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fear not…

Over the past week my husband and I have been in pretty much all of Florida, with the exception of the Jacksonville area. A week ago we were in the Tampa Bay area where we helped my sister pile up sand bags to keep water out of her first floor apartment, just because the heavy rainfall of the previous day was 1/2 inch from entering the sliding glass door into her living room. This was all before Hurricane Irma became a major threat. We traveled down the west coast of Florida, and then across Alligator Alley to Miami, where we visited my husband’s parents and three of his brothers and their wives. On Monday, we had lunch at a little restaurant on Biscayne Bay where we watched the boats go in and out while we sipped mojitos and munched on fresh grouper sandwiches. We canoed on a lake over the weekend, and my husband went golfing on Tuesday morning. But, by the time we left Miami late on Tuesday afternoon, it was apparent that our lovely family visit, had transformed us from vacationers into evacuees. We pleaded with David’s parents to leave, to get into the car and come with us north to our home. They refused. I asked my mother-in-law if she was now old enough for her children to tell her what to do, and she said, “No.” So, we reluctantly left without them.

The past week has been surreal. Never have we seen the traffic that we are now witnessing as millions of Floridians are leaving the state. It looks like something out of a disaster movie. In Miami, there were sheriff’s deputies in the grocery stores to maintain order. There have been lines at gas stations that I haven’t seen since I was a young teen during the energy crisis of the 1970s. The gas stations that don’t have lines now are the ones that don’t have gas.

After we left Miami, we crawled our way up the Florida Turnpike to Orlando. We had been there to witness the birth of our newborn grandson, Benjamin on Wednesday of last week. We stayed with our son and his wife, and now their two sons before we got back into the tide of evacuees the next day to make our way home. Again, we pleaded with our youngest child to bring his family north, but they decided to stay.

By the time we got home the grocery store shelves were empty of water, bread, cokes, and eerily absent of canned goods. There were no size D batteries to be found. And we weren’t even in the cone of uncertainty. All that has changed over the past two days. My sister in Tampa Bay is probably going to lose all the possessions in her apartment. I can’t see how they won’t be flooded in a hurricane of the size of Irma when they can’t stay dry when it simply rains. She will be at her job in a hospital, so I have less fear for her life.

I have never felt so helpless. I can’t go and get her or her two daughters who still live with her. I can no longer take her little dog to safety. It’s too late. And if I was even able to get into Pinellas County, I’d never be able to get out before the storm arrives.

And now, we too are in the middle of the track, and we too are in danger of the wrath of the biggest hurricane in history. We’ve done what we can, and it doesn’t seem enough. The weather is beautiful outside our north Florida home. The temperature is unseasonably cool. It’s cloudy, but the the sun shines brightly. The breeze is gentle and the atmosphere appears unusually quiet and calm. And yet, we know what’s coming. Denial is getting harder to accept, and so we wait. And, for the first time, fear becomes real. I have family in Miami. I have family in Tampa Bay. I have family in central Florida. I have family in Jacksonville. I have family in the north western peninsula of the state. And I live in the Big Bend of Florida, about 25 – 30 miles east of Tallahassee. And every single one of us is in danger.

Scripture tells me to fear not. Faith tells me that God is still in charge. Hope allows me to trust in the mercy of God. And Love connects all of this. So, I pray and I wait, and I stop trying to pretend to God that deep down I’m not scared, because for all our technology tells us about what is going to happen over the next two days, only God really knows.

It’s hard to believe that life goes on normally outside of the state of Florida. I imagine that the rest of the world is sick to death of hearing about hurricanes. And I bet that many simply don’t understand the appeal of life in this piece of land that literally sticks out into the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico daring any tropical storm that develops to take it on. But it’s my home, and it’s home to millions of others who, for once are united against an opponent that is bigger than our legendary football rivalries.

Thank you to all who are praying for us. Thank you to all who will donate time and financial resources to all of us affected by this storm. I’ll let you know how we come out of this when we’re on the other side. We can’t go over, under or around this storm, so now we just have to go through it. God help us – please.

