Posts Tagged ‘hope

29
Aug
22

The Unseen Doorknob

I watered our outdoor plants this morning…

Geraniums!

… and in so doing, got a first-hand taste of the meaning of futility.

I say futility first because Joan and I are big fans of annuals. Second, because it is late August.

In June and July, these bright, colorful gems are bursting with life and vitality. They keep the fireworks popping through most of August, too. And like the faithful water boy I am, I am out there every morning, dousing them with water, helping them give encore after encore.

But then August starts to wane and September waits just around the corner. And our glitzy, glamorous annual plants start to droop. 

As their short, yet flamboyant lives begin to wind down, I start to fret. I worry. I despair. I wonder if I have over-or-under watered them. I try CPR and mouth-to-mouth resuscitation on them. But despite my best efforts, they keep letting me know that their time here on our front porch is swiftly coming to an end…

… just like we all knew it would.

Have you ever had that feeling? I mean the feeling that you are working hard, trying your best to make something happen, and yet despite all the creativity and hard work you are pouring out, you are fighting a losing battle? That you are trying to fight a forest fire with an eye dropper.

I sure have.

Even though it was an eternity ago, I remember that the Wonderful World of Dating often felt like a completely pointless undertaking. “I am NEVER going to find the right person! What am I even DOING?”

Parenting certainly had (has?) more than its share of futile feeling moments. Can I get an AMEN on that one?

And while most pastors who are still working won’t admit it, all retired pastors will tell you that ministry feels pretty futile sometimes. It is, in all likelihood, the reason Saint Augustine is said to have found it necessary to prohibit his deacons from using whips on their congregants.

And so, when ferociously facing futility, there are usually only two choices; 1. Give up. Or 2. Go on.

Most of the time, giving up is the sensible response. No matter how much water I pour on it, that dead flower is not going to suddenly spring back to life! Best to save your energy and expend it on a much more possible dream, right?

Great advice! Unless, of course, there is a God in heaven operating by a set of rules superseding those that govern life here in the material realm. Which, by the way, I absolutely believe there is.

As a starting point, I take you back to the story of the rich young man found there in Matthew 19. After an engaging debate about the key to eternal life, the man eventually walks away from Jesus deflated and defeated. He is distressed because Jesus has just told him that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to get into the kingdom of heaven. And did I mention… this guy is very rich?

Upon hearing this, the disciples began to moan and wail and ask Jesus, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus looked at them tenderly, with great understanding and answered, “For mortals it is impossible, but for God all things are possible.” (Matthew 19:26, NRSVU).

In our realm, plants die. Girls (or boys) hang up the phone when you ask them out. Children disobey… often to their own injury and detriment. Churches stay mired in petty squabbles and outmoded thought patterns. Pernicious habits go unbroken. Addictions persist. ALL of this despite our very best efforts to the contrary.

And yet the thing to remember on those days when FUTILITY seems to be all around us are the words of Jesus. Those words remind us there is another realm. That it all doesn’t depend on US. That we have every right to expect the unexpected when we relinquish things into the hands of our Maker and Redeemer. 

If things seem to be at a standstill for you today, my prayer is that God will give you the eyes to see the previously unseen doorknob there in that brick wall you’re facing. 

He will. Just go ahead and ask!

Abundant blessings;

12
Apr
22

Easter, God’s Will, and the War in Ukraine

Since the beginning of time, war has been hell. 

Image courtesy of BBC News

War costs millions of innocent lives. In the blink of an eye, war destroys people, communities, vegetation, and futures.

Some of us have seen war firsthand. Most of us have just seen it on TV, or read about it in textbooks. 

Today, everything is different. 

The hellish brutality of war is, of course, unchanged. What is different about this Ukraine war is its immediacy. This brutal, unprovoked, unconscionable assault by Russia on Ukraine is perhaps the most widely viewed act of mass barbarism in human history. 

And thanks to cell phone video cameras, drones, satellites, and 24/7 news coverage, nothing about this conflict has been left to the imagination. We can now sit in our living rooms quietly sipping our tea as we watch unspeakable horror spew out before our eyes. 

It is hard to take, isn’t it?

