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Thursday, October 13, 2016

Enough "Just Ones"

Are you having trouble deciding between the "narcissistic, misogynistic egomaniac" and the "elitist, pathological liar"? Me too. I joke about searching on the ballot for the box you check to vote for "None of the Above," but I really don't  like either choice. And by "don't like" I mean "gag at the thought."

We grow up being taught that America has a "two-party political system," but technically that's not true. The United States has a multi-party system, and there are always (correct me if I'm wrong) more than two choices on the ballot in the race for president. So why don't more people vote for one of the alternative options?

The answer, I believe, lies in our fear of "throwing away our vote."

These days, that dire warning comes up in nearly every conversation about the 2016 presidential election.

"Well, you know, he is going to win. Voting for her is just throwing away your vote."

"Everyone knows that she will win the election. A vote for him is just a wasted vote."

"You might as well pick the lesser of the two evils. A vote for anyone else is worthless."

Now wait a minute!

To anyone who wants to give me the "wasted vote" method of candidate selection, I respectfully suggest that you have lost sight of two important concepts.

1. The purpose of a free election and secret ballot

2.  The power of ONE

The purpose of a free election and secret ballot:

The type of voting process we have in the U.S. was not designed with the purpose of "winning" or having the bragging rights to say, "I voted for President X!"

What our elections are supposed to be about is choosing the right person who supports the things we believe are good about our country, and who works to right the wrongs that exist in our country, as we see it. That is why we have an election system created with the intent that each person would be free to vote in line with their own conscience, without fear of repercussion or reprisal.

Who we vote for is nobody's business but our own. We don't need to prove that we are "good enough" because we voted for the "right" person. We don't have to vote our way onto the "winning team." Picking the winning team and "joining" them by voting for their candidate is not what an election is about. Think about it. Do you really want the "privilege" of being able to proclaim, "I helped elect President Lester O. Weevils, and I'm so proud of the way my candidate has trashed our constitutional rights, tanked the economy, alienated our international allies, and tripled the national debt. Well, no, I'm actually not, but hey, at least I voted for the winning team!"

It's time for us to grow up and get over the fear of not being on the winning team. To stop trying so hard to be one of the "popular kids" who voted for the "cool new prez." To vote, instead, for the candidate who we believe will best uphold the character of the presidency, and who we believe will work to instill that character back in the nation.

A vote which supports and expresses my conscience, my beliefs, my values, is NEVER wasted.

The Power of One:

I can hear the voices now....

"But I'm just one person!"

Of course you are. But the records are filled with the stories of "just one" who changed the course of history.

When David the shepherd boy killed the giant, Goliath, and changed the course of history for the nation of Israel, he was "just one kid" who threw "just one rock."

When she killed Sisera, the general of the Canaanite army, Jael was "just one nomadic woman" who drove "just one tent stake."

When the hungry crowd of thousands overwhelmed the local food supply, there was "just one little boy" who was willing to share his "just one little lunch", and who made all the difference.

The Apostle Paul, author of over half the books in the New Testament, was "just one traveling preacher."

Martin Luther, a key figure in the Protestant Reformation, was "just one priest" who had some questions.

Rosa Parks was "just one tired passenger" on the bus.

And on the other hand....

The Roman emperor, Nero, was just one person.

And so was Lenin.

And Hitler.

Of course, you're just one person. But so is your neighbor. And so are the five, or ten, or twenty people you work with. And the 100, or 250, or 700 friends you have on Facebook.

The Berlin Wall was not torn down by an army, or a labor union, or a political party. It was demolished by a collection of "just ones" who decided the status quo had gone on long enough, and that it was time for a change.

The city of Jericho was not overcome by military might, or political strategy, or superior espionage. It happened through thousands of "just ones" who were obedient to what they were called to do. Who raised their voices and trusted God for the outcome.

A single candle doesn't make much light. It won't make any significant difference in pushing back the darkness. But, I have seen "just one" candle, multiplied by 10,000, glowing in the dark and lighting the candle next to it, until at last they lit up the night and illuminated an entire stadium.

We have each been given some gift, some circle of influence. And we are called to use what we have, no matter how small, to go out and work toward what is right. To make a difference in our world.

When it comes to this year's presidential election:

If each one of us really researched where the candidates stood on the issues, and didn't rely on what we heard from our family, or the guy at the next work station, or the "talking heads" on the nightly news....

If each one truly voted their beliefs, instead of "choosing the lesser of two evils" or trying to be on the "winning team"—even if it meant voting a write-in....

If each of us exercised our "just one" vote in the service of our conscience, and encouraged our neighbor to do the same—even if it meant "throwing away our vote"....

If each of us shined our little light and with our encouragement, so did those around us, and those around them, and those around them....

