The Log and the Splinter

When I see on the news or hear people within my circle lamenting incidents of Islamaphobia, I have to scratch my head. There is a principle that Jesus taught, and it does well to keep society balanced. The principle is, “First remove the log from your own eye, then you will see clearly to remove the splinter from someone else’s eye.” You can see the humor in the statement. Someone running around with a huge log stuck in their head knit-picking about someone else with a tiny splinter in their face has a problem with denial and reality.

I am aware that many Middle Eastern people are not Muslim. Large populations of Arabic peoples are of varied religions or no religion at all. Some are Christian, of varying sects; some are Hindu, Buddhist, or follow regional and tribal religions; some are secularists, espousing no religion; but most are Muslim of varying degrees. Some Muslims are in name only; others are radical fanatics, and so on. It is the same in Christianity. Some sects are Christian in name only. Some are obviously fanatical, such as the KKK, for example, who espouse some elements of Christianity while in truth practicing a rather warped, garbled, and ungodly doctrine, cloaked, ostensibly, in Christianity.

For the most part, the era of the KKK reigning terror on society is gone. Many good and authentic Christian people helped bring about an end to that era. Simply not participating in the actions of the KKK was not enough. True Christianity demanded that we as a people stand against it and help bring it to an end. The same was true of Hitler’s regime. He claimed to be operating out of some form of Christianity; however, regardless of what he claimed, he obviously did not follow the teachings of Christ. Many true Christian young men died on the battlefields to help bring an end to Hitler’s reign of terror.

Now, the terrorism that we face is the radical elements of Islam. So when episodes of terrorism occur in which certain elements of Islam are on display in all of their murderous, horrendous gory, and certain elements of that culture are lamented as being biased against, I have to swallow pretty hard.

In a culture where deception, lying, and propaganda are used as means of presenting a front to the public in the hopes of gaining converts (the truth of that culture and religion would make people run); in a culture where “honor killings” are permitted and endorsed; in a culture where beheadings, mutilations and terror are condoned, used as weapons of war, and are often considered as ‘bonus packages’ in recruiting warriors; in a culture where  unnamed horrors are inflicted upon captives, enemies, and non-combatants, ummm….let’s see….where terror and mayhem get you into “heaven”, hhmmm…Can someone steeped in this culture have a legitimate gripe? I don’t think so. Their complaining of not being liked and accepted is tantamount to someone who kidnaps and dismembers children and then complains about the neighbor who spanks his/her child.

That’s not so say that we as a country do not have areas that need improvement. We certainly do have a few splinters in our face; but Islamaphobia is not one of them.

This brings me to the word “religion”. What is religion? It is a construct made by human minds that has taken bits and pieces of the Truth (the Great I AM, Creator of Heaven and Earth, and the One True God) and built an ideology that appeases the particular culture where that construct has been built. In other words, the Great God Jehovah, who came in the Person of Jesus Christ, is beyond human ability to understand. However, He has revealed Himself to us in various ways, including through His Holy Spirit, the Bible, and through the lives, writings, and words of those who are faithful to Him (the word of their testimony).

Because He is so big, and beyond human comprehension, humans often create what we think we know of Him and construct a framework that says, “Okay, this is the God we serve. He wants us to do this and this, etc. and to act in certain ways.” This framework is what we call religion, and those who agree with that framework follow the same religion. Unfortunately, throughout history, religious zeal and fanaticism has often forced a particular framework of religion (ideology) onto others, using the sword, shame, imprisonment, ostracization, etc. In effect, in trying to please God by following what they think they know of Him, zealots and fanatics go around terrorizing those who don’t follow Him correctly, in their opinion, and end up doing the opposite of what He is…killing, maiming, terrorizing in His name…to force people to follow a benevolent and merciful God…hmmm. I see a problem with this.

Any religion that through “honor killings”, “blood atonement”, or any such practice that purges their society of people who challenge the tenants of that religion cannot be a religion based upon the One True God. An honor killing is the legal or condoned murder of a woman in Islam because the woman shamed or dishonored the family or a member of the family by violating a precept of the family’s religious practices. Honor killings are usually carried out by the woman’s husband, father, brothers, sons, and other male relatives. Honor killings are typically justified because the woman has refused to enter an arranged marriage, she has been accused of being in a relationship that is not condoned or approved of by the family, she is accused of having sex outside of marriage, she has been a victim of rape, she has been accused of dressing inappropriately, or she has renounced her family’s faith (i.e. become a Christian, etc.). Some victims of honor killings are male, but this is a rare occurrence. In most cases, a male who has violated a precept of the religious community is ostracized or perhaps imprisoned, or his wife and children are taken from him and given to someone else who is a faithful follower of the religion.

