ONE DOOR DOWN (or Rey Torres Where Art Thou?)

How do you share your faith with your drug dealing neighbor?  Very carefully.  Continuing in our commuter marriage for a bit longer, me and two of our kids were living in Endicott, NY (home of Big Blue-IBM) as I worked for the utility company in a great paying position.   Endicott and Binghamton are kind of post-industrial cities. Many jobs were lost when shoe company Endicott Johnson left.  Like many cities, Endicott struggled over the years as evidenced by the ghost-town like Washington Avenue with its many languishing empty storefronts and tumbleweed-like paper debris blowing around.   Here is a picture of Endicott in better times

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Scaling down expenses, we moved to a smaller apt. in a little 2-building complex on Oak Hill Ave.  Talking to a neighbor I learned that a cocaine drug dealer lived in the building next door. We often saw people coming and going to his apartment. Rey Torres was a small-framed but muscular young hispanic man who lived with a girlfriend.  He wore a cap cocked to one side and drove an expensive car.  Once we crossed paths on the sidewalk.  He was heading in with some friends holding a few pizza boxes.  He had a spring in his step and when we passed each other he smiled and said “We’re having a pizza party because my mom is visiting”. His childlike demeanor really touched me – a mother-loving drug dealer.  I concluded he couldn’t be all bad.

I wanted to share my faith with him so he might repent but was unsure how.  Many were the times on some evenings I stood beneath his apartment window, looked up at it with one arm raised heavenward, and prayed for his eternal soul.  I  used to keep paperback new testaments around and gave them away to people as the spririt led. Once I picked up a young married man hitchhiker and he spilled some of his issues to me, especially about his failing marriage.  Pulling over later to let him out, I gave him the New Testament to read, telling him God loves marriages including his and wants restoration and healing for him.  He smiled, got out and started leafing through it as he walked away. I wanted to bring Reynaldo a New Testament but I punked out.  I thought perhaps he would take offense, get mad, curse me, throw it at me, kick me out, so those fears restrained me. This response is what the Bible calls “the fear of man”….fearing negative reactions from others that paralyzes our intentions.    It can be very hard to overcome this fear.  Reminds me of a popular saying “The trouble with Christians today is no one wants to kill them anymore” (for the message they bear).

In the spring of ’98 the word on the street reached me that soon there would be a city-wide drug bust that included Rey (Operation Golden Road).  The day came and the bust went down all over Binghamton and Endicott.  I walked out into a sun-rich spring morning to go to work and police were everywhere.  The trunk of Rey’s car was open and they were fishing around in it.

Later I learned he was out on bail.  It was now or never I thought regarding the New Testament.  I worked up my courage and went to his apartment one evening to see him but only his girlfriend Melissa was there.  No hoochie mama that girl – more like the girl next door. She was a pretty young woman with long chestnut hair and blue eyes. I told her I brought this book for Rey and to please give it to him.  She agreed. I wrote a note to him on the inside cover that went something like this:  Dear Reynaldo…..I so wanted to bring this New Testament to you but feared your reaction.  Please  forgive me for being such a gutless wonder.  I wanted you to read it and be reminded of the things you learned at your mother’s knee as a little boy.  Can’t remember the rest..probably said I would pray for him, etc.

Rey went to jail and a friend who worked there told me he had to tell Rey about his mother’s passing back in Puerto Rico.  I remembered the happy day of the pizza party and thought this news had to hit him hard.  My friend confirmed that it did.  Was all this God’s plan and timing after all?….my initial cowardice? ….giving him the NT after the bust went down?, his being brought low first by the incarceration and later by his mother’s death?  Only God knows.  I don’t know where Rey is now or if he ever came to faith but will look for him in the life to come.  By faith I believe I will find him in that good place.

