All posts by Patty LaRoche

Israel-Elijah by Patty LaRoche

Patty LaRoche

People regularly ask me how I have so many crazy experiences. I tell them that God wants me to give others an appreciation for their “normal” lives. Other times, I bring it upon myself. One thing is for sure: Those who know me well are used to “unusual” things happening when I’m around. Today, our fourth day in Israel, would be no different.

My two sons, Jeff and Andy, and Andy’s wife Kristen and I were finding Tel Aviv to be mega-expensive. A lunch of sandwiches ran around $100, and breakfast was more than that. Ash trays were found on all restaurant tables, as smokers appeared to be the norm. Fortunately, almost everyone we met spoke some English, and street signs typically were marked in three languages: Hebrew, Greek and English. Our GPS was scattered, and most times the four of us received different signals as to how to navigate the roads. We would pick one and hope for the best. Sometimes, that worked in our favor. Sometimes, not.

Tour guides had suggested we visit Hafai which boasted of exquisite gardens, temples and beaches. Only an hour’s drive away, we would find Bahá’í Gardens, 19 geometric terraces around a shrine located near Mount Carmel, the site where Elijah confronted the false prophets of Baal, and one we wanted to see. Without researching further, we left Tel Aviv around noon, headed towards the Old Testament site. I was excited. As one who had stood against false prophets and Jezebel, brought fire from Heaven and was taken to Heaven alive, Elijah is one of my favorite Old Testament characters.

At the garden entrance, signs warned us that this was a holy place. No gum-chewing, cell phones or loud voices were allowed out of reverence for this place. A dress code was strictly enforced, and since my daughter-in-law Kristin’s shorts did not cover her knees, we were denied entrance. Not to worry. Andy, her husband and my son, had swim trunks in the car. The fact that he is an XL and she is a size-four would not dissuade us from entering. Kristen’s flowery, poofy swim trunks, rolled several times over at the waist, seemed to satisfy the guard.

We hustled towards the temple, expecting to see signs informing us about Elijah’s experience. Once there, we were told the sacred temple was closed. No reason given. We could come back another time when it would reopen.

On our way out of the gate, I asked the attendant to explain what we had just seen. That’s when she shared that we were on holy ground in reverence to the Bahá’í faith. (And that had to do with Elijah…how?) Well, it didn’t. It had to do with a “oneness” religion in which we are all created alike in love. How we had managed to make a day out of this was anyone’s guess! All I knew was that we certainly were not involved in anything that had to do with Christianity or God’s prophet.

So much for listening to the guide who convinced this was a “must see.”

Tomorrow, however, we told each other, we would visit sites related to Jesus and no one else. We just did not anticipate the dangers ahead in making that happen.

Israel Iron Dome by Patty LaRoche

Patty LaRoche

Four of us boarded our Tel Aviv tour bus, heading for Jerusalem. We were grateful to be here, considering the airport interrogation my sons Jeff and Andy, Andy’s wife Kristen, and I received when we left Miami, Florida, heading to Israel. We had anticipated a memorable—probably tearful– Christian experience as we would navigate the country where Jesus had spent much of his life.

To say it was memorable is an understatement.

The Miami El Al Airline agent began the questioning before we even checked our bags. “How do you know each other?” “Where did you sleep last night?” “While you were asleep, did anyone have access to your luggage?” “Has anyone been near your computer in the past few days?” “Why do you all live in different states?” “When was the last time you slept in your parents’ house?” “How many bedrooms were in that house?”

And that was just the beginning. Since Andy is coaching for the K.C. Royals and moves frequently, his answer to how many flights he had taken over the past few months raised eyebrows. Two senior agents were called in to further interrogate Andy and Kristen about their lifestyle, especially since they live in different states part of the time.

Obviously, not just anyone is allowed into Israel.

After convincing the panel of interrogators we were not a threat, we were allowed on board. Even Kristin, apprehensive (to put it mildly) about a trip to another country, later shared that the 12-hour flight had been an unexpected pleasure.

