Category Archives: Spiritual First Aid

A Hero On The Dresser

A long time ago in Illinois, maybe seventy years or so, my father worked in an office in Champaign-Urbana. It was the end of the day and one of his co-workers was running out the door to a dinner and suddenly remembered that he’d forgotten to pick up some documents for a meeting the next morning. It was a small errand, something that a messenger boy would have done back then in the 1930s.

But no one else was left in the office and so my father offered to help. The man gave my father an address and thanked him and ran out the door.   My dad drove to the address he’d been given. It was small house and the lady who answered the door was a housewife preparing dinner. He introduced himself and she invited my father inside to wait in the living room while she went to get the papers. He’d never been in that house before and he’d never met the lady or anyone else in her family. But as he sat on the sofa, looking across the room into the front bedroom, he saw something familiar on the dresser. He stood up and walked a few steps until he could be sure he was really seeing what he thought he was seeing. It was a photograph of him, in a frame, set up there in a place of honor. He realized it was actually a picture that been clipped from a newspaper article about him and an award he had received a few months back for community service. He wasn’t a famous or celebrated person in the community and it had been just a small story about one citizen just doing something positive to help others. But someone had seen it, cut out, and put it in a frame. My dad was stunned. When the lady of the house returned with the papers he needed, he pointed to the photo and said “that’s my picture, isn’t it?” The lady nodded and said, “yes, that’s my little girls’ room. She read about you in the paper and she admires you so much. She says she wants to be just like you when she grows up.”   Every time my dad told that story, he always ended it the same way. “I never met that little girl, but I never forgot about her. I realized that somewhere out there somebody had decided that I was a good example to follow. And I knew that I never wanted to disappoint her. I wanted to be the person she thought I was. I didn’t always succeed, but for the rest of my life, I tried.”

You know, it saddens me so much to see the news media create “heroes” out of sports figures and musicians and movie stars only to bring them down again, and in the process send the message to the people who admired them that no one is worth modeling. The truth is, there are real heroes, good people, quiet people, folks who just live what they believe, help when help is needed, give what they can and ask for nothing back. Those people are out there and if you know one, tell them thank you. And tell them that people do see them, that God sees them, and that their photos may not stand on a stranger’s dresser, but their good works are remembered and cherished in a stranger’s heart.

~ Martha

A Brand New Start

I found a scripture the other day that I’ve never noticed before. It’s “my voice shalt thou hear in the morning o Lord and in the morning will I direct my prayer unto Thee and I will look up.” That’s Psalm 5, verse 3.

And it reminded me of my dad. My dad was not the sort of person who would run around and grab people by the lapels and say “come to Jesus! Repent and be saved!” But people could always tell what he believed by the way he lived and the way he helped people. He was a kind, friendly gentleman and no one ever questioned his great faith.

And one of the ways I knew that he truly loved God was one little thing that he always did. Every morning as he walked into the kitchen he would stop at the back door, the kitchen door that faced the east where the sun was coming up. He would pull back the drape and look at the sunrise and he would say a little quiet prayer. I never knew what he said. I don’t know if it was the same prayer every day or if it was a different prayer every day, but I know that he always stopped there on that little step and spent a moment with the Lord, preparing himself for the day. I imagine that he prayed for his family and for our safety and for my future and certainly prayed that our family would come together again in saftey at the end of the day. And I’m sure it included some words of thanksgiving. It was a touching habit and a powerful example to me. And I’m sure that it came from a line from one of his favorite hymns “Great is Thy Faithfulness”: “morning by morning new mercies I see.” He taught me that every single morning God gives you a brand new sunrise, a brand new start.  Every morning His mercies are new, yesterday is gone.

God has given you a brand new today. So, right now where you are sitting at your computer, whatever you have to do after you click away, remember that God is already preparing a brand new day tomorrow, with brand new mercies, with great forgiveness, and a chance to start over.

~ Martha

The Other New Year… and the Rock in the Woods

I wonder if any of you are like me, celebrating your own personal “new year” on another day besides January 1?

Of course, there are cultural new years on other days on the calendar, such as Chinese New Year. But I’m talking about the day that you might consciously or unconsciously choose as a sort of anniversary where you take stock of yourself compared to where you were a year ago.

For me, that day is the Fourth of July and it’s for a strange, sad sort of reason. The Fourth of July when I was twelve, I overheard two people I loved dearly talking about me. They were completely unaware that I was listening to them as they evaluated me as a person. They weren’t cruel or judgmental, just painfully honest about my shortcomings. Granted, they also quite generously acknowledged a lot of my positive attributes. But, of course, all I heard and remembered for years were the negatives. And after that, the Fourth of July became a sort of annual check-up for me, where I stopped to evaluate myself and see if I’d “improved” or at least tried to correct the weaknesses that I – and they – saw in me.

It wasn’t until a summer many years later – maybe even another Fourth of July week-end – in the very same place, that I came to moment of peace and self-acceptance.

That year, I was in bad shape, overweight. I’d been dumped by my boyfriend and I was out of work. It was one of the lowest points of my life. I felt unloved, unattractive, undesirable, unemployable, and oh, so lonely. So I decided to really make myself feel worse and I went up to the mountains of Colorado where I had grown up and I locked myself away and just wallowed in self pity and solitary nights in front of the fireplace writing in my journal and asking God over and over again when would I be loved?

One morning I took a walk alone in the woods. I remember walking and crying and finally calling out to God in absolute misery, “What’s the matter with me?” And I picked up a rock from the ground and threw it in frustration. It landed on another larger rock and broke open. Inside, geode.

