Journey of Faith

Don’t Slam the Door

Just recently my mom moved out of her home.  There were a lot of swirling memories as my sister and I  went through the stuff of the 64 years of living and loving that had gone on in that house.

When asked what they might like as a remembrance from Nana’s house, my grand daughter said she’d like the door from the basement room.  It’s an old door from a Pullman train car and when it slams shut, it has a distinctive, easily identifiable sound.

That got me to thinking about doors.  And the sound a door makes when it’s slammed.  And how you know exactly which door it is that’s been slammed.   I don’t know how many times my mother told me not to slam the kitchen screen door.  But I can still hear the sound of that door.

I know I told plenty of car pool kids not to slam the doors of my car.  Sometimes  I thought those doors would fall off their hinges.

There aren’t enough words in the English language to describe all the sounds of a slammed door nor the thousands of reasons for a slammed door.  Reasons which range from eager, happy announcements to irate and vengeful anger.  And how it’s slammed often predicts what is to come.

I hope 2013 brings a lot of open doors for you.

And if you do have to slam a door or two, just don’t knock them off their hinges.

 

Love, Ruth

Ruth Vander Zee

Author of WOMAN MEETS JESUS

Journey of Faith

 

Sticks and Stones…but Names…

There’s a lot of things I don’t remember.  A lot.

But I do remember the sing-songy sound of

Sticks and stones will break my bones,

But names will never hurt me.

We must have sung that a lot when I was in elementary school. I still remember the third-grade pitch, rhythm, and melody in my head.  It must have been the second most-sung song after the diddies we jumped rope too.  M,I, crooked letter, crooked letter, I, crooked letter, crooked letter, I, P, P, I, and so on.

But who knew I’d remember one name I was called in third grade.  One name which has colored by life, determined decisions I made, products I bought (or my mother bought by the car load), how I felt about myself, or what I saw when I looked in the mirror.

One name.  Spoken by a kid who, I’m sure, has absolutely no recollection of ever saying anything to me.

One name I chose to embrace as defining me.  One name I still have to work through – even these many years after third grade.

Third grade – at the tender age of nine – the year I began my menstral cycle!!!  What gives?

I must have been a hormonal wreck because my face immediately exhibited, for all the world to see, a polka-dotted pimple effect.

One morning, one bad morning, when no amount of Clearasil could conceal my mess of a face, the boy who sat in front of me called out to the whole class, “Hey, look at Ruthie.  She’s UGLY with all those pimples on her face.”

That’s all it took.  One name.  On one morning.

Yup!  One name.  One time.

Do you remember something somebody called you – one thoughtless name – or an often repeated statement – when you were in third grade?  A name you’ve never forgotten?  A name you’ve had to work through?  A name which has defined you to yourself?

If you’ve had a similar experience, could you email me or reply to this post with a

Yes or No   If a name or a statement was said to you

Yes or No   that you’ve had to spend some time working through it.

Just gotta’ know.  No details necessary unless you want to share.

Love, Ruth

Ruth Vander Zee
Author of WOMAN MEETS JESUS
Journey of Faith

There’s Something “Right” About Getting it Wrong

I don’t know how many of you were raised hearing, “If you can’t do it right, don’t do it at all.”

I just spoke with a friend of mine who reminded me of  hearing that as he was growing up.

It brought me back.   Funny how you don’t have to hear that phrase too many times before it
starts tumbling around in your head or even worse, in your heart.

And it tumbles into the spaces of your brain, just as you  are thinking of attempting something you’ve never done before.  Just as you’re thinking of attempting  something no one has ever taught you – as you’re thinking about exploring  something new and, according to the conventional wisdom of your family, is just  a little crazy or something “we don’t do.”   And if you listen, you stop. You don’t try.  It’s too risky.

I often think of when I began writing books for  children.  I didn’t know anything about  ”right”  writing.  In fact, I didn’t even know I didn’t know  anything.  But I was invited to an SCBWI  (Society of Children’s Bookwriters and Illustrators)  critique group.  If I had known how little I knew, I probably  would never have even read my first manuscript.  But because I was so completely uninformed, I read a very “un–right”  first attempt.  Nobody in that group said  my story was awful.  Nobody said it was  good.  They just asked me questions about  plot, and audience, and voice, and character, and a host of other things I  didn’t know.  And because they were some  of the most encouraging people on the planet, I dared to learn and return and  read again, and learn some more, and eventually get published.