Jeff had arranged to rent a car, and at the AVIS booth in Tel Aviv, he was told that the actual price was five times the original quote because four of us would not fit into the size car he had rented. I chose not to take that personally. That, plus the hidden costs, caused the price increase. As we lugged our suitcases, backpacks, etc. to the pick-up zone, we were excited to see the sleek cars available. Unfortunately, those were not ours. Ours was in a different area. Ours was the size of a golf cart–a mini golf cart. Our laughter was uncontrollable as we crammed our possessions into whatever cavity we could find—including the dashboard, under our feet, behind our necks and in our laps.

Arriving at our rented condominium, we were pleasantly surprised at our spectacular view. Overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, we could see hundreds of bikers, runners and walkers filling the trails along the beach. Israel was alive and inviting. Tomorrow we would bus it to Jerusalem and walk the Via Dolorosa. Let the tears begin!

Which is where this story starts. We awoke early to board our tour bus, but as we did, a siren sounded, an alarm similar to the ones I heard in drills as a child when we were given instructions on what to do if an atomic bomb headed our way. Everyone was removed from the tour busses parked by ours, and we were ushered to a stone wall nearby. Explosions were heard at a distance. Our tour guide explained that those sirens had not sounded for four years, and it probably had “something to do” with the fact that Israel had killed a Palestinian Jihad militant and his wife in Gaza the night before.

Or it has something to do with the fact that I am in Israel, I told myself.

When the sirens stopped, we boarded our bus, our nerves a little edgy. (Being bombed has a way of doing that, you know). Shortly after leaving Tel Aviv, our guide explained that apparently Gaza had retaliated with air strikes, but because Israel is protected with an “Iron Dome,” the Gaza missiles had been shot down. Supposedly the Dome is 90% effective. Still, there’s that little 10% element that would keep us on our toes.

What can I say? We wanted a memorable experience, and we were getting one.

Not surprisingly, it would not be our last.

Jack By Patty LaRoche

Patty LaRoche

Over 40 years ago, Jack, a friend of Dave and mine, decided to get his doctorate in divinity and enrolled in a renowned D-1 university. Part of his interview process was to read and critique a book explaining the book of Mark that was written by one of the divinity professors. Jack would be given 30 minutes in which to present his oral criticisms to the renowned scholar.

The book was no easy read. Each chapter had at least 140 footnotes, and the end explanation was that nothing happened after the two women encountered an angel at the tomb where Jesus had been buried. The interviewer based that on Mark 16:8:  Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.

For a little background, most of today’s Bibles include another 11 verses in Mark which add that Jesus then talked with several people before he was raised into Heaven, but footnotes explain that these verses were not in the original manuscripts and were added later. The professor’s book stopped at 16:8.

At this point in Jack’s story, I interrupted to counter with the obvious: No matter where Mark ended his writing, Matthew, Luke and John all addressed Jesus’ resurrection and appearance to others. We need to look at the entirety of scripture and not just selected sections. Jack assured me he had used that same critique (which was dismissed because each book, according to the professor, should stand on its own). Jack presented several other arguments to which the professor stated that Jack could have gotten those positions from one of several journals and that none of them were original. He wanted something unique.

Our friend came up with a brilliant defense. The women obviously did talk and share their story or else no one would know that “they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” How could Mark have come up with that if the women hadn’t told someone that’s what happened? (Like I said, brilliant.)

Refusing to be outdone, the professor responded, “Yes, but how do we know they were real people?”

WHAT??????

That’s right. The accomplished, theological master-mind in the Divinity department was an atheist. To him, the Bible was a myth. Jack about fell out of his chair.

It wasn’t until later that Jack came across a quote from atheist-turned-Christian C.S. Lewis’ that might have stymied the professor: “Supposing there was no intelligence behind the universe, no creative mind. In that case, nobody designed my brain for the purpose of thinking. It is merely that when the atoms inside my skull happen, for physical or chemical reasons, to arrange themselves in a certain way, this gives me, as a by-product, the sensation I call thought. But, if so, how can I trust my own thinking to be true? It’s like upsetting a milk jug and hoping that the way it splashes itself will give you a map of London. But if I can’t trust my own thinking, of course I can’t trust the arguments leading to Atheism, and therefore have no reason to be an Atheist, or anything else. Unless I believe in God, I cannot believe in thought: so I can never use thought to disbelieve in God.”

