In which I realize just how much of a jerk I can be…Part 1

Rainy day in Abilene 2014Recently, it rained in Abilene, which means it flooded in Abilene. The picture above is what I saw out of my car window, waiting out front of my two younger children’s school.  The front of the school was so flooded, it looked like a lake.  There was no sidewalk for the kids to walk on, mud was everywhere the water wasn’t.  This required a bit of an adjustment in driving, parking, picking up kids, and patience.

As you can see, cars were every which way, creating multiple “lanes” and really just pissing me off.  I mean, really?!? Are you more important than everyone else that you have to drive on the other side of the road?   Ugh!  In fact, I was so mad that I spent the next week ranting (like a lunatic!) about it.  Anytime someone would bring it up, I felt like they were giving me permission to talk about how incredibly stupid and selfish these people were…

So, many of you know that I am something of a “firecracker.”  This means, I’m unlikely to hold back on telling people how I feel and what I think.  While that has served me well, most of my life; it has also had its downfalls.  Take this picture for example.  My ranting and raving about something I can’t control has only widened an already-apparent gap between myself and my neighbors.  I had already started to feel a bit convicted about it by day 3, but then I started reading some books and went to an annual religious conference.  By then, I became overwhelmed with conviction from several sources.  Here is an example:

An Altar in the World was the second Barbara Brown Taylor book I read.  In it, I was introduced to the idea of worship (towards God) as something that is done as we walk along our path.  While this may seem elementary to you, this is not something that is always promoted in many religious circles.  In fact, there are many religions that believe that the human part of us is so evil, we must deny it every chance we can (which we can’t, because we’re human, so we’re doomed!).  BBT suggests that we can be connected to the Creator and the Creation by just being aware.  Two of the chapters are written, specifically, about how we interact with humans.  And this is where my conviction received its first upgrade.

First, if I cannot appreciate the skin I’m in, I usually find it harder to appreciate others’ skin.  This could relate to race/ethnicity; but it goes beyond that.  Understanding, as BBT states, how our bodies shape our worldview and vice verse, helps us have compassion for others-even when we don’t believe the same way they do.  Simply put, if we can learn to respect ourselves, we can learn to respect others.

In the other chapter, BBT writes about how to engage with other humans.  She says it like this (pg.94): “As its most basic level, the everyday practice of being with other people is the practice of loving the neighbor as the self. More intricately, it is the practice of coming face-to-face with another human being, preferably someone different enough to qualify as a capital “O” Other-and at least entertaining the possibility that this is one of faces of God.” Yes.  In fact, BBT goes on to use the example of people in customer service jobs, who get ignored at best and chewed out, at worst.  We all crave to be seen.

So how does this inform the anger I felt over the craziness that ensued during last week’s rainfall?  BBT says it best (pg.102): “What we have most in common is not religion but humanity” (emphasis mine).  When we really look at each other, we see God’s babes, just as we are God’s babes.  And that, friends, is why I shouldn’t get angry about how others behave.  I can’t change anything that way.  As a human, I may be disappointed or frustrated.  But, angry?  No. That is not the way we should treat one another.  So, I confess my jerk-ness and ask that y’all keep me accountable.

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Passion. And fear.

I brought my tradebook for Diana Gabaldon to sign at her Dallas event.  I had her make it out to Paul, as a joke, for setting the standard kind of high on marriage and love.

I brought my tradebook for Diana Gabaldon to sign at her Dallas event. I had her make it out to Paul, as a joke, for setting the standard kind of high on marriage and love.

Recently, my friend and I traveled to Dallas to hear our favorite author speak.  She took some time off of work, so we could drive out there early, eat a nice dinner (and it was nice!), then head to the First United Methodist Church in downtown Dallas to squeal and fawn over Diana Gabaldon (you can look her up here).  Jenni and I had known for months that we would go, getting more and more excited as the day got closer.  We had a wonderful time, enjoying each other’s company, discussing our favorite parts of DG’s book series, and speculating on the coming STARZ television show; in addition to the hours we spent listening to “Herself” speak, waiting in line (over 2 hours) to get an autograph, and getting to know a few of the 1200 other fans that had made the trek that day.

Jenni and I, waiting for Herself!

Jenni and I, waiting for Herself!

