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how to stop school shootings + how to help end teen violence

How to Stop School Shootings + How to Help End Teen Violence

Another school shooting this week left many of us asking the same questions: how to stop school shootings and how to help end teen violence. I, too, am sickened by the wanton destruction and meaningless loss of life as a result of the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, just as I’ve been sickened and heartbroken about teen violence in my own city. Author’s Note: Four years ago, another school shooting rocked our nation. The original version of this post reflected my outrage. Instead of anger, this time I’ve taken a long moment to settle my heart and reflect on the myriad of influences that lead to acts of violence. The original post has been completely rewritten to reflect a more contemplative approach based on the knowledge gained through years of direct work with troubled teens and those who work with them. This article is written for the body of Christ from a Judeo-Christian perspective. You may wonder if the changes discussed in this article are fail-safe actions to stop school shootings or end teen violence. The answer, unfortunately, is no. These recommendations are core-belief actions for disciples of Jesus. Can they make a difference? Yes. Can they help end teen violence or stop school shootings? Yes. If even one death is averted, if even one violent act is avoided, the changes recommended here will be worth it. How to Stop School Shootings: Consider Hurts and Scars Let’s begin by considering children living in impoverished, difficult family situations. They aren’t blind to the lifestyles of those who have more financial resources and they want what others have, including a peaceful home, love, and sufficient healthy food. For a child whose family doesn’t live by the Judeo-Christian ethic (or for the child who chooses not to), it’s not a far stretch to think they should have the same things other children have and, if they can’t, they should be able to take what they want. In addition, poverty can lead to difficult or abusive situations which often seem as if they will never end. Physical and emotional abuse leaves scars that last for years. Words hurt, just as punches and rape hurt. They can take root in the minds of the recipients and linger for decades. Bullying can come from adults or children and it always wounds. Children learn from the examples of the people around them, including the examples of abuse or other poor lifestyle choices. These seemingly never-ending challenges can breed anger and lead to violence. The addition of adolescent hormonal surges can be, and sometimes is, a recipe for disaster. Children who don’t know the basics of the Judeo-Christian ethic or the unending, unconditional love of God, lack the filter of this basic God-centric moral code. If you’ve never heard “thou shalt not murder,” you don’t know God’s view on murder. If you’ve never been taught, “love your enemies,” hate and retaliation seem like reasonable responses. According to Scripture, our actions reflect the condition of our hearts. For wounded children and teenagers, angry, wounded hearts lead to angry, wounding actions. It’s that simple and it’s also that hard. The Influence of Affluence “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” Proverbs 4:23 niv We need to look no further than social media to see a shocking picture of the heart of the church and affluent America. Our lifestyles may not seem extravagant by American standards, but they do to someone living in the poorest areas of our world and often to those living in poverty in our own nation. We want what we want and we expect to have it, even if it means we have to work long, hard hours or stretching our budgets near the breaking point to get whatever is the next great thing. Most of what we want is not inherently evil but our propensity toward extravagance and entitlement does say something about our priorities and our hearts and may lead others to choose the same. Please don’t misunderstand me. The affluence of others does not cause school shootings and an end to affluence is not the way to end school shootings. Instead, poverty and difficult, abusive situations can be contributing factors to violence in frustrated, hurting adolescents. We do not suggest an end to affluence or to the enjoyment of resources but an awareness of the needs of those experiencing great trials in life and how difficult the contrast between rich and poor can be, especially for the one trapped in poverty who sees no way out. Those who enjoy affluence have a God-given responsibility to care about and help those who do not. How to Help End Teen Violence: The Crown Conundrum and Our Servant Savior As people of God and children of the King of Kings, it’s easy to embrace the idea of ourselves as princes and princesses, but the only crown Jesus, Prince of Heaven, wore here on earth was a crown of thorns. (John 19:2) The garment he donned was that of a servant. (John 13:3-5) As children of the King, can we expect to do differently? Jesus waded into the darkest situations and gave light and life to the most hopeless. His light shined in the darkness, and the darkness DID NOT overcome it, and it still doesn’t. (John 1:4-5) He set the example for us all. How can those living in darkness embrace the light if they never see it? Never experience it? As disciples of Christ, we are the designated light-bearers and we must take the light of Christ to those living in darkness, even when they’re outside our comfort zone. (Matthew 5:14-16) How can we help end teen violence? Share the light and love of Christ with hurting teens and their families. How to Stop School Shootings: Change Begins in the Heart If our heart condition determines our actions, and it does, only heart change can bring about different actions. We cannot expect people who don’t know Jesus personally to

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How to Pray Scripture for Ukraine and Eastern Europe

