Yes, that’s the Matthew in the Bible, so if you’re not “into” the Bible you might be feeling turned off right now. However, I encourage you, dare you even, to be open-minded and see what I have to say. I’ve already declared myself in previous blogs as “spiritual”, but I think I’ve also shown you that I’m not “holier than thou” and that I have a great sense of humor. So come along for the ride.
I was asked to do a reflection on this Bible verse for a candlelight service that was part of a retreat. No guidelines were given other than I had about seven minutes to speak. So I looked up the verse in the Bible to get the exact words. In my version it went like this:
“Now I say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it.”
So I sat back and I thought about Peter. He’s depicted in the Bible as rather an impetuous person, someone who led with his impulses and instincts rather than his brain. Hot-headed might be another way to put it. He’s quite a lot like many of us. I know he’s most definitely like me.
If I had a button to access that governed my actions it would probably be labeled “bulldozer”. I’ve already admitted several times that I’m a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants person. I can still act without thinking things through clearly, throwing myself headlong and with great enthusiasm into whatever the latest project is. Can any of you identify?
Jesus was working with what he had available at the time and I find it interesting that he chose everyday, normal people to be his disciples. He didn’t pick out the learned or the scholarly. He picked fishermen and tax collectors, and during his day-to-day life he associated with the locals and even the “low lifers”.
I’m personally very grateful for that. It allows me, and many others I believe, to identify with these people and realize that if they were worthy then perhaps I too am worthy. If they could sit and talk and eat with Christ then maybe I can get close to him too.
And so Christ chose Peter, an imperfect man, to become the first leader of his church. Peter’s original name was Simon, but Christ renamed him Peter, which means “rock”. With that in mind I began thinking about this reflection and what I wanted to say. As I tossed the word “rock” around in my head, trying to relate it to my own experience, I began to smile.
You see, I am in a recovery program and when I stumbled upon it some thirty years ago, I heard the phrase “rock bottom” used frequently. It means that each person, before they can turn their life around, has to plummet to the very depths. He or she has to arrive at a point of despair and then be willing to surrender totally. And out of that despair,he or she needs to find a certain level of humility laced with a goodly dose of courage in order to ask for help.
So “rock bottom” tends to have a rather negative meaning attached to it. It’s kind of like a necessary evil. It’s a really bad, difficult place one has to get to before any good can come about. But the more I thought about it I realized that reaching rock bottom could be viewed very differently. Rock bottom could be seen as a place of firmness, of stability, and of strength. But before getting down to that base line of solid rock I had to clear away all the mud and filth and muck of my previous lifestyle.
In Ephesians 4:17-19 (yes, I’m going to quote a bit more Bible!!), Paul encourages us to turn our backs on our old way of life. "….you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds; darkened in understanding, alienated from the life of God ……… they have become callous and have handed themselves over to licentiousness for the practice of every kind of impurity to excess.”
Ouch!! I don’t know about any of you, but that struck a chord with me. That was how I was living before I turned my life around. So I had to do some house-cleaning. I had to change old behaviors and attitudes. I had to look into all the nooks and crannies, all the hidden recesses, and dig out all those dark secrets that I had been carrying around for years and throw them out. It reminded me of a song back in the sixties or seventies (may have been Kenny Rogers) that talked about the skeletons that we keep “chained to the walls of the dungeons in our minds”. Once this was done I had my firm rock on which I could build my new life.
Therefore just as Christ called upon Peter to be the rock upon which he intended to build his church (and “church” for those of you who do not worship in a specific religion can mean whatever decent way of life you are called to live), so I believe he calls upon each and every one of us to become that rock. Let’s keep that in mind. Let’s be encouraged to be decent human beings. Let’s keep our house clean and that rock cleared of debris so that Christ can use us to his purpose. Let’s be strong with each other so that “all the powers of hell will not conquer (us).”
I am totally forcing myself through a dark grey cloud at this moment, making my fingers push across the keys on my laptop. Unfortunately the weather isn’t helping. It’s grey and miserable out there and has been since yesterday.
There’s a voice in my head that belongs to perky Ms. Cheerleader (one of the many “committee members” who inhabit my brain!!), saying over and over, “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade”. A snarling voice that belongs to another committee member, Mr. Censor, throws back at her, “what if I don’t want to make lemonade!!!”.
