Monday, September 28, 2015

Why I'm Angry

A young man in our lives just moved himself to Texas. He has little or no family support; he's here on his own, trying to get a new start on life.

He drove here in a car he spent a long time earning the money for and fixing up. And within a couple weeks of his arrival, a hit-and-run driver ran a red light and totaled that car. Because he could only afford liability insurance, our young friend just completely lost that car he worked so hard for.

So, he worked more to earn the money for another car, which he bought from a local guy in his home. He later realized that the title of the car only has the man's signature -- his wife was co-owner and needed to sign the title, too. But the man now insists that our friend never paid him; he won't let his wife sign the title until he gets paid for the car again.

Soon the car's registration will run out, and he can't get it legally registered without the title signed. Our friend's only recourse, it seems, is taking the man to small claims court -- which, of course, costs money he doesn't have.

But the immediate issue is getting the car back into his possession. While parked overnight in his apartment complex -- with his parking decal sticker in the window -- the car was towed by the towing company (Bexar Towing, for you locals) that the apartment complex hires to monitor its lots.

After a bunch of rigmarole to get them to give him access to the car (because his proof of ownership was in the car), he showed the towing company employee the parking decal in the window as they walked to the vehicle. Hmm, the guy said. Well, let me talk to my manager and get back to you.

And the next day, they produced a photo from the man who towed the car -- a photo that shows our friend's car with no parking decal. How did this happen, our friend asked, when you yourself saw the decal in the window when you finally gave me access to the car?

Oh, I didn't see a decal, the man says. You must have put that there after I let you in.

(Again, Bexar Towing Company, people. They have an F with the Better Business Bureau . . . many complaints for similar issues . . . they have more complaints than any towing company in the county . . . they were fined $19,000 by the state a couple years ago. In other words, we believe our friend.)

Again, the only apparent recourse is taking them to court. (Unless he wants to pay the $200 plus $20 per day for every day the car has sat in their lot while they gave him the run-around.) And again, going to court costs money the boy doesn't have.

Two observations here. First, this is why so many young men from troubled backgrounds become thugs. They are targeted, taken advantage of, and have no resources to protect themselves or fight back. They quickly learn that to survive, they have to get the "bad guys" (whoever they might be out there) before the bad guys get them.

And secondly, this is why the church needs to be the church. The Biblical admonition is to help widows and orphans, but the principle there is to stand up for those who can't stand up for themselves. Bear each other's burdens. This is a burden our friend can't bear, and luckily a lawyer at our new church home has offered to help him out. (We don't yet know the extent of that help or the cost, but it's a start.)

I'll add a third observation: I'm angry. So angry. Our young friend is trying to be responsible, trying to get his life together, trying to do everything right . . . and he keeps getting screwed over. I can't stand it anymore.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

On Saying No to God

It's a sad thing when you are convicted by your own words.

In Sunday School last weekend, I made a brilliant and insightful remark that everyone ooh'd and aah'd over. (At least, that's my recollection of the moment.) We were discussing how we distinguish the Holy Spirit's communication with us from our own self-promoting desires speaking to us. And I mentioned a lesson I learned many years ago: if I really want to hear clearly from God on a matter, I have to put myself in a neutral stance on that matter. I have to get myself to the point that I am genuinely willing to obey God in whatever He says -- even if it is the complete opposite of what I want, even if it makes my life difficult or possibly downright miserable, even if I lose friends and loved ones as a result -- whatever you want, Lord, that's what I want. I am in complete submission. Once I'm there, I usually find God's will is quite clear, because my own baggage has been removed from the picture.

My words came back to haunt me as I was eating my fourth or fifth hot-from-the-oven chocolate chip cookie later that evening because the thought suddenly came to my mind:

I am NOT neutral on sweets.

I would NOT be willing to give up sweets if God asked it of me.

Never again bake another chocolate chip cookie? No. Never again enjoy a cup of custard or froyo out with the family? Wrong. No more candy corn at Halloween, caramel popcorn at Christmas, jelly beans at Easter, caramel apples in the fall? Watch everyone else at the table enjoy the gooey chocolate cake without ever again indulging myself? That is not going to happen.

Oh, I talk a good game about it, believe me, especially to God's face. And God and I have had this very conversation on a regular basis for the last few years because I have often wondered if . . . no, suspected that . . . no, feared that God was asking that very thing of me. Give them up. All of them. They affect your mind and body and stand in the way of our relationship. You use them to meet needs in your life that I'm supposed to meet. They are an idol. They have to go.

But, you know, that just doesn't sound like God, does it? "Give it up forever"? Give it up for Lent, maybe. Or for the week. Maybe just turn down this dessert. Or at least the second serving of it. But God wouldn't really want me to give them all up -- at least I've been able to successfully convince myself of this questionable fact.

