Are You Laughing With Me, Or At Me?

Did you ever do anything just for the fun of it? You know, just to make others laugh, even if it might be at your own expense?

This year on Halloween, I did exactly that. I deliberately dressed for the fun of it. I dressed to make people smile and laugh along with the fun of my outfit. I wore a tam-o’-shanter (that’s a type of beanie, or hat, for those who don’t know) that looks like a large orange pumpkin (including the green stem out the top), black cat earrings and a white sweatshirt with Jack O’ Lanterns and the words “Trick Or Treat” embroidered on it. It’s my traditional Halloween outfit if it’s not a workday, and the only time of year I wear orange. (It’s not a good color on me!)

The shirt usually doesn’t cause much comment. The hat, however, can only be worn by a person who has what my late mother once described as a generous sense of humor and a hearty dose of chutzpaChutzpa is a Yiddish term which means, “shameless audacity, boldness, temerity, cheek, nerve, and guts,” all of which my mother often said described me!

As a business owner, I don’t often get the chance to break out of my professional mold and do crazy stuff. Halloween is a rare chance to get a little goofy, and invite the world along for my slightly crazy ride. I donned my shirt, hat and earrings with pride, and off I went as if I was dressing for just another normal Saturday of errands.

I got my hair cut, ran errands at 4 stores and finished the night with going to dinner and wandering the mall with my husband. Except for when I had to take if off to get my hair styled, the hat stayed firmly planted atop my head, as if there was nothing abnormal about it, and it wasn’t there at all.

I got looks. Did I ever get looks! Fellow shoppers looked at me. Some stared. Others smiled, and a few chuckled. Some commented they liked it. Even other drivers did double-takes as they passed me in parking lots! As I moved through my day, I looked for reactions. Sometimes, I was disappointed. Most of the time, I was not.

Normally, when I go through my day, I try to brighten it for the people I encounter wherever I go. I tell people I like what it says on their shirts, or that the color is flattering to them, or I like their shoes (women get that one a lot), or how much I appreciate their customer service or helpfulness. Wearing the Halloween shirt and hat wasn’t a rebellion against wearing a costume, as much as it was giving in a little to the spirit of the day while doing it in a way that would brighten others’ days as well. While laughing at myself, I encouraged others to laugh at me and with me, making them happier in the process.

In a deeper sense, it’s also good to remember sometimes we are seen as fools and laughed at, not for celebrating an innocent day with the world, but for going against it with our convictions. I Corinthians 4;10 talks about being made fools of for the sake of Christ. In I Corinthians 1:25, it says,

For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

The world often laughs at and mocks what it cannot understand. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is definitely something the world cannot understand! The world is befuddled and bewildered by it and uses mockery and derision as a defense against what it can neither defend against nor explain away. 

As a Christian, I cannot allow the mockery and derision of the world to cause me to falter or fail in my faith. I must always keep in mind that Jesus was hated by the world, too, and He is my example. As He said in John 15:18,

If the world hates you, remember that it hated me first.

“Hate” is such a strong word, isn’t it? We almost want to modify it to “Ignore” or “tease” or something more innocuous. But in every translation I checked in English, those words of Jesus Himself are translated to “hate.” It’s because often we have to step up to the harsh reality of the world that completely opposes Jesus and decide on which side we’re going to stand. It’s a choice we all have to settle in our minds and hearts once we are clearly confronted with the salvation message and its truths.

Once we settle where we stand, what the world thinks becomes unimportant to the point of insignificance. Settling where I stood took care of knowing where my place was, who my “Daddy” was, my identity as my Heavenly Father’s daughter and my security of belonging to His family in the Church. Settling issues like these freed me emotionally from needing to desperately belong anywhere else, or with anyone else. Wherever His people are, I am home, due to the acceptance found in the knowledge of who I am in Christ.

And when I settle such deep human needs like those, I am then free to satisfy an impulse to indulge my whimsical side, such as I did this Halloween, with a pumpkin tam-o’-shanter to make people who saw me all day smile and laugh. Because when they were laughing at me, I was laughing right along with them!

Charlie, Get OFF My FEET!

Dear Readers, over the years on this blog, I’ve introduced you to various members of my family. There is, of course, the long-suffering Bob, who is not only my dear husband of almost 35 years, but also my editor. He patiently puts up with the life of a husband of someone obsessed with words and getting them down and out of my head before they drive me nuts with their clamor. His thoughtfulness of others gives him the right to edit all my work, suggesting less offensive ways of saying things, as I can tend to be too blunt many times. And he does all this with a gentle and sweet spirit, loving and easy going in his ways. Besides being my husband and editor, Bob is also my business partner and the steadfast emotionally stable rock of our family. He puts up with me when I go off half-cocked on some new wild scheme, and often just watches and enjoys the ride, preparing as needed to help clean up my mess after. (I can’t say enough good about him!)

