Sunday, December 19, 2010

Too Good to Be True (or Free) by Sharon Lurie

© 2001 David’s Harp and Pen

Mood: Festive, Though Slightly Scrooge-y


This blog is based, in part, upon actual events and people. Certain actions and characters have been dramatized and fictionalized, but are inspired by true events and real people. Certain other characters, events, and names used herein are entirely fictitious. Any similarity of those fictional characters or events to the name, attributes, or background of any real person, living or dead, or to any actual events is coincidental and unintentional, so I better not hear from non-profit Christian music radio stations, cemeteries, divorcees, or Methodist churches. When someone’s had as many macabre holidays as I have, one is entitled to a “ba, humbug” every now and then.

“…Yes, folks, you just heard Amy Grant’s lovely rendition of ‘O, Little Town of Bethlehem,’ and you all know what that means—yes! It’s the start of WWJD’s annual 12 Days of Christmas, where your friends here at listener supported Christian radio play the best Christmas music from your favorite Christian artists nonstop! Of course, none of this would be possible without your generous support, and since this is the season of giving, why not consider making a financial gift to keep this vital ministry going?”

Lucy groaned as she hit the snooze bar on her alarm clock, then rolled back over in bed, pulling the covers over her head. “How can those DJs sound so cheery at 6 in the morning?” she mumbled to herself, “and how did Christmas get to be coming up so soon? Wasn’t it Christmas just a year ago?”

Before she could finish her thoughts, Lucy’s alarm clock radio started blaring again, this time playing what had to be the umpteenth remake of “Carol of the Bells.” Lucy then reached from under her blanket, shut off the clock radio, and began to slowly peel the covers back. As her eyes scanned her bedroom, they quickly fell on the window opposite her bed. Sure enough, the biggest sign of Christmas’s imminent arrival, after the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, was falling in front of her eyes: small, delicate, white snowflakes were whizzing about outside in the pre-winter wind.

“Oh, well,” Lucy thought, “fall was nice while it lasted.”

Lucy then shuffled out of her bedroom towards the kitchen, when a twinge of horror came over her: the Christmas fairy had attacked the kitchen and living room! Everywhere she looked were various Christmas decorations—manger scenes, candy canes, elves, and Santas as far as the eye could see.

“Oh no!” Lucy moaned in disgust, “Who is responsible for this?”

“Merry Christmas, my dear!” sang a chipper, upbeat voice, as Lucy’s roommate Joan embraced Lucy from behind and kissed her on the cheek. “Do you like what I’ve done with the place?”

“Did St. Nick crash land his sleigh in here?”

“I’m trying to get in the Christmas mood, so I got up early and put up all these decorations. What do you think?”

“I think I’m going back to bed. Wake me up in March,” Lucy retorted sarcastically. Lucy didn’t like any holidays, but Christmas was her least favorite of all. Most of her memories of Christmas consisted of family get togethers that always turned into family feuds. Over the years, she adopted the attitude that Christmas held nothing good for her and should be avoided altogether.

“Do you know where I could find a cheap Christmas tree?” Joan asked, ignoring Lucy’s sarcasm.

“There are some nice pine trees at the cemetery across the street,” Lucy replied.

“I don’t think those are for sale.”

“Even if they’re not, they’d do fine for a Christmas tree. Besides, I doubt if any of the residents would notice one missing.”

“Well, if you see or hear of any, let me know. If I can afford it, I’d like to get one.”

Lucy slowly started heading back to her bedroom, trying to forget about all the festivities. As she reached her bedroom door, she turned quickly and noticed Joan staring at her wedding picture, hanging next to the front hall closet. Tears began to well up in Joan’s eyes as she glared at the picture, undoubtedly thinking about her husband who had walked out on her right after Thanksgiving the year before. As she wiped the tears away, she put on a smile and started singing “Away in a Manger” to take her mind off the events of seasons past.

“Lord, I feel really bad now,” Lucy prayed quietly as she walked back into her room. “I know Joan’s trying really hard to get her mind off the divorce, and I’m just being a scrooge. Please forgive me, God, and help me find a cheap Christmas tree.”

The small flurry of snowflakes falling outside seemed to be coming down with greater intensity now, so Lucy turned the radio on to catch a weather forecast. The same, overly happy DJ from earlier could be heard attempting to spread even more holiday cheer, causing Lucy to turn up her nose and roll back her eyes.

“Yes, we’re looking at possibly four inches of snow by evening and temperatures down in the low single digits, perfect weather for snuggling by the fire and roasting chestnuts with that special someone,” the DJ announced, waxing nostalgic.

“Give me a break!” Lucy scowled, reaching again for the radio to turn it off.

“And First United Methodist Church in Clayton is giving away free Christmas trees this year. Yes, that’s right, as a service to our community, First United Methodist Church is giving away some beautiful Christmas trees as a way to share God’s love this season. For more information, you can call the church at 555-6789.”

“Free Christmas trees?” Lucy thought as she finally got around to turning off the radio. “No, it’s probably just for underprivileged people or anyone that makes less money than I do.”

The snow continued well past evening and through the morning, completely blanketing the area. School had been called off, many church services had been cancelled, and even the holiday shopping rush seemed to be slowing down amidst the early season deep freeze. Lucy awoke once more to the sound of the radio station DJ who was simply too happy for her, or perhaps Lucy’s, own good.

“Looks like it’s going to be another cold one out there, Folks, so make sure you bundle up and keep your radio dial set on your listener supported Christian music station for the latest weather updates and your favorite Yuletide tunes. By the way, our friends at First United Methodist say that they’ve still got plenty of trees to give away, so be sure to stop by some time today, whether by car or by bobsled, and pick up yours. This offer is too good to pass up. While you’re there, make sure you tell them that your friends at listener supported Yes Radio sent you. Remember, it’s because of your generous contributions that we can bring this music…”

“I hate her!” Lucy mumbled, repeating the scene set the morning before. Only one day into the Christmas season and she’d had about all she could stand of the holiday cheer and not-so-subtle requests for money from every charity on earth. “I can’t believe they’ve still got trees to give away, though. Maybe people couldn’t make it out to the church because of the bad weather.”

Lucy paced around her bedroom, looking for the motivation to get dressed and trudge out in the snow to work. Motivation for much of anything except sleep had been hard to find recently. Lucy was working a lot of extra hours at her job, trying to make up for the three months she’d missed during the summer before because her car accident. Christmas reminded her all the more of how far in the hole financially she really was, and she wasn’t sure how she’d ever swing the necessary cash to buy presents for everyone. As she started sinking deeper into self-pity, though, she remembered Joan. Poor Joan, whose husband had left her with a stack of bills a mile high and a kid to put through college on her own. Pretty much everything Joan had made over the last year was going to her lawyer for a messy divorce that seemed like it would never, ever settle. No, now isn’t the time to be self-centered, Lucy thought to herself. Joan needed her help to get through the holidays this year, and Lucy wasn’t going to let her down. Slowly, she marched over to the telephone and dialed the radio station.

“Good morning, and thank you for calling your listener supported Christian music station, Yes Radio. This is Gracie Greer, your Morning Cheer!”

“Ah, yeah!” Lucy replied, clearing her throat and trying to sound cordial, “I was wanting some more information about the free Christmas trees. I’ve heard you announce them a few times and I…”

“Why yes, that’s correct, ma’am. First United Methodist Church on Clayton,” Gracie interrupted, repeating from the announcement the day before word for word, “is giving away free Christmas trees this year. Yes, that’s right, as a service to our community, First United Methodist Church is giving away some beautiful Christmas trees as a way to share God’s love this season. For more information, you can call the church at 555-6789.”

“That’s great, but what I wanted to know before I call there was if there were any restrictions on who was eligible for a free tree, like if there was an income limitation of any sort or…”

“Well, not that I know of, but you’d better call the church and find out. I wouldn’t want to tell you the wrong thing and get both the church and you mad at me, especially not before our Annual Winter Share-a-thon, hint, hint!” Gracie cut in again, Lucy’s annoyance growing as the conversation progressed.

“Thanks a lot, Ms. Morning Cheer. You have a good day.”

“Wait, can I get your name, ma’am?”

“Lucy Cosgrove.”

“Easy, partner. Don’t go moseying off just right this second. Let me see if we’ve got you in the ‘puter.”

“What do you need me in your computer for?”

“We like to know who our friends are. Well, well, you’re name’s not in here, which means you’ve not yet contributed to listener supported Christian radio! How about that?”

“How about that?” Lucy retorted facetiously, her patience wearing thin, “must’ve plum slipped my mind!”

“Don’t worry, Darlin’, because now it’s easier than ever to partner with this vital ministry of sharing God’s love through the airwaves. For a pledge of only $20 a month, you can become one of our Yes, I’m Blessed! Club members, which means you’ll get a free Yes, I’m Blessed! Bumper sticker, refrigerator decal, a stuffed Yes, I’m Blessed! Club bear cub, and…”

“Gee, that sounds like a great deal. However, I’m in no financial position right now to give to anyone. I’ll keep you in mind, though, okay?” Lucy cut in, trying desperately to end the phone call before it went any further.

“That’s alright. Maybe you’d like to volunteer to work the phones for our upcoming Share-a-thon? It’s because of the generous contributions of time, talent, and treasure from listeners like you that make this ministry possible.”

“Golly, look at the time! I’m going to be late for work! I hate to cut this short! Thanks so much for your help,” Lucy quickly sputtered out as she hung up the phone. “Yeesh, the Energizer Bunny has nothing on old Gracie!”

Five o’clock quickly rolled around, and Lucy trudged out to her car and headed to the church. As she pulled into the church lot, she saw a field beside the church filled with bright green trees just waiting for someone to take them home.

“Hey,” Lucy thought to herself, “those trees look pretty nice. I can’t believe they’ve not gotten rid of them already.”

The wind seemed to blow just a little stronger and colder than it had before; as the chill blew against Lucy’s face, she could feel the chill in her heart get even stronger. Oh, how she hated this time of year, the weather a reminder of the emptiness she so often felt inside. How many Christmases had gone by up until now, marked not with cheer and warmth but by anger and bitterness, memories of those she loved most carrying on and arguing with one another about petty things, and the untold vacancies under the Christmas tree, if there was any Christmas tree at all?

“Pull yourself together, Luce,” she said quietly to herself, “let’s just get this over with.”

A cheery middle aged blonde woman sitting behind the receptionist’s desk greeted Lucy as she walked in the door. “Season’s Greetings. Welcome to First United Methodist. How may I help you?”

“Hi. I was interested in the Christmas trees you’re giving away,” Lucy replied, her head held down, too embarrassed to look the woman in the eye.

“Splendid. We’re trying to get rid of them. Did you see them in the field next to the church as you came into the parking lot? Just grab whatever tree catches your eye.”

“Now, I want you to know that I’m not a dead beat or a bum or anything like that.”

