Okay...if you are avid readers of julieanewell.com, then you already know why I purchased this book...it "spoke to me"...it was a "sign" from Julie...BUTTERFLIES!
Before continuing, let me warn you that this "chapter" is more about me than Julie. There won't be any humor and I'll reveal yet more of my guilt trip. Also, it'll probably come across "preachy", although I'm definitely not intending to tell anyone how to lead their lives. So, if you want to skip this entry, you won't really miss anything "Julie".
Actually, I didn't/don't see this book as a "sign". However, since Julie's passing, I had been thinking of purchasing a Bible...like all those other distraught folks who lose a loved one. (Actually, I have a Bible that belonged to Julie, but it's for young eyes, if you know what I mean.) A friend had given me a gift card to Barnes and Noble for Christmas. I had made two previous trips to B & N trying to make use of it, but never found any books that interested me. While there, I would wander over to the Bible section, read a bit, and finally tell myself that I just didn't think that I would really read the "Good Book" even if the print were larger. Honestly, I do not feel the need...even at this low point in my life.
Finally, on my third trip, as I walked away from the Bible section and headed for the exit, I glanced at a table in the center aisle on which were displayed religious books. And, yes, the butterflies caught my eye. I stopped and picked it up and a cursory review indicated that the author was not committed to any particular organized religion, and, in fact, was highly critical of the "legalistic" approach of most religions...the imposition of "rules and regs"...a list of do's and don'ts that must be followed or avoided to attain salvation and avoid eternal damnation.
Hey, as a lapsed Catholic who married a (supposedly) lapsed Jehovah's Witness...that theme resonated with me. So, as they say, "I bought it."
Actually, my strict, Catholic upbringing (at least for the time being) "won out" over the truly liberal views of the author. He totally discounted good works and good deeds...any adherence to "expected behavior". He said that expectations killed freedom, and that the freedom to do whatever you wanted was the whole purpose of God's grace. Well, even a lapsed Catholic has a hard time accepting THAT!
A friend of mine recently (and rightfully) took exception with my criticism of organized religion, pointing out that she was a member of such. Well, I assured her that I had misspoke myself...that I really did NOT object to organized religion, but was, instead, turned off by attending the services of organized religion and witnessing the hypocrisy of those practitioners whom I term "Super Christians"...the ones who "talk the talk", but do NOT "walk the walk"...Catholics that would acknowledge the "brotherhood of man", but get up and move if a member of another race sat down beside them...Catholics who would be angered when a member of ANY race took THEIR pew. (I've picked on Catholics here, because that is my religion of experience. I'm sure...I KNOW...it happens in ALL religions.)
Man, don't I come across as "holier than thou"!? (Hey, had a school board member tell me that I needed to adjust my halo when we were arguing about the treatment of one of my fellow teachers.)
And while I am picking on specific religions, I'll go after Julie's too. As I mentioned above and previously, Julie was raised a Jehovah's Witness. In fact, for awhile, Julie's family constituted the bulk of the congregation in Cairo (remember, there were twelve Joneses), and her father, Lewis, was the "man in charge". (I think the term is "overseer", but I'm not certain.)
As everyone knows, Jehovah's Witnesses believe in "reaching out" and trying to convert the nonbelievers...you know, the Saturday morning knock on the door! Again, I do NOT have anything against the religion and the fervor with which they practice it. I admire them for it.
However, when the "overseer" comes knocking on our door and takes us to task for marrying because I am not a member of the faith, but more importantly because I am white and Julie was black, well, let us say we were somewhat taken aback. When the "overseer" tried to drive home his point by asking me "Do you know that your child will be black?"...I not-so-politely asked that he leave. Needless to say, Julie did NOT return to the Kingdom Hall for years (and only then to attend the wedding of her sister and to take her ailing father because it was his desire.) Needless to say, THAT approach did NOT convert this unbeliever!
And, speaking of Julie's father...oops, MY father-in-law. The Cairo congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses disfellowshiped him for a period of time.("Disfellowshipping" is their version of the Catholic's excommunication.) Why? Did he rob a bank? Did he kill someone? No, far worse than that...he dipped snuff. You go door-to-door trying to save sinners from themselves, yet you kick out the man who held the struggling congregation together for years?! Yeah, show me the place to sign up for THAT religion!
But, let me remind myself and say again...those examples are of individuals who "practiced" their religion. It does NOT mean that there is anything inherently wrong with the religion itself. That's just like condemning ALL Muslims because a small percentage like to blow themselves and others up.
Anyway, back to the book on "grace"...
Well, I finished reading the book today and I cannot honestly say that I have been "born again". Of course, to be blunt, I don't feel a need to be "reborn"...don't think I ever really "died". The reason for my confidence in my "religious beliefs" is that Julie and I shared those beliefs...and I KNOW that God has granted her eternal peace and salvation. In short, if it was good enough for her...
Speaking of Julie, I did find one passage in this book that described Julie perfectly. The author was describing the mysterious magic and magnetism of Christmas...that "Christmas scratches the itch of grace deep within us. It provides us an opportunity each year to deliberately get out of ourselves and do something tangible for someone else with no thought of or interest in being 'paid back'."
Well, Julie's favorite "season" WAS Christmas, but, Julie lived "Christmas" EVERY day...365 days a year. (This year she would have had one more day to celebrate!) Julie did NOT let the calendar dictate her spirit of giving.
The passage that describes Julie Newell perfectly...
THAT, friends, was Julie Newell...the ultimate "giver"...with no expectation and no desire to be "paid back".
And, then there's me...
...my "guilt trip".
The author of the book speaks of "Yes Faces" and "No Faces"...Julie's a "Yes"; Ronnie's a "No", which comes as no surprise.
However, the author uses another, more succinct term - "grace killer". He is "generous" in the application of this term, applying it to many (if not most) ministers as well as the "usual suspects". Grace killers are any and all who would deny freedom to others, including the imposition of the aforementioned "rules and regs"...the do's and don'ts that characterize most organized religions.
And, yes, that would include me...a "No Face" that would deny joy to a "Yes Face".
Over the years, Julie would go out of her way to buy me presents for special occasions. For several years, I would (I think) show appreciation for the gifts, obviously allowing Julie to experience the joy she sought in giving. However, somewhere along the line, that changed. Chalk it up to that age-old source of discord between husbands and wives...money. As bills mounted, so did my determination to curb "frivolous spending". Oh, we never really "wanted"...we bought whatever we needed, whenever we needed it. We took NICE vacations, cognizant of the fact that Julie's health conditions might preclude such "adventures" during our "golden years" (a VERY wise decision when considered in 20-20 hindsight!) But, that all added to the mounting debt and the maxed-out credit cards. As a "trained" economist, raised by depression-era parents, the stress of the situation really began to work on me.
To my credit, I never begrudged Julie's "giving" to her family, friends, and strangers. However, her attempts to bring joy to the one she loved most - me - became a test of wills...her will to show love and affection and my will to curb spending (as if the money spent on those few items were going to have any effect on the grand picture.)
So, on special occasions, Julie would try (more and more) desperately to find the perfect present for me, a present that would bring a smile to my face and joy to her heart. And, predictably, my "No Face" would ruin the whole thing...for both of us.
It breaks my heart to think back to this past August 12, 2007, less than a week before Julie was rushed to the hospital and we were told the devastating news of her inoperable cancer. August 12th is my birthday. Julie had once again tried to find a present to bring me joy. As Julie handed me the present, she once again said what she had come to say on so many occasions..."I know you won't like this, but..."
God, forgive me...Julie, forgive me!
My only consolation...and, indeed, my salvation, is that because of GRACE...BOTH will...both HAVE.