Making The Last Seconds Count

Remember my elderly friend Hilda,  from Juanita’s Joy?

I had just visited Hilda the end of January, before leaving on a family trip.  She was in rehab, suffering from a respitary ailment, weakened and less responsive.  As usual, I shared neighborhood news and friendly regards from the few she could remember.

“I’ll see you when I get back from my trip!”

I turned to leave but felt a restraint.  Turning back to her wheelchair, I put my hand upon her shoulder and spoke loud enough for her to hear without her hearing aids,

“Hilda, consider Jesus as your Messiah!  Turn to Him for forgiveness of sins.  Be ready for the moment you meet God!”

Slumped in her wheelchair, she didn’t wave me away this time but neither did she respond.  Who knows, I thought, it may be a word for the others around her too.

Yesterday, partaking in Jewish tradition,  I sadly shoveled dirt upon Hilda’s simple pine coffin.  The rabbi called this Gemilut Hasadim, “an act of kindness that can’t be repaid”.

God’s kindness to me though, was that moment of ‘restraint’ – an inner upstirring – that left my dear friend with words of eternal value.

The apostle Peter warned, “the end of all things is near”.   Beloved John wrote, “Dear children, this is the last hour…”  Agreeing with Bible teacher Zac Poonen, if, 2000 years ago was the last hour, we must surely be living in the last seconds before Christ’s return!

For true believers in Jesus Christ, those who strive to live as a branch connected to the Vine and a sheep pressing near to the Shepherd, I pray for a fresh awakening.  Before any other role or occupation, may we see ourselves as the Body of Christ in this world, interfacing with ordinary people, under ordinary circumstances yet availing ourselves to God’s upstirring, God’s leading and restraint.  We may not pass by fishermen or women by a well, but perhaps a stranger on a park bench, a mother in the grocery line, a student on the train.

We’re living in the last seconds, I pray we fulfill our ‘assignments’ and ‘appointments’ before the Lord returns!  Pray for unsaved family members…but be an answer to someone else’s prayer.  May the Lord break down every flimsy dam that blocks the Holy Spirit flow through us and let these last seconds count!

 

 

 

 

 

What I Learned From a Bunch of Rats

Yes, seriously.  And I’m not talking about those Community Board traitors who sold out our neighborhood.   Real rats….

Apparently, after months of street excavation replacing water mains, a colony of rats relocated in our building grounds to be “fruitful and multiply”.  While I had seen one or two over the past few weeks, early this morning, on a mission to wash clothes,  I had to cross the battle lines.   Four rats jumped out of an open trash can, others ran past me as I forged ahead to the laundry room – very determined but with trepidation!

I called an expert in building maintenance (my husband!) already gone to work.  He was upset for me but advised, “Rats are very smart!!  They know when you’re afraid!  Don’t back down, make a lot of noise, let them fear you!”  Well, I already failed at that since I was standing on a chair.

All of a sudden, my Bible studies rose up in my heart.  I was determined to complete the task at hand and without fear.  I believe in sovereignty and purpose in all that a believer encounters so, tossing clothes into machines, I lent my mind to godly thinking.

“…make a lot of noise”… a metal rod was at hand and a lot of noise was made at regular intervals!  Any passer by would have greatly wondered….

“They know when you’re afraid!  Don’t back down….let them fear you!”  Now this was a living message for my soul.  I immediately thought of fearful and intimidating thoughts that attack me and challenge my faith.  Yesterday for example, a situation arose jeopardizing my husband’s job.

If the devil “...prowls around like a roaring lion...” then, my friend, his demons are the rats that scurry around to inflict fear and intimidate.  And they know when you fear them…our fear emboldens them to draw near and will bite if possible!

Metal rod in hand, I clanged through my laundry with ease.  But this I realized and planted in my heart:  “Let them fear you!”  The true believer in Christ lives with the indwelling Holy Spirit.  We are the temple of God, He dwells within us.  Standing in Christ, we need not fear the devil, let him fear us as we claim God’s word like a rod in our hand!

Amen.

 

 

 

Juanita’s Joy

Hilda* was my neighbor for 30 years, living on the second floor while I live on the 5th.  She is a Holocaust survivor, in fact the only survivor from her family in Germany.  As a teen she escaped Nazi clutches while her whole family perished.  No one really knows how she made it to France but somehow she later immigrated to NYC, met her husband and moved into our building around 1955.

