Exploring where life and story meet!

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Yoda and the Shrink

I love Yoda, he's probably one of my favorite fictional characters, though I doubt he'll be making a cameo in the new Star Wars movie (no, I have not seen it yet, it hasn't yet graced the single screen at our local theater and sadly I am not geek enough to drive 100 miles and pay twice the price for the privilege of seeing it sooner).  Yoda might actually approve, 'patience, you must learn patience!'  I'd rather he didn't hit me with that goofy little stick.  Anywho, where was I, ah yes, Yoda.  I was thinking of him the other day whilst pursuing the Amazonian book lists for psychology books.  What on earth does one have to do with the other?  Just be patient, I'll get there, besides this isn't the worst analogy I've ever come up with, I've had far worse!

One of Yoda's famous quotes is, 'luminous beings are we, not this crude matter.'  Though I disagree with him on the vast majority of his metaphysics (and yes, I know he is a fictional character who lives in an equally fictional galaxy far, far away), this little tidbit came to mind whilst perusing said psych books.  I came across one specimen on emotional abuse that was highly rated by almost everybody and when I dug into the few low ratings, almost every single one of them was highly offended that the author had brought a spiritual perspective to the table and they had not realized it before they bought the book.  I couldn't help but smile and think of Han Solo and his incredulity at Obi Wan's quaint perspective on the Force.  I did buy that book and another specifically for the daughters of narcissistic mothers, which after reading it, I can say it is definitely from a secular perspective, which should make Han and the low reviewers happy.

Modern psychology scares me more than just a little bit.  They want to treat the mind/emotions/soul as if it were merely a biological phenomenon, but I have to agree with the Yodster on this one: that there's far more to the human psyche than flesh and blood and neuroreceptors and chemical imbalances.  I applaud the emotional healing guy for addressing this too often overlooked elephant in the psychologist's office.  Addressing only the biological aspect is like trying to fix one flat tire while pretending the other doesn't even exist but the car won't move unless both are attended to.  I know it isn't politically correct or cool or whatever anymore to believe in things you can't see, but pretending we are all knowing, wise, and super smart because we don't believe in old myths doesn't help the people that really need it.  It's about like treating infectious disease with blood letting and leeches back before we understood anything about germ theory, but instead of it being an honest ignorance of the true facts, it is an intentional ignorance of things man has always known, which modern science says we have outgrown.  But it was old mythologies that blew up the original Death Star, and even the skeptical Han Solo had to admit there might actually be something to all that 'nonsense.'  We can only hope there is such an awakening within the mental health community as well.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Missing link

Here's a little article that might just solve the christmas music conundrum: why do we sing at christmas if our songs and the holiday itself is not allowed to mean anything?  Now who will solve the mystery of Advent for me?  We're all counting down to Christmas with some cutsie pinterest worthy calendar thingy yet how many people actually have any idea what Advent really is?  Maybe that'll be in next week's issue...

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Do you hear what I hear?

I've always loved Christmas, it seems the whole world is alive with a spirit of something, perhaps the very tiniest whisper of joy echoing down the years from a cold and drafty stable?  Whatever it is, as a child, I remember looking forward to it with an eagerness I could ill-contain.  It wasn't the gifts, I never really got any to speak of.  It wasn't the family gatherings, mine were a mess.  Perhaps, it was the one speck of childish wonder in an otherwise murky existence?  There was something in the food, the inexplicable warmth of friends and family (other peoples, I just got to watch), the lights, and even the snow and stars seemed more bright, stark, and beautiful.  But most especially it was the music.  I loved the old hymns and their strange words and haunting melodies prophesying that 'nails and spear would pierce Him through, the cross be borne for me and you,' even as we sang about and celebrated the birth of this One, 'the babe the son of Mary.'

In college I discovered what it was for a thousand voices to join together in a work as splendid as Handel's Messiah and thought perhaps it was a foretaste of Heaven.  Of course all that is illegal or offensive or politically incorrect or something now.  Even Santa and Frosty the Snowman are controversial nowadays.  They tried for a few years to play insipid Christmas songs about happy christmas trees and santa babies, but now the malls and shopping centers are mysteriously silent wherein years past, that was the whole reason I could tolerate a trip to the local store this time of year.  I am glad the insipid song craze has perished, silence is always to be preferred when good music or conversation cannot be had.  But I wonder what it is all about, for all these folk who theoretically cannot stand even a reminder of St. Nicholas, let alone mention of the Christ child?  Do they still hear those ancient echoes of 'peace on earth, good will to men?'

But why is it offensive?  Why must it be banned from the public sphere?  We have plenty of mythical figures that do not offend and of which we think nothing when we see pillows, folders, and t-shirts emblazoned with their likeness or hear the theme song from the TV show (think Star Wars or your favorite animated character).  Why does this particular myth offend so?  Because it is true and our mortal flesh quakes at the implications thereof.  Like those shepherds of long ago, trembling before a heavenly host proclaiming news they could not comprehend, a joy too terrible to understand, we aren't sure what to make of it all or what it will make of us, if we should listen.  But ignoring it or banning it doesn't make it go away, just ask the Romans.  It has survived empires.  It will outlast the world itself.  Perhaps it is time to dig out those old hymns and actually listen to the words.  It is the mystery of Christmas that I love.  God become flesh, enigma indeed!

Monday, November 30, 2015

'That glorious song of old'

The 'Holidays' are coming up, whatever that means in modern society and culture, but amidst all the tinsel and cheesy inflatable reindeer, in a world of broken families, for many it means extra salt in the never healing wound of loneliness.  I used to abhor mother's day back when I was stuck on an adoption waiting list for the first time, but I think the period between Thanksgiving and Christmas is far worse for many people, not because they are related to the Grinch or go by the unfortunate name of Ebenezer Scrooge, but because they feel like the whole world, everybody but them, is warm and cozy before a dying fire, surrounded by loved ones, whilst Nat King Cole croons in the background, as they sip hot cocoa and enjoy a homey silence.  As with social media, everyone's life but yours is wonderful and perfect.  It is all a lie, the oldest lie, old as the world itself, but one particularly felt in our increasingly socially isolated culture at this time of year.

We all yearn for that paradisiacal feeling of belonging and togetherness and peace and hope and joy, it is that for which we were designed.  It is 'deep calling out to deep.'  But outside a Currier and Ives print or a Christmas movie, such is not to be found on this mortal earth.  We are all lonely, broken, wounded, and estranged from our true home.  There was a time when our poor race knew such perfection, but a serpent whispered 'ye can be gods,' and we believed him.  And we are gods, just miserable ones.  And that wretched snake still whispers: it will all be well if only…  But even if we achieve the if only, we are still unhappy and soon chasing after another vain if only.

I'd like a baby for christmas, yes we're moldering on a wait-list again, and I keep hinting just as much in my prayers.  And the response?  I already got a baby for Christmas.  Strange I could forget such a vital part of my own mythology!  We were mortals intent on becoming gods and here God took on flesh and dwelt among us.  We don't have to be lonely any more, we don't have to chase the if onlys, we can love Christmas again or perhaps for the first time.  Because that baby came for Christmas.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Dystopian novels and their uses

I remember reading 'Brave New World' in junior high and hating it, mostly because I was hoping for a good story and did not understand dystopian novels and their warning to those who think to somehow create a Utopian society here on earth.  I personally prefer the 'happily ever after' genre but anti-utopian novels certainly have their place and purpose and now that no one is forcing me to read them, our paths can safely bifurcate.  But one thing that still stands out, even twenty years later, was society's insistence that the government could raise and educate children ever so much better than their parents, that the family had outworn its necessity to society and its usefulness thereto.  I remember a bad version (bad in that it was unfaithful to the book) made for television back in the 90's with a scene with babies growing in gallon jars or something like that; people were no longer born but made or grown like so much corn.

At the time I really did not 'get it.'  Family was a concept foreign to me, though I didn't know it back then.  What was so scary about the government taking over the raising and nurture of children?  I was technically one such myself after all.  At home I basically got fed and had a corner to sleep in like some stray dog, but for anything important or vital to my knowledge of humanity and society, that was left to the day care and public school to impart.  I was a content little automaton, mostly because I was completely ignorant of what I was missing at the time.  The main problem with this little equation is that there is very little of humanity left to it.  Humans are not robots that absorb information and then go out into society to function for the benefit of all.  We are living, breathing, feeling, thinking, creative, social beings and need to be treated as such.

The government wasn't there to congratulate me at my graduation or to celebrate my wedding or condole with me while we languished on an adoption wait list.  And anytime I have tried to interact with it, it has been an impersonal, confusing, frustrating, inefficient disaster (yes, I just filled out my health insurance stuff!).  If they can't manage the post office, they definitely shouldn't be in the childcare business.  People to them are not people but problems, more work, a nuisance, a number.  But a number is by definition not a person, it is a unit.  If we were automatons or sheep, we could be mass produced but we are not, we are unique and feeling individuals with unique needs and wants, which is where the family comes in.  Your mother (in general, in situations such as mine, it is not true) knows and cares about you far more than any teacher or day care worker and thus is far more likely to produce a happy, healthy, and well adjusted person than any government program.

