Tuesday, December 15, 2009
Thursday, August 27, 2009
Thursday, July 9, 2009
Some Answers Create More Problems
Still, I can see the appeal in Eastern religions. They are somewhat passive, in stark contrast to the often aggressive extremism found in some versions of Christianity and Islam. To a Buddhist, all struggle and tension are released. More to the point, under this philosophy there is a notion that offers a reason behind our suffering; karma suggests that we are all receiving our spiritual inheritance. I suffer due to bad karma, inherited because of something I did in a previous lifetime. Men in this life mistreated me, not because I allowed them, but because I was a womanizer in my past life. I am poor and needy now, not because I made unwise financial decisions, but because I was rich and selfish then. I must have also abused and neglected children. Because of this past, one I can only imagine, suffering is necessary in order for me to pay for previous sins.
There was a point in my spiritual development when I bought into the basics of karmic law, but I was misguided. I created much of own suffering to speed up the karmic process, hoping I could pay off the debt from my past life sooner. The problem with this way of thinking is obvious to any spiritually mature person: one can never know in this life the amount owed from the past. It can only be assumed based on how much one suffers - the greater the suffrage in this life, the more heinous the deed must have been in the past life.
Christianity's "Karmic" Solution
So according to the Christian view, it is for higher learning that we suffer. To know ease and comfort, we must become familiar with it’s opposite: suffering. To appreciate goodness, we must experience evil. To know how right God is, we must witness how wrong we are. It is a simple formula, in order to make any comparison or contrast, we need two distinct variables. The further apart in likeness, the more obvious the distinction between the two forces. Once the difference is learned, one can exercise free will to choose which force to follow. The power of the chosen force convicts and empowers us to move.
Is it necessary, then, that children suffer? The answer is as difficult to swallow as suffering itself, but put simply – yes, we must all suffer. Why? As I evolve in my spirituality, and serve as steward to my own children, I have come to understand that knowing the difference between good and evil is as critical to our growth as is the knowledge of left or right, up or down. The earlier a child learns, the sooner she can choose her direction in life and act accordingly.
Life is suffering. Suffering demands change. Change requires movement. People are the way they are because of suffering, or because they are free from suffering and therefore have no cause to move. What binds people together in one body is love, surely, but this expression is made possible by the experience of suffering. How quickly we join together with compassion for one another when we share similar hurts and sorrows.
[ii]Henley, Karyn. Love Trumps Karma, Karyn Henley Resources, 2005
Monday, June 15, 2009
Monday, June 8, 2009
Saved Through Grace by Faith is a common slogan printed on colorful t-shirts and worn by Christians of diverse denominational background. Grace as a spiritual concept is particular to Christianity, it's Greek word charis is found for the first time in the New Testament. Grace is a belief that though we are creatures born wicked, we are saved from condemnation; a mercy given by God through Christ. In order to embrace this belief, however, one must first accept that we are, in fact, a wicked people.
No one wants to believe he is wicked. It is more common to think that though we may sometimes make poor choices, we are not bad people. Herein lies the problem we face with receiving God's grace: in order to receive it, we must accept that we need it; that we are people of iniquity who must make a conscious effort to always do the right thing.
Post-modernism has managed to convince the average citizen that there is a social-psychological reason for every bad deed we do. Long story short, we are not responsible, nor should we be held accountable for our behavior. We had a difficult childhood, one in which we were isolated, emotionally, sexually, and/or physically abused. We were misinformed, miseducated, misunderstood. We were born into an unjust society, marginalized, ostracized, disenfranchised. We have a family history of alcoholism and/or drug abuse, it’s our mother’s neglect, our father’s absence. We suffer from toxic stress, economic oppression, a chemical imbalance or disorder, bi-polar, manic depression, compulsive obsession. Even daily living is reason enough to excuse us from our nasty selves.
If the individual can justify her behavior, then a country may not even have to provide explanation for its wickedness: a nation must do whatever is necessary to preserve the welfare of its people. The means necessary is open to subjective suggestion, national welfare can range in distribution, and which population of people is served is based on the ruling party’s own volition. As leading nations are abdicated from liability, its people follow by example. In other words, what is right is relative to the general times, current leadership, and the most persuasive opinion.
