Your Country Needs You, I Need You

2020, So Much We’d Like to Forget!

How would you describe your 2020 so far? I’m sitting just a little west of Houston right now with Hurricane Laura barreling down on the  Texas/Louisiana border late tonight. We just started the Fall Semester this week at HBU.  Like most colleges and universities in America we are doing a hybrid model with students attending and online. Well, once the hurricane predictions got more accurate, it was decided to go completely online (remote) for the rest of the week. We have students commuting from all over the region. Much better to play it safe!

Have you had time to make a list of what 2020 has really been like for people in our country (not to mention the rest of the world)?

  • Pandemic forces the closing of businesses and an economic shutdown.
  • Quarantining at home keeps people safer. Most of us have been in lock down for six months.
  • Childcare has shut down and parents have had to scramble to find other solutions – that is if they themselves haven’t lost their jobs or were furloughed.
  • Online education replaced public and private school last spring and is happening for many this fall. That means an adult at home is having to supervise what once took place in classrooms.
  • Healthcare and even deaths have dramatically changed our experiences with healthcare professionals and hospitals. You can’t be with loved ones in the hospital!
  • Veering away from the COVID crisis, have you been paying attention to the political circus? This is really the best that the greatest nation on earth can put forth?
  • For so many, the year has brought about loss in one way or another. Dramatic changes in employment, benefits, childcare, and school have created catastrophes in every social class.
  • Well of course, we’ve become increasingly disconnected from one another over the past six months. We took the physical presence of others for granted. In quarantine we only had a text or email. Even now, trying to communicate past a mask while distancing doesn’t do away with all the frustration. It doesn’t bring enough solution to our deeper problem.
  • What has your life been like in lock-down? Too much TV? Not enough church? Have you reached your togetherness limit? Who do you think you’ve become after this much change in your normal routines? Are you finding out what you’re really made of? (Considering posting some homemade music videos?)

Anyone can put together a bad news list. How depressing.

What’s needed are some old fashioned heroes.

Normal, everyday folks like you and me.

Even under the mask, someone who will carry a smile into every frustrating situation, and keep it no matter how deep the fear and anger gets.

“There’s a lot of difference between listening and hearing.” ― G. K. Chesterton

Someone who will think first and speak second. Who listens carefully and tries to hear what’s behind the inflamed words and withdrawn quietness. People have been cut off from others in lots of ways. Listening is an urgent first step to helping and healing others.

We need everyday heroes who will pick up the slack in our broken political and social culture right now. That means you might have to sit on your opinion, no matter how mad you are. As uncomfortable as it makes you, loving others who are from the opposite end of the spectrum may be just what the doctor ordered.

“It’s a civic virtue to be exposed to things that appear to be outside your interest. In a complex world, almost everything affects you – that closes the loop on pecuniary self-interest. Customers are always right, but people aren’t.” ― Clive Thompson

This virus that has struck the whole world has provided an opportunity for each one of us to see what we’re really made of. It’s a crisis for each of us individually but it’s also a crisis for our family. It’s a crisis for our neighbors and our city – even though we are locked away and socially distant we’re still citizens with a responsibility to others. It’s a crisis for America. Who do you think this will turn us into?

“Democracy gives us citizens a measure of political power. That power comes with a responsibility to foster a culture that makes it possible to live and work well together for the well-being of all.” ― Diane Kalen-Sukra

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I am late with posting on my blog.

Trying to get ready for the semester has had me all in a fog of panic. All my courses have to be filmed with a new laptop while I’m teaching all medically sealed up and safe for my half class each day (the other half comes on the next day). I just knew I’d fumble the ball. I went to training demonstrations and watched film clips online. When Monday arrived it seemed I knew which buttons to press. Tuesday was a different story.

On Monday, the problem was I had inserted the wrong textbook in the class syllabus and everyone was mixed up about how to launch with their assignments due that week. Ugh!  Then, that afternoon I went to my second class, got all the wires plugged in and waited and waited, no one showed up. Once the time was almost over, it was made clear to me that I had gone to the wrong room. My class had been waiting for me in the right room. Ugh!

So, I had cleared up the fog but remained lost. In the past, I never worried much about instructional technology. My wife’s EdD is in that field. I just always took it for granted that I would have someone to help me over every obstacle. She’s gone to heaven now. In two weeks it will be a year. Every day it has seemed to me as if she just walked out the door.

