Social Justice and The Gospel

I can’t possibly say this any better than Dr. Tim Keller and those he quotes. Hence, please welcome him to A Bloom in Winter. In my book, Keller is gold.

“Some say: ‘To do the work of the gospel is to work for justice and peace in the world.’ But Jesus’ primary mission on earth was not to change the social order but to save us from sin. That creates a people who, in any place they reside, will have a transforming influence on the goodness and justness of the political and social order. (See Tom Holland’s Dominion.)

J.I.Packer says, ‘The gospel does bring us solutions to these problems, but it does so by first solving…the deepest of all human problems, the problem of man’s relationship with his Maker, and unless we make it plain that the solution for these former problems depends on the settling of this latter one, we are misrepresenting the message and becoming false witnesses of God.’

In The Screwtape Letters C.S. Lewis has a senior devil writing to a junior devil about how to tempt human beings to move away from “the Enemy”, Jesus. He writes: “The thing to do is to get a man at first to value social justice as a thing which [God] demands, and then work him on to the stage at which he values Christianity because it may produce social justice.

For the Enemy will not be used as a convenience…. You see the little rift? ‘Believe this, not because it is true, but for some other reason.’ That’s the game.” (Letter 23)Note: If those to my “Right” (for the lack of a better term) find these tweets surprising (or insincere), they haven’t read me carefully. If those to my “Left” (for the lack of a better term) think this subverts motivation for doing justice, they are also mistaken.”

-Tim Keller

Work: What They Did for Love

 

Who hasn’t heard the quote,

“Do what you love and

the money will follow”

OR

“Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.”

Everyone from Confucious to Warren Buffet have weighed in on the idea of working for love, not for money.  A lovely thought, right? As a retiree, I actually have the privilege of doing exactly that.  But, it wasn’t the always the case.  I worked for decades  at jobs I sometimes loved and sometimes didn’t,  in order to attain the right to enjoy the luxury of  working only for love in this new season of life.

In our world today, we have an abundance of humans who grew up hearing and believing that they should live their passion, follow their hearts and do what they love in order to make their careers meaningful.   The result is that many of these individuals are failing to launch at a somewhat alarming rate and the world now has an  abundance of marine biology grad’s and  would be life-style mavens, many  still living with their parents well into their 30’s and beyond.  ‘Anyone want to take a poll on how many college educated Uber drivers we have out there waiting for their dream job to materialize?

Here’s the deal:

Hardly anyone is passionate about plumbing or  janitorial work, being an electrician, an auto mechanic, a roofer, a heat and AC installer, a pest exterminator   a trash collector or a house painter.  But, we as a society need all of those people and each of those are noble professions when done with dignity.

“If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music, or Shakespeare wrote poetry.  He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.”

Martin Luther King Jr.

My own parents moved their  young family to California when it became clear that my Dad’s  job on the railroad was going to be eliminated.  He and my mom sold the brand new home they’d  only recently built in Montana.  With what I’m sure were a trunk full of mixed emotions, they packed up and moved their family to Southern California.  There was no job waiting, just a deeply felt sense of responsibility  to provide for the family they had built.

When they arrived in California my father took a job at a lumber mill until incessant rains shut it down indefinitely.  They struggled to make ends meet. There were dark days.   Next, he found work with a janitorial service who admired his good work but wanted him to cut corners so he would be done faster.  Finally he was hired as a custodian for the school down the street from our home.  I was too young to know that the position of janitor was not a highly esteemed one, but, I was proud to have my dear Dad known and loved by all the children in that school. Through the years he advanced and ultimately was promoted to the position of  Director of Maintenance for the entire  district.  In   the meantime, he also started his own Janitorial Service which he worked at every weeknight from 6-10 after a full day at his day job.  And, every weekend another 12 hours total as well.  Seven. Days. A week.  Until he retired.

My in-laws travelled an remarkably similar path. Selling their home in Pennsylvania to move to California for a better life,  my father-in-law came expecting to join his brother in his small business.  Sadly  after investing nearly all their life savings, the business failed. He was truly struck down but refused to be defeated.  He couldn’t afford to.   Instead he did whatever he could to provide for his family. He delivered dry cleaning, did interior house painting, cleaned the local Knights of Columbus Hall, performed handyman work and became a salesman at Sears. When he retired from that position, he continued to do handyman work on the side in order to supplement his retirement income.

Two wise and determined men–both fathered four children.  Between them, well over a century of marriage.   Though their job histories may not have been coveted by many,  both men left inheritances by their examples of faithfulness, tenacity and  hard work while also providing financial gifts to their heirs.

 

Neither of these two good men had jobs that they were particularly excited about.  But , make no mistake,  both men lived their passion. They both understood that their purpose wasn’t self-fulfillment but instead to provide well for their families.   Although they may not have put it in these exact words, they both lived as if their divine calling was to provide for the needs of their wives and children.   Therein lies the difference.  We  as a culture may well have confused the value of work and responsibility with  that of pursuing our passions.

“…I realized that it is good and proper for a man to eat and drink, and to find satisfaction in his toilsome labor under the sun during the few days of life God has given him–for this is his lot.  Moreover, when God gives any man wealth and possessions, and enables him to enjoy them, to accept his lot and be happy in his work–this is a gift of God.  He seldom reflects on the days of his life, because God keeps him occupied with gladness of heart.”   –Ecclesiastes 5:18-20

There is nothing  wrong with seeking a career in a field you love.  And if you’re very fortunate, it may happen.  But, every career dream needs a “sell by date.”  If you love acting but can’t make a living doing it,  you’d be wise to find work that pays your bills and  maybe join a community theater group.  If you want to do something that reflects your values, keep working hard, doing your best  at your day job and then,  volunteer for an organization that promotes your passions.

Whatever you do, work hard and the money will come.  As for “never working a day in your life,” while that sounds nice,  they call it “work” for a reason.  Even the greatest job in the world becomes work over time. What will make it worthwhile isn’t the money, the status, the title or the acclaim from others, but the satisfaction of knowing you’ve done it well and  provided for the future of your flock. Whatever you’re called to do, do it well.

“Be sure you know the condition of your flocks, give careful attention to your herds; for riches do not endure forever, and a crown is not secure for all generations.  When the hay is removed and new growth appears and the grass from the hills is gathered in, the lambs will provide you with clothing, and the goats with the price of a field, you will have plenty of goats milk to feed you and your family and to nourish your servant girls.  He who works his land will have abundant food, but the one who chases fantasies will have his fill of poverty.”   Proverbs 27:23-27

(Both oil paintings were created by my amazing and gifted brother-in-law Dan Mandish   Visit his collection at:  https://saltandlighteditions.wordpress.com)

 

 

Build Bridges With These Stones

Nearly 70 days into “Safe at Home”/ the Covid-19 crisis, George Floyd was mercilessly killed by a police officer.  All at once, a nation of individuals, many of whom were already stretched to their limit, snapped.  A nation, and then the world,  saw a handcuffed Mr. Floyd bear the weight of a police officer kneeling on his neck for nearly nine minutes, even as Floyd repeatedly stated that he couldn’t breathe.  To the shock and dismay of other onlookers, the other officers present stood by and watched passively as the life was literally sucked out of Mr. Floyd, a fellow image bearer of our Creator.

The video of his murder went viral immediately, igniting justifiable anger, unquenchable grief  and unending dismay.  There is no universe in which we can watch this incident and excuse any part of it.   Cries of “No justice, no peace” have been heard around the globe.  Peaceful protests have taken place all over our own country,  along with great destruction of personal property,  businesses, churches and  national and local monuments.  Buildings have been burned,  police vehicles defaced and  destroyed and more lives lost in the chaos that has followed.  Anarchy is taking place in many  of our cities.

Nearly overnight,  the same first responders we hailed as heroes a mere three weeks earlier became the object of that same violence. Many of us  who eschew judging others by the color of their skin now cast blanket judgement on  all who wear a badge and drive a black and white vehicle. Sadly, in this world where sin and the prince of darkness reigns, hate,  bigotry, lust for power, selfishness and ignorance will never be completely eliminated.  Even so,  that doesn’t mean that every officer is wicked anymore than all men play golf.  Painting with that wide a brush is  both foolish and dangerous.

As a disciple of Christ, my heart breaks at the shameful treatment and murder of Mr. Floyd and the foothold it has given our enemy.  While many are convinced that the protests, looting, violence and general destruction are  all about  racial inequality, social justice and/or politics, there is a greater truth we are overlooking.   There are spiritual forces at work all around us, threatening all of humankind with destruction, prejudice, hate, chaos and division.  Read your Bible.

The collateral damage,  makes an aching  heart heavier still.  The resulting devastation to our communities is symptomatic of the deep division the enemy is nurturing in the hearts and minds of men.  When I see the vitriol from believers on social media chastising other believers for their responses or lack thereof, I could weep.  Division is one the enemy’s most effective tools. Jesus calls us again and again to be united in faith, spurring  one another to good works, loving our brothers and sisters, gathering together,  praying always, not showing favoritism, and spurring one another on to good works.

