The "Lost" Generation

“Even when I am old and gray, do not forsake me, O God, till I declare your power to the next generation, your might to all who are to come.”
Psalm 71-:18

“So the next generation would know them, even the children yet to be born, and they in turn would tell their children.” Psalm 78:6

People in my family are all big talkers. When we get together, we can talk through the night and into the early hours of the morning. It’s what we do. So when my brother came to town to visit and stayed in my home, I knew we were overdue for one of our long sessions where we sit down and try to delve into deep matters and solve the problems of the world. This night, our focus was more on personal growth and resolving past issues in our own lives – how to move forward and stop repeating the mistakes of the past. He told me of a conversation he had with our late father, who was not a demonstrative man like most people of his generation. Physical displays of affection just didn’t happen. But he tried to show he cared for us in his own way – by talking. He never failed to have a sermon on his lips, a lesson or a story. He believed he should be prepared to “preach in season and out of season”. So he talked to my brother one day about how he had a personal responsibility to raise his sons or they would be lost. He told my brother, “We could lose an entire generation.” That conversation made an impression on my brother and he never forgot. My father put the load squarely upon his shoulders – he could not fail the next generation.

Fast forward 20 plus years – he claims he’s only 26 and still looks pretty young, I’ll give him that – my brother has lived his life and made some mistakes. He’s lived to regret some of the things he’s done. Surprisingly, he reached out to me and my kids. He came to stay with me for a while – in hindsight, I suspect he knew I needed help. He soon became a welcome presence at my house and filled the role of the loving, indulgent uncle. He remembered how our own uncles mentored him and followed their example. I credit him (and other men who stepped up to the plate) with mentoring my son and for earnestly trying to provide a good example for him in his father’s absence. The kids loved his visits and his presence helped to heal us. I wonder now if he felt he was doing this for his own family, by proxy. I guess in reaching out to help me and my family, he also healed himself of guilt over his past and saw where he could make changes.

I feel like my brother learned from his interaction with the kids. He saw things from my ex husband’s perspective and he understood why my ex was initially unable to reach out to his own son. But he was also able to see, thru my children, his own kids’ perspective and how his sons (now grown) yet still needed him. He could see that divorce had not affected my children’s capacity to love and respect their father. He reached out to my son, giving him the love and guidance that he wished he could have given his own sons. By this time, his sons were raising their own sons. How could they raise their sons or relate to them, talk to them, teach them, mentor them without having an example? Would they grow up to make the same mistakes that he did, thereby passing that mentality down to their offspring? The responsibility that our father laid on him so long ago resurfaced, demanding that he take action. My brother resolved that he did not want to lose an entire generation.

So he reached out to his own children. Kids have an amazing ability to forgive their parents and love unconditionally. They stand ready to welcome you back into their lives because deep down – they still want to see you (the parent) as their hero. They don’t want you to have feet of clay. They want to see a mom or dad who can still do anything. They have distant memories of riding high on your shoulders or watching as you fixed a broken toy that seemed beyond repair. They want to believe in you again. It took real courage for my brother to take that step. Change is hard but also necessary if you want to avoid the collision course that you (and your family) may be on. In taking a proactive approach, he’s doing what’s needed to avert disaster. And he’s living proof that that it’s never too late to live down your mistakes and live up to your expectations. Even at the ripe old age of … 26.

Many times we feel powerless over the path our lives have taken. Some of us give up because we feel we cannot make a difference; it’s too late. We cannot undo the past. We think even if we change what we’re doing right now, it won’t help. We can’t change how we’ve hurt people in the past or how our actions have impacted the lives of our loved ones.

But I believe that we are empowered to make big changes by the success of the small changes. Each step brings us closer to our ultimate goal and gives us confidence to make the next step. Before we know it, we are striding forward purposefully, marching even, steamrolling over obstacles in our determination to create a better future. Similarly, it can take just one person to impact the next generation. One person can make that difference – even if it’s only in their own little corner of the world. It starts with us and the examples and standards we set for our families. And in doing so, we all take on the challenge to salvage the “lost” generation.

Be blessed,

Loria

Are You Willing?

“And Jesus, moved with compassion, put forth his hand, and touched him, and saith unto him, I will; be thou clean.”  Mark 1:41 (KJV)

When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?”  John 5:6 (NIV)

If you’re like me, you’re struggling with some issue or some bad habit that you cannot seem to overcome. It has come up repeatedly and seems to constantly defeat you. If you’re not like me and you’re looking for the perfect Christian representative, I suggest you stop reading now. My life is far from perfect. I am a work in progress. I know we Christians invest an awful lot of energy into appearing perfect, like all is well in our lives. It’s because we have been conditioned to believe that we must be doing something wrong if all is not well. Well, something is wrong but it may not be that we are lying, cheating, stealing or doing something that is obviously wrong. The problem may lie in our mindset. I believe if we can change the way we think, we can change our lives. As Dr. Phil says, “If you keep doing what you’re doing, you’ll keep getting what you’re getting.” Or put another way, “Only a fool believes he can continue to do the same thing and get a different result.”

