Archive for the 500 Words Category

There’s a fire! #nablopomo

This is part 2 of a story. Click here for Part 1

The sentries sat playing cards as they had done since their watch began before dawn. Every half hour they would get up and scan the countryside for anything unusual, but there was never anything unusual around Honorwatcher Outpost. Hutt laid down his cards and said, “That’s it, Femo! Ale’s on you tonight!” Femo replied, “I suppose you are getting tired of buying mine all the time.” They laughed, and gathered up the cards. “I suppose it’s time to work,” Femo said. They got up and walked away from each other along the wall of the watchtower. They each wondered to themselves, “What’s the point,” but the commander would have them cleaning the privies if they didn’t at least go through the pretense of carrying out the watch.

As Hutt scanned to the south, he noticed smoke – lots of smoke. “Femo! Come look at this!” Femo came running, saw the smoke, and said, “We need to report this. Now!” Femo ran down to the commander’s study. Commander Shai was reading some paperwork, and looked up annoyed at the interruption. “Since when do you deem it acceptable to barge in unannounced, sentry.” “I beg your pardon, sir, but there is a large fire to the south.” Commander Shai looked at Fema thinking this was a tale sure to be a manifestation of too much ale the night before. However, it would do him good to get away from requisition orders and inventory reports.

Fema led the way quickly up the watchtower, and Hutt snapped to attention at the commander’s approach. “Sir, it’s getting larger!” Commander Shai looked and indeed the smoke in the distance was immense. It was probably just a forest fire, but it did appear to be very near Pitmerden village. “That does appear to be a large fire. I will send Lieutenant Jaim with a squad to investigate. Good eye, boys.”

Commander Shai headed to the barracks to find Lieutenant Jaim, and informed him of the smoke. “Take a squad, and see what’s burning. Be ready to lend any aid to Pitmerden,” Shai ordered. “Yes, sir!” Lieutenant Jaim answered, and mustering his squad, he headed south toward the smoke. It was an 8 hour march to Pitmerden, and they were not going to make it before dark. None were looking forward to dealing with a fire after dark, but they were all willing to do whatever they had to do to keep the fire from the village. After all, protecting the citizens of Saveteron was their sworn duty, and their honor rested on it.

They marched along the river so as not to walk into the forest as it burned. By late afternoon, they all began to see from the position of the smoke, that it was not the forest. “Men,” Lieutenant Jaim said, “it’s looking like the fire is much closer to the village. They do not burn their fields this time of year, so be on your guard.” Everyone was poised to battle thinking that perhaps pirates, or a neighboring kingdom’s faction made a run on the village. It was very good farmland, but that was all. Lieutenant Jaim could not fathom why anyone would attack such a small village, if that was what had happened.

It had been dark for about 2 hours when they spotted the village from the river. It was now clear that the village itself had been burned. Each mad drew his sword, and prepared for a fight as they cautiously approached. As they reached the village edge, there was no sound except for smoldering buildings. As they silently crept in, the light from the buildings was just enough to display the carnage. Every living thing had been slaughtered, and all of the buildings burned. “Remain alert. Whoever did this might still be here. See if there are any survivors,” Lieutenant Jaim ordered his squad. They spread out in groups of twos to search the village, and Jaim held out very little hope of finding anyone who might have survived. He had seen few battles, and his men fewer, and never had he seen anything like this.

“Lieutenant! Over here! I found someone still alive!” Jaim rushed over, and found a young man bloody, but still alive, if just barely. As they examined him, they assessed that he needed serious care, and they did not bring a healer. The squad all reported back finding no other survivors. Lieutenant Jaim said to his squad, “I want to investigate the area before we head back with this young man. We’ll make camp by the river, and tend to his wounds tonight. As soon as it’s light, I will send most of you back here to look for any clues. Let’s move!”

They made camp as ordered, cleaned the young man up, and dressed his wounds. They held watch in 2 hour shifts with half the squad on each watch to get some rest. They would need it for their search, and to head back to their outpost. They needed to get the lone survivor to a healer soon, but needed answers, too.

The next morning, as soon as it was light enough to see, Lieutenant Jaim led most of the squad back to the village. As bad as it looked the night before, it looked even worse in the light of day. “A senseless massacre,” Lieutenant Jaim said to no one in particular. As they searched the village and surrounding area, they noticed prints heading back towards the mountains. No doubt that was where the attackers came from. “Sir, do you suppose those old tales we’ve heard are true? That cave creatures really do live deep in the mountains, and they did this?” Jaim wanted to dismiss that question as foolish speculation, yet he was asking himself the same thing. “I don’t know,” he answered, “but there aren’t enough of us to go searching the mountains for caves. Maybe if the survivor lives, he call tell us what happened here.”

The squad hurried back to their outpost as quickly as they felt they could safely move the survivor. They arrived just before midnight, and Lieutenant Jaim gave his report to Commander Shai as his men took the survivor to Laicha Sharna, the healer. “Men, women, children, and even their animals. Slaughtered. I’ve never seen anything like it,” Jaim reported to Shai. Commander Shai stood silently looking at the fire, but with a look that told Jaim his thoughts were hardly on that fire. Finally the commander spoke, “I will send word to King Loll immediately of what we know, and will send scouts right away to track our killers. In the meantime, you and your men need rest.” Lieutenant Jaim replied, “Yes, sir,” and went to the barracks for a fitful night of sleep. It would be some time before he would rest well.

