MASH

Hello friends! I’d like you to go down memory lane with me a bit. Come with me back to the days of middle school and high school. Depending on your age, it may be a longer trip, so if you’re over 30, I’ll give you a head start. 10, 9, 8…okay, here we all are. If you are of the feminine persuasion, as I am, you’ll probably remember a game called MASH. For all you guys out there who didn’t know girls existed when you were 15, and if you did, you had absolutely no idea what they were talking about when they were together, you’re just going to have to follow along.

If you didn’t play MASH as a teenage girl, I’ll clue you in. No, it is not a game about army hospitals during the Korean war. That wouldn’t be very fun. MASH is an acronym for Mansion, Apartment, Shack, House. Basically, the game was like a huge fortune teller that would predict who you were going to marry, where you would live, how many children you would have, etc. Sometimes the MASH gods were smiling, and you would get paired with your (for that week) crush, and you would live in a mansion with your 3 adorable children. Other times you would know that the MASH gods were angry and needing some small sacrifice because you would be paired with the most odious male in your acquaintance, and you would be doomed to live in a shack with him and your 47 children.  No one ever took it seriously, but it was a great way to pass some idle time on a bus or at a sleep-over.

Well, today as I was sorting through some mementos of my high school days (read: throwing out junk that mattered a lot 10 years ago, but now I have no idea why I kept it), I found a paper napkin covered in my best friend’s handwriting. Turned out that it was a game of MASH. I suppose the only reason I had stuffed it in my box of mementos back then was because it paired me with the most wonderful, beautiful, kind, talented, romantic guy in the world (read: the guy I had a crush on because he wasn’t already taken by one of my friends) That had to be it, since the rest of the game prophesied that I would be an auto mechanic on welfare with 13 children. I had a good laugh reminiscing about the crazy high school days, and then I wadded it up to throw out like the rest of the trash.

But then it got me to thinking. I can still clearly remember my 17-year-old self thinking that I couldn’t possibly be happy in life if I didn’t end up with that guy. I hoped and prayed that somehow God would work it out so that my whole like could revolve around the process of winning his heart. I knew that one day he would wake up, so to speak, and realize that I was a beautiful, alluring, talented, extremely desirable girl, rather than the awkward, overly loud, intimidating, somewhat bearable she-beast that he had heretofore seen me as. (Note: Me at 17 was a lot more like description 2 than I would like to admit). I’ll let you skip to the end of the book here: we didn’t end up together. He ended up with a string of several girls that were the complete opposite of me, even on my best day. I ended up with a man who saw me as beautiful, alluring, talented and desirable without having a revelation from on high. I am incredibly happy, and do not regret that my “dreams” didn’t come true.

I would imagine that we can each think of at least one situation from our past where we desperately wanted things to go one way, but in the end they went in a totally different direction. And for most of us, we don’t even need to think back to high school. It might be something from last year, last month, or last week. We often don’t have the final say in the situations of our life. And all too often, we accuse God of making the wrong decisions for us. He really shouldn’t have let our husband get laid off, or our wife get cancer, or our car get totaled, or our child get accepted into a college 2,000 miles away. Those things weren’t in the plan that we so carefully drew up for God. Apparently He wasn’t paying close enough attention when we told Him how our life was supposed to go.

Silly little human. 

Would you let your son play in the street just because he said that’s what he wanted? Would you let your daughter eat only jelly beans for a month because she just doesn’t like carrots? No, you know what is best for your child, and you will make that best happen, whether your child would like you to or not. So often we forget that God is our Father in every sense, not just in some master-overlord-originator way. He loves us in a way we can’t understand. He is constantly nurturing and protecting us, even when we don’t notice it.  He knows what is best for us, and sometimes, just like the three-year-old who doesn’t understand why she can’t subsist on jelly beans, we don’t understand why we can’t have it our way. God does not work for Burger King. He doesn’t take orders. Yes, He absolutely hears our prayers, our requests. He knows our desires. And what’s more, He wants to fulfill the desires of our hearts. In fact, He knows what we really want, going far beyond what we say we want. He understood that my desire as a teenage girl was to be loved completely, far more than my desire was for the attention of a certain boy. And He was faithful to fulfill the real desire of my heart. He did it in His way, in His timing, and for His purpose for me.

You may be looking at something in your life right now that is not at all the way you planned or expected. You may be praying for God to change your circumstance, to make it all better, as it were. There is nothing wrong with that. Tell Him you’re hurting. Tell Him you didn’t see this coming, and that you don’t know what to do next. Ask Him to help you find your feet again. Admit that you need His help. I can guarantee that He is not sitting on His throne in Heaven whipping the rugs out from under people just for the fun of seeing them scramble. Remember that we only see the immediate effects of the changes in our life; we cannot see where the changes will lead in a year, ten years, or a hundred years. God’s plan for you is good. His plan is for you to know Him intimately, to trust Him deeply, and to enjoy Him fully. To achieve that plan, there may be bumps (or even mountain ranges) along the way. The path may diverge greatly from the plan you mapped out for yourself. Sometimes you may be completely bewildered and feel lost. Take heart, dear friends, for just as your own children do not always see how closely you watch over them, you may not feel that the Father is protecting you or guiding you, but you can be certain, without a doubt, that He is indeed watching you, ready to pick you up if you stumble, to soothe and heal when you are hurt. He has never abandoned you, even in your darkest moments, and He never will.

