Thoughts on faith, forgiveness and achievement
“Joy!” That was the answer I gave the other day when asked to describe the emotion that best describes me. Susan and I are retired and enjoying our wondrous free time together. I have had my first novel accepted for publication, and I am about to finish my second (and I believe, a much better) novel, fulfilling my lifelong desire to be a “real” writer (not just a word hack). Susan and I pray and study scripture together each morning and have pleasant chats with God and each other. We belong to a faith community and, after years of loneliness, have friends who seem to truly love us, or in my case, to at least politely put up with me. (“God places the lonely in families; he sets the prisoners free and gives them joy” – Psalm 68:6) We have health. We have peace. We have wondrous children and grandchildren. Oh, and, yes, we have love and patience and respect and laughter. We have gorgeous sunrises, jigsaw puzzles, and daily visits by cardinals, mourning doves, and other birds that we call friends. We are blessed far, far, far beyond what we deserve.
Best of all, we are grateful. Yes, every morning, we wake up grateful and joyful. It took decades of struggling and suffering and loneliness, and trusting beyond common sense or reason in God’s promise to, as I am wont to say – just trust! – to bring us where we are today. I look back at where I’ve been, and I am in awe. An awesome life.
My point: Again, just trust. If you believe in this God of ours, believe that He is watching over us. Always! Today’s suffering and struggles will become tomorrow’s joy and peace. God does it all in His sweet time … but he does it. He does not abandon us. He is with us. For Susan and me, God made the suffering and tough past times sweet. Were it not for the challenges, we just might not appreciate the blessings today. — jri
“Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it
again – rejoice! Let everyone see that
you are considerate in all you do. Remember,
the Lord is coming soon. Don’t worry about
anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell
God what you need, and thank him for all he
has done. Then you will experience God’s
peace, which exceeds anything we can
understand. His peace will guard your hearts
and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.”
~ St. Paul (Philippians 4:4-7)
I vividly recall the darkest days – one marriage dead, the second beyond life support, my wealth disappearing, and friends few and far between. I’d get up every morning, make the coffee, let out the dog, and open my Bible and pray. I saw no relief, no solution, but I trusted and prayed. And all I know is that God answered my prayer (“God, please give me strength, faith, and guidance”; that was my prayer). Today? Again, I can only use one word: JOY! How? I have no idea. That’s why I say, Trust. Just trust! God has awesome things in store for us. Just believe. Just trust!
4279 Hunter Road
Gainesville, GA 30506
February 23, 2015
Ever meet the smirkers who look at you like you’re a pathetic dolt and say something like, “Well, good for you if it gives you comfort to believe in a god to get by”? (Sounds like Karl Marx’s brilliant comment: “Religion is the opiate of the people.”)
No, it’s not about needing a god. It’s about whether one exists. But here’s the funny part: You cannot read a book or study science to discover God. He’s not out there somewhere. He’s inside us and all around us, waiting for us not to open a book, but to open our hearts and to discover something so awesome that there is no mistaking the veracity of it. Truth.
My point: Yes, there is a God (and He’s a big capital G God). Oh, and, yes, we need Him, but we do not wish/need Him into existence. He is. If you haven’t found Him yet, keep looking. It’s well worth the search. Just ask anyone who has found Him. – jri
“I see that the Lord is always with me.
I will not be shaken, for he is right beside me.
No wonder my heart is glad, and I rejoice.
My body rests in safety.”
~ King David (Psalm 16:8-11)
During my atheist/agnostic days, there were times when my soul was so bruised that I was desperate for a god. However, I never gave in and invented one based on my need. I’m sure that, in the words of Voltaire, “If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him.” That, however, is NOT why I believe in God. I believe in God because He is. I know Him and do not need to prove His existence. Better idea: If you don’t believe in God, you prove to me He does not exist.
4279 Hunter Road
Gainesville, GA 30506
February 18, 2015
Kids say it all the time when they don’t get their way. As adults, we’re not much better. God hands us a curve, a setback, a loss, an affliction. And suddenly God’s not fair! Why? Because He didn’t give us what we want. God is not fair. He’s not. Thank God!
Imagine if God were fair. Imagine if we truly received what we truly deserved. Uh oh. Ever made a promise to God and not kept it? Uh oh. Ever make the same mistake (aka sin) twice (thrice, or more)? Uh oh. Ever gossip, swear, take the Lord’s name in vain? Uh oh. Uh oh. Uh oh. Ever just screwed up royally? Okay, got it!
My point: If God were fair, we wouldn’t last a day. No, we do not get what we truly deserve. Thank God! In truth, God gives us what we need … and that’s mercy, patience, guidance, and more mercy. No, I do not claim to understand God’s ways: why there is cancer, why people commit suicide, why people hurt and kill other people, why some of us just get real sad sometimes. However, I think we should just let God sort it out. He does know what He is doing. All I know is that we should be careful when we start griping that God is not fair. – jri
“By our very nature we were subject to
God’s anger, just like everyone else.
But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved
us so much, that even though we were
dead because of our sins, he gave us life
when he raised Christ from the dead. (It
is only by God’s grace that you have been
~ St. Paul (Ephesians 2:3b-5)
I want it easy. I want it my way, and I get really frustrated when I encounter setbacks. However, the older I get, the better I have become at just shutting up and waiting during those times. Sure, what I want may be very nice, but I have learned that what God has in store for me is so much better. Besides, I think Job nailed it when he said: “I came naked from my mother’s womb, and I will be naked when I leave. The Lord gave me what I had, and the Lord has taken it away. Praise the name of the Lord.” (Job 1:21) The rest is all pretty much small stuff. Amen.
4279 Hunter Road
Gainesville, GA 30506
February 10, 2015
It was going to be a long night. Rascal, our new pup, had a bad case of intestinal upset (aka “da ska-verts,” as my Norwegian-American friends would say back in Wisconsin). Four times that night, I rose from my bed to get Rascal outside. I was tired and feeling anything but joyful. Though a bit chilly, the night was still and clear, not that I noticed at first.
