Righteous Indignation

As a result of the inevitable aging process, in further steps of losing just one more marble that was rattling around in my brain, one afternoon, a few weeks ago, I placed my Sam’s card and my credit card on top of my car while pumping gas.  I’ll remember, I told myself.  Famous last words.  When I got to my next destination, I realized what I had done.  I drove off, leaving those two once-vital documents floating in the Metairie breeze, only to land gently on the ground, never to be found.  I called the credit card company right away, where they canceled the card and said a replacement would arrive in seven days.

During those 7, 8, 9 days, I put up with the inconvenience of not having my credit card and then having to stop all of the auto charges, having to use a debit card, etc. Funny how now, looking back, the farther in the past those inconveniences are, the more minor they have become, soon to result in becoming just a small hiccup in the overall process of daily living. 

Until one day, on around day 10, I got a text from my credit card company.  “Did you just spend $450 at the Walmart in Marrero?”  I immediately pressed the auto response of “no.”  The response assured me that the charges were not accepted and that if I was trying to make the purchase, to call them before trying again.  So, no harm done.  The charges did not go through, and even if they had, the credit card company assured me that I would not be liable.  Upon further investigation, it was not my old credit card that was used. It was the new one that was stolen from the mail. It never reached my mailbox (I get emails from USPS letting me know what is on the way), so it was either delivered to the wrong address or it was stolen while in postal custody.

If this was just a “hiccup” of life, an inconsequential event, then why am I writing about it? Because when I am taking my walks and letting my mind roam freely, I find myself wondering who had the nerve to take the credit card and to spend $450.  I found myself wanting the person responsible to have to somehow pay for what (s)he did, even if (s)he didn’t get away with it. I picture her/him being humiliated at the register “sir/ma’am, this credit card does not work.” Then s/he had to either leave the items there, humiliated, or pay $450 of their OWN money. All while dozens of people behind him/her sighed and rolled their eyes.  Was there a camera in the store? Who is this person? Do they feel any remorse? I wanted this person caught!

Now, I’ve had many bad things happen to me that are much worse than this.  As I’ve written before, I’ve been held up at gunpoint twice and knife point once.  I’ve been physically attacked. Those things were life-threatening.  I will never forget the second perpetrator, I actually looked into his eyes and I could tell that he had no qualms about shooting me. When I found myself wondering what I would do if that man was caught, if I could tell him how he made me feel, I realized a long time ago that he wouldn’t have cared. He was in a different place.  My being a victim was the last thing on his mind.

Recently I read a book about unknown facts around large historical events.  (Owen J. Hurd, After the Fact).  He writes that after the Civil War, Harriet Tubman continued her work of helping others, often doing fundraising drives to help former slaves and other people who were in need.  Her generous nature got her into trouble, and many times people took advantage of her. Some literally ate her house of house and home, and some stole the money she raised that was supposed to help others. Harriet Tubman lived a long life, and at the end of her life, I don’t think she regretted any of the money that she lost to those people who stole from her.  I think and hope that instead, the memories of how she helped humankind overshadowed the memories of people who took advantage of her. 

This reminded me of the scripture that I came across this past week in The Upper Room, a daily bible reading.  It is this:

“But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. 29 If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them30 Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.  

Luke 6:27-31, NIV, bold parts done by me.

I hear a lot of people becoming upset over people who receive things without working. They become righteously indignant. They don’t want their taxes to help people who don’t want to work.  They don’t know why people need assistance, they just assume that they don’t want to work and should just get a job.  I hear people becoming indignant over the sins of others – what others wear, how they live their lives, their conduct at work, who they love or don’t love. Many people are quick to point out how others are destined for hell. 

As humans, we can all find ourselves becoming righteously indignant over actions committed by others. Sometimes it may be understandable, especially if we are the victims of some of those bad actions.  But when I stew over the things that were done to me that are wrong, I have found that feelings of righteous indignation are not helpful.  They stir up my anger and my wrath, but they do not solve the problem.  Whoever took my credit card, whoever held a gun to my head, they are not feeling my thoughts. (But perhaps they could benefit from my prayers!). So, my indignant thoughts are only bothering me.  Why do we become so righteously angry and stew over the actions of others? Why do we waste time and effort on thoughts that do not lead to justice or peace? Are others having any thoughts of righteous indignation over anything we have done? Because I assume I’m not perfect and have probably upset someone at some point in my life. Because I am human, after all.

As a social scientist, I do ask questions of why – why do people do the things to do, why do they end up on the path they are on, what has led to this situation/event? I believe that knowing the answers to those questions can solve problems in society.  When we understand the actions of others, we can try to help them. But this should come from a spirit of love and understanding, not from wanting to “fix” people or for the purposes of revenge or because I’m feeling more righteous.  Because the rest of the passage tells us:

32 “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. 35 But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. 36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. 

Luke 6:32-36, NIV, Emphasis mine.

