Sticks and Stones

“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never harm me!” I can hear these words being yelled from one student to another on the elementary playground as hurtful words are hurled from one to another. It’s a phrase said in defense, as a cover, in hope that others won’t notice the tears welling up in the eyes as the damaging words sting all the way down to the soul.

I sit in the middle of a group of street youth in my living room. They look haggard and worn from the inside out. We eat pancakes together, sip some coffee and prepare to eat of God’s Word together to fill our souls. “Come meet us Lord”, I pray as I open the Bible to John 8. We read about the woman caught in adultery. She was placed in the midst of the crowd, her dirty acts yelled from a megaphone for all to hear. Each accuser (there were many) ready to throw a stone. She stands accused, caught and ashamed as the crowed tears her apart with their words, their glares. The kids sit and listen; they know this scenario all too well. Accusing, hurtful words and stares are hurled at them on a daily basis.

But look…….look at Jesus. He does not condemn or accuse. He has no stone to throw. I ask the kids to close their eyes and remember a time they were condemned or hurt by someone’s words. I invite them to place themselves in Jesus’ presence, in place of the woman in this story. I proceed to guide them to tell Jesus about that hurtful memory, to lay it down before him and let him speak to their hearts. “Let yourself be caught in Jesus’ loving gaze where all stones disappear, all accusations are silenced, all shame vanishes.” We sat there together in silence, soaking in Jesus’ love and healing.

Each one left my house that day with a stone in their pocket, a forgiveness stone, a tangible reminder that Jesus does not throw stones as us rather he draws us close in a forgiving and loving embrace.

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New Beginnings

In John 8, we find the story of the women caught in the act of adultery.  She was brought out in plain sight of everyone, to be punished for her supposedly unforgivable sin.
Many in the crowd had stones in their hands, anxious to hurl them at the woman.

How many times have we had stones in our hands?
Stones of unforgiveness, bitterness, judgment, criticism,
rejection hurled hard, penetrated deep on the soul of another?

Oh how those stones hurt and bruise and wound!

What stones have been hurled at you?

“Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger in the dirt.”
He wrote a different kind of rule to live by –
“the sinless one among you, go first: throw the stone”.

Can you hear the stones dropping dead in their tracks in the dirt?

And then there is silence.
A holy silence.
The woman is left all alone with Jesus.

He stood up and spoke to her, a personal encounter.
“Woman, where are they?  Does no one condemn you?”
“No one, Master,” she replies.
“Neither do I,” said Jesus.  “Go on your way.  From now on, don’t sin.”

She’s forgiven, set free.
Jesus gave her a new beginning.

There is always time,
always space,
always grace
for a new beginning.

Lord, help us believe in new beginnings.
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Help Me to Believe in Beginnings | Ted Loder

God of history and of my heart,
so much has happened to me during these whirlwind days:
I’ve known death and birth;
I’ve been brave and scared;
I’ve hurt, I’ve helped;
I’ve been honest, I’ve lied;
I’ve destroyed, I’ve created;
I’ve been with people, I’ve been lonely;
I’ve been loyal, I’ve betrayed;
I’ve decided, I’ve waffled;
I’ve laughed and I’ve cried.
You know my frail heart and my frayed history –
and now another day begins.

O God, help me to believe in beginnings
and in my beginning again,
no matter how often I’ve failed before.

Help me to make beginnings:
to begin going out of my weary mind
into fresh dreams,
daring to make my own bold tracks
in the land of now;
to begin forgiving
that I may experience mercy;
to begin questioning the unquestionable
that I may know truth
to begin disciplining
that I may create beauty;
to begin sacrificing
that I may make peace;
to begin loving
that I may realize joy.

Help me to be a beginning to others,
to be a singer to the songless,
a storyteller to the aimless,
a befriender of the friendless;
to become a beginning of hope for the despairing,
of assurance for the doubting,
of reconciliation for the divided;
to become a beginning of freedom for the oppressed,
of comfort for the sorrowing,
of friendship for the forgotten;
to become a beginning of beauty for the forlorn,
of sweetness for the soured,
of gentleness for the angry,
of wholeness for the broken,
of peace for the frightened and violent of the earth.

Help me to believe in beginnings,
to make a beginning,
to be a beginning,
so that I may not just grow old,
but grow new
each day of this wild, amazing life
you call me to live
with the passion of Jesus Christ.

Marvelous Creation

I met up with Jesika in the park.
“It’s my birthday on Thursday,” she exclaimed with a big smile.
“Then you should come to my house to celebrate,” I responded.
She informed me that she likes chocolate cake and will come by at 4:00pm.  It’s a date.

