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.

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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.

Patience
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.

The Dragonfly

Once, in a little pond, in the muddy water under the lily pads, there lived a little water beetle in a community of water beetles. They lived a simple and comfortable life in the pond with few disturbances and interruptions.

Once in a while, sadness would come to the community when one of their brother or sister beetles would climb the stem of a lily pad and would never be seen again. They knew when this happened that their friend was dead, gone forever.

Then, one day, one little water beetle felt an irresistible urge to climb up that stem. However, she was determined that she would not leave forever. She would come back and tell her friends what she had found at the top.

When she reached the top and climbed out of the water onto the surface of the lily pad, she was so tired, and the sun felt so warm, that she decided she must take a nap. As she slept, her body changed and when she woke up, she had turned into a beautiful blue-tailed dragonfly with four broad wings and a body designed for flying.

So, fly she did! As she soared she saw the beauty of a whole new world – and a far better way of life than what she had ever known existed.

Then she remembered her beetle friends, and how they were thinking that by now she was dead. She wanted to go back to tell them, and explain to them that she was now more alive than she had ever been before. Her life had been fulfilled rather than ended.

But her new body couldn’t not go back into the water. She could not get back to tell her friends the good news. Then she understood that the time would come when they, too, would know what she now knew. So, she raised her wings and flew off into her joyous new life.

-author unknown-

(This was read at my Mother-in-law’s memorial service, and I think it is worthy of passing on)

Questionable boyfriend

A lady came into the library recently with a guy I recognize. He’s a patron from years ago, and not a good one. She asked him if he wanted to check and see if he had a card. He shrugged her off, but came up to me later.

He said that she was his girlfriend, and he had been using her card. I was pretty sure he had an account that he couldn’t use because it wasn’t in good standing.

I was right. There was a reason he didn’t do any of this in front of her.

He had a dozen CDs out and hadn’t returned them in years. He’d been billed for them, and his account had gone to collections. He owed over $300.

He knew all of this. It wasn’t a surprise. Maybe he was hoping it would have just disappeared.

I told him his options. Find them and bring them back. Buy replacement copies of what is lost. Or pay the fine. He walked away.

They both came up later, and he’d again used her card to check out. She seems like a decent person. She doesn’t look like she would date him. I wanted to warn her – don’t marry him. Stay away.

I can see more than his fines. I can see more than his unwillingness to be responsible with his account. I know that he was caught trying to spray paint this building.

I also can tell more from what he is reading. He’d checked out “urban erotic fiction.” This is what black women in the projects read. It is rough stuff – and straight white guys certainly don’t read it. Perhaps he’s gay? Because the only other guy I’ve ever known to read “urban erotic fiction” was.

This isn’t going to go well.

The last time I warned someone away from a questionable guy I got censured very badly. There was a guy who wasn’t very reliable who was in the medieval reenactment group I was in many years ago. He’d promise the moon and not deliver. He was forever making up his own rules about things. He was shifty, and we’d early on learned to not let him be in charge of anything because he always let the group down.

He started dating this girl who was very nice but very innocent. She was trusting – too trusting. I felt like it was my duty to clue her in to his history with the group.

It all backfired on me.

At an event, months after my talk with her, my knight (I was in a household with a knight as the head) pulls me from what I was doing and says we are going to have a meeting. Next thing I know, I’m sitting at a table with the knight, the girlfriend, and the guy. I’m suddenly on trial and I’ve not had any warning. Turns out she talked to her boyfriend, and he talked to my knight. Nobody had come up to me privately.

It was uncomfortable. It was intense. And I felt betrayed by my knight.

I was asked why I said what I said. My main answer was to protect her. My brother has been married four times and the successive wives didn’t know about his lies and the previous wives. They’d gotten hurt very badly. I felt that I had a chance with this lady to let her know what she was getting in for. I didn’t have a chance with my brother’s wives. I could have saved them a lot of trouble.

I was then asked who told me what I said. Some of what I knew was from before I was in the group, so it was information that was revealed to me. I refused to answer this. It isn’t who told me that is the issue. It is the fact that I repeated it. I wasn’t told by just one person, and my personal experiences with this guy had borne out this impression that he wasn’t trustworthy. Heck – even my knight had told me stories about how shifty he was. I held my ground on this one.

