That Saturday

Holy Saturday, Batman.

I’ve always been intrigued by this day in the Lenten season only because it contains so much mystery, my mind goes straight for what is unknown. Luke says it best: “On the Sabbath they rested according to the commandment.” (Luke 23:56)

I can only imagine this was the worst Sabbath ever.

Sadness. Despair. Confusion. That kind of misery that makes you curl up into a ball. Everything they had been living for, everything they had known in the past three life-changing years was now pulled out from under them. Being the Sabbath, they couldn’t leave to walk to a fellow disciple’s house to grieve. They were stuck, alone in their own homes with the senseless grief. And how could they honor God when He took is Son away from them? How could God let this happen? Was following all for naught?

What of Mary? Man, I would have loved to have her take on all this. God chose her as a vessel to bring Jesus into the world, and then took Him out of it in the most tragic way ever, and she was there to witness it all. It could have all been prevented, she probably thought, yet God let it happen. The struggle, the do-loop of the whole ordeal replaying over and over in her mind, stuck in the terrible state of a melancholy heartbreak. Even time, it seemed in this moment, would not ease the pain.

What of Peter? He claimed to be the one to take a bullet for Jesus, yet told a stranger – a lowly servant girl of all people, not even a Roman soldier type figure – that he never knew this Jesus person multiple times. And now Jesus was gone. How would he go on?

What would happen next?

What were the other disciples thinking? How did they get through the darkest day of their lives? I wish there was some record of their thoughts and actions.

My favorite devotional app has a short devotion about Holy Saturday that really touched me this morning, exploring the weight of today.

I’m ready for Sunday. And sweets.

Take It to the Lord in Prayer

I was caulking a bathroom window during a recent remodel when out of no where, I heard that voice in my head.

“You need to pray for Ruth’s future in this coming year.”

Wait, what?

I love how the Lord really does meet you where you are in the moment when the focus is elsewhere. I am amused how when I’m walking during my contemplation devotional time, He largely remains silent, yet when I’m in the middle of something mundane – like caulking a window – He decides to pipe up.

I paused caulking as I took in the gravity of all this. Alright, I can do that. I wasn’t sure what I was praying for, as her life was in a state of flux, but it always comes around to the same thing: that she would seek the Lord’s guidance and that whichever path she should take would be lit by His guiding light.

You can’t miss those lighted walkways.

I must confess that I haven’t always been consistent about it, but today, it hit me that it needs to be a priority.

  “Take it to the Lord in prayer;
In His arms, He’ll take and shield thee,
  Thou wilt find a solace there” (J. Scriven)

Our church is contemplating another quest for leading the community to Jesus. The idea has been floated as an abstract thought, but it is moving closer into the realm of strong possibility. I did some investigative research about it and already went into the mode of “We could do X and I’ll take charge of it!”

My pastor smiled. “That’s all well and good, Simonne. You can start by praying.”

I wasn’t prepared for his response, but I should have been. I nodded. Of course. It’s not a done deal, there are moving parts and a lot of unknowns. A lot of ground has to be covered first, it might not even happen!

Since becoming a student of contemplative prayer, I’m more about doing than sitting back and praying – I was the opposite in my proper American Christian don’t-get-too-close-to-the-action conservative days.

I need to strike a balance. Action and prayer. Prayer and action. One shouldn’t supersede the other, but they should go together in concert.

Like salt and caramel. Or cream cheese icing and red velvet cake.

It restarts today.

Lented

Two weeks til Easter.

This season of Lent is dragging.

It seems like months ago I ate that last decadent cupcake on Fat Tuesday. My sweets fast started out strong and I was bemused at how easy it was at first. Now it’s a struggle – I find myself wafting the fresh gourmet donuts in the breakroom and avoiding ice cream at events to become increasingly difficult.

While fasting, I left the door open for the Lord to lead me wherever I needed to be on this Lenten journey. I faithfully listened to my favorite contemplative app, Pray As You Go, and even signed up for an email devotional from Ed Cyzewski.

But nothing has changed for me. 

I’ve had no great epiphanies, no moments of wonder, and I haven’t experienced any growth in this “wilderness.”

Will the bud produce a leaf or die like the others did? Time will tell.

