Books to Read and Places to Digest Them

Ah, the book club….such a complicated social organism. It should be clique of folks like you who just love to read and discuss books. However, more often than not, it becomes an exercise in frustration as books no one likes are selected, venues don’t satisfy, and personality clashes make true lexicographical bliss impossible. I’m not saying that a perfect book club is impossible—only improbable. After all, reading is a fairly solitary exercise, one that doesn’t require a +1 to be enjoyable.

However, the lovely folks at The Broke and the Bookish want us to pick our top ten book club reads for this week’s meme. Therefore, if I was the benevolent dictator of a book club and decided everything from the monthly selection to the location and the food/beverages consumed, I would select the following pairings of book and meeting locale…

1. The Universal Baseball Association, Inc., J. Henry Waugh, Prop. by Robert Coover—I would suggest meeting up in deli for this one, as the protagonist spends a lot of time in one when he isn’t gaming the night away. It might also be fun to meet in a place where people are playing tabletop games involving dice to experience the sounds of triumph and tragedy that come with any game of chance.

2. Scimitar Moon by Chris A. Jackson—I know I recommended this one as a bonus pick last week because of the hunky leading man, but it bears mentioning just how good this book is again. It is a fun read that people can really dig into. I’d think this one might pair nicely with a pub that serves fish and chips and good, dark draft beer. Yeah, that would be a boffo meeting space…as would a coffee house (as “blackbrew” is consumed in mass quantities in this novel). Also, there is a ton of nautical knowledge that gets dropped on you when you read this book, so anywhere near the sea or near sailing ships would make for a perfect backdrop.

3. The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh—I saw this one recently on Bookmovement.com and liked the look of it. I was fascinated by the idea of coded messages in flowers, which was commonly done during the Victorian Era. You couldn’t simply explain your emotions in a letter or even in person when everything from the words you wrote to your body language could damage your social standing. This would be a lovely book to discuss over tea at a public park or garden!

4. Devil at My Heels: A Heroic Olympian’s Astonishing Story of Survival as a Japanese POW in WWII by Louis Zamperini—I believe In Touch Ministries did a feature on this gentleman late last year, and I was intrigued by his story. An Olympic athlete turned bombardier, he was brought down over the Pacific, floated in a life raft for 37 days, and was eventually captured by the Japanese and made a prisoner of war for over two years. Years afterwards, he experienced salvation and the grace of Jesus Christ. He, in turn, returned to Japan, forgave his tormentors, and began preaching the gospel there. Pretty amazing stuff. Some place serving authentic Filipino or Chinese food would be perfect.

5. The Amazing Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart—I have yet to read this one, but it was recommended for folks who enjoyed The Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket. It also seems to have garnered good reviews for delving into more serious issues such as abandonment, family, loyalty, and facing one’s fears. I don’t know what kind of venue would be fun for this one. However, I do know that I wouldn’t tell anyone where it was. I would give them a series of clues and let them solve the puzzle in order to find the feast! 🙂

6. The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss—This is another one I haven’t read, a fact for which many of my wordy nerdy friends have severely chastened me. It’s next on my reading this. Listen to the book’s synopsis: “This is the riveting first-person narrative of Kvothe, a young man who grows to be one of the most notorious magicians his world has ever seen. From his childhood in a troupe of traveling players, to years spent as a near-feral orphan in a crime-riddled city, to his daringly brazen yet successful bid to enter a legendary school of magic, The Name of the Wind is a masterpiece that transports readers into the body and mind of a wizard.” How can that NOT be a fantastic read, especially for fantasy-minded folk? Definitely an pub of sorts for this one because that’s where Kvothe lives–preferably one with low lighting and tankards of ale.

7. Cinder by Marissa Meyer—I’ve seen ads for this one all over GoodReads and various Internet booksellers, and I’m just interested enough in to give it a shot. Think fairy tale princess meets the Terminator for this one. In this sci-fi re-imagining of Cinderella, the protagonist is a cyborg and a gifted mechanic who can help rescue Earth from an evil queen of sorts. It’s just bizarre enough to temp me. I’m thinking a restaurant with a really gritty urban motif would be perfect. Either that or a place near a shoe store…

8. Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President by Candice Millard—I’m a casual history buff. I like certain areas better than others and sort of graze my way through the decades and centuries with a lacadazical approach that likely makes real historians cringe. One area I’ve never been overly zealous about is the Civil War. However, this book might make me change my tune. Apparently, James A. Garfield was a pretty boss president, one I’m embarrassed to say I don’t know much about. His assassination was one of the unrecognized tragedies of American history, and I think it would be fun to read and re-think what we know about our country with this book as the primary text. According to this website, which lists the favorite foods of American Presidents (I’m not lying. Click the link!), Garfield was fond of squirrel soup, extra fluffy mashed potatoes, and breads. I think a bread and cheese meal would be divine, Mr. President. You can have all the soup. *Ick*

9. Night of the Avenging Blowfish: A Novel of Covert Operations, Love, and Luncheon Meat by John Welter—I read this one in college and was once kicked out of the library because it had me laughing so loudly I was disturbing other people. It’s a bizarre little book involving unrequited love, politics, secret baseball games, and processed meats like Spam. Guess what the menu should include anything of “low culinary esteem.” I’m thinking some recipes from the Spam Jam would be worth trying!

10. A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan—Yet another book I haven’t read, but this one has as many glowing reviews as I do useless bits of knowledge. It’s drenched in music references and rich characterization. I’d like to discuss this one in a corner bar/cafe like Eddie’s Attic where live music fills the room as fully as the smells coming from the kitchen. It’s a risky read for me as I don’t like to dwell on the overly maudlin much, but this one looks intriguing enough to put up with the extra weight.

Writing is So Much Fun That I Do It for Free

Because I’m a writing fool (who also happens to have MS), I have volunteered my services for the Georgia MS Society, which is located here in Atlanta. In fact, today I went to a training session in order to become an official peer counselor for newly diagnosed people, which will likely be a post of its own once I’ve had enough time to process everything I absorbed today.

Here is my first piece for their newsletter, a service provider spotlight for a local neurologist who is taking steps to eliminate Multiple sclerosis. If you would like to read it in a larger format, click on each page and the the + sign when it is full screen.

What a Difference 2,920 Days Make

I’m exceedingly blessed when it comes to my health. Seriously. I don’t have a single allergy. I’ve never broken a bone (despite having done many stupid things that merited one). I’ve never had acne, suffered from insomnia, or been required to have surgery.

Other than an incurable case of Multiple Sclerosis, I’m the picture of good health.

I wasn’t always so glib about my disease. Trust me on that. There was a time after my diagnosis when I didn’t speak to people so much as grunt, and I spent my days creating works of mixed media “art” (notice I use the term loosely) involving naked Barbie dolls, their chests full of dynamite, suspended by barbed wire in black boxes. I only stopped doing both due to a prolonged pleading session from my grandmother who begged me to throw it all in the trash–both my anger and my terrible attempts at visual art. Thankfully, I had the good sense to comply.

For those of you who don’t know what Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is, here’s a basic definition courtesy of PubMed Health:

Image courtesy of discovery.com

Multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune disease that affects the brain and spinal cord (central nervous system). Multiple sclerosis (MS) affects women more than men. The disorder is most commonly diagnosed between ages 20 and 40, but can be seen at any age. MS is caused by damage to the myelin sheath, the protective covering that surrounds nerve cells. When this nerve covering is damaged, nerve signals slow down or stop. The nerve damage is caused by inflammation. Inflammation occurs when the body’s own immune cells attack the nervous system. This can occur along any area of the brain, optic nerve, and spinal cord. It is unknown what exactly causes this to happen. The most common thought is that a virus or gene defect, or both, are to blame. Environmental factors may play a role. You are slightly more likely to get this condition if you have a family history of MS or live in an part of the world where MS is more common.

Symptoms vary, because the location and severity of each attack can be different. Episodes can last for days, weeks, or months. These episodes alternate with periods of reduced or no symptoms (remissions). Because nerves in any part of the brain or spinal cord may be damaged, patients with multiple sclerosis can have symptoms in many parts of the body.

Isn’t that just peachy? (If you’re interested, click on the link before the quote and look at all the symptoms. It gets better.)

Now, imagine facing that diagnosis when you’re twenty-five years old and perfectly healthy. Reading an article like this one is how I learned about my condition. The doctor who diagnosed me was brilliant, but he also had the bedside manner of a damp dishrag. He decided to come tell me about the two little letters that would change my entire life the night I was suffering from an LP-induced headache ( LP= Lumbar Puncture, also known as a Spinal Tap). His advice to me was, “Look it up on the Internet” because “there is more there than enough information online.”