In early Mormonism, “blood atonement” was a similar practice. It teaches that the blood of Jesus is not enough to remove someone’s guilt, and so that person who has violated a precept of the religious law must be killed, and his/her blood shed in a manner similar to a lamb being slaughtered. Most of the time, these killings were done in a “sacrificial” manner, such as the person being held down, and his/her throat slit. Often, the victims were women who refused to practice “plural marriage” (polygamy) or were men who refused to participate in various tenants of the religion. In modern days, blood atonement killings are rarely carried out and typically occur only in certain sects of fundamental (radical) Mormonism. I personally know a family who was a victim of such. But, in this case, the family members were shot and killed, not having their throats cut. They were guilty of leaving the religion and were required to “pay for their sin.” They had actually not committed any kind of a crime that would require that they receive the death penalty. In Christianity, the reason someone would receive a sentence of death is just the opposite. The “death penalty” is practiced only when the guilty party has committed an actual crime against someone. Usually the death penalty is reserved only for murder. In Christianity, the perpetrators of honor killings and blood atonement killings would be the ones to receive the death penalty—not the victims of such plots.

Culture(s) in which ungodly religious constructs are nurtured can become more and more horrific and off-based, resulting in outright barbarism. The precepts of God are constant, but the human application of such precepts can become horribly bent. In such cases, true Christianity steps in and says, “Hold on. You are no longer allowed to force people to do such and such, neither are you allowed to punish people for not doing such and such.” An example for us in this country could be the issue of homosexuality. For those who espouse it, they are not allowed to force others to participate in it; neither are they allowed to persecute those who choose to abstain from such practices. We, as a culture, are not forced to do it, neither are we punished for not doing it. In cultures whose religious constructs have gone so far, those who do not participate in a certain behavior are punished.

As horrific and off-base as some of these religious systems can get, not all of the precepts of those religions are false. This is a fact that often perplexes people. Why are some tenets of various “other religions” similar to tenets of Christianity? The answer is simple: Because there is only One True God who made heaven and earth, you will find elements of His truth in all religions, and among all peoples in all regions of the earth. Elements of His Truth are even found in humanist and communist teachings (belief systems that espouse varying degrees of atheism). Why is that? Remember that religion is a human construct of what humans think they know about the One True God, but the construct is faulty because of two factors: human ambition and doctrines of demons.

Human factors run the gamut from accidental oversight to gross corruption with obvious and knowing violations of the Truth. Additionally, demonic influence can take the Truths of God and pervert them so shamefully as to accomplish the exact opposite of what God actually intended, thus creating major diversions from the Truth and still cloaking these diversions in religion. One of early Christianity’s main influences, the Apostle Paul, warned followers of Christ about doctrines of demons and the garbled mess they can make of truth (I Timothy 4), blinding people and seducing them to follow the untruths of “religious construct”, rather than the Truth of the Living God, the One and Only Creator God Who came in the Person of Jesus Christ. Only one religion is founded on the Rock—all other religions of the world have bits and pieces of gravel in it (pieces of the rock, but not the whole rock). A solid rock is vastly different than a bed of gravel. One is stable, one is shifty, depending on where the weight is applied.

Sadly, as “Christianity” becomes more of a religion, it also slides further and further from the Truth of its Founder, Jesus Christ. Christianity, wrested from the headship of Christ, and placed into the hands of humans, twisted with doctrines from hell, becomes more and more of a religious construct, with fewer elements of the pure Truth. In the beginning of the Church, believers in Christ were called Followers of the Way, because Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life; however, once followers diverge from the Way, the Truth, and the Life, then “Christianity” just becomes another religion (a construct of bits and pieces of the truth).

Because of the corruption of truth, we have seen throughout history, and still see today, warring religious factions, so called “holy wars”, “jihad”, etc. This is because those who follow one construct of truth want to force everyone else to follow that same construct. In order to do so, they must conquer through war, brainwash through ideology, and bring into submission those who do not subscribe to that particular ideology.