“Excuse me, young lady?”

“I work hard for my money, and normally buying a Christmas tree would be no problem, but I was in this car accident this summer, and I was out of work for awhile…”Lucy began to ramble.

“Miss, we don’t care how much money you do or do not make. We just do this so we can bless the community around us. I’m sure you’re a very hard worker and…” the woman replied, not sure where Lucy was going with her little monologue.

“Oh, I’m the hardest worker you’ll ever come across. And I’m a generous person, too. I donate 90% of my income to charity every year, too…well, every year except this year. I was out of work for three months from a car accident, and I’m still not caught up. You’ve got to understand, lady, I’m at rock bottom trying to dig my way out, and I can barely afford my rent, let alone money for a Christmas tree…”

“It’s not a problem. The trees are for anyone who wants them…”

“It’s not even for me so much, but for Joan, my roommate. Her husband left her last year, and she’s been depressed out of her mind, and she said the one thing she really wanted but couldn’t afford was a Christmas tree. I wanted to spare her the humiliation of having to come down here and beg for a tree. Besides, if she doesn’t get a tree, she’ll get so bummed out she’ll likely overdose on chocolate covered cherries or something,” Lucy continued, not once coming up for air and oblivious to the receptionist’s continued reassurances that the trees were for anyone.

“Young lady, why don’t you just follow me out to the field and pick out your tree?”

Lucy, deciding it best if she closed her mouth before putting her foot all the way down to her intestinal tract, quietly nodded and followed the woman out to the field. The tree-covered field caught Lucy’s eyes, and for a second, she didn’t feel the wind blowing against her face. Row after row of big, beautiful pines and spruces dotted the landscape. When the two approached a tree that Lucy liked, she turned and asked the woman,

“These are beautiful trees. How come you’re having such a hard time getting rid of them? I would’ve thought everyone would’ve snapped these all up by now.”

“Well, I’m not really sure. My guess is that no one really believes that the trees are free,” the woman replied.

Lucy picked out a tree, loaded it into her car, and headed home.

“Joan will be so happy when she sees this,” Lucy thought to herself. As she drove down Clayton towards the interstate, she looked up and noticed a Christmas billboard displaying a manger scene with some familiar words inscribed above it: ”for God so loved the world that He gave His One and Only Son, that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.” Lucy’s mind then raced back to the church and the nice receptionist and one of the last things she said to Lucy before she went back into the church. “It’s really free, and it’s really meant for me.”

“Oh, you found a tree! It’s beautiful! Oh, and you decorated it, too! How much did it cost you?” Joan exclaimed as she walked in the front door and saw the tree for the first time.

“Not a cent,” Lucy replied, ”The price was paid for me.”

“Well…wow! I don’t know what to say! It looks great. You know, I couldn’t imagine having Christmas without a tree. I’m so happy! Hey, what do you say we throw a few more ornaments on here and then have dinner?”

“One second,” Lucy replied, “I’ve got something to do.” She walked into her bedroom and dialed the number for the Yes Radio.

“Merry Christmas from Yes Radio! This is Gracie Greer, your Holiday Cheer! How can I help you?” Gracie answered happily.

“Hi. This is the girl you talked to this morning. Can you sign me up for your next Share-a-thon?”



Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Give Thanks by Sharon Lurie

© 2010 David's Harp and Pen

Mood: Determined

DISCLAIMERS: This blog is based, in part, upon actual events and people. Certain actions and characters have been dramatized and fictionalized, but are inspired by true events and real people. Certain other characters, events, and names used herein are entirely fictitious. Any similarity of those fictional characters or events to the name, attributes, or background of any real person, living or dead, or to any actual events is coincidental and unintentional, so let’s just get this over with, shall we?

Give thanks.

Thanksgiving 2000. I tried as hard as I could to get into the spirit of the season, but I could see little for which I could be thankful. That summer, a friend I used to work with committed suicide. Shortly after that, the man I loved moved over 500 miles away from me. The beginning of September saw me leave a ministry I loved because of things going on to which I could not be a partner. Then, another friend, someone who had been like a mom to me, died in a motorcycle wreck. Four weeks later, my grandmother died. The morning I left to fly home for her funeral, I found my cat dead on the front lawn, torn apart by some larger animal.

I remember sitting in the airport in Cleveland, waiting for my connecting flight to New Jersey. For most of that day, I felt like my insides would collapse. It was at that moment, You invaded my reality, as You always do, and whispered two words that at the time, couldn’t have been more foreign to me.

Give thanks.

I flew back to Indiana right after the funeral, only to return to New Jersey a few weeks later to spend Thanksgiving with my family; I also planned to see the guy I missed so much. I told him how I felt about him, sure that he felt the same. He said he did not. In fact, what he did think of me was a blow I thought would surely finish me off. He had met someone else, someone who played games with his head and didn’t care about him at all. However, for some reason, he preferred someone who treated him like dirt over me. The basic rejection hurt even more in light of the one for whom he had rejected me.

When I returned to Indiana, I threw myself into preparation for my move to Nashville. I didn’t know anyone there. I had no job waiting for me. I had nothing waiting for me in my new home, but it really felt like I was leaving nothing behind, too.

I cried all the time. I was afraid to answer the phone, check email, or open letters because I was sure it would be bad news. Most of my friends who still stood by me didn’t know what to do with me. Some of them just listened and let me cry. Others were quite harsh and quick to tell me I was a victim and wasn’t bouncing back like I should. The thing was, though, I hadn’t just lost friends and loved ones to death in those short months. I had made a lot of enemies for the things I stood for, and the loneliness I felt was tangible.

As I faced the new year, my car packed out for the new frontier, I heard Your voice again, a little louder this time.

Give thanks.

Thanksgiving 2004. My health was a mess, with no remedy in sight. I had to give up the business I had worked so hard to build. A ministry project I threw myself into whole-heartedly went up in flames. Another trio of loved ones passed away without warning, all within a few months. I was having panic attacks all the time, and the fear to communicate with the outside world for fear of more bad news had me feeling shackled and asphyxiated. I was afraid to try anything. I was afraid to get close to anyone. In the midst of my fear and my inconsolable grief, I heard Your Voice again, through my emotional stupor, this time, with a sternness and urgency until then unfamiliar to me.

You have not thanked Me.

God, what do I have to thank You for?

You have not thanked Me!

So, I threw myself on the floor on my face and cried out to You. I thanked You for the trials, for the grief, because You asked me to, and as I did, something happened. The burden lifted. I saw You carrying me and grieving right along with me. I saw You washing away my tears with Your own. I felt a strength and a sustenance beyond my finite human comprehension, and in offering gratitude I could not feel, You gave me joy I couldn’t explain.

Give thanks.

Thanksgiving 2010. My father is not well. I find myself fearful again every time I see an email from home or a New Jersey phone number on my caller ID, because unlike the others in my life who have passed, my father has not made his peace with God, and I shutter to think of him going to eternity in such a state. Four friends have lost parents in the last year, and each time I heard, I was reminded afresh that another time of mourning is imminent. I have now buried 17 friends and family members, and it doesn’t get any easier with the passage of time.

I have no job, and I feel I have nothing to show in either finances or accomplishments for my thirty-six years.

It’s been 10 years since I made the move to Nashville, and 10 years since my heart was broken. I spent an entire decade closely guarding my heart, only to find it, in recent days, smashed to pieces afresh. God, it wasn’t supposed to happen this way. When I climbed Mount Moriah, put Isaac on the alter, and raised the knife, You were supposed to stop me. You were supposed to say I passed the test. Isaac and I were supposed to return home—together. The searing pain of a knife through the heart was supposed to be for the ram in the thicket, not for me. I wasn’t supposed to go home and face another holiday alone and empty-handed. As I sat again, with the noxious taste of grief still bitter in my mouth, I heard You yet again, this time with the volume of a million bugle horns.

Give thanks!

So, I threw myself on the floor again in worship. I gave thanks with the only thing I had, namely those two words. It was there, again, that You gave me the clarity I needed, and I was reminded afresh of all I had for which to be thankful.

I give thanks to You, God, for You are good, and Your Love endures forever.

I give thanks to You, God, for the comfort You have given me through each season of grieving, because now I can effectively comfort those with me now who are walking through their own losses.

I give thanks to You, God, because You have given me the ability to weep with those who weep, not just rejoice with those who rejoice.

I give thanks to You, God, that in so many instances You did NOT grant me my request, because the legacy of the Israelites and countless others is You did grant their request, but also sent leanness to their souls, and I can say in all honesty, though my soul is wounded, it is indeed full.

I give thanks to You, God, that You allowed me such intense bitterness, because it was ultimately for my peace, and through it You have loved my life back from death.

I give thanks to You, God, because in everything and everyone I lost, You stripped me of the temporary to endow me with the eternal and to give me joy because of those I’ve led to You. Every work in building Your Kingdom that You’ve allowed me to share in are treasures in Heaven that no one or thing can ever take from me.

I give thanks to You, God, because You’ve made me worthy to share in the fellowship of your suffering as to be conformed to the death of Your Son, and that is a fate far sweeter than any pleasure this life could offer.

So, as another Thanksgiving approaches, those two words You have so faithfully reminded me of have become for me not a proverb, a platitude, or a once-a-year sentimental suggestion, but a lifeline, a gateway to sanity, and most importantly, a battle cry.


The End

Saturday, November 20, 2010

The Year of You and Me, Part 1 by Sharon Lurie

© 2010 David's Harp and Pen

Mood: Hopelessly Romantic

DISCLAIMERS: This blog is based, in part, upon actual events and people. Certain actions and characters have been dramatized and fictionalized, but are inspired by true events and real people. Certain other characters, events, and names used herein are entirely fictitious. Any similarity of those fictional characters or events to the name, attributes, or background of any real person, living or dead, or to any actual events is coincidental and uninten…oh, whom am I kidding?

Dear BKR,

One year. Twelve months. 365 days. 8760 hours. 525,600 minutes. 31,536,000 seconds. Each moment interminable while being lived but fleeting now having passed. For reasons known only to God and us, we’ve had to be separated over this past year. I am anxious to know what you have learned.

So many things are racing through my mind and body as the day approaches. Will I recognize you? Will you recognize me? Will your eyes still ignite and will your grin dance across your face? When I feel your fingers interlock with mine, and your warm, invitingly intrusive breath in my ear, will I still get weak?

I am excited. I am terrified. I am heartsick. I truly did not know what I had until it was gone. Some say out of sight, out mind. Others say absence makes the heart grow fonder. For me, it has most certainly been the latter. Maybe that is why God has called us apart for this past year before bringing us together for life. Perhaps God knew that any other test would’ve found our love wanting; maybe time and patience, while often seen as an enemy, prove to be wise teachers. I think of Romans 5 and James 1, how they speak of the work of trials and perseverance to produce joy and godly character in us, and though the waiting seemed interminable, I know what God has done in me, at least, is to make me the woman you need me to be, and that makes the wait more than worth it.