Image courtesy of Bike MS

So, like any good graduate student, I searched. Each page my husband and I read was worse than the last, and we finally shut the computer and cried. What they forgot to mention was that MS is such a variable-ridden disease that the only way to confirm it is my eliminating dozens of others. Honestly, being diagnosed is a little like being a patient on House. There are different forms of MS, ranging from almost benign to severe, and there’s no telling what type you have until your second exacerbation occurs.

I didn’t hear this information until the same benevolent and wonderful grandmother put me in contact with a woman named who called herself Cookie. She had had MS for many years and told me that while the websites and doctors told me “facts,” they hadn’t told me “truths.” She told me stories about people she knew who, like her, had manageable symptoms, and were living pretty normal lives. One girlfriend of hers, she assured me, hadn’t had an exacerbation in eight years.

Image courtesy of Zazzle.com

I told myself I wouldn’t make it eight years and couldn’t even fathom living that long with my condition. The uncertainty is the most stressful thing about having MS. Believe it or not, a lesion can show up at any time. I can quite literally go to bed one night and wake up blind the next morning if the disease flares up in my visual cortex. My legs can stop working, my memory can be effected, and even my personality can be radically different. These changes are sometimes temporary, or they can be permanent—it all depends on where, when, and how long and often the disease attacks. That’s a reality for me now. Naturally, I could only see the long days in front of me, and living nearly a decade with that worry over me was more than I could stand. I saw eight years as little to celebrate.

But get this. Today–January 25, 2012–marks my eight-year anniversary of having MS.

Eight years have passed, and I’m still here.

Not only am I still alive and well, I’m living a better life than I did before my diagnosis. Yes, I’ve taken care of myself and am in better shape physically. That makes things a little easier. However, the greatest change has been the one in my relationship with God.

Before my diagnosis, I was the classic case of “Raised in Church.” I went forward during Vacation Bible School when I was a child and accepted Jesus Christ as my Savior, but no one followed up with me, no one taught me and led me to the next step. Everyone made the assumption that being from a church family meant that I knew exactly what to do. Sadly, that was not the case, and I spent most of my childhood and adult life never fully grasping what salvation was and what it meant. I thought going to church and trying to be a good person was enough.

What I had assumed was that the MS was punishment, that God had it out for me. But, in truth, it was His love for me being made manifest. He loved me too much to leave me where I was and took a drastic step to change my path. Beth Moore, a Christian writer, says that we can either bend our knees and bow before God, or He can break our legs. Either way, we’re going to get on our faces before Him and acknowledge that He is in fact the great I AM. That’s what MS was—God “breaking my legs” and telling me, If you’re going to live the kind of life I have in store for you, you are going to have to learn to depend on me for everything. You’re not ready yet.

During my recovery, I did just that. I collapsed in a heap on the floor of my parents’ bathroom and prayed. I begged God to take it away, that I wasn’t strong enough for this, and that I was terrified out of my mind. I’d like to tell you that I had a “Damascus Road Moment” and got myself straight with the Lord right there, but that’s not the case. It took many, many years for me to become spiritually mature to understand the promise of Romans 8:28-30:

And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew, He alsopredestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.

Yes. I firmly believe MS was given to me for my good. Why? Because it was what started me on the long spiritual path that would conform me to the image of His Son. I am becoming more Christlike every single day because of my disease and how it has changed me. Like Paul, I have this “thorn in the flesh,” one given to me that I might not be fooled into thinking I was self-sufficient (2 Corinthians 12:7-10). In eight years, I have learned the meaning of God’s strength being made perfect in weakness and decreasing so that He might increase (John 3:30).

God knew I would need MS, so He allowed it in my life. However, He also provided me with a supportive family, a marvelous husband who has never once wavered in his support of me, and a series of church homes, jobs, and Christian role models that prepared me for the task He’s given me. Eight years ago, I wasn’t ready to work at In Touch Ministries. I sometimes feel like I’m still not ready, but a still small voice always reminds me, “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are Mine! When you pass through the waters, I will be with you, and through the rivers, they will not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched, nor will the flame burn you” (Isaiah 43:1-2).

The first eight years I never though I’d make it through are now over, and the next chapter in my story is beginning. However, rather than dread what tomorrow brings, I look forward to it with expectation because I am guided and protected by the One who promised, “I will not fail or forsake you” (Joshua 1:5). Eight years—2,920 days— after I started this journey, I now understand, “[whosoever] the Lord loves, He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives” (Hebrews 12:6) not because He is cruel or capricious but so “He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works” (Titus 2:14). I know this sounds antithetical to the warm and fuzzy gospel so many pastors want their followers to believe, but being a true disciple of Christ does not come without some discomfort and sacrifice. Yes, I was humbled and broken, brought so low that I thought I would never rise again. However, that was allowed in my life so that I could be rebuilt on a firmer and more lasting foundation, and He who has “begun a good work in [me] will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6). If someone told me they could give me those 2,920 days back and make MS go away, I would have to decline the offer because, as Paul said, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us” (Romans 8:18).

