A Hospital Maze, a Labyrinth and a Path for My Father

I woke up thinking, Who in the world would be knocking on my door at 3:00 am? I was alone, so I didn’t want to answer, but the knocking was persistent. If it’s a family emergency, they surely would have tried to call first, I reasoned as I grabbed my phone. Alarmed to see a multitude of messages and texts from my brothers and my mom, I hurried to the door without even checking what the messages said. I let my brothers Steve and Shawn in. They said they were heading down to Tennessee because our dad had another stroke. I was relieved to know it was not worse news.

When we got to the hospital and Mom led us through the hallways to Dad’s room, she kept saying how confusing the hospital layout was. I figured her brain was just as tired and frazzled as her appearance. But as the hours wore on and we attempted to navigate our way to various rooms and facilities, all three of us “kids” laughed in agreement with her – this place was like a maze.

At one point, we went outside for some fresh air and discovered the hospital had a labyrinth prayer and meditation garden.

angel

The labyrinth at Jackson-Madison County General Hospital (Jackson, TN)

Unlike a maze with its dead ends and turn-arounds, a labyrinth is one single path that leads you to the center and then back out. The goal of a labyrinth walk is as follows:

  1. Use the walk on the way into the center to clear your thoughts and release your burdens.
  2. Once you get to the center, you’re in a better frame of mind to pray and/or receive what you need from God.
  3. After spending time in the center, you walk the path out, reviewing and meditating on what you have received.

I returned to the labyrinth that night. I knew it would be hard to lay aside the concerns I had for my dad, but I took a deep breath and began my walk. One way to clear your mind for the process is to repeat a word or phrase as you walk; I had none for the moment. But just a few steps in, I found myself humming the words to an old Kathy Troccoli song: My life is in your hands, my heart is in your keeping. I had my mantra.

I started repeating that first line to the beat of my steps. Soon, I was adding and adjusting words.

My life is in your hands, my life is in your hands, my life is in your hands,

yes, my life is in your hands

My father’s life is in your hands, yes, My father’s life is in your hands,

yes, my father’s life is in your hands

Yes, my father’s life is in the hands of my Father, yes

My father’s life is in the hands of my loving Father,

Yes, my loving father’s life is in the hands of my loving Father

By the time I reached the center, my only prayer was one of thankfulness.

There will be many more prayers to come as we learn the extent of the damage this stroke has caused and watch my dad work through its effects. But the one prayer that serves as a banner over all the rest has been answered. In fact, it was answered long ago, when my loving father placed his life in the hands of our loving Father.

To see more posts about my labyrinth walks, click here.

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3 Reasons You Should Listen to the Fence-Sitters

The Lonely Fence-Sitter

So, here I sit … by nature the speak-up type … on the fence. How did that happen?

I have said for many years that I value the voices of the radicals because they challenge our assumptions and can help bring our thinking into balance. Radicals or extremists usually come to the forefront as reactionaries when the pendulum on an issue has swung too far in one direction. Yes, they may overstate their case, or swing the pendulum too far in the other direction, but without their voices we might never question how imbalanced things actually are (because that lack of balance has become the new status-quo).

Similarly, I have always had trouble respecting “fence-sitters.” At best, I’ve viewed them as apathetic. At worst, I’ve judged them as uncaring or cowardly. More recently, however, I have come to think it might actually be wise to seek out the fence-sitters and hear what they have to say when faced with a situation where extremists on both sides are screaming loudly. Here’s why:

  1. At the very least, if you are one of the radicals making noise, talking with the fence-sitters will help you see how your message is being received by those you are trying to persuade to join your cause. I mean, let’s face it, in battles of epic proportions the people on opposing sides aren’t typically trying to come together. They’re each trying to get their way, win the battle, shoot the other’s argument down. Okay, maybe that’s an overstatement, but seriously, if you’re not convincing a fence-sitter with your rhetoric, you’re certainly not going to convince the opposition.
  2. Talking with a fence-sitter might help you understand the valid points the opposition is making. Again, if you’re one of the radicals, you probably have trouble actually hearing the other side’s case because your senses are so inflamed against them.
  3. Don’t believe you could actually be that calloused against the other side? Appalled at the idea that you might be biased, or worse yet, not completely informed on the matter? Yeah, that’s another reason to speak with a fence-sitter. It’s a good opportunity for a heart check and, quite likely, fact-checking.

I suppose at this point, it might be good to mention the specific issues/incidents which have led me to think the fence-sitters might not be as uncaring as I once imagined. One is the racial tension in my own community (see prior posts here) and the other is a horrible situation in a local church which has spilled over into a Bible college I care about (see one article here, and one here … for the rest of the story, it won’t be hard to follow the rabbit trail to find details).

These circumstances have taught me the following about fence-sitting:

  • It is difficult to have your voice heard when you refuse to join one camp.
  • It is hard to convince people you care about them when you won’t agree with them completely.
  • If you want to hear the opinions and insights of the fence-sitter, you’ll probably have to seek them out because they shy away from speaking publicly as they don’t want to be labeled with either side. And, possibly, because they’ve seen how horribly each side has treated those who oppose them.
  • Just because someone does not grab the bullhorn, does not mean they don’t have some definite opinions.
  • When a fence-sitter is someone close to the situation, and they haven’t made complete enemies of either side, they probably have information you need to hear.
  • Fence-sitters often find themselves there because they care deeply about the people involved in the battle. If you want to gain an ally, spark up a conversation with them.

Please tell me something good a Christian has done for you.

Tonight I am tired. I am tired of Christians bashing fellow Christians. I understand we have differences. And I believe we need to have difficult discussions sometimes in order to hold each other accountable. I believe in the process of “iron sharpening iron.” And I believe in exposing any sin that manifests itself amongst us (for we all sin).

“If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” 1 John 1:8 (ESV)

What I am tired of, though, is how it seems like many Christians cannot approach their disagreements without making each other the enemy. I am tired of the fact that this makes me feel cynical. I am very tired of seeing these things play out in a way that makes younger Christians I’m trying to mentor become cynical. And I’m tired of the poor taste this leaves in the mouths of non-Christians – not just towards Christians, but towards our Christ.

Much more could be said on this matter. Perhaps I should write a Bible study in the future. But for tonight, I’m just too tired.

As I was driving home from work tonight, feeling cynical and discouraged, I had to correct my self-talk. I had to remind myself that there are MANY good Christian people out there who are doing loving things for people.

In an environment filled with people pointing out others’ wrongs, can we take a minute to point out some of the good we see fellow Christians doing? PLEASE, post your positive examples here for all to see as I’m sure there are others like me who need to be reminded.

More Good than Bad Happened in Ferguson August 9, 2015 (part 2)

As promised in my last post, here’s another example of good that happened in Ferguson on the one year anniversary of the death of Michael Brown.

Good in Ferguson

Peaceful demonstration of opposing viewpoints in Ferguson – August 9, 2015

It’s hard to see in the picture, so I circled it. But there was a group of protestors waving an upside down American flag. This solitary woman decided to do a little flag waving of her own – right side up. There are several reasons I think this is a great symbol of the good that occurred in Ferguson on the 9th:

  1. I think this woman was brave to voice an opposing viewpoint against the backdrop of a much larger and angrier group.
  2. This is what America is supposed to be about – the rights of individuals to express their views on either side of an issue.
  3. There was no violence by either party in the protest, but their points were clearly made.

As I post this, it is 11:57 pm and things are heating up again on West Florissant Avenue. Frozen water bottles have been thrown at police. Arrests have been made. And one portion of the crowd was maced by a police officer. I’m certain there is still good happening even in the midst of that chaos. As alderman Antonio French (who, by the way, is another person I believe is doing a lot of good) reported:

Continue to pray for those working for change while still promoting peace. Pray with me that things do not escalate tonight.

 

 

An Article to Share for Bereaved Parents Awareness Month

In the January Bible Study for the Encourager’s Devotional Series, I shared several articles on how to (and NOT to) help people who are suffering with depression, grief or other life altering issues. With July being Bereaved Parents Awareness Month, I’m linking below to another great article on what you should (and should NEVER) say to a grieving parent.

