Do You Realize?

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Do you realize, Christians, how hypocritical we look when we support Donald Trump for president? Do you really think this tells the world that Jesus is Lord of our lives? Do you really think it is shedding light in the world and testifying to the love of Jesus?

That Christians would overlook the many offensive things Donald Trump has said, his sinful lifestyle, his unapologetic love of violence, and actual praise of torture and attacks against innocent family members of supposed terrorists, is nothing short of scandalous. Do you really believe Jesus condones the leadership of Donald Trump? Do you really feel as if Jesus approves of your hypocrisy? How can we ever expect non-Christians to take anything we have to say seriously when we condemn others for the same, exact things Donald Trump does?

Or have we forgotten who Jesus is and what he stands for? Do we really feel the Sermon on the Mount is just a nice suggestion? Do we think that loving enemies means we torture them and bomb their families?

When we pray “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven,” how can we do that if we support a political despot like Donald Trump? God’s kingdom is not about being a bully. It’s not about building a wall to keep people out. It is about building bridges to help people cross, and opening doors so they can come inside and find the love of Christ that they need.

How can you say you are the light of the world when you embrace such darkness? If Hitler were a Republican, would you support and vote for him? Would you call it your Christian duty? How many Christians supported Hitler? How many Christians support torture, the annihilation of Muslims, the hatred of the “other?” How many of us embrace a philosophy that the other is not fully human and therefore disposable?

Why are Christians so concerned with protecting themselves, via a bully president, a huge military, a big old wall on the border (like the Berlin Wall?), and being armed to the teeth? Is that what Jesus told us to be concerned about? Did he not become our example and lay down his life for those he loved? Did he not forgive the very ones who were torturing and executing him and blaming him for all of their own wrongs?

How are we reaching out to the least of these? Why isn’t this our priority? Why is hate and being “right” and “protecting our freedom” more important than actually following the example of Jesus? When we exclude the least of these, we are excluding Christ. When we bomb the least of these, are we bombing Jesus? Ask him that question and be prepared for the answer. Are we actually torturing our Lord and Savior when we do it to people we think are our enemies?

Do we even know what the Bible says anymore? Do we think the entire thing says, “thou shalt not be gay? thou shalt not be Muslim? Thou shalt not be un-American?”

It breaks my heart to see how Christianity is drenching the name of God in the slime of anger, fear and self-righteousness. Ask yourself, if Jesus came back today would he even know you? If you say to him, Lord, Lord, and he says, “Away from me, I never knew you?” would you unfriend him? Would you even understand why?

I pray our hearts will break with the heart of Jesus. I pray we can remember the Jesus who ate with sinners, had deep conversation with and about Samaritans, healed unclean lepers, and whose harshest condemnation was for those who thought they were so righteous they didn’t need him. Is that what our church has become? So righteous we don’t need Jesus, the friend of sinners?

You do realize that Jesus made himself nothing, took on our sin and became one of us, right? He didn’t hold himself separately apart and point fingers. He touched people. He loved people. He washed feet. Can we justify our self-righteous condemnation of other people we won’t let near us and call that love? Can we really look Jesus in the face and explain why we felt we were superior to other people to the point of driving them away from Him?

Philippians 2 (CEB) Therefore, if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort in love, any sharing in the Spirit, any sympathy, 2 complete my joy by thinking the same way, having the same love, being united, and agreeing with each other. 3 Don’t do anything for selfish purposes, but with humility think of others as better than yourselves. 4 Instead of each person watching out for their own good, watch out for what is better for others. 5 Adopt the attitude that was in Christ Jesus:

6 Though he was in the form of God,
he did not consider being equal with God something to exploit.
7 But he emptied himself
by taking the form of a slave
and by becoming like human beings.
When he found himself in the form of a human,
8 he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death,
even death on a cross.

Tell me — when was the last time you emptied yourself and laid your privilege down on the ground and took up your cross? It’s not too late to do it now.

