Tag Archives: Christianity

The Encounter

This article was originally written as a letter to the congregation of Saint Aloysius church in Detroit, by my brother, Brother Ed Gura, OFM. Ed has been serving the Lord as a Fransiscan for over 30 years in various capacities, including as a nurse in the Appalachian country of Kentucky, running a free medical center, and most recently, as a street minister in Detroit, daily serving the homeless out on the streets. He is a great inspiration of sacrifice, humility, compassion, and love, and I am proud to call him brother. I hope you will enjoy his story.

THE ENCOUNTER

On a cold winter day in March, I gathered with volunteers in the alleyway of Saint Aloysius Church to prepare for morning street ministry.  We then headed over to the Rosa Parks Bus Terminal where we served sandwiches and hot beverages and passed out hand-warmers and warm winter clothing for our guests. Upon our return to Saint Aloysius Church I ended up staying longer than planned as the remainder of my morning took on a new direction. When I was finally on my way, I thought I knew where I was going next until a surprise encounter with a homeless man caused me to turn off my car engine and get out of my car to see if he needed anything.

To my surprise, though, the man had already disappeared so I ran to the end of the alley to see if he might be heading down State Street, but he was nowhere to be seen. When I turned around to head back to my car, it was then that I caught sight of him sifting through a dumpster. When I asked this aged man if he was hungry, he was quick to say that he was. I then invited him to come in out of the cold to warm-up. We talked for awhile and then I headed downstairs to gather up some food and warm clothing. When I gave them to him, he smiled through his tired, worn and weather-beaten face. He then thanked me as he headed back out into the cold. Our encounter humbled me and reminded me, once again, of the plight of some of our brothers and sisters on the streets of Detroit.

Later I thought about my encounter with this homeless brother of mine and how it never would have occurred if I had not been open to a change of plans that morning, which then kept me longer at St. Aloysius Church. Often we begin our day with a plan, but let us also pray for guidance in case our plan is not what the Lord has planned for us, for only then can we hope to welcome, serve, bless and be blessed by those whom God wishes to send our way.

I remain ever thankful to all who support our downtown ministries so that we can continue to feed the hungry, quench the thirsty and clothe the naked.

May our Lenten journeys continue to draw us ever closer to the Foot of the Cross where all becomes clearer as we see more clearly that it is the merciful who know the way for it is the way of the Lord and the way home.

Thank you for taking the time to read my article. The Lord continues to bless me with an ever growing family, now including the people we serve in Detroit. Sometimes when our guests ask me if they could have two hot chocolates or two hot coffees or one of each, I humor them by saying:  “We are having a sale today — by the first one at no cost, and get the second one free”.  It always brings a laugh and a response that makes me laugh. They remain a blessing in my life just as you remain a blessing in my life.

A Lesson from Star Trek

A few months ago, we ventured out of the land of Hulu and back into DirecTV. With our newly found plethora of channels, the family sat on the couch and rifled through the endless list of shows. I happened upon an old Star Trek: The Next Generation, one of my favorites from back then, and was quickly drawn into the story. When a commercial hit, reality set in and I quickly changed the channel thinking my kids must be about to lynch me for subjecting them to such torture. But to my surprise, they hollered, “What are you doing? Put it back!” Hence dawned our new family “tradition” of watching the series from beginning to end, compliments of Amazon Prime.

As you may or may not know, most of the show’s storylines are founded around a current cultural topic which is extrapolated into an extreme or futuristic version of that situation. Entire species of “humanoids” are fabricated from inflated versions of cultural no-no’s, making for some interesting and conflicted plots. In the episode we watched last night, a woman’s fundamental genetic make-up and sole purpose in life was to morph her entire person into the perfect companion for her mate. She was a biologically natural but rare form of their species who had a specific purpose in life, to prepare for an arranged marriage with the leader of a rival faction to begin the restoration process. Until she was married to this person, her life was a constant morphing of personality traits and characteristics that aligned to whomever happened to be in the room with her at that time. She effectively had no definition of self. Once married, she would bond with her spouse and be permanently created as the person who is her mate’s perfect companion.

As the show progressed, this woman found herself, for the first time, finding a version of her self which she realized made her a better person. This happened when she was in contact with one particular person, in this case the captain of the ship, Jean Luc Picard.

