Won’t you be my neighbor?

When I look at you, what do I see? Red? Blue? Black? Brown? 

No. I see neighbor. Like the ‘love your neighbor’ kind. Like the ‘treat your neighbors as you want them to treat you’ kind. Who is my neighbor? Jesus answered that masterfully. We are all one another’s neighbors. Mr. Rogers, favorite of generations, promoted the value of being a good neighbor.

So I want to share as a neighbor a few thoughts swirling in my head. I really don’t want to needlessly add to the plethora of words on social media. But I want to share what I have observed and realize it is hard to keep silent. We all observe things. In my quest for discernment, I want to rightly observe and wisely conclude. I have seen us all rightly observe issues to a degree, but often fall (or jump) to various conclusions. And that proves to be divisive and deadly. I have seen and personally experienced the effects of others jumping to wrong conclusions, and how it devastates relationships. How much more on such a large scale as our country?

So maybe I will begin this way. Don has an autoimmune component to his body. In short, his body, with each system created and designed to work together to benefit health and life, receives a wrong message to his immune system. That which is designed to seek out and destroy any rogue cells, any bacteria or viruses or cancer – basically anything that would cause illness, poor health and death – actually turns on itself. Somehow it now ‘believes’ that nerve tissue is the enemy and has garnered its forces to damage any nerve tissue it locates. It once turned against his own thyroid tissue – and destroyed it. When all systems work together, including this needful protective immune system – health is enjoyed. This message it has received is untrue and wreaks havoc over his whole body. At one time, he had a an infection caused by slow-growing bacteria called Mycobacterium leprae, an enemy stealthily hiding parasitically deep in his nerves and destroying them, but that enemy is no longer alive. (Yes, it’s a long story, but for another time) Ironically, his own body system has now furthered the original damage, producing pain, limiting use, restricting sleep and affecting his whole body. 

In the big picture, we as people, as the human race, have so much in common. We truly are more alike than different, sharing the same needs physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. The needs to be loved and have purpose, etc. are universal. Our Creator is of such majesty and magnitude that He is expressed in infinite numbers of ways through each of us individually and collectively  – through our thoughts, talents, skills, backgrounds, ethnicities, skin color, etc. Our differences beautifully distinguish us, but now are used to divide us. 

As US citizens, we have a common Constitution set up for the prosperity and protections of our nation. Though we all experience that differently, the structure is for our health and benefit. 

However, “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” is at risk. And sometimes those pursuits are not for the benefits of others, but rather exploit them. These are not the wholesome pursuits of which I will speak.

Knowing that each of us are all created as image bearers of God, I will always stand for life for others, beginning with the pre-born. I cannot fathom a group that celebrates the ‘right’ to take the life of another – over 60 million in our country alone. This ‘right’ is sadly reminiscent of those who held to the belief that one people group could ‘own’ another and require forced labor from them, exercising their ‘right’ to abuse, hunt down, and destroy those made in the image of God. We fought a war against that ‘right’ and for the rights of those caught in slavery who could not speak for themselves. I stand for the rights of babies who cannot speak for themselves. No, I cannot endorse a platform that not only allows this atrocity but promotes it fully aware of the excruciating pain they experience as they are being dismembered, even up to birth. It is science. It is an unthinkable, unconscionable stain that runs deeply in our country. 

This is deadly autoimmunity at its worst. This is turning against our own humanity, DNA, our own legacy and future – our life. 

Beyond her baby, I also stand for the woman dealing with an unplanned pregnancy and am devoted to walking with her to other life-giving options – life-giving for her as well as the baby. I love the option of adoption, not just because we have adopted two children of our own, but because it is a wonderfully creative option, providing a place for those possibly considered ‘unwanted.’ If we allocated the money designated for abortions through Planned Parenthood toward adoption, many more babies and children would be embraced into loving homes. This is something I can stand for and endorse. Our compassion and creativity can extend beyond only offering abortion as an option. And then calling it ‘good.’

I also stand for the lives of those abused, the minorities and those marginalized in our society. For the elderly, medically/emotionally fragile and those with disabilities. I would like to feel that I would not stand by taking photos of George Floyd being choked to death, but would be among those seeking for other means to help him. However, taking this and other several injustices to the streets for awareness as a demonstration of the need for reform is very different than unleashing hatred and destroying and looting and dismantling a whole system. This is not seeking justice, by turning it against others. This injustice is not the answer to injustice. Rather than allow it to be considered ‘normal’ or peaceful while whole lives and livelihoods of other lives who also matter suffer, we need to speak up and redirect this sense of injustice to building relationships and improvement of needed reforms. Many of those businesses were set up by immigrants who came to live the dream of establishing businesses to benefit their community; many were minorities where their ‘neighbors’ came in and helped themselves to the contents of their stores. This is turning against our own communities – a deadly form of autoimmunity that benefits no one.

This is divisive autoimmunity.

Further turning the hatred toward those with blue uniforms trained to protect society ironically takes the prejudice some have experienced and retargets it toward another people group. No one group as a whole should be forced to pay for the sins of the few. This is not justice. This is further erosion of the value and dignity of life, of not recognizing the image of God upon those He has uniquely created to bear His love, His light, His justice, His wisdom, His peace. This redirecting of hatred objectifies individuals, which somehow justifies the hatred and murder of fathers and mothers, wives and husbands, sons and daughters.

This is the wrong message of autoimmunity turned against itself.