Tomorrow, I begin working with the MS Center of Atlanta as a peer counselor. After my training, I will be one of the people they can call upon to visit those who are starting their own journeys with MS and who can share the truth as well as the facts. Yes, I get to be the “Cookie” for someone else starting tomorrow; I can look at them, say, “I understand what you’re feeling,” and truly mean it. Will it be difficult at times? Certainly, it will. However, I am but the vessel that carries Christ wherever I go. Those who see me will see Him, and I will have more than enough strength to accomplish whatever good works he has appointed for me (2 Corinthians 3:18; 9:8). Yes, I am indeed blessed when it comes to my health, and I truly do delight in my infirmities. MS might stand for “Multiple Sclerosis,” but it’s also “My Salvation.”

My MS Walk Team from 2010!!

Men I’ve Loved Between the Covers…

….OF A BOOK! OF A BOOK!!!

Oh well, if you clicked and read this far, the title was a sufficient tease. Nope, I’m sorry to tell you this post isn’t some Chelsea Handler-esque confessional of “my horizontal life.” That’s not how I roll.

This week’s Top Ten Booklist is a FREEBIE. The folks over at The Broke and the Bookish have liberated us to make up any top ten list we want (or to revisit one of the older ones we didn’t get a chance to complete). I went for the latter and chose a topic I’ve wanted to blog about for awhile—FICTIONAL CRUSHES!!

Image courtesy of homestarrunner.com

This is a list of some of the fictional men I’ve loved and have wanted to be courted by since I was old enough to read. I went through my bookshelves, considering who’d make the top ten, which was rough for a bookworm like myself. As I looked the list over, I noticed I go for either the dark, tortured souls or the stable, fatherly type. I also have a penchant for men who wear masks and don disguises. (I’m thinking an hour or two of therapy might be in order.

Oher than number one, the love of my literary life, the others are not ranked. I simply can’t decide because they swap places often. However, I can assure you that you will NOT find sparkly vampires, barechested werewolves, or boys in skinny jeans here folks! I only go for the genuine article!

1. Edward Fairfax Rochester (Jane Eyre)–If you’ve read any of my previous booklist posts, you’d know my favorite novel of all time is Jane Eyre. I know that one of the reasons for my choice is the Byronic hero of that wonderful tale. (I even named my instrument after him!) Mr. Rochester is the epitome of brooding. Wouldn’t you be if you were forever bound to a crazy pyromaniac who you had keep secreted away in an attic–one you were essentially married off to against your will? The way he sits staring at fires, his mercurial moods forever changing because of his great dissatisfaction with the life he’s been dealt, makes him irresistible to me. There’s nothing better than a “fixer upper beau” as far as I’m concerned. He hits all three notes in the literary crush chord—tortured soul, fatherly (he’s many years Jane’s senior), and he dons a disguise. To the world, he’s a carefree gentleman, playing a part, but that’s not even close to his true self. (He also physically disguises himself as a gypsy in one of my favorite chapters.)

2. Faramir (The Lord of the Rings)–What’s NOT to love about Faramir? If you’ve read the book, you know what I’m talking about. Don’t get me wrong, David Wendham did a great job with him in the films, but he didn’t get nearly enough screen time. Faramir is noble, intelligent, fearless, humble, kind, and beloved by all–he’s almost too perfect for words. Neither the ring nor power tempt him, and he let sboth go easily. However, when something is worth defending, he is the first to take up arms and the last to put them down. He’s a scholar, a lover, and a fighter who is used to conceding to his father and brother not because he was weak but because he didn’t need pointless victories to feel power.

3. Sodapop Curtis (The Outsiders)–I can’t explain this one as readily as the others on my list. Well, sure the fact that he has “dark gold hair that the sun bleached wheat gold in the summer”  and eyes that “…are dark brown- lively, dancing, recklessly raping with anger” in “a finely drawn, sensitive face that somehow manages to be reckless and thoughtful at the same time” doesn’t hurt. He’s a peacemaker who doesn’t need to drink, smoke, or fight to feel alive. Instead, as he puts it, he can “get drunk on just plain living.” Sensitive, calm, and loving, Sodapop cries at his parents’ funeral and mourns when his girlfriend leaves him to go to Florida (even after she cheated on him). He was swoon-worthy to a preteen version of me. (It also didn’t hurt that Rob Lowe played him the movie.)

