September 23, 2010

I Will Never Forget -- part two

I know you’ve been waiting on tenterhooks for part two of my 9/11 recollections. At long last here it is. In case you missed part one, you can read it here.

It’s been nine years since that infamous day—September 11, 2001. Two weeks ago, my kids had off school and we decided to spend the day in New York. For a change from our usual Midtown excursion, we took the Staten Island Ferry which landed us a the bottom of Manhattan. My mom joined us and we started our day with a visit to Ground Zero and St. Paul’s cathedral.

While still a working church, St. Paul’s has become a place of remembrance visited by millions of people each year. The exhibits memorialize the amazing place of hope and healing St. Paul’s became for rescue workers, firemen, policemen, families and a city in mourning. During the eight month relief ministry, nearly every surface of the more than 200-year-old chapel was covered in well wishes, cards, and banners sent from around the country and the world. And over 5,000 volunteers from all over the country staffed St. Paul’s 24/7.

Emotions are still close to the surface and many who walked among the 9/11 displays in the chapel became teary-eyed and a few wept openly. I, too, was transported back to the emotions I experienced while working at St. Paul’s on that one January night. The shock. The disbelief. The devastation. But the overwhelming sense of goodness, love and God’s presence.

One exhibit highlighted the herculean task of coordinating the army of volunteers. Since our church had sent teams of volunteers I was especially interested. The enlarged volunteer planning calendar on display was from January 2002.

Wait, Dan and I were here that month.

I scanned the dates and saw my church, “Woodside Presbyterian” listed three times. I called over my mom and kids to share my findings.

“Look at the 6th. That’s when Dad and I came here to help. And Woodside’s listed two more times this month.”

I was proud for the reminder that I was there and that I’m part of a church that's actively Jesus' hands and feet. In a small way we made a difference. I know my efforts during my 12-hour shift were just a speck in the relief effort, but I saw what I saw, and it changed me.

A quote on the display says it better: “People went in there and worked for 12 hours, and then walked out and said, ‘This may be the most important 12 hours I’ve ever spent in my life.’”

September 11 was a tragedy of unfathomable proportions. We as a nation and as a people became a shining example of the Church in action. God’s people were in need and we, collectively, rose up to respond. If nothing else, 9/11 demonstrated our capacity for selfless love. For sacrificial kindness. And for generous compassion.

I saw with my own eyes our ability to do the incredible.

Yet, isn’t this what Jesus calls us to do EVERY day? Not just in response to catastrophes like 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, the earthquake in Haiti or the latest crisis du jour.

We are still those people who dropped everything and said, “Here am I. Send me.” But where are we? Where am I?

The world needs us. They need our kindness. Our compassion. Our generosity. And our love—in the name of Jesus. We don’t even have to leave our communities to find God’s people crying out—in poverty, homelessness, hunger, AIDS, addiction, illiteracy and sickness. How are we responding to these everyday tragedies that don’t garner headlines or media attention?

In the 16 hours (including travel time) I ent usiastically volunteered at Ground Zero couldn’t I:
  • Bring a bag of groceries to a single mom
  • Build at Habitat for Humanity
  • Volunteer at a food pantry or soup kitchen
  • Tutor children at a homeless shelter
  • Visit a shut-in
  • Write a letter to a prisoner.
  • Send a card of encouragement to a friend with cancer.
What could you do?

Heroic responses to catastrophes make great storytelling. They inspire and excite. Yet aren't our small, seemingly unremarkable acts of love every bit as extraordinary to a Savior who calls us to love in His name?
In a parable He teaches His followers: “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’”

“The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’”(Matthew 25:35-40) 

Isn’t this the very thing we must never forget—and act upon?

September 17, 2010

Confessions of a Praise-o-holic

I'm writing at Internet Cafe Devotions today. I hope you'll read on and join me there. 

“…for they loved praise from men more than praise from God.” John 12:43
Applause. Recognition. Accolades.

I crave kudos. As a writer, graphic designer and creative type, much of what I do is on display. Like a second grader during craft time, I retreat to my creative cubby wielding a keyboard and computer instead of crayons and construction paper. Hours, days or weeks later, I emerge proudly proclaiming, “Look what I made!”

