“Goodbye!” to goodbyes

I do not like long,… drawn-out,… sentimental… goodbyes.  Instead I try to make do with a mumbled “See you later”, a quick hug, and a perfectly-timed departure, all the while keeping a tight leash on any wayward tears.  No tears were shed when I dropped each of my children off for their first day of kindergarten.  I saw no need for them.  Just a simple,

 “See you later sweetie!”, 

 We knew I would be back that afternoon, and somebody had better have my child to give back to me or heads were going to roll, and I was going to have to get all “Jamaica, mi crazy” on some otherwise very nice people. 

 Then two of my children went away from home for college, and the other joined the army, and that was a whole different story.  Each time I had to get on a plane, or get in a car, and head home alone; first from Nashville, then from a Military Entrance Processing Station in Sacramento, and finally from a university in southern California.   But I was a strong, independent woman, and I was not going to cry… and I didn’t…at least for a few days.

 With my first child, I did not shed a single tear until the first time she called home and my usually strong, independent firstborn sounded so sad and lonely; then I was just a mess of tears.  But she quickly got past it, found her niche, and even made the dean’s list that first year. 

My son has a great sense of humor, and his letters home from boot camp kept me laughing; until the letter to his sister, in which he joked about spending a cold, wet night in a foxhole in Kentucky, and a tank accidentally rolled right over their position.  That was not funny, and I was convinced the army was actually trying to kill my only male child. He did survive boot camp however, excelled in combat medic school, and cannot wait to be deployed overseas… but that is a whole other story.

 With all that experience, leaving the youngest should have been easiest, until she called weeping uncontrollably, insisting she wanted to come home.  Experience, schmex-perience!  I was a hot mess, which is on a whole different level of messes, involving no sleep, endless streams of hot tears, face on the floor in prayer, and periodically wailing like a banshee.  It was not pretty. 

 Once again it was time to assemble the ‘village people’; those in our inner circle who would pray, lend a helping hand, speak truth, and most importantly, shine the light of hope in the darkness of the ‘crazy’, till the storm passed; and pass it did. Of course, now the child is fine and beginning to thrive where she has been transplanted, but now I am just sick of goodbyes, and cannot wait for  the day when we can finally say “Goodbye!” to goodbyes.

 Mary must have been a hot mess too; saying a final goodbye to her firstborn Son; condemned by ‘church people’, (and that too, is a whooooole other story), crucified and dying on a Roman cross like a common criminal.  She knew what Jesus had promised; that He would be alive again in three days, but could she be absolutely sure?  Miracles and profundity aside, suppose He was just crazy?  Extraordinarily articulate, gifted and compassionate, yes, but powerful enough to come back to life?  As far as her mother’s heart knew, this was truly goodbye…until three days later…the word started spreading…He was alive…and eating roasted fish…on a beach…a favorite Jamaican pastime!  Coincidence?  I think not!

 Fast-forward another forty days, and more than five hundred eyewitnesses later (I Corinthians 15:3-8), and you see a group of eleven men saying yet  another goodbye; staring up into the sky as Jesus ascends into the heavens.  Suddenly they are joined by two angels who ask:

 “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven?  This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”  Acts 1:11

 Jesus had conquered death; the final enemy and great equalizer. He had proven His absolute power over nature, time and space.  Shouldn’t He be setting up His headquarters, promoting His friends to positions of power and influence, hiring a publicist and going on tour…after He exacted revenge on the people who put Him on the cross? Instead, He left them with the promise that He would come back again, and they were so convinced of this that the early believers would say goodbye to each other with a single word, “Maranatha!” Our Lord comes!

 The Apostle Paul would later write:

 “For the Lord himself, with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call, and with the sound of God’s trumpet, will descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first.  Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air; and so we will be with the Lord forever.  Therefore encourage one another with these words.”  I Thessalonians 4:16-18

 So here’s the thing, scholars way smarter than I am, with alphabets of letters after their name, have determined that 98% of the prophecies in the Bible came to pass exactly as prophesied, within the Biblical narrative, and in world history.  Of course we can choose to live as if there will be no endgame as prophesied, but if Jesus does return as promised, you could be up the proverbial creek, without a proverbial paddle. 

 But consider, even if it is all a fantasy, and He does not return as promised, those who choose to believe will still leave behind a legacy of a life well lived.  Seriously though, the mathematical possibility of that final 2% also coming to pass exactly as prophesied, is one reason I choose to go about the daily business of life with passion, integrity, and hope, ever so often looking longingly toward the eastern skies…and just living the thing.

