The Road That Makes All the Difference

Our reflection this week is by Traci Rabenstein, director of Mission Advancement for the Church of the Brethren.

Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. — Matthew 4:1

During my junior and senior years in high school, I joined speech club. We would select readings (whether original pieces or stories, published articles, or famous poetry) to present for a panel of judges who would critique our delivery. Competitions were placed in categories, and the one I fell in love with, and participated in the most, was poetry reading.

While in speech club, I found Robert Frost. He had a few poems published in the U.S. in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, but it wasn’t until his family moved to England that he wrote and published two books of poetry that were successful immediately. In 1915, he returned to New England and continued to write. He won four Pulitzer Prizes for poetry and became the Poet Laureate Consultant for Poetry for the Library of Congress from 1958-59. He recited his poem The Gift Outright at the 1961 inauguration of President John F. Kennedy. Out of all his work, my favorite was (and still is) The Road Not Taken.

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
 
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
 
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
 
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I —
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

In the September 2015 issue of the Paris Review online magazine, David Orr wrote a review of the poem in which he said, “Most readers consider The Road Not Taken to be a paean to triumphant self-assertion … but the literal meaning of the poem’s speaker tells us … the road he will later call less traveled is actually the road equally traveled. The two roads are interchangeable.”

I see parallels of this in my own journey. There are times when I stand before two decisions, two roads, and have to determine which one to take. Sometimes, after making a decision and heading down one pathway, I wonder what might have been if I had made the opposite decision. Would it have been easier to travel on the other road?

Over the past several months, we have found ourselves on a road not traveled often. One where we have had to shelter-in-place, wear masks when we are in public places, and learn how to stay connected in new, virtual ways as families and congregations. For some, this has been a season of slowing down and reflecting, taking time to identify what is most important. Some of us have been taking measures to slow down after realizing the pace we had been living pre-pandemic was not the road we necessarily wanted to be on.

I’ve also been thinking about the road Christ journeyed. In the 40 days after Jesus’ baptism, He traveled into the wilderness and was tempted by Satan. Matthew and Luke provide examples of how Satan tried to entice Jesus into revealing Himself as God’s Son before the appointed time. I marvel at the willpower He had as someone who had been fasting and wandering alone in such a solitary place. Satan tried to divert Him to another path, but He stayed the course of preparing for what was to come and taking the road “less traveled.”

In our own lives, when the hardships of humanity seem to hold us back, pressuring us to take “the other (road), as just as fair / And having perhaps the better claim / Because it was grassy and wanted wear,” we can look to the temptation of Jesus. From Him we find how to address the stresses of life, face daily temptations, and find solace.  By following the path of Christ, we remain near to God and find strength and hope to stay in tune with His will and recognize His movements in our lives. This is the road, the “one less traveled by,” that makes all the difference.

The Office of Mission Advancement works to cultivate passion for the missions and ministries of the Church of the Brethren.  If you have any questions or if there is any way it can support you in this season, please reach out to MA@brethren.org.

THOUGHT TO REMEMBER: Above all, be the heroine of your own life, not the victim. — Nora Ephron

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Folded Hands

As we build this community prayer platform, we ask the Lord to listen to our petitions with full confidence they not only are heard but acted upon by God according to His holy will. These requests are on my prayer list and I hope you consider putting them on yours as you place your petitions before the Lord Sunday.

Approach the throne room and respond with faith and not fear, knowing the promises of God and His mighty hand will hold us through any situation! Sometimes, all it takes is just one prayer to change everything. Something extraordinary happens when two or more agree together in prayer.

What is one of the most important things we should do as Christians? Praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints (Ephesians 6:18).

And, so, Lord, we come to You with our petitions, knowing and expecting Your will to be done.

Thoughts and prayers to all worldwide suffering from the consequences of coronavirus flu – and all other strains. Many – many – of the prayer requests are covid-19 related … people diagnosed … people sick … people dying … relatives worried and isolated. We are in this together – in prayer!

Please keep the victims of household abuse in your prayers. Whether it be physical, emotional, sexual or neglect, this time in particular is very horrifying for them to be trapped in a house with their abuser(s) and not being able to escape.

We also need to pray for colorblind peace. Racism will remain a plague until we stop looking at people as black and white, but as human beings created by the same Creator. We pray for new eyes, calmer heads, and softer hearts. 

Special prayer requests have been made for orphanages in Kenya, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and right here in the United States. The need is real.

Financial issues were also high on the prayer lists with millions still out of work. Sustain those who are hurting financially. Give us and them our daily bread.

Natural disasters continue. Keep those in the path of fires and storms safe and focused on You, Lord.

Janel tripped at the top of her set of five steps and landed on her tailbone on the way down. Apparently she passed out as she got up. She has a huge bruise on her lower back and tailbone makes it very uncomfortable to sit. Her blood pressure is still a little low, but she insists it is nothing too concerning. I think we should keep her in our prayers.

Rebecca asked for prayers for her family.

Please pray for Richard as he attempts to stay off drugs and give his life completely to the Lord.

Please pray for Drasko. The Lord will know the details.

Please pray for Preston who just went to rehab after a major relapse.

