Posted by: ritagone | June 5, 2019

Flying Past Grace

Last week my husband

and I saw a touring-company production of “Les Miserables,” the musical based on Victor Hugo’s 19th century classic novel of the same name.  Our daughter and son-in-law, both musical theater buffs also, were with us.  I had already heard some reviews by friends who had seen the show on previous nights, so I was anxious to compare notes, and to compare this production with those I have seen over the 30 years since the show originated on Broadway and in the West End of London.

This production had what I would call a very rushed first act, songs and scenes just flying by.  So much so, that the pivotal scene, the key issue of the entire story, both in the original book and in the play, I felt, got lost in the speed of delivery: the scene where Jean Valjean, an ex-convict who served 19 years of hard labor for stealing a loaf of bread to feed his family, now out of prison and trying to decide his future, having stolen a bishop’s candlesticks and fleeing, is apprehended by Inspector Javert and brought back to “confess” his crime so that he can be returned to prison, where Javert firmly and completely believes he belongs.  Instead, the bishop, sensing the goodness of Valjean and wanting to be an instrument of God’s mercy (a great example, for a change, of the clergy being a good guy!), tells Javert that not only were the candlesticks given to Valjean, but he forgot other pieces of silver in his haste to depart.

Javert therefore has no claim on Valjean and must release him, and Jean Valjean, alone on the stage, recognizes that God, through the bishop, has given him a chance to redeem himself.  He vows then and there to make something of his life. He will make things right, he will do good to others, he will make his life count.

It is as close to a salvation/redemption scene in literature and theater as you will ever see…and it is quite moving when it is allowed by direction to play itself out a bit.

But alas, in the production we saw, apparently the director and cast wanted to get out of the theater as quickly as possible for their late dinner plans, because the scene and all its import flashed by a rather unsuspecting audience.  You really had to know it was coming, understand its significance to appreciate what was happening.  I wondered if most of the audience did so.

Too bad.

In a culture almost devoid of such metaphors and literary allusions to grace and mercy, I hate to see that when one does come along, it goes by so quickly that it isn’t appreciated for what it is.  If there were hints of grace all over the place, we could afford to let one or two slip by, but they’re in short supply, so we need to savor them, understand them, and learn from them when we can.

So my admonition to you, dear reader, is that you watch for displays of grace wherever you can, in movies, theater, TV programs.  Savor them, enjoy them, tell others about them.  The English poet Robert Browning said: “It is the glory and good of Art, that Art remains the one way possible of speaking truths…”  While I disagree that art is the “one way possible of speaking truths,” it is certainly a lovely way of doing so.  If it’s not done at mach speed, that is.

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Posted by: ritagone | May 29, 2019

Heaven: The Ultimate Reality

Here’s an excerpt from my wonderful Nancy Guthrie devotional book for this year.  I’m loving how she speaks to me almost every day.

 

Heaven: The Ultimate Reality

 

All these faithful ones died without receiving what God had promised them, but they saw it all from a distance and welcomed the promises of God.  They agreed that they were no more than foreigners and nomads here on earth. They were looking for a better place, a heavenly homeland. – Hebrews 11: 13,16

David (her husband) often said that Hope and Gabe (their two infant children who died early from a genetic disease) were not born for this life, but for the next.  They were unable to see or hear or function in this world, and they were ushered quickly to the next life, where they will one day receive resurrected and renewed bodies.  As we opened our eyes to the reality that this life is preparation for the next, our perspective about the “tragedy” of their short lives was transformed. We decided it was not really so sad that they spent only six months limited by a physical body that was hopelessly flawed. And I ask you, is it really less than the best if the person you love lives less than the eighty to ninety years we have come to define as a lifetime? Not if we see this earthly life as a rehearsal for the real thing.

While most great stories end with “and they lived happily ever after,” C.S. Lewis ended The Chronicles of Narnia’s The Last Battle much differently. As the heroic efforts of the Narnians fail, the storybook ending seems conspicuously absent. But immediately upon their deaths, the Narnians find themselves in a wonderful new land, where they are reunited with those they love and with Aslan himself. C.S. Lewis writes, “They were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.” Everything that had happened before was put into perspective as their real life and real story began.

So it will be for us when we embark on our real lives – our forever lives – in the presence of God. Then we’ll realize that what has gone before was just a shadow of — a prelude to – our real lives in heaven. This life is not all there is, and neither is it the best there is. There is something better, somewhere better. Someone better…than any thing, any place, any person who has captured our devotion in the here and now. It is real. And it is forever.

