I remember with great clarity the last time someone slapped me in the face. I remember it like it was, well, never. I don't know that I even know anyone who's ever actually been slapped in the face. I mean really - who does that?
Hitching your attitude to a star of happy circumstance only works until the star burns out and falls, as they all do. If we focus on our negative circumstances, we become negative; if we focus on our happy circumstances, we are bound to crash and burn sooner or later. What a sad state we are in.
Templates simplify because they save you the trouble of making certain decisions, leaving a little room for variety without requiring you to go back to the drawing board each time.
Templates can be good and useful. Except when they're not.
When we're children, we make observations about the world and then we draw conclusions about how things work and how people behave. We essentially create templates for how to successfully live our lives.
On the Iris & Lily Facebook page a prospective reader will occasionally ask, "Is this a Christian book?"
Ask me about my own experience with sexual molestation, domestic violence, marital infidelity, estrangement from my children, and financial ruin, and I will answer you as forthrightly and honestly as I know how. And I do. My personal transparency is what gives purpose to my writing and to my story.
But ask me if Iris & Lily is a Christian book, and you render me speechless, partly because I don't even understand the question. So let's figure out what that question means and then I'll do my best to answer it.
getting to the end
My fast ended up being 13 days long. It was a corporate fast, which means that my whole church was doing it together. I started one day late because I had a family celebration on the first day and thought it best not to unleash the beast at a baby shower.
I thought about going an extra day, just to get the 14th day in, but I tend toward legalism and I'm very strict with rules in general. I mean, if I set the elliptical at the gym for 30 minutes, it takes a fire, earthquake, and a plague of locusts to get me off of there before the timer beeps. So in my case, it is almost more difficult to end a day early, but I felt that finishing up and celebrating on the Sabbath along with everyone else was the right thing to do. A little imperfect, perhaps, but perfect in its own way.
Yesterday was my most difficult day since the beginning, at least in terms of denying myself. I wanted a freakin' cup of COFFEE! I also wanted something substantial to eat, I wanted flavors and textures that you don't enjoy with fruits and vegetables and water. Maybe as the end of this fast comes into view, I am like the hare who thinks the race is won and so wants to stop and take a rest along the side of the road. Hang on, baby; we're not there yet.
I entered this fast with a couple of specific intentions in mind. Usually, when I petition someone about something, one of two things happens: they give it to me, or they say no. Once they say no the matter is closed. If that happens, I can try to find what I need from someone else or figure out some other way to solve my problem.
That's doesn't seem to be how it works when you petition God. When I ask God for something, a myriad of things can happen. In fact, I believe they do. Once I set my desire on something and I vocalize it in prayer, an entire drama is set in motion, one that includes and affects me, my desire, the other people who would be touched in some way when the prayer gets answered, and if it doesn't. Praying is like that old adage: A man can't step into the same river twice; he is changed and so is the river.
My fast seems to be a moving thing. It swells and ebbs. Some days it is agitated and some days it is peaceful. Some days it changes from hour to hour. My body is a boat, floating on a river, leading me to somewhere I've never been before.
My cravings and my body in general have grown more quiet. Even my prayer time has become more quiet, as I've learned to approach the altar with remembrance of all the miracles that God has performed in my life, all the ways in which He has demonstrated His great love for me.
I'm thinking about the concept of surrender. Last Sunday at service, Pastor Pierre asked, "Are you willing to surrender your dreams and your vision for your life to God?" My automatic response is "yes", but then I ask myself, "Do I really understand what that means? The thing that has always confused me about that is that in one breath he is teaching that God has ordained me for a purpose, and that I must - in faith - flatten the mountain in my life that is driving me back into complacency so that I can fulfill God's calling on my life. Then, we are encouraged to surrender our visions to God. But how can I surrender and forge ahead at the same time?
Week Two (WHEW)
Entering week 2 feels like a great success to me. I never thought I would make it this far. Without getting fired from my job, or divorced, that is.
But here we are. Yesterday was an uplifting day, with a couple of very energizing church services at The Father's House and a three-mile walk in the cold in between. It was a day of learning and reflection.
Rebuilding my altar
One of the main things I took away from Pastor Pierre's message (and there was a LOT to take away) was the idea of rebuilding my altar. He asked, "What is your altar built on?" In other words, what premise am I coming from when I come to God in prayer?
Ask and you shall receive. Maybe. Sometimes.
