Month: May 2018

Those Who Beleive

Ray Money’s wife, Eddie, was sitting on the sofa, where she used to nap through our visits. Just across from her, on another sofa, I see a pillow with the statement, “Those who believe, will see miracles.” Eddie is ninety-two and suffers from Alzheimer’s. She doesn’t hear and can’t see. Gradually, the disease robbed her body and mind of everything she liked to do. All she does now is sleep. She also falls a lot, and every fall takes her strength and confidence away. It also puts pressure on Ray, who now has to cook, watch over his wife, and also take care of himself. His neuropathy is not deadly, but is not pleasant, either. He struggles with the decision of placing Eddie into a nursing home, and the struggle on his face is obvious.
“I do not understand what kind of God is this if Eddie believed in Him more than I do. She prayed for a miracle not to lose her hearing since she was 37. Nothing helped. She had surgeries, hearing aids, but she has been nearly deaf for the last twenty years, and now Alzheimer’s… I was a banker my whole life, practical and pragmatic, and now I am destined to wrestle with questions like these until I die. There are no answers…”
I looked at the pillow and could see Ray’s point well. Ray was missing his wife’s companionship for many years. He was destined to be lonely, while she was still alive, right there, next to him, on the sofa.
“I found her Bible that I’ve never seen. It seems like she spent lots of time reading it. The Bible is full of her marks. What is interesting, she didn’t use a marker but a pencil. She underlined Bible verses and sentences very gently. I tried to understand the pattern of her thoughts, but there is no pattern…”
“Maybe this is God’s way to help you reconnect with Eddie now when she can’t even speak?” Ray gave me a tired look. We both knew it was lame.
“What did she think about reading this Bible? What I do not understand is why I never knew she had another Bible – different from the one she read in bed every night.” Ray’s face expresses hurt, “I guess, I will never know.” Eddie doesn’t even recognize her husband. 
When I am with Ray, I listen to his questions the size of the universe. His eternity is at stake. Ray lives with questions that do not have answers… and he just turned ninety. His valid doubt is about will it be ever given to him. He has the sharpest mind, and he needs companionship. He wants to talk to someone, he reads, and has guts to have his own opinion that he wants to share, but Alzheimer swallowed Ray’s wife’s intellect and memory. Who can he talk to?!
God made me meet Ray to wrestle with the innocent pillow statement “Those, who believe, will see miracles…” The miracle is in the Grace of God that comes to each of us unexpectedly, through the words of our loved ones who try to bring us comfort even in silence, just like the words of Ray’s wife written in pencil in her Bible – the words of hope and love that he could read now after his wife is gone. 

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Can One Size Fit All?

Visiting megachurches, I can’t help thinking how well people know each other in a large church. I attended a few with the loud music and large screens, and couldn’t connect to other people. Everybody has different tastes when it comes to music and worship styles. The church was like a big theater. People worshiped and then went home. I am sure that megachurches have effective ways to connect members through small groups, but there are too many examples how even the most successful church crumbles under the pressure of erecting new sanctuaries and then having to move to another site because the congregation overgrew the size of the building again. Then, the congregation ends in debt, the stress starts eroding the relationships within the church and the church cries for help. We all know that all size churches are important as long as they teach and preach authentic faith and approach growth gradually. Raising disciples requires patience and time. That’s why I got amused when I saw a robe with the label, “One size fits all.” People are not of the same size! That is why we have sizes S, M, L, XL and even 5XL. That label reminded me a story of a crocodile.

A man in Moscow liked to have things that his friends didn’t. In Russia, we call people like him “ORIGINAL,” with the stress on “A.” He decided to get a new pet, so a little crocodile found a new home in the man’s one-bedroom apartment on the fifteenth floor. The man was thrilled and couldn’t put down the shoe box with the crocodile in it. The cute little baby crocodile tried to bite the finger with his tiny teeth. The friendship had begun.
In a few weeks, the man discovered that the box became too tight for the pet. It was time for an upgrade. The crocodile stretched in his new home but, in a few days, he hardly fit into it. The owner found a larger box, not knowing that crocodiles grow as large as space allows. It is like their bodies are programmed to fit and to expand into the size of the box whatever the size is.

Soon, the man realized that he ran out of possible upgrades and released the crocodile into the bathtub. In a few weeks, a mature animal reached the length of the bathtub and got out on the floor. The man heard pounding steps directed toward his bedroom, locked himself in, opened the window and began shouting, “Help, Help!!!”
Luckily, someone noticed him, after he had to throw a few things out of the window, and the crocodile was taken to the Zoo by a team of trained professionals.

