He Gives and Takes Away – a Poem

He Gives and Takes Away
Thoughts on the Book of Job, the parable of the barn, and Writings of Richard Foster

By Jane Tawel

April 26, 2015

God Gave. . . . . . .

I clutched on tight.

Health.
Then Cancer.

Spouse.
Then Betrayal.

Job.
Then Dismissal.

Children.
Then Distance.

Thoughts.
Then Confusion.

Life.
Then Death.

And I Cried Out:
I Can’t Hold On Anymore.

God Reminded me,
Jesus Taught you to Pray.
“Give me”.

I looked at my hands holding on so hard,
Tight red palms, callused fingers clutching on
To Everything I love.
To Everything I want.
To Everything I need.

I don’t want to let go, I whispered.
I Love.
I Need.
I Must.
I Will.

God Reminded me,
Jesus Taught you to Pray,
“Not my will — Yours”.
My hands hurt.
My heart beats not in my throat
But in my grasping hands,
My heart pounding
With the fear of letting go.
My heart is in my hands.

God Reminded Me,
Jesus Taught you to Pray.
“Deliver me”.
Where your heart is, there is your treasure.
(Oh, Ugh! I didn’t mean to jog down this street. Oops. I am gonna walk in the other direction because I need to get to my home and figure out how to keep my job, how to debate my spouse, how to keep my insurance, what to make for dinner tomorrow, how to talk to my child, how to plan my day, how to tell her no, how to get better, what to take, how to get that, and get that, and keep this, and keep that, and not let them know, and tell them, and tell them, and own, own, own, and own, and do it just do it, and keep thinking it through, and never have another moment’s worry. I gotta get there.)

I heard a Voice,
“Hold things lightly.”

Oh my God.
I can’t.
Everything will slip away.

God reminded me:
Jesus taught you to pray.
“On earth, as in heaven.”
“In your little scared hands, hold on only
To what was in My Son’s hands on earth.
Our Big Scarred hands will hold all the Rest for you.”

The centrifugal force of my Rest-less spinning self is throwing me outward propelling me toward the Black Hole of Holding while my hands clutch at the un-tethered, floating flotsam of Stuff. Just stuff I’ve been holding onto for some time now.

Jesus taught me to Pray:
“Forgive me. “

“And oh, my God, if I let go,
Please don’t let me float away.”

“Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep.”
God Gives.
God Takes Away.

I open my hands and All I am holding -on to,
begins to drift lightly upward
like many little feathers.

I will walk Home
With hands wide open.
“Naked I came, and naked I will go.
He gives and takes away.”
Bless not me, Bless Him.

And if I ever lose my hands
Bless the Lord oh my soul.

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A Very Long Discourse on Cliches, Tea, Names, Getting Older, Hair Color, and of course, my main Man, Jesus

A Very Long Discourse on Cliches, Tea, Names, Getting Older, Hair Color, and of course, My main Man, Jesus

April 18, 2015

By Jane Tawel

I have come up with a fun game. Okay, it is a fun game if like I, you are a nerdy word person. What you do is, you think of a cliché that describes you or your family, and then you write about why it describes you. Ready? Here goes –

  1. “A Rose by Any Other Name”. When I was in my self-obsessed twenties, I decided to finally act on my hatred of my plain Jane name and change my name to Caitlin, which at the time was completely unique. The joke was on me as the name Caitlin or Katelyn became the most popular girl’s name for about the next decade in America. Meanwhile the name Jane was seldom heard anymore. Changing my name did not change me, or make me more or less special. Some of my friends though still call me Cait, and that makes them special to me.

My husband has lived in opposite world in terms of his names. Jane Cook met Raoul Tawel and a new unique world began and soon exponentially multiplied to include a passel of unique little Tawels. I wanted to give each of my children unique and special names. Someone once suggested with a last name like ours we should have just named them all “Terry”.

  1. “Old enough to know better”. I am trying to find ways to adjust to how old I am and who that makes me. I think I have a difficult time growing old because I am basically an immature person. I have decided in a radical act of feminism and some obscurely personal sense of Jesus-ism to let my hair color grow out and go grey, but this is difficult not only because as my orange hair grows out, I look like this —

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but because pretty soon I will look like this —

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People in America (and definitely folk living in Los Angeles, America), are very prejudiced against old women. I have spent several years deluding myself that blonde hair essentially tricks people into thinking I am still twenty-five. I assume I will look more unique when I grow grey in the LaLa Land of “She’s the blonde one, no not that one, no not that one, nope, not that one either.

Old men do not need to worry about POO (Prejudice Of Oldsters) because old men still rule the world. When we lived in Glendale, I once commented to Raoul’s Armenian hair cutter, “Esther, My husband has great hair”. Esther, not quite understanding my strong Midwestern accent and ever protective of the male species, thought I said “My husband has GRAY hair”. She vehemently lit into me, “No, yoor hoosband has beeeoootiful Seelver hair. Eet ees not grrrrray! Eet ees seelver!”

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I can bet you 50,000 Armenian drams that when and if Esther ever sees me again, she will not call my grey hair, beeeeeoooootiful and seeeelver! For Esther like so many others, I will be that old grey haired lady. It doesn’t matter that Esther is quite a bit older than I, she still dyes her hair. So it doesn’t count.

Now maybe if I were Jamie Lee Curtis or Emmie Lou Harris I would be “seelver” haired and still hot. But I don’t know who I am as a woman if I am not sexy, cute, pretty, and thin/blonde/wrinkles-less. How do I relate to other people?

My daughter Verity tells me that it is trendy now for young people to dye their hair grey. Well, when you are young, you can dye your hair blue, grey, purple, construct a dress out of a paper bag paired with black tights, and wear banana peels for shoes and you still look cute, pretty and sexy. When you are not young, you are no longer admired for how you look so much as how you manage. The five life stages of looking good: 1. Look good buck-naked. 2. Look good in a bikini. 3. Look good in jeans. 4. Look good in loose fitting clothing or Muumuu’s. 5. Look good in a casket.

As for me, I am trying to figure out who that person in the mirror this morning is going to be when she grows up. Hopefully pretty soon I will not just be old and grey and slack, but I will truly be old enough to know better.

