How to feel wanted and needed

IMG_2660Sometimes people ask me to tell them about my most interesting interviews. They get really quiet, expecting to hear me rattle off a list of famous names that I’ve scratched down in my skinny reporter’s notebook.

But the people who come to my mind first are the ones whose names you probably wouldn’t recognize. There’s the boy in Oklahoma who donated bone marrow to save his little brother’s life. If I remember correctly, he was about 9 when he became one of my heroes. And there’s the woman here in Rochester, NY, who walks the streets helping prostitutes and the homeless get the medication they need as they battle AIDS and other diseases. What others turn away from, she looks squarely in the eyes.

Then, there’s the late Rev. Elmer Schmidt. When I met him several years ago, he was living at the Sisters of Mercy Motherhouse in Brighton, NY. He had most recently served at St. Anne Church in Rochester. That is, until the Parkinson’s stole so much of his health.

By the time I met him, the disease had taken most of his voice. He spoke only in whispers — between long breaks for breath — as he told about his stiff and stubborn hands and his crumbling legs. His thoughts were still there, but it was hard to concentrate, he said, and hard to bring them out in to the open.

I got the impression that he normally wouldn’t have talked so much about his illness, except that I had asked. You see, at the time, Pope John Paul II was suffering from the same disease and there were some who thought the pope should step aside. I was there to shake hands with the disease, so to speak, to be close enough to describe it to my readers. But what I shook hands with that day was life — a life altered, to be sure, but a life still adding others to its prayer list.

“It helps you to feel wanted, needed,” he told me that day, still ministering from his wheelchair. “You have to feel needed or you fold up.”

I often think of him, there in his simple room willing his facial muscles to let him smile. I never knew him at what others might consider his best, but I’d argue that I met a man that day determined to serve God and others regardless of his circumstances.

When I pray for God to wrap his arms around those who are suffering, sometimes my mind drifts back to that interview. And I ask God to slip a little joy in with the comfort. Amen.

Day 16: Signs of hope — from near and far

Today, Lawrence Jones shares his thoughts on signs of hope. He says he happily lives in Rochester with his wife and two children.  Along with being a follower of Jesus, he works to develop housing for low income families and seniors.  And he is a member of New Life Presbyterian Church. Lawrence…

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Christians sometimes use the phrase “On God’s Time”, which is usually longer that we want it to be.  Yet, I feel a great source of hope when I look back and see how far we have come in the past 25 or 30 years.  I will give three examples:

After 40 years of The Cold War, with its nuclear warheads, brinksmanship, bomb shelters and espionage, along came Mikhail Gorbachev and his glasnost (meaning “openness”) and perestroika (meaning “restructuring”).  The Berlin Wall fell in November 1989 with nary a shot being fired.  For those who lived through the Cold War, this was a miracle and gives us hope towards the possibilities of peace.

IMG_0974In the 1980s, apartheid, a system of racial segregation denoted by government policies of white supremacy, under which black residents had only limited rights was the law of the land in South Africa.  Nelson Mandela had been in jail for over 25 years.  A combination of increasing international scorn and isolation, along with F.W. de Klerk becoming President spelled the end of the worst of the oppressive treatment from the Afrikaner minority.  This happened with much less bloodshed than anyone could have guessed.  While still a country with its challenges, the distance that South Africa has come in less than a generation is miraculous and gives us hope about the capacity of people and nations to change.

Locally, if one drove down South Avenue in Rochester in the 1970s or early 1980s, they would have seen many boarded up storefronts as well as a good deal of trash and graffiti.  It was an urban neighborhood in decay.  The Rev. Judy Lee Hay and others started the South Wedge Planning Committee in 1975.  Over the next 35 years this directly led to a revitalized neighborhood. It took hundreds of people and many thousands of hours of labor, but now the South Wedge is among Rochester’s most vibrant neighborhoods.  It didn’t happen overnight, but the efforts of churches, businesses, concerned citizens and a responsive City of Rochester led to a transformation.  It gives us hope for all our neighborhoods.

