The Mind of a Criminal

Into Your hand I entrust my spirit. You redeem me, Lord, God of truth. Psalm 31:5

This is the Psalm I prayed today. And when I came to verse 5, I had to pause. I had to contemplate just who He is for the Lord is the God of truth. And I have to say, truth doesn’t come naturally to me. In fact, my tendency is to be less than truthful. That’s just been my way…

For as long as I can remember.

Oh, for various reasons. But number one has got to be fear. Yes, fear has caused me to lie and to veil and to hide and to pretend. No doubt I’ve lived most of my life scared of one thing or another and it’s caused me to be such a timid thing. At different stages, I cowered in shame or meekness or embarrassment.

The worst part? What began as simple shyness and awkwardness morphed to full-blown fear of everything and everyone. Yep, over the years I turned into a coward. Just plain scared. Especially when it came to speaking up.

And today, I don’t know that I like the idea of that. Moreover, I don’t think I want to come to the end of my days and have regret. Kicking myself for the times I should have opened my mouth but didn’t. All in the name of fear.

And you know what else? When my children are grown, I don’t want them to remember a woman who shrank back. No, I want them to see a woman driven forward by God’s spirit. A woman who embodied power and love and a sound mind.

Fearless.

Yes, this is the legacy I hope to leave for my babies.

For God has not given us a spirit of fearfulness, but one of power, love, and sound judgment. 2 Timothy 1:7

I have to tell you there are times I prefer not to write and today happens to be one of those times. Because the topic is heated. Much has been said on Facebook already and the posts have caused more comments than I can count.

See, there was a threat to our high-school recently. A couple of students planned harm and destruction for the anniversary of Columbine. Fortunately, someone had the courage to alert the authorities and what could have been is not. The heinous crime was not committed.

Thank God.

But what’s ensued is a lot of discussion. People wondered whether or not the kids should go to school on April 20th and there was talk about the administration. Was adequate information provided to the parents? Was enough done? Are our children safe now? What measures will be taken in the future to prohibit such a crime from happening?

All good questions. But you know, inevitably, ugliness finds its way to the surface. Someone doesn’t like another’s idea or opinion and says so. It snowballs from there…

Because of all this debate, two quotes I discovered today seem incredibly pertinent. And wise. And not coincidentally, they seem to go hand-in-hand with my Bible study material.

One being, “Sometimes, not saying anything is the best answer. You see, silence can never be misquoted.”  The other, “Discussion is always better than argument because argument is to find ‘Who is right’ and discussion is to find ‘What is right’.

These sayings intrigue me. No, they challenge me. Especially in light of recent events. Should I remain silent? Or dare I open my mouth? More importantly, does God want me to say something?

And if I do speak, what’s my true intention…

Is it to prove who’s right and promote my opinion? Or will the thing I feel compelled to share add value to the situation? Will it shed light on what could be right?

And so I prayed for guidance in hope that the Spirit of Truth would lead me.

Remind them of these things, charging them before God not to fight about words; this is in no way profitable and leads to the ruin of the hearers. Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who doesn’t need to be ashamed, correctly teaching the word of truth. But avoid irreverent, empty speech, for this will produce an even greater measure of godlessness. 2 Timothy 2:14-16

I’m studying the second book of Timothy and it can’t be an accident the above are my verses for this week. The idea here is to use your speech to build up and not tear down. Edification as opposed to destruction. Because fighting over words (and opinions) is in no way profitable.

In fact, it’s useless. It adds no value. And the New American Commentary has this to say regarding the squabbling over words: “In the end disputing about words seeks not the victory of truth but the victory of the speaker.”

I just had to pause when I read that this morning. I also copied it into my journal. Because it’s convicting. When I open my mouth, do I seek my victory? Or truth’s?

Thus, I’m a bit cautious about entering any debate (no matter how worthwhile). My sincere prayer is that if I do, I have something useful to add. Something of value and profitable to the hearer.

And you know, I think I just might have something I can share. No, that I should share.. Because God compels me to open my mouth instead of keeping it closed. Though I read in verse 23 to reject foolish and ignorant disputes, knowing they breed quarrels, I find myself pulled into the discussion about school because I find a nugget of truth sandwiched between verses 14 and 23.

Flee youthful passions, it says.

And here I find my doorway to speak.

Because if I know anything, I know a lot about youthful passions. And amidst all the discussion, it’s our youth that lies at the heart of this debate. And God help us if we lose sight of them in the fight about how things went down.

Yes, in the conversation about whether enough was done beforehand and after, may we remember our kids. May we contemplate what could have prompted such a thing to begin with…

Oh, may we seek to understand the heart of one who felt the need to threaten an entire school. And dare I say it? May we seek to understand the mind of a criminal…

And whether or not this unfortunate young man is convicted, he finds himself behind bars tonight. Imprisoned for a crime he may or may not have really gone forward with. And so, for me, this is the million-dollar question…

What in the world was this kid going through?

What transpired in the days and years leading up to his very, real threat? What, in God’s name, takes place in the mind of a criminal?

If that’s what he really is.

At the same time, pray also for us that God may open a door to us for the message, to speak the mystery of the Messiah – for which I am in prison – so that I may reveal it as I am required to speak. Colossians 4:3-4

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See that girl? All her life she was a coward. She avoided shame and embarrassment and conflict and debate. She kept her mouth shut most of the time. And I should know because she’s me.

Recently, I tried to color it differently. I said keeping quiet was really like being a peacemaker. But deep down I knew truth. Not speaking up (at least on my part) was pure cowardice. Because fear ruled.

It was embarrassment that compelled me to lie in kindergarten. I was humiliated that my shirt was flawed and had to be fastened by a safety pin. When a little boy fixed it and I cried, I didn’t tell the truth. Instead, I told the teacher I had lice because to me, bugs seemed a more plausible reason for tears than a missing button.

