One Day at a Time

 

15542374537_62e5cd6485_c-1 (2)

New Life Church Collingwood – flickr.com (CC by 2.0)

I don’t know about you, but over these past few months, I’ve often found myself very angry. Part of it has been anger over things happening in the lives of some of our family members. But much of it has been anger over the coronavirus that is taking so much from so many of us. And anger over how badly I think our leaders have responded to the virus. Although my life has spanned a number of world-consequential events, like most of us, I never expected to be living through a cataclysm such as this pandemic, and it seems that no one really knows what to do.

Much of my anger, however, has been because of my own situation. Earlier this year, I decided to retire on July 1. As I put those plans in motion, I knew I would need a part-time job to make it work. But the prospect of my getting a job that would allow us to pretty much maintain our standard of living looked reasonably good – until the virus struck, that is. With unemployment now at near Great Depression levels, that prospect looks pretty bleak. I’m in the process of developing a freelance business, but it will take  time to get it up and running and making money – if I’m even able to get it to that point. So . . . what to do?

Until recently, what I’ve been doing is wallowing in a good bit of self-pity and worry. But, thankfully, God has been steering my heart away from worrying about what I don’t have – and what I can’t change – and moving it toward what I do have and all that I should be grateful for. He has shamed me into realizing how sinful and wrong my ingratitude and despair really are. And He has helped me begin to truly appreciate all that is still good in my life and in the lives of those I love.

There’s little I can do about the coronavirus – other than be as responsible as I can in how I interact with others. Nor can I control or change how our leaders – both federal and state – have responded to it. But with God’s help, I can change and control my reaction to it. I can focus on the good in my life and in the lives of others. I can look for humor and share it with family and friends. I can appreciate the benefits of working from home and developing the discipline I’ll need when I get my own business going. And, most important, I can pray for those who are experiencing real grief and pain because of this pandemic.

So much has changed in our world since the beginning of 2020. But God is still the same – yesterday, today, and forever – and He is still in control. As uncertainty continues to dog our days, as life as we knew it recedes into a distant memory, and as we embrace a new “normal” that looks very different from the normal we knew, God’s sovereign control – over our lives and in the world – is the one certainty we can rely on. Knowing that, in the words of Reinhold Niebuhr, we can keep “living one day at a time; enjoying one moment at a time . . . trusting that He will make all things right.”

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

Living one day at a time;
enjoying one moment at a time;
accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
taking, as He did, this sinful world
as it is, not as I would have it;
trusting that He will make all things right
if I surrender to His Will;
that I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with Him
forever in the next.
Amen.

            –Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971)

Posted in gratitude | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Cultural Pressure Doth Make Cowards of Us All

courage-chalk-handwriting-handwritten

http://www.pxfuel.com Creative Commons Zero – CCO

Princeton University professor, Robert George, has an excellent essay at Public Discourse that calls out Christians and cultural conservatives for our lack of moral courage in the face of the take-no-prisoners LGBTQ cultural onslaught of the past decade.

The essay is part of a conversation begun when George and Ryan T. Anderson published a piece in USA Today “on the steep costs—personal, societal, political, legal, and moral—of the so-called ‘progress’ on LGBT issues . . .” The USA Today piece elicited a response from Rod Dreher in an article posted at The American Conservative. While writing appreciatively of George’s and Anderson’s work to defend the biblical, conjugal definition of marriage and the traditional understanding of human sexuality and identity, Dreher says that “George and Anderson, and all of us who consider ourselves their allies, failed to stop this thing. But this failure ought to be judged as a loss in a war that was unwinnable.”

In his Public Discourse essay, Professor George takes issue with Dreher’s contention that the war was unwinnable. Unlike Dreher, he doesn’t even believe that it’s permanently lost. But he does acknowledge that “those of us who believe in marriage as the conjugal union of husband and wife and who uphold basic understandings of sexuality and norms of sexual morality have been knocked back on our heels—hard.” And George places the blame squarely on the moral cowardice of those who support these norms but are afraid to make the sacrifices necessary to stand up to the pressures deployed by the cultural forces arrayed on the side of the LBGTQ movement.

According to George:

So when push came to shove, many, many supporters of marriage as the conjugal union of husband and wife and of traditional understandings of sexuality and sexual morality yielded to the bullying or simply abandoned the field. While left-wing (and even a few otherwise right-leaning) millionaires and billionaires poured money into referenda and legislative battles to redefine marriage, many well-to-do Christians (fearful of adverse consequences for themselves and their businesses of contributing money to the pro-marriage cause) declined to donate to efforts to uphold the traditional understanding of marriage. Some gave anonymously, but when one or two of these were “outed” and vilified by the left, others became too frightened even to do that.

