Sunday, October 14, 2018

Look Up Child

“Oh Lord, (when all I feel is doubt) I hear you say “Look up child!” ~ Laura Daigle
Isabella woke to the gentle patter of rain on the hotel balcony and thunder rumbling from a distance.  She pushed the blankets off, immediately feeling the warmth of sleep drift away.  Swinging her feet over the side of the bed, she stood up and walked towards the window.
The sky was awash in shades of grey; their dingy color suggested an even drearier day.  Misery seeped into her pores like fog about to rain on her soul with even more sadness.  Before even getting dressed, Isabella decided to take extra tissues and an umbrella to the airport today.
She was on her way home minus that someone who’d been with her for more than a year.  That same person who’d promised to love her forever … only to leave when things got hard.  Where there was once love, light, and laughter left an aching void now.  Her heart was crushed; life seemed no longer worth living.
Once on-board, she settled into a window seat and watched as the plane taxied for take-off.  Outside, all she saw were cheerless, ashen clouds.  But as the plane gained altitude through the mist, they emerged into a sun-drenched world far above the disappointments left behind.
The same clouds that were hanging low just minutes before, so dark and gloomy from the underside, appeared totally different from God’s vantage point.  Radiant in their current splendor, they rose as soft mountain peaks, impossible for any would-be climber, yet simple for a dreamer.
That reality brought an important thought to bear; one Isabella tried to remember for the rest of her life.  She realized that, no matter how bleak or dismal a day might be, the sun always shines above the clouds.  That inspired courage, hope, and confidence that everything will be just fine.
It’s not always easy to trace God’s designs in our ill-planned hopes and visions.  But rest assured that if we’re called according to His purpose, and if we love God, all things do work out for good.  Who are we to question which way the winds of Providence shall blow, or how the Great Captain shall maneuver our ship through life’s storms?
Yes clouds will come.  They’re part of the fabric of everyday life.  But by God’s grace we need not be depressed by their presence.  Like the misty billows that float above us: 1) they protect us from the sun’s blinding glare; 2) they reveal God’s majestic glory; and 3) He speaks to us continually from their lofty height whether we sense His presence or not.
But never forget that God promises to guide you when you take your concerns to Him in prayer.  The sunshine of His love shines even into the darkest part of your life.
Look up child, towards the heavens and beyond the clouds!  Everything’s under control.  You’ll see that the suffering you experience now is nothing compared to the glory that I’ve planned for you here!” ~ God

Monday, October 1, 2018

Tell Laura

“Love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins." ~ 1 Peter 4:8
The night her sister turned 53, their Dad called to inform Sheila that her sister’s cancer had spread to multiple organs.  Her end was near.  She’d not wished her sister a happy birthday; they’d barely spoken in 3 years.
Racked with indecision, Sheila asked “Does Laura want me there?”
Through beeping monitors and the ventilator’s hiss, she heard her Dad repeating the question several times.  Her sister replied in a barely audible voice, “Yes.”
Sheila hung up and steadied herself, recalling their last conversation.  It’d started off OK, but within minutes they were back to bickering like teenagers.  There’d never been a real reason.  Some of it was normal sister stuff: juvenile name-calling, petty jealousies, and unauthorized clothes pilfering.  Almost anything could spark an argument.
After their mother died, Laura assumed the role of Mother Superior - a position as eldest sibling she’d rightly earned.  She claimed Sheila was selfish … Sheila called Laura a ‘control freak.’
Soon they replaced the fragile bond of sisterhood with wounds that never healed.  Instead of leaning on each other for strength and answers, they grew into two miserably, resentful women.  Their last exchange ended on hateful, destructive terms.
For the twenty long minutes Sheila drove to the hospital, anger and resentment morphed into fear and anxiety.  It wasn’t her sister’s dying that frightened Sheila, but rather the possibility of Laura telling her one last time how she’d ruined her life with bad decisions.  “Could she possibly listen to Laura rattle off a litany of her failures one last time?” she wondered.
She stood at her sister’s doorway, frozen like a statue, not saying a word.  Her Dad hugged Sheila before exiting.  “Go talk to her,” he whispered.  “She doesn’t have long.”
Laura’s voice crackled like tissue paper as she tried to speak.  “Hold me Sheila, please hold me.”
And that’s what Sheila did; pressing through the sickness, trying to bury all those years they’d wasted.  There would be no hanging up this time, no slamming doors or telling each other to f#ck off.  “I love you Laura,” she managed as her only sister took her final breath.
Whether she agreed or even heard the words, Sheila would never know for sure.  If she’d had more time, she would’ve said everything she’d always wanted to say: that she was sorry they had to grow up so fast, that she appreciated Laura’s filling the ‘Mom’ role, and apologizing for being such a selfish pain.
Now as she thinks about the evening her sister died, she pretends that’s exactly what Laura heard.
Love rarely ever knows its own depth until it’s taken away.  So don’t wait around.  If you love someone today, tell them.
Almighty God, You sent Your own Son into this world to die for us that we might be saved and reunited back to You.  Help us to excel at promoting, maintaining, and protecting positive relationships within our lives!  Amen