 

Heavenly Father, help me to see beyond what seems so real in this life into the joyful reality of the next. Give me eyes of faith to see into the distance and welcome the promises of God for a better place, a heavenly homeland.

Posted by: ritagone | May 22, 2019

If We Have Not Grammar…

I’m reading one of the most esoteric books I’ve ever read.  I can’t even remember why I’m reading it, where the recommendation came from, except that I read her last book a while back, “Between You and Me,” which was Mary Norris’ fun foray into the uses and misuses of grammar and punctuation.  Yes, that book too was rather esoteric unless you happen to be, as I am, a former copy editor (‘TEEN Magazine, 1968-1970), trained by one of the best copy editors around to catch and eliminate all kinds of punctuation and grammar mis-steps.

Those of us who think this task is actually important – and Mary Norris is one of them, because she worked in the New Yorker Magazine’s copy department for many years – are often obnoxious about commas and semicolons and such.  We don’t think the world will end with a bang or a whimper but with one misplaced modifier too many.

So as I’m laboriously reading through the Greek words that are literally “Greek to me” and unintelligible, but enjoying her autobiographical stories of college and discovery of  her particular travel interests and such, relishing much of the book and kind of ignoring the rest, I was shocked – literally shocked – to come upon these two sentences yesterday, a day that will live in infamy in my copy editor’s heart: “My mother, like Demeter, had lost a child. He was a boy, named Patrick, and he was two years older than me.”

What???!!!!!

I read that second sentence again.  Surely I had been mistaken.  How could this be?  Surely a copy editor from the New Yorker – with a professional staff of copy editors who must have read and re-read this book in manuscript form before it went to print – could not, would not have let such an error get by them?

Did you see it?  Are you too short of breath right now?

Yes, her older brother Patrick was not two years older than “me,” but older than “I.”  You would not say “older than me am,” would you?  Then why would you write “older than me?”  That’s the prescriptive way to catch this very common grammar error: take away or add the proper missing word and see if the sentence still makes sense.  It’s one of the most basic mistakes people make, along with using “your” instead of “you’re” or confusing the “there, their and they’re”s.

Shameful.

I think Western Civilization as I know it is definitely about to end.  While everyone else is looking for icebergs to melt and vast food shortages, I’m telling you that a professional copy editor who wrote a major book published by a major publishing house has made a major grammar mistake.

We are all doomed.

Posted by: ritagone | May 15, 2019

Life Changing Moments

Life proved to me yet again this past weekend that your situation can change from one moment to the next, from one hour to another.

All’s well now, but for a time on Friday, I wondered if things would ever be the same, if there wasn’t occurring a sea change in my life that was going to be monumental.

So with everything mostly back to normal, I can look back and ponder the consequences of “what might have happened” and “what could have been,” think about a new road I might be traveling on even today, and thank God that that’s not the case.  But somewhere out there there is a woman – or a man – whose road has been changed, shifted in the blink of an eye, and now I can sympathize much more tenderly with that person.

What I experienced over this past weekend makes me want to savor life all the more, to be appreciative of each day, each hour, each moment.  Because truly we don’t know, first of all, if that moment or hour might be our last.  Or if they might be changed irrevocably out from under us.

So stop right now and be thankful, tell God what you appreciate about the life and circumstances you have, and be grateful.

Because you have no guarantee that by the end of this day your life will be the same as it is while you’re reading this at this moment.  I’m not trying to be morbid or depressing; I’m just saying that we have no control over the world around us, the people we love, or the circumstances that can affect our world and those people.

 

Posted by: ritagone | May 8, 2019

A Few In Sardis

No, it’s not a movie or book title.

It’s a potential book title, a title that I came up with decades ago for a book I wanted to write but never have.  It’s a pretty spectacular book title, I think, based on Revelation 3:1-6, Sardis being the one church which is not commended at all in the listing of the seven churches spoken to by Jesus, He who holds the seven stars in His right hand and tells these churches their good and bad points.   To Sardis (the ruins of the city which are pictured), Jesus says: “I know your works, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead.  Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die, for I have not found your works perfect before God. Remember therefore how you have received and heard; hold fast and repent.  Therefore if you will not watch, I will come upon you as a thief, and you will not know what hour I will come upon you. You have a few names even in Sardis who have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with Me in white, for they are worthy.”

