Finally, I have released my book, and I am happy to announce it can be purchased online at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or Target. This project has been a long time in the making. It is something I am very passionate about, and I have a deep desire to help equip parents with the tools necessary for raising positive kids in a culture that is not always so. Take a chance on this easy but powerful read. You won’t regret it.
Shout out to the producer and videographer of my first promotional video, my wonderful daughter, Kate Ann.
Forever and a day I have been working on a book list. My friends and fellow parents know how passionate I am about the importance of reading. And so, they frequently ask for book recommends. I LOVE talking about books. I have also written one. Recently I released a book titled“Parenting With Gumption and Grit.” It is a book of 52 tips for virtually anyone who parents or mentors a child. One of those tips is “Read With Your Child.” I would add to that: do so at every age and stage of their life. When my 3 girls became older teens, I had required reading, which I added to their own queue of books. Yes, it’s true. I had required reading. And with few exceptions, they always read the book before seeing the movie. And now as young adults, I heartily dish out suggested reading for them. Usually they humor me and comply. They do this because they love to read and because it is an activity we have done together literally for years. So, I have a little credibility with them when it comes to recommending a book. Books are a faithful friend. They don’t betray, abandon, hurt, or withhold forgiveness or mercy from us. They are always there for us. They are faithful. They teach our kids literally everything. How to be a kid. How to be a grown up. How to be generous, compassionate, and really-how to live well. They are capable of teaching life lessons to our kids virtually without us lifting a finger. Yeap I’m in.
I have included a list of my own favorites below. This is not all inclusive. Not even close. But I went through my shelves, literally and figuratively, and did my best to compile a list of books I love and cherish. I asked my girls to do the same. Clearly, their input was vital. There are a handful I have in the last section which they have yet to read. For instance, Left to Tell, The Liberator, and a few others. Don’t worry. I have them on their “suggested reading” list. Likewise, there are some on that same list which my girls have read, but I have not (yet). When Shelby was just a toddler, and we said, “Shelby get your books,” she literally walked across the living room floor carrying a pile of books almost as tall as she was. What a sweet memory. And then there was Paul reading chapter books at bed time. I will never forget when he was reading Charlotte’s Web, and as Charlotte died, he turned and looked at little 6-year-old Shelby, who was absolutely silent with big droplets of tears rolling down her cheeks. And just like that she experienced the death of a friend. She experienced loss in a profound way, by reading it in a book. It helps prepare them for the real-life experiences that are sure to come their way. We can’t stop those real-life experiences. So we should let books lend us a hand. Halle and Katie Ann had their favorites too. Besides E. B. White, we must have read Princesses Are Not Quitters, Just Us Women, and The Relatives Came,a thousand times. Arthur, DW, Henry, Mudge, Eloise, Katie Kazoo, Nancy Drew, and so many others were all personal friends of ours. It seemed as if they lived in the same house with us.
On “Judy’s Favorites List,” please use your own measuring stick for your child. In other words, if you feel like there is something on the “Elementary Age” list, that should wait for “Tweens/Teens,” then that is your prerogative. I categorized the lists based on my own experience with my three girls. You can and should custom build your reading lists for your children.
A final thought. I am a Jesus follower, so there has always been a generous number of faith filled books on our reading list. Francine Rivers for instance is one of our favorites. Shelby and I read “Her Mother’s Hope” and “Her Daughter’s Dream” simultaneously. Rivers’ book “Redeeming Love” is perhaps one of the greatest books ever written about a woman’s worth and not only that, but how a young girl’s opinion of her own worth impacts her sexual choices. We have tons of favorite Christian authors for sure. But secular books have had just as powerful an impact on my kids and on their faith journey. The Glass Castle is a poignant memoir about a young girl who was raised in a sea of dysfunction. It’s a book that made my girls’ childhood look like a tiptoe in the daises. They need to see that. They need to know and understand that other people live lives in stark contrast from theirs. The book Avenue of Spies by Alex Kershaw is a jaw dropping story of American surgeon Sumner Jackson and his family who lived and died after the Nazi occupation of Paris in WWII. It is a riveting and true story. And how could we ever forget To Kill A Mockingbird? Every person’s experiences and journeys hold life lessons for all of us. Our faith guided our choice of reading for sure. But it did not censor our choices. The two things are not the same. We have always tried to steer out kids away from the inane, pointless, shallow offerings of the world. The same is true in our choices of books and media. One day Shelby picked up what she thought would just be a short fun read based on the fact we had just seen the movie of the same title, Confessions of a Shopaholic which was rated PG. She figured the movie was cute, so why not read the book? Quite on her own, she intentionally left it behind in the hotel where we were staying. When I asked her why, she said “language.” Wow, and just like that, all those years of age appropriate reading and guiding them into age appropraite books (and media choices) seemed to instill wisdom in her. Suddenly they had their own sense of books that were worthy of their time and those that weren’t. Books that point them to truth, fiction or non fiction, and those that don’t. Sure, all three of them have read a lot of books since then with colorful language and content. But the language and the content served a purpose. In those cases, it was neither shallow or pointless.
We also found that reading age appropriate books with our kids in an environment where they were loved unconditionally helped us quite naturally graduate them to the next level. As they moved into different stages of growth, so did their books. For instance, if you let them read the Hunger Game Series in the 3rd grade, they may never want to read The Little House series or Chronicles of Narnia. And how sad would that be?
The best thing ever your child will say to you one day: “Mom you have to read this book. Then we can talk about it. You’ll love it.” That is exactly what Halle said to me after reading The Poisonwood Bible for her Senior AP English Literature class in high school. You can bet I grabbed it up and devoured it. Because guess what? It rendered an in-depth sit-down discussion with my sweet girl that happened all because we read the same book.
Happy reading everyone.
My book list is below along with other resources. On the links provided, click twice, once here and once again on the next page.
Additional resources that I highly recommend:
“Teaching Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons” by Siegfried Engelmann, Phyllis Haddox, and Elaine Bruner
“Honey For a Child’s Heart,” by Gladys Hunt
“Honey For a Teen’s Heart,” by Gladys Hunt and Barbara Hampton
“For the Children’s Sake,” by Susan Schaeffer MacAulay
Recently, an acquaintance made an innocent statement that said, “Faith is not believing that God can, but that God will.” I think this could be misleading. Okay, I think in some cases it could even be bad theology-depending on what the writer is referring to-our preferred outcomes OR God’s power. I flip this around a little bit. Because I believe faith IS indeed believing that God can– even when He does NOT. Faith is believing in the power of God even when the outcome is not to my liking. If your life doesn’t turn out the way you planned, does that render your God powerless? The short answer to that is “No.” But how often do you unconsciously act this out in your life, “My faith will be strong when_________” “I will believe in the power of God when I see this happen:_____________” Well, let’s see, When I meet the perfect man or woman and get married. When I have a baby. When I get that great job. When I see my children to adulthood. “ OR I will believe in the power of God as long as ____________ (fill in your own blank) Really? Is God’s power contingent upon our preferred outcomes? The bible says that God’s plans will not be thwarted. (Job 42:2, Isaiah 14:27) It doesn’t say the same thing about our plans. In fact, it says just the opposite. (Psalm 33:10; Isaiah 8:10 and Proverbs 19:21) Many Christians are missing great opportunities to serve God and cheating themselves of the abundant life promised us in John 10:10- because they are still waiting on that perfect marriage, that perfect church, perfect children, perfect job and ministry, and well-a perfect life by a standard that perhaps for years has been propagated by false theology, “Faith is not believing that God can but that God will…” (Fill in the blank) make my marriage perfect; Save my children from disastrous outcomes; give me the perfect job with the perfect boss with the perfect salary.