The only concrete conclusion is that I eat far too many sweets. I’ve lost 1kg, and if I play my cards right, maybe 2kg before summer. Part of me feels that I need to keep this fast going 90% of the time to keep myself healthy and my weight in check.

Lent isnt over yet. Perhaps something will move, perhaps not.

Nonetheless, I’m open to the possibilities.

Lenting Around

Growing up Catholic, Lent was a big deal: eating meat on Fridays was sinful, Ash Wednesday Service was a must, and you HAD to give something up. In my early teenage years, I gave up chocolate or TV. Eventually, I stopped watching TV altogether even after Easter. I got on just fine without it; our family had four channels that came in through the antenna. I wasn’t missing much. The chocolate was always welcomed back!

When I became a Christian and attended a Southern Baptist church, they always looked at me funny: they didn’t do Lent. It wasn’t in the Bible nor was it part of their traditions. This was fine by me.

I hadn’t even given Lent any thought until my husband and I joined a Methodist church a few years ago. Methodists celebrate Lent in a very casual way: it’s not required, but if you feel lead to participate, you were in good company. The first year, I gave up sweets and lost nearly seven pounds! The second year I was in an emotional tailspin and decided adding one more thing to my plate when my entire life was a mess was not a good decision for my mental health. Last year I gave up sweets again didn’t lose an ounce of weight – but unlike my Catholic years, I ate sweets on Sundays.

Note to self: you’ll return to dust someday.

This year I am once again giving up sweets. It’s my only real vice that I indulge in on a near daily basis and would miss if removed. I considered giving up alcohol too, but in all honesty, I drink so little that it wouldn’t impact a fast. I’ve also decided to follow my husband in fasting the whole Lent, no Sunday breaks: he’s giving up fried foods. It’s his version of chocolate and living in south, well, it’s an effort to avoid.

This fast will hopefully reset my taste buds and relationship to sweets, while focusing on the Lord. I’d love nothing more to drop a few pounds, eat less sugar, and walk closer to Jesus. I’m not sure where this Lenten journey will lead, but isn’t that part of the wilderness journey?

Today is Mardi Gras (literally, fat Tuesday in French) and I intend to send myself into Lent with style. I haven’t decided what sugary delectable I am going to consume tonight, but I am looking forward to it. I even had dessert after breakfast. C’mon, it’s Mardi Gras!

I had a pastor say something to me awhile ago that brought my brain to a screeching halt: What is going to fill the void sweets leaves? The answer was not healthy granola bars: what spiritual practices are you going to put into place in this season? The short answer is I don’t know. Perhaps carve out time for more Bible reading? Read a book of the Bible? Serious centering/contemplative prayer?

I think the answer will come to me when I’m craving ice cream.

Spending 2019 with Gilbert & George

All of this began as literary methadone to come off of the BBC production of Sherlock. I wasn’t ready to for the series to end (series 5 isn’t even filming) and so I turned to Arthur Conan Doyle’s original works by downloading the entire Sherlock Holmes collection. It pacified my cravings and I feel reading the older works by one of the best helps me as a writer by expanding my horizons. I also got to experience London in the late 1800s from someone who was there.

It’s taken me ages but I’m nearly finished with it. Now, my addiction has transferred to English writers from 100 years ago. Luckily, there are many options to feed my Anglophile literature problem. Keeping with the theme of compilations, I’ve turned to Gilbert and George. I haven’t met them yet or read any of their writings, but I think we’ll be on a first name basis before too long.

Gilbert, or G.K. Chesterton as his name appears on the cover of his books, has been on my mind since my other favorite BBC program of a character he created, Father Brown. I’m excited to read the original Father Brown stories and branch out into his other nonfiction works like, “What I Saw in America.” He is a Christian writer and I can’t wait to get his slant on life by comparing and contrasting it with today’s world. The book contains plays, nonfiction, fiction, and essays – at a little over 6,000 pages, it should hold me for awhile.

George, known better as George Orwell, is the other. 1984 has been on my list for ages, and with the way America’s government has decided to off-road in a minivan in recent times, I am looking forward to his thoughts from the past. His other titles also intrigued me – “Down and Out in Paris and London” sounds like something directly up my alley.

I plan to comsume vast amounts of tea as I jump feet first into the past with these two English blokes and their perspectives. 

I wouldn’t wait up if I were you, but I’ll leave a light on.

