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    His Eye Is On the Party Sparrow

    Last night when I sat down for my bedtime prayer/meditation, the face of the chaplain who runs the chapel at the local truck stop  came to mind very clearly and I heard God say, “I want you to go talk to Tim.” (Tim’s the name of the chaplain.) So I was like, “ok, but tomorrow’s Monday and Tim’s not going to be at the chapel.”

    God says, “don’t worry about it. I’ll arrange everything.”

    Well, alrighty then. So I continued with my prayer/meditation time wondering why God wanted me to go talk to Tim. When I was done and about to go to bed, I realized that I hadn’t gotten around to putting gas in my car that day. Long story, but there’s no cash in the house and only one card for the bank account which my husband was going to be taking to work with him in the morning. And I have a broke kid who needs to be at his own job the next day. I had just enough gas to drive to the gas station and that was it. Because I’m super responsible like that. It was around midnight, but if I didn’t go put gas in the car before going to bed, it was going to be a messy situation.

    So, I grab the card and load the dog up to be my bodyguard and headed to the truck stop. Normally I’d go to the gas station across the street, but I figured maybe Tim was pulling a late nighter or something and that was why God told me to go talk to Tim. Well, Tim wasn’t there, but there was this kid sitting on the ground outside the truck stop. He looked awfully young to be a hitchhiker, but drugs are a hell of a thing, so I ignored him. It’s not like I was going anywhere anyways.

    I put $20 in the gas tank. Well not really, I put gas in the gas tank. Shoving a $20 in there is stupid. And I didn’t have any cash any how. But after putting gas in the car, I get in and look at the clock. It’s 12:34. One, Two, Three, Four. I’ve had this weird thing going on with numbers lately and it’s supposed to be angels talking to you, so I figure that must be God’s way of telling me to go talk to the kid.

    I pull up to him, with the dog hanging out the window facing him just in case and say, “have you eaten? I can’t take you anywhere, but I can get you something to eat.”

    He hasn’t eaten and is obviously exhausted, so I park the car and bring the kid into the truck stop to get some food. Turns out he’s this 18 year old from South Saint Paul, about 30 miles away from where we were. A friend had taken him to spend the weekend partying with some people in another town about 20 miles from where we were and had left without him the previous night. Now he couldn’t get a hold of his friend or anyone else to come pick him up, especially since he didn’t have any money to cover the cost of gas to offer.

    I didn’t get the whole story, but drugs and people wanting to fight were involved. So, probably still a bit tweaked on whatever he was partying with, he decided to start walking. He had walked 20 miles through cornfields and on what he described as “the longest fucking road I’ve ever been on” that day. I was just impressed he didn’t get lost and wind up dead in a soybean field out by Podunk Wisconsin.

    Once he had food, I suggested that he get some sleep in Tim’s chapel. His eyes lit up at the suggestion – he was obviously beyond exhausted. So I grabbed the doggie from the car and brought him to the chapel. There were a row of cushioned chairs that an exhausted 18 year old should be able to sleep relatively comfortably on. I told him I knew the guy who ran the chapel and if he happened to come in in the morning, just to tell him that I had said it was OK. He’d be good.

    I felt bad just leaving him there, but I simply couldn’t drive into St. Paul in the middle of the night in my rickety old jalopy that doesn’t even go over 60 mph anymore. And really, there’s a price to pay for spending days partying and hanging out with the sort of people who leave you stranded 50 miles from home. Having to struggle through the situation he was in is a relatively small price to pay in the scheme of things and may well be a needed wake up call. He wore a cross on a chain around his neck and had probably spent more time praying that day than he had in his entire life. At least he had a full belly, a big bottle of water and a place to sleep.

    Anyhow, normally I wouldn’t tell this story. Don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing and all that. And I didn’t hardly do anything except spend $5 on a big gas station burrito and a bottle of water for the kid. But as I was going to sleep after getting home, it occurred to me that God must really love this kid. Here he is, some dumb 18 year old out doing drugs and who knows what else – one person out of 7 billion people. And God saw him and went to the trouble of arranging for me to show up to give him what he needed to get through the moment. That’s pretty remarkable if you think about it. His eye is on the sparrow, indeed.

