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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!