After the recent invasion of Ukraine, you, like many of us, may wonder how to pray for Ukraine. Maybe you wonder how to pray for all the nations in Eastern Europe, or how to pray Scripture for Ukraine and Eastern Europe. This politics-free prayer guide includes expressed needs from leaders inside Eastern European nations. How to Pray Scripture for Ukraine and Eastern Europe: Pray for National and Local Leaders “The king’s heart is like channels of water in the hand of the Lord; He turns it wherever He wishes.” Proverbs 21:1 NASB God was not caught off-guard by the invasion of Ukraine, nor is He dismayed or defeated. Pray for Him to move the hearts of those in charge of the invasion so they desire peace more than additional territory. God’s wisdom is vital for both local and national (and international ) leaders. They need wisdom and the best ways to proceed, both in what steps to take and also in what steps not to take. Ask God to pour out wisdom in abundance. Ministry leaders throughout the world need the best ways to give aid and where, when, and how needed. Pray for wisdom and creative ideas. People who flee for their lives on foot with only what they can carry need food, clothing, and shelter to meet their physical needs, but they also need medical care and medications, psychological/psychiatric support, and spiritual support and guidance. How to Pray for Ukraine and Eastern Europe Using Scripture: Pray for Courage and Faith for Those Defending Their Nation and Those Fleeing “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” Isaiah 41:10 Ukraine currently requires all men between the ages of 18-65 to remain in Ukraine and prepare to fight to defend their nation. Many of those men are not career soldiers and some have never held a weapon. Pray for courage and wisdom to know exactly what they should do. Pray for peace, courage, and faith even as their hearts are torn when their wives and children flee without them. Many women, children, and elderly men must evacuate ahead of the advancing invasion. Pray for courage, faith, and peace and for God’s provision for their needs, regardless of the country in which they reside. The Soldier’s Psalm: If you want to know how to pray Scripture for Ukraine and Eastern Europe, one of the best ways is to pray a specific passage verse by verse. Psalm 91, the soldier’s psalm, is an excellent passage to use as you pray for Ukraine, both for those fighting and those fleeing. Psalm 91: One who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will lodge in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress, My God, in whom I trust!” For it is He who rescues you from the net of the trapper and from the deadly plague. He will cover you with His pinions, and under His wings you may take refuge; His faithfulness is a shield and wall. You will not be afraid of the terror by night, or of the arrow that flies by day; of the plague that stalks in darkness, or of the destruction that devastates at noon. A thousand may fall at your side and ten thousand at your right hand, but it shall not approach you. You will only look on with your eyes and see the retaliation against the wicked. For you have made the Lord, my refuge, the Most High, your dwelling place.  No evil will happen to you, nor will any plague come near your tent. For He will give His angels orders concerning you, to protect you in all your ways. On their hands they will lift you up, so that you do not strike your foot against a stone. You will walk upon the lion and cobra, you will trample the young lion and the serpent. “Because he has loved Me, I will save him… set him securely on high, because he has known My name. He will call upon Me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble… rescue him and honor him… satisfy him with a long life, and show him My salvation.” Psalm 91:1-16 How to pray Scripture for Ukraine and Eastern Europe: An Outpouring of Generosity to Meet Their Needs “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” Luke 6:38 Countries in Eastern Europe receive most of their gas, food, and supplies from Russia, so scarcity is a problem when the supply chains are cut off. In some areas, the cost of available necessities are already greatly increased. An outpouring of generosity is needed to provide for basic needs. An outpouring of wisdom is also needed to know both when and where to provide help and how to most efficiently distribute it. Pray for all who are in need and for those who are not to give what they can. How to pray for Ukraine and Eastern Europe According to Scripture: Kindness Toward Refugees “Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.  Ephesians 4:32 Few experiences are more terrifying than the realities of war, especially for a mother trying to flee with her children. The emotional impact of what she and her children see during this time can scar them for decades. In addition, people who are frightened, stressed, and exhausted do not always respond as they would under better circumstances. Grace, mercy, and kindness are essential for those who serve to deal gently with the refugees. How to pray Scripture for Ukraine and Eastern Europe: Faith and Confidence in God “And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not

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how to deal with grief and loss

How to deal with Grief in a Healthy Way and Draw Close to God in Grief

If you’ve experienced loss or the death of a friend or loved one, you’ve probably wondered how to deal with grief or how to draw close to God in grief. You may have Google’d “how to deal with grief in a healthy way.” Keep reading to learn how to deal with grief in a godly way and how to draw near to God in times of sorrow. How to deal with grief in a healthy way when it seems like too much I had a series of losses over several years. Deaths of beloved friends and family. A sight-threatening eye infection that required months of treatment to control. A function-threatening hand injury that required emergency surgery. I didn’t finish grieving one blow before the next one landed.  Then COVID hit. My team and I quickly found ourselves immersed in community outreach and food distribution in hard-hit, low-income areas. Less than a month after the pandemic began, I awakened with a sore throat, headache, and a slightly increased temperature. The symptoms were mild, for the moment, but I knew I had COVID. As a board-certified internal medicine physician, I knew how to treat a wide variety of medical problems but this…nothing prepared me for this. Hospitalized patients were dying at a quick pace, so I stayed home and treated myself. Many times I thought I’d die. Sometimes I wished I would die but, in the midst of it all, there were times when God felt as near as my next breath. The tight fist of grief, loss, and anger One afternoon, still recovering, I sat on the back patio and reveled in the spring sunshine as I counted the number of friends and acquaintances who had died in the last few weeks. Tears trickled down my cheeks. Too many were gone. A gentle breeze stirred the already overgrown rose bush, buds barely visible, as the scent of the rosemary hedge wafted through the air. The day was beautiful but a tight fist of grief, loss, and anger diminished my joy in the beauty around me. Laptop before me on the patio table, I felt the kiss of springtime sunshine and heard the serenade of songbirds. They were almost loud enough to drown out the click of my fingers on the keyboard but not the pressing need of my heart–how to deal with grief in a godly manner and how to draw close to God in grief.  My emotions were directed at a target as intangible as the air through which it was transmitted and all the havoc it wrought.  Deaths. Loss. Economic uncertainty. Isolation. Loneliness. One question echoed in my head: Not just how to deal with this grief but how to deal with grief in a healthy way?  How to deal with grief in  a healthy way: The Blessing of Mourning When I chose the Sermon on the Mount for my “passage of the year” a few months earlier, I didn’t expect to land on the fourth verse with a resounding whack and struggle to find my way past, but I did. Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted. Matthew 5:4 There’s quite a difference between “comforted” and “comfortable,” isn’t there? We prefer the latter but are only promised the former. Like you, I didn’t expect a novel coronavirus to invade my comfortable life, but it did. As the number of cases and deaths mounted on the other side of the world, the novel coronavirus was renamed. COVID-19 became our mutual, relentless worldwide enemy. My first reaction was skepticism. I’ve lived through reports of many deadly viruses. None of them seriously threatened my nation. My state. My little section of the world. But this one did. Fear gripped me long before COVID-19 hit Italy with a vengeance. This virus was much different. It brought destruction indiscriminately and it was headed our way. Unexpected Comfort When COVID-19 cases overwhelmed Italy’s healthcare system, doctors died, and bodies piled up, my fear and desperation hit a peak. I wrote impassioned posts on social media. If they did any good, I couldn’t tell it. Since my posts didn’t help, I thought, maybe words delivered in a different format and setting would. Thus, I started morning Zoom sessions called Whisper Connection, a 30-minute online gathering designed to build community and offer encouragement and connection in a time of unprecedented isolation. (After two years together, this is now a deeply connected group and no longer open to new members.) Our first session focused on my personal stuck-place, Matthew 5:4. Blessed are they that mourn. I recognized a deep well of grief in my own soul. As it turned out, I was not the only one. We needed help figuring out both how to deal with our grief in a healthy way and how to draw close to God in our sorrow. Comfort begins with recognition of our grief We were entrenched in dense worldwide grief and we still are. In college, admittedly a few decades ago, I studied Kubler-Ross’ landmark work. She described five stages of grief. Although her work has never been verified by peer-reviewed data, the emotions she described are valid and found in almost all grief: Denial. Anger. Bargaining. Depression. Acceptance. (1) I saw clear evidence of my own shock, denial, anger, and bargaining in my posts on social media and in the turmoil in my heart. Unfortunately, my anger was mostly directed at the nameless masses who were (or so I thought) making it worse by their refusal to distance and isolate themselves. They definitely made my efforts to feed hungry children harder because of the hoarding. Grace, not more anger, was the more appropriate response but I found my outward-bound supply of grace sadly lacking. Just as we returned to post-COVID normal, the war in Ukraine began. More sorrow. More grief. It took me a while to see the actions against which I railed in the early days of the pandemic were merely symptoms of our global grief and fear. How did we

