About a month or so ago, I heard someone mention the biblical character Zacchaeus and it got me thinking. Zacchaeus was the chief tax collector in Jericho during the time of Christ. We’re told in scripture he was very short. Jesus was in town. He would have been the first century’s version of a celebrity - a social influencer. Everyone was talking about him and everyone wanted to see him and hang out with him. Zac was no different. Because he was a tax collector, the general population despised him. He would be viewed as a sell out to his people, a social pariah. I sometimes wonder if he went up the tree not just for a better view, but a safer one as well. It was not unheard of for a zealot to quietly stab someone like Zacchaeus in a crowd and slip away.
At any rate, he’s in a tree hoping for a chance to see Jesus. Nothing more. Just see the celebrity in town. Remarkably, Jesus stopped under the tree. Zacchaeus has quite a view. His day is made - or he may have thought. But Jesus looks up and then calls him by name. Not only that, but tells his that the party is at his house. The crowd can’t believe it. Was Jesus out of his mind? What could he be thinking? His prophetic vision must be off, because He wouldn’t want to be caught being at a party with him.
Try imagining what the dinner party was like. Zacchaeus is suddenly the center of positive attention. He’s the host of the social event of the year. Everybody wants to be there. The teachers and scribes are going out of their minds, seeing the lowest of the low hanging out with Jesus and his crew, and they have plenty to say about that.
But rather than focus on their indignation, think about what the dinner conversations were among Zac and his friends with the disciples. One was a Zealot. One was a tax collector like them! A tax collector as a disciple? A zealot and a tax collector hanging out together? All of that was unheard of. Jesus not only engaged with Zacchaeus but had called a tax collector to be one of his disciples! They listened with close attention to Levi (a.k.a. Matthew) relate his story about how he’d been about his business when Jesus came up to him and gave him the offer of a lifetime. The bible story focuses on Jesus’ exchange with Zacchaeus and rightly so. But I have to think the interaction with the disciples at the party had an impact as well. How did the conversation go and how did that reframe Zacchaeus’ world view? We know something profound happened at that event because Zacchaeus made the announcement that he was donating half his wealth to the poor and added that if he’d defrauded anyone he’d pay them back with interest.
That’s quite a transformation. From a sinful, greedy, chief tax collector working for the enemy and looking out for number one to an open handed generous man living up to his name. Because his name means “pure” or “innocent.” A prophetic proclamation at birth that became true at his re-birth.
It all started because Jesus knew his name. But I think the disciples at the party played a part. It’s something to ponder. It's no secret that I am a Christ follower. But do my conversations with people stir any hope within them?
The year I graduated from high school, the year I turned 18, I was finally on my way to being emancipated from my mother. I found a midnight shift job (which curtailed our interactions significantly) and saved my money for a year and went off to a small bible college. I had become a Christian a couple of years earlier and wanted to find out more about the Christian faith.
I found far more than I bargained for.
First off, not everyone who claimed to follow Christ was all that enthusiastic about it. They seemed to think they had “grandfathered in” and felt that everyone else was having a good time while they were missing out in their dutiful and dull lives following a bunch of rules. What they were missing was a God encounter.
But I eventually found my tribe in the older students and the former drug addicts and street people. These people had experienced God the way I had and they were hungry for more. We all wanted to go deeper in our faith. I decided the best way to do that was to work in a Christian ministry, so a couple of years later found me on staff of said college. Because the faculty and staff would be solid Christians who would help me grow…right?
Peeking behind the curtain of any kind of ministry is sure to disappoint. What you’ll find there is people. Wounded, struggling, and imperfect people. There may even be evil people lying in wait for innocent victims. I found all of that and experienced sexual assault from two different men that I had deeply trusted. Years later, talking with other women, I learned there were other predators there as well. This is no longer surprising to me since we now have the #Me too movement and the recent news about hiding sexual misconduct within the Catholic church. But at the time it was shocking and devastating.
I left that job and for a time left the church as well. I never gave up on God - He never failed me through all of that. But His people were another story. For years I was part of a micro-church before that was even a thing, and worked on starting my art career.
The Lord gave me time to heal and slowly called me back into larger community. Was it perfect? No, indeed. People in the church are in various stages of transformation - myself included. It is quite messy, as a matter-of-fact.