She had a found person that made her a better person.

The night before she was to be married to the rival faction leader, she chose to bond with Captain Picard. Meaning, she chose to create a permanent version of herself which was better than any she had known previously, and in doing so, accepted the sacrifice of having to work to be the perfect mate to her soon-to-be-spouse.

The story was quite dramatic in watching the evolution of her awakening and the dawning of realization that two people can work together to build each other up into something better.

As the showed replayed itself in my mind, I started to experience a sense of loss, a longing for a partner in which the other person made me a better person.

Then the reality hit me. I do have this. His name is Jesus.

There is a song by Britt Nicole, All This Time, whose lyrics come to mind now:

I hear these people asking me
How do I know what I believe?
Well I’m not the same me
And that’s all the proof I need

I started thinking of all the ways in which Jesus has made me a better person since I started following Him. When the first couple came to mind, I pulled out a sheet of paper from the scrap drawer and actually thought to myself, “Oh, I’m going to waste this whole sheet of paper on two thoughts.” But I wrote them down anyway. Fifteen minutes later, I had filled the entire page with all the ways He has changed me. Here’s my list:

More compassionate, less controlling, less judgmental, more value in myself, more humble, better at shutting my mouth, more patient, more aware, less destructive, more perceiving, less easily influenced by negative things, more conviction, less greedy, less materialistic, less close-minded, less shameful, less living by guilt, more tolerant, more friendly to strangers, more co-operative, less rigid where unnecessary and more firm where needed, less complaining, more protective where needed, less fearful about: money, jobs/unemployment, rejecting cultural norms, my “reputation”, speaking the truth, speaking about Jesus, artificial dependencies (my home, money in the bank, etc); more ability to dream in what’s possible, more creative, less of a chameleon, better understanding of community, more likely to donate money / more open-handed, less likely to follow old behavior patterns, more loving and appreciative and understanding toward my mom, a better parent, a better co-worker, a better wife, a better sister, better at smiling at people, more health conscious, better listener, more competent in my job.

And lastly, after all that, I realized the one that surprised me the most. I realized that during the show, I did not relate to or align with this woman’s chameleon nature, when in fact, this is exactly what I used to be – a shape-shifter morphing the definition of myself to others’ needs for the purpose of receiving love. A painful and terrifying way to go through life. He relieved me of that burden and gave me a new heart about myself.

If you are looking for someone to walk with you, to build you up into a better person, to remain beside you during your slips and failures, and to stay by your side for the lifetime of getting better while never expecting perfection, then Jesus is your answer. Give yourself to Him today so He can help you become a better you.

U2 on the Roof – God Cares about EVERYTHING

I had a really rough night last night. Really rough. I spent today feeling bruised and battered, like I had been run over by the emotional express train. In the evening, driving the kids around, I dialed up a string of U2 songs on YouTube and let ‘er rip in the car. Through the cracks in the conversation with my daughter, my mind kept grasping and pecking at the lyrics and riffs, trying to maneuver them into my soul and elevate my mood. But relief was eluding me. I kept thinking, Man, I really want to hear ‘Where the Streets Have No Name’.

I pulled into our church parking lot to drop the kids to youth group and while pulling back out, I thought, I bet God was just waiting for me to drop them off so I can hear the song uninterrupted. Three minutes and one song later, my radio wails with recorded police sirens and DJs frantically announcing an impromptu U2 video shoot on top a building in LA at 7th and Main. Voices of police officers threatening Bono they will shut down the shoot play over the pandemonium rising in the background as crowds pour into the streets. But their legendary opening riffs blow over the rooftop and into the streets below. It was March 27, 1987. The song they played that day… Where the Streets Have No Name. Best version of that song ever recorded.

Relief, blasting through my speakers and settling in my soul. The song is great, but my God is Good.

A Hamster in my Hand

We have a hamster who, to be truthful, I did not want. Despite my objections and resistance to its invasion of our home, over time the little guy turned from rodent to pet in my heart. And because, of course, the agreement that the kids would take care of this hamster (Stan) has long since evaporated, I make sure on a daily basis that the little guy doesn’t starve to death. The result has been that I have earned the exclusive right of having him crawl into my hand and cozy up for a little scratch, tucking his bitty nose underneath my thumb, and sometimes even taking a little snooze. Over time, he learned that my hand is a safe hand; he learned to recognize and trust me.

