The Oil Cupboard

The cupboard door hinge has been squeaking for weeks. It occurred to me today that this is the cupboard that we keep the oils in. With a smidge of thoughtfulness and a pinch of effort, I could cook up a quick solution. The answer was literally in the problem! Hallelujah!

This squeak seems like such a metaphor for the value of facing a lingering problem and aligning with a new perspective.

The oil was in the cupboard.  Oil is symbolic of God’s blessing.* I cringed when the hinge squeaked, but opening that door allowed me to obtain the oil I needed to silence the squeak. God’s blessing and provision is found when we deal with our problems by praying.

Prayer is certainly not a magic wand that will somehow make our life easier or at all how we want it to be, but it will help with perspective. There is something healing about encountering something more powerful than yourself. There is something freeing in not being the center of our own universes. There is something about focusing on God that opens our hearts to see the thread of all the good He has ever woven into our lives, and tilts your anticipator to paint your future in bright colors.

I am not a master of any of this. I don’t know what it is about miracles that are so easy to forget or why each problem coming down the chute seems so daunting when we’re survived so many problems already. May God help us all to see.

*The making of oil and oil itself is biblically symbolic for several reasons that I encourage you to research because it is very interesting.
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Ten Things

In ungrateful moments, I swear I can still hear Brian demanding, “Ten things!” and I remember the first time he did.

“Briaaaan,” I whined.

“Ten things, or you can call me later. Do you want to do that?”

“No. Yes.”

I hung up and sighed, throwing myself against the back of my seat. How did I get to be so ungrateful that I couldn’t even give Brian a list of ten things I was grateful for? Why was I so insistent on complaining? Didn’t I have everything I needed, everything I ever wanted?

I was attending college at beautiful PLNU. The campus was made of historic buildings, the world’s most scenic ballpark, and “my” prayer chapel.  It was my last semester there. Shouldn’t I have felt all sentimental to leave? I would be graduating debt-free.  I remember the hush of sunset, a time of day when everyone instinctually stopped to watch the last of the sun disappear over the Pacific. I was watching the sun setting as I sat there in my car. Why wasn’t my heart instinctually hushed? Shouldn’t I have been crazy-stupid grateful?

  1. PLNU, and the opportunity thereof
  2. Being debt-free
  3. My car
  4. The house

 

“I shouldn’t be alone right now.” I told myself. I had so many dear friends, most of whom I lived with. These ladies loved Jesus like you wouldn’t believe. They were preachers, evangelists, the servant-hearted, the eager and above all extravagant worshippers of the Most High God.

 

  1. The girls
  2. Worship time
  3. Jesus meetings

 

We hosted church meetings in our home. We hosted guests. We hosted a lot of dirty dishes, a small sacrifice to a rational person, but to irrational me, the symbolic epitome of my fear; being forgotten about.

 

I was afraid that people have a finite attention and that they weren’t spending it on me. It seemed to me that the world operated thus: He who cryeth the loudest , receiveth the most affection. I, it seemed, receiveth the dirty dishes.

 

This thought developed early in my life. It started with my sister who, in many ways, was a fire needing to be put out before I got punched.  She cried louder than me. She just did and I started believing that her problems were more important than mine and that somehow, to love her, I had to be loved less.  I believed this of everyone; of all the puppies.

 

I remember a line to a favourite childhood book, in which puppies tore apart a house. The conclusion to every page was, “too many puppies!” Every day I felt like that. I felt like I had puppies on my couch, in my bed, following me everywhere, except here; parked at the foot of the cross.

 

I couldn’t hide from Jesus. I thought I could hide from everyone else, until one day when I was unearthed, by my sister of all people. She had begun being kind to me and rather protective.

 

“Why the change? Why now?” I asked.

 

“I realized,” she said looking me in the eye, “that you must not love yourself very much because you let your boyfriend treat you like that.” She had never looked at me like that before or since.

 

She had grown up; stopped seeing herself as a Cinderella character in the family, and was for the first time, truly, seeing me. I saw in her a strength that scared me a little bit. My heart seemed to drop into my stomach.

 

She came to visit and did my dishes.

 

  1. My sister; my friend

 

My guy friends started doing my dishes too. The guys had a ministry house as well. And their dishes didn’t wash themselves either. I’m sure they could have been dealing with their own catastrophes, but they decided to help with mine. I remember coming home to one of the guys doing the dishes.

 

“I love you too.” I said. He didn’t say anything, but scrunched his face uncomfortably. After that, he didn’t do the dishes anymore.  I had lost my dishwasher, but gained the memory of that hilarious look on his face.