I am so sorry. I don’t know how much more eloquently or convincingly I can say it. I made things so much harder than they should’ve been. I projected so many of my own insecurities and my own negative self-image onto you. You never wanted that charade. You never asked for a fairy tale. All you wanted was honesty, authenticity, and the truth, and when it came to your own failures, flaws, and shortcomings, that’s what you always gave to me. I couldn’t give it to you at the time, because I didn’t know it myself.

The truth is, you took me by surprise. I never saw you coming. You didn’t meet my expectations, not because you were lacking, but because my expectations were. I was used to having someone to fix. I was used to being the mature one, the strong one, the emotional and spiritual leader, and the one who had to hold it in and wear the game face, no matter what. I was used to being bled dry in every sense of the term, and then, when I would ask for something in return, being told that I was the needy and demanding one.

To be honest, when we met, I couldn’t figure you out. Your character astonished me from the start. As time went on, I set myself up to be hurt and disappointed. Deep down, I hoped I would discover you were really a serial killer or a sexual predator so I could stop liking you so much,. When I found out you weren’t, I felt petrified that you were cooler than I could imagine. And so, I waited. I waited for history to repeat itself. I waited to be used up and thrown away, but with you, that moment never came.

It scares me to death to admit this all to you, but in the year that’s passed, I remember you telling me that to you, my story, no matter how ugly, crazy, or tragic I saw it, was the most beautiful thing about me. I’m sorry that it took us being apart for me to finally believe it.

Someone asked me how I was feeling as the day was approaching and what my relationship with you has meant. If I could sum it up in one word, I would have to say “redemptive.” You did everything well by me, but there are certain memories, as well as lessons I’ve learned from your words and your example, that stick out in my mind:

• All the doors you held open for me
• How you would stand up every time I entered or left a room
• The first time I ever told you about how someone I trusted hurt me deeply. In times past, when I told others the story, they would say God had a plan, or I should forgive, or how I must have done something to bring the pain upon myself. Not you. You became furious and were ready to go to that person who had sinned against me and beat the living daylights out of him. Just the fact that you validated my pain, I was able to put that hurt behind me and move forward.
• When my cat died. She was such a great companion, and when I lost her, a part of me died with her. When I called to tell you, I expected…well, I don’t know what I expected. What I did NOT expect was you to cry right along with me. Sharing in my grief with me did more than all the Scripture-quoting and condolence-offering in the world.
• When the town drunk showed up inebriated at my apartment. You broke all sorts of land speed records and came over with your nine millimeter, 357, AND sawed-off shotgun to protect me.
• My car wreck. I still don’t know how you made it to the hospital so fast. I had a concussion, and even though I wanted nothing more than to go to sleep, that would’ve been the worst thing for me. You held my hand, ran your fingers through my hair, and talked to me to keep me awake until I was out of danger. Then you took me to your house, and held me when flashbacks overtook me and sent me into a panic.
• The New Year’s Eve road trip. I had a friend in trouble who needed my help, but she was several hours away, and I didn’t have the money to get to her. Without me asking and without hesitation, you got out your wallet and gave me more than enough to get to her, showing me not only was I important to you, but the things and people that mattered to me mattered to you, too.
• When you showed up at my door, even though you were living an hour away at the time, and didn’t really have the money to spare on gas, just because you’d not heard from me and were concerned.
• The Rescue Mission. I never had to beg you or twist your arm to go there and serve with me, and the fact that you would hug anyone there, no matter how badly they smelled nor how atrocious their criminal record impressed me immensely.
• Bible study. You were never impressed with how much Scripture I could quote, or how much biblical history I knew. You only wanted to know how I was going to let the truth change me for the better.
• The scandal at your company. So many people compromised and sold out. You were offered a chance to join in, but instead, you stood your ground, even though your life and livelihood were in peril, and didn’t give up until every wrongdoer was prosecuted and brought to justice. What I loved most was what you said to me when I asked why you didn’t give in and get in on the take when everyone else did. You didn’t say to me, “That’s not what I do.” You said, “That’s not who I am.”
• What you’ve taught me about God. More than anything, your faithfulness is an example. I have not known faithfulness, consistency, or authenticity in the men in my life. I haven’t known the man who swears to his own hurt and stands by his word until the job is done. I haven’t known a man who DAILY picks up His Cross, denies himself, and follows Christ. I haven’t known a man who is exactly what he says he is. Until you.

The list goes on and on. I love your character. I love how you serve. I love that you love kids and see yourself as big brother to everyone. I love how you’re brave when I am weak. You’ve never said once that some task was beneath you. I love that fact that, from day one, you have fought for God’s best in my life, even when that includes fighting to protect me from my past and my own wrong choices. I love all the little details unique to you, and I’m so sorry I never had the courage to tell you until now.

God has taught me something very important, and I want to tell you about it before we see each other again. Ever since I was a little girl, I always believed the greatest thing in life was to be loved unconditionally, particularly by my husband, and I can say in all honesty that you have loved me that way. God says there is something greater, however: a love that changes me for the better. Too often, when people demand unconditional love from those around them, it is nothing more than a veiled request that says, “Don’t make me change. Don’t make me mature. Don’t make me grow up.” I realize now that was often the case with me; even though he takes me as I am, God’s love is too great to let me stay where and as I am. So has your love been for me. You make me want to be a better woman. You make me want to be daring. You make me want to recklessly abandon myself to God’s refining process and not look back. You make me want to love God and love others with everything I have. That kind of transformational love is the better portion, and that is what you have given me.

There are only a few more days left. Shortly, I’ll be able to touch your face, hear your laugh, and be enfolded in your arms. I pray the year’s been good to you; I pray you’re that much closer to your dreams. I pray your faith is progressively giving way to sight. Most of all, though, at the risk of sounding selfish, I pray when you see me again, you see a woman worth fighting for, someone to share this wonderful adventure called life, and beauty, molded by the Potter’s Hand, ready to be unveiled for you. I hope that I am someone that helps to make your heart full and not to empty it. I will do all that I can to be the godly woman you need and want.

You scare and unsettle me like no one else ever has or probably ever will, and yet I’ve never felt safer or more secure. I trust you. I trust you whole-heartedly. I trust you to keep your word. I trust what you say to me is what you really mean. I even trust you to hurt my feelings when they need to be hurt, or when you see what’s best for me better than I do. You are my Inman. You are my Hawkeye. You are my Paul Varjack. You are my Declan O’Brady-Callaghan. In all of my stories and songs, you are the man and the hero I always write about. I love you ferociously, and I will always, always, always have a crush on you. You were so worth waiting for, and I can’t even begin to express what it means that, despite everything, you waited for me, too.


The End

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Shawshank Revisited by Sharon Lurie

© 2010 David's Harp and Pen

Mood: Empowered

DISCLAIMERS: This blog is based, in part, upon actual events and people. Certain actions and characters have been dramatized and fictionalized, but are inspired by true events and real people. Certain other characters, events, and names used herein are entirely fictitious. Any similarity of those fictional characters or events to the name, attributes, or background of any real person, living or dead, or to any actual events is coincidental and unintentional. Therefore, I don’t want to hear any complaining from anyone from the New Jersey Department of Corrections. I promise to stay on my side of the Mason-Dixon line if you stay on yours.

*All Scripture quotations are and forevermore shall be from The Amplified Bible

I have a friend named Jerry from middle school currently serving a life sentence in the New Jersey State Prison. I won’t go into detail about his crime, but let’s just say no one gets a life sentence for jaywalking. Even though I had not seen or talked to Jerry since we were 16, I felt a nudge from God to get back in touch with him a few years ago. We’ve written back and forth pretty consistently, so when I had to go to New Jersey last month, I decided to pay Jerry a visit. It was going to be the first time I’d seen him in 20 years, and I honestly had no idea what to expect.

It’s difficult for me to describe what I felt when I laid eyes on the prison for the first time. Located in Trenton, New Jersey, smack dab in the middle of a residential district, the prison looked as scary as every penitentiary in every prison movie and television show I’d ever seen. The outside walls were towering and impenetrable, and I could feel the sharpness of the barbed wire coiled on top of each wall as if I’d cut myself on it. The building itself filled my entire line of sight, regardless of the angle from which I looked. When I walked into the building, I felt terror I’d not felt in a long time, not even when I had gun at my head a few years back (anyone who wants to hear that story, let me know).

The lobby and waiting area of the prison were just as intimidating as the exterior. Steel, cinder block, brick, and red paint darkened all of my thoughts. As I sat down to wait for my name to be called, I observed the prison employees and the other visitors waiting to see their incarcerated friends and loved ones. The two prevailing attitudes of those around me were sad and disgruntled. I wondered if any of the other visitors were as scared as I was. Amidst the nervousness I couldn’t shake, my eyes kept getting drawn to the mile-high red brick walls that led all the way up to the huge skylights on the ceiling. After looking around for a while, the first thought that popped into my head was, “There’s no beauty here! There’s nothing here that speaks of hope or testifies to anything warm, inspiring, or joyful.”

I ended up having to wait almost 90 minutes before my name was called. The unquantifiable anxiety I felt grew with each successive minute I waited. I was nervous about seeing Jerry in person after so long and afraid I would say the wrong thing to him. A voice I’m sure was Satan kept saying maintaining a relationship with someone who had done what Jerry was convicted of was only asking for trouble. Each time I heard that voice, the Holy Spirit would remind me of Matthew 25:34-40. “Then the King will say to those at His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father [you favored of God and appointed to eternal salvation], inherit (receive as your own) the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave Me food, I was thirsty and you gave Me something to drink, I was a stranger and you brought Me together with yourselves and welcomed and entertained and lodged Me, I was naked and you clothed Me, I was sick and you visited Me with help and ministering care, I was in prison and you came to see Me.’ Then the just and upright will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and gave You food, or thirsty and gave You something to drink? And when did we see You a stranger and welcomed and entertained You, or naked and clothed You? And when did we see You sick or in prison and came to visit You?’ And the King will reply to them, ‘Truly I tell you, in so far as you did it for one of the least [in the estimation of men] of these My brethren, you did it for Me.’” [emphasis added] So, I kept pushing the intimidation down in my mind and prayed that God would orchestrate my conversation with Jerry.

As I waited to see Jerry, my thoughts drifted, as they often do, to film. One of my favorite movies of all time is The Shawshank Redemption. A huge departure from author Stephen King’s usual subject matter, the main character in the film, Andy DuFresne, is sent to Shawshank Prison for life. The beauty of Andy’s story is that, through all sorts of adversity, he never loses hope for a better tomorrow, and unlike his fellow inmates, he never takes on the mindset of a prisoner. He never sees himself as confined. Even though the viewer doesn’t find out until near the end of the film whether Andy really committed the crime for which he’s been incarcerated, it’s almost impossible to not like Andy or want to see him succeed. Part way through the film, Red, Andy’s best friend, says in reference to life prison sentences, “They send you here for life, and that's exactly what they take. The part that counts, anyway.”