But, there is hope. There is such a thing as pure religion. It is found in the Living person of Jesus Christ. It is found in the Great I Am. In this pure religion, there is Truth, there is a Way, and there is a Life where the Holy Spirit reveals, guides, cleanses, and inspires. This is an arena free of “human religious construct”, but few there be that find it. Why is finding this pure religion so difficult, and why do so many people not find it? The answer is again simple—to do so, they must give up the “religious construct” that they so cherish. They must give up man’s religion to follow Christ. Man’s religion promises so much, and it is hard to put down. Man’s religions promise “virgins”, “paradise”, even your own planet where, if you are male, you can become your own god and have as many wives as you desire. Man’s religion promises power, money, and authority, in the here and now. Man’s religion promises knowledge and immortality, etc. Notice how these fantasies often center around sex and power for males. These things are very seductive. But, they are just that…they are not Truth…they are tempting fruit that many swallow, and it is a delusion. But, because these seductions look so real, they are fought over, killed for, etc.

You can see that the promise of “paradise” is close to a Christian promise of a heavenly home. In the various religions that offer paradise outside of Christianity, the person who subjugates others and who works hard enough on this earth will eventually be his own ruler or god in paradise. In the Christian paradise, Jesus is ruler supreme, where, “every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that He is Lord.” Additionally, men and women will not be in marital relations in heaven. So, there go the fantasies of sex and power in paradise. You see the difference?

Jesus understood that religious men tend to “strain at gnats and swallow camels”. This means that while they would themselves commit atrocious acts against their own family members, community, and other members of humanity, they would fuss and fume over a minor detail that someone else was not adhering to—this minor detail may or may not even be a real issue in God’s eyes, but it may be an issue in the eyes of a certain religion (human construct).

Another tenet of various religions that is close to Christianity is that “good works” get you into heaven. In Christianity, only a person who has allowed Christ to remove the sin and replace it with Himself gains heaven. After that conversion has occurred, then the person lives out his/her life not serving self, but serving Christ (good works). In religious constructs outside of Christianity, a person does not need a religious conversion in which he lays down his self and allows Christ to enter in and replace the sinful self with Him. In man’s religious constructs, only a self-realization that one should be good is necessary, and therefore, one must work hard to do “good works”. You see the difference? One is because of Christ and is done through Him. The other is because of self and done in your own strength.

Because Jesus is a living person, He is not an abstract construct of theologians or prophets who formulated a theory of a deity. Jesus is God who came in the flesh. Because He showed the falseness of the religious constructs made by man versus the Truth of pure religion, He was murdered by the very religious people whom He revealed as false. After He was killed, He was buried. After three days of being dead and buried, He rose out of His grave. His resurrected body ascended into heaven. Skepticism of such incredible statements in warranted and welcomed. I understand how this seems impossible. However, all of this was recorded by witnesses who saw these actual events. After his ascension (last week was Ascension Week and is celebrated in various countries around the world), He sent his Spirit to guide people here on earth in the absence of his physical body. His comforting Spirit is well known to his followers. The Holy Spirit guides, speaks, directs, and enlightens. Once you encounter the Holy Spirit, you will understand what I mean. It’s one of those things where you have to experience it to understand. Trying to tell someone who hasn’t is a bit impossible. But, the good thing is, it’s not an exclusive club. He is available to anyone who calls on His Name. He and all of the angels in Heaven rejoice when even one person lays down his/her religion and turns to Him in truth.

The Reality of Prejudice

A young woman called one day to take me up on an offer. I knew that the company where she worked had given her and several other employees notice of impending layoffs. The company had been courteous and had tried to give their employees at least two weeks to line up other jobs. On a previous occasion, I had told the young woman that if she wanted help with her resume, or if she wanted moral support in looking for another job, that I would ride along or drive her to various companies to pick up applications and/or to hand out her resume.

She did not have a college degree, but she was professional and preferred working as an office aid or assistant at places such as lawyer’s offices, dentists, medical clinics, banks, insurance offices, etc. We made the rounds to places such as these. After one stop, she returned to the car with a scowl. I asked her what had happened. She said, “That’s the first time I’ve ever been discriminated against. I guess they don’t like _________.” (She named her particular ethnicity.)

