Members of St. Andrew’s Parish have been invited to submit essays describing the core values that guide their daily lives. They are shared here with the permission of the authors.
This I Believe Essay-Writing Guidelines
We invite you to participate in this project by writing your own statement of personal belief. We understand how challenging this is—it requires intense self-examination, and many find it difficult to begin. To guide you through this process, we offer you these suggestions:
Tell a story about you …
- Be specific. Take your belief out of the ether and ground it in the events that have shaped your core values. Consider moments when belief was formed or tested or changed. Think of your own experience, work, and family, and tell of the things you know that no one else does. Your story need not be heart-warming or gut-wrenching—it can even be funny— but it should be real. Make sure your story ties to the essence of your daily life philosophy and the shaping of your beliefs.
- Be brief: Your statement should be between 500 and 600 words. That’s about three minutes when read aloud at your natural pace.
- Name your belief: If you can’t name it in a sentence or two, your essay might not be about belief. Also, rather than writing a list, consider focusing on one core belief.
- Be positive: Write about what you do believe, not what you don’t believe. Avoid statements of religious dogma, preaching, or editorializing.
- Be personal: Make your essay about you; speak in the first person. Avoid speaking in the editorial “we.” Tell a story from your own life; this is not an opinion piece about social ideals. Write in words and phrases that are comfortable for you to speak. We recommend you read your essay aloud to yourself several times, and each time edit it and simplify it until you find the words, tone, and story that truly echo your belief and the way you speak.
For this project, we are also guided by the original This I Believe series. http://thisibelieve.org/
Please follow these guidelines. As Rector of the parish, Fr. Mike will be responsible for deciding if an essay is not appropriate or does not follow the guidelines. He will also decide whom to invite to share essays during the Sunday liturgy.
It is hoped that this project will continue through 2016.
Mary Simpson – 12-2-16
I believe that God is with me every minute of every day. This sounds a bit unreal to many people but I truly cannot ever remember a moment in my life that I have not felt God’s presence. I have not faced the struggles that many have in life. I am a second-generation Episcopalian who grew up in the suburbs of Grand Rapids with 2 parents and all the privileges that brings. That is not to say there have not been many bumps, bruises, and even deep wounds along the way but I do feel blessed. Prayers were always abundant. My mother and grandmother unceasingly prayed. My father and I were baptized together and he became the “churchy” person of the family. I learned evening prayer from him as we sat together, the only ones in church, on his weekly assigned night to do evening prayer. My mother taught me to see the good in all things. Going to church was a way of life…I never even thought to question it. Even when I moved out of my childhood home church was always the first place I sought when moving to a new area. Being the youngest in the family, in my mind the best position, I watched as my siblings became clergy and decided that I could better show the world as a lay person that God is ever present. Perhaps it was my upbringing, perhaps it was and is the challenges in life that keep me grounded in God’s presence. I know that I am fortunate to have never questioned God’s existence in my life for it is not so with many people. I believe I that I am called to share that light of God to all, in whatever manner they can perceive it. I believe with my every fiber of my being that God is always present every minute of my day. This I believe. Mary Simpson
Deb Larson – 11-11-16
My mother Doralee Rockwell and Edward Mills Rockwell were charter members of St. Andrew’s. I have been a member of St. Andrew’s since I was born. I was baptized, confirmed and married at St. Andrew’s. When I pass away, I will be cremated and my ashes will be in the resurrection garden.
I remember when Father Thomas confirmed me in the chapel, which was the main part of the church. I loved the Easter service. We would put on our Sunday best. And I especially remember when the wooden cross was used. One side of the cross was open for mite boxes (cardboard boxes of coins collected) and the other side was for flowers the children brought up to the altar with their boxes. The ladies of the altar guild would take the boxes and flowers and after all the children brought these up they turned the cross around to reveal the beauty of the flowers in the cross. It was amazing to see!! I loved going to church on Sundays and joining in on the church picnic, the GFS (Girls Friendly Society, and the Canterbury Fair, (purchase handmade crafts, baked goods, attic sales and lunch) with the proceeds going to the church. The Christmas service has always been magical. With the late-night service, the church decorated and of course our wonderful choir!! My family, Aunt Alice, Uncle Clark. My cousins Becky Schulke, Mary Kastelin and Christine Rockwell and all the other choir members, singing just makes your heart soar. Especially when at the end of the service they sing the Alleluia song!
I have had some challenging periods in my life. My father, Edward Mills Rockwell, passed away from a cancerous brain tumor one week after I was married. I was thankful that dad and my mother were able to attend my wedding. Many years later my granddaughter, Jaclyn Nicole Stiles, died when she was only four years old. It is very heart wrenching when there is a death of a child. Father Michael Fedewa was there for me and my family. Mike, if I have not said this before, THANK YOU for being there at this difficult time. Mike was at Jackie’s memorial service and at her internment at Fairplains Cemetery. Also, thank you Mike for your support when my mother died.
