When I was a girl I was a pretty good kid for the most part. In fact, there was only one thing I regularly got into trouble for at school and that was talking too much. The apple doesn't fall too far from the tree, as I learned with my three daughters, who also talked too much in school. My son was the anomaly of the group. His teachers often told me they wished he would talk more, so they could get to know him. I think living in a home with so many constantly-talking girls just taught him to sit quietly and take it in. His turn to chime in always came eventually and he proved himself more than able to hold his own when it did.
A big component of The Torch lies in being able to talk to people and hold significant conversations about what we are doing and why we are trying to do it. I have had zero problem communicating my heart and answering a bazillion questions about it. In a nutshell, I love God, I love this project, I believe God can make a difference in the world through ordinary people like Sarah and Kelly and me, and I will share my thoughts and feelings and plans with anyone who cares to listen. I am just as good at talking too much now as I was when I was a schoolgirl.
Which is why Sunday afternoon took me utterly by surprise. Sarah and I ventured on an impromptu drive out to Brown City to take a look at the truck. Roger had informed me the appliances were in and looking sharp and he was excited for us to see it. Walking inside that big vehicle and seeing for the first time the actual stove and refrigerator and work spaces and shelves and all of it at once completely overwhelmed me. For possibly the first time in my life I was rendered speechless. A plethora of emotions ran through me all at once. I was enveloped by the very Presence of God in a way I cannot describe. I couldn't speak, because I was seeing all the potential Sarah and I have dreamed of for such a long time come to fruition. I could imagine cooking at that stove and passing food through that window. And the thought of blessing people over and over again through the work we can do with The Torch just caused my spirit to soar. I literally had no words at all. I could not think of one thing to say which would adequately describe the impact that moment had on me.
I stood turning and looking and touching (even though Roger didn't want fingerprints on the stainless steel) and turning and looking some more. I heard Sarah talking and commenting to Roger and his wife Anita, but it was like they were far away. Then it got really quiet and I realized Roger was staring at me, waiting for me to say something. And I still didn't know what to say. I think I squeaked out something like, “I love it. It’s beyond what I even imagined it could be.” But I don’t really know. Even that seems inadequate. He looked relieved, though, so whatever I said must have been enough.
I pass a church on my way to work. Well, I pass a lot of churches, but there is one which has drawn my attention repeatedly. They perpetually collect donations on their front porch and regularly hold free clothing and furniture giveaways. They always hold the giveaways no matter what the weather is. And they attract long lines of people. It is a pretty rag-tag crowd which gathers and waits in the rain or snow or heat. I imagine it takes an incredible amount of work to keep up with that project, but they have been doing it for years so I have been told. To me that shows a love of God and an understanding of His commands to us as believers.
I got really ticked off one early one morning when I drove by that church and saw a brand new bright red shiny Ford F-150 parked right in front of the doors where people drop their donations off. The driver was out, prowling through the assorted furniture and clothes and toys and loading up certain items. Really? This society seriously has some of the greediest people I have ever seen. If you can afford a brand new truck, you have no business stopping to steal donations which have been left in good faith for the poor. Disgusting. How selfish can we be? It makes me angry and sad at the same time. What has happened in society to drive people to the point where anything about that man’s actions is okay? I don’t understand how he could do it without some sort of guilt pangs. Yet I do understand.
We live in a society which has drawn some very political lines around poverty. Unfortunately, if you call yourself a Christian and you also try to be a good citizen and stay politically active, you often align yourself with people who blame those in poverty for their situations and you start to feel justified in not helping. I once heard a wealthy pastor cautioning people about helping a poorer family in the church because he felt they had brought their poverty onto themselves and he believed helping them would justify their actions. I have yet to find Scripture to support that attitude. When I was homeless, I had to go through the humiliating process of receiving food stamps. It made me feel so worthless and selfish, but Maddy and I had to eat. A Christian friend posted on Facebook a long and cutting description of the lazy, no-good people who use food stamps - it was one of those posts that makes people feel brave if they put it up and try to get others to share it as well. And boy did the other Christians jump on that “like” bandwagon. I almost deleted them all from my page, but then realized they were doing it out of ignorance and because of the lack of empathy many people who call themselves Christians have for the poor and not as a direct assault against me and Maddy.
“One size fits all” is one of the most ridiculous marketing techniques of all time. In absolutely no area of life does one size EVER fit all. The concept doesn’t even make sense. If I buy a one size fits all t-shirt for each of my four kids it is either going to be to short for Markie or too long for Misty. And those are just my four kids out of the millions of people in the world. That’s also not accounting for taste. None of my four children dresses alike, so if Mom suddenly presented them all with identical t-shirts they might wear them for about five minutes while we were all together, just to patronize me. After that - Salvation Army here we come! One year I made matching sweatshirts for us to wear for Christmas. If you know me, you know I have exactly zero ability to craft, but I worked with a teacher friend of mine and decorated the sweatshirts. Pretty much they wore those bad boys for pictures and that was it. I have to admit, I look back now and wonder, “WHAT was I thinking?” But, it seemed like a good idea at the time.
One size most certainly does not fit all in other areas of life, either, and I don’t think it is supposed to. I treasure the fact every individual is unique in appearance, personality, tastes and life experience. We are strange in the United States, because we proclaim to appreciate concepts like rugged individualism yet for the most part, don’t particularly like people who vary too much from the norm. Usually they are considered weird.
