Tag Archives: Christian

Second Chances

I’m not very good at giving people a second chance. I have a tendency to pass judgment quickly, rely on first impressions, and hold grudges.

I don’t like this about myself, but I admit that it is a character flaw and probably a large part of why I’m not a particularly fun loving, devil may care, gregarious, everyone-wants-to-be-her-friend individual.

On the one hand, I can accept that about myself, on the other hand I don’t really want to accept it. Because we should give one another a second chance. It’s our responsibility, and a lesson we should learn sooner rather than later.

Reflecting on this, I was reminded of Jonah’s poor attitude and the chapter after he returns to Nineveh. For some reason, I always forget about this chapter. In my mind the story always ends with Jonah becoming Whale spit up, fulfilling God’s will and then learning his lesson…but even after spending time inside a fish, he doesn’t really learn anything. Not a blessed thing and that is terrifying.

I’m not going to lie, it worries me that one could experience so much and still have such a hard heart. In fact, he gets mad because his sermon to the Ninevites is effective. His ticked off that they turn from their evil ways and repent. He gets so mad that he goes out to the desert to pout.

Even so, God sends a vine to cover his head and provide him shade.

Then Jonah gets mad when the vine, which he did nothing to cultivate, dies.

Finally, God speaks up. He asks Jonah an important question: Do you have a right to be angry about this vine?

Great question. Jonah didn’t do anything to deserve the vine, to nurture the vine; he didn’t plant the vine—he didn’t even say thank you when it grew. Then, when it dies he does nothing to change his circumstances. He just sits and lets his head burn. Stubborn, isn’t he? Of course, this is coming from the runner—the one who tried to escape God and when that didn’t work had sailors throw him into the sea, I guess he thought that would be a way to seal his fate—but you can’t run from God no matter how far you go and if God wants to teach you a lesson no matter how stubborn you are he’ll teach on.

It is up to you to decide to learn.

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How many of us are the same way? We are blessed with health, family and sometimes even wealth that we did not earn and rarely deserve. We are living in a world of entitlement, but as Romans is so quick to remind us—all have sinned and fall short so we really don’t deserve anything but death, destruction and punishment. Some people, no matter what, some people are determined not to be happy. No matter what they are determined to be miserable. In fact I’m not even sure they would know what to do with happiness if it grew from a vine and slapped them in the face (I include myself as being guilty of this from time to time).

You see, it’s so easy to forget about Jonah 4 because no one wants to see Jonah as a whiner—no one wants to remember the man who survived a whale’s belly as a complaining, stubborn, unhappy man. Because it doesn’t make sense. Shouldn’t someone whose been given that SECOND CHANCE be able to empathize more with people who are seeking a second chance? Shouldn’t he rejoice with them, be joyful and grateful?

And yet, he’s angry! Angry that God would save them. He FORGOT too. He forgot his own transgressions and somehow I doubt he was as pure and sinless as he pouty face would suggest.

And then the bitter sting of hypocrisy sinks deep into my skin. Don’t we struggle with the same problem? We’ve all been given the same second chance, and we all think we deserve so much more than we actually do.

We think we deserve happiness.

We think we deserve contentment.

We think we deserve a life of leisure where we get what we want when we want it.

But we don’t.

We are all sinners.

We deserve misery.

We deserve sickness.

We deserve death.

Just as a murderer deserves to pay for his or her heinous crimes, each and every one of us deserves to pay for our sins. But OH how quick we are to forget our own sins when we look around and see someone else sinning. “Well,” we say to ourselves with our noses stuck up in the air, “at least I haven’t cheated on my wife like Bill. Bill deserves punishment. How could he show his face in church? He is such a sinner!”