  • A Word About the Pakistani Church and God’s Terrible Advice

    I got serious about writing this blog about 4 years ago. And as shocking as it sounds, it was not the instant success one would imagine. Incredible, but true. So I went to God and asked in my best plaintive wail, “what should I dooooooo?” And I kid you not, every time, I got the same response: “let them come to you.” And I would be all like, “but that’s really terrible advice, God! Why are you always giving me such terrible advice?” But, seeing as there’s just only so much a person can do to control the universe, I went with it. I would do my thing and people would come.

    Well, the darndest thing started happening. Occasionally, seemingly random people would show up and announce, “I feel like I need to reach out to you.” And then I was all like, “well, I guess I’ve been expecting you. Howdy!” Cuz there’s a reason why I follow God’s advice, even when it’s really bad.

    Well, a couple of months ago, a Christian man from Pakistan showed up and started pestering me. My curiosity was piqued by his persistence and lack of come-ons, so I was like, “what the hell do you want?” (I’m sure I was much more polite than that in real life, of course.) And he was like, “I dunno. I just feel like I need to talk to you.” And I was like, “well, howdy. I guess I’ve been expecting you.”

    So the next morning I was meditating on Romans 12:2:

    And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.

    because . . . Well, I don’t know why. It’s just one of those things I do. I had just said to my husband that I suspect that the verse refers to the fact that Christianity is basically a reprogramming system for the human mind. Because not only do I do weird things like meditate on random bible verses just cuz, I think weird things about them.

    So I get up from my weird pondering to check my facebook account and there’s a message from my Pakistani guy sharing his testimony of coming to faith. He tells me that seeing the words of Romans 12:2 written on a church wall started him on his journey to Christ. Because, again, there’s a reason I follow God’s really terrible advice.

    Anyways, the reason I’m sharing all of this with you is so you will all know how cool I am. I’m not sure how well that’s going, but fortunately for us all, there’s also another, more serious reason I am sharing all of this. As some of you may know, On October 27th, Pakistan was hit by a powerful 7.5 earthquake. Nearly 400 people died and thousands of homes were destroyed.

    My Pakistani friend happens to be in a position where he can advocate for Christians and coordinate assistance for those who are in trouble. Fewer than 2% of the population of Pakistan is Christian and the persecution Christians face there can be intense. (Along with the kidnappings, murder, bombing, open discrimination and the like, I hear that the coffee shops there don’t even switch to using red paper cups during the holiday season.) So he tends to be in the thick of things.

    After the recent earthquake, my friend learned of two Christian families near Faisalabad whose homes were destroyed by the earthquakes. Six family members needed medical care, but the local government hospital initially refused to treat them because of their faith. They were eventually treated, but one of the victims, an 8 year old girl I’ll call K needs surgery on her shoulder to prevent permanent disability. Continue reading

  • Good Luck With That “Normal” Thing

    Perhaps you have heard that I have some children. Entirely more than a respectable woman ought to have, in fact. I have even heard tell that there are those who point to my old woman living in a shoe lifestyle as evidence that I may be a bit touched in the head. Sad. But true. Fortunately for me, it turns out that being a bit touched in the head is pretty much a prerequisite for good parenting, so it’s all worked out just fine.

    At any rate, two of my children are currently man-boys who are 20 and 16 and completely awesome. Not that I’m biased or anything. You’d think they were completely awesome if you met them. Although you’d probably be glad you weren’t responsible for raising them.

    So recently my 20 year old expressed his concern that I was often excessively harsh with his 16 year old brother. And that this might cause the 16 year old to think it was OK to be excessively harsh with the 5 year old. And the 5 year old has made it clear to everyone that she is the reason for the existence of the entire universe, so this constituted a threat to the well being of all that is.

    Now, the thing you need to understand about the 16 year old is that he is, at all times, right. He knows it. I know it. Everyone who knows him, knows that he’s always right. Except when he gets stuck in his own head or is being irrational. In which case, you pretty much have to drag him kicking and screaming by his hair out into the light of day to wake him up. When he was a kid, I used to give his teachers very simple, specific instructions for how to successfully correct him. Those who did not listen paid the price.

    So, I called Mr. Always Right over and said, “your brother here is concerned that I am excessively harsh with you sometimes.”

    He, of course, looked completely confused, laughed, and checked to see if we were just pulling his leg. (Always a distinct possibility in our home.) ‘”Dude, I’m going to need some examples to go on here,” was his response. He was clearly completely befuddled. As was his brother at this point.

    Now, as I have indicated, the 20 year old is male. So obviously he can be really dense. But mostly he’s incredibly sensitive to everything and everyone around him. Which means that the older he gets, the more subtle the touch required to move him. Anything more than a persistent firm nudge feels like an armed assault to this one.

