Fingerprints on the Heart

hug_therapy“Everyone makes someone happy: some by arriving, others by leaving.” When I first heard this, I laughed because it is so true. And then I wondered, Which am I? Which are you?

Like fingerprints, each of us leaves behind evidence of our presence. Like fingerprints, we may not realize they’re being left behind—everywhere. Unlike fingerprints, the evidence we leave behind is on people’s hearts and lives, not their doorknobs.

Recently my pastor said, “Whatever Jesus touched, he transformed.” So true. He left fingerprints everywhere: fingerprints of healing, love, joy, and hope. Like the fragrance of bread baking in the morning or the lingering scent of rose petals, the beauty of a gentle and loving spirit makes life full-bodied and wonderful. The opposite is also true: a disapproving or angry spirit poisons the atmosphere like an unpleasant odor.

Maya Angelou said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

The master of ceremonies and bridegroom at the wedding in Cana of Galilee didn’t know where the excellent wine came from, but the servants knew. They had, at Jesus’ request filled six huge jars with water and suddenly the water became wine. Did they ever forget that moment? (John 2:1-10)

Jesus and the disciples were caught in a vicious storm on the Sea of Galilee. Their boat was awash and almost capsizing when the disciples, although experienced fishermen, frantically awoke Jesus. He stood in the wildly pitching boat, quietly speaking to the storm. “Be quiet! Hush!” The wind and waves ceased. “Who is this man?” They were stunned and afraid. “Even the wind and the waves obey him!” (Matthew 8:23-27)

“Suddenly, a man with leprosy approached him and knelt before him. ‘Lord,’ the man said, ‘if you are willing, you can heal me and make me clean.’ Jesus reached out and touched him. ’I am willing,’ he said. ’Be healed!’ And instantly the leprosy disappeared” (Matthew 8:2-3). Likely this man was universally shunned and abhorred. But Jesus touched him. Unforgettable.

Even during and after the inhumane flogging and brutal crucifixion Jesus left his fingerprints behind. “Now when the centurion, and they that were with him, watching Jesus, saw the earthquake, and those things that were done, they feared greatly, saying, truly this was the Son of God” (Matthew 27:54).

Whether it was the mothers of the children that Jesus welcomed, tousling their hair, (Matthew 19:13-14) or the woman caught in adultery to whom he said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more,” (John 8:1-11) Jesus’ purposeful kindness and warm welcome was an unexpected wind straight from heaven, refreshing everyone that was near him.

I remember a couple of my college professors who left fingerprints on my heart. Because of reasons I won’t go into here, I dropped out of college during my senior year. I had to get the signatures of each of my professors to complete the process. One professor in that Christian college was extremely disappointed in me, and said something to this effect.” You came here to serve others, and now you’re going to serve yourself?” The second professor was surprised, but not disappointed in me. He said, “I believe in you, David.” Those reactions are as fresh in my heart as the day those comments were made, and I’m eternally grateful to the second professor who valued me more than my decision.

texy box

We don’t even have to be the ones involved in an interaction to be affected. Years ago, at Walt Disney World, we were waiting in line after a long day for the monorail to take us to the parking lot. Everyone was tired, but most of us were managing pretty well. One boy, about ten, said something to his father, who began yelling at him. We are all instantly uncomfortable, and horrified when the father cuffed the boy on the side of the head. The look of humiliation and anger on that boy’s face sticks with me still. That father didn’t only irreparably harm his son, but left a sickening cloud over the rest of the day for hundreds of people.

Interactions don’t have to be huge like these. Just a friendly smile in the cashier’s line at Walmart or a long stare at someone who’s obese can leave joy or pain in our wake. Thoughtless comments linger after we’ve left like a stench, but warm acceptance brings joy.

Baby, It’s Cold Outside!

Here we go again! A polar vortex is swirling down from the north and arctic air blasts those in its path. Temperatures plummet to bone-chilling numbers that don’t even register on thermometers. Window panes chatter in the unrelenting blast. Cars refuse to start or helplessly slide off the road into snowbanks only to be buried by snowplows before they can be extricated. Thousands of airline flights are cancelled, adding chaos to the subzero days and nights.Shoveling-Snow-Cartoon

This is nothing new. I remember my Dad telling about being stranded on the freeway in a raging blizzard as he was driving to Michigan to join my Mom and sister and her husband for my niece’s birth. He ended up spending several nights in a service plaza on the turnpike with hundreds of others. I ended up driving at a snail’s pace for five hours from the Indianapolis airport to Anderson, Indiana, on snow-clogged, unplowed freeways in a blizzard, normally a drive of one and a half hours, at most.  We’ve witnessed wind chills of minus 60 degrees, snow drifts that didn’t melt until April, and huddling around fireplaces when the electricity was off for days.

I sympathize and empathize with you ice-bound refugees surviving like lost arctic explorers in an endless snow storm. I pity you when your fingers and toes go numb as you shovel the driveway again after the snowplow creates a worse mess than you just cleared.  the curse of the snowplowI’m sorry you have to wade through ankle deep slush or watch helplessly as garbage trucks slide inexorably toward you on ice-covered roads. I remember the sinking feeling I used to get when the meteorologists would gleefully announce an approaching subzero disaster.

