Sketches: Star Wars

Chewie & Han

Gentle Reader,

My mom has chronic intractable migraines. Fancy doctor-speak for severe headaches that last for days and don’t respond to treatment. She once had one that lasted nearly a month. I’m amazed that she continues to be able to handle life.

Every so often, I get a little taste of her experience. Yes, I get headaches on the regular, and have had more in the last couple of years than I ever did before, but for 8 days now I’ve been sliding along a pain spectrum from “wow, this really hurts” to “please, just let me die.” Yesterday, it settled behind my right eye. Hasn’t left yet. I don’t really want to do anything, and stayed in bed as long as I could today, but there comes a point when the misery makes me restless.

So I pruned my roses, pulled some weeds, dusted the house and painted my toenails.

Now, let’s talk: Star Wars. (Prompt submitted by my husband, Chris, via our many and varied conversations about these movies).

Aged Roughly 10

It was a muggy, overcast summer evening. We’d gone to the library as a family that day. Either it was a weekend or my dad took some vacation time, because he was with us. He’d spotted a VHS copy of a movie that he’d loved as a young adult and brought it home. He was still sporting the fantastic mustache that he brutally shaved off a decade ago, the mustache that my brother, my husband, various friends of mine and I have been trying to convince him to grow back ever since. (He has resisted our pleadings. I believe this is out of a desire to simply be contrary).

That movie? The Empire Strikes Back.

“A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away….” flashed across the screen. The first chord of John William’s epic theme played. I sat there on the green-and-white checked couch, wearing a big t-shirt that served as a nightgown, the humidity causing little hairs to curl across my forehead and the back of my neck. Pretty sure the big, orange Tupperware bowl was full of hot, buttered popcorn, because Dad always made popcorn when we watched movies. (I have that bowl today). Always in an air-popper, never on the stove (as it should be).

I was immediately hooked. It didn’t matter that I hadn’t seen A New Hope. I got it: Darth Vader was bad, Luke Skywalker was good, Princess Leia and Han Solo were meant to be together, Chewbacca and Yoda were cool. Lando Calrissian, how could he betray the good guys? He’d better get it in the end! How could they put Han in carbonite? He’s going to die! Would Luke really become a Jedi?

Still my favorite movie in the entire franchise.

Aged 17

A bunch of my friends made a Star Wars fan movie for a drama class project. They spent hours on that thing, crafting a story, figuring out how to do make-up so that a few could be aliens, rotoscoping all of the lightsaber scenes. A real labor of love. I wasn’t in the movie (I don’t remember why), though I heard about every detail, every bickering match, every moment of fun and wonder.

Candidly, I got annoyed with the whole thing. The boy I was dating at the time was involved and every spare moment was given to finishing the project. I don’t consider myself clingy, now or then, but what teenage girl is going to be happy when her boyfriend spends no time with her, particularly at the end of Senior year? Of course, now I know that those boys did a great job (and that the one boy was nowhere near worth the stress and pain).

I wonder who has a copy of that movie now? It’s been years since I’ve seen it.

Aged 21

Chris and I, dating for six months at this point, stood out in the rain, in line for the midnight premiere showing of Revenge of the Sith. I have never gone to another midnight showing and I probably never will, not only because I turn into a pumpkin after 8:00 p.m. but really because that night was special. It can never be duplicated or equaled. Everyone was happy and excited. Complete strangers were delighted to share their theories about the movie with each other. There were a few super-fans dressed in costume. It was all very fun.

At last we settled into our seats in the theater, eager for the show to begin. The “please, silence your cell phones” screen stretched out before us for what seemed like hours. Finally, nothing but blackness before our eyes. Yes! We were ready! Then…nothing. For a long time.

A guy in the back of the theater shouted, “Bring back the cell phone screen!” To this day, Chris and I quote that to each other when we go to the movies.

The movie did eventually play – technical difficulties and all that – and we loved it. By far the best of the prequel movies.

