Lessons and tables

I’m tired of all these lessons. I’m tired of all this hard stuff. Why do all these lessons have to be hard? And so often? This must be graduate level work here.

If we are supposed to “love our enemies”, to be kind to them, then isn’t that enabling them? Isn’t that telling them that their ugly, abusive, selfish nature is OK?

Why do I have to eat at a table in the “midst of mine enemies”? Anger and strife don’t make for a good appetite or digestion.

But then I think – if the Lord prepares a table for me in the midst of my enemies, perhaps it means that while I’m in the middle of an unpleasant thing my needs are taken care of. Instead of the food coming first and the enemies second – it is the other way around. So I need to open up and see the bad situations as a prequel to goodness coming.

Bead control

I once taught a prayer bracelet workshop at a silent retreat. That was very difficult for me. I normally want to control things, and when I can’t talk, I can’t control. I could have written down what I wanted to tell people right then but either I didn’t think about that or I thought that was cheating. I had printed instructions for the very first silent retreat that I taught at but it seems like nobody read them or followed them.

There was a certain length of cord that I provided for the bracelets this time. That helped a lot. When I’ve taught prayer bracelet classes before where I could talk, people sometimes ended making bracelets that were either too short or too long. Some of them were more like necklaces.

Another thing that is important to tell people when making prayer bracelets is that they need to not put anything really heavy in the center because it will slide to that underside of your wrist and you’ll never see it. I couldn’t say that this time, and saw it happening. I knew the person would be frustrated later, but I had to let it go.

When I have taught the class before I would sometimes have to have people take the entire thing apart and redo it. At this retreat I couldn’t say anything, so I just had to let the bracelets be the way they were. Bracelets and people are a lot alike.

I had printed instructions telling them that they were supposed to put a special bead and then a plain bead and then a different special bead and the same kind of plain bead. Since the bracelets were only five dollars each this is a way that I wouldn’t lose money. Nobody did it this way. I had to let that go too.

I never thought that I would learn a lot about myself from teaching a prayer bracelet workshop at a silent retreat. It was hard to let go. I’ve invested a lot of my life into beads. Part of all of this was about relearning and unlearning. I wanted to share this new way of praying with people, but I didn’t need to do it in such a way that I needed therapy afterwards.

Life Support

Part of a living will states that you don’t want to be on life support. This can mean anything from artificial ventilation to artificial feeding. If you are unable to live on your own, you don’t want artificial methods to keep you alive. This is presuming that you are not likely to recover.

How far can we stretch this idea?

If a person isn’t able to exist independently, is she on life support? Say she can’t go to the grocery store because she has become so feeble that she cannot drive. Or he is so addled and confused that someone else has to pay the water and electric bill. They can’t exist on their own for very long without another person taking care of them. She’ll starve, and he will freeze in winter or die of heat stroke in summer.

Are they on life support?

What about the person who was born profoundly mentally or physically disabled? Every day, all day, for the rest of his life someone has to take care of his every need. He is not able to have anything resembling a normal human life without another person taking care of him.

Is this life support?

What about the wife who can’t figure out how to do anything in the house when her husband leaves on a business trip? The water heater breaks and she calls one of her children (who lives in another state) to come clean up and get a new water heater.

Is this life support?

Because of our modern society, we are all dependent on each other. Very few people grow their own food. The water and electricity we use is brought to us through the ingenuity and ability of others. Few of us have built the homes we live in. Our education is provided by others.

Is this life support?

A few people are homesteading. Some people have gone as far “off the grid” as possible. They take care of all their own needs. I read a story about a couple who had built their house, dug a well, and grew their own food. They wrote books and taught classes on how to do this. Because they had simple needs, they didn’t have to make much money. When the husband got older, he became infirm to the point that he felt he was going to be dependent on others. He made the conscious choice to stop eating so he would die, rather than have to make someone else have to take care of him.

So that begs the question – is everyone in a nursing home on life support? They are all dependent on other people for their existence.

What is life support, after all? In a way, aren’t we all on life support?

I challenge this – On banned books and women’s roles.

I saw this book cover the other day. It is in the “young adult” section.


Sure, it is Banned Books Week – so I should celebrate that people have the right to read whatever they want. While I’m OK with choices, I’m still going to question them.

It is the same issue I have with buffets. People can choose vegetables or fried meat. They can choose to eat only one plate of food, or fourteen. But we pay for our choices. And ultimately, society pays for people’s bad choices. My health insurance rates go up every year because people refuse to take care of themselves. Their health gets worse, so the costs go up, so it has to be paid for – by me. Meanwhile, I take care to eat well and exercise. I should not have to pay for their bad decisions, but I do.