Hilda frequently invited me for tea and cookies, more often when her husband died.   I promised myself, ‘when I retire I’ll spend more time with Hilda’.   For the past five years, Hilda has lived in Assisted living nursing home – and there we enjoy cookies and tea often.

In recent two years, dementia has set in.  Now 97 years old, Hilda may like more frequent but shorter visits.  From week to week, month to month, Hilda is weaker, more frail, needier and possibly demanding.  She is, however, still the neighbor I love.

Last year Hilda was assigned to a small dining table with Juanita, an elderly African American woman.  I always scheduled my visits to start right after lunch so we would have tea and cookies as soon as she returned to her room.  But I often came to the community dining room first, to greet Hilda and also came to know Juanita.  In fact, although Hilda became less responsive, Juanita had a bright smile,  her eyes lit up when greeting me.  She was gracious and kind to Hilda.  In fact, Juanita was never less than joyful!

Her joy couldn’t possibly come from Hilda’s company, Hilda never spoke to her nor could she remember her name.  When I brought flowers to Hilda, I often brought a bunch to Juanita also – how elated she was!  During a holiday season I brought them plants.  Although Hilda continues to reject God, I asked Juanita,

“Do you believe in God, Juanita?  In Jesus who died for our sins?”

“Oh yes!  I believe!”

Needy for my attention, Hilda didn’t appreciate sharing my company, especially as I was one of the few people she remembers.  But I always thought, ‘someday I will come and find Juanita and have a good visit with her’.

Last month Hilda was not home, I found her in rehab where she would be for several weeks.  I called the residence manager,

“Hello Miss Lang*! I understand that Hilda is now in rehab but I’m calling about her lunch mate, Juanita.  I would love to come visit her, is she at the same table?”

“Juanita?  No, she moved out two weeks ago!”

Moved out – oh no!  Where did she go?”

“Some relatives from Massachusetts picked her up, she’s living with them.  She had no family, she had no one here in New York.  This is really good for her, she was all alone…”

“Oh, I’m happy for her….just so sorry I couldn’t say good-bye….”

At first I felt terrible, having missed some opportunity to fellowship with this elderly woman.  Perhaps indeed a believer, I could have encouraged her…..but the Lord brought me back to the manager’s words….

‘No family….no one here….all alone….’

Juanita spent days, weeks, months alone –  holidays alone – and sat with a meal mate everyday who never spoke to her.  But she had a joy that I confess I do not have.

While I initially felt a pang of guilt for not visiting Juanita earlier, I truly believe that the Lord had a lesson for me from her – Juanita’s life and joy truly ministered to me.  If  “….the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness…” Juanita displayed them all – and I do not – although I have all the health, comfort and company Juanita lacked.

I saw the fruits of the Spirit and know I need them.

“In examining the fruits of the Holy Spirit – which express Christian witness – we shall readily see that they are none other than selfless acts.  What is love? Love is loving others without thinking of self.  What is joy?  It is looking at God in spite of self.  Patience is despising one’s own hardship.  Peace is disregarding one’s own loss.  Gentleness is overlooking one’s rights….The fruit of the Holy Spirit is determined by one principle alone:  the losing of self totally.”  (Excerpt from a quote I keep in my Bible, author unknown)

Lord, I continue to pray for Hilda’s soul, bring her heart to a saving faith in her Messiah.  And Lord, thank you for displaying for me the fruits of the Spirit through Juanita, encourage her wherever she is.  Guide us all through this new year, to have less of self and more of You!

*names changed for privacy

 

Back to La Perla! (Pt 4)

There’s progress at La Perla!

La Perla is a ghetto neighborhood in Old San Juan, famous for its danger, drugs, and witchcraft.  But that reputation is fading – God has been tilling the soil and, even with the destruction from Hurricane Maria, there’s life rising up.  Our part began in January this year, posted in When God Moves Into el Barrio (Pt 1)  and progress was posted here, The Pastor of La Perla (el Barrio Pt 2) and here, Progress at La Perla! (Pt 3).

So what’s new?

la perla mural artist

The Goodness Tour landed in La Perla!  Find out about them ( http://www.thegoodnesstour.org/) Here’s the mural artist Benjamin Swatez with Pastor Ivan

la perla mural

Still working on this portrait of hope and light!  Was too vast to capture in one photo!