We might find, one by one, that there are enough of us "just ones" to make a difference, after all.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

A Story for Christmas - "What Child is This?" (The Innkeeper's Defense)

WHAT CHILD IS THIS?
© Marcia Gunnett Woodard, 2015

🎆 I didn't know! How could I have known?

They were just one more young couple, clearly short on cash. When I first saw them, he was pushing that broken down old pickup that he mistakenly called transportation. She was sitting in the cab, steering, and I have to admit, I thought the less of her for it, until the truck ground to a halt in my parking lot and she opened the door and eased down to the pavement.
Although her drab, shapeless dress and stretched-out sweater were both too big for her, still they were unsuccessful at concealing her hugely pregnant state. Her face, though extraordinarily beautiful, was at this moment marred by pain and exhaustion. In spite of it all, her eyes held an undeniable serenity.
His jacket was threadbare and patched, his jeans were blown out at the knees. His wiry muscles and thin face with hollow cheeks told the tale of a hard-working man who had spent many evenings insisting he wasn't that hungry, attempting to be certain that the woman and the little one she carried had enough.
She waited patiently as he retrieved their one meager backpack from the truck bed. He turned to offer her his support and as soon as they began to make their way to the front entrance of the hotel, I knew the truth. She was in active labor! They couldn't afford professional medical assistance, and thought they would give birth here, in my hotel! Oh, no they wouldn't. I told Samantha, the night clerk, to take her break, then I personally met the pair at the front desk.
"Oh, I am sorry," I lied through my artificial smile. "We just booked our last room."

🎆 How could I have known? Do you tell me YOU would have known?

The young man looked at the worn toes of his boots. He knew I was lying, and being lied to humiliated him. His glance slid to the girl-woman by his side.
A tiny frown creased the space between her eyebrows. "What will we do?" Her voice sounded soft and tired, with the slightest hitch at the end, when she was caught off-guard by the next contraction.
"Excuse me, sir." The young man was incurably polite even in the face of my blatant lie. "Excuse me," he said to his boots. "Do you know someplace we could go? My wife—"
He and I both turned to look at her. She was now bent nearly double. Labor had begun in earnest. I suddenly realized something worse than having these two deliver their offspring in one of my rooms—having the kid born in the lobby! I clung to my calm, unruffled exterior while on the inside I scrambled frantically to come up with an alternative location. That was it!
"You know...we have an underground parking garage with an attendant's room. Our attendant has Christmas Eve off. You can spend the night, it has a space heater, and a couple cots with pillows and blankets, you should be fine there." I finished all in one breath, deliberately ignoring the fact that this was a young woman in active labor, who would quite possibly give birth in a small, dark, cluttered room, two stories below ground.
The young, soon-to-be father sprang into action, slinging the small pack over his shoulder and scooping his wife into his arms.
"Where do I go, sir? How do I get there?" His voice was quiet but intense. His body was calm and gentle with her, but his eyes glanced wildly in all directions, searching for the route to the meager refuge I had offered.
"Go across the lobby and through that doorway. Turn left into the hallway, and you should see the elevator about ten feet ahead on your right. Once you get on, hit the button 'BB' for the sub-basement. When the doors open, you will see the office."
"Thank you, sir," he said softly, and he was gone.

🎆 I swear to you, I did not know! If I had known, I vow I would have chosen differently.

