Surreal – reflections on 9/11

via Daily Prompt: Surreal

I remember it well – the phone call I received from my mother on the morning of September 11, 2001.   At first, the conversation was like any other when we wanted to share news with one another.  “You aren’t going to believe this,” she started.  “A plane just hit one of the towers of the World Trade Center.”   Both she and I assumed it to have been a small piper plane whose pilot made a terrible error. In the next few seconds, she began her now-famous, “Oh my stars, oh my stars!” She left me hanging for a few moments while she was digesting what was happening before her eyes.   “What???” I exclaimed, wondering what could possibly have happened.   “There’s another one!”  I learned later that my mother had poured her morning coffee and turned the news on to start her day, and heard the “big news” of the day.  It has just occurred minutes before, but already the Today Show was reporting on it… and, quite literally, while she and I were on the phone the second plane hit the tower, and the whole nation became aware that we were under attack.    Stunned and somewhat in disbelief, I looked around my office quad to see if anyone else had received a phone call from home or was aware what was happening.  No one was.   For a few moments, it seemed I was the only one in my office who understood the gravity of what was happening.  Slowly, other people in my office received phone calls from loved ones, telling them to turn on the news, and began comparing notes on the details we knew.

We gathered in a conference room equipped with a television to understand the situation.  Overwhelmed by the sight of what was happening before my eyes, I felt as if i were watching the scene from behind a movie screen.  I somehow felt disconnected.  It was all so surreal that I thought it couldn’t possibly be happening.   Yet there i was, along with the rest of our beloved nation, in the midst of unprecedented chaos.

Over the next few hours and days, we saw horrible visions of people jumping out of windows to their certain death.  In the first few days and weeks after the attack, our nation turned to God for answers.   Churches left their doors open just so that people could come in and pray. Companies changed their advertising signs to ask for prayer. For a moment, it seemed as if our country was coming together as one, both to console each other as well as form a unified message to our enemies that we would not be broken. For a moment, we put aside our differences, our political views, our party affiliations, our religious opinions, and came together as One Nation Under God to humbly ask for help and healing.

As time wore on, we evolved into the “new norm.”   Although wars continue to be fought, and citizens continue to lose their lives for the cause, it seemed complacency replaced compassion. Slowly we returned to focus on our differences, our political views, our party affiliations, our religious opinions, divided for our own agendas. For all practices, it seems as if the world goes on….until I visited the Ground Zero memorial during a mission’s trip to New York City this past summer. As I walked down the road toward the memorial, I was overwhelmed by a flood of emotions, remembering the pictures I had seen from the day that brought such a significant change in our nations’ history.   Vivid images resurfaced from deep in my memory of people running down the streets of New York covered in ashes from the devastation that once was a symbol of strength in our country. While I thought the original experience sixteen years ago was surreal, I underestimated the emotions of being in the presence of the place in the midst of the people who had personally experienced unthinkable evil. Solemnly, my fingers traced the names on the wall, recognizing families who lost multiple people simultaneously.   Though I knew none of the victims personally, I felt, in a strange way, that we were connected.

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In fact, we are connected, one with another. As co-members of humanity, we are sewn together with a thread that connects our souls to one another. Indeed, we emerged from the ashes of that horrible morning, however we are splintered. With all the compassion of the world, I long for a time when, without tragedy, we would recognize the connection we have to one another and be able to set aside our differences in favor of loving support and encouragement to one another.

Identity Crisis

https://wordpress.com/read/feeds/27030/posts/1640020686

Who is the person behind the mask?

The reticent smile shadowed by fake happiness.

