Broken Praise (12/2016)

This is a poem I wrote for my Church’s annual Christmas Eve Candlight Service this year. I’ve been writing and sharing a poem since I was in my early teens. 

This year, I finally found my inspiration on Christmas Eve when I was at my grandparents. (It’s become a bit of tradition for friends to ask when I finally wrote it. This time I was in the car heading home from my grandparents, less than an hour before I needed to be at the church.) 

My grandfather said something that kept going around in my head. He was speaking of his mother, my great grandmother, who would nearly shout when praying. When he asked her why she always prayed so loudly, she answered, “I am so insignificant. I have to shake the rafters in heaven so I’m heard.”

It was something that itched my brain. Because that is the beauty of God. God doesn’t need your shouts to be heard, he listens to that quiet plea in the depths of the silence, when you have no words, he still hears you. The angels are said to rejoice when someone comes to Christ (Like 15: 10). That there is so much excitement in heaven that the very angels share it with each other.

We humans are not insignificant. God is so eager to have that relationship with us, that his messengers understand and rejoice with him when one comes back to him. We are not insignificant to God, we don’t need to shout. He hears us.

Broken Praise  (RKG 12/2016)
The rafters shook in Heaven today.
A shout was heard as the angels came
Rejoicing at the foot of Heaven’s throne.
Martyrs cried out with joy and saints danced with the Heavenly host.
The angels celebrated as Satan groaned.
Another one found is Satan’s loss.
The rafters in Heaven shook today.
The barest whisper of sound swept through Heaven with the force of a hurricane.
It had the power to close the gates of Hell and throw open the pearly ones.
It snatched from Satan’s grasp, one so lost that she found the light.
Her breathless plea, a whisper of hope, shook the rafters of Heaven today.
Lost in fear, betrayed by man, she took a leap and found faith again.
Never alone, always held, Emmanuel, God with us.
The Shepherd gathers his lost sheep, one by one.
The rafters shook in Heaven today.
A shout rang out and angels rejoiced around the Heavenly throne.
His cry was heard in the darkened room, despair so thick trying to suck him in.
But light abounded and darkness fled, salvation found, peace within hand.
A warrior’s cry so loud within his broken whisper, that demons quivered in fear.
Abused and hated, homeless and hungry, he took a leap and grabbed the hand of Salvation.
Never alone, always held, Emmanuel, God with us.
The Shepherd gathers his lost sheep, one by one.
The rafters shook in Heaven today.
The power of a broken praise that can heal hearts and find the lost.
Amazing the grace when love is given and hope restored.
The angels rejoice and martyrs cry with joy when one more is snatched from the grasp of Hell.
When Satan groaned, life is found.
When a birth foretold, and death chained the beast, Heaven’s rafters shook and a curtain tore, the joy poured out no longer contained.
Angels stood amazed as the Gospel was told, the love found in the act of sacrifice too great to bear.
My prayer so loud in my chaotic mind, shame pushed aside and grace found.
No longer condemned, I stand free.
I, I, shook the rafters in Heaven today, pleading to be taken out of the pit to live in the light of righteousness.
O come, O come, Emmanuel, take my hand and pull me free. Set me on the mountain high, out of this pit take me now.
Break the grasping talons of Satan now, shatter my chains, no longer enslaved.
Coat me in the sacrifice of love, wash me in the river of life, let me live in your perfect light.
My broken praise, my gift to you.
My rejoicing joined the angels today, as I was found in the darkness.
My Shepherd led me forth to the light, to drink deeply of the never ending life-giving water, never to thirst again.
The rafters shook in Heaven today.
Satan raged while the angels rejoiced.
I found my God when all was lost.
The gates of Hell slammed shut while Heaven celebrated.
One who was lost was found.


Do not grieve (JAF Camp 2016)

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I just recently finished serving a week at Joni and Friends Southern Oregon Twin Rocks Family Retreat. This is my fourth year serving at this camp that caters to family with disabilities. These are families who fight for their loved ones so they can get proper medical treatment, education, and spiritual care.

These families travel across the nation to participate in four days of camp on the Oregon Coast, because there isn’t something like it where they live. While more Joni and Friends retreats are being set up, the need is so great that the demand overtaxes the supply. There are families who plan their whole year around these four days, that is how important it is to them.