As I prepared for this special celebration, I knew it needed to be about more than just a piece of cake with a celebratory candle.  Jesika is turning 18 years old, each year marked hard and deep with difficult memories, painful rejection and abandonment.  Psalm 139 came to mind.  I read and re-read it, asking the Lord to guide my thoughts and heart.  Jesika needs your touch Lord, I whispered.

Psalm 139:13-15 (The Message) stood out to me:

“Oh yes, you shaped me first inside, then out;

You formed me in my mother’s womb.

I thank you, High God – you’re breathtaking!

Body and soul, I am marvelously made!

I worship in adoration-what a creation!

You know me inside and out,

You know every bone in my body;

You know exactly how I was made, bit by bit;

How I was sculpted from nothing into something.”

 It’s 4:00, will she come?

The cake, candles and flowers were on the table; ready for our honored guest.

And then the knock on the door…sweet music to my ears as often times this honored guest is a no-show.

We sang Happy  Birthday at the top of our lungs, took some pics, and then I read Psalm 139:13-15 over Jesika.

“You are a marvelous creation Jesika.”
I repeated these words over Jesika several times.  I encouraged her to engrave them in her memory and heart for those moments, those all too often moments, when everyone and everything around her screams the opposite.
Choose to believe and stand on God’s truth Jesika…you are a marvelous creation!

Several days passed and Jesika showed up at my door again, only this time she was drunk and high.  The scolding words on the tip of my tongue and burning desire to slam the door shut were overwhelmed with a gentle voice that whispered in my ear, “Jesika, you are a marvelous creation”.  I did a mental double-take, while God performed a divine attitude adjustment.  He said, “Mel, Jesika is a marvelous creation when she is clean and in her right mind but she is also my marvelous, beloved creation right now….don’t slam the door”.

I invited her in, listened to her, loved her and offered a cup of coffee.  This is sacred space.
Choose to believe God’s truth Jesika, you are a marvelous creation!
And help me believe it too!

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I sat down

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I usually walk on by with a mumbled greeting, a distant “hello”, but not today.  Today I sat down, got close, and engaged in conversation. One had a familiar face; she used to go to my church.  Now she is a mother to 3 month old Dulce (“sweet”).  The bright mid-morning sun shines out, evens out, the glaring differences between my profession and theirs that comes to life in the nocturnal hours.  Oh how I hate the lust and evil that holds them captive, that gives them business.  We talk, laugh and share about motherhood. We are the same really…daughters, women, mothers…each created in the divine image of our creator.  I need to sit down more often.

Cap and Gown

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My friend, Guadelupe, washes cars for a living.  Outside the bank (where she does not have a bank account), in front of “& Cafe” (where she cannot afford even a small cup of coffee), she wipes clean the grime of dust from countless car doors & hoods day in and day out.

Guadelupe might not have a bank account, but today she smiles big as she receives her high school diploma that’s worth far more!  It was an honor to celebrate with Guadelupe today and it will be my pleasure to sit on the curb with her tomorrow as she washes cars.

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(Excuse my long pause in writing…my goal is to write at least once a week.)

“Abriendo La Caja de Lustre”

I climb the wooden stairs & there encounter smiling faces – Suzana, Juan Pablo, Chuz, Jose – tonight is all about them; their photos hung with care, framed in black, for all to see.  “Abriendo La Caja de Lustre” (Opening the Shoeshine Box) is the title of the exhibit.

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People begin to arrive, greeted by this quote from The Darkroom Project’s website:

Watching a refugee (in this case street youth) hold a photograph for the first time, a photograph they have taken with their own hands, changes the fabric of their story.  They have created art and they are proud.  When the world has rejected, beaten, and told them they are worthless, this photo reminds them that they have a story to share and they can overcome the world.

Suzana shares about her photo of a fifty-quetzal bill (more than she makes in a day selling candy).  She found it on the sidewalk & decided that finders truly are keepers.

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Chuz points out his photo of a big house – some day he will have one, some day he will no longer only rent a room.

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Jose chuckles as he looks at his photo of a friend with a cell phone.  “I want that cell phone,” he confesses.

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Each photo tells a story, portrays a dream, confesses a struggle….a snapshot into each one’s life.  Their lives are hard.  Their hearts are soft if you give them a chance to share.  Tonight is all about them.

Preparations

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We took the cameras to the photo shop yesterday, Monday –
Beautiful!!
Portrait shots have been taken of each youth
Each one a window to the soul
Matt & Sky will select the best photos, a tough choice for sure
Then it’s off to the framer – our deadline is Friday
Lots of calls to make, inviting all to attend this important event
How exciting!!!