I was most impressed by Gabaldon’s willingness to speak to us for over an hour, when she sounded like she might lose her voice at any moment.  She spoke about how the Outlander series came about, Herself being a college professor of Biology, Zoology, and scientific computation in a past life.  What struck me was this statement. “I was turning 35 and thought, Mozart died at 36. If I want to accomplish writing a novel, I better get started. So I did.”  Further along in her talk, DG chastises those who would use time as an excuse for not accomplishing their passion.  “If I can write an 800-page novel while working full-time and raising children, I think anyone can do it.”

Listening to Herself, as she explains how she went from a college professor of biology to a world-renowned novelist in historical fiction

Listening to Herself, as she explains how she went from a college professor of biology to a world-renowned novelist in historical fiction

This has stuck with me.  I have pushed many items on my bucket list to the bottom of my “to-do” list, including writing. As you may know, if you’ve been following my sporadic blogging, I would like to write more often; but have let other things get in the way.  Some of those things are valid: focusing on school, taking care of family, working.  However, there are other things I have allowed to deter me from pursuing a passion that I have had since I was a teenager.

She was extremely gracious about sticking around for hours, signing books and smiling for pictures!

She was extremely gracious about sticking around for hours, signing books and smiling for pictures!

And so it is with great pleasure that I share with you my news:  I have written a Young Adult short story for a YA writer’s contest!  I am extremely excited about this opportunity-not just because it’s on my bucket list, but also because I am passionate about writing encouraging words for young adults on subjects that are relevant.  I read a lot of YA novels, but have found that many lack a certain redemptive quality to them.  This is tragic, in my opinion.  I think it’s important to deal with important topics in an honest way, of course; but part of my passion is in helping adolescents navigate the options they may not be aware of.  For instance, I have spent a lot of time talking to friends and students about what it means to stay pure and dress modestly.  In some circles, this means abstinence “because God said so” and not wearing anything too revealing.  And while there may be a place for that to be an option, what do we do with the girls who have been taken advantage of or chosen to have sex with someone they really cared about?  In our world, it may not seem like such a big issue; but I believe it is.  Helping young people understand words like agency, objectification, sexualization in media, and rape culture (see my good friend’s blog here) is one of the ways we can decrease negative body image, risky behavior happening in younger ages, and the divide between male and female identity stereotypes.  This doesn’t have to be a “churchy” thing-it’s a human value thing.

So my starting point is this short story contest.  I hope that, one day, it will end with book tours on fictional characters that show adolescents how to navigate their development into confident and courageous people, entering into relationships with honesty and integrity, and passing on those positive experiences to the next generation.

 

 

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Noah and the End of the World (NOTE: This post contains graphic details and spoilers)

Tonight my family and I viewed the movie, “Noah.”

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I found it to be a pretty interesting interpretation of the biblical story of Noah and the destruction of the world via Flood. Particularly, I was intrigued and overwhelmed by the sheer evil of man and their justification for it.  Let me explain.

The movie makes a pretty good argument for the need to destroy the world.  As Noah explains to his family, because of sin (through Adam and Eve), Cain killed Abel and set the world on a path where humankind disrespects God, the Earth He created, and each other.  By the time Noah is a grown man, the Earth is charred and barren. Interactions between Noah and his “king” are antagonistic. Even the family dynamics are tense.

Noah believes that his purpose in building the Ark is to save the animals, the only innocents in the world.  He has seen, firsthand, how the sons of Cain behave: eating the flesh of animals, using up all the Earth’s resources, the lack of grace towards others.  Noah’s belief in the mission of destroying man and all the evil that follows puts him at odds with his family in many parts of the movie. He explains to his wife that he acknowledges how even he has, within himself, the evil he sees in his enemies.  His interpretation is that man should not continue to inhabit the Earth-re population is out of the question.  This becomes problematic as his son, Shem, and Ila conceive a child.

According to the “king”, Tubal-Cain, man was the only creation made in the image of God.  Man was put here to subdue the Earth and all its inhabitants.  Everything is to be used for man’s purpose-including killing their women to eat for strength.  Nothing is sacred. Even when Tubal-Cain seeks God, it is confrontational.  There is no attempt to seek God’s mercy or approval; in fact, it seems accusatory, like “why did you make man this way and then condemn him to die?”  I found their behavior disgusting and comical.  Why do you kill your women when you’ll need them to procreate?  I mean, if you really thought you would be successful in getting on the Ark, wouldn’t you need some women to help make more men???

