Manuscript: Blessed Are the Shalom Makers

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In Houston, where flooding has displaced 42,400 people as of Friday, a man who owns a giant mattress warehouse took in refugees from the storm. He let them stay in his store and sleep on his new furniture. He sent out his delivery trucks and helped carry over 200 people out of the water to safety. He has a National Guard company on break sleeping on his beds. Mattress Mack. I was watching a news clip of this and there was a woman and her little dog, sitting on a $9,000 couch. I don’t know if he has “help people suddenly homeless from hurricanes” insurance. But I know what I saw.

I saw another video clip about a program for holding babies who are drug addicted at birth. When a mother is doing drugs while pregnant, her baby can be born already addicted. They’ve studied how these children suffer withdrawal from the time they are born and what can be done to help them. Do you know what helps them heal faster, reduces symptoms of withdrawal, and allows them to give the babies less medication? Cuddling. Having someone sit and cuddle these impoverished, addicted-at-birth babies. Physical contact and affection.

In Matthew 5, verse 9, in the midst of Jesus longest and, arguably,’ most central teaching, He declares “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” Here it is in context:

 5 When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2 Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:

3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

 5 “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

 6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

 7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

 8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

 10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11 “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

I watched this video of men and women holding these tiny, helpless, suffering babies and I started weeping. And it struck me: this makes me cry because I’m seeing what love looks like. A tiny glimpse. The babies can’t pay these people back. The drug-addicted moms won’t be. They’re just loving for love’s sake, loving someone suffering, loving someone who can’t repay them. I John 4:10 In this is love, not that we loved God but that He loved us and sent His son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.

Jesus said “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” Children of God. People who resemble God, who are made in God’s image and act like Jesus, who love like God. God’s own children. God’s image in the world, love with God’s Spirit, incarnate in the world.

I cry when I see this video because these babies are so helpless, such innocent victims, but even more I cry because that’s what God’s love looks like. That’s a snapshot.

The biblical word for “peace” is Shalom, a Hebrew word, and it’s one of the coolest words in Scripture. Strong’s concordance defines Shalom as completeness, wholeness, health, peace, welfare, safety, soundness, tranquility, prosperity, perfectness, fullness, rest, harmony, the absence of agitation or discord.” It means reconciliation and right relationship in all dimensions. Shalom means living in right relationship with one another. Shalom means being in true relationship with God.

John Driver defines Shalom this way: It meant well-being, or health, or salvation in its fullest sense, material as well as spiritual. It described the situation of well-being which resulted from authentically whole (healed) relationships among people, as well as between persons and God. According to the Old Testament prophets, shalom reigned in Israel when there was social justice, when the cause of the poor and the weak was vindicated, when there was equal opportunity for all, in short, when the people enjoyed salvation according to the intention of God expressed in his covenant.”

Lisa Sharon Harper writes, At its heart the biblical concept of shalom is about God’s vision for the emphatic goodness of all relationships.”

The shalom makers are blessed, for they will be called children of God.

Mattress Mack, letting wet, cold, suddenly-homeless people be warm and dry and safe on his fancy, expensive furniture, is being a shalom maker. Adult volunteers holding drug-addicted babies are bringing shalom.

Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “True peace is not the mere absence of tension but the presence of Justice.” To be a shalom maker requires more than not fighting or arguing. Again, Shalom means wholeness, completeness, well-being, living in right relationship, and biblically, that requires justice. The biblical view of justice is God’s justice, of course, in which all the victims of oppression and persecution and racism and discrimination are upheld, in which God’s people stand by those who are suffering. Shalom and justice are intertwined, because to be a shalom maker is to address the conditions that prevent others from living in shalom.

 

Here are a few verses on God’s justice

I know that the Lord maintains the cause of the needy, and executes justice for the poor.Ps. 140:12

Evil men do not understand justice, but those who seek the LORD understand it fully. Proverbs 28:5

The righteous care about justice for the poor, but the wicked have no such concern. Prov 29:7

Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy. Proverbs 31:9

For the LORD is righteous, he loves justice; upright men will see his face. Psalm 11:7

My whole being will exclaim, “Who is like you, O LORD? You rescue the poor from those too strong for them, the poor and needy from those who rob them.” Psalm 35:10

3 Defend the cause of the weak and fatherless; maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed. 4 Rescue the weak and needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked. Psalm 82:3–4

 

Isaiah 1:11, 17 “I am sick of your sacrifices,” says the LORD. “Don’t bring me any more burnt offerings! I don’t want the fat from your rams or other animals. I don’t want to see the blood from your offerings of bulls and rams and goats.” 17Learn to do good. Seek justice. Help the oppressed. Defend the orphan. Fight for the rights of widows.”

Isaiah 56:1 This is what the LORD says: “Maintain justice and do what is right, for my salvation is close at hand and my righteousness will soon be revealed.”

Jeremiah 22:16

He defended the cause of the poor and needy,
and so all went well.
Is that not what it means to know me?”
declares the LORD.

 

And when Jesus describes this in Matthew 25, he makes it even more personal.

Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.

When, Lord? ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.

That’s a handful of passages. There are over 2,000 verses in the Bible concerning the poor. You can’t understand what God means by justice unless you understand the Lord maintains the cause of the needy, and executes justice for the poor.

In Leviticus 25, God commands a year of Jubilee among the people of Israel: 8 You shall count off seven weeks of years, seven times seven years, so that the period of seven weeks of years gives forty-nine years. 9 Then you shall have the trumpet sounded loud; on the tenth day of the seventh month—on the day of atonement—you shall have the trumpet sounded throughout all your land. 10 And you shall hallow the fiftieth year and you shall proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you: you shall return, every one of you, to your property and every one of you to your family.

That means if you screwed up financially or suffered a drought and lost your land, your family’s land, you would get it back in the fiftieth year. If you lost everything, your family would not have to suffer poverty generation after generation. That was the point. God’s justice in the Year of Jubilee required that if you lost your property, you got it back, if you had to hire yourself out as a laborer, in the fiftieth year you and your children returned to being landowners, providing for yourselves.

