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Friday, September 6, 2013

What I learned from My Kid: No Excuses


This was just so good I had to repost. My son is bigger, better, stronger and playing more this year. He still struggles, but still determined to finish the race... 

Last night, after a grueling, hot, painful three-hour football practice, my 14 year old son came in drenched, grimacing, almost in tears. Told us a little about practice and went to take a bath. I could see his discouragement. Not being the best. Not getting praise for his hard work. Missing out on three hours of video games. (smile). I prayed. I know he doesn’t like the hard things any more than I do. But I’d never force him to play a sport if he wants to stop. As a matter of fact I tried to talk him out of football in 7th grade because quite frankly, I saw my next six years of sitting on butt-killing bleachers, trying to drum up some go-team enthusiasm for a sport I think never should have been invented in the first place. In my opinion, kids should read and play the piano, but I know I’m in the American minority. For sure I’m in the Lebanon, Mo. minority.

But I digress...

So, my fourteen year old came out of his bath, still drenched, this time from the bath—because fourteen year old boys don’t have time or inclination for towels—and he said, “So, I was trying to think of any excuse to quit football”

My stomach dropped. Because, football is his dream. He’s not great... YET. He’s not in the best shape. YET. He is way too smart to get his brains knocked around in a violent sport, but it’s his dream. And dreams are a big deal with me. Any kid who will sit and watch the text of a football game as it comes in because we don’t have DISH anymore, is committed.

I’ve been telling him for years, “God drops a dream into our heart and then waits to see what we’ll do with it. What are you going to do about your dream?” God definitely partners with us. He is the only one who can make the impossible, possible. But He wants to see that we will believe that the bigger the dream, the bigger the goal, the bigger the opportunity for God to flex his God-muscles and show us how awesome and powerful He truly is.

So my stomach dropped when my son said he was trying to think of any excuse to quit football, and I said, “Really?” GULP

“Yeah,” he said. “But then I picked up the shirt I was going to wear.”

I was wondering if he got it from the clean clothes or just grabbed a dirty shirt, which isn’t beyond the realm of possibility.

“And on the back it said this…”

And my wonderful, funny, too-smart-to-get-his-brains-knocked-around-in-a-violent-sport kid, showed me the words: NO EXCUSES.

He grinned. “God told me not to quit.”

And I believe him. I believe with all my heart that God said, “Will, I gave you this dream. What will you do with it? It’s you and Me, Will Bateman. Will you believe me for the impossible?”

It’s not about being the best, finishing the strongest, or being hoisted onto shoulders with fans screaming your name. It’s about being faithful to the dream. Getting your brains beat out and coming back for more. Flexing thigh and calf muscles against impossible hills, and getting to the top, knowing you’re one hill stronger than you were before.

No excuses, no quitting, climbing to reach the goal against impossible odds.

For better or worse, that’s faith.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Writing and publishing books of my Heart

Hey folks. It's been awhile since I blogged. But I have a really good reason for that. I've been busy writing, editing, and self-publishing two of my older titles. Books of my heart that didn't really do that well when they first released in 2006 and 2007. Publishing straight to Kindle has given me the opportunity to bring these books back and so far they've reached approx 15,000 awesome readers like you!

I've had a passion for the rights of African Americans since I discovered very early in my life that my ancestors owned slaves. I don't know why I took this upon myself, but I've always known I wanted to write about the plight of African Americans. When I was a little girl, I wanted to write the sequel to Gone With the Wind and talk more about Big Sam, Dilcey (who didn't make it into the movie), Prissy, and Pork, and possibly Mammy.

When I started writing, my first book (rejected) was a southern historical focusing on the Civil War and Underground Railroad. It didn't make the cut, and shouldn't have! I wasn't ready to write it.

When Barbour agreed to publish The Color of the Soul
and subsequently the sequel The Freedom of the Soul,
I was suddenly gripped with fear. What if I didn't do the topic justice? What if I offended African Americans with my too-realistic portrayal of the bigotry and brutality? What if I offended my Christian readership with references to violence, rape and out-of-wedlock intimacies? But there was a way these stories were meant to be told, and I can only tell the truth as I see it. Finally, I had to begin to trust that for some reason, God had called me to write these books and He would deal with any fall-out.

