Posts Tagged ‘blessings

15
Jul
20

“You’re FIRED!! “

Fired imageHave you ever been fired from a job?

I don’t mean “Sorry, Russell, but we’ve got to let you go because of a downturn in economic conditions.” I mean FIRED. As in, “Dude, we thought you would be good at this job when we hired you, but it turns out you really suck at it. Please pack up your stuff and leave NOW.”

I’ve had that experience. More than once.

And I have to tell you… it is one of the worst feelings in the world.

First there is the slap in the face of personal rejection. There is no sugar-coating the message that says, “YOUare inadequate. YOU don’t measure up.” You can stand there and cry “FOUL!” and complain ‘til you are blue in the face, usually to no avail.

The verdict is in. You’ve been found GUILTY and sentenced to immediate termination. No appeals will be granted.

Then, as you are still reeling from the shock of the initial blow and struggling to regain your balance, the fear and panic begin setting in. “What am I going to do now?” you wonder. “How am I going to support my family?” “Who is ever going to hire me again with this black mark on my record?”

And I have to tell you – it is no picnic sitting on the other side of that desk either. During my career in ministry I only had to fire two people for cause. It might only have been two, but each one weighed heavily on my heart. I stewed about it for weeks before, tried to rationalize my way out of the deed, giving second and third chances and coaching in hopes of turning things around.

But in the end, the axe had to fall. And it literally made me sick to my stomach (regardless of what the star of The Apprentice might have you believe).

Looking back on those dismal chapters of my life, I am reminded of God’s amazing power to redeem. Though I would not wish either end of the firing squad on my worst enemy, I am aware of the unique way those experiences helped shape the person I am today.

For starters, they helped remind me of the tender heart that lies within (sometimes DEEP within) every person I meet and how each of those people yearn for acceptance. I have learned that even in a fleeting encounter – at the cash register, at the gas pump, or even just passing on the sidewalk – I have the power to communicate ACCEPTANCE or REJECTION to each one.

Those painful passages – together with my abiding faith in the love of Christ – also helped remind me that any rejection I face from another person is a transitory state of affairs, based on immediate circumstances. It has NO BEARING on my intrinsic worth as a person. As Christ himself reminds us in Matthew 10:29, 31, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care… So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”

I am prompted to insert here the reminder that the “you” in this passage is unconditional. It is not the “you” who performs well on the job, at home, or in the community. It is the exact “you” who is reading this sentence right now, warts and all.

As you go about the tasks that this day requires, look around carefully. Notice your neighbors, or the people you pass in the store or on the street. Be reminded that every single one of them is craving some reminder that they matter… that they are accepted.

And maybe YOU are there for that express purpose.

 

Abundant blessings;

09
Jul
20

Puzzle People

Jigsaw puzzleAs you can see from the photo immediately to the right, Joan and I have almost completed this 500-piece jigsaw puzzle. All that remains are fitting the last pieces of the pale blue sky together.

This puzzle was very much a quarantine-inspired undertaking.

“Good job!” You might be tempted to say. “Way to go!”

You would, however, immediately withdraw your lavish words of praise when I confess to you it has taken us nearly 90 days to get to this point.

We began the project with great enthusiasm, dumping the box out onto our dining room table, grouping all of the similarly colored pieces together, bringing over snacks and drinks, taking turns studying, fussing, fiddling, and painstakingly fitting pieces together.

After a couple of sessions each, the wind of motivation suddenly left our sails. The puzzle just sat there for days… fragmented… silently judging us.

About a month ago, as we both sat staring dejectedly at the scattered pile of pieces, Joan and I looked at one another and said, “I guess we’re just not puzzle people.”

Puzzle people (and God bless you if you are one) must possess great powers of concentration. They must be infinitely patient. They must be able to visualize patterns and connections in their mind’s eye. They must have a finely-honed appreciation for solitude… or else possess the ability to work well with others.

Puzzle people are able to play the long game and do not set their sights on immediate gratification.

As I sat down and began listing out all of these traits, I found myself muttering, “How awesome would it be to be a Puzzle Person. Too bad I’m not wired that way at all.”

But then I stopped and looked again. I noticed that in spite of these serious impairments in my God-given proclivities, I was less than 30 pieces away from finishing this puzzle. The bliss of hearing that soft “CLICK” as I drop the final piece into place is just hours away.

“Is that amazing or what?” I whispered. “How did that happen?”

