Book Review: Jesus Land: A Memoir

I finished this book over a week ago, and I cannot stop thinking about it.  It wasn’t an easy read, but it certainly was thought-provoking!  Written by Julia Scheeres, it was also published as Another Hour on a Sunday Morning in the UK.

Julia is the youngest of four children (one boy, three girls) in a very strict Calvinist family. When she was three, her family decided to adopt a boy. They were a bit taken aback when there were no white babies available and ended up with a black child, David.  Bigoted themselves, David’s new mom was afraid that his blackness would rub off on her whenever she touched him.  Julia, however, had an instant bond with him and loved him unreservedly, becoming best friends.  When David was a few years older, they decided he needed another brother ‘like him’, and adopted Jerome. These are the three children that move to small town Indiana in the early 1980s. Continue reading

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When I Give Voice to an Opinion, Part 2

Read Part 1 here.

So back to that Huffington Post article that I saw at work.  It was a link to a letter written by a man in a state that is debating the legal definition of marriage.  Currently, he happens to fall outside of that definition.  And he presented a very eloquent argument as to why the thought of 13 strangers debating his future without knowing anything about him, or anything about his life, or anything about his marriage was one of the more discriminatory actions he has faced.  You can go here and read the full letter–I encourage you to do so.  At a time when people debate this topic so forcefully yet I know several of my friends do not know a gay man or a lesbian woman, much less one in a committed relationship, it is a fantastic accounting of what a day in his life is like.  And it’s just that–a day.  A day when two people who are married to each other wake up in the morning and go through their day.  Go to work, eat meals, do laundry, watch a movie.  A day like the day you have, or the day like I have.

I don’t know why the letter resonated with me so strongly, but it did.  So I did something I think I’ve never done (unless it’s writing to my imagined BFF at USAToday, the Pop Culture Maven Whitney Mathison) and wrote to the guy that penned the original letter.

His name is Peter Monn.  And he wrote me back.  Continue reading

When I Give Voice to an Opinion, Part 1

So here’s a bit of back story.  A few days ago I was procrastinating at work and scrolling through my Facebook feed.  Lately I seem to be clicking on a lot of Huffington Post articles, and they had one that caught my interest so I center clicked on it and opened it up in a second tab.  And then forgot about it for the next few hours.  It caught my attention as many headlines do–because it was on an issue that I carry an opinion that I do not often discuss.

I made a promise to myself that I would change that.  That I would not hide my opinion any more.  I don’t feel that I was hiding it to begin with, but I certainly wasn’t speaking up.  Well, not any more than I normally do to friends.  But not loudly, and not often.

In my life, I have had the privilege of working in the theater, in the restaurant world, and in the corporate office of a men’s clothing company.  In each of these industries, I have had the opportunity to work with people who have a lifestyle that is quite different from the one that I live. Continue reading

Sacrifice or Discipline?

So I struggled with what to sacrifice for Lent this year.  I’ve done sodas, sugar, sleep, various food products, etc.  Actually, when I first started giving up something for Lent (about 15 years ago) it was almost always a food item.  I think it was because anyone I had ever heard of giving up something for Lent had always given up food items–soda, chocolate, salt, meat–and I didn’t understand enough about it to get that it could be anything.  So this year I really struggled.  I gave up sodas about seven years ago, but now I don’t really drink them (almost as a direct result of that year).  I somehow felt that food’s were trivial.  That God was telling me that food wasn’t important enough to me to be a sacrifice, and then to focus that time in service.  I pondered this for weeks, trying to determine exactly what I was supposed to be sacrificing.

And then I figured it out.

I wasn’t too far off when I said time.  Granted, last time it was really more of the snooze bar, so that I could go to the gym.  But I just cancelled my gym membership effective March 1, so that’s not going to work.  Instead, I realized (well not really, I’ve known it for a long time) that if I come home and plop on the couch, I’m not going to get anything else done in that evening.  So I told myself that Monday through Friday, when I get home, the TV cannot turn on until 9pm or later.  This may prove to be particularly difficult on Fridays, as I get home by 115 in the afternoon, and Saturdays I have yet to determine the parameters (but trust me there will be some–I’m thinking no tv between 10 and 6) but so far this has actually made a difference.  Granted it’s only day 2, but it is.  Yesterday I finally got a bunch of laundry done and sorted my bills for the first time in five weeks.  Today I got my 2012 tax information together, cleaned out a cupboard, and kept going on my VHS to DVD project.

