A Thanksgiving Blessing

I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope
For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love
For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith
But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.
Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought:
So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.
Whisper of running streams, and winter lightning.
The wild thyme unseen and the wild strawberry,
The laughter in the garden, echoed ecstasy
Not lost, but requiring, pointing to the agony
Of death and birth.
~ T.S. Elliot

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Thanksgiving Family Survival Guide – 2016 Edition

Illustration of Mother and Children Carrying Thanksgiving Dinner by Douglass Crockwell

Such a pretty picture. Now imagine that they all hate each other.

An oldie but a goody! BTW, if you read these and know exactly what I’m talking about when it comes to family, you are one of the people I wrote The Upside Down World’s Guide to Enjoying the Hard Life  for. It’s a collection of enlightening essays for thinking better, being better and growing where you’re planted. Even if where you’re planted is a, um, lacking in certain nutrients required for proper growth. (I was going to say something much meaner, but I’m trying to be a good Christian here.) The book is only $6 on Amazon. Buy an extra one for your sister. Or a whole bunch for your friends. Also, if you are one of those people who has been experiencing an increase in interpersonal verbal and emotional abuse over the last couple of weeks, you can follow me on my personal facebook page where I’m sharing other bits of advice for keeping yourself safe and sane under adverse conditions. (I swear a lot more and talk about God a lot less on my personal page though. Just so we’re all clear. I hate to have to make someone look like a jackass in front of everyone. 😉 )

So, best of luck everyone. It’s a bit wild out there, but just put one foot in front of the other and you’ll do fine. Happy Thanksgiving, peeps!

Since I am a contrarian at heart and everyone and their brother is doing the “Let’s talk about what we’re thankful for” bit, I’m going to offer up something completely different.  Because as important as gratitude is, I also know that on Thanksgiving there are an awful lot of people for whom the answer to “what are you most grateful for?” is “that I don’t live any closer to these people.”  So for those of you going over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house which had damn well better have a well stocked liquor cabinet waiting, I’ve dug through the archives to create The Upside Down World’s Thanksgiving Survival Guide:

1. Develop an Appreciation for the Absurd: My grandmother once had to be dragged away by a horrified aunt from her very concerned inquisition into the causes of my obesity.  One of my cousins made a big deal out of being “sorry we didn’t get a chance to talk” after resolutely ignoring every smile, nod, wave or question we threw her way from the next table over at my brother’s wedding.  Where all of my other 7 siblings (but not me) stood up in the wedding. That was weird. Learning to laugh is a much better tactic for dealing with people being absurd than any other I know.

2. Learn to Tolerate Conflict: Wishing you would have stood up for yourself is only rarely less painful than the discomfort of conflict.  The determining factor being whether you hold it together long enough to cry in private or abruptly leave the table after bursting into tears in front of everyone.  Thanksgiving probably isn’t the best time to confront your family with a list of all the things they have done to hurt you, but being able to speak up for yourself is a form of self-care everyone needs to know.

3. Learn to Avoid Conflict: At the other end of the spectrum, sometimes we need to tone it down.  Not every confrontation need to happen and not every invitation to conflict needs to be accepted.  Learn to see the difference and how to stop it before it gets started.

4. Deliberately Look For the Good in People: Thanksgiving with relatives is the perfect place to put this idea into action.  One of my grandfathers used to corner us Continue reading

Rules For the Wilderness: Do What You Can

Yesterday I shared a vision of a walled city and falling towers which you should go read if you haven’t already. In the vision, the area around the city was wilderness and in this wilderness people lived according to God’s rather than man’s ways. Over the next few days, I want to explore more about this idea of “God’s ways” and what they look like in real life. And today we’re going to start with what I said yesterday was rule #1. Which is an exaggeration. There are a bunch of other principles for living in the wilderness according to God’s ways which probably come first. But this is an important rule and pertinent for today, so I’m gonna start here:

Do what you can for those in desperate need before you do anything else.

Now, the amount of people in desperate need probably numbers in the billions, so “do what you can for those in desperate need before you do anything else” is far too broad a statement to be practical. So let’s narrow this down a bit. Which of the people in desperate need should you personally be concerned with? Well, highest priority goes to the person in desperate need who God, in some way, places in your path. This could be someone you know personally, someone you run into in your daily affairs or someone who is brought to your attention by others. When it comes to your attention that an individual is in desperate need, assume that God intends for you to help that person. Like actually help that person. As Pope Francis says, “you pray for the hungry. Then you feed them. This is how prayer works.”