Moral conviction is now an outside intruder, self-righteously imposing it’s judgment on society, (and almost certainly pushed by right-wing conservative bible-thumpers, an easy label that at once dismisses and condemns anyone who might stand up for a belief that is centered on spiritual principals.) What remains is a more accepting, inclusive pluralist society in which I’m okay and you’re okay and it’s all good. Who could ask for anything more? Further, why do we need grace at all?
To Be Continued…..
Monday, May 4, 2009
Thursday, April 23, 2009
The beginning of a beautiful relationship sprouted early like a Florida spring. It pushed through the mulch of old habits as a curling tendril, eager to attach to its life support. I was intimidated at first, newly divorced and wary of lovely promises. Still, I became engaged to that which I dared not follow in my past life, before Christ. Mr. Trust met me at the crossroads, a character uniquely different from the spirit with whom I normally travel, Mrs. Faith. I have assigned these two powers with personalities; if I view them as active participants, they are easier to approach and integrate into my daily living.
Mrs. Faith and I are long-term companions. We met during my childhood when I first began to develop a "belief in something for which there is no proof" (Merriam Webster). She didn't appear until after I found out Santa and the Easter Bunny were socially constructed figments of the imagination. Mrs. Faith introduced herself following a conversation I had with my cousin Suzanna, the only one in my family whose parents were regularly attending church. I lived just around the bend from her and while walking home on our country road I asked, "How did you get Jesus to be with you?" She said quite plainly, "Just ask him into your heart."
I was surprised by the simplicity of what was required, expecting some voodoo hoodoo ritual similar to what my mother use to do while dancing around the house with mixed incense from a joint in one hand and a smoking pine branch in the other. Though I had my doubts as to the effectiveness of my cousin's rite of spiritual passage, I determined it was easy enough to at least try. That night I called him up, "Jesus, if you're there, come see about me." Not long after I received a call back.
I was asleep in my top bunk when the light came. I climbed down from the bed to see its brightness shining from the space between the closed bathroom door and the floor. When I opened the door, the light erupted and embraced me. Nothing was visible except the lid of the seat, and bare feet standing upon it. I lifted my head to view the body, instinctively knowing it was him. Christ had come, and he was standing on my toilet. He said something (to this day I do not recall his words,) and extended his greeting with arms stretched out as if to say “come to me.” Why the King of Kings would come to stand on a commode throne is beyond me, but it was this vision that introduced me to Mrs. Faith. Though it was just a dream, it caused me to believe Christ was real and he’d agreed to come see about me, to stand above the excrement of my troubled home life and help me flush it all out.
If Christ is the lamp unto my feet, she is the path upon which I walked. Often, though, she was too soft, her ground lacked firm foundation. Having been flooded again and again by mental and emotional chaos, the path was always a bit swampy, like the earth beneath leaky plumbing. Still, I trudged along, bearing dissonant feelings of disgust and joy, as a child playing barefoot in mud puddles. For most of my short life, it has been just us, Mrs. Faith and I, supported occasionally by an olive leaf suggestion that God is indeed watching over me.
Up until very recently, Mr. Trust was a stranger to me, and I don't talk to strangers, not without consuming several alcoholic beverages, and since I quit drinking (again) and smoking (finally) I have yet to discover means to engage with strangers without great anxiety. This is an oppressive challenge and has been since childhood; I am incredibly uncomfortable in groups of two or more. This has become a considerable obstacle in my walk with Christ since two or three gathered together is the appropriate number for Him to be in the midst (Matthew 18:20).
Extreme discomfort in a group of strangers is what makes fellowship at church my least favorite component of service. "The Peace" makes me feel at war within, imitating cordial greetings, smiling by mouth only. My eyes search for a single person I know well enough that I might escape the crowd to reach familiarity. "Peace be with you" or "God Bless" is superficial for me. I do it out of formality not authentic sincerity. I feel like a fraud, masking my facelessness: These people don't know me. I'm just a hand to shake. This is precisely what I was thinking the day Mr. Trust introduced himself. He started the conversation with a question, spoken through a pastor's sermon: Do you trust that God loves you?
"Yes, Jesus loves me" is a song we learn to live by early in our Christian journey. How it is learned differs from person to person, but for the most part, we learn this simple faith first. At a certain point, we make a conscious decision to take her as our route through life, a choice that may seem foolish to some, but to believers it is an honorable feat. To believe in something that cannot be proven is bold, daring even, though there are some Christians who are possessed by spiritual pride, presuming to be superior in spiritual strength compared to non-believers who just can't seem to make that leap.