My Prayer

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I’ve written about this before — I have changed a LOT since the days of my youth, even from a few years ago. Something that had been stirring in me for a long time was released after Amber died. I stopped caring what other people thought of the choices I made. I needed to find choices I could live with. I will always have faith in God. That will never, ever change. But, I had to make peace with the fact that I need God to be someone I can like and love. I realized that nobody knows everything about God. We all interpret God the way we want to. We all accept or reject ideas that we choose to. I feel God every day in my heart. I feel strength, power, love, and encouragement, among other things. But, using my mind is not something that threatens God or my faith. It enhances it. When I am free to love people without worrying that God doesn’t approve of who I care about, then I rejoice. Then, I realize God loves those same people. So, I’ve turned to a way of life that seeks to break down walls, to embrace love, to turn from fear, to turn from pride, and to humbly walk with God and others.

This has caused me to embrace and support the following: Equal rights for LGBTQ people, Black Lives Matter, examination of our justice system in regards to race and profiling, examination of our prison system and unfair sentencing that has created basically a new form of slavery for black people, more racial and gender diversity in media, breaking down stereotypes of blacks and women, feminism, the tearing down of our rape culture, anti-bullying measures, compassion for the poor, compassion for all immigrants, the rejection of hatred toward Muslims, blacks, gay, transgender or any other marginalized group and a rejection of the notion that Christians are in any way persecuted in our country, especially over something as trivial as holiday greetings.

I also reject the notion that it is an infringement of the rights of Christians that our society also allows freedoms for people who do not agree with Christianity, or some peoples’ brand of Christianity. I also reject the blind acceptance of gun culture, the NRA and the interpretation of the 2nd Amendment that encourages people to fearfully collect as many, and as powerful of weaponry as possible. I reject the idea that I am supposed to trust these “good” people with guns just because they say they are good. I reject the notion that white people can open carry and black people cannot without risking their lives. I do not think anyone should be able to open carry – or concealed carry – weapons in public, unless they are on designated hunting lands, are law enforcement or military, work in security, and/or have some other legitimate professional need to have these weapons. I support gun laws identical to those in Australia. I reject all arguments that say we cannot implement these measures.

I also believe that there has been too much violence and bloodshed in the world. I believe that police, in far too many instances, have become judge, jury and executioner and get away with it simply because they “feared” for their lives, when in fact, they are paid to protect and put their lives at risk. They are supposed to be the heroes, not the villains. I have heard the stories of too many wonderful black friends to hide my eyes to the truth of racial profiling and rampant racism that exists in this country. Some would say I’ve become a flaming liberal. But, I have to follow my conscience, and listen to people – people who know. Black people know what they are going through and no white person should try to tell them differently. Women know what they go through and no man should try to tell them differently. I have lost a child. Nobody except someone else who has lost a child can really understand that, nor should they try to tell me how I should feel or what is true about a situation that they have not been in.

I believe that the answer to seeking justice is not to become violent, so I reject any retaliation against police that isn’t done in the courts. But, by that same token, there is something very wrong with our judicial system that allows police such leniency in situations where they have wrongfully killed, detained, injured, or humiliated citizens. There needs to be better accountability.

I called this post My Prayer, and I have rambled on about so many things. But, I wanted to build a foundation for what I’m about to pray in writing. And here it is:

Lord, My Father and Mother, My Friend and Savior, Spirit Divine,

I pray that you would tear down anything in my heart that causes division between me and another person. I pray that you take away any pride or feelings of superiority that might dwell in my heart unwittingly. I pray that you cleanse me of the culturally, socially, historically built-in privilege that might cause me to treat another person unfairly, and to turn my back on the sufferings and injustices that others face.

My dear, loving God, I pray that you would help me love as you do. I pray that you will take away all fear and anything that would have me turn to a weapon, a political party, a cultural icon, a friend, a way of life, a flag, for refuge, before I turn to you. I pray that you will guide my steps as I interact with people who do not agree with me, and who may find my ideas challenging or even offensive. Help us to find ways to communicate and understand that will honor you and build bridges between us.

Help me to honor the least of these as if they were you, Jesus, my friend and savior. Help me to be willing to lay down my life, not just for a friend, but for a neighbor, even if that neighbor happens to be gay, or a Samaritan, or black, or Muslim, or Republican. Help me find joy in serving others.

Lord, save me from any smug self assurance in my own goodness. But, at the same time, help me to appreciate who you made me to be. Help me to value my own uniqueness. Help me to not feel shame. Help me to not be bullied into silence. Help me to stand up for myself, and for those I feel who are wrongfully misused. Help me not to be my own worst enemy. Help me to stop talking to myself with insults that I would never say to someone else. Help me to embrace the fact that I am not perfect, and that is okay. Help me not to see failure or mistakes as mortal, unforgivable sins, but as stepping stones to growth.

