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!

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

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…..

 

Time to Quit or Go Deeper

Many of you know that, after several months of praying for our neighbors, a battle arose in which we actually came to know our neighbors, care sincerely for them, and join along side them.  In the past posts, the saga of Columbia University’s take over of Haven Avenue covered our victory and subsequent defeat.  In Defeat and Confusion – Lord, Press On!  I described hope arising with in a New York Times reporter who interviewed us extensively.  We prayed for a ‘Watergate breakthrough’…. That was four weeks ago!  The reporter told us last week that it’s coming a-n-y day now.

As Columbia gets set to launch their campus expansion, another development arose, championed by the same Councilman, Ydanis Rodriguez!  After selling out the residents of Haven Avenue,  he spearheaded a major plan by outside developers to rezone Inwood, the northern part of our neighborhood.  This plan would open the gates to commercial and luxury development, zoning out much of the affordable housing and small businesses.

I will not post details or sources, but there is a lot of money shuffling under the table.

I am all for renewal and upgrade but in NYC, rezoning results in gentrification and displacement of working class families.  The Councilman in Williamsburg, for example, pointed out that rezoning displaced 30,000 Hispanics from his catchment area.  Inwood is 71% Hispanic.

I totally understand that, as this world spins into the last days and coming judgment, these issues may count for nothing.  Admittedly, we are not facing famine, human trafficking, or persecution.  But the Lord doesn’t require desperate and dire need to care and intervene.  When He fed over 5,000, described in Matthew 14, they weren’t starving to death.  They weren’t even asking Him for food!  But Jesus had compassion for their present need.

Will blocks of Haven Avenue soon close and morph into a campus?  Will the ax fall on Inwood, final vote for rezoning on Wednesday, August 8th?  It certainly looks that way!

It’s time to either quit or go deeper.  

bob and protest sign  

There is a protest march this evening in Inwood, calling for the City Council to vote against the rezoning.  Rodriguez, a lame duck in his current office, refuses the outcry of his constituents.  The grapevine describes his sites upon the office of Public Advocate.  Laugh/cry moment here!

How does a believer go deeper when the battle seems lost? 

The only way to go deeper into the battle is shutting in with the Lord.  While the world turns with backroom deals, the Kingdom of God advances through faith.  Going deeper will test you and cost you.

My neighbors will be marching this evening…it just so happens my husband and I cannot make it.  But even better, we can forge ahead with all night prayer.  I believe prayer deserves appointment and schedule, as though one were meeting with a president, a prime minister, a King!

I do not sense a call to quit but to go deeper, not only for the speck on earth called Haven Avenue and Inwood, but for my neighbors to see the Lord.   May the Lord alone be exalted even as all other hope and options flush away.

It is not shocking to find a corrupt politician or greedy opportunists.  But if the Lord puts them before you, He may be drawing you to cry out for their souls, that they come to godly sorrow and repentance. 

By the time many of you read this, my all night prayer meeting will be over.  While it may end up with only me and the Holy Spirit, I invite anyone online to join in and ask the Lord to intervene.

If your heart is burdened, if heaven seems silent, if the battle seems totally lost – even worsening – commit to go deeper.  As always, with the Lord the thing at hand is not always His focus.  He can churn a storm to bring out one Jonah.

Let’s see what the Lord will do….

 

Defeat and Confusion – Lord, Press On!

This is my fifth article reporting God’s answer to our prayers for our neighbors.  First was,  I Prayed For My Neighbors, Look What Happened  then, I Prayed For My Neighbors….Part II    thirdly, When God Allows Defeat  and fourth – When God Allows Defeat…and Confusion.   Yes, our hopes were totally deflated on June 26th, when enough of our neighborhood representatives betrayed us and stood by Columbia University to expand their campus.  The large community opposition – working folks, seniors, single parents and youths, shuffled out of the forum, battle worn.