At that moment, things started to click in my head, and I realized why I felt so afraid. Prisons like New Jersey State are like giant breeding grounds of despair and monumental graveyards for broken dreams. Our ability to recognize beauty in the world is directly tied to our need for hope. Beauty tells us that there is a Hand behind it and points us to something bigger than our present circumstances and more wonderful than anything our five physical senses can wrap themselves around. I couldn’t see beauty in that place because I couldn’t see hope, and hopeless was precisely the mood in which I’d arrived.

People in prison suffer from terrible feelings of isolation, guilt, and regret. They often feel they’ll never be able to escape their bad decisions, that there’s nothing to look forward to. I had felt that a lot over the last year, and even though I knew God was working in my life, it seemed like everything was getting worse and a myriad of difficulties were hitting me at once. The uneasiness and despondency I felt in that waiting room arose from the fact that the giant fortress of a penitentiary was a massive physical representation of everything I was feeling emotionally.

After the first hour passed in the waiting room, I looked to the woman next to me to ask if she’d been to the prison to visit before and if the long wait was normal. Her name was Janet. She had such a lovely smile and glow to her. We began a conversation and she told me a little of her story. Her son had been in the prison for quite some time and wouldn’t be eligible for parole for another decade. A few months ago, her grandson was murdered in a drive-by shooting. Three months ago, she found out she had stage four breast cancer. Talk about everything hitting all at once! Her faith was so strong, though. She still held on to the faith that God is good even in the midst of cataclysmic personal loss. We talked for a while about the Presence of God in the midst of suffering. When I told her I lived in Tennessee, she asked me what brought me to New Jersey. I was almost afraid to talk, because compared to her, my worries seemed so small, and so often over this past year, when I would try to open up about some of the things I faced, I would be cut off and told I didn’t have it that bad compared to others in the world. Something I discovered that day, though, is the people who really do have the right to say, “You don’t have it so bad” don’t. As I told her a little bit about the difficulties I was facing then, her response to me was pure compassion and unconditional understanding. She offered to pray for me in the days ahead, and I offered to do the same for her family and her.

When the guards finally called my name, I found myself disappointed that my conversation with Janet had to end. I then had to wait in line to go through the metal detector and get frisked before I was taken back to the visiting room. While I waited, I turned back to look at Janet. There they were! Beauty and hope sitting right in front of me, in the form of woman who believed beyond all evidence to the contrary that she would see the goodness of God in the land of the living.

I went to the prison with the intention of encouraging Jerry, and I know I did, but I left feeling that I was the one who got the shot in the arm. Things happen to us in life, whether we bring them on ourselves or not, that leave us feeling imprisoned, and ugly, and hopeless. It is precisely the reason that Jesus came, to proclaim liberty for the captives, exchange beauty for ashes, and give life, particularly in the places where it seems most unlikely for life to be sustained. Life is exactly what is taken from us, and it is exactly what Christ has given back to us.

The End


Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Devil with the Blue ‘Roos on By Sharon Lurie

© 2010 David's Harp and Pen

Mood: Sleepy

DISCLAIMERS: This blog is based, in part, upon actual events and people. Certain actions and characters have been dramatized and fictionalized, but are inspired by true events and real people. Certain other characters, events, and names used herein are entirely fictitious. Any similarity of those fictional characters or events to the name, attributes, or background of any real person, living or dead, or to any actual events is coincidental and unintentional. Therefore, I don’t want to hear any complaining from any child psychologists or people with adult-onset Peter Pan Syndrome who want to accuse me of emotionally scarring small children. Believe you me, the irreversible psychological trauma has been all mine.

*All Scripture quotations are and forevermore shall be from The Amplified Bible (I like my Scripture loud!)

“Maggie Rice: We fight for people's lives in here, right?
Jordan Ferris: Uh-huh.
Maggie Rice: Don't you ever wonder who it is we're fighting with?” City of Angels

Genesis 4:6-7 says, “And the Lord said to Cain, Why are you angry? And why do you look sad and depressed and dejected? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin crouches at your door; its desire is for you, but you must master it.” [emphasis added]

I am coming to the end of a long and challenging year. God has brought a lot of revelation and change to my life, and so naturally, Satan has followed suit to thwart everything God has done. Satan stoked the furnace seven times hotter (metaphorically speaking) upon my return to Nashville from New Jersey the last week of August. I got attacked in every area of my life in one fell swoop. Desperate to hear from God and regroup, I decided to head out to visit some friends, Bill and Trudy, at their ranch. They live way out in the sticks; their nearest neighbors are a pack of coyotes. In fact, friends and family from New Jersey who have been to the ranch with me before described the landscape as “barren wilderness.” I fully expected to spend the week in peace and quiet, spending my days in thoughtful reflection, Bible-reading, and prayer, hearing from God about my situation. I failed to remember, though, that when Jesus was led into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit, Satan was right there waiting for Him with temptations o’ plenty.

My friends have an eight-year-old son named Josiah. He is cute. He is loud. By his own proclamation, he is “redneck and proud.” Josiah likes to wander about in as little clothing as possible. In fact, his favorite duds are blue Underoos emblazoned with a veritable cornucopia of macho and virile superheroes. For those who’ve read my previous blogs, I don’t want to give the impression I don’t like children, because I do. I am a proud veteran of the day care, babysitter, Children’s Church, and Nursery circuit. Kids are wonderful, and should I ever marry, I want to have a whole litter of them. However, kids are better than probably anyone else at pushing buttons and unintentionally bringing out the worst in people.

Now before I go any further, I must explain. I have major sleep problems. I have had them ever since I was a kid. I have sleep apnea, for starters, and must sleep with a CPAP machine. Secondly, I have a terrible time with sleeping at night. All the sleeping pills and herbal supplements have been of no use. When I’m unable to sleep, and I force myself to stay up all day so that I can fall asleep at 9 or 10 PM, when 9 or 10 PM arrives, although I am exhausted, I still can’t fall asleep, and I end up being awake for 36 hours straight. I hope and pray some day this is not the case, but for now, my sleep situation is what it is, and so I must work around it. Josiah doesn’t see it that way.

My first night at the ranch, I couldn’t fall asleep until 5:30 AM. I woke up at 8 AM with the distinct impression the earth was shaking. Turns out I was wrong; it was ME who was shaking. Josiah, who was wearing nothing but his blue Underoos and a smile, had climbed into bed with me, shook me violently, and asked repeatedly, “When are you going to wake up, Sharon?”

I gently and lovingly explained to Josiah that I’d only gotten two and a half hours of sleep and that I would be happy to play with him when I woke up. He seemed agreeable to that and left the room. I laid back down and fell asleep around 8:30 AM. At approximately 8:35 AM, I awoke again to the sensation that I was at the epicenter of a monumental seismic disturbance. Once again, it was Josiah, this time jumping up and down on my sternum while using my cell phone to call Afghanistan. The tremors must’ve registered quite high on the Richter scale because Trudy, Josiah’s mom, came running into my room. She then pulled Josiah off of me, smacked his fanny, and told him sternly not to disturb me or come into my room uninvited if he knew what was good for him. I decided, as I usually do, that the problem was not with Josiah but with me, that if I was a normal person, I would be up during the daylight like the rest of the non-vampire population, and so I got dressed and attempted to enjoy my surroundings.

I went through the rest of the day in a zombie-like state. I found myself nodding off and blacking out. Trudy apologized again throughout the course of the day for Josiah’s behavior and gave me permission to yell, scream, smack, banish, and/or evaporate Josiah if he woke me up again. I assured her it wouldn’t be a problem. After all, since I’d been up all night and all day, I was sure I wouldn’t have any problem falling asleep that night.

Wrong again! I went to bed at 10 PM, and tossed and turned aimlessly until almost 7 AM. At precisely 7:20 AM, I awoke, startled, to the feeling of something small brushing up and down my thigh. When I opened my eyes, I noticed a large lump under my covers, burrowing about, in search of, I don’t know, the Holy Grail. I threw the covers off and, of course, the lump was a scantily-clad Josiah, asking again when I was going to get out of bed. I told him as nicely as I could that I needed to sleep more because I’d not slept the night before. He argued back that I shouldn’t sleep any more because “the sun is up.” Once again, a horrified Trudy rushed in, dragged Josiah away, and apologized profusely to me. As I tried to lay down again and go back to sleep, I heard Josiah in the background crying, “Sharon doesn’t love me! She hates me! She never plays with me! All she does is yell at me!”

Of course, none of that is true. I love Josiah. I tell him so all the time. I play with him when I’m awake. In fact, I think I’ve played with him when I’m asleep. I even looked the other way the first three times he cheated at Monopoly. Naturally, when I told him I wouldn’t play Monopoly with him any more because he cheated, he told me I was a big meanie and regrouped his campaign to deprive me of sleep.

Thus commenced the battle. I could not sleep at night my entire stay at the ranch. Every morning, as soon as I’d fall asleep, Josiah would barge in and wake me up. Since the doors didn’t have locks on them, my first tactic was to barricade the door. Josiah pushed right through, followed by a stern warning to me that I “better NOT tell Mom!” As soon as I’d return to sleep, he’d do it again. I felt so guilty not being able to play with him. Part of the time, I would tell myself it was my fault, that I should be awake during the day, and other times, I would rationalize and say that Josiah couldn’t help himself, he was just a sweet little boy, and I should just let it slide. The end result every time, though, was me getting more and more sleep-deprived and irritable. My rustic retreat to be alone with God was turning into a descent into Hell. I couldn’t leave early. I didn’t want to hurt my friends’ feelings, but something had to give, and soon.

During one of my last failed attempts to sleep, I got deep in thought. I began to rationalize again that there was something truly wrong with me because I couldn’t sleep at night. In fact, depending on the Christian circle in which one travels, Christians should never have to endure prolonged illness, insomnia, negative cash flow, or waiting of any kind. After all, nothing grows a person up spiritually like instant gratification! However, as I said before, my sleep trouble is what it is, and I had to deal with the crisis at hand, from right where I was, and hurt feelings or no hurt feelings, Josiah had to get the message from me once and for all that barging into my room and waking me up constantly was NOT cool!

The next morning, Josiah barged in again. At first, I merely pointed my finger several times for him to get out of my room, which he did. Two hours later, he woke me up again. This time, I screamed for him to get out. He let out a hearty, diabolical laugh, told me I was funny, and informed me he’d come into my room any time he felt like it. His mother yelled at him in the background for him to leave me alone, so he walked away, but he continued to laugh and mock me, and so I knew he’d be back. He’d taken off the kid gloves, and so would I.

