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There has been a lot of interweb chatter following the recent speech by President Obama at the National Prayer Breakfast.  I know, because my social media feeds are blowing up with conversation about it.  Mostly they take offense to the statement that he made regarding ISIS.  He reminded us that we should not be too quick to equate violence in the name of religion with Islam or certain peoples in another corner of the world.  After all, we Christians have a lot of skeletons in our own historic closet.

A large number of Christians I love and respect have been circulating this response from Franklin Graham.  He said:

“Today at the National Prayer Breakfast, the President implied that what ISIS is doing is equivalent to what happened over 1000 years ago during the Crusades and the Inquisition,” Graham wrote. “Mr. President — Many people in history have used the name of Jesus Christ to accomplish evil things for their own desires. But Jesus taught peace, love and forgiveness.”

“[Jesus] came to give His life for the sins of mankind, not to take life. Mohammad on the contrary was a warrior and killed many innocent people,” Graham asserted. “True followers of Christ emulate Christ — true followers of Mohammed emulate Mohammed.”

*Facepalm.

I just want to say so many things right now.  I want to write a whole treatise on how our own scriptures are full of violence in the name of God, so we really can’t point fingers.  I want to point out how this very statement attacking Islam and Obama are evidence that Graham doesn’t understand how to follow Christ.  I want to outline how violence is a human condition, and no people group is exempt (what Obama was trying to get at) and that the language of ‘US’ and ‘THEM’ is unhelpful. I really want to point out how these comments are predicated on the assumption that we are right and they are wrong, and the assumption that we would NEVER do anything so atrocious.

However, all that will only stir up the pot.  Instead I am going to talk about the year my parents almost got a divorce.

December 27th was my parents 45th anniversary.  They are pretty amazing, my parents.  Their marriage is one I want to aspire to.  It is pretty amazing.  However, the year before I was conceived, they almost got a divorce.  Dad had just started as the pastor of this little charismatic Mennonite church. (think hippy, not Amish).  Mom and dad started having issues.  It had a lot to do with the assumptions they made about how each other should behave.  Dad would tell mom he’d be home around 6, and then someone would come to the church to talk with him, and he’d not call my mom to tell her he’d be late.  Or, he would bring people home without a heads up, expecting mom to accommodate them for dinner.  There were other things too, I am sure mum did things that were not thoughtful. Then fights would ensue.  Inevitably there would be accusations, barbs, and then “If you loved me, you would…..”

There was an older couple in the church, Jonas and Mary Claussen.  I remember them.  They were like my substitute grandparents.  They had this fun marble track. They cared for us.  Mary’s funeral was the first I remember.  They were remarkable.  I could probably fill up a complete blog post with how amazing they were, and all the ways they changed our lives, but that is not the point.  The point here is that Jonas and Mary set my parents straight.  They sat down with a young Wally and Sue and addressed the way they were talking to each other.  “You keep saying ‘If you loved me…’ and fundamentally this attacks the other person.  You both know you love each other, that is why you got married in the first place. But each time you say “If you loved me…” you are attacking this assumption.  You are telling the other person that you doubt their love.  This drives a wedge between each other. Stop saying ‘if’ and try something that affirms the love.  Say “This behavior hurt me. Since you love me, can you try and change?” and “I recognize that my behavior has hurt you. Since I love you, I will work to change this, and apologize for causing you pain.” My parents began to put this in practice, and it revolutionized their marriage, and a short time later this bundle of splendidness wended its ginger-haired way into the world.  See.  Aren’t we cute?

Wally and Sue

Here’s the thing I want to challenge my Christian brother and sisters to do.  Stop saying ‘IF’.  No more “IF you are Muslim you are violent because you follow a warrior.”  No more “If you were a good Christian you would be against x and for y.”  No more “If you love Jesus you will vote for candidate x or policy y.”

Start saying “Since.”

Since I am trying to be a disciple of Christ, I will be known for loving freely and deeply, even the unlovable.

