Weekend Coffee Share: God?

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If we were having coffee this morning, I’d tell you that it’s been an ugly week here. On the positive side, I managed to pass my apartment inspection; on the negative side, I’ve been sort of stewing about something.

Grab yourself a fresh, hot cup, because we’re going to talk about God today and it may take a while.

About a year ago, I was approached by someone who was a friend a long, long time ago. Confronted, really. She said she sampled one of my books and was sad to see that God is not in my work. She wanted to know why I have turned away from my faith. I blogged about it at the time, and I felt pretty good about my response to her. I thought I did a good job of explaining that I haven’t turned away at all.

I spoke with her again this week. Again, she expressed sympathy for what she sees as my straying and turning away from God. She condemned me in the kindest, most condescending way possible, letting me know that she’ll pray for me to find my way back. She mourned my lost faith and told me how sad she is that I’ve become callous, that I’ve hardened my heart.

I’m not going to lie; that hurts. I feel judged.

I am a Christian. I do my best to be a good one, but I am human and therefore I am flawed. The fact that I see faith as a private and personal matter doesn’t make me any less of a Christian than those who are more vocal about it. I may not be able to quote random Bible passages at will or show up at every Sunday service like my friend, but that doesn’t mean I’m going straight to Hell.

Folks, Christianity is NOT a competition sport.

You see, God IS in my work, because He is the One who gave me this gift of storytelling. He is the One who changed my life and gave me this opportunity. I thank Him every time I pour a little bit of my heart and soul into a story.

God is in my work because God is in ME.

He is the One who gives me courage and strength on the bad days. I have leaned on Him through pain, through heartache, through everything. And you know what? He’s always there for me. He’s never shamed me for not living up to His standards. He loves me, no matter what, and He forgives me when I screw up.

My books aren’t Christian fiction, even though I like to think that my sweet historical romances are somewhat inspirational. People in my contemporary romances have sex before they are married and they swear once in a while. Some of the stuff I say in my humor collections can get pretty raunchy at times.

I’ll be the first to tell you that not everything I write is appropriate for every audience.

But my characters always find love. There is always a commitment that comes with the sex. I try to write them as basically good people who grow and become better people by the end of the book. It is my goal to inject at least a little bit of hope into everything I write.

A little bit of love.

A little bit of joy.

That’s my version of Happily Ever After, in romance novels and in real life.

If my friend insists that God is not in stories about hope, love, and joy, then one of us doesn’t understand Him at all.

Happy Holidays

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If we were having coffee this morning, I’d start out by wishing you Happy Holidays. There might be an awkward moment after that while I try to figure out if that was a mistake; after all, you might not celebrate Christmas and it might have been a safer bet to greet you with something about Hanukkah or Kwanzaa or Solstice.

Maybe I should have just said “Here, take your coffee.”

You know, I think we just make things too hard for ourselves this time of year. There’s no need to take a stand or defend your beliefs or even worry about political correctness. Fighting over whether it’s okay to say “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays” is just pointless because, you see, I’ve got it all figured out.

That’s right, folks, I know exactly what we need to do to get along this holiday season.

We just need to be nice.

Look, I know all about “The Reason for The Season.” I’m a Christian, and I celebrate Christmas as the birth of Jesus Christ. I put the star on my tree and I listen to countless versions of Mark Lowry’s “Mary Did You Know” and I get chills at the reminders that my Savior was born in a quiet stable on that Holy Night. I believe. I believe in all of it. I draw strength from that belief throughout the year.

But I also have fun with Christmas and all of the traditions that come along with it that have nothing to do with religion. Decorating the tree with ornaments that have been in my family for years. Plucking my cat out of said tree when he tries to play with those ornaments. I love hiding that stupid Elf on the Shelf and telling lies about having Santa Claus on speed dial, and I adore all the giggling and sneaking around to find just the right gift for the people I love.

I also love it when the school band plays “Dreidel, Dreidel, Dreidel” at their Christmas concert. I think the Menorah in my neighbor’s window is just lovely.

I look forward to being invited to my friend’s annual Solstice Bonfire every year.

I say “Happy Holidays” not because I’m trying to be politically correct or because my Christian beliefs are being suppressed in any way. I say it because the traditions surrounding this time of year are fun and beautiful regardless of how you celebrate. I say it out of a genuine desire to wish you happy holidays, period.

When I was in high school, I was confirmed into the Presbyterian Church after several weeks’ worth of confirmation classes. There were perhaps a half-dozen of us who attended class every week before church on Sundays, and most of us were pretty grumpy about having to get up that early.

As part of our confirmation class, our pastor required us to attend church services for different denominations and beliefs before we were allowed to officially join our Presbyterian church. We went to Catholic Mass and a Baptist service; we visited a Synagogue where the boys in our group were instructed to don yarmulkes as a sign of respect.

What’s my point here? We were welcomed into all those houses of worship even though we didn’t technically belong. And we behaved with respect and courtesy during our visits. Our beliefs, our traditions, were not challenged or diminished in any way by opening ourselves up to beliefs and traditions that were different from ours.