The person you want me to see, not the person you really are

Beauty and success on the outside, emptiness and bitterness inside

You wear the mask well, but I can tell, because I, too, cover my ugliness

Afraid of what they’d think if they saw your scars, You paint a smile and play the part

You think you know, but you’re not fooling me, it’s easy to tell because I can see

We’re all hiding behind the mask that covers our vulnerabilities

But the One who made us knows what made you you and made me me

We can’t hide forever

God’s Voice Amidst the Noise

Over the past few weeks, as I’m working through the process of publishing my first book (which, by the way, I’m hoping to be released by Christmas time), I find myself asking “how do I hear God’s voice above all the other voices telling me what to do?” One friend sent me a link to a series by Andy Womack, which I thought was fantastic.   However, what happened yesterday was unmistakably the hand of God. We had a guest speaker in our Church today, and guess what his message was about?   You guessed it!  HOW TO HEAR GOD’s VOICE.

His message was simple yet deep. I want to share some highlights.  These are not my words, but words that moved me deeply that I want to pass on so others may be moved as well

1. confess your sins.   The sin we have in our lives becomes a barrier between us and God.

2 pursue intimacy with God    You can’t hear his voice if you don’t spend time with him.

3 practice hearing Him.  If you think you might have heard something through a feeling or an impression, write it down and check it against scripture.  He will never be inconsistent.

4. Obey Him.  When you hear his unmistakable voice obey Him.

As I thought about his words I recalled one time in particular, sitting on a bench watching my daughter play at the playground.  A woman was talking on her cell phone, visibly shaken and upset, talking to what seemed to be a friend about her husband.   I wasn’t particularly listening to the conversation, but i could tell by the way the woman acted that she was terribly upset.   I felt this “voice” inside me say something to the effect of, “tell her about me”.    I remember thinking that it was awkward; that she would think I had been eavesdropping and think I was crazy.  So I did nothing but sat there for a moment thinking about it.   Just then her phone rang again and she answered and walked away.  I had missed the opportunity because I didn’t seize the moment and I didn’t obey Gods voice.    I vowed never again to knowingly miss an opportunity to share the gospel, no matter how “strange” the opportunity seems.   

Practice listening.  Just like anything else, practice makes perfect.  I pray you hear His voice today.  

Blessings,

SB

Copyright 2017 – Journey For Life.  All Rights Reserved

Out of the ashes

She slowly emerges, not fully sure that she’s made it.  She looked around and realizes that she’s still alive.   At first it surprises her, but then she begins to accept it.   Trembling, she stumbles to get her feet underneath her and take her first steps.  It’s awkward, like a baby deer, but after the first step it two, the exhilaration of survival kicks in and she builds momentum. With every step a new confidence emerges as she sheds the old self.   “I am no longer a victim”, she thinks to herself.   “I am a victor”.    Grateful to those who believed in her when she couldn’t believe in herself, and grateful to her God, who gave her purpose, she now accelerates toward the win, confident that she is fulfilling His (and her) purpose in life.    She is victorious.   

But I Don’t Wanna!

Our obstacles are different – it could be a physical obstacle, an emotional obstacle ; an educational obstacle like a test or something; but we all have them.

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Ever face an obstacle in life that you just didn’t want to go through?   Where you felt absolutely paralyzed to move in any direction, let alone forward?    I had one of those days this week.    So what did I do to escape?   I hopped on a bike at the gym and just rode miles.   And miles… and miles (kind of like Forrest Gump!)  There was a time when biking wouldn’t necessarily have been my first choice…. And there are still many of  things that I do to escape…  like just crawling into myself and just playing the piano, or working on some sort of Craigs’ List project – or something that I don’t have to put actual thought into, but can do relatively mindlessly while I wallow in self-pity.   It is good to have ways to escape.   But the reality is that sometimes we JUST HAVE TO MOVE FORWARD.    As much as we’d like to just sit down and pretend the world around us is not happening.     But how do we do that?

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What do I do when I really just don’t want to face it?