I also stand for the lives of those being trafficked. The current administration has rooted out hundreds of traffickers and brought those enslaved to freedom. Freeing those caught in this modern day slavery is an issue we can all participate in; we can use our energies toward something purposeful. We can together use our talents, skills, energies and using them together as one body, one nation, to protect and ensure liberty for others who cannot speak for themselves. This would take those wrongs in our history and seek positive ways to learn from them and redeem them. Wouldn’t it be great to eradicate this atrocity in our lifetime?

This would be a good use of ‘immunity.’

Some have said that the conservatives in the Republican Party are ‘one issue’ voters. If the issue is LIFE, then may that be said of me. But I qualify it in that it includes all forms of life. Mother Teresa saw the face of Jesus in all ‘life’- the poor, the lepers, the marginalized. 

Just as the message in an autoimmune component gets distorted and used against its own body, so I have seen the message against this administration get lost and distorted. I have heard those decrying how misogynist our president is, yet seen half or more of his cabinet/representatives are women who are fiercely loyal to him and his platform. (Forbes 6/29/19 ‘Hundreds Of Women Have Lead Roles In The Trump Administration. 45 More Await Senate Confirmation’-Roslyn Layton)

I have heard that he is racist, yet seen him promoting minorities and elevating their standard of living in many ways, among them through funding for colleges, school choice which levels the educational playing field, innovation for economic advance in businesses and work, second-chance initiatives for those in prison, etc. He has denounced white supremacists multiple times, though that narrative persists. Those who know him best (not the media) say he is neither racist nor misogynist.

This President has gathered those around him strong in character – unquestionably in areas where he is not, which is a sign of a good leader. I say this not to justify those character flaws, because I have no defense for them. I recognize there are other areas where he is not deemed a good leader. However, God is his Judge, just as He is for all past presidents and just as He is mine. I choose discernment and leave judgment to God.

His record in keeping our alliance with Israel strong is admirable. His seeking peace, and success in forming treaties with those long-standing enemies is also admirable. This has been the unsuccessful aim of many presidents who have gone before for decades.

His strong stand for religious rights is notable, stronger than any president I am aware of, including rights of those on college campuses and businesses to be protected against those who would seek to override them. On the world stage, he and our VP sat before the UN in advocating for religious rights of people of all faiths undergoing persecution. (‘Trump Calls Religious Freedom an ‘eternal right’ in UN Speech’ By Megan Briggschurchleaders.com – September 24, 2019)

What you seek for, you find. If you seek to find many good things this administration has done in these four years, you can find much to celebrate, much for the good of our ‘body’, our nation. And if you seek to find negative things, you can also find things to criticize. This is also true of the contender with his 47 years of seeking to evoke change. And of course, in the history of our country there is noble and not-so-noble.

The decision before us is not merely between two flawed men running for the highest office one can seek. It is between two opposing ideologies; as you look at the platforms and those who are on either ‘side’, it really is between seeking to protect our Constitution and improve the lives of those in our country (and world) and those who lean towards following the path of socialism, a path other countries have taken and it has taken them away from the freedoms we experience and take for granted. One only has to read history and listen to immigrants who have fled those countries to come here to get a fuller picture of that path. Redefining it does not change the outcome.

We face a spiritual battle for the soul of America. Our true enemy knows that a house divided against itself cannot stand, just like an autoimmune-directed body will eventually destroy itself from the inside out. Red is not the enemy; blue is not the enemy. We, as one, are red, white and blue (making periwinkle, one of my favorite colors!) To use another analogy, we have two eyes, each seeing something from a different vantage point, each needful to see the full and deeper picture. Each can separately conclude that the other eye is not seeing rightly and seek to diminish or eradicate it. But then the whole body suffers. We need to vote our values and respectfully recognize that others are doing the same.

As neighbors, we have the privilege of seeing one another and believing the best, of loving each other despite holding a different viewpoint, and still seeking for the best wholesome health of our country. Even among believers there is a divide regarding what it means to vote our personal consciences. I know there are those who differ from my viewpoint, but I don’t love them any less and I hope they don’t love me any less. Love is not only a commandment revealing the loving reflection of our Creator, but it is also something that benefits us all as a body.

I read a friend’s blog, one who recently lost her husband, musing on the realities of long-lasting friendships and our political stands. Here is a quote from her…

“If you’re like me, and you see things the way I do, vote red. Vote as red as you can. And if you’re not, and you have blue ideas, vote blue. Stand for your values and vote for your causes.

But live purple. Live with the understanding that relationships matter, that your friends and family are yours for a reason, and that as Americans (and if you’re like me, then as a Christian), we have countless examples of people who found the way to live in peace.

It might mean honest conversations, or even a debate. It might mean agreeing to joke good-naturedly about it. It might even mean avoiding the topic entirely. I mean, seriously, it could really be a healthy thing to talk about something else, you know?

Vote red. Vote blue, if that’s your view. But live purple. It just might make more of a difference than you think.” Donna-Jean Breckenridge

Final thought – while we have to practice physical distancing protocols this year, let’s not distance socially. Let’s continue to bring our hearts together and not do the ‘autoimmune thing.” So neighbors, let’s live out “One nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

And live purple.

Can You Breathe?

2020 – a year of major life change, uncertainty, unrest

Also a year of awareness of breathing. Something we naturally do without a thought.  Or did.