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the healing power of paint…

Over the last few weeks our house has been turned upside down. We decided – or more accurately – I decided that the trim in our home needed touching up. The baseboards and window trim needed a bit of sprucing, and I was bored with the safe color we had chosen for the walls in our gathering room/kitchen. For years I have wanted to change the peaceful blue on the walls in our bedroom and bath to a slightly more aqua shade of the same value. Nothing drastic.

It’s true that I am a regular viewer of HGTV’s Fixer Upper. My husband and I watch Chip and Joanna Gaines transform their clients’ homes in the course of an hour while we eat lunch. It’s really easy to get caught up in the fervor of the home improvement projects of shows like this hit program, and I was well aware that witnessing the dramatic make-overs of other homes on an almost daily basis may have had something to do with my feelings, but there was more to it than that. It’s been 11 years since we finished building our house. Eleven years is enough time for the shine to fade on new things, and it’s long enough for tastes to change, so I felt justified in my desire to ask my husband’s opinion about wanting to go ahead and do what I’d been thinking about for quite a while.

Two things happened simultaneous to the changing of paint. The first occurred to me the evening before we finished the project. The second I realized somewhat going in, but its real meaning became more and more clear as the painting progressed.

As a woman I probably care more about things like home decorating and freshly painted trim. I know for a fact that David didn’t see the need to do the project in any way at all resembling the way that I did. Normally, my pattern would be to keep my desire for this cosmetic change to myself. I would tell myself that I couldn’t do something because I was the only one who wanted to do it. I would defer to my husband’s wishes, without ever expressing mine. And I would subconsciously add it to the mental list deep in the recesses of my brain where I kept a tally of all the things I had been denied without ever letting anyone know that I desired them. And this time, I acted differently. I shared my feelings. I opened myself up to the possibility of having my wishes dashed, and I asked for what I wanted. I wasn’t aware of how big a deal this was until I found myself telling my husband of the change in me the night before the painters finished their work.

The second consequence of this repainting is a little more complicated to explain. When we built our house, we hired a builder. We had done this three times. We thought we knew what we were doing. But we chose the wrong guy. The man who started building our house was not who we thought he was. Several months into the build, there was little progress. Building would occur in fits and starts until it just halted. We found out that the builder was using the money from our loan to finish other clients’ homes. He would then do just enough work on ours to make another draw from the bank. Ten months into the build we weren’t framed in. He was out of money. And he had no clients after us to pay for our materials or labor. The bank had already paid him the draws for framing, claiming they didn’t know there was a second story to our house, in spite of the fact that we were required to submit the complete plans of the house to obtain our loan. In other words, we had been royally taken advantage of. After the initial shock, we pulled ourselves together and took over the building of our house. I became the contractor, and for the next six months, I was at the building site supervising, hiring electricians and plumbers, roofers and carpenters, and cleaning up the massive mess of building a home. One of the things we hadn’t counted on doing ourselves was the painting. Painting virgin walls is a whole other animal than repainting a room. There is priming and caulking. Paint is literally sucked into new drywall and plaster, and it takes way more paint than a novice would know. So we painted and painted and painted. We painted trim and trim and more trim. And we did the best we could, but it always looked like an unprofessional job, because it was. Now, it looks the way it always should have. The wall color isn’t bleeding onto the baseboards or doorframes. The color is uniform and even. And the men who we hired to do the job, did the job. They painted our house, but they did more than spruce up the trim and give our walls a new color. They erased some really bad memories and gave our house the professional job that it and we always deserved. They finished our home, and I am enormously grateful and relieved.

On all the home improvement shows they do what is called the Big Reveal. In real life, there isn’t really a big reveal. I had a lot of vacuuming and dusting to accomplish after all the workmen left. We’ll show off the color changes to our friends at a dinner party sometime in the next few weeks or so, but the big reveal in this project is within my heart, and even if no one else realizes the dramatic change that has occurred, it is no less real or gratifying. It’s amazing how the application of a little paint can bring about psychic and spiritual healing. As a spiritual director, I’m always asking people where is God in all this. In this case, I have no trouble answering my own question.

