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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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.

 

 

More Good than Bad Happened in Ferguson Yesterday (part 1)

Despite the turn of events last night, more good happened in Ferguson than bad yesterday. Of course, the good does not get as much media coverage. And what coverage it does get is not shared as quickly or thoroughly as the bad on social media. So, I dedicate this series of posts to the MANY who are striving to make Ferguson, and the rest of our nation, a better place. To those who are BEING the change they want to see.

Phil Berwick is someone I met last year. He has been helping to “repaint” the picture of Ferguson, and other areas of St. Louis, with his lovable character “Merferd.” He also moved to Ferguson this year to be more directly involved with the community there. Here are a few video clips, links, and pictures of Phil and his work.

Merferd in St. Louis

Bob’s Quality Market, a St. Louis landmark for 47 years. My first Merferd outside of the riot zone in St. Louis. I asked if I could paint what was on the poster on the far side of the building, which was a large blank white brick “canvas.” I told him that I knew he was Muslim, and I could just have Merferd saying “I love you,” without the “Jesus.” He told me, to keep Jesus name on the painting.

News channel 5 (KSDK) covered Phil and others who have moved into Ferguson and were active yesterday. You can view that video by clicking here.

And click here to see Phil painting a new Merferd during last night’s protests. As Phil explained, “You will hear [Phil and his wife, Theresa] wail during the painting. It was to drown out the cop hating soundtrack that was blasting from across the street on West Florissant Ave in Ferguson.”

Stay tuned for more posts in this series throughout the day and continue to pray for people like Phil and Theresa who are working for positive change. Also, pray that today’s events also have more positive than negative consequences.

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.

Finding Peace in the Midst of Chaos – March Encourager’s Devotion

March Encourager's Devotion

Just a quick scan of news headlines can be very discouraging, even downright frightening.

Justice Department finds racial bias in Ferguson police practices

Netanyahu Says Iran Poses ‘Threat to Peace of Entire World’

Iran calls Obama’s 10-year nuclear demand ‘unacceptable’

Target to cut thousands of jobs

Get ready—Fed to cause major turmoil this month

It is hard to maintain inner peace when our world is in such chaos. Yet that is exactly what Christ came to bring us – a peace that the world will never be able to offer us (John 14:27), a peace that defies human understanding and guards our hearts and minds no matter what is going on around us (Phil. 4:7).

I remember a time when I experienced that kind of peace. I was pregnant with my first child, but had been put on 24 hour bedrest due to complications. I was fearful, worried I might be losing my baby. Lying in bed, I read Psalm 91 (NKJV):

“He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. … He shall cover you with His feathers, and under His wings you shall take refuge … You shall not be afraid.”

Things like this are hard to explain, but as I read that passage, I could just picture God “covering me” and I felt peace in His presence.

My father once shared a story with me about God ministering peace to his spirit when he was going through a bout with cancer. He was driving down the road worrying about life, death, and his family. He had a Christian radio station on and a song called “Silent Partner” by Jessy Dixon began to play. Dad said he started to weep as he was comforted by the idea that God was his partner during that difficult time – a partner you might not always see or hear, but you know He’s there giving you strength and seeing you through.

A few years ago, I discovered prayer labyrinths (you can see prior posts about labyrinths and an explanation of what they are here). The image for this post includes a picture of one of my favorites at Mercy Retreat Center in St. Louis, MO. When my sister passed away in 2012, I was so glad I had found these beautiful places to pray. My time there brings me peace.

I share these stories with you because they show various ways to draw closer to God and attain the peace He promises – Bible reading, Christian music, prayer walks. Other means of finding peace might be through the company of friends and family, through worship services, or through inspirational reading. I have also had art minister peace to me. We might do as Paul suggested in Philippians 4:8-9 and think on anything we can that is good, or lovely, or praiseworthy when we are bombarded with negative news images. Paul also says in Philippians that when you do the things you know are right “the God of peace will be with you.” It is interesting that Paul wrote all this while he was in prison. He had discovered how to have peace regardless of his circumstances (4:11-13).