Two hours later, just as I’d returned to sleep, in he barged, straight through my barricade. “Sharon!” Josiah yelled at the top of his lungs. “It’s time to…”

“Get out!” I yelled right back, cutting him off.

“But I just wanna…”

“Get! Out! Now!”

“Where’s your phone? You promised I…”


“Sharon, you’re just a mean…”

I inhaled deeply, jumped out of bed, looked Josiah in the eyes, pushed him out the door, and as I slammed it shut, yelled with the fury of a hurricane-force wind, “GENUG!!!!!!!!” (Genug is Yiddish. It means ‘enough.’) In fact, I yelled it so loudly, not only did I scare Josiah, I gained the respect of the pack of coyotes next door.

I slept in peace the next day. And the next. As I pondered the strange turn of events that had unfolded on my intended sabbatical, I remembered the two things God had told me about temptation, and it suddenly all made sense.

As Jesus hung on the Cross and breathed His last, he cried out, “Genug!” (Well, no, He didn’t say “genug,” because Yiddish wasn’t invented yet, although it would’ve been cool had He said it.) He said something similar; namely, “It is finished.” His death broke the power and penalty of sin, and His Resurrection broke the power of the grave. Everything necessary to defeat the stronghold of sin in our lives, Jesus accomplished with the shedding of His blood. Satan, however, is a sore loser, and wants to keep his digs in, like a deadbeat tenant who won’t leave even though he’s received an eviction order.

So why do we so often lose the battle against temptation?

1. We don’t want to acknowledge to God, other people, or to ourselves that we are susceptible to certain temptations in any regard.

1 Corinthians 10:13 says, “For no temptation (no trial regarded as enticing to sin), [no matter how it comes or where it leads] has overtaken you and laid hold on you that is not common to man [that is, no temptation or trial has come to you that is beyond human resistance and that is not adjusted and adapted and belonging to human experience, and such as man can bear].” Satan tells us we’re a special case, though. He tells us no one struggles with that particular temptation except us, so we are somehow worse than everyone else and, therefore, beyond God’s help. He loves to play the shame game, and keep us quiet and isolated about our struggles, and so keep healing out of reach (James 5:16). I don’t like to admit my vulnerabilities any more than I like to admit that I have trouble sleeping at night, but I have to be honest about my sleep issues and propensity to sin so that I can be open to God’s solution.

2. Since temptation often presents itself through another person, we don’t resist as we should because we’re afraid to hurt that person’s feelings.

We’re told in 2 Corinthians 11:14, “Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light.” It’s safe for me to say Satan also masquerades himself as my best friend. My pastor. My boss. My boyfriend. My parents. Yes, Satan even masquerades himself as adorable eight-year-olds. If temptation, or discouragement and condemnation, for that matter, came through ugly, demonic-looking, Lord-of-the-Rings-y-type creatures or total strangers, they wouldn’t have the power they do. However, it was Judas, one of the Twelve Disciples, not a Pharisee, who betrayed Jesus, and it was Saul, not Goliath, who hunted David like a wild animal, and so the sting of the act was that much more intense. Because Satan often delivers his temptations and taunts through those we love and trust, we are that much more susceptible to him, and the consequences when we yield to those temptations and believe those lies are all the more horrifying.

If these are the reasons, then, that we fall prey to the Enemy, how do we stand firm in the future? In his book Waking the Dead, John Eldredge addresses three very important truths for all believers to inscribe on their brains.

1. Things are not what they seem. Sin and temptation, though they almost always appear fun and enticing, are, like insomnia, insanity-producing and death-dealing.
2. This is a world at war. Combat is the norm for every believer, and any Christian who says the Christian life should be absent of strife, trials, and temptation has never read 2 Corinthians 10 or Ephesians 6
3. Each of us has a crucial role to play. It’s because of that crucial role we all play that Satan plays dirty to keep us out of the game

James 4:7 says, “So be subject to God. Resist the devil [stand firm against him], and he will flee from you.” In other words, we fight the good fight by clinging closely to God and standing firm against Satan, no matter what form he may take, because we know his tricks, and he’ll take whatever form necessary to destroy us.

Not too long ago, I had coffee with a friend who really struggled with sexual purity. She complained a male co-worker kept coming on to her, and even though he frequently crossed the line, she didn’t have the heart to tell him to stop because she didn’t want to be mean to him and she liked the attention. I looked at her and asked, “Is your vanity worth your purity?”

Nothing is worth my purity, or my sanity, or my identity in Christ. I will no longer be afraid to tell friends or family no if I think they’re asking me to do or believe something that I know is displeasing to God. We can’t be afraid to say no. We can’t be afraid to admit we’re weak. We can’t be afraid to hurt peoples’ feelings, even if they’re cute and cuddly and eight and don’t know any better. Josiah was crouching at my door. Sin crouched at Cain’s door. Satan crouches at all our doors, seeking whom he may devour (1 Peter 5:8). When he knocks on our door, in clever disguise, and tries to barge his way in, let’s stand firm, resist, and say in the authority Jesus’ shed blood has given us, “GENUG!!!!!!!!”

The End


Thursday, September 23, 2010

Prayer Is...

© 2010 David’s Harp and Pen

the vehicle through which I first knew Him
the primary means by which I know Him now
His pipeline to restore my soul
His medium to reveal His will for my life and His delight in my soul

God’s Word in real time that gives me the means to move forward
where I receive forgiveness for myself and where I forgive others, the starting point for healing
the eternal battlefield in which, having already received the surety of God’s promises, I am empowered and rise up to possess the Promised Land and fight for those in captivity who cannot fight for themselves

asking for and listening to in secret the great wonders that God will do in the open
practicing as I do spiritual battle in the Spirit for the day when I shall rule and reign in Heaven
touching the Father’s Heart and feeling His Spirit in mine to prepare for when I see Him face to face, made to be like Him, and behold Him as He really is

Sunday, June 20, 2010

On the Mend

© 2010 David’s Harp and Pen

Mood: Grateful


This blog is based, in part, upon actual events and people. Certain actions and characters have been dramatized and fictionalized, but are inspired by true events and real people. Certain other characters, events, and names used herein are entirely fictitious. Any similarity of those fictional characters or events to the name, attributes, or background of any real person, living or dead, or to any actual events is coincidental and unintentional, so I don’t want any complaints from any multi-level marketers and I especially don’t want to get any grief from Charismatics, Pentecostals, Word of Faithers, or Name-It-and-Claim-Its who want to accuse me of not walking in faith. I most certainly am walking in faith. That’s why the majority of you are still alive.

I woke up one morning in the summer of 2002 to find my wrists in terrible pain. I was a waitress at the time, so I chalked it up to a very busy evening the night before. After two weeks, the pain grew progressively worse. One evening, while in my car, I reached below the front passenger’s seat to pick up the keys I had just dropped. As soon as I closed my fingers around them, a pain akin to 1000 Cutco knives being driven into me shot through my wrist, causing me to drop the keys again. I determined this wasn’t normal and made an appointment to see the doctor. The doctor prescribed painkillers but was initially baffled about the cause of the pain. I prayed it was a short-term condition. Besides my restaurant job, I had just opened my own detective agency and pulled in $4000 my first month in business, so I didn’t want any sort of physical problems to slow me down.

By the time Christmas rolled around, I had to quit my serving job because I couldn’t lift the trays. Around the spring of 2003, a new host of symptoms had reared their ugly heads: hot flashes, dizzy spells, mood swings, panic attacks, insomnia, and unexplainable, and rapid weight gain, along with other symptoms that, for a woman, are very bad, and let’s just leave it at that. Multiple trips to various doctors ensued, but no one seemed to have any answers for me. I had to wear hard braces on my hands and wrists all the time. There were days I couldn’t get out of bed, and other days when my hands and wrists hurt so much, I couldn’t even do simple things like work a fork and knife or move the gearshift on my car.

During that season, I learned an unspoken rule among Christians: it is a sin to be sick for longer than a week. What started with well-meaning concern and promises to stand in faith with me quickly morphed into accusations of secret sin and/or lack of faith on my part. Questions like, “Why aren’t you healed yet?” and “Where’s your faith?” used to drive me up a wall. Comments to imply I wasn’t trying hard enough or was making my physical condition out to be worse than it was made me feel condemned and alone.

My condition, both physical and emotional, continued to decline quickly. I eventually had to give up my business because I didn’t have the presence of mind any more to do it. I tried every diet in the world to lose the unwanted weight, but had no success with any of them, and attempts at regular exercise also proved futile. The doctor diagnosed me with a hormonal disorder which, because it had gone undiagnosed for such a long time, had become debilitating. The doctor prescribed a lot of medication, but all of it was to treat symptoms, not to really cure anything. The research I did said there was no cure, nor was there any explanation as to the cause of the disease. Doctors and women I knew told me point blank, “Sharon, if your hormones are screwed up, then all of you is screwed up.” For the first time in my life, I faced a crisis that I had no idea how to fix.

I quickly became non-functional. I felt as if I was walking around in a fog most of the time. The simplest things, like doing laundry or dishes, took all my emotional energy, and even the smallest inconveniences caused major crying fits. One of the hardest parts of dealing with the illness was what it did to how I viewed my value as a woman. I used to be a dish! I had a cute figure, cute clothes, and loved to dress up as often as I could. When I started to have hot flashes all the time, any make-up or hair styling products I used would lose their hold and streak down my face. I had to wear baggy everything, and there were days when the hot flashes were so bad, I had to carry rolls of paper towels with me everywhere to soak up the sweat.

Hope seemed fleeting. I got to where I was on 17 different medications. I was exhausted and grumpy all the time. No matter how cold it might be outside, I always felt like I was trapped inside the earth’s core. I was having dizzy spells constantly and so was put on driving restrictions. I dieted as hard as I could and exercised even when I didn’t feel like it, but none of it made a dent in my weight. The doctor even told me near the end of 2007 that almost all the women with my condition experience the rapid weight gain like I did and that I would probably be hefty for the rest of my life. As a single woman, that was the last thing I wanted to hear, but it hit so hard that I simply gave up hope, abandoned all the unsuccessful diets. If no amount of dieting was going to help me, I was just going to eat what I wanted.

I’ve faced many challenges and had to walk through a lot of adversity in my life, and honestly, I’ve never had a problem with it if I thought it was something ordained by God to produce character in me. The hardest times of my life were those things I faced which I thought were punishment from God for things I thought I had done wrong, because the condemnation I would feel was crippling. After that first year of being sick, and especially when I applied for disability, a lot of well-meaning but misinformed people, both Christian and non-Christian, pointed their fingers solely at me to blame for my physical and emotional state. “It’s a sin to be depressed.” “It’s never God’s will for His children to be sick.” “You better make sure you’ve examined yourself thoroughly to make sure there’s no unconfessed sin in your life.” Every time I would hear any of these comments, I would beat myself up internally, blaming myself for not trying hard enough. It was a vicious cycle that lasted for five years.

