Category Archives: Service

Monday Morning Moment – One Shocking Revelation After Another – Shaking Off Our Fantasies and Grounding Ourselves in the Real

A dear old friend gave me a book shortly before Christmas of 2020. Just starting to read it in January, and once in, I realized I was way behind. Debbie Macomber‘s One Perfect Word gives a strong case for choosing a word for the year. A word to dissect, and meditate on, and to make real in both our thoughts and walks of life. One Perfect Word. For the year.

[Thanks, Kay, for this book.]

Here, a bit into this year, the word compassion has become my word for 2021. For clarity: It is best defined as: to recognize the suffering of others and then take action to help. Compassion embodies a tangible expression of love for those who are suffering.

For those who know or think they know me, compassionate is a word that might seem already descriptive of who I am. “Seem” is the operative word.

10 Ways to Show Compassion – Katie Krawczyk

You see I have always thought of myself as compassionate. Being there for friend and family. A cancer nurse for many years. Hospice, as well. Living overseas for love’s sake. Volunteering in my community and beyond. Love God. Love neighbor. Love even my enemies. This is life…the life Jesus lived; the life I’ve ascribed to live.

So I chose a word compassion to examine and flesh out in my life.

As fate would have it, some friends and I decide to tackle an old and brilliant book: C. S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters (1942). In affectionately abbreviated TSL, Lewis presents a series of fantastical letters from a master demon (Screwtape) to his nephew, Wormwood. The nephew is on assignment to mess in the affairs of a certain young Englishman. In the letters, God is referred to as The Enemy.

[I recommend this book to everyone, whatever your worldview or belief system – the wisdom captured on the pages of this small book is phenomenal. Our human nature and struggles or challenges in life are exposed. Fortunately, we are also given a way forward; oddly by looking at the schemes set in place to trip us up or cause us to fail.  This book is both fascinating and heady. It requires a deep read, for sure.]

In Chapter 6 of TSL, the demon uncle advises his younger on how to trouble the human assigned to him. In the particular area of worrying about the future. This is where fantasy can overtake the real, and, fortunately vice versa: the real can prevail, if we pay attention. Remember my word, compassion.

Screwtape gives much “good counsel” to Wormwood on how to trouble the human by keeping his thoughts on the fears of and hopes for the future rather than on what is right in front of him. For those who do believe in God’s providential care of people, Lewis wholly satisfies us readers as well.

The main message of Screwtape is to keep the human off balance and focused on himself, thinking that he cares for people and outcomes and that he is a good person. The reality is that the human is actually overcome by cares of the world yet does little about them.

How do we shake off our fantasies and ground ourselves in the real?

Screwtape instructs Wormwood to deal with the human as one made up of concentric circles of will, intellect, and fantasies or imagination. Our will, or our heart in spiritual terms, is the deepest part of who we are. It is where we make our choices on how to act and then, in turn, take action. Different than intellect, or what we know about life (intellect) or what we imagine or fantasize about life…or about doing life.

YouTube Video – Screwtape Letter 6 – Providence eLearning – Dr. Arthur Hippler – a clear and excellent resource

Photo Credit: Providence eLearning, YouTube, Screwtape Letters

So I can think I am a compassionate person. In fact, one can choose to be compassionate. However, we can also simply apply our intellect to the whole idea of compassion and then only fantasize or imagine ourselves doing acts of compassion… This is NOT what we think it is. Compassion, in its truest most real sense, happens in the will…and in the moment. Oh, we can plan on acts of compassion and put in place steps toward compassionate outcomes… but, until we act, compassion itself lies in the realm of imagination or fantasy.

Sobering and extremely helpful.

A huge and relevant example in modern culture right now is the statement, and call to action, “Black Lives Matter”. Do black lives matter? Absolutely. Do all lives matter? Of course. Do lives “womb to tomb” matter? Not to everyone…but that’s for another day.

We can say and lean into powerful messaging. Yet, until we grapple with the realities of that messaging, and sort out what truly communicates the truth of that message…not just in word but also in deed…then, in fact, the messaging is just so many words.

Screwtape has wreaked his havoc in our culture and in us as fellow humans, as we struggle with how to respond to messaging. Both in our news and social media platforms, and conversations with neighbors and friends. What is fantasy and what is reality and how shall we then act?

“Do what you will, there is going to be some benevolence, as well as some malice, in your [human’s] soul. The great thing is to direct the malice to his immediate neighbours whom he meets every day and to thrust his benevolence out to the remote circumference, to people he does not know. The malice thus becomes wholly real and the benevolence largely imaginary.Screwtape to Wormwood, Chapter 6, The Screwtape Letters

Related to compassion, my word for 2021, I no longer want to stay locked in debate over whose lives matter or what hasn’t been done than needs to be done. I would love to settle in my will to act…with compassion. Not thinking I am showing some sacrificial compassion out there among those I don’t even know…but in fact, acting in compassion, toward my housemates, my extended family and friends, this neighborhood and beyond. Leaving off the malice of disagreeing or tweaking each others messages out there in the world somewhere.

This is the goal: shaking off my fantasies about compassion and the idea of my being a compassionate person and grounding myself, my very will, in the real…acting in compassion, in the moment and moving toward making it habit.

Restless Pilgrim – Pints With Jack – The Screwtape Letters 6 – “Should I Stay or Should I Go?”the most fun to be had in diving deep into C. S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters

YouTube Channel – C. S. Lewis Doodle

Monday Morning Moment – 2021 Come On! – New Year’s Resolutions

Photo Credit: David Lose

[Adapted from the Archives]

2020…the end is in sight.

What do we do with this new year ahead? Do we revisit those habits we thought about changing up in this tumultuous year? Maybe so. Or maybe we didn’t alter course so much for good reason. Let’s give pause a moment and consider…

Are We Doing New Year’s Resolutions After a Year as Lousy as 2020? There’s One I think We Need More Than Ever – Heidi Stevens

How to Make Healthy, Attainable New Year’s Resolutions During COVID-19 – Ashley Welch, Healthline

Are You Making a New Year’s Resolution This Year? Readers Weigh In – Sarah Fielding

I take New Year’s resolutions very seriously. They have served me well through the years in shaking up troublesome habits as well as galvanizing better ones. New (or restored) habits that nurture the body, the spirit….and, when possible, family and community.