Lord, help me learn more, and overcome the nagging anxiety and fear that is my constant companion. Help me to wrap myself in the refuge that is you, and to tell myself the good things about myself, and about you, that will build me up and heal me.

Lord, heal the pain of the past, past trauma, past abuse, past shame. Heal me and help me to be an agent of healing in the world. Help me to love others without feeling the driving need to please everyone. Help me to not apologize for having thoughts of my own, or for disagreeing with someone.

Lord – thank you. Thank you for giving me all of the wonderful experiences I have had in life. Thank you for the good and bad – that have taught me, and molded me into me. Thank you for all of the wonderfully unique individuals you have put in my life and I pray that they will see themselves honestly, as unique, wonderful masterpieces, who are also works in progress just like me. I thank you for the beauty of diversity. I thank you for the spectacular wonder of our various shades of skin, textures of hair, facial features, and cultures. I thank you that you have given us the chance to get to know one another and to love each other. I pray we will take every opportunity to lay aside prejudices, learned bigotry and fear, and just look into the eyes of one another with appreciation and honesty.

Lord, I pray we can one day have a world where we can all celebrate the differences, and build a society that is built on love, mutual cooperation, and a knowledge of truth that is not threatened by questions, disagreements or varied life experiences.

Thank you for giving me the chance to serve my country in the Army, for letting me be an Army journalist and letting me see the world. I thank you for giving me a creative, sweet husband, who is humble enough to also believe in equal rights for all people, and thank you for my daughter Amber. Thank you for giving me 23 years with her, for teaching me so much through her spirit that shone brighter than her disability (or maybe because of it) and that still is teaching me and others even after she has gone on to be with you.

Thank you for creativity, for letting us be a part of the joy of creation. What joy you must have felt, and still feel, as you create, and to think that you allow us to know what that feels like. Help me to use whatever talent, energy, skill and knowledge to glorify you and to help make the world better in whatever small way I can. Thank you for the creative people you have put in my life, because I never feel more alive than when I am with people who are creating.

Now, I pray that anyone reading this will be blessed and not turned away by the fact that I am different than they are. Some who read may not believe in you, and that is all right. I respect that choice and I know you do too. Some may believe in you in a different way. Some may think my stance on social issues is wrong and misguided. Lord, that is okay. I love them. And, I know you do too. Only let us respect one another.

In the name of Jesus I pray – Amen.

Out of the Poetry Drawer

Selfie!

Selfie!

I found this little thing gathering dust in a corner of my computer today. When I looked it over, it seemed like something that could use some airing out. So, here it is, out for a stroll.

So That’s the Trouble

Buttoning my jacket crooked,
sleeping on my arm all wrong,
misplacing my reading glasses,
stepping on the dog’s squeaky toy…
It’s been one of those kind of mornings,
the ones they say the reason for is clear.
Apparently, I have rolled left,
when I should have rolled right.
My feet hit the wrong part of my floor first,
as I rose and stumbled out the door.
Yes, I got up on the wrong side of my bed it seems.
Yet it’s the same one I always get up on.
Ah! So that’s what’s wrong with my life?

The Pain and Joy of Growing

In my life’s journey some of the most painful moments have led to the greatest personal, and spiritual, growth. And, surprisingly, this growth has brought me the greatest joys and satisfaction in my life.

Of course, most of the time, I have not wanted to grow. It seems so much cozier and safer to just stay the same and never venture out of my corner of life. But, I believe it is God who has spurred me on not to stay in that corner of seeming safety. He has helped me open my eyes and taken steps so that I see things so differently now than I have before. And, there is no going back for me. There is no desire to go back. When I look at the me I was, and compare to the me I am, I have to say I am much prouder of the me that I am. This is the me I have fought for. Who I am now has come from clinging to God in desperation, and letting him take me where he wanted to. I sometimes went kicking and screaming (in fact, most of the time) but I did go. I did stay. When I heard the small voice of God so clearly, I obeyed.