There is a lot of wrong in the world, and people do a lot of bad things.  I’m not saying we should let people walk all over us.  But for our own sakes and for the sake of peace and community, we should think of the wrongs done against us and others as something we can try to understand and address. After all, we are ALL God’s children, some just don’t know this. Something went wrong in their lives.  They are hard for us to love, but they are easy for God to love. So, in theory, it should also be easy for us.

Together we can make our community a better place.

This is so much easier said than done. Even when that trivial credit card issue happened to me, my first instinct was righteous indignation, how dare this person, who do they think they are, s/he should be locked up.  But that that attitude is not helpful.  I want to have an attitude and a perspective on the world that is helpful and beneficial.  Not judgmental.  Anyone can judge, but very few will try to understand and explore what lessons can be learned and how we can use those lessons to make the world a better place for ourselves, and more importantly, for others.  I want to be like Harriet Tubman. I want to be like Jesus says I should be.  But I don’t want to do it alone. I can’t do it alone! Does anyone else want to jump on this bandwagon?

A Dance to the Music of Time

One of the many sunsets God has allowed us to enjoy.

Most days I walk to the canal behind my condo complex, where I see the most beautiful sunsets.  I try to go every day, just to take the beauty while getting some exercise. I usually do not take my phone with me when I walk, but for a few days in a row I walked down, snapped a picture of the sunset, and posted it on Facebook, citing its beauty as a gift from God.  Which it is! Today I walked down to see the sunset, and it was again spectacular. But I didn’t have my phone with me to take a picture.  I was kicking myself, thinking that this one was especially beautiful and I’ll never be able to capture that image now. Which is true.  But I then reminded myself that every single sunset I have seen has been unique.  No two sunsets are alike. Some are spectacular, some are pretty, and on cloudy days some are gray.  All have their own beauty and their own message: it is the end of yet another day in the circle of time. 

Just as each sunset is a gift, and each one is different, each day is a gift, and each one is different.  Sometimes when I am walking, I feel very small – two feet walking on this huge earth.  What kind of a difference am I making? What meaning does being here right now have? The song from Cat Stevens often runs through my mind, “We’re only dancing on this earth for a short while.” 

I am a history buff, so I often put my thoughts into historical context.  Decades or centuries ago, my ancestors, whoever they were, awoke with the sunrise and went to bed with the sunset. They did not have electricity or television or radios to keep them amused.  I’m assuming my ancestors were not wealthy, so they were likely farmers, who lived off of the timetable of the land. They got married, they had babies, they worked the land from sunup to sundown, they feasted on holy days and had some celebrations, but most of the time they worked, slept, loved, raised children, danced on holidays, and the cycle was repeated again and again. 

The song by Joni Mitchell comes to mind: (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V9VoLCO-d6U)

And the seasons they go round and round, And the painted ponies go up and down
We’re captive on the carousel of time
We can’t return we can only look behind From where we came
And go round and round and round
In the circle game

We are dancing on this earth for a short time, trying to make it worthwhile.  As the centuries passed, as technology has increased, we found that we had more and more leisure time, and more activities to do in that time.  We still work hard, most probably have more stress at work, and we pay for our new lifestyles.  We have all kinds of distractions, from TV to our phones and ipads to computer games. We have unlimited leisure pursuits: we can travel the world (someday soon I hope), we dine out, we go to concerts and events, we watch spectator sports.  There are so many opportunities to do so many things, and sometimes we may feel that if we are not doing all of these things, we are somehow missing out.

A Dance to the Music of Time, by Nicolas Poussin

I just watched a TV show where a character was viewing a painting by Nicolas Poussin called A Dance to the Music of Time. The painting (shown here), is said to have four dancers. The first is Poverty, the male dancer. The next is Labor, or hard work, and if that is accomplished, it can lead to Wealth, which is the next dancer.  After that comes Pleasure, and if the Pleasure is overdone, it circles back to Poverty.  There are other examples in the painting of the passage of time, an hour glass and cupids blowing bubbles. 

During this time of covid, many of us are rethinking what is important.  One thing that I am learning in all of my newly acquired spare time is that if I am going out and having a wonderful time, yes I am experiencing the good life. But so is walking a few yards down the path to watch the sunsets each day.  When  I am looking to find meaning in life, it doesn’t come from buzzing from activity to activity, it comes from just being.  When I am sitting down reading a good book, I am living.  When I am having coffee with a friend, I am living.  When I am sitting on my patio looking at my flowers, I am living. So, while doing things like traveling (which I do plan to do when I can) are wonderful things, so is watching a sunset. 

We can also find purpose in the things that we do that add value to the lives of others.  Today I remembered other moments when I felt really alive.  When I used to work with people experiencing homelessness, I would leave the Mission exhausted, but with a feeling that cannot be matched. A feeling of contentment and of time well spent.  Today I felt that feeling again when I went to cheer on the Black Lives Matter car convoy that some people in my church are doing once per month. These are not major projects or events, they are very simple things.  But they feel good because I feel I am doing something to support some of the causes I believe in.  I again felt like my two feet on this earth were making an impact.

