Latest Blog Posts

  • What a Six-Year-Old Taught Her Psychiatrist About Dissolving the Power of Hate - July 14th, 2017

    It never occurred to psychiatrist Robert Coles that a poor, black six-year-old girl might know more about coping effectively with stress than he did. When he watched Ruby Bridges on the television news, flanked by burly federal marshals, passing through a shouting mob on her way to and from elementary school, he assumed that she needed psychological help and that he could give it to her.

    It was the fall of 1960. In 1954 the U.S. Supreme Court had ruled that public schools must allow black and white students to attend classes together, instead of segregating them as they were doing. Six years later, a federal judge pressured schools in New Orleans to follow the new rules and allow black students to attend the formerly all-white schools. So six-year-old Ruby Bridges started classes at William T. Frantz School.

    The neighborhood erupted in angry demonstrations. All the other parents boycotted the school, refusing to allow their children to attend.

    Every day Ruby attended class all by herself. And every day a mob gathered outside the school, screaming curses, spitting at the little girl, shaking their fists, and threatening to kill her. The local police refused to protect her, so the federal government provided marshals to escort Ruby to and from class every day.

    Robert Coles had studied stress in children who had polio at the Children’s Hospital in Boston. He had presented a paper with his conclusions to the American Psychiatric Association. When Coles saw Ruby’s daily ordeal, he wanted to study her response to stress, too. He thought he could write another paper and possibly do a good deed as well, helping her cope. So Coles contacted Ruby’s parents through the NAACP and started visiting her family twice a week, looking for symptoms of turmoil.

    But Ruby seemed to be sleeping fine. Her appetite was normal. And she played well with friends in the neighborhood when she came home from school. Her first grade teacher said the little girl didn’t seem upset at school either. “I don’t understand this child,” she said. “Ruby seems so happy. She comes here so cheerfully.”

    “Well, I’m a little puzzled myself,” Coles said, “but I think that sometimes people under tremendous stress gird themselves mightily , and it can take time to find out just how upset they are.”

    His explanation seemed less and less convincing, though, when he watched the way Ruby and her parents carried on as the weeks and months passed.

    “Here was a girl who was six years old,” Coles wrote later, “whose parents were extremely poor, were illiterate so that they did not even know how to sign their names. They were going through tremendous strain, day after day, and they did not seem to be complaining, parents or child.

    “What a contrast with the well-to-do middle-class people I had seen in Boston whose children, for one reason or another – all of them white, by the way – were having all sorts of difficulties. Now, how do you explain that? I would ask myself. And I did not know how to explain that.”

    Then one day Ruby’s first grade teacher told Coles that she had seen Ruby stop to talk to the people in the mob on her way to class. Later, Coles asked Ruby about it. “I wasn’t talking to them,” Ruby said. “I was just saying a prayer for them.”

    “Why?” Coles asked, astonished.

    “Because they need praying for, she said. “Because I should.”

    Coles kept asking questions, but the only explanation Ruby gave was, “Because I should.”

    Ruby’s parents overheard the conversation and explained that they told their daughter it was important for her to pray for the people in the mob. Ruby prayed for them every night as part of her bed time routine.

    Later Coles learned that Ruby’s Sunday School teacher taught her the same thing, and that the pastor of her church prayed for the people in the mob every Sunday. Publicly. “I don’t understand why this girl should be praying for those people,” Coles told his wife. “She’s got enough to bear without that.”

    “That’s you speaking,” his wife said. “Maybe she feels differently.”

    Then his wife developed an imaginary scenario of Coles trying to go into the Harvard Faculty Club through a shouting mob. “What would you do?”

    The two of them agreed that Coles would definitely not pray for the people. First, he would call the police. (Ruby couldn’t call the police. They sided with the mob.) Then he would get a lawyer. (Ruby had no means to get a lawyer.)

    “The third thing I would do would be to turn immediately on this crowd with language and knowledge,” Coles said. “Who are these people, anyway? They are sick. They are marginal, sociologically, economically, psycho-socially, socio-culturally, and psycho-historically.” (Ruby had no big words like these to turn on the mob.)

    After that discussion, Coles asked Ruby again why she should pray for the people who cursed her every day. “Well, especially it should be me,” she said, “because if you’re going through what they’re doing to you, you’re the one who should be praying for them.”

