The Jekyll-and-Hyde Inside

Jekyll and HydeThe disturbing news of another moral failure by Josh Duggar brings a response of mixed emotions. On the one hand, his continued immorality and hypocrisy now brought to light create a reaction of disgust. On the other hand, moral failure tied to blatant hypocrisy is so common these days, no one should be surprised. As I have mulled these issues over today,  my mind has been drawn to the classic tale of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde as told by Robert Louis Stevenson.

Dr. Jekyll, a scientist who is convinced of the presence of both good and evil within himself, creates a potion he believes will feed the good person and diminish the evil person inside.  However, the evil person, a certain Mr. Hyde, gains more power, committing acts of brutality and murder that shock even the strongest persons. Over time, in spite of many attempts to control the evil Mr. Hyde, and with no secret potion remaining, Jekyll realizes  his own demise will soon come at the hands of his own Mr. Hyde. In spite of Jekyll’s belief in the power of his own goodness, it is the evil inside him which ultimately wins.

Mr. Stevenson’s analysis of human nature is exceptionally accurate. Yet somehow we have bought into a way of thinking that contradicts this. We believe that if a person is surrounded by good people,  given a good education, consumes good food and makes good life choices, the good will win. We also buy into the reverse viewpoint: if a person is surrounded by bad people, receives a bad education, and makes bad life choices, the bad will win. In other words, we accept the faulty notion that we become good or evil based on what surrounds us rather than what is within us.

Josh Duggar provides a vivid example of  the exact opposite. Mr. Duggar, it would seem, has had all of the good he could possibly have in this life and was protected from all of the bad in this life. So we are doubly shocked at his moral failure, as if there is no logical reasoning for it, no explanation. As if, somehow, we would “understand” his failure if he had come from a broken home or had been exposed to evil behaviors throughout his life. But this is not the lesson of Jekyll and Hyde.  If we listen well to the words of Mr. Stevenson, we will come to understand that the evil exists within us, not outside us. And thus Mr. Duggar’s behavior, while reprehensible for sure, should not be especially surprising.

It is not popular today to state that human beings are inherently evil, that we are all born with a sin nature which, left unchecked, can turn us all into a Mr. Hyde.  Sadly, Josh Duggar has provided us with another living illustration of this truth. What is the lesson to be learned?  Someone has already stated it well: “There, but for the grace of God, go I. ”   My so-called good environment, friends, choices, or lifestyle will not protect me from the evil I am capable of doing. I must always be on guard, never feeding the Mr. Hyde inside, but relying on the power and grace of God to save me from my sinful self.  This is my prayer, especially today.

 

 

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Losing the Best Gift

IFisher Price clockn the last ten days I have attended two memorial services for two different people I never met. In both situations, the loved one who passed away was a beloved parent/ grandparent who was fondly remembered with funny stories, family memories and appreciation for the impact that was made in the lives of many. Each service took place in completely different settings under completely different circumstances  But as I listened, I was amazed at some striking similarities between the two that has left me contemplating the impact on my own life.

The first memorial service was for a beloved father and grandfather taken rather suddenly as a result of a health crisis. I learned that this man was known for his fishing, for his fine work ethic, and for being a friend to everyone. He was the grandpa that told funny stories to his grandkids, planned the family reunion each year, and checked out every new house his children and grandchildren purchased. One grandson, a military man, spoke of all the handwritten letters he had received from Grandpa throughout his life, including one long handwritten note he received when departing for a new assignment in Africa this January.

The second memorial service was for a precious mother and grandmother, taken suddenly due to a fall and resulting head injury. I learned that this lady was also a friend to everyone she met. She played games, did puzzles, crocheted afghans, helped her grandkids with math, and participated in a breakfast club every Tuesday at 10 a.m.  Her grandson told how her home had a circular pattern that became a boys’ Nascar raceway with HotWheels for him and his friends.  An old mattress at the bottom of her stairs provided the perfect landing spot for those same brave boys to swing out on a rope and drop onto the mattress below. Grandma made sure they had fun together and learned life lessons along the way too.