What would the prof have said against that? (Probably that C.S. Lewis wasn’t a real person.)

In case you are wondering, Jack was accepted into the School of Divinity but chose to pastor a church instead. Another brilliant move, if you ask me.

Hope For Freedom by Patty LaRoche

Patty LaRoche

As part of our Florida church’s “Hope for Freedom” team, I am in training to be part of the speaker’s group that warns middle and high schoolers of the dangers of human trafficking. This past weekend, our group joined with the A21 anti-trafficking organization to hold a silent, single-file walk in support of the millions of men, women, and children who are trapped in slavery today.

Over 600 carried signs to bring attention to what is going on in our communities, and even though Florida ranks 3rd amongst states in which trafficking occurs, our Midwest towns are not immune. Hand-held signs explained the urgency: “Only 1% of trafficked individuals are ever rescued.” “Human trafficking generates an estimated $150.2 billion-dollars annually.” “There are millions enslaved in the world today.”

Hope for Freedom has been a huge blessing for me. Krysten, the head of our team, works tirelessly to fight this ongoing battle, no matter what size the venue. Last month we spoke at two sessions (one for boys aged 10-17 and one for girls age 10-16) for a Christian organization called “I Am Royal.” My job as a “newbie” was to pass out material and listen to our speakers reinforce the powerpoint and answer questions. I was thrilled to do that much.

I Am Royal” is run by mothers who are determined to save at-risk youth. The event culminated in a celebratory, semi-formal gala to which Hope for Freedom was invited. Renee—a veteran of our group—was the only one who could attend, and since they needed someone to take Renee’s picture accepting our group’s certificate, they reached out to me.

The participants, dressed in frills and bowties (furnished by the group leaders), walked the royal blue carpet to receive their certificates and crowns for completing the class. There were speakers, singers, dancers and presenters, all there to encourage the participants to stand apart, know who they are in Jesus Christ and live for him.

That evening I learned that Terra Kennedy, a woman who saw a need to help boys and girls lead a violence-free life, started “I Am Who I Am,” an organization with this motto: “Violence and Abuse is Never Your Fault.” “I Am Royal” is only one of the groups with whom she has partnered to inspire youth to make good decisions.

Kennedy, like Krysten, is passionate about making a difference…one person at a time. They know that none of us can tackle all of abuse’s horrors, but we can do…something. They have inspired me to question what would happen if we all were the “somebody” who started to do “something” “somewhere.”

Could we co-op to take a meal to those who protect our community or help fund-raise for benefits to serve those in need? Could we volunteer as a reader to pre-schoolers, plant a tree, paint a public trash can or pick up litter? How about driving a cancer patient to his/her treatment, clean up a river bed or meet a neighbor? Or at a deeper level, what if we asked God to show us where we can be used…and then do what He lays on our hearts?

One person at a time.

Jesus With Cell Phones by Patty LaRoche

Patty LaRoche

Had smart phones been around in Jesus’ day, I think he wouldn’t have been too keen on them, especially if those spending time with him used them like people of today. This week I heard a speaker discussing how inconsiderate we are when it comes to our phone addiction, prompting me to wonder what Jesus would have done, had his disciples chosen their phones over him.

Picture, for instance, the Last Supper with the apostles reclining at the table when Peter gets buzzed (and no, not on wine, on his phone.) “Oops! Gotta take this one, Gentlemen. ‘Tis the fishing report for tomorrow.” Or how about when the paralyzed man was lowered through the roof so he could hear Jesus speak? “Horizon” network would have blown up as the crowd Instagrammed photos to their pals instead of focusing on Jesus forgiving the man’s sins.

Jesus was all about one-on-one relationships. Physical relationships. He touched people, no matter how homely or dirty or poor. He made them feel important. He heard their stories and never was too busy to make them know they mattered. He recognized that meaningful communication was/is more about body language than voice-tone or words, something that’s missing in this new age of technology.

How would he have reacted had his listeners held up their index finger as in “Just a minute” or “Hold that thought” while they accepted a buddy’s call, gossiping about nabbing the adulterous woman instead of hearing Jesus speak about eternal life? Would they have been so preoccupied with the latest weather forecast that they would have missed his Sermon on the Mount or his triumphant entry into Jerusalem or his disappearance from his grave? Today, predictably that would happen.

