Something beautiful from something ugly

Part of me wishes I could wake up and realize that last week was just a really, really bad dream. The other part thinks that even though life is harsh, cruel, and unpredictable, maybe we need to experience the negative aspects in order to more fully appreciate the times when life is good.

Last Sunday started off just fine, but something happened that made me question whether or not I should join the church I’ve been attending for over three years. I won’t get into the details of what happened here, but suffice it to say that every congregation has its share of troublemakers and ours is no exception. Someone commented that the current situation in our church is “not conducive to spiritual growth,” and although I disagreed with pretty much everything else they had to say, that statement gave me pause.

There does seem to be quite a bit of division in our church, but I believe that scenario is often repeated in every congregation or gathering of people. Whether it is human nature or something far more sinister, wherever people seek harmony and God’s spirit, it never fails that someone or something will try to divide and conquer.

So, I spent the next couple of days with a heavy heart, considering whether I should join at this time or wait until things were a little more settled. I asked myself if anything beautiful could come out of something so ugly. I prayed about it and discussed my feelings with my partner.

Finally, I decided to email my pastor and share my feelings. She very eloquently explained that God likes to bring beauty out of undesirable situations, much like our Savior arose from a tomb. I liked that comparison and decided that I was definitely joining the following Sunday.

Thursday also started off just fine. I went to work and was having a good day until someone walked in and said they had just heard on the radio that Michael Jackson passed away. I had heard that type of rumor before, but something in the pit of my stomach told me it was true this time. My bottom lip began to quiver as I rushed to the nearest computer to get confirmation.

CNN had a headline that said he had been taken to the hospital. “Not so bad,” I thought. Then I clicked on TMZ and saw that they were reporting he was dead. It felt like my heart went into my shoes. Tears sprang into my eyes and spilled down my face, but I had to maintain some level of composure in order to finish my work. Thankfully, it was near the end of the day and I was able to leave about 20 minutes later.

Emotion hit me like a wave the moment I got in my vehicle to drive home. It was unbearably hot outside, which only added to my misery. I rode with the windows down, my screams and sobs disappearing into the rushing air. As bad as this hurt, I wondered if I could possibly bear the pain of losing a close family member.

I felt silly as I realized that I had never even met Michael. I had only seen him one time in real life, but I had been following his career closely since 1991. It felt like I knew him. I could relate to his sadness, his loneliness, even his constant need for adoration.

He had captured part of my heart all those years ago and I truly loved him. I loved his music, his voice, his style, even his appearance in the earlier years. I admired his generosity, his global view, his poetry. His dancing was a spiritual experience. He channeled something much larger than himself, and regardless of his shortcomings, he never stopped believing that one person could make a difference.

So, my heart was completely broken by the time I arrived home and turned on the television. I prayed and hoped against hope, but within minutes CNN had confirmed the terrible news. My brain couldn’t really comprehend what had just transpired, so I just sobbed uncontrollably. I was thankful that Honey was at work, because I felt so foolish. I recalled how I was also home alone a few years ago when the verdict was read in Michael’s molestation trial. As each charge was pronounced “not guilty,” I had jumped up and down like a crazy person, screaming at the top of my lungs.

Although emotions were once again running high, this was much different. I wondered if I could ever listen to my favorite songs or watch my favorite videos again. Wouldn’t it be strange to see Michael grabbing his crotch while knowing that he was deceased? Wouldn’t I always wonder somewhere in the back of my mind if he was paying the ultimate price for a life filled with excess, greed, and ego-mania? Even though I had always doubted the charges of misconduct with children, would we ever really know the truth? So many questions, each making me cry even harder.

Going to work the next morning was more like sleep-walking, because the nightmare hadn’t ended when I got out of bed. It didn’t help that the local radio station was playing back-to-back songs by MJ, or that everyone kept asking me how I was doing. Tears kept welling in my eyes every few minutes as reality began to sink in… The King of Pop was dead.

Almost exactly twenty-four hours after hearing such terrible news, I was once again shaken to the core. My father walked over to where I was working with an anguished look on his face and told me that my niece and nephew had been in a four-wheeler accident. He said my nephew was okay, but my niece was on the way to the hospital. Apparently she had called her mother from her cell phone, screaming for help as blood poured from a large puncture wound under her arm. Her wrist was also broken, her head was swelling, and both kids were covered in scrapes and bruises. All of this was too much for my already fragile psyche, so I immediately started bawling.

Honey drove us to the emergency room, where we were greeted by my brother-in-law. His shirt was covered in blood from where he had carried his daughter into the hospital. As we sat waiting to find out her condition, the television in the waiting room was playing non-stop coverage of Michael’s death. I seriously began to wonder if I was going to lose my mind.

Somehow, through all of the chaos going on in my head and around me, I began to put things into proper perspective. Maybe my earthly idol was dead, but at least my niece was going to be okay. Maybe I needed to start paying more attention to my life and those around me instead of following every move of a pop star. Maybe I should stop worrying so much about his final destination and start worrying more about my own.

Which brings me back to church.

I was still feeling rather emotional when we gathered for worship Sunday morning. My father and step-mother had come to see us join, and one of our good friends had agreed to sing one of our favorite songs during the service.