Since Jesus was for peace and forgiveness, I will strive to make peace wherever I am, and I will choose to forgive, even if my sensibilities are offended.

Since Jesus set a standard for me, and loved me enough to sacrifice for me, I will choose to live like him to the best of my abilities.

Since Jesus taught us to, I will give what I have to care for those in need.

Since I am not without sin, I will not cast the first stone.

I keep remembering the confessional booth in Don Miller’s seminal “Blue Like Jazz.” What if we humbly confessed to the ‘sins’ Obama laid at our doorstep?  What if this is what Franklin Graham had said?

“Since we, as followers of Jesus, can look back at ways that we have misused God’s name as an excuse to hurt others, we understand how hurt, anger, desire for control can infuse our desire to please God. Our President reminded us that we are capable of horrors, so we cannot condemn the acts of ISIS without repenting first. We stand with our Islamic brothers and sisters, who walk this earth with us, and whom God created and loves, just as he does us, and grieve for the ways religion and faith are being used to hurt those who don’t agree with us. We repent for the times that our hubris and pride have blinded us to how we cause pain. We call for ISIS to remember the preciousness of the life that God has given, and ask that you join us in trying to be a demonstration of the Sacrificial Love of God in our world. Since we are asking this of others, we commit ourselves to being people of love, peace, and forgiveness in our homes, communities, and world, just as Jesus calls us to.”

Can we be Since people, and not just semantically, but for real?

Please?

Novel Poinsettia

This year, I have very little income to purchase Christmas gifts, so I have been experimenting with creative and beautiful ways to give gifts to friends.  Inspired by my housemates lovely Poinsettia I created some lovely ornaments/cards/holiday decoration.

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They turned out really well, so I thought I’d do a quick tutorial  on it.  I painted a couple pages of an old book red/  On one side I splattered a couple different shades of red, and a cream color to give dimension to the flowers.  For my four flowers I painted 10 pages red, one page green, for the leaves, and one page gold, for the center.

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It is only important to splatter one side of the pages, but the other needs only to be painted red. Neither the gold or the green need extra coloring.

To create a poinsettia you need to cut a circle out of thin cardboard or card.  I used a ribbon spool as a template, It was about 4″ diameter.  If you use cardboard, glue a piece of quality paper over one side of the card.  You will write on this later. (Optional: Cut a small hole about 1/3″ from the edge of the circle and place a grommet. Insert a ribbon or method of hanging through the grommet.)

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Cut one painted page into 6 equal strips. Cut the other page into 6 leaves.  You can do this with a punch or a cutting system, but I did not use either.  I wanted each leaf to be slightly different.  I think it adds character to the flower.  Fold all the leaves in half lengthwise. For the center gold bits I used a Stampin’ up punch. Feel free to use whatever you would like.  I fold the edges inwards so that they have depth.

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Now comes the tricky part.  You are going to want to fold the strips. to create a peak.With the plain side facing you, Fold the left side over the right. Glue it in place, with a small dab of glue. Then glue your peak to the card circle, like you see in the pictures. Finally, fold the longer side of the peak back over on itself, and glue it down.

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Continue folding the strips, and attaching them in a clockwise manner, until all six peaks are on the poinsettia.

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Now it is time to add the folded petals.  Glue them around so that they come out in between the peaks.

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Now you want to glue the the center pieces in. Push them together, so they create dimension.

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Once the front is done you can add the leaves on the back.

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Add the leaves in bunches of two, and then add a personal note.

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Voila, your own poinsettia ornament, made from the pages of a discarded book.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThey hang nicely, and look lovely.

The interwebs are abuzz with the news of Robin Williams’ untimely death.  An apparent suicide.  Everyone is shocked and heartbroken.  Not me.  I heard the news and was not in the least bit surprised.  Instead, it almost felt like I had been expecting this. This is because of two bits of information I had gleaned from an interview Robin Williams had given.

  1. Robin Williams was bipolar
  2. Robin Williams was an addict because he self-medicated for the above disorder.

So when I heard the news today I was not surprised.

