The Calluses of Life

Excuse me while I crucify my flesh. That explains how I feel when I am facing a battle that is too big for me to fight. In fact, God often tries to tell me repeatedly to ‘be still, stay calm, be silent, and be quiet because I will fight for you,’ (Exod. 14:14). But that is not an easy thing for me to do, hence my moments of weakness, frustration and anger.

I learned a long time ago that God allows certain things in our lives because He wants to teach us something — something that is so big that we can only learn it through the fire.

When facing an insurmountable trial many years ago during which, for a long period of time, I was being unfairly and unjustly accused and demeaned, I cried out to God and asked, “Lord, what is Your plan in all of this?’ His quiet voice responded, “The PROCESS is the plan.”

Ouch. No one wants to hear that. No one wants to have to go THROUGH difficult times. But the Lord would remind me of this valuable truth every time I would sing this song with preschoolers, “We’re going on a bear hunt — can’t go under it, can’t go over it, can’t go around it – gotta go through it!”  

And Psalm 23, everyone’s favorite Psalm, accurately states, “Though we walk THROUGH the valley of the shadow of death, we will fear no evil.”

Yet, when it comes right down to it, we all want to escape the tough times and get on with our lives. For me, I just want to “get ‘er done,” a lifestyle I have lived long before that expression came into vogue. And so, waiting on God, allowing God to fight my battles for me, being still and quiet and calm when I want to push, cajole, coerce and make things happen – well, let’s just say, that does not come easy for me.

The Lord reminded me that when I was a child, I had a growth on the bottom of my foot. It worried me, and for various reasons, I did not want to tell my parents. I tried to use hot compresses to shrink it and even tried picking at it a bit to minimize it. Nothing worked. Eventually, the growth became as hard as a rock and I could not walk on it. At that point, I had to tell my parents and they made ar

rangements to have it removed. He reminded me of this because I believe He is saying, “What you don’t take care of – walk through, address correctly –  will only get worse and not better. Don’t wait until the little wart {issue that He wishes to help you through} gets so hard that it needs excised.”

So I wish to come clean and publicly state that I am truly working on it. I am trying to “crucify my flesh,” as the Bible states in Galatians 5:24. I am sorry for the self-will that rears its ugly head when I want something so badly (even if it is a good thing), that I am not willing to trust Him in the PROCESS.

Lord, I pray that you will remove the warts and calluses that surface in me from time to time and that I will be quick to recognize my shortcomings. I also pray that others, whom I may hurt and offend during these needed times of surgery, will forgive me as I take time to die to myself and live for You. Amen.

 

 

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Ode to Baseball

Before the days of video games, x-boxes, cell phones and I-pads with endless distractions, there was one sport — baseball –  that represented America in a unique and collective way. Yes, football dominated the Fall and basketball and hockey fans enjoyed their hometown heroes … but baseball was something else, something entirely different.

Baseball is what boys grew up playing in little leagues. If they were lucky, their dads helped coach the teams and were, therefore, at all of the games. Girls also played slow-pitch softball and although it was never as popular as boys’ baseball, it also filled many a summer’s night for families and friends.

My family lived in a six-floor apartment building in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, right across the street from two little league baseball fields. We could watch every game – either from our large window overlooking the fields or going to the games, whether we were cheering for a particular team or not. And days or nights spent at the field meant delicious, sweet hamburgers and vanilla milkshakes – all for less than $2. These were fun evenings out of the house and warm summer breezes filled the air like the baseballs the boys were trying to hit.

Opening Day at baseball fields across the country were practically national holidays. Many families attended these games religiously and allowed their sons and daughters to take off school to celebrate the beginning of the six-month marathon of games, played in almost every weather condition except thunderstorms. All boys wanted to be the next Mickey Mantle (even those who did not cheer for the dreaded New York Yankees), and Summer dreams carried into the Fall for those teams good enough to make the Division, Championship and World Series.

From its origins in the United States as early as the 1800s to modern day, baseball has weathered many national difficulties from the Depression to World Wars. Baseball has been a good friend, like a well-worn glove, always there when you needed it.

Going to a baseball game to cheer for your hometown team also meant age-old traditions like the seventh-inning stretch, bags of peanuts and hot dogs (or franks as we called them in New York) loaded with stadium mustard. And most of us can still remember the words to “Take Me Out To The Ballgame,” even if we have not been to a game in years.

Imagine my childlike exultation, therefore, when I recently had the joy of watching a baseball game of a dear friend’s son and a baseball practice for another family friend. Instantly transported to the days of my youth, the images, sights, smells and sounds all came back like a train running smoothly on its track, having never slowed down all these years.

Coaches instructing boys in not only batting stances, but in life lessons far greater than how to swing the bat or get under a fast-moving grounder. Lessons like: keep your cool even if you are having a bad game; don’t let the other team get into your head even if they are twice your size and perhaps your age (!); follow-through every swing of the bat and every throw to first base; cover your position and not everyone else’s; follow the coaches’ signal to stop at third base even if you are sure you can get to home plate safely; and, most of all, work together as a team and watch how far you can go.

Great movies, too, have kept these traditions alive including, “The Sandlot,” – a coming of age baseball film complete with a backyard beast; “Field of Dreams,” (if you build it, they will come); “The Natural,” “A Mile in His Shoes,” and many others.

It is good to know that baseball is still alive and well in small towns and big cities across America despite declining television ratings and rising professional league game costs. Minor league baseball stadiums are filled with families reliving their own childhood dreams and carrying on the tradition. Most things in America have changed since my johnattheplatechildhood many more than 50 years ago (most not for the good), but, thank God … there is one thing that has not. Baseball, a timeless tradition for millions of us. is still America’s pastime.

leighton

 

What Will Be On YOUR Tombstone

tombstone“The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated,” said Mark Twain, upon hearing that an American newspaper had printed his obituary while he was still very much alive. That same strange feeling overcame me when I was asked to write my own death notice for my first journalism assignment at West Virginia University.

It made me stop and think. What do I want to remembered for? What do I hope people will say about me when I am gone? What will my legacy in this life be?

Vanity license plates make me laugh as I consider what mine might say – “B-Z- Mom,” would have been apropos for many years of my life as I worked a full-time, high-level, demanding professional job; raised a daughter; visited and engaged my ailing mother whenever I was not working; and volunteered for many worthy organizations. “Worker Bee”; “Jewish Mother”; and “Happy Life” are a few others that come to mind.

But it is not what I did that I wish to be remembered for. It is who I am and the difference I have made in the lives of people in my life. The one word that I wish to be written on my tombstone is “LOVE”. I aspire to be like the woman I admire most in this world, Mother Teresa, who said, “Love is the reason for my life.”

It is sad that many people never consider what their legacy will be. The reason, I think, is that no one wants to think about their death. “Everyone knows they are going to die, but nobody believes it. If we did, we would do things differently,” said Morrie in the classic book, “Tuesdays with Morrie”.

High school students love this book because it evokes real conversations about life … and death … and all that happens in between. Instead, however, they (like all of us in this country) are bombarded with meaningless messages of  “Breaking News” of celebrity events and break-ups.

Older adults in our society are generally not valued and history is re-written to meet the whims of modern culture. Families are shattered and put back together in configurations almost impossible to imagine. We all need to belong, but most wander from job to job, relationship to relationship, and city to city. Institutions have failed us, as has government, and many of the people in our lives. There never really were “the good ole days,” but, at least past generations attempted to hold some things in high regard – family, faith, the future of our country. But most of that – and even the discussion of it – is gone and my heart weeps.

A rare exception took place at the Kent (Ohio) City Schools Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony in April 2018 when several school alumni returned to their hometown to be honored. The alumni spoke to an assembly of junior and senior high school students and each graduate thanked the teachers, staff and others who had helped shape and impact their lives. Their clarion call was clear: . . .   “Embrace and value not only the excellent education you are receiving, but appreciate the many people who are helping to make it happen. Look what I have achieved so that you can do the same. Live your life with purpose and see what you can become.”

I was truly impressed by the words of Dr. Danita Brown Young, a dear family friend of tremendous academic, professional and personal stature, whom I nominated and who was selected for this prestigious honor. She said,

“Serve with intensity, speak with integrity, give with generosity, and succeed with humility.”  

My hope and prayer is that this message will resonate deeply in the students’ hearts as they learn that life is filled with choices and that there are genuinely caring people in this world who wish to help navigate the treacherous waters they face.

If they do, they will establish a legacy of a life well lived. Or, as Morrie said, “To know you’re going to die and be prepared for it at any time. That’s better. That way you can be actually more involved in your life while living.”

brownfamily

The family of Dr. Danita Brown Young has been an important part of her success in life. With Danita at the Kent City Schools Hall of Fame Dinner and Induction Ceremony are (from left to right) husband, John A Young, II; Danita; parents Eleta and Harold Brown; and brother and sister-in-law Michael and Rosanna Brown.