In fact, I’ve heard so many excuses for my sickness, I’m beginning to think I’ve heard them all. Here are some examples (and, of course, my response to them):

“You’re sick because you have sin in your life.” That’s always been my favorite. “Sin in my life” has also been the reason I’m not married, I’ve had financial problems, relationship conflicts, etc. I loved something a former pastor of mine said. His wife and he had struggled with fertility problems for years. One day, someone said to them, “Do you think maybe the reason you don’t have kids yet is because you’ve got sin in your life?” My pastor replied, “There’s a whole world out there full of people, evil people. Murderers, traitors, thieves, etc.. and they are having babies left and right with no problems at all. So, if having kids is dependent on how much sin I have in my life, I should have a whole slew of children by now!” Jesus said in John 16:33, “In this world, you will have trouble.” That’s as much a bankable promise of God as, “By His Stripes, we are healed.” However, when sickness strikes, we’re always surprised, and we want to place blame on the sick person.

“You’re sick because of the medication.” That one always confused me the most. After the second year of being diagnosed, friends started to say they were sure, they had even heard from God, that my illness was because of the medication I was taking. They said with great urgency that all these medications were polluting my body with toxic chemicals and making me depressed. Some of them would even make trite comments such as, “You don’t need all these pills because Jesus is your medicine.” I explained to all of them, and to some of them multiple times, that I had dealt with all of the symptoms for at least a year or so before I had started on any medication, and since being on the medication, I had experienced no side effects from anything I was taking. That didn’t matter, because they all knew without a doubt that it was the medication that was screwing me up. I worked for a Christian ministry for a while, and I remember testimony after testimony from co-workers that would go something like this: “I didn’t feel well, so I went to the doctor. He said I have Crazy Man Disease and prescribed 500 mg of Cur-i-tol every day, but I don’t need no pills because Jesus is going to heal me!” I would listen to that and think, “Well, if Jesus is going to heal you, why’d you bother going to see a doctor in the first place?” For someone to say they don’t need medication, in my mind, is like someone saying they never need food because Jesus is the Bread of Life. Yeah, I could last 40 days tops with no food, but not much longer.

I was a Name-It-and-Claim-It person for a long time, and I cringe at the thought of things I said, did, and believed because I thought, number one, since I was a Christian I was entitled to the whole world and a bag of chips and, number two, if I ever uttered anything “negative,” such as “I’m sick” or “I’m tired,” I was giving Satan absolute power to make my life a living hell.

“You’re sick because you don’t want your healing badly enough.” This was the most hurtful to me, in light of all the different things I’d tried, the multitude of different doctors I’d seen, and the tens of thousands of dollars I spent on various treatments. I lived with a Christian couple for a few months a few years back. The wife was in a wheelchair and was on scads of medications herself, yet she was so hard on me about the medications I took and the physical struggles I had. She would say things like I relied on the medication too much, that I didn’t need to sleep as much as I did, and part of my problem was I didn’t want to deal with the spiritual issues that were affecting my health. She even went so far as to say that people who take too many medications are opening themselves up to demonic influence, and that demons actually get high from those medications. So, again, it was all put back on me. Not only did I have to have enough faith, live completely sin-free, and eat a diet of nothing but tree bark and mineral water, I had to make sure I had the right amounts of “want” to be healed.

“You’re sick because you haven’t tried the amazing (fill in the blank) which, if you’re one of the first 100 callers, you can have for the amazingly low price of $999.99 plus shipping and handling.” The tenure of my illness has seen countless fad miracle cures come and go. The vast majority of these quick fixes are only available through some multi-level pyramid-marketing scheme. Now, I’ve been in church long enough to know that churches are breeding grounds for these direct sales companies, just like churches are breeding grounds for gluttony, gossip, and male-pattern baldness. In my years as a believer, I have been hit up for just about everything from direct marketing people in church: Amway, Excel Long Distance, Avon, Mary Kay, Pampered Chef, Pre-paid Legal, you name it. In recent days, the latest direct marketing trend in churches is health and wellness products. It’s always something really exotic, something only that company sells, and something very expensive, although the sellers will always ask, “Can you really put a price on your health?” I usually reply, “Well, you can; and you have. $999.99, to be exact!” Of course, none of the expensive things I tried, like the berry cream, or the powdered pomegranates, or the yam juice, or the super-duper industrial grade vitamins, did me one bit of good, and when I would say, “This isn’t helping me,” I would be told the fault laid not in the product but in my attitude! I still remember the last time I bought one of these products. It also seems nowadays that I’m not even allowed to purchase one of these products without attending one of the company’s sales recruiter meetings. Everyone there was a Christian, of course, and the speaker spoke of the values and virtues of these finely ground mushrooms that only grew in a remote part of the Congo, and when the distributors pitched the product, they should tell their customers that these ‘shrooms were everything that was good and wholesome, just like Jesus! My blood pressure spiked at that moment, not only because of the sacrilege, but because I had also heard that same sales pitch for every other direct marketed product any church person had ever tried to sell me. Jesus is not just like Amway, and for God’s sakes, Jesus is NOT just like Mary Kay! I turned to the person who brought me to the meeting and asked, “Did your director just compare the King of Kings, Lord of Lords, and Savior of the Universe to a South African fungus?” I’ll be honest. When I hear Christians pitching these products with more evangelistic fervor than the Gospel and putting Jesus on the same plane as their vitamin pills, I often daydream of grabbing them by the throat, putting them in a rear naked choke, and whispering in their ears, “Don’t you EVER cheapen my Jesus like that again!”

And yet, in spite of the list of causes given to me by others, my sickness continued. In fact, things got about as bad as they were going to get last year. I had been diagnosed with sleep apnea, but even with aid of a CPAP machine, my sleep was erratic at best, and I missed an inordinate amount of work because I kept having dizzy spells. In the beginning of the year, the woman I’d lived with, the one who’d been in a wheelchair, passed away. When I went to her memorial service, I heard testimony after testimony from her friends and family, praising her as a pillar of faith and perseverance. Everyone loved her and looked up to her, and unlike me, it didn’t seem like anyone pinned her health issues or seemingly early death on unconfessed sin or a lack of faith on her part. She had all the faith in the world, right up to the very end, that God was going to heal her in this life and raise her out of that chair. I, on the other hand, didn’t have much faith for anything. It was at that moment that Satan first whispered in my ear concerning my health, “It should’ve been you, Sharon. Not her.”

In May, I had my annual physical. Some test results came back abnormal, so I had further tests, which also produced abnormal results. For reasons I still don’t understand, there was a fight between my doctor and the diagnostic center about getting me the necessary follow-up to find out what was wrong, and if something was wrong, it could’ve meant cancer. I had gotten to the point where I was tired of the questions and looks of disapproval from some friends and family members who insisted my health issues were all my fault; so, in the beginning, I didn’t tell anyone. I told God, if I did have cancer, not only was I ready to go, but I wanted to go. It turned out I was fine, but the condemnation I felt over the never-ending health issues only grew. I couldn’t turn off the voices in my head that told me I was sick because I had no faith, I was sinful, I looked to medicine instead of God, blah, blah, blah. I then made a very dangerous decision. I went off all medication at once, and stayed off it all summer. Because of that foolish decision, I then drifted into almost complete non-functionality.

In June, I started taking college classes online. It was all I could to keep up with them, but I was determined to show God and everyone else that I was serious about being normal and healthy. In July, I went to Chicago for a church conference. I missed a lot of the sessions because I felt miserable, but I didn’t want to let on about it. The week I spent there, I met some of the most deliciously godly and gorgeous single men ever to grace the face of planet Earth, some with whom I still correspond. Despite how bad I felt physically and mentally, I had the time of my life with those guys. Up until 10 years ago, boys were completely off my radar, but when I met some of those guys in Chicago, that changed. When I went home from the conference, though, and got back to dealing with the daily challenges of my health issues, I got discouraged again. What guy in his right mind would want to be with a woman with chronic fatigue, over the top mood swings, and hot flashes that keep her in a perpetual pool of sweat?

I started school again in September, but my sleep and fatigue issues got much worse. I had to quit my job and drop out of school because I couldn’t keep up. I had been awarded disability, so at least I had something to live on. I gave up regular exercise because it completely drained me. My short-term memory really began to suffer as well. Around that time, I began my two blogs. I remember one Sunday going for a hike with my editor, Peter. As much fun as I had, I was exhausted for the next two days, sleeping away one of them completely. I would have discussions with him on the phone, and then have to call back later to ask him if the conversations really happened or if I just imagined them. That’s how tired and confused I was at the time.

Around October, I went for another sleep test. During that time, one of my girlfriends said she heard from God that my problem was my diet and that fact that I often ate after 9 PM, and if I just ate right and before 9 at night, I’d be fine. A gentleman friend emailed me to say his cousin had sleep apnea but found diet and exercise kept it from getting too bad. He then asked me if I ever tried eating right and exercising regularly. And really, I know people mean well when they say such things, but making common sense suggestions to someone who’s been chronically ill for a long time comes off as patronizing and only makes the person feel worse. When my good-intentioned friends said these things, I thought, “Okay, how many people do I know who eat like pigs all the time and at all hours of the night and get no exercise besides lifting and putting down the remote control who don’t even deal with a fraction of the health concerns I deal with?” The last straw was when I met with a mentor who I’d not seen in almost a year. She said she was concerned because I always had my hair in pigtails. She said it didn’t look feminine or lady-like. I told her I’d given up on doing my hair because of the sweating problem. She said, “Oh, well, you just need to go to a hairdresser to find an easy cut or style that works for you.” I thought to myself, “Do you know how many hairdressers I’ve been to, how many different styles I’ve tried, and it all ends up the same? I do my hair, I put any number of styling products in it, and when the hot flashes and sweating spells come, my hair-do is reduced to ruin.”

I had had enough. I didn’t want to try anymore. All my dreams of becoming something I abandoned because I thought I’d never be or feel well again. About the only goal in life I had left at that point was to possibly get a disease named after me. I couldn’t handle the blame from my friends that all that wrong with me physically and psychologically was all my fault. I was tired of doing everything I was told by every friend, relative, medical doctor, natural medicine doctor, chiropractor, faith healer, and whack job and still not getting any results. One night, I started crying, after having spent the whole day in bed. I didn’t want to talk to God, because I was sure that out of everyone, no one could’ve been more displeased with me than He was. However, I had the feeling that if I didn’t talk to Him then with complete honesty, things weren’t going to get any better.