It began with our pulse quickening, our breaths anticipating the coming of this year 2020 – the year of new vision. But then the coronavirus hit – a virus that affects our respiratory system. In many cases, it affects it so much, people require respirators in order to breathe. Not something they can do on their own, but have become agonizingly aware of each breath. 

Then came the masks, which also affect our breathing. I have become much more aware of my breathing as it fogs my glasses and heats my face so that I cannot wait to take it off and take in deep breaths and breathe freely.

Then came the atrocious incident involving George Floyd and his famous last haunting words, “I can’t breathe.” What a horrible way to die, with someone literally blocking your airway until you expire, breathing your last breath on earth.

Then came the riots, with us holding our breath. Which statue would be next? Which city, town or neighborhood? We felt ourselves breathing shallowly. 

Then news of the fires from the West filled our airwaves, where people could not breathe fresh air for days to weeks – and still experience it. Ash covered the sun, covers all surfaces and is in the air. Breathing becomes labored and dangerous.

The air is being sucked out of us physically, emotionally, and spiritually. We are gasping for fresh air. Precious free oxygen that we have taken for granted is so life-giving, feeding all the cells in our bodies. 

The things people breathe out in regards to this election have become toxic. People breathing threats to those who disagree with their personal view?! Threatening with more riots, more fires, more taking of the freedom to breathe from others?

And now we, with bated breath, wonder about the outcome of this election. It would seem that no matter who ‘wins’ we all lose. Neither side trusts the other, and neither will likely concede that this election will be fair. Whoever sits in the Oval Office will have a civil (or not so civil) war within our culture. A war of ideas, of opinions. What once inspired us as a people, e pluribus unum, to greatness, is now tested and seen in disdain. And though we are more alike than we are different – we all breathe in 02 and breathe out C02, each of us are purposefully made in the image of God – we are being played in this culture of distrust. The strategy is to divide us in our homes, in the church, in our communities and in our country. And everyone points fingers at each other. The division comes in many formswith our differences coming between us rather than enhancing us in beautiful diversity of thought, color, backgrounds, etc.

Being played? By whom? To whom should I point my finger? The point is that fingers should not be pointed at individuals because it is a spiritual battle. It is not won in the voting booths. Not won in the streets. It is won in our hearts. It begins with what we choose to breathe in.

Respire. Expire. Inspire. All have the same root ‘spire’ within it. To ‘breathe.’  The question is what am I breathing? What am I taking into my body, my mind, my spirit? What I take in, I breathe out. Are they things that are toxic and deadly – and do I therefore spread them to others like this deadly virus or the spreading fires?

The tongue is a deadly fire………Humanity is capable of taming every bird and beast in existence, even reptiles and sea creatures great and small. But no man has ever demonstrated the ability to tame his own tongue! It is a spring of restless evil, brimming with toxic poisons. Ironically this same tongue can be both an instrument of blessing to our Lord and Father and a weapon that hurls curses upon others who are created in God’s own image.One mouth streams forth both blessings and curses. My brothers and sisters, this is not how it should be. Does a spring gush crystal clear freshwater and moments later spurt out bitter salt water? My brothers and sisters, does a fig tree produce olives? Is there a grapevine capable of growing figs? Can salt water give way to freshwater?” James 3:7-12 Voice

Kind of hits right between the eyes. Right where we need to see it for what it is.

Here are a few thoughts on the meaning of ‘inspire” or breathing to ponder : 

  • The Latin for inspire is “enspiren, “to fill (the mind, heart, etc., with grace, etc.); also “to prompt or induce someone to do something” (Preferably something notable, noteworthy to bring forth good)
  • Old French enspirer; – “to influence, move, or guide (as to speech or action) through divine or supernatural agency or power.”
  • Orthodox Jews revere the name of God to such a degree they will not speak it. It is composed of consonants without vowels. YHWH. It is breathed. Our lives are God-breathed.
  • The word for spirit is ‘pneuma’ – breath or wind. The Lord God, Who is a Spirit, breathed from His nostrils the breath of life and humans became living beings. We are set apart from the rest of creation because we were made in the image of God Himself. It is our honor to reflect His nature in the words we breathe out.

It is our honor and stewardship to use our breath from Him to praise God, to offer words of hope, to be clear, drinkable water of blessing, to inspire – and hopefully resuscitate – others who are losing hope, faith and joy with our life-giving words. Let us speak God-breathed words of truth of hope of life. This generation is facing record numbers of suicides and crises in opioids – signs of hopelessness. Let our words breathe hope into one another. 

Let us be champions of life and love and kindness. Let us not fill our mouths with words that degrade, mock or demean another created in the image of God. We can disagree civilly and choose to breathe life into those God brings our way. Let it be said of us that we walk, talk, breathe, speak the words of the spirit of God.

Let us be like the ‘spire’ of a church – ever-pointing up toward the Source of Life, Truth and Hope.

Psalm 34:2. The Passion Translation

‘I’m boasting of you and all your works, so let all who are discouraged take heart.’

Ephesians 4:29

Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.

Psalm 80:18 The Message

‘We will never turn our back on you; breathe life into our lungs so we can shout your name!’

https://youtu.be/vQLMnPYoR9k

You give life, You are love

You bring light to the darkness

You give hope, You restore

Every heart that is broken

Great are You, Lord

It’s Your breath in our lungs

So we pour out our praise

We pour out our praise

It’s Your breath in our lungs

So we pour out our praise to You only

You give life, You are love

You bring light to the darkness

You give hope, You restore

Every heart that is broken

Great are You, Lord

All the earth will shout Your praise

Our hearts will cry, these bones will sing

Great are You, Lord

Please share other worship songs that speak of breath, breathing. There are many to choose from!