In the second grade, fear caused me to keep silent when my best friend elbowed me in the stomach. Hard. She didn’t do it often but every now and then. And it hurt. Not just physically, either. But I didn’t want to make her not like me by saying something. So I didn’t.

Feeling dumb inspired me to play a part. I assumed the role of airhead at 14 because it was easier to laugh with people than have them laugh at me for my ignorance. But the act didn’t work long because the facade no longer worked when I entered my junior year.

Perhaps that explains the sad look on my face in the above photo. Truth is I was unhappy a lot back then. Because, at 17, I suffered my first depression. And at 17, I had my heart ripped asunder. And at 17, I found myself working hard to fit in with a new crowd.

And at 17, I knew I would never shine. Not next to my friend, I wouldn’t. No, standing next to her I was not special. But I wanted to be. And this was my youthful passion. Oh, how I wanted to shine.

Nonetheless, I dwelt in the shadows while she danced in the sun. She shone brightly and I followed her light.

Sadly, I was a follower in every sense of the word. And though I did mostly whatever my friend suggested, fear was my true master. Because no different than I was at eight, I kept my mouth shut. I worried that if I went against the grain, she wouldn’t like me anymore.

But in the end, keeping silent led to a life of crime. So when it comes to understanding the mind of a criminal, I just may have first-hand knowledge.

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I think about the boys who threatened our school. One behind bars and the other not. I just have to wonder if one was the leader. Because the 17-year old is behind bars, the 16-year old is not. And I wonder if their relationship was anything like mine.

Did one play second to the other’s first? Did one shine brightly and the other just follow his light? Was the younger anything at all like me at that age… someone ruled by fear. Too scared to speak up. And not wanting to lose the admiration of his friend, did he go along with a plan even when he didn’t want to?

All these are just musings, but from experience I know how someone can get sucked into something they don’t want to.

See, it was the end of my junior year and the new gym had been completed. And my friends thought it would be great to paint on the wall. I didn’t. In fact, the idea of it made me sick. I knew we’d get in trouble. But I kept quiet. Never said a word.

Not through dinner at the Chinese restaurant when the plans were hatched. And I managed to sing along with George Thoroughgood on the way home. I even put a smile on my face and joined in with the laughs. And when it was suggested we use my car (being dark), I heartily agreed.

But I didn’t want to. Inside I screamed, NO!

Because I didn’t want to drive to the school at midnight and I didn’t want to hide my car across the street at the Christmas Tree farm and I didn’t want to run like a thief through the fields and hiding out in trees making our way stealthily to the back.

But I did.

Yes, I pulled the socks on my hands (no gloves available) and just stood there, paint can pointed at the wall. But I waited. I didn’t go first. I waited to see if the others would go through with it.

And then I heard it… the “ppppssssss” noise of aerosol paint cans. And so, I joined them. I vandalized school property because I was too scared to say I didn’t want to. I didn’t want to be ousted from the group.

Yes, this girl was a coward. Timid in every way. Too fearful to speak her own mind.

Just plain fearful.

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It’s true, I was a vandal. But there were other things not worth mentioning. I broke the law more than once. More than twice. More and more…

I just wasn’t caught. But had I been, I could have been convicted… could have had a criminal record. And it’s here I think about those boys.

Would they really have gone through with it? Could they really have used weapons and explosives and taken the lives of those we hold dear?

And honestly, I think more about the younger one. I wonder if he plastered a smile on his face even though he felt sick. I wonder if he heartily agreed to do things he really didn’t want to do because that’s what he always did.

The boy who always did what he was told. Too scared not to for fear of being ousted from the friendship…

Like me, just plain scared.

And like me, would he have followed his leader right up to the school door? Would he have pointed his gun and held his breath hoping his friend’s senses returned. Would he have placed his finger on the trigger breathing a silent prayer, “Please don’t let him go through with it!”

But then, when he heard the “pop, pop, pop” of the gun, would he do what I did? Would he just move forward and do it because he’d already gotten that far? Propelled by fear…

Fortunately, for me it was spray paint. And for this 16-year old who is no longer at school (but I don’t know his fate), the day never came for him to find out what he’d really do. Or what his friend behind bars would have done.

But there are others. Countless others. Mass shootings at way too many schools.

And I cannot help but think it’s fear that drives them. Fear of being left out. Fear of being forgotten. Fear of not being seen.

Or perhaps it’s that youthful passion to be noticed that motivates. Because who could ever forget the ones who make their mark by slaughtering helpless students…

Got help us all.

I have heard the gossip of many; terror is on every side. When they conspired against me, they plotted to take my life. But I trust in You, LORD. I say, “You are my God.” Psalm 31:13-14

Yep, I have insight into the criminal mind because I had one. And it was fear that drove me to do so many things I never would have done on my own at 17. Truly, the power of peer pressure is astounding.

As to the boys in our community, I can’t speak for them. I have no clue as to what really prompted their threats. But what I do know is they’re guilty of planning a crime. They conspired to murder and for that they’ll receive punishment on many levels.

Judiciary and administratively and personally. And God knows their reputations will be ruined. But the truth is, they’re not the only ones who are guilty. They are not the only ones who’ve acted criminally…

See, Jesus said, “You have heard that the ancients were told ‘You shall not commit murder and whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court.” Matthew 5:21-22.

Do you see that? Jesus takes it from the outward to the inward. He says it begins in the heart. Moreover, He says if you’re angry with your brother, you’re guilty.

Convicted as charged.

Nothing more than a common criminal.

And in light of that, who doesn’t have first-hand knowledge of the mind of a criminal. For we’re all guilty of that.

But you know, I do have good news those guilty as charged. I find it in the book of Luke. Seems two criminals were crucified with Christ, one on the right and one on the left. Jesus was there in the middle. They were malefactor’s. Doers of evil. And yet, one found redemption that day.

While one criminal yelled insults, the other rebuked him. “Don’t you even fear God, since you are undergoing the same punishment? We are punished justly, because we’re getting back what we deserve for the things we did, but this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he asked Jesus to remember him…

Jesus’ response?