I had an education, I had knowledge, I was relatively healthy, but I sure wasn't happy or well adjusted. I wasn't even human.  Then came love and sorrow and suffering and waiting and frustration and joy.  And now I'm human.  I have a soul.  I am a person.  I'm broken and I cry sometimes, but I don't have to pretend to be perfect because I'm not and I'm loved anyway.  That's what it is to be human.  We need love, joy, hope, purpose, not just an education and food and clothes and a job and an iPhone.  Otherwise we are just automatons.  I think that's what that whole book was about (Brave New World): a man finding that he had a heart, discovering what it was to truly be human.  Strange that it took so long for me to discover such a parable about my own life.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Failed subplots

Just when you finally get life figured out or have it all together or the stars finally align and everything is going to work out perfectly you turn the page and there's a big fat plot twist.  Yes, you are living in a novel or rather a fairy tale, because novels of the usual generic sort aren't allowed to have happy endings and don't allow for miraculous happenings.  'Miraculous happenings?!' you ask.  But of course.  Take a breath: miracle!  Look at that picture on the wall: miracle!  Your very basic body functions, your thoughts, your senses are all quite miraculous in and of themselves, but we have become so used to them we take them very much for granted.  How about the computer or device you are reading this post on?  Sunsets?  Stars?  Cells?  Organisms?  Life?  Birth?  The Universe?  Conscious thought?  Literature?  You get the idea.  There is no such thing as 'normal' or an 'ordinary life.'  Every breath, every heartbeat is a miracle and wonder in and of itself, how much more an entire lifetime of such?

Plot twists?  Ah yes, I get a little distracted…squirrel!…as I was saying, plot twists…yes…I should have known better.  Just looking back at the strange tale that is my own life should have taught me that, but I fell victim to the formulaic expectation of modern materialistic thinking: it will work out because it should, it must!  I had my checklist, everything was perfectly in order, we had only to wait and wait and wait and well then nothing.  All that anticipation and dread that it wouldn't work out (or that it might) was in vain.  And strangely, I am much more at ease with myself now that I know it won't happen than I was in that state of hopeful anticipation when it might, should, must happen.  Where do you draw the line between hopeful anticipation and getting yourself so worked up with false hope that the failure thereof leads to dejection?  How do you keep from becoming cynical and bitter in the face of dashed hopes?

We are in a story after all.  Go to the Author!  The one advantage we have over fictional characters is that we are aware that we are actually characters in a story (His story) and we can also petition our Creator if the plot line becomes a little distressing.  So that minor subplot didn't work out, there will be others, and for all I know there's a better one just around the bend.  The Author knows far better than I what I need and supplies that rather than giving me just what I want, when I want it.  My toddler is also starting to figure that out in relation to his parents, you'd think I would be a quicker study!  At least the tale is never dull!

Thursday, November 5, 2015

The salt and its savor

I wish I could have an actual discussion with people, I mean about something besides the weather or the price of cattle (yes, we live in a rural area and no, I don't know anything about sports).  But in our 'enlightened' modern culture, I run into two major stumbling blocks to real conversation: people are not used to thinking and don't know why they do or do not agree with a certain idea and anything you say might offend someone.  It used to be quipped that politics and religion were not to be discussed in polite company, now it seems that just about anything of substance is anathema unless you know exactly what your companion believes and you agree wholeheartedly with one another.  In this civilized age, disagreement is a form of hatred, just post something slightly controversial on Facebook and see what happens: you'll be virtually stoned.  I thought we had progressed beyond mob violence?

First, people have lots of opinions, many of them contradictory, but few know why they actually believe what they do.  They read it online, their mother said so, their professor insists it is true, everybody knows that or whatever is reason enough to defend something vehemently.  What is so dangerous about GMOs (genetically modified organisms)?  Why is Christopher Columbus evil?  Vaccines cause autism?  And ten thousand other things that if you say something contrary to someone's deeply held belief, you are suddenly a hater and the worst of all people even though they haven't a clue why they hold that opinion in the first place.  So instead, we talk about the weather.  It saves us from having our feelings hurt, offending someone, and having to think about anything.  It also limits us to superficial friendships, tedious social interactions, and we'll never learn, grow, or change as people.

The crazy thing is nobody agrees on anything, let alone everything!  Try ordering a pizza for a group of three or more and see what happens.  How much more so on topics of actual importance.  But no, we'll discuss that latest episode of whatever or that new movie (the 34th remake of that particular film) instead.  Yawn.  We'll just fiddle while Rome burns.  There are major problems in the world and in our own town, but if we just ignore them, they'll go away.  We'll turn on our media device and pretend they don't exist, and better yet, then I don't have to interact with anyone either as 'I'm busy.'  We'll create our own little virtual world where it is happy and safe and non-threatening and I won't be exposed to 'offensive' material and don't have to think but can just 'be,' whatever that means.  Double yawn.

I look back at the insipid and 'educational' TV shows and books I was exposed to as a child and wonder if that is someone's ideal of what the world should be.  I was insulted that they thought I would enjoy such a dull presentation of the world.  No danger, no uncertainty, no sorrow, no risk; no flavor, no zest.  Like soup without salt, it was a presentation I just could not stomach.  Where there is no risk or danger there is no hope, no joy, nothing worthwhile.  The price of Love is the risk of sorrow.  We could be robots: programmed to be good and perfectly obedient, but our world would be dull, drab, and colorless and completely lacking in meaning.  But we are not robots, we can rebel, we can disobey, we can be naughty, but we can also be redeemed.  Someone took a risk, gave us a choice, paid the price for Love and even though it cost Him everything, He still gives us that choice, everyday, every moment, we may crucify Him anew if we wish.

But we are afraid of Love, we saw what it cost Him, and fear what it might cost us.  So we hide behind phrases like 'live and let live,' 'politically correct,' and so forth.  We insist on being robots, on being unsalted broth, on foregoing any color in our lives.  We would rather exist than live.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Character study

I've oft repined that I just can't find a modern book with which to fall in love.  Perhaps it is that our societal and cultural tastes and expectations have changed and I was just born in the wrong century.  It is quite interesting to read an old book or even to watch an older movie (try 50's, not 80's) and then compare it with more modern works.  Just look at our current theatrical fare: a romance movie now centers around a mere fling, a comedy is a senseless collection of raunchy jokes, an action movie is all action and no plot or character development.  We don't see a movie to think or to be moved but rather to be entertained.  The same goes for our books and our relationships.

There are some who find Jane Austen the dullest author on the planet, but I find her ideas of romance, characterization, and humor unrivaled by any modern heir.  There are no zombies, superheroes, explosions, or high speed chases.  People mostly just sit around and talk.  The same with Anne of Green Gables.  I found them both exceedingly dull as a child, but once I learned to listen and then to understand, they have become some of my favorites both in the literary and cinematic realm.  What do they have that modern works do not?  Heart.  Personality.  Wit.  Warmth.  Soul.  There's a cultural revolt against over processed foods, why then do we accept without question or critique the mass produced grist that passes for entertainment in this day and age?  A steady diet of junk will ruin your physical health.  What then does a steady diet of mediocre or rotten media do to your mind and soul?

The sad fact is, many of Jane Austen's characters have more depth than your average modern American.  I wish it were not so, but so it is.  We don't think, we don't reason, we don't empathize with others; we exist solely for our own pleasure and heaven help anyone or anything that gets in the way of what we want most at that particular moment, that thing most vital to our own happiness, which if we were truthful, never results in the joy we had at first anticipated.  We are trying to fill our vacant souls from the outside in, rather than trying to build them from the ground up and the inside out.  Character development and the pursuit of virtue are the last things on our to do list, which is why our society is a nervous wreck and no one is content in the least.  As a mother, people are always asking (especially other moms) if my son can count to such and such or if he's potty trained or if he can do whatever.  No one ever asks if he's polite, generous, gentle, listens, considers the feelings of others, etc.  These are not traits we encourage in our success driven, socially shallow society.  Perhaps he can't count as well as the next kid his own age and hasn't taught himself to read, but as a person, he's coming along splendidly, and that's an accomplishment that will bless him and all around him his entire life, and something he won't learn in any school.  I'll take Miss Austen's comedies of manner over zombies any day, and I think, as a society, we'd be the happy if we all did likewise.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Self esteem and other myths

Self-esteem was all the rage when I was in school, and I don't think it has lost any of its popularity amongst teachers, parents, coaches, and the political class.  But it is one of those things, like organic chemistry, that I just never 'got.'  Now I believe certain individuals are smart and talented enough to understand an actual science like o-chem, it is just a subject beyond me, whereas this self-esteem thing is beyond bafflement.  I remember sitting in class, we actually had an entire semester dedicated to the study of this perplexing enigma, staring out the window, and wondering how someone could drone on for literally hours upon the subject, even as a fourteen year old, with no social skills or wider cultural awareness, I knew it was all just a bunch of nice sounding gibberish.  It was a light, fluffy frosting on a cake, meticulously whipped, but after an hour, it just goes flat, tasteless, and makes the cake soggy.

Self-esteem is basically the art of feeling good about myself.  Umm, okay, so in other words, vanity?  The last thing any mortal living in the modern world needs right now is to be told yet again that they are the very center of the universe, and for no greater reason than that they exist.  Then I go to biology and they tell me I'm an accidental mass of randomly produced atoms that will eventually cease to exist, as will the entire planet, when the sun blows up?  So nothing really matters in the long run.  Isn't there a little contradiction there?  First period I am everything and second period I'm nothing?  Which is it?  No wonder modern teenagers are rather confused about 'life, the universe, and everything.'

