Updated on December 7, 2018
When my wife and I moved into our home this summer, we quickly had to come up with a new daily route to walk our pup. Walking for her is part of our daily routine so we promptly started roaming the neighborhood. As we tried several different routes and started getting one established, I frequently saw a young Hispanic man, approximately in his early 20’s walking what seems to be several miles. Often, we would pass him twice within our 1.5 mile route. He appeared to be out there for hours doing a slow steady walk with a 2 lb. weight in each hand. He was so quiet at first. Many times, we would pass one another on the sidewalk without even a hello, which was just…awkward. Other times, I would greet him but would only get an halfhearted “Hi” in response. Being new to the area, I’ll admit it wasn’t exactly the best first impression our neighborhood’s friendliness factor.
But then, within a few months time, something shifted. Fall time came and with it, football season. Suddenly this young man lit up like a light bulb inside. Clearly an avid Bronco’s fan, every time I would see him, he would have an enthusiastic comment ready. On the days following a win, I would get an excited, “Did you see the game? We won!” followed by statistics on where next week’s game would be held, who got injured or what his favorite play was. At times I couldn’t understand his broken English, but nonetheless, his excitement rang through loud and clear. Realizing over time that he seemed to have a bit of a intellectual disability, I worried what would happen when the (almost) inevitable moment would come that the Broncos would loose a game. But to my surprise, when that day did come, he simply said, “Oh well. We’ll win next week!” I smiled at his optimism.
Then after Christmas, I saw him proudly sporting a orange and blue set of Bronco mittens and a Bronco beanie. “Hey, I like your beanie!” I encouraged him. To which, he responded with his sweet child-likeness, “Yeah, I got them for Christmas!” Clear excitement was beaming on his face. It was in that moment that I was reminded of the simple joys and pleasures of life. How often in our ADD culture and success-driven society do we get wrapped up in our world of adult responsibility and forget to take time for those simple, quiet moments? So many opportunities for joy are missed merely because we are too busy to stop and acknowledge them. How much richer our lives could become if we would focus more on the “little thankfuls” in our life and less on the stress that comes from to-do lists.
My wife and I try to keep ourselves mindful of this in a practical way by using what we call our Blessings Jar. Each time something happens that feels like a little gift from God or we see an answer to prayer, we write it down, date it and put it in our Blessings Jar. Then, on Thanksgiving morning each year, we open it up and read through them to be reminded of all the times we’ve seen God’s presence evident throughout the year.
I’m saddened to say though, that the jar is often not near as full as I know it could be. So often I get so consumed in the mundane tasks of day to day life that I forget to pause and step away from them in order to notice the little things. But contentment doesn’t come in big, busy moments. When focused on success, we most likely we will always be chasing after the next big thing. Sadly, if that’s the case, no matter how much we achieve, I fear we’ll always come up feeling just a little empty, a little shy of goal and therefore will move on to chase after yet the next thing. Our life quickly then becomes like a merry-go-round, spinning in circles but never actually getting anywhere.
But, if we can find time for quiet moments, if we can find joy in the simple things, if we will take note of those “little thankfuls”, our lives will become so much richer, so much more fulfilling. In the little things of life is where true contentment lies.
And so I take a moment to quiet my soul and breathe this morning, reminding myself to find joy in the simple pleasures…like the beautiful blanket of snow currently keeping my whole family inside today, the comfort of a cup of hot tea next to the fireplace, the joy and contentment my puppies feel just to be near me, and yes, even a matching pair of mittens and a Bronco beanie.
Every once in awhile I enjoy using my creativity to imagine what some of the stories we read in the Bible must have really been like. For my blog this week, please enjoy my take on what this story of scandal and mercy must have been like for the adulterous woman who encountered Jesus…
The setting is ancient Israel…a riot takes over the crowd in the marketplace. Men in leadership, Pharisees, are leading in their pious way through the street, robes of dark crimson flowing as they make their way to the town square. Following quick behind them are more of the same, dragging a young, exposed woman for all to see. She was naked, her body completely bare, save for a thin sheet that was quickly thrust at her as they snatched her from her home. Taking the long way through town to the square, the Pharisees had it in their nature to publicly humiliate those “not as righteous as them” as much as they possibly could before reaching their destination. Doing so only exceeded the height of their status in other peoples eyes, or at least, so they thought. Arriving at the center of town, the girl was thrown to the gravel as those nearby began to make a mockery of the scene. All the woman could see were the dozens of sandaled feet covered in a reddish brown dirt several layers thick. She didn’t dare look up at the faces staring down at her. She didn’t want anyone to recognize her in this moment of such shear shame, embarrassment, and humiliation. Men threw jokes at her like dung in the face, as if to let her know that was all she was worth. Women looked on with compassion for the girl, while covering the virgin eyes of their young. Some of the voices she swore she recognized. Fighting back tears so as not to show weakness in the midst of an already unbearable moment, the woman kept her eyes unmoved on the ground before her.
Suddenly, a hush came over the crowd as a man walked through the mobs of people. Who he was, she did not know, only that his very presence held the power to silence a crowd. Using her long, dark brown hair to cover her face, she waited for what she knew could be the last few moments of her life. For at any moment, she knew she could be stoned for the accusations against her. Lying with a man other than your husband always carried a penalty of death. And now, she fear death awaited her.
