And underneath are the everlasting arms.”
Where do I fit?
Is there a place for me where the talents that God has given me can be of use to the local church as well as the community?
How do I discover where that place is?
I thought that with the position at Coastal Horizons, all the above had been answered. It seemed a perfect fit and I rejoiced that the opportunities for witnessing combined with serving a population that was often treated as modern-day lepers was a calling from heaven. My first few weeks were rough ones as my insecurity (am I the only one who is lost in the maze of acronyms and language everyone else uses so casually?) and fear had me almost pushing many (most?) of those there away from me. It was hard for me to trust anyone or to depend on what I was told; sadly, I began identifying with the clients more than my co-workers.
After several counseling sessions with supervisor staff over this, it seemed that my focus was shifting. One client however seemed rather adept at getting inside my head and managed to get me to do almost anything she wanted to the detriment of the other clients. Amazingly, I would justify it in different ways, but really there was no justifying it. The end result was that I was fired for cause and, at age 67, found myself unemployed with little to no prospects.
As with throwing away a career as a nurse and paramedic; having done the same with a possible career with Coastal Horizons, I really had no idea what to do or where to look. When The Bridge Church announced they were looking for a Pastor for Discipleship I did, for a time, think about that. Perhaps were I ten years younger that would be a possibility, but hopefully there may be something else I can do to help whoever is selected to fill that role?
At this point I just am not sure. With the surgery coming up and the uncertainty of that (yeah, having holes drilled in my skull isn’t something I am looking forward to, or wires threaded into my thalamus for that matter…wonder if I’ll be able to pick up any radio stations?). This specific procedure has been done hundreds of time with few incidents, but there is Mr. Murphy and his bloody Laws.
That is part of it, isn’t it? Perhaps this uncertainty is wondering if there will be a need to be concerned about needing to find something to do after February 12th…
As with this world and the craziness that seems to have taken control of it, the only real comfort I can find is that my King is still on His throne. Just so, whatever happens on February 12th (or any other day), I am his child and, as Moses put it so well;
“The eternal God is your dwelling place,
And underneath are the everlasting arms.”
The journey continues...
The last week or so has been 'interesting' to say the least, both from a spiritual and personal viewpoint (and sadly, despite walking with Christ since 1988, there are times when I do seem to want to keep the two paths separate!). The image shown is of two paths or roads diverging in a wood (much as my favorite poet in his poem, "The Road Not Taken" by Robert Frost. In this case, both from what has happened in the spiritual and 'physical' realm, both have seemed to converge and, with apologies to Mr. Frost, "...that has made all the difference."
The week long fast (from food, television, Facebook. I did post some things but did not peruse through at al. No electronic media of any kind other than that required by work...more on that in a bit; all of this combined to heighten my sense of God’s presence in my everyday (man, why not do this on a more regular basis Shook? Talk about an Urkel moment! It seemed easier this year than last, but also more challenging because of another battle that I was in danger of losing at work (and, in actuality, had already lost).
One of our clients there was rather adept at getting inside my head and maneuvering me to do favors for her; things that seemed innocent on the surface, but over time began to push further and further over the line between acceptable and unacceptable behavior. Honestly, it was a big ego lift for this 20-something lady to be hitting on me (even if in my own mind); looking back, it is terrifying to think of how far this could have gone. My surpervisor saw what was happening and warned me (twice!) and on the observed third time, I left them little choice but to terminate me as an employee.
Shame, regret and deep remorse for the loss of what could have been a witness for Christ in that dark place. Instead, I allowed the enemy to subvert me into a trap that is all too common in and out of Scripture. Time spent with Pastor Ethan and my wife began the healing; the Friday night of worship was a catharsis that continued the healing, particularly one song, “I AM a Child of the King” (emphasis intentional)!
Today, while sitting at the bar in Breakthrough Nutrition, an impulse hit me to share with a college student sitting next to me who works some part-time helping out Nick and Blair in the store. I had some cash in my wallet and just felt that she could use it for whatever; to see the expression on her face when I gave it to her let me know that I had ‘heard’ correctly. Leaving right after that, as I walked to the car I sort of remembered hearing the phrase about doing as much good as you can while you can. I could not remember the whole thing or where it came from, so I looked it up:
“Do all the good you can,
By all the means you can,
In all the ways you can,
In all the places you can,
At all the times you can,
To all the people you can,
As long as ever you can.”