A couple points on this: fifty years is still a long time. God isn’t being a helicopter parent who swoops in and rescues his children from the consequences of their own actions. But what the Year of Jubilee sets out to prevent is generational poverty, generation after generation born into poverty, with little to no chance of changing their circumstances. What we see in our barrio, which is kids at 12 who can’t read, little girls pregnant at 14, and what’s the outlook for the baby of an illiterate 14-year-old?

Justice, God’s justice, is that child, who didn’t make poor life choices or invest unwisely, will be cared for and loved and have advocates among God’s people. “The righteous care about justice for the poor, but the wicked have no such concern.”

My wife, who is the teaching coach at NCAI, also runs a preschool out of our carport, to give the little ones in our barrio a little better chance to learn to read, to know their numbers, to hear that Jesus Christ loves them and died for their sins, to give them a better chance of breaking out of the cycle of poverty.

Right relationship with God and with one another requires God’s justice. The work of God’s Kingdom is bound up with justice for those who are poor and abused. To bring shalom is to work for God’s justice. I John 3:16-18 We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. 17 How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help? 18 Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.

This can look a million different ways: if you have fancy couches, share them with hurricane victims; if you have two arms, hold a recovering baby. Love some preschool kids from a home where no one is yet literate.

 

We talk about grace a lot here. I talk about grace a lot here. And we should. In my opinion, we should talk about grace first and last, because without God’s grace, there’s no hope. If God didn’t love his enemies, [pointing] his enemies, then we would be without hope in this world and absolutely doomed in the next. But God does love his enemies, Jesus dies for his enemies—you and me–and we can’t repeat this too often: In this is love, not that we loved God but that He loved us and sent His son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.

Grace leads to a desire for justice. As we live and grow in grace, we come to understand shalom in our lives. We learn, day by day, what it is to live in right relationship with God. We grow in our love for others. We start to grasp how to do to others as we would have them do to us. And as we hang out with God, we start to see others more as God sees them.

 

Jesus says, “Blessed are the shalom makers.” Who is the shalom maker? Jesus is. Listen to the description of Jesus making shalom possible in Ephesians 2.

Eph 2:11-18 11 So then, remember that at one time you Gentiles by birth called “the uncircumcision” by those who are called “the circumcision”—a physical circumcision made in the flesh by human hands—12 remember that you were at that time without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.4 For he is our peace; he is our shalom; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. 15 He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making shalom, 16 and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it. 17 So he came and proclaimed shalom to you who were far off and shalom to those who were near; 18 for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father.

 

One way to read the Beatitudes, and the whole Sermon on the Mount, is as a description of Jesus, so that when we talk about “being like Jesus,” we have very concrete directions of how to do it. To be peacemakers in the world, to be shalom makers, is to walk and act as Jesus did. As Jesus does.

Our question is how do we bring shalom in our circle, in the place we live and work and go to school and hang out, in our circle of friends and acquaintances and co-workers and enemies, honestly.

We’ve chosen to live in a poorer barrio here so that we can be neighbors and seek to build relationships there. That isn’t the “right” way to do this, it’s the way God has led us.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” We are the children of God. We are the shalom makers, beginning with our own lives and then reaching out the lives around us.

Finding My X

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Disclaimer: This is not Rumley. I am the captain now.

Okay, for real. If you understood and laughed at my meme reference, thank you. Rumley has invited me to be a guest speaker in his blog, which is honestly crazy to think about and even crazier I said “yes.” My name is Rebeca Reyes, aka Beca. I just graduated high school this past June. If we are being honest here, high school was simultaneously amazing and horrible, and I am still trying to figure out the midpoint of it all.

It was amazing in the sense that I was able to discover my true group of friends, be part of events such as Amplify (worship band) and Launch (high school youth group), find mentors that truly shaped my spiritual development, and actually have teachers that made learning enjoyable. It was horrible in the sense that I fell off the wagon multiple times and my anxiety was in an all time high, specifically the first semester of Senior year. But if we are focusing on the positives, I think the best of them all was finding good mentors.

Rumley is one of them. At the end of Junior year he asked if he could mentor me, which I was shocked because I hadn’t really talked to him much previously. In our first session I said, “I don’t cry a lot” and proceeded to cry, but that’s besides the point. Rumley was also our Senior class second semester Bible teacher, where he introduced us the idea of: X, which it’s actually supposed to be two arrows but this works as a visual. One arrow is your passion, the other is the world’s needs, and the midpoint is your calling.

Throughout the entirety of my Senior year, I had no idea what my calling was. I had an idea, actually a thoroughly thought out plan of what I wanted for my life. I have been a straight A student since 1st grade and have always been a firm believer of self-improvement, which eventually led to pushing myself too hard. The point is, in 10th grade I decided that I was going to study Biomedical Engineering at an Ivy League college, UPenn being my top choice. Let me clarify, these goals in and of themselves are not at all bad; they are actually pretty solid and ambitious. Still, all my high school I worked up towards this goal. In my mind, all I needed to do was work hard. Even when I told my close friends about my plans they would reassure me with, “Oh, you’re totally going to make it.” Although they meant well, it made me more anxious.

Senior year came by, and my plans for the future started to change. By the first month of Senior year I wanted to study Creative Writing in Boston University, another dream that isn’t bad at all. My father being father, of course, opposed this idea because “I had to make a living.” All in all, I was very confused my Senior year, which made me so frustrated because I felt that all of my plans, everything that I had worked for in these last 4 years, had gone to waste. With that thought, I honestly believed that God was mocking me. My mind was flooded with thoughts like, “Why did you think you could do it? You’re not good enough. Deep down you knew it wasn’t going to work, so why did you try so hard? Dad was right.” They are dark thoughts, but that was going through my head.