Whether sugar detox or a decluttering project, New Year’s resolutions are not always exercises in futility. They can be excellent pathways to help us get off to a strong start into the next year. Some of my family and friends treat resolutions with disdain…they never work; they never last. Oh, but not always!

They are really very energizing. Whether we meet our goals or not, there is great promise within the resolution for resetting our thinking. A keen sense of self, or self-awareness, aids in our understanding of habits and true habit change.

A couple of times in my life, I resolved to go off sugar. It was a successful endeavor for over a year each of those times. Excluding sugar from my diet. Never having really lost the weight from my first pregnancy, I decided to remove sugar from my diet for the pregnancy of our second-born. In those days, there was a chapter of Overeaters Anonymous in our town, and that group was a great help in my dealing with pretty much a sugar addiction.

The second time I “gave up” sugar was over 4 years ago, and I stayed the course of that habit change for over 1 1/2 years. Less accountability but even more resolve. Although I am back having dessert or sugary snacks sometimes, I am still operating with more self-awareness than ever before. Self-awareness, not self-condemnation. A very different experience.

Without knowing it, I was using a practice of habit change that Ken Sande writes about on his blog, Relational Wisdom 360. He first influenced my life years ago with his work on conflict resolution through his Peacemaker Ministries. He is a gentle guide in many of the issues that complicate our lives.

His article on Seven Principles of Habit Change came at a great time. Sande talks quite kindly about how we develop habits and what it takes to change them. His first principle of habit change gives us a look at the cycle of habits – the cue, the routine (or response), and the reward. For me, in eating sugar (or in overeating, in general), the cue could be a number of things – fatigue, anxiety, loneliness, the mere presence of yummy food. It never takes much to send me to the refrigerator or pantry. The routine: feed the cue, whatever it is…with high-carb oral gratification. The reward: a brief soul satisfaction and temporary relief from whatever was the cue.

In my two seasons of not eating added sugar, I actually followed Ken Sande’s principles below (without knowing the wisdom of it).

  1. Every habit has three parts: a cue, a routine, and a reward.
  2. You can change an undesirable habit by keeping the cue and reward but learning a new routine.
  3. The best way to overcome the temptation to revert to old routines is to have a detailed action plan.
  4. Habit change builds momentum if you can change a single “keystone habit” and then continue to build on consecutive “small wins”.
  5. Will power is like a muscle: it can be strengthened and yet needs to be exerted strategically.
  6. Faith is an essential part of changing habits.
  7. Habit change is more likely to occur within a community (even if it’s just two people).Ken Sande

Self-awareness is a huge factor relating to habit change. I can see that more now having come through seasons of looking at my own habits.

“Self-awareness is defined as conscious knowledge of oneself; it’s a stepping stone to reinventing oneself, learning to make wiser decisions, and helps you tune into your thoughts and feelings. So often we place blame on externalities because it’s the easiest excuse, when in fact we should be thinking about our thinking, reflecting, trying on different perspectives, and learning from our mistakes.”Paul Jun

It is possible to affect true habit change if we are willing to take a studied look at ourselves – our awareness and our engagement with making choices/decisions and within relationship. I used to think that self-awareness was morally charged, i.e., it drove us to become more self-centered. That doesn’t have to be the case. When we take time to really examine where our minds go, through the day, we can train our thinking toward what matters most – related to people, resources, and life purpose.

When we are willing to do that, New Year’s resolutions can become much more transformative than just, for instance, going off sugar for a few weeks. These same habit change principles can apply to anger issues, pornography, other addictions, and pretty much any habitual process that negatively affects your work, relationships or general peace of mind.

Consider these questions as you think on resolutions for 2021:

  1. What do I want to keep from changes I made to cope with the pandemic?
  2. What do I want to reclaim from the pre-pandemic time?
  3. How would I “build back better” if I were in charge of the world or my neighborhood? – Katherine Arbuthnott

Three years back, our pastor Cliff at Movement Church challenged us to commit to some resolutions to the Lord…together [podcast of 12/31/2017 here].  I have kept the resolutions made that day in a visible place, to be reminded of the good change in life, and the struggle… I still have them in view…two years out. Still relevant to now. For 2021, on it again…plus prayer for wisdom how to be creative and intentional, given COVID.

Jonathan Edwards, the great 18th century preacher and theologian, definitely understood the importance of praying through and writing out resolutions that would inform his daily life. Over the course of several months, he composed seventy resolutions for life. You can read them here. The five resolutions I made during church on a New Year’s Eve are weighty enough for me…can’t imagine 70! Edwards just gives an example of a man who, even as deeply devoted as he already was, did not want to miss God in a busy life of ministry. Nor did he want to miss the people God placed in his life.

Resolutions help us to keep the main thing the main thing. Sure, we may struggle to keep our bodies and houses in order. Those are temporary situations. Where we hope most to be successful is in keeping our hearts tuned to what matters most. Going deep with God and others. Even in the face of a pandemic...if we are ruthless and wise, and don’t give in to a year of listlessness and waiting.

We already had a year like that.

I am resolved…

Photo Credit: Reformed Outfitters

New Year’s Day – Resolved – Deb Mills Writer

Resolved – The Resolutions of Jonathan Edwards

Do You Want to Change Your Habits? – Relational Wisdom – Ken Sande

Habit Change is a Team Project – Ken Sande

Seven Principles of Habit Change – Relational Wisdom – Ken Sande

Make Habits, Not Resolutions – Justin Whitmel Earley

Why Self-Awareness Is the Secret Weapon for Habit Change – Paul Jun

RW Acrostics in Action – Relational Wisdom – Ken Sande

Ten Questions for a New Year – Don Whitney – Desiring God

Need Help With Your New Year’s Resolutions? – David Lose

Understanding True Habit Change and Rocking Your New Year’s Resolutions – Deb Mills Writer

Monday Morning Moment – Chef José Andrés Feeds the World – Inspiring Us to Do Likewise

Photo Credit: Screenshot from The Richmond Forum; Chef José Andrés, speaking to us from Honduras, where he and his team were feeding people after the Hurricanes Eta and Iota.

