I watched The Karate Kid this summer. By myself. I was in a hotel and it came on TV and I thought, what the heck, let’s watch this. So I did.
For anyone growing up with that movie, watching it as an adult is no less thrilling than the first time seeing it. Remembering scenes or character mannerisms that struck me when I was 7, strike me now 30 years later. The way Daniel bangs the apartment building wall after he gets jumped, “I hate it here, Ma! I hate it here! Why can’t we just move home?!” Or the way Ali mauls Daniel with her locks of hair as she grabs his neck after his tournament victory. Or the way Daniel’s mom was always so…happy.
I remember watching her as a kid, knowing I knew nothing about single mothers of boys, but being fascinated with her. There was something about her I admired. Her strength. I understood it even as a child. I don’t know why. I knew no single moms at 7. The only moms I knew were ones who were married. The single moms were always gone, I guess working or something. So I never really had any kind of relationship with a single mom until I was out of college. But before that, even as a small child, when I’d see them in film or on TV, they fascinated me. Lily Tomlin in 9-5? I was mesmerized with her. And it wasn’t the divorced moms. It wasn’t the moms co-parenting. It was the single moms who were completely single. No boyfriend, no ex laying around somewhere. Single. On their own. With no help from a man. Why did I find these women strong? I don’t know. But I did.
I watched The Karate Kid again last night. But this time not alone. This time with my 8 year old son, about the age I was when I first saw the movie. And as I remembered my 6 and 3 year old brothers kicking each other in the backyard and signing up for Tae Kwon Do class after they saw the movie, I sat there and watched my boy do the same last night. Fully engrossed, exclaiming that yes! he’d like me to sign him up for Karate class.
And I cried as now the strength I so admired in Ms. LaRusso I find I must exhibit now in my real life. I am more like her than I ever imagined. Moving across the country with just my son. No mention of Dad anywhere. I remember being puzzled why she was so happy – she was poor and on her own, but somehow she was happy. And that happiness struck me as a child. It stayed with me. And it strikes me now. I admire her strength and the happy hope she carried. I want that. I want that sunny outlook on life. That never-gonna-get-me-down attitude. It was beautiful. I noticed it then. I notice it now.
I wonder if my fascination with single moms in the movies was an omen for my own life. I never imagined in a million years I’d be a single mom. It is quite the opposite of what I imagined for my life. I knew I wanted to get married, but I never daydreamed of kids. Ever. Like ever. Like I’m not exaggerating. I never imagined me pregnant or holding a toddler or driving kids to baseball practice. That thought never entered my mind. Not once. I daydreamed of getting married and having a husband and growing old together, but never in my 30 years before I actually got pregnant did I ever even have a flashing image of having children. Only marriage. And I never contemplated divorce. I knew I’d never get divorced. I was gonna marry for life and I was gonna marry a Christian, and if I was lucky enough to find a Godly man who loved me, that was that – my life was set. Happiness achieved. And now here I am, having been married, newly divorced, and with a child. I am a single mom.
How did I get here?
I often think God gives us the children we never expected to have to teach us growth. I meet so many macho dads that despite their trying, never gain a son. Instead they have five princesses to take care of. I see girly moms sigh as their two boys have it out for the third time that afternoon and look wistfully at their neighbor’s daughter coloring quietly. I see adults who want babies so bad never get them and kids who never want them get pregnant out of wedlock. Why does God give us exactly the opposite of what we want? I don’t know. Part of me thinks it’s cruelty, but the other part knows He’s good. And that He has His reasons.
“We were adopted as sons…”
Whenever I would read that verse, I would always get a real wholesome, hearty feeling. Adoption. That sounded so theologically great, and when applied to adoption by humans here on earth, I would think of how much I would understand God’s love in a new and different light if I ever adopted. If I ever adopted and got to hold and caress a child, tenderly gazing into their eyes, thinking how much I loved them and how much they must love me.
Well, I have adopted, and to be true, there is no sweet gazing. Though my daughter has no issues locking eyes with me, something most adoptees wrestle with, it’s more of a “Who are you and can I really trust you” than a cooing “Ahhh, mommy daddy, I love you, you saved me” kind of thing.