    Then Ruby explained that her pastor had told her that when Jesus was beaten and crucified, he had prayed for the people mistreating him: “Forgive them, because they don’t know what they’re doing.”

    In the end, Coles concluded, “The great paradox that Christ reminded us about is that sometimes those who are lonely and hurt and vulnerable – meek to use the word – are touched by grace and can show the most extraordinary kind of dignity, and in that sense, inherit not only the next world, but even at times moments of this one. We who have so much knowledge and money and power look on confused…”

    Today’s prayer: “Lord, I need what Ruby and her parents had. I choose to forgive, but I need Your power to do it.” Amen.

  • Forgiving Father - June 27th, 2017

    Probably all fathers fail their children to some degree. Claude Powers was a man who failed his child, then backed up and tried to make up for his failure.

    Claude actually started out as a good father. But when his own father and brother died a couple years apart in the late 1950s, he started drinking heavily. Then the bottle took over, and of course, that affected his son Dennis. For Dennis, like all children, needed his father to weave three consistent messages of unconditional acceptance into the fabric of his life:

    To me you are special.

    No matter what, I love you.

    You’re part of me; we belong together.

                When Dennis was about 12, his dad became a sneaky bottle-hider who told lies, wasted the family income in bars and dumped his farming responsibilities on his son. So instead of sending his son a father’s reassuring messages of faithful love and acceptance, Claude sent Dennis the message of the alcoholic: “Alcohol is more important than you are. You will always be relatively unimportant.”

    Dennis stifled the pain, avoided his dad, and proved to his small community that he was important after all. He did exceptionally well in school, collecting enough high school credits to leave for the university one year early. In college he kept in touch with his parents and made sure the family relationship appeared fine to relatives and neighbors. In reality, he buried his anger and walled himself off emotionally from his dad.

    But God heals broken hearts. Fathers and sons can reconcile.

    A dozen years after Claude’s alcoholism took serious hold, Dennis’s parents discovered Alcoholics Anonymous and Al Anon, and Claude started sobering up through AA’s 12-Step Program. About that same time Dennis began attending church and hearing about forgiveness.

    Since the relationship was not damaged overnight, healing did not occur overnight. Claude worked on his end of the problem by giving up alcohol and making amends as best as he could. Dennis worked out his part by accepting his father’s efforts and struggling through the process of forgiveness. But in the end, the really deep healing occurred nearly twenty years later. And curiously, the only part Claude played in that final act of the drama was simply to grow old and lose his mind.

    Claude became a victim of Alzheimer’s disease. At first he merely grew forgetful. Then, as his brain cells died in patches, he lost his smile, his charm, his good judgment and his table manners. He forgot how to dress, how to shave, how to bathe. About the time he forgot how to talk, he lost control of his body and had to wear diapers.

    Every night Dennis would walk over to his parent’s mobile home, lead his 80-year-old father into the bathroom, and peel off his diaper. Then he toileted him, undressed him, and bathed him. In this process, somehow, Dennis found his healing.

    When the father became like a child, the child became his own father’s father. For Dennis, forgiveness became complete through the work of his own hands as he lived out the messages he had needed so much as a teen to receive from his father:

    To me you are special.

    No matter what, I love you.

    You’re part of me; we belong together.

    Worth repeating:  The Bible tells us that Jesus Christ’s ministry on earth began when John the Baptist baptized him in the Jordan River. As Jesus came up out of the water, the Holy Spirit descended on him and the Heavenly Father spoke a blessing that others could hear. “When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too. And as he was praying, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: ‘You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased’” (Luke 3:21-22).

    Food for thought: What messages of unconditional acceptance do you find in the words God the Father used to affirm and strengthen Jesus for ministry?

    Today’s Prayer: Dear Heavenly Father, I need your blessing, too. As I read my Bible, father me. Help me hear your message of love and grace for me. Amen

  • Avon Perfume Surprise - May 13th, 2017

    I remember the day my mother and I surprised each other with an Avon perfume sample. In my memory the incident happened in the summer, and I was about 8 years old. That meant my mother would have been pregnant with my brother Roy, her fifth child.

    I was playing dolls at my friend’s house when the Avon lady called. My friend and I watched the sales presentation, and the Avon lady kindly offered us each a perfume sample.

