Worst Year Ever

by Becky De Oliveira
 
 
My eldest son was on a university-sponsored geology trip to Death Valley during the second week of March, just as the crisis surrounding the current pandemic was really ramping up. Halfway through his trip, on Wednesday, March 10, his university declared that students should not return from spring break. He returned to a deserted campus for one night, long enough to collect his laptop, books, and a few extra clothes, and then he got a flight to Denver where I picked him up on Saturday morning, March 14. That was the last day our church met in person, and I missed it—although at that point, I probably would have elected to stay home anyway.
 
If you’re one to keep track of time, as I am, you’ll know it’s been about 20 weeks since all this started. Of course, my son never went back to campus; the remainder of the school year for him, like virtually everyone else, was conducted via Zoom. But his university has decided to resume on-campus education this fall and, after successfully passing his COVID-19 test earlier this week, he is officially cleared to return within a couple weeks. Life will be back to “normal” for our family to a greater extent than it has been for quite some time—although my husband and I are still working remotely and our younger son will be attending high school on a hybrid model—two days at school, two days home, with alternating Fridays. So not particularly normal at all, but minus one son whom we’ve gotten used to having around again.
 
My mother has had Parkinson’s disease for nearly 24 years, and watching my parents suffer the effects of that—not necessarily being able to do all the things in retirement that they had hoped to do—has long made me realize the wisdom of never assuming you have time. Never assume you’ll get another chance.
 
One of my favorite pieces of wisdom from the book of Ecclesiastes goes like this: “Enjoy what you have rather than desiring what you don’t have. Just dreaming about nice things is meaningless—like chasing the wind” (6:9, NLT). This is almost the opposite of the wisdom I’ve gleaned from the plight of my parents and the grounding resulting from the pandemic. When this is over. (Fill in the blank—we all can.) When this is over, I’ll see a movie, cut my hair, go swimming every chance I get, visit all my relatives, attend every birthday party and baby shower and wedding, go straight to the ocean, finally climb to Everest Base Camp. Sometimes all I do is dream about what I don’t have and what I might eventually have if everything works out in some way: flattening the curve; vaccine; herd immunity. But the writer of Ecclesiastes seems to be advising me differently: Forget about when this is over. What about now? What about your life now? Enjoy what you have, he writes.
 
The upsides of now (there are many, as it turns out): It turns out all four of us can live in this house without wanting to kill each other. It’s been downright pleasant, actually. The boys laugh and wrestle and have pull-up contests. They made stir-fry and pão de queijo and banana bread. My oldest and I take a walk every evening after dinner, and after about the first month—when we started to wonder if there was a pattern to the number of people we encountered on the path and whether it related to the day, time, temperature, wind speed, and weather—we began to collect data. We will conduct a multiple linear regression before he leaves. Exciting, I know. (Nearly as exciting as going to the grocery store! Or Costco!) But to be honest with you, if not for the pervasive sense of doom that hangs over everything right now, I’d be pretty happy.
 
I attended my brother’s 45th birthday party on Zoom back in May and someone said, “Weirdest year ever.” I’ve heard many others say, “Worst year ever.” How many jokes and memes are floating around about plagues? What next? Locusts?
 
I really hope this is the weirdest and worst year ever. For many people, this no doubt is the worst year. Those who have lost loved ones. Jobs. Dreams. If you’re not among them, you’re one of the lucky ones for right now, even if it doesn’t feel that way all the time. Wherever you are, I hope God gives you some joy in the small moments you have. I also hope you can find ways to share that with other people. We all need God right now, but He often manifests best in the caring actions of other people. There’s still time to lift this year into something faith-affirming and perhaps even transcendent.
 
Becky De Oliveira is a teacher, writer, and graphic designer working on special projects for the Pacific Union Conference from her home in Colorado.
 
 

2020-08-02T11:47:41-07:00August 3rd, 2020|Living God's Love|

Be Still

by Connie Vandeman Jeffery
 
 
As stay-at-home orders have forced many of us to learn to love solitude and become reacquainted with our homes, others are finding the experience lonely and discouraging. For me, I bounce back and forth like a pinball. Sometimes I absolutely love the quiet mornings outside in my back garden, listening to the birds chirp, sipping my cup of tea, taking several minutes to intentionally count my blessings. Then, in the late afternoon, after spending hours at my computer, on Zoom calls, and “zooming” around the kitchen preparing three meals a day for my husband and me, I feel the need to go somewhere. Literally, I have the itch to drive somewhere, anywhere.
 
