Mercy Me! I've got work to do.

Mercy Me — I've got work to do! making the world a better place – starting with me.


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Heaven is for real; Earth is for miracles

You know that big spread in the high school yearbook where the senior superlatives tout the “most attractive,” “most athletic,” “best all around,” etc.?

Well, I didn’t get one.

Instead, I was on another page in our yearbook where there were more non-traditional, dubious superlatives assigned. Some were “Eddie Haskell Award,” “Biggest Flirt,” “Most Likely to Burn Down the School,” and “Could Give the Best Dirty Look.”

The one picked for me was “Most Gullible.”

I like to think it was a fancy way of calling me nice. Or, maybe someone just told me that is what it meant and I believed them.

In any case, I have not bought any swamp land, taken any wooden nickels or sent any money to Nigeria, so I think I am doing okay.

Still, when the book, Heaven is for Real came out and I learned the story of Todd Burpo’s son, Colton, who went to heaven during an emergency appendectomy, I believed it.

I believe in God, in miracles and in heaven, so to me none of it is too far-fetched.

Miracles are all around us. I think we just get kind of numb to them. We go to the beach and we forget to marvel at the vastness of the ocean teeming with exotic life. Someone has a baby and we may think to make a casserole, but we don’t stop and think how absolutely phenomenal it is that a man and a woman can create life.

But Colton went to heaven. Heaven.

The Burpo family gave a talk at a nearby church tonight and my family and I attended. I didn’t go as a skeptic, but as a believer.

Burpo talked about how angry he was with God when he thought he was going to lose his son. I loved that he went to God with his anger. I think our inclination is to turn away from God when we feel such rage.

As Burpo tells it, while he was raging on God, his son Colton was sitting in Jesus’s lap. I thought that was such a poignant image to think about. When we feel angry, ignored or betrayed by God, it rarely occurs to us that He is indeed with us, embracing us. We are always in His care.

Burpo, a pastor, spoke about his struggle with faith when he was confronted with his son’s account of heaven. Perhaps, that was what was hardest for me to grasp.

I had no trouble believing, why did he?

But then I think of what it is like before the book, the New York Times Best Seller’s lists, the movie, all of which validated the possibility of this miracle. I thought of the clarity of Colton’s claims, some of which go against traditional church teachings such as animals being in heaven. I thought of Burpo putting his career and reputation on the line to stand up to such an incredulous notion that a child that never even died went to heaven — not came from heaven, but went to heaven; sat on Jesus’s lap; saw the sister who was never born; hung out with some angels and then came back to this reality which is not nearly as pleasant, but that we are all more comfortable believing.

And, I understood his doubt and was left in awe of his faith to work past those doubts, to take the risks that he did and to share his miracle with the world.

One of my most favorite things that I heard Burpo say though was that his son was not special. I believe him. I listened to Colton speak and I listened to him sing. I think he is a great kid. But so are my kids and so are yours and so are the ones in Africa, China and Timbuktu.

I believe in an extraordinary God and I believe in the ordinariness of His people in the sense that none of us are without sin. I believe in equality and although it is lacking on earth, I believe that God loves us all passionately and individually – but not one more than the other. I do not believe that He has favorites. I do not believe He gives out superlatives.

Colton experienced a miracle, and I bet you have too. We need to remember to look for the miracles in our lives because they remind us of God’s enduring love. They strengthen our faith and help us get through times of doubt.

His miracles are never ordinary, but I dare say they are often. Whether they get shared with the world or not, whether you believe in them is up to you.

As for me, “Most Gullible, Class of 1990,” I choose to believe.

If you have experienced a miracle in your life, please share it in the comment section. If you believe in miracles, please share this post with someone. Praying for miracles today and the openness, the willingness to notice them.


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Don’t Stop Believin’ — the Magic of Christmas

We all know Christmas is about an innocent baby born in a manger. But for me, what embodies the spirit of the season this year has to do with a 49-year-old man who will be getting out of prison this week.

I know that doesn’t make you all warm and fuzzy the way your footed pajamas and hot cocoa by the fire does.

I get that.

The birth of our Savior is the greatest story ever told, not to mention it has baby lambs in it too.  There’s no way I can compete with that.

Certainly, the man in prison is no Christ-child.

He is an addict.

He is an ordinary Joe.  Well, kind of anyway.

