Category Archives: Opinion

Cool Encounters by Patty LaRoche

Mollie has a multitude of physical problems including Fibromuscular Dysplasia and Parkinson’s disease. Lael has rheumatoid arthritis. They are long-time friends, and the three of us were together last weekend in Austin, Texas, for Lael’s son’s wedding. Over the years I have watched both friends struggle with their health, refuse to complain, and fight not to give in to—or dwell on– their complications.

My trip to Texas was one of encouraging encounters, no doubt because the Lord wastes no opportunities.

Alone with a woman on the airport shuttle in Kansas City, I complimented her purse (so, so cool), and we began chatting. She works for FEMA. Recently she had helped in the Houston clean-up of a demolished house where she found a purple heart and dog tags from World War II and was able to return them to the aging owner who, as you can imagine, was ecstatic. So was I, after hearing her story.

Walking down the jetway, I struck up a conversation with a young gal who shared that she had never flown before. I told her the flight would be pretty bumpy (As proof, I was putrid green when we landed) and not to be alarmed by it because forty mph winds have a way of testing our stomachs but never the plane.

When I asked if she was on vacation, she answered that she was going to meet her biological father for the first time. Through Facebook, they had linked, and he had sent her a plane ticket. Talk about cool! (Had my connection to Austin not been so tight, I might have hidden behind a pillar in Houston’s baggage claim to eavesdrop.)

Then there was the young executive, returning from a NYC business trip, who sat beside me and proudly shared videos of his one-year-old son eating his first corn dog and later playing with a garden hose. I told him what every grandmother tells a young parent about cherishing every moment because these babies grow up way too fast, etc., etc., etc. Our conversation flitted like a moth to a flame, and I ended up learning he teaches baseball to inner-city children in his spare time. More cool stuff.

Three total strangers had brightened my day, helping somewhat to minimize the airline losing my luggage. Still, the best was yet to come.

Mollie picked me up at the Austin airport, and even though her palsy was more pronounced than I expected, she was upbeat and reassuring, praising God that her disease had claimed only one arm and not two.

My friend invited me to attend her Parkinson’s boxing class which, I learned, slows the progression of the incapacitating disease. I told Mollie that this could be an exercise class where I finally might have a chance!

The technique focuses on both cognitive and physical demands. Some repetitions require counting backward from 100 by three’s. (So, okay, maybe I wouldn’t have a chance after all!) Other actions involve boxing glove strikes numbered for specific positions. Upper-cuts, for instance, is called out by the instructor as “five” for the left hand and “six” for the right hand. And get this! The leader, Dr. Shirley (Chow) had been raised in Fort Scott! Cooler yet.

Mollie encouraged all of the attendees, especially those with advanced deterioration, and it was clear they all loved her and her cheerful attitude. I left there refreshed and not a little sweaty.

The best part about my time with Mollie was to catch up on all she and her husband, Cal, are doing to serve God. They lead Celebrate Recovery meetings, teach Bible studies and are testimonies of a healed marriage because they “got real” with Jesus Christ by understanding the Bible is not a “how to learn to fix yourself” book; rather, it is a “how to learn of God’s mind-blowing love” book. They love God passionately, no matter their circumstances.

And that, Readers, was the coolest part of it all.

Left behind by Patty LaRoche

Grandma, is that a fanny pack you’re wearing?”

Yes, Mo, it is.
“You’re really wearing a fanny pack?” (Underwear on my head could not have embarrassed her more.)

It’s easier to travel without lugging around a purse.”
Jenn, Mo’s mother, intervened. “There’s nothing wrong with a fanny pack, Mo.”

Mo’s eyes widened. She was embarrassed. This grandma wasn’t cool.

We were in Ireland celebrating Jeff, my oldest son’s, St. Patrick’s Day birthday. Fortunately, I was prepared for the “sleet and snow” forecast for our seven-day trip (four in Ireland and three in Scotland).