Do I need groceries? No, I went shopping two days ago and don’t want to make any unnecessary trips to the store. But I do want to go somewhere. Do I need to fill up my tank with gas? No, I’ve been getting two weeks to a gallon lately. A drive to the beach? I could do that—it’s only 14 miles away. But then I’d want to park, run in the sand, and let the waves tickle my toes. That just seems indulgent and unnecessary. Sometimes they close the parking lots. There would be people there and some wouldn’t be wearing masks. So, what seemed like an innocent, fun thing to do just moments before becomes clouded by over-thinking and anxiety. I am happier and safer at home, right? That’s what they tell us—safer-at-home is the way to flatten the curve, reduce the surge, stay well. So, I choose that. The safer approach. But sometimes, I feel discouraged and let myself wallow in that feeling for a few moments—or a few hours.
 
I am leaning into the “loving solitude” part of this. I am by nature a social person. I used to be glued to my cell phone, answering texts and emails within a couple minutes of receiving them. Not anymore. I stay connected for essential things—like work emails, work Zoom calls, work work. I’ve let the friends and family “connections” slide a bit. I don’t respond to every text right away. I’m conserving my energy, letting myself be OK with just staying still—being quiet. With just sitting with my thoughts, my ups and downs, my small joys, my new discoveries—like cooking with whatever ingredients are in my kitchen. I am not living alone like so many people are. I have a husband, and time with him is another blessing. The blessing of being able to take care of him as he battles chronic health challenges, of re-discovering his wonderful British sense of humor, of listening to his stories from the past—spending this kind of quality time with him has been a huge blessing.
 
He is totally isolated in our house. I am the one who ventures out to get groceries and do the “essential” things. But the essential things are starting to look and feel different than they did just a few short months ago. It is not essential to buy any new clothes. I have everything I need and more in my closet. Every trip outside the shelter of my home is weighed for risk. I need to go to the grocery store, but I don’t need to shop at the now-open outlet mall just a few miles away.
 
It is essential to my well-being and health to take excellent care of myself. For me, that means eating more healthfully than I’ve ever eaten before. Preparing healthy food at home has made a difference. I feel better. I’m drinking lots more water, getting a good sleep every night, and exercising every single day. Whether it’s a walk around the block in the morning with my neighbor and her dog Sami (with me walking in the middle of the street and her on the sidewalk), or doing exercises in front of the TV, I feel better when I exercise. It would be nice to run on the hard-packed sand at the beach, but it’s not essential.
 
It is not essential (or advisable) to watch the news 24/7 or even one hour a day. I am happier just glancing at the news on my phone or hearing a quick summary of the day’s events than I was watching every news show every evening, like I was doing back in March. Now, I read books and my husband does crossword and Sudoku puzzles. He can pass many an hour in silence sitting outside and working out his challenging, four-star Sudokus while I work, cook, or read. I’m getting used to the quiet now—to the aloneness of staying “safer-at-home.” And I’m starting to love the solitude part of this. I’m finding that the more “still” I am, in my mind, the more I can hear God’s voice gently saying, “Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). He is here, reminding me that He’s got this, letting me know who He is and what He’s able to do, while we stay safe in His everlasting arms.
 
Connie Vandeman Jeffery is the host of All God’s People, a weekly short video series highlighting the people and ministries of the Pacific Union Conference, and has had a long career in media.

 
 

2020-07-26T17:10:17-07:00July 27th, 2020|Living God's Love|

Buttering the Bread

by Ray Tetz
 
 
This morning I expressed a concern to my wife that we had taught our children incorrectly when it came to how to spread butter or mayonnaise on bread.
 
We always start in the middle and work to the edges, but if we would start at the edges and work towards the middle, then the crusts would be well-buttered and would be more likely to be eaten along with the rest of the slice of bread.
 
To this rather insightful observation she replied that she didn’t teach our kids anything at all about spreading butter on their bread, and that I know good and well that she doesn’t like mayo.
 
I was shocked by the former and admit to the latter. I’ve given up on trying to get her to try mayonnaise on her bread, but I feel a certain obligation to remediate the lost lesson in spreading the butter. Or jam. Or Nutella. Well, maybe not Nutella. If you were to accidentally spread it too far and drop some of it onto the plate, even with a good careful scrape you might lose some of it, and any parent who imparts a lesson to his children that puts the chocolate spread at risk is just not what you hope and expect when you are a kid and there is a limited amount of Nutella to start with.
 
It’s true that we probably didn’t teach our kids much about buttering their bread. The defined rectangle of a slice of bread, combined with soft butter and the dull blade of a butter knife, seemed to be a reasonably safe way for them to explore something about the intersection of food and physics—so they pretty much put whatever they wanted on their bread, however they wanted. (No licking the blade, however.)
 
And frankly, I do not recall that even one of the hundreds of bedtime sessions spent reading books aloud or the diverse and interesting conversations around the kitchen table or in the van on the way to and from school were about buttering your bread.
 
