Seventy Times Seven

I have been both awed and uplifted by the response of the Mother Emmanuel Church community in South Carolina. Their strongly professed attitudes of forgiveness are different and surprising and wonderfully refreshing.

In contrast, I awoke this morning to a radio interview with author Roxanne Gay. She stated that “some crimes are beyond forgiveness.” She also said that she did not believe it is our job to forgive. Well, as I recall, that is not what Jesus said (Matt. 18:21-22). She stated that she would not commit a similarly devastating deed. Does that take away the need for forgiveness, the mandate to forgive? I don’t think so.

While I am saddened by Ms. Gay’s attitude, as well as that of hatemongers in today’s world, I am comforted in knowing that I believe in a God Who does not stipulate which things He does and does not forgive. My respect and prayers go out to the Charleston community.

New Beginnings

I was at my desk early one morning. I paused for a moment from what I was writing to gaze outside. Suddenly I saw a flash of red. Although we often are unable to spot them, several cardinals frequent our neighborhood. This particular male cardinal poked around on the ground for a few moments, hopped about the branches of a small bush, flew to the fence – stopping briefly as if to assess where he was going next – and then he was gone.

I, too, was assessing my plan for the day. Having allowed too much stress in my life of late, I knew I needed to regroup. I had tasks I’d put off for some time. Now a good time to tackle them, I thought. I needed a sense of accomplishment, and I needed to feel peaceful again.

This morning when I parted the curtains, one of the first things I noticed was that the growing buds had finally burst beyond capacity, and, without fanfare, tiny new leaves had taken their place. Squirrels had become playful and very active. Daffodils and tulip leaves had popped above ground. Color was increasing, and birds had become downright noisy.

Yes, my time for renewal had begun as well – a fresh slate, new directions, new goals. It was all good.

How can anyone NOT enjoy spring? To me, spring is a time for renewal, hope, and redirection…time to complete old projects and begin new ones. It is no wonder that spring has always been my most favorite of seasons! Now I was ready to dig in!

Where Are Our Heroes?

I vividly remember growing up in the sixties. It was a very cool time – with peace movements, love, and flower power, but it was an awakening for me, as well, with protests and leading figures that fought against discrimination. I remember Martin Luther King, Jr., Black Power, the 1967 riots in Detroit, and stories about Rosa Parks and segregated lunch counters.

One of my cousins married a black girl. It caused such furor within our Polish family that my cousin and his new wife moved to Hawaii, where mixed-race couples were less of an anomaly.  I attended an all-white parochial school. Our first black student arrived when I was in high school…the school was then able to claim it was integrated.

I recall being appalled at the way people treated people – just because their skin was a different color. I became drawn to the underdog. Great changes happened in the sixties. Naively – and most unfortunately – I only thought the world had gotten better.

Sadly, today I am seeing more discrimination. It is being expressed in ways than I never dreamed of as a teen. Bullying. Homosexuality. Transgender bias. Racial discrimination. Human trafficking. The death penalty. Abortion. Even religious intolerance and extreme measures of persecution. Huge disregard for the wonders of life. How did our world get to this place?!!

Where are our leaders? To whom can we look for inspiration, or to know right from wrong? My growing cynicism tells me it isn’t Congress. Television seems to have placed its focus on sex, off-color attempts at humor, and show after show of “reality” TV.  Whatever happened to the television characters and movie stars we used to see as heroes and role models? I think they are very hard to find these days.

Daily experience shows me that many operate on principles of materialism – money, possessions, power. Inequity is everywhere. “Keeping the faith” has become harder and harder to do in this material world.

My growing focus on prison ministry has allowed me to discover my own small way of making a difference. Weekly, I see men struggling to grow in an impervious environment, and in an outdated system where punishment and control are the only rules. There is little leadership to make an effort to actually HELP these men and women learn to cope as the law-abiding citizens we hope they will one day be. They learn few job skills. Instead, the crushing thumb of the Department of Corrections smashes them down time and again, charging them with ridiculous penalties for ridiculously inane behaviors that only someone with a need for exercising control would feel compelled to address.

Where indeed are the heroes?

Strange as it might sound, my heroes have become the prisoners I meet each week. There, I observe and interact with men who are attempting to grow, change, and to get along with one another. They are bolstered by having a “safe” place to meet once a week, and to worship in their own way, encouraged by volunteers who come weekly. Through these prisoners, and simply by entering prison gates, I see how a perceived need for control, the need to judge, and suppression in all manner of forms affects these men. The effects of discrimination and control is often apparent. But, as these mean approach their release dates, it is also heartwarming how they work through adversity that has become their norm. I often find myself silently applauding  them and am encouraged by what I see. (It is regrettable that the prisons’ plans never seem to focus on rehabilitation from the outset. Were that the case, I believe there would be many more success stories, and far less recidivism.)

