Sunday, December 31, 2017

sticks, stones and arrows of life...





Back in the fifth grade, I had the teacher from hell. He would stop at nothing to berate the children in his care and I was no exception. There was one particular student named Art who always was the class clown. He would do anything to rankle the teacher and the teacher always obliged by sending Art to see the principal. I never knew what Art's background at home was like that caused the consternation, but I do know (now) that many children come to school with some sad baggage. Perhaps Art was one of those kids.

There was a particular day when Art really ticked off the teacher. Instead of sending him to the principal's office, the teacher instead had each of the kids in this class write something about Art and why they did not like him. At the time, I remember myself gleefully writing some two paragraph "thing" and then, reading it out loud to him, as did we all. I was only eleven years old, but I can still remember him squirming uncomfortably in his seat, a pained expression on his face. As I watched him, I no longer felt gleeful. In fact, I thought, "what if that were ME?"

He never was the class clown after that. In fact, he became sullen...withdrawn for the rest of that school year.

I moved away shortly after that, so I have no idea how Art turned out as he grew up.

I look back on this now...and I shudder. What that teacher did was just plain wrong. To point out a person's perceived "flaws" by having other kids-his peers-mock him, was a very low blow. It was no different, I am sure, than the judgment cast upon a woman who was being prepared for stoning. Jesus admonished them all by asking, "he who is without sin, cast the first stone." And...everyone left. "Has no one condemned you?" He asked the woman. "No one," she replied (probably greatly relieved). "Then neither do I. Go...and sin no more!"

I was only eleven years old...too young and ignorant to understand then that what we all did may have had serious implications. I feel so ashamed now. For a trusted adult to castigate a child in that way --by public humiliation--is wrong. A better way would have been to look deeper...to try and understand the "what behind the why" of the child's misbehavior. Many times, a child misbehaves to cover up something more insidious and sad. It could be the only way they know how to cope with the arrows that life hurls at them. And we go and complicate that even further by our own words, actions and deeds. This doesn't just apply to children, either. We adults can be pretty mean towards other adults as well.

 In today's' world, we all are guilty of casting blame and then, inducing harm in some way. Don't believe me? Just be a little more attentive of what and how you comment on social media. Or how about your response, be it private or public...on what you see on the TV news...or hear on the radio. We judge...oh yes...we judge and pretty harshly at that!

 As the New Year rings in tonight, how about if our resolution for 2018 be that we guard what comes out of our mouths...guard what we say in print...and be a true neighbor...one who loves everyone regardless of whatever sins they have. Condemn no one, but show true compassion as well as humility towards all.

I have no clue how Art is today. I have no clue if he was able to get over the hurdles of his younger years or if those barriers made it harder to be an adult. But to all the OTHER Arts in this world...may we be more accepting of their circumstances, whatever they may be.

May God bless you all.
Amen.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

what IS Christmas about?






Recently I read comments from others that having Christ in Christmas is too much to ask for. They look around and see nothing but greed, commercialism, hate, sorrow and more. Some have said that Santa is actually an anagram for Satan because the holiday we celebrate was actually once a pagan feast.

I read these comments and felt physically ill. Ill because on one hand, Satan IS in control...but it isn't as these people think. Satan today IS in control of the greed, the pain, the sorrow. Christmas, in reality, was a take-off of the pagan feast of Saturnalia. The early Church, feeling a need to convert people, took many of the facets of Saturnalia and tidied them up to bring people to God. Christmas is actually a derivative of the Mass held on the night of the winter solstice, known as Christ's Mass...Christmas! It was the Druids who later brought trees into the tradition, with it's candles and lights and decorations. Gift giving came from a true saint, Saint Nicholas, who brought gifts to poor families. Saint Francis of Assisi had the idea to re-create the Nativity scene and thus, the creche was born.









There are those who argue that Jesus was not born in winter, as the sheep were in the fields with their shepherds. There are people who argue that certain coffee shops have reindeer on their cups instead of actual scenes of the Nativity. There are people who argue...it seems...about anything that can be argued about.
Friend, if this is you, you are sadly missing the whole point.

Jesus came to us, a King, yes, but as a helpless babe first...so as to not shock the masses, I'm sure. Yet the masses were shocked anyway. King Herod, on hearing of the birth of a "King," sought to have him killed by killing off many other innocent babies as well. Such tyranny in what should have been the promise of Hope! A grown man, afraid of an Infant? Say it wasn't so!

But it was.

During the time of Jesus' ministry, all the while He healed many and performed other miracles, once again, He was a threat to the Establishment, who sought...again! to kill him off...and succeeded...by convincing all who would hear, that He was nothing more than a charlatan. And thus, an Innocent who was born to save us, instead, died for OUR sins of let's face it--ignorance. Basically, the same fear that caused King Herod to kill off all of the male babies also caused the Jewish people to also kill off Jesus--ignorance. Is it that same fear today that cause many to X out the reason for Christmas--Jesus-- by having celebrations that have nothing to do with Him at all? I do believe we are back at Square One! Pagan feasting that took what was a reverent idea and made it irreverent.

Ah yes, Christmas is almost here. And you, I'm sure, are busy making plans...but how have you made plans for Him?

Do you see Him in the homeless, the helpless, the hungry, the sick, the imprisoned, the persecuted?  (Matthew 25:44) Or do you rather see Him in diamond rings, new cars, new techie gadgets, new...new...new...? The point I am making is that you cannot have Christmas without Christ. I know how much Madison Avenue wants you to believe that, but the seduction of distracting us from the real reason of Christmas by having anything you can buy is just not what this season is all about! Jesus came to show us pure, unconditional Love. His Love was so strong, He admonished us all to love one another, even as HE loved US! How much did He love us? Enough to die for us. ("Greater Love no man hath this, that one lay down his life for his friends..." John 15:13)

Honestly, how did you lay down your life for someone today? You don't have to step in front of a moving train to do it! You also do it by loving another so much you would do anything to seek out their better comfort level, and not just for a friend, but for a stranger as well.

We spend the holidays buying gifts for others, but truly, are you happy for the one you have bought a gift for? Or is it more compulsory...you HAVE to provide a gift for the office Christmas party for someone you just do not like, yet you do it...half-heartedly, hoping all the while they choke on it, am I right? You invite relatives to your house for Christmas dinner, all the while seething that they even are breathing in your presence. My, my, my...what a humble holiday we have going on here!

Christmas is about Love...it's about Hope that was born in a mangy, dirty stable. It's about the promise of Peace. To have any of these, we must Love one another even as Jesus loved us. We wish one another nothing but the best. The. Best. To do that, we put aside all manners of greed, of sorrow, of pain, of revenge, of hate. Love is the reason for the season. The Love of God who saw that humanity had lost it's mind and so, came down as a helpless babe, grew up in a society so full of hate (note the Roman empire, in control during his life) and sought to make it better by being an example for us all.

How can we do any less than to offer Him praise and being His example today--in a world that has never gotten it right, is still mad and out of control? We do it one day at a time, one person at a time...until there is so much love, so much joy...

When was Jesus born? He is born into the hearts of those who need Him- every. single. day.

Monday, December 4, 2017

a time for giving and forgiving...




Christmas. A time for giving and maybe...forgiving...?

A story I witnessed last week: I was at a local thrift store and, while I was waiting in line to check out my purchases, I overheard a woman ask the cashier why they don't have Depression era glassware any longer. While the cashier attempted to explain the whole concept of it being a donation thing, the other woman interrupted her by spitting out, "I know there is someone who works here who also collects that and thus, there will never be any more set out while she is here because she just buys it for herself!"

My eyes widened at that response. That whole entitlement feeling this woman displayed surprised me. There are many other sources in which to procure collector's items, the internet being one of them.

The reason that I was there was to purchase some doilies for a special event that our local museum was having; a Christmas Open House. They needed the doilies for a brunch table display and I was happy to provide that. Such a small token, I thought, as I paid for my purchase and then, dropped off the doilies at the museum, where I was greeted with hugs and gratitude. I smiled shyly and continued on my errands that day.

The day of the open house, I was stunned by the turnout of so many people. The atmosphere was festive and friendly as I perused the many baked goods that had been made, as well as the many "white elephant" items that were on display for purchase. What stunned me most was what was also for sale on several glass shelves along the wall: Depression era glassware, many sitting on the doilies that I had donated.

Someone else had donated that glassware. Immediately I felt a feeling of remorse. Yes, remorse. As I recalled that conversation from the thrift store, I felt humbled. Had that woman attended this event, would she have been able to appreciate what I witnessed...or would there have been more grousing?