It’s amazing how daring to try what you can’t get “right”  the first time encourages you to try again.
But if we measure any possibility, challenge, opportunity, experience,  job, “crazy” idea by whether we can do it “right,” we end up living in a box of  undone dreams.

It’s scary to get it “wrong” when you’ve tried to get it  “right” all your life.  But there’s a lot  of exciting stuff that happens in the faltering or failed attempts, the  mistakes, the flubs, the “foot-in-your-mouth” conversations, the falls, the  walked-through fears when you go out on a limb and don’t care if you “get it  right” but rather find excitement and growth in the trying.

And eventually, you get a few things “right.”  But as soon as you do, there’s something else  just around the corner that presents a new challenge for getting it wrong.

But now I remember something else I heard a lot. “If at  first you don’t succeed; try, try again.”

And that helps me remember the exhilaration, endless possibilities,  and joy of discovery when I experience how “right” it is to get it wrong.

Love, Ruth

Ruth Vander Zee
Author of WOMAN MEETS JESUS
Journey of Faith

Tell Me A Story

 

I love the stories that are told after you’ve put curlers in your hair for no particualar reason and snuggle next to somebody who loves you.

Ot when you look into someone’s eyes.

Or listen to their tone of voice.

Or watch their body language.

Or touch their skin.

Or count the exclamation points after a simple text mesage.

Or engage in conversation.

That’s the fun of living.  Absorbing the stories when the storyteller least thinks they’re telling them.

And the stories fill our lives with all things human and teachable and real.  They tell our present, our past, and give glimpses into our future.

I love it when our stories connect, and most often they do in the most surprising ways, because we understand each other a little better.  We find commonality and no longer are strangers – no matter how far apart we thought we were when we started.

And especially when we tell our stories with curlers in our hair for no particular reason.

Love, Ruth

Ruth Vander Zee
Author of WOMAN MEETS JESUS
Journey of Faith

 

 

The Solace of Solitude

Language… has created the
word “loneliness” to express the pain of being alone. And it has
created the word “solitude” to express the glory of being alone.

Paul Tillich

http://www.brainyquote.com

We just completed two wonderful months of travel.  In May we drove from Florida to Virginia for the Virginia Festival of the Book.  Along the way we met friends and relatives, ate dinners out, dinners in, had
thoughtful and stimulating conversations, and wandered the museums and streets of Washington D.C.

I spoke about my kids’ books and led lively classroom activities with fourth – sixth graders in Charlottesville, Virginia.  Great fun.

Along the way my senses were filled to overflowing with the early blooms of every flowering tree the South has to offer.  They showed off their purple, pink, white and yellow flowers as if they were flower girls in an endless wedding procession.

We were home a few weeks and left for California for a three week visit with our son, his wife, and two little girls.  During that time I did everything from bake cookies, go on field trips, cuddle every morning with a three- year-old, delight in the cleverness of a seven-year-old, and have cheese and a glass of wine with my husband, our son and his wife in their back yard at the end of busy days.

I met many wonderful women who gathered together for seminars and retreats and were eager to hear how much Jesus loves, equips and empowers them.

From then on to Washington for more seminars and time with family.

During all that time, my senses were filled with the glories of the Bay area and the thousand greens of Washington dotted with colorful rhododendrons.

Those were rich and wonderful times and my heart is filled.  So many thanks to express.  So many memories to hold dear.  So many words to fill the book of my heart.

But now is a time for solitude.  That precious time to delight in trust given. For love expressed. For shared stories.  For generous words.  For friendships that go back forever. And for the joy of being alone but not lonely.

But, unfortunately, I must hurry and do this, because the solace of solitude doesn’t last long! Life seems to interrupt.

Love, Ruth

Ruth Vander Zee
Author of WOMAN MEETS JESUS
Journey of Faith

A Promise is a Promise

 

The day before Florida students were going to take the FCAT (Florida Comprehensive Assessment Testing) this year, the evening news announced that students would be signing a statement promising they wouldn’t cheat.  This was something new. They had to assent to, “I agree that I will not give or receive unauthorized help during this test. I understand that giving or receiving such help during the test is cheating and will result in the invalidation of my test results.”

When I asked a middle-school friend what her teachers did to draw attention to the statement, she said that before they began the testing her teacher read some instructions about the statement and then told the students
to sign it.

