Somewhere, Sometime, Someday

There’s a place for us,
Somewhere a place for us.
Peace and quiet and open air
Wait for us, somewhere.

There’s a time for us,
Some day a time for us,
Time together with time to spare,
Time to learn, time to care.

Some day,
We’ll find a new way of living,
We’ll find a way of forgiving.
Somewhere . . .”

Recently two friends and I were discussing politics when suddenly it became prudent to change the subject. Somehow we got on music. One person named her favorite Broadway musical and the other followed with hers. It became obvious that it was my turn.  I said West Side Story was my favorite musical and added that my favorite song was “Somewhere.” Then I softly said, “Fred and I always looked for a place for us and a time for us, but it never happened.”  Moments of silence followed and the subject was changed – again.

I thought about the reality of “somewhere” for a couple of days. Fred was a black man married to a white woman (me) before interracial marriages were common. He died in October, 2020, after a long illness which was aggravated, I am sure, by his 69 years of living in a society in that never accepted him or our marriage. He died before we could find “a place for us” in American society, in our largely segregated state of Michigan (blacks lived in big cities and whites populated the small towns),  or even in the Church.

Fred and I met in the late 1980’s.  We both had been married before and had children from those marriages.  As we talked (and talked and talked), I learned about the personal side of racism and he learned that some white people were genuinely eager to know about the black experience. We talked about Martin Luther King and Malcolm X and the ignorance of the comment “I don’t see race” often proudly stated by whites, not realizing that if they didn’t “see” race, they didn’t “see” Fred.

As we began our journey together in a racist society, Fred was very apprehensive. I was full of optimistic dreams.  Reality dawned on our wedding day, August 17, 1991.  The pastor, a good friend of ours, was beginning with the vows when suddenly my mother stood up and shouted, “How can you do this to me?” and ran from the room sobbing. The audience drew a collective huge breaths.  The pastor and Fred both looked at me, and I calmly (somehow) said, “Go ahead with the vows.” Soon we were officially a couple, but reality hit us both hard.

Looking for a home together was the next jarring experience.  We lived near Flint. We soon learned that if we saw an ad located in the city of Flint, Fred had to inquire about it.  If we learned of a home in the Flint suburbs or another town, I had to check it out.  We learned this because we each found a possibility for housing and went together to check it out.  In both cases when the landlord saw a “mixed” couple standing at his door, suddenly the apartment  that was available a few hours ago had just been rented.

I eventually found a nice house to rent in a small town near Flint. I signed the papers and wrote the check, and Fred and I happily moved in.  You should have see the look on the home owner’s face when he saw my husband for the first time.  Eventually he and his wife divorced and we were forced to leave the home because she wanted to live there. We eventually had to purchase a mobile home in a small town outside of Flint – which we really couldn’t afford. This way nobody saw us until the house was moved on to the lot. After the truck left we drove in the driveway.  It was, once again, too late for the shocked manager to do anything about it.

At that time I was the director of an adult literacy program and Fred was attending computer school.  He had also convinced me to get a computer for our literacy program so he could teach my students about computers. Our office was in the basement of the County Library which was on the same property as the County Jail.  One day Fred was leaving my office in the evening after backing up the computer when he was accosted by a policeman. He stopped Fred and asked, “Where do you belong?”

“I belong right here. I work at the literacy center,” Fred politely responded.

The cop looked skeptical.  “You know how to use a computer????? he said. Fred said, “Yes,” and started walking again.  The cop reluctantly let him go.

Eventually we moved, mobile home and all, to a small town in West Michigan. It was a return to my home town, but Fred had never lived outside of the Flint/Saginaw area, and he was pretty worried. I now understood the issues we were facing, but I couldn’t wait to take him to the church I had attended before moving to the Flint area. We were just leaving the service, when a woman came up to him and said, “You must attend the seminary in town, right?  Fred looked at me, puzzled. (I learned later that he didn’t even know what a seminary was.)

