Be Love

by Japhet De Oliveira

“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14, ESV).

I had booked a flight from Denver to Sacramento in the middle of the Super Bowl. Passengers were bumping into one another, their eyes fixed on their cell phones as they tried to follow the game. Crowds huddled around tables in restaurants offering a live broadcast of the game. I sat in a corner, just out of earshot of the game, waiting for my flight and working on my laptop to create a presentation for later that week. I enjoyed the occasional noisy distraction when one of the teams had clearly scored or had a near miss. I felt closer to the other 102 million viewers just by being in the airport. I felt I belonged.

The last professional American football game I had seen was with my friend, Terry Swenson, a lifelong fan of the 49ers. We sat in BJ’s Brewhouse, ordered too many fries, caught up on life, and watched the game (49ers vs. Saints) on multiple big screens. It was easy to see which of our fellow patrons were 49ers fans and which were Saints fans. They cheered, laughed, and applauded the tension. One group of eight adults sitting next to us was made up of fans from both sides who were still friends at the end of that game.

This feeling of community was quite different from what I observed in the office the week following Super Bowl LIV. Bob—a fake name I use in all my stories when anonymity is required—was passing by my desk when we struck up a conversation. Bob’s partner is a really keen 49ers fan, so Bob has also become a 49ers fan. The week before the Super Bowl, Bob decided to wear a 49ers jersey in support. As Bob moved around the building, there were all sorts of wonderful comments by fans of other teams. But there were also some genuinely hostile comments. These took Bob by surprise. Some people physically turned away in disdain or made snide remarks under their breath. If not for the fact that there was work to do, Bob would have avoided certain areas. The week after the Super Bowl was even harder because the 49ers lost, and the comments from the “winners” were sometimes hostile and hurtful.

I am from England, where football (soccer) is also a passionate sport. Some fans, often known as “football hooligans,” have started riots and perpetuated all kinds of violence. When you buy a ticket for a game, you want to make sure you are sitting on the side of the team you support. Once, when I was in Australia, I attended a State of Origin rugby match with the NSW Blues against the QLD Maroons. Good idea to keep the correct colors on in your seating area! The culture of the fans (excluding some of those sitting near me) seemed to dictate tense slanderous teasing. Yet, I also saw fans congratulate the winning competition after the match was over. I felt I belonged.

This is not always the case. There are people who take competition too far and don’t understand what they are doing. They make other people feel as if they don’t belong. What happened to Bob happens to all of us at some point. Others may think they are only teasing, or they may very well be being intentionally hurtful—either way, the effect is the same. It cuts to the core of who we are. We feel we do not belong, as if the same jokes are made about us all the time. We remember what it was like to be the last one to be asked to join a sports team during recess at kindergarten. This feeling weighs us down.

What do we do? What should we tell Bob? What should we tell the little kid who gets picked last every time? What should we tell the friend who feels they are the butt of all the jokes? Grow a thick skin. Give as good as you get. Just ignore them. Or could there be a better way for us to live God’s love? Could we pause and listen more? Could we grow our capacity for empathy? Could we, like Jesus, see the potential in others and make space for everyone to belong?

My friend, Lisa Clark Diller, shared a phenomenal reflection at the One project gathering in Boulder, Colorado, in mid-February. The entire message was groundbreaking, but there was a single thought that I need to share with you today. In addition to all that the Incarnation was, it was also Jesus taking on a disabled body. Because every single human is disabled in some shape or form. We all need help. Listening to her speak, with hundreds of other people, I felt I belonged.

When I read John 1:14, I see that Jesus chose to live among us so that we would understand what it is to live love. Try it today. Live God’s love by lifting up the person next to you instead of tearing them down.

 

Japhet De Oliveira is administrative director for the Center for Mission at Adventist Health in Roseville, California.

 

2020-02-24T09:31:23-08:00February 24th, 2020|Living God's Love|

When God Calls

by Becky De Oliveira

“Anyone who withholds kindness from a friend forsakes the fear of the Almighty” (Job 6:14, NIV).

Today at church, a casual acquaintance confessed his feeling of being completely overwhelmed by the needs of others. He works in one of the “caring” professions, and his office is understaffed. He is all things to all people—and while he enjoys being useful in this way, he is lately finding the experience draining. He’s approaching burnout and doesn’t know what to do about it.