Galoshes, poncho, umbrella. Check

Sweatshirts, under layers, coat, gloves, winter hat. Check

Swimsuit—in case our hotel had a jacuzzi and to further embarrass my grandkids. Check

Jenn, her children Drake and Mo, and I decided to brave the sleet and take the Dublin city bus tour. There were a few problems locating the starting point, like how our map was confusing and every passerby I asked spoke French or Chinese. When we finally spotted the “Easy-On-Easy-Off” bus a block away, I began sprinting to make sure we weren’t left behind. No doubt my attempt at running was not a proud moment for my grandkids. Must have been the fanny pack…or the multiple layers of clothing I was wearing…or perhaps a combination of the two.

Waving like a wind-up toy, I scampered towards the bus, alerting the driver we needed to board. As we neared, the driver opened the door and hollered for us to hurry up. What do you think we are doing? I wanted to answer and had I any breath left, I might have. Leading the charge, I collapsed into a seat in the middle of the bus. My family followed.

The driver–paid to pretend he likes tourists–wasn’t a fan. He turned and asked to see our tickets, tickets that we should have purchased a few blocks away and not here at a traffic light that had turned green but because some crazed grannie and her family were running straight towards the front of his bus neither this driver nor those behind him made the green light. Mo and Drake were mortified.

I didn’t care. I did what I had to do. We would not be left behind. Which is never fun. And sometimes, eternal.

Chances are unless you were born in the last decade, the words “Left Behind” ring a bell.

Left Behind is a series of 16 best-selling religious, fictional novels by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins, dealing with the end times. People were fascinated by the books, as proven by the 80 million copies sold, and for many, it was the first time they realized the seriousness of the end times. Why? Because too many Christians are embarrassed to share the truth of Scripture. Jesus wasn’t. In Matthew 24:40 he simplifies what will happen when the end comes: “Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left.”

Husband and wife will be shopping at Walmart. One will be gone. One, left.

Two friends will be driving on the freeway. One will be gone. One, left.

People will be worshipping in church. Some will be gone. Some, left.

The determining factor? The way they have glorified God by loving Jesus and each other. It won’t matter what color, what race, what gender. It won’t matter how many miracles they performed or what church they attended, and it certainly won’t matter if they are wearing a fanny pack around their waist or underwear on their heads.

In spite of what their grandkids think.

Holy Yearning For More by Patty LaRoche

We celebrate Easter this Sunday because Jesus died and was resurrected so that you and I can spend eternity with him. In Matthew 18:2-4 he lays out the blueprint for what we need to do.

Jesus called a little child to him and put the child among them (his disciples). Then he said, “I tell you the truth unless you turn from your sins and become like little children, you will never get into the Kingdom of Heaven. So, anyone who becomes as humble as this little child is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven.” (bolded lettering mine)

The somber words lack loopholes. If you and I want to get to Heaven, we must be like children: vulnerable; needy; dependent. Gary Haugen, author of Just Courage: God’s Great Expedition for the Restless Christian, writes that these aren’t adjectives most Christians use to describe themselves. The majority—and I include myself here—are cut out for a “more muscular” approach to the life of Christ.

Haugen’s book was recommended to me by my son, Adam. On page one, the author speaks of his college experience when he read John Stuart Mill’s 1859 essay “On Liberty.” In explaining why words lose their meaning, Mills used the example of Christians who have the ability to say the most wonderful things without believing them. I get it.

Take the words we say, for example. “It’s better to give than receive.” “Judge not, lest you be judged.” “Love your neighbor as yourself,” Haugen questioned how differently he would live his life if he actually believed those things. (I would add “If we lived like the Resurrection is real.”)

He ultimately would find out. Rejecting the safe, easy path, Haugen instead would yield himself to God’s calling and give up his job as a prosecutor at the Department of Justice to start a non-profit organization determined to rescue helpless individuals. As founder of the International Justice Mission (IJM), Haugen has spent the majority of his adult life rescuing young girls trapped in the sex trade industry, abused orphans and widows, and slaves (yes, actual slaves—more than 40,000,000!) tortured while laboring in work mills. Through some of those projects, Adam came to know this remarkable man.