Our oldest is daughter Beth, married to (acquired-by-said-marriage-son) Tom. Yes, we view Tom as just as much one of our adult kids as the two we birthed. They are, if you will recall, parents of our 4 remarkable grandchildren, Keyna, Ariel, Tommy, and Samantha. Beth and Tom have recently started a business in collaboration with ours, and we are rejoicing in their early successes. We adore the times we get to spend with our grandchildren and know our grandchildren are our rewards as parents for allowing our kids to survive when they were such seemingly impossible beings when we were raising them!

Youngest is our son David. David is in the process of launching into the world and leaving home. He has found a roommate, a job and they are now looking for apartments together. He had some struggles to find his way for a while, trying college and flunking out only one semester before graduation, but he finally seems to have found his niche, and a job he enjoys. We are pleased to see him finally find his feet in life, and now are just hoping a nice girl will catch his eye soon, so he can start giving us a few more grandchildren to spoil . . .

There are a few family members I know I haven’t introduced you to yet. These are our fur babies, 3 cats named Simba, Boots, and Charlie. We adopted them from a local animal shelter a few months after a couple of other of our former cats had died, when the time seemed right to do so. I went in that day with the intent of only getting one, but when I saw the trio in the cage and began to interact with them and saw how well they got along, I just couldn’t stand to break up the set! Poor Bob was at the gym working out that afternoon, and had no clue what I was doing (or how much I was donating to the shelter for them!) until I got home with the 3 borrowed cat carriers in the back seat of my car! He took it all in his usual affable stride, removing the carriers from the car and helping me bring our new acquisitions into the house.

Simba came with the name of “Red” originally, but it just didn’t suit. He’s not red. He’s a caramel and peanut butter colored tabby, with virtually no white. He’s our shy guy and avoids the noisy grandchildren like the plague! He has decided he is my cat, and I am his person, and we’re both content with that arrangement. He’s very playful, and always game for a string chase. He’s young, healthy and athletic though he’s very timid of loud and sudden noises. It took Simba the longest to get used to us, hiding for weeks before we managed to coax him out. Simba likes to sleep at night on our bed, near Bob’s feet.

Boots came with the name he still has. He’s a traditional orange tabby, with a white chest, belly, and feet. Nothing flusters Boots. Grandchildren don’t phase him. He puts up with their fumbling attempts at affection until he’s had enough, and then leaves. Boots prefers comfort above all things and a full belly. He is also young, but not tremendously athletic. Honestly, he’s fat. Really fat. His nickname is “Lard Fur.” Boots likes to sleep at night at Bob’s side.

Charlie is our elder statesman. He’s a few years older than the other two. Charlie is a muted toned dark traditional tabby, with white highlights. He came with the name of “George,” but my father (of the same name) had died within a year or two of his acquisition, and we knew it would freak out both my mother and us to hear us refer to the animal with my father’s name. He got his name the first night home, when he crawled right up on our bed with Bob, purring and cuddling. Bob said he was a Good Time Charlie, and the name has stuck. He is also good with the grandchildren, and mostly very affable and easy going.

However, Charlie has one particular quirk that drives me nuts, and thus the reason for this post. Charlie likes to do what cat experts have termed “cat piling,” meaning he likes to rest against something else for warmth and comfort, preferably another cat, although any warm body will do. He will also snuggle the back of the couch, or a pillow if there are no bodies available.

Charlie’s habit of cat piling with me has led to some memorable skirmishes between he and I over the years. Due to chronic sciatica issues, I sleep with a pillow between or under my legs, depending on my position. Charlie likes my pillow. He likes it so well, it’s his favorite spot to lie down in our room, cat piling next to it as it sits under the covers. When I am not in bed, I’m fine with it. However, I have a bit of a quirk of my own, which runs completely counter to his — I cannot in any way stand to have more weight than the covers and pajamas on or adjacent to my legs or feet when I am trying to sleep. I’ve had cats park themselves on my stomach or chest (one tried my face, but that was a bit much!) while sleeping, and been fine with it. But Charlie and I go through almost nightly battles for dominance of who will be sleeping where when I lie down. These often involve me pushing him away from under the covers, with ever-increasing fervor, using my legs and feet, until he gets the hint I truly mean business yet again. Grumbling at him on my part is another important part of the ritual, whether aloud or silently.

