Last Word

gun

(source)

Not this. 

Now that I have your attention…

So I still don’t have a grade for that week 4 paper that got me accused of plagiarism.

It’s now nearing the end of week 8.

I have tried to be patient. I emailed the instructor and my advisor, seeking guidance. Dr. P, the teacher, sent out an email to the class over the weekend: “I’m catching up on grading everything from weeks 1-6 and should be done by end of day Sunday, August 25. As a reminder, the last day to drop a class is Monday, August 26. Please message me if you have questions or concerns over your grades.”

I tried not to make it feel too pointed. Because ever since week 4, my class percentage for PUAD 7025, Ethics in the Public Sector, has hovered at a whopping 49%. Oh, sometimes it goes up and down a few hundredths of a decimal point, depending on the week’s discussion grades, but still, any way you slice it it’s an F.

I have checked in on the week 4 assignment now and then, to visit, and see if it got graded in stealth mode and maybe I didn’t receive one of Capella’s funky emails. But those emails always come, saying “an attempt has been graded in blah blah class”. An attempt, meaning a submitted assignment of some sort. Great vote of confidence, that.

Every time I check it, I see the 0. But it’s not just a 0, folks. It’s a -0. As if to say, “Well, you got a zero, but in case you were blasé or ambivalent about what that score means, now it has a minus attached to it. So there!” The great 0 paper of week 4 sucked my grade down into an enormous, swirling black hole of failure.

“Sue, you need to stop picking at that scab,” Jonathon admonished me. “You can’t do anything more.”

He is right, of course. I have to surrender and be patient; it’s the only place of peace. Capella doesn’t get to decide I’m a failure. And all I can think of are the words that came to mind last Sunday during worship: last word. Jesus has the last word over my life and circumstances. Not some prestigious online university. Not my employers past or present. Not friends and not family. Only Jesus. He is the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. It ain’t over yet. He gets the last word.

“I am the Alpha and the Omega—the beginning and the end,” says the Lord God. “I am the one who is, who always was, and who is still to come—the Almighty One.” Revelation 1:8-10

 

 

Batarang!

Last night, I woke up past 11:00 p.m. Somehow the room had gotten warm, and I was sweaty. I looked up at the ceiling fan, ticking away. Something was flying around. A large insect, mayhaps?

No.

baby bat flying

(source)

“Is that… a bat?” I asked Jonathon, nudging him awake. Because we have had bat visitations 2 other times. As in, twice, once in Portland and once in our previous house in Shelton.

“Looks like it,” he said. We dragged ourselves out of bed and onto the floor. I shoved my glasses on to see better in the dark. We knew the drill. We sat with our backs to the bedroom door and watched the fledgling bat follow the ceiling fan around and around, maniacally orbiting the air-splitter. All I could think was, Again??

“Maybe if we opened the door it would find its way out,” I suggested. We have a small deck off the master bedroom. Jonathon crawled over the threw the door open. There! But the bat continued to circle and circle, oblivious.

After about 15 minutes, Jonathon advised me to head downstairs.

“He’s swooping lower and lower as he gets tired,” he said.

I brought a pillow down to the living room couch, away from Zac tickety-ticketying on the computer keyboard and Dakota’s bedroom in the rotunda. I laid down and waited for sleep to claim me again. Overhead, I could hear Jonathon trying to escort the bat out. Unfortunately, it sounded like a lot of thumping at irregular intervals, aka a ballerina on steroids.

After an interminable amount of time, I heard him descend the stairs. He walked over to Zac and explained his mission. I know this because I heard Zac say, “What??” Then Jonathon walked over and closed a pocket door to keep it quieter for me.

“Is it gone?” I asked from the couch.

“No,” he said, “just getting more tools.” Then he headed to the basement.

Moving to my office seemed the best solution. I pulled out a fuzzy blanket and situated myself on the plush carpet, ignoring the pine needles and dog hair. I didn’t think I would sleep. But I did. Having a door to close made all the difference against a potential bat invasion and extra noise.

In the morning, Jonathon told me it was a baby bat, and he’s pretty sure (!) it escaped our room. Infant bats fledge in August. They start learning to fly, and use their echolocation to guide them. The poor little guy upstairs would stop flying and attempt to land on the wall, only to slide off and have to fly again. He is a work in progress.

The only way Jonathon was able to lure it out was to close all the windows and leave the door open. Only one way out, just like a lot of humans. Block every exit and maybe, finally, we get the hint. Doors opening and closing make all the difference. They shape our potential. Changing our perspective allows for new directions; noticing when doors are shut against us makes us search for another opening, often helping us find the one we were meant for all along. Friends, we are all works in progress.

