No Blessings are Small

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“His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’

Matthew 25:23

“When I was little, I thought it was cool to live next door to an abandoned house,” my son smiled across the dining room table.

Every Sunday my husband and I have the family over for dinner after church.  I particularly enjoy it as we get closer to the holidays.  The house is decorated with red poinsettias in large vases and the wooden banisters are lined with pine garland, pinecones, and red berries. Laughter and holiday music travel from floor to floor, wood hisses in the brick fireplace, and balsam-scented candles burn in every bathroom. Outside is quiet, and the red metal sleigh and six reindeer light up our front lawn like noon. There are no sidewalks, the streets are wide, and our neighbors are not close enough to hear our private conversations. Things are so different than they were decades before.

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Early in our marriage we did not have as much as we have now, but we loved each other deeply, trusted God completely, and took care of our “small” blessings. And even though there was a row of abandoned houses to the right of us, we took care of our brownstone like it was a palace.

My son didn’t mind living next door to an abandoned house because he imagined he was Batman, hiding out in Wayne Manor. Besides, my husband and I often glorified our town, saying some of the greatest people in the world lived there, he and his sister, and we made life as enjoyable as we could for them in the place my son often called “Gotham City.”

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When a developer came in and finally restored the abandoned properties, my son thought it was an adventure when displaced rodents escaped to our house for shelter. It was a very interesting time in our lives, but I definitely would not describe it as “cool.”

Earlier on, I set the scene for how we live now because it is relevant for you to know how different it was in the early years of our family. There is a glaring contrast that is important to note, especially if your present situation at all resembles the scene I am about to describe.  If it does,  reread the beginning of this devotion and ask yourself if it is possible for your current situation to lead you to a better place.

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Our first home in “Gotham”

My husband and I were in our twenties. We owned our inner-city home and took great pride in it, but since it was over one hundred years old and next door to a row of abandoned houses, there were sometimes problems.

One night, I woke up because my husband had gotten up to go to the bathroom.  Our bedroom door was cracked, so there was enough light from the hallway to create shadows on the walls.  While in bed,  I saw something circling around the ceiling. In my delirium, I thought it was the shadow of a rat that was running around on the floor.

After my eyes focused, I realized something flying.   Of course, I thought it was a bird because I really wanted it to be a bird.  I gasped and pulled the covers up around my mouth and nose before I screamed, “Honey, there is something flying in our room!”

My husband ran from the bathroom and turned on the bedroom light.  It was a bat!  I had never said so many expletives in one sentence in my life!  I screamed, twisting and turning under the covers.  I figured the bat would have a more difficult time attacking a moving target. Every now and then I peeked out of the covers. It was no longer circling the room smoothly.  Its wings hit the walls, sounding like someone smacking leather gloves together erratically.

My husband was telling me to calm down, but I couldn’t hear him over my own cries. He eventually fetched me from the covers and guided me out the room as I screamed with a blanket over my head.  Once I was on the other side of the door I thought of every horror movie I had seen with bats attacking humans. I asked my husband if he were okay.

“Get me a towel!” He yelled. “Hurry Up!”

I opened the door just enough to squeeze the towel through.  A few seconds later, I heard my husband whipping the towel through the air. I envisioned him in his blue-stripped pajama pants, jumping on the bed and holding the fluffy lasso angrily with one hand. Every now and then, I would hear a crash.  It sounded as if he were in a battle with Goliath (1 Samuel 17), someone much bigger than he.  The last crash I heard was the lamp being whipped from the nightstand onto the floor. There was silence.

“Oh God!  Are you okay?  You didn’t let him bite you, did you?” I had visions of black and white movies from my childhood with handsome vampires, wearing black capes.

“I’m fine, Dear.  I got him.”

I opened the bedroom door cautiously just as my husband was opening the towel. He looked into the bat’s face.  His leathery wings were still.  I had a moment of remorse.

