Sunday, September 14, 2014

It Is Well - A Life Lesson

“Whatever my lot, thou has taught me to say
It is Well
It is Well
It is Well With My Soul”

As a teenager that loved History – the more I learned – the more I felt I had missed out on. I wanted to see history made. In my mind we had come so far in our evolution – casting prejudices aside, learning economic lessons, liberating the enslaved, and striving towards peace.  I wasn’t so deluded to think that there wouldn’t be issuesleft for my generation to deal with – and I understood the cost of those lessons as I was surrounded by elder men and women both in my church and family that carried in their life the lessons learned along the way.

It would be on Sunday nights at the church Hymnsings in Milton when the congregation could select the songs we sang - that you heard the truth from these enduring men and women.  They would share testimonies of deep substance and select a hymn for the congregation to sing in response. And as the congregation sang with all its might – it was as if we all understood the truth – as if we were right there on the road beside them.

A hymn sang frequently throughout my childhood was “It is Well.” Suffice to say this hymn remains one of my favorites to this day.  It wasn’t until I was in college that I learned the history of this hymn. The hymn was written in the 1870’s by Horatio Spafford a Chicago Lawyer who after the Chicago Fire found himself in financial ruin.  Horatio, his wife and four daughters were to travel to Europe in 1873.  However, Horatio had to send his family ahead as he was delayed due to zoning issues as a result of Chicago fire.  As his family crossed the Atlantic on the SS Ville du Havre there was a collision with a sailing ship the Loch Earn.  Horatio’s wife Anna survived to find herself having to send her husband a telegram that simply said “Saved Alone” Prior to this – Anna and Horatio had also buried a four year old son in 1871.  It was as Horatio crossed the Atlantic and came to the spot where his daughters perished that he penned the words to this hymn of tragedy and triumph.

In 1989, this hymn would take on special meaning for me.  As a college freshman, I returned home from college for Christmas break.  During that break my father had to be hospitalized. He was a diabetic and his doctor in an effort to not mince words, declared that my father had five years left to live and would never be eligible for a life saving kidney transplant. Suffice to say the next several years were filled with one medical mountain after another – congestive heart failure, diminishing eye sight, partial leg amputation and so on.  Through all of this my father held to his faith with a disciplined understanding of who God is regardless of what was going on around him and to him.

My father’s faith found its roots in a church full of great teachers - men and women who had lived through the Great Depression and World War I.  They taught the scripture and its enduring promises. My Father’s decision to become a Pastor came as no surprise to his Sunday School Teachers.  It was during those times of trial in the 1990’s that he stood on what he was taught. He had his moments of worry - mostly grounded in his concern that his two daughters would eventually lose him too soon.  At times my father would quench his worries with the words of a hymn that found its roots in the loss of four daughters.

“Though trials should come – let this blest assurance control. That Christ has regarded my helpless estate and hath shed His own blood for my soul.”  It is interesting here how the hymn writer addresses the issue of “control.”  In essence he relinquishes control and submits to the truth laid out in God’s word.  Let’s take Proverbs 3 for example.  We are told “My son, do not forget my teaching..keep my commands in your heart ….Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding..(Verses 1 and 5)”
It would have been so easy for Horatio and his wife to dwell on their loss and not look heavenward and move.  But they seemed to grasp Philippians 3 “…but one thing I do:  Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead…I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus”  Philippians 3: 13 -14.  In the years to follow, Horatio and Anna had two more daughters (Bertha and Grace). They eventually moved to Jerusalem to found a group, “American Colony” whose mission was to serve to the poor.

In 1991 my Father found himself the proud recipient of a kidney transplant. This transplant dramatically improved the quality of my Father’s life.  Despite the discouraging words of his physician in 1989 he found himself standing on God’s word and in three years in possession of a fulfilled promise.  In 1999, my father passed away due to an undetected brain aneurysm.  His kidney never failed him and was in good working order until that fateful day in August.