It’s been more than thirty years since I was confirmed into my Presbyterian Church back in Portage, Michigan. I can’t speak for the others in my class, but I’m still a Christian. I probably lean a bit more toward a non-denominational type of Christianity at this point, but I have never forgotten the lessons I learned back then.

A little kindness goes a long way. A little understanding goes even further. And a little respect can mean the world.

So wish me a Merry Christmas. Tell me to have a Happy Hanukkah or a Joyous Solstice. Say what’s in your heart and mean it when you say it, and everything else will take care of itself. I promise not to be offended because we worship in different ways.

Because when I say “Happy Holidays” to you, I am not being politically correct or having my Christian beliefs suppressed in any way. I am saying, “However you celebrate, whatever you celebrate, I wish for you to feel all the joy and love and peace that you can possibly feel all through the year. May you be surrounded by those you love; may your heart be full of happiness.”

Happy holidays, y’all.

 

I Do

Back in 1996, a friend issued an ultimatum when I was planning my wedding. “If you invite any of your little gay friends, don’t invite me,” she stated. “I don’t want to be around sinners.”

I met her through an adult Sunday School class, so I shouldn’t have been surprised. She, along with most of the people in that particular church, stood firm in the belief that homosexuality is wrong. Period. No questions, no discussion. In her mind, all gay people go to hell, no matter what.

Subject closed. Do not pass GO, do not collect $200. Game over.

It had been a sore subject between the two of us. I considered myself a good Christian, and I still do. I have friends who are gay, and some of them are good Christians as well. Some are Pagans; some are Atheist, and one is Jewish.   But those people all have two things in common: they are my friends, and they don’t need my approval of their sexual orientation.

I am proud to say that I told my church friend I was going to invite whoever the hell I wanted to my wedding, and it was up to her whether to show up or not.

She didn’t come to my wedding.

I am not a theologian. I am not prepared to sit down and discuss the words of the Bible and debate over which sins are worse than other sins. I don’t know. Maybe that makes me ignorant; maybe it makes me a blind fool to follow a religion without studying it in any great depth.

Gossip is a sin, but let me tell you which of my neighbors are heavy drinkers or are facing foreclosure.   Gluttony is a sin, but just watch what happens when I get my hands on a Toblerone. I can go straight to hell for taking the Lord’s name in vain, but I’m pretty sure I’ve never gotten through a twenty-four hour period without uttering at least one hearty “God damn it!”

But do I believe in Heaven? More to the point, do I believe I am going there when I die?

Absolutely.

I also believe in same-sex marriage. I believe that two people who love each other should be together.

Why is that such a big deal?

I’ve heard the arguments that same-sex marriage makes a mockery of the “sanctity of marriage.” That it devalues “normal” marriage in some way.   That marriage is meant to be between a man and a woman, and that is all.  No exceptions.

But when I look around at the “normal” marriages around me, I see more divorces than long-lasting unions. The majority of my friends and relatives refer to their first marriage or first husband; I was the Big Guy’s second wife, and he has already given a ring to his future third wife.   The “sanctity of marriage” doesn’t seem to keep straight people from lying or cheating on their spouses. Maybe I’m just bitter because of the collapse of my own marriage, but it seems as though everyone around me has a tale to tell of infidelity or hurt.

Sure, same-sex marriages often deal with the same issues. I am not suggesting that one is better than the other. But as far as making a mockery of marriage? That ship sailed a long time ago, and it had nothing to do with homosexuality. Or Christianity, for that matter.

Marriage is hard work. Gay or straight, young or old, Christian or not, an average of 50% of all marriages today are going to end in divorce. Fifty percent.

When I married my husband, I didn’t expect to become a middle-aged single mother. I didn’t expect us to stop communicating; I never thought he could fall in love with someone else and leave me behind. I thought we were going to be one of the successful marriages, and I had visions of our spending our sunset years together. I loved him, and he loved me, and we were both naïve enough to think that was going to be enough.

It wasn’t.

But we tried. We really tried. And it wasn’t all bad; if I had the chance to go back in time and do it again, I would. In a heartbeat. Even knowing how much it was going to hurt when we went our separate ways in eighteen years, I would do it all again because the good parts of our marriage outnumbered the bad ones.   I am glad I had the chance to be married to him.

Which is my roundabout way of saying that I believe everyone deserves a chance to try to make it work. If two people love each other and are strong enough to take that risk, to make that bet that they are going to be in the fifty percent of marriages that succeed, then why shouldn’t they have that opportunity?

One of my high school friends is going through a rough patch right now. Life keeps bitch-slapping her with one tragedy after another, one devastating loss after another. And through it all, my friend’s wife has been there for her. My friend and her wife are both strong, beautiful women who are raising a strong and beautiful daughter, and their love for each other will help them survive anything. There is not a doubt in my mind that they belong together.

How can anyone say their love is wrong?

I believe in God, but not a God who would doom these women to Hell. I believe God is just and kind, and that He gave us the capacity to love; I believe that the people who can’t see this are the ones who are truly doomed.

Love is just . . . love. You find it or you don’t.   Gay or straight, the luckiest people in the world are the ones who find it and keep it.

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