What I mean by ordinary is he made a mistake, and how much more ordinary can you get than making mistakes – it seems to be at the essence of our humanity.

I guess what is unique about his mistake, unlike so many of mine, is it landed him in prison.

Thirteen years ago Joe was arrested for buying cocaine for personal use, and was charged and sentenced as a trafficker.  His punishment was 20 years with no chance of parole.

Kind of harsh.

The world is full of addicts though. It seems everyone’s addicted to something — drugs, fame, possessions, power and oh, how I could go on.  So, Joe is kind of ordinary that way.

Joe is one of six boys whose family grew up next door to a dear friend of mine.  Their moms were best friends for 40 years.  Even the way my friend described her childhood, that Joe was so much a part of, was kind of ordinary.  They carpooled together, teased each other, and played with all the other kids until way past dark.

When he was arrested and given such a severe sentence, my friend said all she heard everyone say was “what a shame.” Two years later, when talking about their beloved friend Joe, old friends would still say “what a shame.” Six years later… “what a shame.”

I guess she got tired of the hopeless sentiment and decided to do something about it.

Joe had already made appeals all the way to the Florida Supreme Court.  Each one was denied.  The only hope he had was clemency from the Governor to commute the duration of the sentence, which was basically the equivalent of a snowball’s chance in hell.

My friend and his brothers took that chance.

So I guess that’s when the ordinary became extraordinary.

She had worked tirelessly on trying to get him out of prison since 2006.

When I say tirelessly, I assure you she was tired.

She has three kids and didn’t have time to dedicate driving six hours round trip in a day to meet with clemency aides.  But she did.

Several times.

Perhaps as remarkable, she had another friend who had no ties to this family working just as diligently on the case.

As the years passed I saw how much time, effort and prayer, that she and the others involved put into the effort to get Joe out of prison.

Finally after six years, Joe was granted a clemency hearing.  Sadly, Joe’s mom passed away less than a month before it would be held.  After learning of her death from a prison guard, Joe was not allowed to attend her funeral.

The tragedies of it all, hardly made me think of the word believe.

Yet when his hearing was finally held, I was visiting New York City where over the Macy’s on 34th Street was a huge sign in brilliant white lights that said just that word.

Believe.

believe2

Earlier that morning, I was rushing to get dressed.  We were going to meet another couple that traveled with us for breakfast, and then a day of…well, everything.  We were in New York City, after all.

At 7:39 a.m.  I received a text from my friend back in Florida with the novena prayer to Our Lady of Guadalupe.   I was just one of the many prayer warriors she had commissioned to pray on behalf of Joe.  His clemency hearing happened to be on the feast day of our Lady of Guadalupe, and it was the last day of our novena.

I told my husband that I wanted to go by St. Patrick’s Cathedral and light a candle for Joe, his family, my friend, and all of the other people who worked so hard to get to this point and yes, for his mama too.

altar

While I was putting on my umpteenth layer of clothing for the clearly we-are-not-in-Florida-anymore cold, my husband pulls out his Ipad.

The clemency hearing was going to be broadcast on one of those boring government channels that no one watches, and my husband (who is clearly not boring) knew where to find it!

Suddenly, I was nervous.

The night before I left for New York, I saw my friend and she was anxious about the upcoming hearing.  I told her she had to have faith – she had to believe. I told her that this was about so many more people than Joe.  God had a plan for each person that had been affected.  However it ended up would be just another part of His plan.

We all talk about letting go and trusting God, but it’s scary as hell when you have to do it.  She had done her diligence.  I had no doubts about that.  Truly, it was time to let it go.

Still, I was scared for her.  I knew the chances were slim.  This Governor had never commuted a sentence before.

As the clemency hearing played out in real time, I intermittently watched and walked away. I was anxious.  I couldn’t imagine the pressure they were all feeling.  For the first time ever, I thought how hope is a terrible thing.

I didn’t want to believe.  Believing was causing me to pace and cry and fix my eye make up all over again.  Believing caused a pit in my stomach that wouldn’t have been there if I could just walk away.

I listened to Joe’s good friend tell the Clemency Board and the Governor about how he visited him in prison and brought his children along on many of those visits.  He spoke of the time his daughter was asked to choose the catholic she admired most and she chose Joe – the prisoner.

Apparently she saw Joe embody Christ, not a cocaine addict.

