Boston 6.6.20

In this climate of uncertainty and tension, I’ve asked myself, “What can I do? How can I help?” This photo series was my unexpected answer — a way to share the voices of others beyond my own.

These are some of the faces I saw and voices I heard in Boston. Hope mingled with gravitas. Pain heightened by silence. Innocence pointing to change.

Through it all, Boston is resilient. Boston is strong.

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Evan: “We need to uplift and support no matter what because that’s how we get where we want to be.”

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“It’s hot, and what’s one breeze going to do for a five-hour shift?”

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Joni Lee Rossi of Back Bay Staffing Group: #smallbusinessrocksseries

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The crew of Boston Board Up: “It’s been a long day… We boarded up a church and a Shake Shack across the street.”

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Joe: “Never give up the opportunity to talk with an interesting person… I’ve done my part. It’s up to you guys now.”
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Otis Franklin Thompson Jr. with his urban memoir “Crack Under Pressure”

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“Now we can officially say we’re male models.”

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The new normal

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My chest constricts
in a tell-tale sign that I am processing
emotion
and it’s difficult to label
which emotion it is
because I find myself immersed
in a world that exudes
both joy and loss
I see the uplifting stories
where humanity draws together
in support of the greater good
only to be followed by
the onslaught of
negative, overwhelming news
that comes at me nonstop
with no clear certainties
I am rooting for humanity
and all the good we can accomplish
yet I feel such frustration
at those who sow discord and fear
passing judgment
with no willingness to listen to others
We talk about the new normal
but nothing will be normal again
and maybe that’s okay
The lessons we have learned
about resiliency and compassion
sorrow and grit
responsibility and weariness
are anything but usual or expected
and perhaps they were lessons
we didn’t want to learn
But we have a choice now
to give into anxiety and hopelessness
or to focus on the good
to listen and develop
to cherish what we once took for granted
to look forward to what is to come
with hope and expectation
knowing we have something greater ahead

YouTube, say what??

So, my sister and I did a thing, proving this time of self-quarantine and social distancing doesn’t have to be wasted.

This morning, we recorded a cover of “Psalm 23 (I Am Not Alone)” by People & Songs. Then, being the enneagram types 3 and 8 we are, we created a YouTube channel where we could upload the video.

Without further ado, here’s the video. We pray it’s a blessing to you all in these chaotic times.

My thoughts on coronavirus

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If you’re like me, you’re working from home, trying to not to overact to the onslaught of news and panic over Tom Brady leaving the Patriots.

Just kidding. Sort of.

In reality, most of us are experiencing a surreal, unprecedented situation of “social distancing” and “self-quarantine”, thanks to the novel coronavirus known as COVID-19. Countries, governments, businesses, venues, parents and individuals have all had to react to this new threat — and some have done this more gracefully than others.

I know countless others have weighed in with best practices for working from home, spiritual advice to fight the fear, or tips on how to wash your hands. But I simply want to relay what I’ve learned in the past few days.

It is well
First and foremost, I have no idea what I would do if I didn’t have the peace and hope that come only from God. Despite all the craziness and fear that is rampant in the world right now, I know I can trust God. Why? How? Because He’s my savior, and He’s never failed me. I’ve been through ups and downs, and through it all I can say, “It is well.”

Keep in touch
I’m blessed with the option to work from home, and I don’t take that for granted. So many others don’t have that option, and it can be scary to face a world with so many unknown variables.

But if you are staying home, it can be a challenge to keep yourself from going stir-crazy. Call your friends. Send a text. Like a dog photo on Instagram. Have a video lunch with your coworkers. I can say from experience that a 30-minute virtual lunch with coworkers will make your day. We’re all in this together, so support one another and be considerate.

Side note: Kudos to all the parents out there, because I know this is so much more difficult for you all. Take advantage of the museums, zoos and aquariums that are offering virtual tours.

Keep a routine
I’m imitating my usual morning routine and being careful to not sleep in just because I work from home. I read my Bible, get changed and make some coffee.

But instead of spending an hour in traffic today, I got to walk around my block in the brisk, sunny morning before “going to work” at my home desk. The birds were chirping, and as my soul was rejuvenated and renewed, I found myself humming “How Great is our God” and thanking Him for another day. That walk was a great start to my day and put me in a fresh, “I can do this” mood.

After work, take another walk. This will help your mind distinguish from the workday and your evening chill time.