Please pray for Elizabeth who is really struggling mightily right now. Really really needs prayers for her emotional state.

Please pray for Emily as she starts her new job.

Please pray for Joe who is struggling with anxiety and worry.

Jennifer is asking for prayer for her three children.

Please pray for Dominik and Sarah who are struggling spiritually.

 Please pray for Honey who is struggling mightily after an operation that did not go well.

Please pray for S who is in extreme danger. The Lord will know her details.

Mike’s grandson is in intensive care. He has not received a name yet. Please pray for him.

Please pray for 88 year old Joyce as she recovers from a bad fall.

Please pray for Illyria who is 11 years old and has gone through a mental breakdown for the second time in a month. Please pray for her and her mother.

Please pray for Gunny who goes through major ups and downs because of health issues.

Amy is really struggling with her health. Please pray.

Please pray for Eric who is facing some serious health challenges.

Please pray for David who had a heart attack.

Please pray for Brian who has been estranged and has strained relations with family members over his political views.

Please pray for Charlee. She is 18 and battling severe depression.

Please pray for E who is in need of major hurdles and obstacles to be removed in order for her to receive proper treatment for a debilitating health condition.

Please keep praying for Ruth who has a myriad of health issues and complications. The kidney she was to receive was not suitable for transplant. This is a very hard time for her and the family. Please pray for peace.

Pray for Chris’ anger to be soothed and to conquer his demons.

After 12 years, Ann must find a new.job … the one she has is beyond toxic and it has been for years.  Please pray the new job she is going to is not blocked by the current job. Pray for a smooth transition, peace, longevity, and favor on the new.

Pray for Kathleen’s  lungs to get healthy and a loss of weight.

Please pray for Doron who suffers from daily depression and anxiety and refuses to seek help. He does take medication daily.

Kindly pray for Shalini. She has kidney failure and breathing problem and has become very weak. She has taken blood tests, please pray for her reports to be normal.

Prayer asked for Gyanville who has been mentally ill for a year and a half. He needs healing to recover back to normal and is only 19 years old.

Carol is not feeling well and could use some uplifting in prayer.

Keep Andrew in your prayers as he continues to fight the fight. He contacted me the other day. Things continue to deteriorate. Prayers. Prayers. Prayers.

There were a host of unspoken prayer requests and we heard of a number of deaths this week. Prayers for their families as they go through this earthly trial. We grieve … heaven rejoices.

We come to You, Lord, because prayer is the least yet the greatest thing we can do for each other. When two or more are gathered in Your name, we confidently know You are with us. What better company can we have? You reign and we trust You! We may be broken and battered but know You heal and quiet the soul. You are the source for all that happens in our lives. We thank You for the progress being made. We thank You for the many blessings we have received this week. Some we unfortunately didn’t notice. Nonetheless, those blessings are ever-present in our lives. We thank You for healing. We thank You for slowing us down. We thank You for providing us our daily needs — no more and no less. We thank You for being with us, listening to us, walking with us on this journey. We thank You for the support of our family and friends … for seeing the extraordinary in the ordinary — sunrises, sunsets, flowers, kids laughing, adventures, good news amid the bad news. We know we can come to You with our concerns and they will be heard. Through Christ all things are possible. We lift up those family members and friends who are battling various physical, emotional, financial, career or spiritual issues and ask not for Your guidance and healing (although that would be welcomed) but to keep reminding us we are not alone in our battles. Specifically we lift up Janel, Rebecca, Richard, Drasko, Preston, Elizabeth, Emily, Joe, Jennifer, Dominick, Sarah, Honey, S, Mike’s grandson, Joyce, Illyria, Gunny, Amy, Eric, David, Brian, Charlee, E, Ruth, Chris, Ann, Kathleen, Doron, Shalini, Gyanville, Carol, Andrew, and all those needing Your healing and guiding touch. We pray for the families of all those You have called home. We grieve … You celebrate. We pray for obedience to Your Will so Your “Son” Light shines through us through the power of the Spirit. And we come to You through the confidence of the words taught by Your Son Jesus. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Keep your joys and concerns coming. They have been and will be included during my prayer time and I trust they will be on your lips as well as you approach the altar. All it takes is a couple of keystrokes under the “Contact Me” button on the top bar {or to the right if you’re not a follower yet}. I hope it becomes your best friend as you navigate around the site so we can all be viable prayer warriors. You can also comment or reach me at wisdomfromafather@gmail.com.

THOUGHT TO REMEMBER: I do believe we’re all connected. I do believe in positive energy. I do believe in the power of prayer. I do believe in putting good out into the world. And I believe in taking care of each other. – Harvey Fierstein

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Five Minute Friday — Help

The Five Minute Friday assignment is to write for five minutes on a prompt word, post it and share with fellow Five Minute friends at  fiveminutefriday.com. Around 100 of us gather round to encourage and support our fellow Christian writers, writing in a variety of styles and genres. It’s always very interesting to see how a simple word take shape into posts. Sometimes it’s obvious, sometimes not as much, but always entertaining. Be sure to stop in and read the diversity of thought at Kate’s place, starting at the Community sectiom. And don’t be afraid to join in!

