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A Glimpse of God’s Love

Last Saturday, Mim and I tried to drive to Chicago, normally about a two and a half hour drive, for a memorial service. Unfortunately, we got only as far as the distant northwest suburbs before we decided to turn around and go home. Although the weather forecast for Chicago was to get only 1 to 3 inches of snow, visibility had diminished to just a few car lengths, and the roads were getting pretty slippery. We thought it would be wiser to write a letter to our friend’s adult children to explain how much we admired their dad and how much we learned about God’s love from him.

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Jon presented me with a chocolate cake when I retired from the CCHC board.

Jon Beran was one of three founding doctors of Circle Christian Health Center (CCHC), a not-for-profit clinic on the far west side of Chicago – a very poor and violent, mostly African American neighborhood, and a medically under-served part of Chicago. Mim worked at the clinic in the early 1980s after she completed her advanced practice degree as a nurse practitioner. I served on the board of CCHC when I completed my MBA. We both chose Jon to be our personal physician. He was a good doctor, a good listener, and perhaps the kindest, most gentle, and most humble person I’ve ever met. 

When Jon was in medical school in the early 1970s, he attended Circle Church, an Evangelical Free congregation that met in rented space – the Teamster’s Union Hall on the near west side of Chicago, close to Circle Campus of the University of Illinois. The mostly college-aged and young professional members of the congregation enthusiastically committed their lives to serving Christ in their chosen professions wherever the needs were greatest. 

At that time, one of the most socially and economically distressed neighborhoods in Chicago was Austin, on the far west side of the city. A group of people within the Circle Church congregation decided to move into Austin to serve the people of that community. Circle Urban Ministries was founded as the network that would link a medical clinic, a counseling center, a legal aid practice, a youth center, and eventually a church. 

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Staff of CCHF in the late 1970s. Jon and Nita on left.

Jon and his wife Nita (a nurse) bought a house in Austin. They had two children and raised them in that neighborhood. (Their son has become an architect and their daughter has become a family practice physician, like her dad.) Both Jon and Nita spent their entire careers serving the people of Austin through CCHC. Nita passed away two years ago. Mim and I made it to her visitation. It was obvious by all the people from the neighborhood at the funeral home that Nita and Jon were very much loved by their community.

Mom crocheting

Mom kept crocheting afghans for babies of teenage mothers in Chicago until just a few weeks before she died.

One of my favorite memories of Jon relates to my mom. When she was in the last stages of liver cancer, Mom and Dad came to live with Mim and me in Chicago for her last six weeks. Although we got Mom signed up to receive hospice care while she lived with us, she needed to have a local doctor see her and prescribe medications. We asked Jon if he would be her doctor. Of course, he said yes. Mom was too weak to ride to the clinic, so Jon made house calls to see her. We lived pretty far from Austin, about a 30-minute drive or 45-minute trip on the “L” each way, but Jon came over to see her as often as she needed him, usually coming by “L.” He carried his stethoscope and other doctoring tools in a Jewel Food Store plastic bag. He didn’t carry a doctor’s bag because he didn’t want to look like a doctor who might be carrying drugs.

Besides caring for Mom’s physical needs, Jon also took time to listen to Mom talk about how she was trusting God to heal her. I didn’t eavesdrop on the whole conversation, but I know Jon somehow related her trust in God to the trust his children needed to have in him when he was teaching them how to swim. They needed to trust that he would take care of them even though they didn’t totally understand how everything was going to work. Then Jon prayed with Mom.

As I mentioned in this blog last week, my special word for 2019 is LOVE, as in the LOVE OF GOD. One of the books I’m reading to kick off my year-long reflection on LOVE is BUMPING INTO GOD: 35 stories of finding grace in unexpected places by Dominic Grassi, a Catholic priest who lives in Chicago. From the back cover of the book,

fullsizeoutput_2785A natural storyteller, Dominic Grassi invites readers to share his warm memories of life in Chicago over the past five decades. He shows how God is reflected in the people we meet every day: a butcher, a bookstore owner, a short-order cook. 