What if Jonah had accepted their conversion? What if he’d stopped feeling that it was unfair, that they deserved less than he, that they were his equals? Now I don’t presume to rewrite the Bible, but I do want to look at another perspective, because after all, that’s what being a writer is all about. So Jonah 4 might have read a little like this:

1)And Jonah was pleased and joy filled his heart. 2) He prayed to the Lord, “Oh Lord, is this not what I said when I was still at home? How could I be so blind and flee to Tarshish? I know you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in Love. A God who relents from sending calamity. 3) Now, O Lord I see how it is better to live than to die. Praise your holy name.” 4) And the Lord blessed Jonah and the Ninevites…

Because the thing is we’re all sinners. Some of us don’t want to admit that we sin, and that’s worse in a lot of ways. We go to church, sing in the choir, attend Bible study, join every committee, but forget that we are more than just an organization. We are, and should be, designed to love everyone, not gossip about their shortcomings, or worse ignore and run away from their suffering.

We’re designed to be God’s image.

But we’re not in God’s image when we are unforgiving and self-righteous, sulking in the desert of our own iniquities and sin.

I’ve done a lot of thinking about what happiness is and why we pursue it. It’s not in our declaration of independence by accident. And we often take it for granted. I’ve come to the radical conclusion that happiness is not as illusive as we try to make it. Happiness doesn’t run from us, we often run from it.


Ashley M. Carmichael is the author of Valerie’s Vow published by Indigo Sea Press. She has a Bachelor’s in English from UNC-Wilmington and currently teaches 9th, 11th and 12th grade Language Arts. Ashley lives with her dog, Emma, near Columbia, South Carolina.

 

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On Being a Pastor’s Wife and the Pretense of Being Perfect by Sherrie Hansen

I might as well get it out there right away. I’m the author of four somewhat steamy, very sensual, sometimes gritty romance novels, AND I’m a pastor’s wife – a combination that more than occasionally calls me into question.

So for those who haven’t yet figured it out,  I’ll admit it right off.  I’m not perfect. In fact, I have a confession to make. I just turned the heat on. It’s May 26th and I’m from Minnesota. I’m supposed to be tough. I’m supposed to be hot-blooded. When I was attending Wheaton College, near Chicago, I made fun of the locals for being wimps when it came to 40 below zero temperatures and Illinois’ supposed lake chill effect. I have no business turning the heat on in what’s practically summer.

At least I’m not at the parsonage (which is a whole different story, and one I should evidently also be feeling great guilt about), or I’d feel even guiltier, since my husband’s congregation pays the utility bill. But I’m not. I’m in my own house, it’s 44 degrees outside, the sun hasn’t shown for at least 24 hours, I got soaked by a cold rain and 33 mph winds 3 times yesterday, my husband was hogging the covers when I woke up, and I’m freezing. Some women my age get hot flashes. I get easily chilled. So there. How’s that for justifying my actions?

The truth is, I can feel the heat seeping out from the radiator under my desk even now. It’s warm. It’s wonderful.  It’s creeping up my thighs. It’s making my toes tingle inside my soft pink slippers. It’s deliciously comforting. It’s decadent. It’s making me feel relaxed and warm and cozy…

But I regress. I’m not living up to the ideal of being the perfect pastor’s wife, and some of the ladies from church are in a snit. Advance readers are predicting that when the contents of my current release are made known, I’ll be in even bigger trouble.

It’s a sad situation when people can’t separate truth from fiction. But then, it comes as no surprise that I’m in trouble because of the words I’ve written.

I’ve always lived with a long list of expectations, some imposed by parents and other authority figures, some by my own finely-honed conscience and genetic tendency to perfectionism.  I’ve always been rebellious, not so much in my actions, but with my words. Although I freely admit that I’ve done a couple of really bad things in my lifetime, my rebellion usually occurs not by deed but by thought.

I’m the sassy one, the very articulate one who isn’t afraid to speak up and say what she really thinks. The first time I got in trouble with the ladies at church because of certain words I’d written, I was 16 or 17 years old. I’d written a poem for creative writing class entitled Dear Pastor ____ (whose name I omit because I know he is on Facebook).  My brutally honest, heartfelt, full of teenage passion poem railed against the hypocrisies of organized religion, and the failure of our prim, proper Sunday School class discussions to meet the needs of teenagers who acted perfect around their parents and the people from church but walked on the wild side (and I mean wild) the rest of the time. It contained the word “damn”. Several times. I thought the poem would only be seen by my teacher, a man I trusted with my private thoughts. But the next semester, it was selected by a group of students charged with picking out the best poems to be published in our school’s poetry and short story collection.

