Saturday, March 6, 2021

Landslide

 “Here I am, standing at the door knocking." ~ Revelation 3:20

From behind, it could be her.  But when the young woman dressed in filthy, time-worn clothing doubled over from the cough that seemed to be getting worse with every passing day, he knew.

The daughter of a local businessman - sold heroin, stole electronics, and ran from a myriad of abusive relationships.  At night she slept in abandoned buildings and begged for spare change during the day.

“Jesse?” he spoke somberly.  “It’s me … Dad.”

“Leave me alone,” Jesse replied.  Now her father stood before her, offering what he’d proffered from the day she was born - a chance at a better life.

“But, Jess, why do you insist on living such a hazardous lifestyle,” he questioned.  I worry about what your addiction is doing to your health … physically and mentally.”

She heard the pain in his voice.  Yet she stubbornly shook her head.  “I didn’t ask for your help,” she repeated.  “I like the way things are!” silently confessing a battle not to lose hope.

“But just last week,” he reminded, “you complained about going to sleep hungry; about how miserable life can be in the rain.”

Jesse paused considering those points.  True, life on the streets could get depressing.  But this was the only life she knew!  She’d rather complain even while ignoring the solution that awaited her.

“I can’t change, Father,” Jesse said in a voice barely above a whisper.  “I’m too set in my ways.  Its hopeless!  I tried several times, but I keep coming back to the streets.  I just can’t help it!”

“Oh, but you can!” he pleaded.  “I’ll help you!  Come live with me.  I promise you a better, healthier and more productive life,” extending his hand; inviting her to join him.

Jesse shook her head. “I just can’t,” she repeated, her spirit broken.

“You can’t, or won’t?”  The question always haunted her; she made no reply.  Jesse simply turned and walked away.  With the eyes that could cry no more, she gazed out at the street where people hustled to make their living and she worried that her light had gone out.

Her Father forced back the tears as He watched her disappear.  He’d return again tomorrow and every day after that.  Maybe someday she’d be ready to accept His love.  He’ll never give up!

Sometimes life can feel like a landslide; when you feel like can no longer hold it together. 

People can change, but we can’t change ourselves any more than a drowning person can save him or her self.  We need help, encouragement, a healthier vision.

The problem - not the answer - lies within.   The heart of the problem is the problem of the heart.  Even so, God can change our hearts from the inside.  His door is always open.

Lord, I know that without You I cannot change, but I know that I can do all things, including changing my attitude, through Christ who gives me the strength.  Thank You, for Your everlasting grace towards me.  Amen

Monday, March 1, 2021

Rail Ways

 “Fix your gaze straight ahead, keep your focus on Him." ~ Proverbs 4:25

Ariella loved to walk … without a specific purpose … until her legs tired.  In such a fast-paced and proficiency driven world, that idea seemed counter-intuitive to most; a complete waste of time.  Living life had become all about doing, without much thought for simply being.

But for Ariella, these meanderings gave her the most fortuitous moments.  She often came across ‘hidden’ secrets or creative ideas; things she might’ve missed had she any specific destination.

Today Ariella took her usual time, savoring the sound of birdsongs, wind noises brushing through the trees, even the sound of her own footsteps trampling the ground.  Scanning the horizon for a new adventure, she spotted a set of railroad tracks. 

She let her mind imagine the earth trembling as coal cars stretching beyond the horizon rumbled by.  Or maybe empty box cars rattling in the rain.  She even pictured herself as a hobo whose personal freedom ranked well ahead of any ambition for worldly gain.

Ariella hopped up trying to balance herself on a single rail.  They were both narrow and slippery.  She slid off immediately.

Undeterred, she tried holding her arms out and watching her feet as she walked.  Wobbling, she fell off after only a few steps.  She made several similarly unsuccessful attempts before falling off and scraping her knee.

It was only when she started looking ahead, far down the tracks, that she could walk the rail.  Keeping her eyes forward with one foot in front of the other, Ariella soon walked with confidence.  Minus any other sort of stimulation - no talking, audiobooks or music, an unexpected life lesson came to mind.

You can’t go through life, she thought, watching and fretting about every step you take or choice you make. That second guessing often leads you off the rails.  Looking behind is even worse.  You can’t see the path ahead with your eyes on the past.  You can only stand still; stuck in your regrets.