I do understand. Yes, I do. I endured thirty-four years of terrible winters and gloomy springs and the endless dreariness between January 1 and May 1 that torpedoed my mood until Eeyore seemed positively cheerful in comparison.

But…no longer! When we retired, we moved to Arizona! Today, January 31, Karon and I played tennis under sunny skies. I actually look forward to getting up each day where the sun shines over 300 days a year. Yes, it gets chilly here with the occasional hard freeze, and it can get toasty in the summertime (it’s a dry heat), but blizzards are a distant memory and I haven’t driven on an icy road in almost a decade.

Contrary to what you may be thinking, I’m not gloating. It occurs to me that we hear of a somewhat similar scenario in the Bible. In Genesis, the problem is not the cold, it’s godlessness. We learn that Lot, Abraham’s nephew, in selecting the best grazing land for his flocks, opted for the lush fields near Sodom and Gomorrah, and that’s where he moved his family. Perhaps he was unaware of the moral climate there, or thought it was unimportant. Like a polar vortex, godlessness swept goodness out of Sodom and Gomorrah like an arctic blizzard. Year after brutal year the evil worsened until no vestige of common decency was left. It’s worth noting that only God’s direct intervention helped Lot understand what was at stake. He barely escaped with his life.

Many people and places today are morally bankrupt with never a thought about goodness or God. The majority of our entertainment is empty of moral value, or introduces even baser lifestyles. Even innocuous distraction can clog our hearts and numb our souls. Social media can be wonderful, but a lot of it is depersonalizing and sinks to the lowest common denominator. The winter of godlessness is upon us and shows no signs of abatement. Nudity, violence, tasteless humor, and crime have become not only our entertainment but our lifestyles. Those who suggest fidelity, purity, and right are bullied and ridiculed.

It’s time we recognize what this blight is doing to us and choose to live differently. We must escape the soul-suffocating atmosphere and find warmth and light.

Not everyone wants to move to sunny climates, nor should they. There are many reasons to live where winters are difficult, like work and family. Some people like winter, so they say. Spiritual winter, however, is far different. There are no redeeming qualities in godlessness. Nor is there any hope where God is abandoned.

What is your climate of choice?

 

A Grand Idea

It was a grand idea: joining our son, his wife, and their three kids on a New Year’s cruise. Our grandkids are growing like weeds; you know, that accelerated kind of growth when one day they’re four feet tall and the next taller than you? We try to get together at least annually, which is a challenge since we live in Arizona and they in Alabama. They had decided to switch gears this year. The kids were tired of their annual post-Christmas freeze on the ski slopes and wanted to go where it was warm. One thing led to another and suddenly we were going with them. Fantastic! We would leave Mobile, Alabama and cruise to the Yucatán.

jon, ms, kids, ds, & ks jan. 2019

From the first I dreamed of it: five days of blissful, sunny travel; delicious, gourmet food; delightful ports of call; pampering by an attentive staff, and, best of all, time to play games, roam Mexican ruins, and catch up with family.  Karon and I had only cruised once before – thirty years ago. It could be that we viewed that twenty-fifth anniversary cruise through rose-colored glasses. In any case, we were excited and started packing a month ahead of time.

 

Let me say right here that spending time with family is the very best and this was no exception. We had a great room, unbelievably comfortable beds, and an ocean view. Our son and his wife had a suite where we spent happy hours playing games, watching the sunset from their balcony, and planning each day’s adventures. We thoroughly enjoyed our day of tramping together through some Mayan ruins and touring the beautiful coastline of Cozumel. We met great friends at dinner and enjoyed wonderful service by the wait staff, who remembered our names from the get-go and kept Karon’s coffee hot.

 

But then…

Right off the bat my dream of a blissful, sunny cruise was severely challenged the moment we arrived on board. We were herded with thousands of others out onto the Lido Deck where it was cold, drizzly, and there wasn’t much shelter.  Fake palm trees drooped by the pool and a lone, dreadlocked musician thumped out steel band music so loud that it rattled my teeth. We found the buffet, but, being new, didn’t realize how large it was and ended up at the taco bar where most of the condiments were already gone. By 1:30 our rooms were ready and we all gratefully trooped into the passageways to find them. Our spotless room with a clever towel-animal created by Alaine, our stewardess, awaited us. Unfortunately, the air conditioning worked way too well and it was freezing. Nevertheless, we figured out how to turn it off and took a nap.

 

In the afternoon we roamed the deck under leaden skies while sailing south. Where was the turquoise blue water? Where were the seagulls wheeling behind the ship? Where was the sunshine? I realized—sadly—that I had packed too many shorts and too few sweaters. Brave souls overcrowded the hot tubs and a few adventurous ones donned their bathing suits to get a cloud tan. We decided to explore the ship’s interior, which was beautiful. Unfortunately, it was freezing everywhere and I retreated to our stateroom to find a sweater. That night, as I got into bed, I told Karon, “Well, the worst is behind us. The sun will surely be out tomorrow.” Wrong. When we ventured outside the next day, we discovered that our “fun day at sea” was a repeat of the day before: gray skies and chilly temperatures. At least it wasn’t raining. All day long our cruise director reminded us about what a fantastic time we were was having.

