What’s The Surplus For?


Check out this shot from my ‘surplus years’, Visitors.

Chris and me black and white

This portrait was ten years ago. I was 42, and Chris was the picture of brawny health. A mere four years later, heartache of the most enormous magnitude would be forced on me. My kids would lose a terrific dad, the world lost a funny and talented teacher, and frankly, I would lose a pretty smooth life.

I traded it for scarred and resilient children. I traded it for working all the time with a high degree of focussed intensity, and I traded it for some hard won successes.  In recent years, my inner emotional ‘bank balance’ has been getting pretty hefty. EA is going swimmingly, my dad is OK and my kids are making terrific life choices. Life is good, and I rejoice in this stretch of peaceful sailing.

Lately, it seems a though my situation has been an ‘anguish attractor’. I can’t figure it out. For my Christian visitors, one might ask “What is God doing here?”.

Heartache of all sorts has rained down around me. A dear friend is divorcing an addicted and abusive wife, and asked for my help to rent out his house. Another dear,  close friend lost a relative to a freak accident. Another was just hospitalized for a heart  issue, third time this year. Another has a child who was just diagnosed with bone cancer, stage 3. Yet another has joined the absolute legion of folks my age getting rejected by their spouses and enduring a bitter divorce. All have come to me, seeking counsel from me or merely a listening, supportive ear. I am happy to do what I can.

Back when dinosaurs roamed the earth, Chris and I were steered to some wise, Biblically grounded budgeting advice by our pastor. The late Larry Burkett ran a wonderful ministry devoted to helping God’s people learn wise money management according to Scripture. Nearly thirty years later I am reaping what I sowed, and often have a budgetary surplus to share with folks who have less than me.

It occurs to me, Visitors, that surpluses, or ‘extra’ can take many forms. None of my wounded friends are asking me for money, this is Evergreen, after all. But did you ever notice, as time goes on, that the essence of loss is lack?

Ponder that one with me for a minute, Visitors. I lost Chris, the most heartwrenching life experience I’ve had to endure, thus far. In the years he’s been gone, I felt the lack of a friendly companion, a useful partner, a father to these kids, and warm feet under the covers.

The people around me are lacking. Lacking health, lacking loved ones, lacking direction. Our society answers that in curious ways. It frosts my cookies more than I can tell you to listen to the myriad of predators out there who promise the moon to hurting people. I see it with every single hurting situation around me, these days. Take this vacation! Buy these clothes! Eat this product! Use this cosmetic! Do these things and that lack in your soul will be filled! What nonsense.  Listening to these types tell my people that the holes in their souls can be filled by emptying their pocketbooks nearly incites me to violence.

(Perhaps you’ve noticed, Visitors, one thing I lack is tactful diplomacy. My people can’t take this sort of directness. )

See, Visitors, I lost the burning desire to ‘be right’ a long time ago. What drives me now is the desire to be useful. Evergreen Academy is a great example of this. I get the privilege of guiding new parents every day in my job. Most of my clients are self-directed and accomplished, and most are self-aware enough to face their cluelessness head on (My clients are pretty endearing). New parents are easy enough to guide, usually they’re a pretty open bunch.

The newly grieved, though, are an entirely different matter.  The haze of grief is often impenetrable, and is often perceived as permanent. How to be useful to the ones that end up weeping on my shoulder, or slogging through a seemingly endless grief-stricken marsh, like Frodo in Lord of the Rings?

Christian and non- Christian visitors alike, I think the answer to this is found somewhere in the idea of community. Someone I respect once told me that ‘just showing up’ is critical to the meeting of any need. Reaching out in the real and digital domains, a simple “Are you ok? Just checking up on you” enhances the idea that we are not alone, there is a long chain of hands pulling even the saddest of us back from the brink.

I have a surplus of emotional energy now. I’m sure someday that will change, but in the mean time, I’m giving it away. It helps my little community around me, and honestly, it’s the least I can do.

Much love,

Victoria

 

 

 

 

 

“Sex Is Not An Egalitarian Pleasure Party”


 

I  wonder if my kids will recognize innocent lovemaking someday.

I wonder if my kids will even recognize innocent lovemaking someday.