When I left for the gym that day after a whirlwind sort of morning dropped some things in my lap that I honestly just didn’t want to face, I had an overwhelming sense that I just needed to hear the voice of God. It was a craving for His voice to comfort me and tell me everything was going to be ok.    I can remember when I was a young teenager, home on summer break.  My mom set the expectation that I was to call her every morning when I woke up (because, of course, she left before I woke up).   I remember that the sound of her voice answer the phone was comforting.   Years later, after I was married, I recall feeling that sense of comfort when I called mom and just heard her voice.  Somehow on that morning, I craved the comfort that only my Heavenly father could give.     I have a Bible app on my phone that I use regularly to read scripture… but I just wanted to HEAR scripture today.    I’m not sure why I hadn’t done this before, but I downloaded the BIBLE onto Audible. I really wanted to listen to Psalms, but the app downloaded the Bible in many “parts” (not by book or chapter), so I couldn’t necessarily tell which “part” was psalm, and they were still in process of downloading all 83 hours and 13 minutes of the complete New International Version of the Audio Bible.  So Joshua 19 it was.   The good news is that the narrator has an English accent, so it was kind of cool hearing him read scripture.    Somehow I think God orchestrates far more in our lives than we ever realize, and I believe this event was no exception.  Although the specific text of Joshua I was hearing was actually pretty dry (it was on the division of the land to the Israelites), my mind began to wander to the verse in Jeremiah (29:11) that is my life-verse.  This is a verse that I heard explicitly in my early 20’s from a close family friend who is a pastor: “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, Plans to prosper you and not to harm you; plans to give you hope and a future”   It goes on to say, “then you will call on me and come to pray to me, and I will listen to you”.  It was a reassurance to me that, even though I may face obstacles I don’t necessary want to, God has an ultimate plan for my life.

That evening, I dug out a few verses that I thought were appropriate for when we are facing unpleasant things. As I thought about it, and started searching for scripture that might give me an answer, I realized this was exactly what Jesus felt like when preparing to go to the cross. In the garden of Gethsemane, when He said (Luke 22:42-44, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done. An angel from Heaven appeared to him and strengthened him.  And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground”.  I bolded a sentence above – one that I had never even noticed before today.    Even Jesus needed support – and the angel was there to strengthen him.   And the angel was right there to support Him!  The interesting thing about this passage is that Jesus felt exactly like I did on that day – He had to face something he really didn’t want to have to do – and He even asked God to take it on so that He didn’t have to do it.  We all know how that ended, right?  He DID have to go through that which he didn’t want to…    and so do we sometimes.

Our obstacles are different – it could be a physical obstacle; or an emotional obstacle; an educational obstacle like a test or something, or to have to break bad news to someone; but we all have them. In those “obstacle moments”, I relish in the fact that I know I have a God that has a plan for my life – and know that He will strengthen me just when I need it.   I am so thankful for the encouragement that you all have given to me along my journey – and I pray that I can be encouragement back to you to keep going when you don’t feel like it.

Ascend

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Ascend

Out of the pit of despair, I begin the slow ascension toward the light.  I realize now I cannot do it on my own.  No, I’ve tried that already.  Tried and failed.  Over and over again.  In the past, I thought the best way to demonstrate my courage was to boldly climb, hoping that others would follow.  On my own, I was able to overcome obstacles and actually climbed quite high at times, only to find myself falling down, back in the pit of despair.    No, I cannot make it on my own.   I need someone to guide me, to encourage me when I’m tired and feel like I cannot climb anymore.  On this climb, I realize I need God, and his words ring true:  from Psalm 40: 1 I waited patiently for the Lord;he turned to me and heard my cry.2 He lifted me out of the slimy pit,out of the mud and mire;he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand.3 He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God.

Psalms 40:1-3 NIV

No, I think I can only ascend on the wings of God, for it is through Him alone that I find the strength to continue the climb.

Father-Shaped Hole

Eventually I learned that Jesus, and only Jesus, can fill the father-shaped hole in my heart.