Pastor Ivan’s workshop, planned for youth to create marketable art and express the Gospel truth outside of church walls, still not completed! 

la perla work crew

This team from Servants for Christ International, worked to help finish the second floor

I thought our trip would include a ribbon cutting!  But Pastor Ivan shared some of the bumps along this road.  Modern day ‘Sanballats’ – like the one who opposed Nehemiah’s wall building, arose to sabotage and steal.  One man, masquerading as a Christian, joined to help yet once he saw the value of the project he produced some kind of paperwork to the town hall, attempting to prove that he himself owned the land.  The scheme failed but halted construction for some time.

With the great drain of professionals and skilled laborers out of Puerto Rico, finding real construction workers is a big challenge.  Many unemployed folks exaggerate or fabricate skills just to get work.  This creates unstable structures and do-overs in the work.

But in all this, Christian groups have stopped by and worked.  There’s been fellowship and camaraderie.  In ways we may not know, with the Lord the process is as valuable as the finished end!  

la perla window work

While there we installed a window (OK, my husband installed it but I passed the tools!)

The beautiful part of the trip was the fellowship with families in La Perla and especially with Pastor Ivan.  Puerto Rico is in trouble.  Residents and businesses are abandoning their property and moving out in droves.  Corrupt government, unemployment, and despair are unraveling the island.  But God is there.  And if anyone is looking, they might just find Him at La Perla!

la perla ravelin

La Perla Ravelin built in the 1700’s by Spain.  A military concept, “defense in depth”, designed to repel attackers from the shore.  May the Lord be their defense, may He push back the darkness, may He bring victory to La Perla!

Pass God the Baton – Heaven Rules!

I prayed for my neighbors…  was over a year ago.  Subsequent posts chronicled the  neighborhood battles around Columbia University expanding into our street under the guise of a ‘community plaza’.  Meeting and working with our neighbors, we organized and researched, uncovering CU’s ultimate plans to expand their campus, shutting down a large part of our street and eventually taking over more of our neighborhood.

We fought the Community Board.  We won, we lost.  We fought harder, we prayed and trusted God.  As the deadline to file suit against the Community Board neared, I shared my findings with the group:  Without thousands of dollars for legal fees, it would be foolhardy to proceed pro se against NYC.

Thus, I officially passed the baton to the Lord.  We did our part to the fullest extent and now our hope lies in Him alone.  Amen!

When enough Community Board votes betrayed us and aligned with CU, the chairman congratulated CU and gave one caveat,  “Wait until the current NYC street repairs are completed in that area before you begin street closure…”  The execs gladly agreed. That was June 26th this year…

And this is today, October 31st….

Haven Ave Construction II

Although they have a direct line to City Hall, CU couldn’t speed up construction!

My neighbor and I met with an onsite engineer yesterday and asked about the work.  Even after 3 months of water main replacement and repairs, he sees the work continuing for another month and a half!  Columbia University wanted to close our street so their students can ‘socialize, meet, and have coffee, without any cars or traffic around’.  C’mon snow!!

As the largest land owner in NY and upon witnessing their wielding of political power and land grabbing, I began to refer to Columbia University as an empire – with taxpaying residents as their serfs!  But that oppressive scenario only reminds me of Daniel’s admonishment to dethroned King Nebuchadnezzar:  “Learn that Heaven Rules”!

And we, as citizens of heaven, need to remember and proclaim that too!

I passed God the baton and the ground didn’t open up and swallow my enemies…but the ground did open up!  Although we tried our best, it is God who is pushing back CU’s development plans.  Will He thwart them completely?  Will we regroup with this new allotted time and go forth with a new strategy?

All I know is this, God is at the helm of Haven Avenue.  Not that this piece of asphalt has any eternal value.  I believe though, that a ‘gate’ opened where neighbors finally meet and share their concern and outrage.  Hopefully one day living faith takes root with the assurance that, although this world passes away, God’s truth and salvation are forever…because Heaven Rules.

 

Passing God The Baton

Junctures, crossroads, and detours come in the course of many fiery trials.  Believers, followers of the Lord Jesus, have access to God’s strength, wisdom, and leadership to forge ahead.  However, God can lead even His sheep to what seems to be a dead end.

Previous posts such as  Defeat and Confusion – Lord, Press On!, Waiting on God, Praying for my Enemies, Time to Quit or Go Deeper,   ‘Defeated’ but Refocused and Refreshed describe the ongoing battle in our neighborhood to save Haven Avenue from Columbia University’s plan to close it.  Under the guise of a ‘pedestrian plaza’ they are aggressively forging through our neighborhood to expand their campus.  At the same time outside developers won their conquest to rezone an adjacent neighborhood, with the sure result of gentrification and displacement.

