And He Came…

…He wants us so badly He came despite of and amidst our mess…

“Therefore, the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” – Isaiah 7:14

“…they will call him Immanuel, which means ‘God with us.’” – Matthew 1:23

…to be sure, it had to have been quite a night… everything I’ve ever imagined about the Nativity story is pristine…

Starlit night, warm breeze in the air, humble shepherds accompanied by lowing lambs to see this bundle of joy with skin so soft and shiny, obviously there was something special about this child… Kings from faraway lands, bowing before the manger, gifts within gold-laden parcels presented to honor this wee one… Yes, it must have been a silent night indeed…

Nah, let’s be real. No doubt it was a holy night, set apart for this event, but I doubt it was anything but flawless or comfortable. I mean, only weeks before Mary and Joseph had been commanded to up-and-leave town in order to comply with the government’s new edict to be “counted.” Despite presumably owning less than we do today, I’m certain there were still arrangements that needed to be made, and hastily…

Who would look after the chickens and goats?

What about the woodshop?

Oh, and the garden?

And, what if the baby comes while we’re away? I mean, what then?

It had to have been a bit stressful, especially for a lady nine-months pregnant!

 

And, then you come to the actual night of Jesus’ birth…

“Nah, no room here…”

“All our rooms are darn filled up!”

“We’re at capacity as it is, but there is this cave out back where we keep the livestock…”

Are you kidding me? Seriously? Sleep among livestock? Chance a rat or mouse scurrying over my toes in the twilight hours?! Huh, uh… No way. That’s not a “peaceful night” to me, much less silent!

 

But, being they were out of options, they took what was offered. And, with it, they accepted what came…

Amidst the stench of the sheep, the bellowing of the cattle, and the scratchy straw, God came.

Immanuel…

 “God with us…”

 

It’s difficult to imagine this unkempt scene, difficult to imagine it actually happened, difficult to understand the meaning…

The God of the universe who has all power, all knowledge, all ability to create circumstances, came down amidst… a MESS! But He is…

“God with us…”

 

In a season often marked by multiple family gatherings, such meetings tend to highlight the difficulties, the annoyances, the conflicts, and mostly how things are not as we wish they were… You know what I mean…

As I recently reflected on my own feelings of disappointment in family relationships, I was struck with the heart of the Christmas story. Amidst our mess, God CAME.

He could have waited for modern conveniences, say, electricity, for one, or anesthetic so Mary wouldn’t have to feel as much pain during labor (thanks, Great-Grandma Eve!). He could have waited for Jesus to come once there was vacancy in the local inns. He could have said, “Heck with Mankind…! Let them save themselves. After all, they prefer to give me lip-service rather than relationship. Really, they only want me around when they’ve messed up and need saving from a situation they got themselves into. Nah, I’ll just stand back and watch.” But He didn’t do that. No, He came anyway…

 

He came to join us in the mess.

He came to heal the mess.

He came to suffer with us in the mess.

 

And so, as I consider the mess that is this world and that is our family, I, too, want to strive to be like Jesus. My tendency is to run away from pain, physical, emotional, or relational. Rather than press in, I tend to get out!

But, Jesus has given me the ultimate example… Be present. Walk through the mud and mire with those I love. After all, hasn’t He done that for me?

 “God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” – Hebrews 13:5

In those times I’ve struggled, it has been His Body, the Church, that has held out a hand to heal my wounds, share in my difficulties, offer encouragement when all I want to do is beat myself down and punish myself for the stupid and careless things I’ve done. No, not a physical church, but the people He indwells. It has been the words of comfort, simple presence, sharing in the things that trouble or excite me, that has kept me on the path of perseverance, towards hope and healing.

So, as the New Year approaches, I resolve to choose to be present. Jesus came among the mess, walked with some pretty gruff guys, and, in the end, suffered exponentially on my behalf, your behalf. His goal was that neither I, nor you, nor anyone else would have to live without Him forever. And, so, I’ll choose to let Him in and be with me in my mess, even as I try to be present with others amidst their mess. Won’t you?

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.” – John 3:16-18

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Serve in obscurity?

