Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Making Room for the Gypsies

Did your parents ever threaten to sell you to the gypsies if you didn't behave?
It's something people like to joke about, but given the loving spirit of the gypsies I've met recently, I have no doubt that they'd be glad to take you in.

I was sitting in my pew Sunday morning, minding my own business, feeling thankful for the ever widening and merging circles of the family of God, when my circle morphed before my eyes!
In walked the gypsies, and I've been singing ever since.
Meet my new friends, y'all.

They're teens from the Gandhi school in Pecs, Hungary, and they're Roma people, also called gypsies. The guy in the middle is my friend Glen Adkins, the former music minister at my church. Clista and Glen sold their house and moved to Hungary three years ago to work at the school with the gypsy kids, to start a choir and teach them about God's love. Now they're taking a few of them around the southeastern United States, sharing their musical gifts with our corner of the world and telling the story of the Roma people.
(Look here to see if they're visiting a church near you. Just click the tour button.)

Photo by my friend Elaine. (Thanks, Elaine!)
They sang at church Sunday morning, and gave another program Sunday night. I wish you could have been there. The kids are obviously having a blast.

Do you know about the Roma?
For centuries, they've sat outside the circle of the family of God. Not because they wanted to, but because the world slammed the door and locked it in their faces. The 12 million gypsy people in Europe face overt discrimination in housing, health care and education. I've seen it for myself.

During my French life, I was told to be careful of the gypsies, that they were robbers, a poor, dirty race of people up to no good. I'd see them camped outside my village and watch the crowds part whenever they walked through the market.

After years and years of being shut out and scorned, many gypsies believe that God hates them too. Thankfully, people like Glen and Clista are willing to show them that they've got it all wrong, that Roma people, too, are created to bask in God's love, to sit in the circle of the family of God, to dance in it and sing!

Let me tell you, these kids can sing.
Give a listen to this Hungarian gypsy hymn, Zöld az erdö.

The music is enchanting, but the words will break your heart.

Green are the woods and green are the mountains.
Our luck just comes and goes.
Trouble cuts into our flesh with sharp knives.
The world has become a land of hypocrites.
The whole world is our enemy.
We live like chased thieves.
We have not stolen but a nail from Jesus's bleeding palm.
God, have mercy on us. Don't let our people suffer any longer.
We are damned. We are beaten. We have been made eternal vagabonds.

The song gives me goosebumps.
We have not stolen but a nail from Jesus's bleeding palm.
Oh, dear Roma. Don't you know that the nail was given for you, too?

The story of the Roma people reminds me that there are others around me who've been made to feel that they're not allowed in the family of God because of their history, their lifestyle, their circumstances, or the prejudice against them.
Jesus mourns, and God's family is incomplete.
God, help me find people in my own life who've felt shut out and welcome them into the circle.

Have you ever felt you didn't belong in a circle of faith? What made the difference for you?
Who do you see sitting out of the circle now? What can we do to help them find their place with us?

Have a wonder-full Monday, y'all!
Love, Becky

Monday, June 28, 2010

The Joy of Aaron's Oily Hair

Flickr photo by spapax, creative commons
Sometimes I feel so overwhelmed to find myself in ever-enlarging, ever-linking and merging circles of the family of God, that I'm afraid to speak for the blubbering tears that might come out.

So Friday night, as I grabbed Todd's hand and pulled him toward the doors of the Charlotte Convention Center, I tried not to make eye contact with anyone, sure that the sight of God in one more face would turn me into a less mascara-ed, smaller haired version of Tammy Faye.

I'd made the trip to Charlotte for two nights in a row because I thought it'd be fun to take part in my denomination's national assembly. But by the end of the second service, my eyes had taken in about as much beautiful community and worship and joy as these peepers could hold.

This circle of God's family was led by smart women and beautiful men, (and vice versa!) young and old, black and white, the mildly musically talented, and the man singing opera behind me Friday night. (Whoa dude, that's quite a joyful noise!)

And if that wasn't enough, I had come to Charlotte already brimming with gratitude.

In the past few weeks, I've discovered more about the faith of people all around me, including you sweet people, my old and new friends. I've felt welcomed into circles of Episcopalians and Methodists, Catholics and Baptists, Quakers and Presbyterians, circles of every hue in Christ's crayon box.

I can feel these circles merging and morphing, changing and dancing, just like the circle Karen Dresser depicts in her art.

I can't help thinking of Psalm 133.

How good and pleasant it is
when God's people live together in unity!

It is like precious oil poured on the head,
running down on the beard,
running down on Aaron's beard,
down on the collar of his robe.

It is as if the dew of Hermon
were falling on Mount Zion.
For there the LORD bestows his blessing,
even life forevermore.
Psalm 133:1-3, Today's New International Version

Precious indeed! Thank you for being part of my circle.

Have a wonder-full Monday, y'all!

Love, Becky

Friday, June 25, 2010

Getting Miss Minnie's Mail

Flickr photo by creativity + Timothy K Hamilton, creative commons
Before I even opened her chain link gate, I could see a wheel chair pulled up to her screen door. A wheel chair? Miss Minnie started using a walker a couple of years ago, and in the last few months she'd moved slower with it, gripping it hard with her liver spotted hands. She was in a wheel chair now? I heard the buzz of flies. They were darting around the bag of garbage she had left on her porch, where I would have to stand.

I braced myself and walked on.
"Hey there, Miss Minnie. It's Becky, with Meals on Wheels," I said, and she reached up from her chair to click open the lock.
"Hey," she said, her voice sounding weaker than usual. "You weren't here last time. Somebody else came."
"Yes ma'am. My family went to the beach."
"Oh, that's nice."

