The Divine

“But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”  (Matthew 6:15)

“To err is human, to forgive divine.” Alexander Pope

Jesus told a story of a rich man who decided to call in the debts that were owed to him.  One of his servants owed a huge sum that he couldn’t pay, so the master ordered his property and family seized to settle the debt. The servant begged for more time and his master had mercy, canceling the debt entirely.  Some time later, this same servant came upon a fellow co-worker who owed him a paltry (in comparison) sum.  He seized his co-worker by the throat and demanded payment.  The co-worker pleaded for more time but was denied and thrown into prison.  How quickly the servant forgot that just a short time ago, he needed forgiveness.

With the holiday season so nearly upon us, I find myself skipping right over Halloween and looking forward to my favorite holiday, Thanksgiving.  I love it because the focus is mainly on the meal and sharing it with family and friends.  It’s like Christmas without the month long prelude of shopping; without all the hustle and bustle.  It allows us to get together and just enjoy each others’ company.

One Thanksgiving some years ago, I was inspired to hold a pre-holiday dinner for the homeless.  My family and friends pitched in to help and the event was considered a great success.  It was even attended by the media.  The food was delicious, the children helped to serve and we all felt good because, for a short time, we’d helped to alleviate the suffering of our fellow man.  I was very pleased with our efforts, largely because I felt I’d obeyed the will of God. I was especially thankful for the help of the fellow introduced to me by my sister.  He’d arranged for the press release soI’d promised to the return the favor on Thanksgiving Day by serving dinner to the homeless in his area.

As I prepared our dinner on Thanksgiving, I thought about my brother.  I wondered if he even had a special dinner on this day.  He wasn’t homeless but he wasn’t doing well.  He and life just did not seem to get along.  As a result, he was kind of down and out.  Mostly due to some poor choices earlier in his life, he and I were estranged.  But his house was on the way to my destination.  Could I drive past his house and offer comfort and hope to people I didn’t even know, while not doing the same for my own brother?

The answer was no, I decided.  So I prepared his meal and took it by his apartment.  He was surprised and happy to see me, pleased that I’d thought of him.  And I was able to serve dinners to the homeless with a clean conscience and not feel like a hypocrite.  Looking back, that was the defining moment – the bridge towards forgiveness.  It gave my brother hope and let him know, despite our separation, he was my brother and I still loved him.

My brother and I had a rocky relationship later in life but we started out really close.  My earliest memories of him are when he would bring me out before his friends and have me dance for them.  Imagine me as a child, the unabashed performer.  I also recall the time my brother took a beat down for my sake.  Some neighborhood thugs accosted me and my friends on our way to school.  While they didn’t harm us physically, we were somewhat traumatized by the experience.  I went home and told my mother.  My brother overheard and met me after school so that I could point out the offender.  I did.

My brother confronted the guy, probably thinking he was alone.  A fight broke out and I, er, ran home.  In retrospect, I guess I should have stayed – I mean, he was fighting to defend my honor, right?  In my defense, I was afraid of the guy.  He’d already terrorized me once that day!  Plus, I thought my brother, being five years older, knew what he was doing.  Soon after I got home, my brother came in crying, looking bedraggled and upset because I’d left him to fight alone.  Honestly, what could I have done against a group of guys?  Even though my brother was upset because I didn’t help him, I knew he would do it again.  He would risk bodily harm to protect his siblings.

As we grew older, our relationship became strained.  We fought frequently, until we could barely tolerate one another.  He did some things I felt were unforgiveable.  It was the elephant in the room, this thing between us that we never spoke about.  I always held it against him.  I never let him forget.

One day, this scripture came to me:  “…whosoever sins ye retain, they are retained.” (John 20:23)  I thought to myself – what if his life, once so full of promise, had stalled because of me?  What if he was treading water, never able to get ahead, never able to move on because I was keeping him bound to that place with my unforgiveness?  It hurt to think I had that kind of power.  Whatever our issues, I didn’t want that.  On the heels of that revelation came another alarming realization.  If I can’t forgive him, how can I expect forgiveness?  That hit closer home.  Now, I had added incentive to let go of the past.

