Blogging the Bible: Jonah and the Whale

Humpback Whale, Megaptera novaeangliae 29 July 2010

I’ve always seen the story of Jonah and the whale as a strange and rather far-fetched consequence of running from God’s calling.  But now I see it as a beautiful lesson in forgiveness, and God’s equal bounty of love, and of what incredible lengths God will go to in order to teach his children about mercy.

Here’s the basic premise:  Jonah’s a prophet, and a good dude, but one day God asks him to travel to Nineveh to tell the wicked people to repent.  Jonah’s like “Those people?  Those rotten, stinking Gentiles that spit on our religion and hate our ways and hurt their own women and children?  No thanks.”  So he runs off to a sailboat and thinks he can hide, but the seas grow crazy wild.  Finally Jonah realizes God doesn’t do hiding places, so he tells the crew to throw him over.  They all get scared to death but end up thinking God is one big-bad motha, and Jonah ends up water-bound.  But instead of drowning, Jonah is swallowed up by a big fish-like thing, and ends up miraculously alive in a bubble of whale intestines where he can apparently breathe.  I’m not sure about the logistics of all this, but if Jesus can walk on water I’m sure people can survive in stomach-acid if God commands it.  So for three days Jonah just floats around in there, praising God for his salvation and for God’s imminent glory, I’m sure all the while stinking like cooked cabbage.

Three days later the fish spits him out on dry land, and Jonah’s response is, “Fine, Lord.  I’ll go.”  So he travels to Nineveh for a bath and a proclamation that their nation will be ruined if they don’t repent.  He’s not really serious about the repentance part.  It’s more of a “You slimeballs will someday rot in hell and I can’t wait to tell my girlfriend back home that I got to say this to you people” type of thing.  But miraculously, the people believe him.  Probably because if they do, he’ll leave, and ain’t nobody want to hang around a dude that smells like chewed up fish intestines. So they all bow down and fast and declare allegiance to God, giving up their evil ways and asking God to look upon them with compassion. And when God hears their heartfelt prayers, he did not ruin their nation and bring about destruction and ends up sparing the people.

Now at this point Jonah’s looking around at all the happy slimeballs like Wait a second. I just told these people off and now I have to eat those words?  They are terrible and evil and you’re just going to wipe them all clean like it was nothing? I like it that God asks him whether he has the right to be angry about this and Jonah’s like “heck yes I do.”  Then he goes off somewhere in the city square, sits down, and sulks.

So as Jonah’s sitting there throwing a tantrum, the Lord creates a vine around him to shield him from the sun, which makes Jonah happy, but then a worm comes along and eats it, and Jonah’s generally pissy about the whole thing.  Then God basically says “you’re concerned about this vine, which sprang up quickly and died quickly, but you don’t care about the entire nation of Nineveh?”  Then Jonah doesn’t get a chance to answer because the book ends.

See? So much more than a whale.

I see myself more in Jonah than most characters in the Bible.  I am stubborn, and I don’t always want to follow God’s commands.  Like Jonah, I see myself as special – not sinful and hateful and terrible like those people over there. And if God called me to minister to those people over there, I’d be busy doing my hair and making pot roast and going on vacation and singing in church. What’s it going to take for me to listen to God’s plan for my life?  How far will God go to reach me? When will those people over there be rated as equal to me? I turn to those people over there and my heart is filled with hate.  I would never do what they do.  I would never turn from God so far.

I am not them.

And so life throws me overboard.  And I fall so very far, and so deep. But from the depths of the grave.  From the heart of the sea.  From the hurling arm of God into the deep waters, “where the currents swirled about me, all your waves and breakers swept over me. . . The engulfing waters threatened me, the deep surrounded me, seaweed was wrapped around my head.  To the roots of the mountains I sank down, the earth beneath barred me in, but you brought my life up from the pit.” Jonah 2.

