Positivity, creativity, and cavities.

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Cavities have nothing to do with this, but I needed another word with a VIT in it, so there’s that. What I wanted to write about today, though, is the connection between positive encouragement and creative people.

I love being creative. I know I’m not alone. I really think that all of us are born with the drive and need to create, whether it’s cooking, designing interiors, crafting, poetry writing, music, acting, art, we are creative creatures. Some folks are more practical, and work at jobs that are technical and methodical, so they have to pursue hobbies that let them release those creative urges. Others work at creative professions and don’t have much technical or business know-how, like me, my hubby, and some artistic people I know. We may seem flighty to some folks. And, maybe we are.

Early last fall, hubby and I gathered with a bunch of creative types on the set of the Brothers Barbarian season 2, and it was really refreshing to be surrounded by creative people. The atmosphere seemed to be charged with a creative vibe that was exhilarating. Of course, it is also a lot of hard work, logistics, etc., involved in such a project. But, in the evenings, when shooting was done, a lot of us gathered various places around the historic Doe Run Inn to shoot the breeze and raise a glass or two.

One of the people present at these gatherings was the highly-creative, charming artist Larry Elmore. We had never spent a great deal of time with the man before, so it was a real treat just to relax with him and hear his stories. He is a wonderful storyteller. One of the things he talked about one night was the need for creative people to be around positive people who can encourage them. He created a word picture, saying that it’s like we are bugs, floating on the river of life, surrounded by a bubble that keeps us afloat. That bubble is positivity. It keeps us from drowning in the current. But, it’s fragile, and can be easily burst. That is why creative people need to be constantly surrounded by positivity, so that they can stay afloat and keep their heads above water.

My husband and I loved that illustration and found it to be very true for us. When our comic comes out, we get a lot of positive feedback from readers, for the most part. But, once in a while, there are people who for whatever reason don’t like the way we do things and feel the need to tell us about it. That can be hard to deal with sometimes. My husband has developed a sort of thick skin, at least compared to me, and most of that criticism rolls off his back, but it still gets to him sometimes. For me, being the protective person I am, I tend to get a bit more agitated toward negative criticism that I feel is unwarranted. It’s hard for me to keep my emotions in check sometimes. But, I try and I’ve gotten better at it.

If we let it, those kinds of feedback could weigh us down and we’d quit. But, thankfully we have enough people who regularly encourage us, that putting out the magazine is a pleasure. Jolly is a happy fountain of creativity, for the most part.

Perhaps this is the part where the cavities actually come in, for there are some folks who are so consistently sweet that we do feel like we’re getting cavities. We appreciate those people more than they know.

Funny thing is, I always feel silly giving feedback to celebrities via Twitter, at conventions, etc., that I like what they do. Part of me feels that it is the right thing to do once in awhile, to just bring them encouragement, but another part of me thinks that they probably get so much praise (much of it empty), that it must just sort of be almost annoying. Then, I have to remember how we feel when people come up to us, or write us, and say that our comic has helped them through some rough patches in their lives, given them laughter in bleak or difficult times, and helped them rediscover their love for the hobby of roleplaying games. We always appreciate that stuff.

One of my favorite things is when a young child comes to our booth at a convention, with his parents, and his folks talk about how much he loves the comic. To see a sweet face looking at my husband like he’s a hero puts a lump in my throat sometimes and makes my heart feel warm and glowing. I also love getting letters from military members thanking us for giving them times of laughter. That means so much to us to be able to bring even a flicker of joy to these fine men and women.

In short, we appreciate all the positive feedback we get from our fans. They are the ones who have helped us get to issue 200 and beyond. We hope to keep bringing the laughs and fun for a long time yet.

When My Baby Died

This is a poem that came to me. I hope it’s ok. I don’t want to bring anyone down. But, I had to write it.

