Personal Journey

Don’t Forget the Little Car Accidents

I like telling you about my car accidents. The slaps of fate, I consider my teachers. So when life smacks me down and I taste the dirt, my natural response is to share what it tasted like. This isn’t new. My very first attempt at voluntary writing (age nine) was an apology to the Almighty in response to a botched attempt at digging up a dead cat. How does one botch the exhumation of a dead animal, you wonder? Could the unearthing of rotting pet go well in any reality? It could’ve gone better, I submit.

One of the farm dogs got wind (haha) of what we kids were doing and decided he was going to get himself a little dead cat dinner. Black hefty bag and all. Digging in, girlie, don’t mind if I do…

To say I felt “bad” about my friend’s cat strewn about the farm like confetti, my little experiment gone wrong, was quite the understatement. You’re going straight to hell for this one, Kelly, straight to hell. And so’s the dog.

I penned my confession to God about how profoundly sorry I was, how things didn’t turn out the way I intended, and could God forgive?– I just had a strange curiosity as to what a dead thing looked like. I’d never been to a funeral, never died myself. It was an honest mistake made in the name of science. Kind of like Victor Frankenstein.

Meanwhile, back on track. I had another wee car issue recently. Remember the gal I rear-ended? This time I scraped a car as I pulled into a spot at the YMCA. As soon as I heard it, I went into denial mode. That did not just happen. That was nothing. I actually pulled out my how-to-write book and acted like I was going to sit there and read it because what did I have to hide? I didn’t really scrape the car next to me. It was the tiniest feathery touch. Nothing to worry about.

But my stomach did that dance it does, like when I get pulled over by a (love you so much thank you for your service) man in blue. It’s the Dance de Guilt. So I did what any selfish, overworked, underfunded, stressed out, petulant irresponsible 44 year old would do: I backed my car out and parked in another space.

As I did so, my headlights fell upon the “little scratch.” Eeeeeeck. All pretense of its being feathery left my horizon. It was a bright line the same color as my car, running the entire length. My Dance de Guilt made its way into my heart and began a stomp dance while I deliberated with God about why I should just go. Go! No one saw. It was still just a scratch, went my reasoning. I had no time to do the right thing, went my reasoning. And I was so very tired. And poor. And did I mention I was poor?

We’re not poor, not really, but I didn’t feel rich enough to write my name and number on a piece of paper and put myself at the mercy of whoever’s car I’d redesigned. I hoped the person would come out and not even see it and leave while I had it out with God, that my opportunity to do the right thing would pass, and I’d be de facto absolved.

I kept chanting no one saw, no one saw. God saw.

I tell you I did the right thing for Him. Not for any other reason than for the fact that I love God and God calls me to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly. (Like I could forget, it’s on the right margin of this very blog!) I wish I could tell you it’s my knee jerk reaction to do the right thing.

For it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure. – Philippians 2:13

I wrote the note and placed it on the windshield. It went something like:

I’m very sorry I scraped your car as I was pulling in the spot next to yours. I do have insurance, but if you don’t mind, I’d rather pay for the damage outright. Here is my phone number, and again I’m very sorry to have caused you trouble. – Kelly Griffiths

Waiting to hear from X Car Owner made me physically sick. I braced myself for the call from some car-obsessed victim junky hoping for a windfall, who’d start the conversation with a hit and run threat, spiced with expletives, who’d rip into me with what the hell’s wrong with you?

Just yesterday this was said from the pulpit of my church (I know you’re going to want to go there when you hear it): We’re going to make holiness sexy again. 

He actually spoke those words. No joke. Holiness. Sexy. Again.

People acting like God and it’s attractive.

I’m determined not to forget the little accident or the elderly, phlegmy-voiced man who called and said he’d buff the mark out, no worries, no cost, who said it was real nice of me to leave a note when I could have just left, and don’t worry, honey, I wouldn’t take advantage… I’m a Christian man.

A Christian man? How peculiar. You have my number because I’m a Christian woman.

matchbox

Holiness. Attractive. The following theoretical scenario is part of my salvation journey, part of what convinced me to follow Christ. It was the first time holiness was sexy to me. And it goes like this:

You’re walking alone down a dark alley in the middle of the night in a shady section of town. Ahead, you see a gang of men walking toward you. (I lived in San Diego at the time, in a section where you couldn’t get a pizza delivered because it wasn’t safe.) Walking alone… a gang of men walking toward me… yes. Quite terrorizing.