Aged Almost 34

I don’t know why anyone is complaining about the Solo movie. We saw it a week ago and have no complaints. It was a light, entertaining few hours. I felt the same way about The Last Jedi, a hugely divisive movie within the fandom. But here’s the thing: Any time I watch a Star Wars film, I am, for a moment, transported back to that summer night, eating popcorn, my dog Petey stretched out on his side, panting in the heat. It’s good guys and bad guys and feeling tense but knowing that the good guys will surely win in the end. It’s fun. That’s all it has to be.

I mean, really: Star Wars is a space opera. Nobody needs to be looking for deep messages. Just enjoy.

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Review: Unwrapping the Names of Jesus

unwrappingJesus7

Gentle Reader,

Sunday marks the beginning of Advent, the four weeks leading up to the Christmas celebration. This is my favorite time of year. I love pausing to dwell again on the miracle of the Incarnation. I love the music, the lights, the cold weather, the ugly sweaters. I love shopping for gifts. I love filling my husband’s stocking. I love watching the kid’s program at church. The pint-sized actors are always distracted by itchy dresses and tight bowties.

It’s the best.

Last year I spent the month of December in the hospital and then confined to a chair as I recovered from surgery. Depressing. This year I’m determined to wring every ounce of joy out of every day. A new Advent devotional, Unwrapping the Names of Jesus by Ashteriah Ciuciu, will play a large role in that pursuit.

Ashertiah and I connected through Five Minute Friday. Her words have always blessed and encouraged me, so when she invited me to read and review her new book, I was only too happy to do so.

From my Amazon review:

Far more than an Advent devotional, the reflections on the names and titles of God are useful in worship year-round. I appreciate how Asheritah connects the Christmas story with the rest of the salvation narrative; Jesus began His Incarnation as a baby, but He did not remain one. A special favorite of mine is the section dwelling on Jesus as our Great High Priest. How blessed we are that He chose to come here and offer Himself as the once-and-for-all sacrifice on our behalf!

The book is set up in an easy-to-follow fashion. Asheritah provides a “how to” introduction for using the four main chapters (plus a bonus fifth). Designed to follow the weeks of Advent, the chapters open with a family participation guide, filled with Scripture passages to read as that week’s candle is lit, questions to discuss and Christmas songs to sing. (Parents can tailor the observance to the age and maturity of their little ones). The individual reflections within the chapters end with a challenge, a prayer and notes for further study. Each week is concluded with suggestions for activities to put the lessons into practice; again, these can be tailored to the abilities of children in the family.

Having not grown up celebrating Advent, I have been at a loss as an adult as to how to observe the days leading up to Christmas. As such, I thoroughly enjoyed both the worshipful and practical aspects of this book. Asheritah encourages us to pause and reflect on the meaning of the season while gently reminding us that our reflections should lead to action. A truly wonderful resource!

Unwrapping the Names of Jesus is available in electronic and paperback formats here. You won’t regret the purchase!

My journey to faith. (15)

Stop the Glorification of Messy

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com (1)

Gentle Reader,

Long have I debated about whether or not to write about the concept of stewardship, defined as “the responsible planning and management of resources.” Something tells me that this, more than any other topic, has the potential to offend my women readers. (Note that nothing in this post is directed at any individual, though it is at the front of my mind after talking with a friend today).

Stewardship is about so much more than money.

It’s not just writing that tithe check.

Stewardship is bound up in recognizing that God already owns everything. We are tasked with caring for and using wisely whatever He has given us, be it much or little.

I am the last person on earth who will tell you that women must do all the housework. Nor do I believe that men should do all the yard work. The family shares the space, and so each member should contribute to its maintenance in equal measure. No kid is ever harmed by doing chores, no man will die if he does laundry and no woman will faint if she mows the lawn. Each person within the family has preferences, of course. I’ve never mowed a lawn in my life and have no interest in doing so. I also hate cooking.

