Sunday, September 10, 2017

Unaccidental coincidences

I was supposed to go on a retreat this past weekend with members of my church's praise team.

I was supposed to go to the Shocco Springs Conference Center in Talladega, Alabama, (a Baptist retreat center) and spend Friday evening, Saturday, and Sunday morning in quiet retreat, along with sessions with our worship minister and his guests, musicians that he's been acquainted with over the years.

I was supposed to learn about worship from our worship minister and from the guests he invited.

Well . . .

I did go on a retreat this past weekend with members of my church's praise team.

I did go to the Shocco Springs Conference Center in Talladega, Alabama.

I did spend time in quiet retreat.

I did spend time in sessions with our worship minister and his guests.

I did learn about worship.

It just did not go according to the plans we made.

Our best laid plans of mice and men started going "gang aft agley" when our worship minster told us on Saturday morning that a group of FEMA workers en route to Houston (to help with those affected by Hurricane Harvey) had been told to stop because it was likely they'd be needed in Florida (to help with Floridians affected by Hurricane Irma).  A man from FEMA heard us singing.  They found out that we were going to have a worship service that night.  Could the people from FEMA join us?

Of course!

I told our worship minister afterwards, "It is no accident that this happened."

Little did I know.

That evening -- after I'd spent the afternoon listening to practical tips about singing and vocalizing from the people acquainted with our worship minister, and after I'd spent some time walking around the retreat grounds, and after I'd spent an hour in fun singing with some of my praise team friends (after which I was later told I'd participated in a "vocal jam session") -- I went to dinner.  (Side note: They feed you well at retreat centers.)

And during dinner, a praise team member met a minister, Jose Lebron, who'd just led a six-car caravan out of Naples, Florida (which, as I write this, has just suffered the onslaught of Irma.)  He's a Lutheran who pastors the Emmanuel Community Church.  He and his congregants are Hispanic.

Jose told us that he'd gone looking for a place to evacuate to, and providence led him and other members to Shocco Springs.

So we invited them to worship with us that evening and the next morning.

What you saw in those two worship services was summed up by our worship minister as "a picture of heaven".

A group of Church of Christ members, together with members from a community church led by a Lutheran; most of whom spoke English, several of who spoke Spanish, a few who spoke both; kids ranging from months old to mid-teens, all singing together to the tune of a drum and three guitars.

We sang songs of comfort and of hope.  We reminded each other that God had not forgotten us.  We praised God because we knew He was there.  I gave my limited Spanish a workout and called on Google Translate during a couple of difficult moments.  I played peek-a-boo with a three-year-old girl:  "Donde esta?  Aqui!"

We took communion together.  And we prayed.

Saturday night, several praise team members made a run to Walmart, where they bought several hundred dollars' worth of gift cards and presented them to Jose on Sunday morning.  He accepted them with a visible tremor in his voice.

We sang "The Lord Bless You And Keep You" to them at the end.

And then we hugged good-bye and wished them "Dios te bendiga" (God bless you).

There's a saying that "A coincidence is a miracle in which God chooses to remain anonymous."  I don't believe it was a mere coincidence or an accident that we "just happened" to be there on the same weekend.  We planned the retreat.  We planned the location of the retreat.  We didn't plan Irma.  Nor did a group of refugees plan to arrive on the same weekend that we planned to.  Call it an accident, call it a coincidence.  I, for one, do not believe it was an accident -- an "unaccidental coincidence", perhaps you could say.

We in Christendom are divided.  We have legitimate concerns about doctrine and practice.  We also bicker and fight over trivial things.

But, for a night and a day, a group from a Church of Christ connected with a group from a Lutheran community church at a Baptist conference center; and for that moment, denominational concerns fell by the wayside.

We were simply a group that gathered together in worship and praise to a God we followed, a God we loved, and a God we worshipped.  We were simply a group that, for that period of time, chose to "love one another" because God first loved us.

Perhaps God does his best work in these unaccidental "coincidences".

Just my .04, adjusted for inflation.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Donating beets

Twenty-five years ago, I woke up to find the interior walls of my apartment shaking.

That was Hurricane Andrew's way of saying, "Hello!  I've arrived!"

I was lucky.  I lived in Miami Lakes, Florida, at the time, which is five minutes south of the Broward County line.  All we got was a lot of downed trees and some relatively minor property damage.  I didn't even lose power.  The worst inconvenience was that my AC didn't work for a week.