Laicha looked over the young man, and said “I can’t believe he is still alive. I think I have all of his wounds patched up, and I’ve applied enough herbs to regenerate a horse. But if he doesn’t awaken in the next day, he isn’t not going to make it. He’s lost a lot of blood, and needs to drink.” The young man looked deathly pale, and Commander Shai said to Laicha, ” I keep expecting each breath he takes to be his last. Poor lad. If he does wake up, he’s going to get a fresh blow when he finds out he is the only one of his village left.” There was nothing left for any of them to do but wait. Wait on the scouts, wait on word back from the king, and wait and see if their only eyewitness will live.

To be continued
Click for Part 3

A new chapter #nablopomo

fotheringhay-wm

Yesterday was kind of a big deal for me. I have not attempted to write fiction since I was in elementary school and we would have to write a story using each of our spelling words. I hated doing that. I can’t tell you why. I really have no idea. I can’t remember if it was being constrained by having to work in specific words, or if I lacked imagination. Having typed the last part of that sentence out while somewhat thinking back, it wasn’t lack of imagination. So it must have been the word constraint. Regardless, I thought most everybody else’s stories were better than mine. Who knows if that was consistently true. I certainly don’t remember any of my stories let alone any of my classmate’s.

That short cliffhanger I wrote was supposed to be 1) easy and 2) more detailed. For the past 2 or 3 years, I’ve been working out a story in my head. I have the main story line worked out, and so I thought it would be a very simple task to knock out the beginning of the story for yesterday’s NaBloPoMo post. However, the whole story was largely visual. My characters didn’t have names. My towns and villages didn’t have names. The mountains and river had no name. Thank goodness for name generators! At some point my creatures will need a name.

I ended up rushing the end so I could get it posted and still get to bed at a semi-decent hour. The destruction of the village needs more description. Oh, I think I have a way to work that in as I continue it. But, I digress. As I was getting ready to publish it, I freaked out a little inside. “What if everyone thinks it sucks?” Because in a weird way, writing fiction feels more vulnerable than anything else I’ve ever written. Including poetry. Not that I’m going to go dig around to find the poetry I dabbled in when I was still a teen. And certainly not my songs. In fact, those songs really need to disappear forever.

Back to the story, since I hadn’t really thought out details, I’m now all excited about where it might go. Because it’s one thing to have a main story line, but the steps to trace that line are what makes or breaks the experience. Or rather it’s like the difference between reading a book and watching a movie based on a book. Take Stephen King. When I started reading his books, I had already seen a few of the movies based on the books. But then I reached a point where I had read all the books up to a certain point in time, and then watched the movies, and the movies sucked. The Tommyknockers is the perfect example. The book scared the crap out of me. To this day, I have nightmares about my teeth falling out that I didn’t have before reading that book. The miniseries was atrocious despite starring my boyfriend Jimmy Smits.

There has been largely no point to this post besides existence as a daily post that’s over 500 words. But, I am looking forward to writing more of yesterday’s story.

The beginning – the end #nablopomo

“Come on, get up!”

“I don’t want to!”

“Yes you do. Let’s go!”

Brele finally managed to open her eyes.

“It’s still dark!”

“It won’t be by the time we get there! We’ve been planning this all week. It was your idea!”

Tesho was right. She had been planning this outing all week. She was finally old enough to go to the river to fish with Tesho. He had been going with his friends for a couple of years, and none of her friends liked to fish. Actually, none of her friends liked to do anything involving slimy worms and fish and mud. Brele had always wanted to do everything her big brother was doing, and for the most part she did.

Tesho adored his baby sister as much as she looked up to him. They had been nearly inseparable since birth until Tesho reached 12 and could go beyond the village with his friends. Truth be told, Brele could defend herself as well as Tesho, but their parents stuck to the rule that all parents in the village enforced. There had been no trouble around their village for centuries, but tales of a dark past still hung over Pitmerden.

Pitmerden is a quaint village in quiet valley between the Qruhz Mountains and the Mylahst River. Small cottages surrounded by fields cut out of forests to the north and south. Ruins in the forest to the south give rise to tales of long forgotten battle with an evil race of cave dwelling creatures bent on destruction. Rumors of adventurers from Rockhorn (the ruling city of the Saveteron Kingdom) searching the hills for mythical caves full of treasure fill the imaginations of the young.

Brele stretches and yawns, and proceeds to get dressed for her first fishing trip with Tesho. Emerging into the main room, her parents sit quietly over tea before their daily routine of farm life. “Tesho, I need you to help me plant the rest of the barley,” their father Xem said. Tesho replied, “Yes, father. We will be back before midday. The fish always stop biting a couple of hours after sunrise.”

The siblings stepped out of their cottage, and headed east toward the river. A very faint glow could be seen on the horizon signaling that dawn would be breaking soon. There was a slight breeze which added to the early morning chill. Each carried a pole and a small bucket of grubs they dug up the day before. The village roosters crowing were the only sounds besides the wind in the trees, and the soft padding of feet hiking along a well-worn path. As they neared the river, the birds were beginning to sing, and the sky was a warm pink signaling a clear sky.