 

 

YASGUR’S FARM

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          Well, I came upon a child of God
He was walking along the road
           And I asked him, Tell me where are you going?
This he told me
           Said, I’m going down to Yasgur’s Farm,
Gonna join in a rock and roll band.
Got to get back to the land and set my soul free.
We are stardust, we are golden, we are caught in the devil’s bargain,
And we got to get ourselves back to the garden.
     That song was the never-to-be-forgotten anthem of Woodstock 1969….the summertime miracle where over 400,000 people gathered on Max Yasgur’s farmland in White Lake, NY.   That land birthed a city for 3 days and then disappeared, physically that is.  Wikipedia reports:  “It is widely regarded as a pivotal moment in popular music history, as well as the definitive nexus for the larger counterculture generation”.  Its memory lives on in the lives of those who were there.  That is very very true for me.  The memory has lived on and on.  How could it not?
     Originally Woodstock was supposed to happen in Wallkill, NY.  A change of venue moved
it to White Lake.  White Lake is a hamlet in the town of Bethel, Sullivan County, New York on the southeast shore of a lake of the same name.  It was so named because of its white sandy shores and lake bottom.  Reportedly in the past, doctors sent patients here to be healed by its waters, climate and restful scenery.
     The musical lineup was incredible:  The Who, Jimi Hendrix, Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin, John Sebastian, Santana, Crosby Stills Nash and Young….just to name a few.
My coworker friend Marguerite Renz and I excitedly planned our trip to what promised to be the rock concert of the century.  Marguerite was the quintessential flower child.  Fair porcelain-like skin, straight chestnut hair and blue eyes framed by round wire-rimmed eyeglasses.  I was 23 at the time.
     We had purchased tickets in advance (ha ha, like anyone collected them).   August 15th 1969 finally arrived and after work (RCA Records), we piled into my 1965 Corvair with our food, drinks and sleeping bags and headed up the NYS Thruway.
     Chattering excitedly we rode along with all kinds of freaks….hooting and hollering and hanging out their car windows.  Many people came from distant states. We all waved to each other, smiling and laughing.  The sense that soon we would be experiencing something amazing was palpable.  We were all pilgrims making our Haj to a musical Mecca.  Approaching our exit a light drizzle portended a baptism into something epic.  Exiting the thruway we crawled tortoise-like towards the festival site.  For an hour we soldiered on in the heavy traffic.  Up ahead a long haired Grace Slick wannabe popped up through a beetle sunroof and belted out her rendition of White Rabbit.  “One pill makes you taller and one pill makes you small, and the ones that mother gives you, don’t do anything at all”.  We drove as far as our tired bodies couls go, then lazily turned off to park for the night.
     Our neighbors were in a VW bus….in that time the ultimate party camper.  We ate before we left the city and just wanted to sleep.  Unable to sleep outdoors, I crawled into my new olive green sleeping bag and after a long time fell asleep but not as deeply as I had hoped.  My sleep was fitful at best.  The party animals next door had a record player in the van and were playing records all night.
      I woke up in a dream, hearing the Doors and called to Marguerite.  “Marguerite…we have to get up and get to the concert….the Doors are playing right now….wake up”.
Both awake and hungry we opened and ate cans of corn and vienna sausages.  Then we headed on foot to the concert grounds.  It was mid-morning and we walked about a mile.  The fragrance of damp earth and cannabis-laced air filled our heads and soon we were feeling pretty good.  The best second hand smoke ever.  Arriving at the site we beheld a huge field of mud, muck, litter, and pup tents.  I’ve seen refugee camps in better shape than this place.  We searched for a porta potty that was not overflowing.  Took awhile but finally found one.
     Despite those negative images, we also saw a colorful sea of people in tie dye, denim, bandanas, headbands, top hats, feathers and American flags.  Happy toddlers were toddling, dogs were running and barking, frisbees were flying.  Young bare chested men and hippie chicks in bra-less tank tops (or no tops at all)  were dancing and prancing about, unfettered arms in the air, moving sensually as timbrels, drums and pan flutes played.  Hookahs and hand-held water pipes sprung up everywhere and were puffing away like Lilliputian chimneys, pushing up clouds of smoke.  This was the biggest, happiest and most peaceful instantaneous city that ever was.  A life was born and a life died over those 3 days.
     There were no bands playing when we arrived.  In retrospect I wish a band was playing.  It would have lifted our tired spirits and encouraged us to stay.  Marguerite was missing her new boyfriend back in the city and I was so tired.  We puttered around for a half hour or so discussing what to do.  We ached for more food and a nice bed.
     As we left White Lake we stopped at a diner and a nearby radio was blaring out reports about the Woodstock phenomenon.  I realized my overprotective dad was probably watching the news and freaking out.  I got to a pay phone and called to put his mind at east.  Later mom told me he was glued to the TV looking at helicopter coverage of this ocean of humanity and screaming at my mom,  “You mean she’s there…….. at this thing?”
     I wish we had stayed for the entire event partly because we missed the collective experience of enjoying great musical performances, but also because it now pains me to tell people I was there, see the excited looks on their faces, only to see that fade into disappointment when I say “Well, we were there, but we left”.  It was like I denied them some kind of vicarious experience of the event.  Sorry guys.
     So why you might ask am I spending almost 8 minutes talking about what I did not see at that historic event.  It’s because of what I DID see.  Thousands and thousands of sweet, gentle people who wouldn’t hurt a fly.  Despite being out of their effing minds on pot, LSD and other drugs, they inflicted no pain, did no harm, shared their food and loved and accepted each other.  Music was the great peacemaker, the binding tie.  That was Woodstock’s legacy…That was the greatest impact Woodstock made on me and the world, never to be seen again in this lifetime.