Wouldn’t you feel relieved to know those men had just left a Bible study?

Yes, of course. That changed everything. Holiness, the pursuit of it– had I known the men were leaving a Bible study, my hand would be off the trigger, my heart would trust. I could smile at them and they could smile at me.

And we’d all live holy ever after. Holiness. Sexy.

not-by-might-nor-by-power-but-by-my-spirit-says-the-lord

Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong. – 2 Corinthians 12:10

 

 

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Personal Journey

Your Attention, Please.

Villain, Victim, Victor: the three ways I can see myself in my quest for attention. As a victim I get consolation; as a villain, condemnation; and as a victor, congratulations. Which of those strokes I predominantly seek will dig ruts for the wheels of my life.

Admittedly, this idea came to me when I was scrolling through Facebook posts. All people crave attention, but social media makes it possible for cowards and complainers to garner attention in ways only possible on bathroom walls a generation ago. Before you flog me, I’m not calling all social media users cowards, just saying some cowards have a new tool.

There is nothing wrong with wanting attention, especially if you can take that long jump of faith and seek God’s attention over man’s. But most of us, in our humanness, want attention with skin on it. We want Likes.

trainSkin attention comes in various shades. The kind I pursue will  set a trajectory for the course of my life, draw certain personality types my way, and drive others far from me. I can change tracks, but it’s not easy. The thought and behavior patterns I adopt hold me in place, in a certain place. We trains chug along for years, unaware of the forces that play upon us. Once in a while an event can throw us off our tracks: marriage, divorce, babies (way off the tracks), landing a job, getting fired, a car crash, spiritual awakening, a trip to rehab, etc.. But generally crazy seeks out crazy; trains get comfy on their chosen tracks, and life flies by us while we gaze at the horizon or at the screens in our laps. We wake up one day, surprised at where our track has taken us.

So I’m asking myself: What kind of attention do I crave? I went back through my timeline and evaluated my posts just now. The majority of my posts are bragable moments; I default victor (although when my cat died, you bet I posted about it).

Most people will find a human mix of villain, victim, and victor posts.

Villains post messages that tick folks off. They cower behind Facebook and slam whoever recently offended them. In general terms, of course, but we all know who they’re talking about…

Victims post a play-by-play of their pitiable medical conditions, in minutia, or they find a thousand different ways to say Woe is me. Or I’m such a loser. (You better comment that he’s not a loser, or else.)

Victors use Facebook as a trophy case. That’s cool, so long as we keep it human. Our high water marks can encourage people or make them feel like dirt. Be aware. Be sensitive.

I admit it was interesting to scroll through my own posts and see what kind of attention I generally seek. What flavor of attention do you prefer? Villain. Victim. Victor. We’re all asking the question: May I have your attention, please?

 

 

Personal Journey

How To Be An Idiot This Thanksgiving

Pass me the sweet potatoes… and the Black Friday Ad.

The talk this Thanksgiving is whether or not to shop the Black Friday specials, which have slithered into Thursday, and onto our Thanksgiving table. Passions run high on both sides of the turkey. Some folks can’t pass up a deal and will gladly sacrifice dinner no matter how much it ticks off the hostess. With a voracious lick of their lips, they’ll set down their greasy forks, pat their fat, full bellies, and rush out to grab a spot in line at Best Buy or Walmart. Others have taken offense at the intrusion– nay, the kiss-off, the Thanksgiving Table has endured, and they steadfastly refuse to leave the table or open an ad until midnight, Friday: the moment shopping is supposed to begin. They’ll be singing “Kumbaya” around the free range turkey and praying for America to shed its materialistic skin.

To shop or not to shop. That is the question. If you shop, you’re a selfish, materialistic pig. If you don’t shop, you’re either a tree-hugging idiot abstaining for religious reasons, or you’re just a plain old idiot who doesn’t even know the glorious deals out there for the taking.

Like so many of our holidays, Thanksgiving today wouldn’t recognize itself even a generation ago. It’s inevitable that holidays go through metamorphoses over time and because of changes in our cultural values. But we’re not becoming butterflies. The changes in our holidays aren’t pretty. How did we forget to be thankful for the little things? Food. Life. Freedom. God. A sunrise. A table with plates. A job to hate. Kids to manage. Butterflies.

