Crossing the Street to Peace

Naomi Judd’s battle with depression saddened me in a way few understand.  Hers was a “drug-resistant,” lifelong struggle with a disease that eventually took Naomi away.  She fought abuse and poverty earlier in life, worked diligently to become a nurse to support her children, and used her Christian faith to live through hardships.  She gained fame with her God-given musical talent, was loved by her family, and lived in comfort.

“So, why did she take her life?”  “What in the world could be so bad that she no longer saw any good?”  “I don’t understand how she could be so selfish.”  These are examples of comments people who don’t understand say after one hears about a suicide.

Lack of mental health knowledge and compassion is akin to a person who lives in poverty versus the individual who has always existed with the proverbial silver spoon.   If one has lived most of their days happily, how can they possibly understand some find it difficult to just discover peace?  

My own battle

When I was a little girl and watched my friends be carefree, I recall thinking, “I wish I were like them!”  As far back as I can remember, I was always a bit embarrassed being me.   I tried to hide my wheezing caused by asthma, my allergy-induced swollen eyes, or the eczema that covered my arms.  The Oscar-worthy comedic acting routine I used was to conceal the pain deep within my soul. 

I loved people but was never sure that anyone truly loved me.  Because of my health issues, I felt like a burden, a loser, and since I wasn’t the smartest kid on the block, I deemed myself to fail.

Did anyone understand me?  No, not even my parents.  I was called too sensitive, too emotional, and told to be more thankful. 

The asthma was gone before I was thirty, and the allergies were under control.  However, the cheery act was up, and the little girl fell to the floor.  The hiding and charade were over when I raised my hand for help.

I tried to be more grateful, prayed to God for aid, and wondered why I was not like my pals.  I once told a friend who wanted to comprehend how I felt, “I envision myself on a busy street in New York City.  All the people hurry in one direction, talk to each other, laugh as they walk, and enjoy the sunshine.  On the other hand, I am walking alone on the other side of the street in the rain, but not sure where I am trying to go.  I want to join the others, but I can’t find a way to cross the road.”

Hope on the way for some

Naomi Judd suffered from treatment-resistant severe depression.  She was open about it and shared her journey, hoping to help others as she tried to help herself.  However, I cannot imagine her despair and anxiety. 

After receiving my own clinical depression diagnosis, I imagined that I would cross the street to normalcy one day.  In the beginning, I, too, was drug-resistant and used therapy, jogging, and prayer to get through the hours.

Looking back, I am thankful I wasn’t financially comfortable.  I needed to work to put food on the table for my children.  That was my sole motivation for living, which undoubtedly saved my life.  Even when the depression tried to kill me, I fought, in the end, to live.  But let me tell you, at times, it wasn’t easy, and I thank God today that He saved me from me.

When the newer medications for anxiety and depression arrived, I was one of the lucky ones they helped.  Naomi was not so fortunate.  She tried everything from potent drugs to complex therapies, but she lived with hearing the whispers of depression daily.  I suspect the voice told her that she was a burden, unlovable, and useless, and though the crowds applauded her, she could not cross the street.

On some dark days, even I still hear those same faint, annoying whispers.

A Promise

Friends, family, and advisors help, or they try.  What a person suffering from mental health issues does not need is to be judged by others who haven’t walked on that agonizing road alone.  We, who suffer from depression, do not need to be told how grateful we should be or how selfish we are, and we certainly don’t mean to be thoughtless.  In those dire moments when we contemplate ending our lives, most of us feel we are making yours miserable, so we should leave.  Understand, the depression causes our minds to become ill and grow weary.  

So, Naomi, I promise to continue being transparent to help those who suffer cross the street toward peace.   I pray you found it. 

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline:  1-800-273-8255

A More Perfect Union

Why do I feel that “We the People” have collectively taken on more than we can chew?  News is flying at us faster than that speeding bullet regarding so many diverse, complicated, and polarizing issues.  Does anyone out there have Clark Kent’s telephone number?

A tragic war is raging, inflation is climbing, a recession looms, gun violence is rising, and evil COVID has not left the building.  We add the conflicts over abortion laws, immigration issues, and spar over books in school libraries.  Oh, and let’s not forget climate change, fires, tornadoes, and hurricanes.

You are lucky if you can get through a day without a headache.  And, if you did avoid a throbbing head, perhaps watching television will help you relax.  But, alas, your “Happy Days” rerun will be interrupted by the same old, tiresome political rhetoric of potential candidates slinging their mud.  Yep, you will proceed to bed with a bona fide migraine.  I am so sorry.

Empty church pews

Last Sunday, I returned to the pews of a church I attended years ago.  I sat in the same seat I once occupied and turned to see if I recognized anyone, and I did not.  Many of the pews that were once full of worshipers are now empty.  And, I saw no children and few adults under age fifty.  “Maybe they were all at the earlier service,” I hopefully pondered.