When I compare my relationship to our daughter, I find that I really have learned nothing about the overwhelming fluffy feelings of love God has for us as His spiritually adopted children. But what I have learned is the difference between a pure blood relationship and one that is forced.
Our biological son had no problem trusting his father nor me. The moment he came into this world, we his parents were there. There was no Drew in the world without mommy and daddy in the world. Drew’s world has only included his father and me. There is no world that exists to Drew that does not include his father and me, his parents.
Enter Julie. Her world started with no acknowledgement on either party’s part of each other’s existence. When we did finally meet 10 months later, we were strangers. Us more of a stranger to her, as we had at least seen pictures, knew her name, and had the mental capacity to understand even what was going on. But her world was rocked. New people, new language, new smells, new environment, and what was this…love? What is that? Holding and caring and tending to needs and wants? This new way of doing things was foreign to her. And foreign was and is not welcome.
So today as I was pondering the spiritual ramifications of this verse in light of the fact that I have now indeed adopted a child, and what does that mean, I realized I really just understand what it means to be a stranger. And an enemy. Through the screaming fits, and the temper tantrums, and the not listening and sheer disobedience, coupled with a definite language barrier, I have at many times been at odds with my daughter. I have not felt one with her, or that she is part of me, nor that she came through me. She didn’t. She isn’t. But I’m trying, because that’s what adoption is. And when I compare my relationship with her to the no-issues relationship with my son, I see the stark difference between what a pure Garden of Eden relationship God intended with us is, and now what we have due to that one initial sin that continues to trickle down every heartbeat. How much easier life would be if sin hadn’t separated us. If when we entered the world, we knew God. If we trusted Him without a thought. If there was no locking eyes in distrust and apprehension. What a much more beautiful world it would be. And here I understand God’s goodness through His ultimate intention of goodness, and what we have traded it in for, and what we continually trade it in for – fighting, not trusting, not knowing. Not knowing and believing that He is good and worthy and knows. He knows what I need like I know what my daughter needs. But she doesn’t believe me. Doesn’t believe that I am good and that I love her and that I want the best for her. So we are at war, and it’s hard to be at war with your daughter.
I just listened to a new CD. It was from a man I met on a plane and we ended up realizing we had a mutual friend. Then I found out this new person was a Christian. And a musician. We had a fantastic conversation and as we de-planed, he handed me one of his CD’s. I was excited. The guy seemed legit and really to love God and he was a professional musician, so I figured the CD would probably be good.
Oh how wrong I was.
It was awful. Worse than awful. One of the songs actually spelled out J-E-S-U-S-C-H-R-I-S-T which wouldn’t be so bad if I was five and learning how to spell. But I’m about 30 years over that and take no interest is spelling words in songs unless it's T-to the A-to the S-T-E-Y TASTY from Fergie. That’s as elementary as I’m gonna get. Fergie and her posse are great song writers. And they’re not writing for Jesus. But people like my new plane friend are. They have the Spirit of the Creator God LIVING within them but their music suuuuuuuuuuuucks.
Why is that?
I think it’s a combination of laziness and somehow thinking that your elementary stabs at music composition are worthy enough to be shared. They’re not. Keep them to yourself, like your prayers and journal entries and all the things you share with God but are for the two of you, not anything anyone else wants to hear.
It truly made me sick when I heard this guy’s CD. And what made matters worse was I had just received an unpolished copy of another friend’s new song he just wrote and my God it blew the doors off my mind. It was gorgeous. It was riveting. It was beautiful and thought provoking. My friend wasn’t out to preach, he was out to express. And maybe that’s another problem with Christian music. It’s often born from a place of sending a message than an expression of Spirit. Because if you’re really in tune with the Spirit, He’s not gonna tell you to write some shitty lyrics and put it to shitty chords and spend hundreds of dollars recording in a studio to then spend hundreds more dollars to produce these CDs and pass them out to people. Why do we Christians think that if you stamp the word GOD on your work it’s somehow blessed? It’s not. Shit is shit. You wanna call is GODSHIT, it’s still shit. I’m sorry, but I get really angry at this kind of laziness when it comes to Christians and the arts. Most worship music in church is lazy. Lazy lyrics, lazy composing, lazy arranging. Lazy. Uninspired. Seriously. If my husband or boyfriend were to come to me with lyrics like:
You are so good to me
I love you so much
You are so awesome
Thank you for loving me
And then repeat it 18 times, I would not be impressed. Maybe if my 5 year old did that, but not my 25 or 35 or 45 year old paramour.
