Stepping Up and Cleaning Out

A couple of years ago, my second son took a class for his Environmental Studies major at the University of Central Florida that had a community service aspect to it. So, like many of the other students, he volunteered at the on-campus Arboretum.

On Halloween day (somehow that seemed appropriate)  he went with a handful of other workers to clean out a wooden storage shed that was in the back of the childcare area on campus. This shed was used for all the random things like old equipment, projects, and old toys that weren’t currently being used. And, like many such storage areas, it had been badly neglected.

What had once been useful was now junk and thrown into the shed haphazardly. Since volunteers were available, this was a good project for them. Clean that thing out.

So, armed only with gloves, the guys entered  the long, narrow building. Nathan’s first thought when the doors were flung open? “Oh boy this is going to be a lot of work.”

You can probably picture it. The unit had all this stuff just crammed in, wall to wall, and it was extremely dusty. There was also a loft area equally crammed with stuff. Item by item they just started pulling everything out.

The stuff they were keeping they kept to the side and the stuff they were throwing away they piled into a dumpster.

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One of the hundreds, trying to get away.

Before long, the most disgusting part of the job was discovered. After the items stuffed up against the wall were removed, suddenly hundred of cockroaches began skittering out of what used to be their nice, dark hiding places.

The guys reacted as you would expect: disgust. But they were also amazed at how many there were. Literally hundreds of these disgusting creatures had been living in the shadowy places that hadn’t been disturbed in years.

So, killing them when they could by stomping on them and bashing them with plastic baseball bats, the guys persevered in their task.

By the time they were done, the shed was emptied and everything was swept out (and most of the cockroaches were dead or back in hiding within the walls) the team felt pretty good about what they’d accomplished. It wasn’t perfect, but it was much better than before. Only about 20% of the objects from the shed were deemed worthy of saving and everything else was hauled off for the trash.

But you know what was notable about that job (besides vast quantities of cockroaches)? Not one of the people assigned the task stood looking at the mess and thinking, “I didn’t make this mess. I didn’t allow those cockroaches to be in there. I didn’t even know this existed. Why should I have to do anything about it? It wasn’t my problem to begin with!”

They were assigned a job, they saw the huge mess, and they went in and did what they could to get it cleaned out.

IMG_3149The problems we’re seeing in our country with police brutality, abuse of power, and systemic racism didn’t begin with us. The problem predates the current administration. It predates the administration before that, and the administration before that, and the administration before that.

In Genesis 6:5, way back in the beginning of mankind, it says, “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.”

This isn’t just a cultural problem, this is a spiritual problem, Pastor Tony Evans, founder and senior pastor of Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship in Dallas, and founder and president of The Urban Alternative, said recently in a video, “Don’t try to change the nation if God can’t even change your heart.”

We’re seeing the disgusting mess that has been allowed to pile up through years of neglect. We’re experiencing the fallout of a system left to its own devices. And once the doors have been opened and the ugliness has been uncovered, something has to be done about it. Just shutting the doors and letting the cockroaches take over is not an option.

And let me just say this: I don’t think all cops are bad. I don’t agree with the idea that we can do without law enforcement. Believing that people will just “do the right thing” when given the chance has been proven by all the looters to be naive. But I definitely support reform and an abolishment of the brotherhood that says we take care of our own no matter what.

Did we cause the mess we’re in today? No, but we’ve let it stay hidden for far too long.

Not The Same Old Refrain

This post is a part of the Five Minute Friday link up. We write for just 5 minutes on a one-word prompt, without heavy editing, and see what happens. Today’s prompt is “refrain.”

Have you ever woken up in the middle of the night with the lyrics of an annoying song running through your head? It’s nearly impossible to get them out, isn’t it?

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Just like some of the words we’re so used to hearing in our own minds.

“You’ll never amount to anything.”

“Nobody really likes you.”

“You’re so dramatic!”

“That bad thing you did years ago? Yeah. You’ll never be forgiven for that.”

All of these things are lies coming from the Father of Lies. And they need to be replaced by a new refrain, “He has loved you with a steadfast love. He will never leave you nor forsake you. God so loved the world (that includes you) that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”

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When the same old refrain starts running through your head, replace it with a new one. You are loved. You are valuable. You are a child of the king. Royalty! There is a place reserved for you in heaven. As far as the east is from the west, so far have your sins been removed from you. And He remembers them no more. You have been given gifts by God to be used for His glory.

And that amounts to a lot!

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“Another Saturday Night and I Ain’t Got Nobody”

This post is a part of the Five Minute Friday link up. We write for just 5 minutes on a one-word prompt without heavy editing and see what happens. Today’s prompt is “another.”

I don’t think Sam Cooke, the writer of “Another Saturday Night,” had our current situation in mind when he wrote the song. If you’re not familiar with it, the lyrics go on, “I got some money ’cause I just got paid. How I wish I had someone to talk to. I’m in an awful way.”

