Thursday, October 27, 2011

Next to Dogliness by Sharon Lurie

© 2011 David’s Harp and Pen

Mood: Scratchy

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 I don’t want to hear from overprotective pet owners who think I am in any way mistreating my dog. As long and hard as I’ve tried to understand Bruno’s complex relationship with shrubbery, I have always been at a loss. Besides, if running through the bushes keeps him out of the bars at night, then I won’t complain.

I have a large, hyperactive, over-bearing, extremely extroverted dog named Bruno. He is full of energy and does a good job of keeping me, his introverted, overly analytical momma, from getting too serious. Bruno loves his big backyard, which is overflowing with foliage. I like it that he enjoys running and frolicking outside, as it keeps him slim, trim, and svelte. However, some times his love of nature presents complications.

Last week, Bruno came in from the yard with an entirely new ecosystem growing behind his left ear. I got as best a look at it as I could, and it resembled a nest of pine needles. In fact, in the days that followed, I found the same kind of needle in various spots in his fur. Everywhere else he let me pluck them out, but not behind his ear. I was concerned, because it was obviously making him uncomfortable, and I was worried if I didn’t get it out that the area could become infected, not to mention that, coupled with all the other pine needles he walked in with on a daily basis, he was turning into Chia Dog. Every time I went near him with scissors, clippers, or the Furminator®, he got nervous and bucked his head.

I asked around for advice on what to do to extricate the ear sagebrush. Some said take him to the vet or the groomer. That was out, as it was too expensive at the time. Others said to give him doggy happy pills or Benadryl. That was out as well, as I didn’t want to administer drugs to him without knowing how he would react. Still others said that I should simply make him sit still and demand he obey me. I ask you, my dear blogees, how do I make dogs, or people for that matter, do things they don’t want to do? Apparently I am the only one on the planet without the ability to Jedi mind control the sentient beings around me, so instruction as to how to wield my Jedi powers in such a manner would be most helpful.

After a week of failed attempt after failed attempt to amputate the doggedly unyielding pine needle collection that had now taken up permanent residence on my dog, I had about given up on my mission. Then Saturday night, I crawled into bed to go to sleep, and Bruno hopped into bed with me. He was in the mood to spoon, and spoon we did. He snuggled his head into my side and went to town licking my hand. In a moment of divine inspiration, I went for the bird’s nest with my dry hand and gingerly plucked out a single pine needle. Bruno didn’t even flinch. I went for another single pine needle. Lightning struck twice. As long as Bruno was snuggling and licking my hand, I was able to remove the pine needles one by one, until they were all gone. As far as I could tell, Bruno never knew what hit him.

I learned a lot from that experience about my own pursuit of godliness. There is a lot of emphasis placed in the Church, most unintentional I think, on the big, one-time transformational experience. We talk about getting serious about God, dedicating our lives to Him, and being filled with the Holy Spirit as if they are one-shot events. Yes, some changes do happen overnight, and some miracles occur instantly, but I have found that the experience of becoming holy, maturing, and giving one’s life to God are more often gradual events that happen over the course of time. I honestly don’t think we could even physically stand it if God removed all our character flaws and grew us up all at once. The temptation would be too great on our part to take credit for it, and, just like the nine lepers did with Jesus, take off once the work was done, mistakenly thinking we don’t need God for anything else.

I recently re-read Galatians 5 and pondered the fact that those Christian virtues are referred to as fruit. Perhaps it is because they are things that develop gradually and are cultivated only over time and under close supervision of the Vine Dresser. As I’ve thought about Bruno’s de-Chia-petting and my own growth process in God, I am grateful that God is more concerned with lasting fruit than instantaneous fixes, and that as I draw near to Him in the safety of worship, He changes me to be a little bit more like Him, gradually, one pine needle at a time.



Wednesday, October 19, 2011

My Alter Ego by Sharon Lurie

© 2011 David's Harp and Pen

Mood: Transparent

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 I don’t want to hear from any Quentin Tarantino fans, comic book enthusiasts, or anyone born during the 1930s. If you are really upset with me, then I suppose I must take the high road and do the noble thing by blaming my faults on my ancestors.

My parents had me late in life. While most of my friends’ parents were hippies who downed the establishment and blasted Credence Clearwater Revival from their souped-up VW vans, my parents reminisced about the good old days when the evil Axis powers threatened the world with extinction and how they had only cockroaches to eat every night but were happy to have them and didn’t complain. I heard unending tales of woe, tales of the Great Depression, World War II, and spirit-crushing poverty. My parents’ descriptions of growing up in that era were so vivid, and the sense of urgency with which they talked about those times were such that, until I left home at the age of 18, I thought the Depression and World War II were still going on and Franklin Roosevelt was still president. Mom and Dad were part of what is commonly referred to as the Silent Generation, and they had a moral code that differs slightly from that of my generation. They believed we were entitled to nothing except the responsibility to work hard, that a person only slept with one other person, namely their spouse, and that was a lifelong gig, and finally, that a person should never, EVER talk about his or her private life.