And I’m alive.  Somehow in this swirling mass of death I’m caught in a strange pocket of life.  Long enough to breathe.  Long enough to raise my arms in praise.  Long enough to sense a form of leveling, and realize that I am not special.  Those people over there are just as desperate for God as I am, and they are just as worthy of salvation.

Oh, Jonah.  Israel is not the only nation worth loving.  And we, as the body of Christ, are not the only people worth the resurrection.  Everyone, even those deeply rooted in sin and taken over by evil –those who are lost and broken and tired – they are worth reaching.  They are worth redeeming.  Husbands who cheat on their wives.  Executives who skim the margins.  Men who rape and women who hurt and those groups that snarl hate and venom in the name of God.  Republicans and Abortion Clinics and Liberal Media and George Bush and the whole net of us humankind – God’s healing mercy is for us all.

Sometimes it takes sinking in a deep black hole, when life seems to be ebbing way, to set our sights in the right direction. God has to literally build a vine and dry it up, cause the seas to rise and fall – forcing us to put our pride aside and realize that all people get a hall pass at grace.

But Lord, they don’t deserve it, I scream. I sit in disbelief that my life has been filled with worship and their life was filled with decay and at the end we all end up in the same place.  And instead of being gracious about it I turn up my nose and scowl.  I doubt God’s compassion is equal.  I am angry that they are welcomed into the kingdom.  I feel I’ve somehow earned it. And when God asks if I have that right, I’m honest.  “Yes, Lord.  I’m angry enough to die.”

But brothers, we are all in this together.  Those people over there and us.  We’re all trapped together in one stinking whale-belly of a life, and salvation abounds.


Humpback Whale, Megaptera novaeangliae 29 July 2010

Posted in Blog the Bible, Inspirational, Religion | Tagged , , , , | 12 Comments

Wednesday Playlist

5771025070_bddb7e2ec6There are few mediums in art that invoke immediate emotion.  Pictures, whether painted in oil or shot through a lens, may or may not bring up feelings of peace, or nostalgia, or intrigue. Words can move mountains, but it takes a bit of work on behalf of the reader.  But music.  From the first moment you hear the fiddle, or the beat of the drums, or the tuning of the violins – it draws energy and sucks emotions and you’re left breathless at the end.  I honestly can’t imagine life without it, and if I were deaf I’d have to create imaginary songs in my head just to survive.  Blind I could do, but please Lord Jesus don’t take away my music.

This can cause problems for my household, since many instructions come out of my brain in song, and we often have impromptu dance parties.  And I can’t stand cheesy children’s songs, so instead of listening to Itsy Bitsy Spider we bust it down with Natasha Bedingfield.  I ain’t gonna lie.  I’ve got a pocket full of sunshine. I really do. And if I have to tolerate a Taylor Swift song now and again, who am I to pick and choose what music my daughter is attracted to?  After all, we love what we love.

Music combines harmony and rhythm and poetry, so in that sense I believe it’s the most brilliant of all the art mediums.  I love the fact that you can be transformed so instantly, like our bodies were designed to take it in.  Even if your limbs can’t dance your eyes will, and your fingers will twitch, and your feet will start tapping with the beat.  Because our lives are on one translucent string until death and music is what makes that string vibrate with ecstasy.  It’s brilliant and simple and classic all at the same time, and I thank God for all that joy wrapped up inside four minutes.

On that note, here is my most recent play list.

  • Red Hands, by Walk off the Earth
  • Stars, by Grace Potter & the Nocturnals
  • Merry Go Round, by Kacey Musgraves
  • 1957, by Milo Greene
  • 93 Million Miles, by Jason Mraz
  • Come on Get Higher, by Matt Nathanson
  • I Was Gonna Marry You, by Tristan Prettyman
  • Hero, by Family of the Year
  • It’s Time, by Imagine Dragons
  • Lego House, by Ed Sheeren
  • Sing Loud, by Alpha Rev
  • Mirrors, by Justin Timberlake
  • Battle Scars, by Lupe Fiasco & Guy Sebastian

What is your current favorite song that you repeat over and over and can’t get out of your head?