“I assure you: Today you will be with Me in paradise.”

And this is the very reason I dare open my mouth. In hope that others find this redemption. This salvation available to us all.

Because I am guilty as sin. Every day, I do something and I’m surrounded by people who do the same. Nothing more than a bunch of criminals seething in our anger. And if it’s not anger then it’s something else.

But Jesus is right here in the middle of us all and we have a choice. We can insult Him and deny Him. Or, we can revere Him and believe Him. We can entrust our spirit into His hand and be redeemed by the God of Truth.

For He is the truth.

Or we won’t.

As for those boys who made such a costly mistake, the same choice lies before them. One is to the left of Jesus and the other is to the right. He’s right there in the middle. And I pray they both choose wisely.

May they both ask Christ to remember them when…

Then they may come to their senses and escape the Devil’s trap, having been captured my him to do his will. 2 Timothy 2:26

 

Yep, there’s been a lot of talk around here lately. Lots of debate about these boys and our school system. And fear and anger have been prevalent. And for a while, I didn’t want to open my mouth.

Those youthful passions kicked in…

Wanting to be liked and not ousted. So I kept quiet for a little while. But God compels me to open my mouth. But not in an ugly way. If I dare speak, it should be for one reason only. To build up and not tear down.

So that’s what I try to do. This is my attempt to tell the truth to edify the hearers.

But this goes against the grain with me. Because being truthful has never come easy. Thus, I can only explain it as the work of the Holy Spirit. Yes, that’s what He’s done for me.

See, God is transforming me from a liar to a speaker of truth. He’s changing me from a coward to fearless woman. That’s what God is doing for me.

But it’s not just for me… it’s for my children. And this is the legacy I hope to leave for them.

A legacy of power and love and a sound mind.

And truth.

And absolute fearlessness.

Oh, God, may my children be fearless.

Flee from youthful passions, and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. But reject foolish and ignorant disputes, knowing that they breed quarrels. The Lord’s slave must not quarrel, but must be gentle to everyone, able to teach, and patent instructing his opponents with gentleness. Perhaps God will grant them repentance to know the truth. 2 Timothy 2:22-25

Best Friends

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I bought this frame from a thrift store months ago. It just sits in the top of my closet because I couldn’t think of who I’d want to put in there. My face alongside another, smiling so bright. Who is my friend… the one who knows me completely? Inside and out. The one who knew me then and knows me now and still wants to be by my side.

Before I moved back home six years ago, there was no question. There were two women I considered my best friends. The only issue would have been which one? Because they were both so close to me. Closer than any sister could be. And we’d spend hours (HOURS) on the phone. No particular reason. Just chatting because that’s what best friends do. Just to hear each other’s voices. To feel close.

But that doesn’t happen anymore. For some reason, the two I considered to be my “best” are no more. Phone calls few and far in between. Oh, they’re still in my life but something’s shifted. Busyness, perhaps? Or life just leading us along different paths.

Whatever the reason, it makes me sad. And sometimes a bit lonely.

And the frame? It just sits. Because I don’t know “the friend” I should put in there with me…

A man of too many friends comes to ruin, But there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother. Proverbs 18:24

I was never one to have lots of friends. I always had one or two that were special, though, Jennifer being my first. And what a joy it is to see her face at my son’s school… the very school I attended. Yep, when I registered him for kindergarten, there she was bouncing down the hallway as if she’d never left. She happens to work there and even though we’re not close anymore, shared memories warm my heart.

Fourth grade brought me Hannah. Amy and Cindy in the ninth. And later, it was Sarah. We were so close, spending all our free time together. She was just like a sister.

Next came Shannon and we joined the Air Force together. A miracle that we attended the same tech school. And when I felt lonely at my first assignment, I’d just pick up the phone and call. My phone bills astronomical because we talked several times a week. For hours (HOURS). And when we ran out of things to say, we just sang to each other. Even if it was the theme song to an old TV show like “Alice.”

“I used to be sad. (da-da). I used to be shy. (da-da). Funniest thing, the saddest part is I never knew why…”

The Air Force brought me new friends. Carmen and Cheyenne. Nicole and Stacy. And then, before I knew it, I was married. Alas, old friends were left behind as life moved me in other directions.

And here I am now. Uncertain as to who my “best friend” is. And then I am overcome with guilt for even having such a thought. Because there’s so much happening in the world that trumps loneliness, right?

“If you keep My commands you will remain in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commands and remain in His love. I have spoken these things to you so that My joy may be complete. This is My command: love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, that someone would lay down his life for his friends. You are My friends if you do what I command you. This is what I command you: love one another.” John 15:10-14, 17

Oh, it’s true I no longer pick up the phone and talk for hours with someone I consider my best friend. But you know, that’s allowed something wonderful to transpire over the past six years.

See, I no longer spend countless hours in chit-chat with a gal-pal. Instead, I’ve been moved to pick up my Bible and spend countless hours with Him. Yes, feeling lonely drove me to seek a new Friend. And He is the One who is truly closer than a brother (or sister).

Along the way, I’ve developed such a friendship with God that I cannot go long without seeking His voice. I just can’t. When I don’t hear from Him, I begin to wither inside…

And so, I consider those occasional bouts of loneliness blessings, really. Because if I continued to spend hours calling my best friends as I did when I was younger, would I have ever called on Him? Would I have made time for both? I really can’t say.

 

But what I can say is I know Him. Personally. And He calls me His friend.

Above all, keep your love for one another at full strength, since love covers a multitude of sins. 1 Peter 4:8

Today I had one of those God moments. I felt compelled to look up 1 Peter 4 because I was tracking something, however, the above verse stood out instead. Lo and behold, not an hour later I saw the same verse on my calendar for March 22.