I want to bring your attention to two miracles of Jesus from the Bible. A man with leprosy came to Jesus and begged: “Lord, if you are willing, you can heal me.” Jesus replied, “I am willing.” Many times we petition God in the same manner, leaving the matter up to him. We say, “If you want to, you can help me.” Things may not work out in the way we would like, leaving us angry because we feel he didn’t want to help us. Or we say, “It wasn’t His will.” In the second example, a crippled man waited by a pool that was believed to have miraculous healing power. Jesus asked the man, “Do you want to be healed?” The man answered him with excuses. He skirted the issue by saying, “Well, I would like to but I don’t have anyone to help me into the water.” This was not an answer to the question. Jesus came to help him but was he willing to be healed? I believe the same applies to us today: Are you willing? Are you willing to be stirred from excuses and self pity? To stop assigning blame? To lay all that aside and get to the root of the problem? To dare to do something differently? Do you have the courage to take on the issues of your life and make the necessary changes? It occurred to me that, sometimes, it may be that we are missing that important piece of prayer – our own cooperation. It may be that He IS willing but our progress is hampered because we are not willing (or maybe don’t understand how) to do our own part.

My daughter, typical teenager that she is, frequently thinks her world is coming to an end. Every molehill becomes a mountain. As a result, she has spent a good portion of her teendom in a sulk over this issue or that. Touchy AND moody. But then again, I cannot blame her – I believe she comes by these traits honestly. She gets them from me. And I, even seeing my flaws, was quite content to be that person until I saw those flaws magnified in her. “Whoa!” I thought. I’ve got to get a handle on this. I’ve got to find a better way. Understandably, my daughter was pretty broken up over the divorce. She really loved her daddy. And she loved me, too – I was her hero. There was a period of adjustment when, it seemed, all we did was scream at each other. That was a rough time for us both – and for my son who had to witness it. Bless him. But I refused to give up. I refused to lose my children, too. I looked into my future and saw a daughter who hated me, who never came to visit because our relationship was so strained. I saw a son who refused to be in the same house with us because of our bickering. I did not want THAT to be our future. So one day I told my daughter, “I love you. I don’t want to lose you. I want us to be close. So I’m choosing to relate to you in a different way.”

Well, we’ve had plenty of arguments since that day. But on the whole, our life and relationship is much better. We’ve resolved a lot. We talk a lot. We cry a lot. She made a choice that day, too. She learned that it was ok to still love her father. And I am still her hero (her words, not mine)! Recently, I decided to apply that mentality to some of my present day struggles. I learned from what worked in the past and decided to use it to change my life. Some things I have prayed for years for God to take away from me – things I am ashamed of, things that do not make me a good Christian – I realized that they were but a choice for me. If I choose to live my life differently, I can. Now I say to those desires that used to entrap me, “I don’t want to be that person anymore.” I picture myself wrestling and saying, “I’m reaching for something better, something higher.”

I know that sounds like a lofty goal but so far, it’s working for me. I still struggle but I think this is helping me to keep my future goal in sight. I’m living in the present, with my mind set on who I want to become. Nope – I’m still not perfect. Like most people, I’m doing the best that I can, with what I have, on most days. But now, at least, I have a plan. I am choosing a more excellent way. The question has become, “Do you want to be a better person and live a different life? Would you like to overcome these obstacles that prevent you from doing so?” And my answer to that is, “I am willing.”

Be blessed,

Loria

On Humility

“For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.”  Romans 12:3

“Then Peter opened his mouth, and said, Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons:”  Acts 10:34

Once, while volunteering at preschool, a little boy sat in my lap talking to me and playing. He looked at my face and touched my moles – to some folks they look like raised freckles. To me they look like freckles in 3D but I’ve learned to live with them. I’ve made my peace with my appearance but sometimes, it can be alarming to small children – as was the case with this little man. He looked at my face and frowned. “What’s wrong with your face?” He said, appalled. Used to the question after all these years, I answered, “They’re moles.” And I smiled to let him know it was ok. “Why you got them on your face?” He wanted to know. You should have heard him say “face”, like I was hideously disfigured. He tried to pinch one and pull it off. I could have told him that wouldn’t work – been wishing for that for years. I tried to come up with a way to explain them and make us both feel better – hey, I was starting to feel a little self-conscious. I said, “God gave them to me to make me special.” I realized then it was true. They are part of what makes me, me. He considered that for a moment and then frowned, displeased again. “Why didn’t God make me special, too?” He pouted and touched his face. Suddenly he wanted moles – especially if they were the mark of God’s favor! I laughed and assured him that God made him special, too.

Everybody has a job and a calling and none is more important than the other. Just in case you’re wondering, my gift is not the mighty power of my moles. Into my early adulthood I often wondered and I would ask God – what is my gift? It’s really akin to asking “What is my purpose in life?” I thought if I had a handle on that, everything would fall into place. My life would make sense; it would have meaning. I would know where my place was in this world and in what capacity I could serve. I could know God’s plan for my life. I remember hearing people talk about their “gifts” and not having a clue of what mine was. I mean, Stevie Wonder is a wonder, and Whitney Houston had her voice. Some people magically learn how to play musical instruments by ear. And some have voices that reach to the rafters. It seemed that God had given me nothing that was usable – nothing that made me special. I felt a little cheated.

