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What Can I Do?

Floe-Marian faces 2015That question has been on my mind every day for the past couple weeks as I have watched the news from our southern border. And I know I’m not alone.

A few days ago one of my Facebook friends wrote, 

“I just keep giving because I don’t know what else to do beyond contact my legislators… It’s World Refugee Day today. It’s a day dedicated to raising awareness of the situation of refugees throughout the world. If you are at all in favor (or ambivalent) of this administration’s actions, I implore you to take a moment today to educate yourselves and find empathy for those seeking asylum from violent countries in Central America such as El Salvador and Honduras. The vast majority of these refugees are not looking to freeload off of the USA, they are seeking safety for themselves and their families.” 

Nearly half a million people have joined my Facebook friend in making a donation to RAICES, an immigration legal services provider who is committed to reuniting immigrant parents with their children who were taken away from them at our border. (https://www.raicestexas.org). I thought about sending them some money, but I wondered what else I could do to help alleviate the terrible situation of children from Central America being separated from their parents at the border, with no credible assurance that they will ever be reunited. 

I feel particularly connected to the people of Honduras because Mim and I are currently providing support for two girls in Honduras, Dulce and Leydi, through a small organization called Casita Copan. (CasitaCopan.org)

Leydi Emily Dulce

Leydi, Emily (founder and executive director of Casita Copan), and Dulce. (Photo by Liz Dougherty)

Also, we make donations, at least once a year, to various projects of Buenos Vecinos (BuenosVecinos.org), a small aid organization in western Honduras and Guatemala organized by Ellen Lippman Finn, a retired social worker and jazz musician from the United States. 

51smFhUIbL._SX322_BO1204203200_Ellen wrote a book about her experiences in Honduras, EMOTIONAL WITNESS: My seven-year journey as an aid worker into the heart of Honduras. (The book is available in both print and digital form on amazon.com.) I’d like to share a few excerpts from her book to provide a more personal glimpse into the extreme violence today’s Central American refugees are fleeing. Ellen writes:

My house was robbed again a couple days ago, in front of many witnesses who were afraid to come forward because the robber is a gang member… This was the thirteenth or fourteenth time I’ve been robbed…

I can’t count how many times I’ve been extorted. A couple of them really scared me. One I actually paid off because they threatened to harm a dear friend if I didn’t pay. And as far as murders – I can’t even count how many friends, workers, neighbors have been murdered by police, by an angered person, by narcotraficantes [drug traffickers], by gang members. I barely cry any more.

My neighbor had her head cut off with a machete in broad daylight on a main street. The police didn’t find her attacker. Police never “find” anyone.

One of the worst scenarios that keeps haunting me is the murder of Odilio. He was the kind and respected leader of a mountain village where he built a small school. He had just finished building the school when, in the middle of the night, two crazy men high on drugs forced their way into his house and shot him pointblank while his kids hid under the bed. The children are still traumatized, as well as all of the members of his community. They have now all dispersed, leaving the village empty. This kind of violence can and does happen anywhere and at any time. My friend’s son was murdered in a restaurant. We all live in fear…

One night, I heard gunshots and called the police. They never showed up. In the morning, at about 5:00 a.m., I found a dead body at my gate, full of bullet holes, dried blood everywhere. He was a young fellow I knew. No motive found. No murderer found. What’s worse is this wasn’t the only time I had found a dead body, and I live in a supposedly quiet tourist town. San Pedro Sula, our largest city, a few hours from here, is now considered the most dangerous city in the world due to gang violence.

Later in the book, Ellen described how she put together enough terrifying clues to realize that she was actually on a hit list. She discussed this with Marel, a Honduran friend and co-worker on many of her aid projects. He investigated and confirmed her suspicions. 

… after my conversation with Marel, I periodically saw men walking by my house in pairs, especially in the evening. This frightened me terribly at first. They appeared to be reading. This made no sense. Why would folks be reading? When I asked Marel, he told me that he hadn’t wanted to worry me, so he hadn’t mentioned anything. These men were from his church, many of whom I had helped over the years in one way or another, with food baskets, emergency medical help, house repairs, and school supplies. And yes, they were in fact reading. Bibles. They were walking around my house in two-hour shifts. When Marel told me this, I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. I was so touched. These men were protecting me in shifts, two at a time, two bibles at a time, praying, monitoring, their cell phones at the ready….

There was a continual yet futile search for more information. As I came to understand it, the narcotraficantes didn’t like that we were working in “their communities.” The more we empowered the communities with schools, or a clinic, or a bakery to make them self-sufficient, the less power and control the narcos would have to extort from the villagers. I still didn’t get it completely, but I was in no position to try and figure it out. I had to leave if I wanted to stay alive…”

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Ellen shopping for school supplies with some of her young friends.