“Looks like a perfect morning to fish,” Tesho said, breaking the reverie Brele had settled into as they walked. Dawn was breaking, and they soon had their poles in the water. As the eastern sky grew brighter, turning from pink to gold, Brele watched with awe the magnificent change just before the sun peaked. “I’ve got one!” Tesho yelled, but Brele attention was transfixed by the peek of the sun as it emerged. So enamored she was that she nearly lost her pole with her first bite. “Oh, I’ve got one!” she cried.

As the sun continued to rise, bathing them in warmth, they caught fish almost effortlessly. They joked that the fish were biting so well they were wasting their time baiting the hooks.By midmorning, they had a substantial bounty of fish, and Tesho decided it was time to go as he had promised their father. As they walked back to the village, they decided that this was looking like the best day they had ever had.

Then they heard a scream.

A cold chill ran down Brele’s spine, and her vision of a perfect day was shattered with a deep sense that something unimaginable now lay before them. “This is bad. This is really bad,” she said to Tesho as he looked at her with deep concern. Suddenly, multiple screams pierced the valley from Pitmerden.

They both dropped everything and ran toward the village with no idea what they were about to find. Then they saw it. Hundreds of creatures with clubs and crude swords indiscriminately attacking the villagers – men, women, and children – slashing, stabbing, and bludeoning. For a moment they were both frozen by the sheer horror of what was happening before them. “We have to get home,” Tesho said to Brele. “We have to get Father and Mother.”

As they ran back along the outskirts, they were spotted. Brele cried, “Tesho! They saw us! We have to run!” Tesho replied, “We’re almost there!” But they were already too late. Their cottage was burning, and the creatures were gaining on them. They quickly glanced at one another just as a group emerged from the field in front of them. They stopped and looked at each other knowing they had nowhere to run.

They joined hands as the creatures closed in, and Brele felt the blow to the back of her head just a moment before all went black.

To be continued…
Click for Part 2

What is your motivation? #nablopomo

Several times over the past couple of days I’ve heard someone talking about motives behind our behavior. I know that I have to be on constant guard with regards to my own motives because as a people pleaser and a comfort seeker, I tend towards self-centered actions and self-gratification. I want what I want, I want it now, and I want to feel “good” and “normal.” For the most part, I don’t like change which most recently has manifested itself in my disgruntled attitude with my iPhone after upgrading to iOS 10. I hate it. “Get off my lawn!” But like Windows 10, I will eventually get used to it and gradually forget why I liked Windows 7 so much better. (Though not while I am still using Windows 7 at work.)

What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. James 4:1-3 ESV

It’s a scary thing to question one’s own motives with the willingness to see where they are self-centered. It’s easy to look at someone else and question their motives because that does not involve looking in the mirror and taking the necessary steps to clean up your own side of the street. If I focus on you, I don’t have to work on me.

gqmotivation

I look at my motivation for my actions from a Christian perspective. I’m not just talking about looking at my motives when I do something wrong. Most of the time when I do something wrong, my motive is self-centered. Sometimes it’s just not being attentive, but even that is just an excuse for not taking the time to be intentional about thinking through my actions. Of course, it is impossible in this life for me to be 100% attentive to others and to always do the right thing. Still, it is my responsibility to own it and make appropriate amends.

I also have to look at my motives for doing the right thing. That reveals where I am putting my faith and my trust. Am I acting out of fear or out of love? If I am acting out of fear of judgement, then my actions – even if good and beneficial to others – are self-centered. If I am doing something out of fear of God’s wrath, then I am effectually living out a belief in works-based salvation regardless of whether I profess to believe that salvation is by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone. I’m trying to earn God’s favor, and that is anti-Christ.

However, if I am absolutely certain that my salvation is secure in Christ, I am free to do good works from a motive of love due to gratitude for the mercy and grace I have been shown. Not for my security, not for my comfort, but because I have been given an opportunity to give aid or comfort to someone else just as I have been given aid and comfort from others. And I can do it without expecting a reward because Jesus is my reward.

Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. Philippians 3:8-11 ESV

So I want to say to my fellow Christians, why do you fear? What do you fear? Where is your faith? We live in a fallen world as all of humanity since the Fall. If we are followers of Jesus, then we are first of all citizens in His kingdom, His kingdom is not of this world, and he won the battle on the Cross. We don’t have to act out of fear.

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us. 1 John 4:18-19 ESV

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. Romans 8:1-2 ESV

“Fear is the enemy of spiritual progress.” – Kerry Egan, NPR, Fresh Air. “Hospice chaplain reflects on life, death and the ‘Strength of the human soul'”

Sexual abuse is not a joke

I kept sitting and looking at my screen wondering how I was going to start this. There is just no good way to start a post that’s going to expose a family skeleton. But I cannot sit silently by while otherwise good people excuse and normalize Donald Trump’s lewd and crass statements, which weren’t surprising to me given the totality of his reprehensible character which he has displayed since early in the primaries. It is a testimony to the condition of his heart, and not a good testimony.

And for the record, my rejection of Trump is NOT an endorsement of Hillary.

Shortly after I turned 15, my dad was caught engaging in beastiality. He would go to our church on Saturdays and clean the building, and as if it wasn’t bad enough what he did, it happened on church grounds. I heard the original phone call. I heard the plea not to tell anyone. But the membership of our church was told, and that was the end of Daddy’s membership there, and also his service as a deacon. This prompted a hasty move which would have me transfer to a new school and thereby give me some protection from any trickle-down effects of that news reaching the ears of other kids.

