A Pow, a Toon, a Song and Belonging


I took a break this weekend, but I didn’t forget about you! Click here for some entertaining and educational links. 

Advertisements

Midnight Gauntlet

Labyrinth Altar
Labyrinth altar at Forest of Peace. ©2016 Kristi Bridges

Pain leaves our ears ringing. Words of love, shouted, seem a challenge. 102 people shot, nearly half killed, and everything anyone said made somebody mad. Helplessness makes you want to grab a pitchfork and posse up, but then who do we jab? I couldn’t write Sunday. I had no blog to release Monday. The seams of my heart gapped with ghosts I couldn’t rescue, stitches straining to hold the tears of a world that cries for those shot but also for the overwhelming experience of being human.

It is not okay to kill.

It is not alright to take lives because people don’t live the way you want them to. While we are on this earth, we have choices. God Himself gave us permission to make those choices, and unless we’re actively hurting someone else, those choices belong to us.

It is not alright to take lives. Life is sacred.

Life is sacred, but it doesn’t stay trapped in these bodies forever. The taking is not ours to do, and I am not backing down on that. Period.

But anguish makes us angry. We lash out at each other and then at God. If God is bigger than Superman, why doesn’t He stop us?

I am incomplete

immature

incompetent at sharing what comes only from survival and faith, but before I am incapacitated by the fear that speaking will just turn up the gas on rage’s fire, I’m writing tonight.

There is not one person alive today who lived 1,000 years ago. I wish, I ache to give people back their loved ones for one more year, ten more years. More than that, I long to turn back time and snatch the heart of each person who’s grabbed a weapon in my lifetime. I would hold them and wipe away the scar tissue so the eyes of those hearts could see their Creator and Savior. I can’t do any of those things. Whether we go in one violent moment, one careless accident, one high too many, or in years of suffering and fading away…

We go.

We go.

We need to know God understands the horror. Our bodies are built to fight death, and our souls are built to love past that ultimate breath.

We cry out.

We dry up.

We stay.

We stay long after we want to. Until the day spring doesn’t sour on our tongues and we’re able to fold the pain into a box and tuck it into a drawer because our loved ones deserve to be remembered with the joy that nudges our spirits.

We stay. Here is where words can never paint what I can’t explain to anyone who’s in winter right now, or to anyone who hasn’t squinted in the sun after wandering in the dark.

Life is sacred, not because it’s safe. Life is sacred, because in those places, those dark confusing lonely places where we howl and cry and smack our fists against the walls, an open heart finds strength, a trusting heart finds deeper faith, a heart that sought safety finds valiance. Survivors of the midnight gauntlet find that sunrise goes beyond our eyes into our souls.

God is eternal. We are eternal. He wants more than to keep us swaddled; He made us for a relationship that is strong enough to outlive these shells. Relationships become strong when mates mature and fight together instead of fighting each other. There is evil on this earth—God’s never tried to hide it from us. Sometimes He protects us. Other times He walks us through.

Wrestle.

Trust.

Rest. When you don’t get what you’re asking, value relationship over demands. When the pain comes, hold tight the hand that made you and know life is sacred in this place.

 

 

 

 

 

Fear of Forgetting

firefly3
One of summer’s fleeting joys–a mom puts a firefly in her daughter’s hand. Copyright Kristi M Bridges

 

There is a moment when parents look away because it’s too hard. There are many, many moments afterwards when they can’t stop seeing

that

one

moment.

 

My friend says after she lost her son, she would crawl into his bed just to smell him. She was terrified of the day when his scent would be gone forever. She’d close her eyes and hear his footsteps in the hall, and when she couldn’t hear them any more she cried. A parent’s greatest fear is losing a child. After that comes the fear the child will be forgotten.

I’ve seen it too many times, and now someone else I love is going through it. Shock, grief, anger, lostness, emptiness, flashbacks, anger, desolation, anger, bottomless hopeless endless aching. You beg for it to stop, but you’re afraid if it does you’ll lose the only connection you have left. My friend said she was furious at God for letting the sun come up the day after her son died. Where is God?