Music - an art for itself - Headphones and music notes / musical notation system

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Pearls of death: a poem


The plastic curves, they pant

in tulle and diamonds bright

For kitchens gleaming of soapstone

Buying and baking and wasting.

It’s a water-soaked culture

and fear is a droplet of oil

so blend and buy and lust and smile

sail on past the wrinkled lines.

Sleep is hard and mean and honest

It forces waking from dreams of white

Drug it where it bleeds clean

Back to fluff and saccharine.

Freedom’s not a pinning board

Where all is neat and robin blue

It’s standing under columns wide

with open, dripping hearts

where sprinklers click click back and forth

Soaking the stilettos.

We’re all equal, she and I

The one who can’t get off the lines

The one who says she’ll finally get clean

The one who prays to Jesus.

In the waiting room of the psyche ward

or in the house of all that’s holy

Money’s no good here, my friends

Ain’t nobody cares about expensive shoes

or breakfast at tiffany’s.

Be gone, ye life of privilege

You fool me with your opulence

The rusty tin of jewels

Choking my neck whilst nearest death,


Rip off the pearls

photo credit:

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The Perfume Basket


A few months back, my son dropped my bottle of perfume on the bathroom floor, and rose-scented shards littered the tile.  So off I went to Nordstrom to replace it.  I stood there for hours smelling and wafting and scrunching up my nose. Finally I chose one, and as I was paying, the saleslady said she would put my name in a drawing for a gift basket.  Yes, yes.  Something with an $800 value.  Lots of designer fragrances.  I never win anything, lady, so have fun with that.

Fast forward to the following week.  I get a phone call from Nordstrom that says I won.  I stood there in the kitchen, in the middle of loading the dishwasher with a dumb look on my face, speechless.  “Come by and get it any time,” she prattled on.

That afternoon, with two kids in tow, I trudged to Nordstrom to pick it up.  For some reason, I was afraid they would think I was lying about winning, or that it wasn’t really mine.  The minute they placed that shrink-wrapped basket in my greedy little hands, I told my kids to jump into hyper speed and we bolted back to the car.  I wouldn’t even stop at the grocery store on the way home.  I’m sitting on real value here, people, and it needed to be safe on my bathroom counter.

When I got home, I took my time in unwrapping it.  Bottle after bottle was arranged inside a Jimmy Choo shoebox.  Tall and short and heavy and lacy.  Fruity and musky and spicy and soft.  Every perfume had their own emotion, and their own set of colors and meaning.  I felt so guilty, like there was no way I deserved all this value.  I’d save them for gifts, send them to friends, and select one I really loved.

But I didn’t.  I kept them all. 

At first I just sprayed some in the air, or squirted a dab on my arm before church.  But they go bad in two years, and I have all these bottles, and why not use them to their fullest?  What’s the good of saving them and not enjoying them?  So I began my perfume campaign. When friends came over, I’d march them to the bathroom and encourage them to shower themselves in Flowerbomb.  When I feel particularly down, I spray Prada on the pillows.  After my bath, Versace is liberally applied.  I use Chanel as my interior car fragrance, and when the bathroom smells particularly stale, there is always Gucci to make things right again.  You’ll never see such liberal application of Burberry in all your born days.

It’s been magical.

Perfume will never again have the same meaning that it does in this season in my life.  I totally get why Mary anointed the feet of Jesus with rich oils, and why the wise men brought the child of God frankincense and myrrh, both prized for their alluring fragrance.  They were all gifts fit for a King.

I’m no queen, but I have felt so rich. I’m keeping the bottles for my daughter as a testament to His glory, and to the power of our senses, and to explain that in the darkest of days, when the sun hasn’t yet risen, there is power in unexplained gifts, and reminders of beauty.  There is indeed a story woven into all things. But most importantly, the wisdom of the ages:

There ain’t nothin a little Chanel won’t fix. 

