Friday, December 7, 2012

The Sinister Side of Christmas by Sharon Lurie

© 2011 David's Harp and Pen

Mood: Somber

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 greeting card companies, candy makers, electronics manufacturers, or toy stores accusing me of ruining the Christmas spirit and cutting into their Yuletide profits.  Just because I am being slightly grouchy calling for greater introspection doesn’t mean I don’t still wholeheartedly endorse the giving and receiving of big, extravagant Christmas gifts.

Hello.  My name is Sharon Lurie, and I’m a grinchaholic.  (And the entire blogosphere responded with a hearty, “Hi, Sharon.”)  In all seriousness, I don’t have a lot of happy memories of holidays past.  I don’t normally talk about it, because I don’t always get the most helpful of responses, especially when I say how little I have enjoyed the mother of all holidays: Christmas.

My Christian friends tell me that Christmas is all about light, love, joy, family, gift-giving, yada-yada-ya and I need to change my attitude and be all jingle-bellish.  My Jewish friends, Messianic and non-Messianic alike, tell me I shouldn’t celebrate Christmas because it has pagan origins, tree worship is punishable by stoning, etc.  My atheist, agnostic, secular humanist, and religiously-disgruntled friends tell me that Christmas is a secret plot of capitalists and right-wing conspirators to wipe out the middle class by saddling them with unnecessary debt in the name of celebrating the birth of a person who may not have existed.  So, I have avoided the subject, and done everything I could to fight the Christmas funk, from travelling for the holidays to therapy to cooking dinner for the homeless.  In recent days, however, I have witnessed a level of hopelessness among friends and strangers towards the approaching holiday I have never seen before.  Many people I have talked to are ashamed to admit how much they hate this time of year because of the rebukes they receive from Christians who tell them to “stop being a Scrooge.”  I know how deep it runs for some, having worked the prayer phone hotlines on the holidays in the past, when the suicide calls are at their highest, and hearing the despair the holiday causes.  Therefore, for the sake of all of those who feel more alone this time of year than any other, I share my story.

I have for many years associated Christmas with tension and loss.  Romantic relationships going terribly wrong.  Having to deal with people who may or may not be related to me by blood or marriage who, for whatever reason, enjoy ruining Christmas, holidays, birthdays, and any kind of special events by starting fights or staging international incidents.  People I love dying.  Or just having to be alone at a time when community and family are celebrated.  For example:  Christmas 1996.  I was in a car wreck three days before Christmas that totaled my car and left me with a busted knee and a concussion.  My boyfriend at the time took care of me and we spent Christmas Day together.  The next day, he dumped me with no explanation.  Unfortunately, this was one of my more enjoyable Christmases.  So, over the years, I have just stopped talking about how unhappy Christmas has been for me, because talking about it seldom brought comfort but rather ridicule from those who, nine times out of ten, never had any tragedy or loneliness associated with the holidays.  This year, I have lost five friends and loved ones—including my mom—and so as Christmas has approached, I have felt both the sadness of the losses leading up to the holiday season, and the isolation from feeling that I was wrong for feeling so grief-stricken at a time of year that is such an emotional high for most Christians.  Then I read something that showed me my melancholy wasn’t as inappropriate as I thought.

In the book Waking the Dead, author John Eldredge talks about the spiritual battle every believer faces.  He emphasizes that believers are often painted an incorrect picture of the Christian life; we are told that all will be smooth sailing if we follow God.  In regards to Christmas, he says we are too often presented with the Gospel accounts of a sleepy Jewish town and a quaint, picture-perfect birth of the Savior, when in fact, what actually happened was more along the lines of what we read in Revelation 12:

“AND A great sign (wonder)--[warning of future events of ominous significance] appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and with a crownlike garland (tiara) of twelve stars on her head.  She was pregnant and she cried out in her birth pangs, in the anguish of her delivery.  Then another ominous sign (wonder) was seen in heaven: Behold, a huge, fiery-red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and seven kingly crowns (diadems) upon his heads.  His tail swept [across the sky] and dragged down a third of the stars and flung them to the earth. And the dragon stationed himself in front of the woman who was about to be delivered, so that he might devour her child as soon as she brought it forth.  And she brought forth a male Child, One Who is destined to shepherd (rule) all the nations with an iron staff (scepter), and her Child was caught up to God and to His throne.  And the woman [herself] fled into the desert (wilderness), where she has a retreat prepared [for her] by God, in which she is to be fed and kept safe for 1,260 days (42 months; three and one-half years).

Then war broke out in heaven; Michael and his angels went forth to battle with the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought.”

Not the kind of imagery one finds on a Christmas card or in the yearly church Christmas cantata.  On the off chance the aforementioned tale doesn’t jump off the page to you, the reader, let me paraphrase:

“A young woman, full of promise and loved by God, is expecting a child.  She is all alone, except for the hope she has carried inside her for nine long months.  The time to deliver has come, the time of expectation that everyone says to her should be the happiest time of her life.  But it’s not, because the Enemy, that Thief of Hearts and Destroyer of Dreams is standing by, ready to snatch the object of her hope and all she holds dear before she even has the chance to hold it in her arms.  As the birth pangs overtake her, she watches helplessly as the Dragon polishes his fangs and licks his chops.  The merciful thing to do would be to devour her first, and spare her the anguish of having to watch her only child’s life be so cruelly snuffed out.  However, the Dragon cares little for mercy.  He not only wants to destroy the girl and her child, he wants it to hurt in the worst way possible.”

The first Christmas was bloody, full of strife, anguish, loss, and uncertainty.  While most of us have never faced a literal fire-breathing dragon for the holidays, some of us can relate to the emotions behind the story.  Losing everything precious to us suddenly and without warning.  Having grief stacked upon grief until it all topples down, crushing the bereaved in its suffocating wake.  Feeling inconsolable during what should be a time of joy and expectation.  Bracing ourselves for a fight that could break out at any moment.  This is the backdrop of Christmas.  This is how the Savior of all mankind entered the world.

Jesus wasn’t qualified to be our High Priest, the One Who could sympathize with us in our weaknesses, sorrows, and struggles, until He lived a human life.  It’s comforting to think that He was willing to and did experience everything I have, including crappy holidays.

For the first time since I became a Christian, I am looking forward to Christmas, even though I have lost more this year than in all the previous 25 years combined.  And for those who have shared my lack of Yuletide sentiment, I offer this:  all that advice to be happy for Christmas because it’s all about twinkling stars, gracefully falling snow, so on and so forth, is hogwash.  On the contrary, the reason to have joy in this season is because that first Christmas was so awful.  We talk about all Jesus bore on the cross for us, but the truth is He bore our sins, sorrows, brokenness, and disappointments from the moment He entered this world as one of us.  That, beloved ones, is the sinister side of Christmas, and that is the view of the season we should choose to embrace.

The End


Monday, November 19, 2012

The Beautiful Debris by Sharon Lurie

© 2012 David's Harp and Pen

Mood:  Artsy

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 visual artists who think I am in any way poo-pooing their craft.  In fact, if you are able to support yourself from selling murals comprised of torn construction paper or taking black and white photographs of cow patties, then more power to you.

Growing up, I spent a lot of time in art galleries and art museums, most of the time against my will.  Even though I come from a long line of culture aficionados, I neither appreciated nor enjoyed being dragged to the latest exhibits by family or school officials.  At the time, I didn’t give it much thought.  However, on a recent whim, I decided to visit The Frist Center for the Visual Arts, and the reasons behind the aversions to the visual arts of my youth became abundantly clear.

The headlining exhibit that day was Creation Story: Gees Bend Quilts and the Art of Thornton Dial.  The works of Mr. Dial and the quilters of Gees Bend are classified as “vernacular art,” the definition of which is a genre of art and outdoor constructions made by untrained artists who do not recognize themselves as artists (http://www.TheFreeDictionary.Com/Vernacular+Art).  A word that kept coming up in Mr. Dial’s exhibits that I’d not heard before was “bricolage.”  Once again, according to The Free Dictionary, bricolage is “something made or put together using whatever materials happen to be available” (  The Gees Bend quilters used scraps of worn out and discarded clothing to make their quilts, whereas Thornton Dial used garbage like discarded furnishings and electronics to make his enchanting abstractions.  I found myself getting lost in display after display of recycling at its finest, and how each artist took things that were jagged, ugly, and repugnant on their own, and weaved them together into something hauntingly beautiful.  My mind suddenly drifted back to museum outings in times past, and the allure of this current excursion began to make sense.