 

So, you’re probably thinking, “what a whiner!” Yep. That’s exactly what I was doing. Just like the reviews you read of other people’s cruise experiences, some have a great time and others find something wrong everywhere. Some people complain about the shower head size and that their cruise to Hawaii plays Hawaiian music. For some the food is inedible sludge, but for others it’s delectable! Some rhapsodize about how beautiful everything is, yet another writes an entire paragraph about how dirty the windows are. How can these wildly divergent views describe the very same ship?

 

I think it’s expectations. Mine proved to be totally unrealistic. In my mind I had created an imaginary ship and destination where everything was perfect. When my expectations were not met, I felt sorry for myself. Once you start that game, it’s all downhill. Years ago, a good friend told me and Karon that, when you travel, you must be “infinitely flexible” and expect the unexpected. Then, when things happen, you’re emotionally prepared and can laugh about it. Very wise advice. Too bad I didn’t remember it for the cruise.

 

Perhaps the same could be said for life. Very rarely, it seems, does life turn out the way we had planned. Having specific expectations of how our lives will turn out leads to disappointment. Even expecting a certain day to be a certain way is preparing for frustration. Better to approach each day with “infinite flexibility.”

 

Expectations of what God will do and how He will act can also lead to disillusionment and depression. We pray that so and so will be healed, and they are not healed. We pray to find a mate, and we never do. We pray for work, yet time goes by without a job. Doesn’t the Bible tell us to believe, and that God answers prayer? Yes, of course. And He does. But God feels no compulsion to conform to our expectations or timetable. He has reasons and plans beyond our comprehension. We know He is good and that He loves us. Let us, instead of expecting him to do thus and so, simply live expectantly, watching and waiting for Him and learning to know Him in the process.

 

Expectancy—not expectations. This is how I need to live.

 

In retrospect, it was a great cruise (even though I came home with a terrible cold after spending five days with over two thousand of our closest friends). It was great because we got to spend quality time with our family with no ball practice, school schedules, work hours, gymnastic meets, or anything else. We played games, and laughed around the dining room table. We stood by the deck railing, played shuffleboard, ate ourselves silly, and connected in the very best way—in person. This is and will remain a treasured memory long after we have forgotten the less than perfect weather and the air conditioning.

 

PS We did have two sunny, warm days in Mexico with those turquoise blue waters and gulls wheeling behind the ship. And I finally learned where the dining room was.

Who Will Be in Heaven?

Heaven is as real as potatoes. I’m as sure there’s a heaven as I am that the sun will come up tomorrow. Heaven is wonderful beyond human imagination and will fulfill our deepest longings. It will surpass the beauty of earth because it is new and unspoiled, an uncontaminated Eden without pollution or destruction. We will have perfect, imperishable bodies untouched by sickness or deformity. No one will experience sadness, pain, or loss because blight and evil are altogether unknown. Above all, Heaven lasts forever because our host is God, Himself. Heaven is his and it is pure as He is pure.

The older I get, the more I long for Heaven. William Wordsworth famously complained that “the world is too much with us,” and I couldn’t agree more. It isn’t just that I’m older and weaker, although I am that. My heart aches for right in a world that seems overwhelmed by wrong. I crave kindness, love, and gentleness, but the world seems to praise the rude, arrogant, and godless. I’m weary of headlines brimming with murder and crime, and I’m so done with our society’s ridicule of what is wholesome and pure.

Could those of us who long for heaven be simply creating a dream world? Are our ideas merely the result of poor education and lack of sophistication, the hillbilly concepts of backwoods snake handlers? After all, on every hand brilliant scientists with their astute minds pooh-pooh the existence of God. How can I integrate my belief in Heaven with that? And—can my belief in an exclusive heaven survive alongside the teachings of the world’s other religions? Is heaven even real?

The Bible Teaches Heaven

Yes, Heaven is real. I make that claim because that’s what the Bible teaches. It’s important, though, to understand if what we believe about heaven is what the Bible actually does teach. What many people today believe about heaven is a conglomeration of the Bible, popular culture, superstition, and even other religions. What is it you believe?

The idea of an afterlife seems to have been around as long as the human race. People are fascinated with it. The spark of human personality is so compelling that we cannot imagine this short life will end it. The afterlife is invariably linked to our understanding of the soul, that part of us that surpasses the physical and sustains the human spirit beyond the grave. Common among various religions is the idea that eternity is a place where we will pay for our sins or be rewarded for our goodness. Many eastern religions understand the afterlife as a place where one is in transition from one life to another or as a condition in which we continue to improve or regress.

Most religions teach, in one way or another, that people die in various stages of readiness for the hereafter.

  • Hinduism teaches that you have to achieve perfection to earn heaven. Reincarnation gives each person endless chances to “keep trying” to get it right. This can go on forever.
  • Buddhism teaches that each person can ultimately achieve Nirvana, but that It is neither justifiable or reasonable to believe in an eternal heaven or hell. Meditation, good works, and kindness help each person find inner peace and transcendence from the physical world.  “The wise man makes his own heaven while the foolish man creates his own hell here and hereafter.”[1]
  • Islam teaches that a physically rewarding heaven and horrible hell are real. Allah will compensate the faithful for what they did, or did not do, on earth. The virtuous will go to heaven; those who don’t measure up to the Quran’s teachings, to hell. In other words, going to heaven depends on what you do.
  • Mormons believe everyone will go to some level of heaven, and even that marriage will continue (for those who were wed in a Mormon Temple.)

