Facial Message

What’s in a look? Apparently, a lot less than we see. Or more. Has someone ever read your facial expression wrong? accused your look of meaning something that couldn’t have been further from the truth? Probably. I know I’ve both misunderstood that nonverbal cue and been misunderstood. Why the disconnect?

A person’s emotionless stare may be for no other reason than that the facial muscles are impaired. Or someone’s neurological disorder has pasted a permanent aloofness on the face. Maybe someone links anyone’s pursed lips with an embarrassing or degrading experience locked in the past, and the prefrontal cortex isn’t sorting out the distinctions. The subconscious can trick our brains to make judgments that are erroneous.

Dr. Luke, the New Testament physician, says that Jesus, early on the morning of his crucifixion, gave Peter a look:  “And the Lord turned and looked at Peter” (Luke 22:61 ESV). Suddenly face to face with Jesus after having denied knowing Him for the third time, what message did Peter decipher?

Was it disappointment? surprise?  No. For less than twelve hours earlier Jesus had predicted this outcome when “Peter said to him, ‘Lord, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.’ Jesus answered, ‘Will you lay down your life for me? Truly, truly, I say to you, the rooster will not crow till you have denied me three times'” (John 13:37-38 ESV).

Was it anger? Jesus sounded anything but angry when he had confided to Peter, “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:31-32 ESV).

Was Jesus’ look saddling Peter with guilt and shame? That attitude was never in His nature. “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:17 ESV). Also, “I came that they may have and enjoy life, and have it in abundance (to the full, till it overflows)” (John 10:10 AMP).

So was it a look of sympathy that melted a proud and boastful Peter to humbly weep in bitter repentance? No.

It was compassion, an attribute of His character that Peter had observed for three years as Jesus did more than feel sorry for people’s needs. Deeply moved with compassion, He restored, healed, preached, taught, fed, returned corpses alive to grieving families. Compassion is what Peter saw in Jesus’ face, compassion for a sinner for whom He was going to die on the cross, where He compassionately prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34 ESV). 

For reflection:  “Be honest in your judgment and do not decide at a glance (superficially and by appearances); but judge fairly and righteously” (John 7:24 AMP).

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Three Strikes

Three strikes! Peter’s shoulders slumped in disbelief. I’m out!

He hadn’t meant for it to end like this. What went wrong? He was so sure he was ready for this game. For the duration. For anything they would throw at him.

The team recognized him as their player with chutzpah. Some of them probably thought he was too impulsive at times, but they all admired him for his nerve. They could  count on him to step up to the plate and take care of business.

All of them heard him vehemently vow this moment would never happen. Now none of them would respect him. But that wasn’t the worst of it. The worst of it was he had disowned his adored captain.

Disgraced and humiliated, Peter ran from the courtyard into the dark of night, his burly body shaking with racking sobs. Soon, however, he realized the team was not going to ostracize him. Then in a few weeks, the captain invited him to an early fish breakfast on the seashore. There Peter learned the final score.

“Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Jesus asked three separate times. One time for each of Simon Peter’s denials in the courtyard that fateful night.

One by one Peter matched each denial with a confession of loyalty:  “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” After every assertion, Jesus gave the apostle a job to do. In other words He reinstated Simon Peter into His fellowship. He was given a second chance.

Peter had made three strikes during that night of testing, but he was not out! He had become a better man, one who himself would go to the cross for the Son of God  he had once denied knowing.

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The Mole

This is not what I signed up for! Sure, I liked what he had to say in the beginning. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have joined the rest in this startup company. The leader’s revolutionary ideas smacked of a new world order, but I’m a man who wants to see results. Everybody knows you have to follow through. Put your money where your mouth is, as the saying goes. If I’d been invited to the private meetings he had with those three stinking fishermen, I would have come up with a surefire scheme.

He does know how to draw a crowd, I’ll give him that. But it’s been three years. Where are the changes?

Those other guys seem to think he is the be-all and end-all. Sometimes they act like they want to fall down and worship him. Not me. I’m smart enough to know he’s a teacher–a mentor–nothing more. I’m not putting him on a pedestal.

It’s time for me to move on. My days are numbered, anyway. I figured that out on Monday at Martha’s house when her silly sister wasted the ointment on the teacher’s feet. I still want to vomit when I think it was equivalent to a  working man’s salary for an entire year.