Look! I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends...” – Revelation 3:20

 

Call Me Ishmael

raven.jpg

I’m getting configured to work at the other office. The new hire for the jail expansion project starts Tuesday. I brought my laptop to the courthouse complex and met up with the IT Tech. I logged in and he started to work his magic.

My coworker and I, the other project support staff whom I’ll call Lisa, chatted about this and that. She’s worked for the county for almost 27 years. She knows everyone and has proved a great resource for this newbie.

“Raven, how is that working? Can you listen to me tell a story while you work?” Lisa asked.

I had no idea who Raven was. Did someone else come into the room? I craned my neck. The tech’s name was Jim.

“Who’s Raven?” I asked.

“Oh, Jenny (Jim’s boss) told me he likes to go by Raven. His given name is Jim, though. I thought it was cool because I love crows.” True story. Lisa feeds the crows around the courthouse when she walks on her break. They flock to her.

Raven, aka Jim, shifted on his feet, a little uncomfortable at this revelation.

I looked at him for explanation.

“When I’m with my friends, I’m Raven. I identify as Raven. That’s who I really am. That’s what I go by.”

Pause.

“Oh, okay. Got it. Well, that’s cool.”

I didn’t know what else to say. I didn’t want to make the situation more awkward.

Names have always fascinated me. People name their kids all kinds of things, and sometimes people change when they become adults. They’ll choose to be identified by their middle name, or a nickname. Shakespeare said “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet” in “Romeo and Juliet”, right? Does changing our name change who we are?

I remember wanting to change my name when I was little. I fancied something a little prettier, like Marie, or fancier like Nichole. Susan is serviceable and has a timeless quality, my mom says. I like the name, generally, but in French class I was Janine. I liked the soft “j” sound on the French tongue. 

I don’t know why he chose a raven. Does he like their omnivorous diet? Or their gregarious nature, and the fact that they have few natural predators? Maybe their intelligence? They have proven problem-solving skills. Some cultures have regarded ravens as spiritual figures or gods. Jesus mentioned a raven in a parable, showing how people should rely on God for sustenance like the ravens do (Luke 12:24).

Sometimes, we seek a new identity, one not tainted by past mistakes or painful memories. Jesus said he will give us a new name at the end of time:

Anyone with ears to hear must listen to the Spirit and understand what he is saying to the churches. To everyone who is victorious I will give some of the manna that has been hidden away in heaven. And I will give to each one a white stone, and on the stone will be engraved a new name that no one understands except the one who receives it…” – Revelation 2:17

The search for identity and belonging via a name is universal. I pray Raven/Jim finds what he’s looking for.

The Cat Came Back, Part 2

rex-returned

Last night, we watched a movie called The Christmas Candle . I know it’s February. Don’t judge. We enjoyed a fire in the woodstove along with some pizza. The movie’s themes about faith and prayer and God’s timing touched a nerve. We’re waiting on so many things. Rex needs to come back, I thought. My parents need to find a house of their own. Ruby needs some good neighborhood chums. And many more.

Suddenly, Ruby shouted, “Rex is back!”

His furry face appeared at the back door. I got up to open it to let him in. It’s been so cold, dropping down below freezing the last several nights. I had started to worry about him. I swung the door open. He skittered away. His face registered disbelief. “Do I live here?” he seemed to ask. He crept towards the opening. I stepped back. He sniffed the air, looking for something familiar. He circled to the left. Rex craned his neck forward, peering into the comfortable room. Then he ran into the house.

But he didn’t settle. He trotted into the main part of the house. He looked the downstairs over. He came back and ate some food, then he was off to explore again. He peeked at the woodstove with its fiery logs putting out powerful heat. He looked at each of us. He and Chloe sniffed each other as if to say, you’re back, too. He spied the blanket in my lap and seemed to recall its cozy qualities. Because after he ate and drank and groomed himself, he settled in my lap.

Rex got lost. He’s a little thinner for not having eaten for 2 nights. He had some gunk stuck to his tail. He probably slept little, nervous as he is. When he took off Thursday morning, he had no idea how strange his world had gotten. He dove into it headfirst and then didn’t know how to get back. We left the litterbox outside because I’d heard cats can smell it a long way off and find their way home. But I found little pawprints and scattered litter on the ground. Someone decided they wanted to be civilized instead of pooping in the great outdoors. I don’t think the litterbox acted like a homing beacon, at least not for him.

