Saturday, February 19, 2011

Bikini Consequences

Bikini Contest = Big Mistake
Long Term Consequences = Unknown

I was awake and my mind was spinning at 4 AM, when I remembered an event that I haven't shared with too many people. About one year prior to coming to know the Lord, and making the decision to live my life in a way that would bring Him honor, I vacationed with a few friends at "The River" for a weekend. There were three of us and we worked together as cashiers & hostesses at a local steakhouse.

I remember very little about the weekend, except for one event. Late Saturday afternoon, on the edge of the riverbed, a few young men in a burgundy pick-up truck, announced, with music blaring in the background, that they would be having a "bikini contest". All young women were invited to join. (Really? How inclusive of them.) My friends and I were intrigued because they were offering a cash prize to the winner. All that we would have to do is stand in the back of the truck and dance to the music in our bikinis, and we would be eliminated based on the amount of applause we got when the one of the young men placed their hand over our heads. Two of us decided to participate. I barely remember the girl who did the dancing with me that day. But, I'll never forget my friend, Kathy, who did not. She stood back and watched. She didn't tell us that we shouldn't, she was just sure that she wouldn't. I remember that somehow, certainly not due to my dancing ability, I made it to the final cut. It was me and one other 20-something woman dancing in the back of a pick-up truck, in front of a group of drunken, male strangers, all in the hope of winning 50 bucks. I didn't win, I lost to another lost soul.

Visualizing it, recording it through keystroke, imagining you reading it--makes me feel nauseous today. Years later, I realized that the whole event was demoralizing and perverse, and I wish that I had made a different choice.

But, here's the part that hurts even more. A few months after we returned home from the river trip, Kathy got a second job. She wouldn't tell me where it was, just that it was on a very busy street near our home, Beach Blvd. She said that she was a "dancer", and that she was making way more money working there than she made working as a hostess. She told me that after she saw how much attention I had received at the river, she realized that she was jealous of me, and wanted to see if she would be good at it. She said that she was getting more attention than she had ever received in her life. I told her that I wanted to come see her dance at the club. She said that would never happen. She told me that she couldn't take the chance of them finding out she wasn't 21 years old, and that she didn't want me to see her take off her clothes.

Thomas Merton says in his book, "No Man Is an Island"
"Every other man is a piece of myself, for I am a part and a member of mankind...What I do is also done for them and with them and by them. What they do is done in me and by me and for me. But each one of us remains responsible for his own share in the life of the whole body."

I am reminded that over the years, being the wife of a Youth Pastor, young women have followed my advice and my example and I have been able to reap the rewards of watching their fruitful lives and ministries. But, I also cannot forget that there is another young woman who, while following my example, went down a road that I can only hope did not lead to a lifetime of regret.

Everything we do will have an effect on other people and, eventually, society as a whole. This is why it is so important that we choose wisely. Even while writing this post, I question myself, "Should I reveal this? I have a teenage son. I have a husband in the ministry. Is this proper to talk about?" And then I remember, that I decided a long time ago that I was going to be completely transparent with the good and the bad. When I present my ugly past to the Lord for His use He burns away the scum and the slime and the leaves me with ashes of beauty. My life has never been solely my own, my life is part of a bigger societal and eternal picture--so is yours.

"It is therefore of supreme importance that we consent to live not for ourselves but for others." ---Thomas Merton

Friday, February 18, 2011

Soul for Sale: $2.59

While eating at Rubio's today, we accidentally got an extra taco. Well, first we thought we didn't get the taco we wanted. So, my husband went and told them that there had been an error. The manager quickly fixed the problem. A minute later, we figured out that the mistake that had been made was ours--and not theirs. And now we had an extra taco. There it was sitting on the table, all wrapped up in it's little paper sleeping bag with a blue "especial" sticker on it. My husband rose immediately, wallet in hand and went to pay for this extra taco, explaining our error to the man at the helm of the store. The manager politely said, "This is my house, enjoy it on me."

Integrity matters all the time. I learned this as a young woman and I've have tried to hold onto it each day since. I remember a time, when my kids were very young, that I seemed to be finding myself in integrity inducing situations every time I would venture into a Target store. The first instance was when our 3rd born was young enough to be in an infant seat. I maneuvered my way through the store, with the baby and the other two toddlers, and gathered the items I needed. I stopped to pick out an eye shadow, to wear on a date night that I would be going on that evening, and then moved on. We made it through the check-out isle with the distractions of "Mommy, please...can I have..." and then we headed home. With the baby asleep in her infant seat and the other two children doing...(Lord knows can I remember anything anymore!), I unloaded my bags. But, to my dismay, I couldn't find my new eye shadow. Disappointed, I went on to do other things. Later, when the baby began to wake, I took her out of her infant seat and, to my surprise, there was the eye shadow in her infant seat.