This was cowardice.

We’ve seen this happen time and again–whether with individuals, organizations, corporations, or even states. When the cultural forces on the side of the new morality attack, they eventually prevail. And when they prevail,”human well-being and fulfillment” suffer. Because, as George writes, “moral norms and requirements are not abstract rules or arbitrary commandments . . . [t]hese are the goods of flesh and blood human beings—ourselves and our precious brothers and sisters in the human family—whom we are called to love and serve.”

When we fail “to muster the courage to do what’s right, what God is calling us to do,” George continues,”there is behind that failure a still deeper failure: a failure of love.” So while we’re often accused of hatred when we don’t dance to the LGBTQ tune, George says the real act of hatred occurs when we’re too afraid of the accusations to stand for what we know to be right.

Take a few moments to read both Robert George’s essays in USA Today and Public Discourse, as well as Rod Dreher’s responses. They will give you something to ponder on this winter’s day.

 

 

 

 

Posted in marriage, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Let Kindness be Your Guide

fruits-of-the-spirit

Tyler Neyens, flickr.com, CC by 2.0

To borrow from Mr. Rogers, it’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood in my neck of the woods on this first day of 2020. The morning started off cloudy, but now in mid-afternoon, the sun is bright and the sky a clear blue with a few white clouds scattered here and there. Temp is in the mid-forties, but feels cooler in the breeze. A day when optimism and hope come easy – the perfect way to begin a new year.

But the weather isn’t like this in every neighborhood this New Year’s Day. And hope and optimism don’t come easy to every household – not even in my own neighborhood.

Across the world, tragedy strikes the lives of many. In Australia, the wildfires continue to rage, and in the Philippines, the clean-up from the typhoon continues. In other nations, people suffer under tyrannical regimes. Some neighborhoods in America are grief-stricken over lives taken by men with hatred in their hearts. In many homes, illness or broken relationships or drug addictions make optimism and hope seem like cruel fantasies. Even in the best of neighborhoods, no household, really, is untouched by tribulation of one sort or another.

This truth has come home to me more in the last few years than it ever has before. Maybe it’s my age or the events that have occurred in my own family – or maybe God is finally opening my eyes. Whatever the cause, I’ve come to realize in a profound way that everyone we meet is dealing with something in their lives. And with this realization, I’ve also become more aware of how very important kindness is in our interactions with other people.

The server who ignores us while busily texting on his cell phone. The grumpy clerk at the 7-11. The snippy customer service representative at the local bank. The postal worker who delivers our package to the wrong address yet again. It’s so tempting to get angry or frustrated when these things occur. Yet, who knows what these people are going through as they try to do their jobs and get through their days?

On the Monday before Christmas, I spent the entire day finishing my Christmas shopping. So close to Christmas, I wouldn’t have been surprised to find the people I encountered throughout the day to be surly and grumpy. Instead, I found most of them to be friendly and kind. It really made my day, and made me think even more about how much we can all benefit from kindness – the kindness we show to others and the kindness they show to us.

At the beginning of each new year, some people choose a word representing a characteristic they would like to develop in their lives to focus on for the next year. I didn’t choose such a word last year; nevertheless, through God’s grace, gratitude became the theme running through my year, and I found myself much better acquainted with gratitude at the end of 2019 than I had been at the beginning.

This year, I think God is already showing me the characteristic I need to focus on for 2020 – kindness. In his book, Rediscover Jesus, Matthew Kelly says that Jesus wants us to be generous not only with our “time, talent, and treasure” but also with our “praise and encouragement” and “compassion and patience.” Kindness could easily be added to that list.

As one of the nine fruits of the Spirit Paul names in Galatians 5:22, kindness is clearly a characteristic God values. Being generous with our kindness is one way, as Kelly further says, that God “can love and intrigue the people in your life.” And the people in your life include the oblivious server, the grumpy clerk, the snippy customer service rep, and the error-prone postal worker.

In her 1969 hit, “Put a Little Love in your Heart,” Jackie DeShannon sings, “I hope when you decide/Kindness will be your guide/Put a little love in your heart.” As we go into the new year, let’s decide to share the love Jesus puts in our hearts with the people we meet by being extravagantly generous with our kindness. If we do, “the world,” as DeShannon sings – or at least the part of it we can touch – will surely “be a better place” when 2020 comes to a close.

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Peace on Earth

bells-christmas-christmas-decoration-christmas-ornaments-465135

The following is a never-published column I wrote in 2007. I’m posting it here this Christmas season because most of the content is as relevant today as it was back then.

I heard the bells on Christmas Day their old, familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet the words repeat of peace on earth, good-will to men.

