I’m Still Not Buying Stock in Kleenex

I hate to say it, but he's right...

Because of Tom Hanks’ inspired performance as Jimmy Dugan, we all know without a doubt that there is  “No crying in baseball!” However, that same statement can be made about every aspect of my life. Anyone who knows me will tell you that I hate…no wait, detest…crying. I don’t know what to do around people who are weeping, and I would pretty much rather eat sixteen tons of Lutefisk than sob in front of another living, breathing person.

It’s not vanity. Granted, I don’t relish the idea of wiping snot from my nose with the back of my hand or blowing it out into a tissue offered up by a friend or loved one, but it’s not the Lake Lachrymose aspect of it that bothers me.

No. It’s something more deeply rooted in me than that. I don’t think I’m comfortable with deep emotions period. I’ve never been the type to jump up and down with glee, to cover my mouth with my hands like a winning beauty queen, or to pump my fist in the air a la John Bender at the end of The Breakfast Club (though I do adore that film!)

How could I ever forget about you, Judd Nelson?

Maybe I’m secretly Vulcan. Maybe, for me, emotions are something that I feel compromises my ability to think logically or rationally. However, seeing as how I do things that are highly illogical, even for a human, and that, when it comes to mathematics or any of the “hard sciences,” I am about as likely to succeed as a gerbil would be at explaining String Theory. Nope, no pointy ears or awesome split fingered gestures for me.

Live long and prosper, my friends.

I have always had, however, a passion for knowledge. Some of the happiest days of my adult life have been spent deep in “The Stacks,” the endless rows of journals usually on the bottom floors of libraries. With iPod (and before them CD player…yowza, I’m old!) in my back pocket, a pencil stuck through my ponytail, and a list of topics to research, I would happily search through archives— pulling volumes from shelves, reading countless pages in my search for the right quotes and evidence to back up my own theories about literature, and generally feasting on all the wisdom before me. I’d only emerge when I was either done copying and filing away the pages I was taking with me or when I was about to faint from hunger. I actually fell asleep standing up, well leaning against a wall, one night during a particuarly tricky search for information pertaining to Christine de Pizan. I never slept better.

It’s also why I look up words like antediluvian, know the stories behind phrases like “A Good Rule of Thumb,” and generally rock at trivia as long as it doesn’t involve Seinfeld, Friends, hockey, or Reality TV. I love the thrill that comes when someone mentions something they think is esoteric in the extreme, and I can say, “Why, yes, I actually did know that Benjamin Franklin wore a fur hat in Paris! However, did you know he did so because he wanted to conform to the Parisian’s concept of ‘the natural man’ and that ladies fell in love with him and styled their hair to match that aforementioned article of clothing?”

That’s why I’ve been enjoying reading about Solomon as much as or even more so than his father, David. David was the “man after God’s own heart” and who was willing to express himself through dance and vivid displays of emotion. His anointed son, however, is more well known for his wisdom than anything else, but that wisdom did not come from his own diligent searching or study. Instead, he was granted it by God. He asked:

Therefore give to Your servant an understanding heart to judge Your people, that I may discern between good and evil. For who is able to judge this great people of Yours? — (1 Kings 3:9)

Solomon’s request pleased God because he asked neither for wealth nor long life. He didn’t ask for the destruction of his enemies or make a self-serving request, he was granted all those things in addition to his wisdom. Because of this, he is able to build a temple for the ark, provide peace and prosperity for his people and for his neighbors, and manage Israel well. In chapter four of the same book, after Solomon’s administrative staff is listed and the prosperity he provided are listed, the author states:

And God gave Solomon wisdom and exceedingly great understanding, and largeness of heart like the sand on the seashore — (1 Kings 4:29).

What, what, what!? When did “largeness of heart” enter into it? Since when is Solomon known for his kindness in addition to his other cerebral accolades? And you’ll notice that it doesn’t just say that he was kind or that he was generous and patient with the people. No, no. He had a heart that was like “sand on the seashore,” a simile that pretty much tells me his heart’s capacity was infinite.

It stands to reason, then, that he wanted to weep with joy when the mother of the disputed child was willing to allow it to be taken by another woman, to put the baby’s needs before her own. But, even more importantly, He took great joy from the house of the Lord he was constructing and rejoiced when the Shekinah Glory was made manifest. This is simply because our greatest love should be our love for God, and all other love comes out of that great well. As it is written in the Gospel of John (4:15-21):

Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. We have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this, love is perfected with us, so that we may have confidence in the day of judgment; because as He is, so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love. We love, because He first loved us. If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also.