Another way this might manifest itself: Well, maybe, rather than talk about problems in our marriage with a close and trusted Godly friend (of the same gender,) we keep it to ourselves. After all, if my marriage is in trouble, it must mean I don’t have enough faith, or the faith I have isn’t strong enough to ignite God’s power. It couldn’t be that sharing the daily issues of anxiety and strain and seeking out Godly counsel might put my marriage on a different path. Or, maybe rather than join a small group or enlist a mentor, I would avoid investing in deep intimate relationships, and not expect a small group or mentor experience to help me grow into spiritual maturity. If I need the help of someone else for that, then my faith must not be strong enough. Remember in this scenario, faith is not believing that God can, but that God will…” so that if he doesn’t then it must be me and my lack of belief. I think this theology possibly leads us to thinking that as a “Christian,” we must have it together at all times and always have the answer to our problems. If this were true, then Abraham, Jacob, Isaac, David, Esther, Ruth, Paul the Apostle, Peter, and a host of other Godly biblical men and women were the wrong people for the task at hand. Christianity would most certainly have died in the 1st century. It wasn’t perfect marriages, or perfect ministries, perfect leadership or perfect children that caused the glory of God to shine forth through these men and women. Rather it was their imperfect lives striving to be more and more like Jesus that made all the difference.
I love love love the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. Look at Daniel 3 with me. Okay, are you there yet? (Humming my favorite song.) Giving you time to go to Daniel 3 in your hard copy bibles, or your electronic bible; Okay got it? Now read verses 13-18. What do you see there? Some of the most powerful words in scripture you will ever read about 3 of the most faith filled God followers you will ever know. The Pagan king Nebuchadnezzar threatened to throw the three teenage boys into a hot fiery furnace if they did not bow down to him. This was there reply. And no matter how often I read it, it always gives me goose bumps. “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is ABLE to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But EVEN IF HE DOES NOT, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”
They knew and believed that God was way more powerful than that fiery furnace. They trusted 100% in the power of God to rescue them from that furnace, but they also knew that God’s plans would not be thwarted even if their desired outcome was different. “But even if he does not choose to rescue us from death or give us what we want or what we think we need, we will still believe in Him.” (paraphrase)
Okay, we know the end to that story. God did indeed save them from the fiery pit that day. But similar accounts did not always end this way. During Nero’s reign as Roman emperor from 54-68 AD, he arrested and tortured Christians in Rome, before executing them with lavish publicity. Some were crucified, some were thrown to wild animals and others were burned alive as living torches. This included men, women, and children. Indeed Paul the Apostle was martyred in Rome around 64AD and this would have been under Nero’s reign of terror. We also know from scripture and history that all the disciples of Jesus (not including Judas Iscariot) met with violent martyred deaths, with the exception of John who ostensibly died of natural causes on the Island of Patmos. One might ask, “Was their faith not strong enough for God to show God’s power?”
God is always faithful. God is always good. God will always prevail. How do we know this? The lesson was played out on the cross. The empty tomb reminds us that the One to whom we raise our hands and voices is King over all. The Creator of this Universe is more powerful than anything we could hope or imagine 1st and foremost. This power PRECLUDES our existence! Grappling with this truth will render us hopeless and “fruitless,” as we expend our energy waiting and hoping for someone or something to fill in all the missing blanks of our lives so that our faith can “prove itself.” On the other hand, grasping this truth will free us from a stronghold of futility and hopelessness and position us to grow in the knowledge and joy of Christ. (2 Peter 1:5-8) Are you grappling or grasping this truth?
North Rhine-Westphalia : This two-week adventure started out in the beautiful villages of a small part of Germany in the region of the North Rhine-Westphalia. This is a special place to me because our family lived there for 4 years, and also because we made lifelong friends there who we now love to visit. Absolutely you can and should visit the grand cities of Germany. Berlin was one of our favorites. Köln, Dusseldorf, Munich, Dresden (still haven’t been to Dresden) and many others. But like any country, it is not surprising to know that some of the best visiting can be had in the small towns and villages. They tell you a different story of the people, their history and what they stand for. Isn’t it the same in the USA? I think everyone should be able to visit and enjoy the likes of NYC and Chicago for instance, at least once! But my husband and I both agree that bringing our international friends to the rolling hills of the Texas hill country, or the Ouachita Mountains of Arkansas, or through the small quaint towns of the lower South like Hattiesburg, or one of my personal Southwest favorites, Oklahoma City, OK, these embody so well the diverse demographics and geography of this country. All of these places would undoubtedly give them an insider’s look at our great home and the Americans who inhabit it. A far different landscape than what is offered by the largest cities in America. So that brings me back to where we started. Yes, what I fondly refer to as the GK area of Germany. GK is a region on the borders of Belgium and Holland, so named for the bigger, but not so big town of Geilenkirchen where a NATO base is tucked away in the countryside surrounded by numerous small villages. The villages are all connected by miles and miles of intersecting farm roads useful for walking your dogs, running, biking, or just frolicking, while dodging the occasional farm tractor. On this particular trip, it was my intention to wear down my jet lag for a couple of days while simultaneously visiting my dear friends in the sleepy villages of GK before heading off to the uncharted territory of Bulgaria. (Uncharted is simply a euphemism for no stamp in my passport). I was pleasantly rewarded with beautiful sunshine and highs in the 60’s-not usual weather for February in Germany. On a practical note, you might be thinking “But Judy where would we stay? Where are the Holiday Inns? The BNB’s in these little villages?” No worries. German Guest Houses (die Gästehäuser) are peppered virtually all over the country. Many of them have breakfast options. All of thehave extreme ambience and friendly hosts!
I flew into Amsterdam, practically charged through customs, and with no checked bag, proceeded directly to the train ticket queue and bought myself a train ticket direct to Sittard, NL. Sittard is literally a part of GK but on the Holland side. Don’t worry they all speak English. Nederlanders (German speak for Netherlanders) have been watching American television for literally their whole lives, not to mention, they start English at quite an early age in grade school. Super friendly people. Frankfurt Airport is also just a short 2.5-hour drive to GK. Dusseldorf even closer. You’ll most likely want a car for tootling around the villages. As an added plus, they drive on the right side of the road in both Holland and Germany! You might be interested in knowing that GK is an excellent springboard to all points Belgium, Luxembourg, beautiful Alsace, even Paris. (Yes, that is Paris, France) I will let the pictures I have attached here do the rest of the work of this blog in explaining why it is I love this place so much. But remember, you don’t have to go to GK to find this! Pick a “small town” part of Germany you have always wanted to visit and go! You will find the same farm roads, the same ambience, and the same friendly people. Auf Wiedersehen for now.
BULGARIA: Once I was in GK, I picked up a traveling partner, a good friend of mine who shares my wanderlust for travel. It was also Rebecca’s first time to Bulgaria so that made the journey even sweeter. We turned a rental car into its proper place at the Frankfurt Airport, and from there caught a flight on a regional airline, (this time Aegean Air-$34 plus about $20 for my checked bag) to Sofia. It was just over a 2-hour flight into the small super manageable airport of Sofia, Bulgaria. We were met by friends. Wouldn’t you know it? Expat friends who now live here. Such are the opportunities one exploits when one has friends living in, not only other areas of the world, but even other areas of the USA! We offer the same hospitality in return. So, I don’t have any hotel info to give you with regard to Sofia, since we lodged with our friends, but I will tell you that one of my favorite booking sites for Europe is Booking.com. You can apply an abundance of filters. I simply have them listed in order of their reviews, starting with the highest to the lowest. I find a price that works for me matched with nothing less than a score of 7 (out of 10 possible review points). It’s a great hotel booking site and the AP is super good. And about the food here, delicious and so cheap. You will not be disappointed by the quality or the price!