 

  1. The boys

 

Brian didn’t live with the boys. He lived with some roommates in a little pink converted garage apartment behind a big pink mansion. I liked the big fluffy cats that were so often in his yard. One day while picnicking on his lawn in December, one of the cats wandered into the life-sized nativity scene.

 

“Why is the cat just sitting in there?”

 

“Think about it this way,” Brian’s roommate, Miguel pointed out, “The cat is thinking, ‘These, humans, why aren’t they just sitting there?” Miguel made a good point. I didn’t know how to “just sit” anywhere.  I would frequent their apartment, I later realized, to learn how.

 

It was these “too many puppies”, too many dirty dishes times that I missed Brian. I missed how he would get my attention in the library and soundlessly mouth, “poop” so that I would laugh out loud and embarrass myself.  We did so many “awkward” things that no one else seemed to understand.

 

As awkward as it was, I just didn’t have a better friend than him. Why was he “hafting to” (as he says) move away from his little pink converted garage apartment? Why didn’t he want to be a florist’s delivery boy forever?

 

  1. Brian

 

I called him back and drove home thankful for ten things. Ten things just made the puppies and the dirty dishes seem so much less significant. I began to pursue significance. I practiced “just sitting there” with Jesus. In that Jesus place, my understanding could accept the verse, “Every good and perfect gift we know is from above” and if I could just sit still enough, I could see the gift of the days I was living.

The Day the Toilet was Fixed

empty-toilet-paper-roll-resized-600“I am here for you today.” Brian didn’t blink.

He had come into town the prior night for Rachel’s going away party. She had scolded me for crying, but I didn’t want her to go. Whether she wanted to be or not, she was my cuddle buddy. Some mornings I’d crawl in her bed to hear her flat, “Lah-rah, I am not touchy.”

“Yes you are!” I’d say and make myself fit beside her on her twin mattress. I’d chase her around the house for a hug somewhat regularly and then there was a day that Lauren and Jordyn returned to find me in Rachel’s lap with her arms around me. They were scandalized.

“What? Rachel, you don’t even let us hug you!”

“But, it is Lah-rah.”

Despite her avoidance of cuddles, I was the exception to her protests. She made me feel special. When no one else was home, we’d move the tables, put on worship music as loud as a computer could play it and dance.  Rachel taught me some chords on the piano and I taught her a few on the guitar. We’d write little ditties. It doesn’t show, but she gave her all trying to teach me to walk in heals. We had a lot of fun. She was a hilarious part of my world and she was leaving which is why Brian wasn’t. I was about to speak to that when the door opened. It was always opening.

Jordyn and her husband, Zach, came in and sat at the adjacent couch. Zach had never met Brian and I was curious what they’d think of each other. They were both leaders in my life though I am not sure that I know two more different men.

It became apparent that Zach had a speech for me. I could see it coming in his eyes. His eyes can be intense. His eyes make him a good coach and coaching was a gift he brought to the ministry and me.

Well, it was a gift if I was in a good mood. I wasn’t in a good mood. My world, the ministry, this houseful of friends, was falling apart. My housemates were either getting married or burnt out. I should clarify: getting married is not a solution to burn out. Those where just the two reasons I was given for why my housemates were moving out. I felt like the last little monkey.

One little monkey jumping on the bed.

He fell off and bumped his head.

Zach was telling this monkey to hold it together. I was mad that he suggested it, but didn’t tell him off, not because I wouldn’t, but because I was distracted. Our plumber, Salvador, had just arrived. He went straight to the bathroom and removed the toilet. Zach continued his speech with no acknowledgement of the broken toilet or Salvador passing between us.

Zach’s speeches were so different from Brian’s. This day, Zach was only asking rhetorical questions. Couldn’t I just get alone and hear the Lord? Couldn’t I just do what God told me? Couldn’t I just not freak out all the time? Couldn’t I just go home, take one good moment to freak out and be done with it? I decided they weren’t rhetorical.

“I AM AT MY HOUSE! And I’m NEVER ALONE!”

Salvador passed between us with the new toilet.

“I guess.” Zach paused. “I guess just keep doing what you are doing then.”

Jordyn normally sugars what Zach has to say but didn’t this day. They didn’t stay long after the new toilet was installed, gave some salutations, and left. Salvador left too, warning me to let the cocking set.  He left the door open behind him.

I looked to Brian expecting him to share his first impression of Zach and the speech, but all he said was, “I could see you marrying a plumber.”

Regardless of Zach’s advices, there just weren’t enough people staying to make rent. Something about that just freaked me out. I called the landlord and put in notice. I informed the troops to pack up and move out.