Can I love as God instructs me to without being able to work comfortably with emotions? Can I ever exercise perfect wisdom without them? They are unreliable things, which is one of the reasons I often eschew them in favor of rational thinking and planning, but they are so gosh-darned human. They are what we use for the matrix of all the relationships we build, and without a love for God and a love for our fellow men, all our acts of service will truly ring hollow.

I came across an interesting post akin to the topic yesterday titled “Perverted Love,” and in it, the blogger states that Christian service, if it’s done because you love people but not the Creator, music but not the Concert Master, or the vista without the Architect, you’re utterly lost and without focus. He’s absolutely correct! We can love because God first loved us, and we must always express our adoration directly to Him in all things rather than only loving (worshiping) the people or things He’s created. Serving cannot be a purely physical thing, and worshiping God cannot be totally cerebral either. It’s to be done with the whole self–mind, spirit, and heart. So, yes, I still have some work to do when it comes to love and how I express it towards my Heavenly Father and those wonderful things and people He’s placed in my life. I’ve asked Him for it, to enlarge my faith and my sensitivity towards others no matter how uncomfortable it may make me.

I know I’m going to bite my lip a lot, clear my throat often, and pretend to have something in my eye on more than one occasion. I have a feeling my eyeliner and mascara’s days are numbered. However, if a little awkwardness and a smudge or two are all that is required of me to grow closer to God and to be conformed to the image of Jesus, I’m ready for it.

That being said, I refuse to cry over chick flicks, ASPCA advertisements, or anything other vapid plea designed using only pathos-driven appeals. In that regard, my heart will remain like the Grinch’s originally was—two sizes too small.

Etch A Sketch Moments

I don’t know about anyone else, but I have a tendency to get into ruts. I become comfortable in a routine, and I stay there so long I border on turning into an Ent.  Now, while there is some pleasure to be taken in routine, especially in the security and predictability it provides, it is also dangerous because it makes me myopic. I tend to only see what is directly in front of me, and like a Beagle after some elusive scent, I put my proverbial nose to the ground, only to look up several miles later in a place I don’t recognize and without a clue as to how to get home.

However, I can always count on God to provide me with something I’ve come to term “Etch A Sketch Moments.” If you’re my age or older, you remember the toy I’m talking about. The red frame, the dual knobs, the line that snaked its way across the flat, gray screen as we turned them in frustration. I don’t know about the rest of Generation X, but more often than not, my tongue was often stuck in the corner of my mouth in total concentration as I tried to draw Castle Grayskull or Soundwave, my favorite Transformer. Unlike the talented soul who created the reproduction of Van Gogh’s The Starry Night in the image to the left, my attempts at art often ended up looking more like something Salvador Dali might have created after a long night spent consuming Ouzo and playing Cootie (in that order). All I ever created were lopsided stick figures all connected by a tether, because I could never figure out how to double back and cover my lines, or the generic depiction of a house–blocky, square windows, triangle roof with a smoking chimney hanging off it at a perilous angle, and a door smack in the middle.

Not Mine, But Close!

When I put my creation on display, my poor family members would all put their heads together to try to discern the meaning of the Rorschach Test I’d created, hoping to guess correctly and avoid hurting my feelings. When they’d guess “Choo Choo Train” instead of the Thunder-Tank from Thundercats or drew a blank at my rendering of the scarf wearing and umbrella toting fawn, Mr. Tumnus from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, I’d perform my patented eyeball roll (which could never be interpreted as anything but exasperation) and shake the poor Etch A Sketch until my otiose attempts at creating visual art were no more.

I’ve often wished that my mistakes were as easily erased as those crude drawings, but alas and alack, life is not as simple as the Ohio Art Company would have it to be.

However, when I say God provides me with “Etch A Sketch Moments,” I don’t mean he gives me some sort of celestial mulligan. I mean that He sends someone or something into my life to shake me out of a certain way of thinking, to erase some stale and lifeless pattern I use to interpret the world. He removes all those limits I and others have placed in my life and makes me see the world in a different way.

Today, a wonderful gentleman named Christopher Coleman spoke at our weekly chapel at In Touch Ministries. You can click on his name and visit his website where a more detailed testimony can be found, but here’s the long and short of it. When he was born, the doctor’s pronounced him dead and went on to work on delivering his twin sister. Fifteen minutes later, after another doctor worked on him, he began to cry! He had been without oxygen for fifteen minutes, and doctors told his mother to send him to a home and forget about him because he had cerebral palsy and would never walk, talk, or speak.

