The Need For A Fire Escape

I had a fascination with fire as a child.

One of our daily chores was to burn anything Mom thought would incinerate in our large burn barrel in the back yard.

Every home had one. We had a fire code back in the day that allowed trash to be burned in neighborhoods.

Though the opportunity to practice pyromania is no longer available, I’ve not lost interest in fire.

Neither have the grands.

Because of schedules and COVID, we’ve had to lump birthday celebrations together to make sure we get them all. We celebrated two more this past weekend, and for the young ones, the fun came in blowing out the candles.

Many times.

Not wanting spit all over the cakes, I used a large candle to let the littles practice. Cal, at three, was quite pleased to be able to snuff out candles in one blow. It hasn’t been that long since he couldn’t direct enough air at a candle to make the flame move. He experienced pain, however, when he stuck his finger in the melted wax–not what was supposed to happen.

Fire is a phenomenon that is both helpful and harmful. In a controlled situation, it warms, cooks, cleans the forest floor of dangerous underbrush, nourishes the soil. It’s helpful and supportive.

Until it’s not. Fire can thoroughly destroy people and property; its toxic fumes can make breathing impossible. It demolishes hopes and dreams.

It’s not something that anyone should play with.

But we do.

We’re always fascinated by that which has potential to hurt us, that which draws us down enticing but dangerous paths that can lead to our personal destruction. Much of what we have was intended for our good, but so often we’ve taken that good to an extreme which becomes harmful.

Freedom abused is bondage.

Justice abused is mistreatment.

Pleasure abused is suffering.

The rule of law abused is anarchy.

A free press abused is propaganda.

All these things were intended for good, but much of what is happening everywhere has shown that, without control and limits, these ideals are harmful and destructive.

We all want more of a good thing.

We are all hungry for something to fill and satisfy us, to make sense out of life. When we’ve taken what’s good and compromised it, nothing this side of heaven will satisfy us.

God has displayed His mercy and grace through the sacrifice of His Son. He invites anyone who longs for hope to enter into relationship with Him.

The author C.S. Lewis once said:

“Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

Pain results when we don’t act as we should, when we take people and things for granted, when we misuse what we’ve been given. It’s often not even of our own doing.

Pain is often the only way we learn. It helps us recognize when we’ve made wrong decisions or have hurt others more than we intended.

God offers healing for our hearts, wholeness for our minds and souls. In relationship with Him, we have more freedom to be the kind of people we were intended to be.

Without needing a fire escape.

Divided We Fall

Times of loss and tragedy often draw us into closer community with greater care for one another. Pain is an adhesive that connects us, heart and soul.

When my mom died, people from my past and present reached out to me and my brother and sisters in a show of support and love that surprised me. Mom had been in assisted living for over nine years, and her friends from before then never really came to visit. Maybe she reminded them of what could become of them.

When she passed, we were surrounded by love and comfort from unexpected people.

The pain of others can bring out the best in us; hearts of compassion expand in times of crisis.

On the twentieth anniversary of the 9/11 crisis, I’ve watched various networks shine a spotlight on the heroism of people who made immediate decisions to help those in desperate need. Individuals who didn’t consider the consequences to themselves but were compelled to help in tough times.

President Bush spoke of the pride he felt leading a nation whose selflessness pushed them to acts above and beyond expectation. He called it a “solidarity of grief and grace”, a time when we were drawn together to give to others because of our common patriotism. I remember when he threw out the first pitch of the World Series that year how it was a time of defying the enemy and standing firm as Americans, citizens and inhabitants of this great country. A symbol of unity. American flags were waved throughout the stadium–we were part of one another; our stories had been inexorably knit together.

How times have changed.

We no longer honor the country we live in with a sense of unity. We see each other as adversaries instead of partners in hope. President Bush also said we have now made “every disagreement into an argument, and every argument as a clash of cultures.” Rather than seeing the beauty of one nation, under God, with the possibility some day of everyone having a voice, we’re making it impossible to find common ground to come to any kind of agreement on anything.

