Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Meaning of Life: #Trust30 Day 1


Is it true that life has no meaning?  If so then I am destined to have spent 57 years for nothing.  This I will not accept.

Every living being has meaning. Even those who spend their lives trying to convince everyone that they have no meaning, that their lives are a jumble of nothingness trying to eek out some level of reward in this life. And that is meaningless.

Trying to grab everything one can for one’s self is the essence of meaninglessness.  For after we have obtained all the stuff, all the fame, all the power there is to obtain, we still have nothing.

When I was born I had great grandparents, grandparents, great aunts and uncles, aunts and uncles and of course my Mom and Dad.  I’ve been to so many funerals I can’t even count.  I guess it comes from being the oldest daughter of the oldest daughter of the oldest daughter. 

I was there when we divided my grandmother’s things and then my mother’s and father’s.  The things I have that are really meaningful to me are few.  The most important to me are my mother’s and grandmother’s wedding rings. I have a special necklace for them.  I wear it when I want to remember them.

In college I met a sweet little Chinese girl, Mae Ling.  She was beautiful, coal black hair, perfect features. She was having a hard time with the language and with her courses. My dorm father asked me to spend time just talking to her as a conversational English partner. And so we would walk and talk about everything and nothing.

One day when I went to look for her my dorm mother told me that she had gotten sick with a terrible headache. Doctors had sent her to her aunt and uncle’s house in California. She died the next day of a brain aneurysm at age 19.

This rocked my world.  I had experienced many deaths in my life to that point but they were all older adults, people who had lived long, full lives.  Mae Ling was young. She was my age. 

I would lie in bed at night and watch the gas stove in my room come on.  It had flames of a sort that would flicker in the front when it came on.  It reminded me of the flames of hell.  Did I know for sure that I would go to heaven when I died? Maybe I would go to the eternal flames of hell. How would I know.  For two weeks I tossed and turned every night, questions coursing through me. OF course I was a Christian and had accepted Christ when I was 7 but how did I know for sure.  I need someone to tell me the truth.

That someone had to be my Daddy.  I knew he would shoot straight with me.  When I arrived home for Thanksgiving break, I wasted no time.  Daddy was sitting at the red topped, chrome sided kitchen table. 

“I want you to give me proof that there is a heaven and that I will go there when I die.”

Of course, he reached for his Bible. But I put my hand on his.  “I know the Bible scriptures. I want you tell me that you KNOW it for sure, beyond a shadow of a doubt.”

He sat back in his chair.  I sat forward in mine, leaned into his wisdom.  It didn’t come quickly.  He thought for a long while and then he put his hand on mine and looked deep into my eyes.

“If you want tangible proof, I can’t give it to you.  I haven’t been there.  No one on earth has physically been there.”

He paused for a moment, closed his eyes and leaned back in his chair.  “But if you believe what the Bible says about heaven then you have to believe everything written in the Bible.”

He opened his eyes, picked up his Bible, leaned forward, tipped my chin up and looked me in the eyes again.  “You have to live your life based on these words.”

I looked down at my Nehru-collared shirt, bellbottom jeans with the embroidered peace symbol.  “But how do you know it’s true?”

“What do you have to lose?” he said.  “The worst that can happen is that you live your life with meaning and purpose and then it ends.  The best is that every word is true. In either case you have lived your life for something that matters. You have lived with meaning.  Many people never grasp hold of that.”

That day I chose to live my life with meaning.

This post is part of the #Trust30 Project. #Trust30 is an online initiative and 30-day writing challenge from TheDominoProject that encourages you to look within and trust yourself. Learn more at RalphWaldoEmerson.me

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Forward Motion



The cross remains at St. Mary's Church, Joplin.
For the last week we’ve been inundated in the newspaper, on television, on facebook with scenes of horrifying devastation in the wake of an EF5 tornado which hit the city of Joplin. A hospital rendered useless with windows blown out sending glass showering down on patients and clinicians.  Houses and apartment units flattened.  Cars and trucks picked up, tossed around and left in heaps on top of each other.  Businesses like Home Depot and Walmart, the roofs blown off, walls toppled and yet some shelves left standing with merchandise intact. St. Mary's Church decimated except for the cross standing tall over the landscape.