This camp is a place where the campers can be kids, and families can focus on just loving each other rather than being on the defense against other people’s curiosity and advice. Here they are eagerly anticipated and accepted. They are not considered ‘other’ or ‘different,’ they are simply seen as someone to love.

Short-Term Missionaries (STMS) are volunteers who come and serve these families. They are all age ranges, from 10-80 at least, who are so eager to love on these campers that they save up all year to attend. This is not a camp where volunteers put in a few hours of work in the kitchen to have a free fun time. No, this is a place where STMS are paired with a single camper and their duty is to be their friend for the week. It’s a place where they are truly missionaries whose mission is to show these campers that they are deeply loved, exactly for who they are. We have STMS who do bake sales, garage sales, mow lawns, build birdhouses, and numerous other things, to raise money, because this retreat is that important to them. $450 is a lot of money for a 13 year old to raise, but they do! And now many of them are raising about that much money again, so they can serve in the next week of camp as well. The STMs love it just as much as the families do.

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All of our camp volunteers (STMS) Nearly a 100 kind spirited people giving of their time and money to serve

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Our whole family camp! Campers and STMS together

This year our camp verse could be found in Nehemiah 8:10, “The joy of the Lord is your strength.” But, the verse is right in the middle of a sentence. What the actual sentence says is, “Nehemiah said, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”” 

Nehemiah is an amazing book full of God’s mercies and work. It’s about the Israelites getting to go back to the Promised Land, after being put into the chains of slavery due to their sinfulness. It’s about a pagan king who listened to the voice of God and allowed his cup-bearer to leave and build the walls of Jerusalem once again. It’s about the eagerness of the God’s people hearing the words of the Lord once more. It’s about the joy of finding God after years of silence (on the side of the people).

In this section of Scripture, we find the people hearing the Word of the Lord for the first time in years. They were weeping because they hadn’t heard it for so long. But, this was a time to celebrate. The Word was available once more. It was being read from early morning till midday. And the people stood to hear it.

Do not be grieved. Don’t be grieved that before you didn’t understand the Word. Do not be grieved over the past deeds, because now you have the way to make your slate clean. Do not be grieved.

It is a time to rejoice! To revel in what the Lord has done! He has done the unimaginable and it must be savored. He has brought the Israelite nation out of slavery and out of their sin and has brought them back to their forefathers’ Promised Land. The pagan king funded the rebuilding of Jerusalem! How amazing would it have been to be there, to walk back into that land that was your father’s and know that you could come home.

Nehemiah is telling these people who were weeping over the loss of time and of the Word, to not grieve, to rejoice, because that joy of the Lord is your strength. The joy of the Lord is your strength. Rejoicing and reveling in the Lord gives you strength.

These families with disabilities know what it is like to grieve. Some days, it may feel like they can never find anything to rejoice, but then the joy of the Lord strengthens them. And this camp gives them that strength.

But, at the same time, these families know how to rejoice over the little things. Things that might seem inconsequential to us, but are major milestones for their loved one. And this camp helps them rejoice over them.

Joni and Friends Family Retreat is an experience like no other. It is hard to use words to describe it adequately, because there isn’t one thing similar to pull from to compare. It is often compared to Disney, as being the happiest place on Earth, because at camp, the campers can just be kids. No expectations to fit into any mold that one may insist on being the perfect one. No trying to remember the arbitrary rules of society so that one can be accepted. No acting a certain way so that you won’t be laughed at. No explaining why you do things differently than others, why you walk the way you do, or why you can’t speak.

These people at camp, they understand. They look at you, and see simply, you. You. The one God declares Beloved. You, who God created with great love. You, whose beauty can be seen as God intended, rather than as a mark against the plastic perfection of society. You, whose talents are marveled at, whether you can sing or draw, or throw a ball, or take your first walks on screen. You, you are celebrated for being you.

Here your ticks are accepted. Here sounds that are voiced are cheered. Here you can run because its just so much, and we will run with you, rather than force you to stop. Here your mask can be left at home, and the real you can be let out to enjoy the world as it was meant to be. Here people rush to meet you. Here hesitation and fear have no place as you are loved. Here people will share their food and their space. Here the need for quiet is understood, but so is noise, and what a joyful noise to the Lord we make together! Here miracles happen on a regular basis, voices are found, friendships are made, love is given. Here, angels tread and God blesses those he calls his.