The problem, I later found, was not that I didn’t have gifts but in how I perceived them. At first, they didn’t seem to be BIG enough for me to do great things. They just seemed to be so-so. Then I read the parable of the talents (see – What will you do with your talent? ) and realized that whatever I have been given, however small in measure, is my responsibility to make grow. Long story, short – I worked with what I had until I was entrusted with more. Soon, I had to tackle another issue – accepting what he’d called me to do. The gift has led to my calling. I was at war with myself, unable to believe that God would endow me with such talent. Like Moses, when God tapped him on the shoulder and called him to service, I thought to myself – “Who, ME?” I finally resolved this by slapping myself upside the head and telling myself, “Get over it! No, it doesn’t make sense that he would call YOU. You’re right – you’re NOT worthy! But you are who you are. This is your gift and this is what you have been called to do.” Having made that determination, I set out to “walk in my gift”.

This presented yet another problem. See, I know that God loves me. Sometimes I feel like his favored child; petted and adored. I look at all the gifts he has given me and all that he does for me as evidence of his love and proof of my standing with him. He loves me. I remember when it wasn’t always so, when I didn’t feel so special. I wasn’t so sure of his love unless I was being particularly good, like he was Santa Claus. Now, I feel that love so acutely that I all but forget that I am not the only one he loves. That’s when pride, arrogance and a sense of entitlement come into play and I begin to believe my own hype. It’s the very absence of all humility. I’ve said things and thought in my own heart, “Their efforts would be nothing without me.” I was convinced that my gift made all the difference. I was rather full of myself.

True, this paints a rather unflattering picture of me but let me say in my defense, extremely low self esteem and thinking very highly of oneself are actually two sides of the same coin. In the past, I have been guilty of both. As a matter of fact, I can jump from one to the other in the course of a day – several times. I tried to combat those feelings of unworthiness with an inflated sense of my own value. Now, I pray “Lord, deliver me from that arrogance.” I remind myself that I am special but so are we all. I love that God has the capacity to love us all that way – to make us all feel loved and cherished, like any good parent. I cannot delude myself into thinking like an only child. Now, the gift (or the absence, thereof) is not so important but the attitude in which I serve is. The challenge has become not letting it go to my head and believing myself more important that anyone else in the scheme of things. Yes, he does love me and I am gifted and I am important. And so are you.

Be blessed,

Loria

Get Back Up … Again

“For though a righteous man falls seven times, he rises again …”
(Proverbs 24:16)

“Our greatest glory is not in never falling but in rising every time we fall.” Confucius

There’s a well known story in the Bible – the miraculous healing of the woman with the issue of blood. For twelve years she’d been bleeding and had spent all of her money going to doctors, trying to find the cure for her illness. The Bible does not tell us for certain what her life was like, but she very well may have been an outcast because of her condition. I imagine being sick for so long would have taken its toll on her relationships and social life, as well as on her pocketbook. Even though her condition worsened, she persisted in looking for a cure. One day, she heard about Jesus and decided that she would try, yet again, to be healed. She knew that it would be impossible to gain an audience with him because of the crowd, so she thought to herself: “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.” And so she did. And so she was. (Mark 5:25-34) It occurred to me today – why didn’t she just give up?

When I was in the throes of divorce, my main concern was – how will I take care of my children? So I came up with a plan to work, work, work. I knew it would be a challenge but I was determined to make it. So I embarked upon this great plan – to become a realtor, then a loan officer and even a tax preparer. Oh, it was a GREAT plan! One calculated to take care of my family and also remove the stain of divorce. By my success, I would be justified. I put a lot of faith in that plan. It had to work. I had to believe it would work. I had to have something for me and my kids to look forward to. It was my silver lining and it would make all well.

It wasn’t long before I became overwhelmed by all I had set out to do. I had obtained my real estate license, was working as a loan processor for a mortgage company and taking classes at night to become a tax preparer. I would come home at the end of a long day, grab the kids and dinner, drop them off at my sister’s house and then go to class. That was on top of using my hour long lunch to drive home every day and pick my kids up from school to ensure they got home safely. Finally, one day it all came crashing down, brought on by – of all things – my son not doing his chores. After yelling at him and completely going off the deep end, I realized I’d overreacted. I collapsed in the chair and (to my shame) began to cry in front of the kids. Who was I kidding? This was not going to work. No way could I possibly do all that I had set out to do. Realizing I needed a break from the hectic pace I set for myself, I allowed myself this breakdown. I told the kids to take off their coats, knowing that I was in no shape to take on the world that day.