At one point, after Jackie’s death, I attended a service at the Resurrection Church and the pastor asked if anyone wanted to be closer to God. I don’t remember raising my hand but the priest asked me to come up front. I remember standing there and I was touching his fingertips. I felt like I was being pulled away and I was struggling to hold onto those fingertips. The next thing I remember was laying on the floor with a blanket over me. It is hard to describe but I felt so very happy and had such an overwhelming feeling of peace and contentment!! I believe that the Holy Spirit came upon me.
I cannot imagine not going to church. God has been there for me many times! I know I will see him again when I go into his kingdom!! I know Jackie is with God and I will see her and my loved ones who have passed before me. I believe God is loving and caring. Sometimes we don’t know why bad things happen to good people but God knows. Maybe it is to make us stronger. One thing I am sure of, God only gives us what we can handle and he takes care of the rest. Love and Peace. Deb
The Rev. BJ Heyboer – 10-30-16
I believe we were created to live and love as people who belong to God and to one another.
While I recognize that God lives and moves and works and plays in each of our lives, I think things get really interesting when we take the time to cultivate an awareness of how God is present among us—in our life together. I believe we are called to live with one another and for one another; in short, I believe we are called to live in community.
Mother Theresa, now recognized as St. Theresa, once said that the problem in the world “is that we’ve forgotten that we belong to one another.” What a truth-teller she was!
An image that means much to me for our life together is one of music. Each musical note and each instrument is unique in beauty and sound, but when those individual sounds come together, that’s when music is more interesting, more alive, more dramatic, and more full.
I can’t remember a time when I didn’t love music. When I was young, I played the viola. My sister played the drums. My parents could not have raised two more different daughters, but Wendy and I shared a love of playing with others as we made music: I loved playing with the orchestra, and she loved playing with the band. Now, many years later, her kids are following in her footsteps, playing percussion in middle and high school bands.
A band or an orchestra is an apt metaphor for the church, the community of followers of Jesus. We each have gifts and talents, and we each have our own unique sound. But when we come together to play music with one another, the sounds and songs become richly layered movements of music, works of art that can make us (and our listeners) dance or laugh or weep or pray.
One of my favorite musical artists is Mavis Staples. On her most recent album, I love the track entitled, “MLK Song.” The song’s lyrics are based on the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech, “The Drum Major Instinct.” Given the Staple Singers’ association with the late civil rights leader, this song is particularly powerful and poignant. The lyrics to the chorus are as follows:
In the crawl for justice, I helped somebody run;
In the walk for the hungry, I fed someone;
And in the march for peace, tell them I played the drum;
When I have to meet my day.
Brothers and sisters, we are all in the crawl for justice, the walk for the hungry, and the march for peace. We all have a part to play. As a community of believers, we belong to God and to one another. In our life together we belong to the band. Hallelujah!
This I believe.
Cheryl Schuch, Executive Director of Family Promise of Grand Rapids – 10-23-16
THIS I BELIEVE: LOVE IS A CHOICE THAT CHANGES EVERYTHING
I can’t think of a time when I didn’t feel loved. I’m one of the lucky ones. I have loving parents, a loving family, a loving community, loving friends, a loving husband, and a loving God who I knew early in my life. Not that everything was always rosy or that others weren’t angry or disappointed with me but that didn’t change the fact that I knew I was loved and I came to accept that this is just how life was for everyone.
That love allowed me to soar. I participated in various sports teams, tried my hand at music, devoured the opportunity to learn and challenge myself in college, and traveled the world with the belief in the best of others that they would receive me with open arms. It wasn’t until I had my own children that I began to reflect on how love had shaped my life. How truly blessed I was to have felt unconditional love from so many and I now realized how many in our world hadn’t ever experienced love. I began to wonder how others survived without knowing love. At some points I even felt guilty that I felt loved and others didn’t and it became my mission to share love.
Then one day I noticed something. It wasn’t just about feeling loved but about loving others. I was having lunch with a friend and she was frustrated with the service we were getting. She was also frustrated with me because I “wasn’t frustrated”. She said “it must be nice to blow through the day always being happy”. I was stunned. How could she not know that wasn’t the case? Everything wasn’t always happy in my world. There were days where bad things happened, people were rude or tragedy struck. There were times along the way where I felt incredibly depressed for long periods of time but I always felt love. Why did these things affect us so differently, especially something as small as a server who wasn’t on her game that day?
As I began noticing when I felt happy I realized I also felt love. I wasn’t happy simply because others were being nice to me, because sometimes that wasn’t the case as with the server that day at lunch. It was that I chose to believe and accept whatever possibility there was of loving intent in others. I actually looked for love and I chose to love! I want to be clear; I was in no way expecting others to behave in a certain way. I simply believed that good intent and love was at the root of what they said and did. I looked for good intent and love in my conversations with the worker at the grocery store, the doctor’s office, the post office, the dry cleaners, co-workers, my children’s teachers, and many more. Not only did I “look” for love but when I found the smallest hit of it, I chose to accept whatever others were dishing out as an opportunity for happiness. I was committed to being very conscious of returning the favor by loving others and sharing it. What I also noticed was that when someone else made me mad or hurt me, I tried to quickly focus on love. I tried to find something about that person I could love or something they did that allowed love to peek through. I’m not sure if this was a survival instinct or something I learned along the way but I realized that love was a conscious choice I was making and that love changes everything.