I can relate. My belief—more or less—has always been that God sends people to me. That is to say, anyone who comes within my orbit was likely sent my way because they need something that perhaps only I can—or am willing to—provide. On top of that, I am a natural people pleaser. According to Psychology Today, this means I am driven by fear of rejection and fear of failure. Yup, sounds about right.

As pathological as it may sound, this is usually a fun way to live and very rewarding. God seems to send problems I actually have the capacity to deal with. He has never sent me anyone whose problems seem insurmountable or that will threaten to bury me. And yet, I sometimes feel fed up and exhausted when people ask me for favors. This last week, a fellow student in one of my classes asked me to take notes for him since he had medical appointments and would miss two classes. Fine. No problem. Happy to do it. But then another friend asked me to read and check the APA style on her 59-page research paper. Sure. Someone else wrote to ask if I could give an opinion on an essay they’d written. An hour later I received another request—almost identical—from someone else. And then I discovered I needed to begin editing a joint paper for publication and tracking down the contributors who had not yet contributed. Before I knew it, there went my spare time over the weekend—used up reading and editing other people’s writing. This on top of the reading and editing I do for money. I do not—to be honest—even think I’m all that good at reading and editing. “Who cares what I think?” I fumed to myself as I looked at my ever-growing to-do list, made up primarily of tasks that I do not super enjoy, and thinking about how there are some people who watch TV on Saturday nights, people who make popcorn.

I had recently begun to put my foot down on requests for my time. I had a firm policy and I enforced it for a few weeks. (This must have been a short-lived New Year’s Resolution.) I do things for only one of three reasons, I told myself: 1) Money to pay for my son’s college tuition, 2) Professional growth, or 3) Because I really want to do it. It’s ideal if the task in question ticks all three boxes, and really, it should knock off at least two of them. I’ve said “no” to a few friends in recent weeks and even felt proud of myself for creating boundaries and sticking to them. But then here I am, fallen off the wagon. I said “yes” to all these recent requests even though I have a growing backlog of my own work that never seems to get any smaller. Even though not a single one of the tasks fulfils even one of my requirements. There’s nothing in doing this work for me—except, of course, that warm glowing feeling, that sense of having achieved some kind of purpose in the world. There’s that.

So here I am, taking a break from all the editing, to compose a blog about finding balance. Is there anyone who gets this right? Well, me—some of the time and only through God’s enormous grace. Even as I type these words, I find myself growing stronger. I remind myself how honored I feel that people choose to ask me for help, what a privilege it is to have another person care what I think, actively seek my opinion and guidance. I know these thoughts are God, whispering in my ear. He’s saying, “You have asked to be of use in this world. Right now, this is all I’m asking of you. Read a few pieces of paper. Respond with a mix of warm affirmation and constructive criticism. What else do you have going on?” And really, nothing. It’s been a long time since I’ve cared much about TV. And nothing’s stopping me from making some popcorn and having a little editing party. Thank you, God, for speaking into my life. Again.

 

Becky De Oliveira is a doctoral student in research methods working on special projects for the Pacific Union Conference from her home in Colorado.

2020-02-16T17:51:59-08:00February 17th, 2020|Living God's Love|

Bad, Redundant, and Needless People?

by Rajmund Dabrowski

“Keep watch over me and keep me out of trouble” (Psalm 25:20, MSG).

Christians have their prayers. All of us do. Our prayers are not always original or even heartfelt. Most of us will have to admit to having prayed a prayer or two that we learned by heart and repeated more out of duty than need. I enjoy listening to how people pray. I love prayers that make me think. I crave prayers full of fresh expressions. Such prayers are not driven by a routine of formality.

If ever there was a time to pray, it is now. We all need a shake-up regarding our spiritual center. How clear is our morality? How pure is our speech? Is it perceived as divisive, hateful, and toxic—or does it bless even those we may regard as enemies? Each of us is vying for power—to move faster, be more important, be on top, be louder, be somebody. We need readjustment. If Jesus is the answer, as we profess, we need to reject that which is bad and redundant.

Henri J. M. Nouwen is instructive when he puts his finger on the issue:

“Against my own best intentions, I find myself continually striving to acquire power. When I give advice, I want to know whether it is being followed; when I offer help, I want to be thanked; when I give money, I want it to be used my way; when I do something good, I want to be remembered.”