Rather than questioning whether or not to shop this Thanksgiving, perhaps we should question how to be thankful. Perhaps we should question everything: look at Thanksgiving with fresh eyes and a new perspective. See all that we enjoy and take for granted because we’ve never lacked. I’m willing to be the idiot who misses a Black Friday deal; I’m not religious about Thanksgiving, but I love God and try to love what He loves. I close the ads because I don’t want to open myself to coveting or discontentment on the one day in 365 that’s designated for thankfulness. I lack nothing. Neither do you.

Happy Thanksgiving, 2014

Personal Journey

Just Show Up

A friend of mine texted me this morning asking for prayer.  As she should. She’s about to embark on something that’s way out of her league.  She does this for Jesus and for His people, especially those who feel most forsaken, who the world deems most filthy and most foul, but who are loved by God.

They that are whole have no need of a physician; but they that are sick: I came not to call the righteous, but sinners. – Jesus

I text my friend: Just show up. God will do the rest. I tell her that because that’s what I’ve been told by other, wiser walkers before me; it’s what I tell myself when I’m about to step out onto the tightrope of faith and have no long stick, no net, just my empty palms held out and turned up. In some ways that’s freeing, that just showing up. But in other ways it’s the hardest part because working up the gumption to push against static friction is even harder than pushing against plain old friction, which is hard enough, thank you very much.

Those of us who fear showing up are in good company. Moses really didn’t want to show up. Listen to him argue with God about whether or not he was fit for the mission: Who am I, that I should go…? What shall I say…? What if they will not believe me or listen to what I say…? Please, Lord, I have never been eloquent… I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.” (Exodus 3 & 4) And Saul? So didn’t want to show, as evidenced by the fact that he hid himself by the baggage when it was time for his coronation.  Gideon whined.  Ananias balked. Even Jesus admitted He was only sent; He submitted, and not without a respectful request for some other options: My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not what I will, but as Thou wilt.

Showing up isn’t easy.

When you fearfully and wonderfully step onto a personal emotional battlefield and hold the banner for God, expect to be shot at. You will experience anxiety and abandonment. Maybe worse. There isn’t always that peace-which-passes-all-understanding hugging us like a buddy.  Sometimes, we’re just gritting our teeth and showing up.

My friend, who asked for prayer is a spiritual giant and I, her lilliputian friend.  But we can always use a fresh perspective, and our differences hone us in ways matching feathers wouldn’t. Even the perspective of children is welcomed by the Lord. So I too can say with confidence: just show up; God will do the rest.

My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness. – Jesus

Personal Journey

Heal My Soul – Testimony Part III

Heal my soul, for I have sinned against Thee. – Psalm 41:4b

My memory in the months before I acquiesced to Jesus is hazy. I know I was desperate. I know circumstantially I had everything– as far as the American Dream goes, anyway. Although I had married my prince charming, I was disappointed that I had not become a princess. Like the frog in reverse, I thought his kiss would make me into something beautiful and worthy. When I stayed me, things eventually got ugly.  My twisted thinking went like this: if I can make him bleed emotionally, I can know he loves me.  So that’s what I did.  Yet for all that work and drama, I never felt satisfied that I was loved.  I was ever-grasping at some elusive feeling, some fullness or contentment that always slipped my grip.

stained glassSome Christians I knew seemed to glow.  I don’t mean in the figurative sense; I mean literally glowed– like the stained glass images of old, the sun-shape that seemed to mat the faces. I understand if you don’t believe me.  God gives us each just what we need to make a decision.  I guess I needed that.

Thomas.  Remember him?  He was a contemporary of Jesus and still he wouldn’t believe without digging his fingers into Jesus…

On the outside I was brazen and witty, sarcastic, athletic, in-control. On the inside I was screaming for peace and attention. I wore the slippery mask of confidence, but craved a heart of it.  Like the cowardly lion who wished for a transformation, so I wanted to trade my unstable, flimsy insides for something reliable. But there was no truth. The postmodern lie was nearly my undoing.  I remember reading a book that gave the nuts and bolts, if you will, of all the major religions of the world. One of them has to be right, I thought. When I read it… nothing. More head knowledge. How can there be so many versions of truth? With so many followers of every rendition? It must all be lies, all spins off the main lie that there is something beyond us…

What finally reached me was a man who seemed to be genuinely in love with this person, Jesus. How he addressed his God was both reverent and familiar. It was authentic and lacked the scriptedness I was accustomed to getting at church. My heart melted when I heard– straight from the Bible– who Jesus was and why He came to earth:

WHO has believed our message? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? 