No one outside of my parents ever spoke of that incident around me, so I have no idea who outside of that church and the reporter of the incident knew about it. I’m not entirely sure who in the family knows besides those who also went to church there. To be honest, I could have largely convinced myself that nothing ever happened had my dad not brought it up from time to time. He never truly acknowledged the deviancy of his behavior, but never failed to paint himself as the victim.

Nearly 5 years later, he was arrested for rape of two 12-year-old boys. I was 19. This was not an incident that was covered up. His arrest was announced on the local radio station’s news. It was reported on the front page of the local newspaper. I still remember like it was yesterday when my best friend called me because she had heard about it from someone who heard it on the radio. She could not believe it, and was ready to set the record straight. I had to tell her, “Yes, the report is true.” Meanwhile, my mom was beside me saying “No, it’s not true.” I was confirming that Daddy really had been arrested for rape. She was denying rape had occurred.

But I would later read his written statement. Written by his own hand, he gave his account, and he was guilty. Yet he maintained for years and years that what he did wasn’t wrong. My mom stood beside him and supported him. A friend of theirs came to offer support and called those boys “just trash.”

Daddy plead guilty to avoid what would have been an ugly trial. The judge gave him the minimum sentence, but that was still 7 years. It would be another year after sentencing before there was a bed available in one of the state penitentiaries. He went to prison shortly after I turned 21, and served 5 years before being granted parole.

To give a little more perspective to this, the beastiality event occurred when he was 61 years old. The rape incident shortly before his 66th birthday. He was by no means a young man. We were Landmark Missionary Baptists – a sect that considered (and probably still does, to an extent) Southern Baptists too liberal.

I listened to him as time went on from the arrest, conviction, and incarceration make himself out to be the victim. He claimed he was “set up” because he was speaking out about the drugs in our neighborhood. By “speaking out” I mean talking loudly. He never assumed full responsibility for his actions, and absolutely never repented. Once I had children, especially a son, I had to watch him like a hawk because I knew he could not be trusted not to molest him.

Because I read the statement and listened to him make himself the victim instead of the perpetrator.

I have looked back at his behavior in the years leading up to the rape, and I can see the predatory signs in retrospect. The grooming. I have often wondered how many more victims there are. I carried guilt and shame that I was unable to stop him. Unable to protect those boys. Unable to protect any of them. I didn’t know how to recognize the signs beforehand. But to be honest, at that age, particularly given the fear I had of my dad’s wrath, I was powerless. Because I had been beaten and berated into submission my whole life. “Honor thy father…” And with the skewed view of sex I was raised with, it is no wonder that I have always been able to sexualize anything.

dirtymind

Aside from being collateral damage from my dad’s sexual deviancy and abuse, I have been the recipient of unwanted and unwelcome lewd comments, touching, kissing, and propositions. As a married woman, I have had married men who not only knew I was married but also knew I knew were married try to pursue sex with me. I remember hearing a group of guys I was stationed with talking about Faith Hill. “She has legs all the way up to her ass!” I knew what that meant. And I also knew that as a tall, slim woman with long legs, that I also had “legs all the way up to my ass.”

“Locker room talk” is demeaning, degrading, and disrespectful. It shows at best a seared conscience and at worst a lack of conscience to treat another human being in this manner. It is not simply a “potty mouth.” I have a potty mouth (which I learned primarily at home growing up), and there is a big difference between dropping the s-bomb, d-bomb, or even f-bomb as an expletive and bragging about or fantasizing aloud about forcing yourself onto another person. Sexual abuse is not a joke. Sexual abuse is evil. To dismiss it as less than that is to condone and enable evil – no matter which wing you identify with.

The good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth what is good; and the evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth what is evil; for his mouth speaks from that which fills his heart. Luke 6:45 NASB

Religion and politics make strange bedfellows

FieryGrill-WM

When I was a high school senior, I was pretty involved in the Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA) club in my high school. I didn’t necessarily care anything about being a business leader (I wanted to be a pharmacist at the time), but I absolutely adored the FBLA sponsor, Mrs. Alveretta Lynch. One day I remember asking her, “Are you a Democrat or a Republican?” I have no idea why I was even going there, except that it was 1987, and I was going to be turning 18 soon. Her answer to me was not at all expected, and made a huge impact on me. She told me she was neither. “I vote for candidates, not political parties.” She went on to explain her decision-making process for choosing a candidate, and I took it all in because I not only loved her, but I respected her. I still do.

I’ve dabbled in politics over the years, though if anyone were to dig up my political posts from my original blog instance, it would seem more than dabbling. I was full on pundit, and staunchly conservative. When I turned 18, I went as soon as possible and registered to vote. I registered as a Democrat because the county I grew up in was majority Democrat to the point that if you weren’t a registered Democrat, you didn’t vote for local officials because only Democrats were running. Therefore, the local elections were decided in the primary. A couple of years before, I had worked on a campaign for an Independent candidate. After I was registered, there was a shortage of primary poll workers in our ward, and one of my friends recruited me to work along with her. 2 just-turned 18-year-olds working as poll workers for the Democratic primary. We still had paper ballots back then. That made for a LONG night of counting ballots. But I loved it. I was part of the process, and not only did I work the primary for the Democrats, but I ended up working for the county in the general election for 2 or 3 years. And while I was a registered Democrat, I voted nearly exclusively Republican. It was the 80s, and I loved me some Reagan. I also disliked me some Clinton.