 

Hmm. Well, that one certainly got my attention. Most of you know that my three older kids are in college now, and they all  come back with things that constantly startle and amaze. My older daughter is blossoming into quite a feminist, and is walking a line between frothing rabidness and downright insightfulness. (It’s actually pretty funny, she’s self aware enough to call herself trite. )

Still, I listen to her like I did over lunch today, and can’t quite believe what I hear.  We discussed this issue today. The quote titling my column today came from a two year old column by one Jared Wilson, a blogger for an organization called “The Gospel Coalition.” Mr. Wilson wrote a column for the Coalition entitled “The Polluted Waters of 50 Shades of Grey.” (He has since taken the column down.) In it, he quotes another author -Doug Wilson, who wrote in his book Fidelity: What it Means to be a One-Woman Man:

“Because we have forgotten the biblical concepts of true authority and submission, or more accurately, have rebelled against them, we have created a climate in which caricatures of authority and submission intrude upon our lives with violence.

When we quarrel with the way the world is, we find that the world has ways of getting back at us. In other words, however we try, the sexual act cannot be made into an egalitarian pleasuring party. A man penetrates, conquers, colonizes, plants. A woman receives, surrenders, accepts.This is of course offensive to all egalitarians, and so our culture has rebelled against the concept of authority and submission in marriage. This means that we have sought to suppress the concepts of authority and submission as they relate to the marriage bed.”

Now just sit with me for a second.  I have trouble getting over my revulsion about the words ‘conquers, colonizes and plants.’ Much less the violating implications of ‘surrenders and accepts.’

Rachel Held Evans,  an Egalitarian Christian blogger, barely restrains her wrath from these men. I’ll excerpt what she said shortly.

Apparently, there are labels to be had here. The Gospel Coalition types, as I understand them, call themselves “complementarians.” That seems to mean that they accept Americanized-(italics mine) gender roles as God ordained. Men are in authority over all things, women are to submit.

Egalitarians seem to reject this, and accept roles with more liberality. As far as sex is concerned, it kind of boggles my mind that this is even a debate. Here is what Rachel Held Evans had to say: (rachelheldevans.com/blog/gospel-coalition-douglas-wilson-sex)

According to this post, sex is just another avenue through which a man must exert his authority over woman. As with everything else, the man is the boss and the woman is the subordinate. Wilson contrasts this “God-ordained” relationship of authority and submission to that of an “egalitarian pleasure party,” which I can only assume refers to a sexual relationship characterized by mutual pleasure, mutual authority, mutual submission, and mutual respect—which sounds a lot more desirable to me than being conquered and colonized. 

Now, Ms. Evans continues with lengthly reference to Song of Songs, the first chapter, where she describes the Shulamite woman as going out, finding her husband, and initiating the joy of sex with a willing partner. In First Corinthians 7:3-4 the Apostle Paul also teaches about the mutuality of the marriage bed.

I don’t label myself as anything but Scriptural, but I find myself landing with Ms. Evans on this one. How on earth is there anything but mutuality in the marriage bed, as taught in Scripture? Gracious.

Really, to me, I don’t care for any of this theological bickering, only inasmuch as it applies to the people I love. I must say, though, I am concerned. As my children fly out of the nest, they float through a lot of this relational nonsense. Fortunately for me, I was raised in a household that valued ‘hiding God’s word in my heart’ and not much else. It helped a lot when I met Chris, who had been blown about by all sorts of feel good teaching. None of that helped heal the hole in his heart from an abusive family dynamic. Only leaning on the eternal, unchangeable, healing of God’s spirit set him free.

My prayer for my children, as for you, is that we continue to find solid, baggage-free, Scriptural teaching that is not viewed through the lens of the culture or fad of the day. That we continue to dig through the treasure of Scripture and find out what God has to say about matters of the heart, rather than have someone do our thinking for us.

Biblegateway.com is a great place to start. I have great faith in your ability to think, Visitors,  and Biblegateway has a great parallel feature where you can look up what you are interested in, find several versions of scripture, and start asking yourself the important questions. Then go to your pastor, or write me even, and let’s figure some of this stuff out together.

Love to you all,

Victoria

(Note, Jared Wilson has since apologized for the content of his 2012 column.hegospelcoalition.org/blogs/gospeldrivenchurch/2012/07/20/some-reflections-just-one-explanation-and-apologies/)

Doug Wilson stands firm.