When My Baby Died
When my baby died,
I never thought I’d live again.
My heart bled out on that hospital floor,
At 5:30 p.m.
When my baby died,
I held her little soft hand,
The light from her eyes fading out,
And my heart flew away.
But it came back, hurt.
It came back bleeding.
It came back broken.
It came back missing its favorite piece.
When my baby died,
My world crumbled away,
And all I could see was heaven.
But the clouds came around,
And I lost sight of it somehow.
I squinted up into the sky,
But it was gone,
And I was gone,
And she was gone too.
Now, I’m still alive,
And the places that are broken,
Have been covered over with a pretty stained glass.
So you can see through it now,
And you can see God.
It still hurts in the holy places,
Sometimes, it even burns.
But, funny and strange is that sometimes there is singing.
A sacred song rises up from somewhere deep inside,
Echoing through the night and flying through the air.
I join in the tune, soft and then loud.
She joins me too, and I can feel it.
And, when I’m not looking, friends come alongside.
They slip their hands into mine and hold me up.
Because sometimes, I feel like I might fall down.
And sometimes, they hold me down,
Because sometimes, I feel like I want to fly away.
And, through the stained glass I see smiles.
I can hardly believe my eyes.
There is her face, shining beauty.
And, there is His face, right beside.
They are cheek to cheek, heart to heart.
And, they are speaking to me through their eyes.
They tell me we are still together, now and always.
Their laughing guides me on, and I laugh too.
When my baby died, I thought I would die too.
Yet most times now, I see through the broken, beautiful, holy places,
that resurrection is a real thing, happening all the time, all around me.
My heart is reborn, and her life is renewed and someday all will be newer than ever.
Somehow, I keep on living, and somehow, I have found joy even in the losing.
And, somehow, I now see, that broken places can be beautiful.

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What are you, six?

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That’s the question I was asked recently at one of those restaurants where the waiters are supposed to be rude to you, when I ordered a root beer. I promptly said, “Yes!” to which he simply walked away.

Jesus once said that the kingdom of God belongs to the child-like, and said that people can’t come into the kingdom if they don’t come like little children. A lot of folks say that means we are supposed to have child-like faith. I think that is partially true, but I heard one of my favorite authors, Rachel Held Evans, on a Podcast say that it’s also child-like to ask questions.

Kids are always asking “Why?” “How come?” and similar questions. Rachel said that kids don’t really want answers to why the sky is blue. What they’re really trying to do is have a conversation with an adult.

She talked about our questions of God being sacred and I think she’s right. If we think we have God all figured out, we’re probably not really worshipping God, we’re worshipping our own ideas of him. I’m stealing from Rachel here, and just kind of thinking as I write, about what she said.

One of my favorite people in the world was a young man named Logan, who passed away just a few months after Amber. He was the son of one of my best friends and when I first met him, I think he was about eight years old. For some reason, he seemed to like me, which is good because I liked him a whole lot.

His mom told me that at one time he said to her, “Barb isn’t really a grown up, is she? She just looks like one.” Maybe I shouldn’t have taken that as a compliment, but I did anyway. I think it was because I listened to him, played video games with him, and just enjoyed his company. He once asked to take art lessons from me so he could learn to draw aliens. He loved aliens, and I had drawn some on his Christmas paper, looking out of one of those old-fashioned toy store windows. They were simple dots, for the most part, but he was obviously impressed. I remember him asking me to come down the street with him once when I was hanging out at his house. He wanted to take me to meet his friend (whose name escapes me now). So, he takes off on his skateboard and I follow along on my feet because as child-like as I was, there was no way I would ride a skateboard. When he rang his friend’s bell and the friend answered, he introduced me. “This is my friend, Barb” he said. I still laugh thinking of the look on that other kid’s face. Priceless.

I don’t mind being child like, though I hope I never behave childishly. But here are the attributes of children that I hope to hang onto: curiosity, humility, openness to learn, not thinking I know all the answers, love of play and fun, ability to find joy in little things like squirrels, dogs, empty boxes and crayons, and a tendency to smile. Oh, and a love of root beer. No matter how old I get, that will always be my go-to drink, and I don’t care what any surly waiter thinks about that. So there! 🙂

Making Enemies

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We like having enemies, don’t we? We like having people to get mad about and to talk about with our friends, so that they’ll get mad at them too and make us feel good. We love the drama of there being people we can look down on, who are doing evil things and picking on others and being villains. We like to feel righteously indignant about those who think differently, because those people are bad and that makes us feel good and better than someone. At least that is how it seems.

How many times have I seen on social media posts by various groups that read like tabloid news. They tried to make her dress and look a certain way, but she stood up to them. THEM. Those horrible THEM people, whoever they are. They are usually big companies, or people in power. We are the brave underdogs who love to see one of our kind rise up and spit in the eye of the big meanies.