This idea or compulsion is, pushing me now to do so with my time, talent, as well as finances. I’m not sure why NOW. It could be the looming surgery in February or something else that only God knows about (and I like it that way), but those words seem to me to fit with not only what Ethan has been sharing, but what God has been sharing since, “In the beginning…”
Let’s see what happens.
Driving home from the USO-NC Jacksonville, NC Center last night, I heard something on the radio that had me thinking. It seems that one of the actors (and singer, teen heart-throb) from The Partridge Family, was heard to say the following just before he died; “So much wasted time.” Sad that a man whose career was devoted to supposedly bringing laughter into others lives would end his own with such a sad insight.
It got me thinking into what others ‘last words’ were and how that reflected their lives before their deaths. Many of the comments are humorous, some sublime and others, as the above quote, a sad goodbye to this life. Some may believe that drawing any kind of conclusions from anyone’s ‘deathbed conversation’ is overblown. They would claim that it is nothing more than the random thoughts flitting through a dying brain; others, myself included, feel that often such comments can reveal not only a glimpse of that persons’ life but perhaps a glimpse of what is next after death. Many are recorded on various websites, but some that I’ve included here can point to how important these last testimonies are.
This is the last of earth! I am content.
~~ John Quincy Adams, US President, d. February 21, 1848
Waiting are they? Waiting are they? Well--let 'em wait.
In response to an attending doctor who attempted to comfort him by saying, "General, I fear the angels are waiting for you."
~~ Ethan Allen, American Revolutionary general, d. 1789
All my possessions for a moment of time.
~~ Elizabeth I, Queen of England, d. 1603
Codeine . . . bourbon.
~~ Tallulah Bankhead, actress, d. December 12, 1968
How were the receipts today at Madison Square Garden?
~~ P. T. Barnum, entrepreneur, d. 1891
I am ready to die for my Lord, that in my blood the Church may obtain liberty and peace.
~~ Thomas à Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, d.1170
I should never have switched from Scotch to Martinis.
~~ Humphrey Bogart, actor, d. January 14, 1957
That was the best ice-cream soda I ever tasted.
~~ Lou Costello, comedian, d. March 3, 1959
Damn it . . . Don't you dare ask God to help me.
To her housekeeper, who had begun to pray aloud.
~~ Joan Crawford, actress, d. May 10, 1977
This by no means is a complete list, just some I parsed from several different websites including “Brain Candy,” “Mental Floss” and “Phrasefinder.” There are some notables I have left out, among them Jesus the Christ (in that case his last words on the cross were not his last words, for he is alive today having risen from the dead). Some that I have heard from other nurses (relating what they’d heard from a patient just as they died) are horrifyingly stark, giving a glimpse of life after death that is not all lollipops, rainbows, and butterflies. The saddest on the above list is that of Joan Crawford; apparently, someone in her hearing was praying and perhaps beseeching her to call out for God. To go into that long not-so-good night with those words on ones’ lips…
There are ample examples of those disciples of Christ who went to their King with joy; Tomas a’ Becket is such an example when faced with his assassins, gave testimony of not only a life well spent but an expectation of far better in the next life. As the two malefactors who were crucified at the same time as Jesus, the world is divided into two camps; those who continue to decry his claims and mock him even as they die, and those who had once been among the mockers, but embraced him as Lord and Savior. There is no middle ground, no great good deed that anyone can do that will assuage the penalty of being born a son or daughter of Adam. Anyone who doesn’t believe in the concept of original sin and the inherent depravity of mankind has never had children (or seen the wild tantrum of a child not getting what they wanted NOW).
The time of our death is not known; often there is no time for any ‘last words’ as death overtakes us. Better to live a life that reflects our values, particularly those of a disciple of Christ and let that be our last testament to the world.
When folks tell me that the God of the TANAK (Old Testament) and New Testament are different; one being vengeful and angry, the other loving and full of grace, I have to shake my head. They just don’t get it and my reading this morning shows clear proof that they are one and the same. Man’s fall and resultant expulsion from the Garden some may claim are clear indications of how vengeful God was ‘back then.’ They may say that didn’t God put that tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the Garden after all; why should God be surprised when man disobeyed the command not to eat of its’ fruit?