21 Day Challenge

October 13, 2020

21 Day challenge before the November 3, 2020 election

True confession. In the last election, Donald Trump was the last candidate on the platform of the 17 possibilities I would have voted for. When he became the choice for the Republican Party, I was greatly dismayed. There was something about his abrasiveness, arrogance, vulgarity and his brashness that was offensive and not ‘presidential.’ I think he reminded me of friends’ husbands who were abusive, and former bullies from childhood. I have a strong sense of loyalty and justice, so I take things deeply into my heart when those I love have been hurt. I believe that anyone who has been hurt or wounded by individuals with similar characteristics have associated him with such people in their lives, and it brings out negative emotions like hurt, anger – and even hate. 

I also have a deep sense of compassion and once he took office, I began praying for Melania, wondering how could she live with such a bully. One day, it was as if God touched me on the shoulder and said in His gentle but probing way, “So you’ll pray for her but not for him?” 

Yeah, that’s pretty much it, Lord.

Gulp. 

So in my life, though I am not always successful, I have a deeply-held conviction that when God reveals truth, He expects immediate obedience. I don’t have to like it, agree with it, or understand it – but I do need to follow it. Without delay. Justifying, deviating or delay is the same as disobedience and not walking in line with His truth. There are some things His word is not expressly clear about and requires earnest seeking of His Spirit to guide. But in most things He is clear. Loving God. Loving others. Being generous. Reconciling with Him or others before coming to Him in worship. Dealing with any sin, fear, doubt, attitude. Don’t judge, steal, lie, commit adultery…..you get it. He clearly has told us to pray for those in governmental authority over us. There is no way around it. He didn’t include a disclaimer about their behavior or lifestyle or whether I agree with or even like them. 

Pray for them. Period.

How do I pray for him, Lord? 

Pray that you will see him as I do. Not according to the opinions of others. Not as you associate him with past filters and emotions. But through My eyes.

And so I began, and continue to this day. 

Has my prayer changed him? I am not sure. To be fair, I have heard him speak with passion about Israel, about the unborn, about wanting people of all ethnicities to be free to lead productive lives, about freedom of religious rights, and better care for the elderly, the poor, and the veterans. There has been much action in this administration freeing those caught in the demeaning system of human trafficking, our modern-day slavery. I listen to whole speeches when I can, rather than taking someone else’s clip (and lens) on them. I even listened to those who were featured at the convention – everyday people like me whose lives were changed through his listening to their needs and taking measures – prison reform (and ministries formed from it!), funding of colleges for black Americans, justice for minorities, etc. I saw some of the ‘labels’ being taken down. And many other presidential values and actions I would want from a governmental leader. (When I look at a leader, I also look at those they have chosen to be around them. They have his ear. And he has chosen some very godly men and women who speak truth to him.)

And I have also heard him say things that I would not repeat and cannot justify, nor will I defend.

(Sadly, I can also say that about almost every candidate running for the presidency. I do have respect for VP Pence’s measured and gracious words).

Has my prayer condoned his words and actions that I do not agree with or that stand in opposition to God’s heart? No, prayer does NOT condone or justify, but it keeps me from casting the first stone. Or the second, or joining with others casting stones. My prayer for our president has changed me. Isn’t that just like God?! And what would the president, or any of us, do without the prayers of others? We are the portals through which God’s will can be done on earth as it is in Heaven.

Seeking to see others through God’s eyes of grace and truth makes us people of compassion. People of discernment. People who can leave True justice and judgment with God, Who uses my prayer in ways I cannot see in a bigger plan I can’t imagine. Yes, we are people who hate sin, but love the Imago Dei imprint He has left upon every human. We are people who support what is good and right, and stand against that which is not. And of course, we are people who first deal with what it brings up in our own hearts first before praying to ‘change’ others. 

Sanctify us in Your truth, Lord. Your word (alone) is True.

So the challenge now that we are 21 days out from this election, is to pray for the President. To pray daily that we will see him as God sees him. Not as the press sees him. Not as our wounds might project onto him. I believe we will find what we look for. When we look for the bad in others, there is plenty to find. When we look for the good, there is much to see as well, and it brings a much more balanced view. When we find the good, praise God. When we find the not-so-good, pray to God. Either way, our focus is on praising God and not judging flawed people. 

My hope is that when people look at me, I am not defined by my worst decisions, but hopefully the imprint of God in my life and His reflection through me. And so I want to also offer that to others. To see myself and to see others through His eyes. Let’s begin with our President. And any of the candidates and people of authority over the decisions of our country. May God’s eyes of grace and truth be ours.

And may we respond with obedience, faith and courage.

The Woodcutter’s Wisdom

Max Lucado

I love this story and it has been a good reminder through the years since I read it. It has challenged me to observe life, people, and circumstances through the gift of my senses, but seek discernment from the spiritual ‘eyes’ of God. In our current culture, we have all become critics and judges and jury, yet only God truly knows what is in the hearts of those we judge. He provides discernment if we are seeking, but He alone is the ultimate judge of circumstances and people.

Please enjoy this story, so applicable to today. Thanks, Max!

The Woodcutter’s Wisdom

by Max Lucado

“Once there was an old man who lived in a tiny village.  Although poor, he was envied by all, for he owned a beautiful white horse.  Even the king coveted his treasure.  A horse like this had never been seen before – such was its splendor, its majesty, its strength.