And then I looked up. Caught by awe, I stood there with my mouth open! The silent, black sky was peppered with millions of stars, from horizon to horizon. Without even thinking, I mumbled a brief prayer: “Thank you, Lord.” My heart filled with a vast stillness and overflowed with gratitude for the majesty of what I was witnessing – not just the night sky, but God’s awesome handiwork in having created it.
My point: God’s beauty surrounds us. Even on the darkest of nights (in this case, because it was the darkest of nights), we are blessed by His wondrous majesty. All we have to do is open our hearts and our eyes, and we will experience it when we least expect it. – jri
“The heavens proclaim the glory of God.
The skies display his craftsmanship.
Day after day they continue to speak;
night after night they make him known.
They speak without a sound or word;
their voice is never heard.
Yet their message has gone throughout
and their words to all the world.”
~ Psalm 19:1-4
I used to love the big, loud, showy, bodacious miracles. These days, more and more, I have grown to stand in awe, appreciation, and wonder at the little ones. Several days ago, Susan brought home a hyacinth bulb, wrapped in its green leaves, its roots in a glass vase. Over several days, buds began to grow up out of the center. (Imagine that, the buds came from nothing but some water and sunlight.) Then yesterday everything burst open in silent beauty, as dozens of pink, six-petaled flowers appeared on the stem, while the area around the flower was filled with a rich yet delicate aroma. “…yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are” (Luke 12:27). Awesome.
4279 Hunter Road
Gainesville, GA 30506
January 27, 2015
We got a puppy the other day. As part of the training process, we spend a lot of time saying, “Good boy!” — when he comes, when he sits, when he pees and poops outside, when he doesn’t pee or poop inside, when he stops biting our fingers or toes, etc. Rascal, who is on his way to becoming a well-trained dog, is going to have the highest self-esteem of anyone in our family, maybe in the county.
We should be so good to people! Many of us ration out kind words like they’re too precious to spare. Or we look for teachable moments (here’s what you could have done better) rather than opportunities to compliment and uplift (that was a great try; you’ll get it next time).
My point (and this one comes with a homework assignment): People remember, cherish and respond to kind, supportive words. With a (sincere) compliment, you can make their day and maybe even change their lives. So, here’s the assignment: Tell at least two people close to you today (A) how nice they look, (B) how much you appreciate them, or (C) and just how special they are to you. – jri
“I can live for two months on a
Susan – the sweetest, prettiest, most loving woman I know – is crazy about me. How do I know? Well, every now and then, she pauses in the middle of something she is doing and tells me, “John, you are a wonderful man.” Now, let’s not debate whether or not it is true. However, I want you to know that, no matter how many times she tells me, I break out into a huge grin and just about giggle like a schoolgirl. (And yes, like Rascal, I wag my tail for the rest of the day. Good boy.)
DailyConnections 4279 Hunter Road Gainesville, GA 30506 January 20, 2015
|TAKING CARE OF EACH OTHER
The last thing I worry about is salvation, about getting into heaven. My challenge is getting through the perils and pitfalls of each day. But one of the things I have learned over the course of my 64 years is that the reason we’re here is to take care of each other.
That’s the joy. Let me repeat that: That’s the joy. No, it’s not about being busy-body do-gooders (who try to boss people around and save them from themselves, usually with other people’s money), but about caring and giving, about offering our time, our patience, our love and our support. Often it’s just a matter of being there, of buying a cup of coffee and listening, of letting others know you care.
My point: I believe many of us (yes, me too) spend way too much time meditating on our navels and wondering and worrying about what we want, what we should do, what we hope will make us happy. As the Brooklyn cousins might say: Fagetaboutit! Instead, share yourself, your love, and your time with others. Odds are that you will bring them joy just by letting them know that they are not alone and that you care. Oh, and you’ll make yourself feel pretty good, too. I guarantee it. – jri
Now and then, several friends and I do the Bible study lesson at a drug rehab center called Set Free. Most of the guys living at the facility (an old, bare-bones former chicken processing plant) have lost everything, including family and friends. Many feel forgotten. Yes, we do a semi-formal presentation. But we’re not ordained ministers or counselors. Mostly we just visit and talk with these men who are trying to turn their lives around. They invariably tell us how grateful they are that we took the time to come by. And we invariably remind them how blessed we feel for the opportunity to spend time with them.
4279 Hunter Road
Gainesville, GA 30506
January 11, 2015
The car rental counter clerk was snarly like a North Korean customs’ agent. “Driver’s license and credit card,” she snapped. My pleasant holiday smile quickly turned into a frown as she ran almost angrily through the contract terms. I was slowly pulling out and cocking my emotional shotgun. I was getting ready to let her have it … with both barrels.
But then I reminded myself (or was reminded) that (1) it was Christmas day and this woman was working when she would probably have rather been home or anywhere else, and (2) I just might want to put all that Christian love stuff I spout so freely to work for a change. Though I wanted to strangle her, I put on my friendliest face, thanked her for working on Christmas, asked about her life, etc. In short, I reached out. At first, I was met by a determined scowl. Eventually, however, she smiled back and began asking about our travel and family plans. We had a nice chat. Before leaving the counter, I gave her one of my pocket crosses, wished her a Merry Christmas and told her, “God bless.” She smiled and said, “You, too.”
My point, two, actually: First, we do not have to escalate every incident into a full-blown confrontation. We do not have to let others control (and potentially ruin) our moods. Second, and more importantly, we can make a difference in others’ lives. That clerk and I could have growled at each other for ten minutes and made ourselves and each other miserable. I’m pleased (okay, downright proud of myself) that I may have made a small difference in this woman’s life. What we do counts! – jri
“We shall never know all the good
that a simple smile can do.”
- Mother Theresa
Bonus: As I blessed this woman, I was blessed in return tenfold. I could have blown a gasket, snarled and yelled, taken names, threatened to make phone calls, made phone calls, been a real horses ass, taught her a thing or two, and absolutely destroyed my own attitude and mood, as well as made Wife Susan miserable, and maybe even slopped some of my bad cheer over onto my daughter and her family when we arrived at her house. Instead, Susan and I got into our car in good moods. I also suspect/hope that the rental car counter clerk paid it forward and was pleasant and helpful to her next customers. Yes, we can make a difference.
4279 Hunter Road
Gainesville, GA 30506
January 6, 2015
This one is not about God directly, but about one of the greatest gifts
God has given us.