However, with that half-eaten cookie in my hand, and with the full knowledge that I expected to eat more before the evening was over (and lick out the cookie dough bowl before it went into the dishwasher), I was suddenly driven (by the Holy Spirit, I'm sure) to face the facts.

It doesn't matter whether God would ask me to give them up. It matters that, deep down in my heart, I know I wouldn't willingly obey even if He did.


Now, some of you may find that ridiculous that I am so attached to my sweets, especially those of you who have already been forced to give them up for health reasons and your life continues quite swimmingly. But I challenge you to examine your own life: what are YOU not neutral on? What's the thing that -- if God said, "That has to go." -- you would flat-out refuse? Because I'm convinced we all have something. Some of us have less things . . . some of us have less obvious things . . . for some of us, our things are things that don't seem necessary to give up so the question has never arisen.

But we all, I'm guessing, have something that we refuse to submit to God's authority over.

So, I'll pray for you if you pray for me. Jesus isn't Lord over me if he isn't also Lord over my chocolate chip cookies. And establishing him as Lord is the first step to everything that matters.

Monday, September 21, 2015

The Salvation of the Strong

Pastor Garrett told the story yesterday. A certain native American tribe lived right by a dangerous rushing river. During a conflict with another tribe, they became trapped at the river's edge, and the only way out was to cross. So, the strong ones took the weak ones (children, elderly, injured) on their shoulders and started to walk across.

And what happened? They discovered that the weight of the weak members of the tribe on their shoulders gave them more traction and they were able to cross the river safely.

The strong were saved by carrying the weak.

You know there are significant life applications to be made here.

However, the American Spirit may not tolerate hearing those applications. We are an independent, self-made people -- or so we want to believe. Americans traditionally have been all about pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps and doing it all on our own.

Unfortunately, for many, this has turned into a contempt for those whose bootstraps can't support such rigorous pulling. A resentment of the idea that I'm expected to carry the weak on my shoulders.

Now, I want to clarify, because this is a criticism that American conservatives get a lot. The vast majority of us do NOT have contempt for the weaker of our society. The vast majority of us do NOT resent helping out those who need help. But we have recognized that this traditional American value has been eroded in recent generations, and many who are expecting to be carried have capable legs if they would use them. Not all, but many. And we also recognize that some of the weak will actually be made weaker through being carried -- that what they really need is someone holding their hand, walking beside them to encourage them and point out the safe path through the raging river. They need help strengthening their legs.

Nevertheless, I won't deny that there are some hard-nosed folks out there who are all about getting themselves across the river. Period. They're selfish. No denying it.

One of the reasons I see capitalism as the best choice for an economic system (although it has its faults and needs to be regulated) is because it is the only system, from what I see, that takes advantage of the natural sinful state of humanity. People are selfish by nature. Yes, we are BORN that way. Capitalism assumes that business owners will be selfish and look out for only their own best interest . . . but it also insures that in order to be successful, they have to meet the needs of their customers. If they don't, their customers can walk away and give their business to their competitors.

This carrying-the-weak business seems to operate on a similar principle. Meeting the needs of others can be in your own best interests.

Believe it or not, helping others helps you. Carrying someone else grounds you -- physically, emotionally, spiritually. Being intimately in touch with the "weakest" of our society puts us in touch with the humanity in ourselves, if we let it.

And we must let it. The strong are often saved by carrying the weak, and Lord knows, we all need salvation.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Lazy Mom

I have a confession to make. For the entire two years that my daughter went to Summit Christian Academy here in SA, the lunch I packed for her to take every school day was . . . a Lunchable.

Yep, those awful little packaged lunch things. I had mom friends at that school who were health food fanatics, so I can't imagine what their kids' lunches looked like. I never dared to ask. My shame would reach its zenith.

This contemptible habit of mine started because our first few weeks of her school, we were transitioning from an apartment to our house and my life was crazy and a Lunchable was mucho easy. But she liked them, and I never stopped. Every lunch.

I understand that this was lazy and irresponsible on my part. For one thing, Lunchables are expensive for what you get. And I'm generally a pretty thrifty person, so this was out of character for me.

I also realize that this was by no means a healthy lunch for her. Not only was she missing anything even resembling a fruit or vegetable, but it was processed foods all the way. I've come to believe that processed foods are doing great damage to the overall health of our nation. All the chemicals . . . all the carbs and starches and sugars . . . all the lack of any real nutritional value . . . I suspect it is a significant culprit not only in the obesity rate, but very likely in the increased incidences of ADHD, autism, allergies, learning disabilities, etc. etc.

And yet, I fed my kid a Lunchable three times a week.