Friday, September 28, 2018

Not His Plan

“We make lots of plans but God’s purpose prevails." ~ Proverbs 19:21
We all have a story.  The one God wrote for Alejandro took several unexpected turns.
Despite an education from a major university, he graduated in the midst of one of the country’s worst recession.  No one was hiring.
A friend got him a job at a group home for cognitively disabled adults.  That was certainly NOT part of his career plan.  It was hard work and emotionally draining.
Alejandro was responsible for helping the residents develop life skills until they were ready to live independently.  The most challenging part of the job was helping them learn to control their behaviors when they acted out – a liability he dreaded and seemed ill-prepared to assume.
Jacob, one of the residents in particular, would become violent at times when frustrated.  He did enjoy hiking outside, so Alejandro often walked with him to calm him down.
One day when they were out walking Alejandro suddenly felt something touch his fingers.  Jacob was trying to hold his hand.  Instead of pushing it away Alejandro grabbed his hand and they strolled together in the sunshine.
As they headed home Alejandro felt the warmth in Jacob’s eyes.  They beamed with love, with joy, with goodness.
He closed his own eyes and savored the moment.  He let the happiness soak into his bones, never releasing Jacob’s grip.
It caught him off guard.  In that instant, Alejandro saw past Jacob’s troubling behaviors and his impairment.  He saw who Jacob really was.
For the first time in forever his body and mind relaxed - no expectations on him, no deadlines and no schedules to meet.  This wasn’t his plan … but he liked where it was headed.
Little did Alejandro know that God would use that experience to help prepare him for his own two son’s Autism.  Although his boys often found it difficult to fit in, it helped their Dad see the light that shone within them as well.  Learning to accept, nurture and celebrate their differences was a critical step to encourage them as the men God created them to be.
It helped him realize that caring for them was not a duty but an honor; that every child of God is precious and holy.  They became his best tutors about how to live and how to love.  And when it came to plans, God may have steered his somewhere else, but He always had something bigger and better in mind.
No matter where you are on your faith journey, there’s a plan and a purpose to what you experience.  If you’re struggling, take comfort in knowing you’re not alone.  Be encouraged by reading about others’ experiences who have seen the transforming work of Jesus in their lives.
Heavenly Father, You know me better than I know myself.  I know you have a plan for me, so please don't let my desires blind me to Your will.  Give me peace about whatever is to come, trusting completely in Your hand.  Amen

Monday, September 24, 2018

Souls Connected

“Love God with all your heart, soul, and all your strength.” ~ Deuteronomy 6:5
They’d been in the ER for hours.  Every so often Sandra would lean over and kiss his searing brow as if to cool it, or maybe, to comfort herself.   Her husband, Geoffrey, was clinging to life with a severe infection.
Sandra waited hopefully, feeling strangely euphoric as she reflected on how lucky she was to have so much to lose.  He was her rock, her mystery, the love of her life.
Just yesterday, while sitting before a romantic fire, Geoffrey picked up the stubby end of an indigo crayon and a ragged piece of paper.  He drew a hangman’s noose and the dotted lines of a secret message.  Sandra grinned.
Geoffrey rolled the crayon toward her so that she could use it to guess letters.  Sandra got the first few wrong.  One by one he drew a head, a body, both legs and two arms.
"Give up?" he mouthed, before filling in the puzzle: “You complete me!” it read.
Sandra swept away the mess and snuggled in close.  They’d been married for over 18 years.  That meant she woke up beside him over 6,500 times.  And whether one or both of them rushed out the door with the kids or they savored the intimacy of their last few horizontal minutes together, their mornings always kicked off the same way: with a kiss and synchronized “I love you’s!”
They discussed everything – especially the hard stuff.  They trusted each other completely; assured that neither would abandon the other in the face of anger, conflict or even sickness.
Sandra placed her lips again to Geoffrey’s sleeping forehead and felt a welcome coolness.  She sank deeply into the armchair.  Tension that’d robbed her of rest melted away; her prayers answered.
Successful couples don’t have a magic formula or aren’t simply better matched.  They keep their eye on the prize – a loving relationship, by constantly working at nourishing their marriage.  They never take each other for granted, always blessed by the wonder of their union.  They’re slow to anger, quick to forgive, and leave no tracks of resentment.
God wants us to experience the same kind of relationship with Him.  Those who know Him have a sense of desperation for fellowship with Him.  He’s not simply a priority; he is the priority.  God wants us to trust, admire and love Him with every cell in our bodies just as we might feel with our closest human relationships.
Perhaps the most profound unity we can have with God is when we share His work. Whether that means praying for someone He loves, leading by His example, or bringing a message of hope to someone who’s been wounded, there is nothing like doing God’s will on earth.
Lord, take me deeper.  I don’t know how to worship You like Mary did, but I want to learn.  I want more of You in my life.  I want You to be the object of my affection and all my devotions.  Amen