God is a parent. God is a parent who watched the people He was trying to reach strip the skin off the body of His perfect boy. Jesus had healed and restored people, pointed them toward the love of God in ways they’d never understood before. Motivated by a psychotic sense of justice and mob fever, they crucified Him. When he hung dying, and asked for a drink, they gave Him vinegar and laughed. Jesus knew it was coming. He actually foretold his death a few times. In John 12:24 NIV He said, “Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.” The sacrifice was worth it to Him. He came to earth as the essence of God poured into a body, and willingly entered this madhouse where adoration turns to aggression in a minute and nobody gets out alive.

Not every parent loses a child that violently—thank God. But a moment of distraction turns into a fiery crash. A daredevil risk ends in a broken neck. A nap becomes the final sleep. Jesus came because God knows our hearts, but we needed to know His. It’s hard for us to accept comfort from someone who hasn’t been there. In the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, we see a God who’s not sitting in a room texting His concern and advice while we struggle for air in an ocean of grief. No, He endured rejection and injustice and the agony of separation in the off-chance that we might take the hand He extends across the gap between heaven and earth.

“You have my baby already. Just take me, too,” one mother begs. The toys are dusty, the future that overflowed with dreams is now a blank screen. There’s no reason to make hot dogs and macaroni, and food has no taste anyway. The stupid sun just keeps rising.

It does that.

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of sitting with a group of women who are each living lives that fizz up and scent the air around them with energy and hope. Each had a story that developed during a period of intense darkness. My friend who lost her son was there. She says if her son hadn’t died, she would have spent her life totally wrapped up in her little family. She’d never have chosen this road, but over a dozen young men have passed through her life because she had room for them. Boys who needed a caring mom have grown up to shine, and they still light up her world. Her son is not forgotten. He’s eternal, but now he has a legacy here. We ask why God would give us a joy if it’s going to be taken away. Aside from the quantum impact of nobody being born, ever, God knows that a short life has more impact than no life. He is really good at taking the devil’s destruction and making beauty we would never have imagined.

I want so badly to take away the pain every time I see someone hurt. Only God can do that, God and time. You may want life to be over, because it feels like it’s over already. Jesus’ words in John 12 would never have been heard if John hadn’t stuck around to share them.

If you’re hurting today, for whatever reason, let God be there for you. Know that pain doesn’t disappear in a blinding flash, but if you’re still on this earth, there will be a day when instead of being mad that the sun still rises, you’ll bring sunshine to others.

 

Authentic

Chameleon
Copyright by Kristi Bridges – get it on Zazzle

 

 

This year, I received one of the most unique birthday gifts I’ve ever gotten. We celebrated early, before I left town for a teaching assignment. There I was, sitting in a classy outfit given me by one friend. I’d just opened a beautiful vase from another friend, which had captured my heart a year ago. I’d loved it but left it at the antique store, because I don’t usually spend money on things that aren’t wearable or practical. My friend had taken notice and went back to the store later to buy it for me.

I was already having a great night. Then, right there in the restaurant, I was instructed to sit still and receive. Receive. One friend, then another, then another told me the things they appreciated about me, the characteristics that strike them, the things that inspire them and make me beautiful to them. My eyes well up just writing that sentence. When they were done, we took a picture together and one of my friends told me I should probably post it in black and white because I was raspberry red all over. I am Irish and it shows.

I’m even red in black and white! What got to me the most was that each of them said they appreciate the way I am always myself no matter where I am.

They called me authentic.

That is truly remarkable, because I did not start out that way. As a child, we naturally mimic those around us, learning roles like mom and cook and teacher. That’s important for our development, but I didn’t stop there. My dad told me time and again, “Kristi, be yourself. Be yourself. Be yourself.” I told him I was just multi-faceted. Sure, I can converse with anyone, and I’m interested in lots of things, but I was not just being colorful and adaptable; I was being a chameleon. I morphed to fit my environment, to be who I thought people wanted to see, to blend. But you never blend, when you’re not a real person. People don’t want to see you at all if you’re just virtual reality.

When I was 25, I started getting to know me. I made lists of who I was, what I liked, what I dreamed and who I wanted to be. I prayed a lot, internalizing what God says about me. Since then, I’ve been through several iterations of who I want to be. I’ve learned tons about what I really like and what just seemed nice at the time. I’ve learned that I am not my dream. I may pour all I am into something, but I outlive my dreams and Jesus lives in me. That is powerful. I don’t know how I could possibly have understood all this when I was 15, but I’m grateful Dad tried to explain anyway. This year at my birthday dinner, I was humbled to learn that authenticity is now something that defines me to others.

