Juneteenth

Today is June 19th. I always remembered it as my parents’ anniversary. If they were alive today, they would have been married 87 years. However, many people in the United States would remember June 19th as Juneteenth. It was June 19th, 1865 when African-American slaves in  Galveston, Texas first learned that they had been freed from slavery. Yes, the Emancipation Proclamation had been promulgated in 1863, but that monumental edict was not experienced in Texas until this particular date in Galveston. They celebrated that date, and it eventually became a day of remembrance of the freedom from oppression that came to light that day.

Interestingly, I too was unaware of the importance of this date until I was 22 years old, graduated from college, and working in the human services field. It was the summer of 1972 before I knew what Juneteenth was.   

I recently attended a gathering where Ruby Bridges spoke about her experience in the integration of a school in her hometown in Louisiana in 1960. You may, or may not know, that Ruby Bridges was the little girl depicted in a Norman Rockwell painting showing her flanked by U.S. Marshals walking into a previously all-White school.   

Her story is profound, in that she recognizes that racism is not the problem we face today, it is the problem of good versus evil. Good people must unite to combat the evils of racism. We recognize that hatred and rejection of “other” is the basic problem.

So, as we recognize Juneteenth, let’s remember that we wrestle with evil in this world, and racism is just one of those evils that divides us.

Peacemakers

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.                                                                        Matthew 5:9

In his sermon on the mount, Jesus spoke about what later came to be called the “Beatitudes”. One of those beatitudes was the one mentioned above- peacemakers. Jesus obviously valued peace, stating that the peacemakers were to be called “sons of God”- indeed, a high calling.

I think we are all called to be peacemakers, wherever we are. Think about situations where you have a choice to escalate a tense situation with an opinion, or to deescalate the situation by remaining silent. Or, you see an injustice happening, and you have the opportunity to take up the cause of someone being oppressed.

In my role as a counselor, I have the responsibility to evaluate situations, and try to bring healing and peace, as best I can into the situation. That does not mean that I cannot call out behaviors which are destructive or harmful. On the contrary, I am compelled to speak truth into situations as I see it. Yet, how does one bring peace into situations where there is strife and conflict?

Recently, I was on a phone call where there was much pain and anger, and indeed, some yelling and raised voices. My job was to deescalate the emotional overload, and be the voice of reason since I could be objective. My role was to try to restore a sense of calm as best I could. I found myself speaking very slowly and deliberately. I tried to listen empathically since it was clear that the person on the phone was in a great deal of pain at the moment. I asked that the person just give himself some space for a while, making sure that he was going to be safe.

I continued to speak slowly and calmly, trying to model the sense of calm that the caller desperately needed. I knew that time could give this person the needed space to regain his own sense of peace. Until then, he needed me to have a sense of peace and hope that he currently could not get to- understandable in his current situation.

I mention this because at times, we all can and do play the role of peacemaker. We can only do that if we ourselves have a sense of peace that God is in control. Whatever the situation, there is a solution. Our job is to be present, physically or emotionally, until that peace that passes all understanding can be felt by those whom we are trying to comfort.

Above all, the thing we all need is peace, the peace that comes from God.

Prayer: Father, thank you for calling us to be peacemakers. Give us the strength and opportunity to be your ambassadors of peace, Amen.

Blessed Are the Pure in Heart…

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.                                                                                                         Matthew 5:8

So, what does it mean to be “pure in heart”? It does not mean a “perfect heart”- that is not possible. It does mean that we have looked into our heart and we have seen it for what it is. It is selfish and pleasure seeking, if left to its own devices. Our job is to cut down on how often it is “left to its own devices”. In other words, we are to be stewards of an inherently selfish nature.

In the book of Jeremiah, the prophet asserts “The heart is hopelessly dark and deceitful, a puzzle that no one can figure out. But I, God, search the heart and examine the mind. I get to the heart of the human. I get to the root of things. I treat them as they really are, not as they pretend to be. Jeremiah 17:9-10

We are clear that we are not perfect in heart, but we can be pure of heart. We can do that by agreeing with God on it. He knows our frailties, and he detests the practice of trying to cover it up, pretending we are something that we are not.

The counseling principle of ownership of our innermost being frees us to become who we are truly meant to be. Truth in agreeing that we are sinners in need of a Savior is the step of freedom and change. It is the “moment of clarity” for those in addiction who now see the need for help in overcoming the addiction. It is the moment of salvation for those who see that they cannot solve the sin problem alone.