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Into Life

“I leave you with peace, so don’t be troubled or afraid." ~ John 14:27
He stunk of stale cigarettes and his scraggly, hair hung as a tangled mop of mousy grey.  Weighing no more than 120 pounds, Eddy was somewhere in his sixties, but years of living on the street, sleeping on subway grates or flophouse steps, had taken its toll and his mind and body.  Today he was going to do something he hadn’t done in over four decades.
The concrete steps of the St. Joseph’s Cathedral were still wet from the morning rain, but he waited on them despite the dampness seeping through his corduroys.  Eddy was going to church today.  Well, technically he was attending a funeral for a man he barely knew; yet a man whose kindness had enabled a cup of coffee or an occasional sandwich for as long as he could remember.
“Jonesy” had greeted Eddy nearly every morning on the walk to his office with whatever money he pulled from his pocket.  His eyes were what struck Eddy the most.  They seemed to sparkle with a brilliance that glowed from deep within his soul.  They’d chat briefly.  And Jonesy would always close with “Have a blessed day my friend,” before continuing on his way.
Eddy had no details on Jonesy’s passing, but he felt his friend deserved his presence at the memorial service today.
As people started to arrive, Eddy moved to the shadows.  He expected hurtful comments about his appearance so he waited until the service began before entering.  Though there was fear in his chest, there was none in Eddy’s heart when he took his place in the last pew.  He so hoped God would understand.
He was immediately surprised by the joyful demeanor of the congregation.  Beautiful music filled the air without effort; the sound rushing in and around every person in the room.
The tone was happy rather than mournful, celebratory instead of somber.  Almost no one was dressed in black.  Which struck Eddy as strange, because at the altar was a wooden coffin containing the lifeless body of a 56-year-old man.
A few spoke about their relationship with Jonesy.  Most, if not all of them, made sure to express thanks to God.
There was nothing particularly sad or mournful about the scripture readings either.  They seemed to provide a glimpse into a brighter world, a world where all Christians will be reunited, where the bonds of love shall be made stronger, never again to be severed.
Maybe there is something to this Christian stuff, Eddy thought to himself.  Not only did this help soothe the pain of losing his friend, but offered hope for a better world, knowing he’d see Jonesy again, thank him again, and thank God for the second chance starting right now.
Thank you Jesus, that the sting of death has been forever broken by Your resurrection, so that by believing in You, we might have everlasting life.  And remind us that Christian funerals are a joyful celebration of these glorious truths.  Amen

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Tune In

“God speaks in many ways, but we don’t always recognize His voice." ~ Job 33:14
“Shhh!  It’s about to start,” Grampa announced fiddling with the antenna.
It would oddly be called the Golden Age of Radio.  Odd because part of this period started during the Great Depression when people were doing without most luxuries, and even many necessities.
But after the initial purchase radio was free, providing a cheap source of entertainment that replaced more costly pastimes such as the movies.  Even though people couldn't afford payments on their washing machines, vacuum cleaners, or Model A Fords, they desperately struggled to keep up payments on their radios.
They weren't just small devices in plastic cases.  Radios were built into large wooden cases that served as elaborate pieces of furniture.  The size was due mostly to various large vacuum tubes in the circuitry.
The Golden Age was more than storytelling; even more than today’s audiobook.   They were movies that played on the biggest screen of all … our imaginations!
Grampa loved that radio.  It was the only object in his home he felt an emotional attachment to.  It never demanded his attention but instead sat quiet and unassuming until called upon.
His family would gather around its bulky frame and fill in the story’s blanks with images in their own heads, much as if they were reading.  Sound-effects artists who’d been laid off with the advent of “talkies” found new jobs providing radio sounds that would guide the creation of those images.
Despite its popularity, radio still had many kinks to be worked out.  Tuning the station to its correct frequency was a constant chore.  So Grampa would stand near the radio adjusting the antenna with as much clarity as he could finesse, then gingerly letting go only to have the static return with frustrating obscurity.
Grampa worked feverishly to keep the program “tuned in” so as not to distract or disengage the family’s entertainment.  But it was so worth it – like spending time with an old friend.
Now that radio sits idle beside my bed (vacuum tubes are nearly impossible to find these days).  I play the greatest hits from my own golden years on my new-fangled Smartphone and pretend to ‘tune in’ Grampa’s old radio to the airwaves of yesteryear.
Today a different kind of static clouds and jumbles our hearts and minds – the static of busyness, societal pressures, cheap advice, self-absorption, and (anti)social media.  We’re often so busy and the world so loud that it’s difficult to hear God’s voice, especially since He often speaks in tones that are still and small.
Some Christians even live their lives on “airplane mode” completely tuning out the messages God sends to us continuously throughout the day.  We have a direct link to the Throne of Grace — no antenna required.  He’s always speaking to us … but are we tuned-in to His message?
Father, bless me with a seeking heart.  Give me ears to hear and eyes to see the ways You’re speaking to me.   Help me recognize the difference between Your voice and my thoughts.  Amen