People offered fabulous prices for the steed, but the old man always refused.  ‘This horse is not a horse to me,’ he would tell them.  ‘It is a person.  How could you sell a person?  He is a friend, not a possession.  How could you sell a friend?’  The man was poor and the temptation was great.  But he never sold the horse.

One morning he found that the horse was not in the stable.  All the village came to see him.  ‘You old fool,’ they scoffed, ‘we told you that someone would steal your horse.  We warned you that you would be robbed.  You are so poor.  How could you ever hope to protect such a valuable animal?  It would have been better to have sold him.  You could have gotten whatever price you wanted.  No amount would have been too high.  Now the horse is gone, and you’ve been cursed with misfortune.’

The old man responded, ‘Don’t speak too quickly.  Say only that the horse is not in the stable.  That is all we know; the rest is judgment.  If I’ve been cursed or not, how can you know?  How can you judge?’

The people contested, ‘Don’t make us out to be fools!  We may not be philosophers, but great philosophy is not needed.  The simple fact that your horse is gone is a curse.’

The old man spoke again.  ‘All I know is that the stable is empty, and the horse is gone.  The rest I don’t know.  Whether it be a curse or a blessing, I can’t say.  All we can see is a fragment.  Who can say what will come next?’

The people of the village laughed.  They thought that the man was crazy.  They had always thought he was a fool; if he wasn’t, he would have sold the horse and lived off the money.  But instead, he was a poor woodcutter, an old man still cutting firewood and dragging it out of the forest and selling it.  He lived hand to mouth in the misery of poverty.  Now he had proved that he was, indeed, a fool.

After fifteen days, the horse returned.  He hadn’t been stolen; he had run away into the forest.  Not only had he returned, he had brought a dozen wild horses with him.  Once again the village people gathered around the woodcutter and spoke.  ‘Old man, you were right and we were wrong.  What we thought was a curse was a blessing.  Please forgive us.’

The man responded, ‘Once again, you go too far.  Say only that the horse is back.  Say only that a dozen horses returned with him, but don’t judge.  How do you know if this is a blessing or not?  You see only a fragment.  Unless you know the whole story, how can you judge?  You read only one page of a book.  Can you judge the whole book?  You read only one word of a phrase.  Can you understand the entire phrase?

‘Life is so vast, yet you judge all of life with one page or one word.  All you have is a fragment!  Don’t say that this is a blessing.  No one knows.  I am content with what I know.  I am not perturbed by what I don’t.’

‘Maybe the old man is right,’ they said to one another.  So they said little.  But down deep, they knew he was wrong.  They knew it was a blessing.  Twelve wild horses had returned with the one horse.  With a little bit of work, the animals could be broken and trained and sold for much money.

The old man had a son, an only son.  The young man began to break the wild horses.  After a few days, he fell from one of the horses and broke both legs.  Once again the villagers gathered around the old man and cast their judgments.

‘You were right,’ they said.  You proved you were right.  The dozen horses were not a blessing.  They were a curse.  Your only son has broken his legs, and now in your old age you have no one to help you.  Now you are poorer than ever.’

The old man spoke again.  ‘You people are obsessed with judging.  Don’t go so far.  Say only that my son broke his legs.  Who knows if it is a blessing or a curse?  No one knows.  We only have a fragment.  Life comes in fragments.’

It so happened that a few weeks later the country engaged in war against a neighboring country.  All the young men of the village were required to join the army.  Only the son of the old man was excluded, because he was injured.  Once again, the people gathered around the old man, crying and screaming because their sons had been taken.  There was little chance they would return.  The enemy was strong, and the war would be a losing struggle.  They would never see their sons again.

‘You were right, old man,’ they wept.  ‘God knows you were right.  This proves it.  Your son’s accident was a blessing.  His legs may be broken, but at least he is with you.  Our sons are gone forever.’

The old man spoke again.  ‘It is impossible to talk with you.  You always draw conclusions.  No one knows.  Say only this:  Your sons had to go to war, and mine did not.  No one knows if it is a blessing or a curse.  No one is wise enough to know.  Only God knows.'”

Just a whisper

I am speechless.

Well, to be more accurate, I am voiceless. As in no voice. Laryngitis. Something I have never experienced.  It gives me a new appreciation for being able to speak, because I have a lot to say, even if I choose not to say it. But I now have no choice, no voice. 

I can listen. And I can whisper. 

But in a crowd, I am unheard. 

I was able to portray being John the Baptizer and share the early life of Christ to the kids at Bible Adventure. God gave him a powerful message to declare and then a voice with which to do it. What would have happened if he had ‘lost his voice?’  I, on the other hand, noticed afterward my throat felt scratchy. 

I was able to talk to a few at our family reunion – people I rarely see and am interested in their lives. I found, even then, I chose to use my words sparingly and asked more questions so I could listen and not have to speak much. Technically, this is my ‘normal’ mode, but I was much more aware of it as I could feel my voice becoming a bit squeaky and weak. 

What if those words I spoke were the last words I could ever speak? Makes me think about what I say. Have I chosen words that build up, or words that tear down? Words that speak life – or not? Words are truly like seeds that go through the ears and down to the hearts of others. What seeds am I sowing? What fruit will come forth? “Let the words of my mouth …….be pleasing to You….” Words filled with honor, and truth and life. Words of hope.

