Sunday, September 2, 2012

Peppermint Parables: A Tribute to Bishop Jerry & Sis. Sandra Dillon

                Today on my way out of morning service, I watched my pastor Jerry Dillon speaking to two young boys, probably around 11-12.  They shook his hand, answered his questions, and looked at him expectantly.  And then he did what they were expecting…he winked and said, “I’ll go unlock my office in just a minute.  Lots of good stuff waiting in there.”  The expression on their faces changed.  One young man jumped in the air, while the other executed a pitch-perfect fist-pump and said, “YES!”

            It’s just peppermints and jelly beans – not something that boys would normally get that excited about.  I should know.  I’ve been the recipient of a peppermint every time I have seen Bro. Dillon during the past 35 years.  Camp meeting, conferences, Sunday evening services, random encounters at a restaurant, at a friend’s wedding…it doesn’t matter.    Whenever he gives me a hug and reaches out to shake my hand, it isn’t really a handshake; it’s a sacred rite: the passage of the peppermint.  Understand, though, that it is about MUCH more than peppermints. 

            There is a lesson I learned from the age of 2 – a lesson that those boys are learning as well – about love, consistency, and the heart in tune with that of Christ.  When I was a toddler, I KNEW there was a peppermint waiting in his office.  When I was a teenager, I KNEW that answers to my (MANY) questions were waiting in that office, along with my peppermint.  When I was a twenty-one year old woman grieving the loss of her father, I KNEW that compassion was waiting, keeping my peppermint company.  When I was at the end of my rope and had no idea what move should come next, I KNEW that wisdom was waiting, and a peppermint too. 

            Those little boys are learning.  So are my children.  Bishop Jerry Dillon uses those peppermints as beacons, and they send out a message to every person he has ever encountered:  You will never get beyond God’s love…or mine and Sis. Dillon’s.  You will never be without a home…you are welcome here, no matter what.  My door is ALWAYS open, and wisdom is waiting, along with a peppermint.   YOU matter to me.  YOU are important.  YOU are worth my time. 

I love you, Bro. and Sis. Dillon, and I owe you more than I can every repay. 

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

What I See When You (Don't) Say "Mississippi"

What I See When You (Don’t) Say “Mississippi”

So, now we are the “landmass”? 
Perhaps you should use your eyes as much as your voice…

You say we are ignorant.
I see a people who have produced the most profound literary voices of the past century.
Where’s your Faulkner?

You say we are mired in poverty.
I see a people who are poor, but they still manage to give more to charity than most other states.
How’s your record?


You say we are lazy.
I see a people who have worked together to rebuild after Katrina’s devastation.
Where were you?


You say we are backward.
I see a people who embody what it means to move forward.
Which direction are you going?


You say we are a hotbed of racism and hate.
I see a people who have spent the past generations rising up, changing what was to what can be.
No, we haven’t arrived, but I can’t help but wonder…
Have you?

You say we don’t matter.  We’re a landmass.
I see Mississippi, and I stand proud.
Who are you?


Friday, July 27, 2012

No Bluffing...

See those faces? The unhappiness is pretty clear...if they were voting for "Mother of the Moment," I wouldn't even be a nominee. While I've occasionally been accused of describing my life as a parent in colors too-glowing for reality, this picture makes it pretty apparent that every day living in our family is not ALWAYS grins and giggles.

Now the question you REALLY want answered: why are they so unhappy? Well, like all children, mine like to climb things. They wanted to climb that rock, and they wanted to "balance beam" across the stone fence behind it. In honesty, I thought about doing the same thing. It looked like fun! The rock wasn't that high, but it provided a better view, and the stone wall was calling my name - a perfect place to pretend to be an Olympian on a balance beam. But...Mom was a kill-joy. NO climbing. NO balancing. NO fun. Mean, mean Mom.

Next question: WHY won't mean, mean Mom let those precious babies climb? Well, it was the little matter of the 30 foot bluff on the other side of that wall, and the sharp, pointy rocks at the moment.

And THAT, my friends, is the parenting lesson of which I was reminded on the trails at the Mississippi Natural Science Museum. Kids don't see the dangers...because they're kids. They see what they want, whether it's to climb on a rock or get a cell phone at 7. They don't see that it's not JUST a rock or a cell phone. It carries contingencies - contingencies that have consequences, and some of those consequences can be dangerous.