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Homelessness in America: up close and personal

Homelessness in America: Up Close and Personal is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to This blog post contains affiliate links, which means if you click on the link to make a purchase, I may make a small amount of money (usually a few cents) from your purchase. It will not increase the price you pay in any way. How to Effectively Impact Homelessness in America The glamour of a vintage evening gown, a coveted award, and a luxury hotel faded in the rearview mirror as the blinding rain slowed my progress toward home. My snail’s pace through the storm left far too little time to swap suitcases, snuggle dogs, and nap before boarding a plane for Los Angeles, land of Hollywood and movie stars, and a heartbreaking example of homelessness in America. From Rodeo Drive to Skid Row Maseratis lined the streets of Rodeo Drive. Both men and women in designer clothing spent thousands to purchase baubles they’ll soon discard. This trip, however, wasn’t filled with glamour, but the exact opposite. We headed to Skid Row where homelessness abounds, and hunger, need, and lack of basic hygiene are part of everyday existence. Fifty-four city blocks of tragedy and poverty are lined by tents on the sidewalks, pallets of cardboard, and discarded humans whose hope is gone. On Skid Row, mere miles from the mansions of the rich and famous, pregnant women sleep on bare concrete and shuffle down the streets in worn-out, discarded clothing hoping for a handout. Men, plagued by addiction, loss, and both mental and physical illness, wander as if in a fog. No job. Pockets empty. Hope long gone. One of the most affluent neighborhoods in the Los Angeles area is Hidden Hills, where the median income is $250,000+/year. In stark contrast, the median income in downtown LA (in which Skid Row is located) is only $19,887/year. A one-bedroom apartment in LA costs, on average, $2,437/month. ($29,244 annual cost) Two-bedroom apartments, on average, rent for $3,309/month. Imagine paying $39,708 per year in rent alone, before childcare, groceries, clothing, school supplies, health insurance, or transportation to and from work. It’s no wonder the “under-employed,” especially minimum-wage-earners, end up on the streets. This is Homelessness in America? Yes. it is. The images in my head from my two-week whirlwind of travel and service are not from the posh hotel or the glitter of a Gala. Instead, my memories are full of porta-potties, worn-out clothing, men smoking joints on the sidewalk, the smells of marijuana, urine, and unwashed bodies thick as smoke. Acrid odors hung in my nostrils for days. The faces of homelessness in America are still there and, I suspect, always will be. Before we went into Skid Row for the first time, a young man named Taylor gave us wise advice. “Clothe yourselves with compassion,” he said. I did, but I had to surrender my expectations, pride, and judgmental, critical spirit to do it. In the first tent, we visited on Skid Row a mother, stoned out of her mind, slept on a makeshift cot. Her two-year-old daughter sat on the cot beside her. A man in a chair at the entrance to the tent guarded her,  I suppose, as he talked with a friend from the streets. Porta-Potty Prostitution A few steps away, beautiful young women in skimpy clothing and heavy makeup entertained their customers in four porta-potties at the park entrance. They’d posted schedules on the doors and had a steady business. Prostitution in the most unsanitary place imaginable. What kind of man treats women with such disrespect? What kind of woman allows it? My indignant questions soon found an answer — hopeless men and women who don’t know the love of Jesus. A young mother, obviously pregnant, pushed a double-stroller in which two young children sat as she made her way down Skid Row in the dark. A man, also shabbily dressed, staggered along beside her. We gave them socks, t-shirts, and bags of cookies, but they needed so much more. The Tiniest of  Beginnings It was long past dark and my hand-out bag was nearly empty when Travis,* a gray-haired man with a grizzled beard and rotted teeth, approached me. “I’m cold,” he said and stared at my bag. “All I have are short-sleeved t-shirts, but it’s warm at the Dream Center,” I told him. “Yeah?” “There’s food there, too. You ever think about coming off the street?” “They wouldn’t take me,” he said. “I have a dishonorable discharge. 240 kills on patrol.” It took me a minute to understand what he meant. Finally, recognition dawned. Vietnam vet. He’d been the first in line on patrol. He hadn’t gunned down everyone he’d seen, but he’d killed a lot. Fear will do that to you. Fear combined with drugs will do even worse, and they did. He returned home with a dishonorable discharge at a time when all Vietnam veterans, even the heroes, were scorned and rejected. He couldn’t find a job and drifted from one place to another. The drugs he’d first used in Southeast Asia became his constant companion and he did whatever it took to get them. Not Too Late He’s an old man now and off drugs, but he’s been on the street for too many years, yet another shattered life trapped in the depths of homelessness in America. “I think they would take you, Travis. If you really want to come off the street, you can have a fresh start. Jesus can change everything.” I connected him to someone from the Dream Center and we made a plan. I rested a hand on his shoulder and prayed the biggest prayer I could for Travis. He shuffled off with a t-shirt and a bag of chips in hand. I turned to the DC worker. “You think he’ll show up?” He shook his head. “Probably not this time, but maybe eventually. When it

