tree of hope

Gasping for air,

the darkness surrounds me,

oppression so great,

the waters they drown me.

No where to run,

No where to turn.

I crumble within,

beginning to burn.

I see through the fog

The might of Thy hand

that reaches below

the enclosing sand

to pull me to safety,

returning to me

that which belongs to You.

Mighty, Your tree,

In glory it stands

for all that you’ve done,

to show who You are.

The battle is won.

Keep fresh in my mind

the work that You’ve done.

Help me to show others

Your heavenly Love.

Copyright Journey-For-Life. 2017. All rights reserved.

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Overwhelmed!

On a brisk, no bitter cold, Friday morning in November, I pulled into the lot at the office.  Immediately I noticed there were fewer cars in the parking lot, and thought to myself. “This is great. I can get caught up on all the things I couldn’t get to this week.”

I plugged my laptop in and got started.  Then my phone rang. While I was on the phone, in instant message popped up, and then another.  One thing after another, and before I knew it I was feeling overwhelmed.  

Reminiscent of days I’d take a vacation day from work to deep clean the kids’ room, I didn’t know where to start.   I thought back to those days. At the time, I didn’t fully understand anxiety.   I’d start early in the morning, just after they got in the 🚌 bus for school.  The first couple of hours were the worst.  I’d literally hyperventilate, having to remind myself that it was going to be ok 👌.  However, looking at the ridiculous mess in front of my eyes foreshadowed the enormity of the task I felt I’d never complete. 

Slowly, I would begin to make progress, starting in one area.  I found that as I began to organize a bit, throwing away things no longer needed, and grouping together like items, a new pattern of organization began. 

After a few hours, I could begin to see a clearing through the mound of toys and stuffed animals and my anxiety would subside a bit.   I had to see the progress so that I could feel better.  Baby steps.  

As I thought about those days, I tried to apply the advice that I now give to my piano students when they feel overwhelmed with a new song to learn. There are some principles that, if I can remember to apply to all of life’s situations, I would be much better able to eliminate anxiety.

1.  Break big problems into smaller ones and tackle one at a time. 

When we look at an enormous problem, sometimes the anxiety we feel over that problem can immobilize us, which sometimes adds to the anxiety. Before long we feel as though we can’t do any of it, so we don’t.  

2. Get moving 

The longer we procrastinate the worse the problem feels, which adds to our anxiety and makes everything seem worse.  When we move past inactivity, even in something small, we see progress, which helps us to move to the next thing, and then the next. 

3. Look back to see how far you’ve come 

Take time periodically to look around and acknowledge progress. Whether looking around at the toys that are now organized, being able to play the measure that we previously couldn’t, or seeing that the pile of mail is smaller than before, acknowledging the progress we’ve begun to make has a subconscious affect on our psyche.  The message confirms that we are headed in the right direction and motivates us to keep going. 

4. Celebrate the success and take a breath

It may seem sometimes that the hamster wheel never stops, but it’s important to find times when we can pause to celebrate what we’ve accomplished.  Even if we take only 60 seconds before moving to the next task, take the time to figuratively cross the task off the TODO list.  If you are a list maker, cross the task off the literal list.  In doing so, we celebrate the accomplishment which motivates us to keep going.

My Friday didn’t get any easier, but by following the advice above, I was able to cross a few things off my list and motivate me to keep going.  
Blessings

SB

Between Jack Daniels and Jesus

Every year in April, our church hosts the annual Blessing of the Bikes.  It’s an event that started when 4 bikers from the church approached the pastor with an idea to bring their friends to church. The first year, there were 162 bikes, and our town wondered what in the world was going on as they all rolled through.  Over the years, that event has blossomed and is very well-known in the area.  Our town actually sends the Mayor and emergency workers now, and even shuts down traffic for a while, to allow the event to be held.  It’s a completely free event, because, in the words of our pastor, “so is a gift of salvation”.   This year, on the 20th anniversary, we estimated approximately 15,000 bikes piled in – to our parking lot, and the adjacent streets, and the parking lots along the highway.  Figuring many bikes had 2 riders, we’d say there were A LOT of people who turned out for the event.  For the past 13 years, I have had the privilege of participating in the music for the service.   This year, our good friend Dave Smith, sang a song called “Jack Daniels & Jesus”.   I’m pretty sure there wasn’t another church in the country that sang that song on Sunday.