CRY FREEDOM!!

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MY STOCKHOLM SYNDROME LOVE AFFAIR

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Stockholm syndrome, or capture-bonding, is a psychological phenomenon described in 1973 in which hostages express empathy and sympathy and have positive feelings toward their captors, sometimes to the point of defending and identifying with the captors.

Historically victims of Stockholm syndrome have been abused or intimidated into developing a relationship with their captors;  a kind of survival reflex.  In my case, this was not true.  Yeshua (Jesus) took me totally captive by His love, forgiveness, mercy, compassion, and acceptance.  I was so taken with Him that after He captivated me, the thought of ever leaving Him was unimaginable.  Like the apostle Paul, I became a willing prisoner of Messiah Yeshua and like Paul, I kiss my chains.

I now wear a bracelet of little connected handcuffs so I can share this story with others who initially might recoil at the thought of any kind of “imprisonment”.   Being “chained” to Yeshua has brought me nothing but love, peace and total joy.  I can only pray that others may grasp the metaphorical meaning of this message I impart to you today.

[ God’s Marvelous Plan for the Gentiles ] For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles—

yet I prefer to appeal to you on the basis of love. It is as none other than Paul—an old man and now also a prisoner of Christ Jesus

Cleanse Me with Your Hyssop

2015.  That was the year that was.  It was a year of surgeries, injuries, physical therapy for both me and my husband.  It all started in late 2014 when John needed surgery for a torn roto-cuff followed by physical therapy.  All went smoothly.  In February John had a trigger finger problem.  Again surgery and therapy came into play.  By March my right hip arthritis became painful enough to get a joint replacement.  Regarding aging, if it doesn’t hurt, it already fell off.  John was an angel, waiting on me hand and foot when I got home.  Pain meds comforted me and soon therapy got me recovered.  Well enough to drive, we drove to Rochester in July to see our daughter and family.  We arrived July 1st with our cat Lulu and began enjoying ourselves.  Our son Jesse was planning even drove over from Binghamton with our grandsons  Jonah 4 and Tucker almost 3.

The next day as John skipped down the stairs from our bedroom, he slipped on a lower step, and fell, his cries of pain rang out into the entry foyer.  We learned he had a triple fracture in his right ankle and surgery was strongly urged before leaving town.  It was so bad they  put a metal plate and pins in his ankle.  Now it was my turn to be his primary caregiver which I happily did.   I  wondered will these accidents, surgeries,and therapies ever end.   We finally started home two weeks after we came.  I drove 1000 miles over 4 days, taking care of John and Lulu.  Soon John was in therapy once again.  Our therapist, Jessica couldn’t believe what we’d been through.  While in therapy for his ankle he woke up one day to a severe case of vertigo.  He could hardly walk down the hall without putting his hands on the walls to steady himself.  A few Epley maneuvers soon corrected the problem.  Heard enough?  Buckle up there’s more.

