My Petty Problems

Each year our church, and many surrounding churches, participate in a day of community projects. We mend fences, clean yards, paint school equipment and much more. Today's work started off very similar to years in the past. I met up with some friends, we joked around as we coated a deck, and were generally having a good time. Then we went downtown.

Our goal downtown was simply to feed the poor and homeless. But I didn't get very far. On my first lunch I met a lady named Lisa, who asked me to pray for her. I was of course glad to pray for her, and tried my best to pray for her needs. However, it wasn't until after the prayer that her whole story came out.

You see, Lisa looked extremely beat up. Her left eye was swollen shut. The rest of her face was scraped. She could barely walk. I didn't pry much, but gradually she began to tell me what happened. Three weeks ago she was put into the hospital because a man continually bashed her, and severely hurt her knees so much that she had to have surgery. After coming out of surgery she was placed into detox because of how frequently she drank. She repeatedly told me she drank to deal with the hurt of this world.

Last night she was finally released from detox. Upon being released, she was left out on the streets to fend for herself. There again she was beat so bad that her eye swelled shut. The police, she said, overlooked what was happening. The centers, after I asked her if she had sought help from them, weren't much help at all. And so she said she couldn't really eat the food I gave her because she was drinking her pain away and she might throw up.

I didn't know what to say. She would say things like, "Don't worry about me. At least I'm not six feet under. The Lord blesses me with that." And, "I'm so tired of being sick and tired." I've heard these things before, but not from someone I couldn't easily write off. Not from someone I couldn't feel self-righteous over and condemn them for making poor choices. No amount of Republican indignation and American independence protected me from feeling her plight.

I don't know her whole story. I probably never will. But I didn't know what to do to help. My measly meal did nothing for her. She didn't even take it. My prayer did have an effect, because God is powerful. But I got back in my van and left her there. Her? She has another night on the streets where she hopes to stay alive.

What can be done in a world this broken? How come I get to come back to my comfortable home and worry about my petty problems? Are we missing something here? Are the only things we can do is bring a sack lunch once a year to people?

"Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this:
to visit orphans and widows in their trouble,
and to keep oneself unspotted from the world."
James 1:27, NKJV

Sounds nice. What does it mean?


Narrow is the Gate

God's word is hard. While it often brings me great comfort, at times it brings me great frustration as well. The reason is because I want to follow it. I want to do what it says. Rather than find the verses that fit me and my needs, I really want to live the entirety of God's message out. That is harder than anything I know. Often times it has me looking around and wondering if anyone is trying to do the same. Then I feel lonely.

We had a retreat for our Singles group last weekend, and we studied parts of the Sermon on the Mount. When I came home Sunday night I decided it would be my goal to read through these passages again and again nightly for the next month. As I read Jesus' words I would then try to live them out. I'd pick a verse, pray on it, and then do it.

But it only took me till verse 3 to get disappointed. Matthew 5:3 says:

"Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."

The first words out of Jesus' mouth - his opening statement - is too tough for me. I can't hardly even go on to the next verse although its a bit more comforting:

"Blessed are those who mourn,
For they shall be comforted."

In a country where things like laughter, ambition, and self-confidence are the esteemed values, it's hard to think that there is any room for humility, meekness, or mourning. In fact, the more I read the Sermon on the Mount, the more I think it goes counter to everything I've ever learned in life.

Yes, that's why it's a revolutionary lesson. But sometimes we leave it as that. Revolutionary. I don't want too. I want to live it.


Out to Sea

A few weeks ago I started my latest hobby. For the last twelve months or so I've been picking up random hobbies for about two months at a time. Last year about this time I learned to ballroom dance. Ok, sure I wasn't that good, but it was fun all the same to not step on a girl's toes fifty-percent of the time less than I used to. Then early this spring I took up rock-climbing. A great hobby that helped me conquer my fear of heights. I tried to take up puzzles during the winter, but that didn't really take.

