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In my neck of the Pacific Northwest woods, today is the final day of school before Spring Break.

The math teachers will all have unit ending tests (to avoid dealing with the bubbling excitement in their students), the English teachers will have silent reading as a plan for the day, the teachers of humanities will plan on videos for each class, the PE teachers will plan on dodgeball and the classes of practical application (shop, foods, textiles, film, etc.) … well, if they were wise they would call a substitute in for the day.

Today, though, my thoughts are somewhere else …

My thoughts are on this last day before Spring Break, two years ago. When the WHO (World Health Organization) declared Covid 19 a Pandemic. When things were changing … ALL OVER THE WORLD.

Words like pandemic, Covid, unprecedented, precautions, closures and cancellations became part of our everyday vernacular.

And, I wonder, two years later
what have we learned?

Have we become stronger or stressed?

Has our faith or our fear grown?

Have we grown in compassion or a critical spirit?

Have we become better or bitter?

I can only speak for myself, when I say, hard times are … hard! They squeeze me and the results are often not the most positive reactions. I can easily lean towards criticism, sarcasm, doubt, fear and even superiority.

And these past two years have been … hard.

But, one thing I have learned is that God does not allow anything to be useless in our lives … even the hard stuff. So …

what have we learned?

Here is what I hope we, as human souls have learned, during this unprecedented time :

  • to number our days … to not waste a day, a breath that God has given us
  • to look at our productivity differently … that doing is not the same as being
  • to not fill our calendars … more things to do, places to go do not make life better
  • to care for our neighbors … to check in on those who might be isolated
  • to say thank-you … to health care workers, grocery store shelf stockers, delivery workers
  • that there is more than one way to do a task … schooling and working from home can work (and, for some, might work better)
  • to be okay with our own company … maybe even enlightened by who God made us to be
  • to try new things … make bread, do a puzzle, paint a wall, try a new exercise routine
  • to love those under our roofs … who we are called to love
  • to appreciate the privilege of physical, corporate worship … maybe something many of us have taken for granted and even lost the love of this togetherness

Though the pandemic has yet to have been declared over, though anything can happen to reignite this viral spread, I think many of us are feeling like our lives are slowly returning to a more normal state. I do hope that what we move towards is not how it was, but a new and improved version … one with margin in our days, appreciation for others, an openness to trying new things and a renewed reliance on our God.

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Sunrise in Ukraine by by Tetyana Hubska

When our eyes open to a new day,

rising from a warm bed,

and it’s a Friday,

and the sun is rising in view,

and spring is in the air,

and food and drink are at our fingertips,

and we live under a roof with loved ones,

and the house is warm,

and we wash with warm water,

and we dress in clean clothes,

and we look forward to our tasks, our school, our work for the day,

and we will see friends,

and make plans to go out,

and pick up things we need,

and watch a movie,

and it’s quiet, peaceful …

then we remember.

We remember those in Ukraine.

Those whose days looked just like ours only days ago.

weep with those who weep
Romans 12:15

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It is a fantastic start to a movie. A simple sign indicating the town name, videos segments of various locations in the town, with individuals offering up prayers for one man. They are the prayers of those who know God intimately as well as those who do not. Who they all do know is George Bailey, the man who is in trouble, who needs an intervention by God himself.

This scene, this opening scene of the movie, It’s a Wonderful Life, is actually just a Hollywood depiction of a normal, everyday event. It might seem unique, unreal, but every day, all over the world, people raise up others to God in prayer.

Why do we do this? Does it make a difference? Would God answer the prayers of those who do not know Him?

The why is easy … it is modelled by Jesus and the direction we are given in the Bible,

“Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.” Colossians 4:2

Does it make a difference? Well, consider these words,

“Physical exercise has some value, but spiritual exercise is valuable in every way, because it promises life both for the present and for the future.” 1 Timothy 4:8

Then there is the question of whether or not God would answer the prayers of those who do not know him, personally. Well, if what is being asked is within the will of God, whoever we are, it would seem that God hears the prayers of his will,

And we have this confidence in him, that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.” 1 John 5:14

Not only that, but these words, speak to the heart of anyone who is praying.

“You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” Jeremiah 29:13

So, prayer for others. Let the movie of our lives open and close with everyone in town praying for another, in need of intercession.

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It was overwhelming. Loving. Thoughtful. Lavish. Generous. Openhanded.