It truly is frustrating to not be able to speak. There is more I wish I could say. And yet there are many who literally have no voice. Babies in the womb, with others left to determine the course of their lives. Non-verbal individuals who depend on caregivers to ‘read’ their thoughts or feelings. 

We all want to be heard. I take a lot for granted, even my voice. It is a gift, not a right.

Surprisingly, however,  I notice that it also is empowering to be only able to whisper. Those who truly want to hear what I have to say, need to stop what they are doing, lean in and with great intention, listen to my whispering. In a world where we don’t often look at one another because we are multi-tasking, it requires a setting down of what we are doing. It requires leaning in closer. It even requires sacrifice.  

When others do this, it makes me feel valued, like my words are important and worth hearing. And if there are those who don’t take the time or make the effort, it’s ok. If they don’t want to hear me amidst all the other noise and voices of life, I will not (truthfully, I literally CANNOT) raise my voice for their attention. 

Kind of gives me deeper understanding about hearing the voice of God. Is it up to Him to shout in order to get my attention, or is it rather up to me to seek it? 

He is not voiceless. 

He has much to say. 

What He says is priceless. 

Will I in 2020 put things down, lean in closer, and give heed to His words? 

The rugged path toward love – and peace

Love in the same manner as Christ loved us.” This is repeated multiple times and ways throughout the message of Jesus and the letters in the New Testament.

But, how Lord, how do we love those who are unloveable, who intentionally seem to brush against the raw areas of woundedness in our lives, even the ones who are deliberately (or even thoughtlessly) hurtful or offensive to people and their beliefs, opinions and even faith? So many of the leaders (and their followers) have become very mean and even to the point of promoting hostility, which grates at my spirit that longs for peace and unity. How do I show love to them when it flies in the face of my sense of justice and kindness? Surely I can be civil, but love  them? Is love something we can just conjure up – especially when others seem to delight in being oppositional?  And in many ways if I am honest, I just don’t want to work at this love. It requires too much of me.

And yet, Lord, You have called us to love and left an example for us to follow. Your love is for ALL, even those who oppose You. “While we were sinners, Christ died for us.” Because of Your love. How can we as a culture move forward instead of backward – from tolerance to acceptance to love? It has to be supernaturally given – there is no natural way to achieve it !

Cindy, there is a progression of steps to loving others as I do. Be warned – Your heart is not a vacuum. If you don’t invest your love toward them, then hate fills and rules your heart.  

The path to love as I do begins with humility, which is counter-cultural. It begins by asking to see others as I see them. This opens the door for compassion which opens the way for forgiveness, which in turn allows for love and kindness, which then produces peace.

When you see through your eyes or the eyes of others, your heart gets clogged with information, even misinformation. Possibly incomplete facts and wrong conclusions  – but not TRUTH. Then your emotions get caught up and embroiled in it all. BUT you can begin by asking Me to show others to you through MY eyes. My eyes are full of grace and truth. Any other ‘seeing’ is false and not based on truth. Any other perception of another is based upon your self-filters of hurt and blind judgment. And if it is not My judgment, it is not ‘righteous judgment.’  

Only when you choose to see others through My eyes, and only My eyes, will you capture My heart for them. Then you can walk in compassion toward them, knowing it is not flesh and blood that you should be warring against, speaking against and harboring negative thoughts about them. That is not My way. If you are to love My way, it can only begin as you see others through My eyes. Then as you pray in obedience and join WITH My heart FOR them, I will fill your heart with compassion. Compassion paves the way for forgiveness – without which you cannot truly love as I love. Forgiveness of others as I have forgiven them paves the way to love as I love. This is how I love you, this is how I love all I have created in My image. 

Fill your heart with worship and direct your thoughts toward Me, being thankful in everything I show you. Thankfulness paves the way for Me to work in your life – and yes, through you into the lives of others. Your life is a picture, a visual, of My love. If your eyes are focused on the faults of others, your heart cannot be filled with the fruit of My Spirit. If it is not filled with peace and joy and love, it does not reflect Me, either in what I have for you, or what I have for others through you.

Ponderances of Christ’s call as recorded in Colossians 3:12-17-

 

 

A Child’s view

Mimi’s musings

My 22-month-old grandson is my teacher, and spending time with him teaches me so much about the importance of being childlike (not childish). Things long forgotten, or at least that need to be brought into close remembrance. I wonder who teaches who, as he teaches me things about God, and things about life.

Things like:

Object permanence – even if I cover up and hide something with my hand or a blanket, hidden from view, it still remains the same, unchanged by my action. And even though circumstances may hide the face of God, He is there, unchanged. In a world of shifting rules, cultural flips and infinite distractions at my fingertips, God’s truth remains forever. His nature, His truth, His love is sure – though darkness seeks to hide Him, and clouds and shadows seem to prevail, it cannot change or overcome the majestic truth of God. This is one of the first building blocks of trust and faith.

 Time is a gift and full of choices – My goal was to walk to the playground where we could play and make fun memories. His goal, however, was to make beautiful memories all along the way – counting all the pumpkin decorations, saying hello to every ‘woof-woof’, stopping to lean over to watch a cat scampering out from under a parked car, sniffing at every ‘vower’, and listening to the birds singing on top of the trees. Things I would have missed, forgetting it is not about the destination but being aware of all the wondrous things along the journey. He was fascinated by everything! Oh to recapture the wonder of God’s creation from his knee’s eye view!

