Getting Ready

I got up very early Saturday morning to find that it was raining.

No matter. Off I went to the restroom. I brushed my teeth, ran a brush through my hair and jumped in the shower. Once I’d washed my hair I reached for the soap—there was none.

Dripping wet as I was I stepped out and looked for a bar soap behind the mirror—there was none. Not even hand soap. Oh, well. Shampoo is just another liquid soap, right? I stepped back into the shower and yelped as I slipped and landed on the tile floor with a painful smack.

Sh—Ow!!

I stayed on the shower floor a few seconds with rivulets of water running down my body. There, in the heel of my foot, was stuck the thin remnant of a bar of soap. The nasty little culprit had camouflaged against the white tile. I peeled it from my foot and threw it in the toilet bowl before making a gigantic effort to get back on my feet. Somehow I felt much heavier than my full 250 pounds, and it felt like my knee had sustained some serious strain. But I could not blame anyone but myself for this blunder—this was my restroom and my shower. No one else but me would have dropped that tiny little piece of soap that made me slip and fall.

Once I was done showering I carefully stepped out, dried myself, and went to my room to change. I didn’t bother with the hair except blow-drying it and pulling it up in its habitual pony tail. No makeup either. I knew the rules.

As I pulled on my boots, a thought came into my head, and I hurried to pull out my coat. Phone, phone, phone…

I tried to go down the stairs quickly but my knee protested. Just as well. Had it not ached so, I would have laughed at Mara’s face when she saw me come down dressed and ready. I swear, she almost fell from sheer amazement.

“Ready?” she asked, recovering quickly enough

“Just a phone call,”

She arched a brow. Obviously she wanted to know who I was gonna call, but decided against asking. She turned and got the car keys, “There’s toast and jam out. Drink some milk too. I’ll see you in the car. Hurry.”

“Thanks,” I answered as I dialed a number into the phone keypad.

The phone rang three times before he answered it, “Hello?”

“Uh. Hi. Tony?”

“Yeah.”

“This is Tanya.”

“I know. What’s up, kiddo?”

“Um…” I fidgeted with the phone cord, “You’re coming, right? Just wanted to check…”

“Yeah. I’m still getting ready.” His voice sounded a tad deeper than usual, and I wondered at what stage of “ready” he was at. Had I just woken him up? The thought made me crazy anxious.

“Ok. You got the address, right?”

“Uh-huh. Hey,” He paused, “You ok?”

“Yeah. Just…I’m a little nervous.”

“Nervous?”

“I told you, right? I haven’t been there for at least two years…”

“I know. But you want to go this time around, don’t you?”

“Yeah. No…I mean, I wish I could be heading to Zuri’s instead…But it’s all the same, right? Zuri said it’s the same God…”

He chuckled, “I know, you told me.”

I felt stupid. Why was I babbling? “So I’ll see you then?”

“Yep.”

“Ok.”

“Alright, bye,”

“Bye—Oh! And Tony?”

“Yeah?”

I looked at the phone cord in my hand. I had looped and twisted it round my hand in an impossible number of coils, “Thanks”

I heard the smile in his voice, “No problem, kiddo”

I hung up and ran out to the car as fast as my aching knee let me.

I was going to church.

 

Part 19 of If You Only Knew

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If My People

When we finally went in to church, I took my usual seat in the back, and Zuri went on and took her seat at one of the front pews. A person sitting some eight pews in front of me turned and looked back. It was Tony. He looked strange—was he growing a beard? He looked much older. He smiled through the gloom of the church, and motioned me to join him there.

I waved back and smiled. And while a great part of me wanted to desperately cast away the melancholia induced by solemn talk I’d had in the car with Zuri, I shook my head and stayed where I was.

Zuri had told me to ask God what my purpose in life was.

But how to ask?

And how to know what his will was?

First of all, how could I dare? How could I draw to the altar and bend my knees in prayer, and ask God to guide me with the full knowledge that just today I’d hidden a stash of benzos I’d bought with money I’d stolen from Mara?

I contemplated my life, such as it was. It was distasteful. There was nothing to be proud of. Not even my GPA. The past I hated, and the future I dreaded.

The worship leaders got up on stage and began singing their simple songs.

I’d always listened, with detachment born out of scorn for the simple music. But for the first time I saw and heard it for the heartfelt music that it really was.

I closed my eyes, and bowed my head, hearing intently every single word of the song the others were singing. I’d heard this song before… or, rather, the words of the song. It was from the Bible… we’d read it in the study group—How did it go?

If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.

I shivered, and hugged myself.

Not again…I thought, believing I’d feel sick as I had the last time I’d prayed with Tony. But it was different. Something like hope replaced the inner desolate void that had existed before when just the thought of prayer alone had made me feel nauseous and sick with grief. And instead of feeling cold I began to feel almost warm.