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Dyn-o-mite

“The Lord said, ”Well done, my good and faithful servant." ~ Matthew 25:21
There’s a reason journalists at major newspapers pre-write the obituaries of famous people.  They want them to be great!  Can you imagine the horror of reading one’s own obituary – and it was bad … really bad?  Think about that for a moment while I digress.
Young Alfred watched the explosion with childlike curiosity.  It wasn’t its noise, power or intensity that captivated him.  It was the challenge.  As a neophyte chemist, he was determined to produce nitroglycerin, a violently explosive liquid, for practical use.  Nitro in the mid-1800s was so unstable that the slightest jolt, impact or friction caused it to spontaneously detonate.
To make its handling less dangerous, Alfred tested countless additives.  Ultimately he found that mixing nitro with clay turned the liquid into a paste that could formed into rod-like shapes.  He patented his invention “dynamite.”
The new, safer explosive immediately found many industrial uses, such as mining, quarrying, and demolition.  But when WWI broke out, dynamite began fueling war machines on both sides.
Despite being a pacifist, his factory continued producing nitroglycerin-based explosives, defending this incongruity by saying he was trying to produce weapons so destructive that no-one would dare use them - thus eliminating war.
Sadly, that strategy failed.
When his brother Ludvig died in 1888, a French newspaper erroneously published Alfred’s obituary by mistake.  Imagine his shock when he read the headline “The Merchant of Death is Dead.” It went on to say that “he’d become rich by finding ways to kill more people faster than ever before.”
Horrified to read that he’d be remembered for eternity as the man who indirectly caused so much death and carnage, Dr. Alfred Nobel decided that history should remember his name for a greater purpose.  He devised a plan to devote 94% of his estate (about $265 million) to a series of prizes for “those who’ve … conferred the greatest benefit on mankind.”
Since 1901, the Nobel Prize has been honoring men and women from all corners of the globe for outstanding achievements in physics, chemistry, medicine, literature, and peace.
No eulogy ever says s/he dressed well, lived extravagantly, took fabulous vacations, drove an expensive car, or built the most expensive home.  Those who are most mourned are people who enhanced the lives of others.  They were kind and loving.  They had a keen sense of their duties.
When they could, they gave to charity.  If they couldn’t give money, they gave time.  They were loyal friends and committed members of communities; people you could always count on.  They were the essence of lives well lived.
What will be your legacy?  How would you like to be remembered?  Will you be missed?
Father, I love to be in control and cling to anxiety with stubborn pride.  Show me how to be more like Your son Jesus so that You will be glorified!  It’s a daily battle that can only be won with Your grace - not by my own determination and desire.  Amen

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Silver Spoon

“Let everything you do reflect the integrity and seriousness of your teaching." ~ Titus 2:7
I was born with a ‘silver spoon’ in my mouth.  My five siblings and I shared one bedroom with whatever stray pet wandered our way.  Our home had another room for my parents, a half bath and a kitchen.  Back in my day, there was no welfare; no food stamps.  But we always had plenty to eat, because every time we asked for seconds, Dad would say, “No, you have plenty.”
You must be thinking “That doesn’t sound much like a silver spoon!”  But we were rich beyond imagination.  My parents taught us that in this great country, if you get an education, you’re willing to work hard, and overcome problems and difficulties, you can amount to something.  Life’s a matter of making choices and then taking personal responsibility for the choices you made.  Having hopes, dreams, and ambition is absolutely critical.
You could say my parents were “OLD SCHOOL.”
My folks didn’t cave to the idea that children must be engaged in numerous organized activities to have a great childhood.  My dad once described me as an octopus of crazy limbs in constant motion who occasionally got into trouble.  But for us, the 12-month cycle of constant scheduled activity didn’t exist.  That resulted in more family time and less stress.  Somehow we grew up just fine.
My parents’ generation was far less prone to over-spend and ruin the family finances.  They were thrifty, lived in smaller homes, and were less concerned with continually upgrading their lifestyle.  As a result, they saved more and enjoyed greater financial stability.  Not luxury, stability.
Chores weren’t rewarded – they were expected.    My parents were big supporters of the idea that “you get paid with a roof over your head and food on the table.”
Early each morning Mom pushed us outside and didn’t allow us back indoors until lunchtime.  We were expected to entertain ourselves and make our own fun.  We had decent supervision, but weren’t constantly showered with attention and praise.  Going to church was never a question, but rather the answer.  Misbehaving bore consequences.
We didn’t get time outs.  Dad wasn’t afraid to discipline us if we messed up.  Spanking was never excessive and he always explained why we were getting punished.  Today the pendulum has swung too far in the other direction, depriving kids of the kind of consistent correction they need.
Silver spoon – oh yea!  I was a fortunate son.
I never once questioned whether my parents loved me.  They continually sacrifice everything so that I could have the right start in this world.  They gave me a strong sense of wrong and right, and I have them to thank for the strong work ethic, morals and faith I have today.
Heavenly Father, thank you for my two “Silver Spoons.”  I’m so grateful for their love, attention, guidance, help understanding, wisdom and even (infrequent) discipline.  Help me to be as loving to them as they were to me.  Amen

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Chain Breaker

“Anyone who belongs to Christ is a new person; the past is forgotten. ~ 2 Corinthians 5:17
The men in Ryan’s life had two things in common – thirst and a lack of self-control.  Hence you might say that he was born to die young; destined for failure and a future bleak at best.
His grandfather was a raging drunk.  Years of alcohol abuse left him dull-witted.  He had no desire to get sober and was determined to stay drunk until he died.  With no love to share with his wife or children, the liquor bottle became his only friend.
As a result, Ryan’s father became a rowdy sort, who while smart and handsome, began to look for ways to fill the holes in his heart.  His mother fell in love with the rebel and they married.  But it didn’t take long for their relationship to suffer.  Anger from Dad’s youth divided the couple.  He filled the emptiness drinking alone in local bars.
Mom left home when Ryan was seven after one of one of Dad’s all-too-frequent beatings never to be heard from again.  His father sank deeper into the bottle until Ryan found him dead on the couch next to an empty whiskey bottle and an ashtray of cigarette butts days before graduation.
Ryan carried hateful anger towards his father in college.  But unwittingly, he repeated many of his Dad’s same destructive behaviors and partied heavily.
His first marriage lasted seven years and produced one son. Thrilled with fatherhood, Ryan vowed to be the best father ever; he’d never embarrass his kid, only make him proud, and always be there for him.
But the men in his past still haunted him.  So he sought help!
During a 4-day spiritual retreat, Ryan found himself at the foot of the cross, free from the fear of God’s punishment; He’d already paid the price for Ryan’s sin.
It wasn’t until he totally surrendered himself to God that the scourge of alcoholism that had littered his past melted away.   Despite struggling with self-worth, trust, intimacy, and more, the Lord’s blessing helped him break the chains handed down through generations. When he ponders how close he came to that path, Ryan thanks God for the will to persevere for a better life.
Sometimes we carry on family traditions that we shouldn’t and it affects our children.  So whether you have inherited certain propensities genetically or from exposure to regular family behavior, the Lord is able to overcome these battles and strongholds in your life as you determine to depend upon Him.
And pour yourself into this next generation - the purity you walk in will be a platform for your kids.  Decisions you make (both good and bad) will impact generations to come.
Beloved Child, I love it when you come to Me to confess your sin.  I’m your safe place and your salvation.  Let’s make it right together.  Let Me have the thing that’s holding you back from a new and fresh start.  ~ God