It should be noted that whether the person in desperate need deserves help is irrelevant. Part of living in the wilderness, according to God’s ways, is that you assume that God is arranging all things for good. If a person in desperate need has crossed your path, assume that God intends for you to help them. Whether they deserve it or not is completely irrelevant. God works in mysterious ways. Do your part and let God worry about the rest.

Of course, not only are the number of people in desperate need probably in the billions, the needs of any individual person who is in desperate need will frequently be far in excess of what you can meet. Which is why this rule says “do what you can”. Your job is not to meet everyone’s needs and/or fix their problems. Your job is to do what you can. Sometimes what you can do is nothing more than a smile and a kind word. Sometimes you are in a position to be the angel who meets the need entirely. But more often than not, you may not be able to do more than offer partial or even token assistance. And that’s fine. What is important isn’t that we are going around saving people or fixing their problems, although it’s lovely when we can do that. What is important is that we are doing what we can. That’s our part. In the wilderness, we aren’t responsible for anything more than our part. We do our part and trust God to do the rest.

So now we get to the last part of the rule: before you do anything else. Remember those old Nike commercials that said “just do it”? Whoever came up with that tag line was a genius because rarely have truer lines ever been spoken. If human beings would just do all the good things they think about doing, we’d all be fit as a fiddle and well on our way to fixing every problem in existence within months. See, our brain has this little quirk; when we think about doing something, it creates the same sensation in our brains as doing it. So simply thinking about doing something makes us feel like we’ve done it. It’s true. When I’m angry, I frequently think about punching a heavy punching bag until I collapse. I visualize wailing on the thing and feel what it would feel like to move my arms and for my hands to hit the bag and have it softly bump away. And this drains my anger just like punching the bag would. The catch is that since I don’t have access to a heavy bag, I don’t get the muscles or skills that would come from actually engaging in the activity.

It’s very much the same thing with helping those in need. We think about helping them. We think about how it’s a good thing to help them. We maybe even think about how we might carve out a few bucks or some time in order to do. We may make our plans to help them. And then we feel like we’ve actually done those things. Which is the point at which talk ourselves out of helping them. Or we just move on and assume that the need will be met somehow. After all God is in charge, right? This is why it’s so important to “just do it” when you encounter someone in desperate need. Doing the right thing or even the best you can is a great idea. But in the real world, simply doing what you can before you do anything else is what gets the job done. If God puts it on your heart to come back later and do more or better, that’s fantastic. But the reality is that once the moment has passed, we’re not going to do anything. Immediate action is the name of the game when it comes to helping those in desperate need.

So consider this your first lesson on how to live in the God’s wilderness: do what you can to help those in desperate need before you do anything else. Now here’s your chance to practice. I’ve been sharing the story of a 14 year old Christian Pakistani boy who was kidnapped, tortured and dumped in front of his family’s home for a little over a week now. He needs surgery to repair the injuries, but his family is very poor and does not have the funds. The doctor is so alarmed over the boy’s condition that he has agreed to perform the surgery with only a partial rather than full payment up front. The total cost of the surgery is $800. So far, I have collected $235 towards the surgery. We need an additional $165 by 7:30 tonight. I will continue collecting funds until he has the full $800, but the $165 needed to get half-way is urgent. I will update the remaining need as new donations come in. Please make a donation in any amount you can. Many small donations work as well as one large donation. Now . . . go. Do what you can before you do anything else.

Amount still needed: $0! We did it!

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The Quiet Secret to Global Revolution

Well, look at me! Posting for the second day in a row. I told you I’d be back! 🙂

I actually have a guest post up at Dr. Chuck Crisco’s site that I wanted to invite y’all to go check out. It’s on a topic near and dear to my heart – overcoming the “us vs them” dualism of the past in order to embrace a more humane, holistic understanding of humanity as “just us”. I’m sharing the introduction below and I hope you’ll head on over to Chuck’s site to read the rest:

The Quiet Secret to Global Revolution: “Us vs Them” or “Just Us”

In talking with my fellow countrymen, it has become increasingly clear that there are two competing and seemingly irreconcilable mindsets at work in the conflicts being played out around us. On one side, you have people who see the world in terms of “us vs them” in which humanity is divided between those who are on our side and those who are not.  On the other are those who see the world in terms of “just us”, as in there is no “us vs them”, there is only a broad “us” which encompasses all of humanity. “Us vs them” thinkers see our differences as a cause for division, while “just us” thinkers seek to transcend our differences and recognize our deeper, shared humanity. READ ON . . .

