Hope for Abbey

I’ve been volunteering with the One-on-One Visitation program at the Tennessee Prison for Women here in Nashville, TN for just over a year, and my husband and I made a site for the young lady I’ve been visiting with.  I’m basically just posting here what is on the site, so if you would rather go to it there, or if after reading this, you feel led to donate, you can see the site at http://hopeforabbey.com. The woman I have been visiting with and getting to know is named Abbey Leavitt, and this is my plea for a little help and hope for her new start. She is up for parole in May of 2013. I’ll tell you a little bit about the program, so that you have a little background for Abbey’s situation.

One-on-One Visitation is a Faith-based group that provides a mentor to incarcerated women. It is significant that they only partner with women who receive no visitors, and have submitted an application to be in the program, so the women in this program are very alone, but they want to learn, want to be mentored, and want to change their lives. The expectations of the program are that you will visit them once a month and write letters, faithfully, in between. These women have no one who is able or willing to be there for them while they are serving their sentences. As you would imagine, it follows that many of them also have no one who can help them when they are released.

Though justice is served by their punishment, unfortunately, it doesn’t end for them when they have completed their sentences. They often have no legal identification, no money to start out, nowhere to go or no way to get there, and obligations, such as child support, that are almost immediately back in effect upon release.

This is Abbey’s situation. Abbey is a young mother with three young boys. Two of them live in Washington State with their father. She dreams of returning and making a life there, but will have to stay in Tennessee long enough to regain custody of her other son, who lives with her brother in Memphis. This puts a strain on an already difficult situation, as her brother struggles to get by financially and will not be able to offer her much. Jobs will be tough to get with her criminal record, and legal obligations are imminent. She is considering a halfway house to help her get back on her feet and employed, but even halfway houses usually require an up-front fee.

Abbey is a beautiful and funny young woman, and her honesty will sometimes take you by surprise! She isn’t afraid to speak her mind, and wants other people to do the same. She has a ready laugh, but you can see the concern for the future in her eyes. She loves the Lord and wants to live her life differently than she did before her imprisonment. She tears up when she talks about how much guilt she feels over not being there for her sons. Please read Abbey’s story and pray about whether giving her a helping hand is something you are able to do. Nothing is too small, and everything will be appreciated, and I know that God will put it to your account!

“But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.” Matthew 6:20

“Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’ Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’ Matthew 25:34-40

ABBEY’S STORY

My name is Abbey Leavitt, and I am 24 years old. I have 3 boys, and was born in Michigan. Although I might not look like it, I’ve lived a life way beyond my years. The elder people in my life call me an “old soul.”

I must let you know that I’m a far cry from an angel. I’ve done drugs, sold drugs, stolen, and lied to satisfy the hole that couldn’t be filled with earthly gifts. Let me tell you my story:
It started when I was about 2 years old. My little sister’s father would put me to bed and I would scream. Of course, everyone just thought I didn’t want to go to bed, but I was being fondled to pornography, and he would lay me on top of him and hump me until he was satisfied. That went on until age 6, when one night he decided to molest me in my anus. It was the worst pain I’ve ever felt. I remember like it was yesterday. He called me his favorite. (I wonder why!) I did tell one of my brother’s friends the next day.

To make a long story short, we moved to Colorado. That didn’t last long due to racist shootings, high prices and extremely cold weather. We stayed about six months. We brought a couple of people back, though. Momma always had a way of adding folks to the family.

Now, most of the molesting from not only my step-dad, but my girl and guy cousins occurred in Michigan. That started when they would make me play house or hide and seek, or simply give orders for sexual favors. As I look back, I’m not angry with them. They were only children, too, and were learning the behaviors somewhere!

At age 4, I witnessed my big sister get killed in front of me. She asked my mom if she could go to the store to get the movie E.T. My mom said, “No,” and my sister said, “I hate you.” Then she went and told my brothers that my mom said, “Yes.” Well, they jumped on their bikes and headed to the store with my oldest brother leading the way. My sister took her time while I cried out at the window, watching, wanting to go. As she was crossing, a man driving a truck with a boat attached sped up and hit her! Her bike went under the truck, crushing instantly as she tossed in the air like a beach ball, hitting the boat on the back of the truck and almost dismembering her entire leg. The driver kept going. My brothers screamed and pulled my sister out of the road as she took her last breath in his arms. I lost my mother that day. She was there physically, but mentally she wasn’t for years, and all the while I’m being sexually abused and it was becoming “my normal.” If my mother wasn’t getting beaten and chained in the basement or we weren’t in shelters getting molested by the “battered women,” it was by our closest family members.

I became pregnant at age 15, living in Washington State with my eldest brother and his family. Life was rough. I couldn’t find happiness or fill a huge void I felt in my heart. So, I would play men and women…lots of them…trying to use them like they used me. I became involved in drugs and hacking computers. You name it – I was involved in it. I became pregnant with my second son at age 18, and my mother passed when I was 9 weeks. Needless to say, I died with her.
I chose to stay in Washington and do the family thing. It worked for a while until my immaturity and bitter heart tore my family apart. I ended up on the streets with two kids and no hope. I sold drugs and got back into using them again. After being pistol-whipped in front of my children by a meth addict, I threw in the towel and called my other brother. I jumped on a bus with my two kids and as much as I could carry for a 3 day ride to Tennessee.

When I got settled in Tennessee, I became bored with the slow pace an began to commit small, petty crimes and do city crimes in a small town that eventually led me to state probation and three violations, and eventually prison. Here I have been for almost three years, and it is the best thing that could have ever happened to me. It is in here that I have found who I really am and what beliefs I want to instill in my children. I have taken parenting classes, anger management, and completed an intensive rehab program.

I’m starting over, but I need help. I have no clothes, no money, no identification – nothing but the willingness and determination it takes to achieve my goals. I want and will go to college, but I am at ground zero. I have a struggling family who cannot help me, but they do the best they can with my children.

