a fire, a chair, a meal and Jesus

In his introduction to Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis describes his book as a “hall” that readers enter and then begin to open doors–it’s all a metaphor for finding the true church–an actual place of worship. But I love the picture this sentence creates: “But it is in the rooms, not in the hall, that there are fires and chairs and meals.” I love the idea of a room with a fire and chairs and a meal and Jesus. Of course, being an Anglophile, I picture the front room of a cottage with diamond-paned windows and worn, pale floral-covered arm chairs and a faded Aubusson rug (I didn’t ever know what an “Aubusson rug” was when I was devouring Maeve Binchy and Rosamund Pilcher’s warm and fuzzy novels. Oh, looked it up—it’s French).

In that warm, friendly room where the fire is real so it crackles and spits, I would serve fragrant coffee and just made scones. My friend, Isabel—I don’t have a friend named Isabel, but I’ve always wanted one—serves her famous pumpkin dip with pretzels and cinnamon-sugar pita squares. My hubby, Steve, sits on his manly worn, leather chair while the two other men sit—with a pillow between them—on the squashy leather sofa. My lovely friends (one of them is Isabel) sit in the faded arm chairs, while I sit by Steve’s feet on a giant floor pillow. My black cock-a-poo, Moby, snuggles with me (I don’t have a cock-a-poo named Moby, either). We sip and munch and talk about our grown kids and our grandkids, while the men talk about college football and the trouble with leaves.

Someone leads in prayer and out come the Bibles. It’s Isabel’s husband’s turn to take us through a chapter of 2nd Corinthians. It’s so still and quiet. Our voices speak God-words and we laugh together softly. After almost three hours, we pray and Steve and I walk everyone to the door. The porch light reflects off gold and red leaves lining the stone path to the driveway or still clinging to their parent trees. We all wave goodbye and plan to meet at Isabel’s house next week. Inside my cottage, Steve is cleaning things up while a finish another cup of coffee by the fire, Moby firmly on my lap. God’s presence still lingers.

. . . Back to reality. Right now I can linger over coffee. I can spend hours on the Bible and other books (currently I’m reading some short stories by Alice Munro. I figure I should keep up with Nobel Prize winners even though I don’t teach literature any more). I can make great spaghetti and file my fingernails. And I can work on my master’s degree in Curriculum and Instruction with an emphasis on Adolescent Literacy. I have the time. I have a wonderful husband named Steve who takes care of me because now I can’t walk very well.

I’m having surgery on my neck due to ruptured disks (due to arthritis and other stuff floating around my body thanks to DNA). It’s scheduled for the 25th of this month. My lower back has been deteriorating for over a year, and now it’s in full rebellion. Making great spaghetti last night had me in tears while I was draining the pasta. The pain is really, really bad.

And then my feet swelled up and my toes feel broken so I cry a bit if I step on them the wrong way. I had to quit teaching this year, and I had to quit tutoring last week. It’s been a Job (as in Job of the Bible) kind of year.

That’s why I like my dream. The cottage and fire. The friends who also have grown children. The kind of friends who make pumpkin dip and pray for me and I pray for them because I’m tired of thinking about me. The squashy arm chairs and a cuddly dog sounds wonderful, too.

Then it hit me this morning: why don’t I ask Jesus for them? (The friends, not the cottage, etc.—but I do want Moby!) So I did ask Jesus.

And while I’m waiting for Isabel and Moby,  I found a great recipe for pumpkin dip. I think I’ll try it; I know Steve will like it!

Here’s the link to the pumpkin dip! http://www.shugarysweets.com/2013/09/pumpkin-pie-dip

 

meandering moments and lots of digressing

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A magnet–student made one year. Still have it. Still like it.

I have been doing quite a bit of reading lately. Some fiction (Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane–Oh my goodness. Such beauty). Some Bible. Some more fiction (currently Maya’s Notebook by Isabel Allende and Fragile Things by Neil Gaiman). I have grown very picky about fiction. It has to be more than a story. It needs to vibrate with beauty even in the violence. Cormac McCarthy does this well. I was tutoring a girl last week and we were reading a John Updike poem, “Ex-Basketball Player.” At the end of the second or third stanza there was a simple simile that stayed with me because of its beauty: “His hands were like wild birds.” I had to read it over and over again and just let it seep in like poetry does sometimes. Of course, my student thought I was nuts, but she agreed it was lovely.

 

 A Non Sequitur (I tend to digress…)

I feel a bit guilty for not updating Goodreads. Does anyone else feel badly about not updating their “progress” on Goodreads? I neglect to enter the books I pick up and put down and pick up again later. Like Plot & Structure by James Scott Bell. I am pretty sure this is the book that will help me move from short stories to novels. Right now, I am a short story writer. One major conflict. A few characters. Lovely details. Climax and a quick resolution. Done. Freytag’s Pyramid at work. I’m studying the short stories of the magnificent Barbara Kingsolver. She drives me nuts. Just one sentence from Homeland’s story, “Blueprints,” and I am dashed and tortured by insecurity. “As she pads around the cabin in wool socks and skirt and down vest, Lydia develops a bizarre fantasy that they are part of some severe religious order gone into mourning, observing the silence of monks.” One sentence.

