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.

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A Kind Word Never Goes Unheard

I seldom listen to music when I’m in my car. A podcast is more my style. But on a recent errand-running day, I pulled out an old Oak Ridge Boys CD and slipped it into my car’s CD player. As I drove from stop to stop, I had a great time singing along to the old hits, but one in particular – “Everyday” – stayed in my head.

Everyday” has a catchy tune, so it’s no surprise it was a hit when it was released back in the ’80s. But it was the song’s message that grabbed my attention on my errand day. The second stanza begins, “A kind word never goes unheard, but too often goes unsaid. On the tongues of the old and the young, it’s swallowed up in pride instead.” So true. Whether out of pride, apathy, or just plain self-absorption we too often neglect to say the kind, encouraging word that could make a difference in someone’s day.

When Paul enjoined the Thessalonians to “encourage one another and build each other up,” his message was meant for future Christians, too. “With all the trouble and sorrow in the world,” as the song goes on to say, no one escapes heartache and pain. And everyone of us can use a kind, encouraging word “everyday.”

As this new year begins, let’s challenge ourselves to follow Paul’s instruction and the song’s plea to “take a kind word into the street and share it with everybody [we] meet.” Instead of letting pride and apathy keep us silent, let’s make the effort to make someone’s day with kindness and encouragement. After all, to quote the song one more time, for Christians, “it seems like the least we can do.”

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Defunding Planned Parenthood

I have a commentary, “Many see Planned Parenthood taking life, not saving it” in today’s Roanoke Times.

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What God has Joined Together

Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh. – Genesis 2:24

Gold-Wedding-Rings-1920x1200  cc-by-2.0

Douglas Mainwaring, whose same-sex attraction broke up his marriage nearly twenty years ago, has a poignant essay in Public Discourse about the powerful witness of a faithful marriage. In his essay, Mainwaring describes how the marriage and family life of one of his son’s friends helped lead him to reconciliation with his wife and the recovery of his own marriage.

When his son would come home from visiting this friend, “All I had to do was look into Chris’s eyes,” Mainwaring writes, “to see that he wished he had a family like theirs—a family with a gregarious, big-hearted, and affectionate Mom and Dad who clearly loved each other. I knew that this was precisely what I had deprived Chris and his brother of.”

It was this very loving marriage,” Mainwaring goes on to say, “that first caused me to wonder if I had made a huge mistake in divorcing my wife and breaking our family apart.” Ultimately, the influence of this marriage and this family on his son caused Mainwaring to decide that he “had no choice but to find a way to bring our family back together.”

Mainwaring’s essay is entitled, “Your Marriage: You Have No Idea of the Good You Are Doing,” and this is the point of his essay. The parents of his son’s friend had no idea that simply by faithfully living out their marriage, they were having such a profound impact on Mainwaring and his son. By recounting this story, Mainwaring wants his readers to understand that their own faithful marriages can also affect the lives of others in profound ways they could never imagine. 

Take a few minutes to read Mainwaring’s entire essay, and you’ll gain a new appreciation for the power of an ordinary marriage.


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For Kings

I exhort, therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; for kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. – 1 Timothy 2:1-2

Three weeks into the new year, and I’m just now writing a blog post. That after promising myself – we won’t call it a resolution – that I would get back to writing in my blog this year. I’ve never posted to this blog as consistently as I’d like – though I keep paying the annual fee to keep the domain name – but 2016 was a bad year for writer’s block. Between my husband’s continuing battle with cancer and the state of our nation, motivation to write has been hard to come by.

But just this week, someone new started following my blog, so if for no other reason, I figure I owe it to that kind soul to post something. But where to start?

We have a new president. Not my choice, though he did get my vote. I was a never-Trumper until the very last minute, when I finally decided that I couldn’t contribute in any way to Hillary’s becoming president, nor could I in good conscience abstain from voting. And I have to confess to enjoying a certain amount of unChristian-like schadenfreude at seeing liberals and progressives so flummoxed by Trump’s victory.

