Friday, August 29, 2014

The Tattoo ... what does it mean

Last night, at the ripe old age of older-than-you, I went out and got my first ever tattoo. Okay, it's a fact, I like tattoos. I have always liked them. I had never had a particular idea for a particular tattoo I wanted to get, or a really good location to put it. Most of my body needs to be hidden more than it needs to be decorated. And because I am older-than-you, my skin is a lot more fragile than it once was. In fact, I'd assumed I could not get a tattoo. But Marie Scherping, artist extraordinaire, formerly one of "my kids" who I drove around in high school and middle school, and tattoo artist at Fura in Castro Valley, said she thought she could do it without a problem. So I made an appointment and went in.

It was quite exciting, let me tell you. I had a good bit of trepidation, having witnessed my kids getting their first tattoos. Let's see, my son threw up, and my daughter screamed bloody murder. I know that how painful a tattoo is depends a great deal on its location, but I have to tell you that even though there were a couple of spots that stung, on the whole it was a pretty pleasant experience, even enjoyable, a vibration along the skin! I'd keep getting them, except that really there aren't too many places to put them.

I chose a cross to be tattooed on my arm. One of my favorite worship songs is "You Won't Relent," performed by Jesus Culture and Misty Edwards.  It quotes Song of Songs chapter 8: "I'll set you as a seal upon my heart, as a seal upon my arm, for there is love that is as strong as death, jealousy demanding as the grave. And many waters cannot quench this love." The cross on my arm is inspired by that verse.

But what does it mean to me? It is absolutely true that I find a whole lot of joy in my faith. Sometimes I want to spontaneously break into dancing! And I do yearn for ways to show on the outside how I feel on the inside. That is a part of it, me wanting to say, "Hey, look what I found!"

However, the very location of this tattoo speaks of another reason. I had picked out the location ahead of time, but Marie discussed with me the orientation of the cross, and I definitely wanted it facing towards me. Because that is who it is really for. Me. It is on my right arm, and I am right handed, so whenever I reach out my hand to do something, I will be reminded to act in accordance with my faith, to do what I do as unto the Lord. And when things get difficult, I can turn my arm over and be reminded that I am not alone. Always I am held. Whatever comes, I know that God will see me through it.

My tattoo is actually not highly visible to others. When my arm is at rest, whether sitting or standing, it is on the inside of my arm. You really have to get just the right angle to see it. That is probably good! Have you ever seen a car with Christian bumper stickers that appears to be driven by the devil? When you represent Christ in the world, you have got to be mindful of all you do. As I said in my last blog, kindness and love is an area in which God has been working with me, so this is just one more reminder, one more incentive, to remember that before I allow myself to become irritable I need to stop and consider the person before me, and honestly even if they are truly jerks, I don't need to be. Love one another. Love your brother, love your sister. Love your neighbor. Love your flippin' enemy, lol!

If there is one thing I did NOT get this tattoo for, it's to set myself up as some holy person. That I'm not. I am joyful. I feel God's presence in my life, in my heart. I feel him at work, and I am absolutely amazed at the work he does in the quiet when I'm not even paying attention. One day I just discover: "Oh, I have changed!" But this is not a statement of any kind that I am better than anyone else, although I just might have something better than some. Someone I don't know actually seemed to question this, so I just thought I'd set the record straight.

So friends, for your enjoyment, I am posting a video of the song I told you about. It's the very long version of the song, from a live worship service, but it's just that good.

Thanks for being here. Love you all!

Monday, August 25, 2014

Love One Another

Love one another. This is something that has been said so many times it has all but lost its meaning, kind of like a "bless you" when someone sneezes. Or maybe that's just me. Maybe I'm the only one who heard it without really embracing its true meaning for a large part of my life. In my younger days I loved what was my own, but even that had its difficulty, surrounded as it was by a fear of loss. For me, perhaps it was only in the actual experience of loss that I was able to move into real love. My heart was broken, and it hardened in the ice of depression. Then it was broken again, and again, until it had become soft, fertile ground that could accept the seeds of love and let them grow.

I have also had the privilege in the last seven years of expanding my vision through contact with lots and lots of people who are completely different from me and from those I have known all my life. I have worked as a paralegal in an immigration law firm. We don't work with businesses and work visas. We work with the individuals who are aliens here, most of them illegal, and some of them with criminal histories. I have worked with people from all over the world, from all over Central and South America, from Uganda, Nigeria, Rwanda, Haiti, Palestine and India. I've even had a few Canadians and a German, clients from China, the Philippines, Romania, Russia. I have heard many stories from many people. Most forms of relief for aliens involve taking a declaration, which means actually sitting down with them and taking down their life story, where they come from, what it was like there, why they came here, what it would mean for them and their families if they went back. If they have committed crimes, they tell me what they did, and when, and why, and how it impacted them, how their lives have been changed if they have, and why. Immigration cases do not move quickly, either. They take years, and this gives me a chance to get to know my clients, for them to make their homes in my heart. I will admit there are a couple I might have put on the bus myself, but for the most part I have come to deeply care about these people.

