Monday, June 19, 2017

Cats and Dogs, Wolves and Lambs, Donkeys and Elephants

“The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat,...They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain...”
Isaiah 11:6, 9

I have a confession to make: I'm not a cat person. That might surprise those who visit our house, because we do have three cats (only one of which is an “indoor” cat). So, you can imagine my demeanor after Carol and Ben came home recently with... a kitten.

Granted, she is adorable, but still... She's a cat. And I'm not a cat person.

It turns out that we're only kitty-sitting while the kitten's owners are out of town for a couple of weeks. That makes it more bearable. I can enjoy the adorable-ness of the kitten, all the while remembering that the frequent feedings and supervised explorations of the family room will soon be a memory.

Truth be told, our dogs have had a much harder time than I have with the adjustment. I'm not sure you know this, but dogs and cats aren't natural friends; in fact, dogs have been known to act a bit aggressively toward cats. Our dogs were not happy when the kitten came to reside with us. The dogs don't understand when we tell them, “It's only for a couple of weeks.”

I have to give some credit to one of our dogs, Bella. Bella has been more curious than aggressive toward Kitty-Kitty (I am not giving the kitten a name, lest she become ours). Carol and/or I are always close by when Kitty-Kitty and Bella are in the same room. Kitty-Kitty prances around, climbing on the furniture, scampering underneath the couch, and pouncing on ribbons, toys, shoes, and anything else we leave out for her. Bella, for her part, follows closely everywhere Kitty-Kitty goes, her ears perking up in that “something strange is going on” way that dogs have about them. Occasionally, Bella will lick her lips, which makes us worry that maybe she wants to eat Kitty-Kitty, a fate even a non-cat-person such as I would not wish upon the cute little ball of fur.

After a week and a half, Bella got up on the same chair where Kitty-Kitty was playing. They both kind of froze in place and stared each other down for a few moments. Then Bella settled down, and before we knew it, Kitty-Kitty had laid herself down right on top of Bella.

The Peaceable Kingdom
Alright, even I let out an audible “Awwwww”. I mean, who wouldn't? Look how cute they are together!

It is a cute picture, indeed. But it is also, at another level, profoundly meaningful.

Almost immediately my mind went to a familiar passage in the Old Testament book of Isaiah. In the 11th chapter we find a prophecy of the coming of the Messiah from the line of King David. In that chapter there is a description of the kind of kingdom the Messiah will usher in:

“The spirit of the Lord will rest on him (the Messiah) –
     the Spirit of wisdom and understanding,
     the Spirit of counsel and might,
     the Spirit of the knowledge and the fear of the Lord...

“...with righteousness he will judge the needy,
     with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth...
...Righteousness will be his belt
     and faithfulness the sash around his waist.

“The wolf will live with the lamb,
     the leopard will lie down with the goat,
the calf and the lion and the yearling together;
     and a little child will lead them...
...they will neither harm nor destroy
     on all my holy mountain,
for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord
     as the waters cover the sea.”

Isn't that a beautiful picture of what our world will be like in the kingdom of God?! Can you imagine a world where all is good and equitable for everyone? A world where natural enemies actually come together in peace and harmony?

Come to think of it, I like to think that we have the opportunity to move toward that reality even now. We don't have to wait until the ultimate arrival of the Kingdom, for the truth is we are called to live into kingdom reality even now. I truly believe that Christ has already begun an amazing transformation in the hearts of all who believe in him. It is a transformation that empowers us to overcome the hostilities of our world and work for reconciliation, and peace. Even a superficial reading of the New Testament will draw us to conclude that, in Christ, the things that separate and divide and create hostility between people are no match for the grace, mercy, and forgiveness that are ours in Christ (see, for example, Ephesians 2:11-20, Galatians 3:26-29, 2 Corinthians 5:16-21, Colossians 3:12-17, Matthew 6:9-15, Matthew 5:9, Acts 9).