I prayed, “God, for the last five years, I have prayed for You to heal me and given various reasons as to why You should heal me, because I’ve lived my life right, because I’m completely doubt free, because I never ate or drank anything I shouldn’t have, because I exercised like I was supposed to, because my confessions were always right on the money, because I wanted my healing badly enough. None of that has made a difference. Here I am, five years of my life wasted, and I still feel completely miserable. Maybe I’ve been wrong. Maybe I don’t have to prove to You that through my words, actions, and attitudes, I’ve met all Your requirements and deserve to be healed. Maybe it’s not all up to me. I mean, my salvation wasn’t about me proving how worthy I was for You to grant it to me. You did it because You loved me. It was all about You. Maybe my physical healing isn’t about me wanting it badly enough but all about the finished work of Christ on the Cross. I couldn’t make my way up to You to save me, and I’m not going to try to make my way up to You to heal me physically. I really need You to come down here and meet me on my level, God. And I’m not going to plead and argue with You any more like a lawyer, trying to show You all this proof that I’ve done my due diligence, dotted all my ‘i’s and crossed all my ‘t’s and so that’s why You should heal me. The only thing I have, God, the only plea I can come to You with is this: please heal me, God, because I’m Your baby, and Your baby’s in trouble!” I cried myself to sleep and slept restlessly, but something significant happened during that prayer.

In the weeks following that night, relief finally came in short order. It was indeed a miracle cure, but it wasn’t something obvious, and when I told people about it, most people didn’t believe me. There was a new treatment on the horizon, and through God’s grace, I finally found a local doctor who was both willing to treat me and took my insurance. I had tried a lot of different treatments through the years, but for some reason, this time I thought it would be different. The doctor said she wasn’t sure how long it would take before I noticed any results, but she was confident that, if I stuck with it, I could be totally well, off all the other medication, and completely well within six months to a year.

The heat was really on. Before I could start the new treatment, I had a set of horrible symptoms for 15 straight days. By day 13, I was exhausted, badly anemic, and thought I’d gone completely insane. I went hiking that day with Peter and some other friends, but because of my weakened condition, I couldn’t climb the hill. I told God that day that if He healed me, I would return to that hill and climb the whole thing.

The day finally came when I could start the treatment. I didn’t see any results the first two days, and I began to struggle with the possibility that I was going to be disappointed again. It turned out I wouldn’t have to wait long, though. On the third day, the hot flashes and sweating stopped. By day 5, the horrible fog I’d been in for five years began to lift. In the first week, the depression and mood swings stopped. After two months, I had lost 31 pounds and was able to return to work. Each day, I noticed I had a little more energy. More importantly, I also noticed I had a little more hope.

I have wondered in recent days why I had to wait five years to find the cure. I think one reason may be so that God could grow compassion in me. People shouldn’t be afraid to admit they struggle with anything, least of all their health. We in Charismatic circles tend to jump all over those who admit they have problems of any kind, and we talk as if it’s all up to our faith. I know several times Jesus said to sick people, “Your faith has made you well.” But it’s not all about our faith. People have lots of faith for things that never materialize. It’s all about Jesus’ finished work on the Cross that we have anything good in this life at all.

Now that I am on the mend, I have been reflecting a lot on Luke 17 and story of the 10 Lepers. Jesus healed 10 men of leprosy. Of the ten, only one came back to thank Him, and that man was a Samaritan. Back in that day, Samaritans were considered the lowest of the low, half-breeds, unloved by man and by God. I’m sure Jews who learned of what Jesus did probably thought that Samaritan man wasn’t worthy of healing. I feel so much like that Samaritan leper. I’ve always been the oddball in the circles in which I’ve run, and over the years, I’ve been told all I’ve done to NOT deserve to be healed. Jesus healed me anyway, though, even though my faith at times was so weak, and I was so angry, and I would regularly eat twice my body weight in T.G.I. Friday’s brownie obsessions. Jesus still had mercy on me, and because of that, I want my response to be that of the Samaritan: extravagant praise, wholehearted worship, and the drive to follow God and proclaim His goodness to everyone I can. Too many people put faith not in God, but in their own faith, and when they do receive their healing (or whatever it is they’re looking for), they go back to living their lives for themselves, under the false impression that God is no more than a genie to keep them well and wealthy. That line of thinking is too small for me. God is not my genie. He is my very life, and my health and welfare are only for building His kingdom, not my own. I am finally on the mend, and for all my pleading and demanding of God in the past, now that I’m getting well, I know the only proper response is humble gratitude.

A few weeks ago, I returned to that hill and climbed it. It wasn’t a quick process. As I did, I thought of how much more I enjoyed the climb because I took my time. I also thought about all the people in my life who had helped and encouraged me over the last five years: the friends who let me call them in the middle of the night when I was having a panic attack or feeling suicidal, the leaders at my church who poured all sorts of time and money into me, the doctors who worked hard and studied extensively trying to find answers for me. The view from the top of the hill is incredible, and I’m all the better for having climbed it, instead of it being moved for me.



Monday, April 19, 2010

Bringing up Baby

© 2010 David’s Harp and Pen

Mood: Hopeful


This blog is based, in part, upon actual events and people. Certain actions and characters have been dramatized and fictionalized, but are inspired by true events and real people. Certain other characters, events, and names used herein are entirely fictitious. Any similarity of those fictional characters or events to the name, attributes, or background of any real person, living or dead, or to any actual events is coincidental and unintentional, so I better not hear from Child Protective Services, Child Psychologists, or any parents. I’m all for preventing child abuse, but what about the too often ignored epidemic of babysitter abuse? When the little girl I watch throws my cell phone in the toilet, smacks me in the face because I had the audacity to make her sit in her car seat, or pounces on my stomach right after I’ve eaten lunch, who’s going to stand up for poor, defenseless me?

Children have always been drawn to me, except, of course, when I was a child. When I unexpectedly had to go back to work this year after having to take a break from school, the only job I could get was babysitting a small child during the day. I must admit that part of me is jealous of the kid. Some days, I wish I could get away with anything simply because I was little and cute. I think the main reason God allows children under the age of eight to be so cute is to prevent their parents from killing them when they are naughty. Should I ever have children of my own, I pray that they be ugly so I will not have trouble disciplining them. Being a small child also allows one to have mood swings for which someone my age would be declared schizophrenic and thus institutionalized. Of course, there is also the lesser-publicized benefit of being given exorbitant amounts of candy whenever the kid takes a trip to the bank, mall, or doctor’s office. Best of all, not only are midday naps perfectly acceptable, they are also greatly encouraged.

Before taking the job, I had been praying to God about growing in Christian maturity. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 13:1, “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; now that I have become a man, I am done with childish ways and have put them aside.” Jesus said in Matthew 18:4, “Whoever will humble himself therefore and become like this little child [trusting, lowly, loving, forgiving] is greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” When I read these passages, I got the sense that the Word condemned childishness but encouraged childlikeness. Hence began my little journey to discover the difference.

I decided that perhaps the best place to begin when attempting to understand the difference between childishness and childlikeness is to define the two words. So I looked them up in Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary. ,

According to Merriam Webster, childish has three definitions:

”of, relating to, or befitting a child or childhood, marked by or suggestive of immaturity and lack of poise; childish: lacking complexity: simple; deteriorated with age especially in mind”

Merriam Webster also describes childlike as “resembling, suggesting, or appropriate to a child or childhood; especially: marked by innocence, trust, and ingenuousness.”

While I certainly found those definitions helpful, I realized I needed help applying them to my life, so I began to ask the Lord to help me understand the difference between the two. God, the great Canadian Comedian that He is, decided I would best learn this in the form of daily object lessons from the children placed in my care.


I must admit: this job has been more challenging than I thought it would be. Most days, I just have the one kid to watch, but some days, I have her brother and sister, too. One of my greatest frustrations is the competitiveness among the three. Their house has four bathrooms, three televisions, three large pieces of living room furniture, three brand-spanking new state-of-the-art video game systems, and two computers. However, all three kids have to be using the same (fill in the blank) at the same time. For example, if they all have to go to the bathroom at the same time, they will fight to use the same bathroom. Despite the abundance of cushy couches, not only will they have to be on the same couch at the same time, they have to be sitting on the same couch cushion at the same time. The other day, when I had to drive the three of them someplace, they fought over who would get into my car first, even though my car has four doors, which allowed each of the kids to enter the car at the same time with their very own door. The competitiveness is such that, if I were allowed to spank them, they would fight over which of them would get the honor to be spanked first. What’s worse is they will fight over something even if they have each have identical items. This happens mostly around mealtime. They often eat pizza for dinner, but no matter how evenly I slice the pizza, and even in light of the fact that I give them slices from the same pizza, they fight because they think somehow one of the other ones got a superior slice.

This was the first of childish behaviors God pointed out to me. Childishness questions the goodness of the Father and believes God shows partiality among His children based on silly, irrational whims, or that He would want to withhold His best from us for no apparent reason. Ephesians 6:9 says, “You masters, act on the same [principle] toward them and give up threatening and using violent and abusive words, knowing that He Who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and that there is no respect of persons (no partiality) with Him.” Jesus also tells us in Matthew 7:11, “If you then, evil as you are, know how to give good and advantageous gifts to your children, how much more will your Father Who is in heaven [perfect as He is] give good and advantageous things to those who keep on asking Him!” This isn’t to say that God won’t at times give something to one and withhold that same thing to another, but that is only because, since we are all in different places with God and stages in our spiritual growth, what is beneficial to one person at a certain time might be detrimental to another. However, one thing that doesn’t change is God wants His best for all of His children, and though His best may mean different things to different people, He never holds back what will be the most beneficial to each of His individual children.

Another example of childishness is conditional obedience. Jed, the boy in the family is a master negotiator. I foresee a successful future for him in law. Most of the time, when I ask something of him, the conversation goes something like this:

“Jed, pick up all these toys and put them away,” I’ll say.

“I’ll only pick up the toys that are mine,” he’ll respond.

“No, you played with all of them, so you have to put all of them away.”

“But Lexi played with all of them, too, and she doesn’t have to put any of them away.”

“It doesn’t matter what your sister does or doesn’t do. You have to do what I tell you, or you’re going to bed.”

“I won’t pick up the toys unless Lexi helps me.”

“Okay, then. You’re going to bed right now.”

“If you’re sending me to bed right now, I’m going to put a DVD on to watch while I fall asleep.”

“Oh no you’re not! You’re going straight to bed with no DVD.”

“Alright, but I’ll have to have milk and cookies first!”

“No! No milk and cookies, no DVD, no room service. Don’t you understand that going to bed early is punishment for disobedience?”

“But I’ve been a good boy!”

“No you haven’t. I told you to clean up the toys and you refused!”

“Yes, but I stopped choking the cat when you told me to, and I’ve been good because I didn’t hit you all day yesterday.”

“Not doing something you weren’t supposed to anyway doesn’t get you out of doing what you’re supposed to do, and that’s why I’m sending you to bed!”

“But you wouldn’t have to send me to bed if I didn’t have to clean up all those toys!”

“Don’t argue with me, Boy! It’s total obedience or you pay the piper!”

“Well what if I only clean up my toys, and I go to bed with cookies, but no milk?”