While in the Air Force, whenever I came across a voting rep, I would get an absentee ballot. I still largely voted Republican, but the Republicans’ treatment of Bill Clinton over the Lewinsky affair (pun intended) felt so over the top. Yes, he was a dog and flat out lied about it, but prosecution over a blow job is overkill. I’m sure many of the Republicans pushing that were just as guilty of infidelity. (I’m looking at you, Newt Gingrich.) It was just enough taint on the “party of values,” that when I became an NC resident, I left my voter registration as “Undeclared.” I haven’t voted in most of the primaries, but the ones I have, I’ve picked the Democrat primary ballot. Mainly because I live in a largely Democratic county, and local candidates have a much greater impact on me personally than state or national. And I must say, the Democrats who have stopped by our house campaigning for local commissioners have been much more reasonable and pleasant than the one Republican who came across as angry and paranoid.

And I was also an angry and paranoid conservative.

Something happened when I started going to church again a few years ago. What happened when I started back to church was that I had a fresh encounter with God. I can state with certainty, and I think the scriptures back this up, that once you have had an encounter with the risen Jesus, you are never the same. I was devouring the Bible, religious non-fiction, religious blogs, and podcasts. I started praying real prayers instead of my previous prayer life of largely “foxhole prayers.” I threw myself into service at church. Meanwhile, my life was slowly falling apart. Work was awful. My marriage was deteriorating. I covered all my issues up by becoming a self-righteous Pharisee (and drinking a lot). Or maybe I always was a self-righteous Pharisee, and was just letting it out. Perhaps I still am to some degree.

At some point I became a single-issue voter. Because I am pro-life, I picked pro-life candidates, and that left me with just the Republican candidates. But this former Tea Party conservative finally started hearing the right wing and beginning to see so much nastiness towards others. I increasingly saw a major disconnect between my faith the politics of the right wing. I had seen how the left wing demonized and dehumanized the right, but suddenly I could see that the right was doing the exact same thing to the left. I started seeing people as people instead of nameless, faceless groups who were a threat to my freedom, and by freedom I really mean comfort. Eventually I realized that being pro-life is much more than being merely anti-abortion.

When I started reading the Bible (and I’ve read the entire Bible, cover to cover, more than once and more than one translation), I began to see things I had never seen, and certainly never heard in the conservative/fundamentalist/patriarchal/complementarian churches I grew up in and later attended. For instance, I have heard my entire life that God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah over homosexuality. But in actually reading the account, that is not the issue particularly when the Bible elsewhere largely refers to their self-centeredness as the reason for their destruction.(1) Sodom and Gomorrah were full of rapists, and that is central to the reason for destruction.

I also started noticing that individual verses have a greater context, and that the books in the Bible weren’t written with chapters and verses, and defintely without subject headers added by publishers. “The Bible clearly says” rarely follows with a clear-cut black and white statement. I learned nuance, and that most circumstances are not clearly black and white. The Apostle Paul spoke about liberty as Christians, and I started to see what that really meant. Finally, decades after memorizing the verses as a child, I started to grasp “for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Matthew 6:21 NASB. So when I finally came to the end of myself, I was able to wholeheartedly surrender EVERYTHING: possessions, job, status, marriage, children, Mom, extended family. Even my freedom and my very life. Because either Jesus is enough, or the foundation of my faith is built on sand.

With my newfound enlightenment (I say that tongue-in-cheek), I discovered that there is a huge lack of discernment among American Christians. We place our pastors and elders on pedestals where they don’t belong because we have somehow gotten the notion that they are more spiritual than us. I think we have also decided that they have special insight into politics, and so we make our political decisions based on our pastors’ and other religious leaders’ opinions. We say our hearty “A-MEN”s when they decry the world’s sin, and thereby feed our own self-righteousness by comparing ourselves to the world. Then we set about to fight culture wars wherein we demonize and dehumanize the sinners while thanking God we are not like them. (Luke 18:9-14) We fret and stew that if we do not win, God is going to smite us with his terrible wrath. So we have to work harder and harder to win control – to rule.

There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. Romans 8:1 KJV

But, Jesus did not die so we could rule over others. Jesus set aside his divinity, and his ruling authority with it, to set us free from the bondage of self-serving. If we are to follow Christ – to walk in His ways – we should be laying aside our privilege and desire to control in order to server others as salt and light in a dark and broken world. Since the 4th Century, we have plenty of evidence to show that whenever Christendom is ruling, oppression and tyranny soon follow – from the ruling Christians. Jesus didn’t command us to rule, and he certainly didn’t tell us to seek out personal comfort and pleasure.

“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.” Matthew 16:24-25

Jesus did not die to set us free so we can live the American Dream. He died to set us free FROM the American Dream.

According to the American Dream, our individual success and happiness are dependent upon our individual effort. Hence our happiness is dependent upon our own hard work and opportunity. And when we don’t have the opportunity for our subjective happiness/prosperity, we run the risk at best for resenting whoever is blocking that. Therefore, without the perfect opportunity to match our hard work, we are going to be disappointed in other people/systems, then angry, then make them our enemy. We become self-absorbed and self-centered in our pursuit of happiness which we think we are going to find in something (or someone) external to us. That is what Jesus sets us free from by becoming the one who gives us our sense of worth and brings us into his family through His work alone.Then we are truly free to love and serve others – friends and enemies alike.