Texting while someone is talking is an offensive way to let the speaker know that what (s)he is saying isn’t important. Granted, there are exceptions, but far too often when we choose our cell phones over our company, we are just plain RUDE. Should we be incapable of dining with friends or family without our phones lying beside our dinner plate, we are rude. And spare me, please; placing our phones upside down on the table does not make us less guilty.

(But, nice try.)

When we put our guests on hold rather than put fellow texters on hold by refusing to immediately read their messages and make a response, we are rude. (Let’s save the “emergency” objection because emergencies are calls, not texts.) When we stand at the cashier’s counter fumbling for our credit card as we gripe about a neighbor’s dog while balancing our cellphone between our ear and shoulder, we are rude.

Granted, cell phones have their place and can be useful, but making them our idol and going through withdrawals without them, we have a problem. Christians, beware. If we are spending more time on non-critical issues with our phones rather than more significant, eternal issues, we need to deal with our addiction. In Deut. 6:6-9, God instructed his people that their communication with Him was what mattered most.

And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. 

If I didn’t know any better, I would think that in today’s world, that Scripture describes our time spent on cell phones…and not in God’s Word.

Mental Illness by Patty LaRoche

Patty LaRoche

Dylan Bennett recently was arrested for the murder of his parents, former NFL player Barry Bennett and his wife, Carol. Last December, Barry told the Todd County Sheriff’s Office that Dylan had expressed thoughts about killing his parents while he was in a mental health treatment facility.

The problem of mental illness is escalating. Research shows that one in five people will face some sort of mental illness or brain disease in their lifetime, one in fourteen live with major depression and one in six with an anxiety disorder. It is a potential cause blamed for Connor Betts’ murderous rampage in Dayton, Ohio, as he had posted on his Twitter bio that he was going to hell and not coming back. Who in his “right mind” would brag about such a claim?

Last year I wrote about Agnes, a mentally ill woman I tried to help in Jacksonville, Florida. She knew enough to show up at the homeless shelter to eat but not enough to bathe, change her clothes or make sense when she spoke. The shelter knew her well, but the supervisor told me that there are some people who are “too far gone” to accept the kind of help to get them off the streets. Agnes is one of them.

An article written by Kimberly Amadeo entitled “Deinstitutionalization, Its Causes, Effects, Pros and Cons” claims that because of the closings of state hospitals, 2.2 million severely mentally ill patients receive no psychiatric treatment. Nearly 200,000 of those who suffer from schizophrenia or bipolar disorder are homeless, and more than 300,00 are in jails and prisons. Others like Dylan Bennett are released too soon or not adequately treated.

I know two families who have attempted to have their sons committed to institutions but were told that until they were an actual threat, nothing could be done. Psychiatric hospitalizations ended after three days, and judges, by law, could not order their adult children to stay in treatment, even though research indicates that a combination of that and medication has the greatest chance of helping those in need.

The Church has remained silent on the subject, even though our pews are filled with individuals that no pot luck or mission statement can fix, and counseling them to “pray harder” or “have more faith” only heaps condemnation on their emotionally-damaged spirits. For years, mental illness was blamed on sin, but we now know that is not typically the case. Granted, there is drug-induced mental illness, but much is caused by the interconnections of environment, genetics and brain abnormalities. The real tragedy is that many sufferers fail to reach out because they feel judged and rejected. Where is the Church?

I recently read a sermon series by Rev. Tim Ahrens of the First Congregational Church in Columbus, Ohio, entitled “Mental Illness: The Journey In, The Journey Out” which, when delivered, filled the pews to overflowing. He asked that we speak to these people, not as “crazies,” but as people with a mental challenge. “Just as I don’t say about a person with MS or cancer that they ARE ‘MS’ or call them ‘that cancer person,’ so I should not label someone as schizophrenic or depressed. Always a person first. Always!”