God’s love for you is your strength. He knew you when he placed you in that womb. He knew your life would be difficult, but he knew he wanted you. You were not a mistake. He rejoices in you, every minute of every day. He knows you and loves you just as you are. He gave you spiritual gifts to bless this world, don’t let anyone get between you and worshiping your Father. Share your gifts!

I know a camp where we are eagerly awaiting to celebrate them…

I highly recommend Joni Eareckson Tada’s biography if you have never heard about this ministry. Joni- An Unforgettable Story

http://www.joniandfriends.org/store/product/joni-unforgettable-story-discount/

You can also follow her radio/video series, many of which can be found here:

http://www.joniandfriends.org/jonis-corner/

For more information about Family Retreat, please see:  http://www.joniandfriends.org/family-retreats/

For more information about volunteering at a Family retreat, please see:

http://www.joniandfriends.org/family-retreats/for-volunteers/

A Christian & A Muslim in Walmart 

A handful of years ago, I had just gotten off of a double shift that included a graveyard. I was tired, grouchy, and still in my scrubs from my job at an Adult Foster Home.

I was at the point of being too tired to sleep, so I had gone into town to do some errands before having to get back for another double shift. I hoped I could burn off some of the jitters so I could grab at least few hours of shut eye.

I was digging through one of those $5 movie bins at Walmart trying to find anything that wasn’t a B-rated movie. A gentleman stopped by just as a family of three walked off with a handful of cartoons and boxes of candy.

He murmured a hello, and I flashed a quick polite, yet distant smile as I continued to dig. I barely registered his white skullcap or his traditional white religious shirt and trousers.

After a minute or two of quiet digging he cleared his throat. “Doesn’t seem to be much in here.”

I chuckle and shrug, “No, but I keep hoping there’s a diamond in here.”

“Yes. Something to eat up the hours while waiting for the sun to come up again.” He sighed as he started to stack the DVD cases.

“I’m doing a run of graveyard shifts so I understand that.” I flipped through a few more movies as his pile became larger. He started a second and third pile and I realized he was separating them.

“Are you a nurse?” He asked with polite hesitancy on the word while motioning at my Eeyore covered scrubs.

“A caregiver. I work with the elderly.” Then, through my exhaustion, I noticed his sad look and nervous hand motions.

“That has to be hard. Do any of them…do any of them have Alzheimer’s?” He stopped fooling with the DVD cases and smoothed down his shirt.

I also stopped flipping through the movies to look at him. A gentleman who was probably in his late 50s with his own brand of exhaustion lining his face. There was a mixture of fear, sadness, and a hint of desperation in his eyes.

“Yes. I have a few clients with Alzheimer’s. I’ve worked with those living with that nasty disease for a number of years now.” A light seemed to enter the man’s eyes as I talked.

“My mother has it. I had to go home to collect her. Iran is all she ever has known. It’s so different here. I wonder if I did her wrong, bringing her here.” He rubbed his face with frustration.

I desperately wanted to give him a grounding touch on his arm at that moment, something to show him that he wasn’t alone. But, respecting his religious garb and the vague knowledge I have of his culture, I refrained and attempted to pour all that compassion and concern into my words.

“It’s never wrong to take on the hard duty of caring for your parent. It’s a lot of sacrifice. Do you have family here to help?”

“No, I’m all that’s left. That’s why I brought her here.” He started digging through the movies again. “She is so angry. Some days she throws things, others she screams. Some, she just weeps. I come here to Walmart just to wander the aisles. Just to breathe without her. Then I feel guilty for leaving her. What if something happened? My mother was never a happy woman, but now she is just so….just so full of hate. I am so tired.”

“It is tiring. Especially if you can’t take time for yourself. Does your mosque have any community services to help? I know of a few, such as Catholic Services that help in the home. If nothing else they can come for a few hours so you can go for a walk or do errands.” I wracked my brain for any of the local community services that were available for such issues. “Or a neighbor you’d trust to watch her for an hour? Someone who could do with a little money?”

“I am no longer connected to my mosque since moving down here. It’s been a few years, most of my friends are gone. They don’t want to be around a man who is worried about his mother all the time.” He sighed. “It just keeps getting worse. Some mornings, I hope she might not wake-up. I’m a horrible son.”