It would be in July of 2011 that this song would embed itself further into my heart, when my dear friend Idilio slipped into heaven after a valiant battle against cancer.  During his battle he said this, “For whatever the reason, I am not afraid of what is soon to come - sweet death. I am in such peace that it is almost scary. I hope and pray I am not being overly confident in myself but instead putting my hope in Christ alone. When the moment comes and I take my last breath, I am assured I will no longer see things with my earthly eyes but with my spiritual eyes…” Indeed with his last breathe (he could barely speak),surrounded by people who loved him dearly he was singing “It is well with my soul”

Sitting here today I am fully aware of the trials I and my generation have to face. ISIS/ISIL is slaughtering men, women and young children on a daily basis.  Syria has been turned upside down and Ebola is consuming West Africa.  Scotland is considering secession from Great Britain.  The Ukraine is being picked apart and has been in a state of unrest for months as Vladimir Putin tries to reunite Mother Russia. There seems to be so much going on that I can’t seem to stay on top of it all. But, regardless of what we have yet to withstand I know this for certain “Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say, It is Well, It is Well, IT IS WELL WITH MY SOUL!

Friday, September 12, 2014

Never Forget

Never Forget. Yesterday,  that phrase was peppered throughout your Facebook and Twitter feed.  You even see it on the bumpers of cars and trucks.  It is a call to action.  Every time I see one, especially when I am outside New York City, it reminds me of the unity we had as a country after that terrible day.  The cliche so fit back then - It was the worst of times....It was the best of times.  As funerals were on a never ending rotation here in New York City, the rest of the country were filling their towns with the American Flag.  They stood with us.

Now, some 13 years later "Never Forget" remains - but for New Yorkers, it is not a call to action.  It is a way of life.  Everyday in one form or another we are reminded of that day.  You leave for work and there are police in the subway station conducting random bag inspections.  You secure a spot on the train (not always a seat) and you glance up from your smartphone and you see a poster that instructs you "See Something, Say Something."  As you get off the train - the police presence can be thick.  Especially if your station is a major hub. And most assuredly if the nation is a level orange.

Commuting by bus, you can't escape the hole that remains in our skyline.  And despite the glorious rise of the Freedom Tower into the skyline - you still see one building and not two.  You might lay your eyes on the Hudson River that helped the terrorist navigate their way to the tip of Manhattan.  You might even be reminded of the vessel you took to cross the Hudson that day to get home.

Despite how communal 9-11 was to New Yorkers, it was also very individual.  There isn't a New Yorker who at this stage in their life hasn't answered the "Where were you?" least 50 times.  And our stories take us past places, puts us with people, and surrounds us with sounds.  Those places we still encounter from time to time. For some those people remain in their life.  And those sounds persist.  Oh, the sirens!  For months after 9-11 if I heard a siren my heart would leap and flutter.  And would be consulted if there were a bevy of sirens heard below.

After 9-11, I had a very difficult time getting back to normal.  My husband came to work with me the first day back.  I was on medication for several weeks thereafter. I even insisted that we drive to work.  And we did so for the next year.  During that time, I received two gifts of love - a red fleece blanket covered in hearts and a woven bamboo box full of items that would help one to relax. They were from friends and co-workers and were meant to encourage me and they did.  The box (with new contents) and the blanket are still in my bedroom.  I see them everyday and am reminded of the need to live on and move on.  Yet, I don't forget. I can't forget.  I live my life as a tribute to the lives cut short.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

A Few Lessons For My Daughters

The idea of raising daughters always freaked me out.  There is so much to teach them.  Today, as justice final came knocking on Ray Rices door - all I could think of was Janay Rice-Palmer.  She is someones daughter. And like any  mother - I would hate for my daughter to find herself in this position.   Sadly, none of us even knows what will happen to her next.  But, here is what I hope to teach my daughters.

1.   Respect yourself.
2.   Never let a man hit you.
3.   Always be able to take care of yourself.
4.   Don't make excuses for a man.
5.   Don't remain in an abusive relationship.
6.   Don't become anyone's scapegoat.
7.   Always tell the truth.
8.   Always be your best advocate.
9.   Respect in a relationship is mutual.  It is to flow equally and in both directions.
10. If you love your child, are in an abusive situation, the best thing you can do is to leave.
11. Stand up for yourself regardless of the cost
12. Our children learn from what we do. Act as they should act.
13. If there are red flags in your when you date, don't expect them to improve after married.
14. Don't ever be afraid to admit that you made a mistake.
15. Don't  allow your spouses bad behavior lead to your bad behavior.
16. If the person you need protected from is sharing your bed, you need to leave.
17. Love yourself.
18. If you can't be brave for yourself, be brave for your child.
19. Understand and embrace your worth.
20. Justice does come.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Are We Proud Of Ourselves?