I had always viewed much of the visual arts as an elaborate brand of pretending.  Much of the paintings and sculptures I remember seeing as a kid were of people, places, and things that didn’t exist.  As I grew up and witnessed new movements of artistic expression become popular, I would get annoyed at the things that passed for art and sold for lots of money, things that, in my eyes, required no more talent to create and weren’t any more intricate than a tic-tac-toe board.  Stemming partially from the fact that, though I came from a visually artistic family, all the visually artistic genes had passed me by, it angered me to see some of the things that were called art that, in my mind, were anything but.  As far as I was concerned, most of the modern art was a horrid illusion, a pretending to be something it was not on a grand scale.

My family fought a lot when I was younger.  I got bullied a lot in school by the other kids and sometimes, by the teachers.  On the many trips to the art museum, however, we pretended, just like the portraits and sculptures on display.  We pretended we were a cultured family in which everyone got along.  My classmates pretended they were quiet, well-behaved, and accepting children who treated all the other kids kindly and fairly.  It was nothing more than white-washing, however, and a mode of make believe that evoked all sorts of inner distress for me.  Though I am a writer, and creating fantasy is part of my trade, I prefer those illusions that don’t pretend for a second to be real.

I made several rounds of the Creation Story exhibit.  I started crying a few times and hid in the hallway, not wanting to make a spectacle of myself.   Those quilts and those murals had struck a nerve, a very deep one.  I am like one of the bedspreads from Gees Bend and one of Thornton Dial’s sculptures.  I am comprised of overused and overworked clothing, jagged edges, and other emotional bric-a-brac that, in the eyes of the world, have lost their usefulness.  I desperately need to know that the shattered and discarded shards of my spirit can be reassembled into something winsome, if placed in the right hands.  I have no use for illusions of comeliness that would take the darker hues and cover them up with a bright, yet poorly applied paint job.  I have to believe that every scrap is redeemable, and to the Master Artist and Potter, every broken thing is not only beautiful, but a necessary and indispensable part of the portrait.

The End


Saturday, October 6, 2012

A Different Mirror by Sharon Lurie

© 2012 David's Harp and Pen

Mood:  Lovely

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 anyone to think I am advocating regular bathing in supermarket restrooms.  I must add, though, if you must take a bath in a public restroom, make sure there is a strong lock on the door and no security cameras installed.

John Eldredge said in many of his books that the three basic needs of women are to be fought for, to share in a grand adventure, and to unveil beauty.  I don't know a woman alive who doesn't struggle with the last one.  We are constantly bombarded with images of what physical, intellectual, and emotional beauty are supposed to look like, both from Christian and secular sources.  It is so easy to get caught up in the hype and fanfare.  I am sorry to admit I have spent too much money on beauty products, self-improvement books, and seminars that promised beauty and confidence but only delivered a greater sense that not only was I missing the mark, I had no hopes of ever hitting it.  And that only adds to the message that I am not beautiful, as Satan continues his battle against me and womankind at large:  to tell us we're ugly, overweight, unnoticeable, unlovable, and not enough.  Oftentimes, I have tried to combat those lies by going on diets and extreme exercise regimes, reading certain books, and taking courses on how to be a witty and engaging conversationalist and walk and chew gum at the same time.  The other day, however, God decided that the way to show me how to unveil beauty was a trip to the supermarket.

A while back, I had planned to see the movie "Blue Like Jazz" with a friend.  That particular week had been very warm, and so my hair was a bit on the slick side.  When I woke up and turned on the bathroom faucet, nothing came out.  A quick call to the landlords, who then called the water company, revealed that our water supply was going to be out for a few days due to "technical difficulties."  I went to another faucet and extracted just enough water to wash my face and brush my teeth.  I then sprayed myself down in aerosol deodorant, and brushed my hair about a thousand times to diminish the Crisco look as much as I could.

I left the house to head to the restaurant where Friend and I were to eat before the movie.  On my way there, I drove over not one but two different pieces of metal, getting a flat tire.  I'd already gotten five flat tires in the previous eight months, and I started to wonder if my wheel assemblies were magnetically charged.  The good news was Discount Tires said my tire would be replaced for free under the road hazard warranty.  The bad news, however, was there wasn't a Discount Tire in all of Tennessee that had the size tire my car needed.  So, they had to install the wrong size tire temporarily to get me on the road.

I still managed to get to the restaurant in the nick of time to meet Friend.  Now, I'm not going to mention the name of the restaurant, because I don't want to embarrass them with what I'm about to tell you.  Therefore, I will simply refer to them as Noshey's.  We went to Noshey's because, in celebration of their 65th anniversary, they were selling ⅓ pound burgers for 65¢.  This was a big deal, and so the place was packed.  Noshey's has a mascot called the Noshey Bear.  The Noshey Bear was making his rounds to all the kids in the restaurant.  I was busy talking to Friend about football and politics.  Then, as the Bear walked by, he slowly dragged his right paw across the back of neck, pushing my hair off to the side as he went.  It made me very uncomfortable, to say the least.

After we finished dinner, we got to the theater and headed for the popcorn stand.  I had a theater gift card, a coupon for a free drink, and a coupon for $2 off popcorn, so Friend and I would snack like kings during the movie.  He grabbed the popcorn and I grabbed the soda.  When we approached the usher stand where the tickets are torn, I squeezed the soda cup too tightly and sent Diet Coke flying up through the straw and all over my shirt.  I stopped short to stop the deluge, and when I did, Friend rammed into my back, spilling the buttered popcorn on himself, my back, and the floor.

Nothing else weird happened that evening, but that same stinking feeling I had felt so often as of late rested on me like a dark cloud.  I hadn't felt beautiful in a long time, and except for God, no one was telling me I was, either.  After all, it's hard to feel beautiful when I am the girl always getting flat tires.  It's hard to feel lovely when I am always the girl with the vershtunken hair, which is vershtunken because something weird happened to prevent me from washing it.  It's hard to feel captivating covered in butter and soda, in addition to the buttery, frizzy hair.  It's very hard to feel prized when so often, of all the people the Noshey Bears of the world could've chosen to get weird with, he seems to regularly choose me.

On my drive home, one of my dear single girlfriends and fellow writers sent me a text message that said, "If any man is in Christ, he is a new creation.  The old is passed away.  Everything has become new."

I have heard that verse ever since I became a Christian, but to be honest, I didn't feel very new.  Because of the events of that day and the previous three years, I was sure I didn't look new in any sense of the word.

On my way home, I stopped at Kroger to get a Delancey Street bath.  I locked myself in the ladies room, and as I was about to wash off my makeup, I looked in the mirror.  I don't know what it was about the mirror; it wasn’t a big or special mirror by any means.  Maybe it was because I usually only used my own bathroom's mirror.  I looked at my long, brown unwashed hair.  I looked at my body and the 44 fewer pounds I had compared to three years ago.  For the first time since I had gotten so sick in 2003, I didn't see a bloated, socially awkward, hormonally-imbalanced, greasy, vershtunken basket case.  Instead, I saw a beautiful woman, crafted in loveliness in the very image of God, who promises to make everything beautiful in its time.

I have been looking at myself a lot differently since that day.  As I have pondered the events of that evening, I realized that I must be particular about the mirrors I use.  The world and the church are of full of the proverbial fun house mirrors that seek to distort and condemn the images of those of whom God said at the end of creation, "It is good."  I have to be diligent to avoid the mirrors that would say that the divine image I reflect is repulsive or somehow not enough.  Mirroring the words the Beloved spoke to his Lover all those millennia ago, God tells his daughters, "O my love, you are beautiful!  There is no flaw in you!"

I have a new mirror, and it shouts to my spirit that my time to be beautiful has finally come.

The End


Sunday, August 5, 2012

The Sound of Silence by Sharon Lurie

© 2012 David's Harp and Pen

Mood: Quiet

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 extroverts or extroversion advocacy groups who still insist that introversion is a psychological disorder.  For once, let us introverts have our moment to shine.  After all, you extroverts already outnumber us three to one, so if world domination isn’t enough for you, I don’t know what is.