At the ocean one day in August with friend BeBe, a wave knocked me down and I got on all fours to get up with her helping.  I was very overweight and lifting my body’s weight with my knees tore my right meniscus.  Back in the O.R. we were becoming familiar faces at the hospital.  More therapy.  Jessica’s jaw dropped when I walked in for therapy.  I jokingly said we want a memorial room with a plaque over the door with our names on it because of all the therapy we had.  She laughed heartily.  I made progress but knee didn’t really bend like before.

Now in late October I had an endoscopic test and learned I had a gastric ulcer and 3 erosions.  My appetite was very poor and I made major dietary changes.  Although the ulcer is now healed my appetite is still not great and some days tummy is very touchy.  I went from 208 lbs in late summer to 162 in March 2016.

At Thanksgiving we went to Binghamton to be with our son.  We went for turkey dinner with him, the grandsons, his ex and her daughters.  It was terrible.  My stomach was in knots because they could not stop sniping at each other for more than 10 minutes.  I barely touched my food.  We left the restaurant and were saying our goodbyes to the grandsons in the parking lot, I  leaned over to kiss Tucker and kept going, falling forward.  Jesse broke my fall somewhat but I still hit the asphalt with my right knee.  Later my doctor drained 6 vials of joint fluid out of my swollen knee.  We looked at my exray and there was not much cartilage so decided on a knee joint surgery which was on Jan. 28.  More pain meds and therapy for me.  The battle to feel “normal” was like me being Don Quixote battling windmills with wooden swords.

I was totally wearied by the cycle of injury, therapy and lots of staying home, drifting through seamless days that were indistinguishable from one another.  Sick of our home looking like a medical supply store with commodes, canes and walkers,  I lost my enthusiasm for writing, reading, etc. often vegging out in front of the TV.   Although I got out a few times a week to be with friends, overall my life felt like one big  Blah.  My great joy was joining my faith sister Donna’s music ministry team at the Global Pray Center in Daytona Beach a few Fridays a month.  I love music worship.  It’s like a healing balm to my soul.  I sang harmonies and played the djembe drum.   I often sang in the spirit too.  That’s when you sing out some thought or praise about God,  and  you allow the Spirit to take over and sing through you.  Once back home I was back to the blahs, the lack of energy, and the lethargy that tormented me.

I was living with a mindset of sickness and pain.  Largely because I allowed myself to do so.  In late March I began constantly smelling the fragrance of oregano.  I asked “Is a pizza following me around?”  It was especially strong on the Saturday I went to a worship service at Baruch Hashem in Bunnell.  “Did someone bring a pizza for the lunch that followed?” I wondered.  I thought this may be a God message. Maybe God has put me through a time of bitterness (oregano is a bitter herb) for a season, for some greater purpose.  I texted  Donna asking what she thought it meant.  No answer.  During the opening prayer Dorothea prayed which included the petition “Oh cleanse us with your hyssop, O Lord”  “Wash us and we will be whiter than snow”.  Didn’t mean anything at the time.  Back home I researched oregano on the internet.  It comes from a Greek word which means Joy on the mountain.  I thought, well after the bitterness ends there will be joy on the mountain.  I emailed Donna to share these thoughts.  She replied these interpretations were great.  Then she told me oregano was a type of hyssop which in Biblical times was used for cleansing/purification.  She said, “Tovah, God has been purifying you through all these trials you have endured”.  Wow!  that was powerful.  Then I remembered Dorothea’s prayer and it all fit perfectly.  God was telling me just that through her prayer.

I recently returned to the beach (my great love) and sat to write in my journal…the salty zephyrs planted welcome back kisses on my face.  Decided would return there a few times a week.  After the last Inspired Mic and listening to some motivational speakers including a chat with BeBe, decided to use the laws of attraction to shape who I am.  To say everyday I am healthy, full of energy, full of creativity and productivity.  I have been cleansed and purified with hyssop,  reborn, never to return to that former self.

PRESSING INTO GOD’S LIGHT

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Throughout the ages many people have had God encounter experiences.  Add me to that group.  Here’s what happened.