During a time of healing, my co-workers, colleagues, friends lavished love on my regularly. Each day I received texts with well wishes, updates on their lives, silly things, stories of students and queries as to how I was doing. Each week was a drop-off … flowers, meals, a puzzle, cards (even hand made ones), treats, soaps and more. They overwhelmed me with their thoughtfulness, their loving acts and hearts.

They lavished their love on me …

And that is our calling. Love is what we are … because we have been loved by the Father, we are to love others. My sweet friends showed this God-love so abundantly. They went so far beyond, beyond what I need, beyond what I deserve.

This is God-love … going beyond what we deserve.

His love exceeds expectation, it is extravagant.

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God … We love because he first loved us. Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister. 1 John 4:7, 19-21

What a model of God-love these amazing ladies have been to me. They have raised the bar of loving to such a height that I have a deeper understanding of the extravagant, lavish love of God.

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 1 John 3:1

Our calling
is to love the world around us
in such a way
that they will know him.
CW

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Old Man in Sorrow
(On the Threshold of Eternity),
by Vincent van Gogh

I remember years ago hearing of the delays of children who had been in orphanages in Romania (known as dictator, Nicolae Ceaușescu’s children). They spent their days in cribs, where they were kept alive with bottles and diaper changes. What they were deficient in was physical contact, stimulation, love.

The impacts of their growing up in that environment went beyond the fact that these rooms full of babies and toddlers were without cooing or crying. These little souls were impacted in their physical, mental, emotional, social and probably every other area of their health and development … all because they were deficient in that which all humans need … human contact, interaction and love.

Now, thirty some years later, another group of humans is experiencing a type of failure to thrive, brought on, not by a nation’s dictator, but by the Coronavirus pandemic.

The news this week had been of a report finding that loneliness is impacting the mental health of Canadians (no doubt others as well). But if we, who are able to go to work, who have the ability to get out of our homes, who have human interaction every day are struggling with our mental health due to loneliness …

what about our seniors?

what about those who are living in isolation?

I have been reading lately that loneliness is a greater fear to those who are alone than Coronavirus. Read that again …

And, some studies hint that during our current pandemic more people may die of the effects of loneliness than of the virus itself.

For those who are isolated from human interaction, stress of this pandemic as well as the the loneliness that accompanies it can mean that they may be at greater risk of heart attack, stroke, depression and even premature death.

“I very much feel my solitude.”

Renata Cafferata (87, Italy)

What that says to me is that this is a need human need that we need to address … and I don’t mean that we need to write to our government officials.

What we need to do it to check in on our neighbors, friends and family who may live alone. Offer to pick up their groceries. Stop by for a visit on their porch or deck, or in their garage (make sure they are bundled up warmly). Take them a meal, drop off flowers, make a call to them, write a note, a letter … make contact with them!

These connections could save a life! This is important … it could be life or death for them!

In an article in The Atlantic, Charles H. Zeanah, a child-psychiatry professor (who was part of a study of orphaned children in Bucharest in 2000), said,

“Imagine how that must feel—to be miserable and not even know that another human being could help.”

He was speaking of babies, or children, who knew no better. They had been born into a world without their need of human interaction and attachment being met.

During this duel pandemic of Covid19 and loneliness, those who are miserable DO know that another human could help … but they are alone.

It is up to the rest of us to ensure that they do not feel the weight of that loneliness … that it does not reach down to the depths of human despair.

This, my fellow humans, especially to those of us who claim the name of Christ, is our opportunity to be the hands and feet of God.

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Me or we?

Sometimes our questions come down to that one question …

Me or we?

When we believe that our actions do not have any impact on those around us … when we think that our desires come before anyone else … when we hold to the perspective that we are in control of our own destinies we are living in the me world.

When we consider how our actions impact those around us … when others are considered in the seeking of having our desires met … when we recognize that our destinies are in the hands of a greater power … and we care for the needs of others who we share community with, we are living in a bigger world … the real world.

We are now living in a time when we need to abandon the me for the we.

Now is the time to clean out the stuff in our homes that we truly do not need and prepare it for donation to those who have need. To reach out to help our neighbors who might not be able to get out to get essentials. To read good books, to try new recipes, to take a walk in our neighborhoods, to play games. To use technology, for calls and FaceTime gatherings. To get to know the people who live under our own roofs.

Switching out our thinking from me to we.