We (the church) for decades have worked very hard to make our faith and our churches approachable.  Whether it be a mash up of church and Starbucks or elaborate family programs.  Maybe it is carefully crafting our Sunday service to be more seeker friendly.  Or maybe it is banning christianese from our vocabulary.  These past two weeks have proven we just don't get it.

As the pile on of Victoria Osteen has persisted the words whether carefully chosen or vile, the cause be it noble or otherwise - what the world outside the church saw was that we eat our own.  Cannibals if you will, failing to show the grace and love we profess exists in the body.  Will they know we are Christians by our love?  Is it "Blest Be The Tie That Binds?" Or the noose I justifiably hang you with?

Now to be be completely forthcoming, I too like Ms.Osteen, lived in a glass house. I wasn't a preachers wife, but a preachers daughter.  And I've had criticism leveled in my direction, and accusations that cut deep eventually severing relationships.  I was told "that sweater is a little sluttly" and "God isn't glorified with the drums in your song." etc.  I had to learn to forgive as a discipline (despite my heart conflict) before I was a freshman in high school.  Criticism stings like a bee. Not having a body of support to fall gracefully into when you have stumbled or are in pain is rattling.

I now live on the other side of that glass house and have learned that when you don't agree or your theology doesn't match up you simply need to make adjustments (this was an ugly hard lesson and i will tell you about it later). Maybe it is the need to walk away from a church. Maybe it is the need to agree to disagree.

Knowing some of those who are on the Victoria pile, I know you are lovers of the Lord, imperfect, and busy trying to live and work out your faith.  I don't judge you - I am looking at us as that Family of God. That place folks are to turn to.  And if I were looking in from the outside I would fail to see how the body of Christ differs from the politicians you would find on Meet The Press on Sunday morning as they rip apart the latest political figure to stumble.

Ms. Osteen isn't the first to have put her neck out there, to have it promptly chopped off.  Just a few weeks ago, the same thing was happening to Mark Driscoll.  And decades before that it was Sandi Patty, Amy Grant, Joyce Landorf etc.   This behavior has prevailed for decades.  For those of us who minister, small or large churches, we are always objects of criticism.  It is a sad occupational hazard.

These simple verses sum up how we should we should try to act.

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.  Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

Philippians 4:4-8 NIV

 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’  This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Matthew 22:36-40 NIV

Brothers and sisters, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against a brother or sister or judges them speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you—who are you to judge your neighbor?

James 4:11-12 NIV

I'll leave with this example, of how I wish we all could be.  When I was a young ministers daughter one of the most ostracizing ministry scandals (and there was more than one) was that of Jim Baker.  It was a terrible thing to watch.  My heart broke for his kids.  Maybe we can all learn a little something from how Billy Graham and his now departed wife Ruth Graham acted towards Jim Baker.  Having just returned from toilet duty Jim Baker was informed that Billy Graham had come to visit him in jail.  Billy Graham hug him, told Jim that he loved him and they had a visit that ended in prayer.

Not even 48 hours after Jim's release from Jail, Ruth contacted his halfway house requesting permission for Jim to join her family at church the next Sunday.  Permission was granted. That morning he arrived at church to be greeted by the Pastor, escorted inside to sit with the Graham family. After the service was over, Ruth invited Jim to Sunday dinner  As the meal came to a close Ruth caught a glimpse of Jim's "wallet."  It was a very worn envelope.  She excused herself to return with one of Billy Grahams wallets and gave it to Jim.  It is known, that the Grahams became his sponsor, purchased a car for him and even paid for his home for a time.   This is what those outside the church are looking to us to be. This is the type of person I aspire to be.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Recipe: Yellow Tomato and Feta Salad

Forgive me for posting another tomato recipe. I am a bit tomato obsessed.  I eat them every day.  However, right now...these beauties are in season.  The follow recipe is very simple yet delicious.