God spoke right there in “love one another.” He means our friends. Our companions. But also, our fellow man. Other people. For Jesus said we are to love God and love our neighbors as ourselves. The greatest commands.

Unconditional love. And that’s so hard to do.

But you know, a particular friend comes to mind when I read about this kind of love. We met when I was five and she’s one of my oldest and dearest friends. Last week happened to be her birthday and I missed it.

But it came to me this morning… honor our friendship. Honor my friend for her birthday.

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See, Carolyn is truly one of the sweetest women I know. She shows interest in everyone she meets and doesn’t know a stranger. She can talk to anyone. ANYONE. But also, she listens. She genuinely cares about people and how they feel and this is a gift.

She used that gift on me when I was in kindergarten. I was crushed and she could sense it. She sat by my side and petted my shoulder. When she looked up at the teacher, she said, “Isn’t she precious?” And I was comforted. She loved me when I felt unlovable.

Later in life, when I was in my early twenties, she said something that struck me. She probably doesn’t even remember. We’d been talking about a mutual friend and I disagreed with his lifestyle. So I spoke meanly. I judged and criticized. I then said, “He was so nice.” Carolyn’s response. “He’s still nice.” That hushed me right up.

The wounds of a friend are trustworthy, but the kisses of an enemy are excessive. Proverbs 27:6

We never discussed it, but my friend’s comment chastened me. I felt embarrassed because her words pointed to my very conditional ways. I was being harsh and unkind and who am I to judge my neighbor (James 4:12)?

Carolyn? She just loved our mutual friend. And it’s an example I’ll always remember.

And so, I want my friend (and others) to know this about her. That she’s not only beautiful but she’s also kind. She does not judge, she loves. And she’s who came to mind this morning when I contemplated love.

I thought about how she loves me.

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Oil and incense bring joy to the heart. And the sweetness of a friend is better than self-counsel. Proverbs 17:17

My friend, Carolyn, brought me these flowers for my birthday. I was so pleased. She showered me with her love.

Yep, she is a true friend. She knew me then and she knows me now and she still wants to be by my side. Oh, I could definitely slide a photo of me and her in that frame I bought months back.

But you know, I have others, too. Perhaps not one I’d cast in the role of “Best Friend” like I did when I was younger but my life has changed. Busyness and responsibility does not allow me to spend countless hours on the phone as I once did. There just isn’t time.

Nevertheless, I still have friends. There’s women in my life. Ones I knew then and ones I met later on. And I feel grateful for every single one of them.

Which brings me back to that frame. Perhaps it’s not meant to be filled. Perhaps that blank spot serves to remind me of not just one special friend, but all the women I know. That at any given moment, I could place several faces in there alongside mine.

Yes, perhaps I’m not meant to have only one or two “Best Friends” like when I was young. Instead, maybe I’m supposed to love every woman who crosses my path with fervency. And unconditionally. Like I love myself.

And like He loves me…

A friend loves at all times… Proverbs 17:17

In closing, I just have to say Jesus is my Best Friend. Yes, He is the truest of all. Because He laid down His life for me. And greater love have no man, or woman, than that.

And really, He’s the only One who knows me completely. Inside and out. Better than I even know myself. He knew me then, before I first drew breath, and He knows me now, warts and all. Moreover, He knows who I’ll one day be. And yet, He still wants to be by my side. Always.

And with a Friend like that, loneliness is nothing more than a mere memory. It no longer exists. And so, that theme song from “Alice” I used to sing to Shan? Well, it becomes my own anthem. I lift my voice and sing to Him…

“I used to be sad. (da-da). I used to be shy. (da-da). Funniest thing, the saddest part is I never knew why…”

the English assignment

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But I protested, “Oh no, Lord God! Look, I don’t know how to speak since I am only a youth.” Jeremiah 1:6

Maybe it was two years ago when I stumbled across the question, “What’s undone?” And it seemed to be a charge to me. From God, no less. So I pondered and I meditated. I studied and I scoured my journals and memories. I sought to find the one thing that remained incomplete in my life.

I came to the conclusion it was me. I was the undone thing. Totally unfinished.

However, today I think it’s something else entirely. And it goes back. Way back to my sophomore year in high school. For in  1989, there was an English assignment I half way completed. An oral report. But words weren’t my strongpoint. Speaking caused me immense discomfort.

If I found myself with an audience, I clammed up. And if I were forced to open my mouth, I’d stutter and stammer. There was the time in Geometry where I repeated “um, um” no less than twenty times. I felt put on the spot as I stood up front, all eyes on me. And the more the teacher quizzed, the emptier my brain became.

Oh, and there was Art class. Teams of four were to make a presentation. And though underserved, I received an “A.”  This due to an oversight, luck, or the mercy of my teacher. See, the first three spoke articulately and intelligently but I just stood there nodding along. And when a question was directed to me, I answered “Ditto.” That was all I had to offer.

And then there was that English Assignment I mentioned. Of all things, I chose abortion as my topic. At sixteen, I stood in front of my peers and argued in favor of abortion. And quite poorly, I might add. Because I didn’t really prepare for it. No, procrastination was my game plan back then so I don’t think much research was involved.

I stood up, opened my mouth, and simply regurgitated something I’d been spoon-fed. I said it wasn’t really a baby. Nothing more than a blob of tissue. And my argument? An acorn. I said just as an acorn wasn’t really a tree, same thing went for pregnancy. That’s all I can recall about that assignment.

My totally inadequate argument. 100% incomplete. And thus, it remains undone to this day.

Then we will no longer be little children, tossed by the waves and blown around by every wind of teaching, by human cunning with cleverness in the technique of deceit. Ephesians 4:14

I tell you, I never had a mind of my own. I was a sponge and soaked up the mindsets of those surrounding me. And so my young life confirms it… you are indeed who your friends are. Or at least I tried to be. Thus, I was unstable. And naïve. Tossed about by every wind of teaching. Fickle for sure.