“You aren’t horrible! You’re burning out. You need support. I know it’s hard to even to contemplate, but if she is getting too hard to handle, you might have to think about putting her in retirement home. Where they can have someone able to watch her 24 hours a day. It’s hard to think it might be time for that, but it might be best for both of you.” The man looked near tears as I finished speaking.

“I’m just so lost. I just want to do the best for her.” He looked at his watch and sighed. “I should get going. I’ve taken up your time and I have left her too long. Thank you for talking with me.”

Nervously, I offered, “Sir, would you mind if I pray for you? I don’t want to offend you, but I’d really like to.”

He smiled, “Prayers are always welcomed. I’m assuming you are Christian?”

“Yes.”

“Thank you.”

So, at that moment I prayed for this gentleman from Iran in traditional Muslim religious garb who was worried about being a good son to his ill mother. I prayed for wisdom for the next step, patience in his care, comfort for the mother, and a community that would support them.

After I finished, he patted my hand that rested on the movie bin. “Thank you young lady for listening to my rambles. For your compassion.” He left with a blessing to Allah.

It was a chance encounter. Two very weary people wanting to find rest. 40 minutes of talking. I’ve never seen that man again. I never found out his name. But, I think of him often.

It wasn’t my first conversation with someone in the Muslim faith. I’ve always had very nice cordial interactions with them before and since. But, this interaction in particular has constantly reminded me how very human each of us truly are.

With all the constant news regarding terrorism, al Qaeda, and now ISIS, it is sometimes difficult to remember that the 1% of “Muslims” who are killing, do not speak for the other 99%. Men and women who are just living life the best they can. They have the same hopes, fears, and yes, even enemies as we do.

I, as a Christian, do not want to be lumped into the same group as those who are fanatics proclaiming to be apart of my faith. I don’t want to be associated with the 1% of  “Christians” who attack people out of fear and hate. The KKK, Westbro Baptists, those who attack people who appear to be different than the “righteous,” do not speak for me, my faith, or in the name of my God.

Why do we insist on doing the same to Muslims?

When ISIS attacked European cities over the last couple of months, worldwide tears were shared. When an attack on a LGBT friendly nightclub in Orlando was found to have links to support for ISIS, tears and rainbows abounded. Hours of news reports flooded the tv.

We were united in condemning the actions of terrorists. Domestic and international.

I applaud the actions of compassion and unity. Show your support.

But, then I start hearing the troubling news of innocent people being attacked as they attempt to go to local mosques. Bomb threats on places of worship. Where children are. And I am ashamed of my 1%. The 1% Christians who spew vitrol out on social media hidden by their keyboards, the 1% of Americans who think hate makes us safer hiding behind their patriotic pride.

It saddens me more as I hear of the numerous terrorist attacks in the Middle East being linked to ISIS. Of the Muslims being slaughtered during their holiest of months, because they weren’t willing to partner with their 1%. 

But where is the outcry? Where are the tears and the show of unity? Where are the candlelight vigils? 

Suspiciously absent.

For God so loved the world” Nowhere in the Bible does it say, “everyone but them.” You cannot condemn the actions of a terrorist group but be quiet when they kill those who share the same faith system.

Turkey has had at least 7 attacks this year. I’ve only heard about this recent one in passing on the news. I certainly didn’t read about it on social media. Other Middle Eastern cities have been attacked by advancing ISIS soldiers as well. But, it’s just silence until it spills over into Europe or America again.

It’s not right. As a Christian, I believe that every single person on this earth is a child of God’s. Whether we call him our Father or not, we are still his. So I must grieve when I hear about more senseless deaths and terror.

The 1% does not control my actions. Fear does not make me hate. Instead, when the days get dark, I remember my Iranian friend who let me pray for him in Walmart.

I remember that love is always stronger than fear and hate.

We are all children of God. And I love you because you are family. And I will grieve with and for you. You are loved.