Bulgaria is a fascinating country in that they were oppressed and ruled by many factions since ancient times. But in 1396, the Ottoman Empire completed its conquest of Bulgaria. And for the next five centuriesit was known as the era of the “Turkish yoke”. (BBC.com) After hundreds of years of oppression by the Turks, Bulgaria mostly gained their independence by way of the Treaty of San Stefano – signed by Russia and Turkey at the end of their war of 1877-78. But then with only about 36 years under their belt managing a very fragile and ever developing independent state, WWI started, and the Bulgarians were allied with the Germans. From one frying pan to another they did go. The same was their fate for WWII, and in 1944 the Soviet army invaded German-occupied Bulgaria adding Bulgaria to the long list of Soviet Eastern Bloc countries where communism could oppress and consume its inhabitants. Finally, in 1991 a new constitution proclaimed Bulgaria a parliamentary republic and provided a broad range of freedoms. A president was elected for the first time ever in 1992. Oftentimes, I have been in Eastern Bloc countries and felt like the people there were a little stiff, rough around the edges, and not overly friendly. Well, that’s a natural fall out of both oppression and living under post war communism for years. But surprisingly (or not so) Bulgarians were the opposite of this. They were by and large, very friendly and super open to tourists treading the streets of their cities and forests. I knew not one single word of Bulgarian, but they did their very best with the English words and phrases they knew. The Bulgarians still use the Cyrillic alphabet. BUT as an added bonus for touring here, all placards and signs are in English alongside the Bulgarian language, including the Metro system. That is a huge benefit. The ability to navigate a city’s metro system in your own language can never be understated. Take it from me. In fact, I find the NYC subway system much more confusing. (I mean seriously what’s wrong with just using normal destination points for your anchors? I mean what’s with all the uptown, downtown stuff??) All my NYC friends and family members are laughing about right now.
In Sofia, we did a tour with Association 365 tours, https://365association.org/These are free city tours and I highly recommend them. Nikki was our guide in Sofia. His English was near perfect and his demeanor light and friendly along with a great sense of humor and large heart for his city. I love these kinds of tours especially when I am in a new place. It offers a great overview of the history and culture of the country with specific information about the city you are touring. Likewise, we did a day trip to Plovdiv and also did a 365 tour there, this time with Elijah who, like Nikki in Sofia, was a native of Plovdiv. The “old town” Centres of Plovdiv and Sofia are not going to look like the “old towns” of most western European cities. Indeed, that is a distinct difference between the Eastern and Western Bloc countries of Europe. It’s as if the personal histories of the Eastern Bloc countries were sort of frozen in time as they were oppressed by dictators. Their creativity and freedom so inhibited and squashed for so long, they are still catching up to the ambience and the quaintness of what you get accustomed to seeing in western Europe. Sofia, in the downtown area, and even stretching beyond that boundary, still have the buildings and the architecture from the Stalin era. Those geometric shapes and sharp corners seem cold and ominous compared to the more personal and intimate experience you find when you wander into the side streets of Sofia and Plovdiv. There you will find the Centre, or old town, not nearly as pristine as their western neighbors, but yet a culture (their culture) that has slowly reemerged and is even yet emerging, from the rubble of hundreds of years of violent and oppressive rule both in ancient times and during the cold war of post WWII. I found this to be a personally invigorating reset button for my own appreciation of the freedoms I take for granted. Freedoms to be creative. Freedoms to love and serve others. And freedom to just live without the yoke of oppression in a place where I am FREE to move about, worship, work, serve, speak, and drive. Well, you get the picture.
One interesting story about Sofia and Bulgaria in general, then I’ll move on. According to Nikki, of all the countries from which Jews were deported to concentration camps during WWII, it just so happens that Bulgaria is not on that list. Nikki explained that in perfect Bulgarian fashion, it was one of their most annoying habits, a hallmark character trait of Bulgarians everywhere, which saved the lives of Bulgarian Jews. They simply procrastinated. They did not hand over any Jews to the Nazis for deportation, claiming, “Oh we still need them for this or that factory or for this or that task.” Somehow or another, when that wrathful war was finally over and done, not one single Jew had been deported to the concentration camps from Bulgaria. Really, that is amazing. Meanwhile, however, this was not the case for Jews living in Bulgarian-occupied territories such as Greece and Macedonia. About 11,000 Jews from these occupied territories ended up in death camps. Ostensibly, they were too far out of the reach of those efforts being made insideBulgaria. But history would certainly indicate that Bulgarians did all they could to aggravate the Nazis in their evil effort. And I think thatdeserves notice.
My favorite day in Bulgaria was had in the mountains just under 2 hours from the city of Sofia. It was mostly highway driving to the Rila Monastery which sits at the foot of the beautiful Rila mountains. After touring the monastery on our own, we found the untrodden, off the beaten path to the Ossuary (literally means a place for the bones of the dead). This short walk took us blissfully away from the crowds at the monastery right next to the babbling brook and beautiful waterfalls of a beautiful creek along side the Ossuary. The Church of the Ossuary was built specifically for cemetery rituals. It was completely deserted when we visited it. Golden silence so that all you could hear were the birds and the rushing waterfalls of the creek. If you visit the Rila monastery, don’t miss the Ossuary. The path entrance is located directly behind the monastery and to the right of the restaurant and shops. After the Ossuary, we got back into our car and took the road farther still about 4 or 5 km on past the monastery, to a trail head for Saint Ivan Rilski’s cave. Parking was very easy. Rilski was the first Bulgarian Hermit. He was born in approximately 876 AD. His cave is about a 20-minute hike that is pretty rocky so make sure you have good hiking shoes. When you get to the top, you will see a small chapel. Right behind it you will find a small dark cave in the rocks – the place where the saint spent some years fasting and where originally, his remnants were buried. Enter the cave and climb the wooden stairs leading to the higher exit through a tiny rock chimney. Thankfully I had my iPhone flashlight. If you keep climbing a little further up after the cave, you will see the prayer rock where people can write down a prayer and stick it in crevices of the rock.
Bulgarian Mountains: Saint Rilskie’s Cave
ATHENS: Another new stamp in my passport. And apparently there are multiple flights direct between Athens and various commercial airline hubs in the states. That’s helpful for traveling between the two. Even if you book extra connections in order to get lower price tickets, your preferred US commercial airline may indeed fly right into Athens. On another note, even if they don’t, they are generally allied with European partners. Like for instance, my preferred airline (UAL) is a part of the Star Alliance that includes both Lufthansa and Aegean Airlines. Delta and American all have their own alliance partners. I am just saying this because, it is yet another feature of major air travel that makes your seemingly crazy travel itinerary even more doable.
Back to ATHENS! The history, and as well, the bible history in Athens is incredible. The Roman and Greek history is off the chart. And I have news for all of you, Roman and Greek history is OUR American history as well. In some form or another, we have roots in Ancient Roman and Greek culture. Whether that be ethnic heritage, theology, faith, superstition, or our career fields. These two forces of human spirit and ingenuity forged a path for art, architecture, bridge building, plumbing, civil engineering (every type of engineering you can imagine), politics, law, not to mention relationships (whether good or bad). They certainly have offered us a timeless framework of leadership: how to or how not to lead others. Athens has a bigger, more modern city for sure, but it is ensconced by ancient history, rich with stories and voices of the past. Stories that bridge the ancient with the modern in an extraordinary and telling way. The Acropolis, Ancient Agora, Temples of Zeus, Hadrian’s Arch, Mars Hill-The Aeropogus. Athens is simply jaw dropping beauty and the hiking is wonderful, so put on your hiking shoes! The newer Acropolis museum is a delightful accompaniment to the Ancient Acropolis itself. And soon (I must go back) they are opening up an entire new exhibit on the lower floor, actual excavated ancient city structures that you can meander through and among. You can see the beginnings of it now under a glass walking path as you are entering the museum. The Athenians are pretty welcoming people too. And in case you’re wondering, yeap I booked my hotel on booking.com here and had a simply marvelous hotel right in the Centre of old Athens called Phidias Hotel. The breakfast was seriously off the chart, one of the best ever I have enjoyed eating. It was included in my hotel price. Delicious. Now, I was there in comfortable February weather. I don’t think this hotel comes with air conditioning (most European hotels don’t unfortunately), and I can only imagine how warm it might be in the summer. So, if that is a consideration for you……
I try not to spend too much time in my travel blogs giving you the historical details of each site. I want to. I want you to get caught up in the excitement and the passion of the rich and fascinating history of these places just like I am. But, part of my goal is to get you to explore further on your own. There is an enormous amount of wonderful factual information on the web about all of these places. I just want to give you a glimpse into my own journey, maybe offer up my personal travel hacks and favorite places, entice you with the pictures, and then send you OUT to research and plan on your own, drawing on a plethora of wonderful resources available to do just that. But I want to add a personal note here about my faith journey on this trip. I was so emotionally moved while standing at nearly the very spot on the Areopagus where Paul the Apostle spoke the exact words you find in the last section of Acts 17. I could easily imagine what he was dealing with at the time. He was surrounded by temples to pagan gods as far as the eye could see. Read Acts 17 for yourselves. Include that in the research you undertake on Athens. It is a part of you too, whether you believe in God, in Jesus or not. Just like the prolific paganism of ancient Rome is an intricate and undeniable part of our ancestry and our own inheritance and theology that we have today, so is God, Yahweh. He has a place in your history too. Whether you are a believer or not, bible history is still a part of your past, a past that has shaped our own culture and who we have become these thousands of years since.