 Mama called the doctor

And the doctor said

‘No more monkeys jumping on the bed’

I reminded myself of the first prayer I offered God when I stepped into leadership, “God, if you want to close this house, if you need someone to do the dirty work, I’ll do it for you.” Why ever did I pray that? At least I had friends who cared and a fixed toilet.

A Hug from the Grave

I woke at 6am after going to sleep at 2am. I couldn’t fall or stay asleep. There was too much to pray for and too much to try to scrub. Honestly, I doubted that either would change much.

I lay on my bed and watched the door timidly sway open. Lauren. She was standing there with a look that pleaded, “Come with me.” We weren’t even leaving the house, but Jordyn, Lauren, and I silently got dressed as if that would make us any more ready.

We handed Vicki the prepared paper and watched her read the announcement. It said that her behavior was unacceptable and that she had been told that she could not stay. She had run out of warnings.

She said that she was “sorry” a sign that I knew, but had never seen her say. She began to cry. This wasn’t the first time she had been asked to leave a house. “Sorry, sorry, sorry!” She signed. We had prepared to take her to a day shelter with social services just a block from the night shelter. Jordyn and I shoved all her things and her enormous dog into the car with us and drove her to her last resort. Somehow we parted on good but sad terms. I wouldn’t look Jordyn in the face to see just how sad.

We three and the doggie arrived at the shelter frayed. I stepped out of the car and I almost bumped into a classmate I had graduated with. I hadn’t known it, but she worked at this shelter. She had on a ruffly pink blouse and pressed slacks. I hate pink. Something in me wanted to growl at the ruffles. Her choice of dress was stark against the attire of the homeless lounging inside. She made small talk at the front desk. I didn’t want to.

She had graduated, gotten this job, an apartment, had a boyfriend and life for her was text book peachy just like she always was. I remember a time she spoke at a chapel service on campus. She shared about how good it was to have socio-economic diversity at church. She forgot to mention God! I hated that she could forget God and live with sleeves that weren’t as heart-heavy as mine. I hated that her fancy pants life got her more pats on the back than my cut-off shorts could warrant. I hated that her smile was so genuine and mine wasn’t. I wanted her to be unhappy like me.

Jordyn and I made our good-byes and took to the road. We were physically parched, emotionally stretched, and two hours late. I guess you could say it was a typical day for us. I don’t know about Jordyn, but I for one had an overwhelming want to get to where we were going. We stopped for Slurpee’s. I had never enjoyed one as much before or since, not that that is really important.

We got to Marge’s house as Pastor Dale started preaching about hope. Hope of all things! How fitting. Now, Marge always provided nametags when she invited a guest speaker and the significance that God brought to that small act still astounds me. I cannot tell you how I knew that He told me to use my middle name. I didn’t hear Him audibly. I just knew that it would be wrong of me to spare the nametag my middle name. Laura Jean. There, God. You happy?

We took our seats and lapped the scriptures. All too soon the sermon was over and it was time for snacks and a chat. Pastor Dale began to ask a woman tagged “Janet” about her life. She had experienced a loss of some kind it seemed. I crunched on some appetizers, but felt irreverent for doing so. She had lost her daughter. Her daughter’s name was Laura Jean.

My soul went silent.

Pastor Dale invited me to pray for Janet, but the only prayer I could give was to hold her while she wept. I wept too. “…weep with those who weep.”(Romans 12:15 NASB)

“My Laura Jean was a hugger.” She said. “It is good to have a hug from her.”

I knew what she meant. I missed my Mama. She pulled out of the hug, her breath still shaking and held my elbows.

“I will pray for you everyday.” I knew she meant it.

A very somber gratefulness accompanied me home as well as the leftovers from the snacks, which wouldn’t bear saying except that I really needed them. I had spent the last of my months’ grocery budget buying dog food for the fat dog I dropped off with Vicki earlier that day.

Carrot salad still takes me back.

A Lion and a Woman’s Place

I found my old flash-drive and several stories from my season in San Diego that I never posted. I hope you enjoy the flashbacks with me.

A Lion and a Woman’s Place

engedi-lion

“The loud ones are the liars.” –Daddy

I was painting a canvas on my kitchen floor during church when he approached me. He stood over me, looking.

“You should add some contrast.” He said. “I don’t know that much about art, but you should add some darker and lighter colors to make it really pop.”

I looked up at him. I had never seen him before. He was tall and slender, probably twice my age, and he had a rounded-vowel accent with which he assured me, “You’ll get better. You just need some confidence. You just need to speak up because you are shy. It is nice that you are quiet. It is a woman’s place.”

I was amused. He had the rudest niceties I had ever heard. Clearly, this man did not know me at all. He left the room before he had a chance to. I had been teaching art for three years. I knew all about contrast and I wasn’t shy.  I didn’t tell him this.