Weird Christian Attitudes About Money


imagesChris and I had a simply terrific pastor for pre-marital counseling. His name was Mark Brattrud, and he pastored a little Full Gospel church that met in a Howard Johnson’s in Albany. Mark was perhaps thirty at the time, married for a few years with a couple of small kids. The church grew like wildfire. Made up mainly of college kids and young marrieds, we got the job done.

We sent out missionaries, sent up Sunday school programs for little ones, and had all kinds of positive things going in the community. I’m convinced that one of the reasons this happened was because Mark took what the Bible had to say about money very seriously.

At the time, a man named Larry Burkett had started a ministry called Christian Financial Concepts out of Georgia. Larry merged his ministry with another one, and it’s now called Crown Financial Ministries. Larry passed away after that from cancer, but Crown continues to thrive.

Mark got all of the “managing your money God’s way” materials and made Chris and I study them together as part of our counseling. We learned all kinds of things like this:

*Jesus talks more about money than any other topic except salvation and love. “Did you know that?

“The Bible has a lot to say about finances and belongings. I have researched God’s Word and found more passages about money and possessions than about heaven, hell or the Second Coming. The Bible offers more than 500 verses on prayer and fewer than 500 on faith — but more than 2,350 verses on money and possessions! There is no doubt that the church should have something to say about financial matters in the church as well as in the secular world.” (www.crown.org)

*”Thou Shalt Not Go Into Debt” is nowhere to be found in the Bible. It does, however, admonish us with all kinds of scary images about debt. Ps. 37:21 calles us “wicked” if we borrow and do not repay. Proverbs 22:7 says the “borrower becomes the lender’s slave.” Yikes!

* Money is intimately connected to your heart.

Matthew 6:21, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

So, Pastor Mark wanted Chris and I to “hide these things in our heart” from the very beginning of our relationship. Considering that nearly 80% of all divorces cite “Money” as one of the top 3 reasons for splitting up, this was a very wise idea.

Anyone who’s been married for a while knows that reasons for arguing with your spouse abound. It’s nice to knock “Money” off the list from the beginning. I can sit here and tell you with clear eyed truthfulness, Chris and I never argued about money, because of this early training.

So, now that  he’s gone, what to do? In the previous post, I related to you a gritty situation I found myself in regarding money.

The megachurches I have been involved in over the past years, sadly, don’t seem to handle their money well. Before Chris was diagnosed, we attended a church up here that has since shut down. Money was a constant issue. The church was affluent and well attended. It was estimated that the average annual income of the attendees there amounted to about 70 million dollars a year. (Average household income in the area about 70,000$ a year, times about a thousand regular givers.)

Out of the seven years we went to that church, it stretched to meet a two million dollar budget. Jesus asks us simply to tithe. Just tithe, or give ten percent of our income. Jewish folks actually were encouraged to make all kinds of other offerings, the ten percent was a minimum.

Had my old church simply been obedient and tithed, our annual budget would have tripled. Think of it. Seven million dollars. We could have started a free medical clinic, immunized poor kids, supported food pantries, had every single ministry in the family of God provided for abundantly, very likely with some left over.

This is, sadly, the modus operandi of most American megachurches. Honestly, it’s so irritating I could spit. My kids and I talk about this type of thing all the time, and fortunately, so far, their training in generosity seems to have ‘stuck’.

Ten percent isn’t that much. If we can’t get along with 90 percent of what most Christians make, we seriously need to reevaluate.

Did you ever notice, too, that Christians can’t seem to talk about this type of thing without raising up a whole crop of squirrely attitudes?

I got blasted the other day by a regular reader about the previous post. David is a doll, and one of my most valued friends. Still, he’s a redheaded Irishman, and trusts me enough to let loose now and again.

“Victoria! You should take that post down! You can’t assume about people’s financial situations! And besides, you’re making yourself out to be this loaded chick with more money than God! You are sounding very manipulative!”

Hmm. I thought about it. Really, I did. David is one of about 5 people that I actually listen to when they criticize me.

