Out From Under the Umbrella

playing in the rain


Fairy Tales Shattered (Part 5)

Ruth pulled herself together and sat back on the grass with her back against the wall just thinking.  What seemed like an hour passed, but it was probably more like twenty minutes.  Charles came out and sat down in the grass next to her.  She slid away from him.  He started to speak and Ruth just sat there in stunned silence.  He said, “Oh come on now, that happens in every marriage.  It’s not a big deal.  I’m sure it happened in your parents marriage, too.  You just never saw it.  What?  Were they really gonna do that in front of you?”  Ruth was sure that wasn’t true, but she didn’t protest. They sat there quietly for a few more minutes and then Charles got up and went back inside.  That was it.  No apology, no promise to never do it again.

What was she going to do?  It hadn’t even been a week since she’d promised for better or worse till death do they part in front of God and witnesses.  Ruth had been warned, she just didn’t listen.  She believed everything he’d said about his ex-wife.  Charles had used her affair to completely discredit her and make her out to be the villain.  Ruth had put up such a vehement defense for Charles when Annie asked her about it.  How could she possibly even tell Annie this?  How could she tell anyone?!?  This was so embarrassing and frightening and well….she just didn’t know.   All manner of thoughts ran through her head as she sat there running her fingers through the blades of grass.  Was this God’s punishment?  She’d gone against Annie’s wishes to marry Charles, she’d given him her virginity before the wedding, and she’d married a divorced man.  Surely that was it.  God was disciplining her.  She’d made her bed now she was going to have to lie in it.

No, this wasn’t happening.  She was blowing this way out of proportion.  Charles was just tired and was under a lot of stress.  With the wedding, and the move and the merging together of their little family.  Yes, that was what it was.  Just stress.  Surely this was just a one time thing and it would never happen again.  Besides she should have known better and had more respect for Charles than to mouth off like that.  What was she thinking?    This wouldn’t happen again because she’d be a better wife from now on. Besides she loved him.  Ruth got up, dusted herself off and went back inside and splashed cold water on her face.  She and Charles picked that dresser up and moved into the bedroom.  Then Ruth went and cooked dinner, acting as if nothing had even happened.  She paddled her little boat hard against the current, right up the river of denial.

A little less than a month later Ruth got a call from Annie. She was in labor and delivery in the hospital in the next town.  Malachi was born on July 16, 1990.  Ruth went rushing over to see her new baby brother .  Annie and Ray were glowing and in that moment everything seemed right with the world.  All of Annie’s prayers seemed to be answered and she was so happy to be holding a baby again.  Now they had Jackson who was eight, MaryBeth and Renee who were six and Malachi at home.  That was Annie’s idea of the good life.

It didn’t take long for what seemed to be a dream come true to turn into a nightmare.  Annie didn’t bounce back from the delivery like she had before.  She was tired a lot.  Then she was sick a lot.  At the age of forty maybe that was to be expected.  But when she didn’t seem to get any better she went to the doctor in town.  She had a heart murmur that had never been detected before and walking pneumonia.  Her doctor wanted to refer her to a heart specialist.  Well alright, Annie thought.  If that’s what you think is best.  The doctor set her up with the specialist right away.  After a battery of tests and more than a few sleepless nights the diagnosis was in.  The stress of delivering Malachi had caused her heart to enlarge stretching the valve at the entrance to her heart.  Not only was the valve stretched but also the opening into her heart.  It could not be surgically repaired.  The pneumonia was caused from blood leaking into her lungs.  She would need a heart transplant. They put her on the list to wait for a donor.

She didn’t tell any of the kids that she was even going through all of this because she was sure it would turn out to be nothing.  Now she had no choice but to tell them.  She was placed on medication to help keep the fluid in her lungs to a minimum.  While waiting for a donor, though, she was made acutely aware that her lungs could fill with fluid and she could die at any time from congestive heart failure.   She wasn’t under any restrictions.  Her instructions were to do what she wanted to do, felt like doing and not to do anything she didn’t feel like doing.  Live every day like it might be her last, because quite literally, it could.

Ruth had been wrong, of course, about that being a one time thing with Charles.  A few months later it happened again and then a few months after that, always with the same result.  A few hours or even a few days of the silent treatment from Charles and then back to normal as if nothing had happened.  She had no idea what triggered it.  It could be as simple as a look.  There was no way she could tell Annie now though.


Fairy Tales Shattered (Part 4)

Annie and Ray were happy at first.  She thought God had delivered Prince Charming right to her door.  After all she hadn’t even been on a date since J.L. died.  Her sister had convinced her once to go out with her to the Elk’s Lodge dancing.  J.L. and Annie had loved dancing.  They would go once every three or four months with a group of friends to the VFW in a nearby town.  Maybe Annie felt guilty or maybe it just reminded her of what she’d lost, but she was miserable and she never went again.

Ray was a breath of fresh air.  He was completely different from J.L. and she liked that.  Ruth was surprised by the contrast and asked Annie about it one day.  Annie said that was a big part of the appeal because Ray wasn’t competing with the memory of a ghost that way.  Made sense to Ruth and after all Annie had been through all the kids were just happy that Annie was happy.

Annie had a half-brother who would disappear for years and then we’d see his car coming down the driveway with his whole life packed in it.  He’d stay two or three days, load the kids up on candy and donuts, and then Uncle Donnie would be on his way, not to be heard from again for two or three years.  At one point he came to live with Annie and the kids after J.L. died.  Uncle Donnie had never married and didn’t have any kids.  When he came to live with Annie, once again, he showed up with his life packed in an old clunker.  He had cancer and had nowhere to go so he moved in and aggravated everybody.  Uncle Donnie was kind of a know-it-all.  Ruth was fifteen at the time and she wasn’t very keen on the idea that he was taking advantage of Annie.  She didn’t have much, but she was generous with what she had.  Ruth and Annie had words about it one day.  Ruth asked Annie, “don’t you know he’s just taking advantage of you, he’s a vagabond?” Sure she knew, she knew and didn’t care that he was.  He was dying and she wanted to be there for him. Ruth needed to mind her own business.

Uncle Donnie stayed there for probably a year and a half.  Then one day he was gone,  just like always. Packed all of his stuff in that old clunker and left while everybody was gone.  Annie didn’t hear from him again.  A few months later Annie’s cousin called her to let her know she’d gotten word he had passed away in a hospital in Florida – alone.  He had a will and he’d left Annie quite a sum of money.  He’d left her a hundred thousand dollars.  That was a lot of money to Annie.  And who knew Uncle Donnie had two pennies to rub together?   Annie received that inheritance a month or two before she and Ray got married.

Annie and Ray were happy to have that money.  They got married on it and remodeled the house with some of it. Annie was happiest holding a baby in her arms, and she and Ray decided to have a child together.  She was fertile myrtle, it didn’t take her long to conceive.  She was so excited and happy.  It was hard for her to believe this was all happening to her.  She had to pinch herself to make sure she wasn’t dreaming.

In the meantime things were growing more serious between Ruth and Charles.  They wanted to get married, but Ruth was still only seventeen.  Annie almost refused to sign the consent for the marriage license but Ruth would be eighteen in a month so what good would that do?  She even offered to pay Ruth’s way through college if she’d just hold off, but Ruth’s mind was made up.  There was no talking her out of it.  So in June of 1990 Ruth and Charles were married in that quaint ceremony in the little country church.

Ruth and Charles went on a nice little honeymoon at a tiny island off the coast of Florida.  St. George Island was beautiful and largely deserted.  The only things there twenty years ago were the St. George Inn, the Buccaneer Hotel and the Blue Parrott Bar and Grill. A few vacation houses sparsely dotted the island, but other than that it was pretty secluded.  They had a great time for a few days and then it was back to reality.

They’d bought a small, two bedroom house with a tin roof.  Just the right size for them and Samantha, Charles’ daughter.  Sam would be living with them as Charles had custody of her.  When they got back from their honeymoon they still had a bit of moving to do.  Mostly small stuff, but there was a large dresser that would need to be moved.  Charles and Ruth decided to tackle it themselves instead of asking for help with it.  Ruth was sure she could handle it, they’d take all the drawers out and it wouldn’t be too heavy.  Ruth is not a furniture mover.  Charles thought she’d know precisely how to turn it to get it in the door and through the narrow hallway.  It nearly took a contortionist.  She did not.  She lost her grip and her end fell.  Charles started yelling at her that any moron would know what you have to do to get that in there just right.  He should have known better than to think she could do this.

Ruth wasn’t too crazy about him speaking to her that way, so she fired back.  Before she knew it Charles had his hands around her throat, choking her and pushing her against the wall.  He was screaming in her face, “Don’t make me sorry I married you, I hate you bitch!”.  Ruth managed to get away from him, but she didn’t know what to do.  What had just happened there?  It all happened so fast.  She ran out the door and around to the back of the house and just sunk into the ground in a heap sobbing.  Was this the fairy tale life?


Fairy Tales Shattered (Part 3)

The days that followed were kind of a blur.  People that Ruth had never seen before came around to pay their respects to the family.  Then there were those nice people from that little country church.  The pastor came by and he was so nice and compassionate.  All the people rallied around J.L.’s family, bringing food and sitting with the small children.  A couple from that church had been by several times over the years to pick Karen and Ruth up on the church bus – sometimes for Sunday School and worship but usually one week of the summer for VBS.  Anyway that’s how that little country church became Ruth’s home church.  It started with the bus ministry and after J.L. died the whole family started going to church there every time the doors were open.  Annie and Karen were born again and baptized there and Ruth, well she went for a nice swim in the baptismal pool.  But more about that later.  Some of Ruth’s fondest memories are of that church and the people there.

The weeks that followed J.L.’s death were slim.  Everything from the checking account to the house were in his name.  Bank accounts frozen, Annie was short on cash.  Truth be told Annie was scared out of her mind, but she never let on.  Annie, Karen and Ruth sat at the dining room table and rolled all the pennies they could find to go buy milk and bread.  J.L. had no life insurance but once the social security death benefit started coming in things were a little better, but $855.00 a month doesn’t go very far with a family of five.  Once Karen and Ruth were back in school after the summer Annie took a job with a local fabric shop.  She was the staff seamstress.  Annie made custom clothes for all the town’s well-to-do.  She used scraps of left over fabric to make clothes for her own children.  Annie tried a little bit of everything to earn a decent living.  Once the fabric shop closed down she started hanging wallpaper for local contractors and after that she started her own custom drapery and furniture upholstery business.  Always dragging Jackson and MaryBeth along. Ruth babysat after school and during the summer.

Ruth was fourteen when Karen graduated high school, got married and moved away.  Her husband was in the Air Force and they were stationed in Alexandria, Louisiana.  So that just left the four of them – Annie, Ruth, Jackson and MaryBeth.  Annie worked as much as she could and Ruth was a little mother hen to Jackson and MaryBeth. A closer foursome you could not find.  They did everything together.

Two years later Ruth and Charles started to date.  He was older and Ruth was enamored-he was the first guy who had ever asked her on a date.  The very first night they met Ruth remembers he was wearing a Peanuts Comic Strip sweatshirt.  She thought he was so charming and funny.  She loves a sense of humor.  They really hit it off.  He took her places she’d never been and really showed her a good time.  All of this was against Annie’s better judgement but she thought if she flatly said no that it would just push Ruth to it all the more.  Annie also gave Ruth a bit too much credit for being so mature, after all she’d been helping to raise two kids under the age of six for the last four years.  She figured the new would wear off and it would all blow over in time, but it didn’t.   When she realized things were getting serious and it wasn’t just a passing fancy she had Charles out to the house for lunch a few times for a home cooked meal, just to get to know him a little bit better.

Annie started to notice a few things she didn’t particularly care for, but she didn’t make a big deal about it.  He was sort of controlling, but Ruth just blew it off and made excuses for him.  They were in love and wanted to spend every spare minute together.  He said things that hurt Ruth’s feelings, but again, she just made excuses and rationalized it all.  Annie said to Ruth one day, “it’s alright for you to be a sounding board, but just remember you are not anybody’s whippin’ post”.  Words Ruth really wishes she had taken more heed to, but hindsight is always 20/20.  Besides you can’t tell a sixteen year old anything they don’t already know.

Not long after Charles and Ruth started dating Annie took a job at Noah’s Ark Daycare.  That also happened to be where Charles’ ex-wife took her son.  Annie started to hear some things that concerned her, but when confronted with them Charles just said she was a jealous, bitter ex-wife.  After all she’d had an affair and that’s where her son came from and the whole town knew it.  She’d had him while they were married and he’d agreed to raise him as his own, but it just didn’t work out.  She just didn’t want him to be happy and Ruth made him the happiest man in the world.  Annie accepted that explanation and though she was still concerned she just kept it to herself.

Noah’s Ark Daycare turned out to be a good fit for Annie.  She had prayed and prayed after five long years for some companionship.  Though she loved J.L. still, he was gone and she was lonely.  But she told the Lord if it was to be He’d have to drop him on her doorstep.  And that He did.  A man knocked on the door one Saturday and said he’d been told by some people from Noah’s Ark she might be interested in some after hours childcare work.  He explained he was new to town and he worked for the sheriff’s department as a deputy and he’d be working shifts.  He was a single dad and he needed somebody responsible to care for his daughter, Renee.  She was the same age as MaryBeth.  Annie agreed and before long she and Ray were eating dinner together and going to church together.  They were married before the year was out.  Annie was getting a second chance at a fairy tale or so it seemed.


Fairy Tales Shattered (Part 2)

Ruth’s father, J.L., and Annie had married young themselves.  They were high school sweethearts.  When Annie realized she was….um….with child she and J.L. got married in her mother’s living room. Guess there wasn’t a lot of entertainment in a small southern town. She worshiped the ground J.L. walked on and he loved her more than life. They were very happy to get married,  there was no shotgun wedding here.  Seven months later they were the proud parents to Ruth’s older sister, Karen.  Four years later along came Ruth.

J.L. was a farmer until Ruth was around five or six.  Then he sold out his part of the farm back to his father and bought the family’s country store.  The little family of four lived in the back room of that store for a time, but not long.  There was a large brick house just up the hill within a few hundred yards of the store that he and Annie bought.  That must have been around 1978 or 79.  Only about half of the house had a floor in it and  it had no plumbing.  It was a fixer upper for sure.  They moved in pretty much right away.  They took baths in a wash galvanized wash tub that Annie had to boil water to heat up.  They had to go down to the store to do the rest.  That didn’t last very long though.  J.L. was pretty handy and the plumbing was in working order in no time.  He and Annie slowly installed flooring in the rest of the house over time.

He learned to drive a tractor-trailer and before long was making pretty good money.  He and Annie sold the little country store and Annie took a job in town.  When Ruth was ten her parents had another baby.  Jackson was the boy they didn’t have and he needed a companion sibling so two years later there was MaryBeth.  Each one of them was the apple of their eye.  They never played any favorites but if you asked them everyone of those kids would tell you they were it.  J.L. and Annie had this ability to give each one love and attention so they each thought they were special.

A few years earlier a car that J.L. was working on had fallen on him and his back was broken in a few places.  Because he had a family to feed and a work ethic second to none he didn’t give time for it to heal properly before he was back in that truck making a day’s pay.  He pretty much lived in pain and being a truck driver couldn’t take anything for it that wouldn’t impair his ability to do his job.  Oh but on the weekends he self-medicated.  They’d all get in the car on Friday afternoon when he got home and head for the county line to the liquor store.  Canadian Lord Calvert was his poison of choice and he’d buy a fifth of that and a two liter Coke.  It would be gone by Sunday afternoon.  Usually he had some kind of maintenance or repairs to do on his truck over the weekend so it would be ready for work on Monday.  Karen and Ruth were his little bar tenders.  He kept one of those Hardee’s Moose cups full all weekend long.  Ruth doesn’t drink hard liquor to this day because she still remembers the smell of it.

J.L. and Annie were pretty much two peas in a pod.  They were family folk who enjoyed doing things together when J.L. was home on the weekends.  They didn’t argue much.  In fact Ruth only remembers the one time.  There was only once that she saw them argue about anything at all. Ruth was eleven but she remembers it like it was yesterday.  On a Sunday afternoon in May J.L. and Annie took all of the kids plus his brother’s two boys to the river swimming.  He’d invited his brother to go along, but he said he needed to sleep because he had to work that night so he didn’t go.  When they were all done with their afternoon of fun they dropped the boys back off at his brother’s.  Turns out he wasn’t going to work, he was going out.  J.L. was furious and he railed in the car about how he never spent any time with those boys and he was gonna regret it one day.

He’d been drinking as usual on Sunday and the further he drove the louder he got and when he got to the stop sign he wasn’t paying attention and nearly ran out in front of a semi on the highway. There weren’t many things Annie was passionate about other than J.L., but four of ’em were in that car.  He’d nearly killed her babies and she let him have it.  They argued about him drinking the rest of the way home, which thankfully wasn’t far.  Karen, Ruth and Jackson beat a hasty trail inside as the arguing escalated.  Ruth stood at the screened door and watched as Annie stood there holding six month old MaryBeth and giving J.L. what-for.  She’d never seen that before.  It was kind of like a train wreck, she knew she should look away, but she couldn’t.

J.L. was holding a full cup of medicine in his hand and suddenly he tossed it out right at Annie’s feet then tossed the cup down on top of the mound of ice.  Annie said “you might as well crawl right up there with it”.  He shouted “go to hell” and then turned and walked away.  No shoes on, no shirt on, no wallet.  Just an old pair of cutoff jeans.  Annie watched him walk down the driveway and down the road until she couldn’t see him anymore.  She figured he was just blowing off some steam, but hours went by and he didn’t come home.  She called the sheriff’s department, but they said they couldn’t help until he’d been gone 24 hours.  Family members went out looking.  They looked for three days.  Finally the sheriff himself came for a visit and he had Ruth’s grandad with him.  When J.L. didn’t get out of the car with them Annie knew what that meant.  Ruth won’t ever forget watching Annie collapse to the ground, yelling with great grieving sobs.  The love of her life was gone.  Annie’s fairy tale was shattered that day.


Fairy Tales Shattered (Part 1)

Ruth was seventeen and about to graduate from high school.  He was twenty-four and had a beautiful little girl already from a previous marriage.  Charles never really proposed, it was a foregone conclusion that they would marry.  Since they’d dated a year and a half that was the natural next step. Ruth’s mother, Annie,  would have preferred she wait, something wasn’t quite right. Though she disagreed with the decision she thought it best to support Ruth and her new husband.   It was April and Ruth and Charles wanted to have a June wedding, so time was short.

Annie made it a special mother/daughter time for she and Ruth.  She took Ruth dress shopping and put no limit on what Ruth could spend, though Ruth was always aware there was a budget.  Together they found a beautiful dress and it just so happened it was one that had been discontinued, so it was on sale at a nice price and it fit right off the rack.  No alterations necessary.  Annie was a professional seamstress so she took Ruth fabric shopping and they picked out some beautiful fabric for bridesmaid’s dresses which Annie made herself.  They were exquisite tea length dresses of chintz fabric with a muted pastel floral pattern, so nineties.  Annie also made a dress for Ruth to change into at the reception and wear on the get-away.

It was a quaint wedding in Ruth’s home church – a small country church in a rural town in the south.  The flowers were understated, but elegant.  One large spray of pastel spring flowers that looked quite a bit like the floral pattern in the bridesmaid’s dresses.  Lush greenery framed the spray of spring flowers and candlelight glowed in the dimly lit sanctuary.  Ruth’s sisters, step-sister, aunt, sister-in-law to be, a new step-cousin and her soon to be five year old step-daughter made up her attendants . Her little brother was the ring-bearer.  Charles’ friends and brother-in-law rounded out the groomsmen.  Ruth’s step-father was there to give her away and then took his place as best man. The most popular song for a wedding in the nineties was sung by a friend with an angelic voice, “You Are The Wind Beneath My Wings”.

By the time the wedding was over Annie and Ruth were exhausted.  Annie was eight months pregnant with her fifth child.  They had both worked way into the wee hours of the morning before the wedding scooping out melon balls, cooking heavy horderves – meatballs and teriyaki wings, spinach dip and preparing punch for the self-catered reception. Only the wedding cake and the groom’s cake were made by an outside party.  A grand affair for a family on a shoe string budget.

During the get-away the guests lined up outside the local garden club making a pathway for Charles and Ruth to their rented sapphire blue Pontiac Grand-Am which had been decorated with shoe polish adorning the back window reading “Just Married”, toilet paper, and streamers, cans tied to the bumper for that finishing touch.  The guests pelted Charles and Ruth with birdseed, because rice was..so…yesterday.  The groomsmen chased the bride and groom trying to catch them and fill their clothes with birdseed.  Apparently Ruth was faster than Charles.  They chased them around the car, Ruth hopping into the driver’s seat, slamming the door behind.  Charles was captured and his trousers were loaded down with a bucket of birdseed.  Finally he managed to get into the passenger’s seat.  And Ruth drove away.

Charles and Ruth had been so busy at the reception and so nervous that neither of them had eaten and now they were starving.  Annie had prepared gallon sized freezer bags with the reception food and hidden them in the car.  Thank goodness for Annie.  She thought of everything.  Charles and Ruth drove merrily down the road to their island honeymoon leaving a trail of chicken bones along the way.  Ruth was happily on her way to married life, 2.5 kids(though she was in no rush for them), and a house with a picket fence.

Sounds just like the stuff fairy tales are made of, doesn’t it?   Stay tuned for part 2…..

*This is a true story.  Names have been changed to protect the privacy of the individuals.


I Ain’t Gatherin’ No Sticks

While the people of Israel were in the wilderness, they found a man gathering sticks on the Sabbath day. And those who found him gathering sticks brought him to Moses and Aaron and to all the congregation. They put him in custody, because it had not been made clear what should be done to him. And the Lord said to Moses, “The man shall be put to death; all the congregation shall stone him with stones outside the camp.” And all the congregation brought him outside the camp and stoned him to death with stones, as the Lord commanded Moses.

                                                                                                         ~Numbers 15:32-36

One Sabbath he was going through the grainfields, and as they made their way, his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. And the Pharisees were saying to him, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?” And he said to them, “Have you never read what David did, when he was in need and was hungry, he and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God, in the time of Abiathar the high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and also gave it to those who were with him?” And he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.”

                                                                                                            ~Mark 2:23-28 

Ya know I’ve always thought that Jesus was hard on the Pharisees because they made rules that overreached the law. They added to it and in Jesus words:

While Jesus was speaking, a Pharisee asked him to dine with him, so he went in and reclined at table. The Pharisee was astonished to see that he did not first wash before dinner. And the Lord said to him, “Now you Pharisees cleanse the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. You fools! Did not he who made the outside make the inside also? But give as alms those things that are within, and behold, everything is clean for you.“But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and every herb, and neglect justice and the love of God. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. Woe to you Pharisees! For you love the best seat in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces. Woe to you! For you are like unmarked graves, and people walk over them without knowing it.”One of the lawyers answered him, “Teacher, in saying these things you insult us also.” And he said, “Woe to you lawyers also! For you load people with burdens hard to bear, and you yourselves do not touch the burdens with one of your fingers.                  ~Luke 11:37-46

 It’s not that I disagree with Jesus words here,  maybe the Pharisees were greedy and wicked. Power does breed corruption.  But what if it didn’t start out that way?  What if they added to the law out of fear?  Isn’t that what a lot of our Church by-laws do?  No dancing, no drinking, no playing cards, and for heaven’s sake don’t roll any dice! The Bible doesn’t explicitly tell us not to do any of those things, but the fear that a drunkard won’t inherit the Kingdom of God….well…doesn’t it stand to reason we should just avoid alcoholic beverages all together?  And the dancing,  my goodness, we all know what that leads to!  So better off just not imbibing in the temptation, right?  You get my point I’m sure.

Here’s the thing that’s been rolling around in my head about the first two passages of scripture:  What if the Pharisees/Priests started out adding to the law because they feared stoning?  What if the the man who was picking up sticks in the wilderness was their friend?  Surely he was their neighbor, and we all know how Jesus feels about our neighbors.  Stoning couldn’t have been a choice way to go for the people carrying it out, nor the one being stoned.  It’s a pretty brutal act and most certainly not an instant death, but a slow agonizing process.

The sheer fact that “the LORD” commanded the Israelites via Moses to stone a man to death just for picking up a few sticks on the Sabbath would’ve been enough to scare them into stringent and strict enforcement of the law even surpassing it in an effort to keep people from crossing that magic line where punishment was sure to be carried out.

The LORD of the Old Testament was so serious about the Sabbath that what seemed like a small infraction was worthy of death.  Yet Jesus comes on the scene and tells them that the Sabbath was made for man and not the other way around.  Huh?!?  No wonder they were confused.  Quite frankly so am I.

We get no more information about the man.  Was he an otherwise law abiding citizen of the wilderness?  Was he sick the day before so wasn’t able to gather these sticks?  What was he gathering the sticks for?  Who cares?  It didn’t matter to the LORD.  What mattered was he was doing it on the Sabbath.  And we wonder where legalism comes from?

The stoning of the man gathering sticks seems so savage. Jeez, where’s the “justice and the love”?  Is God a savage?  Is He abusive?  Does this seem like an act of an all-loving God?  All I know is I ain’t gatherin’ no sticks on the Sabbath!


A God Thing

I was at my best friends’ house the other day and she’s got some particularly stressful things going on in her life at the moment.  She’s a Christian and I love her dearly.  She’s taken in some kids whose parents are….well…let’s just say they aren’t parent material.  The mother has six children and she’s not sure who the father of five of them are.  The only reason she’s certain of the one is because my friend had the child tested.  She’s a beautiful one year old, cute as a button.  We’ll call her “B”.  She’s the daughter of my friend’s nephew.  My friend has now taken in B’s fourteen year old half-brother who we’ll call “D” and she’s about to take in their twelve year old brother “A”.  My friend and her husband have already raised three children to adulthood.  Two of them are married, one of which has two children and the other has a baby on the way.

Taking in D was supposed to be temporary.  He has been with them for two months and has now decided he’d like to stay.  D has had some problems in school, he’s adept at lying, he’s done some drugs, and can be a bit of a thief. She’s facing a dilemma about this because at some point she may have to give all three of these children back to the mother who couldn’t care less.    In conversation with me she revealed to me that she’d been praying about what to do and she hadn’t received an answer yet.  She said she wondered if these children being in her care was a “God thing” or if she was getting in “God’s way” and maybe stealing someone else’s blessing.