So this isn’t about rigid gender roles. It’s about figuring out what works for the people living in that space. There’s no “one size fits all” cleaning schedule. There isn’t a hard-and-fast list of rules.

However (and I say that with caution), I have noticed a trend among women authors and photographers in which mess is glorified. In one sense, I get it. Women are busy. We all have jobs (and being a stay-at-home mom is a job). We have schedules to juggle. We have things that we are passionate about. We don’t want (or need) to be wrapped up in a legalistic system of house perfection. We shouldn’t be the only ones doing the housework. So, if the floor goes unvaccumed for a week, that’s fine. If the dishwasher doesn’t get unloaded the second it’s finished running, that’s fine. Nobody needs to be stressing out about having an ever-spotless house.

Neither should we revel in slovenliness. Yes, everyone is different. I don’t collect anything (other than books) because I can’t stand being surrounded by a bunch of stuff. I crave order. I couldn’t leave a kids art project strewn all over the table for more than a day if my life depended on it. But it’s perfectly normal and fine that other people collect Depression-era glassware or have easels set up 24/7. It’s normal and fine for other people to be more neurotic than me or less neurotic than me.

The whole left-brain, right-brain, creativity vs. logic stuff is at play here.

All of that being said, there’s no reason for our homes, inside and out, to be disaster areas.

There really isn’t.

We’ve swung the pendulum too far in the “did you come to see me or to see my house?” line of thinking. Again, I’m not talking about the elimination of all dust bunnies ever or never having a dirty bowl in the sink. We don’t have to strive for hospital-level cleanliness. We should, however, recognize that people feel more comfortable in a tidy home. The carpet doesn’t have to be new. The furniture doesn’t have to match. Nothing has to be fancy or expensive.

It should be inviting.

It should send a message: “I respect myself. I respect what God has given me, whatever it is. I respect you and want you to feel safe and at ease when you come over.”

My question is simple: Are we taking care of the things God gave us?

I grew up very low middle-class, maybe upper-poverty level. We lived in a single-wide trailer on two-and-a-half rented acres. Money was never plentiful. Except for the every-summer, tightly-budgeted school shopping, clothes came from thrift stores or from the hands of my mom as she pushed fabric through a sewing machine. I learned to make my own brown-bag lunches in third grade. My first car had approximately three moving parts, none of which were a heater, an air conditioner or, on one memorable occasion, windshield wipers.

Yet our home was never dirty. The yard and plants were always well-cared for. Our clothes were clean and mended when needed. We all bathed daily. My parents – who worked together and shared the load – communicated to me and my brother, without ever actually saying the words (that I can remember), that it didn’t matter how poor we were or weren’t. You took what you had, cared for it, used it wisely and made the best of it.

That’s what stewardship is.

We need to stop the glorification of messy, because it’s truly a celebration of laziness and a rejection of responsibility. I write this with real understanding that “life happens”; chronic ill health means I’ve had to sometimes redefine what “clean” means for my family and let go of a lot of little, nit-picky things. (And trust me, my husband knows that he’s just as responsible as I am in caring for our home). I know that seasons change.

I also know that if I have time to blog, I have five minutes to wipe down the kitchen counters. If I can read for half an hour, I can scrub the toilet if necessary. I can make the bed every day, except when I’m at my sickest. Doing little bits of cleaning or organizing throughout the week keeps the chores from getting overwhelming.

So, instead of sloughing off responsibility for our homes, let’s figure out what works. This isn’t about condemnation or comparison. Set your space up in a way that works for you. Get your people to do their part.

Let’s be thankful to God for whatever we have.

My journey to faith. (15)

Addendum, 7/14/15: A lovely friend pointed out to me that my words here can come across as condemnatory, despite my desire that they not. I failed to address the fact that there are homes without able-bodied residents, whether they are ill, elderly or dying. It is not my desire than anyone in this situation feel embarrassed or ashamed. I do not want to put pressure on those who don’t need it. My post is directed at the healthy and able-bodied (or those of us on the “high functioning” end of chronic illness) who may take a perverse sense of pride in having a chaotic home.

