Woman Meets Jesus

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

 

 

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

 

 

Missing the Blessing As a Gorilla Prays

When visiting Amsterdam a few years ago, I saw a young woman pushing her baby stroller and approach the church where we had gone to worship.  She stopped and chained the stroller to the bike rack bolted into the pavement there.

She peered into the stroller, cooing at the little one inside as she folded back the blankets. She then reached into the stroller for her baby.

But instead of the expected baby, she gently lifted a stuffed gorilla about the size of a one-year-old.

Not only that, she and the gorilla were wearing identical outfits: beige pants and green tee shirts.

I have to admit, I was curious.  Especially as I traipsed into the sanctuary behind her and saw an usher greet the woman and then say “Good morning” to the gorilla, shaking its hand.

He led them to a pew perpendicular to the pews facing the altar.

I’m ashamed to say I asked for a seat in the rear partly because that was comfortable for us but mostly because I wanted to watch the woman.

Ok. I didn’t watch.  I stared.  I couldn’t take my eyes off the mother and her gorilla.  The service began.  Songs were sung and prayers were prayed.

The mother shared her hymnbook with the gorilla.  She folded her gorilla’s hands for prayer.  She listened to the sermon, occasionally turning the gorilla’s head, reminding him to listen.

Meanwhile, I hardly sang, kept my eyes open during the prayers, and half-heartedly listened to the sermon.  I was gaping.

At the end of the service, I spoke the understatement of the year to the usher at the door. “I couldn’t help but notice the woman with the stuffed gorilla.”

After a moment to think of whom I might be speaking, she said, “Oh, yes. That’s Janneke. If it weren’t for her gorilla, she would never leave her home. In fact, she recently asked the elders if her gorilla could be
confirmed.”

No condescension. No patronizing. Not even instant recognition of whom I was talking about. Where I
had seen peculiar, this usher had seen person.

On an early Sunday morning, I discovered that when I see irregular behavior, my first instinct is nosy curiosity.  I had just spent an hour watching a woman teach a stuffed gorilla how to pray without even first considering the depth of trauma which would prompt her to give such profound motherly affection to a stuffed animal.

Funny though, this sister and I, both on a journey – different journeys born from different circumstances, had both gone to church that morning seeking the tenderness, compassion, and encouragement which comes
from being in the presence of Jesus.

I was too busy gawking. I missed the blessing.

She got it.

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

 

 

 

Average Can Be Pretty Spectacular

On Christmas Eve, my 6′ 2″ son, granddaughter, and I stood at the base of the Sentinel Tree in Sequoia National Park.  If you look at the picture very closely, you might see us standing tall beneath this tree. You’ll have to look very closely.

Someone who knows all about the Sequoia trees wrote on a plaque beneath this tree, that, although very large, the Sentinel is just an average Sequoia.  Some are much larger and some  are  smaller.

Walking the path through these trees which have stood for thousands of years, have  survived  storm, fire, and man’s desire to cut them down, I am inspired.

I’m inspired by averageness.  If most of the trees I pass are either smaller than average or just  average, then average can be pretty spectacular.  Average takes my breath away.  Average is stately and beautiful.  Average stands tall.  Average has longevity.  Average withstands the storms of its environment.  Average knows the assaults of those who would destroy it and yet survives.   Average invites me to look up.

I experienced holy moments in that forest on Christmas Eve when I realized that God chose a young woman who had a heart of love to be the mother of Jesus.  So on Christmas night, a couple of thousand years ago, when some of those Sequoia trees were just sprouting from the ground, Jesus was born because God in heaven trusted an average young woman. An average young woman who was stately and beautiful.  Who stood tall.  Who withstood the storms and assaults of the people in her world  who wanted to harm her and her baby. Who invites me to look up far beyond the leaves on the top of the Sequoia tree and thank God that he can still use average.

I think being average is pretty good.  Maybe even spectacular.

Ruth Vander Zee
Author of WOMAN MEETS JESUS
Journey of Faith

 

 

Needy Chicks

 

When my husband was a young boy, he lived down the road from his grandfather’s farm.  One morning Grandpa called and asked him to come as soon as possible.  He needed help because the chicken coop had burned the night before.  The fire department had been called.  They put out the fire but there was a mess to be cleaned up.

What my husband saw is still imprinted on his heart.  The yard was a mess.  The carefully constructed coop was destroyed.  But worst of all, the beautiful Rhode Island Red roosters and  hens with their colorful, fluffy feathers – those hens which had provided eggs for the family were dead.  All of them.

But it was when Grandpa scraped his heavy shoe to move the carcass of a dead hen that a picture of God’s sweet provision broke through.

Nestled under the wings of that charred hen were six little yellow chicks.  Scared, but alive. Their mother had died in the fire, but they were hidden under her downy wings and did not suffocate or burn.  When Grandpa’s shoe freed them, they scurried across the yard looking for something to eat.

That story always reminds me of the Scripture in Matthew where Jesus says, “…how often have I longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing.”

Jesus gives us this comforting, nurturing chick statement as he is agonizing.  Agonizing over those in spiritual leadership who dictate what it means to love God from their own personal biases.   This beautiful picture of love and compassion is given right after he has spared no words to let hypocritics know what he thinks of their arrogant attitudes.  Jesus tells the crowd to obey them as far as the law is concerned because they have authority.  But he quickly adds, “Do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach.”

I expect Jesus to agonize over the needy.  His words and actions confirm that throughout the gospels.  But here I see Jesus agonizing over those who feel they have no need.  He longs to gather under his wings those who have an incessant need to be unneedy.  And he sees this un-neediness as destructive to the human spirit as the fire in the chicken coop. He desires to gather them to himself.  But they were not willing.  Too busy.  Too important.  Too pre-occupied.  Too distracted.  Too perfect.

I guess there is a place for all of us in these few sentences.  We all need compassion, whether we know we have a need or have no idea we have a need.  And at some point, perhaps we all long to be gathered as chicks beneath the wings of the one who loves us and protects us from all which would destroy us. 

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
WOMAN meets JESUS
How Jesus encourages, empowers and equips women on their personal journey of faith.
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