Rarely do I recommend a book, but this is an exception. Page after page, I could insert my name in Haugen’s pre-conversion lifestyle description:

  • I prefer safety and security and too often will miss the adventure instead of gambling on the unknown.
  • I would rather be an adult than a child “where I can still pull things together if God doesn’t show up.”
  • I do not have set times for prayer. (Haugen models his organization’s dependence on prayer after Mother Theresa’s who couldn’t imagine doing her work for more than 30 minutes without prayer.) When Adam joined Haugen at his headquarters, he was amazed when an 11:00 A.M. bell rang, all work stopped and everyone prayed. Why? In Haugen’s words, “We don’t do this so much as a matter of discipline but out of desperation.”

Haugen’s book is a call to action for Christians who know there is more than words, who feel a sense of disappointment in the way their life is turning out, who want their life in Christ to be more significant, more vivid, more glorious. He calls it a “holy yearning for more.” I call it “making Jesus’ Resurrection real.”

If those words describe your heart’s cry to serve God more authentically, Just Courage: God’s Great Expedition for the Restless Christian is a great place to start.



Oneness By Patty LaRoche

Blondin was a 19th-century acrobat, famous for his tightrope acts 160 feet above Niagara Falls on a rope which was over a thousand feet long. His feats varied from being dressed in a sack to walking on stilts to pushing a wheelbarrow full of potatoes to riding a bicycle. One time he stopped in mid-section and cooked an omelet on a small portable stove. At one exhibition, Blondin asked his audience, “Do you believe I can carry a person across the falls in this wheelbarrow?” Of course, the crowd shouted that yes, they believed! Then he posed the question, “Who of you will get in the wheelbarrow?” Of course, no one volunteered. Dave, my husband, and I were invited to our son and daughter-in-law’s house to help plan an upcoming camping adventure for a group of high school baseball players. Adam and Jenn had purchased 30 Bibles for the two-day event. The theme? Trust. Adam asked four coaches and two close friends–Curtis, a Special Forces Operator, and Zach, an Army Ranger (who would leave three days later for his 11th deployment)—to help. The teens, divided into two teams, would follow a map to specific locations where they would be given assignments to find a locked box with instructions as to what they were to do next. In order to get the code to unlock the box, they were assigned Biblical parables or selected verses to read as a group. They would radio to the adults their interpretations of the passages. Among other benefits to the athletes, it was a unique way to show them that answers to life’s problems could be found in the Bible. As we adults discussed the best way to organize the event, the subject of “belief” came up. True “belief.” Not just believe that George Washington was our first president, but the kind of belief that changes our hearts. The kind that makes me confident about jumping into a wheelbarrow to cross Niagara Falls, trusting completely in the one pushing. As it turned out, in 1859, Blondin’s friend and manager, Harry Colcord, showed such confidence. He was strapped to Blondin’s back, and the pair set off across the tightrope. As they reached the halfway point – the most dangerous section of the rope – Blondin said to his friend, “Harry, you are no longer Colcord; you are Blondin. Until I clear this place, be a part of me – mind, body, and soul. If I sway, sway with me. Do not attempt to do any balancing yourself. If you do we shall both go down to our death.” Harry trusted his wiser, more experienced friend, and carefully the Great Blondin continued along until at long last the pair safely reached the other side. God invites us to do the same. To become one with Him. The parable in John 15:5 explains how this works. “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” In other words, there is a oneness that is necessary for Kingdom work to be accomplished. Two are joined and move in sync. Sever the two and death will occur. I can think of no greater feeling than when I am “one” with God when I trust (believe) I am moving according to His desires and not mine. As for trusting Blondin to be my partner? No way. But God? He can carry me across life’s tightrope anytime He wants.

Trust Is A Must by Patty LaRoche

The nuns trust us!” The Gringos folding clothes at the Catholic Orphanage here in Mexico were elated. For weeks a team of 30+ have met at the complex to clean, repair, demolish, reconstruct and paint what has been ignored for decades. We are faithful in showing up and diligent in this massive undertaking.

In spite of that, the nuns remained cautious about opening the Bodega, a storage unit the size of a three-car garage crammed with bags of donated clothing. Fearing that we, like dozens of other groups, are fly-by-nights, they would not risk their treasures being stolen. After all, this was money for them. The clothes they reject are either sold as hand-me-downs or as rags.