And, I would add, a special doctor named Jon. I’m sure thousands of people have caught a glimpse of God’s love by bumping into Jon sometime in their lives. I know my mom did. And so did I.

 

A Long Talk with My Dog – the best way to begin the New Year.

Floey looking at camera

Floey jumped down from the couch, stretched her whole body, and sauntered over to me. I was sitting at my desk. She plopped herself down right next to me. But instead of resuming her nap, she looked up at me and asked, “What are you doing, Mom? You look like you’re just staring off into space. What’s on your mind?”

“I’m just thinking about something I said, or rather, didn’t say yesterday, and I kind of regret the conversation.”

“Who were you talking with?”

“I went downtown for a haircut late yesterday afternoon.”

“Yeah. I remember. You took me out for a really quick walk, and then you left. Were you talking with the person who cuts your hair?”

“Yes. She cuts my hair really fast – like in ten minutes. But despite her cutting speed, she likes to talk with me the whole time she’s cutting. I don’t know how she can concentrate on getting my hair cut right, but somehow she does.”

“I wish my groomer was fast like that. She always takes at least 45 minutes, but she gives me a bath, blows me dry, trims the hair around my ears and paws, and gives me a pedicure. She talks to me, too, but I know she’s concentrating really hard on everything she does to me. At least she ends the grooming session with a really good treat. Do you get a treat?”

“No, Floey, I don’t.”

“That’s too bad. Well, what are you regretting about your conversation with your haircutter?”

“We really don’t know each other very well, and our conversations are usually just typical small talk – the weather, how our dogs are doing, any new restaurants we’ve tried, and so on. Yesterday she asked me if I have any goals for this new year. I told her no.”

“You don’t make New Year’s resolutions any more, so you don’t have goals, do you?”

“Well, sort of. Six years ago I changed from making New Year’s resolutions to choosing a special word to concentrate on all year long. The first special word I chose was JOY. Every day in 2014 I thought about finding JOY somewhere in the day. I loved the positive energy that came from finding JOY throughout the whole year. The next year I chose the word GRATITUDE. That was just as inspiring. In 2016, my word was KINDNESS. The next year was HOPE. And last year my word was PEACE. Every year has been really special by having a deliberate focus.”

fullsizeoutput_200f“I remember, Mom, in January of 2015, shortly after you adopted me, you explained “special words” to me, and as a young pup of less than a year old, I chose my first special word – LEARN, because I was going to concentrate on learning all I could to become the best companion to our residents that I could be. Remember, Mom?”

“I sure do, Floey, and you have learned a lot. Everyone agrees that you are our best caregiver of all.”

“Thanks, Mom. But let’s get back to your conversation yesterday. Why are you feeling bad about it?”

“Well, Floey, I should have told the person who cuts my hair (and the customer and hairdresser at the next chair who were listening to us) about how uplifting the practice of focusing on one special word for a year can be. Unlike when making a New Year’s resolution that you know will get broken before the end of the year, when you choose a special word, there can only be positive outcomes – the more you think about an inspiring word, the more inspired your life will be, even if you miss a few days of thinking about it. At least that’s been my experience in the six years I’ve been doing this.”

“One year, Mom, remember I chose a bad word. I chose the word MEOW because I was going to try to learn how to communicate better with the cats in the neighborhood. But the cats didn’t want to get to know me, so I eventually changed words. I borrowed your word of KINDNESS, and tried to be kind to those cats, even though they didn’t deserve it.”

“But even that worked out for good, Floey, because you focused on being KIND, and that enriched your life, didn’t it?”

“I guess so.”

“Anyway, I wish I’d taken the initiative yesterday to explain my approach of choosing a special word every year. Maybe the women in the salon would have liked to try out this practice for themselves.”

“Mom, tell me what you wished you had said to them. How did the word PEACE work out for you in 2018, and what’s your word for 2019? Is that what you wanted to tell them?”

“I guess so. One of the special things I did last year to deepen my understanding of PEACE was to look for all the hymns I could find with PEACE as the theme. I selected 16 of those hymns to include in my next book of hymn reflections. Dona Nobis Pacem, Let There Be Peace on Earth, Peace in the Valley, Make Me a Servant of Your Peace – those are just a few of the hymns that focus on the PEACE of God. I loved doing that study.”