 –excuse me–need to switch laundry to dryer. Life. And more life. I had to make the bed. The bathroom and shower needed attention. Which begs the question: how does something you jump in to get clean, get so dirty? If I were a gardener or a farmer or painter, I could see how there might be some significant dirt in the shower. But I am not. I am a tutor. A former public high school English teacher. But I think I would like to be a farmer except for the non-stop work. Sometimes the dream is infinitely more appealing than the reality. My father grew up on a farm. I have heard stories all my life. It is a really hard, dirty, hot job. So maybe raising alpacas in the foothills of the Rockies? How come the Pioneer Woman ( http://thepioneerwoman.com) makes it look so easy? Drat her and her French Silk Pie.

I digress again…the dryer is dinging so time to unload…

I had to speak to the dryer. When it starts dinging to tell me the clothes are dry and ready to be retrieved and folded, I tell it that “I am coming…I hear you…” as if to placate the machine so it won’t spew lint everywhere if I don’t respond to the dinging! My dryer is a dictator. Or Dr. Pavlov and I am the drooling, salivating beast.

Meditation Notes: now to the eternal stuff

I choose mornings for Bible reading since I do not have to be at the tutoring center until 9. I can start at 6-ish with my coffee and relax a bit. On my door desk (see previous blogs) I have a journal, my NIV Bible, the Phillip’s translation of the New Testament, the ESV Bible, my very worn copy of My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers translated into modern language by James Reimann. (This devotional guide is marked-up from years of revelations. Again and again, it pushes me to scripture.) I treat my journal like it is a conversation with God and I begin with prayer requests. I get pretty intense and focused on these. That’s all I’ll say. My Abba knows.

I move on to Chambers and see what he says for the day. Today’s devotional was based on Luke 9:57. The cost of following Jesus. No excuses. My notes say “I must be solely guided by my relationship with Christ.” And “My first loyalty is to Jesus.”

Then on to Matthew. I’ve been reading through Matthew as a study, looking at his voice as a writer, what he did differently than Mark, Luke and John. How the Holy Spirit used Matthew’s perspective as a former tax collector to present the life and words and works of his Rabbi and savior. I have also been examining just the words of Jesus–not out of context–but what he is saying in his parables. It has taken me months and months to reach Matthew 21, but it has changed me. Don’t get me wrong here…I’m still the flawed, hyper-sensitive, somewhat agoraphobic, introspective, sometimes gloomy 55-year-old woman I’ve always been, but I’ve learned some things. I’m still learning. I figure it will take a lifetime to learn His Word.

I type little “meditation notes” from my readings pretty often–specially if something hits me right in the gut and I want to ignore it and run away to my safe and selfish little cave. They help me remember what God taught me. Here’s one from this week. It started with a verse study that led to commentary on another verse in the ESV Bible. Clear as mud, right?

“From Matthew 20:16 commentary from ESV Bible”

A disciple of Jesus should not measure her worth by comparing it with the accomplishments of others, but should focus on serving from a heart of gratitude in response to God’s grace. (I added “her” because I get tired of “him”)

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My giant sheet of steel magnetic board! All things inspiring and fun.

Really spoke to me and continues to. If you have a meditation note you’d like to share, please do. Now it’s time for my mid-morning snack. I can have raw nuts. I’d rather have ginger snaps. Life is hard; God is good (and so are ginger snaps!)

John Updike, “Ex-Basketball Player” from Collected Poems 1953-1993. Copyright © 1993 by John Updike. Reprinted with the permission of Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc.
Source: Collected Poems 1953-1993 (Alfred A. Knopf, 1993)

isolation and identity: the lone nut rides again

photo credit: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/an_untrained_eye/5751997501/">an untrained eye</a> via <a href="http://photopin.com">photopin</a> <a href="http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/">cc</a>
Not me. Looks fun, though

*Some clarification on the title and this writing: I liked that “isolation” and “identity” both started with “I” which is the point of this blog–if I am too “I” focused, I forget to be Christ focused. 

Isolation. Rapunzel in her tower. Tom Hanks trapped on an island with only a basketball for company. A girl in a padded room for her own protection. Or a woman sitting at small table outside a coffee shop. I like the last one best. I like to think that one of these days I will be the woman who goes to the indie coffee shop with her Apple laptop and orders an Americano then sits quietly and comfortably alone typing away. Creating the next great story. Another Flannery O’Conner or Ursula Le Guin or Barbara Kingsolver.

I keep thinking that with my newly enforced isolation I’ll hit Double Shots (a local indie coffee shop that roasts their own beans–very important in indie coffee shops) and sit at one of their long wooden tables sipping my “Americano with room, please” while I type a story. Ahhh. Sounds wonderfully idealistic.

Reality check: I’m not doing the coffee shop thing. I work in the mornings and sometimes the afternoons and evenings, so my schedule is wonky. And I am stinking tired due to my illness and pain (sorry to bring it up!). My hair hurts most days. The follicles ache and complain. How boring. I bore myself.