I have been writing about the relationship of faith and science. Science can explain and solve many world problems. It cannot solve the sin problem. That is the work for faith.

Prayer: Thank you Father for the solution to our heart problems, your son, Jesus, Amen

It Costs Something

Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. He loved us and offered himself as a sacrifice for us, a pleasing aroma to God.                                                           Ephesians 5:2

One of the concepts that I talk with my counseling couples about is sacrificial love. The concept is not new to them, but often they need to be reminded that there cannot be love without sacrifice. Love costs something. In order for a relationship to thrive, there needs to be sacrifice.

Jesus was the great example of this. His love for mankind cost something- the sacrifice of his life. So, there are no shortcuts to loving relationships. Parents well know that it costs a lot to raise kids. Not just the financial costs, but the emotional investment.  We make ourselves emotionally vulnerable when we love others because we know that we cannot possess them, and someday, we will lose them. We launch them to the place they need to be to become independent and successful. We invest our time, money, energy, and emotions into the well-being of someone(s) outside of ourselves.

What higher level can humans reach than to pour themselves out for the benefit of others? God gave us the example, and when we follow that, we can live at our highest level.

So, the idea of sacrifice for those we love is obvious, yet we fall back to our selfish nature of wanting what we want when we want it. Yes, the human story. But don’t despair, because this idea of sacrifice is one that we grow into. Hopefully, we have passed it on to our own children, who will pass it in to theirs.

Yes, the circle of life.

Prayer: Amen!

Sometimes It Happens…

A prudent person foresees danger and takes precautions. The simpleton goes blindly on and suffers the consequences.                                                                                        Proverbs 22:3

Sometimes it happens. “A behavior that our words cannot get us out of”. Those were the words a client recently told me when we were discussing her friend who recently died. This man had done something- she didn’t say what it was- that alienated him from family, and he never regained relationship with them. Now he is gone, and she is grieving.

I thought her choice of words was interesting. Behaviors do speak louder than words, and perhaps this behavior of his was just part of a series of poor judgments. She alluded to that. Yet, those words seemed so poignant to me.   

I am of the belief that there is a remedy for every problem, that second chances are always there. In God’s eyes, I believe forgiveness reigns. Yet, behaviors have consequences that last, and even when there is forgiveness, relationship may never be restored.

So, a cautionary tale for all. Our bad behaviors can have lasting consequences. The good news is, our good behaviors can have lasting consequences too. Let’s concentrate on those good behaviors that can last. One little kindness can change a day, a week, a lifetime.

Prayer: Lord, keep us mindful of those actions that can have long-lasting consequences or long lasting benefits, Amen

The Dead Sea

Though they have been going through much trouble and hard times, they have mixed their wonderful joy with their deep poverty, and the result has been an overflow of giving to others.                                                II Corinthians 8:2

The Dead Sea (what a name) is a salty lake in the Jordan Valley in Israel. It is incredibly salty, with almost 10 times the salinity level of the ocean. This body of water is one in which I could actually swim, if you can call it that. Even non-swimmers like me can float on this briny water.

The Dead Sea is “dead” because it has inlets, primarily the Jordan River, but no actual outlet to another body of water. Because of this lack of continuous water exchange, and due to the high heat and low altitude basin, the Dead Sea accumulates minerals, but does not sustain much life. Too salty.

The metaphor here has a truth for us. Bodies that do not have an outlet, but just take in resources, tend to stagnate. Healthy organisms have a dynamic rhythm of give and take which provides balance. We produce an output from what we consume, in order to maintain health. We give things away which we have received in order to maintain the chain of life.

So, as they say in the AA 12th step, “You can’t keep it unless you give it away”.

Yep. 

Prayer: Lord, you provide opportunities for us to give, which ultimately gives us health, Amen

What We Learn

“I always knew that deep down in every heart, there is mercy and generosity. No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.

Nelson Mandela, (A Long Walk to Freedom)

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.                                    John 13:34-35

I’ve been listening to a podcast about the human brain, and it is fascinating. Once again, I am struck by the complexity and grand design of our body, and especially the brain. The author talks about use of the word “hardwiring” that is sometimes used in discussing brain function and he says that “livewiring” is a better word, because the brain is always compensating to adapt to circumstances in our life. I cannot go into all the amazing details, of course, but suffice it to say, it got me thinking about learning.

We are learning all the time. We are adjusting and compensating for the things that life throws at us. Our brain is constantly giving us sensory messages about our environment. We can also learn more important emotional skills to navigate this world so that we can become more of what God intended us to be- loving people. We are not born hating other people. That, unfortunately is learned.