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Limbo

“He who began a good work in you will carry it to completion.” ~ Philippians 1:6
Hurricanes and lava flows have something in common: limbo - literally the calm before a looming disaster.  Time for preparation, time for fear … and time for reflection.
For me (Elikapeka, Hawaiian name meaning Promise of God), it’s that space between insight and oblivion; when smoky gray becomes the brief color of one’s life.
I’ve experienced both the beginning and end of a massive volcanic eruption.  It’s a space where there are more questions than answers.
I watched helplessly as creeping rivers of molten rock slowly wiped out my entire neighborhood.  Our home burned to ash in less than 45 minutes and joined the lava flow with all but a few keepsakes from our past.  We moved into a Friend’s video rental store in nearby Pahoa town.
Limbo has defined our lives for the past few months; a seemingly stagnant space of uncertainty.  We’re anxious to move into a flowing, more vibrant period, but it rarely comes in the timeframe we want or expect.
Then came news of another potentially devastating storm.
The satellite images look so peaceful; a perfect swirl of white no more threatening than cream stirred into black coffee.  I pray Hurricane Lane doesn’t come our way; that it’ll leave the Big Island alone, but it has to go somewhere.
Last time, the hurricane came at night when the wind was as sympathetic as a tsunami; as forgiving as a drought.  Wanting it to stop was like pleading with a bullet.
But the key to forward movement is to embrace the limbo dance.  Balancing from such an awkward position prompts me to gaze skyward to the Lord for support, guidance and victory through it all.  He knows just how low I can go and still get back up.
His grace is sufficient during this transition.  We can accelerate or slow down the transition process to the extent that we relax and trust that “He has begun good work in us and will finish it.”
So here I sit in limbo, confident that I’ll have the power for our necessities when the trees sever our power lines, listening to the rhythmic patter of the pelting rain, and recalling the gorgeous sunset last evening before the storm.  Limbo’s invitation invites me to surrender to its timing, trust what’s unfolding, and wait for His healing calm.
Soon we’ll look for a new home and start again.
God’s Word explodes with answers to every problem, concern, and need we have.  Like Elikapeka, you’ll receive strength to conquer life’s limbo situations with His help.  He wants for us a fullness of life, not some shadowy half-way point stuck forever en route, through an abundance of mercy.
“Lord, thank You for being the God of the impossible.  You can do anything.  Help me to conquer the limbo dance by trusting in Your ability and not my own.  Teach me to see difficulties in my life from Your perspective, Amen.”  ~ Elikapeka

Monday, August 20, 2018

The Invisibles

“I have great plans for you,” says the Lord. ~ Jeremiah 29:11
Kelsey had big dreams ... big hopes for her last year in high school and poised for the future she’d prayed for.  She couldn’t wait to graduate … and change the world.
Standing in the lunch line, Kelsey noticed her immediately – a younger girl who looked so lost; so out of place sitting by herself.  Her eyes were fixed on her food.  She never looked up.  Behind the masked smile she attempted to wear on her face, there was sadness and isolation.
Sadly, in nearly every high school, there are ‘invisible’ kids sitting in classrooms and wandering the halls; invisible to most teenagers because their own sights are set on succeeding in school and in life.  They had their own problems to worry about.
Invisibility becomes a potent defense mechanism weapon and often a sign of depression, anger, anxiety, substance abuse, and much more.  Studies show that they’re more likely to become victims, bullies, homeless, addicts, and even criminals.
With love and faith Kelsey introduced herself and asked permission to join the girl for lunch.  She wanted her to know that there were people who knew she existed and, more importantly, that there was a God who knew and loved her.
Phoung, she learned, recently emigrated from Cambodia with her family.  She struggled with the little English she knew and was trying her best to blend in without attracting any attention.
Over the days and weeks that passed Kelsey greeted Phoung in the halls hoping to engage more conversation.   The small, dark haired girl responded with smiles, but still kept her head down and responded very little.  Kelsey knew that just spending time with Phoung was what God wanted regardless of her response.
One cloudless spring day, Phoung spotted Kelsey in the hall and did something amazing.  She looked up, actually taking both eyes off the floor.  From behind her back, she offered Kelsey an elegant lotus flower with two words: "Thank You."
For Kelsey, that was a life-changing moment but maybe not for the reason you might think.
She realized that instead of her changing the world, God was changing her - one flower at a time.
She may never become president, be famous, or have a million dollars to her name.   But she knew that Christ wanted her to love Him with all her heart so that she could spread that love to everyone around her – especially those cloaked behind the shield of invisibility.
Though a pebble is incredibly small compared to a pond, it still creates ripples that affect the water around it.  As Kelsey learned her senior year, so does every word that comes out of our mouths and every action we do for good - or for bad.
Lord, if we overlook these kids we become part of the problem.  Bless them with the love of caring people who assist them step into the spotlight and connect to a brighter future and the resiliency to bounce back from adversity.  Amen

