A Parable

A little girl stopped to watch a craftsman carving a huge mass of wood at the county fair one day. After several minutes had passed she asked him, “Mister, what are you carving that wood into?”

“Why, this is going to be a magnificent dragon when I’m done with it,” he replied.

A few days later the same young girl returned to the fair and was shocked to see not a dragon, but a small butterfly carved into what small bit was left of the once-majestic tree. Surprised by what she saw, she asked, “What happened to the dragon you were carving?”

With a tear in his eye the craftsman answered, “In the dark of night some rascals came and hacked away at my beautiful creation. Taking what they left behind, I was able to carve this small butterfly instead. She’s not as big as I had intended her to be, nor as radiant, but she is beautiful, and still very precious to me.”

With that, he applied his finishing touches, set down his tools, and gingerly picked up his little butterfly and carried her away with him, holding her close to his heart with all the pride of a dragon master, and enough love for that small butterfly to give even a mighty dragon the gift of flight.

Perfection as Compassion

In Brennan Manning’s Abba’s Child, he points out the time when Jesus asked us to be perfect, as our heavenly father is perfect. The word translated perfect is actually about being compassionate. Be compassionate, the way the father, the creator whose image we were made in, is compassionate. He gives the example of having been asked by an evangelical, while serving in the Regional AIDS Interfaith Network in New Orleans, what the posture of the Christian community ought to be toward the gay community.

His response was to cite the parable given by Jesus about letting the weeds grow up with the wheat. If we tear out of our community what we perceive to be weeds (note, I said perceive, for even Manning says we cannot know a person’s motive), we will tear out the wheat right along with it. When we presume to stand in God’s judgment seat, rather than his mercy seat, we do great damage. Ironically, after Romans 1, which includes a discourse by Paul against all kinds of sins, including sexual sins, he says we therefore have no right to judge anybody. Why would he say that unless he believed we all fall short of the glory of God just as much as we all have hope in being saved by him?


I’m reading Abba’s Child by Brennan Manning. There’s a section in here that says so clearly what I used to try to convey so unsuccessfully. I used to frequent what others considered to be the dark corridors of human society; I was part of a community that other Christians I knew wouldn’t go anywhere near. I was really part of that community. I wasn’t there to just share the gospel and then leave. I wasn’t an outsider in their midst. They were my friends, and I was part of their lives as they were part of mine. In the end, I didn’t leave because I fulfilled my mission among them–I never intended to leave at all. I left because my presence there was creating such a severe rift between myself and those who insisted I was wrong to be there that I found myself having to choose between them and my own family.

I find this passage from Brennan Manning to communicate so clearly what I failed to convey to other Christians at that time, that I can’t help but share it here, in this place where I occasionally step out of my shell and reveal a bit of what lies beneath the surface of me.

Brennan writes,

Because the shining sun and the falling rain are given both to those who love God and to those who reject God, the compassion of the Son embraces those who are still living in sin. The Pharisee lurking within all of us shuns sinners. Jesus turns toward them with gracious kindness. He sustains His attention throughout their lives for the sake of their conversion “which is possible to the very last moment.”

God never leaves us, never forsakes us, never gives up hope that we will turn to him and place our trust in his heavenly care. Even when we’re sinning, even when we’re rejecting him, even when we want nothing to do with him, he eagerly awaits our attention like a mother whose baby is just beginning to walk away from her for the first time. Why shouldn’t we, as the baby’s brothers and sisters, dwell with our mother and our sibling in this place? Who knows, maybe if the baby falls, we will be there to pick him or her up and redirect them to the care that awaits them, because of the trust we have earned as people of love and safety. Wouldn’t a parent’s heart rejoice at such love between siblings? Aren’t we all created in God’s image, all descended from the same breath of God as one another, part of the same creation he so lovingly cares for, and doesn’t he ask us to care for it with him?

Grandma Snyder

Grandma Snyder and Me in 2010

This is what I read at my Grandma’s funeral on February 14, 2015. I love you, Grandma….

