Monday, January 31, 2011


I watched my 20 month old grandson fall down the cement steps in the garage today.

I was only 2 steps behind him, but I couldn't reach him in time. And because he was holding a little cup of Cheerios in with both hands, there was nothing to break his fall. I watched his little forehead hit hard and bounce off the floor. It was one of those events in life that felt like it was happening in slow motion, you know? I was simultaneously cognizant of what was happening as well as my inability to stop it. Before he even hit the ground, I knew-- I KNEW-- the result could be very bad, and that he would most certainly be in a lot of pain.

I scooped him up and looked for blood. He was so shocked, he could hardly even cry- he just opened his mouth and choked out a mangled sob. After I handed him to his mom, she looked him over head to toe to see if there was any damage we hadn't seen at first. He caught his breath and cried his head off while we tried to soothe him the best we could.

Fortunately, the only damage done seems to be a pretty good goose-egg on his forehead. In fact, at the time of this writing, which is only a couple of hours later, he seems to have completely forgotten about it. Meanwhile, just reliving the replay in my mind gives me the same "pit-in-the-bottom-of-my-stomach" kind of feeling that I had before.

I've decided that helplessness is the worst of all feelings.

Helplessness and hopelessness are inextricably linked in some ways. Had anything serious happened to Chet - had he lost consciousness or something worse, I know I would have run that scene over and over again in my mind -- especially the awful part where I see his foot leave the step and I lunge a millisecond too late.

I've felt both helpless and hopeless as I've watched friends and loved ones slide headlong into addictions, sink into fresh waves of depression, and begin ill-fated relationships which left lasting damage.

I've seen people fall out of true love that had gotten a bit dusty and into lust, which soon destroyed their families. Others have run away from a God who loves them and into the chasm of nothingness. And I often feel like I'm too late. I can't help. I lose hope.

This is what it is to be human. We have so many limitations, including our ability to help. And it's hard to work up hope when you can't help.

If there were no God, there would be no reason to hope. The damage is already done. Some wounds are fresh, still bleeding. Others are angry red scars.

And yet, there's healing.
There's forgiveness.
There's restoration.

Or at least, there can be.

I can't always help others. Sometimes I can't even help myself.

But I've found help and hope in the same place I find Love.

In Him.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Give a Hoot!


There was a time when America cared about pollution enough to make commercials with an old Indian crying as he saw the result of what careless litterbugs were doing to his land. Maudlin, yes, but the point was well taken: "You're breaking my heart! You live here, right?" I was little kid when these commercials came out, and I was also a little confused because the guy they dressed like an American Indian didn't look Indian to me. He looked like a long-haired, melancholy-faced white actor wearing moccasins and a feather. But I digress...

The public service announcements that were aimed at little people MY age starred an animated Woodsy Owl, who had his own catchy theme song! I will quote it for you now as I sing it in my head:
"Help Woodsy spread the word
Never be a dirty bird
In the city or in the wood
Help keep Americaaaaaa-- looking good!"

I loved Woodsy and his positive vibe! "You can be a helper! We can do this together! C'mon, everybody! Clean is BEAUTIFUL!"

Fast forward a number of years. I am still pro-wastebasket.

The parking lot of my office is:
a) behind a 7-11
b) adjacent to a bus stop
c) on the corner of two busy streets which have a lot of foot traffic and
d) the apparent end point of a wind tunnel which deposits all the neighborhood trash on our property.
There is ALWAYS litter on our property, ALWAYS! And it drives me absolutely crazy! I'm forever picking up candy wrappers, cigarette boxes, fast food trash, receipts, plastic grocery bags, used napkins, soda cans, etc. etc. etc.

Today was no exception. Since most of the trash blows over from behind the 7-11 and the bus stop area, I spent about 40 minutes cleaning up those areas, too.

I started out just wanting to make the place clean, but soon found myself muttering judgmental things about the SELFISH JERKS that think they can just LEAVE THEIR MESSES for somebody else to clean up, and sure enough, SOMEBODY will because SOMEBODY cares, even if they don't, and what WHAT KIND OF PEOPLE just unwrap something and THROW THEIR GARBAGE ON THE GROUND, anyway?? What is WRONG with these people, for Pete's sake! This is the problem with America -- everybody wanting somebody else to clean up their messes and IT MAKES ME SICK and I can HARDLY BELIEVE what the world is coming to...etc, etc. etc.

And so, ironically, what started out as a "good deed" became yet another occasion for me to judge people I don't know for something they do that I don't like.

