Thursday, October 28, 2010

My Halloween Story

It’s obvious that autumn has arrived – the leaves are any color but green and a good many of them have already fallen to the ground waiting to be crunched underfoot. And Halloween decorations of every sort are adorning the yards and houses and local businesses in preparation for the parade of children who will be trick-or-treating through the neighborhoods soon. This week especially, I've been thinking and praying about the whole Halloween thing. I won’t be telling you in this blog whether you should or shouldn’t join in on the Halloween festivities. What I will be telling you about is my experience with Halloween and what I feel God is leading me to do.

Halloween was always a great part of my childhood. After all, what child doesn’t like to dress-up in costume and eat lots of candy? One year, my brothers and I put together a haunted house in our basement all by ourselves and then opened it up to the kids in the neighborhood. I was the bloody dead girl in the coffin who sat up and screamed at them when they walked past. And as a parent, I initiated my own child into this annual frenzy of make-believe with ghost stories and visits to the local haunted house and let’s not forget the pillowcase full of candy that was gone in a week.

My second husband really had the Halloween spirit and each year the graveyard on our front lawn grew bigger and spookier and there were new surprises for the kids every year. I remember one year, a little boy refused to step on our property. His dad told him it would be fine and just to prove it, he came to the door for his son’s candy while the boy waited at the mailbox. That year, my husband had rigged a giant mutant bat creature to fly over the heads of the trick-or-treaters as they came up the walk and just as this dad was trying to prove his point to the boy, the creature glided over the dad’s head and the man screamed. And then of course he laughed.

Some might ask, “Where was your Christianity in all of this?” and I must admit that for the last few Halloweens before my husband left me, I was a Christian. But this was all in fun. There’s no harm in just pretending, is there? Sure, Halloween may have been based on pagan rituals and occult celebrations in the past, but that was long ago. In today’s society, isn’t it just a commercial holiday that has no spiritual or religious significance? At least that’s what I told my Christian friend who was opposed to participating in Halloween festivities or allowing her children to trick-or-treat.

After my husband left me, Halloween wasn’t as fun anymore and since I didn’t have trick-or-treaters coming to my apartment, I stopped engaging in Halloween but saw no reason not to at least check out the local Halloween shops to see the new decorations and displays. It was on one such trip to a Halloween shop that I began to question my original assumptions. While I was enjoying a creative graveyard display with a no-faced, black-robed creature with bony hands raised, hovering in front of the cardboard cemetery, I was suddenly overcome with a distinct sense of pure evil. Not even Steven King with all his experience could describe the touch of pure evil I encountered that day, so I won’t even try. Unnerved and terrified, I ran from the store. As I sat in my car, I couldn’t get rid of the feeling of being coated in a slimy darkness, as if I had run through a pool of tar or molasses and it had now hardened and adhered to my skin. That was my last visit to a Halloween shop.

These last few weeks, that moment in the Halloween shop has been resurfacing in my memory at the sight of the neighborhood decorations and I am feeling uneasy at seeing them. When I asked God what I needed to know when it came to the subject of Halloween, he led me to the following scriptures:

Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil. (1 Thessalonians 5:21-22, NIV)

Dear friend, do not imitate what is evil but what is good. Anyone who does what is good is from God. Anyone who does what is evil has not seen God. (3 John 1:11, NIV)

For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord. Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. (Ephesians 5:8-11, NIV)

Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Romans 12:2, NIV)

In good conscience, I cannot be a part of something that encourages the practice of or the illusion of that which is evil. I’m not saying that our little ones shouldn’t enjoy dressing up in costume and playing make-believe. Every childhood should be filled with that. What I’m saying is that while little Suzy is running around in her favorite princess outfit, she is witnessing the adults she trusts approve of serial slashers, witches, ghouls and zombies as they hand out treats to all with equal enthusiasm. She is walking through dry ice fogged cemetery replicas populated with skeletons, ghosts, and demonic figures, to the sound of spooky music all meant to enhance her Halloween fun. And though she may not be sensitive to it, she is walking through and being covered in the same evil I experienced in the Halloween shop. So this year, if I had a porch light, it would be off and I will most definitely be praying for all the children and their parents who are out and about on Halloween that they will remain physically and spiritually safe from harm and evil.