He continues:

“Can I give without wanting anything in return, love without putting any conditions on my love? Considering my immense need for human recognition and affection, I realize that it will be a lifelong struggle. But I am also convinced that each time I step over this need and act free of my concern for return, I can trust that my life can truly bear the fruits of God’s Spirit.” (The Return of the Prodigal Son, pp. 127-128.)

So, have you rattled off a prayer lately? What was it about?

I will always remember the prayers of my parental home. Prayer was a time of family warmth. These were the moments upon which we hinged our own social and faith life in the present as well as the future. And there she was, my mother, praying for God’s guidance over our childhood days. “Dear God, protect us from all evil,” she prayed. “From people who are bad and needless.”

I wondered what she meant by these simple yet puzzling words. Did she mean needless as in redundant? Why was this important to her? I recall asking her to explain, and she said that she prayed for protection of our young lives from people who might introduce us to undesirable, wrong choices. Dozens of people marched through our home and our young feet often entered the trail of someone else’s life. Perhaps one of these individuals was “bad and needless.” She was praying that our future be built in a wholesome, values-driven way.

How does one recognize a bad person, anyway? How do you reject someone and deem them as being redundant or needless? When does value turn into uselessness?

When no one is around, most of us are bothered by our loneliness. When we are surrounded by people, we seek to be alone. How human this is! Perhaps some of our fellow-sojourners are those in the category from my mother’s prayer—bad and needless. Yet…

Look around. You will come into contact with someone who will take away your time, strength, goodness, or values. Yes, even your hope. Some may love you for profit. You may hang out with people whom you regard as members of your weekly feel-good club, where growth is optional, and the environment is rich with protective space.

Our naïveté may prevent us from noticing that we are at their disposal—until we realize that our soul has been stolen, along with our goodness, leaving only emptiness. Or could it be that some of us are making ourselves redundant in the world of others?

Life is rich with challenges and opportunities. There is a dire need for people whose values can embrace the needs of others. There are people to avoid because of the way they look, people who are different and whose love is hidden and needs to come out! But we have not placed ourselves in their circle of need.

My mother’s other prayers called for God to help us be kind, compassionate, and loving. It is that angle that challenged me when I heard former Seventh-day Adventist World Church President Jan Paulsen, my former boss, say in one of his sermons:

“It is our anxieties which erect the barriers between people. In order to experience hope and an attractive future we must be secure and strong and open enough to step outside of our protected space and take part in the lives of people who are different from us—different nationally, racially, and religiously. How is your and my social circle composed? If I am incapable of showing warmth to a stranger, I will also be incapable of feeling pain and distress at his or her suffering. There is nothing noble in accepting people who are replicas of ourselves.”

That little prayer of my mother’s was her caring interest in my dignity, her plea that no one would rob me of it. The price was too big: to lose one’s dignity. Could it be taken away by someone useless and bad?

 

Rajmund Dabrowski is director of communication for the Rocky Mountain Conference of Seventh-day Adventists in Denver, Colorado.

2020-02-09T15:21:08-08:00February 10th, 2020|Living God's Love|

To Literally Try

by Becky De Oliveira

“I don’t understand what I am doing. For I don’t practice what I want to do, but instead do what I hate” (Romans 7:15, ISV).

The word literally almost always means figuratively—based on the way it is actually used in the majority of everyday conversation. “I literally died.” “My head literally exploded.” It is pretty much guaranteed that anything the speaker claims “literally” happened or will happen did not or will not. Ever. You didn’t literally starve when you were stuck without snacks and your flight was delayed at the airport. You are not going to literally rip anyone’s head off if you have to wait one minute longer in this slow-moving post office line. It’s nice—if a bit obvious—that those who help us define what we mean when we use language (in this case, dictionaries) have officially acknowledged what everyone has known for a long time: Literally almost never literally means literally. It is probably enormously helpful—and something of a relief, I suspect—for those learning English as a second language to discover, upon anxiously scouring the dictionary, that no one will be literally eating a horse. The jury is still out on whether or not anyone ever literally “freaks out,” because it is very difficult to define precisely what behaviors or states of mind constitute a freak out. Most people who claim to be literally freaking out are laughing and smiling in a good-humored manner. But who knows what might be roiling beneath the surface?