My ten year old and I have this conversation several times a week:

"EVERYBODY does this or has that. Why can't I?"

"Because you aren't everybody. You're Noelle."

"Yeah, and I'm weird."

"Congratulations. Weird is good. I should know."

"But WHY can't I have a cell phone?"

"Because you don't need one. Because you don't need to be in constant connection with anyone besides your family. Because you aren't ready to handle the social implications that come along with that constant connection. Because I love you, and I want what's best for you, even if it isn't what makes you happy today."

Some days I don't think she hears much beyond, "Because..." but we keep having the conversation anyway.

My reminder at the Science Museum, and one I preserved in film, was that parenting isn't easy, and it isn't about making your children "happy." It's about keeping them safe and hopefully teaching them that happiness is, at best, temporary. It's joy that can be sustained, and joy doesn't come from a cell phone or a stone wall.

Until next time on the bluff...

Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:E Peace St,Canton,United States

Thursday, May 31, 2012

It's 11:00 p.m. on the night before everything changes...

The kids and I had a great day, and we spent a really special evening together - the last one before they leave for their summer visit with their Dad next week.  After they were in bed, I completed my Biblical allusion assessment & rubric.  Tomorrow, my first graduate school class begins at 8:30 am at Mississippi College in Clinton.  What's on my mind?

The past six years have been bad enough to be worthy of Dante or V.C. Andrews.  My life has resembled a Lifetime movie more than anything else.  There have been times over that six years that I have become depressed & discouraged and wanted to give up, but I've always just fought through it and moved on.  Now, after four years of turmoil and two years of healing that felt like stagnation, I can see the pattern when I start looking back.  I can see how all those horrible things were really just stones in the brook.  When I was standing in that moment - on the proverbial "stone" - it felt like one of the circles of hell, and I wondered if God was listening or if He was otherwise occupied. 

Now, I'm nearing the other side of that particular brook, and looking back, I can see the nasty events for what they were:  stepping stones.  As bad as they were, I could not be who I am in THIS moment had it not been for the hell that hit me in THAT one.  I don’t mean to be vulgar in using the term “hell;” I mean it literally.  I truly believe that sometimes God allows the forces of hell to attack a human being for a purpose – one that He probably isn’t going to reveal to us on this side of eternity.  (If you don’t believe that, see the book of Job.  I think it’s pretty clear there.)  In those moments when I wanted to give up, that was certainly a choice that was before me.  I COULD have given up, given in, thrown in the towel, and decided to turn my back on what I have always believed…what I’ve always been…in favor of what felt good in the moment.  After all, that’s pretty much what the OTHER people involved in those particular crises were doing…

But I didn’t.  I kept going.  Imperfectly, sure.  But I kept moving forward, as much as I could.  Now, looking at the moments – the stones in the brook – I can say I’m thankful to have been through them, and now I am thankful to be leaving them behind.   I’ve crossed this brook with God’s help, with my hand firmly held in His.  Now, I’m ready for the next step on the journey of faith.  Bring on tomorrow: as long as He’s with me, it will be okay.

Monday, May 21, 2012

*The Lifeboat* by Charlotte Rogan - A book review

I picked up The Lifeboat because I have always been fascinated by shipwreck stories; there is something in the joining of a terrible need to survive juxtaposed the vast emptiness of the ocean that intrigues me. I'd also just finished Lauren Hillenbrand's Unbroken, so I figured this would perhaps be a kindred novel, if only a second cousin, once moved, from that nonfiction masterpiece.

Having finished the novel, I can say that Ms. Rogan's prose is quite lovely, and she is skillful in her use of metaphor, simile, symbol, and motif; the language is elevated, engaging and quite interesting in its own right. Troublesomely, however, I just can't like this novel, mostly because I just don't like Grace.

I wondered as I read the novel if perhaps the protagonist was named for the hero of Margaret Atwood's novel Alias Grace - I can certainly see some similarities between the women - but I LIKED Grace, despite her somewhat shadowy (and occasionally murderous) tendencies. Rogan's Grace, however, seems to be passively watching her life pass her by, shamelessly scheming to attract the attention of her wealthy husband by stealing him from his promised fiancee, while allowing herself to be steered into the murder of Mr. Hardie. As a reader, I wanted her convicted of being a really rotten human being at the same time that I wanted her acquitted of the crime.

