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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. Continue reading

  • scify plants

    Of Strange Gardens and People Living Underground

    About 5 years ago, I had the same vivid dream, three nights in a row. It took place in a world which was being watched over by a totalitarian power which monitored your every move and word. There was a lot of fear and tension because getting caught saying or doing the wrong thing could get you reported which result in you being hunted down and punished. Moving about out in the open was risky, so when I found a couple of orphaned, abandoned children out on the streets, I basically gathered them up and took them with me in order to protect them.

    In the dream I was shopping for a home. I had a realtor who was showing me various homes that had “for sale” signs out front. I was looking for a home suitable for setting up a meeting place where I could share knowledge and information that I had been entrusted with without drawing undue attention from the totalitarian authorities. At the back of each home I was shown there were large gardens. I am a gardener myself, so I was pleased that there were gardens, yet when I walked through them, I was puzzled to discover that the plants growing there were angular and unnatural looking, like something from a bad sci-fi movie. I have a nearly encyclopedic knowledge of garden plants, so encountering so many odd plants that I couldn’t identify was rather mystifying.

    Inside many of the homes, I discovered a hidden door. The door lead to a cavernous underground area filled with people. There were more people than I could count and the room was so large that I could only see a small portion of it. The people there spent their whole lives underground. Nevertheless they were clearly enjoying themselves. There were giant video screens where people were watching sports, movies and other entertainment. Other people were playing video games, eating, talking, romancing and just hanging out. When I entered the underground area, the people close to the entrance turned and cheered as I entered, welcoming me and expressing pleasure that I had arrived. I still had work to do on the surface, so I wasn’t staying, but they let me know that they were looking forward to receiving the information I had been entrusted with when the time was right. I was able to find several families who were happy to take in the children I had brought with me. I remember being pleased to find so many people living in these underground areas, which was quite a contrast to the surface where I met very few people, most of them scared.

    So that was my dream. I really didn’t know how to make heads or tails of what it might mean, but the fact that it was so vivid and repeated three nights in a row lead me to think that it might be significant. I headed over to my trusted dream dictionary to see if I could work it out. It still didn’t make sense, so I asked the man who wrote said dream dictionary and has been studying dreams for decades to take a crack at it. And that didn’t really help. So finally, I asked someone close to me who has some unusual spiritual gifts to meditate on it and see what he came up with. After a few months, he came back to me with what he felt he had been told my dream meant.

    He said that the authoritarian power in my dream was religious hierarchies that claim for themselves the right to control what people are allowed to believe, think, say and do. 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

  • 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

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    Me and That Judging Thing

    I’ve written a couple of times about what I call “the hardest, best spiritual discipline I’ve ever tried” – that being not judging. Now, this is not something that came naturally to me, to say the least. I’ve always been pretty tolerant and laid-back, but let’s face it; some people are idiots. Some situations are so ridiculous that you pretty much have to be in a permanently drug-addled state not to look at them and say, “really? WTF is wrong with you people?” There’s a reason that, despite Jesus’ rather point-blank instructions, even the most devoted Christians equivocate when it comes to not judging others.

    But, as I explained before, I decided a couple of years ago to treat Jesus’ instruction as a spiritual discipline – something I do out of faithfulness, whether I want to or not, even when I have every reason not to and when it seems pointless. Far from the claims of those who think that not judging is easy, not judging is extraordinarily hard. Most of us can’t even manage it while sitting in traffic.

    So it’s been a real struggle to let go of my urge to judge and just be open to learning and loving instead. Often it’s something that I have to turn to God in prayer in order to accomplish. But slowly and surely, God has used my willingness to withhold judgment to teach me about his judgment.

    You see, our judgment is easy. It comes automatically and is so obvious that any fool can learn it. Some things are right and some things are wrong. My 5 year old knows it. Our judgment and our ability to point out right and wrong hardly need to be taught, they come so easily to us. As attached as we are to our human judgments, they really are no more useful or impressive than being able to stick out your tongue and spit.

    By withholding judgment, I open the door to allowing God to show me how his judgment works. And his judgment is a much more complicated affair than mine, it turns out. As God says to Samuel, “people look at outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” God knows what a heart has been through better than the owner of that heart does. God also knows the role that a person has to play in the grand scheme of things. We do not. God knows both the harm done and the unexpected opportunities created by even the worst actions.

    We are told not to judge, it turns out, because we simply are not capable of it. No matter how easy, obvious and even necessary our judgment seems to us. It turns out that the sheer volume of information and complexity that God knows and understands simply boggles the mind. These days, when the urge to judge hits me, I find myself almost afraid. I still have my own opinions and feelings about things, but I no longer have any desire to turn them into declarations about another person that ought to carry any weight beyond the confines of my own skull.