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Dancing in the Sky

“Help bear each other’s burdens, and thus fulfill the law of Christ." ~ Galatians 6:2
She was a person of uncommon gifts, like a bird in flight making something seemingly impossible appear easy and natural.  On the ward Nurse Miller calmed patients deemed "difficult" by other nurses.  One glance at her ivory skin against a stylish black uniform and their respirations eased to a more relaxed rhythm.
Miller never hurt them, never became impatient or belittled their pains, physical or otherwise.  She spoke to them like they were still vibrant people, people who mattered, not just withered old bones too stubborn to die any faster.
When the cancer claimed her patient Ellie, she was skin and bones.  Her ghostly face struggled to mask the torment inside.  Most days she asked Nurse Miller to read her a story, something whimsical to help her mind escape.  But the process of dying was more cruel than any fiction she'd ever read. The pain would be with her until the end; everyday a battle not to lose hope.
On this morning, Miller’s gaze fell on Ellie with the warmth of an adoring daughter’s eyes.  “How are you doing this morning, dear lady,” she asked in a deep yet honeyed voice.
“Sing me a song please,” Ellie pleaded, “something sweet, ok?
The nurse was taken aback.  She’d never sung in ‘public.’  No song immediately came to mind.  Need your help here Jesus she muttered to herself just before a thought came to mind.
Miller tenderly caressed Ellie’s hand and started singing Dani and Lizzy’s “Dancing in the Sky,” a song Ellie had mentioned that she wanted sung at her funeral.
Ellie began singing along, pausing in the middle of the song to wipe away her tears.
“Oh, I, I hope you’re dancing in the sky
 And I hope you’re singing in the angel’s choir
 And I hope the angels know what they have
 I’ll bet it’s so nice up in heaven since you arrived.”
Soon she grew too weak to continue singing, so Nurse Miller sang on her own.  Ellie’s body seemed to surrender, perhaps sensing the closeness of her Creator and sliding her into a serenity no amount of morphine could have achieved.
The song they shared together was exactly what Ellie needed during the last minutes of her life.
Nurses are God’s angels on earth.  Without them, patients are lost, often scared, confused and completely alone.  They seem omnipresent - no matter the time of night or how petty the request.  They hold a hand if needed, share a newspaper when sought, explain what is often unclear and disorienting, and even sing upon special request.  It’s a beautiful thing when a career and passion come together.
Healing Lord, give them strength to face the days ahead, and courage when assisting each aching heart.  Give them wisdom with every word they speak, and patience to comfort the sick and frail.  Finally, please give them assurance that they’ve given their best and done what’s right.  Amen

Friday, August 10, 2018

Something Good in Every Day

“No gift is too small if given freely." ~ 2 Corinthians 8:12
On a typical hot, scorching day in Chicago, Ed walked through the firehouse door for the last time.  His days as a firefighter had come to an end; one no smoke eater should ever have to experience.  Not from injury, disease, or even failure, but cynicism.  He’d gotten too old for this crap!
In the gear room that’d evoked 24 years of memories, he started clearing out his locker.
Since 911, firefighters had become the subject of a well-deserve public devotion.  They’re depicted on magazine covers.  Firefighter Halloween costumes frequently sold out.  NYC Department stores even honor them in window displays.
But for Ed, ‘rightsizing,’ ‘resource adjustments,’ and politics had taken their toll.  No matter what the label, it had the same demoralizing effect.  The hardship of missing out on special events and an inability to make firm plans with friends and family bled a little life each time.  Whether he’d ever admit it, PTSD hid just below his emotional crust.
As Ed packed the last of his personal items and stared back at an empty locker, the emergency alarm screamed to life.   A small fire had broken out in a downtown apartment building.  “Let’s do this one more time,” he thought, climbing into his gear.
By the time they arrived at the scene, the “small fire” engulfed the entire building.  Residents had likely escaped the blazing inferno and gathered at a safe distance.
But they needed to make sure.
Ed and his partners entered the building clad in their fire-retardant gear, busting down doors and checking for any remaining tenants.  When they saw no residents and heard no screams or sounds, they fled the building.  All were safe and accounted for.
Ed found a spot and sat down heavily on the sidewalk.  Only then did he realize the enormity of what’d just happened.  Heat from the fire’s intensity left him parched and dehydrated, over-whelming his body's ability to cool itself.
A small, pink-slippered, child approached.  Tightly braided hair revealed a thin layer of soot only broken by tear tracks.  Ed patted the ground next to him and motioned for her to join him.
“You look thirsty,” she said in a small voice and offered him her water bottle.  It was the freshest, coolest water Ed had ever tasted.  Instantly, all seemed right with the universe.
Some gifts offer sparkling delights, lasting no longer than the bubbles in champagne.  Others - a new tool, a wool sweater - provide pleasure for a season or two.  More durable gifts, like jewelry, offer an endless reminder of friendship and love.
And then there are those rare gifts that alter the courses of our lives.  Somehow he’d return his gear to his locker without anyone noticing his previous intentions.
Lord, grant me the energy to complete all that lies ahead today.  Allow the spring of living waters to burst from me so that I can be a beacon in this punishing world.  Help my thoughts, words and deeds reflect You daily.  Amen