These two individuals never met. I never met either of them. But together their lives pointed out a truth that made me sad. The truth is this: We are losing our best gift, the most precious thing we can give to those we love. We are losing the gift of time. Time to be together without technology, without TV screens, without Facebook and phones. Time to play crazy games and tell silly stories. Time to sleep in sleeping bags on the living room floor and make waffles in our pajamas the next morning.  Time to send handwritten letters to grandsons who are headed to Africa on military duty. Time to just be there.

However, the enigma in all this is that, in reality, we have the same amount of time as these grandparents did. The same twenty-four hours, the same seven days a week, the same 365 days a year.  So in truth, we are not losing the best gift. We are giving it away. We have allowed video games and media to take the place of Nascar races and mattress jumping in the dining room. Video games don’t make messes. Social media is fast and easy and doesn’t require a stamp. So we send a short text or post a quick comment instead of mailing a letter that could be saved forever.

So, Mr. Eugene (Jake) Hoffman and Mrs. Annabelle Henry – though I never met you, I want you to know you have touched my life. I have been challenged to evaluate how I am investing my time. I plan to pull out the sleeping bags and have a slumber party in the family room with my daughter sometime soon, and I will be writing a handwritten letter or two over the next several weeks. Thank you for touching so many people with a simplicity of living that is striking. I don’t want to lose the best gift – the gift of time. You have shown me the way.

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Everything As It Should Be

Norman rockwell pictureI spend a lot of time trying to get everything as it should be.  Just once I want to wake up, plod downstairs in my bathrobe and socks, and find everything in my house where it should be. I look out my windows every day and long to have my flower beds and landscaping up to par with what I envision it should be. And the list could go on — the pile of mail, bills, laundry, my writing…there seems no end to the list of what is “not right.”

And then there is the more serious list to consider. How I long to have everything as it should be in all my family relationships, my friendships, my responsibilities, my goals and aspirations. And how I long even more to have everything be as it should be inside of me – in my heart, in the very depths of my soul.  At times, this perpetual sense of dissatisfaction with “me” becomes a heavy weight.

I am reminded, however, that it is not entirely my job to get everything as it should be – not in life’s chores or responsibilities, not in relationships, not even in myself.  As the Apostle Paul says, “We are waiting the arrival of the Savior…Jesus Christ…He will make us beautiful and whole, with the same powerful skill by which he is putting everything as it should be, under and around Him” (Phil. 3:21). I do not have the ability to make all things right, to arrange my life in perfect order and harmony. Only Jesus can-and someday He will arrange all things in perfect order around Himself. So for now, I am learning to live with an appropriate discontent, faithfully following and willingly waiting for the day when everything will be as it should, because of Jesus.

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Cleveland Cavaliers #ALLinCLE – An Ode

basketball-wallpaper-free-download_146952I never watch basketball. Never. Not because I don’t like the Cleveland Cavaliers – I do. I just prefer to listen to the sports report at the end of the evening news and pick up the highlights of the game. So my children are shocked that I am absorbed in every play of every Cavs game in the earlier playoffs and now the Finals.  Stunned that I am on my knees pounding the floor with my fists over a missed shot or a bad ref call.  Yes, folks – I am ALL IN.  We all are at this point. We can’t help it.  And in spite of the stress, we all love it.  At least for now. So, in the spirit of being #ALLinCLE, I present to you an ode to the Cleveland Cavaliers, their fans, and our journey in the Finals:

ALL IN

Summer’s here, the weather’s fine,
Blue skies rule the day;
Glued to TV screens inside-
The Cavs are in the Finals.

Got no sleep, late to work,
Bills not paid on time,
No dinner cooked or laundry done-
The Cavs are in the Finals.

Got no time for other fun,
No golf or cornhole here,
No swimming, hiking, biking
While the Cavs are in the Finals.