That’s everyday life in Honduras, as seen through the eyes of a 70-year-old former social worker who who lived there for seven years, trying to help families survive their cruel circumstances. She had to flee for her life, and was back in the United States for a while. It’s still not safe for her to return to Honduras (except for a few carefully planned trips to visit her old friends), so she has moved to neighboring Guatemala. Through Buenos Vecinos (which translates to Good Neighbors) Ellen is doing basically the same kind of aid projects in Guatemala that she had done in Honduras – providing school supplies and school lunches, building schools, helping to address medical needs, and so on.

After reading this book, it’s easy to understand why individuals and families in Honduras are trying to immigrate to the United States. They are literally fleeing for their lives.

Back to my original question, what can I do to help? When I lived in Chicago and was working in business, I learned that to solve problems, it is important to figure out how to remedy the immediate problem, but it is just as important to look for the root cause of the problem in order to find a permanent solution. For us in the United States today, the immediate challenge is to reunite children who have been separated from their parents at the border. That’s the problem that brings tears to my eyes every day when I watch the news. That’s the problem (or at least one of the problems) that RAICES is trying to address, and they are getting help from nearly half a million people who are donating funds to support their efforts. Mim and I might join in with a small donation. We want to be a part of this solution.

But we also want to be a part of the long-term solution. Thanks to our connections with Ellen Lippman Finn and Buenos Vecinos, we know that a permanent solution involves making it possible for the incredibly poor families in Central America to survive and even to thrive in their own communities. We can do this by making donations to organizations like Buenos Vecinos so that they can provide resources to these families to help them meet their basic needs – food, clothing, housing, health care, education, and ultimately some means of livelihood.

And, on an even more personal level, Mim and I will continue to support our two girls at Casita Copan so that they can be assured their basic needs will always be met. Both girls will have birthdays this summer. We’ll send them birthday cards, and will provide an extra donation to the organization for birthday presents. They need to know that someone in North America really cares about them and has hope for their future.

Earlier this year Mim and I sent special presents with some friends of ours who went to Honduras to visit face-to-face with the children they support through another organization, Children International (children.org).

Leydi Dulce smiling w presents

(Photo by Liz Dougherty)

We sent Dulce (age 9) a backpack filled with coloring books and crayons, art papers and pens, and other craft supplies, and Leydi (age 16) a tablet computer along with an amazon.com gift card that she can use to download apps or kindle books. (She has Internet access at Casita Copan.)

I’m sure tears will still come to my eyes when I listen to the news again this evening, but at least I know that Mim and I are doing what we can to help solve the huge problems facing our neighbors to the south. If you, like us, want to know what you can do to help solve our world’s current immigration-related  problems, we encourage you to check out the websites of the organizations that are working to solve these problems with both short-term and long-term solutions, and consider making donations to support their efforts. 

www.RaicesTexas.org

CasitaCopan.org

Children.org

BuenosVecinos.org

Also, please feel free to respond to this blog post to share other ideas you may have to address these problems.

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Ellen with some young friends.

And one last comment. Some of the story of Ellen Lippman Finn and Buenos Vecinos may sound familiar to you. I wrote a blog post last February entitled “Memoir of a 70-year-old Super Hero.” If you want to learn even more about Ellen’s story and get a really close up look at the life of a loving and eccentric aid worker in Central America, pick up a copy of EMOTIONAL WITNESS: My Seven-Year Journey as an Aid Worker into the Heart of Honduras. I laughed hard, and I cried hard as I read this book. I highly recommend it. Here’s the link to it on amazon.com.  

The Little Books Are Here!

9b9cc55960ea3611d835b85b118f3ac4When I was a freshman in high school I went to a national convention in Washington D.C. sponsored by Youth For Christ (YFC). If I remember correctly, there were 10,000 high school kids from all over the country at this convention. The main speaker was Billy Graham. I had heard him speak before in Chicago, and I heard him speak again several times later. He was even our commencement speaker when I graduated from Wheaton College. But the one thing I remember most vividly from all the times I’ve heard Graham speak was at that YFC convention in Washington. He said that one of the most important things in his Christian life was spending time reading the Bible. Specifically, he said he read five Psalms and one Proverb every day, month after month, year after year. The Psalms helped him learn how to communicate with God, and the Proverbs helped him learn how to get along with people.

I remember I tried reading the Psalms and Proverbs every day for a few weeks after I heard him say that, but no magic lights went on. I didn’t quite understand what the Psalms and Proverbs really meant for me in my life as a high school student back in the 1960s. There are a few Psalms that I like reading, like Psalm 23 and Psalm 100. And there are a few verses that stand out, like:

Psalm 19:1 – The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament shows His handiwork.