So, why am I telling you all this? It’s not to complain about it. Nor is it to hear from you, dear readers, how horrid I am to Charlie about my own quirky likes and dislikes. It’s because last night, as we battled yet again, something occurred to me. My battles with Charlie over the dominance and position on our bed are remarkably similar to the battles we all face when dealing with faults and failings that so often beset all of us.

The Bible talks about these things, calling them “besetting sins.” Our modern language might refer to them as “nagging issues.” The meaning is the same. Hebrews 12:1 – 2 has quite a bit to say about it

 Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the Pioneer and Perfecter of our faith.

We’re surrounded on a daily basis by people who witness our lives. Oh, I don’t just mean the people with whom we interact, and neither did the writer of Hebrews. The writer was talking about a crowd in a Heavenly stand, of those gone in faith before us, who now cheer us on as we run our daily race of life. Yes, the ones we interact with daily are visible, but that doesn’t make the Heavenly ones any less real.

The writer likens it to a runner who has tossed off everything unnecessary to the completion of his race. We’ve all seen Olympic competitions. The runners are seen prior to the race, wearing warm-up suits and often have a towel around their necks, and possibly some other gear to keep warm and dry. But just before the race starts, everything that isn’t his or her minimal uniform and sneakers is shed. The runner doesn’t need the weight or drag on them as he or she moves. Can you imagine trying to run an Olympic sprint wearing weights? It would be impossible! In the same way, we are called to daily toss off those besetting sins to run that day’s race with our best efforts.

There is also the issue of the goal. In an Olympic race, the goal is the finish line and the prize is a gold medal. While as a Christian my eventual eternal goal is Heaven, there is a goal here on earth, too. Evangelist and theologian Charles Finney called it the striving toward personal sanctification in this lifetime. The way the writer of the book of Hebrews puts it is to keep Jesus in our view at all times, seeking to live in His Father’s perfect will moment by moment.

The writer of Hebrews is saying just like Olympic runners shed everything unnecessary to their goals, it’s the same with us. Just as I work nightly to shove Charlie from my legs and feet so I can sleep in peace, I need to examine my life on a daily basis to see what is holding me back, to be aware of what is hindering me, to repent of the sin entangling me, so I can move forward freely in peace with myself, God and others once more.

And just like my nightly battles with Charlie, some sins will take longer to throw off than others. Some will be blind spots, for which I will need the wisdom and grace of a mentor and trusted friend to point out what I cannot see. Some will be deeply ingrained, requiring God’s Holy Spirit to completely renovate my character. And some, though unfortunately very few, might just be as simple a solution as encouraging Charlie to cat pile on Bob . . .

I pray you are able to see your goal, throw off your weights, and come run with me!

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Simba (top left), Boots (bottom left) & Charlie (right) cat piling with my pillow on our bed:

Here’s a cartoon I found, just for fun!

Words That Changed Everything

In the beginning,

in the time before time,

God spoke into the void and changed everything.

He said,

Let there be light!

and so there was.

In the garden,

in another time before time,

God spoke into a hard place and changed everything.

He said,

He shall crush his head and he shall bruise His heel

and it was so.

In the city of Ur,

in a land of strangers,

God spoke into a family and changed everything.

He said,

My covenant shall be with your family forever

and it was cut.

In the Nile delta,

in the palace of a pharaoh,

God spoke to a nation and changed everything.

He said,

Let My people go!

and it became a reality.

In the hills outside Jerusalem,

in a place of grief and graves,

God spoke to the world the words that changed everything.

His angel said,

He is not here! He is risen!

and it was so.

Death is defeated! Jesus is risen! Alleluia!

Re-Post: Gratitude – A Thanksgiving Prayer

This is a re-post.  I am also very grateful and thankful for our U.S. military, who serve us at home and abroad so thanklessly all year, and for our first responders, who do the same at home!!

I’m thankful for the flowers.

Fall Foliage at the New York Botanical Garden

I’m grateful for the trees.

I’m awestruck with all nature

And all its wondrous beauty.

I’m thankful for the animals,

For the ones so wild and free,

And for those who life as friends

Among us, loving me.

Blubbertail in the window

I’m thankful for the heavens

And their great bright starry host.

And I’m grateful for the seasons;

There’s not one I don’t love the most.

I’m thankful for the valleys,

And the mountains soaring so high,

And I’m grateful for the oceans

And the water’s abundant supply.

The 2007 U.S. National Christmas Tree is lit o...