My Grandma thought Disneyland was the happiest place on Earth. She was wrong. The happiest place on Earth was whatever place she was in at any given time. As a girl, I got to spend two weeks at a time, every summer, with Grandma and Grandpa. When Grandma used to take me to work with her, we would stroll down the sidewalk on Ventura’s Pierpont Boulevard, toward the tiny little corner market she worked in. I spent most of my time on the floor reading Archie comics, or sitting near her at the cash register talking her head off. I used to watch her in amazement, because every person who came through that door was like a son or a daughter, a niece or a nephew, a cousin or a dearly beloved friend. She somehow knew most of them by name, and would ask specific questions about how their lives were going. She didn’t just know them, either, she was positively thrilled to see them, each and every one–even the ones who were just coming in for the first time, or whom she had not yet had the pleasure of making a connection with.

Just as in every other environment I ever knew her in, she would smile and laugh all day long, yet she would also move right into the hearts of people and keep up with what was going on with them. Unlike people who are a walking party, always smiling and laughing but not necessarily connecting with people on a deep level, Grandma was first and foremost concerned with people’s hearts, relationships, and lives in general. The smiles and laughter just seemed to be an extension of her joy at having the opportunity to be near people. Her heart was so big, it was happiest when it was chock full of people to love.

Speaking of loving people, I never saw her shine so completely as when she took us to Disneyland every year while she worked there. She truly belonged there. She worked at the Plaza Inn, but she knew cast members from one side of the park to the other. She beamed at the sight of every single one of them, asking how they were doing, showing us off to them, smiling hugely and laughing boisterously the whole time. Every single one of them obviously loved her–they lit up when she came around like the children did when they saw the park for the first time.

She got to be part of the annual Christmas Candlelight Processional at Disney, in the singing Christmas tree that walked through the park in the parade at the end of the show. It was a huge deal to her, and we were honored to get seats several times to see her shine in that special way at Disney. The first time my husband got to join us on our yearly Disneyland excursion, he didn’t know her all that well yet because he and I were still dating. All through the day, he kept calling her Carol, even though her name was actually Norma. Well, I had no idea this was going on, what with my two year old keeping me busy all through the day. When we left the park that night, we were in the foyer at IHOP, waiting to be seated. She was facing him with this huge Cheshire Cat grin on her face. I was wondering what on earth was going on, when he called her Carol right there on the spot. I was like, “Carol? Her name is Norma! Have you been calling her Carol all day?!” He was so embarrassed, and admitted that he had been, and she just sat there reveling in the whole darn thing. She had wondered when he’d catch on, and had been enjoying the private joke the whole day long!

At my wedding, Grandma and Grandpa were escorted down the aisle by our goof friend, Mike. He had Grandma on his arm, and Grandpa behind, just as all of our parents and grandparents had been escorted in. Somehow, Grandma had gotten it in her head that our young friend Mike was going to try something with her. I have a picture of her on his arm, looking at him with her head tilted down, eyebrows raised, and knowing smile of warning. She talked about him for a long time after that, even though Mike was the quietest, most shy person in our entire wedding party–he certainly didn’t have eyes for my grandma, especially with Grandpa walking just behind. But she could never be convinced. She always retold the story with a huge smile, as if she was convinced she still had it, and that that young man had somehow known it.

Grandma and I practically shared a birthday, and she bragged about that fact all the time. She was so honored I came along near the time of her own birthday! We often had our birthday parties together, thrown by my mom. The funny thing is, despite her constantly bringing it up, always connecting with me over it, she would still confuse the actual date with other family members’ birthdays, year after year after year. She’d call 6 days early, confusing it with the number of her son, Vernon’s date, or a couple weeks late when her own birthday reminded her she’s missed mine. She’d always re-tell me how she would mix the dates up, and she would sing Happy Birthday to me in her sweet Snow White singing voice.

One year, I was already married with children, my mom already moved to Nevada, and Grandma was having a big birthday party for herself at her home in Twenty-Nine Palms. She invited me to be an honored birthday guest along with her. Her sisters came with many of their kids, and we had a party at the pool. Well, Grandma and her sisters, all looking very much like one another, sang and sang and sang the day away. They sang while laughing, they sang some sentimental pieces, they sang more while laughing, and they laughed while trying to sing lyrics they couldn’t quite remember anymore. There she was, shining again. It was beautiful. I felt like I was seeing her as a little girl with her sisters, in an era long gone by in reality, but not in her heart and memories.