It’s only when you look ahead that you can really move forward, envisioning the life you want to lead, the love you want to share, and the light you want to shine.  Then each step you take and every choice you make is filled with love, compassion and humility.

When you’re in the middle of life’s storms, it can be hard to find the strength you need to keep going.  And when a friend, a loved one, or family member faces trials, it’s difficult to know how to encourage them.

So, keep your eyes forward, seeing with our hearts the life we want to live.  We all need to take each other’s hands and walk the path of love together, knowing that God is by our side with each step we take.

Lord Almighty, help me to keep my eyes focused ahead; trusting You even when the way forward seems filled with uncertainty.  Lead me in Your righteousness; make Your way directly before my eyes.  Amen

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Righteous Hero

 "When God’s children are in need, be the one to help them out." ~ Romans 12:13

Almost everyone knows Anne Frank’s story; her diary became one of the world’s most famous books.  Her harrowing account may never have been told had it not for Miep Gies, one of the 6 "helpers," who risked their lives hiding Anne, her family and four other Jews for 25 months.

Every day, Miep, the office secretary, acquired meat and vegetables during her lunch break.  She also brought them library books.  Miep used stolen food stamps procured by her husband, who was part of the Dutch resistance.

Tragedy struck in 1944 when the offices were raided and the Jewish prisoners were arrested.  In seeking their release, Gies failed after visiting several police stations offering bribes.

However, Gies was able to make one lasting contribution to the Franks’ story by ensuring that it lived on through Anne’s diary.  Before the authorities could search the attic above the offices where the families had been staying, Miep Gies broke in and took Anne’s diary pages which chronicled her life in hiding.

Gies refused to read the papers, saying even a teenager's privacy was sacred.  Later, she revealed that if she had read them, she would have burned them because they incriminated the "helpers."

Anne Frank died at age 15 of typhus at a Nazi death camp nine months after her capture, just two weeks before the camp was liberated.  The young woman whose tire­less efforts on behalf of Anne ultimately couldn’t save her, returned the unread diary to Anne's father Otto, the family’s sole survivor.  He published it in 1947.

Anne’s dreams lived on just as she hoped.  “I want to be useful or give pleasure to those who don’t really know me,” she wrote.  Those words continue to inspire others around the world even to this day.  Because of us, her voice and her story can continue when we show compassion to others and advocate for the oppressed.

After the diary was published, Miep Gies persistently promoted causes of tolerance.  She brushed aside the accolades for helping hide the Frank family as more than she deserved.  “I’m no hero.  I stand at the end of the long, long line of good Dutch people who did what I did and much more during those dark and terrible times.”  She died in 2010 at the age of 100.

By continuing the work of Jesus, we must work for a world free from war, oppression, and injustice.  And in our own lives, we must work toward healing our brokenness from God and one another.  In this way, the legacies of these two women should inspire us to lend a hand to all those in need; to be an unmistakable missionary for Christ’s love in the world.

“Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace; Where there is hatred, let me sow charity; Where there is injury, pardon; Where there is error, truth; Where there is doubt, faith; Where there is despair, hope; Where there is darkness, light; and Where there is sadness, joy.  Amen”


Friday, February 19, 2021

Trailblazer

 “The second greatest Commandment is to love your neighbor as yourself." ~ Mark 12:31

Born Shannon in 1999, she was a timid blond beauty: “well-loved by everyone,” according to an obituary provided by the family.  Add “Trailblazer” to the long list of noteworthy achievements.

At an early age, she started expressing feelings that who she was inside didn’t match up with the body she was born with.  Her parents didn’t panic.  They gave her freedom to explore those emotions.  They even allowed her to cut her hair and switch up her wardrobe.  No one in the family judged the self-discovery.

With unwavering support, her confidence grew.  As a fifth grader, Shannon organized a petition drive to present testimony to the school board, insisting they restore the theater program that they'd removed from the schools.  Her actions led to theater and arts programs being reinstated.


She was transitioning from female to male prior to her suicide. 

As Charlie, he was brave; a pioneer to all who supported him.  He fought anxiety, depression, and the gender dysmorphia that haunted him.  Despite counseling, medications, and researching how to confront his demons, Charlie lost his spirited battle to suicide at age 19.

