Hey Death, BITE me!

Hey Death, BITE me!.

Hey Death, BITE me!

BITE is out tonight.  it is dedicated to a wonderful woman of God who has taught me more about living than anyone I know.

 

Bite:

There is a certain sleepy South Dakota town which lies just off the Interstate 29 and most people would miss the jewel that it is unless you drive off the main road, stop awhile, and take up residence.  It is the kind of town where groups of farmers congregate in shifts at the local gas station and receive coffee refills for 75 cents and where kids appear in your backyard simply because they know your son or daughter and they want to play outside after school.  Many would choose not to settle here, opting for larger cities or something closer to bigger shopping and malls.  There is really nothing outstanding that would set this town apart from most small town rural America, nothing except its commitment to its residents.

In this town on a particular fall evening the local Legion Hall was bustling with music blaring down Main Street.  Streams of people milling in and out of the building made one wonder what sort of hoodlum party was taking place, grass skirts and coconuts litter the sidewalk.  Cars are parked diagonal and through the middle of the street as we see kids, teens, moms and dads accompanied by grandmas and grandpas filter into the hall.

Holding court, in a gaily colored leu is the reason they have all gathered.  In every way it looks like the Pacific islands have come to play for an evening.  Dancing, music, laughter, and more food than one can imagine line tables.  Succulent ribs and racks of bar b que are flanked by baked beans and one whole table is covered with slabs of cake with inch thick whipped frosting.  There is joy and conversation and youth alive in this space, and that is exactly how the guest of honor wants it.

She has come home to this little town on the prairie to live out her remaining days, a young woman with a body riddled with cancer, but a spirit which knows only grace and love unconditional.  Not yet thirty, she has fought the better part of her twenties with a disease that wants to claim her, she won’t let it.  She approaches it with a bite of grit and good humor and the kind of work ethic one imagines of a South Dakota raised woman.  There is nothing fleeting or wimpy about this woman, this warrior of mercy and forgiveness.

Yes of course, she would love to bite back at this wretched illness and kick its butt to the curb, and she has put up a valiant fight, so much that the townspeople would gladly take it from her.  She has mirrored for the younger teens in band how to hold their heads up with humble pride and dignity, never shirking from what her instinct told her she must do.  She has fought and in the process has shown each of us what it means to join the journey with someone, no matter how crappy the road ahead appears.

Time is running low for our girl and while we would all will every ounce of youth and health and strength to her, she has shown us how to let go and how to accept a fate that hurts.  She is honest in her ordeal, real in admitting that sometimes the pain has been too much to handle, that the road has not always looked pretty.  Yet, she has become even more beautiful as her life comes full circle.  Tonight residents poured out in droves to love on one of their own, she is beloved to them, to all who know her.  Her desire was to spend her last moments with her family, surrounded by support and the agape love she has come to know from her Creator.  As she prepares to say goodbye to her earthly family, she is aware of the eternal family waiting to embrace her.  Again, she teaches us with quiet grace what moving toward eternity looks like.  She demonstrates the sweet Spirit of Holy listening and resilient resolve.

“I want to be home, and that’s where I am going.”  Welcome home to our lovely young woman, an example of Psalms which tells us that death no longer has a sting, no longer has a bite.  She has embraced the essence of living and the Promise of eternity awaits her and we are better children of God for having shared her journey.

 

1 Corinthians 15:54-56

The Message (MSG)

51-57 But let me tell you something wonderful, a mystery I’ll probably never fully understand. We’re not all going to die—but we are all going to be changed. You hear a blast to end all blasts from a trumpet, and in the time that you look up and blink your eyes—it’s over. On signal from that trumpet from heaven, the dead will be up and out of their graves, beyond the reach of death, never to die again. At the same moment and in the same way, we’ll all be changed.

Bushwhacked

Bushwhacked.

Bushwhacked

Bushwhacked

What began as a friendly game of capture the flag amongst the neighborhood kids quickly turned a new direction as the older children took control.  The majority of them had played together in the same backyard for years, coming home to toss their bags in the house and run to the sanctuary of play.  Aside from the occasional argument over whose turn it was next, they gave and took turns and blows with general good humor.  The motley group of boys and girls ranged in ages and the bigger kids looked out for the little ones and parents young and old agreed that this was a great group of young people.

Lately, though there seemed to be a shift in attitude, as though with the onset of middle school the invisible lines were drawn and camps created.  Today the innocent game seemed to have a frenzied sense to it, as though there were an undercurrent running that no adult would be able to see or feel.  The hits a bit harder, the barbs a bit more cutting, tackles that were meant for touch only sound more violent, harsh.  Then the words, the comments riddle the air.

