“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,


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,


*Paul Haven and Michelle Faul, Associated Press Writers –

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,


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,