Fake Heavens

 Today many people prefer to create a heaven with which they are comfortable. The recent flood of books and films that describe near death experiences and visions of heaven have clouded biblical teaching. Rob Bell, who famously founded the Mars Hill Bible Church later said that his book, Love Wins, led to a fallout with the congregation and forced him on a “search for a more forgiving faith.”[2] He now believes everyone will be saved and that orthodox Christianity is unpalatable.

He’s not the first—or the last—of a swelling number of Christians who are moving away from any idea of hell. God is perceived as “too loving” to send people to hell. Besides, any teaching that claims any lifestyle or habit is right or wrong is politically incorrect. I allege that a significant percentage of Christians have utterly abandoned any concept of living a holy lifestyle different from the lifestyles of non-Christians. Their “OMG” lifestyle contains just as much alcoholism, adultery, pornography, and self-indulgence as the rest of society. They ignore or explain away New Testament teaching that clearly labels sin for what it is. Is it any wonder that Christians like this readily follow the idea that what is “justifiable” or “reasonable” takes precedence over what scripture teaches about being a Christ follower? Such believers cannot imagine that they, their children, or loved ones might be excluded from heaven for any reason. They have therefore created a God who overlooks sin. But if God overlooks sin, Calvary was totally unnecessary.

What did Jesus teach?

Jesus said told Martha after Lazarus died, “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying.  [John 11:25}. He told his disciples that he was going to prepare a place for them so that they could live with him in his father’s house [John 14:1].

 So far, so good. But Jesus also told Martha, “Everyone who lives in me and believes in me will never ever die.” To the disciples he added, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me. [John 14:6]. He also warns us, “On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness’” [Matthew 7:22-23] And that is a warning not just for ourselves, lest we deceive ourselves into thinking we are following Christ when we are not. It is also a warning that we not be sentimental as though everybody who is a good person who died is going to be in Heaven.[3]

Here’s the real issue: sin. Neither good works nor being a good person erase sin. Meditation is useful and can bring a more serene lifestyle, but by itself does not take care of the sin problem. God’s heaven is exclusively for the sinless. This is not snobbishness or saying that Christ followers are better than other people. Christ provides a way through his sacrifice. “When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good. But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. And since we have been made right in God’s sight by the blood of Christ, he will certainly save us from God’s condemnation” [Romans 5:6-9]. God is just and merciful. His overwhelming love sent His sinless son, Jesus Christ, to forgive our sins. Who could be more forgiving than that? But hear this: rejecting this last and best option will keep you out of heaven.

“If you openly declare that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by openly declaring your faith that you are saved” (Romans 10:9-10 NLT).

Ultimately, I agree with C. S. Lewis, who said in The Great Divorce, “If we insist on keeping Hell (or even earth) we shall not see Heaven: if we accept Heaven we shall not be able to retain even the smallest and most intimate souvenirs of Hell…. There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done.’ All that are in Hell, choose it.

 

[1] https://www.budsas.org/ebud/whatbudbeliev/303.htm

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rob_Bell

[3] From an interview with John Piper https://www.desiringgod.org/interviews/can-loved-ones-in-heaven-look-down-on-me

Captivated by Creation

 

cactus wren with beak full
Cactus wren, Arizona

I love the high desert where we live: comical cactus wrens dart through the underbrush, their beaks crammed with grass and weeds for their nests; soaring night skies glitter with stars; impossibly fragile flowers adorn our desert plants with astounding color. Even the harvester ants—that arrived in countless numbers and with interminable energy to pillage my newly planted lawn and carry off every last seed—are evidence of a brilliant creator.

 

Imagine being a witness to creation! This is what I imagine…

Long ago and far away, before the first tadpole wiggled in a ditch or the first bright green blade of grass pierced the earth’s crust, there was nothing at all, anywhere. Time had not begun.Light lay locked away in the treasure vaults of God’s mind.

Only God existed somewhere, somehow.

Some time, God began a journey, an amazing journey. He decided to take a walkabout through the outback of nothingness. When God began to wade through the void, in his wake swirled glittering galaxies, spinning solar systems, and worlds without number. The stars shone with the white-hot fire of new birth, but their brilliance was only a residue of God’s presence. His glory was so vast that his every movement sent showers of stars streaming into a million orbits.

For centuries, millenniums, perhaps billions of years, God walked, leaving suns and moons in his footprints. If we had been observers of this fantastic journey, we never would have guessed that these marvels of the heavens were only the forerunners of God’s creative genius! There was a moment when our world was set into the infinite vastness of his heavens like a turquoise jewel on dark velvet. To this spot God focused his more intense attention.

Great mountains heaved themselves up from lifeless seas and belched lava and smoke into the pristine air. This small planet seemed to be in the throes of becoming something. Clearly it was being readied for some grand occasion. But what?