The apostle Paul gave us advice on how we can reach out to those suffering around us. He writes of his own mysterious illness (guesses range from his eyesight to depression): “Even though my illness was a trial to you, you did not treat me with contempt or scorn. Instead, you welcomed me as if I were an angel of God, as if I were Christ Jesus himself.” (Galatians 4:14)

May we come alongside these hurting individuals and be that welcoming angel.

Christians have a responsibility to care for the vulnerable and not shun those who suffer. They need us to open our eyes and fight for change. They need our presence. They need our prayers. They need our grace.

Be Kind by Patty LaRoche

Patty LaRoche

Be kind.

It takes so little effort.

While visiting my friend Robin last month, we ate in a delightful restaurant and engaged our young waitress, Jeanise, in a conversation about her life. No big deal.

To us, at least.

To her, it was a very big deal. At the end of our meal we were stunned when a waiter came over with a flaming Crème Brule, a gift from our waitress. When Jeanise returned to give us our check, we asked what had prompted her generosity and were told “because you were so kind to me.”

Her words reminded me of a time when I was eating in a diner with my son, Jeff, in a ski area in Colorado, and I struck up a conversation with our waitress. At the end of our meal, she said, “Thank you for being so kind to me.” I asked why I wouldn’t be, and she said, “Most people aren’t.”

Why wouldn’t people be kind to those serving them? Why wouldn’t people be kind to those not serving them? Why wouldn’t people be kind all the time? Kind isn’t hard. Kind is…well, kind. It is giving with no ulterior motive, no desire to get something in return.

My husband, Dave, recently was introduced to Wayne, a restauranteur who previously owned several restaurants. Dave asked how he was so successful, and Wayne said that he treated his employees well, especially his dishwasher (not the answer Dave expected, for sure). Wayne shared that people typically compliment the manager or chef, but he wanted those who never are recognized to be valued.

Being kind is no trivial matter. Perhaps that’s why Paul’s letter to the Colossians listed kindness as one of the ways “God’s chosen people” are to clothe themselves. Dr. Laurence M. Gould, president emeritus of Carleton College, recognizes its importance and shared his thoughts with this statement: “I do not believe the greatest threat to our future is from bombs or guided missiles. I don’t think our civilization will end that way. I think it will die when we no longer care.”

If you’re like me, you love stories in which people go the extra mile to show kindness. Ginger Keith, whose two-year old daughter, Vivian, is being treated for leukemia at St. Louis Children’s Hospital, told the Today Show that a group of construction workers spray-painted “Get Well” on a beam across from her two-year old’s hospital window. At All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg, Florida, Fridays have become days of celebration. The young patients are brought to their windows and encouraged to dance (with parents, nurses, or alone) along with the dozens of construction workers who line the floors of the high-rise they are building across the street while a DJ on the roadway between the two buildings blares upbeat music.

Kind isn’t costly. A smile. A wink. A touch. A hug. A word. A listening ear. A prayer. I’m not sure there are many other things as inexpensive that offer as many rewards…not just for the receiver, but also for the giver. Why not give it a try? As someone once said, “Kind people are my kinda people.”

Robin by Patty LaRoche

Patty LaRoche

Recently I spent three days in Charlotte, North Carolina, with my friend, Robin, who makes me laugh like no one else I know. No matter if we were walking, shopping, eating (too much) or just hanging out, our conversation almost always turned to Jesus. (And yes, many times Jesus and laughter existed on the same timeline.)

Robin constantly seems to be in the middle of a predicament in which God blesses her unexpectedly. Sunday was no exception. Her husband told us about an after-church street fair that “stretched for several blocks.” We both love craft shows where booths line the curbs and you can find anything from yard ornaments to fresh tomatoes to crazy-fun jewelry.

Since Robin is as directionally-challenged as I am, I set my phone GPS on the location, and off we went. About six blocks from her house, Robin put on the brakes. “We aren’t going to get on a FREEWAY, are we?” Yes, we were. Her jolting U-turn, accompanied by “I CAN’T DRIVE ON THE FREEWAY!” let me know that I would need to look for an alternate route.

When we finally did arrive, I noticed the perfect parking spot and told Robin, “We won’t get closer than this.” Her answer shouldn’t have surprised me. “I CAN’T PARALLEL PARK!”

