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What’s the Plan?

Blog by Associate Carol Lemelin, OPA

In Jessamyn West’s Friendly Persuasion, Quaker farmer Jess Birdwell wonders — as he takes flowers to a funeral for an orphaned boy who had been beaten to death by his foster father — if this simple gesture is the whole reason he was born?  And, in doing so, has he fulfilled God’s plan for him?

That passage has stuck with me for years.  After all, how do we really know what God’s plan for each of us is? What makes us think there is one?

Oh, we can string events together and build a broad outline, but no one can guess what the truth is.

Wise parent that He is, God has given us all the tools and guidelines it takes to follow and then sets us free.   But it seems too scary out there on that limb all alone!

One of Jesus’ goals was to convince people that God is ever present and no one is actually alone. With Jesus as our companion, things become clearer – not less scary maybe – but clearer.

All the great adjectives, phrases and descriptions of good, honest, loving people apply to Jesus.  He was compassionate and tolerant, but he was not a fool as the moneychangers in the Temple discovered.

He drew people to him because he smiled and looked right at them, acknowledging their existence, which didn’t happen often to the poor. Still doesn’t, by the way. He went wherever he wanted and fit in wherever that was — because he was absolutely sure the love of the Father was with him.

We have both the love of the Father and the companionship of the Son.  We can’t worry about what will define our purpose; we must live our lives in Christ, making every encounter count for something. We have to learn to forgive ourselves when we mess up and trust in the loving grace of God to strengthen us to persevere.

Posted in Associate Blog, News

IMAGINE A PRAYER

 

Blog by Associate Michelle Gray

On my mantle there sits a group of black metal letters; standing about three inches high, they spell out “imagine.”

Not only are they there because imagine is one of my favorite words (like Louisa May Alcott, I like good strong words that mean something); they’re there to remind me to pray.

You see, I always have believed John Lennon’s song “Imagine” to be a kind of prayer. That might sound unconventional, even controversial, but bear with me.

The song begins:

Imagine there’s no heaven

It’s easy if you try

No hell below us

Above us only sky

Imagine all the people living for today

Imagine there’s no countries

It isn’t hard to do

Nothing to kill or die for

And no religion too

Imagine all the people living life in peace… 

Lennon gets right to the crux of the things that divide us, the things that make us appear different from one another, the things that separate us into groups of us and them. But if there were no countries, there would be no borders, no need for walls, no need for wars, no us and them, only we, living life in peace.

And no religion too…” Here is where it gets controversial, but again, bear with me.

When we consider religion to be particular systems of faith and worship, we can see our differences come in the ways we worship, the books we hold as sacred, and how we view our relationship with God. What the major religions have in common is a sense of community and what we were taught as “The Golden Rule” — to treat others as we would have them treat us.

Focus on that and the differences among Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus and others fade to the background. Again, there is no longer us and them, only we, living life in peace.

The next verse:

Imagine no possessions

I wonder if you can

No need for greed or hunger

A brotherhood of man

Imagine all the people sharing all the world

The Bible is full of references to material possessions and the obstacles they can present to our relationship with God and others. We want, we want, we want, and we feel we have to keep up with the Kardashians. And once again we are separated; into the haves and the have nots. But in a world where there are no possessions, there would be no haves, no have nots, no us and no them, only we, sharing all the world.

And the chorus:

You may say I’m a dreamer

But I’m not the only one

I hope some day you’ll join us

And the world will be as one

And that is my prayer, that this is not just a dream, that some day, the world will be as one, in peace.

Posted in Associate Blog, News

CARRY EACH OTHER’S BURDENS

Blog by Associate Colette Parker

The past five days have been emotional.

It all started with the news of the death of my friend, Don Bishop, who also happened to serve my small township community as police chief for more than five years and as a police officer for more than three decades.

It was the first thing my husband shared with me when I walked through the door on Ash Wednesday evening. Then came the flurry of news reports  — former police chief found dead in his home, police are investigating the death, it appears to be the result of a gunshot wound, it appears to be the result of a single self-inflicted gunshot.