Here's the reality: I like food. I don't necessarily mind cooking once in a while. But I HATE having to figure out what to prepare for twenty-one meals a week for my family. I would be tempted to find one of those ready-made menus with every meal set for your family for a month except that most of those are made for foodies -- they have "interesting" recipes with bizarre ingredients that my family won't eat and/or that I can't find in the grocery store. We don't really care that much if we eat the same dishes over and over -- we prefer that to "interesting" dishes that we don't like.

But even if we're eating simple foods that we all like, I don't always want to take the time to make it from scratch. Yes, I fill my freezer with frozen foods that my girls can heat up on their own for lunches or dinners when I'm not home (and that I heat up often, too). No, I did not teach them to cook healthy foods for themselves. I'm a lazy, irresponsible mom. I want easy meals.

When I come home tired after a long day, I want an easy meal.

When I've been working on the computer all morning and I'm forcing myself to get off for a little bit and eat, I want an easy meal.

When I'm brain dead and staring at the contents of my refrigerator and kitchen cabinets trying to figure out what sounds good to eat, I want an easy meal.

I wish I were one of those people who is energized and rejuvenated by some time in the kitchen chopping vegetables and all. However, I have noticed that most of my friends who find that kind of personal fulfillment in feeding others also struggle with their own weight issues. Their joy in food preparation leads to over-eating and does not lead them to the healthier choices. That would be me.

Sigh. I keep thinking that I've got to get a system in place that helps me get healthy food out there for me and my family to eat. I have no doubt that our mood and energy problems would improve dramatically. And I'm all about systems and routines. I need a system.

Or a personal chef. If anyone is volunteering, send me your résumé. Or don't even bother with that formality -- just show up with good food.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Slamming Doors with That Look

Our pastor told a story last week that I'm sure is common to most pastors. A friend of his describes how every time he makes a new acquaintance and they've spent some time talking, as soon as he has cause to mention that he is a pastor, the new acquaintance immediately apologizes for his language. (This particular pastor decided to head off such encounters and put people at ease by using some mild curse words in his own speech before the question of his occupation ever arises . . . not sure that's a good solution, but that's beside my point here . . . )

Interesting, he noted, how this is one of the defining characteristics of Christians to non-Christians: they don't cuss. Unfortunately, this shouldn't be one of the defining characteristics.

Our pastor brought this up in relation to the scripture we were examining in Matthew 23: "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in men's faces."

Let's be blunt. Cussing has nothing to do with entering the kingdom of heaven. It really doesn't. Using the "H-word" doesn't make you ineligible for salvation. The fact that you don't use the "S-word" doesn't make you any more fit for heaven than the next guy. Not using the "D-word" doesn't mark someone as a believer, and using the "F-word" does not mark someone as a heretic or hypocrite. These are the facts.

Now, I'm not saying we should feel free to run around talking like the proverbial salty sailor. There are plenty of other reasons for tempering our language that I could expound on in another post on another day.

But this needs to be very clear: cussing has nothing to do with entering the kingdom of heaven.

Given that, those of us that were raised in environment where such behavior WAS treated as something that would strike you from the Book of Life need to pay close attention to how we react to this behavior in others, lest we end up "shutting the door of the kingdom of heaven in men's faces."

As the story of this pastor demonstrates, the unbelieving crowd seems to have gotten the impression that the kingdom of heaven is about our behavior -- and not only that, it is about petty details of our behavior like whether you say "hell" or "heck." And they got that impression from us, folks. Because we treat them like they are going to hell because they use the word inappropriately. They are not. They may be going to hell, but not because of that. And the problem is, they will NEVER understand why they are going to hell because they won't get past our immediate reaction to their language to ever explore the heart issues and relationship status that is the problem. And it's not just about cussing. It's about all the other external "sins" that are obvious and out there for the world to see and react to.

Sometimes, our outrage over a person's observable sin is self-righteous indulgence more than it is an expression of respect for God's holiness. We tell ourselves we react to someone's "F-word" because it is offensive to God . . . but no. We are really just reacting to something that makes us uncomfortable, that reminds us that the world does not behave or structure itself the way we want -- and of course, the way we want is right.

And our reaction is very likely to shut the door of heaven in men's faces. I'm sure first century Jews had their versions of the "F-word," and I'm sure Jesus heard it from people on occasion -- most certainly at those dinners he had with the tax collectors and sinners of the community, the dinners the Pharisees criticized him for even attending. But folks, I'm pretty certain that if he reacted to their "F-words" the way some of us do -- with the jolt, the shocked expression, the look of contempt -- the sinners he was eating with would never have invited him over, never have listened to him, never have heard truth, never had gotten "saved" at all.

And we might need to consider whether that's why our neighbors and loved ones are not getting "saved" either.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Not Really Anxious . . .

Uneasiness. Not really anxiety or fear . . . maybe stressed, but not on the extreme end. I just find myself with a general sense of uneasiness all of a sudden. Sometimes after I think of something I need to do, but sometimes it's just out of nowhere.