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life after covid choose change now

Life After COVID-19: Choosing Change Now

This article, “Life After COVID-19: Choosing Change Now” was written at the beginning of the pandemic. The recommendations in this article are still valid, and we’re still doing the things we began back then. Our Zoom Bible study now meets twice a week and just celebrated our second anniversary. We’re not fluent in French but a lot more proficient, and we memorized most of the Sermon on the Mount. The choices made at the beginning of the pandemic served us well and made the years of struggle count. W emerged stronger and with a greater sense of calling than ever before. If you weren’t as successful, don’t worry. It’s not too late to re-think life after COVID-19. Life After COVID-19: What We Thought Two Years ago “It’s not too early to start thinking about life after COVID-19, isn’t it? We’re only two years into the pandemic quarantine… “No. Wait. “Maybe it’s two weeks. Or three. Possibly a month… “I hate to admit it but, unless I check the calendar, I’m not sure how long I’ve worked from home in this ongoing, never-ending, please-God-over-soon quarantine. My hope for an end to this sometimes falters and I suspect I’m not the only one. “Can’t researchers make a vaccine any faster? A cold is a virus so another virus is no big deal, right? Why won’t people stay at home? Wear masks? Quit meeting?” You know the questions we all asked and probably the solutions we secretly proposed because we were all in this together and we still are. We shared many of the same questions and frustrations. Today, I want to shed a little hope and light on our mutually tough time. There is life after… It didn’t seem possible for a long time, but there is life after COVID-19 and the pandemic. An enormous global opportunity lay before us. We had the rare option to use the time during the pandemic and resulting quarantine to seriously consider our lifestyles, keep what was honorable and good, and let go of the vain and meaningless. We had a chance to choose a better path than the one we were on. To choose change. Most of us worked from home for a while. We built new patterns, new work habits. We learned fresh ways to celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, and holidays. Maybe we cooked at home more because eating out was not as easy an option as before. Our shopping habits, and likely our spending habits, changed considerably. Surviving Pandemic Life Pandemic life was seriously different from our “normal” lives but it wasn’t all bad. Our quarantine forced us to slow down. Be still. Spend more time with our immediate families. Enjoy our children in new ways. Make an effort to stay connected to friends and family. It forced us to face the possibility of catastrophic illness and death and to evaluate the substance of our lives. As a closet introvert, I probably struggled less with quarantine than my extrovert friends and I have to admit—I loved the isolation. The quiet. The stillness. The lack of crowds. I missed you all and would have loved to give everyone I’ve ever known (and a few I don’t) a huge hug and maybe a kiss on both cheeks in the Middle Eastern way just to regain a little personal contact and sense of touch. Life After COVID-19: The Opportunity The COVID-19 pandemic was without a doubt a global tragedy of illness, suffering, and death but the greater tragedy is to fail to learn from it and seize the opportunity to choose change as we go forward. We could cling to our former lifestyle and attempt to return to the same hectic, insanely busy pace as before but why would we? Many of us were stressed to the max, exhausted beyond belief, and frantic with our out-of-control schedules before the pandemic. Why resume what was likely to kill us? Why not choose a different path as we go forward? Imagine for a moment what life would be like if we chose to keep our slower pace. What if we kept some of the changes we’ve made after we return to the workplace? Shop locally more often. Give up some of our busyness to spend more time with the people we say we love. Enjoy homemade fun. Write notes of encouragement. Embrace snail mail. Take long walks with our children and family. Picnic outdoors. Exchange fast food for slow-simmered delicacies. Learn new skills. Look out for our neighbors. See needs and meet them. Life After COVID-19: The Choice of a fresh start A new, slower pace and a fresh start is worth it. Within a few months of the pandemic, we missed the blessings we took for granted…family, friends, church families, hugs, gatherings. What if we cherished them enough to keep them close as we go forward? Safeguard our connections. Strengthen our faith ties. Continue to spend time reading our Bibles, studying, and prayer. The most important choice: What if we gave up our sense of entitlement and our me-first attitudes and, in life after COVID-19, chose to hunger and thirst after righteousness? During an early Whisper Connection Zoom call, we talked about what it means to hunger and thirst for righteousness. Choose Blessings “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” We asked the question, “For what do we hunger?” and came up with a variety of answers. Health Peace Prosperity Meaning in life Serve where we can be seen Connections Power Reputation Righteousness We do want righteousness but it wasn’t on the top of anyone’s list. The dictionary defines righteousness as freedom from guilt and sin. In practical terms it means so much more. When we hunger and thirst for righteousness, we allow God to correct what is wrong, sinful, less than godly in our lives and make it right, righteous, godly. We open our hearts to Jesus and allow Him to make us more like He intended. I can say with confidence born of experience this process