“Do I look like a car salesman to you? This is not a negotiation! I don’t offer options packages. You either do everything you’re told, or you’ll totally be punished!”

“Okay, I’ll clean up all my toys and go to bed with no DVD or milk or cookies. But only if I get to hit you first.”

“That’s it! Not only will you clean up all these toys, not only will you go to bed early with no snacks and no DVDs, but I’m going to ship you off to the Supernanny lady on TV!”

The Bible makes it clear that obedience is immediate and total. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 8:3, “But if one loves God truly [with affectionate reverence, prompt obedience, and grateful recognition of His blessing], he is known by God [recognized as worthy of His intimacy and love, and he is owned by Him]” (Emphasis added). Moses wrote in Exodus 15:26, “If you will diligently hearken to the voice of the Lord your God and will do what is right in His sight, and will listen to and obey His commandments and keep all His statutes, I will put none of the diseases upon you which I brought upon the Egyptians, for I am the Lord Who heals you” (Emphasis added). In fact, the issue of total obedience is reiterated in the Books of Moses six more times. In God’s eyes, delayed and partial obedience are the same things as disobedience.

The last major facet of childishness God pointed out to me was self-sufficiency, not the good kind that makes a person take responsibility for himself, but the prideful kind that desires to look and be in control all the time to the point that one cannot admit his need for help or that he has weakness of any kind. McKenzie, Jed’s other sister, refused to brush her teeth for the longest time. Her breath got so noxious that, if she stood too close to me while she spoke, my skin would start to peel. Many heated arguments ensued, and what usually ended up happening was I would have to physically carry her to the bathroom, hold her down and her mouth open with one hand, and brush her teeth for her with the other. She would scream and cry and try to hit me each time I did it. I finally pinned her down one day and wouldn’t let her go until she told me why she didn’t want to brush her teeth. She told me it was because the flavoring of the particular brand of toothpaste her family used burned the inside of her mouth. So, we switched to a different brand of toothpaste, and it was no longer a problem. I asked McKenzie why she didn’t just say in the beginning the toothpaste flavoring was the reason she didn’t want to brush her teeth. She said she didn’t say anything because she didn’t want to look stupid, especially since her brother and sister were able to use that toothpaste without any problems. I told her, though, that she looked a lot stupider throwing a temper tantrum every time she had to brush her teeth than coming out and admitting she had trouble with the toothpaste. That is so much like most of us, however. In our attempts to look like we’re in control, that we don’t have any problems, that we don’t need anything, we do things that only cause us to look out of control and needy. Jesus stated plainly in John 15:5 that apart from Him we can do nothing, and a major part of allowing God’s power to work in us is admitting our need and weakness apart from Him.


Since I am not permitted to spank McKenzie, Jed, or Lexi, I must devise creative, non-corporal methods of persuasion. I learned early on one of the most effective threats I can make, no matter where we are or what we’re doing, is to leave them alone. For example, if I’m out in public with Jed, and he refuses to do something I’ve told him, even if he just told me he hated me, if I threaten to leave him behind or leave him alone, he will panic and scream, then tell me he’ll do whatever I ask. For little kids, there is no feeling worse than being abandoned by a parent or parental figure.

Part of Biblical childlikeness is the revelation that close communion with the Father is the greatest thing on earth, and there is no one or thing worth being separated from Him for even a second. King David, who had more worldly wealth, possessions, and accomplishments than most of us ever will, nailed it when he said in Psalm 84:2,10, “My soul yearns, yes, even pines and is homesick for the courts of the Lord; my heart and my flesh cry out and sing for joy to the living God. For a day in Your courts is better than a thousand [anywhere else]; I would rather be a doorkeeper and stand at the threshold in the house of my God than to dwell [at ease] in the tents of wickedness.”

Jed spends a lot of time in time out. In fact, to really drive home whatever point I’m trying to make with him, I make him spend time out in his old crib. The vertical bars on the crib give that nice, prison cell feel, so much so, that time out is now referred to as ‘Jed Jail.’ However, as much as he hates punishment, as much as he’ll say every hateful and hurtful thing he can think of to me to get me to commute his sentence, when time out is over, he will run to me and hug me, because he wants to know that he is forgiven. Then he will ask me to help him with whatever got him in trouble in the first place so that he won’t get in trouble again.

Often, whether I consciously decide this or not, when I’ve messed up, I stay in that prison cell long after my sentence is finished. I will scheme and strategize how to clean myself up and better myself so when I approach the Father again, I can successfully argue why I am now worthy of forgiveness, that I’ve corrected my own mistakes, and am therefore now able to resume my relationship with Him. However, like Jed does as soon as he’s finished his jail time, the arms of the Father should be the first place I run. Another important component of childlikeness is to run to Him first and quickly when I’ve sinned, when I’m in need, when I hurt. In the story of the Prodigal Son in the Book of Luke, once the prodigal realized how badly he had messed up his life, how far he had fallen from who he was meant to be, he went straight to his father.

Ever since I became a Christian back in 1987, I have longed to grow in my relationship with God and get to the place Peter talks about when he said, “You will be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.” Back in November, I was upset with myself because I felt like I wasn’t making the progress I should. One night, I was talking to a girlfriend who had spent many years working in a women’s prison. She said many of the inmates had atrocious childhoods. One prisoner, at eight years old, witnessed her mother violently murdered. Even though the woman was now in her early 30s, she was emotionally never more mature than a little girl. My friend said she noticed with these women in the prison that, however old they were when the traumatic events in their lives transpired, that was the emotional age they stayed at as they got older. My friend’s words gnawed at me long after our conversation ended. I knew what she said applied to me. As far as my spiritual and emotional growth were concerned, I too felt like I was ‘stuck.’ Even though I was 35, I was still responding to the people around me and the circumstances that befell me in downright childish ways. At that time, I couldn’t pinpoint where exactly I had gotten stuck, or what I needed to do to fix the problem.

My heart was heavy with my lack of emotional and spiritual maturity as I began Thanksgiving Day 2009, and the events of the day didn’t help to improve my outlook. I went to a large Thanksgiving dinner at my Life Group leaders’ home, and in front of everyone, I experienced a wardrobe malfunction of mythic proportions. I felt self-conscious and silly for the rest of the day, even though I’m sure no one except me remembers my little clothing snafu. My mood grew progressively worse as the day wound down. Towards the end of the day, I tried to be of service to a girlfriend, but instead of being helpful, I succeeded only in being annoying. From the time I began to drive home on Thursday night well into Friday night, I bawled my eyes out. I began the regular practice of obsessing about the day, what I should’ve said and done differently, and convincing myself that my girlfriend would never speak to me again. Then I remembered what my friend, the former prison worker had said. I cried out to God, “Lord, what’s wrong with me? I’m a grown woman, but in so many ways I act and think like a child. There is something I can’t seem to get past. I want to grow up and walk in maturity, but something is holding me back. Please help me.”

I put the whole matter to fervent prayer and decided I would stalk God until I got the answers I needed. Since I didn’t have a job at the time, I barricaded myself in my apartment for the next week. I turned off the internet. I turned off my cell phone. I didn’t talk to anyone except God and Bruno, my dog. Friday night the following week, the Lord showed me where I had gotten stuck.

It was my first day of school, tenth grade. I had just started a new Christian school and was terrified. Every school I had attended previously, including another Christian school, I had been teased mercilessly and lacked any friends. I had recurring visions of the times I had been knocked to the floor or the dirt by classmates; of the school bully who slammed a volleyball into the side of my head in the first grade so hard that I lost part of my hearing in my right ear; of the boy behind me on the school bus who, after spitting into my hair over and over again, crumbled a chocolate cupcake on top of my head, to the delight of all the other kids on the bus; of the kids at the first Christian school I attended who told me all the time that I smelled and teased me because I couldn’t afford the expensive clothes they could; of my last day at that first Christian school, when I arrived in a new outfit, and when I couldn’t answer my classmate’s question as to the brand name of my new outfit, she snuck up behind me, put her hand down the back of my dress, and pulled the label out to see for herself. I’m happy to say that my experience at the second Christian school was wonderful, and I made many true, life-long friends. However, a harmful habit got set in place. I discovered that I could make my classmates laugh. Since my newfound sense of humor seemed to draw people to me, I took on the role of the one who always cheered up those around her, who solved all her friends’ problems, and who couldn’t be honest about herself and her own struggles.

This mindset stayed with me all through my 20s and halfway through my 30s. The week following Thanksgiving, I had to come face to face with the fact that the reason I was still reacting like a child in so many ways was because emotionally, I was still that 16-year-old high school sophomore, scared out of my mind, desperate for anyone to like me and be my friend, but who couldn’t shake the notions that no one would like me unless I performed; that like the proverbial problem child, although I was tolerated, I was not celebrated; that though the people around me cared about me, they didn’t respect me.

God showed me where and when I had gotten stuck in childish thinking and immature behavior. Next, I asked Him to get me unstuck. He then had me revisit that petrified teenager who started over in a new school. As I saw myself there, so unsure of myself, I suddenly saw Jesus standing there next to me. He put His arm around me and said to me, “Your Father loves you. He wants you to know that you are His child, and He has always approved of you.”

In the time that’s passed since that fateful Thanksgiving, I have experienced what I can describe only as spiritual growing pains. Knowing that God has always accepted me as His precious daughter has helped me mature by leaps and bounds. However, in the last three weeks, I found myself in familiar situations, and the temptation to behave and think childishly was painfully overwhelming. In some of those situations, I persevered. In others, I failed miserably. When I went back to God with my frustration, He said something to me that most people would’ve assumed was a given, but opened up a whole new level of freedom and maturity for me. He said, “Sharon, you don’t have to grow up spiritually by yourself.”

Without going too much into detail, most of my life, I spent most of my time growing up alone. I had to learn too much on my own. I didn’t get a whole lot in the way of guidance, except after I tried to figure things out by myself and failed. In recent days, though, God has told me over and over again that He will not leave me to my own devices when it comes to maturity in Him. He is with me every step of the way, not only to direct me in the way I should go, but also to model for me what a grownup Christian looks like. When it comes to God, there are no questions too stupid to be asked when I need help. He assures me in James 1:15, “If any of you is deficient in wisdom, let him ask of the giving God [Who gives] to everyone liberally and ungrudgingly, without reproaching or faultfinding, and it will be given him.” The Apostle Paul echoes this hope in Philippians 1:6 when he says, “And I am convinced and sure of this very thing, that He Who began a good work in you will continue until the day of Jesus Christ [right up to the time of His return], developing [that good work] and perfecting and bringing it to full completion in you.”

Because of my Father’s great love for me and approval of me, I am able to move from childishness to Christian maturity. I long for the day when Christ is fully formed in me, and I am brought to completion, and I hear the words, “well done, good and faithful servant.” As I grow up, I want to be just like my Father, and my Father will see to it that His little girl grows up big and strong.

The End