Which got me to thinking about promises.  Is it a well- meant promise when I automatically promise to do something whether I mean it or not?  Is it a promise if I sign something I have no intention of keeping?  Is it a  promise if I assent to something knowing I would get in more trouble not signing it than signing it?  What happens to the promise I make when I have no idea what temptations or desperations lie ahead of me, and I promise naively?

I know my young friend signed the statement fully intending on not cheating.  But what about the kid who is fully inclined to cheat.  What do they do?  They probably sign. Because not signing would cause them more trouble than signing.

What if there were two statements. One promising not to cheat and one saying, “I cannot promise that I will
not give or receive help. I understand that giving or receiving such help during the test is cheating and will result in the invalidation of my test results.”

If we gave kids a choice, we would at least not be encouraging some to lie.

It’s easier to tell kids what to do. What to think.  And to assure us that we feel better, or assure us we have done our job, we ask them to make promises.  What they will do.  What they will think. They will do what we tell them or talk them into.

This makes me think of the movie Courageous which has been a favorite for some.  The scene I’m thinking of in
that movie is when the father takes his young teen daughter out on a date and lets her know that she is valuable and special to him and he will be praying for her as she grows and faces many difficult decisions.  He gives her a ring to let her know of his love for her.  He does not ask her to make a promise she either is not old enough or wise enough to make.  He doesn’t make her promise anything she is unable or perhaps to naïve to promise. The father makes the promises.

I know that keeping promises is tough stuff.  It’s easy to make promises – hard to keep them.  And the not keeping either results in guilt and shame or a calloused heart in which promises don’t matter.

That’s serious.  Living honestly and with integrity requires a heart that doesn’t play games with promises.

Shame on the adults who insist on children making promises they may or may not keep.  I wonder where those adults will be when the kid feels either shame and remorse for breaking promises  or uncaring and hardened about breaking them.

Love, Ruth

Ruth Vander Zee                                                                                                                                                                              Author of WOMAN MEETS JESUS                                                                                                                                     Journey of Faith

 

 

If Only No One Played The Hunger Games

My granddaughter insisted I read The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins.  Once I read the first book in the trilogy, I couldn’t wait to read Catching Fire and Mockingjay.  Unlike Annika, I won’t be standing in a line at midnight to be one of the first to see the movie on March 23, but I did peek in the People Magazine she lent me to check out whose playing whom.  The characters are compelling and the story exciting.

This is an often-told story of greed and power run amuck.  In the post-apocalyptic nation of Panem,  President Snow dwells in the Capitol and rules the nation.  He devises the Hunger Games after an uprising which destroyed District 13.  Once a year, two children between the ages of 12 and 18 from each of the remaining twelve districts are chosen by lottery to compete in nail-biting, death-defying games.  The rules say only one of the twenty-four children may be left alive at the end of the games.

As the story unfolds, we experience what happens when lust for power, an insatiable appetite for wealth, and a need to control on the part of a few make the lives of subordinates and their children miserable.  They scrape by with  little income, search for food to keep from starving, and are oppressed into submission – but most of all – they live in fear.  And fear inhabiting any heart does not allow for freedom.

At the end of the story, Katniss, the narrator, says, “I no longer feel any allegiance to these monsters called human beings, despise being one myself….Because something is significantly wrong with a creature that sacrifices its children’s lives to settle its differences.  You can spin it any way you like.  Snow thought the Hunger Games were an efficient means of control…But in the end, who does it benefit?.…The truth is, it benefits no one to live in a world where these things happen.” (Mockingjay,  pg. 377)

She’s right.   By the time she says this, those who schemed the horrible atrocities were pitiable, empty
shells.  Scores of men, women, and children who were used to provide goods and services for those in power were either killed or maimed.

When Katniss speaks, I hunger.  I hunger for the leaders and the subordinates of our tortured world, for those who grasp  onto power in their little corner of control, for any man, woman or child who chooses to bully anyone to hear the words of Jesus.  At the beginning of his ministry, he sits on the side of a mountain and speaks in his usual counter-intuitive style.  He talks about what the Kingdom of God looks like.  He says that those who receive ultimate, total, complete well-being  from God himself are those who are hungry and thirsty for what is good and loving and harmonious and generous and patient and kind and faithful and peaceful and gentle.