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You think we would have moved after that ordeal, but we didn’t.  Instead, we lived through similar nightmares.  Not long after we got rid of the bat, there was a sewer rat in our upstairs bathroom.  We caught him sleeping in the wall behind the toilet.  He had eaten the paint and plaster.  Thankfully he couldn’t eat through the steel mesh that trapped him inside the wall like a cage.

Every night for a few days, I heard the rat chew through the wall.  I had no idea what it was at the time.  It sounded like a couple men trying to break in the house.  I only heard the sound at night when my husband went to work.  On the third night, my husband’s night off, the sound seemed to get louder and closer.  We walked in the bathroom, trying to determine where the sound was coming from.  We peered behind the toilet.  Its thick body slept exhaustively with its tan, black, and gray fur rising up and down between the mesh with each breath.  I was both sick and astounded.  Suddenly, it got up and stared at us with its fingers wrapped around the steel wire. I could not speak, and I struggled to digest my dinner.

“That thing is huge!” My husband yelled, noticing it was the size of a fat house cat. “Hurry up and get me the uh- Raid!”

I remember thinking, Raid is for ants, but okay

My husband shook the can of Raid a few times before removing its red plastic lid. He sprayed the creature in its face, thinking it would run back through its tunnel in the wall.  Instead, it clawed at the steal and showed its teeth. We both cussed like two teenagers discovering new words.

Convinced that we could not scare the rat off, we called my father-in-law.  Now, my father-in-law was not an exterminator, but he did have a gun. Unfortunately, we later discovered there were hundreds of rodents, looking for shelter.  To solve the problem, we would have had to shoot them all, so we eventually, called an exterminator.

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1994

You have probably surmised that “Gotham” was not a safe place to live, but we were blessed there; God was doing great things for us (Proverbs 20:27). We didn’t have a ton of money, but we were able to save and take our children on trips because our mortgage was only $393 a month. We were not perfect, cussing and fussing under stress, but as contradictory as it may seem, most times we were joyful because God was with us then, just like He is with us now (Hewbrews 13:5). We didn’t feel that our lives were any less valuable because we lived in a depressed area. We knew God examined our hearts (1 Samuel 16:7) and not our finances.  He is not like people who determine your value based on your material wealth (Luke 16:15). God values you and loves you unconditionally.

No matter where you live or how you live, do not determine your worth based on your bank account.  Instead, ask yourself if you have the capacity to love.  Love is what is most important when you consider the quality of your life, so trust God, and do not fret about your “small” blessings. If you take care of them, bigger ones will follow (Matthew 6:33). However, bigger blessings are not always material.

You may be blessed with immeasurable things like freedom, peace, wisdom, and love.  If that does not excite you and you would much prefer huge houses and fancy cars, remember, those things are temporal (2 Corinthians 4:18). The danger in desiring worldly riches above everything else, is the danger of rejecting  Godly love. If money is your heart’s desire, you may turn people away who can only afford to give you love.  To turn them away would rejecting  love (1 Corinthians 13:4-7), the greatest gift of all.

When I met my husband, he had more love in his heart than he had money in the bank. Had I rejected him when he told me I was going to be his wife, I would have missed out on a multitude of immeasurable blessings. Yes, we had to contend with rats, bats, and even more incredulous adversaries, but we had an unceasing love for each other and God, and I am grateful He has blessed our faithfulness.

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By Shawn R. Jones

 website: www.shawnrjones.com

Author of the devotional book, Pictures in Glass Frames   http://t.co/BxiNwWRG

and the poetry chapbook, Womb Rain, 

http://www.amazon.com/Womb-Rain-New-Womens-Voices/dp/1599242699/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1337717218&sr=8-1

 

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The Opossum and the Poodle

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The Opossum and the Poodle

By Shawn R. Jones

      I had on knee-high rain boots.  That would not have been so strange had it been raining, but there was no rain in sight and the night was humid and full of mosquitos. I asked my son to get my black leather gloves and red sweat jacket with the hood.  I put on a small baseball cap and then pulled the hoodie over it.  Maybe I should get those goggles from the basement, I thought, just in case it comes for my eyes. Standing at my screened door, I looked up at the backdoor light.  Moths and mosquitos were nothing compared to the creature I was about to face.  I glared into the yard. I heard hissing and growling in the bushes on the side of our garage. `My son ran and got a flashlight.  He had on his amour, too. He went out first.  He shined the flashlight in the bushes and said something like, “Man, that thing looks angry.”  At that point I got a broom, wishing it were a gun.  I stood next to him, broom in hand.