By the end of Senior year, I stopped caring #senioritis. With the help of my mentors, I realized that all of those thoughts were lies, and I had to start the journey of finding out who God really is and what would he really say. So, when I say I stopped caring, I mean I came to the conclusion that whatever needs to happen will happen; I became okay with not knowing. I still made plan B-Z and worked with whichever seemed more viable. A week before graduation, I finally made the decision toattend the University of Waterloo, studying Environmental Engineering. When I made that decision, I cried (shocker) because it was a sudden wave of relief. There was still one thing I wasn’t so sure about: what am I going to do with that degree?

Still, having  no idea about my stupid X, I graduated high school and rolled into the summer. During the summers, I work as a translator for short term missions trips, and during this specific summer I worked only with Connect Nicaragua. I had met Katie McGrew and Larrys Mendoza, the leaders of Connect, on the summer between my sophomore and junior year when I took my first missions trip to Rio Blanco. They both showed me the embodiment of loving others with God’s love. The following two years, they had invited me to work with them as a translator, and Katie quickly became my mentor and friend.

Rio Blanco 2k17

I still remember the first year I was working with Connect, and we had a women’s night in the church in Rio Blanco. After the service, Katie came up to me and she told me, “you have to stay or at least come back to Nicaragua.” I remember being shocked because never have I ever been introduced with the idea of being a missionary. I left it at that and never gave it too much thought. This summer, at another setting but the same city, while we were saying goodbye to the kids at Walter – a public school we work at in Rio Blanco – all of them were lined up to sing the national anthem. It was around 5:00P.M. The sun was setting, and the sky above us were cotton candies and lilac fields. While we sung the national anthem, there was this focus from all of the kids and team members. In that moment, I knew I had to come back to Nicaragua. I still didn’t know what I was supposed to do, but He confirmed that this is where I need to be after college.

 

I kept working with the Connect team throughout the summer. I had already worked with one team from Virginia Beach, and it was the last day of another team from Washington. For many reasons, this team was one of the most intense ones I’ve had so far. It was the last day and we were back from working with eighty, yes ochenta, kids at an organization called MIMA, which works to prevent kids from being exposed to life on the streets (drugs, prostitution, etc). It was a pretty hectic day, to say the least. Still, those kids are so wild and joyful, and they are always in constant need of extra love, which in their language might mean wrestling with them. Annelise, a girl I befriended on the team, needed a bag, and we went inside Katie’s house to ask her for some. We sat on her couch and stayed there talking. I am not sure how the conversation came up, but I started thinking about when I came back to Nicaragua from college. Then I blurted out, “Will you wait for me? Will you be here when I come back?” This was an odd question, especially since it came literally out of nowhere.

At that moment, I knew what I was supposed to do. I wanted to graduate college, come back to Nicaragua, and work for Connect. Katie asked me why, and I suppose a lot of other people will ask me why. All my life I have been imposed these high expectations from my dad, friends, and mostly myself. I grew obsessed with achieving this image of perfection that would please others. By the end of my high school career, I could achieve this perfect outwardly image that completely wrecked me inside. However, in doing God’s work, there is no expectation other than loving, and I can’t even love with what I have. I have to love with the love God gives me. There is nothing of my part, and there is no gain or praise for what “I” have done because it’s not me, it’s God working through me. Additionally to hearing the greatest relief of my life, I truly can say I love being with people. If you know me, you know I always enjoy a good laugh while speaking to you in some heavy Spanglish.

And no, it doesn’t make sense what I want to do now. It really doesn’t because when Nicaraguans get the opportunity to study in a bilingual, private school it is to leave for college, and when Nicaraguans get the opportunity to leave for college it is “for good.” In a way, I am so glad it doesn’t make sense because it just confirms what it says in 2 Corinthians that “if we are out of our right mind, it is for the sake of God; if we we are in our right mind, it is for you.”

I said it before, and I will say it again: my original plans were not bad. The only bad thing is that they weren’t my calling. I was dreaming for myself  and what I  could do. I forgot to dream with God. The idea isn’t God joining your great plan, it’s how you can join God’s great plan.

 

So, how did I finally find that X I was fixated and obsessed with my entire Senior year? I stopped looking.

 

Piña, Pitaya, Banano, Calala

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(Cutting the pitaya: aftermath)

Nicaragua Diary, Day 23

I like some things better about living here, some things I really miss about living in the United States, and some are a trade off.

1st category: Relational Culture

2nd:  Driving

3rd:  Fruit

Fruit is a big part of my life.  I probably eat more fruit than anything else–yes, including chocolate–and smoothies (batidos) typically provide my first, or sometimes first two, meals.  I started doing it after I noticed that on the mornings we had smoothies for breakfast I felt better.  That was probably three years ago.  Plus, I use mostly frozen fruit in a place where cold=good.

We come from central Washington State.  If you live there, you know what that means, fruit-wise.  If you don’t, I feel a little  sorry for you. This is the sign you see as you enter Wenatchee:  

 

 

 

Living somewhere that grows cherries, pears, blueberries, apricots, peaches, nectarines, and apples in abundance, I had assumed that fruit would be a downgrade moving here.

But I eat more fruit now than I did in the Northwest.  Certainly I miss cherries, but fresh bananas ruin you for bananas that have traveled halfway across the planet on a cargo ship.  I thought I didn’t like mangoes because of that weird aftertaste…and then I had a mango cut directly off a tree–picture a 20-foot metal pole with a curved blade like a grapefruit knife on the end–plop! in my  hand, and I discovered that 1)I actually love mangoes, 2)that aftertaste isn’t from the mango.   But I don’t love them compared with Kim, who fiercely, passionately devours them.  Left to her own devices, she can eat five or six in a day.

That leads to the major contrast:  we get fresh fruit here, different than Pacific Northwest fresh fruit, but fruit here is insanely cheap.  Correction:  locally-grown produce here is insanely cheap.  You can also buy a single apple here for between a dollar and three dollars, and there’s about a 70% chance it will be mediocre or worse.  Soft, not crunchy, mealy, bland.  Without too much effort, we can find apples here grown within 30 miles of our home in Wenatchee, but they will be the worse for wear, and pricey.