And yes, I prayed more.  I thought about what I was doing, and thought about why we do this thing called sacrifice.  And I think that this might be a worthy journey for me over the remaining 38 days.  Not to say that I don’t plan on purging after Easter (have you seen the 31 days of Oscar lineup on TCM?  I mean come on!), but it will be a valuable lesson and who knows–like my soda habit, maybe this will declare some new habits for me as well.

The loss of a beloved soul

Yesterday I had to go to a funeral.  I realize that’s a downer of a statement to start a blog posting with, but there you have it.  I went to a funeral.  For some reason, funeral attendance has been a common topic among some of my friends lately.  Maybe it’s because one of us is riddled with cancer in over half of her body.  Maybe it’s because an acquaintance passed away ten months ago and her loss is sorely felt every day.

Many of my friends have said that they have only been to a funeral, maybe two, in their lifetime.  I can’t say that.  I think I go to about three a year, and at least one (if not all three) are for family.  Y’all, my grandfather had 14 brothers and sisters.  My grandma, who came from the smallest family, had seven.  They all lived into their 80s, but lately we are losing a few every year.  And funerals, in my family, are not always a somber event.  They are frequently turned into parties, reunions, potluck picnics, and get-togethers.  When my Papa died seven years ago, my great-uncle (nana’s brother) left early because he had a headache.  Turned out to be brain cancer over 60% of his gray matter.  Three weeks later, my pseudo-grandma (and nana’s best friend) had a massive heart attack at her grandson’s football game and passed away.  Six weeks later, nana’s last remaining brother also passed away.  So in three months she lost her husband, two brothers and best friend.  That side of the family was thrilled we’d seen each other four times in three months, but hated the reason.  So we started planning a reunion every summer just because–and hopefully not having a funeral to see one another.

All that to say that funerals don’t faze me.  I consider it a matter of respect to the person that has passed to go to a ceremony or service that celebrates the person that lived, the soul and spirit of the departed, and to laugh and share memories of the loved one.  And bonus if they were a member of the church, looking down from the right hand of God and smiling at all of us remembering good times while he lived, knowing that one day we will be reunited.

Yesterday, I went to the funeral of a great, great man.  He was an elder in the church of my youth, and always good for a kiss, a hug, and a laugh.  His petite wife, a darling woman, was there by his side every day.  He’d been in hospice for almost two years, but only after having a stroke last week did the end seem near.  Blissfully, it was just a few days before he passed.  Married for 64 years, he had three children.  The boys went into the ministry, the youngest into the wilds of Africa with his second-generation missionary wife.  The service was a remembrance of the man, the father, the church elder, and the beloved man.

The service had a brass band playing.  No somber choir or soloist here.  The son-in-law of the deceased is a member of the orchestra (or something like that) and arranged to have the quintet playing.  Each of the nine grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren walked in a processional, carrying a long-stemmed red rose that was placed in a vase on the altar.  Then each of he three children got up to say some words about their father.

That’s when it started to get uncomfortable for me.  Not because of the words they said, in fact, I was envious of the things that they shared.  They had such a close relationship with their father and had the blessing of a man who was incredibly involved in their lives, a man who raised them and participated in their lives, and meant so much to them that they had small stories to share that had every one of us cracking up with hysterical laughter.

But the worst was when one of the ministers got up to read a letter that Cliff had written to his children.  It was the man I remembered.  To the point, it addressed each of the three kids, and said something specific to each of them that had all laughing.  It was full of advice, reminiscence, wisdom, and love.  It was absolutely beautiful.

And that’s what was so hard for me.  I have a relationship with my father.  He is 65 years old.  He isn’t the greatest father in the world (his own words), but he’s the only father that I have.  While each of Cliff’s children got up to speak about the joy that was life with their father, I kept thinking that the man I give that title to has been largely absent from my life, not really there when I need him, and rarely around to even speak to.  As I have gotten older, things have improved–mostly because he’s the king of text messaging.  It’s impersonal and brief.  Just like dad.

