Thoughts on faith, forgiveness and achievement
Non-believers must think we are nuts. On this day we call “Good” Friday, the man we call God was beaten, tortured, stripped, humiliated, mocked, had a crown of thorns driven into his head, nails driven into his hands and feet, and was hung up on a cross of wood to die a criminal’s death. (Not much to work with, really, if you’re trying to build a faith platform.)
Yet, yes, we say it was/is a glorious, wondrous, “good” day. This is the cornerstone of all that we believe, an immense, awesome act of faith. No, it is not the murder of our Lord that we celebrate, but His rising from death, the simple fact that without the brutal horror of the crucifixion on Good Friday, there could be no wonder of the Resurrection on Easter Sunday. That is why it is Good Friday, the Best Friday. It is in dying that He gave us life.
For me, this day is also a reminder that all days are good, that our God can and does take even the darkest pain, the worst loss, the saddest depression and turns them to joy for those who believe, who simply and honestly open their hearts to His love.
Reminder for non-believers: We don’t smile and pray and sing because we’re idiots. We do so because we know something very special and very true.
So, Lord, on this day, this Good Friday, we thank you for your sacrifice, your humbling of yourself, so that we all might be free, joyful, saved, and alive. Amen – jriJohn Ingrisano 4279 Hunter Road Gainesville, GA 30506 www.dailyconnections.net April 18, 2014
Life can be chaotic, with days filled with surprises and adventure. One of the great gifts Susan and I have been given (it kind of developed by itself, through God’s guiding hand) is our morning routine of Bible reading and prayer together. It grounds us, reminds us about what is important and, literally, gives us the opportunity to offer the day to the Lord.
Each morning follows the same routine, which we both now begin in comfortable silence: I bring out the Bibles and notebooks, and while Susan gets her coffee, I write down the readings for the day (which I get from a book called Forward Day by Day, that, I believe, follows some vast and mysterious Church calendar that, I suspect, all mainline churches follow).
Before we begin the readings, we write in our own notebooks that one blessing for which we are particularly grateful that morning (our dogs, our friends, our love, our health, our children, our church, etc.); some mornings, it is hard to choose, if only because focusing on our blessings helps make us aware of just how blessed we are.
Then I offer a brief introductory prayer of praise and thanksgiving, which tends to start with a simple “Good morning, God.” This is followed by the sharing of our special blessings and then the Bible readings, with Susan and me alternating the readings. Then one of us (again, alternating each day) reads the day’s devotional from Sarah Young’s Jesus Calling, and the other follows with our prayer list for individuals.
My point: It is a joyful time. It is very much the routine and sameness that makes it so special for Susan and me. It is truly a pleasant visit and chat with God. It helps us better understand His word, gives us an opportunity to express our gratitude and special requests for help, and prepares and grounds us for whatever comes our way the rest of the day. Starting each morning this way is great. Doing so together as a couple is fantastic. – jri
“I woke up early this morning,
And paused before entering the day.
I had so much to accomplish
That I had to take time to pray!”
– Grace L. Naessens (“I Didn’t Have Time”)
The whole “visit” (a joyful routine, truly, often marked by laughter and more conversation with God than formalized prayer) takes us about 20 to 30 minutes. It is time well spent. Mornings when we must miss it leave us feeling a little lost and adrift. If you prefer an abbreviated prayer routine, how about reading and discussing the Proverbs? There are 31, which means if you do one each day, you finish the whole book in a month. After that, either do them again or let God show you where to go next. Enjoy.John Ingrisano 4279 Hunter Road Gainesville, GA 30506 www.dailyconnections.net April 3, 2014
David Brenner died last week. Who? He was 78 and famous not so long ago as a stand-up comedian. Who? He was big in the 1970s and the 1980s, and a regular guest on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. Who?
Brenner was not quite so big as Milton Berle (Who?) or Jerry Seinfeld (Ah, finally, one I know!), but he was big. However, even if you remember Brenner, your children most likely will not
My point: Fame and fortune are fleeting puffs of smoke. Many of us devote major portions of our lives to accumulating wealth and achieving recognition and honors. It is all for naught, all for nothing. A better use of our time: Serve our brothers, help our sisters, love our children, bless the strangers we meet on the street. – jri“’Everything is meaningless,’ says the Teacher, ‘completely meaningless!’ What do people get for all their hard work under the sun? Generations come and generations go, but the earth never changes.” — Ecclesiastes 1:1- 4
One of my regrets in life is that I spent way too much time trying to make my family comfortable beyond what I would now say was “enough.” Once I’d met all their basic needs, I should have spent more time fishing with them, swimming with them, playing with them, writing books (literary novels, not sales training programs), and taking time to get to know God. But wait, I still have today and as many tomorrows as the Good Lord grants me. Yes!John Ingrisano 4279 Hunter Road Gainesville, GA 30506 www.dailyconnections.net March 24, 2014
“It’s all good.” That’s what Susan sometimes reminds me when I express disappointment over not winning yet another fiction writing competition, when I express frustration that the insurance premium is just a tad more than we have in the checking account, or when I express fury at the universe when the !%$#* riding mower, once again, breaks down. (Regarding the mower, I’ve offered the manufacturers a new slogan: “I once had a life; then I bought a Poulan.” Alas, another rejection letter.)
Susan’s words ground me, bringing me back to faith-filled reality. It’s all good. God has blessed me with easy days filled with grace like rain. He has also blessed me with challenges that have left me lying face-up in the desert for days and gasping, “Why, God? Can’t you find someone else to torment for a few days?” But all of it, ALL of it, when I have opened my heart and let myself be led by faith and trust (no, not always easy), has brought me to the sweetest, most peace-filled places of my life. So, no, I’m no longer afraid of those desert days, because I know what is on the other side. Again, it’s all good.