ANCIENT CORINTH (Day Trip from Athens): We did a private car tour with “Tours by Locals” to Ancient Corinth. I really like Tours by Locals because they give you private drivers! And the tour guides are truly knowledgeable. Not in all cases though will they actually accompany you to the site. They will answer any and all questions you have while in the car together, but they deliver you to the tourist spots to do a self-tour. Vassilios did not accompany us to the site in Corinth. He was a talkative and totally engaging person and full of great information and questions. Anyway, Ancient Corinth should be largely absorbed in beautiful silence, introspective meditation, and contemplation. It was also here that Paul the Apostle spent the better part of two years living with the Corinthian church he had planted in this very place, teaching and admonishing them. There is a museum adjacent to Ancient Corinth that is run by Americans of all people. The building was designed by Stuart Thompson, following the architectural model of the “Chicago school”. It is a really terrific museum. And this is why I would say you need more time here at Corinth than what the Tours by Localstour afforded us. It was a full day tour that took in several sites in Athens before leaving for Corinth. So, I did not have enough time in Ancient Corinth to include getting through the museum.
But now more on our tour guide. He had great questions about my personal faith and my church. Like, “How many times a week do you go to church services?” For instance, most Athenians are orthodox Greek and by the time they are out of their teens, they only go to church occasionally. He was stupefied by the fact that I go to church weekly and, stop the press, have a small group that meets in our home. He was further fascinated that we don’t require a priest either for our church services, or for taking the holy sacraments of communion. I explained the role of our pastors. They bring the gospel to the local churches weekly or as often as they meet, admonishing them and encouraging them in the Word, not unlike Paul the Apostle. And also, pastors are charged with challenging their church family (just like the Berean Christians in the middle of Acts 17) to open up their own bibles and read the scripture on their own, “testing” what the pastor says against what they find for themselves in scripture. Bill was super impressed by my bible knowledge. Now, I want to add here the irony of this. He would have been super impressed by most American protestant bible knowledge. Because in the Greek Orthodox faith, they simply don’t study the bible for themselves. So, suffice to say my tour guide was fascinated by our personal faith stories.
THE CORINTH CANAL: The Corinth Canal is a waterway that crosses the narrow Isthmus of Corinth to link the Gulf of Corinth to the Saronic Gulf. As such, the canal separates the Greek mainland from the Peloponnese, turning it into an island. The Corinth Canal is an important navigational route which once allowed ships to enter the Aegean Sea. Dug through the Isthmus at sea level, the canal is 6.4 kilometers long with a width of only 25 meters. Impossible for modern ships to go through, the canal has now lost any significant economic importance it once had.” (The Culturetrip.com) It was a site to behold just before heading into Ancient Corinth.
CHANIA, CRETE: This is my second time to visit the beautiful island of Crete. Specifically, both of those visits have been to Chania (pronounced Hon-ya) So yes, I am feeling strongly like the next time I get to Crete, I need to explore another part of this lovely island.
Getting there from Athens: Again, you can fly super cheap from Athens. And the flight is only about 40 minutes from push back to landing. OR you can be extra adventurous and do what my friend Clarissa and I did. We took the ferry. Yeah, finally remember the title of this blog, “Planes Trains and Automobiles, + One Boat? ”Well, the one boat was indeed the ferry. Specifically, Minoan Lines, and we sailed on the ship Myokas Palace. It’s an overnight ferry. We set sail about 8:30 pm fromThe Port of Piraeus in Athens and docked in Chania about 4:30 am. You can spend next to nothing and just sleep in fairly comfortable recliner seats all night. They look a lot like airplane seats, but they recline more, and they have triple the leg room. OR you can do what we did, still spend next to nothing (59 euro per person) and actually get a room with beds and a shower. I have to lay down in a bed and sleep as much as possible. I am getting old. The ship is loaded with bars, grills, restaurants and fabulously comfortable lounges with comfy chairs, couches and tables. For 5 euro you can get 10 hours worth of wifi. But I warn you. It’s not that good. We docked right on time and disembarked incredibly quickly. I have a feeling the ship will get much busier in the summer. Our ride picked us up and off we went. Oh yeah, I stayed with an expat friend here too. So, no lodging this time. BUT, the first time I was here (July 2016), my friend Rebecca and I, along with 4 kids between us, reserved a BNB and got a beautiful apartment, super big and loaded with amenities for 750 euros for 4 nights, which we split between two families. So, BNB’s are prolific here and don’t forget my favorite hotel booking website, booking.com. It’s always good.
Chania’s old town is especially beautiful. The alleyways of the oldest district, which seems to be the artisan shop district, is simply enchanting. You can’t miss it. It is directly behind the Fort. Also walk through the many fun shops in the next section over which dumps you out to Starbucks (surprise surprise) and the lovely Chania harbor. Walk the long, but lazy meandering way to the lighthouse. Bask in the beauty of the Mediterranean and take a ton too many pictures because you just can’t help yourself. I was here in July the first time I visited, and it was lovely but hot. This time February was just captivating. And the mountains were all still snowcapped.
Besides old town and the harbor, other favorite sites adorned with jaw dropping beauty and wonder are the ancient Aptera ruins just outside the city. Also, Balos Lagoon and Stephanou Beach are absolute must sees. The summer is especially nice because they are great swimming spots, especially Stephanou Beach. The Mediterranean Sea is by far my favorite swimming hole. NOW driving to both the Balos Lagoon and Stephanou Beach is a little scary. You can get on a boat in Chania that will sail you to Balos. But we didn’t know that. Yes, rent a car in Chania. It’s nice and necessary for getting around the island unless you’re literally staying in Chania town and can cab everywhere. But you won’t do that after reading this blog right? Anyway, knowing how to drive a stick shift is a nice skill to have here, but if you can’t, make a special request for an automatic. I also found the stick shift helpful for driving up up up to Balos Lagoon and Stefanou Beach (which when you arrive at each of them, you must then hike down down down to the beach). So, make sure you have go with hiking shoes, loads of sun screen, drinking water, snacks, and an off the chart anticipation of the ginormous explosion of nature that awaits you.
On my most recent trip to Chania, Clarissa, Keisha and I visited the Gouverneto Monastery just East of Chania. We were able to park our car at the monastery and the drive there was easy! But from this monastery we hiked (yeap solid hiking shoes and a hiking stick are helpful) about 2 miles to a nearly deserted and rocky beach that had turquoise waters and offered another stellar surreal swimming experience. Between the starting point of the Gouverneto monastery and the beach is a trail which takes you past multiple ruins in the sides of the mountains of old abandoned monasteries, for instance Katholiko Monastery, or Monastery of St John the Hermit, or simply Katholiko. After the last abandoned monastery, you find yourself hiking the last few minutes in the Avaki Gorge. This was the best last day I spent on this most recent trip to Chania. I think hiking in nature is close in proximity to the very heart of God. Thus, when I am in a place like this, beholding such beauty, I can’t help but stare into the heavens and just say, “Thank you God.” I hope you get to experience this hike in all of its natural wonder and glory. The craggy beach at the end is a sweet sweet reward for the moderate hike. (Compared to the hike down to Stephanou beach, this one was easy peasy.) The water changes colors as the sun shines on it. The way it feels on your skin when you’re swimming or floating in it, is also indescribable.