Far and above the millions of dollars it will take to replace the houses, businesses, cars, furniture and things lost in the storm, though, is that which is irreplaceable, the 142 children, mothers, fathers, grandfathers, grandmothers gone forever.  The fact that they lost their lives to what is a random act of nature sounds very much like saying that the sun came out today. But this act of nature was not like the colors in a butterfly’s wing or the smooth ripples on a nearby lake.  This was the green-black haunting funnel cloud packing the crippling force of winds ripping apart lives, homes, families all within 15 seconds. Fifteen seconds that has forever changed a town of 50,000 and impacted a nation to perhaps hug a loved one longer or smell the magic of a newborn one more time and then another just because we can.

After several days of gasping at the pictures of destruction across the southwestern Missouri town, I was struck by a parable of sorts with the town of Joplin and my own life.  First, I thought of my closet.  In Joplin, those clothes that people just bought at Walmart or Dillards and hung in their closets were many times ripped out and flung over three different states.  Shards of wood were driven through favorite pairs of jeans.  Mud was caked on babies’ sleepers.  Their closets were dumped out for the world to see.

When I opened my closet door, several shoeboxes, a giftbag, a shoe and ten hangers fell on me. It was wasted space because I couldn't find anything. Almost in a panic, I began pulling things out of the bottom of the closet and off hangers.  I made piles—keep, give-away, throw-away. Keep being the smallest.  It was a small step to be sure, but it got me to thinking about other things in my life.

You know the yellow warning-do-not-cross tape that the Police use to designate areas? I sometimes think I should be wrapped in that head to toe.  I have areas of destruction.  Some are easily fixed, like my closet.  Some I am working on like eating right and exercising. Some I cannot fix like health issues caused by a number of years of being extremely overweight.  Today, though, can move forward, even if it seems like its only inches forward.  I can do what I know to be the right thing now.

Joplin's loss was and is real, as real as the bark, limbs and leaves ripped from surviving stalwart trees.   Our devastation is also real—addictions or compulsions we feel we can’t control, people who have hurt us that we feel we cannot forgive, selfish desires that have grown and overtaken us like a wind the sound of a freight train.

The people of Joplin had no say over their fated devastation.  However, you and I do. The good news is, it's not too late. It’s never too late to take control of that which God has given us authority, the choices you and I make each day.  They are choices for life or for death.

As the people of Joplin dig through the rubble around them, we can dig through the rubble of our lives and find the things worth taking forward.  As the people of Joplin rebuild, we can do the same with our lives.  Maybe it will mean giving a donation to someone in need or taking a trip to Joplin to help another physically put the pieces of their life together again.  As the people of Joplin go forward with God's help, surely we can, too.  Surely, we can begin to make right choices for our lives.

In 15 seconds, the city of Joplin was changed by a force outside themselves.  In the same amount of time, you and I can change the course of destruction within ourselves.  We can take a step...forward.

Monday, May 23, 2011

If it looks good, eat it!


Daddy and me in the 18-foot Airstream trailer.

We lived in an awesome 18-foot Airstream trailer when I was not old enough to remember. It had a lean-to on the side, which served as the living room.  I’ve no idea where my mom and dad and I slept.  Probably on something that folded out at night and up during the day.  If you’ve ever seen one of those rounded silver 1949-50 model travel trailers that’s what I’m talking about.  It was not big on space but gigantic in holding love.

From the get-go I was one of those kids that was into everything.  I had to explore mom’s bright red lipstick (for some reason the color seemed to indicate to me that it would taste good and after all Momma put it on her lips), Daddy’s Old Spice cologne (it smelled better than it tasted, same with Vanilla flavoring), and the white cotton candy-looking balls I found under the sink. After all, Mom and Dad probably hid them there so I wouldn’t find them and eat them all.  They used to hide all the good stuff.