My name is Sharon, and I talk too much.  I didn’t always talk too much.   When I was a kid, I was notoriously quiet, so much so that my teachers would often mark me absent when I wasn’t, simply because they never heard a peep out of me and I liked to hide in the back of the classroom.

Trying to fade into the background and not be heard became a pattern I continued through ninth grade.  I always felt more comfortable writing than speaking, and I would become incredibly nervous if I had to hold more than one conversation at once.  At the time, I couldn’t explain to you why any of this was so, except I went to rough schools with scary classmates.

When I started tenth grade, I changed schools and, all of a sudden, found myself well liked and in possession of a sense of humor that could leave my school pals and teachers in stitches.  That was the beginning of the bad habit.  Talking too much, that is.  Although often criticized, I found talking too much to be more acceptable socially than being too quiet.  After all, there are plenty of things in our culture that reinforce that notion that quiet is bad:

  • Quiet and solitude are often used as punishment.  How often in school are naughty children punished by being asked to be perfectly quiet and remain totally still for extended periods of time?  Or, when we’re mad at someone, we decide to punish him or her by giving him or her the silent treatment?
  • Quiet is seen as a sign that something is amiss.  How many times, when someone is silent, do those around the person usually remark, “What’s wrong?  You’re so quiet.”
  • Quiet is seen as a mark of cowardice or lack of intelligence.  Messages are screamed everywhere from the marketplace, the social network, and the pulpit that we must let our voice be heard and be aggressive communicators.

My programming to hate silence continued into my early 20s, which was when I first heard the term introvert.  The definition I first heard for it was that it was a person who was shy, withdrawn, isolated, and didn’t like to talk.  Oh, and it was also a social disease, not much unlike narcissism or being an Oakland Raiders fan.  So, I got the message that being a good woman, and a good Christian, and not looked at as crazy, meant I needed to be more out-going, a witty conversationalist, and be able to express an intelligent and cogent opinion on anything and everything on a moment’s notice.  In other words, I needed to be an extrovert.

In recent days, my disdain for mindless chatter and the pressure I felt to be a smooth and constant talker came to a head because of the following:

  1. I read a book called The Introvert Advantage by Marti Laney.  Written by an introvert, she did a lot to expose the myths about introversion.  (For a great summary of the book, check out this article.)  It was nice to see written out some of the things I had trouble verbalizing.  For starters, it’s not that introverts don’t like to talk, but that they need a reason to talk, and get flustered when forced to make small talk, which was always the case with me.  Second, introverts do better writing than speaking because the neural pathways in the introverted brain access the written language center more quickly and more easily than the brain’s spoken language center.
  2. A conversation I had with Jedi(tor).  He brought up the fact that nowadays, most everything we say and do is recorded, particularly when it comes to social media and networking.  I thought about all the nonsense I have said on Facebook, mostly from the compulsion to be witty and outspoken, and I was afraid.  Very afraid.
  3. A quote I read that is attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt.  “Great minds discuss ideas; Average minds discuss events; Small minds discuss people.”  I realized how for so long I have yearned for deep and meaningful conversation but too often get caught up in the drudgery of current events or malicious gossip.  In other words, mindless chatter that drains my soul instead filling it.

I went for a walk in the park behind my house the other night.  My mind was full of anxious thoughts and all the vain and idle words I had wasted because I was trying to be something I’m not.  It seems everywhere I turn, I hear the message that if I really love God, I will be bold and outspoken about my faith.  After all, God is calling all of us to be a voice to our generation, but what good is it if my voice doesn’t roar?  However, experience has shown that the louder I get, the more distorted I sound.

I sat down under a tree and looked at the park in the pond as the sun was about to set.  My heart was uneasy because of the struggle within me over what I had been told by society and the church versus what the still small voice of the Holy Spirit was trying to say.  Suddenly, verses, which I knew very well, began to flood my mind:

  • Psalm 46:10 “Let be and be still, and know (recognize and understand) that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations! I will be exalted in the earth!”
  • James 1:19 “Understand [this], my beloved brethren. Let every man be quick to hear [a ready listener], slow to speak, slow to take offense and to get angry.”
  • Isaiah 30:15 “For thus said the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel: In returning [to Me] and resting [in Me] you shall be saved; in quietness and in [trusting] confidence shall be your strength.”
  • Proverbs 10:19 “In a multitude of words transgression is not lacking, but he who restrains his lips is prudent.”

All these verses were talking about the virtues of silence and the dangers of mindless speech.  As I meditated on God’s words to me, I noticed the beautiful reflection in the pond of the surrounding greenery and the darkening sky.  After a few seconds, something blew into the water, causing a ripple effect, which proceeded to distort the aforementioned view of the park.  And there was my answer:  the water best reflected its surroundings when it was quiet and still.  Likewise, I best reflect and display the beauty, majesty, and presence of God when I am quiet and still.  Not to say that I don’t talk or let my voice be heard, but rather seek more to be silent so that God’s voice can be heard through me.  That is how he designed me.  That God-given silence is, indeed, a beautiful sound.

The End


Sunday, July 29, 2012

Always Late, If Ever by Sharon Lurie

© 2012 David's Harp and Pen

Mood: Ready

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 self-help gurus or life coaches who claim I am trying in any way to justify or condone procrastination.  Believe me, if there were any way to make procrastination useful or profit from it, I would have found it by now.

I just posted a blog entitled Good Enough.  I am always surprised at the way certain things that I write strike a cord with readers.  From the comments I received, I realized that the feeling of not good enough is something that we all grapple with in some form or fashion.  I discovered that I serve my readership best when I am honest and vulnerable about my struggles.  Therefore, I wanted to follow up with how that not good enough mindset feeds a terrible habit that we all have:  procrastination.

The reality is that we all procrastinate, and we tend to think that we procrastinate out of laziness or lack of desire to do something.  While that is sometimes true for me, that’s not always the reason I procrastinate.  I love writing and cooking and opening my home to others in hospitality, but I put off all those activities frequently.  I also like having a clean and orderly place to live, but I put off the cleaning and the organizing.  It’s not because I don’t want to do any of those things.  It’s because I let fear of doing those things wrong, particularly of not getting them right the first time, scare me from trying and ever getting started.

In the last year, I lost five friends and loved ones.  Whenever I lose someone close to me, I spend some time reflecting on the brevity of life and anything in my life, whether it be a thought pattern, attitude, or habit that may be hindering me from living life to the fullest.  In recent days, that hindrance has been procrastination, fueled by “not good enough.”  This week, I took a lot of time in prayer to pinpoint the root of it, because it had come to the point where not only was I putting off many things until later, I was putting some things off until never.

Part of it comes from where and how I was raised.  I grew up in New Jersey, just outside of New York City, one of the meanest places on Earth.  Because everything is so expensive, crowded, and fast-paced, people living there tend to be impatient, opinionated, blunt, and emotional.  I have witnessed some epic temper tantrums in my day, and as I look back some of things modeled to me as a kid by adults around me, I see a very dangerous underlying message.  Mainly, that the stakes for every little thing we do is super high, and so perceived failure of any degree is unacceptable, inexcusable, and irredeemable.  Because I was an introverted and overly sensitive kid, I became very scared of trying anything, because the punishment for failure always seemed so much greater than the punishment for not trying.  After being on the receiving end of some verbal tongue lashings from teachers, coaches, worship pastors, and youth pastors, I decided, subconsciously, that trying anything wasn’t worth it unless I could guarantee success on the outset.

Another part of it comes from the message that one must be fully prepared before embarking on such-and-such.  For example, writing.  I love to write, but something that scares me off from getting started is the message that I have to do all these other extremely time-consuming things in order to be in a place to be able to write.  Some of the writers’ websites I subscribe to have lengthy lists of what a writer should do on a daily basis to write well.  These lists include journaling, attending writers groups, reading famous authors to emulate what they did well, taking writing courses, reading so many blogs a day to know what’s popular in reading and literature, attend Yoga classes, buy all organic food and cook everything from scratch so as to provide my body with proper nourishment to stimulate my brain to be more conducive to the creative process, etc.  None of these things are bad, but when put together in a list and labeled as all the things I must do to be a successful writer, I start to feel overwhelmed, if for no other reason then to do all that stuff requires at least 50 hours a day, and I’m finding it hard enough to find time to simply write.