I was one of those kids that probably could have benefited from self-esteem classes, if they actually had any foundation in reality.  I had been taught from the very beginning that I was horrible, loathsome, and worthless, then along comes the self-esteem fairy that says I am special and wonderful just because I know how to breath.  Well, fairy, where were you those hopeless nights I cried myself to sleep because my mother had just threatened to let me live in the street when I was neither a rebellious nor a disobedient child? It is just so much fluffy frosting and nothing more, the only problem is the cake is broken and hurting, but then, what does that matter, as I'm just going to disintegrate in a few decades anyway?  Is there no middle ground?  Nothing in between?  Something that corresponds to this reality in which we find ourselves, a reality of mingled joy and sorrow, love and pain, hope and despair?

This is not a new question, it has been asked by every mortal who has ever walked under sun and moon, as Tolkien might say, "childless lords sat in…high cold towers asking questions of the stars."  The ancient manuscript of Job puzzles over the reason for suffering and pain while Ecclesiastes tries to make sense of the meaning and purpose of life, both come to the strange conclusion that man is neither an accident nor an end unto himself, but that he was intentionally made yet not for his own enjoyment, but rather for the pleasure of his Maker.  We have value, not because some sappy textbook says we do, but because we were intentionally and wonderfully made, our lives have a plan and a meaning and a purpose, yet we did not make ourselves, so we cannot boast over anything of which we are possessed or in who or what we are.  And this is a freeing thought indeed: we are loved, not for who we are, but for Whose we are.  I don't need to pretend anymore, or wonder if I can be good enough, or wonder if there is even a point to any of it: there is and I'm not, but He is.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

In Pursuit of Darcy

While scanning the frivolous, cute, and occasionally interesting minutia of the Pinterest-sphere, I ran across a rather interesting idea: only Elizabeth Bennet was able to catch Mr. Darcy.

For the last 200 years or so, women have been obsessed with this rich and silently mysterious man, though I have yet to hear one guy tell me he's pined after 'Lizzie' his entire life.  As far as I know, there are no spinoff books for guys or even t-shirts proclaiming their ideal of finding their very own Miss Bennet.  The argument is very one sided: nearly every woman wants a Darcy and most guys (who have not been guilted into a Jane Austen marathon) don't have a clue as to what all the fuss is about.  Yet this rabid pursuit of a real Mr. Darcy is rather pointless if the pursuer is no better than a Lydia or even a Mary Bennet.

Why did Elizabeth end up with such a prize gentlemen, even one that liked her against his own better judgment?  Because there was something there to like, but she isn't a fluffy, one-dimensional disney princess without faults or a personality.  She's very human, yet her integrity and virtue stand out and attract that otherwise indifferent gentleman.  Even then, society and your closest kin told you to marry for wealth and prestige, and you were thought a fool if you ever turned down such an offer, regardless of the qualifications of the suitor as a person.  We (at least the females amongst us) all want Darcy, but I think very few of we modern ladies are willing to be an Elizabeth, and thus have little hope of actually attracting our Darcy; there are far too many Lydias in this day and age, which is a good thing for the exceedingly numerous Wickams out there, but it is certainly a sad societal trend.

So how do you find a Darcy?  That I really cannot say, but what you can do is work on cultivating your own character, so that when Darcy happens to show up, he won't take one contemptuous look at you and walk immediately out of your life ere he's ever entered it.  Even if Darcy never happens by, character development is certainly not an exercise in futility, as it will certainly improve all aspects of your life and you will end a better person than you began.  Old fashioned?  Yes, but never out of style! Just like Jane Austen.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

The Prodigal Nerd

I found a rather interesting article here, about nerd culture and its root cause: desire.  I have proudly donned the nerd (or preferably geek) hat in my day, and still profess a love of all things nerd, especially Star Wars and Tolkien related, and no I will not get into the latest movies within the confines of this blog post, sorry.  Strangely, I'd also put those of us with a Jane Austen fetish in this category (guilty!) too.  I suppose an obsession with any book/movie or whatever franchise is enough to qualify one for nerd-topia, but whatever your predilection, the one thing all nerds have a very strong desire for is acceptance and community.

The article above mentioned that many self-proclaimed nerds are victims of abuse, and one result of that is oftentimes they will seek belonging or healing or whatever, within the relative safety of nerd-dom, for while there is a healthy rivalry between Star Wars and Star Trek fans, nerds in general are a rather accepting and non-judgmental lot, truly understanding one another as the cold, indifferent culture at large cannot.  I guess I am no different, for in chasing after all those idols of clay (or plastic), I was in fact chasing a sense of belonging, a sense of identity, a sense of worth, all which had been denied me during my abusive childhood.  Here was something I could cling to, a thing in which I could share and interact with others and talk about and feel a kinship with fellow idolaters.  The strange thing was, God was ever patient.  He was there, I felt Him, as I chased other ideals.  Whether it was an obsession with Star Trek or living for Taekwando, He let me chase these false gods, not only that I might grow and come to the place where I knew I needed something more than these manmade worlds, but also therein I learned something of interacting with my fellow men, for neither did I have any social skills when once I endeavored to leave home.

I threw my heart and soul after whatever took my fancy at that particular moment.  Mankind had failed me, perhaps fantasy would suffice.  It did not, I was still hungry and unfulfilled the moment the movie was over or all my nerdy friends went home.  I wanted fellowship that would never end, I wanted a community that would be there even when they were not, I wanted meaning and purpose rather than living for the next episode or book or movie.  That's when I realized being a nerd was just not enough.  Perhaps Peter would have used the term nerd or geek had they existed back then when he referred to Christ's followers as pilgrims, sojourners, and strangers, for that is what we are: people uneasy in our current reality (much like my fellow geeks) because we know it is not our true home.

He waited, and when I was ready, I came to Him, willingly, on His terms, as it must be.  He did not ask me to be perfect, but just to come as I was.  He did not fault my long and wandering journey, He simply smiled and welcomed me home.  I still indulge my nerdiness from time to time, but it has its proper place now: a pleasure to be enjoyed, not a god to be worshipped.  And that is as it should be.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Year of the Locust

"I will restore to you the years
that the swarming locust has eaten,
the hopper, the destroyer, and the cutter,
my great army, which I sent among you.

You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied,
and praise the name of the Lord your God,
who has dealt wondrously with you.
And my people shall never again be put to shame."
~Joel 2:25-26~

The second chapter of Joel (one of those oft forgot minor prophets) is a rather stirring read, though most people, if they recognize it at all, are far more familiar with the section that says 'your young men will see visions (or dream dreams)…the sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood…'  But for some reason it is the rather obscure section above that has suddenly caught my fancy.  Even my pastor husband looked at me a little funny when I mentioned something about the 'year that the locust has eaten,' not recognizing it from scripture (and I had to do a search to find the exact reference, but I was pretty sure it was in there, somewhere).

And now I am about to make a bunch of theologists (and probably even my poor husband) roll their eyes, if not totally angry at me for taking this reference completely out of context (and yes, I have access to various Bible commentaries, should I wish to look deeper into the subject, which I really don't).  Enough people have misquoted or misinterpreted scripture unintentionally over the years (which really annoys me) that I am going to give you a full fledged warning up front that I am totally doing this intentionally: you have been warned.  I know this was written specifically to the people of Israel, urging them to come back to God after their continued idolatry, that they could still find grace and blessing, would they but come back to Him.  However, I am going to take this personally.

Quit squawking in indignation, we do it often enough with verses like Jeremiah 29:11 and Joshua 24:15, so why not a more obscure passage, especially with so rich a metaphor?  I am not predicting the Second Coming here, merely finding a very poetical bit of scripture that perfectly mirrors my circumstances, and no, this is not going to turn into one of those articles on how every bit of suffering and hardship and grief has a purpose and means something, because it doesn't, that is just life is in this broken world, which is not to say God can't work through such circumstances, use them to bless us or others in unforeseen ways, or use them to draw us closer to Him (see the oft personalized Jeremiah reference above), but in general, life is messy, sad, and ugly, and sooner or later everyone is going to go through something awful; that's just how the world is right now.

What I want to focus on, is that no matter how awful your past (or present), if you belong to God, He has promised to restore, nay replace far more abundantly, those things you have lost for His sake (Matthew 19:20, Mark 10:29), but I also believe this applies to those things which the world's general brokenness or the sins of others have blighted.  This is not to say that things lost through our own disobedience will suddenly be restored or that we will get exactly what we want, when we want it, rather those things which we thought so important at the time will pale in comparison to the blessings in store for those that love Him, perhaps in this life, but certainly in that which is to come:

But, as it is written,
“What no eye has seen, nor ear heard,
nor the heart of man imagined,
what God has prepared for those who love him”—
~I Corinthians 2:9~

Will it be that our hearts finally desire Him above all else, no longer distracted by earthly pleasures?  Certainly yes, but it also means that you can still find Joy in this life, regardless of your past, if you will but trust Him with your future.  I am emerging from 35 years of denial, even my closest friends and family have aided and abetted the lie, unwittingly of course, but it was still a lie.  I suddenly look back on what I thought was a normal life and realize that just because something is 'normal' to you, does not make it right.  I thought I was just the product of a broken family, a single mother working hard to support her three kids with a distant, abusive father, that my social isolation and emotional upheaval were the result of my own odd personality, my father's manipulations, or the divorce.  That all those celebrations of life: birthdays, graduations, holidays, weddings, baby showers, were over rated and those partaking in them were sentimental fools.  I knew better, there was nothing particularly special about any accomplishment or family event, but rather I was the fool, a blind, deluded fool.