And then I remembered that sometimes God sneaks up behind us and surprises us with a totally unexpected result in a situation we thought we had completely figured out.

(Hang on here… I am not claiming divine intervention was at work in our puzzle progress. I am beginning to piece together a spiritual analogy of sorts. Hang in with me for a minute…)

Throughout the pages of scripture, we find countless examples of God deputizing people who believed they were hopelessly ill-equipped to do necessary deed. There are scenes of denial and protest and, “Sorry God, you’ve got the wrong guy/gal. Go pick someone else.” Following by that hopelessly inadequate person suddenly stepping up and delivering the goods.

There is Moses, for example.

And Gideon.

And Deborah.

And Ruth.

And Esther.

And David (later, KING David).

And Ezekiel.

And Peter.

And Saul (later, Paul)

And on and on, ad infinitum.

I don’t believe these stories are meant to teach us that sometimes God swoops in and supernaturally imbues hapless schlubs with magical new powers. Although I am sure that does happen sometimes.

What if the point of these stories is more to show us how God intervenes and opens our eyes to abilities we already have, yet which we have somehow submerged under layers of doubt and despair?

What if it is the case that each of those “unlikely biblical heroes” (and each of us, too) already had those remarkable faculties FROM DAY ONE and just needed a godly “nudge” to believe in and USE them?

Imagine that!

 

Gee… maybe I AM a puzzle person after all!

24
Jun
20

Canine Comfort

Rosie and Patrick in the kitchenHere we are on day 1,465,283 of The Great Quarantine of 2020…

… at least that’s what it feels like.

Like most of the rest of you, Joan and I have stumbled upon a variety of strategies to help us cope with the endless days of isolation. Not surprisingly, many of them center around technology; Zoom, Netflix, FaceTime, FaceBook, FacePlant (JK!!), Kindle, Amazon Prime, and Hulu.

We have also been known to go a little old-school now and then and throw in a book, a jigsaw puzzle and, if we are really desperate, an Actual Conversation.

But as the blogosphere is my witness, we have both discovered that nothing quite helps smooth out the raw edges of enforced seclusion like a DOG.

In our case, make that TWO dogs… Rosie and Patrick, our soft-coated Wheaten Terrier therapists.

For starters, they are remarkably tuned in to our moods. If either one of us starts to wilt a little and mope, one of them (usually Patrick) is right there at our side, leaning heavily against us and imparting serenity.

Rosie is especially attuned to my need to periodically get off the computer and PLAY. Suddenly she is there at my side; plush, stuffed, squeaky unicorn in her mouth, looking intently into my eyes as if to say, “Bet you can’t get it!”

Most of the time she is right. I can’t.

And since this breed is known to have the energy level of a mini-thermonuclear reactor, multiple walks each day are not optional. They are mandatory! Rain, sleet, snow, or scorcher. And wonder of wonders, it turns out that those walks are really good for us, too!

Rose and Patrick at the doorAs long as we are making a list of their positive qualities, let’s not overlook their ability to endlessly entertain. Sometimes it feels like we could discontinue our cable TV service entirely and just sit outside watching Rosie and Patrick cavort. They roll and wrestle in the grass. They poke their heads through the fence to talk to neighbor dog Porter. They chase anything I decide to throw in their direction. They stand up and chatter back to the squirrels taunting them from the safety of the Weeping Willow tree.

I would probably pay for entertainment this consistently good – if it wasn’t provided nightly, absolutely free of charge.

Furthermore, if we pay really close attention, we discover that Rosie and Patrick are wise teachers as well. Right now, for example, they are conducting a master class on the health benefits of regular afternoon naps.

VERY important stuff.

There is also a lesson to be learned from the way they enthusiastically greet everyone who comes to our house. With their (admittedly excessive) leaping and barking and licking of each visitor, they are saying, in effect, “People are SO AWESOME! We LOVE people!”

If we followed Rosie and Patrick’s lead, we would begin every relationship believing the very best of that person, regardless of who they were or what they have done. (We should probably leave out the butt-sniffing part though.)

Even though Joan and I are definitively more DOG people than CAT people, I am sure there is a cat-equivalent list of all the ways cats can ease the rough patches of enforced isolation.

I just can’t think of any right now…

 

Abundant blessings;

28
May
20

Frozen People

Young and oldI knew it was coming, just as surely as the next episode of The Lone Ranger on Saturday morning TV.