But this week was different. The elderly nun showed up with the cherished Bodega key to allow Peter, our organizer, to peek inside. Immediately he pulled Alison off my paint crew and asked her to check it out. Alison’s main job at another orphanage is to organize its Bodega, and she’s good at it, but she never expected to see a mess of this magnitude.

Where to start? Fumigation. With floor-to-ceiling mounds of garbage bags, some which have been there for years, one could only guess what critters were nesting in the piles. Once that task was finished, seven women were assigned to the Bodega.

Peter purchased folding tables, and it was there the ladies labored over each bag. Oddly, it was the nun who was the pickiest about what clothes were kept. When a cute pair of girl’s jeans was pulled from a bag, it was she who told the volunteers those jeans were “out of style.” The nun had an opinion on every article of clothing or material the women unpacked.

By the third week, the ladies were elated when the nun had errands to run and left them alone. No longer was she concerned that the items would be stolen or put in the wrong bag. They had earned her trust. Word spread and our entire volunteer community celebrated.

When the nun confided in Peter that two teenage girls were becoming defiant and disrespectful, Peter had to convince them that he could provide a psychologist to help. Gradually, when the nuns realized that Peter was committed to doing what was best for the orphanage, their trust in him increased. It was then they gave him permission to paint the entire complex.

Trust is a must. No matter who is involved.

Nun with volunteer. Parent with child. Boss with employee. Spouse with spouse. Teammate with teammate. Coach with athlete. Teacher with student. Friend with friend. Doctor with patient. Pilot with passengers. Christian with God.

Viable relationships are dependent on such confidence.

Yet sometimes those we trust let us down, don’t they? And we feel betrayed. We forget that all of us are sinners and ignore Proverbs 3:5-6: “Trust in the Lord with all of your heart…”

Not the itsy-bitsy, happy-heart corner that celebrates when we find a parking spot or lose a pound, but “all” of our heart, even the part—especially the part– that aches when things aren’t lining up the way we know they should be (and would be in a perfect world). We are to trust, the practical outworking of faith, to allow God to fumigate the trash we have accumulated in order to give us a fresh start. For some of us, that task, like the bodega, seems overwhelming. Fortunately, God doesn’t see it that way. All He asks is that we give Him the key so He can start.

One bag at a time.

A Parent’s Love by Patty LaRoche

Beth Guckenberger spoke at our women’s retreat this week. I wanted to adopt her, except she is married with 10 children (adopted, foster and biological, combined). Her talk was about God’s faithfulness in the mission field where she and her husband, Todd, work with Back2Back ministries.

Fresh out of college, Todd and Beth had headed a youth mission team to Monterrey, Mexico, where they found themselves painting a church the same color it had been when their team painted it the year before. Frustrated and with only one day left before returning to the states, the young couple grabbed a taxi, asked to be driven to a local orphanage, and soon found themselves on the porch of a rundown building.

They introduced themselves to the children’s guardian and asked if he could use the help of 20 teens, $200 and some prayers. So began their passion to serve the orphans in Mexico, an involvement that led to their attempted adoption of two young sisters, but after months of paperwork, they were denied. (More on that next week.)

Fast forward a few years to when Todd, Beth, and three-month-old daughter settled in Monterrey. In the fall they returned to Ohio where Todd was a principal at a Christian school and their Mexico orphanage fundraising efforts were taking off. In their absence, a young woman volunteered to live in their Monterrey home to help with some caretaking duties.

No sooner were they back in the states than Beth received an emergency call from the Monterrey caretaker. One of the young orphan girls had been hit by a truck. Within three hours, Beth and baby daughter were on a flight to Mexico, leaving her husband a note on the kitchen counter: “Headed to Monterrey. Will call tonight.”

While there, Beth received a phone call that a three-month-old Mexican boy was available for adoption. Beth called Todd who flew to Mexico to join her to meet their baby son. Even though he had “pretzeled legs, bent arms that would not unfold curled hands and mold on one side of his face,” the adopting couple called him the “most beautiful baby ever.”

Returning to Ohio, intense therapy began, but their young son cried nonstop. A trip to a neuro-surgeon was not good news. Antonio was in the “severe” category of spina bifida. He probably never would talk or walk or be able to care for himself. Todd and Beth needed “to be prepared for the worst.” The news, although devastating, was more reason to pray.