Maybe it's the fact that I've been required to survive when I would rather have thrown in the towel myself and run for the hills. Maybe it's the torture of seeing so many children who are living below their worth because selfish parents passively allow life to happen to them. Maybe it's constantly watching people waste the precious gift of life they've been given in favor of the latest episode of "The Bachelor..." Or maybe I just can't stand people who would rather follow the crowd and do what they know to be wrong rather than standing up for what they know to be right. Maybe it's all of that, put in a blender and chopped into a fine smoothie of distaste....

All in all, this leads to what is a perhaps slightly complex review. I appreciate this novel for its use of language & its complexity. I could teach it because it has the elements needed to make a "good' study., but I'd really prefer never to read it again because I hope never to "meet" up with Grace again. Instead, I'd rather send a letter to her attorney telling him to rescind his proposal...

Monday, May 14, 2012

In the darkness...I shall not be moved

I will bless the Lord, who hath given me counsel: my reins also instruct me in the night seasons. I have set the Lord before me: because He is at my right hand, I shall not be moved. (Psalm 16:7-8)

To everyone one of us, night seasons will come - those seasons when we cannot see the best way to move, seasons when every possible path seems fraught with difficulty, confusion, and defeat. It is in those very seasons that we must cling to the knowledge that we do not walk alone.

There is an important step that can protect us in these dark seasons of the soul, but it is a step that can only be taken before we enter them: we must make sure that we are following His lead. If during the seasons when the sun is brightly shining we have developed firm "reins" in our souls, tethering us to His purpose...if we have attuned our spirits to feel the gentlest instruction from His hands as He guides those reins, we need not fear the darkness. For in the darkness, He can guide us by those gentle touches, even as our eyes are failing. This isn't something God can do to us or for us; they are "MY" reins, and therefore they must be entered into voluntarily.

For the Christian who is truly sold out to faith and who is devoted in every way to walking the paths that Christ has intended, we know ahead of time that the darkness will come, and we know even more certainly that we must count on living much of our lives without being able to "see" His plan for us. Even when we can see, it is usually the pattern of where we have been, not where we are going. That's what faith is about: forming the reins of control, trusting the steering of the spirit, and resting in the calm assurance that He who I have placed at the right hand of my soul will keep me safe. And resting in that promise, I shall not be moved.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Of Bruised Reeds, Smoking Flax, & Wounded Souls...

Ok, so I confess. It's shameful, but true. Sometimes I get bored in church. One such morning some months ago (as I listened to yet another sermon on marriage - probably the reason why my mind was wandering), I was flipping through the concordance of my trusty Thompson Chain Reference Bible when I came across an entry that spurred my poetic interest: the Bruised Reed.

Curiosity piqued, I read through the first verse listed and found it to be a beautiful commentary on the love of Christ. It's found in Isaiah 42:3 -

A bruised reed shall he not break, and the smoking flax shall he not quench: he shall bring forth judgment unto truth. 

It sounded so poetic, so hopeful, and so lovely, that I just had to dig deeper into this beautiful promise...but not until after church. I reformed my bad behavior, returned my attention to the sermon on marriage, and filed this little verse away in the back of my addled brain for later reference and comment.

A few days later (though it has taken me quite a lot longer to process it and write about it), I began the process that I use to research a verse that interests me. I traced the verse, along with the concept of the reed, both bruised and not, the use of flax, why it would be smoking, and what in the world all that talk about judgment unto truth might mean. My research left me a bit unsettled at first, because the deeper I shoveled into the complex metaphor presented in this scripture (who says you don't need good literary skills to survive), the more unsure I became about the meaning - which, incidentally, is the exact opposite of what I SHOULD have been feeling at the close of my careful research. So why all the confusion? Well, look at the scriptures...

The concept of the bruised reed as presented in Isaiah is comforting to those of use who have failed, erred, or otherwise strayed from the path that God initially had in mind for us. In other words, all of humanity. It lets us know that if we mess up (get bruised), He isn't going to just chunk us out and write us off as utter and complete failures. He won't "break" us.