Indigestion, palpitations,
Cardiac arrest-
Vocal strain and snack weight gain,
‘Cause the Cavs are in the Finals.

Heads and shoulders, knees and more-
Injuries galore;
No Irving, Love or Mr. V.-
Yet the Cavs are in the Finals.

Delly’s at the table and
The king is in the house;
The scent of victory’s in the air-
The Cavs are in the Finals!

 

 

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Wounded Wives

romantic-black-white-wedding-photo-bride-groomThe arrival of spring and (soon) summer often brings with it the advent of wedding bells. My pastor-husband and I have had the privilege of interacting with many young couples in pre-marital counseling sessions and eventually their wedding ceremonies. These are fun times in ministry life!

On the other hand, my pastor-husband and I have also counselled many married couples whose relationships have fallen on hard times. Often my role involves talking one-on-one with emotionally wounded wives. A wife full of wounded emotions is a very fragile thing. She is holding herself together by a thread. Her heart is pierced with pain, her mind is numb from the sheer exhaustion of coping with deep disappointment in her marriage. (I am specifically referring here to emotional distress only. Any wife who finds herself in a physically harmful or abusive marriage needs to seek help to safely leave the relationship.)

womans-cryingOver my years of counseling emotionally wounded wives, I have seen some marriages saved, some not. One condition, however, has never produced a successful result. In fact, women in this state of mind rarely stay in the marriage. This state of mind is defined by two beliefs:

#1: I cannot be happy in this marriage unless my husband changes.

#2:  My husband will never change.

A wife who believes only one of these statements can often be helped.  Statement #1: If a wife believes she can be content even if her husband never changes, she will make the necessary adjustments and succeed. Statement #2: If  a wife is unhappy in her marriage but has faith that God can work in her husband’s life to bring change, she will find the strength to remain committed to her husband. But a wife who believes both of these statements to be true – she cannot be happy unless her husband changes, and he will never change – will not be able to experience a healed marriage relationship or a God-given contentment in a less-than-satisfying marriage.

So, dear wife with a wounded heart,  you may feel these two statements describe your marriage right now – and perhaps they do. But I plead with you, do not choose to believe this. You may not have faith in your husband, but have faith in God. Faith that God will enable you to live contentedly with your husband as he is. Faith that God can bring about the change in your husband’s life that He desires, in His time, while enabling you to live with him graciously in the present. For “without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone that comes to Him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him” (Heb. 11:6). Seek hard after God, wounded wife, and He will reward you. You can trust Him!

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Murphy’s Laws at Our House

Murphy's LawWe are all probably somewhat familiar with the phrase, “Murphy’s Law”. This phrase is typically associated with sayings which refer to something that goes wrong or takes an unexpected turn. Recently I did a bit of research into the origin of Murphy’s Laws, particularly the person for whom the sayings are named.

One fact I learned is that Mr. Murphy was most likely not the originator of the concept. There is evidence that similar expressions were in existence prior to Mr. Murphy. However, in 1949, at Edwards Air Force Base in California, Captain Ed Murphy was working on an Air Force project and discovered that a technician had done a wiring job incorrectly. He stated with profound frustration, “If there is any way to do it wrong, he will find it.”(www.murphys-laws.com). This saying eventually took on a more generic meaning, “If anything can go wrong, it will,” which ultimately became the standard for a multitude of trite sayings and expressions of negativity, from serious to humorous to outrageous, which describe the common human experience.

In many cases Murphy’s laws appeal to us because we identify with them so well. For example: “Nothing is as easy as it looks.” I’m sure a specific example came to your mind as it did mine. For me, this reminded me of a recipe I tried last week, one I was sure would be perfect but was not. You probably thought of something unique to your life experience, yet we both identified with this common element of life.