And do you think I’d be impressed if he then decided to sing me this poem every few weeks? Would I get excited about that? I already heard it the first time and it sucked. Why would I want to hear it again? Does my boyfriend have nothing new to say to me?
When I drive in my car, do I listen to the same music every day? No, I don’t. And when a radio station keeps playing the same song over and over again, I get annoyed and find another station.
All these questions are rhetorical and we of course would say no to all of them, yet this is exactly what we do to God every effing Sunday:
I don’t wanna be I don’t wanna be a casual Christian
I don’t wanna live I don’t wanna live a lukewarm life
I just wanna light up the night with everlasting light
I don’t wanna live a casual Christian life
Ugh barf vomit shoot me in the face. Those lyrics are the worst. THE WORST. Using my lover analogy, that song can be translated into:
I don’t wanna be I don’t wanna be a casual husband
I don’t wanna have I don’t wanna have a lukewarm wife
I just wanna light up our life with everlasting fun times
I don’t wanna live a casual family life
Oh. My. God. How dumb is that? And yet, that’s exactly what we’re saying to God. All the while thousands of non-believers are out there creating the most magnificent art and moving people and hearts and ways that point to God. Or don’t point to God. But they’re moving people somewhere. Why are we crapping out on God? He deserves better than that.
i like my body when it is with your
body. It is so quite a new thing.
Muscles better and nerves more.
i like your body. i like what it does,
i like its hows. i like to feel the spine
of your body and its bones, and the trembling
-firm-smooth ness and which I will
again and again and again
kiss, i like kissing this and that of you,
i like, slowly stroking the, shocking fuzz
of your electric fur, and what-is-it comes
over parting flesh...And eyes big love-crumbs,
and possibly i like the thrill
of under me you quite so new
i like my body by E. E. Cummings
That’s a poem. That’s a song. That’s Song of Solomon material. Hell, let’s SING Song of Solomon during church. That’d be appropriate. That’d be poetic and lovely. That’s worship. That’s praise. That’s expression. Don't tell me E.E. Cummings wasn’t worshipping something when he wrote that. My God it’s beautiful and erotic and sexy and amazing. God deserves no less tantalizing or pondering worship from His worshippers. Didn’t the lady at the well say the true worshippers will worship in Spirit and Truth? We got the truth down with our lyrics at church – let’s please let the Spirit come in and bring something truly beautiful and profound. And worshipful.
Thought I’d start at the beginning today. I didn’t know where to read. Didn’t feel lead anywhere in particular and had no interest in playing Bible roulette (i.e, I’m just gonna flip through and wherever I land God has a special word for me!). So I thought I’d start at the beginning. One of the Gospels. I chose Matthew because it’s possible it was written first and because, well, it comes first. And Matthew opens with a genealogical list. I used to bemoan these kinds of passages, but the last few years I’ve tried to honor such passages believing that God wouldn’t put them in there if they had no value. So I started reading who begat whom and I immediately noticed something: “and Zerah by Tamar”, “by Rahab”, “by Ruth” and the gut wrencher “by the wife of Uriah.” Most of those listed were just what dude begat the next dude, but on occasion the mothers were mentioned. I liked this part because these women obviously were worthy enough to be documented in the geneology of Jesus. And I knew who Rahab and Ruth and the wife of Uriah and even Tamar were. Even Tamar? Oh yes, I knew Tamar well. We’ll get to that in a second.
I savored a few thoughts reading this passage, then I continued on through the end of Mathew Chapter 1 and started heading into Chapter 2. But for some reason I couldn’t go any further. I couldn’t get this list of names out of the forefront of my mind. Should I really stop and contemplate these beginning “who’s who” verses over the whole super solid wise men bearing incredible baby gifts to the little Christmas miracle? Yes. That was my answer. Yes, go back, read it again, is what I felt in my gut. So I did.