Here is a letter I wrote to my readers at the beginning of The Freedom of the Soul book two in the Penbrook Diaries:

Dear Readers,
My family history tells of a young man, my great-great-great-grandfather’s brother, who fell ill and was sent by his father to be nursed in the slave quarters. While recovering, he fell deeply in love with the young slave girl who cared for him. After he was well again, he took her to Mexico and married her. Their many descendants are still in Mexico today.
That story of deep, abiding love has always struck a chord in my heart and imagination, and I knew, while writing a series that explores racial tensions and relationship, that I’d have to include that scenario. This book is entirely a work of fiction. All I know about that true-life love story is what I have told you here.
One thing I’ve learned while researching and writing The Penbrook Diaries is that love (in all its forms) transcends race.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

The Secret and the Prosperity Faith Message

Rusty and I watch a lot of Netflix. Mostly, we just watch Fringe and other Sci Fi-ish kind of shows. We used to watch a lot of Stargate until they took it off streaming (Don’t get me started on that!).

Anyway, last week, for kicks, I clicked on THE SECRET because I was curious and figured I could easily shut if off if I felt uneasy inside--which I eventually did. But as Russ and I got into the show, we looked at each other with a sort of bewildered, stupid grin and started quoting all the scripture that actually coincides with the principles that so many people are into—The Secret people and Prosperity message people.

I’m not going to list all the components of wealth, health and relationship happiness from The Secret. Watch it if you want, but do be careful, it’s pretty narcissistic. And while I do believe that God delights in the prosperity of his people, as the Word says, I also think he should be the one getting the glory.

I told Rusty, “What they’re saying is pretty true to scripture. The difference is, God isn’t given the glory, so it sets man up as god-like in his ability to bring these things to himself.” Rusty agreed, because he almost always does, and plus I think he was dozing off (because it’s a very long show) and I woke him up with my incredible insights.

I think God set up universal, natural laws that work no matter who works them. Prosperity is one of those. We’ve all heard the stories of non-Christians who tithe and are blessed because of it. The law of sowing and reaping comes into play just because God made laws for humans. He wants to be involved, but even if we choose not to involve him, it is what it is. It’s pretty sad when the Universe that He created gets the credit instead of the Creator, but people will do what they’re going to do and believe what they’re going to believe.

The Secret is starting to work its way through the church even. I kid you not. There are the popular “dream boards”, which I actually think are not a bad idea when kept in perspective. Even the Bible says we are to write the vision and make it plain. We heard a preacher talking about the Law of Attraction a few weeks ago and he said,
“Be thankful. Thankfulness attracts to you that for which you are thankful.” And maybe it is another universal law that God set up. So I’m being very careful what I’m thankful for. My dogs, for instance. We already have five. Don’t want to be too thankful and get more.

What The Secret and The Prosperity message neither take into account are the powerful lessons learned from hardship. Peaks without valleys. Without those seasons we’re a bunch of spoiled, entitled kids sitting in our parents’ basements playing video games and eating all the Doritos. It’s not about who has enough faith or who is walking in disobedience. Sometimes it’s just a really great Dad who says, “I’m going to teach you something. Pack your bags and get out of my house and get a job. Oh? You don’t have money for your own place? I see you have an iphone, video games up the wazoo, a flat screen TV, Blu ray player. And also, there's that fancy computer with the 25' screen. That oughtta get you a month’s rent.”

In other words, as good parents, sometimes we have to stop making it easy on our kids and let them go through some things in order for them to understand how to take care of themselves. I think God does that too—lets us go through hardship for various reasons. It doesn’t make us bad people for God to force us to discipline. It makes him a good and loving God.

That’s the thing I don’t like about the Faith message. It sets people up for guilt and condemnation when that’s just not what God intended. And Christians play into that. One time a woman asked me what on earth I was doing to displease God that Rusty hadn’t found a job yet and I didn’t have a contract. SIGH. We've gotten a lot of that sort of thing the past two and a half years.

The truth was, we were trying really hard to be good and do everything right. We had favor with man but I was miserable because I knew I couldn’t bargain with God. His ways are just way higher than mine. When I got over it, repented for trying to work my way into his favor, that’s when my career turned around ever-so-slightly. And look, there was nothing wrong with the “works” I was doing, I enjoyed aspects of serving. My motives were just wrong.

To be really clear, I don’t think God made Rusty lose his job or took away my ability to write a sellable idea, I just think during this time of not-so-many peaks and a little more valleys, He’s taught me how faithful He is to provide daily bread.