Here’s another one: “The greater the value of the rug, the greater the probability the cat will throw up on it.” Now I don’t have a cat, nor do I own any rugs of value, but I still identify with this, as we spilled ketchup on a brand new rug in our living room just hours after it was installed. (Don’t even ask me why there was a ketchup bottle in the living room!) Some things are just bound to happen, no matter how much we try to avoid them. And sometimes laughter is the best way to cope.

So, with all due respect to Mr. Murphy and all others who have contributed to this familiar and loved way of expressing humor in the midst of the negatives of life, here are a few of my own “Murphy’s Laws at Our House”. In fact, #3 just happened yesterday! Perhaps you will identify with some of these, or maybe this list will inspire you to write a few of your own.

Our Top Ten Murphy’s Laws at Home:
1. You will use your last fresh egg just minutes before your daughter reminds you she needs brownies for the school bake sale tomorrow.
2. The morning you forget to put your trash out to the curb, the trash collector will come especially early.
3. The morning you do remember to put your trash out to the curb, trash pickup will be delayed one day due to a holiday.
4. The number of toothbrushes in use in your household will always be greater than the number of people living in the house.
5. The number of shoes visible in the house entryway will far exceed the number of people actually living in the house.
6. The amount of bird poop on your car windshield will be greatest on the day you are driving in a funeral procession.
7. You will go through your pile of mail the day after that bill was due.
8. The more tomatoes you plant in your garden, the less it will rain that summer.
9. As soon as you finish one load of laundry, two more will appear.
10. If you go looking for the TV remote in the couch, you will find everything but the TV remote.

So remember, when your life’s journey does not go as well as you planned, laughter truly can be the best medicine!

(This article first appeared in Ohio Family Magazine in October, 2012)

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Confessions of a TCP

social media iconIt should come as no surprise that I am not a member of the FBI, the NRA, or the CIA. I do not work for the FDA or the FAA. I once considered joining the PTA and I carry a membership card for the AAA travel club. However, I am probably most known for my association with the TCP. Yes, folks, I am a member of that notable group of people known as Technologically-Challenged Persons.

I have been a Technologically-Challenged Person for some time. I first joined the ranks about ten years ago when I determined I did not need a cell phone. My home phone rang enough during the day, so the last thing I wanted was a ringing phone in my purse. However, when my oldest son began driving, owning a cell phone meant I could be in touch with him whenever needed, which gave this mama some comfort. Not willing to be drawn into a phone contract, I stuck with a prepaid phone plan at first. Eventually a family phone plan saved us some money. Finally I gave in to the world of texting. At first it took me twice as long to text a message as it did to call. Things have only slightly improved.

My next hurdle as a TCP was social media. I had always appreciated the value of the world wide web, but I surely didn’t need the internet to talk to people! Email became my first online venture-after all, it was simply mail without a stamp. But I dug in my heels on a Facebook account, until my sons went to college. With Facebook accounts of their own, they were able to communicate much of their college experience via posts and pictures. After having too many conversations with friends who commented about the great pictures my sons were posting, I decided it was time for me, this TCP, to step into the world of social media and Facebook.

My sons were soon encouraging me to tweet. Being sure I was too old to tweet, I kindly ignored them for some time. But a little over a year ago, on a cold snowy evening when everyone was stuck at home, I had a weak moment and allowed my son to set up a Twitter account for me. I think I have tweeted twice. I might have twelve people following me. I would check, but being a TCP, I don’t know how. In a later moment of near insanity, I set up a Tumblr account, for which I promptly lost my username and password and have never opened up since.

A major breakthrough for this TCP occurred when I upgraded my cell phone to a smartphone. After choosing my new phone, the customer service man asked for my current phone in order to transfer my contacts over. When I handed him my phone, he gave a low whistle and commented that he “hadn’t seen one of those for a long time”. I even had to remind him how to use it. After going to the back room to transfer my phone’s information to the new phone, he returned to report he did not have a USB connector that worked because my phone was so old. Fortunately I had brought mine along. After disappearing again into the back room, he re-emerged with a somewhat grim look on his face and announced that the transfer process had not worked, all my contact information had been lost, and, in fact, my battery had also been fried in the process, making my old phone entirely unusable. So I was now the owner of a strange new smartphone with nothing on it of my own. Somehow I didn’t feel so smart at that moment. I longed to have my old, comfortable clunky phone back. But it was too late. Every ounce of this TCP wanted to cry, but I kept a stiff upper lip and timidly slid the shiny new strange smartphone into my purse.