We stood in front of the congregation and said our vows. Yes, we believe in God. Yes, we believe in Jesus. Yes, we believe in the Holy Spirit. We professed that Jesus Christ is our Lord and Savior. We promised to resist evil, to show love and justice, to be faithful members.

Then Linda stood and sang. No music, just her lovely voice.

Leave it there, leave it there. Take your burden to the Lord and leave it there. If you trust and never doubt, He will surely bring you out. Take your burden to the Lord and leave it there.

And, once again, like so many other times during the preceding days, I wept. I wept for my niece and nephew. I wept for Michael Jackson. I wept because my beautiful partner took my hand to comfort me. I wept from the pure joy that comes from realizing that God loves us, each and every one. No matter how popular or influential, how small or insignificant, He cares.

So, even though part of me wishes that last week had never happened, the other part realizes that life is full of surprises – some good, some bad, some a little bit of both. My niece’s injury and Michael’s death were a reminder of the frailty of life. Our church problems are a sign that progress never comes without a struggle. And our service yesterday proved that our church is conducive to spiritual growth and, yes, something beautiful can come from something ugly!

Cat dilemma

There is a female stray cat outside that I’ve been feeding for several months. She is quite pretty – black with big green eyes. Her downfall is that she has never been fixed and is constantly getting pregnant. She had kittens last fall, but we didn’t see them until they were almost weaned. Only one survived and we fed him regularly until he disappeared a few weeks ago.

Momma Cat got pregnant a couple of months ago and had her kittens in an undisclosed location. A few of the neighbors reported seeing kittens following her around, but we never saw any of them. It would seem that these kittens suffered the same fate as the previous litter.

This evening, I looked out the back door to see her mating with a strange male cat in the neighbor’s yard. I know she needs to be fixed, but we would have to trap her in order to take her to the vet, and to be honest, I don’t want to spend that kind of money on a cat that I really don’t want in the first place.

The three cats that we have inside are enough to deal with. There is constantly something to do – like cleaning up cat vomit, scooping litter boxes, vacuuming up clumps of fur, and trying to keep them from doing things they aren’t supposed to be doing. It’s also expensive to have three pets, when one considers the costs of veterinarian visits, flea and tick medication, litter, and quality pet food.

The outside cat uses the bathroom in the yard and the gravel driveway (which means that we are constantly having to evade piles of smelly poop), she kills songbirds and leaves their half-eaten carcasses lying around the back patio, and she scares off our usual backyard inhabitants. We know she is to blame for this being the first year that bluebirds didn’t nest in the house we provide for them.

Our vet has also warned us about the dangers of having outdoor cats in close proximity to our exclusively-indoor cats. He said that not only could fleas and ticks pass through the cracks around the back door, but that my indoor cats could actually catch deadly diseases from the cats outside.

So, now, I don’t know what to do. I know if we trap her and take her in for spaying that we will still have to care for her when she returns. I know if we take her to the animal shelter that her days will be numbered. I know that three indoor cats is more than enough and I don’t want an outdoor pet. I know that I have absolutely no idea what to do at this point.

Any suggestions?

The next step

Over a year ago, I wrote about my hesitancy at becoming a member of my church. My concerns were centered around two points: my lack of faith and wanting to join the church as a couple.

At the time I wrote the aforementioned entry, my partner and I were in entirely different frames of mind spiritually. While his faith was growing, mine seemed to be weakening, which caused the statement of faiths that one must make when joining the church seem like an insurmountable hurdle.

Over the last year, I’ve found my faith resurging. I wrote about one of my “aha!” moments a few months ago – one that has had a profound impact on my view of and belief in God. I followed that with a prayer, in which I explained the comfort that resulted from my renewed faith.

Regardless of the leaps that I seemed to be making on my spiritual journey, I still felt hesitancy when my pastor emailed to ask if we might be interested in becoming members later this month. I replied that I didn’t think I was ready at this time, mainly because of my lack of faith. Karen assured me that it would be impossible for anyone to join the church if they held themselves to such a high standard of belief. That made sense, so I decided to discuss the possibility with Honey when he got home from work that evening. I also prayed and told God that I wanted to make sure this was His will, because I didn’t want to do anything He didn’t want me to do.

When Honey arrived, I casually mentioned the pastor’s suggestion and was surprised when he voiced his approval. We agreed to tell no one until the following Sunday, which would provide us time to ponder our decision.

He picked up a hymnal from the church the next day so that we could read through the ceremony that would be performed if we joined. As I read questions pertaining to belief in God, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit, I realized I could truthfully answer each of those questions with “I do.” Honey felt the same way. It struck me how similar this would be to a wedding ceremony.

I spent the rest of the week thinking about the importance of what we were going to do, and even emailed my “associate pastor” Jim to get someone else’s viewpoint. He, as always, knew exactly what to say to both encourage and enlighten me.

When Sunday rolled around, we pulled our pastor aside and informed her of our decision. She quickly assuaged any remaining concerns that we had and reassured us that we were ready.

Perhaps it is no coincidence that for the first time in the 3+ years that we’ve been attending our church, I do feel ready.