The Ugly Bride

img_4876I heard it again last week. A Christian blogger proudly announced that his focus was Jesus, and since the church was a broken mess, this person was going to honor Jesus alone. Just Me and Jesus, he said. Church isn’t for me.

I found myself imagining a conversation between two men, where one guy wants to warn the other about a bad choice for a wife. And being a novelist, imagining conversations isn’t hard. For this one, blogger dude is named Dude. And Jesus–well, he’s named Jesus. And the conversation might go something like this…

“So, man, I love you. You know that, right? I’d take a bullet for you, man. But I need to talk to you about this bride of yours. I mean, I hate to say this, but knowing who you are, and how you could have anyone you want, why would you want this bride? She’s kind of… well, she’s kind of ugly.”

“My bride is ugly?” Jesus asks. “Tell me what’s ugly about her.”

“Well,” Dude says. He’s warming up to this. Jesus wants his opinion. “Okay, sometimes she comes out with her hair a mess. Her clothes don’t always match. I mean, how simple would it be just to keep herself looking good, you know? She’s the bride of one impressive guy, right? And the way she acts… Sometimes she laughs way too loud. Her jokes can be crude. She doesn’t always say the most politically correct things.” He lowers his voice. “I’ve even noticed her scratching in public. That’s just not done. I’m just saying it might be better for you to keep looking. There are plenty of brides out there.”

“But I love this one.”

“Okay. I mean, you’re a fair guy. She must have something special, but why doesn’t she show it? People would like you a lot more if your bride wasn’t so difficult. Unpredictable. That cackling laugh, the wild hair, her inability to behave right in public…I don’t get it.”

“Have you seen her feed the poor?”

“Well, sure. And that’s good and all. But she doesn’t always feed the poor. There are still a lot of poor.”

“And have you seen her take in the orphans?”

“Of course. But there are still orphans. I’ve also seen her turn her back on orphans and poor. I’ve seen her do a lot of things I don’t agree with. You just never know what she’s going to do.”

“Regardless, she’s the most beautiful creature I’ve ever seen.”

“Man, you need to get out more,” Dude says, frustrated. Jesus just isn’t seeing it. “She can be rigid and fanatical. Or she can turn around and be blase. I don’t know how you find that beautiful.”

“Have you heard her sing?”

“Sing?” Dude is perplexed. “So what if she can sing? A lot of people can sing.”

“She sings to me. Sometimes with an organ, sometimes just with her voice, and sometimes with flutes or drums. Beautiful love songs.”

“I hate to break it, but she doesn’t have that great a voice. Nothing about this woman is spectacular in any way. I just don’t want her to hold you back or bring you down. You have a mission, right? She’s in the way.”

“Her voice is angelic. And she’s the most beautiful creature I’ve ever seen.”

“Why do you keep saying that?” Dude asks. He’s angry now. He loves this guy, but wow. Like talking to a brick. “She’s not beautiful. You asked me, so maybe I’ll ask you. What makes her beautiful?”

“You mean other than feeding the poor and holding the orphans and singing to me with the voice of an angel?”

“Um,” Dude says. This isn’t going well. “Yes. Other than that.”

“My father made her just for me.”

“What? Your father made her?”

“He put together all her parts, exactly for me. Everything I need for my mission. Everything I love. Everything I find beautiful. Her vocal cords are just for me. Her hair is for me. Her clothes are for me. And crooked toes and each finger and every part of her. In every part of her I see my father’s love for me. And he sees my love for him when I woo her, when I sing back to her, when I hold her in my arms and we dream of our future together.”

Dude coughs. This guy has it bad, and he realizes he might have said the wrong thing here. It probably isn’t a great idea to anger someone so powerful.

“Fine,” he says, panic giving way to anger. “Fine. Your father gave you a gift that’s average at best. You want everyone to know you through that woman? Really? It’s the best either of you can do? That’s fine, but I don’t want any part of it. You and I can be friends, but she has to stay out of it.”

