Have Mercy, re-visit

Written in July 2016, this post has something for me today. As I’m quarantining inside my home for going on two months, I have to ask myself if I’m willing to take a risk for my neighbor.

I’ve heard the story of “The Good Samaritan” countless times in my fifty-plus years. You know the one, the guy is traveling down a road when he is attacked by robbers and left for dead. He’s lying mangled in the dirt, gasping for breath, hoping against all hope that someone will stop and help him.

One of our pastors this morning recalled with us the tragedies of the last week, month, year, years, and asked us the question, “What does it mean for us? for the church? Who is our neighbor and how are we to treat him?”

Let me just go on record here and say that in the past weeks and months I have NOT immediately gone to that question as I’ve witnessed all kinds of horrendous acts. I have been more often found standing in front of the television, eyes wide, saying, “What the…”

It doesn’t take me long to launch into the words I used to hear my grandparents say, “What’s the world coming to?” From there it’s just a short trip to quoting scripture about the end times and “wars and rumors of wars”.  Before you know it, I’m in a frantic outrage trying to find someone to blame. It must be the Republicans. No, it’s the Democrats. Wait, I think it’s corporate America. No, no, it’s the extremists. I’m not really looking for what it means for me, or, to be honest, for ways that I could possibly help.

This morning, our pastor in his re-telling of “The Good Samaritan” flipped the script for me. He said that like the man in the story, each of us  is essentially half-dead, lying in the dirt, gasping for breath. He said, “Jesus is the good Samaritan.” Gasp! How did I get fifty years into my life and not realize that the point of the story is not that I would see myself as the good Samaritan and look for ways that I can be better than the priests and the Levites and actually help out the poor hurting soul? How have I not seen that I am the poor hurting soul!?!?!?

Jesus was telling this story to a respected expert in the law. The expert had asked him, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” He, of course, knew what was written, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind and love your neighbor as yourself.”  He just needed a little clarification. “Uh, Jesus, who, uh, exactly, would you say qualifies as ‘my neighbor’?”

Can’t you just see Jesus inhaling slowly, thinking to Himself, “This one is gonna take a story.” He doesn’t just say, “Every living human, you moron!” like I might. Nope. He takes this expert in the law, pulls him onto his lap and has a little story time.

The Teacher tells the ‘expert’ that, in the story, the Samaritan didn’t first check to see what neighborhood the hurting man was from. He didn’t ask him his last name. He didn’t try to find out if he was an illegal immigrant. He didn’t check to see if he had a conceal and carry permit. He didn’t examine the color of his skin. He didn’t determine if they spoke the same language. He didn’t check his ID. No.

He saw a dude in the dirt that needed help. He used his own wine and oil to cleanse the man’s wounds. He bandaged him up, put him on his own donkey, and then walked with him to a place of shelter. He paid for the stranger’s care and promised to come back and pay more. Period.

The Teacher looks the ‘expert’ in the eyes and says, “Who was a neighbor to this man?” The ‘expert’ says, “The one who showed mercy.”  

And the punch line? “Go, and do likewise.”

Is it dangerous to meet the need of someone we do not know? Yes. Is it scary to reach out when we see someone hurting? It can be. Is it uncomfortable to stand up for the oppressed, the wounded, the outcast? Sometimes.

Our pastor’s challenge to us this morning was that we ask God to show us the people in our regular flow of life who need us to see them, to share with them what we have, to walk beside them, and to befriend them. His closing words? “Take the risk to love for the sake of the Gospel.”

Go, and do likewise.

Be strong and courageous; do not be afraid. For I, the Lord your God, will be with you wherever you go.

Joshua 1:9

Turn at any time, a Re-visit

Click the arrow above to hear me read this post.

I wrote this post in January of 2016, and since I’ve been on the topic of New Year’s resolutions, I thought I’d revisit it here. It serves as a reminder that while New Year’s resolutions are great, if we find ourselves on a wrong path, we can turn at any time.

When I was younger, I participated in the whole New Year’s resolution hoopla.  Each January I would determine to exercise more, be more diligent in my Bible study, write more, save more money, etc. Like many, I started off strong, then missed a day, fell off the wagon, or went back to my old ways feeling defeated and guilty.