The flaw in the pursuit of the American Dream is in it’s individualism. “…life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” The pursuit of happiness by humans, by our very nature, becomes a self-centered pursuit. We end up with a class/culture conflict because those with less opportunity want more, while those with more don’t want to give up anything (and often want more). This brings us to an “us vs them” mentality by both sides wherein each has to resort to dehumanizing the other side in order to maintain the resentments/fear against the other. Our politicians then play on that resentment and fear, and we all dig in deeper in our trenches because we are laying up our treasure here on earth. Our materialistic pursuits never ever satisfy us and always become divisive. That’s what Jesus sets us free from. Endless pursuit of temporary treasure. He alone can satisfy our pursuit of happiness because he did all the work, and we who believe in Him reap the reward of true worth and contentment independent of our national heritage.

You cannot simultaneously say “America First” while saying that this country needs Jesus. The message of Jesus is always others first. This is why we are in danger when we follow the Franklin Grahams, Wayne Grudems, James Dobsons, Jerry Falwells (Sr & Jr), and Pat Robertsons. They have been deceived by their fear and the human desire for power that we all possess. This is the only reason I can see that at least 3 of them have endorsed a candidate for President of the United States that has such appallingly bad character as to make the Clintons look like saints in comparison. This is the only explanation for why so many Christians would resort to spiritual abuse to try to guilt other Christians into voting for Donald Trump.

Jesus already won, and he didn’t do it with swords or guns or ballots. He did it on the cross. When we believe this, we will be able to vote for character rather than charisma, and we can vote with a clear conscious for a candidate with little to no chance of winning because we will not fear whomever is elected, yet will not vote for someone with terrible character. And we can stand up to the bullies who peddle fear to coerce us into voting the way they want, and tell them that our vote is not being wasted when we vote our conscious with complete liberty. Just like Mrs. Lynch taught me to vote for candidates, not parties.

For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Mark 8:36 KJV

(1) “Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. They were haughty and did detestable things before me. Therefore I did away with them as you have seen. Samaria did not commit half the sins you did. You have done more detestable things than they, and have made your sisters seem righteous by all these things you have done.” Ezekiel 16:49-51 NIV. Only Jude 7 refers to the sexual immorality. All other references beyond the account of Sodom and Gomorrah’s destruction are either references to the destruction, or comparison to how much worse the people of Israel became.

The edge of insanity

“Very few people could stay sane in your home. You are not a failure.”

Drews, Toby Rice (2011-03-30). “Getting Them Sober, volume one — You CAN help!” (“Getting Them Sober” Book 1) (Kindle Location 1445). Recovery Communications, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

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“I was standing on the precipice. Something had to give or else I was going to have to numb more often.” I was standing in a friend’s kitchen when I had that epiphany. Granted she had said something that flipped the switch so that light could come on. But at that moment, I realized just how close I came to losing it – completely.

Truth is, I had already lost it. It just hadn’t become apparent to anyone else. My bubble of control of my carefully crafted public persona had burst and I couldn’t get it back together. It’s probably safe to say that bubble was cracked and extremely fragile from the get-go. Lord knows I was sick before I ever took that first drink.

Lately I’ve been pondering why. Why when I hit that wall and fell apart did I reach out for help instead of turning to my old standby of numbing and escaping? I mean, I did, but not what I would have done had I not sought out therapy and group support. Why was I able to get that honest with my doctor?

I think back a few years to a periodic reinvestigation I went through for work. It was by far the worst one I’ve gone through. It occurred to me during that process just how isolated I was. I didn’t look at it that way exactly. I just looked at it as a red flag that I didn’t have any kind of a social life outside of work. And since I had been considering going back to church anyway, I decided that going to church would keep me from looking so isolated. Because I had an appearance to maintain. We found a church we liked, and I was able to make enough friends that I could list a few for my next reinvestigation and wouldn’t look like such a loner.

I always laugh when I think about that one. I listed Petra as a reference, and then I turned around and told her my junk. Of course at that point in time, I didn’t dare tell her everything, but a lot. I hadn’t set out to make “real” friends. My goal was my typical not-too-deep friends. (Which I differentiate from shallow.) Molly and Karyn got all up in that inner circle too. Actually, Molly is the root of that whole circle. She is the one who wouldn’t let me sit quietly on the sidelines observing. This might seem like I am digressing, but those ladies, Sarah, and Jessica (whom I don’t know quite as well as the others) played a key role in the beginning of my journey back to sanity.

Although I still had to hit bottom.

But it became real easy to get real with Petra and Karyn. Not surface-level, but “Hey guys, here’s my junk! I’m depressed and my marriage is a wreck!” I couldn’t train for 2 half marathons with Karyn and not end up in some deep conversation. I still say it was all Molly’s doing. She “forced” me to help set up for VBS with Petra and Brittany. Heck, she somehow managed to talk me into being the music leader for that VBS. She got me running by talking me into joining a newly formed local running club. She wouldn’t have asked me to lead the music if I hadn’t managed to become one of the worship leaders on Sundays. That wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t joined the worship team due to an intense prodding in my gut. The girl who quit the youth choir in high school because she wasn’t going to do a solo ending up leading worship? That’s doesn’t compute.