“How about your word for this year?”

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“As I was thinking about what word to choose for this year, I realized that the themes of the four Sundays in Advent are HOPE, PEACE, JOY, and LOVE. I’ve already chosen three of the four themes. LOVE is the only one I haven’t focused on yet. The more I thought about it, I realized the most concise phrase that summarizes the nature of God is GOD IS LOVE. I guess it’s time I try to deepen my understanding of God’s LOVE. So LOVE is the word I chose for 2019.”

“That sounds like a good word for you this year. Do you know if Mim has chosen a word?”

“I think she said her word is going to be PATIENCE. We’ll have to ask her more about why she chose that word for this year when she gets home. How about you, Floey?”

“I chose the word LISTEN. I’m really good at listening sometimes, especially to our residents. But other times, I just block out voices and other noises I don’t want to be bothered with. I have such good ears, I should make better use of the gift of superior hearing that God has given me. I’ll listen for birds, chipmunks, music, the wind – whatever sounds are out there – maybe even for you when you call me to come…”

“Well that would be wonderful! As soon as I know that you listen well enough to always hear me when I call you to come, we can start going to the dog park!”

“That’s great! This is going to be a really good year!”

“You’re right, Floey. And thank you for listening to me now. Talking about what I wish I’d said yesterday makes me feel better. Thanks. You’re already a good listener. You’re off to a good start with your new word!”

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Today’s Politics Should Prompt New Hymns

MM at Moodys PubI’ve been working on my next book of reflections on hymns, and just completed the story behind “O Master, Let Me Walk with Thee.” The writing of this hymn was prompted by the social and economic conditions in the United States following the Civil War. As I was explaining the context of this hymn to Mim, she said, “That sounds just like the social, economic, and political situation today. You should blog about it.” So here’s a peek at one reflection that will be in my next book.

The time period following the Civil War in America was turbulent. In the late 1860s, America was beginning to change from a land of mostly farmers to an urban industrial society with two distinct classes of people – the super wealthy and the vulnerable poor – the Vanderbilts and Rockefellers, and the slum-dwelling working class. Economic injustice was one of the dominant themes of the day.

Washington Gladden was a Congregational pastor of a church in Ohio. He was very troubled by how society was evolving, and he became an outspoken activist for moral reform in industry, commerce, and politics. He wrote 38 books on related moral reform themes, as well as numerous editorials and articles, and even poems and hymns. He became a noted leader in the Social Gospel Movement, a movement to apply Christian ethics to social problems – to apply Jesus’ teachings to our daily living, to take seriously the prophet Micah’s admonition to “do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.”

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Gladden was widely criticized by fellow clergymen for his political involvement. They thought he should limit himself to preaching the gospel instead of getting involved in secular justice issues. Gladden wrote the poem,“Walking with God,” and published it in his magazine in 1879 as a response to this criticism. The poem had three verses of eight lines each.

Dr. Charles H. Richards, an editor and publisher of hymns, read the poem and loved it, except for the second verse. He omitted that verse, and split the first and third verses into four verses of four lines each. Then Richards paired the edited poem with the tune MARYTON, and published it as the hymn, “O Master, Let Me Walk with Thee” in his book, CHRISTIAN PRAISE. The omitted verse helps us understand why Gladden wrote this hymn. I’m sure he felt better after writing it – even if he’s the only one singing it.

O Master, let me walk with thee
Before the taunting Pharisee;
Help me to bear the sting of spite,
The hate of men who hide Thy light,
The sore distrust of souls sincere
Who cannot read Thy judgments clear,
The dullness of the multitude,
Who dimly guess that Thou art good.

Obviously, Gladden thought his critics were hypocrites who were totally blind to what the Bible really says about justice issues. That was back in the 1870s, as our country was evolving from an agricultural age to an industrial age, and economic changes were bringing about extreme wealth and extreme poverty. 

