Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Putting My Shoes Back On

Today, I put my shoes back on.  Alert the media.  I had not had them on my feet in a few days.  Instead I have been schlepping around in bedroom slippers, or fuzzy socks, or plain old bare feet.

Why?  Or more to the point, who cares?

Point taken.  The thing is, I have been sick.  That awful pestilence - no, not Ebola or the bubonic plague, although it felt like it - but rather the common stomach flu.  You know, the kind where first you are afraid you are going to die, and then you are afraid you might not.  That kind.

However, I am now recovered, and I know this not because the fever and chills are gone, nor because the Advil has been stowed away. No, I am sure I am well because I felt good enough to put on my shoes and do something.  Anything.  Anything other than lying around feeling icky.

When your feet are well-shod you can do just about anything.  Ask the Apostle Paul, he knew.  He wrote about it in Ephesians when he told us to put on the armor of God.

"... and having your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace..."

When you have good feet and the proper foot wear almost anything is do-able.  Some people have problems getting their shoes on, though.  My mother had a thing called a hammertoe.  It was awful. That thing was so bad that she could be heading north and her toe would be pointing east.  She limped badly because of it.

There are also some common "spiritual foot ailments" that can cause our feet to be poorly prepared to spread the good news of peace.

Corns of criticism - Oh, maaaan, these little things can hurt, and yet they are originally caused by friction on the toe - constant rubbing the wrong way.  About the only treatment, for feet that want to be prepared for peace is to refuse to criticize others, and refuse to allow other's criticism of us to 'rub us the wrong way."

Bunions of bitterness - Pointy-toed shoes are often the culprit here.  Pointy at this one who "done us wrong" - or pointy at that one, who "just didn't understand" - etc.  Bunions are no joke, they can be so crippling that they require surgery.  Bitterness is just as seriously injurious to our spiritual walk.

Hammertoe of hatefulness - James tells us that we "bite and devour one another" and end up hating one another because we want what we don't have.  Hard to spread peace when we are limping with resentment.

Fallen arches of failure - Otherwise known as having "flat feet" - the military is well-known for refusing to allow people to serve if they have flat feet.  Fallen arches - guilt, remorse, depression over past failure is not from the Prince of Peace.
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Personally, I am soooo thankful to be up and around again that even my old black Reeboks look pretty good to me. Hoping to spread a little peace today.  Hope you have avoided any of the dread foot conditions mentioned above and that you have a peaceful day, too.  Until next time ~ Marsha

Saturday, May 16, 2015

A Thought That Festers

While recently watching a re-run of a West Wing episode, I was struck by a comment, meant humorously in the setting of the story, made by the character of the president. Someone made a mildly critical comment to him, and the president wryly replied:

"Now there's a thought that is going to fester."

In that setting, it was funny; but it started me thinking about the times I have allowed a thought to fester.  That word itself is a little odd and old-fashioned.  You just don't hear it used very often these days, mostly I would guess, because few things actually "fester" today as they once did. 

To fester:  to generate pus, suppurate, to infect, decay, rot, to irritate and inflame, to corrupt.

Well, That's pretty clear.  Allowing something to fester is never a good thing.  Fortunately, with modern topical antibiotic ointments, for minor cuts and burns, and powerful intravenous antibiotics, for major infections, we now rarely see a bodily wound actually fester.  Thankfully.

Unfortunately, being the wayward humans that we are, we have made far less progress in the area of spiritual infections, than we have those which are physical.

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You are such a goody-two shoes!  (That one festered for quite awhile. Although it was tossed at me in the high school cafeteria, many ages ago, simply because I dared to speak up for someone who was not part of the "in" crowd, it continued to irritate me for years.)

You really do carry those extra pounds pretty gracefully.  (Uttered with a smirk by someone who was lean as a greyhound. That rankled for a bit.)

You have let me down. (Now that one, not only devastated me at the time, it has haunted me since.)

We each have a recollection of some such verbal barbs that have been thrown our way, like poison-tipped darts, and instead of immediately flushing out the poison, cleansing the wound, and dealing with the hurt, we have often chosen to let the thought fester.

And it is not just the words others have sent our way, it is also the thoughts we have had toward others, that may fester within our hearts.  Jeremiah wrote, "The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked."  Or to put it in more modern vernacular, we can "get a good mad on" over almost any little thing that hits us wrong.