Actually it felt like I had dodged a bullet.  I felt relief.

Before you accuse me of being callous, I should tell you my story.

There was a time that I was expecting to hear the news that my mother was dead.  Every day I was expecting that call. You see, my mother is bipolar too.

It hit with menopause.  She kept getting worse.  More and more depressed, but with these weird phases where she would do things like purchasing a ton of blouses and shirts.  She thought she needed so many of them, and yet had a closet stuffed full of ones she had never worn.

The depression was crushing.  My mother, who had been so capable and strong, became unable to do the simplest things.

My parents moved to a new home, and a new community, and she could hardly unpack the house.

One Sunday my dad got up to go to church, not a surprise, since he was a pastor for so many years. He got in the shower, but got this strange sensation that he shouldn’t go to church.  He says God told him to go back to bed and not go to church.  This was a big deal for my dad.  He’s not a “skip church” kind of guy. However, the feeling was strong, so my dad got out of the shower, put his pajamas back on, and went back to bed.

Not long after, my mother woke up to find my dad still in bed.  She asked him what he was doing, and he said that he was skipping church.  She started getting agitated, more and more restless as the minutes ticked by.  Finally she started to cry.  My dad sat up in bed and asked my mom what was going on.  She tried to brush it off for a while, but finally broke. She had a plan, and my father’s presence was thwarting it.

Yes.  That kind of plan.

After dad had left for church, she was going to get up, put a load of laundry in the washer, come up and write us all letters on the computer, put the wash into the dryer, and start another load, tidy up down stairs, take a shower, make the bed, then take all her pills with drain cleaner.

That day was the first time my mother was hospitalized for her depression, which was then diagnosed as bipolar disorder.  I remember scraping the money together to fly over to help.  I spend the days unpacking my parents house, hanging pictures on the wall, doing busy work to fill the hours until I could see her. My lovely, amazing, broken mother. I remember holding her when she would cry, and knowing there was no way I could make it better. It broke my heart to see her this way, and see my father not be able to fix the woman he loved so much.

After they got her leveled out, years later, after many medications, and two rounds of electroshock therapy, my mother and I talked about that time. She told me about the utter lack of hope she had.  She said that she could have hope for us, hope that my dad would move on, and find someone else, hope that we would all be fine without her, but that she had absolutely none for herself. She said “If I had never been there, I wouldn’t believe it now.  I can’t explain it.  There was just no hope to be found.”

Thankfully, for my mother, as menopause disappeared, so did her symptoms.  She has been level for years, mostly without medication.

But I watch.  We all do.  When I say “There but for the grace of God…” you know I mean it.  If it hadn’t been for that voice in the shower….

And deep down, in the darkest corners of my mind, I fear that phone call. That one that says your mother lost her hope, and now you’ve lost her.

I feel for Robin Williams’ family.  I really do.  My heart goes out to them. They got that call.

I hope that good can come from this, that more people are made aware of the suffering of bipolar disorder and depression.  I hope that more understanding, research, and medication can come from this.

Most of all, I hope that this is a bullet my family and I can continue to dodge.  Depression can shatter a family; can destroy life.  I hope, not mine.

By the grace of God, I hope.

Folded Words

One of my favorite things to talk about, the amazing Reading for Life is going through some big changes.  The creator, director and all around uber-boss, Alesha Seroczynski, is moving on.  In  fact she is taking the next logical step, combining past experience and her work at RFL, she is becoming the Dean of a university initiative to provide inmates at a correctional institution with a college degree.  We’re so excited for her.