Also, as we read and discuss various books of the bible each week, I have been reminded that Paul was once a prisoner, too. On those days, I take a closer look at each prisoner I meet….

On Potential, Power, and Making a Difference

I want so much to make a difference in this world! Yet, I feel I fail time and time again to reach my full potential.

I have reached the age where more of my life is behind me than in front of me. The days are flying past at a pace beyond anything I have previously known.

Nonetheless, I remain in awe of this spectacular world God has given us. We – His greatest achievement – are thinking, feeling human beings, not one of us identical to another. He paints sunrises and sunsets for us daily, and they are breathtaking and inspiring. The vast array of creatures on land and in the sea leave wonder in their wake. Even plant life and microorganisms are incredible to behold.

Sadly, many of us go about our daily lives barely recognizing these gifts. We, as a human race, have laid waste to so much beauty around us! We fail to recognize the good, and are often negligent in how we nurture it if we do. The same applies to talents we have been given.

Sometimes I think about the movie It’s a Wonderful Life. When George Bailey (played by Jimmy Stewart) realizes how the world he knows would have played out without him, it makes one pause. The movie shows what a difference his very presence made in so many lives! I want to be that kind of person.

My resolve is to wake each morning that remains to me, give thanks for this very wonderful gift of life, and seek to make a difference each and every day – somehow, somewhere. It may be a miniscule effort. No one may notice. But I want to act in such a way that, had I not, something would be amiss.

I may never get to read all of the books I would like to read, or visit all of the places I would like to see, but if I begin each new day with this resolve, and make some small difference in the world by something that I am able to say or do, then I believe my life will have been worth living. Special talent isn’t needed to be kind and helpful. But each of us is special. Let us use that uniqueness positively and powerfully. No matter who you are, prisoner or president, YOU can make a difference!

Seeking a Joyful Heart

Retirement is great! After working forty years, I now have the opportunity to choose to do that which I want to do. Even then, I can still decline if something doesn’t meet my expections – that was never an option while I was working. The problem now is finding the time to take advantage of all those opportunities! Whenever I am asked if I am working, I tell that person that I am “blissfully retired.”

With that status, however, comes a further obligation…and that is keeping up with what I’ve committed to do. Too often I have discovered that it is quite easy to slack off. Worse, when you already know you’re a procrastinator. When I get behind, I begin to feel pressured, frustrated, annoyed, impatient. These are times when it becomes easier to snap at someone who has no knowledge of my situation.

Today I am resolving (once again, as I attempt to organize my desk for the umpteenth time) to keep up with my commitments. Since I am doing things I want to do, staying on top of those things should be my joy.

Father, help me to commit to keep up with my daily, weekly, and monthly obligations, and to do so with a joyful heart. Help me to honor You by always being ready for whatever You send my way.

 “Give me your heart, my son, and let your eyes delight in my ways….” (Prov 23:26)

Be Still…and Seek to Trust

Trust does not come easily. The adage “once bitten, twice shy” comes to mind. Slowly, over a lifetime, we learn about it. Who is the person upon whom we always rely? Sometimes we misjudge a person, and we are devastated when that trust is shattered.

Trusting God is even more difficult. We can’t see Him – except in His works that are all about us. Actually hearing Him is a greater challenge. While He may speak strongly and directly to some, many of us struggle to know if it is God speaking to us, or instead, our determined free will rearing its insistent head. It is extremely difficult in this technological world to shut out the noise.

Try it for yourself. Shut off the radio, television, CD player, MP3 player, phone. Listen to the silence. You may find it most uncomfortable at first. You will also find that it is not easy to shut off the mental “list making” of things you need to do. Even looking around is often a distraction. Close your eyes. Breathe deeply. Quiet yourself.

“Be still and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10)

 Begin paying attention to how your prayers have been, or are being answered – things not readily seen. When you realize that He does indeed answer prayer, and is always there, trust begins. Indeed,

“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” (Psalm 46:10)



Grow faith.

It is on Him we rely.

Is Less More?

I have never thought of myself as controlling.

Yet…my husband has said that he thinks I am. I will admit that the older I get, the more set in my ways I become. I feel I have (mostly) figured out “who” I am, and what I want, but it is very hard to give up that identity search that has taken me a lifetime to perfect. I do continue to try to hone the person I have become. Does that make me controlling?

I wonder if a controlling person has a more difficult time following biblical advice to trust in the Lord? How do I now stop this behavior that has taken me years to develop, and learn to patiently wait upon the Lord? Just how do I convince myself to NOT proceed toward a goal (in my own possibly hell-bent fashion), instead of stopping…listening…and trying to hear that which He is trying to tell me? How do I learn to long for, pray for, hope for, all of that to happen in His time? How do I listen for His voice? In a sense, how do I now stop being me?