But one day, I grew up. I think that might have been yesterday. Or sometime within the past couple of years. Because finally, I began to develop a mind of my own. And the timing of it all doesn’t escape me. See, I began to form my own opinions and passions and convictions about the same time I began seeking God with my whole heart.

That’s when God’s wind filled me rather than the wind of every teaching. It blew out all the false notions I’d adopted as my own and miraculously, I found my voice. Oh, it was lovely. To have my own mind. Moreover, to be able to speak it.

But you know, growing up and speaking your mind can be a hard thing. Because truth is not everyone’s going to like you for what you have to say. In fact, you may find rejection instead of acceptance. Backsides instead of faces. And for a girl like me, that hurts. A lot.

Alas, this is part of growing up. For the fact is the closer you walk with God, the harder things will be. Wind no longer at your back like when you went along with the flow… rather, you find the winds of change battering against you (Mark 6:48). Thus, the hardest part of walking with God, for me, has to be going against the grain. And the wind. At least with regard to the winds of every human teaching…

I am young in years while you are old; therefore I was timid and afraid to tell you what I know. Job 32:6

Part of growing up is doing the right thing. Speaking out against injustice. And for me, I think my part has to do with babies. Because last night, they were all over me in my sleep. I dreamt about sonograms and the unborn. Problems within the womb. The dreams likely due to a video I saw on Facebook just before bedtime.

A woman discovered she was pregnant with conjoined twins at twenty weeks. However, the doctor advised she should abort. He didn’t think it would be possible to separate the girls. And yet, now they are two years old. For the mother could feel her children kicking when she heard unwanted words. And thankfully, she said no to the doctor. And abortion. She said yes to her children, instead. Now, they play at her feet…

So I find myself back at abortion one more time. It’s where I was twenty years ago. Two times in the Summer of 1995, to be precise. And I think about that oral report I flubbed in 1989. So today I can’t help but wonder if I’d properly prepared back then, would I have done what I did six years later.

Perhaps if I’d fully prepared for my English assignment at sixteen, I wouldn’t have done it at twenty-two.

Just maybe I’d have made another choice.

“Before I made you in your mother’s womb, I chose you. Before you were born, I set you apart for a special work.” Jeremiah 1:5a

God doesn’t make accidents and he doesn’t make junk. As such, He knew what He was doing when He made me. And in my book, the fact I share a birthday with Roe v. Wade is fraught with significance. Abortion made legal the very day I was born. It seems we’re conjoined, abortion and I. And it seems to be part of my life. Part of God’s plan for me…

To use my past and speak out today…

And share what I know.

But even deeper, I think God wants me to complete the English assignment. Though I didn’t complete the task in 1989, I can for sure do it now. And perhaps I was created for this very thing. The English assignment becomes my “for such a time as this” moment. For in finishing my homework twenty-six years later, I believe I’ll find some closure on this matter. The subject of abortion.

And in the writing, perhaps like the twins I watched last night, I’ll find we can be finally part ways. Abortion and I no longer conjoined.

No longer one.

I too will answer; yes, I will tell you what I know. For I am full of words, and my spirit compels me [to speak]. Job 32:17-18

In my day, the cost of abortion was around three hundred dollars. Now, it’s considerably more. According to Planned Parenthood’s site, you can have one for approximately fifteen hundred dollars if it’s during the first trimester. Of course, the second trimester (months four through six) increases the number.

And from what I understand, you can have an abortion up to 26 weeks. Per Planned Parenthood’s website, though, you may have difficulty finding someone who will do so. Of course, they will help you find a doctor who will:

It can be difficult to find a health care provider who performs abortions after the first trimester. To find one of these providers, call The National Abortion Federation at 1-877-257-0012. Please keep in mind that after about 24 weeks of pregnancy, abortions are usually performed only for serious health reasons.

Their site is oh, so helpful regarding the feelings a woman may experience afterward. Anger, regret, guilt, sadness… for a little while. And serious, long-term emotional problems are rare (according to the site) and could be attributed to several factors. Number one being you had emotional problems before the abortion.

Speaking from experience, my long-term emotional issues didn’t present till later. Much later. Not till after I married and decided to have children. And amazingly, what I once considered to be nothing more than an acorn, or a blob of tissue, or a group of cells, or an embryo, I considered to be a baby. From day one of my pregnancy. No, not an embryo. But my baby…

Funny that as a young woman I could easily discard what I considered to be a blob of tissue, and yet ten years later, I deemed him to be a baby. My son valuable to me before I even saw him.

My bones were not hidden from You when I was made in secret, when I was formed in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw me when I was formless; and my days were written in Your book and planned before a single one of them began. Psalm 139:15-16

I think about my English assignment. That if I’d taken the time to investigate pregnancy and abortion at sixteen, I may have learned that though a baby begins as a ball of cells… the sex is determined as soon as the fertilized egg is implanted. And by the time a woman misses her menstrual cycle, the baby already has a bit of a head and tail developing. Even then, the heartbeat is visible. Just when she suspects she’s pregnant.

And that by the time a woman considers abortion, the ear canals are developing and the heart beats 80 times a minute. That at three weeks late, arms and legs are developing along with kidneys and a mouth. One month late (which is 8 weeks pregnant), there are lips, nose and eyelids. Little webbed fingers and toes. And the baby moves as his heart beats 150 times a minute.

At nine weeks pregnant, a woman can hear her baby’s heartbeat. Just one week later, bones and cartilage are present. Knees and ankles and flexing elbows and teeth. And her baby has digestive juices and urine. At thirteen weeks, he may suck his thumb and his vocal chords develop! Two weeks later, he practices swallowing and breathing.

At sixteen weeks, his eyes work. He frowns and squints. At seventeen weeks, he has fingerprints and noises startle him. One week later, he yawns. Perhaps tired from his nervous system developing. At twenty-one weeks, he moves and he has taste buds and sleeps.

At twenty-two weeks, the little guy can see and hear.