In God’s perfect timing, it was finally prepared. Rich soil covered the ground. Warm sunshine bathed the hills and valleys.

Suddenly life overflowed God’s hands in unbelievable profusion. Fragile tendrils of plant life lifted themselves from the soil and hung quivering in the golden light. Great ferns spread out their green sails. Luscious fruit hung heavy on a thousand branches. Orchids set the treetops ablaze with purple and white fire. An aromatic fragrance filled the air, a smell of moisture, sweetness, and life.

redwood-forest- (2016_07_21 01_37_36 UTC)
Redwood forest in Northern California

Crystal rivers and lakes reflected the transparent azure of the sky. The oceans seethed with living organisms, and soon flashed with the sudden movements of silver-sided fish and carefree dolphins. Ladybugs whirred into view, heading for richly petaled flowering trees. Their tiny gossamer wings, beating a thousand times per minute, brought them in for flawless six-point landings as though they had practiced for weeks. When they alighted, their wispy sails folded away like little parachutes under bright red enameled wing covers. Chipmunks skittered across the meadows as though blown out of a chute. Gazelles bounded in great circles, celebrating grace and life. Tortoises appeared like living lumps along the shore. A beating of wings heralded the arrival of flocks of iridescent birds, resplendent parrots, and graceful flamingos, a moving rainbow of color. Spotted fawns stooped to eat in the mottled shade encircling lush pastures.

In the words of master poet James Weldon Johnson[1]:

Then God walked around,
And God looked around
On all that he had made.
He looked at his sun,
And he looked at his moon,
And he looked at his little stars;
He looked on his world
With all its living things,
And God said: I’m lonely still.

Then God sat down–
On the side of a hill where he could think;
By a deep, wide river he sat down;
With his head in his hands,
God thought and thought,
Till he thought: I’ll make me a man!

Up from the bed of the river
God scooped the clay;
And by the bank of the river
He kneeled him down;
And there the great God Almighty
Who lit the sun and fixed it in the sky,
Who flung the stars to the most far corner of the night,
Who rounded the earth in the middle of his hand;
This great God,
Like a mammy bending over her baby,
Kneeled down in the dust
Toiling over a lump of clay
Till he shaped it in is his own image;

Then into it he blew the breath of life,
And man became a living soul.

Perhaps these words seem fanciful to you, lacking as they are in any scientific basis. Since people first arrived on the scene, some have had trouble believing God is behind our world and the universe. Today we worship science instead of God. Doesn’t scientific evidence that goes back billions of years cast doubt on the Creation Story? Not to me. I think it takes a far greater leap of faith to say it all happened from a Big Bang. A big explosion of what, exactly, and where did that whatever it was come from? And what  caused the Big Bang? How can an arbitrary explosion explain the phenomenal mathematics and science built into every single living creature? A Big Bang cannot explain the uniqueness of billions of people, each with unique fingerprints, voice prints, retina prints, and not to mention personalities. A Big Bang cannot explain intelligence, creativity, love, or loyalty. It was not happenstance that created birds that instinctively know how to build nests (every species a different type of nest, of course), or to migrate over eight thousand miles as does the arctic tern, using celestial cues from the sun and stars, the earth’s magnetic field, and mental maps.

I was reading in 1 Corinthians recently and reread this verse, “God in his wisdom saw to it that the world would never know him through human wisdom” (1 Corinthians 1:21).

Truth must be revealed. God can neither be proved nor disproved. Each of us must choose to believe. The psalmist wrote, “the heavens proclaim the glory of God. The skies display his craftsmanship” (Psalm 19:1).

Every bird I see with its intricate feathering pattern and its ingenious design that allows flight; every plant I see with the ability to synthesize light into chlorophyll and produce fruit;

butterfly scales
Scales from the wing of a sunset moth from Madagascar. If you photograph these from the opposite side, they would be different colors.

every time I contemplate the fragile beauty of a brilliant butterfly whose magnificent colors are made up of microscopic scales; every time I contemplate nature, I thank God for his wisdom, vast intelligence, and pleasure in creating such a gorgeous world for us to live in.

George Bernard Shaw, that brilliant playwright and self-professed atheist, was once asked, “What if, when you die, you discover that you have been wrong and there really is a God?” He answered, “I will tell him that he gave us insufficient evidence.”

Some might respond by saying—or thinking—”brilliant retort.” No. It’s a tragic, smart alecky reply. To be so intelligent and yet be blind to spiritual truth is heartbreaking. You cannot discern God with human wisdom. But you can see him everywhere if your eyes and your heart are open.

 

 

[1] Excerpt from “The Creation” by James Weldon Johnson

Come on. Beat yesterday. You got this!

