Archive for the ‘Community’ Category

Just Cute

December 5, 2019

It could easily be maintained that I have no heart, based on my typical posts that veer (successfully or unsuccessfully) more towards the cerebral than the emotional.

But just to prove I am somewhat human, here is an adorable example of how something can be done well without resorting to excessive expense, profanity, nudity, sexuality, or any of our  other popular marketing gimmicks.

Take a few seconds to watch this if you’re in the mood for something wholesome and sentimental.

Missionary Thanksgiving

November 28, 2019

We hosted Thanksgiving dinner, as we have practically every year for the last 15 years, since we moved away from our home  state and our families to embark on the process of graduate work and ordination and life as a pastor and family.  And while we miss family this time of year, we also appreciate the opportunity we’ve been afforded to establish our own traditions, the foremost being opening our house to whomever wants to come by and join in.

This year we had two and a half Russians, two Swiss students, a Brazilian girl, a Belgian guy, a retired lawyer from the eastern United States, the spouse of one of the Russians, and a South African surfer/photographer/missionary.  There were at least two others who were slated to come but didn’t.  It was a big group, when you add these to our family of five and our two dogs!

We’d never met half of these people.  The other half have gradually become part of our extended family over the past months and years.  Most people think we’re crazy for doing this sort of thing, and there are moments throughout where we know we are.  But, it’s who we are.  If God the Holy Spirit grants gifts to his people, they aren’t all going to look and act the same.  And what is well out of one person’s comfort level may fit someone else just right.

And that’s what it comes down to.  As a family of mostly introverts, it isn’t that we open our house and our lives for comfort or because it’s our first inclination.  But we do it in hopes that somewhere along the line the Holy Spirit will prompt something that leads towards a Gospel conversation.  We love these people, friends old and new.  We love them here and now and as they are, but hoping and praying that we can love them as brothers and sisters in eternity as well as for Thanksgiving dinner.  It isn’t bait and switch, it isn’t I’ll-be-nice-to-you-now-so-I-can-ambush-you-with-Jesus, but rather a continuum.  I love you here and now ultimately because of Jesus and his love for you eternally.  I prayed before the meal, and not one of those generic sort of un-offensive things that doesn’t address anyone or anything, but a good Trinitarian prayer with Jesus and everything.  Not the Gospel, but a statement that we are Christians and perhaps that is why we do what we do.  And we pray now for opportunities to follow up, to continue discussion, to deepen relationships to the point where talking about Jesus isn’t weird.

It takes time, but the Gospel is being shared.  Repeated conversations with some of these people where we address larger cultural issues and have the opportunity to share what our faith and the Bible has to say about these things.  Finding places of overlap and commonality that can lead back to the God who created all things and our responsibility in messing them up and his faithfulness in insisting on restoring them.

That’s what matters most, is giving thanks to the God who does everything for us and despite us.  Not just once a year but every moment.

 

Worship Apathy

September 30, 2019

A member texted me a link to this article on apathy for weekly Christian worship.  It makes reference to this original article in Christianity Today.  In both cases, I think the authors are making some fundamentally incorrect assumptions about worry over apathy for worship and/or disinterest in worship or prioritizing other activities over worship.

Yes, pastors talk about this a fair amount.  But almost always within the context of Christians, not non-Christians as both these articles seem to assume.  I don’t expect a non-Christian to see an issue with going to a football game or seeing Sunday morning as a great time for their child’s soccer practice.  The problem is more and more Christians are led to think the same way.

Yes, our culture is becoming increasingly unchurched, and this means not simply non-attendance but no actual experience with church attendance or the Bible or the Christian faith even in their youth.  Although a majority of Americans still claim belief in God, what this means is harder to pin down in any one survey.  But even among Christians, I’ve seen some survey results claiming “regular attenders” now means once every six weeks.