At twenty-four weeks, his face is fully formed.

At twenty-five weeks, there’s brainwave activity… he responds to what he hears.

And yet, the wind of teaching tells us it’s okay to abort this baby. Totally acceptable to dismember his little arms and legs and pull them out of the security of his home… the womb, which should be the safest of all places. Politically correct and acceptable to our society to cast him out.

But if we speak out against it, we’re fools. Ignorant. Intolerant.

But see, he can hear the noise of the vacuum. Perhaps it startles him. And he can see the tools coming his way. In fact, one woman who previously worked at an abortion clinic walked away from it all. It was the day after she had to assist with the procedure. And when she saw a precious baby try to move away from tortuous instruments (via ultrasound), she couldn’t condone it one more day.

And today, she uses her voice to speak out against it…

She tells what she knows.

Speak up for those who have no voice,
for the justice of all who are dispossessed.
Speak up, judge righteously,
and defend the cause of the oppressed and needy. Proverbs 30:8-9

I think most people have heard or seen the Planned Parenthood videos that surfaced in July. Three months ago. I was inflamed. The remarks of Dr. Deborah Nucatola outrageous, “I’m going to basically crush below, I’m gonna crush above, and I’m gonna see if I can get it all intact.” And why? Because people want intact hearts and livers these days. Research.

“We’ve been very good at getting heart, lung, liver, because we know that, so I’m not gonna crush that part…”

Yes, as many intact livers as possible. She went on to explain lower extremities were in demand, too. But according to her, that’s simple. Easy, even. She imagines they want it for muscle.

One thing Dr. Nucatola said really stood out to me, though. “Calvarium – the head – is basically the biggest part. Most of the other stuff can come out intact. The kind of rate-limiting step of the procedure is calvarium.” I was struck when I heard it. For Calvarium (skull cap) sounds so much like Calvary. And at Calvary, there was a cross. The one Jesus died on. For the sins of the humanity…

And so, Dr. Nucatola was right in her statement. Calvary is the biggest thing.

Carrying his own cross, he went out to the place of the Skull (which in Aramaic is called Golgotha). John 19:17

And because of that, I have hope today. For though I did what I did at twenty-two, my sins have been wiped away. My tears, too. And one day, every tear will be wiped away. No more crying. No more suffering. And all this heartache will fade away in the face of Jesus. Oh, what a day that will be…

No more innocent bloodshed.

No more killing.

And finally, no more throwing away babies.

But as for today, we live in a luxurious world where babies are not valued. Easily discarded. Ultra politically correct is how the wind blows these days. And if you dare face the wind head on, you run the risk of a reputation. You’ll be deemed a Bible-thumper. Intolerant. And bigoted.

Nevertheless, that’s my task today. God bids me to go straight into the wind and speak out about what I know. And really, He just wants me to finish the English assignment from my sophomore year. For in doing so, I’ll end up completing both tasks. And I believe I just did that.

What was undone has been completed.

It is finished…

There is a time for everything,
    and a season for every activity under the heavens:

    a time to be silent and a time to speak… Ecclesiates 3:1, 7

My good friend and I talked about procrastination yesterday. It’s been a part of me for a long time now. All the way back to my school days when I used to wait until the last minute to do homework. And in recent days, it has to do with this post. See, it was mid-July when I felt impassioned to write it. And when those Planed Parenthood videos came to light, the undone English assignment surfaced. I’d forgotten all about it till then.

But I got side-tracked. Derailed, even. And here I am three months later…

There’s good news, though. See, it’s never too late to finish up what’s undone. Not with God, it’s not. For His mercies are new every day. And His patience is infinite. I know because that’s just what He’s been with me.

Oh, so patient as I’ve struggled with the winds of change. Upholding me by His right arm so I was never utterly knocked down. Going before me, shielding me from the most violent East wind.

And I was unbalanced for a long time. Easily swayed one way or the other depending on what direction the wind blew in. But one day I found my footing.  For I grew up. And as a big girl, I was able to stand on my own feet. Perhaps that was yesterday. Or sometime in the past couple of years.

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Makes no difference when it happened, really. The point is, I’m all grown up now. And I found my voice. And along with my voice, I found my stance. I chose a side called Pro-Life based on the proof of life within the womb. My womb. Not according to what the world says.

And turns out, being pregnant has nothing to do with an acorn at all. Not one thing.

Amazing, really.

straight A’s

I am but a child. A silly, little girl. At forty-two. How can this be?? Incredibly, I find I haven’t advanced much beyond my primary school days. No. Every single thing that mattered then still matters today. Like grades. Because at forty-two, I discover I’m still striving to be a straight A student.

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Recently, I felt as I did in first grade. Our teacher, Ms. Wittle, would walk slowly around the classroom and squat by each desk to check our work, red colored pencil in hand. She peered over my paper but oh, there was an error. And then another. So no, I didn’t receive my reward. A sticker to indicate a job well done.

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Instead, I got this…

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Oh, how my insides churned as Ms. Wittle looked over Martha’s paper. Because apparently, she was a good girl. She did very well, indeed. I can still see the smile my classmate was favored with and hear the crinkling of the paper as the sticker was lifted away. Martha won the day.

It’s this memory that presses into me today. As vivid as the day it occurred some thirty-six years ago. The recollection was burned into a heart that felt as heavy as lead. Because that day I felt small. Inadequate. Insecure. And unacceptable. Basically, unlikeable. This is how the red lines etched upon my paper made me feel. And this is how I felt this week.

And how silly this is! Incredulous that in the midst of random police shootings and a loved one’s struggle to simply live comfortably, I cry over my report card. I agonize over the grades I receive in the school of life.

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Last night I had hot tears. I ached inside. It came from the pit of loneliness. As I lay next to my husband, tears spurted. He comforted me and asked me what was wrong no less than four times. Because I didn’t want to say it. I know how dumb it sounds. How trivial. And yet, it’s real. My hurt is real.