I’m just like that too. I love to read about how someone has stood up for themselves against the oppressive powers of the world. But, every once in awhile, I stop to think about how I’m really supposed to treat “enemies.”

Jesus said that if someone strikes you on one cheek, turn the other and let them hit you there too. He said to love our enemies and pray for those who spitefully use us. Then, he showed us how it’s done. He walked silently to his cross and died for his enemies. He gave up his rights as God and became humble, humble to the point of death.

It saddens me that as Christians in this nation, most of what I see written on social media are cries of anger against “enemies” like anyone who would threaten Israel, Muslims, Obama, gun-control proponents, homosexuals, non-believers. Is that really Christlike?

Or, do Christians these days find Christ’s words embarrassing, impractical and without meaning? Sometimes it seems like it. I rarely see a Christian post anything about praying for Iran or Obama. I see complaints about policies and calls for Israel to defend itself. Maybe that’s ok, but, where is the love? Where is the humility? Where are the cries for mercy and forgiveness?

I feel so alone sometimes, in this passion for the grace of Christ to be revealed in this world. I believe in Jesus with my whole heart. He sustains me in my darkest hours. I know he loves me. He is important to me. But, I am at the point where I am tempted to shed the label “Christian” because it has become so filled with anger and antagonism.

Just yesterday, I read something from the Christian Post about a church expelling a woman because her daughter was gay and she supported her. Then, I read the comments below the story about how the church was right and sinners shouldn’t come to church. WHAT? What in the world has church become? If it is not for sinners it should be gone from the Earth as far as I’m concerned. We are ALL sinners, and the people making those comments are no better than the woman they expelled from that church. I find it a travesty of immense proportions for that church to have done that to that woman. Not only are homosexuals not welcome in church, now their families are targets of such spiritual bullying? Talk about Pharisees.

What would Jesus do at that church? I can only imagine him flipping over a few pews and saying that it’s the sick who need a doctor, not the well. He came to seek and save the lost. He came to bind up the broken hearted, to release the captives. He forgave those who crucified him as he was dying.

Am I the only one alarmed at the state of our church? Churches have been dying left and right and Christians have the nerve to point fingers at the world and say God is judging our country for the sins of “others?” What about the sins of the church? You don’t think maybe the church is dying because it has forgotten who they’re supposed to be following?

Where is the forgiveness? Where is the love? Why are we all about guns, racism, nationalism, politics and closing people out? I saw a post just yesterday decrying the killing of the WWII veteran, which I abhor, but the post made sure to point out that the killers were black teens. Why? Why did the Gospel Coalition’s Thabiti Anyabwile try to manipulate Christians to think of gays as repulsive enough to make us gag? Is that really Christlike? Didn’t Christ stop a mob with stones from killing a woman caught in the act of adultery by reminding the crowd that they were sinners too?

Why are Christian leaders known for singling out homosexuals as the worst sort of sinners, casting people who are into roleplaying games like Dungeons and Dragons (this is who I am) as demon-worshippers, and telling people they should pray to get rich?

I know there are many, many Christians who work tirelessly to help others. They give their lives to help end AIDS, care for the homeless, stop sex trafficking, end slavery, and reach the lost and dying. They do it with gentle, humble spirits, not asking for adulation or recognition. They are my heroes and they don’t have Facebook pages. So, I am only getting a skewed picture of things, I know. Perhaps I need to take a break from social media just to pray. That sounds like a great thing.

I’m about to start a prayer ministry at my church. And, I’m about to act as Kids’ Hope Director there, so we can start mentoring at-risk kids. That’s all I can do. I can only do my part. And, I don’t want adulation either. But, I do want us to think about the face we are showing the world. Is it an angry face like the mob with stones? Or, is it the face of Christ, bowed in humility, loving until it hurts?

If it isn’t the latter, maybe we need to do some repenting. After all, remember in 2 Chronicles 7:14, it says “If MY PEOPLE will, which are called by MY NAME, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.” CAPS mine.

That verse is written to the people of God, that they need to repent and turn from their wicked ways, not to “sinners” out there someplace. Let’s not look for enemies. Let’s look to ourselves and see how we may need to humble ourselves so we can allow healing to come.