With the schism so deep in our country, the withdrawal from Afghanistan has made it broader and more profound. The COVID vaccine has become a point of contention.

Our country is like a huge colorful sweater that is unraveling. And nobody wants to mend it.

Jesus spoke to the need for humility and forgiveness.

“You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.” Matthew 5:9

God created us to live, work, and thrive in community. To work together that we may grow together; respect one another that we might learn from each other.

We’re each a story being told, in community, and our stories are told collaboratively. We’re not a page standing alone with no context. We live among others who have the same struggles, questions, and fears we do.

We’re all part of God’s family if we allow ourselves to be. Family needs cooperation and commitment, even if you don’t like one another.

No one is an isolated story.

Remember Where You Were?

Anniversaries are often celebrations to remember good times, stories that have mellowed over the years.

This Saturday will mark the twentieth anniversary of one of the roughest days in American history–the terrorist attack and resulting destruction and death on 9/11.

At significant points in history, people tend to have clear memories of where they were and what they were doing during a particular crisis, moments that affect us nationally; the assassination of John F. Kennedy or the first man walking on the moon.

Or the destruction of the World Trade Center, the attack on the Pentagon, Flight 93 where the passengers overpowered the terrorists and diverted the flight path to crash into a field.

We have an entire generation born since then, young men and women who can’t attune to the unreality of watching planes crash into buildings, people leaping out of windows to their death, the crash of metal, concrete and glass that took so many lives.

I was at our headquarters, meeting with our new group of participants for the yearly program I’m part of. We were just beginning when someone ran into the room, too shocked to speak, motioning us to come to the main area where a TV was on.

I stood in horror and watched a plane hit the South Tower; a short time later it collapsed on itself. The North Tower, the first hit, collapsed shortly thereafter.

It was a terrible, horrible day. Hope felt excommunicated from our country.

Twenty years later, we’re still in the midst of terrible days, where the world makes no sense and people insist on doing bad things to one another.

Do you remember when someone hurt you so much with their words or attitudes that you questioned who you were? Do you remember what it was like to be the focus of someone else’s anger or blame which made you wonder if things could ever get better?

Memories of pain, loss, and grief create moments that are hard to forget. Years pass, and often the memories of those agonizing times grow worse with age. Unresolved anger, regret, bitterness only become more insidious with time, like a weed that kills all the beautiful flowers with its growing presence.

Jesus understood anger, betrayal, blame, and hatred. He knew what it felt like to be the One who was misunderstood and unforgiven. His response to those who hurt Him wasn’t a typical response.

“Your familiar with the old written law, ‘Love your friend,’ and its unwritten companion, ‘Hate your enemy.’ I’m challenging that. I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst.” Matthew 5:43-45

The remembrance of 9/11 brings sadness to many who lost loved ones. But it was also a time when people became heroes with unselfish acts of kindness. Where individuals stepped out of their comfort zone to help those in great need, often without a thought to their own safety. The crisis brought out the best in people.

Enemies abound in this world, but we are too quick to identify others as that without taking the opportunity to know them, to think of them as more important than ourselves.

To remember to give a kindness instead of repaying anger with anger.

Those are the memories worth savoring.

The Dignity Of Work

photo courtesy of Austrian National Library on Unsplash

The dignity of work, of doing our best as a reflection of our character is often ignored today.

Labor Day is a celebration of the work force of America, of those who committed to the exertion of building this country with their toil and talent.

The first Labor Day was celebrated only by New York, on September 5, 1882. It was planned by the Central Labor Union to honor all those who had worked tirelessly to grow their city to its greatness. Workers from many countries who had immigrated here to find a better way of life contributed to this.

On June, 28, 1884 it became a federal holiday, recognizing how the American worker had raised our standard of living and contributed to the incredible economy we still experience today.