So I tried them.  I ate the whole box.  When Momma came in, she looked as white as one of the round things I’d just eaten. They really didn’t taste too good either but then I’d eaten them pretty fast, you know, so she wouldn’t catch me.

She grabbed me up and ran to the next-door neighbor shouting about what should she do since I’d eaten all the ball thingies.  The neighbor said she better call the ambulance and so she did and away we went with siren screaming to the hospital.  I wasn’t feeling good at all by the time Daddy got there from work, breathless, smelling of sweat and hard labor. 

They pumped my stomach after Momma told them I’d eaten the whole box. I mean really, cotton candy shouldn’t cause that much commotion.  Then I heard the words “poison” and “you were lucky” and “moth balls”. 

I don’t know that I can really remember all this. But I sure remember Momma and Daddy’s rendition. Who knows what part of it is true? The only constant in all of the stories I’ve heard is that I ate the whole box of mothballs and had to be taken to the hospital to have my stomach pumped. And that Momma and Daddy were really glad Momma saw me do it.

She probably saw me do it because the trailer was like the size of a large bathroom by todays standard.  I was always under her feet. Those things I know are true as well.

Is there a common denominator for red lipstick, Old Spice cologne, Vanilla and mothballs?  Sure, they all went into my 18-month old mouth.  And, I thought they would taste good. But not a one of them did. As a matter of fact, one of them was poison and would have killed me had my Momma not intervened. All that said, I probably should have learned at an early age that all that smells good, looks good and seems good, is not good for my body.  By the age of 18 months I knew it, but I know it didn’t sink in until now.  I won’t tell you my age but let’s just say I’ve long ago passed the age when I should know better.

Well, anyway, the trailer wasn’t big on space but gigantic on holding love. I think both the space and the love is what got me through to being 19 months old.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Mrs. Cunningham's Gift

Mrs. Cunningham gave me an awesome gift in second grade. Let me first explain to you why it was an awesome gift. To do that, I first need to introduce you to my grandfather, Papaw.

Papaw's father was a school teacher, actually I believe he became the first principal of the local high school.  Being a school teacher was high on the list of what a person should aspire to be.  He was the oldest living son, his brother Richard, having been killed in World War I. I know his father wanted him to follow in his footsteps as a teacher.  But Papaw had other desires.

Papaw was a farmer and a good one.  He farmed 530 acres of prime Missouri soil, much of which was creek bottom land.  He farmed with passion, science and business.  He loved the land.  He loved the animals.  Whether it was feeding the pigs, milking the cows, shearing the sheep or squirting milk in the kittens' mouths, it was pure joy to him.  Even spending long days on the tractor during planting or harvesting time brought him joy.

He was also scientific in the way he decided which field to plant in what crop, what kind of fertilizer and seed to use, when to plant, when to harvest.  His love of animals made him pretty close to being a vet.  He could give a shot, diagnose an illness or interpret animal behaviors knowing when to remove an animal from the herd and give them a break.

His business and accounting skills were admirable as well. He knew all about when to buy, when to sell, when to and how much to borrow and how to save to pay it back.  He was well respected in the farming community as an expert in financial matters. I say all this to let you know, he chose his vocation not because he wasn't intelligent but because he loved it.  All his life, though, I believe he struggled with the expectations of his family that he would be a teacher. 

He was also a bit of a jokester.  One of the things he would say to us girls was: "She may not be very p-r-e-t-t-y but she sure is s-m-a-r-t!" Those words resonated in my being as I'm not pretty enough so maybe I should try to be smart enough.  I don't think that is what my Papaw was trying to say to us.  I'm sure he was saying to not focus on the external beauty but focus on the internal.  My Papaw was an awesome man, one of the best, kindest, gentlest, most godly.  If he knew how as a child, I interpreted that saying he would be mortified.  It was probably because I looked up to him so much that I was much more sensitive to his words than I would normally have been with anyone else.