Take care of yourself
Do some yoga, pushups and squats. Lift some weights. Eat healthy. Drink water. Stop mindlessly scrolling through social media or reading every news alert. Let your mind take a break from the chaos. Read a book. Write a book. Do Sudoku. Wash your hands. But don’t give in to fear.

For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind. — 2 Timothy 1:7

mindful poetry

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Poetry, like the mind, is fluid
It bends and weaves, sneaking its way through a thought
and meandering to the next
But sometimes it lingers and dwells on one thought,
one intriguing or complex or frustrating or hopeful or reluctant idea
that it just cannot let go
because letting go would mean moving on and forgetting it
and this thought is too important or painful or desperate or beautiful to let go
But there, just like that, it is done
it moved on to the next thing
the next thought
the next sentence
the next plan
the next adventure
What would happen if the poetry stopped
if the words lost their meaning
and the thoughts became jibberish
Is my mind poetry
is poetry my mind — captured with words
Poetry, like the mind, is fluid and real.

Peace in the storm

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This story starts with a bump. While it could be categorized as a metaphorical bump in the road, this bump is real — small, but real. And it is located in my right breast.

I found the bump on my own and visited my doctor. She believed it was benign, but suggested an ultrasound to be sure. Eventually, I was scheduled for a biopsy.

Facing the possibility of cancer was almost too far-fetched for me to believe. Oddly enough, cancer wasn’t what I was most concerned about. It was the more tangible concept of the upcoming needle biopsy, because I hate needles.

My mind raced with realistic and unrealistic thoughts and scenarios, even in my dreams. Above all, I tried my hardest to push away the sneaking fear and anxiety that threatened to seep into my thoughts. Like my dad said, I had done what was in my control, and worrying wouldn’t change anything.

And he was right. I trusted God, and I knew that He wouldn’t be surprised by the outcome of the biopsy. I might sound naive to some people, but I knew that whatever the diagnosis was, it would be part of my story and I would use it to glorify God.

The day of my biopsy came. My mom and sister drove me to the facility and sat with me in the outer waiting room, supporting me with their presence and prayers. My wonderful biopsy buddies meant more to me than they will ever know.

But they couldn’t go with me into the dimly lit room where I would be having the biopsy. I was on my own.

But I wasn’t alone. Yes, the doctor and nurse were there, and they were both so kind and supportive. More than that, I knew Jesus was with me, in the same beautiful way I had experienced during my ACL surgery years before.

As I lay down on the medical bed, I stared up at a skylight picture they had over one of the ceiling lights. Some might have deemed the image cheesy. To me, it was beautiful. It showed a bright blue sky with vibrant pink cherry blossom branches. And as I looked up at those blossoms, I felt God say to me, “Just like I’ve clothed those flowers, and just as I’ve taken care of the birds that live in the branches, I’ll take care of you.”

I already told you I hate needles. This was a big needle. The doctor walked me through each step as he injected the local anesthesia in three different places, and proceeded to extract four samples of my breast tissue, each extraction punctuated with a loud, forceful clicking sound of the needle. And I was completely at peace the entire time. It wasn’t false bravado. It was the peace of God that passes all understanding.

“And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:7)

A few days after the procedure, I received a phone call at work. “I have good news, if you can tell me your birth date.” Oh, I can do that. “It’s completely benign.”

I sighed, laughed and cried with relief, all at the same time, the fears I had repressed evaporating with the news.

I could joke around and say, if anything, this process helped me get over my fear of needles. But, in reality, it accomplished so much more than that. When I’m worried, afraid, doubtful or scared, I remember the moment when I stared at those pink cherry blossoms and felt saturated in God’s peaceful presence.

I am incredibly blessed and grateful, because I know not all stories end up like mine. It can be easy to minimize my situation because the bump turned out to be benign. But that doesn’t devalue the process I went through. It doesn’t negate the very real emotions I experienced. And it doesn’t take away the peace I had in those unsettling moments of waiting in the unknown, in the unspoken what if.

Regardless of what you’re going through, you can rest assured that God is with you. You might feel like your situation is inconsequential to what others are going through, or it might feel immensely overwhelming. Whatever you’re facing, know that you don’t have to be afraid, hopeless or anxious. You can be at peace.

“Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10)

Cling to God

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The present

Detached. Distant. Determined in the disconnect, even though I know I should draw closer to Him.

Stagnant. Stuck. Stubborn in my status quo of “doing fine”, even though I’m stalled and stumbling.

Let go, He whispers.

“I can’t,” my headstrong side quickly responds, while my quieter side asks, “Why not?”