  1. “Too big for her britches” This is what my skinny jeans said to me this morning.
  1. “Doing it by the book” This is always true for me as I refuse to watch the movie.
  1. “Not everyone’s cup of tea”. If you came to the Tawel household and observed our family’s afternoon tea making ritual, you would see six different kinds of cups, with six different types of teas, and six different amounts of milk / sugar / or honey in them. The “Tawels Six” are just kinda hard to group or standardize. I remember a friend remarking after a Tawel party once, “you have very eclectic friends.” I think this was meant to make me feel better after the argument that escalated almost to physical blows at the party between some of our said “eclectic” friends. Actually, the next time we hosted a party, both of the arguing friends wanted to make sure the person of the other political persuasion was not going to be there.

The Tawel family has been called “different”. Synonyms for the word “different” include: contrasting, offbeat, particular, peculiar, colorful, a far cry from, odd, otherwise, unalike, mismatched, like day and night…”

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`Having grown up in the somewhat homogenous Middle West, where we were if not in fact all a lot alike, we were expected and groomed to be alike, I was overjoyed to realize that each of my four children came into the world incredibly different from each other and absolutely unique. They are each “their own cup of tea”. I am also more and more thankful for the family and friends who have learned to enjoy and sometimes love the “Tawel Teas”. Thank you. I know we are not everyone’s cup of tea. Especially Caitlin.

I hope you have fun playing “The Cliché Game” with your significant others. (Currently in Trademark negotiations with Some Very Important Persons.) (That is a lie.) Be careful though; I have found that very few in my close circle of Tawels are happy with the clichés I assign us. Your family may feel the same. No one wants to be a cliché, which is why the game is more about redefining your clichés than living into them. Cliches, as a rule, should not be a guide for writing your life story.

The number one rule of a good writer, is “Don’t write in clichés”. The second rule is write vivid characters. Where we sometimes go wrong with our lives and maybe where we have gone wrong with God is in wanting to keep His words and The Word, Jesus, and our stories as humans, in safe little clichéd compartments.

We tend to cliché God when we are justifying something we have done or when we are arguing against something we don’t like. For instance, when we don’t want to see sin as sin, or when we are too afraid to speak the truth in love, or too lazy to fight for something worth fighting for, we cliché God by saying, “God is Love”. But if you read life stories about real people like Ananias and Sapphira, or Lot, or Moses, or the early Hebrews, or how The Father’s love looked with God’s only begotten Son, you have to come to the conclusion that we cannot compare God’s love to anything remotely clichéd about Love.

If you are so angry you could smite someone and therefore, you box God into the “God is a Just God” box, then you better take a hard look at God’s weird and radical kind of justice. Take Adam and Eve, or King David, or Cain, or Peter or Paul for instance.

If I am trying to make God into a cliché, then I am making Him into the god of my desires and that is worshiping a false idol. The God of the Bible, of the created universes, of the sun and the stars and the flowers and the elephants and the ants, and the God of you and me, is a God so unique we will need eternity to begin to understand one little quark of who He is. It is why immersing ourselves in His story is so important.

Living, like writing, has rules. If we follow the instructions, we make the story of our lives Good. Just like God when He is creating, we want to look at the unique but well ordered creation of a life well lived and say, “It is Good.”

The Bible is full of characters who have followed the instructions and allowed God to help them write the story of their lives. The first rule of living in The Good Book, is “Love God for who He is and not as the cliché you wish He were”. The second rule is like unto it, “Love your neighbors (spouse, child, boss, friend, enemy, self) as the vivid characters they are and not as the clichés you would like to make them, and do this in the same way you want to be loved for the person you uniquely are”. Because (even though I’m breaking a grammar rule here)– Nobody is not God’s cup of tea.

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We are all made in God’s image, hence, there are no human clichés. But that makes for some hard choices in life as we deal with other humans. It means everyone is worthy of grace. That terrorist is worthy of redemption because he is not a clichéd “terrorist”. He is a singular human being that God created and that our non-clichéd God, loves. Hard to stomach? Yes, it is. I am personally terrorist intolerant and have a hard time digesting God’s word on how to love my enemy. But reread the Tanahk – nothing older or newer about God’s Truth.

We have gotten so good at isolating ourselves with gadgets and gates and isolating “the other” with prejudice, anger and fear. We have become the ones who walk away from and pay for the good Samaritan services of someone else. But in guarding our societies and denominations, we have stopped seeing each other as the eternally confounding special souls that each human is. That homeless person is not a clichéd bum, but a child of the Unique God, Yahweh. That Wall Street stockbroker is not a money changer but a little girl who needs a Daddy. That nation of individuals will someday get the justice it deserves because it is not a clichéd super power but because it is a group of individual souls who will be judged by the cliche-bending King who rode a donkey and died on a cross for His worthless subjects. God took worthless dust and made it into worthy sons and daughters of God. The Triune Godhead has worked throughout history to make men and women write the stories we are worthy of living because we are created to be like He is — special. If we choose violence, and hatred, and evil, and indifference, we are the ones who choose to be common, not special. “For men love darkness”, but God has called us to come into the light and stand out as super stars.

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God was and is so absolutely unique that Moses (talk about an idiosyncratic person!), had to ask God about Himself, “Okay, god of my peeps the Israelites, who You be, dude? I mean, like, nameless god, like, okay, I’m going to Egypt where the gods have cool names that describe them, like Ra = Sun god, and Aah = Moon god, and Ishtar = god of war and sexuality (that should have told the Egyptians something right there, same god for both of those?!?!?!) But you, oh god of my homies the Hebrews, what choo be da’ god of, man?” “So”, Moses says to his god, “what’s your name?”

I honestly think Jehovah, God must have been laughing His head off (a really bad cliché for God, okay, but you get the picture). I mean, God was stumped, He’s thinking, like, “How do I tell this guy. I don’t really have even anything like what this human considers a “name”. I mean, I’ve never been put in this position before. Adam and Eve, nope, they didn’t need a name. Abraham, he was good living outside the clichéd names. But Moses, wow, for someone who doesn’t even plan on doing the talking, this guy wants a name?!”

But God is Love, the weird kinda love that answers Need if not necessarily Want, and so God lovingly answers His creation’s need and gives Moses a name. God reaches down to Moses’ level and levels with the human as best in His infinitude that God can. “Yo, Mo-mo, Catch this, my man. Y’all can tag Me, “I Am”.