In any case, I wanted to be smart.  I didn't really feel I was smart.  I was average, maybe a B average student.  My grandparents would give me $1 for every E (or A) that I earned.  B's didn't earn anything. Only A's earned money because if you made an A, you were s-m-a-r-t.  In first grade, I struggled a bit.  I maybe earned on A. I mean first grade is the time you learn to read.  I hadn't been taught to read at home, so I had some catching up to do.  When I got into second grade, Mrs. Cunningham was a kind, encouraging, loving teacher.  Still, I didn't earn many A's. That is until the last grade card of the year.  Mrs. Cunningham gave me all A's!  It didn't matter to me that most of my friends also got all A's, I got all A's.  That meant enough money to add to my piggy bank to get the new bike! That meant I was s-m-a-r-t because I had already figured out I wasn't p-r-e-t-t-y.  Finally, I could smile when Papaw said that to all us girls.

Mrs. Cunningham's gift to me meant I was enough.  I was smart.  I was talented. Hey, maybe I was even enough to be a little pretty.  Hugging her good-bye, she said to me, as I think she said to every student, "You come back and see me every year. Bring your report card, so I see how great you do.  You can be or do anything you want to."  Wow, I walked out of that classroom feeling six-feet tall.  For the first time in my life, I felt like I was enough. And every year I was in West Boulevard school, I brought my grade card back to show her. And every year, she was elated no matter what the grade.

Perhaps today reflecting on this, I realize there are times in my life when I have allowed circumstances to overwhelm the "enough" part of me.  After all, there will always be someone prettier, smarter, richer, more caring than me.  There will be those who pretend to have more or be more.  There will be those who seem to be pretty near perfect.  Those people make me want to numb myself into non-feeling, because I can't compete, nor do I want to. Yet, their very presence pushes me out in the middle of the circle forcing me to be tongue-tied, lacking and vulnerable.

And yet, I think about that moment in my life in second grade when I felt enough for the first time in my life.  Mrs. Cunningham was a vision-giver.  She realized the most important gift she could give her students at the end of the year was a sense of "I am enough."  She truly believed that each of us, no matter where we were on the academic spectrum, were enough just like we were.

I can stand in the middle of that circle today and be tongue-tied, lacking and vulnerable.  It is OK.  I am enough because in my life, I have had many Mrs. Cunninghams.  In fact, it is my desire now to be a Mrs. Cunningham to others, my family, my friends.  She reached out and connected with me.  She encouraged me.  She gave me the courage to say the words and mean them from the depth of my soul:  I am enough!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Weird

What happened to all the little pictures of those who follow my blog? And how in the world do I get rid of all the ads on my blog?  These are the questions which keep me up at night. Not really, but I would like to know the answer.  Course I doubt that anyone will answer this since it looks like all those who follow the blog, including me, have vanished into thin air.  Things that make you go hmmm!

Friday, May 13, 2011

Eat, Pray, Love


In the movie, Eat, Pray, Love, Julia Roberts goes on an around-the world quest to find herself which includes having exquisite culinary experiences in Italy, the power of a spiritual experience in India and a meaningful love relationship in Bali.  The movie, though, begins with a painful divorce and the leaving behind of what she had made of her life to date.




In and of itself, the movie has nothing to do with my faith or spiritual development.  It is not something I want to pattern my life after. I want to say that upfront.  I am not proposing that everyone go out and buy the movie.  It is not the spiritual experience the title may infer.

However, it thinking about the title and the basic premise, it brought up a few analogies for me in my life and walk.  The first and most obvious is the start of the movie. Julia finds herself in a life that is less than meaningful for her. She gives it up, leaves it behind totally and becomes a new and different person.  This is true for us.  In order to have something new and meaningful, we must leave the old behind. The old is not working. The old life needs to die, in order for new life to come forth.   

Scripture says, “This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!” To belong to Christ we only need accept what His love did for us.  Because we are a people who have sinner, done things against God’s law, we cannot enter heaven on our own.  When we accept Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, He gives us entrance to His kingdom.  When our eyes are opened to what Christ did for us because He loved us, then we willingly do what He asked of us.  This means, the old way of doing things selfishly, must be gone.  In its place is an emphasis on what God wants from us. And in that sense things that have no meaning are replaced with those that have meaning.  God’s Holy Spirit is living inside of us.  We put the old aside and willing take on the new.