    I was thrilled. A sophisticated, grownup lady’s gift! I could give it to my mom! I was so excited, I left my friend and ran home.

    In my mind, I rehearsed the way I would present this special gift. First, I would find my mom working somewhere in the house. (She was always working.) Then I would keep the perfume hidden behind my back while I sang a song I had learned. Then I would hand her the perfume. She would be astonished. Her eyes would light up, and she would put the perfume in her dresser drawer. Then she would wear it on Sunday when she dressed up to go to church.

    So I found my mother, as planned, and told her I had a surprise. She laid aside her mending to give me her full attention, while I hid the gift behind my back and sang my song:

    “Because I love you, Mother Dear,

    Each day I’ll try to be

    As gentle, loving, good and kind

    As you always are to me.’’

     

    Then, with a flourish, I handed Mom the perfume.

    She burst into tears.

    I was horrified.

    “Why are you crying?’’ I asked.

    She just cried more.

    Finally she said, “Honey, I don’t feel like I’ve been very gentle, loving, good or kind lately. I feel like I haven’t been the mother I want to be for my children.’’

    Oh, what a gift my mother gave me with her tears that day! Children see their parents as godlike, but that day my mother let me see how human she was. That day my mother let me look straight into her soul, to see how much she longed to get her mouth in sync with her heart, how much she yearned to match her attitudes and actions with her desire to love her children well.

    And I felt so beloved! I felt so cherished!

    Two thousand years ago, Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven’’ (Matthew 5:3 NIV).

    This is a truth of the spiritual realm, a mystery that I experienced that long ago day when I gave my mother the Avon perfume sample. For when Mom revealed to me her poverty, she made both of us rich.

    Today’s prayer: Dear God, help me to see and admit my lack so that I can reach out with empty hands to receive Your supply. Amen.

  • A Time to Mother and a Time to Write - March 28th, 2017

    By Becky Cerling Powers

    When I was a young mother it was the desire of my heart to write. My major in college had been journalism. Since my parents had been unable to help me much financially, I had worked my way through college by winning scholarships and working at a variety of jobs. Now, married with three small children, I thought I should be using that hard-earned education, right? I should be writing for publication.

    But.

    But I had an undiagnosed thyroid condition, so I needed a lot of sleep. And my children were young. Needy. Matt was an exuberantly curious toddler with a genius for tearing the house apart. (His pediatric dentist nicknamed him Crash.) Erik was a kindergartner who kept begging me to teach him to read. Jessica, age three, stopped taking naps and insisted on being wherever Mommy was.

    I kept trying to retire from the circus to write, but the circus followed me.

    One day, just after I’d scolded Jessica for not giving me a minute to myself, the thought dropped into my head, If you keep telling this little girl every day to go away and leave you alone, when she gets old enough, she’ll do it. Permanently.

    At that moment, I realized I didn’t like the mom I had become—irritable, impatient, angry. There are laid-back, healthy women who can balance the frustrations of deadlines with preschoolers gracefully, but I was too intense. I couldn’t focus on getting published and still have patience for the constant needs of preschool children.

    My children’s interruptions were keeping me from writing, and my impatience with the interruptions were blocking my mothering. So I wasn’t getting published, and I wasn’t being a good mother, either.

    It dawned on me that the author of the book of Ecclesiastes in the Bible was putting his finger directly on my parenting problem when he said, “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven” (Eccl 3:1).

    When I set my writing goals and made plans to publish, I neglected to consider the season of our family’s life.

    It season was not the season to concentrate on getting published. It was the time to teach our kindergartner how to read—while he was eager to tackle the new skill. Nor was it the season to start the grinding process of assessing markets, sending out queries, and obtaining writing assignments to launch a free-lance writing career. It was the time to build our daughter’s self-confidence, by accepting her companionship and encouraging her to work alongside me during her short bouts of enthusiasm for housework. And, although I made the decision reluctantly and with tears, this certainly was not the time to feel sorry for myself. It was the time to retrieve my sense of humor, recognize Matt’s search-and-destroy missions as normal, and let our toddler’s exuberance rub off on my soul.

    But did all that mean it was the time to stop writing?

    But did all that mean it was the time to stop writing?