We say we are all about free choice, but in some ways we aren’t. Notice light bulbs. We can’t buy regular incandescent bulbs anymore. They aren’t “environmentally correct”. Fluorescent bulbs last five times longer than incandescents. But – they can’t be disposed of in a “green” way. You can’t throw them away legally. You have to take them to a hazardous waste center because of the mercury in them. You can’t even recycle them. So in a way they are better, but in another way they are worse. The strange thing is that we don’t have a choice about it anymore – if we want light bulbs, they are fluorescent.

I’d think that if the government was really concerned about our well-being, they’d ban cigarettes for starters. Then, they’d make sure that all food was healthy – no additives or preservatives. Nothing would have extra sugar in it. We’d have mandatory exercise time during the work day too.

I don’t see any of this happening.

But back to the book cover. I am opposed to this book for several reasons. I’m not going to “challenge” it officially. I’m not going to try to get it banned. But I will bring up questions about it, and wonder why authors and publishers provide this kind of book. I will suggest how this kind of book affects us all.

This book is geared towards teenage girls. Do they really need to be indoctrinated to the idea that they have to be sexual beings? Do they need to be taught that they have to have a boy in their lives to feel complete? Is this a healthy message we need to be promoting as a society?

The “need” to have a mate distracts women from being full people. They spend their energy and money on attracting and keeping a boyfriend to the exclusion of anything else. Perhaps this is part of why women don’t go into science or politics nearly as often as men do. They don’t have the energy for it. They’ve given it all away to the goal of becoming a girlfriend or wife or mother.

Plus, do we really need to get young girls all steamy? They can’t handle the responsibility that comes with sex. Why have books that are explicitly sexual geared to this age group?

We don’t give full driving privileges to young drivers. They have graduated driving licenses. There are certain hours they can and can’t drive, and certain limitations as to who can be with them in the car. They don’t have the maturity to be able to handle the full responsibility of driving when they get their license, so we control it for them.

Sadly, sex isn’t that way. Once you figure out how it works, you can do anything, and anything can happen. Sadly, young people are still growing up themselves, and are almost never mature enough to handle the overwhelming responsibility involved in being a parent.

Sex is like playing Russian roulette with your life.

With this kind of book we are handing young girls a gun and telling them to put it to their heads. Either way, their own life will end. They’ll either get pregnant or distracted. Their energy will go into being a mother or a girlfriend. Their energy will be in relation to someone else. They won’t be their own people – strong, independent.

We all pay for this. We pay for it in teenage girls who get pregnant, who become single mothers and can’t afford to take care of themselves. So they get government assistance – which we pay for. Our taxes go up because of other people’s bad decisions, just like with health insurance. We pay for it in women who have spent their lives taking care of a house and home rather than fulfilling their dreams of being engineers or astrophysicists or diplomats.

How much have we lost as a nation, as a world, because we keep teaching young girls that their only value is to be found in their bodies, and not in their minds? We are prostituting our girls. We are selling them as surely as if we put them on the street.

Smack talking

Don’t talk smack to a cop. They are like hornets. If they sense trouble, they’ll call more of them to come. And then they will all sting you.

I hate that trick question. “Do you know why I pulled you over?” I want to say “Why, don’t you know?” Or make up something silly like “Because I was playing mariachi music too loudly?”

That isn’t really a great plan.

Sure, I’m a white woman. I’m middle class. I don’t run the same risk of death by cop that a black men would. But worse can happen. There are worse things than death. And when stopped in a strange place with a strange person who has a gun – even if that person is legally entitled to that gun – it is best to not act suspiciously.

Sometimes I watch the show “Cops” just to learn what not to do.

Flowers and vegetables

I buy my own flowers, and I cook my own vegetables. I have to. I need to.

I wanted my husband to buy me flowers and to cook more vegetables, but it didn’t happen. Rather than feel resentful, I decided to show love to myself. Every week when I go to the grocery store, I get fresh vegetables and some flowers. He benefits from these things, sure, but I’m the first recipient.

For years I told him that we needed to start eating more vegetables. Eating mostly meat isn’t healthy. We didn’t have to go to being vegetarian, but at least more like omnivores. And by vegetables I meant actual, fresh vegetables. Not ones from the freezer, and not ones that had been processed to a point that they were unrecognizable.

This was beyond him.

Preparing fresh vegetables takes 20 minutes, from chopping up to steaming, but every night we’d end up eating an hour after I came home at 8. That is way too late to eat. I still can’t figure out how he was wasting that much time.