Church, this is where we need to step up. We need to offer help to those who need it – and keep offering. Even if, gasp!, the people needing help aren’t part of our congregations. (Or, double gasp!, aren’t Christians at all). Those who need the help, please accept it. I know that you might be gun-shy after being hurt or mocked by others. But there really are kind people who will mop your floors or pull your weeds or do anything you need in order to be supportive.

When I am at my worst, there are people who gladly offer to clean my home or cook meals. If Chris wasn’t here and my family didn’t live just around the corner, I would take them up on it. I know they are sincere and seeking to express their love. If there aren’t people in your life who are like this, if your church doesn’t have the first clue about benevolence of this fashion, then…well, I’ll be blunt: it’s probably time to raise a stink with the pastor or other leaders (who may be willing, but dense) if you are able, or to cut ties and find a new church if you’re not.

My prayer is that anyone who reads this and is not able-bodied will not feel accused. You are not the intended audience.

Sex and the Christian Family

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com

Gentle Reader,

The continued mishandling of sex in the Christian community…

It’s not working.

The Bible is clear. Marriage between one man and one woman is the only legitimate context for sex. I don’t deny that at all. I just don’t think the conversation can stop there. The Bible also speaks of men and women falling in love. An entire book celebrates the physical expression of love in sex (Song of Solomon). Prostitutes are redeemed, Jesus saves an adulteress from stoning, Paul enjoys the single life. There’s more to sex in the Bible than “just don’t.”

We’re falling down on the job in a major way. We tell people “don’t, don’t, don’t” and they “do, do, do,” sometimes with awful and twisted consequences. Parents are on the front lines here. They are the ones teaching the next generation. They need to move beyond “don’t.” Now, someone out there is going to say, “You’re not a parent, so what do you know?” I know enough. I know plenty of people who have been abused. I know people who maintained every shred of their purity before marriage and I know people, myself included, who didn’t. I know that kids have questions and we need to get better at answering them, in age-appropriate ways.

In no particular order:

Move beyond “don’t” and into “why.” It’s not enough to tell anyone not to do something without explaining why. God Himself doesn’t even do that. He either spells it out clearly or reveals the reasons through events. So it must be in our conversations about sex. Kids need to know why saving sex for marriage is the right thing to do, especially as they get into those years of raging hormones. They need to know about more than STDs and abortion. They need to know about emotional attachments, spiritual dulling and baggage. They need to know about long-term consequences.

Kids need to be told that they are normal. It’s normal to be curious about the body, both your own and others. It’s normal, as we age, to develop crushes and have desires. There is no shame in that. God designed us this way.

Boundaries. In telling kids that they are normal, the importance of boundaries must be emphasized. They need to know that their curiosity doesn’t give them license to do whatever they want. They also need to know that their “no” means something and it’s not right for their “no” to be ignored.

– An explanation of boundaries must begin at an early age. Kids need to be told that it is NEVER okay for anyone to touch them anywhere in any way that they don’t like, and certainly never okay for anyone to touch their intimate places. They need to know that they should and can IMMEDIATELY tell their parents or other trusted adults if something inappropriate has happened.

– If your kid comes to you and tells you that she has been violated, you need to take action. Not tomorrow. Not later. NOW. If you don’t, you communicate to him devastating things: You don’t believe what he says. You don’t value her. You think that it’s fine for him to be abused.

– If the perpetrator is your own kid, he or she needs to receive immediate help. (He/she should also be removed from the house if he/she is abusing the other child/ren). You cannot deal with this on your own. You need the services of a professional therapist or a pastor with extensive counseling training.