About the pictures:
Deer Lake Park (October 2010)

Friday, October 22, 2010

Celebrating My Insecurities

If you could see what this girl is writing in her journal, it might bring a tear to your eye. Her words are filled with pain and despair. Perhaps she is pouring out her heart through her pen in lament that no one likes her or maybe she is writing:
"Why not end it all and go to hell.
It’s got to be better than this.
For there is nothing here that I would miss.”
She sees herself as useless, stupid, undeserving and unwanted. Those who are supposed to love and protect her have hurt her more than those who openly hate and despise her and all she wants is just one person to love her – to think she is worth the space she takes up on this earth. This girl doesn’t know that God is there lamenting with her. “If only she would see me, hear me,” God is crying. “She would know my love and I would heal her brokenness and her pain. This girl’s insecurities are the root of her fear, her actions, her thoughts and sadness and it is her insecurities that lead her into many unhealthy relationships and deeper into depression over the next twenty years. This is a picture of me as a teenager.

In this past year, I made an incredible discovery – Everyone has insecurities! No, really, it’s true. I only just realized this. I used to look at the people around me and think, “I’m the only one who is insignificant in the group. Everyone else adds something of value, but me, I have nothing worth offering.” Everyone else seemed so confident and competent when compared with the distorted image I had of myself. But now I know that everyone else is just as insecure and unsure as I am sometimes. Insecurity is a human trait and we can’t escape it surfacing in us from time to time.

However, here is the good news: Take a good look, friends, at who you were when you got called into this life. I don't see many of "the brightest and the best" among you, not many influential, not many from high-society families. Isn't it obvious that God deliberately chose men and women that the culture overlooks and exploits and abuses, chose these "nobodies" to expose the hollow pretensions of the "somebodies"? (1 Corinthians 1:26-28, The Message) No matter how insecure we are, how little we feel we have to offer, God loves us and wants to work out his plan in and through us. If you look in the Bible, you will find that God often used the insecure nobodies, people who felt that they didn’t have much to offer because they weren’t rich, intelligent, charismatic, "first born" celebrities. Saul, the first king of Israel, hid from Samuel who was sent to anoint him king. David was just a young cocky shepherd boy when God called him to one day replace Saul. Jeremiah the prophet was a child, Amos was just an uneducated shepherd and the apostles were just fishermen and a tax collector. God called Jacob instead of Esau in fulfilling his promise to Abraham and Joseph instead of Rueben to rescue God’s chosen during the famine. Moses stuttered terribly and Esther was a poor orphan girl. When I think of these people whom God has chosen to work miracles through, I find myself smiling – I’m in good company.

So what if I don't think I have much to offer. That's no reason not to offer it all to God anyway and then to watch what he can and will do with it. It's not what I offer that enables God to do miracles - it's God's power and love that enables my small offering to become a miraculous gift to those I serve in his Name.

About the pictures:
Teenage me (Gibsonia, PA, taken by Mom in the early 80's)
Flower (Pittsburgh, PA, September 2010)

Friday, October 15, 2010

The Lord's Prayer Anew

Recently in my study of God’s Word, I came across the Lord’s Prayer found in Matthew 6:9-13. Too often I find myself just skimming over this very familiar passage, but this day God brought my eyes to a screeching halt. It occurred to me that because we have the privilege of speaking these words with our brothers and sisters in Christ in our weekly worship, we can sometimes lose the depth of our passion for the prayer’s meaning. As I read this prayer slowly over and over again, I began to gain a deeper understanding and a new appreciation for this sacred text. God blessed my heart through the Lord’s Prayer in a special way and I share it with you here in the hopes that you too will be blessed as I have.