I would like to see the same acknowledgement of redefined meaning based on actual usage extended to the word try and most of its variations, most specifically the phrase “I’ll try,” which almost always means “I will not try.” If you ask a friend if he or she is coming to your birthday party this Saturday night and he or she responds, “Yeah, I’ll definitely try to be there,” this means (literally): “Five minutes from now I will have forgotten we even had this conversation. No, I’m not coming to your party. And you can forget about a card too.” And there is an inverse correlation between how hard people say they are going to try and how hard they will actually try. You’re more likely to get a no-show from someone indicating that they will try their “hardest” or, worse, the guy who will “try everything in my power.” The harder people insist that they are going to try to do something, the less hard they actually seem to try. The superlatives are probably thrown in unconsciously as a way of assuaging a guilty conscience. When we say we’ll try, what we really mean is that we would like to try. Or even that we would like to be the kind of people who would like to try. It’s more an expression of an attitude or of a vague sort of good will than an expression of actual intent to follow through on a course of action.

So, what does all this mean in the life of faith, a life in which perhaps all we can do is try? My friend Nathan Brown published a book a few years ago called Why I Try to Believe. I wrote a review of it in which I made the following observation:

The cry of the man in the Gospel of Mark, ‘I believe; help my unbelief!’ (9:24) is one to which we can all relate. Sometimes a commitment to trying is the best we can muster—in our relationships, our work, our faith. Circumstances cause the ground to shift beneath our feet. Most of us will hit spiritual lows, or experience setbacks and tragedies that make us wonder what life is all about—and if our faith in God is pure foolishness. What we choose to do at that point—and Brown makes it very clear faith is an active choice— marks a clear fork in the road.

We often do have good intentions that we forget about or lose sight of along the way. I, for example, try to say only positive things about other people—to their faces, behind their backs. This is my intention. But then I’ll have a bad day and feel weak, frustrated, and annoyed, and before I know it, I’ve griped about someone for no good reason at all. To make myself feel better? To make myself look better? I have no idea. This is where the earnest definition of “try” should be put into practice. I will try to do better. I will remind myself that perhaps the positive words I put out into the world will harness the winds, clear the clouds—if only for a moment, an hour, a day. That trying is not futile and neither should it be taken lightly. It is the work of a lifetime and the most important work there is.

 

Becky De Oliveira is a doctoral student in research methods working on special projects for the Pacific Union Conference from her home in Colorado.

2020-02-02T19:13:53-08:00February 3rd, 2020|Living God's Love|

Dressing for the Weather

by Becky De Oliveira

My grandmother came to pick me up for breakfast one morning when I was visiting Seattle from my home in England. I was at least 30 years old. It was a dreary day, overcast, maybe drizzling a bit. Not warm but not bitterly cold. I chose to leave the house in a long-sleeved t-shirt.

“Where’s your coat?” grandma asked.

“I don’t need it,” I said.

“It’s cold!”

“I don’t feel all that cold.”

My grandmother rarely lost an argument. This was down to her unique set of dialectical skills. “Don’t be stupid,” she barked. “It’s snowing in New Jersey!”

Left speechless by her unassailable logic, I went inside and got my coat. Zipped it up to my chin. Would have donned a pair of mittens and perhaps a thick wool scarf if I’d been able to find any. Grumbled—half laughing at the absurdity of the whole situation—in my head, “Why does she treat me like such a child?” (She yelled at me in Hawaii for wearing the wrong shoes on the beach once too, when I was 20.)

How many times do these kinds of scenarios play out in interactions between the generations? Behind door number one, we have an older person with wisdom to dispense who gets angry or hurt when it is disregarded. What do you know about life? You’re only a kid. People die of pneumonia. Behind door number two, a younger person who kicks against the unmistakable feeling of bondage and disrespect. What do you know about life? Times have changed. Ever heard of a miraculous invention called penicillin? Nothing good comes of this. We talk across each other. Dig our heels in. Either someone gets bullied or someone else’s feelings get hurt.