Also, I am still collecting money to fund necessary surgery for a 14 year old Christian Pakistani who sustained serious injuries after being kidnapped and tortured by a man his father had a financial dispute with. I shared the story here yesterday. If you missed it, you can read it and find the link to make a donation here. 

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. Continue reading

Why You Should Always, Always, Always Listen to Your Heart

keep-calm-and-listen-to-your-heart-35One of the things that I learned while researching the bible verses that say that “the man is the head of the woman as Jesus is head of the church” is that in the days when Paul and the rest of the bible’s writers were living, no one really knew what the brain was for. It was widely believed to be some sort of cooling system. But there were cases where brain damage caused changes in people’s behavior and abilities and no one could quite figure out how damage to the cooling system could cause the problems they were observing. So no one knew quite what to make of that. There was even one school of thought on the brain which had sperm being produced in the brain and transported to it’s destination through the nervous system. It wasn’t until the 2nd century AD that Roman physician Galen popularized the idea of the head as controlling the body and storing memories, and thus thought.

Prior to that, it was believed that the seat of thought, emotion and will was the heart. Which actually makes sense because if you’ve ever paid attention, we feel emotions in our bodies – particularly around our chest. Thoughts quickly follow from emotions and our will is determined between the two. Today we think of the heart as symbolic of our emotions, but in the Egyptian, Greek and Roman worlds, the heart was the center of not just emotion, but of thought and will as well.

So there’s your completely pointless history lesson of the day. Use it well. I’m sure you’ll be able to fascinate people at your next dinner party with it. (Make your donations to support this amazing ministry today by clicking HERE.)

Anyhow, I actually do have a point. My point is to explain to you why you should always listen to your heart. Here’s the thing about your heart: Continue reading

How to Recognize a Brother or Sister in Christ

I have met some of the coolest people while writing this blog. One of these days, I’m going to have to share the story of how God sent some of them to help catch me at the end of my fall last summer. Based on my experience with my readers, I have to assume that if you are reading my blog, you’re probably a pretty amazing person. Or at least, I would think so. And really, isn’t that all that counts? (That was a joke, btw. Hopefully you laughed. The test audience in my head found it amusing.)

But for today my point, such as it is, is that I’ve met some amazing brothers and sisters in Christ out here in the far reaches of the internet.

Now, brothers and sisters in Christ is one of those overused phrases that Christians have destroyed. Which is a damn shame because this idea of brothers and sisters in Christ dates back to the very earliest days of the church. It is a beautiful and profound concept that precious few in the church understand today.

Not only is the concept of “brothers and sisters in Christ” a beautiful and profound concept, it’s a damn useful tool for a Christian to have in their toolbox. (I feel like saying damn today. I know it’s unseemly, but it keeps out the riffraff. 😉 ) Anyways. Believe it or not, this whole “church/body of Christ” thing would work a lot better if more Christians understood how “brothers and sisters in Christ” worked. So, I’m gonna teach y’all the basics.

At its simplest, you can think of brothers and sisters in Christ as being those people who know God the way that you know God. The amount of overlap between how you know God and how I know God, will determine the level of spiritual intimacy we are able to share. If someone knows God only by name or theology, we may not have much in common. That doesn’t mean we can’t talk and we can’t learn from each other! We’re brothers and sisters in Christ, after all – that does mean something. But there’s not going to be a great deal of intimacy there. I don’t need you trying to correct God’s work in me or stepping all over my boundaries, thank you very much.

On the other hand, sometimes I run into people who know God in a deeper way. Like they’ve encountered God’s spirit. Sometimes they are people who don’t even know the name of the King. But they know his heart. I know that they know his heart because I know God’s heart and I can see that we’re talking about the same God. Even if they don’t know that there is a God to talk about. It just comes through. It’s in what is important to them, how they think, the way they understand themselves and their place in the world. I recognize my Father’s handiwork. But sometimes these people’s judgment is suspect. Like maybe they willfully embrace greed, violence or unforgiveness as positive, useful things.