*************

Our Father (the One who brought us into being; our Protector; our Provider; the Authority in our lives; the bigger, stronger One we admire; the One who loves us more; our Daddy) who art in heaven (where God’s people gather around the eternal throne to praise and worship the Lord; our spiritual homeland; our eternal inheritance; pure contentment of the soul; complete and absolute fulfillment; where the veil of mortality is lifted and God’s inconceivable glory is revealed; an all-embracing unity with the fullness of God) Hallowed be thy name (the mere mention of His Name is a sacred utterance–God is to be praised with awe and respect; He is holy and with admiration we revere the Lord; He is glorious and His presence demands our eager and undivided attention) Thy kingdom come (an existence with no war, no pain, no hunger or disease; where the Lord God reigns, peace rules and compassion is the native tongue; where love is the currency and joy is the air we breathe; where only God’s Word and will is sought after and received by grateful hearts) Thy will be done (empty us Father of our desires and our illusions of control; Your desires only we seek to accomplish in the offering of ourselves to glorify You Lord God; carve out our selfishness and self-centeredness that we may attend fully to Your commands in obedient service to Your just and merciful holiness) On earth as it is in heaven (You are the Lord God Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth. All heaven sings of Your glory and heeds Your beck and call with joyful and obedient hearts; with a word, You created the earth and we who live there. We too are subject to Your power and glory just as the heavens are and we, Your people, must submit ourselves to Your holiness with equal joy and obedience as in the heavenly realms) Give us this day (today, this minute, now – we seek audience with you Lord God; You’ve instructed us in your Holy Word to pray continuously – to be in communion with You this minute…and this minute…and this minute; today is the day You have made and right now is the time we have to worship You, submit to You, love You and serve You.) our daily bread (we were created with needs that must be met every day if we are to continue. These are not weaknesses but opportunities for us to rely on Your power and love to sustain us. You built those needs into us that we may always be drawn to You; fill us Lord God with Your presence; give us Lord what our bodies need to continue praising and serving You in this world until You call us home.) And forgive us (relinquish claim to restitution; restore; redeem; absolve blame) our debts (sin; unpaid penalty; something owed; transgression; offense) As we forgive (relinquish claim to restitution; restore; redeem; absolve blame) our debtors (sin; unpaid penalty; something owed; transgression; offense) Lead us not into temptation (guide us in Your way Lord God; take our hands and direct our paths; leave Your footprints for us to follow; give Your Spirit to push, pull, and point the way straight to You) But deliver us from evil (too often Lord, we stumble, we veer off the path or run in the opposite direction straight into the arms of the enemy. Rescue us Lord God. Dispense the crushing blow of Your power and glory upon the enemy and his armies. Come down into the dark valley of death and bring us up to Your holy mountain that we may praise and glorify You alone forever.) *For thine is the kingdom, (You created it all Lord. The universe, the earth and all that inhabits the earth. The spiritual world is Yours and anything else we may discover or uncover in the course of history, You created and it all belongs to You.) the power, (You are all-powerful Lord God. There is no power greater than Yours. With a thought, by a single utterance, You brought into being all things. With a thought, by a single utterance, You could wipe it all out in the blink of an eye with the ease of a single breath.) and glory forever. (There never was, is now, nor will there ever be anything more splendid, more magnificent or beautiful than You Father, nor more deserving of our praise and adoration.) Amen. (yes; as it has been said, let it be so)
*Presbyterian tradition adds this sentence which I believe is in keeping with the
spirit of the Lord’s Prayer and felt led to include in this new look at God’s Word.

If you will, take time with me now to speak your heart to the Lord in the words our Savior gave us…

Our Father……...who art in heaven……...Hallowed be thy name……..Thy kingdom come……...Thy will be done…….on earth as it is in heaven……….. Give us this day………..our daily bread...........and forgive us………...our debts…………….as we forgive…………..our debtors……….Lead us not into temptation……….but deliver us from evil…….……. For thine is the kingdom………...the power …..........and the glory forever……….Amen.

Be Blessed!
Maureen

About the pictures:
Raccon State Park (October 2010)

Friday, October 8, 2010

God Believes in Me

All of us have encountered the “classic” Scripture verses many times before – ones that are heard and read so much you know them from the first word – the kind that end up embroidered on pillows and written over pictures of wildflowers? This week, I encountered two such verses, but instead of skimming right past them, as I am apt to do because they are so familiar, something new caught my attention in them this week.

The first occurs in the Gospel accounts of Jesus calling the first disciples. As Jesus walks along the shore of the Sea of Galilee, he calls to Peter, Andrew, James, and John: “Come, follow me.” Immediately they drop their nets, leave their jobs, their families, their homes and travel around from village to town to city hanging on his every word and being amazed at Jesus’ miraculous deeds – all the while knowing that Jesus was special, but having to learn over time just how special he was and is.

That always seemed strange to me. I assumed that they had many encounters with Jesus before that aren’t mentioned in Scripture because…really...who in his right mind would leave behind everything on the spur of the moment for someone they didn’t know? Then I learned in a Bible class this week the significance of Jesus coming to them. At that time, children would learn the first five books of the Bible (the Torah) and have them memorized by age ten. Then most of them would be dismissed to learn a trade in the family business. The kids who showed real promise were permitted to continue their education where they would proceed to memorize the rest of what we call the Old Testament. When they were about fourteen or so, they were either dismissed to go into the family business or if the teacher thought a pupil had that something special – that he could carry God’s Word to the people, the young man was encouraged to seek a Rabbi.

Now in first century Israel, Rabbis were celebrities. They were the ones everyone wanted to be like and seen with. To be in with the Rabbi was the ultimate status symbol. The young man would apply to a Rabbi who would grill him mercilessly on his Scripture knowledge. If the Rabbi thought that this young man had what it took to learn from him and could eventually one day be like him, the Rabbi would invite the young man to “Follow me.” This was a rare honor.