When I was 11, staying with Grandma and Grandpa at their home in Ventura, I met a boy at the beach. Back then people used to use their phones to actually call people, so I got his number and would hide out in the guest room talking to my new boyfriend. I told Grandma he and I were going out. She asked me where we were going. I rolled my eyes and said, “No, Grandma, that’s just a figure of speech! It means he’s my boyfriend!” She said, ” I know that, I just want to know where you’re going.” I tried again, amused that she didn’t understand the ways of my generation, and she kept insisting, “I understand. But I still want to know where you’re going.” I finally gave up, and would wonder about that talk for years, before realizing her Cheshire Cat grin had indicated that she was seriously enjoying messing with me.

I still can’t quite figure out why, but Grandma and Grandpa loved me in a way that didn’t come easily to everyone in my life. You see, I was more than a handful. Grandma used to brag to me that her natural hair color was red like mine, even though she often had it dyed other colors. Well, I think I must have gotten some of her portion of redheaded spitfire along with my own, because there was way too much in me to contain in one teeny little girl body. One year when I went to stay with them, Grandma tried to serve me a plate of liver and onions. She sat there eating hers calmly while I exclaimed, “You are trying to feed liver and onions to a 7th grader?! How rude! I’m not going to eat that! Besides, my mom says I don’t have to eat yucky foods. She said when she was a kid you made her eat all kinds of terrible things, like Brussels Sprouts, and she will never make me eat anything like that!” She casually asked, “Have you ever eaten Brussels Sprouts?” I said no, and she asked, “Then how do you know you don’t like them?” She had me there, and I do like them, but I wasn’t going for that liver and onions. She didn’t force it, either. She simply said I could fend for myself, and I did.

When they drove me to the harbor to look at boats, I asked why we were doing such a thing. They said they were thinking about buying one, and I insisted they didn’t have the money to buy a boat, didn’t have the space to store a boat, and that I bet they didn’t even know how to sail a boat! I was loud, and I was proud. Naturally, I easily offended people. Not them. They just responded to my questions casually, as if they were talking to a fully reasonable human being, and never wavered in their patience with me. I suppose it serves me right that sometime in the near future of that event, Grandpa and Grandma, Uncle Mike and Aunt Ledeen, took me and my cousins out on a Catamaran. And it tipped over with us on it. I wasn’t the brightest kid on the block, because as I bobbed in the water terrified and having an all-out, and very loud, panic attack about the sharks that were certainly about to come eat us all alive, everyone laughed their heads off at me… because we were in a river. Despite that fact, I still couldn’t be convinced. They really enjoyed telling my husband that story later in life, and somehow it’s still just about the funniest thing in the world to everyone, even me. In fact, Grandpa requested I include this story in my sharing today.

Even weirder than my brazen tongue were the nervous ticks I had as a kid. Some years I had worse habits than others. One year, I would snort like a pig. I had no control over it, it would just happen, so after a few months I decided to nip it in the bud. How did I plan to do this? I would whistle every time the snort would come out of me. So here I am, probably about nine years old, maybe a little younger, sitting in the backseat of Grandma and Grandpa’s car, snorting and whistling randomly. At one point, Grandma casually turns around and asks me sweetly, “Why does my baby girl do that?” She wasn’t irritated, she wasn’t angry or frightened or annoyed, she just wanted to know. So I told her. I had no idea, but I whistled to defeat the snorting. She looked at me kindly, processing what I was saying, and then said, “Okay, I was just wondering.” As far as I remember, neither one of them ever brought it up again. They just accepted me for who I was. And they continued to do so over the entire course of my life. Just last Christmas, on the phone, they were telling me again that I’m special, and they didn’t want me changing who I am for anybody. Against all odds, and no matter how weird or rebellious I got as a kid, they always told me, usually with huge smiles and bursts of laughter, that I was a gem and I should be myself always. Somehow, who I am tickled them pink. It has been good to be loved by them.

Toward the end, my youngest son, Hurshel, connected with his Great Grandma. She said he has a smile like Jimmy Carter had when he ran for president, although I told her that Hurshel is much more like her than Jimmy Carter, in that he has more vitality and love for life than most people do. She agreed. They emailed back and forth, and were getting to know each other pretty well. He will always treasure that time he had with her.

Grandma spoke easily with me about the love of God, through many spiritual changes in both us. She always listened, always hoped, always loved me and my family. Some of her very last words to me were these:

“Even when the sun goes down it is still bright outside. That is what you do for me.”