The first offering of the Richmond Forum‘s 2020-21 season was this past weekend. Because of COVID, it was virtual. Dave and I would miss our traditional pizza before the show, and talks with our friends at the Altria Theater, but comfy at home was not a bad option either.

We didn’t know this evening’s speaker, José Andrés, but with all who come to the stage of the Richmond Forum, we knew we would come away with a larger sense of the world and our part in it.

Photo Credit: José Andrés, World Central Kitchen, Bahamas, 2019

Chef José Andrés is an extraordinary person who challenges us to move that descriptor into the ordinary column. Here’s a brief intro to this amazing man – just a bit of his extensive bio from his website: “José Andrés is an internationally-recognized culinary innovator, New York Times bestselling author, educator, television personality, humanitarian, and chef/owner of ThinkFoodGroup. A pioneer of Spanish tapas in the United States, he is also known for his groundbreaking avant-garde cuisine and his award-winning group of more than 30 restaurants located throughout the country and beyond, ranging in a variety of culinary experiences from a food truck to his multi-location vegetable-focused fast casual Beefsteak, to world-class tasting menus…As a naturalized citizen originally from Spain, Andrés has been a tireless advocate for immigration reform. In 2010, Andrés formed World Central Kitchen, a non-profit that provides smart solutions to end hunger and poverty by using the power of food to empower communities and strengthen economies. Notably, his team served over 3.6 million meals to the people of Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria.”

Photo Credit: José Andrés, World Central Kitchen – 2019 in Review

This celebrity chef who owns restaurants all over the US, writes cookbooks, and entertains us with his TV appearances.

However, you look at his face and see his heart. He says, “I am a cook. I feed the few, but I love to feed the many”.

He grew up in Spain with parents who were nurses. At times, one parent heading to work, would bring their four sons to the emergency room to exchange with the parent leaving work.   His parents also loved to cook for the family and for friends and neighbors. He tells the story of his father making a huge pan of paella. When his mother asked his father what if too many people come and there is not enough food. “We just add some more rice”.

Andrés credits his father with an early love and understanding of cooking. His father would tell him “Learn your fire. Control your fire. Master your fire. Then you will be able to cook anything you want.” He took that cooking lesson and applied it to his life.

As a young man, he dreamed of coming to America, of being a part of “We the People”. When he finally was able to immigrate to the US, he wasted no time in beginning work in a restaurant. He continued growing and learning…and before long, teaching others himself. Not just about cooking itself but what food brings to all of life.

“Respect people. Teach them to work. Give them a plate of food.”

He feels very strongly about giving back (especially to his beloved America) as well as giving to all who are suffering. “There’s nothing more nurturing than a plate of hot food.”

After responding to the Haiti earthquake in 2010, his vision to “feed the many” came to fruition with the World Central Kitchen. Andres took his ability to cook and his experience in leading and mentoring staff in his restaurants and applied it in the worst of situations. Through this non-profit, he and his teams would be “boots on the ground” after earthquakes,wildfires, wars, flooding, hurricanes, and other disasters. They came and found a kitchen and bought local food. They listened and learned. They mobilized others to help, and thousands upon thousands were fed.

[We sat mesmerized at this man and his stories of real life. This immigrant. This cook. With a heart as big as the world. He could have just enjoyed the great successes of his American dream realized, but this is not who he is.

We spent our evening with him (thanks to Richmond Forum). Hearing stories of how a few fed many…in Honduras, in Puerto Rico and the Bahamas, and years ago in Haiti. These were just some of the many stories of the work of this chef and World Central Kitchen.

As questions came in from the Richmond Forum audience, he taught us, just as if we were standing in his kitchen, or his classroom. As if there was already a relationship there. As, for sure, he cared for us, somehow.

Nothing he said was the stuff of unapproachable genius. He put his hand to a cascade of difficult situations and made a difference. It gives hope to any of us willing to try. He changes recipes to fit the circumstances and peoples they served. He looks for new ways to make things happen. He uses food not as a charity but as a healing connection in a community – sustenance and support, pulling people together to heal and restore their lives and livelihoods.

His goal: to do good in the world.

“I have work to do. I’m here to be an improver of the world. Not by talking but by doing. There will always be a job to do.”

Andres has even worked with the US Congress on the Feed Act and the Restaurants Act that have come out of our battle with COVID-19. Food insecurity and restaurant closures should not be happening when the former can be helped by the latter – subsidizing restaurants to feed people in need. Who knows what will come out of all this, but that can-do creativity and great generosity of heart are at the heard of what makes America great.

Get to know José Andrés. It will not be one-sided.

He closed the evening with this: “Maybe I’ve added an ingredient or two to your life. I look forward to one or two from yours one day.”

Youtube Video –  José Andrés on 60 Minutes in 2017; Feeding Puerto Rico

YouTube Video – José Andrés on Giving Back to America

YouTube Video – When Disaster Strikes, Jose Andres Brings Hot Food and Hope – PBS

The 10 Best Lines From Jose Andres’ GWU Commencement Speech

Worship Wednesday – Keep Me in the Moment – Jeremy Camp

Photo Credit: Ramstein AF

“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.”Romans 12:1-5

“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”Ephesians 2:10

“…and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own from the law, but one that is through faith in Christ—the righteousness from God based on faith. My goal is to know him and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of his sufferings, being conformed to his death.”Philippians 3:9-10

The Scriptures give us a clear look at the large life God intends for us. He has set us apart from the world; He has prepared good works for us; He embeds us with His righteousness to faithfully endure whatever confronts us.

Then comes COVID.

Nothing in the character or purposes of God have altered. His children are still called to live in the present in His strength and to extend His love out to those around us.