So, the aforementioned are why I’ve been a wuss and put off so many necessary, worthwhile, and enjoyable things.  I don’t want to continue this way.  Something had to change.  Sometimes, it just takes the right words from the right person to get started down the right path.

A fellow writer told me about a sports writing contest.  Whenever a writing contest or job offer comes up, I usually ask Jedi(tor) (or one or two of my other writer friends) what they think.  I’m sorry to admit that I often talk myself out of these contests and opportunities for fear of failure.  Any who, this was Jedi(tor)’s reply:  “My apologies for being blunt, but you asked what I think:  part of stopping being a chicken and getting your stuff out there may possibly mean not asking my permission to do something you want to do.  I say if you want to do it, do it.  I'll edit it, offer advice, and you can submit it.  Win or lose, I suggest you do what you can to learn from the experience, and go from there.”

Of course, he was right, especially the last part.  First of all, if we are believers and living for God, even our mistakes and failed first efforts are redeemable.  Second, most of what we consider to be failures only seem like failures at the time.  Even if we didn’t accomplish what we intended from the task, there is usually great knowledge to be gleaned from the experience.

After Jedi(tor) said what he said, I remembered the story of Jesus walking on water in Matthew 14.  Peter ventured out of the boat towards Jesus, but upon feeling the wind, he started to sink and had to have Jesus rescue him.  I remembered all the messages I had heard from the time I was little about getting things right the first time, messages that I let make me afraid to get started.  Most sermons that I hear about this story focus on the fact that Peter became frightened, took his eyes off Jesus, and almost drowned.  I don’t hear anyone say that Peter was the only disciple brave enough to even step out of the boat, or attempt to walk on water, especially in the midst of the violent storm raging at the time.  The big emphasis I have continually heard was he tried and he failed.  Then Jesus started speaking to me, and he said, “Sharon, Peter didn’t fail.  The others failed for never getting out of the boat.  If you’re stepping out of the boat in pursuit of me, you will always succeed, even in the midst of storms and distractions.  Even though Peter began to sink, he learned an important lesson about keeping his eyes on me, a lesson that has inspired millions of believers since.  Kind of like you inspire others when you blog about your struggles.  Don’t keep procrastinating to get out of the boat.  Write, and have company over, and start living.  Besides, if I kept Peter from drowning when he temporarily lost focus in pursuit of me, what makes you think I won’t save you from sinking, too?”

So there it is.  There are my marching orders.  I will write, even if in the beginning some of the finished products are, to use the proper literary term, stinky.  I will invite more friends over, even if Bruno is in the throes of his annual Shed-a-thon and I have to serve my guests something out of a can.  I have spent too much time putting everything off until tomorrow because I felt afraid and unprepared.  Tomorrow is today.  There is fun to be had.  There are people to encourage.  There are million-dollar-grossing New York Times bestseller list novels to be written, and so I must get started, if for no other reason then so I can finally pay my wise and invaluable editor what he is actually worth and get Bruno to the groomer.

The End


Monday, July 23, 2012

The Drought by Sharon Lurie

© 2012 David's Harp and Pen

Mood: Wet

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…or is it?

Once upon a time, there was a young woman who owned a large field.  The field had an old well at the edge of it.  The property had been given to her as a gift from her beloved.  The beloved told her if she did what he said, her field would overflow with grain and produce, and she would never hunger or thirst again.

The beloved was the only family the woman had.  He was a kind and generous lover.  He would frequently come to the woman in the night and the two would talk and commune into the early hours of the morning.  In fact, the beloved only visited with the woman at night, and never when anyone else was there.  There was nothing good that the beloved withheld from the woman.

One year, as sowing time approached, a drought fell over the land.  The woman, as all those afflicted by the drought, labored and toiled under an unforgiving sun, but the lack of rain produced a substandard harvest.  Drought was nothing new to the woman, as it is an accepted part of life for those tied to the soil.  This year’s drought, however, seemed much more severe than in years past.  As night began to fall, after a long day of taking her produce to market, the woman sat at her table, counting and recounting the money she had received for her labors, a sum much less than what she’d hoped for when the planting commenced.  Suddenly, she felt a familiar hand on her shoulder, and when she turned to look, she saw the one for whom her soul longed.  She buried her face in his shoulder and cried, “I worked so hard!  I really needed this money!  There’s so much that needs to be done here, and I was counting on the harvest money to do it!”

“I know,” replied her beloved, as his strong hand gently wiped the tears from her eyes.

“Please tell me this is the end of the drought,” she whimpered as she looked into his piercing eyes.  The beloved, however, made no reply.

“How long?  How much more until we have rain?”  she implored nervously, for it was not like the beloved to hold back information from her.  Still, the beloved remained silent.

“A year?  Two?  What should I do?  Should I stay here?  Should I head elsewhere?  Why won’t you say anything?” she pleaded.

The beloved looked deep into the woman’s nervous eyes and answered, “The rain does its work and gives life to the land.  However, the drought has its place, too, and must do its full work before the rain can come.  The drought destroys all that is temporary, all those things that suffocate the promise of tomorrow for the pleasure of today.  You will not see me again until the rain comes.  In the meantime, my love, stay here, where we have built this life together.  Keep working the land, even in those moments when it seems futile.  Don’t water the field with any water except rain from the sky and the well at the end of the field.  Don’t be afraid to deplete the last of your storehouse.  I promise you that the next time you see me, I will bring rain with me.”

This was the last thing the woman wanted to hear.  Until that point, there hadn’t been any secrets between her lover and her, and she didn’t understand why the sudden mystery.  However, since she trusted him, and because he was her life, she knew whatever he promised would come to pass.

The time to sow again arrived quickly.  The season was a tiresome one for the woman.  The town elders predicted the drought would continue at least another year.  The water levels in the rivers and lakes began to fall, and the landscape slowly but surely turned from green to brown.  The woman labored tirelessly under the merciless sun, doing all she could to irrigate her field and slake the thirst of her unborn crops.  Despite her best efforts, the land yielded an even smaller harvest than the year before, and she began to wonder how long her field and she could go before she would have to dip into her savings and her food stores.  With all the heat and dehydration, the real heartache wasn’t the physical drought, but the emotional one, namely not getting to see her beloved.  She lay in bed into the darkest part of the night, wondering how things could become so bleak so quickly.  As sleep finally started to weigh down her eyelids, she heard a familiar voice whisper in her ear with the familiar, warm, reassuring breath, “I told you I will send rain.  I am not slow concerning my promises.  Just because you can’t see me doesn’t mean I have left.”

The woman’s eyes shot back open, and she sat bolt upright in bed, but as earnestly as she looked for her lover, all she could see were the waves of heat that had taken possession of the countryside.  She told herself again and again that her lover was trustworthy and she had nothing to fear.  And as the drought moved on into its third year, the woman would soon face her greatest test.

Making the effort to sow in the third year of drought seemed so futile.  Most of the perennial plants in the countryside were now dead or dying off.  With no sign of rain, and ever-increasing heat, what was the purpose of sowing?  The woman noticed that she had to let her bucket drop further and further into the well in order to get water.

The woman set about diligently plowing her field and planting the little seed she had left.  She didn’t want to think about what would happen when the seed ran out and the well finally ran dry.  The day came when she used up the last of her seed, and there was none more to be found in all the land.

Soon her neighbors began coming around, asking for seed and begging for food.  Because she trusted her lover, she freely gave of the last of all she had.  Despite her generosity, her neighbors, beleaguered from the extended season of drought, began to mock her.  Where is the rain, they would ask?  Why does your beloved delay, they would demand?  Why are you the only one who has ever seen him, they would protest?  The supplications for seed and food continued, and though she had no answers for her neighbors, she didn’t even want to entertain the thought that her lover and friend, all she had in the world, would let her down.  As she gave out the last of her food supplies, she whispered, “Lover, wherever you are, please send rain, and please bring food.  No one has ever understood our love and what we share, and that has never bothered me until now.  These people are suffering, as am I.  Please.  Show everyone here that you are real, and you will not leave the one you love to starve.”

The next day, the woman awoke to a sight for her drought-weary eyes:  rain clouds.  They were full and black and ominous.  Lightning and thunder crashed across the sky, and the woman waited with anticipation for the long overdue rain. 

And she waited. 

And waited some more. 

Not a single drop of rain fell.  She went to bed hungry and heavy-hearted, but hopeful that surely the sky would soon yield its fruit, and rain would fall on the land again at last.