…rather than make a name for myself, make His name known…

“He must become greater; I must become less.” – John the Baptist

“I tell you, among those born of women there is no one greater than John…” – Jesus

Have you ever considered the meaning of these words? What does it really mean to become “less”? And, how is it that of all the people Jesus chose to commend it was John the Baptist, an obscure, well-worn man living solo in the Judean wilderness? Why is it that Jesus didn’t sing the praises of Abraham, Moses, or David? Jewish tradition holds all three in high regard.

As I attended a local women’s conference this last weekend, I was confronted to reconsider these words. The theme of the weekend was “Finding Your Voice.” It centered on developing our intimacy with Jesus so that we could truly find our voice whereby we could live out our purpose in this world.

Sitting in the auditorium, listening to the message, one thought kept coming to mind, interrupting my ability to focus on the message being given… Sure, I guess I need to find my voice… I was telling myself… But what if God would rather I focus on His voice being heard?

My mind trailed deeper down the rabbit hole of that line of thinking… Rather than being known, what if it pleased God more that I be unknown? Or be known completely only by Him? My good works, my heartaches, my quirks… Rather than make a name for myself, seek to make God’s name known? Rather than advance my own reputation, advance God’s? And, then came the zinger of a question… Am I willing to serve God in utter obscurity?

*Gulp.*

Pondering such questions, I began to consider those who have answered that question in the affirmative… I mean, how long did Mother Teresa go about her business of caring for the poor, diseased, despised, and wretched before the world took notice of her noble work? How many others do the same in our day? Would I be willing to do such work without acclaim?

Coming back up to reality, the struggle is real… In all honesty, the answer is, “no.” (Besides, if I was keeping record, I’d already say I’d lost since I’m so connected through social media.) Nonetheless, I not ready to disappear into the void of anonymity, comforted solely by the fact I’m completely known by God. Yet, I know that that is every Christian’s call…

“For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” – Colossians 3:3-4

And so, the thought deepens… What if true freedom is really found by losing oneself? Isn’t that what Jesus said…?

“For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it.” – Mark 8:35

AND…

“Whoever tries to keep their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life will preserve it.” – Luke 17:33

Alright, so, to lose our life is to gain it? And to seek to make something of our lives for our own sake is actually to lose it? It sounds so contradictory… Yet, I can imagine the freedom and joy it can bring… To not be bound by other people’s expectations or approval… To be unbridled by your own fears and uncertainties… Free to do what is right when it’s not popular because you’re unconcerned with your standing and secure in who you really are…

You are His.

To live in full color…

…risk stepping out to be who you were created to be… rise up and answer your calling…

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Growing up in Western Washington, there were many a gray day. Even if it wasn’t actually raining, the skies were white with overcast clouds. Though the rain gives that area it’s lovely green color, without the sun to shine on it, one can feel like it’s a pretty dreary place.

Recently, the thought came to me about how life can sometimes feel that way… Reality and the things that make us feel so “alive,” can seem hidden by some fog of responsibility, or obligation, or simply, the monotony of life.

Back in the 90’s, a movie came out that at first glance seemed to be entirely filmed in black-and-white*. Starring Reese Witherspoon and Tobey McGuire, this brother-sister duo found themselves transported into the brother’s favorite 1950’s TV sitcom. The premise followed a “Leave-it-to-Beaver” type family living in a small town where everything was predictable and “safe.” Being that the sitcom followed the birth of the television, it aired in black-and-white rather than color. Similarly, the movie began in gray-scale scenes…

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As the brother-sister duo move throughout the movie, they begin bringing attitudes and behaviors from their own generation, nearly fifty years later. Suddenly, the predictable story line becomes disrupted, throwing the town in which the series is set off kilter. Before you know it, everything begins to fall apart… Characters deviate from expected behavior, going off-script and begin to dream…

Scenes shift from only black-and-white, to stains of red, orange, blue, green… By the end of the movie, each scene is entirely in color, none of the black-and-white shades remain. Predictability has vanished, boring has been wiped out, what was lifeless has disappeared…

It got me thinking… What is it to live life in full color?

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Earnestly, I’ve yearned to “fit-in,” seeking after the life everyone else around me appears to be living… Working the “9-5,” attaining the “husband, house, 2.5 children and a dog” lifestyle preached to me from the pulpit and the TV.