Loneliness and the Lost Tribe

Isolation is strange. You see I’ve lost my tribe. I had a tribe of teachers when I was a teacher, too. We shared our woes between class hours. We laughed at the lengths our students would go in order to avoid working. We bemoaned administration’s latest memo requiring more things for us to do other than our jobs.

I don’t have my tribe anymore. And that is perfectly normal and to be expected. When one leaves a place of employment, a new tribe must be formed. This new tribe emails, texts, calls, bemoans, laughs, cries together.

What did I expect? I expected…more. I was wrong and unreasonable.

I need a new tribe but I don’t know how to find one. 

One reason I have trouble finding a tribe is because I am a physical mess. If your surgeon (or 1st opinion surgeon) tells you that you are a mess and the necessary operation will be difficult and has only a 50% success rate of alleviating the pain and numbness in your left arm, then you find yourself occupied with your fears and concerns and aches and pains and medication and doctor’s appointments. What tribe would want to talk about that? Even my husband is afraid of asking me how I feel in the morning. It’s pathetic. I’m whining. I hate it. Stop it right now, Cindy Lou.

Verbal slaps sometimes help. Back to isolation. I am having trouble with it. I never have made friends easily. Truthfully, I’m a bit of a flake. I grew into my flakiness. It started with shyness and developed into fully formed flakiness. I think that this personality “quirk” may make people not take me seriously. They might not think that I can…well, think.

Not true!! And what is so bad about being flaky? A croissant is flaky deliciousness. Good pie crusts are flaky. When a fish is cooked properly, it flakes. Snow is wonderful in flakes–not so much in huge bundles of flakes, though…and…that’s it. I can’t think of anymore “good” flakes.

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croissants are deliciously flaky!

I checked Amazon. Nothing on “flakiness.” Apparently psychologists prefer different personality types for elucidation in large tomes of pop-py knowledge. After finding nada on Amazon, I opted for Roget’s Thesaurus. Not the baby one–the heavy-duty one. Huge. Great for toning arms.

According to Roget, a flaky person is, “capricious, changeable, impulsive, whimsical, fanciful, flighty, skittish giddy, featherbrained, idiosyncratic, eccentric, quirky, odd (see also Insanity).*Note: I did not see insanity. Quirks don’t qualify one as insane. I function well in society. I just don’t make friends easily. So lock me up! Wait! Please don’t–slight claustrophobia…

Well, maybe I’m just a tad flaky. A small croissant. I remember when I won an award at my former tribe headquarters. The letter a co-worker wrote described me as “quirky and eccentric” in the classroom. Point made.

My point in this flaky discussion is this: is this my identity? Am I a flaky friend? Am I a capricious grandmother? Was I a whimsical mother? A fanciful child? A skittish teen? A featherbrained teacher? An impulsive, changeable wife? 

If this is my identity–then is that why I have such a difficult time making friends? Real friends who prefer face-to-face rather than Facebook? Friends that listen to my pains without getting sick of them or even tell me, “Ok, enough negative! Let’s pray and move on.” My sister is like that. She is not flaky. She is an anchor for me, as is my hubster. Both are the opposite of flaky.

Decision made: I need a new tribe. One that accepts my flakiness. One that allows me to listen and engage in the lives of its members face-to-face and not just via technology.

 Being Worthy of a New Tribe

I read a very convicting devotional from My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers. It’s from a modern translation–but not too modern. August 19. This entire blog entry is a lesson in what not to do regarding self-awareness and introspection.

“God intends for us to live a well-rounded life in Christ Jesus, but there are times when that life is attacked from the outside. Then we tend to fall back into self-examination…Self-awareness is the first thing that will upset the completeness of our life in God, and self-awareness continually produces a sense of struggling and turmoil in our lives. Self-awareness is not sin, and it can be produced by nervous emotions or by suddenly being dropped into a totally new set of circumstances . . Anything that disturbs our rest in Him must be rectified at once…If we come to Him, asking Him to produce Christ-awareness in us, He will always do it, until we fully learn to abide in Him.”

I’ve definitely been dropped into a new set of circumstances that have shaken my belief in myself. I’m questioning my ability to be a part of a new tribe. I question whether I have anything to offer a new tribe. I worry that I will continue this isolation and loneliness, depending on my family for friendship and love. I worry that my flakiness will scare people away from me. photo credit: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/sarabiljana/8469696661/">sara biljana (vacation)</a> via <a href="http://photopin.com">photopin</a> <a href="http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/">cc</a>

Then I read Chambers. I even photocopied this entry and glued it into my journal. My self-awareness must shift to Christ-awareness. I’ll still be flaky, but I will not dwell on it and instead will learn to see through Christ eyes. Prayerfully I will try.

 *I still think that fireflies were once fairies. I think that gnomes visit with each other when we go to bed. I think books contain magical abilities to transport. New t-shirt: Flaky for Jesus! And it has a picture of a croissant! In a dark heather grey. Organic bamboo (Is there non-organic bamboo? and how does one make a t-shirt out of a large stick?)