May He make your heart glad!

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Spread a Little Hope, Part 2: Orphans and Widows

Greetings, Reader! We are going to talk today about a specific area in which you can spread hope to the world around you. If you haven’t read my first post on the subject, go check it out. It’s okay, I’ll wait for you… Alright, got it? Good, now we can move on.

So, I’ve been reading the Bible a lot lately. Even if you don’t, stick with me, because I think you will agree with what it has to say here. The specific book I’ve been focused on is the book of James, which is historically accepted as being written by the brother of Jesus. I mention that to point out that he would have been very familiar with the teachings of Jesus, who is recognized by Christians and non-Christians alike as having quite a bit to say regarding the right way to treat other people (He was pretty big on caring for “the least” among us). Here’s what James has to say: “Pure and lasting religion in the sight of God our Father means that we must care for orphans and widows in their troubles.” Other translators have used the words “undefiled” and “unblemished” instead of “lasting”. Let’s focus in on what the author is saying here. He’s assuming that there are kinds of religion, and a multitude of ways that people express their religion. James makes the unequivocal statement that none of those things matter if they don’t put a high priority on caring for the disadvantaged and socially oppressed. I think we can all agree that a lot of religion has historically been defiled and blemished by its adherents. Crusades, ethnic cleansing, suicide bombers, forced conversions…the list could go on and on.

Why do religious people get caught up in defiling their religion? Because they have lost the focus of what “pure and lasting religion” is really about. It is not about power, it is not about mandating any form of belief or behavior, it is not about earning a better place in heaven. It’s about love. Jesus, that famous brother of James, put it pretty clearly: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Not a lot of wiggle room there. And I can’t think of a single religion or a belief system that would disagree, except for perhaps Utilitarianism, which is not real popular… Caring for those who cannot care for themselves is a universal moral imperative. We innately know that it is the right thing. And yet, we often do a pretty abysmal job of following this imperative.

Not that we don’t want to do it. Organizations and movements which at the very least claim to help the “orphan and widow” abound. Many of us are content to let them do the actual work, while we send them some money. Isn’t it nice that we can help out these “poor folks” without ever having to interact with them? (Note the sarcasm.) Our governments are also have a finger in the pie. With this being an election year, we are going to continue hearing a lot of very strong opinions as to how much the government can and should be doing to help the “least of these” in our society. There are some valid reasons to be having that debate, but that’s really not what I’m concerned with. Because the imperative we’re talking about today didn’t say anything about pure and undefiled government (as if!) being characterized by caring for the financially and socially downcast. It was about religion, and religion is about people. James (and Jesus) mean us. I see you there, looking at the person next to you. Cut it out. I mean you. You need to be caring for the orphan and the widow. Sure, it’s not what you were planning on when you got up this morning, but it’s where we’re headed now.

Still with me? Good. Let’s make this practical. So you don’t have an orphanage right down the street from you?No streetchildren wandering in front of the bus stop on your way to work today? Sorry, you’re not off the hook just like that. The fact is, there are orphans and widows in your town, and there are lots of ways to find them. Community services centers, churches, synagogues, mosques, and a whole variety of non-profits in your community can all direct you to those in need.

But even more than just looking for the actual orphans and widows around us, let’s think about what James really meant by calling our attention to those two specific groups of people. In the first century, your position in society was tied to the position of the men in your family. Your father, your husband – they determined where you stood in the eyes of the community. So to be without that father or husband practically meant that you had no place in society. You were totally at the mercy of others. Often, those others didn’t feel very compelled to care for you. They had enough to do to take care of themselves, or so they thought. James said this wasn’t the case. Not only did people have the ability to care for others, they had no choice – he says we “must” care for the orphans and widows.

In our society today, there is a much wider variety of people who are what we might call financially disadvantaged or socially oppressed. Race, geography, education, religion and politics are all contributing factors. All of those factors need to be addressed. But that’s not the imperative we are talking about here. What did James say? He said we much care for the oppressed “in their troubles”. Not in the socio-historical background of their troubles. Not in the generational cycle of their troubles. He said in their troubles. Where they are right now. The care we are to give is immediate, obvious, and effective.

What does this mean for us? It means giving up our free evening and babysitting to give a single parent a night off to have fun or pursue a hobby or work on his or her degree. It means mentoring children who do not have adequate parental involvement. It means sitting and listening to a friend who has just lost her husband for hours even if you have other things that “should” be done.  It means welcoming a refugee or immigrant and making them feel like a part of the community. It means visiting the elderly lady on your block that hardly ever gets out of her house. It means loving and helping those around you without expecting to get anything in return.