Yet, the more I’ve sought this life, the more it’s alluded me. Furthermore, even that which I have attained has left me feeling more lifeless than I expected. This “life” became boring, predictable, even frustrating. As if, the more I strove to be like everyone else, the less I became like everyone else and the more lifeless I felt.

But to live in full color…! That is the life I long for…

To live in full color is to be fully alive… To feel every breath in your lungs… To rub the lint between your toes and feel its plush fiber… To gaze out across the valley and see a sunset that leaves you speechless… To lose track of time playing games with children, laughing all the while…

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Not many routine things bring such joy, such life, such color as these… And yet the adult within me struggles to make those things a priority… But if I’m to live the rest of this life, it’ll only be worth it if I’m living in full color.

So, let us take risks… Risk trusting Yahweh to care for you as you follow His leading… Risk your reputation or friendships sharing about the reality of Jesus in your life… Risk stepping out to live the life you were created for no matter how much money you will make, how much others oppose it, or how much you fear failure… Risk getting lost in the little moments that bring you joy, whether that be painting the ocean shores, creating a melody on ivory keys, throwing a frisbee to your furry friend, or playing tic-tac-toe with a five-year old… Rise up and answer your calling…

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“I have come that they may have life and have it to the full.” – Jesus*

“[God]…richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.” – 1 Timothy 6:17

*Pleasantville (1998)

*John 10:10

pcs: all sc, except Pleasantville clip and vintage TV set

One step at a time…

…you can only eat an elephant one bite at time…

So, over the last month or so it’s been more difficult to find the motivation to get outside and go running. Earlier this week, the sun came out and I knew it would be a good day for getting a run in. It was still a bit nippy, as we’re still coming out of winter here, but with my recently purchased running gear, I knew I would be able to stay plenty warm.

Getting home from work, fatigue was already setting in… I don’t want to go on a run. What if I skip a day? An internal dialogue began between the part of me that wanted nothing more than to be lazy and rest at home, and the ambitious part of me that revels in reaching personal goals… Well, Sarah, if you skip today, you’ll have to make it a priority for tomorrow… And what if tomorrow you don’t feel like running? Or what if it’s a stormy, cold day? Hmmm… This inner dialogue between me, myself, and I continued for about a half hour. Finally, as my tummy started rumbling for dinner, I decided I’d better go and get it done. So, I donned my gear and hit the pavement.

As I ran down the street, and noticed that my pace was slower than usual, I kept telling myself how it was good for me simply to be out there. It’s not about speed or pace, but perseverance. It’s not about winning any medals, but simply keeping going…

I’ve come to realize that life is the same way. The mundane tasks of the day-in-day-out of life hit us and we get bored, apathetic, discouraged, unmotivated… We want something exciting, something memorable, something glorious… But that’s not real life. While there will be highs and lows, often we’re simply running on level ground…

I was reminded of the quote I once heard about how to eat an elephant…

“How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” – Creighton W. Abrams

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We need to take it one step at a time. You can’t do everything at once, but you can do one thing at a time, and after finishing, you can move on to the next thing. As Saint Francis of Assisi was quoted as saying,

“Start by doing what’s necessary; then do what’s possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.”

So, the next time you feel overwhelmed by the mundane tasks of life while still wishing to see your dreams come true, remember to take it one step at a time…

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” – James 1:2-4

And once you reach the top, that’s when you get to see the view…!

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pc: Sarah Coffey, Hungary, South Africa; Darek Hollis, Macedonia

Enough through Jesus…

…simply believe in the One He has sent…

If you’re like me, in the hustle and bustle of today’s world, you often find yourself overwhelmed… Overwhelmed by the day-to-day tasks vying for your attention, while simultaneously agonizing over the oughta’s and shoulda’s to reach personal goals…

Social media has afforded the ability to vastly over-share small snippets of our lives, the “highlight reel,” as some have called it… And in scrolling through our activity feeds, we’re left feeling inadequate… We begin believing, perhaps even subconsciously, that these “highlights” are the sole experiences of our friends and acquaintances… Smiling faces, professional achievements, carefree vacations… As if you’re the only one who experiences life’s ups and downs…

So often, it has left me wondering, am I enough? Am I doing enough? Is my life enough, in God’s eyes?