For He grew up before Him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of a parched ground; He has no stately form or majesty that we should look upon Him, nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him.

He was despised and forsaken of men, a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and like one from whom men hide their face, He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.

Surely our griefs He Himself bore, and our sorrows He carried; yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. 

But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed.

All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; but the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him. – Isaiah 53:1-6

And this, written about Jesus, hundreds of years before He stepped foot on earth. That wasn’t mentioned in my nuts and bolts religion book. And there’s so much more inexplicable prediction in the Bible. I challenge anyone who hasn’t thoroughly checked out the prophecies on Jesus to finish Isaiah 53 and read the book of John.  What we holiday churchgoers were taught in our brief catechism is the tip of an iceberg so majestic and irrefutable, that, once uncovered, will forever subject us to its awesome power. That is what occurs in the heart of one who comes face to face with Jesus. That is what happened in my heart.

After church, the pastor’s wife came over to me to say hello. I apologized for the blubbering wreck I was. And I’ll never forget her deadpan answer.

That’s the Holy Spirit.

She believed that God’s Holy Spirit was responsible for making me cry, that a physiological reaction was the result of something beyond me, beyond the natural realm, even. Wherever it was from, this brokenness was new and bitter.  It was the beginning of my journey’s end as far as the search for meaning was concerned. The journey was uncomfortable; I had to come to terms with  my own limitations and inadequacies, and accept– as a gift– that God provided a way for me to be right in His eyes.  It is the greatest gift, accepting that Christ died for my sins, that He loved me enough to withstand such humiliation on my behalf.

The love of Jesus: I used to spurn it, used to mock and maul it, but now I embrace the gift we celebrate every year when we stop our freeway-style Christmas season and consider what the essence of Christmas has always been to those who keep it:

But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people,for today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; He is Christ the Lord.” – Luke 2:10 -11

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Personal Journey

No Thanks, I’ll Do This Myself – Testimony Part II

air marshallI didn’t kill her, of course.  I just moved my car into the spot as if she were invisible, which was hard to do because she was yelling her head off and waving her arms around like my own personal air marshal helping me park my plane.  That stick shift came in handy when I revved the engine at her for good measure.

As we strolled into the mall, she stomped behind us for a ways, hurling lawsuit threats about my trying to run down a “pregnant woman.”

In my defense, she wasn’t showing.

That was me.  I always took the fight; I usually picked it.  And I’m not even Irish.

When I wasn’t being mean to people, I had this insatiable desire for approval, no– for worship. Even my goodnesses were bribes meant to gain or keep the fountain of affirmation flowing.  My happiness depended on a constant firehose stream of compliments and awards.  I won 1st place in a poetry contest? Cool, now I need The New Yorker to publish me. You say I’m beautiful– that makes me feel pretty as long as you don’t look away.  Witty?  I’m good as long as you’re still laughing… Such was my existence– endless calculating and striving after approval, adoration, accolades.  I couldn’t figure out why I had no peace, which is what led me through a litany of self-help books, including Life 101, The Healing Power of Humor, Dianetics, and The Tao of Poo (a book that pitches Winnie the Pooh as the ultimate Taoist and instructs on a Pooh-like life, full of happiness and honey).  I even got so low sometimes I tried the Bible. But that wasn’t helpful because I tried reading from the Old Testament, starting at Genesis.  After the first juicy chapters, reading the Jewish laws felt like reading the IRS tax code; I failed to see the connection between this book and help of any kind. Mind you, I was an English major. I had read Paradise Lost with an amount of relish; I even struggled through the literary gauntlet of  Leaves of Grass, but the Old Testament?

Uncle.

sacred-heart-jesusGrowing up, one of my first memories of God was the picture in my grandfather’s spare room. Since we often slept there, I’d wake up to this monstrous piece of art staring down at me, depicting an anemic, effeminate, sorrowful-looking man whose heart was visible and belted in thorns.  DIS-turbing. One arm was raised as if He had the answer to a question, and the other rested languidly near that… heart.  He did not comfort me, this Christ; He both unnerved and confused me.