Honestly, if I did what The Secret suggests and wrote myself a ten million dollar check and envisioned it into something that wouldn’t actually bounce, I’d be ruined. I’d buy useless things, do too much for my kids and that ten million would be gone in a year. No kidding. One million I could work with. (smile). After the IRS took half or more, I’d pay all my bills including the house, tithe of course (although I’m not sure where, because my membership status is a bit iffy right now due to some unfortunate ticking off of some people lately) and give my brother $10K because we have a deal that with my first check for $100K or more I give him that amount. I’m not sure what his part of the deal is, except the other day he gave me a package of pork steaks from his freezer when I didn’t have anything to cook for supper. I think that makes things pretty even. ☺

Anyway, if you’re a prosperity through faith person, don’t be offended, I’m not saying God doesn’t prosper His people. Just don’t let anyone make you feel as though you’re displeasing God some way IF you are struggling with finances, health, in a relationship. We can never be righteous enough to earn his favor. We already have it because of Jesus. And really try not to get full of yourself when God does swing the (non new age, just a metaphor) pendulum back in your favor.

So, it’s not really a secret. Ask, seek, knock. It’s God who gives the power to get wealth (which includes health and good relationships). And if he gives it to you, don’t take the credit. ☺ But don’t get mad at Him if this is the season for Him to love you through his faithfulness. He’ll keep his promises. Your needs will be met.

Just ask me how I know.

Friday, April 26, 2013

What Would Jesus Blog?

I think if Jesus were alive today he’d have a blog and Wordpress (because He would use Wordpress as Michael Hyatt says it's the best blog site to use) would likely go down every day due to overload as he’d have more followers than Justin Beiber. Mary Magdeline would probably edit it for Him and the disciples would most likely “share” it on their Facebook pages. And all the Pharisees would take it personally and might even crucify Him for the words he wrote. But I think more than all the things he might tell us brought tears to his Father’s eyes, he would tell us how much we are loved. How strength comes from weakness, honesty breaks up pride, and maybe even how He never meant for us to hurt one another in His name.

One of my mentors has told me several times that I have to use my words carefully because I have influence when I write Facebook and Twitter posts, Blogging. Jesus gave me my gift to be a GOOD influence, she says—with a straight face. Personally, I’ve always laughed when she says this as I have about 100 readers and none of them think I have an ounce of brains. They know I’m almost always kidding around or making long, elaborate posts that eventually point to why I was wrong to think that way in the first place. I can start a blog post having one position on the topic and talk myself out of my original thought by the time I finish the blog. It’s the way I work out my issues and thoughts and also proof that I'm way too easily influenced--even by myself.

But, here’s the thing: Writing is a type of cathartic self-indulgence that pulls out what we are thinking in a way that makes sense to us as writers. That’s why most writers journal—well, until we start writing for a living, then we no longer have time to journal, we mainly just watch TV to distract ourselves from the fact that we should be writing.

All the greats (Ray Bradbury, William Zinsser, Robert McKee, Stephen King, James Scott Bell) say you must write every day if you’re a writer. Just vomit the words onto the page and go back later to clean up the mess. I think that’s the problem with working out your thoughts and feelings into a blog, or twitter, or Facebook. The self-indulgent spewing just goes out there for people to read, get offended, and break relationships and there’s no way to go back and clean it up (well, there is, but it’s unlikely we will). ☺ It’s also a great way to find out who really gets you, as if you didn’t already know. It would be much better to stick with the kind of writing that keeps you out of the fray. Like Amish novels or cookbooks.

The other day I was reading some facebook posts, and thought, “Wars could be started this way and I could start them.” I read two facebook posts that ticked me off a little on two back-to-back days and also made me want to punch out words of dissent on my own page. One from a teenager who had an accident a few months ago. He’s been praying for healing—and I truly believe God wants him healed. He wants this kid to play his sport of choice and rise to the greatness that he’s obviously already showing. The thing was. The kid said, “I have to do my part if God’s going to do his.” And this is what I wanted to put on my own wall “Why are we teaching our kids if they're good, God will reward them, but if they're bad, they won't get healed? Is righteousness a bargaining chip to get what we want?”

