Gatsby’s Great Mistakes

I read Proverbs 13 this morning after seeing the new Gatsby movie on the weekend, and several verses made me think of Jay Gatsby. I wondered just how his quest would’ve been different is he’d heeded just three verses in Proverbs.

Verse 7: “One man pretends to be rich yet has nothing; another pretends to be  poor yet has great wealth.” This verse tells us to be whoever we really are. That doesn’t mean we can’t grow and change, but Gatsby changes his name and makes up a whole history in order to impress Daisy. For several scenes, his persona is shrouded in mystery. 

If instead, when he fell in love with Daisy as an officer, he would’ve told Daisy the truth, either she would have accepted him as he was and waited for his proposal. Or she would have rejected him, freeing him to pursue an honorable life.

Verse 11: “Dishonest money dwindles away, but he who gathers money little by little makes it grow.” Jay Gatsby becomes rich dishonestly. He joins forces with a man known for illegal activity because Gatsby is desperate to get rich fast. This relationship buys him what he thinks he needs to win Daisy, but it also puts a lot of stress on him. When Daisy’s husband reveals Gatsby’s dishonest business dealings, Daisy is upset if not repulsed, setting up the chain of events that result in Gatsby’s end.

If instead, Gatsby had gained his wealth bit by bit in an honest way, Daisy wouldn’t have reacted as she did, and perhaps she’d have even waited for him if he’d dealt with her with integrity.

Verse 12: “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.” After Gatsby falls in love with Daisy, he goes to war. He and Daisy write letters declaring their love for each other, but at the end of the war, Gatsby fears unworthy to claim Daisy. He postpones his hope to marry her until it is too late. Is it his sick heart that fools him to believe Daisy would divorce Tom and leave her daughter to be with Gatsby?

If instead, he would have gone to her – even after the war – and owned up to who he was, even admitting he had no money, maybe she would have waited for him to become financially stable. 

Early in his life, Gatsby reached his hand to star light in the Heavens and believed he was a son of God; later, he reached his hand across the bay to Daisy’s green (the color of money) dock light. Maybe he started out on the right path and got diverted or maybe not.  

It’s true that Gatsby wasn’t a Christian and perhaps didn’t even know of these principles, but if he had, Jay Gatsby could have gained much more than a fickle woman’s love. Even if she’d spurned him when she found out who he truly was: a man, born poor, but honest and hopeful about life, when Gatsby died, he could have riches in Heaven with a Father who loved him exactly as he was.

That was Gatsby’s biggest mistake. 

 

The Story of Moses

Moses, great man of God, can teach us much about God’s patience and grace. God gave Moses abilities to use for his people, and we can learn as we read his story in Exodus.

When God called Moses to go back to Egypt and rescue the Hebrews, God often had many opportunities to be angry with him for his lack of trust in the calling. Right from the start, Moses questions God. “Who am I, that I should go?”

God encourages Moses that he’ll be with him, gives him a sign, and performs a few personal miracles for Moses. But again, Moses offers the what-if-they-don’t-believe-me scenario.

God reassures, Moses balks. This plot continues even though it seems so obvious to us that God will be with him.

Wow. How could he be so … like us?

We often feel inadequate for the work God gives us, just like Moses. Most independent Americans rely on themselves to get things done. Isn’t that the American way? 

In the Exodus story, God tells Moses to trust him instead of someone else who can help him. God tells him he will help him, yet Moses constantly struggles to believe God is capable, good, and wise.

When God tells Moses to go talk to Pharaoh, Moses asks God to send someone else. Though God burns with “anger against Moses,” he gives him Aaron as his helper and, graciously, still allows Moses to be part of his plan.

Graciously.

God could have dismissed Moses completely, let Aaron be the leader of the exodus from Egypt. Moses could’ve been delegated to the sidelines to watch, but that didn’t happen. 

The story of Moses shows us clearly that God uses his people. As with all stories, there is something to learn for the reader. What life lessons do you see?

 

Late-Breaking Story

As a young boy, his mother brought him to church. His father didn’t attend with them. The boy soon outgrew church, trading it in for the outdoors. He hunted, trapped, and fished. Later still, he and my mom raised four daughters, and he attended church with the family only for baptisms and weddings.

He guided my sisters and me to do right and avoid wrong. But he never talked about God except a few times when he challenged my adult faith. I wonder. Was he trying to disprove God to let himself off the hook? Did he think he wasn’t good enough for a holy God?

Or maybe my father believed in God but felt he didn’t need his help. The independent American man. Dad seemed to get along without God, depending on his own skills to do what needed done.

But I can’t ask him now. Dad was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s about three years ago. He still lives home with my mom and, most days, does okay. When his mind started deteriorating, I worried about where he’d spend eternity. Conversations didn’t get very far because he couldn’t understand. He’d respond with a story about work or a possible hallucination.

It was like I’d run into a dead-end street.

Last week, the doctor diagnosed him with bladder cancer. We don’t know which stage or what his long-term prognosis is yet. But we do know time is running out. Time to live. Time to ask. Time to die.

The moment fast approaches his decision. Where he’ll live for eternity teeters between a nod or a shake of my father’s head. The head with Alzheimer’s.

How do we, his family, offer him another chance to believe he needs Jesus now? Or is it even possible to get past his muddled brain to his heart?

Like I said, we’ve tried. His brain is like a mosaic with too many pieces missing. Memories. Years. People. He doesn’t know who we are at times or recognize the home he’s lived in for the past forty-seven years.  

But God can do the impossible. Even though my dad isn’t the husband, father, or man we knew, God hasn’t changed. God deals in miracles yesterday, today, and forever. He knows my father’s situation. He wants him in Heaven. And He can do all things.

Only by God’s grace will Dad ever understand the truth through his jumbled brain. God alone can clear his mind for a lucid moment. I pray for that, and I hope to see the opportunity God offers him. I’ll try to be the instrument, but however it comes, I trust that God will “stand at the door and knock” again on my dad’s heart.

Because it’s never too late with God.

Soup Stories

My four-year-old granddaughter sat on the bar stool, looking across the counter to where I prepared lunch at the kitchen sink. She said, “I can’t wait for the soup to cook; I’m so hungry.”

“What would you trade for some soup?” I told her the Bible story of the older brother who sells his inheritance to his younger brother for a bowl of stew. Since she’s the firstborn in her family and has a younger brother, she understood–sort of.

After lunch, I thought about why Esau would trade–in those times–something so valuable for a temporary satisfaction. He couldn’t have valued one meal more than his father’s inheritance. Was he simple-minded?

We think it crazy that Esau would trade a simple meal of bread and lentil stew for the firstborn privileges of their father’s wealth, but he’s famished after a day of hunting and tells Jacob his birthright is no good if he’s about to die. Hyperbole.

Maybe he doesn’t care because he believes he doesn’t need his father’s assets to prosper. Being a “skillful hunter, a man of the open country,” he may believe he can take care of himself. Like many of us.

We depend on ourselves, believing we can do it, fix it, make it on our own just like Esau.

What are we trading for the simple pleasures in this life for our birthright?

 

Guest Post By Vanessa Parker

I spent every summer from age five with my Aunt Laura and Uncle Gus. My mother, Norma, drove me the three-hour trip to her sister’s in Spokane, Washington. I always hoped Norma would forget me there so I could live with Aunt Laura, but she’d appear again at the end of August and drive me back to Idaho.

How could two sisters be so different? Aunt Laura’s endless capacity to love highlighted Norma’s lack. And why did I have Norma for a mother instead of Laura? These questions still boggle me though now they’re both gone.

From the first summer, my aunt made me feel loved. She’d prepared a bedroom for me, decorated with balloon curtains. She painted the walls pink. Balloons in blue, yellow, purple, green, red, and pink covered the whole bed. I thought of the room I shared with Norma, the twin beds with faded blue bedspreads.

By the end of that first summer, five or six balloons survived to return to my bed each morning.

The next year, and every year I went, Aunt Laura delighted me with another theme for my room. Ponies, teddy bears, dance, painting, Barbies. And there was always a new baby doll and a special book like Madeline, Heidi, The Secret Garden, and Ann of Green Gables which we’d read together.

I knew Aunt Laura and Uncle Gus couldn’t have children of their own, but she made me feel like I could be her own. Like the characters we read about in the books, I felt like I was an orphan, too, and somehow I knew my happy-ever-after would be with my aunt.