“Take that one, freak!  You’re going down tonight; I’ll make you wish you were like the rest of us.”

“I told you not to talk to me when I’m at that table with the rest of the gang; you’re not one of us.  Get that through your head.  You’re not welcome there.”

“Gawd, no!  I will never walk into that dance with you!  Dude, what is wrong with you!”

The barrage of complaints rain down on their fellow neighborhood player.  Where yesterday they traded “who’s your mama” jokes, today the jokes are replaced by hate and threats.  The ambush of rage spewed forth, these young teens choosing to bushwhack one of their own, to make them pay for something beyond their control.

“Hey, step off; I haven’t done anything to you!  What is your deal?  All I did was wave your way in the lunch line, is that a friggin’ crime?  You’ve only spent whole weeks at my house and vacationed with my family every summer.”

“You are a freak!  Get this through your head; you made your choice when you decided to “come out.”  You knew what would happen, man, you coulda rode the high all the way through school, and you had to declare who you are so the whole damn world would know.  You don’t think people wonder about me?  Man, you’re so dense!  It’d be better if you’d just transfer or just… Ah, hell.  I’m outta here.”

He took the rest of the group with him, leaving one alone, bushwhacked, bombarded, and beaten.  Maybe it would be better to transfer or, there are other options.  Yah, there are always other options, there is always another choice.

The hate, where do we learn it?  When does the familiar companionship of a neighboring game of tag become something sinister?  What motivates us to turn against each other so easily?  The blows of a tackle may heal and the bruises fade, but the words and the intentions remain.  Those don’t lose impact and can do far more damage than any broken bone or wounded ego.  The tapes play for a lifetime, shaping ideas of identity and limiting potential.  How unaware of the impact we have on one another.

The Creator looks at each of us with joy and love, unconditionally.  Where we see a flaw or imperfection, or a different way of behaving in the world, God sees pure perfection and potential.  All of creation is embraced with a love that knows no bounds, no barriers, and nothing can separate any of us from that perfect love.  It does not matter who we love, how we love, what we have done, said, or left undone; we are called and claimed as beloved children.  In that moment of conflict in the backyard, the love for every one of those kids overflowed from the Creator, the same love covered each of them and will continue to cover them no matter what happens tomorrow.  That unconditional and fierce love covers each of us, no matter the age, experience, past, present, or future.   That is an impact which can move mountains and tame even the most hateful tongues.  The impact of steadfast love now and forever holds true.

“If you find the godless world is hating you, remember it got its start hating me. If you lived on the world’s terms, the world would love you as one of its own. But since I picked you to live on God’s terms and no longer on the world’s terms, the world is going to hate you.
John 15:17-19

I embark

I embark.

I embark

I have put aside the autobiography for a time to work on something which has captured my attention as of late.  I am choosing 3 verbs from the English language beginning with A and ending with Z and writing a devotional idea to go with it.  Devotional can be no longer than 1 page and must tie biblically.  Here are the first 3 attempts.

Accentuate

“Accentuate the positive!”  The words ring out as shrilly as the platinum blonde bleached into her hair.  She punches the air, making sure the staccato beat of her platform heels is in perfect time.  She knows that to fool the masses, you have to make them look beyond what is really there.  Any good performer hones that skill from birth and to make a director’s head turn, you do what you can to make yourself stand out from the crowd and that is just what she is teaching these young ladies today.

“Backs straight, head held high, suck in the gut; never-ever reveal a weakness.”  The young ladies, all dozen of them hold their 9 year old heads a little higher and look down the line at one another, making sure they are just a bit straighter, a tad taller.  At the end of the line is a quiet brunette of slight frame, angelic demeanor, and quiet strength.  Instead of casting a glance down the line, she straightens a bit taller, closes her eyes and begins mouthing something to herself.

Perhaps it’s the litany of “Backs straight, head high, never a weakness.”  Maybe she can Ac-cen-tu-ate  pos-i-tive as she practices plies at the barre.  Whatever the reason, there is an assured look on her face, one of almost pure joy, in stark contrast to the other girls’ grimace of agony.  Madame’s pitch creeps higher and her heels pick up pace even faster.  Sweat breaks out on many faces and she screeches to wipe it off, “never let a judge see you as human.  You are more than human; you are super human—act like it!  20 more minutes!”

Up and down the line Madame shrieks louder and she stops dead in front of our quiet one and demands to know why she is smiling.  “You look like you are clueless, that is no way to push yourself to the top.  Always standing there, smug and quiet, you are so infuriating!  Why are you like that?  You know you will never rise to the top of the class and be a star without the killer instinct.  Rise higher, reach further, push, push, push.”

