. Those things are what keep me healthy and strong, though, so they really are essentials if I want to keep my grumpy in check and stay productive. I’m working harder to keep the essentials prioritized so that I can tackle the task list without resenting the largely thankless work of housekeeping and parenting and work. It’s a work in progress; I think it will be a lifetime job.

How’s your grumpy? If it’s running amok, check in with yourself, and be honest with yourself about what you are doing to stay healthy mentally, emotionally, and physically. If you don’t have a single thing in your daily to-do list that strengthens your body and your soul, add something and do it first. I have learned that I will never exercise at night if I skipped it in the morning, so I have to do it in the morning. Same thing with Bible study and prayer time. Guess what the first two things in my morning routine are now? If you’re struggling to make that happen, find a friend to check in with who will lovingly hold you accountable for taking care of yourself. I have two such wonderful women in my life, and I trust them to tell me truth even when I don’t want to hear it and make excuses. I rely on their encouragement, and I try to be the same type of friend for them.

If you’re struggling to find a friend to trust, please let me know. Maybe we need to form a support group for grumpies. Find a way to keep your grumpy from controlling your days, and don’t do it alone. You are a precious Child of God, and he made you to be full of life and abiding joy. If you don’t feel full of life and joy more days than not (not all days will feel like that – crap happens to everyone), then your grumpy may be in charge. Don’t let it win. You are not your grumpy. You are beautiful and valuable and worth taking care of.

Dear Child, You Are

You, dear child, are a flower –

A dazzling concoction of scent and hue,

Deeply passionate as a rose,

Bright and full as a hydrangea.

 

You will one day be a tree

With deep roots, strong arms,

And comforting shade –

A blessing to all you shelter.

 

You will always be a river –

Continuously changing and flowing

Past obstacles, through time,

Until you reach the sea.

 

Above all, dear child, be the sun.

Spread light. Give life.

Have joy. Speak truth.

Shatter the darkness with love.