Seriously. I think if this boy just loves Jesus very much, works hard in rehab, and learns that grace is not merit based, God will give him this desire. And if He doesn’t, then loving Jesus very much will make it okay that he misses one season. Without relationship, when it’s all about working it out and forcing faith and trying to be good, then disappointment leads to bitterness and rebellion. I’m praying very, very hard that he gets to play.

The other FB post talked of praying for someone with “undeserved grace”. It was a pretty audacious statement—and a little asinine I thought. And then I thought about how asinine I can be and also maybe that particular FB-er was just having a bad day and didn’t really believe that there could ever be someone out there so horrible that Jesus stamped "No-Grace-For-You" on their forehead. I also thought, If they don't deserve grace, why waste your energy praying for them. It's pointless. Like praying for the devil to get saved. SHRUG.

I like social media in general. It’s such a great way to interact with all sorts of people you’d never know otherwise—which is why I think Jesus would have a blog and be on Twitter and Facebook. I’m not sure about Pinterest as I have never been able to figure that one out and I always think Jesus only likes the things I like—like The Walking Dead and Cajun food.

So, I decided today, I’m going to try to be more careful. WWJB (What would Jesus Blog?) In my honesty, I’ll try hard not to be too asinine (can’t promise I won’t be just a little), keep my sarcasm to a minimum, try not to offend the majority of people and more than anything really care if I’m using my words as a weapon or oil.

Let me know how I’m doing…I can take it.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Writing and the Body of Christ

This past week I watched a documentary about a German theologian who lived and died during Hitler's reign. He came from a family that barely attended service, so he started out not thinking church was very important. But he ended up speaking about Christ's body--how the church as a whole is likened to His flesh. The exerpt from one of his writings went through me as I realized that just by being so full of my own ideals and dislike of the modern church, I had been discounting the body of Christ as it exists as a whole--not one church, but the entire body of Christians throughout the world, and possibly in outer space--I'm not convinced there is no life on other planets--just saying. But the truth is, there's a part of the body I (and you too) am supposed to be. Not just contribute to like adding a tattoo. But an actual arm or leg or brain cell. And I started thinking of myself, of course.

Writers hold our talent as a sacred thing. I suspect in much the same way artists, filmmakers, and musicians do. We simply want to use what we have for a greater cause. Whether in fiction or nonfiction. Sometimes that greater cause is entertainment, sometimes a truth as we know it, anarchy :) But the long and short of it is that our gifts are given for a higher purpose. One that we MUST fulfill or something inside dies. and this is true, not only for Christians, but all weavers of words. And as I watched that documentary and made the connection that I'm a valued (by God) part of the important work of Christ through the body on earth, it made me spend the whole day just thinking. Praying. Asking God to show me the best use of the part of the body I'm to make up. I mean lets face it, a hand can do good things like stroke a baby's head and offer comfort, or it can squeeze into a fist and punch someone in the face. We have to learn not only what part of Christ's body we make up, but also to use it effectively for HIS purposes on earth--or Mars.

Miss Linda writes long, beautiful emails that come from her years as a Jesus Follower. Wisdom, understanding of God, and truth that runs so deep in her heart she refuses to be deterred in any way from her belief that God is who he says he is, will do what he says he'll do and we better get our behinds in line with His ways. Sometimes I read things I disagree with and really, really just want to agree because her writing is so beautiful, and she's the only person in the world whose approval I care anything about. I just want to read her words all day and then go over to her house and move in and wash all her dishes and mop her floors while she sits with her feet up and talks to me about Jesus. In short, her writing is powerful, beautiful, and a gift that comes deep, deep from inside of her. I feel the same way when I read a novel by Angela Hunt. I just want to bottle the gift and drink it. These women are effective, useful parts of the body.

I've been thinking a lot about my wrting this past week as I start the process of a new book and also as I've gotten back to a blogging schedule.

I've been thinking of the wasted writing I've done this past year. The hours spent writing things for others that have been tossed aside as useless as though my gift and time are meaningless. I feel like my mom's legs, atrophied by months of disuse. A body part doing no one any good. It hurts and it makes me sad. But then, I think about the times I haven't valued the gifts inside of others either. Criticizing (maybe only inside, but still...) a missed pitch, a painting I thought was not very good, misspelled or misused words on the screen at church, someone else's writing.

I had a conversation with my pastor friend, this week about starting a monthly writers group in our town. He mentioned a poetry group that meets at the library. My response? "Poetry group: Kill me now."