OUR PEACE HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH WHAT’S GOING ON AROUND US.

IT HAS EVERYTHING TO DO WITH OUR RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD.

Now, what does all this have to do with being an encourager? Well, this is a time when those around us are worried and fearful. We will only be able to encourage them if we are at peace ourselves. You cannot lead someone to a place you  cannot find yourself. So, build yourself up in the faith and then go minister to others who need peace.

MAY YOU SHINE AS LIGHTS IN A CROOKED AND PERVERSE WORLD! (Phil. 2:15)

This post is part of the Encourager’s Devotional Series.

Accompanying materials for this month’s devotions: Click here for the Bible study for March and here for the answer guide.

When Hearts are Revealed through Social Media

 

Lord, heal our hearts.

Lord, heal our hearts.

Today my heart is grieved by those who spew hatred. I’m especially troubled by those who claim to be Christ followers yet don’t seem to realize that what they post and share on social media is saying so much about their true feelings towards others. As the St. Louis area still reels from recent events in Ferguson, the last thing we need is more people stirring up animosity.

So, I was tempted today to challenge some of the posts I’ve seen. But then I thought of the Scripture in which God says He can change people’s hardened hearts from stone to flesh. Healing for our region and beyond will require dialogue, debate, debunking and determination on the part of those trying to foster peace. In this moment, though, I am not suited for the battle because my own heart is agitated.

I’m choosing instead to make the irritating posts I see my promptings for prayer:

Holy Spirit, convict hearts as only you can. Lord, please chisel away the callouses and turn these stony hearts into hearts of flesh.

My First Year of Blogging – 2014 in Review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog. See what’s happened since Lisa started her blog on May 8, 2014.

Here’s an excerpt:

The busiest day of the year was October 16th with 81 views. The most popular post that day was 5 Controversial Statements about Race and Gender I’ve Really Wanted to Post on My Blog but Haven’t – Until Now.

Click here to see the complete report.

A Positive Experience in the Midst of Ferguson Unrest

In a previous post, I suggested we start sharing stories of positive experiences with people of other cultures and color to help dispel the fears that drive so much of the prejudice we see. A Facebook post by Kelly Spann is just the type of story I was hoping for and she has given me permission to share. I pray we all actually look for opportunities to share love and common ground. These are the things that will help our community, our country, and the world heal. Here’s Kelly’s story: Continue reading

Is There Any Way to Help Her Believe Me When I Say, to Me and Many Others, His (Black) Life Does Matter?

In the aftermath of the Ferguson riots last night, a young mama of a beautiful infant boy has posted several things on Facebook lamenting – seriously lamenting, bitterly lamenting, heart-wrenchingly lamenting – the idea that her son’s life does not matter in this crazy world. After praying and crying over her posts, I tried to formulate an encouraging response, but I’m not sure it was enough to convince her. It read:

I’m so sorry you hurt in this way. I am sorry we live in a world where these feelings are fostered by those who hate. I pray you will see that your sweet baby’s life does matter to many. It matters to those who are working tirelessly to create change and promote understanding.

I in no way want to downplay your real concern that this message needs to be heard. That people need to speak out against injustice. That too many are indeed callous towards the lives of others. That there is much work to do to combat hatred and bigotry. I just want to be one voice to bring you hope in this despair.

Keep posting pictures of your beautiful baby boy. Keep letting others see your joy in being his mommy. This is a bright spot in an ugly world and often makes me smile as I scroll through my feed. You keep spreading good. I’ll keep speaking on your behalf. And prayerfully, your little boy will grow up in a better world than the one we have experienced.

What does it take to convince someone that people of other cultures and colors do actually care? What does it take to undo the harm so many others have brought? What does it take to help us all see beyond what we’ve been conditioned (rightly or wrongly) to see? I don’t know. But let’s do keep trying.