We brave Christians clasp firmly the hand of Mrs. Faith in our darkest hour, never giving in to hopelessness. Most hold onto the "Yes, Jesus Loves Me" childhood mindset throughout our adult lives. Yet, truth be told, the notion of a loving God is a learned belief. Learning a belief is as untenable as any computer program, susceptible to viruses, possibly causing an entire system to crash.
The average Christian remains with Mrs. Faith because he has been conditioned to believe. Faith is familiar to us, a road commonly traveled, comfortably reliable. But what happens when she turns in a direction we have never been before? Worse, what happens when a jackhammer rips her road to rubble? Though intangible, our faith is as real as love or beauty, as is the pain of any assault against her. Yet when challenged, exclusively relying on Faith is risky, there is always room to argue, question, doubt. We falter, our hesitation makes us weak. When confronted with the ultimate inquiry - what is the meaning and purpose of all this? - belief in the existence of God works to a certain point. Faith is good, but she is vulnerable standing alone. We must build a hedge around her. Enter Mr. Trust.
Wednesday, April 22, 2009
He answered in a flash. Flashes are visions that appear in that grey area where I am not fully awake, but not yet asleep. In this flash I saw people crossing a deep, black chasm. The distance wasn't far, no more than 20 feet. I was looking from above, watching them cross the darkness- but there was no bridge. It was there, for they were walking on something, but it was invisible. I watched as they all crossed successfully. Then it was my turn. I came down from above and into my body. I took steps towards the cliff, then a few feet onto the bridge I could not see. Then I did what everybody knows they should not do but do anyway out of instinct: I looked down. There was nothing under me, just the empty black hole beneath my feet. In my panic I heard the Spirit: "That's your problem. You don't trust me." I opened my eyes, fully awake, knowing the truth had been revealed.
Rather than simply accepting the truth, I had to push the issue. I prayed, "Help me trust in you." Now I understand what "Pray wisely" means. I should have known better. When I prayed "Let my faith increase," the Lord sent me trials to test and strengthen Faith. Praying for Trust could only lead to trouble that requires dancing with the man himself. This first dance started clumsy, like waltzing backwards in broken stilettos. If I had only known my prayer was in the process of being answered, I would have gone barefoot and ran with it. As it was I thought I was being punished.
I had fallen into disobedience, refusing to do what God had asked of me: stop drinking. After my grandfather died, I had a hard time working through the loss on my own. The day of his death I drank two rum and cokes as fast as I could. Later that night, I finished a bottle of wine. Several weeks later, I was back into the routine: a glass after work, another while cooking, and two more by bedtime. One day, I was bored. I sat down at the computer but could think of nothing to write. Staring out the window, my mind idle, I decided to simply relax all day with a bottle of wine. As I was stepping out the door, I heard the Spirit: "Don't do this." I did it anyway. That night my daughter called, "Mom, your car died."
She had come home to visit during her spring break. It was the last night before she had to return back to school on the west coast. She wanted to hang out with her friends so I let her use my car. I was half asleep when the phone rang."I don't know what happened, I heard this noise and then everything just locked up." She explained quickly, trying to assure me that she was not responsible for the breakdown. "I added some oil, but it still wouldn't start. Some guys helped me move the car, and that's when we saw the oil trail in the road." Then she put her friend's father on the phone."You don't have an oil filter," he said."But I just had my oil changed last month," I responded."Well, they must not have put it on all the way because there's no oil filter now.""So, the engine is dead."He didn't want to kill all hope but I could hear the truth as he stuttered, "Well, now it is, yes. I think. Maybe. I don't know for sure because I can't see, but....there's no oil filter. It's....""Dead."My penance had come; I had not prepared to pay so soon. I began totaling the cost: towing, engine, labor...... The spirit of worry skipped into my bedroom, jumped on my bed and sang her mocking song "Here I come to save the day!"After my daughter's safe return home, I lie in bed and let the spirit of blame chastise me. "You brought this on yourself. You're so stubborn. Weak." I remembered the biblical verses I the Lord revealed to me during my last two trips off the wagon. In January I read "Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice....." (1 Samuel 15:22). I obeyed for a time, until my divorce in March, after which I headed straight for happy hour at Ballyhoo's. A few drinking days later I read "Who hath woe? who hath sorrow? who hath contentions? who hath babbling? who hath wounds without cause? who hath redness of eyes? They that tarry long at the wine; they that go to seek mixed wine. Look not thou upon the wine when it is red, when it giveth his color in the cup, when it moveth itself aright. At the last it biteth like a serpent, and stingeth like an adder." (Proverbs 23:29-32) God was speaking to me, warning me as gently as he could. But I wouldn't listen. Instead of building of a protective hedge around my sweet Faith, I dug a wine-filled moat in which I was drowning. I imagine Mrs. Faith reached for me, but I'd gone under.