My other thought was that folks were hidden under their Sunday morning bed covers to avoid the world’s reality.  I can’t say I blame them, but hiding from our troubles is not the answer.

We can blame many of our woes on ourselves.  We can politicize everything from a peanut butter and banana sandwich to a hurricane.  Some events, such as inflation or supply chain issues, are partly due to the worldwide COVID outbreak and its havoc.  But one of the pandemic disasters was how we turned on each other over our polarizing opinions while watching millions die from the disease.  Many lost their families, while many others lost their hearts.  In the end, it hurt us all. 

And we wonder why many folks are not sitting in the church pews.

Yes, sometimes we are a mess.  We do dumb things, act foolishly, become self-righteous and hypocritical, forgetting how blessed we are.   But I believe one thing to be true of all of us…. we cherish the freedom we have in our country.   And, like those citizens of Ukraine, we will fight together in trenches to protect it.

War changes our perspective

Yes, a war is raging.  That war can remind us of what is vital in our world today.  When evil comes to visit, we will unite in battle.  Our differences are forgotten the minute a bomb falls on our soil, and we will band together to defend America.    That is what we must remember as a diverse group of people living under the umbrella of freedom.

It’s an odd emotion knowing there are so many people suffering in Ukraine while we freely, angrily clash with each other over our dissimilarities.  Instead,  Ukrainians have set aside their personal ideologies and merged to defeat tyranny.  And today, they collectively loathe the person who is determined to take their freedoms and independence away.

I am confident we will never agree on the abortion issue or what books should be allowed in school.  We never will all vote for the same person to lead us, and because our beliefs are different, we will still have backyard arguments.  However, we must stop much of the angry, conspiracy-laden, and hate-filled rants we have endured in the last few years.

Maybe our lack of respect has to do with those negative political ads that tell you not to vote for the other candidate.  Perhaps, those running should try a different tone, like explaining their platforms or touting their accomplishments.  Condemning others to win usually causes me to vote against those who do because they give me that migraine! 

No more vacancies

And we wonder why those church pews are vacant.

We may have taken on more than we can handle ourselves, but perhaps we can obtain strength and resolve from a higher power.  Maybe we should settle ourselves by sitting on a church pew, looking up toward the cross, and asking the Lord to help us quell our bitterness.  Using respect, honor, compromise, and understanding will please not only God but bring others to Him.

And that’s how we stop hurting ourselves and our children.  We can unite to foil the evil within us, find solutions, and prevent the violence and dissent we endure.  We, after all, are free to do so.  

“We the People of the United States in order to form a more perfect union….”

Let us try.

Still Miraculously My Own

My three-year-old daughter stood below me, gazing at her mother’s swollen belly.  And, while pointing, questioned, “Did you have me in your tummy, like that?” Her nose scrunched in disgust at the thought.

It was a moment in time that is as clear today as it was forty-nine years ago.

 “No, honey, I didn’t carry you in my tummy.”  I leaned down, looked into her soulful brown eyes, and explained, “Your daddy and I chose you.  We went to a beautiful castle full of infants, and when we saw you, we said, “That’s the prettiest baby in the world!  So, we wrapped you in a pink blanket and brought you home.  Always remember, Amy, you are special and unlike anyone else.”

“Whew, that’s good, Mommie, ‘cuz I wouldn’t want to be in there!” Still pointing to my abdomen, which was carrying her baby sister. 

I watched her as she walked away.  She was happy as a lark and relieved she came from a castle instead of a fat belly.  Tears mixed with relief, a touch of sorrow, and extreme thankfulness begin to pool down my cheeks. 

Amy never forgot the castle

Within the next three years, she shared a room with her toddler sister, and a surprise brother was added to amuse and pester her. 

When Amy was eight, I realized she had never asked another question about her birth.  She knew she was adopted, but it appeared it wasn’t a big enough deal to discuss. 

Actually, I would often forget myself!  When you have three kids and are working full time, you can forget where they came from or why they are there!  Y’all know what I mean, right?

It was open house night at her elementary school.   “Mommie, everyone in 3rd grade had to draw an outline of our bodies on paper and write about ourselves.  They are taped on all the hall walls.  It’s funny!”  Amy explained as we walked through the school doors.

She was correct; life-size paper cut-outs of 3rd graders were lining the walls everywhere.  When I glanced far down the longest corridor, I noticed a large group of parents and children were gathered around one paper outline, reading the biography of a child.  Amy grabbed our hands as we moved closer to the crowd.