This may come as a surprise to my nonwriting friends, but not all writers are moved deep in our souls by poetry. I gag on most of it. But for the poet, it's deep calling to deep. God's handiwork inside put onto the page in beautiful, rythmic tones. And as I thought about our conversation later, I remembered that my pastor friend has sent me poems he is writing to be put into his novel. I gave myself an slap on the head. Seriously? I diminished one of his loves the very same way my efforts have been diminished this past year. I'm such a slug sometimes.

And honestly, he wrote and framed a poem that he gave me for Christmas that I love and have hanging on my wall. And he has the same one hanging on his office wall. And now I sort of wonder how many other people have that framed poem on their walls. :)

The fact is, when we focus only on the parts of the body WE think are important, we cause a cut deep enough to bleed the soul.

A friend posted this poem to a writers group this past weekend. I found it so moving and beautiful, in a way poetry never has touched me before. Which is why I started thinking about my pastor friend and the whole poetry thing and also why I slapped myself in the head and wondered how many people he gave that poem to for Christmas.

I made a little adjustment inside, determined to value every gift in the body.

A Little Gift
by John Milton Edwards

A little gift I have of words,
A little talent, Lord, is all,
And yet be mine the faith that girds
A humble heart for duty's call.

Where Genius soars to distant skies
And plumes herself in proud acclaim,
O Thou, let plodding talent prize
The modest goal, the lesser fame.

Let this suffice, make this my code,
As I go forward day by day,
To cheer one heart upon life's road,
To ease one burden by the way.

I would not scale the mountain peak,
But I would have the strength of ten
To labor for the poor and weak,
And win my way to hearts of men.

A little gift Thou gavest me,
A little talent, Lord, is all,
Yet humble as my art may be
I hold it waiting for Thy call.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Words, Language, and Chocolate Puddy

It’s easy to hang with people who speak the same language you do. Who enjoy the same hobbies, movies, books, sports, whatever. Otherwise, it’s work and sometimes more work than we’re really willing to put into it.

Last night my blind/mostly deaf brother came to me while everyone else was gone and spelled out the word “puddy”. Jack is quite the handyman, but also frustrating because sometimes his projects go awry, what with not being able to see and all. So with wary generosity, I asked him, “Puddy? Why do you want puddy?”

“Yes,” he said, “Puddy.”

Sigh. Okay, we need a different approach. “Yes, Jack.” Trying to be patient because I’ve told the kids and Rusty not to get irritated, just listen even if he makes no sense, which is touch and go, to be honest. He lives in the dark, mostly silent world. Give him a break. “But why do you want puddy?”

“Yeah, puddy.”

After five minutes, of him saying, “Yeah, Puddy.” And me saying. “Why do you want Puddy?” I finally gave up. “I gotta go, Jack.” And his disappointed, “Ok.”

I’m not proud of it, but I went back on the deck with my book to be alone in the warmth of the wind blowing in the storm front for the few minutes I had left before the family returned from church. I settled into my chair, drinking in the smell of the fresh-cut grass and probably too much pollen, and picked up my Ipad to read another book about writing by a writer. I read a ton of books by other writers, artists, musicians, and actors because I understand the language. The self-deprecating, pointing the finger at me, kind of humor that cracks me up and I identify with. Some of the most profound concepts lately have come from Penny Marshall’s memoir, “My Mother Was Nuts.”

Only I couldn’t read, all I could think about was that stupid puddy and what does my brother want with puddy and what needs to be fixed? But mostly, I was thinking about how I didn’t understand my own brother and that I know he’s frustrated and also wants to puddy something.

I think a big challenge with finding and maintaining healthy relationships is a simple breakdown of language. We figure if we all speak English, what’s the problem? But it’s like this, we hang out with our own kind, missing out on a lot of great friendships, because we don’t have the patience to understand the subtext behind what the other person is saying. Honestly, we don’t get the private jokes and that makes us feel less valued by those who don’t bother to give it up. That’s why writers like to hang out with other writers. There’s a well of understanding that goes deeper than words. Writers conferences are notorious places to plot murders, solve world problems, create new worlds, and feel the agony of lost love all at one table of like minds, all in a three hour period with copious amounts of wine, nachos, and music so loud you have to shout these solutions across the table. It gets funny when the waitress hears the murder plot and starts to get nervous.