The following day, the woman arose early and went outside.  The clouds were still there, as was the chill in the air.  Still no rain.  The land was still dry as a bone.  One by one, her neighbors came around to the house, telling about the storms and downpours that fell upon their farms.  The woman was puzzled as to why it was raining everywhere except on her field, especially since the storm clouds continued to gather.  She thought surely the clouds wouldn’t hold out on her much longer.  That evening, she lay in bed awake for several hours, hoping to hear the sound of falling rain over the sound of her empty stomach growling.

“Why the clouds but no rain?  Why does the sky tease me thus?” she thought to herself.  A rattling at her front door interrupted her thoughts.  She quickly arose from her bed and ran to the front door.  When she opened it, she was startled to find a basket filled with bread, fruit, and vegetables.   On the handle was a note from her beloved.

“Be anxious for nothing.  Do not grow weary in well doing, for in due time, you will reap a reward.”  She looked around in the night, but her lover was nowhere to be seen.

Another week passed.  Storm clouds, but no rain.  Everyone else had rain except her.  Her well was about to run out.  She was getting desperate.  Even with the basket of food at the door, she thought for sure her friend was angry with her.  One of her neighbors who had experienced consistent rainfall since the clouds appeared offered her some of his rainwater.  Her neighbor was handsome and friendly, and there was always something very pleasant in the way he spoke, although it seemed disingenuous to the woman at times.  Perhaps the loneliness and bewilderment were becoming too much for her.  She began to wonder if maybe she hadn’t heard her beloved correctly.  She thought surely, with the extremity of the situation, her beloved couldn’t have meant that she couldn’t try anything else to keep herself and her animals hydrated.  Besides, her comely neighbor seemed genuinely concerned about her well-being.  So, telling herself that her lover would certainly understand, she walked to her barn to gather up her cisterns.  Upon entering the barn, she discovered to her dismay that every last one of them had a hole in the bottom.  She fell to the ground sobbing.  As she covered her face with her hands, she heard that familiar whisper again as it asked, “Why?  Why do you worry?  Why do you make for yourself cisterns that can’t hold water?  Are my hands cut off?  Would you suddenly make a liar out of me?”

As in all the times she’d heard his voice since the drought started, she looked up to follow its source, but there was no sign of him.  She slammed her hand hard on the barn door and answered back, “Why would you make a liar out of me?  I have told all my neighbors that you are real, that you keep your promises, that you love me, and that you will not forsake me or leave me begging for bread.  I am the one trusting you, I am the one who has given myself to you and you only, yet you have not withheld your rain from anyone except me!  Why the clouds with no rain?  It’s like you’re saying I am doing something wrong, that I am holding up the works, but you won’t tell me what it is!  You are not the one being made a mockery of here!  I am!”

Twenty days the raven-toned clouds hovered over her field.  Twenty days the entire countryside got rain except her.  Twenty days her neighbors came to her home, some to inquire at the strange turn of events, and some just to mock her.  Why had she no rain?  Why did she continue to refuse water from anywhere except the sky and her own well?  Was the word of her beloved worth dying of thirst?  Twenty days she had nothing to say in reply, so she held her peace.  Surely the rain would come soon, she kept telling herself.

The woman awoke on the twenty-first day with great expectations, only to have them dashed as she exited her front door.  The clouds were gone.  The sky was clear.  The land was dry.  The heat was tortuous.  The sun was scorching.  Her heart was broken.  She gathered her strength for the moment and ran to the well.  She lowered her bucket until she heard it clank at the bottom.  Then she raised her bucket back up.  Completely dry.  Not one drop of water.  She screamed at the top of her lungs, dropped the bucket, and ran to the edge of her desolate, sun-singed field.  Then she fell the ground, beat the barren earth below her and cried, “Why, lover?  Why?  I did everything you told me to do.  I didn’t take from another’s well.  I waited and waited.  I gave until I couldn’t give anything else.  The three years of drought were bad enough, but to have the clouds and no rain is more than I can bear.  I trusted you!  I waited and waited for you!  I let myself be a fool to everyone I know because of you!  For twenty days the clouds have danced in front of my eyes as if to tease me for ever trusting you in the first place!  And you’re still gone!  You are gone, my food is gone, my seed is gone, and my well, the last of everything I had, is dried up!  What did I do?  How did I fail you?”

The woman sobbed and convulsed in the dry heat and the full weight of three years of anguish and desperation poured out of her.  She stretched out her hand to grab a handful of earth when she felt a cool drop on her finger, followed by another.  And another.  She turned her gaze upwards, but still saw the same tireless sun and the same waves of heat distorting the sky.  She closed her eyes as tightly as she could, thinking perhaps she was hallucinating.  The tiny cool drops of water increased in frequency and intensity upon her skin.  She opened her eyes and again looked towards the sky, but still no clouds.  She wondered to herself how it could be raining with no clouds and with the sun so bright.  But before she could think about it too long, the rain began to fall in torrents and sheets.  She picked herself and ran as fast as she could to the house.  As soon as she was inside, she ran to her window to witness the curious sight.  She looked out on the edge of her property to see her neighbors gather, they, too, dumbfounded at the odd, mystical sun shower.

The cloudless rain fell for twenty minutes, one minute for each of the preceding days of rainless clouds.  As the twenty-first minute approached, a strange, thundering boom arose from the ground.  In the blink of an eye, the woman’s field began to bloom and sprout, as if an entire growing season had been accelerated into a single day.  Fruits, grains, and vegetables of every stretch of the imagination shot heavenward, yielding the largest fruit and the tallest grain anyone had ever seen.  The woman’s neighbors, amazed at the phenomenon, rushed towards the fruit trees and began to pick the magical fruit.  Her neighbors filled their pockets and whatever they had with all the fruit of the field until they couldn’t carry any more.  There was still enough left over to more than compensate what the woman couldn’t grow in the three preceding years of drought.

The rain continued, and the earth yielded its bounty, until the sun had finally set.  Never had the heat subsided.  Never had a rain cloud appeared.  Still shocked and amazed, the young woman ventured out to her well.  To her joy and wonderment, she found it filled to the brim.  The light of the full moon rose behind her so that she could see her reflection in the well.  Then she saw another reflection, that of the face that she had been longing to see for the last three years.  Her beloved leaned closely into her, with his lips close against her ear.  He wrapped his arms around her and said, “I kept my word.  I didn’t need clouds to make the rain.  I didn’t need seed to produce a harvest.  I didn’t even need your faith in me.  My grace was sufficient.  I can make streams in the desert and the most barren wastelands into overflowing springs.  You asked me to send rain so your neighbors would know that I loved you.  I sent rain so that you would know that I loved you.”

The beloved was never hidden from the woman’s eyes again.  Seasons of drought came again, but there was always plenty of water and food, not only for the woman, but for her neighbors and the creatures of the field, too.  The great drought had done its work, to make ready the land, and the woman, for the great rain.  And, oh, what a rain it was.

The End


Sunday, July 1, 2012

From the Win by Sharon Lurie

© 2012 David's Harp and Pen

Mood: Runny

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 running clubs or athletic associations accusing me of slamming marathons and those who compete in them, because I am not.  Even if I was, the reader could easily attribute it to jealousy on my part.  The fact of the matter is, the only marathon I have successfully competed in is the “Twilight Zone” New Year’s marathon on the SyFy Channel.

Several months ago, Jedi(tor) told me he planned on running in the Nissan Saint Jude Children’s Hospital Rock ‘n Roll Country Music City of Angels Marathon and Half-marathon of God in Christ of the Latter Day Baptists with Signs and Wonders Following.  Parts of the purpose of the race were to raise money for sick children and the Japanese auto industry, and to give country musicians another venue to play music.  I asked if I could watch him run because, number one, I have a cousin who regularly runs marathons and I wanted to be able to bond with him and, number two, I wanted to cheer Jedi(tor) on as he completed this completely insane and ridiculous noble and worthwhile endeavor.  As of late, I have found that when I show support to my friends and loved ones as they do things I don’t completely understand, I am giving to myself as well as them.  The half-marathon was no exception.