The morning after my car died I felt washed up. Bloated, eyes puffy. Worry dragged me out of bed by my feet, urging me to figure out how I was going to get my daughter to the airport, a four hour drive there and back. First things first; I called the garage and informed them of their botched job on my car. He offered his apologies "if it was our fault." I heard the implied loophole and immediately countered, "Your people were the last one's to work on my car!" He offered to tow the car to the shop and said he'd call as soon as they had a look under the hood. That was good, but it did not solve my immediate problem. With renewed calm I asked him, "How do you propose I get my daughter to the Jacksonville airport? Her flight leaves in three hours.""I....I" Great, more stuttering. I waited, hoping. "I don't know how to help you with that." Of course not. The cynical spirit was glowing around me as the clock kept ticking.My daughter called a couple friends, but I wasn't holding my breath. Who is ready and willing to drive for four hours at a moment's notice? No one - no surprise there. I decided to rent a car, adding the cost to my tally. Enterprise picks up their customers, unless they live outside city limits, which I did. I managed to get a ride into town to pick up a car, though not within the necessary time frame. I had to call to change my daughter's flight. Cha-ching. The cost kept building.On the way to the airport I called the garage. "It could not have been anything we did," the manager announced. "You've driven 1300 miles since we changed your oil. If it was our fault, the filter would have come off sooner.""So, it's my fault?""Well, do you have any enemies?" His suggestion of sabotage triggered the spirits of guilt and shame. Does God count?"No." I tried to sound certain."I just can't explain it then. I've never seen anything like this."A mystery that cannot be explained is either beyond man's ability to reason or an act of God - though the former is often because of the latter. I determined the latter was true in this case. Still, I needed an earthly solution."What do you suggest I do?""You can call our insurance company."Ah, bureaucracy - the most reliable of outcomes for any problem needing an expedient solution. Days of phone tag, stacks of paperwork and the liberal use of explicatives. Yes, I was going to pay dearly. Should I be ever be tempted to drink again, I would have this experience to remind me the cost of a bottle of wine.I made it to the airport, said my good-byes, drove back, delivered the little one to her father, and returned home with little over an hour left before I had to go to work. I checked my messages. "Gill" from the insurance company had called, assuring me he'd be in the office until 4:00 and provided his number - long distance of course. I had to add $10 to my phone card so I could make the call, and as expected, he was "away from his desk or on the phone" and would get back to me as soon as possible. It was 3:45. I sighed. "You're going to make me sit with this anxiety all weekend aren't you, Lord?" I left a message for Mr. Gill, then resigned myself to pondering the mystery that would remain on my mind for the next 36 hours. Mrs. Faith waved. Who are you waving at?! I see you! My grumbling spirit couldn't see Mr. Trust smiling as he stood right behind me. I changed my clothes and pulled back my hair for work.
Tuesday, April 21, 2009
I looked forward to talking with Patty, co-owner of the restaurant where I serve. Strict in her work ethic as she is in her Pentecostal faith, Patty intimidated me at first. She reminded me of my mother: critical, commanding, yells a lot. Yet when it comes to dealing with daily drama, Patty is approachable, understanding. She loves as passionately as she hates. She adores children; her own daughter died when she was just a teen. She admonishes mock Christianity that feels good, faith built with cheap stucco versus real wood. "His yoke ain't that easy!" She struggles, but she's sturdy and honest. She admits her own short-comings, willingly pointing out the knots in her beams. "I smoked pot for six years after I was saved. People don't change overnight!" She remembers what it was like to be a babe in the arms of Christ; struggling to pick apart the old life, trying to determine what can be refurbished and what must be demolished and completely rebuilt.
