Choices

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Things in life are often a double edged sword.

Family events are wonderful, but not the prep work.

Home cooked food is yummy, but time consuming.

Great paying job, but responsibility overwhelms.

Politeness is graceful, but creates estrangement.

OK, so that last one caught you off guard, right?

In a culture of tenseness, it is tempting to mumble a polite response and just keep moving rather than engaging with strangers and risk emotions splashing on you. Let me give a personal story that taught me a lesson.

I was in a store buying canning items that have been seriously discounted. Looking and loading up on everything I think I will need for the next harvest season while thinking of how tired I am. Another lady walks up and begins to gather what she needs. She comments wearily that these are good prices. I agree and even point out an item on an upper shelf (I am taller) and hand it to her. I have been polite. Even helpful. It is certainly acceptable to stop the interaction with a smile and to go about my business.

But there is a big problem. This lady seems grieved to me—sad countenance, almost numbed and lifeless. I can acknowledge it or not. Certainly I need to be on my way; I need to get to the rest of that to-do-list. But I couldn’t shut down my questioning brain. “What would Jesus do? Would he just be polite or would He choose to engage?”

I forced my introverted self to engage—to pry at the risk of emotions and or perhaps being perceived as rude or maybe even insulted; I am, after all, a stranger.

What would you do? How would you start?

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“Ma’am, I may be out of line, but you seem sad to me.” I jumped right in. “It’s none of my business, but I want you to know God loves and cares about every detail of your life-and I am so sorry that sounds like a clique- but it’s true.” I gently smiled. The tears were already trailing down her face.

She proceeded to tell me she had just returned from burying her only grandson, who she had raised for the past couple of years. Long story short, he had been killed by a drunk driver.

 

“I am so sorry for your loss. So tragic. How old was he?” I inquired.

“Seventeen and a senior in high school. He was doing well in school too.” She answered.

I know many grandparents are raising their grandchildren so I probed a bit deeper as I looked at her through my wet eyes.

“Can I ask…why you were raising him? Typical teen issues or did something happen to his folks?” I asked, surprised at my boldness. Why was I even asking this?

Now the flood gates opened wide. “What have I done!” I thought.

She explained that her son, the boy’s father was in prison and the mother was off somewhere unknown. She had taken custody with her son’s conviction.

I again expressed my sorrow at her situation as I told her I worked in a men’s prison as a teacher. She mumbled through tears that she hoped her son got the help he needed.

In boldness, I asked one more question, “What is your son incarcerated for?”

She caught me off guard when she answered.

“He had a drinking problem for years, DUIs and fights and such,” she whispered, as new tears started, “he killed someone while driving drunk and now this.” For a moment she was swallowed in her tears and I was shocked to the point of dumbness.

I hugged this complete stranger and mumbled a brief prayer with her. (Yes, I asked first.)  I assured her that I would continue to pray for her situation.  Even as I write today, years later, I pause to pray for this lady, still with tears remembering her pain.

As we parted, she briefly smiled and said, “You have made my day brighter. Thank you for noticing my sadness and for caring.”

Please no applause. I simply acknowledged what I thought I was perceiving in another human. I chose to pause. I chose to engage. I chose to get out of my comfort zone. It was a very small gesture on my part—but made a big difference to this lady. At first it wasn’t polite. I was prying, right?

In that pause she went from feeling unloved and broken, to being amazed that some stranger would acknowledge her pain—and that God would orchestrate it to be a someone who worked every day in a men’s prison, with people who made the same mistake that cost her grandson’s life and a portion of her son’s life.  Isn’t that uncanny?

My Christian friends, can it be that we are not winning the cultural wars because we have chosen politeness instead of engagement? Jesus often went out of his way to engage individuals. He spoke to the heart of the issue. We might say He always went for the jugular!

Not that I always do. I am often rushing or simply not in the moment. Often.

But I seek to have this be my habit. I want these encounters of a divine nature. For myself and other humans. So far I have yet to have a nasty response. I open the door pleasantly and follow the other person’s lead. For me, it is choosing to take my light out from under the bushel and letting it shine. It is a step of faith, but it brings wonderful connectedness and stories.