Before the race, the only things I knew about marathons were they were 26.2 miles and that the first marathon runner finished dead.  I was immediately concerned for Jedi(tor)’s well being, but was assured that since he was running the half-marathon, he was only in danger of finishing the race half-dead.  Jedi(tor) is one of those incredibly athletic and rugged outdoorsy types who can conquer any sports-related task he sets his mind to.  This is because he is very determined and also because he is an alien, having crash-landed on Earth as a baby after his parents sent him here in a space ship shortly before his home planet Krypton exploded; of course, his Jedi powers also help, but mostly it’s the super powers.  (This also explains why he can type 800 words a minute and lift semis with his pinky toes.)  Any who, he told me about his training regimen, which, surprise, surprise, involved a lot of running.  While on the surface, all of this seemed crazy to me, to be honest, I was envious of his discipline and his focus to run so many times a week without fail.  I secretly hoped that by watching a race live, some of that discipline and focus for physical excellence might rub off on me.

I agreed to meet Jedi(tor) at two different points on the racecourse as well as the finish line.  Part of my job as a marathon runner cheerer-on-er was to hand him a packet of GU as he ran by.  Because this was my first venture as a marathon spectator, I wanted to do a good job to ensure it wouldn’t be my only venture as a marathon spectator.  Upon my arrival, I quickly discovered I had much to learn about what it means to cheer one’s runner to victory.  The people around me had all sorts of stuff:  custom-made tee shirts that said, “Team So-and-So” (whatever the name of their runner was), pom-poms, water bottles, and even cowbells with pictures of their runners on them.  Me?  I had GU and a snake backpack.

Anticipation mounted as the first wave of runners passed by.  What a cast of characters they all were, too!  Some of them were extremely focused, not looking to the right or the left, gazes steely, engrossed in the race.  Others hammed it up for the spectators, flexing their muscles or gesticulating to the crowd to get them to cheer louder.  Still others were decked out in fanciful costumes.  Some ran the race in three-piece suits.  Some were dressed in drag.  One man dressed up in what I can only describe as Jack from Jack in the Box after some ritualistic animal sacrifice.  Then there was the runner dressed up as a superhero.  What can I say?  I am a geeky fan girl to the core and am a sucker for a man with heat ray eyes, a utility belt, and a cape.

I’m happy to report I didn’t miss Jedi(tor) at the first two appointments.  I handed off the GU at the first one without incident.  At no point during or after the race did I see him stumble or break a sweat.  One might say I am exaggerating, but I am not.  After all, he is a Kryptonian transplant who derives superpowers from the Earth’s yellow sun.  In fact, one of the pictures of him on the racecourse shows he is completely airborne.

As I waited for him to pass by at our second agreed upon spot on the course, I stood in the shoulder of the road.  To my delight, several of the runners, all men and all gorgeous, ran up to me and high-fived me as they ran by.  Unfortunately, all of them were running so fast that I couldn’t catch up with them in order to give them my phone number.  If any of them are reading this now, my name is Sharon Lurie, I am single, I have a wonderful personality, and I am on Facebook and Twitter.

Unfortunately, I missed the experience of watching Jedi(tor) cross the finish line, thanks to a Nashville police officer who will at some point in the future be receiving a strongly worded anonymous email sent by me from a bogus Yahoo account.  I did eventually find Jedi(tor) amidst a slew of beer stands.  (All the runners received a free beer after the race because the beer somehow keeps the runner from dropping dead.  This would have been helpful information for the first guy to run a marathon.)  It was a joy and a privilege to see my editor and my friend celebrate with his friends from his running club for a job well done.  And for him, it was a job well done, given that he finished at 3868 out of 22,277 other runners (in the top 17%).

So what did I learn?  Not much, at least not at the race itself.  Well, that’s not totally true.  I learned, first of all, when running a marathon in full costume and makeup, pay the extra couple bucks for the waterproof makeup.  Second, if running in a business suit, avoid tweed and wool and shoot for the single-breasted.  The big take home for me was a Wikipedia search that afternoon.

Many stories I hear from runners (and athletes in general) is that the race is something that symbolizes or helps them overcome emotional obstacles they are facing in life.  I hear phrases such as “running for the win.”  However, the first marathon was not so.

According to Greek legend, Pheidippides, a Greek soldier and messenger, ran 26.2 miles without stopping from the Battle of Marathon to Athens to let everyone know that the Greeks had successfully defeated the Persians.  Upon arriving at the magistrate’s office, he said, “Hail, we are the winners!”, then collapsed and died.  (NOTE TO READER:  When fighting major military battles, followed by long-distance running, always carry beer.)  I had thought Pheidippides’ trek was to warn the Greeks of an oncoming attack or get reinforcements.  That made the urgency of his journey easy to understand.  However, he wasn’t running that day to help his Greek countrymen attain victory.  He was running and was able to endure to the end because of victory.

In the church circles I run in, I hear a lot of talk about endurance in faith not because we are fighting for victory but because we have already won.  God told the Israelites under Joshua to go in and possess the Promised Land, but God said repeatedly that He had already given them victory over their enemies before a single sword was drawn.  It is hard to persevere when we don’t know what the outcome of our physical, emotional, and spiritual expenditures will be.  However, God assures us that in all things we are more than conquerors.  Victory is certain.  It’s just a matter of getting there.  In other words, we don’t run the faith race for the win but from the win.

Part of my goal in attending the marathon was to support my friend.  However, Jedi(tor) letting me watch him in the race gave me something very special:  a reminder that no matter what, I always have the view from the Winner’s Circle.

The End


Monday, May 7, 2012

Good Enough by Sharon Lurie

© 2012 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 from any neat freaks or domestic gurus who think I am somehow encouraging a slovenly lifestyle. I merely insuring that all my friends and loved ones don’t succumb to the growing onslaught of autoimmune deficiencies.

As I’ve mentioned in a few previous blogs, I am recovering from a long-term illness. In the meantime, I have been working some odd jobs to supplement my income. One of those recent jobs included cleaning some magazine racks in various stores in the area to prepare for a big inspection. As also mentioned in a few previous blogs, cleaning is not my strong suit. Whenever I am forced to clean anything, it sends me into a panic. But since this work meant some much needed money, I gritted my teeth and took the evil magazine racks to task.

The magazine racks are painted black and sit in the front of all the stores near the front doors. The problem with cleaning them was as soon as I dusted and wiped them down, the doors would open, allowing dust from the outside to blow in that would immediately cover the racks again, making them look like they’d never been cleaned in the first place. And to be honest, I don’t think some of those racks had ever been cleaned. The dust gathered at the bottom of them had long passed the point of being dust bunnies; these were full-grown dust mastodons! Given my aforementioned insecurities about cleaning, I found myself pulling my hair, weeping, and gnashing my teeth due to my inability to conquer what quickly appeared to be an impossible situation. I soon convinced myself that I would fail at my task, flunk the inspection, lose my job, and be publicly exposed on one of those reality shows about terminal slobs.

I spoke with my supervisor on the phone, voicing my frustration and apologizing in advance for what I perceived to be my failure to complete my assigned task. He told me that my best was all I could do, and not to spend too much time obsessing over it. My supervisor said the inspector was OCD and rather anal-retentive, and so there would be no pleasing him no matter how clean the racks were. After I hung up with him, I realized my insecurity about not being good enough was not confined to cleaning the racks.

There are a million reasons to not feel good enough, and what I discovered during this little venture is how “not good enough” can keep us from relationships and keep us from moving forward. I know for me personally, that feeling of not good enough keeps me from trying, because I feel if I can’t get it right the first time or plan out how to get it right the first time, I shouldn’t try at all. I get so worked up about trying to get to the finished product, such as perfectly spotless magazine racks, that I forget in order to reach that goal, I must first allow myself to be a work in progress. Not good enough also keeps me isolated from the healing I can find in community because I think if my faults and shortcomings are so irksome to me, they must be really annoying to those around me. Some things take a long time. Mastering all the ins and outs of keeping a home, being a good leader, writing effectively, whatever it may be, take time. Also, in the case of the magazine racks, there are some things in life that will never be fully resolved or overcome this side of Heaven. Part of growing in maturity and learning to be really fruitful is being able to recognize the things I can change and improve on and those things that are truly out of my control.

In recent months, I have seen how much the feeling of not good enough has kept me back. It’s crippled me in my writing, keeping me from putting pen to paper; because I don’t feel what I have to say is slick or spiritual enough. It’s crippled me in the Boaz department, because I’ve purposely run away from some really great guys for fear I just didn’t measure up. It’s held me back in the fellowship department because, for fear that my cooking, cleaning, and entertaining skills were lacking, I have been afraid to invite people into my house.

