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.

Enough

I don’t like Donald Trump.

I don’t like Hillary Clinton, either.

This election was the worst. I know we say that after every election, amid jokes about having to choose the lesser of two evils, but this one went to an extreme that I hope to never see again in my lifetime. I vowed not to discuss politics on social media or here on my blog, and I’ve done my best to uphold that vow.

So this isn’t about politics.

It’s about something I saw on Facebook early this morning, posted by a man I have always respected. Until now.

Let me just go back for a minute and say that I think it is ridiculous to end friendships over differing political beliefs. So what if you liked Bernie or you voted for Trump or you thought Hillary was your personal savior? Big deal. I don’t care. Different strokes for different folks and all that stuff. I may think you’re an idiot from time to time, but you’ll probably think the same of me once in a while too. Good friendships can weather the occasional bouts of idiocy.

But today, I ended a friendship over something indirectly political, and I want to explain my reasoning.

This man posted a long diatribe on Facebook about the Obamas leaving the White House, and most of his vitriol was aimed at Michelle Obama. He called her a “he/she” and a “shemale” while comparing her to an ape. He said the only way she and Barack should have been allowed in the White House at all was through the servants’ entrance as slaves back in the “good old days” before the Civil War.

This is an educated man. He used impeccable grammar and punctuation as he went on to talk about getting some class and dignity in the White House. He spoke of his hopes that the new administration will punish “faggots” and deport “terrorists” and “camel-jockeys.”

No.

I didn’t know what to say.

I don’t want to believe that people like this actually exist. I can’t even begin to comprehend that I counted this man as my friend.

Looking back over our friendship, I can remember now that he has made similar comments that I took to be jokes. Bad jokes, inappropriate and unfunny, but I excused them because I didn’t want to believe that anyone really thought those things. Felt that way.

And you know what? That makes me part of the problem.

I despise those sensitive snowflakes who take offense at every little thing and actively look for reasons to get their feelings hurt. But damn it, sometimes we have to take offense. Not because of political affiliation or because we want to be some kind of Social Justice Warriors, but because we are human beings.

I should have told my friend that his jokes were offensive and unfunny. I shouldn’t have excused him. At the very least, I should have re-evaluated our friendship. As a parent, I’ve often told my kids that “right or wrong, you are judged by the people you surround yourself with.” But I feel sick now when I realize just exactly what I have chosen to surround myself with. My silence implied approval, whether I intended it to or not.

This election has changed me. It doesn’t matter how you voted or what you believe in politically. I don’t care if you voted for Trump or Clinton because, let’s be honest, neither one was a great choice.

But if you spew hatred, you will no longer be a part of my life. Even if that hatred is part of a joke, followed by your suggestion that people need to lighten up.

Go ahead and tell me that you think about religion or sexual orientation. Talk to me about politics. Sing your praises of whichever political party you think is going to save our world. I welcome intelligent, opinionated discussion whether I agree with you or not.

But I do not welcome hate.

I don’t use the word “hate” lightly. I think it has lost its power in recent years. People whine about “haters” and make jokes about “hater-ade” and basically toss the word around until it means little more than “dislike.” But Webster’s defines it as:

intense hostility and aversion usually deriving from fear, anger, or sense of injury

Think about that. Intense hostility . . . deriving from fear, anger, or sense of injury.

I’m done excusing people like my former friend who is so full of hate for anyone who isn’t white, Christian, and conservative. I’m done looking the other way and staying silent when I hear unfunny jokes that try to mask hatred behind a so-called sense of humor.

Folks, this is the world we live in. Black, white. Gay, straight. Christian, Muslim.

Human.

Deal with it.

C’mon, enough is enough. It has to be.

Love wins, love always wins.– Mitch Albom

 

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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.

 

Sink or Swim

This one time, at Bible camp . . .

No, I just can’t keep going with the whole “American Pie” take-off. My experience wasn’t really “Camp” and I wasn’t exactly a kid. I was in my late twenties, single, and floundering a bit in life.  I had recently joined a singles Bible study group at my church, not so much because I held out hope of meeting Mr. Right, but because I was tired of being that weird single person in my group of married friends.  I wanted to be around other single people, and I wanted to learn more about God, so it seemed like a perfect combination.

It was a good thing I wasn’t looking for Mr. Right. Don’t get me wrong; there were plenty of attractive men in the group. Unfortunately, there were about three times as many attractive women as there were men, and I was not anywhere near being able to compete with any of them. Nothing even remotely romantic ever happened, but I made friends and had fun, so I count it as a good experience.

We all packed up and went on a weekend-long retreat at a camp in the northern part of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula.  It was early May, so it was really too cold for tent-camping.  Instead, we stayed in a dormitory-style building with the men in one wing and the women in another, with the kitchen and meeting areas somewhere in the middle.  I don’t remember what the men studied that weekend, but we women focused on the book Becoming a Woman of Excellence, by Cynthia Heald.

To be completely honest, I don’t remember much about the book or the study.  I remember the fun.  Someone brought along a Frisbee fitted with lights so we could play with it in the dark the first night.  Unfortunately, none of us stopped to think that being able to see a Frisbee in the dark didn’t mean we could see the uneven ground or each other while chasing the Frisbee. Several high-speed collisions and twisted ankles later, we gave up and retreated back inside.

The second night, a group of us sat on the end of the pier that jutted out into Lake Michigan, and stayed there to watch the sunset. It was so cold that members of the group gave up, one by one, to watch from their cars.  One other woman and I were the last holdouts, and I was numb in some really uncomfortable places by the time we gave up.

Later that night, we stood outside and watched the Northern Lights. I had never seen them before and have never seen them since, but that image is burned into my soul. The greens and yellows danced across the sky like parts of a living thing, peaceful and electrifying at the same time.  I stood outside in the frigid air and clutched the hands of the people on either side of me, and I felt my tears freezing to my cheeks; I still don’t know exactly why I was crying.  It was just such pure and unexpected beauty that I couldn’t breathe, couldn’t control my own emotions.

But it was on my last day there that I learned my harshest lesson. During a break in the middle of our study, some of us decided to take a quick ride in the pedal boats that were tied to the docks.  I ended up paired with a woman named Harriet.

Harriet was tall.  I mean really tall.  She reminded of me Olive Oyl, Popeye’s girlfriend.  She had less curves than most broomsticks.  I think she weighed slightly less than my right breast.

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I, on the other hand, have never been a small person.  I like to say that I came out of the womb in a Misses’ size 16 and just kept growing from there.  I stopped growing taller when I was ten, and have proceeded to grow wider in the years since then. Suffice it to say that I outweighed Harriet by a substantial amount.

Those of you who have ever been out in a pedal boat can probably already see where this is going.

By the time Harriet and I reached the docks, all of the pedal boats were in use. There was one leaning against a nearby tree, and it never occurred to either one of us that there might have been a very good reason for it to be out of the water. We dragged it to the nearest dock, dropped it in the water, and climbed in.

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We were about halfway out to the others when we began to realize there was a problem.

The boat was leaking.

It was just a small leak, but the water started to pool around our feet.  More accurately, it started to pool around my feet. Because I weighed so much more than Harriet, my side of the boat was already lower in the water than hers, and the incoming water all trickled over my way. Which, in turn, made my side of the boat sink even faster.

We looked at each other in horror.

“Pedal harder!” Harriet gasped.

Right.  Because I’ve always been so athletic.  Seriously, I wonder if it occurred to her at about that time that my weight probably had a little something to do with my complete lack of athleticism.

We turned the boat toward shore and pedaled just as fast as our legs could go.  Our friends soon caught up and passed us, trying very hard not to laugh at our plight.  To their credit, I think they all assumed that the boat’s position in the water was due to my weight rather than a leak in the boat, and they were all just too kind to say anything.  They didn’t want to be mean by commenting about the fat chick sinking the pedal boat.

“I can’t swim!” Harriet wailed when we were alone again.

“You don’t think you should have mentioned that before you got in the boat?”

By this point, the others were out of their boats and heading for the dormitory for Sunday dinner. They weren’t paying much attention to us.  My side of the boat was almost swamped, and Harriet’s was beginning to lift out of the water. It was only a matter of time before the boat capsized and flipped her through the air.  I had mental images of her skinny little body skipping across the surface like a stone.

We were about twenty feet from shore by that point, and there was really only one thing to do.

I went overboard.

Lake Michigan in early May is cold.  Damn cold.  As in Holy shit, I should have let Olive Oyl drown!

In retrospect, it’s highly possible that I voiced that particular opinion out loud. Several times. I grabbed the rope and started swimming, hauling the boat behind me, while Harriet pedaled her little heart out and I kept a running commentary about skinny people, boats with holes in them, and Christians in general.  I may have even offered my soul to Satan in exchange for warmer water, but I’m not sure if I said that part out loud.

It was a long, miserable walk back to the dormitory, made even worse by the fact that the others had started eating without us. I’ll admit; it hurt just a little to realize that we could have both drowned that day and gone missing for hours before anyone noticed we were gone. I felt pretty miffed about the whole thing until I heard the rumor circulating about why they all thought I was wet and Harriet was dry.

Everyone assumed that I had said something to her that was so offensive, so horrific, so insulting that she threw me out of the boat and left me to swim to shore.  That spoke volumes to me about my reputation within the singles Bible study group.

It also explains why I didn’t meet my future husband as part of the singles Bible study group.

And why you’ll never see my butt in a pedal boat ever again.

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This post is part of Finish the Sentence Friday, in which writers and bloggers finish a sentence and “link up” their posts. This week’s sentence was “This one time . . . ”  

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