I shared with her my assessment of the car saga. "God is punishing me for drinking." She warned against such thinking. "It's not punishment," she reflected. "Sometimes things just happen." I wanted to believe her, but Faith shook her head. Was she negating what my boss said? Fortunately we were slammed; I had tables back to back and no time to ruminate reasonings and renditions about my car's condition, though I wanted to believe Patty's explanation. I did not want this to be punishment, I wanted to drink. Yet, the Spirit speaking in me demanded a holy different desire: to abide in Christ. What if my car dying was a consequence for me straying from the path God has set before me? The implications are vast, the least of which is that God is watching and he is actively participating in my life. God is watching me - a small town girl, a brown-skinned little orphan Annie, a traveling gypsy, a former pot-head and recovering alcoholic, a single mom living on food stamps and $3 tips. I heard the question again: Do you trust that God loves you? Mrs. Faith reached for her Mister, but I was standing in between, not yet ready to let them meet.
Tired from a busy night at the restaurant and emotionally exhausted from the car situation, I collapsed into bed. But the devil wouldn't let me rest. For hours I tried to figure my way out of the conundrum. What happened to the oil filter? Who could have taken it out? My ex-husband used to work at Jiffy Lube but he's too lazy to crawl underneath my hood. And I don't get close enough to anyone to make enemies. I gave up wondering and moved on to other concerns. How am I going to get to my other job on Monday? I can't afford to miss a single day! Boxcars of worries rammed into each other, my train of thought stalled on a broken track. "Enough!" I threw the covers off me, got out of bed and down on my knees to pray. "Lord, forgive me. Help me. I can't fix this one on my own." I continued pleading, more than necessary. Mr. Trust laid down to warm up my side of the bed. When I finally curled up to sleep, he put his arm around me.
When I woke up Saturday, I didn't notice any change, not immediately. I went about my morning ritual, still thinking about the car, but by the time I took my second sip of coffee I noticed the edge wasn't so jarring. There was no bridge to cross the abyss, none that I could see. Yet, the anxiety of crossing had lifted. Without its heavy weight oppressing me, I could think more clearly. "I just have to trust God is working," I announced out loud. My cat looked up at me, indifferent, then went back to eating her breakfast. The birds went on singing, calling out from one grand oak tree to another. I am often envious of animals. They don't have to worry about rent or utility bills. Their car never breaks down. If only I could be as carefree as a bird.
Christ came to liberate us, proclaiming that God will never forsake those whom He loves. And He loved the world - saints and sinners alike. If we trust in His love, the words of Christ should come as no surprise: "Consider the Raven: for they neither sow nor reap; which neither have storehouse nor barn; and God feedeth them: how much more are ye better that the fowls?" (Luke 12:24) Christ assures us: "Fear ye not therefore, ye are of more value than many sparrows" (Matthew 10:31). This being the case, Christians should be immune from worry and anxiety. Do you trust that God loves you? If I am following the word of the Lord, then my answer should be a resounding "YES!" Why, then, was I so troubled?
Monday, April 20, 2009
Faith is incomplete without Trust. Trust is the heart of Faith, the face under the mask. Faith is the invisible path; Trust is the gumption to make the crossing. To act in Faith is passive without the strength of Trust to make the leap. Faith is believing God exists; Trust comes from knowing God loves us. The bond that holds Mrs. Faith and Mr. Trust together in perfect union is our love for God. If my bond is weak, the real question is not whether God loves me, but how much I love God.
My love for God is proven in my willingness to surrender, submit, and obey; to become fully dependent on Him. I can hear the shrill shriek of feminist liberals upon reading that last sentence. I recognize their voice, it was mine once. Surrender makes me a loser, submission makes me a slave, obedience begs for rebellion and dependency is needy. But these descriptions are true only in a man's world. In God's world, nothing could be further from the truth.
To become a willing servant of Christ requires intimacy, the kind that cannot be realized if it is blocked by pride, egoism, or self-serving agendas. To receive Him into my body and allow Him to remain for life, I must stripe away these layers of self-sufficiency and become an open vessel to be filled with His Love. Love between a man and a woman is a stream compared to the ocean of Love God has for us, the kind of Love we, as his children should have for Him. This love affair is just beginning for me, but already I have come to realize that I was serving God for selfish reasons. I have been serving to avoid hell, for protection against curses. I agreed to follow Christ because it's the only way to get to heaven. I surrendered my life so my cup would overflow with gifts and rewards. But what if God took away the promise of heaven? What if he announced that there is no hell? What if I got nothing out of the deal? What if my engine doesn't get fixed? Would I still love him? Will I still be willing to serve?