Many arrived from Ellis Island ready and willing to work, to grow themselves and this country.

I had a rare moment of insight as a teenager when I asked my Dad if he enjoyed his job. He peered at me as if the question made no sense. “Do I enjoy my job?”

“Do you like what you do? Is it what you’ve always wanted to do?”

That brought a laugh. Dad was part of the Great Generation who grew up during the Depression, who fought in World War 2 and the Korean War, who knew what it was to work hard and not always get what was deserved.

He explained the value wasn’t in the job itself–he was fine with what he did. He was a sales manager for an appliance company. It’s where he found work after the service, and he put in his time and moved up the ranks. The value for him was the chance to work, to do his best for his family and his community.

He said, “There is dignity in work. Doing a job to the best of your ability is more important than what the job is.”

At a time when people are picky about what they’ll do or who they’ll work for, we’ve lost the sense of pride in our work. Dad was loyal to the company he worked for; his generation would get a job and stay with it for fifty years.

Not so today. We go where we believe the grass is greener. Or we wait for the better opportunity, not willing to work at something that’s beneath us.

There are people coming into our country who are wanting to work, to do whatever it takes to be part of the larger community of America and make a home for their families.

They understand the dignity of work.

When God created Adam and Eve, He didn’t give them a free pass for a life of leisure. He created them to work.

“The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.” Genesis 2:15

We were created to work, to take care of what is around us. We work by design. It’s what fulfills who we are meant to be.

This Labor Day, appreciate the value of what you do for work.

It’s in our very nature to toil purposefully.

The Elephant Lives

When you see an elephant in the middle of the room, you need to question why it is there.

Where elephants are concerned, there are always questions.

The pachyderm in question has a story of perseverance in spite of disdain.

We found this particular stuffed animal at a garage sale in Colorado. She had a lot more stuffing back then and was holding a baby in her arms. She was quite large, and at the end of the summer as we were packing to return to Orlando, I insisted on bringing Ellie with us.

John’s comment was logical. “Are you out of your mind? She’s huge. How do we get her back home?”

An insightful statement.

We got her home, and Ellie became a play place for the littles. They laid on her, jumped on her, slept on her. She slowly lost some of her stuffing but never her allure for those small ones drawn to her gray softness.

Nolan, at eight months, loves climbing on her, over her, and holding her ears as if she’s Dumbo.

The bigger picture is…well, she’s big. When she’s in the middle of the family room, there isn’t a lot of floor space left. She spreads out and covers enough room that those wanting to get by need to maneuver carefully around her.

Or take the shortcut over her.

Doesn’t it feel like we do that a lot with the perceived elephants in the room? What some may consider as harmless or incidental, others find to be unnecessary or unsettling.

Disagreements and intolerance can grow these elephants quickly. People perceive issues from different viewpoints, and to have the conversations that allow differing parties to voice honestly their divergent perspectives is close to impossible. For others, just having to deal with an elephant can shut them down due to fear or anxiety.

What can be done about elephants in the room?

Addressing an issue with honesty and humility is a great place to start. Elephants tend to bring up extremes in reactions, so to approach a discussion with calm and respect can be a challenge.

Jesus knew what it was to address difficult situations with respect and compassion. He never backed away from a disagreement; He spoke with honesty, and, when necessary, with strong words.

“Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.” Philippians 2:3-4

There are many problems that are demanding and overwhelming today. Cultural challenges and world conditions can be staggering to grasp, much less finding common ground for conversation.

Rather than focus on the problem, wouldn’t it be better to allow our energy to connect with those we speak with, sharing with honest hearts and language that doesn’t bring offense? If we chose to respect those different from us, with ideas that don’t agree with ours, we might grow in understanding of the greater problems at hand. Helping those who are less fortunate, supporting those who are hurting, and choosing to be selfless in our dealings with those who don’t think as we do.

Jesus gives us the wisdom to respond well.

Maybe then the elephants won’t seem so large and insurmountable.