Last month, I witnessed something beautiful. It lasted only a second, but it made my whole day. I was doing some paperwork and enjoying a cup of coffee at a fast food restaurant. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw an old couple. Carrying their meal and leading the way to the table, he was moving slowly, cautious with every step. She, partially bent, with a slight palsy, was inching along behind, relying heavily on a walker. As I said, they were old.
It was what he said to her that gave me wondrous pause: As he placed the food on the table, he turned to her and softly, tenderly said, “Over here, Baby.” That’s what he said: “Baby.” She smiled, nodded, and kept inching along. In my mind, I instantly saw a young couple, maybe in high school or college back in the 50s, dating or planning a wedding at which they would exchange vows to love, honor, and care for each other, in sickness and in health, in good times and in bad. And they had.
My point: Just because the body ages, that does not mean love has to die or even grow old. Our ability to love is the greatest gift God has given us. — jri
“Those who love deeply
never grow old;
they may die of old age,
but they die young.”
- Benjamin Franklin
Susan and I have been blessed with a Do Over or Third Life. In love once and long ago, then separated for 45 years, there are times when our hearts and minds jump back and around in time. Our bodies may look like they are in their 60s, but our hearts are still of those golly-gee kids giggling over our plans for the future. The best is yet to come.
4279 Hunter Road
Gainesville, GA 30506
January 2, 2015
I know people who get this Christmas thing all balled up and twisted in their heads. ‘Tis a season of joy, and they think that means they’re supposed to be happy, dammit! So, because many people cannot (not will not, but cannot) walk around with vacuous grins plastered across their faces, they think they are lacking. They become melancholy and broodful.
Well, it seems to me that this is NOT meant to be a season of joy because of the cheery songs, the glitter-wrapped presents, the emotion-oozing movies, the make-believe-happy-happy family dinners, or the eggnog and mistletoe. No wonder people get depressed!
My point: This IS a joyful season, but not for those dopey reasons. It is a time of joy for one reason and one reason only. It is the time we prepare for and then celebrate the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Man/God who changed everything, who brought hope to a pain-filled world, who brought light and love and salvation to a world filled with darkness, who brought purpose and truth to our lives. Celebrate this joy this season. Let all the other stuff go. — jri“But when the right time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, subject to the law. God sent him to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law, so that he could adopt us as his very own children. And because we are his children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, prompting us to call out, ‘Abba, Father.’ Now you are no longer a slave but God’s own child. And since you are his child, God has made you his heir.”
- Galatians 4:4-7
Have a joyous Christmas. No, don’t try to be happy; just let it happen. Think and pray on the great and wondrous gift we have been given. Not sure about that. Well, then imagine how dark and cold the world would be without the birth of our Lord and Savior. May God’s peace fill your hearts.
I get tired sometimes, bone-weary tired, trying to be a good little do-bee Christian, and getting the snot kicked out of me for my efforts. (I think St. Theresa of Avilla said it best: “God, the way you treat your friends, it’s a wonder you have any.”)
Those are the times when I sometimes run out of pious, Christian patience, grab God by the lapels, and say, “Enough is enough. I’m tired of doing it your way.” So, we go a few rounds. No apologies. No begging. No groveling. Best two out of three. And in the morning, both of us beat to a pulp, He breaks loose and hits me hard, blesses me with a dose of enlightenment and the love of the Spirit. And I say thanks, offer tears of joy, and we part friends to go about our days, though we never really part. (Maybe it’s a guy thing; I’m not all that sure.)
My point: Perhaps this is heresy, but I do not believe in blind obedience. God made us joyful, willful, arrogant (my favorite vice), challenged and challenging. I love praying to God, talking to God. It is a conversation. When joyful, I thank Him. When not so, I sometimes challenge Him. Our periodic wrestling bouts are a form of prayer, very hands on, very personal. On this, I am not alone. Perhaps this is why Genesis 32:24-28 ranks among my favorite verses. — jri“This left Jacob alone in the camp, and a man came and wrestled with him until the dawn began to break. When the man saw that he would not win the match, he touched Jacob’s hip and wrenched it out of its socket. Then the man said, ‘Let me go, for the dawn is breaking!’ “But Jacob said, ‘I will not let you go unless you bless me.’ “What is your name?’ the man asked. He replied, ‘Jacob.’ “Your name will no longer be Jacob,’ the man told him. ‘From now on you will be called Israel, because you have fought with God and with men and have won.’”
- Genesis 32:24-28
When I was a kid, before the days of political correctness, boys fought. They’d call each other out, usually over nothing at all. After a few rounds and no real injuries beyond a torn shirt and a bloody nose, they would often shake hands and become close friends. I didn’t matter who won. (Years later, both would generally claim to have been the winner.) It was the challenging that tested and proved them. That’s how I sometimes still believe it is with God. I am not afraid to be honest with Him about how I feel. (If I said it was okay when I wanted to cold cock Him, that would make me a hypocritical toady.) Not that I really know a whole lot, but I think He demands and respects our honesty. So, the next time you’re really angry at God, sit down and tell Him. Let Him have it. That, to me, is called prayer, very honest prayer. God will bless you for it.John Ingrisano 4279 Hunter Road Gainesville, GA 30506 www.dailyconnections.net November 19, 2014
I believe God, and I believe in His word. Most of all, after spending years doing life my way, on my terms, I finally figured out that I had no clue as to what worked best for me. (FYI: Living on my terms – I pretty much got everything I set out to get, accomplish, obtain.) My egoistic arrogance nearly did me in. I learned that winning is not the same as succeeding. Big difference!
Today, I try to do it God’s way. I try to put my trust in Him, not casually, but intensely, knowing that He is real, not some Sunday morning phantasm, but very much with us always and watching over us … always. But for me at least, that trust and faith is flawed. I fail. I fall. I stand with God and keep my promises to Him ferociously and intensely … but only for about a minute, maybe two. Yet, God still loves and forgives me over and over again.