Psalm 46:10 – Be still and know that I am God.

Psalm 51:10 – Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.

But in general, I haven’t bothered reading either the Psalms or Proverbs very much in the 55 years since the day I heard Graham commend them so highly. That is, until I started working on my current writing project –  TALKING WITH GOD THROUGH MUSIC, a book of reflections on some of my favorite hymns.

As I started to organize my thoughts for this project, I made a list of over 300 of my favorite hymns, and then I started to do research into the historical background of each hymn and the Biblical references within each hymn. I was quite surprised to discover how prominent the Psalms were in what I was learning. I decided to make the first section of my writing project include only hymns that are based on scriptural references from the Psalms. I selected 31 of my favorite Psalm-based hymns for this section.

My original concept for this writing project was to write a 365-day devotional, with a 2-page spread for each hymn, with the first page being factual information and my reflections on the hymn and the second page being the melody line and lyrics. The 31 Psalm-based hymns would be the hymns for January. It has since dawned on me that a 730-page book is a bigger project than I want to undertake. My current vision for this project is to include 101 of my favorite hymns, with reflections on about 10 hymns for each of about 10 different themes – like peace, joy, comfort, etc. A book that’s a little over 200 pages will be much more manageable to write, and even to hold as you read it.

fullsizeoutput_22baAs I mentioned in my last blog post, I’ve decided to publish my 31 Psalm-based hymns as a separate book, a 68-page prototype of what my 101 favorite hymns book will look like. That spin-off project is now completed. If you would like a FREE copy of this little book, please send me your mailing address, and I’ll be happy to send you one. After you have had a chance to look at the prototype, I would appreciate your sending me any suggestions you may have for how to make the next book better. The last page of the book provides details on how to send feedback.

Meanwhile, an unexpected personal benefit to me of this writing project is that I think I understand a little more of what Billy Graham meant 55 years ago when he talked about the importance of reading the Psalms for learning how to communicate more deeply with God. I’ve gone back to looking at the Psalms again – both in the Bible and in hymnals. Maybe, you will find that reading TALKING WITH GOD THROUGH MUSIC: Reflections on My Favorite Psalm-Based Hymns will provide you with a similar unexpected benefit.

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Dementia, Music, and Talking with God

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Last Thursday Mim and I took a day-trip to Lake Geneva for Rainbow Hospice Care’s 14th annual “End-of Life Conference.” The theme this year was “A Focus on Dementia.” The whole conference was excellent! This is what continuing education is like for people in our business – assisted living.

The morning keynote speaker was Teepa Snow who helped us understand the functional limitations of individuals in each of the seven stages of dementia. She taught us how we can be most helpful when we try to provide care for residents in these stages, as well as how to care for their family members. As Teepa’s speaking and actions evolved into the typical behavior of a person in each stage of dementia, a lightbulb went on in our minds. So that’s why… Now I understand… Behaviors of many past residents came to mind.

The closing keynote speaker was Jolene Brackey, the author of Creating Moments of Joy. Throughout the past 15 years that Mim and I have been doing assisted living in our home, we have given away many copies of her book. The majority of people we have cared for have had some degree of dementia, and this book provides practical examples of how to provide “moments of joy” for these individuals. We’ve made the book required reading for anyone who works with us, and we routinely give the book to the families of our residents with dementia.

fullsizeoutput_22a6Jolene Brackey didn’t disappoint us as a speaker. At the end of a long day of learning for all of us at the conference, she provided us moments of joy as she told us stories and gave us practical examples for sharing joy freely with our residents.

One of the afternoon Breakout Sessions that I found particularly interesting was “Music and Memory.” From my own experience, I’ve known that music still communicates with many people who have very advanced dementia. I used to play the piano monthly for a senior respite organization in a nearby town. One of their clients was a man in his 50s who had early onset Alzheimer’s Disease. He would sit in the group all day long without saying a word. But when it came time for the sing-along, he would join in and sing enthusiastically, remembering all the words of the golden oldies and hymns I played for them.

fullsizeoutput_22a8The “Music and Memory” Breakout Session was an update on the progress of a non-profit organization called “Music & Memory.” The vision of “Music & Memory” is to provide the means for caregiving organizations to give an iPod with a personalized playlist for each person in their care. The playlist includes the favorite songs of each individual, often the popular hits of their high school years. Research has shown that people, even in the advanced stages of dementia, exhibit signs of happiness when they are listening to their favorite music.