It is so much easier to be judgmental about what we do not know. Once we do know, we are changed. I see a lot of hatred for "illegal aliens" being tossed about, with accusations that they are doing this or that, taking benefits and handouts from the government, taking jobs from citizens and whatnot. But illegal aliens actually can't get government benefits. If they have U.S. citizen children, their children can, but they can't just cross the border and apply for welfare. Most of them work very hard at jobs that most Americans wouldn't want to do, they make little, and they handle what they do make very well, supporting themselves and their families and more often than not helping families back home. But here is the most important thing for people to understand. I hear all the time that if only these people came to the United States legally it would be fine with them. But it is all but impossible for any but a very few people to do that. That give me your tired, your poor, etc., isn't true any longer. The door to immigrating to the United States is all but closed. It's like that narrow road that few find. Even if you are lucky enough to have a relative in the United States to petition for you to come here, it's likely to take 20 years for an immigrant visa to become available. Their choice is to live in the violence and poverty of their home countries, or to take a chance on coming here illegally, hoping for the best, and working really, really hard just to survive without legal status. Many illegal aliens were also brought here
by their parents as infants or children. They never broke any laws. They have lived here all their lives, have never even visited the countries of their birth. Those are the ones who are called the "dreamers," who have been the primary beneficiaries of the immigration reform that has not managed to get passed. I have seen young kids, 18, 19 years old, in deportation proceedings, being sent back to a country they know nothing about. I know when my kids were this age, they were really just babies, completely not equipped for such a harsh sentence, for something that was completely out of their control.

But back to Americans, there is a politically conservative bent to the Christian community, and I embraced it once myself as well. But now I find it more disturbing than anything else. Just financially, the political conservatives believe in lower taxes and fewer "hand outs." Well, I can't really go along with that. There have been those running for office who have been successful in the business world, bringing huge corporations huge profits. On first glance, it seems that someone with such business acumen would be a good choice to run our government. But then I thought about it, and about the fact that all too often those huge corporations were high successful and raking in big bucks at the expense of the "little people." Those at the top banked gargantuan profits, while at the bottom people were paid a wage that didn't comfortably support a family, and often lost their jobs altogether if there happened to be a dip in the gargantuan profits at the top. And I began to fear for the little people, the 99 percent as they have become known, and what would happen to them if one of these business leaders were to run the government.

I have spent too much time on politics here, because that really is not my intention. I know politics turns people off, but what I am addressing here is actually NOT what your political party is or who you vote for, it is trying to reach into the heart. I see on Facebook all the time memes condemning people who get any sort of help from the government, and it makes me so sad. I know that Christians will say that it should be the job of the church to feed the hungry and clothe the poor, but let's face it, the church just doesn't do a terribly good job of that, and the church is never going to do a terribly good job at that because it is too piecemeal and there are too many huge cracks for people to fall through. Basically the church might take care of their own members for a short time or an individual need, and they might hand out food or clothing here and there, and all that is good and helpful, but it is never going to meet the real needs of the people. So I don't like paying taxes any more than anybody else, but I am more than happy to chip in my fair share to make sure that people who can't take care of themselves for whatever reason, for a season or a dozen seasons, will be able to get the help they need. And believe me, there is nothing in the scheme that encourages people to continue getting government assistance, because you certainly cannot live well on it. It is only real desperation or inability to move out of their situation that causes people to continue getting assistance. And that's another problem in itself.

Individual assistance to people on the street is another thing. I know some people never give to them because they say they will only spend the money on alcohol or drugs. And this may be the case sometimes. Who knows if the guy on the street is really deserving of a helping hand or if he will use it for good or ill? I'll tell you who doesn't know, and that's me. I don't always have money to hand out, but I do what I can, because I figure that if I help them and they misuse it, that's on them. But if they need help, and I don't help them, that's on me.

I know not everybody is a Bible reader, so let me just share with you this passage from Matthew 25:34-45 (NIV):
Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come you who are blessed by my father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.'
Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go visit you?'
The King will reply, 'Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.'
Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in. I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.'
They also will answer, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison and did not help you?'
He will reply, 'Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.'
Again, what I am getting at here is the HEART. It would be awesome if everybody could go out and do all these things listed here, but I know you can't. But let your heart be willing, so that whatever opportunities you have, you will use. Don't begrudge what you do give, whether it is through taxes or through charities, or through opportunities for direct assistance. And above all, don't hate the people who are in need of help. Instead of saying, "They should have kids if they can't afford to take care of them," LOVE them. See the heart of a parent whose child would not have food to eat without help. See the innocent children. Let them into your heart and LOVE them.

I have been poor myself. I have been poor with children. And I have had to have help from various sources at times. Ultimately, I think this has been a good thing for me. I have a friend who has never been poor, who grew up in a well to do family, who has never had children and has always worked hard and had plenty of money, and she just has no understanding or compassion for people who don't have money. And I think that's sad. In some ways, she is actually underprivileged, because I think that the gift of compassion is worth far more than the money in the bank. But I have never placed a primary importance on money in my life, probably not as much as would have been wise I must admit. Nevertheless, there are far more important things in life. Being able to put yourself in someone else's shoes is invaluable. You don't have to have ever worn those shoes yourself to be able to do that, but if you have it makes it far easier.

Beyond that is another area of love, and that is just plain kindness. This is something that the Lord has been working on me about lately. I may have compassion and mercy in my heart, but I know my tongue can be sharp, even when I don't mean it to be. I tend to be a passionate person, perhaps even a tad dramatic in the way I express myself. I cannot tell you how many times even those closest to me, who I'd think would know me and understand me by now (Johnna), think I'm angry (at them) when I'm actually just passionately expressing myself about something completely unrelated to them. I am actually pretty attached to my passionate form of expression, but I am coming to realize that I need to tone it down. I've been lucky to know some really, really nice and kind people, and I have been impressed to my toes with their expressions. Our computer tech was in the office recently, dealing with our credit card processing company on the phone, and he gave them a dressing down they deserved but did it in the nicest way, so that they ended up thanking him. Now if it had been me on the phone, they'd have hung up saying, "what a b****." Not cool. It doesn't do any good to have love in your heart if people don't feel it in your presence. And I will admit I tend to be irritable with stupidity, and really irritable with people who misunderstand me or don't listen to me. In order to stop being so irritable, one of the things I have done is try to eliminate things that irritate me. For example, if you are my Facebook friend and you post a lot of anti-immigrant and anti-poor people and anti-Obama memes, you can bet that I will have removed you from my newsfeed because I don't need to feel irritated. (I love Obama, by the way. I also love Bush. And I love Clinton. Would I have loved Romney? Who's to say? But I do really believe that both Obama and Bush have good, good hearts and operate from that place.)

And I rely on God's spirit here as well. I'm going to tell you, this is real. God has made my heart so much softer, has allowed me to have at least a modicum of love for people I have otherwise found unlovable. I have spent a lot of time being irritated with a neighbor over parking issues. (By the way, this is not to say I didn't have love for her because she is otherwise a pretty kind person, just that I was irritated with her for something.) She tends to believe that so many things are going to harm her car, and I know they won't, but suddenly I was able to really see into her fear and understand it. She really and truly believes that if she parks on a slant it will hurt her car, or if she backs down a long hilly driveway it will hurt her car, and she probably cannot afford to fix the car or to replace it if it breaks. Yes, I can get that. I can understand where she is coming from, can see her heart in the matter. It kind of surprised me actually. I was explaining this to one of my kids one day when they were complaining about her parking idiosyncrasies, and I said it and then had one of the "ah ha" moments when I realized what I'd said. But this is how God works, gently tinkering on the inside of you.

And have I mentioned, God sent along a book for this as well? It happens to be by the same author I mentioned in my last blog, Lysa TerKeurst, and it's called Unglued: Making Wise Choices in the Midst of Raw Emotions . As you are probably gathering, I love Lysa TerKeurst. Next week I am on to another of her books, which I'm sure I will be mentioning in a future blog :)

Back to the the book of Matthew, chapter 22 verses 36-38 state, "Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law? Jesus replied, 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the law and prophets hang on these two commandments."

Matthew 7:1-2: "Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you."

James 2:13-14, "Judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs judgment."

Before I end this, I just want to mention one more thing that I have found on my own journey, and that is that depression really hampers love. This has been true for me anyway, although I really didn't know that until I did something about my depression. Well, actually I didn't know that I was depressed until I did something about it. I was going through some really devastating circumstances regarding my kidnapped daughter, Michaela, when I first took antidepressants. It really opened my eyes when this undercurrent of anger I had felt began to dissipate. So there are two lessons to be gleaned from this. If you are depressed, it would be helpful to do something about it, whether you handle it with prayer and self awareness or through medication. But the equally important lesson is that those who are the most unlovable may be that way because they are in pain. Perhaps we can look a little deeper and have compassion.