I say this because my heart is heavy over the spirit of violence, vengeance, and enmity that is pervasive in nearly every area of life and in our world. Just last week a man opened fire on a group of Republican members of congress practicing for a baseball game, wounding five people before being killed by heroic action from the Capitol Police. In the aftermath people from both sides of the political aisle noted that the vitriolic rhetoric we hear 24/7 coming from politicians, activists, protesters, and alternative news outlets probably fed into the hatred of the man who pulled the trigger on the politicians. I just read a story on the internet (which means it must be true), that cited a Pew research poll indicating that "78 million Americans actually hate the other political party."* 

As followers of the Prince of Peace in whom the vision of Isaiah is fulfilled, we should expect better than the current political climate, especially as we claim a Judeo-Christian influence on our country's great history. Enmity and divisiveness should not be the default in our society. It's okay to disagree. Passionate people will disagree. Christ-followers of good conscience will disagree on any number of important issues.

But when our disagreements result in the demonization of those who disagree with us, we have crossed a line. No longer are we being driven by the spirit of Christ, which calls for understanding and reconciliation and mutual respect; instead, we have succumbed to a spirit far beneath the spirit of Christ. Enmity and divisiveness are deeds of the flesh (to put it in Paul's terms), not the spirit of Christ.

Leadership from both the Democrats and Republicans called for a more civil discourse. I hope and pray that their words are not empty.

Folks, if a dog and a cat can learn to get along (it is a learned behavior, an intentional act of the heart), then don't you think the elephants and donkeys can find a way to get along? I think we can. In Christ, we have the wherewithal to break down divisions and barriers instead of erecting them; we have the means by which to set aside enmity, and foster peace. 

Learn a lesson from Bella and Kitty-Kitty. Find a way to overcome the urge to hate and hurt. Find a way to come together, in peace, forgiveness, and mercy. 

That is, after all, the vision of the world where Jesus Christ reigns.


Thursday, June 8, 2017

Relationship Goals

Love never fails...(1 Corinthians 13:14)

Last month I had a really cool opportunity. One of our church members is the activities director at a nearby retirement community, and she asked if I would officiate a vow renewal ceremony. Five couples assembled in a lovely courtyard in front of a fountain, as about 25 family members and other residents gathered to witness the renewal of their marriage vows.

Before the ceremony, the couples gathered in the hallway leading to the courtyard. Even though they had all been married well over 50 years, they were giddy with excitement as they processed to the fountain. When we reached the part of the ceremony where they renewed their vows, I went to each couple individually, had them look each other in the eye and repeat after me:

I, (Fred, etc.), embrace you, (Diana, etc.), as a gift from the hand of God;
and I reaffirm my promise,
before God and these witnesses,
to be your loving and faithful husband (wife);
in plenty and in want,
in joy and in sorrow,
in sickness and in health,
so long as we both shall live.

It was a beautiful thing to see grown men and women choke up and their eyes well up with tears, even after 50, 60, or more years of marriage. What a joyful evening it was! Of course, it was over at 7:30 – can't let something like a vow renewal ceremony make them late for bed...

I left the evening uplifted, encouraged, and hopeful. I thought to myself, “I want Carol and me to be that way in our 80s.”

Later on realized that I didn't need to attend a vow renewal like that in order for me to be inspired; I have my own parents and Carol's parents to serve as wonderful “relationship goals” for our marriage. In fact, as I post this on my blog, it is my parents' 60th anniversary.

Happy Anniversary, 
Sidney and Kaye!

60 years. What an amazing example of steadfast, persevering love. 

Carol's parents are about to celebrate 62 years of marriage.

I am, truly, inspired.

As I think about the secret to longevity in marriage, my mind immediately focuses on love. (If you know me, you will know that love is pretty much the secret to everything!) But the kind of love that will fuel a marriage through the years is more than a warm, mushy feeling inside you. The kind of love that marriage requires that self-interest diminish, and the welfare of the other increase. Paul describes this kind of love in his words found in 1 Corinthians 13:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices in truth. Love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails...

I think about the people who have been married for so many years (like my parents, Carol's parents, and the folks at the retirement community). I realize that they have gone through seasons of great happiness; but they have also faced tremendous challenges together that were anything but happy. They have had to forgive, and ask for forgiveness. They have been rich, poor, sick, and healthy. They have made sacrifices for their spouse and family.

And through it all, love. In Colossians, Paul lists a number of noble character traits that followers of Christ should manifest in our lives. You know, things like compassion, kindness, gentleness, humility, forgiveness, patience. Words that most of us would want to be used in describing ourselves. After listing these noble character traits, Paul says this: “And over all these virtues, put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” (Colossians 3:14)

All this, to say that if we want to reach relationship goals like my parents, we have to love. I am forever grateful to my parents for demonstrating this to me, every day.