In this session, we were asked to pair up with another session participant to learn about their favorite music – something we would need to do with a resident or their family if we were to try to create a personalized playlist. My partner was a college student, whose favorite music type is heavy metal, and whose favorite band is Metallica. In contrast, I’m nearly 70 and my favorite music type is sacred piano, and one of my favorite performers is Steve Hall. Our music vocabularies had almost no overlap. If I had to prepare a playlist of her favorites, I would really struggle. But I enjoyed talking with her and learning a little about heavy metal music. I now have a little better understanding of the incredible breadth of music that can speak to our souls.

Thinking about the power of music is something I’ve been doing for several months. As you may know from previous blog posts, I’m writing a book with the current working title of Talking with God through Music. I’ve actually been working on this book for over a year. Originally I intended it to be a daily devotional with personal reflections on 365 of my favorite hymns. I started writing the book in late 2016, and I started the project by writing reflections on hymns of thanksgiving. Then I worked on Christmas Carols. The more I wrote, and the more I organized my favorite hymns into different categories to figure out where in the year they should be placed in the book, I decided it made sense to start the book with a month’s worth of hymns based on Psalms – the hymn book of the Bible. I finished writing the Psalm section of my book the last time I was at our Christmas Mountain timeshare, a few weeks ago.

Now that I’ve written 31 reflections on Psalm-based hymns, I’ve decided to publish this collection of hymns and reflections as a separate book, Talking with God through Music: Reflections on My Favorite Psalm-Based Hymns. My plan is to use this 68-page book as a prototype for the larger book. I experimented with a lot of new things in writing this book, and I want to find out if all my extra homework is worth the effort. I did quite a bit of research into each hymn to be able to provide information about the author, the composer, and the historical context, along with my personal reasons for choosing the hymn as one of my favorites. I also learned to use music-writing software to create a melody line for each hymn so that readers can actually see the music and lyrics next to my paragraphs to help them remember what the hymn sounds like – to be able to sing it in their mind or even out loud.

I hope that readers will give me feedback on the prototype that will help me tweak the style and format for the larger book. My goal for the final book is to help readers discover how music, hymns in particular, can enrich their ability to talk with God. Music is the language of the soul. As St. Augustine said more than 1500 years ago, “Whoever sings prays twice.” And, as we were reminded last Thursday, music is an amazing means of communication for everyone, regardless of their cognitive state.

fullsizeoutput_22a7If you would like a copy of Talking with God through Music: Reflections on My Favorite Psalm-Based Hymns, let me know. I’ll be happy to send you one. I’d really appreciate your feedback on the concept and structure of the book before I put together my next book. My goal is to submit the text of the prototype to the publisher this week, and to receive the printed copies within a week or two. I’ll write another blog post when I have the books in hand.

 

Memoir of a 70-Year-Old Super Hero


Do you ever fantasize about being a super hero like Superman, Wonder Woman, or even an old fashioned hero like Roy Rogers or Robin Hood and Maid Marian?

I just finished reading a book about a woman that I can somewhat identify with. She’s about my age. She quit her job as a counselor and social worker to begin a new adventure. She plays the piano to relax. Several years ago she moved to Honduras and began an amazing adventure. She became a super hero in my mind, although she would never make that claim herself. Here’s a blurb from the back cover of the book, EMOTIONAL WITNESS: My Seven-Year Journey as an Aid Worker into the Heart of Honduras.

51smFhUIbL._SX322_BO1204203200_In her 60s, and living in Seattle, Ellen Lippman Finn on a whim signed up for a homestay visit to learn Spanish in Honduras. What began as a two-week vacation became a journey that would transform her life.

It would be love at first sight for the former social worker and jazz musician. She fell hard  for the people living in Copan Ruinas and the surrounding mountains of western Honduras. She divested herself of her possessions in the U.S., and moved permanently to the area, where she felt at home for the first time in 50 years.

When Ellen first moved to Honduras, she focused her energy on raising funds to provide school supplies for children living in the rural villages nearby. One school she visited had no blackboard, no desks, not even any books. The teacher taught arithmetic by drawing numbers with a stick in the sand.

But the lack of school supplies was just one problem. The extreme poverty of the area meant little food and serious malnutrition. Ellen turned to her North American friends to raise funds for food and clothing as well as school supplies.

I first heard about Ellen several years ago from the daughter of one of our assisted living residents. At that time Ellen was raising money to give Christmas baskets to rural families. For $25 you could provide a family a gift basket that included toys, clothes, and food for the whole family. We still donate money for four baskets every Christmas to Buenos Vecinos (Good Neighbors), the organization Ellen created.