Trust me, Reader, in writing this I was just as challenged as you are right now. I know I’m not anywhere near close to perfect. But I’m trying. Because when I come to my last days, I want to have been part of something pure and lasting.

Peace Be With You

Looking for the Answer

Friend, I’m glad you’re here. What I have to share today is not necessarily easy for me. You probably wouldn’t think that it would be difficult for someone who puts their ideas out there on the web to share anything, but it can be. Here’s the deal: I love writing poetry. It has always been a way for me to think through the things that are going on in life. If – and that’s a big if – I share my poetry, it’s usually long after I’ve written it. The reason for this is that my poetry feels like a part of me, and I’m incredibly afraid to open that up to criticism. If someone thinks it’s terrible, then it’s all on me. I don’t like that possibility. But it’s a chance I’ll just have to take.

You see, this poem has been stuck in my mind and weighing on my heart for the past two months. I originally wrote it as I worked through an incredibly difficult time with some very precious people. The pain was of a magnitude that I had never experienced before. Through it all, we had prayed for God to step in and change the situation, but He didn’t. That left us asking, If He heard us, If He cared about us, and He didn’t change things the way we asked, then what was His answer? Through His mind-blowing grace, God showed us that His answer wasn’t doing exactly what we asked, but it was using the trials and pain to help us grow and to bless others. So with that in mind, I humbly submit this work to you. I had tears streaming down my face the entire time I was writing, so don’t be surprised if your eyes  well up a bit too. My hope is that it blesses and encourages you in some way.

Peace Be With You

His Answer

For ERF,  a Rose forever blooming

All your questions, lonely prayers;

Nights spent asking, “Are You there?”

In the stillness, in the dark

Hear His whisper in your heart.

And this is His answer, hope for your tomorrow,

“I have always loved you,

And I always will.”

All the waiting, all the tears,

All the heartbreak through the years.

Crying to Him, full of fear,

“Where have you gone? Can you hear?”

He may not always tell you why,

You may not understand,

But there’s no road that you can walk

Where He won’t hold your hand.

And He says,

“This is the answer to all of your questions,

Hope for a morning when all will be clear.

And I’ll hold you in my arms,

And I’ll whisper in your ear,

I have always loved you,

And I always will.”

Spread a Little Hope, Part 1

Greetings, Reader! Today I’d like to inspire you. The more I see of the world, the more it strikes me that there are so many people living without hope. None of us are immune to pain or disappointment. At times I am overwhelmed by the amount of suffering compared with my ability to ease that suffering. There are so many types of suffering, and we are so constantly bombarded with requests for help in the form of money or volunteer hours, that we quickly begin to feel guilty. So what is a person to do? How are you to do real good, rather than just wishing that you could? As I always say, there is a better way.

Here’s what you need:

  • A compassionate heart
  • A desire to make a difference
  • Time
  • Generosity with whatever resources you have

Here’s what you do:

  • Think through the many types of pain and suffering around you. Focus in on the one or two that really move your heart.
  • Look for established organizations in your community that serve in the areas that you care most about.
  • Make a list of your talents and resources. If you are not very creative, offer up those talents and resources to the organizations you have found, and let them place you where they can best use you. If you are creative, however, you may spend some time thinking of your own ways to meet the needs in your area.
  • If there is no group or organization in your area meeting the needs of the people you would like to help, use your connections and social networks to find others in your community who share the same passions as you, and pool your talents and resources.
  • Get your family involved. Serving others together is an excellent way to strengthen your relationship with your spouse or significant other. Children are very enthusiastic about helping others, and there is no better time to develop a generous and compassionate spirit than childhood.

I hope that you will be inspired to find your own niche where you can do the good that you were made for.  In the future, be looking for ideas on more specific ways to Spread a Little Hope.

Peace Be With You

What Makes Your Heart Glad?

What brings joy to your spirit? What makes you truly happy? Not a fleeting sense of amusement or merriment, but a true, deep joy. Can you hold onto that joy when life is anything but joyous? These are questions that we each must ask ourselves. The answer has everything to do with the source of our joy. The bare fact is that if our source of joy is anything that can be imperfect or perishable, then our joy will be likewise. The New Testament book of James instructs us to count or consider our trials joy. At first glance, that is an absolutely ludicrous statement. Pain, suffering, trials – they are the exact opposite of joy.

But James goes on to explain that we can consider even the trials of life as joy because they make us better people. The responsibility falls to us, though. Our suffering can only do the work of refining and perfecting us if we allow them to, or more specifically, if we allow God to use them in that vein. We always have the option of allowing life to crush us instead. What it comes down to is this: we are going to have trials and suffering in our lives. There is no escaping it. So if that is the case, I would rather become a better person, a better Christian, each time I face a trial, rather than letting it beat me down. How about you? The choice is yours.