Jesus was once asked what one must do to do the works God requires…

“Jesus answered, ‘The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.‘” – John 6:29

WHOA. To simply believe in the One God has sent! THAT is enough.

And, knowing all too well our human tendency to try to work out our salvation, Paul the apostle reminded us, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of Godnot by works, so that no one can boast. – Ephesians 2:8-9

When Jesus offered Himself up for us on the cross, He accomplished all that was needed and declared, “It is finished.” – John 19:30

Tempting as it is to try to EARN God’s favor, rest in the simple truth that it is enough to simply believe in Jesus. That His perfectly lived life paid the ultimate price on our behalf… His sacrifice was for the sin of every person throughout all of history! Wow. Trusting in His finished work is all that is needed to be enough before God.

Paul made it clear and simple…

That if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. As the Scripture says, ‘Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame.'” – Romans 10:9-11

So, it’s not a matter of achievement, a matter of feeling, or a matter of other’s perceptions of us… Believing in Jesus is enough…

“…your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” – Colossians 3:3b-4

pc: Sarah Coffey, Ukraine

Always found…

…no matter how lost we feel, God will always come find us…

For the last year, I’ve been relying on one set of earbuds for all phone conversations and listening to audio tracks during my runs. Unfortunately, I’ve discovered that the actual ear pieces fall off pretty easily. Time and again I’ve taken them out of my purse or pocket only to find one earpiece missing.  Inevitably, I’d begin the frantic search, rummaging through my bag or stooping down on all fours, scouring the ground for that little black knob.

Every time one falls off, I expect it to be the time I finally lose the earpiece for good. One time, I even flew all the way to Washington State with only one earpiece. I’d figured it fell off while I was on the plane, lost amidst the seats somewhere. I mentally prepared myself to buy a new set.

But to my chagrin, as soon as I got back to Utah, I discovered the earpiece safely hidden amidst the pattern on my rug. It wasn’t until I sat down and felt something squishy beneath me that I even found it.

With the number of times I’ve lost and found the earpieces, it gave me reason to pause… How is it that I haven’t actually lost these for good? How is it that I keep finding it after thinking it’s been lost?

In my mind, it’s been nothing but a little miracle that I haven’t had to buy a new pair. It’s as if there was some magnetic pull, keeping the earpiece in my vicinity… It seemed like there was nothing I could do that would cause that piece to be lost for good… And, in kind of a reverse way, it brought to mind God’s pursuit of us… That no matter how far we run, how deep of a hole we’ve dug for ourselves, or how lost we feel, we’ll always be found by God…

Speaking in a parable, Jesus Himself likened His Father’s love and concern for us to that of a shepherd keeping a mass of sheep…

“What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off? And if he finds it, I tell you the truth, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off. In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should be lost.” – Matthew 18:12-14

Do we think that we are so far gone in the midst of our own mess that God cannot or will not come after us?

“’Am I only a God nearby,’ declares the Lord, ‘and not a God far away? Who can hide in secret places so that I cannot see them?’ declares the Lord. ‘Do not I fill heaven and earth?’ declares the Lord.” – Jeremiah 23:23-24

God is in constant pursuit of us that He might lavish His love on us and that we might know Him intimately. And once we are found, there is nothing that will separate us from His love…

“…neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” – Romans 8:38-39

And so, I want to remind you that whether you are basking in the sunshine atop the highs of life, or traipsing through the darkest valley, or feeling lost and hidden in your own mess, know that there is One who will always go looking for you, One who won’t give up until you’re found, One who will never forget you…

“See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; [you] are ever before me.” – Isaiah 49:16

*pc Sarah Coffey

Keep running through the pain…

…the pain is only temporary, so keep on going…

“But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship…” – 2 Timothy 4:5a

Usually my runs are pretty uneventful… I might run by some barking dogs, kids riding bikes, or people cleaning up their yards… And most of the time, I feel pretty good throughout the course of my run.