What pushed it over the edge was when I hurt my back and my chiropractor said that I needed to eat a vegetarian diet for a week to reduce the inflammation. My spouse totally didn’t get it, and I became even angrier and angrier as my physical pain got worse and worse.

I felt helpless.

Food is a basic need, and eating healthy is important. I felt that he was not providing for me in the way that I needed. Deep down, I felt that he was not loving me in the way that I needed. This is part of why I decided to make learning how to cook my goal for this year.

While I’m glad to feel self sufficient, I’m a little sad that he isn’t able to take care of me in this basic way.

It isn’t like I needed him to make a six digit salary, and to buy me furs and diamonds. It isn’t like I needed him to work hard enough that I didn’t have to.

It sounds selfish, and sad, and empty, that in this basic way he can’t support me. It is food, and flowers.

But, in a good way, I’m glad that I decided to love myself in the way that I needed to be loved. Rather than feel empty and abandoned, I decided to take matters into my own hands. It is healing at the same time it is sad.

Somehow, while I’m building myself up, I’m separating from him. I’m getting stronger by not relying on him as much. It is scary in a way.

I don’t trust women who crow about their husbands all the time – about how awesome they are, how wonderful, how supportive. I don’t believe them. Everybody has a shadow side. No person is perfect. I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop, for them to get really angry about how much of a slob he is, or how scatterbrained or thoughtless.

Who cares if you stay when the relationship is good? It is how you work out the hard stuff that matters.

Smoking as a silencer

Smoking represents an inability to speak your truth. When you smoke, you are literally burning the back of your throat. You are also making it impossible to speak because your mouth is closed.

People smoke because they feel that they are not able to say how they feel. They feel that someone is working against them or there’s an injustice. They feel that they don’t have the power or the authority to speak up for themselves. So they silence themselves by smoking.

It is difficult to speak up for yourself. There’s a lot of anxiety and tension that comes from it. But just like with smoking you feel pain at first and then it feels better. When you smoke, the nicotine gets into your blood system and you start to feel more relaxed. But you don’t feel relaxed right off at first. The smoke tastes bad and the burning in the back of your throat is unpleasant. But eventually you start to feel calmer. The same is true with speaking your truth.

So, I’m writing a book. (On believing in myself and my message.)

Recently I’ve had several people interested in the fact that I am writing a book. They ask what it is that I’m writing about. I always hesitate. I started to wonder why.

Perhaps I’m hesitating because I don’t know if these people are religious or not. A lot of people have a knee-jerk reaction against organized religion, and religion in general. I understand that. In fact that’s part of what I’m writing about. But I don’t want to say I’m writing about God and Jesus and have them immediately stop listening to me. So I have to figure out a way to warm them up to the idea.

It reminds me of the elevator speech that I would give to people when they would show up at the library. There were members of my former church who I would see at the library and they would say “How come I haven’t seen you in church in a while?” I needed an answer for that. Sometimes they wouldn’t say anything at all and I would tell them anyway. I wanted them to understand that how we are doing church is completely opposite of how Jesus wanted us to do it.

What I’m doing is stripping everything down and rebuilding from the ground up.

Some churches are doing what they’re supposed to be doing. Some churches are doing what is right, loving mercy, and walking humbly with God. Some churches are clothing the naked, visiting the sick and imprisoned, and feeding the hungry. But some churches seem to be more about celebrating God than following God. They get that good feeling once a week by saying that they are Christians but during the rest of the week they don’t live like they are. Jesus didn’t die so that we can get dressed up for an hour once a week and sing songs. He didn’t die so that we would live badly. So part of what I’m writing is about saying what we are supposed to do.

Perhaps part of why I hesitate when they ask me what I’m writing about is because of my lack of credentials. I don’t have a degree in theology. I’ve not been to Divinity school. And let’s face it – I’m a woman. The apostle Paul says that women shouldn’t talk in church. So by extension they certainly shouldn’t talk about church. But let’s look at who Jesus called. Jesus called the leftovers, the has-beens, the never-was. Jesus called tax collectors, fishermen, and laborers. Jesus called people who weren’t authorities at all. That’s important to remember. So just because I don’t have any training doesn’t mean that I don’t know what I’m talking about.

I want to wake people up to their true calling as followers of Jesus. I want us all to connect with the true Vine that is Jesus. I want everybody to know that they are ministers, and they are called. I want people to read the Bible for themselves, rather than have it fed to them. I want the church to be about the people and not about the building.

That. That is what my book is about.

Will it sell a million copies? Will I get to retire and write all day long? Doubtful. Will it change minds? Hopefully.