And so I am reminded to try to look through the eyes of a child, who follows the very point of God on where to focus very attentively –

          ‘Look at the birds in the sky. They do not store food for winter…your heavenly Father feeds them. And you are more precious to Him than a beautiful bird…..Consider the lilies of the field and how they grow; they do not work or weave or sew, and yet their garments are stunning…’ (Matt 6)

 

More is caught than taught – He is like a sponge. Every time I see him he has advanced his vocabulary and understanding of the world. He hears everything spoken echoes it back, trying it on and storing it in his mind.

Intently watching the kids at the playground as they play, he tries to imitate their actions. There is something good about ‘following the leader’ and trying out new things, developing a broader capacity.

However, it is SO important who the leader actually IS. With all the influences available  (music, media, video games, movies, peers, family) I pray I will represent Jesus well and he will be drawn to all who lead this way as well. I, like Jesus, want to only speak what I hear the Father say, and do what He does. He alone is my Leader – He alone is who I want to follow and lead others to.

 

God utterly delights in usI will do anything, truly making a fool out of myself, to make him giggle! His delight is my aim and his laugh makes me laugh! This is a mere reflection of the Father’s heart toward me. I would fiercely defend him with my own life, seek to equip him for his life, and am deeply committed to his success.

 

And so God whispers, “This, Cindy, is My heart for all I have created. Enter into the joy of this relationship, and know it is My heart for you.”

To be un offended

Yes, Jordon, I am so sorry and sad to hear that someone was rude to you at work. Walking past you, ignoring your cheery hello while you gather shopping carts, making you feel insignificant.

And small.

Unimportant.

Slighted.

Offended.

Even angry.

I know you don’t see this, but when others hurt you, it hurts my heart, too, the same as if it was directed to me. You are my son, and though not born from my flesh, you were born and are carried in my heart. You are part of me. You, who love all people indiscriminately, how can I teach you to develop a thick skin and keep a tender heart with people?

You wonder why others are rude. You ask me if it is because you have autism? Is it because you are biracial? Is it because you are slow? Because of your shoes? Because. because, because ….. you can drive yourself crazy speculating and still arrive at a wrong conclusion. It is not a good road to walk down. Trust me. 

I can’t honestly answer why, and without making light of your hurt, I wonder how much it actually matters in the bigger picture.  I know how easy it would be to allow your feelings to ‘give it back’ to them. Offendedness only breeds more of the same. I hear it in the news. I see it all around me. People getting offended, often based on wrong conclusions. Some people feel justified in being rude -and worse. It takes a person of great courage to refuse that path, to seek to be unoffendable, and stay on the right path. The path of loving kindness. Because no matter how others react, you are called to return rudeness with kindness and hatred with love. You know a better way. You show kindness because you are a kind person. Remember this: you do it because it is who you are and who you are called to be. You are not defined by others, nor should you return evil for evil and therefore change who you are by following their ‘example’ – and thus become like them. Then they have won. Evil has won. And you have lost yourself.

You are better than that. 

Notice, I didn’t say you are better than them. But how about we stop the emotional train and put our minds in gear – and deliberately choose to think the best. It is a choice – your empowered choice – to give the benefit of the doubt. To treat others like you would like them to treat you. To not judge, or draw conclusions which may be inaccurate. Just maybe they had a rough day at work and are duly focused on getting home. Maybe they have a sick child at home and are going through a mental list of what they need to get before they head home. Maybe they are hard of hearing and honestly didn’t hear your greeting. Maybe they have had a bad day or bad news or a bad life and do not have the capacity to politely return pleasantries. People can only give you what they have. And just maybe they have a mean streak and are rude, like some can be when you are desperately trying to bag their groceries and they become disrespectful and impatient – and let you and others know. You have experienced that many times before. If so, it is their problem, their life, their choice – not yours. Don’t make it yours.

Because whatever the case, your response is actually to be the same.

Be yourself. Be kind. Be Jesus to them. Give them what they cannot – or choose to not – give you. Pray the gift of a silent blessing over them – it is a beautiful secret between you and God.

Be the light in a dark place. You will feel better about yourself if you walk this road. And quite possibly it will be contagious. You could be the spark of something big and positive, rather than following the circular path of hurt and offendedness that leads away from light and into bitterness and blaming and shaming others. Don’t go there. 

Know that whatever hurts your heart, hurts mine, yes, but hurts God’s too. After all, He not only designed you to be just the way you are, He also is family. He is your Father and intimately connected to you. He knows how you feel and has been slighted by many. He honestly feels the pain you feel in ways no one else can. He loves all people, as He is the One who created each of us and delights when we show love and honor to one another, and grieves when we don’t.  Yet He continues to show love and grace no matter what. Wouldn’t you rather choose His path of love than the path of rudeness anyway?

You are loved by the greatest Being in the universe. You are treasured in His heart and He has given you a purpose and destiny to make a difference in the world. You can do great things. Things for good.

It all begins with today’s decisions, one by one, to walk in love. Walk in forgiveness. Walk in grace. Walk in the light. And don’t allow a few to take away from the joy you experience with most. Most people are friendly and kind to you.

Do this and you can walk with your head high; you will walk in victory.