When I was a wee lad and we made the 415-mile trek to see my dad’s parents in St. Louis, Missouri, the first words out of my grandmother’s mouth were guaranteed.

She would grab each one of us, give us a big hug, hold us out at arm’s length and say, “Well just look at you! Look how you’ve GROWN!”

Of course, I always smiled and blushed, but inside I was thinking, “Well, DUH! We haven’t seen one another in over a year! Did you think I would stay the same size FOREVER?”

Nowadays, of course, I do exactly the same thing to my own grandchildren. Joan and I just drove back to Kansas City for the first time in six months and MY… how those three girls had grown! And I didn’t hesitate saying so!

I know that part of my reaction stems from genuine shock. I have clearly forgotten the explosive power of hormones between the ages of nine and 13… especially in girls in that age range.

The last time we saw her – in February – middle grandchild was a little girl. By some strange magic she is now a young woman.

The other part of my stereotypical grandpa reaction – I’m sure – is a kind of wistful sadness… sadness at the fact that my grandchildren are growing up. Somewhere inside me, irrational as it is, lives a desire to freeze them at their cutest, cuddliest ages and experience them that way forever.

But here is the truly weird thing; I do the same with EVERYONE. I expect every person in my circle of relationships to be exactly the same today as they were the last time we met. For example, when Joan tells me that her daughter (my stepdaughter) is dropping by for a visit, I fully expect to see a bright, young, 17-year-old woman coming through the door.

In reality, she is a 40-year-old medical doctor… a partner in a thriving practice here in Fort Collins, CO.

As Keenan Thompson, a.k.a. Diondre Cole might ask, “What’s up with that?”

What’s up with that, I believe, is a robust urge to evade the reality of mortality. By any means possible I long to be able to pretend that time does not advance… that bodies do not age… that physical death does not wait around the corner for me and everyone I hold dear.

All of which, of course, is utter nonsense. And yet a whole bunch of us continue to pretend otherwise.

The psalmist knew this truth over 3,000 years ago when she/he wrote, “The life of mortals is like grass, they flourish like a flower of the field; the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more.” (Psalm 103:15-16, NRSV).

And yet even when people know of and even accept their mortality, finiteness, and temporality it doesn’t mean they are happy about the state of things.

It is time to face the truth; in the midst of a decaying, mortal world, we have to see that it is foolishness to freeze grandchildren, shoot up with Botox, or hop on a skateboard at the age of 75 (although I have no doubt some do exactly that. More power to them!).

There is nothing we can do to stop the inevitable march of time.

What we CAN do… indeed, what we MUST do is to hang on to the One who stands beyond time itself.

Only in God’s loving embrace can we find the infinite that we so desperately seek. As the psalmist continues, “… the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting.” (Psalm 103:17, NRSV).

 

Abundant blessings;

18
May
20

Best Foot Forward

“You have searched me, Lord, and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar…  you are familiar with all my ways.”
Psalm 139:1-3, NRSV

Chatting over the fenceI had a nice backyard chat with Neighbor Dave the other day. It was my first time to meet Neighbor Dave since we moved here in November.

Don’t worry… Neighbor Dave stayed on his side of the fence and I stayed on mine. We were at least six feet apart the entire time we chatted.

As it turns out, Neighbor Dave (can I just call him Dave from now on? Thanks) just moved here to Fort Collins a month before we did. He and his wife came from California.

Like Joan and me, Dave and his wife are recently retired.

It was a lovely chat. Dave and I each talked about the little projects we are doing on our houses, the things we like about the area, our families, and our sheer delight at the nice, warm weather that was allowing us to get some much-needed yard work done.

When I finally broke it off with my new best buddy, I went inside and told Joan about the great neighbor I had just met and how cool it was that he lived just across our back fence. I probably even said something like, “When all this is over, we’ll have to have Dave and his wife over for dinner.”

And because I had my best foot forward and avoided picking my nose for the ENTIRE time we talked, I am sure Dave went inside and said something very similar to his wife.

That is one reason I like being “the new kid in town.” Every relationship is new. Every person you meet starts out thinking the very best of you. The only thing they know about you is the friendly neighbor face you were holding up as you talked.

They know nothing about all your little quirks and idiosyncrasies… your phobias, fears, prejudices, and flaws. Your bad habits and neuroses and weird notions are utterly invisible to them.