Finally, he said, “No.”  Then the woman said, “Well, you must be from Africa.  Why are you at our church  if you aren’t attending the seminary?” We just looked at each other and were spared from answering by a friendly greeting from an older man. He welcomed us and then said to Fred, “We have a second service. Lots of people from the neighborhood come.  I’m sure you would be more comfortable there.”

Fred looked at me. Then he said, “I attend the first service with my wife. I like that one.”  The man’s jaw dropped. “You two are married!?” he asked.  His wife pulled his arm and they quickly walked away. Fred did not return to church.

He did, however, join a church group on a mission trip to South Africa.  He had been told that one task was to build a computer lab, and, since he was now a computer network administrator, he was excited to work on that project.  However, when the group arrived in South Africa, he was told that a high school senior who knew about computers would work on the computer lab and that Fred was to join the work of building coffins.  He told the project manager that he worked on computer projects everyday, but knew nothing about building.  That made no difference. On the day before the group was to return home, Fred learned that the high school senior did not know how to finish the project.  Did Fred really know enough to help?  He said he did and he would.  He stayed up all night to finish the task, almost missing the plane home, but never was thanked for his contribution.

Our life together was difficult and challenging, but the rewards were great.  Although, like Tony and Maria, the mismatched couple in West Side story, we never found the “someday” or the “some place” or the “sometime” when life together was easy and uncomplicated, we learned a lot about each other and our respective cultures and loved our way through life in a world that would rather not even look at us, let alone help us find our place together.  I pray that the mixed race marriages of today have an easier time.

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A Hope and a Future

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.This promise has been my lifeline for decades. But when I read it this week, I saw something new.

My life is filled with infections and dangerous skin conditions, along with multiple myeloma, an incurable blood cancer. In addition, I now also have a “history of falling.” Regular readers of this blog may remember that I had to move to my son’s home last fall for several months because I was consistently dizzy and confused and often fell. After months of this, my cancer doctor, with great trepidation, removed an oral medication from my chemo “cocktail.” And within two weeks the dizziness and confusion disappeared and the chemo kept working.  (I was, however, left with a permanent worsening of “word salad” – mixing up words and forgetting words, especially when I am eager to share something).  I am still unsteady and need a walker, but at least I wasn’t falling.

So imagine my distress several days ago. I was sitting in my leather office chair, intending to turn off the computer, when the symbols on the screen started darting around. And imagine my surprise when after some time had passed (I don’t know how much), I woke up on the floor. I managed to get myself up, but I have not yet figured out how I ended on the floor in the first place. (Maybe I slid out of the chair?)

This  fall was really a shock. I thought I had conquered this problem! I hadn’t fallen in months and I wasn’t dizzy – and I was sitting in a chair!  I managed to get to the living room and sat in my recliner, for the rest of the day – and most of the next day. After all, I figured, it would be really hard to fall off a recliner!

Thus incident brought on a few days of existential issues. What would the rest of my life be like if I start  falling again – especially if I manage to fall while I’m sitting down?  What if they can’t find an antibiotic to cure my infections? Or what if it does cure infections, but I can’t take it because it affects my increasingly worrying kidney function, which means I will have to stop chemo, which means the multiple myeloma will win sooner that anyone had expected. (We can certainly get ourselves in dithers, can’t we?)

I decided first of all that I needed to look again at my “living will.” And then there are the forms from two different agencies waiting for me to resolve the DNR question. Do I want to choose to not be resuscitated? Do I want to go to the emergency room and a probable hospital bed? I can take care of myself now, but where am I going to live if I can’t stay on my feet?

Somewhere during all of this angst, I ran across Jeremiah 29:11: “I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” It spoke to me louder than ever! – “I’ve got your back, Karen!  You will struggle but not be harmed. You can have hope in a future.  Start living again in the present. So I stopped stewing and started acting.

First I called my friend, a retired hospice nurse.  She raved about the details in my living will and encouraged me to talk over the entire plan with my son  – which I plan to do once he is finished grading his college students’ exams.

Then I called Palliative Care and asked for the social worker to visit. We talked about the issues around a DNR. She gave me information I needed: CPR can result in broken bones and make everything worse. She didn’t recommend it for someone who will be 80 in October. She gave me a DNR form; it has already been signed by four people and is ready if needed.

She also labeled me as someone “at risk for falling” – and gave me the Medicare definition for falling which is: “A sudden, unintentional change in position causing an individual to land at a lower level.” (Actually she said, “An unintentional change in position causing a descent to earth” which I like much better.)  I asked her, “So if I’m walking past this chair and I suddenly feel that I might fall so I sit down, is that labeled a fall?  She nodded. Hmm, I thought, I’m almost always very careful, but some falls might be inevitable.

She went on, ” Your living will is wonderfully specific and will be very helpful for your son if  you have to be hospitalized.” (My worst nightmare). But if and when you do have to stop chemo, we will work with your doctors and it should be possible for you to go right into Hospice. We will take care of you.”

Today the sun is shining and I am not burdened with fear. But when the door starts closing and decisions have to be made, I trust that God will always remind me that He will always have “plans that will not harm” me and that I can have not only hope, but also a future.

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From My Reading – May

“Life in God should be a daring adventure of love but often we settle for mediocrity. We follow the daily practice of prayer but we are unwilling or, for various reasons, unable to give ourselves totally to God. To settle on the plain of mediocrity is to settle for something less than God, which leaves our hearts restless and unfulfilled. . . . Prayer is that dynamic, life-giving relationship with God by which we grow deep in God’s Word, strong in God’s grace, and free in God’s love to dream with God the unimaginable” (Ilia Delio).

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“Compassion is the sometimes fatal capacity for feeling what it’s like to live inside somebody else’s skin. It is the knowledge that there can never really be any peace and joy for me until there is peace and joy finally for you too” (Frederick Buechner).

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“It is possible to become discouraged about the injustice we see everywhere. But God did not promise us that the world would be humane and just. [God] gives us the gift of life and allows us to choose the way we will use our limited time on this earth. It is an awesome opportunity” (Cesar Chavez, “Statement by Cesar Chavez at the end of his 24-day fast for justice, 1972).

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“If you were to ask me point-blank: “What does it mean to you to live spiritually?” I would have to reply: “Living with Jesus at the center.” . . . When I look back over the last thirty years of my life, I can say that, for me, the person of Jesus has come to be more and more important. Specifically, this means that what matters increasingly is getting to know Jesus and living in solidarity with him” (Henri Nouwen).

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” The Holy One is with us in all of life. Our purpose for opening the door inward is to help us know and claim who we are so we can more completely join with God in expressing this love in every part of our external world” (Joyce Rupp).

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“Founders are typically generous, visionary, bold, and creative, but the religions that ostensibly carry on their work often become the opposite: constricted, change-averse, nostalgic, fearful, obsessed with boundary maintenance, turf battles, and money” (Brian McLaren).

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It is Possible

“Heaven, as we call it, is not a totally distinct realm into which we shall be translated by the fact of death.  It is an experience that interpenetrates the experience of it here. The dying thief did not begin his experience of paradise after he had drawn his last breath in this world. He began it at the moment he recognized in his dying companion the Lord and Master of his life.  

Now lest you think I am spinning fancies and neglecting reality, let me hasten briefly to illustrate what I mean. I mean that it is possible even in the contradictions and confusions of this life to keep the center of your being calm and undisturbed.  I mean that its possible in this life to go through one hellish situation after another with strength and confidence of spirit.  I mean that it is possible to endure physical pain and suffering while the mind and heart are filled with peace and joy.  That’s what I mean by being in paradise even while you are still part of this earthly scene of chance and change.” 

I read this passage by Howard Hageman excerpted in the book Bread and Wine close to midnight last night. It thrilled me then . . . and it thrills me now. Hageman explains  Jesus’ promise that, if we walk with him, it is possible to live in the victory of his presence even while we are caught up in “one hellish situation after another.”