Try to cliché that answer, folks.

I love it. Moses goes up against a list of named gods like nobody’s business. I mean those Egyptians had gods not just for big clichés like justice, war, destiny, and joy, but they had gods for cats, frogs, and cows. They actually had two different gods’ names for hippos, go figure! Okay, I can’t help it, they had a centipede god called Sepa. Worship that god and see how far that gets ya’, okay? (I call on the great god Centipede to save me from my sins and to cure cancer!) So off go Moses and Aaron to the Egyptians, and they are like, “Okay we aren’t doing the tit for tat thing here. Youse guys got a thousand named gods, and we’re like totally bringing to the table, one god…. Who…. okay, uh, uh, um (Moses starts his nervous stutter thing here so he looks at big bro Aaron, who kinda shrugs not feeling his game yet.) um, uh, okay, bear with me here, (Aside: thanks a lot Aaron). I DID ask Him for His name, and here it is, ‘kay? Ready. You can call our Hebrew god, “I Am”.”

Those Egyptians were laughing their heads off…..all the way til the frog gods started falling from the sky and the war gods killed all the firstborns. They were laughing til the centipede gods started crawling in their cat gods’ kitty litter. The Egyptians were living the clichéd good life all the way until the Hebrew slaves got outta Dodge and the “river ran through it (them)”.

Then “ I Am” didn’t seem so quaint.

I Am. When you share your name with someone, you are no longer a stranger. Knowing someone’s name gives you a piece of the puzzle of that person. When Jehovah, gave us a name, He gave us an endless paradox. On the one hand, I Am elevated Himself beyond any words that could describe who He is. But He also humbled Himself, by stooping to our need and using our language so we could have a miniscule understanding of His essential self. In the same way God would later humble Himself and give Himself the name, Jesus.

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The name Jesus wasn’t unique back then but was sorta like naming your kid, Bob. Or Jane. But Jesus never needed to reinvent Himself because He knew His unique place in God’s story. The name Jesus means “God Saves”. As the present body of Christ, we also bear the name “God Saves” when we call ourselves “little Christs”. We are the little “anointed ones” to live in the unique image of Jesus. No matter what we are called; no matter what our talents are; no matter what our inborn personality; no matter what our ingrown problems; we are created especially in God’s one- of- a- kind- in -each -of -us image. That’s how big Yahweh is.

The Great I Am decided against all odds, not hedging His bets, taking one for the team, going the long way around, going the distance, (get it? Clichés?) – He chose to not only trust His creation with Himself but to trust his created people with telling His Story through our own broken, special lives (Yeah, special as in Special Needs every one of us!). God entrusted us with His image and His story, even though we had time and time and time and time and time and time and time again, proved ourselves untrustworthy. And because The Great I Am has trusted us with His essential self, one of the commands that is given to teach us how to write our life stories well, is the instruction that we should not abuse the power, the grace, the mystery, or the love of the name of I Am. That is what the Egyptians do, not Yahweh’s chosen Bride. I use God’s name in clichéd vain to my peril and also to my loss.

There are very good rules given in the most un-cliched book ever written —Rules for good writing in the individual soul and on the world’s collective soul. Jesus came as The Word. We humans had already tried over and over again to make God and His Story, a list of mealy-mouthed clichés. So Jesus came to live our story as it is meant to be lived. Jesus lived a God-as-protagonist life and preached the Good News of new metaphors; metaphors turned upside down to illuminate the objects around us and reveal The Image in each of us. And God took a new name to give us what we Need and ultimately what we Want. When God took the name Jesus, He knew that though it might seem to be a pretty common name, some day at that unique name, every knee will bow.

Each day I have to ask myself, am I playing The Cliché Game? Am I taking the easy clichéd way out? And I don’t just mean my writing. I mean my life. If I am made in I Am’s image, Am I living a life in which being and beings are more important that doing and doings? Or am I living a cliché?

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If you really want to be unique, be a person of Hope. You know the difference between Joe Schmoe and the great world changers? World changers have hope – usually against all odds.   People who have hope in Someone bigger than their common-ness re-make the world in His holy image. When the rest of the world has chosen defeat or violence or hiding in fear or racism or hatred or disinterest, the hopeful ones like Abraham, Joshua, Joseph of Egypt, Ruth, Esther, Ghandi, Martin Luther King, Schindler, ten Boom, Mother Teresa, John Wesley, — those kind of people choose hope. Then they just keep putting one hopeful foot in front of the other until the miraculous occurs. These heroes of hope, believe that the world despite all appearances to the contrary, might change; hope heroes keep the hope alive that the world can be re-newed. That is the uniqueness that hope brings. Otherwise these extraordinary people who become the peaceful, healing hopers of history, are no different than you and I; they put on their pants one leg at a time just like you and I do. Well, all of them except maybe Ghandi. This is Ghandi wearing pants:

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Side note: My first born Justine sort of looked like Ghandi when she was born. She had jaundice so she had Ghandi’s skin hue for a while and her limbs were kinda spindley and she was pretty bald: Seriously,Can you tell which of these pictures is of Ghandi and which is of Justine? I can’t.

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How unique would I be in this world if I were a person of hope? Imagine how Hope could change your life? Apply hopefulness rather than hatred to your attitude about your job. Apply hope to your relationships. Apply hopefulness instead of criticism to your church. Apply Hope to your children. And if you can’t apply hope, then walk the opposite way. At least for a little while.  I mean it, if you aren’t able to hope in that situation, then get out of it. Let someone else who is uniquely gifted to apply hope there, barge in, while you go find what you are uniquely called to apply hope to. You may have to isolate yourself on a figurative mountaintop for a while to restore hope, but do it. Unlike Love or Faith, there is nothing you can do or must do. Hope is like a bird – don’t try to catch it and don’t ask it to teach you to fly. Find your sense of hope in the Lord of Lords and King of Kings, and use it for Good. Only then can the prophet Isaiah’s word be true in your life; only then can you run again without fainting and maybe even fly. But those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint. (Is. 40:31)

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Emily Dickinson, never one for clichés wrote a great poem about hope. As I get older, hope has had to take on a different hue, just like my hair. I no longer “hope” for A’s or that “the guy” will call, or that I will get the “thing”, or that I look hot, or that “they” will choose me. Hope is no longer a possibility based on the chimera of the stuff of youth. I am old enough to know better. Of course, if I were a revered wise elder, what I would tell the young people is: Even when you are as young as you are, my darlings, Hope doesn’t depend on anything you are or can do. Hope is the thing with feathers.