Here’s what I do remember: we talked about kindness. We talked about sharing. We talked about compassion. It seemed like every time we interacted with another family, there were questions asked and young opinions expressed. It wasn’t too long before the ideas that were being taught about fairness and equality were being tested in real life. The stories learned at church (and then school) found their counterpart in life. And somehow, even without a lesson in buttering, they managed to grow up knowing how to do it. More or less.
 
So I take it all back. You can spread the butter however you want as long as you commit yourself to being an honest person. I do think you should give the mayo a chance, but that one is a personal preference; being kind is nonnegotiable. And if you are having the chocolate spread, always be ready to share it.
 
Ray Tetz is the director of communication and community engagement for the Pacific Union Conference.
 
 

2020-07-22T10:43:40-07:00July 22nd, 2020|Living God's Love|

Hope is Not Cancelled

by Connie Vandeman Jeffery
 

My new wardrobe consists of T-shirts and shorts. It’s summertime, after all, and I’m working from home. For Zoom meetings, I wear my nicest T-shirts—the ones that haven’t been washed a hundred times until they are a tad threadbare. Or on some Monday mornings, I may even put on a blouse, but the shorts stay. No one can see the shorts on Zoom. I make sure the shorts match, my one attempt at putting together an ensemble.
 
I have an eclectic collection of T-shirts. Everything from a navy-blue shirt with the New York skyline complete with the World Trade Center and an American flag with the words “Always Remember” to one of my latest additions, “I Was Social Distancing Before It Was Cool!” I wear “Always Remember” only once a year—on September 11. It has stayed in pristine condition, folded neatly in the bottom of my T-shirt drawer.
 
My “London 2012” black Tee with 24 small colorful boxes depicting Olympic sports is a favorite. It matches my black shorts and adds splashes of color. It’s threadbare from at least 100 washes in the past eight years. I never wear my “Atlanta 1996” sweatshirt— a gift from my late brother Bob. It’s slightly small on me. But I keep it, folded in the drawer, a reminder of my brother, gone too soon.
 
My coronavirus collection of T-shirts includes funny shirts and thought-provoking ones. I wear the “social distancing” one all the time, as well as a royal blue Tee with the words “Non-Essential” in white block letters on the front. I know I’m a “non-essential” worker. I don’t save lives, nor do I provide any services that would put me in the class of an “essential” worker. But every time I wear it, my co-workers who see me on Zoom from the waist up, say, “Of course you’re essential!” I get such a boost every time I wear it. It helps my self-esteem and makes me feel so essential to my team.
 
Not all of time, but most of the time, I feel truly thankful and blessed. These past four months at home have given me a spirit of gratitude I haven’t felt, down deep in my soul, for as long as I can remember. I am blessed that I’m able to do my work from home. I’m so thankful for my “team” of co-workers who make my work and my life so fulfilling. I’m grateful that I am able to care for my husband—who is elderly and has a multitude of serious, underlying health issues—at home, while I work. I stay safe so that he can remain isolated and cared for, and hopefully, not contract the virus. I’ve taken time to appreciate the very small things, as well as the big, giant, in-my-face, blessings. Which is why, when I found the size M, white T-shirt with the words “Thankful & Blessed” in gold letters on a palette of pink on the front, well, I had to buy it! It’s so me! I am thankful and blessed. It is a true statement.
 
Do I get down? Discouraged? Two steps forward, one back; hopeful one day, disheartened the next? Yes, I do. Events have been cancelled. No camp meetings this year. No General Conference session. Vacations have been cancelled. Church is online. I have Zoom fatigue. Don’t get me wrong. I love the fact that we can stay connected and still “go” to church. I think of our 2020 graduates of all ages. Were they disappointed that they didn’t have a “real” graduation? You bet they were. But they improvised and had meaningful graduation ceremonies—drive-bys, drive-throughs, virtual graduations. They made it work with a spirit of hope that amazed me. I want to be like them.
 
My favorite T-shirt, the most perfect of all, is dusty blue with the words “Hope is Not Cancelled!” in a cursive style of writing with the British spelling of “cancelled” with two “l’s.” This one says it all—everything for which I’d been trying to find the right words. Yes, I feel “thankful and blessed” most of the time. But I’m hanging on to hope like there’s a bright tomorrow. Because I know this to be true. Hope is not cancelled! It will never be cancelled. Not in 2020. Not in my lifetime or in yours. “Our hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.”
 
“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” (Jeremiah 29:11, NIV).
 
Connie Vandeman Jeffery is the host of All God’s People, a weekly short video series highlighting the people and ministries of the Pacific Union Conference, and has had a long career in media.
 
 

2020-07-13T09:43:20-07:00July 13th, 2020|Living God's Love|

Safe at Home

by J. Murdock
 
In the fourth chapter of John, we meet a man who is in desperate need of a miracle. The man’s son is gravely ill and in need of healing. Jesus decides to enact a miracle of healing from afar, telling the man to believe His word and return home, where he will find his child safe and sound. The man does as he is instructed, and his son is saved.
 