Grace and peace to all. Forgive the rambling. I’m a bit capricious…

cafe

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/an_untrained_eye/5751997501/“>an untrained eye</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com“>photopin</a> <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/“>cc</a>

b&w

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/sarabiljana/8469696661/“>sara biljana (vacation) via http://photopin.com“>photopin</a> <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/“>cc</a>

A PREVIEW: Red Letter Experiment:#4 Short and Sweet and Childlike: Matthew 18

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Renee’s flowers. My daughter-in-love took this picture at a Farmer’s Market in Bend, Oregon.

 I haven’t worked on this blog for awhile. I haven’t been looking at the red letters of Jesus and trying to see how I’m supposed to be living. I pick up my Bible and my journal and I listen to great teaching and I study and wait for God to inspire me to write. Nothing. 

 I read books on writing. I get periodic phone calls from a self-publishing group reminding me that when I finish my books, I should pay them a couple thousand bucks to see my work in print (so thoughtful of them). I feel this pressure to write and grow and develop, but I’m just so tired. Overwhelmed. Empty. There is nothing new or spontaneous happening in my creative brain cell. I used to think I had a veritable cornucopia of creative brain cells, but not any longer. I’m pretty sure I’m hanging on to my last one. And it’s a wimpy one. 

I’m a school teacher (in case you didn’t read the “About Me” tab information). I teach English to high school kids. This past year I used up five years worth of accumulated sick days. I feel like I let down my students. 

I headed into summer determined to lick several things within the first two weeks of June:

  • Lose another 20 pounds! 
  • Start riding my bike religiously again! (my favorite form of exercise ever)
  • Switch from Humira to Enbrel and start seeing my psoriatic arthritis improve.
  • Get really healthy, fit and energetic so I can make it through the teaching year without missing a day (and so I can wear some cute skirts with boots this year–Vanity, thy name is Cindy).
  • Write 2 books: one for first year teachers and one called Volkswagen Theology, which I  started as a blog.

REALITY: 

  • Can’t lose weight because the drugs I’m taking are messing with my metabolism.
  • Started riding my bike and loving it….when–DA DA DUM! I started feeling numbness in my left arm. 
  • Saw doctor. Numbness in left arm due to cervical disk pressure due to degenerative disks due to psoriatic arthritis (with rheumatoid pain patterns) and osteoarthritis. No more biking. WHAT??? What about the 20+ more pounds of fat and excess everything on my body? No weights. Walk (in 100 degree weather–I scoff and sob).
  • Started Enbrel. 
  • Started pain pills for arthritis. 
  • Numbness in hands becomes a full-blown conflagration of fiery nerve pain up and down my left arm and into my upper spine. Weeping in bed with pain and fear. 
  • I am now 3 weeks into June. No books finished. No writing. No weight loss. No bike. Just pain. Losing chunks of eyebrows. Pale. Constant pain and no sleeping. A visit to the Urgent Care Center. 
  • Doctor seen on emergency basis. Schedules MRI. Gives me two shots in neck and shoulder blade. No help. 
  • Another night of searing pain so intense I expect to see blisters on my skin. Steve and I cancel our Jackson Hole vacation for July. 
  • Percocet. 

 And that’s the lowdown. MRI will hopefully show what is blocking the nerves, and then we can sandblast the sucker out and be completely recovered by the first of August. (HA!)

Meantime, I exist. I can’t drive due to medicine. I can’t ride my bike (though hubby has sort of consented to getting me a cruiser bike that allows me set upright). Money. That’s all it takes. 

And God is staying very quiet. Whispery even. It’s like He doesn’t want to disturb me. WAKE UP GOD AND DISTURB ME!! I’M SINKING HERE!

 When all else fails, go back to what works. Red Letters. 

I’ve been examining Matthew 18 and will have some things to write about tomorrow. But not today. Today I re-posted my past Red Letter writings. Today I’m resting and learning to trust again. Today I’m eating an apricot and dreaming of a miniature poodle. Today is a day to remain hopeful.

Some thoughts before I write: What do you think Jesus means when he refers to the “kingdom of heaven”? How can adults change/convert/turn back to a child? What is Jesus warning us about regarding causing a child to stumble and sin? How do we do that? What does it look like? 

 Leave some thoughts if you have a hankering to…I’d love to hear from you.

Red Letter Experiment: #3 Wilderness Temptation

sock_monkey_diva_large_mugOrdinary Schmordinary! Living LIfe in the “Lemon Light” 

A Diva is Born

When I was 16, the music director at my church asked me to fill in for a sick soloist. At 16 I was not the confidant chica I am today (scoff scoff), so the idea of singing with a microphone in front of the whole church terrified me! BUT something happened when the soundtrack started playing; the music took over and I owned that song. I sang it from then on–a case of under-understudy snagging the big part.