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Making a comeback, part 1

I feel like we’ve been a bit beaten down lately in society. It’s a tough economy. Deadlines are looming. There’s a hurricane coming. And it seems we need a healthy dose of hope and courage. That’s why I’m turning my blog over to Robin Taney today so she can share about a great sermon series at a church near Rochester, NY. Our plan is to have her report back on what is shared at these services and maybe even include videos so we can listen for ourselves and be inspired. Enjoy…

How many times have you faced a challenge in your life that you thought was so insurmountable you figured “why bother”?

I’ve been there more times than I care to count. I tell myself that God never gives me more than I can handle, but even then, I don’t always believe it.  Because the burden just. seems. so. heavy. Or big. Or such a lost cause.

That might be how Donald Jones was feeling. In 2010, the graduate of Youngstown State was expected to be a mid to late round draft pick in the NFL.

That February, he attended the NFL Combine, a week-long event where college players try and impress the NFL coaches and the scouts evaluate the players as possible draft picks. During the Combine, it was discovered that Jones had a minor kidney ailment.

It didn’t affect his ability to play and could be managed with medication, but the news was enough to send anyone who was interested in him scurrying in the other direction.

Jones dropped to the bottom of the draft board and was eliminated by some teams altogether. When he signed with the Buffalo Bills in September, 2010, he was an undrafted free agent.

Now, he’s the team’s #2 wide receiver.

Jones will be sharing more of his comeback story Sunday October 28 at Lakeshore Community Church when it kicks off its “Making a Comeback” series.

For the next four weeks, Lakeshore will do live and in person interviews with notable figures in the NFL.

October 28: Donald Jones, Making a Comeback from Limitations
November 4: David Tyree, Making a Comeback from Larger than Life Challenges
November 11: Jill Kelly, Making a Comeback from Loss
November 18: Stevie Johnson, Making a Comeback from Labels and Criticism

All are welcome. For more information, visit Lakeshore’s Website or call the office at (585) 392-5253.

Remember: Nadia Bolz-Weber speaks in Rochester today

Photo provided by Nadia Bolz-Weber

The Rev. Nadia Bolz-Weber, will speak in Rochester on Sept. 12 as part of the Christ’s Love in Action speaker series and she’s talking about using technology to reach out to young people.

I’ll be there, and I’ll be covering her 7 p.m. talk via Twitter. You can follow me @MarkettaGregory or search for #RocNadia. Or, better yet, join me at Asbury First United Methodist, 1050 East Ave. Tickets are $10 in advance and you can buy them at www.ChristsLoveInAction.org.

To learn more, visit my earlier post: http://simplyfaithful.com/2012/08/23/using-technology-in-the-service-of-the-gospel-and-other-challenging-things/

Inspirational school supplies, right in the aisles of Walmart

Scriptures and thoughts inside the cover of the composition notebook.

I’ve been a fan of DaySpring greeting cards and wall art for years, but I had no idea they were offering school supplies with Christian messages at Walmart. I’m guessing my friend and I spent 20 minutes gathering pencil holders, binders, student planners and notebooks for an impromptu photo shoot right there in the aisle. Sure, it was a bit awkward when other people had to step around us, but we were determined to show these to you!

Enjoy the pictures, and if you need more information, visit http://www.dayspring.com/notes_and_supplies/back_to_school_supplies/?ref=HERObts2012

Join our conversation with author James Rubart?

We’re fortunate to have the opportunity to visit Wednesday with James Rubart, author of Rooms. Won’t you join us? I’m sure we’ll be talking about freedom, about breaking away from negative voices and about really living the life God has for you.

It’ll be worth your time. I promise!

You can find us at 7 p.m. EDT Wednesday, July 25, on the Simply Faithful Facebook page. Just hit the refresh button often so you can see our latest questions and comments.

Hope to see you there…

Sometimes the most powerful stories are the quiet ones

Sometimes people ask me to tell them about my most interesting interviews. They get really quiet, expecting to hear me rattle off a list of famous names that I’ve scratched down in my skinny reporter’s notebook.

But the people who come to my mind first are the ones whose names you probably wouldn’t recognize. There’s the boy in Oklahoma who donated bone marrow to save his little brother’s life. If I remember correctly, he was about 9 when he became one of my heroes. And there’s the woman here in Rochester, NY, who walks the streets helping prostitutes and the homeless get the medication they need as they battle AIDS and other diseases. What others turn away from, she looks squarely in the eyes.