I’m thankful for my family,

My children, bright and strong,

And how my spouse still loves me

When I am in the wrong.

And I’m grateful for the people

Whose love will never end,

Both family and others,

The ones I’m proud to call “Friend.”

Our Family Portrait, 2008

I’m mostly thankful, though, Lord,

For the love I’ve come to know

In the ways You gently touch my heart

And cause me to quietly grow.

I’m grateful also, dear Lord,

For the gifts You’ve given me,

And the way You teach me how to use them

So you can set other spirits free.

Lord (Jesus)

I’m thankful for it all, Lord,

For this life that I call “Mine,”

And I’m asking You to help me

To be thankful more of the time.

And I’m asking You to shake me up

When I have a bad attitude,

That others might be drawn to You

Through my life of humble gratitude.

Because I’m Me, That’s Why

At different points in our lives, particularly in our childhoods, many of us have heard it. We’ve heard it from a parent, a teacher, or some other authority figure. Or even from someone we thought was our friend. “It” was a question, in some way phrased to say,

Why can’t you be more like so-and-so??

As grow, if we are aware of such things, we understand we hear it daily from our culture. As adults, we are told we are just not good enough, that someone is more attractive, smarter, more successful, better than us. Our culture has applied its ruler to us, and we’ve been found wanting. We just don’t measure up.

For people who start from a basis of a low self-image, this is a devastating message! Even for people whose self-image is good, the message can be hard to drown out. The constant barrage of negativity will wear even the most confident of us down eventually, leaving secret vulnerable places in our souls. It will, unless we apply a cure. But what can cure such devastating and pervasive attacks? What, or who, can help us?

Some seek to actually try to measure up. As I mentioned in Our Endless Pursuit of Perfection, it’s a frustrating and fruitless end. Others turn to psychology and counselling. Having been through these paths, I can tell you that while they teach valuable skills, they don’t get to the heart issues. And when heart issues aren’t dealt with, the problem remains. Still others turn to religious efforts, trying to measure up to the standards set by the religion or its founders, and only finding frustration. Because if you follow the laws of a perfect God using the ways of men, I’ve learned we doom ourselves to disaster. By now, I am sure you are asking by now, Is there any good news in all this??”

I wouldn’t be writing these words if there was no good news to be found, no answer I’ve discovered for myself. I would be a hypocrite and charlatan (and a very bad blogger!) if I would post such thoughts and not offer something.

Chris and Terri Brady

Chris and Terri Brady

In her recent blog post, The Stranger’s Sketch, Terri Brady spoke of similar ideas. She said,

Any time we are measuring ourselves and our worth based on bones in our chins, (yes, I’ll leave that plural for the fun of it), our skin tone or eyelash length, we are doomed for unhappiness. True joy doesn’t change.

What is neverchanging is our real worth. What really matters is not our self-description, but who we are in the Lord’s eyes. “Whose we are” should radiate!

It was only when I began to cultivate a relationship with God through His Son Jesus Christ that I began to find my own true self-worth. For years, I’d compared myself to smarter, more athletic siblings and schoolmates, more attractive and successful fellow entrepreneurs and others against whom I felt I just didn’t measure up. As I told Terri in my comments to her post,

I remember I used to look at the slender, lovely women on stage (such as your beautiful inside and outside self!), and compare you all to me. I compared what I saw as your perfections to my obviously glaring imperfections, and became convinced I could never be like you, never be that lovely, that accomplished, that successful.

It took a while, but finally I listened long enough to what you all were saying, and what God was telling me in my heart through you. God didn’t want or need me as a carbon copy of any of you. He had you. He needed and wanted me as ME, just as imperfect I was, willing to grow, learn, change and be used by Him for His glory. Like clay with the Potter, my job is only to coöperate with His process. As I become His more finished handiwork, the glory is His, and not mine, because He is doing it and will have done it in me.

If you struggle today with your self-image, dear reader, the chance to be free of it is available to you. The God Who made the universe, Who spun the stars, Who holds all creation in His hands, cares for you with a fiercely tender love. He is fierce, because He wants you to love Him and no other above Him. He is tender, because He is the greatest Gentleman, and will never force His will or way on you. You have to ask. Let Him in and begin this marvelous work in you! Learn for yourself that no matter what you look like, no matter what you’ve done, no matter who you are, you are completely and forever loved.

As you learn God’s love for you, you will know the freedom to be wholly and completely yourself. You will be able to look at your critics, those who ask why you cannot be like someone else, and say, “Because I’m me, that’s why.” You will be free to grow and discover all you were created to become. Because if we’re wise, we’ll always be growing, changing, striving for more. It will be a life-long process. And instead of trying to measure up to impossible and even unrealistic standards set by others, our efforts to grow will be our very realistic expressions to become the best us we can be. They will be our loving response to the immense love first shown to us by God.

Sisters (For Judi and Suzanne)

Sisters in body and sisters in blood,

That’s what we were born to be;

But sisters in heart and sisters in love

Is what we’ve become, you and me.

*

We grew up together, often sharing a room,

And we learned together how to live.

We learned how to fight and we learned how to share,

And we learned to be unselfish and to give.

*

Then we went separate ways and lived different lives,

And we all married extraordinary men,

And in that special way sisters often have

Our hearts have come full circle again.

*

We pour out our hearts over long distance wires

Knowing the others our secrets will keep,

And we laugh together and share silly things,

And sometimes, together, we weep.

*

Though we don’t see each other as often as we’d like

Because the distance between us is long,

We know when the need is too great to deny

That our sister will be there and be strong.

*

We grew up together, my dear sisters and me,

As sisters of body and blood,

But because of the faith we know we all share,

We’re also sisters, through Christ, in our God.

*

I’m glad we’ve grown up sisters of the heart,

And I’m glad you are sisters to me,

But I’m gladder still, and even more does my heart rejoice,

To know we’ll be sisters in eternity.

Athletic Faith

I’m stretching like a runner                                                    

Straining for a prize.

Reaching toward the finish line,

My goal fixed in my eyes.

I will not let distractions

Keep me from my goal.

I pay the price required,

No matter what the toll.

*

I’m struggling like a fighter,                                                      

Getting knocked against the ropes.

Refusing to back down,

On my heart-felt hopes.

I’m straining against a wrestler

I fear too great for me.

Keeping in mind my strength

Will bring about great victory.

*

My faith muscles become stronger                                   

Than they’ve ever been before.

I train them without mercy,

To face all life has in store.

And even when I’m on the mat,

When defeat seems to be most sure,

I know I’ll have a victory

When my heart and life are pure.

*

I’m running toward the finish line

Of life’s long endurance race.                                                     

My goal in Christ a lofty one –

A smile on my Savior’s face.

“Well done, My faithful servant!”

Is the praise I want to hear.

Finishing my long race strongly

To the saints’ resounding cheers.

(Philippians 3:10 – 14)

The Word Made Flesh

The Word Made Flesh,

          Incarnate You came.

You gave up Your glory

La vierge aux raisins

          To give us Your Name.

You gave up Your rights

          To right all of our wrongs.

You gave up Your high place

          That to You we’d belong.

 *

The Word Made Flesh,

          Became human like me.

Ary Scheffer: The Temptation of Christ, 1854

You gave up Your freedom

          That sin’s slaves could be freed.

You gave up Your power

          To seek and save that which was lost.

You gave it all up –

          Without thought to its cost.

 *

The Word Made Flesh,

The Resurrection from Grünewald's Isenheim Alt...

         The Father’s only Son –

You gave up Your position

          To make the Father’s love known.

You spoke of His kindness,

          And our hurts You did bear.

You gave it all up

          To bring us back to there.

 *

The Word Made Flesh,

          Flesh of the Father’s voice –

At Your birth all the angels

Brooklyn Museum - The Nativity - Cuzco School ...

          Over You did rejoice.

All Your life many people

          Rejected Your Name.

You deserved all their worship,

          Yet You took all our shame.

 *

The Word Made Flesh;

          The wonder of it all!

You came to give Your life

          As the ransom for all.

c. 1632

To we who were the least

          Deserving of Your love,

You came to give pardon

          And our guilt to remove.

 *

The Word Made Flesh;

Jesus on the wall of the senior Home

        My God became man!

You took all I was

          And made me what I am.

You took all my inadequacies

          When Yours I became.

Because of You my whole life

          Can never be quite the same.

*

The Word Made Flesh,

Jesus with children, early 1900s Bible illustr...

As God walked on this earth.

You gave up Your own life

To give mankind new birth.

You shone like a Light

In the dark when You came.

You paid the ultimate price

To give undeserving men Your Name.

*

The Word Made Flesh,

As man beheld God’s own face.

You became just a Man

To save man’s fallen race.

Michelangelo's Pietà in St. Peter's Basilica i...

The Word Made Flesh,

As God walked as a man.

Because of what You’ve done,

Man knows the touch of God’s hand.

“The Word became flesh and lived for a while among us.

"And the Word was made flesh and dwelt am...

We have seen His glory, the glory of the one true Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

John 1: 14