My whole life, I now realize, is one that the locust has eaten.  This particular locust was my mother.  I have known my father to be abusive for some years, but only now can I admit the same of my mother, though such is socially taboo, especially when it is not a physical or sexual abuse, but though the scars cannot be physically seen, they are just as deep and painful.  Every minute of every day was about her, even my wedding and baby shower were about her, though I wasn't cognizant enough to notice at the time, and if she was not the center of attention, she did all within her power to ruin the occasion for me.  I thought I was having trouble going to baby showers lately because of my own struggles with building a family, which is certainly part of it, but I have the added delight of watching doting relatives and friends rejoicing with the mother-to-be while my own mother sulked through the entire shower for her as yet only grandchild (and no, she never bothered to even show an interest in helping with anything so frivolous as a bridal or wedding shower or my wedding, let alone offering her congratulations at any such event).  I actually have been going through the mourning process this past year, crying, grieving, over the mother I never had, over my blighted childhood wherein I felt I deserved to be publicly shamed and humiliated, to have any bit of pleasure or happiness instantly squelched, and knew no one liked me because I was an awful, disgusting person though I couldn't really say why, even Hitler likely had friends (or cronies and minions at least), but how, as a child of 8, I could be more repulsive than Hitler, I couldn't comprehend, but I trusted my mother upon the matter.

How do you explain to anyone that you are grieving over someone who is not yet dead?  Especially when I likely won't shed a tear at her funeral, save in pity at her own small-souled, miserable existence. How do you explain that you can't go to their baby shower because you'll just fall to pieces because your mother deigned to show up at yours but made it abundantly clear to everyone that she was thoroughly displeased with the whole affair in general and her disgraceful daughter in particular (I had 2 separate individuals, complete strangers to me and one another, comment on her behavior afterwards!).  But I cannot spend my life looking back, though grieve I will and must, for He will restore the years the locust has eaten.

First, I have to take steps to protect myself and my family, especially my kids, from her predations.  I will not cut off contact, unless she forces me to, but all visits will be under supervision and in a public setting.  Second, I have to make a conscious decision that life is worth celebrating, admit that I am not the horrible, awful person she always told me I was, but was actually created in the very image of God and loved so much that He was willing not only to take on mortality for my sake, but to taste the bitterness of death for the evils I had wrought.  Third, I can also look back with awe at His hand throughout the whole grim tale, even when no one else loved me, He did, and He sent His people to show me that in truth.  Fourth, I refuse to make the same mistakes with my kids that was my growing up; we celebrate everything, we laugh and have fun, we do stuff we enjoy simply because we enjoy it, and we rejoice in this day because God hath made it!

I won't get my childhood back.  I'll never have a loving mother, one who celebrates with me or to whom I can talk about my problems, hopes, and joys.  But I now have a family and life of my own, one untainted by her shadow, save those residual hurts and sorrows that will likely haunt my steps until the day I die.  I look back over those years: wasted, twisted, and grey, but I would not change them, or live them differently if I could, for the cost might be too dear.  Would I have come to know God, would I be the person I am today, had things been as they ought to have been?  Yet neither would I have willingly chosen that to be my life, but thankfully that is not my call to make.  But it is my decision how to live out the rest of my days, and I think I will take God up on His offer to redeem that which the locust has destroyed.  I will be a Ruth, following her mother-in-law out of a familiar land of bitterness and loss into a foreign country, trusting a God we mortals can barely know to bless us in a way we cannot even imagine.  And He has not let me down, then or now or ever.  For alone of all men and gods:

He was despised and rejected by men;
a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.

But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.
~Isaiah 53:3-5~

A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief, and by his wounds we are healed (is anybody else humming Handel's Messiah here?)?  He understands.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Miss Austen on Marriage

I was rereading that most popular and timeless of all 'chick lit,' Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, the other day and was struck by how each of the characters viewed marriage and what were assumed to be the underpinnings of a happy marriage.  You need to be able to respect your spouse, there should be mutual affection (yet that should not be the only foundation upon which it is based), there must be some means of support for the couple/resulting family, and it is a permanent condition.  What I found most interesting is that in Austen's day, her views coincided with those of society at large, while 200 years later, society has basically decided the Lydia Bennet was right after all, yet this book still remains popular both in print and on film, anachronism though it seems.  Vampires and sadism come and go, but Austen is forever.

The problem, apparently, with marriage is that there are not enough choices or freedom in the mix.  We have spent the last 40 years destroying marriage and redefining it and now forgo it altogether and the flotsam and jetsam that is our family culture speaks for itself.  Of course, anyone who has taken Austen's warnings seriously could have told you that.  Of all her characters, Lydia and Wickam did not live 'happily ever after.'  The problem isn't marriage, it is human nature.  We don't want to be changed or required to keep our word or to put up with a relationship when things get tough.  We want an out, we want to nurture our own wellbeing, we want to be independent, but this is not marriage.  Marriage is the mutual submission of two wills to one another, putting the spouse and family and couple before our own whims, growing together as individuals and a couple, sticking it out when things get tough or the emotional flame begins to sputter.  It is anything but convenient and it was not meant to be, because anything so convenient could not weather the storms of life and come out the other side all the stronger.  Instead, we jump ship at the first sign of wind and waves, and wish our abandoned partner all the best while seeking a calmer sea.

Like Lydia, we want all the pomp and celebration, the adoration and congratulations that come with a wedding but we don't want all the responsibility and trouble that comes with a marriage.  Society has indulged this whim and undermined its own wellbeing and longevity thereby.  Why is Austen's book so popular and poignant even still in a culture that is completely alien to her own?  Perhaps because, deep down, we know she's right and we long for that very thing ourselves, even if we can only find it in a novel.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Unique laws of the universe

C.S. Lewis, in his diabolically wonderful The Screwtape Letters, discusses the Law of Undulation, which I think should be taught in schools.  They were still preaching Freud when I took Psychology (yeah, I'm old), but I think Lewis has far more to say on human behavior and cognition than all of the Psychology professors in all of Western academia combined.  For one thing, he's not crazy or even delusional.  I have often wondered how modern psychology can even function or help individuals, being either completely indifferent to or overtly skeptical of such a concept as the soul.  We are merely lumps of animate matter and all our psychoses can be boiled down to some chemical deficit or other.  Or not.  If your mind is sick, it probably has some impact on your soul (and vice versa), but if we treat one and pretend the other doesn't exist, aren't we only fixing part of the problem and dooming ourselves to failure?

Anywho, I'm getting way off topic.  The Law of Undulation, as summed up by Lewis (er, Uncle Screwtape) is as follows: "Humans are amphibians--half spirit and half animal…As spirits they belong to the eternal world, but as animals they inhabit time.  This means that while their spirit can be directed to an eternal object, their bodies, passions, and imaginations are in continual change, for to be in time means to change.  Their nearest approach to constancy, therefore, is undulation--the repeated return to a level from which they repeatedly fall back, a series of troughs and peaks…as long as he lives on earth periods of emotional and bodily richness and liveliness will alternate with periods of numbness and poverty…"  It would be a grand thing if we had learned this from the cradle, for as a modern Westerner, at least in America, you are told that life is always wonderful and exciting and perfect, and if it isn't, there's probably a medication for that.

The whole book is a treasure trove of insight into human behavior, and why we do the things we do and very much worth a read or three.  This little section was brought to the fore as I stood staring out the window at a bright, cool, sunshiny fall morning, determined that life is going to be different from here on out.  My past is no longer going to dictate my future.  Then it suddenly occurred to me that sometime, perhaps even tonight, I may very soon be collapsed in a weeping heap over things that happened 20 years ago, yet the pain is so deep and so acute that it still has not gone away.  What of my resolve of this very morning?  Where is my self control?  My dignity?  Then I can smile and laugh at myself and understand that this is what it is to be human, to be fragile, and breakable, yet beautiful even in my wretchedness.  I can struggle, I can cry, I can fail, I can doubt, yet ever can I get back up and get on with life, unashamed that I am not perfect every moment of every day, nor will I ever be, this side of time at least.

So I can rejoice in the good times, cry when I must, but ever knowing a brighter morning is coming and joy with it.  What can these men solely of science offer?  A pill? (This is not to say that there are not legitimate medical conditions that need to be treated with medication, but rather that we in the West have come to see 'a pill' as an answer to everything, including the deepest yearnings of the soul).  Sometimes a pill just is not enough and we must remember the so called folly of the ancients: that we are not merely lumps of crude matter (to paraphrase Yoda) but something so much more.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Guest blogger?

This is an excellent article, perfect for Sunday, or any day when we take ourselves too seriously and forget our true reason for being.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Summer Reading?

The world has moved on, technology has taken over, and the future is well, not exactly bright, but at least if we can avoid an environmental/nuclear/infectious apocalypse of some sort, if the modern prophets be wrong, then at least it will be overcast with a 73% chance of rain; now where did I put my umbrella?  I thought technology or science or human intellect or something was somehow supposed to fix the world, bring us all together, and assure us of a happy and productive future.  It hasn't, just watch the evening news or spend 5 minutes on the web.