I look to be making parole in May of 2013. I struggle every day, but I’m thankful. I’m thankful for my past, my trials and my pain. It has molded me to be the woman I am becoming every day. I am not looking for a handout, just a helping hand. I am willing and ready for a change – the kind of change that will pay it forward to youth in my situation. If my testimony has touched and moved your heart to help me, you will be greatly appreciated.

Thank you!
Abbey Leavitt
“Never ask for a lighter load, rather, a stronger back.”
You may contact me at:
Abbey Leavitt , #436394
3881 Stewart’s Lane
Nashville, TN 37218

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Different and Confused

This world is hard.  We all know that, though some to greater extents.  But sometimes things happen that just make you look at that fact…look at it square in the face as if it were a person.  They hit you in such a way on a certain day that you want them to change your life, to change your heart, to change you forever and not just to pass you by with a glance, but you WANT to look at them that way in order to be forced to acknowledge them.

Yesterday I had a couple of those experiences.  They weren’t my own sufferings, and probably were the more poignant for it.  There was a woman with her daughter.  I didn’t think anything of it, the daughter was probably around my age and looked normal.  Then she started talking to me.  And I couldn’t understand her.  It was immediately clear that the girl had what I assumed was a developmental disability or something of that nature.  I thought I was catching some words, but really the only one I was certain of was “confused,” which I got that she was saying as a reference to her mother who was a bit frazzled. The daughter continued to talk to me, and, in the circumstances, not really being able to hear or understand her well, I just nodded and smiled.  Before they left, the mother said, “Confused is her word for weird or out of place.  She was in a car accident and when she woke up, the first thing she said was, ‘I’m different now, and confused.'”  I know that life-long disabilities have seemingly insurmountable challenges, but something about suddenly understanding that this girl used to be just like me, and that tragedy changed her, couldn’t settle in my brain.  The idea of her understanding what she had lost, and the thoughts of what the parents must have felt knowing their daughter was probably never going to do the things she had aspired to do before – it just hung with me.

Then I went to a store to exchange something on my lunch break.  I heard a woman who worked there say something behind me, and I thought she was speaking to me.  I asked her what she said because I didn’t hear her well, and she said, “I was just praying for God to rescue me from my life.”  We had a few back and forth interactions.  She told me that she already served her time in prison and she couldn’t take this anymore, clearly intimating that what she was living now still felt like a prison to her.  I didn’t really offer her anything of substance…I just gave a tiny bit of listening.  In hindsight, I wish I had done all kinds of things, but that doesn’t matter now because I can’t go backwards in time, so I’m trying not to dwell on it.

When I was leaving the store, the woman from before was there with her daughter, and I suddenly felt blasted with other people’s pain – not in such a way as in I wished that it hadn’t happened, but in such a way that I was suddenly overwhelmed by the magnitude of it.  Not just their pain, but the pain of the billions of people whose sufferings they represent.

And I felt my smallness.  I don’t just mean in that way of, “Oh, I wish I could help everyone, but you can only do so much.”  I mean in the way that I know I could do a lot more for people than I do…I felt my emotional and spiritual smallness.  I was inadequate.

I had a lot of thoughts throughout the day.  I thought about how often I feel “different and confused” myself, which on the surface seems like it would be in a very different way from the daughter, but then I wondered how different is it really?  Different and confused is different and confused no matter where you’re coming from.  (I’m not saying all of the thoughts I had are true, I’m just telling you what they were.)  And I wondered if that car wreck actually could have saved that girl from some other unspeakable horror.  She seemed genuinely happy.  Maybe it wasn’t the worst thing that could’ve happened to her?

I thought about the other lady and how sometimes all of our lives can feel like a prison, and how sometimes that is just life and I even found myself wondering if she was just lazy.  (Many of my thoughts are not highly honorable, I’m just being honest.)

I think that a lot of my thoughts were being formed by the sub-conscious desire to make sense of it, to compartmentalize it and make it OK.  But the fact is that it’s not OK.  Just because suffering is common to all man does not mean it is something that we should walk un-feelingly by or be able to dismiss because it falls into something we can categorize as “acceptable” or “understandable”.

I came home, and though I wasn’t thinking of it in relation to the days happenings, and quite unintentionally since I meant to be reading Proverbs, I began reading in Ecclesiastes.  I couldn’t have read something more appropriate.  Vanity indeed.  All of the things we seek and all of the atrocities that occur because of it are pointless.  What was comforting was the acknowledgment of evil:  “If you see in a province the oppression of the poor and the violation of justice and righteousness, do not marvel at the matter, for the high official is watched by a higher, and there are yet higher ones over them.” – Ecclesiastes 5:8

God is the highest of those high officials, and he is aware of injustice and suffering, and He’s got it.  Though all the seeking of pleasure and riches and even wisdom (though he admits it better than folly), he considers vain, it all boils down to what he says at the last, “The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.  For God will bring every deed in to judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.”  It is also interesting to me how even in what seems like a most pessimistic view, Solomon still wants you to fight for justice.  We are to mete out the mercy as God’s emissaries, indeed, it’s part of those commandments we are advised to keep:  “Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.” – Psalm 82:3-4

I want to be severely affected by the reality of other people’s pain.  I want God’s mercy to flow from me to the hurting and oppressed.  I want to cease the vain attempts at satisfaction that, from experience, Solomon tells us will never fulfill.

If Only I Had an Enemy…

Lately I’ve had a lot of thoughts about my lack of concern for other people.  My husband and I have been talking a lot about all of the times the Bible, often through Jesus, says to be kind to the strangers, to show hospitality to them, to visit the sick, to care for the orphans and widows, to feed the hungry, to clothe the poor, to love your neighbor as yourself (expounded on in the story of the Good Samaritan), etc.  There are a lot of them.  Here are a few:

Galatians 5:13-14: For you were called to freedom, brothers.  Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.  For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

James 2:8-9: If you fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, “Thou shalt love they neighbor as thyself,” you do well.  But if you have respect to persons, you commit sin, and are convicted by the law as transgressors.

John 13:34-35: A new commandment I give unto you, that you love one another, as I have loved you, that you also love one another.  By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love one to another.

John 15:9: As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you: continue in my love.

John 15:12-13: This is my commandment, that you love one another, as I have loved you.  Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.

John 15:17: These things I command you, that you love one another.

Matthew 22:37-40: Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.  This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.  On these two commandments hang all the law and the Prophets.

Mark 10:42-45:  And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them.  But it shall not be so among you.  But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all.  For even the Son of Man [Jesus] came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

James 2:14-18: What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith, but does not have works?  Can that faith save him?  If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body what good is that?   So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.  But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.”  Show me your faith apart fro your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.

James 1:27: Pure and undefiled religion before our God and father is this, to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.

I could keep going, but the point is, I think that I have somehow overlooked the radical nature of what it means if I actually DID this consistently in my daily life, and not just as an occasional “act of kindness” in order to make me feel good about myself.  Right here, my flesh really wants to defend myself, and tell you that I do sometimes do nice things…and I do, but I think I recuse myself from this responsibility far too often.  Sometimes it is time-related: I say I am too busy, but I still manage to fit my favorite TV shows in.  Sometimes it is comfort: I feel that I need some sort of embossed invitation in order to make sure that putting myself outside of my comfort zone is what God wants of me.  Sometimes it is pure laziness: I just don’t want to.  Sometimes it is fear: what if I try to reach out and it is not welcomed, appreciated, effective?

I was kind of down a few weeks ago; I was (and still am) feeling convicted about how little of my time is spent intentionally reaching out to others in distress.  I was reading in the Bible and came across chapter 58 of Isaiah.  I was stunned…we had been discussing all of the Scriptures telling us to help others, to love others, and I was in a sort of spiritual funk, feeling like I didn’t know how to get out of it.  And then I read this:

Isaiah 58: 3-12: “Why have we fasted and you see it not?  Why have we humbled ourselves, and you take no knowledge of it?”  Behold, in the day of your fast, you seek your own pleasure, and oppress all your workers.  Behold, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to hit with a wicked fist.  Fasting like yours this day will not make your voice to be heard on high.  Is such the fast that I choose, a day for a person to humble himself?  Is it to bow down his head like a reed, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him?  Will you call this a fast, and a day acceptable to the Lord?  Is not THIS the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?  Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?  THEN shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your  healing shall spring up speedily; your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.  THEN you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry, and he will say, ‘Here I am.’  If you take away the yoke from your midst, the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness, if you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, THEN shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday.  And the Lord will guide you continually and satisfy YOUR desire in scorched places and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail.

It’s a lot like some things Jesus said in the New Testament as well, that acts of “religion” are not regarded by him:  Matthew 6:16-18 – “Whenever you fast, do not put on a gloomy face as the hypocrites do, for they neglect their appearance so that they will be noticed by men when they are fasting.  Truly, I say to you, they have their reward in full.  But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others, but by your Father who is in secret.  And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”  And also as it says in Psalm 51, “For you do not delight in sacrifice, otherwise I would give it; you are not pleased with burnt offering.  The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.”

He doesn’t want us following a list of rules; he doesn’t even want us (per Isaiah 58) to pray and fast and mourn and cry out to him if we don’t plan to act on his words about helping those around us.  He wants our hearts.  He wants them because he wants them to love…him first because that enables us to do the second, which is loving one another.

As I said, I was feeling pretty down before I read Isaiah 58, but it literally gives you a cure for depression.  It says (paraphrasing), “Care for these people, and your gloom will lift.  Meet the desires of the afflicted, and the Lord will meet your desires.  Where you felt disconnected from him (the Lord), he will show up.  Where you were feeling empty and destroyed, you will begin to bloom again.”  Wow.  Depression is caused by selfishness?  It actually makes sense.  We are depressed largely because we are wanting something for ourselves, which we are not getting, feeling, experiencing.  Even if those things are good things, i.e. the presence of God as it discusses in the chapter, we are depressed over them because we are self-focused instead of others-focused.  It’s like all of the things the Lord asks of us, He asks for us to give up self, to die to self even (Galatians 2:20), but it is all because that is what, in the end, will satisfy our deepest longings.  “For this light, momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory, beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen, but to the things that are unseen.  For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:17-18)

There is a song by Mumford & Sons with one single line that has run over and over in my head since the first time I heard it…”if only I had an enemy bigger than my apathy, I could have won.”  I often think that our battle would be more easily won if the enemy were like David’s.  As he was speaking to Goliath, “You come to me with a sword and with a spear and with a javelin, but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied.”  At least in our American culture, our enemies are much more subtle: 2 Corinthians 11: 14-15 – “And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.  So, it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness.  Their end will correspond to their deeds.”  My enemy is indeed a master of deceit, he is Satan, the Father of Lies (John 8:44) disguised as my own feelings of laziness, apathy, selfishness – if I were to see those things as they really are, even my flesh would rail against them.  I would be appalled at their ugliness.  I watched a video recently about reaching out to the poor and hungry, though I can’t remember what it was from.  At one point in the video, there is a man, clearly starving and malnourished, on his hands and knees, reaching out his hand to a man walking by…but the man doesn’t stop.  He doesn’t even look.  That image has also run through my mind over and over since I saw it.  I am the man who is just walking by, not looking.  One hundred years ago, in our world, we had the excuse of ignorance, the excuse of the logistical difficulties of helping, even if we learned of an issue around the world.  Now, we have no excuse.  Even if there were no hurting, no starving, no poor, no sick around us (which there are), it is so easy to send aid to anyone anywhere in the world.  We have no end of information about those who need help, and no limit to the ways we can help them.  My enemy has become more clear, as I have pictured that man, reaching out to me as I walk out of my house to my car, as I walk into church.  I cannot escape him as he stretches out his arm, pleading for aid.  My enemy is my self-absorption…my desire for a smart phone, though with the extra $ I would pay on my monthly bill, I could probably feed that man each month; my desire for a vacation that, even on a budget, would probably cost more than that man has ever seen, because I “deserve” it…as if that man does not deserve to eat…to live.  If there were a starving man outside my door, even one starving man, I would be callous and cruel to walk past him each day, living comfortably in my relative luxury, but taking no notice.  But there is not just one starving man, there are 15 million children dying every year, and they are all reaching out to me.

So, what will I do?  I am not sure, specifically.  But I know that I MUST cease pretending I am obeying Christ’s words while only nominally reaching out to others who need help.  I must view my apathy as the enemy that it is.  I must take the Scriptures I have included and am including below to heart.  Here’s an interview that my husband did with a man who has done just that, transforming his Christian life from what he acknowledges was just going through the motions, to a life that reflects Christ and his power: Victor’s Story.  Please listen, and note how he embodies the precepts in the texts below:

Matthew 25: 31-46: When the Son of Man comes in his glory and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.  And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left.  Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.  For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’  Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink?  And when did  see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these, you did it to me.’  Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.  For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’  Then they will also answer saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’  Then he will answer them saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’  And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.

Luke 10:25-37: And behold a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus said to him, “What is written in the law? How do you read it?” And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.” But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”

I Corinthians 13: If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

Why?

Hello, world.  It’s been a very long time.  As to the why…I don’t really have a reason.  If anyone cares to read the last post from Dec, 2008 (Pursuing What You Love), then I guess I could kind of continue from there with the fact that I did get the job I spoke of in that post, and have been in it ever since.  I think, at first, I did not write because I was focusing on trying to do what I spoke of in that post…learn how not to sub-consciously put myself in some position of superiority, but to really live out love with the people I encounter.

I would say that at first I did pretty well with that, reigning in internal grumblings that would usually cause me to become frustrated with co-workers or work in general, i.e. my schedule being changed from 8-4 to 10-6.  I wasn’t a fan of that, but in trying to live the servant life, took it all in stride and figured God had it all in control, so I didn’t make a fuss.

However, as with all things, I am confessing now that the novelty of being loving seems to have worn off, and I am back to being grouchy with others and thinking about myself and what I want all the time instead of living in the knowledge that most of the things I am wanting or I am frustrated with are not important AT ALL.  Realizing that I have slowly allowed satan to creep back up on me in this area is just making me frustrated with myself, and I have not managed to pull out of the cycle yet.

It comes back to re-surrendering “self.”  Allowing the Holy Spirit to take control again, which will in turn cause me to live as Christ did, unconcerned with self-promotion, unfazed by injustices done to me, actively seeking the good of all I come in contact with, whether friend of foe or some intertwined mess of both.  Most people are that, you know.  Most of the time, the people we have a hard time with are those we would call our loved ones and our friends.  They are not enemies, and yet we treat them, or at least feel inside that we must always be prepared to stick up for ourselves and our own rights against them, or else they will all constantly be taking advantage of us or taking us for granted.  The bottom line is that even if that’s true, it’s not our job to make sure we are treated correctly or recognized sufficiently by everyone around us.  That is not the reward.

The reward for acting like Christ is never shown as a warm, fuzzy existence in which no one will ever get mad at you or treat you unfairly.  Paul was repeatedly imprisoned and held on false charges which the government knew to be false, people routinely tried to kill him, and he was in multiple shipwrecks.  Christ Himself had it no better.

This is not to say that we should react smugly to poor treatment as if we are martyrs who must be living the Christ-life to be treated this way…that only comes from condescension which has nothing to do with love.  Our responses to others must not be based on their responses to us.  Love your enemies and the Golden Rule do not give conditions.  If I am walking in love because I am waiting for the world around me to applaud my behavior, I will always grow weary, because there will never been enough praise.  There will always be at least one person around me who cannot be pleased or who finds something wrong with what I do.  If I walk in love because Christ is in my Spirit, and He is living through me, nothing can burn me out…on the condition that I continue to seek Him above all things.

That is the key.  I believe through this after a time, I stopped seeking my strength, my identity, my validation in Him, and started looking to others for approval and reward.  That is when my spirit grew cold, and “loving” started to seem like an impossible drudgery.

Pursuing What You Love

A bundle of appetites.  That’s what I am as a bodily entity.  This fleshly tent in which I abide is intent on and, unfortunately, often content with finding things that satisfy it, please it and make it feel comfy-cozy.  Any twinge of displeasure or dissatisfaction is immediately addressed sub-consciously with, “What can I do to alleviate this abomination?”  That thought arises no matter how small the discomfort may be.  Or even if it is not discomfort…even if it is just a thought like, “I want something pleasing at this moment,” which is actually often the follow-up to feeling discomfort in some area, though we may not connect it in such a way at the time, because often the pleasure we choose has no logical connection with the discomfort we are feeling.  This is a commonly known phenomenon.  For example, I may come home from work feeling tired and somewhat disgruntled, thinking my boss is unfair or my co-workers are untruthful, but instead of quitting my job or looking for a new one or trying to come to terms with the situation, I eat a package of M&Ms and watch a funny sitcom, ergo subconsciously trying to alleviate (or rather mask and ignore) one discomfort by allowing myself something that could, in a perfect world, be a good, simple pleasure.  Comfort foods, mind-numbing television…those are two of the most obvious choices.  They are the easiest to come by and the least associated with negative connotations.  Some people do choose alcohol or drugs or lasciviousness or something that happens to be more associated with what the Christian community would dub inherently to be “sin.”  But it all amounts to the same thing, and used in this manner, is itself inherently sinful.

 

The funny thing is that this appetite does not have to be so animalistic as I have painted it in the above paragraph.  It can seek deeper things, even lofty things, aspiring to greatness and achievement. 

 

So, what is one to do with this?  How does one cease constantly desiring and seeking to appease one’s appetite for comfort, for greatness, for recognition, for love?

 

I am not an expert.  I usually say this somewhere in my posts, so perhaps you are getting tired of hearing it, but I need everyone to know that I do not claim to do the things I discuss.  I claim to recognize the truth in the things that God shows me.  I am not always so good at living them.  But God did show me something a couple of months ago that I am attempting to keep in the forefront of my mind as I go through my days.

 

I will not go backwards into what my life has been like this year, but if you care to know the history, read previous posts or shoot me an e-mail.  I will start with the fact that I was in the process of interviewing for a new job.  It is a very regular job with regular hours and regular pay and regular dress codes, etc.  This has not been the reality for most of my life.  I have had very odd jobs, or even if it was somewhat regular, I have predominantly been in charge of my own schedule.  In fact, in looking back, there have only been about 3 years of my adult work history in which I did not control my own schedule.  So, while I was interviewing for this position, I started to get a little freaked out.  Only having two weeks of vacation, and even when I get that is somewhat managed and completely out of my hands??  Well, frankly, that sounds a little like hell to me.  I nearly backed out of the process altogether.  Then one morning I woke up and God spoke to me.  I was still in the hazy state, lying in my bed.  I was not thinking deep thoughts.  I was thinking nothing when these words appeared in my mind’s eye, “Only pursue what you love.”  Well, by the world’s standards of what that means, I have done a pretty good job of that in my life…rarely letting a job take away my freedom to do the things I actually enjoy doing, etc.  But in that moment, I knew that was not what it meant and my next thought was, “What am I supposed to love?”  And everything sort of fell into place for me.  I am supposed to love God and love people.  I am not supposed to LOVE writing or creating or singing, unless God sets those in front of me as ways to love Himself or other people.  And honestly, I have been pursuing those sorts of things in lieu of pursuing the love of God and people for most of my life.  OK, well, “in lieu” of might be an exaggeration.  I have pursued loving God and loving people, but not with such passion and vigor as I have pursued my own pleasure and my “dreams.”  At the very least, I was acting like not being able to pursue those things would inhibit my ability to love God or love other people, which is simply heresy.  First off, I had the order wrong.  I wanted to pursue the things I loved (yes, things) in order that I may better love God and love people.  I was waiting for some moment in the future when apparently, I would feel I had pursued it enough or gotten enough satisfaction from it to be able to start pouring that contentment out on others around me.  How ridiculous.  “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and all these things shall be added unto you.”

 

I have always had the attitude that whatever job I had was evil and keeping me from doing whatever I was really supposed to be doing, i.e. anything important.  I have been realizing for a while now, even before this revelation from God, that this was a serious slight towards those I worked with.  The attitude that “anything important” is outside the sphere of whatever work I am doing negates the importance of every human being I came into contact with during the course of that workday!  It was a self-serving attitude that, at heart, believed “I am more important than these people and I should not have to join in these menial tasks with them.”  Definitely not the heart of a servant.  So, I confess and repent of that here to you now.

 

At the moment God spoke that to me, I knew I needed to get over myself.  I needed to get over my arrogance and let go of myself.  Let go of behaving like a child…as if I could only obey God’s commands to love if He gave me what I wanted first.

 

But let’s take it somewhere else as well and make sure that y’all know I am not saying that God is out to kill all of my fun and enjoyment of life.  Not in the slightest!!  My own selfish desires were fueled by societal training such as Nike’s “Just Do It!” and Barbie’s “We Girls Can Do Anything” philosophies.  I am not trying to negate pursuing excellence in things you enjoy; I AM trying to discourage pursuing those things as a fulfillment separate from those two most important commandments that Jesus spoke and that I am relentlessly repeating here: to love God and love people.  Pursuing or achieving excellence in something does not mean anything special if you are horrible to everyone on the way up, if you crush those who stand in your way or if you are unfeeling or negligent to those around you.  I may not have been horrible and I may not have been crushing people, but I have definitely been unfeeling and negligent.  And I am beginning to understand that pursuing the thing only creates more disenchantment and dissatisfaction, because no matter how hard you pursue something, you are still at the mercy of others to determine its worth.  A song I write only grants me so much fulfillment if no one else likes it.  And even if others do like it, it still only grants me a measure of fulfillment until it begins bringin’ in some cash, right?  All of the doing requires recognition of some sort in order to bring any feeling of satisfaction.

 

But guess what?  Loving God?  Self-fulfilling.  Because God is PERFECT.  He loves you as fully as you can ever imagine being loved.  I’m not saying you feel all warm and fuzzy all the time.  I’m just saying that when you forget yourself and you really are about loving something outside of yourself, there’s much less that will rattle you.  It’s not about, “What’s in it for me?”  It’s about, “What’s in it for God?” which can usually be answered in a much more satisfactory fashion.

 

And when you are really about loving others, the pressure is suddenly gone because you are not relying on their reactions.  You only want to love, to give.  It’s the one thing that you can do, though even that only through Christ’s strength because He has to act through us so that we do not let that bundle of appetites override our love.  It’s suddenly not about you anymore and the stress is off.  THAT is what I felt when God spoke to me.  It didn’t matter anymore if I only had two weeks of vacation or if I was at the whim of the not-so-esteemed corporate elite…they could not stop me from loving.  And loving was suddenly what mattered.  All of the other stuff was mere self-serving prattle…the modern heresy of “following your heart” and “chasing your dream,” which thought very little of others and therefore, by default, could not be thinking much of God.

 

I have spoken of similar things in previous posts and I will give the same disclaimer here:  I in no way believe that putting this into practice leads to that asceticism which denies its own needs or becomes an unhappy martyr.  If the manner in which this life is being led does not lead to joy, then there is still some heresy deep within.  I am still uncovering my deeper heresy, to be sure.  God calls us to this sort of life because He KNOWS us, and knows what our spirits, minds and bodies need.  I heartily believe that living life according to His guidelines will lead us into peace and joy and hope, and that fulfillment which we seek by doing such things as “chasing dreams” will be realized in Him and only in Him.  I do not mean externally; our world may be falling apart around us.  But our hearts will be wholly His and wholly, well, whole, and that bundle of appetites I spoke of at the beginning will not be so ravenous and insatiable.

 

I re-posted my title poem yesterday as a pre-cursor to this.  I did so because I would like people to read this post, and then continue down to read that poem through its lens.  I used to view it as more of an individualistic evangelism, stating that we should pursue our dreams.  Now I know that the idea of passionately pursuing those dreams is part of the mold the world and Satan would like to press us into in order to keep us focused internally, always looking for our own fulfillment and happiness instead of trusting it to God.  It is a road that will wind around into an interminable maze of confusion.  It is much easier to stay on a single path and actually arrive at a destination when I am not bowing to the constant caprices of my own will, instead trusting the Will of Someone all-powerful and all-knowing who will not lead me wrong. 

Generosity

I seem to be surrounded by generous people.  I have so many great people in my life, and I feel very lucky for that.  I would like to list here some situations which made me grateful for these people.

When I moved, 5 of my friends were a world of help.  It would have been torturous doing it alone!

I moved a cabinet in my car that would only fit with the windows rolled down in the back seat.  I hadn’t planned on this, and it was when it was just starting to get cold.  I had to babysit late that night, so was not going straight home.  It was midnight when I was about to leave and I mentioned that I was not looking forward to driving home with my back windows rolled down.  I had not dressed for that!  The lady I was babysitting for insisted that I take a coat, gloves, a scarf AND a hat so that I would not be cold on the way home.  If you know me at all, you know how grateful I was because I can’t stand to be cold!

I had some projects for which I did not have the tools.  One of my friends allowed me to borrow tools of hers, and also to come to her house and use tools that were too big to borrow.  She also aided in picking up some furniture I had bought that would not fit in my car. 

Every time I have moved since I came to Nashville (which has been  4 times) I have had friends with vehicles who were happy to let me use them for the move, and have not had to rent a truck at all.  The last two times I moved, it was my employers at the time…first my carpenter employer with his Tahoe and trailer, this last time it was my caterer employer with her catering van.

My catering boss is always particularly generous with her things.  She let me do laundry at her house before my washer & dryer were installed here.  She let me use her internet to do my personal things before my internet was hooked up.  She let me borrow her vacuum cleaner until I purchased one.  (I only had hard wood floors before.)  She is also allowing me the use of a cabinet that was her grandfather’s.  She did not have a use for it now, and as I live in my one room cabin with no closets, there is much need for free-standing storage space.  I’m using this cabinet for my towels & things.  She also gave me the cabinet that is now my pantry.  It is one of those free-standing metal cabinets, and perfect for this.  She just gave it to me.

And that starts out the list of the major things I have in my home that have been given to me (not counting just regular gifts).  I’ve been thinking about it, and have decided that I either seem particularly opportunistic or needy, or else people just like me.  I feel like stuff just gets given to me all of the time.

The medicine cabinet in my bathroom was given to me by a former roommate.  There was no mirror in the bathroom here when I moved in, and they had just replaced their medicine cabinet.  I asked her if I could buy her old one, and she just gave it to me. 

I had not owned a TV since I moved to Nashville seven years ago.  I purposely sold mine when I moved because I have a tendency towards reclusiveness.  I wanted to make myself get out and meet people.  (Incidentally, it did not work…I just turned to books instead.  I counted up as many as I could remember after the first year I lived here, and I had read at least 70 books in that year.)  But after that I always had roommates that had TVs so I never even thought of buying one.  Then I was going to live alone and did not have one…I’m not sure that even then I would have gone out and bought one.  I don’t really watch that much TV.  But one of my nanny families got new flatscreen TVs and offered me their old 27″ television.  Perfect condition.  And so I have a TV. 

My surround sound system/DVD player was given to me buy a friend…she got two of them through a rewards program at her office.  The above mentioned TV did me little good as I would have to get satellite to have actual television out here, and don’t care about it that much.  I couldn’t watch movies because I didn’t even have a DVD player…now I not only have a player but a surround sound system as well.

All of the windows for my window wall were given to me by a friend who remodeled his house.

My dresser was not exactly “given” to me, but sort of.  I traded it with the same former roommate I mentioned above for a trunk and a porch rail that I no longer wanted. 

I also have several ornate iron porch railings (the tall ones…I’m not sure what you call those) that I use for decoration and were given to me by someone I did not even know.  They were in the back yard of my boyfriend’s former neighbor.  I asked him if he was using them for anything, and he said no.  He worked construction and rebuilt someone’s porch and thought they should not be thrown away, but did not have a use for them.  I offered to buy them, and he said that I could have them, because he just wanted them to be put to use.

And the most recent addition to great things I have been given is my new patio furniture.  It was given to me by the same nanny family who gave me the TV.  It’s bar-top and they wanted to get something lower for the kids.  It fits beautifully on the side section of my little patio, and I put a picture of it here because I am excited about it!  It’ll be like being on a vacation when it warms up a little (I’m sure you’ll note the snow in the picture), and I can have my morning coffee sitting outside looking at my cabin view.

patio-furniture.jpg

I feel like I am leaving out some things that were given to me, and if you gave me something and I forgot it and you are reading this, feel free to remind me! 

I just wanted to write this blog to say I am grateful for the people in my life.  I am truly blessed.

Recipro City – I live there

Get it?  Recipro City = Reciprocity.  Weak, I know, but it’s how I was thinking about it, and it’s true, I do live there.  I wish I could say that I didn’t, and I try to improve, but for the moment, more often than not, I feel like I am quite firmly rooted in that settlement.  This municipality is based on the economy of merit=favor.  And the amount of merit necessary to gain favor is completely subjective and left up to me in my not-so-fair city.  There is very little grace, and very high, though also very selective, measurements for the standard. 

I realized how entrenched I was in this mindset a few weeks ago.  I find that I am very derisive and patronizing to those whom I believe are not living up to the standards.  The standards, again, that I have set for them…how hard they should work, how much time, effort and thought they should put into things, even the things they should say or not say.  I find that the more someone does not meet my standards, the worse I treat them…the more condescending and unbearably arrogant I become.  One of the ridiculous things about this is that I seem to be the standard.  If someone is not working as hard as I (think I) am, or demonstrating as much common sense as I (think I) do, or putting as much effort into something as I deem necessary, they become the target of my merciless superiority.  I seem to take it as my right to treat them in a manner openly derogatory and demeaning.  I assume an attitude purposely (although not exactly consciously) designed to make them feel stupid.  At least it wasn’t conscious until recently…I don’t think I knew I did this.  I have several people in my life at this moment whom extract all of the feelings of disdain I am speaking of here.  For months, I have been slowly more and more convicted about my behavior in response to my frustration with them.  I seriously turn into a pompous you-know-what when dealing with what I have decided is unworthy behavior. 

And the unworthy behaviors I have picked are not even particularly “evil,” they’re just annoying…things like carelessness and lack of forethought and disorganization.  If I was going to get so miffed over any types of conduct, I would like to think it would be injustice or cruelty or something like that.  But, no, it seems that I am just as society trained me up to be, egocentric to the point that my blood only seriously begins to boil at things that specifically inconvenience ME.  I am rarely at the other end of serious injustice or cruelty, and so I can dislike those things from afar.  But catch me after I’ve had to work harder to correct someone else’s mistakes or pick up someone else’s slack at work or answer someone’s stupid question, and you’ll get an earful. 

So, not only am I the standard, but the standard is based on how helpful your existence is to me.  The less helpful your existence, the less worthy of respectful behavior you are.  I think this attitude is not only linked to human nature, but to the consumerism of our society.  Not to blame society.  I like to think I have “beat the system” as far as falling into societal traps, but clearly this is not completely true, and sometimes the societal traps I find so repulsive are just behaviors that cater to our human nature, so whether it’s society or not, it’s still me allowing my own selfishness dominion or some part of my life.  And I mean to talk about consumerism, so here we go.  Consumerism generally teaches us that we should more highly regard and respect those who have something more important to offer us.  You go to the doctor and show him deference.  You check out with the convenience store clerk and show him superiority.  I do the same thing.  I wish I could say I didn’t.  After all, I have most often been in positions in which I was the one looked down on…waitressing, fast food (even the title of manager doesn’t get you much respect), catering server, nanny.  These are jobs where the whole point of your being there is to “serve.”  And that’s how people treat you.  Like a servant.  Mostly.  I mean, obviously, there are exceptions.  But, honestly, even the exceptions are often very patronizingly trying to make themselves feel better by being nice to “the help,” and it is very painfully obvious.  My point is that you would think I would be above this kind of what-you-have-to-offer equals how-well-you’re-treated-by-me mentality.  But I’m not.  As soon as what I have to offer begins to exceed what I think you’re offering me, I begin to treat you in a degrading fashion. 

I know it seems like I got off-point with that consumerism thing, but can you see how it’s connected?  The point of this whole thing is that I am not valuing people.  In my economy, people who do what I expect of them deserve my acceptance.  I am valuing what they have to offer me instead of valuing them, seeing people as only a means to a good for myself.  Even in the first instances I was discussing, because in those, it’s when I begin to believe that my employer is gaining more benefits from having me as an employee than I am gaining by being employed, when a friend is gaining more benefits from having me as a friend as I am gaining in return.  When I start to think the balance is off in someone else’s favor in any relationship (by relationship I mean any interaction with people), I become dissatisfied, judgmental and, often, just plain mean.  However, when I think the balance is off in my favor, I smugly embrace it as just repayment for all of those times it was NOT in my favor.  Since, you know, I am wise enough to recognize all of these situations in their true light. 

My economy is not the same as God’s economy.  Thank God.  Literally.  If He rolled His eyes at me every time I did something He knew to be stupid, ignored me when I stopped being useful or thought me unworthy of consideration because I could not offer anything as important as what He could, I would be completely and totally in despair, because this is my inherent condition.  God, through Jesus Christ, offered everything to people completely unable to repay Him, unable to deserve Him, unworthy to look at Him.  And, yet, I choose to see myself as important enough to dismiss people right and left simply for annoying me.  I have really been trying to control my condescending impulses and be nice even when I find people’s behavior to be incompetent.  Controlling the outward impulses of open disdain is nothing, however, to controlling the attitude causing them.  When I can look at a person and see value regardless of what they have to offer, it will be cured.  There is a statement that I’m sure you’ve heard: “Use things; love people.”  This is in contrast to the bulk of my existence, which tells me, “Love things; use people.”  I consider myself to be fairly non-materialistic.  I am coming to realize that I am just materialistic in a different way than materialistic is usually meant.  It is not necessarily rampant in the area of wanting lots of things, but it is monstrous in the area of wanting everything I offer to be equaled in return.  C.S. Lewis says in The Weight of Glory, “There are no ordinary people.  You have never talked to a mere mortal.  Nations, cultures, arts, civilisations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat.  But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit….”  If I could wake up every day and see this in people…in every person…their intrinsic worth and significance as a being loved and sought by the One True and Perfect God, how different would my responses be? 

I would like the rule of my life not to be reciprocity, but grace, mercy, love, respect.  I don’t want people to feel like they have to earn this from me, and constantly fear losing it, and, yet, there are people in my life whom I know do fear this.  People I have made to feel ignorant and unworthy because their performance was not up to my standard.  People who feel intimidated by my scathing condescension.  I have seen it in their faces, heard it in their tentative replies, felt it in their attempts at reparation.  I don’t want to be that person.  I apologize for being that person.  Whoever you are, I want to love you unreservedly and unconditionally.  I have a ways to go, and I can only get there by allowing God to work in me, but acknowledgement is the first step, right?  Everything is baby steps from here on out.

Why God Is Better Than Santa Claus

I’m aware that it is nowhere near Christmas.  However, I couldn’t pass up using this anecdote now… 

Last week I was baby-sitting for some kids I keep pretty frequently, and the 6-year-old girl was getting settled in for me to read her a book.  She likes to match the stuffed animal she sleeps with to the book she is reading at night.  So, this particular evening, she had chosen a winged unicorn book, and was getting all cuddled up with her stuffed, winged unicorn.  When I came in from tucking her little brother in, she was frowning and pulling on the stuffed unicorn’s wings. 

“What are you doing?” I asked.   

“Trying to pull his wings off,” she said.   