Never have I looked at this story as anything other than a testimony to the power of belief. It wasn’t until the stay-at-home order took effect as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic that I began to study this section of Scripture differently. Jesus was able to do ministry over a long distance in order to deeply affect the life of someone He couldn’t physically see or touch. When church moved from an in-person experience to a purely digital affair, I thought of this story and wondered if we would be able to do as Jesus did—to bring life to people behind closed doors miles from where we stood each week. For me, as the Associate Pastor for Youth and Young Adults at Boulder Adventist Church in Boulder, Colorado, that meant inviting a group of people to meet online, where they are already living out their lives on social media platforms. With the elimination of travel time to and from Boulder, we increased our events by 500% and began offering vesper programs, youth and young adult Bible studies, family fun nights, and Sunday evening hangouts. Adjusting to the restrictions of a pandemic became one of the most fulfilling seasons of our ministry to youth and young adults in those early days.
 
But, as was perhaps said best by Robert Burns, “The best laid plans of mice and men often go astray.” Chaos came quicker than expected and more fiercely than we had anticipated. For our group, it came in the form of depression. We began hearing increasingly common reports of students returning to destructive habits such as cutting to cope with the anxiety. Parents began calling, distressed that their otherwise bright and cheery children were now despondent. Teens admitted that thoughts of suicide had been more prevalent for them lately. Then came the news that a young adult had attempted suicide. The long-distance miracle wasn’t working for us.
 
As it turns out, increasing programming, offering more interactivity online, and filling time with dynamic ice breakers, modified games, and devotional thoughts is not enough to counteract the challenges our community faces. All too quickly we encountered teenagers, young adults, and pre-professionals who were overcome by the panic of the news, along with seeing limited resources on supermarket shelves and fearing the deadly virus that was seeking to kill friends and family members. The numbers at each event began to wane and, more often than not, poor attendance was tied to a feeling of despair that Zoom was no longer able to quash. Likely it never had that ability in the first place.
 
At first, I believed the answer was to engineer a plan that would heal people as Jesus did that day in Capernaum. If we could only figure out how Christ was able to reach out into the world and touch people in a meaningful way, then we could then reasonably manufacture the same miracle through a screen. But I was wrong.
 
I have since called off the search to find Christ’s playbook to figure out how He was able to heal that kid from a distance. Jesus had a distinct and divine advantage that I will never have; He wasn’t alone in His activity. Jesus may have been physically standing in Cana, but His Spirit was already in the official’s home with the son. Jesus wasn’t projecting Himself through a screen to work the room—He was already there and was merely telling the man to believe that God was with him. Jesus’ job in that moment was to give the man a reason to see past the obstacle that kept him from seeing the Holy Spirit moving. When faced with death and fear, it is easy to be blinded to other things happening around you. Author and public speaker Jon Acuff says that our goal is to “pivot not panic” in order to see past obstacles that may be blocking us from seeing the Light. It seems that Jesus offers a way to do that.
 
This insight has led to a change in our approach to ministry here in Boulder. We follow Christ, believing we don’t need new plans that seem only to be destined to go astray. Instead of attempting to reinvent the wheel with digital advancements and programatic adjustments that will position us as leaders in the homes of those in our community, our goal is to find as many ways to point people to the Spirit as possible. He is already with them and is far more equipped to help chase out the darkness and re-instill hope in the lives of those overwhelmed by their circumstances than I or any other leader ever can be. Jesus merely told the man to believe, and while it is fun to play games (which we still do from time to time), the greater good requires refocusing the conversation away from the gloom of fear and back to the reality that God is with us through all of this.
 
Whenever we are able to go back to church on a regular basis, this lesson will still be relevant. Our hope is that whenever we are distant from our friends, family, and the church community, whether by choice or by government request, we will live in the truth that we are safe at home knowing that God is with us.
 
J. Murdock is associate pastor at Boulder Adventist Church in Boulder, Colorado.

 
 

2020-07-05T17:03:33-07:00July 6th, 2020|Living God's Love|

Ecology and Faith

by Becky De Oliveira
 
My father, who has been in a mostly self-imposed lockdown since the beginning of March to protect both himself and my mother, who has late-stage Parkinson’s disease, from COVID-19, has used some of his downtime to work on his memoirs, focusing on the 38 years he worked in forest management in the Pacific Northwest, starting in 1968. His writing is informative, funny, interesting, and, above all, highly reflective. At 77, Dad finds himself often pondering what he might have done better, what he might have done differently.
 
One example is a tree-thinning operation he supervised in the early 1970s about a mile from a scenic lake. Thinking the distance between the lake and the harvest site was enough that the activities of the machinery would have no impact on the lake, he was shocked to discover the lake had turned brown and murky. Sediment from a nearby wetland was slowly seeping into the stream that fed the lake. The damage was not permanent, and the lake soon returned to its normal condition, but Dad calls this incident “a slap on the side of the head,” and says it caused him to learn to “look beyond the project at hand” and to “consider all the impacts” of his actions, always trying to “look at the broader picture.”
 