And suddenly, I had my very own Touched By An Angel revelation except I was touched by a rock. It was like a message from God that said – I made this rock and all the beauty inside it and this rock has been here forever and if you hadn’t smashed it just now, it would still be sitting there on the ground looking brown and plain and ordinary. But I would know the beauty inside. I would still see the beauty inside and that is enough. And I made you, Martha. You are more beautiful than any rock on this earth, and if nobody else ever appreciates who and what you are, I do. Your God. Your Creator. And that is enough.

And everything changed after that. I knew that I was special and unique to the only One that really counts. I told a girlfriend what happened and she shrugged, “well that sounds inspiring but get real. You can’t take God out for dinner and a movie.”

But you know what? You can. I started going out alone if I didn’t have a date. I started writing scripts even if I didn’t have a job. I started getting dressed up and looking my best even if no one else was looking. And you know what? People started looking and noticing a new confidence in me. Even better, there was a new peace.

People like to talk about that “secret” to life where you’re supposed to draw positive things TO you? Well, I think it’s the other way around. Let God show you all the positive things he’s already put inside you. And trust that if he thinks you’re special, then you are.

By the way, you may wonder where that life changing rock is? I left it right there, in the woods. Who knows who else may need to find it a hundred years from now.

Whenever you find yourself being terribly hard on yourself – give yourself a break. Break open that rock, instead! And by the way, Happy Fourth of July!

~ Martha

What Does God Look Like?

A question to all of you today:  When you think of God, what do you “see” ?

I got to thinking about that this morning when I read this funny little story forwarded to me by favorite high school English teacher, Ann Campbell:

A Kindergarten teacher was observing her classroom of children while they were drawing. She would occasionally walk around to see each child’s work. As she got to one little girl who was working diligently, she asked what the drawing was.

The girl replied, “I’m drawing God.”The teacher paused and said, “But no one knows what God looks like.”

Without missing a beat, or looking up from her drawing, the girl replied, “They will in a minute.”

Now, there are plenty of depictions of what people imagined Jesus to look like.  I know I always chuckle when I see the ones of Jesus in the perfectly white robe walking along a road in Galilee looking very blond and Swedish and sort of  “spacey.”  From His words in the New Testament, I can only imagine someone very different: a strong carpenter, an intense Jewish rabbi, a loyal and tender friend, a charismatic leader.  A divine presence in human form.

But God.  God the Creator, the Alpha and the Omega.  That’s something else.  When we talk about coming “boldly to the throne of God” it’s hard not to imagine a real throne in a real palace, and yet I know that these are human words for something so huge that we can’t find words to describe or imagine the true experience of the presence of God.  Nevertheless, I believe our hearts long for something to envision, if only to imagine placing ourselves there in that indescribable place of peace and glory.  For me, it’s always Light.  Just Light, brighter than bright, deep and warm and somehow pulsing with Love, and Life itself.

What about you?  What do you “see”?   What do you imagine it will be like to meet Him “face to face”?  Please write back and let us know.  Have a great day.

Martha

Vibiana’s Courage

Somewhere back in the 1800’s a crew was digging under the city of Rome, and deep in the catacombs they discovered a box with the bones of a young woman about whom we know nothing and, perhaps, everything.

Her remains now lie in the new cathedral of Los Angeles, where I went for a visit last week. It’s called the Cathedral of our Lady of the Angels and it’s only been open since 2002 but it was built to last five hundred years.   I was struck by so many remarkable things that I saw there. First, although it’s a Catholic Church, everything about it has been designed to make it the city’s cathedral, a place for people of many denominations to come together and worship. It’s architecture has been the center of some controversy; I like it. It’s old and new and simple and grand all at the same time. The sculpture of Mary above the main entrance, by the artist Robert Grahame, says it all. He gave her the eyes of one race, the nose of another, the lips of a third. She stands humbly and yet with great power, a long braid down her back, with her arms open in short sleeves, almost as if they’re rolled up and ready to go to work to bring everyone together in one place if only for a moment.

But it’s the image of another young woman there that I can’t get out of my mind. I didn’t actually see her. But I imagined her as I stood at the tomb of that young woman from the catacombs of Rome. St. Vibiana. When her remains were discovered over a hundred years ago, there was nothing on the box to identify her except a name: Vibiana, and a design, a sign actually, a half sun with rays emanating from it. A sign that those digging there recognized as a message from the early Christians: this person was killed because she believed in Jesus.

Vibiana’s death has been placed somewhere near 300 A.D. and they estimate her age to be around fifteen.   Since then, all sorts of stories about her have been told; hopeful, encouraging stories, but stories nevertheless. All anyone really knows is that she lived and she died for Jesus. And that’s all I need to know about her.

We are so often assaulted these days by people who mock our faith in a loving and forgiving God. And sometimes the things they say, the facts they twist with sarcasm and wit and bullying, can challenge our faith and tempt us to doubt. But whatever the pundits say on TV is nothing, I imagine, to the mockery and abuse Vibiana must have faced in the cruel and brutal times of Roman persecution. How strong would we be if the words that late night critics threw at us were actually knives or bullets? Well, so far, we are still free to worship God as we choose in this country. And may we never take that freedom for granted.

As I said, the Cathedral was designed to last 500 years. And I hope it does. Because who knows who will stand at the tomb of Vibiana someday and draw courage from the life and the death of one, single girl.


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