[Writer Emma Grey Ellis has posted a fascinating article on the lethargy and depression that plagues us in the isolation of COVID. I can’t help but think there is also a spiritual component at work in this disease and in its prevention.]

This Sunday, our pastor Cliff Jordan of Movement Church finished teaching a series on God’s Kingdom Culture – focusing, this time, on the culture of displacement (listen here).

Displacement for us is that we’re not Home yet (Philippians 3:20). Cliff recalled his years playing high school basketball. It was a very high and privileged experience to be part of the Home team (playing in your own town and your own gym). When he was part of the Away team, it was a very different experience – no special treatment, and the team that most folks in the gym hoped would lose.

The church, here in this moment, is the Away team.

Basketball is a great picture of where we are as believers doing life, dealing with COVID.

When our children were in high school, the two oldest played basketball. At that time, our school was often the newcomer and underdog. What we lacked in experience and status, we made up for in enthusiasm, determination, and perseverance.[Seniors on the team of the 2007 boys’ basketball season of George Washington Academy, Casablanca, Morocco. Nathan “Beyond the Guitar” Mills is on the far right.]

We didn’t have a gym, so we were always the Away team.

As in life, especially in COVID life, we didn’t have to bring our “A” game. We had lots of opportunities to excuse ourselves from being all in. Between being “at-risk” or furloughed or parents all of a sudden juggling work and helping children school at home. The above-mentioned fatigue dampens our enthusiasm and stamina. Being truly “in the moment” as believers has become a challenge unlike any we’ve known previously.

It would be easy, again with the basketball analogy, to just wait out COVID and hope for better days, like the Away team might when the score starts mounting on the Home team’s board. Our enthusiasm wanes and our pace slows. We begin to give up before the game is over. And the bench!! What might have been “Put me in, Coach!” turns into thinking being #OfftheBench might not be a great idea. Our minds wander off the Word of God and onto anything else.

I love the tension of the pic below. The tension in those faces. Absorbed in the action on the court. Focused. Leaning forward. Ready at any moment to launch off the bench.Photo Credit: Needpix

Whether we feel benched by COVID or we’re very much in the game, the fact that we are the Away team doesn’t change anything about how God calls us to be engaged with Him and those around us.

Sure, we have to be creative at how to socially distance (for the sake of others and, at times, our own sakes)…but we don’t have to fall for being socially distanced from God’s glorious will for our lives.

Singer songwriter Jeremy Camp song “Keep Me in the Moment” could have been written for this season. The official video points to the beautiful, pulsating tension of lives lived well as God leads us through every situation. Redeeming the time.

Worship with me.
I’ve been thinking ’bout time and where does it go
How can I stop my life from passing me by, I don’t know
I’ve been thinking ’bout family and how it’s going so fast
Will I wake up one morning just wishing that I could go back?
I’ve been thinking ’bout lately, maybe
I can make a change and let you change me
So, with all of my heart this is my prayer
Singing oh Lord, keep me in the moment
Help me live with my eyes wide open
‘Cause I don’t wanna miss what you have for me
Singing oh Lord, show me what matters
Throw away what I’m chasing after
‘Cause I don’t wanna miss what you have for me (what you have for me)
Keep me in the moment
Oh, keep me in the moment
Keep me in the moment
‘Cause I don’t wanna miss what you have for me (oh)
When I wake up in the morning
Lord, search my heart
Don’t let me stray
I just wanna stay where you are
All I got is one shot, one try
One go around in this beautiful life
Nothing is wasted when everything’s placed in your hands
Singing oh Lord, keep me in the moment
Help me live with my eyes wide open
‘Cause I don’t wanna miss what you have for me (what you have for me)
Singing oh Lord, show me what matters
Throw away what I’m chasing after
‘Cause I don’t wanna miss what you have for me (what you have for me)
Keep me in the moment (keep me in the moment)
Lord keep me in the moment (keep me in the moment)
Keep me in the moment
‘Cause I don’t wanna miss what you have for me
I’ve been thinking about heaven
And the promise you hold
So, it’s all eyes on you
Until the day you call me home
Singing oh Lord, keep me in the moment
Help me live with my eyes wide open
‘Cause I don’t wanna miss what you have for me
(I don’t wanna miss, I don’t wanna miss)
Singing oh Lord, show me what matters
Throw away what I’m chasing after (oh)
‘Cause I don’t wanna miss what you have for me (yeah)
Keep me in the moment
Oh, keep me in the moment
Keep me in the moment
‘Cause I don’t wanna miss what you have for me
Keep me in the moment (keep me in the moment)
Oh, keep me in the moment (keep me in the moment)
Keep me in the moment
‘Cause I don’t wanna miss what you have for me (what you have for me)*
By the way…that Away team analogy is only for a few years. Home is also our experience. Home is where we celebrate with our forever Victor…together.

8 Ways to Be Present – Tom Stuart

Why God Wants You to Live in the Moment – Drew Smith

Worship Wednesday – On Being Kind – and the Goodness of God

Photo Credit: Daily Verses

The LORD longs to be gracious to you, And therefore He waits on high to have compassion on you. For the LORD is a God of justice; How blessed are all those who long for Him.  Isaiah 30:18

Love one another deeply as brothers and sisters. Outdo one another in showing honor.  Romans 12:10

Photo Credit: Knowing-Jesus

You can spend hours reading all the passages in the Scriptures on kindness, graciousness, compassion, and love. Just soaking up the goodness of God and how He calls us to this same life of kindness to one another. Even, as the Romans 12 passage says above, outdoing each other in showing honor.

Last night I went out to help Dave with a chore in the driveway. Walking back into the garage, I found this sweet plant beside the door. It was a gift given without a name, “[Co]rona Make You Smile.” It did make me smile.

A sweet gesture for which I can’t even thank the person personally. So I will thank you here. You went out of your way to bless my life. Whoever you are…I felt the love of Jesus in this act of kindness. I felt your love whoever you are. Thank you. Thank God for you.