So one more word from God. Luke 6:27-38:
But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you.
If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind do the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, as your Father is merciful. 
Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. 
This is a hard saying, for certain, and I have to clue you in on something. Much of what Jesus taught was for the express purpose of showing us that it is impossible for us to "earn" our way to heaven. God's standard of what is good and our standard of what is good ... yeah, big difference. And this is why God sent Jesus, not solely to show us what God's standards are, but to provide the payment for our sins. Sin, by the way, is an archery term, and what it means is to fall short of the mark. You aim for the bullseye, but sometimes you miss, because you are human. We should absolutely aim to meet the standards of God's goodness, but because we clearly cannot do that, we owe a debt we cannot pay except through accepting the gift Jesus gave us. And that is the greatest love of all.

If you have stuck with me this far, thank you, and I love you. <3

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Made to Crave

So you might notice a slight change on the title of this blog. Yep, it's true. I am no longer Just Sharon. I am just-Sharon-and-Jesus. Or as Lysa TerKeurst would put it, I'm a "Jesus girl." Some of you might say I'm a Jesus old lady, but I have to disagree! I have too much left to do here to be an old lady. What exactly that is, I'm not sure, but I know it exists. I can feel it in this restlessness down in my bones.

So I know a lot of you, my friends, are not Christians. In fact, a whole lot of you think the whole thing is pretty stupid. And I know all the reasons for that. I know all the arguments against believing, because I have made them myself, and I am not going to claim that I have all the intellectual cannons lined up to shoot them down. I don't honestly even think that is possible. If you don't want to believe, you will always be able to find a reason not to, and nothing anybody says to the contrary will change your mind. But if you are ready for a challenge, try this. Just pray a very simple prayer. Say, "God if you are real, show me." I guarantee that he will.

Or have you ever been in a really tough spot, and said, "God, if you will just help with this things, I will follow you/believe in you/be a Christian" or any other variation, you'd better believe that God will come calling. In fact, you just might be able to hear his voice right now. Be quiet for a season and listen. God's voice is usually not loud. It's more like a whisper. Sometimes God just tugs silently at your heart. You remember that time your heart just kind of lit up a little when you saw that Christian or heard that worship song? You might have not liked it, might have even got mad when you felt it, but you felt it nevertheless. In the end God's tug is irresistible, one way or the other. Might just as well go willingly. I guarantee you will be happy that you did. Well, some of your friends might say nasty things about you, shun you, and that will make you feel bad, but honestly the place you will go to will have so much happiness that you will not even care if that person whose opinion you so highly valued suddenly thinks you have become a fool. The Bible actually says that the message of the cross is foolishness to those who do not believe, so it's not news, and you know what, it doesn't matter. It is life and light, the wisdom of God, to those he has called.

God is very patient. I have had some experience in this area myself, and it's not generally as though you pray this prayer and he zaps you then and there. That's not impossible, I suppose, but with me it has been a matter of time, long enough that I'd always forgotten my prayer or my promise or my invitation until suddenly I noticed that God has been whispering in my ear, "Come back to me."

He is patient enough to wait for you to hear and respond to his voice, and after that he is patient enough to teach you, to lead you slowly and gently. I've been kind of surprised to find that books I have felt led to read have ended up touching directly on things I have been dealing with. I'll discuss more about that in future blogs, but I'll be reading (or listening, since I listen to a lot of audiobooks while I commute) and suddenly I'll say, hey, that is exactly what I have been thinking about.

Okay, too much information here, but one night a couple of weeks ago, I was awake in the middle of the night, feeling really nauseous. I hadn't had a whole lot to eat the night before. I'd had a small sandwich before going to Bible study, then came home and my daughter was going to get Chinese food, and picked up a two-item bowl for me. Not really pigging out by Chinese food standards at my house, but it was pretty greasy, and it was pretty late to be eating it, and I did suffer afterwards. And because I am not actually a "girl," I can never have a minor health problem without worrying about whether it might indicate a major health problem. So I am sitting there praying, not only for the feeling of nausea to go away, but for my health in general.