It’s like looking at the two sides of a coin.  In fact, Emma Watson’s character, Ila, gives that to us.  Yes, God floods the Earth because of man’s evil. Noah’s purpose is to save the innocents.  However, he chooses love when confronted with the opportunity to kill his granddaughters.  Ila reminds Noah that he has seen the evil of man; but he’s also seen the good (namely, love and mercy).  What a foreshadowing of Jesus!  I believe this may be why it seems like Noah goes a little crazy once they land.  He has had an intense battle within himself

Two interesting points about the commentary of men and women.  Noah’s family defines manhood as the ability to procreate.  This becomes a conflict between Noah and his son, Ham.  As we know from Scripture, Noah’s sons are already married by the time Noah is called to build the Ark.  However, this is an accurate commentary about how some men define manhood.  On the other end of the spectrum, Tubal-Cain defines manhood as the ability to be in control, which includes killing.  It is fascinating that Ham is placed in the middle of these two definitions-having to choose which he will follow (neither, as the story unfolds).  This seems like a good description of how manhood is defined even today.  We make young men struggle between these two, but it is Noah that seems to have a better grasp (at least for a while) of what it truly means to be a “man.”  That is, no matter what, following God is at the heart of being a man.

The second point is how women are viewed and portrayed in this movie.  From Tubal-Cain’s perspective, we see little regard for women.  They are, like the Earth and animals, to be used for man’s purpose.  Noah, while he loves his wife and adopted daughter, has little regard for his granddaughters.  Because they are the vessels that bring man into the new world, they cannot go on. This is why he does not save Ham’s girl as the Flood begins.  While he ends up choosing to show mercy towards his granddaughters, I believe the damage is already done.

On a side note: this movie almost made me a believer in becoming a vegetarian. But then we came home and ate some bacon.

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It’s a new year…

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…and I have not been blogging as regularly as I had “promised.”  Many things have passed through my mind in the weeks since my last post-lots of worthy subjects to bounce around cyberspace.  Apparently, these things were not ready.

 As I mentioned in the last few posts, my time in counseling had come to a temporary hiatus and I was pursuing spiritual direction.  Between sicknesses, holidays, and some bit of laziness, I have not met with my spiritual director in a few months (gasp!).  Also, my “plan” to get into a structured routine of contemplation, exercise, schoolwork, family time, and service also suffered.  I mean, we all knew that was going to happen, right?  The best way to make God laugh, is to tell Him your plans, and all that…it’s been difficult stuck in this crazy cycle of starts and sputters, to say the least.  Further, I am really good at making myself feel really guilty about being a failure on so many fronts.  Especially if I’m looking at others who seem to be able to figure out how to make all of this happen-all while looking FABULOUS every time I see them!

Now, advertisements are making me feel like I should have some type of list to follow in this new year; while many are vocalizing (via cyberspace, mind you) their rebellion against such lists and ultimate failure.  So far, (this) has been the best article I have found that speaks to our need for a fresh start and our inability to stay the course.  I like that it focuses our attention on what we’ve just been bellowing about for the past month:  our need for that sweet baby that came down into the mire and muck of our world, to experience the things we experience, and to sacrifice his future for ours.  Of course, if you don’t believe in Jesus as the “reason for the season”, then what is your take on New Year’s resolutions? 

In the next few weeks, my hope is that my family will get back into the routine of school and work (blah, to waking up early!).  While I might resolve to get back on track with all the things I think are important (see earlier list), I’m cynical enough to know that that may not last through this next week, let alone past January.  Instead, I’m going to focus on my word for 2014 (sufficient) as in: “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” (2 Cor. 12:9).  Am I giving up before I even start?  Maybe…or maybe I’m just tired of setting myself up for goals I’m not ready for/cannot possibly achieve/are not really my goals, but someone else’s.

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So, that was my post two weeks ago…and now I have had a couple of amazing people chat with me about my word, the structure issue, and life in general.  The first conversation was with my wonderful husband, Paul.  You may have noticed that he is much better at getting posts out in a timelier fashion-and they are always good (like this one).  As I am wont to do, I was complaining about the apparent lack of ability to make a routine and stick to it.  “Every day is a new issue that keeps me from making a simple routine as thus: drop you people off, go exercise, shower and head off for the rest of the day.”  Now, he’s been married to me for over 16 years, so he’s heard some doozy complaints before, but as this is my latest issue, he was very patient.  After listing off all the ways that my day gets redirected, he simply said, “Maybe it’s okay that every day is different.  Maybe you’re allowed to do things differently because you are no longer tied to a consistent work schedule, that took away your ability to do things like weekly bible class, volunteering at amazing places (ahem, Faithworks of Abilene), or even going on trips to Dallas with a friend to participate in amazing worship experiences (more on that in a minute).  Eh? I can’t hear you over my tiny violin playing as background to my troubled existence…

Lauren and I in Southlake

Shopping in Southlake, before the concert.