I have spent most of my working life supporting young people with special needs. One of the parts of my job which has challenged me at times is the part where I have to try to teach them to “fit” into society. Because when you really get to know an individual with autism or some other disability you find a person who has a unique outlook on the world with quirks which can actually be charming when you understand them. But they can be considered weird if you don’t, and one of the deepest yearnings teenagers have is to fit in. So we work at cloaking or overcoming quirks so these very special individuals fit into society. And there have been many times that has made me feel very sad, because in order to help them to a certain extent I have to encourage them to deny who they are. And it feels like a I am robbing them of their personalities. Rugged individualism, in reality, is frowned upon as a lifestyle and I think that limits us as individuals and as a collective society.
Well I made a huge Sunday afternoon mistake last week. I went to the apple orchard. Oh my goodness was it ever crowded! On the radio when I was driving home, they were having a debate about whether or not it is too early in the season to go to an apple orchard, since technically it isn’t fall yet. And I thought, “My goodness, I live in America, I can go to the apple orchard whenever I want to!” I went a few times this past summer, I have been there in the winter AND the spring as well. The bad thing about it on Sunday was there are apparently not too many people who feel it is too early for the apple orchard. That place was PACKED.
The beauty of going in the summer was I could roam the grounds pretty much in peace, and finish off my walk with a visit inside the little shop to pick up some fresh vegetables and fruits. I got spoiled. On Sunday pretty much all the produce was sold out and every inch of the trails throughout the orchards was filled with people. I did find myself marveling at the people who were there. Everyone appeared to be having a good time. And so they should, because it was a gorgeously warm, sunny day and they were out enjoying nature, whether they recognized it as that or not.
Occasionally, we need times like that to separate ourselves from reality I think. Maybe that’s why God created nature. Now I don’t buy the malarkey some people put out there when they claim they don’t need church because they are spending time with God when they are in the woods, hunting or hiking or doing whatever they do. I think they prefer being in the woods over being at church and that statement is just a cop-out to excuse themselves from attending church.. But maybe someday I will meet up with an individual whose depth of spirituality is so evident, it proves me wrong. If you really are heading out to the woods every Sunday or every day and meeting up alone with God - amazing things should be happening in your life, because God is not just another commitment. He is powerful and being in His company changes you in ways you cannot hide.
I do think there is value in breaking the routines we face as we spend so much time on our man-made highways and inside buildings. We all need to go outside and enjoy nature sometimes. I was looking at the apple trees at the orchard. They are absolutely brimming with fruit. Isn't it amazing nobody built those apple trees? They were not engineered in a factory and assembled for delivery. They were created by God Who knows how to make a seed sprout and grow into an apple tree which will produce more seeds and fruit for years to come. And if God can do that - He can do anything!
What a week it has been. I started a new job this week. I really enjoy it and am so excited about the opportunities I have with it. Talk about God’s timing. Three years ago I gave myself a three year window and started looking for a job which would allow me to utilize my Masters degree and knowledge. I have applied for well over 100 jobs in those three years and interviewed numerous times. Sometimes it took everything I had to keep my hopes up as I sent off yet another resume or application. Even when I knew I was more than qualified for whatever position I was applying for, the chances of getting an interview are usually quite slim, as I discovered. Then, not quite two weeks before I was getting ready to go back to my job at the high school, I received an email inviting me to an interview for a position I forgot I had applied for.
And so I ended up with a new job, just within the three year time frame I was shooting for. They were a long and difficult three years, but not been a wasted three years. My faith was often stretched to the breaking point. I have grown as a person and have learned to separate respect for myself from my worth as an employee. That is a priceless lesson and one I wouldn't trade for anything.
As I look out the window I can see a forest across the way and amidst the luxurious greens of summer I am beginning to see the yellow and orange and red of autumn peek through. This world is constantly changing and some changes - like as summer slips into fall and fall morphs to winter and winter gloriously welcomes spring leading back to summer - are normal and expected and don’t necessarily feel like changes once you adjust to them. I had to adjust to the seasons, because I grew up in southern California and seasons for me were nothing more than dates on the calendar. I thought the white Christmases Bing Crosby sang about were from the old days, back when the world had snow. Blissful ignorant youth. But now I accept the changing seasons as just a part of everyday life.
There are other changes which are more difficult to adjust to, like when the last child leaves the nest. Hopefully, as a parent, you have other things going on in your life so you don’t fall to pieces and spend the rest of your life trying to over-parent adult children. We do have to back off and trust God with them eventually. Much easier said than done, I know. We have to change as our circumstances and relationships change.
Society changes constantly as well and we consciously and unconsciously adapt to that. I have been thinking a lot about how society has changed the face of Christianity and the Church. Over the course of the past two thousand or so years, God has given men and women the ability see the changes which must happen within certain religious practices in order to keep His Church alive in a world which is rapidly changing and seemingly becoming self-reliant and moving away from traditions of the past. I don’t know of any other book besides the Bible which has endured for over 2,000 years. The presentation has changed, but the message has not changed.
Sometimes, though, I feel sad when I look at this world. I get afraid we are cheapening God by trying to make Him appear convenient and easy. I read an advertisement for an Easter service this past spring - it basically invited people to come join the congregation for a breakfast and then the church service which would be “only an hour long”. Get your breakfast and your God in Easter Sunday morning quick and easy. And if you don’t like what you get at one church, you can always switch to another, because most communities offer a smorgasbord of churches to choose from. Changing churches is quick and easy, like McDonalds, or Burger King, or Wendy’s.