(Guest blog by Jodi Shultz Klepper)

d0e721f7-be7e-44be-b24e-e336ab8b1e88-getty-916942690We are completely spoiled. No milking cows in the morning to have milk for breakfast. As a matter of fact, we have many options. Soy, Almond, lactose-free, full-fat, lower-fat, fat-free, chocolate, hazelnut, even pumpkin spice when the time is right. No more chasing a chicken around, killing it, plucking it, boning it, and butchering it when it is time for dinner. We just go to the store and pick out the parts we desire! If we want salad, there it is in a bag, washed and ready to eat. Veggies to munch on? Yep, all cut up and packaged to throw right in the picnic basket. And the grocery stores just keep making it easier and easier! Deli sections with ready to cook (or already cooked) meals, fresh breads and sandwiches already wrapped just waiting for a plate. An Olive bar, salad bar with steaming soup, chicken wing bar, sushi counter, and even a Starbucks—all in the Fry’s Marketplace one mile from my home. And Click List, where were you when I had babies??? Seriously, there is no room for argument, we are completely spoiled.

Oh, and don’t forget the companies that deliver boxes of fresh ingredients, with a recipe, and all you have to do is open and follow directions for a fresh, hot meal. Alexa, Smart phones/TV, Amazon prime even got one-upped by 2-hour delivery! Let’s talk online shopping for a minute…oh my goodness, my favorite. Am I complaining? NO! The blessings abound! So many wonderful tools, it all makes living a healthy lifestyle so easy…right?

Know better…Do better.

We know so much and have so much at our disposal. And yet we live in a time when obesity is an epidemic in the United States. Diabetes and heart disease kill moms, dads, brothers, aunts, sisters, grandmas, cousins, friends…not just numbers on a graph…people, loved ones, every day. Maybe you are still sitting on the fence trying to decide if it is worth the effort to lose the weight you want to. Maybe you are dragging your feet on your annual checkup even though you’ve been having shortness of breath. Maybe you just can’t cope like you used to be able to and would be embarrassed if your co-workers knew how much you drink. Please hear me, the time for change is now.

Here are some headlines from the local news today: (Thanks AZ family app)

“Woman struck by car, left with critical injuries”
“Teacher dies from flu…”
“Father of 4 kill at sports bar after fight over dog’s weight”
“Grand Canyon helicopter crash…4 rescued, 3 dead”
“Family IDs British tourists killed in Grand Canyon crash”
“Driver hospitalized after car hits pole in Gilbert”
“Woman killed by RV backing up at WestWorld in Scottsdale”
“Teen boy wounded in Glendale shooting”

This is some crazy stuff! Did any of these people expect to be injured or killed as they put their pants on yesterday morning? Doubtful. There are many variables that we have no control over. But what about the variables we can control?

  • We can enjoy the Fry’s’ amenities and eat more healthfully.
  • We can decrease our stress.
  • We can have open and honest relationships.
  • We can exercise on a regular basis.
  • We can forgive and let go of bitterness.
  • We can pray.
  • We can have meaningful hobbies and play.
  • We can learn and grow and heal destructive patterns.

It is easy to get overwhelmed if we try to change fifteen things at once! So, I usually pick one or two areas to focus on and then set some goals, short-term and long-term. I also like to hang a carrot out there…something I want or would enjoy that I can shoot for. A trip, a tattoo, dance lessons, plastic surgery…something you’ll work for! We are created to work and crave, we just need to get moving in the right direction and then we’re golden!

I’m so inspired by watching the Olympics. However, sometimes I look at my own life and think, “they are so disciplined and so driven, and I can’t even stay away from chocolate for a week”. Then comes a choice. I can sulk, feel sorry for myself, and beat myself up while I eat chocolate covered pretzels, OR I can be motivated by their accomplishments, put some gum in my mouth, and draft a plan! Creating a healthy lifestyle is a day to day journey. The choices keep coming and the struggle is real, especially when curve balls come and hit you in between the eyes. But please step towards health. No one is guaranteed tomorrow. That’s legit. So, come with me! Make some goals, find some friends for the journey, and create the life you want. It might take some time. But next week, you’ll be glad you started today! Come on…beat yesterday…you got this!

 

A Self-Entitled Generation

Wait! She married herself?

The concept of solo marriage hit the headlines in Italy September 2017 when Italian Laura Mesi married herself. The 40-year-old fitness trainer dressed in a white gown and was joined by 70 family and friends for the self-marriage ceremony, (which is not legally recognized). She paid $12,000 for the wedding, which included a three-tier cake topped with a figurine of just herself on the top followed by a whirlwind honeymoon for one to Egypt.

When 38-year-old Sophie Tanner of the UK celebrated her second wedding anniversary earlier this year, there were none of the usual trappings – no flowers or romantic meal for two; no hastily purchased card sealed with a kiss.

It’s not that her other half is remiss, but that on May 16, 2015, when the PR consultant took her vows on the steps of Brighton’s Unitarian Church, the person she swore to cherish for eternity was, well, herself.

Welcome to sologamy, or the practice of marrying oneself. This trend has been around for the last ten years. Is it catching on? We certainly hope not.

So far, this practice has been confined mostly to women as part of a woman’s empowerment statement. A 36-year old woman named Erika Anderson, from Brooklyn, famously married herself last spring. She said she got tired of people asking her why she wasn’t married, as if there was something wrong with her. “I think it’s hard not to adopt whatever society’s messages are … and I certainly think that one of the messages is, ‘You are not enough if you are not with someone else,’” Erika Anderson said of her decision to self-marry. The 37-year-old, who lives in New York, wed her university sweetheart in her twenties but the pair split when aged thirty after growing apart. Committing to herself, she said, was “an act of defiance.”