Finally, I uttered what lie in my heart. I told him I want to be first. I want to be the one who’s someone else’s first choice. And unlike my last cry fest in which he chastised me for my luxury complaints, this time he held me instead. He told me there are three people in our home who pick me first.

And though my husband’s tender words soothed my festering wound, they didn’t eliminate the poison that pollutes my soul…

A man of too many friends comes to ruin, But there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother. Proverbs 18:24

Growing up, I always had one good friend. Kindergarten through third was Jennifer. I loved her so as she shone in my eyes. Pretty and popular. And strong. In second grade, we had the opportunity to try and lift a fireman’s oxygen container. Tony told me no way could I do it, but Jennifer could. And she did. Me? I struggled but managed to lift it a few inches off the floor.

Fourth grade was Hannah. She wore a purple Hang Ten mini skirt. Definitely a leader as all us girls flocked to her. Fifth I had two best friends. Jennifer and I were reunited and Sarah came into my life. And as time wore on, others drifted in and out of my life. But the point is, there was always one. One special friend. Or two. Really close. Like a sister.

We knew everything there was to know about each other. Colors. TV. Music. Boys. And truth is, that’s what I long for today. I want a woman who knows me from the inside out. How I take my coffee. How I feel just by the look on my face. A woman who can drop by anytime without having to call first. A woman who will choose me first. Every time.

I want. To be. First. First pick. First place. Just first.

He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He might come to have first place in everything. Colossians 1:18

I picked up a book I hadn’t read for over two weeks this morning. The above verse is what I found. Mind you, I’d already logged in my journal how I wanted to be 1st choice. But lo and behold, I discovered the position is already taken. Or it should be. First place belongs to Jesus. He should be my choice.

Amazing.

So here’s the thing about life. And striving for those straight A’s. See, there is no one person who can give me a passing grade in every single category. No friend (no matter how good she may be) can give me everything I crave: approval, acknowledgement, accolades, affirmation, assurance and acceptance.

Oh, she may give me a piece of approval here and a slice of affirmation there. But she is not God. I cannot look to her or her red pencil for acceptance. Because she is not capable of affirming me like I hope she can. Or will. And like me, she may even be trying for an “A” herself.

Sigh.

“Great Expectations” keeps coming at me. The title. Charles Dickens’ book. I think God is trying to show me my expectations are too high. I am placing people too high on a pedestal. The danger there is they’re likely to fall off. Because no one can stay that high. And the first time they let me down, I’ll end up pushing them down. Off that pedestal. And when that happens, no one gets an “A”. Or the gold star. Or the smiley face.

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It’s true. I am a lonely woman. But I keep looking in the wrong places for fulfillment. It’s not one woman who will fill all my emptiness. It’s one Man. Jesus came to be first. And I’m His first choice. For Isaiah 43:10 tells me I am chosen to know Him. Exodus 33:17 assures me He knows my name. Thus, I find acknowledgement.

By 2 Timothy 2:15, I know I am His approved worker. I receive a pat on the back from my God through Matthew 25:21. Hebrews 10 assures me I have boldness to enter His presence at any time. No phone call necessary. Revelation 3:11 tells me if I hold on to what I have, my crown awaits. And if I can just persevere… if I can fight the good fight and finish this race, I’ll get that blue ribbon after all.

And so, through God’s very word, I find the acceptance I so desire. And affirmation this little girl so desperately seeks. My God squats down beside me at my desk. He takes out His red colored pencil and gives me the grade I’ve been looking for. Not only is it an A, but it’s an A+. That’s what my Teacher has done for me today. And the tears flow down my cheeks.

But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers. Matthew 23:8

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Yes, I am just a child. A silly little girl. At forty-two. Inconceivable.

But despite my shortcomings, God assures me of truth. His truth. I may fall pitifully short in the school of life, but in His grade-book, I’m a straight A student.

Perfect in His eyes.

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Finding His Feet

 

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He lifted me out of the watery pit, out of the slimy mud. He placed my feet on a rock and gave me secure footing. Psalm 40:2

He lifted me out of the watery pit, out of the slimy mud. He placed my feet on a rock and gave me secure footing. Psalm 40:2

At 2:00 a.m. this morning, my mind whirred. After feeding my infant daughter, I couldn’t go back to sleep. I laid down, closed my eyes, and yet my brain stayed alert. Sentences formed and paragraphs emerged, but only in thought. Because I just couldn’t bring myself to get out of bed. Not in the middle of the night. For sleep is too precious when you have a new baby. And so after some time, I willed myself back to sleep. And my last waking thought… murky waters.

Last night when I should have been sleeping, I couldn’t stop thinking about yesterday. See, it should have been fun. I took my son to a birthday party at an indoor pool. And I think I was looking forward to it more than he was. Because believe it or not, after a woman spends eight weeks at home with a newborn, even a child’s birthday party can feel like an event. And so both son and I eagerly set out to enjoy a few hours of social interaction. But for me, expectancy dampened quicker than my son’s swimming trunks for more than one reason.

First being my son’s clinginess. After arrival, he stayed close by my side and that concerned me. When asked, he said a lot of the kids were fourth graders. And this is where I caught a glimpse of his insecurity. To encourage him, I offered to walk him to the water slide to see if he measured up. I knew he’d used that slide once before but he seemed reluctant yesterday. Sure enough, he made it just to the penguin’s wing. Just over four feet tall. Tall enough to stand in the 3’6″ water the slide would shoot him into.

The lifeguard spoke to me… as long as he can find his feet in the water, she said. He’ll be fine, she said. And I think I needed that assurance more than Levi. Because I’m the one who fears water. I’m the one who needed to see he was big enough. I’m the one who had to know… can he find his footing?