Seeing such violence and devastation “up close and personal,” day in and day out, affects each of us in different ways. It causes some of us to turn away in disgust. It causes some of us to turn away in denial, hardening our hearts as a way of protecting them. It causes some of us to cry, scream, and shake our fists at the TV screens. 

And it causes some of us to question how a loving, all-powerful God could possibly allow such carnage and brutality to continue to exist, unpunished.

This is one of those times when evil seems to have the upper hand. Our best theology feels like a blanket of cotton candy that’s been asked to stop a hail of bullets. 

We pray. We worry. We remind ourselves of evil’s historically abysmal track record (like, 0-for-alltime). We write checks to UNICEF and Red Cross and other aid organizations.

And then we pray some more.

In the end, none of it seems to matter. The Mangling Maw of Red Death keeps swallowing everything in its path. This moment has become one of those times when even the most faithful among us wonder how we dare talk about God’s will being done, “… on earth as it is in heaven.”

Then I pause and think, “This must have been what the disciples felt like on that Saturday morning… the day after watching their leader – the One who was supposed to be the promised Messiah – brutally tortured and executed by an earlier Evil Empire.”

They must have felt similar feelings of despair… grief… anger… and helplessness. They too must have questioned the basis of their fragile faith. 

If those 11 lost, grieving souls could speak to us today, they might patiently remind us that it is NOT God’s will that thousands of innocent people die horrible deaths in Ukraine. They would tell us it is assuredly NOT God’s will that homes, churches, schools, apartment and office buildings, and trees be wantonly destroyed. 

If they could, they would look us in the eye and say, “Sometimes in life, evil seems to win the day. Sometimes every hope we have for a world of peace, prosperity, and health seems to crumble to dust, right before our eyes. Sometimes faith seems foolish.”

At that point, the Israelites – you know… the ones who were enslaved in Egypt for over 400 years – slowly nod their heads and say, “Yo. True that.”

Those disciples in one voice would then speak up and remind us of what happened on that first Resurrection Day… the day they finally learned the difference between FAITH and WISHES. They would remind us what it felt like to see that powerful demonstration of God’s unlimited power to draw LIFE from DEATH… PEACE from CHAOS… LIGHT from DARKNESS. They would testify to the change that came over their lives in that one, profound, history-bending instant. 

And then they would reach out calmly, lovingly, place their hands on our shoulders and say, “That day finally taught us that with God, the WORST thing is never the LAST thing. No matter how bad everything around you looks.”

Today, that slim, trembling branch is the one I choose to cling to. I know it’s easy to say that from the comfort of my warm, intact, unbombed home here in Fort Collins, Colorado. But my ease doesn’t make God’s promise any less true… any less reliable. 

Easter should teach us that God’s will can certainly be thwarted for a time…

… But it can never be ultimately defeated.

EVER!

Abundant blessings;

24
Mar
22

Happy Anniversary, Sweetie

Earlier this week, we celebrated an anniversary.

It was the third anniversary of Joan joyfully and triumphantly ringing the brass bell that marked the end of her chemotherapy and the beginning of her remission from cancer.

It has been a remarkable three years indeed.

During that time, we have uprooted and moved our home 600 miles to the west, traveled the world, endured a global pandemic, remodeled a home, mourned a parent’s death, hiked, laughed, wept, and occasionally even acted like goofballs.

In the moment of Joan’s diagnosis… and in the immediate aftermath… our focus was on what cancer took from us. As we held each other and sobbed, we grieved the fact that;

  • Cancer took our composure. 
  • Cancer took our faith in the power of healthy habits to ward off disease.
  • Cancer took our peace.
  • For a time, cancer stole our sleep.
  • Cancer (well, chemo, actually) took Joan’s lovely auburn hair.
  • Cancer took our cherished visions for the future.
  • Cancer took just about every other topic of conversation.

But here, today, three years into Joan’s remission, we have been able to refocus. God has helped train our eyes to see the things cancer could never take. 