You walk away from your chat, shaking your head and thinking – as I often do, “If they only knew…”

And then – if you happened to think back on the words of Psalm 139 at that precise moment – you recalled that God DOES know all that stuff about you. God knows all the dirt and grime about you there is to know.

In fact – God being God and all – God probably knows stuff about you that you have somehow managed to forget.

God knows it all; the Good… the Bad… and the truly Ugly.

And yet… even with all that super-detailed knowledge… God loves you more than you can possibly understand.

Here is the really shocking news: God’s regard for you is even HIGHER than your high regard for Neighbor Dave. It is that high for two very good reasons:

  • First, because God – through his Son Jesus – has wiped your entire slate of screw-ups clean, and
  • Second, because God knows – far better than you do – what you are truly capable of.

Is that cool or WHAT!

The challenge for most of us is to be able to humbly receive God’s magnificent, unconditional love and then to go out and actually live INTO the lofty vision God has of us.

It is entirely possible that the better Neighbor Dave gets to know me, the less enthused he will be about deepening our relationship.

But Praise God that will never be true about HIM!

 

Abundant blessings;

13
May
20

Final Exam

Stressed out dudeUrgent: [ˈərjənt]
Adjective. calling for immediate attention: PRESSING

 Today I am thinking back to that time when urgency seemed to rule my life.

It was a time when everything had to be done RIGHT NOW! Nothing could wait.

It was a time when I seemed to vibrate with nervous energy, spinning first this plate, then that one, praying I could reach each of them before any wobbled wildly and fell to the ground.

Back then, no matter how fast I ran, or how quickly I got there, some plates still fell and broke. Most of the time, I am embarrassed to admit, the plate that broke was the one labeled “Family Time.”

The thing is, I knew better. I knew my pace was unsustainable. I knew the value of keeping Sabbath time and allowing all my dendrites and synapses to stop their machine-gun firing and cool off a little.

But see, it was so INVIGORATING! When you live in the Urgent Zone you just feel so ALIVE!

Right up until the moment you don’t, of course.

Of course, these days, all of that has changed. Here in quarantineretirementland, there is very little that can be called urgent. If I don’t get it done today, there is always tomorrow. And if I don’t get it done tomorrow, well, there’s always the next day.

No one will die. No buildings will collapse. No sermon will be unpreached if essential “To Do” list items remain unchecked.

I’m not going to lie… it feels GREAT not to be spending my day chasing deadlines, shooting off emails, making phone calls, and driving across town. I especially love spontaneously taking naps just because I can.

But it also feels a little… I don’t know… indulgent? Self-centered? Lazy even? Shouldn’t I be building something, or planting something, or writing something instead of sitting here reading this novel?

This moment of discomfort – I now realized – is exactly the moment Jesus always picks to show up with his next Teachable Moment.

He interrupts the antsiness of my reading time and says, “Russell… I can see it is time to refresh your memory about one of the key lessons from my Sermon on the Mount. Because either you dozed off in the middle of it or have completely forgotten what I said.”

“Uh, sure, Jesus,” I stammered. “Go ahead.”

“Before you retired, you seemed absolutely WEDDED to the idea that your WORTH was tied to your PRODUCTIVITY. I had hoped retirement would have shaken that idea loose, but clearly it has not.”

He continued, “Since it has clearly slipped your mind, here is what I had to say on the subject… I said, ‘Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these.’” (Matthew 6:28-29, NRSV).

“Remember that one?” He paused, obviously waiting for a response.

“Uh, yes! Of course!” I said, proud to be able to show off my Bible knowledge to the Lord of Life.

“Well, I really meant it.” He continued, “You are in good health and – Me willing – have a lot of good years left. The thing I want you to focus on is really LIVING the time you have. Smell the roses, sip the coffee, sing along with the radio, gaze at the sunset, cuddle with Joan, walk the dogs.”

“When it is all said and done, I am not going to ask how many sermons you preached, how many churches you built, or how many “likes” you got on Facebook on a given day.”

“My questions are going to be: ‘Did you love God?’ And, ‘Did you love your neighbor?’ And the bonus question will be, ‘Did you truly LIVE while you were alive?’”

And then he gave me that sly Jesus wink and said, “Now that you know the questions on the Final Exam, get out there and prepare to ANSWER them!”

 

Abundant blessings;

04
May
20

Caution? or Fear?

“For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.” (2 Timothy 1:7, NLT)

Tilt A WhirlLast night I was in our kitchen making a salad. No biggie.