Pearl gathering

Praise the Lord, O my soul. And all that is within me, praise His holy name. 2 Praise the Lord, O my soul. And forget none of His acts of kindness.
3 He forgives all my sins.
He heals all my diseases.
4 He saves my life from the grave.
He crowns me with loving-kindness and pity.
5 He fills my years with good things and I am made young again like the eagle.
6 The Lord does what is right and fair for all who suffer under a bad power.
7 He made His ways known to Moses and His acts to the people of Israel… 11 For His loving-kindness for those who fear Him is as great as the heavens are high above the earth. 12 He has taken our sins from us as far as the east is from the west. 13 The Lord has loving-pity on those who fear Him, as a father has loving-pity on his children. 14 For He knows what we are made of. He remembers that we are dust….Psalm 103:1-14 NLV

 

The theme for our week at Joni & Friends camp this year was Psalm 23. As often occurs, different words or phrases jump off the page at different seasons of life. The one that the Spirit has been highlighting in this season has been the ‘withness’ of the Lord in everyday life. In the sunny serene times, in the dark or stormy narrow passages, and everything in between, the most precious treasure I hold in my heart is that “You, O Lord, are with me.” During times of correction, times of danger and threat of presence of enemies, I have nothing to fear for He is WITH me. I am not alone on my own, I am never without all that He brings with His presence – provision, protection, comfort, assurance, guidance. And, oh, so much more.

 
I just passed a mile-marker birthday (no, it’s not 30!) which has brought with it deeper introspection. I was impacted by a quote by DL Moody, “Our greatest fear should not be of failure, but of succeeding at things in life that don’t really matter.” So questions emerge like what fruit does my life show, how have I used/spent/demonstrated what God has given me, what ways should I adjust for the future years if He grants them to me regarding investment of time, energy, resources, talent, etc? Combine these questions with the ongoing prayer, “Lord, show me how to have ‘whatever-state-we-are-in’ contentment in this season of Don’s health, while praying forward-movement in seeking healing and other graces of God.”

 
So when things continued to spiral in a downward direction with one thing after the other healthwise (and otherwise), I had been asking the Lord, “Is this the way it is going to be from here on out?” “Are You hearing me?” and better yet, “Am I hearing from You?” I had been feeling the ‘silence’ of the Lord, and though I know the answers by faith, I deeply desired to experience His presence at a deeper level, to rest assured (my definition of faith) that He was indeed, still with us, faithfully presiding over the circumstances no matter how dismal they may look. I have been fairly quiet on social media, waiting and listening, not wanting to speak until I hear from Him. I don’t know that I would classify it as a ‘dark night of the soul’, but I do know that there were enemies and battles that I faced that I hadn’t 5 years ago. The longer the trial, the deeper levels of doubt vs faith we faced.

 
     “Yes, Cindy. Your questions reflect the need for assurance of My presence. I AM and have been with you all along the pathway of your life. Before looking ahead, look back. Not at what you have done, but at Me, and what I have done. The more you look, the more you will see Me. Do not forget a single instance. They are all gifts of My grace for you.”

 
And so, around Easter, I began to list instances where I was acutely aware of God’s hand in my life, times where He left expressly unmistakable imprints upon my life, God-moments where if it weren’t for Him, the outcome would be disastrous.

 
I began filling pages and pages of God revealing time after time where He literally rescued my life from the pit of death (like being caught in a riptide and have no idea how I escaped those ruthless waves, or when as a pedestrian, I was hit by a car at a busy intersection and tossed into the air like a ragdoll); times where He intervened in the lives of my family (micro-detailing travel for a doctor from India to come to OUR house to examine Don, or significantly manifesting His protection from physical harm individually over each of our children during separate occasions); times where He sustained us while we had no paycheck, (receiving anonymous gifts, or opportunities arriving out of nowhere); multiple instances of healing (when the mystified doctors could only scratch their heads as they knew when we walked out the door it was not due to their ‘doctoring’; times of emotional and spiritual healing); times of assurance and whispers of hope in the darkness (literally His voice telling me to ‘Turn around, Cindy!’ when I was alone, lost, and about to drive into what I later discovered was the roughest part of the city, or giving me verses and songs during sleepless nights), and so many, many more – I was undone. I wish I could share them all with you. I don’t want to forget a single one of His benefits – truly graces – but to journal and keep a record of His words and works. Of His unmistakable presence. For me. With me.

 
God has always used many physical markers in the history of His people as reminders, commanding that physical stones to be gathered and piled upon the other, or prescribed festivals that celebrated His hand in their lives because He knows we are a forgetful people. He warns us to not forget the ways He has led, reminding us to recount them and draw forth renewed faith as we do when we, like David, journal and remind our cast-down souls to trust in the faithfulness of God that has been revealed. It is like gathering each one as a pearl and stringing them into a priceless necklace that brings glory to its Designer. It not only raises our level of faith, but it also encourages the faith of others when we share and declare the wonderful works of God, in season and out of season.
I would definitely recommend this ‘rearview mirror journaling’ to anyone, in order to “be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God.” (Eph 3:18-19)

Only, not as an ‘exercise’ or project, but as an offering of praise.
In the last couple of weeks, I have seen some encouraging signs in Don’s health, a slow turning away from continuing decline and movement towards health. I can’t even describe how thrilled I am to see it! How thankful for God’s intervening in our lives! I am also glad to have gone through this re-winding, re-viewing and re-minding BEFORE this turn-around, fortifying my spirit and giving me fresh eyes to see the faithfulness and goodness of God revealed in so many numerous ways. I wonder if I would have done it otherwise. This ‘necklace of pearls’ is such a treasure. May these pearls ever shimmer for God’s glory alone.