Monday, August 6, 2018

An Unlikely Hero

“Meditate on His Word daily and act according to all that is written." ~ Joshua 1:8
Unless you actually live in a cave, by now you’ve heard about the successful rescue of 12 young Tai soccer players and their coach by a team of international Navy SEALs.  Their 25-year-old coach, Ekapol Chanthawong, led the boys into the cave when it suddenly flooded from torrential rains.  A pair of British divers found the group 10 days later.
Western media instantly criticized Ekapol for leading the team into such danger.  The entrance to the cave was clearly marked with warnings about exploring so close to monsoon season.
Not so in Thailand where the man is hailed as the boys’ guardian angel.
At the age of 10, Ekapol himself cheated death when a disease savaged his village, killing his entire family.  Relatives looked after the orphaned child, eventually sending him to a Buddhist temple to train as a monk.
After a decade of study, Ekapol left the monastery to care for his ailing grandmother.  A Divine force must have led him to join the Wild Boars as an assistant coach.  There he found kindred spirits in these boys, many of whom were poor or stateless ethnic minorities.
They loved and trusted Ekapol.
When the cave started flooding, their football coach quickly led them to the cave’s highest ground.  There they sat in the dark - cold, hungry and terrified for 10 more days.  He used guided meditations learned as a novice monk, to help the young boys stay calm through moments when excessive anxiety could have cost them their lives.
Instead of screaming or crying, the group sat quietly in the black cave, meditating.
Studies have found links between meditation and a measurable reduction in depression, anxiety, and pain.  Given that inadequate air and food created major difficulties for them, meditation produced a calming effect by slowing down their heart rates, breathing and metabolism.  It also lowered their levels of cortisol (the stress hormone), oxygen utilization, and CO2 expulsion.
You all know the conclusion of this amazing story.
As we continue to marvel at the bravery, intelligence and help that graced the team, let’s not forget the importance of Divine intervention.  It’s really no coincidence that Ekapol was led to this team of disadvantaged youth and that his unique training helped saved them from certain death.  It's a God-thing!
There’s a long history of meditation in the Christian tradition (Joshua 1:8).  Meditation is nothing more than focused thinking – if you know how to worry, you already know how to meditate.
It takes serious effort.  You select a Bible verse and reflect on it over and over in your mind.  No other habit can do more to transform your life and make you more like Jesus than daily reflection on Scripture.
Almighty Father, help me walk in the joy of prayerful meditation in spite of what’s happening around us. May it guide me into a closer walk with You, enabling me to pray on-target and understand more deeply Your loving ways.  Amen

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Everyday Miracles

“Now may the Lord’s strength be displayed." ~ Number 14: 17
Morgan, a 20-something college student was the kind of young woman that made people feel good about life.  The sunshine in her smile and the buoyancy in her voice always seemed to encourage and inspire others.  That’s just how she lived, loving God and loving people.
Driving across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, Morgan was feeling euphoric.  Early evenings along the Bay can be magical, especially when the sun was beginning its retreat.
She stopped her car for a bridge toll when she noticed a large tractor trailer truck approaching in her rear view mirror.  It showed no sign of slowing down.
With no time to escape, Morgan felt a thunderous crash when the 18-wheeler rammed into the rear of her car.  Its momentum began pushing her car forward.  She could see the jersey wall and the water far below as her brain raced frantically with prayers for the car to stop on the bridge.
Her fear quickly became a reality when Morgan’s car plunged 40 feet into the treacherous waters below.
Upon impact, the car tumbled beneath the water’s surface.  Her mind became a carousel of fears spinning out of control, each one pushing flight instincts to full throttle.   Hanging upside down and sinking into the abyss, Morgan struggled frantically to unhook the seatbelt that was rapidly deflating her lungs.
“Lord, don’t me die this way!” she pleaded.
At that very moment, she felt God’s reassuring touch.  Morgan unlocked the seat belt and pulled herself out the driver’s side window.  She swam to the surface and swam nearly a quarter mile to the Massachusetts shore.
Opening her eyes to the softening sun, Morgan gazed skyward waiting for help to arrive.  She'd never have survived that horrifying ordeal without divine intervention.  She wanted the whole world to know how God's supernatural power gave her superhuman strength to break free from that watery grave.
Sadly, the news organizations distanced themselves from any reference made about, God, Jesus, or miracles, even though it was germane to Morgan’s story.  They simply reported her dramatic escape from death but deleted Morgan's words of gratitude to God.  It’s a common problem.
So I’m telling you the whole story here.
Miracles happen every day.  When we change our perception of what a miracle is, we see them all around us.  Morgan’s story is an example about overcoming tremendous adversity through faith in God.   To Him be all the glory!
Your frightening ordeal may not be on a bridge over harrowing waters.  But suddenly, you might be going through something that causes you fear or doubt.  It could be unemployment, loneliness, bankruptcy, sickness, or countless other misfortunes.
Just know that while we all experience setbacks, God suddenly shows up at exactly the right time to turn our setbacks into comebacks.  Live your life expecting His miracles.
Lord, thank you for the miracles in my life – for family, friends, and puppies.  For sunrises, snowflakes, and mighty oceans.  And thank you for adversities too; challenges that bring me closer to you.  Amen