That Eve was deceived by the Accuser is clearly laid out in Scripture (Gen. 3:1-6); what is often overlooked is how Adam was present during this temptation and let it happen. True, Eve was not there when God commanded Adam not to eat of this particular tree (think of it, in a world full of ‘yes,’ the only one ‘no’ and they blew it!). Surely Adam instructed his wife of this single ‘no,’ but the Accuser is crafty and deceived Eve, so she took of its’ fruit and ate it. Then, Scripture tells us (Gen. 3:6), “…she took of the fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.” The innocence and joy of the Garden were gone in an instant, and they hid from each other and tried to hide from God. No longer unashamed (Gen. 2:25); with rebellion and sin, shame entered creation.
God enters the Garden looking for Adam, calling to him as a father to a wayward son. What follows (Gen. 3:10-13) is the first example of the blame game; fingers pointing outward without any confession of their own sin. This continues to this day and will do so until the end of this fallen world. Their attempt at covering their own shame (sewing fig leaves together to cover their nakedness) was ludicrous, just as any attempt on our part to pay for our own failures falls far short. God sacrifices creatures to provide for them proper covering (would an angry and vengeful God do this?), but then does something many don’t understand. He expels them from the Garden, never to return (Gen. 3:23,24)!
Just so, some would claim, this demonstrates his vengeful nature. But really it truly demonstrates the grace God shows throughout His-story. The triune God speaks a very real concern, “Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever…” (Gen. 3:22) Adam and Eve (and all their progeny) were cursed with eventual death rather than living forever in a Garden of bliss. This is the peak of grace; imagine if they had remained in the Garden and had eaten of the fruit that would give them everlasting life. Shame, fear, doubt; all the ‘fruit’ of the fall would remain forever. Death for the human race is a gracious gift from a loving God that ends a life of suffering and temptation, allowing them to enter into an eternity of everlasting joy.
Again, this so-called ‘angry, vengeful God of the Old Testament demonstrates further grace by providing a path, a Way to that true life. By the sacrifice of the animals that provided them with clothing, God showed them that blood was required. This would lead to the sacrificial system laid down in Exodus and Leviticus, but all points to that Son whose heel would be bruised, but who would forever crush the power and threat of the Accuser. About two thousand years ago, an itinerant preacher and miracle worker was arrested and endured several mock trials (in violation of the Torah). He would then be handed over to a lily-livered Roman official who would condemn him to be crucified, even knowing he was innocent. That was that they all thought.
Jesus is risen; just as he said! He has left this planet but will return. The madness and evil that seem to run rampant over the Earth leave us with little hope. By God’s grace, the story is not over. When Jesus cried, “It is finished!” (John 19:30), it was not a piteous cry of defeat, but a shout of victory! The debt had been paid; the Way was now open to all who believe to receive true life forever.
You expect me to believe that a man who had been brutally tortured, nailed to two pieces of wood, either suffocated or bled to death and then had a Roman spear jammed into his chest to ensure he was dead, that this same guy is alive?
You’re telling me that this same person when taken down from the cross was boneless without any sign of life, then laid in a borrowed tomb that was sealed and protected by Roman soldiers, that this same person is gone from the tomb? You’re telling me that he is alive?
What kind of fool would believe that kind of nonsense?!?
Just because you have a bunch of his spineless followers (they did bail on him, right?), that they were suddenly bold proclaimers of this fella being alive and well; you want me to believe them as well?
Yeah, yeah; they were willing to suffer horrific deaths themselves just for believing in him, but that isn’t any kind of proof that he is alive, is it? You really expect me to believe that?
Yeah, I heard how one of the most prolific persecutors of his disciples suddenly began telling others that this guy Jesus is alive, that he is a King? That Saul turned from a successful career as one of the ruling council in Jerusalem to walk the then known world proclaiming this nonsense; is that proof of anything other than one man’s delusion?
Come on, really? What kind of fool do you take me for anyway?
Who would be foolish enough to believe such nonsense!?!
Whose fool do you take me for?
Have you ever had a day that seemed to drag on and on? One that you wished would end, but were terrified of what would happen, what would change when it did? Have you ever just wanted to curl up in a ball and, as the old country song put it, “Make the World Go Away?”
By now all of the apostles and the women who had followed Jesus would have gathered together in that same room where the Passover had been celebrated. No celebration now, only a mind-numbing emptiness as they struggled to understand the inexplicable.
