Category Archives: Modern Day Bible Stories

We can all be healers

I was blessed to have my four-year-old grand-daughter stay overnight for a birthday sleepover and small party this weekend. She of course wanted me to fall asleep with her which I did…and then she woke up crying with a bad croup-like cough at four in the morning. I calmed her down but didn’t have any children’s medicine and as I lay with her it seemed like she kept coughing forever and couldn’t get back to sleep. I used my grandmotherly instincts to rub her chest and back and try to soothe her but she kept on coughing…and then, feeling so bad for her, I guess I also used my spiritual instincts and prayed that God would pass along healing through my fingertips as I continued to gently rub. And it seemed like a short while later she (and I) fell asleep.

Of course I don’t believe I have special powers by any means…but while I lay there listening to her cough I remembered a Bible passage I heard recently in Acts of the Apostles about Peter (while with John at the temple) healing a lame man (of course after Jesus had already ascended into heaven)…and when the Jewish rulers and elders “realized that they (Peter and John) were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished…” Peter responded,  “Fellow Israelites, why does this surprise you? Why do you stare at us as if by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk?” (Acts 3) He of course told them it was by the power of Jesus that they were able to perform the miracle of healing.

The event took place days after the Holy Spirit visited the apostles at the Pentecost. (Note that the Bible says some of the people, hearing the apostles speak in various tongues after being filled with the Holy Spirit, thought they were crazy or drunk even though it was only nine a.m.) After the healing, Peter and John were thrown in jail, but later released with a warning. “…they called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus.  But Peter and John replied, “Which is right in God’s eyes: to listen to you, or to him? You be the judges! As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” And then they prayed, “Lord…enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness.  Stretch out your hand to heal and perform signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” (Acts 4) 

I don’t think it’s far-fetched or crazy to believe that God calls us all to strive, despite our human weaknesses, to be saints, prophets and even healers. We can help heal others in myriad ways both big and small…sometimes through our prayers for one another, listening, a caring gesture or touch, kind words or just spending time with someone. And Jesus even said we would perform greater acts than He. “Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.” (John 14:12) We just have to ask and believe.

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Grateful for God AND Country

I went to see the cherry blossoms in Washington, DC this past weekend with my husband for the first time in my life…and they really were as breathtaking as I had imagined they would be and then some. The first really warm, sunny day we’ve had here in this area, it was a wonderful, romantic way to enjoy spring. But a few other things besides the great company, warm weather and beautiful blossoms on the trip gave me pause, stirred up emotions in me and took my breath away…and I realized after the day was done that it had really been a sort of spiritual pilgrimage.

For those of you who haven’t seen them, most of the cherry blossom trees, given to us in 1912 by Japan, are located around the Washington Monument and nearby Tidal Basin. As you walk around the basin you encounter the Jefferson Memorial. Since I have never made the walk before, I had never entered the Jefferson Memorial, a shrine to our founding father and author of the Declaration of Independence, President Thomas Jefferson. Around the large statue of Jefferson are several quotes from him etched in the marble walls  of the rotunda. As I circled and read each, I felt a profound sense of gratitude that I live in a country where the founders felt that God was an integral part of the start of our nation.

I was surprised as tears blurred my vision. And as I wiped them away I also felt a bit of anger arise in me that so many citizens today don’t seem to appreciate God’s hand in the making of our country…and actually want to take Him out of our schools and institutions today by removing forms of worship such as scriptures, pledges and prayers.

But remembering where I was standing, and the turmoil in Syria and the Middle East that was happening as I stood there, I felt immensely grateful again to be living in a free country where we can profess our faith without persecution, and I said a prayer for all of those who aren’t as fortunate and must fight or flee as a result.

Then we decided to visit the new Museum of the Bible. We fit in as much as we possibly could before we had to get a train home (we really could have spent all day there and still couldn’t have seen it all) but what we did see also took my breath away. Here were actual fragments of the original texts from the Gospels…as well as excavated remains from the place and time where David defeated Goliath (on loan for a time from Jerusalem) that proved the Bible story wasn’t just a made up story but that it actually happened. Because I write modern day novels based on Bible stories including this one which is part of the narrative in my book, The Peace Maker, I was captivated by all of the displays of scrolls and texts and artifacts and was reminded of how important and relevant the Bible – God’s Word – remains to us all today.