Even while quietly fighting those battles, he spread love and compassion freely, fostering sick and feral kittens from local animal shelters and nursing them back to health until adoption.

He planned a walkout at his high school protesting gun violence.  When told his actions might prevent him from ‘walking’ at graduation, Charlie did it anyway. 

He never got a chance to walk.

Charlie created a bot (a software application programmed to do certain tasks), on the internet chat room for his high school robotics team.  Every suggestion sent in was automatically marked "VALID".  “Nothing is invalid,” said Charlie, “except bullying, rejection and pineapple pizza."  That defined Charlie - validating everyone and every idea.

Thoughtful, brave and unselfish; Charlie inspired many during his short time on earth.

Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of adolescent deaths in the U.S.  The risk is especially high for transgender boys who were born female.

Young people naturally go through multiple transitions in life.  As they move to adulthood, they may move from middle to high school, transition to college or the military, move due to parents’ employment, experience the loss of a loved one, change peer groups, etc.

Families, churches, and mentors can bring much-needed stability during these life changes.  These occurrences can provide for growth in their relationships with Jesus and His Church.  But Satan sometimes uses these transitions to pull young people away from God’s promises and grace.

We can’t ignore young people or families during these difficult times.  Congregations must work to connect all God’s people to Jesus; it’s not alone the work of pastor or other staff.

Father God, we pray today, young and old, of every race, faith, and gender experience, who have died because they would not hide, or stood too proud to ask for help.  We pledge to root out the injustice, ignorance, and cruelty that grow despair.  Amen

Sunday, February 14, 2021

Miracles

 All things work together for good to those who love God." ~ Romans 8:28

When his phone rang late that night, Lucas immediately knew something was wrong.  His life was about to change and he was powerless to stop it.

Terrible fall - catastrophic brain injury, irreversible cessation of all brain functions.  He was in the ICU; unlikely to survive the night.  It hit Lucas hard, partly because he’d conveniently forgotten he even had a father.  Alcohol and pills stole him more than a decade earlier.

They needed a miracle.  The 13-hour drive would provide ample time for prayer and begging God for another chance.  So, the journey toward forgiveness began.

Painful childhood memory played unfettered like a damaged cassette: anger, sadness, relief, regret, self-loathing, guilt.  To worship and fear someone at the same time made for real confusion.

When Lucas arrived at the hospital for a few minutes with his dad, he wasn’t prepared for what he saw.  His dad lay immobile, breathing through a tube and showing no signs of conscious awareness.  He wondered if his dad even knew he was present.

He said his goodbyes and before returning home, decided to visit a beach.  He’d never seen the ocean before.

Lucas didn't care that the sand was damp from an earlier rain.  He sat down and let it soak through his jeans.  Then he took off his shirt and faced the waves to a rising sun.

A breathtaking seascape had cast its spell; every sense elevated to a higher awareness.  A warm breeze caressed his eyelids; the ocean's music filled his ears with crashing waves and the cries of gulls.  Lucas relaxed, intoxicated by the breath of Mother Earth and all the wonders she held.

Suddenly, he could hear his father laughing at him for taking a baseball to his chin off the top of his glove.  It stung at the time; he'd thought it cruel that his father found it so funny.  Now that hearty sound was a treasured memory.  Hot tears sliding down his face felt both horrible and beautiful.

His dad left scars that would never fully heal.  But Dad was a human being, and we are all flawed.  The story of fatherhood is not about the last page, it’s about the paragraphs in between.  It’s about how the emotions of love and protection, of fun and cherishing the moments are conveyed to one another.

Only time will tell, but Lucas will continue to search for the positive memories and attempt to excavate and abandon the nuggets of anger still buried deep within.  He knew that forgiveness was the only path toward peace and acceptance for who he was, who he is, and who he wants to be.

He’d prayed for a miracle … and he found it surrounded him.

Father God, in a world where so many are struggling to overcome addiction, we pray that Your grace will draw them from their slavery and give them new dependency - trust in Jesus, who died for all who believe and, in Whose name, we pray.  Amen

Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Perfection is Overrated

 “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds." ~ Psalm 147:3

Ashleigh (11) woke up in a foul mood.  Storming from her room, she announced, “I’m not going to school today ... don’t try and make me!”  For added embellishment, she picked up the TV remote and tossed it across the room, striking a bowl on an end table.