My point: God is with us! Always! Period! Exclamation point! No exceptions! Through good times, bad times, even going half-mad times (thank you for the lyrics, Jimmy Buffet), God is with us. And what He has in store for us is good. It’s ALL good! – jri“Even though the fig tree has no blossoms, and there are no grapes on the vines; even though the olive crop fails, and the fields lie empty and barren; even though the flocks die in the fields, and the cattle barns are empty, yet I will rejoice in the LORD! I will be joyful in the God of my salvation! – Habakkuk 3: 17-18
My life, to some degree, has been like a Frank Sinatra song (“I’ve been a puppet, a pauper, a pirate, a poet, a pawn, and a king ….”) I’ve had times when I’ve been in total control and pretty much won every round, but I realize now that those wins were only because my loving, caring, ever-patient God gave me all I asked for. He never stopped me. However, it has only been since I began asking God what He would like me to do and be that I have truly received – and continue to receive day after day after day – exactly what I truly do want and need, even when what I need is a setback or a disappointment. It’s all good.John Ingrisano 4279 Hunter Road Gainesville, GA 30506 www.dailyconnections.net March 21, 2014
I grew up believing that I could count on just one person: myself. No, I wasn’t abused or beaten, just sort of left to myself. So, I grew up restless, very untrusting, wary of both God and man. This go-it-alone life took its toll on me. I remember that there were times when I would wake up at two or three in the morning — the darkest hour, the time of unguarded vulnerability, regret and fear. I would feel totally and completely alone, sometimes with icy cold terror roaring through the bleakness of my heart.
But something changed something grand and wondrous. Oh, it sometimes still happens that I awake with a start from a deep sleep, and for just a flicker of a second, my heart groans, as I experience a kind of spiritual Post-traumatic Stress Syndrome. But then I remember that I am not alone. I smile and say something like, “Hey, God, thanks. Thanks for loving me. Thanks for blessing me far beyond what I could ever deserve. Thanks for showing me that I don’t have to go it alone.” And the bleakness disappears and a warmth fills my heart, my soul, and my mind. I am not alone. More than that, I am loved – and I know this beyond knowledge itself – wrapped in an unconditional love I never imagined could have ever existed. Awesome.
My point: I strongly suspect God has been there all along. I never really ever had to go it alone. I just didn’t know it. It was a choice I made. And, yes, it took years to learn to not just believe in a God, but to trust in The God, to put my faith in Him, even when everything looks wrong. – jri
“The LORD is my strength and my shield;
my heart trusts in him, and he helps me.
My heart leaps for joy,
and with my song I praise him.”
– Psalm 28:7
So, I guess my real point is simply this: Just trust. Without exception and without excuse, just trust that we are not alone; just trust that we are loved beyond what we could ever imagine; and if we’ve screwed up – yes, even royally — just trust that we are forgiven, without exception or excuse. Just trust.John Ingrisano 4279 Hunter Road Gainesville, GA 30506 www.dailyconnections.net March 12, 2014
I bet I get this one all wrong. I know what I’m trying to say, but it’s a toughie. Anyhow, here goes:
Let’s peek for a moment at the Man behind the curtain, at the mechanics of two of the neatest elements God inserted into His universe – evil and free will (and, yes, they are directly connected).
Imagine for a moment a world without evil, a world where everything was good. On one hand, we’d all be living in this blissful garden of joy and delight, munching on grapes and smiling all day like idiots, supposedly as happy as the happiest of clams (and though I have no idea why, people who are happy are sometimes described as being happy as clams.)
However, if there were no evil, there would be absolutely no need for free will. There would be no consequences for what we did … except, of course, that it would all be good. And if everything were good, the only choices we would have to make would be as insignificant as choosing between eating a white grape or eating a red grape.
My point: God gave us free will, and free will does not work unless we have real, significant choices – life and death choices — from which to pick. We can choose good (life, light, love, gentleness, forgiveness, compassion, and more) or we can choose evil (death, darkness, hate, pain, greed, and so much more). So, the whole driving force of life – everything — just doesn’t work without evil. (And, no, I have no idea if God created evil, or if He gave us free will and we created it on our own. Don’t know; don’t care. I do know, however, that the act of evil is our choice, not God’s.)
My real point: Imagine if we all chose good for even a day, if everyone chose life, light, love, gentleness, forgiveness, compassion, and more. Wow! The world would be transformed immediately, in an instant. I’m game if you are. Shall we give it a shot? – jri“Evil was necessary because without it free will was impossible, and without free will there could be no growth — no forward movement, no chance for us to become what God longed for us to be. – Eben Alexander III Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey Into the Afterlife
One of the best things about free will is that God gives us the opportunity to make our own choices. He tells us what will work, what is best, what we should do, and what joy is awaiting those who listen. But the decision is up to us. Ah, free will.John Ingrisano 4279 Hunter Road Gainesville, GA 30506 www.dailyconnections.net February 25, 2014
Some people demand, “Prove to me there is a God!” Sorry, I can’t do it. Believers see and feel God’s hand everywhere. For example, Susan will call me to the front door some evenings to see a breathtaking sunset, and we will say, “Thank you, Lord.” Or we will wake up in the middle of the night and just touch hands and smile at each other, grateful for the awesomely, wondrously, amazingly, miraculous events that brought us together less than two years ago. (Can you believe it? Less than two years ago!) We see proof of God’s existence and, most of all, His tender love everywhere we look.
Nonbelievers, on the other hand, look right through and past the miracles. They miss them. No matter what they may see, experience, or feel deep within their souls (souls, huh?), they will always and relentlessly find some reason to doubt. Mostly, I believe, they refuse to let themselves believe. It’s more close-minded stubbornness than doubt.
My point: I’m no theologian, but it seems to me that belief has nothing to do with exterior events, of proofs and theorems. No, it is a gift, a sometimes gentle, sometimes thunderous stirring of the spirit deep inside. The colorful flowers, birth of a child, periodic rainbow, wild storm, wag of a dog’s tail, and stirring sunset are all just ways God says, “Hey, just letting you know I’m thinking of you. Enjoy this day that I have made for you.” – jri“Then the eleven disciples left for Galilee, going to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshipped him—but some of them doubted!” – Matthew 28:16-17)
When I give Susan, a friend or one of my children a present, it has nothing to do with proof that I love him or her. That love is something we already know deep down inside. It requires no proof. And I learned long ago (and painfully so) that the ones who demand proof will never believe me.John Ingrisano 4279 Hunter Road Gainesville, GA 30506 www.dailyconnections.net February 20, 2014
I have a confession: I do not have an on-my-knees relationship with God. Yes, he is my Lord, my God, my Savior. But I am a son, not a slave. God didn’t tame me or beat me into submission; I came freely, of my own accord. (And if He said, “You! Kneel. Now!” I’d stand up straight, turn my back and walk away. That’s not the kind of God I would ever bow down to.) When I do kneel, it’s because I think He’s awesome, a God to whom I can commit myself one hundred percent.
You see, my God is tough. Very tough. He’s also demanding. I have no problem with that. I don’t want a wimp for my God. So, when he deals me a four-card straight (a guaranteed losing hand, in case you do not know poker), I play it like it’s a full house. Win or lose, I’ve grown to trust Him, to believe He’s not jerking me around for grins and giggles, but that He has something special waiting at the end of my now-and-then, dry-as-dust desert treks. And just for the record, He hasn’t let me down yet.
My point: It’s simple: We do not need to plead and beg with God, or make weird, I’ll-never-never-never-do-that-again promises/lies to convince Him. We are His children, not His slaves. The relationship is about love, not obedience. Go for it. — jri“This is my command – be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” — God (Joshua 1:9)
I think God expects/hopes that we’ll be honest and candid. That’s why I love St. Peter. He was the first to step up and acknowledge Jesus as the Messiah. However, he was also the first one to cut and run when the going got tough, the one who pulled Jesus aside and told Him to cool down His inflammatory rhetoric, and the one who cursed when Jesus asked him for the third time, “Do you love me?” He was real. He was honest. He was not a sniveling toady.John Ingrisano 4279 Hunter Road Gainesville, GA 30506 www.dailyconnections.net February 13, 2014
Check as many as apply to you: [ ] loneliness; [ ] financial worries; [ ] bad marriage; [ ] family illness; [ ] children with problems; [ ] children who are problems; [ ] mental depression; [ ] cancer, diabetes, heart disease, or other physical illness; [ ] obesity and food addiction; [ ] home foreclosure; [ ] bedbugs or lice; [ ] unplanned pregnancy; [ ] shame over something truly horrible done by you/to you; [ ] sexual/porn addiction; [ ] victim of sexual or physical abuse; [ ] self-loathing; [ ] doubts; [ ] lack of faith; [ ] alcohol and/or drug addiction; [ ] lack of love; [ ] lack of appreciation; [ ] loss of hope; [ ] loss of love; [ ] mental illness; [ ] unemployment; [ ] underemployment.
Did I miss any? Probably. We are not alone. Everyone – everyone – has troubles. Some last a few days; some hang on for decades; some are terminal. Especially for believers, it sometimes can be confusing, daunting, discouraging. “We are the chosen?” we may ask/say. “I thought we were promised joy and peace, not misery and pain. This really sucks!” (Nonbelievers have it easier. They believe it’s all a crap shoot, the random luck of the draw. It’s supposed to suck.)
My point: This is life. It is challenging and sometimes downright lousy. However, it is not some meaningless, three-times-around-the-track pony ride. If you think it’s supposed to be easy, think again. Jesus said, “My peace I give you.” He did not say, “My ease I give you.” Plus, keep in mind that His life was not a chauffeured-limousine series of opulent good times and parties (well, some parties, maybe). And if I recall, maybe just one out of the original 12 apostles died of natural causes; the rest were killed, brutally. And these were His friends! Does any of it make sense? Yes. – jri“There could be no resurrection without the crucifixion.” – Various sources
I am not afraid of pain or disappointment. It’s a grownup thing. In the words of James Jones, from his movie, From Here to Eternity, “They can kill you, but they can’t eat you.” (Of course, I once said that to my globe-trotting brother, and he replied, “Sure they can.”) But seriously, dig in your heels, stop running from the pain. Building a life based on an attempt to flee from pain is futile. Let it wash over you. Just let it go. And just trust. God does know what He is doing. He really does.John Ingrisano 4279 Hunter Road Gainesville, GA 30506 www.dailyconnections.net February 11, 2014
“A gentle soul.” That’s how my wife referred to me recently. That was one of the greatest compliments anyone has ever given me. You see, I admit that I was once a man with a temper, filled with anger. Why? I’m no psychiatrist, so I’ll just say that as a lad, I found that anger protected me from pain. And it worked. The problem was that I got real good at anger. I also learned that it not only protected me, but it could hurt others and kept them at arm’s length.
So, just as I chose anger – yes, anger is a choice — I decided to give it up. It was not easy, and I can still be less than charming at times, but anger is no longer my response of choice when facing challenges. Bonus: My heart slowly, gradually began to open up to trust. Sure, it meant that I was vulnerable to slights and pain, too. Big deal. I’m a big boy. I also ended up giving up fear of being hurt, along with – and this was a biggie — the fear of anyone else’s disapproval. But even beyond that, laying aside anger opened me up to the possibility of being loved, really loved … by my wife, my children, my friends, and my God.
My point: Anger festers and destroys. What little benefit it may provide is way overshadowed by the negatives. Instead, choose patience, compassion, and understanding. – jri“Stop being angry! Turn from your rage! Do not lose your temper – it only leads to harm.” – Psalm 37:8
I sometimes imagine that I used to be more like God the Father, Who was angry a lot of the time in the Old Testament. Today, I like to believe, perhaps I am more like Jesus, the Son … gentler, kinder, more patient. The Father tolerated little disobedience, and His response was flood, fire, and brimstone. Zero tolerance, or at least it seemed that way. Jesus, on the other hand, was/is the Lamb of God, who willingly sacrificed Himself. A good role model.John Ingrisano 4279 Hunter Road Gainesville, GA 30506 www.dailyconnections.net January 30, 2014
I figure I have fewer than 11,000 days left in my life. (That is based on the optimistic assumption that, at 63, I just might/may live another 30 years.) To me, every one of those days is a gift. That means I cannot afford to waste even one. So, these days, I generally don’t worry about the little stuff or the big stuff. I do what I can about problems and then leave the rest in God’s mighty hands.