I work with people who are dying in hospice. They don’t talk about how much money they made or the ends of the earth to which they traveled. They live in the moment and enjoy those moments.  They reflect on lives they may have touched.  That is living. 

Isaiah 1:5 says “The sun rises and the sun sets, and hurries back to where it rises.” It is the circle of life that God created. While we are on this earth for such a short time, I have learned that I am in the cycle of life by living each moment and by making each moment count, merely by enjoying the moment whatever I am doing, and by dancing whenever I can and wherever I am.

For more information about Poussin’s painting, click here: https://joyofmuseums.com/museums/united-kingdom-museums/london-museums/wallace-collection/a-dance-to-the-music-of-time/

Coping with Grief – One Exercise – 5 Things

Recently I taught a CEU class for social workers. I decided to explore the topic of Grief for several reasons. First of all, I have had my share of grief, as most of us have. Second, I am working as a hospice social worker, so I deal with grief every day. And grief is something that we all want to learn how to cope with better. We want to know what to say to those who are grieving to make them feel better.

It is in our nature to want to make people feel better when they grieve. The more I study about grief, the more I realize that 1) there is no “cure”, 2) it cannot be “fixed”, 3) every grief is different and every griever is different, 4) there is no fixed time period for healing from grief, 5) it is helpful to know the stages of grief so we can understand it better, but we don’t go through those stages in order and we repeat the stages off and on throughout our lives, and 6) there is no magic bullet for helping people who are grieving.

But the most important thing to know about grieving, is that it is a NORMAL response to a loss. The goal is not to stop grieving, that’s impossible. The goal is to learn to cope and to adjust to a new way of life. Joy will come again, but not because the grief will be gone, rather joy will come because we will continue to live life, and life is a combination of joy and suffering.

As a person in the healing profession, I want to help people to stop hurting. While this isn’t always possible, there are some steps we can take to help us to help ourselves or to help others.

My sister died 9 years ago. It’s hard to believe it has been that long. Her diagnosis of breast cancer seemed to go by in a blur. She had surgery to remove the tumor, it was malignant. We knew she was getting chemotherapy. But she was living her life, going to work, and since I didn’t see her every day, I didn’t see what was really going on with her. Tracy was a very private person, so I didn’t get a chance to learn how she really felt. I tried spending extra time with her. Knowing that she was missing some work, I started taking her grocery shopping once per week to help out financially. Tracy loved that. She would pick out the most expensive things. She didn’t know how to buy meat because she didn’t cook, so her boyfriend Rodney told her what to buy next time. We stood in the long lines at Wal Mart and spent what I hope was quality time together.

Tracy, ruling the roost, her last Christmas with us

We thought things were ok for awhile, until it wasn’t. Tracy went in and out of the hospital for a few days at a time. I’d stop in to see her on my lunch hour. One day she was sitting on the sofa in her hospital room and she said “I am not moving until they let me go home.” She was “on strike.” They did let her go home. A few weeks later, she was back in the hospital again. We expected the same routine. This time, the doctors called a family meeting. Tracy is not getting better, they said. We need to switch to hospice care. The last words she said to me that made any sense were “I’m so scared.” Then she screamed for 3 days. Finally, the medication they gave her helped to calm her down. One night I said “You were a great sister, Tracy.” The next day she died.

Who has time to grieve after someone dies? There are other relatives who are grieving who need to be comforted, arrangements need to be made, a succession has to be set up and executed. Busy busy busy. Time goes by. Last night I felt so sad for Tracy. 9 years later. I wonder if she felt fear as she faithfully showed up for her chemo treatments. I wonder if she knew we were worried about her and cared about her. I wonder if she knew she was loved. (Tracy did have amazing support from her partner, Rodney).

One of the symptoms of grief can sometimes be guilt. Guilt takes on many forms. Tracy was the baby of the family, why did she have to go first? I was the big sister, why am I still here? I teased my sister mercilessly. I saw that as my job as a big sister. Did she know I loved her? I feel as though I didn’t really say goodbye, because we all lived with the hope that she was going to get better.

Grief waxes and wanes, it comes and it goes, and even several years later it can return. This is not something to be feared. Grieving means we are living. Life consists of suffering. If we have no one to grieve, then we are not living enough. Loving people leads to grief, whether we lose them to death, breakups, divorce, disagreements, betrayals or for whatever reason.

It occurred to me that it there is one way for a physician to heal thyself. As I was experiencing these feelings of grief about Tracy, I remembered an exercise that I came across while I was researching materials for the class. It was to write a letter to the person that you miss. In that letter, say these 5 things (from the book Grieving Mindfully by Sameet M. Kumar):

  • I’m sorry. Tracy, I wish I had been there more for you. I am sorry for teasing you all of the time. I’m mostly sorry that we didn’t talk about your cancer and how you felt about it.
  • I forgive you. For those times when we didn’t feel particularly close or when you wanted to create some distance for whatever reason.
  • I love you. You were the one who wanted all holidays to be special and we had to follow the rules that you set. You set the menus for every meal and mom even made a separate batch of cornbread dressing just for you! You always made us laugh a lot (either intentionally or unintentionally).
  • Thank you. For always watching my cats when I traveled. For being so dependable. For being the one who showed up with the broom and mop when I had my surgery to help around the house.
  • Goodbye. Until we meet again.