But we get each other. We understand there are plethora of wannabe writers who use plethora a plethora of times and we laugh because plethora is so yesterday. Those three hours fly by like they’re nothing and it’s worth arriving blurry-eyed at the next morning’s class. Soul-restoring understanding. And when the writing instructor uses the word “plethora.” We dissolve into eighth-grade boys who smell something.

And we all do it. No matter what group of like-minds you fit into. It’s like the pastor at one of the churches in town posted a video this morning with a football theme and called his wife, Aimee Hill. I thought it was an autocorrect fail. The video was awesome. She’s awesome, but I think there was more to the “Hill” part than I understand. I didn’t get the joke.

So I sat there, rolling “puddy” over in my head a thousand times, trying to think what Jack might need to fix, and finally I just went back inside, set my Ipad on the counter and tried again.

“Jack, you need puddy?”

“Yeah!” he says.

“Why do you need Puddy?”

“Yeah, Puddy!”

My chest is tightening. I wonder if puddy can fix a heart attack. Okay, lets not start the same conversation. The language has to change. One of us needs to hear what the other one is saying. Deep breath.

“Jack, why do you need puddy?”

“Yeah! Puddy.”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah, puddy. But show me what you want to use it for.” And then louder. “SHOW ME.”

“OH! Okay.” He stands up and takes my hand and walks me to the fridge.

Confused frown. Do you even use puddy to fix fridges? Weird.

He opens the fridge and touches a four-pack of chocolate pudding.

“Oh! You want pudding???”

“Yeah!” He pulls out a plastic container and shoves it toward me. “You want puddy?”

“No, Jack. But you can have it.” Take it all, for all I care. I was too relieved at the simple solution.

Jack got his pudding and I took my blood pressure to make sure I wasn't going to have a stroke.

And that’s the way it is. A meeting of minds, an understanding of souls. Caring enough to push past the language barrier.

The reward at the end of it all?

Chocolate pudding. And really, what’s better than that?

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

My Dad Could Spot a Hypocrite a Mile Away

When I was growing up we had a Sunday routine. Mom took us kids to church, and Dad stayed home drinking coffee, smoking cigarettes, and sometimes fried the Sunday dinner chicken. Dad stayed home because of all the hypocrites.
I’ve been thinking a lot about hypocrisy lately. And whether or not I truly think people who give fake smiles and empty compliments are hypocrites or simply good people, wanting to make the crazy, screwed up people who stay home most Sundays smoking and drinking coffee feel like they’re wanted and appreciated when they do actually pull their heads out and show up. I think that’s more likely than the former hypothesis of hypocrisy. ☺

Hypocrisy is a really strong word. Dad shot it out of himself like Spiderman shooting a strong web and swinging from building to building. Alone, above the fray with his superpower—spotting all the hypocrites when no one else, least of all Mom, could see the truth behind the nefarious lies. He had the spidey sense the rest of us lacked—well, not me—he passed the superpower on through spidey DNA.

I think Dad might have had a good reason for the labeling. Church folks had defined what he thought about himself. They thought he was a no-good coffee-drinking, cigarette smoking, sometimes chicken-frying, home-from-church-stayer. And he began to see himself as not as good as the Christians who went to church. I don’t know why he didn’t just switch to the Baptist church. Half the men spent half the service smoking outside the doors. He’d have fit right in. Plus, he could have taught Sunday School which was the whole thing behind his decision to stay home and smoke and drink coffee on Sunday.

Dad knew his Bible, at least intellectually, but they wouldn’t let him teach a Sunday school class because he smoked. Smoking is something you aren’t allowed to do in a lot of churches, or if you do you shouldn’t admit it—which makes you a liar (maybe even a hypocrite)—but that’s better than smoking.

But really, puffing on an expensive, life-threatening tobacco stick is a sin the same way drinking coffee and eating cheesecake are sins. They’re self-indulgent—sort of like blogging ☺ --but won’t keep you out of heaven—if that’s the only goal for accepting Jesus.

Though he never said it in so many words, my dad's point was that you can’t teach a Sunday School class or lead songs if you smoke, but four-hundred pounds of fabulous can belt out How Great Thou Art and bring the preacher’s eighty-year-old mama to tears.