Still, I wonder how many days I’ve squandered over the years. (My two main topics of persistent worry were money and those same 20 pounds I have been trying to lose for decades.) What a waste. How many beautiful sunrises did I miss while driving along worrying about this, that, or something else? How many conversations with my kids did I not fully engage in because my mind was elsewhere? How often was I too busy worrying rather than just enjoying?
My point: Do not let anything or anyone steal your joy or ruin your day. As St. Paul said, “Be joyful always”(1 Thessalonians 5:16). Don’t let setbacks set you back. Just trust. And then just enjoy. God has it covered. – jri“Give up the illusion that you deserve a problem-free life…. When things seem all wrong, trust ME anyway. I am much less interested in right circumstances than in right responses to whatever comes your way.” – Sarah Young (Jesus Calling)
The other day, Susan and I got clobbered by one unexpected setback after another: frozen pipes that disrupted our morning; a whopping, several thousand dollar expense that disrupted our finances; plus several additional unpleasant surprises. We processed the events, pondered them, discussed them, brooded for a few minutes, and then went on to have a joy-filled, worry-free day that we otherwise might have squandered. The pipes got unfrozen. The bills got paid. We had a great day.John Ingrisano 4279 Hunter Road Gainesville, GA 30506 www.dailyconnections.net January 28, 2014
I am one of the richest men I know. No, gone is my business and most of my money. Gone are the boon companions who would compare my luxury car or vacation home to theirs, or who wondered who could possibly drink that cheap, twenty-five dollar a bottle wine … and who faded away when I would have wept for a true friend, even one with nothing to offer but a smile and a hug.
As I am fond of saying, today I am blessed with the gift of enough. I have a wife who loves me for who I am, even when I am broken, grouchy, far from perfect, and have nothing to give back. And I have friends, men of faith, who seek to benefit others above themselves, and who seek no angle or edge from their friendship, except the opportunity to share and serve. And I have the greatest gift of all: the unconditional love and forgiveness of a God who knows my every weakness and still says that I am worth loving, and I do not have to earn that love or prove that I am worthy of that forgiveness.
My point: As I said, I am one of the richest men I know. And that wealth is available to everyone. How? Just say “Yes” to the love of our Lord and leave everything else in His hands. He will not force you, but if you follow, He will lead. Awesome. — jri“You have given me greater joy than those who have abundant harvests of grain and new wine. In peace I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, O Lord, will keep me safe.” – Psalm 4:7-8
My surrender to the freedom of God’s love did not come all at once (and is, in fact, still continuing). I am prone to arrogance and willfulness. I like doing things my way. I even remember one day telling God: “You didn’t tame me. I let you pet me.” And I immediately felt foolish as I imagined God shrugging and saying, “Whatever,” and reaching out His hand and taking mine He is not only a loving God, but a patient one, as well, a very patient one. Amen.John Ingrisano 4279 Hunter Road Gainesville, GA 30506 www.dailyconnections.net January 16, 2014
Rats! Still so much to do! Christmas is less than a week away. Get the rest of the cards out. Finish the tree. Bake something good for the men’s group. Get that last gift in the mail. Check this. Do that. Get sick to your stomach over you-know-who, who is expected to show up at Christmas dinner. Oh, and do another tummy flip over the small fortune spent/wasted on meaningless gifts that we cannot afford and that no one really cares about. Ho Ho Ho! Merry Christmas!
Whoa! Pause. Deep breath. Slow down. Are we all nuts? It seems to me that about 90 percent of what we do this time of year has nothing – absolutely nothing – to do with Christmas. Remember: the birth of Christ, the celebration of His birthday and our salvation. Sound familiar? No wonder I know people, a lot of them (and I come close), who would love to slip into a cave right before Thanksgiving and not come out until January 1. It doesn’t have to be this way. We can stop. Really. We really can let it go. Step away from the Santa Claus lawn ornament.
One suggestion: Why not tell the adults (especially the good people at the office) that you need nothing, honest? Ask them to save their money; let them know that all you will be giving is a blessing, a wonderful blessing: “I wish you joy and the peace of the Lord on this day. Have a blessed Christmas.” (If there are children in the picture, yes, of course, gifts for them, but a token gift is fine. Remember, it’s God’s birthday, not theirs.)
My point: Christ, who loves us beyond reason, came to give us hope, joy and good news of salvation. Let’s celebrate that. That’s it. His birthday is not about the prettiest Christmas tree on the block or even about finding that perfect gift for that wondrous friend. So, slow down. Enjoy. Celebrate His birthday. — jri“And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” ~ Matthew 1:21
It is not my intent to tell people what to do. I just hope that, for those of us who tend to get caught up in all the pre-Christmas hoopla and busy work, maybe we will just slow down and not be afraid to let some, if not all, of it go. And to you all, here is my blessing: May you have joy and peace and celebrate Christ’s birth, confident in the knowledge that, through Him, you are special, you are loved, and you are blessed. Amen and Amen.John Ingrisano 4279 Hunter Road Gainesville, GA 30506 www.dailyconnections.net December 19, 2013
Death makes sense, if only because the way it works, at least the timing, is the only way that makes sense. Imagine if no one ever died. Give me five hundred years or so, and I suspect the days would get pretty long and boring. I’d be ready to shoot myself. (Oops! Sorry, even that would not work.)