At some point over the years, my pendulum swung to the other extreme, and I determined that I was fine, thank you very much; I didn’t need to resolve to change anything. I may have even scoffed at those who did make resolutions.

Eventually, I admitted that in fact I was not fine, thank you very much. I did need to, from time time, assess my situation and make some adjustments. However, in a mind-blowing realization, I discovered that change could happen at any time, not just at the beginning of the year. It could happen on February 19 or June 3. In fact, I could resolve to live differently on December 21, right before the Christmas holidays. Change didn’t have to be bound by the calendar. I could decide that I would write more starting at 2pm on a Thursday afternoon and sit down at the keyboard right then! What a radical thought!

And, if on the following Monday at 9am I realized that I had forgotten about my decision to write more, I could remember right then and get back at it! I didn’t have to wait until the next Thursday at 2pm!

By now, I have realized that, despite my good intentions and my continued determinations to change, I continue to find a way to fit failure into each and every day. I resolve to call a friend, be consistent with exercise, pray each morning, etc, etc., then I find myself binge-watching some Netflix show that adds virtually no value to my life!

It happens, and then I have a choice — I can continue to ignore my resolutions, or I can turn toward them. If you’ve tried this at home, you know that turning isn’t typically easy or final. Right now I am turning toward my good practices of Bible study, prayer, and writing. In a few minutes I might be finishing the sewing project I have resolved to finish today, or I might get distracted by Words with Friends or Facebook.

Let me just take a moment to say here that I don’t think Netflix, Words with Friends, or Facebook are evil…if you know me, you know that I enjoy each of these 21st century phenomena quite a bit. However, just like anything else in our stimuli-rich world, they can distract me from my turning. They can get me walking away from what I want and need most. So, from time to time, I have to set them down, take stock, and remember why I am turning.

I am turning for a fuller, richer, more meaningful life. More prayer gives me a healthier connection with the Father. More Bible study provides a richer foundation in the truth. Consistent writing allows me to process all that I take in each day, everything I’m learning. These practices — prayer, Bible study, writing — center me. They breathe newness into me.

So, today I am turning toward them. Tomorrow I may get distracted for a bit, but I won’t wait until next year to redirect. I can turn at any time.

Because of the Lord’s great love [we can return at any time], for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness.

Lamentations 3:22-23, Rathje Revised Version

Play Ball!

I am not too proud of myself at the moment.  I’ve had a series of less-than-stellar performances and I’m starting to feel like I’m going to get put on the bench.

Last Thursday I had a dud of a session with one of my students.  We were working on ACT prep and we just weren’t making progress.  We kept getting stymied and bogged down in words.  When I left him, I was frustrated and so was he.

I left him to go to another student.  She and I worked for an hour and a half on an outline for a research paper she is writing.  We referred to the teacher’s model, we attended to his rubric, and we created a finished product.  Her mom messaged me the next day — the outline earned a 60%.

This morning I worked with a student on reading comprehension.  We were pouring over college-level text that involved math. I am not inept when it comes to math, but I am rusty.  Very rusty.  We each read the text silently creating notes at the same time.  We compared our notes, then I asked her some higher order thinking questions about the content.  Without getting into the gory details let me just say that my student became acutely aware that I was out of my comfort zone.  I could have left it there.  I didn’t.  I asked a colleague, in the student’s presence, to help me understand what I did wrong.  And I didn’t just ask once, I blathered on and on, joking about my inability to set up a proportion correctly. That doesn’t sound like a horrible sin, but I had been told before working with this student that I should not reveal that I was a newbie — the student is very intelligent and needs to know that I am qualified to do this job. I  blew it.

The colleague pulled me aside and reminded me that this student’s success is contingent on the fact that she trusts our credibility. That’s when I remembered the explicit instructions.

It was time for me to go home, so I clocked out and walked to the car feeling a physical sensation I haven’t felt in years.  A dull ache was in my throat and through my chest.  I had blown it.  I couldn’t take it back.  What if this student didn’t want to work with me any more? What hardship would that cause for the agency?  What will it take to rebuild her confidence in me.

Really, I was a mess.