Jacked

“SIMONNE!”

My husband’s thunderous voice echoed through our small house. This was a serious cry for help: not him in a mood or upset with me. I ran into the bathroom, blood is pouring out of his face. He didn’t have to say it, I already knew what happened from the harsh meow moments earlier.

Jack.

We adopted Jack, a rescue gray tabby cat with a twead coat, at 7 weeks old in 2012. He was small enough to stand in my hand, but now outweighed our thanksgiving turkey by a few pounds. His large body size also matched his personality and we often referred to him as a sour patch kid: sweet and sour. Sweet because this cat had a high intelligence, always has to be in the room with us, loves to cuddle – with a particular fondness for my husband. Sour because he often hisses at our guests for no reason and occasionally morphs into a hellcat when he doesn’t want to come in from the porch or, like last night, an unprovoked attack while sitting on my husband’s lap. It seems to be getting worse as he grows older. He goes after our other cat, a Type B personality cat who is nothing but sweet, too. 

Back to my husband, he looked like he stopped a knife attack with his mouth.  His upper lip was split wide open with a deep cut, from nose to lip, the lower inside lip was completely shredded. Of course, it happened at night with urgent care closed. Long story short, a doctor friend looked at him and said he didnt need stitching – I was sure we’d spent the night in ER. He’s getting a script for antibiotics today. And you have no idea how thankful we are for avoiding a $1,000+ hospital bill.

This isn’t the first time Jack has gone after my husband, but it is the worst to date, as we talked about what happens next. If his head was turned, my husband could have lost an eye. We can no longer excuse this issue. “Is there a feline Xanax?” I theorized outloud. “I was thinking more of a 9mm to the back of the head,” my husband said quitely. “This can’t happen again, to me or anyone else.”

We sat in an erie, uncomfortable silence.

Jack sensed our unease at his future, as he kept randomly hissing at me. For the first time ever, we locked him out of our bedroom. His hair trigger attitude was not conducive to sleep. He spent the wee hours in the morning clawing and meowing like a kitten at the door. I felt so bad: it was particularly cold in the house and he is a heat seeking missile, snuggling between us on those bitter cold nights. I got next to no sleep.

Since that night, we’ve locked him out of our bedroom. We’re still unsure what will happen next: I don’t have the gall to put him down, yet his unpredictability is making me steer clear of him.

We have a vet appointment soon, maybe we can get some feline equivalent to Xanax. Or an antipsychotic.

Exposed in the Dark

I fell down the rabbit hole of hashtags by following #ExposeChristianSchools and read with horror about the rampant abuse, misguided Bible teaching, and control by means of isolation. I met one of these such families – I didn’t know them, only their isolation – but was too young to understand this sect of Christianity, as I had only recently encountered Jesus myself. Even in college, among public schooled Christians, the amount of misinformation out there astounded me as both a woman and a scientist.

Disclaimer: my experience as a young person in a Southern Baptist church was positive, uplifting, and has everything to do with why I am a Christian today. Although I disagree with the way the SBC handles things, nothing bad or dishonorable happened to me while in their flock.

My high school boyfriend invited me to a high school graduation party for his cousin Sarah. It was the summer of 2000.

I saw his mom’s side of the family was really Christian. While my boyfriend attended public school, his cousins were homeschooled, had no TV or internet, and lived out in the middle nowhere. I didn’t have the words for what they were, but I know now they were fundamentalists.

When we arrived at the party, Sarah was no where to be found among the many friends and relatives. She was spotted taking care of her youngest sibling, who was a toddler. Instead of someone taking charge of the child and encouraging her to greet her guests and enjoy the party in her honor, a few of the older women smiled and watched her. “This will be great practice for when she was one of her own.” I side eyed them. That’s a little weird, she was my age – a little young for kids. Or at least I was at 18, the ink still not quite dry on my own high school diploma.

I found some cake and sat by some other girls. Sarah’s friend was chatting with some other guests near by. “Ugh, we’re just waiting on him,” I heard her say. “He’ll ask when the time is right,” another reassured her.

And that’s when I opened my mouth. “Ask her what?”

“For her to marry him! They’ve been together a year already.”

My eyes bugged out. “Marriage? They just graduated high school!”