And that’s what is happening today, as well. Today’s age of technology of all types is bringing about chaos in many new ways. Unfortunately, our political parties have very different ideas about how to address the chaos. And, most unfortunately, people have forgotten how to work together to solve our problems. Listening. Understanding. Compromising. Respecting each other. These seem to be lost skills.

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I feel that many Christians support policies that I believe are contrary to what the Bible says about justice issues, like caring for the needy, and welcoming strangers. I feel just like Gladden felt. Maybe we should all do what Gladden did – write a hymn like Gladden’s, one that begins with words like,

O Jesus, Let me walk with you,
before the horrid Washington crew …

After getting out that bitter first verse, we might be able to move on to more constructive, positive verses, like the ones below, verses that begin with words like, “Help me… Teach me… In hope…”

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Peace – Let It Begin with Me

Floe-Marian faces 2015“Hey, Mom.” My dog Floey came ambling over to me as I sat at my desk.

“Good morning, Floey. What’s up?” I replied.

“I just saw on TV that it’s supposed to be as hot and humid today as it was yesterday. Do we have to go on any long walks today? I’d rather stay inside where it’s nice and cool.”

“I agree with you, Floey. Maybe we can run up and down the stairs a few extra times for exercise. You let me know when you need to go outside to do your business, and the rest of the time we’ll stay inside.”

“Great plan, Mom! What do you want to do while we’re inside today?”

“I think I’ll get back to writing my next book. It’s coming along pretty well. I’ve completed the first draft of the first couple chapters, and now I’m working on the third chapter.”

“Is this book going to be just like your last one, TALKING WITH GOD THROUGH MUSIC: Reflections on My Favorite Psalm-Based Hymns?”

“It’s very similar in style. I’ve made a few structural changes based the on feedback I got on that book, but it’s the same concept – choosing a favorite hymn and reflecting on its history and meaning. The first chapter includes 16 hymns about peace – hymns like Dona Nobis Pacem, Let There Be Peace on Earth, Peace in the Valley, Peace Like a River, Leaning on the Everlasting Arms, Make Me a Channel of Your Peace, and lots more.”

“That’s an interesting mix of peace hymns, Mom. One of my favorite hymns is Let There Be Peace on Earth. Can you read me what you wrote about that one?”

 

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TUNE: WORLD PEACE
COMPOSER: Sy Miller (1908-1971)
AUTHOR: Jill Jackson Miller (1913-1995)
SCRIPTURE: Romans 12:18 (NRSV)
If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.

THE HUSBAND AND WIFE TEAM of Sy (Seymour) Miller and Jill Jackson Miller collaborated to write many songs together. In 1955 they wrote “Let there Be Peace on Earth” for a very specific purpose. They wrote it to be sung at a week-long retreat for young people who had come from very different religious, ethnic, and economic backgrounds. 

Sy Miller described the effect of the song this way. “One summer evening in 1955, a group of 180 teenagers of all races and religions, meeting at a workshop high in the California mountains locked arms, formed a circle and sang a song of peace. They felt that singing the song, with its simple basic sentiment – ‘Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me’ – helped to create a climate for world peace and understanding.”

When the retreat was over, the kids took the song home with them, and it quickly spread throughout all 50 states, and then internationally.

The author of the song, Jill Jackson Miller, had lived a life of many challenges. Her mother died when Jill was only three years old. By the time she was 12 she and her sister were placed in a foster home. One of her two brothers died from an accident with fireworks. 

Jill’s life dream was to become a movie actress. After two years of junior college, she moved to Hollywood. She starred as the heroine in several westerns. In 1940 she married Felix Jackson, a German writer and director, and she gave up her movie career at his request. 

They had two daughters. They divorced in 1944, which led to Jill attempting suicide. During her recovery she developed a strong belief in God and felt inspired to become a writer. In 1949 she married Sy Miller, and he convinced her to write songs with him – she wrote the lyrics and he wrote the music. After they wrote “Let There Be Peace on Earth,” the quest for world peace became her life focus. She traveled widely to speak about the power of each person to help create peace. She encouraged people to keep searching for their meaning, their inspiration, their true beliefs, and to forgive themselves and others for mistakes made along the way.