    “I never talk to you the way I talk to your brother sometimes, right?” I asked the 20 year old, who looked appalled at the very idea. “You would feel terrible if I talked to you like that, but obviously your brother isn’t experiencing me as particularly harsh.”

    I could practically see it dawning on the 20 year old how different his brother actually was from him. Which, as well as they know each other, one would think he would already know. But obviously it had never occurred to the 20 year old that something as basic as our emotional responses could be completely different from one person to another. After all, our emotional responses happen pretty automatically. And we all experience the exact same emotions. So it’s very easy to assume that your normal emotional responses to the world are normal for human beings generally rather than for you particularly.

    I suspect that many, if not most, if not all of us make the error of assuming that we are normal and therefor all seemingly normal people must be pretty much like us. In fact, I was in my mid-30s when it really sank in that maybe – just maybe – I wasn’t actually normal. Me. The woman who has so many children that they’ve basically created their own subculture together. The woman who is in Mensa and married to a black guy and swears while discussing theology and doesn’t own sweats or a proper pair of athletic shoes. I actually thought I was like baseline normal. (Obviously I have some masculine tendencies.) I’ll wait until you’re done laughing to go on. . . . Continue reading

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    Operation Saris for Grannies

    So one day I will write what passes for a normal blog post around here again. But I am happy and I am content and I’m not entirely sure how to write when I am happy and content. But I’ll work it out eventually.

    In the mean time, I wanted to ask your help with something. For a while now, I have had the good fortune to message via facebook with a Christian minister working in a section of southern India somewhere in the vicinity of Bangalore. He’s told me a bit about his ministry which involves outreach to the poorest of the poor. Which in India, is really poor. (That’s him above sharing a meal with some he caught lurking around one of his outdoor services.) But mostly we discussed spiritual and theological matters. He and I differ on some trifles here and there, but the good news he preaches as gospel is actually good news. Which is no small thing. Anyhow, yesterday, for the first time since I’ve known him, my friend asked me for some help.

    You see, the picture below is from one of his services in a very remote village where most people basically live off the land and in make-shift shelters, if even that. He says that they don’t even have the standing required to qualify for help from the government or to engage in normal trade and work activities with other communities. These are the poorest of the poor in this world.

    11080320_639158589548435_2610841887315575710_oIf you look closely at the picture (or others from this day), you will notice that there are no old women present. This is because many of the old women living in this area have no clothing. While my friend went out into the brush to talk with them, they will not attend his services and cannot participate in normal community life because they live naked. My friend asked if I might be able to send clothing for him to give them. I suggested that it might be better to just send him money to buy clothing locally. He said that $65 US dollars would allow him to buy clothing for 30 women. And I said that while I happen to have exactly $19 to my name just now, I was pretty sure that I could arrange to get him $65.

    So, I am now asking you, my intrepid reader, if you would help me gather $65 to clothe some naked grannies. There are a fair number of us, so I’m thinking there’s someone who is able to help with this. (If you can’t – that’s fine. Perhaps God decided to trust someone else with the resources to help this time. Nothing wrong with that.😉 )

    The link below will take you to a donation page for Operation Saris for Grannies. I will send on whatever donations I have collected by Thursday July 30th at 5 pm. If you’d like your donation returned if the $65 has already been raised, just put that in the note section and I will make sure that happens. Otherwise, if more is raised than my friend has asked for, I will send it on to my friend. He’s a good man doing good work. He’s never asked me for anything before. So . . . did God entrust you with the resources (or a portion of the resources) needed to provide these women with clothing?

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  • einstein-quote

    Explaining God to a Child

    A lot of Christians have a strong desire to ensure that their children follow them in the faith. And to that end, a great deal of energy is expended in teaching them what to believe. Which, to a certain extent is OK. Our faith is not endlessly malleable and there are core beliefs that have been carefully passed down through the millennia for a reason. Yet knowing what to believe about God is very different from actually knowing God. And ultimately, it is knowing God that makes a person’s faith stick. So that’s what I want for my kids and what I focus my attention on when it comes to passing on the faith.

    Of course, anyone who has tried explaining God to a child knows that there’s a very good reason we tend to fall back on explaining doctrines and telling stories. God is not very easily put into words. So, as someone with a bit of a way with words and a couple decades of experience trying to explain God to children, allow me to share what’s worked for me. Feel free to steal as you see fit.😉

    What is God?