Her Mom watched in slow motion as it fell to the floor and broke into several pieces.  It wasn't beautiful or elegant; it wasn't expensive.  But should a catastrophe strike Himari’s home, the bowl was one of only a few things she’d never leave behind.

Just days before Himari’s own mother had died in a dreadful car accident, they’d gone rummaging.  When Himari seemed to admire a simple bowl, her mother bought if for her.

It cost less than a dollar back then.  But now it was as if she’d saved all the memories of her mother’s love and laughter and put them in the bowl for Himari to remember.

She touched each broken shard.  They were as comforting as the warmth of her mother’s embrace.

Ashleigh stood motionless, wondering if she’d be banished from the house and have to start over with a new identity.  Himari motioned for her to come sit beside her on the floor.

“I’m so sorry Mommy, I just … I mean I ...”

“I know,” Darlene said finishing the contricious child’s sentence.  “I know you didn’t mean to, but you broke something very important to me.  To throw this bowl away would destroy its unique story.  Maybe there’s an alternative.”

“What do you mean Mommy?” asked the hopeful preteen.

“Our ancestors practice something called kintsugi (金継ぎ), literally meaning golden (“kin”) and repair (“tsugi”),” Himari began.  “Kintsugi cements the broken pieces together with gold, embracing its flaws and imperfections.  We’ll create an even stronger, more stunning piece of art.”

So they did, repairing the bowl like new, highlighting the "scars" as a part of the design; adding to its unique storyline for future generations.  The golden cracks became a reminder that imperfection is both inevitable and beautiful and that to live simply is to live with mercy and grace.

Life brings its own adventures and triumphs.  Rather than hide them, we should celebrate the ‘scars’ of our lives that brought us to who we are today. 

Using this as a metaphor for healing ourselves teaches us an important lesson: Old wounds need recognition, comforting and reassurance.  Sometimes in the process of repairing broken things, we actually create something more unique, beautiful and resilient.

What you see as a mistake, a weakness, or a flaw may be the very thing that enables you to reach into the hearts of others, share with them, encourage them, and help them find their own Kintsugi.

Lord, please heal my broken heart.  Fill me with the peace and joy that only come from You during these difficult times.  Walk closely beside me during my journey to healing and recovery that’s possible through Your power alone.  Amen

Friday, February 5, 2021

"Can't Buy Me Love"

 “God will give you everything you need because of His great riches." ~ Philippians 4:19

You can learn a lot sitting in a parking lot.  Yesterday I sat in with my grandson, reading his favorite Dr. Seuss books, while my daughter finished grocery shopping.  I couldn’t help but notice two cars that pulled up and parked beside us.

The first, a black Cadillac Escalade, looked straight from the showroom.  Out stepped a woman in a tailored suit and salon-perfect hairstyle.  She carried an air of privilege - her face poised to command orders; eyes hidden behind Gucci sunglasses.  Her manicured hand dropped a key fob into a Louis Vuitton handbag as she rushed cheerlessly into Walmart. 

I wondered about her life.

Moments later, a second car pulled up next to us.  To call it a clunker would be cruel, but to call it anything better would border on perjury.  It smelled of burning oil; probably only a few tours left before the car crusher.

Out popped a young Mom with 3 small children under the age of seven.  All were dressed in well-worn clothes; frayed at the cuffs, a couple of sizes too big, maybe a few seasons late.

She gathered them together, carrying the youngest while her daughter gave a piggy-back ride to the smaller girl.  They headed to the store laughing and chatting with each step.

A few stories later, the Cadillac lady emerged, followed by a store clerk pushing a cart with a large, HD television set.  He slid it in the back.  She pulled out quickly, eyes still hidden, lips tight, expression unsociable.  Everything about her seemed unsettled.

A little while later, Mommy appeared with her little ones in tow with a week’s worth of groceries.  Each had a small ice-cream cone - possibly a reward for good behavior during their supermarket adventure.  Happy memories were unfolding like the pages of a favorite storybook.