The answer to this question is directly linked to the strength of my faith. True love for God is unconditional; it turns simple faith into enthusiastic devotion to Jesus himself. Love says, "I delight to do they will," regardless of what I receive in return. I seek and serve Him just to be in His presence. This kind of love is measured by obedience. Jesus says, "If you love me, keep my commandments." Love perfects faith, it transforms hope of reward into the hope of likeness, for union with Him that I might know him. That is what made Christ so powerful in his work, he trusted God loved him, and he loved God unconditionally. Trust came easy for him, He was God! He walked in certainty, knowing the truth of God's love intimately. Before calming the storm, he did not cower on the boat; wring his hands with worry, cross his figures whispering "Oh, God, please let this work. I hope, I hope....." He commanded with authority, and it was done.
To have that level of trust requires a closeness I don't yet posses. It calls for regular contact, a well-established long-term relationship, one that reveals patterns upon which one comes "to rely on the integrity, strength, ability, surety, etc., of a person or thing; confidence" (Dictionary.com). The patterns are there, the experiences I have lived through are proof enough that God is with me and will not forsake me. But will he fix my car?
Yes. He did, and more. The manager of Tires Plus on Main Street replaced my engine, provided a rental car for a week while they put it in, and reimbursed me for the fee I was charged for changing my daughter's flight, as well as the cost of renting a car to get her to the airport. It is still a mystery as to how I lost the oil filter. I could assume that because they agreed to fix it that they were, in fact, responsible for the break down. But I wonder, was this a faith test? Did God answer my prayer - "help me to trust you" - through an act of mechanical failure? If I go with the natural assumption not much changes after the resolution: my car broke down, it was fixed, end of story. If I follow the supernatural possibility, however, the Lord blessed me with a proposal: do you, daughter of God, take this man, for better or worse, through sickness and in health, till death do you part? Mr. Trust is awfully handsome and he makes me feel beautiful, from the inside out. Yes, Lord, I will. "And they lived happily ever after" is not what I expect from this partnership, but I do anticipate a lifetime of mysteries that will bring me ever closer to God.
Wednesday, April 1, 2009
There is a laborious process to dying, for the person who dies, as well as those left behind. The work in dying is a job for which few voluntarily apply; it is dirty, painful and without reward. Nonetheless, every living thing is eventually called in for work. There are books that describe the duties, stages outlined to assist those who are new on the job. I, however, am an experiential learner; books can only take me so far before I must simply jump in and deal with the work at hand. Such is the case in my grandfather's death.
We all knew his time was coming. My mother had been preparing me for 20 years. Every time I went to visit him, I stepped carefully, thinking This may be the last time I see him. That's what makes my memories so vivid; I was coloring them in even while he was alive. Still, his death hit me harder than I expected. Most alarming is how the color is fading, time and tears washing out the brightness of his image.
My grandfather died on a Thursday morning. I received the phone call an hour before I was scheduled to work "job A " as a server in a Mexican restaurant. There was no way I could provide good customer service with a smile that night. I called my boss; "My grandpa died, I'm not gonna' make it in." I spent the night with a bottle of wine to depress my depression. For a week following his death my emotional response ranged from snot and slob sobbing to numb indifference. This, too, matched Grandpa’s personality, bi-polar mood swings was his normalcy.
The day after his death I was longing to be by a river. Fortunately, the Santa Fe is only a 15 minute drive from my apartment. My hibiscus had a new bloom; I picked it and took it with me to the river. I watched it drift in the shallows, wondering if it would be carried away into the slow and easy current or if it would simply get stuck in the slimy muck on the side bank. I imagined Grandpa’s afterlife the same way; was he lifted to heaven or is he arguing even now, cussing out the reaper at the gates of hell? Rain started falling, so did my tears. I fell to my knees and let go.