If you are feeling the loss of the loved one, if you feel that there is any unfinished business, maybe this exercise will help you too. Even if you don’t write every step, think them through in your mind. I did this (in more detail than what I wrote here) and it really helped.

Recognizing Dreams When We See Them

I haven’t written lately on paper (or screens), but I’ve been thinking a lot. Often I write blogs in my head while I’m driving, and I’ve been driving more lately as part of my job. Sometimes when I am sleeping, I dream about things to write in my blogs. I’ve even dreamt plots for novels — novels that seemed brilliant in my sleep, but I didn’t remember the finer points or what was so great about them when I woke up.

Last night I had a dream that was kind of interesting. I was at a Christian concert and was sitting separate from my friends because of assigned seating. A young man kept talking to me, and I wondered why. But instead of listening to the music, I stopped and listened to him. I don’t remember the conversation, but I then asked him what he did for a living. He said I am a pastor. I asked about his church, and he said his church meets in his home and there is nothing electronic in his church or his ministries. He preaches and they read the bible. He said he has never been on Facebook or any social media and doesn’t want to be. While he was telling me this, something was providing me with food for thought, but for the life of me I can’t figure out what it was. I woke up still feeling kind of warm, like I “got it” but don’t remember what “it” is I was supposed to have gotten. I do sleep with a pad and pen, but somehow that doesn’t work. (Yes I’ve wondered if the message was to stop using social media!).

This evening I was watching Celtic Thunder on TV while I was doing chores. I love Celtic music. They sang the song Streets of London, which I hadn’t heard since I used to go to O’Flaherty’s Irish Pub with my travel companion I often went to London with. Boy did that song bring back memories. I was feeling pretty warm and fuzzy about remembrances of listening to live Irish music and traveling to a city that I love so much. Then another song came on, and POOF, feelings gone.

These two things that happened today reminded me of how fleeting life is. We are given pearls of wisdom, beautiful moments, memories, ideas, dreams, and all kinds of gifts, but we either don’t recognize them, we don’t appreciate them, we don’t see the significance, we forget them, we write them off as unimportant, or we move on to the next thing before we have finished the last thing.

My bestie and I were talking about this. We don’t take the time to enjoy our moments, we don’t take the time to dream, and if we do dream, we don’t take the steps to make them come true. Perhaps we see those dreams as stupid. Perhaps we see them as impossible or unreachable. Perhaps we don’t recognize them when they are presented to us. Perhaps they enter our mind and then we forget them.

What are your dreams, truly? Do you want a fulfilling career? Do you want to see the world? Do you want to meet the love of your life? Dreams can be big, or they can be small. LIstening to the song Streets of London and thinking of my trips to England made me happy. Watching a beautiful sunset makes me happy. Enjoying a breeze makes me happy (especially in July). Seeing my flowers bloom makes me happy. Whatever your dreams are, big or small, recognize them. Make them come true. Enjoy the moments. LIfe is fleeting, we have to turn off all of the noise and stop jumping off to the next thing. We need to slow down and be in the moment.

How do we learn to enjoy the moment? We have to become aware that these moments exist. We won’t recognize them unless we train our minds to notice things in the present time. One way to do this is to practice mindfulness. Mindfulness is simple. At the very least, every morning before I leave the house, I tell Alexa to set the timer for however many minutes I can spare – sometimes it’s 2, sometimes it’s 10. I focus on my breathing and the here and now. Slowing down our minds does work. When I said that ideas come to me when I am asleep or when I am driving, this tells me something. This is a time when my mind is quiet and I’m not multitasking. In those times I become creative. We can all be creative if we learn to slow down, turn off the noise and allow our minds to be free.

One final thought about dreams. Don’t wait for the time to be perfect to start working on them. There will never be a perfect time. If you have a dream, start working on it now. The perfect time is now.

The Words of Jesus: Matthew 3:15

It should be done, for we must carry out all that God requires.”

Have you ever noticed that God doesn’t follow the same pecking order that we have in mind? In this passage, John the Baptist is alerting the world to the coming of the Savior. Then the Savior arrives and asks John to baptize Him. John responds, “shouldn’t it be the other way around?” And Jesus says no, this is what God wants.

We see other places in scripture where Jesus acts as a servant to His people. He washes the disciples’ feet in John 13. Peter again says, in so many words, shouldn’t it be the other way around? Jesus often emphasizes that we should have a humble spirit. So those who are last now will be first then, and those who are first will be last. (Matthew 20:16). This is one thing that Jesus could be showing us.