While CU calls it a ‘pedestrian plaza for the community’ (even though the community doesn’t want it) their reputation of trampling into neighborhoods and seizing land goes before them.  Shutting down part of our street, gnarling traffic, adding to our parking crisis – enlarging their ‘footprint’ –  is not good for us, it’s good for them!   Their actual plan was uncovered,

 

Columbia's real plaza plan

This is their private rendition of our street.  Notice, no cars…and no residents!  But the Lord, “catches the wise in their craftiness, and the schemes of the wily are swept away.”  (Job 5:13)

Our core group kept digging, finding more devious political connections and power exerted by Columbia University.  My husband and I kept praying.  Was this over?

Two days after the June 26th defeat, I was doing my laundry in the basement, lamenting a bit until a fire got in my bones, “Hey, maybe we did lose, but I’m writing to the newspapers!” Folding the last sock, I dashed up to my computer and tapped out this letter:

Dear Editor,

Columbia University once again triumphed over the residents of NYC. After demolishing apartment buildings and evicting small businesses on Haven Avenue, this week they claimed victory in their fight to close blocks of our street. Their campus expansion, described in their Columbia Medicine Journal, morphed into a ‘pedestrian plaza’ to somehow make it palatable.

The residents in this Washington Heights neighborhood are not fooled. They fought Columbia’s self-enlarging plan in Nov and Dec last year. Due to public outrage and the detriment of street closure, the Community Board voted against it in December 2017. However, in May and June this year, somehow this plan mysteriously appeared for another vote.

That Columbia paid for their own ‘traffic study’ is the fox pointing to his tail, “Here is my witness”!

Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez, a lame duck beholden to Columbia, strongly championed this campus expansion and did so right in front of his outraged constituents. Paid lobbyists circulated through these meetings to secure the final vote. The public was essentially disavowed.

We invite anyone to see how closing blocks of Haven Avenue for “students to sit and have a cup of coffee” is a traffic and parking nightmare in this congested medical and residential neighborhood.

Shame on you Councilman Rodriguez for betraying your community! Shame on the many Community Board members who turned their face from their neighbors!  Shame on you, Columbia, my alma mater, and all your mega donors who compete to get their names on your conquests!

Well, that went out to all the NYC papers.  Even defeated and deflated, I sensed a real unction to somehow go forward. Within one day I heard from a large community newspaper – they contacted our core group and sent a reporter out!

On July 1st the NY Daily News printed an edited version of my letter.  On July 11th The Manhattan Times printed a 3 page article with photos!  At first this was fabulous until we took a closer look….no mention of community betrayal or Columbia’s conquests – no mention of the big picture plan that would consume more of our neighborhood.  It was a ‘safe’ article, stepping on no one’s toes…

THEN this week one in our group got a call from the New York Times!  After interviewing us by phone,  the reporter and photographer came up to Haven Avenue for full scale walking/talking tour.   He gave us over two hours of attention – seemingly familiar with Columbia’s West Harlem takeover several years ago.

That was yesterday. 

My heart recalled Pastor Dave Wilkerson’s preaching on ‘death of a promise’.   He taught that, when God promises or plans something, He often ‘puts it to death’ – eliminating the possibility of man claiming victory.  Abraham’s promise of a son was ‘put to death’ as they were incapable of bearing children – God alone brought it to pass.  Moses’ 40 year exile,  Joseph in prison…all circumstances of ‘defeat’ awaiting the hand of God.

Is the Lord moving here, rising up to confound the unbelievers – and believers as well?  I  steadfastly pray for those who betrayed and disavowed us – may the Lord quicken their conscience and convict their hearts – take away their false peace – and lead them to repentance!

Praying that the Lord be high and exalted, may our neighbors see that He is living hope, even when all seems lost.  May our group truly say, “only God could have done this!”, and acknowledge Him.

There is a truth, not quite a Bible verse, but demonstrated throughout scriptures, which I keep pressed in my heart.  Of the Lord,

“He takes personally every act of dishonor as well as every act of kindness done to His disciples.”   (from Safely Home, by Randy Alcorn)

 This should grant us great assurance – and pity for our enemies.