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between a rock and a hard place

I’ve heard that pollsters for our upcoming presidential election have said that there are very few undecided voters left in America. Those who favor Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump have become more and more deeply entrenched in support of their candidate. On November 8th of this year, one of them will be chosen as our next President-Elect. I take very seriously my right and responsibility to vote, but for the life of me, I cannot see myself voting for either one of these choices. One is a misogynistic bully who has brought public debate to new levels of bigotry and displays of vulgarity. His business dealings are questionable in their legality, and his personal life is on the level of tabloid fodder in regards to his lack of self-control and ability to exhibit socially acceptable behavior. The other is a person with such utter disregard for the sanctity of human life that she could be called a criminal even before we look at her record as Secretary of State or at the manner in which her family’s foundation has been managed. People from both sides tell me with total assurance that they truly believe that if I vote for the candidate who is not the one for whom they will cast their ballot, then I will be personally at fault for the other candidate’s victory. I’ve always wanted to believe that my vote mattered. But how can I choose between two terrible choices?

I’ve thought about the appointment of Supreme Court Justices by our next Commander-in-Chief. I’ve thought about either of them being responsible for making military decisions. I’ve thought about their running mates and the attributes of the people who they say will be their advisors. I’ve thought about their experience to do the job, their personal character, and the ways in which they will represent the United States to the world. I’ve prayed for guidance. I’ve prayed for wisdom. I’ve prayed to wake up from this nightmare of an election. And lately I’ve begun to pray for absolution if, in the end, I am simply unable to make a choice.

Friends have suggested that I vote for the lesser of two evils. The problem is that I cannot even determine which of them is worse than the other. If anybody can help me decide, I’m open to listen, but I would much rather know why you are voting for one of these people more than why you are not voting for the other.

It’s the middle of October, and I am remain an Undecided.

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all i ask

Dear Jesus, you ask me to love as you love –

to love everyone around me as if they are all people that I even know,

or knowing them – that I even care.

You ask me to love the ones who’ve hurt me –

the ones who look me right in the eye and lie,

the ones who’ve cheated me,

and said things about me,

and promised to be there for me,

and weren’t, or didn’t, or couldn’t.

 

You ask me to love the ones who hate –

me, or anyone like me, or with me,

or simply anyone who is not like they see themselves.

You ask me to love those who don’t understand me –

and those who don’t even try to.

 

You ask me to love those who aren’t what I need them to be,

those who fail me,

those who let me down,

who forget,

or won’t forgive,

Those who screw up,

and all the ones who can’t be relied on.

 

Lord, you ask me to love all the ones who act as if they never learned to love –

or only learned to love themselves.

 

And hardest of all, you ask me to love the ones I love,

and to continue to love them when I’d rather not –

when they look exactly like the ones who would be easier not to love –

or to not even let myself see.

 

You ask this, Oh God,

and I want to say I can’t.

I want to tell you what you ask is impossible.

And then I ask you how you love me,

and I know it’s only and exactly what you’re asking me –

to do.

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listening…

Isn’t it so like us to automatically assume that our own experience mirrors what others think and feel in similar situations? How many times have we said to someone else, “I know exactly what you mean” or “I feel your pain,” when, in actuality we can never know what it’s like to be inside someone else’s brain or to share in the anguish of another’s suffering. We say these things to be empathetic. We say these things to build connection. We say these things in order to let them know that whatever they are going through that they don’t have to go through it alone. We mean well. But when we plow ahead with the certainty that because we’ve been in a similar situation that we know their experience, we run the risk of further isolating them by our efficiency in bolstering their spirits without taking the time to listen to their story.