I don’t know how it happened, but I dropped to my knees. Hot tears streamed down my face, and I began sobbing. Softly at first, and then I had much ado to hold myself together and not draw attention. But it was ineffective. Dimly I felt someone come to my side. Zuri was rocking me in her arms. Soothing me, and praying for me.

Oh, God.

I’ve tried so many times . . . you know I have.

But I can’t draw close to you because I’m a thief, a liar, a drug addict, I question my sexual orientation, I drink, and I watch porn in my computer.

I’m really sick.

Detestable.

A monster.

A blemish in creation, and nothing short of death can put an end to the mess that I am. I wanna die and be lost in oblivion. And yet, I’m begging you. Don’t turn me away. Please don’t give up on me just yet. You listened once to me—twice, with the Terry thing—Can you do it again? Please?

If I’m going to die, then I don’t want to be afraid. I don’t want to be afraid of you, or of life, or of death. I want to make things right, and be right with you. So please save me . . .

Help me . . .

 

Part 18 of If You Only Knew

Look to Jesus

The Israelites were traveling through a barren land. It has a really bad time. They’d just failed to get permission from the Edomite king to peacefully take the direct route to Canaan through Edom, and now they were forced to continue the long southern dessert road to go around Edom to reach the Promised Land. Just when they thought they had seen the last of the dessert they were forced back into it. To make matters worse they had even been attacked by a bunch of Arads. Granted, the Lord had helped them and the Israelites had defeated their foes, but still…

“And the people became impatient on the way. And the people spoke against God and against Moses, ‘Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this worthless food.’ (Numbers 21:4-5)

And so, because of their sin of unbelief God withdrew the protection he’d placed over them, and allowed fiery snakes to approach the people and bite them, “so that many people of Israel died.” (21:6)

The people were soon sorry for what they’d done, and begged Moses to intercede on their behalf. “So Moses prayed for the people and the Lord said to Moses, ‘Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.’ So Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on a pole. And if a serpent bit anyone, he would look at the bronze serpent and live.” (21:7-9)

* * *

Note to Self: STOP LOOKING AT YOURSELF! LOOK TO JESUS ONLY!!!!!!

That’s all.

* * *

More? Ok. Here’s a tough lesson I’ve just learned.

When I pray, I cannot look at my self.
When I read the Bible, I cannot look at my self.
When I tell others about God, I cannot look at my self.

In short; whenever I’m the weakest and whenever I should be looking for God the most I cannot waste time or energy to look at my self.

Looking at my self is a simple and rather tasteless exercise; but it’s one we do often enough when we’re at the end of our rope. When we feel the weakest, we reach back into the recess of consciousness and drag out the trembling likeness of the internal self. The one we (sometimes) hate so much, but love to use as our excuse. For me it is that neurotic girl with all her psychoses, and doubts, fears, obsessions, insecurities, phobias and the like.

When I look to my self, I’m overwhelmed with the feeling that I’ll never in a million years measure up. I become so discouraged at the work in process that I begin to doubt in the almighty God who is at work in me. And it is at that exact moment when I should be drawing strength from God, that I am only feeling sorry for myself, focusing on my deficiencies, and placing myself in the spot where Satan, that old serpent, wants me at.

* * *

It took forty years of desert wilderness before the Israelites could go into the Promised Land, and even at the threshold of paradise they still had much to answer for. Their faith was not as it should have been. They were still a mess—a work in progress, just like you and me. They looked into themselves and became discouraged, even impatient, and so doubted God.

The fiery snakes had always been in that desert, and for the past 40 years had never bothered the Israelites, for God’s protection was always with his people. When the people doubted God and eschew his blessings, they placed themselves away from his protection–right where the enemy wanted them. But what they needed to bring them back to life was Jesus.

They only had to look to the serpent in the pole which represented Jesus’ life-giving work for humanity.

So when the serpent comes after you, and you’re feeling weak, look at Jesus. Don’t look to yourself, your current circumstances, your shortages, etc. There is no merit in you at all.

Look to Jesus.

“As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:14-16)

Devotion, emotions, the kitchen and God

My love of the kitchen goes back to my infancy, back when grandma and grandpa still looked after me while my parents worked. I lived a happy childhood in the big grey family home located on the mountainous, sparsely populated fringe of southern Mexico City. We lived on a very quiet house located on a very quiet street were hardly any cars passed by; getting the mail was the biggest event of the day (the mail was delivered by a guy in a motorcycle), and really—aside from the variations in weather that could go from intensely sunny to oppressively gloomy or even stormy from one day to the next, there was no change or variation in the tenor of life. It was a very gentle time.

My life centered about everything related to the house. Whether it was seeing to the upkeep of the family home, plants, and sundry pets with my grandfather, or “helping” with laundry or the cleaning with grandmother, I learned to love being at home—especially in the kitchen.