I could hear him one room over speaking with my friend.

“I’ve met you before.” She said.

“Oh, it must have been at that one church. What was the name?” He was being sneaky.

“No I met you on The Wall.”

He denied this vehemently. The Wall was where drunk people congregated on weekend nights. It was where we ministered apparently, to him.

We sat for church. He stood and shared his views on a woman’s place. “Am I right?” He asked, arms out as if to invite applause. I shook my head vigorously and waived my arms almost hitting Joseph who was sharing the ottoman with me. “No! No! No!” The thin man kept talking. I turned to Joseph and laughed on his shoulder. This thin man was ridiculous!

He came back to church the next week, the week that I (a woman) was sharing a message. I wasn’t shy and I wasn’t operating out of, what he called, “a woman’s place.” He tried to steal the floor with another speech and I redirected his interruptions.  He didn’t come back to our house church and I never saw him again, though I occasionally heard tales of his drunken escapades.

I should probably feel bad about having humiliated him, but whether it is right or not, I still remember him and smile when I see the lion painting I made that night, the one I gave to the guy’s ministry house. It was hung by men who didn’t shush me or try to squish me into my place, men who asked me how to paint, but would never tell me how to go about it. I don’t know. It just makes me smile.

 

 

Soapbox for Wrinkle Cream

A man tried to sell me $700 wrinkle cream. He told me that it was on sale for just $400 and that it would last a long time so really, he justified, I would be saving money. He would throw in some other products as well so I wouldn’t be needing to buy a facial cleanser or lotions. People, do you have any idea how long $400 worth of baking soda and baby oil would last me?

I feel for the guy, I really do. I’m a hard sell for thriftiness sake, but mostly because I don’t believe wrinkles are a problem to be fixed. Wrinkles are what happens when people smile, spend wrinklestime outside in the sun, and live another year. Wrinkles say that a person is perhaps a little wiser and a little less concerned with vanities.

Some of the most beautiful women I know have let their hair go white. They arrange flowers they picked in a vase with hands that are bent with arthritis, dirt is under their nails. They’ve raised babies and even if they hadn’t, they loved everyone as if they were her own child. They’ve built a legacy of love and the world is better off for their existence and yes, they have wrinkles and fat and the things that can sag have.

I am not bashing on anyone who wants to buy or sell that wrinkle cream or any other cosmetic. I’m a sucker for mascara myself. I do understand that grooming is important. It’s important to be employable if nothing else, but the point I am trying to make and what I really want is for people to be free. Be free to buy the product, but don’t buy in to the sales pitch that you are not good enough as is. Be free to look like what you look like and for goodness sake, be free to spend your life something more important!

Someday

Someday you’ll button up that vest

And smile

I’ll say everything

That I am supposed to,

Bless you,

And cry when I get home
Someday people will ask about you

And I won’t know

It’s been awhile 

I’ll suppose you’re well

Through time zones and miles

And cultures that won’t change you

And I’ll remember the buttons
Someday I’ll close this journal

Holding it peacefully

Like a baby asleep

I won’t wake it

And when your picture falls out

I’ll place it back,

Shelf the journal,

And blame allergies.

I found Him 

I’ve found someone I don’t want to change, someone I trust knows better than I do and will handle graciously my unabridged emotions. I’m fearless here. I feel free. Isn’t that what love does? This is my conclusion to so many of my God encounters. I want for this to be how people experience me, but for now I’m just sopping up the sunshine feelings.

Give Your Heart

  She is the beautiful fiery love she gives. It’s intimate, even painful, but it is her heart and she gives of it when she can. I rarely explain my paint meanings, but I was thinking today of a conversation I had about a bible verse. 

I don’t even remember what the verse was, but my colleague said, “I think this verse means that Jesus only wants us to give until it hurts.” I was so angry and surprised that I was angry; it’s a rare emotion in me, but I burst out, ” I don’t think so. Jesus died! And it was a crucifixion! I am pretty sure we are modeling a our lives after a man who gave way past the point of pain! I can’t think of anything more He could give!” 

Give of yourself. Steal away to God. Give more. The loaves. The fish. Your weary heart. Your life. For His.

Singing Freely

Sometimes I like a good and honest sad song. Images. To make you feel my love. True love will find you in the end. Everybody hurts.
Sometimes the songs are a place to be pathetic and sometimes they are a place where I can be free to feel the things that are hard to talk about. A good songwriter can feel like a friend. I want to be a good friend, but I am too chicken to sing to you, so take my poetry and feel the prayer. You are my shining star. You’ve got a friend.