So, imagine if we all died at a specific age, such as 85. Ah, good, no children will die. And we could have one helluva bon voyage party. (Attention: Will the members of the class of ’47 please pick out their coffins and report to the party room? Except for you, Pee Wee. Since you skipped a grade, we’ll get you next year.) I know I personally would raise holy hell for 84 years and then repent with devout, truly sincere enthusiasm. I doubt I’d be alone. So, I suspect it’s best if we don’t know the when, the why, or the how about our own – or anybody else’s – death.
My point: Each of us will die in God’s sweet, chosen time. It doesn’t necessarily make total sense to me, but nothing else seems to make more sense. So, when I die and (hopefully) go to heaven, maybe I’ll have to sit down with God and discuss this topic over a bowl of ice cream. While I’m at it, I’ll also ask Him about giraffes (silly looking critters) and possums (hideous things, at least the ones I’ve met) and why He didn’t give us an extra hand or a built-in kangaroo pouch when we were slogging our Christmas presents from the mall to the car. Or maybe I’ll just figure He knows what He’s doing, and the details are none of my business. Hmmm. — jri“Has this world been so kind to you that you should leave with regret? There are better things ahead than any we leave behind.” ~ C.S. Lewis
I think my favorite impression of death is from a card I’ve seen. A person, whose back is to us, is entering heaven. Jesus has him (I think the card shows a man) in a full hug, and we see Jesus’ gentle face over the person’s shoulder. The caption reads: Welcome home.John Ingrisano 4279 Hunter Road Gainesville, GA 30506 www.dailyconnections.net December 3, 2013
This is a thank you letter. On September 25, I sent out the word that Set Free, a low-budget (but highly successful), Christian-based drug rehab program, housed in an old chicken processing factory in Gainesville, Georgia, needed some basic winter supplies for the men. The number of residents pretty much always bumps up against the maximum of 70 men, housed in a large bunk-bed dormitory. (The women’s home is elsewhere, and they also could use supplies.)
The response has been terrific. Initially, friends donated perhaps a dozen blankets and sets of socks (we didn’t keep an exact count of the quantities). Then the other day, more boxes began to arrive.
The total amount of additional supplies we dropped off this weekend came to 80 pairs of socks, 12 blankets, six sets of underwear, two sets of flannel sheets and 51 personal-size bars of soap. In the words of an overjoyed Aaron Clemons, pastor at Set Free, “Oh, boy, socks for everyone for Christmas.”
On behalf Pastor Aaron, thank you and God bless you for your generosity. Among the donors (and I’m going to name you. Sorry) are Fran and Larry Green and Ronnie and Jeannie Ravan of Gainesville and Louise and Rich Benin, Wisconsin, and friends at the Green Bay Education for Ministry class in Wisconsin.
Our connection to Set Free: It’s personal. Susan’s brother had totally destroyed his life with drug addiction. In prison, several years ago, he decided he had had enough, and he gave his life to the Lord. Out of prison, he entered Set Free, where he lived on “beans and rice, rice and beans” three times a day, washed his clothes in a bucket, and spent hours a day reading scripture, praying, and getting God-based counseling. After that, he spent the next three years as a self-admitted Jesus freak, transforming the lives of pretty much every man and woman he encountered. (He also brought his sister, Susan, my wife, to the Lord.) Phil died in April 2011 of a brain aneurism, accomplishing more good in his last three years than most people – with the exception of Jesus – could ever do in a lifetime.
If you want to donate money or supplies for the men (or the separate women’s ministry), send them directly to:Pastor Aaron Clemons Set Free Ministry 881 Dorsey Street Gainesville, GA 30502 (678-450-8270
So, again, on behalf of Pastor Aaron and the men at Set Free trying to fix their shattered lives (or just looking for a dry, safe place and warm meal before moving on) thank you. Your gifts are deeply and greatly appreciated. – jriJohn Ingrisano 4279 Hunter Road Gainesville, GA 30506 www.dailyconnections.net December 2, 2013
If God is so good, why did … (fill in blank)? Choices may include, but are not limited to the following:
- He let/make my spouse/parent/child/friend die?
- He let/make my marriage fail?
- He Iet/make me (my spouse/parent/child/friend) get sick or injured?
- He let/make my plans fail after I worked so hard to make them succeed (and even asked for His blessing)?
- He let/make terrible things happen to good people?
- He didn’t’ lift a finger to help me overcome my addiction/perversion?
- He make it so difficult for me to believe in Him?
The answer: Let me begin by saying that I am not a theologian (and some people say I’m not even much of a deep thinker). However, I do know two things that I have picked up in my 63 years of playing on this earth. First, life needs to be tough. If it were easy, we’d all be soft, dull, stupid and lazy. It is the challenges, adversities, and setbacks that bring out the best in us, just as we require friction, doubt, uncertainty, and anxiety, no matter how unpleasant, to move forward in our quest for truth and light and our daily bread. If you do not understand this basic truth, well, then, never mind …. Second, if we believe in God, we also believe that this mortal, earth-bound life of ours is but a flicker (a grain of sand on a mile-wide beach) of our total life. We need to keep our eye on the big picture.
My point: I cannot imagine grinning and saying, “God is sooooo good!” to the young children at their mother’s funeral. But God does know what He is doing. He has a plan. He specializes in turning bad things into goodness. No, I do not understand how and I often fail to see the why, but I know it is true. This answer may not satisfy completely, but that is part of the great mystery. God gave us room (sometimes I think too much room) for doubt. – jri“So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you have to endure many trials for a little while. These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold – though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world.’” 1 Peter 1:6-7
What I love about the quote above is that it comes from a letter written by my favorite saint, the passionate, oft-wrong and more oft-forgiven Saint Peter, who knew personally this man, Jesus the Christ, who we claim to be the Son of God.
New subject: Thank you to those who sent supplies and money to support the mission at Set Free, which, in Gainesville, houses 70 men in an old, converted chicken processing plant, giving them sanctuary and a second (or third or fourth or more) chance, along with a heaping dose of hard-nosed Christian learning and love. We have received blankets and socks. Those who can spare more of both, please send them directly to Susan and me (only because I’ve forgotten the street address of Set Free). God bless you, believers and doubters alike. Amen.John Ingrisano 4279 Hunter Road Gainesville, GA 30506 www.dailyconnections.net November 26, 2013
A member of my church family had life plans with his girlfriend/fiancée. However, she drowned last month. Another church family member, a wife and mother, underwent surgery several weeks ago and was recovering nicely, but then she died suddenly, leaving a husband and sons.