I know when my sister lost her son, she found this to be true:
“People are sometimes tempted to list their own periods of grief — the death of their grandmother or a beloved family pet — as a way to sympathize, but those are not equivalent losses …”

And when I lost my sister, I finally came to see the truth of this statement (though I cannot fathom how much more true it was for her): “To try to explain to people that this is the kind of loss that transforms you into a different person, that you will never be the same person you were before this happened, is almost impossible.”

http://www.today.com/parents/child-loss-what-you-should-should-not-say-parents-t30596

Earth Day – 6 Reasons Christians Should Care for the Earth

I once read a piece by someone who was against Christians participating in Earth Day. I don’t remember the author, but his sentiments were something to the effect of “beware of the human tendency to worship the creation instead of the Creator.” While that’s not a wholly unwarranted caution (see Romans 1:20-25), I’d have to add the warning to beware of the human tendency to worship self and our own abilities. We still have a bit of Babel in us (Genesis 11). We cannot be content to build our skyscrapers and empires without taking heed to the way our “progress” harms our environment and actually causes us to work against the principles and goals God has established for us. Here are six reasons Christians should take responsibility for caring for the earth:

1 – We should care for the earth because God mandated that we do so.

“The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.”Genesis 2:15 (all Scripture references from NIV)

From the beginning, God told mankind to care for His creation. In the first chapter of Genesis (1:26-28), this command includes the fish and the waters, the birds and the sky, the animals and the land.

We have a mandate to care for the earth. Why would we turn over our authority and commission to others?

2 – We should care for the earth because creation brings God glory and reveals God to man.

“The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. – Psalm 19:1

“For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made …” – Romans 1:20

God uses nature to bear witness to Himself. Wouldn’t our care of nature help us be better witnesses to the world?

3 – We should care for the earth because it’s God’s teaching tool.

“Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise!” – Proverbs 6:6

This Proverb continues to instruct us to watch the ant to see how to gain a harvest. In contrast to the ant, man is called a sluggard and challenged to wake up and get to work. Otherwise, it says, “poverty will come on you like a thief and scarcity like an armed man.” We have to admit, part of our lack of concern for the environment has to do with apathy and laziness.

I used to say that I’d be happy to recycle if they would make it easier – I just didn’t want to mess with different bins for different types of trash. Thankfully, my municipality did eventually make it easier. I have to wonder if I would have ever started recycling if they hadn’t. We often prefer to turn a blind eye to the notion that our world does actually have limited resources and that we harm it by our wastefulness and desire for convenience. Participating in environmental causes could teach us a great deal about ourselves. I’m glad that the younger generation is being taught to be better stewards. Shouldn’t more Christians be taking on the responsibility to help teach these lessons?

4 – We should care for the earth because our sin is the cause of its suffering.

“Cursed is the ground because of you …” – Genesis 3:17

Creation suffered from the curse when man sinned. Plants that flourished now had to contend with thorns and weeds. Animals that lived together in peace became enemies. Romans 8:22-25 says that all creations groans with us as we await our full redemption from the cares of this world brought on by sin. This passage also says that the “creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed.” We are supposed to be helping to redeem creation as we await the final redemption. Are we, instead, making it groan even more?

5 – We should care for the earth because God cares for the earth.

After the flood (also brought on by man’s sin), God not only made a covenant with Noah, but also with the earth. When he put the rainbow in the sky as a sign of this covenant to never again destroy the earth by flood, God said:

“This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come: I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth.” – Genesis 9:12-13

If God would make a covenant with the earth, why should a Christian be hesitant to do so?

6 – We should care for the earth because we are called to be good stewards of all that God has given us.

“Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.” – 1 Peter 4:10

We would all agree that we are to be good stewards of what God has given us. We have often heard messages about being good stewards of our money, our homes, our talents. Why do we balk at being good stewards of this earth? We should look at our stewardship of this earth as a service to others who share this planet with us, as well as a service to the Creator of all things.

If the heavens and the trees and the beauty of creation all testify to God’s goodness, shouldn’t we seek to keep it healthy and beautiful?