I went on about my shift and barely gave the couple a passing thought until about three in the morning. I was on my lunch break when Samantha burst into the employee break room, a freaked-out look on her face.
"There are mechanics here! In the lobby! What do I do with them?"
"Mechanics? Mechanics for what? Who called them?" I couldn't figure out what she was talking about.
"Mechanics! Auto mechanics. They say they're here to see 'the baby'. What baby are they talking about?"
I stuffed the last few bites of my turkey sandwich into my cheeks, and followed her back to the lobby. As night manager, I have to stay on top of what's happening at my property.
We arrived back at the front desk to find half a dozen or so rough looking men of various ages, still in their work uniforms and smeared with a blend of auto lubricant and mud.
"May I help you, gentlemen?" I wasn't sure if I choked on the remains of the sandwich, or the word gentlemen.
The group murmured among themselves, searching for a spokesman before settling on one big guy with a mop of curly, dark hair. He stepped forward and pushed his hair out of his eyes. He stared at his hands, then wiped them on his "Del's Auto Repair" shirt with the label "Sam" stitched above the pocket. He stuck out the right hand to shake mine.
"Howdy! I'm Sam...Sam Johnstone. Wurr's the baby?  We's here t' see the baby."
"The baby?" I didn't remember anyone checking in with a baby. I had temporarily forgotten the young couple in the parking garage.
"The new borned baby. He's borned ry-cheer t'night, and we has came t' see him."
Born here? Oh yes, the couple in the parking garage! I puzzled to myself how these mechanics had heard about a child born to an impoverished couple, twenty-plus feet underground, in the middle of the night. Sam the mechanic spoke as if he had heard my question and was answering it.
"Me 'n' the boys wuz out muddin' after work, up on the mountin, when all the sudden, the sky was full up wit angels, singin' in the tops ah the trees, 'bout a baby borned in a parkin' g'rage." He stopped for air. "So me 'n' the boys, we's here tah pray, seein's how the baby's part ah God or sump'n."
The story was outlandish, but at least now I knew what baby they referred to. I stood pondering whether to point them to where the young family slept or to pretend ignorance and send them on their way.
As I considered the options, my attention was caught by a stir outside. A stretch limo, bearing the consular flag of an Asian ally, swept up the hotel driveway and glided to a stop at our front entrance. I had to act quickly!
"This way...gentlemen." I choked the word out again, and strode quickly toward the elevator. "You handle our new arrivals," I tossed back over my shoulder to Samantha.
I made quick work of the mechanics, taking them down in the elevator, pushing the buttons for them—to make sure that later, we didn't have to scrub off mud and axle grease.
Imagine my surprise, when we arrived at the garage level, to see the little family spruced up and apparently expecting company. The new mother, exhausted but radiant, sat in a worn office chair and gazed at her newborn son, who slept in a pulled-out filing cabinet drawer. The young father leaned against a battered desk, with the quiet confidence of a man who has just delivered his own child.
The scene tugged at my heart, begging me to linger, but responsibilities called, and the thought of Samantha upstairs, trying to deal with our important arrivals, prodded me back into the elevator and out to the front desk.
I found Samantha, trying to communicate with our guests, who consisted of a bodyguard/chauffeur, a personal attaché, and the ambassador—who cradled his infant son. The baby, who appeared to be about six months old, was screaming at the top of his lungs while Samantha added to the uproar—trying to make herself understood by talking louder and more slowly.
It was time for me to take charge. Stepping into the room, I bowed to the ambassador and asked him how we could be of assistance. The ambassador nodded to the attaché who rushed forward, unfurling an astrological chart which he claimed to indicate that a world renowned physician would be in this place on this day.
"I must see him," the diplomat explained. "My son has been sick from birth, and none of the others have helped him."
As I mentally prepared a response, I heard a sound behind me and turned. My three year old daughter, Emma, stood in the doorway of the manager's office, sleepily rubbing her eyes. The property owners had been wonderfully understanding since her mother had died, allowing me bring her and have her sleep in the office while I worked night shift. Having her near was especially important to me, since she....
I glanced from Emma to the ambassador's son and back. A similarity in the children's appearance told me that as the fathers of special children, we shared a common burden.
"Daddy, me wanna see baby," Emma fussed.
I started to lead her toward the ambassador, but she tugged away from me and ran toward the elevator.
"No! New baby! Me wanna see new baby!" She was shrieking now.
Just as she reached the elevator, the door opened, and the mechanics streamed out, their faces aglow as they talked excitedly amongst  themselves. It was clear they had experienced a once-in-a-lifetime event. The ambassador and his companions exchanged looks and hurried toward the elevator. Afraid for my daughter's safety, I rushed to her and scooped her up, out of harm's way. The Asians hurried into the elevator, chattering with the mechanics as they went, finding out which floor to choose. The closed silently. I stood by the sealed door and listened as the elevator cabin whirred its way into the depths. I strained to hear the distinctive ping at the bottom of the elevator shaft, announcing the ambassador's arrival at the birthplace. All I heard was the inconsolable sobbing of my heartbroken daughter, who drooped in my arms.
"Mee-ee wanna-ah kih-iss bay-ay-bee-ee!"
When I turned back to the lobby, the mechanics had already left, singing as they went. In the stillness they left behind, I heard the TV news anchor's urgent monotone, announcing that the authorities were searching for someone. ...the couple in my parking garage! Not wanting any trouble, I didn't hesitate before calling 9-1-1. Although it was probably only fifteen minutes or so before the police arrived, it seemed to take forever.
While we were waiting for the authorities to show up, the ambassador and his entourage rode back up in the elevator and left the  building—completely silent, except for the happy cooing of the baby, who looked somehow...different. Less like my daughter's distinctive look, and more like his father.
Eventually, the police arrived, with SWAT teams storming both the outside entrance to the garage and the elevator, but the couple was gone—vanished into thin air. They were never found, and to this day, when I look at my daughter, I wonder what might have been.