But I can’t shake the feeling that we’ve bought a pig in a poke, as the saying goes. And my schadenfreude may soon turn into a bad case of buyer’s remorse.

Still, as we well know, God is in control. Trump’s victory didn’t take Him by surprise. And while I don’t buy the idea – as some seem to – that Trump has undergone some sort of religious conversion, I do know God can work through the ungodly as well as the godly. Our role now, whether we voted for him or not, is to pray that God will work in and through President Trump to bring about good for this nation and the world.

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They’ll Know Us by Our Love

Woodlawn, a movie that came out last fall, ended with a song I hadn’t heard or thought about in years, By Our Love, sung by for King and Country from A.D. The Bible Continues. Written by Peter Scholtes (according to Wikipedia) near the end of the turbulent 60’s, By Our Love reminds believers that being one in the Spirit means they should display unity and the kind of love the world can’t help but notice.

As I was thinking about last night’s terrorist attack on a gay nightclub in Orlando, that song came to mind. The distinctive mark of the early Christian church was love. And the ancient world took notice. Love is still the most distinctive thing the church has to offer to a hurting world, and right now, the city of Orlando is hurting. While Christians can’t approve of or affirm the gay lifestyle, they can reach out in Christian love to the family and friends of those killed and injured in the attack.

If Christians take this opportunity to show love and grace to their LGBT neighbors in the aftermath of this terrible event, it’s possible that what Satan meant for evil, God can use for good. And just maybe the people in at least one city will begin to know us by our love.

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America’s Finest Hour

Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that, if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, “This was their finest hour.” – Winston Churchill


D-Day Memorial, Bedford, VA

Memorial Day is a day to honor all those who gave their lives for this country and for the freedoms for which it stands. But it’s those who served in WWII who are particularly on my mind today. Not only because my dad was a WWII vet (who, thankfully, did not die in combat) and a career serviceman, but also because, to paraphrase Winston Churchill, if the United States were to last for a thousand years, in many ways, I would have to believe WWII was its finest hour.

Many fine men and women have given their lives for America since that time, but WWII was the last war that most all Americans would agree was fought for the right reasons. The United States has never been a perfect nation – in a fallen world, no nation could be. But America has aspired to be a haven of freedom in the world – a testament to which are the millions of people who have emigrated to America over its 200 plus-year history – and victory in WWII was absolutely necessary to maintaining that freedom.

The WWII generation, however, may have been the last generation to really believe in that aspiration, to believe that America really was the land of the free. The generation that followed, the baby boomers – my generation – for reasons both justified and unjustified, began to see America not as the “land of the free” but as “the land of the oppressed.”

Today, despite the achievements of the Civil Rights movement and the immigrants who continue to pour into this country – both legally and illegally – in the hopes of finding a better life, the narrative of America the oppressive persists and grows, and victim groups multiply. To rectify these purported injustices, and in the name of tolerance, the fundamental freedoms the WWII generation fought to preserve – freedom of speech and religion, in particular – are being steadily consumed by freedoms no one of their era could have ever foreseen.

On this Memorial Day, I have to wonder if the men (and it was mostly men) who endured the unspeakable horrors of WWII and gave their lives for this country more than 70 years ago would think that the angry, polarized America their grandchildren and great-grandchildren have inherited was worth the terrible price they paid.

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Take Courage

Take courage, it is I, do not be afraid. — Matthew 15-27b

Years ago, when I heard someone relate the story of Jesus’ walking on water, the focus always seemed to be on Peter’s failure of faith. If only Peter hadn’t taken his eyes off Jesus, the implication was, he would never have faltered on the crest of the waves. It wasn’t until long after I became an adult that I heard a preacher point out that of all the disciples, Peter was the only one with the courage – and faith – to get out of the boat in the first place. And when his courage did falter, Peter knew on whom to call to save him.

This incident, like so many in Peter’s life, is a lesson for us. Sometimes we have to have the courage to step out into scary situations with only our meager faith to sustain us. And when, in the midst of frightening circumstances, that faith begins to falter because the waves are high and Jesus seems a long way off, we still need to remember to call on Him to save us, to get us back in the boat or safely on shore.