I wonder to what extent we are doing this—or not doing it—in our lives and communities. Make no mistake: a church, a town, a group of friends—these are all ecosystems, delicately balanced, precious. They can flourish. They can be destroyed.
 
For the first six weeks of the pandemic, I awoke every morning with a fleeting feeling of well-being. Almost as soon as my fingers hit the button on my phone to turn off my alarm, I would remember: “My life is over.” I’ve stopped feeling that juxtaposition of emotions. I’ve become used to going nowhere but the supermarket. I have plenty of things to do in my house; I’m a busy person. I do therefore I am. It would appear that my life is not yet over.
 
Anxiety-inducing as they were, I miss those six weeks—if that’s how long it really was—that period of time when everyone seemed to be on the same page. We faced a crisis and we had some idea of how we might approach it. We were (mostly) unified in our efforts to make sure the most vulnerable of our population remained healthy. It made me think, in some ways, of one of the happiest nights of my life, the one when as a college student I was stuck at a truck stop on Interstate 90 heading east from Seattle to Walla Walla because of avalanche warnings. There were dozens of motorists in the same situation, and we helped each other. We pushed stranded cars, provided change for pay phones, shared food and weather updates. Waiters in the diner gave out free coffee to cold travelers with nowhere else to sit. Things were not exactly going well, but we took our situation with good cheer. We wished each other well.
 
That night in 1993 is an example I consider when I think about a social, faith-based ecology—an ecology of cooperation, of goodwill, of friendship. Many people have similar types of memories, and many of us long for communities that feel good—communities where we can trust and be trusted. But it is getting ever more difficult to find these.
 
The things we do now in our little lives may seem inconsequential, the way cutting down trees a mile away from a lake seemed low risk to my father all those years ago. We may find, however, that our actions—the gossip we spread, the mean comments we post on social media, the people we choose to disdain for whatever reason—will change our ecosystem into something ugly and incapable of sustaining the good life.
 
I’m old enough to have adjusted to one new normal after another, but not so old as to have decided what I think it all means or to predict where exactly we—as humans—are going to land, what we’re going to decide to be. I hope—always—that it’s not anywhere close to as bad as it looks. I hope the damage is temporary. I hope for crystal clear water.
 
 
Becky De Oliveira is a doctoral student in research methods at the University of Northern Colorado, working on special projects for the Pacific Union Conference. This article was originally published in Mountain Views, the quarterly journal of the Rocky Mountain Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, based in Denver.

 

2020-06-26T14:41:32-07:00June 29th, 2020|Living God's Love|

It’ll be on the House

by Alberto Valenzuela

 
While waiting for a connecting flight in Tegucigalpa, the capital of Honduras, I had my shoes shined. I had arrived at noon and my next flight didn’t depart until 3:00 for Roatan, one of the islands in the Caribbean.
 
In the oppressive noonday heat, the man working on my shoes told me about his daughter. She was 20 months old, a few weeks older than Camy, my daughter. She was sick with pneumonia, and he didn’t have money for the antibiotics.
 
In the way some people have of letting you know their life story, he shared that he hasn’t seen his wife for several months. They’d had their first child when she was 16, and she left him when their second child was barely a year old. He thought his mother-in-law might have taken his wife to the United States.
 
“I think she went as a mojada (wetback), but I’m not sure,” he said. “I have to work and take care of my children.”
 
I knew he wasn’t telling me a made-up sob story because I had overheard him talking about it to another shoeshine guy. It just broke my heart. I gave him 120 lempiras (about $12) to get the medicine for his daughter. He was so surprised he didn’t know what to say.
 
About an hour later, when I had already forgotten what he looked like, he came to where I was waiting and said, “Jefe, what’s your name?”
 
“Alberto,” I told him.
 
“My name is Miguel,” he told me as he shook my hand. “When you come back Friday, I’ll look for you. God bless you.”
 
He’d never been able to pay for a full series of antibiotics to his daughter. “Her name is Jessica,” he told me. He just couldn’t afford them. The days weren’t long enough to shine enough shoes to buy the medicine his daughter needed. As I took the plane out of Tegucigalpa, I prayed that little Jessica would make it and not become another statistic.
 
That Friday I returned to Tegucigalpa. As I approached the American Airlines counter, Miguel came up, all smiles, to greet me. “I was looking for you upstairs,” he told me while he vigorously shook my hand. “I brought my son with me so you can meet him.” He then proceeded to carry my luggage and place it next to the counter. “I’ll wait for you outside,” he said and disappeared.
 
