Monthly Archives: October 2014

Spam (Not the Meat) Writing Challenge

When I was a chubby little girl with an honest-to-goodness bowl haircut, I lived for a time in Albany, New York with my brother, father, and step-mother. Our flat was located in an impoverished area of town within walking distance of the hospital where my father was finishing training. The neighborhood was low rent and crime riddled so we spent most of our time indoors because it wasn’t safe to be outside. All things considered though, we were fortunate. We had a car, one rusted out-oversized Caddy, and enough food to fill our bellies. Although my family was jumping up and down on the poverty line, I was blissfully unaware of our tight financial circumstances.

My brother and I were each other’s only companions and we were best of friends. We shared everything! Scott and I made forts in our microscopic bedroom with our big fake fur blanket that was red and resembled a yeti-sized Elmo skin. When I got scared, I’d crawl into his bunk with him which he begrudgingly permitted until the time I wet the bed while we were both in it.  Our toys were mutually owned including my Barbie dolls which suffered the humiliation of GI Joe haircuts for which I did NOT grant prior approval.

Best of all, we shared meals and when we gathered around food I felt more contentment and love than at any other time. At the ages of four and five, Scottie and I were already foodies.  Photographs of us from those years clearly reflect our adoration of all things edible. We resembled pudgy his and hers Buster Browns from the shoe ads. Fortunately, we existed in the era when a healthy child and a chubby child were one and the same, or at least our grandmother thought so. Some of our favorites were bowls of applesauce decorated with happy little raisin faces. Corned, chipped beef on toast was both popular and affordable too. But nothing, and I mean NOTHING, outperformed a fried Spam sandwich.

On the rare days when my father would ‘cook,’ he would make spam sandwiches.  We would toast bread, slather each side of it with Mayo (not Miracle Whip), and eagerly wait for Dad to fry the spam.  He’d crack open the can of molded meat, lovingly slice it, and cook it to perfection in a skillet. Both sides of the meat would be browned and crispy but the slice would be thick enough that the middle was tender. That was my favorite meal. Seriously, if you think about it, what could be better than a slab of fat on toasted bread that is slathered with more fat?
In the 1970’s, spam was a good product and a celebrated meal. It was THE go-to dinner in a pinch, much like Hamburger Helper is today. Ad slogans trumpeted, “Cold or Hot, Spam Hits the Spot!” This heirloom of meats was first sold in 1937 and was a way for the Hormel company to employ the ‘whole hog’ so to speak. Yes, I realize that Spam is little bitty pieces of piggy in a can, but isn’t there something to be admired about the thrift of such a concept?

These days, ‘spam’ is considered a bad thing. Naughty emails sent from vulgar companies that surreptitiously obtained your account information are called‘spam.’ Solicitations for Viagra from Canada and Horny Goat Weed from Mexico rattle through the internet server, into your email account, and drop anonymously into a folder entitled spam. No one that I know would admit to any sort of appreciation of spam, whether it be the email kind or the edible sort. So how did Mr. Hormel’s creation and the veritable culinary foundation of deli meats become the slur it is today? Certainly, spam is the humblest of foods, but what did it do to deserve the unmitigated hatred of web surfers and email users everywhere? Couldn’t we find a kinder, gentler replacement moniker for all of those bits and pieces of flotsam that no one wants? Or even if we can’t change the name, perhaps we could consult a PR firm to help soften the poor image of spam. It could then be rehabilitated from criminal status into a quirky relative that everyone loves in spite of their eccentricity.

Frankly it all seems so hateful! I know that voting on “In God We Trust,” was controversial, but perhaps Congress could rally behind an “I stand for Spam” campaign instead?

Just Broken Enough

Brokenness comes to us in many ways.  Sometimes, we come from broken homes and are the result of broken relationships.  Perhaps physical ailments and limitations break the spirit which resides in a broken body.  Maybe you broke yourself by living hard and fast and loose.  And perhaps you are the beneficiary of a quirky genetic cocktail which became exponentially more difficult when combined with personal life decisions.  Whatever the case, we each have some hidden (or not so hidden) weakness.

**A quick aside, if you are one of the ‘lucky’ ones who feels whole, I have two suggestions.  One, don’t presume brokenness is necessarily due to a lack of faith and/or relationship with Christ.  Please refer to Job!  Two, give it time.  If God is working in your life, he will remodel you in such a way as to glorify him.  A little word of wisdom, remodeling is, at best, uncomfortable! Wholeness in and of yourself does not equal rightness with God.