But the community of broken people from different fellowships came around Mike and me when I stepped back into my mother’s life. They helped us make the act of forgiveness a tangible thing. They became part of a bigger story, and because of them I could write a book about how forgiveness is walked out…even when you’ve been forgotten.
Caregiving is stressful. There’s no way around that. Whether it is a parent, spouse, or child, it is emotionally and physically hard. When I’m stressed I turn to food. Sugar most often, but any kind of food will do. As a result, when I was caring for my mother, I gained a lot of weight. I had always identified with being slender, so the new reality was hard to adjust to. What better way to deal with it than denial?
But our sins catch up with us, whether we want to believe that or not. And my health has suffered. After Mom passed away, I had joined a weight loss group and lost some of the weight, and in my mind I only had about 15 pounds to go. Which stubbornly resisted. Then my focus went to my in-laws and while my weight didn’t go back up, I didn’t lose any pounds, either.
Fast forward to the end of last year when one health crisis after another hit. Diverticulitis, respiratory flu, high cholesterol, and a stabbing pain in my wrist that made me unable to even lift a pan out of a cupboard. A trip to the DenBoer clinic was in order and I really didn’t like what I heard. I didn’t need to lose 15 pounds, but 30. My half hearted effort at health care had to change. The first order of business was to get my gut back in good order.
Gluten free, dairy free, caffeine free, sugar free, supplements, and a walking program has done a lot for me in terms of energy, pain levels, and creativity. But the weight wouldn’t budge. Finally, I started keeping a food journal again and lo and behold - I’m eating too much. Just keeping a mental track of things was not enough. Writing down every mouthful gave me a reality check of what I need to change in my life.
I think that applies in all areas of our lives. Living with intention. Paying close attention to what we’re really doing instead of what we think we’re doing. The bible talks about that in the book of James. Chapter 1 verses 23-25 in the New American Standard says, “For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was. But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does.”
It is so easy to know the truth, but to practice it? Ah, that is the challenge, isn’t it?
You may have noticed I’ve been noticeably absent from the blog for the month of February. Completely unplanned events and health emergencies of our family took up much of my time. We’ve yet to plan and execute a retirement party for my husband for family and friends and my studio lies languishing from neglect.
But all is not lost. While life has been happening, the publication of the book has been chugging along and Friday, March 9, the printed version of Forgive and Forgotten will be completed. Both paperback and e-book versions are available on Amazon which you can reach here: https://www.amazon.com/Forgive-Forgotten-Memoir-Donna-Kemper/dp/1625860935/ref=sr_1_fkmr0_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1520345238&sr=1-1-fkmr0&keywords=forgiven+and+forgotten+donna+kemper.
The subject of forgiveness is perfect during the Lenten season. If you are interested in a book signing at your church or small group, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I was chatting with a new friend at church Sunday. Our fellowship has started hosting chapel at a local mission once a month in an effort to give people who go through rehab a place to belong once they graduate. We’ve learned when someone hits rock bottom, ends up on the streets, and enters a program to get their life back on track they have no place to go once they’ve recovered. Old friends can drag them back into addiction or destructive patterns, and many churches don’t want “people like that” to sully their pews. It’s sad, but it’s true. I’ve certainly experienced it in the past. As a teen and young woman, I was undesirable and judged harshly in certain congregations. I got fed up and dropped out of church culture for a number of years.
But this day, as we are chatting I look around the room. If you were casually looking at this group, you might jump to the conclusion that this is a bunch of average middle class people getting together. See that group of men standing by the coffee? Recovered alcoholics discussing on how to start a twelve step program here. See that woman talking with a visitor? She was homeless and her life has been restored. See that young man talking to the middle aged woman? Both recovered drug users. The woman sitting in my seat? She was a steaming hot mess. When you ask me my story, I don’t even know where to start. But my life has been transformed. In fits and starts, I am very different from who I started out as.
Healing has come in layers, but it started decades ago when my heart cried out to God and He gave me a vision of what was being closed off (hell) and what was being opened up (eternity - bright, mysterious, and beautiful). I was actually in the back seat of a mainline denomination preacher’s car and knew better than to tell anyone I was having a vision. Most likely he would have pulled over to the side of the road and performed an exorcism. Strange how some Christians believe more in the power of evil to cloud your mind than of a good God to give beauty for ashes but, there you go. It was years before I found a group of people I could tell about the visions and foreknowledge of certain things, and now I’m much bolder.