“I don’t think that will work,” Jesus says. He shrugs. “She’s everything. I don’t have room left for anyone else. But if you talk to her, spend time with her, get to know her, I think you’ll see. Look at her the way I do. See my father in her, when she feeds a homeless man a sandwich, when she holds a door for an elderly man, when she sings a song off key with a sparkle in her eye. See my love for my father when she compliments a harried waitress or holds a victim of violence or mows her neighbor’s grass when he’s ill.”

Dude hangs his head. Jesus’ bride embarrasses him. She might have Jesus duped, but he knows the truth, that she’s not classy enough for Jesus, not sophisticated, prone to fits of anger. But what can he say?

Jesus smiles. “I know what you’re thinking. But if I only accepted perfection, I couldn’t be your friend, either. I love her. She is and always will be the most beautiful creature I’ve ever seen. And I would easily take a bullet for her. Already have, in fact. And the scars I wear–they just remind me that while her songs are off key and her hair can be wild and sometimes she makes no sense to the world, she is mine. And I am hers, all she needs, all she wants, all she loves.”


I feel sad for the blogger who thinks he’s doing Jesus and Christianity a favor by maligning the bride Jesus loves, the bride for whom Jesus wears scars, the bride that signifies such eternal, omnipotent love. I hope that man spends some time getting to know the bride, even with her unpredictable behavior and mismatched clothes. Even when she scratches in public.

Because regardless of anything else, Jesus loves her. She is the most beautiful creature he has ever seen. One day all will see her vibrant beauty, and the flaws of this world will fall away. And wow, that’s a scene I can’t wait to see.




When the Vacation is Over

DSC01056My family just returned from a week in Florida, spent on Ormond Beach just north of Daytona. We had a great time, and I plan to post a few things about that, because vacations can be great times of discovery and clarity. Today, though, I feel the need to capture my feelings right now, as our vacation ends. Because I handle the end of a vacation badly. Worse than badly.

First, we had planned to take two days to drive home. So, when we said goodbye to the beach on Saturday morning, I was expecting to drive about six hours, find a hotel, have one last summer swim, eat someplace nice, and sleep on a soft, large bed. Then my son would eat waffles at a hotel breakfast bar, and we’d mosey on home, with one final trip to a fast food place before we returned and reality hit.

Halfway through the day, my husband informed me he planned to push on through and take the twelve hours all in one day. It would save us money on a hotel, and money was an issue. And it would get us home sooner. To him, that’s a good thing. To me, the housewife who also works from home, not so much. To him, it meant a couple days to hang around the house and do nothing before work Tuesday (this was a holiday weekend.) To me, it meant getting back to work a day early. I was not thrilled.

But he had the wheel, so we drove home. And I, the person who grieves the end of vacations anyway, grieved hard. I’d expected one more day. And it doesn’t sound like much. One day. But it felt huge. Summer was over. Reality was back. Instantly my mind began to churn through things I needed to do at home, how much work needed to be done, and how unfair it was that home has such different meaning to each of us. Instead of easing myself back into the pool of life slowly, I’d just been shoved off the high dive into ice water at the bottom. Continue reading

The Pizza Sign Man

There is a man in my city I pass very often.  I don’t know him–not his name, his family, nothing whatsoever.  All I see is a single action of his, but it’s enough to make me admire him.  I call him the pizza sign man.

For the past several years, this man has stood in all kinds of weather, from snowstorms to heat waves, and held a pizza sign at the edge of a busy road near a pizza place.  If I drive past his corner in the middle of the day, he’s there.  Day in, day out, always on his corner holding his sign.

I doubt many people grow up with the desire to hold a pizza sign.  It’s not a glamorous job.  It’s not terribly challenging, can’t possibly pay well, and to spend hours in one’s head with nobody to talk to surely gets difficult at times, but the pizza sign man continues on.