Each short chapter in Ellen’s book is the story of some kind of adventure she experienced while living as an aid worker in Honduras. Some of the stories are funny, like her description of learning to ride a horse – the only way to get to a particular rural mountain village. Others are sad, like the story of a father carrying his small son wrapped in a blanket to get some medical care, but by the time he arrived, the son had died. Some are scary, and many are heart-warming. All together these stories provide a complex picture of what life is like in that area of the world.

As word spread about how Ellen was able to raise funds and work with the local people on projects that would improve the living situations in many of the poor mountain villages, more and more people came to her for help. Unfortunately, the drug traffickers learned of her reputation, too, and put her name on their hit list. They didn’t want her working in their territory. Ellen escaped Honduras just in time, recuperated with a friend in the States for a few months, and then moved to Guatemala, where she is continuing her work as Buenos Vecinos in that country. Meanwhile, the particular drug traffickers who were out to kill her have been arrested and are currently in prison. That means she can make occasional trips back to Copan Ruinas to visit her friends there.

This is my 70-year-old super hero. Some of her success stories are listed as an appendix at the end of the book – with thanks to her donors.

  • Communities served: 80 in Honduras, 10 in Guatemala
  • Ongoing nutrition and health programs for many schools
  • School supplies for students in 80 communities
  • Teaching materials for more than 100 classrooms
  • Christmas baskets for more than 250 families yearly
  • Shoes for more than 2,000 kids
  • Construction projects completed: 
    • 20 schools and classrooms
    • 2 school playgrounds
    • 2 bridges so children could access the schools from their homes
    • 1 community medical clinic
    • 1 cooperative bakery
    • 11 water projects
    • 1 library serving 7 villages
    • 16 school bathrooms and wash sinks
    • 30 villages received school repairs and renovations
    • 60 schools received shelves, desks, and blackboards
    • 11 clinics received furniture

That’s just some of the items listed in the book. See why she’s my super hero!

One of the themes of the book is Ellen’s evolving perception of her role as an aid worker and her relationship with the people she is working with. There’s one long chapter near the end of the book that explores that theme in depth. Good intentions don’t necessarily result in good outcomes. Establishing boundaries can be extremely hard, especially in life and death situations. Trying to be helpful can get very complicated. Even for super heroes.

I highly recommend reading the book. Here’s a link to it on amazon.com.  I guarantee the book will make you laugh, cry, and think.

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A New Year… A New Word!

2018 is the fifth year that I’ve chosen a special word to be my focus for the new year. Unlike making up new year’s resolutions, choosing a special word can be an inspiration for the whole year, not something to measure yourself against until you fail, and then forget about. At least that’s how it’s been for me.

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Last year my special word was HOPE. I chose that word because I was worried about the future. The 2016 elections were so negative. How would our politicians ever be able to work together again for the good of the country? National and even local politics are not usually such a strong influence in my personal, everyday life, but last year was different. I was really scared about many things happening in our country. I needed to have HOPE that things could get better.

One of the first things I did to try to better understand what was going on nationally, was to read Hillary Clinton’s book, What Happened. It was a fascinating book, and much to my surprise, it was the first thing to begin to restore HOPE for me. To view her perspective on what some of the opportunities are for making the world a better place for everyone to live in – all countries, all races, all religions, all socio-economic groups – was inspiring. Even though she lost the election, she didn’t give up HOPE. She realized that she needed to refocus, to figure out how else she could bring about some of the improvements our world needs. And she kept her HOPE that improvements could happen, even with the political situation as it was. Definitely an inspiring book!

2017 ended for me with another great book on HOPE, Scarred by Struggle, Transformed by Hope, by Joan Chittister. This book is actually more about struggle than HOPE, because struggle is where HOPE is born. There’s a lot to think about in this book, and I’m sure I’ll read the book more than once.

I actually considered holding onto the word HOPE as my special word for another year so that I could study in greater depth the relationship between struggle and HOPE in my own life personally, as well as in the political, economic, and moral struggles our society is engaged in these days. But, then I remembered that every word I’ve had as my special word for a year stays in my mind with heightened awareness – I think forever! I still look for JOY in every day (my 2014 word). My 2015 word of GRATITUDE comes to mind every night when I go to bed and think of what things I’m especially grateful for that day. My 2016 word of KINDNESS has me thinking every morning about what opportunities I may have that day to be especially kind to someone. There’s every reason to believe that I’ll continue to think about the relationships between the struggles I’m facing and how they will strengthen the HOPE I want to see grow. I’ve decided to choose a new word for 2018. I may come back to HOPE, or any of my other special words some year, but not yet.

A special word that’s been creeping into my thoughts that last few weeks is PEACE. Not so much “peace” in the Middle East, or with North Korea, or Russia, (although that would be great), but “PEACE” – the word that I used as a closing on my Christmas Cards. The PEACE that is the calmness that I feel when I sense that God really is in control of everything. The PEACE that St. Paul wrote about to the Philippians:

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. [Philippians 4:4-7 NRSV]

I guess these verses really encompass all the special words I’ve been focusing on over these 5 years. Maybe I need to spend some time thinking about my “special word vocabulary” as it continues to grow.

May God’s PEACE be with you. Happy New Year!

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Winter sunset at Christmas Mountain

Floey and I Have a New Theme Song

Floey looking at cameraThe first thing I do after I get dressed in the morning, before I go upstairs for breakfast, is light a few candles in the sitting area of my office, and do some devotional reading for maybe half an hour to an hour. It’s a good way to start my day. I sit in the lazy boy with my feet up and pick up a book from a stack on the end table next to me. Floey often hops up on the love seat near me for this quiet time.

One of the books I’m reading these days is Hymns for Personal Devotions by Jerry B. Jenkins. Jenkins has selected 52 hymns where the words are addressed directly to God. They are songs that encourage the reader/singer to feel as though they are talking to God directly, praising God from the bottom of their heart and soul. Jenkins suggests that readers focus on one hymn a week to fully internalize the theme of that hymn. Some of the song titles are: Holy, Holy, Holy; More Love to Thee; Breathe on Me Breath of God; Search Me, O God; Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah; To God Be the Glory; and so on.

Last week’s hymn was Savior, Like a Shepherd Lead Us. As I picked up the book to read a little about the hymn, and mentally sing the hymn to God, I looked over at Floey, who had joined me, as usual. She was gazing back at me. “Good morning, Mom,” she said softly. “What are you reading about today?”

“Good morning, Floey. I’m glad you joined me. The author is talking about the image of Jesus Christ as a shepherd. You’re part border collie, aren’t you, Floey? You should know all about shepherds.”

“That’s right, Mom. I think I’m part brittany spaniel (that’s where I get my good looks), part border collie (that’s where I get my natural instinct to herd any animal or person in sight), and the best of every other breed there is. And, yes, I know quite a bit about herding sheep and working together with a shepherd. What does the author say about Jesus as a shepherd?”

“Listen, Floey. Let me read part of his introduction to the hymn Jesus, Like a Shepherd, Lead Us. Jenkins writes:

The image of Jesus Christ as a shepherd was impressed upon me at a young age. Two pictures hung on the wall at the front of our sanctuary – on the left Jesus praying in the garden, and on the right Jesus carrying a sheep on his shoulders.

As a youngster I mistook the painting on the left as God the Father, but no explanation was necessary for the other. I knew the story of the shepherd who had gone looking for one lost sheep out of a hundred, for each was precious to him.

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As the baby of the family I identified with that sheep, and though I don’t believe Scripture indicates this, I always assumed the lost sheep was a young one. Otherwise, why would he be lost?

Sometimes late at night I heard my mother playing the piano and singing. When she sang, “Savior, Like a Shepherd Lead Us,” it nearly made me cry, but not from unhappiness. I was too young to understand the emotion, but now I know I simply adored the idea of having my own Shepherd – the good, the great Shepherd.

Isn’t that a neat image, Floey? I can imagine myself wandering off the path, getting lost in the distractions of this world, and having Jesus, the good shepherd, come and find me, pick me up in his strong arms, and carry me safely home, like a little lamb.”

“Yeah, Mom. That’s a neat image. But you know what I think about? I think about how wonderful it would be to be Jesus’ sheepdog. I’d love to watch Jesus give me hand signals – or call out directions – to safely herd his sheep along the pathway. And then, when the sheep are in the fold, I can imagine myself sitting down beside Jesus, feeling him put his arm around me and giving me a quick hug, and talking to me softly about what a good dog I am.”

b9ea59273dbcba1689e2135f1b328547“Wow! That’s a neat image, too, Floey. I never thought of being Jesus’ sheepdog before. Working together with Jesus to care for the people of the world… That’s an image I want to ponder some more.”

“What does the hymn say, Mom?”

“It’s written as a prayer, from us, the sheep, to Jesus, the Shepherd. Listen to the words:

Savior, like a shepherd lead us,
Much we need Thy tender care;
In Thy pleasant pastures feed us,
For our use Thy folds prepare;
Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus,
Thou hast bought us, Thine we are;
Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus,
Thou hast bought us, Thine we are.