How I wish I hadn’t had that knee-jerk reaction and blurted out the money would have been better spent on the poor! Matthew looked at me as if he wasn’t fooled. Does he suspect I’ve been pilfering from our cash box? He’s too good with numbers not to have put two and two together. So what’s wrong if I do dip into the kitty now and then? I’m just as poor as the next beggar. It’s all relative, isn’t it? Furthermore, I was made the treasurer. Doesn’t that give me the right of full discretion? But if Matthew says something . . . oh, I don’t want to deal with it.

I’m going to have a real life. Go where I can be appreciated. But I’m not leaving without getting traveling coins. That’ll be easy. I know where to find the pompous stuffed shirts who will be more than happy to give them to me. It won’t cost me anything except a little time. Then I’m out of here!

Thus was spawned the pact that history never buried.

Judas didn’t mean for his decision to take the turn it did. He thought the conspirators just wanted to rough up the teacher. Send him and his followers a message. Make their point and move forward.

He learned the truth twelve hours after ID’ing Jesus in the garden’s hideaway spot. Those double-crossers want him dead!

Hearing the death sentence, Judas’ head reeled. His simple plan for moving on had spun out of control. Ah! With a sudden stab to his heart, he realized he was carrying blood money. Jesus had never done him any harm.  Yes, he had been disappointed in the man, but Jesus didn’t deserve death. This was more than he could endure. Then from his roiling emotional cauldron there bubbled up a way to clear his conscience:  Return the tainted coins.

His heart racing faster than his legs, Judas found the cohorts in conclave. Between gasps for breath, he confessed, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood” (Matthew 27:4 ESV).

What was that to them? Smirking, they told him it was his problem, not theirs. They got what they wanted. And no, they would not take back the coins. It meant blood money to them too, and the laws of their religion would not let them keep it. Judas, frustrated beyond comprehension, flung the thirty pieces of silver on the floor and ran out of the Temple. Unable, however, to throw away the guilt of his crime, Judas hanged himself.

“Thirty pieces of silver”
Burns on the traitor’s brain;
“Thirty pieces of silver!
Oh! it is hellish gain!”
(William Blane)

Like Lot in the previous blog (“Real Estate Disaster”), Judas didn’t mean for his life to end up as it did. And like Lot he didn’t mean for it not to.
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Real Estate Disaster

“Choose whatever parcel of my land you want, and it’s yours for the taking.”

What a dope! the nephew thought. I know my business associates and his are not getting along, but what a lousy business decision! The old man’s so filthy rich he’s lost his touch for making money. Only someone senile would give me the first option. I can’t believe he’s willing to pay this much for peace! Well, why should I give him a break? If the old man wants to settle disputes by decreasing his bottom line , who am I to stand in the way? Besides, I’ve been taught to respect my elders.

“Thanks, Uncle. I’ll take the eastern spread.”

The nephew figured he could make a bundle with the choice property. Its location was perfect. Yep, he was really going to get ahead now. One day he would be richer than his foolish uncle. The upstart knew a good deal when he saw it, and he was going to milk it for all it was worth.

Never mind that S-town was down that way. So what if  it had a wicked reputation and his uncle didn’t approve of that lifestyle? He would use S-town’s resources to serve his financial purposes and laugh all the way to the bank. Besides, nobody said he had to move there. Living in its outskirts would suit his plans quite well.

But time, the entrepreneur soon learned, is money. He was sure he would turn a higher and quicker profit if he lived within the city limits. That’s where most of the competition resided, and he had to keep his eyes and ears on them. His decision to move merely meant he was doing what was best for business.

Always on the alert for a business transaction, Lot was sitting at the city’s gate the evening that the two strangers approached. Quickly sizing them up, he realized these self-confident men knew their stuff. They had a certain aura about them. Figuring they could mean a lucrative deal, he insisted they spend the night at his house. After setting before them an impressive meal, Lot’s life spiraled downward.

The males of the city, young and old, surrounded his house, demanding he produce his visitors so that they could subject them to gang rape. Instead, Lot negotiated by offering his two virgin daughters carte blanche. When the townsmen rejected the trade, the strangers settled the matter. Using their supernatural powers, they struck the men with blindness.

At dawn these men on God’s mission forcibly took a reluctant Lot, his wife, and their daughters outside the city, warning them to run for their lives and not to look back. Something dreadful was about to happen, and it couldn’t until they were gone. With sulfur and fire God then destroyed the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah.

Lot’s wife, looking behind her at the destruction, became a pillar of salt. Why did she look back?

Was it simply female curiosity? Her daughters kept their eyes forward.

Was she longing for what she had left behind? For what she could no longer have? A nice house? Those friends? The party she was planning for the king?