None of it computes.

I was just thinking the other day about how several people I know who grew up in similar legalistic Baptist environments as I, and walked away wanting nothing to do with Christianity. Sure, I walked away, too, but I always felt called back.

I’ve been through a lot of doubt and blaming God, and the doubts and blame have always boiled down to wrong beliefs about His character based on wrong teaching. I’m even no longer willing to go so far as to call it false teaching because I am less inclined to attribute malicious intent and instead give the benefit of the doubt that it’s just lack of discernment because we naturally expect our pastors and teachers to be humbly teaching us truth.

So why was I drawn back? Why didn’t I lose faith and hope? Why, when my carefully constructed and controlled world fell apart, did I not give up, give in, and self-medicate myself into oblivion?

Grace.

Grace blows my mind. There is no reason whatsoever I should have been delivered from my self-destructive attitude and behaviors. Nothing I did to deserve deliverance.

Just grace.

Laws do no transform hearts. Legalism doesn’t provide any protection from temptation. Rules don’t heal broken hearts nor do they sooth deep crushing pain.

Oh, but grace.

Grace will turn a heart of stone into living flesh. Grace will turn self-centeredness into love – genuine love – for “the least of these,” and not because of what the “least” can give them.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 1 Corinthians 13:4-7

And grace will restore you to sanity even when you are sure you have passed the point of no return.

No magic formulas

When I have a problem, I want a simple, clear-cut solution. I want it fixed, and I want a simple plan to do so. I also want immediate results, but that’s another matter.

Being the self-sufficient perfectionist I am, I am all about some self-help. Ah, yes, give me a blog post with 3-10 steps on how to fix what’s wrong. Give me a book that explains the real reason that whatever it is is broken, along with the steps I need to take to fix them. Oh, it’s a Christian blog or book? Score! It’s gonna do the trick!

That is, as long as I believe that God moves according to the works I do or behaviors I do not do. Which is to say, I have to do certain things and avoid other things in order to earn God’s favor.

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What I found from the vast majority of the Christian “self-help” books is that they are largely written as prescriptive when they are actually experiential. They also tend to be upper-middle class, suburbanites who have “traditional households” where the husband works as the breadwinner, and the wife is a stay-at-home mom. Sure, the wife might write and speak at conferences, but the entire family dynamic is still “traditional.” (And I’m not saying nor wish to imply that there is anything wrong with the “traditional” family model.)

I fully believed that if I did the things in those books, that things would get better. Our marriage would be better. Our finances would be better. Our kids would be model students. Yet, the harder I worked, the worse things got. “I’m doing all the right things! Why isn’t this working?!”

The number one reason following the directions/suggestions in those books and blogs doesn’t work is this:

All that crap falls apart when active alcoholism, drug addiction, and/or abuse are involved.

And that’s when you are left with “you reap what you sow.”

You made the choice to take that first drink.

You made the choice to marry an alcoholic/addict.

“Submit to your husband and pray for him.”

Guess what? That doesn’t necessarily work. Especially if you both came from dysfunctional families and neither of you have dealt with those issues. Though you absolutely should be praying for him, and he for you.

I want to make perfectly clear that I am not saying the typical Christian self-help book is not useful or helpful. Like any other type of non-fiction, some are great, some are fluff, and some just stink to high heaven. Often even the fluff has really good nuggets.

What I am saying is that there is no quick-fix, easy step-by-step method – Christian or otherwise – that is a magic formula for fixing a marriage or getting out of debt or beating an addiction. There is no “Do this and everything is going to turn out great just the way you want it” system that can guarantee you are going to get what you want (or more honestly, what you think you want).

A marriage doesn’t get fixed by one spouse doing all of (or even most of) the work.

You don’t get out of debt by subscribing to a get-rich-quick scheme, and this includes the “magic tithe.” (Malachi 3:10)

Repercussions from abuse do not go away by submitting to the abuse nor by forgiving (voluntarily and certainly not coercively) the abuser.

Children raised in a dysfunctional home are not necessarily going to be model students no matter how intelligent they are.

Life is hard and takes a lot of work. Don’t let anyone sell you an easy path to happiness. There isn’t one, and this is particularly true for followers of Jesus. Odd are, when things get particularly rough, you will find yourself screaming at God, “I did all the right things! Why am I the one being punished?!?!” And you know what? He won’t strike you down. But in that moment, you will be left with a choice.

“Do I really believe?”

My answer to that question became the guide to how I look at my circumstances. Because ultimately that determines whether I will be grateful for what I have, or bitter at what I don’t have.

It is always possible to be thankful for what is given rather than resentful over what is withheld–one attitude or the other becomes a way of life. – Elisabeth Elliot

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33 NIV

What I read this week – 1/22/16

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I do a lot of reading, and when an article resonates with me or is interesting (or funny or weird), I will post it to Facebook. I posted an article recently in a private group along with a plain statement about who the article reminded me of. One of the members thought I had posted that comment on my personal wall, which would have been a bold move, but a jerk move. And that’s when she called me out for how I post articles clearly (from our perspective) directed at certain groups passive aggressively. #truth Anyway, same person made the statement that she sees articles I post and makes a mental note to read them later, but then doesn’t. So I offered to send her an email compilation. Instead, I’m going to do a blog post so that I am actually posting. And perhaps adding some commentary.