In early June 2015 I went to a fellowship group called Wave Riders in Ormond Beach.

We met in a former Bank of America building on Granada Boulevard.  Inside it was kind of dark and cozy with klieg lights

and a stage area.  The group was composed of some folks of mixed ages….a few bore tattoos and one lady was from Denmark, now living in Daytona Beach with her husband.  Christian music played and those who knew the lyrics sang while others did some free form vocalizing, singing in the spirit.

The leader, a tall man with a ponytail led the group.  Everyone knows him as Java John because he works as a barista at the Ocean Walk Starbucks.  Many just call him Java for short.  He was there with his wife P Bear….the sweetest couple you’d ever want to meet.

During the singing  some ladies danced, others sat on their chairs silently worshipping.  Soon we began discussing a variety of Biblical topics which I can’t remember at the moment.

We closed the meeting with a prayer circle.  Java prayed about God scooping us up in His arms like a big loving daddy that He is.  As he said this a vision formed in my mind.  I saw myself being scooped up by my Heavenly Father and as He did this, I leaned in closer to Him trying to use my hands to draw myself closer and closer to him.    No matter how wide I tried to extend my arms, I could not take all of Him in yet I kept reaching and stretching. I pressed myself into Him,  harder and harder.  Then suddenly, I broke “into” Him, entering His very being.  He was all beautiful light like I’ve never seen.  Like a feather riding on a warm zephyr, I floated in the beauty of the golden light.  The image above is the closest I can come to regarding what I saw in that moment.

TRUE SERVANTHOOD

servanthood7/2/2015    7:30 a.m.  BOOM!  BANG!  THUD!  My husband stumbles off a lower stair and lands like a sack of potatoes.  Cries for help and sounds of writhing pain break into the silence of the front door foyer at our daughter’s home.  Hubby insists something is broken as our daughter counters it is probably a bad sprain.  We immediately embark on a journey for medical attention and soon learn his ankle is fractured in 3 places.  We are advised to see an orthopedic doctor immediately.  We do and discover the injury requires surgery which happens a few days later.

Finicky husband with a fractured ankle….the test of servanthood commences.  Wants and needs hit me like a rushing avalanche.  Nerves crackling like a raging campfire.  “I want this”, “get me that”, “I need…..” and so it goes.  I need the patience of Job and a servant’s heart like the Little Sisters of the Poor.  I pray to God:

“Lord help me to die to self for another’s sake.  I think I am capable of this then realize how I failed so miserably.  Bring me to a place of feeling joy at fulfilling each request.  Would I not do the same for Yeshua?”

I sense Him telling me

“Consider John as Me and Me as John and walk in that knowledge.  Serving resentfully is not of Me….so change your attitude now, lest you remain in my displeasure.  If you ask, I will empower you, strengthen you so you will enjoy blessing your husband.  Remember how he tirelessly took care of you just a few months ago after your hip surgery?  Follow his example.  Many are the times he was more like Me than you were.

I love you Tovah and desire only the  best for you.  You CAN pass this test of servanthood,  but only to the extent of your dying to self and letting Me and My Spirit operate in and through you.  I AM so with you in this.   Let’s do it together.

To that I say, Amen and amen!

LIVIN’ IT UP AT THE LAS VEGAS DMV

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It’s the Monday after a 3-day holiday weekend (Veteran’s Day), 11/14/2005. Having moved here earlier in the month we needed new plates and licenses. We arrive at the Las Vegas DMV at 7:30 a.m. The parking lot is crowded and a long line has already formed outside the front doors. Although the official day starts at 8 a.m., at 7:45 the doors open like a gaping maw and we happily allow ourselves to be eaten up by the building.

We get into a snake-like line to show a clerk what we need and get a number. The line reminds me of being at a theme park. Maybe someday they will have some TV screens suspended from the ceiling showing driver safety films giving those in line something to watch. About 8-10 clerks line this counter. We finally get a lanky clerk with a pencil mustache and we cheerfully present our paperwork. He told us to get Nevada plates we first need a vehicle inspection and directs us to drive our car through a gate on the premises. He said when we get the approval paper to just come right back to him at the counter. Having done that, we learn that for our licenses we require more ID. We go back home and get proofs of identity for our licenses. When we get back a lady with cotton candy hair assigns us number A251…and that’s just the “A” group.