First stop was the phrase “by the wife of Uriah.” Groan. That one hurts. Even though David married her she’s still listed as someone else’s wife, and so as not even to let David off the hook by listing her actual name causing some obscurity, it lists her as THE WIFE OF URIAH. Not David. That other dude David screwed in figuratively the most royal of ways. I have so many thoughts about this phrase. One being that God takes seriously the whole leave and cleave and honor the marriage bed to the whole point that this woman goes down in history labeled not as the mother of Solomon or the wife of David, but the WIFE OF URIAH. It was a tremendous sin what David did. It’s awful. But God is forgiving, right? He forgave David, right? Psalm 51 is David’s beautiful contrition speech and God lets his son die and then Uriah’s wife and David marry and they beget Solomon the wisest ruler ever to walk the earth. But as centuries go by, this second marriage isn’t honored. It’s her first that we are told was the one that stuck. I could have stayed longer on this phrase and what it all means, but I headed back up to “and Zerah by Tamar.” This got cool.
Now, I didn’t spend any time contemplating the importance of listing Zerah. There obviously is importance because he’s the only other man listed by name in the geneology that isn’t in direct line with Jesus. He was a twin. Maybe that’s why. Maybe it was simply to honor Tamar by listing her two sons and not just one. I don’t know. For my Bible reading today, that part wasn’t important. It was the Tamar part. In order to explain, I gotta give a little personal backstory.
Two years ago as I embarked on a really horrible endeavor, I cried out to God numerous times and his answer to me was to read the story of Joseph. The Genesis one. So I have poured over that Biblical narrative many many times. I have read it over and over and scoured the internet looking for commentary on it. I’ve listened to multiple sermons on it. More than once. I love the story of Joseph. And tucked away in this very Lawrence of Arabia narrative is a little divergent chapter about Tamar. Honestly as you’re reading along about Joseph, it’s a full on record-scratching WTF when you hit Chapter 38. Joseph has just been thrown into the clutches of Potiphar and then there’s this completely random story about Tamar. As I poured over the Joseph narrative, I often skipped this chapter because I felt led to read about Joseph, not Tamar. I mean, I read it sometimes and spent a whole morning on it once, but most the time, side stepped the sucker. And every commentator or pastor preaching on the life of Joseph side-stepped with me or occasionally would mention Chapter 38, but it was always seen as an afterthought, and never, at least in my memory, did anyone ever mention Tamar was smack dab in Jesus’s line. But she is. And THAT really hit me.
Today has been a hard morning. I have really been questioning my purpose in life and mourning the life I thought I was supposed to lead. My life the last couple years has been pretty tumultuous, full of loss, and has caused me to question what exactly I’m doing with it. I’m a hard worker and a passionate person and I fight really hard for what is good and right, yet these last couple years I have lost just about everything. I look around lately and go, “Uhhh, how did I get here and more importantly, how do I get out?” Which is why the prompting from God to find comfort in the story of Joseph has been so, well, comforting, because his life was awful for a very long time despite his trying to overcome. And that’s where I am.
So today as I’m feeling lost and sorry for myself, I read that Tamar, that random girl in the Joseph narrative, was a great-grandmother of Jesus. I didn’t know that. Never in my readings about her did I put that together. And what I felt God telling me today was, “Hey JB, I see the big picture. I see ALL of it – from beginning to end. Tamar didn’t know she’d be the great-grandmother to the Savior of the world. In fact, in her world, she was pretty much the low of the lows. She got screwed over repeatedly and she did some pretty shrewd stuff to secure some heirs, but that she did, and now she’s known forever. Not for her cunning ways, but for the fact that she’s in Jesus’s line.” And just like my life, I don’t know what God is up to, and from my vantage point it’s looking pretty grim, but God has a plan. And I’m in it. I don’t know to what extent, but I’m in it. And sometimes that plan requires me to act and sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes that plan includes being hurt and abused by others. Sometimes there’s nothing to do about it, and no amount of fighting to get out will avail. Sometimes you just have to take it. And then when the time comes, you act. And your actions will be blessed if they are in line with God’s huge holy, over-arching plan. Because just as Joseph said to his brothers at the big plot reveal towards the end of Genesis, “God had me for the saving of many lives.” God saved many through Joseph’s relationship to God. And God continues to save many through His Son, the great-grand child of a tenacious gutter rat. There is a much bigger canopy over my life. The tapestry is wide; I’m only seeing threads, but God is weaving something really beautiful. Do I believe it? I certainly am trying.