Plus – I didn’t think it was fair to throw other people under the bus, just because I was getting run over.

I meant well, and I got hurt. I didn’t trust my knight after that. I didn’t talk to this guy or his girlfriend ever again either. It ruined my experience in this group that was my main social outlet. I know this group was supposed to be about honor and chivalry, but I felt like I was doing the right thing, and I feel even today that how the situation was handled was inappropriate.

So I’m a little wary of telling anybody to stay away from shady guys.

I don’t think this is the lesson I should have learned.

We read stories about women who were suckered by guys who made them think they were great people, and all the people around them knew the real story. Her friends and family saw how he was when he wasn’t with her. They said nothing, and it all went very badly. In the best case, her heart gets broken. In the worst case, she’s dead.

Is it worth it? Are we supposed to be silent? Are we supposed to pretend that the skunk will turn into a kitty cat? Are we supposed to think that if we don’t tell her our concerns that it will all work out for the best?

This seems stupid. This is how predators continue to work. We are aiding and abetting them with our silence.

How much am I allowed to say at work? Would it be considered slander? Could I get fired for expressing my opinion of this guy to his girlfriend? Library records are private, by law. Even a wife doesn’t have access to her husband’s account unless he gives her his card.

I don’t think this guy is dangerous – just untrustworthy. That can become dangerous.

Don’t go changin’

One of the worst things a new person can do is start to change things.

Perhaps your way is better. Perhaps the way you did it at your old place was smarter. But suddenly changing things at your new place when it affects everybody else isn’t smart at all. This is especially true if you start changing things without asking anybody else for their opinion.

Say we are all rowing a boat together, and a new person jumps in and starts calling out a different cadence. Or brings a different kind of oar. Or drops the anchor in the middle of the race. It is going to mess everything up. It is going to make the whole thing stop.

It is OK to ask, or suggest, or recommend. It isn’t OK to just do it.

Even if you’ve been there a long time, don’t make sudden changes if it affects other people. If it affects your work area and nobody else works where you are, then have at it. If other people use that space, then don’t.

Sometimes it may seem like we “are doing it this way because we’ve always done it this way.” Sometimes we may be. But sometimes there is a rule that you don’t know about because you’ve not been there long enough to know that rule.

Sometimes people will push back not because of the idea, but because of how it is presented. You have to warm people up to a change. You have to include them. You have to think about their feelings.

It doesn’t matter if the idea is a good one if people aren’t willing to put their energy behind it. Surprising people with sudden change will never result in their support.

The result isn’t more important than the people. If you leave the people out of the equation, you will make a far bigger mess than the one you were trying to fix.

Nothing is an accident

I’ve written before about how the Lord told Abraham that he was going to be the father of many people. Abraham didn’t do things on the Lord’s time, but tried to get things going on his own.

Abraham and Sarah (named Abram and Sarai at that time) were very old. It didn’t look like they were going to have children, so they tried to figure out a way that they were going to fulfill God’s promise that they were going to be the parents of a multitude.

Genesis 16:1-3
Now Sar′ai, Abram’s wife, bore him no children. She had an Egyptian maid whose name was Hagar; 2 and Sar′ai said to Abram, “Behold now, the LORD has prevented me from bearing children; go in to my maid; it may be that I shall obtain children by her.” And Abram hearkened to the voice of Sar′ai. 3 So, after Abram had dwelt ten years in the land of Canaan, Sar′ai, Abram’s wife, took Hagar the Egyptian, her maid, and gave her to Abram her husband as a wife.

It was fourteen years later that the Lord allowed Sarah to become pregnant and give birth to Isaac. Fourteen years! Can you imagine? They were sure that God’s promise was going to happen anytime. They were just getting older and older. It still wasn’t happening. But we forget that God’s ways are not our ways. We forget that God knows everything – and if God says something is going to happen, then it will.

Meanwhile, Ishmael was there. Was he an accident – or part of God’s plan? The Lord has a way of making things NOT happen if they aren’t supposed to happen. Let’s look at two examples.