I feel truly thankful to all of the prophets and storytellers, scribes and archaeologists and yes, even politicians, who came before me to make it possible for me to love God and to love my country.  David sums it all up for me in this Psalm: “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord, the people whom he has chosen as his heritage!” (Psalm 33:12) God bless all of you and God Bless America.

 

 

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God’s Message…or Mine?

I was a contestant recently in a Toastmasters International Speech contest on the “Division” level (for those non-Toastmasters, basically the third tier in a four-tier contest from which the winner goes to the annual global contest and the “crowning” of the next “World Champion of Public Speaking.” I had already won the first two tiers and was competing against five other people from the Delaware-Maryland region to give the best 5-7 minute speech I could that hopefully carried a meaningful message to the audience.

My speech was titled “Give Grace a Chance.” I have often heard from my sponsor in my 12-Step program that because I have received grace from God, I need to extend grace to others who are pushing my buttons, even when it’s hard, to show them love, kindness, forgiveness and give them second chances. I told my story about receiving grace from God to get sober, and then turning around to struggle with giving grace to one of my family members, but ultimately being able to open up my heart enough to do just that. The idea of “grace” used to be a foreign concept to me but it’s one that I know has definitely saved me and improved my relationships. I wanted to pass onto the audience the idea that it’s good to be open to receiving grace and giving it to others.

Did I win? No, I didn’t even place in the top three. We drew numbers to go first and I drew the number one position. There I was, my speech flowing nicely when on came a piercing beam of light right into my eyes. The AV projector, set up for a later presentation, unexpectedly popped on, and behind me, I knew, was a huge screen showing some power point slide. In a flash I decided to carry on the best I could while two tech guides came up stage right (as I’m still speaking trying not to get distracted) to turn it off. I was told it took them three minutes. Meanwhile I kept on delivering my speech as I had rehearsed it a hundred times, working the stage, trying not to get caught in the beam’s glare. When mercifully it was over, I sat down and realized I had done a great job, the very best I could, I had delivered all of my lines, drew laughter and tears from the audience…and yet, I thought, this was so unfair! (None of the other contestants had to battle with this technical difficulty). I was upset, humiliated, angry, and only grew more so as I heard the names of the winners and I wasn’t one of them.

And then I remembered what I had told my sponsor was the reason I was doing the contest in the first place. “Not to win, although that would be great,” I said, “but win or lose, to deliver God’s message of grace.” So why did I feel so cheated, discouraged, depressed?  I asked myself, why would God motivate me to deliver His message and then let something bad like that happen? And the next day (fortunately I can recover from these ego trips faster as I grow, but I’m only human) it dawned on me. I had delivered His message…a few people came up to me and talked to me about recovery and grace so I knew I had touched a few hearts…only winning, perhaps, wasn’t part of His plan. It had been part of mine and nothing was wrong with the desire to win…but if I held anger or despair in my heart, then I wasn’t carrying God’s message at all.

I guess I had shown grace under pressure and that would have to be its own reward. As St. Paul writes, “We also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance and perseverance, proven character, and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given us.”  (Romans 5:3-5) As I said in my speech, when someone needs your grace I hope you’re able to show it to them…I hope you have the grace to dance to the music (or speak to the crowds!) and when you stumble, stand up and smile…and I hope you can open up your heart, enough to give grace a chance. By the way, I ended by singing this hymn: “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me; I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see.” Amen.

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How to have sustained joy?

Easter Sunday, the pinnacle of the Church’s calendar year, is a day filled with joy.  The Monday after? Perhaps not so much. It’s back to work, back to “normal,” and this year for many people living in the Northeast, still cold and winter-like. So how do we sustain the joy we have experienced as the Easter season fades? One way I would suggest is to be grateful.