The Door Ajar

I live in a darkened room.
Shadows don’t play. They oppress.
The air is close and tepid.
Gloom smothers and surrounds.
There are windows, but the shutters are drawn.
Light hints at something outside, somewhere, taunting my solitude.
The door, locked and barred, rattles in the wind.
A strong gust batters at the portal.
I cringe in the corner through the gale,
Hoping that the locks will hold,
Yet wondering what it would be like should that door fling open.
Drops pelt the roof, like tapping fingers, trying to get my attention.
I try to ignore them, but the dark mountains walling my spirit inside begin to erode.
I shoot a tentative glance at the door, inching closer, hand reaching.
With a mighty burst of power, the locks are broken, and the creaking door opens.
The opening is narrow, but the light pours into the room.
It blinds me and I blink back, scurrying to hide amidst mounds of treasure.
My hands grasp at my possessions, but now the light touches them.
I gasp at what had glittered in my hand to see putrid rags, pot shards and garbage.
I retch at the revelation that the darkness had hidden.
Now, I don’t have to crawl. I can see where to step, so I stand.
Closer to the light more is revealed.
The locks on the door hang broken.
It is then I notice that what I had believed about them was also wrong.
The locks that I thought were placed there to lock me inside,
Were locked from that self same side, designed to keep the light out.
All along, I could have opened that door.
I could have stepped outside and been free.
But I closed my treasure in with me and cowered in the dark.
Yet the light, and its fragrant wind, and the drops of mercy falling on my roof,
Called out to me from every crack and corner.
They refused to abandon my dingy, darkened heart.
And now, I am beginning to see the beauty I had missed,
The beauty that is now mine,
Through that door ajar.

Sunday School Stories

Bible Story Coloring Book

Sometimes, I think Sunday School authors and teachers miss the point of what we need to teach our kids. I used to get those Bible story storybooks for my daughter, and we’d read them at bedtime. I can’t tell you the pit I had in my stomach as I read the glossed over, “kid-friendly” versions that turned these stories into morality lessons and nothing more.

It became pretty clear to me that these stories were designed more to keep kids in line, doing what we want them to, lockstep marching along with the program until they become good, honest citizens with squeaky clean records. The Bible heroes they grew up with bear very little resemblance to the stories in the Bible, actually.

When kids read about Moses, they read that he was a baby found in a basket by Pharoah’s daughter, parted the Red Sea and got the Ten Commandments from God. They aren’t told he killed an Egyptian in a fit of rage, that he was kept out of the Promised Land because of his temper, and was so afraid of doing what God asked him to at the Burning Bush that God finally gave up and let him take Aaron along for the ride.

When they read about David, they read how he overcame a giant with his faith and five little stones. They don’t hear about his lusting over a neighbor’s wife, impregnating her and arranging for her husband’s death out of fear his sin would be discovered.

Yes, it might be disturbing to kids to learn these things about the heroes we lift up in the Bible, but don’t you think it’s healthier for them to see that God can use flawed, sinful people in mighty ways, instead of telling kids these are the people they’re supposed to be like because they’re so saintly? I think these stories set kids up for failure later on.

They learn that there are some good, noble people that God uses, and then there are the normal, everyday schlubs like them, who fight with their brothers and sisters, lie, cheat, steal, and make bad choices, whom God can’t possibly use until they clean up their act. They don’t learn that nobody on Earth can be heroic without help, and that even Moses doubted that God could use a nobody like him, and David was a man after God’s own heart because he clung to him even in his weakest moments.

I believe that when we teach our kids about the Bible (for those of us so inclined), we must make the stories more real, so that they can see that all people have flaws, but those flaws do not keep God from working, unless we fail to allow him to work out of fear and shame. We need to stress forgiveness and mercy just as much, if not more, as we stress obedience and right living.

I remember reading the story of Moses to my daughter and finally stopping and reminding her that Moses was not perfect, as great as he was. Keeping the stories real is much more helpful to their spiritual growth than desperately beaning them over the head with stories to keep them from stressing us out with their behavior. Instead of trying to manipulate kids with watered-down stories, how about we live out to them the mercy and grace we claim to believe in? That means we have to learn to lean on God the same way those heroes did, bringing our weaknesses to him, honestly letting Him see the fears and doubts we have so they can be transformed. We have to be the lesson they read every day.

Funny Hats and YOLO

“Don’t be afraid to live.”
“YOLO, Barb.”
“Woo Hoo!”