I texted the colleague expressing my grief.  When I got home and realized she hadn’t texted me back, I started to draft an email about how devastated I was at my failure, etc., etc.   That’s when I heard the ‘ping’.  My colleague texted me back! “Don’t worry about it!  It’s all part of this crazy steep learning curve!”

We texted back and forth for a few minutes and I began to breathe more regularly, to release the tension in my muscles, and to prepare for the student that I have this afternoon — the same ACT student that I tanked with last week.

I have had a lot of successes as a teacher.  I know I am capable, but lately I feel like I’ve been falling a little (or a lot) short.  I don’t cut myself much slack.  I expect to hit it out of the park every time I get up to bat, but even the best hitter in the MLB isn’t getting a hit even half of the time.  I don’t expect my students to get a hit every time they are at bat either, but they still get discouraged when they strike out.

They often want to throw the bat, stomp to the dugout and sulk. That is how I felt today.  I was sure I would collapse on my bed when I got home and cry for a while — I know better!  How could I make such a novice mistake!!

And I made another one, didn’t I?  My last post was about trajectory and how success is often related to how well we are able to adapt, bounce back, get back on the horse.

So I’ve had a few rough spots in the last week.  Who hasn’t?  I’ve said from the beginning that working with students is as much about lessons for me as it is about lessons for them.  Why would I be surprised when my learning gets a little uglier than I am comfortable with.  It happens for my students all the time.  And yet they continue to walk to the plate, pick up the bat, put their eye on the ball, and swing. I can learn a lot from these kids.

So, here I am picking up the bat and walking back to the plate.

Because of the Lord’s great love, we are not consumed; His compassions never fail.

His mercies are new every morning. Great is Your faithfulness.

Lamentations 3:22-23

My Sweet Battalion

Today is Wednesday, and one of the blessings of not taking a regular job is that I get to stay in my Bible study.  I can’t believe that I didn’t even know these ladies just five months ago; they are becoming some of my dearest friends.

In the fall we had around sixteen women every week; now, because many of our gals flew south for the winter or have chosen not to brave the wintry roads, we are down to about nine or ten.  The size of our group is different, and so is our study.  We spent the fall studying 1 and 2 Thessalonians; now we are getting up close and personal with the Sermon on the Mount.

What hasn’t changed is the sense of belonging and community that I felt from the first moment.  These gals look forward to seeing one another.  We pray together, study the Bible together, laugh together, and sometimes even cry together.  When one shares a burden, others offer encouragement.  When one celebrates, all celebrate.  And all kinds of partnerships have formed within the group.  Some have partnered to collect funds for missionaries, or toiletries for the homeless, or to gather books for inner city children.  Others meet for coffee, or lunch, or to go walking.  One calls on another who is lonely.  Another stops by to check on one who has difficulty getting out.  True community.

Today in our study we discussed our failures in life — how we regret them, how we have learned from them, and how God has used them to draw us closer to him.  One woman, reflecting on her life, expressed wonder at the fact that God has shown her mercy — he didn’t give her what she deserved.  The teacher in our study shared that when we do wrong, we pray for mercy, but when others do us wrong, we pray for justice.  Ouch, that hurt.  How powerful would it be, if each of us who had been shown mercy would pay it forward and show mercy, overwhelming mercy, to those who have wronged us?

As the teacher shared those thoughts, the nods and knowing glances, the conviction and the desire to change were shared among the women.  These women, not one of them younger than I am, acknowledged their need to grow, to change, to repent, to draw closer to God.

The power in that is phenomenal.  The encouragement is undeniable.  What if nine women in a small town in Michigan decided to go about showing mercy to those in their lives — their spouses, their children, their neighbors, their pastors, their leaders, their coworkers?

I left Bible study, ran a couple of errands, and found myself at my desk in my house by the river.  I picked up my personal devotion book, which today, using the metaphorical language of battle, encouraged me to Arm myself for battle (with the Word of God), Stay on course (with God’s purpose as my goal), Stick close to my battalion (my girls, of course), and to Stay alert (for opportunities and for hindrances).  When I got to the part about ‘sticking close to my battalion’, I smiled.  My sweet ladies are quite the battalion — I wouldn’t want to oppose them.  They are strong in number, united in purpose, and fully armed for battle.  I am proud, and blessed, to join their ranks.

I Thessalonians 5:11

Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.