That certainly is indicative of apathy.  And apathy regarding Christian worship is something Christians have, not non-Christians.  Non-Christians don’t even think about it to begin with, as the Christianity Today article states.  But a Christian who thinks worship every month and a half is adequate does evince either a strong apathy or a complete lack of understanding of what Christian worship is for.  Or both.

This isn’t a new problem, as this article from a dozen years ago points out.  While this article points out some good reasons for a lack of regular participation in worship by Christians (priority conflicts, consumer mentality, etc.) it overlooks a pretty important one – why should Christians be in worship to begin with?

One could note that for at least 3500 years God’s people have been engaged in regular (weekly) worship.  That might seem reason enough for some folks, and while I’m inclined to agree, I agree only to the extent that this might be a reason Christians begin or return to weekly worship schedules.  It isn’t sufficient to keep them there.  Either they receive something when they come to worship they can’t get anywhere else which keeps them coming back and ensures they prioritize that time over other options, or they aren’t going to keep coming back or re-prioritizing their lives.

There are good Biblical, theological reasons for weekly worship.  No, the New Testament doesn’t set out a definition for weekly worship, in large part because that was assumed.  Early Christians were Jewish, and Jewish sabbath with worship was a weekly part of their lives.  It was just understood that following Jesus would also involve this sort of weekly worship.  After all, it was here, in weekly worship, that believers could be taught more about Jesus’ life and death and resurrection.  They could be encouraged and guided in how to live lives consistent with those realities, in anticipation of further promises to be fulfilled in terms of eternal life.  Believers could gather together to support one another and get through hard times together.  While it may not have looked exactly like this, it would have been just as intentional.  And here believers could be reminded of the source and nature of their hope as their lives here and now became increasingly complicated with increasingly widespread and violent persecutions.  In the company of fellow believers, the faithful also had opportunities to put their talents and gifts to work for the benefit of their entire community of faith.

Many in my congregation value gathering together for weekly worship because the congregation has become their family.  They genuinely enjoy getting together to see one another, an added benefit of regular, intentional community.

What do you receive in worship?

 

What Are Your Values?

August 28, 2019

An irritatingly  vague article forwarded to me this week on the changing values of Americans over the last two decades.

Twenty-one years ago hard work, patriotism, commitment to religion and the goal of having children were the most important principles cited by respondents.  The article reports that an other survey recently revealed dramatic drops in the priority of those areas for many people today.

It’s mostly an annoying article for how much it doesn’t tell you, though.

I had hopes they would provide a link to both the surveys involved, so I could see all the questions asked and the respondent rates.  They don’t do that.  As such, I have to assume the survey issued recently used exactly the same questions and language as the one from 21 years ago.  It may seem like an obvious thing taken for granted, but even similar questions worded differently could account for changing respondent levels.

Secondly they don’t indicate what the top principles are for the respondents today.  Are they still those four, but at lower levels than 21 years ago?  Or are other principles now more favored?

Certainly each of these four areas have come under strong cultural attack over the last 20 years.  Rather than emphasizing the importance of hard work, most everything is now oriented towards those who don’t or can’t or won’t work.  Rather than seeing assistance as something that might be necessary in extreme situations but not something people should desire, assistance is seen as natural and ordinary and good.  I can’t remember a single advertisement for ObamaCare that didn’t lay heavy emphasis  on how much assistance was available, so that pretty much nobody would have to pay full price!  I routinely hear people talking about getting Obama Phones.  Some of these folks are in genuine need, but it’s disturbing that aid is sought from a government program rather than their local communities.

Patriotism has taken a lot of hard hits as well.  Superman was criticized for being too America-oriented.  There are groups who view patriotism  not only as misplaced but actually evil, as though people would not naturally form attachments to their communities of origin.  The funny thing is when I talk with people from other  countries, they naturally espouse a strong patriotism.  Unlike the insistence of many pundits today, patriotism is not the same as xenophobia or racism.