For four more years, I rocked the roost. I got to sing at big events for thousands and tiny events in tiny churches across my state. I started to strut a bit. Flipped my strawberry-blonde hair in its Farah Fawcett shag with confidence. Collected males across the state, breaking their hearts with abandon. Ok. I exaggerate. A few males. Ok. Three and one was a stalker. So that makes a legitimate two. But I did get cocky. A local recording studio offered me commercials (didn’t happen) and I won a state pageant. There I was–glittering, singing, standing ovations–all for Jesus. Jesus was so proud. Maybe not so much.

From the Limelight to the Lemonlight

University of Oklahoma. Switched from nursing (a mistake) to music education with an eye for becoming the next Contemporary Christian Singing Sensation. And down she went.

 The Reality

Opera? Singing in German which meant lots of spitting? Italian? How was I supposed to “feel” the music, if I didn’t understand what I was singing? What about rhythm and blues? Scatting? (Though very white, I thought of myself as a black Olivia Newton-John!) I remember auditioning for the OU choirs (we were all required to as music majors). A passel of other undergraduates were singing scales, carrying sheet music for Italian arias and I had my hymn book marked at “The Old Rugged Cross.” Eesh. Ouch. A smile and a nod later, I walked out leaving my perky dreams and confidence on the floor of the recital room. My hair sagged in disappointment. I switched out of music to education after only two semesters. Three majors by the time I finished my sophomore year. Oi.

I went from the limelight to the lemonlight in a matter of minutes. I felt like a nothing chica. Not even a chica. A girl. An ordinary education major. Plain. Unexceptional. Worthless. Ok…I was a tad over-sensitive. OK–WAY HYPER-SENSITIVE! Like Anne of Green Gables, I could go from exhilaration to the depths of despair all within 10 minutes. I still can. It’s how I’m made. If you’re a sensitive person, you know what I mean. You cry at the news or at an unkind remark and your friends and loved ones don’t know what to do with you so they say, “You’re too sensitive…get over it.” That always works (note sarcastic tone).

I meandered off topic. I am prone to wander… 

Going from extraordinary to ordinary was a tough lesson. I never set out to be ordinary. I don’t think many people do.

“What do you want to be when you grow up?”

“Oh, I just want to be ordinary. Nothing special.”

Don’t hear that conversation very often. Now middle-aged, lightly rounded, a tad saggy, baggy–I can recount numerous “ego bruises.” I receive them regularly. Just when I think I’m exceptional at something–wham–right in the kisser.

Raging Against the Ordinary

I’ll admit it. I want to be exceptional. I want to be lauded as the best at something. Or at least one of the best. Or at least better than average? Here’s an example: I’ve been teaching for 19 years (took two years off as a graphic designer) and I’ve been nominated for Teacher of the Year at four different schools. Out of the 19 years, I’ve been nominated 14 times, including this year. I have never won. Didn’t even make the final cut this year. And yes, the teacher that won is superb and brilliant and deserves the win, but my ego got a tad bruised.

Not a big deal though. I’ve learned to accept these ego bruises fairly quickly with God’s help. He reminds me that He has always used ordinary people. After all, Jesus’ disciples were ordinary folks. He didn’t go out to find the best and brightest and hunkiest in the synagogues–he collected fishermen. He added a tax collector along the way.

Jesus was ordinary, too. He didn’t glow with a heavenly aura. He didn’t travel with a heavily- armed entourage (though Peter did get a little excited with his sword). He wasn’t the Messiah/Deliverer the Jews were waiting for. Shoot, Jesus let Caesar be Caesar. He didn’t encourage folks to take up weapons and wipe out the Romans. He worked as a carpenter in Galilee until John baptized him and he went out to the wilderness and came back to redeem the whole world.

The Temptation

The second temptation was an ego temptation. Standing on top of the temple in Jerusalem, the tempter suggested that Jesus throw himself off the temple and let the angels break his fall. Wow. That would have got some Pharisees in the temple excited. They’d all rush out and see Jesus and the angels, and they’d know he was the chosen Messiah…and things would have turned out quite differently (as Satan knew very well).

Satan: Prove it. Be the Messiah. Be the Son of God. Stop this humble nonsense. Show your studly God-self.

Jesus: Don’t you dare test the Lord your God. (notice the “your”–God is God over Satan, as well)

Ordinary Life

I love my ordinary life. I love teaching my extraordinary students. I love my teacher friends. I love love love my family (especially my new-to-the-planet grandson). I love my little 1950s ranch house in Tulsa, Oklahoma. I’m ordinary. Nothing exceptional at all…except for Jesus in me. It took me almost 50 years of following Him to figure things out, but shoot, I have an eternity left.

Red Letter Experiment: #2 Wilderness Training

Not my idea of wilderness training. Prefer mug of coffee while sitting on rock listening to babbling brook.
Not my idea of wilderness training. Prefer mug of coffee while sitting on rock listening to babbling brook.

As I was plodding and plowing through the spoken words of Jesus in Matthew, I came to the Wilderness. You remember–the 40 days and 40 nights wilderness where Jesus was tempted by the evil one? As a graduate of Sunbeams, Girls in Action, and years of Sunday School and Training Union, I am very familiar with the story. It seemed like a myth. Jesus’ rite of passage.