The second conversation I had was with my good friend, Lauren.

We took a trip to Dallas to see Bethel Worship (here), but made a day of it with food, shopping, and getting lost.  Since I was driving, the curse count was probably higher than normal, but not as bad as it could have been.  The nugget I got from her was really several smaller pieces of encouragement about being in the place I am right now.  The main nugget was when I talked about trying to write this blog and the daily devotional I’ve been doing.  As you know, I picked sufficient as my word for 2014. But, almost every day, that little devo that I’m doing mentions something about trust. I was thinking I would have to change my whole trajectory with a new word, but Lauren mentioned that it was okay to have more than one word.  That got me thinking about how the two words are actually pretty compatible, as they both point to the One that can handle all of my trepidations and doesn’t need my help.  And, I already had a scripture memorized! Proverbs 3:5-6 says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths smooth. So here is what I am working on for 2014: to let my sufficiency be enough for the multiple roles I play, such as woman, wife, parent, employee, volunteer, student, friend, shopper, driver, healthy person, educator, mentor, follower of Jesus, Church-goer, caller of Customer Service, house cleaner, money handler, neighbor, social media participant, reader. This is not to say that all my troubles will disappear, that I won’t feel sad or angry, or that I’ll have “arrived.”  Rather, the Proverbs scripture reminds me that there is One that recognizes my attempts and gives me grace.  When I looked up my two words, here are some of the synonyms that resonated with me:

Sufficient- adequate, enough, satisfactory, necessary, appropriate, ample, plenty, abundant, acceptable, suitable, rich, lavish, and full

Trust- faith, belief, hope, conviction, confidence, expectation, reliance, dependence, eagerness, willingness, and (I love this one!) bated breath.

So, friends, what are you doing to combat the pull to make resolutions that may be unrealistic or insincere? 

(Oh, and Happy New Year!)

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Playing Hookie…

This past week, my daughter, Rheannon, missed two days of school.  She wasn’t sick, or on a school-approved trip.  She played hookie, and it was my idea.

Before you call the truancy office on us, hear me out.  I value education and understand that in order to learn, you should be present.  But, sometimes, it’s just good parenting to take a break and spend time together.  This trip was centered around the latest installment of the Hunger Games movies, Catching Fire.  Rheannon is a huge fan of the books-she’s read them several times (once, backwards).  She’s been a bit more critical about the movies (they’re not as good as the book, they missed this important thing, etc.), but still a fan.  We got invited by some family (a mother-daughter duo, like us) to go down to Austin, to the Alamo Drafthouse, and watch the double feature.

2013-11-21 001 2013-11-21 002It was AWESOME!

Rheannon even got to volunteer as a player in the ALAMO’s own version of the Hunger Games…don’t worry, they played with Nerf guns.  And, she won: two tix to return to the ALAMO!

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Another great thing about the trip was that we spent quite a bit of time in the car together.  While Rheannon watched movies for some of that-or read 2013-11-21 001 2013-11-21 044

we also talked some and got to enjoy the wintry nature that we drove past

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It made me think about the (few) times that I had with my own mom, as a teen, when we actually got along and enjoyed each other’s company.  So, while learning is important, sometimes it’s more important to spend time doing things that will make her remember these times when she’s older.

What are some of your favorite memories of spending time with parents?  I need more ideas! 😉

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Barrier-breaking Love

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I just got done spending the weekend with over 400 middle and high school girls.  What an amazing-yet exhausting-time!

I had never heard Jenna Lucado Bishop speak before, but OH. MY. WORD. She certainly took the theme of “WANTED” and ran with it.  I loved her ability to speak to such a varied age group-I mean, there’s a definite gap between sixth graders and high schoolers.  Jenna was able to break things down in a way that wasn’t too much dumbing down or too theologically complicated. The message  is pretty easy-we ARE wanted by God!  And, there’s nothing we can do to change how much our God loves us.

