Monday, December 9, 2013

Speechless (Originally published December 2009)

I enjoy the gaiety of the Christmas season as much as the next person, but I have to admit I'm finding it harder and harder to keep a reflective spirit this time of year.

Radio stations, in an effort to spread "holiday cheer," play so-called Christmas music round-the-clock. But, how many of these songs have anything to do with the birth of our Savior? How many of them speak of joy and good cheer but don't point listeners to the only Source of lasting joy? We hear of good tidings to men, but do we reflect on just how good the news really is?

While there's nothing wrong with "Frosty the Snowman" or "Jingle Bell Rock," I find myself thinking that we have let the pendulum swing way too far with the holiday songs and not far enough with the sacred.

One of my favorite things about our church in Georgia is the music. The wealth of timeless songs with deep, spiritually reflective lyrics. One of my favorite Christmas hymns that I just learned last year is Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence. (Click the link to hear the beautiful melody.)

Based on Habakkuk 2:20, the words to this song were originally penned in the 4th century. (It was translated into English 1500 years later.)

I need the reminder that we are marking the birth of a sovereign God, and this is no trivial event. In fact, if we had any comprehension, any true understanding of what this means, it would render us speechless.

Let all mortal flesh keep silence,
And with fear and trembling stand;
Ponder nothing earthly minded,
For with blessing in His hand,
Christ our God to earth descendeth,
Our full homage to demand.

King of kings, yet born of Mary,
As of old on earth He stood,
Lord of lords, in human vesture,
In the body and the blood;
He will give to all the faithful
His own self for heavenly food.

Rank on rank the host of heaven
Spreads its vanguard on the way,
As the Light of light descendeth
From the realms of endless day,
That the powers of hell may vanish
As the darkness clears away.

At His feet the six winged seraph,
Cherubim with sleepless eye,
Veil their faces to the presence,
As with ceaseless voice they cry:
Alleluia, Alleluia
Alleluia, Lord Most High!

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Some Words about Words

I have some grammar tips I'd like to offer you, my dear reader, free of charge.  Maybe you’ll use them and thank me; maybe you’ll ignore them and mentally note what an obnoxious grammar Nazi I am.  I would, however, ask that the record reflect the fact that I do not correct people individually for their misuse of the English language.  (Unless you’re my father, you won’t find me correcting your Facebook postings or your online musings.)  But, I see no harm in using my little corner of the internet to offer correction to anyone who just happens to read it, thereby making me kinder and more thoughtful than if I corrected you personally.  Either way, take the tips or leave ‘em, but let not ignorance of the (usage) law be your excuse any longer. 

1    1.  Note that I said these tips are being offered “free of charge,” not that I’m giving them away “for    free,” because that would make no sense.  One cannot give something away FOR free because “free” is not a thing.  One simply gives away.  So, instead of saying “The gas station is giving away coffee mugs for free,” just say “The gas station is giving away coffee mugs.”  Not only is it correct, it uses fewer words, thereby saving you breath.  See, proper grammar can make you healthier.

2    2.  If you decide to use the word “whence,” which a surprising number of people do, don’t preface it with the word “from.”  Sure, it’s commonly used and widely accepted despite its grammatical shortcomings, but is that really the standard for which we’re aiming?  Let’s shoot for a lack of redundancy instead.  “Whence” means “from where,” so when you say “from whence,” you are saying, “from from where,” and I think we can all agree that sounds ridiculous.  So, if you must say “whence,” please say “whence” and only “whence.”

3    3.  Don’t say literally unless you literally mean literally.  I was watching Cupcake Wars tonight, and the judge said that one of the cupcakes was “literally exploding with patriotism.”  While an exploding cupcake would have made for good television, it didn’t happen.  So, rather than literally exploding with patriotism, the contestant’s cupcake simply figuratively exploded with patriotism.  Which is way different.  And probably way less messy.

