Friday, February 26, 2010

The Power of Touch

The idea for “The Parable of My Life” came from a unique Bible study that I started many years ago. I am doing a word study on the Holy Spirit and am working through the Bible sometimes one verse at a time to find and meditate on scripture that contains the words Holy Spirit or Spirit. As I study, I ask the Holy Spirit to reveal himself to me and often times, he will remind me of something in my own life and show me how he is like that or he will remind me of a moment past and show me how he was present in that moment. Today’s post is taken from this study written in response to Acts 8:15-19.

I was one of the lucky ones. I never ended up in the emergency room, I never thought he would really kill me, but I did know fear and suffering at the hand of my first husband. We were married exactly four days the first time he physically abused me because “we were married now and he didn’t have to pretend anymore.” In my world, a hand on my shoulder occurred in an abusive rage leaving bruises on the surface and a broken spirit within.

Later, God brought me into the company of those who placed their hands on my shoulder in prayer and in conversation leaving behind no evidence of contact. And yet, in that one seemingly small gesture, they offered extraordinary comfort, forgiveness, encouragement, and love that God used to restore the broken spirit within. The physical sensation of their touch representing their care and concern was empowered by the Holy Spirit who reached deep into my shattered soul to revive and heal it.

A touch yields unimaginable power to hurt or to heal and we have the choice, the responsibility, and the privilege to use that power as God directs. I know that in today’s society, appropriate physical contact is almost taboo because of how it could be misconstrued, and yet, when has God ever been politically correct? Having experienced the power of the Holy Spirit through the touch of another, how can we not pass that along as freely as it has been given to us? Be respectful, ask for permission first when needed, but never be hesitant. Have you hugged someone today? Pat someone on the back for a job well done? Put your hand on the shoulder of someone in need? Whom in your life today does God want to renew through the touch of your hand?

About the pictures:
Toronto, Ohio (September 09)

Friday, February 19, 2010

Is "Lenten Celebration" Really an Oxymoron?

Lent is here. What exactly is Lent anyway? Some will tell you that it’s the time of year before Easter that you give up meat on Fridays. Others give up chocolate or bad habits and still others intentionally try to do good deeds for their fellow man. Some people try to pray more often or read their Bible every day. This sounds like New Year’s resolutions to me, not at all the spiritual introspection I thought Lent was supposed to be. For many, religious tradition portrays Ash Wednesday as a day of guilt and ashes and the weeks that follow are more of the same. We are to search our hearts and minds to find every way we’ve fallen short of the glory of God and pray that his forgiveness will cover all our sins. Too many Christians worry all of their lives that they haven’t done enough to make up for their sins and that even though they believe in the Lord Jesus Christ as their Savior, they still may not be good enough when they die to be with him in heaven. Too often, I find myself slipping into a similar frantic frenzy of self-condemnation.

It’s so easy to forget the Good News that Jesus brings. I don’t need to worry if I am good enough for God because I’m not. Never have been. Never will be. I don’t need to strive to do more good than evil because no matter how much selfless good I do, I can never make up for the sins I’ve committed and will continue to commit on a daily basis. I don’t have the ability to be righteous enough to enter God’s presence. This may sound depressing, but it is very good news. It is good news because God created me and he knows my limitations. He knows I’m not capable of the perfection his glory demands so he sent his perfect Son to take my place so that I might stand in his in God’s glory. I am helpless to save myself, but I am not hopeless because my hope lies in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. His love and his sacrifice have created and continue to refine in me a new and holy heart – one that longs for God alone. Under my own power, I am inadequate, but I rejoice because through God’s power, I am made perfect in his sight. He gives me the courage, the ability, the love, and the dedication my humanness lacks.

For me, Lent is about recognizing how blessed I am that God loves me, that Jesus died and rose for me, and that the Spirit fills my heart and my life with his presence. Lent is a joyous time to remember the hope that Jesus brings and a celebration that my salvation does not depend at all on my ability, my life, or my actions, but solely on the love and redemptive work of God. For me, Lent is a time of profound gratitude.
About the pictures:
North Park (August 2009)

Friday, February 12, 2010

Inside the Snowglobe

This week I’ve been feeling like one of those little plastic figurines trapped in a snow globe. Last Saturday’s snowstorm brought twenty inches of snow and we received eight more on Wednesday. Before you say it, yes, I know it’s winter. And yes, I do expect it to snow in the winter, but this was just too much too fast. As I sit here looking out my window, there is a slight flurry of snow falling again and I want to cry out, “I am not an Eskimo!” Everywhere I look, there are three to six foot mounds of snow. The roads are passable, but not altogether safe and the grocery store ran out of milk and bread days ago. The few hours of sun we’ve seen this week has sufficiently melted enough snow to leave huge dripping icicles hanging dangerously over doorways and windows and there’s water leaking from almost every door and window frame in the building leaving streaks of dirty water stains and puddles on the floor. Most of all, I’m tired of shoveling snow and brushing off my car every time I go out.