She looked back because she was disobedient. Like Eve in the Garden of Eden, she did not believe God. She did not take him at His word. Lot’s wife did not think God really meant what His messengers said.

Lot didn’t mean for him and his daughters to live in a cave. He didn’t mean for his life to end up in a horrible mess. Every decision he made had been to ensure “the good life” as all along the way he asked himself “Will it make a profit?” instead of “Is it right?” Had it not been for Uncle Abraham’s intercession when things were coming to a head, Lot, too, would have burned to death in Sodom.

You may read this true story with all of its details in chapters 13, 14, 18, and 19 of Genesis in the Holy Bible.

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Surprise Ego Strokes

“Okay, do you want a softcover or a hardback?” I asked, flattered the woman wanted to buy my book. But I wasn’t expecting the impact of her answer.

“A hardback! I want to keep it.”

Suddenly, my emotions soared higher than the happiness that another person was buying my book. This woman had stroked my ego beyond her awareness. To tell me she wanted my book was one thing. Desiring it in a hardback propelled the sale to another sphere. I had not yet written my blog post “Durable by Design“; so there was no way she knew of my enduring love relationship with the hardback. However, Someone did know, and that Someone had used this woman as a conduit to tell me I was not the only one who preferred a hardback and that I had not been wrong to pay for its inclusion in my self-publishing package.  I knew it and He knew it.

He stroked my ego again on a recent Sunday morning when I stepped out of the garage in a red suit and matching hat. Yes, I wear a hat to church even though I am the only one. I am not trying to make a statement other than I love hats. My mother did and my daughter does and my granddaughters do. So maybe it’s genetic. Regardless, let me miss a few Sundays without one and I’ll hear a church member say, “Judy, where is your hat?” or “Judy, I miss your hat.” Once a man asked my husband, “Is your wife wearing a hat today?” Hearing an affirmative answer, the man declared, “All is well with the world.”

My own world improved while standing in front of the garage that Sunday after I lightheartedly called to my neighbor, “You’re doing such a good job washing your car, when you finish, you can do ours.”

“Oh, Mrs. Simon,” he grinned, “you’re beautiful!”

His comment unintentionally stroked my ego on three ascending levels. First, a female inherently likes to hear she is beautiful. Second, the eyes of a man young enough to be my son assessed me as beautiful. Third, he gently salved a childhood wound from my dysfunctional father-daughter relationship.

Was that why I never heard him say I was pretty?

He often said it of my curly blond-headed sister. I was eleven years older and I wasn’t jealous, but I wanted to hear him say it of me too. Wasn’t it natural for fathers to think all their daughters were pretty?

I hated the mirror’s reflection when I was a teenager, and I avoided it as much as possible. Yes, I was thankful God had blessed my face with not a pimple. For my part I was doing the best I knew how with my straight, limp brown hair and the sample of Tangee lipstick.

And there were times when I thought the end product wasn’t any worse than what I saw on some of my peers. But no matter how hard I tried, I never heard the stamp of approval ‘pretty.’ (Before the Door Closes, pp. 53-54)

“Beautiful” is better than “pretty,” my heart responded to the neighbor’s compliment.  He and the book purchaser had unwittingly traversed hidden passages in my life’s labyrinth. Their spontaneity had stroked my ego, but they could never understand what it  had meant to my emotional well-being.

“You’ll never know what that means to me,” a fresh friend emailed. No, I wouldn’t. All I did was give her a couple of magazines and suggest she look them over as a place to submit her writing.

Haven’t you, too, had the mysterious moment of  “You’ll never know what that means to me,” whether your lips sent it or your ears received it? Did you, like me, feel the event was orchestrated by Someone outside yourself? Someone who knows our secrets and the needs they conjure? Someone who tenderly touches them?

“God Moves in a Mysterious Way” was written by William Cowper, a contemporary of John Newton (composer of “Amazing Grace”). If anyone can identify the soloist, I would appreciate the information.


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Durable by Design

Daddy could not trust his legs and his eyes to keep him from falling. I remembered how proud he was years ago showing me how he had securely screwed the child safety gate into the doorjamb at the top of the basement steps.  ‘See,’ he said while shaking it with his hand, ‘that’s going to hold.’

Pitching his head toward my mother’s open bedroom door a few feet away, he added in code, ‘You never know, anybody could fall.’ Mama, no doubt, knew she was the ‘anybody’ he was trying to protect.

Now that anybody was Daddy. (Before the Door Closes, pp. 6-7)

Engrained in my father was the drive to make things last. He took meticulous care of everything he owned. Keeping within his means, he bought the best he could buy and looked for ways to improve it and extend its life.