– Boundaries within dating should be discussed. I don’t believe that God frowns when a kiss or a hug is exchanged, but those kisses and hugs can escalate quickly. Again, that’s normal. We are sexual beings. What safeguards will dating children have in place? The point is not to be legalistic, but to develop a realistic standard based on God’s word and the maturity of the child.

Teach them the correct words. Vagina. Penis. Breasts. Testicles. Uterus. Ovaries. Orgasm. And my computer isn’t bursting into flames!

Responsibility. This is one area in which I think we fail most consistently, in several ways:

– Kids need to be told, in no uncertain terms, that it is NOT their fault if someone chooses to abuse them. All the blame must be placed squarely on the shoulders of the perpetrator.

– Young ladies need to be told that they are not responsible for the actions of men. I do believe that women should dress with dignity, understanding that they are beautiful, intricately designed daughters of the King. We should dress in a way that honors the Lord by honoring our bodies, not putting every inch of skin on display. There aren’t hard-and-fast rules, though. What one woman is comfortable with another may not be. Bottom line: even the loosest turtleneck made of the heaviest fabric will not keep a man from lusting if he has a mind to do so, and this is not the fault of any woman.

– Young men need to be told that Jesus never advocated lust management or blame-shifting. Marriage was not meant to be simply an outlet for a man’s sexual desire. It is not fine for a man to indulge his lust with his wife. Sex is meant to be an expression of love and an avenue for deepest connection. If a man struggles with lust, he must recognize that as his struggle. His struggle is not made easier by the availability and increasing mainstream acceptance of pornography, nor is it made easier by a woman’s lack of understanding her own dignity in the way she dresses. Nevertheless, his struggle is not to be blamed on any woman. His choices and thoughts are his own.

The conversation must be on-going. Too many parents stop at an explanation of how babies are made. That’s not enough. Kids need to know that they can come to their parents with any questions, any confusion. They need to know that their parents are safe and won’t drag them over the coals.

Your story. Kids need to know how and why you struggled. They need to know why you feel so strongly about this. They need to know when you failed and when you succeeded. They need to know your regrets and what you’re thankful for.

Jesus. From the earliest age, like within the womb, kids need to hear about Jesus. They need to be told about God. They need to hear how wonderful and awesome and holy and perfect and loving He is. They need to know that they can talk to Him about anything. That they can pour their hearts out. They need to be told, in clear and simple terms, about sin and the cross and the Resurrection. They need to know how important it is that they ask Him for forgiveness and ask Him to be the Lord of their lives.

Grace. It must be explained, emphasized and given. Because even the best Bible study, the most comprehensive conversation, the best explanations as to “why,” the most authentic sharing of story cannot keep people from making choices. Kids are sinners, just like their parents. They need to know that stones will not be hurled at their heads. They need to know that the wonderful Jesus you’ve told them about can and will forgive them of anything they’ve done. They need to know that you’ll forgive them. They need to know that they can forgive themselves.

This is far too important an issue. We cannot keep bungling it. Kids cannot keep suffering because we’re too uncomfortable to say the word “penis” or too ashamed to tell them that we had sex before we got married. We, the adults, need to grow up and step up. We’ve got to stop wringing our hands and screaming “no!” We’ve got to stop shaming the next generation because they have the same questions, struggles, longings and desires we do.

We need to do better.

We must.

My journey to faith. (15)

May 23, 2015: After reading this post, a friend of mine pointed out that pornography isn’t just a “man’s issue” and modesty isn’t just a “woman’s issue.” She is entirely correct. Increasing numbers of women turn to pornography (though it may be labeled “erotica”). Women enjoy looking at attractive men just as much as men enjoy looking at attractive women; there’s a reason Mark Wahlberg’s Calvin Klein ad has never faded away.

So, the conversation about pornography and modesty must include both girls and boys. They all need to be taught how to present themselves in a way that honors both God and the body. And while kids should be told that it’s normal to notice and appreciate physical beauty, they must also be taught that people are not objects.

Photo credit: Shelby Deeter