The man that passed through the crowd seemed to be headed straight for her. Was he to be her first accuser? Stopping just short of her, he knelt to the ground and began to write in the dirt. Uneducated as she was, and unable to read or write, the woman could only wonder what it was that was being written. Her death sentence? A negotiation? A man in the crowd broke the silence with a rough tone and said, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. The law says we must stone such a woman. What do you say?” Teacher? This man was a teacher? The pieces slowly began to come together in her mind. Jesus! This is the man that so many had been speaking of! The one who made blind see and lame walk. Jesus. Could he help her? Would he help her? The moments that followed awaiting an answer were quiet enough to hear a piece of dirt scrape on the gravel as the man called Jesus knelt back down to write in the sand again. The few moments that followed felt like decades as the woman waited in anticipation for what was to come. Questions began to rise from the crowd, more vigorously now than before and Jesus answered them all with one convicting requirement… “Anyone who is without sin may cast the first stone at her.” All voices ceased. Without sin? Fists raised in anger began to drop to their sides, realizing they didn’t qualify. Stones ready for execution, held a moment longer as if some thought they might be exempt from the statement. Yet after a couple seconds, dropped one by one to the ground with a thud in the sand, breaking the heavy silence. Starting with the eldest of the group, wise enough to know their own sin, all the way down to the youngest standing, the crowd began to slowly disperse.
Still desperately afraid to raise her hazel eyes, the woman couldn’t help but feel relief as she heard each stone drop to the ground, each one releasing more of the breath she’d been holding. In just a few moments time, the accusers were gone, leaving only her and Jesus at the scene. He knelt to the ground once more, but this time not to write, but to gently lift her eyes to meet his. The moment they did, her heart was overcome. His eyes held such peace, such calm, such love. The tears she had earlier refused could no longer be held back, and she began to weep. With compassion Jesus asked, “They have all left, has no one condemned you?”
“No one sir” she replied with tears and disbelief.
“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus said. “Now go, and leave your life of sin.”
Written by Amber Cantorna
Posted on January 16, 2016
By Amber Cantorna
The question of “How are you?” has become a familiar one, hasn’t it? Maybe too familiar. How many times a day does somebody pass by you at work and say, “Hi, how are you?” continuing to walk without even waiting for a reply…as if the two statements were meant to be lumped together to create a cultured American greeting, rather than an actual question that awaits a response? How many times have you been guilty of doing the same? If you’re anything like me, the number is probably more than you’d like to count. Could it be that we don’t really want to know the answer? Could it be that to actually await a response might inconvenience our lives for more than the mere five seconds it takes us to ask it?
But what if “How are you?” was more than a greeting? What if when we asked the question, we actually made eye contact long enough to receive a reply? What if? Could it be that we might earn the opportunity to peer into the lives of those we pass by? That we might actually get to be Jesus to a person who’s dying for someone to stick around long enough to listen to the answer?
But that’s our fear, isn’t it? We’re not sure we want to know the answer. Doing that might require work, time, sacrifice. We’d rather live our cookie-cutter lives where everything flows smoothly and we don’t encounter any detours. But a fabricated life created from construction paper and glue is rarely as exciting as the real photograph containing vibrant color. The journey may be smoother, but the picture is quite dull.
Several years ago I found myself on the asking side of this scenario in the teacher’s lounge on a Professional Development Day in the elementary school in which I worked. As I sat down with two other co-workers, one of them began to describe the fear she was wrestling with as her daughter approached ever closer to the day in which she would undergo brain surgery to remove a tumor that was discovered during her recent pregnancy. The count was now down to less than 72 hours and I could tell each hour wore a little harder on the co-worker beside me, her daughter miles away in a hospital rather than by her side. I listened intently as she poured her heart out to the two of us and it suddenly occurred to me that before me lie a great opportunity. The question was, did I have the courage to take it? Wrestling with idea for a brief moment, the Spirit of the Lord prompted me and I found myself saying “Why don’t we just pray for your daughter right now,” spoken as more of a statement than a question. My friend seemed to appreciate the offer. So the three of us joined hands in a circle and I lead out in intercession for her daughter’s life. The power of God was evident among us as we prayed and a boldness was infused inside of me that melted away my fears of what other people were thinking as they walked in and out of the room. This was the common area for teachers after all, and this was a public school. I found myself not caring though and the situation almost comical as I heard people walk in, suddenly realize what was happening and, in embarrassment, turn around and walk back out, as if they had just walked in on someone in the bathroom stall.
When we were finished, the tears streaming down her face and the long embrace she gave told me I had done the right thing. And I was so glad that I listened to the Spirit’s urge within me rather than letting my fears of what other people would think override that still small Voice. Had I not offered, I would have been the one that missed a great opportunity. Yet how many other times have I done exactly that? How many other situations have I flippantly passed by hoping someone else would take care of it, letting my fear of people’s opinions win over the what I knew God was asking me to do? Or perhaps it was because my delayed response closed the door for me before I was able to act. My prayer is that my number of obedient actions will increase and tip the scale so that delayed or fearful responses won’t even be a considered option any more and serving will win every time.
And what about you? Are you willing to risk, even just a little, to invest in someone’s life? To see and experience the vibrant color rather than the cardboard cop-out? If so, what would you see? Reality? Yes. Pain? Probably. The brightness of the sun is often mixed with some stormy clouds. Yes…storms will come, I guarantee it. But I also know that the shadow proves the sunshine. And don’t we want it to? Isn’t that the way life was meant to be lived? God created our lives to be intricately woven together with the lives of those around us. Is it never easy and rarely convenient, but it’s the only way His perfect will can be complete. He chose us, simple human beings, to be His vessel. Let’s together resolve to ask more people “How are you?” more often, and echo the prayer of Thomas A. Kempis who asked, “Lord do what You will, as You will, when You will.” And as we look more to the needs of others and less to ourselves, maybe “How are you?” will become more than just a greeting.