In contrast, a typical fruit purchase from a fruit stand a short walk from our house would include some or all of these:  2 pitaya, 4 mangos, 1 sandia (watermelon), 2 piña, 24 bananos, 1 papaya (though they’re huge, so that might be only once every third or fourth time) and then 2 pepinos (cucumber), 2-4 zanahoria (carrots), a small bag of tomates, and perhaps cebolla (onion) or chiltoma (a mild pepper).  That would all cost $5-$6, maybe $7 if we got everything and the sandia was extra large.  Local bananas cost about 4 cents a piece.  

Oh, we’d also get a fresh bunch of hierba buena, i.e. mint.  Add that cost: 7 to 9 cents.  Seriously, fresh hierba buena, which smells like heaven will (that or essence of almond and vanilla are my bets) and makes a good smoothie incredible, may be my favorite thing to purchase here.  A bunch will last only three days before it wilts, so I’m into that for like 15 or 20 cents a week.

Pitaya, which you might find as dragonfruit in the U.S., may be our greatest discovery here.  You cut off the bright skin to get to the shocking magenta fruit.  I don’t have an apt comparison for what it tastes like.  Bright.  It tastes bright.  Our youngest daughter loves pitaya–violently–and has mastered the pitaya-calala smoothie.  

Calala is sour, but complex sour, not just lemon sour.  It’s delicious.  It has a pale yellow, very thick skin that takes some sawing through, and on the inside the fruit is almost gelatinous, a texture like tapioca pearls and slightly crunchy, edible seeds. Calala is “passion fruit” in the U.S., though I don’t remember ever trying it before we moved here, certainly not fresh.  

I could wax ecstatic about tropical fruit longer, but the other and perhaps more significant aspect of this is buying local.

We don’t buy locally-grown fruit exclusively, but we try.*  If you believe in far-fetched theories like…air pollution, that’s a good idea.  No matter how low-emission your vehicle, even if you walk and bike exclusively, you can do more to reduce air pollution by buying local.  Breathing is not overrated. 

I’ve said this repeatedly and I’ll continue, because it’s so hard to grasp:  unemployment in Nicaragua is 50-70%.  More than half the adults who live here don’t have steady jobs because there aren’t enough steady jobs.  My friends get up at 3 and go to Mercado Israel or Mercado Oriental at 4 to buy their fruit wholesale so they can sell it this cheap to their neighbors and the gringos and still make enough to live on, or at least contribute to their income.  Buying local helps in every community; here, it makes a huge difference.  A dollar recirculates 8 to 20 times in the barrio–and most of our neighbors have limited mobility and shop online a lot less than we do, which is a lot less than we did in the States. How much more important is the “local multiplier” effect in a poor community? 

The other part that weighs in favor of Nicaragua Fruit Life  (NFL?) is the harvesting season.  I remember in my first year here asking what the season is for different fruits.  I received confused looks.  I tried again, two or three different ways.  Finally, I grasped the disconnect–fruit grows here all year long.  Mangoes “only” grow from January through July or so.  Kim suffers from this short season. Cherries in the Northwest are fresh for a month, maybe while pitaya, calala, sandia, and piña are picked yesterday and eaten today twelve months of the year.  

Our neighbor across the street owns a motorcycle repair business that we were able to help him get started.  But we don’t own a motorcycle so we can’t frequent his business.  We go to the seamstress up the street every time we need an alteration or to have something stitched, but even our 10-year-old doesn’t tear his clothing that often.  On the other hand, we’re always buying groceries.  Thus, fruit becomes the way we most frequently contribute to our local economy.  

Oh, I forgot to mention limones!  And aguacates, which Kim may love as much as she loves mangoes !  And don’t get me started on coconuts and coconut oil…

 

 

 

*I have a weakness for frozen blueberries.

 

My Turn

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Nicaragua Diary, Day 12

 

In May of 2015, I pulled out to make a left turn and a large SUV, a Toyota Prado, crashed into me.  It hit my driver side door, crushing it in, and spun my van around 100 feet in the opposite direction, where it slammed up onto the sidewalk so forcefully it snapped my front wheel sideways.  The photo tells you all you’d want to know.  

The collision gave me a concussion, broke a rib on my left side, and left me incoherent, though speaking, for at least a half an hour.  When I returned to awareness, it felt like swimming up out of the deepest dream, except waking up did not make the dream go away, it confirmed that all of it had been real.  

I’m immensely grateful that I’m alive after that accident, that my body and mind work the  same as they did before I got hit, and that I have no conscious memory of the being hit.  I’m unspeakably grateful that no one else got injured or killed by my car when it hit the sidewalk.  

Almost every single day I live in Nicaragua, I make that same left turn at that same intersection.  Three times in a day is not unusual.  We live about 8 minutes from school with no traffic, 15 minutes when traffic starts to get busy.  We have three kids who attend our school, my wife works there and I work/do ministry/coach/play there.  We go back and forth a lot.  

It’s a terrible turn.  It’s a left turn across three lanes of oncoming, two of which are coming from a one-way down a steep hill, so they have plenty of speed built up, and a third is merging in with the two.  Thus, much jockeying for position, many vehicles switching lanes.  This is the southern edge of Managua, so buses constantly flood in from two different highways, Carretera Sur and Carretera Vieja Leon, that join at that point.  Taxis, motorcycles, bicycles, pedestrians standing in the middle of the road, horse carts, ox carts, stray dogs, all the usual variables.  

There is a bus stop just to the right of this left turn, which makes seeing cars coming from the right, the ones you’ll be merging with, very difficult.  There’s a strip mall to the left of the turn, but sometimes the buses decide to stop in that driveway, instead; a bus had done that the day I got hit, and I was creeping out, creeping out, trying in vain to see around it, and finally the motorcycle in front of me went, so I (mistakenly) took that to mean I had space, too.  

I hate this turn.  I hate making this turn.  I pray as I drive up to the stop.  I ask God to protect me, to clear the traffic, to give us a space.  Sometimes it is surprisingly easy, and I can just pause and pull right out with no one close.  Other times, people are flying down the hill at me and I can’t sneak in between them.  Most of the time, probably 70%, I turn right, get over into the left lane, find a driveway on the left into which I can go and and turn around so that my right-left-turn around-right take the place of that one big left.