Some years earlier, another young woman named Dominique, at age 22, also married herself.  While Anderson had a public self-marriage ceremony modeled on the traditional kind with friends, a wedding dress, and a ring, Dominique got married in her bedroom by herself.  She had a ring also, but it didn’t go on her finger. She put it in her nose saying, “I breathe my vows every day.”

Dominique went to the Burning Man festival in Nevada in 2011, where she helped about one hundred other women get married to themselves. Now, of course, she is a self-marriage counselor and minister of something called the Temple of Divine Feminine Flow. Through her website, you can purchase a ten-week, self-marriage, self-study program to prepare yourself for the huge step of getting hitched to yourself. If you want one-on-one private lessons with Dominique, it costs $50 per session. Not that she’s trying to cash in on the self-marriage concept or anything.

Whatever it is called, it is not legally recognized.  That is, you can’t marry yourself and then file a joint tax return or claim benefits. At least not yet. Outside of the Temple of Divine Feminine Flow, I’m not sure any so-called religion would recognize self-marriage either. However, that is small potatoes to someone who loves themselves enough to self-marry. Erika Anderson says that when people ask her if she’s married now, she says yes and then introduces them to her other half.[1]

This self-marriage phenomenon is just one more evidence of the seriously misguided people our society is churning out in record numbers. More troublesome are a significant percentage of today’s young adults who have been raised to think the world revolves around them. They have no clue of the long-term consequences of their immaturity. All of their lives their parents have told them they are special, apparently just for being born. A child coming down a slide is praised by his mother for being a hero (for allowing gravity to work?) Teachers in some public schools are forbidden to give failing grades even if students turn in no work or flunk their tests. (This is not hearsay: a current teacher told me this.) After all, we don’t want anyone to feel he/she is less valuable than another student.

Welcome to the self-entitled generation.

1024px-NOMG07HellHandbasketKidsWagon
Photo by Infrogmation – Own work, CC BY 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1701065

It’s no wonder that twenty-somethings have no budgets, still live at home, and complain about how difficult “adulting” is. You cannot build a strong nation on people whose major accomplishment is beating their friends in video games or drinking the most alcohol. They have never been taught right from wrong and therefore they bristle when you suggest that their choices are inappropriate. They defy authority while imagining that the benefits that authority provides them are owed to them. You can rewrite history and delete from your textbooks the things and people you don’t like, but it’s still true that those who don’t learn from history are destined to repeat it.

Although flooding America today, self-entitled persons are nothing new. The world has had its share of those who flagrantly live as though rules don’t apply to them. I think we could say Absalom, son of King David, the first King of Israel, was self-entitled. He grew up in the palace where there were few rules and no consequences for those who broke them. He fostered rebellion against his father, slept with his concubines, and eventually had himself crowned king while David was still on the throne. The Old West spawned gangs of criminals. Italy famously produced its mafia called “Cosa Nostra” (Our Thing). Today’s cyber terrorists delight in wreaking catastrophe. All of this vividly demonstrates how society implodes when people are only concerned about themselves and their comfort.

Whether its professional football players dishonoring our flag or people who think that their Johnny-come-lately whims have more value than the eternal truths of scripture, I’m afraid that we may only be seeing the beginning of family disintegration and the unraveling of justice.

So, what are you going to do about it?

Most of us gripe about it. We commiserate together and roll our eyes about how society is going to hell in a handbasket. We spend our time lamenting what people wear (“I Saw it at Walmart” web site), we ridicule their so-called careers, and cluck our collective tongues at their never-ending stupidity, all the while praising ourselves that we at least have some sense. By the way, the “Going to hell in a handbasket” phrase has been in print since at least the 1800s.

We worry about it. It’s easy to allow these disturbing trends to dislodge our security and steal our sleep at night. We fret who’s going to run the government when these disorganized and dangerously imbalanced people land in public office. We fear that our nation’s moral fabric—already shredded beyond comprehension—will totally disintegrate. We are afraid of those who are different, imagining that they are no longer motivated by human emotions like ours.

We despair of the future, forgetting that God is still God and that there may be other viable futures for us that we haven’t even imagined. We cut off communication with the world and isolate ourselves as though the rest of the world has been bombed and we alone are left in our nuclear fallout shelters.

Could we try this?

Stop seeing others as “them,” and see them as individuals. When we group people together we tend to forget they are humans like us who want to succeed, to be loved, and find meaningful lives. Resist the tendency to jump on the bandwagon when others lump people together and blame them. Instead, look for and find one person you are writing off and start praying for them. Start a conversation. Send a card. Discover what would make them happy and try to make it happen. If you don’t know anyone who you would classify as self-entitled or a lost cause, maybe it’s time to find one.

Ask yourself about the history of the person of whom you are most critical. There are reasons people turn out the way they do. It doesn’t excuse bad choices, but it can explain them. Can we reasonably expect our fractured society to produce emotionally balanced offspring? Concentrate not on what they’re doing, or what you assume they’re doing, but on what you can do to build a bridge to them. Should they be cold to you or sluff off your attempt, don’t be discouraged. It takes time to build trust, and most of us could use some practice at building new relationships. Ask about the meaning of a tattoo or what they love about coloring their hair purple. You will surely learn something you didn’t know as well as starting up a conversation.