Mom loaded the groceries while the oldest child secured the younger ones in car seats.  The engine barely sputtered to life.  They didn’t seem to notice – they were too busy pleading for who’s turn it was to pick songs for the ride home.  No matter the choice, the car soon echoed with energy, affection, and pure joy.

As they pulled away, I thought about the two women.  It was obvious who had the most money.  It wasn’t so clear who had the MOST.

There are many kinds of riches in this life, but the most valuable of all is Love.  The one who loves the most - learns the most, lives the most, gives the most, and grows the most.  When we meet our Heavenly Father someday, we’ll carry only with us the love we’ve shared on earth.

May your days be filled with good thoughts, kind people, and happy moments.  Mostly, may it be filled with an abundance of love for others.

“Open the eyes of my heart Lord, I want to see You.  Pour out Your power and love, as we sing holy, holy, holy.” ~ Michael W. Smith

Monday, February 1, 2021

Only God Knew

“To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under God.” ~ Ecclesiastes 1:3

Joyce stood alone but for a suitcase at the front steps of the St. Mary’s Home for unwed mothers.  Long tangled hair encircled her face, obscuring the layer of grime only broken by tear tracks.  Her clothes were from a summer that passed several months ago; cheekbones more pronounced than they should ever be on one so young.  At her age, she should be cherubic, but instead she looked shocked, rejected, terrified. 

Joyce got pregnant at 15 after her first sexual encounter with a small-town boyfriend.  She was now 3 months pregnant which had humiliated her fervently religious parents.  During the 1950s and ‘60s, unwed mothers like Joyce were often “encouraged” to put their babies up for adoption; sometimes against their own free will.

Her parents banished her to St. Mary’s; the child’s father deserted her.  She had no other choice. 

Joyce’s baby boy was born at Booth Hospital near St. Mary’s.  She spent less than an hour cuddling her infant, before giving him away.  Her guilt at relinquishing the newborn never really faded.

After the delivery, no one in her family wanted her back.

So, Joyce stayed on at St. Mary’s; performing menial jobs like mopping floors and doing laundry.  Over the years however, she attended night schools and earned both HS and college degrees.  Eventually, she became a social worker there, counseling girls who’d been in her same position ... for the next 50 years.

During that time, St. Mary’s transformed from a place where mother and child were separated, to a home where many mothers kept their babies after birth and were counseled on how to return home with them.

At 72 and retired, Joyce was invited to give the keynote speech at St. Mary’s 100-year celebration.  In it, Joyce told a story showing how her dedication to St. Mary’s paid off immeasurably.

“One day,” she began, “I was in the staff lounge when one of our girls came in and said there was a man in the lobby who’d come because he was tracing his own adoption.  He wanted answers about where he’d come from.  His parents had told him that he was born at St. Mary’s. 

So, I met with him.”

“And right away a strange feeling came over me.  It was his voice … his eyes …  his sincerity.  I felt as though I knew him.  I asked him what his birthday was and he said April 5, 1950.”

“And then I knew.  I knew he was my child.  I put my arms round him and everything melted away.  All my pain; every regret I ever had.”

And I knew it was a miracle.  And that’s why God had kept me at St. Mary’s.”

Father God, thank You for the gift of adoption -for the gift of life, and health, and promise, and future.  You knew them before they were born.  May they know they’re Your beloved children, made perfectly in your image.  Amen

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Guard Your Heart

 “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” ~ Proverbs 4:23

The election cycle was finally over.  For months, defenders and detractors engaged in a kind of civil war creating perpetual chaos.  It was expensive … and caustic … and exhausting; causing rifts in families and between friends.  Aaron felt bludgeoned by it all - like tennis shoes in a dryer.

He went to bed on New Year’s Eve still feeling somewhat stunned and mildly depressed.  He fell on knees in prayer wondering how the greatest nation on earth had fallen to such depths and worrying how it would ever turn around.  Before his head hit the pillow, Aaron lifted his eyes to Heaven and cried out, “God, why don’t You do something?”

God often spoke to him in the middle of the night, probably because that’s when he was the quietest.  Listening to God was a priority that Aaron constantly needed to remind himself of.  Much like tuning out social media, he had to dim the noise to listen to the Father.

