Wednesday, December 17, 2014

It's hard to love a pimp

Marcia Moston

I was blistering with bad thoughts as I drove to my interview with Switch 42:16, a ministry here in Greenville that works with prostituted women. The more I learned about sex trafficking, the more I became angry with the pimps and people who fuel the demand.

I had compassion for the women trapped in this insidious industry, but I had none. Zero. Not a speck of love, compassion or room for prayer for the traffickers. In fact, I was delighting in some of the imagery the psalmists used in praying against the enemies of God: “Let them be like the snail that dissolves into slime.”—Psalm 57— or like “chaff before the wind.”

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Christmas Trees and Memory:There's power in the smell

I stare at the corner of the living room and consider whether or not to put up a Christmas tree this year. The kids are grown and gone, my husband doesn’t care one way or the other, and I will be the one untangling lights and complaining about how they never work from year to year, even with all those guarantees that if “one-goes-out-all-stay-lit.”

I think about the times I’ve walked into a room and thought how silly it looked to see a tree all bedazzled there inside a house. But all it took was one whiff of that balsamy scent to transform that quirky conifer into a memory trove of times past:

There was the Christmas we forgot to cut the bottom off the tree before decorating it, so when our friends came over, we held it up—baubles and all— while Bob crawled under and sawed away.

And the Christmas in Guatemala when we stuck some branches in a jar and gathered round with our little Mayan friends.

Or the time my brother came home from the service and we lay under the tree and giggled and poked at packages like we had when we were kids.

Most of all, I remember my mom’s trees all draped with so much tinsel you could hardly see our plaster of Paris handprint ornaments. She wouldn’t let us throw the tinsel on the tree, but made us hang it piece by piece. We all walked around with glittery socks and sweaters for weeks. I can still feel that agony of anticipation, waiting to see what would be under that tree Christmas morning. I can still see my parents’ expressions of pleasure at our delight.

 “Let’s go get a tree,” I say to Bob.

We go to a nearby stand and I bury my head in the branches. “They don’t smell,” I say. “The trees at Whole Foods smell.” Bob has no comment. Whatever I want to do. Buy or wait.  Whole Foods is on the other side of town. I’m impatient. Maybe it will smell when we get home. We buy the tree. The attendant cuts the bottom for us, removing that sealed off portion that has allowed the tree to stop leaking and retain moisture in its needles.

After our yearly, brief discussion about fat colored lights (Bob) or a gazillion clear ones (me) Bob goes off on an errand. I string lights (clear) and deck out the tree. Sure enough. Fancy as it is in all its finery, even with a fresh cut bottom, my supposed-to-be-fragrant Fraser doesn’t smell. No aroma of forests and earth and Christmases past wafts around the room.

Too late, I realize something I’ve known intellectually. The emotional memories are in the scent. In fact, the association of smells with people, places and events is such a powerful way to release memories that caregivers are encouraged to stimulate people with dementia by having them smell memory- evoking scents. Conjure up for a moment—campfires, Coppertone, cookies in the oven and yes,

Christmas trees.

What are your special scent related memories? I’d love to hear them. Thanks for stopping by. I’m off to buy some tree oil or candles. Just hope they don’t smell like a pine cleaner that I associate with bus terminal bathrooms!

Blessings because you belong to a Living Hope!


Monday, November 24, 2014

What's your family's narrative? There's more than tradition to the turkey

It’s 4:32 a.m. and I am lying in bed thinking about bread. I want to get up and have a piece of my mother’s nut bread, the one she made only at Thanksgiving, but I would have to rattle around in the kitchen for the scrap of recipe and ingredients. The dog, sleeping at our feet (yes, we’re one of the millions who let them on the bed) would want to get up and go out and bark at the neighbor’s cat, which would wake the husband . . . so I stare at the ceiling and try to remember other favorite foods of Thanksgivings past.

Bread again. This time it’s Bunny bread stuffing. I can’t even remember the last time I ate a piece of soft, white, gluey bread. My mom would rip up several loaves into little pieces and let them dry out overnight. I don’t know what else she did to it, but that stuffing was arguably the best part of the meal, next to the cranberries.