Jesus told stories also of how, throughout time, things given in generosity were not accepted with humility but rather, with remarks of derision, taunts and retorts. Think back to the Israelites...leaving a place that had caused untold generations of Hebrews pain-Egypt- and there they were, in the desert, complaining, because they had little Faith in the One who'd rescued them from the very pits of hell. Now, compare that to the scene of Mary and Joseph...no room at the inn and she had just given birth in a dirty stable. Did she complain at all about the lack of accommodations? It certainly wasn't the Hilton Hotel, yet her heart was filled with love at the miracle that had just taken place.

We are only human, after all, yet we need to stop and think about the reason we feel entitled to having it all, having it now and having the best of everything. We need to step back and understand that in life, there are winners and there are losers, but we can bridge that gap by our being filled with an attitude of gratitude and sharing what we have with those who have less, or nothing at all. Jesus admonished us to look for the need and to share, even as His greatest example proved: feeding 5000 people the loaves and fishes. Even if you are poor, it costs nothing to do a good deed to ease the burden of another.





Soon it will be Christmas. How will you show your gratitude about the reason for the season? It is more about giving from the heart (think "Little Drummer Boy") and less about just accepting a gift with no thought of "what can I do for YOU?"
Have a wonderful day!

Saturday, December 2, 2017

who will you meet in heaven?




I just watched the movie, "The Five People You Meet in Heaven" last night. I had read the book about ten years ago, but never made time to see the movie. In it, we meet a man named Eddie who has worked on Ruby Pier, a small, beach side carnival, all of his life. I mean, from young boyhood, on. His father is an abusive alcoholic who also worked there, taking his miseries out on his family for as long as Eddie can remember.  In fact, Eddie says at one point, "I hated him. I always hated him!" Eddie's life, to him, seems insignificant. He loves kids, adored his wife and his last act while living was his efforts to save a young girl from a horrific accident, which then takes his own life. He meets up with five people who are very instrumental in the reason he is on earth. Five people who show him what life would have been like had he not been there.

Cue the brain...we've visited this theme already, am I right?

Yes, if you are a fan of "It's a Wonderful Life," you have.

But this movie, as "It's a Wonderful Life" did, made me think. Every life touches so many other lives!

How often do you ponder over your life? Does it seem tedious? Lacking luster?What is your reaction towards others? Do they bore you? Wouldn't you rather do something else if you were asked to help someone else?

That is the point here. In both movies, Eddie and George Bailey from "Wonderful Life" made darn sure that others' needs came BEFORE their own comforts. In George's case, his house was once a ramshackle dwelling that would always be in need of repair. In Eddie's tiny home, all he kept were the basics and a small box that held his mementos. Nothing more. In each movie, the character stood for the little guy, for what was truly important, all the while hating his own life.

It is said that after the passing of Mother Teresa of Calcutta, letters were found. In these letters were emotions poured forth that perhaps, she wasn't doing enough to alleviate the suffering there. She was always looking for that cue from God that what she was doing was enough. She never looked for the limelight, feeling that this-helping those less fortunate- is what we all should be doing. Even when she won the Nobel prize, she was humble enough to accept it wearing her sari and a simple blue sweater. No glitz, no glamour. And she never looked more beautiful.







Her own memorable line was, "find your own Calcutta!" Look around you. Who needs your help? You don't have to lead a huge corporation of helpers, just by your own example and purity of heart will you be in the place that God meant for you to be. Never doubt that. Let me repeat: "if your soul and heart are in this to genuinely help another, then you are exactly where God has placed you to be!"

We all have that "dark night of the soul." Why did I marry so and so if all he does is drink?" "Why did I take that job if all it brings is sorrow?" "Why am I hurting because a loved one left me?" Look back over that scenario. What happened during that time to make you think, for even a moment, that perhaps it was all wasted? We may never find out the true reasons for many of the things that we do until are time on earth has expired. Then all of these things will be revealed unto you...


"But there is nothing covered up that will not be revealed, and hidden that will not be known. "Accordingly, whatever you have said in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in the inner rooms will be proclaimed upon the housetops." Daniel 2:22.



Today and everyday, begin it with the attitude that nothing is ever a wasted moment. Look for the opportunities to be Jesus in a world that right now, is so lacking in love!

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

have you been visited by an inconvenient stranger?







