About two months ago, I adopted Nora, a silky black feline, born of a feral mother, destined to live her life mostly outdoors. My neighbors had cared for her these past five years. Then they moved. I felt moved to step in. Nora is adjusting to her new family. She slept with me last night. By morning, she was gone. She has almost mastered the cat door—to exit at will, anyway.
Nora has a boyfriend. I’ll call him Tom. He looks like a bobcat, uglier though, a brute of a cat. Nora doesn’t exactly cat around with him, but Tom hangs around in hopes we’ll throw him a bone. Nora doesn’t seem to mind his presence. It’s hard to know what a cat thinks. Maybe Nora and Tom triggered my dream.
Maybe it was the movie I saw recently: The Electrical Life of Louis Wain. An illustrator and lover of cats, Louis Wain was elected president of the London Cat Club in 1890. He drew millions of cats and popularized them as pets in Victorian England. Louis Wain also had schizophrenia. His illustrations grew increasingly psychedelic. None were copyrighted. His story pulled my heartstrings.
In one corner of our yard, there’s an overgrown flower garden where the cats convene, dozens of them, perfectly posed. Kittens frolick. That is all. Maybe a kind reader interprets dreams.
‘Twas the day before winter break
And all through the school,
Students and staff awaited
the upcoming Yule.
The seniors were all
just a bit brain dead.
I gifted them some time
to get ahead.
A Holiday Happening,
a lunchtime talent show.
The kids and their gifts,
My mind did blow.
Singers and dancers,
A drumline, too.
A public prom proposal
and subsequent “I do.”
A Hallmark start
to the two-week break
feeling thankful indeed—
make no mistake.
Yet at the final bell,
I ran for my car with a shout,
"Happy Holidays to All!
Mrs. Byers is out."
Without the details, I attended a church service within the last few months that left me feeling, well, excuse my language, shitty. Judged and hopeless and disillusioned with the church. I won’t go back, not to that church, at least, not to hear that pastor. I know others who have had BAD experiences with the church—or with Christians—and they don’t see the point in trying. I get it.
Lucky for me I’ve had GOOD experiences, and so this past Sunday I began my day online at the church I attended for the first time back in 1998. This church leaves me feeling hopeful and loved, inspired to adjust my attitude each week and be a better person. Lord knows I’m not perfect, but I try.
Back in 1998, the church was called Fellowship Bible Church North. It was founded by Dr. Gene Getz, who was a professor at Dallas Theological Seminary in the early 70s. He taught people to be pastors at a time when the culture in the 60s coming into the 70s had changed drastically, and a lot of churches were not being effective in reaching a changing culture. Many of his students didn’t like church. They questioned church as a concept. They asked questions like, “Who needs the church?”
Dr. Getz came to class in the middle of one semester and said, “Men—” There were no women studying in the seminary at that time. “Obviously, I haven’t prepared this class to answer your question, so I want you to tear up your syllabus with all the assignments…We’re going to go back to the syllabus…We’re going to go back to the book of Acts. We’re going to go into the epistles. We’re going to go as far as we can the rest of the semester and see what God intends the church to be.”
I know this story because I went to church this past Sunday, and what I heard was SO GOOD that I’m leaving the link right here. Gene was there! In 1981, he started this church, which grew and changed locations and became Chase Oaks in 2008. He retired about seventeen years ago. 2021 minus 17 equals 2004. So, I listened to him preach on the Sundays I made it to church for about six years. And let me tell you, this guy is incredibly smart. He knows the Bible—the geography, Greek, you name it, and he breaks it all down into simple, relatable terms.
Why do I feel compelled to tell you this? So glad you asked. After “retiring,” Gene went to work creating a study Bible, the CSB Life Essentials Study Bible. In addition to the scriptures, the text includes QR codes that link to videos of Dr. Gene Getz explaining 1500 Principles to Live By. This includes 300 hours of in-depth teaching. For a sample on Principle 1, Intense Prayer, click here. I’ve given a couple of these Bibles away as gifts, and I just purchased another one. I’m not on commission. I just love Gene, God, and this Bible. Maybe you are looking for a special gift or maybe you want an interactive Bible or maybe you just want to listen to someone who has GOOD news. After all…
‘Tis the Season
P. S. So, let’s say, a person didn’t have time to watch a church service now, but was halfway interested in the concept of finding some spiritual guidance, Chase Oaks Church has a YouTube channel. Click here to subscribe. This is all part of the church adapting to our ever-changing culture.
Just a little formula I apply to life’s circumstances…
At the beginning of December, I started Year One of what I hope is a new tradition. I challenged myself to read the Book of Luke, an entire account of Jesus’s life, a chapter a day, leading up to Christmas. Below. My summaries. My interpretation follows. I’m no Bible scholar, just a regular person, trying to be better than the person I was yesterday. Maybe next year I’ll add to this outline. Maybe this year you’d like to join me for the last ten days of Luke.
The angel Gabriel appears to Elizabeth’s husband and Mary (separately) to announce immaculate conceptions for both.
Jesus is born.
Within the chapter he is twelve, listening and asking questions of temple teachers.
He grows in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and man.
Genealogy of Jesus.
Jesus is tested and rejected, and he heals the sick.
Jesus call his first disciples.
He heals leprosy and forgives and heals a man with paralysis.
He eats with sinners.
Jesus prays before choosing his disciples/friends.
He heals more and more people.
Love your enemies.
Do not judge and you won’t be judged.
Forgive and you will be forgiven.
Jesus performs a resurrection.
He forgives a sinful woman.
He teaches with a story of debts and forgiveness.
Jesus teaches with parables—the seed sower and the lamp on the stand.
Jesus chooses his family.
He calms storms.
Jesus gives disciples the power and authority to heal and humbly spread news of God.
Jesus feeds five thousand, heals more people, and speaks about God’s kingdom.
Peter declares Jesus the Messiah.
Jesus, as son of man, says—
That he must suffer.
That he will be rejected and killed.
That he will be raised from the dead.
Follow me if you want to save your life (for everlasting life).
Peter, John, and James pray with Jesus on the mountain.
Jesus transforms and his face glows.
Moses and Elijah appear in glorious splendor and speak of Jesus’s departure.
A cloud descends and God speaks—“This is my son, listen to him.”
Jesus heals another person and predicts his death a second time.
He tells his disciples to get rid of their egos.
He says—Whoever is not against you is for you.
On the way to Jerusalem (to his death)—
Jesus isn’t welcomed by the Samaritans, and he moves on.
People say they will follow him, but they have excuses in the moment.
Jesus sends out 72 to spread God’s word.
He teaches with the parable of the Good Samaritan.
At Martha and Mary’s house, Martha busily prepares to be a hostess.
Mary spends time with Jesus.
Martha is bitter about her self-imposed work.
Jesus tells Martha that Mary’s choice is better.
Jesus teaches his disciples to pray:
Give thanks, ask for forgiveness and help in forgiving others and help with temptations.
Ask and it will be given, seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened to you.
Jesus says that kingdoms and houses divided will fall.
Jesus says to let the light within you shine.
Jesus instructs us to be generous to the poor.
Jesus says, “Whoever acknowledges me before others…will also acknowledge before the angels of God.”
“Everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven.”
Jesus teaches with the parable of the rich fool.
Jesus tells us we won’t prolong our life through worrying.
Jesus says, “Be ready…the son of man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.”
He says that there will be division in families and asks, “Why don’t you judge for yourself what is right?”
Jesus instructs us to repent or perish and uses the parable of a man who has a fig tree that doesn’t bear fruit.
The advice to that man is—leave it alone for another year and see what happens.
Jesus heals a crippled woman who cannot stand straight.
Jesus uses the mustard seed and yeast parables for God’s growing kingdom.
Jesus says that the entrance into God’s kingdom is a narrow door.
Jesus hears that Herod wants to kill him. (This is a different Herod than Herod the Great who tried to have Baby Jesus killed).
Jesus heals a man with abnormal swelling.
In a wedding feast parable, Jesus concludes, “Those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
In the parable of the great feast, the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame are invited.
Being a disciple costs you yourself. “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.”
No matter what you believe about Jesus or Christianity, in Luke we see Jesus spreading good news and deeds, in a humble, non-preachy way. He’s a natural teacher, using stories that allow people to draw their own conclusions. He doesn’t judge, and he forgives. Satan tests him, others reject him, and he suffers. Such is life. I believe that he calms storms and heals people and resurrects the dead to show us perfection in the afterlife. I don’t know about you, but Jesus gives me hope—and shows that our struggles strengthen us, that better days lay ahead. I could use a little hope. Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and good tidings to you!
Have you ever opened the bible at random to find a divine message from God? Perhaps I have. If so, it’s been awhile.
A day or two after Thanksgiving, my daughter Lauren called to tell me about her encounter with God. I could hear her smile and energy through my cell phone. “I opened the Bible and ended up in Amos, and I was like, ‘Amos, where am I?’” She laughed her twenty-eight-year-old laugh. “And this is what I found, I’m going to read it.” She hesitated through the words. “‘Seek good, not evil, that you may live. Then the LORD God Almighty will be with you, just as you say he is’ (Amos 5:14). The words were bolded. They jumped off the page. I was like, ‘Seek good, not evil.’” She paused. The way she phrased the scripture sounded more like a question. “Of course, that makes sense.”
And I said, “No matter what you believe, the Bible has some good advice.”
Lauren agreed, and eventually we said our goodbyes, and a day or so later while Facebook scrolling, I found this:
I texted the image and a message to Lauren: I saw this today. I think I’m going to do this.
She texted me: Oh that sounds good maybe I should do that
Me to her: We could read it and talk about it. New tradition.
And so I read Luke 1. If I ever knew the story, I didn’t remember that the angel Gabriel appeared to Elizabeth’s husband as well as Mary to announce immaculate conceptions for both. Two immaculate conceptions. One for a menopausal woman. The other for a virgin. I love a good miracle. Miracles keep my hope alive.
On December 1, my friend Denise called. Denise, my friend since age five. I told her about Luke, and she wanted to join Lauren and me in the new tradition.
Later she texted me and some friends: I’m reading Luke – a chapter a day. I hadn’t remembered Mary going to Elizabeth (mother of John the Baptist). All we need is that one friend right!?! God knew.
And I texted: Love that perspective.
And Cheri texted: Same here. I’ll join you.
And now for Luke 2. Let me tell you, Luke is not messing around. He jumps into the story. Jesus is born, and within the chapter he is twelve. Sitting among teachers at the temple. Listening. Asking questions. Growing in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.
And no matter what you believe, Jesus was a good guy. We could all learn a little something through him. Who’s in? New tradition. The reason for the season.
Rosa was on a mission. At the time, I didn’t know it. On a crisp November morning, she pulled us into the parking lot at Memorial Park. Me in the front passenger seat. Her daughter Kimberly, age twenty-one, in the back. We had just dropped off her son Andres for his day at kindergarten.
This was my first Seymour Lieberman Exercise Trail expedition. 2.9 miles. Once you start, your only option is to make the full loop or turn back. We would never turn back. The three of us opened our car doors, extricated ourselves, slammed the doors shut, and stretched a bit. Kimberly waved, smiled, and took off running. Rosa and I followed at a quick walking pace, then jogged some. She wanted to resume the walk before me, and that was new. My endurance for jogging has improved since I met my neighbor Rosa back in July. At age fifty I discovered that I could run and make progress after all.
Along the way, Rosa told me about a family tradition. Back in Mexico, when she was a little girl, her father would set off for the mountains and bring back a Christmas tree. For Rosa, he would find a tree branch, fallen and dead. He would clean it up and spray paint it white, stick it in a bucket of sand, for lights, angel hair, and decorations of her own. Rosa’s tree. And Rosa wanted that tradition for Andres.
About a mile-and-a-half into our walk, we spotted the perfect branch, dead and fallen. We stopped and together snapped off the extraneous twigs. For the final mile-and-a-half, Rosa carried it like an Olympic torch. A five or six foot branch. At one point she said, “Let’s run.” And we did.
And other runners shook their heads. And other people on the trail shot photos or video. And Rosa and I jogged and laughed. A laugh that jingled all the way. And when Kimberly discovered her mother walking toward the car, carrying the dead tree branch, she covered her face with her hands and turned various shades of crimson, but she didn’t run and hide. Kimberly laughed a jolly laugh and said, “Oh my gosh, you’re going to be all over social media.” And she helped her mother fit the tree for Andres into the back of the SUV.
And Rosa reminded me of how the dead and fallen can take on new life, how the broken can bring new joy, how traditions are a form of magic, a way of speaking with the past.
( Blog if I want to, blog if I want to. You might blog, too, if it happened to you ).
December 30th came and went. Celebrations commenced with family and friends. And my heart is full. This year proves that good things come to those who wait.
My 2018 began in approximately 400 square feet at the La Quinta where we (a trio of Byers plus our Rainy dog) would rest and breathe for six more months. Reconstruction continued on our Harvey-wrecked home, and the year whizzed by in a blur. The first half of the year now seems like a fuzzy dream that left me with an eye-opening perspective and an ever-expanding heart, I carry 2018’s lessons forward. I carry them in my heart. While trudging through flood water with a water-proof overnight bag on my shoulder and my chihuahua in my arms, I stumbled upon life’s deepest secret.
Are you ready?
Here it is.
Life’s Deepest Secret.
You can’t take it all with you, and you can’t save it all, but in the end, things don’t matter.
But people do.
My dear friend Pamela introduced me to e e cummings. I carry his words, and he shares my deepest secret. Thank you Poetry Foundation.
here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows
higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart
I’m not saying this would work every time, and I’m fairly certain I wouldn’t have dealt with a mall parking lot robbery in this way, but apparently my daughter Lauren has a gift for dealing with purse snatchers.
On December 24th, Kody, Drew, and I packed our bags, loaded my Mazda, and dashed up I-45 from Houston to Dallas. We swung by Lauren’s house to pick her up, looking all adorable in a little black dress with wedged ankle boots to match, and we were almost on time for the 3:30 Christmas Eve candlelight service at my home church, Chase Oaks. Merry Christmas to me! One of our traditions, our family together for carols and a Word in the presence of God. (The sixteen-minute sermon is linked, just click on Chase Oaks).
Afterwards, Kody and I would run to the grocery store, so we dropped Lauren at her home and car so that she could make one more run to the mall. Little did she know that she would need her tennis shoes. Lauren found what she needed as the mall closed, and back at her car, a girl approached her and asked, “Do you have a dollar?”
Lauren said, “No, I’m sorry. I don’t have any money, just my debit card.” And with that the girl snatched my daughter’s purse, her Louis Vuitton with her new iPhone inside, and ran. I suppose Lauren looked like an easy target in her cute dress and heels, but a competitive soccer player in her day, her instinct kicked in and said, “Oh, no, you didn’t.” Lauren chased the thief through the parking lot in front of oncoming traffic, and talk about a foot race—in her wedges—she ran as fast as she could. The other girl was bigger, and Lauren knew she would outlast and catch her in a matter of time. Lauren also knew she couldn’t fight her.
When the crook could run no more, Lauren said, “What is wrong? Why are you doing this?”
The other girl said, “I’m just going through a really hard time.”
Lauren said, “We all go through hard times, and I’m crazy, too, but I would never snatch anyone’s purse. How can I help you? Do you need a ride? Do you need a hug?”
And that’s how Lauren retrieved her purse from a thief. On Christmas Eve, Lauren showed this girl forgiveness and kindness, and she got her purse back.
And yes, Lauren did hug the girl and give her a ride, which wouldn’t have been my instinct, but maybe I will rethink future interactions gone wrong. This purse snatching worked out, and I couldn’t be any prouder of my little girl or any more thankful for the angels watching over her.