I was grandmother’s assistant. I remember the infinity of peas we shelled together, as well as the never-ending rivers of various soups we prepared: vegetable soup, tortilla soup (which we call chilaquiles), potato soup, fideos, coditos, chicken caldos, alphabets, et al. We peeled potatoes and carrots by the truckloads, de-feathered chickens galore, and when I, the humble neophyte, was deemed ready, I was given a knife and taught how to strip a cactus of its thorns. After all the kitchen activities were completed, with kitchen wiped clean and the dishes put away, grandma would make some tea, in preparation for the family to arrive and find the house filled with the delicious aroma of chamomile.

Grandfather was instrumental in fostering in me a love for experimentation the kitchen. When Grandma was not around he would steal in there and make various concoctions using mysterious herbs he’d gathered in the mountain. I witnessed many explosive reactions in the kitchen when he jammed up the blender with fruit for a refreshing mid-day drink. He would leave a mess then just as he did whenever he chopped up an onion and made a giant omelet for the two of us—wrong, the three of us. He always shared his repast with the cat (as did the cat with us now and then: whenever grandfather bought him a can of sardines, grandpa and I ate our share with gusto along with plenty of warm tortillas and pico de gallo). Grandpa taught me that food was meant to be shared.

My formal training in the kitchen began with mother once I was a teen, but by that time I was already aware of the most important rules of the kitchen, besides “safety first” of course:

Cook from the heart. If you’re not happy, your food won’t be good

And the corollaries to that are as follows

  • If you’re angry, eggs will be spoiled, and hot food (as in spicy food) will burn the mouth
  • If you’re feeling lazy or don’t feel like cooking, your rice will not properly cook and will burn on the bottom.
  • If you’re sick, don’t even step foot in the kitchen. Everything will go to the dogs.

* * *

Everything in me was averse to cooking one day last week. I was tired from being in front of the computer working on a design, and trying to communicate with a finicky client on a rush order. I was getting a pounding headache too. I did not want to deal with the kitchen, and cleaning up after cooking on top of that. But I didn’t want to eat tacos from across the street, and besides, my mother who was coming from work deserved more than Del Taco. So on I went to the kitchen and gathered all my ingredients on the countertop.

And then I thought.

How am I gonna cook if I’m feeling like this? The way I’m feeling, my rice is not gonna cook well, my food could go to the dogs (figuratively speaking, for we have no dogs). I can’t do it!

I looked at my ingredients: the finest vegetables and legumes, red-ripe tomatoes, smiling white onions, gentle mounds of rice, tumbling potatoes. Perfectly good ingredients bought with hard-earned money. They deserved my respect.

And so, rather than it being an exercise of fake it (i.e. happiness) ‘till you make it, I began preparing the meal with care. I wasn’t particularly happy, and I was still tired and my head was hurting more and more with the heat of the oven, but I concentrated on doing my best on preparing every dish. The result was food that really tasted good.

I revisited my idea on the attitude of cooking. And I thought that perhaps it could be tweaked a bit, or maybe changed altogether.

* * *

Devotion goes past emotion.

How else can a chef consistently make good food even when his personal life is bleak, and he knows that the woman he loves won’t call him again? Or how can a musician play the performance of her life when she knows that on a hospital room in a far off country a loved one is dying? It’s all about devotion. Giving something the time and care and energy that it deserves in order for it to be done right, even when life is not making it easy for you to do so, is devotion.

* * *

We moved to California, and ever since I’ve never returned to my family home. I was blessed to see my grandparents every few years or so, and the love that I had for them only increased with time and distance.

When my grandma died after struggling with cancer, my world as I knew it seemed to shatter. It was seriously one of the most difficult times of my life, and for a while I thought I could not comprehend God. I could not draw to him. How could he take her away like that? Why did she have to go through such intense suffering, such anguish? Life did not make it easy for me to do the right thing: which was to draw to him and trust him.

When we as humans rely on emotion or on “feeling” a need in order to draw closer to God, we will just drift. Devotion goes past the emotion; it goes past discipline, too. Emotion will mean that you will be led this and that way because your fickle and volatile heart dictates what you do. Discipline often makes it necessary to remove the heart from the equation, because it’s doing what one ought to do for the sake of the better good in the end. But devotion is all about the heart put in its proper place.

So my attitude was, I’m angry at you God, I don’t understand you, or your motives, and perhaps I never will. But don’t let this be a matter to break us apart. Please give me solace, and continue to anchor my life, continue to give it purpose. Continue to guide me as I open your word and try to learn your will for me today…

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice…do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard you hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Phil 4:4-7

What is that? You guessed it–Devotion! Despite what life throws at you, your heart and mind is kept safe in Christ. That is a promise we can’t do without.

* * *

Grandma has passed away.

I miss her, but I have placed my hope in heaven. My heart too. One day Grandma and I will be reunited, and I’m sure that my mansion in heaven will have a HUGE kitchen (or an equivalent of such). And guess what I’ll be doin’?

That’s right. Cooking.

Oh, and by the way…

You’re invited.