I went to lunch afterwards, ordering a bowl of clam chowder cooked with bits of bacon. I ate the meat in his honor, topping it off with two doses of rum and coke. The server, Christy, comped my meal; I must have looked truly pathetic. By five that evening, I was sufficiently cried out, eyes red and puffy, but went to work anyway. I was glad we were busy; it's hard to recall fond memories of dead relatives when filling up chips and salsa for table six, calling in sides of guac and sour cream for table three, and trying to remember if the woman at table four wanted sweet or unsweet tea. Saturday night was equally busy, though there was a raw moment when the grandchild in a large party walked up behind her grandfather and gave him a loving hug, just as I used to do with my Grandpa. I swallowed the lump in my throat and asked the mom what sort of dressing she wanted on her side salad.
Sunday morning I went to a lively church service but felt dead inside. The Holy Spirit tried to move me, but I didn't feel like feeling. Sunday evening I learned the memorial service would be the next Saturday. I panicked: I have to get there! I want to be a part of the service! I need to say good-bye! I went on-line to search ticket prices that started as high as $2,500 roundtrip for two - I was very insistent that my daughter come with me, for my own comfort and to share with her the significance of her great, great grandfather Franz.
I finally found two tickets for $1,400 - an amount that equaled my entire savings. My aunt offered to help, and I was sure my mother would pitch in, but money woes would surface eventually, something I am avidly trying to avoid, especially given the current recession. But this was Grandpa, the man of my life. I called my bank to make the transfer. Strangely enough, I couldn't remember my pass code. I was forced to wait and call first thing Monday morning to finish the transaction. I called the airline to at least reserve the tickets. When I hung up, I felt a sense of peace; I was going home. As I lie down to sleep, however, I was nudged by worry. What if I need that money for an emergency? What if my hours are cut, how will I make rent? What if….. Financial insecurity is the surest way to attack faith. I said a prayer requesting the Lord's guidance, as it was clear I was too emotionally attached to think clearly.
The next morning I performed the usual routine, got the preschooler ready, jumped in the car and prepared to leave for "job B" as a writing specialist at the college. The car stalled but started on the second attempt. That's when I saw the warning light reading "security." This advisory didn't make much sense for my car's functioning; I don't have a security system. I proceeded with my morning agenda with the spirit of anxiety sucking on the lining of my stomach.
After I dropped off my daughter, I immediately pulled into the nearest service station. I called into work after learning I would need a new battery, an oil change, and two new tires. "I'll be in tomorrow night," I promised, and would need to be - with one night's work loss from job A, and one day's work loss from job B, I didn't have the luxury of missing much more. Attending the memorial would take me out for a week. What was I thinking?
While waiting on my car, I realized God was working for me. If I'd purchased those tickets the night before, I wouldn't have been able to take care of my car or anything else that may come up in the months to come. All praise be to God, for He can see what is truly needed: security for the insecure, not a memorial for the mortal, a human attempt to fill in hues of what is now like a black and white photograph, absent the colorful life. Besides, Grandpa wouldn’t know whether I was there or not, "...the dead know not any thing." It's more important that I get to work and provide for the living. Grandpa would want it that way.
The next day I went to job B, helping students with their essays. I walked in a few minutes late. There was a student waiting. I dumped my purse on the designated shelf, picked through the nametags, found mine and attached it to my shirt. As I sat down, I glanced at the student's assignment sheet: Compare and contrast two poems about death. "You've got to be kidding me," I said in defeat. The student looked up at me, questioning my response. I sighed my resignation, "It's been a long week."
I hadn't visited Grandpa at the cabin since my now four-year-old was just crawling. I brought her home to accomplish a specific mission; baptize her feet in the river. I took pictures, wrote my thoughts down in a journal, brought a few rocks home. But how can I ensure she will appreciate the significance of that captured moment? More importantly, how do I express who Grandpa was to me, to our family? She’ll never know him as I did, for when I die “the memory of [him] is forgotten." My only hope lies in a high and rocky place.
If one wants to know God, walk in His love. I suppose the same can be applied to Grandpa. As the man and the place are one and the same, I will go home to walk in his presence. My daughter and I will search for rocks shaped like hearts. We’ll take hikes high into the hills and listen as the mountains share their lessons, the kind Grandpa might teach: There are highs and lows on every trail; wear the right shoes, watch out for poison oak, and stay away from the edge. I’ll cook whatever is growing, I may even add a bit of meat. When night falls, I’ll tuck her in to sleep on the patio and together we’ll lose count of the stars. In my prayers, I’ll give thanks for good food, good company, and a good place to enjoy both. I'll miss you, Grandpa.