It is already written – it is in this blog. I’m just putting it together in book form and then self-publishing it. Fiddling with the format is tedious. I’ve looked at getting help for this and the price they want to charge exceeds what I think I’ll make on it. So I’m plodding along on my own. Meanwhile, I’ve got more ideas coming. It is hard to juggle it all. But I think the first thing I have to do is believe that this book needs to happen and stop apologizing for writing it and for believing that it should exist.

Thoughts by Jeffrey Alan Russell

(My coworker, Jeff Russell, typed up these thoughts after his wife died. He died seven weeks after she did, on August 15th, 2014, at 42. These thoughts were distributed at his memorial service. I wanted them to spread further, so I have retyped them and posted them here. This is a further reminder to me that we should not wait to fulfill our dreams. He wanted to write – and this is all that he produced. My father said for years that he was writing a book about Beethoven, and after he died (at 60) there weren’t even notes to try to assemble. We cannot wait. Tomorrow is not guaranteed.)

Jeff Russell2

By the Master’s Hand
I have decided to finally (and reluctantly) put down the pen and stop writing my life story, instead letting the One who knows it best to complete the chapters. The short article I was attempting to write over the years may possibly now become an epic adventure that never would have occurred at my own keyboard. That which might have ended as a footnote and forgotten through the ages has now limitless possibilities, too wonderful to even describe in printed word. Every chapter even grander than the last – and perhaps best of all, a story that can go on forever.

Missing Keys
True losses are like a few keys on a piano that have been snatched away. The instrument still plays well enough and we are able to make do for the most part. There are, however going to be some songs that can never be played again.

Open Eyes
When we were children, our parents kept us from doing some things for our own good. It might have been fun to skip school or eat candy instead of food, or stay up late every night, but it wouldn’t have been good for us. In fact, if they had let us always have our own way, it would have been considered serious neglect and abuse. We may not have understood their rules or even believed them when they told us it was the best way, but we had to set aside our doubts and simply trust them. It is the same now with our relationship with God. We may question what He does, but surely He always knows best. One day, when we are clothed in nothing but the Spirit and are standing at last in His presence, we may be ready for the full truth to be spoken and the heart to understand. But even then, our eyes will only be beginning to be opened. One never knows…

The Garden
Always do your best, even if it seems that no one is noticing or appreciating it. Those seeds you drop today will likely take root, maybe years from now, in the most unexpected places and times. This is why everything we do is important, even the smallest things. Make no mistake, we will reap from every seed that we sow one way or another. We must always take care of our gardens. One never knows…

The Hall of Souls
We are not forgotten. If at times you feel lost, as I do, just remember He has numbered even the hairs on your head and remembered them. The 20th century writer and prophet Edgar Cayce once wrote that God has a great “Hall of Records”, a spiritual library with the names of every soul that has ever lived or whoever will live. There, watching and loving us each moment of our turning and twisting lives, He waits patiently for us to return to Him where we belong. We are most certainly never forgotten.

New Chapters
We were never meant to settle quietly into structured, secure lives, thinking that the best times were past and we’re now too old for adventures. He means for us to be as prepared to set sail for new lands at 70 as we were at 21. If you are still here you’re up for deployment. Always live with our bags packed and your heart open. You never know where He means to take you.

Ask and ye shall receive… but maybe not in the time you expected or wanted. Our schedules are not His, and timing truly is everything. Who knows better than God the precise moment when we should turn left or right? Do not worry- He has heard your request, and He knows that time is short – but there are things that must happen first, very important things, things that you could not possibly foresee or understand. The cart must not come before the horse. Take a deep breath, and be thankful that it is in His most capable hands.

Pain Opens the Door
It’s an odd thing that the more sorrowful and sad I feel, the closer I am to Him – the more willing I am to finally put my life under His control. In bliss, when times are good, the Lord becomes an afterthought – on the back burner. When my sturdy little house of cards finally collapses, however, it is Him I turn to. How much better it would be that I would always choose Him first, not wait until there’s nothing left. As C.S. Lewis said, “God will have us, even when we have shown to prefer everything else to Him.”

Jeff Russell

June 9, 1972 – August 15, 2014

Give me away

When I die if you need to weep
Cry for your brother or sister
Walking the street beside you
And when you need me put your arms around anyone
And give them what you need to give me.

I want to leave you something
Something better than words or sounds.

Look for me in the people I’ve known or loved
And if you cannot give me away
At least let me live in your eyes and not on your mind.

You can love me most by letting hands touch hands
By letting bodies touch bodies
And by letting go of children that need to be free.

Love doesn’t die, people do
So when all that’s left of me is love
Give me away.

-Anonymous, copied from Page 346 of the book “Life Prayers”
I read this at a coworker’s memorial service.