My eyebrows raised. Whether or not the discrimination was real or perceived, it ruined her day. I could see the hurt and anger in her build. The rest of the afternoon had clouds over it, emotionally speaking. By midafternoon, she had handed out all of the resumes that she had prepared, and we decided to call it a day. I encouraged her to let go of the anger and resentment she had toward the individual who had treated her with aloofness and disrespect. She looked at me and said, “That’s easy for you to say. You’ve probably never been treated like that.” I carefully looked at her and said very seriously. “Yes, I have been, but it’s not who I am, and it’s not who you are.” I was concerned that this episode could sour her young life, and I didn’t want that for her. Prejudice is a long road to take, and it leads to a hellish end.

Later that day, my husband and I discussed the episode, and he said, “Well, some of what we call prejudice is just life. It happens.” I had to agree. But, his comment made me ponder on this particular problem in life.

I was fifteen years older than my young friend and had experienced either prejudice or forms of snobbery and unjust treatment on many occasions. I knew she had, too, but it had been closer to home, and she didn’t recognize it for what it was: I remembered my young friend’s difficulty in her relationship with her mother. Her mother treated my friend who was the oldest child with much less affection than she treated the two younger children who were boys. This had been a point of pain for my young friend.

I realized that favoritism, snobbery, and prejudice are all fruits of the same, rotten tree.

In the family, if you are treated with less fairness than your siblings, then we call this treatment by parents toward their children “favoritism”. In some families, one child is the “golden child” and the rest are ignored or treated with less favor. Or, in some families, one child is ignored, abused or neglected, while the others are treated with favor. In a society where most of the people share the same ethnicity and culture, if you are treated with less fairness by your own people, then we call it “snobbery”. The word “prejudice” typically comes in when it is applied to a person who is of different gender, ethnicity, or culture. Prejudice is typically a stranger-on-stranger action. For some reason, we, as a culture, find this more appalling than we do parental favoritism or societal snobbery; however, favoritism and snobbery typically cause much more long term psychological difficulties for a person than does prejudice by strangers.

I believe that favoritism, snobbery, and prejudice come from four possible sources: 1) negative experience with a particular person; 2) information about a particular person from someone whom we consider credible; 3) a sense of superiority that produces a dislike of a particular person based on appearances or social factors; 4) a dislike for a certain people group that has no basis in either personal experience or first-hand knowledge, but is more ingrained, like a belief system, i.e. dislike for women in general, dislike for men in general; therefore, even if you don’t know the individual standing before you, because he/she belongs to a particular people group, you have a dislike of him or her personally.

Additionally, I concluded that favoritism, snobbery, and prejudice produce dislike of individuals based on three basic categories: 1) What they are (genetically—how God made them and what family and nation they were born into); 2) How they are (culturally—how their culture has shaped their mannerisms, appearance, and speech); 3) What they do (personally–what they themselves, as individuals, act out in their lives regarding their belief system/religion/world view/life style/habits/actions).

I began to ponder on some of the ways I had experienced favoritism, snobbery, and prejudice by my fellow human beings. Looking back, I had to be honest and admit that some of the dislike that others had demonstrated toward me may have been caused by my attitude and demeanor. Other acts of favoritism, snobbery, and prejudice had, indeed, been inflicted upon me unjustly. I remember one day being treated frightfully badly by a man who was intoxicated at his place of work. As a representative of another company, I had shown up to discuss some matters with him. He yelled and cursed, and ordered me out of his place of business, stating that he wasn’t going to talk to “No God-________ woman.” I thanked God that I wasn’t damned, after-all, and just kept right on going. I don’t think we ever did business with him or his company again.

The truth is, some people are simply not going to like you. They can and do come up with all kinds of reasons. On the flip side, you may be treated better than someone else, simply because of race, gender, national origin, etc. One story that comes to mind was when I was traveling overseas. The people in whose country where I was a guest could not tell by looking at me what nationality I was. They had to see my papers or hear me speak to pinpoint my national origin. Because of my nationality, they often favored me over some people who looked like me but who came from different countries or different parts of the world. With my passport, I could pass easily between checkpoints. Other people who looked just like me but who sounded different or who had different national origin were often detained and harassed. There was a bias in that region for/against various nationalities, and I happened to be on the “favored” list. It could easily have been the opposite for me.