One of Joe’s brothers spoke of how his parents never regretted the time they spent visiting him in prison, sometimes driving as long as 10 hours to see him.  He also read a letter from Joe accepting responsibility for his crime and its consequences.  He asked for mercy.

Mercy.  That is the word Joe used, if you can believe.

My eyes pooled again when my friend’s 80-year-old mother spoke, after her 8-hour commute to the Florida Capital, about the little boy of her best friend.  I couldn’t think of a more beautiful way to honor the legacy of their friendship than speaking with a mother’s love on behalf of the friend she had just buried.

She said Joe was a good man who gave in to the temptation of drugs.  She testified that indeed he has a good network of friends and family who will support his transition out of prison, but that his mother has an even greater network of friends both on earth and in heaven that would make sure he stays on the right path.

I didn’t think there was much that the Governor could say about that.

The last speaker on Joe’s behalf was the woman who became familiar with the case through my friend.  I am just going to quote her because there is no way I could say it better.

“As I understand it, clemency is mercy or favor or grace, and a relief from a just penalty.  I am reminded of that definition during Advent as we approach the commemoration of the birth of Christ.”

manger

So, I thought some about the birth of the baby in the manger and all the years and generations of believers who have come and gone since then; all those who brought petitions, pleas and pardon before Him since that momentous night in the stable – THIS was just one more in a flurry of billions which He has heard.

But He heard.

The Governor did what he had never done before.  He granted clemency to this man who made a bad a choice, and paid the price for 13 years for that choice. This man, who had lost so much more than his freedom behind bars, will be set free

Joe will be given a second chance – just in time for Christmas.

Extraordinary.

After turning off the live broadcast, we went to a crowded bagel joint for breakfast and I kept crying tears of joy, gratitude and humility from the goodness of it all.  And, the beautiful thing about crying in New York, is no one tries to hug you or ask if you are okay.  They just leave you alone to cry salty tears over your toasted bagel with salmon spread.

This just made me love New York all the more.

I went to St. Patrick’s Cathedral and like an eager child, I lit a candle at the first altar I could, just besotted with gratitude.  Afterward, I visited the many altars at the beautiful cathedral including the one to our Lady of Guadalupe which was covered in flowers and surrounded by people who had come to honor her feast day.

Guadalupe

It was a beautiful sight and how grateful I was to have prayed for her intercession on behalf of this man.  The power of prayer is as strong as ever, reminding me that even though I may just be a speck on this universe, I am a speck who God thinks is quite special.

That night I had yet another religious experience – rock and roll.

No, not the Elvis kind –the eighties kind.  You know Guns N’ Roses, Whitesnake and  Quiet Riot.

We went to see Rock of Ages, the musical where they glorify 80s rock music.

It was almost impossible for me to sit in my seat as the talented cast belted out songs from the decade of my youth.  It was both hilarious and irreverent.  I enjoyed every single minute of it.

rockofages

The final song of the production embodied not only the spirit of Christmas, but that of faith.

It was the song by Journey – Don’t stop believin’.

As it filled the theater, with its pleas to hold on to that feeling, I was on my feet and celebrating that feeling of faith that had been renewed in me.

It’s easy to stop believing.

One day you realize there is no Santa Claus.  There are no talking snowmen or elves or reindeer.

That magic is gone, and we think that it is okay because it’s childish and silly and there is no room for that in our grown up, real world lives.

But it’s in our adult lives that faith is paramount.

We have to keep believing even when the odds are against us.  We have to stay soft and open to the gifts that await.  Gifts that have nothing to do with Macy’s, despite the brilliant sign it boasts this time of year.

This Christmas, for the first in such long time, I can say that I believe.

While I have never lost faith in that baby boy born in a manger with the sweet lambs nearby, I did somehow lose the magic of this time of year which has nothing to do with lists and everything to do with faith in the people in my life.

The people who stand by you at your darkest hour, who petition for you, who forgive you, who believe you are worth a second try, who get what it’s like to emulate the life of Christ no matter the time of year, those are the people who make the season magic, merry and bright.

So if you have not found that magic yet, don’t stop believing.  I promise it’s out there.

And if you are fortunate to already believe, find a way, no matter what life throws at you, to hold on to that feeling.

Each of you who have taken the time to read, comment and share have added to the magic of my year. May your faith in God, goodness and mankind spread with each kindness you share, so that others may believe.  Merry Christmas to you!