It was Christmastime. The war had dragged on much longer than anyone had ever expected. Anger and bitterness divided the country. A Republican sat in the White House, and many there were who despised him because of the war. The Civil War, that is.

Times were tough in 1863 when Longfellow wrote “Christmas Bells,” the poem that became the well-loved Christmas carol, “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.” In addition to a war that threatened to destroy the country, Longfellow had endured personal tragedies, including the loss of his beloved wife to fire. The world looked bleak, and Longfellow expressed his pessimism in the poem’s sixth stanza:

And in despair I bowed my head; “There is no peace on earth,” I said:
“For hate is strong, and mocks the song of peace on earth, good-will to men.”

The times we live in are no less tough than Longfellow’s were. Hatred is still strong, and, like the poor, it’s always with us. Peace on earth seems like nothing more than a Utopian dream. Things were no better 2000 years ago. The Pax Romana had brought a measure of peace to much of the world. But violence and cruelty still ruled the day, and man’s depravity darkened every corner of the empire.

Then a baby boy was born in Bethlehem of Judea, the city of David. In obedience to the angel who had announced his coming, his parents called his name Jesus because he would “save His people from their sins.” Another angel brought the good news of his birth to a group of shepherds guarding their flocks in the Judean fields. A multitude of angels quickly joined the messenger. “Glory to God in the highest,” they proclaimed, “and on earth peace, good will toward men.”

Jesus’ coming certainly “upset the world,” to echo a charge some Thessalonican Jews once leveled against his followers. His life made such an impact, in fact, that, until recently anyway, years were designated by either B.C. or A.D. to signify when they occurred in relation to Jesus’ birth or death.

But where is the peace? The good will toward men? The two seem conspicuously absent from the world in which we live. Wars continue to rage in one part of the globe or another. Men and women kill, cheat, and steal to satisfy their own desires. Parents abuse their children. Children abuse their elderly parents.

A brief glimpse at a daily newspaper or an Internet news site is more than enough to make us, like Longfellow, hang our heads in despair. As we watch human conflict grow worse every day, the two-thousand-year-old promise rings hollow in our ears.

But the angels didn’t promise peace between men and nations. And Jesus wasn’t born for that purpose. He told his disciples he’d been sent to bring not peace, “but a sword,” and that his coming would “set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother . . .” As he well knew, the claims he made about himself would be so divisive they’d pit even close family members against each other. That doesn’t sound much like the popular concept of Jesus as a gentle peacemaker preaching a message of tolerance.

If Jesus’ birth, then, didn’t herald world peace, what sort of peace had the angels proclaimed? Peace between God and humankind. The ultimate peace. The root of our enmity with each other is our estrangement from God. Until we reconcile with him, we have no hope of living at peace with our fellow human beings. Jesus’ birth, his sacrificial death, and his subsequent resurrection made that reconciliation possible.

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep: “God is not dead; nor doth he sleep!
The Wrong shall fail, the Right prevail, with peace on earth, good-will to men!”

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

The Church Still Stands

architecture building catholicism church

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Kevin Williamson at National Review is one of my favorite writers. The Atlantic hired him away from National Review last year but got cold feet at the last minute when some readers complained about his “extreme” views on abortion. Too bad for The Atlantic because Williamson is one of the most knowledgeable — and one of the best, if not the best — writers on current affairs, be they political, economical, or cultural. His columns are generally always well-written and thought-provoking.

But where he truly excels is in the columns he writes at Christmas and Easter. I’m surprised it’s not those columns that caused the ruckus when The Atlantic hired him. Williamson reminds me of Johnny Hart, the cartoonist who drew the B.C. comic strip. After he became a Christian until his death, Hart drew special cartoons for Easter and Christmas that often got him into hot water. But Hart didn’t let that keep him from drawing those very special cartoons.

Williamson isn’t likely to get into hot water with the readership of National Review over his faith-based columns, but I’m still impressed that he would make it a regular practice to write them. And, somehow, I don’t think Williamson would do it any differently if he were writing for The Atlantic instead.

Williamson and I don’t share the same theology, his being a Catholic and my being an evangelical, but we do share the same Savior. And Williamson’s column, “They Fled from the Tomb,” at National Review today is a beautiful Easter meditation well worth any Christian’s reading. If you haven’t already, take a few minutes and read it. You’ll be glad you did.

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Great Expectations

white-cross-background
publicdomainpictures.net

Pretty much all of us have expectations about how life will turn out – at least those of us who live in the West and who grew up in reasonably normal homes. The interesting thing is, we may not even realize we harbor these expectations until they’re upended or threatened in some way.

