The Ahaz Effect

This isn’t how I wanted to begin the spiritual dialogue on my blog. I wanted to begin with sharing some tools that have helped me grow in my faith over the last year, and my love for the Church, and some great books of spiritual formation. Instead, I can’t believe that like every blogger that’s not taking pictures of beautiful rooms or plates of pretty food, I’m writing about the presidential election.

But this is not a political post. It’s distinctly a spiritual one, because something very dramatic is happening to the Church in America right now, and it’s breaking my heart. Not only is the country split down the middle between political candidates, but it’s fracturing the Church as well in a most damaging way.

Earlier this year, I felt very drawn to study the book of Isaiah. Admittedly, I was incredibly intimidated by Isaiah, and really had only breezed through a reading of it once before. But I felt drawn to it party because it was so intimidating, and I wanted to delve deep into it’s significance as it’s THE most quoted of all the prophetic books. I see now that God was drawing my attention to this section of Scripture because it speaks so very aptly to today. Isaiah himself could be standing in the middle of Times Square spouting his original words, and it would make perfect sense to the climate in America today. To be honest, it also spoke very specifically to me personally in some areas where I wasn’t fully trusting God, so I’m as guilty as anyone.

The year is approximately 740 B.C. The godly King Uzziah of Judah has died, and Isaiah is commissioned as a prophet. Judah is already getting a scolding from the Lord, with reproachful statements like, “How the faithful city has become a whore!” (1:21). God isn’t mincing words for His people, but He’s giving them fair warning. Sprinkled with hints of future hope, the Lord still calls out Judah for greed, gluttony, and pride. The plight of the poor is ignored, and corruption is in the courts. Jotham becomes king, and is somewhat godly, but he only lasts about 5 years. Then Ahaz becomes king. On top of Judah’s internal moral disintegration, the king of Israel decides to attack Judah. Assyria has threatened to attack Israel & Syria, so Israel has called to Ahaz for help, with the double-sided threat to attack Judah if Ahaz refuses to help Israel. Isaiah encourages Ahaz to trust in the Lord to protect Judah. He says, “Take heed, be quiet, do not fear, and do not let your heart be faint…If you do not stand firm in faith, you shall not stand at all.” Isaiah tells Ahaz to ask God to confirm this promise, but in pride, Ahaz says he will not put the Lord to the test – meaning, Ahaz plans to handle things for himself. Rather than stay entirely out of the fray and trust God, Ahaz decides to ally himself with Assyria since they are far scarier than Israel.

Isaiah boldly tells the king, “Is it too little for you to weary mortals, that you weary my God also?” Then Isaiah pronounces a judgement on Judah because of Ahaz – instead of being attacked by Jotham of Israel, God will have Assyria turn on Ahaz, and Judah will be subject to Assyria and have to pay tribute. Judah was still suffering under this unbearable system when the good King Hezekiah took the throne. Several other countries under Assyrian rule decided to revolt, and Hezekiah panicked. He foolishly allied himself with Egypt against Assyria. But Sennacherib of Assyria went on a campaign of terror, and Jerusalem barely escaped being leveled because Hezekiah turned again to Isaiah and listened to the Lord. A pitiful remnant preserved Judah for another hundred years until Nebuchadnezzar conquered Assyria and took the rest of Judah captive for 70 years. No wonder Isaiah is an intimidating book: there’s a ridiculous amount of historical background going on amidst poetic prophecies of promises and curses!

And all of this turmoil was because of fear – Israel feared one nation, so they allied themselves with another unholy nation rather than trusting in God’s protection. Starting to sound familiar? It’s the Ahaz Effect all over again.

We have two of the worst presidential candidates in American history. Very few individuals seem to be totally on-board with either candidate because both Hillary & Trump are reprehensible people in their private and professional lives. But what do we see the population doing? Allying themselves with one horrible candidate because they’re afraid of the other horrible candidate. Nowhere is this more disappointing and disgusting than within the Church. I am far more concerned about the state of the Church right now than the state of America. Christians, both pastors and lay-persons alike, are flocking to a side because they either fear the integrity of one candidate, or they fear the policies of another. Everyone knows they are choosing between the lesser of two evils, and yet, they don’t seem to recognize that there’s always a third choice. I’m not even talking about third party options – I’m talking about the option to “Take heed, be quiet, do not fear, and do not let your heart be faint…If you do not stand firm in faith, you shall not stand at all.” I’m talking about the option to literally do NOTHING except trust God. I’m talking about not making a choice between the king of Israel or the king of Assyria, or Trump or Clinton. I’m talking about choosing to trust a God who has parted Red Seas, who changed the heart of Saul, King James, Gorbachev and YOU. I’m saying that instead of voting in fear, we can, in faith, NOT vote, without sullying our consciences with the unilateral decisions made by the next president. We could stay above the fray and let God deal with the heart of whoever becomes president as we pray unceasingly for him or her. THAT is the Christian’s true civic duty. It’s not voting or campaigning or supporting a political party – it’s to live the Gospel in every day life, and trusting God with everything beyond our control.

With the selection of current candidates, it’s pretty obvious to the non-delusional that there is no GOOD choice between the two individuals. The choice then is between choosing Man or choosing God. If you vote primarily out of fear of one of the two, you’re choosing Man’s way. So what will it be? Will we ally ourselves with political parties or with Christ? Will our nation be America, or will it be the Church? Will it be fear, or faith? Because it most certainly cannot be both.

Posted in Thriving Spirits |

Happy Like a Tree

“Happiness is neither virtue nor pleasure nor this thing nor that, but simply growth. We are happy when we are growing.” – William Butler Yeats

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Check out this crazy tree I came across in Hawaii. Its branches grow their own trunks and roots, creating dozens of trees all connected to a single tree. It spanned about 100 feet!

I’ve always had a thing for trees – climbing and sitting in a crook, staring up into their highway system of branches, plotting to hide in Disneyland until it closes to secretly live in the Swiss Family Robinson treehouse. For science this year, my kids are studying botany, and I started thinking about going to Sequoia National Park for the ultimate summer vacation. What better way to wrap up a year of botany than experiencing the largest and oldest living things on earth? Then I realized, holy cow! How on earth have they survived over 2,000 years with pests, people, climate changes, and fires? What would it take for them to die? Could they, theoretically, live forever? What’s their secret to living for so long?

Yeats and Bob Ross would have gotten along. Yeats understood that happiness is essentially growth, and Bob Ross looked at a growing tree and saw a “happy tree”.

“We are happiest when we are growing.” No quote has ever launched itself into my psyche like that one did. Over the weekend, I turned 37. I freaking LOVE birthdays! I really don’t understand people who don’t celebrate their birthdays. You’re one of the survivors of the year with all the craziness going on on this hostile planet, and you’re not going to bother with some cake and a party outfit (or better yet, some pie, because that’s really where the magic’s at)?

I always see my birthday as my own personal New Year’s, and I set about with naive hopes to “be awesomer” in the next year. It usually doesn’t add up to much (except my husband’s growing cynicism that the garage will ever get cleaned out, or that I’ll stop wearing PJ’s for most of my day). But something actually clicked last year on my birthday. I took an entirely different approach to life, and it’s got me writing again.

Four years ago, I stopped writing. I went to this “inspirational” blogger’s conference, got completely depressed about my blog, and just walked away from it altogether. But I’m a writer, and I became a writer who was no longer growing. Three years later, I was sitting on my bed without even the ability to tear up as I told Lukus emotionlessly, “I feel like a shell of a person. I’m just going through the motions of survival, but I’m not ALIVE.” Even though I wasn’t writing, I was doing a LOT. I was homeschooling my kids as well as 5 other children in my home, I’d just had a baby, I was helping start up a new prayer group, and my husband and I had just opened a men’s retail store. But when I wasn’t mindlessly checking off my to-do list, I was just sitting in my house all day every day with no motivation to do or care about anything. It took a pretty significant life change to wake me up again.