Others aren’t usually as excited by my “masterpieces”  so I’ve learned to temper expectations and savor scraps of praise like gold stars on a spelling test. When I work as a professional, the money I earn speaks for itself. When I voluntarily use my skills as a ministry, payment comes in other ways. A nod in my direction, a “wow” or “well done” is typically all the affirmation I need to live another day—creatively speaking.

A while back I tackled a ministry project bigger than any I’d ever done. It challenged me to use all my creative talents, plus master some new ones as well. I poured myself into the project. I missed meals. I lost sleep. Weary, exhausted and emotionally spent I pressed on to completion and dragged the project across the finish line. And then I waited for the applause.

“Thanks, this is great,” they said. “We really appreciate it.”

Inside I railed, That’s it?! Do you realize what I’ve accomplished? Do you have any idea what it’s worth? Can you see the wounds this project inflicted? I want a parade, a marching band, a float with me on top, a banner proclaiming my greatness. (Perhaps I got a bit carried away.)

And that’s where the enemy spotted an opening. He planted seeds of grumbling. Seeds of discontent. And seeds of anger. My logical side cautioned against nurturing them, but the emotional side eagerly supplied the watering cans.  Read more...

September 14, 2010

I Will Never Forget -- part one

It was a spectacular early fall morning. The sun sparkled in a cloudless sky. Low humidity and a light breeze hinted at the cooler days to come. I’d just dropped my son off for his first day of preschool and headed off to meet friends for coffee. We gathered to catch up and celebrate our preschoolers’ first day of school—and the few hours of free time we’d now have three days a week.

We eased into comfortable conversation. Customers came and went, and the time passed pleasantly. Life was good in our comfortable suburban community.

Little did we know that as we chatted about our kids and play dates and how to get a fussy eater to eat anything green, 65 miles north of us, a tragedy of unfathomable proportions was happening. And we’d remember this morning for the rest of our lives.

At 8:46 a.m. a hijacked airplane crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center. Seventeen minutes later a second plane crashed into the South Tower. These never-before-experienced acts of terrorism altered our country forever.

I’m sure you, too, know where you were that day.

Seventeen people in our community were killed in 9/11 and my church family felt deeply connected to this tragedy. In the months following they sent teams of volunteers to St. Paul’s Chapel.

Front gate of St. Paul's Chapel. Photo:
Situated on the edge of Ground Zero, St. Paul’s became a pilgrimage site for the grieving and seeking. Weary construction workers, policemen and firefighters sought refuge inside as an army of volunteers provided meals, counseling, supplies, chiropractic/podiatry care, and sometimes just a hug and a smile. The chapel was transformed into a place of peace, rest and reconciliation.

In early January 2002, Dan and I went with a team from our church to work the overnight shift at St. Paul’s. For twelve hours we helped serve food, distribute supplies and control entry into the chapel. I remember little of what I did that night, but I will never, ever forget what I saw.

Ground Zero exuded raw emotion. Grief, shock and despair intermingled with hope, compassion and peace. The fence surrounding St. Paul’s had become a tribute to 9/11 victims. Loved ones, friends and strangers covered the iron fence surrounding the property with flowers, candles, cards, stuffed animals, pictures, flags and mementos. Inside the chapel, sympathy cards, pictures, posters and banners—made mostly school children—covered every bit of wall space and the backs of pews. Children even donated teddy bears to comfort workers.

The relief ministry of St. Paul’s testified to a remarkable and interwoven story of selfless giving, random acts of kindness and unending compassion. Thousands of people came to volunteer, and it seemed that every family and every school child in America had sent some expression of comfort in response to 9/11. It wasn’t a New York or an East Coast tragedy. It was a universal one, and the entire country shared a collective shock and grief.

It would have been so easy for Ground Zero to become a place of hate. Of bitterness. And revenge. Surprisingly, and incredibly quickly, it became the opposite. It became a place of grace. The unlikely reaction to acts of pure evil was an outpouring of pure love—love that set aside religious differences, racial prejudices, economic inequities and socio-economic divides. Love that came together to mourn, to console, to feed, to soothe, to cry and even to laugh. Love that showed the best of humanity in response to the worst of it. There was no question of where God was. He was there in that church. I have never experienced the totality of His perfect love in such a powerful way before or since.  

If I hadn’t witnessed it with my own eyes I might not believe it. But I did. And I do.