We now know, for example, that cancer could never take;

  • Our love for each other
  • The love and support of family and friends
  • Our gratitude for the gift of every new day
  • Our faith in the God who promised us – just as he promised Joshua – that, “… As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will not fail you or forsake you.” (Joshua 1:5, NRSV)
  • The beauty of this amazing world
  • The joy of simple pleasures like a good cup of coffee, a romp with the doggies, a stimulating book, a glimpse of snow-capped mountains, a FaceTime chat with grandkids, the warmth of a cozy blanket, a quiet moment of prayer, a freshly baked loaf of banana bread, or a sassy new pair of shoes.

Without a doubt, on this third anniversary of Joan’s remission we celebrate that cancer did not, could not possibly take from us; namely…

  • The “… peace of God, which surpasses understanding.” (Philippians 4:7). 

Besides cancer, the list is very short of the things that can so profoundly shake your foundations. It is one of those events that draws a big, bold “Before” and “After” line through life. And not just the life of the one who was diagnosed, but through everyone connected to that person. 

When it arrives, breaking down the front door of your life with an axe, like it does, cancer demands a top-to-bottom redefinition of What Matters Most. It smashes every one of the precious mementoes there on your shelf and laughs in your face. 

And suddenly, you find you have not one, but TWO battles on your hands. The first is the medical battle… the one you fight with the help of doctors, nurses, technicians, and researchers. 

But the second battle is the spiritual battle. It is the battle to hold fast to the purpose, meaning, and peace that was hardwired into you by God before you were even born. 

It is the battle for your soul.

I know there are some folks who feel as if we are at one of those “shaking of the foundations” moments in the world today. There is the political animus here at home, the brutal slaughter of the people of Ukraine, the slow degradation of our air and water supplies, the continuing COVID crisis, and the rise of rates of addiction and hopelessness, just to name a few issues off the top of my head. 

When THAT PICTURE is the one we stare at all day long, it is easy to conclude that all is indeed lost. 

But we have a choice. We can choose to focus on another picture. 

We can choose the picture Moses chose to see during his 40 years in the wilderness. We can choose to see the picture Jesus chose during his 40 days of fasting, or on the stormy Sea of Galilee, or in the Garden of Gethsemane.  

We can choose to see the picture of the God of All Creation, seated on the throne of heaven, holding each of us in his loving arms and – in the face of the storms raging all around – clearly speaking the words Jesus spoke to his disciples: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” (John 14:27, NRSV).

Abundant blessings;

01
Jan
22

Happy New Day

So here we are… sitting in front of this gigantic, mysterious package; trying to figure out where and how to begin opening it… wondering what surprises, delights, horrors, or joys it might contain.

The mysterious package I refer to is, of course, the New Year. 

Often when presented with a package as monumental as a whole new year, the human instinct seems to run toward the Grand Gesture. 

We want to name it. We want to set out a list of goals and projects to be accomplished during its visit. We prognosticate about it and try to guess at its true, underlying personality. 

After all, a whole new YEAR is a pretty doggoned big fish to fry. Right?

Well, yes. Sort of.

Except that when the calendar page turned over from December 31 of ONE year to January 1 of the next, we didn’t really get a whole new year dropped in our laps, did we. 

We got exactly ONE DAY

If you really wanted to be accurate, we got one moment. And then we got the next. And then the next, and so on and so on…

I guess what I am trying to suggest here is that instead of spending excessive time worrying about what approach we will take to the living of an entire YEAR, let’s think instead about how we will live the precious gift of the MOMENT we have right here, right now.

In other words, let’s not fret so much about the vastness of the FOREST around us that we forget to tend to the individual TREE we have here on our hands. We don’t want to miss the beauty and uniqueness it offers.

I believe this is the wisdom of the piece of the Lord’s Prayer wherein Jesus advises the disciples to say, “And give us this day our DAILY bread,” when they pray. (Matt. 6:11, NRSV). He intended it as a reminder to them and to other faithful Jews of God’s provision of a one-day supply of manna for every day of the 40 years they spent wandering in the wilderness. (Exodus 16).

There is no doubt we will need bread for every day we live. But isn’t it also a little arrogant to imagine that we know exactly how many days that will be? 