I may not look like much at first glance, but you would be mistaken to underestimate me. I have “Property of the King” stamped on my forehead and Jesus is rewriting my story with His blood.
This week I was at my doctor’s office and the procedure there is to produce picture ID with your insurance info. I opened my wallet and there was no driver’s license. While it’s not the end of the world, it does produce a sinking feeling in your stomach. What did I do with it? When was the last time I saw it? Where could it be?
The rest of the day was spent in searching for the thing and as a result, months worth of things that needed my attention were addressed. I was not feeling any particular panic and I was feeling actual gratitude that this event was forcing me to take care of small projects or correspondences that were hanging over my head. Progress was definitely made, but the license was nowhere to be found.
For those who are religious, this story will probably be offensive. For those who do not know God, this story will not make sense. But for those who understand that God is relational, who is someone who likes to engage us in dialog I think you will share my enjoyment of his gentle humor.
My husband was praying this morning to find the license. He was asking God to help him help me find it. He heard a gentle voice in his spirit that said, “Dude, check your wallet.” Like a true son he said, “God, I’m in and out of my wallet all the time. If it were in there I would have seen it.” Again, a gentle nudge told him to check again.
And there it was. We had gone ziplining the week before and I had given him my ID for safekeeping. We’d both forgotten about it. It was a great way to start out our day.
WHEN GIVING IS ALL WE HAVE - by Alberto Rios
*One river gives
Its journey to the next.*
We give because someone gave to us.
We give because nobody gave to us.
We give because giving has changed us.
We give because giving could have changed us.
We have been better for it,
We have been wounded by it--
Giving has many faces: It is loud and quiet,
Big, though small, diamond in wood-nails.
Its story is old, the plot worn and the pages too,
But we read this book, anyway, over and again:
Giving is, first and every time, hand to hand,
Mine to yours, yours to mine.
You gave me blue and I gave you yellow.
Together we are simple green. You gave me
What you did not have, and I gave you
What I had to give—together, we made
Something greater from the difference.
~ ALBERTO RIOS © 2014 for the Academy of American Poets today
Used with permission. To learn more about this poet, go to http://www.poetryfoundation.org/bio/alberto-rios
This beautiful poem turns my thoughts to a passage of scripture. Jesus talks about what it means to be a disciple in Matthew 10. At the end of his teaching, He says, “And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward.”
This is a guide to being a follower and reflector of Christ. Not everyone is called to be a great teacher or powerful evangelist. Not everyone is called to be a reformer or influencer of nations. But anyone and everyone can extend their hands and give cups of cold water.
By their very nature, cups of cold water are small things, easily forgettable if you aren’t paying attention. The people who extend them do not draw attention to themselves, but life would be poor, indeed, without those small, and I would argue significant, acts.
Moving Mom to Grand Rapids opened up a treasure trove of cups. So many people helped pack, transport, move, and clean…it was amazing. People I knew, and some I didn’t know at all came out to help. In one day, her house was cleaned out, her furniture was transported and cleaned and her apartment was set up and made hospitable. Each person did a part so that I didn’t have to do it all. That was a day of incredible blessing to us.
One woman took her dog to visit Mom occasionally, which delighted her. Another volunteered to pick her up for church every single week. Another would go walking with us in a nearby park. When I had to ready Mom’s house for sale, people extended help of all kinds. Painting, patching, ripping out carpets, visiting, and encouraging. Whatever they were able to give, it was all appreciated and refreshing.
Cups of cold water seem insignificant, especially in a world that screams that to be successful and fulfilled, you need to have notoriety. But the Lord notices what is done to and for the least of His followers. It seems it’s not the cost, nor the skill, nor even the quantity He observes. He’s paying attention to the motive. What we do to His followers because they are His, He will repay with the riches of His grace. While many of the people who offered help loved me or my mother, many didn’t know me at all – they just wanted to extend God’s grace through their lives.
The giving and receiving of cups of refreshment makes something great and beautiful.
I have been working on a restoration and gilding job for some months now. It’s been start and stop because of life events, but also because of unexpected problems that pop up in the work itself. Close to completion a few weeks ago, I rushed the final finish and ruined it. I did it. No one else. I cannot blame anyone else for the stupid mistake I made. And so, with a heavy sigh, I had to take off all I had worked on and start all over again. There was resignation as I realized there would be no profit on this project.