I few years ago, I came across a simple printed sheet of paper with a row of tear-off contact details on a community bulletin board, wedged between flyers for eco-friendly house cleaning services and yoga classes. The advertiser, a 75-year-old man, offered to share the “wisdom collected over a lifetime” in about 15 different areas ranging from “staying married for 50 years” and being a “published author” to “gun control” and “auto mechanics.” The man promised that this service was entirely free, that he had no intention of selling anything, and that he guaranteed he had no “get-rich-quick schemes” to suggest. This last point, I must confess, I found enormously disappointing. Still, I gazed at this ad for a long time, feeling suddenly and desperately sad at the idea of an old man alone by the phone, hoping for a call from a stranger in need of advice. I felt so sad I actually contemplated ringing him up myself, but I couldn’t think of a good question to ask. It’s not that I feel I have all the answers, but few of my big questions concern gun control and even fewer relate in any way to auto mechanics. Anything else seemed too personal—and far too specific to my own circumstances. Knowledge is not always directly transferable; how one couple stayed married for 50 years might not work at all for another. Also, I was only passing through this town. No possibility for establishing a permanent relationship with this individual (probably not the smartest thing to do via an anonymous flyer anyway)—which I sensed was the thing he was really looking for.

Genuine relationships between the generations are, I think, extremely valuable—but not so much in terms of the giving and receiving of wisdom or advice. While this can sometimes work out rather well, more often it is the love, acceptance, and understanding between people that gives us strength, in spite of our different experiences and world views. It is about abiding together through whatever life throws in our way. What I learned most from my grandmother—what I’ll remember as I grow older myself—are all the things she never talked about at all but simply did. She denied herself treats so she could treat others. She made herself presentable and put on a cheerful face no matter what kind of day it was. She bragged—shamelessly—about the people she loved. She adopted people that no one else cared about and acted as though they mattered. I’m sometimes bad about remembering my coat—and utterly hopeless at selecting the right footwear for the beach in Hawaii—and I have probably failed to do most of the things my elders in general have ordered, but I’ve been watching and learning all the same. I still believe it’s within me to do them proud.

 

Becky De Oliveira is a doctoral student in research methods working on special projects for the Pacific Union Conference from her home in Colorado.

2020-01-26T10:39:45-08:00January 27th, 2020|Living God's Love|

The Diamond-Water Paradox

by Becky De Oliveira

My husband and I were in London for a few days just before Christmas. We stayed in the city center and enjoyed the parks, the Christmas lights, and shopping—although on many occasions it was mere window shopping. To get to Selfridges, a large department store on Oxford Street that features what I consider to be the finest food hall in the city, we wandered along Old Bond Street that later turns into New Bond Street. These two streets are lined with luxury shops such as Hermés, Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Tiffany & CO., Gucci, and the like. I was mostly dismayed to note the closing of Bateel, a shop that sold stuffed dates (the kind of luxury I can afford), and fascinated to try to quantify the value of the inventory along these two conjoined streets that together comprise less than a mile and that do not include Selfridges itself, not to mention Harrods, Harvey Nichols, Fortnum & Mason, or any other of the countless purveyors of luxury goods that exist in London—or every other large modern city in the world.

“It has to be millions,” I kept saying. Earlier in the week, we’d stopped at Harrods and noted several Rolls-Royces parked outside the store with the engines running. There are people in the world who are driven to Harrods in Rolls-Royces by people who wait for them to finish shopping and take them home again. The drivers of these cars are neither waved off by angry police officers nor ticketed. This is how the other half (half?) live. I’ve often tried to think of a way to estimate the value of the goods in Harrods alone and given up. Who knows? A lot.

While browsing the food halls at Selfridges, I came upon the item that I decided earned my vote for the most crazy-expensive thing I’d seen this trip. In the past, the honor has gone to a pen for $20, 000, a vase for $90, 000—you get the picture. This was, in comparison with those items, quite affordable at just around $1, 700. But here’s the deal: it was a jar of honey. A smallish jar of honey, one I could have easily fitted into my handbag had it not been encased in protective glass (kidding—about the shoplifting, not about the glass). Obviously, this was no ordinary honey, as the price tag suggests. It was mānuka honey from New Zealand, produced from the nectar of Leptospermum scoparium, also known as the mānuka tree and believed to have medicinal properties. Perhaps not surprisingly, there is no evidence for any medicinal benefits, by the way.