Avaki Gorge Hike
FOOD IN GREECE: Remember what I said about the Bulgarian food? Same for Greece. Yeap, ditto! It is ALL GOOD. I mean delicious. And again, the yogurt in this place is better than the best ice cream you have ever eaten. Not to compare it to ice cream. Because it is not a worthy comparison. I just want you to know what pleasure awaits you as you eat either Bulgarian or Greek yogurt.
Protestant churches though few, are synonymous with diversity here. You truly get an idea, at least on some level, what it must have been like for Paul the Apostle as he traveled the region with his spiritual brothers and sisters planting churches. I love my church home in Houston, and one reason I love it is because my pastor and the leadership, and all my fellow church attendees are so intent on being a colorful congregation, not full of folks who look exactly alike. But I am not going to lie. It doesn’t come natural to us in the USA to do this. We all just naturally tend to segregate ourselves in churches. Yes, some churches are a better blend of multiple ethnic backgrounds than others. But as a whole, it is still a struggle in 2019. As a general rule, this is not so among protestant gatherings when traveling in Europe. It is so when you are in orthodox churches in Europe. But though the protestant offerings are very few, I feel it is exactly BECAUSE of that reason, that generally they are very diverse. Anyway, not to beat a dead horse, just a fascinating observation. And not only that, but they are some of the most loving bodies I have ever known. They don’t hand out surveys or have you jump through lots of hoops if you are in need. They just act and look so much like the church of Acts 2. Pooling their efforts and their “stuff” and then making sure that people who are hurting have what they need. I had the opportunity to attend a diverse Hillsong service in Sofia Bulgaria. And in Crete I had the special privilege of attending a protestant church that meets in a coffee shop. They are small but mighty. They include English, Americans, Cretans, Russians, Afghani Refugees, and many others. What love they showed to me a complete stranger. What lessons they gently taught me about love and Godly hospitality.
WHAT THE LOCALS SAY ABOUT……..
Their government: The Bulgarians and Cretans that we had the privilege of talking to about such things, beyond food and tourism, both cited a strong distaste for years of oppressive governments. Whether that was communism or socialism. Our Bulgarian tourists emphasized the oppression and violence that was a hallmark of their government for so long. It was stifling and murderous. In Bulgaria during communism rule, you could be murdered for being a song writer. Only in the last two decades has Bulgaria really began to emerge from the damage resulting from years of communism first, and then socialism.
Our Crete tour guide lamented that today, about 75% of a person’s earnings is taken by the Greek government for taxation. Shops are closed by the scores. The reason is two-fold. First, the shop owners are so heavily taxed, they cannot stay afloat. Secondly, this is coupled with the locals who themselves are so heavily taxed, they can’t afford to shop. So business stops. And we were witness to the scores of shops and restaurants closed along our route. Our tour guide said that personally he enjoys eating out and socializing at his local restaurant as well, but he cannot go often because he is so heavily taxed. He also added that the only two groups who can be bribed in Greece are the very rich and the very poor. Greece seems to be one of those countries with one foot in “developed 1st world country,” while the other foot struggles to stay out of “under developed 3rdworld country.”
On my tour in Sofia, I made friends with “Mike,” from London. Mike was visiting Bulgaria for a dental appointment to do routine dental work with dentures. I asked why in the world would he come all the way to Bulgaria for dental work. He said, “In England, it would take a year to get this routine work done.” His additional comments were not complimentary of the health care that is available in the UK. I have a Dutch friend who is a cancer survivor. She said she strictly sees a homeopathic provider now because the traditional health care provided by the State doesn’t pay for anything to the point of refusing standard and necessary tests. This is not a new story of how health care operates in most of western Europe. I have received many such stories from my European friends.
And Their God: I find a majority of people on two ends of the religious spectrum with a much smaller number in between. On one end are the devout orthodox still committed to the liturgy found in their orthodox services. And on the other end are those who have walked away from religion all together because it holds no personal meaning for them. In Europe, religions have long been a product of the state. Very seldom is there any such thing as separation of Church and state. Indeed, in Germany and many other countries, part of your taxes is paid into the state Church. Typically, you must renounce yourself from that religion in order to extract yourself from the tax obligation. Protestants have been present among the religious throngs for centuries. But their history in Europe (believe you me) is not pristine either. Centuries of religious hostility and violence coupled with longstanding legalism, form a backdrop for the total disdain you find today among much of the younger (and middle aged) people across the continent. Indeed, the bible’s message of Grace has yet to be fully injected into the mainstream of religious bodies in Europe.
So there, a little of this and a lot of that. I hope you have enjoyed this travel blog. It is a lot different from my usual travel blog. But my goodness there are so many stories and insights and so much more to be learned about our European neighbors. Do whatever you can to get there. You will never regret it. The beauty of both landscapes, people and nature continue to blow my mind.
Community happens in different places and spaces. It happens in a small group at church whether that’s your community group, your worship team, your children’s serve team or another group where you have shared experiences. It happens in your expat group when you live overseas. It happens with your neighbors here or abroad. It happens with the moms of your friends. Because after all, who knows better than they do how challenging parenting can be? It happens in all kinds of groups. The thing about community, whether it is with a group of Jesus followers at your church, or your neighbors next door, or your team at your office, clearly, just the group itself does not“community” make. Community happens when we invest in that group on a deeper level than that which is rendered by humdrum greetings and superficial engagements. Spiritual growth quite naturally is born out of real community. When you have authentic community resulting from personal investment which includes personal disclosure and quality time spent together, spiritual growth is inherent. It is inevitable. You can’t really stop it from happening. In fact, I would go so far as to say, that in the same way a lack of engagement in the Word, or an on and off prayer life, can stymie spiritual growth, so can a lack of true community.
So how does community grow us spiritually? How does it make us better friends, spouses, parents, employees, or ministry leaders? How does community compel us to be more loving agents of the Gospel? Well, when you engage with people in your home, or over a meal, or at their child’s T-ball game, or in most any place that is away from the church pews, it transforms you from a spectator to a player-from a consumer to a producer. Community is one way we express our faith in action. It means doing life with people outside of your immediate family. We are a military family, now retired. In that business, we moved a handful of times. That did not stop us from forming the kind of community in our lives that propped us up emotionally and spiritually. Indeed, that career demanded it. In those years of frequent transition and change, we formed communities literally home and abroad that helped sustain our marriage and our family life. Those communities were composed of diverse and fascinating people. Undoubtedly some of them were very similar to us in every way, but many of them were very different-different in ethnicity, politics, and religion. In fact, the four years we lived in Germany, we were never able to come home for Thanksgiving, so we exploited that opportunity to share our holiday celebrations with our neighbors who included German, Dutch, French, Canadian, and American. As we gazed around that table of God given bounty, and not just food, but the bounty of fellowship, with our own children serving our invited guests, I was reminded of the parable of the wedding banquet in Luke 14. The prep for that banquet began with an expectation of guests who looked a lot like Jesus but ended up being just the opposite. As we shared food and fellowship around our own banquet table in our small village in Germany, it was overwhelming to think about how God blessed us with such camaraderie and hope as we had found in the most unlikely of friends. Language barriers be damned. And that is just the thing about true community. It strives to erase those barriers. And not just language barriers, but cultural and social barriers. Community is often a real-life picture of Ephesians 2 which says “For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility.”