The throngs of people were looking at our daughter’s display.  Many with tears in their eyes as they read Amy’s three-page story.  Every other 3rd grader had written a one-page note, but not our Amy. 

“My name is Amy, and I am special.  I am adopted and proud to be.” She wrote.  Amy relayed the story about the castle, the pink blanket, and the family she belonged to now.  Her pride in who she was, was nothing compared to the thankfulness I had for her being ours.

Good news

Through the years that followed, I would occasionally say, “Honey, if you desire to find your birth parents, I will help you.  But just so you know, the person who cradled you when you were sick and the one who changed and washed all those yukky diapers is your mom!”  She would snicker each time I would say the words, but she knew I was serious. 

I watched my gifted honor student daughter complete college, obtain her master’s degree in counseling, volunteer for her communities, move to the west coast, return to the east coast, and help our family through divorces, illnesses, good times, and disasters.     

She phoned a couple of years ago and calmly said, “Mom, I know who my birth parents are.”  I was beyond elated for her.

A mother’s love measured

 She discovered her birth family by happenstance through DNA results on a heritage website.  Unfortunately, both of her biological parents had passed away, but she found half-siblings and cousins.  She has learned about her ancestors and has met a few who remain today.  Her first cousin, who resides outside New York City, has a three-year-old daughter with Amy’s soulful brown eyes and the same golden curls surrounding a recognizable inquisitive face.

Today, we are all still the same.  We have an expanded family thanks to Amy, and we possess even more love than we did when we first saw the prettiest baby in the world wrapped in pink.

Isn’t it true that being a mother is not about how you become one but how much love you can give?  God hugged me the day Amy was placed in my arms, and I knew it.  Adoption is as stunning as childbirth, as beautiful as a castle, and nothing but love for a child is what makes it all magical.

“Not flesh of my flesh nor bone of my bone,

But still miraculously my own.

Never forget for a single minute:

You didn’t grow under my heart,

But in it.” 

Fleur Conkling Heyliger, author

*The story was blessed by one incredible daughter.

The Power of our Kindness

Kindness is a powerful word full of good intentions.  Everyone believes kindness to be an asset, but like anything worth having, it takes work.  Components of kindness are love, compassion, understanding, and thoughtfulness.  We can all be nice, but ‘nice’ is akin to lifting a one-pound weight expecting to build muscle in a week.  Being nice is nice but being kind is how we collectively become strong enough to change our world.

When my granddaughter was entering her pre-teen years, she witnessed bullying in school.  She explained how some of her friends made fun of others and did so as a group.  I recall telling her, “Honey, don’t fall into the trap of following unkind behavior no matter how popular it may be.  Bullying is the antithesis of kindness.  How do you want your friends to remember you?  Were you the one who knocked another down, or were you the one who helped someone stand?”

She answered as only the young can, “Oh Grandma, I feel horrible when people get hurt.”   That night, I recall lying in bed thanking God that my granddaughter understood compassion.

Turning a blind eye

 How can any of us be loving if we avoid feeling the pain of others?  How often have we closed our eyes to suffering because it hurts to look?  We are kind to ourselves, but we are inconsiderate when we bypass viewing the agony of others.

It is heartbreaking to watch the world suffering today and see the monstrous acts of leaders who create hell on earth.  It is dreadful to hear words of hatred and vile tempers running amok, creating friction and division.   How do we douse the fire, thwart the evil, and build better character?  How do we save our world from the bad folks?

Well, for one thing, we sure cannot do it alone, and we can’t turn away or ignore the raging inferno in front of us.  Because a fire out of control reduces all in its path to ashes.

 Mariupol, Ukraine, was a beautiful seaport city full of trees and treasures.  A town not unlike many of our beautiful American seaside locations where people go to unwind, relax, and enjoy the culture.  Mariupol’s population of over 400,000 was living a peaceful, productive life.  That is until the bully came to town.  A tormentor with no concept of compassion or kindness.  Two months after he arrived, Mariupol is no more.  The trees are barren, the earth scorched, and families are broken.  Within two short months, 95% of all that once stood is destroyed.  An out-of-control bully, unchecked, is a fire waiting to be ignited.

Dousing the fires

Zero Dean says, “If you want kindness in the world, put some out there.”  Thoughtfulness and civility create the waters to douse the fire.  It’s not up to our leaders alone; it is up to every human to pick up a pail of empathy and throw it on the flames.  We can’t just talk about being kind folks; we must actively distribute abundant acts of kindness.

When I first began my career in interior design, a good friend advised me, “The only way to compel your business to grow is to be genuinely kind.  Kindness will earn you a better reputation than your talent and provide for you and your children.”  My career lasted over 43 years.   I was never wealthy, never the most talented designer, but I always put my clients first, and in the end, my work nourished and enriched my family.