Kindness is so appreciated…so needed…in these socially distanced days. We can be kind to strangers, friends, and family alike. It becomes a way of life. For some, you beautiful, creative, generous souls, it seems completely natural…we learn from you who show kindness to all (or pretty much all), not just to those closest to you.

Do we only do kindness to those who deserve kindness?

Showing honor to only those who are clearly honorable?

No.

God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.  Romans 5:8

On this Worship Wednesday piece, I want to take and give opportunity to post shout-outs to those many acts of kindness we are receiving during this COVID-19 season. In so doing, we worship God as the source of the goodness we reflect and see reflected in others. We bear His image most radiantly as we lay down our own lives – our agendas, our preferences, our very selves – for others… in the name of Jesus.

  • Gifts of food (both receiving, participating in, and watching others blessing with food)
  • Human contact (phone and video calls, cards/letters, drive-bys, and 6 ft. apart visits in driveways, at doorways or windows)
  • Surprise gifts/special events (we have sweet and creative neighbors who major on this sort of expression of love – they are hard to keep up with but we all feel the energy of that challenge)
  • Providing service in creative ways
  • Using social media to encourage and empower (including video) – be bold; we welcome it.
  • Prayer

[Please use the Comments section below and post your shout-outs for kindnesses done to you or those done to others that inspired or uplifted you as well.]

Image may contain: Karen Walker, outdoor[A friend chalked a Bible verse on our driveway.]

Our married kids have socially distanced themselves for our sakes and so we can still see them and the grandchildren. Priceless. They are working at home so that helps, of course. Our youngest is considered an essential worker and has kept his distance from us, out of love. We miss him and do our own drive-bys talking together from the car as he visits from his yard. His kind of sacrificial love is also amazing.

These many weeks, with our schedules so altered, I’ve been keeping a journal of occasions of folks being kind. Sometimes it was my taking the opportunity, but more I have known the kindness of others. Never want to forget this brighter side of our pandemic experience. We could all use that God-infused kindness more than ever right now…both in reaching out and receiving.

I’ll close with this bit of a poem from many years ago but so resonates with this season.

Perhaps some future day, Lord,
Thy strong hand will lead me to the place
Where I must stand utterly alone;
Alone, Oh gracious Lover, but for Thee.

I shall be satisfied if I can see Jesus only.
I do not know Thy plan for years to come.
My spirit finds in Thee its perfect home: sufficiency.
Lord, all my desire is before Thee now.
Lead on no matter where, no matter how,
I trust in Thee. by Elisabeth Elliot, in her college years

5 Surprising Truths About Biblical Kindness – Davis Wetherell

6 Acts of Kindness During the Coronavirus Outbreak That Will Restore Your Faith in Humanity – Kelsey Hurwitz

Monday Morning Moment – Remembering on Memorial Day

[Adapted from the Archives]

“Happy Memorial Day” isn’t a fitting greeting for this day.

Our commemoration of this holiday in America is a bit complex. I get the parades, and the setting flags on tombstones, and the sepia portraits of our military heroes past displayed on Facebook pages. Grandfathers, fathers, husbands, brothers…and their female counterparts.

The grilling and road races and t-shirt giveaways at baseball games, I don’t get as much. Yet, like our fellow Americans, we will grill and we will celebrate a day off…and through all that we will remember. We will remember the sacrifices of those who died to preserve our freedom.Photo Credit: Wikipedia, Normandy Landings

This year’s celebration is even more complex than usual. With the losses of COVID-19 casting their own shadow over this day of remembrance. The socially distanced gatherings will be small, but the grief will be large with us.

Photo Credit: Twitter, The New York Times

Memorial Day 2020: Grieving Another COVID-19 Death Count Milestone – Alan Cross

Writing helps me remember. The many lessons of life, the travels, all the people we’ve known along the way, and the great provisions of God. It has helped me to write them down.

Memorial Day is a somber remembrance. All the soldiers I’ve known personally survived the wars they fought . Still, I have friends who lost loved ones serving in devastating situations. I stand alongside to remember. To remember those of our own who died and to remember those families who also lost their loved ones on the other side of battle. There’s always the other side of war…the family side.

How ever you spend your Memorial Day…whether with a burger or fasting or at work or play, stopping and remembering is the first order of the day. We have much to be grateful for. On this day and every day.Photo Credit: Paul Davis On Crime

[Added from Comment when this blog first posted: That gravestone graphic leaves out the deadliest war in our history for some reason. Civil War – 620,000 dead. What a strange omission. – John]

Vietnam War is the war of my youth. We didn’t understand why we were there. I participated in protests but it didn’t take me long to realize how that wasn’t honoring of those of our country fighting for us. We thought we were communicating to “Bring them home!” but when Vietnam vets did return there really wasn’t a “Welcome home!” So short-sighted of us.

[Letters from pen-pals, soldiers in Vietnam, who shared details of what they experienced there. Sacred writings for me now.]

Don’t miss the PBS Memorial Day Presentation. So powerful! Stories of those who gave their lives in battle, honoring the different branches of service, and glorious music. Here is Christopher Jackson in last year’s performance of “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother”:

If someone you love died in one of these recent wars or in any service to our nation or community, please comment below with their names and any details you choose to include. I would be pleased to help honor them in this small way.

In closing, I’d like to add this clip from the 2002 film The Four Feathers – the brief and beautiful speech of a returning soldier who described why they fight:

Independence Day in the USA – Remembering that Freedom Is Not Free – Deb Mills Writer

Stones of Remembrance – Lest I Forget – What Are You Remembering About God Today? – Deb Mills Writer

Worship Wednesday – Stones of Remembrance – Lest I Forget – Part 2 – Deb Mills Writer

E. John Mills, US Navy – Dave’s DadGeorge T. McAdams (in center), US Army – my Dad

Thank you for your service.

Photo Credit: Facebook, Tim Wink

5 Friday Faves – Growing Up with Pixar, Pursuing Unity, Bringing Hope, Agility in Today’s Realities, and Making Music Happen

Happy Weekend! With so many of us either working remotely or with otherwise altered work situations, some rhythms are shifted. One for me is writing. I miss it. Please bear with me…and stay with me…as I carve out time and temperament to write something worth the read. You give me courage.