It changed my reaction to others and how I engaged with them. It changed my feelings of anger or sadness, which changed my behavior, and in turn changed how others reacted to me. It brought an incredible sense of peace to each day and allowed me to shake off the bad and hold on to the good. While I might not have always been happy, I could always feel love.
As I made a career change and began working with homeless families this became the bedrock belief that guided my work each day. I confidently believe that God grounded this sense of love in me. He knew that the chance for stress to take over, both for the families and for our workers, was high and He knew that what these children and their parents needed most was love. Since my time at Family Promise I have seen love transform hundreds. I have seen students and interns, parents, children, peers and employees all blossom in the love we try to live out each day. I have seen a conversation go from an argument to hugs and have seen people turn from incredible sadness to joy in a matter of days.
Every day we wake we have a choice, to love or to just live. I choose love!
The Reverend Jodi Baron – 10-04-16
“Faith Without Seeing”
Last year, when my father was diagnosed with subcutaneous t-cell lymphoma, I was left with multiple directions as to how to direct my prayer in the weeks and months to follow.
I found my days occupied with research queries through my beloved google on all things lymphoma. It was, in a way, how I would come to re-center myself, orient my attempts at prayer, and prepare myself for the counsel I may need to provide for my aging parents.
What took me off-guard, however, was my sudden numbness to the presence of God in my life. It was as though a switch had flipped, or my spiritual cord that connected me to the feeling of God’s presence had been yanked out of the outlet. There was nothing. I felt like a giant fake, I couldn’t connect with anything I thought or felt.
Up to this point, you see, no matter what I faced, I could always count on feeling the loving embrace of God. And because I assumed I, indeed, serve a benevolent God who heard my prayers, “feeling” God’s presence was never really much of an issue. It was the natural byproduct of practicing a life of intentional actions, daily reflection on the movements of God, and attentive to the movements of the Holy Spirit in my life.
“You never know how you will handle these things till you go through them.”
I must have heard those words somewhere along the line, but they had no resonance with the current theology I was experiencing; of how the world works and the role God Almighty plays in it when it comes to the scary monster of cancer.
As well intentioned that phrase may be, I find it void of the depth these situations call for.
If we can’t prepare ourselves for things completely out of our control, how can we even suggest that we expect God to be real. To show up in our everyday lives?
God is very much a part of our daily personal experience in life. Our interaction with the Holy.
But God is also, very much, a part of our common experience of loving God, self, and other.
In the days since my dad’s diagnosis, he has undergone more tests to reveal that the lymphoma is not anywhere else in his body. He had to undergo twenty or so treatments of radiation and then was done. They say sometimes lymphoma comes back, so he’ll have to go back to his oncologist twice a year, but that is it.
And I am forever changed. It felt like crap to be in it. But those practices that I have cultivated over the years, they carried me while my spiritual senses were dulled. These days, when I can’t pray the daily offices, I can hold my prayer book and know that prayer is bigger than what I can or can’t say or feel at any given moment. It’s bigger than what we say together on Sundays as we gather in praise and thanksgiving. It’s bigger than what one priest can navigate in her experiments with darkness.
It’s not about beating this, fixing this, or anything else. It’s about learning how to be present with the darkness and feel my way around this world that has been so illumined for so long. I’m not the same though. I have a deeper faith than I would have had before I faced this time of mortality with someone I love. And I have a deeper understanding of the scripture “Faith without seeing.”
Christine Ingram – 4-19-16
I believe there is a reason why I got Parkinson’s disease. I also believe those reasons are often elusive and hard to find.
Back when I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s I was 39 years old. It has been for me 14 years of wondering why and seeking answers while dealing with the often-elusive memories and facts of my life living with often impaired mental as well as physical function. Let’s JUST Say THAT I’m NOT THE BEST AT ORGANIZING MY THOUGHTS ANY more. that’s the kind way of saying I’m scatterbrained but perhaps that is the way I’m meant to be.
You see, I have difficulty holding a grudge. That requires memories I can no longer hold. I also am often reminded (by my husband) that I have forgotten a myriad of slights and cruelties, that I forgive too much or too often or require too little in the way of consideration from others, especially my children. I am, suppose, often the fool.
Again, because of the impairment in the neuroplasticity of my brain I find myself often focusing on the physical impairments which range from what I often think of as my “geisha feet” caused by the dystonic movements of my body; to the inability to properly type or write a note or a message without a lot of difficulty; to losing my train of thought or the ability to participate fully in a conversation: to appearing as if I’m drunk in a public place because of my symptoms such as slurry speech.