Who are you? What lights you up and energizes you? Only you can make that list.

What does God say about you? God says:

He gets excited about you – Zephaniah 3:17

He thinks more thoughts about you than there are grains of sand – Psalm 139:13-18

Those thoughts are of peace and not evil – Jeremiah 29:11

Jesus willingly gave His life for you – John 10:11-13

You are a friend of God – John 15:15

You are written on the palms of His hands – Isaiah 49:15-16

You are adopted as children and heirs of God through Christ – Galatians 4:5-7

For years, I’ve watched Christians fuss publicly about other Christians. Followers of Christ feel that it’s their duty to turn over tables and crack whips on Facebook and TV and in churches and in conversations, as though every other Christian is a Pharisee. We can be real bullies and downright snobs, forgetting that we’re all fallen and that’s why we came to Christ in the first place. We draw the line and snark, “I’m not one of those guys.” Is it frustrating seeing non-Christians judge God by His kids? Yes. They hardly look when we’re kind and compassionate with one another, but they certainly notice when we are hateful.

Tomorrow is my birthday, but I want to give it to you. Be born again as you. Be yourself—the redeemed, reborn you that Jesus paid the price for. Be born in the grace He brought to us, in the forgiveness He taught by agonizing example. Be born in the 3 years of kindness and compassion and faith and wisdom the gospels share, not in the 3 or so scenes of confrontation. Jesus was the Christ and therefore the only righteous Judge. We are not God, and He doesn’t need our defense. He desires instead our wild, passionate, compassionate devotion and love. And He directly asks us to love our neighbor as ourselves. Before He ascended to heaven, Jesus said, “Father…I am in them and You are in Me. May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that You sent Me and that You love them as much as You love Me.” John 17:23 NLT

Make a list

Make a list of what makes your heart soar and who God made you to be. In his letter to the Philippians, Paul stresses the importance of focusing on the right things. He says in Philippians 1:9,10 “It is my prayer that your love abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent.” He never says “approve what is excellent and disapprove of all that others do wrong.” Take your eyes off those who frustrate you. Focus instead on what you love and the One who loves you.

Then share that love.

Share it again.

Share it until it is all of who you are, everywhere you go, and be the authentic Christian you believe the world is missing.

 

On a Roll, Off the Roller Coaster

Roller Coaster - Michelle grd
Virtual Rollercoasters can be scary, but not when the Big Guy’s got your hand

 

One of the cool things about having a blog is that I don’t have to write every post 🙂 This post was written by my aunt, an amazing flautist and spectacular woman and friend. Check out her Fantabulous Music Practice series and find the energy and focus  your practice room has never seen!

On a roll, off the roller coaster…

I awoke up this morning barely before my alarm clock. As my thoughts rose to the conscious level, I realized that they were circling in a slow spin around yet unanswered questions, unsolved problems, and unraveled confusion in an accelerating ramp up for another run on the un-amusing roller coaster of emotion.

Sin.
I hate sin.
My own. And that of others.
It is so destructive, so painful, and so unnecessary.

My thoughts turn to Adam and Eve in the garden.
What horror must have unfolded as they felt sin’s first pangs in the unexpected dread of God’s pending approach and the frantic search for solutions among fruitless fig leaves where figs were none.

What despair must have gripped their hearts as they twisted with the confusing unraveling of their once perfect world, hopelessness spiraling as death stared them face to face in the gruesome expression on life-limp Able and the hard evil snarl on murderous Cain.

But God…
But God spoke up.
But God stepped in.
But God provided redemption—
redemption that not only rectified the situation,
but brought about a greater and better revelation of his greatness, his compassion, his true character in facets multiplied above and beyond what they had experienced.
That is God, OUR God!

I stopped the roller coaster before it left the feeble little train station.
Focus. I must turn my eyes to a different focus.

I learned in Freedom Training that…
Problems all exist here on earth.
Solutions exist in heaven.
If we want to find solutions to problems, we can’t focus here on earth,
We have to look to heaven, where the solutions reside.

Jesus said that those who are forgiven much love much.
Our capacity to love God is directly proportional, not to the number of our sins, but to our ability to recognize the pervasiveness and weight of our sin.
Although God can teach us his love by any path he chooses, he will teach it by the paths that we choose, or that others force upon us.