Shadowy light comes in slits through the blinds. I give up and slip out of bed. The dog gets up too.

“Can’t sleep?” my husband murmurs.

 “My head’s full of thoughts,” I say.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Psalms in the news

Marcia Moston

I hear lots of people say they don’t watch the news. It’s all so negative—ax-wielding terrorists and flesh-eating disease, lying, scheming politicians and rioting mobs—who can take it?  I suspect the heaviness of the times is one of the reasons people are stringing up lights and dressing up trees much earlier than they usually do.

I’m all about cheer too. And I would happily light up my half acre of the world all year round if I didn’t worry about my husband with the hedge cutters. But I still watch the news. Maybe that’s why I’ve been seeing the Psalms through a different lens this time through.

Some of the verses could be torn off the front page of the paper. Psalm 59:6—
Each evening they come back, howling like dogs and prowling about the city. There they are bellowing with the mouths and swords in their lips, for “Who,” they think, “will hear us?”  Kabul Afghanistan? Mosul Iraq?

Or this two-three thousand-year-old verse from Psalm 83: They say, “Come, let us wipe them out as a nation; let the name of Israel be remembered no more!”  Haven’t I heard that proclaimed more than once recently?

With verses like those as a backdrop, one theme, in particular, threading through many of these Psalms has impressed itself on me. It’s the cry of the captive.

Instead of reading those verses as a cry of despair from a long-ago person, or even of myself on a bad day, I’m receiving them as a gift from God. He’s given me my prayer niche: to pray over the forgotten captive. My journal title is Prayer for the Forgotten Man (Woman).

Some mornings I have a specific captive in mind, but most of the time I have no idea whom I’m praying for. I imagine someone sharing a cell with rats and bugs but no blanket. No sufficient food or light. Some person who can be raped continuously because she’s an infidel and it’s okay to rape infidels. Some person who is barely clinging to life and hope. Maybe they know the Lord. Maybe they don’t.

I pray for them straight out of Psalms. It goes something like this.

Psalm 31 (The captive): I have been forgotten like one who is dead, I have become a broken vessel for I hear the whispering of many—terror on every side—as they scheme together against me, as they plot to take my life.

  (The Psalm prayer): Let the groans of the prisoner come before you; according to your great power, preserve those doomed to die.—Ps. 79

(Or maybe if I feel they can’t muster up a moment of praise, I’ll praise for them): There is none like you among the gods, O lord. Show me a sign of your favor that those who hate me may see and be put to shame.—Ps. 86

And: God shall arise, his enemies shall be scattered . . . Sing to God, sing praises to his name; lift up a song to him who rides through the deserts . . .  Father of the fatherless and protector of widow—Ps. 68

Nor am I averse to praying against the enemy. Ps. 57 says it well: Let them be like the water that runs away . . . Let them be like the snail that dissolves into slime. (Gotta love God’s metaphors.)

Should we pray for captives/abused/oppressed if they are not Christian? A comment on a her.meneutics  article posed this question. “Saved from what? the commenter asked, referring to the futility of a saved body in an unsaved soul.

The question gave me pause for a minute, but not long. I thank God for people who prayed me out of dangerous situations long before I knew the Lord.

Saving souls is God’s business. Praying is mine. I’m going with the words of King Lemuel’s mom: Open your mouth for the mute, for the rights of all who are destitute. Open your mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy.—Prov. 31

All of this is to say (a poor thing if a writer has to clarify her point!) the news makes me aware of people I might not have given thought to otherwise. And from the comfort of my home, with sunlight, warmth and plenty of food, I can hold up someone else’s weary soul and weak arms, and maybe they will see the glory of God.

Along with my captives, I pray for you today that you be blessed and see the Lord’s hand in all you put your to. Thanks for stopping by.


Friday, October 31, 2014

The toad in the basement, the sun in the sky

The bad news is that we found a snakeskin in the crawl space. The good news is we found a big, really big, fat toad living there. He sat at the entrance to his hole for three days and watched Bob work. By all appearances, he’s survived a long time, which gives me the idea the snake has shed and fled.

If you are a herpetologist who thinks otherwise, please don’t bother to enlighten me.