I’ve been sharing snippets taken from Five Minute Friday: A Collection of Stories Written in Five Minutes Flat. They are a testament to the value of the exercise. The 150 blog posts were compiled from the community by Susan Shipe. The stories span a diverse range of experiences, but share a common thread: a love for the bravely written word.

This week, I’ll share some perspective from Rachel, who I hope inspires you to check us out or, better yet, encourage you to try your hand at focused, unscripted writing for just five minutes. And share it on the website.

“I was new to this whole blogging world when I came across Five Minute Friday from Lisa-Jo Baker’s place [the originator of the exercise]. I knew nothing about link-up’s, how to do it or even much about Twitter. But the FMF community was so welcoming and no question was ever dismissed or laughed at but the ladies [and gents] just jumped in and were quick to give me the ‘how-to’s’ with step by step instructions and wham-bam … there I am … instant friends and connections that link across the miles. I look forward each week to connect back with the girls [and guys] and read what they have to say. They’re my Five Minute gang and I look forward to catching up with them every Friday!”

The word this week is HELP. The clock is starting, so let’s GO …

“I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24)

The exorcism story was certainly more profound than our daily prayer, but how many times have you said the same thing? I know I often say “I believe! Help my unbelief.”

Belief  — faith — and unbelief — trust — walk a fine line. We who know Jesus believe, but we are not immune to spasms of unbelief. God can do something … but will He?

If you remember, the scene unfolded with the father coming to Jesus after His disciples failed to cast out the demons. They were just as confounded. Jesus had told them to go out and heal in His name, but they couldn’t do it.  Jesus’ response, alluding to the disciples and followers as “faithless.”

That’s the message. You need the two phases of faith , the one that also includes trust. The father asks Jesus … STOP

for help “if You can,” which is precisely the segue Jesus used to punctuate His point. “‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for one who believes” (verse 23). That is was prompted the father’s’ previous statement.

We like to believe we believe. But often we also recognize our disbelief.

Help!

THOUGHT TO REMEMBER: My mantra is “Strong is beautiful.” You can be strong, powerful and beautiful — Serena Williams

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Hugs from an Angel

They say angels are all around us. Most of the time they don’t show themselves. But sometimes they take a human form, usually without the wings.

There is no doubt in my mind I had a very special angel make her way into my life at a very  vulnerable time in my life — Mary Lee Hendrickson Sampson, more affectionately known as Sonni. She earned her spot in heaven four years ago and, like my wife before her, is missed every day.

Sonni was a neighbor, a fellow writer, and a friend. She was also a widow, losing her husband about a year or so before I lost Karen. The four of us were casual neighborhood friends. We might see each other working in the yard and stop for a conversation, but we typically swam in different pools. Karen and I were on a long weekend when we heard about Scott’s death, and Sonni was at Wildwood when Karen died. All we did was exchange sympathy cards.

In retrospect it’s always amazing to see the hand of God present in our lives. After Karen died, I had this grand idea of writing a memory book of our life together for the kids. I envisioned a little book chronicling our life together from first meeting to final days and encompassing each of the many stops — and memories — along the way. What I thought would be a week or two exercise swelled into a bittersweet six month project complete with vintage photos as witness to the experiences. And, as all writers know — although we don’t like to admit it — the written word is only as good as an editor’s pen.

Enter Mary Lee Hendrickson Sampson. I asked her to proofread and edit the manuscript — 40 Years of Memories … In the Blink of an Eye — to make sure the i’s were dotted and the t’s crossed, and it made some sense as it flowed. She agreed.

As payment, I promised her dinner out. She chose McDonald’s. We were sitting at the corner table talking about the project when she suddenly got up and right in the middle of McDonald’s gave me my first real Sonni hug. It came from her soul … as it always did for all she came into contact with. Then she gave me the manuscript … and I never saw so much red ink in all my life!

It was all good. A couple of misspellings. A couple of phrases out of syntax. Questions about who was who, what was going on, when it happened, where we were, and why it was important to the story.

In that corner of McDonald’s I saw Sonni sprout virtual wings. Our relationship changed from casual to close friends. She decided, as a seasoned widow, she was going to take me under her wing to try and help me avoid the traps of widowhood. She was the salve that helped heal a broken heart — not repair it, not fill it, not replace it. I like to think we were helping each other get through the days of widow- and widower-hood. But deep down I knew I was the beneficiary in the relationship. We talked just about every day — if not directly, then certainly by phone or through messaging and e-mail. I knew when something was troubling her. She knew when I got into my “moods.” We had so many memories packed into a relatively short time.

When I took her for her pre-surgery doctor’s appointment visit about a week before she died, she told everyone she saw she didn’t want an x-ray. All day she fretted about the x-ray — it’s going to give me breast cancer … I’ve had too many … Why can’t they look at my last x-ray — until she was told no x-ray, no surgery. In the waiting room she continued to worry about the x-ray and was sharing her anxiety with me … within earshot of two women waiting for their husbands to return from PET scans. Next thing I knew the four of us — okay, mostly the three women — were engaged in a conversation about anxiety, x-rays, and their spouses’ conditions. Sonni went in for the x-ray — only about two minutes — and returned a little relieved and continued with her conversations. One of the husbands returned from his test and before we left we all were laughing and joking. And we had to participate in a group and individual hug.

