A Crown of Beauty

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
    because the Lord has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
    to proclaim freedom for the captives
    and release from darkness for the prisoners,[a]
 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
    and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
     and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
    instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
    instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
    instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
    a planting of the Lord
    for the display of his splendor . . . 

“For I, the Lord, love justice;” 

Isaiah 61:1-3, 8a

It was totally unexpected. I had arranged to meet a friend this morning and I was very early for our scheduled time. It was a nippy morning, so I left the car running while I sat at our appointed meeting place to wait for my friend. The car was cozy warm and it was a good time to catch up on some emails and texts.

I texted to my friend: “On the way here, I stopped for coffee, and as I left the coffee place, I did an illegal u-turn only to end up going the wrong way on a one-way street. I had not realized that it was one-way. A policeman pulled up behind me and I pondered what I should do. He did not turn his lights on. So, I hopped out of my car and approached his window. He was a very nice-looking man of maybe 32 years or so. “Do you want to give me a ticket?” I asked. He declined saying he just was waiting for me to go ahead. I thanked him and counted my blessings as I climbed back into my car and took off. True to his word, he did not pull me over. I’m pretty sure I was blessed to avoid hundreds of dollars in fines. Thank you, Lord, for sparing me from what I deserved once again.

“We were broken into last night….” That was a text I did not expect, but the police were called and all the right steps were taken. Our staff member who discovered the break in took measures to be safe and worked through everything with the authorities and other occupants of the church.

I glanced up after reading the text. I had parked by a condo building and I could see the backyards of three of the condos as I looked to my right. My eyes panned down through the yards and I noted how much trash littered the yards – scrunched up McDonald’s cups, discarded paper towels and napkins, newspapers, etc. I had been looking for a place to live in the area – would I be happy here, with all the garbage strewn about, I wondered?

I saw a movement out of the corner of my eye. Behind a tree in front of me and behind the condos was a dumpster. There was a woman dumpster diving. I wondered if I knew her. I watched as she climbed out with a beautiful bouquet of flowers in her hand. They were fake, of course, but you could not really tell that from this distance. She arranged them and put a rubber band or something around them to hold them together. I thought maybe this was someone who had thrown out the wrong garbage bag by mistake or something like that. Then I saw her face; it was one of the women I minister to while out on the Salvation Army van on Monday nights. I have a real soft spot for this woman. The level of abuse she has suffered in her life of 30+ years in unparalleled to anything I can even imagine. Now, she hears voices, she does drugs, she sells her body for money to buy drugs. Recently she suffered a horrific injury allegedly from the man she is living with; a man who likely has sexually abused her since childhood. At the time, I hoped it would be her opportunity to exit, and we tried. But we were unsuccessful.

I continued to watch as she spent the next 15 minutes searching through the dumpster for clothes and other miscellaneous items. As I sat in my car, I marvelled at how someone would throw out such beautiful flowers, and at how someone would throw out this beautiful woman who was made in the image of God. I felt the Spirit weep.

I did not expect to see such beauty rise up out of the dumpster. And the image was not lost on me. A few years ago, I’m not sure I would have seen the beauty of this picture, but since I have been ministering on the van, chasing God, his love and compassion, what used to appear to me to be ashes now has a crown of beauty on her head.

Dear God, I pray that you send your Spirit to prepare her to meet you. And that you anoint whoever amongst us sees her next to proclaim the good news of your Son Jesus Christ to her, to bind up her broken-heartedness, to proclaim her free of her captivity, to pull her into the light from the darkness, to comfort her, to provide for her, to bring her joy, to plant in her an oak of righteousness, all for your glory.  Amen.

Dancing With Joy

Photo on 2015-10-08 at 11.30 PM

Fifty-five years. If they were alive, they would be celebrating that milestone today on October 8. And we would be celebrating with them. I wish this picture of my parents was as clear as my memory of them.

My mother was born into a successful middle class Irish family in Watertown, New York – can’t get more Irish than “O’Brien” can you? My father was born into a lower middle class typical American family with a large mix of nationalities representing a true melting pot. Some British, some German, some Irish, and . . . some other stuff. Both were born in the 1930s, into a nation climbing out of The Great Depression into a happier and more prosperous time. My mom had children and then supported the family while my dad completed his education. Both were teachers at some point in their vocations and at all times in their nature. Mom taught elementary school and Dad taught college physics and high school electronics.

My parents worked hard for their five children to be able to get a good start in life, and I know we are grateful for them. For years, rice was a staple as it used to be so inexpensive and went a long way on our dinner table. But they sacrificed so we could actually take fairly pricey vitamins and things like cod liver oil (bleh) to enhance our health.

One of the things I most appreciated about my parents was their capacity for joy. Throughout my childhood, they were eager hosts – hospitality was definitely a gift they were endowed with. Bridge parties, pinochle parties, tennis mixers, and scrabble evenings, among other events were an important part of their lives. They were both actually very social, though neither one properly assessed that in themselves. Each thought the other was more social.

But perhaps the most touching memory I have of them is seeing them dance.  There was something inexpressibly beautiful about seeing my parents dance together. All their knowing of one another, comfort with one another, desire for one another, playfulness with one another, and their capacity for joy, came together and exuded from them when they danced.

There is something transformative about dancing. Sure, it can be ruined like anything else in this hyper-sexualized, alcoholic culture and day. But in its best form, dancing is an expression of joy. Dancing has been vilified in the past, even by well-meaning people; but the Bible indicates to me that God enjoys our celebrations and joy in this life he has given us.