How could he die?
Was this all there was after all those years of ministry and learning? The promise of what seemed a heralding of a new kingdom was now ashes and dust. How were they to go on? When would the same religious zealots who had taken their beloved teacher come for them?
Fear, darkness, hopelessness…
We look back on these huddled, shivering men and women in the light of what we know from Scripture and just shake our heads. Where is there faith? How could they have missed the warnings Jesus gave them, but also the promise of his resurrection?
Are we then so very different?
Whenever tragedy strikes our family when things don’t go according to what we thought they should, do we keep our eyes focused on God’s promises that are all yes and Amen in Messiah?
Life, this life we live will be filled with days similar to that one Saturday.
Hopelessness, despair, grief will flood our souls and leave us bereft of any joy. We far too often are ignorant of how God is working as he was on that Saturday; we close our eyes to his possible and cling to our impossible. We embrace our misery as if a friend when our true friend stands waiting with arms open wide.
It’s Saturday, but Sunday is coming…
What’s so good about it?
The religious leaders of Israel conspired together and then coerced a lily-livered Roman official to condemn and then torture and execute an itinerant teacher who was innocent of any blame! We call that good!?!
The public humiliation and torture of this guy alone would have been the crime of the century, but they hung him naked to die for all those passing by to mock and pour out their invective upon. Those men whom he had called and taught for over three years were, except for one youngster, notably absent. Only some of the women who had followed him were there to watch as the one they love, the one they had believed in was tortured, nailed to two pieces of rough wood, and left to hang before the crowds.
They watched him bleed, they listened to his few words spoken only by the horror of lifting himself up so he could take a breath, dragging his savaged back against the rough wood. They heard the crowds jeers and saw the afternoon grow dark as creation itself seemed to mourn over this travesty of so-called justice.
They watched him die…
Where was the promise of the early years of his ministry when so many flocked to hear words that seemed to flow from the throne of God? Were they mistaken to call him Lord? Wasn’t Messiah supposed to be a King over all kings?
The darkness of their souls mirrors the darkness as the sun disappears…
It’s Friday, how can this be called good?
It’s Friday, but Sunday is coming!
A dark day when evil ran amok, and the disciples’ perceptions of what Messiah ought to be ended in a horrific night of betrayal, violence, and terror
His plan was NOT their plan
All hope is gone after a seemingly never-ending night filled with the mockery of three trials which gave vent to the religious hatred against their friend
Now, as the light of day began filtering into the city, hearts and hopes remained dark as many huddled together in the upper room fearing that the religious leaders would come for them next
Some followed his agonizing path to Golgotha
Horror as the one they thought was the Messiah hung on a Roman cross, so disfigured as to be hardly recognizable as human, bleeding, dying
Darkness filled the land, covering the Earth
An end to hopes and dreams
Recently I agreed to an interview with Alex Guarino to tell ‘my story’ after she heard some of it at an event at Foxes Boxes in Wilmington. I agreed in the hopes to ‘put a face’ on how so many with felony backgrounds do struggle to find work. Additionally, I’d hoped to use this platform as a chance to share my testimony of how God’s grace had brought me from darkness to light. While the portions of the interview left much out and reported that I'd been drafted and sent to Vietnam (something I remember telling her I'd been avoiding by enlisting in the Navy and volunteering for submarines), it was heartening to hear so many positive things from many that had not realized before that my background included a criminal record.
Then on Monday, March 26th, I was advised that my services as a volunteer on the Battleship North Carolina were no longer required, especially if it was in any aspect of my work involving interaction with the public. Kim Sincox, who’d been the person that I interacted with most as a volunteer, was the person who delivered the message, telling me that it wasn’t anything personal…
Even before I was released from prison, I had begun to realize that my hopes for meaningful work would be an adventure. As I filled out one application after another for work release, I quickly discovered that my naivete' about finding work of any kind had not prepared me for the rigors of this search. I assumed that as I had nearly completed the court-ordered sentence placed upon me (thereby fulfilling my ‘debt’ to society) and had even earned an Associates of Science degree in computers while in prison, that I would find work in IT or related field fairly quickly.