1) Growing Up with Pixar – Classical guitarist Nathan Mills (of Beyond the Guitar) knows exactly how to take any film song he chooses and draw out every bit of emotion possible. Related to Pixar, he did that previously with medleys of both the happy theme songs and the sad ones. This week, Nathan arranged and performed the heart-wrenching Randy Newman song “When She Loved Me”. You will recognize this song from the film Toy Story 2. It’s the poignant story of Emily and her cowgirl toy Jessie. At first, little girl Emily adores her toy and Jessie feels so loved, through their tireless play. Then…Emily grows up. Jessie ends up in a cardboard box donated to a charity. Many of our children have grown up with Pixar and have had lessons on life reinforced – love, loyalty, friendship, and determination – through these films. Nathan’s sweet rendition of this song will take you back.

Also check out his latest podcast on The Truth About Going Viral.

2) Pursuing Unity – We live in a world torn by division. Whatever our political ideology or religious fervor, we don’t have to just sit by and watch it burn. I am reminded of one who prayed for unity for us. One who died the next day in a world divided.

“May they all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us, so that the world may believe you sent me. I have given them the glory you have given me, so that they may be one as we are one. I am in them and you are in me, so that they may be made completely one, that the world may know you have sent me and have loved them as you have loved me.”Jesus, John 17:21-23

I want to align myself with those who choose unity…those who keep reasoning together, and refuse to hate, and who are determined to forgive and to find answers and to love no matter what.

Photo Credit: Wallpaper Flare

A veteran officer of the United States Marine Corps and a teaching pastor, Grant Castleberry, wrote exquisitely about pursuing unity. Here’s a bit of his article:

“The New Testament emphasis, over and over again, is that true Christian unity is only built on a right understanding of the gospel. No matter our national allegiance, economic background, political party, or ethnicity, the gospel unites believers in one faith, one ‘body’ (1 Cor 12:12, 17)…The family of God outstrips all our other allegiances and affiliations. This includes our allegiance to a political party or ethnicity. Identity, and therefore unity, in the New Testament is almost always linked to the fact that we have been united to Christ in faith through the gospel…we should be defined by a spirit of love and forgiveness…In our divided culture, unity in the Church will be only nurtured and maintained, using the methods and principles that Jesus and the Apostles have outlined for us in the New Testament…These bodies of believers, from diverse backgrounds and idealogies, will serve as beacons of unity in a divided world.”Grant Castleberry

3) Bringing Hope – What kinds of things have brought you hope in these days? I have experienced and observed so many acts of kindness – simple ones and costly ones. People being creative and hopeful themselves and lavishing it generously on others.

Actor writer John Krasinski is one of those persons. He created this little YouTube channel with the focus on Some Good News (in the face of all the bad). Only eight episodes in total but he celebrated so much in those eight weeks – health care and other essential workers, our beloved sports teams, and the big Spring events that have been disrupted (graduations, proms, weddings, etc) secondary to COVID-19.

John Krasinski Fights Back Tears During Emotional Some Good News Finale – Emily Belfiore

Column: What I’m Glad to Say Goodbye to John Krasinski’s ‘Some Good News’ – Mary McNamara

I guess John Krasinski has some projects coming up because he ended his broadcasts after the eighth episode. Or maybe with the opening up of our countries, we will be making even more good news. Like visits with beloved grandparents after three months of “social distancing”. Now that’s some good news!!!Photo Credit: Facebook, Eryn Cobb

Finally, the most hope-bringing message: “Jesus loves me/you; this I know!”

4) Agility in Today’s Realities – We often think of agility in terms of sports – that ability to change directions quickly, but it’s that and so much more. What does agility mean in life and work?Photo Credit: Gunther Verheyen, Scrum

We hear a lot these days about a “new normal” after we come out of the COVID-19 crisis. Maybe we are better off thinking not new but real – what is real now and how could it change or be changed?

Wisdom is taking what we are learning about this virus and maximize prevention and sound treatment while, at the same time, figure out how to still do life…work…all that matters to us.

Try things. Experiment. Think in teams. Acknowledge the fails. Try something different. Strengthen the successes. Broaden them.

I’m talking very simplistically here, but we have a lot of smart and innovative people out there. Let’s figure out how to be agile in our decision-making.Photo Credit: Facebook, TobyMac

5 Disruptive Leadership Trends that will Rule 2020 – Carey Nieuwhof

The Original 2020 Is History. 7 New Disruptive Church Trends Every Church Leader Should Watch – Carey Nieuwhof [insight beyond churches as well]

5) Making Music Happen – I had an opportunity years ago to direct a Christmas program in a tiny church in New Haven, Ct. It was a magical experience – for me for sure. Then years later, I had another opportunity to produce a fine arts program in a school in Casablanca, Morocco. Again, to bring singers and musicians together to make something beautiful was an incredible experience. Below are two videos of music that we might not have had except for COVID-19.

Also the following are now-famous songs from the film musical The Greatest Showman. They are “in the making” versions and bring us close to what it’s like for the singers to create something musical and joyful for us all. In the middle you’ll find another “virtual ensemble” bringing to life one of those great songs during the social distancing of today.

Bonuses:

Blue Bloods’ Reagan Family Dinner:

MercyMe’s Hurry Up  and Wait

Core Values List: 115 Values That I Filtered on Practicality – Darius Foroux

30 Days in the Shire – Adapted for Use in the Midst of Coronatide – Tea with Tolkien

“And people stayed at home
And read books
And listened
And they rested
And did exercises
And made art and played
And learned new ways of being
And stopped and listened
More deeply
Someone meditated, someone prayed
Someone met their shadow
And people began to think differently
And people healed.
And in the absence of people who
Lived in ignorant ways
Dangerous, meaningless and heartless,
The earth also began to heal
And when the danger ended and
People found themselves
They grieved for the dead
And made new choices
And dreamed of new visions
And created new ways of living
And completely healed the earth
Just as they were healed.”