Love. It really is that simple.

Not easy. But simple. And mandatory.

Now these three remain: Faith, hope, and love.

And the greatest of these, is love.*

*Paul's words, not mine. But I wholeheartedly agree with Paul on this one!

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Appreciating Family

“Abraham begat Isaac; and Isaac begat Jacob; and Jacob begat Judas and his brethren; and Judas begat Phares and Zara of Thamar; and Phares begat Esrom; and Esrom begat Aram...”Matthew 1:2-3, KJV

I never got into the genealogies in the Bible very much. They are always long and confusing, and the names are usually strange and difficult to pronounce. For example, won't you try to keep track of who's who as the descendants of Joseph are described in the book of Numbers:

“The descendants of Joseph by their clans through Manasseh and Ephraim were:

The descendants of Manasseh: through Makir, the Makirite clan (Makir was the father of Gilead); through Gilead, the Gileadite clan. These were the descendants of Gilead: through Iezer, the Iezerite clan; through Helek, the Helekite clan; through Asriel, the Asrielite clan; through Shechem, the Shechemite clan; through Shemida, the Shemidaite clan; through Hepher, the Hepherite clan. (Zelophehad son of Hepher had no sons; he had only daughters, whose names were Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milkay, and Tirzah.) These were the clans of Manasseh; those numbered were 52,700.

These were the descendants of Ephraim by their clans: Through Shuthelah, the Shuthelahite clan; through Beker, the Bekerite clan; through Tahan, the Tahanite clan. These were the descendants of Shuthelah: Through Eran, the Eranite clan. These were the clans of Ephraim; those numbered were 32,500. These were the descendants of Joseph by their clans.

So, here's my question: How are the descendants of Shuthelah related to the descendants of Hepher?

You see what I mean? It's just confusing, trying to put the pieces together and keeping track of who's who.

But recently I gained a new appreciation for those who persist in genealogy. I attended a family reunion of cousins on my father's mother's side of the family—the descendants of Roscoe Benjamin Hughes.

Most of my grandmother's siblings and their offspring ended up in the upper midwest or the western states; my father married a Texan, so naturally he ended up in Texas. As a consequence, my siblings and I never really got to meet the Hughes side of the family. Even my dad hadn't seen most of the relatives from that branch of the family in over 30 years.

The reunion took place in Lincoln, Nebraska, home to one of my father's cousins. Because of the distance, and other time commitments, Carol and I had initially decided not to attend the reunion. But at the last minute we decided to make the trip.

I'm glad we did. Very glad.

We discovered that I have some pretty awesome cousins. Second cousins, first-cousins-twice-removed, whatever – they are family, and it was great to get to know them. We started the weekend as strangers, but that didn't last long. There was immediately a sense of warmth between us as we visited. Of course, we ate a lot of meals together (Thanks, Ellen and Lynn, for making your kitchen our central gathering place!), and it was around the table that we were able to converse and get to know one another.

We spanned the spectrum in terms of vocation and life experience. And yet, I didn't feel like our differences set us apart from one another so much as they enriched and enlarged our identity as a family.

Fun fact: in the four generations including my great-grandfather Roscoe, we have five ordained ministers (six, if you include the fact that my daughter is a youth minister and will surely one day be ordained as a minister of Word and Sacrament).

I now know that my family also includes a firefighter, a financial advisor, a teacher, an IT manager, a store manager, a hospital attendant; a retired aerospace engineer, and a retired artist for the Walt Disney company. I know that there are other vocations that I haven't mentioned because, frankly, our focus wasn't on what we do for a living, but on who we are.

Carol and I came away from the experience with a great appreciation for our family. And an awareness that our family is much larger than we had previously considered.

My parents (center), with my "new" cousins:
Carol and Leon Hughes (left)
Lynn and Ellen Davis (right)

If I'm honest with myself, I will admit that I treat family differently from others. Family is special. I tend to be more patient with family; I tend to be more compassionate with family; I tend to think more often about family than others; I tend to take more time to listen to family.

Family is special.

In his letter to the Galatians, Paul was writing to a church where some people treated others differently because of their background. Even though all were Christians, some were from a Jewish heritage, while others were Gentiles. Those of Jewish heritage claimed a special status because of their ancestral ties to Abraham, something the Gentiles lacked.