The mere utterance of the word “father” paints vividly different picture for many different people.  For some, the picture is alive and well and changing every day.  For others, the colorful picture is full of wonderful memories, each painted in the throes of happy times over a lifetime of events.  For others, more of a black and white, dull emotionless; and for others still, the picture of blackness, representing the loneliness of the father-shaped hole in their heart created by the absence of that essential relationship.

In the month of June each year we honor our fathers on the hallmark day set aside for them.  I remember so vividly the pencil holder I made for Fathers’ Day when I was in third grade.  It was made by meticulously tearing tiny bits of masking tape, applying them randomly to a soup can until it was completely covered.  Then, after covered in masking tape bits, gently rubbing brown shoe polish, applied with an old rag, created the appearance of an aged, cracked glass container – in this case to hold pencils.  I was proud of that pencil holder, and looked forward to giving it to my Daddy.  As I put the finishing touches on his pencil holder, cancer continued to ravage his body to degrees that my 8 year old mind could not comprehend.  I knew he was sick, but did not fully understand all that his sickness would mean in my life.

Father’s day came, and he was thrilled to receive my work of art.  That work of art would be gently placed in his casket only days or weeks later.   I remember so clearly the night that he passed from this world into eternity – the details of which I cherish in private.  The finality of his death took many months for me to realize – it all seemed so surreal to me that I thought it was all a bad dream from which, one day I would wake.

Through his sickness, my father’s faith in God never waned.  He was, and remains to me, one of the most Christ-like men I have ever met.   When he was well, he would spend his lunch hours on the streets of Pittsburgh looking for people to whom he could witness – bringing the hope that he had through the saving grace of Jesus.  He knew that when he passed from this world, he would be entering eternity with Jesus.  For him, it was wonderful.  For me, it was devastating.  For many years, I could not understand how God could take someone like my father away from his family.  I was angry at God, and spent many years searching for ways to deal with the father-shaped hole left in my heart.

My mother, though wounded, stood as strong in her faith as she had through any hard times in life, and was the rock that my sister and I needed to keep us grounded.  Over the years, we continued to go to church and build relationships with those who eventually helped me to see that, thought I may not understand all, God indeed has a plan for my life.  Eventually, and through means and methods weaved into my life through God alone, I learned that Jesus, and only Jesus, can fill the father-shaped hole in my heart.  Though I may never understand, on this side of Heaven, why he chose to bring my father home when He did, I am confident that my life experiences have prepared me to continue that work; to spend time looking for people to whom I can witness – bringing the hope that I have through the saving grace of Jesus.

There are so many people who have father-shaped holes in their hearts – for some, the father-shaped hole may be have been created by fathers who have left, fathers who have died, or even fathers who are physically present but emotionally absent from their children’s lives.    My prayer is that they may come to know their Heavenly Father – and that He will fill the father-shaped hole in their hearts, preparing them to continue His work, looking for others to whom they can share their Hope.

Blessings to you all, my friends.

Copyright 2017 – Journey For Life – All rights reserved

Exceptional!

via Daily Prompt: Exceptional

Many visions envelope my head as I reflect on the word, “Exceptional”.   Exceptional performance.  Exceptional behavior.  Exceptional service.  Exceptional children.  Exceptional teamwork.  Exceptional leadership.

Having just completed day 2 of a 3 day leadership program sponsored by my company, I pause to reflect on EXCEPTIONAL LEADERSHIP. In my career, I have been fortunate to have the pleasure and benefit of working for an exceptional leader, one like whom many people can only wish.  What made him exceptional was not merely what he accomplished, though we could point to a host of awards and trophies he had earned throughout his career.  What made him exceptional wasn’t that his expertise was sought by many, though it was.  What made him exceptional was that he genuinely cared about developing people to be the very best that they could be.  I knew that he “had my back” and that I could count on him for support and encouragement.   He took the word MENTOR as seriously as I wish everyone would.

When I struggled with a particular strategy, or business decision, it would have been easy for him to simply tell me the answer the way many “leaders” would.  Instead, he would ask leading and open ended questions to help me determine the best answer.  He coached me through various options, gently guiding me in thought processes to help develop the right decision for the situation.