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Always Begin With Love

While we enjoyed a sweet time of repentance, revival, and retreat at the Whisper Gathering, a man I can’t understand slaughtered worshippers at a Jewish synagogue in the name of I-don’t-know-what. I returned home to a Facebook feed filled with justified anger over this wanton act of anti-Semitism and yet another mass murder. This time, it hit close to home. I’m not Jewish, but I love plenty of people who are. The thought that someone might enter their synagogue and massacre them fills me with horror. Friends despite the differences I grew up in my grandmother’s home across the street from Mrs. Alice, one of the sweetest women I’ve ever met. Mrs. Alice and my grandmother were great friends. One Jewish and one Christian, those two women talked about religion, recipes, family, and life. They probably disagreed about a few things, including religion, but my staunchly-Southern Baptist grandmother never mentioned it. I don’t know how Mrs. Alice felt about Grandma, but I know Grandma loved her, and I did, too. Mrs. Alice’s granddaughter was one of my friends growing up. We hung out together after school and in the summer. Our group of friends spent time at her home many Saturday nights. We didn’t get together on Friday nights because that was “church time” for the Katz family. No, the Katz family didn’t call it church. They called it synagogue, but, back then, I didn’t see the difference. We didn’t get together on Sunday mornings or evenings either because most of the rest of us had church then. There were lots of different church buildings. The place the Katz family worshiped was just one among many. We didn’t like or dislike anyone based on the building in which they worshiped nor the God they served. Liking and disliking were based on the kind of person you were. It still should be. Their home was a cool place to be, and we were safe there. Mr. Ralph and Miss Carolyn were two of the most elegant, loving, kind people I’ve ever met. I’ve always wanted to be more like them, but I still have a long way to go. Anti-semitism still exists. Someone slaughtered people like the Katz family? On purpose? Because of their religion? The terrible deed sickens me. I longed to help in some way, but how do you help in the face of this kind of evil? I wanted to write something heartfelt and moving. Something that could somehow make the hurt and horror better. I worked for weeks to write a blog post sufficient to catch the essence of my Jewish friends’ heartbreak. It took a while to realize I will never speak with their feelings or from their faith perspective. Instead, I’ve decided to try to communicate with mine because it’s what I know. My faith informs every part of my life, just as the faith of my Jewish friends informs every part of their lives. That’s how it should be. Jewish people of America (and of the world) I’m so sorry about the anti-Semitism and hate you’ve endured and the evil done to you. I wish I could undo the great wickedness you’ve experienced, but I can’t. Instead, I offer my deep regret and sorrow, but I recognize it’s a paltry gift. I wish I could promise this kind of evil will never happen again, but, unfortunately, I can’t. I don’t understand why he slaughtered the people in your synagogue. There is no excuse strong enough to justify such wanton destruction. There is no reason sufficient to bring sense to a senseless act of stupid, evil wickedness. No matter your faith background, “Do not murder” seems an extremely reasonable tenet to follow. Enough already. I’ve seen enough vitriol spewed the last few years to last me more than a lifetime. Enough anger, hate, evil, and killing. Enough. We reached the point of “enough” a long time ago, America. I’m angry and disappointed and, in truth, a little disgusted, too. If you don’t think hate-filled thoughts lead to hate-filled speech and, eventually, to hate-filled acts, think again. As a man thinks in his heart, so is he, my scripture tells us. Those words are true, no matter what your religion. It’s time to button our mouths and open our hearts. Feel free to call me a Pollyanna, unrealistic, or spiritually excitable. I’ve heard it all before. The world would be a much better place if there were a good bit more compassion, kindness, and, yes, love—especially for those who are different in some way. Life in the minority isn’t so great. Although I don’t know what it’s like to live my entire life as a minority, I’ve been in the minority more than once. It wasn’t a warm and fuzzy place. In some of those situations, my faith put me in the minority. In a few of the countries I’ve visited, the number of fellow Christians was astonishingly small. It wasn’t always a comfortable situation. I know people who’ve lost homes, jobs, family, finances and had to flee their homeland—all because they’re Christian. Their experience broke my heart. Not long ago, I was denied an opportunity because I’m “too Christian.” It was a surprise to me, but it wouldn’t have been a surprise to some of my Jewish friends, or to my Sikh and Muslim friends. They aren’t shocked when they’re denied because of their faith because it’s not unusual in their world. My LGBT friends aren’t shocked when they’re denied, either. The problem is in our hearts. The world can be a hard, mean place, especially to those in the minority. The problem is not faith or persuasion. The problem is in our hearts, and it is there where true prevention lies. Unfortunately, you can’t legislate morality. We can, however, examine our own hearts. Reach out to those who are different from us in some way. Get to know them. Accept others, despite our differences. Whether we view those differences as right or wrong, they surely aren’t

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Fiction worth reading: Mitford