A friend and I were were spiraling in a tornado-like discussion of one hellish situation after another this morning: a Congolese immigrant lying prone on the ground after a traffic stop is shot in the back of the head by a white policemen; a Ukrainian father returns home after buying groceries and finds his 3-month-old baby and his wife dead in his demolished apartment; an elderly woman is raped by a Russian soldier; a daughter describes her mother’s death from COVID19 because she believed the disinformation about the disease and the vaccines who can prevent it; a mother escapes execution for killing her 2-yr-old because of new information that was seemingly withheld by the prosecution during her trial. How can we survive times like these?

I have written often in this blog about my husband’s death and about my continuing battle with an incurable cancer. I have also written about the gratitude I have for the blessings that have been heaped on me by so many. How does this thankfulness bubble up even during the very bad and discouraging days? How do I often feel calm and at peace when everything is going wrong?

But now I understand. The blessings of paradise are given to us while we still live on this earth – even during the “hellish situations” – if we walk with Jesus and live in the grace of his presence. As Hageman proclaims: “We have the opportunity to redeem tragedy into glory. For what is our tragedy but our failure to grasp what Christ can do for our lives here and now? And what is our glory but to discover with him how to live in heaven even while we are still on earth?”

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Days of My Life

This noon I ate an egg salad sandwich.  Not long ago, I would not have had the strength to make the egg salad, let alone want to eat a sandwich.  I am blessed by both the loss of 40 pounds and the ability to eat again.

This afternoon I sat in my favorite chair watching a pot of tulip buds bloom before my eyes. They were a gift from daughter-in-law. They will give me pleasure for days.

Yesterday I saw a brilliant colors in the tree outside my window.  A cardinal and a bluebird perched together basking in the sunshine. What fun!

A few days ago, I received a hand-made card with a moving Holy Week poem about “flesh and spirit torn” from one of the members of a writing club I established years ago. Seeing her grow in confidence and in skill has been a real blessing for me.

The past few days I have been enjoying the run of victories by a young woman on Jeopardy. And I’m very grateful that despite the “word salad” that is evident now in my speech due to the side effects of my chemo, I was able to answer several questions!

A friend sent me a generous check this a few days ago (her family has blessed me before with unexpected financial gifts – as have others).  I have always loved to support several organizations with donations, but since Fred died I have had to be much more careful about finances.  But this week I was able to donate half of that gift to Doctors Without Borders for their work in Ukraine.  I was so grateful to be able to help someone else after all the help I have received!

The first week of April a friend gave me a ride to the Ambulatory Treatment Center at our local hospital so I could have two shots of Evusheld, a new monaclonal antibody treatment for COVID that lasts for six months. My cancer doctor ordered this for me because I am one of those  compromised people who wouldn’t do well with COVID. In fact, one of my greatest blessings is that I have survived this two-year nightmare without getting COVID. Since I had to wait for an hour after the shots in case of side effects, my friend and I had a meaningful conversation about widowhood. I have been a widow for  more than a year and a half. Her husband died in mid-February. It was interesting to see how our different perspectives change as time goes by.

A few days ago another friend gave me a ride to the Cancer Center to have blood drawn in preparation for my chemo next this week.  We also went out to lunch.  This was the first time I have been in a public space (other than doctors’ offices) since the arrival of COVID 19. I almost didn’t know how to act!  I also ordered a huge “mini-gourmet” salad “to go;” tonight I will enjoy the last of three meals it provided.

This week I’ve been been reading a book by Michael Eric Dyson entitled Tears We Cannot Stop, A Sermon to White America.  Tears filled my eyes as I learned even more about the mistreatment of black men and their sons. I also finally finished a 500+page masterpiece, The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson – the story of the black migration north to escape the Jim Crow south. It also brought tears. I closed each book wishing I could talk to my black husband and his father, one dead for 19 months and the other for decades, so I could learn more about the experiences that shaped their lives in white America. And this week a fellow-book lover made another of her visits to deliver more books I have had “on hold” at the library.  I’m excited to see what these books will bring.

And so . . . life goes on:  the horrific war in Ukraine, the terror of COVID 19,  my ongoing battle with multiple-myeloma (an incurable blood cancer), and my life living alone.  Every day has its challenges, but they have been outnumbered by the blessings – with more to come.