There is an old hymn with a metaphor that never grows cliched: “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness. I dare not trust the sweetest frame but wholly lean on Jesus’ name. On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand; all other ground is sinking sand.”

What foundation am I building my life upon? Am I building it on the same clichéd foundation that this world of more -of -the- same super corporation brand names is building it on in order to have a prefabbed life behind a security gate? Or am I building a life on the Kingdom Rock, in order to be constructed by the Master Builder strong enough to last for eternity.? Am I longing to be that uncommon, peculiar person whose life is a metaphor in the making?

Jesus took common things and blessed them. He offers to take common old Jane, common old Amy, common old Verity, common old Susy, common old Raoul, common old Bill, common old Caitlin, common old us, and make us something special. God laid down His extraordinary life so that the theme of my story could be built around the common Son of man with a common name who shed his common blood to save common cliched old me. When I make my story, His story, then life is Pulitzer Prize Beautiful. Hope in the Christ, means a life in which ashes are exchanged for beauty,  and in which normal is exchanged for extraordinary. And grey becomes great.

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I hope that with age, will come the wisdom and hope that I need to trust that if God can love and delight in the wonderment of a common, useless bird, then He loves me enough to take the clichés of my life and write His unique story in the margins. It may not look like much to any one else; it may not seem like much to me, but I pray I am old enough not to know any better and to hope in the “things unseen”, unimagined! that God is doing in the world and has in store for the rest of my eternal years.

Living well at any age is not about looking forward to shedding this corporal body and going to heaven to be with Jesus; it is about enjoying today spent living in Christ’s kingdom on earth as it will be and is in heaven. We are called to be the peculiar, unique people of I Am. (I Peter 2:9) Not because we are anything special, but because God is. God must be peculiar – He loves you and me, doesn’t He? We are both created as God’s special cups of tea.

As a Christ follower, getting old isn’t a cliché about its “beating the alternative”. Getting older is getting better at living the alternative. The privilege of growing old together with I Am is that I can still skin the cat on the monkey bars of life, full of hope and the knowledge that even if I fall, even if I break a hip, Hope is still singing and keeping my cold old arthritic limbs warm. And that is what “doing it by The Book” is all about.

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –

That perches in the soul –

And sings the tune without the words –

And never stops – at all –

And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –

And sore must be the storm –

That could abash the little Bird

That kept so many warm –

I’ve heard it in the chillest land –

And on the strangest Sea –

Yet – never – in Extremity,

It asked a crumb – of me.

— Emily Dickinson

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“For His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He’s watching me.”

No Do Overs, No Take Backs

No Do Overs, No Take Backs
April 7, 2015
By Jane Tawel

I have to start with the visuals first this time:

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This is a picture of Raoul taken at a Trade Show he attended and at which he was roped into somehow being the pool ball holder for a magician’s act. Good thing neither I nor our dentist were there. We both would have been screaming. My kids will tell you, I am easily made to scream.

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These are pictures of my children:

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This is a picture of me…..

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Okay, now answer this: One of these things is not like the others. Which one?

Answer: It is the picture of me.

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In all of the other pictures the beloved ones seem to be doing vastly different things, but they are all doing one thing that is the same. They are all  risk –taking. I am not. Notice, I may be on an extremely dangerous vehicle, but I have one foot firmly planted on the ground and I am looking straight at the protective parent taking the picture. I am grimacing a little to make sure I am taking the moment of risk seriously enough. My knuckles are white from gripping the handlebars (okay, granted it’s a black and white photo but my hands are clutching hard.)  No risk taking from this girl (okay, maybe I was taking a fashion risk in this picture.)

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I am not at heart a risk taker. RISK in my lexicon is an acronym for Really Insane Stupid Kidstuff.

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When I was a little girl I used to have wonderful dreams that I could fly. I wasn’t scared at all and I would fly silently, calmly over fields and back yards completely at peace. Now that I am grown up I have an absolute terror of flying in that tin can thing you call a plane. And I no longer dream of flying. Dreams when we are asleep are funny, aren’t they? They are not always what they seem. Kinda like when we are awake real life dreams. Nightmares are something else.

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I have two recurring nightmares. I remember reading long ago that people tend to have the same nightmares and that these nightmares tell you something important about what you fear. I’m going to trust you all now with the very intimate details of my subconscious. My first recurring nightmare is: I am on stage in a play but I do not know my lines. I either did not take the time needed to memorize my lines or I did not know I was going to have to do this part in the play. Those of you who, as I do, love to analyze dreams are going- to- town on this already. Second dream: I am either in one of the old fashioned slips we used to wear under our dresses before modesty became the dodo of virtues. Or I am stark naked. It gets worse. I am on the toilet. It gets worse. People keep walking by me, either talking to each other or (it gets worse), talking to me. And the people talking to me seem oblivious that I am naked on a toilet. This obviously is not an irrational fear. It is very, very rational to fear sitting on a toilet naked with people using your stall as a thoroughfare. This is not something you should try at home.

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I do have what may be considered by you risk takers as slightly irrational fears. I fear heights of any kind. I dislike balconies and ladders for this reason. I fear germs. I am obsessive compulsive about which item I take from a grocery shelf (never the first one) and even though I am slightly afraid of walking up or down stairs (heights) I do not hold on to the banister (germs). I am afraid of unexpected earthquakes (not irrational) and of the ache in my left shoulder (could it be???). I fear my children walking out the front door where I cannot see them any more (not irrational).

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Where and when I grew up, risks were associated with sins. Risk takers were pretty much sinners across the board. Smoking in a deserted lot’s bushes = risk = sin. Trying a beer at a Junior High party = risk = sin. Petting with your boyfriend = risk = sin. See what I mean? As a parent, I get it now. Smoking kills you and smoking in a bush could start a city-wide fire and they could catch you and imprison you for arson. (From my father, I get the “worst-case -scenario syndrome”. We never think “What’s the worst that could happen?” We KNOW what is the worst that could happen and we will be happy to tell you what that is. (Child of mine, If you eat that piece of popcorn and don’t chew thoroughly, you could break a tooth on the kernel and then choke on it and die. Here, let me chew it for you first.)