My reaction: Noooo! I can’t believe this! My beloved Bishop (as I called him) was one of the most jovial people that I have known. Yes – he had life struggles (who doesn’t?). Oh my God! – what about his wife and children?

Full stop: “Lord, help. Please embrace his wife and children in your loving arms. Be with them in their sorrow and grief. Give them the comfort, strength, and courage that they need. Help them to know that they are not alone.”

Next: a bit of calm washed over me. Then, the question arose:  Why?

Trying to answer that took some processing. I concluded that while some of my possible answers to that question made sense, I would never really know why – I chose to accept the fact that I may never know.

What I do know is that he saw no other way out of his situation, that he bore a burden that became too heavy for him to carry.

Do I wish that something could have been done to lighten his load? Yes.

I’m going to miss his smiling face,  his voice on the other end of the phone, his sense of humor, his no-nonsense approach, his determination to protect those he loved and cared about. I am going to miss his very being.

Lesson: Life can be hard. We can’t see a person’s inner suffering. It behooves us to show compassion and to be kind – it could help lighten someone’s load.

I have resolved to look for ways to help lighten the load of at least one person each day. Will you join me?

(Note: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that suicide is the tenth-biggest cause of death in the United States—deadlier than traffic accidents and homicide.)

Posted in Associate Blog, News

Keep it Civil

Blog by Associate Colette Parker

In case you haven’t noticed, there are some people vying to become the next president of the United States.

How could you NOT, you might ask.

I don’t know, I might answer (lol).

I wanted to get that laugh in, hoping a little levity will help during this contentious time in American politics.

I know things can get ugly – name-calling, nasty barbs, harsh criticism, etc. – but abusive or venomous language does not have to be the norm. We can choose a different path by reviving civility in a time of deepening political divisions.

We can choose to accept the fact that not everyone is going to agree with our political views. We can choose to disagree without disrespect. We can choose to use respectful dialogue, which can translate into modeling the Golden Rule – recognizing  the respective dignity of others.

Anyone who knows me, knows that I can be as passionate as the next person about my opinions. But I hope they also know that I am willing to listen intently to someone who does not share my opinion.  I listen intently because I believe engaging in dialogue goes beyond exchanging views – it requires a sharing of reasons for the perspective; it requires truth-seeking.

Can the exchange be stormy? Yes. Disagreements can be unsettling. But they don’t have to be toxic, if we come from a place of integrity and common respect with a willingness to listen.

Opinions are important, but how we express them is almost always more significant than what we say.

Paulo Coelho (a Brazilian lyricist and novelist) puts it this way: The world is changed by your example not by your opinion.

What kind of example will you set when expressing your political views?

Posted in Associate Blog, News

LET YOUR LIGHT SHINE

Blog by Associate Colette Parker

I don’t know about you, but there are times when I need some inspiration to propel me to keep moving forward.

Whether it’s the winter blues, our chaotic culture, the turbulent political climate, family turmoil, or something else causing confusion, discouragement, desperation, pain, sadness, or fatigue that makes our world seem like a dark place, we must always remember that there is light to be found if we look for it.

I used the word “inspiration” (instead of motivation) in the opening line because, for me, inspiration stirs the heart, mind, and spirit. It is usually during that “stirring” process that my passion and purpose is awakened – fueling me to move forward, forcing me to take account of my internal landscape.

Self-reflection (whether voluntary or involuntary) tends to take me to a place where I realize that the essence of who I am – the shining seed of my authentic self, the inner light that shines brightly – is enough to help me get through the darkness.

My experience has taught me that I might not be able to change what is happening and that I can’t control other people, but I can choose to handle adversity with grace, courage, and joy – I can choose to be a source of inspiration for others.

As a Christian, I take seriously the charge to bring light to dark places — to look for opportunities to lift up someone else. By allowing my own light to shine, I can help other people recognize the light that is within them.

If you are looking for some simple wisdom on how to be light in the world, I offer this inspirational quote from an unknown author:

Use your voice for kindness,

your ears for compassion,

your hands for charity,

your mind for truth,

and your heart for love.

Posted in Associate Blog, News