Paul noted that that which ties us to Abraham (and the blessing promised to Abraham by God) is not bloodline, but faith. “Understand, then, that those who have faith are children of Abraham.” (Galatians 3:7) But that's not even the half of it, because Paul goes so far as to say, “So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith... There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:26, 28)

"So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith..."

You know what that means? It means we're family. We, as in you and I, and all the others who are reading this post. And remember what I said about family? Family is special.

So maybe next time you think about church, look at it as a big family reunion. Get to know your brothers and sisters, your cousins, and uncles and aunts, and all your distant relatives in the faith. Get to know them, and appreciate them for who they are, and for what they mean to us all. You don't need to get hung up with all the ins and outs of the genealogy; who begat whom isn't as important as knowing that in Christ we are family. We belong to one another.

Til next time, cuz!

Monday, May 29, 2017

Memorial Day -- No Greater Love

“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one's life for one's friends.”John 15:13

Memorial Day. A day to remember, to reflect, and to give thanks.

In the sanctuary of our church, there are two flags. One is the Christian flag, and the other, the flag of the United States of America.

Both flags represent freedom. The Christian flag reminds us of the freedom from sin that Jesus Christ won for us. The American flag reminds us of the freedom we have celebrated as a nation for 241 years, and for the freedom that the citizens of this nation enjoy.

And in both instances, freedom came at a cost. The ultimate cost.

The freedom that Jesus won for us came at the cost of his life. He laid down his life, for us.

The freedom that we enjoy in this great nation also came at the ultimate cost. Over the centuries, countless men and women in the military have given their lives, so that you and I can live in freedom. They laid down their lives, for us. Because they loved this nation, they went to war. For us.

In our town of Georgetown, the local VFW Post recently dedicated a War Memorial that spans all the wars our men and women have fought. It is a beautiful tribute to those who have made the ultimate sacrifice – and to those who were and are currently willing to make the ultimate sacrifice, our veterans and current military personnel.

Jesus said, “No greater love is there than this: that a person is willing to lay down their life for their friends.” Jesus proved his love for you and me, by dying on the cross. 

The men and women for whom we observe this holiday proved their love for this nation, and they paid the ultimate cost. Again, for you and me.

In Katharine Lee Bates's hymn, “America, the Beautiful,” the third stanza begins with these words:

O beautiful for heroes proved in liberating strife, 
Who more than self their country loved, 
And mercy more than life!

Bates captures the spirit that you and I need to remember today. For were there not those “who more than self their country loved,” I'm not sure what our nation (or our world) would be like today. I'm pretty sure it wouldn't be as free and prosperous and secure as it is right now.

So today as we enjoy a day at the beach, or an evening barbecue, or a leisurely hike in the mountains, or just a day off – let us do it with a grateful heart.

Because someone who probably didn't even know you, gave their life so that you could enjoy the day.

Remember, and give thanks.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Pinterest Perfection, and What Really Matters

“People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”1 Samuel 16:7

One Saturday Carol and I were cleaning house and making preparations for hosting some friends at our home for lunch after church the next day. Carol was doing most of the cooking, but I didn't want to stay on the sidelines, so I kept pestering her for something I could do to help with the food preparation. “I'll tell you what,” she said. “It can be your job to go look up how to make the chocolate-dipped strawberries that we're going to have for dessert.”

So I did what I always do when I want to find a recipe: I got onto the Pinterest app on my phone.

Pinterest, if you didn't know, is a treasure trove of ideas and DIY projects and solutions to common problems. People find something that works for them, they take a few pictures, write a description, and then the “pin” it on their board. Other people can look at their “pins” simply by using common keywords in a search menu. There are literally bajillions (that's like a million with about a dozen zeroes after it) of things you can find on Pinterest.

When I searched for “Chocolate” + “Dipped” + “Strawberries” hundreds of mouth-watering images appeared on my screen. Images like these:

I was inspired! When I clicked on the recipes, they were amazingly simple. Just wash and thoroughly dry the strawberries, leaving the leaves on their tops. Then heat up some chocolate, either using a double boiler or a microwave oven, and dip the strawberries in the chocolate, giving a little shake and twist to even out the coating on the strawberry. Then place the strawberries on a cookie sheet lined with wax paper or parchment paper, and let them cool in the refrigerator. Or, you could drizzle the chocolate strawberries with white chocolate, or dip them into sprinkles to add color and texture before putting them on the cookie sheet.

