Trust

Morning birds
Sing their songs
Outside the window-
A quick look
Proves disappointing
Despite full feeders
No feathered
Friends in sight-
Singing continues
Hidden from view
Perhaps, it’s a
Matter of trust-
After too many
Days of visiting
Empty feeders
They stopped coming-
The consistency and
Routine required to
Maintain any sense
Of trust was broken
Nourishment once
Freely provided was
No longer available-
Only for a short time
Yet, with consequences
Hiding replaced sharing
Security turned to fear-
Forgiveness takes time
Faith renewed only as
Needs are met with
Feeders kept full
Under the shade
Of the trees
Day after day
Regaining trust-
A poignant truth
Regarding birds-
Yet, how much more
Important where
People are concerned

Freedom in Forgiveness

Forgiveness may seem a surprising subject for the Fourth of July. But somehow, this year, it seems more appropriate than ever before.

Yesterday, I watched the film version of the musical Hamilton. My daughter and I saw the traveling production last year in Tulsa. I was overwhelmed by its brilliance. Not only in the music creativity but also the messages it so powerfully portrayed.

It tells the story of Alexander Hamilton, one of America’s founding fathers. A life filled with tragedy I cannot begin to imagine. A past he worked to overcome. A desire to leave behind a world better than the one in which he lived.

The film version was no less powerful. I was barely able to contain my emotions through the entire production. And just as with the live show, my thoughts quickly turned to another musical, Les Miserables.

Though many similarities may be drawn between Hamilton and Les Miserables, one speaks above the rest-forgiveness. These moments in each story provide a beautiful reminder of how great the need for each of us.

There is much more to be discovered in this story-in both of these stories. But on this July 4, 2020, forgiveness seems to be the place to start. For both receiving it and giving it bring freedom.

If you have not yet seen Hamilton, it would be a perfect way to celebrate!

It's Quiet Uptown

Written by
Lin-Manuel Miranda

Alexander by Eliza’s side
She takes his hand
It’s quiet uptown
Forgiveness.
Can you imagine?

“And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” Matthew 6:12

Journey

Looking back
Thru worried eyes
Ashamed
Dark spots remain
Fear of
Disappointing
The ones
Most loved
 
Looking back
Thru critical eyes
Dejected
Dark spots grow
Guilt
Weighs down
Body, mind
And soul
 
Looking back
Thru trusting eyes
Hopeful
Dark spots fade
In light of
Grace
Love
Forgiveness
 
Looking back
Thru knowing eyes
Peaceful
Dark spots transform
Strength
Gained from
Overcoming
While remembering
“For you have delivered my soul from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling.” Psalm 116:8

Stuck in the Mud

Have you ever felt stuck?  You take a step, suddenly realizing it was the wrong step to take. I remember having that literal experience once as a kid. My cousins and I were playing kickball, a common activity when we were together. Someone kicked the ball into a ditch, and I went to get it. The minute my foot sank into the mud, I knew I was stuck.

For a brief moment, I felt a sense of panic. It seems a bit ridiculous looking back now. What could possibly have happened? Maybe I’d seen too many television portrayals of people sinking into quicksand. You know the ones. A bystander yelling at the would-be victim to be calm and still, yet panic sets in and they proceed to sink until their hand finally disappears.

All I needed to do was stand still and call for help. And of course, help came. With a group of cousins around, I certainly was not alone. One of them assisted with pulling my foot out of the mud. The only casualty that day was my tennis shoe.

Many steps taken in this life are much less literal, yet come with much more significant consequences. So what happens when a step is misguided or poorly chosen? Certain decisions in my teen and young adult years left  me feeling trapped, afraid my life was messed up permanently.  Regret and guilt crept in, causing me to feel like I was sinking further down in the mud.

Thankfully I eventually discovered ways to counter those fears. Simply choosing to be still, although difficult, was a start. If I could just wait instead of panic, maybe another bad decision would be avoided. Next, it was time to call for help. That help came in different forms. A prayer, a simple phone call to a friend or family member-often both.

“Casting the whole of your care (all your anxieties, all your worries, all your concerns, once and for all) on Him, for He cares for you affectionately and cares about you watchfully.” I Peter 5:7

“…but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” Proverbs 18:24

A friendly listening ear often guided me toward a fresh perspective. There was not always an easy or instant answer, and that was sometimes hard to accept. Yet in spite of unavoidable consequences, with some guidance and faith, I was able to take a step in a new direction, no longer feeling stuck in the mud.

Forgiveness~Empathy~Friendship

Experiencing forgiveness, whether on the granting or receiving end, is powerful. Crucial life lessons are learned on both sides of a transgression. The one being forgiven feels a great relief and hopefully learns from their mistakes. The one offering forgiveness appreciates, even more, the instances when they have been on the receiving end. Sounds simple, yet not always the case.

Children often unintentionally demonstrate these truths clearly, if we take the time to watch and listen. Picture one of my kindergarten classes sitting around our music circle, coloring pictures of pumpkins and leaves.  Their fall themed artwork was also to include rhythmic patterns based on phrases about their subject.  For example, “leaves are falling” or “pumpkins everywhere” or “jump in a leaf pile.” Vivaldi’s “Autumn” playing quietly in the background.

Yes, I know it sounds very picturesque, but don’t be fooled.  This is one of those class times that is a struggle for me-giving up a certain level of control and giving students the chance to be social and creative.  It lends itself to a higher noise level and a tiny bit of controlled chaos.  Results are usually pretty cool!  That is until there is a transgression… one student marking on the beautiful, in progress, artwork of his friend.

Typically, it is the student who has been wronged that seeks my attention.  “She stuck her tongue out at me!” “He pulled my hair!” “She told me to shut up!” You get the idea.  On this particular day, the opposite was true. The artist didn’t make a big fuss although disappointed.  I told him he could start a new work if he’d like and asked the other student to apologize. Everyone back to work, all is well. Right?

A few moments later the student who committed the “coloring on my friend’s paper” infraction was standing in front of me with tears in his eyes. “Oh dear, what’s wrong?” I asked. “I apologized, but he wouldn’t accept my apology.” Hmmm…what to do? So many ways I could respond to this conflict. I’m not sure if my choice was the best, but it did have an interesting result.

Empathy-the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.

I began to talk to the teary-eyed transgressor about why his friend was upset. As with my own children, I attempted to help my student put himself in his friend’s place. “How would you feel if you were working hard on your artwork and someone marked on your paper?” On the surface a simple question, but not always an easy place to find yourself. His tears indicated his comprehension, and in a “kindergarten kind of way,” he began to understand.

For the remainder of the class, this particular friend stuck with me like glue. Tears turned to smiles, offers to help with clean up, wanting to have more conversations. Why? Just as being forgiven evokes feelings of relief and freedom, an apology not being accepted brings the opposite-guilt and sadness. However, when we learn to place ourselves in the shoes of the ones we have hurt, then we begin to develop empathy. Our focus moves from being self-centered to others-centered.

Which is more powerful? The ability to forgive or the ability to empathize? I suppose it depends on the situation, transgression, and the people involved. Obviously, consequences come into play, long and short term. But what if we see them as tied together, working hand in hand? I believe if we can help children learn to empathize, having a spirit of forgiveness will naturally follow. And just maybe they will begin to stop and think before making a choice which negatively affects their friend.

But wait, maybe the foundation for this whole discussion should instead be the word “friend.” Becoming a friend is a process. An acquaintance becomes a companion, the companion becomes a supporter, and so on. And if I truly support someone, I’m much more likely to think about the impact of my actions.

Once we learn what it means to be a friend, the potential for both empathy and forgiveness grows exponentially. It still requires effort and work. It does not just magically happen without being intentional. Like everything else worth doing in life, it takes practice. But the results are oh so worth the work!

Here’s to forgiveness, empathy, and friendship.  Especially when witnessed through the eyes of kindergarteners.  May I pay careful attention to opportunities this next week for expressing and teaching these vital life lessons during music class, especially the importance of being a good friend.

You’ve Got a Friend