When we continually use a certain part of our brain- when we “overlearn” something- it tends to endure and almost become second nature. It comes easily to us after much practice. So too with doing loving things. The more we practice loving behaviors, the more we feel love.

You know my mantra if you are a regular reader of this blog- DO, THEN FEEL. If we do something enough, we will feel like doing it. If I act lovingly, I begin to feel more loving.

So, that is what we are called to do. Learn to love better. That is what we were created to do.

Prayer: Father, you have made us to love one another. Help us to learn how to do that daily, Amen

What Mode Are You In?

To answer before listening—
    that is folly and shame.                                                                          Proverbs 18:13

I had a discussion with a client the other day about her interactions with her husband. She noted that they can easily get into a defensive posture with one another when they are talking about some relational matters.  

This got me to thinking about my own method of communication. When I am in discussion with others, am I in “convincing mode” or “listening mode”? When we are in “convincing mode” we are not as able to hear the views of another. We are more intent upon getting the other person to accept my way of seeing things. This is not a bad thing- we all want to be heard and have influence on others. Yet, when we are full-on in convincing mode, we just don’t hear another’s viewpoints quite as well.

So, it is important to hear another, to be in “listening mode”, before we get into convincing mode. Self-awareness is important in having real discussions with others, of course. Then we can have full understanding and better, more meaningful and fulfilling conversations.

Prayer: Lord, help us to see the mode we are in, and always listening to your wisdom first, Amen.

Stories Are Therapeutic

“The Spirit of the LORD is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free                                                                                            Luke 4:18

In past blogs, I have discussed the subject of “stories”. More specifically, I referenced the parables of Jesus as he went about sharing truth to people in ways so that they could readily understand him. His society was not a particularly literate one. Reading and writing were more for the educated elite, like the scholars who taught in the temple and synagogues.

Jesus was often angered by the behavior of the educated elites of the day. Many of those teachers and leaders used their power and wealth for the benefit of the few, and certainly not for the poor. That is what made Jesus so radical. He came, as he said to “proclaim good news to the poor”. So, it certainly made sense that Jesus spoke in the language that the poor and uneducated could readily understand. He told stories and parables to instruct and inspire people.

One of the ways to get at the truths in those parables is to have someone get into the place of one of the characters in the story. I have clients sometimes consider some of those parables from the viewpoint of the character, not as the listener of the story. How different is it when someone, for example, can get into the mind of one of the brothers in the Prodigal Son story? Maybe the characters in the story of the Good Samaritan. These two parables have transcended time and culture to become part of the literature and wisdom in places where Christianity is not well known. These are human interest stories which can be felt by anyone.

Sometimes it is easier to become aware of feelings when we can distance it from ourselves. We somehow have “permission” to express what that might be like without owning it for ourselves. My goal is to get people willing to just look at what is really going on in their mind and heart. It takes courage to do that.

Stories can help.

Prayer: Thank you Lord for the timeless truths found in the teachings of Jesus, Amen.

Keep On Asking…

“Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.

 “You parents—if your children ask for a loaf of bread, do you give them a stone instead?  Or if they ask for a fish, do you give them a snake? Of course not!  So, if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him.

Matthew 7:7-11(New Living)

In thinking about prayer today, I realized that I have my own ideas how God should answer me. I’m human, so I kinda think like that. But, expecting that God will play by my rules and plans, however great I believe that they are, is not going to happen.

However, I am encouraged by the verses from Matthew above. Those verses talk about persistence, but they also talk about a process. The verses above hold a promise that God does hear our prayers, and that “everyone who asks, receives”. Now, do we get exactly what we want? No. But seekers will actually find a response.

I liken this process to being lost and asking for directions. First, there is humility in asking for directions when lost (am I right guys?) Once we ask and patiently and intently listen to the directions, we proceed to seek the destination. The promise is that we will finally find the place we are looking for, as long as we follow the directions well.

Then we are to knock. If you get to the door of the place you are seeking, but you don’t knock, how will someone know we are there? We need to have the courage to knock on the door.

So, there it is. Have the humility to ask God for direction, knowing we cannot get there ourselves. Follow the directions carefully, and we will get to a good destination. Finally, have the courage to take action on the request, even if it seems scary or difficult.

The final verses give another promise- the Father who loves us is not going to send us to our destruction, he wants good things for us.

Prayer: Lord, you love us and want the best for us. Help us to have the persistence to keep seeking, Amen