Of course religion has taken a beating as well, both from horrific abuse issues as well as a growing misunderstanding of what the separation of  Church and State started out as and should be.  As Biblical Christianity refuses to budge on issues of gender, sexuality, and a host of other popular cultural reforms, this trend of painting Christianity and the Bible as actually evil will only continue, so that naturally more people will distance themselves from it.  But I think a drop in this area also represents an overall lessening of loyalty and trust to any institutions secular or religious (or even family), a continuing effect of post-modernist philosophy and disappointment.

And finally, as children are more and more deemed obstacles to personal fulfillment, the priority of having them will continue to erode.  With monumental debt levels for young people from college student loans, the need to delay having kids until reaching a certain level of financial security has only grown more dire as well.

In other words, there are reasons behind some of these shifting numbers.  I wish the article had done a better job  of providing additional information that might help us make sense of the why’s rather than just the what’s.  There’s a lot more at stake than just the  2020 election cycle.

But you’d never know that from reading the news.

 

Being Gathered

August 27, 2019

Thanks to Lois for shooting me this article.

I can’t find a previous post I’ve done on this topic – non-religious Sunday morning gatherings.  But I’m not surprised to find that it is a difficult thing to sustain over the long haul.  Seeing Christian community as a good thing but thinking that you can take God out of it and still have the same sort of experience reveals a naivete that is almost humorous.  Then again, given our devotion to the gods of psychology, it’s hardly surprising, either.  But this idea is pretty clear at the outset of the article when church is defined primarily as people, psalms, and stained glass windows.

Of course a key difference that the author of the article as well as the people she talks to are not able to articulate and would likely reject outright even if they could is that Christian community is not a matter of choice, but rather obedience.  This is painfully easy to forget, and is likely at the heart of how many congregations go through splits and divide.

We are called together, we don’t simply decide this is what we feel like doing.  The reality is there are plenty of Sunday mornings when we’d rather sleep in or  enjoy a leisurely and casual breakfast or get a head start on the yard work.  And all of those things are fine upon occasion, but we are called to gather together in worship.  Why we gather is a matter of great debate among Christians in the past century, and perhaps accounts for why fewer and fewer Christians are attending  at all.

Traditional Christian understanding is that we are called by God to gather together, because in public worship we receive the gifts of God in his Word and Sacraments.  In the many times and places where Christianity was or is actively persecuted, this understanding of worship is very comforting and encouraging.  To gather with others who believe the same as you, to be taught the Word of God so that you can apply it to your life, to remember what matters most as opposed to what the world or your local community wants you to believe is important is crucial.  Small wonder that even under brutal, intolerant regimes, Christians still risk imprisonment or death to gather with other believers for encouragement and strength – which comes first and foremost from God himself and secondly from those you gather with.

This is important because sometimes, you may not be thrilled  with everyone you gather with.  Community is hard – a mantra of mine – and nearly always your community will have at least one person in it you don’t see eye to eye with or whose personality grates on your nerves.  That’s human nature.  So if it’s all up to me whether I put myself with that person over and over and over again, I’ll eventually quit doing it.  But if I understand that I’m called to be there, that it is an act of obedience and not simply a personal preference, then I ideally have to figure out how to deal with that person in love.

But in times where the faithful are not persecuted or a minority, it becomes easier to think of worship as something I do, as something that I offer to God.  Worship becomes almost exclusively a matter of me praising and thanking God, rather than being fed by Him, or  it becomes a time where the main focus is how I feel.  Do I feel uplifted?  Do I feel as though I’ve given adequate thanks to God?  Those are some pretty subjective questions and the law of diminishing returns seems to indicate eventually those emotional highs will become more sporadic.  At which point it’s a lot easier to just forgo the whole  thing.  If worship is a matter of what I give to God rather than what I receive from God, then the popular argument that I can worship God anywhere makes a lot more sense.

Yes, you can worship God anywhere.  You can talk to him and sing to him and think about him anywhere.  And you should!  But is that what worship is?  Is that all worship is?  And if that’s my only form of worship, at what point does my conception of God begin to slip into a God of my own understanding rather than the God of the Bible?  At what point do I slip into any number of misunderstandings or heresies about God, which could ultimately lead me to reject him completely?