4. Sydney Carton (A Tale of Two Cities)–Ah yes, Sydney is the character who utters the line, “It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known” as he is about to be murdered in the place of a man who he envies so that the woman they both love can be happy. Intelligent, passionate, and handsome despite his gruffness, he is still one of the most inscrutable characters in all of Dickens’ works. (Seriously, the man could take two pages to describe an eddy in a river, but he couldn’t take the time to explain why this man tortures himself and is happier living other people’s lives instead of his own!?!? That’s a laundry list of details I would actually have enjoyed reading!) I’d have to say that Sydney is right there below Rochester in the tortured department, and his entire life is the ultimate disguise. He’s nearly the triumvirate of literary hotness, but not quite.

5. Jon Snow (The Song of Ice and Fire series)–Don’t get me wrong. I loved Eddard Stark, and Robb wasn’t hard to fall head over heels for. But there’s something so alluring about the bastard son of the Starks. He’s compassionate and is an effective leader, and he’s made some hard calls so far in the series (in both love and war). He’s as much Ned’s son as Robb, but the world will not give him his due respect because of his birthright. And that’s something he’s hellbent on correcting. What is it about a man clothed in black with a chip on his shoulder the size of the wall that is so darned alluring? *deep sigh* I can’t wait to see what Mr. Martin is going to do with him in the last two books!

6. The Scarlet Pimpernel/Sir Percy Blakeney (The Scarlet Pimpernel)–I only read this book a few years ago, but holy crow is Blakeney bewitching! He’s willing to don the disguise of a fop in order to cover up the fact he is actually a swashbuckling hero. He’s willing to put himself in harm’s way to save nobles wrongly accused and persecuted by the evil French revolutionaries and their guillotine, but he’s tortured because his disguise actually keeps the love of his life from knowing who he truly is. Wealthy, clever, brave, rugged, and a paragon of fashion, the Pimpernel is totally scrumptious.

7. Bigby Wolf (Fables)–If you’ve not read Bill Willinghams’ comic, do yourself a favor and go buy every trade paperback you can get your hands on! It’s an amazing story (one I’m convinced spawned the shows Grimm and Once Upon a Time). Simply put, the storybook characters are real, and they’ve been run out of their homelands by a looming figure known only as “The Adversary.” Bigby is the Big Bad Wolf (Get it? Big-B?!) The son of a wolf mother and the North Wind (hence the ability to blow down houses), he was the runt and felt the need to prove himself, and his rage prompted him to only prey on humans. However, because he’s reformed and can sniff out lies, he makes a great sheriff in Fabletown (the area of New York the fables call home). He can take on human form (somewhat like a werewolf) and is grizzled and gruff in the extreme. I like to think of him as a combination of Humphrey Bogart as Sam Spade and Wolverine. Yummo.

8. Biff Loman (Death of a Salesman)–Yeah, he’s good looking and quite the athlete, but Biff appeals to me because of his desire to be his own man and his poet’s soul. I fell for him the first time I taught this play, probably because I was the same age he is at the time. The scene in which he confronts his father and tells him about stealing the gold pen speaks to me in a way that few ever have. He says, “I run out of that building and I see… the sky. I see all the things I love in this world. The work, the food, the time to sit and smoke. And I look at this pen and I ask myself, ‘What the hell am I grabbing this thing for? Why am I trying to become something I don’t wanna become when all I want is out there waiting for me the minute I say I know who I am?'” He’s a simple man who only wants peace but whose soul is always at war…both with his father and himself. Good stuff.

9. Atticus Finch (To Kill a Mockingbird)–This one is the epitome of temptation number two, the father figure. Who DIDN’T want a dad like Atticus Finch?!? Noble, soft spoken, stable, intelligent, and unprejudiced, he’s everything women want in a working class hero package. However, he’s also a man of action (think of that rabid dog sequence if you doubt me) who doesn’t shrink away from a battle…even if he knows he’s bound to lose. Oh, and he’s a widower. Can you say “Man Candy”?