The ink was barely dry when a church lady spotted my poem in her son’s copy and ratted me out to the pastor, who called my parents, who said I wrote it, I had to bear the consequences. So I reluctantly trudged (well, drove really) into the pastor’s office and took my comeuppance like a man (well, a young woman, really).

I guess not much has changed in the last forty years. As a generation, we’re much more candid than we used to be. We can talk freely about all kinds of things that used to be “best left unspoken”. Unless you’re a pastor’s wife.

So here’s my disclaimer:  Merry Go Round is about Tracy Jones Tomlinson, the youngest of three sisters in my Maple Valley trilogy. Tracy married her childhood sweetheart, is a minister’s wife, and has three lovely children. In the first two books, Rachael and Michelle’s mother brags about how perfect Tracy and her husband are. “Why can’t you be more like Tracy? Tracy never gives me this kind of trouble…” When Merry Go Round opens, it quickly becomes apparent that Tracy’s supposedly perfect life is anything but. When her husband leaves her for another man and she’s faced with moving out of the parsonage, she has no where to turn for help but to her older sisters.

Rachael, her oldest sister, from Stormy Weather, is none too eager to help, and frankly, feels that it’s about time that Tracy gets hers. Tender-hearted Michelle, from Water Lily, wants to help however she can and offers Tracy a job painting and wallpapering the home of Barclay Alexander III, the owner of the house she’s decorating. And so the plot thickens until Tracy has thought things and done things that a pastor’s wife should definitely not be thinking or doing. Everything Tracy has clung to is moving up and down and round and round and spinning out of control until all she can do is hang on for dear life.

So… Like Trevor, Tracy’s husband, who is gay, my husband of 7 years is a pastor. He is NOT gay. The first draft of this book was written before I even met Mark and became a pastor’s wife. So when I write about the drawbacks and privileges of being a pastor’s wife – specifically Trevor Tomlinson’s wife, I am speaking from Tracy’s point of view, NOT mine.  I am NOT Tracy. Tracy is a fictional character. To any church ladies who might be reading this, please keep this in mind when Tracy meets Clay and things start to heat up.  I am NOT Tracy. I repeat, Tracy is a fictional character. And give the poor girl a break. She’s at her sexual peak. She hasn’t had sex for 3 years. And before that, she’s been having sex with a man who wishes he were having sex with a man. She’s trying really hard to live up to her perfect pastor’s wife persona and her personal beliefs, but it’s hard, and she’s human, okay?

Which brings me to my next disclaimer. The subject of homosexuality and the church, nature or nurture, sin or absolutely okay, deviant or perfectly normal behavior, etc. is a touchy issue for many right now. I tried very hard NOT to let this book become a forum for my beliefs and thoughts on the issue, but to accurately reflect the feelings, emotions and conflicts my characters go through as they struggle through the implications of Trevor admitting he is gay, and dealing with the ramifications to his children, extended family, and church. I have been told by my advance readers, whose opinions on the subject probably vary from mine, that I was successful – that they finished the book not knowing what I, the author, thought about the subject. I took that as high praise and hope my readers agree.

I was raised in a very conservative Christian home. I am a Christian. My personal beliefs color everything I do and think. Although my books do not fit into the Inspirational Fiction category because they contain previously mentioned steamy scenes, they definitely have a Christian world view which includes characters honestly struggling through issues of faith. While people I’ve loved, mistakes I’ve made and life lessons I’ve learned over the years have become fodder for many interesting characters and scenarios in my books, I am NOT Tracy.  I am NOT perfect.

Got it? 

I almost deleted this daffodil photo yesterday because its pretty white petals were splattered with mud from a heavy rain storm we had a few days ago.  But I saved it, because even though it was flawed, I thought I might find a use for it some day.

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Filed under musings, Sherrie Hansen, writing