What to do when bombs explode at the finish line

Moments after the bombs exploded in Boston, the questions started.

First, the ones that needed a quick response.

Where can I get help? What happened? Is my brother OK?

Then the questions that linger in a soul.

Why would anyone do this? How can I ever feel safe? 

And the one that haunts me the most, the one that draws close to my face and looks me in the eye.

What can I do to help?

It taunts me every time another hurt flashes across my screen, every time I read of a too-soon funeral. Each time I feel small, too miniscule to do anything, so I fall into the carefully set trap of evil – the trap of thinking I can do nothing.

I pray and I pack my lunch for another day. I match socks and sweep dog hair off the floor. I begin to think that I’m right where evil wants me, defeated on the ground, and that’s when something inside me starts to stir and kick at the dust.

I may not be able to keep the world safe, but I can give my children words to describe their emotions. I can model how to disagree respectfully. I can make the effort to not just know my neighbors’ names but to know what they’re going through.

I can turn off the TV and log off Facebook long enough to volunteer or send a thoughtful note or study something that helps me be a better advocate, a better voter, a better friend. I can live beneath my means so I have more to give.

I can do all of that and more because, make no mistake, hard times come to every neighborhood. From bombs in the back of moving trucks to tsunamis licking away the land, misery finds us all.  And when it does, we need each other.

We need the candles lit and the signs hung that say we’re in people’s thoughts. We need the meals, the teddy bears, the memorials. We need to know that other people are standing – and kneeling – with us.

We need to know that God has not left us to deal with this alone.

I stare back at “What can I do to help?” and I start to nod. This, this is it. I can’t prevent evil but I can work toward a healthier community, and when all seems dark and lonely, I can bring light and love.

That much I can do.

Even when we’re down, we all have something to give

When you’re a religion reporter it doesn’t take long to figure out where to get the best hummus (the Islamic Center of Rochester, NY); some of the best food (Rochester’s Aenon Missionary Baptist Church); and generous hospitality (the Palmyra Stake Center of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints).

I did some interviews at the stake center once, and I wrapped up just as a service was starting. When I said my good-byes and made it to my car, I smelled gas inside. I called my husband and a tow truck but I didn’t dare go back in the building. I knew they would have insisted on getting me lemonade and having someone sit with me. So, instead, I literally hid in my car.

Even as I scrunched myself up behind the steering wheel, I knew I would be the only one bothered by the interruption if I did go inside. The Mormons I had met were – and still are – dedicated to outreach, whether that means making sure a reporter is comfortable, telling people about their faith or providing beef stew and diapers to struggling families who need to fill their cupboards.

That’s why every Friday and Saturday volunteers from sometimes more than an hour away come to the Bishop’s Storehouse in Hopewell, NY. Together, they fill grocery orders for needy families as far north as Lake Ontario and as far south as Scranton, Penn. Their trucks go west past Buffalo and east to Binghamton.

Those who need assistance must be recommended by a church leader and meet with someone to plan their menu before ordering supplies from the storehouse. Besides the produce and other necessities filling its shelves, the church offers unemployment specialists and requires people to work for the church while on assistance.

Every one can serve, said Jim Vreeland, who along with his wife, Kathy, are volunteer managers at the local storehouse. The frail can make phone calls to check on other Saints. Those in better health can do things like work on church-run farms or help clean church buildings.

“We encourage them to work for something,” Kathy said, to regain their dignity and to experience the joys of serving. “Just knowing you’re helping others is rewarding.”

And that’s a richness we can all attain, full bank account or not.

Boss me around: Organize my life

It’s not that I have an overly complicated life. Its just that I need a new perspective — and I want you to help. I’ve been thinking about rearranging my schedule, but I keep coming back to what I’ve used in the past.

So, here’s the deal. I’d like to tell you the main things on my schedule and have you tell me how you’d arrange things. Are you in?



Here are the basics:

  • I work from 8:30 to 5 and my commute is roughly 30 minutes each way.
  • The boys are in bed around 9 p.m.
  • I do freelance work and blogging on the side. I’d love to dedicate eight to 10 hours to that each week.
  • Getting up before 6 a.m. is difficult, but I could try to do it if that turns out to be the best way to rearrange things.
  • I like to watch “Castle” with my hubby. That comes on at 10 p.m. Mondays.

What I’d like to work into the schedule:

  • I’d like to stop piling up housework for the weekend so I can have more time to relax and enjoy my family.
  • I used to do freelance work in the mornings but I think my oldest son would enjoy it if I had breakfast with him and visited.
  • I’d like to make one-on-one time for the boys, but it needs to be scheduled so we don’t ignore it if we get busy.
  • The boys like it when I plan special adventures and fun food. That means time on Pinterest and other blogs to get ideas, though.
  • I’d love to improve my family’s social life. Maybe we could have people over more often?
  • I thought it might be fun to have a family devotional after dinner or schedule time to send cards and make gifts for folks.
  • I also like to craft, but it seems I’m always too busy.

How do I fit those things in — should it be before work? After the boys go to sleep?

What works for you? What things do you make time for?

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.