Last year, our business partner was no longer able to run our fledgling shop, which meant that I’d have to take over. It would be the first time in 8 years that I’d worked outside of our home, and I was thrilled. It was hard rearranging life, especially since we had a toddler and we didn’t want to put our older girls in school. Thankfully, we were able to hodgepodge a “homeschool by proxy” scenario that made it possible.

I LOVED working the shop. It was peaceful (unless I turned up Pandora for a 1-person dance party). I met cool people and felt engaged with our community. I took pride in being a business owner, and best of all, there was plenty of time to read. I was thrilled with my new role and my new life. I was doing something that required new things of me, that challenged me differently than anything else ever had, and that helped me recognize parts of myself that I didn’t know were there. I was growing, and I was feeling awake again.

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Then, of course, it was time for yet ANOTHER change. We sold our store, and quite honestly, I’ve been going through withdrawals. I’m back to full-time SAHM status, and that’s a major challenge for me.  But I read a good piece of advice once: Whenever one good thing comes to an end, be sure to replace it with another good thing. Otherwise we find that that time has been absorbed back into mindless habits. For me, my “good thing” will always be writing. And this time, I have a much better idea of what it is I’m meant to write about…how to be like a tree: growing, and therefore, by Yeats and Ross’ definition, happy.

Posted in Gypsy Souls |

Chapter 14 – Hello, You

I was even more nervous now than I was on that first sweaty date.  Summer was finally over (thank God!) and I was on my way back to Lukus and another year of school.  I have never been so impatient for that fat Indian dude to get his bag out of the overhead compartment so I could get off that stupid, stupid plane!  I wanted to scream, “Get out of my way!  I have a really hot guy waiting for me that I haven’t seen in three months!  Three months people!  MOVE!”

My parents had come to pick me up and they’d unselfishly invited Brenden and Lukus to come and greet me at the airport with them.  Finally, Fat Smelly Guy got out of my way and I tried to quickly, but casually, make my way up the concourse from the plane.  I saw my parents first, then Brenden sitting off to the side, then a tuft of blonde hair above Brenden, but nothing else.  I gave my parents the obligatory first hug-offering, really just waiting to get to the important people (or person).  Then of course, I hugged Brenden.  Then, there he was.  Tall, tan from a summer working outdoors, and with something new: a beard.  How very manly!  We hugged, and while I tried to make it quick, and no more special than the other hugs I’d just doled out, the fact was, those arms around me just set the whole world right, redeeming an arduous, miserable summer.

My parents took us all out for coffee and we caught up.  Then my parents headed back to their place and Brenden had things to do, and we were alone.  Alone!  And yet, we had no idea what to do with ourselves.  We just walked and talked, unsure of when we’d get around to holding hands, or sitting with an arm around the other.  Our relationship had developed very strongly, but without us being around each other.  We were kindred spirits, of like mind, but where did physical affection fit in?

In fact, we weren’t even “officially” boyfriend/girlfriend yet, and those terms that we had mocked from our pedestals began to mock us with a “So what’s it gonna be?  Are you his girlfriend, or aren’t you?”  It took a couple of weeks of us interacting in person again before Lukus finally asked me to be his girlfriend.  It seems silly now to think of needing something so official when our relationship was already plainly defined by our actions.  But it was partly his upbringing regarding relationships, and the seriousness involved that made things more complicated sometimes.  Things were a little awkward at first, tinkering around our relationship boundaries.

Dating has got to be one of the most difficult processes of life.  I don’t think anyone gets it right, and the few who do, end up paying for it later in their marriage, because at some point, someone wasn’t completely honest about something.  Within a couple of months, we had our first fight.  I have no idea what it was about, but I do remember that I was carrying my laundry basket of dirty clothes in the school parking lot on the way to my parent’s house.  Suddenly, in the middle of our argument, Lukus yelled, “Well, I love you!”  I dropped my laundry basket, pajamas and underwear spilling onto the pavement, and I yelled back, “Well, I love you too!”  And it was all out in the open, dirty laundry and all.