When I had finished checking in, I went outside. Miguel was there, beaming with pride. “This is my son,” he said, presenting a little boy dressed in very clean clothes who didn’t seem to be any taller than my Camy.
 
“What’s your name?” I asked the boy.
 
“Miguel Angel,” he said shyly. I shook his hand and placed 40 lempiras in his other hand. He immediately put the money in his pocket.
 
“How old are you?” I asked him, trying to make conversation.
 
“Tell him how old you are,” Miguel urged. Miguel Angel raised four fingers to show me.
 
The father turned to me. “Do you want me to shine your shoes?” he asked. “It will be a ‘courtesy.’” He used an expression in Spanish that means something like “on the house.”
 
“No, thank you,” I told him. “My shoes are fine.”
 
I noticed that Miguel Angel was vigorously chewing on some gum. I remembered that I had a packet of gum somewhere. I found it after searching in every possible pocket and offered it to him. He took it and immediately threw away his old gum. I also found a pack of breath mints and gave it to him as well. I told him not to chew on them but to just place them in his mouth. His intelligent little face, a small replica of his father’s, nodded with understanding.
 
“I bought the medicines for Jessica,” Miguel told me. “She is doing better already. I’m going to buy her some more with what I make today.” I felt sorry I didn’t have a single lempira left. The money exchangers wouldn’t take my traveler’s check.
 
“When are you coming back?” he asked me.
 
“I don’t know. I have no idea.” I told him, really sorry that I couldn’t do anything else for his little Jessica.
 
“I’ll look for you every day,” Miguel told me as we shook hands in farewell. I left him by his shoeshine box. Miguel Angel was energetically chewing gum while thoughtfully watching the people who came to take the planes bound for the United States.
 
I doubted I would ever see Miguel again. I hoped Jessica would get to be as intelligent and good looking as her big brother.
 
I couldn’t help thinking about the story of Jesus and the 10 lepers. He had healed all 10 of them, but only one came back. Evidently, he knew by then who Jesus was. This former leper came back, not to ask another favor of Him, not to take advantage of His miraculous powers, not even to present Him with a request for someone in his family. He came to thank Him.
 
Miguel had spent enough time with me that he recognized me immediately. He knew when I was coming back. He knew that I lived in the United States. As far as he was concerned, I was rich. I had dollars. I had the power to heal—because I could afford to buy the medicines that I needed or that my family needed.
 
But he didn’t come to me looking for another favor. He didn’t come back expecting me to provide for him and his children. He came back to thank me.
 
It’s been a long time since I met Miguel at that small airport. I haven’t gone back. But I don’t doubt that Miguel keeps an eye out for me with every international flight that arrives. To thank me again.

 
 
Alberto Valenzuela is associate communication director for the Pacific Union Conference and editor of the quarterly magazine, the Pacific Union Recorder, which is published in both English and Spanish.

 

2020-06-19T14:59:15-07:00June 22nd, 2020|Living God's Love|

Names Matter

by Ray Tetz
 
Where are their names? It is a surprise to me that so few of the names of the people who were healed by Jesus are known by their names.
 
Jesus cured the nobleman’s son; cured Peter’s mother-in-law of a fever; healed a leper; healed the centurion’s servant; raised the son of the widow of Nain from the dead; cured two demoniacs; cured the paralytic; and raised the ruler’s daughter from the dead. No names.
 
He loosened the tongue of a man who couldn’t speak; healed an invalid at the pool called Bethesda; restored a withered hand; cured a demon-possessed man; healed a woman of Canaan; cured a boy who was plagued by a demon; opened the eyes of a man born blind; cured a woman afflicted 18 years with an issue of blood; cured a man of dropsy; and cleansed 10 lepers, of which only one came back to thank him. No names.
 
Person after person, in situation after situation, “healing every sickness and every disease among the people” (Matthew 9:35, KJV). Yet we don’t know the names of all these who were healed, raised from the dead, and restored to health.
 
And it isn’t just the miracles. We don’t know the name of the Rich Young Ruler, but perhaps that was to save him embarrassment. We don’t know the names of the Good Samaritan, the man he helped, or those who passed him by—but that was a parable, so it gets a pass. We don’t know who got married at Cana or the name of the little boy with a big lunch.
 
I miss the names. We know the names of the disciples—and even their nicknames. The “begats” are a list of people whose names alone tell us they were important. The story of the man who climbed the tree wouldn’t be near as much fun without his name—Zacchaeus.
 
The fact that the man who helped carry the cross was named Simon of Cyrene, and that he was the father of two boys—Alexander and Rufus—makes me long to know their story. Not only that, it convinces me that they were people just like me, with families and histories and places to safely go when the world is full of chaos. Lives behind the life stories.
 