If you haven’t already done so, Christians, it’s time to act.  Not as  the world would have us,  but as the WORD tells us to. We need to speak for those who can’t speak for themselves, defend those who are unjustly accused or mistreated, welcome to our tables and into our homes those who don’t look like us or act like us. We are called to give special consideration to those who have greater needs.   We don’t have to be experts or have all the answers, but we need to be actively and regularly seeking them in God’s Word.  We need to know it so well that we are equipped, armed and dangerous as we then act on what it tells us to do when confronting the spiritual forces that threaten to divide us. The evil around us is real–

But there is an antidote

As my pastor  so eloquently stated  just yesterday, with regard to all the unrest in this world– ”

“the body of Christ is the antidote.”

Yes.  The church, God’s people,  we are the antidote.  We need to lay down our earthly weapons and take up our spiritual ones.  We do not have the luxury of lashing out in anger, demeaning those who disagree with us or spewing hate.  We are held to a higher standard than this world calls for.  Jesus calls us to be salt and light.    We need to pray always,  to be peacemakers and  to listen much more than we speak.  He calls us to be merciful and seek justice.  We must work to love those who hate us and to choose to serve vs being served. We need to be the  good Samaritans,  be willing to get our hands dirty,  give sacrificially and also to be respectful and to pray for those in positions of authority.  We are to pray for those who consider us enemies, yes, even to love them as they mock us.   We may be angry but we are not to sin in our anger.

We cannot undo the past but we can  expand our spheres of influence, lean into the future and be committed to living a life that both honors and continually shares the One who came to serve and save.  This is  the good news of Jesus Christ who came to save men and women of every tribe, tongue and nation. The truth is, nothing will change until hearts and minds are changed by surrendering to the One who holds us in His Everlasting Arms.  And we need to tell them as we share and live out the Gospel.

We all have much to learn.  But we must not lose heart in the midst of the battle.  We can  and must continue to learn, to listen, to love, to pray and to then to act on what we know.  We need to do what we know to do.   Be encouraged by the words of the great American poet,  Dr. Maya Angelou, who so beautifully said,

“Do the best you can until you know better. Then, when you know better, do better.”

We can all do better. And, by the grace of God, we will.  Let’s walk forward  in both faith and hope.  Let it begin with me.

 

For more about what the Bible says on these issues, start here:

Proverbs 18:13

Proverbs 31:9

Isaiah 1:17

Zechariah 7:9-10

Micah 6:8

Luke 10:30-37

Romans 12:9-18

Philippians 2

Galatians 1:10

Hebrews 10:24-25

James 2

1 Thessalonians 5:17

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Still “Safe at Home”

I write this on  day sixty-four. Sixty-four days of a mandate to “flatten the curve” of the Corona Virus by staying home.

img_4264As mandated, we began this experience of sheltering in place. Businesses, schools and churches were closed. Many companies directed employees to begin working from home.  Others were furloughed or terminated.  Sporting events, concerts, conventions, meetings, and travel all came to a halt. There would be no celebratory ceremonies for 2020 graduates and only online classes  for the fall semester in sight. The economy is in shambles with 39 million Americans out of work.  Yes, many are ill with the virus.  Many more  have recovered, but there have been many deaths as well-over 95,000 nation wide.

fullsizeoutput_d01dThis pandemic has brought our world to its knees. We’ve been directed to enact social distancing, copious hand washing and disinfecting and to only leave  our own homes for absolute essentials such as food and urgent medical needs. fullsizeoutput_d2eb

The experts continually contradict each other. The politicians tell us one thing today and edit it  tomorrow.  We should wear masks and they’re useless. We should stay in and we should pursue herd immunity,  we need sunshine but the parks are closed. The “experts” are clearly figuring it out as they go along.  Nursing homes in one major city were ordered to admit recovering Covid patients despite the fact that their general populations consisted of the frailest and most fragile individuals and   highly susceptible to infection. The results were disatrous.  In my own city, last I heard, 80% of all deaths were nursing home patients.

Toilet paper has become the new currency with beans, disinfectants, paper towels and now meat in short supply. We are required to wear masks when entering stores after standing in lines for the privilege of shopping. Stores have set up plexiglass barriers between employees and shoppers as well as marks on the floor designed to tell us where to stand while waiting in line so as to maintain appropriate distancing. 

Restaurants, like other businesses have either closed or are allowed only to provide pick up or delivery options. Many of them will never reopen if the so-called “new normal” mandates are required. They cannot survive if only allowed to serve half the customers they have room for when they’re paying rent for a larger space intended to accomodate more.  Walmart, Target, Home Depot and the big grocery chains are still open, but the mom and pops and other small businesses have been forced to close their doors.  

For the first time in history, the healthy are being quarantined.  Those who say its time to open up the world again are accused of wanting people to die.  Those who believe we need to stay hunkered down at home beleive to do so will bring a new surge of infection and death.  

fullsizeoutput_cfeb

There is little talk of finding a cure, but a lot about a coming vaccine that may well not be optional.  We we’ve been told that ventilators would be in short supply but that didn’t materialize.  Instead, hospitals are now laying off physicians, nurses and other staff because their censuses are so low.  All elective and non-emergency surgeries have been put on hold.  Many illnesses are not being diagnosed or treated currently.  There are those who believe a vaccine is the answer.  Others point to hydroxychloroquine, a medication costing less than a dollar that has had good results.  Again, experts around the world disagree.  

I don’t have all the answers, but I know Who does.  I am definitely not an expert, but I have tried to listen to both sides and come to my own conclusions.  I must say it isn’t easy to hear both sides because the national media hasn’t reported on those with differing opinions and social media doesn’t allow what differs from their perspective or agenda to remain online for long. What are they afraid of? Are we not capable of drawing our own conclusions?  

Here’s what I do know.  Suicide hotlines are jammed. Businesses are failing.  Families can’t pay their mortgages or put food on their tables.  Domestic abuse is increasing.  Alcohol intake is on the rise.  Depression is rampant. Anxiety is out of control. Social isolation has rendered many seniors profoundly lonely without physical touch or comfort.   Many believe that all of these factors are pointing to a national mental health crisis.  Clearly, the virus isn’t the only thing wreaking havoc on our population.  We need to address all of these issues and soon. 

I sincerely believe that it’s time to return to life largely as we knew it sixty-four days ago.  Young, healthy, able bodied individuals need to get back to work, kids need to return  to school and churches reopen. More importantly,  we need to acknowledge and  turn our eyes to the One who holds the universe in His hands. 

You may well disagree with me and I’m okay with that.  I understand the power of fear and how very convincing the fear mongers have been.  I will willingly wear a mask in your presence if it brings you peace of mind.  I will wear one when I shop as required where I live.  I respect that you may think me foolish or uninformed.  I have listened to both sides and engaged in discussions with those with opposing views, but in the end, there are “experts” on both sides of the divide, and I hold to the fact that good, smart people can disagree.  I’ve landed where I’ve landed and hold no malice toward  any of you who have landed elsewhere.   

No, I don’t want people to die.  And no, it’s not about going to the beach.  It’s not even about my personal comfort or financial needs.  If I’m sick I’ll stay home and I hope you will too.  I understand if you feel safer at home and won’t mock you for choosing to do what you believe is best.  I will be a good neighbor, friend and citizen and will be respectful of the authorities over me.  But I will not live in fear of speaking what I believe.  I am not a hater. 

I am going to continues to practice good hygiene.  I’ll respect those in authority as well as those who may vehemently disagree with me.  I’m going to hold and hug my grandchildren and spend time with those I love.  I’m going to continue to honor and stay in relationship with those who choose to remain socially distant regardless of their reasons. I’m going to continue praying for health and healing.  I will respect the opinions of those who differ from mine.  God gave us all minds so that we could seek His wisdom and discernment. When we do, we will make the best decisions we can with the information we are given.  That’s what I aim for. 

I trust that my God, who created this universe, has His purposes in allowing this plague to exist.  It is obvious that many of us have come to grips with the fact that despite our bank accounts, homes, jobs, education, accomplishments, fame, credentials and belief in our ability to handle anything that comes our way, we’ve seen that in a moment everything can change.  With it, we’ve been forced to acknowledge that we literally have no control.  Hence, we look to the One who has all control. I’ve always said He will go to any lengths necessary to get our attention.  Does He have yours? 

God has appointed a day for each of us to be born and a day for us to die.  We don’t know either before hand.  What we do in between those two dates matters to Him.  Where our hope lies matters to Him.  The experts have not been 100% convincing on either side.  My confidence doesn’t lie with any of them, but in the message of an old hymn written by one Edward Mote nearly a century ago:

“My hope is built on nothing less

Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.

 I dare not trust the sweeetest frame

But wholly lean on Jesus’ name.

On Christ the solid Rock I stand,

 All other ground is sinking sand. 

All other ground is sinking sand.” 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Not Like the “Other” Mothers

I write this on the eve of the anniversary of my mom’s death eight years ago.  Ironically she crossed over on Mother’s Day.