Slowly I have begun the journey of learning to live. Seems like I’m a bit old for such beginnings, but, for many reasons, I’ve never been able to relax and just live. I still have much learning to do. The first quote is from my mom, who said this to me at my cousin’s wedding in South Carolina, as I was invited onto the dance floor and was debating whether to do it or not. I’m self conscious about my weight and abilities. But, I joined my sisters and family out on the floor anyway and had a great time.

The second quote was said to me just a few days ago by a dear friend, Bev. I didn’t know what it meant, but she explained that it means, “You Only Live Once” unlike what James Bond led me to believe. We were at a lady’s lunch during Gen Con. We had gone to a crazy restaurant called Dick’s Last Resort in Indianapolis. At this restaurant, the wise-cracking, insulting waiters make tall paper hats for patrons to wear with insulting, and often raunchy sayings on them. They throw your utensils at you and use a snow-blower type apparatus to blow paper napkins at you. It’s pretty funny but a bit outside my comfort zone, at least at first. I’m glad we went because it taught me to loosen up a bit. I still have a long way to go, but I’m trying. I am in an online Hackmaster gaming group called the League of Funny Hats, which just sort of came together in a spontaneous moment of silliness. Now, I collect funny hats and try to get the guts to wear them.

The third quote was from a sweet fella who was hanging out with us at Loughmiller’s Pub and Cafe in Indianapolis, at outdoor tables. He had ingest a few Jager Bombs and was loosening up a lot. As we talked well into the night, he punctuated the air, releasing his inhibitions with loud “Woo Hoos!” every once in awhile. We would all laugh and go back to our conversations.

The conversations went from hilarious, side-splitting stories told by my husband to venting about some of our trials and frustrations to remembering Amber and expressions of love and support. I laughed some, cried some, and felt God’s love in abundance there, on that street, amongst those people, with some raised glasses, wild stories and total acceptance. YOLO!

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The Journey

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In my last post, I talked about listening to others and how it disturbed me that not enough people want to listen to others. Of course, every time you point fingers at other people (as my grandpa used to say) you have more pointing back at you.

Recently, I’ve realized that whenever I get upset with people who I think are not getting the point of life, I’m being sort of hypocritical. After all, I haven’t always been where I am in my understanding of people and life. That’s not to say I am more advanced than other people. But, I feel I am more advanced than what I used to be. My life has really been a journey of discovery and growth.

People who had differing views than I did along my way, have been my teachers, and they have always been patient and respectful of where I was, even if they believed my ideas were naive, narrow-minded and wrong. Why can’t I extend the same courtesy to other people? After all, I am not perfect. Why do I expect that of other people?

It really is pretty refreshing to just lay aside my stress over how I believe other people need to think. I don’t have to control everything, because I can’t anyway. I believe that a lot of the anger I see being expressed online is coming from people who honestly think they know what is right, but are frustrated that others don’t agree and they can’t seem to get through to them.

I get that. I feel that way too. I get upset that it seems so obvious to me what the world needs, what other need, and what our country needs. Why doesn’t everyone else see what I find glaringly obvious? Because they also are convinced they are right. But I learned a long time ago, that you can’t control everyone. You can’t force people to care about what you care about.

Take, for instance, the issue of handicapped parking. When I was caring for Amber, and would have to drive her places, it was really terribly frustrating when people who weren’t supposed to be parked in handicapped parking ignored that law and took spots that we needed. I used to get so angry. Those people had no idea how difficult life was for Amber and I. They had no idea that everything we did was more difficult than for the average person. By the time I got to a location where I needed to park, I was already tired and usually running late because it was hard to get Amber ready to go places and then there was the added stress of wondering whether we would even be able to find a parking spot where we could lower her wheelchair lift for her to get in and out.

If you parked in a regular spot, even though there was a sticker on our van that asked people to give us at least 8 feet in which to lower our lift, people would always park beside us and then I would have to leave Amber on the sidewalk by herself, back the van out, then go get her and load her up.

It wasn’t that I needed a spot closer to a building than other people. It was that I needed that lined access zone next to the spot in order to be sure that I could lower the wheelchair lift. Sometimes, even when people didn’t park in the actual handicapped spot, they’d park in the access zone while we were in a store or other business, and then we couldn’t lower the lift. Once a motorcycle driver did this and I had to try to find the person so they’d move. It belonged to a peanut vendor who became frustrated with me over it, saying, as he moved his vehicle, “sorry, lady, jeez, I’m moving it.”