Community also helped us survive those tough years of being newly married. I often tell people that Paul and I “grew up together” as young single adults and forward, in church small groups. Community gave us hope and encouragement when raising babies from infancy to young adult. Recently we went to a wedding for a daughter of one of those “old” friends. As well as a wedding, it was also a small reunion of our old life group, the one that started us on our way with babies, the one that propped us up emotionally and gave us the confidence necessary to handle that ginormous task of parenting. And at every season of parenting, I have relied on my community of sweet and loving mom friends who have the courage to hold me accountable while at the same time loving me unconditionally.
Truly, the world inflicts much deeper wounds than what our skill set alone is able to reconcile. We were simply never hardwired to power through life on an island, single handedly fighting our way through the trials and hardships that life abundantly supplies. Likewise, we were not hardwired to revel in our joys alone. What parent ever said, “I hope no one asks me about my daughter’s latest accomplishments?” Said no parent ever! What person ever said” “I am keeping the news about my big promotion all to myself?” Not one person ever! Community invites us into a place of utter refuge, a place of hope, a place of unspeakable joy, a place where DNA isn’t required and where-thank you Jesus-the every-day, unrelenting evil of this world cannot breech the threshold of those who surround us with such deep and abiding love and acceptance. In Zephaniah 3:9 the Lord said, “Then I will purify the lips of the peoples, that all of them may call on the name of the Lordand serve him shoulder to shoulder.”Is that not one of the most beautiful pictures of community you have ever seen in the written Word? Just imagine a group of people who do life together shoulder to shoulderso much so that when the going gets tough, the tough can still get going.
Paul the apostle understood the value and necessity of community as well as anyone. His tearful separation from the Ephesian elders at the close of Acts 20 is underscored by Luke’s words in Verse 1 of the following chapter, “After we had torn ourselves away from them, we put out to sea.” This preempted their arrival and layover in Tyre where the bible says, “We sought out the disciples there and stayed with them seven days. Through the Spirit they urged Paul not to go on to Jerusalem. When it was time to leave, we left and continued on our way. All of them, including wives and children, accompanied us out of the city, and there on the beach we knelt to pray. After saying goodbye to each other, we went aboard the ship, and they returned home.” Wow. That’s some serious community.
If you are someone who is “community-less,” ask yourself a couple of introspective questions: 1) Am I a person who walks in and out of the spaces and places of my life, including my church, without interacting with anyone or without investing any of myself, my gifts, or my time in that place? OR 2) Am I so hungry for community that I am over-involved in so many “small groups” that I have not the time or energy necessary to invest in one or two of those groups on a personal, deep level?” Both of these situations can render you community-less. Because remember what we said earlier: “Community happens when we invest in that group on a deeper level than what is rendered by humdrum greetings and superficial engagements;” and it requires“personal disclosure and quality time spent together.” Neither of these two aforementioned situations (under involvement or over involvement) allow for this.
In his poem penned in the 16thcentury John Donne said, “No man is an island, entire of itself.” I think Donne was so so right. You might say, I cannot afford either the time or the emotional investment of community.” I say, “you cannot afford the loss that is sure to happen without it.” I don’t think human life can sustain itself without community.
And as a final important thought, if you are a parent, the last thing you want to do is to send your kids out into this chaotic, cruel world community-less. Kids who have never had community modeled for them, or who have never lived their lives this way, often become church casualties. If they have spent their whole lives leading up to college surrounded only by their immediate family, even if that included “regular” church attendance, will they know how to form the kinds of relationships away from home that love them so much they are willing to hold them accountable, and to laugh with them when they laugh, and cry with them when they cry? Relationships that steer them toward God, not away? I fear not. We must have a sense of urgency when it comes to equipping our kids to embrace true community.
Whether you are an introvert or an extrovert, it does not matter. I’m more introvert than extrovert. I tend to recharge alone-not together. I often seek out solitude when my life is in overdrive. But undoubtedly, I enthusiastically seek out God given, and God ordained community when I need hope, help and truth; conviction, love and joy!
Today I found myself sitting in an airport with time on my hands. This time it’s Little Rock, AR. When I have time on my hands, I tend to find things to do. Rest is way overrated when you are a Type A such as I am. Good or bad, I have long since quit apologizing for that, and instead just rest in the way that I believe God has wired me. And so it is, that on this one day before the anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing of April 19, 1995 I remain irrepressibly thankful. Irrepressibly hopeful, and irrepressibly overwhelmed by the goodness that relentlessly remains in our world in spite of all that we see and know is NOT good. Tomorrow is indeed the 23rd anniversary of this tragedy. The 23rd anniversary of the loss of 5 of my best friends and multiple of my close friends and colleagues whose offices were adjacent to mine, whose lives intersected with mine with indescribable magnitude.
I don’t ever forget.
But the way that I remember, now that is always different.
For you perhaps, you would see no connection between these two things. The seemingly mundane things of daily life that bring to my mind those I loved and lost tragically in 1995. But for me, it is as plain as the words on a page. And the reminders are both joyful and sad. This makes sense since recollections of my friends are both joyful and sad. Joyful at the remembrance of us being so close and doing our jobs and our lives together. Family not tied do DNA. Sad at the remembrance of the huge hole left in my heart at their sudden departure.
As I sat in the airport I thought of the last couple days spent with my aged mother-in-law, who is struggling with her health. I am infinitely thankful for my husband’s siblings, who in spite of their differences, stand together as a family on what is important. As I began rifling through my email and texts, I exchanged the following communications. Both my niece and my sister are celebrating the new life of a first child and grandchild respectively, two sweet and beautifully innocent, baby boys. Oh the joy! My niece, an educator in a very low income, suburbia area of Houston, asked if my husband, a commercial airline pilot, would be interested in speaking into the lives of her sweet (and very marginalized) students on their career day. My daughter texted me with the glum news that a health issue she has been struggling with has reappeared much to our chagrin. I had a potential publisher call me with lots of optimism about the two of us being able to work together on a long time passionate project of mine. Meanwhile, my mind also remained occupied with the recent news of raging destructive wild fires in NW Oklahoma and my friends there who are yet in harm’s way. Still in the national news, the sudden death of a young woman, a mom, while traveling by air in a plane that has perhaps successfully completed that route hundreds of times before. My daughter texts me with great news about her decision to double major, and how that is going to best contribute to her desire to perhaps one day work closely with trafficking victims. My women’s pastor at my church, and close friend, sends an email asking for us to brainstorm ways to reach women who are in need and who are hurting. One of my very best friends, lets me know that another surgery is in the cards for her in battling breast cancer. My husband sends me a text about our future choices in retirement. It’s an inside joke. It seems that virtually every single article related to this topic has a signature photo on the front page of a woman who is voluptuous. As if this were pertinent to the top 10 best places in American to retire. This leaves me laughing so hard I am crying.
And. that. is. just. it. Sometimes we are crying so hard we laugh. Still other times, we are laughing so hard we cry. But always we remember.
We remember the good and the bad. Our lives are full of hearty doses of both. The question is what will we do about it? For me, I am answering my (teacher) niece and going to make every effort to be present for those sweet little kids on their career day. I am texting my sister to tell her how blessed I feel to be a part of her celebration with her new grandson. I am sending Deuteronomy 31:6 to my best friend as she prepares for surgery. I am telling my daughter with regard to her health issue: “Don’t worry Katie, we got this. We can do it.” I am letting my husband’s siblings know that whatever is in our future for their mom, we can do this thing together. I am letting my women’s pastor know that I am on board. I am encouraging my girls, all three of them to be the world changers that I know God has created them to be. I am overwhelmed with their desire to make a difference in the world of the lost and hurting. Finally, I’m praying to my Creator, the One who knows what we are going through, who knows our pain and our joy, and for whatever reason, chose to cover my own multitude of sins with ginormous amounts of love.
And that’s just it. I am overwhelmed. Still by the loss of my five sweet friends 23 years ago, Carrol, Kenny, Carrie Ann, Rona and Shelly. And still by the way that life just keeps marching on, both tragically and joyfully, both demanding a response from me. Judy what are you going to do now?
We live in a world that more often than not lends itself toward constant comparisons. We compare everything under the sun. Our marriages, kids, jobs, churches, clothes, cars, names, yes! You name it. We compare it. Anything and everything can fall victim to the comparison game that is perpetually in motion in our minds.