I opened the door. She always keeps the lights off when it got hot, and today it was nearly 100 degrees. When my eyes adjusted to the darkness, I tried not to shudder at the sight of her. Three years ago this woman was big boned and vigorous, but today she seems to have shrunk. What happened since I saw her last? Her shirt was misbuttoned, one droopy breast almost hanging out, not that that was anything new. But now there were little red scabs all over her face. I looked down at the bugs scattering across her floor, then to the piles of things on her bed. There were bugs on the sheets too. Were the scabs from bug bites?

This makes me angry. I'd talked with the social worker two times already, trying to convince her that no, the filth wasn't her own fault, that THE WOMAN CAN'T SEE. She had promised me she'd try to get her some help. Now she's worse off than before.

"How are you doing today?"
"Oh, I'm here. That's good enough, I guess."
"I brought your mail," I said. "Maybe somebody's sent you a check!"
That's our long running joke, that maybe one day there will be a check in her stack of bills.
Miss Minnie laughs. "Do you think you'd have time to help me read these too?" she asks, reaching for some mail on her bed.
"Sure," I make myself say, remembering that the last time I did this, bugs were feeding on the glue on the envelopes.
Do I really have to do this?
I remember when Meals on Wheels was just plain fun, when I could show up like meal Santa, knocking on doors, dropping off meals, and chatting with people.
I consider saying, I'm sorry, Miss Minnie. I can't today.
But she has no one else.

"Why don't you come on in," she says, backing up her wheelchair a foot, until it bumps against her bed.
"That's okay," I say, staying in the doorway. "I don't want to crowd you." I feel ashamed, but I don't want to go in her house any farther. It smells today, and I keep imagining mice or rats.

"Can you read these first?" she says, handing me a stack of mail from her bed. A bug scatters across the envelope and falls to the floor.
"Oh Miss Minnie, your bugs are bad today."
"Are they?" she says, embarrassed. "I'm sorry. I told me niece, but she's been busy..."
"We need to get you some help," I say. I tap each piece of mail against the door, to knock off any bugs before I open it. We go through her pile and I tell her what's junk mail and what's not. I read all the bills, how much, for what, and when they're due.
I realize I'm rushing. I just want to get out of there. Please don't ask me to write checks today. I'm ashamed of myself, but I still want to leave.

"Looks like you got a package," I say, holding up a puffy envelope.
"Oh, yeah. That's probably my gun."
"A gun?"
"Yeah." Miss Minnie laughs, enjoying my shock. "It's one of those tester things. For my diabetes."
We laugh as I pull at the envelope. I say that I thought she meant a real gun, and she says, oh no, but she's thought about buying one with all the break-ins lately. I tell her that she'd better not do that, that somebody would only use it against her.
Finally I manage to rip the package open. "Well, let's see what you've got here," I say, reaching in. Wrapped in Saran wrap is a box of toothpaste, a new toothbrush and a travel package of Kleenex. I hand it to her and tell her what it is.
"There's a card," I say, and read it to her: For Minnie, We're thinking of you and hope you're doing well. We love you. Love, Your Church Family

We look at each other for a moment, neither knowing what to say.
Well," she says as I hand her the card, "isn't that helpful."
She looks up at me and we laugh a little.
I look down at her, sitting in the wheel chair, scabs all over her face, bugs crawling over both our shoes, a chamber pot by her bedside, the lights out. I see her cradling the toothpaste and toothbrush and Kleenex in her lap, laughing her weak little laugh.

I want to cry.

And I want to shake someone.
I want to shake myself, that even now, I want so badly to run out of there, get in my car, and zoom back to my clean, bug free life, to a hot shower and antibacterial soap. I want to shake myself for standing in her doorway, flicking at bugs, when I should find a bucket and start scrubbing her floor.

I want to shake that social worker for telling me she'd help and not following through. For it being so hard for me to convince her that it's not Miss Minnie's own fault, when the woman has stood in her house and seen it for herself.

I want to shake her niece, who knows full well that she's the only one Miss Minnie has in the whole wide world, yet she lets her live that way.

And I want to shake her church, a mere half mile away, for staying in the air conditioning and mailing out toothpaste, when she lives in such a desperate state.

I think of Jesus, healing the lepers, putting mud on blind eyes, touching and touching and touching again, and I'm sad that I fall so short.

God, help me. Help me put away my inner people pleaser and fight for this woman. Help me know what to do.
And in the future, when I'm tempted to just say have a good day or mail toothpaste, help me look for places I can get down on the floor and scrub. Thank you for challenging me to put my actions where my mouth is.

And what about you, friends? Have you encountered places where it's difficult to serve, where it's hard to put your actions where your mouth/heart is?
And what do you think about the responsibility of the church? When family fails to act, is it the church's job to step in, or is that asking us to be something we're not?

Have a great weekend, y'all!
Love, Becky

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Baptizing Dishes and Other Weird Ways to Pray.

Flickr photo by seizethedave, creative commons
I'm embarrassed to admit this, but I'm really bad at prayer.
Whether I try to pray as I pull up the covers at the end of the day or give it another go after morning coffee has jolted me into speed mode, mere seconds after I force stillness, my mind drifts. I start thinking about tomatoes or why the vacuum cleaner doesn't work anymore or the fact that I never sent that graduation gift and it's been a month already. Sometimes I play Prayer Policeman, constantly pulling myself over for a lecture, then returning to the road to drift again. Other times I just fall asleep.