Photo credit:

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Odd and Curious Thoughts of the Week

(1) In our house, we can’t say the words stupid, dumb, or hate.  Which is why we don’t have cable television and ban Fox News. Today, however, I managed to say all three words in one sentence with regard to a jar of pesto I couldn’t open. I’m an excellent example.

(2) For a Girl Scout project, my daughter and I were looking for a quote on responsibility that was written by a woman.  I was all “Look! Here’s one by Eleanor Roosevelt!” but my daughter just shrugged like I was some old fart.  “This! This!” she said as she pointed to the computer screen.  So here we go off to girl scouts, armed with wisdom from Sandra Bullock.

(3) I ordered a salad today at lunch.  But instead of grilled chicken, I wanted tempura chicken that was offered atop a different salad.  This extraordinary and very unique change completely baffled the waitress, who whispered something to a manager in hushed tones like I had asked for cocaine-laced carrots.  The manager nodded, but the waitress kept raising her hands, like “How?  How can I possibly enter this into the computer?  Why is this woman doing this to me? What’s with all the changes?”  At this point I’m like, Oh sweet thing. If it’s this stressful I’ll just have a burger. Some people need some real challenges in their life.

(4) My trainer says that great abs are composed of 80% diet and 20% exercise, which begs the question why we are doing all this work for twenty measly percent.  We might as well forget the crunches altogether and just all go out for salads.

(5) When ordering salad, order the tempura chicken.  It’s a fun little game I now play.  It’s for her own good.  I’m like a life coach.

(6) I applied for a job online today.  One of the questions asked if I had been disciplined, disbarred, fired, murdered someone, consumed battery acid, or some other bad things I blew past and simply answered yes to.  WHAT?  I answered YES? Why isn’t this back button working?  Why is there an error message?  I then had to call the HR Department and explain my mistake to an intake specialist who found my state of panic simply hilarious.  It’s not funny if you’re the one admitting murder, lady.

(7) I was at the mall today and had thirty minutes to waste before I met a lady I didn’t know for lunch.  Since I barely did my make-up this morning, and I happened to be at the make-up counter, I asked her to do a little touch-up.  The employee at a mac counter was all “let me make your eyes pop” and I just nodded like “well that sounds fun” but then I began to ask myself all sorts of questions like “what’s with all the black?” or “dude that seems like a lot of mascara for a pale blond girl.” When I left and looked in the mirror, I looked like a cross between RuPaul and Twiggy.  I sat in my car for the remainder of aforementioned free time furiously rubbing my eyes with tissues, praying the lady I was meeting at lunch was nearsighted.

(8)  They make camouflage in pink now, I noticed.  Why?  Is it supposed to be for the ladies?  Do women run around in pink fields hunting unicorns?  And if so, they need to be disguised?  The last time I went hunting in cotton candy forests I just used my magical powers to turn into a gumdrop.

(9) My 2-year-old son pulled my daughter’s hair and she flared back in rage.  “Would YOU like it if I pulled YOUR hair?” she asked.  He sat there for a minute, like she was daring him to skip school and go get a tattoo.  “Do it,” he said with a grin.  You should have seen the look on my daughter’s face. Awesome.

(10)                 I really do want to shoot the person who developed daylight savings time.  Trying to put two kids to bed when it’s light outside is impossible, and infuriating, and time changes are so irrelevant.  But then I’d have to legitimately say yes to the online job application question regarding murder.  Unless this person happened to be in a pink forest, and I was wearing camo, and then no one would ever know. 

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I had a dream a few months back that I was dangling on a roller coaster, my hands gripping the sides of a drop-off that went straight down into blackness.  I was in my car with my children, for heaven’s sakes.  I couldn’t risk their lives letting my clunky Chevy Tahoe loose on these metal tracks.  What kind of mother would let go? I couldn’t tell if my car was strapped in or if I would fly off into the cold air.  Where would I land?  Who would provide for them?  What would I do?  Help, Lord!