So this fall when the opportunity came to join Chesapeake's rowing team, I seized it. And boy its been great. I've always had two romanticized dreams in my head that I've wanted to fulfill. One is to be on a campus, wearing a tweed coat during a cool fall day, on the way to teach a computer class that somehow transcends 1's and 0's and gets into the meaning of life. The other dream, much like my Harvard brothers at the crack of dawn, is to be on a rowing team as the sun rises or sets over the water.

One dream complete! Each Thursday night I get to go down to Chesapeake's boat house (yes, we're a crazy company) and get on the river with seven other teammates and row to my heart's content. Granted, I'm not very good, but it's fun.

Rowing is a very team-oriented sport which I didn't realize till I got out there. I'm a runner, which unless your on a cross-country team, is a fairly independent sport. I contend that it's better to run with someone, but most times I run on my own. However, the only way to propel the boat forward is for everyone to be in sync. The oars must hit the water at the same time and come out at the same time.

It's really a great example of unity. In fact, its a rare example of total unity. Many times we think of unity as separate entities making up a whole. And each of those entites can have their own goals, desires, or ideas. Not so with rowing. Everyone must be focused on the goal of rowing together.

So, before I muse too deeply let me just say I really think everyone should get out on the water and row if possible. My next hobby, I think, will be the GRE. Blah...


An Ode to Fall

I love fall. It is quite easily the best season of all. I think Vivaldi should have spent a bit more time on his fall movement. Sure, "Spring" was probably his best work and it is indeed a fine season. However, I think the majority of people would pick summer as their favorite season. And a few crazy northern friends of mine would pick winter (It's my second favorite season, so don't worry!) .

But I love fall, and so when we had a few brief days of respite from summer last week I was thrilled. The crispness of the air. The start of cross-country season. The beginning of the school year. I can't hardly get enough.

I really think it comes down to the feeling of the air. A runner is deeply in touch with the weather outside. During the summer it's miserable to run. If I don't run much before 8:00 AM, I can forget it. The winter can be fun to run in if there is snow, but the choice between staying underneath warm covers or running in 20 degree temperatures is an oft lost battle. And while the spring provides a great relief to cold winter runs, nothing beats the perfect temperatures of a good fall.

So whether you enjoy running or not, and whether you enjoy fall or not, get outside in the coming weeks. Enjoy the one week of fall in Oklahoma where the leaves actually change colors (so much better in Missouri!) And get ready for the lazy days of winter.

P.S. I might just add it's only about 45 days till you can break out your Christmas music!



I watched a good portion of House: Season 2 this weekend with my friends. It's an interesting show about a brilliant yet cold-hearted doctor who treats the unsolvable medical cases. Typically to solve the case he has to piece together the life of the victim and discover all the relevant facts necessary to determining their illness. His basic premise is that everyone is not telling him the truth, and his acumen into the human soul is piercing.

Turns out nearly everyone is lying. They're lying about their fidelity; they're lying about their friendships; and the list goes on and on. However, it's not just one case like this. It's everybody. Nobody is immune to deceit. In fact, what helps House out is that he never believes in the good of people. He believes more in the evil.

This is opposite of my approach. I tend to believe in the good of all people. Almost to a fault. I don't see why anyone would every lie to me. Or withhold the truth. Or treat me wrongly. I'm not sure if that's because I honestly believe people wouldn't be like that to me, or because I want it to be that way.

But this can lead to disappointment, or disillusionment about what's really happening. In a lot of ways I think House may be a better judge of character than I am. I may be better at seeing the possibilities in people, but he is better at seeing people as they are. I'm not sure I should be so surprised about this. The book of Romans is filled with passages about how we all are sinful. Paul goes on and on about the fact that he can't do what he knows he should do, but does what he does not want to do because of his weak flesh. If Paul can't even get it right, how could we?

I'm not sure what I'm after. In the end, I want to see the good in people. I don't think that's a wrong desire to have. But perhaps I do have to realize that there are deeper desires that wage wars in all of us. Even in you.