“Well, what is it?” I asked him.

“I don’t know.  I think it’s a opossum.”

I pictured its fuzzy white face and long rubbery tail.  My tongue felt strange in my mouth and goose bumps ran across my skin like racecars.

“Mom, come on.  We have to get Angel.”

Angel was my white poodle who was in the bushes with the opossum, barking and growling like she was a Rottweiler. I’m afraid of opossums, so I really had to take a moment to think how much our poodle meant to me.   Had it been my son or daughter, I would have jumped in the bushes thoughtless and unarmed. I looked back at my daughter, the future vegan and animal activist, who was standing on the back step.   I wanted to call out to her, “Look, I’m your mother.  You’ve known me all your life, but we’ve only had this poodle a short while, and it was a stray!   Had our thoughtful neighbor not brought it to us when she found it on her front lawn in the pouring down rain, something would have eventually eaten it anyway…”   But, I didn’t say any of that.

I gave my son the broom.  He was much braver than I.  I never even saw the thing, but I had a clear enough picture in my mind to feel faint.  My son started poking at the opossum with the broom, hoping it would run off, since my poodle was not backing down.  She looked at my son and back at the opossum and barked even louder.  Now, she had an ally.  The opossum grew angrier and started biting viciously at the end of the broom stick.

My daughter was yelling, “Don’t kill it!”  Angel was still barking. The opossum was hissing.  I was sweating in my armor while trying to coax Angel out of the bushes. The commotion seemed to go on for hours.  I don’t remember how we convinced Angel to come out, but she did eventually.  We may have given her a treat.  The opossum, however, spent the night in the bush.  Once I got my crazy poodle settled in the house, my son and I went back outside with the flashlight.  The opossum was curled up, exhausted from the fight.  The next morning it was gone.

Months went by.  No opossum. Then one evening, I was coming home from dance class.  I parked my car in the driveway.  I walked up to my front door and as soon as I pulled my house key out of my pocket, a huge opossum ran from behind the bushes, onto my step and across my white canvas sneakers.  I screamed as I felt the weight of its body on my feet.

By Shawn R. Jones

 website: www.shawnrjones.com

Author of the devotional book, Pictures in Glass Frames   http://t.co/BxiNwWRG

and the poetry chapbook, Womb Rain, 

http://www.amazon.com/Womb-Rain-New-Womens-Voices/dp/1599242699/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1337717218&sr=8-1

The Front Porch

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This is an excerpt from my next devotional:

The Front Porch

By Shawn R. Jones

“His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’

Matthew 25:21

     A three-story abandoned brownstone sat in the middle of our block.  It seemed as if the only things holding it up were the two houses it was positioned between.  The same maroon chipped paint that framed the boarded up windows and doors also trimmed the small rickety porch. From a child’s perspective, I am sure the house looked “haunted.”  I was quite nervous walking by it myself, and I certainly never walked by it at night. Too me, it seemed to serve no purpose at all, except for the many insects and rodents it housed, until I rode by it early one morning.

On that morning, there was a tan mound on that rickety porch.  At first I couldn’t tell what it was, so I stopped my car and stared out the driver’s side window.  There was someone sleeping under a tan coat.  My heart shuddered and my throat tightened.  She twisted, rolled over, and stood up.  I put my foot on the gas and proceeded to parallel park.  After I parked, I got out of my car and looked down the block before I put my key in my front door. I was so shocked by what I saw next.  The lady was using the coat to sweep the porch, her porch, her home.

