As you might be aware if you’ve been reading my bloggerhea these past several days, I’ve had a rough week. Apart from my usual depression, there’s been the added bonus of getting crabbed at by people who expect me to apply for crappy jobs. Allergies have laid me out completely for two full days (technically it was the antihistamines). My body has made it known in no uncertain terms that it isn’t as young as it used to be and could I stop performing even minor exertions, please and thank you. Plus, I’ve been rejected (or just pointedly ignored) by several potential employers for jobs that I actually tried to get. My car broke down, repeatedly; I had no choice but to accept a fairly pricey donation of parts and service from dear friends who’ve already given more than their share.
I had a Super-Fun-Happy-Slide-level panic attack yesterday (“Wheeeeeeeeee!”) while valiantly attempting to fill out an application for the local school district, at a friend’s behest. Said friend has been one of my biggest cheerleaders and insisted that I could get an IT job there. While investigating and filling in form fields, I learned that:
- The school district requires testing for every position, even non-teaching jobs;
- Testing is not free and in fact costs more money than I actually possess as of this writing;
- No gaps are permitted when entering one’s past-decade employment history (fun fact: I have numerous, occasionally lengthy gaps);
- An actual copy of one’s high school diploma or GED cert is REQUIRED to be submitted with every application (my hard-copy diploma was lost eons ago, many years and well over a thousand miles away);
- Even if I had the mental fortitude and cash necessary to expend the considerable effort and cost involved in ordering a certified copy of my diploma,
- That’s too bad because the (private) high school from which I actually graduated apparently closed a very long time ago and even the Almighty Google has difficulty finding evidence that it ever existed. (Street view indicates it’s now an overpriced apartment building.)
That was a thing that wasn’t going to happen. I admittedly lost my temper a bit while trying to explain to my friend that the school obviously wasn’t going to hire me EVEN IF I was willing and able to jump through all those hoops, while fighting off the above-mentioned panic attack. Fortunately this particular friend has a lot of patience and accepted my apology.
So yeah, not a great week, and I really needed a boost. I decided to make church a two-for-two instead of waiting another three months before going back. I hit the gym this morning (see above re: my body the unwilling participant in every activity presented to it), showered, fortified myself with caffeinated beverages from the gas station at taxpayer expense (still got about twenty bucks on my EBT for this month!) and headed on down to the place where I got saved.
Once again, I was largely ignored. I’m sensing a pattern here, though I did have a nice little chit-chat with an unfamiliar lady on my way through the parking lot. And once I got to the foyer, suddenly everything was okay and I knew that all would be right with the world because Brother C was at the door.
Jesus Saves, Brother C Saves the Day
Dear Brother C is pushing 90 if he hasn’t already passed it. He’s been a fixture at this church from day one, which was over thirty years ago and he wasn’t young even then. His health is very poor and he walks, painfully and slowly, with a cane. But despite his frailty, if he’s physically capable of remaining upright, Brother C puts on his button-down shirt and dress pants with suspenders and comes to church on Sunday.
Brother C is most definitely NOT a Good Little Christian. He’s one of the actual Good Ones. He is the one who softly put his gnarled hand on my shoulder that day long ago when I was reeling from yet another rejection in my own church, and murmured: “You know, people will let you down. But God never will.” He has a beautiful, gentle way of reminding you of God’s goodness, without lecturing you about it. When dear Brother C goes home to be with the Lord, we’re all going to rejoice that his pain is finally gone, but it’ll still be hard to lose him.
Honestly, I could’ve gone on my way rejoicing after just seeing and (carefully) embracing Brother C again. He wasn’t there last week, because he’d thrown his back out and we babbled a bit about physical therapy and our shared love of acupuncture before he hustled me inside. I ran into the pastor, who side-hugged me and asked me how my disastrous job interview went; I briefly told him, without crying thanks to the magical healing properties of Brother C’s presence, before taking a seat.
After the music (still being led by the guy who wanted no part of me on that same praise team a decade ago), the pastor got into his message. All I really want to say is that it was so, so, so gratifying to hear this man, who I used to affectionately call Pastor Hardass behind his back, standing up there giving voice to so many of the same things I’ve been ranting about here.
The actual text of the sermon was centered around Matthew 9, particularly verses 35-38 about the importance of praying for laborers to bring in the harvest (i.e., people to lead other people to the Lord’s salvation). But the pastor actually spent a lot of time going over the rest of the chapter, in which Jesus characteristically upends everybody’s expectations and prejudices in terms of which people “deserve” our love and support.