What strikes me every time little Stan is in my hand, is that he has no possible concept of who and what I am. Even if his eyesight weren’t naturally dreadful, he could not possibly take in my full scale just by shear proportion. It would be like standing on an outcrop during an ascension of Mount Kilimanjaro and trying to take in the whole mountain. Stan can’t see me, he can’t possibly understand me with his definitively small brain, but he trusts me. He knows my smell, he knows my touch, and he knows I will keep him safe, warm, fed, and comfortable through life’s hamster challenges.

But isn’t this just a reflection of us sitting in God’s hand?

Aren’t we in the exact same position in our ability to comprehend who and what God is?

hands holding the sun at dawn

Sing it with me: “He’s got the whole world in His hands…” This isn’t just a childhood song. It’s a fundamental truth. You are sitting in God’s hand, whether you recognize it or not. He is way too big for us to see. Way too complex for us to understand. Way too magnificent for us to behold with our five senses. But unlike the hamster, we use our decisively large brains to conclude, therefore, that he doesn’t exist.

And so we strive in our own effort.

And we falter without seeking His support.

And we toil through the days feeling an emptiness, and a burden for life’s outcome.

What if today, we decided to be more like Stan? What if we chose to believe there is a great Caregiver who loves us and will keep us safe, healthy, strong, comfortable, warm, peaceful, joyful, if only we allow Him? If only we believe? If only we take the time to understand Him outside our five senses; to learn to recognize His presence and how He wants to relate to us?

To acquire the discernment of what is God’s hand, and what is not, is life’s foremost goal. When we do, we develop clarity for separating out those things that do not keep us safe, healthy, strong, comfortable, warm, peaceful, joyful. With awareness of His presence, we learn to know His hand and trust that we are firmly in it. And that He will meet our needs for life’s challenges.

I invite you today, to allow your beautifully large and complex brain to expand beyond the boundaries of its five senses and open up a window of trust to the God you cannot fully see or understand. Remember, if Stan could control me, I would not be his caregiver. And if you could control God, by being able to fully document and describe Him, He would not be your Caregiver. Spend some time today, alone, tucking your nose under His thumb, and allowing Him to help you know and trust Him. He’s got you in His hand.

The Right Serving

Over the years, I’ve been on a roller coaster of spending my time in service to others and pulling back to allow myself rest and focus on the family. Up and down, back and forth, in and out of life. But no matter which hill or valley of the roller coaster I’m on at any given point in time, I find that the benefits are fairly short lived. I might feel satisfied with accomplishment for a while after spending my time in service to others and I might feel restful and relieved when I choose to focus on myself for a while. But both are fleeting. Sadly, when I’m serving myself, that sense of obligation creeps back in, pecking at my conscience, but when I’m serving others, it eventually turns to exhaustion from overwhelming myself and kills the joy of what I’m doing. So what’s the deal? Why can’t I find the happy medium?

To be truthful, it doesn’t exist. Not when I’m trying to find this balance out of my own sense of should and shouldn’t do, derived from our cultural norms. Here’s the big shocker – the right amount of serving comes only from God’s plan over your life. So what does that mean exactly?

God has been giving me a growing level of discernment about myself – I’ve started to become aware when I’m doing something that’s motivated by a sense of obligation vs. motivated by God’s request for me to act. Although truthfully, the first does provide a sense of satisfaction in knowing that I’ve helped someone through a life challenge, the reality is, that satisfaction is only a shadow of the experience of walking out something I know God has asked me to do. In the first, I get this filled up feeling, slightly euphoric, a little puffy-chested, that allows me to breathe more deeply in the aftermath.

For the second, I get the experience of being in God’s presence.

This would be a joy that flows through me like an abundant river, with an intensity that brings me to my knees. A shower of blessing drenches me, not for what I have done for someone else, but because I am overcome with the awareness that God saw me, chose me, asked me. My thankfulness comes not from what I accomplished, or even what He asked me to do, but because He turned His gaze to me. I can’t help but to ask Him to bring me more of those opportunities, ask more of me, just to experience more moments of awareness that His eyes are on me.

But He is a good God. And He will not ask too much of me. So when He is not asking, I do not bear the burden of obligation. This is my time to delight in rest.