My point: God is not fair! He does not give me what I deserve or what I have earned. If He did that, He’d have skinned me, de-boned me, parboiled me, dumped me off the Glory Train bound for heaven, kicked me to the curb, and moved on to more worthy prospects decades ago. Instead, in spite of my failure to keep my word and keep the faith, Jesus Christ – our friend, brother, always-present companion, Lord, God, King, Redeemer, and Savior – He has never abandoned me, even when I have taken Him into some pretty unsavory places. So, thank you, my Lord and my God, for not being fair, for not giving me what I deserve, but instead for giving me Your unconditional love and forgiveness. — jri“He does not punish us for all our sins; he does not deal harshly with us, as we deserve.”
- Psalm 103:10
I know I am forgiven. I don’t just think so; I know so. So, I try to spend less and less time scraping my knuckles raw by knock knock knockin’ on the door asking for whatever it is I need. Instead, I try to ask once (okay, once a day) and then leave it in God’s hands. More and more, when it comes to myself, I pray simply for three things: “Lord, please grant me faith, strength, and guidance this day. Amen.” And He does. Awesome.John Ingrisano 4279 Hunter Road Gainesville, GA 30506 www.dailyconnections.net November 17, 2014
It was a Labor Day weekend, normally a very busy time for Terry and Marie at their drop-dead gorgeous, Southern style bed & breakfast, Magnolia Oaks Inn, in the Georgia foothills outside Gainesville. The problem: The inn was empty; zero bookings. Marie kept checking the website and phone, and even called around to see how other lodgings were doing. All the others were booked full. Not Magnolia Oaks. Empty.
Then the phone rang. There had been a car accident. (I believe it was Marie’s aged parents; forgive me if I get this detail wrong.) They were able to shut the inn and race to Alabama. Her father was going to be all right. However, they arrived just in time to gather around her mother’s hospital bed, pray for her, sing Amazing Grace, and bid her farewell back to the Lord’s arms an hour later. Had the inn had guests, Terry and Marie would not have been able to get there in time.
The point: Some events may not seem like blessings, but that is only because we are not given insight into God’s ways. Terry and Marie were frustrated because their inn was going to lose money that weekend. And then they received a glimpse into the Lord’s immense, unfathomable plan and how He cleared their schedule so they could be present at her mother’s deathbed. So, I guess the true point is that God is watching over us and His plans are not our concern. Everything has a purpose in God’s wondrous plan for us. Just trust. God knows what He is doing … ALWAYS. — jri“Look, God is greater than we can understand. His years cannot be counted.”
- Job (Job 36:26)
Susan and I are learning that it is not necessary for us to understand or approve God’s plans. It’s like that saying (I forget who said it): We do not believe because we see miracles; we see miracles because we believe. God watches over us and all people. That is the only understanding we need. God bless.John Ingrisano 4279 Hunter Road Gainesville, GA 30506 www.dailyconnections.net November 3, 2014
As always, noisy me would have missed it. Last week, Susan and Rocky and I were enjoying a fall-day walk on a park trail. The sunshine was bright and warm, and not a breath of wind stirred the yellowing leaves on the trees. As always, I was chattering away, imparting words of brilliance, when Susan paused and touched my arm. I followed her gaze and, together, for several moments, we watched as three leaves slowly jumped and twirled a foot off the ground beside us.
Brilliant me thought nothing of it until Susan pointed out, “There’s no wind.” As we watched the dancing leaves, Susan and I became gently, comfortably aware of God’s peace-filled presence close at hand, as if the Lord were walking with us, beside us.
My point: Yes, it could simply have been weird thermals rising from the ground; maybe it was God joining us on our walk. That is NOT my point. Rather, that gentle dancing and whirling of the leaves, moving as if by a life of their own, caused us to give pause and reminded us that God was with us, is with us, always. All we have to do is open our eyes and see. — jri“And as Elijah stood there, the LORD passed by, and a mighty windstorm hit the mountain. It was such a terrible blast that the rocks were torn loose, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake, there was a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire, there was the sound of a gentle whisper.” — 1 Kings: 11-12
As Susan and I are learning to open our eyes to God’s presence, more and more we see it in all things: a beautiful sunset, a silly bug, a blooming flower, a chance encounter with a person who leaves us inspired, or just our ability to relax quietly together in the evening in gratitude. This “vision” is perhaps one of the greatest gifts God has given us in a life filled with His blessings.John Ingrisano 4279 Hunter Road Gainesville, GA 30506 www.dailyconnections.net October 29, 2014
Misguided folks sometimes believe that God zaps us once, good and hard, with the Spirit, and we’re good for the rest of our lives. After that, we can/should walk around all day with beatific grins plastered on our faces and live joyful, wondrous lives. They think that this come-to-Jesus moment is supposed to be a spiritual vaccination that lasts a lifetime. They need to think again.
Faith is usually a daily — sometimes plodding – process; at least it is for me and most people I know. Just like life, faith is not always easy, and we need lots of infusions, daily doses of guidance that build us up spiritually and, gradually, day by day, grow the Spirit stronger and stronger in our souls. Like vitamins, these spiritual doses help make and keep us strong.
My point (and this one’s real simple): Read the Bible and other soul-building books each day. Set aside time – usually the same time, if possible – to read the Bible and study God’s Word. The results – gradually, over time — will be spiritual knowledge, faith, strength. — jri“If you don’t eat, your body won’t grow. Likewise, if you don’t read your Bible, you’ll never grow beyond spiritual infancy.” — Jamie Buckingham (Power for Living)
Looking for guidance on where to start? One of the things Susan and I began to do, even before we met again after 40-plus years apart and were just talking by phone a thousand miles distant, was to read and pray together. These days, we devote 30-45 minutes each morning (usually starting at 6:00 a.m.) reading the Bible and praying (giving thanks for our blessings and praying intercessory prayers for our loved ones and those in need). We generally get our daily Bible readings from Forward Day by Day. We also read the day’s reading from Jesus Calling by Sarah White. And this month I’m reading on my own Buckingham’s Power for Living. Should you read the Bible from beginning to end? I did it, and I found that the result was okay at best. It left me a bit confused at times. A better way, at least in my opinion, is to get a good study Bible and follow the daily prayers that provide order and help with understanding. Enjoy and grow spiritually.John Ingrisano 4279 Hunter Road Gainesville, GA 30506 www.dailyconnections.net October 9, 2014
Alex is a vibrant, indomitable corn plant, noble like a Standard Poodle. He has a sturdy, five-inch round trunk, and when I first met him back in 2006 or so, he towered at least seven feet out of his large pot. However, he was stuffed in a corner of a six-foot tall room and, though not weakening, was bursting at the seams, so to speak. I took him back to the well-lit, cathedral-ceilinged sunroom of my house on the shores of Lake Michigan. Bathed in light and with ample space, he thrived, growing to a strong and sturdy nine feet.