I think it is what Jesus would do. love-538432_1280

 

 

 

Hanging on!

leisure-199229_1280Recently a friend shared her anger about the killing of a lion in Zimbabwe. It was disgusting and reminded me of the other stories I had heard over my lifetime. I met some people doing time in prison for cruelty to animals. Both were nice people, who simply couldn’t manage their alcohol but rather let it manage them. Lately this has made me wonder why the wealthy seem to bear no consequences for their behavior. I don’t like to be reminded that Lady Justice is sometimes blindfolded by money.

Then I watched the fourth video of Planned Parenthood’s negotiating prices for little humans called fetuses. Again, the absolute defenseless being destroyed by the quest for profitability. The callous identification of livers, hearts, and eyes sickens me. I candidly asked my friend, “Am I getting old and grumpy or was Grandpa right when he said the world was going to hell in a hand basket?” Her solemn reply, “Grandpa was right.”

Again, justice and legality bends to political spin and money as mankind destroys life. It more than angers me. It really does. Some friends are quick to say, “Well, people matter most.” As if we can’t be enraged about multiple things at once. If that lion losing his life would mean a baby was saved—then, of course, the baby! But one doesn’t connect to the other. Both are outrageous in my mind. One destroys the social and moral fabric of our world and the other destroys the environmental and moral fabric of our world. Both issues matter. Life matters.

I was in high school when Roe vs. Wade occurred. Some railed against it. Some hailed it as the best thing since Brown vs. Board of Education. I do not believe either side could have imagined the place our culture stands today because of that January 22, 1973 decision. All the subsequent legal hoops, campaigning, clinic bombings, shaming, and of course the sheer number of deaths and depravity of abortion procedures, would have sounded like craziness back then.

When it comes to wildlife conservation and ecology in general, it too has been a downward spiral. There are now more endangered species (and consequences) than were imaginable a few decades ago. Man is a very demanding creature. He wants what he wants when he wants it.

roller-coaster-365770_1280As a young adult, things seemed to be spiraling at a slower pace. Maybe this was my youth. The world couldn’t be going to hell in a hand basket because I was an activist, engaged, informed! Lately, though I, an activist, engaged and informed, see things more from Grandpa’s perspective. It has all seemed like a roller coaster ride. During my 20’s and 30’s it seemed we were chugging up the incline. In my 40’s we crested the hill. And honestly, the last 10 years we have been at an ever-increasing speed towards chaos as a society without boundaries.

leisure-199231_1280Now, don’t misread my intent in this blog. I am not hopeless! I am not banking on our culture to become like the one I grew up in—I am banking on a God who can change a heart in an instant, even without explanation. I am not hopeful for a new election—we have proven we make few changes in elections. I am hopeful for changed hearts to enthrone the King of Kings, one heart at a time. I am fully banking on a God who knows the ugliness of man and yet still chooses to love without limits. I am banking on a God that will remain faithful to me individually, and all Christians collectively, as we navigate these waters.

 

In comfort or discomfort, trials or triumphs, sickness or health, wealth or poverty, my hope is fixed on Jesus.

Fragments and Multitudes

boy-509488_1280I have been thinking of the story of Jesus feeding the multitudes. The little boy contributing all he had, Jesus blessing all he had and the people eating what they had. It’s a heartwarming reminder that Jesus is our provision and indeed is our bread of life.

But the closing scene is what has caught my attention lately. You remember it. The twelve baskets of fragments. I am fascinated that Jesus wanted the crumbs picked up after the picnic. Lately I have found that very curious. Then it hit me! The fragments mattered!

They were part of this miracle just as surely as the big pieces that had satisfied the hungry.

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It would have been human nature to let them remain wherever they had fallen. But Jesus wasn’t driven by his human nature, he was driven by divine love. He saw, heard and acknowledged what others missed. And the fragments mattered to him.

Yes, the fragments matter. People who struggle to fit in, matter. Those who feel invisible, need to be seen. Those who have yet to find their voice, need to be heard. Those that are wounded, need to have their pain acknowledged.

He embraces the disenfranchised and feeds those who starve for human affection.

Read the life of Christ. He regularly did these things. He knows that even the fragments are blessed and have purpose. He doesn’t have throwaways. He doesn’t choose some for redemption and others for rubbish. No, not Jesus.

To Jesus even the most insignificant has significance.

people-852428_1280If you find yourself stepping around others because they are needy, slow or feeble minded, remember they matter. When you shuffle quickly by those disheveled or smelling, remember Jesus embraces. When you cast your eyes away from a need or a heartache, be reminded that Jesus pauses and acknowledges.

Take time to gather the fragments.

Because fragments matter.

 

The Plan

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“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”   Jeremiah 29:11

This verse from Jeremiah gave me strength in a dark time.

I learned it in a Divorce Care support group after my husband left. We were married for twenty years. I thought we would grow old together and travel across the country when the children were grown. The shock of his leaving felt like someone pulled a rug out from under me.

So the Jeremiah verse provided comfort. The Divorce Care group gave good advice, which I didn’t always take. I thought I was ready to date after the divorce was final. But in my grief and vulnerability, I fell into a rebound pit of even deeper despair.

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Still, the belief that God had plans for me, good plans, whispered to me from way in the back of my mind.

I climbed out of the pit of despair and went on with my life. After a few years, I learned to be single and celibate, to work on myself and my relationship with God.

 

I used to change the words to love songs on the radio so that I’d be singing about Jesus. I turned my desire for a partner over to God, trusting that God had a plan. I knew that even if that plan was for me to be single for the rest of my life, I could do good work.

It was not easy for me to take my hands off the wheel. Sometimes I grabbed hold of it again, trying to control my life, looking at online dating sites, getting disgusted, and turning it over again, learning acceptance, learning faith, and telling myself: God has a plan.

I received a message.

It was from my first love.

David and I had dated for one year in tenth grade until his family moved back up north, 700 miles away. It took thirty-nine years for him to find me again. During those years, God worked on us. We had to learn many lessons to become ready to be together again.

I’ve heard that God can write straight with lines that seem crooked.clock-474128_1280

God has perfect timing.

If you watch the news on TV, these times seem so confused and uncertain. It can be frightening. It can lead us to despair. So much is unknown. But the Lord has plans for each and every one of us. Plans to prosper us and not to harm us, plans for hope and a future.

 

(Guest blog today by Joanne Macco Silvia. She blogs regularly at https://joannaoftheforest.wordpress.com/ . She and her husband David have a wonderful story of Perfect Timing, a work soon to be published. Our friendship began as high school classmates at Jacksonville Senior High, Jacksonville, NC. An addiction counselor by day, a passionate lover of nature and animals, Joanne always cares about matters of the heart.)

Quit Quacking!

IMAG0748_1IMAG0758_1My morning walk takes me around a man-made pond that has a dozen or so ducks, a lot of varieties. They can be all over that pond swimming, fighting, nesting, and preening but as the clock approaches 8:15 am, they all swim or waddle over to the gathering place and wait on the park keeper to arrive and feed them. Can they read the clock on the shelter facing the pond? I am always amused by this.

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Now I am not a ‘duckologist’ or even an ornithologist, but I have enjoyed studying these ducks as I sweat. The two pictured here are apparently the same species. Both look like they have been splattered by Carolina red clay. The stains are there, though one has cleaned up better than the other. I am unsure if they are working their way to white or rusty brown. They appear about the same size therefore I would think age. I actually wonder if they are twins. Do ducks have twins?
IMAG0741_1_1_1The one that is ‘cleaner’ quacks and chases the other one a lot. He is seemingly more self-confident. Mr. Clean pecks at the ‘dirtier’ one, often sneaking up on Mr. Dirty while he is resting and unsuspecting. Sometimes I smack the fence trying to distract Mr. Clean but he is focused and rarely distracted! Mr. Dirty has his moments of quacking and chasing also.

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Here is a picture of Waddles and Quacker. Again they appear to be the same species and I am not sure if they are working their way to be black or white? They are the same size and again seem to be twins to my unskilled eye. They are almost always together, like Mr. Clean and Mr. Dirty, playing, swimming, quacking at one another. They alternate dipping their head into the water for a treat, standing guard for one another.