I’ve learned a few things since then.  Through the eyes of others who loved and enjoyed her, I’ve learned to appreciate gifts I didn’t fully acknowledge when she walked through this world. I recently came across a handful of sympathy cards we received back then and my heart was warmed by the remembrances of many dear friends  and loved ones.

She and my Dad both adored babies and taught us all to love them, too.  One friend said that she was someone who especially cared for children who were sometimes forgotten by others.  She had an ability to relate to little ones in ways most adults have forgotten.  She had a childlike quality that allowed her to come down to their level and make them squeal with glee and long to be in her presence.

A friend and neighbor  recalled that she could remember my Mom so clearly-with a cigarette dangling out of her mouth as they cut up a ton of plums, trying to make plum jam.  “She could talk me into doing just about anything.”  I find that story especially amusing because in my lifetime, I don’t remember my mother EVER making anything remotely like plum jam.  Cooking was not something she particularly  enjoyed, but viewed it more as a necessary evil.  Still, she convinced her friend to give plum jam a go.

Others called her “a character,” referred to her big heart, remembered her as loving and generous and a great friend.  One said “she always made me feel welcome and a part of your family.”  The one that made me laugh the most though, was, “she loved giving advice.”  Yes.  Yes she did. Lots and lots of advice to lots and lots of people.

She was different from the “other” moms.    She rarely wore dresses or  any makeup and she cursed with some regularity.  Her hair was always cut short and she wore  jeans long before they were  fashionable.  She drank Coke for breakfast and then throughout the day.   She knew the managers and the clerks at the market and the drug store and was on a first name basis with the bank president.  She used her connections to get countless friends and family members  jobs when they needed one.  She was a master networker before  networking was a thing.

It occurred to me that she planted the seed of hospitality in me.  Looking back I remember how she and my Dad welcomed a long parade of family members and friends into our home to live with us for brief periods.  There were foster babies waiting adoption,  relatives in transition, friends experiencing  hard times and once even one of my mom’s hospital patients who needed a place to recover.  The welcome mat was always out and there was always an extra seat at the dinner table for whoever stopped by.

She would regularly  strike up  conversations with  total strangers at the mall and knew all her neighbors and all of their kids.  She loved to “go visit” and we often had to track her down because it hadn’t occurred to her to tell us where she was going or when she’d return.  She was unpredicatable.   Whatever was on her mind often slipped out of her mouth to the horror of her children and those who didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.  She wasn’t mean, just oblivious.  And so, sometimes,  we got cranky with her.  Real cranky.

I have never believed it was necessary  to pretend that one who has passed was someone different than who they actually were.  What I’ve learned  though, is that there is so  more to each person than we may see.  And, that with the passage of time, we can let go of what wasn’t perfect and learn to appreciate the good, the quirky  and  the gifts they brought to others we weren’t privy to.  We all touch a lot of people in our lifetimes and no one has visibility of all of it.  Those things are often revealed only with the passage of time.

I’m thankful for the life my mom gave me, for the many things she taught me, for the  sacrifices she made, for the hopes she had for me, for loving me when I wasn’t lovable and for not disowning me when I almost burned down her kitchen.  Who knew you shouldn’t leave baby oil warming on the stove and forget about it?

I’m thankful for the period of time when she constantly sang “I wish I were an Oscar Meyer Wiener” and for the trips to the Sundae Bar at Woody’s Smorgasborg.  I’m grateful for her teaching me to love children, to care for babies and for the many memories that still can make me laugh out loud.  She taught me how to clean a house, to be silly with some regularity and to not take myself too seriously.   Other times she was serious.  When I was six years old and told her I hated someone, she looked me straight in the eye and said,  “you don’t hate anyone.”  She said it with conviction and I never forgot it.

In the eight years since she left us,  I’ve let go of  all my unrealistic expectations of what a mom should be.  I’m a mom myself now and I know that I fall short in many ways.  I hope one day my own daughter will  remember the good, let go of my own imperfections and forgive me where I’ve failed.  I pray for grace as I’ve learned to extend it.

My funny, quirky, unpredictable mom–  I’m thankful for the beautiful life she gave me the day  she brought me into this world and  to have been with her when she left it–on Mother’s Day.

‘Remembering her with great  love and affection today.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

EASTER 2020 One Like No Other

I expect that Easter 2020 will be like none I’ve ever experienced nor like any I am likely to experience again.  There is a global pandemic in progress, people.  And, it has changed just about everything.

There will be no overnight guests in our guest room.  We will not tumble out of bed when it’s still dark, bundling up in warm coats to wear to Sunrise services.  We won’t sing together with our family and friends as we look toward the Pacific ocean as the sun rises behind us and our Pastor gives the Easter message.   We will not be hugging our friends and loved ones as the crowd disperses.  Neither will we then drive to Norm’s for breakfast. There will be no need to rush home to hide eggs in the backyard  for there will be no  children arriving to find  them.  There will not be massive quantities of food in the kitchen, nor will the table be set beautifully, because our annual brunch won’t be happening.

CANCELLED

I confess, I’m going to miss all that–the tradition of it all, but, especially all those faces I love.  I must also admit  I have never been more excited about Resurrection Sunday.   I have never felt so at peace, so thankful or so full.  With “Safer at Home” orders now entering week three and another five potentially ahead of us,  we are learning to live a life far quieter than we ever imagined we would or could.

Some of the sweet faces I’ll be missing

The results have been oddly wonderful. We are retired and don’t have places we need to be or assignments we are expected to complete. We have no debt.   Our biggest challenge has been to stay at home with the exception of  essential outings such as the market for food. We are not prisoners but, we are confined for the common good.

In the midst of all these changes, our local church has been incredibly pro-active in rising to the occasion.  We’ve been blessed to wake-up to video messages from members of our pastoral staff nearly every day.  These brief videos have encouraged us with scriptural principles that have beautifully set the tone for us as we begin another day in the great unknown.

My Wednesday morning Bible Study still meets via Zoom as does my Bible Study Fellowship group on Monday evenings.  The husband’s Saturday morning study also meets online.  What a blessing online meeting sites have proven to be in the midst of these often alarming times.

In our “new normal” we  livestream church services on Sunday morning, usually with me still in my jammies,  both of us with coffee in hand as we watch on an ipad. We sing along with the worship team,  read scripture and  listen to a teaching from one of our  teaching pastors. We take communion with saltines and grape juice.  There’s something new and special about it. There is great intention surrounding our  virtual gathering together.  No one is dressing to impress, but showing up to receive His blessing.   It sounds strange, but, it’s been strangely beautiful.

In addition to online opportunities, we’ve been encouraged to spend at least one hour a day in prayer and in reading the scriptures as we approached Easter.  We were given a goal of reading the entire New Testament in 21 days.  I cannot tell you what a powerful experience this has been for us to sit together, reading aloud to each another and discussing not only what we’ve read, but how we can  apply it to our daily lives.

CONFESSION: We have never before consistently done this together.  This is a great big deal.  Something of a miracle,  if you ask me.

As a result of this daily time, we’ve had some incredibly rich conversations and have  been able to unite in prayer, every morning for those we love, for those in authority over us to be wise,  for those enduring great suffering, those who are grieving, those who are tirelessly serving in the midst of this pandemic and for revival to come to our world.   Big prayers indeed.

Through the reading of God’s word, we have read four accounts of the events leading up to the resurrection by four different men God ordained to write the Synoptic Gospels:  Matthew, a tax collector who became a disciple of Jesus; John Mark, who travelled with the Apostle Paul;   Luke, a Greek , gentile physician; and John, the apostle.  Each wrote from their own unique perspective and each touched our hearts and minds.  Did  we finish our assigned reading?   Not yet.  But, it’s okay.   We have read through the four Gospels as well as the book of  Acts;  essentially half of the New Testament.  We will continue to read  with a greater desire to put our increased knowledge to work in our daily lives.

As we came to the end of John, once again reading of the events leading to the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus, we  were deeply moved by His sacrifice, His willingness to drink the bitter cup before Him, to desire to be spared but ultimately choosing  to do the Father’s will in order to save us from the penalty of sin.  He was without sin, yet He paid the debt we owed but couldn’t afford, so that we could live victoriously and eternally.    This is the  glorious, good news.

This is news so good that there is no anxiety in our home or in our hearts, but instead excitement about how God is moving in our lives and in the world around us.   While there are most certainly tragic and often  unsettling events  to deal with in our  extended family, in the lives of our friends and throughout the world that we are deeply concerned about, we praise God in the midst of it.  He is using this time to turn our hearts toward Him, having  stripped away all the appointments , the projects,  the events,  the places to go and the people to see. He has virtually sat us down and called us to attention if we will but have ears to hear and eyes to see. We’ve been given this moment in time to sit at His feet, to take in His word and to prepare for the glorious resurrection day  celebration before us.

We all serve someone or something.  Money. Fame. Accomplishments. Education. Career. Vanity. We all get to choose.  But would you not consider the one who chose you, before you were formed in your mother’s womb?  The one who gave His very life so that you could be accepted by your very creator? The one who knows every bad thing you’ve ever done and still loves you? The one who was without sin, but died for yours, was buried and rose again.  That’s someone worth serving.