Little by little, I began to reach out to my brother, or at least, respond to his overtures.  I was still wary, still cautious and looking for the first sign that he would exploit any perceived weakness.  I waited for him to push in asking for too much or for more than I wanted to give.  But, he didn’t.  He seemed to understand that I was giving him another chance and was looking for an opportunity to bolt.  I think he’d finally realized that trust was fragile and didn’t want to abuse it.

Still fearful, I took baby steps.  If he had a genuine need, he let me know and I did what I could to make his life a little easier.  He began to go to church and attend bible study.  He even joined the choir!  He admitted that he couldn’t sing and I couldn’t help but agree.  It felt like, slowly, he was putting his life back together.  Sometimes, we would stop and visit him on the way home from church – my mom, the kids and I.  And one day, I was rewarded for my efforts.  I saw the brother of my childhood, again.  He stood before me, clear eyed and saw me.  For a moment, we were little sister and big brother, again.  It was a wonderful feeling.  As we drove home, I shared with my children, “I just saw my brother!”  I’m sure they didn’t understand what that meant but I hadn’t seen him in twenty years.

My brother died, not long after that meeting, due to complications of surgery.  I was glad that I’d forgiven him and was able to truly mourn his passing. It occurred to me that we are all seeking forgiveness in one way or another.  We want to atone for our sins, our wrongdoing.  Not just because society or the Bible says it’s wrong but because we, ourselves, feel it’s wrong.  Our conscience tells us so.  It doesn’t sit well with us.

We all have power, when you think about it.  Power to bind someone forever with unforgiveness to a place in time that they would be free of.  Power to forgive and let go and maybe give them a shot at living a better life and becoming a better person.  I sometimes jokingly say, “Only use your powers for good,” but it’s true.  We all have the power to be just a little bit divine.

Be blessed,


What’s in a Name?

“The name of the LORD is a strong tower; the righteous man runs into it and is safe.”  Proverbs 18:10

“Inconceivable!”  Vizzini

“You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”  Inigo Montoya, The Princess Bride

Once, I was invited to speak on “The Promises of God.”  It was the first time I could remember being asked to speak outside of my own church.  I was hesitant in accepting but had great respect and admiration for the one who issued the invitation.  I accepted, thinking, if she had faith that I could do it, the least I could do was agree with her!  So I researched and began to prepare to teach on this ambitious topic and I found that His names are promises.  They tell us much about his character, who he is and how much we can rely on him.

My search yielded well known names:  Jehovah Jireh – The Lord as provider.  Jehovah Shalom – The Lord as peace.  Jehovah Rapha – The Lord as healer.  The second word modifies his personal name and reveals character traits.  El Shaddai, one of my favorites, means God Almighty or “The Big Breasted One.”  Actually, it’s masculine in nature, more like “chest”.  The image sprang to my mind of God as my superhero, able to leap tall problems in a … well, you get the idea.  What surprised me was that the “God” part of the name could often be found in the smallest section – “El.”  As in, Bethel (house of God) and Emmanuel (God with us).  Kind of like the “Je” in Jesus or “Jo” in Joshua or “Ye” in Yeshua (The Lord saves).  I learned to follow the clues to find his names.  When you see LORD in all capital letters, it denotes God’s personal name, Yahweh or Jehovah, which is thought to be related to the Hebrew verb, “to be” and closely akin to “I AM.”  For me, it was fascinating stuff!  I loved learning about his names and uncovering his promises.

One name, though, stuck with me more than any other for it told me the most about Him:  I AM.  This was the name he gave Moses and how he chose to reveal himself to the Israelites. But it didn’t make sense.  “I AM” is not a name but the beginning of a sentence.  It was confusing.  And then I got it – Oh!  *FACEPALM* It was so simple that it took a child’s mentality to understand it:  “I AM,” fill-in-the-blank.  “I AM,” insert-problem-here.  “I AM,” anything and everything you need me to be!  That’s how he wants us to know him.  That’s why he revealed himself as such.  He gave himself that name, showing himself to a people in need because he wanted to fulfill that need.  He wants us to know he stands ready, even now – no matter the need, whatever the problem.  “I AM” here for you!