These two sets of ducks remind me of Christians actually. We don’t always look alike, but we are still ducks. As Christians, we need to work to allow others to be themselves, by turning our focus off the stains and on to our commonalities. In groups cookie cutter images are easier—variances are difficult to define and manage—individuality is risky! It is human nature to want to peck and quack about the differences. We can even let that lead us to wondering if we are the same ‘species’…Christian?

IMAG0731_1We are created with minute attention to detail and variance=nature. Add the varieties of nurture (environmental influences), and you have limitless differences. Like the ducks shedding feathers, we all have varying amounts of evidence of our life before Christ. Like these ducks, we may be in the same pond, eat the same food, and be the same species/age, but yet still appear unique.

We Christians are on the same journey, and have many similarities, but we will always have differences.

We change into the image of Christ at different rates of speed and cycle through the maturing process in our own unique ways. Maybe if we focused on celebrating differences, using it to reveal to our hearts the wondrous creativity of our Lord, and His amazing grace over us all, our worship would be richer and our lives more peaceable. Who knows, maybe those outside the faith would want to be a part of this greatest of human adventures—life in Christ.

So Peter seeing him (John) said to Jesus, “Lord, and what about this man?” Jesus said to him, “If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow Me!” John 21:21-22

What does this say to you? Do you tend to peck at the faults of others? Do you quack about areas of your faith that you have mastered while squawking at areas of struggle in others? Do you maintain a list of qualifiers to determine if people are Christians (like a litmus test) or do you accept the word of their testimony? Are you jealous of people who appear to have it together? Is any of this even our business? Isn’t it possible we are all awaiting the arrival of the Divine Park Keeper, even while we vary so much? Isn’t it possible HE cares for the well-being of all of us with our differences? If His eye is on the sparrow—couldn’t it also be on the ducks? Or even on us?

Little Red Bird Speaks

cardinal-635868_1280Making my way around the track, sweating and panting, I noticed some movement—a flash of red. There in the dark green bushes along the creek was a brilliant cardinal. I paused because I had never seen such a regal display among a background of black green. I fumbled for my phone, hoping to capture a photo, but Mr. Cardinal sensed my shuffle and flew away.

Being a North Carolina native, I have seen many cardinals, all of them magnificent, but always in trees, at feeders or on the ground gathering their food. Never had I seen one in the bushes among predators. Never. But maybe I just hadn’t looked?

11402384_520894301398249_6786060180199413653_oWhile I had never noticed a cardinal perched in bushes, I had seen splashes of red in the darkest places of life. Like at the bedside of the terminally ill, surrounded by the darkness of grief, as death moves closer. Then suddenly a memory or a smile or a song reminds everyone present that life continues and mercies endure to all generations. I have watched an act of generosity repeat over and over, from worker to family to community. I have observed how tragedy brings people together in unexpected ways, reminding us that we are not alone, and in fact, we are uniquely united into one family called the human race. I have seen the red stain in dark places throughout my life.                     

I reflected on a recent sad event in my homeland. An act of mental illness, violence, and/or evil-yet in the days following, people prayerfully huddling together and stepping across bridges to support, grieve and stand as one, united as the universal race—the human race. This is evidence of a blood-stained cross in the hearts of a diverse people.

 

love-819671_1280As my mind raced faster than my legs walked, I knew the list could go on and on. God shows up in the most unexpected places and brings the most unexpected graces to us all, especially the dark places and through unlikely participants. He did it in the Scriptures and He does it today.     If we look, His blood stained hand is always there, leaving its mark of grace, like a fingerprint on life.

Note to self that day was to choose to look for the stain in the midst of darkness.

Where have you found Him hidden among your dark places? Do you try to be conscious in difficulty and look? Do you have something that prompts you? Or a particular practice or meditation or prayer? Help the rest of us out by sharing.

The Storm or the Harvest

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Recently a friend and I treated ourselves to a lovely meal at The  Treehouse in Badin, NC.  The setting in the bistro café was so quaint and we were glad that we followed through on our promise to visit there. The 30 minute drive gave time for our endless conversations. It was a warm, soul satisfying evening. And yes, we were still chattering as we traveled through the countryside towards home.