——————-

“Hey, Mom. If what you said is true, that song was written 63 years ago. Do you think the world is more peaceful now than it was in 1955?” 

Danny and Marian in haybarn - brown“That’s a good question, Floey. In 1955, I was seven years old. My fiercest enemy was also my best friend – my 9-year-old brother Danny. I wasn’t very aware of international politics back then. Dwight D. Eisenhower was president – that’s all I remember.” 

“Didn’t you watch TV way back then?” 

“Yes, we did, but there weren’t any round-the-clock politics channels back in those days. We watched comedies like “I Love Lucy.” We spent our time together laughing, not arguing.” 

“How about racial discord?” Floey asked.

“The only non-white kids in my school were Robert and his sister Sandra. Robert was in my class and was a good friend. Sometimes he shared his candy with me. I especially liked it when he gave me a whole envelope of lime Lik-m-maid. We drifted apart over the years, and the last I heard, about twenty years ago, he was in prison somewhere.” 

“That’s kind of sad, Mom.” 

“Yeah, it is, Floey. Peace can be very elusive – on a personal level as well as community-wide and globally. But the message of this song still holds – “Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.” 

“How’s that, Mom?” 

“Do you know what day it is today, Floey?” 

“It’s Tuesday, August 14, 2018. Is there anything special about today?” 

“Yes, there is, Floey. In Wisconsin and a few other states it’s voting day for primary elections. I’m going to ignore the oppressive heat and go out and vote. That’s one little thing I can do to help us all move toward peace on earth.” 

“Good for you, Mom! I wish I could vote, too. Maybe I should begin a fight for the right to vote for dogs (but not cats – they don’t have the intellectual capacity that we dogs have).”  

“Now, Floey, if you really want peace on earth, you’ll fight just as hard for the right for cats to vote as for dogs. When you accept the universal right to vote as your cause, you’ll have taken the first really big step toward peace.” 

“Maybe, you’re right, Mom.”

“Floey, let’s try to find a shady block or two, and walk down the street together. Maybe we can even sing all the words of Let There Be Peace on Earth.  

Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.
Let there be peace on earth, the peace that was meant to be.
With God our creator, children all are we.
Let us walk with each other in perfect harmony.
Let peace begin with me; let this be the moment now.
With every step I take, let this be my solemn vow;
to take each moment and live each moment in peace eternally.
Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.

Your Perspective?

Floey at wetland
Yesterday morning my dog Floey and I went for a long walk and a long talk. It was already a hot day, but I figured if we walked on country roads rather than sidewalks, we might catch a little breeze. I was right. As soon as we turned off Water Street onto Highland Drive the setting was just right. The birds were singing, the frogs were croaking, and the red-winged blackbird that greets us most mornings landed on the tallest cattail and began her usual chatter. We stopped for a moment to feel the breeze and listen to the bird songs, and then continued ambling south on Highland.

Red-winged Blackbird on cattailFloey looked up at me and said, “Hey, Mom, there’s something I want to talk about. Something serious.”

“Okay,” I replied. “What’s on your mind?”

“You were really mad at me last night, weren’t you. You yelled at me twice.”

“I guess I did, Floey. I’m sorry, but I had reasons to be angry and to speak harshly to you. The first time was when Peggy and Buddy came over for a visit. You really pounced on Buddy. You could have hurt him. He’s smaller than you, older than you, and has a bad back.”

“I know, Mom. But I was so excited to see him and I wanted to play. I really like Buddy. He’s the best little white dog I know. I would never hurt him.”

“You wouldn’t hurt him intentionally, but sometimes, if you’re not careful, it can happen. Like the second time I yelled at you, after Buddy and Peggy were gone, and we went out for a little walk before going to bed. You really hurt me, Floey.”

“No, I didn’t. I wasn’t even near you. You just started to yell at me. I have no idea why.”

“Did you forget what you did as we went out the door? You charged after a rabbit. I wasn’t even through the door yet. You jerked on your leash so hard that my hand banged into the door frame. The back of my hand and my first finger are still swollen and have turned black and blue. As soon as we got back in the house I put an ice pack on it for half an hour. We’re lucky none of the little bones in my hand and fingers were broken.”