I spent a lot of years in an upper middle class world.  I worshiped there, have friends there, and am influenced by that world, even though I no longer belong there.  And the upper middle class world is no place for a pizza sign man.  In that world, kids go to college and get good jobs and become successful, those inside the church and out.  And in most churches there, those with more clout in the world have more clout in the church.  The idea, I think, is that a Christian with power and success can reach the world and change the world for Christ in a way a pizza sign man cannot.  Big, beautiful churches are not built by congregations of pizza sign men.  Modern church life and programs take resources pizza men simply can’t muster.

During our marriage my husband has had all kinds of jobs, including a stint making and delivering pizza.  People treat pizza men differently than engineers, but God doesn’t.  When the pizza sign man stands on his corner in the pouring rain, God notices, and I suspect he smiles.

My father is a PhD in Civil Engineering who supported his family for the past decade as a security guard because he lost a job too near retirement age.  Another PhD I know works at Lowes. Doing a job well is all God asks.  Unfortunately, it’s not all the world asks.  And even more unfortunately, the church doesn’t always see the value in the pizza sign man, either.

I don’t know what people think about the pizza sign man when they drive past.  Maybe they feel pity.  Maybe they feel superior.  Maybe they admire him.  I suspect most no longer see him.  I don’t always notice him, but when I do,  I pray for him.  Jesus came for the pizza sign men as much as anyone else, and he loves them and wants to see them in his kingdom someday.  When he first started I would point him out to my children. That man is doing a wonderful thing.  He’s working hard, and he always shows up.  I hope you can be an employee like that someday.

Yes, my friends with kids on scholarship at prestigious schools might think I’m setting too low a bar, but God just grins and hopes my kids grow up to be employees like that, too.  Even more, he hopes my kids will love the pizza sign men and embrace them should they walk through the church doors, because there were times we were living the pizza life, too, and we didn’t always feel the love.

I now attend a church that meets in a ministry building where homeless people are fed every day. I hope we’re welcoming, to doctors and pizza sign men and disabled people on welfare. I hope my youngest, who attends church with us, will never think twice about the status of those he worships with, because I admit there were times in my life when I did. Shameful but true.

And hey, if we could get a pizza sign man to worship with us, maybe our church events would get discounted prices for pizza.

The Saga of Goose

saga of gooseSometimes I write just for fun. No lessons, no brilliant epiphanies (ha), simply the fun stuff that happens in life. Today is one of those days. And, surprise, surprise, my fun story revolves around my pets.

I have two dogs. My Chihuahua Sparrow is my tiny guardian. He spends nearly all his life at my feet or in my lap or snuggled on my pillow (yes, I’m one of those crazy people who sleeps with her dog.) Skye is a 9 month-old Australian cattledog. She is a never-ending font of energy.

Because Skye loves to be outside, we taught her to use a dog door. It wasn’t an easy task. For the longest time she’d only exit or enter when we touched the door and gave her permission. Then finally, after several weeks, she did it on her own. She could come and go into our fenced yard at will. That made life easier for those of us called on to let her in and out a thousand times a day.

Unfortunately, she can also take things outside. One day my slipper ended up on the garden path outside the door. I need to have a talk with her about being cliché—I mean, stealing slippers? One afternoon I came home to find half the stuffing from one of the couch cushions out there. Kitchen towels, toilet paper tubes—she loves to take things out there because I can’t see her chewing them. And, of course, she can take dog toys out there, especially toys she wants to hide from Sparrow.

The other day my husband mowed the yard. Skye watched this from indoors, because she doesn’t like the mower. She sat in the back window and stared, and then she began to whimper. She ran to the door, put her head out, decided she didn’t like the sound, and returned to the window to whimper. Over and over again. I thought she was scared because my husband and the mower were getting closer and closer to the house and therefore to her.

The mower stopped, and my husband walked in with goose in his hand. Goose is the third player in this story. For an inanimate object, he’s very important in the life of my dogs.

When Sparrow was small, we bought him a stuffed goose toy. He loved it. He chewed it. As he tore up a section, I would cut it off–wings, feet, the head. It was pretty creepy. Eventually I had to throw goose away, and I replaced it. The third time this happened, I replaced it with a similar toy that was a pheasant. And the fourth time, it was a fox. But Sparrow knows the term goose, so we call all these similar toys goose.