    And when God does judge, it is a mighty and a frightful thing. To stand before the one who made the universe and be faced with the reality of both the good and evil of one’s life and being carries with it such weight that I am astounded now that I ever even tried to do it.  The task of judging is so far beyond us and our limited abilities that if we understood just how inadequate we are to the task, we would feel like a person pulled off the street being asked to perform a life saving operation on an infant. Some things are too big even for me.

    Except when it comes to this one person . . .

    There is one person who I have held as exempt from my little “don’t judge” spiritual discipline. Who I have felt free to judge as good or bad and whose very life story I have been continually passing judgment on with abandon. And further, I have discovered that my ongoing judgment of this person and her life is very deeply entwined with my ongoing struggle to trust God and live fully in the fruits of the Spirit, as is my right and inheritance as a child of God.

    It turns out that as much as I have learned by refraining from judging others, it really matters very little because all the while, I have continued to judge myself. I continue to look at my own life and declare it broken and in need of fixing. I am forever taking each event, each action, each need or pain or achievement and putting them on the little scales of my own mind to weigh in order to understand myself and my own life as either good or bad. Damaged beyond repair or a work in process. Irretrievably broken or inspirationally triumphant. And it’s been killing me.

    Like a lot of us, I have this tendency to absorb the negative voices around me and other people’s negative judgments of my life. So in order to combat those voices, I developed a habit of creating a counter-narrative that highlights what is good about me and my life. The negative voices say that I am lazy, so I keep track of what I accomplish in order to prove to myself that it’s not true. Someone told me that I am indulgently wasting my life raising my kids rather than having a career, so I have a litany of reasons why simply being mom is enough. Someone told me that my life is a tragic, pitiful waste and, well, I’m still working out my defense against that one. But back and forth it goes. Sometimes the positive view wins for a moment, but it’s a continual battle. It never stops.

    Recently I was talking to a friend and I had lapsed into my habitual defense of myself, against myself and my friend stopped me and said, “you don’t have to prove yourself.” And like truth sometimes does, it got through my defenses and hit me square in the heart. Because something very deep in me does feel like I have to prove myself. Like I do have to mount a defense against the accusations and judgments that come my way and get nurtured in my own head.

    I mean, I know in my head that I am justified and don’t have to justify myself. I know that I don’t need to defend myself. But I want to. I want to prove that I am good enough. I want to prove that I am worthy. I want to prove that those who stand in judgment of me are wrong. Because I think I can. I think that if I don’t, I might get a technical pass because Jesus died for my sins, but really, we all know that it’s just a technicality. A pretty gloss covering what I’m afraid looks like an ugly reality. I don’t just want a pretty gloss; I want a beautiful reality. And I’m going to figure out a way to prove to myself, if not to anyone else, that me and my life are good enough. I am trying to do for myself what Jesus has already done for me. And unsurprisingly, my way has brought nothing but death to my spirit.

    So now God is telling me to lay down my defenses. To stop trying to prove that I and my life are good and worthy enough – even to myself. To accept that even though it’s my own life and my own being, I really don’t have the ability or the right to make such a judgment. I do not know what God knows. I cannot see the full breath or meaning of my life anymore than I can see the full breath and meaning of someone else’s life.

    What I am realizing, as I try to let go of my judgment of myself, is that when I am engaging in my back-and-forth accusation and defense of myself, is that I am denying what God has already said about me and my life. By continually judging myself, I am giving power to the lies and accusations the enemy has cast at me, no matter how often I raise a defense and convince myself that I am OK.

    That’s why the battle never ends. I am viewing the value and worth of my life as an open question that I am responsible for answering. And it’s just not so. It wasn’t an open question on the day I was born and it’s not an open question today. As has so often been the case with me, I could see this in other people long before it even dawned on me to see it in myself. So now, I hope and pray and trust, that God will help me apply what I have learned from not judging others to myself.

  • 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

  • The Mystery of Faith

    “Go that way! Towards the sun.”

    I always wondered about faith.  Evangelicals say that you have to choose to have it.  Calvinists say that you are predestined to either have it or not.  It’s a free gift that you cannot earn.  But you have to nurture and hang onto it.  Catholics and Orthodox Christians practice it with rituals.  So many contradictory ideas.

    What I have learned is that faith is the little voice that pops up when you are discouraged or even despairing and points you back to God.  It tells you something true. sometimes what is true is not what you want to hear.  But it’s true and you can choose to embrace it and continue walking by faith or you can reject it and try to find your own way forward.   When times are hard, you have to really listen for it.  You have to really hold onto what you hear.  Because soon enough something will come and wash that little piece of comfort away.

    Why do I say that these words and their amazing power to sustain us are faith?  Scriptures describe Jesus as the author and perfector of our faith.  Jesus is the Word made flesh.  In the beginning there was the word and the word was God and the word was with God.  Listen and you will hear words pointing you back to God.