What I am suggesting is that we each take on the New Year as we would take on the new day. Begin it with humble gratitude, thanking God that we have received it. Believe that the day – just like the year – will bring its share of both the expected and the unexpected… the sublime as well as the ridiculous. Ask God to help us find a way to embrace both ends of the day’s spectrum of experience.

Imagine what it would be like if we treated every night like New Year’s Eve and every morning like New Year’s Day? 

[Without the alcohol or bowl games, of course…]

What if… instead of anxiously wondering when God’s Great Gift will land on our doorstep, we stopped and woke up to the fact that it already HAS!?

Abundant blessings to you and yours in this new year and new day. 

13
Dec
21

Jesus and Santa

An image of Jesus thought to be more realistic, based on archaeological records of the people from that
place and time.

On our morning walk today, I saw a sign in a neighbor’s front yard that read: “JESUS IS THE REASON FOR THE SEASON.”

And being the eager Jesus follower I am, I responded with a hearty, “Heck yeah! That’s right, brother/sister/non-binary ally, whoever you are! You’re telling some serious truth right there.”

In that moment, I was caught up in that perennial Yuletide fervor that requires Christians to moan and wail about the gross commercialization of “our” sacred season. “Fie on Santa and his elves and all of their heathen merry-making! People need to focus a lot MORE on the story of God’s miraculous, world-changing incarnation and a lot LESS on finding the best recipe for homemade EGGNOG!”

And of course, that is all true.

But what if… what if it turned out that there was a way for Jesus and Santa to peacefully coexist at this time of year? What if really IS a place for Santa and tinsel and cookies and all those other “trappings” of the Christmas season alongside the manger of Bethlehem? I mean, what if ONE face of the Christmas season did not necessarily have to negate the OTHER?

Pictures of Real Santa Claus

How would that work, exactly?

I think it just might start with the recognition of all the ways that COMMERCIAL Christmas and HOLY Christmas overlap. For example, both celebrate the spirit of GIVING. Both accentuate LIGHT overcoming DARKNESS. And both of them make the FAMILY the center of attention, right?

I am sure this list goes on and on, but the point I am trying to make is: Jesus and Santa might not be quite the adversaries we usually depict them to be. In fact, with Santa’s eternally jolly nature and Jesus’ inclination to love his neighbor as himself, they might even get along quite famously!

However… in spite of the considerable areas of “missional overlap,” there really is one area where Jesus and Santa drastically diverge. And that is the area of THE GIFTS THEY COME TO BRING US. 

In this area, the differences between the two could not be starker.

That’s because Santa comes to fulfill temporal wishes.

 Jesus comes to bring eternal hope.

Temporal wishes are the things you write down on the list that you give to your loved ones (sorry… I mean that you send to the North Pole). They include things like a new FitBit, a new power saw, warm socks, a KC Chiefs stocking hat, and a kayak.

These things may or may not come. If they do, you feel kind of, “joyful and triumphant,” don’t you? 

… for about three days.

If they don’t come (like the new basketball I asked for when I was ten), you feel left out… ignored… forgotten.

Eternal hope, on the other hand, is a totally different kind of gift. The word “eternal” is probably an obvious clue about the nature of this gift. It is the gift that REALLY keeps on giving! It is good NOW, TOMORROW and keeps on being good for your entire life (and beyond!).

It is also available to EVERYONE. Not just those who have a rich benefactor. 

And finally, it is the gift that is perfect for all who receive it. It isn’t made for just one size, shape, or color person. 

I am glad there is a time of year set aside for us to give one another little trinkets and gewgaws that come wrapped with pretty paper and bows. If not for Christmas, I might never get the cool clothes Joan likes to buy me.

But I will be forever grateful that God loved me enough to send the one thing that He knew I really needed…

HOPE eternal.

HOPE incarnate. 

HOPE beyond HOPE…

In other words, his only begotten son.

Abundant blessings;

07
Dec
21

An Undistorted Reality

“I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?” (Isaiah 43:19, NRSV)

Have you ever noticed the way anticipation tends to distort reality… both positively and negatively?

If you’re not sure what I am talking about, think back to the last time you sat by your phone as you waited for a call from your doctor, bringing news about the results of a test. Or recall one of those times when you waited for the back door to fly open, followed by the words, “I’m home!” when your child was already 30 minutes past his/her curfew.