Suggested Resources:

Christians and the Environment – A One Session Bible Study

Creation Care – A Three Session Bible Study

A Few Ways to Check Your Heart before “Speaking the Truth in Love”

We are told in Ephesians 4:15 that the body of Christ becomes more mature when we learn to speak the truth in love to one another. This is how we grow up and no longer act like infants in our relationships. Yet, we often avoid this command because it is a difficult thing to do. Sometimes we rationalize it away by saying we don’t want to offend anyone. And doesn’t that sound pious? Or, we say, “I’m waiting for my heart to be right before I go say what needs to be said.” Again, that sounds good and noble. In the end, though, it is simply disobedience.

The problem is we never quite feel it’s the right time to go have that difficult conversation. And so, we leave unsaid the thing that might help someone recognize sin or error, or the thing we need to say to restore relationship. And the whole body of believers suffers as a result.

It is interesting that the verses prior to this text use the imagery of being “tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming” (NIV). That’s exactly how this mind game we play with ourselves feels. The only way to relieve the tug-of-war in our thinking is to put on our big kid pants and follow God’s instructions. Otherwise, we are actually being deceitful and possibly resorting to “alternative actions” (Sounds better than “schemes,” doesn’t it?).

Those schemes are so appealing, though, and they too can seem justified. I’ll just go talk with my pastor about it instead. Or, I’ll just make it a matter of prayer.

Last week, I received a text from a friend who was struggling with this. I summarized for her the things I do to check my heart before going to someone to speak the truth I believe needs to be spoken. Below is the transcript of that conversation. Hope it helps the next time you are considering whether or not you are actually ready to speak the truth … in love.

Please excuse the poor grammar and punctuation. This conversation took place at 4:30 am (she's one of my night owl friends).

Please excuse the poor grammar and punctuation. This conversation took place at 4:30 am (she’s one of my night owl friends).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How about you? Do you have any “heart checks” you use before going to someone to resolve an issue?

A Hint of Life, but Death Is Still in the Background

Reflections from time with God at Zion UCC Labyrinth, Florissant, MO

Reflections from time with God at Zion UCC Labyrinth, Florissant, MO

“I would have lost heart, unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait on the Lord; be of good courage, and He shall strengthen your heart; Wait, I say, on the Lord!” Psalm 27:13-14 (NKJV)

This scripture kept going through my mind after my sister’s death (Janell Joy Bartz, June 5, 1966 – September 19, 2012). Two weeks after her passing, I plugged earphones into my digital Bible to help feed myself the Word at a time I was not feeling prone to read it. I thought it might help me get to sleep (another thing I was not prone to do at that time). Later in the night, I woke up at the exact moment this passage was being read.

A few days later, I was at a labyrinth that I go to for prayer walks. Before going onto the prayer path, I sat on a bench for a while. A line of trees surrounds the labyrinth. I noticed a purple flower bud (Janell’s favorite color) on one near me. For a brief moment, I was comforted. Then, almost immediately, I noticed the very next tree in line behind it was already browning for fall and the coming winter. I thought, “A hint of life, but death is still in the background.”

When I got to the center of the labyrinth and stopped for contemplation, the dead tree was directly in front of me and I became overwhelmed. You see, Janell’s death was preceded just a week prior by the death of a 22 year old cousin who died in a car accident. That death alone had been very difficult to take, not only because he was so young, but also because it was yet another tragedy in my family which has a long history of young deaths, and violence and many forms of chaos and heartbreak.

While standing there, staring at the dead tree, I also thought of the many people I was praying for who were dealing with depression, and addictions and … well, many forms of chaos and heartbreak. For many of them, I had been praying a long time.

At that moment, the only prayer I could muster was, “Lord, I need to see someone overcome! To continue to believe it’s possible.”

Then, I remembered the meeting I’d had just that morning (how soon we forget) with the friend I am partnering with to write his life story. His is a story of someone redeemed from the worst of life’s circumstances. It is a story of true transformation that can only be brought about by the power of Christ.

I was gently reminded by God that there are many stories of redemption and transformation out there. And there are more to come. I WILL see the goodness of the Lord – in the land of the living. All of our hope is not just found “in the sweet by and by.” We don’t have to wait until we get to heaven to see the heaven’s move on our behalf. There is still hope for deliverance, here among the living, even when death is seemingly mocking us in the background.