This has probably been what has slowed me down from blogging. It’s also what has increased my stress about jumping back into this new routine at school. I’m so glad to be back out of my hostage crisis and back with people again. But I think I’m not really aware of my constant broken heart. I’m so thankful for all the heroes in my life.

“We have no reason to mistrust our world, for it is not against us. Has it terrors, they are our terrors; has it abysses, those abysses belong to us; are dangers at hand, we must try to love them. And if only we arrange our life according to that principle which counsels us that we must always hold to the difficult, then that which now still seems to us the most alien will become what we most trust and find most faithful. How should we be able to forget those ancient myths that are at the beginning of all peoples, the myths about dragons that at the last moment turn into princesses; perhaps all the dragons of our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us once beautiful and brave. Perhaps everything terrible is in its deepest being something helpless that wants help from us.” ― Rainier Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet

How Are Ya Doin’?

I’m hearing this a lot that these days.

I often think about that question. Sometimes I want to ask back, do you really want to know?  Some people do. Others are being friendly and are just passing by. I think most fall somewhere in between.

Most of the time the best answer is a polite, “just fine, how are you?”

Lately I tell people, “I made it to today, that seems pretty good so far.”

Rarely, but every now and then, I just tell the truth and say, “terrible, but maybe things will get better.”

It always depends on who’s asking, the look in their eyes, and the tone of their heart.

How are YOU doin’ these days?

Are you wagging more and barking less?

Are you keeping plenty of people to love very near?

Do you let all that bad stuff just run down and never soak in?

Are you keeping your eyes on today, never missing a chance that God puts in your path?

Smiling at every face that comes into sight, stranger or not?

Putting your problems aside and thinking about someone else as often as you can – telling ’em as quickly how much they mean to you?

“It isn’t what you have or who you are or where you are or what you are doing that makes you happy or unhappy. It is what you think about it.” ― Dale Carnegie (I couldn’t resist)

The holidays are right around the corner. That’s when some people feel really awful. When someone near to you (at work, down the street, in the next pew, at the end of a phone call) needs to hear, “how are ya’ doin’?” And somehow know that you really want to hear the truth.

Your own bad situation is going to fade away when you start to find ways to take care of someone else’s. It works every single time!

Someone needs you right now, but may never ask

So…how about instead of asking that polite question again and again…you just assume that everyone you meet is probably having (or soon will) a hard time about something. How about you find something encouraging to say that’s personal? How about you pray (really!) for people you pass on the road of your life? How about you find a secret way to lift up people you hardly know who may not hear enough good news?

“How should we be able to forget those ancient myths that are at the beginning of all peoples, the myths about dragons that at the last moment turn into princesses; perhaps all the dragons of our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us once beautiful and brave. Perhaps everything terrible is in its deepest being something helpless that wants help from us.

So you must not be frightened if a sadness rises up before you larger than any you have ever seen; if a restiveness, like light and cloudshadows, passes over your hands and over all you do. You must think that something is happening with you, that life has not forgotten you, that it holds you in its hand; it will not let you fall. Why do you want to shut out of your life any uneasiness, any miseries, or any depressions? For after all, you do not know what work these conditions are doing inside you.”  ― Rainer Maria Rilke

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“Look, if you sold a few sparrows, how much money would you get? A copper coin apiece, perhaps? And yet your Father in heaven knows when those small sparrows fall to the ground. You, beloved, are worth so much more than a whole flock of sparrows. God knows everything about you, even the number of hairs on your head. So do not fear.”  – Jesus in Matthew 10:29-31 (The Voice)

God needs you to spread the encouragement, blessings and love of friendship. He needs you to help drive out the fear that haunts so many around you. He needs you to help become part of the answer to “How Ya Doin’?”

What Will Change You?

“If we don’t change, we don’t grow. If we don’t grow, we aren’t really living.”
― Anatole France

A new year is a good time to try something new. Typically, people decide to lose weight, exercise more or even stop smoking when they start a new year. If carried through, these new habits would certainly bring about dramatic changes. Some reports indicate that less than half make it past six months with these resolutions.

Is a New Year’s Resolution really going to change you?

Maybe change isn’t a once a year decision. Why not think about changes in your life as a daily way of living? Always in transition. Each day becoming a newer version of yourself.

We Americans can trip ourselves up too much with our thinking that change has to be absolute, it always between polar opposites and it’s got to be done right away to really count. We get discouraged too quickly.

God is also involved in this process. He is always faithful to bring about the transformation in us that He has promised. Often despite our own obstinance.