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Last Friday Night

“My God, My God why have you abandoned me?”  While it hardly seems like lyrics from a Katy Perry song, these words remind me of a conversation at a bar last Friday night.

Sounds like a good time, huh?

Well, it was really.  My girlfriends and I are were happy to unveil the sliver of ourselves that has nothing to do with kids, careers or cleaning.  After all, the joy of laughter and friends is always worth toasting.

While out, one of my girlfriends ran into a friend she used to work with and her boyfriend.  Having met this person before, I started talking to them.  I mentioned my endeavor to do Works of Mercy figuring what’s a little spirits without spirituality?

It came up that the boyfriend is atheist.  He was a nice fellow and I listened as he explained his disbelief.  As someone who believes in God, I can’t really say I understand any explanations that are contrary to the basis of my faith.  Nor do I think he understood when my emphatic belief didn’t include corresponding social security numbers or documents to justify that indeed, there is a God.

“Where was God today then, when that baby got shot and killed on his walk?” he asked.

He proceeded to tell me about a one-year-old in his stroller being shot in what was believed to be a robbery attempt while out on a walk with his mother in a neighboring city.

Obviously, this was unimaginable and horrific.  Our world though, increasingly seems unimaginable and horrific and even though this was the first I heard of this particular evil – it seemed oddly familiar.

Still, this doesn’t change my belief in God. And as to where He was while this was going on, I feel sure God was right there with all of them.

He was with that baby and his Mama.  He was there when someone else’s child, still a teenager, pulled the trigger eliminating an innocent life that was given from love and for the purpose to love. God was there.

He didn’t stop it either.  And, as much as I believe there is a God, I also believe He could have stopped it.

Yes, that’s hard to wrap your mind around whether you call yourself a Christian or an atheist.

Likewise, it’s hard to understand how God let His only son suffer and die such a brutal and humiliating death.  It, too, was unimaginable and horrific.

Yet, God was there.

And when Jesus was at His darkest hour suffering a brutal death as an innocent man, He called out “My God, My God why have you abandoned me?”

There is a message in those words that is easy to miss. Jesus did not turn away from God when He suffered or abandon Him as His God.  He turned to Him offering a prayerful lament.

Because Jesus died for our sins, He also did something unimaginable.  He changed death from a separation from life into a way to have eternal life.

And yes, that’s hard for me to wrap my head around too.  But when I do get glimpses on what that means, I see the truth of joy.  I get an inkling of why God let Jesus suffer and die on the cross, and I try to hold onto those glimpses of clarity for as long as I can.

It is easy to understand why Jesus felt abandoned on the cross.  His words were a profoundly human cry that represents not only His suffering but ours.

“He did not despise or abhor the affliction of the afflicted; he did not hide his face from me, but heard when I cried to him,” Psalm 22:24.

God didn’t abandon Jesus then.  He made a seat for Him at His right hand.

He has also made a place to deliver us from the suffering of this world.  Until then, we have to bring Him not only our praise and thanksgiving but our sorrowful laments.

We choose at the time of our darkest hour whether we turn to Him with our suffering or we abandon Him in disbelief.

When I went home and watched the news story of the teenager who took the life of the toddler, I listened to the interview of the baby’s father.  It was clear the choice he made.

He said he had just come back from seeing his dead son, kissing him goodbye.  He said he knew it was just a body now.  His spirit was gone.

While he said that gunman and his companion must be punished, he offered forgiveness for what they did.  He said he would pray for them.

Wow.

How can you not believe in God then, when only through Him, could a father have the strength to forgive the murder of his innocent baby and the grace to offer the gift of prayer for the perpetrator?

It is a remarkable example of someone turning to God in darkness instead of away from Him.  He imitated God’s mercy at a time when it is hardly plausible to believe forgiveness is possible.  Only through God could this be.

Someone without faith can only see the horror of what is compared to the promise of what will be.  They can only see the abandonment of a God that does not exist.

They see the sobriety of death, not the intoxicating joy it brings through resurrection.

“And about three o’clock Jesus cried out in a loud voice, ‘Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani’ which means My, God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” Matthew 27:46.

Those words are an important reminder of the extent of His suffering, His loyalty to God and His example for us to turn to Him during our own plight.  But those are not the only words He said on the cross that fateful day.

“Then Jesus said, Father, forgive them, they know not what they do…”  Luke 24:34