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When I was growing up, risk takers / sinners were not a big concern because they were going to hell. And you weren’t. And if you weren’t a Christian, then we would give you a tract and tell you how to avoid hell by not sinning anymore and then you were on our team. Either that, or risk takers were missionaries.  They were on our team.

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We are all on one team or another. You are born into a team, and then in America sometimes you choose to join a different team when you grow up. Americans are madly, passionately in love with their teams. Sports teams especially. In America, we start this faux team thing pretty darn early in a kid’s life. I mean Raoul and I have been there, splitting up our Saturdays so one of us could be at one of the four soccer games, two tennis matches, or one racquetball game that one of our kids was playing in. And just like every other American parent, we took these games and teams very seriously. The stakes of a five year old winning are very high, let me tell you. Because when you (actually your kid, but it feels like you) are out there in front of everyone, taking The Big Risk, you have to be a winner, even if you are a loser. And since none of the parents sees their kid as a loser, and depending on the age of the players, you either blame the other team, blame the refs, or decide that everyone always gets to win. Hence, the Trophies for Trying. We encourage our children to take a risk, but we don’t really want them to suffer the consequences if the risk doesn’t pay off in their favor. Speaking of Mike Pence and Indiana—

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Politicians are NOT real risk takers. The politicians throughout history who took big risks are mostly assassinated by now. Politicians don’t even run for office any more unless they have polled the entire population of the USA and part of Southern France to see if they are electable and if they aren’t yet electable, someone the citizens pay a bunch of moola to will figure out what the politician needs to change in his / her strong and unwavering belief system to win. Then they simply and heart-feelingly change their platform / belief system. Easy peasy.  If he /she loses, the politician blames the other team, sometimes their own team, blames the ref`, or proudly accepts the Trophy for Trying.

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No matter what you think about the issue, Mike Pence the governor of Indiana and the state itself took a risk. (Disclaimer: I claim Indiana as one of my home states. This blog is in no way paid for or endorsed by said home states. I would be happy to let just about any one pay for this blog though, so if you are any of the fifty states that wants to run an ad here, I have space available. I also have space available for an ad from Guam or Russia, which I cannot see from here.) But after the fall- out from Indiana’s taking the risk, and fall- out almost always means FEAR OF LOSING MONEY, Mike Pence and Indiana wanted to back pedal. I love that phrase – the visual is so good! Have you ever tried back pedaling a bike? How far did you get? That’s right, back pedaling takes you exactly nowhere. I mean, can we look at the great back pedal-er of all time — ole’ what’s his name seven time winner Tour De France guy. My friend Lisa and I used to love this hippy saying: “It just goes to show that where ever you go, there you are.” Lance, Mike, — you pedaled there. There you are. It does just go to show.

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Another sport expression I have come to love is the baseball term: balk. I was fascinated the first time I watched a baseball game when my son, Gordon was playing at the sport, and an umpire called “balked”. I was like turning to everyone around me going, “what? What is that” Balked?” And they are like, yea, the pitcher balked. (Just sayin’ – no one really understands this term. I don’t think even the umpires have to understand it. It is one of those ephemeral terms that completely catches every one off guard. It’s like an umpire makes this random hand movement at the pitcher and everyone is like, “oh, yea, the pitcher balked.” I mean, the pitcher has one little shoulder twitch on the throw and Bam! – disqualified.)

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Definition of balk: an incomplete or misleading motion, especially an illegal move made by a baseball player.

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I mean, I love that. In what other sport or event, are you not allowed to change your mind? I mean even in baseball, a runner can go so far off a base and then change his mind, right? In basketball, feint and shoot. Even in weddings, we have a rule that if any one objects, we can all change our mind and go home. But a baseball pitcher, nope. Once you say you are gonna throw that ball, you gotta throw it. Other wise “BALK!” and you do not get the Trophy for Trying.


I guess in bungee jumping, parachute jumping, and the sport of war, you can’t balk either. I do not participate in these sports for this reason, because when I am being convinced to take up the dangerous sport of walking out on a balcony, I want to be allowed to balk without being disqualified.


Politicians are constantly trying to balk. (So are stockbrokers, movie stars, defense secretaries, parents of toddlers,  and lobbyists). But in most arenas of life, if you don’t have that kind of power, you do not get to balk. If I bake a cake and use salt instead of sugar, I don’t get to balk.(Eat it anyway, family, so what if I used salt, I meant to use sugar.) If I run a red light and kill someone, I don’t get to back pedal out of it. (Although a Prius may look like the unicycle of cars, it is still a deadly machine.) It seems that the powerful and mighty and sometimes, the powerless and foolish people have forgotten one simple playground team rule – No do-overs. No take backs.

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Every once in a while I will be convinced to “go out on a high thing” – like a balcony or a hill top. So I inch out there and then guess what? There I am. I am peering with fearing in my heart, hands and bowels (oh, there’s that other nightmare of mine!) and then I’m stuck. I’ve taken a risk and I can’t back pedal off the high place. I try to inch back but usually there is someone with me, saying “Don’t be afraid. Just look! Isn’t it beautiful?” I’m like yeah, yeah (back pedaling away). And then they lose interest in me and risk their lives on the balcony to see the beautiful sunset or the stars while I’m very wisely keeping my eyes down on my feet on the ground inching backwards to safety.

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To be the best at something you have to take risks. You can’t want the Trophy for Trying. You have to want to do the thing so much, that you are willing to risk your reputation, or your peace of mind, or your pride, or your sense of security, or your “need to know that everything will turn out okay for you”. The problem with teenage or twenty year old brains, is that they, according to the experts, have over- developed risk taking parts, and underdeveloped reality -of -body -vulnerability parts. So they take risks without weighing very real consequences. The problem with old people’s brains, like mine, is we have over- developed “need to feel safe” parts of the brain and underdeveloped, “you aren’t going to die from eating that bite that just fell on the floor” parts of the brain. These are actually in part, positive ways to be wired. Old people are more physically vulnerable and should be careful. Young people need to take risks so they can wrest the world from the old people’s hands and start ruling it themselves.