 I pray with great faith for you, because I’m fully convinced that the One who began this glorious work in you will faithfully continue the process of maturing you and will put his finishing touches to it until the unveiling of our Lord Jesus Christ!  (Philippians 1:6, The Passion Translation)

Does change for you have to be now or never?

Instead of thinking about change in your life as a quick fix, why not think about it as a slow turn in a better direction?

What kind of transformation is God is bringing about in your life? What are you resisting? Who are you becoming each day as you live like a disciple? I’ve got to carve out more time in my own life to pray for others. This has been an ongoing change for me for many years. It’s not a one time and it’s done decision, like getting a tattoo. I wake up each day and have to make choices. So do you.

I recently read about the Japanese philosophy called Wabi Sabi. It’s basic principles about life can be summarized like this:

  1. Nothing lasts
  2. Nothing is finished
  3. Nothing is perfect

The world all around us really is in constant change. Trying to get everything all nailed down and permanently fixed is an illusion. We grow, make mistakes, take wrong turns, learn, develop, and figure it out bit by bit. And then there’s all the other people we live and work with who are also experiencing constant change in their own lives. We are all floating down a churning river together. There’s something new around each bend.

Are you limiting change in your life to behaviors?

Maybe your attitude about something is a good place to start thinking about change?

“We cannot change our past… we cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude. I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% of how I react to it. And so it is with you… we are in charge of our Attitudes.”  ― Charles R. Swindoll

What do you think?
Does this sound true?
What’s your attitude like when you run up against something impossible? A person who’s out to bring you harm? Too many mistakes that have caught up with you?

“Those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.” ― George Bernard Shaw

Finally, and you already know this, change isn’t always pleasant.

  • We welcome change easier when we can see more clearly the end result. Shut down the negative self talk and replace with hopefulness.
  • Thinking about your future self is the flashlight that can lead you through discouragement. Imagine yourself as the person you want to be. That’s the most important step in becoming.
  • Rome wasn’t built in a day, be realistic with yourself. Surround yourself with others who will help give you a real picture of who you are becoming.
  • Think about change as a way of living, not a one time accomplishment. Keep a journal so you can map your journey.

“Why do you want to shut out of your life any uneasiness, any misery, any depression, since after all you don’t know what work these conditions are doing inside you? Why do you want to persecute yourself with the question of where all this is coming from and where it is going? Since you know, after all, that you are in the midst of transitions and you wished for nothing so much as to change. If there is anything unhealthy in your reactions, just bear in mind that sickness is the means by which an organism frees itself from what is alien; so one must simply help it to be sick, to have its whole sickness and to break out with it, since that is the way it gets better.” ― Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet

Homesickness

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For here we do not have a lasting city,
but we are seeking the city which is to come. – Hebrews 13:14 (NASB)

Sometimes our suffering is made worse because we are too attached to this world. The poet Wordsworth wrote “this world is too much with us…” He was in anguish about civilization all around that had created such a deep chasm between mankind and the natural world.

The ditch that that I typically fall into when suffering arrives is the one between my earthly and heavenly perspectives. It even now seems to plague my travel through these recent days. I fall into it and my eyes are averted, panic and worry set in, I quickly forget to keep my sights set on what is eternal.

There’s always going to be something here and now that will distract us from our eternal beliefs. Then when suffering arrives, our attachments are made even more urgent. They seem to weigh us down and keep our sight too short.

  • Our health and freedom
  • The mortgage and our debt
  • Family and friendships
  • That all important career
  • The future of our children
  • Those big plans for retirement

When we suffer (or someone close to us suffers) we face an existential fork in the road. We can run down the path of panic and fear – filling our pockets with worry about the here and now as if it was all that really mattered. Or, we can take the path that leads us toward that vast horizon of eternity. Things that only mattered, now seem to matter just enough, only after drawing near to God.

“We lead our lives so poorly because we arrive in the present always unprepared, incapable, and too distracted for everything.” ― Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters on Life

When we spend so much of our life worrying we haven’t anything left to spend on seeking what will matter forever. When suffering raises it’s ugly snout, our worries multiply through the roof. Fear drives us into the dark woods and we lose sight of home.