At any rate, brokenness from a first person perspective is humiliating and leaves the sufferer with shame to deal with as the cherry on top of all of the other ‘fun’ of seeking healing.  Each day can feel like a year for those struggling to overcome what is insurmountable without God’s help and it takes all of a person’s emotional strength to gut it through until bedtime.

I have a little sister.  When she was younger, she turned to drugs and alcohol, amongst other things, to cope with the stresses of being in a highly dysfunctional family.  Decades later, she is fighting daily to crawl out of a very deep, dark hole.  We talk on the phone a lot and I feel as though she is beset with a trio of battles: 1) forgiving herself, 2) accepting Christ’s forgiveness, and 3) setting a new and unerring course with the past sucking at each step she takes like quicksand.

One night recently she was on a certain social network and she saw a woman whom she did not know crying out, contemplating suicide.  This woman was living in a pay-by-the week hotel and attempting to sever a relationship with an abusive ‘lover.’  In addition to the obvious, her secondary problem was she had no where else to turn for help and no external support.  Having an intimate knowledge of being in that darkest of places, my sister sent an instant message with her cell number and told the woman to call her if she needed to talk.  This woman called and my sister was able to share her own very similar story-common ground that many within the church might not have had with her.  And then my sister shared Jesus Christ and the hope of salvation with someone as equally broken as herself.  The despairing woman ended up with a thimbleful of hope offered by someone who had shared experiences with her.  Help and hope not offered from a position of condescension but from the very level ground found at the foot of the cross.  Does that not mirror salvation offered by Christ who chose to become fully man so that He might save us?  Is there anything more beautiful?

When we talked later, my sister said, “I have always felt like I was too broken for God to use for anything.  But maybe I am just broken enough that he can use me after all.”  Friends, truer words have never been spoken!  God longs for us to humbly approach him with our broken pieces.  He may not use those pieces the way we want him to, but he will use them to reflect his glory.  If we call him Savior, we are NEVER beyond his ability to redeem us and use our experiences, no matter how base they are, for his glory.

I truly believe this story encapsulates who God is, who Jesus is, and the plan he has for all of us no matter who we are or  where we have been.  When it comes to God the Father, it only matters where we are going!  Let us share our food and water as well as our hope with other seekers along the way.  Amen!

Romans 8:1 “For there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.”

2 Corinthians 4:7-11 “But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all surpassing power is from God and not from us.  We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed, perplexed but not in despair, persecuted but not abandoned, struck down but not destroyed.”

He Walked Away-How My Husband’s Airplane Mishap Changed My Perception of Abandonment

My earliest memories are not unique, but many of them involve being left by someone I loved.  People who were designed to model what God’s love is like-all consuming, unconditional, unchanging.  Picture if you will a chubby cheeked, two year old girl with brown hair and green eyes.  She is crying for her mother from the confines of her crib in a Pepto Bismol pink bedroom.  The little girl is overwhelmed with terror because it feels as though she has been crying for hours and no one is coming for her.  She is very hungry and she can’t see her big brother who must also be in his crib.  What the little girl doesn’t know is that her mother has walked away and isn’t coming back, not even to visit.**

After my mother left, my father sent us to live with my grandmother while he finished medical school.  She lived on 258 acres outside of Asheville, North Carolina.  I awoke every morning to the sound of the crows cawing in protest as the Smoky Mountains awoke and began to shake off her blanket of fog.  My grandmother’s motto was that ‘nothing in the wild can hurt you’ (she never mentioned bears and copperheads for some silly reason) and she sent us outside every day to play.  My happiest memories from that time in my life include wearing my Hee Haw overalls and tagging along after my older brother.  We would cross the creek which seemed like crossing the Hoover Dam but which was really a board with a six inch span over a rivulet of water.  There was a tire swing under an enormous old walnut tree and we used to push each other as hard as we could.  My stomach felt like I’d been launched from an aircraft carrier and we would bellow in exhilaration.  We fed the ducks each morning, and sometimes in the afternoon just because I liked to try to catch them.  I loved the feeling of their beaks as they scrabbled for the corn in my cupped hands.  Best of all, I can recall the comfort of being enfolded in the squish of my grandmother’s plush body.  She smelled like smoke from the wood stove she lit every morning at 5:30 am to heat the house and hints of earth from all of the gardening and canning she did. Each day, she would start a loaf of bread and take a nap while the bread would rise.  Scotty and I never managed to nap although we ‘tried’ really hard.  Instead we danced in anticipation of a lunch that we knew would include the best bread ever!  We became ‘foodies’ during this period of our lives even though the term had not yet been invented.  When we were a little older and after we were living with my father and stepmother, my grandmother walked away.  She surrendered to despair and chose suicide over hope.