Because of this, I was able to join the Army, survive childhood trauma, recover a broken marriage, care for a damaged child and say goodbye to her without losing myself completely. The more I’ve learned about God, the more I know that he does not desire for any of us to come to the conclusion that we have somehow “arrived.”

We cannot imagine – or be arrogant enough to imagine – that we have God and the Bible all figured out and we are fine, satisfied and happy to skate through the rest of our lives. There are so many times where I’ve looked wistfully at that cozy corner and wished to stay there, but, God is gracious enough not to let me. Because of this holy, loving God, reflected perfectly in the face of Jesus, and expressed to us truly by the Holy Spirit, I have been led to cast off a civil religion that bears mere lip service to God but is far from God in peoples’ hearts. I see now that in the Bible, Jesus, our example, did not teach us to hate our enemies, but he taught us to love them. And, what does love entail? Jesus taught us that too. Loving someone is laying down your life for that person.

I want to follow truth now, and the heart of God. I cannot settle for the cozy, blind corner where I do not see the suffering and hurt that our willful blindness causes. There are people suffering from racism – beaten, killed, imprisoned, made into villains, characterized as being somehow more brutish, less intelligent, not worthy of compassion or equal treatment – and many Christians rest in their privilege and refuse to give it up or even admit it. I’ve been there. Growing is painful because it means admitting we are not perfect. We are not superior. We have been wrong. In America, we are taught that admitting faults is not desirable.

There are people suffering from homophobia and transgender hate. Oh, Christians often claim not to hate — that they don’t hate the “sinners” but they hate the sin. But, these are real people – not issues, not no-name “sinners” that they are branding and labeling and discarding. These are precious children of God – people God loves. These are people who often desire nothing more than to follow God as authentically as possible. But, too many have been driven away, driven to suicide, driven to despair by the very people who are supposed to love them. Love is not scolding, love is not pointing a finger of accusation or closing a door in someone’s face. Love is embracing. Love is inviting to the table. Love is listening and understanding. It is not taking the easy answers and walking away.

The church in our country seems to be full of people who are absolutely convinced they are correct about every issue. They claim that their certainty comes from God and the word of God. But, they quite often ignore the things that are written about most in the Bible — loving and caring for the poor, avoiding bloodshed, welcoming the least of these, forgiveness and humility. The fruit of the spirit is not condemnation of others. It is not pride in one’s own righteousness. It is humility, it is kindness, it is gentleness.

If God wants to challenge us, will we listen? If He wants to show us a better way, will we follow?

If we say we want to grow, then yes. If we are content to stay in our corners, then, I guess not – but then if we ignore the Spirit, can we really say that we are followers of God? My conscience won’t let me take the easy way, even though I want to. I truly pray that in our churches today – many of which are struggling to stay afloat – that we say yes to growth and life – and that we turn our backs on the easy, wide road that leads to death.

The Prison of the Comfort Zone

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Comfort Zones seem like such nice places. There are cozy pillows to rest on, cups of chai and hot cocoa near every reading nook and calming music wafting through the air. Who wouldn’t want to stay in a place like that?

It is always so tempting for me to just curl up in my comfort zone like a child on her mother’s lap, and to spend my days resting there without a care. The problem is, there is also a part of me that is screaming to get out of that zone. There is a part of me that longs for a challenge, that yearns for relationships that can only be fulfilling if I take steps outside of the cozy corner I’ve constructed for myself. I have a very insatiable curiosity about people, and love meeting people from all over. I love to hear languages I don’t understand. I love to discover how people in different parts of the world do everyday things like shop, go to school, celebrate special events, and pray.

After awhile, my comfort zone starts to feel stifling. It feels like I’m being smothered under a mountain of thick blankets that were once lovely, but now need a good airing out.

This is where I feel some people get stuck. It sort of seems as if there are a good many of us who like to surround ourselves with people who are very much like ourselves, watch programs on television that confirm conclusions that we’ve drawn about life – the kind that make us feel secure and good about ourselves. Too often, in these prisons of comfort, we don’t even realize we’re locked in, and that there is a way out. We’re so comfortable, like a frog sitting in a nice warm bath that is getting hotter every second, hot enough to boil him to death in comfort.