Rex’s return reminded me about when we get off track with the Lord. Sometimes we’re off for a few days. Sometimes we’re off doing our own thing for years. That time off the road of truth makes us leery to come back. Will God accept me? Does He still love me? How could he, after all I’ve done? The fact is He’s always waiting, His comforting embrace on the other side of the entry way. Yet He won’t barge in. He waits for us. All we have to do is open the door and cross the threshold. Then, like Rex relaxing in his staff’s owners’ presence, we remember that we belong.

“Look! I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends.” – Revelation 3:20

O Come

angels-and-sheep

I’m sitting here, drinking coffee and my blackberry smoothie. Ruby sits across from me, eating a cinnamon roll. This song rolls on:

It’s Advent Season now. Perfectly acceptable to blast the Christmas music. This particular version has no instruments, only voices. The haunting beauty of the melody has its roots in medieval times. Some think the stanzas date back to 800 A.D.

But we don’t need Jesus only during the Christmas season. He didn’t stay a baby forever, but grew up to be our Savior. We need Him every day, every hour. He still bids us to come to Him. In fact, God has been calling us back to Him since the Fall.

“Come now, let’s settle this,”
    says the Lord.
“Though your sins are like scarlet,
    I will make them as white as snow.
Though they are red like crimson,
    I will make them as white as wool.” – Isaiah 1:18

“Is anyone thirsty? Come and drink–even if you have no money! Come, take your choice of wine or milk–it’s all free!” – Isaiah 55:1

Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” –  Matthew 11:28

Once we receive Jesus and surrender to His cleansing and lordship, we’re in the Beloved. We have eternal life and nothing can separate us from the love of Christ. We’re in the everlasting arms of the Father. Then it’s our turn to say, “Come, Lord Jesus!”

The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.” Let anyone who hears this say, “Come.” Let anyone who is thirsty come. Let anyone who desires drink freely from the water of life. – Revelation 22:17

He’s still calling out. He still longs to be in fellowship with you. You have nothing to lose. It’s the perfect season to receive God’s greatest gift. Won’t you come to Him?

 

 

The Good Part

The other night, Jonathon and I watched “The Avengers” again.  It’s one of my favorite comic book movies, of which there have been a rash in the last handful of years. I didn’t read many comics growing up.  I have no backstory with any of the superheroes in this film. But these characters, updated 3D versions of 2D personalities, captured my interest.

Prince Loki, desperate to win a world since he can’t have Asgard, focuses on subduing Earth and its people. Brother Thor rules Asgaard, leaving Loki green with envy and lusting for power.  Long story short, he arouses the Avengers in order to stage a worldwide battle. He craves the attention such a war will win him.

I’ve written about this before.  The Avengers don’t like each other.  Each comes to the table with different strengths and a unique point of view.  Tony Stark, billionaire playboy philanthropist (his words), always looks out for number 1.  Captain America  – who spent 70 years on ice  – is a soldier and die hard patriot.  Natasha Romanoff, aka The Black Widow, is a martial arts expert with a dark past.  There are others, but you get the point.  Each thinks they’ve got the corner on reality and how to get things done.

Throughout the movie, their individual weaknesses betray them.  They discover they have to work together. None is strong enough alone. Thwarting Loki’s plan unites them for a combined purpose.

I started thinking about these verses.

Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven with the key to the bottomless pit and a heavy chain in his hand. He seized the dragon—that old serpent, who is the devil, Satan—and bound him in chains for a thousand years. The angel threw him into the bottomless pit, which he then shut and locked so Satan could not deceive the nations anymore until the thousand years were finished. Afterward he must be released for a little while…

When the thousand years come to an end, Satan will be let out of his prison. He will go out to deceive the nations—called Gog and Magog—in every corner of the earth. He will gather them together for battle—a mighty army, as numberless as sand along the seashore. And I saw them as they went up on the broad plain of the earth and surrounded God’s people and the beloved city. But fire from heaven came down on the attacking armies and consumed them.

Then the devil, who had deceived them, was thrown into the fiery lake of burning sulfur, joining the beast and the false prophet. There they will be tormented day and night forever and ever. – Revelation 20:1-3, 7-10

The “them” the devil had deceived were the masses, the unspoken for, the ones not given to worship Jesus. God hates deception, especially when it involves his precious creation. That ungodly trinity of beast, false prophet and devil will spend their eternities in pain and suffering.  They reaped what they sowed.