I wonder what would happen if those were the games we played.

 

Love, Ruth

Ruth Vander Zee
Author of WOMAN MEETS JESUS
Journey of Faith

 

 

 

 

Loud and Clear

Kim is the main character in my children’s book Always With You.  At the age of four years, Kim was the only survivor after the Viet Cong bombed her small Vietnamese village. Her mother died while Kim lay in her arms.  She was almost completely blinded when Viet Cong soldiers hit her over the head.  She was raised for several years in an orphange run by Christian missionaries on China Beach.  

Her life is filled with mind-numbing losses. 

When I interviewed her for the book, she blew me away with the hope and wisdom only someone who has suffered knows. Her faith was sure; her hope secure. Her quiet, gentle spirit seeped into my own and after being with her I walked away thinking I’d been in the presence of an angel.  And perhaps I had.

Kim found the love of her life – who, himself, is congentially blind.  She and her husband had four children, all who can see.  Life went on for Kim – living in a  world of shadowy gray images with a bright optimism.

Each time I talked to Kim I assumed she had suffered as much as any human can suffer.

So when I heard that doctors were going to attempt to help Kim see a little more than vague images, once again(!), I was hopeful that perhaps she would gain a bit of eye sight and at least be able to see the faces of her husband and children.

It was with great hope she went in for a corneal transplant on November 18, 2010. 

 It was then doctors discovered she has Acute myeloid leukemia (AML).   

They gave up trying to do anything with her eyes and began concentrating on trying to stop the rapid development of the AML. 

I just spoke with her on the phone.   

Since March 22, 2011, she has

  • had a bone marrow transplant.
  • suffered the complications of chemo therapy which burned her skin until it fell off in sheets. 
  • gone completely blind.
  • fought the effects of bone marrow rejection medication which first affected her stomach, reducing her weight to 71 pounds, and causing her skin to fall off in scales until she felt like a creature rather than a human.
  • been hospitalized for months at a time.

Now she is concerned about her liver enzyme levels. They’re going in the wrong direction.

AND her voice has changed.

With all that she has suffered, the fact that her voice has changed bothers her.  The fact that she erased her old phone message which had her former voice on it grieves her.  She feels like she lost something very personal which cannot be replaced.

But if Kim thinks she does not have a voice, she is wrong.

Her voice is loud and clear when she speaks about the strength, courage, and faith of her four children.

Of her first born son who, at the age of 16, drives her down the Dan Ryan in Chicago so she can go for hospital visits.  Who shops for groceries with his 13 year old brother, and just scored 33 on his first attempt at the SAT’s.

Of her two girls who have a grace and loveliness which inspires her.

Her voice is loud and clear when she speaks of how each day is a joy.  How to be in the middle of her family life figuring out how to cook, change the sheets on five beds weekly, clean, dust, and scrub the toilets  – all with minimal strength and  without being able to see - is a personal triumph.

Her voice is loud and clear when she tells me she is often confined to her home, but she is not lonely.

Her voice is loud and clear when she talks about the fact that she knows she is not in control because that which is meant to heal her is doing battle with her own body.  And so she hangs on to each second as a gift.

Kim is not Pollyannish.  She is honest.  She freely speaks of her doubts but more often about the solid rock of Jesus on which she stands.

I am honored and inspired to know Kim.   When I speak with her, she calms me because she transmits a  calm and serene spirit.  She redefines beauty and dignity because hers is in full bloom. She helps build my faith because her faith is fathomless.  

I am overwhelmed when she says she really doesn’t want her children to be without their mother, because she knows what that feels like.  But  she says with peace and  assurance that Jesus is always with her and will always be with her children, and I have no doubt she means it.

Kim is a woman who has met Jesus, and in her raspy voice she speaks loud and clear.

Ruth Vander Zee
Author of WOMAN MEETS JESUS
Journey of Faith

 

 

 

Joy Comes in the Mourning

Grief often enters our lives in painful ways.  And it seems that during the holidays, although touted as being the “most, wonderful time of the year,” although all images suggest that glitter and joy abound, the reality is that sadness often lives close to our hearts and dims the joy we feel.  The sadness sometime gets drowned out by LED lights and jingly music, but  it is still there.

I participated in a conference which was led by Jako Hamman, PhD*  from Western Theological Seminary who spoke on the subject of grief. Eloquently.  Sensitively.

