Wednesday, September 11, 2013


Did you know we have a sister city?  Yeah, I know!  Who knew, right?  Well, we do.  In fact, we have a few, but it's this little one in Russia that seems to be causing all the flack.  It's a cute little town with a population just shy of Philly's.  It's name is Nizhny Novgorod, or Nizhny for short.

Now, here is the issue at hand.  Mayor Nutter is facing a bit of pressure to cut ties with our dear sister of 20 years because it seems she has banned homosexual literature.  Yep.  Does it get any worse than that?  One of our illustrious former mayors would have probably dropped a bomb on her by now, but that's another story for another day.  Anyhoo, certain factions are crusading to dump our disagreeable sister, and I couldn't agree more.  Here's my argument:

1) All free thinkers and rubes who have the gall to disagree with popular opinion need to be taught a lesson.

2) Separation of church and state (the current, popular translation - not the one that says the state needs to stay out of the church's business) is obviously the first step in separating sex and state.  If Mayor Nutter is called to task and cuts off Sister Russia, there can no longer be any issues amongst folks who wish to see the state recognize gay marriages -- once the state is out, it's out!

3) It's a wonderful thing to have the fifth largest city in America dictate how to run the fifth largest city in Russia.  Those poor, ignorant folks in Nizhny need our help!  Arrogance is always a good characteristic -- the rest of the world loves Americans for it!

4) Once Nizhny reaches our enlightened status, they can beg to be back in our good graces.  Who knows, maybe then they will have surpassed our enlightenment and can tell us how to run our city - sort of like Mother England did with the colonies back in the 1700's.

5) If Philly divorces our little sister over banning certain literature - in its own city - or over any other difference of opinion, that will give a whole new meaning to extortion.  You disagree?  I want a divorce.  You smoke within the confines of your own car?  Relinquish your driver's license.  You like mind-numbing reality TV?  Oh ok, you can stay.  But, you don't participate in casual Friday?  You're fired.  You don't speak Russian?  You are dead to me (or however they would say that in Nizhny Novgorod).  Everyone knows, the best way to woo someone to seeing things your way is to make ridiculous threats. 

6) Lastly, and this is the one I really want you to let hang there a moment...

Philadelphia public schools banned prayer and Bible reading 50 years ago.


"Where were you?" 

There aren't too many of us who, on this day, need an explanation.  Some were standing in line at Starbucks, manically checking their watches.  Some were breathing a sigh of relief after waving a rowdy brood off on the school bus.  Those of us from the night shift were slumbering blissfully.  And others?  Well, we know.

"But where was God?"

I have been asked that question a few times since 9/11.  The 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.  Hurricane Katrina.  Moore, OK. Big theology for such a tiny blog.  But here's how I see it.

He was on His throne, just where he was when the sun was peeking above the horizon that morning; when birds were trilling and the skies were bathed in color.  He was keeping His eye on us, just as He was the day that really nice guy from the towing company helped you change that flat and get you to your sister's wedding in time.  He was as generous as the day you bought that house for a steal, or found the $20 when you were low on gas.  He was just as sovereign as the day you landed that great job, or got an A+ on your math test, or asked her to marry you (and she said "Yes!")  He had a plan, just as He did the day Hitler committed suicide in that bunker, or Nelson Mandela was born.  He was with those who perished that day, just as He was the first time you heard the cry of your perfectly healthy baby boy.  And He is with you today, even as you doubt His existence or His power or His love for you...just as He was the day you somehow decided He wasn't. 

So when all the cool stuff was happening...

"Where were you?"

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

What Are You Looking For?

That sinking feeling when you realize you have lost your phone. Your keys. Your wallet.  Your kid.  Yep, my ex-husband and I lost our daughter at the beach one time.  I don't think there is a worse place to lose a child.  Add to the usual possibilities -- abduction by any one of hundreds of strangers (God forbid) or a terrified, wandering child -- the possibility of her being swept out to sea and, at the very moment you are standing there wondering what to do next, she is drowning and her tiny voice cannot be heard above the roar of the waves.  Guilt.  "Why were we ever allowed to reproduce?!"  "Why didn't I...?"  Then blame - "Why didn't you...?"  All the while, frantically searching.  Once our Teenie Weenie was found, we hugged her and kissed her, and certainly vowed to be more vigilant, but it really threw some cold, hard sobriety into an otherwise playful day off.