“Choose you today, whom you will serve.” Joshua 24:15

“Today is the day of salvation.” 2 Corinthians 6:2

He is Risen.

Risen for You.

Risen Indeed!

REJOICE and be glad!

P.S. Everything’s gonna be okay. I read the end of the book. You should, too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lean in to Some Comfort

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

~Jesus the Christ (Matthew 11:28-30)

"..Not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these."

Don't Worry About Tomorrow…

“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet, I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, “what shall we eat?” or “what shall we wear?” For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

…Jesus (Matthew 6:28-33)

EMMANUEL In the Waiting

“He’s in the waiting…” This lyric from Bethel Music and Kristene DiMarco’s song, Take Courage keeps rolling around my head in this season of advent and reminds my heart to take comfort in His presence as I wait. His answers are coming even as we wait for the celebration of the birth of the Christchild.

What are you waiting for? Advent is about waiting for what is to come. In this case, the coming savior/child in a manger, who came as an infant to die on a cross some 33 years later. The entire world is waiting for Christmas right now, for all the gatherings, celebrations and tender moments we can muster.

For the last two hours helicopters have been circling my neighborhood. Sirens have been wailing. Schools are on lockdown. We’re in our home, doors locked and waiting to be told what the heck is going on. We’re all waiting for something aren’t we? And, sometimes the waiting is a little scary. Whether it’s for a healing, a relationship, a promotion, a broken heart to mend, a conflict to be resolved, a fear to subside or something else; waiting is an integral part of living. And, what we do in the waiting says everything about where our hope lies and how content we will be.

If our hope is in our own ability to create, manipulate, manage or control the events of our lives, we will surely grow weary. We will be heart sick.

Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.” Proverbs 13:12

If our hope is in the Creator of the universe, the Saviour of the world, we can release our grasp and trust that not only will He deliver every good gift on time, but that He is, indeed, with us as we wait for events to unfold, trusting that He never withholds what is good for us and what will bring Him glory. He who came down from Heaven to walk this earth with us and who will return to gather us to our eternal home, is big enough, powerful enough and loves us more than enough to manage all the things that confound us, worry us and keep us up at night. Emmanuel. God with us.

I’m waiting for friends to be healed from cancer, people I care deeply for struggling with mental illness to have sound minds, loved ones in need of work to find jobs, grieving ones to be comforted, the faithless to find faith in Jesus and for the peace on earth that only He will bring. That’s a lot of waiting, friends. While I may not understand the delay or even the “final answer” in any given situation, my hope is in the God I believe is good. Believing so doesn’t mean we won’t experience sorrow, tears or disappointment, but it does mean that in the end, our hope is in Him and not in our own screenplay of what our life should be. Spoiler alert: His script is far better than anything we might imagine.

We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses… Hebrew 4:15

Whatever you are waiting for, He’s in the waiting. He knows your heart and He is able to carry you through it dear one, so don’t lose hope. We don’t wait alone. He’s right there with us.

Emmanuel. God with us.

GLORY TO GOD IN THE HIGHEST

A Thanksgiving Manifesto

Thanksgiving. The very word reminds me how much I already have in a culture that constantly seeks to convince us that we need more. In the spirit of true gratitude, please allow me to share some of the tangible and intangible things I’m most thankful for today.

May I never fail to express gratitude for these gifts:

  • A bed to sleep in and blankets to keep me warm
  • Running water from my multiple faucets
  • Electricity that brings light and warmth
  • A home to return to each night
  • The family I was born into and the one I married into
  • Friends God has graciously placed in my life
  • The ability to be in contact with people all over the world via a device that fits in my pocket
  • Wheels to take me where I need to go
  • The beauty of creation all around me
  • Food in my cupboard and a refrigerator to keep it fresh
  • State of the art healthcare
  • Agencies that protect, serve and respond to our needs
  • Access to news, literature and art
  • Freedom to respectfully disagree
  • Good health
  • A sound mind
  • Feet to walk on
  • Eyes to see, ears to hear and hands to work with
  • A place to freely worship with other like minded believers
  • More love, kindness and mercy than I will ever deserve

And, should I be so bold as to ask for more, let it be for this:

  • To be used by God for His purposes
  • More time with those I love
  • Shared meals around my table
  • Experiences that linger long
  • Words that feed my soul
  • Laughter that warms my heart
  • Eyes to see the needs around me
  • Ears to hear the cries of those in need
  • Arms to embrace the hurting
  • Moments of wonder
  • Conversations that nourish
  • Opportunities to bless from my bounty
  • Wisdom to be a vessel of hope and healing
  • A heart to hold it all

I am thankful for your eyes reading this today and for all the good gifts He has given us. My prayer for you is that you, too would “Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good. His love endures forever.” Psalm 136:1

What are you thankful for?

“They Did the Best They Could”

The table was littered with crumpled napkins and dessert plates bearing the remains of a homemade strawberry dessert. Our bellies were full and we’d settled into some some real talk–the kind that happens when long after your done eating you sit around the table with those you hold dear and who trust you with the burdens weighing on their hearts.

One of my oldest and dearest friends sat across the table still grieving the loss of his father. As we reminisced I mentioned how much I loved a particular photograph of the two of them. In it, they were captured at a big box store in a town far away engaged in some very childish behavior. They were clearly having great fun evidenced by their beaming faces. Both were laughing. The reflected joy was palpable.

“I loved to make my Daddy laugh,” he said, wistfully, “but, now there’s so much anger.” I saw pure sadness in his lowered eyes. Some hard things had transpired leaving he and his family to suffer sorrow, betrayal, disappointment and an ongoing battle against bitterness that would have been understandable had they succumbed. They hadn’t, but these were hard times indeed.

“He did the best he could.” I responded, hoping to ease his pain.

His response was soft yet swift, “Oh, but, he didn’t.” There was no sign of satisfaction in his eyes over this proclamation. Only sorrow mixed with regret. This conversation took place well over a year ago and I confess it still rumbles around my mind and in my heart.

I don’t know that I will ever mindlessly use that phrase again. Even now if I overhear it somewhere, I hear his response in my head: “Oh, but he didn’t.” We are so quick to say “they did the best they could.” But, was my friend right or was I? Did they do their best? Or, in fact, is that just a trite response when we have no other explanation to soothe ourselves? Is it a myth we use for self-comfort when others have disappointed us with their actions or lack of them?

Do any of us consistently give our best, even to those people and things we love most? Likely not. For a myriad of reasons, we fall short. We fail to be the mothers, fathers, spouses, children, friends, etc that we’d like to think we are or want to be. Because, my friends, wanting doesn’t make it so. If we aren’t intentional about what we do, we too will fail.

I can’t become a master chef by watching the Food Network and wishing I could emulate their skills. Nor can I just post photos of beautiful dishes on Instagram under the moniker “InstaChef.” No. I need to go to the market, purchase the required ingredients, follow the recipe step by step and even then, I may not get the desired result. So, I’ll to try again until I’m satisfied. What may happen down the road is that I grow over confident and fail to read the recipe carefully. I may (because I can be careless) omit a crucial ingredient or use too much of another. I won’t have intended to fail, I just took my eyes off the recipe.

“So we must not get tired of doing good, for we will reap at the proper time if we don’t give up. ” Galations 6:9 Holman Christian Standard Bible.

“We must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it.”
Hebrews 2:1

Growing up I spent many summer days at the beach, body surfing for hours with my cousins and siblings. Often, I would come out of the water to discover my carefully placed towel “missing.” Upon further examination, I was surprised to view exactly where I had left it. I had been oblivious to the fact that the current had subtly caused me to drift a significant distance from where I had entered the water. Unbeknownst to me I had veered off course without noticing that I had lost sight of my home base. We are strongly warned in the book of Hebrews that if we don’t pay attention, we are in great danger of just drifting away. When we do, we will inevitably fail to give our best.

I hadn’t intended to lose sight of that towel, but, neither had I kept my eye on it. I was distracted by the sun and the waves and my company. When that happened, I effortlessly drifted. When we get distracted by the cares of life, we can easily move away from doing our best for ourselves and those we love. My friend was right. His Daddy, though he most certainly loved his boy dearly, also failed him in some pretty significant ways. He could have done better. He didn’t always do his best. I think he drifted from the shore and lost his bearings for a time. The result for my friend has been some high hurdles to jump over. You and I all have, or will have, similar mountains to climb in our own lives. But our good God is gracious to heal our wounds, day by day, as we lay them before Him.

There will always be a mountain to climb
…and hurdles to conquer

So, what about that “unfinished business?” What about those for whom it’s too late? Too late to give their best, too late to give us their time, their affection, their encouragement, their unconditional love and faithfulness, their provision for our needs. What about that? How are we to come to terms with our disappointment, anger, sorrow and regret, knowing there will be no reconciliation here on earth?