The above poem was published on March 16, 2020, by writer Catherine O’Meara (aka Kitty O’Meara)

Photo Credit: Facebook, Elaine M. Lechanski

Photo Credit: Facebook; Wonders of Nature, Robert E. Saddler

Worship Wednesday – Even in the Madness, There Is Peace – You Are Writing a Symphony – Switch

Photo Credit: Piqsels

[Two nights ago I was on a Zoom meeting call with Virginia’s Kids Belong representatives and several others from churches and other community organizations. All meeting for the purpose of brain-storming for how we can best support foster kids, birth moms, and foster families. During this season of the Coronavirus and subsequent school closures and limited contact. Then last night Dave and I watched a movie – Instant Family – not meant for everyone, but definitely it moved my heart all the more – in terms of reaching out to these kids.]

Pure and undefiled religion before God the Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself unstained from the world.  James 1:27

See what great love the Father has given us that we should be called God’s children–and we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it didn’t know him.  1 John 3:1

Father of the fatherless and protector of widows is God in his holy habitation.Psalm 68:5

I’d wanted to watch Instant Family since first seeing the trailer. Finally, as one result of “social distancing”, Dave and I watched it last night in our living room. It is NOT a family film. Strong language and adult themes throughout. However, it is one at least some adults should see – it is real (if not perfect – see excellent review below) in its depiction of foster parenting and foster care. Not recommending for everyone to watch the film, but do catch this one scene of the painful failed reunification with the children’s birth mom. So beautiful in the raw work required of adults reaching into the lives of seemingly fatherless children.

Instant Family – What Mark Wahlberg’s New Movie Gets Right and Wrong about Foster Care – Christy Tennant Krispin

Coronavirus Leaves Foster Children With Nowhere to Go – Eli Hager

In aligning with other churches and community agencies to serve this vulnerable population, we do a work that must please the Lord. To the point, even, that it is an act of worship. Right now foster children, and their birth and foster families, are more isolated than ever. The pressure in their hearts and homes must be hard for all involved. When in school, foster children have teachers who watch out for them. Teachers are a safety for these children because they care, they provide structure, and they sound the alarm when the children appear to be at risk for neglect or abuse.

I don’t have answers here, but there are folks in our communities who are working toward answers. Ears wide open.

Who knows how long we will be in this situation of “keeping distance”? However we are not out of hearing or direction from the Lord who loves these children and the adults in their lives. My hope is through listening to God, these agencies closest to the kids at risk, and through our churches, we can extend love, even in these days… in the power of the Lord.

In preparing for this piece today, I went looking for songs that reflect God’s love and provision in such situations, and there are many.

Songs for Foster Parents

One of the songwriters of Symphony, Cassidy Estevez had this to say about the song: “…one of those themes which we landed on for this song, was how everyone has gone through some type of chaos in their lives, whether it is unemployment, family issues, marriage distress, difficulty raising kids, everybody has some type of chaos in their lives. We wanted to write a song that could be a prayer for people to sing in the middle of those circumstances.” She also added, “This song reminds us that even when you can only see a small part right now, God is doing something bigger and He is crafting something beautiful that we can only see when we zoom out.”

Worship with me to Symphony by worship band Switch:

Sometimes it’s hard to breathe
All these thoughts they shout at me
Try to bring me to my knees
And it’s overwhelming

Darkness echoes all around
Feels like everything is crashing down
Still I know where my hope is found
And it’s only you and ooh-ooh

You say you’re working everything for my good and ooh-ooh
I believe every word

‘Cause even in the madness
There is peace
Drownin’ out the voices
All around me
Through all of this chaos
You are writing a symphony
A symphony

And even in the madness
There is peace
Drownin’ out the voices
All around me
Through all of this chaos
You are writing a symphony
A symphony, oh

Tune my heart to your beat
Let me be your melody
Even when I cannot see
But you orchestrate it

Even when the dark surrounds
You’ll never let me drown
I know that my hope is found
In the name of Jesus

Ooh-ooh
You say you’re working everything for my good
And ooh-ooh
I believe every word

‘Cause even in the madness
There is peace
Drownin’ out the voices
All around me
Through all of this chaos
You are writing a symphony
A symphony

And even in the madness
There is peace
Drownin’ out the voices
All around me
Through all of this chaos
You are writing a symphony
A symphony, oh

Yo, I wanna truly know
If you compose beautiful
Music, though
From all my unruly notes
Distance is distant, it’s movin’ close

Now I see, erase the scales from my eyes
Then play the scale of my life
Chaos played off with a chord in accord
With a source prevailing through strife and

I’ve tasted suffering
I’ve been embraced by the painful buffering
I’ve been bound by doubts so loud right now
But a melody is made when you play these rusty keys

So we all gotta get pressed
Tuned up like instruments
But I know
All of life’s tempo is set
Whenever we remember this

That even in the madness
There is peace
Drownin’ out the voices
All around me
Through all of this chaos
You are writing a symphony
A symphony

And even in the madness
There is peace
Drownin’ out the voices
All around me
Through all of this chaos
You are writing a symphony
A symphony, oh

Ooh-oh-oh, ooh-oh-oh, ooh-oh-oh, a symphony
Ooh-oh-oh, ooh-oh-oh, ooh-oh-oh, a symphony
Ooh-oh-oh, ooh-oh-oh, ooh-oh-oh, a symphony*

I’d like to close with this beautiful love letter fashioned for children with the words of our Heavenly Father (God’s Love Letter for adults also here).

Photo Credit: Father’s Love Letter

*Lyrics to Symphony by Switch – Songwriters: Louis Biancaniello, Michael Biancaniello, Cassidy Estevez

Hope Beyond Coronavirus Roger Carswell

Father’s Love Letter

Ministering the Love of the Fathers to the Fatherless – Anna Meade Harris

God Promises to Be a Father to the Fatherless – Barry Adams

5 Ways that Churches Can Stand in the Gap for the Fatherless – Daniel Darling

Chris Tomlin Reveals the Dream God Gave Him 10 Years Ago That Is Now Saving Children Across America

5 Friday Faves – Classical Guitar Star Wars, Christmas Music, Adult Children, Christmas Happenings, and the Perks of Walking

Happy Weekend! Well, I should ask how was your weekend as Friday Faves posts on the Monday after. These Fridays come so fast! Anyway, if you have a minute, there’s a lot of Friday joy here for your Monday.