I’ve struggled a lot with why I need to keep making this turn, day after day.  During rush our, few cars are come into the city (oncoming lane, the one I got hit by) but a slow, steady line of vehicles are inching out.  At those times, turning left usually means pulling out into the oncoming lanes and waiting/nosing in until the folks rolling at 5 kpm let us  in.  I’ve had close calls since my accident happened, both as a driver and, more often, as a passenger.  I hate each of them.  I try not to freak out.  I usually squeeze my fists or grab handle above the door or grip the steering wheel tight enough to pull it off.  

And then I’m going on again, motoring toward the school, navigating all the craziness of the lanes and the people stopping at those cheese stands blocking the right lane and buses switching lanes just before the big turn where the two highways separate again.  Driving to school as if everything is normal, as if this is just another trip there, no problem, as if everything is fine.

Because everything is fine.  I didn’t get smashed into this time.  I’m not unconscious but talking to the police.  I’m not on my way to the hospital, wondering if that pain in my side and back and head means more than a short-term recovery.  

I think of that as “my turn,” though obviously not in a positive way.  Once, when I was walking to school–which I do, frequently, and yes, this is partly why–I was discussing with God why I have to keep making that turn, keep reliving that day after day.  

I don’t want to offend anyone here, because mine is a smaller thing–though if my seatbelt hadn’t been on, I’m certain my accident could have left me paralyzed, brain injured, or dead.  But God told me that I now have a small amount of empathy for people who have to keep facing their abusers, day after day.  I don’t want to offend you because turning left onto a busy, crazy highway does not compare with looking someone in the face who knowingly hurt you and got away with it.  I got hit by a man who had no desire to hit me and who had nightmares about it afterward.  

But God showed me that coming back to this corner time after time helps me understand a tiny bit more what abuse victims go through. Taking my turn multiple times each day teaches me what feeling helpless in the grip of persecution might be.  No, I haven’t gotten hurt again.  But I know I could.  Any of these times.  

I don’t know what it’s like to be hated for the color of my skin.  I live in a country in which I am a minority, but I am not hated or persecuted for being chele, for being a gringo.*  

But I do think about what that must feel like, to come up on it time after time, to face the people who hate you for being who you are, for looking like you do, for living in that body, in that skin.  To keep having to come to that turn, over and over, but having to be ready for it at any time, every moment.  I am watching video of you doing it again and again.  

I do think about how you face an abuser when that is simply part of your life, when there is no way around it.  

I think about how scared I get when I face my turn, but “normal” life keeps going on.  

I think about how much grace you show when you face your turn.  And I thank God for the strength you’re given to keep coming back.  

 

 

*Being overcharged in various situations does not, in my mind, equal persecution, nor does having to face more red tape.  Both can frustrate and discourage me, but they are simply:  a frustration and discouragement, nothing more severe.  

 

 

If I Have not Love

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Sermon I preached at International Christian Fellowship 8/13/17, on I Corinthians 13:   “And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.” NRSV

“So, no matter what I say, what I believe, what I do, I’m bankrupt without love.” The Message

Love comes first and love will lead us into truth.

(Audio starts at :22)

Our Road!

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Same road, not long ago.


Nicaragua Diary, Day 10

We have a new road!

Yesterday, the government-employed road crew poured the concrete and edged and smoothed and transformed our rutted, mud-rock-sand bag-and-garbage street into a beautiful, flat, solid surface that one could, if one chose, drive a car on.  

The neighborhood is elated.  Declarations of “Gracias a Dios” resound in every exchange.  We have a different living situation than the one we awoke to just twenty-four hours ago.  

Neighbors try to make sense of it.  Who pulled strings that this wonder happened?  Who in our neighborhood would have those strings to pull?  It’s not even an election year, that this was intended to score political points with voters.

Maybe it just happened.  Maybe we just reached the top of the schedule.  Maybe a neighbor’s comment after they came and dug up the road, took photos, and left it over two years ago was prescient:  

“When will they come back?” we asked.

“When they remember us,” she said.  

Our friend across the street has a motorcycle repair business.  Our sister up the street has a mending and alterations business.  Prospective clients will have a much easier time reaching their home businesses.  

Prospective residents will drive onto this lovely, level road and seriously consider living here.  Our road is now a “pro” instead of a “con.”

 

I doubt you are reading this and thinking, “So it’s a new road?  What’s the big deal?”  Obviously, it’s a very big deal.  But take this into account, for contrast.

While I was in the States but after Kim had returned, in that two-week window, a crew came through and redid the main water pipe, which meant digging up the street to get to that pipe.  They then left it…without connecting it to anyone’s home. 

A day, two days, three days without water and people started to figure out what happened.  Then, one by one, our neighbors figured out where to dig, including breaking through the cement sidewalks (I’ve always been amazed that we had cement sidewalks next to our dirt-ravine road), to hook up their own water.  

Of all the things that I’ve seen and heard about that have just been left for people to take care of themselves, that one astounded me the most.  “Here’s a new water pipe; now figure out how to get water to your home.”  And they had just put in new water meters for the entire block!  

Did it just slip their minds to connect a single home to water?  Once the neighbors figured out what had happened–or not happened–there was brief talk that the crews might come back to make those connections.  But no, they had dug up the road to lay the pipe and then buried it again.  Our friends realized weren’t coming back.  And they didn’t.  

I will confess, I doubted.  The road crew started about three blocks above our house and worked their way toward us.  When they completed the section above our house, we watched the steam roller get loaded up on the massive vehicle-hauler and taken away, and my stomach clenched.  They’re going to stop right there.  

They didn’t.  And that may reveal a pessimism that has crept into us.  We have begun to assume things won’t work here, or will be inexplicably complicated.  

But that makes me even more grateful that this road happened, that this project is carrying right on by our home and as I sit here describing it, I can hear the sounds of the next section being prepared. 