Well, thankfully, she didn’t…and he did.

Now, he’s a college graduate (the only one in his family) who travels around the world telling his life’s story and showing people that God is truly able. When Christopher was called by God into ministry, he asked the Lord, “Do you see me? Do you see my hands that won’t stay still, my feet that go in every direction but the one I want? Do you hear my voice that’s so hard to understand?” God replied to him, “I don’t have to look. I made you. You are exactly what I planned for you to be because I don’t make junk.”

He shared several scriptures with us during his presentation–my life’s verse, 2 Corinthians 12:10, and the story of the cripple at the Pool of Bethesda found in John 5. With regards to the latter, Mr. Coleman pointed out that Jesus Christ asks an odd question, one that bears some consideration. He asks the crippled man, “Do you want to be made well?” What is this man’s answer going to be “No”? He’d been a cripple for thirty-eight years, unable to provide for himself or move without aid. Of course he’d love to be healed! However, Christ asks him because, if made well, this man would be compelled to spend his days walking and telling as many people as possible about the blessing he’d been given by Jesus. He would no longer be living for himself because his body would be a living testimony to Jesus’ power and mercy. I’d never considered it that way before but the truth is that Jesus understands our wants better than we do. I love it!

Throughout his talk, Mr. Coleman amazed me with his wit, his positive attitude, and his joy. He said that people often look at him and wonder, “How can he, with all his physical challenges, be so happy when I am whole and miserable?” The answer is a relationship with God! Not having that one amazing thing can alter and skew our perspectives in such a way that we forget just how blessed we are–how loved and how cherished we are by God the Father.

Sure, I could always want for more money, more things, more security, but no matter how much I acquire, none of it will never make me happy. Thankfully, that’s not what makes me feel joyful. From time to time, I do get into ruts as I mentioned earlier, and I forget the things for which I should be truly grateful. I can look over those things, take them for granted, and forget just how marvelous they truly are. For instance, I am, above all, a child of God who will one day be with Him in heaven. That alone is cause enough for lifelong celebration. However, while I am here, He blessed me with an amazing family who loves me unconditionally, a husband who cherishes and cares for me, a mind that is able to handle complex ideas and problems, and a body that is healthy and whole despite my illness. Yes, I have Multiple Sclerosis, and I tell you that I am thankful for it because it is what keeps me mindful of God’s hand on my life. Without it, I was on the completely incorrect path. I wasn’t relying on Him, and I wasn’t living the way He would have me live.

Now, I wake up most days and wiggle my toes to make sure I can still feel them. I blink my eyes and check to make sure I can still see. For seven years, I have been able to do all that and more! Let me tell you, when you have MS, it can compromise your life in a multitude of ways, so when I wake up each day and discover that I can walk, talk, see, and do any and everything I want, every task I complete is done in joy. Taking out the trash is more fun than a field trip to the zoo, and running errands is more fun than a shopping spree on Fifth Avenue because I can do them without a struggle! However, there are some days I roll out of bed and don’t think about that simple truth, and that’s when little things frustrate me. I lose my gratitude, my perspective gets skewed, and my life is much less mirthful for it.

Mr. Coleman was God’s way of sharing that truth afresh with me today. I am like him in that I have that thorn in my flesh that Paul spoke of in 2 Corinthians. But my thorn is not Paul’s thorn, and it isn’t Mr. Coleman’s thorn. Ours were given to us at different times and for different reasons because we all have our own roles to fulfill in the furtherance of God’s kingdom. However, as I looked around the chapel today and saw my co-workers being taught and blessed by him, I was reminded again that, like the cripple by the pool, my body is healed so that I, too, can be a witness for Christ. Like I often did with my Etch A Sketch, God shook me up today and erased all the crooked lines in my mind, and He will no doubt help me create a more accurate rendering of my world.

I have but to consult Job 5:6-9, 17-19, the words of Eliphaz, to keep my perspective accurate. He tells his friend Job:

For affliction does not come from the dust, nor does trouble spring from the ground; yet man is born to trouble, as the sparks fly upward.But as for me, I would seek God, and to God I would commit my cause—Who does great things, and unsearchable, marvelous things without number. . . .Behold, happy is the man whom God corrects; therefore, do not despise the chastening of the Almighty.For He bruises, but He binds up; He wounds, but His hands make whole. He shall deliver you in six troubles.Yes, in seven no evil shall touch you.