We begin to construct elaborate explanations as to why other people are not just like us. Mostly those explanations boil down to, “they are not as smart as I am” or “they are not as good as I am.” In short, “they are stupid, and/or evil.” Those “others” suddenly become the kinds of enemies we feel good about disliking. They don’t deserve us taking a second look at them, after all.

Life suddenly becomes about taking the easy route, the path of least resistance, the one where our brains don’t have to stretch or grow. We are nice and cozy and have life all figured out just right. Now, we can coast on throughout the rest of our days on cruise control. Ah, life is grand – even when we’re complaining about the others. Because complaining is also sort of comforting.

It’s the cozy prison that is such a danger to ourselves and society, I think. I am so glad that life (and God) didn’t let me stay as safe as my natural inclinations wanted me to be. I am happy that I met a boy who grew into a man and who grew restless with what life had in store back in our hometown. I’m so glad I followed into the risky world where we were bumped and bruised and even battered because it was there we met the most fascinating people and had the most incredible adventures.

Joining the Army was a great part of that. Such a diverse organization! In basic training, our platoon looked a little like the “It’s a Small World” ride at Disneyland. My group of friends were all about my same height – short – and of various ethnicities and complexions. We were blonde, redheaded, of Japanese descent, African American, from the Philippines, Italian descent and Polish. From basic, it was on to journalism training, then first station in El Paso and then West Germany (before the wall fell).

My best friend in Germany was a German young lady who was the translator for our unit. In El Paso, my captain was Puerto Rican and my command sergeant major was a black man who did the unthinkable, and constantly called me by my first name. He became like a father to me and I adored him.

In the Army, I had my first taste of matzo given to me by a Jewish soldier who I had come to know at Fort Benjamin Harrison as I trained to become a journalist. The school I attended there was the Defense Information School and there, I met international military members – from Korea, Egypt, Italy, etc.

Over in Germany, we had Allied Friendship Days and met Dutch, German, British, Italian and French soldiers. The Dutch were so much fun, I can tell you that. They knew how to have a good time. During that time of celebration, soldiers from all nationalities were swapping and trading various pieces of their uniforms so that by the time it was over, commanders were having fits over how wrong everyone looked in their jumbled uniforms.

All of this was way outside of my comfort zone. In Germany, I was homesick like crazy from the very beginning. I was surprised at just how intensely I missed the USA. But, you know what? I have some of my best memories from there and now long to go back.

What I’m trying to say to myself (and you may listen in if you’d like) is, “don’t stop now. Don’t revert back to your comfort zone out of fear or a longing to rest, because you know you will not be happy there. Keep moving ahead and keep growing. It is the only truly satisfying way to live.”

Stepping Out of the Zone

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Every time I take one of those personality tests I have a hard time figuring out if I’m an introvert or an extrovert. People make me nervous. Most days I’d be happy just staying on the couch. Okay, I’m an introvert. But, I also really like people. I get lonely when I’m alone. Must be an extrovert.

I started out as an extrovert, a little kid who just wanted to hug everybody. But then life happened and suddenly, I wasn’t so sure. On my first day of Kindergarten, on the playground, the boys were chasing the girls around the country field that served as a playground outside of my little two-room schoolhouse. I began to cry. What were those savage boys up to? Then, a little boy everyone called Shorty came over to me and said, “Don’t cry, we’re not gonna hurt ya.” Not only did I suddenly find recess fun, but I now had a crush on Shorty.

I wavered through my growing up years, mostly afraid of people. In youth group, I remember being asked why I didn’t talk or join in the playful teasing with the others. I told them that I didn’t have anything to say and I certainly didn’t want to tease anyone. I might hurt their feelings.

Maybe I was just socially awkward. I still struggle with that a bit, to be honest. One of the things I credit with helping me step outside of my comfort zone was working as a reporter.

The funny thing is, there was a point in my life where I didn’t think I was interested in journalism at all, or that I was any good at it. In college, for a year or so, I was a double major in English and Journalism. I knew I wanted to be a writer, but, wasn’t so sure about the journalism aspect. I liked fiction. I wasn’t sure I cared about the news at all. I ended up dropping the journalism major after getting a B in Basic Reporting. I was used to getting As in my writing courses and the B felt to me, at the time, like a failure.