A common saying of those born around my parents’ time was, “We don’t talk about what happens behind closed doors.” Growing up, I heard it so much, both from my parents and from others of that generation, that I early on adapted the idea that all of us are two people: the person we show to the public, and the one we are in private, and that these two people are always in opposition.

I didn’t realize until recently how much that duplicity had permeated my thinking and my view of myself, and in the last decade or so, this phenomenon became even more troublesome, and here’s why. We have witnessed a lot of scandals involving celebrities, ministers, and politicians in recent days. When someone is caught doing something they’re not supposed to, particularly if it’s a high profile Christian, people will often say, “That’s the real so-and-so.” For example, let’s say there’s a televangelist who preaches fiery sermons and gives a lot of money to the poor, and then he’s caught with a prostitute. People will point fingers at him and say that the part of him that pays women to sleep with him is the “real” him. Not the part of him that is bold in proclaiming the Gospel or is generous to those in need. The good things are always referred to as the act or show, and the “true” person is always the one that screws up. So, subconsciously, as I witnessed this happen both in people’s observations of others and of me when I made mistakes, I adopted the idea that the good things in me were an illusion and the real me consisted solely of my faults and shortcomings.

In the last year, for various reasons, I have found myself saying quite a bit, to myself and to close friends, “No one would love me if they knew the real me.” Judging from the feedback I have gotten from those to whom I have made this confession, this seems to be a fear everyone experiences. Throughout my life, I had been able to keep that underlying insecurity pretty much at bay, but I learned, much to my dismay, that nothing feeds that fear quite like being in love. Except for a minor crush around 2004, I hadn’t had romantic feelings for anyone since the year 2000. Then to meet someone and experience all those unsettling emotions again, especially given the fact that the man, in my eyes, was completely out of my league, was a recipe for full-blown distress. Every time I saw or talked to him, I could hear the “he’ll never love you once he sees the real you” resounding in my head over my internal loud speaker. My insecurity about the matter reached a fever pitch on Good Friday of this year, so much so that I found myself crying my eyes out to a girl friend at P.F. Chang’s in front of a packed out crowd and one very concerned server. (Alright, the boy thing wasn’t the only reason I was crying, but it was high on the list.) Now, things didn’t work out with the guy, and he would say that it had nothing to do with me, either, but the whole situation of being in love after not having experienced it for so long made me see how deep seeded my fear of vulnerability and “the real me” really was.

The last two months have been fraught with all sorts of challenges, and as I’ve faced uncharted waters, I have become more fearful of the real me, as I had always viewed that woman, and how adversity tends to expose who I am in my heart of hearts. Sometimes, when that thought about the real me being completely repulsive crept in, I would start to ask myself, “Well, what is it that I think is so terrible about me that if exposed, people in general (and potential Boazes in particular) would run away screaming?” I worry too much? Sometimes, when I’m too tired to do the dishes, I let Bruno do them instead? That I’ve been known on occasion to pee while in the shower? That I often incite homicidal tendencies in my men friends because I am relentlessly curious and ask too many questions? Or maybe that, since I live alone, I will drink Diet Dr. Pepper straight out of the two-liter bottle? I have secrets much darker than the ones I just mentioned, and I’m happy to say that everyone to whom I have confessed those secrets, at least in my adult life, are still my friends. I even shared them with the aforementioned love interest, and it didn’t faze him. However, I knew this fear of letting people see the big, bad, real me, was quickly becoming crippling to me, and when I talked about it with God last week, I got an answer I wasn’t expecting.

“Sharon,” God said, “Christ in you is the ‘real’ you.” And that changed everything.

The Old Testament is full of references about the wickedness of man and the deceitfulness of the human heart. All of that is outside of a relationship with Christ, though. When I was reborn into the family of God, I was given a new heart and a new spirit, one that desires to please God and love those around me sincerely. Those besetting sins that hampered me as an unbeliever and tripped me up as a new child of God are no longer an inherent part of me. Because of what Jesus Christ did on the Cross, and the metamorphosis He orchestrated in me, that about me, which reflects God and is in communion with Him is not only the part of me that is real, but also the part of me that is permanent. Perhaps I can illustrate it better this way: before I was a Christian, my sin and all the negative things about me were like birth defects or congenital abnormalities. I was stuck with them. When I got saved, my sin and shortcomings were like the flu: yes, a pain, and sometimes lingering, but just a disease, a curable one, and in no way a reflection of my genetic makeup. Getting a grip on what is truly me and what is the lie makes dealing with sin and negative habits so much easier.