Bias can come for/against someone for many other reasons, such as, choice of church attendance, chosen profession, economic level, political views, and education level. The list can go on and on. The reasons others choose not to get to know someone or to X someone out of their lives can be infinite. But, guess what? It happens. The best response is to move on, courteously.

My personal opinion is that if a person has displayed no cause for alarm (his or her behavior does not indicate that you need to keep your distance), then treating him or her with less dignity than you would anyone else simply because of his or her gender, ethnicity, economic level, etc. seems trite and petty. In some cases, it can cause more prejudice to occur, and the ball just keeps rolling.

Having said that, I can completely understand the preference to mingle with certain groups and the preference not to mingle with certain other groups. Living in the rural countryside, I look at nature a lot and learn many life lessons from it. Where I live, one may often see multiple types of livestock in the same pasture. Most of the time, the cows will hang with the cows; the horses will hang with the horses; and the goats will hang with the goats. That’s okay. That’s natural. However, when the goats start denying the horses pasture rights, and the cows start denying the goats drinking rights, then we have a problem. It’s perfectly okay not to want to mingle with someone or a group of someones. But, to treat them with disdain or to deny them human dignity is another matter. One would hope that such things are relegated to grade school, but alas, they are not. They occur at family reunions, class reunions, community meetings, church gatherings, political gatherings, and many other venues where otherwise rational adults meet.

If you are on the receiving end of a mild prejudiced act or attitude, remembering who you are and Who your Maker is should bring things back into focus after an unjust hurt has been inflicted upon your psyche or person in the form of prejudice. However, if the prejudiced attitude is justified because of an action or attitude on your part, then it is best to do some soul searching and try to remove the stumbling block that perhaps others are falling over.

Obviously, forms of favoritism, snobbery, and prejudice can run the gamut from mild to severe. In some cases, a mild dislike of a person or people group is all that surfaces; in other cases, assault, terrorization, or murder can result. This can be true of a domestic situation in which a spouse or child is the targeted victim. This can be true of societal bullying or snobbery, in which a member of “one’s own people group” is the victim. This can be true of racial or cultural episodes where strangers or people outside of one’s own people group are targeted.

Can prejudice be eradicated? I wish it could be, but realistically, let me ask you, “Can you force your daddy to treat you as well as he treats your brother or your sister? Can you force your mamma to think of you and do little things for you like she does your sister or your brother? Can you force your classmates and community members to include you in their cliques and clubs? Can you force a stranger to acknowledge that you are a child of God, just like he is? This problem runs to the core of who we are as sinners. It is the mentality of, “Me and Mine, and Down with Everyone Else.” Prejudice against a member of the family first occurs in the home; prejudice against a community member occurs in schools, churches, and shopping centers right in the heart of where you live, against “your own people.” As grievous as stranger on stranger prejudice is, it causes far less damage than what we do to each other at family reunions, class reunions, church gatherings, social events, and political venues.

My young friend who had experienced the emotional pain of prejudice that day when we were handing out resumes was able to move on. The next day, a company who valued her skill level and her professionalism, and who recognized that she could be an asset to their business called, and she gained employment virtually right away. She is now a dental hygienist and very happy in her career. She doesn’t seem to have a chip on her shoulder, and I have never seen her treat others with less dignity because of their natural born (God given) place of birth, gender, or ethnicity, or their economic status in this world. She remembers that there is a world to come, and she must answer to God for how she treats others in the here and now.

 

 

Points from a book on Quaker Spirituality: The writings of Hannah Smith, touching on Human Loneliness

In the paperback book on Quaker Spirituality that I have recently been reading, a number of letters by Hannah Smith were included. I found them deeply insightful into the human condition. The fact of the Maker and His Creation ultimately being meant only for each other, to the point that nothing else can or will suffice, has been a point I have been discovering and exploring over the last couple of years.

Hannah Smith (1832 – 1911) was a Quaker lay speaker and author. Her husband, Robert, was also a Quaker preacher. Together, they impacted many people inside and outside of the Quaker faith. Later in life, Hannah and her husband moved to England where their children and grandchildren remained, identifying themselves as English, rather than American.

They were greatly active in the Women’s suffrage movement and the Temperance movement on both sides of the “Pond”. Life was not necessarily kind to them. Through all of life’s many, many struggles, Hannah’s faith remained strong. She encouraged and admonished others to do the same.

In a letter to a friend, Hannah touched on the very real issue of human loneliness, even in the midst of worldly activity and companions:

“The loneliness thou speaks of I know. For do not think, darling, that it is confined to unmarried people. It is just as real in lives that have plenty of human ties, husbands, and children and friends. It is the loneliness of this world life, the loneliness of hearts that are made for union with God, but which have not yet fully realized it. I believe God has ordained it in the very nature of things by creating us for Himself alone. And I believe He very rarely allows any human love to be satisfying, just that this loneliness may drive us to Him. I have noticed that when a human love is satisfying something always comes in to spoil it. Either there is death, or there is separation, or there is a change of feeling on one side or the other or something, and the heart is driven out of its human resting place on to God alone.

Sometimes God permits a little taste of a satisfying love to a human being, but I do not believe it ever lasts long. I do not mean that the love may not last, but separation comes in some way, and the perfect satisfaction is taken out of it. Now, darling, thy loneliness is not only because thou art unmarried and hast no very close human ties, it is the loneliness of a heart made for God but which has not yet reached its full satisfaction in Him. Human love might for awhile satisfy thee, but it would not last.

If thou can only see this and settle down to it, it will help thee very much. Thou wilt give up, as I have, any expectation of finding satisfaction in the creature, and will no longer suffer with disappointment at not finding it. And this will deliver thee from the worst part of the suffering of loneliness. Thee will accept it as a God-given blessing meant only to drive thee to Himself.

Thy loneliness is only different in kind but not in fact from the loneliness of every human heart apart from God. Thy circumstances are lonely, but thy loneliness of spirit does not come from these, it is the loneliness of humanity. Therefore, nothing but God can satisfy it. No change of circumstances, no coming in of the dearest earthly ties even, not my continued presence even, could really satisfy for any length of time the hungry depths of thy soul. I am speaking, darling, out of the depths of my own experience when I say this, and thee may believe me.”

Rocks for Toilet Paper

We met a family who had recently moved to a small, rural community. They were very happy to be there and were clearing the land of cactus and intended to run some livestock and plant a large garden. They were eager and happy to get out of the city and live in the quiet solitude of the country. They were blue collar at best and had very little disposable income, but they were hard workers and had a vision for their place. It was a very humble home, but cozy for them and their nine-year-old son. They befriended an elderly woman who was their nearest neighbor and volunteered to help her with yard work, etc. One day, while we were visiting this elderly woman, whom we had known for some time, she introduced us to her new neighbors who happened to be there at the same time that we were that day.

We were happy to meet the neighbors and were pleased that they seemed like good folks. For nearly a year, we did not encounter them again. One day while sitting at home, Sarah said she felt like she was supposed to go visit them. I said, “Do you mean Dora?” (the elderly lady whom we already knew). Sarah said, “No. I think I am supposed to go visit John and Miriam.” I said, “Well, you don’t really know them, but okay.”

Sarah baked some cookies and made up a nice gift basket with a note that read, “Just thinking about you guys and hoping all is well.” She drove to where they lived and knocked on the door. The wife answered and was surprised to see Sarah, who explained that she had brought a gift basket and wanted to let them know that we were thinking of them and hoping they were doing well. Miriam graciously invited Sarah into the house and accepted the gift basket. They sat on the couch together, and Sarah asked who the little girl was playing in the corner. She was probably around three years old. Miriam explained that it was one of John’s relative’s daughters. The child had been removed by social services, and John and Miriam said that they would keep her for a while (they ended up keeping her for two years).

During the conversation, Miriam emotionally broke down. No, they were not doing well. Long story short, John had been laid off and was out looking for work. Miriam had always worked at home and cared for the livestock, etc. but she was actively looking for employment as well. They were a one-car family, so they had to work around each other’s employment schedules. Their son had been playing ball at a cousin’s house and had run out in front of a truck that had hit the boy accidentally and broken his leg.

Sarah began to look around. There was hardly any furniture. She asked Miriam about it, who said that they had sold nearly everything to keep food on the table and pay the boy’s medical bills. Sarah noticed that there was hardly any food in the house, either.