For most people, happiness is usually a feeling that one has in response to one’s circumstances (people, places, things) although we can decide to try to be happy no matter what. As Abraham Lincoln once said, “Most folks are as happy as they make up their minds to be.”  Still, when faced with the blues, a health problem, work issues or disappointments, it is tough to feel happy, especially on a Monday. Experiencing joy – like feeling happy – can also be a response we have to outside circumstances…but I believe joy can also be cultivated despite our circumstances. Not feeling well today? Be grateful you don’t have any serious health problems and hopefully can be on the mend tomorrow. Don’t like your job? Be grateful you have a source of income you can hopefully save to one day get the job you dream about. Stuck in the winter blahs? This too shall pass because spring, although seemingly distant to some of us now, is definitely on its way. And the list goes on.

Another way is to ask the Holy Spirit to fill you with guidance and joy. The apostles and disciples of Jesus were filled with fears and doubts for days, weeks, even months after the Resurrection.  That is why Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to them…to guide them and give them hope so that they could spread the Good News with joy so that others would come to believe. And so it is with us as well. But we have to ask. Jesus told the disciples, “you will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy. A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world.  So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy. In that day you will no longer ask me anything. Very truly I tell you, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name.  Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.” (John 16:20-24)

I know God’s Will for us is to be joyful to show those around us that we as Christians believe He is good, that He loves us and that He wants only the best for us. Think about it…we usually don’t want to hear news (or anything really) from people who are downcast and downtrodden – we steer clear of those people. But joy is contagious! I hope if you are feeling a little bit of a let-down this Easter Monday or in days or weeks to come, you will turn it around and experience joy by not only reflecting on the Good News of the Resurrection, but by being truly grateful for your Christian beliefs and asking the Holy Spirit to fill you with joy.

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Let’s start this week (over?) right!

Yesterday was Palm Sunday, the start of what Christians call “Holy Week,” or the week ahead leading up to Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection on Easter Sunday. I feel bummed that already I didn’t start off very well…I worked yesterday (yes, after my whole commitment to try NOT to work on Sundays!) to follow up with the writers who took the workshop I gave at the Maryland Writers Association Conference on Saturday. (I looked forward and saw my busy week ahead…which does include helping others, I reasoned…and I saw no other time to do this task. Ah…the elusive balance we seek in our lives.) But then I remembered Jesus healing someone on the Sabbath so I decided to stop beating myself up, let it go and move forward so I could continue to be of service to others.

And then this morning a resentment cropped up which stole my serenity, and I thought, how can Lent be almost over, here we are in Holy Week already, and I am NOT feeling very holy! Give me a shout out or reply if you can relate! So the question is, how to turn things around? Lucky for me I got to go to a yoga class during my lunch today and brought to mind an intention to resurrect my peace and joy when I went back to my work day. A change of perspective was all that was really needed! If you are feeling stuck or down today and bummed your Holy Week isn’t starting out that great, and you don’t have the luxury of going to yoga or even getting in a quiet place for a few minutes, try closing your eyes, taking a deep breath and saying a quick prayer for peace and joy to enter your heart…or try to bring to mind something to be grateful for. I’ve heard it said it’s tough to be unhappy when you’re feeling grateful.

All negative feelings…doubt, anxiety, worry, resentment…usually stem from fear. So if I catch myself feeling any of these this week, I’m going to remind myself of the words in today’s Mass reading out of Psalms…”The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom should I fear? When evildoers come at me…My foes and my enemies themselves stumble and fall….Though an army encamp against me, my heart will not fear; Though war be waged upon me, even then will I trust.  I believe that I shall see the bounty of the LORD in the land of the living. Wait for the LORD with courage; be stouthearted, and wait for the LORD.” (Ps. 27:1-14)

I wish you all a peaceful, blessed Holy Week and a Joyous Happy Easter!

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Stay in Your Lane…

I won a Toastmasters speech contest yesterday…it was the second round of contests on a journey to get to the Toastmasters International Speech Contest held annually to choose the “World Champion Public Speaker.” I felt good about my speech…I have had it in my head for months, on paper for weeks and practiced it for what seems like a thousand times and yet…I was still nervous as my competitors, I felt, were much better public speakers. Still I felt I had a message to impart about giving grace to others.  It felt good to win…for about ten seconds. Then I was off thinking of my next round of competition…surely they will be even better speakers and bigger competition! What happened to my confidence? And what happened to my belief that if God put this speech on my heart, surely He would give me the courage and ability to speak it. Somehow along the way the desire to win overcame the desire to carry the message. Of course, I argued with myself, the other speakers may also be hearing God’s message – so what makes me think mine is more important? And then I realized, it doesn’t matter. I need to forget about trying to out-speak the competition and just stay in my lane, give my speech, and the rest is up to God (and the judges). I guess I was meant to give it to the audience I did at this one particular contest because after I did, I saw that a lady was in tears.