My favorite book (like most of the classics), has been relegated to the past, cast aside as outdated or archaic, and forgotten or overlooked by most moderns as having nothing whatsoever to do with modern life.  But then, I look at the mess that is the world and can't seem to find any proof that modern ideals have done much to improve matters.  Technology may change, but the human heart doesn't; thankfully, there's an owner's manual.  Though 'Fifty Shades of Gray' or 'Twilight' or 'Harry Potter' shine for a year or a day, they are quickly forgotten and replaced by the next 'big thing,' and pretty soon no one but the die-hard fans even remember them; they are as quickly forgotten as the name of last year's Disney movie.  Their advice, insight, or wisdom are as fickle and fleeting as their fame.

But there are some books that never die, no matter how hard we try to kill them.  No matter what nation, culture, or time you belong to, no matter your circumstances or mood, this book has it all.  In the mood for romance and fairy tales?  Might I recommend the story of Ruth.  Want adventure and intrigue?  Joseph is the story for you.  Wrestling with life's deepest questions, struggling with sorrow and grief, or angry at the world or God?  Job, Ecclesiastes, and the Psalms were written for just such a circumstance.  Looking to annoy people with pithy sayings beyond count: Proverbs.  History buff: Chronicles and Kings.  The Answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything (and it's not 42): New Testament.  What it is to be human: read it cover to cover, the Bible! 

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Strange bedfellows

Upon our recent vacation, I had the chance to read five books given me by a certain literary sister, and after perusing them, I thought it would be great fun to review them.  Four of the books were written by Georgette Heyer and were my first introduction to that lady's work.  The other was called, 'Shh, We Have a Plan' by Chris Haughton.  What do four regency romance novels have to do with a child's board book?  Absolutely nothing!  Which is what makes this review so much fun.

I am a huge Jane Austen fan; I enjoy all her books, but Pride and Prejudice is by far my favorite.  I have read various sequels and adaptations over the years, but nothing has come close, a most are downright pathetic.  Georgette Heyer is assumed by many to be Austen's heir and has written over 40 books, many taking place during the Regency period of England in which Austen's books are set.  This was my first exposure to her work; I've seen her books around, indeed they are ubiquitous, but I never bothered to pick one up.  My sister loaned me four of her favorites and I actually had a little time on our trip, so why not?

Heyer is a gifted writer, there are some very amusing scenes, intriguing characters, interesting plots, and the dialogue is upbeat, at least in the first book.  The problem is, all of her books are the same!  I won't bother listing the titles as it really doesn't matter.  She has basically boiled Pride and Prejudice down to its constituent parts then fleshes out the bare bones with slightly varying details, but it quickly grows old and none of her books are of the same caliber as Austen's classic.  They are an amusing, fluffy read on vacation, but nothing I am going to put on my shelf to read over again.

Heyer in a nutshell: a rich, fashionable man, bored and cynical of women in particular and life in general (he must dress perfectly, wear very shiny hessian boots, have an immaculate neckcloth, and drive a team to precision) meets a comely lady, who is the only female on the planet not out to win his hand.  He is intrigued by said damsel, or perhaps by the novelty of a woman not immediately in love with him, and they fall into some sort of scrape or adventure together and he eventually proposes. She must inevitably refuse his offer of marriage at least once because she cannot imagine he actually loves her.  After about 10 more pages, the misunderstanding is corrected and she accepts him and the book ends.  The heroine of course must be virtuous, intrepid, and have an arch sense of humor, but she is not grasping nor does she think very highly of herself, yet she must be confident and just in her dealings with all others.

Strange as it may sound, some of my favorite books are actually composed of fewer than 10 pages and 100 words.  I had a few favorite books from my childhood but was in no way a connoisseur of children's literature, but now having kids means I get a second chance to peruse this oft overlooked genre.  I was delighted by Sandra Boynton and enjoy many of the 'Little Critter' books immensely, though I am having second thoughts about Dr. Seuss in my waning years.  Many children's books are either dull or focused too much on educational matters or are dumbed down to the point of insult; a good children's story is none of these.  This little book was absolutely delightful!

The long and the short of it: we'll be reading 'Shh, We Have a Plan,' for years to come.  If you've read one Heyer regency romance, you've read them all.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

On inconveniences and adventures

~An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered.
 An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered.~  
~G.K. Chesterton~

I was supposed to be learning about highly important, scientific type things, instead I took home something far more profound, or at least sort of interesting.  It was one of those conferences where you don't dare address anyone as 'doctor' or else you'll have fifty people suddenly looking expectantly in your direction; where you cram 87 hours of learning into three days and wonder why your brain hurts so much you don't even bemoan the fact that even though you are in Florida or Guam, you don't have time to enjoy the tourist attractions because you have to go home tomorrow and spent the entire trip in a dark, freezing room staring at a screen whereon a can of alphabet soup exploded.  Most of my continuing education requirements must be of a scientific or medical nature, but they let you slip in a few 'general' hours now and again, I think merely to spare our sanity.  This particular lecture happened to deal with the nature of happiness and it was rather fascinating.  What struck me were the things on the list that did or did not correlate with happiness, most especially children.  Apparently, in general, married people are happier but people with kids aren't.  That struck me as rather odd.  But then there is that scary blog written by despairing mothers everywhere, maybe I'm a statistical anomaly or maybe we moderns just have this whole kid thing backwards, much like G.K's quote above.

I'm not saying kids are easy, but life is sure more 'full' once they come into your life; they somehow round out or complete your family in a way that can't be put into words.  Maybe it is because suddenly, there is someone in the world who is (or should be) more important than you, and it is in doing things that are meaningful that we find happiness, or so the speaker assured us.  Maybe our problem is, similar to our warped expectations of marriage, that we wrongly expect kids to somehow automatically fulfill or complete us: they are a possession or a status symbol, no different than a pet or a car, and we resent them when they interfere with our idea of a 'good life.'  They will spill spaghetti on your plush, white carpet.  They will 'urp' all over your favorite blouse.  And you can't sell them or take them to the humane society when they become inconvenient.  But as G.K. so magnificently points out: inconveniences are merely overlooked adventures.  Are they annoying, loud, disrespectful, and stubborn, of course!  But then, so are you, and every other human on the planet. We also forget that they are fun, hilarious, sweet, and adventurous, and with a little luck, some of that might just rub off on their parents.

As I said goodbye to my son this morning, he said something that both thrilled and broke my heart, it was simply, 'come back.'  To most people that might not be a big deal, but growing up in a home where I was neither loved nor wanted, it was the most wonderful thing in the world.  I was needed, I was wanted, I was loved, I had a home at last!  I think G.K. was right, and the world would be a whole lot happier if we took his advice.  Who knows, kids might just be the biggest adventure of all!   

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

There and back again

That which we most desire is that from which we are most fervently fleeing; we spend our whole lives looking for the one thing we thought to leave behind when we went out to see what life holds for us.  What is this mysterious, most desired of objects?  This terrifying yet wonderful thing?  Every human heart, above all else yearns for Home.  Not a certain house or condominium, not a specific country or city, but rather that place, be it cave or mansion, wherein we are accepted and loved for who we are (not what we have done or will do) and can be ourselves without fear.  But it is the one thing modern society most abhors, for therein we cannot bow any longer before the sacred shrine of Me, but must rather consort and fraternize with others, sometimes sacrificing our immediate wants and desires for the good and benefit of others, as they in turn do on occasion for us.  But fear not, modern convenience has done away with all such necessity.  Just turn on your 'device' and enter a world away from the dull and demanding plebs that make up your immediate household; join your virtual family and ignore those of flesh and blood.

Your virtual friends understand, they like you for who you are, they speak your language, they never ask you to clean your room or turn down your music, that's what a family should be!  Except, when you need them most, when that moment of crisis or grief or tragedy comes unexpectedly upon you, where are they?  It is a tale older than the internet, older even than the printing press, old as man himself.  We think we know better, we think the world holds something better for us, and we do need to leave home one day and establish our own life, but it won't look anything like the one I had growing up, no sir!  It will be different, it will be better: exciting, interesting, I'll do whatever I want when I want!  And after all our wanderings and failed experiments and dead ends, eventually we come to the strange realization that what we thought we wanted we don't really want after all and what we truly desire most we already had but left it scornfully behind us.  Such is the tale of lost Eden and the Prodigal Son; it is the whole history of Israel and of man himself.

There is a pattern for human happiness and thriving, eventually the wanderer does come stumbling home in the dead of night after much misery, disappointment, and sorrow, and knows he would have been wiser to have stayed there in the first place.  But our hearts yearn after something and we go forth seeking it, only to find it is nothing this world can provide and that it must come to us, and may well do so with never so reckless a faring forth, if only we are wise enough to hear its whispered call.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Of gourds and men...

I love the scene in the Return of the King movie after the hobbits have returned home from their grand adventures and they are sitting around a table in the local pub waiting for Frodo to bring their drinks, but he nearly collides with an aged, grumpy hobbit bearing an enormous pumpkin.  After being appropriately berated for his clumsiness, he returns successfully to his friends while everyone else in the overcrowded tavern oohs and aahs over the squash, ignoring our heroes, who truly have had adventures over which the plebs might appropriately gush and fawn, rather than wasting their efforts on an obese gourd.  Sometimes I feel that scene is a perfect metaphor for all of modern life, especially as exemplified by social media.  But ironically, we suddenly have the whole world at our fingertips yet we are as clueless and naive as any hobbit that's never been further from home than a day's walk.