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From My Reading – April

“A TRUE ATHEIST is one who is willing to face the full consequences of what it means to say there is no God.  To say there is no God means among other things that there are no absolute standards. For instance, if you are an atheist who believes with all your heart that murder is wrong and you run into somebody else who believes with all her heart that murder isn’t wrong as long as she can get away with it, there is no absolute standard by which it can be shown that one view is better than the other, just as there is no absolute standard by which it can be shown that vanilla is better than chocolate” (Richard Roher).

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“Those who are lifting the world upward and onward are those who encourage more than criticize” (Elizabeth Harrison).

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“Eternity is not endless time or the opposite of time.  It is the essence of time.  If you spin a pinwheel fast enough, all its colors blend into a single color – white – which is the essence of all of the colors of the spectrum combined.  If you spin time fast enough, time-past, time-present, and time-to- come all blend into a single timelessness or eternity, which is the essence of all times combined” (Frederick Buechner).

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“It’s in that convergence of spiritual people becoming active and active people becoming spiritual that the hope of humanity now rests” (Van Jones).

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“We are each a God-carrier, a tabernacle of the Holy Spirit, indwelt by God the holy and most blessed Trinity.  To treat one such as less than this is not just wrong. . . . It is veritably blasphemous and sacrilegious. It is as if we were to spit in the face of God. Consequently injustice, racism, exploitation, oppression are to be opposed not as a political task but as a response to a religious, a spiritual imperative. Not to oppose these manifestations of evil would be tantamount to disobeying God” (Bishop Desmond Tutu).

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“Almost always when we talk about prayer we are thinking of something we do and, from that standpoint, questions, problems, confusion, discouragement, illusions multiply. For me, it is of fundamental importance to correct this view. Our Christian knowledge assures us that prayer is essentially what God does, how God addresses us, looks at us. It is not primarily something we are doing to God, something we are giving to God but what God is doing for us. And what God is doing for us is giving the divine Self in love” (Ruth Burrows).

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“There are just some kind of men who — who’re so busy worrying about the next world they’ve never learned to live in this one, and you can look down the street and see the results” (Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird ).

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From My Reading – March

“As I understand it, to say that God is mightily present even in such private events as these [his father’s suicide, for example] does not mean that he makes events happen to us which move us in certain directions like chessmen. Instead, events happen under their own steam as random as rain, which means that God is present in them not as their cause but as the one who even in the hardest and most hair-raising of them offers us the possibility of that new life and healing which I believe is what salvation is. . . .

As I see it, in other words, God acts in history and in your and my brief histories not as the puppeteer who sets the scene and works the strings but rather as the great director who no matter what role fate casts us in conveys to us somehow from the wings, if we have our eyes, ears, hearts open and sometimes even if we don’t, how we can play those roles in a way to enrich and ennoble and hallow the whole vast drama of things including our own small but crucial parts in it” (Frederick Buechner in Telling Secrets).

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“Healing comes when you see the opportunity for growth that a painful situation has provided” (Br. David Steindl-Rast).

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“When St. John says that fear is driven out by perfect love, he points to a love that comes from God, a divine love. He does not speak about human affection, psychological compatibility, mutual attraction, or deep interpersonal feelings. All of that has its value and beauty, but the perfect love about which St. John speaks embraces and transcends all feelings, emotions, and passions. The perfect love that drives out all fear is the divine love in which we are invited to participate. The home, the intimate place, the place of true belonging, is, therefore, not a place made by human hands. It is fashioned for us by God, who came to pitch his tent among us, invite us to his place, and prepare a room for us in his own house” (Henri Nouwen).

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“Turn your face to the sun, and the shadows fall behind you” (Maori proverb).

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“Life in God should be a daring adventure of love but often we settle for mediocrity. We follow the daily practice of prayer but we are unwilling or, for various reasons, unable to give ourselves totally to God. To settle on the plain of mediocrity is to settle for something less than God, which leaves our hearts restless and unfulfilled. . . . Prayer is that dynamic, life-giving relationship with God by which we grow deep in God’s Word, strong in God’s grace, and free in God’s love to dream with God the unimaginable” (Ilia Delio).