And so I condensed the text “You have a few names even in Sardis” to “A few in Sardis” for a book title that I thought was provocative and would certainly want to make me read further if I saw that title in a book store.

Except that I never got any further.  The best idea so far has been the title.  In fact, I think it’s such a good title that I checked to see if there is a book with that title; there doesn’t seem to be.  So I’ve still got an opportunity to write the story to go with the incredibly good title.

Life is a lot like this, isn’t it?  You come up with a great book title, and then…you’re stuck.  Nothing comes after that.  Blank. Nada.  Of course, it’s understandable that a great book title isn’t so great unless there’s something coming after it, like, a lot of other words that mean something!  What would the substance be around the title “A Few In Sardis”?  What does the title mean, how does it apply to life and whatever I want to say? I guess I don’t know the answer to that, which is why I haven’t yet been able to create the writing to go with the title.

Or, applied in any number of other ways, you’re off to a great start on some project, some enterprise, but then it fizzles, and there’s nothing after the glowing beginning.  A relationship, a job, a task, a study of some sort, anything that will take hard work and dedication, commitment, adherence to the mission.  It’s easier to start than it is to finish; this I learned when I came up with the book title and then couldn’t find the rest of the book to go with it.

So I’ve got my work cut out for me, don’t I?

In the meantime, isn’t that a great book title?

I’m on my way!!!

 

I hate to keep harping on television shows for lessons in life, and yes, I do do other things besides watch tv mini-series, but this one is so amazingly profound that I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to talk about it today.  Plus…it’s somehow also incredibly funny.

Last week’s episode of “Game of Thrones” – and I know many of you reading this are not GOT fans, but don’t stop reading just yet, because the moral of the story is just as applicable to non-fans as to those who have been feverishly following the series for years and anxiously awaiting the last batch of episodes before it all ends in a few weeks – was the much anticipated Battle of Winterfell.

You don’t need me to tell you all about it if you’re not a watcher of the show; all you need to know is that the bad guys are corpses brought back to some semblance of life just so they can kill the good guys or even the semi-good guys, in true GOT fashion, because there are plenty of those.  There are also dragons and crypts and lots of swords and fire. Not to mention thousands upon thousands of fighting men (and some women), so the spectacle was long-waited for.

Plus, the on-going publicity for this episode made much of the expense the producers and HBO had gone to to insure that the viewing audience would absolutely be enthralled by the spectacle of the battle scenes; the claim – reiterated many times – was that no motion picture or television series had ever seen the likes of this kind of pageantry and grandeur when it came to battle scenes.

There was only one problem:

The show was so dark that it was almost impossible to see much of anything, including all the action that you knew was taking place because the sound track was doing a great job of portraying the screams and groans and dying sounds that accompanied what were probably incredible battle scenes.  I sat there wondering if there was any way to make my room – my home office – any darker, because I absolutely could NOT see what was going on.  Every once in a while I’d get a flash of something – thank you, dragons breathing fire! – but then…darkness again.  Blackness.  Just shadows and motion that indicated something was happening.  But you couldn’t prove it by me.

I was amused to see on Facebook the other day so many Twitter feeds about this very thing, some of them hilariously funny.  For example, in a Popsugar.com article which referenced quite a few of these remarks, someone tweeted: “Turning off my own lights isn’t enough. Everyone in DC needs to turn out their lights for it to be dark enough in this house to see what’s happening in this episode.”  Another tweet: “Imagine spending millions of dollars on history-making battle sequence and you don’t even bother to light it well enough for anyone to see what’s going on…” And another comment, “I was absolutely convinced that we needed to upgrade our television and watch it again.”

Well, you get the point, I’m sure.

And as I smiled and laughed reading these comments, I was struck by a few life lessons, because indeed life lessons are all around us if we are willing to look for them.  Here’s what this episode of Game of Thrones, The Battle of Winterfell, taught me:

First, you’re almost never the only one to react a certain way.  While watching the episode, I was sure I was going blind or that old age had finally done my eyesight a turn and I’d have to adjust the tv for it permanently.  I was a bit shocked when I saw the abundance of comments that agreed that the episode was too dark for so many viewers…and these are just the few I read on Facebook.  I imagine there are many, many more out there, and so I am not alone.