After watching me wallow for a few minutes, my daughter calmly said to me, “Mama, get up.” “No.” I said. “Just forget it – we’re not going anywhere!” It was just too hard. I was having a real pity party. She said, “Get up and put your coat on. We have to go. If you don’t get up now, you’ll never get up.” That made me pause. It sounded like something I could have said. And, it was a very real possibility. Then my son added, “Yeah, Mama. It’s just like Pastor Singleton was preaching on Sunday. ‘When there’s much at stake, it’s whatever it takes’. And, Mama – there’s a lot at stake so you gotta do whatever it takes.” My tears dried up as I considered that. For my children’s sake, I got up, washed my face, put on my coat and we walked out the door. I have amazing kids.

If I had to do it all over again, I would still not want to go through that. But I cannot deny that the divorce was actually a good thing for my personal growth. Had I not gotten divorced, I would have never known I had that resilience in me; that ability to get back up again, no matter how many times I was faced with certain defeat. Because of my children, giving up was not an option. I looked back at my life and saw the pattern: I got up after every disappointment, brushed the dust off my backside and moved on. Sometimes able to conquer that very challenge and other times, moving on to something better. My counselor asked me once, “Where does that come from?” I could only answer, “From God”.

It is God who has given us the will to persevere, to survive, to strive, to not give up. I searched for a phrase in my mind that would cover all of these traits and infuse them with meaning and it came to me: the indomitable human spirit. It’s in all of us. It’s that part of us that keeps getting up, keeps trying because we know that to give up is to perish altogether. And we all have a different trigger. Anything, any event or any person can trigger that instinct for survival. For me, it was my kids. I found that while I wouldn’t fight for myself, for them, I would wrestle an angry bear! I don’t know what motivated the woman with the issue of blood but whatever it was, it was powerful enough that she would not give up without a fight.

I try to retain my optimism and belief that good things will eventually come my way. So, while I am given to dark periods of depression as the next person, it cannot last for long. I get back up because I can’t give up. I get up because failure is not an option. I get up because I have no choice. I get up because I am determined to live and declare the works of the Lord. (Psalm 118:17) And I get up with the knowledge that every time I do so, I rise stronger.

Be blessed,

Loria

The Winds of Change

“…all the days of my appointed time will I wait, till my change come.” 
Job 14:14

“It’s been a long time coming but I know my change’s gonna come.” 
Sam Cooke

Most folks who know me and speak to me on a regular basis will soon find that I am a proponent of change. Even before Obama ran for president, my platform was change! Because I have lived through it, I can say that ultimately, CHANGE IS GOOD. It’s scary, but good. I’ve seen its devastating effects but I’ve also watched as new life sprang from the ashes. I listened in on a seminar once as they listed the most stressful events and rated them. Right at the top was death, moving, divorce and childbirth. Now, at least two of these events are good things – moving into a new home and the arrival of a new baby. I didn’t understand then that good things could still be stressful. Death and Divorce, I understood. Both involve letting go of a loved one that you will never see (or, see the same) again. I looked for the common thread throughout all of these events and the one word that came to mind was, change.

Like most people, I used to dread change. Let me stay in my comfy little world, just as it is – freeze this moment in time. I’m happy. I don’t ever want to leave. When Job lost everything (children, property, wealth) and went through his trials he said, “For the thing which I greatly feared is come upon me.” (3:25) Job was known to be a devout servant of God but he feared his children were – not so much. He constantly sacrificed on behalf of his children, just in case they did something to offend God and bring judgment on their heads. Job’s offerings were like an insurance policy – he was storing up good works against the day of calamity. The mentality behind his worship may have been like ours today – we pray, “Lord, don’t let trouble come my way. Don’t let me see tragedy! Don’t let calamity even look this way.” What we are actually saying is, “Lord, please don’t let anything change.”

There’s a book called “The Lion Never Sleeps” by Mike Taliaferro. In it, the author makes the argument that we Christians do a grave disservice to each other in teaching (and praying) that hard times will not come to us simply because we are Christian. We think nothing bad is supposed to happen if we are doing all the right things. Following this line of thought, we should never see death or strife or any money related worries, all because we are Christian. The author teaches that while we are praying so hard against it, we are often blindsided when trouble comes because we are ill prepared. It is because we prayed a futile prayer. There is no defense against “life” happening. Trouble comes for us all, sooner or later. Better to spend time fortifying yourself so that you are able to withstand the storm.

When the winds of change sweep through our lives, we often cower in fear: What will I do now? What will happen to me? I gave in to these feelings of despair when I found myself unemployed for the better part of a year. By the time the summer rolled around, I was in full panic mode – looking for a job every single day. I prayed and cried to God, trying hard not to imagine my worst fear come true – unable to pay my bills, me and my kids wind up on the streets or worse yet, forced to return to my ex-husband and admit defeat. That was my very worst fear. So I threw myself into my job hunt with a vengeance thinking, surely something would surface soon. It did. A good job, too. And afterwards, I realized I wasted a perfectly good summer agonizing when I could have been enjoying my time with my kids.