I realized that David was right about some things.  Since Chris and I used God’s principles of handling money from our marital infancy, we’ve always had a surplus. The point of that surplus, after the needs of the family are met, is to give it away. Really, it’s not brain surgery, a minimum of study will reveal that God owns it all anyway, so we may as well be obedient.

Very, very few Christians are obedient in this way.  Thus, people like me come across as indiscreet. How unfortunate. How much better for ALL of us to be obedient, and maybe even get together and TALK about the good we could be doing with a surplus!

When Chris and I were young, we had the joy of discovering that even a well placed 50$ could make a world of difference to someone. As we went along, we learned about how wise Christians provide even for their children’s children (Proverbs 13:22) and how we need to know where our money goes and have a plan for it (Proverbs 27:23) .

The blessings of this sort of concrete planning are really pretty cool. I think the best part of this type of thing is the joy that comes with contentment. Chris and I were not millionaires, and with four children to educate, I’m not  going to be that, probably ever. But we knew the faces of our flock, AND knew the faces that came with sharing with those of us who don’t have a surplus, and could use some of ours.

So, my friends, lay off the judgements, if you please. I talk about giving because it’s what Jesus asks us to do, not because I’m made of money. Also because I think it’s pretty darn fun.

I would dearly love to talk to YOU about giving, because I know for a fact, somewhere you have a fifty lurking around that could change someone’s life. You know you want to, don’t you. images-1

Much love to you all,

 

Victoria

Sabbatical in a Teacup: Day Twelve. A Spiritual Diversion to Aix. God bless you Sarah, Where ever you are.


A miraculous thing occured today, I made every deadline I was supposed to make! I didn’t oversleep, miss a cab, forget breakfast for the girls, and most importantly, we made the train to Nice!

Not only that, but I used my fractured French to find the platform, figure out which of six trains, and which coach to get on! Incredible!

So about the midpoint of our six hour trip through the southern farmland of France, we got hungry. I found the car with the train food and got in line behind a woman who looked familiar.  She was about my age and  spoke French with an interesting accent, but fluently. She turned to me, and asked me something incomprehensible.

I replied “Uh, Je regret, je parle Francaise terrible.” I’ve found that line usually gets a smile, and communication starts rolling.

“It’s ok, I just asked if you were standing in line for lunch, I haven’t made up my mind yet.” AHA! Her fluid French was American accented!

“Well, hello! So you’re an American too! ” A frown creased her pretty forehead.

“No, no. Of course not. Not at all. I’m Canadian.” Oops, another American ethnocentric boo-boo. I tried to rescue it with a joke.

“Canadian! Oh! A French baggage inspector told me a joke.” The woman smiled indulgently. “I was asking about accents, and if he could tell the difference between ours. No, he said, we all sound alike to him. But if we have an American accent and don’t like guns, then we must be Canadian.”

The woman chuckled. The line was interminable, so we started to chat. She introduced herself as Sarah.

“What brings you to France?” she asked.

“Oh, I’m on a sabbatical of sorts. My older three children are in college, and all have the same winter break. The youngest is bright enough to keep up online, so we are spending three weeks wandering around Europe. How about yourself?”

Her eyes widened, and she took on a distracted air.

‘I’m here to clear my head. I was raised in Quebec, and fifteen years ago my husband and I moved to Aix-en-provence for his job. He’s a nuclear physicist. We had to move to Laguna Beach a year and a half ago, and put the house in Aix for rent. Now the renters are gone, and just in time, because my husband just told me three weeks ago he’s dumping me for his  24 year old yoga instructor. ‘ She smiled self-deprecatingly. I mistook her smile for politely waiting for me to respond. Then my brain caught up with the conversation. My stomach started to sink.

“And now, here I am, how trite. Telling my life story on a train to a complete stranger!” Tears began to well in her eyes.

“No! No, it’s ok. Nothing is ever easy. Let’s keep talking long enough and I’ll tell you all kinds of ‘husbands-dead-too-early -from- cancer stories,’ like mine!  Really, it’s ok. ”

She looked down, and then chuckled, darkly. “No, really? Has he been gone long?”

“Two years last July.”

“I’m sorry. That’s terrible. Now I’m in a terrible spot. I have a ten year old and a twelve year old who were born in Aix. I could move them back right here, slide them right back into the same schools and live in Aix. But when I get back, who knows? I mean, I’m not supposed to tell them their dad’s being an asshole, right? Dumping me for someone that could be his daughter.”