“Well, it’s all set. Her parents approved it, his parents approved it, and the pastor approved it. He just has to ask her.”

This was my first experience with culture shock and I had trouble keeping up. “Wait, the pastor approved it?” That seemed to be the weirdest sticking point for me.

“Well of course! Marriage is very serious, they couldn’t get married without the church’s permission.”

I was at a loss of words, so I drew off my own experience: “She’s not going to college?”

“No, she has someone to marry and will start a family, why would she do that?”

“I’m going to college,” I said, surprised at how weird my tone sounded. “I’m going to study biology at State University.”

“Oh. Don’t you want to get married and have kids?” It was her turn for culture shock. She made it sound like it was one or the other, like it never occurred to her you could be something else in addition to a wife and mom.

“Well, maybe someday, I think. I don’t know. I’m way too young to even think about it.” I took a big bite of cake, trying to mull over this strange conversation.

“I’m going to college at Bob Jones University,” the friend said. “At least until I meet someone.”

“And then what?”

“I’ll drop out and start a family.”

“Oh.” I couldn’t believe I was having this conversation. “What are you going to major in?”

“I have no idea. Haven’t given it much thought.”

“She’s waiting for a husband to show up,” giggled another girl. “She’s just going to college to get a husband.”

“I’m going to get an education, get myself settled, and then maybe I’ll consider a husband and kids.” There. I said it. I was a woman of the 90’s, man.

The whole lot of them gave me a blank stare. The silence was filled with more cake.

The conversation lagged after that, I was branded one of those worldly girls their mothers warned them about, I’m sure.

I debriefed my boyfriend on the strange conversation on the way home. He just nodded. “That’s how they are,” he said. None of it was weird to him. Granted, his parents didn’t own a TV either and his mom always looked like she popped out of the late 1800’s with her updo hairstyle and dresses. What was completely out of my realm was very normal to him.


In college, I went out with some of the girls from our church group for ice cream. They were all public schooled girls and most of them were at college on full academic scholarships. These ladies not only out-brained me, but they also came from loving Christ-centered families.

The conversation turned to boys and we started to discuss our future married lives. Half way through my hot fudge sundae, the conversation took a nosedive into sex. Unbeknownst to them, I was the only non-virgin at the table. I decided to sit this conversation out, less I give myself away.

“Well, when I get married, I hope he doesn’t want sex all the time, because I am not going to do that.” said one, who was the epitome of a good Christian. “Maybe a couple of times a month or something, but nothing more than that.” Another girl agreed.

As someone with a sex drive, I just blinked and stared. And then she dropped a bomb: “I mean, what’s even the point of us having sex, outside of the kids part? It’s not like we get anything out of it. It’s not like women can have an orgasm or anything.”

I set down my spoon. I couldn’t stay silent on this one, as a woman who fully enjoyed sex and was waist-deep in a science curriculum. Sexual purity is one thing, sexual ignorance is another.

“Actually, women can have orgasams,” I said matter-of-factly.

The group looked at me as if I just said the Resurrection didn’t happen. “No they can’t, that’s a myth!” she retorted back to me.

“Yes they can, and they do – there’s an entire organ for this – would you like me to explain the mechanics of it?” I was dead serious.

The group just stared at me. Some glared; in some I saw the spark of question in their eyes, as they considered the truth of my words. They knew I was scientifically minded and honest; I wonder if they researched anything on their own or if their own marriage beds are only for his pleasure. I hope they found the joy and awesomeness of their own sexuality.

Needless to say, the conversation stopped and pivoted to a less controversial topic. I was never asked to join the group for ice cream again.

It upset me that these smart women were lied to about their bodies and could possibly miss out on one of the best things about marriage. How could they have gotten so far into their education and not know how their bodies work?


Outside of the dessert theme when these situations happen in my life, I am proud to say I spoke my truth. My audience wasn’t receptive – the cognitive dissonance was too much to handle – and I accepted that.

Some Christians tend to stonewall people who are different from who they are or have differing views that contradict the truth they were told and swallowed whole without questioning. Instead of talking through it, they retreat into the shell, like a snail; if we don’t talk about it, it doesn’t happen or can’t be true.

But as for me, I keep a flashlight in my back pocket. I will shine it when it needs to be shined.

A Confession of a Dilemma

I was a sophomore in college.