Well, the first disciples were working in the family trade. They apparently didn’t have what it takes. They were the rejects and yet here was this Rabbi Jesus calling to them – “Come, follow me.” He was telling them that they had what it took to be like him. And Jesus tells us the same thing when he called us into relationship with him. He thinks we have what it takes to be like him and to faithfully carry on in his teachings. Jesus believes in me. That’s incredible! My Savior, the God of the Universe believes I can be like him! Wow!

The second encounter was in reading the Parable of the Talents found in Matthew 25. “A man is going on a journey and calls his servants together to entrust his property to them. To one he gave five talents of money (about $5,000), to another two talents (about $2,000), and to another one talent (about $1,000), each according to his ability.” (Matthew 25:14-15, NIV) That’s where I’m stopping the story, though I encourage you to read the rest of it for yourself.

Here’s what made me stop: “…each according to his ability.” So often, I worry that I’m not doing enough especially when comparing myself to the super-Christians I read about or know in the church. Or I’m not doing “it” right. I talk myself into believing that I’m a failure and God deserves better. My self-doubt and the resulting low self-esteem make “I can’t” a more frequent part of my vocabulary than “I can.” God gave me gifts and talents according to the ability he knows I have. He created me and knows me best – he knows the fullness of my potential and he gives me gifts and talents in accordance with that potential. Again…God believes in me! Wow! He has faith in my ability because he put it there and patiently and gently guides me to discover it for myself and live into the potential he has gifted me for. God is not comparing me to Super Christian or to Rev. My-Life-Is-Not-My Own and I shouldn’t either. God knows me intimately and, knowing me, believes in my ability! Maybe I should too.
About the pictures: 
Deer Lake Park (October 2009)

Friday, October 1, 2010

It's All About Jesus

I was five years old when the series M*A*S*H came out. For the next eleven years, I laughed and cried with its characters with each new episode. It was probably the most influential TV program in my young life. There was no need for me to despair when the final episode aired in 1983 because many of the earlier episodes had already been in syndication for years. At one point, I was able to watch thirteen episodes a week. Often I would watch several episodes in a row and see tremendous growth in some of my favorite characters when watching one of the early episodes followed by one of the later episodes. No matter how much had changed in them, they were still very much the same characters I had come to know and love over the years.

Okay, besides embarrassing myself by admitting that I’m a M*A*S*H freak (yes, I own all the DVDs), there is a point to be made here. I’ve had the opportunity over the last few months to really look back on my life and be reminded of the person I was eleven years ago when Jesus came into my life. I was a very shy, scared, and hurt human being. I hated myself more than I could hate any other person I have or will ever meet and no one could’ve convinced me that I didn’t deserve all the shame and blame
 I wrapped myself up in. But Jesus broke through all of that. He saw me – the me he created poking through the storm of depression and pain that consumed my heart. He reached through that darkness and pulled me out. If you could see the me I was then standing next to the me I am now – Wow! I’m the same Maureen but I’ve grown so much as a person and as a child of God. I am so different now, but I am still me and grateful to God for all he’s done and continues to do in my life.

Sometimes it’s hard to see how much I’ve grown because I see me every day and growth is a long slow process. However, we can’t discount the occasional growth spurt. In fact, I know a young man who grew five inches in one summer. Often he would be close to tears from the growing pains that seared through his body that summer. It’s the same with our spiritual growth. Yes, there are times when we have noticeable growth spurts in our spiritual lives and it usually comes with waves of great pain. In fact, that’s been my experience these last few months. I’ve grown so much in such a short time that even I can see it. It was not an easy road and I fell so many times, I lost count. But God was there to pick me up, clean me up and point me in the right direction. He gave me good friends who supported me in prayer, friends who sat with me, cried with me and guided me back to Jesus when I felt lost.

I’ve learned so much this summer that I couldn’t possible write it all down in this blog. However, I’d like to share the most important thing I learned: it really is all about Jesus! My focus needs to be on him. I need to seek him in all things. It’s his attention, his love, and his approval I seek. I need to meet him in His Word, not just in my daily devotion, but always, for everything. When I’m happy or sad, confused or hurting – I need to run to him in his Word and in prayer. My heart’s desire is to be with him everywhere I am and it starts here. “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” (Jeremiah 29:13 NIV)

About the pictures: Parkwood Presbyterian Church Garden (July 2009)