You’re not serious!” I said. “What can you do?” Her answer cracked us both up. “Well, I’ve gotten us this far, haven’t I?” Mind you, this is the same person who drove herself into downtown Charlotte a few weeks ago to listen to a band. When the concert ended and she tried to exit the indoor parking facility, the bar (that prevents cars from leaving until the driver pays) would not go up. Thirty minutes after she had alerted everyone but the F.B.I., a parking attendant was sent to fix the problem. Apparently, Robin was sitting at the entrance where you get your ticket and not the exit where you pay. Need I say more?

Anyway, after finding an easier parking spot, we walked around a bend and up a hill, dodging dozens of bikes and strollers as we did. The first booth was occupied by an elderly man with a cassette player, singing “New York, New York” off-key while reading the words from his I-phone. Not exactly the excitement we anticipated.

Six small tents later—two selling snow cones and the other four handing out health information—the booths ended. I stopped a man walking our direction and asked if there were more up the hill and around the bend. He said the booths were scattered for a few miles and questioned what we were looking for. “Crafts and jewelry and things like that.”

This is a bikeathon and a walkathon,” he responded. “There aren’t any crafts here. Just booths with water and some things for kids to do like chalk painting and bubble blowing.” I turned to Robin and said, “Yes indeedy, you’ve gotten us this far, haven’t you?”

All the way home, driving, of course, on back streets, we laughed, a blessing that exceeded any craft expectations. It wasn’t the only time that day that being in the wrong place was the right thing to do, as we found out later that evening. Robin and I exited a downtown Charlotte restaurant and walked towards our parking garage, my friend insisting that we turn left a block before I thought we should. Soon we passed a homeless man crouched against a building, trying to light a cigarette while clutching a box of cereal. A few steps past him, Robin said, “I can’t go on.” I said that was smart because we were on the wrong street. “No,” she answered. “Did you see how skinny that man was?” (I had not; my priority was to find the garage.) We turned around, gave the man money and hugs, and Robin told him that God loved him. He answered that he wasn’t “a religious person,” but he “sure” was grateful.

See?” Robin said. “We weren’t on the wrong street after all. God wanted us here to meet that poor man.” She was right. I mean, maybe my sweet friend can’t drive on a freeway or parallel park or find a craft fair, but she recognizes God’s presence when I miss it. I think we all know which is more important.

Appearances by Patty LaRoche

Patty LaRoche

 Jesus is not happy with the Pharisees. He calls them whitewashed tombs, beautiful (“righteous”) on the outside but “full of hypocrisy and wickedness” on the inside. (Matthew 23:27-28 NIV)

When Dave and I first toured the Florida subdivision where we now rent, I envisioned Aunt Bea taking cookies to a neighbor and Opie fishing in a nearby pond. Aside from the Key West-style homes and the pristine landscaping, what impressed me most were the front porches—welcoming, friendly, a return to a once-upon-a-time era when neighbors sat together and caught up on each other’s lives. Rocking chairs, swings, and padded loveseats all seemed to say, “Come on up and chat a while.”

As it turned out, these didn’t.

For six months I have ridden my bike or taken long walks a few times a week, all hours of the day, expecting to find owners relaxing on their porches or strolling through their All-American, Norman Rockwell neighborhood. Two times (2!) I have found porch-sitters…both who ignored me until I greeted them first. When I meet up with dog-walkers, they speak only if I mention their cute canine. No one has asked my name or started a conversation. What am I to make of this? I mean, such a waste of these charming, inviting porches!

Dave says I’m to make nothing of it. It’s their home and they can use whatever part of it they want. No one has to talk to me if they don’t want to. The way they choose to live their lives is their business. I tell Dave that they probably are all sad people who never learned how to make friends, don’t know Jesus, and I probably should take them cookies. That’s what Aunt Bea would do. Then I reconsider. I know these types. They’ll accuse me of lacing them with arsenic or marijuana. Dave says I am making way too big of a deal out of this.