We find seats in a very large seating area. News web crawlers keep us up to date on such things as the birth of Conan O’Brien’s second child, a son Becket. There were so many people there, spending hours and hours. The place actually sold soda, franks, popcorn and pizza in case you got hungry. A long counter is before us with 26 clerks seated in front of DMV terminals. Electronic screens hung from the ceiling announced whose “number has come up”. A human sounding female voice announced the next number to be served. She speaks in a slow, calm, well-modulated tone that reminded me of the voice on the space ship in the movie “Alien” calmly instructing the crew that the ship will self-destruct in five minutes. How unnerving was that? The whole scene was reminiscent of a twilight zone episode….like all these people had crossed over into some holding cell to be processed before going to their “final destination”. For a moment I thought I saw Rod Serling, complete with skinny black tie and cigarette, milling about through the glaze-eyed throngs. I could almost hear his voice, “You’re lost in time and space, wondering how you got here and not quite sure how to get back to from whence you came. It’s a land where time seems to be standing still….you search for the exit in vain…lamenting with those trapped with you ……In the Twilight Zone”

An hour goes by and they are only up to A130. This is because there are other letter and number combinations like C294, K1369, etc. They represent different kinds of DMV needs, fleet vehicles, trucks, limos, etc. Tick tock, tick tock. After two hours, our number finally comes up and we get our Nevada plates and John’s license. The copy of my social security card was unacceptable so would have to return another day. The cost for plates and one license totaled $161. John gets his photo taken and in just a few magical minutes he is presented with a spanking-new Nevada license.

We are free to go and I abandon my fears that the DMV is like a kind of “Hotel California” where “you can check out anytime, but you can never leave”..

MOTHER TERESA……I MUST CONFESS

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Mother Teresa,   I must confess that for many, many years I confessed you as the woman in all of history I would most like to emulate; a woman of total selflessness and constant giving.   I now, with much sadness, confess that you no longer hold that status.  Why you ask??   Over the last decade many reports surfaced that you did little or nothing for the sick and suffering who fled to one of your homes for relief of their diseases, pain and suffering, even though you received multiple millions of dollars for that purpose.

At first I rejected these claims…just could not wrap my head around that.  It was especially easy to reject the claims of the late Christopher Hitchens, a renowned writer and atheist.  However, many others corroborated what he wrote, especially volunteers working at your “death houses” who may not have been Catholics or of any particular faith.  Here are some of their reports:

It was noticed that staff members reused needles, only rinsing them off with cold tap water.  They were reused over and over until the tips became blunt causing pain to the patients.  Often medicines expired, languishing on their shelves, unused.  You believed pain and suffering brought one closer to Jesus and you did not want to deprive your patients of that experience.  Were you serious?  Yet you flew off to the best hospitals money could pay for your personal afflictions.  Why did you do that?  Why did you not embrace pain and suffering if you held it in such high regard?  Why didn’t you want to get closer to Jesus through your suffering?  Did you ask your patients what they wanted?  No….you just arbitrarily decided for them.

When I learned this I decided even if you did one thing to help someone, it was negated by all those you failed to help, failed to relieve them of sufferings.  There are no words  to describe how disgusted I was and still am.  And now you are up for a vote to become a saint?  The qualifying so-called miracle has allegedly been discounted, but why let facts get in the way of elevating you to an ever higher status?  The myths surrounding you have taken on a life of their own.  Funny thing is the bible, in the new testament, it calls all  believers saints.  Did you hear me?  WE ARE ALL SAINTS!!

At the time of your death, you had opened 517 missions welcoming the poor and sick in more than 100 countries.  But these missions have been described as ‘homes for the dying’ by doctors visiting several of these establishments in Calcutta. Doctors observed a significant lack of hygiene, even unfit conditions, as well as a shortage of actual care, inadequate food, and no painkillers.  There was, however,  no lack of money, as the foundation created by you had raised hundred of millions of dollars.  Following numerous natural disasters in India you offered prayers and medallions of the Virgin Mary but no direct assistance nor monetary aid.  Wow….that’s just great.