Compared to that homeless woman, I have so much, and yet I still complain. Her coat was her blanket, her pillow, and her broom.  That was over fifteen years ago. I don’t know where she is now, but I can still see her sweeping.  It was also during this time that my elderly neighbor used to complain that I didn’t clean off my own porch well enough.  I gave her the poorest excuse I could think of, “I don’t clean it because it never stays clean.” There was a bird’s nest above my front door and the birds left raindrops of poop across the gray painted wood. It was an unpleasant sight that I seldom swept.  My neighbor would fuss, “Girl, you need to get some bleach and clean that porch off!”  I was thinking, Is she serious?! The inside of my house is enough to clean.  I don’t have time to worry about a porch. I am sure I would have felt differently if the porch was all I had.

We acquire so much that each one of our possessions becomes less and less significant to us.   What did a porch mean to me when I had a beautiful two-story brownstone behind it loaded with tons of things?  Now, if a storm or fire destroyed the gray wooden posts that held the porch up, the porch would suddenly become a priority.  Isn’t this how we sometimes treat many of our possessions?  Isn’t that also how we also treat some of the people in our lives?

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     Take an inventory of everything you own.  You can do this mentally, but it would be best if you could write it down on paper.  And because you are so blessed, this could take you hours, so I suggest you plan on writing this list over a period of a few days, or a few weeks, or a few months. Once you are well into this exercise, you are going to realize that I have asked you to do an impossible task because you have so much you cannot write it all down. What you might want to do instead is give away some of that stuff that you never get a chance to use.  Once you have done that, maybe you will take better care of the things you actually need.

Speaking of needs, let’s move on to the people in our lives.  I know it’s sometimes difficult to accept that we need people.  I guess that’s why it’s difficult for us to thank them sometimes. But there are people we should take a moment to thank.  They are worth the time.  They are also worth the small gesture. Who has God placed in your life to be a blessing to you? I can think of a few people in my life I should thank with a small bouquet of flowers, lunch, or at the least, a phone call.  Some people just need to hear the sincerity of your voice.  They need to hear you say, “I love you.  I appreciate you.  Thank you for being there for me.”  You know, thanking people sometimes makes us feel awkward, but imagine how you would feel if they were no longer there.  How would you feel if the porch suddenly collapsed?

     Dear Lord, I have learned so much from watching that homeless woman sweep the porch of an abandoned house with her coat.  I don’t even know if she is still homeless or alive today, but my prayer is that you bless her wherever she is.  She has indeed blessed me. Let her know that her life is significant and full of meaning and purpose.  Shelter her, wherever she may be. Amen.

 

After Tragedy, You Can Make It

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My Father, My Father

By Shawn R. Jones

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

Matthew 5:4

When I was seventeen years old, I sat in my bedroom thinking about my biological father. I had not seen him in seven years, but for some reason, on that particular day, I became overwhelmed by emotions and flashbacks of time spent with him. I walked in my mother’s bedroom and fell on the bed crying, releasing feelings I had suppressed.

“I want my father,” I cried like I was still ten years old, waiting for him on the front step.

After a brief search, I found him in Leesburg State Prison with a six-year sentence. For his remaining years of incarceration, I visited him regularly, and we talked on the phone extensively. He shared stories of his tragic past and ongoing struggle with a heroin addiction. We talked about God, and he told me how he would hide his Bible from the other inmates as he walked across the open field of the minimum security prison.

When he was released, we spent less time together than when he was incarcerated. I began to worry. Then, in the middle of the afternoon, I heard a small knock on my front door. It was my father. He looked much thinner than he had before. I let him in. Humbly, he asked me if I would pray with him because he felt himself “slipping back.” He confessed that he had drunk some alcohol and a bottle of cough medicine. I remember thinking, At least it’s not heroin. He lightly yanked my hand, pulling me slowly down to my knees. He prayed fervently to the Lord. When he left, I just knew he would be all right. Shockingly, less than a year later, he died of a heroin overdose.

I became angry, guilt-ridden, and depressed. I kept thinking, My father and I prayed together, and he still died. I just did not understand, and I did not want to go to church anymore because the last thing I wanted to hear from people was, “God won’t put more on you than you can bear.” Then, I dreamed my father came to me and told me to keep my family in church. The dream seemed so real that I figured it was a message from the Lord.