Kindness means putting down your anger, filing away your distrust, and ending rude, crude behavior.  And often, it is not popular to do so.  We find ourselves with crowds who believe misery loves company.  Sometimes, we cowardly accept the self-righteous actions, the rudely uncivil folks, and forget our place in God’s world.  We listen to the loud and obnoxious, causing us to not hear the whispers of the Almighty. 

Sow the seeds

 Acts of kindness and thoughtfulness can spread if we sow the seeds.  Love, mercy, and understanding are what God expects of us.  When we judge others, cause harm, and are bigots, we defy God.  I don’t know about you, but I don’t think that’s a good idea. 

I know what you think, “Heck, I am kind!  A lot of us are good folks!”  And, yes, you are.  However, could we all take it further and think before speaking and stopping before judging?  Could we be more courageous and not accept others’ incivility?  If we do, that kind of work will dispense enough powerful kindness to douse the raging inferno of evil, keep the bullies at bay, and save us all.

“It is not genius, nor glory, nor love that reflects the greatness of the human soul; it is kindness.” Jean-Baptiste Henri Lacordaire.

Grandpa’s Golden Egg of Joy

She was usually in her kitchen by 4 am to prepare for her day.  Grandpa (my grandmother) deemed Sunday the most important day of the week, and it required dedication and early rising to make it perfect for all.  I recall her preparing the roast, fried chicken, and her heavenly biscuits before Sunday church services.  However, there was never a feast like her Easter Celebrations.

Grandpa and Grandaddy hosted most of my cousins, aunts, and uncles for this special day.  The food was enough to feed an army, prompting my mother to say each time, “Mama, why do you cook so much food?”  Grandpa always replied, “Well, shoot, Elizabeth, I try to prepare everyone’s favorite because my family is my favorite!  And, besides, it’s Easter, for Heaven’s sake!”

Sometimes, practicality takes a back seat to make others feel special.

After washing all those empty dishes after the feast, the famous Easter egg hunt ensued.  Each family brought at least a dyed dozen for my grandparents to methodically conceal.  The bright-colored goodies were hidden in bushes, under branches, and budding flowers throughout the yard.  The lucky finder of the well-hidden golden egg received a whole one-dollar bill from Grandaddy’s wallet!  Of course, Grandpa became a kid again when we would close in on an egg, “You’re getting hot, nope cool, no hotter!!”  

Sometimes, adults need to become as a child to experience unbridled happiness.

Easter is never over!

“Grandpa, I don’t like it when Easter and Christmas are over!” I exclaimed one day when we were about to head home after an enjoyable time. 

“Now honey, let me tell you something…. Christmas and Easter are never over.  Jesus came to us on Christmas and left us around Easter, but guess what?  He returned, and He lives right there in your heart.” With her finger still touching my chest, she continued, “Yep, those holidays are fun, but when Jesus is with you each day, that’s a pure golden joy!”

Sometimes, fun is like a dyed gold egg that eventually cracks.  However, the heart that is filled with Christ’s joy last forever.

I was watching a newscast just before Easter Sunday.  A television reporter happened upon an elderly Ukrainian woman sitting in a wheelchair outside her bomb-riddled apartment building.  The woman’s head was covered with a small scarf, and her age-worn face filled with sorrow.  In her attempt to keep warm, she wrapped herself in layers of clothes covered by a robe used as a coat.  After speaking to the trembling lady, the reporter felt compelled to help her.  It took her a few days to assemble a team to rescue the appreciative frail woman and transfer her to another town for safety.  The journalist put aside her own well-being to bring physical and mental warmth to a stranger.  

In acts of kindness, we see the spirit of the living, resurrected Lord.

I couldn’t help but think of my grandmother being alone, dirty, quivering with fear from cold, calculated, evil.  I cannot imagine my beloved Grandpa in a dire situation where her only aid would come from a passing stranger.  The thought caused me to cry and pray for all who suffer such indignity at the hands of depravity.

Who would we be?

 Who would we be without the compassion, kindness, and tenderness bestowed upon us by the Holy Spirit?  Where would we be today without Christ giving His life for us to live in hope?  How could we handle death, fear, rejection, war, and strife of any kind without the love of God?  I believe we would probably be a bunch of cracked souls constantly searching for another fun adventure yet void of joy. 

Today, the colored eggs are found, and the dinner dishes are put away.  The children will eventually outgrow their new Easter outfits, and leftover jellybeans and half-eaten Peeps will find their way to the trash bins.  Yet, Easter is never over.

War continues in Ukraine, uncertainty surrounds nations, and turmoil seems a constant companion.  Even though worries abound and inhumanity continues, hope does thrive.  A risen Christ walks among us to point out the strangers who need aid, the fallen who require help to stand, and the broken who need mending.  He is the one who provides comfort in worry, strength through sorrow, and the sword to slay evil.   