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“It’s not about becoming spiritual beings nearly as much as about becoming human beings. The biblical revelation is saying that we are already spiritual beings; we just don’t know it yet. The Bible tries to let you in on the secret, by revealing God in the ordinary,” (Richard Rohr).

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Dealing with Contempt

I belong to a spiritual formation group that meets on Monday mornings.  Five women gather on Zoom, first because of COVID restrictions and now because it is just easier to meet without traveling. We follow an outline provided by Renovare which focuses on the seven spiritual disciplines as outlined by Richard Foster in his seminal book, Celebration of Disciplines: Contemplative (The Prayer-filled life), Holiness (The Virtuous Life), Charismatic, (the Spirit-Empowered Life), Social Justice (The Compassionate Life), Evangelical (The Word-Centered Life), and Incarnational (The Sacramental Life). Each week each of  us shares our experiences (and sometime adventures) with one (or more) of the disciplines.

All of us are political animals, so the last few years of American politics have been very difficult. Especially after the events of January 6, our discussions often focus on how we as Christ-followers should respond to the divisive and mean-spirited nature of political actions and discussions.

Recently, hoping for inspiration, I began reading a new book, Following the Call, Living the Sermon on the Mount Together, published by Plough Publishing House and edited by Charles E. Moore. It features essays by more than a hundred of the most well-known and well-read Christian authors who have lived and written during several centuries.

Last week I was reminded about my attitude toward people with whom I seriously disagree.  Now I was struggling with my anger and disgust and contempt with the actions of Vladimir Putin as he made war on the country of Ukraine. I began reading  new section of Following the Call and found these words of Jesus in Matthew 5:21-22:

“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with brother or sister will be subject.  Anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool! will be in danger of the fire of hell.'” (p.94)

The first essay on this topic of anger was written by Dallas Willard, a writer and theologian who changed my life years ago. I eagerly read what he had to say about anger. He first pointed out that the Aramaic term “raca” was current in Jesus day “to express contempt for someone and to mark him or her as contemptible.” He points out that “‘raca’ may have “originated from the sound one makes to collect spittle from the throat in order to spit” (an appropriate sign of contempt, I thought).

Willard then differentiates between anger and contempt:

“In anger I want to hurt you. In contempt, I don’t care whether you are hurt or not. Or at least so I say.  You are not worth consideration one way or the other (bolding mine) We can be angry at someone without denying their worth. But contempt makes it easier to hurt them or see them further degraded. . . . . The intent and effect of contempt is always to exclude someone, push them away, and leave them out and isolated. . . . In the course of normal life one is rarely in a situation where contempt is not hovering in the wings. And everyone lives in terror of it  . . . . Contemptuous actions and attitudes are a knife in the heart that permanently harms and mutilates peoples souls.  (p. 95-96)

I cannot begin to describe how convicted I was by these words, I do not want to put a knife in anyone’s heart! So much so that when our Monday morning meeting came, I could not wait to share Willard’s words . . . and confess.

A long discussion followed about how we avoid contempt, how we deal with our sins of contempt, how we live in an evil world where contempt seems so appropriate. We struggled with all of it.  Then one of the members of the group remembered a prayer she had read about the situation in Ukraine by the Rev. George de Vuyst, a missionary in Ukraine with the Christian Reformed missions agency Resonate Global Mission who is currently on home service in the U.S. The entire prayer is beautifully meaningful, but the lines that struck our group were:

“Lord, we pray for Vladimir Putin. We pray that you would change his heart and work your miracle of salvation in his life. If he continues in his wicked ways, we pray that you would restrain his evil and have mercy on those who suffer because of it.

I was so thankful! This was an answer to my dilemma: a meaningful prayer which will help me avoid the sin of contempt, a prayer which calls up on God to do what all my contempt can never do for anyone:  change his heart, work your miracle of salvation, and restrain his evil.  All my angry thoughts and words of contempt will never restrain anyone’s evil; only God can do that. My contempt will only harm me. I must leave this to God – and work to help the victims of evil instead instead of cursing those who cause it.

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