The people down in south Dade County?  They lived through what people in Houston are living through now; the aftermath of a severe hurricane.  There are differences between Dade County's experience and Houston's.  Andrew was known as a "dry storm".  It moved in and out of the Miami are very fast, and thus, the majority of damage was wind damage.  The Houston area is dealing with catastrophic flooding.  Much of their damage is water damage.

In both cases, Andrew and Harvey left behind a large population in desperate need of help.

I did have some canned goods in my apartment that I didn't need. So I donated those.  A few days later, I went with some friends over to the Opa-Locka Airport to help sort and pack supplies being ferried in from all over the country.

One well-meaning but misguided soul sent down several industrial-sized cans of beets.

Yes, beets.  A dark-red vegetable that is touted as being good for you but that probably few people would eat.  (No offense to those who are beet lovers.)

So, Tina, what's your problem with beets?

Well, first of all, they're beets.  Enough said there.

But my main problem was this:  You're sending down industrial-sized cans of food into an area with NO POWER.  If you open that industrial-sized can of beets, and you don't eat it all, what happens when you can't store your leftovers because you don't have power to run a refrigerator?
I have many memories of Andrew:  the people that were concerned about us, the pictures on TV, Bryan Norcross' laryngitis after being on the air for so many hours, a piece of plywood with "Welcome to Homelessstead" spray painted on it.  But it's the story of the beets that I keep coming back to, because for me, it just encapsulates in one example what people don't need after a disaster.

In the aftermath of Harvey, I'm heartened to see that one of the very first concerns of people has been, "How can I help?"  And I'm sure one of the first responses of people is to gather up stuff they don't need, pack it, and drop it at the nearest place collecting supplies for the people in Houston.

Well, before you start packing, read this article.

Kindly, but firmly, Amy Slenker-Smith states that Houston does not need your stuff.  What they need is money.  That money can go into the hands of people on the ground there, who know what to get and how to get it there.

This article gets much more specific about what NOT to donate.  Used clothing?  Don't bother? Stuffed animals?  Sounds fine . . . but, as a quote from the article says, a teddy bear can't pay for a funeral.

There are organizations you can contact who know what they are doing and how to do it.  They can tell you what they need and what they don't need.  My own church is in contact with several churches in the Houston area--people on the ground--who will give them ideas of how to help.  Next week we are taking up a special collection of funds specifically for Harvey relief.  We also, in the near future, plan to send people to aid in the recovery effort.  This is similar to what we did many years ago with Katrina--we partnered with a church on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi and sent teams of volunteers in over a period of a year.  The people we send, and any items we will send, will only be sent in cooperation with people that are in the area--not a "willy-nilly" collection of items, and not just a group of people saying, "Hi, we're here; put us to work."  (We are planning to collect and send cleaning supplies in the next few weeks--buckets, mops, brooms, trash bags, etc.  Those will be needed.)

So how can you help people affected by Harvey?

Find an organization you trust and make a cash donation.  If they're a group like Churches of Christ Disaster Relief (that my own church has worked with) and they are asking for specific items, go donate.  These groups know how to get the stuff to where it needs to go.

If you pray, pray.   If you belong to a church, maybe they know a place where you can volunteer your services.

Just don't throw stuff into a box without thought and drop it off at a collection point.

And, for the love of all that is holy and reasonable, please do not send any industrial-sized cans of beets.

Just my .04, adjusted for inflation.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Harvey, devastation, the truth, and "rich man's problems"

No, a shark was not swimming down a Houston freeway next to a driver.

No, the planes at Houston Hobby airport are not underwater.

No, there are not alligators crawling up Houston driveways.

Yes, the rainfall in the Houston area is being measured in FEET, not inches.

Yes, the National Weather Service did have to add colors so that it could accurately show how much rain has fallen in the area.

Yes, people are stranded on rooftops and being rescued by people with boats.

Yes, the police have gone looking for boats to commandeer.

And yes, the videos and many of the pictures coming out of Houston and other areas are heartbreaking.

This morning, I posted a Facebook status saying that I wondered if some of the pictures I was seeing were fake.  One picture, of an assisted living center with water up to the residents' waists, I wondered if it were real.  Unfortunately, it was real.  My post sparked some discussion about stuff that was fake and real.  There are fake photos going viral (including one of President Obama serving food at a shelter -- that photo is a real one, but it was from Thanksgiving 2015, where he was helping at a homeless shelter.)  It may not be accurate to refer to some photos as "fake", as in "Photoshopped", but rather "mislabeled", as in the Obama picture I mentioned.  Also, the alligators crawling up the driveways are real pictures, but not specifically from Harvey.  I understand that there IS an alligator refuge in danger of flooding where alligators could escape.

