". . . little shall I grace my cause

In speaking for myself. Yet, by your gracious patience,

I will a round unvarnish'd tale deliver . . ."

(William Shakespeare's Othello, I.iii.88-90)

Saturday, April 30, 2016

A Noble Task

I keep seeing this post getting shared on Facebook. Every time I do, I cringe anew. I have a very difficult time understanding how anyone could find it to be helpful.

The author begins by asking a few questions. I would like to answer them.

Would you go to the church on the corner knowing that the pastor is an ex-con? 


What about the congregation three streets over, where the pastor is prone to lying? 


The pastor at the store-front church who’s always questioning the truth about what the Gospels say about Jesus? 

No. (Really? This needs to be said?)

What about bad language? If the new pastor has a potty-mouth, would you still regularly attend church? 

And risk my children hearing their pastor saying things for which they would be punished? Um, no.

What if he’s kind of a thug too? 

No, no, no.

Here's the deal. "Ex-con" means that the man has repented of his previous sinful lifestyle. We are all sinners, pastors included. Someone who has repented and been forgiven and now rejects the sinful behavior should not have it held over his head the rest of his life or be prevented from using his God-given gifts and talents to serve a suffering world.

The problem with the rest of the questions is that they indicate ongoing behavior. One who is "prone" to lying is one who does so habitually. One who is "always" questioning the truth about what the Gospels say has no business teaching those Gospels. Someone who "has a potty-mouth" (as opposed to occasionally slipping and saying a bad word) demonstrates an inability or unwillingness to attempt to moderate his habit of speech out of love for his flock. Someone who is (not was) a thug is one who repeatedly acts in thug-like ways, bullying people, lording over them, running his church like a mob boss.

So to answer the broader question, no. Assuming I had a choice, I wouldn't go to a church like that. Yes, we all sin. We all fail every day. By the grace of God we repent and are forgiven. Sometimes even then we fall into the very same sin again. Again we turn to our Lord and repent and again He forgives. But if we get to a place where we don't see the sin as sin or where we view ourselves as prisoners to sin, hopeless to ever stop it, constantly throwing ourselves on God's mercy again and again because He forgives again and again, we are to my thinking in a very dangerous place. "It's just the way I am. But God will forgive me."

Yes, He will. But at what point have we quit being truly sorry, telling ourselves before we even commit the sin, "I can do this because afterward God will forgive me"? It is extremely treacherous territory, and when it is institutionalized into the life of a congregation because that congregation's shepherd is constantly hiding behind the Gospel, never truly repenting but constantly excusing and rationalizing bad behavior, that is not a church I could feel safe at. I am frankly dumbfounded that this sort of thinking is being promoted as something good.

I don't know--perhaps I am extra sensitive on this matter because I have in the past been hurt by my church and pastor. But my suggestion to anyone reading and sharing this piece is to go study 1 Timothy 3 and think long and hard about the ramifications of going to a church with a pastor who does not appreciate the seriousness of the calling with which he has been entrusted. The spiritual and emotional damage that can be done by such a man is real and long-lasting. 

(P. S. And don't tell me there's no such thing as a perfect church or a perfect pastor. God disabused me of that notion a long time ago and I am very thankful He did. But there is such a thing as a safe and healthy church, and there is such a thing as a faithful, upright, and loving pastor. And when you seek out a church home you are justified in looking for both.)

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Sympathy Letters from Kids

I finally got around to going through a bag of sympathy notes that were written to me by students at one of the schools I play piano for. I go to this school, a middle school, about once a week to attend chorus rehearsals and play for performances. I feel bad that it took me so long to get around to reading all the notes. There were over 100 of them.

Here are a few excerpts I wanted to preserve for posterity because I found them funny, touching, or unique or just because they made me smile. Enjoy. The authors are all sixth, seventh, or eighth graders. :-)

"I drew a rainbow because when my aunt passed away my mom said think of rainbows because it shows the bright side and it helps me. So maybe it will help you. My mom also tells me to think about the rainbow because my brother is in the air force and when he leaves it makes me sad."

"I will be praying for you. Thank you for being SO NICE to us even though we are crazy and loud. You are VERY good at the piano. I love you so much!"

"Thank you for being our accompanist, even though we're a band of bumbling baboons 90% of the time."

"Thank you for still coming to play with us tomorrow. I couldn't do it. I'm not that strong. My mom is still alive, but it feels like I don't know her. I haven't seen her in 3 years."

"It stinks to hear about what's happening, but for the short period of time I've known you, I think you can get through it. I know you can because I did. My brother died 1 year, 1 month, 6 days ago. You are much stronger than a 12-year-old so I know you can make it through."

"Hello. I am unsure what losing a parent feels like, but I have witnessed the death of some things. I once had a funeral for a turtle I found on the side of the road, and I remember how sad my family was when my grandfather died, even though I was not. I was five or six and I suppose death didn't really make sense to me. Or rather, I didn't really understand it enough to feel it. I'm fourteen and honestly don't know all that much, but I think that life is an incredible thing. Therefore, even though a life has been lost and I am certain that it hurts, there's still more life to marvel at. I hope that wasn't insensitive; I genuinely was not trying to be."

