“Like the miracle of Hanukkah, all over again”

Two years ago, in January of 2016, I dictated the following into my cell phone.  I was in the process of moving from North Carolina, where I had lost my job and was having to vacate my house, walking away from the mortgage, to South Carolina where my brother was letting me move into a vacant 60-year-old house trailer of his:

I’m driving through Travelers Rest, closely watching my gas gauge because I am just about out of gas…the orange empty-tank light is on.  I have about a dollar seventy five to my name and I’m making plans.  There’s a gas station at the Green River exit on 25 and I’m thinking of offering to clean the bathroom in exchange for two gallons of gas.  I’m recording this because I’m thinking about what it’s like to live like this…for the people who live like this every day of their lives, and can’t get out of the downward spiral.

All of my life, when I have come across people who live this way, hand to mouth, I have been skeptical; I have thought that they somehow had a choice and chose to live this way,  either because they were lazy, wasteful, and stupid or because they had an entitlement mentality…used to someone bailing them out…so used to social programs that they knew no other way to live. They didn’t seem to know how to take care of themselves.

God was I wrong. I find no satisfaction in this.  Yes, I have been wasteful and at times, stupid.  But, lately I have exhausted myself in trying to survive, wrestled with ways of working things around to make it through the month, the day, the next hour.  And I almost made it.  But now I need just a little bit of help.  And that is so hard.  I believe it takes more strength to hold my head up and survive this…and to ask for help…than it did to work my 9-to-5 government job for 22 years.

I will make it through this. I know I will. I’m having to convince my daughter that she, too, will survive this because she, too, is overdrawn and facing rent day. But I’m also having to teach her that this is a God lesson in humility. This whole scenario is destroying my pride. And that is a good thing…a God thing.  To live on the same level with the people who live on the streets or in their cars or in 60 year old house trailers with the floors falling in… it’s a good place to be.

God, forgive me for all those times when I have felt superior to people who have nothing. Forgive me for making them feel bad by looking the other way or not smiling, for not looking them in the eyes, and not offering to help.  And for all those empty-headed idiots who say people who live on the street do so because they want to…it makes me…well, it makes me mad enough to cry.

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Well, I did it.  I stopped at the Green River exit and asked the attendant if I could clean the bathrooms for two gallons of gas.  He deferred to the manager.  First, she takes her calculator out to figure how much two gallons is going to cost her, asks me where I’m going (Weaverville, NC, is 61 miles from Travelers Rest), and how many miles I get to a gallon (Honda Fit, 34 mpg.).  She looks up and tells me she’s already cleaned up and they close in 10 minutes, so, “no.”    I wait.     She waits back.       So I leave, with no gas.

I drove 61 miles on an empty tank, like the miracle of Hanukkah, all over again.

I’m now at my daughter’s apartment in Weaverville where it’s warm.  But, outside, it is 19 degrees and I’m thinking about the people broken down by the side of the road, or ‘sleeping’ under bridges, or in their cars, or even in shelters.  I beg God to bless them, if not in this life then in the next one.  And, please, God, if they sleep, let them know in their dreams that someone is sorry–very sorry–that someone cares for them even if there is nothing she can do to help, and that she loves them.

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That was two years ago.  My life still hovers quite close to the ground but, thanks to my brother, my home is warm and snug…even snuggier than before becasue my daughter now lives with me in this 60-year-old house trailer.  Try as I might, it remains a constant battle to stay afloat financially.  But we are fine; we are doing okay…okay enough to pay a small token forward.  I have put a small amount of money…enough to buy two gallons of gas…in a red envelope with instructions for the gas station attendant to hold onto this envelope until someone comes in, needing just a little bit of gas to get home.

God bless them.

Protect what is True

(repeated and expanded here from my comment to an article in Sojourners)

Those of us who hold fast to truth and Wisdom must also hold fast and protect what we know of God, love, and justice. With Shadrach, Meschah, and Abednego, we know that God can deliver us, but if He does not, we will not bow down nor worship anything else…including fear, hate, or discouragement.