As I was meticulously picking out crud from some crevices with a dental tool, my thoughts turned to spiritual restoration. While it may be hard to fathom, this fastidious process is quite relaxing and meditative. I put on music, and just start to work. Since it will take some time, I don’t hurry and just go inch by inch cleaning the surface, preparing to start again. The thought struck me that this might be a picture of how patiently God works on the restoration of our lives.
Slowly and painstakingly, He works in our lives. His patience is astounding and He doesn’t mind starting over and over again, as often as it takes. Be honest, how often have you gone through something and not learned from it? I cannot count the number of times this has happened to me. I suspect that I’m supposed to learn something from caring for my in-laws that I missed when I was caring for my mother but the lesson keeps eluding me.
Fortunately, He’s not nearly in the hurry we are to complete the process. That may be because He wants relationship. “Come, let us reason together,” He says. “Let’s hurry up and get this done,” I say. I want results. This explains why I keep going around the same mountain – similar to the Israelites when they left Egypt.
I have no words of wisdom, nor thoughtful insights to offer on this. But I think I just got a glimpse into the heart and mind of God. He really loves process. It’s a way to slow us down and engage us. If only I would pay closer attention.
As you have noticed by my lack of posts, I have been occupied elsewhere. With Mom Kemper's health issues, and working part time as well as trying to keep my own studio afloat, I have been overwhelmed. Something had to give. It was writing.
Some day, I'll do a post about Christmas past, but for now I'd like to share this with you.
Today I am praying for each of you who read this blog. I'm praying that God's power will overshadow you and meet your greatest needs, solve your most challenging problems and bring victory in some area of your life that you've been utterly helpless to achieve on your own.
With all my heart, I want that to happen for you.
Frozen water was everywhere. Another polar vortex had arrived turning November into January in one blast of frosty air.
Of course, I could not stay inside and keep warm sipping cocoa. My mother-in-law had been hospitalized and was being released that day…in a snow storm. I had been shoveling for four hours. First, to clear off the walks and steps, then to clear the front of the garage door, and then to dig out a path in the alley to get the car to the main street. The snow was wet and heavy and I was feeling my age.
But perseverance paid off. I broke through to the street. It was now time for a cup of tea and a breather. Time to try to pull myself together for the next part of the day. Getting Mom discharged, bundled up, into the car and back to her apartment. This time, I was leaving Dad at home. Dealing with dementia and a blizzard plus transporting Mom with an oxygen tank was too much for me and I had to draw the line somewhere. The left side of my back was starting to throb.
We could have transported Mom home in an ambulance, but she had gone into the hospital in her nightgown and I didn’t want her exposed to the extreme cold. She needed warm clothes and a warm ride. When I called to check on the discharge process, she was talking to someone from rehab, so I told her I’d be there in a couple hours and rang off. Experience told me that when leaving a hospital, it would take hours for every department to sign off so I didn’t hurry. As long as the nurses knew someone was coming everything would be good.
Sitting down with my cup of tea, I asked myself, why was I doing this? Why was I working so hard to make it to the hospital as the snow kept coming down? It had occurred to me as I was lifting that final heavy shovel full of snow that no one would do this for me. My husband would find a way to get me home, make no mistake, but he wouldn’t shovel out an alley to do it. I have no kids, nephews or nieces or even cousins that would do this on my account. My friends all have problems of their own and wouldn’t be able to expend themselves like this. I pondered on this as I sipped my tea.
John 15:13 (NASB) says, ‘Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.’ I had done this as a sacrificial act of love. While I love my mother-in-law, this was really for my husband. He’s been stretched as thin as I’ve ever seen him between long hours at work and caring for his parents, and though I’ve been doing a lot to help and I love them, too, I don’t have the same history or memories that he does and I’m not grieving the same way he is. This was a laying down of time and effort to show my husband he is not alone in his care journey for his parents and to bring him encouragement.
Sacrifice. It makes life richer. I should do it more often.
Donna Kemper put aside her art career to care for a mother she hadn't seen in over a decade. For seven years she followed her mother's journey into dementia, caring for her and putting forgiveness into action.