That was Sonni. She believed in the therapeutic magic of a hug.

I’ve wondered during this pandemic how the diminutive Miss Sonni n would have reacted. I know she would have been very cautious and probably would have masked, railing at those who either didn’t wear them correctly or not at all — all with love. But I don’t think she would have given up on her hugs. Her hugs were real. Her hugs were therapeutic. Her hugs was a touch from God.

As I tried to move on after Karen died and took my trips to Maine, Sonni would always challenge my motives. Why did I choose Maine? And invariably it would all come back to Karen. It’s what she wanted. It’s what she would have loved. And she would just say, “Uh huh.” No wagging finger. No extended conversation. Just a simple “Uh huh.”

When I told her about the mill apartment in Maine, she asked the same question. This time, however, I gushed about the view, the high ceilings, the old wooden beams, a brand new kitchen with all the necessary equipment and no maintenance inside or out. In short, I told her it was what I was looking for. In fact, I don’t remember mentioning Karen once.

We were again discussing the move on the way back from her surgery. She grabbed my hand, squeezed it and said, “My job is done.” Two days later she suffered an overnight stroke and four years tomorrow (Oct. 9) she left this world a little brighter.

In so many ways, Sonni and Karen were cut from the same cloth. They were both strong-willed, independent, organized — yet so very fragile and too stubborn to ask for help. Often those traits got in the way of them enjoying life. They both could come up with a thousand excuses why not to go out, to go on that trip, to just stop for a minute to smell the roses.  But they were always there for you when you needed them.

As I was driving and mentally preparing her eulogy, the sky was cloudy, except for two beams of sunshine. I envisioned in my mind’s eye Sonni with her Diet Pepsi and Karen with her water turned into exquisite wine toasting each other on celestial lounge chairs. I can see them laughing at the foolish things I say and do without their physical sphere of influence. I see them taking turns proverbially whacking me in the back of the head when I REALLY do or say something foolish. I really miss them — both of them  — every day.

Yes, God sends people into our lives. There is no doubt in my mind, God placed Sonni in my world.

THOUGHT TO REMEMBER: Always be on the lookout for the presence of wonder. — E.B.White

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Smile Time

One of the misconceptions about being a Christian is non-Christians think we don’t know how to have fun or have a sense of humor. Trust me, if the Big Guy can have a sense of humor when it comes to dealing with us mere mortals, so can we.

The difference for Christians is we don’t have to debase ourselves or others to generate a smile. Laughter at life or ourselves is a gift from God.

Here’s this week’s edition of Midweek Mirth  … so let’s smile a little!

True Story from Matt Felts (of the Lesters):

So here’s one for the book. We were in Iowa last night and after the concert nothing was open to eat so we stopped at a gas station to grange. While looking at my microwaveable options the young girl behind the counter asked me (in a frantic voice) to come in the back room to help her. I went back and had to help load the syrup for the fountain drinks. I went back out to hear her once again ask for help. OK, this time it wasn’t really asking. I was ordered. Once in the back room she left “to ring up customers” since she felt I “had this.” Suddenly I’m working for the quick mart. LOL!

The up-side was that when I “went on break” and finally checked out, she gave me the employee discount on my drink. No joke! LOL!”

… and now for the bonus …

Quiet Assistance

A man stopped to help a woman with a flat tire on her car. As he started to raise the jack, she said to him, “Please do it as quietly as you can. My husband is asleep in the back seat.”

THOUGHT TO REMEMBER: Look up, laugh loud, talk big, keep the color in your cheek and the fire in your eye, adorn your person, maintain your health, your beauty and your animal spirits. – William Hazlitt

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(Christian) Romance

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One of the most daunting thing for a fictional writer trying to break into the publishing world, in my opinion, is the selection of a genre. There are sooo many choices, especially if you’re self-publishing. You can broadly choose a genre, like fantasy, or mystery, or romance. And then you start whittling your genre down to focus on your book.

That all sounds well and good. For a newbie, however, it becomes a daunting task. Under fantasy is it dungeons and dragons or sci-fi? As a mystery, is there a recurring theme?

But I think the hardest generic genre is romance. It’s all encompassing whenever you have a relationship between a boy and a girl or a woman and a man or these days two women or two men. The setting determines the type of romance … western, Amish, historical, etc.

If you’re poking around Amazon books, you can readily find the romance section, open it up and discover 28 sub-genres ranging from action & adventure romances to western romances. But you won’t find Christian romance. The closest you’ll come is inspirational, with five very broad categories — Amish, contemporary, historical, mystery & suspense, and western & frontier.

I know it’s all about analytics. Those SEOs (search engine optimization) drive the analytics. Unfortunately, they make or break a book. It doesn’t matter how good or how bad it is, without the proper SEOs it will languish in the back room of the virtual bookstore. No one will find it. The conundrum has spawned a cottage industry where people who don’t read your book determine the right promotional words to drive potential readers your way. Of course, they charge, often more than the average indie author could ever recoup. Many traditional publishing houses employ SEOs in their package but remember, there are tradeoffs between going traditional and self publishing.