Illustration by Margaret Armstrong from Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s
Sonnets From the Portuguese

We can still love and forgive those who’ve failed us in their weakness. We can hate how they hurt us, overlooked us, put others ahead of us or responded from paranoia. Also, when they acted foolishly, selfishly, thoughtlessly or in anger. We don’t need to pretend things were other than they were. We can’t rewrite history. We can’t change what was or wasn’t done, but, for our own healing we can choose to release what we wanted and acknowledge what we actually had. In doing so, we can grow in grace and in mercy, with eyes wide open, to cross over the bridge of forgiveness to the solid ground of peace with God and with man. This is no way negates the wrongs done to us or the heartache we feel, but frees us to repent of our own sin of unforgiveness and to receive the peace that passes all understanding and the healing of our broken hearts.

How can I be so certain of this? Simply because, I’m a sinner, too. I’ve had to release others from the weight of my own unforgiveness, knowing that while I may not make the same mistakes they did, I will surely make my own and so will you. We may, in fact, sin by overcompensating where we were failed. If we were never told “I love you” we may well say it too casually. If we were punished harshly we may err on the side of permissiveness. If we were not adequately provided for we may be prideful in meeting the needs of those we love in a manner far beyond what is reasonable and healthy. Because, we, too, are still being transformed. For that, God allows us a lifetime. As we submit ourselves to His care and leading, He will lead us home where all our tears will be forever dried. In our own lives we can choose to be vigilant, to fix our eyes on Jesus in the earnest hope that others will recall that we did indeed do our best.

It’s a worthy goal.

Sidebar: Even healed wounds hurt from time to time, so, don’t lose hope when yours do. Press forward and through. In the meantime, may I suggest you look into God’s Word for comfort and guidance? Here are some verses to get you started on the road to forgiveness and healing. It’s not easy, but it’s simple.

Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony. And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. Col. 3:13-15a NLT

Get rid of all bitterness, rage and agner, harsh words and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. Instead be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ forgave you. Eph. 4:31-32 NLT

Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy. Micah 7:18 NIV

And whenever you stand praying, you must forgive anything you are holding against anyone else, and your Father will forgive you your sins. Mark 11:25 Phillips

Don’t worry about anything; instead pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank Him for all He has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6-7

Write On

It’s safe to say that no one was more shocked than I that Friday morning in 1972 when my name was announced. The panel of judges had chosen me as the first prize winner for news writing at the 19th Annual Press Day at El Camino College. Sitting in the darkened auditorium awaiting the results, I had zero hope or expectation of being recognized. In all honesty, I had strongly considered not even showing up that day as nearly 400 student journalists from 17 South Bay high schools convened to compete. It was truly a last minute decision to jump into my ’65 Mustang and head to the competition. What the heck. All my friends were going, so, why not?

The South Bay Daily Breeze gave me my fifteen minutes of fame…

I remember hearing speakers, attending the informational session and being told to write a news story about it. I was as nonchalant about the contest as a seventeen year old girl could be, still pondering whether to even bother to write the assigned article or not, with no thought of a win. I was already there, and the time was going to pass anyway, so why not just write and get my participation badge?

When I look back on that day, nearly half a century earlier, I view the experience through different lenses. I now see that day as confirmation that I am, indeed, a writer- that I was born with an ability and a desire to write. This, not because I worked so hard at it, or because I studied long or honed my craft– not because I was the best prepared, but, because God gifted me with something that He wanted me to use for His glory. When I least expected to be recognized, He singled me out and shined a light on the gift He gave.

Redondo’s HIGH TIDE featured all the winners on the front page.
My very brief moment of high school glory!

Though there was a time when I had aspirations to write on a grander scale, I am happy now to share my little stories here with you, whoever and wherever you may be. I will continue write to share with you the meaningful moments and lessons He blesses me with, as I endeavor to fully live this beautiful, difficult, joyful, challenging and precious life He has called me to. Gifts are meant to be shared, so, I will write in response to the One who gives and Who consistently reminds me to pass it on. The act of processing life through these humble words is my response to the Giver of all good gifts. It matters not whether only one person or a million reads them. He made me a writer and, so, I must write.

I am well aware that blogs like this are a dime a dozen and that there is a plethora of writers far more eloquent than I. I am a little fish in a big pond. My aim is not for wealth or fame or a certain number of followers. In fact, the older I get, the more I crave a quiet life. Still, in the rhythms of my quiet, everyday life, I see the simplest moments as stories waiting to be told.

What gifts might you be hoarding that He intended you to give away? No matter where you are in life, it’s not to late to begin. Take a step of faith. Give it away.

Amy Grant Doesn’t Know It, But- She Changed My Life

Yep, Mrs. Gill has influenced how my day starts. A simple prayer her former mother-in-law once shared with her has become one I now begin my day with. It goes like this:

“Lead me today to the ones I need, and to those who need me. And let something I do today have eternal significance. “

Contrary to what you may have imagined, retirement does not mean the end of work. Though one is no longer accountable to corporate dictates or quotas to attain, we are still responsible to our Creator and to those authorities He has put in place over us. So, there are still assignments to be completed for our good, the good of others and for His glory.

No, we no longer need to rise early to get to work on time and yes, we can take a nap in the afternoon if we choose to. We are free to choose how we spend our time, but we choose to be available to what God calls us to. And, it is good. As I have shared in the past, I no longer work for money, only for love. Not in order to gain love, but, in response to the love that’s been given to me.

As a believer in Jesus, I don’t need to earn His approval. He gave it freely the second I responded to His invitation to save me. Loving and serving others is how I respond to His gift- when it’s easy and when it’s hard, because He already did the hardest thing for me.

Our daily marching orders may not be as regimented as they once were, but I still want to live lives of purpose. So– I pray:

“Lead me today to those I need…”

Yep. I need these folks in my life!
And He continues to lead me to…
  • Biblical teaching from the pulpit focused on truth and insights that motivate me to put to use what I learn from our ongoing teaching of the Word of God, verse by verse. I need the knowledge shared and the challenge to live it out.
  • My weekly Bible study where Godly women share wisdom I aspire to. I need their discernment and wisdom. I need the example of these women to propel me to respond well in my own life. I need the women at my table who share from their hearts. Their vulnerability and steadfast faith encourages me tear down the walls I often construct to keep others out.
  • My weekly beach walk with friends. I need them so that I will stay committed to moving my body and enriching my spirit with the company of women who, by their example, cause me to not grow weary in doing right, but to persevere in faith through the ups and downs of life.
  • My friends who I need to pray for me when I ask and when I don’t.
  • A long phone conversation with a far-away kindred spirit because I need to be encouraged and uplifted, too.
  • A visit with a young couple and their sweet little one, who are planting a new church in a largely unchurched area of our state. I need to support them in prayer and with my wallet. And I need to see how God is blessing the investment of time and love I made many years ago. I need to be reminded that love invested yields love paid forward.

“…And to those who need me…”

Because, good golly Miss Molly, it’s not just about what I need. So, our Lord graciously answers this prayer and leads me to these who need me, in a wide variety of ways with a varied cast of characters:

Baby, Baby!
Can you tell them apart?
  • I get to take a dear friend to her chemo appointment and then spend the afternoon with her. I get to cheer her on as she bulks up on as many calories and liquids as her frame will contain and we catch up with each other, uninterrupted by other distractions.
  • I get to spend an afternoon cuddling, feeding and juggling precious twin baby girls while visiting with their mama.
  • I get to give my daughter the afternoon off and take my darling grand girls to the library, the park and for Slurpees, all the while listening to them, praying for them and laughing with them. I get to remind them that I am for them and God is for them.
  • I get to prepare dinner for our weekly time with our “adopted” daughter. We get to feed her a good meal and encourage her as she begins a new semester in her nursing education.
  • At our monthly “SWAP Day” I get to share with my Bible Study friends from my excess as I seek to minimize my possessions and share my bounty with them.
  • I get to accompany my husband to a physician appointment and to take notes for follow-up.
  • I get to support my dear cousin as she has recently acted on one of the hardest decisions of her life. I get to remind her that even when it’s hard, it is still right and good, and that “joy comes in the morning.” And, I get to continue to pray for her as she walks through this valley.
  • I get to welcome a houseful of family and give them a place to celebrate the Labor Day weekend. I get to shop for, prepare and clean up after numerous meals, wipe up lots of spills, dodge kids running through our normally quiet home and enjoy the beautiful picture of beloved faces around our massive table. I get to see every seat filled. I get to serve those who work hard in their own lives everyday. And– in my weariness when everyone left, I get to experience fullness of heart.
  • I get to meet with a young woman struggling in a difficult marriage. I get to encourage her to persevere, to seek God’s wisdom in His word and to be in community with those who will support and encourage her.

“And, let something I do today have eternal significance.”

What does that mean? Englishman C.T. Studd, a cricketer, evangelist and later missionary to China, India and Africa said it best in his poem, “Only One Life “

Only one life

‘Twill soon be past,

Only what’s done for Christ

Will last”

This Studd was the real deal.

I am challenged by this. Convicted by it. Shaken to the core by it. I confess to spending too many hours on too many things that have zero eternal significance. I could fill volumes with the time I have spent on that which will burn. God forgive me. And so, I will pray daily:

“Let something I do today have eternal significance.”