Things have improved since then. My smartphone and I have developed a casual working relationship. And, as you can tell, I have even ventured into writing my own blog. Yes, I am learning more about technology each day, but I will always be a TCP, and that is just fine with me.

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Cookbook Treasures

???????????????????????????????This evening my husband and I will enjoy hosting a small group of couples in our home as part of a six-week marriage enrichment study. My schedule today includes preparing a dessert to go with the coffee and conversation of the evening.  Thinking this through, I recalled a favorite recipe I received several years ago while living in New York.  I retrieved the cookbook from the shelf and headed to the kitchen to make sure I had all the ingredients. I began to leaf through the pages of this church cookbook, one of my favorites among the many I own. A wave of nostalgia unexpectedly swept over me as I recalled not only the recipes, but the women represented by these recipes, women who influenced me as a young bride, a new pastor’s wife, and eventually a new mom.

???????????????????????????????The pages are somewhat yellowed, the edges worn.  My favorite recipe pages are blotched with stains and marked up with notes. The cover is long gone, having fallen off some years ago from so much use, though the spiral binding is surprisingly still intact. The cookbook seems to naturally fall open to some of my favorites.  Today it fell open to the Gourmet Potatoes recipe. Immediately my mind went back to Mrs. Lewis, who submitted this recipe, and her wonderful family, all of whom blessed us abundantly with their friendship and support. I have served Gourmet Potatoes to countless guests since then, including small quantities in my home as well as several large pans  to serve our entire church family.

???????????????????????????????The page containing the recipe for Sunday School Rolls is dog-eared as well. These are called Sunday School Rolls because you mix the dough in a large bowl Saturday night, roll them out before you go to church Sunday morning, then pop them in the oven for 10 minutes when you get home from church – and you have the most delicious crescent rolls you will ever taste. I think of Mrs. Poole, a dear older lady in our church back then, whenever I serve these.

???????????????????????????????Today’s recipe, Sour Cream Chocolate Chip Cake, comes from Mrs. Carswell, another lady who has been an encouragement to me. This simple but superb recipe reminds me of her -simply gracious in her service to others and superb in her example as a wife, mother and friend. As I share this dessert in my home this evening, I hope in some way I am passing along more than just cake. I hope I am also passing along a legacy of friendship and gracious service modeled for me by so many women represented in this cookbook.

And therein, I believe, lies the real treasure in my church cookbook, or in those hand-written recipes from my mother and grandmother, or in the shared recipes from my bridal shower almost thirty years ago. Unlike Pinterest, the treasure is not so much in the recipe, as valuable as it may be. The treasure is in the people in my life-the moms, the grandmas, the influential women, the friends. The real recipes they gave me are recipes for a life well-lived. I hope,with every dinner roll or piece of cake I serve, I can pass on the true legacy of these gifts given to me in my church cookbook.

 

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A Winter Contemplation

Chagrin Falls 2As I trudged my way through yet another snow-mangled parking lot, my mind felt as numb as my face buried in a scarf to avoid the biting wind. Cars parked without symmetry, merely plunged into gaps between snow piles, created a maze in the frozen slush. Other cars wound slowly around the greying, aging  snow mounds dotting the barren landscape. Snow plows, miniatured by the massive snow mounds, moved at a frantic pace, their blinking orange warning lights begging to be noticed.