Friday, July 27, 2018

Sisterly Love

“If either of them falls down, one should help the other up." ~ Ecclesiastes 4:10
Women aren’t expected to be perfect mothers just by virtue of having been born female.  Jenna knew that first hand.
When her dad skipped out of their lives, her 9-year-old sister Annie became the de facto mom. Not because they didn't have real mom anymore, but because Dorothy spent every waking hour either hung over … or drunk.  So, it simply came down to: “If not me … who?”
The clear liquid bathing Dorothy’s ice by midafternoon was vodka.  And that wasn't even the start of it.  There was brandy in her morning orange juice and sometimes whiskey in her coffee.  By dinner she slumped in her chair, drooling between snores.
Thinking back now Jenna remembered whining for the cool stuff other kids had.  She’d tried to scrub those memories from her brain.  She was just a kid then.
Who knows what would have happened if Annie hadn't started cooking and doing laundry.  She knew all about foster homes.  They sounded more like cattle pens with just as much love.
Annie walked her little sister to school, helped her with homework, told her when to go to bed, and later even brought home a meager paycheck.  She sounded so much like Dorothy it was like they were the same person.  Yet Annie was barely a teenager.  Perhaps that's why she never had any kids of her own.  Raising Jenna had been enough and she’d put her whole heart into the job.
When she was old enough to drive, Annie would pick Jenna up after school even though she could’ve easily taken the bus.  She’d hop in the front seat next to Annie and tell her all about her day.  Jenna felt safe and peaceful when they sat in the car together.
But being a tiny, little kid in a big scary world wasn't so bad.  She knew that Annie loved her and that’s all she needed.
Those times helped Jenna prepare for another special relationship that she’d find later in life.  All those times she spent talking to and being with her earthly sister helped Jenna open her heart to God, her Heavenly Father.
Annie’s beautiful love led Jenna to His.  Annie’s comforting arms guided her to His.  Her gentle spirit inspired Jenna to seek His.  Even after Annie left this world far too soon, Jenna could still feel her love flowing down from Heaven along with His.
The next time this world seems too scary or hard - don't run away.  Instead invite God into the vehicle of your soul, close the doors, and spend some time alone together.  If you do you’ll know that you are loved.  If you do you too will become loving, joyful, and brave.
Heavenly Father, please shine Your light upon my family.  Bring us together as we are meant to be.  May the love that binds us only grow stronger as we fulfill the destiny You have laid out for us.  Amen

Monday, July 23, 2018

Jellybean

“You can’t please God without faith, without depending on him." ~ Hebrews 11:6
Sweet, active, and charming were qualities that described Jellybean.  As a scent hound breed, dachshunds were bred to hunt tunneling animals, rabbits, and foxes.   For that reason, he firmly believed that sleeping under the bedcovers was his right.   That also made him a flight risk when off-leash since he often raced after the first scent or sight he encountered.
It began as a routine morning walk for Charlene and her wiener dog.  Out of nowhere, Jellybean (Bean for short) began barking and pulling her towards a concrete storm drain inlet.  Though bright and clever, Dachshunds like to do things their own way; in other words, they're very stubborn.  It was obvious the dog was trying to tell her something.
Thank God she listened.
At first, Charlene thought she heard meowing well past heavy irons bars preventing entry into the storm drain.  Bean must’ve picked up the scent of a cat stuck inside and hastened to pursue his prey.
Charlene frantically waved for help.  Dozens ignored her until 60-year-old Raul pulled over.  The stranger got down on both knees and stuck his head as far into the sewer as possible.  Nothing could’ve prepared him for what he saw!
Thirty feet or so farther into the drain lie a naked baby, with part of an umbilical cord still attached, shivering in the icy cold water.  But that wasn’t the most amazing part!
There, cuddled around the newborn, lay Bean trying his hardest to keep the infant warm and calm.  The child must have been thinking: “Your paws wrapped right around me bring a peace I've never known before, calming the chaos in my heart.  You give me hope for the future; that there’s nothing to fear.  And love is enough.”
Raul hurried back his pickup and retrieved a large pry bar.  With Charlene’s help the pair managed to spread the bars wide enough to enter the drain and retrieve the baby.  Under Bean’s watchful eye, paramedics treated the baby for hypothermia and respiratory issues and rushed her to the hospital.  The birth mother who abandoned the child was never identified.
Consider this.  Charlene had ended up on an unfamiliar path for their walk that morning.  Raul had taken a shortcut to work because he’d been running late.  And Bean, whose natural prey instinct would’ve been to attack and perhaps kill the small child, did just the opposite.
Were these simply coincidences?
The way you answer the question will affect the way you give thanks this week.  If a blessing you receive was just an accident, you can be happy.  But if you understand that the gift came from God, then be grateful to Him as well as the people He sent to bless you.
My Lord, help me to recognize and give rightful thanks for Your hand in the blessings I receive.  Deepen my faith so that I see You not only active in my life’s circumstances, but also in providing for my needs.  Amen