Luke 15 tells three stories of loss.  First, the shepherd who has one hundred sheep.  When one strays, he leaves the others to find it.  "When he has found it, he will joyfully carry it home on his shoulders."

The second is a woman who loses one of ten coins -- perhaps her last ten, perhaps coins of great value.  She frantically works to locate the one that is lost.  When she does, she calls her friends in to rejoice.

The third is a son.  A son who, though he has a will and has decided to wander from home, he has rendered his father a victim of great loss.  His father does not pound the pavements in search of him; he does not put up posters or offer a reward.  But we see his father searching the horizon, longing everyday for his lost son's return.  "And while he was still a long way off, his father saw him coming."  A great banquet is held to celebrate.

What strikes me here, is the increasing value: one percent of the shepherd's wealth, one tenth of the woman's, half of the father's.  Possessions, to a life.  And yet, the scenarios are the same: loss, search, celebration.  We seem to resolve all loss with the same instinctive behaviors.

Luke 19:10 tells us that Jesus is no different: "For the Son of Man came to seek and save those who are lost."  There are those who are lost.  The Greek here is "apollymi," a word meaning in peril, loss ruin or headed for destruction.  But Jesus brings hope!  He seeks them.  The Greek for seek is "zeteo," and means to strive after -- active and emotional search; one definition even says "to crave or demand."

All this to say, I have been challenged.  Do I resist talking about what Jesus has done for us?  Do I halfheartedly wonder if the opportunity will come up -- maybe somebody who is really nice, who really seems receptive?  Or do I actively seek out those I believe to be in peril, headed for destruction, lost?  Am I looking for opportunities, or simply waiting for them?  Am I believing that God can do anything, or am I weighing the possibilities on a scale that is "much more rational?"  The Bible says, no guilt; no blame.  Just find them.  Oh, and then?  Celebration!

Thank You, Lisa Harper!

"There once was a little girl who wanted to be very good.  She felt all alone in a very big world, and wanted desperately for someone to love her for her.  She had this idea that one day her handsome prince would show up on his beautiful white horse and sweep her off her feet.  But in the darkness and loneliness of the night, she heard a voice telling her it was a silly idea - a very silly idea.  After all, what would a handsome prince on a clean white horse want with someone like her?  In fact, the voice told her that not only was she silly and hopeless, but she was dirty and unworthy, and no matter how good she could ever be, she would never be good enough."
Is this your story?  For many it is.  It is mine.  It is Lisa Harper's also. 
I had the privilege of listening to her speak at Women of Faith, this past weekend.  She spoke of knowing Jesus as the payment for her sins, and her Savior from eternal death, but never really experiencing Him as the lover of her soul.  She tried to please Him, because after all, He is this big God who is holy and just and righteous, and sits on His big throne just watching for us to step out of line, ready to spring into action and hammer us into submission.  But she had never really known the freedom that He purchased for us at the cross.  Listening to her put into words so many of the frustrations I experienced while trying to be good, knowing her journey with Christ and for Christ is as recent as the last decade, and witnessing the impact she has (an entire arena silent and breathless as she told her story), gives me hope.  Hope that I can share the truth with others who are trying to reach Jesus or goodness or peace; hope that I can make a difference in the lives of others because Jesus has made such a difference in mine!

Monday, September 9, 2013

But God...

"Putting confidence in an unreliable person in times of trouble is like chewing with a broken tooth or walking on a lame foot."  (Proverbs 25:19)

I have a missing tooth.  My old dentist used to tease me; every time he looked into examine my teeth he'd rib, "Still hasn't grown back, Huh?"  That's how long it's been missing.  And that's how big of a coward I am about getting it fixed.  But I have never gotten used to it being MIA.  I chew on the opposite side.  I avoid that area all together.

Unless you are a Wallenda, or have a backyard full of dogs and the darling little gifts they leave behind, chances are you pay very little attention to where you step.  I also have arthritis in my knee and stress fractures in both feet.  Humidity and showing off both remind me of my limitations.  I hobble very gingerly about until the pain subsides.

Proverbs says to trust in someone that can fail you, or give you such pain you want to slap your momma, or will crumble beneath you at any moment, is foolish.

But God...