"I'm a thief"
I opened the package, used the eye shadow for the desired smokey eyes I wanted for my date and saved the wrapping to take with me to the store. The next day I loaded the kids in the car and returned to pay for the make-up. It was a little embarrassing to explain to the young man behind that counter that I had taken the item home (used it) and was now here to actually pay for it!
I was sad about it though, because I knew my motivation was more about fear than anything else. I knew that "no one" would ever know...but I also knew that God would always know. I remember a few days later sharing with a friend that my real motivation was only out of "fear" of God punishing me and that it made me sad that I didn't naturally want to do the right thing, aside from facing God's wrath. That was the day my friend quoted me a life changing Bible verse:
"The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline" Proverbs 1:7

It wasn't a but week or two later that I was in the same Target store for something else, when I decided to buy a pair of shorts, without trying them on. (WARNING: this is never a good idea) I once again gathered all of the items I needed and made my way through the candy laced check-out isle. This time, however, I was very careful to check the infant seat to make sure I didn't inadvertently steal, again.
When I returned home and had the wherewithal to try on the shorts--I despised my purchase. They were awful! I pulled out the receipt to insure that I would have it when I returned the shorts, but, as I inspected the receipt, I noticed that the checker had not added the shorts to my bill. Somehow, in the fuss of trying to get me and my three children out of their store, they had failed to charge me for this one item and, naturally, it was the one item I noticed because now, I didn't want the said item. I immediately loaded the children back into the car and drove to the big red target to fix this matter. I certainly didn't want this hanging over me.
Naturally, the employee who was working behind the counter was the same young man I had just encountered a couple weeks prior. I explained to him that I didn't want to keep the shorts, so I was returning them. The conversation went something like this:
Me: I don't want these shorts, I want to return them.
Target: Do you have your receipt?
Me: Yes, but they're not on it.
Target: Do you have the receipt that they are on?
Me: No. I mean, there isn't one. I mean this is the one that they should be on, but you guys didn't charge me.
Target: Oh, so, you just want to return them?
Me: Yes.
Target: Well, without a receipt I can only give you store credit.
Me: No...
Target: Sorry, Mam, that's our policy.
Me: No...what I mean is. You aren't supposed to give my any money. You didn't charge me for them. I don't want anything from you...I just need to return them to you.
Target: Um...I'm gonna have to get my manager. I don't know if we can do that.

It was such a strange experience, one that has stayed with me as a reminder that God cares about the little things that happen in my ordinary life. It is the victory in these little things that give us the courage to face the bigger things. All these little victories add up to a great big VICTORY.

I know a man who lives his life in an attempt to always maintain a standard of integrity. He is a Pastor at one of the churches where we have served in ministry. Recently, I heard that he is helping his daughter, her husband and their two daughters get into a new home. The housing economy being what it is, his daughter and her husband found that they wouldn't be able to be the signers on a short sale loan for a great home for their family. This led my Pastor friend to decide to take out a loan in his name to help them. The only catch, he has to live in it for a year. Apparently, with the loan they are using, the signer must be the primary occupant in the home for the first 12 months. So, the daughter and her family are moving into his home and he and his wife are moving into the newly purchased home...for one year. After one year, they will swap. In the meantime, he will live on his daughter's furniture and his granddaughters will live on his. Letting his grandchildren live on his furniture alone is an example of faith! But, I really admire the man for taking on the inconvience to maintain his principles and the principles that he teaches from the pulpit.

So, today, as I enjoy my fish taco in complete peace, I can only hope that along this path of attempting to live with virtue in my $2.59 decisions, the Lord will see my heart and my desire to please him and allow me more and more opportunities to choose His will.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

"I'm in Over my Head!"

"I'm in over my head!" That's what I keep hearing in my own head. I've over-committed and because of that I am going to mess everything up and then everyone will finally know that I am a complete fraud!
Naturally when people figure out that I am not equipped to handle the things I said I would do, they will respond without an ounce of understanding, grace or mercy. They will feel that they have no other choice but to implement the following changes into my life:
1) I will be kicked out of my book club. They will meet behind closed doors where they will discuss the matter and then they will put it to a vote, the outcome will be unanimous. I will be asked to burn all books that we read together and to never discuss them again.
2) My kitten will be removed from my home. She will be taken to a home where she will be fed canned food and her name will be changed to Ginger. She will be forced to use a kitty litter box and rather than kitty litter, they will shred pictures of me so that she will have to defaecate on my face.
3) I won't be allowed to go to Chipotle' anymore. Sadly, the burrito bowls and the chips and guacamole will be unattainable to me, because if ANYONE is caught bringing me a to-go order, the owners will yank the brown bag from their grip and replace all said items with Taco Bell items. So sad.
4) I will not be allowed on any of the hiking trails by my home and I will be forced to return to a life of sidewalk walking and stale classes at the gym. The trees will block my attempt to cross the small streams on the paths.