Christian worship very quickly becomes more than just something that’s fun to do.  It might not be very fun at all.  But it is an essential part of the Christian life of faith, and untold numbers of people over several thousand years have known this and preferred the risk  of torture or death to giving it up completely.

Tastes and preferences change.  Very few people maintain something on a weekly basis over the course of their whole lifetime – except for worship.  It’s not surprising that something that has no basis other than personal preference is hard to sustain over the long haul.  You might really enjoy listening to U2 and love the opportunity for a communal karaoke event, but without a deeper  meaning and purpose, that music doesn’t ground you in anything deeper, doesn’t call anything from you, doesn’t demand anything from you, and can’t offer you more than a few moments of nostalgia or some other emotional fix.

 

 

 

Clashing Worlds

August 15, 2019

She is very young.

In the language of today, which must constantly judge and categorize, she would undoubtedly be called privileged.  Sheltered.  But that is to some extent the condition of the young.  And here she is on the other side of the ocean from her home, interning in the court system in our town for a few weeks as part of her course of study in law in her home country.

She arrived home harried, which is not uncommon, but also agitated.  Today I went someplace I never want to go again.  I guessed where she had been before she revealed it – the jail.

Not as an inmate, but as an observer.  Her first time in a jail, and the first time is always overwhelming in one fashion or another.  It was terrible, she said.  It’s easy to know what the law says and know that if I break the law I could go to jail.  But people think they won’t get caught, won’t go to jail, and if they do, it won’t be that bad.  But it’s bad.  It’s terrible.  

I think back over my many years ministering in jails.   Yes, it’s bad.  But what you learn over time is that there are worse places.  That for some, three squares a day and a bed and a shower and a lot of regiment are just what they need.  Far better than the uncertainty of addiction or crime.  But that first time, well, the first time you simply know it’s terrible.

And by extension, you know the people there are terrible.

Why else would they be there, right?  For all the media talk about misjustice and injustice and all manner of very serious and very real issues, the vast majority of the people behind bars are there for very sound, real, good reasons.  Most of them will admit this to a greater or lesser extent.

It’s easy to see only the crime and not the person.  Probably as easy as seeing the person without seeing the crime.  And of course there is a tension between the two, a relationship to be acknowledged, a dance that must be completed and hopefully not repeated.

She gathers her dinner plate.  Mostaccioli and salad and toasted garlic cheese bread.  We’re eating out back on the patio tonight.  It’s cooler than inside and we have three extra guests tonight.  Three women, at least one if not all three who were at some point or other – perhaps very recently – in jail.

Repeatedly.

Addiction does that.

But they are gathered for dinner at our house tonight because for the time being they are working very hard to beat the odds and their addictions in hopes of a life free from jail in the future.  You wouldn’t know it to look at them.  A statuesque blonde.  A young Hispanic woman with beautiful long straight hair, though she looks with admiration at the naturally curly hair of my wife and daughter.  All three of them laughing and carrying on together like girls and women do together, enjoying food and the cool evening air.

I wonder what she would say if she knew.  Knew that but for a glitch of timing she might have met these ladies in jail, in that terrible place with terrible people who have done terrible things to themselves and others.  Her  disgust and disdain are palpable, but she’s happily engaged speaking in another language with one of our resident guests.  She doesn’t know.

I pray that as she enters the field of law she will be able to walk the difficult tightrope of never forgetting the law but also never forgetting the people.  That she will remember that ultimately our hope is not merely punitive but restorative, and that her faith – however perfunctory it may or may not be – will guide her to give  both thanks and praise to the Creator.  The God who created her in her youthful inexperience, as well as the people in the jails and prisons of our world.  People who perhaps need to be there, but hopefully don’t have to be there forever.  I pray that she never loses hope that lessons can be learned, debts to society can be repaid, lives restored, and glory given not to the magistrates or parole boards or wardens but to the God who alone has the power and will to restore life from death, hope from ashes.