Grandpa’s life was joyous because she listened to the voice of God daily.  She taught me by example to trust that Easter is unending and to believe the words of the Lord, 

 “…. And be sure of this…. Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.”  Jesus proclaimed after Easter passed.  Matthew: 18:20

Sometimes, we need to be reminded to celebrate such certainty each day.

A Conversation with the Lord

First, Lord, thank you for coming to us, suffering for us, and teaching us the power of God.   None of us thank you enough.  Sometimes, we don’t hear you knock on our door or listen to your whispers during noisy days.  We tune you out when we want our way and yet call your name when we are desperate. 

Remember when I was little, and Dad would tell me what I should do, but I didn’t listen?  You also remember the trouble I was in afterward, right?  Since we are all your children, we create problems when we don’t follow your instructions.  And I know such behavior must tempt you to leave us a zillion times a day.  So, Father, I sure appreciate you sticking with our silly selves.  Do they have ibuprofen in Heaven?

Lord, today the world is suffering.  Your people in Ukraine are experiencing devastation akin to ancient times when ruthlessness and barbarianism were rampant.  I never thought I would witness such, but I suppose time doesn’t change evil.  I am reminded that until you return, the dark one is always lurking around a corner, no matter how ‘advanced’ we think we are.  Please, Lord, render aid to those who suffer from the brutality of evildoers.  And remind us to open our hearts to the plight of others and give all we can.

Earthly angels

Many good people do humanitarian and Godly work, but their efforts are often drowned by cynicism and shouts of violence.  I trust you will give them the strength to plow through the cruelty and listen only to your words of encouragement.  We need all the earthly angels we can gather.

Some young people want to end their life and give their souls back to you before you are ready to call them home.  Mental health solutions are desperately needed today due to the rise in suicide among teens.  If you could possibly send seeds of more understanding and kindness to us, I promise to help plant them any way I can.  Too many are leaving before they understand your purpose for them, and it must break your heart.   

As you know, we have a bunch of ‘upstanding citizens’ who, in error, believe they stand taller than you.  Do you remember when I thought I was on top of the world, and life was just grand?  If you recall, you humbled me, put me on my knees, and told me to not get up until I had changed my attitude.  Maybe I should give you a list of folks to call on.  

The need for humbling

The truth is we all often require humbling.  My big mouth and I need a daily dose of humble meds.  You would think I would know by now, but I sometimes forget my lessons, for which I am genuinely sorry. 

It is Easter time, and each year, I listen to your song, “Up from the grave He arose, with a mighty triumph o’er his foes…!”  Yep, you triumphed alright.  Gives me goosebumps when I hear that hymn and how you showed the world just who you were the day you rose from the dark domain.   Because you defeated death, you gave each of us a song of hope, clarity, and eternal life if we just choose to believe.  

Some folks don’t acknowledge you as Lord, which is astounding.  Before there were telephones, television, internet, social media, and mass communication, you gathered 12 disciples to follow you.  You roamed from village to village preaching the word of God.  Today, 2022 years later, your name is still spoken by millions daily.  So, I ask the doubters, “How did that happen?”

Thank goodness for faith

  The innocence of children is a joy unmatched by most anything around here.  I pray they are learning that you are the gift of Easter because you will be with them all their lives.  Children see you clearly, but adulthood can blind them unless they are taught to always keep you in focus.  Please surround them with teachers bearing eye drops of faith.

Forgive us for idolizing people and things we shouldn’t.  Man-made power is mesmerizing,  but remind us that you are the shining example of authentic leadership, enormous strength, and unmatched sweetness and mercy.  And that if we can’t see you in the things and people we idolize, then help us to turn away.  

Lord, I can’t imagine what your followers thought when they saw you alive again through their tears of grief!  Then, after giving them instructions, you assured them that your spirit will remain even after you leave the earth again. 

I am not sure how it works, but your spirit does fall into our hearts if we fall to our knees.  That is the absolute miracle of you!

Hallelujah!  Christ arose….. thank goodness.

The Simple Structure on the Hill

As I approach the Easter season, my mind does not immediately envision the joyous day Christ rose, but instead the day He died.   When I think of myself below the cross, watching Him suffer as nails spear his flesh and His tears fall to the dry earth, I am filled with sorrow and dismay that human hearts could sink to such despicable levels.

Jesus used his short mortal life to teach us the ways of love, kindness, mercy, compassion, selflessness, and faith.  With the touch of his hand, he healed folks from disease, darkness, and despair.  Christ taught us that the wicked ways of judgmental thinking, self-righteousness, and hypocrisy only harm us and that forgiveness mends us.  He preached to those who would listen, and he prayed for those whose ears only heard lies and whose eyes were blinded by power.