WITHOUT the Parkinson’s I’d be much more on top of my life and much less dependent on God from moment to moment. Without Parkinson’s I would be much more likely to believe that I had all the answers. This disease keeps me much more dependent on my husband than I would prefer to be. But, it also helps me stay focused on God and daily gratitude for the little things which can often go unappreciated by the “average bear”.
Small things are often big things hidden in the everyday qualities of life that we take too often for granted. A ride given, a meal prepared, a dirty floor swept or counter wiped. A hug, a smile, or the gift of acknowledgement. The little things, the small stuff. Taking the time to say you are grateful. That’s what I believe Parkinson’s has brought to my life. I try to remember this and to thank God for His small blessings from often surprising sources he really does care for the birds of the air as well as the least of these. That is what I believe.
Kathleen Longcore – 3-13-16
Today I believe in the healing power of forgiveness But it took me decades to get there. It all started when I was 10, with my friend and fellow Girl Scout, Cynthia. My family and I were the have-nots in an affluent suburb. We lived in the upstairs rooms of my grandparents’ one-family home. We didn’t have a real kitchen, and we wore donated clothing. But even though we lived this way for five years, we knew it was temporary, until my mother could go back to work. Cynthia and I were Brownies together and then Girl Scouts. At the end of every meeting we all stood in a circle, held hands, and silently passed a squeeze around the circle. For me, it was a moment almost holy, like being in church. After several years, I felt close enough to Cynthia to invite her to my house after school. The next day, I was bombarded by taunts on the way to school and on the playground. Cynthia had told a couple of mean girls… every school has them… about how we lived. And they embellished on that, screaming that we slept on rusty bed springs and ate out of bean cans. It cut me to the quick. I felt humiliated, embarrassed, and oh so full of righteous anger. They were WRONG! So Wrong! And I would never speak to Cynthia again, and certainly never forgive her. Even after we moved away, I remained a loner who excelled at solitary pursuits like reading and academics.
Now fast forward more than three decades. My husband had a form of cancer that kept recurring until it killed him, and I read everything I could find that dealt with the link between stress and healing. My church sent me to a seminar in Grand Rapids at Pine Rest called “Healing Through Forgiveness.” The presenter was a Jesuit priest, Matthew Linn, who had written a book by the same title. He was a specialist in reconciliation and traveled the world dealing with very difficult life and death cases. One was a woman in Africa who had been forced to watch her husband get beaten to death after he had been falsely accused by a neighbor of being against the regime in power. The woman became nearly mad with sorrow and anger and had no home, no family, and no life. Matthew Linn succeeded in getting her to forgive her neighbor, who said he was afraid for the lives of his family if he didn’t give the soldiers a name. He begged her forgiveness, and when she returned to her village she found some measure of peace. I was amazed at her strength.
I then read Matthew Linn’s book and followed his suggestion to make a list of all the people I had not forgiven. I filled a legal pad page! And at the top of the list was Cynthia! I thought, if that woman in Africa could forgive her neighbor, who was I to hold on to this childish wrong for all of these years? The book suggested going through my list and letting each wrong go, forgiving silently those who could no longer be contacted. I did that, imagining each unforgiven act to be a bright colored balloon that I let go of and watched as it lifted toward heaven.
One balloon would not fly. It was my absent father, who had left my mother with four girls to raise alone. The book suggested that for these difficult cases, a series of letters might work. I was to write the letters until I could let go and forgive my dad, who had been dead for years. The first letter was to be purely factual, outlining my history with my dad. The next letter, or letters, were to be about the hurt and the anger I had been holding onto. I filled pages and pages with the venom I had bottled up. In the book, some people rid themselves of their anger at this point by chopping the letters with a hatchet, or nailing it to a tree with multiple nails, or burning it with trash. Just writing it down was enough for me. The final letter, according to Matthew Linn, was to be a thank you letter, thanking my dad for the gifts he gave me. Are you kidding me, I thought?! But, amazingly, I found there were gifts from this relationship, and that I felt some compassion for this man.
Back then, when I let go of all the hurts and slights from the past, I felt lighter. I felt at peace. I felt healed. And I vowed that I would no longer save up my unforgivens like so much righteous treasure. If Jesus could forgive those who taunted him, reviled him, and crucified him, who did I think I was to withhold my forgiveness?
People make mistakes. So do I. Usually the things I tend to take personally have absolutely nothing to do with me, I have learned. It has more to do with what is going on in that other person’s life. So Matthew Linn suggests we visualize the other person as wounded and ask ourselves, “Do I want to add to this person’s wounds?” For me, the answer is usually NO. As Christians, when someone wrongs us, we are asked to be compassionate, and to forgive. I will admit it has not been easy. When it is hard to forgive, I can resort to another of Matthew Linn’s practices: I have a conversation with Jesus. Using meditative visualization, I imagine Jesus and I in a beautiful, quiet place. He listens as I tell Him what has hurt me and then wait to see what He will say. You have heard the phrase, “What would Jesus do?” Well this is, “What would Jesus say.” And you probably won’t be surprised to hear that Jesus always taps into the Child of God in me and says what I need to hear.
Eric Icard – 3-6-16
I believe the worst of times bring out the best in humanity.
Natural disasters understandably have lasting effects on people. I don’t think I have ever been as concerned for my safety as I was sitting through Hurricane Katrina. Frankly, the sheer magnitude and force made everyone in its path feel quite helpless. The most significant event dealt by Mother Nature in my life wasn’t sitting through Katrina however, it was fighting the 1997 flood in Grand Forks, ND. It was in Grand Forks where I truly saw the best in humanity.
Upon graduating from high school in Battle Creek, I had my eyes set on the sky. Literally! I wanted to be a commercial airline pilot. I wanted the best, most respected flight training program available and that pushed me to the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks.
Up until the summer before my classes started, I had never been to Grand Forks or either of the Dakotas for that matter. I had seen the movie Fargo so I had a pretty good idea that the people talked funny and that the landscape was flat and treeless.
When my parents pointed the car back to Battle Creek and left me at Smith Hall, the reality of my situation suddenly hit. In my mind, I was on my own. I didn’t know a soul and it was quite overwhelming. My situation quickly changed however, as I made new friends. As I began to familiarize myself with the community, I found the people of the area to be among the most welcoming and hospitable I had ever come across. Eventually, Grand Forks started to feel like home.
The winter of my freshman year was one for the record books. Blizzard after blizzard, eight in all bringing record snow yet the people of Grand Forks took it in stride. As news of the impending flood began to materialize, I initially shrugged it off. The community had dealt with flooding before and had erected huge walls to protect us from the Red River of the North. River crest predictions varied and we never really had a sense that this flood would be all that worse than floods of the past. Certainly not as bad as the “Great Flood of 78”.
In April as the temperatures rose, so did the river levels. The community was visibly in emergency mode. Students would arrive to class only to find that there was no professor and one assignment written on the board. “Go Sandbag!” There were school busses taking volunteers to Sandbag Central to fill bags and busses taking volunteers to neighborhoods along the river to shore up the primary levies and help homeowners build secondary floodwalls. The Red Cross and home owners handed out water and sandwiches while the smart homeowners who wanted to insure help form college students provided kegs of beer.
I had never seen anything like it. I had never seen so much good in people or felt so good to be part of an effort. And although the Army Corps of Engineers kept revising the crest forecast upward, we never gave up hope or gave up the fight. Unfortunately, after weeks of hard work, On Friday, April 18, 1997, the Red River poured over the dikes and by the end of Saturday, floodwaters had spread over large areas of the community. 60,000 people were out of their homes, and downtown Grand Forks was burning.
Again I witnessed the best in people as surrounding communities opened up their homes to complete strangers. Being from Michigan, I had no place to go but my buddy Brady’s family, who I had never met, opened up their home in SE North Dakota to me again causing me to witness generosity and hospitality I had never seen before.
The 1997 Grand Forks Flood was one of the most impactful events of my 38 years. I still get a little choked up reflecting on it. Others who have been in similar situation have told me similar stories of people helping one another. I guess that is why I believe the most challenging situations really do bring out the best in humanity.
Nancy Winkler – 2-28-16
I wasn’t born with a silver spoon in my mouth. The closest thing I came to metal at my birth was a pair of rigid delivery forceps around my head, easing me out of my unwed mother. I spent several more days in the Charity Ward, Henry Ford Hospital, Detroit, before I went to a half-way house and a call was made to D.A. Blodgett. “We have a baby,” they said, “a Protestant girl.” W. Howard and Dorothy Rose Perrin, were waiting for that next call, the call that could bring me to join an older sister, in a new family, a new life. It was the frigid winter of 1947.
After the call, Howard bought round trip tickets on the train, but the warmth of the coach and the clack, clack, clack of the metal rails did little to sooth me. My sister and maternal grandmother stood on the sidewalk and waved as the train crossed Silver Avenue, S.E., my address for the next 18 years. I was baptized at Grace Episcopal Church, La Grave Avenue.
We always went to church. As a young man, my father had served as an acolyte. He was proud to have carried first cross and willingly complied with the rules: clean, short hair, starched white gloves. This was serious business for him, and my mother served on the Altar Guild until she married my father. In 1935, married women were “uninvited” to participate in altar duties.
I liked going to church. There was something calming about the dark, still interior of this place and confirmation was just one more step in my Christian journey. I felt confident, respected and renewed at the communion rail. I still do.
After two years at Grand Rapids Junior College, I moved to Chicago with a girlfriend. A thousand letters and hundreds of phone calls later, a young man I had met at Hess Lake, Paul Winkler, was now stationed in Alameda and we decided I’d join him to see if we could “make a go of it” upon his discharge from the Navy.
To see him come in on the USS Coral Sea, on that spectacular California day was one of the greatest things I’d ever witnessed. When they were dismissed, and he found me in the crowd, I could not have been more proud. My hero, my pen pal, friend and now my roommate was home, home from Viet Nam, and San Francisco was our new address.
