life

With No-Fault You Have No Say

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Whenever I heard a speaker say that God had brought her through a difficult marriage, I would want to raise my hand and ask, “How difficult?  I need details.”  I needed to know whether hers was as difficult as mine.  It was a horrendous time.  I remember seeing couples hand in hand at craft shows or other events enjoying the day together and my heart would break over the prospect of never knowing that kind of compatibility.  My single friends would lament over not being married and I would think, “Well at least you still have the potential for a good marriage.”  Things finally began to look up in year 3 and we were blessed with a delightful daughter.  It was a precious time for me, but apparently not for him.  On the day before Father’s day, when our daughter was only two, he bailed.   We had already been through counseling during those first difficult years and he was not willing to go again.  Still I had hope.

Then the doorbell rang one cold damp November night and suddenly my heart was gripped with dread.  I knew what was on the other side of the door.  I had been eluding it for days.  I thought about turning off the lights and hiding but I was going to have to face it sooner or later so I gathered my courage and answered it.  Through tears I asked the process server if he enjoyed his job. Then I staggered to the kitchen, braced myself against the refrigerator and collapsed to the floor.

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_prompt/trio-no-three/

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faith, life, restoration, Stories from the Island

Crossing the Water

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I was planning to tell you about June today.  But then my daughter shared her blog post with me, and she did a wonderful job of introducing Brenda.  So Brenda it is.  I would love to just reblog her post except that it would give away my identity.

So, with her permission, I am pasting it here, minus any identifying information:

Shelby and Lesley and I weren’t the only ones on the island this past weekend. We brought women with us. Women who deserved to be blessed. Women who needed to know how God felt about them and who He created them to be. Women who had stories to tell, stories that would allow us to learn from each other.

We brought former prostitutes and addicts. We brought women who used to work the streets, and women who currently go out and minister to those who still do.

Really, my mom brought them. She planned the whole retreat and listened when God told her who to invite. Perhaps I don’t know all the factors that were taken into consideration when she chose the hotel on the island as our location, but I don’t think any of us thought about the significance of crossing over water to get to an island until Brenda did.

Brenda was one of the women who came with us. When she shared her story last night, we found out she had been gang-raped at the age of fourteen, an incident that propelled her into prostitution, promiscuity, and drug use until she eventually surrendered her life to Jesus.

During introductions on the first morning Brenda said “I know that God brought us across the water to cleanse us from everything that happened over there. When we go back, it’s going to be over.”

I got chills. And I am just so thankful for everything that this weekend was, and a God who brings His children across the water.

Amen.

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faith, life, restoration, Stories from the Island

Surprised By Joy

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I guess I expected them to arrive somewhat weary and heavy-laden, downtrodden and in need of rest. Instead they were lively and strong.  Pure joy entered the welcome reception on Friday night as each woman looked me in the eye, introduced herself and shook my hand.  All except one.  One offered only her fingertips and looked me over with suspicious eyes.  “I’m not here to judge,” is what I thought.  “Welcome!” is what I said.

The women helped themselves to a spread of cheese and crackers, sliced melons, grapes, pineapple, assorted veggies and assorted dips, smoked whitefish with a beautiful array of fancy toppings and a variety of lemonades and punches.  It was just right.  Polite, jovial conversation centered around the freshness, sweetness, deliciousness of the food.

Then my daughter entered with goody bags, one for each woman, personalized with her name on it.  A handshake would no longer do.  One got up and gave me a big hug.  “Ohhh, I like hugs,” I exclaimed.  That brought several more to their feet to give hugs.  One massaged my shoulders when I mentioned that her hug felt good against my achy back.  It was going to be a good weekend.

After the reception the chicks and I walked to town for pizza while the hens stayed back to talk.  While we were gone Margaret, the one who greeted me with caution, had a seizure.  She has brain cancer and in all the excitement of the trip she forgot to take her medicine.

Over lunch on Saturday Margaret told me that she is blessed.  She had heard of the Island and had seen it on tv, but she never thought she would actually get to visit.  She told me her story – about how she became acquainted with the other women through rehab.  About how someone slipped her a drug when she was a young teen and she was hooked right off the bat.  She loved the way the burn moved through her body.  She loved the effect it had on her brain.  Some people don’t like that effect, she said, but she did.  She was proud to report that she never sold her body for drugs.  She sold things.  Things that she had stolen from Home Depot or Lowes.  Her father was a sheriff in the Chicago area so she got away with a lot as a teen.  But eventually she caught a bus to a new town so that her family wouldn’t know how addicted she was.  She left children behind.