As it is with everything in life, our first action should always be to seek God. Imagine a world if everyone did this – if everyone sought Him for their daily activities – there would be nothing that was left undone and nobody would be overburdened. What an amazing place this would be!

Worlds Apart Post 2: Icarus and the Pride Test

Icarus is a Greek Mythological character who escapes imprisonment by the king through his father’s successful attempt to create wings of feathers and wax and fly away. Before they fly to freedom, the father warns Icarus not to fly too high nor too low so the sun cannot melt the wax nor the ocean dampen the feathers. But once free from captivity, Icarus soars on his wings, not heeding his father’s advice and flies too close to the sun. The heat melts the wax and Icarus falls to the ocean and drowns.

The second chunk of lyrics in my series on the Jars of Clay song, Worlds Apart, are this:

Soaring on the wings of selfish pride, I flew too high and like Icarus I collide

Most people think pride is synonymous with arrogance. They think of the guy who’s always bragging on his bankroll or the lady who’s got her face in the mirror all the time. Although pride may manifest that way, that’s not the whole deal. I’ve splashed a couple scriptures through this post to build a better picture of what God says it is. They rocked me off my rocker when I was first convicted of it…

Here’s the first:

Psalm 10:4: In his pride the wicked man does not seek him; in all his thoughts there is no room for God

Ok, so basically, not thinking about God means there is pride. It means when there is a problem, we are not looking to our Father for advice on how to fix it. We should expect the wax on our feathers to be getting a bit gooey if we’re not in His word looking for the solution.

Here’s another:

Proverbs 13:10: Where there is strife, there is pride, but wisdom is found in those who take advice

Who has strife in their relationship with their husband, wife, mother, father, sister, brother, friend, child, co-worker? OK, seriously, who doesn’t? I sought plenty of advice, as the scripture directs, before my marriage splintered… and I made darn sure my husband knew about it every time. And that he knew everything HE wasn’t taking advice on. Strife is pride; it has a sneaky way of getting masked as “helping”. I had to get over trying to “help” my husband.

Proverbs 14:3: A fool’s mouth lashes out with pride, but the lips of the wise protect them.

Lashing out at somebody, accusing them, is prideful and foolish. A world of hurt results from inaccurate interpretations of the other person’s motives as assessed by their behaviors. This is my soapbox, so I’m going to cut it short here before I write a novel. I had to learn to seek knowledge about my husband’s behaviors instead of accusing him. Asking questions (real, legitimate questions, not accusatory, directed questions) creates the shift to overcome this highly destructive behavior. “You always” and “you never” type statements are your red flags that you’re floundering in foolish folly.

So, here I am, back in my car listening to Worlds Apart (see post 1), tears streaming down my face, with God showing me how prideful I’d been in my marriage, breaking down, shredding, that perception of myself that I was the one doing all the work and the entitlement I felt about that. Here is the little litmus test I devised for myself to check whether I’m backsliding into the pit of pride:

If I am spending more of my time thinking and talking about what the other person is doing wrong than I am searching for how to change my attitude and behaviors, I am stuck in pride.

And I’m just going to go ahead and restate that so you can experience it at a more personal level:

If you are spending more of your time thinking and talking about what the other person is doing wrong than you are searching for how to change your attitude and behaviors, you are stuck in pride.

If you are currently feeling low, consider this powerful scripture:

Proverbs 29:23: Pride brings a person low, but the lowly in spirit gain honor.

It is your pride that makes you feel low. Kind of a shocking revelation, isn’t it?

Are we at risk of melting our wings? We need to stop and assess whether we are flying too high. If so, we need to step back and take the advice of our Father and behave according to His word. We should not expect anything more than to crash and burn should we choose to fly too high.

http://www.vagalume.com.br/jars-of-clay/worlds-apart.html

Take One More Step

Jesus knows exactly what it takes to get a response from this world. He knows that things have to hit rock bottom crisis mode to get someone to listen and respond to your needs. And He will use it to maneuver your life for His purpose and your benefit.