My husband’s 76-year-old mother with COPD lives with us, so we have been strict about anyone coming in the house who doesn’t already live here. We make an exception for my sister-in-law who has taken on the task of buying her groceries. That means that my sons and my grandson have not been here in at least 3 weeks.

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My mother in law feels badly that we’re making these sacrifices of having long-distance relationships during this time because of her, but that’s just what you do with a loved one. You do what’s necessary. You exercise caution. You spend another Saturday night (or Thursday, or Monday. Really, any night will do) watching a movie or doing a puzzle or playing a game. You turn to virtual venues like FaceTime or Zoom or Facebook Messenger or Google Meets to do what you need to get done.

Zayne and I have tried virtual story time with Nana, but he’s not much to sit in one place for very long. He just looks at the phone, looks at his dad and says, “I ready go Nana’s house.”

Breaks my heart.

But it’s not forever. Even though he’s used to spending 5 days a week here since he was 5 weeks old, he won’t forget we exist. I hope.

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Hang in there, bud. We’ll be back together again soon.

Who are you missing in your time of sheltering in place?

 

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What Do Now?

This post is part of the Five Minute Friday link up. We write for just 5 minutes on a one-word prompt and see what happens. Today’s prompt is “now.”

I have a 26-month-old grandson who was an early talker, so by now, he’s really got a grasp on the English language. When he was coming to our house 5 days a week (which he’s not now thanks to the stay-at-home orders and the job losses of both his parents) he would often finish doing something, or just tire of the activity he was engaged in, and he would come to me and say, “What do now?”

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It was so cute. He got that from us because we would often say it to him when he looked like he was moving on from whatever he was doing.

It occurs to me that we’re often like that with God. We always want to be doing something. But in this time of pause in the world, it seems like we shouldn’t be asking that question. Maybe the right question to ask is not “what should I be doing?” but rather “Who am I becoming”?

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Perspective Adjustment

This post is a part of the five-minute Friday link up. We write for just five minutes on a one-word prompt and see what happens. I cheated a bit this week because I started this post several days ago and didn’t get to finish it then. Today’s prompt is “adjust.”

Being socially distant used to be something that was frowned upon, wasn’t it? Parents worried about their children’s mental health if they spent too much time alone. Now, suddenly, kids are being encouraged to be online with their friends, spending lots of time in front of a screen, interacting at least, and learning virtually.

It’s a whole new world, and I gotta say, not one I’m particularly fond of. I’m not sleeping well, but not because I’m worried about getting sick. And not because I think that God is in heaven wringing His hands saying “Oh, my! Oh, my!” It’s just the thoughts that come rushing in every time my mind is conscious.

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But here’s a small but powerful practice I’ve been using lately to calm my mind and bring my focus back to where it should be: I’m turning my “what if’s” into “even if’s.”

Here’s an example: about 2 weeks ago I was diagnosed with melanoma. Nobody wants to hear the word “cancer,” so of course my mind went to worst-case scenarios. What if it’s traveled beyond this one spot? What if it’s gotten into my lymph system?

Those thoughts can be crazy makers, especially when I didn’t even know anything beyond the diagnosis. And so I turned those “what if’s” into “even if’s.” Even if it is worst-case, God is still good. He still sees me. He still loves me. He will not leave me alone. He will work all things together for my good. (It wasn’t, by the way, worst-case. This week the tumor was removed from my right arm and the doctor thinks that’s all that will be necessary. And I’ll have a really great scar for my efforts.

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Another example: what if my son, who works at a restaurant as a server, loses his job because of this Covid-19 pandemic? He just moved into an apartment with his 2-year-old son. What will happen to them? (And yes, he is out of work temporarily, and getting about 1/3 pay from his company’s emergency fund, which is at least something, but he’s currently applying to grocery and hardware stores that are still hiring.) Because of God’s grace to us, we are able financially to help him during this time. Maybe this will be the push he needs to start walking with Jesus again.

We don’t any of us have guarantees about tomorrow. We’re doing what we can today to try to “flatten the curve” in the U.S., and we are living with a lot of uncertainty, but God is always certain. He never changes. He is still sovereign and he can be trusted to walk with us through this.

Recently, that aforementioned 2-year-old grandson took my iPhone 11 and started taking pictures around the yard (included in this post are some of his shots.). His usual MO is to hold down the button and so take 100s of shots of whatever the camera is pointing at. But this photo shoot was different. He purposely pointed and then pressed the button for just one shot.

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We have some pretty purple flowers on a line of bushes around our pool enclosure, and Zayne went right up to one of those, putting the phone almost right on top of the petal to take a picture. Of course, all he got was a screen full of purple. I told him to pull it back a little and so he did. The resultant photo was a beautiful image of the full flower and even some of the wood walkway near it.

Perspective. That’s what he needed to see the beauty and not just a purple blob. It’s what we all need in this trying time. Pull back and see what God is doing in the world. Yes, there are some things that are really terrible, but we can be assured that this will not last forever, because forever is way longer than this.

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