In 2003 the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette ran a Sunday magazine feature of readers’ feedback on tangibles that last forever. Poking up like mismatches among mundane stoves and refrigerators and toasters were a thirty-nine-year-old cake tester and a forty-seven-year-old egg cooker. Topping their longevity, however, is my cast iron skillet that worked its way down from the hands of my husband’s grandmother to his mother’s to mine. Facing the facts, I know my  body by design will never last as long as even the skillet’s current age of a hundred and forty years. That does not mean durability is not important to me. For one thing it’s what I look for in books.

I grew up in an era when, if you were seen in the company of a paperback, you were shelved under the category of cheap. You were what the book represented: cheap pages, cheap binding, cheap content. A throwaway after it’s been used. It would never earn the reputation of durable quality that a hardback denoted.

Recognizing that the paperback, also known as softback and softcover, has now come into its own, so to speak, my heart will forever gravitate to the hardback. (I still use that term even though “hardcover” has wormed its way into the book vocabulary.)  I like the stability I see in a hardback, and I like the strength it emits when I touch it. I like to “unbutton” its dust jacket before I read it and then cloak it again until I’m ready to take my friend out for another excursion.

Whenever I order a used book on Amazon, I buy the hardback if it’s available. And I choose the oldest edition so that I can be as close to the author as possible.

A few days ago I received my latest friend, whose copyright date is estimated at 1900 or earlier. The spine’s lettering is gold-embossed. A snug sheet of vellum still protects the frontispiece and the title page. I welcomed the previous owner’s name stamped on one of the leaves. I receive him as a kindred spirit who has shared my interests.  With Internet research I can also give Frank N. Kik a face and more.

This book, Moses: The Servant of God,by F. B. Meyer endured longer than Dr. Kik and, by the looks of it, will be abiding in my bookcase when my own earthly life is over. But I don’t believe that gives credence to the English writer William Hazlitt’s quotation, “Words are the only things that last forever.” Just this past Thursday, two seven-year-olds (one boy and one girl) told me they had never heard of a Twinkie.

The Things That Last” is a blog by Fr Bede, OSB. Part of his opening prayer says, “It is only the things which find their beginning and end in God that truly last – those things which are True, Good, Beautiful, and Holy.”

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Father Manifestation

“What’s for supper?” my husband asked, peering into the kitchen. That was never a simple, face-value question. To me it meant I was not meeting his expectations. I wasn’t going fast enough for him. In the escalating self-inflicted irritation, I picked up my pace from sink to refrigerator to stove to counter to the cookbook and back to the stove.

That day my husband must have lingered a little too long at the kitchen bar, because he followed up with another question. “What did you think I was saying when I asked you that?”

With my eyes fixated on stirring the pot, I answered truthfully. “You were saying, ‘I’m hungry. Hurry up.'”

Immediately, I felt my husband’s body beside mine at the stove. “Judy, in our forty-eight years of marriage, I never thought that. Not once.”

How had I been so wrong for so long? Instinctively I traced the problem back to my father. In psychological terms I had been acting in the Parent part of me. According to psychiatrist Eric Berne, each of us is always acting in one of three ego states: Parent, Adult, Child. My husband’s simple “What’s for supper?” had stimulated a conditioning embedded in me by my father. Everything had to be done in a hurry. He could not be kept waiting. Even when he had driven me to a store on the morning of my wedding, my father told me to “hurry up” as I dashed from his car. (I revealed it and other father-influenced “hurry” incidents in Before the Door Closes.)

Whenever I think about having misunderstood my husband’s innocent question for almost half a century, I remember Jesus’ emotional reply after one of the apostles asked Him to show them the Father:  “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?” (John 14:9 ESV).

What kind of Father did Jesus manifest? Stuart Townend shared his enlightenment when he composed “How Deep the Father’s Love for Us.”

The Son of God displayed to the world the Father’s sacrifice of love in His quest for a personal relationship with you and me. We cannot choose our earthly fathers, but we can choose God the Father.


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Trash Triage

Trash can 2He was sixty-one and at his job when he asked the morning newspaper boy to help him throw it in the dumpster (http://tampa.cbslocal.com/2014/04/03/housing-complex-clerk-mistakes-suicide-jumpers-body-for-april-fools-prank/). The ninety-six-year-old woman’s body hadn’t appeared human. To him she looked like a mannequin. A dummy.

The surgeon made a similar operating assessment when my friend’s father had been ambulanced from a nursing home with a fractured femur. Expecting a routine consult with the doctor prior to surgery, the daughter left the hospital at ten that night and returned at seven the next morning. The minutes ticked by. One by one the heavy hours stacked up. Where was he? Why didn’t he come?