If you’ve not read my previous posts about my adopted son, you can check them here, http://bit.ly/17HYhoc http://bit.ly/1mIL86X In short, 3 months ago I found a homicidal note in his room about me. This was the final blow I could bear after years of being subject to the behavioral manifestations of a child with abandonment trauma, kidnap trauma, neglect trauma, and starvation trauma. This was rock bottom, crisis mode. We started researching residential programs and re-adoption options to move him out of the house. But amidst the confusion and disorientation and strife of living in crisis mode, I clung to a biblical truth that everyday fought for a minutia of my attention. That breaking up a family could not possibly be the Lord’s will. After living through the destruction that the breakup of a marriage causes, I knew somewhere in a lighted corner of my then very darkened world that breaking up a family in any way would be just as catastrophic. So although I could go no further, the Lord asked me to take one more step, and I did.

Stepping through that darkness brought me into a light that only He could orchestrate. A homicidal note is a crisis situation that gets attention from the world, including a massive response from an otherwise untapped wealth of therapeutic resources available through our county health system. Following one phone call to the Department of Health and Services explaining this note, we have received an avalanche of support that I so desperately needed. A team of therapists comes to my home 2-3 times/week to give Tadi intensive therapy at my kitchen table while I cook dinner for the family. The Lord arranged it such that the team lead for this group is a woman with 4 children adopted from the Ukraine (Tadi x 4, nightmare!!!). She understands him through the depths of her own suffering. After 40 intensive in-home visits, they will then transfer us to outpatient therapy for some unspecified period of time (as long as we need it). The cost to me for these services is $0.00 and will continue to be $0.00. Services that even when employed, I would have been unable to pay for due to the intensive nature of them. Tadi’s progress toward healing has skyrocketed and my knowledge of his traumas has exploded. All of this because of a crisis situation that I chose to step through with faith in our Lord Jesus.

Jesus knows exactly what He’s doing. When you are in your darkest hour just remember that the Lord’s hand is at work. He knows exactly what it takes to get a response from this world and He will use it to maneuver your life. So when you’ve hit rock bottom and you can’t possibly go any further, remember in your darkest hour awaits your greatest glory. Take one more step.

“Christianity is a Crutch”

A friend of mine once told me that Christianity is a crutch. He believes that it is a religion for weak people to lean on to make it through life. At the time, my Jesus muscles weren’t big enough to rebut him eloquently and influentially, so I snickered under my breath and let the comment pass. But I’ve thought about it often. I’ve thought about it as I’ve walked through the fires of trauma, addiction, marital strain, financial pressure, job stress, broken friendships, and more. Not wallowing over the fact that these things have happened to me, but that I’ve chosen to walk into the fire of refinement to overcome them because Jesus was leading me and pushing me there. Walking through the scorching pain of having my pride torn down and my world view radically altered and being stripped of the need to control my environment which felt literally like I was going to die and having my hands pried open to release my money into His kingdom, has felt like anything but a crutch.

I was reminded of this “crutch” comment again during my morning bible reading. “The Cost of Being a Disciple”, Luke 14:25-35

http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Luke+14%3A25-35&version=NIV

Here is the explanation of these verses (taken from the Life Application Study Bible by Tyndale and Zondervan):

“When a builder doesn’t count the cost or estimates (the cost of a building) inaccurately, the building may be left uncompleted. Will you abandon the Christian life after a little while because you did not count the cost of commitment to Jesus? What are those costs? Christians may face loss of social status or wealth. They have to give up control over their money, their time, or their career. They may be hated, separated from their family, and even put to death. Following Christ does not mean a trouble-free life. We must carefully count the cost of becoming Christ’s disciples so that we will know what we are getting into and won’t be tempted later to turn back.”

And here is an excerpt of the definition of “crutch” on dictionary.com:

1. a staff or support to assist a lame or infirm person in walking

3. anything that serves as a temporary and often inappropriate support, supplement, or substitute; prop: He uses liquor as a psychological crutch.

Thinking these aren’t the same… just sayin’.

There is no crutch about Christianity, only the promise of a peace that transcends all understanding when you step out the backside of the furnace. Freedom from fear and oppression and addiction and brokenness. If your walk with Jesus is painful right now because He is tearing down who you thought you were, march on soldier, you’re headed in the right direction. If your walk with the Lord is not now or has never been painful, it’s time to throw away your crutch and step into the fire with Him. Hand Him your life today.

The Littlest Creature

My daughters have a hamster. His name is Stan. Although this mama was vehemently opposed to the addition of this creature to our family, his friendly demeanor and supple coat found its way into my heart. So Stan has successfully elevated his status from rodent to pet in our family.