I have read at least one Facebook post urging us to pray rather than worry about fake pictures.  A friend answered that it wasn't helpful to be passing along fake information.  I also pointed out that one could pray and also be concerned about what information is true or false.

In my church's small group on Sunday, I shared some personal concerns.  One of them is about our dryer, which decided it didn't want to heat.  It's since decided to start heating again.  I suspect it may need to be serviced.  One of the small group members commented that many of our problems are what are called "rich man's problems".  In my case, although I have a malfunctioning dryer, I live close to a laundromat.  I can take my laundry there and back.

I also tend to whine about not having an iPhone (my Android only has about 2GB memory) and about only having one car.  But I have transportation, and my husband can take public transportation to and from work.

In comparison to the vast majority of the world, I am rich, and therefore, several of the problems I have are "rich man's problems."

In contrast, what the people in Houston are dealing with are NOT "rich man's problems".  They are life or death problems.  Six people are already dead in flooding and I'm sure the death toll will rise.  As I write this, I'm watching Jim Cantore from the Weather Channel, and he's reporting a levee breach in one area.  A FB friend has family in the area and she's very afraid for them.  People have lost power, they have no running water, and they are running out of food.  Hundreds, probably thousands, will wind up losing everything.

Those are NOT "rich man's problems".

THOSE problems put my "rich man's problems" in perspective.

Just my .04, adjusted for inflation.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Losing hope

This is a depressing post, and for that I'm sorry.

To begin with, my mother has been in and out of the hospital for the last week and a half.  She had a blood clot in the same leg where she's had problems before.  The whole situation has been very stressful on all the people involved.

I've been concerned about North Korea.  But I also think that the little dictator there has a serious case of short-man complex that he compensates for by saber-rattling.

And then came Charlottesville.

I have not been sitting in front of the TV camped out with either CNN or Fox.  But it's impossible to avoid the news of the last few days.

I am fed up, and I have lost hope for this country.

We are so angry.  We are so much at each others' throats.  We've lost common ground.  I'm just waiting for someone to throw the Molotov cocktail that will launch us into World War III.

And at the risk of making people even angrier, I do agree with our President to an extent:  there is hatred on both sides.  I wish he had called out the Nazis and the alt-right immediately.  When you walk around wearing white hoods and carrying a swastika flag, what in the world do you expect is going to happen??  When you identify with the people who perpetrated one of the greatest crimes against humanity in history, you DESERVE to be called out and condemned, pronto!

On the other hand, it seems that the sins of the right are always magnified, while the sins of the left are ignored or minimized.

I truly feel like throwing up my hands and screaming, "Forget it!" along with a lot of other nasty words.  Because it seems like nothing I can do or say is going to do one bit of good.

Just my .04, adjusted for inflation.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Nursery Duty

Today I served in our church nursery.  Between three volunteers, we had one baby, and I ended up hogging her the entire time.

She rewarded me by slobbering all over my left shoulder.

Even though I was wearing a smock, the left sleeve of my blouse ended up getting wet.

I loved it.

Just my .04, adjusted for inflation.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

I remember they lied

In 5th grade, my teacher one day told all the boys that our girls' PE teacher was sick and that the boys needed to leave the room so she could talk to the girls about it.

Once all the boys left, she passed out permission slips to the girls to see a movie about menstruation.

To this day, the thing that I remember about that whole event is that my fifth grade teacher lied to get the boys out of the room.

This was either 1973 or 1974.  I was ten years old.  We weren't that far removed from a time when sex just wasn't discussed publicly, and where certain subjects such as menstruation just weren't talked about unless it was in secret, or in very veiled terms.  My teacher was an older woman; I remember that she had gray hair and she may have been just a little bit older than I am now.  (Which means that she probably wasn't that old. :-) )  I understand that she came from a different generation, a different way of thinking, and she may not have known any other way to get those permission slips passed out. 

But the one question I still have is, "Did she have to lie?"  I mean, surely she could have said, "I need to talk to the girls alone for a minute; you boys need to leave the room."  She didn't have to tell them why she needed to talk to the girls alone.

I thought about this episode while reading about a very tragic event that happened last week in my county.

Five members of the same family, a father and four children, were all stabbed to death in Loganville, Georgia.  The mother was arrested and charged with murder.

Today, I read a story about the neighborhood the family lived in and the reaction to the neighbors to the murder.  A five-year-old girl who lived in the neighborhood was close to one of the children that died. The article quoted a family member that said that they'd decided not to tell the little girl that her friend had died.