After confrontation after confrontation in parking lots, I realized that the anger and angst I felt over the situation was not only embarrassing to Amber, but it was not good for me. All of the emotion, the stress and anger I was feeling because so many people refused to care or try to understand things from our point of view was futile. I could never force people to care by wearing my heart on my sleeve. Some people just weren’t going to care, no matter how much I wanted them to, and it was not worth getting stressed out over it. I just had to resign myself to the fact that some folks were just self-centered and could not be forced to be sensitive by my bad feelings. Yes, I could’ve called the police and forced them to care about it by getting them fined for their illegal activity, but, that would change very little.

Instead, I gathered up some placards that are put out by the motor vehicle bureau to place on cars parked in those spots. The placards explained that they were parked illegally and why it was important to leave those spots for people with disabilities. I could inform people, without having to get personally involved. Of course, that didn’t always work either. As I have written before, when I used one of these on a truck that was parked across BOTH handicapped parking spots at the church where I was bringing Amber so I could attend choir practice, I received a nasty not back on my windshield, which my friend brought to the attention of the pastor. The landscaper responsible for the note was promptly fired by the pastor, however, so I hope that he realized the error of his ways.

The point of this post is not to vent my anger over these past injustices. It’s to point out that we can’t control what everyone thinks or does. And, it’s to realize that we are all on a journey of learning and growth. At least I hope so. Nobody is perfect, but if we are patient with people, the people who are open will learn and grow, and the ones who won’t listen, who won’t change and who don’t care, don’t really matter that much and are certainly not worth our angst and aggravation.

I changed my views on politics because I looked around and saw that there were believers who voted different ways in the polls. I realized that those who voted in a way that I had always considered wrong, were just as devoted to Jesus as I was, and I wondered why they thought the way they did. I changed my views on relating to people of other faiths, or no faith, by becoming friends with people who were atheists or believed in other religions or spiritual paths. I changed my views on homosexuality by becoming friends with people who were gay, and who were patient with my ignorance as to where they were coming from. I then began to be curious and read whatever I could about the subject because I wanted to understand them.

There are people I love very much who disagree with the ideas I have embraced now, and that has caused me some internal struggles. How do I interact with them now that I am in a new place in life? Do I get frustrated with them? Do I think of myself as more enlightened? No. I can’t. I can’t do that because I know that they are on their own journey. I don’t know that I am absolutely right anyway, but I have made peace with where I am now and am certain that God hasn’t given up on me, he will lead me on, and
I trust that God will lead us all in the way we should go. I believe He will continue the work he began in us, until the day of Christ. All will be made right. All will be made new. Love covers a multitude of wrongs. Love never fails. On those truths, I put my hope, and relinquish the rest.

Take Time to Listen

Barb in glasses

I regularly find myself disturbed by things I read on Facebook. In fact, I get downright irritated and grumpy after awhile. What bothers me the most is the fact that whenever anyone shares an insight, a thought, or bit of information, there is ALWAYS someone who wants to take that as an opportunity either to make a snarky remark, argue with the person who posted, or show off how much they know by posting a huge comment containing all their great wisdom, I suppose hoping to impress someone with their insight.

What bothers me the most is that so few people seem to want to actually listen (or read) to what someone else has to say, and just think about it for awhile or say “thank you for sharing.” People on Facebook seem to have this inflated view of their own expertise concerning all things. And, they seem to think they are the only ones who have all of the answers. They dismiss anyone else’s thoughts, no matter how experienced, skilled or intelligent those thoughts might be. They don’t really want to hear what someone else says because the universe seems to revolve around them, what they think and what they feel.

The other day, Maya Angelou posted something, a beautiful little thought that she hoped we could heal after the Trayvon Martin/Zimmerman verdict and that she was praying for Travon Martin’s mother, and there were at least 15 people who posted angry diatribes in response.