The son of God was tortured and crucified by hardened hearts which couldn’t see who He was. 

Would Jesus die the same barbaric way if he were to come to the earth today and lead the same life?  Would we recognize him and treat him differently.

Recognizing Christ

To see Christ begins with viewing the structure on the hill.  Hopefully, there are times when many of us finally decide to fall to the feet of the cross and meet our Savior.   This iconic symbol rises to the sky above our churches. It is the primary focus in all Christian sanctuaries, and is the key to recognizing Jesus.

It is a personal journey to arrive at the cross.   For some, it is a crawl from our life’s lowest point to grab Christ’s hand so that he can pull us from our drowning sorrow.  For others, it is a long-held belief that began early, as if they were born with the knowledge that Christ was king.  But no matter how one comes to know the Savior, there are still times we all need saving. 

I can’t recall a time when I didn’t believe in God.  Yet, there are many times I stumbled and required God’s support to stand again on solid ground. 

In a bomb torn Ukrainian village this Sunday morning, folks braved the journey to their churches.  Bodies, debris, and chaos littered the earth around them.  Their lives have been on the brink of death each day for over a month.   Yet, they walk to find comfort and hope at the feet of the cross.  In desperation, they pray for peace and freedom from evil.

Faith and Compassion

Their faith in what they cannot see helps heal the horror of what they have seen.  They believe life will return no matter if death takes them away.  Does their horrendous plight deter them from their love of God?  No.  They know with certainty, without faith, that the enemy always wins.  They clearly recognize the son of God as He walks beside them on their horrific journey.

Many of us are blinded by the glitz and glamor of life.  Often, we fall short when we don’t put the teachings of Christ front and center.  I know I do.  Temptation, money, fame, power, greed, and ego are a few dangling carrots that can pull us away from our Savior.  However, when all we have is destroyed, and there is nothing left, the only thing remaining is the old cross beckoning us to return home. 

Imagine that you are attending a church service this morning in Ukraine.  You are hungry and cold, and all your earthly possessions are discarded.  You are not sure where your relatives are or if you will see them again.  How do you feel? 

Compassion is necessary for us to understand the plight of others.  Loving others is how we fight evil and come to the feet of the cross.  Christ gave His life out of love and compassion for us.  Empathy and understanding of all God’s people are precisely how we recognize Him.  

The power of the cross

“Faith” is the title of a chapter in my latest book.   When my friend and artist, Michaele, asked me what scene I envisioned to illustrate the chapter, I replied, “Oh, this one is easy!’  “Draw a massive simple cross on a hill and place me below, alone, with my arms reaching up to its power.”   I have the art framed on my desk today, and it is the entire story of my life.

How often have I felt isolated on the barren ground only to find that the cross was still powerfully there to pull me to my feet?  Too many to count.

Would I recognize Christ today?  You bet!  I know Jesus didn’t remain on the cross; He lived on to be with me daily and be with all who turn to view the simple structure on the hill.   

Seek Truth to Destroy Distrust

When my niece was a young teen, she phoned me from her summer camp, “Aunt Lynn, why do my parents not trust me? If they love me, they should trust me!”

I don’t recall what precipitated the call, but I answered, “Sweetheart, love is a gift, but not trust. Trust must be earned along with respect. If we lie, cheat, or dishonor someone, trust erodes, and it is up to us to ask forgiveness and repair the damage. So, no, trust is not a free ticket on the love train.”

Suspicion, doubt, and mistrust in our society have become a problem not just concerning government. Distrust of religion, journalism, and law are but a few areas that have put a rip in the heart of America. Even the average citizens often look at each other with a wary, questioning gaze.

Soon, after watching footage on the news, I remarked to an acquaintance, “How terrible is the war in Ukraine? It is so difficult to view such horror.”

“I don’t watch the news because I don’t trust what they say!” She declared.   My smarty-pants response was, “Then turn off the sound and just view the film.”

I was astonished that because she trusted no one in journalism, she was not informed about the devastation taking place in Ukraine. She chose to close her eyes to the bravery of the people, the humanitarian effort to aid others, and the evil regime creating problems for the world. 

Government, law, & religion

Distrust of government is a huge issue. What do we do when federal and local officials harm America?

  “Why didn’t you vote the other day?”  I recall asking another young friend. “Shoot, what good would it do? They are all bad!” He answered. 

My response was, “The only way to get rid of rotten representation is to vote them out of office.”

 When we view government decisions and leaders only through the lens of party affiliation and not for the betterment of America, the result causes mistrust and disrespect to multiply, especially in the eyes of our young citizens. Our duty to fortify America’s future is to use our precious right and vote.