1) Star Wars Classical Guitar – We are Star Wars geeks around here. This movie franchise is part of our Christmas tradition through the years, going together to see the latest film coming out. Those of you who, like me, are fans of Nathan Mills at Beyond the Guitar, may remember his holiday mashup A Star Wars Christmas.

Photo Credit: YouTube, Beyond the Guitar

Of course, if you are Star Wars fans, you have probably already listened to Beyond the Guitar’s library of various themes. So much sweet nostalgia.

Photo Credit: YouTube, Beyond the Guitar

Thanks to Disney+, we have a Star Wars space western that we can stream between the big screen escapades. The Mandalorian. If you love Star Wars, you will love it. Here is Nathan’s rendition of the main theme:

2) Christmas Music – It’s been our jam since October, and still need more time to savor it all. From the ridiculous to the rapturous. Love most all of it. How about you? Do you have favorites to share? In Comments, please.

December is full of way too many music events to take them all in. Community sing-alongs of The Messiah, King College styled Lessons and Carols performances, spontaneous Christmas pageants, just to name a few. One of our family’s annual traditions is the VCU Holiday Gala. This Friday night, one of our littles also joined us. A next generation joy.

On a larger scale, the Christmas band for King & Country performs an amazing Little Drummer Boy. A drumming feast for the senses!

3) Adult Children – If we have grandchildren, then we have adult children. Loving them both in ways they understand is a crucial part of our life journey. This week I came across 3 very different but thought-provoking articles that were meaningful to me and you may also find them to be so for you (the adult children or you parents of same).

  • Alison Wright‘s The Death of the Family Gathering – We’re in a season when extended family gatherings only happen over a funeral or wedding. My birth family never did reunions but they always looked so fun. We would, from time to time, gather at grandparents at the same time, but it was never planned. Wright’s article touched my heart. Then a great-niece wrote a beautiful Facebook post about the same article… We work to make family dinners happen once a month and a family vacation each year. Worth the battle with busy schedules.
  • Deb Wolf‘s How to Love Your Adult Children Really Well is pure wisdom and worth your read. https://countingmyblessings.com/love-your-adult-children/
  • Daniel Kurt‘s Long-term Care Insurance – Is It the Right Move for My Aging Parents? This may seem an odd post for a Friday Fave, but for ever how much time long-term care insurance is still around, it is definitely a consideration for us to give ourselves and our adult children…or invest in a family compound of some sort where everyone cares for everyone else. Either way, it’s a chunk of change, but worth it.

4) Christmas Happenings – Beyond the Christmas music events, so much goes on in the month of December around here. Henrico Christmas Mother is a charitable venture that helps needy families, the elderly and the disabled of our county. I only minimally volunteer for this, but it is an incredible experience to see how people and organizations come together to help those less advantaged have a happy Christmas.

In Richmond, we have the Tacky Light Tour which makes driving around the city at night a shimmering, and sometimes silly, wonder.

Gatherings with friends and family or nights at home when overwhelmed or just needing a quiet place…all part of Christmas.

Then…then there are the platters, boxes, small bags full of Christmas cookies – made with love, shared.Photo Credit (last pic): Facebook.com – Cookies by Patricia Good Eckard

5) The Perks of Walking – So after all the Christmas cookies, I’ll close with this helpful piece on the perks of walking. We all know the perks actually, but we’ll be doing more walking come the New Year, for sure.

6 Things That Happen to Your Body When You Walk Every Day

Have a great week! I have to tell you that sometime during the night I woke with the wonderful realization that we are still over 2 weeks away from Christmas. I went to bed thinking it was just 10 days away. When trying to squeeze all the glorious goodness of this special time of year, the days fairly fly. It was a pre-dawn gift to know that…there is still time.

Bonuses:

Team of Retired Navy Seals Are Saving Teenagers From Human Trafficking – Mark Pygas

Zipper Mergers Are a Target for Road Rage, but They’re the Ones Doing It Right, VDOT Says – Joann Kimberlin

Do You Take Hours to Make Simple Decisions? You May Have FOBO (Fear of Better Options)

The Problem with “Hey Guys” – Joe Pinsker

What Makes You “Multicultural” Stacey Fitzsimmons, Davina Vora, Lee Martin, Salma Raheem, Andre Pekerti, C. Lakshman

Worship Wednesday – We Are Blessed to Be a Blessing – Andy Flannagan

Photo Credit: Heartlight

[Adapted from the Archives]

“And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.” – God to Abraham –  Genesis 12:2

We are so blessed. It is not a cliche. It is truth. Even those who don’t believe that God is will still use the expression of being blessed.

I wonder, “by whom?”.

Earlier this week I wrote about silence as punishment…withholding our words, ourselves, from others. Today we focus on the opposite – blessing others, through our words and actions. Reaching out, drawing in. Speaking life and love. Listening close. Blessing.

We are blessed to be a blessing. From the beginning of time, when God instructed His first man and woman. Especially to childless Abraham who would receive that promise in faith…blessed to be a blessing.

Writer Tina Boesch has written a beautiful book on blessing: Given: the Forgotten Meaning and Practice of Blessing. The first page of the book begins with a Scottish blessing:Life be in my speech, sense in what I say…the love Christ Jesus gave  filling me for every one.” Boesch writes about how, no matter the situation or the persons in front of us, we can bless them, because He has so utterly blessed us.

Whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.Colossians 3:17

From a young British friend’s Facebook page sometime ago, I was introduced to songwriter Andy Flannagan and Reverend Kevin Lewis. They both love Jesus and sing and write about blessing…

They cheer us on to shake off the weight of self-interest and reach out to a broken world…that those desperate for love will find it in the same Savior we know…and show by our love – our words and deeds – that He loves them, also.