When a friend posted about a beautiful thing that a church is doing to reach out to homosexuals who have been so alienated from Christianity, of course you get at least one guy talking about how sinful they are and that it’s our duty to point out sin to people. Really? Is that our job? I thought the two commandments Jesus gave us were to love God with everything you have and love your neighbor as yourself. He then proceeded to define “neighbor” as those people who are despised, like the Samaritan. He told the crowd wanting to stone an adulteress that the one who had never sinned should throw the first stone. I don’t think I remember him telling us, or commanding us, to go around pointing out sin to people. In fact, I remember him talking about those who want to take a splinter out of the eye of someone else should first remove the log from their own eyes, meaning that those who want to point out sin in someone else should look at themselves, and their own sin.

One of my heroes as an author is Donald Miller, who wrote Blue Like Jazz, which was made into an excellent movie, by the way. He posts lots of thoughts, really profound, thought-provoking thoughts, with a gentle spirit. Yesterday he wrote about how God inspires him as he writes and someone commented that he would like Donald to show him in the Bible where God ever injected thoughts into someone’s mind. Why was that necessary? Sure, I could have jumped in there and argued that there are plenty of places in the Bible where it says that God gives us his thoughts and inspires people. It’s all over the Bible. But, what would be the point? I’ve learned the hard way that discussing things with people who don’t listen is useless.

Back when I used to work as a journalist with the Fort Jackson Leader, we had a lot of young soldiers who would be assigned there, and I was often asked to proofread for them, and help some of them learn how to hone their writing skills a bit more. They were inexperienced, and many had only had a little High School English and there were things I could teach them because I’d been doing it for awhile. Most of them were open to suggestion and they learned and got better. But, there were always a few who wanted to argue about why they were right, even over misspelled words. Those soldiers never did improve their writing because they were so certain that they already knew enough. They didn’t have to listen to someone else. They had things all figured out.

I may not be the greatest expert as a writer or as a Christian. I have a lot to learn in so many areas. But, I have learned the great value in listening to others, even people I disagree with, and thinking about what they have to say. Sometimes, what they say is not helpful, but often it brings growth and greater understanding.

I would encourage all of you to be open to listening to other people, and trying to understand them before dismissing them and writing them off. Clinging rigidly to ideas without ever questioning them is a sure sign of fear that what you really are clinging to isn’t strong enough to withstand challenge. I am at peace with my beliefs enough to be able to listen to other people.

I am not perfect. I have been at a place in my life where I wasn’t as sure of myself as I am now, and therefore I was more closed-minded and less open to others out of fear. “You can’t think like that. This is wrong. Uh oh, what you said sounds fishy to me,” are just some of the ways my mind would react to people who presented ideas that disturbed my neat little world. But, thankfully, God didn’t let me stay in that protected place. He led me out into the adventure of life, in meeting others and realizing that the world is not a fearful place. It’s a wonderful place. It’s a beautiful place. Open up and smell the roses and stop, take time to listen. You just might hear truth that will expand your world. Thanks for reading.

Stones

This is a little something I wrote quite a while ago, but I think it’s appropriate for now. Hope you like it.

My sister among the stones at Mesa Verde.

My sister among the stones at Mesa Verde.


I used to love to skip stones over the surface of a quiet pond. We used to have a stone fireplace in the house my grandaddy built. Sometimes I wonder if he put those stones together with his own hands.

Stones in the hands of Pharisee mobs were different. They were deadly projectiles of hatred and judgement. They said, “that woman doesn’t deserve to live because she’s broken the law of Moses.” They said, “that man Stephen must die for telling us that Jesus is the Son of God.”

I’ve been the woman, standing before the mob, helpless and guilty. I’ve even been Stephen, presenting my faith to a hostile world, facing the stones.

But, Jesus stepped in and saved me. He told the Pharisees that He paid the price for my guilt. He told them I was now under His protection and mercy. They’d have to go through Him to get to me.

But, sometimes… I say with head hung low, sometimes, I’ve been the one with the stones in my hand, clenched tight in an angry fist, ready to destroy somebody.

Once again, Jesus stepped in. I had to look Him in the eye and admit that I had no right to judge when I’d been forgiven. He told me stones aren’t for throwing, they’re for building; fireplaces and altars, fortresses and bridges.

No wonder they call Him the Rock of Ages.

He’s my Rock, my fireplace, where I can curl up and get warm. He’s my altar, where I lay myself as a living sacrifice. He’s my fortress, where I go and hide. And, He’s my bridge, laying across the gap between God and me and inviting me to step across.

Stones aren’t for throwing, they’re for building.