I DON’T WANT TO GET ADJUSTED

In this world we have our trials
sometimes lonesome, sometimes blue
but the hope of life eternal
Makes all old hopes brand new

And I don’t want to get adjusted to this world, to this world
I’ve got a home so much better
and I’m gonna go there sooner or later
And I don’t want to get adjusted to this world, to this world

Lord, I’m growing old and weary
and there’s no place that feels like home
Saviour come, my soul to ferry
to where I never more will roam

And I don’t want to get adjusted to this world, to this world
I’ve got a home so much better
and I’m gonna go there sooner or later
And I don’t want to get adjusted to this world, to this world

Iris Dement

Jesus’ parting words to his disciples… Don’t get lost in despair; believe in God, and keep on believing in Me. My Father’s home is designed to accommodate all of you. If there were not room for everyone, I would have told you that. I am going to make arrangements for your arrival.  I will be there to greet you personally and welcome you home, where we will be together. 

– John 14:1-3  (The Voice)

How Long Will It Take?

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There are all kinds of prisons. We are all bound to live some part of our life trapped.  Sometimes it’s just because of terrible circumstances like illness or a tumbling economy. Some prisons are of our own making, consequences of bad choices and evil desires.

However you got there, how long do you have to stay in prison before something significant changes? If you look carefully at the story of Joseph from the Old Testament you see a man who let his prison experience transform him into someone remarkable.

When Joseph was seventeen years old, he often tended his father’s flocks….Joseph’s brothers pulled him out of the cistern and sold him to them for twenty pieces of silver. And the traders took him to Egypt. – Genesis 37:2, 28

He was thirty years old when he began serving in the court of Pharaoh, the king of Egypt. And when Joseph left Pharaoh’s presence, he inspected the entire land of Egypt.  – Genesis 41:46

How long does it take to go from being a selfish punk to the most influential man in Egypt? He seems to have spent a good part of thirteen years as a slave to Potiphar and then in prison because of the false accusations of Potiphar’s wife. His physical imprisonment came to an end when he was able to interpret the dreams of Pharaoh. He told the king…

“It is beyond my power to do this, but God can tell you what it means and set you at ease.”  – Genesis 41:16

This is the same man who as a teenager spent too much time dancing around his brothers flaunting that “amazing technicolor dreamcoat” their father had given to only him. He was such a miserable person to be around, they felt like killing him, literally.

What happened to him during those years in slavery and prison that transformed him into a man who could calmly walk into the court of the most powerful king on earth and bear witness of the power of God?

As incredible as it reads, Joseph’s story is everyone’s story. We all face opportunities to either be transformed or remain in prison. There are all kinds of prisons that enslave people. Defeats can fall on us like a flood. No one is immune.

Wherever you are right now – whatever the prison might look like – it doesn’t matter how you got there. Sometimes it doesn’t matter how you are going to get out – often this is out of your control. Think about the ways that relationships evolve, long-term sickness, a career that’s changing. What always matters is what’s happening to you while you are in that prison. What is God going to do in your life, with your life, through your life because of this experience?

When people are in prison they always face a number of choices:

  • Prison can cripple people. Even when released people often carry within them, for too long, their imprisonment experience. It haunts them even as they walk in freedom. It is as if they remain in prison and die a little every single day. They relive their defeats like a never ending re-run of doom.
  • In prison, some people build a new life – a future self. This takes time, involves others and there are certainly mistakes along the way. When freedom comes, they are ready to start life anew, their thinking has changed and they see with a bigger vision. But they have to wait for freedom to arrive in order to start living their new life.
  • Others learn, over time, to differentiate between internal and external circumstances – they come to recognize what is passing and what is eternal. They can see beyond their chains and recognize what is temporary and what matters. The prison experience transforms their perspective and in so doing it provides an eternal freedom. No matter where they find themselves, these people discover true freedom.

What is prison doing for you? For Joseph it was a time to wait until just the right time. It was an experience that transformed him into a man ready to serve God, not his own wishes.

It seems strange to urge that you pray, not to be set loose from your chains, but instead to let your earthly chains set you truly free.

“How should we be able to forget those ancient myths that are at the beginning of all peoples, the myths about dragons that at the last moment turn into princesses; perhaps all the dragons of our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us once beautiful and brave. Perhaps everything terrible is in its deepest being something helpless that wants help from us. So you must not be frightened if a sadness rises up before you larger than any you have ever seen; if a restiveness, like light and cloudshadows, passes over your hands and over all you do. You must think that something is happening with you, that life has not forgotten you, that it holds you in its hand; it will not let you fall. Why do you want to shut out of your life any uneasiness, any miseries, or any depressions? For after all, you do not know what work these conditions are doing inside you.”

― Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet