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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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.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

Fashioned For Beauty

IMG_0471Trauma invaded my life at a Jewish summer camp – Pocono-Ramona – on the Delaware Water Gap in the Pocono mountains.

From the incredibly young age of six until the age of twelve (when  I was old enough to be a day-camp counselor and not a camper) my parents sent me to summer camp to escape the sweltering heat of New York City for two months of sports, swimming and a slew of other field trips and activities designed to keep ALL of us (the campers and the counselors!) out of trouble.

What was meant to be a quick stop during our day-long canoe trip to see a scenic waterfall became, instead, a scene from a horror movie. I did not see or feel the moss on the rock I was standing on until I hit the rock face first. Blood came gushing from my mouth and my permanent, front, upper tooth came out in my hand.

A three-hour bus trip to find my parents at the congested Port Authority Bus Terminal in New York City, with a young counselor who was more nervous than I was, resulted in an emergency trip to the dentist to save the ousted tooth. All to no avail. A dental solution did not exist as my orthodontist choose not to replace my tooth due to the interminable state of braces in my mouth.

Junior high and high school without a front tooth made life … well, toothless. Smiling was not an option.  Being ridiculed was common. Talking was an embarrassment. And feelings of inferiority became a way of life.

I was already an insecure, physically undeveloped young woman having skipped a grade and starting school at an early age. It wasn’t as though I didn’t  have friends, even boyfriends; I did. However, I knew I would never be pretty and that was just a fact of life.

At the end of my senior year of high school (I am not smiling in my senior photo), the braces finally came off and a fake front tooth was returned to its normal place, but the damage was already done. I still remember when a boy at college (who REALLY liked me) asked me what it felt like to be pretty. I laughed and cried at the ridiculousness of the question.

As time passed, it became a bit easier to accept the “new” me with a front tooth in place, but any thought that I might be considered attractive never entered my mind.

Imagine my amazement, then, when decades later (after allowing God to heal my deepest childhood wounds including sexual abuse, feelings of abandonment, fear of death and life, family dysfunction, and a host of other traumas just one of which was my missing front tooth), I learned that God wanted to give me a new name based on how He sees me.

“You will be called by a new name which the mouth of the Lord will bestow. You will be a crown of splendor in the Lord’s hand, a royal diadem (a jeweled crown) in the hand of your God. No longer will they call you deserted, or name your land desolate,” – Isaiah 62:2-4.

This Bible verse initially rang hollow because I was deserted and desolate. There would be no new name for me. However, when God healed me from the inside out, after being a God-follower for more than 30 years, I finally personally felt and experienced HIS protective, powerful, incredible and intimate love for me. It was then that I was ready to ask for and to receive my new name from God.

The instant I came to Him with an open and ready-to-receive heart, an image came to my mind. This is often how God speaks to me. I recognize it as a spiritual gift because the meaning of the pictures are usually unclear to me until I take some time researching in Wikipedia, which generally provides the clues.

The picture was of deep, wet, packed sand. About six feet under the sand was a slightly opened oyster. Inside the partially opened oyster was a pearl.

God spoke quietly (as He usually does) to my heart. “Your life,” He said, “has been the six feet of hard sand. Buried under that sand was your closed, hardened heart – the result of the pain you suffered. But I have opened your heart with My love and you are my beautiful pearl.”

Pearl. My new name is pearl.

Various definitions of pearl include: one that is choice or precious, of rare beauty, unique. Rare beauty? Me? Yes, the Lord said, adding, “And all the tragedies of your life (like the irritants inside the oyster which create the pearl’s beauty) have been used to form your beauty.”

I later learned that the Kingdom of Heaven is compared to “a pearl of great price,” (Matthew 13) and that “the twelve (Heavenly) gates are twelve pearls, each gate made of a single pearl,” Revelation 21:21.

I am beautiful. I am rare. I am unique. I have incredible value. God sees me this way and this is who I am.