The toy my husband ran over was the fox incarnation of goose. Goose was now in three parts: head, torso, tail. Sparrow saw this, grabbed the head, and ran off to chew it. Skye took the torso. My husband returned to mowing, and Skye no longer paid any attention. I’m pretty sure she knew where she’d left goose, and she knew my husband was getting closer and closer to it with the loud, scary machine. It scared her to death. But when goose came inside, even in pieces, she was okay again.

I need to get a new goose. We still have the one hit with the mower, but it completely freaks me out when Sparrow carries around the head. It’s always lying there with its eyes peering up at everyone. Often Sparrow sits a couple feet away and growls at Skye when she gets too close. I find myself wondering if the disembodied head of his toy doesn’t wig him out a little bit, too, because he’ll sit close enough to watch it but not close enough to touch it. Also, Sparrow likes to play tug of war with goose, and the little head is simply too small for a good game of tug of war.

The fate of the dog door is still up in the air. I’m too lazy to let Skye in and out a thousand times a day. But our back yard looks like a trash heap. A couple days ago it was a big square of sandpaper. I don’t know where she found it, and it frustrates me that I think I’ve decluttered my house, and yet she finds zillions of little things in hidden nooks and crannies and puts them outside. I should put a low trash can out there and train her to throw things away. Yeah, right.

As I said, this post has no point, except I like dog stories. For animals with no jobs, no purposes, they love dramas. I also have four cats, and the cat-dog dramas are fun, too. They entertain us all the time.

I honestly don’t know why God made animals. I don’t think most of them have a practical role on the planet. But I’m so thankful he did. I think originally they were all made to entertain us, to be companions, to enrich our lives, before we sinned and they were filled with fear of us. Those we’ve tamed remind us of how things were meant to be, a little glimpse back into the garden.

I hope very much that our heavenly home will have animals. I want to laugh at them and enjoy them and snuggle with them. Only we won’t be limited to dogs and cats, I think. We’ll snuggle wombats and wallabies and tigers and elephants. Koalas. Aye Ayes. I want to see whales up close and swim with dolphins. I want birds to land on my shoulder. Animals are cool. Just one more way God went over and above making a complex, beautiful world for us.

A Story Untold

Story untoldNational Sibling Day recently passed. I didn’t know about it ahead of time. Even when I was made aware of it, I didn’t search around for old photos and post a shot of my siblings and me. Not that I don’t love my siblings. I do. But my sister doesn’t bother with social media, so she wouldn’t see my loving tribute to sisterhood.

And my brother. Well, he wouldn’t see it either. My brother, you see, isn’t in this world any more. And I don’t talk about that. I don’t write about it. I don’t mess with it. It’s not a fun or easy story, and I’m all about happy endings and problems with solutions.

But lately I’ve felt the need to share the hidden stories. Not stories that will hurt people, but the ones I’ve hidden for the wrong reasons. Usually I hide them as much from myself as anyone. I want to believe I have things together. I want to believe knowing God means all my wounds are healed or can be healed. I want to believe I don’t have issues that make me see God through the wrong lens.

Yet there lies my brother’s story, silently melting a hole in my heart. Rarely mentioned, seldom salted with tears, and often relegated to fairy tale in my head. Something old. I’m over that. It was a long time ago. I’ve moved past it. Barely happened. Like he wasn’t even here. Something imagined.

Except he was my brother.

My parents loved family. We did all kinds of things together. Vacations, dinners out, trick-or-treating. I was dragged to cheer contests and gymnastic meets and t-ball games. And that’s a great thing. But it also means nearly every perfect memory I have from childhood includes my brother, and when he died they all darkened. Childhood is haunted. I don’t visit much any more.

Maybe it’s time to revisit him. Let out a few memories, because memories spoken and dampened with tears lose some of their darkness.

He drank. He struggled with severe anxiety disorder, meaning he had anxiety attacks that didn’t last minutes. They lasted hours. Days. And that’s almost a fate worse than death. He was funny and adorable, and people loved him. But he could never see that.