Fiction Worth Reading: The Complete Mitford Series

A little help from my friends… Several weeks ago, I gathered a list of fiction worth reading and favorite books from friends and co-workers, with the Mitford series at the top of several people’s lists. Many of my favs were on the list, too. I intended to do a blog about great reads, and I still will, but I was quickly sidetracked. Two paragraphs into the rough draft, I realized the Mitford series of books was so pivotal in my life, both as a reader and a writer, that it deserved a blog post of its own. Jan Karon’s Mitford books are stories of Father Timothy Kavanagh, a confirmed bachelor and Episcopalian rector in the tiny town of Mitford, as well as the unlikely people who weave themselves into his life. The first book, At Home in Mitford, was copyrighted in 1994. More than twenty years later, these stories are as fresh and pertinent as ever. I reread the entire series almost every year and still laugh, cry, and sometimes cheer out loud for Father Tim and the people of Mitford. Fiction Worth Reading Contains Life-changing Words Like all good fiction, these characters come to life on the page. They struggle with the same issues that plague me. They work to overcome, aim to live higher, strive to be more like Christ. At least most of the time. The lessons they learn become my lessons, as well. These books hold life-changing words, not just for the people within, but for the reader, as well. They’ve helped deepen my walk with Christ. It was Father Tim who taught me the prayer that never fails and the four words that are most needed in any situation – especially in times of tribulation. I love these funny, true-to-life characters. They feel like family and the little town of Mitford is a lot like Blue Springs. The word pictures Jan Karon paints are vivid in my mind. Her writing shows me the value of stories of everyday life, as well as the struggles we face as we try to act like Jesus when it’s not as easy as we hoped. Jan Karon spoke at the National Cathedral in 2014. The woman who introduced her spoke of Jan’s “gentleness of spirit,” and said, “Jan’s voice and her stories remind us of the calm and steady, loving presence of God at work in our lives.” It was the gentleness in her writing that first drew me to the Mitford stories. The evidence of God at work in the lives of her characters kept me reading. I hope it will you, too. The Mitford Series: More Titles Than I Knew A happy surprise greeted me when I searched Amazon for a list of books. There are more Mitford books than I knew! Mitford is one of my happy places, so I’ve stepped back in with the new books. I think you’ll love these stories, too. The Mitford books also include a cookbook and collections of Father Tim’s favorite quotes, a collection of his sermons, Christmas books, and a series of children’s books, so keep reading to the end. I’ve included them all! Here’s the Mitford series in order: (I’ve commented on the ones I’ve read. The others are on my reading list. These are affiliate links. I could potentially make a few cents but they won’t increase your price.) Book 1: At Home in Mitford  This book began my love affair with Mitford. Father Timothy Kavanagh is a lifelong bachelor and Episcopalian rector. His simple existence is rocked by the arrival of a rescue dog “the size of a Buick” and a grubby, rowdy boy in need of love, as well as a surprising jewel thief and an attractive neighbor with great legs. It’s a wonderful, funny, poignant story. Book 2: A Light in the Window This book held many surprises for me. First, Father Tim is increasingly interested in his attractive neighbor who keeps popping through the hedge. He is surprised by the unwelcome attention of a wealthy widow. Cousin Meg unsettles his household and creates quite an uproar before her hasty departure. Suddenly, he has “woman trouble” at an age when he expected anything but. A Light in the Window is poignant, funny, and endearing. I cheered and cried and sometimes did both at the same time. Book 3: These High Green Hills Father Tim and Cynthia face considerable challenges as they settle into newlywed life with his massive dog, rectory renovations, and the adventures of life with Dooley. Their experience on a camping trip moved me on a deep level and caused me to address a few of my own deep-rooted issues. Every book is better than the last, and this is no exception. Book 4: Out to Canaan Struggles in Mitford remind me so much of the adventures and challenges in my own little town. Father Tim, of course, is in the midst of them all as he struggles to lead by example and offer wisdom in situations that are a little “murky.” I often wish I could be as wise as he. Book 5: A New Song After Father Tim retired from his congregation at Mitford, he accepted a temporary post with a small island church. The idea of continuing to serve after you reach retirement age planted a seed that grew into fruition with full-time ministry. His struggles with letting go of former responsibilities resonated with me on a deep level. This book has always been one of my favorites. Book 6: A Common Life: The Wedding Story This is the story of Father Tim’s and Cynthia’s wedding. It’s a funny, poignant, and heart-warming tale as well as a reminder that it’s never too late for love. Book 7: In This Mountain Cynthia, a famous children’s author and artist/illustrator, enjoys a flurry of fame while Father Tim languishes in retirement. The search for Dooley’s missing siblings leads him into the mountain community from which both Dooley and Lace Turner came. In a place of

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prayer walk and beauty in destruction