There is a story of a woman who was at a well, drawing water. No one else was there, she had the place all to herself. Suddenly there was a visit from an inconvenient stranger, One who knew all about her past. The reason she was there all alone initially was because of her shame at what she had done. She was tired of being belittled, ridiculed and humiliated. Yet when this Person came and asked her for water, she seemed confused. The fact that instead of ridiculing her or judging her, He offered compassion, was something not to be believed. The fact also that He was a Jew and she, Samaritan, simply blew her mind. Number one, men did not just talk to women, that was not allowed. The fact that He was Jewish made it doubly so. And still, the fact that He offered His words as a sense of direction and not of condemnation meant that she should take His words seriously. (see John 4:4-26).  

 Then Jesus declared, “I, the one speaking to you—I am he.”

And she did.

How many of us had a visit by an inconvenient stranger? How many of us took to heart the situation at hand...or were we too busy with our i-Pads, i-Phones, video games...did we pass that person on the street, in the guise of a homeless person? Was it because someone was a drug addict...an alcoholic...that we just didn't care-or chose not to? Was it a pesky neighbor we tend to ignore...or the elderly person ahead of us at the store, "wasting our time" as they counted out all the change they may have had to buy that loaf of bread?

Are we inconvenienced when the news comes on, news that tells us yet another bomb blast ripped through some country far away...or even a tragedy closer to home...does that rattle your senses anymore--or have we grown so complacent that it just does not matter anymore?

Say those words: an inconvenient stranger. How does a stranger become a friend? Why, it's simple! It happens when YOU invite that person into your heart and home. It is so easy at this time of year to write a check to a charity, isn't it? "There!" you announce as you seal the envelope. "Now I can rest easy, those kids with cancer will have the best of everything!" Or those homeless puppies...or that child in the foreign country who looks as if he is starving...the list is endless. To justify that you have done something so wonderful because you signed a check does NOT justify, really, that you have dome anything more than salve your mind. The burdens are still there. And as the Inconvenient Stranger knows, unless you put forth the sincere effort into anything, you really have done nothing at all.

The Inconvenient Stranger, if you haven't guessed by now, is Jesus. Jesus can read our hearts. Our hearts that are restless until they rest in Him--or should be. Our hearts that will not allow us to sleep, knowing that while our closets are full, someone is going without a warm coat. Someone is not getting that wonderful smile. Someone is bereft of a hug, a kind word...someone lacks a place to sleep. Someone lacks food to eat.

That Inconvenient Stranger...are you feeling guilty yet? Just as Ebeneezer Scrooge realized in the Christmas tale, unless you are physically doing something for someone to ease their burdens you really haven't done anything at all. Scrooge realized that while, yes, he did provide a job for Bob Crachit, what was lacking was sufficient income or time to enjoy a family, which were the more important things that counting cash.

Next time you are feeling inconvenienced, ask yourself why. What guilt is niggling at you to re-focus your energy and time to something that matters more?
As Saint Teresa of Calcutta once observed, "I am but a little pencil in the Hand of God."

three gifts of Christmas....





 As we gear up for the holidays ahead, grief becomes very apparent for those who have lost loved ones. It can be yesterday, last month, last year....grief has no time limits and the pain can still hurt. I was reading an article that said what may help in the grieving process are three things: one, to say, "I'm sorry" to the one who left you. "I'm sorry for what we did, or didn't do...I'm sorry for the plans that went unmade, the words we did not get to say," etc. 

The second is "I forgive you." "I forgive you for leaving me so soon. I forgive you for whatever we did or said that hurt the other. i forgive you because forgiving is the way to heal the breach."

And the last is: "I love you." No matter if your relationship was the best, the worst or somewhere in between, those words seal the fact that what was done has been done. There is now no going back, no do-overs. Make peace with your past. "I'm sorry, I forgive you, I love you." Words I said to my very hurtful mother so many years ago as she lay dying in her bed. Words I never thought I would find myself saying, in fact, freed me from the horrors that I lived through with her. 

And of course, from dear ones, too that have left me..."I love you."

Just something to ponder as you write those cards and wrap those gifts. Sometimes, the best gift we can give to one another is the gifts of love and forgiveness...and peace.

Monday, November 20, 2017

footprints and snowflakes



photo courtesy of Martha Gallo, a participant on the "Godwinkers" Facebook page.