On another note…   

Since our daughter married a man with family in Peru, a trip to Machu Picchu has moved up on our bucket list. 

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

A stock car racing woman and a great big God

 Marcia Moston

As a writer for the Journey, Christian newspaper, I get to interview some of the remarkable men and women God positioned here in the upstate to accomplish his purposes. The stories they tell of the modern day marvels and miracles God brought about to provide for their ministries when all else looked grim encourage and delight me.

God is just so not stodgy. He puts together the most unlikely of companions and circumstance.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

A very present help in time of trouble -Marcia Moston

I’ll give you this—a dog has an impressive sense of smell. They have tens of thousands more receptors than we do, even two different passageways that separate the air they breathe from the air they smell. By some accounts, they can sniff out a teaspoon of sugar in the amount of water it takes to fill two Olympic-sized pools. Or, according to James Walker, former Director of the Sensory Research Institute, if smell were sight, what we can see at 1/3 mile, a dog can see at 3,000 miles.

But the facts still don’t negate the miracle.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Life Interrupted? Or Life Lived?

I used to multi-task well. It was a handy ability for a woman who wanted to read every book, and who thought every adventure an equal opportunity worth pursuing. A renaissance woman of sorts—I knew a little bit about a lot of things.

So when the Christian school in my town expanded to include a high school, but suddenly found themselves without an English teacher the weekend before school opened, someone recommended me. (Mind you, I had never taken an education course, and although I read a lot and was probably the only person in town who remembered with fondness her seventh-grade exercises in diagraming sentences, I had a degree in sociology, not English.)

It was bold of the school board to offer me a contract after interviewing me that Saturday night.  But that’s one of the beauties of a Christian based organization—even when things seem contrary, they can trust God with the response to their prayerful petition.

And God—well, when he gives you a gift, he makes a way for it.

Monday, August 25, 2014

On a day the snow had fallen

I thought it a peculiar obit: “He went down and struck a lion in a pit on a day the snow had fallen. And he struck down an Egyptian, a handsome (impressive) man”—2 Sam. 23:20-21. 

Now understand—I usually do my morning devos curled up in my chair with cup of coffee and simple Bible translation—not with a huge study Bible or expository reference. So this cursory reading about one of David’s mighty men was a bit befuddling.

 I could see the mention of Adino’s slewing of eight hundred at a time, or Eleazar’s perseverance in wielding his sword, in spite of weariness. And I marked the verse about Shammah’s taking his stand alone in a plot of lentils, to think about another time.

But, it was the expression, “On a day the snow had fallen,” that caught my attention. Why on earth had the Lord chosen to have it included in the account of Benaiah’s life? It sounded so lyrical, lovely— fat wet snowflakes and glittery snow covered field.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

A banana and a muffin and a happy family

  Sigh. Perhaps the time has come to stop chucking all those flyers for hearing aids in the trash. A recent conversation with my husband went like this:

Bob: “Was there any mail today?”
Me: “Just a Humana (our insurance) and a nothing (junk).”
Bob frowns, cocks head quizzically. “A banana and a muffin?”

Now, we’ve been married long enough that I’m used to this sort of response, but it does make me wonder what our conversations will be like in the next stage of lives. Maybe we’ll just happily carry on in our own little universes spun from what we thought we heard, nodding in agreement. “Yes, a banana and a muffin.”

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

The New Story: "Oh, My Poor Villain"

I had always thought life first as a story—and if there is a story, there is a storyteller.”—G. K. Chesterton

Here goes charging into waters that are probably over my head. So, I preface with a disclaimer:

  • This is not a literary analysis of the intrigue and value of an antihero in a story.
  • This is not a witty movie critique.
  • It is not a denial of the power of the past to influence and inform the present.
  • And it is certainly not a denial of redemption—even for the most villainous of us—or of the power of love.

This is, however, a warning. I’m concerned we (all of us, Christians included) are enjoying our skate on a glittery lake and ignoring the warning sign: Danger-thin ice. The ice looks pretty solid to us, so we skate on, oblivious to the melting beneath our feet.

And this is a reminder to myself that things are not what they seem. We experience only one small portion of a bigger universe, which exists beyond our senses, often ignorant that it is, as C.S. Lewis put it, “a universe at war.”