🎆 I swear I would have done it differently, if only I'd known. Sure, a couple people said something about it, but they were poor, and lower-class, and foreigners—not s I would trust. If someone with some money, some clout—someone with a Name—had told me who this Baby was, I could have believed. I would have left everything and taken the elevator to that little room in the sub-basement. I would have brought my own little one with me, and knelt in His  presence until I received my answer. But the message came from those I don't trust. Before you judge me, tell me that you would not do the same—that you have not done the same as I did. Tell me, if you can, that you have never let preconceived ideas keep you from seeing God with you, right there in the room.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Faith and Physics

Today, I'd like to share something that God helped me notice recently, in my Bible reading. I hope you find it as much food for thought as I do.

Faith and Physics

God speaks to each of us differently. With me, it's often through words and ideas—His, mine, or someone else's. Math and science, not so much. The other day, though, He and I had an interesting conversation about physics and walking on water. I was reading the story of Peter going to Jesus, walking on the water.
Matthew 14:25-31
...He came to them, walking on the sea. When the disciples saw Him...they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus [said], “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.” Peter said to Him, “Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.” And He said, “Come!” And Peter got out of the boat, and walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But seeing the wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and took hold of him, and said to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”   (NASB)

I heard God whisper, "What's wrong with this picture?"
It was the same old story it had always been, but I sensed Him wanting me to see it through new eyes. I looked at it again and heard Him whisper again.
"How many times have you jumped in a pool? What's wrong with this picture?"
I started thinking about jumping into a pool, about how short the time is, between when you leave the land, and when you are completely immersed. That was when I saw it!
I searched physics websites, asking the question, "How long does it take a six foot tall, 200 pound man to drop six feet?" I gave Peter the benefit of the doubt, though it is highly unlikely that he was that large. You know what I discovered?

They estimate the amount of time for a 200 pound man to drop six feet would be...
  • 0.15 seconds!
  • 15/100 of a second!
Isn't that amazing? Doesn't that just make you want to wave your hands in the air, shout "Amen!" and get up and dance? It doesn't? Maybe I should explain.
The Scripture says Peter saw the wind, got afraid, and began to sink. Then he called out, "Lord, save me!" Or in another translation, "Master, help me!" But from the time Peter was standing on top of the water to the time the water closed over his head should have been 0.15 seconds! Do you know how much you can say in 0.15 seconds? I timed it with a stopwatch.

 In 0.15 seconds, the most you can say is, "Muh!"

What if it means that in spite of the wind, in spite of his fear, in spite of the fact that Jesus didn't seem to be near enough to reach him, or help him, or get there in time, Peter wasn't really sinking? The Scripture says, "...he began to sink."  His feet may have been getting wet, but it sounds like he wasn't going under! Jesus' miracle-working power was still keeping him above the waves.
And the same is true for us. No matter how bad the circumstances around us look. No matter how frightened we are. No matter how far away Jesus feels in that moment, He is there! And His resurrection power is at work in us, keeping us safe 'til the storm passes by.

How about it? A lesson on faith from a law of physics? Can I get an "Amen"?

Monday, November 02, 2015

Sanctuary of the Heart

In the LORD, who is my strength, in the LORD alone, will I place my trust. (selah)

Lately, I've been thinking about sanctuary.... I don't necessarily mean that part of a church where a group of believers gather to join in corporate worship. My thoughts are more along the lines of a refuge, a place of safety.

When I think of the meaning of that word, sanctuary, I see an image in my mind of a tiny bird, in a raging storm. Torrents of rain, howling winds, thunder and lightning, rage around the little bird as it sits, perched on a little shelf of stone, nestled into an jagged crack in the bare, stone face of a cliff. Above it, a scrap of a shrub clings to a root-hold somewhere in the depths of the fissure. A plant so small it is almost non-existent, it is still thickly foliaged enough to shelter the little inhabitant.

All my life, I have had people and places that were consistently sanctuaries for me. For years, I have been able to depend on the same people, the same places, to provide--or at least facilitate--a sense of peace and safety in my life. The past few years, however, God has asked me to open my hand and release those precious people and places into His care.

In 2013, I believed I heard God saying, "Hold tight to Me, because everything else is going to change." Then, in 2014, I believe He told me, "It's OK, I'm holding you for now." When He gave me those messages, I wasn't sure what they meant, only that both of them were sent as reassurance and encouragement.

I won't lie. There have been times that grief and longing for those places, the loneliness for those people, and the times we shared, weighs heavy on me. Like a thick, prickly wool shawl, soaked in cold water, and forcibly wrapped around my head, shoulders, and chest, the grief wraps around me--cold and damp, suffocating like heavy moisture on a humid day. If it were possible, the heaviness would squeeze the joy out of me. That's when I know where the heaviness came from, and I struggle my way out from under it. I ask my Papa to help me put on the robe of joy.

He has always been there when I call Him. He is faithful.

Never once did we ever walk alone.
Never once did you leave us on our own.
You are faithful, God, You are faithful.