You accepted the Legion of Honour and a grant from the Duvalier dictatorship in Haiti, said a prof Larivee, and although millions of dollars were transferred to your various bank accounts, most of the accounts were kept secret.  Dr Larivie says: ‘Given the parsimonious management of Mother Teresa’s works, one may ask where the millions of dollars for the poorest of the poor have gone?’  Indeed….we’re all still asking that question.  Once a child in your home stole something and one of your nuns took a heated knife blade and pressed it on the topside of his hand, scarring him.  Is this how you and your minions show the love of God to a child?

I read somewhere that as you approached death, you were not really sure you would go to heaven.  Wasn’t that a total denial of your faith in Jesus and the gospel, where it says heaven is our final reward?  Did you ever believe in the gospel?  I’m still shaking my head over that one.

The only good thing your myth did is that it is likely  you inspired many humanitarian workers whose actions have truly relieved the suffering of the destitute and addressed the causes of poverty and isolation, without being extolled by the media.   I think those receiving that help will be much, much closer to Jesus than you could ever hope to be. They toil tirelessly in your shadow, never receiving one iota of the accolades you did,  but then just who do they think they are  “Mother Teresa”?

A TALE FROM DYSTOPIA (a community or society that is in some important way undesirable or frightening. It is literally translated as “not-good place”, an antonym of utopia)

faithchainsdystopiaInterfaith

Pitchers of warm sunlight poured down from the heavens into this mid-July day 2022 in North Dakota. The winter had dragged on forever but finally left this bleak backwater outside Minot.  Svetlana Roshenko placed her hand over her brow to cut the glare and peered at the barren yard through the window bars in her prison cell. Prisoners in bright orange jumpsuits milled about, chatting, kicking the dirt around here and there. Two large blonde women with cigarettes dangling from their lips, got into each others’ face over something. A puny-framed guard stepped in between them. His head reached the level of their ample bosoms and looked like it might get wedged in the chasms of their collective cleavage. For a moment Svetlana imagined him doing a little “motorboatin’ “ in there and chuckled. Despite his size, the women respected his authority as he ordered each to opposite sides of the yard. Just another day in Paradise you could say.

Psst……Hey Svetsie! Got a smoke?” Svetlana pressed her face into the bars and peered out at each side. Yasmeen is that you?” Svetlana asked. Yasmeen popped into Svetlana’s field of vision. A petite, mocha-skinned young woman of 23, she had long, dark wavy hair that framed her soft, angelic face. Svetlana reminded her “You know I don’t smoke, and neither should you….you know your faith frowns on it”. May allah help me….I want to stop but the stress here makes it so hard” Yasmeen explained. Yasmeen was one of three children to her Iranian parents, both physicians. They emigrated to America in 1999 because there was less pressure here to “hate your enemies”. Yasmeen and Svetlana came to Paradise prison in 2021. Both were convicted of breaking the law that forbids speaking about God to others. It declared there is NO God and sharing such beliefs caused many to feel negative emotions, e.g. fear, remorse, worry, stress, guilt, etc. Yasmeen was picked up on a Chicago street corner for sharing her faith with some bystanders. Other prisoners had criticized leaders, grew their own food, and used alternative medicine. You know, society’s undesirables. . Svetlana was born in 1993 in Florida where her devout Christian family settled after immigrating from the former soviet union. Svetlana turned from the window and reached under her cot mattress for a very small pocket Bible smuggled into the prison. The inmates change their own linens so she felt safe keeping it there. After reading the prophecy about those jailed for their faith she remembered the day of her trial.