4    4.  Regardless means “without regard to.”  It’s a handy word; use it freely.  Irregardless is not a word and, therefore, does not mean “without regard to.”  Stop saying it.

5    5.   Lastly, contractions such as “could’ve” or “should’ve” are short for “could have” and “should have.”  They are not short for “could of” or “should of.”  Not only do the latter phrases not make any sense, they actually use fewer characters (if one counts the apostrophe) than the purported contraction.  Which kind of defeats the purpose of a contraction.

That’s all for tonight folks.  I probably should of stopped sooner, lest you wish for me to crawl back under the rock from whence I came, but since I’m giving these tips away for free, you have no place to complain, and I would of literally burst if I didn’t manage to get them all in, irregardless of whether you like them.

 See, it’s possible to use all five errors in one sentence.  Don’t let it happen to you.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

On Just Breathing (But also using the word "bowel" . . . sorry.)

Sometimes I do Lamaze even though I’m not giving birth or even carrying a child.  At least, it’s what I imagine Lamaze breathing to be, having never actually given birth sans epidural.

But I do the breathing all the time  because of a chronic digestive disorder from which I suffer.  I have IBS, which is short for Irritable Bowel Syndrome.  Lovely, I know.  If I could hand-pick an affliction, I would certainly not choose one with the word “bowel” in it.  But, alas, I was only afflicted, never consulted.

It started seventeen years ago during my senior year in college.  It plagued me through my student teaching and my inaugural year in the classroom.  It followed me to law school where it worsened, thanks to the added stress and poor sleeping habits.  Over the years it has waxed and waned.  There’ve been weeks, even months if I’m really lucky, where I could almost forget about it.

And then there are times like now.  I’ve just come out of a good season; during the entire month of October I suffered only a handful of attacks.  But November and December have ushered it back with a vengeance.

It’s during times like this that you’ll find me lying in bed doing my “whale breathing” as David calls it.  It sounds a lot like Lamaze breathing I imagine. 

But focusing on the breathing is how I take my mind off the pain.  And in the breathing, I pray.  Breathe in; breathe out.  Breathe in; breathe out.  “Jesus.  Jesus.  Jesus.  Jesus.”  “Please, God.  Please, God.  Please, God.  Please, God.”

They’re not eloquent prayers, but the truest ones rarely are.

In a pig sty of self-pity I wallowed last night, wondering how I could possibly endure another seventeen or twenty-five or forty years of this.  Of game boards set up but never played with my children.  Cleaning supplies gathered in a burst of feeling good but sitting unused after all.  Plans canceled, work obligations dreaded. 

The thing about an illness like this is that you might see me in the grocery store at 2:00 feeling just fine and never believe that at 3:15 I would be completely debilitated and down for the count.

So as I lie in bed last night praying through one breath at a time as my kids were tucked in to bed by their dad instead me, I asked rhetorically for the millionth time, “Why?” What purpose could this possibly serve?:  In addition to the scriptures that often weave in and out of my thoughts during such times of distress, the words to one of my favorite Bebo Norman songs wandered into my mind last night:

Take me to the desert
You will be the water
I will drink forever to fill my soul

And lead me through the fire
Of darkness and desire
You will be my shelter
You will be my shelter

I'll find You there
I'll find You there

It's here that I call out
It's here that I fall down
It's here that I find out
That You are everything I hoped You'd be.**

If I could choose, I would find another place, another way, for me to call out, to fall down, to find out that He’s everything.  But I can’t choose the medium God ordains to bring me to my knees and, thereby, to Himself.

If I could choose, I’d spend the evening doing, being, working.  I’d get dressed for court in the morning and think of nothing but arriving on time and doing my job.

 But when I am struck down, I spend those moments instead breathing in, breathing out.  One breath at a time.  Jesus.  Jesus.  Jesus. 

It makes life a lot harder, but I’ve learned that we often find Jesus in the "harder."  How else could He be the water in my desert and the shelter in my fire?