So when Norma brought me to live with Aunt Laura my senior year in high school, I believed they would finally adopt me as their own. Maybe it wasn’t too late. Maybe I wasn’t too old. Now I would finally have a real home.

But that fall, Uncle Gus died in a farming accident, crushing Aunt Laura and me. It was a hard year for her, but she had her faith to lean back on.

Though I went to church with her whenever I stayed there, I wasn’t close to God. And when Uncle Gus died, I wondered how God could let that happen. I pulled back from him, and clung tighter to Aunt Laura.

The year went fast, and that August, Norma sent a plane ticket for me to attend college back east, courtesy of a trust fund from the biological father I never knew. When I hugged Aunt Laura at the airport, I didn’t know my promise to see her next summer wouldn’t happen. I didn’t know it would be the last time I ever saw her.

Aunt Laura knew God, and her faith that she’d go to Heaven when she died allowed me to believe that was where she was.

I couldn’t come home for the funeral but was told it was filled with all the people she’d loved. Someone mailed me her necklace, like the one in the picture here, which I never take off.

I still don’t know God like Aunt Laura did. She acted like he was a friend who lived close to her, not just a figure you go to church to talk about or someone you read about in a book. I wish I knew him like that.

But maybe I’m still a little bit mad about Uncle Gus dying because I think Aunt Laura died of a broken heart after that. And I’m really mad that she died and left me here without her guidance.

She was my inspiration. I think of her all the time and try to be more like her, but it’s not the same. I can’t touch her or see her or hear her voice. We can’t laugh or read together.

How was she so close to God when she couldn’t touch or see or hear him? And, when she read her Bible, often she’d talk and laugh aloud. How could this be?

Could it be like this for me, too?

Vanessa Parker graciously agreed on short notice to guest blog this month. Thank you, Vanessa!

Vanessa lives within the pages of my first in-progress novel called East from West. She counsels secondary students at a private school in Manhattan and heads up the “Shooting Club” for her students. Her interest in guns comes from growing up in the west where she could shoot a tin can off a rock from the other side of the Clearwater River. She currently lives in an apartment with her cat, Baby, on Manhattan’s East Side from where she walks to Central Park daily.

February Love Stories

February, the month of love.

Love is why we get married and the lack of love is why so many divorce, but it doesn’t have to happen. When my husband and I’d been married about ten years, I remember feeling differently than when we were first married. Of course, we had three kids and had moved six or seven times. You know — normal life.

I was glad to learn that was a healthy, normal sign of growth in a marriage relationship. Nothing stays the same in life, and we adjust to the changes. Since feelings are a reaction to what happens to and around us, it’s natural as we focus on raising children, earning a living, and caring for our homes that we don’t put as much energy into loving our spouse. Not ideal but real for most of us.

During this time of our marriage, I learned that Hollywood misled me. Find a good guy, marry him, and live happily ever after. Happily, I thought, meant always feeling in love.

Hollywood was wrong. Love isn’t always a feeling.

My new husband hadn’t warned me he’ll forget to take out the garbage or he won’t like to cook and his idea of a great evening means watching games or Sports Center or Fox News.

There’s an old song that says, “You’ve lost that loving feeling . . . and now you’re gone, gone, gone.” Those lyrics scared me. And many couples buy this pop psychology for themselves, causing them to give up on their relationship and often their marriage.

I was happy to learn those feelings come and go. And come and go again. We just have to work at it. For example, we can rediscover the original attractions, forgive our spouse’s shortfalls (and our own), and magnify their good traits.

Love isn’t as simple as society portrays. The Bible shows four types of love: 1.) physical and sensual love between a husband and wife, 2.) love of a close friend, 3.) family love, and 4.) selfless, sacrificial, and unconditional love.

When we marry, we start with the first type. As we grow together, our spouse often becomes our very good friend (even though we have, and should, other friends so we gain that type of love. We have children and bond with them and (hopefully) learn to love our spouses’ family of origin, growing family love.

But the love I needed to practice was the selfless, sacrificial, and unconditional love that is required as the years tick by. It’s making dinner when you don’t feel like it or going to work when you don’t feel like it. It’s even sometimes being intimate when you don’t feel like it.