There are other messages we can explore here. Sometimes we think our lives should be a straight line. We set goals and then we take steps to reach those goals. But sometimes those steps may fail; sometimes we may be forced to detour. Sometimes the goals we have set for ourselves are not the goals God has in mind for us. In the example being set here, Jesus is being obedient to God, even though it doesn’t exactly make sense. And because of this, things did work out in the long run, but not before there was a lot of pain and sorrow in between. This is a reminder that God’s ways are His own, and if we are obedient, things will work out in the long run, either on this earth or in heaven. When we question these ways that don’t make sense to us, are we thinking that we know better than God how things should be done?

Jesus obviously knew God’s voice in this passage. How do we know when we are hearing God’s voice or someone else’s voice? Sometimes it’s hard to know, because we want the voice we hear to match our desires. Sometimes it doesn’t. When I’ve seen this happen in my life and had my heart broken many times, when I look back, I’ve always seen that God’s plan was better.

One thing I have learned, is that just because it’s easy, it doesn’t mean it’s God’s will. As we see from the life that Jesus lived, nothing was easy. There were moments of success, peace and joy, but there was a lot of pain. I have had some jobs that have been very easy. I received good money (well, enough, anyway!) and benefits. But it just didn’t feel right. People said I was nuts to leave those jobs, but I don’t think God called any of us to be comfortable. I think that I stayed in some jobs too long because I was too comfortable and may have missed out on some other things I could have done. Our roads will be easy sometimes, but sometimes they are rocky, filled with potholes and messy. That doesn’t mean we failed or took a wrong turn, it means we are growing.

This passage also reminds me to be flexible. Instead of following our vision of how things should go, we should be open to doing things in new and unexpected ways. The road may seem twisted, but it may be more interesting. Sometimes God takes us on the scenic route instead of the superhighway. We explore more, learn more and live more. Sometimes it isn’t even the goal that is important, it is the journey itself.

After Jesus was baptized, the voice of God came for all to hear. “And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:17). It pleases God when we listen to Him and obey Him, even when it may not make sense. Can you think of things that you thought that God told you that didn’t seem to make sense at the time? How did it work out? Where are you on your journey?

The Words of Jesus – Jesus’ First Words: Luke 2:49


4“But why did you need to search?” he asked. “Didn’t you know that I must be in my Father’s house?”

Luke 2:49

We don’t know too much about what Jesus’ early life was like. Most of us are familiar with the story of His birth. We know He was born in a manger and that people followed a shining star to see and pay homage to the new king. We know that King Herod felt threatened by the birth of Jesus, and that Mary and Joseph took Jesus and fled to Egypt. Then we don’t hear anything until Jesus reaches the age of 12. Jesus and his family have gone to Jerusalem to celebrate the festival of Passover. While there, Jesus goes into the temple and begins to listen to the religious teachers and to ask them questions. They are all surprised at the amount of wisdom Jesus has.

Jesus knew what His calling was from his birth. He knew exactly what God wanted Him to do. Very few of us have a strong knowledge of what we are supposed to do with our lives. Some of us go to college right after high school and become doctors, lawyers or other professionals. Some join family businesses. Some take time off to discover themselves. I would think that many of us stumble into jobs and stay, either growing in our careers or showing up every day for a paycheck so we can pay the bills. Some of us are fine with that, because their lives have other purposes. There is a difference between a calling and a purpose. People can be perfectly happy working at jobs that pay the bills, while discovering their true purpose in their family lives or by volunteering. Others find their calling and will climb every mountain and conquer every obstacle to make their careers happen. We are all different.

I worked at a job that paid the bills for decades. I had good moments and worked with good people, but I never felt like I was doing what I was called to do. I felt like I wanted to work with people in social justice or social services, but it took me a long time to have the courage to quit my job and go back to school to get my social work degree. If you feel as though you have missed your calling, it is never too late to chase your dreams. Believe me, I know. I’m still chasing mine.

But even if you do not have a calling, you do have a purpose! We all do. Your purpose depends on what gifts you have. You may have the gift of encouragement, so you may be the one your friends call when they are down in the dumps or need advice. Your purpose may be in your family life, raising children or caring for aging parents. Your purpose may be in helping with ministries at your church, or in leading them. You could have a different purpose every day, depending upon what people or situations cross your path. Every moment of life can be meaningful.

Jesus knew exactly what He was here for. Fulfilling His calling was difficult and painful, but it changed mankind. It changed the world. It changed us. It changed our way of thinking. And it gave us all a purpose, because living a life according to His teachings is a rich life indeed.

The Words of Jesus (and What They Tell Us)

Introduction:

There are a lot of thoughts and beliefs about the bible. My belief is that, if we read the bible, God will speak to us in His own unique way in a way that works for us. God created us and knows just what He wants to say specifically to us. The bible helps me in many ways. For one thing, it seems like every time I pick up the bible to read something, I get the urge to write. I get ideas. So, the bible helps me to conquer writer’s block. The bible has also comforted me. In times of grief, and especially during times of heartbreak, I have found the words of God comforting and uplifting.

We can feel God’s presence in His beauty and in His words…

There are some complications about the bible. For one thing, everyone can agree that many people interpret the bible differently. This is because God speaks to each of us individually. Many people interpret the bible in their own way and insist that others should believe the things that God has told them.