My family and I kept going to church, and eventually I learned that you don’t have to understand everything to have a relationship with God. You are going to be disappointed sometimes, and people you love are going to die. People have been dying long before you were born, but when it becomes personal, you are more likely to change your perception of God and walk away from Him. Today, I am telling you to stay with Him, and if you don’t know Him, find out Who He is by consistently praying and reading His Word. When I found God, I realized that He was the father I was crying for in my mother’s bedroom.

Dear Lord, help me realize that life on earth is not supposed to be perfect, but You remain perfect even in the face of tragedy. I love You, Lord, and I am going to follow You, no matter what each day brings. Thank You for loving me, and thank You for bringing me through. Amen.

 Reprinted From Pictures in Glass Frames

Ambassador International, 2011

Available at these links:  http://t.co/BxiNwWRG and http://shawnrjones.com/books It is also available on Nook, Kindle, and itunes.

 

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 Shawn R. Jones

 website: www.shawnrjones.com

Author of the devotional book, Pictures in Glass Frames   http://t.co/BxiNwWRG

and the poetry chapbook, Womb Rain, 

http://www.amazon.com/Womb-Rain-New-Womens-Voices/dp/1599242699/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1337717218&sr=8-1

 

Home Remedy 1968

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Home Remedy 1968

Debris had fallen months
before my unwanted arrival
when Grandmother gave
her unwed daughter
tar black pills to swallow
behind Tanqueray gin,
mixed turpentine and hot water
in a pea green bucket,
held mom’s flannel gown
around her stretched waist,

and told her to crouch down
as close as she could get.

Shawn R. Jones

Reprinted from Womb Rain
(Finishing Line Press 2008)
Womb Rain (New Women’s Voices, No. 61)

Restore Them

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Restore Them

By Shawn R. Jones

Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted.

Galatians 6:1

We don’t know the hearts, minds, or histories of others. People often feel the way they feel, think the way they think, and do what they do for reasons we cannot fully understand because we don’t know the details of their past or present situations. We are not even sure how we would respond under similar circumstances. For instance, my childhood friend grew up to be shamelessly promiscuous. People called her despicable names. For years, I also wondered why she had multiple partners. I grew up with her, and from what I could see, she had a decent childhood. Well, one day when we were in our early twenties, she confided in me. She told me she had been sexually abused by a babysitter when she was three years old, and the abuse lasted a couple of years. She told her story as if the abuse was a minor bicycle accident.

As I sat there, feeling and looking uncomfortable, she said, “I’m all right, though. It doesn’t bother me.”

After our conversation, we just went on about our day, doing what twenty-year-olds do, laughing at everything and nothing, like neither of us knew pain.

Today, twenty plus years later, I would handle that situation much differently. I would help her find a good therapist who specializes in the treatment of sexual abuse and suggest a number of helpful books she could read by Christian authors who are survivors of childhood sexual abuse. Sadly, I cannot help my friend now because her promiscuity led to her death. Unfortunately, while she was alive, no one realized she spent most of her life trying to forget the torment of her childhood. I certainly didn’t realize it until it was too late. I never mentioned it again because I didn’t want her to regret sharing her secret with me, so I went on with our friendship pretending the abuse didn’t matter. Even if that was what she wanted, it was the wrong thing to do.

After I realized the magnitude of my mistake and the weight of my regret, I decided to help others by writing about it. I figured it was the best way for me to reach people without being intrusive. Some issues are uncomfortable and painful to discuss, like sexual abuse, but God still wants us to talk about it so the healing process can begin. If you or someone you know has been sexually abused, please get help. Go online and research agencies today. May God’s grace help you through the restoration process.

 

Dear Lord, please help victims of sexual abuse and rehabilitate perpetrators who have robbed others of their innocence. Lord, it is so hard for me to pray for the latter, but I know they are Your children too. Please teach me to be sensitive to everyone who needs restoration, and renew my strength in areas that have been weakened by life’s circumstances. Amen.