Prayer is hard work. Some people are better at it than others.
It even wore Moses out once in a while.
Want to hear a story from one of the TOP TEN WEIRDEST BIBLE STORIES EVER?
Sure you do!

God's people were fresh out of Egypt. Moses had asked God for food, and He treated them to manna and quail, and then water from a rock. Life was looking doable.
Then the Amalekites attacked. Moses had Joshua pick men for the battle and climbed to the top of the hill, taking along his brother Aaron and buddy Hur.
Yep, I know this doesn't sound that strange so far. Hold tight.
The weirdness cometh.

Moses stands on the hill and raises his walking stick into the sky.
Remember the stick? The one he threw down in front of the king, and they watched it turn into a snake? He holds it high where everyone can see, and he keeps it there.
For hours.
And hours.

We assume he's praying, since this was a common prayer stance in those times.
His men are fighting, he holds the stick, and he notices that something weird is happening.

"As long as Moses held up his hands, the Israelites were winning, but whenever he lowered his hands, the Amalekites were winning."
Exodus 17: 11

Crazy, huh? It's like a cartoon. Up, down. Up, down. Up.
He better not stop praying but his arms are so tired. Aaron and Hur step in to save the day.

"When Moses' hands grew tired, they took a stone and put it under him and he sat on it. Aaron and Hur held his hands up—one on one side, one on the other—so that his hands remained steady till sunset. So Joshua overcame the Amalekite army with the sword."

Exodus 17:11-13

Ever since I've read this story, I've been trying to figure out what it means.
What do you think?

Here's what I've come up with:
1. For the God's people to succeed here, they needed to fight AND Moses needed to pray.
Prayer + Action can lead to the fulfillment of God's will.
2. It encourages people to know that they're being prayed for. God can use that encouragement to heal them or their situation.
3. I need people in my life to bring in the stone, to hold up my arms, to support me in my relationship with God.

Today I'm thinking about Point #3. It's so helpful to see the different ways my friends connect with God. I find it all over the blogosphere and right in my hometown, with my neighbors and friends. When I see that there is more than one way to be still with God, I think, hey, maybe I'm not a prayer failure after all.

Barbara Brown Taylor reminds me too with her exquisite, arm lifting words. Until I devoured her book, An Altar in the World, I thought it was a little weird that I connected best with God while doing mind-numbing chores.
It sounds corny and silly and maybe a little Pollyanna to find God in mundane housework, and I'm really not so Betty Homemaker (though my family and I wish I would be!) but it happens that way quite often for me.
So when I read Barbara's words that pinning wet laundry on a clothesline made her think of hanging out prayer flags for God, that housework could actually become a spiritual practice, I heard myself sigh with relief.

Maybe I know how to pray after all!
So what if it sounds crazy that as I dip my dishes in the sudsy water and lift them out again, my brain flickers phrases of being washed clean, burial and resurrection.
So I baptize my dishes. I'm enjoying God and celebrating who He is.
(And I see myself in the baked on grime. The kind that requires a scouring pad!)

I clean the toothpaste flecks off the bathroom mirror and a voice pops up, "For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face" "Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast." I enjoy the scripture, wipe the mirror, and feel my brow relax.

Sometimes it happens when I'm not cleaning, too. I'll watch my boys dip Oreos in milk, and a wafer and chalice will spring to mind. I pour myself a glass and join them. "For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them." I don't have to bring up God. I know He's there. Ben and Sam and I joke around or just enjoy the cookies, and I thank God for His presence and for blessing me with these kids.

And today I'm thanking him for one of the weirdest Bible stories ever.

I hate to admit it, but it made me think of the video below. (Sorry, Moses, but it does.)
Enjoy the weirdness. And then, if you feel like it, I'd love to hear from you.

When and where do you best connect with God? In your garden? While driving? In a quiet time? Or maybe in desperation at Chuck E. Cheese?

Have a great Wednesday!
Love, Becky

Monday, June 21, 2010

Playing in God Town

Flickr photo by Express Monorail, creative commons
"All aboard for Skeleton Town!"
My granny's porch swing was a train, and as we chugged along, pumping our legs, the farm, the creek, and the hills became cities full of ghosts and skeletons, werewolves and vampire bats, evil cowboys and mad scientists.
We were brave, of course, so we made plenty of stops. Patricia, the oldest, would pull the brake with her long legs, and Steve and I would dismount for a quick stroll into town (off the porch and around the tree.)
It never went well.
Wouldn't you know it? A witch or a ghost or a family of skeletons was always hiding, waiting to chase us around the pump house, until we'd come screaming back. We'd catch the train just as it was leaving the station, pumping our legs and hollering about the bad guys/skeletons/bats we saw, what their scary faces looked like, and what they'd said they'd do to us if they caught us with their bony fingers.

The second I saw the photo above, I was back on that swing in Kentucky. It's the picture of what summer meant to me as a kid: a time to play pretend, to sprinkle salt on my watermelon and spit out the seeds, to run yelling out of Skeleton Town, and to play Marco Polo in the pool until I was a human prune.
The photo also made me think of the scripture we read at church yesterday.

Zechariah had a message from God to His people, and boy, did they need it.
Fresh out of their captivity in Babylon, they'd straggled back to Jerusalem, to rebuild the town and the temple and try somehow to pull their community back together. Could they do it, as worn out as they were? There were so few of them. Would their efforts ever amount to anything?

God whispered His message in Zechariah's ear.
Oh, how He's been longing to return. Don't they know how He loves them and misses them? He's on the way, so they'd better get ready. Jerusalem is going to be Faithful City again. God Town, perhaps, if you're sitting on my porch swing.