About a year after starting my job, my car broke down, completely. I was already cash strapped, or so I thought. I couldn’t afford to buy a new car. Terror, again, gripped my heart. I was due for a raise but still, I didn’t see how I could make it. When I confessed these fears to my sister, she said, “Loria – how many cars have you paid off?” A little confused by the question, I answered, “Two?” She said, “Well, what makes you think that God won’t help you pay off this car?” Ohhhh. When she put it like that, it took the emphasis off me and put the pressure on God to perform. And it made me feel better. Now, I didn’t immediately go out and buy a car – what I did was sat down and looked at my income versus my expenses and made a budget. I found that I could afford the car, even without my raise. Not to mention, it used less gas. Crisis averted.

After fending off impending doom several times, I realized – my worst fears never actually came to pass. Not once. So I began to see that I couldn’t let myself become paralyzed with fear every time “life” happened. I wasn’t gonna last long if I kept that up. I stopped thinking defeatist thoughts, “It’s so hard!” I ask God now, “Lord, what am I gonna do?” And he gives me the answer. Then, I come up with a plan of action and set about rescuing myself. I know now that God sometimes uses change to shake us out of our comfort zone and to move us on to something better. I’ve learned to weather the storms like trees by bending and becoming more flexible. Being unyielding only gets you torn up by your roots! My mother used to say, “It’s a po’ wind that don’t never change.” I take that to mean change is inevitable. And eventually that wind will turn in my direction, for my good. So I wait for my change to come.

Be blessed,

Loria

Nevertheless

“Nevertheless he regarded their affliction, when he heard their cry:”  (Psalm 106:44)

nev⋅er⋅the⋅less [nev-er-th uh-les] adverb: nonetheless; notwithstanding; however; in spite of that:

The bondwoman and the freewoman: Hagar and Sarah. As the story goes – God promised Abraham a son of his own. Sarah, being an old woman, reasoned that she could not give birth at such an advanced age and so gave her handmaiden, Hagar, to be a surrogate. Being a servant, Hagar really didn’t have any say in the matter, so she laid with Abraham and gave him a son – Ishmael. But afterwards, God revealed to Abraham that Ishmael was not his plan – Abraham was still destined to have a son with Sarah. It came to pass that, 14 years later, Sarah did deliver a son when she was about 90 years old and Abraham was about 100! By then, Ishmael and Hagar had fallen out of favor with Sarah so she pressured Abraham to send them away. Sarah wanted no competition for her son, Isaac, who stood to inherit everything from his father. God had also promised that Isaac would become a great nation. Abraham was dismayed because he was forced to choose until God assured him that Ishmael would be blessed, too.

So Abraham sent Hagar and Ishmael on their way. At some point, she gave up – out of food and water, the journey and her desperate circumstances became too much for her. They were stranded in the desert; they had no place to go and no help in sight. Hagar hid her son in shelter so that she would not have to watch him die. Then the angel of the LORD heard the cries of her son and came to Hagar, comforting her. He told her that her son was destined to become a great nation, too. Hagar looked up and saw a well – water! She and her son were saved. They lived in the desert and Ishmael became an archer. God blessed him and he eventually became the father of 12 princes, well on his way to becoming a great nation. (Genesis 21) I guess my favorite part of the story is when Isaac and Ishmael came together to bury Abraham. I picture them standing together. It suggests to me that they must have made peace with their origins.

For me, this story illustrates how God can take our convoluted messes and bring good out of it, even restoring justice and balance. My late pastor used to say “If it’s crooked, God can straighten it out.” My own life has taken many twists and turns but I’ve watched God create order out of the chaos, just like he did in the beginning. Even our own well-meaning mistakes can work out for our good. Everything that we go through can be used to mold us into the people we need to become. Nothing is wasted. It may not be HIS plan but he works through the tangled mess and uses it anyway to get us where we need to be. Too often, the end he creates for me is much better than the one I envisioned.

God has surrounded me with quite a cast of characters and I draw on them frequently for anecdotes because, frankly, they give me really good material to work with. I love some of the things they say – they minister to me. As one friend said, “You can learn something from everybody – either they teach you how to do it or how NOT to do it!” So I listen, I observe and I glean lessons from my friends, as well as other folks I come into contact with. One such friend shared with me the story of how she lamented over the state of her life. How did she get to this point? Divorced and out of work. No prospects because she had no degree. The kids were probably acting out, too. You name it, she probably complained about it as she literally cried into her bowl of cereal. She was fully miserable about it until a voice reached her into the gloom and depression, saying: “I am the God of nevertheless.”

That was a defining moment in her life. God spoke to her and the message was clear – despite all that she’d done and went through, he could make it right. It was like a promise. Her future was not determined by her past mistakes. Despite the twists and turns that were not part of His plan, he was still able to make something wonderful come of it. It meant she could have a fresh start. She took those words to heart. I can tell you now that my friend is on her way to a better life since she heard that voice. She’s in college, working toward her degree in education. She wants to be a teacher. And she’s employed now. She turned her life around.

I’ve lived the past few years of my life in a constant state of “nevertheless”. Time and again, God has taken my trials and intertwined them with his will in such a way that they have become my success stories. He’s given me hope that I can rise above my present circumstances, whatever they may be. January is the month when we all look for a new start, New Year, new resolutions. We want to improve our life and overcome our failings. But sometimes it can be difficult to go forward and not think of all the times we’ve failed to successfully quit smoking, drinking, overeating, cussing or whatever we feel our shortcomings are. This year, we can resolve to move forward realizing that God can make our past failures of no consequence. It doesn’t matter what came before. He is the God of Nevertheless.