Reprinted from Pictures in Glass Frames

(Ambassador International, 2011)

 Available at this link: http://t.co/BxiNwWRG,

 

“The Day I Started Living”

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“The Day I Started Living”

By Shawn R. Jones

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.”

John 14:1–4

 

My mother is not sure what came first—the hives or the convulsions. The doctor gave her a shot of penicillin. Her body convulsed. Shoes flew off her feet. Hives closed off her airway. She scratched at her neck, trying to make a hole to breathe. As one of the nurses said, “Oh my God, doctor, she’s dying,” my mother watched her own hand turn gray and stiffen.

A doctor and nurses tried to restore my mother’s breathing. As she watched from the ceiling, she thought comically, “Wow, they’re really working hard to bring me back.” Next, there was nothing but darkness. Then, there was a brilliant light, a light so brilliant she could not see the man’s face who had on a robe with his arms outstretched. He showed her everything she had done wrong in her life. My grandmother, who had died five years prior, was there also, speaking in my mother’s defense, reminding him of all the good her daughter had done.

My mother was active in her community, helping the underprivileged even though she was the underprivileged. She volunteered for Welfare Rights, NarcoticAddictsRecoveryCenter, and the Community Development Block Grant Program. She sat on several boards and was also a mother, struggling to raise a child in the projects.

My mother pleaded with the man, whom she now refers to as Jesus. “I can’t die now. I would stay here with you, but I have an eight-year-old daughter, and she doesn’t have anyone but me. She is just not ready for this.”

The man spoke calmly in the most beautiful voice my mother had ever heard. “Rhonda, scream. Just scream.”

My mother tried to scream. It was very difficult at first, but once she was able to get a bit of sound out, she saw a glimpse of the room where her earthly body lay. Whenever she would stop screaming, there would be darkness. The longer she screamed, the longer she saw the light of the room, so she began to scream uncontrollably. The doctor and nurses tried to calm her down, explaining that they had just given her a shot of adrenalin. Regarding her return, my mother has often said, “They think they brought me back, but it wasn’t them.”

After that ordeal, my mother just wanted to get home to make sure I was okay, but the doctor called an ambulance to transport her to the hospital. Meanwhile, I was home worried because she had not come home from work. My uncle picked me up and took me to the hospital to see her. When I got there, she was sitting in a wooden wheelchair, looking exhausted with bloody scratches on her neck. I asked her what happened. She grabbed my hands, looked into my eyes, and said the most meaningful thing I have ever heard her say. She enunciated each word slowly and sincerely. “Shawn, don’t you ever ask me again if there is a God, because there is a God.”

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My mother in the 70s

Prior to that day, which was October 8, 1976, I had often asked my mother, “Is there a God? Is God real?” One day she answered, “No. I don’t know, Shawn. When you die, you just go in the ground.” Yet she continued to read The Lord’s Prayer to me every night before bed, so I wasn’t fully convinced. Well, after October 8, 1976, I was fully convinced that there was a God, and I never asked her again.

My mother says, “October 8, 1976 is the day I started living.” Psychiatrists tried to convince her that she had imagined the whole incident, and others said it didn’t make sense biblically. Regardless of what others have to say about the validity of my mother’s story, the incident changed her life for the better. She became even more helpful in her community. She sent me to Sunday school, and she began to appreciate things on earth like grass, trees, and even concrete. For the first time, she could truly see the miracles on earth and look forward to spending eternity with Jesus.

Dear Lord, You have decorated heaven and earth with Your magnificent glory, divine creativity, and awesomeness, and I am so grateful that You have blessed me with the opportunity to enjoy both heaven and earth. Amen.

By Shawn R. Jones,

Reprinted from Pictures in Glass Frames

(Ambassador International, 2011)

Author of the devotional book, Pictures in Glass Frames   http://t.co/BxiNwWRG

and the poetry chapbook, Womb Rain, 

http://www.amazon.com/Womb-Rain-New-Womens-Voices/dp/1599242699/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1337717218&sr=8-1

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