In the past, when I have attended faith-based movies in the theater, I have listened to conversations around me, and I have heard comments such as “this movie wasn’t 100% biblical.” In my humble opinion, LIFE is not 100% biblical. We are imperfect human beings. We can try to be moral, upstanding, pure, reverent, obedient, and everything else. But we will fail, because we are human.

For me, it boils down to this. The church is filled with sinners, and I am definitely in that number. That’s why I need Jesus. If you are not a sinner, you do not need Jesus. Jesus died for sinners.

I often hear that we are supposed to live like Jesus did, but what does that even mean? To some, it’s to live the way they are living, because that has worked for them and that’s their interpretation of biblical living. But everyone’s walk is different. God speaks to all of us and tells us how to live according to the plan that HE has for OUR lives. And this is between God and each of His children. God doesn’t want people living cookie cutter lives, He loves us each in our own unique way, and He wants us to live the way He created us to be.

Of course we want to be as much like Jesus as we can. And the only way we can know how to be like Him, is to know Him. The way to know Jesus is to invite Him into our hearts and to listen to His words.

This book contains nothing but the quotes of Jesus and the applicable verses. It is available for .99 on kindle.

How can we truly listen to Jesus speak to us? The other day I was thinking about how complicated the bible is. Not all of us are scholars. There are a lot of learned scholars who interpret the bible differently. When we questioned scripture at the seminary, the professors always had an answer about “context,” and about differentiating between the culture at the time and modern culture. Women covering their heads in church would be cultural, but what about women not speaking in church? Denominations differ on interpretations of that – some allow women to be pastors and to preach and some don’t. Some allow women to do a little bit of ministry with limitations, and some allow full ordination. It’s all based upon individual interpretation. There are parts of the bible where women are told not to speak in church, and there are other passages in the bible that clearly show women in ministry and leadership roles.

I have written all of this as a framework to begin my exploration to rediscover what it means to be like Jesus. I have decided to journey through the bible studying only the words of Jesus. I started on this a long time ago, but I abandoned it. Since then I have come across a book by David Tait, who is making this much easier for me. He wrote a book that contains the words of Jesus with the verse references in chronological order. I am going to use this book as a guide to explore the words of Jesus. I’m using the New Living Translation of the bible. You are welcome to join me on this journey. You may or may not agree with my interpretation, but as I wrote above, this is what I am getting from God, if He speaks to you, He may be saying something different, and that is OK!

Jesus knew what His calling was from his birth. He knew exactly what God wanted Him to do. Very few of us have a strong knowledge of what we are supposed to do with our lives. Some of us go to college right after high school and become doctors, lawyers or other professionals. Some join family businesses. Some take time off to discover themselves. I would think that many of us stumble into jobs and stay, either growing in our careers or showing up every day for a paycheck so we can pay the bills. Some of us are fine with that, because their lives have other purposes. There is a difference between a calling and a purpose. People can be perfectly happy working at jobs that pay the bills, while discovering their true purpose in their family lives or by volunteering. Others find their calling and will climb every mountain and conquer every obstacle to make their careers happen. We are all different.

An Unsung Hero – Lee Vinson

Lee preparing meals to deliver
Lee preparing meals to deliver

“The most important two things that you need are a big bowl and a pair of scissors,” said Lee Vinson, a Legal Secretary.  That and a refrigerator full of leftover lunches.  Every Friday evening at around 4:30, an email goes out to the employees where Lee works, saying “fridge cleanout in 15 minutes.”  Whatever is left over in the refrigerator after that email goes out disappears.  No one really noticed for a long time what Lee was doing with the food; they just thought it was her self-appointed task to clean out the refrigerator every week.   But while working late one evening, I finally found out.  I went into the kitchen to find her meticulously making dinner plates containing a variety of foods that even the most creative chef could not have dreamed up.  She said it was for the homeless who congregate every evening outside of the New Orleans Mission.

Lee providing conversation and a meal
Lee providing conversation and a meal

No one in our office knew what Lee was doing, and she was fine with that.  She didn’t tell anyone unless they asked.  But one week someone became upset that Lee had disposed of her food before the expiration date.  When she was informed about where her leftover food had gone, the word began to spread.  People began to intentionally leaving food in the refrigerator, even bringing extra food from home.  Now, at the end of each week, Lee has enough food for a feast.  She may have loaves of bread, lunch meat, fresh fruit, leftover gourmet food, sauces, or restaurant food – an endless variety – to combine for a unique meal every week.  The dinners became healthier, because people began to purchase more fresh vegetables for their own lunch, knowing that the uneaten vegetables would not be thrown out, but would instead be used for a good cause.