My father was a good daddy to me and he is a brilliant at his job, but he’s not so good at picking wives.  At that time, he was married to a woman who, at best, had a ‘borderline personality disorder,’ which is particularly disturbing since she later achieved a Master’s in Counseling.  At any rate, nothing was ever good enough in that house, especially me.  I was too fat (anything over a size 4 is absolutely unacceptable) and she drove me to weight loss clinics to take care of my problem.  Of course, since she’d had liposuction, breast implants, nose jobs, and other cosmetic procedures the ‘playing field’ wasn’t particularly level.  She also augmented her beauty regimen by engaging in frequent ‘spiritual’ three day fasts and a lot of intentional barfing when she actually bothered to ingest something.  These are things I can laugh at now, but it sure made me feel like the worst, ugliest kid in the world.  She was explosive beyond description often waking me up to scream at me in the middle of the night; 2 a.m. was her favorite time for some unknown reason.  Those 17 years were full of comings and goings and they almost always occurred on or near a holiday.  We would literally drive 14 hours to her family’s house only to have her get out with my little sister and tell us she was leaving us.  We weren’t even admitted into the house to go to the bathroom.  My dad, brother, and I would turn the car around and drive back ‘home,’ whatever the heck that was and cobble together some sort meal.  One Christmas I came home from college and was promptly shown the door for standing up for myself.  I spent the vacation anxiously waiting for the dorms to open again so I could get back to some semblance of normalcy.

Fortunately my brother and I were born with a sense of humor; in fact we are hilarious!  We managed to joke our way through most of these situations because it was either laugh or cry, joke or die.  (I’m sure we could write a movie a la Little Miss Sunshine to describe our experiences.)  When my stepmother finally walked away for the last time, there was a sense of profound relief as though we’d just vomited for the last time after a three day bout of food poisoning.  We were so exhausted by all of the threats that in spite of the terror and in spite of all the times we tried to be ‘good enough’ so that she would stay, the day she left I felt a relief in knowing that the worst had finally happened.

As a friend of mine says regarding a certain experience in her life, “I went out different than I came in.”  I can honestly say that in regards to my life.  Not only did I come out different than I went in, but, as they say in the South, “I ain’t been right yet.”  To state the obvious, fear has been a formative force in my life.  Just as water carved out the Grand Canyon, so fear has carved out a chasm between the boundary of my mind and soul. Thankfully, God isn’t finished with me yet and I am a work in progress.  Over the years, He has reminded me that He NEVER leaves me and that he has not forsaken me.  I have been gently loved by him in so many ways.  As I have continued to seek him while attempting to reconcile how a loving God allows a little girl, now a grown woman to feel so unloved by the very people who were supposed to demonstrate love, he has brought people into my life to LIVE His love.

I’m one of the lucky ones!  I have an amazing husband, and yes I know I’m supposed to ‘say’ that but I really mean it.  He’s smart as heck, laughs at ALL my jokes, understands me in ways that I don’t, and lets me show the weakness I try to hide.  He loves all that I am and even all that I am not.  We also have two amazing children.  Thankfully, they are smarter than I was at their age and they have two parents rooting for them.  Fortunately, they have inherited their mother’s sense of humor and (hopefully) their father’s height.  They are God’s redemptive opportunity to me; a chance to be the mother I never had.  I pray I get it right.  That’s one of my biggest fears, of course.