As God (some would say "luck") would have it, the bible study I led last night was on Romans chapter 2, which is mainly about not judging others. Oy! It turns out, the author suggests, that we who judge are guilty of the same kinds of stuff. Just as bad.

No, I don't litter. I don't leave my shopping carts in adjacent parking spaces. I don't use my cell phone in public restrooms. But I notice those who do these things, and I judge them. I say they are careless, thoughtless, rude. And really, some of them definitely ARE those things. I think what they are doing is wrong. But I take it further. I call them out as less than in my mind. And I feel a smug sense of satisfaction that I am better than that.

Better than them.

Oh, really?

So today, God called ME out for the litter I had just thrown around in my mind. It was starting to look a little junky in there.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Five dollars' worth of Joy

A friend of mine who has physical and mental challenges called me this morning to tell me about something WONDERFUL that happened to her yesterday.

This friend faces many, many challenges everyday -- she's older, she's alone, she's disabled, she can't walk without aid, she has a host of medications for her various physical problems, her income is very limited, etc. etc. etc. Her life is tough, no question. Little things we take for granted are very difficult for her.

Because transportation to and from places is such an ordeal requiring bus schedules and passes or pre-arranging trips with a social worker or friend, she shops for small grocery items at the gas station next to her apartment building.

Yesterday when she went to pay for her Pepsi and bananas, the clerk told her that the lady who had just left gave him $5 to go toward whatever my friend would purchase. She got her Pepsi, her bananas, and the change.

And she called today, still living on the high that someone would do that for her. That someone who didn't even know her would want to bless her like that! I'm sure that her call to me was not the only call she made to share her good fortune.

So far, a measly $5 has bought my friend two days worth of joy! And it's not the money... it's that someone chose her. They noticed. And they cared.

I hung up the phone determined to deliberately follow more of those little nudges my heart gives me to do the small things. To act on the impulse to show love or compassion as soon as I feel it, instead of arguing with myself about the practicality, the cost to me, the danger of being misunderstood.

Logic sucks the life out of love. It takes what is noble and twists it into something practical, something "reasonable."

I don't want to be reasonable anymore.

I want to give someone the experience of being noticed and chosen and blessed for no reason.

Monday, January 17, 2011

"These pretzels are making me thirsty!"

Just kidding.
I don't have any pretzels.
It's an old line from a Seinfeld episode, but I say it (albeit sometimes to myself) on all kinds of occasions when what I really mean is, "This Walmart is on my last nerve!" or "This doofus who slammed on his brakes for the gillionth time just might make me lose my salvation!" But today what I mean is, "This fog is making me crazy!"

I hate fog. It makes my world too small. It creeps in and covers the sun and the sky and shrinks the awesome height of the outdoors like one of those horrid acoustical drop-in ceilings. I can't see what I'm accustomed to seeing. I can't enjoy what I love.
And fog has no real redeeming qualities. Rain and snow aren't my favorite, but at least they bring needed precipitation. Fog's only purpose seems to be to hide and obscure the really awesome stuff.
I hate that fog has power over my emotions, too. I won't go as far as to say it controls me, but after a few days of it, I find myself discouraged, lethargic, sad.

Sometimes I look at my spiritual life and I recognize signs that a fog has settled. My world feels smaller, my problems seem bigger. Hope, like sunshine, is hidden from my eyes. I feel spiritually like I'm wading through a sea of molasses - my prayers are unfocused, my emotions flat. I'm tired out before I even start the day.

But I'm called to be a person of faith, and I need to remind myself over and over that the sun is still up there, even though it's temporarily hidden from my view. Why God chooses faith over works is a mystery to me. I can work up a storm! I love to make lists of good things to do and check them off one by one! Wouldn't God love for me to just visit all of those shut-ins and lead that bible study and put away my elderly neighbor's trash cans?? Why aren't these things-I-do earning me brownie points of God's favor? It seems like after a certain point, I could be on a maintenance plan of say, three good works per week. This would be good PR for God, in my opinion!
But God isn't interested in any kind of earned favor. It would be easier for me, yes. But it would not make me closer to Him. He loves relationship. I love religion. So it turns out my world IS too small. And fog is God's way of saying, "See? You're not happiest when you're running the show. Every once in awhile I have to remind you that my thoughts are higher than your thoughts, and my ways are higher than your ways. And that's what makes them beautiful!"

So in the waning, foggy hours of today, I will thank my God for the sun I can't see but I know is there. I will praise Him for fulfilling all of His promises to me, even the ones which I haven't experienced yet. I will receive the joy and the hope that is mine no matter what the weather or the circumstances of my life look like. It's dreary outside, but there is sunshine in my soul! :)