Be blessed,

Loria

Be Encouraged

“… but David encouraged himself in the LORD his God.” 1 Samuel 30:6

We’ve all had our own personal tsunami or Hurricane Katrina tear through our lives, wreaking havoc and destruction. Our own tragedies may seem relatively insignificant but for us, it seems our world has come to an end. David once faced such a dilemma. He led his men into battle one day and left his camp defenseless. With the men occupied elsewhere, an enemy came and destroyed the camp, taking all the women and children. When David and his men returned, they saw their nightmare – living quarters in ruins and their families gone – and turned on David. They wanted to stone him for bringing this trouble upon them. David’s situation was doubly dire – not only had he lost everything but his entire support system (his friends and people he thought he could count on) had crumbled. With no one to turn to, he looked to God and was encouraged.

Just eight days after the first earthquake (7.0), Haiti has suffered a second earthquake (6.1). Normally, I tend to tune out the news – it’s not that I am uncaring; I just can’t bear to see and hear about all the suffering in the world. The evil that men do to each other – it breaks my heart. But Haiti – this has gripped me. It’s like watching the World Trade Center horror happen on a nationwide level. It just makes my heart clutch; the unimaginable things that they face daily. But in the midst of it all, there have been some heartwarming stories that speak of the ability of the human spirit to endure – to just get through. When I hear stories like these, I am encouraged – not only for Haiti but for all of us. I think to myself – there really is good in the world. The stories continue to trickle in and offer a glimmer of hope – they help me to see the light, shining in the darkness:

69 year old Ena Zizi had been at a church meeting at the residence of Haiti’s Roman Catholic archbishop when the Jan. 12 quake struck, trapping her in debris. On Tuesday, she was rescued by a Mexican disaster team. Zizi said after the quake, she spoke back and forth with a vicar who also was trapped. But he fell silent after a few days, and she spent the rest of the time praying and waiting. “I talked only to my boss, God,” she said. “I didn’t need any more humans.”

And again, later in the same article:

Elsewhere in the capital, two women were pulled from a destroyed university building. And near midnight Tuesday, a smiling and singing 26-year-old Lozama Hotteline was carried to safety from a collapsed store in the Petionville neighborhood by the French aid group Rescuers Without Borders.*

And there’s the story of television crews from two rival stations that put down their cameras, forfeiting their chance to be the first to report the scene, so that they could dig a baby out of the rubble. The baby was found next to the parents, who died. The reporters said the baby didn’t cry – just looked at them with a sense of wonder. I imagined that look, in my mind – maybe the same look my son had on his face when he was born – wide eyed and taking it all in. And I smile.

Then there’s the pediatrician whose home was still standing and so he turned it into a triage center. The Villa Creole, invoking comparisons to the movie, Hotel Rwanda, has now become a hospital. Images pour in: Ena Zizi (she looks like my grandmother!), a sweet old lady and full of wisdom; a boy trying to fly a makeshift kite (it looks like it was made it from a Styrofoam plate!); the woman who delivered her baby in the makeshift hospital. The pictures speak to me of our resiliency, our ability to rebound and how life continues despite our present circumstances. One hundred twenty-one people rescued – a drop in the bucket compared to the two hundred thousand estimated dead. But for the would-be rescuers, even one life delivered from the wreckage is precious. The Mexican rescue team cried and rejoiced when they pulled Ena from the rubble.

We’ve read stories of the heroes who dug through the debris and didn’t give up. Because of their efforts, people still emerge from the rubble, alive and hopeful. Each survivor helps us to hope for another. Every nation that has come to their rescue and responded to this disaster, mobilizing so quickly, has become a hero. China, which had their own earthquake recently, immediately sent a plane full of emergency supplies. The French team, which rescued the smiling Lozama; Brazilian peacekeepers from the UN and U.S. Troops. It’s like a roll call of the world nations. They did not turn a blind eye and deaf ear to suffering. The world has responded and shown us its best.

True, there are some who are not at their best – folks who are using this opportunity to unleash their darker side, looting and shooting and robbing. And then there are those who are using this as a forum to air their grievances with President Obama. Some have even suggested that somehow Haiti deserved what has happened, that they are cursed. But I accept that sometimes things happen, events occur and it’s nobody’s fault. It just is. It’s life. Ultimately, it’s not what happens to us that defines us but what we do with it that shapes us and molds us and reveals our true character. Today, I am encouraged by the individual people who have shown the world their best – heroes who are born out of adversity. Let us continue to pray for the survivors.