Second, you can spend an awful lot of money and still make a horrendous mistake.  I don’t know where the buck stops on something like the lighting or lack of it on a tv episode, or if everyone on the crew came away after watching early screenings of The Battle of Winterfell and said, “This is amazing; just what we want!” But surely there’s a gap between what they created and what the viewing audience wants, and that’s a lot of money for what may be a big mistake.  Not the end of the world, but it teaches me that mistakes come in all price ranges.  And this one isn’t going to cause a war or global warming furtherance, so on that kind of scale, it’s not so bad.  There, I’m calmer about the darkness of the episode already, seen in this light (no pun intended).

Third, there’s a potential moral or story in everything.  Look for it, shape it, tell it, and laugh about it.  Share it if it’s good enough to share, or just tell it to your spouse or a good friend if it’s not that good.  But just creating the story in your mind is a good exercise of your creativity, so be willing to do the work to put it together.

And now, I’m going to watch tv tonight, and I’m going to look for the lightest, brightest shows I can find.

Posted by: ritagone | April 24, 2019

Something to Think About…

Another great daily devotional from Nancy Guthrie’s “Book of Hope,” which I’m finding to be one of the best contemporary devotional books I’ve used.  Not only is it a beautifully bound book in simulated leather and a ribbon book marker, but she deserves the right to talk about tragedy and how to overcome it through Jesus, having lost two children at six months old through a genetic disorder.  So when she writes of great loss and falling into the arms of Jesus, you know she’s practiced what she preaches.  Besides, I love the way she writes.  Read this piece from a few days ago, and you’ll understand why I say that:

 

MERCY SAVES ME FROM GETTING WHAT I DESERVE – “He saved us, not because of the good things we did, but because of his mercy.” – Titus 3:5

 

 

“We live in a world that teaches us: ‘The early bird gets the worm,’ ‘No pain, no gain,’ ‘There is no such thing as a free lunch,’ and ‘You get what you pay for.’  We’re comfortable in this world where people get what they deserve, at least in theory. But when pain invades our lives, we quickly say, ‘I don’t deserve this!’ and claim our right to justice. Believing we have a right to fairness, we feel violated when we think we haven’t gotten what we deserve.

But if we open our eyes to the rest of the world where most people do not live with even the basics of comfort and security that we enjoy, or if we look back on the living conditions and daily-life realities previous generations lived and died with, we realize that to assume we deserve a life free of loss and pain is not only unrealistic, it is arrogant. Our insistence that we don’t deserve to suffer betrays our naiveté and narcissism.  Just what have we done to deserve the lives we enjoy and the people we love?

On the surface, a perfectly fair world appeals to us. But would we really want to live in such a world? In a perfectly fair world, there is no room for grace – receiving what you don’t deserve. Neither is there room for mercy – being spared from receiving the punishment you do deserve. Suffering may be undeserved, but so is our redemption. A fair world might be a nice place for us to live, but it would only be as nice as we are. And we know we’re really not that nice. We deserve punishment but receive forgiveness; we deserve wrath but experience love; we deserve death, but God has shown us mercy.

Living in a world where we do not always get what we deserve, and one in which we sometimes get what we don’t deserve, means that we will suffer loss. But it also means we will receive mercy. We naturally dread pain, but isn’t it worth it if it means we will also experience the gift of grace and the release of mercy?

 

Merciful Savior, you have forgiven my guilt and pitied my helplessness. Your mercy is the hope I cling to that balances out the pain in this unfair world. Thank you for not treating me as my sins deserve, but for showing me mercy.

Posted by: ritagone | April 17, 2019

Call the Midwife

Well, if you were to put a gun to my head and ask me to name my favorite TV show of all time, I would have to say that it’s “Call the Midwife,” a British period piece of the late 1950’s into the early 60’s, set in an impoverished section of London near the River Thames. It’s based on the memoirs of midwife Jennifer Worth, whose aged voice-over which is heard at the opening and closing of the show is supplied by Vanessa Redgrave.  The cast is magnificent, the writing is beautiful, and the sets make you feel that you know what it was like to live in that place and during that time.

But what really wins my heart is the frequent use of voice-over narration like this, which was from last week’s episode dealing with a baby born with a cleft palate into a family of rambunctious siblings to a harried mother whose husband was at sea most of the year:

“We can decide to be happy, make much out of little, embrace the warmth of our ordinary days. Life unfolds, as a mystery, an enterprise whose outcome cannot be foretold. We do not get what we expect, we stumble on cracks, are faced with imperfection, bonds are tested and tightened, and our landscapes shift in sunshine and in shade.  There is light. There is. Look for it. Look for it shining over your shoulder on the past. It was light where you went once; it is light where you are now; it will be light where you will go again.”