But now she is blessed.  Blessed because she is clean.  Blessed because she and her boyfriend live in a loft – something that has always been on her bucket list.  Blessed because today she was on the Island.  Blessed because her children were cared for by someone who assured them that it wasn’t them, it was the drugs.  Blessed because she has been recently reunited with her children and they have forgiven her – have always forgiven her.

Margaret said that through it all she was aware of God’s love for her.  She would often talk to Him in the drug house, to the chagrin of the other visitors.  One day she told the drug man that she was  done.  She was going to get back with God.  Surprisingly, he directed her to a Christian rehab facility.

As I got to know the women, heard their stories and marveled at their joy, I began to really understand what Jesus meant:

When one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table.  A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume.  As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.

When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.”

Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.”

“Tell me, teacher,” he said.

“Two people owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty.  Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?”

Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.”

“You have judged correctly,” Jesus said.

Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.”

Church, as I have known it for too many years, has been mostly a gathering of Pharisees.  Oh how I long for the fellowship of those who love much.

It was such a sweet weekend.  June, who you’ll meet next, kept flying “first annual” up the flagpole hoping I would salute.  First annual it is.  If my little ministry could afford it, it would be first semiannual.  I love those women.

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faith, life

Perspective & Percentages

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My small non-profit was given a large grant.  Everyone says it is a blessing, and it is, but it is also a burden.  A heavy burden.  It is a huge responsibility to spend it wisely and well.  That is why so much disappointment oozed into yesterday’s post.

I was disappointed because we did not capture the stories of the women we invited with cinematic greatness.  Stories that could have reached beyond the confines of time and space to bless and warn and heal others.

But the mission was not just about the stories, it was also about blessing the storytellers.  In planning the retreat I had given equal weight to blessing the women with a special weekend and to capturing their stories.  But God weighted it differently.  His mission was much more about blessing the women, and even the videographer, with a memorable experience.  To Him it was all about blessing the now.

Maybe it’s because I have been sick and achy and weak since I’ve been home, maybe it’s because my expectations are always high, but I was looking at the trip as a 50% failure.

But today my daughter reminded me why we decided to hold the retreat: On that day she said “No one else is doing this.  No one is blessing these women in this way.  I think we should do it.”  So we did.  Today she said, “How many people have the means to bless these women the way we did?”  When I look at it that way, the mission was a 100% success.

We set out to bless them and they were blessed.  We wanted them to come and enjoy and they did!  They enjoyed themselves and the island and the fabulous hotel and the food 100%.  There was not a single complaint about the damp, chilly weather.  Just joy.

We wanted them to be open to learning, and they were.  They were very willing to learn and to share.  They shared stories that I never would have guessed would come from their strong, joyful mouths.

Our guests did not let me down at all.

My disappointed perspective had me feeling I had wasted the ministry’s money by inviting “helpers” who did not seem to add anything of value, who seemed to just be along for the luxurious ride.  But I am going to let go of that and trust that God did things in those people that I know nothing about.  Too much prayer went into the planning to believe otherwise.

I was thinking I had to leverage the event to reach many in order to justify using the grant money.  But God will leverage it in ways I cannot even image.  Monday morning I ran into June.  Bright, beautiful, joyful, sunny June.  She was leaving the dining room as I was going in.  She gave me a big, warm, generous good-bye hug and said, “I am going home to retrain my daughters.  I taught them wrong and now I am going to teach them right.”  Seeds were planted and they will grow.  Look what Jesus did with His twelve.

I made some rookie mistakes in the execution of our first annual retreat, but I’ve made note of them.  Next year will be better.

In the meantime, videos or not, I’ve got stories of redemption to tell.

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life

This Is How It’s Done

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I am struggling to balance “If you want it done right, you have to do it yourself” with “People who need people are the luckiest people in the world.”

I have always been content to work alone, though at times I long to be part of a creative team. Supposedly people are supposed to need each other, live and work in community, etc.  So I gave it a whirl.  I let people in.  I relied on them.  And I learned that reliable people are really, really, really hard to find.  I have only found one so far.  My husband.

I took a group of women to an island to bless them and to capture their stories. My small non-profit with a small budget spent a lot of money to bless them and capture their stories.

One board member said she would arrange for a friend to do the videotaping.  But she didn’t.  So at the last minute I was about to contact the professional who had videotaped our last retreat.  I knew he would do quality work. But then I received a Facebook message from a young man I met when I spoke at a camp years ago.  He studied videography in college and had been through some recent hard times.  So I offered him the job.  If he was willing to drive the ten hours to my house, I would transport him to the island, cover his food and lodging for the weekend and I would pay him.

I hired him out of compassion.  In one recent year his mother died unexpectedly while on a mission trip in Jamaica.  Then his paternal grandmother died.  Then his sister committed suicide.  Last year he developed blood clots in his lungs and was bedridden for six months.  The clots happened shortly after he landed his dream job, which he lost.

Over the course of the weekend, the young man lamented about how he “cannot catch a break”, about how people do not want to pay him for his work, about how he has been hired and then put on the shelf, etc.  He scratched his head, just couldn’t understand it.  I understand it. There was nothing he could do to prevent his personal tragedies, but there is plenty he can do about his professional woes.

This is for him, and for you, too, if you care to listen:

Every time someone hires you, you have caught a break.  Make the most of it.  Do it with excellence and you will get another chance.  No one is going to shelf excellence. We talked over the weekend about not overselling oneself.  About how delighted people are when you exceed their expectations.  About how instead of waiting for that big break to show what you can do, do it now.  You get the big breaks by excelling in the small ones.  You become great by doing great.

Doing great means being prepared.  It is not great to discover three minutes into filming that your SD card is full.  Next time you are hired to film an event, invest a few dollars in a brand new SD card or two.

I know nothing about videography, which is why I hired you.  I don’t know about SD cards and what equipment is necessary.  But if, when I offered you the job you had said, “I would love to take this job but I do not have a proper wireless mic and the quality of sound from my on-camera mic will not be great,”  I would have been happy to purchase a proper mic.  Instead you took the job and waited until we got on the island to tell me your mic’s limitations.  An island with no mic stores.

As the videographer, it is your job to notice things like how much noise goes on outside our meeting room every evening between 7 and 10 pm.  Especially since we would be filming from 8-10 pm on Sunday.  When your goal is excellence, you pay attention to potential barriers to excellence and overcome them.  Instead, an hour before filming was to begin I was requesting something to use as a backdrop when I really needed to be preparing for my presentation.  A few minutes into our noisy filming session, I was asking the concierge to move us to a quiet room because, “If you want it done right, you have to do it yourself.”

Finally, when you are hired for a job, make sure you pay attention to what your customer wants.  This customer wanted you to capture stories.  You were there to capture stories.  And then you deleted 3 of them.  Two of the best ones.  If the sound was distorted, I could have transcribed them and used them in written form.  Never delete anything you capture until you are positive that your customer doesn’t want it.  Bring enough SD cards and you won’t have to delete anything.

At the end of the weekend you said you hoped the finished product would exceed my expectations.  Bless your heart but it won’t.

It won’t because three precious stories have been lost.  I spent $12,000 to capture those stories and you deleted them.  And the sound quality of the others is far from professional.  I don’t want to lay a guilt trip on you or anything.  I just want you to learn.  I want you to be excellent next time.  It is not about how much money you can make.  It is about excellence.  A client can potentially waste a lot of time and money if you do a lame job.  When someone hires you, they are counting on you.  Step back and look at the whole picture.

When we returned to my house, you said you wished we could trade lives.  I know that you live in an area of the country that does not hold a lot of opportunity.  But it is not only about geography.  You saw my husband’s diplomas on his office wall.  I have diplomas, too.  Go back and finish college if you want my life.  My husband gets up every morning whether he feels like it or not and goes to work.  When he comes home from work he takes care of business at home.  He does not play video games.  When he was young like you he took menial jobs to pay for college.  When he graduated he took jobs he didn’t love as stepping stones to better jobs.  You said you would not take menial jobs, you said you don’t want to be tied down to a daily commitment.  We could trade residences but you would still not have my life.  You won’t have my life until you are willing to make sacrifices for it.

Live and learn.

Next time I give a young artist a break I will make sure he/she is break-worthy.  I will ask him/her what kind of mic they have, what they would do in the case of a noisy room, etc.  I will purchase a few SD cards just in case.

I gave my young friend the money I promised him because I am a woman of my word.  But next time I will pay per story, on a sliding scale.  From $0 for deleted or unusable to $plenty-generous for excellent.

Better still I might take a few classes, buy a camera and do it myself. Because people who don’t need people are the least disappointed people in the world.

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Stories from the Island

Tucked In

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I am back from the Island all tucked into bed with my computer, a pile of kleenex, chicken soup and Nyquil.  My brain has the same texture and color as the sky that greeted our arrival on Friday – gray, thick. foggy – and my nose is just as drizzling.

There is a lot to process and say about these last few days – observations on joyful redemption and lessons on how it is done, for starters.  But drowsiness is threatening to overtake me.  Had to cancel today’s trip to Chicago.

I’ll write more soon, friends.  Just wanted to let you know that I am home – safe and sound and sick.

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