But rather than asking why we don’t know very many names, perhaps we should ask why it is so important that we DO know some names. The disciples we know, for they were the ones closest to Jesus. Pilate we know because he was a coward. Nicodemus we know for his insightful queries and the resulting conversation when he sought Jesus out by night.
 
And we know the name of Bartimaeus, literally, Son of Timaeus. Bartimaeus was the man who was healed of blindness as Jesus was coming into Jericho (Mark 10:46-52). Bartimaeus was the first man who publicly called Jesus by a name reserved for the Messiah. Bartimaeus, when told to pipe down, turned the volume up even louder and shouted all the more! Bartimaeus, when asked by Jesus what he wanted, knew exactly the right answer: “Lord, I want to see,” which was clearly a reference to his physical condition because he saw and understood so much already.
 
Bartimaeus refused to be designated as beggar, blind man, troublemaker, protester, or annoying distractor. In the end we know his name: Bartimaeus. And we know that Christ commended him for his faith. We know that it was his voice and clarity that made the naysayers in authority fall silent. It was his faith, his voice, and his courage that Jesus responded to so completely and in such dramatic fashion.
 
Bartimaeus is memorable because he shouted and wouldn’t be quieted when others were silent. Following his healing, the Bible says he “followed Jesus along the road” (Mark 10:52). He took up the journey that Christ was on—and something tells me he wasn’t silent then either. After he was healed, I think that Bartimaeus told his story to anyone who would listen. And his witness was memorable, unforgettable. His very name became synonymous with the grace and healing that Jesus embodied.
 
Of course, this is just speculation, but I think it has the ring of truth: Bartimaeus told his story because he knew that his experience mattered. He knew that his story could be important to others who might be fearful. He knew that the story of how he was healed might bring courage and hope to someone who had been abused or ignored. He knew that even his name could evoke hope.
 
Across the centuries, when his story is told, it is not just about his blindness, his begging, his shouting, or that Jesus was passing. We put a name to this story—and names are important. They were then, and they are now, too. It’s not just “one who is blind,” not just “a beggar”—it is a man: Bartimaeus, son of Timaeus, and, now and forever, disciple of Jesus Christ. A life (and a name) that matters.
 
 
Ray Tetz is the director of Communication and Community Engagement for the Pacific Union Conference.
 

2020-06-15T10:24:19-07:00June 15th, 2020|Living God's Love|

With the Crowd in the Street

by Ray Tetz
 
“Then they came to Jericho. As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus (which means ‘son of Timaeus’), was sitting by the roadside begging. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’ Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’ Jesus stopped and said, ‘Call him.’ So they called to the blind man, ‘Cheer up! On your feet! He’s calling you.’ Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus. ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ Jesus asked him. The blind man said, ‘Rabbi, I want to see.’ ‘Go,’ said Jesus, ‘your faith has healed you.’ Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road” (Mark 10:46-52, NIV).
 
The story of the blind man who yelled so loud that Christ stopped and healed him is one of those stories that I’ve known for so long that I don’t actually recall when I first learned it.
 
There are some built-in risks with stories like this. First, because are things we could learn from them that we didn’t notice when we were children—like the felt figures on the flannel board, our appreciation is rather flat and two-dimensional. We need to “put away childish things” and learn from the story again. And second, when we stop listening—like the crowd in the story itself—we become desensitized to important things that the story is meant to teach us because we aren’t paying attention.
 
Let me give you an example of what I mean. This story is told in both Mark and Luke. Why does Mark say that this happened when Christ was leaving Jericho and Luke say it happened when they were coming in? It may not be important to the story itself, but it does seem like we might be concerned with this discrepancy as it relates to whether or not we can trust the Gospel writer; if he gets something so basic wrong, how do we know he gets the more important stuff correctly?
 
Frankly, I don’t think it’s much of a reflection on the story or the storytellers—but it does show that sometimes things happen at unexpected moments. Moments that were of no importance become the most significant moments in our lives. And when that happens, it is important to be paying attention.
 
In Mark’s account of the story, the disciples were distracted by a lot of political maneuvering going on within their ranks. They were all preoccupied with the rapid developments they had witnessed that made them think that Jesus was going to go to Jerusalem and overthrow the Romans; in fact, they were headed in that direction. Then they discovered that James and John, the sons of Zebedee, had formally requested to be seated at the right and left hand of Jesus in His new kingdom. Jesus had swept aside this selfish and foolish request and shocked them all by saying that “even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45, NIV).
 
This was not what they wanted to hear. So preoccupied were they with their own confused thoughts that they never heard the cry of need from Bartimaeus. They only heard noise. They thought only of the crush of the crowds—of how things might get out of hand. They were thinking only of themselves.
 
Not Jesus. Jesus was tuned in to the voices of need in that crowd, and in particular to the one voice who was unabashedly calling him “the Son of David,” which no one had yet done. The disciples, intent on personal and political gain, heard nothing that interested them; in fact, the noise was a nuisance and the noisemaker a bother—a threat to their settled lives.
 