Sorry. That was a digression. Where I was going with this whole notion of Christian romance. It is a minefield. There are an estimated 43,000 or so Christian denominations worldwide tracing their roots to nine branches from the one early root. That’s 43,000 or interpretations on the code of Christianity. What is acceptable as Christian romance is debatable ranging from squeaky clean with no naughty words and, Lord forbid, moments of intimacy {I sometimes wonder if these Christians ever read the bible} to dealing with real life issues in a sometimes ugly presentation to show reconciliation.

Take my book My Name Is Sam … and Heaven Is Still Shining Through as an example. I have had reviewers in their Christian charity and mindset, let me know how disappointed they were. One said she couldn’t beyond the language. I went back to see what I had missed. There were about seven or eight instances of off color verbiage and I think the worst was “bullshit.” Another complained the pre-marital sex was problematic, completely overlooking the fact it was the reaction to the pre-marital sex — by both partners — that set in motion the very clean love story that followed. Questioning God and turning her back on Him after tragedy was another no no for another reader. She was young so I felt she never witnessed grief first hand.

The overwhelming response, however, has been positive, especially from pastors who have witnessed the sometimes ugly side of life with the parishioners. They saw God’s hand in the lives of the characters. So did many others.

Most Christian writers don’t want to preach to the choir. They want their words to resonate with all who read it. Unfortunately, most of the time they do.

That was my goal as well. I wanted the book to reach the soul not by preaching a story, but showing a story — a story that includes the message God loves you whether you realize it or not.

In that sense, My Name Is Sam … and Heaven Is Still Shining Through is not a Christian romance. It is a love story … Sam’s memoir like story of love, forgiveness, reconciliation, and restoration … and God’s persistent presence in Sam’s life through the skeptical times, the good times, and the bad times.

The challenge has been {and this is a challenge all writers face} getting the book into the right hands. In today’s world, as soon as you identify the book as a “Christian” or “Christian themed” novel, you lose a good chunk of potential readers, ironically the ones who might not only enjoy the novel but at least subliminally hear the message.

The prayer is always to let the words speak to the Truth.

My Name Is Sam … and Heaven Is Still Shining Through might not make page 1 on Amazon’s must read list. It may still be trying to make it’s way in the world. I certainly don’t expect to get rich. But if I can open just one reader’s heart to listen for God’s prompting, I would be the richest man on earth. And I’ll have a new friend in heaven.

If you’ve read the book, I would love your critique, as a comment or a review on Amazon and/or Goodreads. If you haven’t read the book, I hope you will consider doing so. Just follow the link or get a hold of me. It is available as a paperback, e-book on Kindle, and now as an audiobook on Audible. The “Christian” is there but it is silent. It’s all about the message.

THOUGHT TO REMEMBER: I’m scared of failure all the time, but I’m not scared enough to stop trying. — Ronda Rousey

 

 

 

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The Parable of the Carpenter

Our Words for the Week come from Michael Josephson of Character Counts.

A master carpenter who’d worked for the same builder for nearly 50 years announced he was retiring. The builder told him how much he appreciated his work and presented him with a $5,000 bonus. Then he asked if he would build just one more house. He owned a magnificent lot with a spectacular view and wanted to build a dream home there.

The carpenter was bitterly disappointed at the small bonus and extra project, but the building fee would help him buy a small cottage. He agreed to build the dream house.

He’d always prided himself on his uncompromising commitment to quality, but his resentment caused him to cut corners, ignore details, and accept shoddy workmanship from his workers. He even looked the other way when some of them substituted cheaper materials and pocketed the difference.

When the house was finished, the builder shook the carpenter’s hand and with a huge smile gave him a thank-you card. The carpenter was disdainful — until he saw inside the card the deed to the house he’d just built. The carpenter was ashamed to have misjudged his old friend and betrayed his own values, and he was remorseful the house he would now live in for the rest of his life had been made so carelessly.

Our character is the house we live in, and it’s built piece by piece by our daily choices. Deceit, irresponsibility, and disrespect are like shoddy workmanship. Whenever we put in less than our best and ignore our potential for excellence, we create a future full of creaky floors, leaky roofs, and crumbling foundations.

This is Michael Josephson reminding you character counts.

© 2011 Josephson Institute of Ethics. Michael Josephson, one of the nation’s leading ethicists, is the founder of the Josephson Institute of Ethics and the premier youth character education program, CHARACTER COUNTS! For further information visit www.charactercounts.org

THOUGHT TO REMEMBER: If you don’t see a clear path for what you want, sometimes you have to make it for yourself. — Mindy Kaling

 

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Hope in the Midst of Pandemic

Today’s reflection is by Rev. Dr. Christopher Wilson.

When we began the “stay in place” in March we were all scrambling.  Where can we go? How will my job situation be adapted? What will happen with school? How will church work? With whom can I be in contact? Why isn’t everyone wearing masks? What is safe and unsafe?