We are Thine, do thou befriend us,
Be the guardian of our way;
Keep Thy flock, from sin defend us,
Seek us when we go astray:
Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus,
Hear, O hear us when we pray;
Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus,
Hear, O hear us when we pray.

Thou hast promised to receive us,
Poor and sinful though we be;
Thou has mercy to relieve us,
Grace to cleanse, and pow’r to free:
Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus,
Early let us turn to Thee;
Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus,
Early let us turn to Thee.

Early let us seek Thy favor,
Early let us do Thy will;
Blessed Lord and only Savior,
With Thy love our bosoms fill:
Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus,
Thou hast loved us, love us still;
Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus,
Thou hast loved us, love us still.

20131216214722-374“Look at the gentle words in the first verse, Floey. Words like tender care and pleasant pastures. It’s easy to imagine how much the shepherd loves each little lamb with words like that. It’s comforting to feel like a little lamb with a very kind shepherd, isn’t it?”

“It sure is, Mom. But as a sheepdog, I identify more with the second verse. The Good Shepherd not only guards and defends his sheep, but he finds them when they go astray, and even more wonderfully, befriends them. And I was created with just the right instincts to help him with all of those tasks! Can you imagine that, Mom!”

fullsizeoutput_200d“Maybe we should keep this hymn as our own little theme song, Floey, so we never forget these images.”

“Good idea, Mom. You play the piano, I’ll sing the melody, and we can get Mim to sing a descant! We’re all in this together!”

 

This Year’s Lesson: KINDNESS

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What do an Italian psychotherapist, a Christian college president in California, and a hitchhiker across America have in common? They each wrote a book about kindness. And I read them all this year.

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As you may recall, “kindness” is my special word for 2016. Upon the suggestion of Debbie Macomber in her book, One Perfect Word, I’ve chosen one special word to have as my focus for a whole year instead of making up New Year’s resolutions each year. I’ve done this for three years now.

By the middle of this year, I’d kind of forgotten about my special word for 2016. When I realized that, I decided to take my special word commitment a little more seriously, and I went to Amazon.com and searched for books on “kindness.” I downloaded Kindle versions of two books: The Power of Kindness: The Unexpected Benefits of Leading a Compassionate Life by Piero Ferrucci (the Italian psychotherapist) and Love Kindness: Discover the Power of a Forgotten Christian Virtue by Barry H. Corey (the president of Biola University). The next day I received my usual daily email from BookBub, a service that offers about half a dozen Kindle books each day for prices ranging from FREE to $1.99. That day’s offering included The Kindness of Strangers: Penniless across America by Mike McIntyre (the journalist who hitchhiked from the west coast to the east coast without a penny in his pocket in order to see if he would experience any kindness from strangers throughout this country).

All three books are filled with personal stories about people who have received or demonstrated kindness in a wide variety of circumstances. All three books are fascinating to read and I highly recommend them.

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I read The Power of Kindness first because of the Preface written by the Dalai Lama. I could hardly wait to start reading it. Here’s an excerpt from the Preface:

This is a book after my own heart. Piero Ferrucci has drawn on both his broad experience as a psychotherapist and what I think of as fundamental human values to write on the importance of kindness. What I particularly appreciate about his presentation is that he makes kindness the starting point, the fount from which flow so many other positive qualities, such as honesty, forgiveness, patience, and generosity. It is a compelling and encouraging approach.

I believe that if we stop to think, it is clear that our very survival, even today, depends upon the acts and kindness of so many people. Right from the moment of our birth, we are under the care and kindness of our parents; later in life, when facing the sufferings of disease and old age, we are again dependent on the kindness of others. If at the beginning and end of our lives we depend upon others’ kindness, why then in the middle, when we have the opportunity, should we not act kindly toward others?

Kindness and compassion are among the principal things that make our lives meaningful. They are the source of lasting happiness and joy…

Each chapter of this book is about a particular virtue, such as Honesty, Forgiveness, Humility, Flexibility, and so on. And each chapter is filled with stories about real people who demonstrate these virtues, with kindness always being at the core. For example, the chapter on Warmth includes this little story:

A woman I know, let’s call her Dorothea, tells me another story. Every evening she hears her neighbors’ baby girl crying in the apartment next to hers. The parents put the child to sleep alone in the dark. The baby cries for a long time while the parents watch television. The baby’s desperate crying expresses all her anguish, her solitude. What should Dorothea do? She is uncertain. Speaking to the parents might make things worse. She decides to sing. Just as she can hear the baby, the baby can hear her. Every evening when they put the baby to bed, Dorothea sings her sweet lullabies, talks to her through the thin walls, consoles and comforts her. The baby hears the invisible friendly voice, stops crying, and falls peacefully asleep. The warmth of a stranger’s voice has saved her from the icy cold of loneliness.