Just very recently I had come to a sudden grasp of the meanings of those verses in the Bible in which healing and confession of sins are linked. For example, James 5:16 says, "Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed." In Luke 5:18-26, Jesus heals a paralytic man. Jesus' ability to heal had become well known and it was difficult to get close to him because there were so many who wanted to be healed, so this guy's friends lowered him through the ceiling tiles, right in front of Jesus. The first thing Jesus said, on seeing such faith, was "Friend, your sins are forgiven." Then after that he healed the man. I hadn't given this a whole lot of thought, but in the last few months I have actually read the New Testament through several times, and I started getting this idea that the connection between sin and healing might be causal -- meaning that quite often sin plays a part in the disease process. Maybe we smoke, maybe we drink too much, use drugs, or ... horror of horrors ... maybe we eat badly and/or don't exercise sufficiently.

Take me, for example! I'm, yes, just a few tads overweight. I have had diabetes for many years, and while I have actually moderated my lifestyle to an extent, it hasn't been enough. There are a lot of things I just really don't eat, but I do pretty consistently eat too much of what I do eat.  >:{ And although I don't eat much in the way of desserts, I do have a thing for carbs in the form of bread and pasta and the like. But let's get real, a lot of my eating is just the result of out of control emotions. Or emotions threatening to get out of control that I stuff down with food. And a huge plethora of other psychological issues that I don't really care to talk about right now but might one day. I also don't eat actual dinners anymore. My kids are all grown up and are rarely home in the evenings, and if I do bother to cook I end up throwing the leftovers away after a few days because nobody eats them. I don't like cooking in the first place, so I just quit. So instead I go home and graze. And I graze on things that are not really satisfying, so I keep grazing because I am not satisfied either nutritionally or emotionally. Honestly this may sound ridiculous, but there have been times I have dreaded going home after work because I knew this cycle of unsatisfying grazing was just going to begin again, and I felt powerless to change it.

But in the back of my mind has always been this thought. "This is not good for you, Sharon," What am I waiting for, a bigger health wake up call than I already have? I guarantee you that if one day I have a heart attack, I know that in that minute I would be willing to have foregone every single mouthful of unhealthy or extra food I had ever in my life eaten. Only it would be too late. So knowing this, WHY do I keep on?

And why do I drink diet sodas when I know that they are bad for me? Am I waiting to get a diagnosis of cancer before I stop putting harmful chemicals into my body? It is a sad, sad state of affairs, and one which REALLY needs to be dealt with. Hey, I'm AWARE OF WHAT I'M DOING TO MYSELF. It's almost deliberately self destructive.

So two things I know.

First, I have no business destroying myself. Let's see, I have people who need me. I have dogs who need me!!! I have things yet to accomplish in this world. I need to take care of myself. And also, I am not my own. 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 says, "Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore, honor God with your bodies."

Second, I know that all that food is not healing any emotional hurts and it is not satisfying any real desires. And I do know where my healing is to be found. I do know what does bring satisfaction.

I also know that this is an area where I need a deep healing. I know everything I need to know about nutrition. I have been reading and studying the subject for most of my adult life, which is quite a long time now. I just need God to touch me.

So, coincidentally (or not!) just the day before this middle of the night prayer, I had downloaded but had not yet started listening to an audiobook called Made to Crave: Satisfying Your Deepest Desire with God, Not Foodby Lysa TeurKeurst. It had appeared on my home page, and I'd thought, hey, why not? I wasn't initially enthusiastic about it, because hey, I've heard it all before. I didn't really think there was anything she could say that I didn't already have engraved in my mind. And you know, probably she didn't say anything I didn't know. But she did say it in such a way that it started making its way from my mind to my heart. And it was not all about food. It was one of the best discipleship books I have read in a long while. I think in fact that I need to listen to it a few more times, that maybe I need to listen to it until I have it memorized, because while it helped me grow in other ways as well, it actually did make it far more difficult to eat badly.

Anyway, this is a small part of where I have been and what I have been dealing with lately. I hesitate to even talk about it, because if you see me in six months and I am no thinner than I am now, it is basically going to be an admission of spiritual defeat. And so far, I have to admit, I am still defeated. I am sitting here writing this and thinking about tortillas.  >:[  I think the problem is that as much as I want healing in this area, I also don't really want healing in this area. However, I am admitting this, and that is that gluttony is a sin, and idolatry is a sin and in turning to food to meet my deep emotional and spiritual needs I am making it an idol in my life, so it  So hey, pray for me please. It is not as dire a need as the young lady who has cancer and just got married yesterday, or Paige, who has a little preemie son named Will. But you can pray for them also, please.

This is a part of what I have been dealing with lately. It's a busy season of my life, and I feel as though I'm at a crossroads and in need of a change of direction but not sure where to go or how to get there, so I'm waiting for God to shine a light on the path.

Thanks for listening, and I love you.

*All Bible quotations from New International Version (NIV)