It is now the time to listen to what health experts are saying, suggesting, imploring. It is now the time to look at the needs of those around us, of how our pursuit of me could put others in possible danger.

I recently read an article from the Boston Globe, written by Mattia Ferraresi, who is a writer for the Italian newspaper Il Foglio. (The subtitle of the article is, “Many of us were too selfish to follow suggestions to change our behavior. Now we’re in lockdown and people are needlessly dying.”)

Ms. Ferraresi said, of the affects of the lockdown in Italy :

“Strangely, it’s also a moment in which our usual individualistic, self-centered outlook is waning a bit. In the end, each of us is giving up our individual freedom in order to protect everybody, especially the sick and the elderly. When everybody’s health is at stake, true freedom is to follow instructions.”

May we learn from what other nations had to learn the hard way. May we acknowledge that this world does not revolve around me but that we share this world, are co-dependent on each other for both joy and for survival of life.

“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor (WE) as yourself (ME).’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Matthew 22:36-40

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Holy Dirt

A new semester dawned last week at the school where I work.

The semester experience is new to me, for I had never attended nor worked in a school with such a timetable, and I love it!

To be in the midst of deep, dark and damp (in the Pacific Northwest) winter and have opportunity to start over is a great refreshment.

Our learning support classroom contains a new batch of students, with new and diverse strengths, needs and abilities. Those of last semester have a break from us, and we from them.

As each new class came and went, impressions began to develop about the new students.

Such new starts, with new students, make a sentence, familiar to those working in education, pop into my mind, constantly, as those impressions cross my mind:

Parents give you the best kids they have.

I love that sentence. It reminds me, not just that each student is the child of someone, but that they are also a human soul created by God, with a purpose.

It reminds me that I need to treat them gently, kindly, like the precious child of man and God that they are.

First impressions are never to be invested in too greatly, for their truth is based on the equivalent of a one hit wonder … with little substance to create an entire# life story.

So the semester begins, with a sense of freshness, newness … and a sense that the fresh soil sitting in the seats is holy ground.

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So there was a day of frustration, of sorrow, of hopelessness. A day I didn’t know what to do. Prayers had been prayed, with white-knuckle faith, with peace beyond human understanding. Chin up, saying my amens expecting the (right) answers any moment.

Nothing.

No grand answer to prayer … not even a hint that anyone was listening.

Ever been there?

Ever had your chin so far up that the air seemed too thin to provide the oxygen needed to breathe in, breathe out? Ever had your hands folded in prayer ’til they were so white-knuckled that their white-washed bones were shining through your paper-thin skin?

In frustration, in exasperation, as hope and faith fade and we cry out:

“How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
    How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
    and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
    How long will my enemy triumph over me?”

Psalm 13:1-2

Then, from my pit, I reached out to others, sharing my story, my struggle.

In just a few days, change dawned one morning. Complete, beautiful, better-than-I-could-have-hoped-for answer to prayer.

So, why? Why did the many months of prayers in faith result only in silence? Why did answers only come when I shared what was weighing on my mind and soul with others?

For an answer, lets look to Moses (Exodus 17:8-16).

While the Israelites were still wandering, they were attacked by Amalekites. So Moses told Joshua to choose some men to fight, and that he would stand at the top of the hill, with the staff of God raised above his head.

This all sounds a bit weird, except that this staff is the staff that could be thrown down and transform into a snake. It is the staff that tapped a rock and water came from it. It is the staff that was used to bring on the plagues of Egypt. It is the staff that parted the Red Sea. It is the staff of God.

So, as the story goes, as the staff was raised, the Israelites were winning, but whenever the staff lowered they began to take losses. Battles do not end in minutes, but hours and days, and Moses could only hold his arms up for so long. So, along came Aaron and Hur and they sat Moses on a large rock, and they stayed at each of his sides, helping to keep his arms held high.

“As a result, Joshua overwhelmed the army of Amalek in battle.”

Now when Moses raised the staff in the air it provided at least two purposes. One was that of a visual encouragement to those in battle. The other was that of intersession to God.

That staff had been the symbol of the presence of God for these wandering Jews. Moses lifting it up was not a power that Moses had in his own strength, but with the help of Aaron and Hur. Together they were holding the symbol of God’s power acknowledging that they did not have any power without God.1

Matthew Henry’s Commentary speaks of this intersession, and of the help Moses received from Aaron and Hur:

“We should not be shy either of asking help from others or giving help to others, for we are members one of another.”