People go on and on about their cat or their new love interest (the third one this month) or their kid's stubbed toe or the upcoming preschool graduation and what adorable outfit Maggie Sue is going to wear.  I might perhaps be a heartless cad, but really, don't you have anything more interesting or important to obsess over?  But of course!  Did you hear the latest news out of Hollywood?  Never mind, what was that you were saying about your cat?

I feel like those hobbits sometimes: strangers in their own hometown.  They ventured forth into a larger world; their eyes were opened to greater things.  And here they sit, surrounded by squash enthusiasts.  I have nothing against cats or obsessive parents or the excitement of a new relationship, but contrary to popular belief, the world does not revolve around you (or your cat or whatever), and I'd like to talk about something else for a bit.  Books?  No, I haven't read Fifty Shades of Gray and would much rather open the phonebook at random and begin memorizing; let's get back to your cat.  The internet and social media were supposed to expand our horizons and make us more aware of and sensitive towards others, instead it has allowed each of us to erect our own little parthenon in which to enshrine ourselves as little gods.  There's an old saying about 'too many cooks spoil the broth,' I wonder what too many 'gods' will do to the culture?

So there our hobbits sit, knowing they are small fish in a big pond while all their neighbors think themselves big fish in a rather small pond.  Personally, I'd rather have room to swim!

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Abba, Father

God is mean.  If He really loved me, He'd let me do whatever I want!  I know what's best for me, I know what I need, I know who I am.  If He was really a loving God, He'd let me do what I know is best for me.

I seem to have heard such an argument before, but rather it involves a being called 'mommy' and the offended party just reached the sagacious age of three.  When I hear the same arguments out of the mouths of grown adults, I no longer wonder at Paul writing some of his letters to 'spiritual infants.'  I think part of our problem, as a culture, understanding God is because we no longer understand what it is to have or be parents.  Reading just about anything on parenting on social media, various blogs, or websites is enough to make me want to become Amish!  We want our kids to like us, to be our friends, to succeed no matter what, to never hurt or deal with the negative aspects of life, to basically be happy all the time or they are a burden, a nuisance, an obstruction to 'my' self-fulfillment.  Both views are utterly selfish and harmful to our children.  No wonder we misunderstand our Heavenly Father.

True love demands what is best for the beloved, not for the lover or that the beloved necessarily be 'happy' at that precise moment.  Kids need discipline, boundaries, and to take responsibility for their actions; they also need love, security, and a chance to take risks and to be allowed to fail.  You do not help your toddler by giving in to his tantrums for more sweets, but rather by teaching him that there is a time and a place for treats and that he will not die for want of them.  Perhaps when God says 'no' or 'wait' when we demand a certain blessing, He has a very good reason for it, one that we cannot yet comprehend or see.  He's not mean, He's just a good parent.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

The Ivory Tower of Babel

I've always known academians were either a little desperate or crazy or whacked or something, but I finally have solid proof.  I spent eight years working my way up the collegiate ladder and along the way met many a Ph.D. or students anxious to be in possession of one.  The problem is, to get such a degree, you must write a VERY long paper on something that has never been written upon before, which in the hard sciences (biology, chemistry…) is not so awful as there are always new and interesting details to research in depth, but in the soft sciences (literature, art…) it is much more difficult as most of the interesting/useful topics have been taken.  So they usually end up researching something like Dr. Suess' favorite color and how it influenced his relationship with his uncle or something ridiculous like that.  The problem with this approach is that we have a lot of time, money, and effort going into things that either make no sense or have no practical purpose in real life.  This explains why many Ph.D's can't hold a real conversation: they've spent so long on their specific topic that they can talk and think of nothing else and sadly, no one else on the planet cares.  I've had professors lecture for hours on an obscure encephalitis of horses in Switzerland (their thesis topic) and completely gloss over diseases I see and treat every day; I have treated far too much parvovirus but have never yet seen a case of Borna Virus, but guess what we learned about in school?

My ultimate proof of the futility of many doctoral degrees was the result of an investigation I did regarding a children's book, yes, it was that important.  We read 'Goodnight Moon' every so often, as many a parent with small children has before us, and in one of the drawings, there is a painting in the background with a fly fishing bunny catching another bunny and I thought it looked very familiar, so I did the only sensible thing and googled it.  The picture appears in another book by the same author called 'Runaway Bunny' which apparently I had once read or looked at some years ago.  Mystery solved, or so I thought.  I started reading further on the Wikipedia site and found a reference to some work ascribing an Oedipus Complex to 'Goodnight Moon' and its companion books.  Am I the only person that thinks this is getting kind of weird?  It is a kid's book, I don't think it was written with all these subliminal messages about the human psyche!  Just read the book, tuck the kids in bed, and get a life!

I remember something of Oedipus from my mythology class in high school but had to go back and look him up to figure out what this article was going on about.  He's the guy that killed his father and married his mother (unknowingly, as he was supposed to be dead and was raised by people who were not his biological parents).  So basically an Oedipus Complex is when you have 'a thing' for your mom.  And where exactly do you find that in 'Goodnight Moon?'  Is there an official complex for people that read way too much into a children's story?  This is what happens when literature doesn't mean anything anymore, I think they call it deconstructionism.  The story doesn't mean what the author thinks it means, rather it means whatever the reader thinks it means.  Huh?  As a writer, I definitely take offense at that.  I don't write gibberish, I try very hard to express exactly what I want to express, but apparently I am either not educated enough or sophisticated enough to realize that I cannot possibly mean what I think I mean, rather I mean whatever a particular reader thinks I mean?  Doesn't this kind of kill communication?  How on earth do these people have a conversation or maintain any sort of relationship: he said X which probably means X but I take it to mean Y because I think he should have meant Y.  We might as well speak two separate languages!

I think I'll just enjoy the book at face value and let the academians argue amongst themselves about its deeper meaning.  "Goodnight noises everywhere!"

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Of wanderers and vagrants

Stranger, pilgrim, sojourner, wanderer, gypsy, and vagrant, all perfect words to describe how I'm starting to feel in this modern world.  Tolkien famously penned, 'not all who wander are lost,' and while I've always been enchanted by the phrase, I begin to understand and appreciate it more and more.  It is from his 'Lord of the Rings' books and refers to Aragorn, or Strider as he is ignominiously known, the uncrowned King who has spent his entire life living as an exile and gypsy in his own Kingdom.  I just don't 'get' modern culture, I never have.  I'll happily lose myself in an old book, but get strangely bored with anything written much after 1935.  Television and movies rarely hold my interest, and I travel in very tight circles on the inter web.  Is it me that's boring or has the whole world become dull?

I suppose boring is not the correct phrase, mundane would be far more appropriate and as it stems from the latin for 'world' it neatly answers my question as well.  The preferred pleasures of the modern world really hold little interest for me and I find myself an alien in my own country, whose people cannot discuss anything deeper than pop culture, a language I do not speak.  The virtues have become passive rather than active: the modern good is not to cheat on a math test versus once it meant helping an old lady with her grocery bags.  Or worse, character has come to mean 'are the opinions I hold socially acceptable,' i.e.: do you recycle, eat organic, or practice/agree with whatever the current conscientious fad is.  The highest 'good' is my own pleasure rather than the welfare of others.  We are all of us becoming conformists to a strange and ever changing list of high social ideals, at which the merest hint of dissent is greeted with cries of outrage and vitriol.  We are not allowed to think or reason or discuss, but must merely conform.  And it is incredibly dull.

So we obsess over the lives of fictional characters because our own have no 'flair.'  A hang nail becomes a crisis of international proportions when appropriately worded on social media.  Life's a party we are told but everyone is a stranger and no one is quite sure what we're celebrating, or why.  We now have so many 'celebratory moments' that none of them are really special.  How many times does a modern kid 'graduate' from preschool, kindergarten…before they actually graduate from high school?  Do we really need another party to find out if your baby is a boy or a girl, odds are pretty good it is one or the other.  Does anybody else feel like they woke up one morning in one of those weird parallel life movies: it is your life but it isn't?  It feels sort of like Disneyland: smile, even if you don't feel like it or you're fired.  Yeah, those fake smiles really boost the spirits, don't they?  We're all 'happy' on the outside but miserable on the inside, but if we keep busy enough no one will notice.

Everyone is looking for authenticity, the 'real thing,' all natural, back to basics, you get the idea, but when every box of inedible prepackaged frosting-injected spongecake and all those parts of the chicken that they won't even put into dog food but will happily convert into dinosaur shaped breaded patties for juvenile human consumption bear the label, 'all natural,' you really start to wonder what exactly that means.  Every city I visit is exactly the same, it doesn't matter what state or climate we're in, they all have the exact same mishmash of stores, restaurants, and entertainment venues.  Every house is beige and every car is a too small, eco-friendly whatever.

I tend to visit a certain mommy blog on occasion, just to see what the 'cultural norm' is for parenting nowadays, and had I not already had kids, I don't think I'd have any.  Apparently there are only 2 kinds of parents in the world: those who live vicariously through their kids and 'it is the end of the world if Jeffie writes his C's backwards at 2, how is he ever going to get into Harvard!' parents or the 'it was sort of an accident or I thought they'd be cute or something' parents who can do nothing but complain about how much kids mess up their lives: 'I can't even go to the bar when I want to!'  Both of these examples are just an extension of our larger cultural problem: we are looking for fulfillment and purpose and meaning in all the wrong places.  And sadly, we are blind to it.  We just try something else: kids didn't work, how about a dog or an affair or a trip to Paris or a new car or…  Like a hamster on an exercise wheel, we just keep running and running but never truly get anywhere but tell ourselves we are making excellent time.