And the same can be said with my books. I often struggle with myself and with God, thinking if writing modern day novels based on Bible stories is His Will, why isn’t He helping me along the way? Why aren’t they selling more copies? Why aren’t they on the New York Times bestseller list yet? And my insecurity and resulting frustration grow until a point of doubt, anxiety and even anger overtake me. But I know that only if I stay in my lane and quit comparing my author journey to others can I find any true happiness in it. I do have a tendency to compare myself to others while all along I should just feel grateful that I have the gifts of writing and speaking that I do…because I do enjoy them and I do believe the messages I carry through both my books and public speaking are from God and can help others.

And isn’t that enough? Why do I always want more? Because it is part of my human nature I guess. But when I cross the line into someone else’s lane, I do get distracted, and it can even be dangerous. Imagine swerving into another lane on the highway. It might be a thrill for a minute, but then you lose the joy of the scenery while you desperately try to keep up with the car ahead so the car behind you doesn’t run you over. We all have our own paths to travel and sometimes they do cross and sometimes we have to push ourselves so we don’t get stuck…but as for me, I need to make sure I stop and smell the flowers along the way!

Finally I asked myself while reflecting on all of this today, when I die, what will really be important and remembered? Will I be saying I wish I would have sold more books? Or won a speech contest? Or will I be glad that I wrote what I did and spoke what I did if it meant helping just one other person, or making an impact in someone’s life?

St. Paul tells us, “for by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:8-10) I have been shown much grace and need to pass it on through my works. And that is enough.

 

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Knowing Your Truth…

I was hacked today on one of my social media accounts (Linked IN) and I couldn’t get back into my account, as if someone had stolen it – not to mention sent messages to people I know that I was trying to get them to buy into some make believe investment scheme. I guess I’ve been lucky up until this point in my life that this hasn’t happened to me before. But this on top of a rough day at work and the cold, gloomy weather outside made me feel like moving to some remote warm place away from the world, away from social media and the Internet and all of the evil humans trying to scam and harm people out there. Just let me be a recluse and write, I thought. But life doesn’t work that way now does it?

It also made me think of Jesus’ ministry on earth and how he sometimes felt like a stranger in his own land…and how the Jewish leaders (His own people!) questioned His authority, His very identity and called Him a liar and a cheat and many other things that just weren’t true. Meanwhile they just didn’t want to see or hear the truth – that He was the Son of God, sent to save the world. Or perhaps they couldn’t handle the truth because it undermined their power…so when He wouldn’t bend His own truth, they ridiculed and tortured Him and sentenced Him without a fair trial to die. When I reflect on all that Jesus went through to give us His message of truth and salvation, it makes me feel like what I go through is so small. Still there is evil in the world, and sometimes it gets easy to feel self righteous, which is an egotistical, dangerous place for me to be.

It also made me stop and reflect on my own truth and how it aligns with God’s. What has God sent me here on this earth to do? Why did He put me here? The answer they taught us in Catholic school was “to know God, to love Him, and to serve Him.” As a kid, I didn’t pay that much mind…but today I believe that is still my purpose and when I am doing something that falls in line with that core truth, it is the right thing to do. But how easily I get distracted or think of ways to justify what becomes a gray area of “truth.” I tend to pile stuff on my plate and lose focus on what’s important – such as getting to know God through prayer, meditation and reading the Bible; coming to love God more through improving my relationships with other people; and serving Him through writing Bible-based novels, speaking messages of inspiration and hope to others, and helping other writers on their journeys. That means I need to spend quiet reflective time, social time and work hard in my calling.  Not go in a hundred directions and get lost on social media or in frustration over it!

No one said life is easy and people are perfect…but I do have faith that if I can stay true to God’s purpose in my life, and not sweat the small stuff, everything will okay. In fact, St. Paul confirms it with my favorite Bible passage: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28)

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