It is really too bad that I have gotten in over my head, and rather than write on my blog, I imagine that I should be reading one of the 7 books I need to finish, working on one of the 2 studies that I said I would teach, writing my mission letter, folding the laundry that has been in the dryer for 3 days, cleaning the bathroom or kitchen floors, walking the dog, dusting the living room or hunting for shoes for the wedding...but, I would rather be with you.
So, here I sit in my quiet home, not taking advantage of the stillness of this evening by educating myself. Nope, not one bit.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Tongue Twisters and Other Secrets

Since moving to the foothills of California, I have been making a lot of new friends. Three of my new friends are named Shawna, Shanda, and Shannon. No, they are not triplets. I cannot count how many times I have called Shannon by the name Shawna or vise versa. Sometimes when I am with them I begin with the "Shhh..." and have to concentrate as I am choosing a name to not say some bad other "Sh.." word. Also, quite often when relaying stories to my family about my day, someone will interrupt me and say, "Wait, Shanda or Shannon?" It's all quite confusing and I am not sure I can forgive their mothers for doing this to me. (Because in my world--on my sitcom-- I am the star, right?) However, because none of them has offered to change their names to Angelina or Brooke, I have to persist in my attempt to say the right name and not stumble over my tongue that is often twisted into something that resembles a Wetzle Pretzle.
This is not the only way my tongue can get tied in knots, I have been fighting another "tongue-tied-twisted-sister-spectacle" for quite some time. I have been feeling the urge to share something with my husband, and I have been fighting this urge because of fear and embarrassment. I would think about opening up to him and sharing this secret, but the shame of what was going on inside of me felt more powerful, so I would convince myself that I didn't need to tell him. I would argue with myself that I could overcome this internal battle without bringing him into it. But this "secret" was like a dark, menacing shadow that was following my every move.
There were mornings that I would be in the worship service at our church and I would be singing songs and even with my eyes closed I could see the shadow there--watching me. Laughing at me. And I would sense the Spirit of God telling me. "I am the Light, that is a shadow. Darkness cannot cover Light. Come into the Light." I knew from having a relationship with the Lord, that He would never prompt me to do something I couldn't handle, but using my tongue to speak up and tell my husband my secret required a certain intimacy that I didn't feel I could give. Writing to strangers and exposing myself comes easily and feels safe, opening up to my husband with spoken words as we sat on the edge of our bed would be one of the more scarier things I could imagine. And so, I went on for years holding this in and there were nights that I believed the shadow would, most assuredly, win this battle.
Last night, in a moment of unbridled abandonment, I shared my secret with my husband. As we were standing in the middle of our kitchen, on either side of the open dishwasher, the words began to fall off my tongue, skip over the dirty coffee mugs and land on his ears. I know the power to keep my tongue from becoming twisted, like a 10-year-old Olympic gymnast, had to have come from the Lord.

What happened next was completely unpredictable.

Every portrait in our home heard what I said and responded with astonishment. Pictures of family, hung on our walls, heard my "confession" and turned their heads in disgust. The picture of my Grandparents, taken in the early 1940's looked completely different, as it now showed them only from the back. They had turned their bodies completely around in the photograph to avoid looking at me. A snapshot of my Mother-In-Law holding my newborn baby, which was taken in 1989, now showed only the back of my sweet Mother-in-Law as she turned the baby girl away from me to protect her from the horror of what I shared.
The carpet responded next. Suddenly, as if on cue, every strand of carpet in our home unraveled itself from the burlap which it had been sewn. The strands of carpet began to slither out of the house. Like little polyester worms, they began to crawl across the floor and squeeze under the door frame, to escape being in my presence. Once outside they began to fling themselves into the swimming pool like lemmings running off a cliff.
The carpet strands began to gossip, the way carpet does, and informed the chlorinated water in the swimming pool of my secret. The pool water, remembering our days of summer and the hours we had shared in the sunshine, felt betrayed. In its anger, the water began to fling itself out of the concrete hole, over the fence and into the neighbor's yard.