"I am glad you are the piano player at our school because you make us so much better than we already are."

"I love walking into choir and seeing you in the room."

"Every time I hear you play a smile will not come off my face. I also think you are very beautiful. I LOVE YOUR HAIR."

"To be honest I don't really know what to say. What I do know is that there are some days when all you want to do is be left alone. And then there are other days when all you want is a hug. I don't know what kind of day this is for you, but I just want you to know that I care, and that our entire women's choir cares! And I don't know if you're a religious person or not, but here's a Bible verse that always helps me when I'm going through a rough time: 1 Corinthians 10:13. Just always know that God will forever be by your side."

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Four-Year Anniversary

I was so sick Wednesday I didn't even think about it, but April 20 was our four-year anniversary. Feel free to quit reading if you're sick of hearing about it. It was a pivotal moment in this family's life, leaving its mark in ways that were terrible at the time but that have turned out in the long run to be so good. For that reason I don't know if we will ever quit marking it, at least among ourselves.

In a way it's hard to believe it's already been four years. On the other hand, so much has happened that I find myself asking, "Really? Only four years?"

As the date rolled around this year, my prevailing thought has been of sadness that the events of early 2012 did such a profound number on me and took so much out of me that there was even less of me to give to my mom in her last years. I don't lay it all at the feet of that event. That would be stupid. My mom was a sinner. I am a sinner. She was difficult. I was pre-menopausal. We both struggled with depression. But toss into that the blowing up of my husband's job and the primary focus of our days--our church--and I was struggling so to keep my own head above water that I had very little to give anyone. My husband and children came first, Mom after. I wish I had had more to give her emotionally her last years. I cared for her physically. I tried to love her. But it was really hard. I hope I made up for it a little the last couple of years after we moved to Oklahoma and started feeling normal again.

I recently stumbled on this picture. It was taken on August 12, 2012, the last day we were ever in my husband's former office. The print had been purchased for my husband by a member of the family as sort of a joke. We all have those kinds of days, right? But for a good portion of 2012 every day was that kind of day. We decided to leave the print behind, and in retrospect I am so very glad we did. We left so much behind that needed to be left behind, including that print, and we are so much the better and healthier for it.

Again I give thanks to an amazing God who knows so much better what we need than we do. May I always, always remember that.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Life Update

Hello! Anyone there? Considering how infrequently I post these days, I wouldn't be surprised if the answer were no. For the three of you who are still dropping by on occasion, here's a "what we've been up to" post.  :-)

Tomorrow will be seven weeks since Mom died. I have been spending a lot of time in her room. A few people have asked if we will be moving into it (it is the designated master bedroom). Maybe we will some day, when our knees are tired of going up and down the stairs. But for right now, we are thinking we will make it into a home office/guest room. I have already started using it as a place to get away to when I need time alone to write or edit or just be. It is such a nice room, big and bright and peaceful. 

The college kids will be home in about a month. Yay! They will be home all summer, other than several weeks Trevor will be in Italy for a piano festival. We will cap the summer with a family camping trip to Big Bend National Park in Texas. I wonder if we can find any spots like this one to pitch our tent on?

Unpacking is going slowly. You know that old Benjamin Franklin quote about death and taxes? That's pretty much what has governed my life the last few months. Maybe some more boxes will be opened and some more books will find their way to the shelves after April 15. (This year I am doing taxes for a rostered, called Lutheran cantor, so there is a bit of a learning curve. :-))

I have several articles in the queue to get published elsewhere but I have no idea when they will see the light of day. 

It has become normal to see preteen boys not my own running around the back yard, playing video games in the family room, or scrounging the kitchen for something to eat or drink. Believe it or not, even though I am on my third preteen this has not been a regular occurrence in my life as a mom. I like it. 

According to Facebook, today is siblings day. Here is a picture of me with my siblings, taken at my mom's funeral:

Here's the same group 16 years ago, on my mom's 70th birthday (we haven't changed that much, have we?):

I sure do love those people.*

We are coming up on a significant anniversary in our family history. I can honestly say that we have officially moved from asking "Why did that happen" to saying "Thank God that happened." So much good has come out of it, at least for us. I don't know if the same can be said for others. I pray, if the answer is no, that will change some day. 

It's almost cocktail hour here in Oklahoma. Off to the porch! Wherever you are this Lord's day, I hope you can find a few moments to put your feet up, breathe in the Lord's goodness, and bask a while. If circumstances are such that you can't bask right now, trust that even when it doesn't feel like it, His light is still shining on you, warming, nourishing and sustaining you through the fallow time and readying you for the next growing season. His peace be yours.  

*These are the siblings with whom I share a mom. There are four more, two of whom are deceased, with whom I share a dad.