Psalm 91
 Those who live in the shelter of the Most High
    will find rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
This I declare about the Lord:
He alone is my refuge, my place of safety;
    he is my God, and I trust him.
For he will rescue you from every trap
    and protect you from deadly disease.
He will cover you with his feathers.
    He will shelter you with his wings.
    His faithful promises are your armor and protection.
Do not be afraid of the terrors of the night,
    nor the arrow that flies in the day.
Do not dread the disease that stalks in darkness,
    nor the disaster that strikes at midday.
Though a thousand fall at your side,
    though ten thousand are dying around you,
    these evils will not touch you.
Just open your eyes,
    and see how the wicked are punished.
If you make the Lord your refuge,
    if you make the Most High your shelter,
10 no evil will conquer you;
    no plague will come near your home.
11 For he will order his angels
    to protect you wherever you go.
12 They will hold you up with their hands
    so you won’t even hurt your foot on a stone.
13 You will trample upon lions and cobras;
    you will crush fierce lions and serpents under your feet!
14 The Lord says, “I will rescue those who love me.
    I will protect those who trust in my name.
15 When they call on me, I will answer;
    I will be with them in trouble.
    I will rescue and honor them.
16 I will reward them with a long life
    and give them my salvation.”

I WILL NOT Carry a Purse!

There is this place called "Girl World," that completely unnerves me.  I have to speculate, that like most neighborhoods or prisons, there are good areas - like Main Street or NVU (a place for non-violent offenders) and bad areas - like Skid Row or Maximum Security, meaning I probably shouldn't generalize, but my experience in Girl World rarely turns out well.

I have always been overweight.  In Girl World this is akin to eating your boogers.

I have never been feminine.  I would much rather go to a car show or have my fingernails removed, than go to a Tupperware demonstration or wear lipstick.  I don't carry a purse and therefore, do not attend purse parties.  I have an reasonable fear of wicker and therefore, do not go do basket parties.  I do however, like beer and football and boxing and making lots of noise, but won't go to those kinds of parties (see Addictions 101).  I'd rather shoot it and eat it, than cuddle it and dress it.  Stuffed animals are vile, and ruffles are strictly meant to be potato chips.

I don't speak the language in Girl World.  I don't understand why "You're looking better," is not a compliment, and why anyone with a shred of human decency would ever say, "So, you decided to go retro, huh?"  My mother taught me it is not polite to cancel plans with someone because something "better" came along, and never, never discuss a party in front of someone who is not invited -- and if you're not sure, don't assume.  Who knew that Bible study would be code for drinks and gossip?

So I asked Scott the other night if he thought I had changed.  I mean, I wholeheartedly committed to seeking My Savior's direction in everything just a few years back.  I feel as though with every mile of this walk, I gladly give up more to His direction and utilization.  I want to bring glory and recognition to Jesus more and more each day.  "So have I changed?"  Scott, being the loving, gracious, wise man that he is, of course answered in the affirmative.  But, Scott is also brutally honest; I knew I had received an accurate assessment.  To corroborate his account, someone recently had paid me the highest compliment I could ever imagine -- she told me that when it came to being a Christian, "I was the real deal."  High praise indeed, and due only to Christ, but man, did it lift my spirit!

Inevitably though, Scott wanted to know what was up with the question.  "I don't resonate with women," I said.  "They don't like me."  After Scott, in his tender, gentle, sometimes profanity-bedecked way asked why I would care, I said, "They never have."

Years ago, I was crass, and pretty brutal in my approach myself.  I craved attention and made sure everyone noticed my presence; I was shocking, and inappropriate, and tawdry.  I gossiped like I had invented it, and would tell someone off at the drop of a hat.  I had impenetrable walls built around this vulnerable, tiny, wounded girl, and "ALL GIRLS KEEP OUT" was posted in red every ten feet.  Only the worst guys got the key.  Understandable why I never survived Girl World; I never want to be that person again.