So, if you can't find me, I’ll just be here breathing.  Jesus.  Jesus.  Jesus.

(And for the record, I think writing a blog post about a bowel condition qualifies me for martyrdom all on its own.  Okay, God?)

(Also for the record, if I cancel upcoming plans in the month of December, don’t take it personally.  I’m just having a really rough month.)

** Everything I Hoped You'd Be, by Jason Ingram and Bebo Norman, copyright Brentwood- Benson Music
Writer(s): Jason Ingram, Bebo Norman
Copyright: Brentwood-benson Music, Windsor Hill Music, Sony/ATV Timber Publishing, West Main Music
Writer(s): Jason Ingram, Bebo Norman
Copyright: Brentwood-benson Music, Windsor Hill Music, Sony/ATV Timber Publishing, West Main Music
Writer(s): Jason Ingram, Bebo Norman
Copyright: Brentwood-benson Music, Windsor Hill Music, Sony/ATV Timber Publishing, West Main Music

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

On dishwashers, snake-sniffing, and superfluous language

Some snippets that are unworthy of a post of their own but that need to be freed from the clutter of my mind:


I've been playing this game lately with a steak knife that someone (to whom I'm married) used to open a package.  It is now covered in sticky tape gunk that won't come off in the dishwasher, so every time I unload the dishwasher I place said knife next to the sink so that I can scrub it by hand later.  I inexplicably forget that the next time I load the dishwasher, and I stick it back in without thinking.  Of course, upon unloading, I discover it anew.  Rinse and repeat.  I've been playing this game for at least two weeks now, and I don't seem to be winning.

On a related note, I usually set our dishwasher on a four-hour delay so it will run at night while we're sleeping.  If, however, someone opens it the door to put something else in it and forgets to press Start again, I will awaken to a dishwasher full of still-dirty dishes in the morning. 

A few mornings ago I commented to David that this was why there were no clean spoons.  I said, "I'm not accusing you, but someone put something in the dishwasher last night and didn't press start." 

His response: "What are the odds that someone other than you put something in the dishwasher?" 

Me: What were the odds that your laziness would someday serve you so well?


I'm convinced Joshua will have his own television show someday.  "The Snake Sniffer."  He loves to hunt snakes in the summertime, and I am always amazed at how many he finds.  I go outside all the time and return home snake-free, so where does he find all these snakes?  How does he find all these snakes.

I asked him.

"I can smell them," says he.

You're joking, I replied, you can't possibly walk through the woods and smell snakes. Yes, I can, he says.  He claims that he gets down close to the rocks (because that's what they usually hide under) and can smell when there are snakes under the rocks.  Given the number of snakes he finds, I have no choice but to assume this is true.

Now, if only this olfactory gift could be put to some better use than finding snakes.  Like sniffing out gold.  Or oil.  Heck, I'd settle for dirty socks.  Those, he can't seem to smell at all.


Lastly, I just want to share a pet peeve.  (Which, in case you didn't know is something that really annoys you.  The other day I was speaking with a fellow attorney who used the phrase to refer to something she cared passionately about in a positive way.  I heroically refrained from telling her that people using phrases incorrectly is one of my pet peeves.  Unless you're my friend, C, in which case it's endearing.  But ONLY her.)

Sooooo,  my pet peeve du jour:  the phrases "I'd just like to say . . ." or "I want to say . . . " 

There is no need to tell me that you WANT to say something.  Just say it.  No more, "I want to say thanks to everyone who helped me . . .."  or "I'd just like to wish so-and-so a happy birthday."

Just say it already! No need to be superfluous about it.

And, while we're at it, could you change the recording on your voice mail if it says that I've reached you when clearly the fact that I am listening to your voice mail recording means that I have most assuredly NOT reached you? 

Thanks to my brother's pointing this one out years ago, it has driven me bananas since.  (Note I didn't say "ever since" because that is another redundant phrase; eliminate it, too, while you're making all these positive changes.  You'll thank me someday.  And when you do, don't preface it by telling me that you'd like to.)