Satan’s great war, shiny swords clashing under the blazing sun, never takes place.  You know why?  Because Jesus, the Carpenter-King, won the victory on the cross.  Satan never gets to lead a charge on the armies of God.  He amasses an army, sure. Yet he will be plucked up and thrown down, sans ceremony, into a place of burning and screaming.

Back to the movie. It seems appropriate that the Hulk, most reluctant to get on board with any sort of skirmish, has the honor of humbling Loki. As I watched the Hulk slam Loki into the cement floor of Stark Tower’s viewing room, I thought:  Yes!  This is it.  The good part.  Loki’s speech, “I am a god.  You are all beneath me!” is the last, desperate plea of Satan himself.  I mean, not that Hulk is the verdant Messiah.  But the last destruction of Satan will come without warning and be filled with endless torment. Our enemy has already been defeated.  He just doesn’t know it yet.

Prodigal Brother

I’m still reading the Bible through in 6 months.  Yay!  For the Old Testament part, I just finished up reading about the distribution of the Promised Land to the Israelites.  For a brief moment in time, they had peace from all their enemies. Hallelujah!

I’m in Luke now for the New Testament part.  I’m up to chapter 15 of Luke.  This chapter is filled with parables – lost sheep, lost coin, and lastly, the lost son.  This is where you find the parable of the prodigal son.

We all know the story.  A father has two sons.  The younger son demands his inheritance early and goes off to spend it living the high life.  When his money runs out – and probably his friends, too – a famine has struck the land.  He begins to hunger.  Desperate, he charms a local farmer into hiring him.  He ended up feeding pigs.  I’m sure his kosher soul shuddered at the thought.  But still, he had no food.  Even the pigs’ food looked good to him!

Realizing his mistake, (v. 17), he decides to humble himself before his father and take his lumps.  He even plans what to say:  “Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son.  Please take me on as a hired servant” (v. 18).

The Bible says his father saw him from a long way off.  He was watching for his younger son’s return; he knew his boy and that the money wouldn’t last with his spendthrift ways.  He runs to his boy, hugs and kisses him.  The younger son says his piece but his father ignores him:  “Quick!  Bring the finest robe in the house and put it on him.  Get a ring for his finger and sandals for his feet.  And kill the calf we have been fattening.  We must celebrate with a feast, for this son of mine was dead and has now returned to life.  He was lost, but now he is found” (v. 22-23).  In a blink of an eye, the younger son goes from starving, homeless and penniless to a position of honor, crowned with love and favor and much rejoicing.

Really, the story should end here, I think.  All’s well that ends well, right?

But it doesn’t.

The older brother was working (v. 25).  He returns from the field and has no idea what’s going on. He asks a servant, who fills him in on his brother’s sudden return.  The older brother is instantly enraged (v. 28) and won’t join the party.  His father tries to intervene, begging him.  His reply?  “All these years I’ve slaved for you and never once refused to do a single thing you told me.  And in all that time you never gave me even one young goat for a feast with my friends.  Yet when this son of yours comes back after squandering your money on prostitutes, you celebrate by killing the fattened calf” (v.29-30).

Whoa.  The jealousy and hatred were right under the surface.

The father replies with characteristic grace:  “Look, dear son, you have always stayed by me, and everything I have is yours.  We had to celebrate this happy day.  For your brother was dead and has come back to life!  He was lost, but now he is found!” (v.31-32).

That’s the end of the story.

We never find out if the older son went into the banquet and embraced his brother or wept at his homecoming.  Instead, we’re left wondering what the older brother thought.  “Where is *my* feast?  When do I get honored for years of unswerving devotion?  Where is the love?”  Why did the older brother stay working for his father?  Out of obligation?  Lack of options?  Fear?  Indecisiveness?  Was it truly out of love?

This story, in my mind, ties back to Rev. 3:15-16.  Jesus has just chastised a church for being lukewarm, and says he will “vomit” them out.  He wishes they were either hot or cold.  The older brother ahs been “lukewarm” towards his duty for years and years.  In these tough circumstances, his true motives were revealed.  The younger brother at least was honest about his feelings and acted accordingly.

We’re no different. Why do we go to church?  Why do we serve our families and others?  Why do we continue to participate in church ministries, year after year?  What are our motives?  I’m not advocating running away from our commitments or our life with God.  Sure, sometimes our love is…lacking.  If we press in to Jesus, He will fill us anew.  So, I ask you, who was truly lost in this parable?  I think the older brother was lost long ago and he never even left home.