(Of course, a loving relationship where one person isn’t abusing or taking advantage of the other is assumed to be the environment. In other words, they are not being selfish either.)

And I found the more I gave without consulting my feelings, the more good feelings I had in the end. Do the right thing and good things happen. The more you give away, the more you get.

Love your spouse — not just in February — but every month. And dig deep for the Christ-like love we all want and need and don’t always deserve.

And maybe more months will feel like February.

Marriage Story

Show your children that the marital relationship is the main priority. Be courteous to each other. Respect your spouse by speaking well of them. Always. Enjoy the day-to-day routines and even the disasters, which will likely end up as treasured funny stories.

My in-laws remained married for more than sixty-five years — until they died only days apart in their nineties. Overall, they did marriage well. Without saying, they showed their priorities and kindness toward each other to model to their family.

Since they lived five hours from us, our visits always included plenty of hugs and kisses, especially for the grandchildren. Always at the end of the visit, Papa would say, “Take care of each other.”

When we were first married, I thought it odd because, of course, we helped each other. I didn’t understand, but over the years, I saw they meant for us to do more than just contribute to the marriage and family. More than seeing there’s a paycheck to pay the bills. Being sure there’s food in the fridge and clean clothes in the closet.

They also meant we should be kind to each other – and not just when it was easy, when we didn’t feel like it. Marriage isn’t an easy story to write, but it can be done well with kindness and a sense of humor to turn any disasters into funny stories to pass down to the next generation.

Buffets of Books

 

I’m standing in front of a buffet of all my favorite foods. Salmon, scallops, or crab?  Baked, roasted, or mashed potatoes? Dark chocolate brownies or apple crisp with ice cream?

Do you ever feel like this? Frozen in place, overwhelmed with all the possibilities?

I love choices, but there is a downside to too many options. If I choose one good thing, I miss out on another or at least that’s the fear that drives me.

At one of my favorite places in town, our local library, I often feel this same way. Our new librarian has been buying more new books than the library has for several years. And so I stand at one display or another.

A classic or historical? Literary or memoir? A debut novel or an old favorite?

I come home with an armful, but often end up bringing several back that I don’t have the chance to read. I feel guilty. And then there’s online and local bookstores.

Like the buffet, my book options have needed me to become more choosy. I’m learning to set a book aside if it isn’t as good as I’d hoped. Recently, I discovered Goodreads has a category called Abandoned, and I’m learning to use it.

Instead of feeling guilty because I didn’t clean up my plate … I mean finish the stack of To Be Read (TBR) books on my nightstand, I feel more free abandoning a book that isn’t for me. There are so many books in the world and so many different readers, too.

We all like different items on the buffet and need to be thoughtful as we fill our plate, but we may also sample something that looks interesting and be delighted to discover something new. Something unexpected.

Do you have a stack of TBR books to consider again?

Have you recently found a new author, series, or genre? If so, how?

Please share your comments below. I’d love to hear what you’re reading or what you’ve abandoned.

Seasonal Stories

Just as a year has seasons designed for certain tasks and priorities, so can a woman’s life story. A year’s seasons can be compared to the chapters in a woman’s life. Her coming-of-age, finding love, growing a family, living and working in her community and world.

There is overlap, and chapters can come in a non-traditional order, but a life story has so many goals to attain and a lifetime to achieve them. Today’s women, coming out of a time when options were few, seem to feel they must make up for time lost, accomplish it all, AND at the same time.

Multi-tasking may be a good strategy for one’s career or for a busy mother, but a multi-tasking life means at the least it is an exhausting existence that is challenging to do everything well. We are limited by time and energy both in our days, our years, our lives.

Would we be better able to enjoy whatever season we are in if instead we accept that it is okay to focus on the main thing for that time? We may need to fight our own feelings and others’ judgments that we’re lazy because it seems everyone else can do everything and can do it well, but are they? Or is it just a role they are playing when the world is watching?

Women have gained many freedoms to write their own life story, but as the authors of our lives, it would be wise to consider when to sow, when to reap, when to harvest, and when to rest. May it be we find a happy ending when we finish the last pages of our life stories.