Of course, I began to scoff and judge anyone who might make such a purchase. “Not even if I were a billionaire,” I said, affecting a sort of Bernie Sanders accent for the word billionaire as I seem to do these days to amuse myself. But then as a thought experiment, because there is little I love more than a thought experiment, I began to wonder under what circumstances I might purchase that jar of honey. It had, it must be noted, an MGO (methylglyoxal—the compound that makes the honey so prized) of 1700, whereas the average mānuka sold in shops in New Zealand and Australia, according to my friends from down under, is more like 100-200 MGO. So, we can agree it’s “better” when assessed according to these terms. I found this particular honey online and learned more about it, not least that only 1, 000 people “will be able to possess a jar.” Unless, of course, one of those people buys all the jars.

Now, I say nothing could persuade me to spend approximately the equivalent of a mortgage payment on honey that has no proven health benefits—but what if I or one of my children had a health condition that was painful and debilitating and that did not respond to conventional treatment? Might I be willing then? Out of desperation? Hope? And just to continue the experiment, how much easier would it be for me to make that decision if the cost were not the equivalent of a mortgage payment, if I were in fact a billionaire? Maybe even I, sanctimonious as I am, would buy all the jars and hoard them selfishly. It’s a sobering thought.

This week on the radio there was a segment on the news that Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos gave a million dollars to help the Australia fires. The hosts pointed out that when you compare that donation to his overall wealth, it is the equivalent of an “average” person donating about six dollars. But, of course, the million will go much farther in addressing the fire efforts than six dollars would. Is it the amount of good the money does that matters or the amount of pain it costs the giver?

Jesus seemed to suggest the latter when He praised the widow who gave two worthless coins (Mark 12:41-44). He said the rich “all gave out of their wealth. But she, out of her poverty, put in what she had to live on, everything she had” (NET).

It is interesting to think about how we assign value, how we determine affordability. In The Wealth of Nations, economist Adam Smith outlined the water-diamond paradox: namely that while water is vital to life and health and diamonds are merely ornamental, diamonds are much more highly valued. One of my goals for this year is to reassess what I assign value to and question that rigorously. How will this affect how I give and what I put my efforts toward?

 

Becky De Oliveira is a doctoral student in research methods working on special projects for the Pacific Union Conference from her home in Colorado.

2020-01-17T15:52:46-08:00January 20th, 2020|Living God's Love|

A Terrible Idea

by Antoinette Alba

As an artist and writer, I go through a process of deciding which ideas are worth making into a completed piece. I brainstorm, I scribble, I make studies, and I choose which ideas I want to pursue. I assign value to those ideas: which are good, which are bad, and which desperately need to be thrown in the trash. Beyond that, I decide which is the most important and which is the least, and often by the time I get to the last on the list I don’t care about that idea anymore.

Other times I try to force certain ideas to work, and because of that force they are more resistant to come to life. I have notebooks filled with bad ideas and maybe five good ones. I scribble thoughts on Post-it notes or in my phone, only to return to those ideas later and realize that I can’t remember where I was going with that or why I thought it was a good idea in the first place. For me, ideas are easily discarded because I know there are so many rattling around in my mind that I will have lost nothing by throwing this one away.

Because I experience this in my own process of creation, I am all the more awed that God never did that to us. That He didn’t just crumple up the ball and toss it in the bin. That He not only pursued what any of us would consider a terrible idea, He considered it a wonderful idea, an idea worth all the trouble it was going to bring. He assigned a value to us that is more precious than a sea of jewels. He deemed us worthy enough to ransom from the chains of sin.

I am amazed that He let His creation take on a life of its own and made something beautiful out of us, even though we’re broken, even though we’ve been made ugly by a life separate from Him. I am astounded by God’s commitment to us, like an artist working through a challenging area of a painting struggling to be born. Better than the Mona Lisa or the Sistine Chapel, God makes masterpieces in the sky out of pollution and golden hearts out of hardened stone.

I am grateful for the identity God clothes us in—an identity in which we are loved, in which we are pursued, in which we are worth being saved. Because without this identity, it is too easy to be what others deem us to be, what others try to make us. Because we are blessed by an incredibly strong, exciting, and empowered identity as the children of God, we don’t have to be what people say we are or believe we are. We can simply put that down, walk away, and be who God calls us to be.

 

Antoinette Alba is an artist and writer based in California.