My best friend David from high school had dropped out of Bible college after freshman year to marry his girlfriend he met at said college. My boyfriend at the time was up visiting me over Christmas break when we stopped by to see their new baby, Eleanor, who was less than a week old.

She was so little with a lot of black hair. We oohed and ahhed over her. David’s wife offered to let me to hold Eleanor and I said yes. I should mention my only experience with a newborn was my sister and I was four years old at the time.

I picked the baby up under the arms, much like picking up a cat. Her little head snapped back and she screamed.

“Gah, what do I do?” I said as I held this poor unhappy infant mid-air. I sat down and put her on my lap. I had no idea how to cradle a baby in my arms. She fit perfectly on my lap from knee to hip and stopped crying after a moment.

I couldn’t get over how cute she was and her tiny features. I looked at my boyfriend with those gooey eyes. “I want one someday.” He grinned. I was pretty sure I was going to marry this perfect guy after graduation. Our kids would be cuter than this one.

As Eleanor was in my lap, her belly button stump fell off. Of course it did. “Okay, you can take the baby back now,” I said. “I’ve done enough damage for one night.”

Boyfriend turned out to be a rat and I haven’t held a baby since (Eleanor will graduate high school in the spring).

Part of it was my complete inexperience. The other part was, I said to myself, that the next baby I would hold would be my own.

I managed to avoid babies and then decided I wasn’t cut out to be a mom. I had a nephew born a few months after our marriage, and when we went to see the baby at a few weeks old, I declined to hold him. My husband held him and even got him to stop crying when his mother couldn’t. I was in awe. My husband tried to shuffle the baby into my arms at one point but I jumped back. We weren’t having kids, this was not something I could handle, especially after the Eleanor debacle.

My rule was I’ll pick up babies if they’re older than 13 months. They’re sturdier and could run away if they so chose by that age.

And then I wanted kids and convinced my husband to try. And then there were the infertility doctors and they suggested a specialist or adoption. My husband said no.

And it’s taken me about three hard, long years to be okay without having kids.

This summer I learned my sister is pregnant with a little boy. They’re naming him Conrad because all the other awkward names were taken.

I’m at a crossroads: do I hold this baby?

On one hand, this kid and I share a genetic code, unlike my other nieces and nephews by marriage. Someday, Conrad may be the only direct bloodline family I have. Like those couples who wait for their first kiss to be shared at the altar, there’s no use in waiting to hold my own baby first. That ship sailed and sank on her maiden voyage, taking the dream with her to the ocean floor.

I don’t want to ache with want, now that I am fully recovered from the baby fever syndrome; yet I don’t want to miss out on something so special because I’m being a complete stick in the mud (Principles! Honor! All that stuff in my head!)

I have a few more months to figure it out. I’m already dreading flying up there for the sole purpose of meeting him. I should also add that my family has no clue I ever wanted children or that I can’t clinically have any. I wanted to avoid the pity and the censorship; very few people knew, it was a battle I faced mostly alone.

Any suggestions for someone with a baby-sized hole in the heart that has overgrown with scar tissue on what to do?

Hygge Days

A coworker and I were chatting, lamenting the dark rainy day and how winter was upon us. Both of us are summer children and this cold sunless weather was not boding well for her.

I mentioned something about experiencing hygge – the Scandinavian answer to winter. 

Hygge Definition and meaning

As 1/8 Danish ancestry, I heard this word a couple of years ago and after researching, immediately put this into practice. It becomes an act of doing things consistently and with intention – much like living the Christian life. They say it best:

Danes created hygge because they were trying to survive boredom, cold, dark and sameness and the undefinable feeling of Hygge was a way for them to find moments to celebrate or acknowledge and to break up the day, months or years. With so many cold, dark, days, the simple act of a candle glowing with a cup of coffee in the morning or a home cooked evening meal with friends can make a huge difference to one’s spirit.

from hyggehouse.com

While the seasons do not affect my mood, the lack of warm beach days does. To pull through winter, I try to make my house as cosy as possible. There are always quilts lying about, a season-scented candle burning, and fresh tea from the kettle. I also try to find drinks to fit the season too: this year I am going to attempt a hot buttered rum. The apple pie sangria I made for Thanksgiving kicked off the hygge season in our household.