My favorite part of this, by far, was walking out yesterday to discover our neighbor Juan Carlos “borrowing” the excess cement to fix the holes in our sidewalk.  I quickly grabbed my shovel and joined in.  I’m trying to picture this same situation in the States, weaving in and out of a road crew, grabbing their left-over materials to fix the parts they aren’t going to touch.  We filled up four or five large holes–did I mention that the sidewalk had been broken through to connect water pipes?

 At one point, I could hear a group of the workers debating, shouting at each other that they needed water.  I asked if they meant for drinking or for work?  For work.  So I took the empty 1-liter Pepsi bottle they handed me and filled it up for them, so their project could continue.  Later, Kim brought out coffee and water for all the workers.  I think today we are going to help, along with Mileydi’s church, to provide their lunch.  

It’s easy, where we live, to complain when things go wrong, because they do go wrong, not infrequently.  I’ve always told my children that they should rejoice in the good things at least as loudly and energetically as they gripe about  the things they don’t like.  

HOORAY!  WE HAVE A NEW ROAD!

 I’m the gringo in red.  

 

 

Entitlement

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Nicaragua Diary, Day 6

Tonight we celebrated a neighbor’s birthday.  We took her and her children to a burrito place (Ajúa.  Picture Qdoba, mas o menos) for dinner and then next door to a coffee shop (Casa Del Cafe.  Picture Starbucks, but not quite) for dessert.  We all had a wonderful time.  

Mostly.  

It was a big deal for our friend.  We had a whole carrot cake to share, not wildly expensive for us but an extravagance she would not have otherwise.  We were delighted to treat her.  

But our kids didn’t see it as that big of a deal.  I mean, they did, of course, because we make a big deal of birthdays.  No, they simply didn’t see these places as particularly fancy or special.  That might be because once, when Kim was out of town and Dad was holding the fort, we might have eaten at the burrito place two days in a row.  Maybe.*

I watched how her children and our children responded to the outing.  I’m not criticizing our children.  We have great kids.  But they assume this level of privilege.  

When we were just in Illinois, at my mom’s house, Corin had a blast.  He loves visiting the small, rural town, because unlike me, he hasn’t grown up that way.  Going to the park by himself at age ten is a rare treat, since we live in a city of two million and prefer he’s not on the street alone without someone watching.  

But my favorite part is that he rides my old bike.  My mom, for some reason, still has my first bike.  It’s an old girls’ bike, banana seat, and it was a hand-me-down when I got it.  It rattles when he rides.  And he absolutely loves it.  

Our street is being paved, almost as we speak, but up until now it’s been too rough to bike ride, for either him or me.  So he seldom gets a chance to ride.  But when I was ten, I know for certain I would have turned my nose up at that bike (because by then I had turned my nose up at that bike).  Our son doesn’t think he’s too good for an extremely vintage, beat up old bike.  

I think entitlement is one of those diseases that’s crazy hard to fight, largely because we’re constantly doing things that encourage and nurture its growth.  We like nicer things, we enjoy giving our children nicer things, and then we all end up believing that we deserve nicer things.  No one enjoys going back to not-as-nice things.  How do we remain grateful for less when we’ve had more?  How do we even remain grateful for what we’ve come to expect?  “Give us this day our daily bread…”

I know there are those who believe “they’ve worked hard for everything they have and they deserve it.”  For me that’s a short conversation.  They didn’t earn their birth, where they were born, or their parents.  Neither did the kids in our barrio.  

We live on a street where some kids have no toys.  I mean none.  We see kids who feel fortunate to eat rice and beans today, because they don’t always get to.  To a certain degree, this helps.  Conversations about “You realize there are kids in the world who aren’t as well off as you” don’t last very long.  We’ve never talked here about the “starving children in Africa,” if you see what I mean.  

Yet we all, and I don’t just mean my children here, believe that we deserve more, even though we are surrounded by people who have less.  The arrogance of that is astounding.  I’m confessing here.  There have been many reasons for us to live in Nicaragua.  One is to have a full-time war waged against our entitlement.  

Help us, Lord.  

 

Post-Script  After five days of off-and-on mostly no water, it has now been back on for two days and seems to be here to stay.  

 

*But we don’t need to mention that to Kim.  

Good Luck

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Nicaragua Diary, Day 1

Today I had good luck: I saw the ox cart.

I’m back in Nicaragua after our annual six weeks in the States. That means coming home and it means readjusting.

We don’t have water tonight. This doesn’t happen very often, but the city water stopped running and the water in our tank ran out. We have drinking water—that we buy—but no tap water. Today, fresh from the States, some things catch me off guard that in a few days will seem normal again.

They’re working on our road. Big machinery leveling and clearing dirt, compacting and, perhaps, paving. We will see. They came and leveled our road last year for photo ops with a political candidate, dug up the road in front of our house which was hard-packed dirt, then left. Our driveway, which had been a nice ramp to the road, became a three-foot drop. Kim, my wife, asked when they would come back and a neighbor answered, without sarcasm or resentment, “When they remember us.” Then a water pipe broke because they’d dug so deep and what had been a passable road became a swampy ravine.

So we’re a little nervous, watching them work. We have to plan ahead for when we can and can’t park in our driveway so that we don’t get stuck.

Today, I did an airport run to pick up some dear friends. We flew in last night, so I’d just seen the airport twelve hours before. But the airport is air conditioned. It’s a better place to rest than most. I’m readjusting to tropical humidity.

On the way to the airport, I saw two women lying unconscious on the road . One was bleeding from her forehead. A motorcycle had crashed but I didn’t see if anything had hit it. I couldn’t tell if the woman would be okay. Then I was past.

Now that you have a small taste of my day, you need to know a few things as I embark on this journal.

We love living here. I walked across the street this morning and bought six tortillas from the woman who starts making them at five. I paid twelve cordobas; right now, it’s 30 cords to the dollar, so forty cents.

“They don’t have tortillas in the United States?” she asked.