For a decade, phone calls scared me, because often they were about him. Missing. In jail. Broken. He struggled to hold jobs. His marriage was messy. He had four children way too fast and couldn’t support them. His mental state got worse. His ability to make good decisions dwindled.

Then came the early morning phone call from my parents to come get his kids. He’d made a mistake, and his kids needed to be removed from the situation to keep them out of the hands of the state. I drove through the darkness to get them, brought them home. My family intervened to help him. We had a plan to watch the kids while he treated illness, fixed his marriage, put away the drinking. The plan meant a future. It was hope after a decade of fear.

I had one of his daughters, and my sister had his other three. She’s a physician, so she was in a better financial place to do that. My brother had all the support he could get from us. He couldn’t fix his life, though. He had no money for professional help, so he went to the state. He wanted psychiatric help. They said no. He was too healthy. There was nothing they would do.

In a fit of anger and desperation, he took too many psychiatric drugs. Not to die, but to spite someone. To scream that he didn’t know what to do now. He wanted his family back, his life back, but he didn’t know how to do it.

Two days later, his heart stopped. Paramedics started it. For ten days we lived in the hospital. I stayed at my parent’s house with my four kids and his daughter, sometimes with all the kids. The cable kept going out, and the TV would say Not receiving signal. That felt prophetic, or maybe like a haunting. Brain waves. Nobody could tell if he still had brain waves. Not receiving signal.

It was winter. Icy cold. I remember that best. Hours at home with little ones waiting. Short icy drive to the hospital. More hours in the waiting room with the tension of family members that didn’t get along, blaming each other, waiting with very little hope. Phil Collins sang Can’t Stop Loving You every time I got in the car. (Still can’t listen to that song without bursting into tears– Heard you’re leaving, in the morning, on the early train…)

Enough short icy drives that my car battery died. Dad took a break from the hospital vigil to help me. That felt like normal life. I remember that clearly, how good it felt to jump a battery, talk outside of the waiting room, freezing in the snow like the rest of the world. Hospitals aren’t real. They stand outside of time and space, some kind of alternate reality. Outside had seasons and hours and days. Inside had nothing. Stillness and bleach. Anger and tears.

The world watched a space shuttle blow. Astronauts died. I don’t think I’ve seen that footage to this day. It was barely a blip in my universe. But it happened sometime during those two weeks. I’m sure it did. I remember flags at half mast, and they sure weren’t for my brother.

For a decade we had prayed. For ten days we prayed more. God’s answer wasn’t what we wanted it to be. I don’t know why.

I went home a few days before he died. Had to get back to my life. Then he passed, and I went back. Funeral. Children crying to wake up Daddy. One of those moments that never, ever, ever hurts less. The only positive is those kids don’t remember that part. Might wreck me on a regular basis, but their memories are hazy. Lucky them.

Turning back in the cemetery as we walked away, seeing a lonely box on a gurney in the freezing cold. All alone. Leaving him all alone.

This isn’t a post about drugs or alcohol or mental illness. It’s not a post about anything. There’s no point. Death has no point. It’s powerful, and it hurts, and I shut it away. I don’t tell the story. But if you read this, you’re helping me brighten things up a bit. It helps to share. I know that. I listen. I listen to stories all the time, and I turn them into stories of my own. But I don’t like to tell mine. I prefer to write fiction than to tell the the darkest, most painful truths. I like happy endings. I don’t know if this story had one. Won’t know that until I get Home someday.

I had a brother. He was younger than me. He isn’t here now. He took my childhood with him when he left. Some days I hate him. Mostly I miss him. I didn’t post his photo on National Sibling Day, but I still love him. I didn’t post my sister. I love her, too. She’s brought a lot less drama to my life. Bless her for that.

Share a story today. If there’s a story lurking in the darkness, drawing shadows and casting fear, give it words. Salt it with tears. Take away some of its power by letting someone else know it’s in there. Don’t let it melt holes.

And if you don’t have someone close to share with, email me. Or post it here. I listen better than I share. I promise.