Reading it again and again through my adult years, it still remained mythical. . .almost. I listened to sermons on it, all reminding me that in order to fight the devil, I must use God’s sword–His Word. I got that. I understood. But the person of Jesus stayed hazy and distant. A god/man able to defeat the evil one because he conveniently already knew the outcome? Isn’t that always problematic? The duality of Christ? Fully human and fully divine. One member of the Trinity. My puny brain can’t wrap itself around that truth. But I accept it as truth. I trust it as truth. And this time when I read Matthew 4 and the temptations of Jesus in the wilderness, I saw the human Jesus rejecting the alluring words of Satan and choosing holiness and single-minded devotion to his Father (and our Father).

No Horns or Sulfur-y Stink

It’s funny–well, maybe not funny–but typically human of us to reduce Satan to an ugly, demonic, perverse-looking creeper. Whoa, I would run so fast if I was approached by this creature. Lucifer (i.e. Satan or “the tempter”) was an angel of light. He was beautiful in Heaven and I believe he is still beautiful. A Dorian Gray beauty. Alluring, sensual, gorgeous and completely evil. No longer an angel of light, but a demon of darkness who rejected “the Light.”

I’m not a theologian, but I am a teacher of literature and I can say that literarilly, John Milton got it right in Paradise Lost–Satan was (and is) beautiful. He’d have to be if people were going to listen to him and believe him and trust him. It is human nature to run from ugliness, thus the Dorian Gray allusion. Satan stays beautiful outwardly, but his inward nature is twisted, distorted, deformed and evil. Do not be deceived; he doesn’t like people.

Onward to Our Hero

Now we’re ready to look at the temptations. Immediately following his baptism, Jesus is “led by the Spirit” into the wilderness. It’s important to note that the Holy Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness. Spirit-led isolation and not an escape from the world. No running away for isolation. Jesus followed the urging of the Spirit to go into the wild desert of Judea. He spent 40 days and nights there. Fasting. Communicating with His Father. I wonder what those conversations were like? I try to imagine and come up short. God the Father talking with God the Son. What I do know is that Jesus came out of the desert and immediately began his three-year ministry. But…before He left the desert, he had to face what we face everyday–temptation to reject holiness and give in to need and desire. 

Three of the gospels cover the temptation of Christ. John doesn’t. Mark barely does. Matthew is the most detailed, followed by Luke. I did some studying and discovered the obvious. All four gospels addressed different audiences, thus their purposes were different. It’s not a contradiction. It’s reality. If you have to relate important information to varied audiences, you have to tailor your writing to engage the needs of your audience. It’s not something an English major discovered; it’s something God–the creator of the universe–already knew. Duh.

So, we’ve established that the devil is beautiful, alluring and sensual–Jesus went to the desert because the Holy Spirit told Him to–Jesus left the desert after 40 days and immediately began his ministry. There. The stage is semi-set. 

The temptations come after the 40 days are almost complete. Jesus is in a weakened physical state. I can’t wrap my mind around how hungry he must have been. Starving. I’m a terrible “faster.” I’ll start a fast and I’ll have great intentions. Hunger pains remind me that God is sufficient and I don’t need food–I need God. Concentrate, Cindy. Or as my mentor, Winnie the Pooh, says: “Think, think, think.” I get through a day and cave. Then I try again. And cave. Too much food around and too little self-discipline. Not a lot of food in the wilderness for Jesus. Apparently there were some wild animals (Mark did note that in his gospel). Jesus could have had some wild Judean rabbit or some such edible wild thing. But he didn’t. And of course the “tempter” addresses Jesus’ physical hunger first.

“Hey Jesus. Bet you are really hungry. IF you are really the Messiah, the Christ, the Son of God, prove it. Turn these stones to bread. Satisfy your hunger. Satisfy your physical need. No one will see. Shoot, you deserve it. You’ve been fasting a long time. What difference will it make if you just do a little of your Jesus miracle stuff and show your God-self to me. Shhhh…I won’t tell.

Big question: would it have made any difference if Jesus had nibbled a little stone bread and proved himself to the perversely beautiful and convincing tempter? Let that roll around in your brain a bit.

Jesus doesn’t cave. He quotes scripture to Satan (who he knew quite well since Jesus is part of the Trinity and was and has been and ever will be present with God). Satan was not a stranger (and nor was he Jesus’ brother). He had been an angel. Only an angel. Not a god and not a son of God. He was a servant of God. He didn’t like it. He got tossed out. Back to the Truth: Jesus was fully aware of what Satan was doing, AND Satan was fully aware of who Jesus was. He didn’t need Jesus to prove his divinity. There was another purpose here. He was playing on Jesus’ human need. No surprises. Jesus–fully human and fully divine–doesn’t cave. I would.

Take-Away Point

Think about what you need physically. Food. Shelter. Job. Love. Security. Health. Family. As humans, when we are weakened by a lack of any of these things, we become vulnerable. On a diet? Vulnerable to bread? Cheetoes? Chocolate? Gummy bears? I’ve been on a low-carb diet (health reasons) for a month. I could eat an entire loaf of fresh bread right now.