    A couple of months ago, I read in a devotional: “who told you that winter will never end and spring will never come again?”  And regularly when I have been ready to consign myself to a life of permanent misery, those words: “who told you that winter will never end and spring will never come again?” would drift into my mind.  And I had a choice.  I could believe these words pointing me back towards God or would I continue embracing the darkness.  The darkness seems so reasonable and safe.  It’s real.  I can think of 100 reasons to just let go of what I have put my faith in until now and give myself up to misery and call it my fate.  But every time I am quiet, every time I cannot hold onto being miserable anymore, the words of faith keep coming back.

    For years I heard them, read them, sang them, prayed them, studied them – these words that are truth pointing me back to truth.  And now, they come back to me.  They are songs running through my head when I wake up in the morning.  They are words I have planted in my children repeated in their own voices for their own reasons.  They are the words that come to the surface every time I pause my recital of the litany of reasons I just cannot and will not continue.  And consistently they point me back to God when hitchhiking to Vegas starts to seem like my only hope for survival.

    This is how faith works: what you allow in, will come back to you when you need it. It’s not magic; it’s a free gift we all have thanks to these amazing brains we have been given.  Our brains will take the smallest good thing we give it and when we most need it, spit it back out at us.  I cannot tell you how often when I have been quiet and just listened, something so tiny, so seemingly insignificant will come to mind and that’s just the little boost I need for the moment.

    This is God teaching me to see and be nourished by even the tiniest things and the smallest drops of water so that I can survive in a desert place.  This is Jesus authoring the words which point me in the direction I need to go on the path that leads to God.  Faith is a tiny mustard seed sprouting and pointing towards the sun, however dim and distant it may be.  Go that way.  Towards the son.  There’s love there.  S o you hope that God is as good as he says he is and hold onto the light for as long as you can, letting it strengthen you to endure the darkness from the next wave threatening to rip this little bit of comfort away.  And somehow, it’s always enough.

    *First published 12/2011

  • The New Year’s Resolution That Will Actually Make Your Life Better

    calvin-hobbes-new-years-resolutionsI hate New Year’s resolutions.  Hate them.  The worst New Year’s days for me were always the ones when my husband would pull out a piece of paper and write “Trotter Family Resolutions” across the top.  So we could “pull them out at the end of the year and see how we did”.  Great, another completely unrealistic standard to feel bad about not meeting.  Just what I need!

    The other day I read an article which advised that the key to keeping this year’s resolutions was to set up specific targets.  Like “I will exercise 3 times a week and lose 25 lbs by April 1.”  Ahahahahahahahahahahahaha!  Seriously.  That’s what it said.  Like the two are related.

    Let me tell you how this really works. I’m not thin.  But I do have standards: my belly must not poke out past my boobs.  Having and nursing 5 kids has given me some wiggle room to work with, but a couple of years ago, the belly was threatening to overtake the girls upstairs so I decided it was time to get serious about hitting the gym.  I worked out 4-5 times a week for an hour.  Heavy, sweating, gasping for air aerobic sessions.  Nothing.  2 months in I think I had lost 0″ and 3 lbs.  That’s a lot of sweating for no results.  So I did the obvious; I bought a nice push-up bra.  Problem solved!  Now that’s a New Year’s resolution I can get behind: buy undergarments that will make me look thinner. Continue reading

  • The Christmas Bird

    Instead of doing my Christmas shopping, I made this for y’all. Grab a cuppa whatever suits you best and listen to the dulcet sound of my voice sharing a heartwarming Christmas story about a farmer, a bird and a little boy. It will be the best 11 minutes of your day.:)

  • On Treading Water

    Once upon a time, a dastardly villian took a girl out to sea and left her there in the water, in the dark.  She knew she was in a struggle for her life.  Although it was night and she could see nothing, she couldn’t tolerate just waiting.  So she took off swimming in the direction she thought land was.  She swam though the night until she was so exhausted that she could barely tread water.  As the sun rose, she thought she could see land in the distance, but now that her energy was spent, her survival depended on staying afloat until someone happened to spot her and rescue her.

     * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

     Once upon a time a dastardly villian took a girl out to sea and left her there in the water, in the dark.  She knew she was in a struggle for her life.  But it was night and she could see nothing to guide her way.  So she decided to just tread water until morning came up.  As the sun came up, she was tired, but not spent.  She spotted land in the distance and started swimming in that direction.  Her survival now depended on whether she had the stamina to swim close enough to shore to be spotted by a rescuer or pull herself onshore.

    This is one of the essays found in my book The Upside Down World’s Guide to Enjoying the Hard Life. You should go order a copy before you forget!