Genesis 20:1-7
From there Abraham journeyed toward the territory of the Negeb, and dwelt between Kadesh and Shur; and he sojourned in Gerar. 2 And Abraham said of Sarah his wife, “She is my sister.” And Abim′elech king of Gerar sent and took Sarah. 3 But God came to Abim′elech in a dream by night, and said to him, “Behold, you are a dead man, because of the woman whom you have taken; for she is a man’s wife.” 4 Now Abim′elech had not approached her; so he said, “Lord, wilt thou slay an innocent people? 5 Did he not himself say to me, ‘She is my sister’? And she herself said, ‘He is my brother.’ In the integrity of my heart and the innocence of my hands I have done this.” 6 Then God said to him in the dream, “Yes, I know that you have done this in the integrity of your heart, and it was I who kept you from sinning against me; therefore I did not let you touch her. 7 Now then restore the man’s wife; for he is a prophet, and he will pray for you, and you shall live. But if you do not restore her, know that you shall surely die, you, and all that are yours.”

God prevented the king from getting into trouble. Abraham said that Sarah was his sister to protect her, but it didn’t work. God stepped in and prevented a problem.

Then we have this story.

Numbers 22:21-35
21 So Balaam rose in the morning, and saddled his ass, and went with the princes of Moab. 22 But God’s anger was kindled because he went; and the angel of the LORD took his stand in the way as his adversary. Now he was riding on the ass, and his two servants were with him. 23 And the ass saw the angel of the LORD standing in the road, with a drawn sword in his hand; and the ass turned aside out of the road, and went into the field; and Balaam struck the ass, to turn her into the road. 24 Then the angel of the LORD stood in a narrow path between the vineyards, with a wall on either side. 25 And when the ass saw the angel of the LORD, she pushed against the wall, and pressed Balaam’s foot against the wall; so he struck her again. 26 Then the angel of the LORD went ahead, and stood in a narrow place, where there was no way to turn either to the right or to the left. 27 When the ass saw the angel of the LORD, she lay down under Balaam; and Balaam’s anger was kindled, and he struck the ass with his staff. 28 Then the LORD opened the mouth of the ass, and she said to Balaam, “What have I done to you, that you have struck me these three times?” 29 And Balaam said to the ass, “Because you have made sport of me. I wish I had a sword in my hand, for then I would kill you.” 30 And the ass said to Balaam, “Am I not your ass, upon which you have ridden all your life long to this day? Was I ever accustomed to do so to you?” And he said, “No.” 31 Then the LORD opened the eyes of Balaam, and he saw the angel of the LORD standing in the way, with his drawn sword in his hand; and he bowed his head, and fell on his face. 32 And the angel of the LORD said to him, “Why have you struck your ass these three times? Behold, I have come forth to withstand you, because your way is perverse before me; 33 and the ass saw me, and turned aside before me these three times. If she had not turned aside from me, surely just now I would have slain you and let her live.” 34 Then Balaam said to the angel of the LORD, “I have sinned, for I did not know that thou didst stand in the road against me. Now therefore, if it is evil in thy sight, I will go back again.” 35 And the angel of the LORD said to Balaam, “Go with the men; but only the word which I bid you, that shall you speak.” So Balaam went on with the princes of Balak.

In this case, the Lord prevented someone from going the wrong way by sending an angel to stop him.

So if we aren’t supposed to do something, God will get in the way and let us know. Sure, the king could have gone ahead and taken Sarah as his wife. Sure, Balaam could have gotten off the donkey and walked around the angel.

But notice – nothing stopped Abraham from having a child with Hagar. There was no warning, no angel sent. So what looks like a human way of solving a situation is much more than that. God wanted Ishmael to be born, even though he was prophesied to be constantly fighting.

When Hagar found that she was pregnant, she was rude to Sarah, and Sarah kicked her out. This is way out in the desert, with nobody else around. This was a death sentence. Alone, upset, Hagar cried out for help and the Lord sent an angel. The angel told her to return to Sarah and submit to her.

Genesis 16:10-12
10 The angel of the LORD also said to her, “I will so greatly multiply your descendants that they cannot be numbered for multitude.” 11 And the angel of the LORD said to her, “Behold, you are with child, and shall bear a son; you shall call his name Ish′mael; because the LORD has given heed to your affliction. 12 He shall be a wild ass of a man, his hand against every man and every man’s hand against him; and he shall dwell over against all his kinsmen.”

So even though it doesn’t sound like it is part of God’s plan to have someone constantly fighting – it is. The Lord didn’t send any warning to stop it happening. So we have to accept it.