I now smile widely, laugh freely, share my story, and pray for many who receive their new name.

God – who is beautiful and who created unfathomable beauty for us to enjoy … fashioned me for beauty and for sharing His love with you.

He wants you to know that He has a new name for you as well. Will you ask Him to reveal it to you and let Him change your life forever?

“The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion – to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair,” – Isaiah 61:1-3.

The Joy of Giving

Millions of people will be giving and receiving presents today – as we celebrate Christmas and Hanukkah with family and friends. This year, the joy of giving has brought me to tears and fullness of joy almost (!) beyond words!

As ministry liaison at Community Vineyard Church in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, many people look to me to help connect them with others. And this year, that connection happened as people, with generous hearts, desired to bless others in need. I found myself as the female Santa Claus delivering gifts to those who had no idea who the giver was. In one scenario, an anomymous donor from the community responded to a heart-felt plea to help others.

I truly believe there is no greater joy in life than giving to others. I am more convinced than ever of the truth of the Bible that states … “it is more blessed to give than to receive.”

Try to put into words:

  • The smile on a child’s face;
  • The tears streaming down a mother’s cheek;
  • A grandmother’s gratitude knowing that the electricity in her apartment will be on as she provides Christmas for her many children and grandchildren who ALL look to her to provide for their many needs.

This gift of joy is priceless.

And an even greater joy comes from knowing that the Father Heart of God (who is the Greatest Giver of all!) has, somehow, through us, been revealed to those He loves.

I know I am not alone in this universal truth – that the MORE we give … the MORE we receive. May your giving, your joy, and your love explode with fullness and gratitude this blessed Holy Season!

 

 

 

 

 

Born On The Eve of Thanksgiving — Most Grateful or Big Turkey?

“Give thanks with a grateful heart, give thanks to the Holy One, Give thanks because He’s given Jesus Christ His Son …”

I still remember those words from a song we often sang at the Good Counsel Friary and Light of Life community at St. John’s in Morgantown, West Virginia, where my new life in the Messiah Yeshua (Jesus) began in 1977.

Officially, I was born on the eve of Thanksgiving in 1958 when, according to my mom, there was hardly any hospital staff on duty … everyone was home preparing for the holiday. But nearly 60 years ago, I came into the world born of two New York, Jewish parents who tried their best to give my brother and I a life filled with hope and promise. However, life got in the way and our home (like many) was filled with tragedy and despair.

Becoming a God-follower more than 35 years ago changed all of that – slowly, sometimes painfully, but completely – and now I share and speak and write (in any and every way I can) about the goodness and totally transformative Love of God for us. And so, it is only fitting at this time of personal and national Thanksgiving that I share why and how we can give thanks in all circumstances!

How often do you say thank you – either in spoken or written word? Would it surprise you to learn that scientific research has shown that people who have gratitude also have greater happiness?

Gratitude helps people:

Feel more positive emotions;

Enjoy good experiences;

Improve their health;

Deal with adversity; and

Build strong relationships.

The word gratitude comes from the Latin word, gratia, which means grace, graciousness or gratefulness. Gratitude is a thankful appreciation for what a person receives. With gratitude, people acknowledge the goodness in their lives. Dr. Robert Emmons, of the University of California, Davis, has done much research on gratitude. He writes, “A decade worth of research on gratitude has shown me that when life is going well, gratitude allows us to celebrate and magnify the goodness.

“But what about when life goes badly? I have often been asked if people can – or even should – feel grateful under dire circumstances? My response is that not only will a grateful attitude help – it is essential. In fact, it is precisely under crisis conditions when we have the most to gain by a grateful perspective on life. In the face of demoralization, gratitude has the power to energize. In the face of brokenness, gratitude has the power to heal. In the face of despair, gratitude has the power to bring hope. In other words, gratitude can help us cope with hard times.” He adds, of course, that gratitude will not come easily or naturally in a crisis.

No one feels grateful that he or she has lost a job or a home or good health. But it is vital to make a distinction between feeling grateful and being grateful. We don’t necessarily have control over our emotions. We cannot easily will ourselves to feel grateful, less depressed, or happy. But feelings do flow from the way we look at the world. Being grateful is a choice, he states, a prevailing attitude, a perspective from which we can view life in its entirety and not be overwhelmed by temporary circumstances. Yes, he admits, this perspective may be hard to achieve – but his research and the research done by others – says it is worth it to make the effort.

Ironically, trials and suffering can actually refine and deepen gratefulness if we allow them to show us not to take things for granted. Thanksgiving was born and grew out of hard times. The first Thanksgiving took place after nearly half the pilgrims died. It became a national holiday in 1863 in the middle of the Civil War and was moved to its current date in the 1930s following the Depression. Why? When times are good, people take prosperity for granted and begin to believe they are invulnerable. But in times of uncertainty, it becomes much harder to take for granted all that we have. So crisis can make us more grateful and research shows us that gratitude can actually help us cope with crisis.

Consciously cultivating an attitude of gratitude builds up a sort of psychological immune system that can cushion us when we fall. There is scientific evidence that grateful people are more resilient to stress. To say, however, that gratitude is a helpful strategy does not mean that we try to ignore or deny suffering or pain. Processing a life experience through a grateful lens does not mean denying negativity. Instead it means realizing the power you have to transform an obstacle into an opportunity.

You can do this by thinking:

What lessons did the experience teach me?

How am I now more the person I want to be because of this experience?

What ability did the experience draw out of me that surprised me and that I will now be able to use in other ways in life?

There are also medical advantages to gratitude. Researchers at the University of Connecticut found that gratitude can have a protective effect against heart attacks. Studying people who had experienced a heart attack, the researchers found that those patients who saw benefits and gains from their heart attack, such as becoming more appreciative of life, experienced a lower risk of having another heart attack.

Grateful people will:

Have 10% fewer stress-related illnesses;

Be more physically fit;

Have blood pressure than is lower by 12%;

Will have a strong bond with the local community;

Will have a roughly 7% higher income than others.

Grateful youth are:

20% more likely to get good grades;

10 times less likely to start smoking.

Overall positive emotions can add up to 7 years to your life! So how do we actually do this?

1. Change your self-talk. We all carry an inner dialogue that is often called self-talk. When the inner conversation is negative, our mood is usually low. Research has shown that we can change our mood by changing the tone of the things we say to ourselves.

2. Keep a daily gratitude journal. Record several things that you are grateful for. The important thing is establishing the daily practice of paying attention to gratitude-inspiring events and write them down. Did you hear the birds singing this morning? Did you see a beautiful sunrise? Are you feeling good? Is there money in the bank? Do you have friends and family with whom you share your life?

3. Write thank you notes. You can make yourself happier and nurture your relationships with others by writing thank you notes. You remember how good it makes you feel to receive a thank you note. Think how happy you will make someone to receive one!

4. Hang around with people who are grateful and make a commitment to be one of those people!

Here are just a few quotes on gratitude:

“We should certainly count our blessings, but we should also make our blessings count.”

Neal Maxwell

“Life isn’t fair, but it is still good. It is never too late to be happy. But it is all up to you and no one else. However good or bad a situation is, it will change. Life isn’t tied with a bow, but it’s still a gift.” – Regina Brett

“What we appreciate, appreciates.” – Lynne Twist

Unknown Authors

“There is no key to happiness. The door is always open.”

“Do the math … count your blessings.”

“Laugh every day, it is like inner jogging.”

“Blessed are the flexible, for they shall outlast everyone and not be bent out of shape!”

The Bible

“A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones,” Proverbs 17:22.

“Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you,”

1 Thessalonians 5:18.

And my mom’s life verse which has now become mine:

“Give thanks to the Lord for He is good; His love endures forever!” – Psalms 118:1.