One day when the occupational therapist visited, Antonio was on the floor with a toy. His sister grabbed the toy and went to the other side of the room. Antonio wailed. Beth retrieved the toy and took it back to her son. After an hour of observing this behavior, the therapist told Beth that she was making it too easy for her son. As long as she did everything for him, he would not have to do anything on his own. When the therapist left, Beth sat on the kitchen floor, crying out to God while Antonio lay on the living room floor, crying for his mom.

But then Antonio’s crying changed. Beth walked into the living room to watch her disabled son wiggle-crawl toward his sister on the other side of the room. When he neared the couch, he clutched its skirt bottom and pulled himself up. By now, Beth was on the floor a few feet away. Antonio turned and walked toward his mother.

Beth shared that it wasn’t a normal crawl, pull or walk. Still, it was a far cry from what she ever expected. She quickly loaded the two youngsters into her car and sped to her husband’s school where Antonio showed his dad what he could do. “You know what I’m going to do now, don’t you?” asked Beth.

I’m pretty sure I do,” answered Todd.

(Next week I will share with you the rest of Antonio’s story.)

Practice Your Faith by Patty LaRoche

My brothers and sisters, practice your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ by not favoring one person over another.  For example, two men come to your worship service. One man is wearing gold rings and fine clothes; the other man, who is poor, is wearing shabby clothes.  Suppose you give special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say to him, “Please have a seat.” But you say to the poor man, “Stand over there,” or “Sit on the floor at my feet.” Aren’t you discriminating against people and using a corrupt standard to make judgments?

 Listen, my dear brothers and sisters! Didn’t God choose poor people in the world to become rich in faith and to receive the kingdom that he promised to those who love him?  Yet, you show no respect to poor people. (James :2-1-6)

If you were to meet Jorge in a dark alley, chances are you would grab your pepper spray or concealed weapon and run for your life. His scowling face, pot-marked with years of hard living, cigarette, alcohol and drug damage, as scary as it is, belies his tender spirit.

He is my friend.

I met Jorge here in Mazatlan, Mexico, five years ago when I first joined a group that bi-weekly travels to the dump to feed the scroungers (their words, not mine). Jorge was our bus driver. I was terrified of him. We met again when I volunteered to help with a Bible study for youngsters who live in squalor in the outskirts of Mazatlan. Again, Jorge drove the van. Observing his love of children and dedication to spreading the gospel with his puppet ministry gave me a new vision of who this man is. As an accomplished guitarist, he also led (leads) the praise and worship at our church. It wasn’t long before I realized he is the heart and soul of the majority of ministries at La Vina Church.

For some reason, the two of us connected. Maybe it was because every year I take him clothes that Dave no longer needs or wants. Maybe it was because I have been pretty faithful in helping his ministries. Maybe it was because God just knew I needed to be smacked for being so judgmental when I first met him.

About twenty-five years ago, Jorge was a serious drug addict, derelict, alcoholic who played his guitar nightly in the brothels. (That’s not all he did when he was there.) From the minute he woke up until he crashed at night, Jorge was addicted. Year after year. Then came the evangelist’s tent revival. For five days, Fred Collum, himself a recovering addict, shared his testimony and gave a call for anyone who wanted to make Jesus the Lord of their lives to come forward.

Jorge showed up drunk on Fred’s last day, staggered up the aisle, barely able to stand, and then made an about-face, zigzagging his way out of the tent. A few weeks later, Jorge met Fred on the street and introduced himself as the drunk man who showed up at his final revival. Fred reached into his pocket to give Jorge some money but was stopped by Jorge’s words: “I don’t want your money. I want you to know that I was too ashamed to come to the front that night, but I went home, got on my knees and asked Jesus to be the Lord of my life. Since then, I have not had any cigarettes, alcohol or drugs.”

So began a friendship between the two men as together they started what now is the largest English-speaking church in Mazatlan and the one known throughout the state for its feeding centers and Bible ministries. Six days a week, Jorge drives a bus or van to a colonia to minister to the poorest of the poor. His life is all about blessing others. For me, my friend blesses me every time we are together.

But my biggest blessing? That Jorge never chose to judge me.