A few years ago, I watched “Kill Bill” (both volumes). I looked past the fact that it was gratuitous violence and the improbability of one really skinny blonde woman single-handedly killing 88 martial arts masters. In one scene, David Carradine’s character is discussing Superman to Uma Thurman’s character. He explains that Superman is different from the majority of other super heroes because he was born with his super powers, whereas most other super heroes got their powers later in life. Therefore, the real Superman isn’t Clark Kent. Rather, it’s the other way around. The real man isn’t the bumbling, clumsy reporter who can’t string a coherent sentence together in front of an attractive woman. The real man is the one who travels faster than a speeding bullet, is more powerful than a locomotive, and leaps tall buildings in a single bound. The real me is the Super Sharon, the recreated, reborn more than a conqueror through Christ who loves me, and I can say, at long last, that the real me looks pretty good.



Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Back-roading It by Sharon Lurie

© 2011 David's Harp and Pen

Mood: Slow

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 I don’t want to hear from Garmin or any other GPS manufacturer accusing me of advocating the abandonment of the technology. Being regularly directed to drive into ditches and large bodies of water is quite a thrill and much cheaper than going to the amusement park.

I have a great sense of direction and enjoy navigation quite a bit. In fact, many of my female friends have complained on occasion that I give directions like a man. For me, learning to both find my way and give clear and concise directions to others has always been a top priority.

As a child, I had a healthy fear of getting lost, and anyone who knows my family knows exactly why. I have chilling memories of waking up in the car at 2 AM in the bowels of Bayonne, New Jersey because Mom had gotten horribly lost getting from North Arlington, New Jersey to Clifton. For those unfamiliar with New Jersey geography, it is simply a matter of pointing the car northwest and driving eight miles. Instead, Mom pointed the car southeast and drove 12. Dad and my brother were no better, and so I taught myself at a very early age to read maps (and always remember where the car was parked).

I am 50% Jewish, 25% Norwegian, and 25% Syrian. My mom and brother would always brag about what exemplary navigational skills the Vikings had, even though that trait never seemed to manifest itself in my mom or my brother’s ability to get from point A to point B. I found out just recently that the Vikings actually had atrocious senses of direction, and the only reason they made all those great discoveries like Greenland and Minnesota was because they got horribly lost trying to get to some place else. (In their defense, however, they are the best pillagers, pirates, and mass murderers, hands down.) I am also sure my crack seafaring dexterity couldn’t possibly come from the Jewish genes, seeing as it took my forebears over 40 years to get the 200 some odd miles from Egypt to Canaan, a plotting faux pas not even my immediate family or Mr. MaGoo can top. Therefore, given the Biblical accounts of swift invasions and constant back and forths between Israel and their neighboring nations, I must conclude my penchant for helmsmanship must come from the Syrians.

Back in 2007, a friend introduced me to the world of GPS. He said the days of maps and Trip-tiks were over, that I could save myself time, hassle, and trunk space in my car by ditching my map collection and going digital, and so I did. I traded my map box for a smart phone with Google maps. Yes, it was easy, and fun, and for the most part, a time-saver. However, the time it saved me cost me something else in the process.

Last week, a friend invited me over for breakfast in Mount Juliet, a little bedroom community about 15 miles northeast of my home in Nashville, Tennessee. I had just come back from New Jersey after the quick and unexpected death of my mother, so I was feeling a little nostalgic. I broke out a paper map I had of Davidson County and some of the bordering cities. Going against the GPS instructions for the fastest, most efficient route, I took a slightly longer, more circuitous way with my old friend propped up on my steering wheel. Tennessee State Road 171 goes right over Percy Priest Lake, and I’m sorry to say in the almost 11 years I have lived in Nashville, and especially in the 2.5 years I have lived so close to this gorgeous marvel, this was the first time I had taken the time to drive past it and really look at what it was. I had been so busy with life, and then with Mom’s death, that I really needed to take time out for beauty, and that beauty, gave me the strength I needed to persevere.

Technology, for me, has always been a double-edged sword. My GPS lets me travel faster, but as a result, I often miss the important lessons and flashes of inspiration that only come from the road less travelled. My cell phone provides me with the convenience of staying in constant connection with the world, but it also serves as a constant distraction, especially during the times when what I need the most is distance from the world. My electronic address book gives me the option of sending calls from certain numbers directly to voicemail, so I have the choice to deal with certain people on my time table. However, it causes me to miss a lot of opportunities to love sometimes difficult but hurting people, resulting in me missing the lessons of making my life about others and not myself.