The long bitter winter of 2015 is taking its toll on our psyche. We are no longer individuals.  We are masses of humanity, shrouded in parkas, moving numbly through daily life, striving simply to survive. Winter is like that, sometimes.  For born-and-bred northerners like myself, we take a little pride in  the hardy nature with which we face winter, laughing in the face of lake effect snow and yawning at the occasional blizzard. But then there are those winters that stand out, marked by extremes – extreme cold, extreme snowfalls, extreme ice. These winters wear us down, whether we like to admit it or not. This year is one of those winters.

Kicking the slush off my boots as I came into the house, I realized the winter I was fighting outside was a microcosm  of the winter I am fighting inside myself. The physical hibernation brought on by frigid temperatures has spread into a hibernation of the mind.  My ambition appears buried in a pile of frozen mental slush, my creativity plowed under by the mind-numbing tasks of simply re-stocking food supplies between snowstorms and keeping the porch woodpile prepared for the fireplace. I wake up every day hoping to write, to create something from nothing, to challenge myself. But my creative juices are frozen along with the rest of my world, waiting for a spring warmth to arrive and bring with it a renewed sense of life, of energy, of creativity, of beauty.

A wise man once said, “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;  a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance.” (Ecc. 3:1-4)  In this season of the winter of my mind, I must remember, it is just that – a season. Soon will come the return of new life, a renaissance of the beauty of spring, of hope. Soon this brutal winter of 2015 will be but a memory, and this winter of my mind will seem but a faded dream. Spring can’t come fast enough.

 

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Tragedy in Tampa

Sunshine Skyway BridgeMy to-do list is long this evening, with many details demanding my attention. But my mind is distracted tonight, my heart is weaving back and forth between anger and heartbreak as I ponder the tragic loss of a 5-year old girl’s life in Florida last night, thrown over the Sunshine Skyway bridge in Tampa by her own father.

I am a parent. I am a mom. I think many of us as parents find our hearts pained by the barrage of tragedies that befall children these days. From kidnappings to diseases, from tragic school shootings to natural disasters, the world can be a dangerous place for any child. When I hug my children in the morning and give them a kiss at night,  I sometimes wonder how long I will have them, how long I can protect them from the horrors of this world.

But, I am a mom, so that also means I am human. I fail. I get angry, sometimes more angry than I realize I am capable of. I break promises and I forget appointments. I lose my patience over dumb things like crusty cereal bowls in the family room and socks left all over the house. I don’t play enough with my kids. I don’t always listen well. I fail.

However, no matter how bad things get, I make sure my children know I love them. I want them to go to bed at night and wake up in the morning knowing that no matter what happened that day, no matter how ugly things got, my unconditional love is theirs without reservation. Such love becomes a secure place for children, an anchor in the stormy sea of life. No child, no matter how bad things become, deserves to be tossed over the brink of a bridge into a fast-flowing current, sent to her death by her own parent. Official reports indicate this little girl was screaming when her father removed her from the car and walked to the edge of the bridge. What fear, what horror, but worst of all, what devastating heartbreak for this little girl to realize how very unloved she really was as the cold waves washed her away to her death.

Moms and dads,  I know parenting is hard. Raising children may very well be the most difficult job you will have. We can feel unappreciated as parents, misunderstood, hurt, angered, mistreated, you name it. No one cheers us on or rewards us for our hard work. There are no pay raises or bonuses for good parenting. It can be a draining, discouraging, demanding task. Without help, we can become more angry than we believed possible. But nothing – NOTHING – a child does deserves the punishment of knowing her own parent took her life. Please, moms and dads, if you are at the end of your patience, if your anger is out of control, if you can’t handle your life anymore, look for help.  Ask for help – it is there to be found. Seek out a teacher, a pastor in your community, a counselor at your child’s school, a local crisis center, a moms group, even your child’s pediatrician – if someone cannot help you directly, they certainly will steer you in the right direction.

May we all learn a lesson from this tragic story of  5-year-old Phoebe, the little girl whose daddy did not love her like a daddy should. May we hug our children a little tighter tonight and let them know we love them unconditionally.  There is no greater gift we can give.

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