We all went through various adjustments to come up with what we often called the “new norm.” Being in the house trying to be family, work, and school was an interesting mix. The lines of what and when you were doing things got a little fuzzy. Aside from rituals in the house, we were all trying to get used to new forms of technology to help us connect and do all were doing outside the house while we are now inside the house. Zoom was not a word many of us knew before the COVID-19 pandemic. Zoom is now a household common word we all know.

I think something happened in the midst of all the chaos of adapting and figuring out how to function during this pandemic. The lines between home and work dissolved. The lines between home and school became unclear. The lines between family, work, school, and faith became a jumbled mess. 

I know for me the notion of a “day off” became a memory. I still got all my time in for work, but I found myself working some every day rather than on days I typically went into work. It became easier to just work because my home office was just a few steps away. I said, “It will be easy enough to get this item done rather than waiting till the next day.” I realized after multiple weeks I had not had a real break from work. I had fused work, home, school, and faith into a knotted ball of yarn.

The other realization I reflected on was the rhythm of my life before the pandemic may not be the rhythm I want to return to when the pandemic is over. With every challenge comes a new perspective by which to see the world anew.

One of the faith-based rhythms that is important for people of faith is Sabbath. The need to truly rest. This is not about a day off or a time of doing nothing. It is a full appreciation for life and all the gifts God has given to us. Sabbath is the observance of those gifts and finding ways to celebrate those gifts fully in the moment and cease from the demands of the world.

I, for one, became quickly entrenched in the adapting to the changing world around me that I was failing to appreciate those God-given gifts and blessings. I had gradually squeezed out Sabbath due to my busyness and seeking some sense of stability in the chaos. All I was really doing was forming a life that was devoid of renewal.

After these realizations I went back to two books that have been so helpful in my thinking and practice when it comes to Sabbath:

In order to be the full person God created me to be I felt called to embrace an experience of Sabbath that was less about time and more about delight and embrace. Sabbath is the one of the gifts to the world by God that is offered to humanity through scripture many times. We read many times in scripture, “Remember the Sabbath …” Outside of our invitation to love God, love others, and loving ourselves, I think the practice of Sabbath is a close companion to the love invitations.

As the Hebrew people were traveling through the wilderness, the observance of Sabbath was mentioned 16 times in the book of Exodus. The Hebrew people were experiencing their own pandemic with a wilderness time. God’s primary response to the people then was “remember the Sabbath.” God’s invitation to us in this time of pandemic is essentially no different – remember the Sabbath.

The practice of Sabbath is a form of spiritual resilience equipping us to strengthen our present moment and giving us courage for the days ahead. We all need resources to aid us in responding to tough moments in our personal lives and in our community life. Sabbath practice is a real opportunity to reclaim our spiritual fortitude and claim what God has already embedded within our soul to experience in the world.

You may be wondering what Sabbath practices I am grafting into my life these days as I navigate through this pandemic. I can share some of them. All of them are ones that feed my soul, give me energy and vitality for my life, and help me long to practice them again.

Some of those practices are:

  • Listening to music that reaches down into the fabric of my being and gets me inspired about life. I had let music get away from me and it had almost become non-existent.
  • Holding my wife’s hand more often. I can be in the house all day with my wife but am I really “with” her? Holding her hand is a reminder she is my full attention in the moment.
  • Going into my children’s rooms just to talk. I wanted to be intentional about going into their space in the house and spending time with them. I wanted them to feel me going to them rather than them coming to me.
  • Taking more walks in the neighborhood by myself or with family. I needed to be outdoors and taking notice of the world and relationships around me. Some walks may be silent while others include conversations with neighbors. Walks are good for my heart and good for connecting with others.
  • Lighting an oil lamp in my home office while I read or in prayer. The act of lighting the light reminds me the time with the light is God dedicated time.
  • Calling a lifelong friend each week. I have loved connected with friends who have been in my life a long time. We often don’t connect with those friendship enough.  A weekly call to one of my friends lifts my spirit and helps me remember we are connected across distance and time.  I try and bring joy to my friends across the country in this crazy time.

The COVID-19 pandemic is not something I would wish on anyone. We have lost too many lives in our country and in our world. The pandemic has forced us to look at the world and our faith in new and creative ways. My changing perspective on Sabbath has enriched my soul and I hope I will continually re-evaluate Sabbath throughout my life to keep it as a vital rhythm in my life. A healthy practice of Sabbath translates to a healthier faith. I am no longer pining for “going back to the way things were” but rather “hoping for the new that God will bring.” Reclaim Sabbath as an ally in these days of need for spiritual resilience.

Rev. Dr. Christopher Wilson is the senior pastor of St. Andrew Christian Church in Olathe, KS, and the chair of the CBP/Chalice Press Board of Directors.

THOUGHT TO REMEMBER: I can’t think of any better representation of beauty than someone who is unafraid to be herself. — Emma Stone

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Let’s Bow Our Heads …

As we build this community prayer platform, we ask the Lord to listen to our petitions with full confidence they not only are heard but acted upon by God according to His holy will. These requests are on my prayer list and I hope you consider putting them on yours as you place your petitions before the Lord Sunday.

Approach the throne room and respond with faith and not fear, knowing the promises of God and His mighty hand will hold us through any situation! Sometimes, all it takes is just one prayer to change everything. Something extraordinary happens when two or more agree together in prayer.