    NO! Although the season for publication was later, there was no need to thwart my writing desire—just to redirect it. Edith Schaeffer’s wise counsel in her book The Hidden Art of Homemaking encouraged me to be willing to lay aside public ambition and develop my writing gift behind the scenes, in ways that enriched the lives of the people in my house and in my heart.

    So I kept a journal. I wrote down the funny things the children said and did. I composed letters to relatives and friends, and I used stories about the children from my journal to make the letters interesting. And then, before I knew it, a half dozen years later I found myself regularly publishing for an audience of 100,000, writing family features and weekly parenting columns for The El Paso Times.

    It turned out, unexpectedly, that by working with the season instead of against it, I gained everything in the end that I had hoped to achieve when I tried to focus on publishing instead of parenting. My writing seasoned through my children’s preschool season. Describing the children’s funny remarks and poignant moments taught me how to write anecdotes. Composing chatty letters to loved ones established a personal writing tone. And throwing myself into the task of parenting gave me a wealth of material to write about when the season for publication finally came.

    Worth repeating: There is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every [a]event under heaven—

    A time to give birth and a time to die;
    A time to plant and a time to uproot what is planted.
    A time to kill and a time to heal;
    A time to tear down and a time to build up.
    A time to weep and a time to laugh;
    A time to mourn and a time to dance.
    A time to throw stones and a time to gather stones;
    A time to embrace and a time to shun embracing.
    A time to search and a time to give up as lost;
    A time to keep and a time to throw away.
    A time to tear apart and a time to sew together;
    A time to be silent and a time to speak.
    A time to love and a time to hate;
    A time for war and a time for peace.

    (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8)

    Today’s prayer: Lord, what is the proper season for my life today? And what is the proper season for the people You have given me to care for? Am I working with the season or against the season? Please help me to recognize and receive your answer, however it comes. And please give me wisdom to take advantage of this season in my life and the lives of those I care for.

  • Honey Tree - November 15th, 2016

    My father grew up in Elmhurst, Illinois during the Great Depression of the 1930s. His own father, my grandfather, lost almost all his money, and there was hardly any work for him to earn more. The family was poor. They mostly ate beans, bread and oatmeal, with vegetables from the garden during the summer and meat when my dad’s older brother was able to catch small animals hunting in the 50-acre woods behind the family’s house.

    One day when Dad and his two brothers were playing out in their back yard, they noticed something wrong with a box elder tree on the other side of the street behind the house. It looked like a storm had broken the tree so it was half gone.

    When they checked on the tree they found they couldn’t get near it. A cloud of angry bees was zipping around a large hole about ten feet up. “We didn’t realize it then,” Dad says, “but this tree was a ‘windfall’ in more ways than one.” They ran to find their father and tell him what they had found.

    Grandpa told them this was a honey tree. He showed them how to smoke out the bees to get their honey store. They each got a broad brimmed hat and an old lace curtain to tie over their heads. Gloves, long pants tucked into heavy socks, and a jacket protected the rest of their bodies. Then they chopped a hole at the base of the hollow tree and set a smoky fire there to drive out the bees.

    When the bees left, they cut down the tree and scooped 40 or 50 pounds of wild honey into buckets. They saved some of the comb (it tastes so good on fresh baked bread), but mashed up most of it and heated it in their mom’s double laundry boiler. Then they poured the honey into Mason jars.

    My grandfather saw this as a gift from God for his struggling family in those depression years. There was far more honey than his family could possibly use, so he sent his three sons door to door in their home town, selling that honey.

    Money was too scarce to provide allowances for kids in those days, but sale of the honey provided badly needed cash for the family plus a little commission for each of the boys.

    After that, Dad said, Grandpa used part of the money they made as a fund to develop a small family business. He made regular trips after that into the country to buy more honey, which the three boys then sold in town.

    Food for thought: Dad says, “My father recognized an opportunity when it came knocking, and he used it to help the whole family. In that way, he also was showing us children what to do with opportunities: recognize them, work hard to develop them, and then build on them.”

    Worth repeating: The Bible says, “Dishonest money dwindles away, but he who gathers money little by little makes it grow” (Prov. 13:11 NIV).

    Today’s prayer: “Lord, help me recognize and use the opportunities you are giving me right now, today.” Amen.