What does God Town look like?
Zechariah paints the picture,

"...Once again old men and women will walk Jerusalem’s streets with their canes and will sit together in the city squares. 5 And the streets of the city will be filled with boys and girls at play.
Zechariah 8:4-5

So God Town's where children play, and old folks sit and enjoy the atmosphere.
Maybe it looks something like this.

Flickr photo by smile its shan, creative commons
Seems like a great place to be, and I bet there's more going on than just hoola hooping.
12 "For I am planting seeds of peace and prosperity among you."
...The traditional fasts and times of mourning you have kept... are now ended. They will become festivals of joy and celebration for the people of Judah. So love truth and peace.

How nice that sounds. But does it have anything to say to us, here in 2010?
What do you think?

For me, it reminds me that I need to stop living as if I'm still waiting for God to arrive. Christ has come and offers me a full life, a life in which I can't fully participate if I'm too busy trying to make the world happy.
What I hear (probably because Becky Ramsey needs to hear it) is that the degree to which I let myself play might be a good measure of how easily I find God's peace. Not that I should throw my work out the window and sit around chanting Einie beanie, Bob Saleenie. But when I'm filling my head completely with lists of things to accomplish, I have no space to hear God's voice.

Maybe a neighbor kid can tutor me.
Aren't kids experts at play? I think it's partly because the world has not corrupted them yet with timetables and responsibilities, forcing them to quit expressing their natural selves. And maybe it's also because they're fresh from the hands of their maker, the Prince of Play. Play is what Eden was all about, right? At least at first it was.

So you want a seat on my porch swing? We can scooch over. There's plenty of room.

Did you play this weekend? Do you think there's a connection between peace and play? Between God and play?

Have a great Monday, y'all!
Love, Becky

Friday, June 18, 2010

What's In A Name?

Do you like your name?
Is it a family name, or did your parents just like the sound of it?

Names are important. Almost twenty years ago, when I first started looking up baby names for the little sprout in my womb, I wanted to pick a good one.
I knew how important it was. For my entire childhood, I dreaded the first week of school. Seems like every year the teacher would butcher my last name. How hard could it be to pronounce the word Skaggs? Yet they always managed.
Rebecca Scabs.
Yes, Scabs. Or Scrags or Snags. Scalawags, once, when a doofus gym teacher felt like being funny.
Kids would giggle and my face would turn red.
On my first day of high school, a girl laughed so hard at my name that she fell out of her chair.

I grew to dislike my family name, which filled me with all kinds of shame and guilt.
How could I not like my own last name? The name attached to the people I loved most?
I talked to Mom about the teasing and she comforted me, but how could she really understand? She and Daddy had grown up in a town where the name Skaggs was more common than Smith or Jones.

Eventually I grew less self conscious, but occasionally, when I wasn't expecting it, the response to my name still stung. Like the time a favorite English teacher signed my yearbook, "To Becky, the beautiful young woman whose name is so wrong."
My name wasn't wrong. It was just fine.

I grew up, and eventually I became a Ramsey. And four years later, grew a little Ramsey who needed a name. Someone gave me a baby name book that gave the meanings of each name, and guess which name I looked up first.
Surely, after all I'd gone through, Rebecca must mean princess, or maybe light or beauty or kindness.
I found the page.
REBECCA, REBEKAH: one who ensnares.
I was Ensnarer Skaggs Ramsey.

I didn't want to believe it, but the meaning kind of made sense. After all, Rebekah was the mom in Genesis who dressed up her favorite son Jacob in goat skin, trying to trick her hubby Isaac into giving Jacob his birthright, instead of his hairy twin Esau.
Rebekah ensnared him. She was a trickster. Besides that, what kind of mother favors one son over another? I had to share her name?

But then a few weeks ago, I found something that stunned me.
Somehow, all these years, I'd missed the scripture that explains that while Rebekah was pregnant, God said to her,
"Two nations are in your womb,
and two peoples from within you will be separated;
one people will be stronger than the other,
and the older will serve the younger."

So when Esau was born first and Jacob second, she remembered God's words. Esau will serve Jacob. Jacob must have the birthright. It's part of God's plan.
Rebekah was tricky for a holy reason: to ensure that God's message was followed!
Twenty years after my first search in the baby book for Rebekah, I wanted to know more. Google to the rescue!

"The name denotes merely a tying up of cattle, both for their own protection, the establishment of their home and to keep them from wandering off. Within this name lies the notion that individuals are placed together by something higher or smarter than they.
The name Rebekah literally means Tied Up but more specific (and more friendly) is Secured."

Rebekah was the one securing God's promise. This changed everything. How I love my name.

How do you feel about your name? Do you know what it means? Do share!

Have a wonderful weekend, y'all!
Love, Becky

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

O Brother

Have you seen the movie, O Brother Where Art Thou?
The film begins with the escape of three friends, Everett, Pete, and Delmar from a chain gang in rural, depression era Mississippi. Still in leg irons, they set out to retrieve the $1.2 million in treasure that Everett stole from an armored car and buried before his incarceration, and they've got to find it fast. In four days, the whole valley will be flooded to create Arkabutla Lake, and all hopes for riches will be lost.

It's a modern retelling of Homer's Odyssey, and it's hilarious and scary and has an amazing soundtrack that burrows under your skin like ringworm.
A gorgeous, soulful ringworm, but still.

We watched it again at the beach last week, and ever since we got back home, I've been singing Man of Constant Sorrow and When I Went Down to the River to Pray. I'm crazy about both of those songs, but my family is beginning to wish they could figure out how to change my channel.