For most religions, their purpose is to preach God’s word and save souls. How does the gospel’s message penetrate the heart when the congregation is full of cynical folks? How many “Godly” folks leave the church at noon, hop on social media, and spread vitriol-laden words by early afternoon? Perhaps it is not the church that is to blame for a decline in membership; maybe it’s the hypocrisy found in some congregants sitting in the pews.

Distrust in the law and law enforcement. My cousin and many friends are lawyers, and, boy, they are good folks. Yes, the law profession has some shady characters, as does government, businesses, and religions. Does that mean we don’t trust any who choose to protect and serve our nation under the law? Yet, when we get in trouble, who we gonna’ call… Ghostbusters? 

Read, watch, listen

When we question every aspect surrounding our lives, we begin to welcome the conspiracy theories, scoundrels, and untruths to walk through our doors. Cynicism rises, evil penetrates and permeates our environment, and we replace hope with fear.

A society that breeds doubt becomes a victim of decay.   However, we could individually help America and the world by simply choosing to be informed and active. 

Take the time to research which news outlets are the least biased. We need to use several sources to obtain fairness in journalism. Read, watch, and listen to a variety of information services. Truth is obtained through knowledge.

We must cast our ballots for whom we believe are the best candidates to lead the nation. Who would do the best job of unifying our country, defending our nation, and bringing honor to our land? Character matters, and the only way we can discern who is the best person, is to read, watch, and listen. 

It is our responsibility to always seek the absolute truth.

God gave us a soul and a brain to accompany our free will. But He also laid down mighty hefty rules. The Bible directs us, “Go, therefore, and teach all nations.”  We are to do so not just through words but also by our actions. When we don’t follow His rules, we literally lose souls.   He meant it when He asked us to do His will and love. Throw insincerity out the church window, and the pews will be filled. 

  Take the time to read, watch, and listen to find the truth. Let’s show the world that our ultimate trust in God gives us the power to change, love, and mend the tear in the heart of America.  

For the Good of Others

It was a sun-drenched day Saturday as the end of winter blew away, and spring began to show its magic.  A day when Little League baseball was in full swing, and parents cheered their children to victory or comforted them in defeat.

Golf courses and tennis courts were packed, and basketball’s March Madness increased competition and fans’ shouts to a high pitch.  Young parents pushed babies leisurely in strollers down neighborhood streets as joggers raced by.

Tulips, buttercups, and budding tree branches completed nature’s goodbye to winter in the Southland.  However, for me, it all seemed a bit unnatural.   Spring usually gives me a boost and typically reminds me of rebirth, rejuvenation, and hope.  But this Saturday, this first moment of a beautiful season, is not the same, nor perhaps, should it be.

As I watched my grandson run the bases and cheered him to a win, I couldn’t help but think about another five-year-old in Ukraine sloshing through snow and cold to escape the horror of war.  Many children hide in darkness while bombs rain down from a gray sky.  Their homes are gone, play is over, and the joy of spring is just a memory.  Along with their parents, some children will never witness another sunny day.  

Abundant gratefulness

  I can’t imagine or understand that type of misery and heartache.  The human price of war is catastrophic and barbaric.  However, when a fight is unprovoked and civilians become targets,  such heinous crimes increase the battle price to another despicable level.  Such actions should raise our compassion, abundant gratefulness, and humility to a higher level of excellence.

Today if we are lucky enough to go to a restaurant with a group of friends, maybe we shouldn’t complain if the food is not to our liking or the wait time is too long.  Instead, pause and ponder those who waited for days attempting to obtain bread or water.   We should be grateful for the simple joy of having friends and food.  

If we take a stroll in the bright sunshine on any given day, let’s look up to the sky and be grateful no bombs are forcing us to run.   Or, if we are watching a child run the bases at the ball field, be ecstatic that we are listening to the sounds of a loved one play. 

When we witness the glory of spring unfold here, reflect on those who ache to see unscorched earth and a yard of their own.

What we should toss

This spring, we should toss whining, fussing, and ingratitude with the dead plants of winter.  We can be and should be better, wiser, and abundantly determined to rise above our petty discords and anointed self-importance.  

Today, 10 million innocent Ukrainians are displaced because a dictator wanted more.   As a member of humanity, we cannot ignore their plight nor be unappreciative for anything we own, enjoy, or see that is free from torment and terror.

When I think about our past foolishness over mask-wearing, disputes over our individual rights, our battles with our leaders, and our vicious attacks on social media, I want to hide in shame.  How ridiculous compared to the fight we watch from afar for a country’s right to be free, live in a democracy, and survive.