Now the title of the movie. First, eat!  I like eating, probably a little too much, but I do like it.  Eating is necessary for life.  If we did not have the proper nourishment as a baby, toddler, child, teenager, we wouldn’t survive.  I’ve seen mothers give their babies kool-aid or soda in their bottles. It makes me want to scream, “What are you thinking?”  Babies need milk.  Children need proper nutrition and that doesn’t mean fast food five days a week.  As adults, we need proper balanced nutrition to survive.  If not, our bodies will be out of balance.  The decay process will be heightened and when it has come to full fruition, our life will end.

We need that nutrition spiritually, as well.  The scriptures say: “Taste and see that the Lord is good.”  The Old Testament says that the law of the Lord is sweeter than honey from the honeycomb.  Jesus says he is the bread of life, the living water.  The point is we need the Word of God and the presence of God to live, really live, with abundant life.  Food gives sustenance.  Gourmet food gives momentary pleasure.  The Word of God gives a full and happy life, forever.

Second, pray.  This goes without saying if you do step number one, which is to ingest the Word of God and have the presence of Christ through the Holy Spirit living in you.  Of course, you want to pray.  You want to stay in touch with the One who has changed your life from the old to the new.  You want to talk to Him, which is all prayer is anyway, a time of quiet reflection or earnest entreaty for His will to be done on earth.  We should pray for healing, whether it is physical, mental, emotional or spiritual for others and ourselves, as well.

Third, love.  Again, when you think about it, this is a no brainer.  I’m not talking about finding some guy who lives in an exotic Bali home on the water, who loves to go boating every day and lounge around with his new love.  I’m talking about sharing the kind of love God showed you with everyone you meet.  What does that look like?  It might be easier to say what it doesn’t look like. For me, it doesn’t look like tackling everyone you meet and shoving a tract in their face, crusading against certain lifestyles you think are wrong or conveniently forgetting to pay a bill.  It does look like having meaningful conversations with those you meet throughout your day that are overcome by life’s circumstances. Or maybe it means just a kind word to a beleaguered grocery store clerk.  It might mean signing a petition to support a cause you believe in or giving funds to help a legal cause that will further kingdom objectives. 

Sharing our resources is a great way to love. There are those around the world, who have nothing.  I remember a video I saw once that was a parable of two brothers. One was very wealthy.  The other was extremely poor and was about to die.  Their father implored the wealthy son to help the one who was struggling.  The wealthy told his dad that he had made the money he had and that he wasn’t about to share it with a brother who couldn’t take care of himself.  He added that his brother was an adult and that he could become wealthy just like he had.

The father in the story is God.  The wealthy brother is those of us who live in the United States and are blessed beyond the rest of the world.  The poor brother is the majority of the world who live in poverty.  In reality, we don’t “need” everything we have.  We can share with others in need.

What is love anyway?  Where do we start loving?  Why would we love another person who isn’t our family?  Aren’t we supposed to take care of our families?  The scriptures do tell us to take care of our families, but also clearly tells us we are to take care of those less fortunate. It actually says, “If anyone has enough money to live well and sees a brother or sister in need and refuses to help -- how can God's love be in that person? Let’s stop just saying we love each other. Let’s really show it by our actions.”

Eat, Pray, Love.  I think that’s going to be my new mantra. Now that I’ve redefined it, maybe it will be yours as well. 

Monday, May 9, 2011

The Parting

The brisk breeze necessitated laying closer together, at least that's what he told himself.  It seemed the dark violet sky wanted to swallow them surrounding each completely.  In contrast, the three moons of Trikala glowed various neon colors first light purple moving to blues, greens and yellows and back again. Stars always seemed near enough to touch as throughout the night they fell headlong through space.

“Look, another shooting star,” Y said pointing in the western sky. If there were anything sinister about the night the two laying on the soft blue clovers of Trikala did not notice.

“Moon One seems to be winking at us tonight,” X said. She couldn’t suppress the giggles rising in her throat. She snuggled closer feeling his chest rise and fall beneath his robe. She played with the gold rope that held it in place at his waist.  Taking her hand, he moved it back to his chest covering it with his.