The picture of the bruised reed presented in II Kings 18:21 is much less comforting and conventional:

Now behind, thou trust upon the staff of this bruised reed, even upon Egypt, on which if a man lean, it will go into his hand and pierce it: so if Pharoah the king of Egypt unto all that trust in him.

Well, suddenly my hopeful little reed is compared to Egypt? That scourge of the books of history? Not only that, but the image presented is really quite violent...when you trust in a bruised reed - you LEAN ON that bruised reed - it will pierce you through the hand, damaging you! Keep in mind that a broken reed is pretty useless; it's discarded. But a bruised reed? It is an inadvertent weapon. It doesn't present itself too badly, but when you put pressure upon it in the damaged places, it splinters and can cut you through.

Another confession...I didn't know much about reeds. So using my trusty Goo
gle search engine, I looked them up. Turns out they are very useful, but not particularly sturdy. You don't want to rely on them for work that requires great strength and stability; it's not the way they are built. They aren't very flexible; they can be quite sharp. And then it dawned on me...I've known a few people who were "reeds," and more than a few of them were bruised. 

These are the people who never quite reach that point of spiritual maturity that allows them to endure suffering with joy. They view every pain as a personal punishment from God, or maybe some consequence they are paying for someone else's actions. Instead of trusting God through these bad times, they become embittered. And while the outward signs of their wounding cover over, the inner bruises remain.

Another revelation: I've leaned on a bruised reed or two, thinking they were staffs of strength that could help me through my weak moments and difficult times. As a result of my leaning where I shouldn't have, I bear the scars. Those relationships cut me deeply, and the wounds have taken longer to heal than might have been imagined when I was looking at the reed. After all, it was tall, and if you didn't look too closely, it had the appearance of a staff...

Then there's that smoking flax that God doesn't quench...ever met those people who hover in a perpetual cloud of pain and bitterness? They've been hurt, and they have come to like the feeling they have in the smoke of grief. It permeates the atmosphere when they enter a room, "smoking" it up, so to speak. Their bitterness is like a fog that limits the vision and clarity of everyone in the room; it lingers like a haze after they leave, smoking in their unwillingness to let go of the past. Yep, I've known some people who resemble smoking flax too...

So why doesn't God just "take care" of them?  You know, either heal them or "take care" of them in slightly more Al Pacino sense of the words? Why would a LOVING GOD let a damaged unstable person - a bruised reed - continue walking around spreading the joy of their damaged psyche? Simple. His word says He won't break them. Why would a God who does NOT author confusion allow those smoking-flax-people to continue spreading their smoky contention and strife? Because He loves them, too. He loves the reed, seeing it as it was before it was broken. He loves the flax; He created it for a purpose, and He is unwilling to simply destroy it when some portion of its use could be salvaged. The long and short of it is this: He is not going to destroy those who have the potential to wound you simply to help you avoid pain. He wants you to learn to COPE with pain, not run from it. In other words, He is giving you a chance to prove that you are more than a reed; that you can survive pain without being bruised or broken...

Now, God is a just God, and after these precious moments of revelation, I didn't figure He would mind much if I asked a question or I did. "God," I said, "it doesn't seem quite fair that the bruised reed over there that You left lying around and I - in good faith mind you - decided to lean on has cut me to pieces, and yet it still looks pretty much as it did when I picked it up. I'm a figuratively bloody mess with these open wounds where the bruised reed cut into my flesh, and yet it doesn't appear all that affected by our encounter."

Well, God, being that He has a sense of humor, replied to me in a typical manner: "To the first point, maybe your flesh needed a few cuts. To the second, I will judge unto truth. That which is hidden will be revealed - but that will be for my glory and the redemption of the reed, not your reputation." So there is the end of the story. God doesn't particularly mind if I look bad; He doesn't even mind the APPEARANCE of being unjust, if a soul hangs in the balance. Because ultimately, those appearances matter little. What matters is the end result, and whether I trust in His sovereign sense of justice, mercy, grace, and love...

We will encounter the bruised reeds and smoking flax among us. Over time, we may even come to recognize them, and maybe we can protect ourselves.   Maybe, just maybe, He will use our pain to equip us to help some of them... But ultimately, we must remember that our temporary wounds means little when weighted against the salvation of a soul. He will allow them to exist - to hurt us temporarily - if the ultimate goal of salvation is gained...