One time recently, about halfway through my run, my stomach began to act up… As it jostled around with each stride, I began to feel sick. A rare occurrence for me, I began to think through what I’d eaten that day that could have contributed to this feeling… coffee, cereal, leftover rice and stir fry, too much sugar…? Nothing too unusual jumped out.

Despite the fact that my tummy was unhappy with me, my arms and legs were all too raring to go. They could have gone all day if not for my complaining tummy.

I was inclined to stop, but as sometimes happens, I expected the pain to go away. I needed to keep running, to run until the pain subsided, until I came to the end…

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I’ve increasingly found the same to be true in life. Now, I know this is not exactly an earth-shattering concept… But I sometimes have to remind myself of this fact…

So many things are thrown into our way as we run through life… unexpected, painful things… a bittersweet divorce, the loss of a child, illness and injury, painful loneliness, overwhelming anxiety… it’s difficult to keep on running… to find the motivation to stay the course…

Though this has been a blessed season for me, it’s also been one of the most difficult… On many occasions, I’ve felt in deep despair… it’s been almost a daily battle to keep running this race called “life” as regrets, “what ifs,” and anxiety about the future have landed in my path…

But just as that run taught me, I must run through the pain… WE must run through the pain…

At the beginning of track season as a kid, each run brought on the pain of side aches as I’d been out of practice for a season. Eventually, as I kept coming to practice, day after day, and as I kept training for race day, the side aches eventually went away. Before I knew it, I could run with ease and eventually I even got faster!

In life, we must also run through the pain… Eventually the pain will subside as you get stronger… Show the pain it cannot have you… It will not consume you… You will outrun its grip on you. Before you know it, either the pain will cease to exist, or you’ll find yourself at your intended destination. No matter how long the pain lasts, we must remember it won’t be forever… There are days filled with joy and delight ahead of you… Don’t give up before you can experience them… After the storm comes the rainbow; beauty comes from the ashes; rain makes things grow… Keep on running, my friend… You’re not alone; I’m running there right along with you…

“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” – 2 Timothy 4:7

“…[stand] firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers and sisters throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings…” – 2 Peter 5:9

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pc: Sarah Coffey, Zambia, Victoria Falls, Zambezi River

We fall down and get up…

…run in such a way so as to get the prize…

“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore, I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.” – 1 Corinthians 9:24-27

So, about a week before Christmas, I took a spill during one of my runs. Being that winter was well under way, the sun was already sinking low after I’d come home from work. However, that didn’t deter me from my running goals… I’ll just run on the streets with street lights and if there aren’t any nearby, I’ll just be extra careful… yeah… right…!

After changing my clothes, I got caught up in conversation with my roommates. Before I knew it, I’d lost fifteen more minutes of daylight…! Finally out the door, the sky had changed to a dark blue color as it turned night…

Listening to a podcast of my favorite pastor, I ran through the neighborhood and out to the main road… Though a bit out of shape, I knew I’d need to hurry if I was going to make it before it was too dark to see a foot in front of me.

A year earlier, I’d owned a little headlamp… But somewhere along the way, I ended up giving it up… Oh, how I wished I’d still had that little light now!

About two miles in, I decided to turn around and head home. Though the main street was pretty well lit, it was also noisy… So, I decided to take one of the parallel side streets.

Swept up in the sermon, I was happily running along the sidewalk. A few blocks down it dawned on me to check the street sign so I’d know where to turn back to the main road…

As my eyes strained to see the sign, my feet stumbled on the uneven sidewalk… Before I even knew what was happening, I was well on my way towards the cold, hard cement… Just like the movies, time seemed to be moving in slow-motion as several thoughts raced through my head… I’m falling… I’m actually falling… I’m going to hit the ground! I hope no one is watching… how did this happen? It was as if I was in a time continuum outside of time itself… the Twilight Zone…. doo-do-doo-do, doo-do-doo-do, doo-do-doo-do…!

All at once… chatter… scrape… At the end of someone’s driveway, my knees hit the pavement first followed by my chin… I could feel blood oozing through my brand new running tights…

Trying to pull myself together, I sheepishly looked around to see whether anyone was around to see my graceless descent… I paused… Am I okay? Yep, I’m okay… a little banged up, but I’m fine… no concussion or broken bones… For a couple blocks, I walked a bit gingerly as the pain in my knees subsided, and then I picked up the pace and ran the remaining two miles home.