“Oh, I’m sorry, Mom. I had no idea you were hurt. I was just trying to protect you from that big rabbit that was close to jumping onto the front porch. Fortunately I was able to chase him away. I’m sorry you were hurt in the process. Are you still mad at me? I would never try to hurt you.”

“No, Floey, I’m not still mad at you. But I think it’s good you wanted to talk with me about this. Obviously, we have different perspectives on what happened last night. I now see, from your perspective, you were warmly welcoming your good friend Buddy to our house and inviting him to play with you – and I yelled at you. Then you chased away a rabbit to protect me from him – and I yelled at you again.”

Buddy“That’s right, Mom,” Floey replied. “And from your perspective, you were trying to protect Buddy from getting hurt, so you yelled at me, and later, I accidentally hurt your hand when I chased away that rabbit, and you yelled at me again. I’m sorry. But now I understand.”

“You know, Floey, perspective is a funny thing. We can always see everything that happens to us from our own perspective, but often that’s not the whole picture. We need to try to understand other perspectives as much as we can.”

“That’s for sure. If we hadn’t had this little talk, I still wouldn’t understand why you yelled at me last night. Now I know, and my feelings aren’t hurt any more.”

“Good, Floey. While we’re talking about perspective, let me tell you about an email I received a couple days ago. It was about my last blog post, What Can I do? Remember, it’s the one where I talked about children being taken away from their parents at the US/Mexico border.”

51smFhUIbL._SX322_BO1204203200_“I remember it,” Floey said. “It’s the one where you talked about Ellen Finn’s book, Emotional Witness. That book was scary. I’m sure glad we don’t have to live in Honduras where there’s so much violence.”

“The email I received was from Tim, the husband of an old friend of mine from our Chicago days. He was pretty upset with me about writing that blog post.”

“Why was he upset, Mom? It was sad to read about all the violence in Central America, but you shared some good ideas about how we individually can support at least one or two children to be sure they have food, clothing, education, and so on. Was Tim really mad at you for writing about this?”

“Yes, I think he was, Floey. You see, he’s a world traveler and avid bicyclist. He’s been to Honduras several times. A few years ago he took a solo bicycle trip from Mexico City to Costa Rica. During that trip he spent several weeks in Copan, Honduras. In his 4-page email to me,  Tim wrote:

The reasons for writing this are to give another opinion about Copan. The town is struggling and needs more tourism. Would a foreigner who is contemplating a first visit to Central America consider Honduras or Copan after reading Ellen’s book or your blog post? Highly unlikely…. During my 2015 solo bicycle tour through Honduras, en route from Mexico City to Costa Rica, I neither experienced nor witnessed any violence. I had expected to at least hear gunshots, but did not. 

“From Tim’s perspective, Ellen’s book and my blog post may actually hurt the people of Honduras by discouraging tourism rather than helping anyone.”

IMG_2265Floey looked up at me and said, “I think I can see his point, Mom. I know I wouldn’t want to travel to Honduras. I’d be afraid of getting shot.”

“I don’t think I’d like to go there for a vacation, either. But remember our friends Liz and James go to Copan almost every year to visit the kids they support. They love the trip. They have found safe places to stay and really enjoy their visits. From their perspective as tourists, they feel safe.”

“Hey, Mom. There’s that word PERSPECTIVE again. Ellen’s perspective of life in Honduras is quite different from Tim’s.” 

“You’re right, Floey. I’m sure the people living in small villages in the mountains of Honduras have a different perspective on life in Honduras than wealthier people living in the larger cities and more prosperous suburbs, or from tourists traveling through the country. Another very important part of the whole picture is the perspective of Honduran immigrants seeking asylum in the U.S. Many of them see the violence in their homeland as unbearable.”

“Life sure is complicated, isn’t it, Mom.”

“This conversation has taken us a long way from our different perspectives on why I yelled at you last night.”