“I have been taught that our world looks at the outer package. We judge each other on how we dress, walk, talk, and how we attractive we are. I know in my heart that what is seen on the inside is more important than how I look on the outside to others.    I am of more worth than all the fake nails or high heels in the world.  The Creator of the Universe sees to the core of who I am, not who I pretend to be or what a director may think is acceptable for a show.  I tell myself each day I am here to accentuate the inside gold, not the outside fake.  That Creator gazes at you in that way too, Madame.  Accentuate your inside gold.  Push to the inner recess of your heart, accentuate that pure gold.”

1 Samuel 16:7

The Message (MSG)

7 But God told Samuel, “Looks aren’t everything. Don’t be impressed with his looks and stature. I’ve already eliminated him. God judges persons differently than humans do. Men and women look at the face; God looks into the heart.”

Adopt

They stare out from their secured cages, brought in on trucks or in cars.  They have been found on the streets, rummaging through garbage bins, wandering fields on their own, or a family finds they cannot support them any longer.  Whatever the reason, they watch the doorways, listen for footsteps, hope for a loving young girl or boy they can shower with love.  Maybe this group will be my forever home, maybe they will adopt me and make me part of their family.

Tails wag, mouths hang open, and barks escape as they paw at the metal fencing.  Dancing on all fours they hop up and down in anticipation.  “Pick me!  Pick me!”  Can you hear them?  “Please, please.  This is special adoption weekend.  Can you find a place in your home, your heart? Won’t you adopt me?  Chose me?”

The eyes tell the stories of some of them, the lives they have lived, and their past-the solitude of their journeys.  In compelling compassion they lock contact with you, gazing at you, begging in silence to deliver them for their present reality.   Feel the joyful energy coursing through them as you click a leash on their collar, interested enough to try for a walk around the facility.  See the prideful way they pick up their head, walk through the door and out into the sunshine.  Imagine the relief when they can call corner in your room home.

We don’t need to sit in cages and wait for a special weekend to be picked.  Our place at the table has already been set, it is waiting for us.  We have been adopted, ushered into a family without constraints, without ridicule, absent of cold or loneliness.  It is a place where we belong no matter how scrappy we look or how many miles we have traveled.  There is peaceful and comforting warmth which envelops us, if we are brave enough to embrace it.  The beauty of being adopted into this family is that it is royal.  We become sons and daughters of a King, a King of such radical love; we are incapable of describing it.  Our brothers and sisters of times past, present, and all future have also been adopted into the royal family.  The house is teeming with all ages, stages, hopes, dreams, and stories and all are accepted at the table.  There is always enough, more than enough of all that we dream.  There is more love than we can imagine, always more forgiveness, always.  There is no need to make ourselves noticed so that we will be chosen; we have been seen from the beginning-the adoption papers signed.  We belong just as we are, blameless and wonderfully created to love one another.  Imagine the joy in our Creator’s gaze as another brother or sister understands the comfort of waiting arms and runs to join the celebration already happening.

The celebration of your accepted invitation to be part of a whole family, anxious to know you, care for you, and love you; just as you are.  Come and rest.  Your searching is over and now you can breathe the sigh of relief, confident that you are where you belong.  It is a pleasure to welcome you home my brother, my sister, my friend.

But you are the ones chosen by God, chosen for the high calling of priestly work, chosen to be a holy people, God’s instruments to do his work and speak out for him, to tell others of the night-and-day difference he made for you—from nothing to something, from rejected to accepted.
1 Peter 2:8-10

Advocate

In the education circles the letters, IEP carry special significance.  Those parents whose children are on one also know the importance of those letters; they mean regular meetings, constant evaluations, and incessant conversations with teachers, administration, parents, and students.  Sometimes it seems a rat race of connections until that glimmer of hope peaks through a haze of confusion.  The onslaught of verbiage that only educationally trained people speaks.  Wading through the paperwork appears to be never-ending, as does the guilt that gnaws at the back of the mind.  “Am I the reason they have trouble reading?  Do I do something that makes it impossible for them to concentrate in school?  Are they doing this on purpose?  Who will know I failed?”

For the student, they are oblivious to the world of special education or an Individualized Education Plan.  All they may be aware is that some subjects in school may be more difficult than others, or that their attention span seems to tank around 2 o’clock in the afternoon.  They are unaware of the countless hours that moms, dads, grandparents, or other family members sacrifice in order to help them succeed.  A bag is magically packed and ready for the next day, homework is never tackled alone, and someone is always watching out for them.  They have no idea the conversations that take place over the phone, internet, or in person.  They never see the tears fall as their loved ones try every day to make today a bit easier than yesterday; never do they hear the inner voices screaming at those family members that this deficit is their fault-as if it could be blamed on someone or something.