So I am going to lift my sights to God’s solutions and view my life from this heavenly vantage point:
When I am rejected, I will have greater capacity to understand and rejoice in God’s mercy and Jesus’ sacrifice toward those who have rejected him.
And when I reject God by sinning, my repentance will provide another opportunity to experience a greater realization of God’s love apart from performance.

Why did God allow sin to invade Eden?
Theologians can discuss the myriad theoretical reasons.
But love and acceptance apart from personal performance certainly should be foremost on the list.
And the bonus of our redemption-boosted capacity to love God  in return should certainly post script the matter with unbelievable joy!

by Debra Youngblood

© 2015. All Rights Reserved.

Rita Springer does a beautiful rendition of “Holy, You Are Still Holy

Mermaid with a Water-filled Mask

try scuba

I love the ocean. I wanted to be a mermaid when I was a kid. The first time I recall being truly furious was when I watched Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid at the age of 7. “They shouldn’t make movies for little children with sad endings!” I fussed through my tears, all the way out to the car after the movie. I still believe every movie should end with me smiling.

I am not a mermaid. I have legs and I’m hopelessly landlocked at present, but Groupon likes to tease me with mini-adventures, so I recently bought a Try Scuba lesson for Poseidon Adventures. It was 35 degrees when I crawled out of my toasty bed and donned my swimsuit at 7am Saturday morning. I quickly covered up in a few layers and headed across town. Thankfully, the pool was almost as comfy as my toasty bed. Randy showed me how to find a mask that fit well, and helped me put on my BCD—Buoyancy Compensation Device. It’s a vest with two buttons. One inflates the vest to help you rise to the surface and the other deflates in hopes that you will sink. I’ve never been much of a sinker, but the weight of the oxygen tank helped hold me down.

I knew I needed this pequeňo introduction to scuba. I dream of swimming all over the world—Belize, Palawan, Costa Rica, everywhere there is ocean to explore. But I know me, and I know that some dreams are scary to step into. I covered my face with the mask, put my mouthpiece in, and went under water, holding my breath even though Randy had specifically said “Never hold your breath when you’re diving.” Specifically. I’ve even seen that in movies and know better. But it was natural to hold my breath. I sank to my knees under the water, looked at Randy calmly sitting like Buddha on the bottom of the pool, decided to take a breath and promptly pushed myself to the surface. Freaky. Sucking air out of a tank did not feel normal.

Ok. Deep Breath out in the open. Mouthpiece in, try again. I did it the second time, and Randy showed me how to take my mouthpiece out, let it go and find it again. Clear it out and breathe. He’s so calm it made everything easy.

But that was only the first step. Step two—getting water out of my mask, while underwater. That is neither logical nor easy. It involves tilting your mask just so and blowing the water out with your nose and after I rose to the surface spluttering about 6 times, I finally did it enough to pass Step 2 although I’m not sure I could do it again. Thankfully, I was the only student there, and Randy is very patient. My thoroughly chlorinated sinuses are so clean you could…yeah never mind.

There are things the experts know. Holding your breath on a dive could cause you to cramp up. Rushing to the surface to clear your mask can give you the bends. If you want to experience the unbelievable beauty of a coral reef, you have to override your self-preservation instincts. You have to override them repeatedly, until the instincts are modified.

What instincts have been programmed into you, that are holding you back from exploring beauty like you’ve never known? It’s scary, taking that first breath underwater and feeling that little valve resist you slightly. It’s scary, allowing yourself to be vulnerable in a new relationship when you’ve seen your parents fight or when you yourself have been hurt. It feels a little freaky, walking confidently into a meeting and demonstrating what you’ve built if you don’t know how to read the people around you. Who do you trust? Do you trust the Expert, or do you trust the Instinct?

God gives us little tests, little Try-it lessons, so we can splash to the surface and look ridiculous and disgusting without actually dying. If God’s nudging you toward some type of Try-it, whether it’s a Meet-up group or a cell group or Toastmasters or even a scuba lesson, don’t sit at home where you’re comfortable. You never know when God plans to take you somewhere amazing, so make use of the opportunities He gives you to prepare.

Israel went through a famine, but Elijah went wherever God sent him and just trusted. He camped out by a brook, and God sent ravens to feed him. After awhile though, the brook dried up. Many of us would have thought, What–God can supply ravens but no water? What’s up with that? Elijah didn’t accuse God, he just listened, and God sent him to Zarephath. He asked a widow for a drink, and also asked her for a piece of bread to eat. She said nope. “My son and I are about to eat our last meal and die.” He told her to make him a loaf of bread first, and promised her that her oil and flour wouldn’t run out. I don’t know a mom in the world who would feed a stranger before her own starving child. That goes against our instincts. But she did it, and the three of them had enough to last them through every day of that famine. You can read the story here.

Lord, help us to listen to You this week. You are the expert. You gave us our instincts, but we need You to teach us when and how to override them, so we can be ready for any adventure You have for us.

 

Trusting Me

starry nights and eyes“Why are you leaving me?” she said. My words failed. She sat limply, staring with overflowing wide eyes and I felt her pain because she is, in fact, me. She’s the dreamer inside of me, but sometimes she gets pigeon-holed into the smallest spot of my inbox, given number 53 when she was the 1st person in line, scheduled for 4:58 on a 5pm closing day. I don’t always focus as I should on the things that matter the most to me, and there I was submitting my college application. She panicked. I panicked.

I’ve recently begun participating in a Soundcloud podcast discussion series called The Great AHA Moment. It’s the brainchild of my friend Jennifer Owens, author of the course, Soul Silence: A Self-Care Course for Steadying Your Life. That girl has enough brainchildren to repopulate the world. Tonight’s discussions were on trust, and our segment on self-trust reminded me of this week’s experience.

I got my Associate of Arts right out of high school. Then I got married and waited a few years before going back to school. I returned to school at the wrong time, in an effort to beat the clock and be ready to have babies by the time I was 25. I chose the wrong degree, because the local college didn’t offer English with a creative writing focus, just English Literature. I wanted to write and sing and speak, just as I do now, but I chose a double major—English Lit and Secondary Education, in order to be portable, to become a schoolteacher who could follow my husband around so that he could be a performer. I believed in his dreams more than my own.

God never wastes anything, so I got a lot out of that time. I lost my marriage, but I discovered a real passion for educational concepts. I met my friend Katherine, who taught me to live outside the box. Up to that point, I’d been a box-filler. I’d been an actress in high school because I could learn the lines and be whatever character people wanted; I’d been a secretary because the real decision-makers gave me dictation and made me feel like I was part of the project; I was a wife who opted to be “portable” instead of self-expressive. From 1st through 12th grade, I’d been a great student because I could learn what was expected and darken the right boxes. My new friend Katherine partnered with me on assignments, and instead of creating a flow-chart we created a board game. Instead of writing boring sentences on our grammar tests, we created stories. She opened the lid on my box and flung my creativity into the sunlight. That passion for education and that creative awakening have led me to the corporate training position I now have and inspired me to apply for Ashford University’s program in Instructional Design.

I lost some things in my college days, and that hurt. I became a total stress-monster and lost my marriage. I also found my new husband and my wings and spent the next 15 years writing poetry and making music.

I dropped out of school as a junior and lost $25 grand that I’m still paying off. Since then, I’ve rebuilt my credit and learned a ton about financial wisdom that I can share with others.

I’ve been given more than I ever lost, but the other night, the little dreamer inside of me sat there broken-hearted, feeling betrayed because I’d committed my spare time for the next year and a half to another school venture. Tears running down my face, I sent an email to my mom and some Godly, praying friends. “I’m terrified,” I said. I don’t let fear stop me from things, but I needed clarity, reassurance that God had really said, “Go.”

I didn’t trust myself. I didn’t trust my ability to make a decision, because a previous decision had caused me pain. The dreamer side of me pointed out that I don’t trust my dreams enough, because at times I’ve found it easier to support someone else’s dreams and “keep my day job.” She was afraid I might be doing it again. What about our plans?

I am enormously grateful for the wise, praying people who love me. My husband saw my tears and turned off the TV to listen—he’s the best gift I gained back in those days of loss. He listens to me calmly, always accepts me, and encourages me to shine. Throughout the next morning, my mom and friends emailed and texted prayers, purposeful questions and wisdom. A coworker prayed for me. We talked about how our jobs are a ministry rather than a detour. She has the degree I’m aiming for, and she reminded me how much fun I’m going to have. I talked to God, and I felt Him say, “Why don’t you just look at the courses you’ll be taking?” This is truly the first degree that’s made me excited enough to go back to school. I looked at the course list and got a thrill all over again.