“He’s winking because he’s never seen a more beautiful Trikalian young lady.”  With that he turned her perfectly formed face to his and kissed her softly, then more urgently until both were breathless with anticipation. Then without a word, he stopped and stood.

She stared at his outreached hand.  “What are you doing?” The question went unanswered as she took his hand and stood.  Then in one quick leap, she jumped and wrapped her arms around his neck covering him with kisses, wrapping her legs around him. She could feel his entire body pulsating. Gently removing her arms from his neck, he let her feet fall to the ground.

Eyes still locked with his, she took one step back. Then without speaking, she loosened the string that held her silver robe in place.  It fell to the ground revealing everything Y had only dreamed about. He gasped audibly. 

At 35U, Y was ready, more than ready, for a family.  His parents warned him over and over not to wait too long to take a mate. How could he tell them he knew who she should be and had for 10 years.  But she was now 15D and soon would be 14 and then 13 and 12, 11, 10.  Already she was too young.  His head had always known the dangers.  Now his heart knew them as well.

Trikalan law demanded that men and women reveal their true ages.  D’s were the ones who were more vulnerable at not making rational decisions. The beginning of irrationality was said to be 17D.  Already they had pushed time beyond its legal limits.  He blew his breath out with an exasperation snort.

“What?” she said.  She probed his face for a hint of his feelings. What she found there was a longing she well knew.  She smiled and cocked her head to one side.

He let his eyes touch her warm alabaster skin.  He memorized how her toes curled under her feet for warmth, where her ankles blended into the calves of her legs.  How her knees turned in slightly and curved out to her thighs and hips.  He noted how perfectly these curved into her tiny waist and then physically inhaled as he his eyes to move upward allowing himself to stay there only a second while he moved still further to her smooth neck and then her tiny chin, full lips, sloping nose and large dark eyes.  Her coal black hair was cut short and stood spiked with silver tips.  Her ears, dainty and small were decked with several rows of silver stars.

He picked up the robe and draped it around her shoulders. Then he pulled her to him and held her tightly as if she would break. There was more, so much more he wanted. But he knew it was not to be—not tonight or any other night until many, many years in the future, if ever.  And he cried.  Not small quiet tears but loud, wailing sobs.  And she cried.  Her time of understanding had not fully drawn to a close but soon would in its completeness and she would be free to not remember.  In a way he envied that about her. They were on opposite paths of a world stuck in an unbreakable cycle.  She was going one way while he was going a different and physically there was no stopping. His, a sentence to many more years of remembering. Hers, a release to the process of rediscovery.

“Apria 29, 565,” he said. “I will meet you here.”

“If you remember.”

“Oh it is not me who will forget.  I will never forget you.”

“Nor I you.”

“You cannot help but forget. But those who grow up, have only remembering.  And you, my silver princess, are worth remembering.”

“As are you.” Big tears fell soundlessly to the Trikalan soil.

“And how is it that someone as beautiful as you never took a mate?”

“I did take a mate.  However, not all Trikalan men are as kind as you.”

“Where is he now?”

“On the far side, I hope.  That, at least, is where I remember leaving him many years ago.”

“What was he called?”

“He was A.”

“And he is your age?”

 “Yes. Why?”

“In case I should ever meet him.”

“And what would you do?”

“I would make sure he never hurt you or any other Trikalian woman.”

“But he is A.”

“And he is malevolent.”

“There is nothing to cure that problem. There is only forgetting.  But I shall not forget you.”

“And how do you know that?  How will you recognize me? You know I will not look as I do now.”

“I will recognize your love.”  Grasping his hand she placed it over her breast.  “Feel that? The universe will remind me of why I exist.” 

For a long moment, his eyes held hers, then turning he ran into the Trikalan night.  He heard her screams as she collapsed to the ground unable to move, grief consuming her.  But he dared not turn around lest he violate all he knew was sacred to him, to her, to Trikala.  

Teresa Parker © 2011