Imagine If You Will

Imagine, if you will, a world in which it is common place to feed ourselves, and even our children, addictive, life-destroying drugs in low doses, flavored so as to appeal to the palate and keep them coming back for more. Let’s just say that we use the common dismissal, “it’s just this once” or “it’s not very often” over and over to the point, until which point when we look back at the end of our days we see it was, in fact, the norm. Imagine if the building blocks we put into our bodies are actually dead, devoid of benefit, and even worse, actually harmful. Let’s say the damage is not immediately apparent, so we continue in these habits for about 50 or 60 years until we realize the damage we’ve done now requires so much nutritional catching up, and so much detoxing, that it may actually be too late to reclaim the health we once had. What if more people die from this long-term, slow death, than any other means?

Certainly you’ve guessed by now that I’m talking about our world, and our addiction to sugars and processed foods, and the fact that more people are dying, in the United States, at least, from their diets than anything else. Cancer, heart disease, diabetes, poor cholesterol levels, weakened immunity in the holiday sugar season (aka the flu season), and more, are all diet-related diseases. Studies are even beginning to point to diet as the most instrumental factors in Alzheimer’s and Multiple Sclerosis, among other diseases we wouldn’t necessarily relate to what we eat.

Now imagine trying to break the cycles. Imagine insisting your family only eat what will bless and build up our bodies for the good. Yet everywhere you go, where the food preparation is outside of your control, your kids are being handed highly processed foods, candies, pastries, foods fried in fatty oils, hot dogs on white bread, hamburgers (read Campbell’s The China Study for information on the damage done to our bodies from the consumption of animal products), and more. Imagine seeing the “house of God” giving your kids candy, chips and ice cream as incentive toward heightened church attendance or Bible study. I won’t even start on birthday parties, when I still can’t get out of buying my own children cakes laden with highly toxic levels of sugar, white wheat flour and food coloring, because their little hearts would break. I wish I had never started them on this crap diet we eat in this country. They’re already used to the life I led them into, even as I have changed my eating to only whole plant foods, with very few exceptions (mostly in the form of the occasional muffin at Souplantation or some pasta on the side of our dinner).

I wish this country would wake up and start eating right. I wish I had given my kids a better foundation. I wish my body had a better foundation, although I thank God that along with all the garbage I ate as a child, I did eat loads of whole plant foods.

Thank you for reading my rant. I feel helpless and hopeless and discouraged. It’s hard to have a strong conviction like this one and actually see it come to fruition. I control dinner 6 nights a week, but I’m not the only one who provides food for my family, and it’s impossible to keep only good stuff in here. I feel like I’m losing this battle. Is anyone out there having better success at turning the tides of the “American Diet” in their own families?

The Church

On Sunday our associate pastor John Navarro spoke about growing bitter over the loss of the old ways of being the people of God, aka the church. I was more than a little uncomfortable in my seat as he spoke.

He was talking about people who get caught up in using the Bible alone as a means to approaching God and the Christian life. They throw out the Holy Spirit, and interaction with our Lord, and only soak themselves in the printed word. It’s all about knowing the right thing, believing the right thing, saying the right thing, demanding the right thing. But walking with God through his spirit, centering our lives around and through him, letting him move in and have his being within us, all are discarded as extras, or even as dangers.

I did not get to the place of yearning for the early church ways in that way at all, but I did get there. Am here today. Years ago, I had a Matrix moment in which I was offered two pills. One would open my eyes to a far different reality than I had known, and one would keep me seeing the world the way I currently saw it. I shouldn’t have eaten the eye-opener. But I did. And I saw that the church had come a long way.

John said that the early church was an infant, that she has come a long way in maturing into what she is today. He said that to want for infancy (ie, the early church ways) would cause us to be stubborn and religious, which would birth in us bitterness and resentment.

I don’t see it that way at all. I think the church is more like the church at Laodecia than a mature bride. I think the “American” church in general, with exceptions I’ll quickly admit to, has replaced son/daughter-ship for a business model, and love for law. I think she’s lost the potential for deep community through the routines she’s established, and replaced being the family of God for being a group of like-minded gatherers in the name of a God the people don’t necessarily fellowship with outside of Sunday’s four walls.