Then yesterday, as I fiddled with this blog, adding photos of our French life to the French Living page, I came across this picture.

Yes, that man in the black coat is actually me. (I know it's not fashionable, but I'm a Carolina girl who gets cold in the snow, so sorry.)
It was taken during the first year of our French life, during our first visit to Notre Dame d'Orcival, a 13th century Romanesque basilica in the tiny village of Orcival, about forty minutes from where we used to live.

Here's a better photo of the church.

Photo by Francis Debaisieux
The basilica is indeed a world treasure, but the thing that struck me most about it is what hangs on an outer wall. See it in the inset there?

Here, let me blow it up for you.

Photo by Francis Debaisieux
Those are leg irons.
Leg irons, just like the ones binding Everett and Pete and Delmar.
I saw the photo of us standing in the snow beneath the leg irons and remembered that cold day as my brain started singing
I am a man of constant sorrow I've seen trouble all my day. I bid farewell to old Kentucky The place where I was born and raised.

Our Michelin Green Guide said that the chains had been hung "in thanksgiving for released prisoners." Ben wanted to know just who was released and if it was really safe to set prisoners free, and Sarah said that maybe they weren't supposed to be in jail anyway, especially if they were the kind of prisoners who care about thanking God.

But the chains got all of us thinking and talking about what it means for God to set us free.
And yesterday, as I looked at that picture and sung along with Everett, I remembered this verse:
7 He upholds the cause of the oppressed
and gives food to the hungry.
The LORD sets prisoners free,

8 the LORD gives sight to the blind,
the LORD lifts up those who are bowed down,
the LORD loves the righteous.

9 The LORD watches over the alien
and sustains the fatherless and the widow,
but he frustrates the ways of the wicked.

Psalm 146:7-9, New International Version

It's a lovely scripture, but at first thought, I wasn't sure that it had anything to do with me.
I'm not really oppressed (except by my laundry pile, ha ha.) I'm not hungry or in prison, blind or made to bow down. I'm not an alien anymore, nor am I fatherless or a widow.

But maybe it speaks to me too.
I might not be guilty of doing things that land me in prison, but I know I'm imprisoned in other ways.
Even though I try not to, I do things and think things that keep me from living the whole, healthy life God wants for me.

I envy other people. What they own that I don't. Their talents. What looks like the ease of their lives. I worry too much, and sometimes I let fear keep me from doing things that would please God. Fear of what other people might think. Fear of failing.

I could go on, but you get the point.
I'm just thankful that even though God knows all about my sorry failings, He refuses to shut the door on me. God lets me in anyway, unbinding me daily from the chains that hold me back, letting me try to do better, again and again.

I can see why Ben was worried. Is it really smart of God to operate this way? To set the prisoners free, with just their word and a piddly human effort to do better?
But that's how God operates.
That's how grace operates.
No wonder they call it amazing!

I'd love to hear your thoughts. Have you seen the movie?
What imprisons you?

Have a great Wednesday, y'all!
Love, Becky

Monday, June 14, 2010

Widening Circles. Plus Cat Armor and Too Much Fried Shrimp.

So reach out and welcome one another to God's glory.

Romans 15:7, The Message

Excuse the sandy shoes and piles of dirty laundry, y'all.
We're just back from a few days at the beach, and we've got the wet bathing suits and tummies full of fried shrimp to prove it. (I shall be eating lettuce and carrots for the next three weeks lest my vital organs band together and picket in protest!)

It was a wonderful trip, but it was different.
It wasn't because of the oil spill. We go to the Carolina beaches, which are still clean, thank goodness. Still, every time we looked out at the horizon, we thought about areas that aren't so lucky.
No, the difference was of a more personal nature.

For the last eleven years, it's been just the five of us. Me, Todd, Sarah, Ben, and Sam.
Mother, father, sister, brothers.

This year we turned a new page, a page that sort of blows my mind.
A page that makes me feel old and crinkly, like a dried apple doll left to rot in the sun. You know what we did?
We added a boyfriend and girlfriend to our circle!
Yes, to the delight of my almost 20 year old girl and almost 18 year old boy, we invited what my mother-in-law used to call their "special friends."
I knew this boy and girl and enjoyed them already, so I was happy about this.

A small voice inside me wondered how this might change things.
What if they weren't willing to stand on the porch for hours at a time, playing our hook the ring game?
Or what if they thought it was weird that we park our lawn chairs under the pier with the other pale people and eat at Miss Ella's three nights in a row? What if they didn't want to see a nature movie at the IMAX theater or eat snow cones until their teeth turn blue?

No, it wasn't our usual trip.
It was even better.

Because they were with us, we behaved ourselves! And we made even more of an effort to have fun.
We even tried some new things and made up new traditions, though I'm not sure our trip through Ripley's Believe it or Not needs to be repeated. One tour of the shrunken body parts, the belly button lint collection, and the suit of armor for a cat may be enough to last a lifetime.

Anyway, because they were with us, we laughed harder, talked more, and listened longer than ever before.

I'm so glad that we widened our circle.
It's made me think about widening the circles in other areas of my life.

Widening my circle means that I have to let go a little, and change can be scary.
We wonder what changes newcomers might bring to our comfy way of life, to our traditions and habits. We worry that their presence might make things awkward, that they won't fit in, or maybe even that we won't fit in anymore, at least not in the same way.

But when we let go of fear and drop the concept of insiders and outsiders, we open ourselves for all sorts of possibilities.
We get to know more unique children of God. We open ourselves to more joy.
And occasionally we get to see a suit of armor for a cat.