I had a dear uncle – Pap, is what we used to call him.  Uncle Pap was my mother’s brother and very much a fixture in our household as we grew up.  During that time, he grew to be my father’s good friend and confidante.  They spent many hours in our basement, talking and working on their latest home improvement project.  Pap practically lived with us a lot of the time.  Even when he went home, it was only for a short time and then he was back at our house again.  He was needed.  He was good company, an excellent cook (cornbread!) and a good male presence.  He was steady and dependable; faithful.

Time passed.  We grew up, got married, and had children.  Our father passed and the family began to disperse.  We moved out, one by one, to build our own lives and seek our own fortunes, so my mother moved on with us.  Pap continued to come and support her, staying with her until the final moving day. My brother reported to me how very lost Pap looked on that day.  He had been such a constant in our lives that it hadn’t occurred to me, until then, that we were just as big a part of his life.  So I reached out to him and he came to visit me and my family.  Being a farmer all his life, Pap helped to plant vegetable gardens at my home, my sister’s home and his daughter’s home.  He got a big kick out of it for he was in high demand and was kept busy shuffling back and forth.  He was a welcome and major part in all our lives and became as firmly entrenched in our households as he had been in our mother’s.

We looked forward to his visits. My children thought of him as a grandfather and I valued his company.  I spent many hours talking with him, just as my father did before me.  One day, Pap said to me, “Just like me and your daddy was, that’s how you and me is.  Whatever you need, if I can do it, Pap’ll do it for you.”   Wow.  I was touched.  Not because I needed anything.  Pap was treasured.  He didn’t have to do anything in my home, just be.  But I appreciated the sentiment.  I never took my uncle up on his offer but he found ways to help me in his own way – from helping me plant my garden to being a grandfather for my kids.  I wouldn’t have asked so whenever he saw a need, he stepped up to fill the vacancy.  I see God in this, for when Pap verbalized his desire to be the one I could turn to, he was ultimately fulfilling the will of the ONE who really desired to be The Great I AM in my life.  Pap wanted me to know that he would be there for me, in whatever capacity, if I needed him.  He also recognized his own limitations and put qualifiers on his offer, “If I can do it, I will.”

It occurred to me recently, that God is saying the same thing but without the limitations.  He didn’t put qualifiers on it and say “maybe” or “if I can.”  He boldly declared himself to be the One who could and would fulfill our needs.  His name tells us, he will take care of us, just as he did the Israelites and our ancestors.  And my father and mother and grandmother.  He has said simply, in effect: I AM the one you can turn to in a time of need. A God without limitations, that’s who we serve.

We have limitations.  Sometimes we are limited by time or physically.  Sometimes we are limited because of our mindset.  But, as hard as it is to grasp, He is limitless in his ability.  Inconceivable, we may think.  Yet, it is.  Otherwise, how can we embrace miracles that happen every day?  Thirty-three Chilean miners were trapped underground longer than anyone in recorded history, since August 5th.  Today, they are free.  Inconceivably.  Recalling recent mining accidents, I know they don’t always have a happy ending.  As one of the miners, Mario Sepulveda, put it, “I think I had extraordinary luck. I was with God and with the devil. And I reached out for God.”  In choosing God, he had to believe that God could be his solution.  God could be just the remedy that was needed. In reaching out for God, he had to believe that God could fulfill his promises.

Be blessed,


The Bucket List

For all flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower thereof falls away.” 1 Peter 1:24

Man is like a breath; his days are like a fleeting shadow. Psalm 144:4

I was recently interviewed by a co-worker for our monthly newsletter.  During our session, she posed the question:  Name something that you’ve always wanted to do but have put off for years.  “You mean, like a bucket list?” I asked.  “Yes,” she responded.  I thought about it for a few moments and then realized – I don’t really have a list of unfulfilled desires anymore.  I usually get to clear out my “to do” list during my Birthday Year.  That’s when I give myself permission to pursue anything and everything.

Every so often I get the urge to celebrate beyond my actual birthday.  It’s not a specific year, like say, every five years or years ending in zero or even multiples of ten.  I just have to feel the need.  I may feel antsy or decide it’s time to challenge myself.  That’s when I declare my Birthday Year and pledge to celebrate all year long.  The funny thing is, I don’t usually do anything BIG or over-the-top (like bungee jumping – I’ll never understand THAT), or very expensive.  I just try my hand at anything I have a mind to do.  Maybe it’s because I try the silly things that I find the nerve to do bigger things.