What is one of the most important things we should do as Christians? Praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints (Ephesians 6:18).

And, so, Lord, we come to You with our petitions, knowing and expecting Your will to be done.

Thoughts and prayers to all worldwide suffering from the consequences of coronavirus flu – and all other strains. Many – many – of the prayer requests are covid-19 related … people diagnosed … people sick … people dying … relatives worried and isolated. We are in this together – in prayer!

Please keep the victims of household abuse in your prayers. Whether it be physical, emotional, sexual or neglect, this time in particular is very horrifying for them to be trapped in a house with their abuser(s) and not being able to escape.

We also need to pray for colorblind peace. Racism will remain a plague until we stop looking at people as black and white, but as human beings created by the same Creator. We pray for new eyes, calmer heads, and softer hearts. 

Special prayer requests have been made for orphanages in Kenya, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and right here in the United States. The need is real.

Financial issues were also high on the prayer lists with millions still out of work. Sustain those who are hurting financially. Give us and them our daily bread.

Natural disasters continue. Keep those in the path of fires and storms safe and focused on You, Lord.

Fran is recovering from a partial hip replacement surgery. She is doing well, but needs prayers as the next steps in the process unfold.

We also received a number of praise reports from Prayer Harbor Ministries. Everything went well with Naomi’s eye procedure; Hunter’s medical procedure; Joy, her family, all of her animals and property, and everyone else in her area are safe as the fires threaten; and Charles ‘ heart surgery went well. To God be the glory.

Little Elliot, 16 months with a run away heart, is better and out of ICU. Hoping he can go home tomorrow. Thank you for your prayers.

Kaleb can now eat anything after jaw surgery.

Darlene is asking for prayer. She needs dental work but doesn’t have the finance for the work. She wants  to save her teeth.

Flora remains in the hospital until doctors are able to get her pain and anxiety/depression under control. Prayers requested.

Keep Andrew in your prayers as he continues to fight the fight. He contacted me the other day. Things continue to deteriorate. Prayers. Prayers. Prayers.

Irene admits her depression is getting bad again and she feels like she is slipping into a dark place. “I hate asking but would y’all be able to say a prayer for me?”

Please pray for James and his family.

Please pray for Simon who had a stroke.

Please pray for SV who is going in for extremely invasive surgery tomorrow.

Please pray for Sean who is in severe pain.

Alicia is asking for prayer over her family.

Please pray for Tia who is struggling with cancer, covid, pneumonia, and several other health conditions.

Please pray for Meche who is going in for spinal surgery tomorrow.

Please pray for Tomi, a paralyzed woman struggling with infections and sepsis.

Please pray for Jonathan. The Lord knows the details.

Please pray for Terry who is struggling with illness and poor health. The cause is unknown.

Please pray for Sean as he sees his children tomorrow.

Please pray for Miranda, 28 and pregnant, who is suffering serious health complications and issues.

Please pray for Brianna who had a cardiac episode which required major invasive procedures.

Please pray for Mike who has cancer.

Please pray for Wayne who is 81 and in hospice. Please also pray for his family and loved ones.

Please pray for Nikki who has been unconscious for at least 72 hours.

Please pray for Danielle. She was diagnosed as bipolar at just 13 years old.

Cindy’s depression is back – big time. Prayers sought.

Craig is also battling depression, anxiety, and insomnia and could use some prayers.

Prayers are requested for Ebony to start eating again and for her stomach issues to be healed.

Wayne asks for prayers the skin condition below his eyes will clear up soon.

Please pray Diane gets good, normal bloodwork results at her appointment and nothing is wrong with her.

Deborah was diagnosed with non alcoholic fatty liver and the pain is unbearable sometimes. She asks the Lord to restore her back to better health and asks we please join her in prayer.

McKenzie is pregnant but has had bad headaches for more than a week. They are starting to become a concern and she requests prayers.

Please pray for Joe. He suffers from depression, anxiety, and self medication as he battles loneliness and isolation.

Please pray Viviane’s neuropathy does not get any worse and she can walk.

Deb is four weeks out from surgery and still struggling with getting back the function of her hand and finger. She is going to physical therapy but things are not moving as fast as expected. Her hand and fingers are still very sore. She is  requesting prayers.

Nader is dealing with liver issue and could use your prayers.

Doctors discovered spots in George’s bone marrow, hip bone, and thigh muscle. Prayers are requested.

Prayers requested for George’s his diabetes and pain that is hindering his sleep.

There were a host of unspoken prayer requests and we heard of a number of deaths this week. Prayers for their families as they go through this earthly trial. We grieve … heaven rejoices.