Comparison trap is more like it.
The first problem with comparison is that it inevitably leads to a perpetual lack of contentment or satisfaction with your lot in life. This kind of satisfaction or contentment referenced here isn’t about compromising or settling or not having goals. No indeed! All of those things are important. But our expectations (of ourselves and others) shouldn’t be tied to comparisons. They should rather be born out of truth, sincerity, and authenticity. I am talking about expectations and goals that are achievable because they aren’t contingent upon how many likes you get on your instagram post. They are achievable because they aren’t contingent upon replicating someone else’s (perceived) success. Rather they are expectations and goals based on what we want to accomplish in order to make our homes, our communities, and our world a better place, and our life, a better life. For instance, if all of your life you dreamed about becoming a baker, that is wholly different from wanting to become a baker simply because your next door neighbor is a baker and he seems to have it a lot better than you do….better cars, spouse, kids, a greener yard. You get the picture.
The second problem of comparison is that we inevitably teach it to our children. In this year 2018 our kids are already inundated with a plethora of electronics and social networking options. Most of them spell trouble. They really don’t need disgruntled and malcontented adults aggravating that situation. Is social networking fun, productive, and a terrific tool for communication? Yes, to all of those things. But what we must know as parents, what we must understand is this: Most social networking sites spell trouble for our kids. We must teach our kids to be masters of their social networking habits, not the other way around. Comparisons are part and parcel of social networking. Today our young citizens, our children, are navigating dicey, emotional, distressful and confusing social scenarios that I didn’t even dream about when I was a kid. Because all of our communication was done in person with the occasional exception of a land line telephone call. The comparison trap was alive and well in those days too. But today’s penchant for comparison is ginormous. The onslaught of media choices and social networking sites has offered the comparison game a robust revival, a new catalyst for wreaking havoc in people’s lives and in their relationships.
So what happens as a result of the comparison trap?
This. It’s an irony really. Rather than achieving more, we achieve less. Because comparison dictates our pursuits. Rarely do we pursue what is best for us, for our kids, for others around us, when we are so focused on “keeping up with the Jones” So, we achieve less and less, while we continue to want more and more.
And this. Our relationships decline. In dire circumstance, they may collapse. Our work relationships, personal, marital, parenting, and peers. They are all vulnerable. Because as we constantly pine away for what we see as the optimum life or job or marriage partner or daughter or son-well, the one right in front of us is starving for our attention.
I think Paul the Apostle said it best in 2 Corinthians 10:12. “We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some who commend themselves. When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise.”
It is time to take stock of what we have. What do we have in the warehouse of our lives that needs to be inventoried? What good things, rare and beautiful treasures, are right under our noses just begging for examination? Take them down from the shelf, dust them off, and remember. How can we shift our focus from what we are missing to what we have? How would this change the way we see ourselves, our spouse, our children, or our jobs? And how will it move us from discontent to joy? I think the answer is critical in propelling us forward on a positive course toward joy and success.
I read a twitter from some dude who slammed Texans with this retort: “There are a lot of Christians in Texas, so any of you want to explain your god doing this?” That seems like sort of a na-na, na-na,boo–boo kind of thing to say to people who are already deeply hurting. Well, while you’re at it twitter boy, “Did God cause the Holocaust, the Rwandan genocide, the Bubonic Plague, the Suffrage of Women, The Depression, the POW camps? Where was He in the civil rights crisis, the Oklahoma tornadoes, or the Oklahoma City bombing? The presence of God is not manifested by the absence of suffering. NO more than our faith is dependent upon an easy life. Indeed, just the opposite.
Time for a bible lesson. If you insist on demanding a response from “Christians,” regarding God’s part in causing something like Hurricane Harvey, well then you deserve a scriptural answer. According to Hebrews 12:1, faith is defined as “Assurance about what we do not see…..By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.” In other words, our faith is not validated by what we know, rather, it is demonstrated and embedded in our souls based on what we don’t fully know and understand. That may sound reckless to an unbeliever. However, when your own personal experience testifies to the presence and involvement of your Creator in ways you can catalogue, then you realize and know that the promise of Jesus is not “I will be with you only in the absence of pain,” but rather, “I will be with you always…” (Matthew 28:20). Suddenly, the decision to profess a faith-based on the “assurance of what we do not see,” doesn’t seem so crazy after all. Suddenly the belief that-“God is with us in Hurricane Harvey even though He didn’t stop it from coming,”-is an easier concept to grasp. And in the process, it moves us forward, not backward.Here, I will defer to the answer given by three Jewish teenagers to their captor, King Nebuchadnezzar in 585 BC: “If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand.But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.” (Daniel 3)
Why oh why is there so much suffering in this world? This naturally troubles Jesus followers, how much more so can we expect that it will challenge those who don’t follow Jesus, like our Twitter friend for instance? This is a very difficult, age-old question, albeit with a very simple answer: This isn’t heaven people. It is the same earth we read about in Genesis 3 when God told man “because of this, (this=Man’s first sin) you shall……” and God went on to name a litany of trials that would now befall man and woman, which we could sum up here in one word: “suffer.” “Because of this, you shall suffer.” In that singular Genesis 3 moment we were all cast into a world of sickness and despair, one that required grace upon grace in order to be saved from that suffering. And if you care to read scripture even more, the bible is chock full of stories about the suffering of man, God’s beloved people no less, and God’s role and/or HIs responses to that suffering. So natural disasters like Hurricane Harvey aren’t new to this earth and neither is suffering. Furthermore they’re certainly not new to God.
I apologize to those of you who wanted an answer that was something much more apocalyptic in nature or for those of you who wished I would’ve just conceded and denounced God all together. But for those of you in that first camp, suffering has been aplenty every century that this earth has existed. We have already pointed that out. For those of you in that second camp, living life without God is not an option for me. While I am not certain that he is the author of all manner of suffering, (there are too many boneheads out there making poor choices to blame God for everything,) I can undoubtedly assure you, with the greatest of certainty, that he is the author of all good things. “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” James 1:17
1 Peter 3:15 says …”Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” I believe the Genesis 3 story outlined here can truly be the beginning of the answer we give to anyone who asks us as Christians “Where was God in Harvey, or when your husband left you, or when your loved one died, or when you lost your child? Where was God when you lost your job, or when you were betrayed by your business partner?”
But neither is that the end of the story.
And it’s only part of the answer.
God’s presence and action is palpable in His people. For centuries, Jesus followers have been known for their uncanny way of unleashing God’s strength and His provision upon people as they themselves soak up God’s strength and provision. This is so very evident in 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort,who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” God pours into us, and we pour out. This very truth has yet again been played out right before our eyes in Houston. As I type this, churches all over the Houston metropolitan area have literally deployed to every part of the city, boots on, and sleeves rolled up, knee-deep in flood water, loving on victims while water vacuuming their floors and tearing out drywall. We can’t spend too much time demanding answers from God about Hurricane Harvey. And why would we anyway? It has happened. And as long as we are on this Genesis 3 earth there will be suffering. The rest of the story is up to us. Will we “unleash” the love of God into our own homes, and into our communities with unrelenting fervor? Hopefully, we will, and in so doing, we can move people from a place of seeing God only as their accuser to a place of seeing God as their provider.