Be blessed,

Loria

*Paul Haven and Michelle Faul, Associated Press Writers – http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/cb_haiti_earthquake

Together We Mourn

“Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.”  (Romans 12:15)

“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven.”  (Ecclesiastes 3:1)

My daughter had a teacher in first grade, Miss Schultz. A sweet young lady, right out of school and into her first teaching gig. She loved my daughter and was so impressed with how smart she was – she allowed her liberties that were distracting to the rest of the class. Finally, things came to a head at the parent-teacher conference and I found out that my daughter had been taking advantage of the teacher BUT the teacher also was guilty. She condoned it, in a way because she did not report it to me. But she gave her TWO check marks on her report card. When I asked her why, she said she “didn’t want to rat her out” and that “she’s so spirited that I just didn’t want to break her spirit!” Corn-y, I thought! What a flower child! I appreciated how smitten she was with my daughter but she needed discipline – which she got as soon as I got home. Anyhow, my daughter went to school the next day and told the teacher, “You got me in trouble!” To which Miss Schultz replied, “All of that for only two check marks?” and sided with my daughter. They were quite a team, those two.

The next year, my daughter went on to second grade and the gifted class, where she really belonged – which explained some of why she was so restless in class the previous year. She still saw Miss Schultz every day and soon found that her former teacher was newly married. My daughter was so happy for her in the way that young girls are –the idea of marriage, well – it was so romantic. And Miss Schultz remained her favorite teacher. One weekend we returned from a long holiday break; the kids went back to school (and I, to work) as usual. I called home to check on the kids during the day, as was my custom. My (then) husband answered the phone and said “Your daughter came home from school today, crying her eyes out.” Why? “Miss Schultz died.” What? What happened? He explained there had been a car crash and she and her new husband were both killed. My daughter was beside herself with grief. Her father handed her the phone so that she could talk to me and I could calm her down. But when she got on the phone, all I could do was cry, too. The unfairness of it – she was too young, newly married, a great teacher –it was senseless.

We went to her wake, as did many of her students, to honor her life. We saw pictures there of her and her new husband and their many adventures. She had packed quite a bit of living into her short life and for that, I was truly thankful. It illustrated the point that none of us have any assurance of how long we will be here; we must make the most of what we have while we are here. As we traveled through the viewing line, we met her parents at the end to offer comfort. They comforted us, instead. Let me tell you, I am not the sort to wail at funerals but this just floored me. It hurt. It was just so sad. You see – I am the one who can usually find the bright side of a situation. Just give me time and I’ll find that silver lining. But not in this. I could not make sense of it.

A few years back, a sister at my church sent her oldest son off to war. And we prayed for his safe return. And so he did (return safely, that is) but not so for his younger brother who was killed quite suddenly in a car accident while traveling home after dropping his girlfriend off. The older brother would have made some sense because he was at war but the younger brother? No one could see that coming. And so I called the mother to offer my condolences. When she answered the phone, I could hear folks, well meaning folks, laughing in the background. They had come to cheer her and to get her mind off of her grief. Maybe that was my intention, too. But when she got on the phone with me and began to cry, words failed me. All I could do was cry, too. Somehow, I knew it was the right thing to do – mother to mother. I felt her pain. I shared her pain. I cried while she cried. And in the end, it was the only thing that made sense.

Haiti is in mourning and I cannot find it in me to do more than mourn with them. At times like these, I cannot offer complacencies or platitudes. You cry, I cry – that’s pretty much how it works. One day, this day will be a distant memory. Maybe better days are coming for this poor country. But I don’t have it in me right now to figure out the why’s of it or even offer encouragement. Not today. Today we mourn. Because Haiti is us – or could be but for the grace of God. Tragedy comes for us all, eventually, in one form or another – it is one of the great equalizers, crossing the boundaries of race and class. It has no regard for nations, religions or wealth. It makes peasants of us all. But it unites us all. And this, too, makes sense.

Be blessed,

Loria

Simple Blessings

Recently, a dear friend of mine sent me an email at Christmas with this message: “I hope you find peace this holiday season.” WOW. I said to myself, “How incredibly sweet – such a nice thing to say!” And I received her words gladly. I can’t begin to express how much that phrase has blessed me since then. It was like a benediction was spoken over my life. I felt it wash over me, warming me. I was floored by her sincere, heartfelt wish for me and I wanted it to be true. Oh, to have PEACE. After all the preparations and staying on my feet so long until they ached. After all the hustle and bustle, the cooking and shopping until you drop. Peace was ambitious and more than I looked for. I was just hoping to get through the holiday and for it to be over soon. But her words turned out to be somewhat prophetic as I had the most peaceful Christmas I can remember. From the time I awakened until I laid my head to rest again, I had peace. It was simply wonderful.