We decided that it was important to give her the perfect gift to honor her for all her work, and encourage her for the future.  For a while we came up blank, and then I had a brainwave.  Reading for Life was spawned as a pilot research project using Harry Potter books.  In fact, Alesha dreamed up the idea while thinking about Harry Potter.  One of her favorite books in the series was The Goblet of Fire.  Reading for Life uses good books, mentors, and virtue theory to help at risk kids (namely first time juvenile offenders and incarcerated youth) make better life decisions.  One of the virtues we teach is Hope: An invested belief in a future possibility.  We reckoned that Alesha embodies hope to everyone she comes across.  She believed that with just a little help youth who were falling through the cracks could have a new chance at life.  Currently more than 95% of our participants have had no further contact with the law.  That is amazing.  She gave them a chance at a better life. Her hope has transformed them.  Now she is moving on to men incarcerated in prison.  Yet again she has the opportunity to give people the gift of hope.

So, as a thank you for her 10 years of pouring hope into the lives of others we presented her with this:

 

Harry's Hope

Harry’s Hope

I am quite proud of this. Not only is it the perfect gift for Alesha, but it gave me the opportunity to learn a new skill.  Seriously fun, book folding.  This is in the middle of a  copy of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.  It is a book that was rescued from a library, and was past it’s prime, but now look at it.  It can sit on her desk, remind her of what she was and what she is to so many people. A fitting gift.  The good news is, she loves it.  I might just need to make one for myself.

It’s not that hard, just a bit time consuming. You have to create a pattern (or purchase one as I did.  I don’t have access to photo shop to make my own….but that would be cool) then measure out the fold lines on your book, and then begin the folding.  It took about 7 hours in total, but the final product was worth it.

Go, Do.

Allow me to introduce myself.

My name is Bekki and I am an extreme extrovert. This means,the more I am with people, the more natural I feel. The more I interact, the more energy I have. What do I hate the most? Being alone. It isn’t that I can’t be alone, its more that prolonged alone-ness sucks the life out of me. When I moved to D.C., I said goodbye to good friends, a thriving social circle, a good job, and a church community. After spending almost a year searching for church and employment, I found myself incredibly isolated, and extremely exhausted.

Then I found the Table. For the first time in a long time I felt like I had community again. A breath of fresh air in the midst of a rather stale life. However, being the newbie isn’t easy. It is great to meet new people, begin to establish new relationships, forge connections, but the journey from encounter to community isn’t quick. It takes time and investment, and the starved extrovert in me was finding patience a burden. I liked the people I was meeting. I liked the community I was seeing. I wanted so much to be a part of it, RIGHT NOW.

Confession time: There were moments when I just wanted to ask people “Please. Can you just like me. Please?”

At about week three of my attendance at the Table, I was getting ready to leave my house. I breathed this rather desperate prayer. “Jesus, please let someone ask me to join them for dinner after church.” I was so grateful when some fellow newbies extended a dinner invitation to me, and we had a lovely meal getting to know each other better. I went home breathing “Thank you.”

A couple weeks later, after a somewhat maudlin week of missing friends and struggling on the job search, I was preparing to go to church again. Again I prayed a prayer asking for someone to invite me to dinner. This time was different. This time it hit me just how demanding this prayer was. Yes, I had a need and a desire, but was I the only one? A number of years ago I read the Message translation of Matthew 7:12. It had stuck with me for a long time, and now it came flooding back to me now.

“Here is a simple, rule-of-thumb guide for behavior: Ask yourself what you want people to do for you, then grab the initiative and do it for them.”

What was I asking for? Connection, community, being noticed and included. Could I do that for someone else? It means moving, not waiting for someone to come and meet my needs. It means getting beyond what I want, and focusing on someone else instead.

Revelation: If I want community, I have to be community.

That night I chose to be a part of the Table.  I chose to welcome someone else instead of expecting to be welcomed.  I chose to get to know others instead of expecting others to get to know me.  I figured out what I wanted, and invited someone else out to eat after the service.

It was hard, but it was worth it.

I decided not to wait for this community to chose me.  Instead, I decided to become a part of this community. The Table is my church now, and I have the privilege of being to others the kind church I want to be a part of.

Confession:  I probably will pray that prayer again.  Hopefully, I will again remember, in the midst of my needs and wants, to go do, not sit and wait.