After chopping the tomatoes, I realized I still needed a few leaves of baby spinach for an iron boost. I turned around to the refrigerator, opened the door, and bent down to the open the vegetable-crisper drawer.

All of a sudden, the room started spinning and I became very woozy and disoriented.

Damn!” I thought. “Another vertigo attack.”

I have had these before, so I knew what to do. Joan helped me to the couch where I laid down and immediately began engaging in the Epley Maneuver. (Here is a helpful little diagram of the Epley Maneuver for those who are unfamiliar with it).

It had been more than a year since my last encounter with the vertigo monster. I have undergone countless neurological tests to determine what causes them. However, the best anyone can come up with is a diagnosis of “Benign Positional Vertigo,” meaning that sometimes, when I assume certain positions, little stones of calcium in my inner ear get dislodged and bring on the impromptu Tilt-A-Whirl.

I stop and do a little Epley-ing and the ride stops. The nausea induced by the spinning lasts much longer, but the spinning itself is usually tamed pretty quickly.

I was distressed because I really thought I was done with these. That is until BOOM! There it came… out of the clear blue sky.

As I lay there with the cold compress on my head, (thank you, sweetheart), I began ticking through the “what ifs”.

  • “What if I get a bunch of these back-to-back?”
  • “What if this happens while I’m driving… or walking the dogs… or mowing the lawn?”
  • “What if this is something more serious than misplaced little calcium stones?”

And then – without missing a beat – I began to strategize a whole new life pattern that would help steer me clear of any vertigo-induced mishaps. I probably shouldn’t drive a car anymore. I should probably wear a football helmet while out walking. Maybe it would be wise to pad all the corners in our house with Styrofoam bumpers!

That’s when I knew I had crossed over… from CAUTIOUS LIVING to FEARFUL LIVING.

It made me wonder if I really knew the difference between the two.

We are certainly in a time now when smart (and compassionate) people engage in cautious living. We stay inside unless absolutely necessary. We keep a safe distance from others if and when we go out. We wear face masks and gloves. We wash our hands with ridiculous frequency.

It is good to be cautious when a highly deadly, highly contagious virus is loose in the land.

But when do we cross over from wise caution to unwise (and we might even call it unfaithful) FEAR?

In these global pandemic time, the line between those two is very fine indeed.

The answer lies there in the word “spirit.” Caution might lead us to do exactly the same things that fear would. Fearful and cautious people both wear facemasks, don’t they? The difference is the SPIRIT with which they put them on.

And maybe – just maybe – we can keep ourselves on this side of the CAUTION/FEAR line by exercising some GRATITUDE. Because you see, when we pause and give thanks for the infinite blessings we still DO have, we are too busy to count up the things we MIGHT NOT HAVE should disaster strike.

I tried it last night after my vertigo attack and it was amazingly effective! I said, “Thank you God, for this Epley person… whoever he or she was.” “Thank you that I have this loving wife by my side to soothe me and bring me a cold washcloth.” “Thank you that I was here in my home when this happened and not out on the highway.” “Thank you that this is really nothing more than misplaced bits of calcium.”

Be cautious, yes. But do not fear.

 

… but don’t even get me started on that New York Times article about the arrival in this country of those Giant Asian Murder Hornets!!!

02
May
20

Me and Rosie and the GOM

Grumpy manFort Collins, Colorado – the place where Joan and I moved last November – is a friendly place.

And when I say friendly, I mean VERY friendly.

Actually, I have an introverted friend here who loves almost everything about Fort Collins. The one thing he doesn’t much care for is the uber-friendliness of the place. I overheard him complaining about it once, saying, “You can’t even make a simple purchase at the neighborhood convenience store without somebody asking you how your day is going and what you have planned later on! I mean COME ON! Just ring up my breath mints and let me leave in peace!”

So, it was no surprise to me today when I was out walking the dogs and was cheerfully hailed by every person we passed.

Everyone, that is, except one. The GOM, as I called him. The Grumpy Old Man.

As we passed on the sidewalk, he had his head down, his hood up (the weather was a little on the chilly side), and he was scowling down toward the ground. I know he was aware of my approach because as I moved toward him, I was doing my best to try and keep two rather frisky, 40-pound Wheaten Terriers somewhat in check.

I glanced over in his direction and said, “Hi!” but instead of a wave, a “Hello,” or even momentary eye contact, the guy just trudged past, continuing to stare down at the sidewalk.