Each person’s story is unique, and each one needs to tell it in his own way. When we hear with an ear that hones in on key words or phrases with which we are familiar, are we not really just trying to find our own story within the context of their tale? Are we not listening for how the words they say reflect upon our own lives more than receiving the gift of trust and respect that another gives us when he allows us to get a glimpse of what is behind his mask?

When is the last time we listened not to what someone else words meant to us but to what they meant to the one speaking them?

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what is your heart’s desire?

Halloween is over, so the “holiday season” is upon us. I have learned to be less offended by this, because now that it starts in November the holidays include Thanksgiving, and whether we like it or not, the Christmas season begins the moment the turkey is off the table. The commercials for the season, however began Halloween night. All of a sudden, whatever an advertiser wanted to sell you the day before has now become a potential Christmas present. Hungry for steak? Give it for Christmas. Need a new kitchen appliance? Wrap it up for Christmas. A luxury automobile? A really expensive Christmas present. One commercial blatantly suggests that if you purchase the right gifts, your recipients will love their gifts and that will lead them to love you. I thought we bought things for people we love, not that we bought things for people in order for them to love us…

Anyway, I digress. This post is not a rant about the commercialization of Christmas. It’s about figuring out what we really want.

So many of us see life in two columns. In the first column there are the things that we think we are expected to do. Some might label this column: What God Wants Me To Do With My Life. The other column is what we want. The second column might contain things like fame, fortune, and beauty. Most of us see the two columns of our life as being two completely different lists. But what if they aren’t? What if they aren’t all that different?

Sure, fabulous vacations and a life free from financial woes sounds terrific, but go deeper. What do you REALLY want?

You want to not worry. You want to live a life that matters. You want to have meaningful relationships. You want to do work that fulfills you. You want to be happy. God wants those same things. God didn’t create you so that the rest of your life was a frustrating dichotomy of wanting what He didn’t want you to have. God created you, BECAUSE He loves you, and BECAUSE He loves you, He wants you to be happy.

All the things we could possibly want in life could probably be placed into a few categories:  Love, Hope, Freedom, and Respect. Think about it. All the cars and foods and clothes and whatever else we might wrap up for Christmas would most likely fit under one of those headings. And there’s nothing wrong with giving them to those we love, as long as we realize that they aren’t love itself.

Ask yourself what you REALLY want. What is my heart’s desire? Chances are, it’s also God’s desire for you. Where do you think it came from?

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Only God does perfect

It’s really easy as a Christian

to fall into the trap

of trying to be the perfect follower of God.

I am so cognizant of the gift of my life –

this one life –

this one opportunity to get it right.

I don’t want to squander it.

It’s too precious of a gift to not be mindful of its importance

or to take the responsibility of it for granted.

But it isn’t my job to do it perfect.

It isn’t my job to make it through life

without making mistakes.

It isn’t my job to be God.

It’s my job to be human –

to be flawed –

to be imperfect.

It’s my job to need God.

God made me imperfect,

and it is only through Him that I can be perfected.

That is the toughest lesson of all for a Christian.

I may want to light the world on fire.

I may want to eradicate poverty

and heal the suffering

and feed the hungry

so that there are no longer any people who are poor

or hurt or in need of food.

Jesus came into a world like that,

and when he left the world still contained those problems.

Even He didn’t leave the world a perfect place.

He came into this world to be one of us –

to feel our pain –

to share our want –

to know our hunger,

and what He left us with was something

that fixing all the world’s problems wouldn’t have taught us as well.

He gave us the gift of knowing

that He understands what it’s like to be human

and that He doesn’t expect us to be superhuman.

He just wants us to do our best

and to recognize that that will never be enough

to end the imperfections of this world,

but it will be enough for us to know

that we need Him

and that when we quit trying

to impress Him with how well we do our lives,

we are left with the knowledge that all He expects from us

is to accept His love.

No amount of perfection will make Him love us more.

No amount of service will make Him love us more.

No amount of anything will make Him love us more,

because He already loves us perfectly.

And He is the only one who can,

because only God does perfect.