I shrieked in fear as I sat up straight in bed in a hot, panicked sweat. I have given my life in service for you, Lord, and this is the payback I get?  This is my reward for all those youth mission trips and church services and solos?  Is this really happening? It felt like I just got kicked in the gut, and yet when I curled over to seek some relief, the blows just kept coming.  All I could feel was hurt.  A deep and immense and crazy hurt that I’ve never before experienced.  Worse than cancer.  Worse than my abdominal infection. Worse than death itself. It was as if all the darkness in the world was hurling toward me at once, and it entered my bloodstream like a bad drug.  I was swept under at the sheer the weight of it and was so extremely uncomfortable that I wanted to peel off my own skin.  But I couldn’t, so I just curled up and clenched my teeth, and begged for mercy, and made no coherent sense for months.  And now I’m dangling off a cliff with white-knuckles and I’m a little pissed about it, if you want to know the truth, because I so don’t deserve this.

I’ve lived my whole life professing my faith in God, that he is the ruler and owner and molder of my soul.  I’ve nodded in response to picking up the cross and following Jesus and felt in all earnestness that I was a good believer.  Kind of like most people do on Sundays, before they go home and continue their natural and sinful natures.  And yet here I am, and now it’s happening, and I’m finally tested.   The stability on earth that I clung to with my bare hands shattered and I was dangling on the edge in fear, not trusting God would catch me.  And not only did I lack faith, but I had the audacity to challenge God’s plan, like I put my payments in the God vending machine all these years but all I got out was this crappy mess.  I was such a damn fool.  Or rather, I was blind to what God was really trying to show me.

Now I see more clearly.   What’s so beautiful is that this is precisely my payback for years of loving Him. A realization that I had it wrong, and I wasn’t fully submitting, and all I have on this earth is a cartoon mirage.   Jesus was holding out a hand in my personal crisis to say “Follow me. ”  I could have just said don’t-mind-if-I-do, or thanks, man, or even Cool. My life on this earth is one empty vessel of saggy skin that will rot into the earth, but my soul exists for Your glory, and this is a chance to live into it.  I could have said all sorts of lofty things, but I didn’t.  Instead, I screamed like a girl and asked God to somehow put my Tahoe in reverse.  I basically said to Jesus, “You’re a great teacher, and I’ll take what I think applies to me, but this total submission thing?  This fall-off-a-cliff dependence?  That’s a good one, dude.  Now let’s quit with all the crazy-talk.  I want my old life back.”

I see now what I could not before.  That my old life wasn’t life-giving.  It was full of decay, and stagnant water, and salt that had lost its flavor.  I was saying all the right words about faith and thinking I was in the right camp, like I could fit God within the walls of my upper-middle class lifestyle and would give God my budget surplus.  I liked to go to bible study and talk about Godly things and sit on the front row to be entertained, but the real lesson of Christ?  The die to self part?  Well I’d find time for that later, after dinner and bathtime and lunches and writing and friends and phone calls and facebook and photo sessions and, well, me.  I’d find time for that after me.

But God doesn’t do surplus. He won’t accept lukewarm, or dependence when it’s easy, or prayers only on Sundays.  He doesn’t believe all religions are created equal or we can just slide by unnoticed or half-ass our way to salvation by putting ourselves first.

We have to let it all go.  Not because our palms are sweaty and we just can’t hold on any longer, but because we want to.  And friends, there is joy in submission.  Joy that envelops fear, and pain, and deep, dark wounds.  Joy that frees us from the beating and torture and darkness that penetrates.  It’s in these moments where you have nothing else to hold onto but God himself, when you see His amazing grace mostly clearly. A smile starts to crack, and then it widens, and joy enters in.

So here I am, starting over.  It’s liberating, in a way, to see how God works.  To see how He uses people and circumstances and turns bad into good for the sake of His glory.  And the fact that I can be of some service in the great commission is fascinating and humbling and makes me want to fall down in reverence with tears streaming down these saggy human cheeks.