Church confused me too.  We went a handful of times, and everyone seemed to know the steps but me.  Kneel.  Stand. Kneel. Stand. Mumble. Kneel. Everybody else leaving their seats, going up to the front wearing serious expressions.  I’m sure I asked why we stayed in our seats when everybody else went up, but I don’t remember what my Dad said.  He was careful with our feelings.  He probably said he preferred to stay seated– which I’m sure was true.  The singing and chanting from the front was as boring as it was unintelligible. The echoing dirges from somber, gowned men and the strange, ancient feel of the place gave me the same twisted guts as when I was sent to the principal’s office, a feeling with which I was all too familiar.  So no, I didn’t care much for the God of church.

In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.

1 John 4:10

 

Personal Journey

God Loves Even the Meanest Person – Testimony Part I

There was a time when I did not take God seriously.  But no matter.  He took me seriously.

Of my early memories, this one stands out– my husband and I at age 16 were climbing on a jungle gym, talking about the meaning of life, and blithely dismissing God’s hand in parting the Red Sea because, thanks to advances in technology, we could do it ourselves.  He was into Scientology; I into the Tao of Pooh or Danse Macabre, whichever suited the moment. The deep questions of life I thought could all be solved with reason and logic. I ridiculed faith wherever I saw it and in all its forms, considering it absolutely equivalent to stupidity.  Once, in what I intended to be an act of malice, I sent my sister and her friend to a booth at the county fair that had nearly wasted more than five minutes of my time trying to shepherd me into its folly with a logical question: What is the #1 cause of death?  Bob and I watched, full of venomous giggles, as Heather and her friend listened– it seemed to us, in rapturous attention.  I kept waiting for recognition to register on their faces, to see surprise and annoyance that the booth was a swindle, that big sister had pulled a good one on her little. None came. The joke was on me.

That was interesting, she said when she came back.  Seriously?  Interesting?  How about baloney?  How about gentle people who are off their rockers?  How about being mad that they suck you in with a scientific question and then bait and switch for faith?  I was beside myself.  And confused.

Fast forward ten years.  My husband and I were buying a used car.  We took it for a test drive and of course blasted the radio, which was the most important feature (because we were in denial that this minivan would suck out whatever cool we had left in our souls, and we hadn’t even come to grips with the fact that loud noises of all kinds would be poisonous to us as we advanced in years and had to share our eardrums with little people and all their natural audio).  But what should come pouring out of the speakers?  Jesus music.  I nearly threw up my hand in protest.  I couldn’t turn the station fast enough.  WMMS, please.  And we left it there for them, turned way up so they could get at least a few seconds of good music.  That was the present we left them.  Nice, huh?

I was the kind of person you’d think would never, ever come around to God.  To say I spoke in the dialect of sailors would be an extreme understatement.  I used expletives more liberally than article adjectives and offended anyone misfortunate enough to be within reach.   Here’s an example.  Chrismas shopping at a mall with half the number of parking spaces it needs.  My little sister chats happily next to me about what stores she wants to visit, and my 1-year-old gibbers in her car seat.  Neither one seems to notice or care that I’m in parking hell.  Every time I see an open space it’s taken before I can even shift up into first gear. Stupid stick shift… I am swearing, and not under my breath.  Wait.  Up ahead. An open spot.  As I fumble with the clutch, lurching into 1st gear, a woman sprints by my car.  That’s not surprising, but what is, is that she bolts past my very obvious turn signal and plants herself in my spot, hands on hips, feet wider than hip distance apart.

Brazen.

I politely tell her to move with my teeth clenched and a face not unlike Jack Nicholson’s in The Shining.  I’m here.

“I’m saving this spot for my mother,” she tells me.

“I don’t see your mother,” I say, “and I’m here, with a car. Right now.” The idea of saving a spot with your body broadsided me, I must confess.  I think I lost my head for a minute because I warned her that if she didn’t move I was going to run her over.

She, unlike my sister, didn’t believe me.

I won’t bore you with the details, but let’s just say I parked the car and commenced our Christmas shopping experience. This is the person God took seriously. When I say God can love the meanest person, I know.

Here is a trustworth saying that deserves full acceptance– Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the worst. — The Apostle Paul, 1 Timothy 1:15