We come to You, Lord, because prayer is the least yet the greatest thing we can do for each other. When two or more are gathered in Your name, we confidently know You are with us. What better company can we have? You reign and we trust You! We may be broken and battered but know You heal and quiet the soul. You are the source for all that happens in our lives. We thank You for the progress being made. We thank You for the many blessings we have received this week. Some we unfortunately didn’t notice. Nonetheless, those blessings are ever-present in our lives. We thank You for healing. We thank You for slowing us down. We thank You for providing us our daily needs — no more and no less. We thank You for being with us, listening to us, walking with us on this journey. We thank You for the support of our family and friends … for seeing the extraordinary in the ordinary — sunrises, sunsets, flowers, kids laughing, adventures, good news amid the bad news. We especially thank You for standing with Fran, Naomi, Hunter, Joy, Charles, Elliot, and Kaleb. We know we can come to You with our concerns and they will be heard. Through Christ all things are possible. We lift up those family members and friends who are battling various physical, emotional, financial, career or spiritual issues and ask not for Your guidance and healing (although that would be welcomed) but to keep reminding us we are not alone in our battles. Specifically we lift up Darlene, Flora, Andrew, Irene, James, Simon, SV, Sean, Alicia, Tia, Meche, Tomi, Jonathan, Terry, Sean, Miranda, Miranda, Brianna, Mike, Wayne, Nikki, Danielle, Cindy, Craig, Ebony, Wayne, Diane, Deborah, McKenzie, Joe, Viviane, Deb, Nader, George, George, and all those needing Your healing and guiding touch. We pray for the families of all those You have called home. We grieve … You celebrate. We pray for obedience to Your Will so Your “Son” Light shines through us through the power of the Spirit. And we come to You through the confidence of the words taught by Your Son Jesus. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Keep your joys and concerns coming. They have been and will be included during my prayer time and I trust they will be on your lips as well as you approach the altar. All it takes is a couple of keystrokes under the “Contact Me” button on the top bar {or to the right if you’re not a follower yet}. I hope it becomes your best friend as you navigate around the site so we can all be viable prayer warriors. You can also comment or reach me at wisdomfromafather@gmail.com.

THOUGHT TO REMEMBER: The value of persistent prayer is not that God will hear us, but that we will finally hear God. — William McGill

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Five Minute Friday — Breathe

It’s time for Five Minute Friday, the weekly timed keyword-themed writing challenge facilitated by Kate Motaung. Her words — and those of the others who congregate around the virtual table to share — are at  fiveminutefriday.com. Start at the community section. I encourage you to read them … and participate in the often challenging exercise.

I’ve been sharing snippets taken from Five Minute Friday: A Collection of Stories Written in Five Minutes Flat compiled by Susan Shipe. They are a testament to the value of the exercise. This week, I’ll share some perspective from Leah, who I hope inspires you to check us out or, better yet, encourages you to try your hand at focused, unscripted writing for just five minutes. And share it on the Five Minute Friday website.

“I was very surprised to discover I have written 73 FMF posts over the course of three and a half years. I wrote this past October of 2015 when I participated in my first 31 days of writing challenge by FMF host Kate Motaung that I had chosen to be part of this group “because it is simple, beautiful, holy.” Seventy-three posts, and 40 months of doing this honest flash mob writing thing, and I see my continual showing up has had the natural effect of making me a better writer. More than that, this continual showing up has made me a better Kingdom of God seeker. I kept coming back because the Holy Spirit kept beckoning me. A major turning point in my own FMF experience started about a year ago when I obeyed His prompting to not only comment and encourage several of my Five Minute Friday neighbors but pray for them as well. Pray specific. Time and time again, those I happened to be next to would post something so significant for a season I myself was in. The bond of the Spirit was there and I was overjoyed that I could be part of a fellow believer’s life for a day. I post sporadically now. When I do, the Holy Spirit always meets me, and leads me to pray for others to make a real spiritual impact on them in a way that I will never know or see, but matters incredibly. It also lets me relax with my own writing. I do not have to gauge if it is “successful.” I trust my words will find their way to at least one fellow traveler and God can do the rest. It is truth that makes Five Minute Friday a Holy, Good, thing to me.”

The word this week is BREATHE. The clock is starting, so let’s GO …

As soon as I heard the prompt, my mind rewound back to March 1972. I was a 24 year old imminent father to be and Karen was a 23 year old imminent mother to be for the second time. But I’ll focus on me.

Even though this was our second child, it was my first time in a relatively new “birthing room” and natural childbirth. I had one job — to keep Karen calm and to help her breathe through pain as we were taught in Lamaze classes. As each contraction intensified throughout the process, I would periodically raise a finger in front of Karen, tell her to focus, and pant and breathe along with her — Hee. Hee. Hee. Active labor didn’t take too long. Our oldest daughter and second born made her way into the world without a hitch.

In the joy that followed, I asked Karen how I did helping her focus and breathe. With a smile on her radiant face, she said I did well, but admitted if I had raised that finger and told her to focus and breathe one more time she was going to have the doctor chop off the finger! Transition will get you every time.

I do like to think I helped … STOP

her breathe through the pain of childbirth. That might be wishful thinking on my part. After all, in retrospect, all I had to do was sit there and help her through the contractions.

We actually talked about that incident during our last conversation as I tried  to keep her comfortable through the pain of cancer. “Just breathe,” I told her. “I’m here with you.”

And that, my friends, is what Our Lord is saying to each and every one of us as we go through pain, heartache, disappointment, frustration. “Just breathe. I am here with you.”

THOUGHT TO REMEMBER: Above all, try something — Franklin D. Roosevelt

 

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