We see someone glance away as we approach to speak with them, and then watch as they engage in cheerful conversation with someone else.  As we feel our ego deflate, we edge back in another direction, so that it will not be quite so obvious that we have just been snubbed.

The rest of the day, whenever the incident comes to mind, we simmer, just a little.  Oh, well, who cares?  It is not as if we are really that close. But we simmer, and the thought festers.

The next morning, over coffee, we think about making a quick phone call, just to check in; but then we remember that other glance, and think, maybe this person would rather not talk to us either.  So we put the phone down, without making the call.  And now the thought begins to heat up, inflame, not just simmer.

Perhaps when we next see the offender (for that is how we now think of them) we make sure we make eye contact, and then we deliberately turn away before they can approach us to say "hello", as we are making a point.  I don't need you. And there we are.

How to reach "fester" in three easy steps.  Interpret (or mis-interpret) someone's actions.  Think about it negatively several times over a period of time.  Actively (or passively) retaliate at the next opportunity.  Festering in full blossom.  Except the blossom stinks.  Putrid.  Remember, to fester is to produce pus, the dictionary tells us.  Putrefaction.  Yuck.

How did we get here?

Hebrews (12:15) tells us that we should be "looking diligently" (KJV) or in the NIV it says, 

See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.

Or as the Message version puts it:

Keep a sharp eye out for weeds of bitter discontent.  A thistle or two gone to seed can ruin a whole garden in no time.
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We have all known bitter people, those who spend their irritable days and their discontented nights dwelling on those who got the breaks, those whose children are well and strong, those who make a lot of money, those who .... whatever it is that they secretly are roiling about.  And those thoughts have festered to the point that even those who care about them find it difficult to spend much time in their company.

A thought that is going to fester.  We all encounter them from time to time.  Whatever it is, I urge you, don't let it.  Whatever we allow to fester in our hearts, will eventually kill ...  not the thing or the person we resent, but us.  Festered wounds can kill the body.  Festered thoughts can kill the spirit.  

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Regarding negative or evil thoughts, Martin Luther famously said:
I cannot keep the birds of the air from flying over my head; but I can keep them from building a nest in my hair.

Hope nothing is bothering you today, much less festering.  Meanwhile, I'm checking my own head for any unwanted nests that may be lurking up there.  Until next time, your not-so-fine-feathered friend ~ Marsha

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

A Poignant Example of Faithfulness

She and her grown son slipped quietly into the pew two rows in front of me.  The service had just begun and the first song was already underway as she joined in,  and she did not glance to the right or the left.  But especially not to the right.

I had caught a brief glimpse of her face as she arrived and her expression was one that is hard to describe; calmness, shadowed by sadness, yet determined - and yes, I could see a hopeful obedience in her countenance.

She had no idea what a witness she was to me in that moment.  Not because of something she said, for she did not speak.  Not for something she sang, as I could not distinguish her voice among all the others.  Nevertheless, she was to me, on that morning two weeks ago, a profound witness to the faithfulness of God to his people and of his people to one another.

Just a few days earlier she had arrived home from a quick trip downtown to do some shopping.  I am told that she walked into the living room and found her husband of many years lying on the floor.  He was already gone and he was only fifty-nine years old.

Now, here she was, sitting in her regular pew.  But she did not look to the right.

On the platform, to her right, stood a young man of perhaps thirty playing the bass guitar, along with the other musicians in the worship band.  He must have known where he was standing, as he kept his eyes downcast and never looked out at the congregation that morning.

For many years her husband had stood in that very spot - he was the bass guitarist.  I cannot imagine how hard it must have been for her to see another standing there.  Or how hard it was for him to stand there; but there he was, doing his part, quietly, reverently.

And there she was, doing her part.  Showing up.  Despite the sudden shock of terrible loss, despite the newness of widowhood, despite the fact that another stood in her loved one's place now.  There she was - still showing up.

And as that young man played, she sang with us these words:

                      Until He returns, or calls me home,
                      Here I stand in the power of Christ.
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Will I?  Will you?  When sudden loss, or heartache comes, will we "stand in the power of Christ" until He comes or calls us home?  Will we carry on, faithfully, doing what we know to do, until then?