I am glad I broke out my maps again. I am glad I am now taking the extra time to plan out where I go and how I get there, instead of letting a piece of mechanics and microchips decide for me. There is a time and place for efficiency and getting places fast, but there is also a time and place for back-roading it, and letting the roads less travelled show me beauty seldom seen and wisdom often overlooked.



Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Toiled and Spun by Sharon Lurie

© 2011 David's Harp and Pen

Mood: Restful.

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 I don’t want to hear any complaints or griping from Greenpeace or environmental groups. I can assure you that no national parks or wilderness areas were harmed in the blogging of this blog.

Recently, a business associate recommended I watch “The National Parks: America’s Best Idea,” a documentary by Ken Burns of “Unforgivable Blackness” fame. Nature and I have enjoyed a tenuous relationship at best, but I decided to give it a go. I expected to learn about the history of Yellowstone, Yosemite, and the rest of what are America’s most popular vacation destinations. What I didn’t expect was to learn the landscape of my own soul.

The documentary, six DVDs total, tells the long, intricate story of all that went into the creation and maintenance of America’s national parks. There were so many beautiful tales interwoven of the people who sacrificed so much to make sure these scenic wonderlands could be preserved for successive generations. I don’t expect to shed tears when watching nature documentaries, but there were sections of the series, especially the story of John Muir and his relationship with his wife, that moved me so much I went through a whole sequoia’s worth of Kleenex.

I have been hiking a sum total of three times, and all three times, I felt terribly on edge. There has always been something about being out in nature that has made me feel ill at ease. I had chalked that feeling I experienced on the hikes up to different things, but after watching the National Parks documentary, I decided to explore the uneasiness a little closer.

It’s not that I didn’t like the outdoors. I have fond memories of camping and fishing as a kid. However, there has always been something about the outdoors that has both delighted and terrified me. As I prayed about it one night, I was reminded of Matthew 6:25-32 (The Amplified Bible) “Therefore I tell you, stop being perpetually uneasy (anxious and worried) about your life, what you shall eat or what you shall drink; or about your body, what you shall put on. Is not life greater [in quality] than food, and the body [far above and more excellent] than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father keeps feeding them. Are you not worth much more than they? And who of you by worrying and being anxious can add one unit of measure (cubit) to his stature or to the span of his life? And why should you be anxious about clothes? Consider the lilies of the field and learn thoroughly how they grow; they neither toil nor spin. Yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his magnificence (excellence, dignity, and grace) was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and green and tomorrow is tossed into the furnace, will He not much more surely clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not worry and be anxious, saying, What are we going to have to eat? or, What are we going to have to drink? or, What are we going to have to wear? For the Gentiles (heathen) wish for and crave and diligently seek all these things, and your heavenly Father knows well that you need them all.”

And therein laid my problem: I had trouble with nature because it convicted me of my fear of rest and inability to trust God. The birds and the lilies do not strive to muster God’s attention or merit His favor, and yet He takes care of their every need. How often I work myself up into a frenzy of emotions, good works, what have you, so I can feel that I’ve earned the right to God’s love and God’s provision, forgetting too often that God loves me for who I am as his child and not what I do. Nature has no anxiety nor exhibits no care. Nature rests in the fact that the Father of Creation will tend to its every need. That rest not only scares me, but it shames me.

It shames me because, according to Psalm 8, with as glorious as Creation is, God has made man—which includes me—ruler over the works of his hands, and has put everything under our feet. The sun and the moon rise and set at their appointed times with startling faithfulness, yet I, the one God has chosen for his bride, am defined by my unfaithfulness. The canyons and river valleys readily and fully submit to the carving and the purification of the rushing waters, but I, who God refers to as clay in the potter’s hands, fight him every step of the way. Nature keenly observes the times and seasons allotted to it, and moves, adapts, and morphs as God instructs, but I, who is called by God to be his servant and mouthpiece, vacillate and waver, always asking and second-guessing him as to his timing and his ability to sustain me in different circumstances.

I don’t see nature the same now. What was once a source of tension has now become that trusted friend who, though wounding me at first, has proven himself a trusted ally. When I look at the mountains from my window, and see the deer darting across a busy thoroughfare, I am freshly reminded to rest in God’s love, promises, and purposes for me. Once my knees get better, I plan to go for a hike, a solo one, so that maybe I can learn a little more the art of rest that the rest of God’s Creation seems to have down pat.