After my release, this search continued; by the time I’d all but given up I had applied for over 800 different positions in varying companies (including both the ones applied for while seeking work in prison and after). Finally, in desperation for income, when I reached the age of 62 I filed for my Social Security even though with my time in prison I would only receive just over $600.00 per month. I had begun volunteering with different agencies in the Triangle (where we lived at the time) but continued to seek employment to no avail.
We relocated to the Wilmington area in hopes that an agency here would hire me (one of their supervisors had expressed an interest in me when I met her for a position assisting those coming out of prison in finding work). Once we were in Wilmington, I followed their website daily waiting for the position to be posted. When it did appear, I submitted my application with resume and appropriate documents and waited while checking the site at least twice a day. After a month the position was no longer listed, having been filled without even a phone call from them. It seemed the combination of my age and my felony would prove insurmountable barriers to meaningful employment, but was thankful to find other avenues in which to volunteer in the community. Such activity took much of the sting of rejection at not finding work, giving me a sense of fulfillment and purpose; at least until Monday.
I’ve been reminded that many feel that having a felony is an embarrassment to their organization and would distance themselves from involvement with me (at least where it comes to being in the public eye). Thankfully I’ve also been shown how others continue to value my efforts on their organization’s part and welcome my continued volunteering with them. What is most important is knowing that nothing of what has happened can cause my King to reject me. His grace is beyond my understanding, but the one thing that is immutable in my life. That rock is a foundation that I can build upon and will continue to do so for whatever remains of my life. Whether as a volunteer or in some paid position, my desire to serve the community remains unchanged.
In Mark 9, we see Jesus and some of his disciples coming down from the transfiguration, returning to the valley of every day as it were. Immediately they are confronted with his disciples arguing with some scribes, a distraught father, and a possessed son. Despite the other disciples best efforts (THEIR BEST EFFORTS), the son still had not been delivered. Jesus’ reaction to his disciple's unbelief and lack of faith is rather harsh, but understandable;
“O unbelieving generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring him to Me!” Mark 9:19 ESV
Think of it; here, nearing the end of three years walking, talking and living with Jesus, they still did not get it! How obtuse or lacking in faith they must have been!
How often have any of us used such language (even if only in our minds) directed toward another disciple of Jesus? We, as a group (the church) far too often do ‘shoot our wounded’ instead of coming alongside them to support and encourage.
In recent weeks, Kathy and I have been through some challenges that tore at our hearts and even our faith at times. I remember crying out to God over and over for C.J., only to receive such dire news from the veterinarian that there was only one option left. Yes, she was ‘just’ a cat, but these little creatures do put their paw prints on your heart, and after almost 13 years, she had become my precious little girl. As I recorded earlier in my blog, it was with many tears that we bid C.J. goodbye.
When the hand tremors ceased for a time, the rejoicing at what God had done (especially when Pastor Ethan’s lesson the next Sunday was an exclamation point on what had happened), but then they began to return. Over a few days they would increase and decrease; my prayers, my crying out to God did reduce the recalcitrant tremors, but they did continue to increase until it was at the point where I had to revert to using a spoon to eat with once again. After discussing this with Kathy, I began taking the Primidone again. More and more I had started to identify with those apostles as they received the tongue lashing from Jesus. After all, have I not walked with him these 30 years? Haven’t I learned ANYTHING?
Then, reading further, I saw how Jesus spoke with the father;
21 And He asked his father, “How long has this been happening to him?” And he said, “From childhood. 22 It has often thrown him both into the fire and into the water to destroy him. But if You can do anything, take pity on us and help us!” 23 And Jesus said to him, “‘If You can?’ All things are possible to him who believes.” Mark 9:21-23 ESV
The father, seeing how the disciples had been unable to deliver his son, plead with Jesus the most poignant prayer in Scripture, “But if you can do anything…” What is important to see, is not the lack of bold faith on the part of the father, but that Jesus dealt with him very gently. The father’s response mirrors my own in many an occasion;
24 Immediately the boy’s father cried out and said, “I do believe; help my unbelief.” Mark 9:24 ESV
I do feel that I have failed a test, but how Jesus spoke to the father with his mixed message prayer is very reassuring to me. Whenever any of us pray, it is often with a measure of unbelief. Jesus can take that small bit of faith (mustard seed anyone?) and work with that. For that, I am grateful to my King whose beneficence is beyond our understanding.
Grace is a wonderful thing.
The journey continues.