My mom is a woman who always challenged herself.  Where her family was concerned, she was always thinking about how she could be a better mother and be more of what we needed her to be.  She always wanted more for her children than she had.  She didn’t get hugs and kisses or encouragement growing up, so she made sure that we got plenty to break that cycle.  Even into her eighties, she was a woman who instigated change in our family relationships.  “Talk to me,” she’d say.  She wanted to continue to grow and keep up with us and our needs as our world changed.  I still cringe when I remember the time she watched Oprah and decided we needed to have a conversation about me and my biological clock!  She was not a woman set in her ways but ever evolving.

I, too, found my inspiration in Oprah.  I haven’t watched her show in years but I have kept up with her transformation and how she continues to reinvent herself.  I watched with the nation as she exercised and punished her body until she declared herself to be in the best condition ever.  I watched while she trained for marathons and her body morphed until you could bounce a quarter on her stomach.  I sighed, “One day…”  I remember thinking and looking forward to the day when I could pursue my own desires and interests.  But then my birthday came and it dawned on me:  Half of my life could be already gone. One day is here!  Although I’m still in my prime, how long that will last?  I’d spent potentially half of my life waiting for “One Day” to arrive. I thought about my own mortality and recognized the need for a metamorphosis of my own.

That was my very first Birthday Year – in it, I did everything I ever wanted to do, not putting it off any longer.  That was the year I lost 60 pounds through exercise, alone.  I took up roller skating with my children – hadn’t been on them since I was a kid but I’d always wanted to try it again.  (I was afraid that if I fell I wouldn’t be able to get back up!)  I decided I wanted to learn Spanish so I went to the library and picked up some tapes on conversational Spanish, practicing with a helpful co-worker.  Anything that popped into my head that year was as good as done.  Just because. I felt the need to indulge myself instead of denying myself.  “Just do it!” became my motto.

The year I spent celebrating my birthday yielded some wonderful results.  Instead of worrying about the time I had left, I began to live.  I rediscovered me, becoming more than just wife, mother, church attendee and employee. I became more ME.  I enjoyed it so much that whenever my birthday comes now, I re-evaluate my life and see if it needs shaking up.  Usually by the time the year is over, I’m ready to get off the ride.  Birthday Years are hard work!  It’s exhausting to keep challenging myself.  I rise to each occasion and I learn something about myself in the process.  I come out of the experience exuberant and triumphant.

I found that roller skating didn’t lead to broken limbs and although I never did learn how to dance on skates, I did make my way around the rink without doing major bodily damage.  Even when I fell, I found I was able to get back up.  Every time I did, I felt a little less breakable and more resilient.  I found my mind was just as capable of learning as it ever has been.  I picked up enough Spanish to converse with my co-worker on a basic level but all I remember now is, “palomitas quemadas” because she used to burn her microwave popcorn.  And I found out, like Oprah, it is impossible to sustain that kind of weight loss unless you spend hours at the gym AND change your eating habits.

My birthday is also a special time because I choose that day to reflect on my life, the past year and my accomplishments.  This month marks the one year anniversary of “The Word in My Life.”  Five years ago, this month, I purchased my first home on my own and I’m still there.  That, in itself, is cause for celebration.  Four years ago, I began a new job – since then, I’ve gained recognition and created my very own job title.  This is the time I hold myself accountable because I know one day, God will.

Tomorrow is my birthday and once again, I find myself in the position of starting all over.  I am, as I was in the beginning, alone.  But this time, it thrills and excites me.  It feels like it deserves something “a little more extraordinary” ala Bridget Jones Diary. It calls out to me; murmuring, Birthday Year.  I’ve tried to fight the urge but I feel it bubbling up inside of me, crying out for release. The suggestion dances in my head because it knows the time is near.  It rises to a crescendo – Birthday Year!  I can no longer resist the pull; I finally give in – BIRTHDAY YEAR!  YEAH!!!!!!!  Let the celebration begin!  Toot the horns!  Toss the confetti!  Once more with feeling:  HAPPY BIRTHDAY YEAR TO ME!!!!!!

Be blessed,