That is my determination.  May we allow God to give us the grace to carry on, for not only our own sake, but for the sake of those who may be watching our example.  Your faith, and your example of living it out in the real world, matters more than you know ... to someone who is watching.
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God bless you today as you carry on.  Your fellow traveler ~ Marsha

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Hissy-Fits and High Drama

In my last post I mentioned that I would tell you more about my experience with the rules for visiting the White House.  One would rightly assume that they are pretty straightforward and non-negotiable.

That fact alone made what happened right before our very eyes so unbelievable.

We received a set (as in several typewritten pages) of emailed pre-visit instructions.  These were very detailed.  They covered things such as:
  • where to park if you were driving in, 
  • where the nearest Metro station was, if you were taking a train into the area,
  • how long you might expect to wait to enter once you were there, etc.
The guidelines were not just detailed, they were granular in their specificity.  Just to further assure that there would be no misunderstandings, a few of the instructions were bolded and underlined. For example:
  • Bring current photo identification.  
  • No overcoats.  Suit or sports coat, permitted.
  • No hats.  
  • No purses, bags, totes or wallets. 
  • No cameras.  
  • No backpacks.
  • No weapons, registered or otherwise.  
  • Be prepared to be frisked and go through metal detector. (I'm paraphrasing here.)
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I honestly do not know what more they could have done to make clear what was required to have a successful visit.

Imagine our curiosity then, when the following day, we found ourselves in line behind a husband, wife, and two teenage children with the mother carrying a large tote-type leather bag, in addition to a smaller purse.

K. and I looked at each other as we inched slowly forward, and gave each other a look which said, "This should be interesting." One portion of the instructions which had been bolded and underlined was No purses, bags, totes, or wallets. 

The lady in question breezed right up to the table whereupon a security officer - very politely - said to her, "Maam, you cannot take those items into the White House."

She looked at him, only slightly puzzled, and simply shrugged off his comments and proceeded to lay her tote bag and purse on the table, as she moved toward the walk-through metal detector.

Quietly, but deliberately, a second security officer stepped in front of the metal detector before she could step through, his hands clasped loosely behind his back in an "at ease" posture.

She turned to the first officer, who was still behind the table facing her, and said testily, "Is there a problem?"

"Yes, maam, there seems to be.  You cannot take a purse or any other kind of bag into the White House.  The instructions we sent to you made that clear."

"Then I will leave them here and come back and get them after the tour."

He explained that was not allowed, due to the one-way nature of the tour; no loop-around back was allowed for security reasons.

Now quite testily, she responded, "But that is my purse. And you are telling me that I cannot take it with me and I cannot leave it here.  What do you expect me to do with it?"

Now it was his problem?  And she fully expected him to either make an exception for her, or provide some other solution.

He continued to reply calmly, politely, but firmly as she became increasingly irate. Now her voice was raised, her demeanor not entirely ladylike, and we could see her husband and children getting impatient.

Clearly they had seen this show before and they knew how it usually ended.  Mom threw a hissy-fit, someone made some kind of adjustment or accommodation, she got her way and they all went on with their day.

However, this time, it was not happening.

No matter how many times the officer told her she could not take the belongings into the residence, she continued to act like he was speaking to her in Mandarin. Finally, she nearly shrieked at him, "How am I supposed to take this tour, if I cannot take my purse and bag with me and I cannot leave them here?"

Enough was enough.  I imagine that there is either, a) a time limit, or b) a set number of times through the denial loop, after which the officer goes to Plan B.

"You don't understand, maam.  You will not be taking the White House tour today.  Please step aside and allow the people behind you to move forward."

She spluttered, she huffed and she puffed, but as two additional officers, with side arms in full view, began to move toward her, she grabbed her bags off the table, sharply bid her family to follow, and stomped off.
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This living example of people who think the rules are for "other people" has really stuck with me.  It was not just her arrogance or her complete lack of consideration for either the officers or those in line behind her, it was the fact that she obviously believed she was entitled to special treatment.  It really was all about her.

Sadly, her self-centered attitude meant that her entire family missed out on a wonderful experience that day.  I doubt I will ever get to tour the White House again. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
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I cannot help but ask myself, however, what may I have missed out on, simply because I was too self-involved to pay attention to what was right in front of me?  Probably more than I will ever realize or would care to admit if I did know.  How about you?
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Dear Lord, deliver me from hissy-fits and high drama.  Hope you do not witness any such thing today and I'll do my best not to demonstrate  one.  Until next time, Marsha