On the other end of the distortion spectrum, I can vividly recall the feeling as the days (Hours? Moments?) ticked by until it was time to head out on that long-anticipated vacation. But thinking back, the reality of that trip never seemed to quite live up to the way my imagination had painted it.

If any of that rings a bell for you, you can easily imagine some of the visions and dreams that danced around in the heads of most Israelites as they anticipated the arrival of the One described by the prophet Isaiah as, “… Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6, NRSV). 

I mean, SERIOUSLY! How could anything on earth be as glorious as THAT!??

I wonder if their imagination got as fevered as mine? For me, as the heat of anticipation builds and builds for that joyous moment to arrive, my brain goes into overdrive. I tend to concoct a distorted, unrealistic picture of the IT I am waiting for… paving the way for heart-wrenching disappointment when IT finally appears. 

In the case of the birth of Jesus (“Immanuel… God With Us”), the experience was exactly the opposite. The REALITY of the appearance of God Incarnate out-stripped even the wildest imaginations of the people of his time.

When Jesus landed in that manger in Bethlehem, he brought with him:

  • LIBERATION… for all people, for all time.
  • FORGIVENESS… for anyone who asks.
  • RECONCILIATION… with God, with others, with the world.
  • NEW LIFE
  • HEALING… for the afflicted – in body, mind, or spirit.
  • HOPE… for the hopeless

… and so much more. 

As Joan can (and will) readily tell you, I tend to have a wild and vivid imagination. But when it comes to Jesus, we ALL come face to face with the God who, “… is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine.” (Ephesians 3:20, NRSV). 

And that’s a WHOLE LOT!

Abundant blessings;

11
Oct
21

A Strange Set of Tools

I’ve got this dilemma on my hands. Maybe you can help me with it.

On the one hand, I don’t like to fail. I mean I REALLY don’t like it. At all.

At the same time, I really like trying things I haven’t tried before.

Therein lies the dilemma. Because the things I try are new to me, I am highly likely to fail at them… at least at first.

Last winter, for example, I decided that a fitting way to engage the wonders of my newly adopted state of Colorado would be to get up on a pair of skis and head down a snowy slope. 

Because hey… EVERYBODY out here skis. Even little babies.

So, I rented some skis and boots and bought goggles and ski pants and found myself an instructor. After an hour of struggling and straining and falling and failing, I decided skiing probably wasn’t for me. God – in God’s infinite wisdom – gave me feet that point toe-outward. Standing correctly on a pair of skis really requires toes that point INWARD… or at least point STRAIGHT.

So, there we had SNOW SPORT FAILURE #1.

Which led me to my next adventure. As I looked around there on the mountain, I noticed that snowboards seemed to accommodate people with feet like mine a whole lot better than skis did. So, it was back to the rental shop to be outfitted with a SNOWBOARD!!

Another hour of falling and flailing and sweating and swearing and I was ready to declare myself a miserable failure at snowboarding. That led me to admit to…

… SNOW SPORT FAILURE #2.

It is embarrassing and more than a little depressing to start looking back and cataloging all the false starts, missteps, bumbles, fluffs, and swings-and-misses I have racked up over my considerable years on this planet. 

Thanks to my clumsy efforts, toes have been stubbed (mine and others), feelings have been hurt, opportunities have been squandered, and lives have been damaged.

And it now appears that Joan and I together will add “failure to become passionate RV owners” to that growing list of failures.

I know, I know. I hear the voice of Bill Gates saying, “It’s fine to celebrate success but it is more important to heed the lessons of failure.” And right beside him there is Albert Einstein (who failed MASSIVELY before changing the history of quantum physics, I’m told) saying, “You never fail until you stop trying.” 

I know all that rah-rah, motivational stuff. I’ve preached it a thousand times to eager, listening ears.

But it isn’t until I turn my gaze to the cross that I really, truly understand the divine power found in failure. You see, God decided to become flesh for the express purpose of re-orientin the hearts and minds of human beings. Jesus came to live among us as the incarnate Word of God… here to facilitate the kind of spiritual transformation that stone tablets could not. 