If what I am feeling right now is akin to depression I really empathize with those suffering from that disease. I have cried at least a dozen times since yesterday evening. I have absolutely no energy or enthusiasm whatsoever. So what bought this on, you are wondering? Here goes.
You remember I got stung by a wasp (we’re now thinking possibly a hornet) twelve days ago? This was Lemon #1, and that story is in a blog I wrote about eight days ago. Well I was put on antibiotics for that and they have a “depressing” effect on my system. Not too bad, but I wasn’t my usual happy-go-lucky self. Had to work at being upbeat. Lemon #2.
Last weekend was a busy, fun filled time: gardening, attending a parish picnic, and riding to St. Augustine on our beloved Harley. However, by Sunday I noticed that my right index finger was a little tender around the lower and left nail area. I saw that I had a “hang nail”, dropped a little alcohol on it, and got on with my day. By Monday morning it was reddish and a little swollen. So I applied more alcohol and decided if it got worse I would see my doctor. I did not know that this was Lemon #3 developing.
Serendipity came that evening in the form of my second pottery class. The three pieces I had created two weeks prior were nicely dried and ready for glazing. I already wrote a blog about this on Monday evening. What I didn’t write in there was that my husband was packing for a business trip that evening and the “gods” were conspiring against him and consequently creating some aggravation and irritation between us – rather like “pre-deployment bitching”. But that’s a whole other story (and Lemon #4!); I’m just painting background here!
On Tuesday morning The Finger is throbbing. After having kissed and made up, Richard left for the airport and I left for a cat scan. It was to be “with contrast” and so entailed the need for an IV. I am not going into details. Just accept that my left hand was “butchered” in an attempt to get an IV in – I almost came off the table and I was screaming through clenched teeth! Lemon #5.
Having got through that trauma, I went and sat in Starbucks for about two hours drinking green tea, breathing, and reading a book. I had a lunch date with a girlfriend that was the most God-ordered thing that happened to me that day. Everything about lunch with Sue was totally serendipitous and allowed me to forget The Finger for a while.
As I drove home I became very aware of the increased throbbing in The Finger. It also looked rather like a small light bulb, glowing red and radiating heat. I prayed that it would explode so that whatever was going on inside would get outside! I went straight to my doctor’s office, and he tried very hard for twenty minutes to gently cause the prayed for explosion, but to no avail.
He decided that even though I was already on antibiotics for the sting, I needed something more potent. After ascertaining that I was headed straight home, he administered a “level three” antibiotic, made sure I had some pain killers, made an appointment to check on it in two days time, and sent me home. I crawled in the front door just before someone threw a switch and sucked out every ounce of energy and enthusiasm that lived inside my body. Lemon #6.
For the next twenty four hours I felt like a grey blob. I cried a lot. I felt as though someone or something was jut pushing down on me, suppressing any joy that I might feel. I was grateful that I had lunch scheduled with Kathi next day and that I had a massage on the books that afternoon. By the time I came out I felt somewhat better – thank you my massage-angel Michael!
I woke on Thursday (yesterday) feeling as though I had been allowed back into my “normal” body, although I was aware that maybe that level three shot had blown my defenses and I was manifesting a yeast infection! Lemon #7. However I felt ready for the day and had at least two ideas for articles that I was going to write when I got home after the doctor’s appointment. But, when he saw my finger Dr. W. wasn’t totally happy and said, yes it was making progress but he wanted to zap me with another level three. Lemon #8.
I crawled home after my appointment having stopped off to get my yeast infection meds and getting trapped in the store by an ungodly storm. I felt the energy and enthusiasm draining out of me again, and I crashed for three and a half hours on the couch. I cried a lot again last night, and some more this morning. Then I made a command decision: this depression, even though temporary, was not going to have a hold of me any more!
So, even though I don’t feel like making lemonade with all those lemons, I am writing. I will not allow it to rob me of that joy. And even though I don’t want to make lemonade, I can at least see that there were some serendipitous moments granted me in the mix, and for those I am truly grateful. They gave me the intermittent strength to make it from one lemon to the next!!