This insecurity isn’t totally unfounded. It usually isn’t for those of us that struggle with it on a regular basis. I’ve had to live with those insatiable, germaphobic neat freaks who found dirt, and fault, in everything. I have also dated or been friends with those guys who, no matter what food I put before them, found something to complain about it, such as I served the wrong bread or drink with the meal, or I didn’t cook such-and-such the right way. However, past criticism can’t be an excuse to remain bound to present insecurity. I have to make the choice to shut out that unfounded criticism and chronically critical people.

Back in November, I decided to throw fear to curb and caution to the wind and invite two of my single guy friends over for a home-cooked meal. I spent most of the time they were here trying to shut off my x-ray vision, which was seeking out and cataloging every speck of dust and strand of dog hair in my apartment. Towards the end of the evening, it dawned on me that my insecurity about the condition of my home and the state of my cooking was keeping me from simply enjoying their company (and they are both fabulous company). As it turned out, neither of them got food poisoning, and even though they didn’t say much about the food, I think I can safely assume they liked it because, a.) they still talk to me, b.) they still come over, and c.) they still eat whatever I set before them.

In January, confident from the success of cooking for my man pals, I invited two of my pastors and their spouses over for dinner. I ran terribly behind in my preparations due to the fact that my dog Bruno gave himself and, subsequently, my floors and furniture, a mud bath. I had to change my menu at the last minute because of limited grocery shopping and cooking time. One of my pastors has Celiac’s Disease, so I had the added challenge of cooking my first gluten free meal. As the time of their arrival approached, I grew more nervous as I observed my mismatched place settings, the teeth marks in the handles of my silverware from when Bruno had gnawed on them, and countless other little things that sent me the message I was the world’s worst hostess. Upon their arrival, I was prepared for criticism at my lack of ambiance and domesticity. (Not that any of my pastors would say this to me, nor have they in the past. Again, it’s that inner monologue.) When they got here, though, they had nothing but praise and admiration for the meal I had prepared and the fact that I did it without a stove and full-sized oven (all I have is counter top, over-sized toaster oven with two electric burners). The night was a bunch of fun, and one of my pastors started to nod off in my chair. This may sound silly, but someone being comfortable enough in my home to fall asleep is the highest compliment. When the meal was over, they even helped me do the dishes!

I learned some huge lessons that night, and through the whole magazine rack odyssey. First of all, sometimes it’s okay to let good enough be good enough. Until I get to Heaven, I will always be a work in progress, with room for improvement. Maybe it’s better said that it’s okay to just be “good enough for now.” With God’s help, I can and will improve. Secondly, God, as well as my friends, don’t love me for what I do. They don’t share life with me because of how well I cook or clean or because I have a swinging, happening and hip bachelorette pad. My station in life, my domestic skills, etc., can improve or worsen. However, I am loved for the things about me that cannot change.

C.S. Lewis said, “God doesn’t love us because we are good. He makes us good because He loves us.” Paul said in Titus 3, “But when the goodness and loving-kindness of God our Savior to man [as man] appeared, He saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but because of His own pity and mercy, by [the] cleansing [bath] of the new birth (regeneration) and renewing of the Holy Spirit.” Not good enough cripples me from all that is life giving and lovely. The only way to keep that insecurity at bay is to be mindful of the mercy bestowed on me by the One Who is good enough for all of us.

The End


Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Promissory by Sharon Lurie

© 2012 David's Harp and Pen

Mood: Passionate

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 theologians accusing me of heresy or Christian counselors and dating websites claiming I am advocating a new alternative lifestyle. In many ways, a dog is better than a husband in that a dog is less expensive and much easier to housebreak.

I get asked romantic advice a lot, and I don’t know why. I have only had three boyfriends, and the longest relationship I ever had lasted five months. And did I mention my last relationship ended in 1996? There’s also the embarrassing, yet well known fact that I can’t even talk to a man I find the least bit attractive without hyper-ventilating and breaking out in hives. Maybe I am like Jane Austen in some ways. She wrote all these great love stories and was sought after for relationship wisdom, yet she never married or had any real romance of her own. Of course, there could be other things that draw people to me when they need help with love. I am a critical thinker and help people think outside the box. Also, I have never had any messy divorces that have involved Dog the Bounty Hunter trying to locate an ex, nor have I ever been on Maury or Jerry Springer for any of the paternity episodes. Whatever the reasons, it seems of late I have been asked more than my fair share of relationship questions, and almost all of them have been from those who are unhappily single. A lot of the questions have been asked out of a place of brokenness, frustration, and shame. A lot of the people I talk to who are unhappily single are embarrassed to feel what they feel and they think no one understands what they’re going through. So, for every single and miserable person reading this, let me be your voice for the next few pages.

As I said before, my last boyfriend and I broke up the day after Christmas of 1996. Until about two years ago, I had gone about ten years without being interested in anyone. For the most part, I don’t mind being alone. There are several reasons why. First of all, I am an introvert, and so I need lots of alone time to recharge my batteries. I have never seen solitude as punishment. Next, I’ve not seen a lot of great relationships modeled for me, and so for a long time I simply believed romance was more trouble than it was worth. Lastly, I know all too well the danger of the “grass is always greener” mentality. For all the single friends I have who bemoan being single, I have a bunch of married friends who miss the freedom and smaller number of responsibilities that come with singleness. So, I see the importance of learning to be content in whatever circumstance I find myself in, because even the ones that seem more appealing have their own set of challenges. There are certain moments, however, when I crave Boaz (the name I use when I pray for my future husband) more than others, and those moments come when I am going through trials.

There is something about being in the thick of adversity, whether it is some challenge or loss or spiritual warfare that makes me long for that companionship something fierce. I used to feel guilty that I wanted Boaz more when things were going badly, because I felt it was selfish, as if I only wanted him around because I couldn’t handle the stress of the difficulties I faced on my own. As I gave it more thought and prayer, however, I realized that wasn’t the case. It’s fairer to say that tests and tribulations force me to come face to face with my shortcomings and faults. Trouble makes me realize that there’s more to life than just me, because the little world I build for myself can come crashing down without the slightest warning. Adversity reminds me that I am not complete in and of myself, and that true fulfillment can only come from finding my identity in something or someone greater than myself.

I have felt a sense of incompleteness in the past two years for many reasons. I have faced a lot of financial and health-related challenges. I saw some friendships go bust. God had me do a lot of spiritual housecleaning, and it was painful to look at myself so candidly. I lost a lot of people I cared about, including my mom. Thankfully, I wasn’t alone when I got the news of her death, and I had a strong shoulder to cry on that evening. However, it was a different story when I went home to New Jersey. Before her funeral, the funeral director opened her casket and let the family members have alone time with her. (Why people like alone time with a corpse, I have no idea.) Now, not only am I okay with solitude, I’m okay if there are long stretches without physical affection. I only scored a 1 in that category on the love language quiz. Yet that’s not the case when I’m going through something hard. Being there staring at my mom’s casket made me want Boaz and want to feel him close to me like I have never felt before. So what did I do? I asked the young, very sweet, and extremely cut assistant funeral director if I could hold his hand and put my head on his shoulder during the “alone time.” At first I felt very foolish and forward to make such a request of a stranger, but then I thought that hey, he’s getting over nine grand out of the deal; a little sympathy spoon is the least he could do. So, all that to say I understand a bit how one can come to feel so desperately alone that the loneliness is almost tangible.

So what do we do with this loneliness and feeling that we are somehow incomplete? Let’s be honest when we say the world and the Church often make us feel worse about it. The world’s view on singleness is obvious: it sucks, and so we should try to find whomever we can as fast as we can. Our Christian friends’ views run to all kinds of extremes. There are the ones who love to say how it’s not good for man to live alone, and so finding a spouse is considered a sacrament, right below getting saved, baptized, and taking communion. Then there’s the other extreme that says it’s better not to marry, Jesus is our Bridegroom, the world is going to hell in a hand basket so wanting a spouse should be at the bottom of our list of priorities. For those of us who don’t prescribe to the latter or believe that we’re called to lifelong singleness, we are bombarded with a lot of unsolicited advice as to how to get a husband. Just the other day, I saw a quote from a relationship book by a Christian author, and she said that women need to be “mysterious, peaceful, and captivating.” What in the blue blazes is that supposed to mean, anyway? Can the author possibly be more vague? By mysterious, does she mean when I’m out with a guy, I should obsessively look at my cell phone every five seconds and gasp, and then when the man asks me what’s wrong, bat my eyelashes and sigh, “Well, I could tell you, but then I’d have to kill you”?