When I moved to more modest digs (and after some research and much concern), I cut Alex down to three feet of barren trunk. Though sure I had made a mistake and killed him, he sprouted new growth and climbed back to six feet within a year. When I moved from Wisconsin to Georgia, I could not leave him behind. He was like family. (I confess that I had grown to admire his amazing spirit and endurance.) So, I cut him down to four feet and loaded him in the U-Haul. Again, even after the thousand-mile trip, he thrived, now as a Southern corn plant (though, in truth, I think of him as a corn tree), and he is now pushing seven feet again and more robust than ever.
My point: Like Alex, we get trimmed back and pruned from time to time in this glorious life. They’re called setbacks, and we tend to hate them, perhaps resent them. We shouldn’t. These prunings are God’s way of making us stronger and healthier, of preparing us for the challenges of the future. (Imagine a life without setbacks: We would grow big and blousy and soft and vapid, and eventually wither away. So, thank God for the challenges and for the tough times. These prunings make us better, stronger, more alive. — jri“I am the true grapevine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch of mine that doesn’t produce fruit, and he prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more.” — Jesus (John 15:1-2)
Unpruned, I used to grow in my own self-directed way, sprouting and prospering in all directions, until I would outgrow myself, so to speak, rising to the level of my own incompetence, after which I would crash and burn, victim of my own success. Fortunately, the Lord would prune and trim me, making me stronger, sturdier, more focused, and more aware of His beauty, strength and Spirit.John Ingrisano 4279 Hunter Road Gainesville, GA 30506 www.dailyconnections.net October 6, 2014
The image of Moses at the Red Sea has been in my mind recently: There is Moses looking out over a good-sized body of water. The entire nation of Israel is standing behind him, counting on him, nervous about what they’ve gotten themselves into. Behind them is the Egyptian army, armored men and chariots bearing down fast, determined to either kill or capture every last one of them.
The pressure is on. The situation is dire; no, it’s more like hopeless. And then, with a wave of his arm, in God’s name, the entire sea splits in half. The Jews escape; the Egyptians, every last one of them, drown when they try to follow. Ridiculous. Unbelievable. Impossible. Oh, but that’s what happened. The Book of Exodus covers it in great detail.
My point: God is in the miracle business. Big ones, little ones, that’s what He does. He takes the impossible and makes it possible. The miracles in our lives are not always as dramatic as the parting the Red Sea, but they are miracles nonetheless. We are surrounded by them, thousands of them, every day. When it comes to the really big ones – when we need healing, recovery from incomprehensible losses, relief from pain and suffering in any number of ways – just trust. Just ask. God may not give us the miracle exactly as we requested, but He will give us a miracle … often better than the one we had requested. And then just say thank you. Your Red Sea will part. — jri
“Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and all that night the Lord drove the sea back with a strong east wind and turned it into dry land. The waters were divided, and the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground, with a wall of water on their right and on their left.
“The Egyptians pursued them, and all Pharaoh’s horses and chariots and horsemen followed them into the sea. During the last watch of the night the Lord looked down from the pillar of fire and cloud at the Egyptian army and threw it into confusion. He jammed the wheels of their chariots so that they had difficulty driving. And the Egyptians said, ‘Let’s get away from the Israelites! The Lord is fighting for them against Egypt.’
“”Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Stretch out your hand over the sea so that the waters may flow back over the Egyptians and their chariots and horsemen.’ Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and at daybreak the sea went back to its place. The Egyptians were fleeing toward it, and the Lord swept them into the sea. The water flowed back and covered the chariots and horsemen—the entire army of Pharaoh that had followed the Israelites into the sea. Not one of them survived.
“But the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground, with a wall of water on their right and on their left. That day the Lord saved Israel from the hands of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians lying dead on the shore.”
— Exodus 14:21-30
Susan and I live in awe of the miracles God performs. From the huge and bold ones (such as how we joyfully came together against all odds after 40 + years apart … and remain joyfully so) to the slightest whispers of encouragement (the unexpected insight into a friends’ needs or a Bible verse or sermon with perfect timing, as if selected just for us, to answer a question or quell a fear), God’s miracles surround us. Susan and I talked about how she had been alone and lonely much of her life, but how now she lives surrounded by people she deeply loves and who deeply love her – a quiet, powerful miracle that God slipped in while she was busy doing other things. Open your eyes to see and enjoy the wondrous miracles God has delivered to your life.
4279 Hunter Road
Gainesville, GA 30506
September 30, 2014
When I went out to the car last Friday afternoon to run errands, I was stopped dead in my tracks by a flat tire…not just low, but flat. My first reaction was to snarl and curse my luckless fate. Still feeling forsaken, I decided it would be easier to just change it myself, even though my last flat-changing event had taken place in 2001. Actually, once I located and cranked down the spare, the whole process went relatively easily.
I was about three lug nuts in when the full beauty of this blessing dawned on me. You see, Susan was gone, off to visit her daughter, which was what she almost always did on Fridays. However, she almost always drove the red car, the one with the flat. Instead, this day I had suggested she take the black one, which I almost never did. If we had both followed our “almost always” routine, she would have ended up on the side of the highway half way to Atlanta. So, by the time I finished changing the tire, I was giggling and remembering how God always – not almost always, but ALWAYS – watches over us.
My point: Susan and I are learning – not always, but almost always – to recognize the God winks in our life, those little reminders that life is not just mostly good, but it is ALL good. Sure, I had to change the tire; God never said life would be an easy-as-pie cake walk. (Sorry, but I like that baked goods mixed metaphor.) As we learn to trust, we also see how much reason we have to trust. Life is good, even the flat tire parts … ALWAYS — jri“Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, and whose hope is in the LORD.” — Jeremiah 17:7
Susan and I have gotten into the practice of looking for our blessings, and we are in awe as we discover just how many we have. Each morning, before starting our prayers, we each write down in a notebook that one thing for which we are most grateful. Many mornings we have difficulty deciding which one of the many to record. God’s blessings are all around us. Each day is filled with God’s majesty and the splendor of His creation. It is just a matter of taking the time to look. Enjoy the wondrous, blessings of this day.John Ingrisano 4279 Hunter Road Gainesville, GA 30506 www.dailyconnections.net September 14, 2014
I have a friend, a good and gifted man, who has worked hard all his life and accumulated a sizable retirement fund. He lamented to me recently that he had hoped to have three million dollars set aside; unfortunately, due to economic setbacks, he would have to survive on less than two million in his retirement. As a quasi-adventurer who has made and lost a few small fortunes over the years, I kept a straight face, shook my head, and commiserated with my friend.
Still, the conversation made me think about the Israelites in the desert. Every morning, God brought them the gift of manna. They were told to gather as much as was needed each day and NOT to store it up. It was truly their Daily Bread.
My point: God didn’t give His people a pension plan or a fully-funded IRA. What He did do was give them enough – always enough – for each day. So, enjoy your day, appreciate what you have, and do not fret about having enough for tomorrow. – jri“I came naked from my mother’s womb, and l will be naked when I leave. The LORD gave me what I had, and the LORD has taken it away. Praise the name of the LORD.” — Job (Job 1:21)
Now, I am no advocate of poverty, and I have nothing against wealth. (I’ve had money and I’ve been broke; having money is much, much better.) I also have no problem with the idea of setting aside a portion of each paycheck (10 percent is a good number) for the future. Retirement planning is smart. However, whatever the outcome, it is best not to fret. God will provide – maybe a little, maybe a lot, but He will provide. So, yes, work hard, save some of what you earn, and enjoy the trip, trusting in God’s bounty.John Ingrisano 4279 Hunter Road Gainesville, GA 30506 www.dailyconnections.net September 4, 2014
GOD: “Hey, John, word in the heavens is that you’re feeling a bit shaky today.”
Me: “Really? Who told you that?” (Pause) “Oh, yeah, sure. Never mind. I just have a few doubts. I guess that means there’s something wrong with me, eh?”
God: “First of all, let’s get one thing straight: There’s nothing wrong with you. I made you perfect. You are terrific, and I love you dearly. Who told you there was something wrong with you?”
Me: “No one. I can think for myself, you know.”
God: “Exactly. That’s what I like about you and the rest of the human race. That’s why it’s okay if you have some doubts and questions. When you read the Bible or go to Church, don’t think you have to check your brain at the door, sit there, and smile beatifically. If I’d wanted blind obedience, I’d have stopped after creating dogs.”
Me: “How about cats?”
God: “No, cats are challenging. Ever try herding cats? Harder than people.”
Me: “Yeah, but back to me. I know I should trust you more. However, there are days when things just go so wrong …. “
God: “Correction, not ’wrong’; just not your way.”
Me: “Okay, days when things just go so not my way.”
God: “There’s a big difference, you know.”
Me: “Whatever. My point is that I sometimes get so mad and frustrated I could spit nickels.”
God: “I know. I do listen. You sometimes use language that would make a sailor blush. Even my dear friend St. Peter has been shocked by some of the language you use.”
Me: “Oh. I guess I don’t think about you listening.”
God: “About that brain you have ….”
Me: “Yeah, good point. You do hear everything. About my language, sorry about that. But there are times when – and please don’t smite me for saying this, but — I’m not even so sure I believe in You sometimes. It’s not easy being a believer.”
God: “Well, it’s not like I’m a unicorn or Big Foot. I AM. Still, let me reassure you. Everyone – let me repeat that: EVERYONE – has doubts now and then. The fact is: All believers are agnostics from time to time. Oh, and get over this smiting stuff. Life happens.”
Me: “Hmmm. What was it St. Teresa of Avila said about you? I believe she said, ‘If this is the way you treat your friends, it’s no wonder you have so few!’”
God: “Interesting how you cannot quote one verse from the Psalms, but this one you remember. Oh, and I’ve spoken to St. Teresa about this.”
Me: “She was in big trouble, eh?”
God: “No, on the contrary, I admire her honesty. I admire yours, too. It’s the language that drives me to distraction. Still, I wish all my people would be so honest and candid when they are troubled.”
Me: “So, it is good to doubt?”
God: “It is good to be honest. Life is not easy.”
Me: “Tell me about it.”
God: “There is a reason life is so challenging. I want you to search for me, to question what you know. I want you to come to me not because believing is a walk in the park, but because I am the Truth, and I am all loving. Figure it out. Think. Question. Keep an open mind. And be honest. I am not afraid of doubts or tough questions. Keep asking, keep seeking, and I will help you. I will show you the way. Remember: Knock and it shall be opened.”
Me: “So, everything has a purpose.”
God: So, everything has a purpose. Don’t be afraid to challenge me with your questions. I can take it. That is how you grow and become the person I want you to emerge into. Questioning and doubting are healthy. Use your brain. That’s why I gave it to you. Just be honest.”
Me: “So my midnight rants are okay then?”
God: “Well, I would appreciate it if you toned down the profanity. But in truth, I’d rather have these very creative and vulgar moments than to see your dog get hit by a bus and you smile and say, ‘Thank you, Lord. I praise you.’ Yes, my ways make sense, but they are not always obvious.”
Me: “Just be honest?”
God: “Just be honest.”
Me: “Well, thanks for your time.”
God: “I have all the time in the world.”
Me: “Oh, one more question, Lord.”
God: “Oh, I can tell, this is going to be a good one. Go ahead.”
Me: “Will the Packers win the Super Bowl this season?” (Pause)
God: (Sigh) “So now you want to talk about miracles? Later. We’ll talk more at midnight. Oh, and don’t forget that I love you.”
Me: Love you, too. Later, God” – jri“Faith which does not doubt is dead faith.”