How can anyone resist such beautiful sentiments expressed bravely and honestly at the end of an hour-long episode that wrings your emotions and makes you stop and think about humanity in all its glory and its gainliness?

For eight years this series has touched me and made me both laugh and cry.  I have watched characters come and go, age, die off, and battle such things as alcoholism or whether or not to stay in the calling of a nun or return to civilian life and marry.  There’s no spectacle the way there is with “Game of Thrones,” to be sure; just the occasional kids’ Christmas or Easter program where the little ones are dressed in costume and someone invariably goofs up a line or spills red punch on the outfit right before going onstage.

They’ve tackled subject matter that was controversial back in the day historically (abortion, Downs syndrome, wife beating) and remains so even today.  There is humor that comes at just the right time, as if the writers and producers know when to lighten up and let the audience laugh instead of cry. (And I’ll wager that’s exactly what they do know!)  I know many people love the sentimentality of “This Is Us” right now, but I find “Call the Midwife” much less manipulative, more touching in its story lines.  If you’re a “This Is Us” fan, in fact, watch an episode of each of the shows and see which one feels more sincere, less contrived.  I’d be interested in what you have to say.

In short, if you haven’t already guessed it, I love this show.  You can watch it on Netflix or Amazon Prime (but you have to pay for each episode on Prime), and if you’re looking for something really good, this is where I’m sending you.

Hey, have I ever steered you wrong before?

Posted by: ritagone | April 3, 2019

Nothing Is Better Than an Evening with Old Friends

Last night (well, at 5 p.m.,

to be exact, because we’re older now and disband at the other end of the evening earlier than we used to) I got together with three old friends, ladies I have known for the better part of my adult life, part of a group which used to call itself, with wild and sarcastic abandon, “The Ladies of the Night.”  It was a title we bestowed on ourselves, tongue in cheek, and which we thought was very funny.  We still do.

Last night the four of us met at one of our homes for a deliciously prepared dinner and dessert, wine (or Diet Coke, in my case, because of my headaches), lots of reminiscing, laughter, and some tears, because you can’t be friends with people for 30 or so years without bringing up some pretty emotional and hard-to-relive experiences.

I learned a lot last night: I learned that the human bladder is a delicate thing, that cooking and presentation, while I can thoroughly enjoy someone else doing it, is definitely not my “thing,” that three hours is not enough time to get everyone’s story in, and that time actually does fly when you’re having fun.

And probably the most important lesson of all: old friends are hard to come by.  If you have someone who’s been in your life for more than a decade, cherish them.  Treasure the history you have built together, and let them know what they mean to you.  Spend time together whenever and wherever you can.  Laugh a lot.  Cry even more.

And if you don’t have any old friends that fall into this category that I’ve been describing, go out today and start making some new old friends to last the rest of your life!

I’ll be in New York City next Wednesday, so I won’t be writing next week.  See you on the 17th with some good stories from the trip to the Big Apple!

Posted by: ritagone | March 27, 2019

Your Defining Moment

One of my favorite devotional writers, Christine Caine, in her book “Unshakeable,” writes the following, and I’d like to share it this morning with you, dear readers:

 

Your Defining Moment

 

Who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this? – Esther 4:14

 

At some point in your Christian life, you’ll be faced with a crossroads decision. We face them when we consider changing jobs, moving out of state, or going back to school.  We face them when we have to choose between looking out for our own interests or the interests of others.

Esther was a queen in the Bible who faced such a decision. An evil adviser had persuaded her husband, King Xerxes, to sentence her people, the Jews, to death.  Her uncle Mordecai pointed out that she was uniquely positioned to save the people – to petition the king.  But it was dangerous.  Esther chose to put God and the people first.

I call that a defining moment – and eventually, we all have them. Maybe yours hasn’t happened yet, but at some point you will have the opportunity to make an eternal difference in the lives of others.  It may be something as simple as driving someone to the doctor or skipping a movie to be with a hurting friend, but it will be a defining moment. A moment when you choose to do the right thing and it affects someone’s life.

Keep close to God and attune your heart to His plans around you, so you don’t miss any defining moments.

 

God, please show me the defining moments You send my way. Thank You for opportunities to make an eternal difference in someone’s life today and every day.

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