    God is not a thing. Usually we say that God is spirit. Can you imagine what a person would be without their body? That’s a bit like what it means to be a spirit. Except God is much more than just one person. Try to imagine if you could take the spirit of every person and put it together to make one spirit that included every person’s spirit in it. God’s like that, except with the spirit of everything that exists added in. And then a bit more because God is bigger and more than everything that exists even.

    The bible says that God is love. So you love me and I love you. Here – let’s look into each other’s eyes and you think how much you love me and I’ll think about how much I love you. Do you feel that? That’s God right there between us.

    On God’s Omnipresence

    God is like air. Air is all around you and it’s all around me and every other person alive. In the bible is says that “in God we live and move and exist”, just like we live and move and exist in the air that’s everywhere. I breathe air in so there’s air inside of me. And you have air inside of you. But the air in me doesn’t take air away from you. It’s all the same air, but there’s still plenty of air for all of us. And that’s what it’s like with God as well.

    Sometimes we notice air. When it moves we feel it. Most often, we don’t even think about it. But it’s always there. And it’s always keeping us alive. In fact, it was keeping people alive for a long time before people knew what it was or why we needed it. And God is the same way.

    On God’s Omnipotence

    Now, air is a thing. It’s made of little bitty atoms and molecules. But air isn’t alive. So far as we can tell, it doesn’t feel or think or know what it’s doing. God, on the other hand, is alive. God does think and feel and know what he’s doing. So imagine if the air was able to know and feel and watch everything it touched. It would know what was happening on the outside and on the inside of everything. That’s kind of what it’s like to be God.

    On Prayer

    Even though God is everywhere and knows everything, God isn’t rude. God’s not going to come barging into your head without a very good reason. Instead, God waits for an invitation. And that’s what happens when you pray – you invite God in to hear what you have to say and think. And then if you get quiet and listen, sometimes you’ll even hear something back from God. It’s a little weird and sometimes you’ll feel like you’re just talking to yourself. And that’s OK. God made you to be an awful lot like him, so talking to God isn’t always going to be all that different from talking to yourself. But sometimes, you will know that God is speaking to you. Usually because what you hear touches your heart or surprises you or even takes your breath away. And when that happens, try to remember it. Because sometimes God is pretty quiet and when that happens, it helps to remember what was said before.

    Who is Jesus?

    Remember how I said that God is spirit? That’s kind of confusing, isn’t it? Even if we pray and think about these things, it’s still awfully hard to understand. God knows this. So, when the time was right, Jesus was born. Jesus was a human being just like us with a body and a family and a mind that worked just like ours. But his spirit – what we are when we don’t have a body – was God. Jesus shows us what it looks like when God lives as a human being. So we can see what God looks like, acts like and cares about when he exists not as air or spirit, but as a human being.

    Jesus shows us the truth about God. Because of him, we have a way to examine God. Let’s say that you tell me that you prayed and found God to be mean, harsh and angry. And I say that I pray and found God to be kind, gentle and loving. How can we know which is right? Well, we can look at Jesus. Sometimes Jesus was angry and harsh. But mostly he was kind, gentle and loving. So maybe there are times when God seems angry and harsh, but mostly we can expect him to be kind, gentle and loving.

    Or let’s say that someone tells you that it’s really important to God that we dress a certain way or not listen to certain music or not spend time with people who aren’t like us. And they even have a bunch of bible verses to show you that this is true. Well, you can look at Jesus and see that he never showed any interest in how people dressed or what they did for fun and he spent time with all sorts of people. So even though someone might have a bunch of bible verses that they are using to tell you these things, you can be pretty sure that they are confused. Because of Jesus.

    Not only that, but have you ever thought that maybe God didn’t really understand what you are dealing with? Like maybe God’s on the outside looking in but doesn’t really get how hard life is sometimes or what it’s like to really struggle? I think that sometimes. But Jesus went through all the things that we go through. He was called names and got sick to his stomach and felt alone and misunderstood. He got hungry and crabby and was treated unfairly and wasn’t always allowed to do what he wanted. So we know that God actually does know what it’s like. He really can understand what we go through. And now we know that because we know that Jesus went through all those things as well.

  • Let’s Talk About the Scary Atheists

    Atheists

    (Some) American Christians are well know for their fear of various boogeymen. Muslims, feminists, the anti-Christ, abortion rights supporters, black thugs, homosexuals, evolutionists, liberals, atheists, President Obama. (Some) American Christians have been faithfully loud and predictable in their incessant warnings, condemnations and obsessive fear of all these terrible, frightful boogeymen.