I am ashamed to say there was no time for church. We took the cable cars to Ghirardelli Square, had picnics in Golden Gate Park, and went to the Fillmore West every weekend. Any number of times, we saw Jimmy Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Joe Cocker and my personal fav, Miss Tina Turner all on their way to mega stardom. Paul, along with 10,000 other people, heard Robert Kennedy speak just before he and Ethel left for Los Angeles. Newly pregnant and fearful of the crowd and oppressive heat, I watched it all from our Mission district windows.
But civilian life, marriage, work and the prospect of a baby was too much for Paul and I flew back to Grand Rapids before the airlines could refuse me. The plan was to give him a little time to straighten out what he wanted to do, and once he came back to Grand Rapids, decide how this little family was going to survive before the baby came. All he did was focus on leaving me and our daughter, Sara, without paying support. His attorney said if he left town, he’d never have to pay. After selling our brand new car, a wedding present from his parents, he bought a truck. My name had never been on the title. Paul drove away to Alaska. I drove back to church where the Reverend Chuck Howell welcomed Sara and me with open arms.
My marriage failed, I had severe challenges raising my daughter and I was orphaned at 40. Even losing my job in the recent recession did not shake me to the core. My faith has always been bigger than my fear. Joseph Campbell said, “We must let go of the life we have planned, so as to accept the one that is waiting for us.” I wish I’d been familiar with his writings 50 years ago, but it wouldn’t have made any difference. When I say it now, again, I Get IT!!!!!! Now I begin and end each day with prayer, read, more often than not, books that Mother Nurya and Father Mike have suggested, and take communion every week. The goal is service, not stature, to be a cheerful giver, to be a light whenever I can to anyone, anytime, anywhere. Often I fail at this.
In Mother Nurya’s beautiful Advent message she said, “Advent is a time of waiting,” and I agree. Every day is. Her colleague, The Reverend Tom Purdy confirms this, saying, “We wait with patience, as best we can.” I LOVE THAT!!!!!!! Boy, would I love to have a beer with Tom Purdy!
In my Father’s house, there are many mansions, and I wait with patience in this earthly life for the call that tells me my room is ready, and invites me to join yet another new family and have a more abundant life in a kingdom that has no end. That’s it! That’s the address I want: Kingdom, that has no end! I’ve been promised all of this my whole life and I believe in the promise.
Ronnie Hammond – 2-21-16
This I Believe……
Some of my best memories as a child were that of my grandma. I remember her playing solitaire, me sitting on her lap and listening to her stories and her standing by the stove filling her home with wonderfully delicious smells of whatever she was cooking. I remember her dresses covered with an apron and later in life the polyester pantsuits. You could always tell when she was concentrating on something intensely because she would stick the tip of her tongue out between the front of her lips and how as a child I always thought it was silly looking, and occasionally embarrassing. My grandma always seemed to be able to create or fix something broken or worn out into something useful, claiming that “Everything has a purpose” or “Waste not, want not”. Maybe because she remembers the Great Depression and was raising two rambunctious boys and a daughter that would eventually grow up to be my mom. I barely remember her ever sitting down and just relaxing. She was always busy doing something and saying “A man works from sun to sun, but a woman’s work is never done”.
So many of those little, but profound statements that I thought were silly as a child, I now look upon with such fond memories. Maybe it’s because I didn’t understand or fully grasp the concept of them until I grew older and matured some myself, including the one that means the most to me, “I’ll just throw another potato in the pot”.
As a child, I took the statement literally and thinking of a potato and a pot of stew or soup and throwing another potato into it. But now, I realize how much deeper meaning it holds.
To me, “I’ll throw another potato in the pot” is more than just one of grandma’s silly sayings, It’s a code to live by.
When my day is already busy and hectic between work and kids, but a friend or loved one desperately needs me to do something for them or take them somewhere, I find the time to do it.
If someone known or unknown is having a hard or rough day, I take the time to listen, really listen to them. Because they reached out to me and it might make all the difference in the world to them to know that someone cares and that their life matters.
My daughter Lori and I have always struggled to “get by”. We have never owned a brand new car or gone on a lavish vacation, or even a small one for that matter. Brand name clothes are something that we buy at garage sales or at second hand stores. But despite that, we have never considered ourselves so poor that we couldn’t help someone out. Recently a friend of Lori’s needed a place to live. Things with her mom weren’t the best and a bit more serious than just what most people would consider “Normal Teenage Drama” When the girls asked me if she could stay with us, I found I didn’t even question “Is this something I can afford?” “Do I want to deal with the messiness of another teenager” or wondering “Can I handling her emotional needs? Instead I just heard my grandma’s wise words of “Sure, I’ll just throw another potato in the pot!” and I never gave it a second thought.
Because isn’t that what life’s really all about? Helping each other and not questioning if this is something I want to do or wondering why this person is struggling and needing help? But instead to find inside ourselves and our heart a way to make someone else’s life a bit better, a bit fuller and that they are loved and cared about by “Throwing another potato in the pot” just for them.