Suddenly around a curve was a huge field of grain, cut and bundled. This field was truly breathtaking. The golden hues were indescribably beautiful against the evening sky and in the middle was a stately tree. I imagined farm boys and girls have played in that tree for decades as fathers worked. My friend loved it enough to turn around and pull over. We got out of the car to play with our phones and relish the captivating scene. We noticed the sky was darkening with rain clouds. After we reminisced about harvest pictures we had seen when we were children and how hard our farmers have it, we got back into the car and continued our journey, both thankful we had captured the scene on our phones.summer-372904_1280

 

 

 

                           I could not shake the visual lesson of the                                                      storm clouds and the harvest.

People seem to focus on the coming storm. They articulate the storm with the fierceness of fear. It’s like they have their invisible finger held high checking for the velocity and origin of the winds, sure of destruction and who to blame.

What snared my heart was

I pondered why those of us who name the name of Christ have missed the message of Christ about the harvest. Why are we captured easily by cultural, financial and political distractions? We seem to forget that we are of another kingdom. AND there is a harvest ready for workers.

“Look they are ripe for harvest.” John 4:35

wheat-819186_1280I choose to focus on the harvest. Every day, in every way, with every person, I want to be aware of the harvest. I want to daily be better focused than I was the day before. The harvest mattered to Jesus, so I desire that it matters to me. Storms may come, and some have, but I can weather the storm because of who walks with me. I do not have to fear the storm. I am free to focus on the harvest. If I focus on the storm, the harvest will be lost.         It’s my choice.

 

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“Lord, let my eyes see,

my mind reach,

my heart engage

and my spirit align,  with Your heart .”

Amen.

 

Gift Wrapped

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Emmanuel, God with us.
God as us.
God in us.

Son of God.
Gift wrapped in flesh, blessed gift.


“And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.”John 1:14 NAS

This is one of those verses that causes me to pause and think of the meaning of each clause. Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers says it well:

“Man came to be a son of God,
because the Son of God became man.”

As gift wrap is packed away for another year, I cannot help but think about that heavenly gift! Given so that we can know God, and in doing so, know perfect love. A gift wrapped not in paper, but in flesh. An incomprehensible gift. Blessed Incarnation.

Incarnation also means the embodiment of an attribute or value. There is a parallel here to the Christian life! Every day the Christian chooses whether or not to wrap divine attributes, gifts, in flesh! Gifts like the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, kindness, goodness, self-control, faithfulness. Or attributes such as grace, mercy, deference, and hope. These attributes can only be seen when they are incarnate in our lives. These gifts become gloriously evident when we choose to giftwrap them in our own flesh.

Christmas reminds us of the Gift, Jesus.
And it reminds us to wrap His gifts for others.

Choose to reflect the Holy Incarnation,
as you share divine gifts—wrapped in you.

An Expected End

christmas-513476_1280December is a time of expectations. We order gifts and expect them to arrive as promised and described. We try new recipes expecting delicious food. We select items expecting to surprise those we love. We plan parties expecting a good time. Certainly there is nothing wrong with putting in extra effort and expecting a satisfying outcome.

This time of year always causes me to ponder on Mary, the mother of Jesus. Frankly, I can’t imagine being 9 months pregnant and taking a road trip on a donkey. I can feel her anxiety when no rooms are available and she needs to p-u-s-h! I wonder how scared she and Joseph were to deliver a baby, inexperienced and a-l-o-n-e?

I ponder on the angelic visitation and the expectations birthed in her heart. As she swaddled the Christ child, I am sure she dreamed as all mothers do. I am certain she found herself fretting over the details of life. But as we know, life rarely goes as dreamed. There are always twists and turns, pain and struggle, triumphs and defeats.

Surely she found herself fretting when the order to slaughter the baby boys was decreed. I wonder did she find it odd to be told to flee INTO Egypt for her deliverance. That was the land her people fled FROM when they found deliverance after the final plague–death of the first born. Did the national news shake her confidence in what the angel had said?