2020-01-10T17:11:35-08:00January 13th, 2020|Living God's Love|

Grandpa’s Gift

by Faith Hoyt

When my twin sister and I were 7 years old, our grandpa gave us a special gift. It wasn’t something we could use right away—we were still quite young. But he knew we’d be old enough eventually, and he saw an opportunity to teach us.

The gift was a workbench. He had built it himself and painted it a bright white. It was a sturdy thing. Hanging from long nails on the back wall of the workbench were two sets of tools. Grandpa had carefully traced around each tool with a black marker to help us remember where they went. (The outlines helped us keep things tidy—not that he was anticipating messes!)

I remember beholding this amazing gift for the first time. I reached up to inspect each treasure: my own hammer, pliers, screwdriver, tape measure, wrench, and hacksaw. The gift came with a few stern words about safety, a gentle smile, and a lesson on how to use the C-clamps he’d secured to each end of the bench.

The workbench sat in our garage for a few years, occasionally getting used when mom or dad was around. When my sister and I were a little older, we started using our tools more often. The freedom to do what we wanted was exhilarating. We started simple at first—nailing together scraps of wood and assembling all manner of castaway materials into treasures. Our tool sets helped us take our forts to the next level. Working at our workbench helped build confidence, sharpen skills, and reinforce lessons (such as how not to use a hacksaw). Cuts and scrapes reminded us that our tools were the real deal and that we’d need to handle them more carefully next time.

Over time our tool sets were used for more practical purposes. Each time I reached for my hammer, I thought about my grandpa and his own workshop on my grandparents’ property in Grass Valley, California. Of all the places my sister and I would explore, the long building with the chicken coop at the end was my favorite. I would wander through his workshop staring wide-eyed at all the marvelously shaped everything’s that filled his workspace. He was a masterful builder, carpenter, and inventor. He was my role model for building good things and taking good care of them. Because of his gift, we had our own workspace and the chance to do what grandpa did.

The only thing that remains of his gift is the workbench, which has since been refinished and repurposed. Also, I’ve held on to most of that wealth of practical knowledge my grandpa willingly imparted to a couple of kids who wanted to learn.

I appreciate so much about this memory. What stands out for me now as an adult is the trust my grandpa (and my parents) gave my sister and me. We were trusted to use our tools safely and wisely. Our workbench and all its accessories were entrusted to our care. It’s an amazing feeling to be trusted—even more so when that trust comes with responsibility.

As a young person in the church, I long to feel that same trust. I want to approach a role knowing there’s someone behind me to guide me, encourage me, and let me grow into it. If I’m lucky, I might just have the chance to build something good—and bless my community in the process.

 

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.

2020-01-05T18:19:15-08:00January 6th, 2020|Living God's Love|

A Convocation

by Becky De Oliveira

August 2009. My husband was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. Now, this is the “best kind of cancer to have” as no fewer than a dozen people informed me at the time—and experience proved them more or less correct. Japhet recovered after only two surgeries and two rounds of radiation over a period of about 15 months. It only cost us about $11, 000 out of pocket, and I only had to talk to a representative from an insurance company questioning the “appropriateness of the treatment” at 7:30 in the morning on one occasion. While it was suggested, in the end we never did have to fly to Malaysia for cheaper treatment. He had both his surgeries in the great state of Michigan—in St. Joseph and Ann Arbor, respectively.

So in the grand scheme, no big deal. But at the time, I was freaking out. Our kids were small—just nine and five years old. You hear the word cancer and everything fades to black. I catastrophized a little. I’d be left alone to raise these kids. They would have no father. I would have no husband. We lived in Michigan, away from both our families, but at least I had a job there. Would I be able to keep it? What was I going to do?

The day of his first surgery, in St. Joseph, I hung out the whole day until the surgeon came to speak to me. “There was cancer everywhere,” he said, ominously. “I think I got it all.” (As it turns out, he hadn’t. Hence the second surgery 15 months later in Ann Arbor.) I unleashed a torrent of tears all the way home—relief? fear?—and then pulled myself together to put on a brave and happy face for the kids, who knew Dad was sick but weren’t especially worried out it. And that, of course, was by design.