I tapped my inner dreamer and we took a walk.

I’m not leaving you. I’m not choosing work over dreams. Remember that staycation we took last month, where we realized that if we were independently wealthy we’d be doing a lot of what we’re already doing at work—writing and creating fun ways to equip others to provide for themselves and help people? You know those other things we want to write and teach—listening to God and walking in financial and relational wisdom? God knows the plans He has for us, plans for good and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope Jeremiah 29:11. Hon (I call myself hon, you can call me nutty but you’re still reading ;)) Honey, God’s plans aren’t being derailed. These dreams aren’t being derailed. We’re going to be equipped, moving from a skateboard to a Lotus through this process, and I will never stop writing and singing.

I’m not the same person I was 20 years ago. I can trust me to make good decisions. I have learned about balance, about nurturing my creativity and getting rest, especially when I’m working long hours. I’ve learned the importance of making time for people and the necessity of managing my boundaries. I’m more quickly aware when I get overloaded, and my husband is a keen observer who gently gets me back on track.

I woke this morning smiling. When I finish this degree, I’ll be 45. If I live to be 90 as planned, all the prep work will be done and I’ll have 45 more years to live my dreams! I laugh when I think how time seemed to be running out when I was 23.

If you want to laugh with the POETs-Pursuers of Excellence Toastmasters club about my Chevy-wrecking days in college, click here.

If you’d like to check out our AHA Moment series, click here.

 

Bubbles to be Thankful For

 

jenn sunset keep in perfect peace.pngI’m sharing my thanks early, in the hope that you are not sitting on your computer but are instead connecting with family or friends, or making strangers into new friends. Find some face time, unless you are in a space shuttle with only a robot for company. If nobody has invited you out for dinner, don’t give in to the urge to hole up in your room and eat an entire pecan pie while watching TV. No quantity of Dr. Who episodes will make you feel as good as you’ll feel giving companionship to people who have nobody. If you’d like to watch the Doctor later,  I’ll bring pie 😉

I am thankful for two big things that work like oxygen bubbles to surround our lives and lift us toward the surface and the sun.

Love: My husband works at a department store, so he’ll be pulling some crazy shifts this week, but we will find time, even if it’s 1am, to sit on the couch together. We’ll talk about our days and make up silly things to say or watch TV when the other stuff gets boring. I’ll probably fall asleep with his hand on my arm and a cat draped across my hip. Relaxing with the keeper of my heart forms a bubble of security and contentment around us, whether we live in a New York City Penthouse or the jungles of Ethiopia. This song makes me smile and wish he’d hurry up and get home.

Learning: When we’re concentrating on something new or developing a skill, our spirits float up to the sunlight, and instead of feeling awash in our circumstances, we feel powerful. It’s healthy—learning keeps our faces bright and lubricates our brain circuitry. It’s easy, too, thanks to the internet. For example, if you’ve ever thought Photoshop was too expensive or too difficult to learn, Adobe Creative Cloud now offers a monthly subscription to Photoshop and Lightroom, complete with a plethora of video tutorials and helpful forums. You don’t have to spend all your Christmas cash buying a program you don’t understand. Just click here to catch their monthly plan and get everything you need. NOPE, I’m not making a commission here. I just got it myself and I’m diggin’ it. If techie isn’t your style, learn to play guitar or bass here. Here’s an AWESOME thanks jam to motivate you. Keeping your gears rolling can be as simple as memorizing a Bible verse each month. The verses I’ve memorized have really helped me. Start now–today’s verse is a good one.

With Love to Paris

Kristi blowing kiss photo strip

Disconnect. This weekend, with the exception of posting goofy pictures of the Toastmasters Fall Conference on Facebook, I chose an electronic disconnect. Rather than constantly checking to see what my friends were doing across the country and what interesting new blogs or emails or news was happening in far away cities, I focused on the faces before me. I listened to the passion and enthusiasm and humor all around me. The stream of conversation was endless, but I was never bored and rarely tired, so I floated in it, splashed in it and marveled at the energy and education that flowed from the dreamers and doers all around.