Made with loving hands

As I watched Lee one Friday evening, after everyone else had gone home for the weekend, she was working with leftover Chinese noodles, taco salad, some kind of rice dish, a beautifully prepared steak that had come from someone’s barbeque pit, some kind of stuffed seafood, and a litany of other miscellaneous foodstuffs.  She combined all of these items, added some condiments that she collects (this week it was sweet & sour sauce), a dash of salt and pepper, and a nutritious hot entrée was created.  She also found leftover lettuce, taco salad, carrots, a cucumber and some broccoli, which, when combined with one of the many bottles of leftover dressing, became a healthy salad.  She had leftover bananas and some tangelos from someone’s garden, which she cut into pieces and added to the plates.  She topped off each plate with slices of leftover olive bread someone had left behind, and voila, 40 delicious and interesting meals were ready to be served.

Lee ready to deliver meals to homeless men and women
Lee ready to deliver meals to homeless men and women

Lee learned how to be efficient and to make these great meals from trial and error.  I watched her as she placed foil on top of the paper plates and stacked them into boxes, loaded them onto a cart, tied it with rope, and began the ½ mile walk from our office to the New Orleans Mission.  As we walked, she related stories about her first few trips, when she didn’t bundle things correctly and they fell off of the cart and spilled all over the pavement, and once when she dripped salad dressing and left a trail all the way to the Mission.  Now, she has a process that works, but she’s still open to change if she finds a better way of doing things.

When Lee finally began her approach to the Mission, her regulars were waiting.  They came to greet her as an old friend.  As she began serving, it was clear that the meals had been eagerly anticipated and they were being enjoyed.  One man told me he is always excited about Lee’s meals because they usually have carrots in them.

Sharing a laugh and a drink

After Lee finished passing out the meals, forks and napkins, she took out a jug of water, passed out cups and served everyone with a drink.  Then, after all was done, she waved a cheerful goodbye. As we walked away, she told me how these Fridays are so uplifting for her.  They always get her weekends off to a great start.  At work she experiences the usual stresses, but by serving others, she feels them all wash away.  The end of her week has turned into a positive experience.

Lee is one example of a person who found a unique and quiet way to serve.  It costs her little or no money.  She uses food that people donate or leave in the refrigerator.  She recycles the plastic forks and spoons that our office would usually throw away.  The only money she spends is for paper plates and foil, and people usually donate those things as well.  The most precious thing that Lee spends is her time, and the payback for that expenditure is enormous – to the people she serves and to her.

As Lee has continued to serve, her dreams have grown.  Sometimes other law firms empty their refrigerators and they join together to make more interesting meals.  She would love to see all of the offices in the downtown New Orleans area doing the same thing.  She wants to collect hygiene items to pass out as well.  Lee has found out what a lot of lucky people learn, the more you serve, the more you want to do – because serving produces a feeling inside of us that matches no other.   Every Friday, she goes home feeling loved and appreciated for a job well done.

How Can We Fight Injustice?

I don’t know about you, but injustice makes me MAD. In fact, right now I am sitting here writing this article with steam coming out of my ears, and I’ll explain why shortly.

I guess I’ve always been like this. When I see things that are unfair, I speak up.  Sometimes it isn’t pretty, although I try, I really try, to keep using my indoor voice.  Sometimes I get laughed at, but oh well.  Years ago when I lost my Social Security card, I remember ordering a replacement online.  But a couple of years ago when I tried, it was no longer possible. The website specifically said “your state doesn’t allow this.” So while I was in the Social Security office, I called my Congressman’s office to ask why.  People sitting around me basically said “shut up and wait in line like everyone else.”  But I wanted to know WHY. Come to find out, it had something to do with the change in our State ID process.  But I recently came across an article that said that Louisiana residents can now again order Social Security card replacements online.  Did I put a bug in anyone’s ear? I don’t know. But it changed.

The fact is, things DO change, but only when we ask.  Often we just pay the fees or do what we have to do without asking if there is a better alternative. Never forget that our government serves US, not the other way around.

Today’s battle involved a utility company.  Because I entered my checking account number wrong for my first auto pay after changing my checking account, I got kicked out. Now, to pay my bill, which is NOT late, I must go to one of there “convenient” locations that charge processing fees, or pay from home with an added processing fee.  I’m sorry, but since when do we have to pay fees to pay our bills?  I can afford this, and the mistake was basically my bad, but I’m thinking of people who I know or who I work with who live from pay check to pay check and will never be able to get ahead or save money because they have to pay so many fees.  And since this is a utility company, there is no choice. Either you pay it or you don’t have electricity. There is no competition.  I was told flat out by 2 people that this is the policy and there is nothing I can do. That’s the wrong thing to say to me.  There is always something.  So, while I’m waiting for supervisors to call me back, I have written to the public service commission, my council person and the local news station.  Will the policy change? I don’t know, but if it doesn’t change it won’t be because someone didn’t see the injustice and try.  UPDATE:  The utility company agreed to waive the fees.  I fought and won for myself, but I am going to pursue this because no one should have to go through this.

And what if it does change?  Then it will mean that battles can be fought and won sometimes.

I know this seems time consuming to fight these battles, but it really isn’t.  I made a couple of calls and wrote and email and then copied and pasted it.  And it’s worth it to spend time fight for justice, even if you may lose.  Sometimes we may not see immediate results, but over time, things will change.