When I first met the man who is now my husband, I was impressed by many things: his compassion and thoughtfulness towards me, but also his thought processes in general. He has a very poetic way of looking at things.
I had settled my mind on probably being single for the rest of my life. After having been in a very sad marriage for 25 years and then, two failed relationships as well as seeing what was "out there" in the dating world, I was scared of either falling into the same old sad trap again...or...being single.
I chose single.
It was on a very bitter cold day in January in Minnesota (think minus 20 degrees!) that I was perusing the Craigslist site. In truth, I had never heard of Craigslist and curiosity led me there. I was shocked at what I found on the dating portion of it: men who were out to 'have a 'good time' and not caring whose life they ruined while doing it. Finally, I'd had enough! I was going to send a nasty reply to one ad that literally said he would take on all comers, married or not! He had lost all of his savings due to a former girlfriend who'd stolen it when she moved out. He was angry. He was bitter. And he wanted the world to know about it.
Then "something" told me to not hit 'send' on that one...to maybe see it a different way. I thought I was going nuts, but listened to that small voice of reason. Instead, in the e-mail, I asked him jokingly why he wanted a married woman when he could have me, as I was divorced and available. Available? Didn't I tell myself that I was done with this, that I wasn't going to settle anymore for anyone? I hit 'send,' expecting nothing more.

He wrote back.

Then I replied back.

He wrote back again.

His first reply was an apology. He wasn't really looking for a married woman, as he knew that would cause a lot of heartache for all involved. He merely was seeking ...what?

People who post ads on dating sites are seeking something, be it an answer to a primitive force, a friend, sex or a lifetime partner. He'd been a bachelor for twenty plus years. He'd been dumped on a lot. And as I got to know him, I wondered just why his life was the way it was. In one of his replies, sent the day after our first face to face meeting, he wrote this:

  "I started reading the internet and happened upon a bunch of psychology and mind articles dealing with emotions and thought processes and the like. Very interesting stuff, for the most part. So I spent a while reading through a bunch of them. The mind is a very interesting thing and can be confusing to me. At least mine is!! Why do I bore you with this useless information, you may be wondering? Well, because you got my mind running in 9 different directions at once! Something only a woman is capable of, I believe!
As I watched the snow fall yesterday, one thought that crossed through my head that sort of stuck out, was that of the 876 Gajillion (to the power of 800 gajillion times 9) flakes that were falling, it is said that no 2 are alike. Then I thought, surely in all that there has to be at least one matching pair? Is it possible that you and I could be that one matching pair? Which lead to another long series of thoughts!"

That was almost nine years ago. There are times when I ponder on the whole scenario of how we were brought together. Of that small "Voice" that whispered to me to see it another way and of how I listened, even when my mere human mind could not comprehend why! That small Voice, who I know was God's voice, was leading me down a path that, to this day, has brought me so much happiness. It takes faith to believe that, when all is falling apart, that God is working behind the scenes to make it all right. It also takes Faith to believe that when a prayer uttered isn't answered in the way that you asked, that it is because God sees the future and knows just what is a better solution for you.

"For I know the plans that I have for you," declared the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not harm you. Plans to give you Hope and a future." ~Jeremiah 29:11.

We can only see in hindsight. Hindsight is always 20/20. But we also need to have the foresight to know that when we don't always get what we want, that we will receive something. We need to understand that God is in control and when we turn a situation over to Him, that we let go of the wheel and let God do the driving. Many people have a hard time grasping this. "Why does God allow pain?" they ask. "Why didn't He see that I needed my mom/friend/ husband more?" "Why can't I find a job?" "Why...why...why?"

I have been the recipient of so much pain in my life. If you have been following my blogs, you know about the child abuse, the spousal abuse, the health issues, and much more. In all of it, I can look back and see the why and how of it all. If not for adversity, I would not be who I am today.

 Think about it: I could have had all of my wishes handed to me, just like that <snaps fingers>. But then, who would I be? Probably a simple weakling. For those who have had everything granted to them, are they any happier? Can they withstand the storms of life when they finally do hit...and believe me, they DO hit hard, like a hurricane force.

Be open to possibilities. Just as there CAN be two identical snowflakes...so there are always answers to life's problems. You just need to Believe...have Hope...Faith...and in retrospect, just as the poem reassures us, God was carrying us all throughout our trials of life.