The old me would have offered up some kind of spiritual platitude at this point about how this was definitely a “God thing”.  These children have been removed from a horrible environment and placed in her care where they would hear and experience the love of Jesus.  And that she should feel comforted in that.  The new me sat quietly and just listened to her friend talk.  Then she asked me what I thought.  This is a careful dance now.  If I say too much of what I really think I risk revealing my secret.  So this was my reply:  I think what you’re doing here is admirable.  You’ve raised your three children, should be enjoying your grandchildren and your freedom, and yet you have so much love for these children and compassion for their situation and you want them to succeed.  Since D has been here his grades have improved and for the first time in the boy’s life he’s with a family that really cares about what he’s doing and who he’s doing it with. So “God thing” or not, what you’re doing matters and it seems to be making a difference.  I think the real questions are: “Do you feel you can keep this up? And how do you feel about taking on a fourteen year old with these problems? What will happen to D and A if you don’t take them in?  Is that what’s best for them?”  She’s forty-eight years old and needs hip replacement,  so I ask her if she can physically do this. She doesn’t know.  My opinion doesn’t really matter.  What’s important is the reality of the situation. 

Then the subject turns to some mutual Christian friends.  This couple is the sweetest couple I know.  He’s fifty years old and is undergoing some tests because the doctors suspect he has pre-dementia.  They are very concerned and now my friend looks at me and says:  “How do people get through things like this without God?”  Again because I don’t want to out myself I say “I don’t know”.  She says “please keep them in your prayers”.  I say nothing. The subject changes.

There’s a lot I don’t know.    There was a time I felt exactly that same way, that awful things happen in this world and I don’t know how people deal with them if they don’t believe in God.  Now my outlook is completely different.  I can accept that awful things happen to people and that’s just a fact of life.  I’m not nearly as angry or anxious when awful things happen to me or to anyone else.  The source of that anger and anxiety before was because I truly believed that there were miracles and that God intervened.  But I also knew that it seemed more times than not He didn’t.  I was taught to ask in Jesus’ name expectantly.  Now when these awful things happen I can grieve and sympathize and understand that the reason that a miracle didn’t happen is because maybe miracles don’t really happen. The anger came from not understanding why one person should be more deserving of a miracle than another.  When someone asks me to pray for them because they or their loved one has cancer, I can honestly say to them “you’ll be in my thoughts”.

I know what my friend was thinking, I’ve thought it myself.  Without God and the chance of a miracle, where’s the hope?  I’ve seen that hope turned to disappointment and sadness more times than not.   In my current state of agnosticism I’ve come to just accept.  There is a lot of peace in acceptance.  The hope I have is in humanity.  I was taught to believe people only had empathy or sympathy or lent a helping hand to their neighbor because they were Christian.  I’ve found out that’s not true.  Yes there are a lot of awful things in this world, but there are a lot of good things too.  I now realize there is goodness and love in most of us.  And I also realize that those I thought were of a depraved mind because they “belonged to their father the devil” are really sick, they are ill.  I can have empathy for them even though I realize something must be done to protect society from them.

I don’t pray for miracles any more.  When I did pray for family and loved ones I often prayed for the miracle that they needed with the added caveat, but your will be done Lord.  God can’t loose that way because whatever happens then must simply be His will.  I don’t pray for a miracle for myself or anyone else anymore because there are children starving in Africa. I highly doubt God is busy about stamping images of the Virgin Mary in Joe Blow’s cheese when there are children starving in Africa.  If those children in Africa don’t starve it will be because we collectively do something about it, not because I prayed about it.  And if those orphans my friend has taken in have half a chance in life it will be because she did something about it, even if it’s finding them another good home, not because she prayed for a miracle.   If our friend with pre-dementia has any hope it will be in finding good doctors and specialists in the medical field that can help him.