And I pray that if she can be sustained on that tightrope, she won’t be adverse to sitting down with people she may have been required to put in jail at one point or another, in anticipation of an eternal feast where our places are guaranteed not by the purity of our lives but by the grace of our Creator through his Incarnate Son, who pays the penalty for our sin that we might be set free.

FOMO and Pulling Triggers

August 3, 2019

After several weeks of preparation and contemplation, I just deleted my Facebook account.

Of course, few actions are immediately irreversible in the technology world.  I have 30 days to change my mind and reactivate my account (and access all of my posts, pictures, and other tidbits accumulated over the last 12 years).  But once that window passes – and I trust it will pass without inordinate temptation – I’d have to start from scratch with a new account.  Theoretically at least, Facebook will delete all of my data and information.  I downloaded a copy of it a few weeks ago in case I want to peruse it one day.

Not checking Facebook multiple times a day over the past month has been an amazingly simple experience.  Once I deleted all my friends, there was no content to tempt me back.  Facebook was, in the final analysis for me, not so much an avenue for self-expression as it was a means of lurking on the lives of others.  I doubt I’m unique in this, but I’m willing to admit it for what it was.

In our age of acronyms this is known as FOMO – fear of missing out.  What if everyone else has discovered something wonderful and I’m out of the loop?  What if I miss out on the latest meme?  What if I’m not on the cutting edge of current water cooler conversation?  What if, what if, what if…..

Having crested mid-life, FOMO has a diminishing pull on me.  All well and good because  having crested middle age I’m now largely irrelevant to the culture around me.  Old enough not to be swayed by the myriad  cries of the masses virtually or otherwise, to  be skeptical of the swaying needle of cultural opinion or fashion or celebrity or other metrics.   When I honestly admitted that lurking on the lives of people through Facebook I’m barely connected to otherwise in life was unhealthy for any number of reasons, cutting the cord was easy.  Being willing to admit that 99% of the people I was friends with on Facebook hardly fit that title by any reasonable definition was harder.

It’s like the much-maligned band Nickelback and their single Photograph.  I’ve thought for years it was simply a nostalgic trip down memory lane, when actually it’s a recognition that such strolls have to come to an end some day.  It’s not healthy or accurate to perpetuate the state of a relationship years or decades ago through a social media outlet if that’s the only connection that remains.  People I’ve worked with across multiple organizations and vocations, people I’ve gone to school with in various places across the decades, people associated with other groups or times of life – if  my only connection to them is watching what they post and liking it or visa versa, this isn’t really a relationship.  It becomes an obsession with the past rather than the present, an attempt to maintain the illusion of something deeper which died a long time ago, and barring some miracle of the Holy Spirit’s strange connectivity, will never live again.

Some of those Facebook friends I’ll keep touch with in other ways, but the vast majority I won’t.  That’s OK.  It’s not that I wish them ill, think any less of them, or  otherwise don’t care about them.  But I need to acknowledge that what Facebook helps create is the illusion that those relationships are still alive and active and to some degree unchanged.  As though liking a post or a photo  of someone I haven’t otherwise communicate with in 20 years is the same as the old  water cooler discussions or the old late night camaraderie.  It isn’t.  Those things have passed on.

That can be hard to acknowledge if there aren’t a set of new relationships to replace these old ones.  It can force us to acknowledge our actual isolation in the here and now.  But such honesty might also spur us to greater efforts to build new relationships.  When I first began serving as a pastor in this part of the world, I was told about a program specifically designed for new pastors  in the area to connect with one another and begin to build relationships with people right here rather than rely exclusively on past relationships (or even current but geographically distant ones) through social media.  That was a dozen years ago.  The program long ago died off, but the need it sought to address back  then is only more real now.