However, I am bitter and resentful. I didn’t get here the way he described in his sermon, and “here” isn’t exactly the “here” he was referring to, but I am so bitter, so resentful.

I just erased several paragraphs I wrote in the last half hour detailing all I mourn over, because I know the cost of thinking the way I do. Not just the cost which is the pain that comes from my screwed up way of seeing things, but also the cost that comes from people who are the exception, or else just wish to be, who are angry at me for thinking the church has grown lukewarm and disconnected.

So, what should I do? I am trying to form deeper connections and be the change I want to see. Unfortunately, I have suffered a major blow this summer. I am working through it, and what it has revealed to me about myself, in therapy. (My previous, and very hip, pastor used to praise therapy so often, like a cheerleader for the cause, I can’t help but feel a little cool admitting I’m getting help.) I cannot be the change I wish to be, except for in small bursts here and there, which is exactly what I complain the church is doing.

For heaven’s sake, perhaps the bride of Christ is just messed up like I am, and I just need to lighten up and give her the same grace I need for myself. Get over what’s missing because even I can’t bring it to the table.

I’ve been spending more time in silence and solitude with God, with and without the printed word, with and without song, with and without prayer, with and without listening for who-knows-what he might say to me, if anything at all. I have been loving my family better. I have been a better school teacher. I have been a better home-maker. And thank God, I have been a better wife, perhaps the hardest task I put myself to, even though my husband’s love apparently knows no bounds.

When people say, “we are the church,” they aren’t kidding. Really, like it or lump it….

I am the church.

The Old Man… Again

A few years ago (when this blog was full of posts that have since been deleted due to a major turn-around in my life), I wrote a post about the “Old Man.” I was stunned at that time to find myself in a position of having to lay down a toxic self, and become renewed once again by God. It wasn’t my first turn-around, and I hadn’t expected to ever make one again after the one that was my first.

In my youth I had had many small turn-arounds, but it wasn’t until I found myself pregnant and abandoned at age 18 that my life took a complete turn from one way of living to another. Naively, I had the feeling at that time that that turn-around was going to be the only one in my life. I never anticipated having to stop in my tracks again, and go through a serious overhaul of my life. I believed that walking with God fervently would prevent such a thing in the future. But it hadn’t. I discovered that walking fervently with God isn’t as easy as I thought it would be when I first set out to do it.

So, back to a few years ago when I first blogged about the “Old Man.” I had thought I was on fire for God and moving along steadily in his will for me, when suddenly I had to turn around and face what my life had become… and a lot of it wasn’t very pretty.

Today, thankfully, I am not making another such overhaul. Yet I am reflecting on the idea of laying down part of myself, the “Old Woman” as it were, as I adjust to some recent changes in my life.

I really thought, when I was young and unseasoned, that unless a person completely backslid away from God and into a life of worldly, or otherwise selfish pursuit, they wouldn’t again have an “Old Man” to lay down. I really thought there was a black and a white, an on and an off, a with-God and a without-God, so that if I chose to walk away from him I’d develop a self to lay down, but otherwise, I wouldn’t.

That has so not been the case with me. I suspect it’s not the case with anyone. After all, they don’t say the church is full of hypocrites for nothing. We know the most gracious, merciful, loving entity in the world, we fill our hearts with him and sing his praises and seek to spend our lives with and for him, and yet we continue to fall on our faces in sin and shame. We hurt people, we say mean things, we drink too much, we swear, we lie, cheat and steal, and we watch rated-R movies (my husband and I rarely do that, but we have seen many… we just watched Gladiator with the kids last month for educational purposes, and we’re not ashamed!).

So, today, as I wonder aloud at having to lay down some pretty large parts of myself, I am thinking about that “Old Woman.” May she rest in peace, and never return. May her corpse fertilize the field she lies in, and bring about beautiful flowers and grasses and seed-bearing fruits to grace all who come near. May the memory of her bring spring rain upon the field, making it grow stronger and more beautiful, even if it is in the form of shed tears. May her memory bring renewed humility and sensitivity to this heart of mine, enabling me to love more carefully and genuinely from here out. And may her sacrifice prove to be the oil that flows over me, anointing me further unto the Lord than ever before, cleansing me and healing me, as I become a more whole woman, and human being in general.

Thank you, God, for never leaving nor forsaking me. You truly have my back, even as you live in my heart. How beautiful are you.