“Not Nicaraguan tortillas. Not authentic ones,” I told her, and she laughed. “We have rice and we have beans in the U.S., but we don’t have gallo pinto. It isn’t the same. Soy Nica.”

She laughed at me. Of course I’m not Nicaraguan. Yet I am, a little, even though clearly I’m not.

I don’t understand Nicaraguan culture nor pretend to. I’m going to describe our experience not as an expert but as an observer who resides here.

I’m aiming to keep this journal every day, but of course I won’t. Life happens. I hope it will give a little clearer sense of how I experience living here. You might experience it completely differently. Or you might never live here, in which case I invite you to live it vicariously through me, at least a little bit.

Sometimes when driving to school, we come up behind an oxcart. The oxen move slowly. They don’t run or trot. They lumber. Kim decided that seeing the oxen is lucky, and if we see one with a star or a blaze on its forehead, that’s double luck. Instead of dreading getting stuck behind their cart when she needs to get to work on time and the kids are still foggy and grumpy and therefore inclined to complain, she changed it into something we hope will happen. She has a gift for transforming things this way.

I haven’t always loved living here; some days, I still don’t. But it’s home. Today, after I dropped Kim off at school, after I turned left once again at the spot where a huge SUV slammed into me—it’s our route to school, so I drive it one to four times a day—I had good luck.

The ox had a star.

Dad

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June 26, 2017 marked nineteen years since my dad died.  Impossible.  How could my father be gone for nineteen years already?

I’ve referred to him often on here but I’ve never written a post solely about him.  That might appear strange, since he had such a huge impact on my life.  He was a contradiction.  It’s hard to capture my feelings about him because they were, and still are, both strong and  contradictory.

Yet in one sense, everyone else’s life is a mystery to us.  We don’t really understand how other people work or think or make choices, so we just guess and project, based on who we are.

Alan Miles Rumley was born on December 5, 1929.  He used to joke that he was born both the year the stock market crashed and just before Pearl Harbor Day.  He was endlessly self-deprecating, yet he really believed he was “smarter than the average bear,” “a better driver than 99% of people on the road,” and “honest to a fault.”  Even just quoting him fails to do justice to how he would inflect each word and how often he would repeat them.  Every description is shorthand that leaves out crucial aspects.

I can tell you stories about Dad that make him seem a monster and others that would convince you he was a great father. Neither capture the whole truth.

For a man born and raised in The Depression, who grew up poor and often neglected, he was remarkably expressive of his love for us.  Many men of his generation never hugged their children, never said, “I love you.”  Dad was affectionate and free with his words, including the endearing ones.  

Dad talked a lot.  He talked more than any other human being I’ve ever met.  He loved to talk.  Why did he talk so much?  Did he just love to hear himself speak?  Was he insecure and tried to fill that emptiness with words?  He was a great storyteller.  His best stories were about himself, his own pitfalls and pratfalls and foibles.  But some of them were amazing, because he was astoundingly brave.  He was more determined than anyone else. 

When he was young, he performed physical therapy on himself to straighten and strengthen his polio-damaged leg.  He described walking back and forth for hours, for months, until he could walk without a limp and then, finally, run again.  He didn’t get any medical help, he just made up his mind.  Dad became a collegiate track star in the half mile (we call it the 800 meters).  I read an article about one of his races from a Chicago newspaper.  

He was a terrible student in high school.  He barely made C’s and some teachers passed him–and told him they’d passed him–just so that they wouldn’t have to see him again the next year.  But because he’d learned to type–barely–he became a company clerk in the army during the Korean War and was stationed in Germany.  Then he not only went to college, he went on to earn his M.S. in earth science, and had the credits hours for the equivalent of a second Master’s.  

Every summer when I was very young, we would travel to a different geologic site in the U.S. because he had received a grant to do research there.  He was “Henry County Conservation Teacher of the Year” in 1972.  Nineteen Seventy-Two.  How many were even paying attention to conservation in 1972? 

He suffered a lot; he never did so quietly. It was hard to feel bad for him because he constantly expected us to feel bad for him.  I don’t know how old I was when he started telling me his problems.  I’m shocked as I raise my own kids.  Was I nine?  Did he really tell me (and not just once) how his health problems discouraged him, how hopeless he felt that he would ever get better, when I was in third and fourth grade?  My son is entering fifth grade, I have my own struggles, and this thought appalls me.  Is this why I feel too responsible to fix everyone?

Yet my friends, for the most part, thought he was hilarious.  He loved to laugh and joke and act ridiculous.  He kept the price tagdangling from his Foster Grant sunglasses because he found it funny…and it may have driven one of my sisters crazy.  We had so many inside jokes, so many routines and “schtick” we would banter back and forth:

“Write if you get work.”

“Work if you get right.”  

Then there were the rages.  Several years ago, some people from my school got into a discussion on Facebook about their former teachers.  Many people said Mr. Rumley was a great teacher, if somewhat eccentric, but the comments I remember were from a woman much older than I am, who stated that my dad was a terror, a psychotic who should not have been allowed near kids.  But he taught for over thirty years–he taught seventh- and eighth-graders for over thirty years–and spoke up for and befriended some of the most ostracized, neglected kids.  He prided himself on advocating for students the administrators and other teachers wanted to expel and successfully helping the graduate.

Remember, those were different days in U.S. education: another teacher lifted me out of my seat by my ear and another time grabbed me by the neck and slammed me against some lockers. I don’t doubt Dad traumatized this woman, though verbally, never physically.  I’m sure I saw rages from him worse than she saw.  But he helped a lot of kids no one else cared about.  He loved to teach.  One of our school’s best students, who went on to get her Ph.D., shared at Dad’s memorial that he had inspired her love of learning.

Dad was bi-polar.  Manic depressive.  A doctor diagnosed him what turned out to be six months before his death.  The term was fairly new to me, but when we heard what the diagnosis meant, the symptoms they described, we all said, “Well, yeah.  That’s Dad.”  After his death, after I understood the diagnosis better, after I learned that he had died with thousands of dollars in anti-depressant pills hidden everywhere because he wasn’t going to let someone “scramble his brain,” I saw his rages differently. What chance did he have, with the biochemistry of his brain so messed up?