It is exciting when the church grows. But growth requires patience, attention, and wisdom to connect people to each other and build strong relationships based on love and compassion. Francis Street First future depends on many people who keep our church growth at heart. Today, because of the Mother’s Day, I will mention only women: Jane Sachs, who brings guests to our church every Sunday; Lynette Barr, who nurtures her Serendipity Class for decades; Candy Sheehan, Jennifer Tanguay and Cindy Allen, who nurture our children and youth; Karen Gibson, who restarted the Upper Room Class and took courage to meet outside to invite the community; Mary Buckler, who connects our congregation with Cardin Park Elementary School; Susan Gentry, who takes care of all finances; Carlene Makawski, who unites us all to feed the poor; Luetta Silvey, who coordinates Holy Communion with all our Communion Stewards; and finally Sherril Lewis, who coordinates all our relationships to make them last for years. Sherril connects people of all ages to make us feel at home that when the church starts growing fast, we will not be lost.

Paying Attention

Yesterday, our patio Upper Room Bible Study group gathered under the new colorful umbrella. The wind was getting stronger, and finally, the umbrella tilted so far that the coffee table lost the balance. The cup of coffee spilled its hot inside all over Joyce Richardson’s Bible that was opened on 1 Corinthians 12:21-25 “The parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor.”

After cleaning the table, the group continued the conversation on the importance of paying attention to those people around us who we sometimes take for granted. Karen Gibson watched the umbrella’s moves to prevent another incident. Becky Hickok said, “You don’t have to worry about the side-to-side shifts, this is when the vertical move starts taking place we need to worry.” Immediately I imagined what could cause the vertical movement of the open umbrella.

“Tornado!”

“Shhh,” Joyce stopped me. “Do not mention that word out loud.”

“Why? Will it bring the tornado?” Joyce silently nodded, and I responded with the gesture showing my decision to seal my lips.

The lesson of the day was about noticing all incredible people in our church even if they are not in active leadership. Karen Gibson invited the group to appreciate each person in our congregation and tell them that their words and even their most invisible acts of love and support make a difference.

After the study, I noticed that the sky was getting darker and darker, and the possibility of a tornado looked more real by dinner time. That made me think of Joyce’s warning and also about the day when I was driving home to the sounds of the sirens. Opening the windows, I looked up to the sky. Yep! Tornado warning–I already learned that a certain green color of the sky and the silence highlight the possibility of it. I turned on the radio and almost dropped the wheel at the sound of the voice in my car,

“If you are driving, get out of the car and find the nearest ditch. Get on the ground as low as possible, facing down, and cover your head with your hands.” I got goosebumps–what if it was the voice of God? Then, I looked around and didn’t notice a single driver leaving a car on the street and running to the road’s shoulder. Nobody paid attention! People acted like there was no warning! If I get out of the car and lie face down in the ditch, I will be dirty and look like an idiot if the tornado never strikes, I thought. If I do not get out of the car and dive into the nearest ditch, then will I be mad at myself, flying away in my car into eternity? What if it was God speaking, not the radio? What if God offers me salvation, but I ignored? Was God using Joyce to give me the message of paying attention to what I carelessly allowed to slip from my lips? Joyce’s whisper reminded me that even though God does not talk to us directly, God uses other people to give us the message. All it takes is to pay attention to what we hear and see around us.

Let’s begin with paying attention in our church. We have the whole generation of our elders who are members of Francis Street First for many decades. These women and men served in various leadership roles for many years. Because of their passion and faith, Francis Street First continues serving as a beacon of faith sending a warning to those who are in danger and lighting the way to those who are lost.

Our church is lucky to have several generations of people who worship and serve elbow to elbow. On Mother’s Day, we will welcome our new Confirmation Class into the church membership. Our youth went through a long study with Candy Sheehan and Cindy Allen. Candy made every effort to teach each teenager how to listen to the voice of God in their lives and how to pay attention to those who are around them. Several adults attended on different Sundays to pray and to share their wisdom. The new generation of believers will receive a baton from the hands of our older members. Be sure to write a few words of wisdom for each of them like you speak on behalf of God. Your words will fall into the well-prepared souls. Thank you, Candy Sheehan and Cindy Allen, for many months of your tireless and consistent labor of love raising another generation of faithful believers.

 

 

 

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