I no longer question God’s will. (Most people over the age of 30 know that life is tough and that questions like, “If God is so good, why would he let innocent babies die?” miss the point. I’ve seen enough miracles to know that God really does know what He is doing … even if I cannot comprehend it.) However, I did walk around for a few days pissed at God. (Pardon my language, but I wasn’t angry, I was pissed.) So, I sat down and was going to tell God that I’d appreciate it if He’d remember that this is not a game. This is our life, and it would sure be nice if He didn’t jerk us around so much. But instead, I just told Him I didn’t feel like talking to Him that day, and I let Susan do our evening prayers while I protested by staring off into space.
My point: I guess there are a few: (A) when it gets right down to it, I believe, and I know this God knows His stuff, and He loves us awesomely; (B) the tough realities of any day, in the end, should not change what we know and believe about God, who is good, as I’ve witnessed a thousand times, maybe more; and (C) just because we get angry at someone we love and trust and believe in, well, that shouldn’t really change how much we love and trust and believe in that person, especially if it’s God. – jri“Then the Lord answered Job from the whirlwind: ‘Who is this that questions my wisdom with such ignorant words? Brace yourself like a man, because I have some questions for you, and you must answer them. Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Tell me if you know so much.’” — Job 38:1-4
I do not really claim to understand. I cannot answer God’s questions to Job. I don’t know why Susan’s brother, Phil, died unexpectedly, why tires go flat on busy highways in the pouring rain, or why people get sick and die, or why marriages fail. However, I do know – deep down inside – that it does make sense to God. And that’s good enough for me. Oh, and for the rest of God’s pissed off response to Job, read the entire chapter 38. You tell him, God! You tell us all!John Ingrisano 4279 Hunter Road Gainesville, GA 30506 www.dailyconnections.net November 18, 2013
I have a confession: About 18 years ago, when my daughter, Nicky, told me she was a lesbian, I left the room. I walked around the house to give this data time to process its way through the tumblers of my brain. Five minutes later, I came back into the kitchen and said, “I love you, Nick. So, what do you want to do about dinner?”
I’m neither pro- nor anti-gay. As a father, I found understanding easy: I’m crazy about my daughter and want her to be happy. Period. As a conservative and borderline libertarian, who believes in and respects individual freedoms, I found understanding easy: It was none of my business. As a follower of Christ, I found it easiest of all: Just love one another.
My point: Love one another. Do not judge. The teachings that Jesus gave us during His life involve how we should live … not how we should tell others to live. Love one another. – jri“Do not judge others, and you will not be judged. For you will be treated as you treat others.” — Matthew 7:1-2
Nick is now a doctor in Seattle. She is in a loving, committed relationship with her partner, Mary. Oh, and they are expecting a child, a son, my sixth grandchild, in January. I pray that child never knows fear or prejudice.John Ingrisano 4279 Hunter Road Gainesville, GA 30506 www.dailyconnections.net November 15, 2013
We don’t always see the miracles for the trees. On the morning of June 26, I was a contractor for a company that had me on the road doing seminars about two weeks out of the month, a situation that was getting old for Susan and me; I had a daughter, Angie, who was estranged; and I was being wheeled into the operating room for double bypass open-heart surgery.
Approximately four and a half months later, on the evening of November 9, I am an adjunct professor (that means: part-time and works cheap) teaching writing at the University of North Georgia (and at home every night); Angie and I are where we are supposed to be, back in loving contact with each other; and Susan and I walked/ran our first 5K race, along with Susan’s daughter, Allyson, and grandson, John Christopher. (Angie was supposed to be there, too, but could not get down to Georgia from Wisconsin for the race)
My point: In many respects, our lives were transformed in the time from June 26 to November 9. However, these “miracles” were not all that out of the ordinary. The fact is that we are surrounded by miracles each and every day. We just don’t always notice them. My real point: We should open our eyes and thank the Lord for each breath and sunrise and loving smile. They are all miracles. – jri“But then I recall all you have done, O Lord; I remember your wonderful deeds of long ago.” — Psalm 77:11
Our first 5K was a wondrous team effort. Allyson mentioned the race shortly after my surgery, and we decided it would be a fun goal. Then Angie found a phone app program (c25k, which stands for Couch to 5K) that gave us an eight-week training regimen. So, even though miles apart, we all sort of trained together. Though Angie could not make the actual race, we were all together in spirit. Finally, to commemorate the event, Allyson (who said everyone should have something to remember that first race) presented us all with a medal. The inscription on the back read:
FROM OPEN HEART
TO OPEN ROAD
LANIER UNDER THE LIGHTS
John Ingrisano 4279 Hunter Road Gainesville, GA 30506 www.dailyconnections.net November 11, 2013
I learned young that nothing is free. As youths, a friend and I sat in a neighborhood bar drinking beer on a slow night. (We were probably 17, at a time when the legal drinking age was 18, but nobody checked ID back then.) Except for the bartender, the only other customer was a middle-aged guy, apparently a regular, who had been there for a while.
“Hey, kids, buy you a beer?” the regular called from a half dozen chairs down. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the bartender frown and shake his head slightly. My friend didn’t notice, and said, “Sure, Mister.” “Come on down,” the regular said, slurring slightly, and patted the stool beside him. He then gestured for the bartender to pour a round for him and his new best friend.
The bartender returned to where I was sitting, filled my glass, and leaned in, whispering, “There ain’t no such thing as a free beer, kid. Watch and learn.” Then he set up post opposite me and watched my friend and the regular. I also noticed that he slipped his right hand below the bar and rested it there.