(By the way, I think there’s a message in here somewhere about starting a “movement” – it doesn’t take something BIG to make something BIG – it just requires someone to dream it and make it reality).

I am watching life unfold for several young adults – some of them are making some very good life decisions, and some of them are making some incredibly bad life decisions, some of them very, very public, and some of them very private.   My heart breaks.   In almost all of the cases, I say to myself, (and I’ve heard their parents say), “but they were raised differently than that”   and then I remember the words, “somewhere between Jack Daniels and Jesus” and remembered that we’re really ALL somewhere on that journey.   I haven’t had Jack Daniels in over 30 years.  One REALLY BAD experience with it all those years ago, and I can’t even smell the stuff to this day…. And I was raised differently than that…. Still, I made some poor life choices along the way – hopefully, ones that I have learned from, and that have made me stronger.  By the grace of God alone, He brought me through those poor choices and gave me a second chance, or maybe a third and fourth.   And, by the grace of God, He will bring those folks through their choices as well, allowing U-turns to correct their course.   Pray for them, will ya?

 

Dancing with the Devil

Dancing

Evil lurks in the strangest place

With a mask upon its face

Pretends to court its truest love

Its secret motives never show

 

Unsuspecting of its snare

We motion toward the one so fair

Reach for the hand, begin to dance

Unaware of its powerful trance

 

Before long, it’s too late

We’ve fallen prey to hands of fate

Fooled by the tempters snare

He’s caught us unaware

Beware, beware, beware

Photo cred:  indusina on Deviantart
Copyright Journey-For-Life. 2017. All rights reserved. 

Keep ‘em Safe in the Hallways

On Sunday, after the news broke about the church shooting in San Antonio, I read a tweet that said “Our thoughts and prayers failed”.   It broke my heart. In response, I would like to address the tweet by sharing my experiences with answered prayers, for I believe in the power of prayer, and have personal experiences with God answering prayers, both large and small.

Ever since my children were in elementary school, part of our morning routine was to pause for a moment of prayer before they got on the bus.  My children were mere babies (and one of them not even born) when the tragic events unfolded at Columbine high school, but the effects of that event and countless subsequent events have guided me to cover my children in prayer every morning.  We’d gather for prayer shortly before they left the house, and, on most days, my prayers would include the phrase, “keep them safe in the hallways”.   As with many prayers, we establish routines, and sometimes, by rote, they seem to sound all alike, but we go through the motions.  I repeated this prayer every day for ten years.  In the back of my mind, with all of the emphasis on anti-bullying campaigns, I probably subconsciously thought that phrase was to protect them from being bullied.   I prayed also that God would bring them home safely.

Never in my wildest imagination would I have guessed what would unfold in the hallways at our high school in the tenth year of that prayer.   I interrupt the narration of large answered prayer to share with you a small one (it will all make sense in a moment).

My eldest daughter is very even-tempered, well-mannered young lady, who works hard to avoid drama and conflict in her life.  In spring of her sophomore year of high school, she played defense on the Lacrosse team and was managing several advanced level classes.   Lacrosse practice often ran from 8-10 pm, so she was often up very late working on homework.   She neither liked to miss school or homework assignments.  Did I mention that she’s typically very even-tempered?    On the evening of April 8, 2014, after Lacrosse practice, she was working on a school project in a foul-mood like I have never seen before.  I mean wicked.  I had never previously seen her behave this way, nor have me since this evening.  I reached my boiling point around 11:30 pm when I said to her, “Just go to bed!  Forget your homework!  Stay home from school tomorrow and finish your homework then!”  I honestly didn’t even care if she turned her homework in at that point.

She replied, “I CAN’T skip school tomorrow!  I have a lacrosse game on Thursday, so if I’m not there tomorrow, I can’t practice and if I can’t practice then I can’t play!”

“Go in late, then!  Just GO TO BED!   Sleep in tomorrow, get your work done, and I’ll take you to school before you’d be considered absent.”