- Miguel de Unamuno
I do wrestle with God now and then. I challenge Him, whine, and ask why, why, why. Susan, bless her patient heart, always looks at me with love and perplexity when I share my anger and frustration over some setback. Her best response recently was to point out, “John, you take this all so personally.” My response back: “Well, duh. Of course, I do.” Then I realized that God and I do have a very special – sometimes contentious, always honest – relationship. And there are times when, borrowing a thought from St. Teresa, it is not easy being one of God’s people. Whew!John Ingrisano 4279 Hunter Road Gainesville, GA 30506 www.dailyconnections.net August 20, 2014
There is only one thing more vulnerable than a hatchling baby bird. A pair of birds set up their nest this spring in a small plant on our back deck. At knee level, the nest, I thought, was a poor location. But the birds quickly adapted to our comings and goings, and we would occasionally peek in to see one sitting on the nest, protecting its young. They did their job well. One day, silly feathers sticking out every which way, the babies took a few practice turns around the yard and then left to explore the world on their own.
What is more vulnerable than a hatchling? Us. That is because, it seems to me, we never outgrow the need for the safety of the nest. We fly and soar and crash again and again during our lives. And there are times when we are afraid, or just worn down and worn out. (Holly Golightly in Breakfast at Tiffany’s calls the feeling the “screaming reds.”) Life is tough, and there is no way we can get through it on our own. The good news, at least for us believers: If we ask, God covers us with His wings and protects us from the terrors of the world.
My point: We are never alone unless we stubbornly, egoistically choose to be so. (That’s a message I personally was long and slow to learn.) That is one of the great themes of the Bible – that God is always with us, always, and ready to help those who ask. So, the next time you are in way over your head, ask God for His help. Let Him wrap his powerful wings around you. And when you are ready to emerge and face the world again, pick a few stray feathers out of your mouth, say, “Thank you, Lord,” and take a few practice laps around your life, knowing that God is there, always, to protect you and catch you if you fall. – jri“He alone is my refuge, my place of safety; he is my God, and I trust him. For he will rescue you from every trap and protect you from deadly disease. He will cover you with his feathers. He will shelter you with his wings. His faithful promises are your armor and protection.” — Psalm 91: 3-4
Now, I admit that the idea of God having feathers and wings seems a bit strange, and I do struggle with that concept. But imagine mighty Michael the Archangel, always depicted as the winged warrior. All I do know for sure is that there are nights – those 2:15 a.m. stirrings when the screaming reds strike – when I love surrendering to the warmth of God’s feathered wings wrapped around me. Very comforting in a less than comforting world. God bless.
John Ingrisano 4279 Hunter Road Gainesville, GA 30506 www.dailyconnections.net August 18, 2014
Rocky and I have a simple morning ritual. You see, being a Boxer with a smoosh-nosed face, he suspects he may not be the best-looking dog in the pack. So, each morning, he ambles over to me and, while giving him a thorough scratch from head to butt, I tell him, “Rock, you are a good dog and a handsome lad.” Then I smack him lovingly on the side, and he wanders off, tail wagging, happy as a clam the rest of the day.
This is something I believe we all could use. Too often, we tend to either not share the compliment about someone or we focus on the “teachable moment” and point out areas in need of improvement (aka criticism) rather than address the good – in life and in our faith.
My point: Encourage one another. Life can be tough, and it is so easy to become discouraged. As Christians and men and women taught to love one another, we should share the kind word, offer support and encouragement, send that email telling someone how much we love him or her or how much we enjoyed a recent Facebook post. Thank you. – jri“He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.” — St Paul (2 Corinthians 1:4)
Several weeks ago, after I had done some small thing for Susan, she looked at me and said, “You’re wonderful!” I grinned from ear to ear and, like Rocky, I just about wagged my tail. We all need to hear nice things, supportive things, words of encouragement. Try it. No, nothing phony, but genuine. Find something genuinely nice about someone and then share it with that person. If we all do this, there’ll be tails wagging all over the world! Be joyful and thank you for reading my ramblings. I appreciate you.
4279 Hunter Road
Gainesville, GA 30506
August 15, 2014
If you’re in business – a sales professional, manager, or entrepreneur – you read how-to books. And the first thing you check out is the subject’s or the author’s credentials. Makes sense. After all, you don’t want biz advice from a person best known because “he once ran a lemonade stand; it failed.” No, you want to hear from someone who knows the game.
Well, how about a business how-to book about how Jesus would do it? That’s what you’ll get in Dennis E. Hensley’s Jesus in the 9 to 5. Hensley, the director of professional writing at Taylor University, blends the practical side of business with a playful narrative about how Jesus sets out to start a furniture manufacturing company, beginning by recruiting a burned out failure of a man named Pete Fishers. In one chapter, Jesus has a personnel problem: An employee named Mary, accused of stealing from the company, is brought into his office. I’m not going to tell you how he deals with the issue, but it may sound vaguely familiar if you know your Bible.
I will say, however, that Jesus in the 9 to 5 is a good book, well worth the read. Within the 12 sections are advice on how Jesus handled personnel problems; how Jesus recruited and trained employees; Jesus on quality control; and what Jesus taught about stress management.
Best of all, all the how-to advice is Bible-based. I’ve known Hensley for more than 40 years, from back when I was an unreformed heathen, when we set out as young pups to become successful writers. In that time, he’s written more than 50 books. (Me, well, I once had a lemonade stand.) He’s also a playful though very serious, committed Christian, who knows his stuff. (He is also a terrific public speaker, by the way, who does fantastic presentations on a number of subjects.)
The bottom line: Hensley knows business; Hensley knows writing; Hensley knows Jesus. So, if you’re a sales pro, a high-powered exec, or business owner looking for the Christian approach to business, you want to get a copy of Jesus in the 9 to 5, read it, dog-ear it, read it again, and keep it close at hand on your bookshelf. – jri
4279 Hunter Road
Gainesville, GA 30506
August 12, 2014
Susan and I have a wondrous morning routine. At 6:00 each morning, we stumble out, coffee up, crack open our Bibles, read and pray (more like chat with God, our Friend and Lord). Then we go over our prayer list, asking God to bless individual members of our far-flung blood family and faith family, including (and this gets easier the more we do it) those who may have caused us pain. It is very routine and some days feels mechanical. But on others …. we feel guided and filled with the spirit. Our prayers do benefit others. The next time the freight train of life misses you by a hair’s breadth, consider that Susan and I (or someone else) just may have been praying for you.
Just as important: Our prayer time grounds us and energizes us for the tasks of our day and strengthens the deep roots of our relationship, not just with God, but with each other. Sometimes I think of this morning time as our high-energy spiritual breakfast. The days when we have been unable to pray together tend to feel a little less focused.
My point: Pray, and whenever possible, pray together. “For where two or three gather together as my followers, I am there among them” (Matthew 18:20). I cannot tell you how prayer works or even exactly how to do it, or even why sometimes. It is not a science, though there are formulas to help us along. However, if you want to get to know God better, read and pray – not just once, but every day, even if only for ten or fifteen minutes. Just remember: Prayer is the most powerful force in the universe. Yes, give money and bang nails and feed the poor in the name of God, but all of these pale in comparison to the power of prayer. Pray! — jri
I got up early one morning
And rushed right into the day!
I had so much to accomplish
That I didn’t have time to pray.
Problems just tumbled about me,
And heavier came each task.
“Why doesn’t God help me?” I wondered.
He answered, “You didn’t ask!”
I tried to come into God’s presence;
I used all my keys at the lock.
God gently and lovingly chided,
“Why, child, you didn’t knock!”
I wanted to see joy and beauty,
But the day toiled on, gray and bleak.
I wondered why God didn’t show me.
He said, “But you didn’t seek.”
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”)
Susan and I go through the “official” Bible readings for the day, and we also read the daily devotion from Sarah Young’s Jesus Calling, a book we strongly recommend. Sometimes we pause in the middle of those reading to discuss them, sometimes admitting, “I don’t get it.” In addition to our readings, however, we also just chat or visit with God. And we often laugh or, yes, complain. (There’s none of this “Oh, great and powerful and all wondrous God, hail to thee,” etc. Instead, our prayers often start with something like: “Hey, God, good morning. John and Susan here.”) We talk, and we always make a point of finding something – anything – for which we are especially grateful. Yes, God is our creator and our God. But He is also a deeply, totally loving and caring friend. Susan and I cherish those morning visits and would miss them if we ever stopped.John Ingrisano 4279 Hunter Road Gainesville, GA 30506 www.dailyconnections.net July 21, 2014
I’m a big fan of local ministries, of trying to make a difference in our own back yards. So, this week, I was delighted to be led to a young couple, Jen and Beau Robson, both in their 20s, who are working to end sex trafficking in Gainesville, Georgia. They’re doing it with Christ and with love through several organizations, including Straight Street Ministries and Beautiful Feet.
These are positive, love-based ministries: No picketing strip clubs or posting customers’ photos of Facebook, or puncturing tires in parking lots. Just the opposite. Instead…
- Jen goes right into the lions’ den of our one local strip club in Gainesville and visits with the girls in their dressing rooms, sharing the gospel of love and a better life. (I was surprised to learn that the management of the club has no objection; they seem to feel that it is good for morale.) As I understand it, she also brings packets of supplies and reading material for the girls.
- Jen and Beau are part of a hotline. They take calls from girls looking to get out of the strip-prostitution-pornography business. Sometimes they just talk and listen, letting the girls know that someone out there loves them. They also take a proactive approach, calling the numbers published by women on Craigslist and other sites offering sex. “Sometimes we get hung up on,” says Jen. “Sometimes a guy interrupts the call. But sometimes we get to talk, and the girls – and sometimes they’re women as old as in their 50s – appreciate our message.”
- Sometimes, they do rescue runs to pick up girls, sometimes as far away as Savannah. (A related organization, as I understand it, devotes itself to putting their toll-free number in hotels, truck stop restrooms, and other places for girls/women who want to get out of the business.)
The point: These two Bible-grounded people do not just talk the talk; they walk the walk. They are making a big difference in a little way to stop a major problem of sex trafficking in this country. And they’re doing it locally.
How can we help? Check them out on Beautiful Feet Ministries on Facebook and/or Straight Street Revolution. They need volunteers and funds. (They’re also doing a 5k run/walk August 30th to support their backpack ministries that provides food and other supplies for families, since poverty and hunger are factors in why some girls end up selling themselves.)
For our part, we have invited Jen and Beau to speak and spread their message at our Saturday Men’s Prayer Breakfast at The Highlands, Cleveland Highway, Gainesville, Georgia, on July 26, 9:00 a.m. to10:30. We’d love to have you join us. — jri
“How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of the messenger who, brings good news, the good news of peace an salvation, the news that the God of Israel reigns!”
- Isaiah 52:7
I do not know exactly what has drawn me to this ministry; however, when I stop being so logical and practical, I do know it is God doing the leading, which is as it should be. I have a wife, two daughters and four granddaughters. I guess that is one of my motivations. It is through the rampant explosion of pornography and the acceptance of paying money for young girls to lap dance and more in “gentlemen’s clubs” that our daughters are not only being objectified as sexual objects, but many have come to see themselves as nothing more than that. I’m trying to make a difference with my one small skill: writing. My first short story, “The Prostitute,” which is the introduction to a novel-in-progress, Daughters of an Abandoned Civilization, has just been published. I invite you to read it online in Wilderness House Literary Review. God bless.John Ingrisano 4279 Hunter Road Gainesville, GA 30506 www.dailyconnections.net July 11, 2014
As some of you know, I have been working on a novel about the sex trade. The working title is Daughters of an Abandoned Civilization. It is more than half done and coming along nicely. Along the way, I have also been carving out free-standing short stories and submitting them for publication.
Though a professional writer for around 40 year, I have never had any fiction published. No takers … until now.
So, I am pleased – more like delighted and thrilled – to announce that, finally, one of my stories, “The Prostitute,” has been accepted and appears in the current online edition of Wilderness House Literary Review. It is actually the introduction to the novel. Though a bit gritty, it speaks of hope and the indomitable human spirit.
I invite you to read the piece by clicking on the above link and scrolling down to the fiction section. Mine is the lead short story. Thanks for your support, and I hope you enjoy the piece, which I am counting on being the first of many.
4279 Hunter Road
Gainesville, GA 30506
July 7, 2014