Prayer Walk After Meridian Tornado

“We’re heading to Meridian,” one of the 8 Days of Hope Crisis Response team members told me last week. “Meridian? What’s happening there?” “A tornado swept through one of the poorest areas of the city. There’s a lot of damage. We’re going to help.” “How far is Meridian from here?” I asked. “About three hours,” came the reply. Sometimes we sacrifice to serve Prayer walk the area. The impression was strong, but my schedule was already jam-packed. A drive time of six hours round-trip meant a prayer walk would take a full day. I mentally reviewed my schedule for the rest of the week. Two days in Memphis. A prayer brunch. Housecleaning. I’d planned to paint my hallway over the weekend. It wasn’t an instant decision. I had other things I wanted to do instead, but the impression was too strong to be denied. Prayer walk. Finally, I spoke to a younger colleague. “I’m thinking about prayer walking the area where Crisis Response will be working. Want to go along?” She and another co-worker had never done a prayer walk before, but both wanted to go. We decided to leave at 8 am on Sunday and make a day of it. The rainy-day prayer walk Saturday night, I received a discouraged text message. “100% chance of rain in Meridian tomorrow.” Sam Wiley never put much stock in weather forecasts. “That’s what they say, but it ain’t written in the prayer book,” he always told me. We decided to pack rain gear and go anyway. The rain pounded so hard I could barely see as we drove to Meridian. “Lord,” I prayed silently, “I’ve prayer walked before. It doesn’t matter to me about the rain, but these two ladies haven’t. Please be gentle.” Rain pummeled us as we raced from the car into the building where the volunteers were housed. My shoes were soaked before I reached the door a few steps away. We greeted everyone, received our instructions and directions, changed into rain boots, and headed into the downpour. When disaster brings a miracle We neared the address we’d been given and saw one tarp-covered roof after another. The ground was covered with trees, branches, and debris. A few trees still perched precariously near houses. Our destination was the worst yet. A man, chainsaw in hand, stood on the roof of the house, in the rain. He sawed the last branch of an enormous tree that still leaned on the house.  Later, we learned the family was inside when the tornado hit. Their son was in his bed at the time of the tornado but rolled out of bed just before it hit. The tree fell on the house, knocked the back wall off, and impaled the bed on which he’d been lying. Exactly where he’d lain. He tells everyone he meets how God spared his life.   Miss Thelma, the owner’s sister, was in the house when we arrived. “How can we pray for you?” we asked her. “Just pray for my sister and her health. She’s sick and not doing too well.” We prayed the biggest things we could. After we prayed for Miss Thelma and helped the volunteer workers a few minutes, we headed out to prayer walk. The destruction was overwhelming. The streets were quiet. Answered prayers Continued rain made the task of clean-up even harder, so we prayed God would give the workers a break from it. The rain stopped. The dark sky lightened. Drainage ditches were full of rushing water, breaking white on the rocks. I imagined what would happen if a child slipped into the water and was washed away. We prayed the water flow would slow. We rounded the corner and saw the ditch again. No whitewater at all. The flow slowed. A couple in a truck stopped in the street to greet us. Mr. Earnest and Miss Brenda thanked us for praying and let us pray for them. We made our way through the neighborhood and back to the first house. The volunteers held sandwiches and chips. I don’t know which of us thought of it, but we asked if they could use some water. Yes, they could, they assured us. They accepted with enthusiasm and explained their predicament. As they left headquarters that morning, they picked up sack lunches but forgot about drinks. They prayed God would send water, and He did. We left them two cases. Lessons learned We were overwhelmed with a sense of deep gratitude for the blessings we enjoy. During the trip home, we discussed the things we learned: We’re more blessed than we realized. We should be filled with gratitude. Life can change in an instant. Treasure every moment. The possessions filling our houses don’t matter. The people who fill our lives do. Prayer matters. Pray big. We can do nothing on our own. We’re totally dependent upon the grace, love, and hand of God. It takes all of us to help recover from a disaster. Even a little help can make a big difference. God still answers prayers. Help is still needed According to the Meridian Star, the tornado damaged 180 homes and 30 businesses. Families, including many elderly men and women, have lost everything. They need your prayers and, if possible, your help. 8 Days of Hope Rapid Response is accepting volunteer assistance through Saturday, April 28th. If you’d like to help this amazing ministry, click here to learn more. If you’d like to give hands-on assistance after that date, call the city hotline at (601) 485-1944 to learn about other opportunities for service. The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of mine, even the least of them, you did it to me.’” Matthew 25:40                            You might also enjoy reading: Sliding Down the Slippery Slope and How to Stop the Descent When the Prayer of Desperation Becomes Through

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homeless in the rain

Remembering the Homeless and Hoping for Answers

[vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_column_text]I awakened long before dawn this morning. Rain pounded the roof with a furious staccato. I rolled over and thought about my horses in the pasture. “They’re getting hammered,” I thought, and regretted they aren’t in the barn. The Still, Small Voice in my heart said, “What about the homeless people?”  Shame washed over me as I realized my first thought was for horses, and not people. My horses shelter in a thick patch of trees, but what do homeless people do in the rain? Can they hunker under a bridge and hope to stay dry or use a tarp to cover them? How do they keep themselves and their possessions dry? The problem of homelessness exists in rural Mississippi, as well as in urban areas. A “PIT Count” tallies the number of people in shelters, temporary or transitional housing, or completely without shelter on a single night, or one “point in time.”  What are the numbers? The most recent HUD Annual Homeless Assessment Report reveals some troubling facts: On a single night in 2017, 553,742 people were homeless in the U.S. 35% of the more than 1/2 million homeless were unsheltered. More than 40,000 were unaccompanied youth. Another 40,000+ were veterans. 184,661 were part of families with children. For every 10,000 people in the U.S., 17 are homeless. Unsheltered homeless are more likely to be white males. The number of unsheltered people accounted for the entire increase in homelessness between 2016-2017. There are 1,472 homeless people in Mississippi, 59 of whom are unaccompanied youth. 719 (nearly half) of the homeless in Mississippi are unsheltered. Between 2007 and 2017, Mississippi had a 42% increase in homeless children.  People are without homes for a variety of reasons, including substance abuse, mental illness, joblessness, and the breakup of the family unit. Many, but not all, can find temporary or transitional shelter. Those with prior felonies find even emergency housing more difficult to obtain.  The unsheltered literally do not have a roof over their heads. They sleep under bridges, in alleyways, in the woods, and, if they’re fortunate, in makeshift shacks.  Nearly 194,000 Americans do not have a roof over their heads at night.   More than 700 Mississippians do not have a roof over their heads at night. What can we do? 1. Partner with organizations that provide shelter for the homeless. My personal favorite locally is the Salvation Army. If you’re in an urban area, there are likely others. Check them out and support them. 2. Volunteer. Shelters need everything from help with cooking and serving to assistance with organizing donated supplies. 3. Give. Warm blankets, coats, and clothing in good repair are always needed.  4. Pray. Ask God for laborers in this field, but start by asking what He wants you to do. One of my favorite acts of service is to help with the Saturday lunch at the Salvation Army.  Those who line up to eat are, for the most part, the most grateful people around. We seldom fail to see a miracle. I spend a few hours preparing food and serving but I’m rewarded with blessings I savor for months to come. Locally, contact Helping Hands Helping Homeless for ways to serve. They have a closed Facebook Page and a Go Fund Me account. This non-profit organization needs your help. I write in my comfortable home with my intact roof as the rain pours down, while 700+ Mississippians are homeless and unsheltered.  How can I justify this? One day, we will give an account for how we cared for “the least of these.” We must not do nothing.  And the King will answer and say to them, “Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of the brothers of Mine, even to the least of them, you did it to Me.” Matthew 25:40  [/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/3″][vc_column_text]Thanks for reading all the way to the end. If you’d like to read more, here are a few suggestions: Will We Make Room for God in Our Lives? School Shootings: Stop Blaming and Start Helping MLK Day: Making a Difference by Taking a Stand[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][vc_column width=”1/3″][vc_column_text]It’s such a help when you like and share this post on social media. Thank you! It’s an even bigger help when you pin to Pinterest. Here’s a pinnable image. I’d appreciate your shares. Thanks again for being a part of what God’s doing through this digital outreach. You make a difference. Way to go![/vc_column_text][/vc_column][vc_column column_width_percent=”100″ position_vertical=”middle” overlay_alpha=”50″ gutter_size=”3″ medium_width=”0″ mobile_width=”0″ shift_x=”0″ shift_y=”0″ shift_y_down=”0″ z_index=”0″ width=”1/3″][vc_single_image media=”67308″ media_width_percent=”75″ media_link=”||target:%20_blank|”][/vc_column][/vc_row]