I was thinking more about the reasons why I began this fast and about the conflict between what the Bible says about prayer, and what my personal experience with prayer tends to be.
The Bible clearly says, "Ask you you shall receive" but clearly it's just not that simple. At least it hasn't been for me. I was thinking yesterday about the how some prayers take such a long time to get answered, if they get answered at all. We live in a complex system of people, culture, desire, and circumstance, all of which is always moving and changing. Our prayers are moving targets and we are archers on the run.
I said the "F" word today. Twice.
I had decided to get some light exercise during my lunch break, just to get my blood moving. I got myself all set up on a stationary bike and put my ear buds in, only to discover that the wifi at the gym wasn't working. I asked a couple of employees about it, but no one knew what the problem was, and in my estimation they simply weren't taking it seriously enough. The young woman behind the counter just looked at me blankly, looked at her phone and then said, "Huh. It's working for me."
COMPULSION OF DESIRE
When I was a little girl, my sister and I used to take dance lessons at the Limelight Dance Boutique on Saturday mornings. On the way home from lessons (we walked, believe it or not), we would pass a bakery that always had my favorite treat on display in the front window: the black and white cookie. If I remember correctly, they cost a dime. (Well, it was 1969.) Some Saturdays, I would push open the front door of that bakery, the little bell would jingle, and I would be instantly transported from the fantasy of a black and white, to a reality in which I was overcome by the warm sweetness of the bakery air, my whole being surrendering to the delight, my mouth watering in anticipation of that first delectable lick of luscious, creamy frosting. (You never bite into a black and white without licking it first.) The only thing keeping me from stopping every Saturday was that I didn't usually have a dime. But if I did, buying a black and white was a foregone conclusion. There was no choice about it; I was compelled by my desire.
As the fog lifts
I think I've turned a corner in this crazy journey. The past three days have been marked by confusion and exhaustion and a hair-trigger emotional response, but I feel like I am coming out of the fog a bit.
I have to say that by the end of the first day of this fast, I was certain that I wouldn't even make it through Day 2. I kept wanting someone to talk me out of it, but since you're not supposed to tell anyone that you're fasting, chances of that happening were pretty slim. I tried to blink out, "Make me eat a cracker!" in morse code, but my boss just looked at me quizzically and said, "Are you OK?"
Day 3? Really? Feels like 30. (Holla if you just heard Ian Gillan singing in your head.) I'm tired and I'm constipated, but I'm still going. I know that's probably more information than you want, but my filters aren't working all that well right now.
No coffee this morning, not even a kiss from my husband while he was having his morning cup. I also skipped the gym this morning, which is almost more of a challenge for me than abstaining from my favorite food and drink.
I'm a bit of an exercise junkie. I've been going to the gym before work in the morning for more than 20 years. I'm dedicated to remaining as strong and healthy as I can. I plan on being around for a long time; there is still so much I want to do.
Yesterday was not my finest hour.
By noon, I was sitting in my office in tears. My thoughts were disorganized, and even my behavior didn't make much sense. I wanted to close my office door and spend some quiet time in meditation, but for some reason I went into the kitchen and heated up my lunch vegetables instead. It was like my mind and my body weren't communicating. Realizing that I had heated up my food, I felt obligated to eat it. I ate my veggies so fast that I burned my mouth. It never occurred to me to pray while my broccoli cooled. My critical thinking skills were like rats from a sinking ship.
I've been stuck. For years now - like 20 years - I've been bringing two key petitions (I call them The Big Two) before God in prayer, but I've not seen resolution. Which has led me to ask some questions: What are the criteria that govern God's answers to our prayers? Can I trust Him with the desires of my heart, even after all these years? Why have I been asking for so long and yet not received?
I am in love with Midge Maisel. There, I said it.
It's a relationship that is not without its problems. For one thing, she was born in the 1930s, so there is a slight age difference. Also, she is Jewish; I don't think her parents would approve. Maybe most difficult is the fact that she doesn't actually exist.
The other morning around 5:10, I was in my car, driving down my street to go to the gym, sleep still in my eyes, and I saw an orange tabby cat in the road. Just sitting there. No matter how closely I inched toward him he didn't budge. I figured he must have been in some kind of trouble, totally lacking in any apparent self-preservation instinct.
I embraced my first real post-election opportunity to do so yesterday along with my friend Janice. A gay couple who live in the Browncroft neighborhood where Janice lives had a rainbow flag on their porch. Someone set it on fire. On their front porch. Of their house. Where they live.