While they remain unconscious to those moments, they are also naïve to the cheerleading and work that is done on their behalf.  Within mountains of paperwork and conversation and evaluation are people who are pulling for the success of that student.  They will join forces and stand strong to do whatever is necessary for that young person.  It may be as simple as helping to read for an extra half hour after supper, or as involved as assisting them in every area of life.  Whatever the case, the support exists and remains strong.

There are times though, when the hours are long for those fighting, when a blissful night off seems like the perfect respite.  Moments when the fight wares on the soul and the plea to be let off the hook feels like it falls on deaf ears.  There is One who hears, however.  One who chooses to stand in the midst of the fight and advocates on our behalf.        There is a constant who decided in the beginning that each life lived was worth the struggle and climbs into it with us, who will spend the extra moments in quiet prayer or tempered promotion.  The Creator who set all the stars in heaven believes that we are worth more than all creation combined and does not hesitate to enter our world and join us in whatever we may encounter.  Nothing is too large, no darkness too bleak, no amount of red tape and paperwork too daunting for the One who experienced life in all its mountain top and valley moments.   What appears overwhelming for us is a chance for the Creator to fight for and protect the beloved.  Like a mama bear protecting her cubs, we are fiercely loved and fiercely supported, by an advocate who continues to advocate on our behalf.

“As soon as Babylon’s seventy years are up and not a day before, I’ll show up and take care of you as I promised and bring you back home. I know what I’m doing. I have it all planned out—plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for.
Jeremiah 29:9-11

Surrender

Surrender.

Surrender

I obsess.  Incessantly.

Sometimes I obsess about the most inane moments, situations, comments, or other sundry items.  See, i even made that really long sentence because I cannot use the word “things” in writing…. Cannot end a sentence with a preposition, nor will I patronize a store with incorrect spelling or grammar in their advertising.  I find it belittling to people, and if they want my money, they should treat me like I am an intelligent person making intelligent purchases.  Even if I want to spend my money on drivel, I still want to make an educated choice about said spree.

I find myself incarcerated by what I believe I must do and be for other people and yet consumed by a desire to bust out of the bonds of my making.  It is exhausting to say the least.  If I sense for a second that someone is angry or upset with me, I spend the rest of the time trying to figure out how to make amends, take the blame, or smooth over the situation.  This has not served me the best as there are simply some moments that cannot be amended.  There are also some circumstances that are not mine to own or to take the blame.  I am learning, slowly, Slllllowwwwlllly that there are times when I have extended the white flag and it is not received, that is not my fault; that there are items which others must own–if they chose.

I fixate on the future, believing that there is a destined something out there that I have to, have to, have to find.  That I will not rest until this something is spelled out in perfect and glittery letters and that I can follow a prescribed set of steps that will get me “there”–whatever that looks like.  That is also exhausting to the extreme because there will never be this utopian moment of “arrival”.  I will never reach the mecca of perfection and someday I will stop trying so hard to reach it.  Maybe.

I fret and stew about the  smallest infractions that I have committed, whether it be a missing comma in a piece of writing, or a forgotten date, my lack of providing all that I should to all I should.  I worry incessantly about what I could do and that it is never enough and will constantly be compared and found lacking in terms of what I should do.

I struggle to fit a set of standards and expectations that I have and that I believe others have for me, without having a clue as to how to attain them all at the same time.  I dream of a time when clouds part and sunshine streams in and I can breathe, in and out, and then in again–peacefully.  Ahhh, silly me, what am I thinking.  That is not what life is about….it is a set of struggles and obstacles and how one engages with them that is the real testament.  I try each day to make it better than the last one I lived.  Today I might have failed BIG time, I prolly did.  Maybe I did not….Maybe I semi-mastered one area and let another fall.

I heard the word surrender today.  That word has always presented barriers for me, maybe others too.  When I heard it and saw the scene in which it was used I was amazed.  This person asked the other to surrender with him in that moment.  To let go and let whatever was going to happen, happen.  What a concept.  He was in love and loving enough toward that other person to surrender the dreams they had together to help one another realize who they were independently.  He asked her to have enough faith in them to surrender.