(And might I be so bold as to change it up a bit?)

Let many more things I do today have eternal significance.

Amen.

To Everything, A Season

It’s Labor Day weekend and your local barista is already offering all things pumpkin spice. I have lamented multiple times, this week alone, that Summer has flown by faster than a whistling 4th of July rocket. I often express surprise at how the seasons sneak up on us, but the truth is, they are predictable, unlike some other segments of our lives. As the curtain on another Summer draws to a close, I am reminded that one of the few things we can absolutely count on is change.

To everything there is a season, A time for every purpose under Heaven…

Ecclesiastes 3:1

Be it the weather, our health, relationships or the seasons themselves, we can be certain that life will frequently be in flux. There will always be new mountains to climb and inner strength will be necessary. Our ability to find our “sea legs” will determine how we will ride out the subtle changes and larger storms of this life.

There will always be mountains to climb…

A time to be born, And a time to die…

Ecclesiastes 3:2a

Pressing through the grief, disappointments and irritations that are common to all takes not mere tenacity and resolve but a faith that propels such endurance. Releasing those we love to death stings. Disappointment makes our hearts heavy. The ability to press through the changing and challenging seasons only heightens our instinct to cherish the sweeter moments.

A time to weep, and a time to laugh; A time to mourn, and a time to dance...

Ecclesiastes 3:4

The blessing of new life as we mourn the loss of another we love

Three weeks after the death of my beloved father, my first grandchild was born. As I navigate through my own seasons, I have learned to embrace the reality that sorrow and joy often collide on the streets of life. They are in fact, the most intimate of friends. We won’t engage one without eventually engaging the other. This is a hard certainty. Change will come and we must change with it. As we ourselves are changed, we have the opportunity to bring change to the world we inhabit. I have recognized my only hope (and I believe, yours) is to cling to what is unchanging.

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever

Hebrews 13:8

In the shifting seasons, sands, circumstances, moral codes, political climates and relationship issues we all encounter, I have found Jesus to be the single source that will never fail. Wherever I am, He is there. Whatever my sin, He forgives. However gravely I am wounded, He will comfort. However late I call, He will answer. However undeserving I am, His grace is greater. However deep the pit I’m in, His hand will reach down to draw me out. Not because of any good thing I have done, but because of His grace and mercy to me despite my many shortcomings and failures.

I have found Him faithful. Through every season for more than half a century. There is:

  • No sin He can’t forgive
  • No circumstance too messy
  • No addiction He can’t break
  • No pain He can’t comfort
  • No brokenness He can’t restore
  • No lie He can’t speak truth too
  • No foolishness He can’t redeem
  • No weakness He can’t bring strength to
  • No chaos He can’t bring peace to.
  • No hate He can’t conquer with His love.

Through all the seasons of life, this extraordinary Jesus invites common people like you and I to enter into relationship with Him. Imagine! Your Creator, singling you out to walk and talk and live with Him now and throughout eternity. And, it has nothing to do with being good enough, because none of us are worthy to sit in His presence. Still, He invites us to enter into an intimate, personal, life giving relationship with Him.

Throughout every season of life, He stands at the door of your heart and knocks. Will you open that door?

Find Your People

There’s a subtle lie that haunts most of us a good deal of the time. We look at others and assume they’ve got it going on, but the truth is that underneath even the most polished exterior lies insecurity, struggle, heartache and yes, sin.

“…man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:7

Driving to a meeting last week I was musing about the fact that I know a lot of people think I have myself “together”. I was quickly reminded of the truth, which is that I am lazy and disorganized and prone to wander. I’m a great starter and less great finisher. What has made the difference in my life is that I’ve recognized my need to be dependent on those around me who remind me to persevere.

Some of my people! Find yours!

Holding it together depends on the Body I belong to and the One who created it. No one part of this body is autonomous. A finger, a leg, a nose, an ear, a foot; they all are useless on their own. Left to our own devices we are pretty useless. We all need to be part of an active body. The individual parts produce nothing, but the parts working together in harmony bring productivity both individually and collectively. It’s why I attend services regularly and am disheartened by those who eschew it saying it’s not necessary to do so. God says it is.

“And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another–and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” Hebrews 10:24-25

I’m thankful to acknowledge my need of those God has placed in my spheres of influence. I’ve learned to intentionally seek out people I admire and want to be like, and then sometimes God brings those I never would have sought out on my own. Through each of them, I am encouraged to press on and press in– by those who will confront me when I’m out of order. I rely on them to nudge me when I’m lazy– to get up and move! When I’m weary– I count on them to remind me to keep moving, when I’m discouraged–to press on and when I’m resting on my laurels– to continue on to the next level. When I isolate, it’s easy to convince myself that I’m doing okay–that I’ve done enough. Hence, I need to surround myself with those who spur me on to good works, who by their example remind me to press on to what is good and useful and productive.

Without those God has knit me together with, I confess, I’d be tempted to spend my discretionary hours binge watching Brit-Box far too often. So, believe me when I tell you I am ever mindful of and thankful for my community. I’m not lying. I need you. I say it all the time, but, we need each other. Isolation is always our foe. Kick it out the door. Find your people.

It Hurts to Write These Words…

“Ben died…”

Those were the first  words I read  upon awakening  this past Friday.

“May he rest in peace and rise in glory”

I hail from a large extended family and some I know better than others.  Ben, not so well.  But, his father, my cousin, is like a brother to me, having lived in our home for a substantial  period of time when I was growing up.  He gave me my first Beatles album.  (Rubber Soul)  He let me drive his pink corvette one day.  He has an infectious smile and laugh.  I have a million memories of and with him.  Like each  of us, he has strengths and weaknesses.  Like me, He loves Jesus.   I have dearly loved him as long as I can remember.  Although he is miles away, I am grieving with him today and will be in the days to come.  There is a hard road ahead.

IMG_0885

Ben was his youngest.  His one and only son,  from a mother I have yet to  meet.  He was the child who most resembled him,  from where I stand. He was the husband of   a kind and  beautiful wife who loved him and a sweet daughter he claimed.  He had siblings who also grieve.  Shockingly,  his exit from this life on earth has been splashed across television screens which omit his name,  for now.  A devastating end to a sometime tumultuous life. But then, whose isn’t?

fullsizeoutput_b205

In the wee hours of the morning while riding his motor cycle on a deserted street in a town I once  called home, Ben was struck by a car.  His broken body slammed to the pavement and abandoned.    A helmet lay on the ground near a single white shoe.   A lone witness called for help as the driver of the car fled the scene, no doubt fueled by sheer panic and fear.

Emergency crews arrived to  transport him to a local hospital, where a kind young woman tried to reach my sister, several states away,  via Facebook.  Having found Ben’s ID, she searched for his name there and and saw my sister as a friend and attempted to reach her in the hours before dawn.  The kindness of strangers. 

In a sterile emergency room, surrounded by the good people who worked hard to save him, Ben breathed his last breath.  And now,  we, his extended family grieve, praying that he crossed over to glory.

The witness at the scene of the accident shared information allowing  the police  to identify a  suspect early on.  He was urged  to surrender and  tell his story.  His  car was found, windshield shattered and other damage to the front.  But he was in the wind.IMG_1324Truth be told,  there was no where to run.   Adding more sorrow to an already tragic situation,  he was found dead,  from what is assumed to be a self-inflicted gunshot wound.  My mind shouts “senseless-tragic-why?”   But- I am not God, hence I cannot comprehend the whys.  But, what I do believe, is that God will somehow use it all for His purposes and our good as this sad story continues to unfold.

There is more “collateral damage” than is known to us.  Both of the dead  were 41 year old- young men who  were sons and fathers,  loved by those who suffer in sorrow  today and who will grieve for many days to come. No doubt many  will ask the perennial question, “why?”  1 Peter 5:8 reminds us  that we have a ruthless enemy, described as “a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.” He is always anxious to tear us away from everything that is good, every  gift God freely offers us.   By all we can see, it would that the enemy and his lies seem to have  won this battle.