What I would come to realize many years later, was that that moment would be a snapshot of the rest of our lives together:  fiery, tumultuous and full of passion.  There’s a clip in the movie Ratatouille of two French lovers on the television.  They are yelling at each other, and the woman pulls a gun and shoots at the man.  Then, they instantly grab each other in a passionate kiss.  Our friends told us that they were watching that movie for the first time, and when it came to that clip, they immediately looked at each other, burst out laughing and said, “That’s Lukus and Elle!”  Yep, vinegar and baking soda, dynamite and matches, Bonnie and Clyde; that’s often us alright.  But I can think of much worse things to be, like bored, or distant, or dishonest.  At least I’ve never tried shooting Lukus before, but then again, we have our whole lives ahead of us…

Posted in The Rockstar and The Gypsy |

Chapter 13 – Dear Elle

Lukus’ letter took a long time comin’.  I wondered if he’d regretted our talk, or if he was going to be stupid and try to “play it cool.”  I should have known Lukus wouldn’t pull a mind-game like that.  Almost a full week had gone by, and nada.  It hadn’t occurred to me that Lukus, going back to his familiar home and life, might just be a lot busier than me.  I had no car, no job, and my old friendships were on their last legs since, apparently, people’s lives had gone on without me.

Going to California and to my aunt’s was stupid.  I had been planning on going on a missions trip to Spain, but had gotten too busy to fund-raise.  While almost everyone else I knew was either going off on some grand, foreign adventure, or at least returning to the comforts of home, I was applying for jobs at the strip mall next to my aunt’s apartment complex.  Lucky me, I got a job at a sandwich shop, hired on the spot by a dirty old man.  I was painfully aware from the very beginning that it was going to be a long summer.

Day after day, I checked the mailbox.  I couldn’t believe how desperately I needed that letter.  Food could not satisfy me, sleep was restless, I physically ached for that letter.  My aunt recognized my state and inquired every day if “it” had come.  One day after work, I checked the mailbox and once again it was empty.  I headed upstairs to wallow in my lack of existence, and there it was, on my pillow.

“Dear Elle…it was hard to believe you would be gone when I woke up.”

What sweet candor!  He said he was sorry for taking so long, but he’d been so busy with mundane things that weren’t worth writing about, but he’d finally gotten a job.  I soaked up every word, every trifling detail.  It certainly wasn’t a love letter, he’d simply written about what was going on in his life and inquired about mine, but still, I could sense little nuances of affection.  I read the letter over and over, and once I was full, I immediately wrote back.

“Dear Elle…” he and Brenden were working together at a door shop.  “I listened to your message at least five times.”

“Dear Elle…” he was going to youth camp as a counselor.  “Good-bye still stings.”

“Dear Elle…” the band was recording a demo.  “When I got home from work, as soon as I saw your letter on the kitchen table, I completely forgot how hungry I was or how badly I had to pee, and gobbled it up.”

Sometimes two letters would come in one envelop.  Sometimes, the letters were so thick, he had to make a new crease for the envelope flap to close.  I missed him and was also jealous of him.  His summer was so full of, if not fun, then at least distraction.  My summer, however, was full of mayonnaise, and slathering mayonnaise onto a roast beef sub is not a helpful distraction for love-sickness.  By now, it was becoming more and more apparent that we were, indeed, in love.  As the summer progressed, it only seemed to get longer, stretching out ahead like an endless desert highway.  At times, I really wondered if I’d survive.  I was gone, fallen, right over the cliff, in love.  But would it be the same come August, when my plane landed, and we saw each other again for the first time?