He was awake the next morning, so I visited him before going to work. He was groggy and in pain. When I arrived on campus, emotionally frazzled and raw, I headed to Pioneer Memorial Church for convocation. I was unprepared to march as I usually would—I’d left my regalia at home—but I didn’t feel like going to my empty office alone. I wanted to be where people were, and convocation was where everyone was that morning. I found the rest of the members of my department. They were all lined up and ready to march into the church. They urged me to join them. “I’m not wearing my regalia,” I pointed out. “Who cares?” they said, waving their hands dismissively. They engulfed me into a great warm wave of robed and hooded bodies, and I was swept along, up the middle aisle of Pioneer Memorial Church, wearing jeans and, probably, a t-shirt. I saw some of my students in the audience. They smiled and waved. “Look how cool Becky is,” some of them later said they whispered to each other. “She doesn’t even have to wear the stupid gown!”

The fallout, of course, was swift. There was a lengthy email to the faculty the next day urging appropriate attire for convocation, but the person who wrote it had no idea of my personal circumstances. He didn’t understand how much that simple act of inclusion— “You will join us; you are one of us; we don’t care what you’re wearing” —had soothed my weary soul. It made me stronger and more able to face everything that came: the drive home from the hospital, the two weeks of post-radiation isolation, the weeks of recovery, the worry, the bills, the holding it all together so the kids would feel secure and no one would be too uncomfortable.

Turns out I did have family in Michigan.

 

Becky De Oliveira is a teacher, writer, and graphic designer working on special projects for the Pacific Union Conference from her home in Colorado.

2019-12-29T15:26:32-08:00December 30th, 2019|Living God's Love|

Suspending Skepticism

by J. Murdock

Whenever someone begins a statement with, “You’re not going to believe this, but…” I always wonder what led them to lead off with an expectation of disbelief. Of course, these days it seems like everything needs to be taken with a grain of salt. In a world of false claims and a constant barrage of argumentation between what “he said” and “she said,” there is an unspoken skepticism about everything.

Skepticism is understood to be an attitude of doubt about the authenticity of things we see or hear. In many ways, skepticism can be a healthy approach to information when it is given without supporting facts that can be verified readily. Skepticism is what led me to keep my cool when I received a phone call from the Social Security Administration informing me that my Social Security number had been suspended because it had been involved in a crime, and I needed to confirm my SSN to reactivate it after paying a small fee of $100. Because of my skepticism, I was able to save myself $100 up front and a season of headaches trying to cancel credit cards that were opened in my name after the fact. But what happens when the same skepticism that aided me in protecting my assets grows to doubt more than just the suspect things in my life and begins to isolate me from anything other than my own opinion in the echo chamber to which I retreat to for safety and security?

Skepticism becomes cynicism quickly if we aren’t careful to create an internal system of checks and balances. Cynicism is the belief that all people are motivated by self-interest. Cynicism leads to tunnel vision that can barricade you from hearing opinions different from your own because they don’t match what you already believe to be true. It has the ability to place you in alliance with the news station you watch because the other news station is comprised of villains, liars, and cheats. Cynicism is no longer an attitude but a belief that breeds a lifestyle of doubt.

Imagine for a moment that you find yourself in the middle of a field and a voice speaks from the figure of an angel reflecting the Light of the Lord into the darkness. That angel says that a baby has been delivered to the world as the Savior of all humanity. The angel then tells you that God has selected you to visit the baby and his parents, in order to bear witness to the greatest miracle ever to happen on earth.

The skeptic, while skeptical, is also intrigued and may actually take the side quest to Bethlehem to see whether or not the story is true. The cynic likely wouldn’t move a muscle and would instead declare the story “fake news.”

The shepherds were neither skeptics nor cynics. According to Luke 2:15, they said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened” (NIV).

We all have the opportunity to apply logic and reason to everything we hear in order to preserve our sanity in an otherwise confusing world. But before you make a final decision and act in line with how you have predetermined the order of the world to be, reserve judgment when something in your soul stirs. Your mind and heart may already be swayed by the positions you have taken up to this point, but your soul still belongs to the Lord. Keep it open to the will of the Spirit. For if you do, you will find yourself at the start of an unforgettable journey you can’t afford to miss out on. Merry Christmas!

 

J. Murdock is associate pastor at Boulder Adventist Church in Boulder, Colorado. This blog is adapted from a piece he wrote for Daily Walk, the Boulder church devotional and study guide.

2019-12-23T11:29:53-08:00December 23rd, 2019|Living God's Love|