Two years ago I got a phone call that nearly changed it all.  My guy has flown fighters in combat situations and has three operational assignments under his belt.  I had always felt that if he were going to have a safety incident, it would be in an operational (real world training or combat) scenario.  The call that every wife fears is the one that a plane has gone down.  When such an event occurs, bits of information spread like wildfire.  We like to say that the wives’ network is faster than the official network and a downed aircraft is a commonly known fact within 20 minutes, easy.  Typically every husband will check in with his wife but WILL NOT release the name of the pilot involved.  Usually, all of the women hold their breath waiting for their phone call from their husband.  The worst case scenario is either a call from the commander in the event of an accident not involving an immediate fatality or a knock on the door with a trio of uniformed officers to officially notify a spouse that their husband died in an accident. I’m a woman of prayer and deep faith.  For some reason, I always assumed that if my husband experienced trouble in the air God would tell me so that I could pray.  One afternoon my phone rang and it was the group commander.  I was making dinner at the time and was blithely unaware of anything.  I guess because I was the commander’s wife at the time, no one was going to call me to let me know there had been an ‘incident.’  At any rate, when he called I assumed he was trying to reach my husband, but it immediately became evident that this was not the case.  He had called to let me know that there was a plane crash on landing, but that my husband and the student were okay. My world stopped.  Literally.  Somehow, God gave me a supernatural strength.  When a pilot has an ‘event,’ he or she is not permitted to leave until urine and blood samples are collected.  The crew, in this case the pilot and student, are separated and exhaustively interviewed so that there is no opportunity to ‘get stories straight’ in the event that someone was not following proper protocols and safety procedures.  My phone rang at 5:30 in the evening.  I managed to finish dinner for the kids (I think).  We huddled up together and I told them that daddy had been in an airplane accident but that Jesus had protected both him and the student and that there were no injuries.  I was calm and assured when my husband walked in at 12:30 or 1:00 a.m. and able to give God’s comfort to him from a well of strength that was not mine.  In fact, I held it all together for 48 hours until I was able to get my husband back to work and the kids back to school at which point I promptly fell apart and sobbed inconsolably.  I felt as though I needed to curl up in the corner and suck my thumb!

Guess What?!  HE WALKED AWAY!!!!!!  For the first time in my life, God helped me to see the difference between ‘leaving’ and ‘walking away.’  Walking away can be a good thing; it can be a miracle.  God also showed me that Jesus himself walked away….FROM THE GRAVE! (So take that Satan!)  Additionally, He showed me that my perception of ‘leaving’ is one where someone disappears never to return.  But guess what?  That’s NOT who God is and it’s NOT how he works.  I learned that leaving isn’t always harmful, even when it hurts.  Jesus says in John 14:2 that He is leaving to prepare a place for us but that he isn’t leaving us alone.  vs 16. “I will ask the Father and He will give you another helper who will be with you forever.”  And Jesus isn’t just leaving never to return either.  vs. 18 Jesus promises, “I will not leave you all alone.  I will come back to you.” It turns out that I’ve been believing a lie that I’ll be left alone.  But I am learning that God’s promises are stronger and more real than the ground on which we stand.  I will probably continue to battle fear always (I guess everybody has something) but I can have confidence in God, who has brought me this far, to remain with me.  Not only that, I can trust him to come back for me too because he loves me more than I can imagine and more than anyone else in this world can.  Amen.

**Please note that I met my mother when I was 26.  Her reasons for leaving are her own and I would not betray her trust by writing about them.  We have a deep affection for one another and talk on a regular basis.  I don’t have any resentment towards her as I know that she too is wounded in her own way.  I pray that she experiences Christs’ healing as well and I am confident that He is working in her life. 

Meredith’s Secret Garden, A Writing Challenge

Meredith awakes to the pressure of the bed lowering slightly. She feels her husband’s warm breath and the sensuous tickle of whiskers against her neck. “I love you, baby,” her murmurs against her. You are a wonderful wife. When I look at you, I like what I see.” He kisses her neck and she feels the bed rise as he straightens and leaves the room. Moments later, she hears the door close and feels the vibration of the garage door opening then closing.
Meredith rolls over onto her side and waits for the fog of sleep to fade. “Does he really?” she wonders. “Can he really like what he sees? “ She finds herself holding her breath as she considers these questions. Somehow it’s hard to believe, to really feel total acceptance, even after all their years of marriage. Releasing her breath in one continuous whoosh, she acknowledges the thought and dismisses it.
In truth, Meredith looks pretty good for a forty year old woman with two children, but she never measures up to the invisible benchmark that was imposed upon her by the first of several stepmothers. Somehow, being ‘good enough’ was a standard that always slid out of reach just as she arrived at a goal. Gaining unconditional approval from a stepmother who’d had more surgeries than a desperate housewife was a lost cause. Even at adulthood, Meredith meets each day never quite feeling as though she is fully seated and balanced in her soul. She finds it hard to accept herself.
Meredith walks down the hall and opens a door. “Time to get up,” she whispers to her son. He bounces out of bed and stomps down the stairs so hard that she can feel a thump for each step he takes. Thankfully, he seems unaware that mom isn’t perfect. Meredith smiles to herself and whispers a prayer, “God, please help my kids to feel completely loved and fully accepted by me and more importantly by you.”
The Monday morning onslaught of tasks is a welcome diversion. Meredith has found if she can feel productive, she can temporarily escape the niggling details that burrow into her conscious and cause unease. Unlike many of her friends, Meredith wasn’t sure she wanted to be a mother. Early childhood experiences left her with the intense fear that if she had children of her own, she would unwittingly saddle them with emotional luggage she’d been handed as a child. Her own childhood heartbreak was so crushing there were days she thought there would never be any way to hold all of the pieces together.
Fortunately, children have brought something that Meredith never anticipated…a second chance. An opportunity to break the cycle of brokenness and to love her kids with a love that she wasn’t given. There was an undiscovered well in her heart that only became apparent the moment her first child was born. Now she spends her days at that well drawing up buckets of love to shower upon her children.
The disparity for Meredith is that she has a hard time accepting love and feeling worthwhile. She fears the day when her kids will see all of the weakness she works so hard to hide. Somehow, being imperfect isn’t acceptable. Allowing herself to feel is difficult, because letting feelings bloom can set off a cascade of emotions that can’t be regulated. Meredith knows that putting toothpaste back into the tube is impossible, so she prefers to keep a tight rein on emotion and deal mostly in logic. Thus, most of her acquaintances perceive her to be highly analytical, even ‘nerdy’ even though she’s deeply emotional.
After seeing her children safely onto the bus, Meredith sits down at the computer to check email and Facebook. Then she logs into her digital “Secret Garden.” While some people hide skeletons in their closets, Meredith’s hidden secret is that she keeps a blog. It is only in this place that Meredith can shed all constraints and let it all hang out. The anonymity of allowing people to see her soul without seeing her face gives her a freedom she hasn’t found elsewhere.