What’s worse is the comments we get about why we’ve reached such-and-such age and are still single. I am 37, and I have been told every reason in the book as to why I am not married: I’m too fat, I talk too much, I don’t talk enough, I don’t have pierced ears, I am too passive, I am too aggressive, I have a bizarre sense of humor, I am too goofy, I am too serious, I am not spiritual enough, I am too high-minded, I have impossible standards in men, I share too much, I am too closed off, and my all-time favorite, I don’t carry a sensible purse. All these messages can be summed up like this: “You’re still single because you’re lacking in some form or fashion.”

Boys are starting to notice me, and I’m sorry to say that all this male attention has caused some embarrassing insecurity to come to the surface. I have made it a point to not be that girl who looks for a guy simply because she is on the take. I want to be that girl is first focused on the kind of wife she should be and what she can offer a Boaz. Therein lay my problem. Not just mine, but also something most of us single people have thought about but been afraid to admit: we don’t feel like we have anything to offer. Last week, I was driving around town thinking about the guys who had asked me out recently, about a drive-by, hit-and-run marriage proposal that I turned down, and how it seems that the ones we like are never the ones that love us back. I had a lot of those messages in my head of how I could get Boaz to fall in love with me if I only ________________________________. Then out of the clear blue, God said to me, “Sharon, there’s nothing you can do to make Boaz love you.”

I began to cry and protested back, “What do you mean, God? If there’s nothing I can do, what hope do I have?”

God repeated, “Sharon, there’s nothing you can do to make Boaz love you. If you have to earn his love, it is then conditional and ceases to be love. You can’t make Boaz love you any more than you can make me love you. It is a free gift.”

Sometimes, we have the tendency to think that our salvation is a free gift, but everything else is a salary that has to be earned. We strive and perform and jump through flaming hoops of fire to impress God enough to give us something we really want, forgetting that it’s up to him to do all the hard stuff. That’s not to say that we don’t do certain things, or that we don’t work on our character, but our motivation to do all those things should be in response to and acceptance of God’s extravagant love for and blessings to us, not in order to earn His love and blessings. For those of us that long for a Boaz, it isn’t a matter of working and doing to get a mate as much as accepting that we have a loving father who will give us what and who is best for us, and do it in his perfect timing.

So, if we’re still single because it’s not God’s timing yet, and not because we’re really messing up, what do we do in the meantime? How do we bide the time while we wait for Boaz’s appearance? There are some of us who are doing all we can in the waiting. We are studying God’s word, serving our fellow man, giving sacrificially, and everything else we’re told to do. Some of you that I talk to say the loneliness kills you sometimes, and you’re trying to be good while you wait, but you don’t think anyone, including God, understands. To you, I will say what my pastor says all the time: don’t make the Bible the unreal book. Every page contains a story of comfort and edification and provision for whatever situation we face. For those in that season of loneliness, I present the Biblical account of Isaac.

Genesis 24 tells the story of how Abraham sent his servant Eliezer to Haran to find a wife for his son Isaac. Sarah, Isaac’s mother, had recently died, and I bet anything that Abraham didn’t want Isaac to succumb to the temptation to settle for a pagan Canaanite girl just because he was lonely and grief-stricken. I don’t know if Abraham told Isaac what he was doing. Isaac was 37 when his mom died. Just like me. Most of us know how the story continues, that Eliezer found Rebekah, who agreed to go back to Canaan and marry Isaac. The text says that Isaac was praying in the open country at night when he looked up and saw Rebekah approaching. I wonder if he had the same anxious evening prayer sessions that we do. I wonder if he knew that the answer to his prayer was so close. Rebekah didn’t come on the scene until Isaac was 40. Was he also in panic mode? Did he wonder if maybe he wasn’t lovable because of his background, or his standing in life, or any of the things we think disqualify us from finding that one person to share our lives with? I wonder if his prayer that night went something like this:

“God, it’s me again. Work’s done for the day. I tended the fields and fed the animals and kept the evil Philistines at bay—again. Nothing new to report. Just continuing to be the good Jewish boy and dutiful son, like you want me to be. I don’t mean to be a pest, but 40 is creeping up on me, and I was wondering, just in case you forgot, if you could maybe put a rush on the wife? I mean, it’ll be really hard for me to become the father of many nations without one. Not that I’m trying to question you or your timing or anything like that. It’s just I’m really lonely. It’s not the same since Mom died. And I know Dad won’t be here forever. Sometimes I just really wish I had someone to go through life with, you know? Oh, whom am I kidding? Maybe it’s not you holding up the program. Maybe it’s me. Maybe I’m too picky. Maybe I really can’t do any better than a Canaanite girl. Look at me! I’m almost 40; I really don’t have anything of my own. I mean, it’s all Dad’s. And speaking of Dad and Mom, not that I don’t love them dearly, but what’s gonna happen when the right girl comes along and I try to explain to her the craziness that is my family? ‘Oh, yeah, my parents. Well, you should know that my mom is also my aunt. Well, half-aunt. See, my parents had different moms but the same dad. Siblings? Ah, yeah, I have this half-brother who’s 13 years older than me, but we don’t see him any more, and I’m not even really supposed to talk about him. I mean really now, why would Mom and Dad, or anyone else, for that matter, think that having a kid with your wife’s housekeeper would ever be a good idea? Just ask the last governor of California!’ Sorry, God. Now I’m just rambling. Anyway, you know what I mean, because it’s the same thing I asked for last night, and the night before, and every night since Mom died. Not that I think you’ve forgotten, but in case you have, the desire of my heart is still the same. Thanks for listening. Again. Amen.”

Recently, I had an anxious single moment, not unlike the one I am sure Isaac experienced. I’ve tried very hard to pour myself into God and into other people, but some days the hole feels like a black hole. I asked God to give me some kind of hope, something I could put my hands on to show me that all these years of waiting, saving myself, and working to improve myself weren’t for nothing. I didn’t realize that the promise of Boaz wasn’t any further away than the four-legged, fur-bearing Boaz curled up at my feet.

I have a dog named Bruno. He is large and friendly and affectionate and over-bearing. He is the first dog I have had as an adult. Someone asked me how he got the name Bruno. I asked the woman who had owned him before I did, since he came to me with that name. I was told her grandfather had bought her grandmother a large German shepherd and named him Bruno. Her grandfather had to go to Europe to fight in World War II, and so he got his beloved the dog to keep her grandmother company and protect her until he came back. As I reflected on the story, I looked at my Bruno, and God said to me, “Sharon, I’ve given you Bruno as a sign of my promise, and he will keep you company until Boaz comes for you.”

In John 14, Jesus tells his disciples he is going away, but he will send the comforter in his place. I don’t want to say anything theologically incorrect here, because I believe in the Trinity and that each part of the Godhead is indeed fully God. However, I don’t think that the Holy Spirit was ever meant to the take the place of having Jesus Christ in the flesh with us. What I mean is that even though the Holy Spirit is fully God, his presence in us was never meant to squelch the longing for the physical presence of and fellowship with Jesus that we will have in the world to come. Just as me having Bruno could never be quite like having Boaz here in the flesh by my side and being able to commune with him on that deepest soul level. However, just as Jesus didn’t up and leave the disciples to fend for themselves, neither does God in our singleness.

Today was another day I needed to be reminded that God hadn’t forgotten me in the Boaz department, even though in the last few weeks I have had to contend with Boaz’s evil twin brother, Bozo. I went to my mailbox, and there was a package from my aunt. I opened it to find a beautiful wedding veil. She didn’t include a note or anything. My guess is it was my mom’s wedding veil. As far as I was concerned, it was sent straight from God, to say once again, “Don’t worry. Boaz is on the way.” God gives us the comfort of his Holy Spirit, and he will give us little pick me ups here and there as we serve and love to comfort us and remind us we’re not totally alone, we’re not unloved, and we are not forgotten.

The End