There is a little bit of double-standard involved, but it’s not the church’s fault, it’s just the way it was raised. A long time ago, someone decided certain things were sins, like showing a woman’s ankles, or listening to rock music, or smoking cigarettes and it just got passed on from one generation of church leaders to the next. Obviously some sins, those that aren’t practical—like ankle showing—even rock music since most churches use it for the jumping up and down songs—haven’t endured. Others have. You can’t blame people for that, or label them such a strong, horrible thing like: hypocrite. You have to decide what’s most important. Dulling the spidey senses, following Jesus into the fray.

Anyway, I always liked that Dad didn’t go to church. First of all, he couldn’t sing and we went to a small church of great harmonizers so when he belted out Salvation Has Been Brought Down (and the men) From Heaven. His off-key From Heaven made me want to disappear From my seat. But most of all, I liked coming home to the house smelling like fried chicken because that meant we didn’t have that long to wait before we could eat. Maybe I was the biggest hypocrite of all. Saying, “Gee, Mom I wish Dad would go to church and quit smoking and be Christians like us,” while secretly happy he stayed home—what with the bad singing, but good cooking.

I don’t know. Most important, I wish he could have let God’s love for him define his sense of self-worth instead of well-meaning folks who were just doing the best they could to follow Jesus. It’s what I’ve been trying to do as I think about the way God loves me. Passionate love, deep, bloody love that isn’t about what I do as much as how my heart aches for Him. How his presence fills me up over and over again.

As I’ve been meditating on that love, it makes me grateful, makes me want to be better, love better, serve better. Maybe give up smoking once and for all instead of grabbing it back up every ten years or so—but then I figure I’ll have to stop drinking coffee and eating cheesecake too. I’ve been thinking I should stop thinking about what other people think and try to remember they are just doing their best to serve Jesus the way they know Him—even if their opinions hurt me sometimes. I should love them better whether they love me or not. And I should obey Jesus better. Wholly. Do or don't do things that are actually in the Bible. Love thy neighbor, honor thy father and mother, Love the Lord Your God with everything in you (paraphrased because I got tired of the thys, don't covet your neighbor's wife (as if!).

So this Sunday when I go to church I will close my eyes (even though it’s dark so you really don’t have to), worship, listen to a good word, go home and maybe fry chicken and remember that the other Christians are just like me—God-lovers, family people, hard workers. All who just want to be accepted and not defined by wrong opinions from other people and maybe I can see them the way Jesus sees them. With deep, passionate, bloody love that gives and gives and gives.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Faith, phonies, and Following by Tracey Bateman

Of all the institutions in America, church is probably my least favorite. I wish I didn’t feel that way. I do write Christian fiction after all, and Christian authors should like the things all the other Christian like—potluck, baptisms, offering time. But church drives me crazy, what with all the phony smiles, hyper acceptance, and preachers wanting our money. (that was facetiousness for those of you who think I’m saying everyone’s a phony, lemmings, or money-grubbing snake oil salesmen).

I went to my friend’s church yesterday. He’s a pastor and is about as real as a guy can get. He used to pastor the biggest denominational church in town until he beat up a guy that had it coming and got ousted. So he started his own church. I think he repented for knocking the guy’s brains out and I’m pretty sure he hasn’t beat up anyone else since—he took up running, so that probably helps. Yesterday, he said Jesus went to the temple on the Sabbath “As was His custom”.

“If Jesus’ custom was to go to the temple,” my preacher friend said, “most of you should probably move in here.” It was funny. The point being if the perfect Son of God needed to go to church for a weekly recharge, how much more do we? This pastor is one of my best friends and he knows I think church is pretty much a waste of time, so he probably threw that out there to tell me church is, in fact, not a waste of time, and not only should I stop dissing the institution, I probably need it more than most people do. Smile. He might be afraid for my soul, but most likely just doesn’t want lightning to strike my head before we finish editing his book.

True story about my church experience last week. I went to church for the first time in awhile what with Mom being so sick for months and me figuring that’s as good an excuse as any to stay out of church and not be too judged for it. Two men complimented me. (don’t get hung up on the gender, it wasn’t like that, could have as easily been women). I was talking to a friend at the kiosk and a guy slipped his big arm around me and drew me in for an appropriate side-ways hug. He was big and warm and smelled like guy soap, which always reminds me of my dad and I could have stayed there awhile, but that would’ve been weird, so I didn’t. He said something nice and made me feel beautiful and accepted and I basked in his friendship. We’ve been friends since our, now grown, boys were in kindergarten together. I like him. He’s been “quitting smoking” since I met him, says inappropriate things at times, might have some shady business practices (not sure about that), but he adores his beautiful, perfect wife and their bazillion adorable kids, and is a good husband, father, and provider. And every time I see him he lets me know that he’ll always be my friend, even though he knows I’m messy too.