With that, she stormed off to bed and I was left wondering what in the world just happened.  She was sixteen years old and, up to that point, had never really exhibited the moodiness that parents of other teenage girls complain about.

The next morning, my fifteen-year-old son was up early.  He asked if I could drive him to school instead of waiting for the bus.  He was excited to pass out a pamphlet for an upcoming youth retreat to his friends, one in particular whom he’d been praying for an opportunity to share his faith.  I took him to school early, and dropped him off.  Had he ridden the bus, he would not have been at the school until much later, and would not have been in the hallways when it happened.

As he was getting ready that morning, I readied myself for my day at work as well.  I checked my Facebook news feed and ordered a book about loving others from Amazon.  I exchanged a few texts from my youngest daughter’s voice coach, then headed off to school.  As we approached the school, I prayed as I drove, “dear God, please keep them safe in the hallways”.   I never realized what that meant until that day.

I returned home, and to the kitchen to make myself an egg.  I had literally just picked up an egg when I heard my phone buzz. I assumed it was the vocal coach, so I continued making breakfast.  I cracked the egg into the pan just as my oldest daughter came around the corner of the kitchen.  It was 7:23 AM, and she was supposed to be sleeping in to rid herself of that nasty mood from the night before.   I started to say, “What are you doing up so early?” when she said, “–N just texted me and said that J– was stabbed”.   Instinctively, I picked up my cell phone and read the text from my son.  It said, “People were stabbed.  I’m ok.  Please pray”.

To our horror, we learned that a fellow student went on a stabbing rampage that morning.  The attack occurred before the school bell had rung.  My son was walking with a group of his friends down the hallway.  The friend he’d been praying for to come to a youth retreat was the first one stabbed, tackled from behind by the perpetrator.  Before the boys could process what was happening, the student had jumped up, running down the hallway wielding two kitchen knives, stabbing and slashing everyone he could along the way. The attack lasted only a few minutes before it was thwarted by the vice principal and some others, but not before 21 people were stabbed.  My daughter’s boyfriend was one of the victims, and I very quickly realized that, had she been in school that day, she very likely would have been standing with him, and could have been a victim herself.  (That was the first answer to prayer – the small one.)

The next few hours were a blur. The boy was apprehended.  The school made umpteen phone calls to the homes of students giving instructions for where to pick up our kids, except for those who were victims or witnesses. News traveled like wildfire across the entire nation, and, in an instant, our worlds changed.  It was several hours before I could pick my son up since he had to meet with the FBI before they would allow him to leave.  Our church planned a prayer service for that evening, which was initially intended to be a place for our own youth to find sanctuary and turned out to be an enormous event,  packed not only with community members, but news media and politicians.

Over the next few hours, we learned the extent of the injuries sustained, some of them were very, very serious.  The next few days were spent chauffering students to visit hospitals all over Pittsburgh, and praying for the victims.  A few days after the event, a note was found in the students’ locker describing how long he had planned his attack, and how he idolized the shooters from Columbine, dispelling the media allegations that he simply snapped from being bullied.  Several of the students remained hospitalized for a very, very long time, and underwent multiple surgeries to repair damage done to their internal organs.  Miraculously, the 8″ blade of the knife that stabbed my daughter’s boyfriend went right in between two of his organs, completely missing anything vital.  Another answered prayer.

Miraculously, despite the perpetrators wishes and plans, there was not a single loss of life in this horrific event, which took place… you guessed it, in the hallways.   I never fully realized what exactly I was praying for, but I believe, with all of my heart, that God heard ten years of my prayers to “keep ‘em safe in the hallways”, and answered in a very large way.  Answered prayer.

Eventually, over the next several months, all of the students were released from the hospital and have recovered physically from their injuries.   I will never fully understand why God allowed my daughter to be spared that day, and why other students were not.  I will never understand why I delivered my son early that day, to be present for an event which he might otherwise have missed.  However, through all of it, I can honestly say that God heard… and answered… my prayer.  There is no doubt that God was with them in the hallway that day.   Thank you, Lord, for your answered prayer.
Copyright Journey-For-Life. 2017. All rights reserved