During the last few years, Americans have often reduced every aspect and event in our lives to politics.  A deadly illness became political along with everything involved with it.  We began to choose friends or dismiss friendships over political differences.  People searched endlessly for news channels, newspapers, and magazines that sided with their political preferences to confirm their own beliefs.  Conspiracies grew along with animosity and damaging division.  The far-right and far-left threw our common bonds into trash cans everywhere. 

The best use of freedom

 In a way, that’s what independence can produce, but is it the best use of our freedom? 

Let us increase our American spirit with less complaining and bickering.  Instead, for today, choose compassion over competing theories.  Choose respect over dishonor.  Show dictators that a nation’s unity is what provides courage to win wars and triumph over their reign of evil.

We are free to choose love for others.  Free to be thankful for each other and praise God for our abundance.  Free to give others the finest of who we are and offer hope.  Our best use of our freedom is to prioritize and agree to help keep others free from oppression, free from iniquity, and free to enjoy life on a sun-drenched spring day.

“No one should seek their own good, but the good of others.”

 1 Corinthians 10:24

One Lone Man

“I never thought I would view such horror in the year 2022!” How often have you heard those words since the Russian invasion began in Ukraine?  

Indeed, we assumed that we had evolved above tyranny, evil, and barbaric dictators as a society.  We also thought there could never be another Adolph Hitler or Stalin.  Leaders of nations today would undoubtedly fear repeating the destruction of World War II and any threat of nuclear warfare.  Certainly, humankind has learned its lessons from history.

Yet, one lone man rose from the bowels of immorality, unchecked and unleashed, to render havoc and instill terror into the world.  How did that happen? 

Is it, in part, due to us wearing blinders?  When we become comfortable and complacent, something will usually shake us up.  We are reminded that we might not be as safe as we thought, as invincible and that our corner of the world is not all that matters.  We watch the atrocity of babies dying and parents fleeing their bomb-torn Ukrainian villages.  Thus, we realize the comfort of life can disappear within days due to the actions of one lone man.

A man who has lost compassion, love, humility and has sold his soul for power.  Hatred holds court, and lies fill the air where he roams.  His nation is his and his alone, and he shows no remorse for forcing his citizens into isolation and uncertainty.  He is the revival of the tyrant, and he is Vladimir Putin.

Revival of tryranny

I am bothered by those Americans and others who hail his name and extol his authority, and I pray they are a minuscule percentage of folks because praising a dictator slaps freedom in the face.  These individuals kick the graves of all the fallen soldiers who died on battlefields to keep us from falling prey to monsters.  There is no excuse for favoring someone who is so blatantly heinous.

Party politics should never be played in this game.  It is the one issue we should all agree upon.  If we cherish American democracy, we must be on the side of liberty for all people and a renewed determination to keep it that way.  We cannot sit in our lounge chairs, kick back, put on our blinders, and not be affected by what goes on elsewhere.  Who knows when a despot might arrive on our shore and attempt to sabotage our corner of the world.  

Turning blind eyes to evil and those who perpetrate it fuels the tyrant.  Sometimes our bravery is just absolutely required.  Courage to speak up, denounce those who spew hatred, and stop the madness of dissent. 

Extremism is increasing, and a threat will rise from these extreme corners.  I believe folks drawn to hostility are those who have been hurt and harmed at some point in life, and they search for a place that accepts their ire.

Common sense or truth is lost on them, and there are no words to change their minds.  Anger rules, animosity reigns, and wickedness will grow.   They twist facts into lies, turn God’s words to ashes, and swear they do so to save us all.  We must open our eyes to their malevolence  … now.   

Demise of Democracy

Democracy can fall to dictatorship, as proven by history.  There are many reasons, including a new crisis or economic failure, but three stand out as warning signs.

 Political polarization is one main contributor.  When competing political sides no longer want to cooperate with one another, they open the doors to allow violent or extremist groups to take over politics instead.*  

Democracy fails when a nation’s elites decide democracy no longer works for them.  When these elites feel that losing an election may mean forfeiting their power and influence over a country, they may seek to take over the nation by force.*

Apathetic citizens are another reason we will lose our freedom.  When we believe our vote no longer counts, our words do not matter, and we are not brave enough to stand firm, we invite tyranny home.

Hitler was one lone man who manipulated many, including educated intellectuals, into submission and cowardness.  Such monstrosities should never be repeated.   If the American majority believes in love, giving, compassion, and hope, we must be bold enough to open our eyes and close our doors to those who have no concept of freedom, faith, and fairness.  

Christ was one lone man whose gentle words influenced our world, changed our hearts, and was brave enough to die for us.   He condemned hatred, detested bigotry, despised hypocrisy, and preached kindness.

One lone person can create a hell on earth or bring heaven to our world. 

Which lone man would you ask to enter your home?

* Study by Alec Medine for Renew Democracy Initiative