8 medium yellow tomatoes quartered
1/2 pound Feta cubed (Arahova is preferred)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1/3 cup white balsamic vinaigrette


1.  In a bowl combine the yellow tomatoes, salt, pepper, oregano and vinaigrette - lightly toss

2.  Add the cubed Feta cheese  - lightly toss and serve

Friday, September 5, 2014

Food Holidays - Diet and Delight

A year and a half ago, my Doctor had a firm and straightforward conversation with me regarding my health. The fact was that my bad cholesterol was off the charts and my blood pressure was nothing to be proud of.  Clearly, I needed to make some changes.  Up until then, I had this mentality that I was going to eat what I want because someday I will die.  And I wanted to die happy.  Well I seemed to be moving up my death date with my poor eating decisions.

Now, I need to explain that I have never been a real processed food eater.  I don't own any appliance that deep fries things.  I am more olive oil than butter. And I rarely eat white bread.  Also, I am diet coke freak.  Sugary sodas make my teeth hurt.  My issues were portion control, consistent snacking (don't think little bird - think Big Bird), and emotional eating.  I had a very intense relationship with Haagen Daz Chocolate Peanut Butter Ice Cream, and I knew it had to change.  

This was the hardest part - giving up the things I live the most.  I adore eating delicious food.  And I enjoy cooking.  Which of course leads to me loving to eat what I cook.  If I was to succeed, I had to find a way to adjust what I was eating while still enjoying it. So I did what anyone would do.  I increased my veggie/fruit intake, switched to leaner proteins, relied more heavily on protein for energy, and increased the amount of water I drank.

However, there was still the matter of those yummy plates that I loved to eat - that now needed to be enjoyed in moderation.  Bob Harper has a set of "Skinny Rules."  I found them very helpful.  One rule is to plan one splurge meal a week.  That was my solution.  For me, my day was Sunday.  I would lay out the best Sunday dinner for my family and fill up my indulgence tank. For a year I did this religiously.

As my dieting progressed my desire for different foods changed. So, my Sunday dinners got leaner and not so overly indulgent.  However, there were still things I craved from time to time. Most of these things were seasonal.  In the Summer it was my mothers ice cream topping, peach pies, and boardwalk fries. Fall, tempts me with everything apple - pie, crisp, dumplings.  In the Winter it is stuffed cabbage, beef stew, chicken and dumplings, and Christmas goodies.  Spring brings the berry - strawberry and blueberry everything.  And I like a pancake from time to time.

So, I decided to start planning my indulgences by creating Food Holidays.  I would allow myself an indulgence every now and then.  For example, I would make a Blueberry Crumb pie for a family dinner. This way, I could enjoy it and not have them tempting leftovers because everyone would finish it. Scheduling these holidays, allowed me to carefully watch what I eat in the meals leading up to my food celebration - thus limiting the guilt.  Celebrating food while protecting our health is a good thing.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

When Twins Aren't Twins Anymore

About two years ago, waiting at my daughters bus stop a mother approached me with a question. "Do you find twins at this age difficult?"  At this stage in the game, my girls were 5 and heading to First Grade. I responded by asking her why she was asking. Now, don't get me wrong. I am not being snobby here - I was just surprised. You see this mother, was amazing. She had four children ranging from a Freshmen in college to a 3 year old.  And her household functioned like a well oiled machine.  She explained that a co-worker of hers was perpetually complaining about the unique hardships of raising twins.  Come to find out, those twins were teenagers.

Culyer Smith -

In my world, once my twins could walk, talk, feed and pee (in a pot) the unique challenges of twin parenting dwindled significantly.  As I began to see it, we were simply a family of four.  The challenges were the same.  The cost for school supplies and clothes were the same.  The tug and pull between each child ensuring that they get equal time and assuring that you love them both the same.  The time constraints caused by homework and extra-curricular events were the same.

It can become very easy to blame our insanity on the fact that we are parents to twins. In fact since the day they were born our insanity was directly connected to the sleeplessness and the never ending needs of our twins.  For a time, yes we were the wrecked parents of twins.  But, a time came to transition.  In the world of parenting, things never do calm down.  But, they get easier to manage.  In fact the older the twins get the more they help and the more they take on.

Do I understand where my friends co-worker is coming from? Yes.  In fact, I often misplace my keys and cell phone and automatically assume my girls moved them.  Do I agree with her coworker?  Not at all.   Going to back to my lost cell phone and keys - I misplaced them 9 times out of 10. We are simply a family of four with a mother who would loose her right arm if it didn't already come attached. That being said, we will one day be able to moan about being the parents of twins - when we get hit with two college tuition bills in the same year.  Here's praying they don't decide to get married in the same year.