I don’t think social media is bad, per se.  There are unhealthy aspects to it, but there are also beautiful blessings it provides.  As with most tools, it’s how we use them that matters, and recognizing that technological tools also seek to use us.  I can pick up a hammer to hang a picture on the wall and put the hammer down and it won’t pursue me.  Social media can and does pursue.  In the last month since I quit checking Facebook I’ve started getting texts and e-mails from Facebook telling me that there are new posts and messages that I should check in and see.  Unlike a hammer, social media needs me every bit as much – or more likely more –  than I need it.  And when that’s the case we need to carefully discern what we’re providing compared to what we’re receiving.  Concerns about privacy and data breaches are as common as the air we breathe, and perhaps that’s the point – we get used to the idea that we don’t really have privacy, that we aren’t entitled not to be commercially objectified or exploited 24/7.

How people calculate these balances will differ.  For my, psychologically and emotionally it’s time to pull the trigger on Facebook.  I’ve realized I’m not missing out on anything, or perhaps more accurately, I’m still missing out on the same things whether I’m on Facebook or not.

Misplacing Shame

August 1, 2019

San Francisco is a big city with a big problem – people want to ride the Bay Area Rapid Transit system (BART) for free.  A one-way ticket costs just shy of $4.00.  BART estimates  they lose between $1 million and $25 million a year due to people hopping over the turnstiles without paying.  That’s a large range.  A better handle on more accurate figures could assist in determining what – if anything – should be done to prevent people from free-loading more often.

What they’re currently testing is  not popular with a lot of people.

They’re installing chrome blades that shoot up out of the turnstiles if someone tries to push through without paying.  I’m sure they aren’t sharpened, but are designed to make it harder and slower for someone to circumvent the system.  This article describes the outrage these modification systems are raising.

The blades are cited as a danger to people in wheelchairs, though unless someone is bent over at a very awkward angle I’m not sure how that could be.  Others are cited are critical because they see this as an economic oppression of the lower classes.  Their solution is that BART should be free to low-income people.  An interesting proposition, though one that undoubtedly comes with a hefty price tag in terms of systems implementation, and still would not likely deter those who won’t bother to register and prefer to just hope the turnstiles.

But nowhere in the article is there any shame cast at those who are the problem – those people stealing free rides by jumping the turnstiles.  I’m not unsympathetic to an argument for a free or lower-cost rate for low-income people, but I find it problematic that nobody – other than BART – thinks that the real problem is people who  feel they should be able to ride for free while others pay.

Throughout the article, those people are never called out.  Never criticized.  Never shamed for their behavior, no matter how justified or necessary their situations may make it seem to be.  If theft isn’t shamed and called out as wrong, it won’t change.  Justifying the behavior just makes it that much more acceptable to a wider range of people.  It’s an endemic problem in our culture these days,  and it’s contributing to the deterioration of law and order on a wide scale.

Go ahead and be critical of a particular methodology aimed at curbing fare-theft.  But don’t forget to be critical of those stealing rides.  They contribute to lost operating revenues and the need for ever-increasing fares, which only makes the situation for low-income people as a whole (at least honest ones) worse.

 

The Cost of Education

June 4, 2019

The cost of education is something parents need to grapple with.

This is usually used as a means to spur parents to save for their children’s college education.  In which case, it’s not doing a very effective job by all accounts, as the price  tag of higher education continues to skyrocket, necessitating the need for student loans.

When I started my undergraduate degree at a major state school, tuition and fees per semester was $498 for 12 or more credits.  Not including books, room & board, etc.  I could work part time jobs to pay for my college education without taking out student loans.   Not really practical for most students these days (presuming the concept of working to pay for your education is even part of popular parlance these days).

It’s easy to take out student loans, but paying them back is often overwhelming.  So overwhelming that people are actually leaving the country after graduation in order to avoid repaying them.