“It happens. More than you think.”

“I guess. But now were supposed to go back and pretend to be merry for Christmas? One happy family? I’m completely screwed. I haven’t worked in fifteen years, I don’t even have working papers for the States. It’s so complicated.”

We got our food and moved to the standing tables. She continued to tell me her complicated story of fear and abandonment.

Eventually, we traded stories, and that terrible sisterhood of incompetence started to emerge.

“I just don’t think I can do this by myself. I mean, my kids are ten and twelve.”

“I get it. I felt the same way.”

“What am I going to do? I was always the domestic one. Now I have to manage all the business ends of a family.”

“Intimidating, isn’t it? But you strike me as competent.”

“I don’t know. How did you figure it out?”

Hmm. That Question. How to summarize going from a complete, non-functional basket case to the competent person I am today.

“Well, not to preach at you, but I’m a Christian. I had a pretty sturdy set of helpers from my church from the very beginning. Lots of other folks too.  All sorts of exotic flowers in God’s garden came to my aid. I had to surrender a lot of my pride, and ask for the help I needed. ”

“Hmm. You’re lucky you’re religious. I never wanted to be in a church, and neither did he. Now I sort of wish we did.”

“This might be news to you, Sarah, but you don’t have to be religious to go to a church.  Jesus doesn’t keep score. And you know what else? He understands nasty. He understands mean. He understood me when I was being unlovely, angry and bitter. Thankfully, most of that is behind me. I get lonely now, sure, but I’m never alone.”

The train was pulling into Aix.

“You strike me as strong enough to get through this, Sarah. You can do this. I am, and if I can, anyone can. ”

She gathered up her things, trying not to cry.

“Well, it’s been nice talking to you. Good luck.”

“You too, Sarah.”

God bless you, Sarah of Aix.

Sabbatical in a Teacup: Day Three. Cool Stuff In Britain


So, many of you know I’ve been planning a trip to the Europe for months. Three weeks, three countries. We are in Britain now,  the South Kensington part of London, specifically.

We are seeing some hilarious stuff, like this in the local sweet shop:

Who Eats This Stuff?

Nasty! Right next to the chocolate covered frogs!

 

The Multicultural  Picadilly Starbucks: Italian, British and Nigerian Baristas!

 

 

I’m taking this trip largely to answer some questions for myself. Maybe you’d like to ponder them with me, then add your own voice.

I’ve been a teacher in one capacity or another for nearly 28 years. I was a wife for 23, and a girlfriend for three before that. I’ve been a mother for over 21 years, and a daughter for 48. My, that’s quite a lot. Roles we play have always been interesting to me, and I sense a change in roles coming. Like I tell my students, let’s start with easy, then move to hard. Get a little gratification going, solving the easy problems first, after all. So I’m with this crowd running around and seeing the sights:

“The Portable Party!”

A  more fun bunch of kids is not to be found. Sometimes, death has this funny way with family dynamics. Either it can blow people and relationships to bits, or draw them together. So far, so good. Really, I know there are about a gazillion of you out there reading this who are in the middle of the whole horrible permanent loss merry go round, and I am here to tell you, it will get better.

Not that we haven’t had our blowups. I’m sure we will continue to do so. Keeping a family on track is messy, hands-in, hard work. Honestly, I thought as they got older, it would get easier. It has, a little. But you know? I can almost see my relationship with God mirrored with these kids.

See, God has blessed me with a lot of stuff. I have the resources to take this trip, for example. But, just like with God, my kids don’t need my stuff, they need me. Second Chronicles 7:14 says “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face….” Then God promises that he will hear from heaven. God has been unspeakably generous with his stuff. I know it may not seem like that sometimes, but really, the air we breathe is from his good grace. It rains on everyone, and all of us, especially those of us who live in Colorado, get to look at God’s country every time we get up in the morning. (Sorry,Texas readers! 🙂 )

So what do my kids really need? Another trip someplace cool? Another skydiving certificate? A new set of skis? No, they need me. They need me to walk alongside them when we went to Picadilly Circus today, and tell them about the time Daddy and I came here once. They need me to take them to Kings College, and tell them about when Poppa was a Fulbright scholar there.