That was me, until the wheel broke down.  I had the degree, the professional career, true we were living in a shoe box, driving a used car trying to pay off school debt, but we had 'the life,' or so society assured us.  And I was miserable, only I didn't know it.  Then life fell apart, the job went away, 'the life' vanished like the dream it was, and I couldn't be happier for it.  My family still thinks I'm nuts, but I know their lives are as pointless and tedious as they assume mine to be.  Sure, I don't have a fancy title anymore, I get called 'mommy' or 'sweetie' instead of 'doctor,' but I like it that way.  The paycheck was nice, but it sure didn't make life any better once the bills were paid.  I just read a short article on the cost of kids, which basically made it sound like a lose-lose deal financially and career wise whether you stay at home or work, so you might as well not have them.  From the materialist's perspective that makes a whole lot of sense, but there is so much more to life than money or prestige or power, which is why those who put their hope in such things are never happy or content.

What then is the meaning of life, the universe, and everything?  It isn't 42.  It's love.  I'm not talking the trashy romance novel or steamy paranormal teen romance or even the modern chick flick sort of infatuation we mistake for love.  I'm talking the 'willing to give up everything for the benefit of the beloved' type of love, I believe the greeks called it agape.  It isn't what you have but Whose you are.  Nothing in this world can compare to that which lurks beyond it, that Love that snuck into our own reality and gave up everything so we could share in that 'peace that passes understanding,' in that Joy beyond the world's comprehension.  This world isn't enough, but then it was never meant to be.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

A rock in a weary land

There's no good story without a few tears in it, at least this side of reality.  Have you ever tried reading one of those insipid children's books that tries to teach numbers or manners or something but the plot and characters are dull enough to make the paint on your wall look interesting?  And yes, there are some very good books with very few words out there, it is possible to tell a good story in five sentences or less.  They are tedious and uninteresting because they are unrealistic, there is nothing of emotion or feeling in them; they are dull for the same reason math books are dull: they were only meant to convey facts, not tell a story, yet telling a story is one of the oldest and best ways of teaching something, but some of our more modern elites in the education world have forgotten this and think only the facts matter.

I often wonder at the modern pursuit of the so-called 'good life,' basically one as free of discomfort and as full of pleasure as possible.  No wonder I find suburbia as surreal as one of those 'informative' children's books.  We all live 'happily' in our beige houses with our regulation lawns and red SUVs, keeping our souls dulled into 'blissful' insensibility by an unending schedule of soccer games, dance lessons, overtime, and expensive family vacations to cheesy rodent themed amusement parks.  There are no problems in the world, save what we see on TV, but those don't affect us, they are far away, and will never affect us.  I'll live in my artificial, anesthetized bubble of reality and watch the years tick away.  You can pretend pain doesn't exist, but that doesn't make it go away.  We try to create our own little utopias, forgetting that we live in a broken paradise where such things cannot be.  One day, sorrow will come knocking; it is not an if but a when.  But are we ready to open the door?  Will your whole fake bubble implode, your so-called life evaporate, or will you struggle and cry, but come out the stronger for it?

Besides for the oldest among us, we have never had our Great Depression or World Wars, all our crises have been rather mild by comparison; the majority of us in the West don't have to wonder where our next meal will come from, to us, our iPhone breaking is the worst calamity we can currently imagine
enduring. I like the way C.S. Lewis put it: "Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world."  No other needle will pop the fake and protective balloon we have carefully wrapped about ourselves and our sensibilities.  I am not saying that all pain and suffering in the world is for just that reason, rather we live in a broken and ruined world, one where sin and strife and suffering are the rule rather than the exception, while we try to minimize it, none can avoid it indefinitely, but sometimes, God will use that suffering for His glory and our good, if we will take the hint, that is.

I often wonder at my childhood, I grew up thinking I was normal: divorced parents, an emotionally abusive father and emotionally distant mother, bullied at day care and public school, normal for a kid growing up in the 90's right?  Then I got married and had a family of my own, I'm still discovering the depth of the hurt and pain, 20 years later I'm still crying myself to sleep, because it isn't 'normal,' it may be culturally normal, but it wasn't how it was meant to be.  Comparing my own family dynamics to those of my family of origin, I know now what family is supposed to mean and the latter was the antithesis.  Why was I allowed to suffer so much sorrow for so long?  Why must I still bear the scars and nurse unhealed wounds?  If God loves me, why couldn't I have been happy?

There are greater goods than happiness, higher ideals than pleasure.  But for my sorrow and loneliness, my social ostracization, I might never have known Him.  'Seek ye first the Kingdom of God, and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.'  In finding Him, I have found my Joy and Hope and Peace, something the world could never give, and when it did, it was a fickle and vapid thing, fleeting and vain, but His hope shall outlast the stars.  I did not enjoy the pain, I would not willingly endure it again, but greater Joy has come of it.  An infant and mother don't enjoy the birth process, but it would be tragic were they to forgo it for fear of discomfort and greater joy certainly comes of it.

We can either lean into sorrow, take its hand and bear with it until it has passed, learning from it what we must, allowing Someone else to ease our burden, to share our pain, else we can try hiding from it, deny it exists, or be crushed beneath it or shake our fists at the heavens and decry that this is proof that there is no God or that He does not care.  He is not the God of personal comfort, that is a small and fickle god indeed, rather He went to the cross to bear the sins and sorrows of a world that denied Him, betrayed Him, insulted Him.  'He has borne our sorrows and carried our griefs,' when He need not have known anything but Glory and Joy forever.  Now there is a rock we can stand upon or shelter behind, whatever the storm without.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Welcome to the mundane!

If you're paying attention to any sort of media of late, you've no doubt heard that the 'most epochal decision since woman got the vote' has come down the pike, but I would argue that this is not the phenomenal societal bang advocates are now proclaiming it to be, rather it will probably be remembered as simply another page, perhaps the last page, bearing only the words, 'the end,' in the long struggle for official social recognition of this particular lifestyle in the United States, neither is it the end of civilization, society, or marriage as some opponents are proclaiming it.  Now I don't usually get into politics on this blog and I have no intention of doing so now.  I will not analyze the societal implications of this decision, we have experts on both sides to prognosticate and only time will show us the true impact.  Rather I'd like to look at an issue that the media and talking heads probably have absolutely no interest in.  What now?

After the parties and parades and rejoicing, what now?  It will be like the morning after graduation: waking up and wondering what to do with the rest of your life.  For so long it has been 'the struggle' keeping the movement going, uniting various factions, giving meaning and purpose to so many, etc.  Sure, there will still be a few dissenters to throw to the lions, but what now?  Socially, the battle is long over, the lifestyle isn't even 'cool' any more; it is normal.  Being gay nowadays is about as controversial as having a tattoo or purple hair or a lip piercing.  Name a current TV show that doesn't have a hip, sophisticated gay character.  Yep, it's mainstream.  Welcome to the mundane, everyday world of normal!  The court's decision surprised no one, society's attitude towards it has been genial at almost every level for several years, it was only official recognition that was lagging behind and now that hurdle is behind us.  Now what is there to fight for?

I am only theorizing here, but I wonder if some within the movement will wake up some morning not long after this pivotal victory and wonder if it was such a good thing after all?  After all, it was the movement itself, the struggle against injustice, against society's disapproval and oppression of this particular people group that made some within the community feel special and gave them all their meaning and purpose.  Now with official recognition and approval, with the lifestyle being so widely approved and accepted (save for a few 'archaic and bigoted' dissenters), who will be left outside the community to applaud and support and encourage?  It's over, it's now a non-issue, at least as far as most  of the uninitiated will see it; you've won the race, awesome, let's go get something to eat and see what's on TV…  It is legal, it is normal, it is…well, boring!  Occupy Wall Street was trumpeted as some epochal movement, but does anyone even remember it today?  Yesterday's media darling is today's humdrum, ho hum non-story.

But this is nothing new, people have been trying to be important and special since the world began and they are always looking for approval in all the wrong places, namely from their fellow men.  It isn't this particular lifestyle either, it can be anything from wearing the right toga to listening to the right music, but whatever it is, even with all the world giving its hearty approval, we still go away empty, because human applause is always fickle and ephemeral.  It is something we crave with our inmost beings, and rightly so, for we were made for just that, but we are looking for it from the wrong source.  Only the One who gave us the craving can fulfill it, but we can't earn it or buy it or be trendy or cool enough to acquire it of ourselves.  Even the court's blessing will not suffice to fill the emptiness in the hearts of those who hoped this decision would be 'the answer,' to their greatest desire, their deepest longing, for they have misplaced their trust.  Even if every person on the planet approved of and celebrated this particular lifestyle, they would still go away empty, for it will never be enough.  A hobby, a lifestyle, a romantic interest, a child, a job, a skill, a race, a gender, an age, fortune, power, fame, none of it will fill that longing.