We have, at our very hands and sides, people who can and will hold us up when we get tired, when we are weak. Others who are willing to intercede on our behalf. That is the encouragement, the help that we need when in the thick of life’s battles.


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go to church oftenAs hubby and I visit a different church each week in our quest for a home church, we are now asking different questions, harder questions.

Questions such as:

if we enjoy the preaching, is that reason enough to choose a church? For there is no guarantee that the regular preaching pastor will stay.

is what we see and experience at a worship service what we should base our decision on?

should we find a church that is a good fit for us, and then commit, or just make a choice, commit and then make it fit?

Recently I took a Sunday off, and didn’t go to church. Stayed in my pjs until noon, got a few things done around the house, and just enjoyed a quiet house to myself. Though this was not my first time playing hooky from church, though I have had beautiful and memorable times of Sabbath at home in the past … this time was different.

This time I kept thinking about much I wanted to be part of a church, to be part of a small group, to walk in the doors and be greeted by familiar faces, to serve where there is a need that we can meet, to sing, to learn, to grow with others. To be fed with fork and knife (not from a bottle).

We are not going to find the ‘perfect’ church, for, if such a place existed, it would be tarnished as soon as we entered it’s doors. We aren’t going to always love the songs that are sung, or how, or by whom. We aren’t always going to relate (or even like … did I just say that?) everyone we meet … pastoral staff included.

But,

if there is warmth in it’s walls,

if there is welcome to the imperfect,

if there is a joy in the worship

generosity in the giving

humility in the praying

Good News in the preaching

and invitation to serve …

then we will need to go, and go every week.

For it is in the going, every week, that the church becomes not just a habit, but a healthy dependency.

 

 

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Screen Shot 2018-06-12 at 6.16.10 AM

Now what?

This graduation season is the first in a number of years that I do not have a child graduating from a high school or university.

Though there are no caps and gowns to be worn under my roof, I do get to annually experience high school graduation through the students I get to work alongside.

As the ceremonies approach there are often two types of graduates:

  1. those who can’t wait to graduate
  2. those who say graduation is coming too soon

The thing is that neither of those responses to graduation is any indicator of how successful they will be after they cross the stage to receive their diploma.

There is one thing for certain, graduation will indeed occur, and this season of life will now be in their past.

As a mom who has watched three of her kids go through the high school graduation process, each with their own approach to, each with their own unique next step, I can say one thing is certain …

change is inevitable, unpredictable
and
in God’s hands.

One can never guess what a year from commencement might bring in the life of a graduate.

After a dozen or so years, a young adult experiences change in every area of their lives, often all at once.

Like the grad cap that gets thrown up into the air as the graduation ceremony comes to an end, the routines, schedules and relationships of much of one’s life disappear. For those who will leave home for school, work or travel in a new community, the amount of change mounts even more.

For many a hard reality awaits as:

  • finances include not just purchasing the newest technology, but rent, a car payment and the awful reality called taxes.
  • education means actually having to be responsible for doing the work, and a due date is actually the date the assignment is due … no exceptions.
  • one’s bestie in high school might find a new bestie
  • those amazingly natural basketball skills one exhibited in high school are mediocre at the university level, and one will need to work harder than ever before to get off the bench.

For others a great and unexpected freedom reveals itself:

  • education is exciting now that one can choose courses that provide interest and stimulation
  • new friendships develop with people who accept each other as they are
  • the list of extracurricular activities grows, providing more opportunities to participate in an area of strength
  • entering the workforce means leaving homework in the past

Whatever route a graduate goes, whether it is work, school or a bit of both, it can seem daunting and exciting … all at once.

Last weekend, actress and comedian Mindy Kaling gave the commencement address at Dartmouth College. She said,

“Can I do this by myself?
The reality is, I’m not doing it by myself,”
“I’m surrounded by family and friends
who love and support me.””

As the transitions associated with graduation occur, our graduates need to be reminded that they are not all alone in their changes. That they have supporters all around them, cheering them on, at the ready for when they need advise, a few bucks, a meal, a hug.

They also need the reminder that their futures are in the hands of a God who has “created them in their mother’s womb” (Psalm 139:13), “has loved them with an everlasting love” (Jeremiah 31:3), “who will never leave them or forsake them” (Deuteronomy 31:6).

 

 

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