Lord, thank you for this pain.  With every fiber of my being I scream to the heavens a resounding and echoing thank you, for I have finally let go, and I trust you’ve got this, and I am finally free.   If my luck holds out, I won’t get bugs in my teeth on the way down.



Millenium Force

Posted in Inspirational, Love, Religion, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 14 Comments

Fan Mail


So the big important news this week was that Taylor Swift’s fan mail was found unopened in a dumpster.  All those glittery heart raspberry letters wasted, dumped by the used syringes and old saggy diapers.  Someone found them, and THANK HEAVENS alerted the appropriate authorities.  It just really makes me teary-eyed that we Americans [that haven’t a clue about starvation or submission or selflessness or hunger or political issues] stand up for what’s right. Because these letters were found, ya’ll. It’s a miracle. 

So it made me think about what it would be like to get a bunch of fan mail from 14-year-old girls that include pictures of their grandmothers and boyfriends and are sprayed eerily with Bath & Body Works perfume.   I mean, who really likes the smell of sun-ripened raspberry? I say no one.  In an imaginary world, letters to me would go something like this:

Yeah so Amanda:

I like it when you write about your kids throwing up, so if you could tone it down with the Jesus references that’d be cool.  K?

My Dearest Amanda,

Get over yourself.  My kids were killed in a horrific accident and here you go rambling about how you can’t find concealer to cover up your dark under-eye circles and how whiny-bad your cute little life is.  Are your children alive?  Okay then. Find some priorities.  Included with this letter is a bottle of Raspberry room spray to remind you to be freaking happy about your life.

Manda Panda,

I’m 13 years old and live in Nebraska and I just don’t understand all these references to macaroni and cheese, peas, baking bread, and Neimans.  One minute you’re all fun and bubbly and then you’re all “let’s rise from the ashes” and “oh, the suffering.”  And OMG did you really include a recipe for bran muffins? How old are you? Can you have a theme or something? Because I’m getting confused.  #hillpenblog #randomnthoughtsareboring #macaronirocks #ilovehashtags #callme #sunripenedraspberry #Gohuskies!


I think your photo is manufactured and you’re really a robot. Can you meet me Friday in person so we can pick berries together and I can see if you have real teeth?  I’ll borrow a car and we can eat at ihop after.

For the record, I’d be so happy to get these letters to I could personally respond.  After wading through the glitter, I’d write this:

My dear friend:

I hate raspberries.  I don’t like the way they taste or the way they feel in my mouth and if I’m forced to smell one more sun-ripened raspberry I’m going postal on you and writing about squirrels for the rest of eternity.  You’ll have to go through some sort of unsubscribing process, which would take you like 2-3 long minutes.  You want that?  Huh?

And about Jesus.  Well, he’s a dear friend and rules my life and carries me on days I can’t stand, or bake bread, or cover up the circles.  So it’s hard not to talk about Jesus, or God the Father, or how the holy spirit fills up my empty spaces.

But now all I feel is bad because I went crazy on you about raspberries.  And you were so nice to send me the scratch-and-sniff stickers.  Just for being so hateful I’m eating a handful of them right now as my penance, and spraying my 7-year-old’s room with some sort of [insanely awful] spray sent to me from a grief-stricken woman, and hoping that the smell of cinnamon buns comes back into favor. #cinnamonbun2014

So go huskies.  And grief counseling.  And perspective.  Go Jesus and letters and kids throwing up and even raspberries.  It makes up the big basket of life, and that’s good no matter what it smells like.

Love and kisses,


P.S.  I’m not a robot.  Hence the dark circles.

P.P.S.  I only ate one raspberry, because I accidentally spilled the carton on the floor and I couldn’t stand to pick up their hairy, spiny, squishy little bodies.  So I swept them up and smeared red all over the travertine like blood and now I’m angry again.  But I ate one, so let’s just stick with that.


Posted in Humor, My life, Writing | Tagged , , , , , | 12 Comments