LADxC%rGSY+gK%%cnDLrPg“It sure has. I’m glad we talked about perspectives. I learned that one perspective rarely provides the whole picture. I need to remember to try to see other perspectives as well as my own if I really want to understand what’s happening.”

“That’s right, Floey. Maybe when we get home from this long walk and long talk, I’ll bring up Tim’s blog about his bicycle tour of Central America, to try to see more of his perspective on this part of the world. I took a peek at it yesterday, and he includes lots of beautiful pictures along with his narrative.” 

https://www.crazyguyonabike.com/doc/?o=1mr&doc_id=15328&v=qE

“Great! That will be fun to see, especially with lots of pictures.”

We continued on our walk in silence for a while. Then Floey added, “Hey, Mom, do you think the need to understand different perspectives applies to all our political differences, too? Like, lots of people hate Trump and all his policies. Other people love him and everything he does. I know people on both sides. Can a complete understanding of any issue ever come about by really trying to understand both sides?”

“I don’t know, Floey. But the first step is to be willing to listen to the other side. I don’t think most people are even near the first step yet. And I don’t know how to get there.”

“I know!” Floey said excitedly and grinned at me. “Everyone needs long walks and long talks, just like this!”

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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.  

Seven To-Dos to Prepare for a Special Guest

d5737d0fe761a791f9bacaf1a5bbed26In one of my devotional readings this morning, the writer asked, “What would you do if you knew Jesus would be dropping in for a visit in five minutes?” There’s not a lot anyone can do in five minutes, so I decided to think about the question a little differently. “What would I do if I knew Jesus was coming to visit me tomorrow?” The idea isn’t so far-fetched. After all, Jesus dropped in on Mary and Martha when he was traveling in their area.

I asked Mim the question after breakfast. Her first response was, “I guess I’d pick up the papers laying around the house.” Then she added, “and I’d be sure we had something to serve with coffee.” I suggested to her, “Maybe you’d bake a rhubarb coffeecake with the fresh rhubarb in the refrigerator.” She replied, “Yeah, either that or almond brownies – whichever would be quicker.”

That got me started on my own list of what I’d do today if I knew Jesus was coming for a visit tomorrow. After 45 years of living together, Mim and I think a lot alike. Our first and second items were nearly identical.

  1. Clean up the house as much as I can (with Mim’s help) in a couple hours. On the house decorating continuum from casual/cluttered to formal/minimalist, our home is pretty far on the left. While Mim is picking up papers, I’d pick up the dog toys scattered throughout the living room and the music lying all around the piano. Then Mim would vacuum the carpeting and I’d dust the tops of the furniture.
  2. Be sure we had everything needed to fix a nice dinner for Jesus. I’d probably make a quick trip to Ken’s Meat Market to get some burgundy pepper steaks to grill out on the deck, and maybe stop at MetroMarket for some fresh vegetables.
  3. Spend some time at my desk making a list of the most important things I want to talk with Jesus about – from Trump’s crazy behavior, to Hawaii’s volcano, to what’s going on with the jail ministry, to my sister-in-law’s health, to everything else on my mind… Once I completed the list, I’d probably have to prioritize it because it may be much too long to cover in one day.
  4. Spend a couple hours cleaning up my latest writing project (Talking with God Through Music) so that Jesus and I could talk about my progress and how I could improve the book.
  5. Make a list of people to invite to join Jesus, Mim, and me for this special visit. I’d want to keep the list small enough so that we could really talk together, but I think I should be willing to share this wonderful moment with a few friends and family members. This will probably be the hardest item on the list for me to do.
  6. Google “Mary and Martha.” I’d want to know everything I could about Jesus’ visits with Mary and Martha to learn from their example how to offer Jesus the best hospitality possible on earth, while at the same time taking advantage of this extraordinary opportunity for personal growth and understanding from Jesus himself.
  7. Finish all my preparations in time to sit down at the piano and play some hymns to center my mind on this amazing opportunity to spend time together with Jesus. Hopefully, Mim would join me and sing praises to God. Maybe, we’d still be singing when Jesus walked in the door, and he would join us.

I guess seven to-dos is as much as I could get done in one day of prep for a visit with Jesus.

What would be on your list?