Just Outside The Gates of Hell

There are a lot of hellish events occurring in these very troubled times.  On the world ‘stage,’we are witnessing a massive outbreak of ebola which I believe may prove to be this century’s bubonic plague.  It does not select it’s victims on the basis of a life well lived or on how ‘good’ a person has been.  It is not a Santa-like disease that picks only the naughty, it does not discern between innocence and evil.  It mindlessly attacks and kills in the most horrible way possible.  Power struggles in the Middle East are especially brutal with triumphant, evil infused ‘sheeple’ handing severed heads for their little boys to hold aloft in victory.  Christians and Muslims who refuse to bend are under siege and there is no where safe for these families and communities.

On a larger but less obvious scale, we have lost our moral compass. Right is wrong and wrong is now sanctimoniously heralded as right. Societies are crumbling from within.    Families are broken and so are people.  There seems to be very little help for this as we search for the next Dr. Phil or Dr. Oz or Oprah to sell us what we desperately want to hear so that we can fix ourselves.

We are all the product of something and we each lug around our own emotional baggage.  In all seriousness, I have an impressive amount of luggage.  Sadly, it’s not Louis Vuitton or Coach either, but who am I to complain?  At any rate, last week was particularly difficult for me.  I found that my will (which is typically indomitable) was insufficient to quiet all of the emotional storms I was experiencing.  I was frustrated with myself for not being able to ‘make it stop’ and I spent a good 72 hours in constant prayer.  God tells us not to fear constantly throughout scripture!  So there I was arguing with God, which is at least a dialogue with Him, right?  “God, if you tell me not to fear, then why am I fearful?  I believe in you!  I believe that you have not changed and will not change.  Why won’t my fears evaporate in the face of what I believe about you?”

It was one of the most miserable experiences of my life.  I literally was in that place referenced in Psalm 46:10, “Be Still and Know That I Am God!”  “Yes God, I know you are God.  It’s the ‘being still’ part that I have such a problem with.” But I had no other choice.  Maybe you are like me and you like to stay as busy as possible to elude all of the unpleasant things that seep into your mind if you hold still long enough.  I prayed and prayed!  I had my friends and family pray for me too.  And I asked the Holy Spirit to intercede for me on my behalf.

At the end of the whole experience, which I am convinced was spiritual warfare to a degree that I have NEVER experienced, I had a picture in my mind of little me standing outside the vast, dark dates of hell.  Black and grey objects were hurling out at me with hurricane like speed, pelting me with a tremendous amount of force.  It literally made me cry because I felt so very alone. And then my Father spoke to me and the only reason I could hear him is because I was still. (Go figure!)  “Deborah, if that is what it feels to be outside the gates of hell, can you just imagine how warm, beautiful, and joyful it will be to stand outside the gates of heaven and be welcomed in?”  And then I cried again, because God cares enough to make a home just for us and he wants to welcome us into his city.

Romans 8:31What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? 33Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. 35Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? (V36 skipped)
37No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,k neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.