Within five minutes, all hell began to break loose, as the regular raised his voice and began shouting at and threatening my friend. “Wadda ya mean, you lousy snot-nosed kid? I buy you a beer, and you insult me like that. Dinnat ya hear what I said?” My friend looked scared as the tirade continued. Finally, the bartender frowned, took a deep breath, pulled his peacekeeper, a sawed-off baseball bat, from under the bar, walked wearily over to my friend and the regular, and slammed the bat loudly on the bar between them. “You! Go back to your buddy!” he told my friend, who scurried away, grateful. “You! Out!” he ordered the regular, who played stare-down for a few seconds before stumbling off his stool and out the door.
Instantly calm again, the bartender returned to us, his two remaining customers. “A little advice, kids,” he said, putting his peacemaker back under the bar. “There’s no such thing as a free beer, or free anything else for that matter. Everybody expects something. Nothin’s free. Nothin.”
Over the years, I found that, pretty much ninety-nine times out of a hundred, that bartender’s advice was right on. Everything had a price that had to be paid, and sometimes the price can be awfully, bitterly high.
There is one exception. (And you were starting to wonder how this story fits on a God post, weren’t you?) There is one thing that is free, bought and paid for, with no catch or gotcha expectation. No price. Free.
It’s called God’s forgiveness. And there is no catch. (Well, maybe one, technically: We have to say yes.) It’s free. Free. Jesus Christ paid the price for us. Even if we screw it up, fail to show appreciation, do it wrong (again and again and again), we are not abused, exploited, or slathered in guilt.
My point: I think the story speaks for itself. Just say, “Yes, Lord, and thank you,” and it’s yours: the greatest freebie you could ever imagine. – jri“Then Jesus said, ‘Come to me, all you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.’” — Matthew 11:28
Just for the record, I have been blessed over the years with small handfuls of people who truly care, who simply love me … sometimes in spite of myself. They ask nothing in return but my love back, and sometimes not even that. I hope I do the same for them. These people are the blessings and joy of my life. Thank you. You know who you are, and I appreciate you and cherish you.John Ingrisano 4279 Hunter Road Gainesville, GA 30506 www.dailyconnections.net October 17, 2013
Sometimes I forget and awaken with a start, my heart racing and my head roaring, thinking about the last batch of student papers that need to be graded, puzzling over the just-right wording for an article introduction, groaning about the outrageously high insurance premium that is due next week, realizing that the clock is ticking on prep time for the seminar I will present next month, and wondering if that sprinkly sound that woke me in the first place means that old, one-eyed, half-crippled Samson the dog also woke up confused and, once again, thought that the plants in the corner meant he was outside.
And then I hear it: “I’ve got this one covered, John. Go back to sleep and get some rest.” That’s the Lord gently reminding me that, whatever it is, He has it under control, and everything will always – always – work out for the best, though not necessarily the way I would have planned. So, I do just that … go back to sleep, leaving it in God’s capable hands.
My point: If you believe – and even if you’re a stumbling, bumbling, hopelessly flawed believer like me – you know that God has it covered. If you trust, just trust, God will give you everything you need to accomplish what needs getting done … or He will give you something better in its place. So, relax. Just trust. No, it is not that everything will be all right, but that everything is all right. – jri“Be willing to follow wherever I lead. Follow me wholeheartedly, with glad anticipation quickening your pace. Though you don’t know what lies ahead, I know; and that is enough! Some of my richest blessings are just around the bend: out of sight, but nonetheless very real. To receive these gifts, you must walk by faith – not by sight.” — Sarah Young (Jesus Calling)
I used to think it arrogant that God might speak to me. Worse, I believed that people who claimed God spoke to them were crazy. (Worst, I know that some of them actually are.) However, God did speak to many people in the Bible, and I have finally come to realize that He does speak to us, sometimes through gentle, quiet shifts in the currents of our hearts, sometimes through the awesome, roaring silence of a still, summer night, sometimes through the caring voice of a friend who, somehow, knows more than he or she should, sometimes through a simple, obvious, clear-as-day thought that shoots, unexpectedly, into our heads like a lightning bolt. My challenge: to be quiet more, speak less, and just listen, because, yes, I have learned, He does speak to us.John Ingrisano 4279 Hunter Road Gainesville, GA 30506 www.dailyconnections.net October 14, 2013
No, this isn’t one of my oh-so-clever teaser titles. It’s a call for help for a no-fringe, Bible-based drug rehab ministry located in a tired industrial neighborhood in what was once a chicken slaughterhouse and processing plant in Gainesville, Georgia. It houses 70 men at a time, it’s always full, and it works.
I know because this is the mission (I can’t call it a facility) that saved Susan’s brother’s life after Phil finally realized that God had better plans for him than his life-sapping drug addiction. I had to go see this place after Susan told me about it. (No, I never got to meet Phil as a transformed, drug-free faith zealot. He died of an aneurism, three years after he let the Lord change his life.)
Set Free is bare bones, and Pastor Aaron, the joyful minister/director (who crushes me in a bear hug each time I see him) does not drive a luxury car or earn a six-figure income. Set Free gets by on faith, prayers, and the generosity of loving donors. (I first met Aaron last year, after we decided to drop off my collection of hotel toiletries – toothpaste, toothbrushes, deodorant, shampoo and conditioner – and were greeted as though our small gifts were gold.) The mission also distributes free bread off the loading dock on weekends to anyone who shows up.
So, here’s the deal: Winter is coming, and when we asked Aaron what the men needed most, he said socks and blankets, nothing fancy, for the 70 residents.
I’m thinking about tube socks, those four-pair packs for $5. Thirty-five sets (total cost: @ $175) of those will get each man two pairs of socks.
Blankets? (The men bunk in a single bunk-bed dormitory room that must get a tad drafty in January, even in Georgia.) Does one person know of a good deal? Or perhaps 70 people can each chip in one blanket. Anything at all beats nothing at all.
I also suspect that coats and shoes and gloves would be useful.