Easy peasy, right?

I decided to dip some strawberries first in white chocolate and then drizzle with milk chocolate, and then dip other strawberries first in milk chocolate and drizzle with white chocolate. The dipping part went as described on the Pinterest sites. But the drizzling, not so much. Take a look at my first attempts:

I had just experienced what is known as the “Pinterest Fail.” Or, as they say on Twitter and Instagram, #pinterestfail. I was crestfallen! My hopes were crushed! I was a total, abject failure! Ok, maybe it wasn't that bad. I was a bit disappointed, though. I fell far short of my expectations (which were, admittedly, fashioned by what I saw on Pinterest).

It wasn't pretty. If I were to fix these strawberries on the Food Network, I would be chopped...

I did try again, with better results. By the time I made the last strawberries, I actually had something I wouldn't mind posting on Pinterest:

Our friends enjoyed the strawberries at lunch the next day. Nobody balked at the “ugly” strawberries. We had some of the “pretty” strawberries, and some of the “ugly” ones on the same plate. Guess what—they all tasted the same!

In the end, it wasn't how they looked that mattered. It was their flavor, their sweetness that was important.

I'm reminded of the story in the Old Testament, where Samuel is told by God to go to the house of Jesse, for there Samuel would find the person he was to anoint as the king of Israel. Samuel asks Jesse to bring in his sons. When Samuel sees Eliab, the first son brought in to him, Samuel thinks to himself, “Surely the Lord's anointed stands here before the Lord.” Not sure what impressed Samuel so much. Maybe Eliab was impressive in stature. Maybe he just “looked the part.” Whatever it was that impressed Samuel, he thought Eliab would be the one whom God would anoint as king.

God, though, had something else in mind. “But the Lord said to Samuel, 'Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.'” As Eugene Peterson translates it in The Message, “Men and women look at the face; the Lord looks into the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7)

People are often awed by the fancy and flashy. Outward appearances mean something in our world. You can't watch TV or browse the internet without noticing that everything is beautiful and perfect. It definitely skews our expectations for ourselves and for others. It makes me feel like I need to “wow” people with my looks, how I dress, how I come across to others. I need my life to be “Pinterest perfect.”

But thanks to God, I don't have to focus so much on my outward appearances. Or the appearances of others, either. God doesn't take note of things like the cars we drive or the houses where we live; God doesn't care if our clothes are the latest designer fashion or store-brand knock-offs. When God determines my worth, God doesn't look at the color of my skin, or my nationality, or my political preferences.

God looks at my heart. God looks at your heart.

What I think God appreciates more than the way we look on the outside, is how we look on the inside. What is the condition of our heart, spiritually speaking? When God looks inside us, does he see the fruit of his Spirit at work—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control?

When we judge ourselves and others by outward appearances, we all fall short of Pinterest perfection.

But that's okay.

Because God isn't looking at us as if we're pins on Pinterest. God is looking at our hearts.

Maybe we should look at others the same way God looks at us. Look beyond their appearances, and look into their hearts.  

Do that, and you'll probably find something (someone, really) to love.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

On Being a Good Neighbor

“A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan ...came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him.”
Luke 10:30-33

Early one morning Carol and I were walking along the beach. We were on an uninhabited stretch of shoreline, and the tide had been ebbing for a couple of hours. After about a half hour, I noticed something in the sand ahead of us. As we got closer, I could tell it was a horseshoe crab, lying on its back. At first I thought it was dead, but then when I tapped it with the toe of my shoe it moved. Evidently the tide had turned the crab upside down, and now it was stuck.

Like a turtle on its back, the horseshoe crab is totally defenseless. The sun will quickly scorch the crab's body, and it will die. Plus, the seagulls and other birds would soon come and begin to peck at it mercilessly. It was a gruesome thought.

This was the first time I had ever seen a horseshoe crab, other than in places like a children's museum. In those instances, the crab was always on its belly, and all saw saw were the shell and the tail, which are harmless. But on its back, it looks kinda scary.

Part of me wanted to help the poor, defenseless thing; it would die without help. But part of me was scared—I mean, there are a lot of pointed things under the shell. Sharp-looking pointed things.