But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart. Luke 2:19

I have a cluster of friends who are pregnant with new expectations. They have reached an age in life where they know they only have a few decades left to impact the world. Their hearts are seized with a new vision; they want every minute to count for eternity. Their energy has turned to investing in their communities and the lives of people around them. They have accepted the challenge to change their world. Watching them is exciting! I can’t help wondering what the ‘baby’ will be like when birthed. How many lives will be changed? How many burdens will be lightened? Will the generations to come be different because of their efforts?

I believe it’s the soft whisper of the Holy Spirit guiding them. As they follow what they believe they have heard, chaos will happen, boats will be rocked. I promise it will not be smooth sailing! Changing the world involves taking risks; change rarely occurs easily!

Fulfillment of the promise is filled with the unexpected.  Just ask Mary.

Jeremiah 29:11 “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the LORD, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end.”

Habakkuk 2:3 “For the vision is yet for an appointed time, but at the end it shall speak, and not lie: though it tarry, wait for it; because it will surely come, it will not tarry.”

What new dream or action has caught your attention? Do you find yourself pregnant with a new vision of a different world this Christmas? Please share so the rest of us can celebrate with great anticipation with you. Who knows, you might inspire someone!

For Us All

father-christmas-514213_1280 Our team gathers around, prays and then loads our backpacks with items we hope to give away. We are visiting local tent communities; there are always needs. It’s cold and slightly windy, I wonder why I failed to wear two pairs of socks. Laden with our packs, we set out, off the beaten path and into the woods.

We are stopping first at a small cluster I haven’t visited before, but I have heard of it from the others. There are 7 people living as a community, sharing resources, protecting one another, and encouraging one another as they forage their way through another day of a hard life.

After a short hike we enter the landscape of the well-organized tent neighborhood. It is clear of debris and has a kitchen area and individual sleeping quarters (tents). It’s unusual and most probably due to the deep sense of community shared. Some have been working, others are looking for work-surviving on odd jobs. We just happen to have some new pillows and the talkative leader is grateful since he has been without one.

They chat a bit about how they have permission from the property owners to squat there. We exchange standard chatter like anywhere else in America–job searches, trash pickups, and what to have for supper tomorrow night–common everyday conversations. You almost forget the circumstances as experiences are shared. I see nodding heads with listening ears, and hear friendly laughing, and the swapping of stories and commonalities. I observe mostly; there are friendships between the team and the residents, built over time.

As we start to leave we gather to pray. I ask if we could sing a Christmas carol but the whole crowd denies ability to lead! We laugh and bow our hearts, with hands joined. The talkative community leader charges ahead in prayer, thanking God for all who are present. I listen intently to this obviously familiar interaction between this human and the Divine. I could have been standing in any church in America.

That’s when I heard a phrase that pierced my heart. “Thank you God for friends who come and visit us and share moments of homelessness with us.” I repeat the words to myself. Yes, this was the absolute goal of our visit! To touch hearts, not with stuff but with shared humanity. As the prayer time ends someone starts to sing “We Wish You a Merry Christmas”. We all sing along finishing with laughter and agreement that none of us can sing.

Walking to the next community, I was captured by the words of the man’s prayer and the season. The identification of shared humanity turned my mind to the shepherds in the first Christmas story. They, like this community, were wanderers, living in the elements under the night sky, void of the security of shelter or the comforts of warmth and provisions of home.

BUT out of the darkness came that glorious proclamation that the Deliverer had come! And He was to be found in their familiar environment of a barn as a human baby! Yes, Jesus shared with them in their humanity! Like our homeless friends, Jesus was born without a fancy home or even a pillow for His head. Glory indeed! Hope was birthed after 400 years of silent suffering and oppression. Night after lonely night of wondering, doubting, questioning, surviving. Then suddenly the Divine steps into their world.

Just like our experience on this very night! As we found companionship in human experiences, a magical transformation occurred. The Divine entered our presence and our hearts beheld His glory. Like the shepherds, gathered under the dark sky, we knew again and afresh that Jesus cared for all of us-He came for all of us-He gathers all of usHe came as all of us–for all of us.