Recently I have come to realize that just because I walk with Jesus DOES NOT mean that, girls - even Christian girls - will accept me into Girl World.  I have changed.  I believe that, on the whole, I am moving more toward being the person Jesus wants me to be.  I want others to recognize I am not the person I used to be; I want others to see that I am trying to do what is right because I love Jesus.  But just because I don't speak the language or wear the war paint doesn't change Who or where I follow; God equips me for whatever He calls me to do.  I also know that God created me to like dirt and worms; I find comfort in the smell of grease and gasoline because He made me that way!  I do not have to like nail polish, but if I get called up to go to Girl World and preach, maybe I'll find a shade or two that I can live with.  But I WILL NOT carry a purse! (maybe a satchel)

The Tale of a Love Lost

My employer is currently ranked 53rd on Fortune Magazine's list of top 500 companies.  As I stare at that simplistic, direct statement, I wonder why I would care.  I care because I love the company for which I work.  I care because I have lived almost 25 at this address.  I care because I have established relationships and made memories - good and bad - within this family.  I care because I have represented and bragged on my employer.  I care because I have learned so much within the walls of this building.  I care most of all, because I feel UPS has forsaken everything Jim Casey and his partners established in 1907.

Obviously, I never knew the man, but years ago Jim Casey's writings were required reading for supervisors.  Entire workshops were laced with his mantras; meetings began with readings from his works or the company's Policy Book - a book not about dress codes or payroll, but a book about fairness and family, service to its customers - internal and external.  A person's writings say a lot about who they are (it is my prayer that my words remain fragrant and laced with the love of Christ).  To me, and I believe to those who went before me, Jim Casey was committed to a legacy of partnership and camaraderie ("We Address Each Other on a First-Name Basis." The UPS Policy Book), of success as a unit ("One measure of your success...will be the degree to which you build up others who work with you. While building up others you will build up yourself." Jim Casey, 1945) and of reputation and service as the catalysts to financial prosperity.  The following statements are Jim Casey's, and recorded in Our Partnership Legacy:

In 1944: "An expanding business is the only way to provide opportunities for our people."

In 1947: "Are we working for money alone?  If so, there is no surer way not to get it." [italics mine]

In 1949: "Good management is not just good organization.  It is an attitude inspired by the will to do right.  Good management is taking a sincere interest in the welfare of the people you work with.  It is the ability to make people feel that you and they are the company -- not merely employees of it.  Good management is your worthiness to have and hold the confidence of others." 

And with regard to service: "Anybody can deliver packages...The one thing we can have to offer that others will not always have is quality." (1946)

Simply from these statements alone - statements I was once encouraged to learn and adopt - I have considered United Parcel Service's founder, Jim Casey to be a wise, values-oriented man of noteworthy character.  A true leader who carried his beloved company - his family - through birth, two World Wars, a Great Depression, foreign wars, and the advent of the Technological Age, leaving behind a humanitarian ideology that earned him a well-deserved place in the US Department of Labor Hall of Fame, and the hearts of those whose lives he touched. A fair assumption, don't you think?

I cannot tell you the last time I have attended a training or teambuilding workshop.  We no longer meet one-on-one with our employees to discuss their job performance or our performance as supervisors or employers.  Gone are the days of selections read from the Policy Book, or Founders' Day celebrations, or recognition dinners, or anniversary gifts, or safety awards, or limo rides from the building upon retirement.  I have seen jobs eliminated while upper, upper management folks receive obscene raises for their "exemplary work."  I have heard every excuse in the book as to why we no longer recognize employees - from strikes, to 9/11, to recession, to expansion, to "times they are a-changin'."  I have stared at polished faces staring at me from atop the ladder of success - faces that have never been dirtied by the black dust that attaches itself to everything within a five mile radius of a UPS hub, faces that have never looked over their shoulder to see if anyone was watching as they tripped over a "hub snake", faces that have never beamed with accomplishment as they "turned" an aircraft in record time, faces that have stared into textbooks and smiled at interviews and stared back in the reflection of their brand new luxury automobile, but have never fallen in love with the United Parcel Service that I have known.  

Maybe my statements are those of a bitter, washed up Willy Loman of a person, but I don't think so.  Others have shared these same sentiments and ideas.  I hope that others still will heed our call to return to a company of which Jim Casey would once again be proud.