America’s Schools — The Most Dangerous Place on Earth

godisouronlyhopeinlife

Who would have ever thought that when parents in America say goodbye to their sons and daughters who ride the school bus or walk to school, that it might be the last time they will ever see them? The consistent carnage of school shootings have left parents, educators and students all wondering the same thing – will our school be next and who, in our school, has the potential to “blow” – taking down others with them on their quest for revenge, notoriety, or whatever other motive they may have.

Many are calling for stricter gun laws, yet the controversy over what and how to do this drowns out any meaningful discussion. Others are pointing to greater mental health awareness and the need for a national conversation regarding depression, abandonment, fear, anxiety, and the lack of hope in our culture. This, too, needs serious attention and honest appraisal as very few are willing to address this elephant in the room.

And then there is the discussion (or should I say lack thereof?) about God. Did you know that many young people in America have almost no knowledge or understanding of God, or the Bible, or the religious freedoms they are supposed to enjoy? Even worse than that, most young people view Christians as bigoted, self-righteous zealots who don’t know or care about the realities of our modern culture and who want to return to the days of corporate prayer in public schools.

Really? Whose prayers? Muslims, Jews, Christians, or the hundreds of other faith cultures that permeate our society?

There are good reasons why educators are limited in their roles to promote or endorse religion and lead prayers in classrooms. Can anyone say ‘coercion,’ something that God does not employ or endorse.

But does that mean that the discussion of God and all that He is and all that He has to offer all people (unconditional love, peace, understanding, patience, hope, healing and help for broken hearts and lives) needs to be locked out of our school systems? If only we could lock out the guns and the violence and the hate and hopelessness in our country as effectively as we have locked out God in our schools, but we can’t.

Therefore we must have a honest discussion of where we, as a nation, stand on allowing God back into the lives of our young people.

Did you know?

“In 1984, Congress passed the Equal Access Act, which forbids schools from discriminating against clubs or denying them equal access to school facilities because of their philosophical or religious viewpoints. The act was passed largely to prevent widespread discrimination against religious clubs.

“In 1990, the United States Supreme Court ruled in Westside Community Board of Education v. Mergens that the Equal Access Act was CONSTITUTIONAL. In that case, the Court determined that a school district violated the Equal Access Act by denying use of its facilities to a religious club, while allowing chess club, a scuba-diving club and other ‘non-curriculum-related’ groups to use school facilities,” Clubs, by David L Hudson, Jr. First Amendment Scholar, and Mahad Ghani, First Amendment Center Fellow.

Yet, most schools still believe that there is a “separation of church and state” and that clubs with a faith component are not allowed to take place in public schools. They point to the First Amendment and repeat the mantra that began in the 1960s that by allowing a faith-based club, the school is ‘endorsing religion,’ violating the First Amendment and opening its doors to lawsuits.

Religion, I hate to say, has become the one thing that will not be tolerated in schools. These same schools promote harmony and acceptance of all lifestyles and all ethnicities but refuse to allow any club that mentions or (heaven forbid!) promotes God as an answer to the suffering and abuse in the world and in many of the students’ lives.

The key to legal acceptance of the faith-based clubs is that they MUST be student-led and driven. If that is the case, then the groups MUST be afforded, under the law, the same exact rights of each and every other club in the school – and that includes having guest speakers; allowing adults who volunteer (on a limited basis) to help guide and facilitate the meetings (service and leadership clubs guided by adults are a perfect example of what can and should be allowed for faith-based clubs); use of the PA system to announce club meetings; flyers with information about the club to be posted throughout the schools at approved locations; and faculty advisers who are present during the clubs and whose rooms are made available for the clubs to meet.

But most administrators either don’t know or don’t care about the federal law. They may say that they allow students to pray together or have Bible study, but when it comes to allowing a faith-based club actual status as a club within the school, they draw the line and say ‘no’. They say to the students, “If you want a Bible study or faith-based club, then you must meet after school and pay for the facilities.” Or, perhaps, “You can meet during the lunch hours with a faculty adviser, but don’t expect us to approve a formal club.”

As student suicides and mass murders continue, we all cry and wonder if it will ever end, knowing that today’s news cycle will probably bring another shock to our already broken down nervous system. And we call for prayers (too little, too late) and vigils and walkouts and sit-ins, in an attempt to calm our fears and show respect.