(Be glad I didn't choose the photo of the belly button lint collection.)

Maybe God calls us to welcome each other because He knows it can make us happy. After all, God is the Great Welcomer.
I want to welcome others to my circle like God does. The way He does in Psalm 5:

But you'll welcome us with open arms when we run for cover to you. Let the party last all night! Stand guard over our celebration. You are famous, God, for welcoming God-seekers, for decking us out in delight.
Psalm 5: 11-12, The Message

Have a great Monday, y'all! I hope it's decked out in delight!

Before you go, I'd love to hear about the circles you run in. Do they widen easily, or does it take a crowbar? What about faith communities in general? How well does yours do at making room for others?

Love, Becky

Friday, June 11, 2010

Readings from the Book of Eeyore

Maybe I shouldn't admit this, but of all the characters in literature, Milne's Eeyore is on my Top Ten list of favorites. Maybe it's because I know some Eeyores in real life or maybe it's because I have a small bit of Eeyore in me. Or maybe it's because of amazing lines like these:

"'It's snowing still,' said Eeyore gloomily.
'So it is.'
'And freezing.'
'Is it?'
'Yes,' said Eeyore. 'However,' he said, brightening up a little, 'We haven't had an earthquake lately.'"

"It's bad enough being miserable, but it is even worse when everyone else claims to be miserable, too."

Don't you just want to pat his head, give him a side hug, and say, "Oh Eeyore. How I love you"?

Eeyore always makes me laugh, but I also appreciate him for his nuggets of truth. Within his sad stale chocolate box of poor me's and life is useless that's all there is to it, there are yummy pieces of wisdom. Tasty bits that leave me chewing and thinking. For instance...

"We can't all, and some of us don't. That's all there is to it."

"A little Consideration, a little Thought for Others, makes all the difference. Or so they say."

"When trying to rescue friends from a tree, make sure the plan doesn't involve having everybody stand on your back."
Hahahahahahaha. Okay, so that one is just funny.

A week or so ago, I reread the book Ecclesiastes, and I was shocked to find that Eeyore has a long lost Biblical brother!
Seriously, you should read it again. It's short (in my Bible it's only ten pages long,) and the Eeyorisms and nuggets of truth will stun you and make you laugh out loud and yearn to tousle the Philosopher's hair, give him a sideways hug, and say, "How I love you, you tired old wise man, you."

Check out lines like this:
"Life is useless, all useless. You spend your life working, laboring, and what do you have to show for it?...What has happened before will happen again..There is nothing new in the whole world. "Look," they say, "here is something new" but no, it has all happened before, long before we were born."

"Never ask "Oh, why were things so much better in the old days?" It is not an intelligent question."

"If you dig a pit, you fall in it; if you break through a way, a snake bites you. ...If your ax is dull and you don't sharpen it, you have to work harder to use it. It is smarter to plan ahead."

"So remember your Creator while you are still young, before those dismal days and years come when you will say, "I don't enjoy life. That is when the light of the sun, the moon, and the stars will grow dim for you, and the rain clouds will never pass away. ...Your teeth will be too few to chew your food and your eyes too dim to see clearly... You will hardly be able to drag yourself along, and all desire will be gone."
I can hardly wait!

But just as with Eeyore, there are stunning truths within the dreariness.

The fastest runner doesn’t always win the race, and the strongest warrior doesn’t always win the battle. The wise sometimes go hungry, and the skillful are not necessarily wealthy. And those who are educated don’t always lead successful lives. It is all decided by chance, by being in the right place at the right time.

For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven. A time to be born and a time to die...

And another favorite set of verses:
"Two are better off than one, because together they can work more effectively. If one of them falls down, the other can help him up..."

Yep, a life lived outside of faith, focused only on ourselves maybe ultimately useless, but let God enter the picture and everything changes. Maybe the Philosopher of Ecclesiastes is even preparing us for the coming of Christ, the One who "came that we might have life abundantly."

So tell me, what do you think of the Philosopher Eeyore and the Philosopher of Ecclesiastes?

Before you skedaddle, I'll leave you with this benediction:

"Go ahead--eat your food and be happy; drink your wine and be cheerful. It's all right with God. Always look happy and cheerful. Enjoy life with the woman you love, as long as you live the useless life that God has given you in this world. Enjoy every useless day of it, because that is all you will get for all your trouble. Work hard at whatever you do, because there will be no action, no thought, no knowledge, no wisdom in the world of the dead--and that is where you are going."
Ecclesiastes 9:7-10
Oh, come here, Philosopher, and let me tousle your hair, you sweet thing.

Have a great weekend, y'all!
Love, Becky

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Your teeth are as white as newly shorn sheep. Really.

Flickr photo by Cameron Chamberlain, creative commons
When kids begin third grade in my church, our congregation gives each child a Bible, embossed with his/her name. Sarah was so excited to get hers that as soon as she got home, she ran to her bedroom and started reading the passage from Sunday school that morning.
It seems that the teacher had left a few things out of the lesson, in order to make it rated G.

She stormed into the kitchen, waving the Bible at me.
"Mama, do you have any idea what they put in this thing? No wonder they make you wait 'til third grade before they let you have it!"

When I was a little, the Song of Solomon gave me a similar shock.
Did my parents know what they wrote in there?
All that steamy talk about breasts and thighs? A man at the door, when she's already undressed?
It was perfect for a curious Baptist girl. I'd hide in my room and read it, and when Mom wanted to know what I was doing in there, I'd yell, "I'm reading the Bible, Mom."