It is my opinion that the best position (in addition to protecting and preserving what we know) is to rise up to take a God-perspective of our situation. ‘Bad’ things are sometimes necessary to bring about world-sized changes. There is much ‘good’ coming from this looming dark time: many people who would ordinarily be going about their business are putting more attention to their relationship with God. There is more praying, contemplating, and discussing.

This is a time to keep vigil. This is a time to bury the silver. This is a time to clarify and strengthen one’s own connection to God…and to do that with others.  These are dark times but also times of opportunity to focus on what truly matters.

I agree with Pope Francis; this is a change of era.  This is an era when seekers of God in truth can pray in silent unison while darkness builds around them.  Travelers on the paths of Wisdom, mindfulness, consciousness,… will find themselves walking alongside one another, humming the same tune, speaking the same language.  We see the same light.  We hold the same light.

Keep watch. Pray. Hold hands. Hunch up close to Jesus. Do not let the light die.

In Thanksgiving for life…

(Dictated into my cell phone on the evening of January 19, 2016)

I’m driving through Travelers Rest, watching the gas gauge because I am just about out of gas. I have about a dollar seventy five to my name and I’m making plans.

There’s a gas station at the Green River exit on 25 and I’m thinking of offering to clean the bathroom in exchange for two gallons of gas.

I’m recording this because I’m thinking about what it’s like to live like this…for the people who live like this every day of their lives, and can’t get out of the downward spiral.

All of my life I have come across people who live this way, hand to mouth. I have to admit that I have very often thought that they somehow deserved to live this way,  either because they were wasteful and stupid or because they had an entitlement mentality; by that, I mean they were so used to social programs that there was no other way to live. They didn’t seem to know how to take care of themselves.

God was I wrong. There is no dignity in this.  Yes, I have been stupid and wasteful.  But, I believe it takes more strength to hold your head up, survive this, and ask for help than it does to work a hard, paying job.

I will make it through this. I know I will. I’m having to convince my daughter that she, too, will survive this because she, too, is overdrawn and facing rent day. But I’m also having to teach her that this is a God lesson in humility. This whole scenario is destroying my pride. And that is a good thing…a God thing.

To identify with the people who live on the streets or in their cars or in 60 year old house trailers with the floors falling in… it’s a good place to be.

God, forgive me for all those times when I have felt superior to people who have nothing. Forgive me for making them feel bad by looking the other way or not smiling, for not looking them in the eyes, or not offering to help.

And for all those empty-headed idiots who say people who live on the street do so because they want to…I can’t think of a curse strong enough for them.

Well, I did it.  I stopped at the Green River exit and asked the attendant if I could clean the bathrooms for two gallons of gas.  He deferred to the manager/owner. First, she calculates how much two gallons is going to cost her, asks me where I’m going, and how many miles I get to a gallon.  She then tells me she’s already cleaned up and they close in 10 minutes, so, “no.”  I wait.  She waits back.  So I leave, with no gas.

I drove 40 to 50 miles on an empty tank, like the miracle of Hanukkah, all over again.

I’m now at my daughter’s apartment where it’s warm.  It’s 19 degrees outside and I’m thinking about the people broken down by the side of the road, or ‘sleeping’ under bridges, or in their cars, or even in shelters.  I beg God to bless them, if not in this life then in the next one.  And, please, if they sleep, may they know in their dreams that someone is sorry, very sorry, that someone cares for them even if there is nothing she can do to help, and that she loves them.

Response Ability Requires Power to Respond

This morning, the minister at First Presbyterian Church in Greenville related an insight I had not heard before, concerning the difference between a thermometer and a thermostat:  a thermometer reflects the environment; a thermostat assesses the environment and responds. He went on to challenge his congregation to be like thermostats; don’t just reflect what is going on around you and in the world.  Assess what is going on but respond in a way that improves the climate.