“Why?” I asked in return. 

“Because they’re scratchy, and I want to sleep with this one.  I wanted him to have snuggly wings.”   

*Pause in dialogue while super-nanny tries to remove wings without destroying unicorn.* 

“Yeah, those wings really don’t come off, do they?” I said. 

“No,” she sighed.  Then she added, “I told Santa Claus I wanted a unicorn with wings and he didn’t even know what I meant.” 

There was a bit more conversation about this, but I think, for my purposes, you can guess where I’m going here.  Santa Claus didn’t know what she meant.  Enter God’s advantage over Santa Claus.  God knows what we mean, often when we don’t even know what we mean.  The Bible says, “We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.”  (Romans 8:26)  Not only does He know what we mean, He knows whether or not we actually need what we mean. 

“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.”  (James 1:17)  I kind of figure that all of the things I ask God for are not necessarily “good and perfect.”  Thankfully, He’s smart enough to edit, smart enough to read between the lines and I don’t have to qualify my requests.  If I wanted a snuggly, winged unicorn and forgot to insert “snuggly” into my request, I am not going to be disappointed by scratchy wings if God finds my prayer within His plan for me, and grants it.  He’s going to know I didn’t want scratchy wings.  I’m not saying that God gives you everything you want.  If you think that getting everything you want is the best thing for you, then we have other things to talk about.  I am saying that the prayers God does answer do not have to be accompanied with a spec sheet.  He knows the specs before I do.  He knows the specs better than I do.   

There are a lot of other reasons I could think of that God is better than Santa Claus.  Maybe I’ll come up with a top ten list before Christmas.  But for now, this is where I will leave you. 

Giving and Un-Giving – Confessions of an Indian-Giver

I am writing this story down, but it is a story I have never spoken out loud…not to my best friend, not to my boyfriend of two and a half years…literally, to no one.  I don’t have a lot of those.  I’m a fairly open person.  I am ashamed of this story, and that is why I do not share it.  It also involves another person…a person that I care about, and would not want to offend.   If this person reads this, they will know who they are.  However, no one else need know who this person is, so therefore the details may remain a bit sketchy for the sake of a little tact.  The telling of this event could possibly offend them, as it involves me taking offense at their actions.  If you are reading this, and you are this person, please know that I am sincerely aware that what offended me was not you, but my pride, which is why I need to confess it – because I am horrified at my pride, and at the things it revealed to me about my character. This friend of mine recently had a milestone, you know one of those great things such as having a baby or getting married or graduating.  I was therefore required by social compunction to provide a gift.  And, indeed, I wanted to provide a gift.  I did produce quite an ordinary gift, but this did not seem enough to me, and so I gave the person, in addition to this gift, a gift that I had made.  I can see you already, rolling your eyes and thinking you know where this story is going, but before you go there, let me assure you that this gift was not shabby.  There were other people who I knew would’ve been thrilled had I given them this gift, and I was rather fond of it myself.  I did make it, but if I do say so myself, it was quite worthy of being given.  (Can you hear the pride even now?  I cannot even turn it off when I am preaching against it.)  Well, I did give it.  And the response was less than thrilling.  I was able to swallow that, but knew immediately that the gift was not as appreciated as I would have hoped and anticipated, nor was it esteemed in any way.  This realization was solidified minutes later, when upon being asked what they had, my friend pushed it under the table and said “Oh, nothing.”  I should insert here, that it was a decorative gift.  I should also insert that my friend is usually quite picky about décor.  In other words, I should have known that any unsolicited decorative items would be unwelcome.  So, in a sense, I was asking for it.  But, let’s continue.   As time went on, the hubbub of the event ensued, many things were brought out, gifts and pretty things shuffled around.  Here is where I begin to be ashamed.  I saw my precious gift, the one I had labored over and was proud of…it was crammed (literally crammed) into a paper bag, with things being set on it and crushing it and bending it.  I should also state that it was NOT a gift that crushing and bending would benefit, and would’ve shortly become something only worth throwing in the trash had this treatment continued.  I watched it being battered as if it meant nothing even as a gift because I had given it, if not for its worth, and (forgive me, friend!), I took it back.  Everyone was doing other things; no one was looking.  I took it back – brought it back to my house, and in time, gave it to another friend whom I believed to have a better estimation of its value.  What on EARTH was I thinking?  I don’t say this because I think my friend ever missed it.  Based on the reaction, they were more likely relieved at not having to pretend to like it by displaying it.   The thing I am ashamed of is my pride.  What did I think gift-giving was about?  Pleasing myself?  Apparently, I did.  When giving the gift did not give me sufficient satisfaction, I just took it back.  Even this did not hit me too terribly hard until a couple of days later.  I heartily justified my actions in my discomfort until I thought about Jesus – Jesus’ gift – and I knew there was no justification.  It stops me in my emotional tracks even now as I think of it.  What He gave up for me, for us…I can’t even fathom it.  How He left heaven and came to live like a simple tradesman; how He willingly suffered abuse, mockery and cruel torture; but even this only scratches the surface.  He suffers my ingratitude on days when I am too obtuse to recognize the worth of having Him as my companion.  He watches me disfigure His gift in front of others to the point it is almost unrecognizable.  He feels the hurt of my unwillingness to assign value to His gift simply because it is His at times when I cannot understand the gift itself and bears, with patience, my inability to understand what He put into it.  He watches me shy away from it, hide it, ignore it and awkwardly try to figure out how I am supposed to display it.  In short, I do to His gift what was done to mine – my little insignificant gift that was nothing more than something pretty.  And I do this more times than I am able to keep track of in a day.  How small I feel when I realize that if I were Christ, I would have taken it back.  I would’ve watched it being battered and hidden, and I would’ve taken it back, thinking that the recipient was not worthy.  God, how merciful He is!  I remember how I felt about my gift, and wonder how He can stand it.  How can He stand it without screaming at us or throwing down fire-bolts, let alone taking it back.  If I could feel as small as I do right now in finally confessing this and spelling it out in words, I think I could actually learn humility.