Okay, so I couldn't let my last one be all ranty and negative.  So, I'll add one more.

I have cute puppies.

There, much better.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

On Being Broken

I’ve been broken.  For a while now.

It didn’t happen all at once.  It happened slowly like the changing of the leaves in the Fall from green to yellow to orange to gone.  If you pay close enough attention, you can see the slight changes, but mostly you just look one day and notice they’ve changed, and then you look again and they’re gone.

That’s what happened to me.  One day I was Me, and then when I looked again, I was a little less Me.  Not wanting to inspect the situation too closely for fear of what I might find, I carried on with the Not Looking until one day there was no escaping the absence of Me. 

If you don’t live near me, or if you don’t know me well enough to see it, you may not even have known.  Maybe you thought my leaves were always an orangy-yellow, or maybe you were mistaken about my having had leaves at all.  But the truth is my leaves were once full and bright and green. 

Until they started dying.

I don’t know how it started.  Our bodies are mysterious things.  People talk about physical pain and emotional distress and mental illness as if there are many separate parts of a person, but the truth is I have only one body, and all the parts of it make up just one Me. 

There has been physical pain in the last few years.  A lot of different kinds and for a lot of different reasons.  They say that chronic pain can lead to depression, but it’s hard for me to trace the exact path that took me from, “The scar tissue on my kidney won’t stop flaring up” or “My painful digestive disorder is incapacitating me” to “I want to hide under my covers for the rest of my life.”  Yet that’s where I ended up.

The thing about being broken is we always want to hide it.  When my leaves were bright and green, I didn’t mind showing them to the world.  I loved being a part of the world.  I participated in it fully, welcomed it, welcomed you.  But when I began to break, I began to hide.  It’s exhausting to try to make those ugly brown dying leaves look green, and let’s face it, who wants to look at brown leaves?  It’s easier just to tuck them away so no one can see.  But it’s in the tucking that the disappearing begins.

At some point I begin to notice that I was spending too much time in my bed.  Too much time in the cozy cocoon of cotton and down.  But I liked it there.  When I was in that safe place of my own making, I could drown out the Voice.  The one that said, “You’re failing everyone.”  Because if I let myself listen, that Voice had a lot to say. 

“You’re not a good mom.  What a lousy example your setting for your children.” 
“You’re not working hard enough at your job.” 
“You’re failing your husband.” 
"You're not praying or reading your Bible. What kind of Christian are you?"
“Your house is falling apart.” 
“You’re failing at everything.”

And that’s not the half of it.  I bet you know the Voice.  Maybe it hasn’t broken you, but I bet you’ve heard it whispering nonetheless.  It’s never content to limit its quiver of arrows to the present either.  As if being a failure right now isn’t bad enough, The Voice likes to fashion arrows from the mistakes and the pain of yesterday and to sharpen their points on fears of tomorrow.

So for quite some time now, I’ve been trying to hide from the Voice.  I’ve hidden in my bed.  I’ve hidden in my house.  I’ve hidden from my family and my friends and from the world because surely if I could hear it, you could hear it, too.  So, instead of trying to make my leaves look all pretty and green and alive, I just let them fall off altogether.

There was a day when I noticed my leaves were gone.  Noticed I was broken.  That was about a year ago.  But it was just too hard to try to put them back.  To grow leaves again is not easy.  To fix the brokenness requires so much doing.  So I stayed broken.

Until recently.  A few months ago I decided that maybe it wasn’t all or nothing.  The idea of trying to put back all my leaves – all my pieces – was just too daunting.  But what if I could find just one?  Just one piece of Me that might still be there?  One green leaf?

So, I made plans.  I don’t mean A Plan.  Not a plan to fix me, but plans with someone to do something.  Because the old Me did things.  Lots of things.  The broken me did nothing.  Just do something, I thought.  