Over the years I've read it again and again, sometimes to appreciate and soak up the passion that God has for His people, Christ for His church. And sometimes to snicker over the lines like the title of this post, and the verse that follows.
"Your teeth are as white as sheep that have just been shorn and washed. Not one of them is missing; they are all perfectly matched."
Try that pick up line next time at the gym.

A few weeks ago, I was started my writing day as usual, listening to Garrison Keillor's lovely voice reading me The Writer's Almanac, when the poem for the day caught my attention.

Arise, my darling, my beautiful one, and come with me. See! The winter is past; the rains are over and gone. Flowers appear on the earth;the season of singing has come, the cooing of doves is heard in our land. The fig tree forms its early fruit; the blossoming vines spread their fragrance. Arise, come, my darling; my beautiful one, come with me.
My dove in the clefts of the rock, in the hiding places on the mountainside, show me your face, let me hear your voice; for your voice is sweet, and your face is lovely.
Song of Solomon 2:10-14

It took my breath away.
I can hardly stand the beauty of the promise, that every morning when I open my eyes, God is there, running to me, pursuing me.
Saying to me that yesterday is gone and everything is new again, and lush.
He calls to me as I plunge into the busyness of my day, asking me to show Him my face, to speak to Him, telling me how beautiful I am.

I just love that. I think I might have to print that out and tape it to my mirror.
It'd be great to read daily, but especially on days when my hair isn't dancing like a flock of goats.

Have a wonderful Wednesday, y'all!
Before you skip on out of here, like gazelles, racing down the mountain, be sure to say hello!
Any Song of Solomon thoughts?

Love, Becky

Monday, June 7, 2010

Cords of Kindness

Flickr photo by DeaPeaJay , creative commons
"I led them with cords of human kindness, with bands of love. I was to them like those who lift infants to their cheeks. I bent down to them and fed them."
Hosea 11:4, NRSV

Melissa was a homeless woman, living in a Sunday school room in our church with her three kids for one week as part of our participation in the Greenville Area Interfaith Hospitality Network. I was her host for the evening, and it was my first time.

I was a little nervous, to be honest.
Still, I couldn't just hide in the host room. Todd had offered to take her kids down to the gym with our three, and I could already hear them laughing and talking and having a big time.
I stepped into the hallway, took a few steps toward her door, then darted back to the host room, a scared bunny rabbit.

What was wrong with me? I believed in the program. I really did.
Our church had plenty of room, and I was all for offering it a few times a year to homeless families struggling to get back on their feet. I'd worked with homeless kids before and loved every exhausting minute of it. So what was the problem?

It wasn't the kids. It was the mom.
Kids were easy, but how would I relate to a homeless mom?
She had the door closed anyway. Maybe she didn't want interaction.

I could knock, but would she want to talk? And if she felt like it, what would we talk about?
I didn't want to intrude or make her think I was getting in her business, but I didn't want to ignore her either.
Enough of this, I thought. It's her first night at our church, and by golly, she's going to feel welcomed.

I was just getting ready to knock when her door opened.
"Well hi there," she laughed.
"Hi. I was just...uh... coming by to see if you needed anything."
"Oh, thanks. I don't think so. This room is so nice. It's going to do just fine."
"I'm glad," I said.
We looked at each other for a moment.
"I'm just getting settled," she said, returning to her chore, taking the kids' clothes out of her plastic trash bag, folding them, and setting them on a table. "But if you feel like talking, I'd be happy to have some company. Here," she said, pulling a plastic chair off the stack beside her. She patted the seat. "Come on in and let's talk while I put our things away."

I was supposed to be her host, but as she welcomed me into her bedroom, moving a suitcase out of my way, I felt like the guest of honor.
But I still wasn't sure what to say.

"This is a nice church," she said. "Have you been going here long?"
It was an easy question, and soon I relaxed and we were chatting away. We talked about our kids and where they go to school. She told me about the kerosene fire in her rental house, and how her ex-husband was incarcerated, and even though they'd been divorced a while, her youngest son still cries for him. She told me about the fund-raising program in her home church, how on the big dedication day all the church members were going to walk down the aisle with their pledges, wearing the different colors of the rainbow, celebrating God's promise.

Before I knew it, three and a half hours had passed and I was sad to leave. She'd been so kind to me, and we'd enjoyed each others' company. We had so much in common, really, both mothers, caring about our children and trying our hardest to make a good life for ourselves and for them, a life that pleases and honors God. Both making tons of mistakes along the way.

Now, three years later, I'm still thankful for Melissa's kindness. My experience with her made me want to volunteer again and again. She taught me just to be myself with other homeless women and men, and because of that, I've had the privilege of hearing many stories of grace, courage and deep, abiding faith in the face of dire circumstances.
I have no doubt that as Melissa reached out to me, her kindness became one of those cords used by God, pulling me along, leading me toward joy.

I'm so thankful that God doesn't yank us through our days on a leash, as if we're dogs, or string us along like a heavenly puppeteer. How marvelous that the Holy Spirit can work through the kind actions and words of those around us, fanning them, like a mysterious perfume that piques our senses, a scent that we can't help but follow.

How wonderful that in every loving gesture of a friend or stranger, God is lifting us to his cheek, nuzzling us, whispering His love in our ears, nourishing us with soul food.
It makes me want to pull my head out of my calendar and make sure I'm ready to be kind.