But in other ways these are negative ways to be wired. Young people don’t weigh the worth of the risk or it’s effect on others or themselves seriously enough.  The thrill is the goal, rather than the goal the thrill.  Old people are so busy protecting themselves, that they won’t take a risk on something worth it — like on justice or speaking out, or walking into the fray, to protect or help someone else. Or maybe just taking a risk to see the stars from the balcony. Old people want to protect what they have rather than experience something they don’t yet imagine.

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There are things worth risking your life for and things that are not worth risking your life for. So as a believer in Christ, I have gotten content in this country at not having to take any risks that are not of my own design and have a legal angle to them if I do get sick or maimed. I mean, when we declared this a Christian country, we were saying basically, whatever you do in America, stays in America; and no more risks needed for you Christians here. That’s when we lost our way. That’s when we lost The Way. Because the greatest risk-taker of all time was Jesus, The Christ. If we are following Him from a safe distant perch, we are not following Him. We are following the Jesus who is on a static, family friendly, television screen in the safe living room of my mind.

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I was made very aware of this when I was listening to the sermon on the last seven sentences (they are really called Last Seven Words, but this always confuses me.)From his last Passover Seder to his last breath, Jesus has gone out on the ledge. He is not only looking over the parapet, but He is hanging on it, hanging by not a thread, but a nail. On his last night in the garden, Jesus did ask His Dad, “Do I have to do it this way? Can you just tell me now, Is there an invisible safety net below that I just don’t see right now? Is it possible to aim for the stars without having to go out on the cross?” And God the Father, said, “Son, you have to go out there and free fall and I can’t tell you whether there is a safety net or not. Do you trust me enough to bungee jump for the world today?”

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And when Jesus was hanging on the cross, I honestly think as a human, he did not know how it would end. He believed in the future resurrection of his body and soul, but right then, in the moments of state execution, in agonizing pain, Jesus did not know how His story would end that day. Jesus had to trust somehow as difficult as it was then,  that The Biggest Risk of All Time was going to pay off. And when Jesus cries, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?!”, I think the Son was saying, “DAD! I thought you were going to do a miracle. I thought you would show all these people that I was your son, that I am the way, the truth and the Winner. I thought you were going to rescue me and them. When? When? When? I don’t see any safety net down there.” Jesus risked it all. He did not back pedal. He did not balk. He did not ask for do-overs. He did not say “Take backs”. He actually believed that God was able “to do immeasurable more than even Jesus could imagine.” Jesus simply said, “Ok, I’m jumping, free falling and into your hands, I commend my spirit, Dad.”

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And if you still don’t believe Jesus was the Uber-risk taker of all eternity,  he trusted his life and in fact, the salvation of the whole world,  to his “safe on a perch” followers. Jesus wasn’t throwing the ministry die on a bunch of super heroes but on a bunch of wooses. He risked his whole mission impossible on a small band of motley folk most of whom had already run away and hidden from the risk of following him. I mean the disciples most of them, at that point, were like pushing Jesus out of the plane door without a parachute, saying, “Just go ahead, Jesus, we’ll follow you after you jump, IF YOU LIVE.


Jesus risked it all on scaredy- cat, non-risk taker, safe in my living room with my popcorn and “Modern Family”, balking, back-pedaling me.

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Do you know what risks our church family is taking throughout the world right now to claim Jesus as their crazy, free falling King? 21 Coptic Christian Martyrs. Kenyan students. Palestinian priests. Mexican mothers.

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There are a lot of people who serve the powers of this world and who risk their lives because they love an experience, they love a thrill, they love speed, or power, or money — and they gamble their lives on a love that is short-lived and self-concerned. But there are some who believe that the biggest risk we take daily is to continue to follow Jesus  and that the biggest danger of all is to not take a risk on an invisible kingdom with Jesus as President. What is it like to truly live for and with a King unafraid of the pain of a whip, the nakedness in a crowd, the height of a cross, the forgetting of the rest of the psalter  lines after “Why?”, the depth of a hell, the claustrophobia of a tomb, or the uncertain continuance of a legacy. There are those who believe with their whole beings, that Jesus is still A King worth following into the battle of the ages, with nothing with which to hide our nakedness but righteous love, nothing with which to calm our fears but God’s grace.


Jesus risked it all for  the only things that are worth loving— His holy, righteous, all powerful, all loving Father. And His dysfunctional, needy, sinful, longing for thrills non-super-heroes, family.

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When I was listening to those final seven sentences of his this weekend and imagining Christ on the cross, what I thought when the pastor kept saying that Jesus did this all for you, is “Jesus, you were an idiot. How could you be so stupid as to do that for me?” Would I risk going out on a balcony to save my own child? Yes, Justine, Clarissa, Verity and Gordon would be worth any risk I would need to take to save them, because they are mine, right? I love them with the love of a parent. Parenthood whether you are birthing or adopting, begins with risk and involves risk every single day there after. Would I risk going out on a balcony for a seventy year old gay prostitute who is dying of AIDS? Would I take a risk by laying down my weapon and turning the other cheek for a radical terrorist who just blew up my brother?  Would I “go out on a limb” like Jesus let himself be nailed to a limb, for me? I mean I know me and all the evil I have done in my life and if I was asked by God to die for me, I would back pedal like crazy.  I would ask for do overs.  I would say,   Not a chance. She is not a risk worth taking.

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Am I willing to take risks for Love today? Am I willing to deny myself whatever “drug” of choice I am using to numb the small pains – and I don’t mean Advil, you know what I mean by “drug”. Am I willing to turn the other cheek and risk having both cheeks bruised by not responding with anger or gossip or the giddy pleasure of mean-ness? Am I willing to speak the truth in love, seek the truth in love, and live the truth in love, without back pedaling to be politically correct or God forbid, liked and nice? Am I willing to lose some money on Pascal’s wager? Am I willing not to know my lines or even what part I am playing in the play because I know that God wrote the script and Jesus is the protagonist? Am I willing to take a risk not knowing the end of my story today, because I know the end of The Story? Am I willing to lose the world, and gain the soul of Christ?