But what if we put God and hope and faith and love and understanding and virtue back in the halls of our sacred learning? What if we allowed young people to discuss their hurts and sorrows, their tears and torments, their need for acceptance and love, in a safe and unbiased environment, and they were embraced and encouraged to do so? What if our schools led the way, by example, for the students to talk about God rather than blocking their legal right to do so?

This is my prayer, my plea, my cry for help for this generation in desperate need of … love … and God.

On Life and Prejudice — Lessons Not Learned In School

Classrooms are a place of learning but it was something that took place outside the classroom and outside my junior high school building in Brooklyn, New York, that became one of the greatest life lessons I would ever learn.

It was the early 1970s and school integration was in full swing. The decision was made to bus black (that is how African-Americans were referred to at that time) students to my junior high school to provide them a better education than many would have otherwise received in lower-income neighborhood schools.

People were mad. Teachers would not teach; parents threatened to keep their children at home. Tensions filled the neighborhood as uncertainty and fear began to grip almost everyone I knew. Everyone, that is, except my mother. She became angry, but not about the schools’ integration. She was angry at the prejudice she was witnessing and that she had tried to teach me was wrong.

And then she put her words into action. She decided to cross the teachers’ picket lines when they refused to teach our more fully integrated school. She was willing to withstand the anger and retaliation she might experience from our friends and neighbors as well as the teachers and others in the school district. If you think I am imagining this or exaggerating, take a moment to remember the horrible images of water cannons, with full force, aimed directly at African-Americans who were trying to access their legal rights, but were not allowed to do so – equal access to schools, drinking fountains and the front seats on buses.

 

I have never felt more pride in my mother than during that time in our otherwise personally turbulent lives. The teachers finally relented and integration became the norm. Was it pretty? No. Was it worth it? Yes. Especially for one little girl who learned that might does not make right and that, in God’s eyes, we are all equal.

Recently I helped my church, Community Vineyard Church in Cuyahoga Falls, celebrate Black History Month through the presentation of a Living History Museum of seven great African-Americans of faith. It was an idea that I borrowed from Kent Roosevelt High School, where I am a substitute teacher, but its genesis began five decades ago when my mother stood strong in the face of oppression and hatred and who taught me to do the same.

Although she is now with the God she loves, I live each day to help fulfill her dreams and my own to uphold the indisputable truths as set forth in the Declaration of Independence, “ . . . that all men are created equal, (and) that they are endowed by their Creator, with certain unalienable Rights, among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

 

I pray that my life will be an everlasting tribute to the woman who taught me outside of school and in the classroom of life.

 

Photo of me and “Jackie Robinson” (Jayvon Taylor) at the Black History Month Living History Museum. Most people may not know that Robinson was specifically recruited to play for the Brooklyn Dodgers based on his Christian faith – with a signed agreement that (for three years) he would not retaliate evil for evil. Robinson lived up to the agreement and despite great persecution and anger railed against him, he went on to become the Rookie of the Year and an All Star Baseball Player, opening the door for other African-Americans to play Major League Baseball. debandjackierobinson

From Football to Faith Fanatic

superbowljanuary1969My family were football fanatics. In fact, major sports (baseball, football, basketball and hockey) were a huge part of our lives as I was growing up in Brooklyn in the 1960s and early 70s, when New York sports teams were dominant.

It was the era of the New York Mets going from last to first place in a few short years and winning the 1969 World Series. I went to many of the games and witnessed Willie Mays make spectacular catches. I was at most of the New York Knicks games when Walt Frazier, Willis Reed and Dave DeBusschere won the 1969-70 NBA title and repeated that feat again in 1972.

But it was the New York Jets and their improbable win over the Baltimore Colts in the American Football League-National Football League (AFL-NFL) Championship Game on January 12, 1969, that I remember most. At that time, most people believed AFL teams were far inferior to NFL teams and when the heavily underdog AFL New York Jets beat one of NFL’s greatest teams, the Baltimore Colts, by a score of 16-7, the tides of change began. The game was the first to officially bear the name Super Bowl and the following season would be the last as separate leagues before the AFL-NFL merger.

Incredible as it may seem, due to both leagues’ restrictions, the game was blacked out in Miami, where the game was played, and the promised football game tickets were not there when we arrived. Our family had season tickets to our beloved Jets and we weathered frigid temperatures and multi-hour traffic jams to watch them lose more games than they won. But my dad, ever the grandiose dreamer, promised that “if the Jets go all the way, so will we.”