I never have been good at that.  Growing up the middle child only girl in a talented and hard-working household meant that I had to fight for my place.  I fought hard to have a voice whether I needed to or not.  Later, being trained as a public speaker and a debater did not lessen my ability to surrender in any form.  It meant that I was better at it, could sniff out an opposition’s weakness and was going for the jugular in the most eloquent and snarky-smart fashion.  I did…I did it well.  Being in a family of incessant over-achievers meant that I did not let my guard down, did not let anyone know my fear, my weakness, or my desire to be average.  It became so that there was never a desire to be average, because that meant certain failure.  Standing out, making a name, and being more than an individual was as addictive as the Purple Passion my generation drank till they were stupid.  I had to have it…had to be outstanding, had to have the last word and it HAD to be better than any one else’s in the room…or else I would make myself pay.  I did–often.  I never surrendered, never gave up, never quit.

Now that funny word–surrender , lingers in the back of my mind.  Festering and picking at the vestiges of thought, calling me to examine what it looks like, inviting me to cloak myself in its embrace.  You see, I envision the talons of defeat and ridicule associated with that word.  Yet, there is something calming and oddly freeing about wrapping in its comfort.  Is there comfort there, is there freedom?  I admit, the thought of exploring that is a bit daring and daunting.

Surrender—hhhhhmmmm.  Whatever does that mean?  Anyone else willing to journey that with me?

Game on?????

cahl.

 

Ignorance is NOT bliss

Ignorance is NOT bliss.

Ignorance is NOT bliss

Ya know what, life was easier when I chose to stick my head in the sand and pretended that all the world was made of chocolate streams and all people are good and kind and loving.  In utopia, that may be true. Sometimes life hands you a moment to show you who you are and what you have or have not become…if we are lucky, we rise to the occasion-sometimes we choose-to remain buried.  Today was one such day.

I awoke in a tense mood after having put in a full day of work previously.  Both my boys ended up sleeping in my room, one on my bed, the other on the floor–the weather turned hot and putrid and I believe the my body is part TIN MAN and is in desperate need of oiling–especially on my neck.  In short, I was in a snarky mood to begin.  As rounded the interstate, traveling to my work office I encountered a woman standing by the road with a “NEED HElP” sign.  There she stood in her tie=dyed tank, big ole shades, NIKE swishies, flip flops…and wait for it….Hot pink Pedicured toes.  NICE.

I felt myself angered for the first time.  I pass many of the signs, people stranded on the roadside and I always wonder if I should stop.  Sometimes I don’t because I have my children in the car and I have to think of their safety–sometimes I am alone and I have to consider my safety…when I am in the position, I try to pause, show them my phone, and inquire if they need help. This one made me angry.  I look down at my own toes and see polish that is over a month old and know that it was a gift to me from someone as I embarked on a new adventure in my life.  I do not have the finances to keep up a manicure or a pedicure, so I understand how much of a treat and a gift like that is for me.  Yet, there was this woman asking for my help…NO!

In an interesting movement of opposites another situation presented itself.  As the middle of my town was riddled with anger and confusion and tragedy….a middle aged woman and her 2 children ambled into place we house our office.   Asking for gas money and some sandwiches, we heard her story.  We know her name and her kids’ name–a young lady about 13-14  not in school, flanked by her older brother–16, almost 17 with Asperger’s Syndrome and Bi Polar Disorder.  My heart broke in 2 as I watched some of the same mannerisms of my son…heard him talk about drinking the blood of a raw d to shock someone.  I saw him not able to listen to his mother–i saw her pain, heard the anguish in her voice as she recounted losing her husband of 13 years in April to a massive heart attack ( ps, i have been married 13 years)  I picked up on the frustration on her daughter’s demeanor…the anger, the just under the surface rage.  I worry about her.  I worry about her future, I worry about the lack of education and the chances she may have.

Into a white pick-up with ply wood sides so they have walls while they sleep, they piled amidst what appears all their worldly belongings–including 4 terrier dogs.  From South Carolina to Montana they plan to travel in hopes that she might find a job and someone who will help watch her 2 kids while she works.  She knows that her oldest son cannot be left on his own, I wonder about who he will become.

I had to climb into a car and motor off to a meeting….i watched them leave and i choked back a sob as I entertained where they will sleep tonight.  This was the face of poverty and a complete lack of hope and it left me with no choice….but to SEE.  These were the least, the lost, and the lonely and marginalized.  I wondered about what our Presidential candidates would do in that moment, without the microphones and campaign trails and the throngs of people to entertain.  Would they extend a sandwich, listen to the heartache, would they be impacted by the sight of a truck driving down the road.  Had I not been working in community development, would lI respond in the same manner.  If I did not have an MDIV—-would I do the same?  Would I do the same tomorrow?

My husband asked if I could compartmentalize it, not let it affect me–to do what I can and then let it go.  Maybe.  Maybe not.  In this moment, the experience is about 5 hours old…and yet, I wonder.

SHALOM

cahl.

 

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