We can fool ourselves into thinking we'll be content once we are married, once the house is paid off, once the adoption is finalized, once we get that job, whatever, but the days after 'it' happens reveal that we are still as discontented as ever so we set a new goal and strive towards that, only to come away empty again.  It's the morning after Christmas and we can't figure out where the joy went.  The Joy has always been there, it is we who have shifted our gaze to lesser things.  As the Serpent whispered in the Garden, 'ye can be gods!' we are finding godhood far less satisfying than we thought it should be.  But we weren't made for godhood, and therein lies our hope.  Man cannot become god, but God did become man, and that is freedom indeed!

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

To boldly go...

"Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter," said the galaxy's foremost Little Green Friend to a skeptical Luke Skywalker as he desperately tried to learn the ways of the Force but was having trouble believing, seemingly no different than the jaded Han Solo who once scoffed at a 'mystical energy field' controlling his destiny.  Obviously in the beloved galaxy 'far, far away,' there wasn't much religious fervor, even the infamous Darth Vader is referenced as being the 'last of their religion,' referring to the defunct Jedi order.

Travel forward in time, at least in one man's vision of the future of our own galaxy and you find a post-religious civilization in which humanity has embraced its place amongst the various denizens of the galaxy, pursuing knowledge and peace, but also finding itself at odds with the more hostile residents, thus needing to defend themselves on occasion.  In this grand vision, the pursuit of knowledge is the highest good and each civilization should be left to itself to decide what is best for themselves.  A grand vision indeed, but one hard won and rarely achieved, as the dozen movies and half dozen TV series portray.

Besides for space travel and interesting alien costumes, what do these grand sagas of the stars have in common?  What every good story has: they pursue what it means to be human and the grand questions pertaining thereto: what is the purpose of life, where did we come from and where are we going, why is the world a mess, and is there a way to fix it?  Men have wrestled with these questions since the dawn of thought and how we answer them determines much about our lives and everything about our eternal destiny.  What is interesting in this instance is that both try to wrestle with these profound questions outside the context of religion, which historically has been the source of those particular answers.  What they don't realize is the very struggle for those answers is in itself the essence of religion or spirituality or philosophy or whatever you want to call it; you can't ask those questions if you want to avoid religion or think yourself beyond it.

In the last century and a quarter we started to look instead to science for our answers, overlooking the inconvenient fact that science can only tell us what or how or when, not why.  We can count the hairs on a mouse or measure the distance between stars but that doesn't tell us anything about the reasons behind mice or stars, how they came about, for what purpose, or who put them there in the first place.  We can invent theories on where the universe came from, what will come of it, and how life arose, but they are hypotheses that can't be tested, and therefore must be taken on faith, as much faith as it takes to believe, 'in the beginning God...'  'In the beginning something happened…'  We are now outside the realm of science and into the realm of faith, religion, philosophy, and metaphysics; science will never answer the why.  It is a tool, but a ruler or hammer or computer will never tell you anything outside of physical facts.  That is the job of religion.

Ironically, in a movie mostly lacking in spiritual overtones (save for the useful but indifferent Force), we find a solid bit of spiritual truth (and no, I am not going to compare and contrast varying theologies here): Yoda hit it spot on with his 'luminous being are we.'  Now I don't know if we actually glow in the dark, but we are certainly more than flesh and bone, yet like Luke Skywalker, we have forgotten this, our entire modern civilization has forgotten this, no wonder life no longer makes sense.  Our souls remain, no matter how much we try to ignore or rationalize them away, and they are at the very core of our being, our identity, and were made to last forever while your physical self will fall apart within a century of its advent.  Maybe, like Luke, we need to believe in order to succeed (and no, I'm not talking about the prosperity gospel here), rather we need to actually believe in Something, the Something behind Everything, the Reason for everything, the Why, and it isn't some unknowable, indifferent energy field or mindless force, He actually took on flesh and dwelt among us.  Obi Wan isn't fond of objective truth, but I never said the theology of Star Wars was sound, only that it offered some interesting insight into our modern view of the world and its dysfunction and our own lonely souls.  You don't have to go to a galaxy 'far, far away,' or even on a 'five year mission,' to find it, it is at the very door of your heart, patiently waiting, as it has ever been.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Lost in the suburbs

I remember an emptiness, a lack of purpose or meaning, wondering why we even bothered; it was all a pointless whittling away of the hours, doing our time and then what, and why?  I still feel that way when lost in a suburban neighborhood, with nothing but beige houses as far as the eye can see, wondering if this is how the world has ever been and ever will be.  It wasn't one particular activity or hour of the day, a single experience, or a certain age.  It was sitting in a 'skills for adolescents' class at fourteen, it was watching some insipid show meant to entertain or educate small children that only managed to bore and insult my six year old intelligence, it was reading some required but dreadful book for english, it was those epoch-long sunday afternoons in the summer when it was dreadfully hot and we were supposed to just 'go play,' it was another birthday when I'd gaze at the future and see it stretching long and dull and grey before me, much like Lewis's road to hell, 'without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.'

It wasn't boredom or ennui, it wasn't despair, though perhaps it contained traces of each, but they weren't the cause, but rather a symptom.  I don't know exactly how to describe it, for it is not a thing felt with the senses but rather with the heart.  It was a spiritual deadness, a material futility, an all encompassing dullness and purposelessness, like looking to the horizon on a dreary, cold, grey day in November when all the world is brown and grey and dead and only long months of cold loom before you, so long that perhaps spring will never come, except it is not a physical winter that afflicts you, it is a winter of the heart, a hibernation from which the soul will never waken.  It's death, plain and simple, we live it every day and don't even notice.  Our very souls are dead and numb, going through the daily and yearly dance of routine, obtaining the world's version of success, but still, we feel nothing, so we work harder so we don't have time to feel that ache, that longing, which seems impossible to fill.

But we're looking in the wrong places, it isn't found on the internet, in social media, in our relationships, in riches or power, on TV or at the movies.  We glimpse it from time to time, but it never slackens our thirst, it only makes our yearnings worse.  Having a baby, getting married, buying a house, getting 'the job,' we think will fulfill it, but it doesn't, not for long, this ache won't go away.  What is it?

"He has put eternity into the heart of man."

That's certainly an intriguing thought, but what on earth does it mean?  That's just the problem, we try to understand it with our minds of earth, to define it in mortal terms, when it is something not of this earth, something outside the comprehension of our temporal minds.  Modern man has this strange idea that the material world is all that there is and will ever be, you live, you die, and that's it; eventually the sun will blow up and that's all folks.  So what then is the point of anything?  But man wasn't made for a moment, but for eternity, hence the ache, the longing for a home we do not know and have never seen. The only way to assuage that ache is to set foot on the path that will lead us to that unknown yet familiar horizon, to begin the journey Home, only therein can we be truly content and feel true Joy.  Or, we can content ourselves with our magical phones, busy ourselves with countless tasks and hobbies, surround ourselves with fun and boisterous people, and pretend we are okay, but we aren't, for there is an ache that won't go away and that the world's varied balms cannot hope to cure.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Heading for the hills

If I could dwell in a perpetual twilight or in a land where it was always early morning, I would be well content; the biologists would call me crepuscular and I can see why various organisms find this lifestyle intriguing.  It has finally decided to be summer, which is both bane and blessing to me.  I love all warm weather entails: birds, flowers, green and growing things.  But I am no lover of direct, intense sunshine or heat, rather I like to lurk in the shadowy corners, wet with dew.  Sunshine and heat are required to create these shady nooks, but that does not mean I wish to dwell in the full intensity of the sun.  The oven must be a certain temperature to bake bread, but just because I love bread does not mean I enjoy the oven's heat.  I think the same could be said for the various aspects of our lives: emotional, physical, social, spiritual.  Too much heat or intensity will burn us, weary us, or bring on a dreadful headache, rendering us miserable and no good for anything.

I am not saying we should avoid intense or harrying situations when required, but rather we should take the necessary precautions to avoid exhaustion, burn out, and dissatisfaction in the various aspects of our lives, just like I retreat to the shade when the day's heat becomes too much, so too should we be mindful of the conditions around us and put on our metaphorical sunblock or floppy hat when necessary.  And various situations or circumstances affect each of us differently, just as I would rather work outside in subzero temperatures than on a sweltering and humid day, whereas others are exactly the opposite.  The idea that we must be 'busy' to be significant, important, and to have meaning is just ridiculous; the people with the most harried and crazed schedules we know are probably the least happy and fulfilled, they are just too busy to notice.  Busyness has become akin to alcohol in its modern use to dull our deepest longings, pangs, and fears.

Even within the church we see this, how many programs, meetings, and activities do you or your kids participate in or lead?  Our level of spiritual maturity is judged by how successful our ministry is or how many programs we have, when there is no correlation between them.  In the story of Mary and Martha, Martha is the perfect example of many a modern ministry leader or even a modern American in general: frenzied, grumpy, impatient, harried as she frantically stays busy trying to make sure the party is perfect while Mary sits on her rump and listens to Jesus tell stories.  When she asks Jesus to tell Mary to make herself useful, the result is rather surprising.  Mary is the one who is doing the needful thing whilst Martha is the one making herself miserable over nothing.  Throughout scripture we are reminded of how important it is to rest, to refresh ourselves, to be at peace, and not to try to earn our way into God's Kingdom.  I always found it intriguing, the little hints scattered throughout the gospels, that even Jesus needed to take some time off to head into the hills and be alone; how often He he went off to a lonely place to pray.  If it was needful for Him, how much more so for us?