In the concluding chapter of the book, Ferrucci recalls another story:

In a story by Tolstoy, a poor shoemaker hears the voice of Christ in a dream: “Today I will come to you.” Then he wakes up and goes to work. During the day, he meets a young woman who is hungry and he gives her food. An old man passes by feeling cold, and he lets him in to warm himself. Later, he takes care of a child who is having problems with his mother. They are all spontaneous acts for which he need give no thought. At the end of the day, before going to sleep, the shoemaker remembers his dream and thinks that it has not come true, since he did not meet Christ. He then hears a voice. It is the voice of Christ, “My dear friend, did you not recognize me? I was that woman, I was that old man, I was the child and his mother…. You met me, and you helped me. I was with you the whole day.”

When you read this book, and when you stop to think about it, kindness really is at the core of just about everything good in this life. We encounter multiple opportunities every day to respond with kindness, just as we are often the recipients of the kindness of others.

510aS5svVvLThe second kindness book I read was Love Kindness: Discover the Power of a Forgotten Christian Virtue by Barry H. Corey. Why would I want to read a book written by an Evangelical who clearly and outspokenly believes that I am living a life of sin because I am a woman and I married a woman? Partly I wanted to read the book because I wanted to see what a staunch Evangelical would say about how to be kind to people you fundamentally disagree with on important issues. In what ways can I expect him to show kindness to me, and how should I be kind to him? And partly I wanted to read the book because the reviews said he was a good storyteller.

I wasn’t disappointed. The book is full of personal stories that illustrate how he learned to be kind in different circumstances. And what he learned not to do. Two key concepts he emphasized were to be “receivable” – to be welcoming of people with whom we have disagreements, and to have a “firm center with soft edges” – to be firm in our core beliefs as Christians, but to be softer, more flexible in less significant areas, which is often where our strongest disagreements foster hostility rather than loving kindness. One of the reviewers described the book this way:

Barry Corey is a kind man. He learned to be kind from his remarkable father. So Corey is well qualified – academically and spiritually – to write this book, a book that embodies the interesting approach of teaching different aspects of kindness through stories in his own life. For Corey, kindness is not niceness, adopting a position of compromise, or an expression of a desire to be received. Rather, it is learning to be receivable, and it is learning to dialog with those with whom we disagree with kindness in the way of Jesus. The number of issues that divide us is multiplying each day. As a result, there never has been a time other than now when Love Kindness is so desperately needed. Get this book, read it, discuss it with your friends and those whom you oppose. You’ll be glad you did. [J. P. Moreland – Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at Biola University and author of The Soul: How We Know It’s Real and Why It Matters]

51vvcam7qfl-_sx326_bo1204203200_I saved the best book for last, and I just finished reading it a few days ago. Mike McIntyre is a newspaper columnist currently living in San Diego, although he has lived and worked as a journalist all around the world. Here’s the blurb about the book from Amazon.com:

Stuck in a job he no longer found fulfilling, journalist Mike McIntyre felt his life was quickly passing him by. So one day he hit the road to trek from one end of the country to the other with little more than the clothes on his back and without a single penny in his pocket. Through his travels, he found varying degrees of kindness in strangers from all walks of life – and discovered more about people and values and life on the road in America than he’d ever thought possible. The gifts of food and shelter he received along the way were outweighed only the the touching gifts of the heart – the willingness of many he met to welcome a lonely stranger into their homes … and the discovery that sometimes those who give the most are the ones with the least to spare.

This book has 40 short chapters, each one is the story of an encounter with a stranger who showed him kindness in some way as he hitchhiked penniless across America. A few of the stories were frightening, a few were sad, and many of them were remarkably inspiring. The stories gave fascinating glimpses into the lives of the Americans he met on his journey. In six weeks, Mike traveled 4,223 miles, crossed 14 states, accepted 82 rides, was given 78 meals and was invited to do the laundry in his backpack 5 times in the homes of drivers who offered him a bed for the night. On this journey, he found kindness expressed in ways he had never anticipated.

These three books on “kindness” provided three very different perspectives on the idea of “kindness.” I’m glad I read all three books, and I’m glad I chose “kindness” for my special word for 2016. My mom was onto something back in the 1950s when she made my 9-year-old brother Danny and 7-year-old me memorize the Bible verse Ephesians 4:32 –

kindness-1Be ye kind one to another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you. 

Back then I thought her reason was to help Danny and me realize we needed to be nice to each other when we were home alone and she was away at work. Now I know she had more in mind. I think she knew, just like these three authors know, that kindness is the core virtue that can enrich everyone’s life.

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