Spoiler Alert: It’s Everybody.
And when the Pharisees saw it, they said unto his disciples, Why eateth your Master with publicans and sinners? (KJV)
The disciple Matthew himself is introduced as a tax collector or publican in this chapter. Jesus calls upon Matthew to follow him, and he does so; and as soon as they all sit down to eat together, Jesus gets reamed by the Pharisees (verse 11).
Context, as always, is vital in understanding the outrage at play here. As I’ve mentioned before, publicans (or tax collectors) were Jews, fellow sons of Abraham as much as everybody else in town. However, they were utterly despised by their compatriots, and not in the casual “Man, the IRS really sucks but whattayagonnado” kind of way we do today. These guys weren’t just tax collectors; they were notoriously corrupt, with little to no oversight, and even worse, they were seen as collaborators with the Roman occupation. They were collecting Caesar’s taxes in the Promised Land. God’s Chosen People didn’t view them as a necessary evil the way we grumble about our FICA withholdings. More like, race traitors.
Jesus loved them.
Our Lord was also criticized repeatedly for all sorts of other “transgressions” in this chapter. They harangued and harassed him about his (lack of) fasting habits. They accused him of blasphemy after healing the man who was sick of the palsy by forgiving his sins. He cast out a demon from a possessed man, and the Pharisees claimed he did it using Satan’s power. Over and over, throughout the Gospels, Jesus took everyone’s preconceived notions about what it meant to be holy, and turned cartwheels with them. He ignored thousands of years worth of “we’ve always done it this way so this is the way it’s supposed to be done” and showed us God’s intent.
To my great satisfaction, the pastor echoed my own thoughts on the subject: How “good” are we, that we think we can judge others? We all fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). Do we allow our “righteousness” to get in the way of stepping down into the gutter to stretch out a hand to those in need? Do we tell ourselves that “those people” are getting what they deserve?
The point of the sermon was ultimately our need and obligation to pray for the harvest, to really pray. Pray for missionaries who are out there spreading the Word, for pastors and preachers and all the other laborers who are out there working the harvest. For those of us who are called as laborers to answer that call. Because the real joy of Christian life isn’t about all the benefits for MEEEEEEEEEE (though they’re considerable). The real joy is being a part of the harvest, helping pull the lost into the light.
I have a vivid, Technicolor memory of driving down the road on a certain day a long time ago. It was before I was born again, but I was hearing the Gospel and it was seeping through my pores. I was dealing with a bunch of stuff, as usual, and stressing out about it and wondering how I was going to get through it all, as usual. Driving down the road, feeling sorry for myself and listening to the radio, when one of my favorite songs came on. Hungry Like the Wolf by Duran Duran. Shut up. Anyway, without thinking, I started singing along. I love to sing, I love that song, and for a few seconds I forgot about my problems and just belted out those DO DO DOODOO DO DOODOOs like nobody was listening (which they weren’t).
And then I caught myself, and forced myself to stop.
I had this perverse, neurotic, insane thought process rooted in all the misfortunes I’d encountered in the previous few years. It said that the moment I let my guard down, that’s when the next axe is gonna fall. If I allow myself to be happy FOR A MINUTE, that’s the minute a catastrophe will slip through the cracks.
Fast forward to today, the nicest day I’ve had in a while:
- Nobody hurt me or rejected me.
- I spent some time outside in the sweet fresh air and felt the sun on my skin.
- Dear Brother C was at church, and the pastor’s message was uplifting or at least vindicating.
- I hatched an Australian Pokemon from an egg that an Aussie friend sent me.
- I earned a free Code Red from rewards at my gas station.
- My car did not fail to start.
- I wore one of my favorite T-shirts.
- I washed my hair and brushed my teeth.
- Instead of being hunched over my PC doing online surveys for pennies, I was out in the daylight.
When I began the drive back to the house where I’m staying, I remembered the Hungry Like the Wolf Incident. I thought about what a good day I had today. And then I thought, “So naturally, according to the dictates of recorded history, something bad’s about to happen.”
Of course the Enemy wants me to keep thinking that. Depression does, too. It’s a toss-up, which of them is more effective at wrecking my testimony these days, but they’re both formidable foes.
Regardless, I’m counting today as a win; even though the day isn’t over yet and the voices in my head still have time to say they told me so. I sang along to some Christian rock on Pandora, loudly, with the windows open as I drove.