I would add only this point to his wisdom:  the only way the thermostat is capable of doing more than just reflecting the environment is because the thermostat is hooked up to a power source.  One’s ability to respond, and not just reflect, depends on one’s clear connection to a power source.  The quality of one’s response depends on the quality of the power behind it.

Last night, after Clemson defeated Wake Forest, Dabo Swinney commended the team members on their response to the previous week’s defeat.  He praised “these young men” for HOW they responded.  Dabo is right:  It is not important what happens to us in this life; what is important is How we respond to what happens.  Those “young men” responded with quality character traits:  courage, poise, optimism, strength…because they were clearly connected to a quality power source.

Good power source…good response.  Flawed power source…flawed response.

I commend Dabo Swinney, most beloved inspirational speaker, for demonstrating, and guiding those young athletes to their own discovery of, the best source of power there is.

Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more

Yes, it has been quite a while…

Today’s teachable moment came when my sister owned up to feeling under spiritual attack.  She was unaware how familiar I am with the subject so when I suggested a counter-attack, she recoiled.

This is the back story:  Shortly after I deleted my other web sites this Summer, my brother and I focused some attention on our sister who has been living in Alaska for over 35 years.  We knew that, whenever we called her, she was alone…and had been for a few days…and was never sure where her husband was nor when he would be home.  My brother took steps to investigate.

In 1979, our sister suffered a stroke that left her partially paralyzed and partially blind.  Her husband moved them to Alaska where he wanted to retire from the Army.  Turns out, my now former brother in law has been living in a different town in Alaska with another woman…for who knows how long.  Shortly after we found out, said brother in law had the marriage ‘dissolved’ and set plans in motion to have my sister relocated here…the town where I live.

My brother and I went house hunting for my sister; the house was paid for by her ex.  I had 10 days to set up housekeeping and prepared to spend a few nights with her.

I had not seen my sister in 20 years when she arrived at the airport last month.  She was not in good health.  In fact, in the last 5-6 weeks, my sister has been to the ER twice and admitted to hospital once … for 4 days.  I have resigned to live with my sister, now, as her full-time care giver.  For now, anyway, I have given up living on my own, in my own home.

Fast forward to this morning… I was met with repeated hostility from my sister.  Upon questioning, she revealed her frustration with her condition and situation…which is not a new frustration.  Because my sister and I have, independently of each other, grown to have strong faiths in God and a reliance on His guidance, we often talk about spiritual matters…and rather candidly.

This morning, however, we discovered our approaches to spiritual warfare are not the same.  The word she uses for her defense is “resistance.”  I, on the other hand, prefer to “counter-attack” but with a twist.

I find that I am most vulnerable to spiritual attack when I am focused on my own agenda.  This morning’s spiritual attacks were concerning my attempts to have a weekend ‘off’ from being my sister’s 24-hour caregiver.  I had arranged for home aide.  I had arranged for my little blue wonder car to be fixed and aligned.  I had pulled out my camera and gear.

It started at 7AM, when the home aide company called with bad news…the aide was in the ER.  Without the aide’s assistance, I would not be able to make the appointment to get the car aligned.  No alignment, no road trip.  No road trip, no photography.  Furthermore, the camera batteries were dead.  etc. etc.

Hence, the discussion on spiritual warfare.

But I am not about to just “resist” any efforts of darkness to foul my life.  I am going to turn these frustrations into Grace, and here is how and why:

1) I first look at what is being threatened…in this case, my ‘vacation.’

2) I then accept the strong possibility that plans are to change.

3) Next, I look for a way to change my focus from a ‘my’ thing to a ‘God’ thing.

4)  I advertise it; some people call it ‘witnessing…’

…which is where you come in.

My life has not been what I had intended, hoped, or thought it would be.  In fact, I keep being asked by ‘life’ to give up my life as I have known it.  The result, each time, has been an increasingly clearer connection to God…the best agenda anyone could hope for.

Thanks be to God and to God be the Glory.