Because letting go hurts. Because I don’t even know what it is I’m supposed to let go.

I know I trust Jesus. I believe in His name and the peace, security and love it brings. I know I can depend on that name.

So, why am I holding back? What am I holding back?

And then He whispers again, with biting clarity: Intimacy.

I want you to cling to me as Ruth clung to Naomi. Cling to me.

The backstory

Months ago, I was reading through the book of Ruth. I’ve always loved Ruth’s story of determination, obedience and faithfulness. When reading, I was struck again by her loyalty to her mother-in-law, Naomi, and I wrote down some notes on my phone. There they sat untouched — until now, when I had the above conversation with myself and God.

So here I am, using the notes with which I intended to encourage others to encourage myself. Hopefully, they’ll encourage you, too.

And again they wept together, and Orpah kissed her mother-in-law goodbye. But Ruth clung tightly to Naomi. (Ruth 1:14 NLT)

As Ruth clung to Naomi, she spoke the beautiful words of “Where you go, I will follow. Where you live, I will live. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God.” (Ruth 1:16-18 NLT)

Ruth probably experienced ups and downs just like we do. She had experienced marriage, widowhood, maybe the longing for a child. Who knows what she had to look forward to in Moab, but I’m sure her life had its own familiar status quo.

But something in Ruth must not have been satisfied, because she chose to cleave to Naomi.

I love the word “cleave”. This one word can have two separate, seemingly disparate meanings:

  1. To sever, divide or sharply separate something.
  2. “To adhere firmly” to something; loyal; unwavering.

When Ruth chose to cleave to Naomi, she demonstrated both meanings in a single choice. She made the conscious decision to cleave herself from her former way of life, while cleaving to Naomi and the God Naomi served. Ruth abandoned the land that held familiarity, death and disappointment, and she looked ahead to a life of both uncertainty and hope.

Likewise, we need to make a conscious decision to cleave to the uncertain, but hopeful path of God — turning away from the former things that hold us back and looking ahead to greater things. The way to do that is through Jesus, who is the way, the truth and the life.

This is more than a fleeting decision. This is life changing, and it should affect my daily decisions and actions. How do I consciously and unconsciously live for God? Do I cleave to Him, love Him with all my heart, soul, mind and strength? Do I allow that love to be evident in the way I live and conduct myself?

Obey His commands, listen to His voice, and cling to Him. (Deut. 13:4b NLT)

And His voice says: Cleave to me, and I will cleave away the impurities and unnecessary strings that are holding you back. Cleave to me, not to this world. Cleave to me, and cleave yourself from the snares and distractions of this world. I will help you.

The future

“Show love to the Lord your God by walking in His ways and holding tightly to Him.” (Deut. 11:22 NLT)

Finish the race

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“Finishing is better than starting. Patience is better than pride.” (Ecclesiastes 7:8)

While reading this verse in Ecclesiastes this morning, I couldn’t help but think of Paul’s words in Hebrews 12:1:

“Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us.”

Finishing a race is one of the most satisfying feelings — the rush of endorphins, the pride of accomplishment, the relief from pain, the exhaustion from hard work. But actually running the race is taxing, draining and tiring — both physically and mentally.
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Some people might tackle long marathons, others might take on a 5K, and others might face a mile-long race. Some runners have years of training, with a solid knowledge and awareness for the minutiae of the race. Others are new to running, and it might take time and hard work to get faster.

If runners are diligent and patient with training, they will improve. But to succeed in these races, the runners need more than just physical training. The runner must possess a certain mindset — a resolve to finish, no matter what. Dedication. Perseverance. Motivation. Purpose.

In the same way, our spiritual race requires this same resilience and patience. We can’t afford to be nonchalant during our preparation or when we’re running our race. Paul recognized this in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27:

Don’t you realize that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize? So run to win! All athletes are disciplined in their training. They do it to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize. So I run with purpose in every step.”

We can’t go into this spiritual race that is life without ensuring our minds are fixed with purpose on the ultimate prize and goal. We need to set our eyes on God, as we trudge up difficult hills, coast along flat terrain, gasp for breath, stumble on roots and rocks, pass by other runners, and hit our stride.

So much of the battle with running takes place in the mind. If you convince yourself you can’t take another breath and need a walking break, your body will follow. If you encourage yourself to take another step and another one, your body will respond. If you tell yourself, “I can do all things through Christ which strengthens me”, you’ll find your resolve. If you focus on the finish line, you’ll reach it.