Then, there’s the late Rev. Elmer Schmidt. When I met him five years ago, he was living at the Sisters of Mercy Motherhouse in Brighton, NY. He had most recently served at St. Anne Church in Rochester. That is, until the Parkinson’s stole so much of his health.

By the time I met him, the disease had taken most of his voice. He spoke only in whispers — between long breaks for breath — as he told about his stiff and stubborn hands and his crumbling legs. His thoughts were still there, but it was hard to concentrate, he said, and hard to bring them out in to the open.

I got the impression that he normally wouldn’t have talked so much about his illness, except that I had asked. You see, at the time, Pope John Paul II was suffering from the same disease and there were some who thought the pope should step aside. I was there to shake hands with the disease, so to speak, to be close enough to describe it to my readers. But what I shook hands with that day was life — a life altered, to be sure, but a life still adding others to its prayer list.

“It helps you to feel wanted, needed,” he told me that day, still ministering from his wheelchair. “You have to feel needed or you fold up.”

I often think of him, there in his simple room willing his facial muscles to let him smile. I never knew him at what others might consider his best, but I’d argue that I met a man that day determined to serve God and others regardless of his circumstances.

When I pray for God to wrap his arms around those who are suffering, sometimes my mind drifts back to that interview. And I ask God to slip a little joy in with the comfort. Amen.

One Thousand Gifts book discussion starts Tuesday

For those of you who are reading One Thousand Gifts, at least three book discussion groups are in the works. Two are at Alpha & Omega Parable Christian Store in Penfield. Both meet on Tuesdays for five weeks starting Feb. 28. You can sign up for either the 7 a.m. or the 7 p.m. group. The third group will meet at 7 p.m. on Tuesdays at Alpha & Omega’s Greece location. It also starts Feb. 28 and runs for five weeks. (I’ll be stopping by the Greece discussion group on March 13, and I hope to be a regular at the 7 a.m. group in Penfield so I can eavesdrop.) Also, remember that the author, Ann Voskamp, will be chatting live with readers starting at 7:30 p.m. March 16. Just log on to the Simply Faithful page on Facebook to be part of the discussion.

Miss Maggie needs volunteers, donations and prayers

At first glance, not much has changed in the more than six years that I’ve known Miss Maggie. The modest building at 942 Joseph Ave. in Rochester is still drafty and in need of some updates. The “Million Pennies Drive” poster still hangs on a wood-paneled wall and tables sit ready for the dozens of children who will race through the doors after school for a snack, for help with their homework and for a good, deep dose of hope.

Jessie poses with a donated Easter basket outside of Community Lutheran Ministry on Joseph Avenue.

That’s Community Lutheran Ministry.

For 20 years Deaconess Maggie Harris has reached out to one of the toughest neighborhoods in the city. It’s a place where 2-year-olds might not have books in their houses; where 9-year-olds go to school tired from sleeping on the floor; and where 16-year-olds may see more guns than square meals.

But for a few hours after school – and for six weeks during the summer – neighborhood kids escape some of that with Miss Maggie. She reads to them, brings in speakers, teaches cooking classes, makes sure they have winter coats and at least one present under the Christmas tree, and fills summer days with fun trips, free lunches and the idea that there’s more to life than poverty and violence.

For years, Community Lutheran has squeaked by financially. The weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas are good and so are the weeks leading up to summer camp. The rest of the year is tight, but somehow bills get paid and kids get taken care of.

But this time, with the economy still stumbling along, Miss Maggie needs more help than ever. She’s looking for volunteers of all ages to read with children and play board games on Saturdays. Plus, she’d like more children’s clothing to hand out, especially clothes for boys; individually wrapped snacks; household items like irons and furniture; books and craft supplies.

Preparing more than 100 Easter baskets for families served by Community Lutheran Ministry in Rochester, NY.

And she could really use a handy person to paint and tackle other repairs that need to be done around the old building so she can focus on helping kids make the kind of changes that are more personal and spiritual.

If you’d like to help, call (585) 338-2420.