He spoke, not only on the grief of the death of a loved one, but of other griefs we all share – sometimes on a daily basis – griefs which affect us on our journey in small and gargantuan ways.

Sometimes it’s the loss of things – either money, investments, a trinket to which we have some emotional attachment, down-sizing, a wedding ring, a favorite chair which gets tossed in the remodeling…whatever. 

Sometimes it’s the loss of a significant relationship  -  a misunderstanding, a thoughtless comment, a hurtful act which changes everything between two people - break-ups in business, families, marriages, friendships.

Sometimes it’s the loss of a dream – perhaps one you’ve had since childhood – that either never materialized or has been dashed to small bits.

Losses can be gut-wrenching when we realize we’re not quite as healthy as we once were.   We just can’t do what we once could.  Or we’re not as relevant as we’ve been in the past.  The phone doesn’t ring anymore with someone asking for our input.  Someone new is at the hub of all the activity and we are relegated to the sidelines – marginalized.

Losses hurt.  We grieve. And we grieve again. And we grieve some more.

Grief is a normal response to loss and change.

But somehow, it seems that our natural inclination is to not move toward our grief.  Who wants to go to the place our heart hurts the worst. The idea of running to grief is counter-intuitive.  I don’t know about you, but I’d rather avoid grief.  Because grief just plain hurts!

Somewhere along the journey, through the grace of God, someone may come along and help us walk straight into our grief.  Someone may listen and assist us in lamenting our loss.  Someone may help us mourn. Really mourn.  Because mourning – acknowledging the loss – admitting to the despair – accepting that the way it was will never be again – can lead to a glimmer of hope. Someone may say just the right word.  Someone may share a Scripture that speaks directly to us.  Someone may say nothing, just be there.  And little by little, a light can break in at the end of a very long tunnel with, as we take one small step after another, a new, albeit different, possibility.

And maybe, just maybe, joy may come in the mourning.

Love, Ruth

Ruth Vander Zee
Author of WOMAN MEETS JESUS
Journey of Faith

*author of When Steeples Cry

 

 

 

We All Get By With A Little Help From our Friends

Writing a book brings to the surface almost every personal insecurity I knew lived in the nooks and crannies of my heart and a few I never even knew I had.  I wondered who in the world would take the time to brew some coffee, sit in a chair in the middle of the hecticness of life, and read what I wrote.  It felt like sheer arrogance to think that I had anything to say that would bless someone.

But I love to write and so I write.

And then Quentin Schultze at Edenridge Press said he loved the book and would publish it and Matt Plescher told me he was honored to spend hours designing it and creating a beautiful book jacket.  That was sooo encouraging.

Readers read and commented.  My Bible Study group went through the book with me and helped me see what needed changing and what communicated.  My husband encouraged me saying, “This is good stuff.”

And then Quentin asked Mary Darling and Caryn Rivadneira to write the forward and preface.  I have never met or spoken to Mary.  She co-authors books with Tony Campolo and teaches communications at Spring Arbor University.  Caryn is the daughter of my dear friend Cathy and is an author of some pretty amazing books. Check out Grumble Hallelujah: Learning to Love Your Life Even When It Lets You Down.

When I read what they wrote, I was blessed.  They encouraged me.  More than they’ll ever know.

And that’s the point.

In every insecurity, we need friends.  We need friends to come along beside us.  To encourage us along the way.  To help us put one foot in front of the other.

And our friends need us.  That’s one reason we are where we are. To come alongside those who plop into our lives in the convenient and inconvenient times.  To encourage.  To help them put one foot in front of the other.

Right after I sent out a facebook announcement on Woman Meets Jesus, a dear friend wrote to say that she and her husband are going through the most unexpected hurt, disappointment, and betrayal they NEVER expected.  She said she wanted to go throughmy book with a group of friends.  Friends she has already gathered because she knows she can’t go through what she’s going through alone.

So thank you to all my old friends, my new friends, and some friends I haven’t even met who are helping me get by.

Love, Ruth

Ruth Vander Zee
Author of WOMAN MEETS JESUS
Journey of Faith

Ruth Vander Zee

Ruth Vander Zee
On our journey, I believe Jesus desires us to be our authentic, child-of-God selves.

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Ruth Vander Zee
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How Jesus encourages, empowers and equips women on their personal journey of faith.
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