10. George Knightley (Emma)–Mr. Knightley is the only reason I survived reading Emma (because she drove me crazy with her small-minded meddling). Wealthy beyond the dreams of avarice, he doesn’t flaunt his wealth or look down on those less fortunate than himself. In fact, he helps quite a few characters over the course of the novel. Kind, compassionate, level-headed, and moral, he’s exactly what the flippant and childish Emma (and every woman who’s ever read the book) needs to be truly happy. He’s the least tortured of all my crushes and isn’t fond of disguises, but he’s all the more captivating for his openness. Sometimes, it’s nice to have a man who’s easy like Sunday morning.

**Bonus Pick** Feldrin Brelak (Scimitar Seas series)–Ladies, ladies, ladies…If you haven’t read my friend Chris A. Jackson’s Scimitar Seas series, you are totally missing out!! There are currently three books out there for you to enjoy and a fourth one currently in the process of being published. The protagonist is a strong female character named Cynthia Flaxall, and the plot is fresh, creative, and well-crafted. And Feldrin, well, I’ll just say it….he’s hot as heck. He’s a strapping sailor with a soft spot for Cyn, one who’s equally good at sea battles and piracy (though he’d call it privateering). Square jawed, plainspoken, and unapologetically and overwhelmingly masculine–you’ll not find a more tempting sea biscuit in all of fantasy literature.

 
 

“It Is Well To Be Bound…”

I came to salvation by one of the most wonky, serpentine, and circuitous paths known to man. Like millions of kids, I went to Vacation Bible School each summer, and when I was seven or eight, I felt led to go forward and give my life to Jesus Christ. I remember speaking to a preacher in a blue three-piece suit with a head of perfectly styled hair (courtesy of Vitalis and a generous measure of black dye) and the whitest set of chompers I’d ever seen. I remember him talking me through the Romans Road, praying with me, and asking me, “Doesn’t it feel good to know you’re saved?” Naturally, I nodded enthusiastically because it felt great. Awesome, in fact.

And then nothing else was done. No one really followed up with me and took it upon him or herself to disciple me. (Yes, I know that’s a noun, but I’m making it a verb for the purpose of this post.) Everyone made the assumption that because I went to church and “looked the part,” I understood exactly what things like salvation and eternal security meant. As a result, I grew up as a sort of “half-baked Christian.” I looked right and smelled right sitting on the shelf, but if someone had pressed me, I would have collapsed just like the meringue I was. In fact, that’s exactly what I did when I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis and I had a true crisis. Thank goodness I did. That was what laid me low and compelled me to seek His face.

I often wonder how much farther along I would be in my Christian walk if I had been properly taught and guided by a spiritual mentor, if someone had stepped in the gap for me. There’s nothing to be gained in lamenting the fact I didn’t, but I sometimes have question mark moments in my faith where I repeatedly ram my head against something like Mario.

I hear people talk about spiritual matters, saying things like, “God told me that…” or “I just felt the Spirit leading me to…” and I start to have small panic attacks, wondering, “I’ve been a Christian for decades. Why is that I’m not hearing or perceiving these things? Is there something wrong with my faith?” And, of course, there’s the thought, “Am I really saved?”

I think the difficulty arises because of a human desire for spectacle. I sometimes wish I had a salvation experience that was more, I don’t know, instantaneous. Part of me longs for a moment of which I can say, “THAT was when it happened. I was never the same afterwards.” The people to whom Jesus witnessed were much the same; they were looking for huge, showy events to convince them of His deity, but that’s not how God works. He speaks in a “still, small voice” instead, one that takes a discerning ear to hear (1 Kings 19:12). That’s why Jesus chastises them concerning His capacity to heal. Frustrated, He states, “Unless you people see signs and wonders, you simply will not believe” (John 4:48). However, despite their error, the sick child they wanted Him to heal began to recuperate the moment Jesus said the word. It all took place well out of sight of the masses.

My doubts, though small, are the gaps the devil tries to put his bony fingers in so he can pry me open and strip me away from God. (I’ve come to realize that the fact that he’s trying so hard is evidence that I’m saved and sanctified. After all, why would he mess with someone who already belongs to him?) And there were times in the past when I fell for his lies and stepped away from God, perhaps because I was ashamed. Of course, I was always saved, and I could never lose my salvation. But I didn’t understand that until much, much later. It’s so simple that it’s terribly easy to over-interpret it as we search for what we interpret as “divine.” The apostle Paul plainly states the truth in Romans 10:9-10:

If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.