It might not be a smooth journey and we might not look pretty at the end, but we’ll know that we made it.

“Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize.” (Philippians 3:13-14)

But it would be silly to think we could do finish this race on our own — through our own strength and resolve. Yes, so much of our journey depends on what we think, how we respond, and what we run toward. But we don’t need to rely on our strength alone, because we have the best coach and running buddy a runner could have — God.

The Lord gives power to those who are tired and worn out; He offers strength to the weak. Even youths will become exhausted, and young men will fall and give up. But those who wait on the Lord will find new strength. They will fly high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint.” (Isaiah 40:29-31)

God runs this race with us. He supports us when we think we can’t move. He provides hope when we’re facing an intimidating hill. He offers refreshing water when we need a drink. He encourages, advises and cheers us on. With Him, we can finish the race.

“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful. And now the prize awaits me — the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give me on the day of His return.” (2 Timothy 4:7)

Beyond grateful

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Grateful. That’s the word that seems to best describe me at this point in my life.

I’m grateful because God’s mercies and blessings are so awe-inspiring, generous and beautiful.

I’m grateful because His love is unfailing and His timing is perfect — even when it might sometimes feel slow on our end.

I’m grateful for His presence that soothes, encourages, uplifts and transforms, and I’m grateful that His presence is available to anybody at any time.

I’m grateful because He looked into my heart and saw my desire for Him to use me to encourage others and glorify Him.

And I’m beyond grateful that He made a way for that desire and prayer to be met. His answer to my prayer: An opportunity to write as a contributor for moretolifetoday.net.

Click here for the link.

To see and be seen

The verb “to see” has an assortment of meanings. We can perceive something with our eyes. We can grasp something mentally and understand it. We can have an experience. We can watch, examine or notice something. We can visit or accompany somebody. All of these Merriam-Webster definitions refer back to the first verb — to see.

But what does it mean to see someone?

To truly see someone is to see who they are. To understand what makes that person the way they are. To understand what they enjoy, what they dislike, what makes them laugh. To see their pain and to see their joy. To know their hopes and aspirations. To know their fears and doubts.

Realistically, however, there are few people who truly see us for who we are — both the good parts and the bad. We might even sometimes feel that nobody can really understand what we’re going through because nobody sees us, nobody knows us. But God knows, and He sees us.

Hagar probably experienced similar feelings in Genesis 16. She was running away, scared and abused, and she eventually finds herself in the desert, thirsty and alone. And that’s when God hears her cry of distress and meets her.

“The angel of the Lord found Hagar beside a spring of water in the wilderness, along the road to Shur. The angel said to her, ‘Hagar, Sarai’s servant, where have you come from, and where are you going?'”

God knew perfectly well where Hagar had been and what she was running away from. He knew details of her own life that she herself couldn’t fully understand. He knew her past, and He knew her future. But He met her in the present, and He revealed just how much He saw and knew about her and about her future son, Ishmael.

“Thereafter, Hagar used another name to refer to the Lord, who had spoken to her. She said, ‘You are the God who sees me.'”

El-roi — The God who sees me.

He sees me. He sees my struggles. He sees my desires, my hopes, my joys. He sees me on my good days. He sees me on my bad days. And yet, His love toward me never fails and never wavers. He knows what makes me tick, and He created me to work a certain way.

God created us as unique individuals, each with certain talents and gifts. He saw us and knew us before we were even born.

“You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion, as I was woven together in the dark of the womb. You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed. How precious are your thoughts about me, O God. They cannot be numbered.” — Psalm 139:15-17

He sees us. But it’s more than God seeing us.

After God spoke to Hagar, she referred to Him as El-roi, as the God who saw her. But she continued to speak. “She also said, ‘Have I truly seen the One who sees me?'”

Hagar’s encounter with God wasn’t like one of those two-way mirrors you might find in an interrogation room, where one side can watch someone on the other side without being seen.

To see and be seen.

God revealed Himself to Hagar. He allowed Himself to be seen by her. She caught a glimpse of who He was — of His knowledge, power, love and mercy — and that affected her perspective of God. Her experience of being seen by God — and of seeing Him, in turn — changed her life.

God sees us. He knows us. But more than that, He allows us the chance to see Him. Now, God as a spirit is invisible, and no man has seen God (1 John 4:12). But we can know Him. We can can live day-by-day in His presence. We can experience Him. We can see His blessings. And we can know that He won’t stop loving us, regardless of what He sees in us.