Instead, they chose to tell her that her friend had moved.

When I read that, I immediately thought of how adults, in order to shield children from the death of a relative, would often say that the person "went away" or "went off on a long trip," rather than saying, "they died".  But here's the problem with that explanation:  What happens when the person doesn't come back?

And what happens when the child learns the truth?  That the person died?

I believe this family means well.  They're trying to cope with a horrific reality.  

But some day, this little girl is going to learn about what happened to her friend.  She's going to learn that this little girl didn't move.  Instead, she's going to learn that her friend died . . . and she's going to learn that her family lied to her.  

Yes, the neighborhood is going through shock, horror, and every other emotion in the aftermath of this murder.  How in the world do you explain to a five-year-old that your friend has died?  No, it's not necessary to tell this kid all the horrific details.  She doesn't need to know the entire story.

But although I can understand wanting to shield the kid, why lie to her and say she's moved?  

Because eventually, she's going to find out what happened.  Maybe she'll understand why her parents told her that story.  But I also wonder if she'll think, "Why did you lie to me?  And if you lied about this, what else did you lie about?"

In the case of my fifth grade teacher, I'm old enough now to understand some of the nuances that I couldn't understand when I was ten.  Menstruation is a difficult subject to talk about; it's awkward and messy, and finding the correct words to discuss the subject is not easy.  

It's the same with murder.  Murder is much harder to talk about when it's happened in your neighborhood and when you know the people that it happened to.  

The little girl in this story that lost her friend--when she's old enough to understand the entire story, will she remember what I remember about my fifth grade teacher?

Because, even when all is said and done, even when I take into account the subject and the context of the times, what I still remember is that my teacher lied to me.

Just my .04, adjusted for inflation.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Final bike ride . . .

We know her sister got a good night's sleep the previous evening. *

But did she?

She'd been busy for most of the afternoon, and maybe she did collapse in bed that night.  The next morning, she was going on a bike ride.  Her riding partner was due to be there very early in the morning, and she needed to be ready to go the minute her partner arrived.

We don't know what was going on in her mind.  Did she sleep?  Or did she lie awake thinking about that next day's bike ride?

Did she envy her sister's sound sleep in the next bed?

Did she hear the beginning of the rain that night?  Or did she wake up and, only then, find out it was raining?

The rain wasn't going to matter, because she was going on that bike ride no matter what.

Next morning, the ring of the doorbell or the knock at the door may have made her jump, but she was there with her bike at the appointed hour.  Immediately, after telling her parents good-bye, she mounted, gripped the handlebars, set her feet on the pedals, and pushed.

Perhaps the last thing her parents said to her was, "Be careful," as millions of parents all over the world say to their children before they start off on a bike ride, or a car trip, or before doing something risky or downright dangerous.

Telling her not to go, in spite of the rain, was out of the question.

She probably wore a raincoat over her clothes that day.  Her bike tires splashed through puddles and her feet may have slipped a few times on her pedals as she followed her bike partner on their chosen route for that day.  She wore glasses, and if she wore them while she rode her bike, they were spotted with the raindrops, and she would have had to stop and wipe them occasionally so she could see.

Her body was used to her bike seat, and she knew how to maneuver her way through the streets.

This ride, though, held more than its usual share of apprehension.

Were there people looking at her as she pushed her pedals, steered her handlebars, braked as she needed to?  Everyone that met her eyes, did they know who she was and wonder where she was going?

She was missing a mandatory meeting in order to take this bike ride.  Was her name being called at this very moment?  Did anyone know yet that she wasn't there?  How long would it take before her absence was noted, and how long would it be before people started looking for her?

Her heart pounded harder than usual as she rode, and today, it wasn't because she was getting her exercise.

Nearly an hour later, she and her riding partner, soaked from the rain and weary from negotiating the streets, finally slowed, braked, and stopped.  They hurried inside, out of the rain at last.

When the bike rider, fleeing from a Gestapo summons, stepped through the office door at 263 Prinsengratch in Amsterdam, on July 6, 1942, she would not emerge until August 4, 1944.

We know that Anne Frank got a good night's sleep the previous evening.

But did Margot?

Just my .04, adjusted for inflation.

* ("I was exhausted, and even though I knew it'd be my last night in my own bed, I fell asleep right away and didn't wake up until Mother called me at five-thirty the next morning." -- Frank, Anne; The Diary of a Young Girl : the Definitive Edition.  New York: Doubleday, 1991, p. 21.)