But, God… DSC02948

 

Here’s what I know for sure:

  1. In God’s economy, nothing is wasted or lost.  His Word says that when we submit ourselves to Him, we can move forward from any situation, confident that He will work every situation, every loss, every tragedy and every triumph for our good. Romans 8:28 assures us He uses all things- the good, the bad and the ugly, for our good and His glory.
  2.  God knew both of these men’s hearts and He was there with both of them in their final moments.   While I do know Ben heard the Gospel and acknowledged  the emptiness of a God shaped space in his heart,    I cannot speak for the other victim in this tragedy.   But, God. God knew and knows. By His grace, up until the final  moments of life, He hears the cry of a sinner surrendering to him and responds with forgiveness and mercy, just as He did to the thief on the cross beside him, when he said,  “Today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43)
  3. As we grieve we all  have a choice;  either to grieve as those who have no hope, (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18) or to grieve in expectation of being reunited with those we have loved here on earth, changing a hard good bye to a confident,  “I’ll see you in Heaven.”  After his infant son died, David said in 2 Samuel 12:23 that “some day I will go to him, but he cannot come back to me.” 
  4. When we suffer such great loss, (and we all will)  we must never forget that He still has work for us to do.  We must war against allowing  our sorrow to consume us.  When it’s time for us to be reunited with those who have gone before us, He will then  bring us Home. too.  Until then, we can either be paralyzed by grief or we can use it for His good, by serving as He calls us, waking every morning with the mindset of a soldier reporting for duty, asking for marching orders.  This is our great challenge and the proof of our faith.  This faith trusts in Him more than in the emotions that might derail us from his plans and purposes for our individual and collective lives. It’s us saying, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in Christ who lives in me.” (Galatians 2:20)

A mere three days into what might  aptly be described as a nightmare,  I have seen God’s hand at work in so many ways…in  the kindness of strangers…in the emergency workers at the scene of the accident…in the  witness who acted so quickly to call for help and to share information with the authorities… in the  media professionals who withheld Ben’s name so as not to be the first to notify loved ones of his death…in the many who have reached out to both grieving families and– in the visit between a father and a son so recent  that it had the finger prints of God all over it.IMG_0960

It is no coincidence that come July, this extended family of Ben and of mine, will once again gather together for a long ago scheduled reunion.  We will  celebrate an imperfect, unpredictable family that reaches far and wide across our country and the love and legacy we share. Unbeknownst to us until now,   we will also  grieve and celebrate Ben.  Some of us  will come to  know him better in death than we knew him in life as we share stories and remembrances from those who knew him and loved him best.  It is going to be a glorious time of remembrance, sprinkled with some grief, but not without joy.

And I, for one, can’t wait.

 

P.S.

The joy of the Lord is our strength.  If you are grieving, and in need of comfort and encouragement, please won’t you open your Bible (or your device) to the following encouraging Words from the God of all comfort. It is  my experience that

| JESUS NEVER FAILS. |

Please Read This and let me know how I can pray for you today:

Joshua 1:9

Psalm 28:7

Psalm112:6-7

Nehemiah 8:10

Isaiah 41:10

Exodus 15:2

John 14:27

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Comforts of Community

Feeling more than a wee bit smug, I  put the finishing touches on my presentation about persevering through the storms of life. (I should’ve seen those yellow warning lights flashing, right?) I was scheduled to speak  to a gathering of women at my church  in 7 days  and was elated to have completed the preparation. (‘So unlike me to be ahead of the curve)  Except for that  nagging little voice in my head  telling me  there was still  something I needed to add. Never the less,  I  had a week to polish and prune and a wide open schedule if adjustments were needed.  No problem.

light road red yellow

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Right…

I arrived home that  Thursday evening  to find my husband in significant pain, but chalked it up to the fact that he had consumed an entire container of salsa with chips, so  we went to  bed praying he’d be better by morning.  When the sun came up, it was clear that was not the case.  His pain had intensified.  I called his physician and although he was overbooked for the day, they fit us in.   His pain was off the charts by the time we arrived at his office and his doc. urged us to go immediately to the ER for further evaluation.

We arrived to a bustling ER and were seen immediately, despite a lobby teeming  with sick and injured patients. He was quickly evaluated and though there  was “no room at the inn” he was moved into the patient area  where he was put on a gurney, in a hallway just across from the desks where nurses and physicians took calls and input information onto their computers. Eventually he was whisked off for an ultrasound and later a CT scan.  Blood was drawn and pain medication was administered.  And we waited.  For hours and hours.

The thing about an emergency room is that you are reminded that many others are far worse off than you are and that gives valuable perspective.  As results came in, it became clear that his gall bladder was the offending organ, an uncommon form of infection as most are caused by gall stones. He had none.  The CT scan showed a lot of inflammation around the gall bladder-  known as acalculous. Initially we expected surgery that night or early the next day.    It needed to come out immediately, but, because of a daily  medication he took, we would need to wait 5 days until that medication was out of his system in order to avoid excessive bleeding.   His white count was 29 which is 3 times the ideal,  indicating a serious infection was raging.  Although the surgery was impossible in that moment, the inflammation needed to be addressed.  As we approached midnight, he was moved to the med-surg  floor and prepared to be  taken into radiology, where a catheter was inserted to draw out infected fluid in order to bridge the situation until surgery was prudent.  The procedure had similar risks, but because it was less invasive there was less risk involved.  It was a short term fix.  In the days that followed, there were heavy doses of antibiotics, painkillers and  intravenous hydration.  Three days later, his  white count finally began to descend.

Over the next several days, I spent long days that morphed into nights at his bedside.  In the midst of this I learned a little more about the meaning of persevering through storms.  I learned that there are gifts to be found.  I learned that the gifts of community are in full bloom when we are confronted by such storms.  Via text messaging, I started three prayer/update chains, one for immediate family, one with Bible Study friends and one with some cousins.  The responses and reassurances of prayers going up on Mike’s behalf were an enormous comfort for me in the long hours I waited alone. Although I wasn’t able to respond in detail, I was able to show my appreciation quickly in most cases.

IMG_3081

By Sunday, the word was out.  Our senior Pastor came and spent an hour with us, encouraging and praying for healing.  Over the next days multiple church staff members came to pray, deliver chocolate and bring encouragement. My girl brought hot tea.    My sister-in-law and niece came briefly, and later delivered a sumptuous meal for me to take home. And one  night when I left the hospital after nearly 12 hours, I asked a security guard to escort me to the 3rd floor of the parking structure. His name was Jesus.  The significance of that was not lost on me.

So. Much. Kindness.

So. Many. Blessings.

The hospital experience was spectacular. The nurses, the nursing assistants, the physicians, the respiratory therapists…without exception we were bathed in kindness and grace. Each new morning I was made  aware of everyday heroes, quietly doing their jobs and blessing those  in their path with  their faithfulness to the tasks given them: worker bees, all –  nursing staff, housekeepers, facility staff, volunteers, cafeteria workers, security guards, parking attendants, lab technicians and pharmacists- the list is long.   Even as I rode the elevators up and down, every employee made eye contact and spoke intentionally. Every single one.  It was like it was a job requirement.  Volunteers played piano in the lobby as I entered each morning and one such morning I found myself singing along…

fullsizeoutput_9e87

God bless the volunteers…

“Oh what a beautiful morning, oh what a beautiful day, everything’s coming up roses, everything’s going my way.”  Bringing joy and uplifting hearts, one song at a time.

Over the next week, my  days were spent spoon feeding my patient  bland, pureed food, assisting  with grooming , adding blankets and taking them away, adjusting heat and bed up and down,  calling for more medications or to stop beeping machinery,  meeting with physicians and sending out updates to our prayer partners.  Friends and family came bearing  chocolate, hot beverages, books, cards , plants, dinner and prayers. One such angel walked and fed our pooches twice a day as I manned my post at the hospital.   Encouraging texts flowed in throughout each day, surrounding us with friendship and love even though I was hard pressed to respond with specific updates.  Prayers from Montana, Washington, Oregon, Arizona, California and more and phone calls from concerned friends and family.  We were so covered and felt so loved.

Although he was assigned a shared room, we were blessed with privacy for the first five days.  It was a blessing to have time  and space to spread out with my books and laptop and a chair to rest in.  Then, by divine intervention, an 85 year old Syrian man came in to claim the other bed.  His daughter visited her Father that night and overheard a conversation about my niece who had visited earlier. When the woman got up to leave later, she apologized for overhearing but she had heard the names I mentioned and wondered… long story short, we realized she had actually cared for my nieces two decades earlier when they were very young.  Though she no longer  lives  in the area,  she  had come to see her Father in the hospital and our Heavenly Father ordained that he should be placed in the bed next to my husband. Another reminder that our  God  is in the details of our lives.  She  shared with me that my  nieces had recently been on her mind and heart and after I updated her on their lives she vowed to keep them in her prayers, knowing the Lord is faithful to provide for all their needs. Isn’t our  God so personal  and so kind? I am astounded at His intervention in our lives.

Six days after we first arrived at the hospital, a successful surgery was performed and on day seven, the patient came home, very grateful to be sprung from the annoyances of hospital life while appreciating every individual there who made his return home possible.

fullsizeoutput_9cf6

Sometimes community springs up where we are, as it did in the hospital that week. But, deep community is built in the monotony of everyday life when things are going well.  It happens in our neighborhoods, in our churches and in our interactions with others.  But, it doesn’t happen without our making the effort .  The time to build community is now, not when you’re en route to the hospital in an ambulance.  Because when you’re sitting in a hospital and day becomes night and then day again, that’s when your community will prop you up.  When you are fatigued beyond your breaking point, they will deliver a much needed cup of coffee when you don’t even realize your body is craving caffeine or,  a meal when you didn’t realize how hungry you were.  They will close the windows you left open in your mad dash to get help and they will walk your dogs when you can’t get home to do it yourself.  More importantly, they will send up prayers on your behalf when you are at a loss for words to pray yourself.  They will bring comfort by waiting with you in the surgery waiting room and be a balm to your weary soul.   These are the priceless gifts of community.