When I later walked into an Army recruiter’s office and found out they had journalists, I was intrigued. Since my husband was intent on joining, and the recruiter asked me if I wanted to join as well, the journalism job was the hook that landed me. I joined up, went through basic training and then the Defense Information School’s Basic Journalism/Public Affairs course.

We served in El Paso, Texas and a little German town called Schwäbisch Gmünd. When Jolly re-enlisted after the premature birth of our daughter, Amber, I got out of the Army, but got a job at Fort Jackson, South Carolina’s Fort Jackson Leader newspaper as a civilian contractor. I was there 10 years, and I must say that is where I came into my own as a reporter. My focus was on human interest features, though I did regular news features as well. Since the paper was a weekly (and sometimes a bi-weekly or monthly depending on circumstances) we didn’t do much hard news.

My regular beats became: the civilian firefighters, WWII-related features (it was the 50th anniversary of WWII at the time), Army Community Service (the Army organization to assist families of service members), the 187th Ordnance Battalion (bomb disposal unit), crime prevention, officers’ golf tournaments, Equal Opportunity office (meant to ensure equal and fair treatment of military, family members, etc. regardless of ethnicity, race, gender, religion, etc.), social services, and more.

I loved it. I loved the firefighters and my relationship with them. I loved how the guys talked about getting me some fire gear so I could go into fires with them with my camera. I loved the WWII veterans, the former Prisoners of War, the nurses, the WACs, the heroes of that great generation who had endured so much with such bravery. I loved the crime prevention experts who taught me so much, the bomb guys who treated me like one of the battalion, to the point of suiting me up in a bomb suit and presenting me with a battalion coin when they returned from combat duty in Iraq, and the Holocaust survivors who bravely told the story to fight against the evils of forgetfulness. I have so many wonderful memories of these people and their stories.

But, at first, interviewing people was hard for me. I do have a natural shyness that I had to overcome, and what better way to help me step out of that comfort zone was being forced to ask questions and listen to people. You will be surprised at how much you learn about people from actually listening to them without judging them, by the way.

After awhile, asking people questions and listening became second nature to me. It invigorated me and connected me with folks that I saw were doing amazing things. My life was so enriched by the stories I heard and was privileged to tell.

I realized something as I remember that time — I am still a reporter at heart. Journalism runs through my veins and I am excited by that. Yes, I still love fiction and try every year to write a novel but never seem to get one done the way I’d like. But, there is something so radically invigorating about learning from others, from having your mind expanded by the experiences of other people. It is a gift God has given me that I am constantly thankful for, even more-so now, as I think back and wonder where this love might lead me in the future.

Responding to a Burglary

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Late Easter evening, our church was broken into. Someone popped open a window, prying it loose from the frame, and clambered down a wall. From there, they broke open the pastor’s office door, the church office door (where I work), pulled a key box off the wall, opened up locked rooms and closets and took handbells, brass crosses and candlesticks, and various other items.

The Monday after Easter was supposed to be a paid holiday for me and a day off for my pastor. The week before, preparing for the holiday, had been arduous and we were both tired, though at least for me, Saturday and Sunday were days of rest, and I had Wednesday off. We are still dealing with taking care of doing things that need to be done in order to restore the church to what it was, and make it safer. There were locksmiths to call, a glass company to fix a window, our insurance company, etc.

Besides the nuts and bolts type of things, our pastor has been working to help deal with the emotional and spiritual impact the burglary has had on all of us who attend Living Faith UMC. Some older members have been at the church for a very long time, and they’re grieving from a sense of loss. I’ve only been there about five years now, in May, and the pastor since July of this year, and seeing the damage hit us in the heart too.

But, there are a lot of things to be thankful for as well. The most important thing is that nobody was hurt physically. Also, our sanctuary was untouched, we have insurance, and, it’s only “stuff” as my pastor told the papers.

One other thing to be thankful for is all of the support of people rallying around us, from other churches sending best wishes, prayers and offers of support to my great gamer friends pitching in to help, even though they have never been to my church. That is heartwarming beyond belief and we are all very thankful.

Still, the expenses are going to add up. So, I’m going to put up a link to our website in case anyone reading this feels led to donate anything. There’s a tab at the top called “Giving” in which people can give electronically.