“Hmmm,” I muttered to myself. “I wonder what HIS problem is. Why couldn’t he even be bothered to look up for a second and at least wave?”

I felt rebuffed.

I must have actually given voice to my thoughts, because no sooner had I finished that question than Rosie – the female and by far the more intuitive of the two dogs – spoke up.

“Maybe this isn’t about you, Russell,” she said.

“Oh?” I replied, deftly hiding my astonishment at Rosie’s keen insight.

“Did you ever stop to consider that he just might be carrying a really heavy burden right now?” she asked. “I don’t know… maybe someone close to him like his wife just tested positive for COVID-19. Maybe he just heard some bad news about one of his grandchildren. Maybe he is running out of money and doesn’t know how he will provide for himself and his family over the next month.

And then, pausing right there in the middle of the sidewalk so that I would be forced to turn and look her in the eye, she pointedly asked, “Did you ever think of any of those possibilities? Hmmmm?”

Wow. I had to admit that I hadn’t.

I was – just as Rosie had suggested – so busy making the moment all about me and my momentary pique that I hadn’t bothered to consider what might be going on from GOM’s point of view.

Rosie’s abrupt reality check made me stop and realize; every person we encounter – whether waiting in line at the grocery store, driving on the highway, or walking in the park – is smack dab in the middle of a rich and complex story. It might be a story of heartbreak and anguish, a story of longing and estrangement, a story of joy and triumph, or just a story of dry, flavorless tedium.

It is a story made up of intricate details, colorful characters, and unexpected plot twists. And it is likely a story just as interesting as my own.

And here’s the real kicker: Thanks to Rosie’s prompt, I realized that I don’t have to know all the deep details of your story in order to be compassionate toward you. I just need to assume that you’ve got something going on; something that vexes or challenges or delights you.

We can all take great comfort in knowing there is someone who DOES know every teeny, minute detail of our story and still loves us more than we can possibly imagine. Jesus put it this way: Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father.  And even the hairs of your head are all counted.  So, do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.” (Matthew 10:29-31, NRSV).

Next time we are out on our walk, I’m going to try my best to heed Rosie’s advice.

She is pretty astute for someone who regularly sniffs other dogs’ butts.

27
Apr
20

The Waiting Game

Waiting“Let’s put that off for a while,” said the doctor, regarding my possible need for shoulder surgery.

“Let’s wait a bit,” said the out-of-state family member about an upcoming visit.

“Nope. Not happening anytime soon,” said the travel company about our long-awaited 20th anniversary cruise.

“Sorry. That’s on the back burner for now,” said the concert promoter.

“Don’t think we’ll be doing that for a while,” say the organizers of community-wide festivals and celebrations.

“It’ll be back sometime, but we really can’t say when,” say the owners of major league sports teams.

“For the foreseeable future, we are going to have to continue operating remotely,” said the pastor.

“Let’s put a pin in that for now,” said the counselor.

“Yeah… maybe later,” says just about everybody about just about everything.

Welcome to the time of WAITING. Welcome to the Cosmic Pause.

As the time of global pandemic and quarantine drags into its third month, we are all getting a little “antsy,” as my mother used to say. We were more than willing to isolate, sanitize, and mask up at the beginning of this, but the patience of many is beginning to wear a bit thin.

“When can we stop all of this stuff?” we each silently wail… aware that these safety measures are good and necessary and that complaining too loudly about them would be childish and dangerous.

But for those of us who occasionally think the microwave is taking too long to heat our tea water, it is not a bad thing at all to learn how to WAIT… to SLOW DOWN… to cultivate a little PEACE and COMPOSURE in our souls.

Because to wait is to HOPE.

So while we are here at home, studying our jigsaw puzzle pieces and cleaning our kitchen floors with our toothbrushes, I would like to present here a list of some things we DON’T have to wait for;

  • We don’t have to wait to reach out to someone in need.
  • We don’t have to wait to tell someone we love them.
  • We don’t have to wait to be grateful.
  • We don’t have to wait to re-connect with someone we haven’t seen for a while.
  • We don’t have to wait to learn something new.
  • We don’t have to wait to forgive someone.
  • We don’t have to wait to encounter a new idea.
  • We don’t have to wait to see the situation a different way.
  • We don’t have to wait to pray.
  • We don’t have to wait to discover beauty.
  • We don’t have to wait to “… be still and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10, NRSV)

We can do each of those things RIGHT NOW!