A Valentine’s letter to God

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Dear Father,
I’m sorry.
I haven’t been talking much to you lately.
No, actually, I haven’t been listening to you all that much.
I don’t know exactly why or when it happened. I just kept putting it off. When I call you up, or acknowledge your presence, it’s more to talk at you. Not, you know, talk with.
Why does that happen?
I love you so much. I want to hear you, to see your hand on my life.
Am I afraid of something that I think you might say?
Am I hiding from some truth you need to impart?
I don’t know. That’s more than probable, I guess.
I know that I have been struggling lately with what I think my life should be like at this moment in time. We build up these fantasies in our minds about the grand things we will accomplish at some arbitrary time we’ve selected. Then we find ourselves just being disappointed.
My dreams feel as if they are turning to dust within my grasp at this very moment.
I had plans, I had goals!
I seem to have nothing to show for it.
Father, I feel rather useless at this time. Perhaps, I fear, that you see me that way as well. Maybe, maybe that’s why I haven’t been turning my ear to hear your soft voice.
I struggle to open your message and find the encouragement that I know for a fact is there. Waiting. Waiting for me to be brave enough.
I’m always rather, cavalier might be the word? about telling others that I’m waiting on your guidance. I am. That’s not what I’m almost indifferent about, but rather the attitude I attach to the waiting. Or is it what I’m showing the world?
I believe that you can guide my steps. But, am I eagerly awaiting your guidance? Maybe eagerly isn’t the word. Trepidation? Maybe that’s a little bit closer. I could probably fill this letter with the thesaurus, it helps me skirt the issue.
I feel like I should be moving, but instead, it’s like I’m glued where I’m standing. With blinders on, so I can’t even turn to see the way.
It’s this weird pull and push feel. I know I’m where I’m supposed to be right this moment. (Example: living with my 99 year old client is where you have me. I think this is possible for at least one more year, but maybe two.)
But, I feel as if there is something I’m supposed to be doing at the same time. What?
That’s the million dollar question, Ranelle.
I keep questioning how my struggle with education (i.e. getting my Master’s) will play out in my life.
Will my Master’s in Divinity be simply used in my local church? Not, that my church isn’t worthy of me using it to teach Sunday school, but I thought counseling was the dream…
What about the 8 long years of being forced to break new ground at my school in regards to finding the ties between Theology and Disabilities? 75 pages later and a failed attempt at a class, the school seems to have no interest in it.
But, the class seems to have sprouted legs and ran across the country to come to fruition under different leadership. Bittersweet for sure, excited though I am for another school to catch the bug for the issue.
I saw and felt your hand through every step of that fight, God. Now I wonder, did I falter? Did I fail you? Or was it just so I could see the blessings in my own struggle with learning disabilities?
What am I missing?
I know that you love me, that your dreams are so much bigger than I can even imagine. But, I’m afraid that I’ll miss them. That I’ll be so busy looking at my poor misguided dreams and not see the huge one you are driving towards me.
Are you perhaps saying, that my dreams are too limiting? That they were good to get me from point A to point B but your dreams for me will take me to point Z?
Isn’t it funny? I’m just as afraid of your big dream for my life as I am of you not having a dream for me.
Of me just being…me.
No assurances of me being special, or of me playing a key role in the grand scheme of things. Of me, just simply being average.
I wonder God, if all of your children have that secret fear as well? Do we all aspire to be truly amazing and fear we are mediocre instead?
Do we become mediocre when we let the fear of failure get in the way of listening to you?
I believe you as the Creator God never made a mistake in the making of your children. That’s what you forced me to come to realize when you made me work on that paper. I believe each person you have given the chance to be on this earth, has a beautifully messy purpose here.
But, because you are a just God who wants true worship, you gave us freewill.
And we – with freewill– have totally ignored our purposes and masked them with flimsy dreamscapes. Where your truth lies uneasily under our fabricated realities, poking holes trying to make us aware of more.
You know so much more and want to give us so much more.
But, afraid we cling to the darkness and the falsehoods we have built around us like a cocoon.
Father, make my life a love note to you. Remind me that though I only see the ugly, bumbling, hungry caterpillar, you see the brilliant, made new, freed butterfly in all its shining colors.
Remind me, when the world gets too loud with its false encouragements, that you see me as just right. That you see me as your redeemed child, just perfect for that special mission built for the gifts that you gave me.
Remind me, that I am special. You deemed me special, because you had your Son die a horrible death to save me.
Remind me Lord, that I am yours.
Make my life your love note.
My dreams are small in comparison to your’s. They have served their purpose, now help me serve mine.
Dream your dreams for me.
I want to walk down any path you lead me to, so please help me to see it laid out before me.
Though I am sure to stumble for I am weak of flesh, please help me to keep walking for you are strong.
Hard though it is, help me release the “should’ves, the need tos, the would’ves, and the have tos.”
This Valentine’s day, I recommit my love to you.
Your love is the only thing that can keep me on the right path and not stuck in my mind. I want to love you so deeply that I can never hear the words of doubt that dance in my mind. I want to love you so much that I race to the end of the known and jump into the dream only you know. I want to love you so much that fear has no hold upon me.
Use me Lord.