Miriam said she wasn’t sure what they were going to do if God didn’t help them. She and John had made the decision not to get on welfare. They did not want to take government subsidies. They wanted to find work and stay out of debt, if possible. They had always paid as they went, and if they couldn’t pay for it, they went without. But they had reached an all-time low. Miriam revealed to Sarah that they were even out of toilet paper and shampoo. Sarah asked what they did for toilet paper. Miriam said that they went out to the pasture and collected rocks that were smooth. After they used the rocks, they collected them in a bucket and took them outside where they dumped them on the ground and hosed them off. Then, they would clean the rocks and reuse them.

Sarah asked what they did for shampoo. Miriam said that they used hand soap because that is all they had. Miriam ran her fingers through her hair with a look of disgust on her face. “It makes my hair feel nasty.” Sarah nodded in agreement. On a camping trip one time she had used hand soap for shampoo. It was not a repeat.

Sarah asked if the elderly neighbor was aware of their dilemma. Miriam said that they had not told anyone because they didn’t want to seem like the kind of people looking for a handout. She laughed and said that the nearby church had met on Sunday for their monthly “pot luck,” and the smell of food had tormented them for hours after. Sarah asked if anyone from the church ever came to visit them. Miriam said that one time, when they had first moved in, a couple had come over and invited them to church, but that had been over a year back and no one had been since.

Sarah noticed a wood stove on the porch with fresh ashes in it. She asked Miriam about it, who said, “I’ve been practicing cooking on it. When we lose electricity tomorrow, because we can’t pay our bill, I will be able to still cook and boil water for laundry.” Sarah said, “How will you get water? Isn’t your well on an electric pump?” Miriam said it was but that they had been collecting rain water in barrels for some time and had also drawn up more water to use until the electricity could be turned back on.

These were tough folks. They knew what to do to get by, even if it was really difficult. Sarah knew why she had felt like she was supposed to go visit them. She told Miriam that the electric bill would be paid and there would be food in the pantry and toilet paper and shampoo in the cabinet by the end of the day. Thankfully, that was so. A friend who came to visit us that evening pitched in, and John and Miriam were back to going with full refrigerator, pantry and cabinets.

Eventually, both of them gained employment, and a family member provided for them a second (rather beat-up, but functioning) vehicle. They are doing much better and still enjoying their home in the country. Their boy has grown up and moved away, but they have taken in two or three other children in need. They have invested in their community in other ways, as well, like helping dig a community storm shelter and taking part in holiday events. They have even been seen taking food to some other neighbors in need. When the elderly woman, Dora, ended up going to an assisted living home, John and Miriam were regular visitors to her.

One day while a construction team was remodeling the church building nearby, one of the workers was overheard talking about “them people.” They were looking in the direction of John and Miriam’s home and were intending to be derisive about them. We happened to be there visiting with some of the construction team and laughed at the ignorant statement.

We assumed, perhaps wrongly, that the “them people” comment was made regarding John and Miriam’s economic status. We don’t know for sure, but one thing we do know for sure–knowing the construction worker who made the comment, we do know who we would rather have for a neighbor. We are so happy to have met “them people”. They are an inspiration. They knew how to knuckle down when times were tough.

Unexpected Detour

Have you ever felt a sudden, inexplicable feeling or urge to do or not to do something? I admit, for most of my life if I did, I didn’t give it much thought. After all, I was the pilot of my life, and I knew where I was going and my plans on how to get there.  When my wife and I decided to let God be the pilot of our lives, not only did we experience these feeling or directions more often, we began to build the courage to act upon them. It felt weird at first. As we stepped out in faith, we started to see things happen. Timidly, we began to speak about our experiences with a select few, usually only if someone else brought up the topic. Along the way, God would often encourage us by putting other people in our lives who had also experienced some kind of leading by the Holy Spirit.

One couple we knew told us a story of what happened to them. They had driven to Granbury for a day of shopping. The lady was driving, and as they pulled up to an open parking space close to city hall, something strange happened. The moment she pulled into the parking place, she felt a sudden hesitation about parking there. Some people refer to this as a “check in their spirit”. Whatever it was, she felt it. She did not know why she felt that way but could not deny it. She backed out of the parking place and found another one approximately a block away. They got out of the car and went into a store close to where they had parked. They were in the store for what seemed like only a few minutes, when chaos broke out on the square. If you remember back to June of 2013, you will know what happened next. A gun fight that had broken out elsewhere had spilled into the town square, and the gunman was killed in front of city hall. If the woman had parked in her original spot, they would have been right in the middle of the incident. By listening to that still, small voice, they ended up on the other side of the square and out of harm’s way.