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This picture is of course not me, but is of my daughter,  dare devil  (dare angel?) Clarissa. When I first saw it, I thought her hands were like that because she was pretending to fly.  She told me actually they are like that because she was afraid her fingers were going to get blown off by the force of the wind.

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Jesus has given us everything we need to live in His kingdom.  In Matthew 25, the parable of the talents, He calls us to use everything we have to give God interest on His investment.  Even if it means risking reputation, money, friends, family or our lives.

Am I willing to take my foot off the floor of this world, and free fall into the Kingdom of Christ?  I might get hurt. I might have my pride assassinated. I might lose the election or the job.  I might not get that new thing because I don’t  have enough money. I might be embarrassed and feel naked. I might lose a friend. I might even die.

Or, I might fly.

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I might see The Star and be brave enough not just to look at it from my balcony, but to follow it to the manger.

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I think I already have too many Trophies for Trying on my shelf. Right next to all the Bibles. And tracts.

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I think it’s time to risk losing.  For what does it profit a woman if she gains the world safely, but loses her soul by keeping both feet on the ground?

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I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. I took the risks. I let go of the guard rail. I took  my eyes off the ground and put them on the cross. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, the trophy of Christ’s winning team, the treasure of the cosmos, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing. (2 Timothy slightly paraphrased)

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This is a picture of me in Godspell taking a risk at the top of the pyramid.  Notice my brothers and sisters holding my hands and supporting me.  That’s the beauty of risk taking with Jesus.  He gives you other risk takers to hold your hands.  And just like the picture of Clarissa parachuting, Jesus always has your back.

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The Little Red Hen, “Round up”, and Weeds – A Good Friday Meditation

The Little Red Hen, “Round Up”, and Weeds

A Good Friday Meditation on April 3, 2015

By Jane Tawel

I think I could write a whole blog series about things I hate. I’m not so sure I could write more than a couple posts about things I love. Wow. What does that say about me? I think it says that I am cultivating violence more than I am peace; anger more than I am joy; despair more than I am faith; and oh, yeah, duh, hate more than I am love. I think it means my hope cup is half empty – maybe three-quarters empty? Speaking of cultivating–

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One thing I hate is gardening. I do have friends whose solace and creativity are best experienced in their gardens. I admire their handiwork and their ability to turn off their brains in the natural world. One reason I still run most mornings and run alone is because I have to work really hard at making my body turn off my brain. Running has always helped me do that. Walking – nope. Too slow to outrun that tricky brain of mine. Working out at the gym –nope, too many people sweatily surrounding me that I can envy or criticize there.

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I run in the mornings and the earlier the better. If you are older, like I, you will know what I mean when I say that my brain tends to wake up before I do. About 1:00 am, sometimes 2:00 am, my brain says: “Good morning, sweetie, you can try to keep our body sleeping but I have some distressing things to worry about so don’t mind me if I churn along in here, negotiating world peace and fixing all your kids.” You know that movie about the famous smart guy whose body doesn’t work but his brain does? Well, I am like, excuse me?! but what is the big deal with that? Isn’t that true for all moms? I mean, does anyone want to do a movie about my useless body at 2:00 am with a mind running along like the fictitious bullet train of California?!?!? (By the way, if anyone out there does want to do a movie about that? – Have I got a deal for you. I am very cheap.)

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Most of my friends who love gardening, hate running. Hmmmmmmm…….

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I hate gardening because I hate weeding. Weeding does nothing to relieve my stress but is simply a working metaphor for what my brain has been doing since 2:00 am. “A-HA! Here’s a new weed for you, Jane Karen!”(Both Satan and God tend to use my childhood name a lot.) And I’m like, “Brain of mine, didn’t we pull that very same weed just yesterday?” I’m sure of it. It’s the same dang weed!
Definition of a weed:( noun) A plant considered undesirable, unattractive, or troublesome, especially one that grows where it is not wanted and often grows or spreads fast or takes the place of desired plants.

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That definition of weeds is exactly why I hate gardening — and thinking. Weeds take the place of desired plants. Weeds are unwanted, undesired, unattractive, troublesome and show up where and when they are not wanted. That is the exact same definition of worry. And irritation. And hateful thoughts. And cellulite, come to think of it.

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When I garden, I have a task in mind. Raoul and I used to joke about how our gardening attitudes reflected our inner attitudes. When Raoul was a little boy, he decided to grow orchids from seeds. I, on the other hand, spent my early years on a farm, surrounded by farmers, who grew stuff to eat, and then to can and eat in the winters. So Raoul is affectionately known as the “Orchid Grower”, and I am known as the “Potato Farmer”.

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I plant practical. Tomatoes, since now it is the only way to get tomatoes that do not taste like a cut- up sales circular. Basil, Cilantro, peppers. You would think it would be easy to plant in Southern California, but not so much. The ground is pretty rocky here, not a lot of top soil in the desert. Also, nothing kills the dang weeds. I mean snow and hard freezes are good for something, right? I don’t mind planting. But before you plant, you have to weed. Actually, before you plant, while you plant, after you plant – weed, weed, weed. Some days, I go out to water my little tomato plants, and you guessed it – the little sneaky sniper squatters are all over the garden, setting up their crummy little squatter tents and trashing up my lovely little farm. If you do not believe me, here is a picture of my tomato farm with obvious weed squatters:

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The exact same thing happens to the garden in my brain. I go to bed with prayer in mind and the minute I turn off the light, the sniper thought shoots a bullet of worry straight to my heart. At 2:00 am I turn over onto my left side and find, “WHOA! Isn’t that the same dang worry that grew on this side last night?!”I wake up in the morning, head to my coffee plantation in the kitchen and yowza – aren’t those the same dirty dishes in the sink from last month? Worry and irritation like weeds is at every turn I make. So I start doing that thing where you think on good things like Paul suggests in Philippians 4:

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Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

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You thought I’d somehow end with this great idea, right? And as a reader, you would be brought ‘round to this lovely sense of peace, faith, hope and joy. But NOPE! Guess again, because the minute I stop meditating on good things, and thinking up all three of the Bible passages I have memorized, I wake up to find the SAME DANG WEEDS!! Because here it is — the truth that we all know –   If I don’t worry about it; If I don’t get upset about that: If I don’t take care of that problem; THEN WHO WILL??? I can guarantee you that I will not wake up today to find all my kids and husband out on my tomato farm weeding it for me! And neither will I find them out there worrying and getting upset about the things they should be worrying about like getting killed in a crosswalk or that person they are dating, or being irritated about what they should be irritated about like that teacher, or being angry about things they should be angry about like global warming and ants – nope, I have to do all that for them.