So many of you have been God's nourishment to me, whether you know it or not. Thank you!
I'd love to hear about a kindness you've experienced lately, big or small. Do you feel like God's rope--or just a bunch of loose threads? :)

Have a wonderful Monday, y'all!
Love, Becky

Friday, June 4, 2010

Sewing on Patches

Flickr photo by mollydot creative commons
Hey friends. I'm writing you from my daddy's office in my parents' house, which is a little freaky because as I type, fifth grade Becky (complete with stop sign glasses and crocheted bicentennial vest) is staring at me. I shall not be wigged out. I shall not be deterred.
So where were we...
Sam and I are taking a mother son get-away for the weekend to celebrate the end of the school year and to soak up the kind of heavy duty loving that only grandparents can give!

We had a great drive home to Raleigh yesterday. Sam set up his IPod to play all sorts of old people (Elton John, Billy Joel, and Michael Jackson) plus a young favorite of both of ours, Ingrid Michaelson. You probably know Ingrid. She's a fabulous entertainer (watch this after you finish reading this post) and I'm still spanking my own hiney because she came this spring to The Handlebar, our local place for live music, and I couldn't get my act together to simply buy the tickets and show up! I tell you, I drive myself crazy sometimes.

So anyway, you may know the song she's most famous for. It's this one.

Sam and I sang it straight through twice in the car. LOUDLY. (Actually I sang loudly and he joined in every now and then, when nobody was in the lane beside us.) After it was over, Sam asked if we could pretty please listen to a different song.
"Just one more time. Okay?" I begged, and he rolled his eyes and laughed. Then he patted me on the head and pushed play.

I couldn't help it. I just love those lyrics:

If you are chilly, here take my sweater.
Your head is aching, I'll make it better.
Cause I love the way you call me baby.
And you take me the way I am

Isn't that the best kind of love, a love that takes us the way we are, with all our quirks and weirdness? Ingrid loves whoever it is back, because really, how could she not?

Whenever I hear a song that touches me or read a novel that stuns me with its beauty and truth, I know I need to take a closer look. I have this idea that when a story or a song or a movie pulls on my heartstrings, that means that it's resonating with something ancient and holy within me. It's almost like our souls are embedded homing devices, set up to detect the qualities of God's nature and passion in our world (His truth and beauty, pain and sacrifice,) and draw us back to their ultimate source: a God who loves us relentlessly.

Does this make sense to you, or do you think I've been staring into the sun too long?

So when she sings

I'd buy you Rogaine when you start losing all your hair
Sew on patches to all you tear

I hear it and I sometimes think of a child wanting to return the favor to a God who patches us up, time and time again.
You know what I mean. The Bible (and probably your life too) is full of those stories. I think of God calling out Adam and an Eve, right after they'd disobeyed Him with the fruit and were hiding in the bushes, wondering what to do next. God had said that if they ate of that tree, they'd die the same day. But would they indeed have to die? No, this God couldn't bring Himself to follow through, killing off all humankind. Instead God loved them, even in their shame. And not only that, but before God ushered them out of the garden, He sewed them clothes to wear, to comfort those frightened, naked jaybirds.

He sewed on patches, even though they tore the whole thing up.
If that's not superhuman love, (or superior-to-human love :) I'd like to know what is!

Have a terrific weekend, friends! I hope it's full of loud, happy singing.
But before you go, I'd love to hear what has moved you lately.
And do you think my theory holds? Does the art that touches your heart have anything to do with God?

Love, Becky

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

We're Breaking Outta Here!

Flickr photo by "The Wanderer's Eye," creative commons
Hey chicks!
Yep, you're in the right place. Welcome to my new coop! I hope you like it.

It's funny how attached I can get to the way things are. Is this true for you? I find myself even holding tight to silly, unimportant things like a blog header that an artist made for me two years ago, or where I put the spoons and forks. Would you believe that I moved my silverware drawer back in March, and my hands still reach for the handle on the right side of the oven instead of the left? It's true!

I suppose when we do something over and over again the same way, we program the fleshy computer part of ourselves. Of course, sometimes this is a good thing. I don't want to have to go on every time I need to drive Sam to school, but it sort of scares me when I pull up to the curb to let him out, and I don't even remember the drive. Does this happen to you? Maybe it's human nature. (Or maybe you're glad I don't live in your neighborhood!)

I know I do this on a deeper level as well.
I have a certain vision of who I am, the way I behave with other people, the risks I take (or don't take,) and I tend to stay on my route, where it's normal and safe, where I know I won't fail. Where people won't notice and murmur to each other, "What's the deal with her?"

Sometimes it takes a kick in the pants/skirt/capris to realize how much we're missing when we go with what's always been.

Check out these verses that kicked my bahonka the other day...

"So here's what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don't become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You'll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you."
Romans 12:1-2, The Message

I'd always read the part that says Don't become so well-adjusted to your culture as meaning the American culture, of which I certainly want to be wary. But now I'm thinking that God might also be saying the Becky Ramsey culture. The culture that I've created for myself. The one I sometimes confine myself to, really out of fear, if you get right down to it.

So I'm throwing everything up in the air, and I'm going to try to do this daily. I'm going to try to toss my Becky Ramsey Way of Living up in the sky, open my arms wide to catch what is meaningful, and let the rest of it fall. And when I find myself in new, uncomfortable places, with my hands reaching for a comfortable drawer and mapquest nowhere in sight, I'm going to remember the line that God seems to say to just about everybody who talks to Him: Fear not. I'm right here.
And I just might hum a little Diana Ross, too.

I just had to live
And I want to give
I'm completely positive...
I'm coming out...

So what about you? Do you ever find yourself in a self designed rut, like a comfy couch you want to stay in forever? Do you look for new life directions and throw yourself in, or are you more likely to test the water with a toe first? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Have a terrific Wednesday!
Love, Becky