And yet, what happened? After three years of wandering the Galilean countryside, healing, preaching, feeding the hungry, raising the dead, and bringing hope to the hopeless, Jesus was arrested and executed for his efforts. He was pronounced guilty of rebellion by Rome and heresy by the Jewish religious leaders. 

In other words, his mission failed. 

It failed, that is, until the redeeming, restoring, overwhelming power of God stepped in and turned that apparent failure into a fresh new beginning for human history. 

And as the Genesis Creation story reminds us, from chaos, God made a universe.

From dust God made us.

So we should remember that from the ashes of failure, God can build something new, unexpected, fresh, and life-giving. 

In a very real sense then, the broken pieces of today’s failure just might be the strange building blocks God is looking for to build something new in your life. 

So, keep trying. Keep failing. Keep giving God new tools to work with.

Abundant blessings; 

30
Nov
20

Old Faithful

[A warning to readers: this post contains a ton of references to the game of professional football. It is done in service– hopefully – of a larger theological point. Just the same, people who despise football might want to tune out here. You’ve been warned!]

And here I thought I had to wait a long time.

I moved to the Kansas City area in 1980. At that point it had been 10 years since the city’s pro football team, the Chiefs, had been to the championship game, the Super Bowl. When I first set foot in KC, fans were still basking in the warm glow of that championship. 

They were, however, beginning to grow a little antsy, wondering when the next one might come. 

Little did they (we) know that it would be another 39 years until we tasted the sweet nectar of the Lombardi Trophy again. 

Chiefs fans had to wait through the coaching regimes of Marv Levy, John Mackovic, Frank Gansz, Marty Schottenheimer, Gunther Cunningham, Dick Vermiel, and many others. 

We had to watch quarterbacks named Bill Kenney, Todd Blackledge, Steve DeBerg, Elvis Grbac, Damon Huard, Brodie Croyle, Tyler Thigpen, Trent Green and countless others struggle to string together successive wins. 

Along the way we did see a couple of stars named Joe Montana and Warren Moon drop out of the sky to light up the Arrowhead horizon a bit.

For the most part, though, the time since 1970 was a long, dry trek through the football wilderness for the Chiefs and their loyal fans…

… which, of course, all changed in 2017 with the drafting of Saint Patrick. Mahomes, that is. 

Now, after 50 years in the desert, the wait is finally over. The Kansas City Chiefs have arrived in the Land of Respectability.

Speaking now as an avid Chiefs fan, 50 years sure seemed like a long time for us to wait. But let’s put all of that waiting into perspective, shall we? 

  • God’s Chosen People – the Israelites – lived as enslaved people in the land of Egypt, waiting for deliverance, for nearly 400 years. 
  • Then, after Pharaoh reluctantly agreed to release them from bondage, it took another 40 years to travel from slavery in Egypt to freedom in the Promised Land.
  • The Jewish prophet Isaiah first foretold of the coming of God’s Messiah (or “anointed one”) in the year 356 BCE… in other words, 356 years before the birth of Jesus of Nazareth. 
  • After their military defeat at the hands of the Babylonians and the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, the surviving Israelites spent 57 years in exile in Babylon, beginning in the year 587 BCE. 
  • Nearly two thousand years after his death and resurrection, Christians around the world still await the Second Coming of Christ that was promised by the gospel writers. 

I am not sure anyone really likes to wait… for ANYTHING.

But I have noticed that some people are better at waiting than others. These are the people who seem to possess an inner peace, supremely confident in the knowledge that their waiting will not be in vain. 

You know… the way people used to stand and wait for the eruption of the Old Faithful geyser at Yellowstone National Park; every hour, on the hour, like clockwork. No panic. No worries.

Waiting for God to act really should be like waiting for Old Faithful. In fact, “Old Faithful” might actually be another good nickname for God, now that I come to think of it. 

In contrast, waiting for the arrival of a football championship depends on so many uncertain variables. It takes the right owner, the right General Manager, the right head coach, the right group of assistant coaches, and the right players all coming together at the right time. 