I mean, I think that is what happened. Or, maybe, just maybe, what happened was that my husband reached out and took my hand. And just held it. My tongue stopped speaking and I remembered the sweet words from Song of Solomon:
"Your lips, my bride, drip honey; Honey and milk are under your tongue..."
And while my husband did not say this aloud to me, I felt this truth in his hand.

They were the sweetest words I'd ever heard, my heart could barely take it in
Like water offered to the lips of a tired and thirsty man
'Cause it's a tangled web I've woven and I don't know all the reasons
But it amazes me to wake up to Your mercy every morning
For the sake of never making the waves
I kept my secrets to myself
And no one ever really knew the darker shadows of my heart
But I will be a witness that there's nothing in me dark enough
The power of forgiveness cannot rescue from the deep

So, I'm standing here and spinning round in the fields of freedom
And I'm still alive and reaching out and I can feel the healing
'Cause you say, Come on out, come on out
Out in the open
Come on out, come on out
Into the Light
There is no jury, there is no judge
Ready and waiting are the steady arms of love

~Amy Grant, Out In The Open

Monday, February 7, 2011

Swimming Through Shark Infested Waters...

"Mom, wake up Dad, there's someone in the garage!"

And...I'm awake. And there stands my daughter in her pj's with the light from the hallway spilling into my bedroom. Behind her I see her 24-year-old, 6'3" fiancee', she follows my eyes and goes on to explain that she called Mr. Tall-Dark-and-Handsome as he was on his way home to drive back to our house and check the garage because she heard someone shaking the door--trying to gain entrance to our house.
I reach my hand toward my husband to wake him, and I see my daughter's handsome fiancee' is making his way towards the garage. Near the door to the garage, is my son's room. The "shaking door" is not actually the garage door, but the door into his bedroom. It turns out that my son, (who we will henceforth refer to as Mr. PETA) has taken one of the felines that graces our home into his room as he went to bed, and now the cat is trying to open the door and get out. So, Mr. Tall-Dark-and-Handsome opens the door and lets Maddie the Cat out of her bedroom prison. He then checks the garage, where he sees the other two animals sleeping peacefully on a large red pillow.

Cat tossed outside, fiancee' to his car, lights distinguished, and doors locked.

And...I'm awake, thinking about things to come. My mind is playing through what just took place and to me it is speaking volumes. You see, some may hear this story and think "Your daughter called her boyfriend back to the house just to let the cat out for the night!?!" But I see it a little differently.

I used to listen to Dr. Laura on talk radio and I remember that she used to tell women that they should find a man who would "swim through shark infested waters to bring her lemonade". I can confidently say that my daughter has found that in this young man. He loves her. He loves her with a passion, a protective nature yet a playful attitude.

This morning the Bride-to-Be and I took a walk, during which the conversation drifted around to her brothers, and what their future may hold. I couldn't help but tell her that I hoped that one day, each of my boys would love someone as passionately as Mr. Tall-Dark-and-Handsome loves her. To love someone so intensely is truly a gift and it requires the ability to trust wholeheartedly.

The Bride-to-Be and Mr. Tall-Dark-and-Handsome will assuredly have obstacles that they must overcome. They will have trials to face, that no one can predict, and some that many of us older people can already see coming. But, they will draw from the examples they've had and truths that they've learned and they will be stronger for the wear. The small steps that they are taking, even now while they live separately, will help them in the future when the problems cannot simply be solved by opening a door.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

The Chicken or the Egg?

Every once in a while you stubble upon a picture and suddenly....everything makes sense.
This afternoon while searching for a cord for my phone I stumbled on this picture from 1977. To most this just seems to be a class picture of innocent 7th grade children, but, what struck me was how completely out of place the little pre-teen standing front and center appears.
There she is with her Charlie's Angel's hairstyle. She looks so confidant in her purple striped sweater with her green jeans. Dittos, I suspect. My first thought is...did she not own a mirror? Or, perhaps was she color blind? Maybe she thought that her 4'9" stature would have placed her in the back row.
She looks happy enough in the photo, but I knew her and the truth is--she never felt like she "fit in" with this class, or for that matter, within this small Christian school. She felt like the other girls knew how to be good girls and she did not. They knew that good girls wear dresses on School Picture Day and not a tacky sweater and pants that are a little too tight. They knew that good girls don't stand with one knee bent, in a slightly provocative manner (at least not for several more years). They knew that good girls don't kiss the boy in the second row on the far left, not even one small kiss behind the lunch building.
Looking at this picture and knowing that she was an innocent and yet seemed to carry herself as a bit of a mini-harlot, but later made heart wrenching choices that carried her into a world of guilt I cannot help but wonder...which came first, the chicken or the egg?