My hairdresser and her family have been enduring a nightmare that has gone on for over five years. Totally out of the blue, her husband fell victim to an exceedingly rare autoimmune disease that causes all the muscles in the body to cramp, producing excruciating pain. It took years to even get a diagnosis – and there isn’t a whole lot that can be done for it. Whether they had ever articulated them or not, like all of us, this couple had expectations about their life together that didn’t include a chronic, totally debilitating – not to mention expensive – illness. They may have had “for better or worse” in their wedding vows, but I doubt this was the “worse” they envisioned.

Close friends of ours saved their money diligently in the expectation that they would be able to travel and spend time with their grandchildren once they retired. Then the husband developed a rare form of dementia and the wife spent seven exhausting years caring for him and watching him deteriorate until God mercifully took him home a month after his 69th birthday. A month after that, their only child and her family moved nearly 700 miles away, leaving our grieving friend missing not only her beloved husband but also her beloved daughter and grandchildren.

A young woman who used to work for me – a talented artist with all her life ahead of her – was hit with postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS) and various other neurological issues that have made it almost impossible for her to function in any normal way. Yet she’s continued her education online and is close to graduating from college. She works on her art when she can. Her life had been hard even before her diagnoses, but her illnesses have short-circuited any expectations she might have had of the kind of life most people her age take for granted.

In my own household, my husband has been fighting cancer and living with the devastating consequences of the treatments that have kept the cancer at bay. A rare cancer in the mouth inflicted on a man who has never smoked.

The one thing all of us in these situations – and I could name multiple more – almost certainly have in common is that whatever expectations we had about how life would turn out, none of us expected it would turn out quite this way.

The apostle Paul never expected his life would turn out the way it did either. Paul called himself a “Hebrew of Hebrews” and a “as to the Law, a Pharisee.” He was a fanatical persecutor of the Jewish Christians. He stood by at Stephen’s stoning and even sought permission from the high priest to go to Damascus and bind and drag any Jewish followers of Jesus he found there back to Jerusalem. Then he met Jesus, and his life was never the same. Instead of being the persecutor, he became the persecuted, one who was reviled, jailed, beaten, and ultimately executed for his faith.

Yet in Philippians 4:11, Paul says that he had learned to be content in whatever circumstances he found himself. We may think being content in such difficult circumstances is a lot to ask, but in 1 Thessalonians 5:18, Paul goes beyond contentment and exhorts us to be grateful in whatever circumstances we find ourselves. Some interpret 1 Thessalonians 5:18 to mean that we should give thanks for everything that comes our way because it’s God’s will for us – and perhaps it does mean that. But what I believe Paul is saying is that it’s the spirit of gratitude in the circumstance – not necessarily the circumstance, itself – that’s God’s will for us.

Either way, these are hard sayings when the circumstances of our lives differ so radically from our expectations. Giving up on those cherished expectations is tough enough. Developing a spirit of contentment and gratitude while relinquishing them can seem a bridge too far. But Paul has a word for us there, as well.

Indeed,” Paul says, “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Phil. 3:8, ESV) For Paul, the circumstance that makes all other circumstances bearable is the priceless treasure of knowing Christ Jesus his Lord. And the great expectation that overrides all others is the expectation of spending eternity with Him in heaven. Whatever our life circumstances, if we put our trust in Jesus, that’s an expectation that’s available to us all. And that great expectation can make the circumstances we never expected easier to bear.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Gratitude: The Things We Get to Do

It’s the beginning of a new year, and I’ve established many, uh, aspirations, I’ll call them. Not resolutions, because then I’d have to admit I’ve already broken most of them. Not goals, because I’d have to make them “S.M.A.R.T” — so all the productivity experts say, anyway — with plans and steps and deadlines for achieving them. Not happening. So I’ll just call them aspirations.

As long as you don’t turn them into resolutions or goals, aspirations don’t place a lot of demands on a person. But mine do seem to be making me more attune to things that would bring me closer to becoming the person I aspire to be. Case in point, this week I read an excerpt from James Clear’s Atomic Habits that got me thinking about how I think about my life.

According to Clear, we could all be happier if we changed just one word in the self-talk running through our minds all day. Clear says that instead of going through our days telling ourselves we “have” to do this or we “have” to do that, we should say we “get” to do this or that. It doesn’t sound like a big deal; you may have even heard this before. But it got my attention because I do, in fact, often bemoan — in my mind, at least — all the things I think I have to do.

Such a little thing — changing that one word — but it works because there’s an element of gratitude implicit in approaching the daily tasks of life as things we “get” to do rather than things we “have” to do. It’s the gratitude — not the “get to” — that really makes the difference in our happiness. It would make an even greater difference if we added, “God gave me” — as in, I get to do these things because God gave me the strength or the ability or the opportunity — and recognized that we owe our gratitude to Him.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments