Monthly Archives: February 2021

Simplicity of Eligibility

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I walked through the family room, on my way from one task to the other, when the words of a guest on a television news program caught my ear and made me stop.  In his discussion of the Covid vaccine distribution, Dr. Ashish Jha, Dean of Brown University’s School of Public Health, said that our country needed “simplicity of eligibility.”  His comment made sense to me given the confusion from state to state about who is eligible to get the vaccine currently.  In some states, teachers are eligible to receive the vaccine no matter their ages or underlying conditions while not in other states.  I agree with the expert regarding the need for simplifying vaccine eligibility and access, but for me, there was a broader truth to his statement. 

Eligibility means “having the necessary qualities or satisfying the necessary conditions.”  (dictionary.cambridge.org).  If we have the right qualities, we can get something, we can be part of the group, we can belong.  But oftentimes in our society, real or perceived barriers to entry that have nothing to do with actual qualifications prohibit our belonging.  Recently, my teenage daughter entered a situation in which she didn’t know anyone.  She said she had a tough time finding a group with which to engage because they had their cliques already.  It’s a familiar and painful plight.  We shut people out, we shut them down, and we make them feel excluded by our words, our behavior, and our attitudes.  Perhaps we act from our own set of fears and insecurities, so we cling to the known and erect walls to keep out the unknown.  But the resulting shame and exclusion hurt others just the same.   We feel good because we belong and don’t give enough consideration to those people on the outside.  

Our faith communities are especially capable of making people feel left out.  When my mother was a little girl, she and her sister tried to go to a church one Sunday, but they were turned away because they had on pants instead of church dresses.  They were poor and did not attend church, so they didn’t have Sunday dresses and didn’t know they needed them.  This may sound ridiculous today, but we still see plenty of ways to block the entrances for people.  In fact, many folks will never even attempt to enter because they already feel they are not eligible: they don’t know anything about church or religion; they’ve been rejected by religious institutions or people before; they’ve heard they are sinners and think they are not eligible as a result; they hear harsh rhetoric from religious people and it scares them.  The list of ways those on the inside of the church walls make others feel unwelcome goes on and on.  

We make eligibility complicated and seemingly impossible when truly eligibility is simple: be a human.  Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matt 11:28). Sounds to me like an invitation to everyone.  Not every church will fit every person.  But each of us gets to decide where we want to belong, where we want to pursue God’s teachings and love, where we want to be in community with other people who believe similarly.  That’s a personal decision – not a decision that a church should make about a person before they even darken the church’s doorstep.

Let us be mindful of the ways we purposely or inadvertently communicate to others that they are not eligible to be in our communities, in particular in faith settings.  Let us follow Jesus and make sure that others feel a “simplicity of eligibility.”

Hold the Light

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On the first day of the rolling blackouts during the crazy and historic winter weather of February 2021 here in Texas, we did not experience much regularity – we simply didn’t know when we would be with or without power or for how long.  The next two days brought a schedule to the blackouts of forty-five minutes on and forty-five minutes off.  We learned to mark the time, so that we could cook, microwave, shower, reboot the internet, and charge devices as soon as the power came back on.  But on that first day, the power went out twice unexpectedly while we were in the process of cooking.  

At one point after dark when the electricity shut off, my eleven-year-old son Clay held my cell phone with the flashlight on as I finished making dinner at the stovetop.  It happened kind of naturally and I was focused on the task at hand, so it didn’t dawn on me that my child was providing such a vital service to me until I finished cooking.  Then, I looked at Clay and said, “thanks for holding the light for me.”

Sometimes, we feel like we are in the dark in life.  We may even feel disconnected from the power source –  we may believe that God is distant from us.  Our time of darkness may happen suddenly, like the electricity going off, or may come upon us gradually, like the sun setting, but either way, we may be lost because we do not see a clear way out of the dark.  

But when someone holds the light for us, they shine God’s love on us.  They remind us that we are not alone, and that God has not left us.  We can begin to feel a bit of warmth and see a path back to the broader light.  We can start to feel hope.  And when we finally come out of the dark, we can then be the light for another.  

In a letter to the church at Corinth, the apostle Paul wrote, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.”  (2 Corinthians 1:3-4).  When we find ourselves in darkness, let’s look for others who can support and encourage us, who will be the light at the end of the tunnel, pointing to God’s love and mercy.  Then, let us hold the light for others while they are in darkness to demonstrate God’s compassion and comfort.  We can allow the light of God to shine through us and help illuminate the darkest night.          

Small Moments of Encouragement

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The plumber Dewayne recommended that we replace the kitchen faucet and some hardware underneath the sink in order to prevent any further leaks after the dishwasher soaked the carpet and hardwoods.  So, while he worked, I ran to the store to purchase a new faucet.  Dewayne told me that the new faucet might have a liquid soap dispenser, which was true of the one I selected.  After he installed the new faucet, he told me that another customer of his had a similar soap dispenser and that the woman had spent eight years getting on her hands and knees, reaching underneath the sink, unscrewing the soap container, refilling the soap, and then reinstalling it.  He pulled the pump out of the top of the sink and informed me that all I had to do was pour the soap into the container from the top and replace the pump.  “Thank you for telling me,” I said.  I felt grateful because I would’ve been like the woman who filled the soap the hard way.  And then I know myself well enough to know that I would’ve gotten tired of doing it that way and simply stopped using the dispenser all together.  

I tend to avoid doing things that take too much time or are complicated or burdensome.  But I also avoid things that I don’t know how to do in the first place.  Instead of taking the plunge and diving into an unknown process, I’ll find a hundred other things to do.  The anxiety I feel when I don’t know how to do something can be debilitating.  The fear can grow to the point of paralysis.  But a tip from someone who has been there or done what I’m worried about can make all the difference in how I proceed.  

When I was pregnant with my first child, two of my friends separately told me that if I could stick with nursing for the first ten to fourteen days, which would be difficult, then nursing would become a wonderful experience.  I held onto their words during those first two weeks when nursing was painful and hard and sleep was elusive.  I think I might’ve quit if my friends hadn’t given me their invaluable advice.  Instead, I stuck with it, and their words proved correct.  

Sometimes, all it takes is for someone to share a small piece of their experience to help us overcome our hesitance and move forward.  The same applies in our faith journeys.  In his letter to the church at Rome, apostle Paul wrote, “I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong – that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith.”  (Romans 1:11-12).  

Being vulnerable with one another, expressing our doubts, admitting to failures, building one another up with words and actions can change the situation for others who may feel they are the only ones who’ve had a particular experience or made an egregious mistake.  Just a small gesture, a moment of caring, a little guidance can go a long way toward encouraging another.  It’s not a matter of telling people what to do or controlling them but showing them kindness when they need a hand or a bit of support.  We can find comfort from the reassurance that none of us are perfect, and that we need not be perfect to enter into relationships with other people and with God.  

Let us mutually encourage one another with positive words of advice and small moments of connection.  We may never know how our sharing may help someone.  But it may make all the difference.  

Family Folklore

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Our family recently had quite a week.  Our dishwasher leaked, but not in an obvious way.  We didn’t discover the problem until the carpet behind the kitchen wall became soaked and the hard woods in front of the dishwasher began to seep water when we stepped on them.  On Wednesday, the plumber arrived, cut off the water to the dishwasher, said we would need a new dishwasher, and because the damage could lead to mold problems, called the restoration company for us.  By the end of the day, five industrial blowers that would dry out the damaged floors were running – loudly – for twenty-four hours a day for the next four-and-a-half days. 

The day after our dishwasher leak, we found out Alex had been exposed to Covid.  I picked him up from school, and he and I got tested.  He was positive, even though he had no symptoms.  I had to get the rest of the kids from school, Ben came home from work, and we began our quarantine with the noise of the blowers, just in time for Jed’s fifteenth birthday.  We isolated Alex in the TV room upstairs, and while watching television and playing video games is fun for a few days, it can become a grind even for an eight-year-old boy.  He went outside for a little while one day, and when he went back upstairs, he texted me, “I’m back in the cage.” 

A couple of days into quarantine, Jed broke a window with his basketball.  Thankfully, it was double paned, so the ball did not break the window entirely and no one was hurt.  But when Jed said, “the hits just keep coming,” I shushed him immediately not wanting to jinx us with anything further.  

Thankfully, none of us experienced Covid symptoms, and we knew it could all be much worse, but some of us (me) don’t do so well mentally and emotionally when change knocks us out of our routine.  Because of all the chaos, we will talk about this week as a family for a long time.  I kept thinking, this will become part of our family folklore.  The term folklore probably only came to my mind because Taylor Swift titled her popular 2020 album “Folklore.”  So, I felt compelled to look up the actual meaning of folklore, which is defined as, “the traditional beliefs, customs, and stories of a community, passed through the generations by word of mouth.”  (lexico.com). 

We will definitely pass down the tale of this crazy week to the next generation.  We will talk about how we reacted with tears, frustration, and laughter.  We will feel pride in how we endured this week and the entire pandemic with resilience and grit.  I wonder what details or conversations we will exaggerate as we retell this story years from now.  I also think about the unknowns.  For example, I don’t yet know the grandchildren who will hear these stories.  But for now, we connect over the funny and the not so funny.  We gain perspective by looking back and feel hope as we look to the future.  The fabric of the family is built, at least partly, on the experiences we share and reliving those stories again and again.  

The Bible is full of stories that people passed down from one generation to the next.  And Jesus told stories to those who gathered to listen to him.  In the Bible, Luke investigated the stories from the beginning, including those handed down from those who knew Jesus, in order to give his account of Jesus’ life.  (Luke1:1-4).  Before recounting one of Jesus’ stories, Luke wrote, “Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up.”  (Luke 18:1).  Jesus was building the fabric of his family of followers, encouraging them to stick together and stay true to him even when their lives became difficult.  When Jesus’ time on earth was complete, his people told others what they’d heard him say, how they saw him act, and how he made them feel. 

We can model our efforts to create folklore on the way Jesus gathered people together and told them stories.  He knit together a community who would carry on his love and legacy.  We can build strong ties among our families and communities by sharing stories that demonstrate how much we love one another.  With God’s help, we will form our family’s folklore and establish bonds that last a lifetime and beyond.