The other compliment: A smile, a hug/pat, and “You’re awesome.” SIGH. This guy definitely does NOT think I’m awesome. ☺ He knows I could be awesome like him, but I have a ways to go. He loves me, sort of, but in a “you could be so great, why aren’t you?” kind of way that makes me sad because my value is always based on what I will be rather than who I am.

And that’s what I don’t like most about church. The fake smiles and empty words (and also the dark sanctuary during worship which I think is manipulative—my friend’s church does it too, so I guess it’s just the new normal). So I’ve been stewing about it all week. Mad, really. Judging, even though I don’t want to be judged. And today, I woke up feeling guilty because I’m so mad, but also, thinking I’m right and church is stupid and I’m never going back, what with all the phonies, and I’m sure God agrees. Like Anne Lamott says, “You know you’ve made God in your own image when he hates the same people you do.”

I keep coming back to “Jesus went to the temple, as was his custom.” If being a follower of Jesus is to be like Him, to truly follow His example, then maybe He doesn’t think church is a waste of time like I figured He probably did, since I do. If following Jesus is obeying him, then my heart has to change. My over-inflated view of my own opinions needs to conform to the humility of Jesus’ weekly trek to the temple. Otherwise, I’m following an ideal—like going to church because you’re supposed to, rather than following a savior because I love him.

So anyway, I stopped being mad, got over myself, and figured I better start following Jesus better. It’s like falling in love all over again, this realization that I want to follow Jesus, even if he leads me to the temple with the dark sanctuary and phony smiles and empty compliments. Because the flip side is the peace of his presence, the truth of his word, and an ocean of love so deep and red and warm that even someone like me can swim in it and find the grace to follow him anywhere he leads.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

I Made My Husband Nervous

Rusty just walked by and got nervous to see me blogging. But I promised I'd be good and he got over it.

Has it really been five months since I blogged? That's unbelievable. And truly, for those of you who follow and want to hear from me, I apologize.

My mother and blind/deaf/diabetic older brother moved in with us mid-December. We've gone from being completely self-absorbed to sharing our lives and our time with loved ones. It's been good. I'm learning new things about the heart of God who constantly challenges me to a closer walk with Him and new levels of grace. Because anyone who has taken care of aging parents knows that it takes grace to keep the "honor they father and mother" challenge but at the same time be put in the role of caregiver. The roles get all messed up. One day I'm saying, "Yes, Ma." the next: "You can't have that, there's too much salt."

Three weeks after moving in, my mom was taken to the hospital where she stayed for five and a half weeks. It was touch and go and we thought we were going to lose her a few times. But God still has purpose for her life. She's been in and out for three months and currently lives at a skilled nursing facility getting rehab. I love telling people Mom's in rehab. They always think Betty Ford. But that's not it, I promise. She's having therapy on her legs and occupational therapy to relearn many of the day-to-day practical things she's lost.

In the meantime, my fifty-something-year-old brother is adjusting to a crazy, busy, disorganized family and I think he truly believes he's here to straighten us out. :) He tries anyway. I'm learning all the things I missed growing up with him. He was a nuisance to me as a kid and a teenager--because, well, he's blind and deaf and to me he was sort of a piece of the furniture. How awful is that to admit? Now, I see him differently. He's funny--really funny. He told Rusty the other day he wanted a million dollars. Rusty said, "You want a million dollars?" He said, "Yeah!" I guess he thought Russ would just hand it over. Rusty said, "Okay, go work and get a million dollars." My brother got the joke. Who knew he got jokes? He spelled out (sign language...because, like I said, blind and deaf), "Rusty, smart." and cracked up that he told him to go to work. I guess it might not be funny unless you know him. But we thought it was hysterical.


After two years off to regroup and refocus and several rejections later, I recently got the opportunity to send a proposal for a Historical fiction novel and DRUMROLL please....It was accepted. Still can't make an official announcement, but I can say, it's exciting to have marching orders (Miss Linda said yesterday. "March is foot before the other by faith..watching and waiting willingly by faith for the things yet to come forth. Have to 'walk' into them and thru them to higher thing.")

So, there's my five-month update. I'll do better. :)
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