It would seem that Stan is vying for a new promotion amongst our ranks, bible teacher. He hit the scene with a surprise lesson the other morning… 5am to be exact… that God really does care about the littlest things in our lives. Stan found himself free of his homey habitat and shivering with fear behind a suitcase under our bed in the wee hours after his rooftop door was left open the previous night. The story of glory is in the adventure of his trek in which only a divine guiding hand could have maneuvered him through. There are at least three insurmountable obstacles he had to overcome on his journey:

1)      Avoiding a date with a 12ft drop from the second story hall to the family room below which sits immediately behind his cage.

2)      Eluding starvation by bypassing refuge in the nearest bedroom, my daughter’s, in which he would have become like ET enveloped in an outrageous pile of stuffed animals and undetectable for days until his stench led us to his whereabouts.

3)      Miraculously escaping the jowls of my 75lb golden retriever after having been buried inside them as he was dripping with saliva when we finally rescued him.

After safely tucking Stan back into his cage, I crawled back into bed thanking God I didn’t have to deliver a fatality story to the girls in the morning. I was immediately reminded of the scripture that says, look at the flowers of the field, they do not worry what they will wear, and look at the birds of the air, they do not worry what they will eat; the Lord provides for these and doesn’t He love you all the more?

http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew+6%3A25-34&version=NIV

God was basically saying to me, “See, I do care. I have you covered even when you’re not looking.”

Today, know that God does care about every part of your life. He has you covered. He will provide all that you need when you put your faith in Him. Every little creature on this earth, whether a flower or a hamster or a problem or a relationship, is under His care. When you meditate on this and relinquish control to His will, He will see you safely back home.

Speak Life

I woke up to a great TobyMac song in my mind this morning, Speak Life, which prompts this post.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZeBv9r92VQ0&feature=kp

One of the *great* manifestations of my having been abused as a child is to have lived with a perpetual expectation of impending death. This was such a facet of life for me, that up until just a few years ago, I didn’t even understand that it’s NOT NORMAL! That not everyone walks around thinking everyday life events spell sudden death.

Now, to reset the garish perception that I run around with a blanket over my head checking my locks 47 times, refuse to leave the house because the sidewalk might freakishly rupture and swallow me whole, or believe an alien abduction awaits me at every turn of the corner, it looks more like this. A bracing of my muscles as I drive into an intersection waiting to get fatally t-boned in the driver side door (particularly if I’m the first, last, or an isolated car). Turning a string of headaches into an inoperable tumor in my brain. Thinking that ongoing stiffness in my back means cancer leaching up my spine. When in reality they are, unlikely, job stress, and an old mattress, respectively.

So, praise God, I’m free from the emotions associated with the thoughts of impending death, even though it’s pretty much impossible to stop them from coming into my brain. But as I’ve taken that ridiculous outer layer off the death onion, I’m now privy to recognizing the more subtle ways that impending death invades my life.

At one time, waiting for my marriage to die

Waiting for the innocence of my children to die

Waiting for my son to die emotionally, spiritually

Waiting for friendships, relationships to die

Waiting for dreams to die

And the list goes on…

I was just waiting for all these things to die because I wasn’t doing the opposite, fighting for LIFE! That’s not to say I wasn’t working hard on them, on the contrary, I was working ridiculously hard, and then waiting for them to die.

Check out the first words of every verse of the story of creation:

http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Genesis+1&version=NIV

They all start with, “And God said…”  He SPOKE life into everything. Not planned, not executed, not met with 14 other people, not strived, worked, developed, designed, counseled, read, discussed…

I’ve done ALL these things to an excruciating, painful, exhausting end, and they are all absolutely necessary, BUT, they can only be effective AFTER the life of God’s word has been breathed into the situation. Otherwise, the effort is spent while waiting to die.

Breathing God’s life into a situation is just as simple as speaking it; speaking aloud that you receive the life of the Holy Spirit in Jesus’s name into a situation and you reject death. The spoken words alone are powerful enough to alter your perspective on the spot. God is the giver of life, and that doesn’t mean just at our conception and birth. It means, perpetually and unfailingly every single day. Seize this great opportunity by Speaking Life today.