It's reminding me of my history with depression. Back when I was working on my master's in counseling, I read some studies that gave me insight into my own depression problems. You see, I would, sometimes out of nowhere, have this kind of blue feeling. (Our emotions, you know, are actually feelings, something we physically feel in our bodies.) I would feel down, my body would be dragging, my thinking would be slowed, and I would say to myself, "I'm depressed. Why am I depressed?"

Well, friends, if you start looking for reasons in your life to be depressed, you're bound to find one. I'm so unfulfilled in my work! My husband just doesn't understand me! You'll find something. So I would find something (or several somethings) and then obsess about that something until I had cranked that little blue feeling up into a full-blown depressive episode.

But I started to realize that those little blue feelings often had nothing to do with sadness really. There were all sorts of other reasons why my body would create those physical sensations that my brain interpreted as depression. As I've mentioned before, I'm a sugar/carb addict and have been for years; coming down off of a sugar high gives you that blue feeling. I've had sleep problems for most of my life, as many of you know; sleep deprivation most certainly slows your body down and gives you that blue feeling. I'm kind of right on the line between an introvert and an extravert, so too much time surrounded by people OR too much time isolated by myself can both lead to that blue feeling.

In other words, I had to train myself to think correctly about my body and my situation; just because my body feels this way doesn't mean I have a reason to be sad. I usually don't. And even when I do have a reason, that doesn't mean I have to be sad. I can choose to think differently.

I've been trying to apply this to my general uneasiness of late. Yes, I have a lot going on in my life. Yes, my workload has increased and I haven't yet been able to figure out how I'm going to manage that well for the long-term.

But I always do figure those things out. I have a good support system in my family, and nothing is out of control here. I have no reason to feel anxious. This is just my body being wonky.

Now, why my body is being wonky is a good question. My youngest has been having what looks to me like similar symptoms for a couple months. And my oldest has a long history of anxiety. I suppose there's possibly a chemical reason for this, too. (I've concluded that, for whatever reason, my depression setting is a bit lower than most; I start further down than the average Josie, so it's a shorter fall for me to get to the bottom of the pit. Maybe something similar is involved with the anxiety.)

So, this is the new frontier to explore in my family: what's causing this jitteriness inside? Because while I can manage this, my girls seem to struggle more than I, which breaks my heart. And we may as well do the Barney Fife thing and nip it -- nip it in the bud.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

The One About Getting Fit

I hurt.

The girls and I joined Bella Women's Fitness a couple weeks ago, and now I hurt.

My husband tells me that's a good thing. I'm skeptical of that. A little bit of soreness, maybe. But to hurt every time I move, as I do this morning, is probably a bit out of line.

The Saturday morning Zumba class didn't do that. That was a healthy mix of dancing heartily to a variety of music and lifting some light weights. It got my heart rate up pretty good (although I'll admit, I didn't push myself too hard on my first class), but it didn't make me hurt.

The Monday afternoon Zumba class didn't do it either. I did have some sore muscles after this one. This particular instructor was really into the Latin body moves, swirling our torsos around in interesting contortions. I looked ridiculous doing it, but so did everyone else in the room other than the instructor. And I'll admit, it worked my "core" very effectively.

The Wednesday morning Zumba class wasn't the culprit either, although this one came closer. This Zumba instructor had a squat fetish that morning and we squat-squat-squatted our way through a bunch of songs for most of the hour. Heavens. The stairs made me wince a bit the next morning, but I was still moving.

No, it was James. James at the Monday afternoon circuit training class. Curse you, James.

I told him coming in that this was our first circuit training class here. Great! he said. You'll need a yoga mat. And some hand weights: one ten-pound and a couple smaller ones -- try five-pounds.

Ten-pound . . . five-pound . . . oh, how you lied to me, James.

I quickly realized these weights were too much for me when we were using them in two or three sets of twenty and twenty-five repetitions. Luckily, I noticed a couple other women in the room with smaller weights, so I felt no guilt when I used my five-pounder for the ten-pounder exercises -- and when I snuck over and picked up some one-pounders for the girl and me. Yes, one-pounders. Don't judge. We were there, and we kept up, and we finished the class, so we're a step ahead of many of you, yes?

And yesterday, I hurt. This morning, I hurt even more.

I hurt when I sit down. I hurt when I stand up. (Remember that using the toilet requires those moves.) I hurt when I ascend stairs or descend stairs. I hurt when I lift things. I hurt when I twist or bend my torso or arms in any direction. Thank God we didn't work out our finger muscles because I have computer work to do all day, and I'd be up the proverbial creek if my fingers hurt like my triceps do.

And it's Wednesday again, time for Wednesday morning Zumba with the squat queen. I'm hoping she has a different obsession today. Like stretching. Oh, stretching! Lord, bless me with an hour of stretching this morning.