I asked God to show me the good in this and he answered by bringing to mind my relatives who live east of the city. It’s then that I realized how selfish I was being. When Saturday’s storm hit, my cousin was trapped in her house without heat or electricity for eighteen hours. When she was finally able to leave, she could only make it to her parent’s nearby home. They had no electricity either, but at least they had a fireplace. They were in the dark and the cold for several days. Why didn’t they come north to stay with family who had electricity and heat? Because the roads between them and us were closed due to unplowed streets and fallen trees. Tens of thousands of people were trapped without electricity and heat for four to five days. I've seen reports of people whose roofs are caving in from the weight of the snow and one about a woman who was trapped in her home by a fallen tree blocking her doors. Then I started to think about the homeless people in this city who don’t have a place to wait out the winter storms. They don’t have food or money to buy milk even if the grocery stores had it. I thought about the people in Haiti who are still wondering if they will ever find their father, mother, brother, and sister in one of the makeshift hospitals and camps or buried in the rubble of the city.

By the standards of the community I live in, I am relatively poor. I live month to month. I have no savings. I don’t own a house, my TV is more than 15 years old, my car is nine years old, and I have an old hand-me-down laptop that may crash at any moment. In spite of all this, I know I am truly blessed because I have a warm, safe place I call home, my bills are paid, I have a job to go to everyday that I love and a boss that is more concerned with my well-being than my productivity. I have food in my cupboards and clothes in my closet. I have books to read and the ability to read them. I have a car that runs to take me where I want to go and money for gas to get there. I have friends to share my life with and family who love me and support me in bad times. I am healthy and able to give of my time and talents wherever God leads me. This isn’t me trying to be optimistic – this is me be grateful for all the blessings God has given me – even for the blessing of the snowstorm because without it, I would have missed this opportunity to appreciate God’s generosity. Sometimes it takes seeing what other people don’t have to realize just how much you do have. Take some time to thank God today for the blessings in your life and look for ways to share them with those around you.
About the pictures:
Ross Township (February 12, 2010)

Friday, February 5, 2010

What Did You Say?

I have been thinking a lot about words this week. So often, we hear that words are meaningless and that without action to back them up, they are empty, nothing but a waste of time and breath. I disagree. Let me introduce you to one of Satan’s greatest and most effective deceptions – “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me!” How many times have we chanted this mantra as children trying to convince ourselves and the bullies in our lives that what they say doesn’t hurt us? How many times as adults have we told our children that the nasty things other children say are just meaningless words in an attempt to protect them and bring a smile to their faces again? The truth is that mean words can and do hurt. I know a woman who survived an abusive marriage who says that if she had to pick between verbal and physical abuse, she would pick physical because those hurts eventually heal.

Conversely, words of kindness and edification are like a healing salve to the hurting heart. My life proves it. Much of the abuse I’ve lived through has been verbal. Many people in my life who by the nature of our relationship should have been encouraging, helping me to build my self-esteem instead degraded me with their hate-filled words. Seven years ago, God brought me into a place filled with people who have been consistently and patiently encouraging and comforting to me. They’ve helped me to build the esteem and confidence every person needs to face the sometimes-harsh realities of life all with their kind words and a few hugs.

This week I decided to concentrate on the words that I say – not just to keep the unkind words from escaping my mouth, but also to look for opportunities to uplift those around me with a word of kindness or encouragement. There were the multitudes of people in the service industry, the bagger at the grocery store, the waitress at a local restaurant, the bank teller… Then there are the people I work with and my family. There were many people for me to say a heartfelt “thank you” to and those who needed to hear that they are appreciated and loved. Some needed to hear that they were doing a good job and some needed to hear that they have value. I couldn’t believe how many people I found this week that needed to hear “you’re okay!” Words are powerful and what I realized this week is that the joy and confidence that positive words bring do not confine themselves to the person being spoken to but also extends to the person who is speaking. The more kind and encouraging words that I was able to impart, the happier and more fulfilled I became. Praise God for the wonderful blessing that He gave in and through me this week.

Words are powerful. Use them well.

About the picture
Deer Lake Park (August 2009)