My friend’s email reminded me of something I used to do automatically but have since fallen out of the habit of doing: blessing others. We say “God bless you!” automatically, every time someone sneezes. It’s considered impolite to let the sneeze just hang there without a response; rude, even. I learned in high school that this practice originated from the belief that when you sneeze, a part of your soul escapes. Imparting a blessing was intended to somehow counteract that unfortunate event. Nowadays, we hardly take the opportunity to bless someone unless they have done something extraordinarily nice. But it’s so powerful! With your words, you have the means to affect someone’s day in a positive way. One day, I read a scripture that inspired me to do it:

“Whenever you enter someone’s home, first say, ‘May God’s peace be on this house.’ If those who live there are peaceful, the blessing will stand; if they are not, the blessing will return to you.” (Luke 10:5-6)

I decided then to make a conscious effort to bless others, reasoning that the blessing could return to me and I would be none the worse for wear. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. So I blessed the bank teller as a way of thanking her for services rendered. I blessed the hospital janitor to thank her for cleaning my mother’s room. I blessed the cashier as a way of wishing her a good day after paying for my purchases. It was an experiment of sorts, I guess, to bless anyone I came into contact with. The results were a bit of a surprise. I expected most people to rebuff or reject my efforts. I expected sarcastic responses. I expected that I might even be ignored. I wondered if it would offend some folks. We’ve all heard reports in the news about people taking offense over prayer and the mention of God, even to the point of filing lawsuits against the offenders. Employers have instructed their workers to offer “Happy Holidays” greetings, instead of “Merry Christmas!” to avoid offense. So, while I felt led to do it, I was a bit apprehensive about how it would be received. But I went for it – “God bless you!” I said and then braced myself for their reaction.

The bank teller responded with a surprised smile of delight, “Oh! Thank you! God bless you, too!” Thereafter, anytime I came to the drive thru window, the tellers looked for my “God bless you!” as my thank you. After a time, they even offered their own in return. And you know – it felt as good to give as to receive! The hospital janitor responded, “Oh! Thank you! God bless you, too!” She later came back and told me, “You didn’t know how much I needed to hear that.” As it turned out, a loved one had just died. It was just what she needed to hear – she felt like I really meant it. And she was right. Along the way, something that started out with no real end goal in mind began to take on a life of its own. It changed me. It started out as something I felt pressed to do and morphed into something I wanted to do. It blessed me, too.

I found that people really need to be blessed. They want it. It’s an unexpected, happy surprise, especially when it comes on the heels of some tough times or a really bad day. It’s like a sudden ray of sunshine. A “God bless you” can make someone’s day and lift their spirits. I didn’t even have to go out of my way. I just made the effort with people I encountered daily. It soon became so much a part of me that I even included it on my voice mail message. One day, I accidentally erased it and had to re-record it. My daughter called and got my voicemail instead of me. When she finally spoke to me she said, “Mom, you forgot to say God bless you!” It had become so ingrained that when she didn’t hear it, she missed it. It made her feel good, even via recorded message.

During the holidays, it’s easy to remember “peace on earth, good will towards all men”. Usually, this translates into actions; meals for the homeless, donated clothing, money or gifts. But this is one gift you can give all year long – simply to have a kind word for your fellow man. And this doesn’t cost you anything. The end result of my experiment was that I found people all around me who were starving for a kind word. My friend reminded me of how much good you can do with the words you speak. You can speak something wonderful into someone’s life. You will be remembered for your kindness. But the life you truly bless will be your own.

Be blessed,

Loria

Intangible Gifts

“… and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy. And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense and myrrh.”  (Matthew 2:9-11)

At Christmastime, we remember God’s greatest gift to mankind – his Son. The wise men celebrated the birth of Jesus by giving him gifts fit for a king. And so began the tradition of gift giving as we know it today. Even with our poor, recession-like economy, this Christmas will witness the giving and receiving of many gifts. I’ve been guilty of giving gifts to my children – even when I knew that they were not mature enough to handle them – in the hopes that they would somehow rise to the occasion. Sometimes, blessedly, they do. But sometimes, I’m disappointed for my efforts. They ask, they get – without putting any real work or effort into earning these privileges. They don’t have a real appreciation for all I had to do to give them these things. And so I’ve learned to withhold gifts until they are mature enough to handle the responsibility. I just want to know they can handle it.

Then, the thought occurred to me: How many of US are ready to receive the gifts that God has for us? How many of us could truly be appreciative if he gave us all we asked for right now? Could we handle it? Would you recognize it when you saw it? Would you appreciate all that went into preparing that blessing? We ask and we wait – impatiently, most of us – for God to do his thing (and our bidding). But what if we’re not waiting on him – what if he is waiting on us to be able to fully appreciate what he has done? What if he is waiting to know we can be trusted to not abuse our gifts? Like our children, we may not yet be ready to handle our blessings responsibly. Of course, we don’t want to wait – waiting can be so discouraging. As we wait, we tend to lose hope and give up altogether. But waiting can also be a good thing – the person you are now is not the person that you will become. Hopefully, along the way, you will come to be mature enough to handle your blessings when they do materialize. The person that you will become is worth the wait.

Just like we understand how to give good gifts to our children, God does, too! (Matthew 7:11) I’m proud of the moments, as a parent, when I am able to look at my children and think, “Wow – they get it now!” More than giving the gift, I love having faith in their ability to handle the gift responsibly and appropriately. It’s one of my greatest joys as a mother; it validates and justifies the means that went into preparing them to receive the gift. God, too, reserves the right to give his best gifts when he knows we’ll be able to appreciate them. But sometimes, the best gift is intangible; it’s in the journey we make and the lessons we learn along the way.

Be blessed,

Loria