And whatever they learned at college, they don’t appear to have learned the concept that if you borrow money from someone else, you ought to pay it back.  They’ve learned some brutal practicality – following your bliss can be very expensive, and regardless of what your bliss pays, if you borrow money you’re going to be expected to pay it back at some point.  So if your bliss requires you to skip out on that debt, so be it.

 

Agenda-less

May 15, 2019

What a beautiful reminder of the possibilities when things aren’t overscheduled or over-planned.

Wednesday evenings I lead a Bible study.  It started out for people in my congregation who couldn’t make the mid-afternoon weekly study.  We started with one set of topics.  But over time, those folks quit coming, while another group began attending.  A group of three to seven ladies from a local drug & alcohol residential recovery program began coming.  It’s a slightly different group each week, so I’ve had to keep the programming relatively loose.  At times, I worry that our time together lacks direction or purpose on any given evening.  And other nights, I’m reminded of how God can step into situations where there’s a gap.

Tonight there were three ladies who came.   I know these three ladies.  Shortly after they arrived in the program (in one girl’s case – the next day from her arrival)  our family began opening our home each week to the ladies from this program, having three of them over at a time to help cook & eat dinner, to hang out, play board games or video games, and just be part of a family for an evening.  They’re committed to a year-long recovery program that takes some of them out of their families for  a long time, and a chance to just be has turned out to be a welcome thing for them.  Who knew?

But also on hand was a woman from a Friday Bible study I lead at the retirement and assisted living community next door to us.  She’s attended Friday Bible studies for probably five years now – ever since I started offering them there.  She’s 96 years old.  She’s lived long enough to begin worrying about her siblings and now children dealing with cancer and death.

One of the recovery ladies started out, when I asked tonight if there was something they wanted to talk about, simply asking for help.  Her sponsor told her today she thought there was some sort of block between this girl and God that was inhibiting her relationship with God and threatening the success of her recovery.  She was understandably frightened by those words, even as she  acknowledged that she’s suspected this herself for some time.  It was frank and open and honest.  Humble and vulnerable from a young woman known much more for her mischief.

Her honesty set the tone for the evening.  One of the other recovery ladies shared about how she’s been looking for work now for several weeks as she enters the final phase of the recovery program.  But so far her diligence has only resulted in rejections.  And the rejections are piling up and she’s having trouble dealing with them.  Rejection isn’t any fun.  And rejection after seeing your life transformed must be even harder.  She shared – both as part of her story and as encouragement to the young woman who had just shared her difficulty connecting with God – that her way of re-connecting was to look at plants and flowers.  To study one particular one up close, observing it in detail, and that this would lead her to eventual worship of the One who must have created it.  She spoke more this evening than in the entire nine months I’ve known her, and her honesty was breathtaking.

The third lady shared how she had just been admitted – by surprise and two weeks early – to the final phase of the program, and that she’d be starting a transition class at the local community college in the summer but was looking for work in the meantime.  Once again she shared and was open in a beautiful way.  She shared about the way her mother loves her, and is so excited for the new possibilities in her life now that she’s free from her addictions.

Finally the older woman from next door spoke.  She’s a very shy, private woman.  But it was obvious she was delighted and touched by meeting and listening to these younger women.  She talked about how she could relate to each of their struggles, as she had already lived through each of their stages of life.  She offered words of simple encouragement, even as she shared a little of her own struggle in having a husband and siblings pass away before her, and now watching even some of her children struggling with disease.

I heard more tonight from these ladies than I have in months or years.  After I prayed for them each, they exchanged hugs with the older woman, as they were touched by her care and concern for them.

It’s so easy to worry all the time about schedules and plans, agendas and objectives.  Tonight was a beautiful reminder of how God can work in the spaces we leave open.  That given the opportunity beautiful things can and do happen, opportunities to give him thanks and praise as He draws us together in unexpected ways.  I’m grateful for that humbling reminder that it isn’t about me, or about always doing or teaching, and that listening is critical.  When the opportunity arises, listening can be holy work, or more accurately a holy blessing.

Thank you, Lord.