They need me to hold their hand, and tell them that no, the world is not a safe place. But it will be OK. There is a God who loves them forever, and a mother who will as long as she can, just like Daddy did.

As they get older, I find their demands straying into “Seeking Mom’s hand” instead of “Seeking Mom’s face.” Isn’t that just typical? I find myself doing the same thing with God. Looking into his hand, asking His hand to move, to give me something, to change something, to make something go my way. Now, that’s not all bad. He wants us to ask, and sometimes he even says we don’t have something because we don’t ask for it.

But, it seems to me, that the most satisfying part of the Christian walk is when we seek God’s face. Seek what He is like, what wisdom He wants to give us, and what enjoyment we have out of a relationship together. The Bible says that he likens us to his children, instead of slaves or bondservants, if we accept Him.

How great is that? I love my kids, and they love me. When we get together, we have a good time. How much better is it when we get to sit with “Abba” or “Daddy” as he wants us to call Him? How much better to let him told MY hand, and tell me- No, the world is not a safe place, but I love you forever, Victoria. I don’t need more stuff, I need that.

Just like my kids. Imagine that.

Much love,

Victoria

Tomorrow: The Olympic Stadium and Cezanne

 

 

Monty Python and the Fine Art of Worry


It Just Feels So Good When You Stop!

HAHA! Click on the video before you proceed, friends. Everyone should laugh as often as possible!

The monks are chanting  ‘Pie Iesu Domine. Dona eis Requiem’, before they whack themselves on the head with a board. It means “Merciful Lord Jesus, Grant them Rest.” It’s from a Catholic funeral mass.

Isn’t that the best? Gracious, sometimes you just wake up on the right side of the bed. I bounded up this morning, realizing that for some reason I felt about two inches taller and twenty pounds lighter.

Those of you who have been with me for a while, know that their have been three things over the past year that have been dragging me down. (Whack!) First, worrying about if my children will make the transition to college successfully without their dad. (Whack!)

Next, will my family still be speaking to each other after my mother’s will is untangled in probate. (Whack!)

Lastly, this disgraceful state witch hunt about my little Christian school will be settled. (Whack!)

Merciful Lord Jesus! Grant us Rest! (Whack!) It just strikes me as hilarious, that as Christians, we can torture ourselves for ever (Whack!) Or, we can settle down and accept the peace He offers us.

I am leaving you with a gift–peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.   -Jesus Christ, in John’s letter, chapter fourteen, verse 27. 

Now, of course, that is a heluva lot easier said than done. (Whack!) But here are some facts of the matter, at least for me. My children have made the transition to college successfully, and are winging around as resilient, caring young adults. Wow.

My family is all still friendly! Actually, that’s too sarcastic. I have a great little sister, and a brother of sturdy character, and we’ve had each other’s backs for years.   Mom’s probate was done a week ago.  Remarkable. Especially because people tend to go bananas even with just a little bit of money involved. But in the end, we all agreed that with the Lord as the center of things, it would have killed Mom for us to argue.

I can’t yet fill you in about the EA business, but I will soon. In short, my staff, attorney and I have done the very best we can, and it is in God’s hands now, and that is awesome. We are done.

Bird, Mel, Fang, Chrissy, John, especially John, Michele, Deann and Tom, Dad, Stacey, Betty, Joann, Drew, Becky, Pam, Melissa, double for Melissa, Barb, Todd, Nellen, Steve, Brent, Claire, the list goes on and on. Every single one doing their level best to grab that goofy board. Thanks gang! I’m grateful for every single one of you being Jesus with skin on.

So, I’ve put the board  down. Mercy! It just feels so good when you stop!

We’re Not Dead Yet!

PS – Three days ago, a large, uniform group of readers marched down my blog roll list and showed up on my WordPress Statistics page. I can’t tell who you are, unless you identify yourselves, but this is tremendous compliment. The same number of you read over two dozen of my essays, and I would like to meet you. Prayson? Rick? PC? Princess?  Words Fusion? Is it you? If it is, I admire your work as much as you seem to like mine. Drop me a line, whoever you are at victorialierheimer@yahoo.com. Let’s meet.

Much love,   Victoria