Additionally, I thought I might offer to create RPG characters for anyone who donates, like I did when we were raising money for someone before. These would be Hackmaster or Aces and Eights characters because those are the game systems I know. But, I am also open to writing up back stories for characters from other game systems. Just let me know on Facebook via PM and I’ll do something up for you. There is a good possibility that characters created in this way will also be published in Knights of the Dinner Table, because, let’s face it, they’re ready made to drop into a page of the magazine with little effort.

Those who can’t give, or who feel like they aren’t comfortable with giving to a church, I’d appreciate maybe some good wishes. I know times are tough, and there are a lot of causes worthy of being helped.

Here is the link to our website, for those who would like to give a little to the cause.

LivingFaith

My Name is Barbara

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Hi. My name is Barbara. That means stranger. Not a wonderful meaning, by any sense of the word. I wasn’t named after anyone. My dad simply liked the name. He wanted my middle name to be Sue, but, my mom did now want me to have the initials BS. I’m so happy about that.

Not only that, but I was born, technically, in prison. That’s because the hospital where I was born, on Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, was torn down so that the federal penitentiary, Leavenworth Prison, could be expanded. I only weighed a bit over 5 pounds at birth. Mom says the hospital staff called me “Peanut.” Right away that’s quite a resume for someone who’s just getting started.

My name, Barbara, with its not-incredibly-beautiful meaning, seemed to be somewhat prophetic in my life. As a kid, I had trouble making friends. It’s not that I was a terrible kid with bad hygiene or anything. But, I was shy, didn’t know how to connect, and was always certain that if anyone got to know me, they wouldn’t like me.

I felt this way for a number of reasons, but mostly it was because my dad wanted me to be born a boy, and I knew that. And, he had a very bad temper. When I was 4, I drew his ire because I was terrified of a doll his mother had lovingly made me for Christmas. I really can imagine how bad she must have felt to have put so much work into this beautiful doll and then have me react like she had tried to give me a poisonous snake. And, I can imagine how embarrassed dad had been to see me act so ungratefully.

His rage directed at me took the form of forcing me to touch the doll that I was so frightened of. And, that force took time because I was 4, terrified, and he wasn’t making me any less so. Screaming at me that being afraid of a doll was stupid, and other things that I don’t really remember, broke my spirit, according to my mom. After that incident, I changed. I no longer had a preference when asked what I wanted. And, I still have trouble with that. I learned to read other people and figure out what I SHOULD like, think or care about. Without someone’s input, I was lost as to what choices to make about things.
So, you see, in a way, I became a stranger to myself. And, that has been part of who I am my entire life.
When I met my boyfriend, we became one of those high school couples and it became Barb and Jolly. We were a team. We’ve been that team for a lot of years now.

Then, I became a mom. What a wonderful thing it is to be a mother. My little girl, though challenged in so many ways due to a premature birth, was my little angel. We were best buddies. I could read her mind. Just by looking at her, I could tell what she was thinking.

We were Barb and Amber. Or, I was Amber’s mom. That was my most enduring identity.

But, when Amber died, I had that identity ripped away. Now, I fully believe that Amber is still my child, and that her spirit is living with Jesus in heaven now and forever. And, I believe we will be together again, and someday, our bodies will be redeemed. That is my belief and fervent hope. But, for now, there is not a duo going through this world. When I go places, I’m not pushing a little purple wheelchair. I go alone, much of the time.

When she left, I was shaken to the core and am still, after five years, trying to find myself, trying to figure out who I am now. The great thing is, I am not alone.

God and I have been pretty chummy since before I can remember. But, my understanding of him has evolved (in fact, I am sure he isn’t really a HE after all – for God is Spirit). As my understanding grows, I am led into new growth within my spirit.

Part of that growth came as I took a job as the secretary of the church I’ve gone to since Amber’s death. That was a step of faith on my part, because, as is customary for me, I was unsure whether I would be up to the task. Not only has it been a confidence booster and a space for growth, but, I’ve gotten to work alongside a pastor who has really helped me and encouraged me to see that I have value, that I am someone worth fighting for, as she puts it.

Then, there are the bible studies that I attend on Wednesdays. The latest one, called “Who is Jesus?” just started and each of us attending was asked to share what our names mean, who we are, and where we think God might be leading us. I shared that God has been working with me to help me with my most difficult struggle, learning to love myself. It seems almost impossible. For you see, years of conditioning by others, and myself, have warped my view so that what I see of myself most largely are my failures and weaknesses. I don’t see who I really am. I don’t know who I really am. I don’t know what I hope for, or what I want out of life. I often have a difficult time making a decision about what I’d like to eat, or wear, or what I’d like to do for fun.