Judge O’Leary had a pudgy face with jowls that swayed when he moved his head. Peering over the top of his eyeglasses he asked, “Miss Roshenko, knowing the law forbids speaking of God to others, why oh why would you do such a thing? You threw the next 7 years of your life away to talk about your precious Jesus! Was it worth it?” Svetlana fingered her long blonde hair for a minute before she answered. She recalled the day of her arrest that day at Flagler Beach. Perched on a picnic table bench overlooking the ocean, she saw a slender middle-aged woman who was crying. Svetlana tried to comfort her and gently shared her faith. Svetlana’s words were like a healing balm to Sad Lady and she thanked Svetlana for her message. A local informer went unnoticed as they chatted on. He was a lanky stretch of seersucker suit topped with a straw fedora and shades. He flipped open a phone, turned aside and called the police. Soon an officer quietly slithered up. He was all business as he stepped forward and asked her name which she told him. He announced, “Svetlana Roshenko you are under arrest in violation of the anti-God laws of this land”. Miranda rights, long extinct, he then cuffed and carted her off. As they moved towards the patrol car, she yelled back to her new found friend: “Don’t forget the things I told you…..Don’t be afraid of these goons…they can never steal your soul unless you let them. The officer snarled: “Shut up you raving lunatic!” as he roughly shoved her into the back seat. 

Miss Roshenko!” the judge cried out, his jowls quivering orgasmically, as her daydream shattered, “I asked you a question….Is Jesus worth all this trouble?” “Yes” she replied. “He is my Lord and Master. You will come to understand this one day Your Honor”. The judge’s face turned plum purple. The veins on his neck and forehead strained at the skin covering them, greatly alarming the bailiff. “Miss Roshenko, you dare to preach to ME??” “Yes your Honor” she said; “to you, and everyone”. Then she sealed her fate. Svetlana rose from her chair, her blue eyes like fiery ice, and boldly gave a gospel message to everyone in that courtroom, “ENOUGH OF HER! TAKE HER AWAY” the judge screamed, mopping perspiration from his face with a damp handkerchief. Many spectators in the gallery tried to suppress ripening tears that formed at the corners of their eyes, worried someone might see them. Svetlana beheld their stoic faces and knew they hoped the tears would quickly evaporate. They feared being sympathetic to criminals like her might actually draw suspicion and trouble to themselves. They were so right.

Back to 2022 now.  In the mess hall that evening she sidled up to Yasmeen. “’Sup ? she asked. Staring into her unappetizing plate of food Yasmeen said “Svetsie, I just can’t take it here any more. I am almost ready to tell the authorities that I have renounced allah so I can get out of here.” Svetlana was stunned. “Really? Well you know they will give you a lie detector test to insure you have abandoned your long-cherished beliefs. Do you think you can trick the machine?” “Unsure Svetsie, but I have to try.” Many times Svetlana shared her faith with Yasmeen but she was as unmovable as the Rock of Gibraltar. Yasmeen could never embrace what she considered pagan Christianity with its trinitarian doctrine, and other tenets that offended Islam. Svetlana cared very much for Yasmeen and respected the depth of her convictions. After all, she had some pretty deep convictions of her own. They had a mutual admiration for each other and were close friends. Many times they stood side by side in the prison yard praying for each other in the name of their respective “Gods”. A few weeks later Svetlana found Yasmeen in the prison yard sitting in a corner, head in hands, crying. Yasmeen, what’s wrong”. “Oh Svetsie, I failed the lie detector test and they put me in solitary for several days for lying. Now I will never get out of here unless I make a break for it.” “Oh no Yasmeen, please don’t try that. There are tales that those who try to break out are shot at and even killed. Can you imagine it? Just for believing in God? They think of us as some kind of cancer out to infect society…..and society must be protected from us at all costs, even the cost of our very lives.” “I’ve heard that too Svetsie, but I’d rather die than live like this another day. You won’t tell on me will you?” “Of course not, but I will pray you change your mind.” Svetlana paused and wondered if she too might reach a breaking point someday. She was certain she would never renounce her faith but attempting a prison break, that was something else. She decided to not worry about it for now as she had her work cut out for her. She was sharing her faith with the other women prisoners in the mess hall, prison yard, prison library and many were coming to faith. There were still hundreds in the prison who were unreached or unwilling to embrace Jesus at this point. She prayed for these people daily and tried to be a blessing to them however she could. The grand plan was to win all to Jesus, including the guards and the warden. For now, however, it was still a dream. Her dreams and God’s dreams were one and the same and this truth brought her great comfort.   She knew this nightmare would end, and was hoping it would be  very soon