Advertisements

I am NOT nothing!

This would be me!

Hi, my name is Ann Marie and I like to watch America’s Got Talent.  There.  I said it. Confessed my ‘guilty pleasure’, about which I feel absolutely no guilt.  I think I like this particular reality show because it is soooooo…random.  You never know who is going to show up, or what kind of ‘talent’ they will bring to the stage, that they seriously believe will get them the votes they need to win a million dollars and their own show in Las Vegas. 

One of my favorite performers on this season’s show, is a solo dancer named Turf…I do not know what his momma was thinking naming him that, but I choose to believe that she had nothing to do with it.  Interesting name aside, this young man is a dancer and contortionist combined, and makes his body do things that would put me in traction for a year, while having my family and friends wonder if I am crazy, and asking why I did not listen when Nick Cannon clearly said, 

“Do NOT try this at home!” 

In an early episode Turf was on-stage, tears flooding his eyes, when one of the judges asked him why he was so emotional, and his response was, 

“Look at me. I come from dirt…from nothing…” 

Yes sireee Bob. You guessed it. It was not long before I was bawling too.  Not because of what he said, but because of what I could see in his eyes, and hear in his voice, while he stood there in tears.  It was defiance; an obstinate refusal to accept what circumstances and perhaps, too many people, must have been telling him all his life up to that moment when he stood on stage. 

“You come from nothing. You are nothing.” 

Life has not been easy on Turf; in fact, he was homeless for almost two years, but every time he performed you could almost hear his heart shouting, 

“I am NOT nothing!” 

And obviously, his heart doesn’t give a rip about English grammar, so it can use a double negative! 

I believe we are all born with that same thing in our heart; a strong, innate sense of individual value and purpose, because God Himself took the time and effort to put it there. 

“For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb…My frame was not hidden from you when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes beheld my unformed substance. In your book were written all the days that were formed for me, when none of them as yet existed.”  Psalm 139:13-16 

So God put this innate sense of individual value and God-ordained purpose in your heart, and then life on planet earth proceeds to beat it out of you, or poison it with lies till it becomes distorted, deformed and twisted into some kind of narcissistic monster demanding that the entire world revolve around me!  And this does not just happen to dirt poor people or rich, spoiled brats.  It happens to everybody, everywhere, resulting in a wide range of brokenness and sociopathic behavior. 

You could knock me over with a feather sometimes when I hear people who seem to have been born with it all, or look like they have it all, talk about their struggle to feel worthwhile, and find some purpose for their life.  Not to mention the billions of dollars and thousands of hours spent with professionals, desperately trying to regain an accurate sense of who we truly are.  

Is it just me, or does everyone you know, myself included, seem to need some kind of therapy to fix something that has gone terribly wrong in our sense of self?  Even the therapists and counselors are going in for therapy and counseling. In fact, I am beginning to believe that if we don’t start speaking God’s truth into our lives and circumstances, we could end up with only two kinds of people in the world; people who are in therapy, and people who should be in therapy.  

It almost seems as if we are on the losing end of a conspiracy to remove from every one of us all knowledge and recognition that the God of the universe treasures us so much that He chooses to be personally involved in our creation, no matter the nature or circumstances of our birth, and even more, He thought out a perfect plan for each life, that has an awesome, eternal ending!  But it gets better!  Hear this from Jesus Himself, 

“Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten in God’s sight.  But even the hairs on your head are all counted.  Do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows” Luke12:6-7 

Who does that?!  No, I don’t mean who sells sparrows for two pennies?  I mean, who in the world loves you, or cares enough about you, to assign a number to every hair on your head?…and quite regularly apparently, because hair comes and goes.  OUR GOD DOES

But wait, it gets better! 

“For we are His workmanship, (Greek word is ‘ poiema’ meaning a design produced by an artisan; a masterpiece), created in Christ Jesus for good word works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.” Ephesians 2:10 

So, here’s the thing, every one of us is a unique creation, forged by the hand of God Himself, who also gave us the talents we will need to find our unique place in the world, and fulfill our unique purpose.  We have eternal value and purpose because God gave us eternal value and purpose.  Anything or anyone  in your life past, present or future that tells you different, is lying to you; so take that truth, bank it in your heart and… just live the thing.

A Bronze Perspective

The roar of the crowd was deafening, waves of Union Jacks created a sea of red white and blue, and the Princes William and Harry were on their feet whooping and hollering with the rest of the crowd, well, doing only as much whooping and hollering as royal decorum would allow.  Meanwhile down on the floor the athletes alternated between staring at the scoreboard in disbelief, hugging and slapping each other, and waving at the boisterous crowd.