But then, every once in a while, I run into someone who both knows my Father’s heart and they know his name and his story. Or at least a version of the story that similar enough for me to recognize it as the same one that I know. They even know the rules of the game the way my father taught them to me. These are the people who give beauty and meaning to the phrase “brothers and sisters in Christ”.

These people can be a lot of fun. Sometimes they become friends. Sometimes they are just people whose judgment I know I can trust if I need information or an opinion. In a pinch, I know that I can reach out to this person for prayer and a shoulder to cry on in a time of need. And they can do the same with me. I mean, there are people who I don’t know the names of their kids who know some of my most intimate thoughts. Before I write them here even! And I am the repository of any number of their secrets as well.

These relationships are like gifts from God. Inevitably these people have something that I need for my journey. Even when I don’t have anything to offer in return.

I said at the beginning of this post that some time I’ll have to share the story of how some of these people, including a few I know only because of this here mess I call a blog, were there to catch me and help set me on my feet last summer. It was as if God found just the right people, with just the right background and just the right knowledge, personality and temperament and sent them to me so I’d have exactly what I need. Really and truly, I swear it was like God sent some of his children who were basically Jesus out there looking for me like a shepherd looks for his sheep that got separated from the herd. Although, to be perfectly honest, he could have sent a lot more rich people. I mean, not to criticize or complain. I’m just saying.

But that’s the power of being brothers and sisters in Christ. That’s how it’s supposed to work. Even if you feel very alone. Even if you’re like me and are practically a recluse. (Because I need a car. Rich people. I need God to send me more rich people. Or make my books NYT bestsellers so I can buy myself a car and not be a recluse anymore.)

That’s really what this church thing is supposed to be all about. No matter what your circumstances, you’re never alone when you know the King. There is always help there. There is always someone who will love you in your dirty, broken state. Whatever you are going through, there will be someone walking by your side. The way of the cross is something we must walk for ourselves. But like Jesus, we will never have to walk it all alone. Just keep your eyes open for the signs that the person in front of you might be a brother or sister in Christ.

Peace, peeps!

PS – Damn. (Insert groan here.)

This Is Our Faith

My friend Carol sent me a link to this video over the weekend of Egyptian Christian’s responding to the murder of 21 of their own by ISIS last month. I wish that everyone would see this video, because this is what the Christian faith looks like. This is the faith of the apostles, the saints and the many unknown faithful through the ages, as taught to us in Christ. I would that when the name of Christ was spoken, this is what people thought of. Please, please, please take a few minutes to allow these dear ones to teach you what it is to be a follower of Jesus. And then pass it on so that others might know the true face of our faith as well.

I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven . . .  ~Jesus

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. . . Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. . . Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY,” says the Lord. BUT IF YOUR ENEMY IS HUNGRY, FEED HIM, AND IF HE IS THIRSTY, GIVE HIM A DRINK . . . Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. ~ Paul to the church in Rome

HT to Simply Church for sharing this video.

God’s Ways Have a Power All Their Own

God’s ways do not rely on the goodness of men (or women) to work. They have a power all their own. Thus, all through the Old Testament, we see God relying, not on good men, but on people who were prone to abuse, violence, weakness, arrogance and all manner of human sin to enact his plans. To put a finer point on it, any idea about how things work which relies on the goodness of humans to work, is self-evidently not from God.

To see the difference in action, consider the difference between the fruit from the teaching of the unique subordination of women vs full equality and mutual submission between men and women. Despite having been tried all over the world, the unique subordination of women has never produced a human society where peace, justice and freedom were widely enjoyed. (Anyone who says pre-1960s America gets slapped – slavery?) The explanation for this is always the same – it requires good, Godly men. This teaching is like communism, a great idea that’s just never been properly executed.

On the other hand, women in the early church served in all areas of the church. They enjoyed rights in their marriages and as daughters not allowed or expected in the prevailing culture. That all faded away after the first few hundred years, but the remnants of this teaching carried such power that the places in the world where women first gained (pretty much) full equality and are considered the most free, most respected and most empowered are places where Christianity has deep roots. Once God’s ways are introduced into the system of humanity, they will face more and less opposition, but over the course of time, they will persist and bear good fruit.

The Spirit In You Knows the Truth

That hopeful feeling you experience when someone tells you that God is better than you’ve been taught is the Holy Spirit moving. I know a lot of churches tell you to ignore it. To settle for a God who isn’t really good enough. But listen when your heart leaps with hope, joy or peace. That’s the Spirit in you.