How about shelter? Living small? Wanting large? Avoid HGTV or all of a sudden your completely sufficient home seems really lame. What? No jetted tub or walk-in closet? ( Oh, we are a spoiled nation!)

Lack of love? Wow. This one creates all sorts of problems. I can speak for women–we fall hard for the wrong person when we are looking for a man to satisfy our love deficiency. We become loser magnets. Someone comes along and assuages our need to be told we are beautiful or sexy or adorable or perfect and WHAM. Down we go. Didn’t I say the tempter was beautiful and alluring and sensual?

The point is this: when we have a hole in our place of physical need, we become vulnerable. Vulnerability leads us to question God’s sufficiency. We get scared. We doubt God even cares or hears or is really God (the one who spoke the universe into being). Weak weak weak. What Jesus told Satan when he was confronted in his weakened and vulnerable condition? God is sufficient. Go away.

How I Hang On to Jesus by a Tiny Rope

My vulnerability? Oh dear. Too many. But right now it’s my health. I have a disease that is affecting my quality of life. It is so easy to start feeling helpless and hopeless until I get my eyes off of “me” and on Jesus. It sounds like a cliché or a t-shirt or a coffee mug from Cafe Press, but it’s not. And it’s not easy. It isn’t a feeling. It requires a deliberate effort from me. Mental discipline.

I have to surround myself with God. For me, that means putting down the novel, turning off the television AND putting work aside. I use work as a justification for not spending more than a few minutes in the Bible. I excuse myself by listening to sermons from my favorite podcasters on my way to work or grocery store (only places I go anymore). And I go down. Emotionally and physically. I doubt God’s sufficiency and become vulnerable to temptation by the one who is great at exploiting weakness. 

Psoriatic arthritis is my disease but it won’t kill me. It just knocks me around a bit (or the medicine to combat it knocks me around a bit). But it also reminds me that life is fragile and so many people are suffering from things that are infinitely more painful and terminal. I read a few posts from 24-7 prayer or Imago Dei or “She is Safe” and immediately the “I” starts to fade. I’m drawn to contemplation and prayer and my Bible and journal.

Priorities shift around and I see life through my God lens. When I’m looking through that lens, I can’t see the huge “me” and instead see God’s love, grace, mercy and sufficiency. Much better way to see.

And that’s just the first temptation. Oi vey.

A Red Letter Experiment #1

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               I see God’s glory and a glimmer of Heaven when I’m outside

Imagein nature away from humanity’s busyness.

I’ve been reading Red Letter Revolution by Shane Claiborne and Tony Campolo. If you aren’t familiar with these men, get familiar. To admit this book (and I’m not even finished with it yet) has set me back on my heels a bit and forced me to re-examine my life after following Jesus for 47 years, is shocking to me. Yet what they are presenting makes sense to me: Read and examine and meditate on what Jesus did and said, and do it. He meant it. For those naysayers, STOP. Neither author discounts the rest of the Bible as irrelevant. It is the inspired word of God. All of scripture is good for teaching and ruminating on and discovering who God was, is and continues to be throughout history and into eternity. He was and is and ever will be.

Jesus was the culmination of God’s plan. His words are spoken to man directly from a member of the Holy Trinity. Wow. Ok. That’s hard to even wrap your brain around. I don’t meditate on that enough because after 47 years of church and Sunday School and Bible study and Falls Creek and  Beth Moore conferences and divorce and disappointment and disillusionment, I seem to find more comfort in the letters of Paul than in the actual words of Jesus. That’s screwed up.

So I’m trying something. An experiment. I’m going to start in Matthew (though there is much discussion about which of the Gospels was written first–no one has been inspired to move it), and look at those red-letter words. Not devoid of context, but still pulled out and examined as part of his words to me. How I’m supposed to be like him. That’s what this whole Christian thing is anyway–becoming–transforming–evolving into a person like Jesus. (Naysayers–I’m not discounting the Holy Spirit’s equally powerful presence to move through the words of Jesus and speak to my heart–It’s the only way that the words will come to life for me and move me to action.)

This morning after laundry, cleaning bathroom, taking a shower, bathing a chicken in herbs and placing it in the crock pot, I decided to sit down and let God take priority for a while. Shoot, I can give Him a few minutes of my day. You would think this would be easy–but it’s not. I have 104 Scarlet Letter novels to look through and grade for annotations. I have 104 notebooks full of essays that need to be graded. I have to prepare to teach Thoreau and the Transcendentalists by Monday and try to make students understand why people were so drawn to this non-religious belief system…I panic a little when I think of all that I need to do. Momentary panic attack—ok. Back to red letters. The first red letters appear in Matthew 3:15.

“Jesus replied, ‘Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.’” 

Jesus is responding to his cousin, John, who questions whether he should be the one to baptize the Messiah. Jesus replies. “Let’s do this.” And John does.