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Martin Luther King

Martin Luther King Day: Take a stand and make a difference

[vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_column_text] This morning, as I pondered what to write on the celebration of Martin Luther King Day, the stark contrast between the Poor People’s Campaign and last year’s Women’s March came to mind. I envisioned both the mule-drawn wagons and the women wearing vagina-style attire and shook my head. I have no idea what the women hoped to achieve nor what they protested. The vagina hats are all that stuck in my memory. Did they accomplish what they hoped? I doubt it. The protest I will never forget I will never forget Reverend King’s march, however, nor the civil rights for which he protested. Did he accomplish what he hoped? Yes. His protests didn’t change every heart, every circumstance, but they changed a lot. We live in a far different society, in many ways, than the one in which I grew up. Everyone can enter by the same door, sit in the same waiting room, eat in the same restaurants now. If we work hard, we can all go to college, get a good job, make a nice living for our families. We can attend the same church and worship together, side by side. It was not so when I was a child, for the color of your skin determined your opportunities. Martin Luther King: One man took a stand One man saw injustice, prayed it through, then took a stand. He endured threats and persecution, yet he persevered. Photos, taken on the day before he was killed, show a man who knew what his actions were about to cost him. He knew he would soon be killed, yet he pressed on because he had taken a stand for right and he would not back down. It’s one thing to talk a good line. It’s another thing entirely to live what you say you believe. Where are the people today who take the kind of stand Martin Luther King took? Where are the people today who live what they preach in the public arena? I wrote the words you’re about to read last January, but they’re as pertinent today as they were then. I’m repeating them because I can’t write it any better. A picture is worth a thousand words. I sat here for an hour, trying to find a topic for today’s blog. The photo of one of the women’s march participants shrouded in a vagina costume, as well as the ones of the women in various stages of undress with slogans painted across their bare chests, echo in my mind. If a picture is worth a thousand words, what do those pictures say? You can draw your own conclusions. The Poor People’s Campaign There are all kinds of protests, but the one that I’ve never forgotten is the Poor People’s Campaign, organized by Martin Luther King. I didn’t understand what it meant at the time, but I knew it was important. It was the spring of 1968, not long after Rev. King was assassinated. Protestors left Marks, Mississippi in mule-drawn wagons, headed toward Washington D.C. My mama carried my sister and me to see the protestors. We parked on the side of the road and stood beside the car. Silent. Watching. The mules, their heads down, pulled the wagons. Protestors sat quietly on the plank seat as the wheels turned. It was slow progress, but it was real. There was no doubt in my mind that something powerful was happening. I didn’t understand it, but I knew, at the core of my being, that life would change. And it did. They counted the cost and took a stand. That one protest will always be the epitome of effective protest for me. Quiet. Peaceful. Intense. Powerful. Not everything was rosy and beautiful when they reached Washington, but that moment in time, as I watched at the side of the road, stands out in my mind. It’s a sharp contrast to protests like the recent Women’s March on Washington. Inequality still exists There are still inequalities. I want to see them corrected, and I’ve tried to accomplish that very thing. I went to college, then medical school, worked hard, and made it through. There was sexual harassment. I took it for a while, then I counted the cost and took a stand. When I spoke up, it was clear I meant business. I didn’t shout, carry a sign, or wear a costume. When I stood up to the bullies, they stopped, because that’s what bullies do. They back down when confronted. I practiced medicine, worked hard, made it through. No one bullied me. No one treated me differently because of my gender. However, inequality still exists. Unfortunately, as long as evil is in the world, inequality in some form will always exist. I know most of the protestors probably dressed in regular clothes. The media shows us the most outrageous because that’s what draws views and makes money. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not opposed to peaceful assembly and I support the right to free speech. I’m not opposed to the recent women’s march, nor am I opposed to costumes that look outrageous to me. My grandmama taught me something, though, that we’d all do well to remember. Especially the people in the vagina costumes. Actions speak louder than words. “… let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.” 1 John 3:18 niv. We demonstrate who we are (and whose we are) by what we do, so we’d do well to choose our actions wisely. The most effective protestor of all time was Jesus Christ. He entered a world filled with violence, poverty, oppression, and cruelty, and He chose love. Every single time. He chose sacrifice. Open-handed giving. Equality. Peace. In a male-dominated culture, women traveled with Jesus, and demonstrated, by their lives, the power of Christ to transform. Jesus’ disciples choose love. After the resurrection, His followers chose love, as well, and that love was unstoppable. It changed the world and turned it right side up. I doubt I’ll ever protest with signs, slogans, costumes, or marches. I hope to

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