Finally, I realized that I could probably turn it over where it was, and then pick it up on the outside of the shell and position it where the water was coming up onto the beach. So that's what I did. And lo and behold, the crab started to move—ever so slowly—right into the oncoming surf. Soon it had returned to the safety of the water.

I was feeling pretty satisfied with myself, when a couple of hundred yards later I saw another horseshoe crab. This one was much larger, and it was also farther up the beach, to the highest point the tide had reached. It was going to take a lot longer for this one to reach the water, so I ended up picking it up and carrying it part of the way.

So that day I saved, not one, but TWO lives. I did it. Yep, me. Go ahead and nod approvingly—I most certainly deserve it.

But later I thought to myself, “What if I had just walked past the crabs, and did nothing?” They almost certainly would've died...

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Jesus told the story of the man who was robbed and beaten and left for dead on the side of the road. The first two people who came upon the man – the official representatives of God – passed by on the other side of the road. They looked the other way. They did nothing.

Jesus doesn't say why they don't stop to help the man. People have speculated that maybe they were afraid it was a trap, and that robbers would come as soon as they stooped over to help the man. Maybe they were in a hurry and couldn't afford the time to stop and help. Maybe they were aware that contact with blood and/or a dead body would make them ritually unclean and unable to work for at least a week. Maybe they just afraid. We really don't know why; we just know that they didn't stop to help the man.

Whenever I've read that story, I have always shaken my head and whispered, “Tsssk, Tsssk” at the priest and the Levite. “Shameful, they are,” I think to myself.

And yet, how far from them am I, really? I know that there are times when I can offer my help, but I don't. You know the excuses—too busy, not sure I'd know what to do, what if I say or do something wrong?, I'm afraid of messing up...

It turns out that I cross to the other side of the street more than I want to admit. Please don't “Tsssk, Tsssk” me. I'm not proud of it. I don't want to be the one who plays the part of the priest and the Levite. And I'm sure you don't want to be that person, either.

Believe it or not, this actually has something to do with my “heroic” rescue of the horseshoe crabs. You see, when I came across the horseshoe crabs, I was afraid. They scared me. But I took the time to confront my fears, and sought to do the right thing. I didn't let my first impression prevent me from helping one of God's creatures in need.

My encounter with the crabs reminded me how important it is to struggle past the excuses, and offer a helping hand. Compassion and care needs to overcome our fears and our hesitancy. I know this is hard, especially when it means helping a stranger. Strangers can be intimidating, simply because there is so much that we don't know about them. But Jesus reminds us that strangers are our neighbors, too. Or, to be more precise, we are to be a neighbor even to strangers.

Recently a woman came into the office at church. She is a “regular” who comes off the street just about every month. We all know her by name. My first instinct, I'll admit, was, “I'm going to send her on her way. I don't have time for her today.” But then I felt a little nudge (probably God, or the Holy Spirit, go figure): “Let her into the office; hear what she has to say.”

So I spent a little time with her. She has to live off of $735 in disability, and $30 in food stamps each month. She has to pay her own rent and utilities with that money, and feed herself and buy basic necessities like clothing and toilet paper and laundry. She broke down into tears, “Steve, I actually begged for money from a stranger in the parking lot at the store today. I can't do that—the police will arrest me if I do that.”

I gave her a little bit of money. She won't spend it on alcohol or tobacco; I think I know her well enough for that. It's not enough even for her to get what she needs for the rest of the month. But it was something. As she left, I gave her hand a little squeeze, put my arm on my shoulder, and assured her that she would be okay.

She was one for whom Jesus says I am to be a neighbor. I hope that she left with something of a sense of God's love for her. She is struggling to find God's love in her life, so I hope that just to spend a few minutes with her was a way to let her know that she is loved.

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Here's an interesting tidbit about the horseshoe crab: I learned later on that medical equipment is tested for contamination with a product made from the blood of the horseshoe crab. There are people who catch the crabs, gently extract a little bit of their blood, and then return the crabs to the ocean. And then they make a serum that is used to detect impurities and contaminants on medical equipment.

It turns out that maybe I helped someone else when I put those two crabs back into the ocean.

It just goes to show, you never know how far down your good deed will go. So, be a good neighbor to those in need. It's probably going to do a lot more good than you think.