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Red-Letter Profession

Monster copy

Image credit here.

Whole months have rushed by. I have been working harder and keeping busier than I would like. This season of labor feels necessary and therefore regret-free.

I can be a bit of a workhorse. Tackling challenges often invigorates me. But an excess of work without the benefits of regular exercise and restorative solitude is numbing. Add to that picture my recent lapse in the practice of spiritual disciplines, and the result is a high-functioning sleep walker. At least until the lights go out. That’s when the monsters come out to play.

Last night, I dropped into bed sleep-deprived and fighting a virus. As soon as my breathing settled and I drifted off to sleep, the monsters kicked open their cage and ran amok. I saw them from the insides of my eyelids and felt their scratchy nails as they raced circles around my brain. They yanked down my lids and released, snapping them open like window shades. The creatures moved next to my chest and began their vigorous warm up. They were planning a protest march, and they wanted to make sure I was awake to appreciate it.

The monsters had demanded my attention many times in recent weeks but I had tossed them Facebook, Netflix, and coffee and told them to shut the hell up. I should have known better. I can handle one or two small monsters with no more than a few mild abrasions. It’s a wrestle-and-release scenario, much like fishing for sport. I definitely should have known better than to ignore them for so long. The fiends had grown to a frightening size and multiplied unchecked.

Have you ever faced an army of chanting monsters? I hope you will be spared. They are shrill, tone deaf, and lacking in rhythm. The only part they can reliably perform is the chorus. They have that down.

They sound something like this:

You are going crazy and your arms are flabby and you are going crazy and you are a bad supervisor and you are going crazy and you haven’t folded the towels and you are going crazy and you forgot to refrigerate the milk and you are going crazy and your shower is moldy and you are going crazy.

If you try to ignore them, they just get louder:

You are going crazy and you will get cancer and you are going crazy and your mother is going to die and you are going crazy and you will have to work forever and you are going crazy and your children will suffer and you are going crazy and you will get bedbugs and you are going CRAZY!

I crawled out of bed, turned on the light, and retrieved my Bible. Henry was out of town so I didn’t have to worry about waking him. I randomly opened to the book of Mark and began reading. The monsters did not like this.

I read the words in red, Jesus’ words. I rested my palm on top of them. I don’t know why I did this.

Across time and space, I felt his breath and heard the words from his lips. I thought about “the Word made flesh” (John 1:14). In defiance of all logic, we were sitting on my bed palm to palm, Jesus and I. I borrowed his strength to wrestle and release each monster. Jesus and I talked for a while, and I drifted off to sleep.

Think what you must. I am not going crazy.

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Shabby

office

Saturday, July 25, 2015

God and I are having a conversation.

It has no words.

It is summer, and I have four unexpected hours before my next counseling client.

I sit in my donated cinder block office, the window unit clunking out an icy gasp as I hunch at my end-table desk and ponder the praying hands, the plastic cross, and the bold needlepoint “JESUS” which share this tiny island. Christian kitsch.

I dare not remove them. Any changes must go through the Queens of this church, too old now to manage the stairs to the Sunday School rooms below. They loan me “my” office any day but Sunday. It took me 5 years of plotting, but I made the dusty rose curtains and the gilded table lamp with the punctured metallic cardboard shade disappear.

The stack of Bibles can stay. They are my friends. I find my business card stuck in Jeremiah. I read a few chapters and sit, pondering.

Visible above the air conditioner and framed by peeling wood, the tired playground sighs for someone to comfort it. The cheap plastic equipment and the flimsy, hand-assembled jungle gym peer back sadly through the dirty panes, and I am glad the oaks clothe them in dignity while they wait. The preschoolers will not return until Monday.

Outside my door, children race up and down my (usually) retiring hallway. I hear Spanish. One congregation is holding its semi-annual yard sale and cooking food in the shopping center parking lot. I’m going to need some pupusas before you know it.

Four congregations share this hulking edifice and struggle against the snowballing demands of a church in decline. The roof leaks, and the sidewalks crumble….The heating system goes up. A signup sheet on the bulletin board solicits mundane assistance: Who is bringing napkins this month? Paper towels? Toilet paper?

I did a few workshops in the lower level once. The Chinese congregation opened its kitchen and its small sanctuary.

The White congregation is old and dwindling. The pastor maintains a calm demeanor and continues his ministry. It was in response to this attrition that he sought partnerships with the other congregations, and they have all become friends.

I see the African American congregants pass my door regularly on their way to and from functions, and we exchange smiles and pleasantries. I’ve been in this room for 6 years and they have never made a referral. Sonya joined me here about 18 months ago and began working a few evenings a week. Soon, I began to get knocks on the door. People always seem surprised to see me. They ask politely for “the regular counselor.” This makes me smile. Sonya is Black. It’s no problem. We all need to feel safe.

I tried to leave once.

I was tired of mopping the ladies room every time it rained. I was tired of the stained gold carpet and the dirty pink and green sofa, which took up too much of the narrow room anyway. I couldn’t stand the smarmy artwork and the gold-painted plastic shelf and mirror set attempting to look like fancy gilded wood. I am an Ikea girl.