With no tickets for the game, we assumed a weekend hotel stay in Miami would be our consolation, however my dad managed to get us tickets with seats in the last row that were closer to the Goodyear Blimp than the field.  The photograph is from the half-time show taken at the Super Bowl – black and white photos were all there were at the time!

Nevertheless, we witnessed history as Joe Namath guaranteed a victory and delivered on his promise and changed the course of professional football in the process.

But even with all the excitement of baseball, basketball, and football championships – those moments of exhilaration quickly passed and somehow got lost in my childhood which, despite those incredible experiences, was filled with more sadness than joy.

In adolescence, I realized the “thrill of victory,” which I often experienced in my own sports endeavors, came with a price as my competitiveness and drive to win led to unfulfilled dreams of happiness. Sports became another venue that did not fill my empty heart.

A family which looked generally happy on the outside was not so on the inside. My manic-depressive father suffered from Korean War post-traumatic stress and we, his family, suffered with him. There was never a steady or reliable income and fights over money and the horrible choices my dad made in life made my childhood traumatic and insecure. His threats of suicide were common whenever my mother tried to break away and start a life of her own.

It was with utter and sheer amazement, therefore, when I learned, during my junior year of college, that there was a “Father” in Heaven who loved me and gave His life for me to give me a hope and a future in this life and the next. In our secular, but strongly cultural Jewish home, we never talked about God, therefore this was good (great!), but staggering news. How could I have lived 19 years of my life without having ever heard this?

Despite what I knew would be enormous objections by my New York Jewish mother, my desperate need for love and hope outweighed any negative consequences that would result. The year was 1977 and I have followed, wholeheartedly, the Jewish Messiah, Jesus, ever since. Despite initial, overwhelming objections and resistance, my mother and

grandmother came to know this great Messiah as well! The zeal I now experience for the Lord supersedes anything I ever felt for sports teams.

People often wonder how I can cheer and worship my Lord with such wild abandon. and, inside my head, I laugh. How can I not? “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost and now am found, was blind and now I see.”

May God’s glorious praises go forth from sports teams we have been hearing about from the NFL Super Bowl Champion Philadelphia Eagles (what awesome testimonies these are!) to everyone whom the Lord gives a platform to shine for Him.

“Not to us, LORD, not to us, but to your name be the glory, because of your love and faithfulness,” Psalm 115:1.

 

Dare … To Dream

daretodream2016-3-760x400Today we honor the memory of a great American – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who DARED to have a dream … during a time in our country that many would have more aptly described as a nightmare. But THAT is not what Dr. King saw, though he knew and experienced, first-hand the cruelty of hate, the inhumanity of mankind, and the degradation of African-Americans for no other reason than the color of their skin.

His dream, however, looked beyond that and saw what could be, what had to be. He lived a life and died a death that began to help make his dream a reality. Dr. King’s dream was his passion, his purpose, and his calling. He is remembered for that passion and purpose – motivated by love, consecrated by sacrifice, and culminated by his death.

Decades later, we are still challenged by how he lived and what he dreamed could be. I, like many Americans, are tired of hate-filled words and actions (which take place under every banner we hide under — liberal, conservative), only to be empty of answers to the hurts and challenges we all face in this ongoing struggle for Dr. Martin Luther King’s dream.

I still remember my mother crossing a picket-line of teachers who refused to work at my junior high school in Brooklyn, New York, when busing began and integration was accelerating. I am following her dream as a substitute teacher, trying to bring love, joy, peace, and acceptance to students – knowing that THIS is the ULTIMATE dream of all mankind.

And I am convinced that the ONLY banner that will bring lasting change and  heal hurting hearts and scar-filled memories – is the banner of love to all mankind.

“Whoever does not love does not know God, because GOD IS LOVE,” – 1 John 4:8.

Fully committed to being loved will compel us to love others. This is MY DREAM.

I challenge you, on this historic day, to share in the dream of Dr. Martin Luther King., Jr., and the dream and passion of God and of His Holy Son Yeshua (Jesus) … “That … WE MAY ALL BE ONE … so the world will believe that You have sent Me,” John 17:21.

Will YOU dare to dream … and act, and give, and sacrifice, and commit? Will you .. dare to love at all cost, no matter the price? Then, you will have begun to honor the memory of the man Martin Luther King Jr., who helped to show us the way.