The word “faithfulness” is used 79 times in the Bible to describe this defining characteristic of God. The Psalmist said, “Your faithfulness endures to all generations; you have established the earth, and it stands fast.” (Psalm 119:90, NRSV).

We don’t know exactly WHEN God will fulfill God’s promises… we just know that what God promises, God delivers. And in that certainty, we can wait with patience and hope…

… quite unlike the experience of waiting for the arrival of football glory.  

Abundant blessings;

23
Sep
20

Two Years On…

Today is the day when – two years ago – our world turned upside down.

After experiencing a long bout of various gastrointestinal distresses, Joan went made an appointment with her doctor. She went in on a Wednesday to get a few tests done. You know… just to eliminate some possibilities.

The next day, at around 6:00 p.m., Joan noticed that she had missed a phone call. There was a voice mail message from her primary care physician saying simply, “Please call the office as soon as you can.”

At that moment, our hearts both plunged straight toward our shoes. 

You see, this is not our first rodeo. We both knew that if the call was simply to tell Joan that the tests were all normal… nothing to worry about… the doctor would have just said that on the message. 

On the other hand, if the news was bad, she would not leave a message. She would want to discuss it with Joan and talk about next steps. We both knew that in this case, no news was bad news.

Even at that late hour, Joan tried to return the doctor’s call, with no luck. She got the answering service saying they would be happy to take a message for the doctor. 

We were then faced with somehow trying to pass the rest of that evening and the night with no news and the worst possible case scenarios running through our heads.

As you might imagine, there was not a lot of sleeping at the Brown house that night.

The next day, Joan called the doctor’s office as soon as they opened up. She got straight through to her doctor and received the news we had spent the last 14 hours imagining; the tests showed that there was cancer. In the months ahead there would be chemotherapy, followed by surgery, followed by more chemotherapy. 

As one of our worst nightmares unfolded before us, we were nevertheless able to sniff out a couple of blessings hiding there in the middle of the forest fire. 

The first was Joan’s doctor’s attitude. She refused to talk about what “stage” the cancer was, or to offer her opinion on the odds of survival. She just said, “Let’s not worry about any of that right now. What we’re going to do is get busy and attack this with everything we’ve got and hope for the best.”

The other blessing/super weird thing about that day were our plans for that evening. Months and months before that fateful day, we had heard that Billy Joel was coming to town to play a concert. We both love Billy Joel, and so we immediately called up a few friends and made plans to go out to dinner together and then carpool to the concert site. Together we would rock the night away, dancing to hits like Uptown Girl, New York State of Mind, Big Shot, We Didn’t Start the Fire, It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me, and of course – somewhere on the set list – Piano Man. Probably as the encore.

 And so, as irony would have it, that blueprint for a wonderful evening of friends, food, and fun was scheduled for THAT VERY DAY… the day of Joan’s diagnosis. 

We decided not to ruin everyone else’s evening by sharing our news over dinner, so we just force-smiled our way through the dinner, the drive, and the concert. 

In a way, the whole thing was kind of a welcome respite. But every now and then during the concert I would wrap my arm around Joan’s shoulder, squeeze her tight, look down into her eyes and mouth the words, “I love you,” over the din of the music.

The journey of the last two years has changed both of us forever. We got Joan connected with one of the best gynecological oncologists in the region. Her surgery was a success. Chemotherapy was not really the torture chamber we had feared (I know… easy for me to say, right?). 

Joan lost all of her hair and was significantly weakened by the entire process, but all of her critical blood counts and cancer markers have gone down and stayed down since they officially declared her “in remission.”

Of course, we don’t know what the future – long-term or short-term – holds for us. But then again, who does? 

Life is different these days than it was two years ago. But it is also somehow sweeter… more precious… more open to quotidian mystery and wonder than it ever was before. We miss fewer opportunities to kiss and stroke one another’s hair – now that hers has grown back. The importance of our faith and our family has jumped for both of us exponentially. Neither of us holds back when the need arises to say, “I need help,” or “I need to rest a little,” or, “I appreciate you so much.”

We cannot even begin to express our gratitude to the friends, family members, church friends, and total strangers who have picked us up and carried us through these days. Sometimes Psalm 103:13-16 informs us: “As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust.
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.”