Jesus heard the faith of someone who, although blind, had already discerned what others were still to learn. Even before we get to the story itself—of how Bartimaeus received his sight, there is this lesson to be learned: pay attention to the right stuff. Keep your ears open for when Jesus is in the street. Every moment is a moment to be transformed by grace.
 
As I am writing this, our streets are filled with people demonstrating their anger and outrage at racial injustice. This is a moment for us to be listening—and learning things that we’ve not fully understood before. This is a moment to put aside the petty discussions that distract us from hearing the voices of need—and voices (like those of Bartimaeus) that may be unabashedly speaking the truth in ways that we’ve never heard before. This is a moment to remember that Jesus is in the crowd, on the street, and that His purposes are greater than anything we could ever imagine.
 
And it’s a moment to remember that, while it is always good to be where Jesus is, sometimes He may surprise us. Stay tuned.
 
(Next week: Say His Name: Bartimaeus)
 
 

Ray Tetz is the Director for Communication & Community Engagement for the Pacific Union Conference.

 

2020-06-07T18:01:08-07:00June 8th, 2020|Living God's Love|

A Twin Barometer

by Faith Hoyt

I grew up with a twin sister who doubled as a built-in best friend. She was also my built-in barometer for behavior. Whether it was my attitude at home or social interactions at school, I had a gauge for my conduct and so did she. Despite Laura’s claim to the title of “older twin” (by two whole minutes), we were two peas in a pod who instinctively looked to each other for honest feedback. For most character-building experiences, like lessons in generosity, diligence, kindness, and self-control, Laura was right by my side. She was—and still is—the person I trust to tell me and teach me everything.

 

One of the first things I remember learning from Laura was generosity. Our mom tells us how, if given something, Laura would reach out her other hand for one more and then march over to share half with me. I have to admit I didn’t behave as generously. Parental reminders to share were likely emphasized on my behalf. My parents knew it and so did I—Laura had the sharing business down—and I benefitted from her example.

 

In our pre-teen years, my twin barometer taught me the value of being diligent about responsibilities. Take the basic task of cleaning our rooms. Some kids are pretty good about keeping their rooms clean. Then there was Laura, who took it to a whole new level. I liked to tease her that her room felt more like a hospital room than a bedroom. (Incidentally, Laura works as a nurse now.) Despite the teasing, she knew I enjoyed being in her room more than mine. Inspired by Laura’s attention to detail, my room started looking similar to hers.

 

In high school our relationship became less about learning from each other and more about learning things on our own while still occasionally comparing notes. Laura’s personality (the Campaigner) and mine (the Advocate) meant that while we could both get enthusiastic about things, I was the first to step down and look to others for input, while Laura led the charge. It created some tension in our relationship. While we were learning to understand and appreciate our differences, we were also re-learning how to use that barometer of ours. Peer pressure made me want to blend in. It made Laura want to challenge the status quo. I like to think we balanced each other out. We eventually learned to approach our differences carefully, appreciating the things that made us different rather than feeling threatened by them. I know this too has come in handy in life.

 

People sometimes ask me what growing up with a twin is like. I’ll tell them about the times we traded places in school, or the way I’ll randomly text her and discover she is texting me at the same exact moment. There are a million little secret ways that being a twin feels special. What I am most grateful for is the silent way my twin teaches me. Laura is a second pair of eyes to help me self-reflect. My twin barometer shapes the way I learn because she knows what my best self looks like and doesn’t let me settle for less. She bolsters me in the right direction.

 

Now, several years into our careers and living in different states, Laura and I see each other a handful of times a year. At the beginning of this year we started planning for a mid-March visit—a reunion interrupted by the spread of coronavirus and subsequent stay-at-home orders. While we haven’t been able to see each other yet, we’ve stayed closely connected. Phone calls are a sacred time. The stress of a pandemic has drawn us closer—and I know I can lean into my twin barometer whenever I need to re-calibrate. We’re weathering this together. I’m still learning from her too. As a nurse on the front lines, Laura shows me what bravery, compassion, and self-sacrificing love looks like.

 

I sometimes wonder how people get through life without a twin, but then I remember there are other barometers too, like friends. In friendships, we look to each other to listen, be empathetic, and give perspective. We lean into each other for advice or for helping to stay focused on what matters most. We all function as barometers.

 

Perhaps you have a twin and your growing-up years looked similar to mine. Perhaps not. Different though our experiences might have been, I know we have this in common: we’re all still learning—and learning from each other.

 

 

Faith Hoyt is the assistant editor of the Pacific Union Recorder and a communication specialist with the Communication and Community Engagement Department of the Pacific Union. She is pursuing an MBA at La Sierra University.

 

2020-05-30T09:24:59-07:00June 1st, 2020|Living God's Love|