Haynes, a Rhodes College professor, highlights the segregation crisis of 1964-1965 in Protestant churches in the South by telling the story of the “Kneel-In” campaigns across the south, primarily composed of college age student protestors, particularly in Memphis and particularly at the Second Presbyterian Church in Memphis, a suburban wealthy white church, that actually started in downtown Memphis but as it grew, the church moved to the suburbs. I love this book for many reasons. Kneel-Ins were similar to the “Sit-Ins” of those days that happened at cafes and diners to protest segregation. Kneel-Ins were non-violent prayerful protests of segregated churches. Haynes says “Unusual features of the SPC Kneel-Ins were its duration, the prominent role played by white students, the low profile maintained by the church’s ministers during the crisis and the church schism that resulted.” The schism being the split that inevitably resulted when the church FINALLY welcomed desegregation which resulted in the hardliners (the elders and their followers) that had stood staunch against integration, moved out to start a new church, “Independent Presbyterian Church” also of Memphis. Both churches are still in Memphis today. Both are desegregated now, and both have a very active role in the local area in fighting poverty and reaching out to marginalized citizens of their city. Both have made some sort of public and/or private apology to kneel-in participants who back in ’64-’65 were not allowed in their churches, first at SPC and then later at IPC once SPC became integrated. BUT the road to this repentance (and very well to their redemption) was paved with unbelievable racist acts and eventual imploding of its members. So many things to say, but I shan’t make this review itself-a book. For ONE thing, it’s amazing to me that ANY church can allow men (or women, but in this case-men) to control the church with an iron fist, putting their own personal agendas above everyone and everything even when their agenda is downright sinful. It is amazing to me that pulpit ministers can actually be hired by churches with the singular purpose of keeping them in a puppet role. In the case of SPC in the 60’s, the pulpit ministers had absolutely no influence or override ability with the “session elders,” the latter of whom wielded their racist beliefs with vehemence and an intensity that was incredibly awful. And furthermore that those pulpit minister would be so very cowardly and perhaps so in fear of losing their jobs that they would do nothing to stand up to the tyranny of their elder pharisees, who in their case, were just plain wrong! Many of these elders were successful business men in the area and had lots of money, and with that money came social and political power. They exploited that shamelessly to achieve their ends and agendas both inside and outside the church. Mostly the white students that participated in the Kneel-Ins attended Southwestern University, the majority of funds of which came from parishioners at SPC. Southwestern is now Rhodes College in Memphis. Those students were threatened, and nasty letters full of lies were mailed to their parents by SPC elders about their “clandestine” activity in the Kneel-Ins and their shamelessness in standing alongside black students. The black participants of the kneel-ins were mostly from Memphis and attended black churches in the area. Many of them were also college students but not at Southwestern since it had yet to become an integrated college. I think one of the main themes this book highlights are Christian Casualties. Casualties of churches. This was surely ONE of the ways we Christians and our churches produced casualties. There are many others. But surely this was a big one. When the church which espouses Jesus love and the gospel as the way to eternal life and the blueprint for truth and justice, but yet doesn’t allow blacks to enter their church, yes, absolutely, many kids and young people are going to make the decision to leave the church. And in many cases, that is exactly what happened here. And one has to wonder what has been the ripple effect of this racist climate of churches (in the 50’s and 60’s) over the course of a century? How many lives have been shaped, lost or derailed because people who called themselves “Christians” looked very much like sinners. It’s one thing to be a sinner and act like a sinner. But when you are a Christian and act hatefully and selfishly, you, more than the sinner, will lead people away from God. Haynes wrote with regard to SPC and other churches like them: “As it became clear that segregation could not be sustained in the institutions that shaped their lives Monday through Saturday, they were determined to make Sunday worship in the South the last segregated hour.” Different questions the book asks US-the reader: 1 “Do I have the courage to stand up to blatant wrongs being committed by people who are supposedly a messenger of God? 2 If I CAN’T change that situation, and if it is one that consumes my place of worship, therefore hampering greatly the witness of that church to the community and the world, do I have the courage to leave and go somewhere else? 3 If I were in that wealthy white church in the 60’s would I have been a participant of the Kneel-Ins along side my black brothers and sisters or would I have been hiding under the tall steeple of that church, huddling inside the warm sanctuary with “my people,” while the elders of my church stood arm in arm on the front steps-guarding the entrance to keep black people out? Where would I have stood? 4 What about today in my church? Are there people of color there? What am I doing to be a light for Jesus in order to bring people toward Jesus (including my children) as opposed to away from Jesus? Does my life now model one for others that makes them wonder who is the God that she serves? I want to know Him. Or does my life model for others one that says “I want no part of that woman’s christianity?” Read the book. Learn. Grow. Change.
When I was growing up, no one-and I mean not. one. person.- in our house ever said the two words “I’m sorry.” They also never said “I love you.” Not that growing up in my house was all bad. (Read my blog “What do we Owe them?”) It was just not conducive for learning how to be a gentle soul, soft-spoken, easy-going communicator in relationships. There was no pattern of such things for me to emulate. It was seemingly more conducive for teaching one how to be a bulldozer in those same relationships. Fast forward to me as an adult, and I still struggle with such niceties as “I’m sorry” and “I love you.” Although, I have come a long way, by the insurmountable grace of God, I still have epic fails. Alas, the bulldozer is still partially imbedded deep inside of me. Not that by any measure of the stick, I am blaming my grandparents or any other of my relatives with whom I spent all those formative years, for my own occasional absolute lack of couth or tact! No, I am definitely a big girl now and have thus formed in my personal beliefs a “whole harmless agreement,” if you will, for my past and for those who heartily influenced my growing up. At some point in your life, if positive change is to become permanent change, you have to release others from responsiblity for your actions and own them yourself. That is not to say that others are not culpable in the whole of how you turned out. Furthermore, I think self disclosure about your past and how you were raised is helpful in dialogue with people close to you in an effort to help them to understand you better. But still here I am on the other side of my life so to speak, many years and events between then and now, and yet sometimes I still find myself defaulting to old learned habits. Perhaps that is where they get the phrase “to bully.” Wikipedia (yeah I worked hard on this research project) defines a bulldozer as capable of “projects requiring highly mobile, powerful, and stable earth-moving equipment.” Just as a bulldozer is capable of distributing its weight over large parcels of land clearing forests and objects in its path, I find myself quite capable of using my mouth and my motives, my force of words and demeanor to distribute my weight, my influence, over large parcels of a person’s heart. Case in point, my daughter failed to do a very simple task for me that obviously I had hoped would be done by noon on this particular Sunday. She did not. It so happened that as we were preparing for worship in church on Sunday morning, she reminded me that she was going for groceries on the way home, and would need to borrow my credit card. I, still irrevocably irritated over her failure to do what I told her to do, stewed over this even as worship began. Then with impeccable timing, just as we were starting the second song, I whispered to her “Halle you know how you want me to give you my credit card for the grocery store, well I wanted you to deliver those donations this morning.” And with that, she promptly sat in her seat and started crying. Success! Land cleared. Parent of the year, not. But kudos for driving my point home while deconstructing her self-confidence at the same time, in mere seconds? Score! Except my other daughter and my husband were both looking at me with that “What did you say and why now?” quizzical and skeptical kind of look. Well, I powered down the engine on my dozer pretty quick at that point, and with the grace that God continually pours over my weary, stubborn soul, I started rethinking my actions. I couldn’t take them back, but I could exercise my learned skills of saying “I’m sorry.” Wikipedia also states “The bulldozer’s primary tools are the blade and the ripper.” These two features I adopted well along the journey from youth to adulthood. But along with that definition, it also states, “The bulldozer’s tracks give them excellent ground holding capability and mobility through very rough terrain.” Hmm that’s no so bad. I can see how useful that feature can be. There are good things about my bulldozing capabilities and undoubtedly, there are bad things. Fortunately, I have a God who knows that all that has shaped me is not all bad. He uses the better, greater characteristics to accomplish His purposes. If only when I do choose to express the negative aspects of my personality, I am quite capable of owning it and saying I am sorry, there is still hope for me and my relationships. That doesn’t mean that I “should go on sinning so that grace may abound.” (Romans 6:1-4) No just the opposite; it means rather, that in the light of God’s infinite mercy, I need to count myself among the blessed, so much so that I am willing to recognize my sin, my not-so-great-parts of my personality, and work to cultivate and implement the positive aspects of all that I am. Thankfully, my God is forgiving as is my family. 1 Peter 4:8 says “Love covers a multitude of sins.” This is one bulldozing girl who is grateful for that truth. Amen!