Casting Crowns “Dream for you”  {listen

Tears Worth Shedding

Two killed on air
Nine killed in church
Man stabbed in broad daylight
Suicide bomber kills forty, injures hundreds
Bomb hits China
ISIS beheads thirty men, kidnaps ten children
Terrorist attack hits England
Threat level rises in US

The news is full of the bad and the worse. Having a client who watches the news 14 hours out of the day, I hear so much negative news that I teeter on the brink of apathy.
I don’t want to not care.
I want my heart to break as God’s does.
I want my eyes to overflow with the shared pain of the world, as well as that heartbroken family, who just got the news their beloved soldier was killed on his way home.
I don’t want dry eyes and a hardened heart.
These deaths that blaze across the shimmering screen are worth tears.
Children being abused are worth getting angry about.
All are worth being prayed over, all are worth crying out to the God who knows all and mourns all.
These are tears worth shedding for the blood that flows, hearts breaking, and the pain felt.
Help me, Lord, to always love as you do.
Help me to the point I feel the sorrow you feel for your lost children.
No matter the actions of the body, the soul is always worthy of tears.

1 Timothy 1:5
“The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.”

2 Timothy 1:7
“For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.”

Love Well (a wedding poem)

Love Well
Written for J &A H. on the event of their wedding.
8/16/2015
With love, Ranelle Gildersleeve

What is love?
Is it always flowers and candlelight dinners?
Is it always easy smiles and shared laughs?
Love is pushing up your sleeves and digging deep.
Love is picking up socks for the fiftieth time that week, and still smile when he walks through the door.
Love is getting in your car and driving an hour out of your way, just to bring her a forgotten bag.
Love is a struggle. Struggle well together.
You may have candlelight dinners, but more often than not, you will have a table full of bills.
You may have flowers, but you will always have dishes to wash.
Love is a dance that is more often a violent tango rather than the gentle waltz.
Dance well together.
Let never one stand by themselves, but always have your arms around the other.
Love isn’t always easy, but it is always worth it. If you work for it.
Work for it.
Take time no matter how busy it is, and sit together to share your fears and your joys.
Take time to walk the park as dusk falls, hand in hand with no words.
Struggle well together in your faith. Find God in the midst of your marriage and give him control.
Be better together rather than apart. Pray for each other.
No, love isn’t always flowers and candlelight dinners.
Sometimes it’s ripped shirts and dirty knees.
Sometimes love is the act of planting the flowers, rather than picking them.
Love each other well.
God has given you that person that will lift you up when you feel like you can’t go on.
He has given you the person to patch up your wounds when the world is just a little too rough.
He has given you the water for your soul when it’s parched, by giving you the person who can speak the soothing words needed.
In your struggle of life together, may your hands be gentle when you hold your love.
May your mouth be ever kind when you speak of him.
May your thoughts be ever happy when you think of her.
May your eyes ever seek the face of the one beside you.
May your feet always return to the one beside you.
May you never be alone in the midst of the storm as the world rages.
May you always struggle well together as you face life as one.
God has given you the most holy of duties, for two to become one.
Defy the laws of physics and show it is possible for two bodies to become one person.
Love is a struggle. Struggle well together.
In your hands lies your life. Your life is in the hands of your love. Treat it well.
It is a precious gift, one that must be nurtured, and protected from the forces that would tear it apart.
It is your sacred duty to work on building that flame of love every day for the rest of your lives.
Tend it. Feed it.
Let it become an inferno, so that everyone you come in contact with, can feel the heat of it.
May your love be the story of the ages.
May you struggle well together.
May you love well for eternity.