Can you help? Here are some options:
- Send donations (checks are good, too) directly to Set Free at 881 Dorsey Street, Gainesville, GA 30501. No need to reference us, but if you want to let Pastor Aaron know how you heard about them, he knows us as Johnny and Susan, “the newlyweds.” If you have questions, call Set Free at (678) 450-8270.
- Send items to us at John & Susan Ingrisano, 4279 Hunter Road, Gainesville, GA 30506, and we’ll see to it that everything gets to Set Free. (This also gives Susan and me a chance to get a hug from Pastor Aaron).
- If you’re members of our church, The Highlands UMC, in Gainesville, feel free to get your socks and blankets and other items to us on Sunday mornings.
On behalf of Pastor Aaron and the men at Set Free trying to fix their shattered lives (or just looking for a dry, safe place and warm meal before moving on) thank you. Your gifts are deeply and greatly appreciated. – jri“Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, and you say, ‘Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well’ – but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do? So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless.” — James 2:15-16
Susan and I began tithing individually, before we re-met and married last year. It’s no big woof when one considers that God gives us one hundred percent of what we need. So saying thank you with a ten percent “rebate” back to God is a small thing. And these days, there are so many people and places in need. Set Free is only one. Adopt a ministry (even if it is only visiting the lonely woman down the street) that God makes available to you. So, please, give of your wallet, give of your time, give of your talents, give of your heart. Most of all, give of your prayers. God bless.John Ingrisano 4279 Hunter Road Gainesville, GA 30506 www.dailyconnections.net September 25, 2013
When younger, I loved selfishly, possessively. I loved what made me feel good, look good, or gave me pleasure. I loved people the same way I loved chocolate cake. Yum. When it came to people, I gave because I got, very conditionally. And, looking back, I have to admit that love left me hungry and restless, never fully satisfied.
Older, I have learned that love is more about giving than getting. It is more about the other, about wanting to see the other succeed, grow, feel safe and cherished, and knowing he or she is loved, a rare feeling.
My point: Love is not a quid pro quo business transaction. It is a giving. It is not a loan to be paid back, but a gift, given freely. It is not measured or counted; it is just given. – jri“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish, but have eternal life.” — John 3:16
I could not love others until I learned to love myself. And I learned to love myself only after I allowed the unconditional, unlimited love of God into my heart. I can love others today because He loves me – and always has — and because I accept and embrace that love. Chocolate cake pales in comparison.John Ingrisano 4279 Hunter Road Gainesville, GA 30506 www.dailyconnections.net September 16, 2013
I am blessed beyond belief. Still, once in a while, I get tired and snarly. Early last week was one of those times. (I will blame it on a persistent, broken sleep pattern, a nagging tooth infection, and a collection of little, gnat-like annoyances that just wore me down.) Whatever the reason, I just suddenly started and let loose. The gist went like this: “God, I am sick and tired of trying to do everything right, and doing it alone, trusting You, and accepting setbacks with a patient, Christian smile. And what do you do? Nothing? I’m fed up, and I swear, if you exist at all, and I have my doubts sometimes, I think you must be enjoying watching me suffer.” And on and on and on I go.
The next day, I received a blessing I could not even have thought to hope for in the form of a teaching offer at a local college. Did God punish me with His blessing? Did God heap coals upon my head? All I know is that I had to laugh out of gratitude, embarrassment, shame, guilt, and joy. And I had to shake my head at my persistent and consistent lack of trust. Thank God our God is a patient, forgiving (forgiving, forgiving, forgiving, forgiving) God.
My point: In spite of our many blessings – and I will speak only for myself here, though I suspect I’m not alone on this (please say I’m not alone on this) – we don’t trust God nearly as much as we would like to or should. Fortunately, and here’s my real point, thank God God loves us as we are – totally undeserving and idiocy and all — and no matter how many times we lose faith in Him, He never loses faith in us … thank God. – jri““Let all that I am wait quietly before God, for my hope is in him. He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress where I will not be shaken.” — Psalm 61:5-6
The above psalm is how I wish I were, but am not. My only wearily-shake-head-and-just-smile consolation is that perhaps my weakness is the foundation of my strength (after all, God transformed Peter), and that God will someday transform this unreliable man of run-for-cover doubt into a pillar of unshakeable faith.John Ingrisano 4279 Hunter Road Gainesville, GA 30506 www.dailyconnections.net August 29, 2013
I was once so successful that my keys broke my car ignition. It’s true. Between several homes, three (sometimes four) vehicles, office building, and rental property, I had so many keys on my key ring that the ignition in one of my vehicles got pulled out of whack by the weight. I never really planned to end up with so much stuff, but it sure kept me busy once I had it all … and I spent way too much time either managing it or making sure I did not lose it. I traveled through life with a full load.
Today, I travel light. No, I didn’t make some bold and brave decision to walk away from it all. I lost my wealth through a bad marriage and several bad business decisions. However, in truth, I do not miss it. Honest. When I had a plethora of earthly treasures, I was way too distracted to even enjoy what I had, let alone focus on matters of true importance, such as my relationship with my God and my neighbor. Today I find time for both, and (and I love this part) I lack for absolutely nothing. I am wealthy in friendship, purpose, love, and grace.
My point: My wealth today is light as air. It starts with faith and the belief that my purpose on this earth is to serve others, not myself. I am blessed with joy, belief, gratitude, the love of a woman who thinks I’m okay just as I am, the love of friends who love me not for what I have or can do for them, but because, like them, I’m a child of God, with the unshakeable knowledge that God the Father watches over me and that God the Son is my friend, confidant, brother and Savior. This is the wealth I recommend that everyone seek. – jri“He who has God and everything, has no more than he who has God alone.” – C.S. Lewis
By the way, my key ring today is fairly modest. There are just three keys I use (though I have hung onto another half dozen, though I have no idea what they are for). My pockets are lighter. My heart is lighter. Life is pretty nice.John Ingrisano 4279 Hunter Road Gainesville, GA 30506 www.dailyconnections.net August 14, 2013