I realize, in reading back over my blog, that there are a few things I tend to write about a lot.  I guess it could give the impression that I am a one trick pony.  I am really much more diverse than this.  I think my blog becomes that place that I can stop and wrestle, and think things through that are rattling around in my brain. Unfortunately for you, dear reader, these seem to run on similar tracks, especially faith and sexuality.  So lucky you, you get a view into my psyche again.

One of the most significant events over the last few months has been finally finding a church that I am pleased to attend. For many of you that is probably not a priority.  For me it is quite significant. I really relished the move to D.C. partly because I felt I had the opportunity to find a new community of believers.  I really loved the people in my church back in Michiana. They became my family when I had none. Quite honestly though, I was having more and more issues with actions and beliefs of the church the longer I was there.  I didn’t want to leave because they were my family, but in many ways I was itching to leave. [1]  After months of searching, and soul crushing isolation, I was on the verge of giving up and attending a church that was the best of the ones I really did not enjoy.  Then I found the Table on line, quite by accident. From the first visit I knew this was a church I could be proud of attending; a church I could be involved in and to which I could contribute. In short, I found a community again.

But this is not a blog about finding church.  It is instead about a conundrum that has emerged.

So there is theme one: Faith.  Enter theme two: sexuality.

I have been trying to get to know the people in this community. I am quite impressed with them.  Caring, generous, justice oriented.  Gracious, fun, human.  They are good people.  I signed up to be part of the worship band, something I didn’t think I would do again.  I find it a completely different experience.  One bonus, ever practice I have been to has ended with us going a local bar for a drink.  Despite my very meager bank balance, I really enjoy this ability to get to know others better. This last week, I went out with the other women from the team.  It was good.  Good conversation, good beginnings.  As per usual, I am fairly significantly older than either of them.  They were in their mid twenties.  One engaged and planning a wedding, the other in a significant relationship on the verge of engagement.

The conversation went like this:

Serious: So I think I found an apartment.
Ringbearer: By yourself?
Serious: Yeah. <to me> My housemate and I were about to sign a lease when she told me that she was moving in with her boyfriend, so I have finite time to find a new place.
Me: That really sucks.
Ringbearer: Why didn’t you move in with Significant Other?
Serious: He and Housemate have lease til May, wouldn’t do that to Housemate. It would be too small for me too.Plus. My parents would probably disown me if I moved in with Significant Other. Even though it would make sense, we’re together almost every night.
Ringbearer: That’s why I didn’t move in with Spouse-to-be. My parents wouldn’t be happy.
Me:<nothing to add>

One of the things I really struggle with today is the way church talks about sexuality.  You’ve heard me rant here before. One of the things that I struggle with the most is that the church is really bad about having the conversation about sex when it isn’t in the context of marriage.  We talk a lot about waiting for marriage, but not much else. I hear a lot of this growing up.  Thank god I had sensible parents who had  a more thorough conversation with us about choices, and consequences, and relationships.  But I am not 17 any more.

I am not even mid twenties.

I am 41.

And a virgin.

This conversation immediately put me on edge.  Not because I was faulting either of these women for their choices, but because I felt so….irrelevant isn’t the word…forgotten not either…perhaps archaic is. I felt archaic. I am used to being ‘suspect’ outside of church.  By this I mean, I rarely talk about being a virgin, because so many people around me think it is flat out weird, or they assume that it is simply because of the lack of opportunity. [2] This is really hurtful to me.  I am not a virgin because I am overly religious, or I bought into some simplistic idea of purity until marriage.  It is a complex and well thought out series of decisions on my part, and honestly, not always a decision I am pleased with.  Sometimes it is more a burden than I care to admit. The one thing I could always count on was, that despite my frustration with church, that was the one place where my decision was normal.  Almost all my friends that I grew up with were virgins when they got married.  I was just like everyone else.  Until they all got married and I was the only one left.  Now I was in a conversation where I had nothing to add, no experience to speak from, and the very nature of who I am is awkward. I am not normal. Instead, it is not acceptable to be me any more. [3][4] I have no place where being a virgin is normal.