To be continued...

September 7, 2010

Where Are You?

As a toddler, my son was a runner. Not as an athletic endeavor, but as a personality trait.

You know those calm, self-amused toddlers you encounter in the grocery store who sit contentedly in their shopping carts while their moms shop—endlessly amused with their surroundings or the stray cheerios they found clinging to their sleeve? The ones with whom you exchange smiles and whose moms you secretly award "good parenting" medals.

This was not my reality. Ever. From the moment he learned to walk my son wanted OUT! Shopping trips became wrestling matches with me trying to keep the prisoner—I mean, son—contained in the stroller or shopping cart for as long as possible. "Here! Play with this," I'd say as I frantically snatched items from the store shelves, trying to keep him entertained.

We'd make it through the produce section okay because there were snacks. But by aisle three my son would be squirming out of the seat restraint, trying to stand up. I tried to remain calm and in control but the beads of perspiration gathering on my brow gave me away. Halfway through the store we'd be engaged in a battle of wills as he tried to climb out of the cart and I tried to keep him in there. Shrieking was involved. And the dairy section at the end of the store taunted, "You'll never make it this far!"

I'm quite certain no one ever bestowed any parenting awards upon me!

Needing to finish the shopping, but wanting to end the torture as soon as possible, I'd eventually relent and let him out.

"Stay right here and hold onto the cart." I'd instruct.

Inevitably, as I compared prices of canned peaches or spaghetti sauce or toilet paper, he'd fasten his attention elsewhere. When I turned back to the cart, he'd be gone. Out of sight.

A search would ensue and I'd usually find him an aisle or two away, where he'd be frantic at the realization he was alone. Or I'd hear his voice crying "Moooom! Where are you?" His desired freedom didn't seem so freeing after all.

Despite the scare of "losing" me, he made this mistake many times. 

When it comes to my relationship with my heavenly Father, I'm a lot like my son. I don't want to obey or submit to His will. I want my freedom and independence. I want to follow my own desires. So I put on my running shoes and set out my own. Yet time and again I find myself lost and alone—and anything but free.

"God, I can't see you? Where are you?" I cry out.

This summer I found myself far from God. But instead of wandering around aimlessly, I decided to get intentional about finding Him—and keeping Him in my sights. For the month of August I spent thirty-ish days looking for evidence of God in my everyday. I recorded those observations here and here.

Last week marked the end of my Thirty-ish Days with God. While I haven’t been faithful about recording my thoughts on a daily basis, I have been deliberate about looking for God “in the moment.”

What’s surprised me is that this practice works. By intentionally looking for the Almighty—not in powerful displays but in small ones—I’ve experienced His presence frequently.

Here’s where I witnessed God most dramatically:

  • In nature. Whether savoring the spectacular views of bucolic New Jersey (yes, New Jersey!) atop of Sunrise Mountain during an all-day hike. Watching the purpose-filled fluttering of butterflies on a butterfly bush. Observing the subtle signs of impending Fall. Marveling at a dazzling sunset. Evidence of our Creator’s handiwork is EVERYWHERE!
  • In my faith-filled friends and family. We are definitely better together! God continually worked through the spirit-filled friends He’s placed in my life. Through them He offered encouragement and laughter, gave wise counsel and showed me love. What a gift you are!
  • In my husband. I have long appreciated my marriage, but in the last several years the Spirit has done a work in both our lives. I have a renewed sense of how blessed I am that my husband is a safe haven, that our relationship is anchored by our mutual love for Jesus and that despite the bumps in the road, we are truly walking together.
  • In time alone with God. Through walks, Bible reading, listening to music and time spent being still. Intimate, one-on-one time with my heavenly Father has helped me to know Him better—to gain insight, straighten out my thinking and better hear His voice.

I've re-discovered Jesus to be faithful, patient and oh, so very present in the details of my life. I'm not as lost as I thought and He's not nearly so far away!

However, unlike my son who will increase his independence as he matures, I need to maintain a childlike reliance on keeping near my heavenly Father. Not just for thirty days, but for a lifetime. And He promises that if we seek Him with all our heart, we will find Him. (Jeremiah 29:13) 

“God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. For in him we live and move and have our being.” (Acts 17:27-28)

Are you looking God? Where have you found Him lately?