Dell Todd – 2-19-16
I don’t greet each day with my heart filled with thanksgiving. I awake with questions.
How is it that still, I am not making an impact for mankind, our present, our future, our planet.
Why do I spend the vast majority of my time engaged in utter futility.
How can I possibly find whatever strength which got me through yesterday, to do it all over today.
I carry the weight of these thoughts. It is a joyless burden.
How did I arrive at today, where I ponder all that I have not.
Accomplishments not yet realized.
Time, the greatest luxury, wasted on me, day after day.
Talent and treasures slipping through my hands like a bad habit.
Grace has been present during the arc of my life, even before my first day.
Grace is unearned and undeserved. Grace is unpredictable. Grace is too good to be true. Grace is always better than my own planning. Grace is beyond the horizons of my dreams – yet in front of me every day. Grace is deliverance and invitation.
Grace was present at my conception. And my adoption. And every day in between.
Grace was with us when I met Amy – my spouse of over 20 years.
Grace has been with us every step of the way with our children Katie and Spencer, although at times we would simply prefer the Owner’s Manual.
Grace was present over 40 years later when I met my biological maternal grandmother who has loved me all the days of my life.
Grace was present in my ambulance on a cold, gray Tuesday morning last spring as I pondered whether I would survive till dinnertime.
Grace reminds me of all that I have and reminds me that I have accomplished a great deal.
I have what I need.
All that I have is sufficient.
How have I received so much.
How have I been this fortunate.
Our family of four enjoys total health and well-being and sometimes harmony.
We have led such a grand life of adventure together.
Amy & I have over twenty married years together – mind you Amy has two Mothers-In-Law.
We have an incredible future ahead of us, you wouldn’t even believe it if I told you. I’m glad I don’t know what surprises we are in for either.
This I Believe. This I Know.
Steve Arrowsmith – 2-17-16
I became a missionary because of an inane strategy that I came up with all my own that said if you wanted intense spiritual experience, you had to live intensely. And in Christian circles, the most intense path was this thing called missions. My parents had missionary friends, even a few who had died in the line of duty. That intense potential cost made missions a sure-fire path to deep spiritual enlightenment.
Amazingly enough a classmate in Med School enrolled because she wanted to be a missionary. We married, intensely prepared, and off we went to Nigeria.
Within about 3 months, I was not at the pinnacle of spiritual life, but rather in a fetal position sucking my thumb. By every measurable quantity, I had already managed to intensely fail. Never had I seen so many patients die. My marriage was stretched and stressed, the kids were not doing so well, and my Nigerian colleagues could not stand me as I pushed and pushed to fix things that they understood were well beyond repair.
Healing for me was slow and involved many steps but there was one one key paradigm shift that helped get things back on the rails. At the very end of a forgotten missions’ book describing a litany of failure much like my own, the author shared the impact on her of a single verse, one I did not recall noticing before. Is. 43:10 starts out “You are my witnesses”, says the Lord, “and my servants, whom I have chosen”. “You” includes even me. “Are” is present-continuous. I am not a witness after passing an intensity test, but I am one now. “Witness” is not a verb, but a noun, not what I do, but what I am. “Whom I have chosen” means this was all God’s idea. But then, it says “In order that”; the verse explains the big question “Why?”. In my evangelical intensity, I would have finished by saying “In order that health and healing could come to Nigeria through the sacrifice of his Godly servant”. No, here is the mind-blower: “In order that you may know and believe me and understand that I AM.” God didn’t have me out there because He needed me to get things done. He had me there because He loved me enough to want me to know him better. And how better but for Him to do it than to take me along to work with Him.
The most profound way he teaches me is through the people I was sent to serve. I focused more and more on helping women enduring terrible injuries from childbirth. In them, I have seen boundless grace, steel-clad courage, immovable determination, joy in suffering, and untouchable hope. These women have taken the devil’s best shot at ruining their lives and have laughed and danced and smiled and celebrated, anticipating God’s help, Christian, Muslim, and pagan alike. Though they have more reason than anyone to be closed and withdrawn, He opens their hearts to me, so that they let me sit around with them as they tell me jokes and call me Daddy and make fun of my hair and sometimes hold my hand as they die.
I am still as inept and ineffectual as I was. I have tasted some of that costliness I admired in my parents “martyred” friends. Yet I know God so much better. This is his great and sustaining gift. I believe God loves us enough to take us along when he goes to work…
Mike Fedewa – 2/8/16
This I Believe.
I believe that each morning is a rehearsal for resurrection. Each morning I arise from the darkness of sleep to celebrate the gift of a new day of life.
My mom and dad loved mornings, and they taught their children to do the same. Dad always taught that it was a waste of the day to sleep too late. He would often serenade us at 7:00 with his morning chant: “Its daylight in the swamp”. Vacations always began before the crack of dawn. The day my sister Stephanie and I went with my mom and dad to see the Mackinac Bridge for the first time, we left home at 5:00 in the morning. It was dad’s goal to get to the bridge before 10:00. We made it easily. On other trips, dad would typically try to be on the road by 6:00 (at the latest). We would drive an hour or two and then stop for breakfast. Because we were on the road so early, we would usually end our travel day by mid-afternoon. We would have time then to relax, go for a swim, have dinner, play some cards and get a good night’s sleep before we hit the road before dawn. Nowadays, when I am on vacation I rise early and try to begin the day as soon as I can. When I head to the Upper Peninsula to go fishing, I always try to get to the bridge before 10:00. Dad would be proud!!!
It was because I loved mornings, that I used to deliver the morning Detroit Free Press. I would begin my route before 5:00. During the week, my hope was to get home in time to have a cup of hot cocoa with dad before he left for work. On Sunday mornings, dad would often drive me around so I could finish the paper route before he and he and I would go to 7:00 Mass.
These days, most mornings, I am awake before the alarm goes off at 5:00. I love a morning run or walk. When I walk I love to listen to books. When I run, I love to listen to the sounds of the morning. Most days it is in the morning that I spend time in prayer. I read best in the morning. I practice sermons in the morning. I am at my best in the morning.
Every morning is a celebration. Some mornings I am overcome by the awareness that of all the days in the history of this earth, this is a day that I am blessed to be share. Of all the people who have lived on this earth, I am blessed to be living and working with these particular people on this particular day. This awareness sometimes takes my breath away.
Some days, I confess, I do not begin with this peace of mind. Some days, I begin in a frenzy—reading email, answering texts, watching the news as soon as I get up. But, the better days, the more peaceful days, the days that I am fully alive and aware are days that I begin calmly and deliberately. My better days are those that I begin in a place of calm. My better days are those that begin with me remembering that each day is a rehearsal for resurrection. Each day is a celebration of new life.
My best mornings are those the I begin by asking myself how I will cherish and celebrate the gift of this new day.
I love the resurrection stories of the Risen Jesus standing on the lake shore early in the morning. For me, the best place to be in the morning is on the water. Walking along Lake Michigan with Linda and our dog, trolling for pike with members of my family, or fly fishing with dear friends is a pretty close to perfect way to begin the day.
I believe that wherever I happen to be, morning is the almost perfect time to rehearse resurrection.
Angie Leuchtmann – 1/31/16
This I believe….
There is such beauty in imperfection!
My quest for perfection was born the very second my rose-colored glasses of childhood were shed and I looked around to notice that other people had opinions about me. I have spent countless days, evenings, weeks working tirelessly to force others to perceive me as perfect. Life has taught me, however, that imperfection is far better. These are some things I have learned….
- Imperfect people get to “ugly cry”.
- Perfect people are only allowed to produce a single, glistening tear that will travel down their cheeks caressed downward by awaiting fairies. However, now that I am imperfect, the only things glistening on me are whatever is coming out of my nose and perhaps also my hearty sweatstache. I have learned how satisfying “ugly crying” can be!
- Imperfect people get to use their support systems.
- When I was “perfect”, I often told my support system that I was fine when I wasn’t. Imperfect people, however, get to enjoy warm hugs and the comfort of knowing that other people are there for them. They get to accept help. They get to share moments of vulnerability with others.
- Imperfect people get to accept compliments.
- When I was “perfect”, I worked really hard to get other people to notice my “perfection”. Ironically, I never accepted those kind compliments. I just turned into an awkward troll who flushed crimson, mumbled nonsense, and then blamed whatever was being complimented on someone or something else.
- Imperfect people don’t have to be in control.
- Perfectionism is all about control. It’s about trying to control the opinions of others, trying to control circumstances, and trying to control your world. Imperfection means that you get to like things that are different than other people, you get to smile when things don’t go your way, and you get to notice the beauty of imperfection.
- Imperfect people get to learn important life lessons.
- When I look back, I notice that the times when I was stretched, when things were difficult, or when I felt broken, were the times I became better than I was before. It is during trials, times when there is no choice but to be imperfect, that wisdom replaces the imperfections.
- Imperfect people aren’t so annoying.
- “Perfect” people are often unapproachable. They are focused almost solely on controlling people, circumstances, and life that they irritate others.
- Imperfect people don’t borrow trouble.
- “Perfect” people tend to be worriers. Since they fear imperfection, they worry about imperfection sneaking in.
- Imperfect people get to be inspired!
- There is inspiration all around us, especially in the different people God brings into our lives. I have a friend, Valerie, who has self-confidence and pizzazz. I feared this until I realized my imperfection. Now, I take her out to lunch and ask her questions. I’m also inspired by the various people in my church family. Many of you are inspiring to me and have accepted me without question.
These 8 lessons will grow as I do. Imperfect people are always learning, ya know. Perfect is a naughty word to me now. It makes me stop in my tracks. God has taught me the beauty of imperfection more times than I wish to disclose and, since I’m imperfect, I haven’t kept track. There is beauty in learning and growing, however, and I’m learning the beauty of imperfection.