    It is rather odd, given that Jesus said his followers would be known by their good deeds and Paul said that perfect love casts out fear. But we’re a work in progress. And apparently you can make a lot of money and gain a lot of followers by fighting boogeymen. So it goes on.

    At any rate, today I’d like to put in a good word for atheist boogeymen. Yes, yes, I know; a fool says in his heart there is no God. Dawkins and other “new-atheist” types are obnoxious tools. Yeah, yeah, yeah. I get it.

    But here’s the thing; I have been engaging in discussions regarding religion on the internet for over 15 years now. And although they are still relatively rare (2-7% of Americans), atheists have played a disproportionate role in growing my faith through those conversations.

    I have always worked from the assumption that if my faith is true, then it holds the answers to even the most difficult challenges. So when I have encountered atheists asking honest questions and pointing to real challenges, rather than vilifying them for not believing in God, I would dig in to figure out what my faith had to answer in response.

    We Christians argue with each other over all sorts of things, but atheists, because they have no loyalty to the “cause” see and point out the sorts of contradictions, fallacies and illogical conclusions that we Christians generally avoid. And, as is so often the case, those difficult questions which we’d rather gloss over or ignore are exactly where some of the best gems are found.

    Of course, the answers I have found to the questions and challenges posed by atheists have not often satisfied the atheists. Although my willingness to take my faith seriously enough to allow it to be challenged has frequently impressed the atheists I have dealt with enough that it changed their understanding of what being religious means. So that’s not nothing. But the answers I have found while in discussion with certain atheists have made my faith deeper, more solid and more real than it otherwise would be.

    It is for this reason that I have long viewed atheists as God’s quality control department. Without them, it would be all too easy for us to stick to shallow, unsatisfying answers and remain spiritually immature. I am grateful for my faith and would that all people would know God in a way that is life-giving and healing. But seeing as we’re a work in progress, I am quite grateful to those who have forgone the benefits of a living faith in order to serve in quality control positions.😉

  • The Story I Tell Myself

    One day a man was out and about, minding his own business, tending to his own affairs. when life showed up in a foul mood, with obviously ill intentions. The man ducked into the nearest doorway, hoping to lay low until life passed by and took its wrath out on some other unfortunate soul. To his horror, instead of passing by, life pulled open the door and started bearing down on the man.

    Quickly, the man retreated further into the building he had tried to take refuge in, hoping that perhaps life had other business there and would not train its sights on him. But it quickly became clear that life had indeed trained its sights on this one man and was not about to let him off easily. The man attempted to find an escape, to return to what he had been doing before life, in its unfathomable wisdom or malice, had turned on him. But life is not so easily out-maneuvered.

    Finally, life had the man trapped down a hallway, many floors up, with all exits cut off. As life bore down on the man, he quickly dove into the door to his left, slamming the door in life’s face. He locked the door and quickly began moving whatever furniture he could in front of the door, hoping to at least slow life down while he regrouped and came up with his escape plan.

    To his surprise, it worked. He could hear life banging on the door, yelling, but it seemed unable to breach the barrier he had erected against it. Quickly, the man began calling through the contacts in his phone for help. To his dismay, none of those closest to him answered. He left frantic messages, assuming they would call right back with plans, supplies, swat teams – whatever it took to get him out safely. When no one returned his calls quickly, he began calling his other contacts to explain that life had him trapped. Most said with a weary tone, “yeah – that’s life alright.”

    Meanwhile, he could hear life breathing heavily right outside the door. Sometimes it would growl and the man would despair of ever escaping. Finally, the man stopped and looked around the room he was in. He was pleasantly surprised to discover that the room was comfortable, well appointed and had everything someone in a siege situation might need while waiting for rescue. While the man would much rather have be allowed to carry on with his day instead of getting trapped by life, if he was going to be trapped, this place was as good as one could hope for.

    At first he kept waiting for rescue. Some days passed and his near-and-dear finally returned his messages, but far from being willing to mount a rescue effort, they too responded to his plight with “yeah – that’s life”. Only they felt the need to then castigate the man for all of his supposed failures which had caused him to become captive to life. And, as if things weren’t bad enough, they proceeded to explain why the comfortable, well appointed room the man had found himself in was no better than a hovel and how he was now doomed to misery and pity. Soon enough, he began blocking their calls. Continue reading