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

The Chosen One of the Palace

Poised on the threshold of young womanhood back in the late 60s, I embraced (flung open wide my good-Catholic girl-honor-student-achiever arms) the women’s liberation movement—or at least parts of it.

Actually, I picked and chose from the counterculture and women’s lib agendas as though they were shopping lists: same employment opportunities as men? Yes. Same pay? Definitely. Same political power? Why not? The same sexual freedoms? Most assuredly.

 Did I want to go into mandatory military front-line duty? No. Did I want a guy to pay for dinner on a date? Yes.

So I took off my bra, liberated woman that I was, lived in a tepee on a mountain top, and played my newly acquired sexual empowerment card.

And that was about it. I know, I know, a shallow take on Gloria Steinem’s idea of a liberated woman.

Decades later, I’m all for gender equality, but my focus on women’s rights has shifted to the Millions of women, for whom “rights” is not a matter of equal opportunity in the work place or paycheck, or choosing with whom they can freely sleep.

For Millions of women around the globe, women’s rights is a matter of Life or Death.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

The maintenance of your girls, or how to wed a daughter

Marcia Moston

Being knee-deep in wedding plans with our one and only daughter, I had to laugh when I came across the admonition in Proverbs to be good stewards of what you had, so that in time of need there would be “food for your household and maintenance for your girls.”—Proverbs 27:27

Ha! Maintenance for your girls. Lord knows us well. Our dear one and only daughter was not cheap to keep and nor is she to give away. Makes me kind of re-think the verse I used to pray over my children—“Let our sons in their youth be as grown-up plants, And our daughters as corner pillars fashioned as for a palace.”—Psalm 144:12

There’s nothing more alluring than the World of Weddings to remind you that your daughter has indeed been fashioned for a palace. I marvel at the limitless possibilities, the complexity of a cake, the minutia of a menu, the height of a shoe and the up-or-down do. All for a price, of course. If you’re not careful, at the end of the day you could come out feeling like you’ve just been the demo in a school for pickpockets. Where, oh where, did all the money go?

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Not the trail to Pisgah

After two hours of driving winding mountain roads, we stood there, stared at the sign posted in front of the two-track dirt path, then doubled over in laughter.

Not to say I told you so, I did remind the others how odd I thought it was that there were no tourist signs marking the turnoffs that got smaller and more rugged by the mile. But we had trustingly followed the GPS directions that had led us to this point.

And it was not the trail to Mt. Pisgah. 

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Coming at it slant: lessons from the llama, the 97-year-old man, and the writers conference

When I took my dog to the vet at Pet Smart for a vaccination booster, I fully expected to encounter the usual sort of household pets—other pups, cats or the occasional guinea pig. But I never anticipated walking in the door with a llama.

A llama that calmly donned hats and glasses for all the photo ops that promptly ensued. Customers, groomers, sales people, vets and assistants abandoned their posts and gathered round to pet (only the neck, please, his owner warned) and pose.

My dog took full advantage of the chaos to try to escape, entangling herself around the end display and me. After we were finally settled in our assigned room, I reflected on how special it was to find myself in just the right place at just the right moment for an encounter with the unexpected.

That’s often the way it is—even for the most diligent of planners among us—the best things sometimes come at us slant, not head-on. As they did at the writers conference I recently attended.

Not having any work in progress to pitch to my agent or an editor, I went expecting to learn about forms I don’t usually do, like poetry and flash fiction. Craft techniques.
And although I did indeed learn much about writing in those workshops, it was the unexpected tidbits about life, delivered from hallways, classrooms, and podiums that ended up latching onto me.

I applied them to the stuck place of my writing, but I suspect they fit anywhere. I leave you with these bits of wisdom. Let me know what you think:

1.     Alton Gansky on not daring to try, or overcoming the fear of rejection: “No one ever hit a homerun from the dugout.” #Stepuptotheplate.

2.     Michelle Medlock Adams on too much self-editing: “Let God define who you are.”

3.     John W., 97 years old: On living life to the fullest: “Don’t act like you are dead until God says you are.”

In the joy of the Lord,