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But just like the little red hen, I will weed and plow, and worry and get upset, but I will still share my tomatoes and wheat and overwhelming angst with my little chicks. (If however, you are a goat or a cow reading this, the little red hen does not share the fruits of her labor with you! This is where the little red hen veers a bit from biblical teaching but this blog is already running too long so I’ll save that metaphor.

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Okay, now is the point where I talk about all the farming metaphors in the Bible right? You are already thinking of bunches of them with which to counsel me and help me with aren’t you? Please never stop doing that. But here is the thing – no matter what I believe about my garden, no matter how I want to see it, no matter how I care for it or pray for it or love it – there will always, always, always in this world, be weeds. Here is what Jesus says about weeds:

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Matthew 13:29: “No,” he replied, “because while you are pulling the weeds you may uproot the wheat with them.”

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So we don’t take this literally, as if Jesus is saying, don’t get rid of weeds in your garden or bad thoughts in your mind because that would make senseless the rest of everything He said. BUT could it be, that in trying to get rid of weeds and bad thoughts, my focus or intent is wrong, and therefore, I am yanking up good thoughts and good plants as well?

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My husband got concerned when in order to put in my tomatoes this year, I had to rip out a giant swath of mint. If you have never planted it, mint is good like a plant, bad like a weed. Great if you plant it in a pot, but unless you want it to take over your yard, or perhaps your whole city, you plant it with caution. So could the same be said about the “bad” thoughts in my brain?

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I worry about my kids because I love them. I worry about my husband’s health, because I love him. I worry about how much water I am using because there is a drought. I get irritated at other drivers because they are dangerous. I feel hatred toward violence because it kills souls. I get angry at myself and others for being greedy because it is a false idol that gains the world but loses the souls.
When I see weeds in my garden, I begrudgingly get to work on the garden because I want lovely, healthy tomatoes this summer. So when, I get worried, or irritated, or angry, or hateful – I should get to work. If I blindly, forcefully rip out the weeds completely like I did the mint, then there is only arid soil. No good plants either. But if I look at the weed, look at the worry, look at the irritation, and decide, I can remove you without harming good thoughts. If I am careful, discerning, truthful, loving, at peace – then I will not in rash anger Roundup Herbicide my bad thoughts (like I did the weeds in that pesky patch by the driveway with the promise from the Home Depot Gal that nothing will grow there for a WHOLE YEAR! “are you sure that’s what you want?” oh yeah.) But Jesus says, don’t annihilate your whole thought garden and risk losing the important fruit I want you to get, so you can do good garden work in the world. “Jane Karen (my childhood name)”, God says, “I want you to live in shalom, completeness, with the weeds and the wheat. I’ll take care of the garden.”

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And this is what prayer does. Finally, a smidgeon of a reassurance. When my brain wakes up at 2:00 am, I am not supposed to ignore her little weed worries, or say the ABC’s until the angry thought is neutralized, or try to remember if “my cup runneth over” comes before or after “surely goodness and mercy”. I am to let my brain talk with God. And more importantly, I am to try to get my brain to stop talking long enough to listen to God.

Because, here it comes – Jehovah is first and foremost a superior Gardener. Ever since, Eve and her sidekick Adam tried their hands at Roundup Deluxe Weed Killer, any time we think we can do it better, we end up planting weeds and harvesting evil, while ripping up apple plants. We thought we could know good from evil, but only God knows His creation so thoroughly that He can harvest where no one has planted, and discern where weeds are growing without harming the fruit. If God has promised, that someday He will truly recreate the paradisiac garden He intended in the first place, on earth, then surely He knows how to tenderly pull up the weeds of sins in my own life, without harming the fruit of the Spirit.

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So each day, I go out to transform my garden and transform my mind by minute minutes of weeding. It is not ever going to be an overhaul. It won’t ever be over, or complete, or finished. Only Jesus was able to say “it is finished” in this lifetime. And He said it today, Good Friday, when He died for the weedy souls called you and me. He didn’t come in with a giant tiller or a poisonous herbicide, but with a palm-sized nail. Jesus took two nails, and He began digging out the thorns, and brambles, and weeds of our lives, tenderly, lovingly, so as not to annihilate the seeds planted just below the surface of our soul soil. When we accept His living and dying for us and His glorious resurrection and restoration to His throne as we celebrate this weekend, we accept that we are all a growing garden, full of both weeds and fruit, but because of Christ, God looks at our hearts and sees Eden Restored in His Son’s image in us.

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Take time this weekend, to contemplate the weeds of your life, and the fruit. Think on good things and pull a few weeds if you are able – some of them might be really hard to uproot if you have let them grow too long and too big in your life. But prayer helps. Humility helps. And most of all, know that Jesus spent His last night on earth, in a garden with our forefathers and foremothers, his disciples. He spent it in prayer. For us. He prayed for our weeds and our fruit and He knew that with Peter, and John and Mary, He couldn’t risk using his power to rip up their weeds, without endangering the embryonic blossoms of their faith and hope and love. So at 2:00 am I will come to the garden and know that the weeds and the flowers are in His care and ever more tended by His nail scarred hands.

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Today Jesus died for the garden of this earth. He died for the garden of my soul. Silly, little insignificant, worthless, irritable, evil potato farmer me. There is an old song that Andre Crouch used to sing that begins, “How can I say thanks for the things You have done for me.” Usually I don’t want to make things all about me, especially the salvation of the world. But today, I simply look at the little garden patch of my life, and say to the Lord, “how can I say thanks?”

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God, You sent your only Son back down into the Garden, to go out there and help us get rid of the weeds once and for all. Jesus, just like the little red hen, longs to “gather his chicks” and feed them from His crucified body and water them with his drought- resistant blood. All He asks of me, is to let Him into my garden patch. How can I say thanks?