God’s response was simple and concise, “I did do something, I created you.”

Aaron woke the next morning more hopeful - 2020 was finally over.  It needed to be.  And he had some decisions to make.

While it seemed that in a year dominated by ignorance and hatred, he decided to believe people wanted something better.  He’d gotten a giant wake up call.  So, he decided to wake up being the BEST he could be.

Cynicism was a cowardly refuge - a spiritual state so toxic that it clouded his ability to see faint opportunities.  I also gave rise to increased social isolation.

As a person of faith, he decided it was time to reject cynicism, defy apathy, and celebrate good.  Nothing could be greater than the Lord’s calling to show compassion for the sick, to feed the hungry, to demonstrate His humility and forgiveness in action.

He decided not to let the election interfere with his making every day as meaningful as possible.  Continuing to be mired in withdrawal and negativity served no one.  Aaron actually found the election result a great motivator for deeper spiritual practice.

Further, he decided to show up and bear witness to pain, in all its intricate manifestations, yet work to keep his heart open; choosing kindness, empathy, and love.  For that’s where the real healing begins.  And he was certainly up for the task.

Everything that comes from us, whether it be actions or words or even our thoughts, flows from our hearts.  So, guard it carefully! 

God could have made every heart “good to go.”  Instead, He decided to let us start with deceitful hearts requiring an assurance of faith to transform them into His likeness.  So, buckle up.  It’s going to be a life-long process.

Lord, create in me a clean heart, one that’s pleasing to You.  “Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in Your sight, Lord, my strength, and my redeemer.” ~ Psalm 19:14”  Amen

Sunday, January 24, 2021

Rise and Shine

 “Observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.” ~ Deuteronomy 5:12

Food carried so many wonderful childhood memories for Anne; memories that satisfy the taste buds, the heart and the soul.  She recalled recall dozens of happy reflections, but none more special than learning how to make challah with Bubbe.

Challah is a tender, subtly-sweet egg bread typically eaten on ceremonial Jewish occasions.  It’s delicious, but according to Grandma, there are some deep spiritual lessons to be learned from the challah baking experience itself.

“Baking challah,” she said, “is my meditation.  So, it’s important to have an intention when baking challah since it takes far more time than baking brownies from an instant mix.”


For young Anne, it seemed that waiting was the worst part.  But Bubbe reminded her that the toughest part was creating exactly the ‘right’ condition for the dough to rise.  “Dough like love, will rise and shine if they were reverent and waited in wonder.”

Anne waited (without peeking) while the yeast and honey activated each other, rising the mixture in a bowl covered bowl left in the sunshine.  When it had risen into a puffy miracle, Bubbe dumped it on the counter and slapped it flat again; explaining that life does that to us as well.  “Our job,” she said, “is to knead the bread until it becomes flexible and shiny.” 

After one more rise, she’d separate the dough into 3 long pieces (representing truth, peace, and justice) and line them up next to each other. 

With fingers gnarled like old tree roots, they moved delicately braiding one hunk of dough over another, like arms intertwined.  She’d whisper:

“This is Reuben’s gift of leadership; may he use it to help Aaron with his struggling business.  Kayla has a gift for making things beautiful, may she use it to help Rayna find a husband.  This is my gift of patience, may we all use it as role models for our children.”

On she went, weaving the family’s resources with the challenges of others, pausing between each so Anne’s tiny fingertips could touch each intersecting place.  Once plaited, she let her jewel rise one final time.

At dinner that night, Bubbe lit each candle before cutting the golden Challah and gave each person a slice.  Grandma winked at Anne knowing that all were nourished with their prayers and blessings. 

When the child helped Bubbe clear the table, she asked if someday she’d be a good mother too? 

“Yes, my darling,” she answered.  “When you expand the love in your heart - love in the world also rises.  By loving others, you can braid the resources and challenges together in what seems like impossible situations.  Your life will come alive again and again.” 

She kissed Anne’s fingertips again as they each took one final bite of the Sabbath bread.

“Blessed are You Lord, who has sanctified us with Your commandments and taught us to separate the challah from the dough.  Just as I’m fulfilling this mitzvah with all my heart, so may Your compassion keep me from sorrow and pain.  Amen.”