I tell him that I think our neighborhood is an excellent example of “what you see is not what you get.” It appears inviting, but isn’t. Jesus gave us a great picture of that when he addressed the hypocrisy of the Pharisees. (See Scripture above.) Remember, the Pharisees were the spiritual leaders, esteemed, pious Jews who knew “The Law” and insisted that everyone live accordingly. They looked the part and played the part and probably even had “Honk if you obey God” humper stickers on their camels, but their outer appearance defied what was going on inside them. Had Aunt Bea been alive during Jesus’ day, I’m convinced that she would not have been part of the Pharisees’ social registry.

Earlier in Matthew 23 Jesus calls it like it is: Everything they (the Pharisees) do is done for people to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long. (Side note: phylacteries were small cases containing Scripture that these religious leaders attached to their foreheads; tassels were a grouping of loose threads hanging at the hems of their clothes–reminders of the commandments God gave to Moses). To the Pharisees, wide and long meant bigger and better.

Let’s face it. Appearances can deceive. We can paint it, enlarge it, decorate it, even suspend a “Welcome” banner from it, all which reveal nothing about what’s inside. But isn’t that true of all of us? Could Jesus call me a “white-washed tomb” for expecting others to meet my front porch expectations but not working harder to meet theirs? Could I be that hypocrite? Could Dave be right after all? Could this be a problem that a few chocolate chip cookies could solve?

I think it is. I’m just not sure how long I have to sit on my front porch, waiting for someone to deliver them. But when they do, I’ll invite them to “come on up and chat a while.” After all, you have to start somewhere.

I think Aunt Bea would be proud.

Hurricane by Patty LaRoche

Expecting to have no internet service, I am writing this a few days ahead of Hurricane Dorian’s projected arrival near where Dave and I are living in Florida. Yesterday I went to Costco to buy water…as did, it seems, a few thousand other people. Signs in the parking lot gave the bad news: “Out of Water.” So was Walmart. So were all of the grocery stores. Apparently, most people took this warning more seriously than I and shopped early. Today when I ran errands, I was amazed at how the lines at the gas stations circled the block, even though there was no regular gas to be had.

We are learning a lot about being prepared. As you can see from this picture, we installed the hurricane shutters necessary to stop flying debris. We were instructed to back our car into the garage door so the door doesn’t shake, thereby letting in wind and water which can lift the roof off the house. WHAT? We expect to lose electricity, but I must admit I’m not very creative when it comes to making meals without the use of a refrigerator, stove, microwave or toaster. Dave and I will fine-dine on Tostitos, bean dip and tuna fish.

I told Dave we should have rented on a top floor of a high rise, but yesterday the Weather Channel told those residents to evacuate because wet beach sand gets carried into stair wells and elevator shafts and makes it impossible to leave. Guess I’ll be happy to be where I am…three miles from the ocean in a two-story condominium where I can go upstairs if the bottom floor floods…unless, of course, that little roof-lift thing happens.

Good friends have called and texted, offering prayers and warning us to evacuate. Advice from them has included putting our important papers in waterproof containers, filling our bathtub with water and our washing machine with ice. We need to keep our devices charged (grateful for car phone chargers, when we lose electricity).

All of this involves preparation, and as I watch people scurrying around as the clock ticks away, there is an urgency like I have never seen. Living in the Midwest our concern is tornadoes, but we are not given a few days (more like minutes) to get ready. Let’s face it. Tornadoes or hurricanes, when we realize our lives are at stake, we get serious with our planning.

As we should. Still, there is a more critical call for us to be ready. 1 Thes. 4:16-18: For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.  After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage one another with these words.

Talk about an evacuation! A day is coming when no amount of scurrying can help and our eternal destiny will be set, depending on how we have prepared by knowing Jesus and glorifying God. In that split second when Jesus returns, I wonder how many will wish they would have taken his message more seriously when they had a chance.

Maybe this should be a warning for all of us.

Gary Sinise Foundation by Patty LaRoche

While biking in our subdivision the other day, I came across this construction site. A group of donors are making it possible for Sgt. Stefan Leroy and his wife to have a new home. I later Googled Sgt. Leroy and found this article posted on the Gary Sinese Foundation website:

On June 7, 2012 while deployed in Afghanistan, Stefan and his platoon were clearing improvised explosive devices (IEDs). Suddenly, two IEDs detonated and Stefan rushed to aid those injured by the blasts. While carrying an injured soldier to a Medevac helicopter, Stefan was struck by a third explosion. He lost both of his legs immediately.

Stefan was transported to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center where he spent over a month in the hospital. He spent two years learning to adapt to his prosthetics, drawing strength from his friends and the other amputees at the hospital. Sixteen months after his last surgery in September 2014, he ran the Boston Marathon. “Stefan’s current living situation does not accommodate his wheelchair, causing him stress in his day-to-day activities. The Gary Sinise Foundation looks forward to providing Stefan with a specially adapted smart home to ease his daily challenges.” Actor Gary Sinese, most known for his performance in “Forrest Gump,” started this foundation to make dreams come true for our defenders, veterans, first responders and their families. His website claims that over 1,000,000 soldiers have returned from Iraq and Afghanistan “bearing the mental and physical wounds of war.” Thanks to donations to his foundation, fifty-seven homes are completed, and twenty more are under construction. I rode back to the site to talk to some of the workers. Everything in this house will be wheelchair-friendly, from wider doors to lower sinks. The painters praised the efforts of Mr. Sinese who used his public platform to help those in need. When I got home, I looked further into what drove this incredible man to give so sacrificially. I was excited by what I found. Speaking at a Knights’ of Columbus dinner, an organization with which he has partnered, Sinese said this: “When I think about the life and sufferings of Christ, when I think about the stories of the extreme hardships and heavy burdens that our military men and women and their families were willing to, and continue to bare, I can’t help but think about this verse: ‘For greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.’” If there is a better motive for sacrificial giving, I don’t know what it is.

 

Pruning by Patty LaRoche

Patty LaRoche

Hurricane season is nearing, and we who live in Florida are being prepped with expert advice. The latest came from our trash removal service via the neighborhood newsletter. Apparently keeping our yard vegetation trimmed is key. We need to “thin out foliage so that wind can flow freely through branches, decreasing the chance of uprooting trees or plants.” That small step will prevent damage to cars, houses and people. Two years ago, according to the article, because of Hurricane Irma’s vegetative debris left on the ground, it took three months and cost more than $30 million to collect and dispose of all the waste.

Fortunately, Dave and I are renting in an area where the yard work is handled by professionals. That probably saves our neighborhood because my dear husband loves to prune (i.e., shred). He, a snip sniper, believes that plants and bushes need to end up basically at ground level so they can “start over.” Butchering more shrubs than I can count, Gardener Dave claims that his method will help the plant grow, bear better fruit and improve its appearance…which, given 30 or 40 years, is a possibility. Don’t get me wrong. I know that pruning is necessary, but it should be purposeful, not random from a Paul Bunyan wannabe who lights up at the thought of tinkering with an axe.

In the June update of “The Spruce,” the author calls pruning “tough love…(which) keeps (plants) healthy and encourages fresh, new growth and renewal.” Lopping off those sprigs or limbs keeps them from sapping the energy of the healthy part of the plant (you know, the part Dave has mutilated). If not pruned, the dead spreads and kills the entire plant.

Jesus knew all about pruning and used that analogy when instructing his disciples (and us) on what is necessary to thrive. I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit. (John 15:1-2).

Pretty simple. If we are fruit-bearers (bringing glory to God by discipling others), He, as the grand gardener, prunes to increase fruitfulness so the storms of life won’t leave irreparable damage in our lives. Pruning might mean we lose wilted relationships, superfluous possessions, unimportant status, lifeless habits, etc., but if that temporary loss causes us to rely more on God and less on what we think we need, we will bear more spiritual fruit.

One way God prunes is through His word, the Bible, where we learn of behaviors that sap our energy and keep us from maturing in our Christian walk. Removing the undesirable sin- branches frees us to grow. Hebrews 4:12 explains the importance of allowing the Bible to dictate how we live: For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.

The questions remain: What in your life needs to be pruned? Perhaps there is something that creates a drain on you, and even though “good,” it is not “best.” Aleasha Morris of “Leadership Vision” wrote of the benefit of spiritual pruning: “Finding and removing what chokes our life can help us to breathe deeper, spread wider, and grow higher than we ever thought possible.”

Sounds like a plan to me. I just pray it doesn’t take 30-40 years to get there.