Yet reducing Dad to his diagnosis, or the negatives that people remember of him, is just as one-sided as trying to brush these things aside.  Dad was raised by a semi-invalid mother and an alcoholic father and never drank a drop of alcohol (that I knew of) in his adult life.  He suffered horrible asthma and emphysema, yet spent how many countless hours hitting me grounders, pausing to cough and choke and spit, and then hitting some more.  I didn’t become the shortstop for the New York Yankees, but I did know my dad cared about me, measured sheerly by how much time he spent letting me dream that I could be.  

The older generation loves to joke, ha ha, that when the younger generation grows up, their parents will become so much wiser, ha ha.  Meaning “we were right all along and someday you’ll have the sense to admit it.”  Dad was wrong about a lot of things and he was difficult to love while he was alive. I did love him, and in his later years I could see more clearly that he loved me.  The wisdom I’ve gained is that I understand better how he tried to communicate that love, and that his destructive behaviors did not negate that love.  For all his words and his constant dissecting of everything in his mind, he was not self-reflective and certainly not self-aware.  He needed people to accept and appreciate him and struggled mightily when they refused.  But we don’t control others’ responses to us.  That wasn’t wise or healthy; I’m still trying to unlearn that need myself.  

When people say they had the kindest, wisest, gentlest, most patient father in the world, I can’t relate.  I used to feel jealous and resent all the work I have to do just to maintain staying level because of how Dad was.  But my dad loved me.  He wanted to be a good father.  He couldn’t always overcome the voices in his own head, the demons he faced.  He struggled his whole life to find peace with God.  I believe, at the end of his Job life, he found it.  

He was my dad.  

Of Wonder Woman, Departing Friends, and Choices

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[Spoiler Alert:  If you haven’t seen Wonder Woman yet, be warned.]

Wonder Woman is a really good movie.

I’m having my last times with people I love until I-don’t-know-when.

I’m thinking about the deep stuff today.


Our lives are a series of days taped together.  We can measure and categorize them in so many different ways–days left of school, years until you retire, how long they’ve been sober–but we get a certain number of days in a row.  Period.  Within certain constraints, we choose what to do with them.  We don’t choose how many we get, other than that we can shorten them.   


Wonder Woman surprised me.  It not only entertained, it spoke a couple of profound truths.

  “It’s not about what they deserve; it’s about what you believe!”

 Diana “Prince” and Steve Trevor debate whether or not people deserve saving after Diana gets a glimpse of how evil and hateful people can be.   But Steve changes the debate:  we don’t risk our lives and try to save people because they are worthy; we do these things because trying to make a difference is right.  

God doesn’t save us because we’re worthy, but because He loves us.  We don’t debate whether people deserve our love; we love them because God first loves us.  It’s not what they deserve, it’s what you believe.


So these last few days I’m having my last few days with some of my favorite people.  Then they’ll move and I don’t know when I’ll see them again–but if and when I do, it will never again be life like we’ve had it.  You can never step in the same river twice, because it’s not the same river and you aren’t the same…you.*

Time means that we can’t cling to life as it passes.  We can try, but that doesn’t work.  Time is the river.  It flows by.  


 

Still tracking?  

Back to Wonder Woman.  “I used to want to save the world, to end war and bring peace to mankind. But then I glimpsed the darkness that lives within their light. I learned that inside every one of them there will always be both. The choice each must make for themselves – something no hero will ever defeat.”

Truth.  We aren’t prone to evil because we have an evil leader–Aries, the God of War, influencing us to go against our nature–but because we have darkness even in our light.  Even when God redeems us and changes our hearts, even when we taste grace and see that God is not the monster who can’t wait to catch us screwing up (that’s someone else’s voice), we’re still at war within ourselves, as Romans 7:14-25 describes.  Following Jesus means not only do we believe this, we take this on as a daily discipline.  We commit to a “whatever it takes”** approach to “the choice we make for ourselves,” becoming God’s light in the world instead of spreading darkness.  


 

Okay, here I’m either going to tie all this together or crash and burn.  Let me know.  

We love people, we seek to live grace and love in this corrupt, brutal, almost casually destructive yet beautiful, God-drenched world.  We are here to love, not to judge.  I think I’ll repeat that.

We are here to love, not to judge.  

Jesus said he came not to judge the world, but to save it. If he didn’t come to judge the world, you can be dang sure he didn’t send me to judge it.  That means “deserve” never enters the conversation.

Good thing, too, because we’re just as undeserving as the folks we’re tempted to judge.  I know we feel like we’re not, and (secretly) we (sometimes) put ourselves on a different level than “those” people.  But again, we have light within us but constantly feel the darkness beckoning.  There, but for the grace of God, go I.  I believe that; every time I forget, I get in trouble.  

God brings people into our lives and leads them out.  The river flows.  We choose to love certain people and let them in.  In my life, anyway, I’ve had some amazing folks, much better than I’ve “deserved,” and that’s grace, too.  I wish the people who are leaving would stay, and this is yet another way that, if I had more power, I’m certain I would screw things up.  Providentially, that choice is not given to me.  

No soy Dios,

Dios es Dios,

gracias a Dios.  

Instead, I’m letting people go.  

Wonder Woman reminds me, though, that all I can do is choose.  Choose to love, because God’s love does save the world and somehow God makes me and you part of that.  Choose to let God bring light into my darkness and refuse to give up on the people who seem (to my eyes) lost in a darkness of their own making.  And choose to believe that an open heart to love the next people the river sends my way is, itself, a choice for light, against darkness.  

 And, maybe just maybe, choosing others, making people “our people,” is what makes these relationships matter so much in the first place.  Could it be not that we choose people we love, but that we love people we choose?  

 

 

*Heraclitus.  Paraphrased slightly.  “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.”

** “Therefore, do not let sin exercise dominion in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions. No longer present your members to sin as instruments of wickedness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and present your members to God as instruments of righteousness.  For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.”  Romans 6:12-14