Great Britain’s men’s gymnastics team had just won the bronze medal in the team competition at the 2012 Olympic Games, and the predominantly British crowd was going wild!  No gymnastics team from Great Britain had even qualified for a gymnastics team final since 1924, before Queen Elizabeth, now of James Bond fame, was born. Now here they were at home, hosting the Olympic Games and they had not only qualified, they would be on the podium. Bronze, not gold was the medal, but you wouldn’t know that from the celebratory pandemonium in the arena, because truly, it is all about perspective.

My Oxford American dictionary (don’t even ask about that literary identity crisis) defines perspective as:

 “A particular attitude toward or way of regarding something.”  and,  “True understanding of the relative importance of things; a sense of proportion.”

Perspective can alter your mood, influence your behavior, and change the course of your life.  Perspective causes ten people to see the same incident and give ten different accounts of what happened.  Perspective believes 50 really is the new 30. Perspective makes your teenagers think they know everything while you are secretly praying, “I hope you end up having a child just like you.”  Perspective can convince you to value things above people and that ‘all that glitters is gold’.  And perspective can make us believe God is just mean sometimes, trying to suck every bit of joy out of our life, when in fact He loves us perfectly, and is trying to protect us, make us better, and give us abundant, eternal life.

Which brings me to my old friend Job, whose very name conjures up images of undeserved suffering and loss.  The Bible tells us that his story actually begins with God doing a little show and tell about how proud He was of Job, and the devil responding by daring Him to remove all the ‘perks’ Job enjoyed in order to test his loyalty.  Which also brings me to a standing agreement I am trying to negotiate with God; that regardless of how proud He is of me, or how well He may think I am doing, that He would please agree not to have any conversations with the devil about me or my life because that just does not seem to end well for the human subject of that kind of dialogue….or does it?

A closer examination of the story reveals that at the root of Job’s ‘righteousness’ was a distorted perspective.

His sons were the consummate ‘party animals’  long before the term existed, and would regularly take turns hosting over-the-top shindigs that lasted for days, at the end of which,

“Job would send and sanctify them, and he would rise early in the morning and offer burnt offerings according to the number of them all.  For Job said, ‘It may be that my sons have sinned and cursed God in their hearts.’  This Job did regularly.”  Job 1:5

 From Job’s perspective, he, not the boys, was responsible for covering their sin.  Then as things began to go from bad to worse we get another glimpse inside his heart.

“For the thing I greatly feared has come upon me, and what I dreaded has happened to me.”   Job 3:25

 Job lived his life doing right because from his perspective God was just waiting to beat him over the head if he ever messed up.  He lived in fear of what God would do to him and his family if he did not measure up, or live up to righteous expectations.  Insecurity and fear drove him to do everything he could to win the gold medal for holiness, because getting the bronze would mean failure and punishment.

You have to give Job credit for holding it together for a loooooong time; never saying a bad thing about God all the while his wife taunts and nags, and his ‘friends’ accuse him of being guilty of some secret sin.  Yet God continued to allow the intensity of suffering to build until, near the end of the story, Job just blows up and lets God have it in chapters 29 through 31.  For the first time, he is completely honest with God about his righteous life, how he really feels about all that happened to him, and accuses God of being unfair and letting him down, essentially saying, “You owe me a good life filled with blessing; after all I have done for You.”

Well, allrighty then…now we see the perspective problem.  Pride in performance, along with insecurity and fear is guaranteed to distort our perspective.

God did not strike Job dead for his insolence.  I think He was relieved that the man was finally being honest, and gave him the only prescription that will clear up a distorted perspective, a healthy dose of truth.  Finally, Job had a new perspective.

 “I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear, but now my eyes see you; therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.”  Job 42:6

Yeah. That’s what I thought you said.

“Now the Lord blessed the latter days of Job more than his beginning…”  Job 42:12

 So here’s the thing, when God allows life to get hard and you’re tempted to just focus on winning some imaginary gold medal for goodness, accept the truth that His highest priority for our lives is a close, intimate, and healthy relationship with Him.  Let that truth continue to adjust your perspective, until at last, you look through new lenses and can see the work He is trying to do in your life, and then…just live the thing.

Winning!