Ok. Simple sentence. Actually it is a compound sentence with prepositional and infinitive phrases tacked on. So, being an English teacher, I immediately started with the first clause. “Let it be so now.”

  • Note the authority with which Jesus replies. No hesitation. No, “Now John, it’s ok. Promise.  You are the man for this job.”
  • “NOW” The immediacy of this word. I think about the Old Testament. The thousands of years God looked for men and women who would be sensitive to Him and love Him–no Holy Spirit at work. Just God and men and women who said “yes.” The prophets. The kings. The judges. The prostitutes. The ordinary people who God pulled out of their ordinary lives to show the earth dwellers that He was the great I Am. Some believed and served God and He used them in mighty ways. Some people preferred empty man-made gods (an oxymoron) that priests controlled, to an all-consuming uncontrollable God who demanded they turn to Him and away from wickedness. So God would use someone like Joshua to show those folks just how unmanageable and omniscient and powerful He was. Somebody (usually lots of people) ended up dead. Others were convinced.
  • Back to the “NOW.“ Jesus had been walking and working and interacting with family and friends for 30 years at this point. He then tells John, NOW. Baptize me now. Let the road to my death and resurrection begin. I have three years to challenge the world’s disbelief and show them who I am and who my Father is, because to quote Jesus, “I and my Father are one.” There is an urgency to the word “now.” An immediacy. 

Time for the 2nd clause.

  • “It is proper.” I periodically like to have my students perform diction studies. They take words out several slashes in order to see the full connotation of the word rather than just its denotative meaning. So I looked at “proper.” I even looked up the biblical Greek word for it. If I do a diction study on it I start with proper and then I slash it out, I get this: Proper/appropriate/ suited for/ exactly fitting/ right and approved. Thus the 2nd clause becomes more than just “proper”—the new sentence might read like this: “it is appropriate, suited for and exactly fitting, right and approved [by God the Father] for you to baptize me, John.” 
  • The infinitive: “to fulfill all righteousness.” I’m starting with the infinitive: to fulfill. I think of completion. Something needs to be done to complete a task, an order, a job, a ministry. To accomplish. To carry through to completion.
  • Now “all”–inclusive. No exceptions. Nothing else needed.
  • Righteousness: When referring to the righteousness of God, we have to connect it to His justice. And since God is God (and we are not), His justice is always right. Always according to His nature. It is not man’s justice or man” right-living.” It is God’s holy justice. According to Bob Deffinbaugh (“The Righteousness of God”), God’s righteousness is “a natural expression of His holiness.” Through God’s righteousness I am made acceptable to my creator. His righteousness was displayed in the person of Jesus. Jesus makes us acceptable to our righteous God. We can’t make ourselves righteous anymore than we can make ourselves holy or pure or sanctified. Jesus had to do it for us, because we humans have a tendency to get a little proud and boastful when we think we are “all that and a bag of chips.”  When we love and embrace Jesus as Savior, we are seen by God. In a sense, Christ’s righteousness filters our sin. We are made “right” before God.
  • Ok. I’m going to try to put this 2nd clause together: “It is appropriate, suited for and exactly fitting, right and approved by God the Father–in order to complete or accomplish ALL (nothing lacking and nothing else needed) of God’s holy justice.”

I don’t know about you, but this blows my mind. The first time Jesus’ words are recorded in red letters in the book of Matthew, He defines His entire purpose. It’s like he is saying, “So, let’s get this redemption thing going.” Thousands of years of God’s planning and working through the lives of flawed and fallible beings come to this moment in history: Jesus beginning what would become a mere three-year ministry–a ministry of salvation for the entire world. Three years. Change the whole world. And it continues.

Amen.

Check it out:   https://www.facebook.com/RedLetterRevolution

Repurposed…

Sometimes I travel to my front porch for inspiration.
Sometimes I travel to my front porch for inspiration.

I’m addicted–a bit–to HGTV. I love the shows where contestants are challenged to “repurpose” a flea market/yard sale find. Every time I watch an episode, I glance around my house and start making lists. I have a “molebook” devoted to repurposing. Right now I’m staring at an antique trunk that my mother refurbished for me and lined with satin and velvet as a place to store baby clothes and other special items. I’m envisioning a bold, shiny peacock-blue…

But this blog isn’t about furniture–although I’ll probably refer to my Pinterest obsession occasionally–it’s about Jesus. It’s about the journey I’m on that is similar to so many other journeys people experience when they decide to follow “The Way.”

I picture “The Way” as a signpost on the edge of a really woodsy trail. I can’t see ahead, I can only trust that the trail will get me where I’m supposed to go. And like every quest/journey/search novel ever written–there are dragons. There are steep, impossible mountains. There are chasms I can’t jump over. There are mirrors along the way reflecting my heart and mind–reminders that Jesus is continuing to repurpose this yard sale find–this broken, middle-aged grandmother, mother, wife, teacher, friend.

The journey is the story. Whether I’m traveling in my VW bug named Lola or riding my bike around the neighborhood, the journey becomes a metaphor. The metaphor becomes the story. Parables. I write parables.