Building Hope

           Imagine a world where nobody helped anyone else. Or, where those who did help, only helped family and friends. Wouldn’t our world be less? One disaster follows another and we find ourselves stretching to do what we believe is right. There is never a shortage of places to give from local concerns to those which come to us by way of You tube videos. Imagine what it must be like to receive a gift of food when you’ve been displaced by an earthquake and all is lost, except the most elemental pieces of your life. Imagine what it is like to live  open to the elements after a hurricane has ravaged your land and receive the gift of shelter. Imagine wondering where to turn and how to cope, then someone you do not know, offers you the necessities of life.

On September 11, 2001 the city of New York faced its worst crisis. Attacks carried out on the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center left the city crushed and broken. Throughout the  nation people responded to the need. Many sent money, while others came to search the ruble and heal the injured. The steady stream of donations profoundly touched Jeff Parness. A couple of years later he created a Foundation called, “New York Says Thank You.”

Each year, near September 11, the Foundation reaches out to an area of the country which has been hit by a disaster. They spend time rebuilding homes, churches, camps or whatever that city’s greatest need is. He says, it is not as much about the building itself, as it is about building hope. Hope came to him, in the darkness of the September 11 attacks, through the outpouring of kindness across the country. Today, Jeff tries to pay it forward, touching other lives even as his was touched by an earlier generosity.

The recent disasters have left us many places to offer our gifts and our service.    But, one doesn’t have to look far from home to offer help.   There is someone in your life who needs some extra love, extra care, extra time.   The happiest people I know are the ones who have found ways of reaching out to others, sharing their resources, their time and themselves with people who need someone to care.  Today, may you find joy in the giving of your self.

Going in Circles – Searching for a Better Path

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“Dr George Buttrick used to tell of an early camping trip with his family, back when cars were still quite primitive, windows unknown and rain could easily drench the passengers. Roads as the time were either gravel or dirt. On a good day the travelers could usually cover about a hundred miles. On the last leg of their trip, they decided to finish up the drive pushing towards home. It was about midnight and raining. The going was difficult, their headlights dim, visibility poor. Fortunately the road improved, and the Buttrick’s commented to each other about it. Now the road was level and even, mostly straight, with only a few gentle curves. Having traveled some time they begin to notice that all the curves went the same way, all to the left. The terrain seemed strangely familiar.

No road signs gave any indication of where they might be. At last Dr. Buttrick stopped the car, got out, and began to look around. To his great embarrassment, Dr. Buttrick’s exploration revealed that in the darkness he had somehow gotten off the public road and onto a race track. For over two hours he had been driving in circles. Tired, eager to be home, with a couple of children who were weary, wet, cold and hungry the Buttrick’s were going round and round a race track.

Perhaps you too are going round and round. You keep circling the same territory, not making headway on your journey. Destructive patterns of yesterday haunt your today . . . trouble your tomorrow. God offers another path for you to follow. You can get onto a path that goes somewhere. God has a place and a purpose for your life, waiting for you to discover. There is a way off the race track. There is a way to life with significance. The way lies in opening your heart to the mystery which is God. The path starts when you unlock the door to your heart and let God in. Today is a good day to begin. . . a good day to trust God with your life. The way leads through prayer and surrender and putting yourself in God’s good hands. The way comes in accepting God’s great love for you.

Choosing One’s Attitude – Finding Meaning

Dr. Victor Frankel an Austrian psychiatrist, wrote of being confined to a Concentration Camp in his book, “Man’s Search for Meaning.” Frankel could have given in to despair. Daily there were people who died of illnesses, malnutrition or were brutally killed. Yet, Frankel, not only lived, but survived to tell the story of his survival. He said of that experience, “Suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds a meaning.”

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During his imprisonment, he was startled by the realization that prisoners who were physically strong when they arrived, were often the first to die. Others who appeared frail, survived. The difference he observed was in their attitudes. In his book Frankel writes, “We who lived in concentration camps can remember the ones who walked through the huts comforting others . . . giving away their last piece of bread. They . . . offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from us but one thing: the last of the human freedoms . . . to choose one’s own attitude in any given set of circumstances. . . . to choose one’s own way.”

No one walks through this world unscathed. Each of us will inevitably face hardship, loss, illness or some form of injustice. We are confronted with choices at those moments. Will we wallow in self pity? Will we make life difficult for family, friends and the stray person who stumbles in our path? Will we make sure that everyone knows about our pain? Will we isolate ourselves and turn away from people who care? Or will we look, not at our losses, but at what we have left? The choice to stop wallowing in our pain is the beginning step of healing. Frankel’s heroes were people who used their lives bringing hope and comfort to others.

The apostle Paul was a survivor. Writing out of his many hardships he says, “We have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.” II Corinthians 4:7-9

This is the gift of overcoming that God gives to each of us. Out of that power of God living in him, Paul developed a resilience to face the hurts and struggles he had to face. Paul had come to know one who would give him the strength to endure, wherever he found himself, whatever his circumstances. This is the same Lord who comes to us and who offers us a source of power and strength to endure. The power, that comes from God, is a power that allows us to face life’s anguish and confusion.

Too often, we think that we are alone. To think this way is to be wrong. God is always here, waiting for us to open our hearts to the gifts of compassion, mercy and kindness. God is wanting to be with us and to get us through whatever difficulties, crisis, or heartache we face. But we have to ask and we have to open our hearts to let God in. God, who loves you, yearns for you to do just that.