Also, this particular injustice won’t kill me.  But it hurts other people.  So I want it fixed and I’m going to try to step up to fix it.

If you feel powerless right now, start small.  If you see an injustice, point it out. Don’t be silent.  You may be capable of changing more than you will ever know.  Keep up the good fight!

Frugal U – What Makes Us Rich?

Do you know what makes us wealthy?  Sure, things like hard work and a good job come to mind.  But did you know that many people who make a lot of money are not wealthy?  And many people who don’t make a lot of money are wealthy.  Making a lot of money does not create wealth – knowing what to do – or not do – with your money is what creates wealth.  Wealth is built by one simple action: spend less than you earn.  Knowing that this is easier said than done, here are some tips about how to start building wealth.  Yes, these are small steps, but these small steps create good habits that add up to big savings.

  1. Shop with a friend.  Many stores have buy-one-get-one-free deals.  Recently I went shopping with a friend, and we filled our cart entirely with buy-one-get-one-free items.  Then we each took an item and split the bill in half.  The result?  We each had 3 bags full of groceries, including a rump roast, and we only paid $16 each.  If you go to a big box store, you can purchase items together and split them in half.
  2. Know how much things should cost.  Not all items purchased in bulk at big box stores are cheaper than items that can be bought elsewhere in smaller amounts.  But some of them are.  You have to know the difference.  Look at grocery store sales circulars to get a grasp of how much things cost.  Stores tend to have a pattern; one may put their chicken breast on sale on a rotation of every 3 weeks, another may always have cheap bread or ice cream.  Once you get a handle on how often things are on sale and the prices that different stores charge, you will know where the bargains are.  This doesn’t mean you will be going to several different grocery stores in one week.  You can buy the things on sale in one store one week, and other items on sale in another store the next.
  3. Measure prices by weight.  Often one product comes in different sizes.  A 16 oz size might cost $1.00, and an 8 oz size might cost .60, so you save money if you buy the larger size. But that is not always the case, sometimes smaller can be cheaper.  Also, consider that if you will not use the entire contents of a large box, even if the small box costs a few pennies more, it may be worth it if you are going to end up throwing out half of the large box because it expired before you used it all.
  4. Beware – not all “on sale” signs are bargains.  Cat food that was regularly priced at .45 per can in one store was advertised in that same store on sale for “10 for $6.”  Another store offers a weekly special – if you buy two items, you get 5 items free.  But the 2 items you buy are always overpriced (It’s usually 2 pizzas for $7 each and you can usually get the pizzas for $5 or less).  And carefully consider whether you will even use the 5 free items that come with the deal.  Always do the math.  Your smart phone has a calculator, use it.
  5. Limit the amount of times you shop.  The more you go to the grocery store, the more times you will be tempted to purchase impulse items.  Instead, study store circulars before you shop and know in advance what you will buy.  Stock up on your meat and nonperishable items once a month, and then once a week shop only for fresh vegetables, bread and milk — go to the vegetable and dairy departments only, don’t venture into the other aisles.  If going into the store for your fresh food in the middle of the month offers too much temptation to spend money on other things, then why not go to your local bakeries or farmers’ markets for your perishables instead?  You’ll be buying fresher and healthier food while supporting local businesses and farmers at the same time. Click here for a link providing a list of some of the farmers markets in the Greater New Orleans area.  
  6. Use your store’s loyalty cards to the max.  There are many benefits.  One is that the store tracks your purchases, so they will usually provide you with an in-store coupon for items you actually buy.  Many will reward you with a coupon every time you have spent over a certain amount. Some stores partner with other businesses and offer discounts on gasoline or other products. However, again, do the math. 5 cents per gallon savings sounds great, but for me that’s a total of 50 cents per fill-up.  Is the item linked with this deal usually more than 50 cents cheaper?  Sometimes it is.
  7. Use Cash.  I have a credit card that earns cash back.  I pay my credit card off every month, so I got into the mindset of charging everything so I could earn cash back.  The only problem was, at the end of the month when I received my credit card bill, I was shocked that I spent so much money.  When we use our credit cards, we aren’t aware of how much we are spending.  Now, I allow myself an allowance of a certain amount of cash per week.  When I am tempted to purchase something, I ask myself “is this where you want your limited amount of cash to go?”  Usually the answer is no.  Another benefit of using cash is that at the end of the day I put all of my coins in a piggy bank.  When it is filled, I deposit the coins into a savings account. It adds up!
  8. Get out of Debt.  You may think this is easier said than done, but it is doable. Stop charging and starting paying off your bills – one bill at a time.  After the first bill is paid off, you will feel so good!  Then you can use the money you were paying on that bill to pay down the next bill.  It’s called snowballing.  Being free from debt provides you with so much freedom — the freedom to retire early, the freedom to take a lesser-paying job that you would enjoy more, the freedom to be generous and give to good causes, the freedom to travel…and you will have much less stress in your life.
  9. Remember, every penny saved is a penny that can be used to increase your wealth.

These are just a few small ideas we can apply to our everyday lives.  Can you think of more money-savers?

1 2 3 5