Get one.

Build one.

 

Enter one.

Tomorrow you may well reap the benefits from the one you built today.

“As soon as you began to pray…”

A veritable landslide of events have occured in the last several weeks, causing me to almost collapse in grief. It has been an almost reflexive response. A lifelong friend’s husband was diagnosed with a terminal illness, sent home on hospice and died in a matter of days. A beautiful 35 year old friend from my church failed to wake up last week, leaving behind a grieving husband and seven precious children. Yesterday I spent the day at medical appointments with a dear friend fighting for her life, battling cancer for the second time. Another friend, the picture of health and fitness, suffered a minor stroke only to discover she also had an invasive, incurable form of cancer. She too, returned home on hospice. A week ago today, a small group of friends gathered on her front lawn to visit, pray and worship together with her. This afternoon she passed from this life to the next. The sorrow of it all threatens to pull me under sometimes.

The world is still in the throes of a global pandemic. There is political unrest in our country, an election in the balance, looting and destruction in our cities and vengeful anger all around us. Fear and isolation have paralyzed many of us. Death by suicide is on the rise as are mental health incidents. Many businesses have closed their doors forever. Alcohol consumption and drug use continue to increase while jobs are lost and incomes wiped out. The vitriol on social media is mind bending while marriages are in crisis as our schools are closed and our churches are deemed non-essential. The globe is consumed with anxiety and confusion.

I, like many of you, have poured out my heart to the Lord over these things only to conclude that surrender is the only viable option available to me–surrender to the reality that God is good even when I don’t understand “the whys.” There are some “whys” I can’t begin to comprehend and I don’t think I ever will this side of Heaven. Others may come clear with the passage of time. But for today, I will pray. I will surrender to His goodness and I will walk in faith. I will believe that God does as He promises in Romans 8:28, when He says “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him and who have been called according to His purpose.” Even in the confusion of it all, I choose to believe He’s still in control and He’s going to work it for my good.

Still the sorrows of this life may feel overwhelming. Consider Daniel 9:23, which reads:

“As soon as you began to pray, an answer was given…”

Read that again. Take it in. We aren’t told that the answer is delivered in that moment, that we get it right now, or that we’ll get an audible response. We may not see it with our eyes, but what comfort to know He hears and responds the moment we come to Him. He is at work, even when we may not be able to discern it. So take heart, my friends. Stand firm in the power of your faith. Know that your prayers are heard and answers are given when you pray. Hold on to the reality that He is at work, even when we don’t see or understand. Wait and watch. He is faithful.

Light Your Candle

Yesterday an estimated 50,000 people gathered in our nation’s capital.

To pray.

Another 60,000 watched live on Facebook while others viewed on their televisions and other platforms.

Young and old, a rainbow of pigment, national origins and denominations, all unified—not for a political ideology, not to protest, not to destroy, not to promote a candidate, but, to seek God and the healing of our fractured land.

“If My people…”
“…who are called by My name…”
“…will humble themselves…”
“…and pray…”
“…and seek My face…”
“…and turn from their wicked ways…”
“…then will I hear from Heaven…”
“…and will forgive their sin…”
“…and heal their land.” 2 Chronicles 7:14

We in our own homes were encouraged to join in prayer as we watched, listened and asked our God to forgive us our sin as a country, and to heal us, unite us and to turn our eyes back to our Creator.

I am reminded this morning that my hope cannot rest on my government. It does not depend on a party or a candidate. It doesn’t come from who wins or loses an election or who sits on the Supreme Court. A vaccine won’t suffice and a mask won’t save. My faith cannot be swayed by such things.

God will use who and what He will use. Whoever He allows to be in positions of authority, my marching orders are clear. I will pray. I will be respectful. I will not demean image bearers of my creator, regardless of my personal agreement or disagreement with their beliefs or actions.

Be light. Fan the flame.

Instead, I will join with the thousands today who simply prayed. I will believe God hears and that He will act. And, I will shine light where there is darkness. The greater the darkness, the brighter even the smallest flame of faith shines.

Fan the flame, beloved believers,

until it becomes a flaming fire.

(photo by Tony Valazza)

All photos via Trinity Broadcasting unless otherwise noted.

Worthless Idols

“Unprecedented” is a word we hear constantly these days as we struggle to describe the events unfolding around us.  Between the Covid-19 pandemic,  the racial unrest, the protests, violence and destruction we see in our cities,  solutions are a dime a dozen.  We all want to return to what we now see as “the good old days” and we have our own perspectives on how to accomplish it.

Let me begin by saying that, today, I am speaking  primarily to believers in Jesus.  If you are an unbeliever, this is not directed to you.  As I survey the news, social media and other publications, I am saddened to see that we are responding to the events of our days just like those in old testament times,  when faithful peoples chose to seek  substitutes for the one true God, forsaking Him for what they considered better, more timely solutions.

We may not be constructing  asherah poles,  molding golden calves or  worshipping at the altar of other graven images, but, we have often gravitated toward other idols just as dangerous.  Many believers are putting  hope in  protests,  political reform, physical health and/or beauty,  specific individuals or groups,  economic sanctions and other worldly solutions to what are spiritual problems.  If you don’t see yourself as guilty,  I challenge you to review your social media accounts and what you’ve posted in the last thirty days.  Are your posts pointing others to the God who can move mountains, redeem sinners and give new hearts or, to your political bent or cause?  Who are you quoting? Who are you following? As you answer each of those questions, ask yourself if you might be placing an inordinate amount of hope there.

This morning, I read in the book of Jonah, his lament after being swallowed by a large fish. God had called him to go to Nineveh, a city every bit as wicked as any of our cities today, to confront their wrong living. Jonah, believing the Ninevites didn’t deserve the opportunity to repent, ran from God instead.  (side note: It’s pointless to run from the One who  knows where you are even before you get there.) The result was that he ended up in the belly of a fish with nothing but time to consider his lot.  Here are his conclusions:

“When my life was ebbing away, 

I remembered You, Lord,,

and my prayer rose to you,

to Your holy temple.

Those who cling to worthless idols

forfeit the grace that could be theirs.

But I, with a song of thanksgiving,

will sacrifice to you. 

What I have vowed I will make good.

Salvation comes from the Lord.”

-Jonah 2: 7-9

Two points I want to hone in on.  First, “Salvation comes from the Lord.”  Note he didn’t say the government, an individual apart from God,  a political ideology or any groups or movements present in our world today.  He is our hope and our salvation. Period.

Secondly,  if we are focused on any of those things as the “be all-end all,”  we are guilty of idolizing them over worshipping our God.   These are the kind of “worthless idols” Jonah referred to.  We are commanded to have no other gods before Him.   Our hope must always be, first and foremost,  in Him.  He may well choose to  use individuals and  movements to further His purposes, but it is He we are to look to for our salvation.  This is true both for  individuals and  nations, and it is HE we should be pointing  others to.

“I will lift up my eyes to the hills–where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth. He will not let your foot slip– He who watches over you will not slumber…The Lord watches over you…the Lord will keep you from all harm–he will watch over your life, the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.” 

-Psalm 121:1-8

God is good.  He wants us to trust wholely in Him, and when we do, He is gracious and kind, attending to our every need.   Let’s not forfeit the grace that could be ours.

How the Light Gets In

Most of us have heard the story about not hiding the cracks in our armor, for it’s by the cracks that “the light gets in.”

As we live in the age of COVID-19, we are physically distant from one another by government mandate.  We are no longer allowed to gather with fellow believers as is our custom.  We must stand in lines to shop for the necessities of life.  Restaurants are closed except for take out orders.  Theaters are silent, their screens darkened.  Malls are shut down.  All but essential workers are home on lock-down.  Schools at every level are shuttered and children are home for the forseeable future.

This is our new normal.  Truth is, as Americans, most of us are not suffering in comparison to our brothers and sisters world wide.  Most of us live lives of great privilege in comfortable homes with running water, bathroom facilities, freezers and safety.  We are rich by world standards.

Even so, these are trying times.  Many of us are worried about the future, our health and that of our loved ones.  We are concerned about our economy with so many out of work.  Some wonder  how their mortgages will be paid when there is no paycheck coming in.  Others are suffering the loss of those who have loved ones hospitalized and pregnant women wonder if their babies will be born in hospitals overrun with this deadly virus.  These are somber times. But the light is still getting in because of the light in hearts around us who are choosing to spread it.

Here’s to the lightbearers who are making us smile!

Sidewalk Artists at Work

Dinner Guests Honoring 6 Foot Rule

Food Provided to our Community by Hope in Action

Hymns of Comfort Online by The Kisakas

Fresh Citrus Delivered By My Friend Tracy

Comfort Food Aplenty

Facebook Prayer With a Dear One

Bible Study Online!

Curbside Books

Bursts of Color in Our Neighborhood

Church Livestream

Communion at Home With My Beloved

Garden Blooms

There is much to be thankful for, even in these dark times.  Be grateful for the light that gets in and gets through.  Then, BE the light.