But more disturbingly, I don’t know of anyone that could say anything remotely close to that regarding my father after his demise.  He is not an easy guy to know.  He is not always nice.  He isn’t funny.  He’s not caring, nurturing, or loving.  He’s a cold-hearted, calculating, conniving soul if you want the truth.  And I hate to say it but I’m not even sure I would have a lot to say about the man in that sort of circumstance.  Would I be upset if he were to pass?  Of course.  He’s my father.  I might even be a bit more upset as he is also one that has walked away from the church, denying all faith.  So I know that when he dies, he is truly gone from me.  But I don’t know if I would truly have much of a loss to mourn, as any involvement he has in my life is restricted to conversations regarding his mother, quick conversations about the weather, and wondering if he is going to stop by my brother’s house for dinner when I’m in town.  We don’t talk much.  Not for lack of trying on my part, but there is only so many times you can hit your head against a concrete wall before you get a massive headache and stop.

I spent a lot of time last night upset about this.  I miss what my father could have been, had he only ever had an interest.  I miss the relationship we could have had, given the opportunity.  I miss the role he could have had in my life, if he only ever cared enough to take it.  He left my life over thirty years ago, and while he is present as a family member now that I’m an adult, it’s not as a parent.  More of a distant blood relative that I get along with on occasion.

So after witnessing the joy that was the service and celebration yesterday, I want to say this:  Lee, Craig, and Sharon: You are and were greatly blessed.  To have such a loving family surround you and support you all your life, and to recognize how special that was while you had the chance is a great gift.  I loved your father so very much, he was such a great man of God.  He did you all well, and you have made him so very, very proud.  I am so very sorry for your loss, but you know that somewhere he is waiting for you to join him.  In the meantime, he is finding a wig and using a funny voice to entertain hordes of children in heaven.  And if that doesn’t work, he’ll be there with a kiss, a hug, and a laugh.  God bless you all.

Dispersement

My life group (small group, bible study, whatever you want to call it), as previously mentioned on this blog, has grown by leaps and bounds this past year.  So much so that we have had to branch off into two different groups to remain effective–a “small” group cannot have two dozen people, you know?  Tonight was the first night of that break.

It was odd being in a group that small, but it was nice.  We had six regulars, one new girl (who lives around the corner from me and I teach with her husband, so I gave her a ride–plus she’s our leader’s former roommate), and two that couldn’t come.  So even being “dispersed” we are still at a pretty good size.  (The word “split” or “divided” didn’t work for us, sounded too negative.  Don’t remember how they came to use “disperse” but it cracks me up.)

I’m looking forward to this new study.  The group was divided based on the book we voted on for the next session, and since I didn’t give a vote (I liked both books so I didn’t care) I was put into the ‘newer’ group.  It’s nice for me as it is all of about six seconds down the street from me, but it was still a small pang of longing to be with the other girls.  The book we are studying is regarding prayer.  Ironically enough, it is also the subject of the new sermon series at church.  I think it’s absolutely divine intervention that has me in this group as opposed to the other group which is focusing on another discipline.  Prayer is something I very strongly believe in.  Someday I might even write out the story of why I believe it actually works and that there is a God that listens to us when we pray.  But it is a discipline that I feel I need a lot of work in.

I pray.  I do, I pray.  I tend to pray in a conversational style rather than in a formalized structured method, and instead of setting aside a few moments at the start of each day or at the end of the day to pray I tend to have conversations with God in my head throughout my waking hours.  Some of the greatest conversations that I have with him take place while I’m swimming.  Since I am in the water for so long, the meditative movement is a perfect time for me to have a chat with God.

Yes, I tend to pray without speaking.  Yes, I have conversations in my head.  No, I do not think I need psychological consultation for such a thing (although for other matters, well, that’s probably another story).  I think that God hears my prayers and that he answers them, but I feel that there is room for improvement and for consistency in my prayer life.

So I am really looking forward to this study!

Of all the days . . . .

I love Sundays.  I go to the early service, play with kids in kids church, have a few hours to myself, then have girls night.  It’s my favorite day of the week.

Today the schedule was a bit different.  I went to church, but it was the late service because today was baby dedication Sunday for B, NoMH, and their five-month old baby.  Her parents were here, his mom and brother were here, and our Sunday night third was there–with her entire family.  Her husband and two kids, aged 4 and almost 6.

Last week C and her family started going to church themselves.  Raised Catholic, she and her husband haven’t been much since they got married six years ago.  Last week they went for the first time in ages to a local church, and enjoyed it.  They went again for Ash Wednesday, and then to the early service this morning.  Then instead of just C showing up for baby dedication the entire family came.  Normally, I’d be thrilled.  Today was another story, however. Continue reading