The title of my post comes from Jenna’s view on the story of Jesus with the Samaritan woman (John 4).  Now, many of us KNOW this story-we’ve heard it in Sunday school, in sermons, etc.  Sometimes that makes us really miss the importance of this interaction.  Jenna reminded us of all the  BARRIERS that Jesus broke down in that one conversation-race, gender, geographical, historical, religious, etc.  Further, Jesus KNOWS what kind of life this woman is living; and, yet, He doesn’t refuse to engage with her until she gets her act together! (I loved this reminder!)  Instead, He offers Himself to her, because that’s what He came here to do.  Because, that’s the kind of love He has for us-the barrier-breaking kind.  These barriers are similar to the excuses we make for not coming to Jesus, in our own lives.  It’s also the barriers we use to keep people OUT that are different than we are.  Either way, it should not be so.

What a powerful message! Our Conference Director (the wonderful Sarah Campbell) helped us envision what Jesus does to these barriers, by punching through a cardboard wall made of barrier bricks.  This can be our visual of what Jesus does for us, but it can also be what we can do for others.  The thing I kept coming back to, within the theme of “WANTED” was this:  once we know how much WE are wanted, our job is to help others understand how much THEY are wanted by God, too! We watched several videos of girls who realized, in a variety of situations, that God continues to pursue them-through bad situations, low self-esteem, physical differences, and struggles in life.  What an amazing reminder that we are all in need of God’s love, and the realization that we have it!

Philippians 3:7-10 says:                                                                                                                        These things that I once considered valuable, I now consider worthless for Christ.  It’s far more than that!  I consider everything else worthless because I’m much better off knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.  It’s because of him that I think of everything as worthless.  I threw it all away in order to gain Christ and have a relationship with him.  This means that I didn’t receive God’s approval by obeying his laws.  The opposite is true!  I have God’s approval through faith in Christ.  This is the approval that comes from God and is based on faith that knows Christ.  Faith knows the power that his coming back to life gives and what it means to share his suffering.      (God’s Word Translation)

This is an interesting scripture for middle school and high school girls.  This passage is basically saying that, when we realize what Jesus has done, we will be willing to forsake all the worldly labels that we tend to chase.  Those labels include popularity, athletics, intelligence, physical appearance, economics-even religious snobbery.  As we see in the story of the interaction between Jesus and the Samaritan woman, He came to break all that down.  Now, we are all the same in God’s eyes.  That means we have to be willing to give up those labels.  Further, it means we have to be willing to avoid using those labels on others.  That’s a difficult feat during adolescence.  I know, I lived it.  Jenna’s challenge, based on this passage, is that we strive to become more and more willing to say, “I’m so taken by what Jesus did that I am willing to suffer just like Him!”  Whoa! I’m nowhere near that point in my journey with Jesus! How can we expect our teens to be there…

THAT is what I’ve been struggling with for the last few years.  I want my faith to be more than just a box I check off.  More than just an easy identity.  I really want to make it “for real.”  Next week, I’ll conclude with some great suggestions that Jenna shared with us.  Until then, what are your thoughts when you read about the Samaritan woman.  What about the passage in Philippians?

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Community

This past week, I got sick.  More to the point, I got chickenpox.

Chickenpox blister 2006.01.06

You might be asking, “But, Shawna, didn’t you have chickenpox as a child?”  Nope.  And, for some reason, I’ve missed getting the vaccine.  It really wasn’t too bad, though, considering.  I was out for just a week.

Our family is an interesting mix of gender stereotypes and atypical behavior.  Our family structure has fluxed over the years over who was the major breadwinner (I was from 2009-2013), who did the majority of chores and cooking (Rheannon does the most cooking now! It’s awesome!).  So, it’s interesting when people offer to help when I’m “down.”  Paul and I usually chuckle. And, I remember times when Paul was away on some business trip and no one made me meals, even when Jordan was just born and I had two other toddlers…

We didn’t ask for help, this week-that’s not our way; but people from our Faith Community offered.  What a wonderful display of love and service!  Two families cooked us dinner, and one family picked up the younger two from school on two days.  HUGE help, when all I wanted to do was sleep and scratch.  And, I have made similar offers over the years.  But, we’ve got to do better about offering help when it’s truly needed-even if it doesn’t follow in the normal gender roles.  I am learning to be more aware of the single people in my congregation-people who may not have family nearby to lean on during their “down” times.  My family and I are connected with a group of homeless and underprivileged on a weekly basis.  Sometimes, we’ve had opportunity to give rides or help them out in other ways.  Being more aware of what’s going on in our community may give us more opportunities to help.

Like, when a father goes away, how about we offer to watch a mother’s little ones so she can get some rest? Or, how about offering to pay for a single person’s car inspection?

What are some ways you have helped people in your community?