Posted in The Rockstar and The Gypsy |

Chapter 12 – Burritos and The Last Day of Being the Same

It was the last day of our freshman year, single-handedly, the BEST year of my life up to that point.  Finals were over and the parking lots were full of moving trucks and tiny cars covered in cheap possessions accumulated over the school year.  I had decided against living with my parents over the summer.  I had tried living with them at the beginning of the year and discovered that 1) once you’ve been on your own, coming back is asinine, and 2) I felt too disconnected as a commuter student with ORU being 90% on-campus living.  So moving in with my parents over the summer didn’t really seem like an option to me.  No, I chose something far crazier:  going back to California to stay with my aunt, her two sons and her friend’s daughter in a tiny two-bedroom apartment.  That meant saying good-bye to Lukus for an entire summer.  We were still “just friends” and I was scared he’d lose interest over the summer.  Heck, I was scared I’d lose interest over the summer.

Lukus would be leaving the next day to spend the summer at his parent’s home in Oklahoma City.  Yep, somehow I found myself falling for an Okie, something I’d never dreamed would happen to me.  It’s not like he came from a small-town, ranch family, or any of the other clichés people conjure up when they think of people from Oklahoma.  It’s just that I knew what Texas guys were typically like, and Oklahoma was right next to Texas, so wouldn’t there be an Oklahoma type?  If there was, Lukus certainly didn’t seem to fit it.  He had no accent, he dressed like he wanted to be a rock-star, he didn’t care about “down home livin’” and preferred the city to the country.  He was interested in art and culture and didn’t have any of those awful, traditional views of women and male/female roles.  He did come from a large (six boys!), traditional, home-school family, but he was extremely independent and didn’t mind my boldness, my honesty or my sense of adventure and independence.  He didn’t have one way that he talked to his guy friends and another way that he talked to me.  I liked that.  I liked that he saw me as an equal, not a sex object and not a priceless, dainty treasure, but simply a person.  We were friends.  And we were saying goodbye.  And I liked him a lot.  And he didn’t know.  And three months is a long time.  And we only had one day left together.

So after our packing and dorm-room cleaning, we headed out for the night.  We saw a couple we knew from ORU making goo-goo eyes at each other and we started talking about how pathetic it all was, dating, mind games, playing with people’s hearts, stupid couple terms like “boyfriend” and “girlfriend”.  We were so jaded and yet so naive.

We stopped at Taco Cabana for dinner, and amidst all of our cynical talk of frivolous relationships, Lukus tells me casually over a stuffed burrito that he has started to have feelings for me and he’s been praying about “progressing our relationship.”  All of a sudden, I was no longer hungry for nachos, but kept intentionally eating, trying to seem as casual as he was acting.  It wasn’t particularly romantic and sounded more like a business plan than a guy pouring his heart out.  I didn’t know what to think.  Fast-food Mexican, last day of school, just talking about how stupid dating is, and all of a sudden he’s “praying about progressing our relationship?”  Somehow, everything I’d wanted to hear over the last several months came out so foreign and formally.  Was this Lukus the person?  Or Lukus the finance major?  Or Lukus the home school kid?

Over the next couple hours worth of talking and walking in the park, the conversation began to flow more naturally, and I realized that Lukus had never done this before, and though I had, neither of us wanted to jump into anything and mess it all up.  The reason it came out so formally from Lukus was because, in his mind, and rightly so, to start a relationship with someone meant that you’d thought things through to the point that you could actually see yourself marrying that person.  This was no casual cliff-dive.  Why would you mess around with love?  Why start something that doesn’t seem like it has much of a future?  What’s the point in that?  When I realized that Lukus had been considering the possibility of actually marrying me before he ever even told me he liked me, it was a lot to take.  I appreciated the fact that he wanted to protect my heart so much that he wanted to wait to make sure we had something potentially real, but at the same time, it was quite a leap to go from, “I like you” to “I can see us possibly getting married someday.”  He was suave enough not to say that, but suddenly, it all made sense why this guy who had been hanging-out with me exclusively for the last several months had never admitted that he liked me.  Then, all too soon, it was time to say goodbye.

Posted in The Rockstar and The Gypsy |