Please pray for a New York Times article!  Thank you!

 

When God Allows Defeat…and Confusion

Will this be the last of these articles, I Prayed For My Neighbors, Look What HappenedI Prayed For My Neighbors….Part II  and When God Allows Defeat ?

After a lengthy time of praying for our neighbors, my husband and I stepped into a neighborhood battle as Columbia University fought to close down blocks of our street for their campus expansion.  United with neighbors, whom we had never before met, we fought to keep our street open and, in December 2017, we won!

However, with unlimited wealth and political power, somehow CU’s plan resurfaced for another Community Board vote.  This time, the public was disallowed to speak.  Moreover, ‘temporary changes’ were made to this subcommittee….On June 4th this subcommittee approved CU’s plan.  On June 26th, it would be voted on by the whole Community Board.   Scan0082

My husband and I once again worked diligently with our neighbors to organize and reach out to the neighborhood and Community Board members.  We were able to share our faith and, honestly, I truly hoped that a victory would be opportunity to openly praise God!  At one point, we learned that a high appointed city official is a brother in the Lord.  He assisted and encouraged us greatly.   When this became known within our group, the leader said, “Although you and I don’t share the same faith, I have to agree, this is a divine appointment!”

We were ready to exalt the Lord upon our victory on June 26th!

On that date, I gave a presentation to the Board and before community members, as did several others, highlighting again the indisputable issues against closing our street.   However, in the end, our city Councilman rose up and championed the plan of CU.  I did not know that this councilman appoints half of these Board members and determines their ongoing service!  CU lobbyists also circulated to ensure votes.

No matter!  If God intervenes, victory is ours!

But we lost.  Our elected official betrayed his constituents…as a ‘lame duck’ he is undoubted beholden to CU for some position.  Not all, but enough Community Board members turned their face away and approved CU’s plan.

Defeat….and confusion.

Entering this battle was not an impulsive act, we prayed and continued to pray throughout the process.  While we are not called to ‘fight the world’, we are called to love our neighbor.  Truthfully, we never knew these neighbors, only working alongside them did we come to have love for them.

Defeated?  “Defeated” was prematurely written over Joseph’s prison cell, Daniel’s lion’s den, over all of Paul’s life threatening attacks…..“Defeated” could have been posted over Christ’s tomb!  But GOD holds the victory for His people for His glory – how He chooses to establish that victory is His divine providence.

Confused?  God does allow confusion and upheaval….disappointments and loss.  None of us are exempt, even beloved spiritual hero John the Baptist asked Jesus from his cell,  “Are you the One who was to come…?”  Confusion brought me to my knees,  crying out to the Lord, for His supernatural peace and clarity.

I deeply lamented after that vote – but not for my street!  To literally witness bold betrayal of officials and grassroots representatives dismissing their oaths to serve – caused me to weep.  Many of them gathered around CU executives with smiles….as the residents put away their signs and hung their heads.  So shameful! When did their conscience drop dead?

Our group leader came up to me and my husband, “One good thing came out of this – I came to know you!”

Some are already rising up to pursue opposition to the Board’s vote.  There are ways, but my husband and I agree – we will not continue without God’s leading.  If there is no eternal value within this work, “Lord, count me out”.

All I know is this:  We prayed for our neighbors – even though we hardly knew them!  God engaged us in a battle, we came to know them and develop a true concern and love.

God allows “defeat” – but that’s never His last word!  He allows “confusion” – to draw us nearer to His heart, to receive His peace, His clarity. 

May the Lord encourage us all in these last days, to walk in His shadow and keep the faith – no matter how defeated and confusing our circumstance seems.

“When you go to war against your enemies and see horses and chariots and an army greater than yours, do not be afraid of them….For the Lord your God is the One who goes with you to fight for you against your enemies to give you victory.”  Deuteronomy 20:1-4 excerpt

 

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