I read a passage from Streams in the Desert by L.B. Cowman a few days ago that truly spoke to my heart on this issue. In it, he discusses Psalm 118:27, “The LORD is God, and He has given us light; bind the festival sacrifice with cords to the horns of the altar.” The imagery is of the Old Testament and references the atoning sacrifices the Jewish people were required to perform; however, there is application for the Christian. Why? This passage speaks of the coming of Christ–the Sacrifice for all. We must always remember who He is, what He did, and what that action truly means. Cowman writes:

“Is not this altar inviting thee? Shall we not ask to be bound to it, that we may never be able to start back from our attitude of consecration? There are times with life is full or roseate light, and we choose the cross; at other times, when the sky is grey, we shrink from it. It is well to be bound. Wilt Thou bind us, most blessed Spirit, and enamor us with the cross, and let us never leave it? Bind us with the scarlet cord of redemption, and the golden cord of love, and the silver cord of Advent-hope, so we’ll not go back from it or wish for another lot than to be the humble partners of our Lord in His pain and sorrow!”

Sometimes, when I’ve slipped up or I start comparing myself to other Christians and judging myself by human standards, it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking I’ve never truly been granted salvation. I know that it is utterly and completely incorrect, but in my weaker moments, it’s easy to think this way.

Oswald Chambers writes in his masterwork, My Utmost for His Highest, “Many of us have a mental picture of what a Christian should be, and looking at this image in other Christians’ lives becomes a hindrance to our focusing on God. [We tell ourselves] ‘This is not salvation— it is not simple enough.’ He says, in effect, ‘Look to Me and you are saved,’ not ‘You will be saved someday.’ We will find what we are looking for if we will concentrate on Him. We get distracted from God and irritable with Him while He continues to say to us, ‘Look to Me, and be saved…'”  

My focus has too often been on the wrong people and things rather than the cross. That’s why I decided to make a little visual reminder for myself I’m calling my Binding Cord.  It is merely symbolic and has no “magical” powers. However, when I look at it, I am reminded of Mr. Cowman’s assertion that I am bound to the cross. I am staked there by Christ Himself, and there is nothing in heaven or on earth that can pull me away. I stand on the promise of Jesus, the one recorded in John 10:27-29: “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one” (emphasis mine).

The first three passes of fifteen…

I’m not crafty by any stretch of the imagination, so I went the simple “friendship bracelet” route. I made just short of a billion of these in middle school, and the process came back fairly quickly. Using a pillow (covered in a jaunty IKEA pillowcase) and a few pieces of thread, I started knotting my bracelet together.

Notice the red thread…

I didn’t always keep the two strings I wasn’t looping taut enough, and as a result, the red started to bleed through and show between the knots. At first, it enraged me because I wanted this bracelet to be perfect, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that it was symbolically fitting. After all, the blood of Christ washed away all my sins—past, present, and future. There is no part of my life or self that it has not fully permeated. It is the reason I can know His love (gold) and have hope (silver). The scarlet thread symbolizes what truly liberates me; it is the “tie that binds” eternally.

It’s not perfect, but then again, neither am I.

The end result was a little less polished than I wanted, and I’m sure I’ll try to make another one before long. However, it’s serving its purpose for me.

If you’re struggling the same way I did, I’d love to speak with you and help you come to a better understanding of salvation. You can contact me at emeraldelf (at) gmail (dot) com. Also, if you would like one of these bracelets as a reminder for yourself, I’d be happy to make it and mail it to you free of charge. Please contact me via email or in the comments section below if you’re interested.

Soli Deo Gloria!

Precious Memories, How They Linger…Like Fungus

Wayne and I were just discussing awkward childhood moments, those slivers of time where you’d prefer to be the floor of a New York taxi cab rather than yourself.

Sometimes, they are the product of your own stupidity. Trying to pass sensitive boy/girl notes in class, ill-advised spiral perms, and belting out “Electric Youth” into a hairbrush while standing in front of an open window wearing nothing but a bra and shorts all fall into this category.

Other embarrassing moments are also your fault, but they come as a result of your ignorance rather than outright imbecility. For instance, I once vociferously uttered the phrase “F%$# It” in McDonald’s, completely unaware of the verbal malfeasance I was committing. In my defense, I was eight and had come across Robin Williams’ A Night at the Met a week before. He said the word quite a bit during that performance, and I liked the sound of it. I was nothing more than a parrot, an obnoxiously red and horrifyingly boisterous parrot for my poor mother. I just remember the beating…and not getting the McNugget Happy Meal I was promised. There was supposed to be a Thundercats toy in it. Yes, epic fail all around on that one.