Now, that fall could have been much worse… It could have been in a street, I could have broken an arm, someone could have been watching to my utter embarrassment… It could have deterred me from running altogether. I mean, who really wants to go out and fall down??

Today during my usual run, with snow falling all around, I realized that the fall back in December hadn’t been enough to keep me from my run today… Though slush was on the ground, I wasn’t afraid of falling…

The old adage is true, “you have to get back up on the horse that threw you…” Life is the same way… When we fall or experience a failure, we cannot simply give up or give in. We will never really know when or if we will fall… But if we don’t go running, we will never cross the finish line either to experience the gratification that comes from finishing the race. Our love of running, our love for life ought to keep us going…

I, for one, am not someone who really likes to fail… The word “risk” is one of my least favorite words… But if we don’t try and go after that which we want, if we don’t risk falling, we will never have the chance at success… The chance at crossing the finish line… We may fall… We might fall numerous times… But we must get up again and again… Because the finish is worth it!

How have you been encouraged to keep running after a “fall?” What was the outcome of your decision to get back up after a “fall?”

pc: Sarah Coffey, Zambia night sky 2016

E Pluribus Unum…

“…out of many, one…”

A few years ago, I had opportunity to travel to New York City. Some close friends had moved to Long Island and invited me out for a visit. Being that the Big Apple was only a train ride away, I set aside a day and ventured in to see the sights.

It was surreal to see so many iconic places in person…

The Empire State Building…

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The New York Library…

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Central Station…

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The 911 Memorial…

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And that amazing city skyline…

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One afternoon, my friends ventured into the city with me. Having been descendants of immigrants, we were intrigued to visit both Liberty and Ellis Island. After standing nearly an hour in line, being thoroughly questioned, and systematically screened, we boarded a small boat.

The wind whipped through our hair, carrying with it conversations from an array of dialects and tongues. As everyone looked back across the Hudson River, I was struck by the scene…

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The cityscape sparkled in the sunshine, tourists from all over the world gazed back at the view, and Ol’ Glory waved as if to attest to the irony of the situation. E Pluribus Unum… “out of many, one…”

Though our nation inherited many political and societal structures from Britain, the culture has been shaped by immigrants. People who have brought with them traditions, customs, and creativity which has contributed to the prosperity and strength of us all. People who yearned for opportunity, freedom, the chance at a different life… The words of Emma Lazarus, have rung true… Lady Liberty has been the Mother of Exiles…

‘Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!’ cries she

With silent lips. ‘Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!’”*

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Our nation has endured so many things… Breaking free from colonial rule, horrific civil war, economic depressions, world wars, equal rights for all… Yet, despite such groundbreaking successes that brought us together, we have become increasingly divided, polarized. No longer do we know how to be friends with those different from us… with those on the other-side-of-the-aisle, much less the other side of town! We don’t know how to have constructive conversations…

Rather than celebrating and welcoming opposing views, seeing them as bringing greater clarity, a catalyst for better solutions, or providing opportunity for growth, we withdraw from them… seeing them as “wrong,” “bad,” or simply an obstacle to our own comfort. We’re quick to scurry back to our little hovels full of people just like us, who we perceive to agree with us. We take offense at being misunderstood ourselves…

But this kind of thinking will get us nowhere. You need only turn on the TV, the radio, or your smart phone to see the fruit of such thinking… We cannot continue to label one another and write people off for the sake of our own ego… In so doing, many have villainized would-be friends.

The Apostle Paul knew there would be conflict in the midst of diversity. In fact, the church is the perfect example of that. God has drawn people from all walks of life to His family… wealthy and poor, presidents and slaves, the scientific and the artist, the guard and the prisoner, the doctor and the sick… Amidst such a diverse group, there would be differences of opinions, perspectives, biases, and sore-spots…

He reminded us of how our own body works…

“Your body has many parts—limbs, organs, cells—but no matter how many parts you can name, you’re still ONE body…

We each used to independently call our own shots, but then we entered into a large integrated life…

The old labels we once used to identify ourselves—labels like Jew or Greek, slave or free—are no longer useful.