10 Things That Scare Me About the “Purity” Culture

The “Purity” Culture came along after I was a teen, so I missed out on the purity rings and dating my dad stuff. Which, I didn’t want to go anywhere with my dad anyway. However, I was still taught much of the legalism behind the Purity Culture, and bore the weight of not measuring up alone and also got some added shame piled on me from not being “good” enough.

Sheila also wrote a great follow up to that one:

A Letter To All Those Who Feel They Have Lost Their Purity

Why You Should Tell Your Story, Even if It’s Messy

I have learned in the last few years that while my story is unique, it’s also not. There are loads of people who have gone through similar things and are struggling with similar stuff, and we need to know that we are not alone and someone else understands. Which isn’t to say that I’m not freaking out a little bit about speaking this weekend and telling my story. Even though I’ve done it before.

because this is the year you’re facing your demons & fears

“Have you ever had to face a monster? What did it look like? Where was it lurking when you found it? What did it take to face it without getting taken under?” I am actually in the process of facing a “monster” that’s been with me my whole life.

To You who Shames Yourself

I think those of us who grew up in an abusive environment are especially susceptible to self-shaming. Part of my “monster.”

What Have I to Fear

Petra and I had a really good discussion over this one even though she didn’t read the article. But I quoted the money quote with the article, so she got the gist of it. And I made this comment: “You know this is my “passive-aggressive” means of calling out all my uber-conservative christian fb friends who think the sun rises and sets on Franklin Graham and Fox News quoting 2 Chronicles 7:14 as if it’s even applicable because they have their flags so tightly wrapped around their bibles they can’t see that they really worship at the alter of American prosperity rather than following Jesus and enduring the suffering that he told us would come with truly following him.” And that was when she told me to drop my shoulders and breathe. Haha!

You’re All One Team

Good stuff from Joseph. I don’t care where you are working, or whether it’s volunteer or paid, when your teams are not working together, it hurts everybody.

Biblical Womanhood … Not What Many Think (RJS)

I’ve had to say this before, and I will say it again. I am not a “man-hating feminist.” I don’t believe that women AS A WHOLE should rule. But, neither do I believe exclusive male-rule is what God planned for mankind. I believe patriarchy is a result of the fall and male headship is part of the curse. Men and women are each uniquely gifted, but not according to gender. Men and women were created to lead together. To have dominion over the earth together. To have one gender asserting complete control over the other will always end up resulting in oppression, abuse, and blame shifting.

Rather than end on a contentious note, I will share a bit of a conversation I had with Petra yesterday via FB messenger. The whole thing was made funnier by the fact that I didn’t have my glasses with me at the start of it and couldn’t read it properly on my phone. But she told me that we should have gone to Fayetteville last night to see Peter Cetera. Not that she was really up for it, but I have my own reasons not to go to, well, most concerts.

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2015 – Year in review – sort of

2015 was the year my world finally finished falling apart.

I don’t remember many of the details of the exchange between my daughter and I last summer. I remember saying something that ended with “my world is falling apart.” To which she replied, “It’s not falling apart; it’s just changing.” To which I replied, “Yeah, well, I guess I don’t deal well with change.” And that’s when she said, “Yeah, that’s the autism,” and the conversation ended.

Stolen from the friend who originally posted on Facebook.

Stolen from the friend who originally posted it on Facebook.

So much changed that I found myself several times last year asking myself, “Who even are you?” Really though, I’m the same person I’ve always been, but I’m just a little bit less scared. I really noticed it that day I stepped up and volunteered to sing at church in my friend’s place when she had to step down last minute. The DragonLady doesn’t volunteer for stuff, and she certainly doesn’t volunteer for big stuff. But I also got called out for being passive aggressive right at the end of the year, so, you know, baby steps.

Also, my son finally talked me into playing WoW. Gaming is such a time suck. *sigh*

Anyway, I know it’s the 2nd day of 2016, and I’m just now posting my year end review. Because I really don’t like them, but whatevs. Here’s my 10 most popular posts of 2015 according to one of my tracking accounts that doesn’t capture every visit. Because Google Analytics overwhelmed me. haha!

10. Raise Your Hands

This one is 2 years old, and I’m sure it’s still getting hits because of Bon Jovi. As a brief follow-up, I’m much less uncomfortable raising my hands while singing now.

9. When I realized my greatest loss

8. “and he will rule over you”

Oh, yeah. I dropped my shaky adherence to complimentarianism.

7. Triggering Onions

There was a LOT of onion peeling that went on.

6. “…and the wind won’t stop.”

“That’s my soul up there.” Oh, the pain. And it’s gotten much better. Until the next weather system moves in.

5. Real Freedom

4. Dumping the junk

This is all well and good until I find myself having to do another 4th & 5th step. ;)

3. “The needs of the many…”

Blech. But I referenced Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.

2. #medicatedandmighty – It’s complicated

Erin is a new friend, and I’m so glad I got to meet her before she got all famous. Ha! Seriously, she is such an inspiration. A Wonder Woman.

1. The pain of letting go

This. Still. Hurts. Funny how my most popular post is the one where I announce I kicked my husband out. Not haha funny. But, he called me yesterday, and we talked for over an hour. And it was a good talk. And then I cried for a couple of minutes until my daughter came out of her room yelling, “ARE YOU FINALLY OFF THE PHONE?!?”

So, yeah, happy new year!

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