I was done when an especially heavy rain caused “my” water-stained ceiling to collapse. The room flooded. The church dried everything out and put it back exactly the same way.

I found an office at a different church near by.

This office had bus service plus metro access. It had clean furnishings in good condition. It had a door which shut and locked properly. It even had a door bell.

But I realized it wasn’t my home, and I wanted to move back.

Our Director scrounged up a little money. Sonya and I ran our ideas by the lead pastor and the Queens. We picked out a few furnishings, assembled them, and did some deep cleaning. Things are far from perfect but I am at peace.

I throw open my door and enter one of America’s most diverse zip codes. A United Nations of food and a Crayola box of beauty. A patchwork quilt. All these dance before me to the music of Acts unfolding.

Content, I return to the office to consider these wonders.

Four congregations share this hulking edifice, the building which houses The Church. Sometimes the groups go about our faith separately. Other times, they join hearts and coalesce into the Greater Oneness. Heads bow. Many-textured voices intertwine and rise as one in prayer, in confession, in song. Incense to The One.

I am tired. I am shabby.

I am home.

Good Friday Gone Bad

rainy night stadium lights Grant Frederiksen

Image courtesy of Grant Frederiksen

I went to Jesus’ funeral last night. He was the best man I had ever known, and now I’d never see Him again.

Good Friday is the one day in the year when I sit quietly next to His lifeless body and weep. I weep because I miss Him. I weep because He suffered. I cry hot tears because He is dead, dead, dead, and now the unfinished business between us can never be put right.

I know how the story ends but I need to feel the loss of my Lord and reflect upon His pain. Pain I should rightfully have borne were justice served. Feeling the loss of Him prepares me to feel the joy of His resurrection. Not only is He not dead, He still likes me and is glad to see me even though I helped to kill Him.

I went to Jesus’ funeral last night and discovered that someone had scheduled seven other funerals at the same time. One funeral for each of the Last Seven Words of Jesus. Services were held for the victims of ISIS and Ebola; Robin Williams; Brittany Maynard; and Eric Garner. There were others I cannot now recall, and that is a shame because all of those mourned last night deserve to be recognized, grieved, and laid properly to rest. The daily news is full of sadness, injustice and horror, and we are called to hear and act.

But I went to Jesus’ funeral last night.

I could not get to Him to say goodbye. One after another, the funeral processions crowded by, forming a continuous throng of mourners through which I was unable to pass. Here and there, I caught a glimpse of Him before He was eclipsed. Finally the crowds began to dwindle, and I began my trembling approach.

The service ended before I made it to Him. The music stopped. It was time to go. The man in front of me began talking about a movie he had seen. There were bright lights and friendly chatter.

I sobbed it out in the car on the way home. My husband was lovely to me.

The sermon had been thoughtfully crafted and intended for good. I knew that. But it had gone terribly awry, and I felt cheated and bereft.

Now that my tears have dried, I wonder: Maybe I got the point after all.

April Fool and Beyond

Image courtesy of Shane Adams

Image courtesy of Shane Adams

My family loved dogs. We even involved them in our pranks.

One year while my family was having dinner at my mother’s house, the conversation drifted to the topic of her Chihuahua. Bella made it her habit to camp out under the table so as not to miss any falling goodies.

Bella was a licker. She was the smartest and most affectionate little dog, and this was how she showed love. Given the chance, Bella would more or less bathe you. Having grown up around dogs, this had never bothered me. In fact, it was kind of comforting.

Come to think of it, I could feel her starting on my right foot. How sweet! It was as if she had known I was talking about her.

I bent down to peek under the tablecloth only to see one daughter’s tiny face grinning back. I screamed without thinking and nearly fell backwards out of my chair. Victory!

Another time at that same table, I switched a different daughter’s eggroll for a rolled up piece of basted rawhide. It took her a few minutes of perplexity before she gave up with a scowl. Meanwhile, the rest of us were fighting back snorts. She was about as outraged as a four year old could be.

And so it goes. Some of the most embarrassing moments provide some of the best laughs later.

In keeping with the canine theme, I want to admit to you that not all of my tricks were so nice. Of course I chased my tail, begged, and rolled over. Those performances were expected and rewarded. But when the leash was off, I growled, menaced,  and bit. I fed Kendra Patrick cubes of Camay soap dipped in dark chocolate. I dumped a spade full of gravel into the mouth of my trusting sister after an inviting sing-song intro: “Close your eyes and open your mouth…” There were so many nasties over the years. So many.

Who was the fool here?

This dog.

Are you laughing?

I’m not.

After many years of returning to my own vomit, I made a decision. If I’m going to be a fool, I’m going to go for broke. I’d rather be a Fool than a Bitch.

I have given my life to Christ, and He is slowly reforming my shit-eating ways. I will be a fool for Him.

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. (I Corinthians 1:18, NIV)

This is how I want to live—unashamed of the Gospel.

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. (Romans 1:18, NIV )

If I am honest, I must say: This is how I want to want to live. Sometimes I want it actively. Sometimes I work to want to want it. But in my heart, I know what Christ has done—and is doing—for me, and I can’t unknow it.

This is no joke.

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