In America, faithful Christians are being buffeted even now by winds and waves that will only grow stronger in the coming years. American Christians haven’t encountered such peril since before the nation’s founding. Many of us – like the disciples who stayed in the boat – will be tempted to huddle in our churches in hopes of riding out the storm. Instead, we need the courage to step out into the gale and do what we can to save the drowning.

Regardless of the outcome of the presidential election, over the next few years, safe harbors for America’s Christians are likely to become harder and harder to find. While our storms are not yet (and may never be) as fearful as those battering our fellow Christians in other parts of the world, it’s time, nevertheless, to recognize that we can weather them not by huddling in our churches, but by having courage to get out of the boat and faith to, as the old song says, “wholly lean on Jesus’ name.”

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Above Reproach

Do all things without grumbling or disputing; that you may prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world. – Phil. 2:14-15 (NASB)

2016. A new year and a new opportunity to follow the tenets laid down in this verse.

Grumbling is something I’ve become too well acquainted with in recent years. The destruction of our culture and country is a hard thing to watch, and the anger thus engendered has only fueled my inborn and un-Christlike tendency to complain. Complaints come readily to my lips these days; praise and gratitude far too slowly.

We do indeed live amidst a crooked and perverse generation, getting more so every day. Yet, according to Paul – a man who knew a thing or two about crooked and perverse generations – we are called upon to live “above reproach” so as to “appear as lights in the world.”

And as much as it did in Paul’s time, heaven knows this dark world we live in today is in need of some light.

The gray days we’ve had for the past few weeks – in my neck of the woods and across much of America – are a fitting metaphor for the times in which we live, times that are dark now and growing darker by the minute. And I’m ashamed to say that instead of appearing as a “light” in that darkness, I’ve too often cursed the darkness and let it overwhelm me.

If, as we well know, cursing the darkness is useless, the question is, exactly how does one go about appearing as a true light in a perverse world that calls light darkness and darkness light?

I suspect God has a different answer to that question for every one of His followers. And I suspect that most of us have some idea of what that answer is for ourselves.

But if not, let us make it our mission this new year to find out and to begin living out that light in this bleak world so that the darkness no longer overwhelms us, and, as Paul exhorts us, so that we can prove ourselves “to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach.”

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Marriage, Human Dignity, and Liberal Insecurity

Three essays I’ve read recently powerfully express – far better than I could – some thoughts I’ve been having lately on the nature of marriage, on the brouhaha over Clarence Thomas’s dissent in Obergefell vs. Hodges, and on liberal/progressive insecurity.

Writing at First Things, Joshua Schulz dismantles Justice Kennedy’s contentions that “the procreative potential once thought essential to marriage is in fact no more central to the institution than the race . . .,” and “that what is essential to marriage is the autonomy right of ‘self-definition’ in one’s intimate relationships . . .”

In his essay, Schulz thoughtfully articulates the problems with Kennedy’s contention and shows why the aspects of marriage essential to its nature are bound up in the procreative and unitive properties of human sexuality, and not, contra the Court, in the autonomous individual’s right to “self-definition.”

Also at First Things, Wesley J. Smith explains what Clarence Thomas was really saying about human dignity in his Obergefell vs. Hodges dissent. Only someone making a deliberate effort – or someone who no longer believes in inherent human worth – could have misunderstood Justice Thomas’s point. But for those few who may have honestly missed it, Smith’s essay provides an excellent corrective.

And over at Public Discourse, David Azerrad explores liberal insecurity. According to Azerrad, liberals believe that we “are all sovereign individuals, radically free to fashion and refashion ourselves into anything we so please at any point in our lives.” Oddly, however, these sovereign individuals seem unable to thrive unless others affirm and approve their self-defined choices.

“For all his purported god-like powers of self-creation,” Azerrad writes, “liberal promethean man is actually a weak, insecure, and isolated individual. It is not enough that he define and express his identity. He needs others to recognize it, embrace it, and celebrate it. He needs the state to confer dignity upon it.”

If you haven’t already read them, each of these essays is well worth your time.

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