But the defeat of our street, Haven Avenue stung the deepest.  Over the past year, our neighbors strongly rallied together, petitioned, canvassed, and presented to the Community Board not only our opposition but the inevitable hazard and hardship street closure would bring. While we understood ‘backroom deals’, what was most grievous was the forefront of corruption, in our face.  Betrayal and deceit and finally total dismissal of the community – live streamed and undeterred!

Even worse, all this at the behest of ‘an elite institute of higher learning’, one that even quotes Biblical scripture in their mottos.  The expressions of triumph as they defeated us – their neighbors – revealed the lowest of morality.

SO, we conferred as a group and committed to take legal action, an appeal with the State Supreme Court as procedure allows.  I myself poured into this, researching and writing, to present the case pro se.  There were definite grounds to appeal.  I started with such gusto, but found myself trudging through wet cement.  It became evident that,  without an attorney, at $15,000+,  we were surely jumping into a pool of sharks.  Their team of lawyers would happily eat us for lunch.

I have now conceded that it’s over…at least my part.  I believe I’ve come to a dead end. 

dead-end-sign-brick-wall-ss-1920-1

Even deflated and defeated, “You, O Lord, keep my lamp burning; my God turns my darkness into light.  With your help, I can advance against a troop; with my God I can scale a wall.”

The Lord answered our prayers for our neighbors – we now know them enough to share our faith and pray for them.  He led us into a battle and girded us to stand and present the truth, exposing shameful and corrupt tactics, calling us to pray – not just for our victory but moreso for the depraved morality of those before us.

I believe we have run as far as we are able under God’s guidance.  Like King Jehoshaphat we cry, “O our God, will you not judge them?  For we have no power to face this vast army that is attacking us.  We do not know what to do, but our eyes are upon you.”

runner passing baton

The battle is totally in His hands. 

The ‘next step’ is sometimes the hardest….”Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart, and wait for the Lord.”

Yes Lord, keep my lamp burning…..

 

‘Defeated’ but Refocused and Refreshed

In Time to Quit or Go Deeper , a looming social and political threat hung over our neighborhood at large.  The same villainous City Councilman who championed Columbia University’s takeover of our street, now spearheaded a major rezoning of the neighborhood at large, opening floodgates of opportunities to big developers and real estate moguls.  Without exception, ‘rezoning’ = ‘gentrification’ in NYC, always resulting in the eventual displacement of thousands.

protest sign

We were, indeed, sold out!

Yesterday, August 8th, I joined a large gathering at City Hall, planning to attend this fateful public vote but found we were all shut out.  Nonetheless we stayed and voiced our opposition on the steps of City Hall.

The City Council was well aware of the residents’ vehement objection to this pervasive plan.  None the less, they voted  43-1 in favor.  Even Councilmen who previously expressed objection changed their vote. 

If pressing in with the Lord, going deeper, results in such a devastating defeat, why bother?  Because the ‘issue at hand’ is usually not God’s focus.  I prayed for my neighbors, whom I hardly knew and found myself alongside them in battle.  Personally, I do not subscribe to the ‘social gospel’ or ‘felt needs gospel’ and never believe, ‘together we can change the world!’  But as our hearts were charged with the issues at hand, the Lord did a work that eluded me for all these years living here.  I came to know and love my neighbors, enabling me to care and truly pray for them.   

Going deeper into fellowship with the Lord, through worship, prayer and His word, will not guarantee any worldly victory.  But a sincere heart, determined to meet with sovereign God, will hear from Him.  All else becomes inconsequential in His presence as His word brings clarity, light, and understanding.  Moreover, as we present ‘our heart’s desires’ to Him,  the Lord may refocus and redirect us to His desires, His focus, and His plan.  He is, after all, our Commanding Officer.

Amid the earthly defeat – and there will be many more and worse in these last days – there is one sign that I will never stop ‘carrying’.  I posted it in my young brother’s hospital room.  Soon, nurses and attendants were taking photos of it to share with those who suffer.

My brother died in that room, but the sign is still here…

faith-is-sign.jpg

May we, as the Body of Christ, lock arms and go deeper – not into the world but into His presence.

Still praying for my neighbors……