To me this is the beginning of a conversation.  One I would like the church in general to take on.  I want us to wrestle with sexuality and purity.  Can we have a conversation where marriage/covenant is not the end game? Can we talk about what sexuality looks like when children are not a possibility? Can we talk about needs and longings? Can we be honest for a change?  I know I am not alone in this, but it feels like incredibly uncharted territory, especially in the evangelical christian world.  Please?  Some of us really need it, because it is beginning to feel like we don’t belong anymore.

I want to be a relevant part of the conversation, and not the circus sideshow freak.

Caveats:

1. For the record. I really am in support of some of the direction they have made in the last year.  I think they are becoming the church they need to for their community. I love them dearly, even if I don’t always agree with them.

2.  These people should just ride the metro with me.  I have had a number of prospects there!

3. Neither woman was in any way judgmental towards me. They don’t even know.  It is just how I was feeling in the conversation.

4. I cannot credit myself for this last statement. This came from a good friend, Amy, in a phone conversation last night.  Everyone needs an Amy for good conversations.  I am unanimous in this.

When I was about 2 years old, my best friend in the world was Christine.  She was about 6 weeks younger than me, and our mothers had been pregnant together.  They found a coupon in the paper giving them great discounts on J.C. Penney photo shoots for children, and bundled us off to get our pictures taken.  I was a very verbal child by then, and Christine had taken to referring to herself in 3rd person as Nini Ruf (Christine Ruth).  We were both VERY opinionated, as toddlers get.  The poor photographer had no idea what he was in for.  When Christine got all set up for her pictures, nothing in the world would induce her to smile.  She kept saying of the photographer “Nini Ruf no like dat man”  embarrassing her poor mother to no end.  There were no pictures of a happy Christine that day.  My mother was secretly hoping that her daughter would do better.  No such luck.

Photographer: Rebecca Sue, what’s this? (Ducks behind camera) “Baaaaa”

Me:  It’s a camera.

Photographer: Rebecca Sue, what’s this? (Ducks behind camera)  “MooooOOOOooooo”

Me: (a little huffy) It’s a camera.

Photographer: Rebecca Sue, what’s this? (Ducks behind camera) ” Ooooink Oooink!”

Me:  (Pointedly)  It’ a Camera!

Photographer: Rebecca Sue, what’s this? (Ducks behind camera, desperately) “Woof, Woof!”

Me (Exasperated)  I told you three times already.  IT’S. A. CAMERA!

 Not for the first time, and certainly not for the last, my mother wished the floor would open up and swallow her and her know-it-all daughter.

I, on the other hand, side with Christine.  That was not a good photographer.

 

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My friend Janie, on the other hand, is a very good photographer. [1.] She has also been an amazing friend to me.  When I opened up my Etsy shop  I asked her for some photography tips.  She responded by a) photographing a bunch of my stuff and b) commissioning a couple of pieces c) using a lace overlay I found in my great aunt’s attic to great effect.  It just has blown me away.  You should check out my shop and see her handiwork.  She is amazing.  This is just a snippet of how amazing Janie is. She opened her home to me when I needed it, and has been the best friend through some of my worst moments.  I thank God for her all the time.  I was very lucky to come across her in my Vox days, and meet her (thank you Kelly and Lindsey).  I am very blessed to call her a friend.  She is in a high eschalon of those who are more like a sister to me than a friend.

If you are in the VA, MD, DC area, you should hire her.  She and her husband are excellent photographers. They do great things with kids, families, and weddings.  She cares about each of her clients personally.  You would be lucky to have Janie in your life.  Go check her work out. She will be much better with you than J.C. Penney guy was with me and Nini.

 

 

 

1. I actually have been very blessed to have a number of good photographers in my friends and family.  Moe and Kris, Dawn, my new sis-in-law Katie to name just a few.

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