Childhood also wouldn’t be complete without embarrassing moments you must endure but never asked for, didn’t bring on yourself, and likely didn’t deserve. You know, those “Ralphie in the Bunny Suit” moments? I have several of these from all levels of my elementary and secondary education. I even have photographic evidence of one of them. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you…”Hickety Pickety, My Black Hen,” my kindergarten theatrical debut.

Yes, in our “Mother Goose Nursery Rhymes” school play, I had to recite the following lines:

Hickety Pickety, my black hen,
she lays eggs for gentlemen.
Sometimes nine, and sometimes ten,
Hickety Pickety, my black hen!

You can tell by the zombie-like expressions on many of my classmates’ faces that none of us was thrilled to be there in costume sitting criss-cross-applesauce on stage. I, however, had to bear the burden of showing up dressed like an extra from the first episode of The Beverly Hillbillies. A straw hat, overalls, plaid shirt, and what looks to be a pair of Velcro-closure Pumas complete my resplendent costume. I’ll not even mention the Strawberry Shortcake goggles glasses I have on. Those things are traumatic enough for another post of their own.

My teacher, doing a wicked impersonation of Thing from The Addams Family, is likely lowering the microphone so I can deliver my Shakespearean-level verse to the illiterate masses huddled in the Woodrow Wilson Elementary School gymateria/cafetorium.

What makes this moment so gut-wrenchingly embarassing is not the fact that I’m being forced to deliver my lines in front of people or that I am so ridiculously dressed (though both of those factor into this being the worst moment in my life up until this point). See that girl in the yellow dress? She’s going to be the symbol for all that was wrong in my six or seven years of existence. I have no clue who she was supposed to be, but she got to wear a frickin’ adorable yellow dress. My cousin, April, was Betty Blue and wore an even cuter cornflower frock. She’s somewhere to my right…no doubt looking adorable with her curly blonde hair done up in princess ringlets and two patent leather “holiday shoes” on her feet. Already awkward and tall for my age, the only thing I wanted more than to NOT be on that stage was to be lovely on it. Alas and alack, that was not in the cards for me.

I should have expected it. For instance, whenever April and I received dolls as gifts, she got Barbie—ostensibly because she has matching hair. As a brown haired, brown eyed girl, I got Barbie’s friend Kimber, P.J., or Steffie (or some other doll with an equally bubblegum pink name.) Yes, I was forever relegated to the posse (even by my own family) because of my mother’s dominant genes. Being Hickety Pickety didn’t help matters much. However, it does shed some light on why I’ve had a longstanding and inexplicable hatred of eggs….

Okay, so I have to ask. What are the most embarrassing moments from your childhood that you didn’t cause but had to endure with Herculean resolve?

Also, if you could go back and save yourself one of those “Self-Induced” moments of shame, which one would you choose and why?

Indelible Fingerprints of God

I don’t know about you all, but I am fascinated by things like stained glass. Watching the sun come up through it until it dapples the floor with color inspires a sense of wonder in me that is childlike. When I was young, I used to love going to church on Sunday mornings and sitting on the east side of the chapel so I could study the windows nearest my family’s pew.

It’s utterly amazing to me (one without an iota of artistic talent) that someone can take pieces of glass that have been colored with minerals, some soldered metal, and create works of art that tell a story and make the world a more beautiful place. However, I no longer think of man’s prowess when I look at things like this. I instead say, “This window makes light beautiful, but God made light.” God’s power and magnificence win…every single time.

To me, the fact that we desire to create something so breathtaking and fragile is evidence of the power of God in our lives. We are, in essence, seeking what is divine by crude imitation, and we can accurately judge the “rightness” of things we’ve made by examining the things He has created. After all, everything in His world is perfect in form as well as function, and we can only strive to create poor copies.

That was the inspiration for this, my first article with a by-line in In Touch Magazine! It started arriving in folks’ mailboxes this week, which means I’ve been cleared to post it here as well. If you would like to begin receiving our free magazine, all you need to do is visit our website and give us your name and address. You’ll start getting one the next calendar month.

I mentioned in an earlier post about how amazed I am that God has blessed me with a job where I can use the talents He’s given me to glorify Him and bless others. This publication of this article humbles me beyond all measure. After all, God doesn’t need me to do anything, but He allows me to be His hands and feet here on Earth. He is indeed good, and to Him alone belongs the glory.

If you would like to leave me a comment, you can do so here or on the In Touch Homepage.