And who knows… when all is said and done, we just might find we had reserves of patience that we never knew we had.

Abundant blessings;

02
Apr
20

Something from Nothing, Part 2

One man counseling another(In yesterday’s installment, I recounted one of my most abysmal performances as a pastoral counselor. Troy, a congregant, had come to see me with an incredible mountain of problems including job loss, cancer, his wife’s infidelity, and parenting challenges, all raining down on him at once.

When we left our story, the pastor was wringing his hands in despair, searching and praying for the right word for Troy’s situation…)

Not wanting too many more silent seconds to pass between us, I gave Troy my most sincere, pastoral look, reached out and confidently placed my hand on his left shoulder and said – with an air of authority that was manufactured out of thin air – “Troy… the thing to remember at times like this is just what it says in the Bible: ‘This too shall pass.’”

And then, to add an extra measure of sincerity to the drivel I had just dispensed, I clapped him on the shoulder and nodded.

The reaction I fully expected to receive (and probably should have received) from Troy was something like, “What? Are you seriously kidding me? ‘This too shall pass??’ I could have pulled a random fortune cookie out of a jar and gotten something better than that drivel!”

But, to his everlasting credit, Troy just nodded, thanked me for my time, and stood up to leave.

After that it took me several minutes to compose myself. I was stunned at the level of absolute ineptitude I had displayed in my conversation with Troy. I honestly pondered the possibility of searching for a new line of work… on the spot. Clearly that “call to ministry” I thought I had heard was a wrong number.

Fast-forward six months. I have not heard from Troy or heard about him. I had maybe seen him at church one time in passing since our meeting. And I may or may not have pretended to drop something on the floor when he passed… just to avoid making eye contact.

And then one night it happened… there was an event at church for parents and their children. I was on duty to greet folks as they came in and help them find their way around. And here came Troy… with his two children in tow.

“OK,” I said to myself. “Nothing to do but to step up, look him in the eye and face the music. It might even be that he has wiped any memory of my face and name from his mind… if I’m lucky.”

So, I bucked up… walked up to Troy… stuck out my hand and said, “Hi there, Troy. It’s been a while since we talked. How are things with you anyway?” I tried not to telegraph the fact that I was positioning myself to deflect a punch from his right hand I was reaching out to shake it.

“Pastor Brown!” he said… in a loud, overly enthusiastic voice. (Drat! He recognized me!) And then he went on, “Hey, do you remember that time last fall when we met in your office? You know, when I was in such a messed-up situation and I came to see you?”

“Yeah… sure,” I said… playing along. “I’ve been wondering how things are going for you now. That sure was a bad time for you, wasn’t it?”

He said, “Boy, it sure was. Hey… do you remember the advice you gave me? When you told me ‘this too shall pass’?”

I was getting ready to defend myself, explaining I had been engaged in a spiritual fast the day we met and was clearly delirious from hunger when he interrupted me, grabbed my hand and pumped it vigorously saying,“Man, I can’t thank you enough. That was EXACTLY what I needed to hear at that moment. It helped me take a step back from the funk I was in and just take a breath.

“And you know what? Things are really getting better. I got a new job, so we changed schools and got my daughter away from those bullies… my wife married her boyfriend and I am getting good treatments for my melanoma.”

“But I just really wanted to thank you for helping me get through that. I don’t know what I would have done without you.”

And so, we shook hands, I thanked Troy for his kind words, and we went our separate ways.

At the time I offered it, “This too shall pass,” was a trite, unthinking response that was thoroughly unresponsive to the depth of Troy’s dilemma. I have since checked and found it is also advice that can be found nowhere in the Bible.

What I saw though in that six-month reunion was the power of the Holy Spirit to take the very worst of my efforts and transform it into something powerful and healing.

Right now, “This too shall pass” feels like a trite, almost cruel platitude in the midst of the current pandemic. Sure, it will pass, but who knows when it will pass? Who knows how many lives will be lost in the process? Who knows the long-lasting damage that will be done to our economy by this extended shut-down?

“This too shall pass” is not particularly biblical or earth-shaking as advice goes. But it is true. There WILL be a day in the future when sports resume, when there are stories on the news besides the daily COVID-19 death toll, when kids are back in school, when concerts happen again, and when folks – maybe more than before the pandemic – gather again in church.

No, “This too shall pass” may not be particularly profound.

But somehow my anxious heart – like Troy’s – finds great peace and comfort in knowing it is true.

 

Praise God!




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