Three particular examples stand out in my mind. First, he took a chance on me.  Prior to being hired into my first formal leadership role, I worked as a supplier quality engineer.  He took a chance that I could make the leap from independent contributor to manager.  During my first year in that role, I lamented the fact that, although “TEAMWORK” was defined as one of our companies’ core competencies, I saw great opportunities to improve within my team alone.   I had devised a rather unconventional program to develop teamwork within my team, consisting of a variety of teaming activities designed to help break down the walls of my team members to help them build relationships to enable better performance.  My leader believed in me enough to allow me the freedom to try something new and innovative.  Although I was criticized by other managers for holding these events, he continued to support me and allowed me the freedom to develop the program so that it could develop the people in my group to be the best they could be.

In the second example, our company was introducing a new way of doing something, and I was at the forefront of it. It wasn’t specifically my idea.  However, because of the position I held, it was a natural decision that I become the driver behind the culture change, which you might guess was met with resistance across the larger organization.   The change was frightening.  In this case, the change required a bit more work due to the regulatory nature of our work, and though not a popular idea, was one that must be introduced if we wanted our company to continue operating in the current spaces.  My leader allowed me to become the “expert” in the area, learning the intimate details of how to accomplish what needed to be accomplished.  He became my Roadblock Removal Champion.  I relied on him for support whenever we had to present our position to the President of the company, and he paved the way to get the support we needed from the President.   He didn’t do it for me; he made me do it.  But he coached me through my approach, providing tweaks where necessary, and he truly paved the way and removed necessary roadblocks.

The next example involves a mis-hire. The position reported to me and was actually a key position in the paradigm shift mentioned above.  We were looking to bring some “expertise” to the new processes, so we reviewed resumes from people who had been performing this type of work. We found what we thought to be a promising candidate, who “wowed” us with his knowledge.   My leader and I were both on the interview team who decided to hire this man.  About 3 months into his employment, I noticed some inconsistencies in his behavior and his performance, and I voiced my concerns to my leader.  We discussed various aspects of my suspicions, and facts gathered, etc.   I could tell he didn’t completely agree with my decision on how to handle the situation, and he gave me some alternatives. He asked me to think about the alternatives over a weekend and let me know that he would support whatever decision I made.  When we reconvened the following Monday, I reaffirmed my original decision, which in this case was to terminate employment.  True to his word, he supported my decision and had my back, despite possibly having a different opinion.   In that instance, he allowed me to make the decision that I thought was best, knowing that even if it was the wrong decision, I would learn from the experience.

I could site many other examples of his exceptional leadership, and reasons why I count him a mentor still today, though we have both moved on to different roles and responsibilities.  For me, an exceptional leader is not the one who seeks the glory, but the one who strives to develop people to be the very best they can be.  Through servant leadership, exceptional leaders accomplish much through their influence.  Further, their leadership transcends their role, and ultimate bears fruit in generations of leaders borne out of their abilities.  I am forever grateful to have had a wonderful experience with an exceptional leader.   (Thank you – you know who you are).

I Cried Out

This poem was written when i was about 15-16 years old, and exemplifies the struggle I had between wanting to help people and needing to be helped myself.

I walked alone in darkness,

along a dark pathway.

I walked along in silence,

had nothing left to say.

Ahead I saw a figure –

could not make out its form

Its state in total agony –

a hopeless soul, forlorn.

Sitting there on the edge of despair

I wanted to help, to show that I cared

I heard strange noise escaping,

deep from its inner self

like the sounds of souls who lament

within the depths of Hell

Each cry came out more feeble,

more desperate than the last;

And still each cry, unanswered,

went off into the past.

I reached out my hand,

my friendship to bestow;

And as I reached I realized

what I had not yet known.

This poor soul who was sitting

and crying all alone

Turned out to be the same soul –

none other than my own.