Perhaps that is what Scripture means when it speaks of losing oneself (Matthew 16:25).

Lord God, I would agree that I need Your help. I am often headstrong and determined. Help me to die to my selfish desires, and to desire to live in You. Help me to want – for me – the same things that You want for me. Holy Spirit, open my eyes, and my ears that I might recognize and achieve Your nobler path.    

Christmas Miracles and Prayer

As 2014 comes to a close, I have become more and more convinced that the prayers of prisoners are special, and that God hears them.

This year I have been blessed to attend a fellowship and bible study with about forty prisoners each week. I’ve been impressed with the nature of these prisoners’ prayers, their subjects, and their reasons for praying the requests. These men have, for the most part, done their time. They are looking toward the future. They are anticipating a return to family, wife or girlfriend…a fresh start…a chance to begin again. Not only do they have concerns about their families, but for the world as well. They are aware of all that is going on in the news, and not only do they have opinions, but they really care. They actually want to pray for others. They no longer look at life through a veil of self-involvement or anger.  Now they desire to be part of the solution.

Throughout this past year I have listened with interest to prayer requests that range from needing emotional support as they await review by the parole board, to being highly concerned about family members who are ill or dying. The prayer request that stands out most, however, is one that was made repeatedly throughout the year by one of the volunteers. Her brother had been diagnosed with cancer, and he had persistently resisted turning to God. Our volunteer continued – just as persistently – to ask for prayers that her brother would eventually come to know the Lord. The brother rallied for a while and was able to enjoy a gathering of family at Thanksgiving. Then he took a turn for the worse. He made it to Christmas. Blessings be to God, he did turn to his heavenly Father shortly before his death!

These men also recognize when prayers have been answered, and they joyfully tell of their blessings. To watch as these men grow spiritually is a delight. It warms the soul to witness this. I have a strong streak of skeptic that runs down my back, but, being privy to this faith-filled community has allowed me to see the power of prayer at work.

I have had a special intention for which I’ve been silently praying for some time. Last night I shared my own need for prayer with one of the men there. I told him that if he wanted to pray for me, he could pray for my special intention – and this morning I had a revelation that clarified something huge for me. Coincidence? I think not.

“For the Lord hears the needy, and does not despise his own that are in bonds.” Psalm 69:33

Yes, I believe God hears our prayers…including the prayers of prisoners!

From the Depths…

Pain from chronic loneliness does not easily go away. For me, it is especially more difficult throughout the holiday season. Poignant and warm memories flood from the past – and remind me of happy moments and people dear to me. Then I look about me at this often unfeeling and materialistic world, and I am brought coldly back to the reality of the present.

I would like to think that, while I have my low moments, I will always bounce back on my own, but there are times when I become so filled with emotion, that I must find a body to listen to me. Not being someone who opens up to very many, very often, the listener I choose has to be the right one. I also must remember to take the time to consider any response I receive from that listener.

I had just such an experience recently. Feeling my own defenses kicking in from a bout of hurt and anger, my chosen listener helped me to see that I was doing to the person who hurt me, the very same thing – and I hadn’t seen it!

That was one of those “aha” moments.

“And why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye,but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?” Matthew 7:30

Indeed, God seems at times to have a rather perverse sense of humor. But He also hears us when we pray. I had in fact asked for guidance, and I received it.

“O Lord, Thou has searched me and known me.” Psalm 139:1

I urge anyone who is feeling imprisoned by their demons – whatever they may be – to reach out, especially during the holiday season. Seek out a friend or a counselor. And remember, you are never alone.

Who is Your Mentor?

They come in all shapes, sizes, ages, and colors. Regretfully, I used to think that I had never really had anyone in my life who would have counted as a mentor, other than my father. But I have come to realize that I have actually had many who mentored me – in bits and pieces.

I learned responsibility and duty from my mother, creativity and believing that I could be anything I chose to be from my dad. I found a great humanitarian in books I read by Dr. Thomas A. Dooley. Through the years I learned to respect diversity. Grade school and high school teachers were Dominican nuns who really cared how we all turned out and made an effort with each of us. Aunts and a cousin encouraged my writing. The parents of a close friend treated me as their own and shared their family with me when mine was quite sparse. Time and again I witnessed the impact of treasured friendships on loved ones around me. In more recent years, I received selfless help from countless sources in creating a book, having it published, and marketing it. None of those things would ever have happened otherwise. And through church friendships and prison ministry I have discovered individuals I know I want to emulate.

Though there has been no single, stand-out person in my life, I have reaped all the benefits of mentorship. I have been taught how to behave, and how to dream. I have learned certain tasks, and been exposed to new ideas. I have found people to love, and heroes to admire. Great or small, the role of a mentor shows another how to be.

To mentors everywhere, and especially to those who have impacted my life, I say thank you. My life is richer today because of you.