Over the years, we have enjoyed many memorable conversations with folks who have experienced similar “God urges”. We have not been involved in anything as dramatic as what this couple experienced, but we have our share of stories. One that comes to mind is a time when we were heading to Waxahachie one Sunday for a friend’s surprise birthday party. As we approached 281, I asked my wife, “Do you think we are supposed to go to the birthday party today?” She said, “Not really, but I can’t imagine why not.” I agreed that there wasn’t anything wrong with the birthday party but felt like maybe God wanted us to be somewhere else for the day. I said, “I feel like we are supposed to go to Waco.” She said, “Really?” I said, “Yeah, I’m pretty sure of it.” She said, “Okay, let’s go with it.” We called the friend’s son who had arranged the surprise birthday party and told him we would not be able to make it. We went to Waco instead. We had no idea what we were going to do when we got there.

We arrived in Waco and milled around for a few hours, but, no “God event” occurred. We were kind of disappointed because it seemed like we had wasted the day and could have been at the birthday party. As we left, we decided to take the long way around and go through Killeen. I saw a sign for an Academy sporting goods store. I pulled in to go to the restroom and thought to look around while I was there. As I exited the restroom, I see my wife talking to someone I recognized as the manager of another Academy in Temple. As I walked up, he said, “I’m so glad to see ya’ll.” Life had thrown him some nasty curve balls, and he was really struggling. In short, he had even lost his home in the housing bubble fiasco. He had just transferred from the Temple store to the Killeen store. We talked to him for nearly three hours in the foyer of the restrooms. This man was already a Christian but was really needing to know that God cared. He said, “I think God sent ya’ll to me today. I needed it.” I said, “Let us tell you the rest of the story. We were headed to a birthday party in Waxahachie, but then felt like God redirected us to Waco, but nothing happened there, so we headed home, via Killeen….Through all those twists and turns, we ended up at the bathroom at the same time you did. Doesn’t sound like a coincidence.” Would God totally rearrange our day for just one person? You bet.

Looking at Weedeaters

While on another trip, we stopped at another pawn shop in west Texas. As we mentioned before, we have an affinity for such places. We parked and walked toward the entrance, walking past the outside displays of weed eaters, lawn mowers, outdoor equipment, etc. As I often do, I opened the door for my wife, just in time to be waylaid by a clerk who was rushing out. She appeared to be in her late teens or early twenties. She was very upset and crying. And she was very pregnant. She barely missed a collision with my wife. We stood there for a moment and watched the clerk. She leaned against the side of the building and began wiping her nose with a tissue. No other clerk came out to check on her. We looked at each other. Sarah said, “Go on in. I’ll see what I can do.” I closed the door and went in.

Sarah walked over to the girl who had her arms crossed and her head down. Sarah asked the girl if she was okay. She said, “My boss is so mean!” Sarah said, “Oh!” The girl continued, “He is going to be really mad at me for coming out here like this.” Sarah straightened up and said, “Well, show me some weed eaters then. He won’t get on to you for helping a customer.” That made her laugh. As they walked around looking at various outdoor tools, she relayed that her new boss was really hard on her, and she was already emotional due to her pregnancy. She feared that she may be fired. We had never met the new boss and didn’t know this girl, either, but we did know several of the other employees there. She said she had been there three weeks and the new boss had been there only five days.

Sarah spent approximately 30 minutes with the girl while she calmed down. In the scope of things, it wasn’t all that much time or effort, but to this girl, someone cared enough to stop and ask her how she was. In the years that ensued, many conversations with this young woman followed. She would share with us important life events, such as getting married to the father of her baby, buying their first house, enrolling in college courses, and many other important life events. They now have three children. The “mean” boss didn’t last there long. And this girl worked her way up to become the head manager.

We still periodically stop in the store that she manages. She always greets us with a bright smile and a kind comment.

Neither of us have spoken in depth regarding the events of the day we met. Something as simple as listening to her in a moment of distress and letting her talk about her problems quite possibly changed the course of her life. She has said as much and feels gratitude for the words of encouragement that Sarah gave her and the half hour that she spent with her that day.