At five-thirty the daughter was beside herself as orderlies wheeled her elderly father out of the room and she caught a glimpse of the doctor. Confronted with her consternation, he explained, “I did not come by because 90 percent of patients with dementia never have anyone with them.”

All too sadly his informed statistic mirrors society’s devaluation of the demented elderly. That 90 percent of them are presented to the medical community as throwaways is a result built family by family. Child by child. Son by son. Daughter by daughter.

What are we thinking? Father doesn’t know who I am? Mother doesn’t remember my name? They don’t know me; so what’s the point?

Why do we make love conditional? Did our parents make it conditional when we did not know their names? when we could not say words? In our helplessness didn’t we sense self-worth through the security of a swaddling blanket, the contentment of cuddling, the soothing sound of a lullaby? They imprinted personal value. We did not have to do anything or be anything except ourselves. Unadulterated.

My father, too, was diagnosed with dementia. His was mania manufactured by the misuse and overuse of antipsychotic drugs. (See http://www.amazon.com/Before-Door-Closes-Daughters-Alcoholic/dp/1490808949/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1396716040&sr=1-1&keywords=judith+hall+simon.) My success in getting the mind-altering drugs eliminated did not restore the spark in my father’s voice that had belonged to him before he was made a zombie and cast off as nursing facility waste. I missed hearing that unique part of him the rest of his life.

The drugs, taking their toll, also left my father’s mental function vacillating between clear and unclear. On one of his hazy days, Daddy asked me, “Who are you?”

“Judy.”

“That’s what I thought. You’re the one who takes care of me.”

I’ll remember that the rest of my life.

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Out of Order

In commenting on my previous post, “The All-Weather Friend,” Carolyn revealed that she learned from classmates after she was grown they had similar stories to mine. She regrets not knowing their secret earlier so that she could have been of support at the time.

Her regret reminded me of André Auw’s poem “Out of Order,”  which tells of a little boy wanting to cry because he couldn’t get the popcorn machine to release the popcorn it held. He didn’t understand that his desire and his money were not enough to make the broken machine work. The poem then concludes:

And Lord, I too felt like weeping, weeping for
people who have become locked in,
jammed, broken machines filled with
goodness that other people need and
want and yet will never come to enjoy,
because somehow, somewhere,
something has gone wrong inside.

Many lives cloister wounded feelings, bruising as easily as magnolia petals. We do not always recognize these mangled souls. We may meet them only briefly. In a crowded store. At the gas pump. During a “move on” business call.

A patient word, a thumbs-up gesture, a simple thank you to these nameless victims may be enough salve for them to make it through another day. And what’s the price? A passing moment of stepping outside ourselves.

But what about the life who is harboring undeserved hurts? You do not have to pass them on. You have the power to break the cycle. You can help others not to be out of order too!
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The All-Weather Friend

“I was ‘startled,’ Judy, to receive your book,” my friend emailed me. “You know, we just don’t know people, do we?”

She was one of three out-of-state friends I surprised with a copy of Before the Door Closes: A Daughter’s Journey with Her Alcoholic Father. They had had no inkling of my father’s alcoholism. The friendships were formed and maintained for decades without the trust of my shameful secret. I wouldn’t chance losing a friend who knew the whole truth about me.

Growing up, I wanted to have a best friend. But how could I start? I couldn’t invite anyone to my house. Daddy might be drunk.

The closest I got to having my desire for a bosom buddy was with my college roommate. Whenever we listed our preference for the next semester, I was afraid she would choose someone else. She liked me well enough, though, to stick with me for four years. But if she had known I was the daughter of an alcoholic, would that have changed her mind?

Her relationship with her father was totally different. He drove her back to college after the summer breaks. On one of those trips, she told me, he held her hand all the way from Florida to Tennessee. Strange! My father had never as much as put his arm around my shoulder.

In my forties I developed another close friendship. Her family had ties to my teenage neighborhood. Maybe she knew about my father’s history of alcoholism. I don’t know. We never talked of it, but we had a good time sharing stories about our children over lunch every few months. Then one day her name came up in a conversation with two other people. One of them said, “She is Judy’s friend that I took.” I wasn’t shocked. I had noticed the change in her and was glad I did not need to excuse it anymore.

But the friend who was emailing me about my book gift refused to read it until she laid down her ground rule: “Before I begin, I want to say I love you as a sister in Christ and as a person.”

“A friend loves at all times” (Proverbs 17:17).
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