I also know my coworker is going through a rough patch too – her job is stressful, her kids have a lot going on, and her marriage is sinking. She is in desperate need of some hygge.

My Sunday afternoon plan is to relax, so I’m inviting her over and share some hygge with her: what could be better for the soul than making Christmas cookies, this hot chocolate recipe (never tried it before!), and a candle burning with the soothing lyrics and canticle of Salt of the Sound playing? And hopefully she’ll take some cookies home so I don’t eat them all!

Summer will be here soon. Until then, I hygge.

The First Time

“I think you’ll really like this one,” my high school boyfriend said to me as he handed me an old tattered copy of The Black Shrike by Alister MacLean, a Scottish author, published in 1961. My family was leaving for our yearly retreat at the cottage on Lake Huron and I was in need of a novel. He assured me it was an adventure book and a real page turner. I had no idea what a shrike was, let alone any color variations of it, yet I trusted his recommendation. 

I would be in my thirties before I found out a shrike was a bird. It had nothing to do with the title. Then again, maybe it did?

I remember sitting on the beach, sun tanning in a bikini on a towel when I began reading. A few paragraphs in, I had to stop for air.

Oh. My. 

I was only 17, but astute enough to be completely blown away by MacLean’s writing style. As someone who had not yet experienced alcohol or sex, this was the literary equivalent to both of my vices. His words hit me like a shot of expensive high quality vodka and washed over me like the first touch of a lover’s naked skin against my own.

I was hooked.

I tore through the book as if someone else was paying my bar tab and it was a passionate one night stand that would end with the sunrise.

The story is told by John Bentall, a scientist who was also a secret agent for British Intelligence. He got pulled to a top secret mission with a co-agent, Marie, who was to pose as his wife, much to John’s chagrin. The duo get sucked into a treacherous web of lies and double crossings, complete with a bait and switch minefield. The ending has so much of a twist that you’ll find yourself upside down on the last page, wondering what on earth just happened.

John was a loner, like myself, and his bluntness combined with a parched British sense of humor, need for the truth, flawed logic, cunning intellect, and ability to push through anything by sheer determination melted my heart. If he were real, I’d have dated him.

I got serious about writing in 2016 and looked to authors who came before me for inspiration: Alister MacLean was at the top of my list. I read Where Eagles Dare – my German came in handy for deciphering the play on words in the title – the flawlessly executed banter between the two main characters delighted me as both a reader and a writer. The Blake Shrike never left my beach bag this summer, as I re-read it for the third time – this time through the eyes of an author. I’m still amazed at his ability to craft words and scenes. I wish I could share a drink with Alister, picking his brain about life and writing. I’d love to know his inspiration for this story, but he died when I was in elementary school.

I may never hold a candle to my writing hero Alister, but I’d certainly love to try.

An excerpt from the second chapter:


But there’s no perfection in a very imperfect world: the locks on the bedroom doors of the Grand Pacific Hotel were just no good at all. 

My first intimation of this came when I woke up in the middle of the night in response to someone prodding my shoulder. But my first thought was not of the door-locks but of the finger prodding me. It was the hardest finger I’d ever felt. It felt like a piece of steel. It was a dully-gleaming .38 Colt automatic and, just in case I should have made any mistake in identification, whoever was holding it shifted the gun as soon as he saw me stir so that my right eye could stare down the centre of the barrel. It was a gun alright. My gaze travelled up past the gun, the hairy brown wrist, the white coated arm to the brown cold still face with the battered yachting cap above, then back to the automatic again.

“O.K., friend,” I said. I meant it to sound cool and casual but it came out more like the raven–the hoarse one–croaking on the battlements of Macbeth’s castle. “I can see it’s a gun. Cleaned and oiled and everything. But take it away, please. Guns are dangerous things.”

“A wise guy, eh?” he said coldly. “Showing the little wife what a hero he is. But you wouldn’t really like to be a hero, would you, Bentall? You wouldn’t really like to start something?”

I would have loved to have started something. I would have loved to take his gun away and beat him over the head with it. Having guns pointed at my eye gives me a nasty dry mouth, makes my heart work overtime and uses up a great deal of adrenalin. I was just starting out to think what else I would like to do to him when he nodded across the bed.

The Black Shrike, by Alister MacLean