We had every body shape, every adult age, every skin color, accent and background, and the stories were both hilarious and inspiring. A Toastmaster can live through a landslide and shine brighter for the polishing. Physiology is no excuse; they use whatever means necessary to move unwieldy limbs and give the world what’s inside them. If their eyes don’t see, their hearts do. If their voices don’t want to cooperate, they follow Diane Rehm’s example because the words must be said. Every Toastmaster gets respect and gives it without hesitation. Every Toastmaster works with what God’s given them, finding that unique voice, that angle only they can work. And work doesn’t surprise Toastmasters, it invigorates them. There is no awkwardness in the conversation, no stranger, no segregation.

Since owning my iPhone®, I have rarely found an hour in which I wasn’t popping online and checking or reading, posting or surfing. This weekend, I spent nearly two days connecting organically instead. I sang my own Happy Birthday song to someone I’d just met, and a room full of strangers became a jazz choir. I laughed and talked so much my throat is hoarse. I listened so much my head is whirling with leftover voices. I even managed to remember names–a challenge for me.

Hope. Passion. Determination. Acceptance. Mentorship. There’s room at the top for everyone. That’s what Toastmasters believe, and it works. It’s worked for generations of people, hope and encouragement refining them and making them shine.

~

I’m in my hotel right now. I should be asleep, resting for the last session and the ride back to Tulsa, but I’m rigid with emotion. I connected. I turned on my computer to send information to someone I’d met and saw the news about Paris.

Division. Control. Manipulation. Loathing for life. People choose those things when they are vulnerable but refuse to recognize it. Hatred feels more powerful than love; distrust makes a person feel smarter than those who live with the expectation that we should do unto others as we would have them do to us.

Do we love perfectly? No. Do we act with pure-hearted integrity? Not always.

But if your glass of milk has a crumb in it, adding drain cleaner to dissolve the crumb will not purify the milk.

I am angry. It’s the first emotion that rises up in me when I think of the waste of life and the cloud of fear. Anger feels like a knife with which I could slash the grey net of evil that descended in Paris this weekend, evil that delights in the anguish that howls when a loved one’s soul is ripped from our own. I’m angry because evil and bloodshed have driven hundreds of thousands of people to leave the places they love this year, and this weekend, evil has wiped sooty streaks of fear in the towns where they’d hoped to find refuge.

Lord, take this anger. It’s not right, what has been done. It’s not right, and I want it stopped. I want the lies and pride and manipulation stopped before more hearts are lost to this force that can only be called demonic. Take this anger. Rage turns to hatred and hatred obscures the me that I know and the You that I love. I trust You, because You are no stranger to people choosing horror over hope, and You never ever stop winning, always giving us more than we lose. Tonight, I pray for the people of Paris, the people of the world. Give us comfort, the peace that passes understanding. Help us to choose integrity over fear and trust You to guide us with the same clarity You gave Gideon and Elisha. Give that clarity that allows us to do whatever You say is right, and to trust that You can handle things in a better way, a way that doesn’t just perpetuate the cycle of sickness.

Judges 6: 3 Whenever the Israelites planted their crops, the Midianites, Amalekites and other eastern peoples invaded the country. 4 They camped on the land and ruined the crops all the way to Gaza and did not spare a living thing for Israel, neither sheep nor cattle nor donkeys. 5 They came up with their livestock and their tents like swarms of locusts. It was impossible to count them or their camels; they invaded the land to ravage it. 6 Midian so impoverished the Israelites that they cried out to the Lord for help.

Judges 7:7 The Lord said to Gideon, “With the three hundred men that lapped I will save you and give the Midianites into your hands. Let all the others go home.” 8 So Gideon sent the rest of the Israelites home but kept the three hundred, who took over the provisions and trumpets of the others.

A sweet note: My roommate for the weekend is from India. When we read the news, she told me one thing she loves about America is the way the people come together to support others. She remembered a few years ago when France refused to join us in our desire to fight, but today all of her friends, as well as American news sites, are expressing compassion and support for our neighbors across the ocean. Way to go, guys.

District 16 Distinguished Toastmasters 2015
District 16 Distinguished Toastmasters 2015 People who know how to change the world with ideas, communication and leadership.