And I did.

And it didn’t kill me.  So I did another thing. 

I’ve been gradually doing more of the Things until I’ve recently begun to remember what my leaves used to look like.  They’re not all back, but the hope of them is.  And that’s almost enough.

I’ve been hesitant to share this because people – not unlike myself – can be so judgmental about depression and brokenness.  But, I decided I didn’t care.  One of my favorite leaves on the old Me was the writer leaf.  It’s been dead for a long time, but maybe this is what I need to write about to bring that leaf back to life.   

Besides, I suspect we’re all a little broken anyway.  If your broken doesn’t strip you bare and leave you hopeless, then praise God and pray for the rest of us.  If it does, then know you’re not alone, and maybe if all of us with no leaves stopped hiding from each other, the broken wouldn’t hurt quite so bad.  Because the comfort we get from hiding in bed in our pajamas or from eating food or not eating food or from self-medicating is that it drowns out The Voice.  But, if we could all speak loudly enough to each other from our brokenness, maybe we could do that, too.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Lenten Thoughts (first published in Feb. 2010)

I am not Catholic. I am not even episcopal. In fact, I grew up about as far removed from that as one can get: charismatic non-denominational. Some would say Pentecostal, though I personally wouldn't use that moniker.

So, what in the world am I doing observing Lent? (Heck, I can't even decide whether it ought to be capitalized.) What is this hand-raising, church-dancing, tongues-praying girl doing giving up something for Lent?

I'll tell you: I find it good for my soul.

Having gone to a catholic high school, I have seen Lent observed in many forms. To be honest, most of the Catholics I went to school with were not exactly bastions of spirituality. There were a few who seemed to genuinely love Jesus, but for the most part, I saw people going through the motions of a ritual without giving it any spiritual meaning at all.

Can't have soda with lunch . . . it's Lent. No Now & Laters for me . . . I gave up candy for Lent. No chocolate, no fast food, no swearing . . . everyone seemed ready to sacrifice something for Lent. But why?

It seemed to me like most of them were doing it because they thought it would earn them favor with God. I believe strongly that I need not do anything to earn favor with God because Jesus Christ purchased that for me on the cross, and it is mine forever.

So why sacrifice for Lent?

David and I spent the past few years in a semi-liturgical church (PCA) after having both grown up non-denominational. While I certainly missed the freedom I find in musical worship at non-denominational churches, I felt like I experienced a spiritual grounding in my soul when observing a liturgical calendar.

There is something to be said for corporately acknowledging spiritual seasons. Together we turn our hearts toward celebrating the coming of the Messiah during Advent, and together we turn our hearts toward the anticipation of His resurrection at Easter. And we are reminded of the suffering that preceded it during Lent.

Christ did not reach the point of resurrection easily or without pain. He suffered in the desert. He suffered on the cross. How much sweeter is the victory of His resurrection after remembering the pain He endured to achieve it? How much more can I share in His suffering if I prayerfully make one small sacrifice, one exercise of physical discipline with the prayer that God will use it to minister to my soul.

Lent is observed during the forty days (excluding Sundays) prior to Easter and is meant to mirror the forty days Christ fasted in the wilderness. The Bible says we are called to "share in His sufferings," and I find Lent to be a tangible way to reflect on that.

I wanted to address this because I know that most of my friends and family - who constitute the majority of my readers - do not observe Lent. Some have asked me why I do, so I thought I'd share my thoughts on the subject, elementary as they may be. Like I said, I'm not catholic, so I am not a Lenten expert, and if I've misstated anything I apologize to the Catholics whom I do know read my blog. This is my take on it, that's all.

My final thoughts: do I think observing Lent is necessary to know Christ? No. Do I think it will gain me favor with God? Not at all. Do I think it makes me a better Christian than someone else? Absolutely not.

Do I think God uses it to speak to my charismatic soul? Yes, yes, He does.