The Smell of Fear

A November 2012 study published in Psychological Science, suggests that not only can humans smell fear, but it is contagious.  Strangely enough - I can't imagine who comes up with these tests - perspiration from two groups of men was collected as they watched fearful images or disgusting images.  When two groups of women were shown images and exposed to the scent of the collected perspiration, they either scrunched up their noses in disgust, or widened their eyes in fear, despite the images they viewed having no correspondence to either emotion.  OK, let me just say, the septicity or communicability of disgust is very inconclusive here, as I believe the entire experiment to be highly disgusting!  But the idea that fear is not only perceptible but contagious, makes me think (and that, alone can incite fear).
I have never been exactly comfortable in my own skin.  Truthfully, I have known few people who are completely "secure."  When it boils right down to it, most of us harbor some deep insecurity with physical appearance, social status, financial position, sense of lifetime accomplishment or even spiritual certainty.  I am terribly insecure about operating within the realms of "girl world."  I don't speak the language; I don't enjoy many of the activities; I blanch when I imagine their assessment of me, and worst of all - I don't carry a purse. 
Years ago, when I had to compete foolishly believed I had to compete with my ex's new girlfriend, and my husband's ex-wife, my eating disorder began to rear its ugly head.  It seems to smell my fear - know exactly when to emerge from the pit in an effort to obtain my company right down there with it.  My ex had no longer wanted me because I didn't get dressed up nicely, because I had gained weight, because I "couldn't even wear a little lipstick!" Which, BTW, I loathe -- greasy, waxy stuff that gets on your teeth and leaves that hideous ring around the edges of your lips as it wears, unless of course, you reapply which I obviously don't, because I don't carry a purse!  I had failed at being a girl.
My husband's ex was thin, and dating, and grew up with sisters.  I am not, and wasn't, and didn't.  I could weigh 13 pounds, and I would still have no waist, no boobs, and flat butt.  I am built like a linebacker; in a crowd, my shoulders are registered weapons and my legs make some varieties of indigenous trees look like saplings.  How would I ever measure up?
So I gorged, and I starved, and I purged.  A couple of tablespoons of relish for dinner, a 1/2 gallon of Moose Tracks for lunch the following day... 
THEN, I got myself into - not a size 6, not a "group" - I got myself into the Word!  And I gotta tell ya, I began to see the world.  I began to see what fear looks like.  I knew what it looked like in me; bulimia and I have been friends since 7th grade - the longest close friendship I've been able to maintain! - but I began to see what it looks like in others, and it was startling!  God revealed to me His perfect peace through the promises of His Word.  Each time that peace washed over me, each time I rested in knowing I wasn't ________ enough for others, I began to see that I was ________ enough for my Father.  He loves me no matter what!  Even sitting on the sofa, wrapped in a blanket, eating half a crockpot of meat gravy (that's spaghetti sauce with meat in it, for those who were never married to an Italian) with a fork, He loves me!  And it was through that perfect peace, I was able to see the pandemic of fear that holds others so tightly in its grip.
I've never been out of the states except a trip to Canada when I was about nine, or so, but it seems to me that the "richest, most blessed, strongest nation in the world" - our very own - has fallen gravely ill under the plague of fear.  The media exploits it.  When do you ever remember thunder storms to be cause for a 15 minute segment at the beginning of your local news broadcast? and 24+ hours of news coverage, usurping all other scheduled programming, to cover a story about which they "don't have all the details yet," but will keep talking, and speculating, and alarming you, and impressing upon you the "gravity of the situation, as details come in?"
And litigation?  Our courts are filled with some of the most frivolous suits and bills one could imagine.  Just sit an hour or two in your local municipal or family court - it'll shock you!  Adults refusing to give their neighbor, their ex-husband, their local merchant just a little bit of leeway, fearful that if they do, their lives will spiral into ruin, others will catch wind and try to take advantage as well, they will "lose face."  Must win.  Must stay on top.  Mean girls.  Bullying.  Exploiting government assistance.  Retail theft.  Mishandling of funds.  Gambling.  Abuse.  Fear.  Control.
God's peace reminds me that I have the God of the universe fighting for me (Ex. 14:13-14).  He loves me (Rom. 8:37-39) and He will never fail me (Deut. 31:8).  I can trust His Word is true, or I can rob a bank.  I can lean on His mighty arms, or I can tear someone else down to make myself feel better.  I can cling to Him when my employer begins to eliminate jobs, or I can lend credence to the gossip, and doom and gloom circulating around the water cooler.  I can workout until my muscles tear and my bones break, or I can focus on pleasing My God with my thoughts, my speech, and my actions.
My ex and his girlfriend, and Scott and I went to dinner last night.  Because we wanted to.  We shared appetizers, and talked, and laughed.  Just like friends do.  Turns out peace is contagious, too.