At other times, we lean heavily on Matthew 6:26-27, where we hear Jesus saying, Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?  Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?”

But the verse that has lent it’s comforting shadow to us more than any other over these past 24 months comes from the pen of King Solomon: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.” (Proverbs 3:5-6, NRSV). 

Whatever you might be going through yourself right now, I pray you might find a way to make these words YOUR theme also.

Abundant blessings;

18
Sep
20

Pro and Con

“Well, it sure beats the alternative!”

I honestly can’t count the number of times I have uttered this phrase whenever someone complains to me about the tribulations of aging.

Here of late though, I’ve had cause to wonder: Is it though? Is getting older REALLY better than NOT getting older?

I have been absent from these blog pages for many more days than I like to be. Some of the reason has to do with some out-of-state travel. Mostly though it has to do with sudden bouts of mortality. 

Earlier this week I aggravated a lower abdominal strain (think lowest abdominal area possible) while trimming our nine-foot-tall hedge. That led to an unplanned trip to the ER. That injury led to a wrenching spasm of my lower back which led to a second ER engagement in less than 12 hours. 

Today I am hopped up on pain killers and muscle-relaxers, trying to bring the pain under some kind of control as I pen this blog post. (And just so you know… I am going to blame all errors in grammar and syntax on my current, pain and drug be-fogged state).

I found my recent string of unfortunate body meltdowns leading to this question: “So what is so great about getting older, anyway?”

And being the list-maker that I am, I started ticking off the PROS and CONS of aging. On the PRO side you have to begin with life experience. To brazenly steal the current State Farm Insurance tagline, “We old folks know a thing or two because we have SEEN a thing or two.” 

There is also the PERSPECTIVE that comes with age. We can look back on something like a broken heart… something that seems like the end of the world to a 22-year-old… and know with confidence that “this too, shall pass.” 

Something else I have noticed is that while we of a certain age are old enough to remember a world before cell phones and the internet, we are still young enough to embrace and use them. 

So there I was… humming blissfully along, making my lists of the costs and benefits of aging… when my brain brought me to a screeching halt. “What in the world…” Brain asked me, “… is the purpose of these lists you’re making? I mean, what are you going to DO with them once you finish?” 

When I pressed Brainy to explain himself a little, he replied, “I mean, if you come up with more CONS than PROS, what are you going to do? Will you try to reverse time and grow YOUNGER? And then what if it comes out the other way – with more PROS than CONS? Are you planning to look down with disdain on everyone younger than you?”

I had to admit it; Brain had a point. 

His question reminded me that any time we start down the road of comparing ourselves with others, our lives immediately begin going off-track. For starters, we cut ourselves off from the opportunity to be grateful for the life we are living RIGHT NOW. We start to look at other people as superior, and therefore start to resent them. Or else we see them as inferior and start to reject them. 

In any case, we fall right into the trap God warned Adam and Eve about in the third chapter of Genesis… right there in Paradise, where it all began.

You remember the story. God said, “I’ve set up this beautiful garden for you. Come, take care of it. Have dominion over all of the animals living there. Be my special friends. There is just ONE RULE… don’t eat the fruit of that tree over there. You know… the one there in the middle of the garden.” 

Do you remember the name of that tree? It was not called Apple Tree. It was called, The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. (Genesis 3:5, NRSV). 

In other words, you and I were never intended to have the power to label things “Good” or “Evil.” God always knew that kind of labeling power was too awesome for humans to wield. That ability has always been above our pay grade. Like Thor’s hammer, it is only intended to rest in the hand of the Divine One. 

God’s preferred choice for Adam and Eve was to submit and enjoy. Instead, they chose to rebel and, as a result, suffer. 

Today, I am tempted to look at my aging and decaying body and call it a mistake… to call it wrong… to consider myself cheated. But then I remember the advice Paul gave to the Thessalonians in his first letter to that fledgling church: “… give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:18, NRSV). 

I think when he said ALL circumstances he meant ALL. The good, the bad, the pro, the con, the sickness, or the health. 

Even that “getting older” thing.

Abundant blessings;




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