But, as I shared, I realized that God was trying to transform me, and my name, so that it changes from Stranger, to One Who Is Not a Stranger to Herself. That is what I am striving for, and I truly have faith that I will get there. I’m making strides, though they seem like baby steps. Pretty soon, I just might believe that God loves me not because he has pity on some poor wretch, but because I am someone of worth, someone he planned, someone he even celebrates. To think of that does put a smile on my face.

When the day comes when I can look in a mirror and see a friend looking back, that is the day when I will truly rejoice. Right now, I see someone who’s a work in progress and that isn’t a bad place to start.

Just Say No to Misogyny

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My daughter’s birthday is next Friday, and I’ve been wondering what to do to honor her. As I was praying this morning, God gave me an answer – stand up against what caused her premature birth and brain damage in the first place – misogyny.
While praying, God told me something very enlightening. It is actually not wrong for me to get angry about wrong things that have been done to me and to others. Forgiveness doesn’t mean I don’t still see evil. I let go of bitterness, but, I do hold on to righteous anger that says, “No. No more.”
And, so, to the first sergeant who told me that he didn’t like women in the Army and refused to listen to anyone who said that I shouldn’t go on guard duty in full gear that was for 9 days straight, I say, “You were wrong, and your hatred of women caused untold pain, not just to me and my family, but to at least one other woman I know who was put on that duty and lost her baby while she was there on duty. That was wrong, and your misogyny has no place in this world. God will not bless this attitude. You will answer for it.”
He was not the first, or the last to display blatant misogyny in my life, and/or in the life of women I love. So, this is me, in honor of Amber, saying that I will not stay silent while bitter, angry, spiteful men misuse and abuse women and girls.
I was taught not to say no as a child. I was taught that not only did I have no right to say no to a man, I was less of a human being because I was a girl. So, though I love my dad and forgive him, I say this to him. “You were wrong. You were wrong to despise your three daughters because they weren’t sons. You were wrong to vent your rage and passions on my mom, my sisters and me. You were wrong to look down on us. You were wrong to think the Bible gave you the right to treat us any way you felt like. You were wrong to not seek help for your mental health issues and wounds from your past so that you instead vented all of your pain at feeling like you weren’t good enough, on us. You were wrong to blame Satan and make me think that Satan was stronger than God. You were wrong to refuse to take responsibility for your actions. But, you were right in later years to acknowledge and apologize. For that, I thank you. And, I forgive you. But, the wrongs you did won’t be repeated against me again if I can help it, nor on my mom or sisters — nor on my friends. God cares for us as much as he cares for any man.”
To all of the men who have beaten, raped, hospitalized, killed, belittled, mansplained, lorded over and abused me and almost every woman I know, I say this – get bent.
To the man who said that it’s too bad he needs sex because that means he has to put up with women, I say, “That’s a scum-bucket thing to say. You are wrong.”
To the supervisor who decided that because I didn’t respond to your romantic overtures I didn’t deserve the job you said I’d be perfect for, I say, “I didn’t need you. God had my back. But, you suck.”
To the co-worker who killed his wife in front of his daughter and to the people who were still on his side even after, who blamed his wife for her own death, I say, “What world do you live in where this is all right? I may forgive, but you still have God to face.”
To the men who’ve put my friends in the hospital because you thought you had a right to hurt them, I say, “I wish you nothing good. I have to work on forgiveness here because all I see when I think of you is red, bright red. Your actions are evil. I hate them, and if I didn’t believe that hating you was wrong, I’d hate you too. But, I have to let go of the anger and let God handle it. I can’t do it. That doesn’t mean you’re off the hook.”
I could go on. Sadly, the list is long of the personal experiences that I, and people I know and love, have had of being the targets of misogyny. Most of them have been able to not only recover, but rise above anything you could imagine of them. Others, sadly, were taken from this life, but I am confident that God has them tucked away safely in his arms where nobody can hurt them anymore.
That’s it. To honor my daughter I stand up and say no. No more.