Pushing aside my fear of the waterslide, we joined the birthday crowd. And that’s when I observed my boy. I took in that he was a full head shorter than most of the others. But that’s not a big deal as my son has always been short… like his Paw-Paw. No, other than being tall enough to use the water slide, height was not, and is not, an issue with me or my son. It wasn’t the physical attributes that pierced my heart as I sat poolside. Rather, it was how my boy conducted himself in the group. And what I witnessed cut me to the core… see, he wasn’t comfortable. He seemed so young. So incredibly insecure. And maybe just a bit awkward in comparison to the others’ ease.

No, my son didn’t appear to be the social butterfly in that group setting. And more than that, I could tell he wasn’t the one. You know, the one others wanted to be with. In fact, as one hour turned to two, it seemed he was on the outskirts of the party just a little. And my heart sank because I knew the truth… my son was turning out just like me. And though this has given me and my husband occasion to smile in past, this time I felt overcome by sadness.

See, yesterday, I saw another side of Levi. It was the side of me I’ve tried to put behind me most of my adult life. And so I discovered the truth. My boy really is a little me. More so than I ever comprehended.

And so it’s much deeper than what I initially thought. Because yesterday became about so much more than Levi finding his feet in over three feet of water. At least in my eyes. I realized the time has come for my boy to navigate the murky waters of life. That’s really where he needs to find his feet. It’s there he’ll have to find a firm place to stand. And I fear for him. Because he’s a little me. And I know what I did. And I wonder what he’ll do.

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So it begins. School is where a child really has to find their footing. And the truth is, sometimes they don’t. I know because I never did. Because in school, I came to believe I didn’t quite measure up to the other girls. But height had nothing to do with it. I was painfully shy and awkward and didn’t know how to conduct myself in a group. And though I liked to share stories and participate early on (so says my kindergarten report card), that wasn’t the case by the time third grade rolled around. Somehow in three short years, my openness closed tight and my words lessened. My light diminished. When did that happen?

It must have been second grade. I had a best friend and I loved her so. But in her shadow, I felt the pangs of being less than. Perhaps the first cut came when a little boy pointed out I wouldn’t be able to do something that she could. And so by third grade, I was painfully aware of what I wasn’t. And what she was.

My friend was the pretty one. The fun one. And everyone liked her and wanted to be with her. Why she picked me as a friend, I’ll never know. And so the years continued. By the fifth grade, my placement was firmly established. A classmate pointed out that just because my two friends were popular, it didn’t mean I was. As if I didn’t already know.

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And so I consider Levi on the cusp of these formative years. And because I remember how I felt, I fret over his own feelings. Does he feel less than? Has he suffered those pangs? Has he been rejected? Because he’s a miniature me… And so, I compare our pictures. And I have hope for my boy. See, my face is more guarded at the same age. My smile not so bright. But Levi still has a look of confidence about him. He still looks shiny and bright. Still open and willing to share. And I feel a bit of relief. He’s not been awakened to the world’s set of scales yet. He doesn’t feel the hurt of not being the one. Chosen. Popular. For now, he’s safe. He’s still free to be himself.

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I know, I know. This is small. This is not a tragedy. This is simply school. But I ache for my son nonetheless. I want so much for him. I want it to be different. And I fear for him because he’s a mini-me. I know what I did. How I shut down. And then how I put on a mask. I pretended to be things I wasn’t. And then later, I used substances as a crutch to get me through. Whatever it took to maneuver in a crowd. And so, I went with the flow. Easily led. A follower to the core. No, I didn’t navigate the murky waters of school successfully. I never found my footing and thus, left home at nineteen not really knowing who the heck I was. What will it be like for him?

Truth is, peer pressure is hard. And the reality is I’m just now getting over it. Finally, at forty-one, I’m comfortable in my own skin. Just now finding my footing… And though I’ve made great strides, every now and then I slip. Something will present that awakens me once again to the world’s set of scales. And what took years to press down bubbles forth to the surface. Like raging water. It was a word find I saw on Facebook that did it last week…

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The first three words you see is the game. And people saw lovely things such as love and freedom. But me?

  1. SUCCESS
  2. POPULAR
  3. BEAUTY

And so, I wonder… am I, a full grown woman, really over it after all? Does this word game mean the above is what’s important to me subconsciously? Am I still held under the sway of success being measured by popularity and beauty? Or is it that I now project the peer pressure I felt for myself as a young girl onto my son.

Oh, I want him to excel. And in school, that means success is measured by popularity. By beauty. By materialism. And by physical attributes. And so, I ache. This time, it’s not for me. It’s for him. I want him to stay shiny and bright. I don’t want him to be tarnished by the harsh reality of school. I don’t want him to hurt. I don’t want him to feel that first cut of rejection. To feel less than. Because to me, he is chosen. Valuable. Worthy. Beautiful.

 He grew up before him like a tender shoot,
    and like a root out of dry ground.
He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,
    nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by mankind,
    a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.
Like one from whom people hide their faces
    he was despised, and we held him in low esteem. Isaiah 52:2-3

As trivial and petty as all this may seem, I was in tears by the end of yesterday. And because Levi has not been awakened to the world’s value system yet, and I have been, I cried for him. And at 2:00 a.m. this morning, this is all I could think about. Levi and what the future will bring. And I pray it doesn’t take him forty-one years to find his footing… like me. And that he’s more successful in navigating the murky waters of school than I was. And because he has a more solid foundation than I did at his age, I have every hope that it’ll be different for him. Because just look at him. In my eyes, he’s a success. He’s popular. Beautiful and chosen. And more importantly, this is how God sees him. All others may reject him, yet He won’t. And in truth, that’s all that really matters.

It’s true… with God on his side, Levi’s footing will be sure. God’s security to replace insecurity. And like with the waterslide, perhaps I need to rest in this truth more than Levi does. As his mother, I need to know he’ll find his feet. I have to hear he’ll be just fine. And God’s word assures me he will.

IMG_0563For He will conceal me in His shelter in the day of adversity; He will hide me under the cover of His tent; He will set me high on a rock.  Psalm 27:5

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