I want you to think about how all this makes you more significant, not less. A body isn’t just a single part blown up into something huge. It’s all the different-but-similar parts arranged and functioning together

…If the body was all eye, how could it hear? If all ear, how could it smell? As it is, we see that God has carefully placed each part of the body right where he wanted it.

But I also want you to think about how this keeps your significance from getting blown up into self-importance. For no matter how significant you are, it is only because of what you are part of. An enormous eye or a gigantic hand wouldn’t be a body, but a monster. What we have is one body with many parts, each its proper size and in its proper place. No part is important on its own.

The way God designed our bodies is a model for understanding our lives together as a church: every part dependent on every other part, the parts we mention and the parts we don’t, the parts we see and the parts we don’t. If one part hurts, every other part is involved in the hurt, and in the healing. If one part flourishes, every other part enters into the exuberance.”**

It seems to me these are wise words which would be helpful not only for the church, but also for the nation. That we would see each other as a valuable, significant part of the success of us all.

I want to leave you with a link to Mandisa’s new song entitled We All Bleed The Same… An insightful reflection that when taken to heart has the power to change the world.

We All Bleed The Same

pcs: Sarah Coffey 

*From The New Colossus

**Excerpts from 1 Corinthians 12:12-31 in The Message translation

Keep on dancing…!

…embrace each new year as an opportunity to live to the fullest…

“Ruby?”*

“Did you say, ‘Ruby’? Why, that’s me!”

Turning in response to my cry was an elderly lady, feet propped up in the stirrups of her wheelchair. Each curl of her graying hair was so volumatic one would have thought it was actually artificial. Wheeling her back to the exam room, I could tell I was in for a treat… this was no one ordinary.

Carefully, I pivoted her chair into the room, backing it up so that she sat in line with our usual exam chair. All set to begin, I positioned myself behind the computer screen to begin taking notes of the reason for today’s visit…

But Ruby was lost in her own conversation, going on and on about how good she felt…

“You know, it wasn’t until I really got sick that I even stopped dating. I never once thought about my age or worried about it… This little nurse that’s been helping me, she turned forty just a few weeks ago. I thought she was going to have a nervous breakdown! She was so distraught about turning forty, but she didn’t look it at all! I even met her little old mother; she didn’t look her age either. I don’t think her mother even gave age a second thought. In fact, I think this little nurse picked up all this worry about getting old from her friends. Well, I’ve never been concerned about my age. I’ve dated and danced all the way through life… That’s what you gotta keep doing: keep on dancing. Ah, that’s what I miss most… If I wasn’t in this chair, that’s what I’d still be doing… dancing.”

I scarcely could bring myself to move the conversation along. Her words struck me… therein was a lesson that I needed to learn, a good word I needed to ponder…

Keep on dancing.

Suddenly it occurred to me the irony of the phrase… The theme of my high school graduation had been “I hope you dance.” (LeAnn Womack’s song of that title had come out that same year, so it was fitting for our class.)

At over ninety years of age, Ruby had found the secret to remaining youthful. In fact, I never would have guessed her age… Her vivacious spirit would have put her at least thirty years younger in my mind!

We live in a day when people are in desperate search of the secret to youthfulness. People invest their hard-earned-cash in creams, diets, athletic regimes, surgeries, all in the vain hope of keeping up that 20-something look. Meanwhile, their minds grow old… their spirits grow dull and lifeless…

Ruby’s quip was exactly what I needed to hear and what I think many of us need to hear. For me, I’ve just entered the latter half of my thirties. I’ve been dreading the idea of reaching forty without a spouse, children, or career to show for… But Ruby’s lesson inspired me to consider her words as profound wisdom… Stop fixating on length of years, instead fixate on the quality of your years.

Age is not to be feared, dreaded or escaped. As much as I urge you to take this to heart, I write it as reminder to myself. We ought to receive, accept, and embrace each new year, considering it an opportunity to grow, discover, and keep on dancing.

*Not her real name.

*pc: Sarah Coffey, Swaziland, Africa