I have some amazingly accomplished friends.  Among the group from high school and college years are a teacher turned judge, a computer programmer turned clinical psychologist, a college professor, an executive for a large global corporation, plus quite a few Masters Degrees and PhD’s thrown in for good measure.  I am immensely and perpetually proud of these women, who all came from blue collar backgrounds, but through education, hard work and personal integrity, have reached such vocational heights and are still climbing.  Then there is me; the proverbial runt of the litter, who despite education, hard work and personal integrity, am approaching 50 years old, and still trying to be, what I’ve always thought I was meant to be when I grew up.

Culture and society dictates that just about now I should be disappointed, depressed and on medication, and yes, there have been moments when I have been tempted to walk that line, but a cup of truth, a dash of faith in plan and purpose, and a pinch of stubborn belief in perfect love, grace and mercy, soon have me whipping up a different batter for life.   At the present time, life finds me experiencing that unique combination of thrill and terror that usually only occurs when I have foolishly let somebody talk me into going on a roller coaster.  This particular runt has every intention of finishing well by fulfilling God’s plan and purpose, even if the path has more twists and turns than San Francisco’s Lombard Street, with more treacherous potholes than your average Jamaican road.

My cup of truth includes choices I have made dictated by fear, and failure that have had painful consequences. But sometimes I have made choices that resulted in great blessing.  For example, I am privileged to be mother to three wonderfully unique and highly entertaining children who have radically transformed my idea of what love looks like. You see, I love my crazy children the way God loves me; unconditionally.  Their choices and decisions may scare me, frustrate me, or give me stubborn gray hairs, but they will never alter my unconditional love for them, or my unwavering commitment to do what is best for them, whether they like me or not.

Something else true is that if I’m not dead, I’m not done.  The passage of time may appear to put limitations on some dreams, unless you believe in an omniscient (all-knowing) God.  He always knows exactly how long it will take you to get on the right path to fulfill your purpose, so any and all time ‘delays’ and ‘failures’ have already been factored into His plan for your life.  So, as my son would say, 

“Winning!!!”

One of my best friends was a teacher for many, many years, and a very good one. Everyone in our circle knew one thing for sure: Do not ever lie to Jean-anne Rochelle*.  It was almost hilarious to watch someone try to get some fabricated story past those piercing eyes that saw right through you, and just knew!  Her accuracy in reading people and situations was borderline scary, so none of us was surprised when she left teaching to become first a lawyer, and then a judge. Criminals beware!

“For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.”  Jeremiah 29:11

Faith is belief in action.  Belief is acknowledging that an airplane will fly, maybe because you understand the physics behind it, or maybe you saw one take off at an airport.  Faith is walking on to that airplane, taking a seat, even if you feel afraid, and letting it take off with all of your body parts inside.

I was still a young girl when I began to believe I was meant to be a writer and a motivational speaker.  This year I turn 50, and thus far I have self-published one book that is at best, mediocre and have spoken at a handful of retreats.  People are always telling me, “You should write a book!”  or “You should be a motivational speaker!”  They couldn’t know that life had long since turned those dreams into dry bones and ashes.

Then came Saturday, May 5, 2012 and I was sitting at lunch with some women, most of whom I had never met before; at a retreat I had not planned to even attend.  Suddenly a conversation between the women on either side of me about pursuing their dreams against all odds, flashed like lightning into the deepest, most hidden places in my heart, resurrecting dreams long dead and buried. Before long, I was bawling like a baby and these poor women had no idea why, or what to do with me.  It seems there are always tears shed at women’s retreats, but who bawls at lunch?!

Nevertheless there it was; after years of denial and failure, I still believed I was meant to be a writer and a motivational speaker.  Before day’s end I had finished the introduction to a new book, and was profusely blaming the friend who had invited me to the retreat for interrupting my apathy.   She’s already been warned that I am holding her fully responsible for the consequences of me believing in my dreams again.

“All you need is 20 seconds of insane courage and I promise you something great will come out of it.” Matt Damon in We Bought A Zoo.

Twenty seconds of insane courage?!  Try 20 gazillion seconds!  Finally, my faith took action in the form of a getting wise counsel, making a financial plan, resigning my job after almost 11 years, starting a new book, then creating and writing this blog.  I have no idea where this road will lead but I do have stubborn belief in the love, grace and mercy of God; that He is the Giver of gifts for meaning and purpose, the Maker of plans and Fulfiller of dreams, that He is able to keep me from falling, and that sometimes the journey is the destination.  So this is me, the runt of the litter, …just living the thing.

 

*Not her real name to protect her privacy, because of her job.