Cultivate a positive spirit. It’s so easy to see the dark side, or the glass that’s half empty. It takes work to see what is right. You may light a lot of candles before one stays lit, but that’s still a good thing. Ask God to alert you the moment you begin to criticize. It probably won’t take more than a minute or two. 😊 God still believes the world is worth saving. People determined to do right have rescued the world more times than history can record it. But they usually do it one person at a time.

 

[1] Thanks to my neighbor, Christopher Zimmerman, Whetstone, AZ, 2017 for the info. about self-marriage. Used by permission.

 

 

God Takes a Hand

Do you ever watch movies over and over again? Sleepless in Seattle is one of our go-to movies when we want to relax with something that is heartwarming and tension-free. A recurrent theme throughout this charming story is that destiny controls our lives. Whether it grandmother’s wedding dress that rips when Annie tries it on (and her mother says, “It’s a sign.”) or the windows of the Empire State Building that light up in a heart shape at just the right moment (and Annie murmurs, “It’s a sign.”), many in this film seem to believe that an impersonal force, fate is running their lives.

It is fascinating that many people assign control of their destiny to fate, or even Mother Nature, but have trouble believing that God could take interest in them. Or that there even is a God.

I throw my lot in with those who see God everywhere. We see His diverse and ingenious handiwork in the lavish color of butterflies, the unique perfection of snowflakes, and the amazing precision of our solar system’s orbiting planets. We see his love of beauty in the majestic vistas of Sedona and the glittering desert skies.

Most of all, however, we see his love for each of us in his intense interest in every detail in our lives. One man named Abraham dared to believe, thousands of years ago, that God was talking to him, and today, in 2017, millions believe that God talks to us. Of course, we regularly turn to the Bible for instruction; but I’m talking about the amazing and intensely personal ways he orchestrates things to help and guide us.

Through our lifetimes—Karon’s and mine—we have witnessed it repeatedly. Come with me as I recall a few of the amazing ways God has taken a hand.

Guidance

  • I grew up in a home that witnessed God at work. So right from the beginning I asked God to guide my life. When I wondered which elective to choose in high school, I asked my mother how to find God’s direction in prayer. She told me about her prayers for direction, including marrying my dad, and said she would pray with me. I chose Spanish. Years later this choice would become very important in my life.

 

  • God answered my prayers about whom I should marry. Even in grade school I started praying that, when the time would come, I would know who the girl was for me. (I thought that Midge. Moose’s girlfriend in the “Archie” comic strip, was pretty cute.) Years later as I made plans to attend Warner Pacific College (WPC), a Christian school in Portland, Oregon, I felt I perhaps would meet someone there. Interestingly, Karon Neal, a pastor’s daughter from California, was also praying about her eventual husband. She wasn’t planning to go to college since a high school counselor had told her she wasn’t college material. (Can you imagine?) However, a young man she occasionally dated disagreed with the counselor, telling her that she was great college material. So, with her Dad’s help, she applied to two colleges. He suggested that they pray for God’s direction by asking him to arrange for the right college to accept her first. She received her acceptance from WPC on Friday and left that weekend for Portland. Monday, her acceptance came from Anderson College! Yours truly was at WPC. We were both given jobs in the school cafeteria, and that’s where lightning struck.

 

  • Many people, including me, assumed that I would follow in my parents’ missionary footsteps. After Karon and I were married, I began to question this idea. In fact, I began to realize it wasn’t my idea at all. Thoroughly confused about my future in my senior year at college, I dropped out until I could decide what might be next. I looked for jobs in fields I thought would interest me, and worked several for short periods of time in display (decorating windows back in the day when department stores did that), in interior design, and then selling custom draperies and carpeting. During these months Karon had our first little girl and we moved to Salem, Oregon where the last job offer was. Karon’s parents just happened to live in Salem, too. Hmmmm. Months later we were staying at their house with Karon’s two younger brothers for a week or so and the phone rang. It was Cliff Tierney, a pastor in Southern California who was good friends with Karon and her family. He was calling to ask Karon’s Dad about what he thought was my potential of serving as his Minister of Music and Youth. But Karon’s folks were out of town, and I answered the phone. And so, without even getting an opinion from them, Cliff invited us to become his associates and gave us a couple of weeks to think and pray about it.  And that’s how we moved to southern California. Being a youth and music minister was not on my radar, but God took a hand, launching us into a career that would last forty-three years.

 

  • Fast forward fifteen years. Karon and I had three children and both worked full-time jobs. She was between jobs, a period of over six months, and finances were tight. We told no one, of course.

I was doing a lot of speaking at conventions and camp meetings that summer, and was at Warner Camp in Michigan, preparing to preach the evening’s message. I felt the keen gaze of a woman about halfway back, maybe twenty rows. It was very intense and rather unusual. After the service, she came forward and asked to speak with me. She said, “I have a word from the Lord for you.” The phrasing was unusual in my circles and her prophetic mannerism and piercing eyes made me nervous. She continued kindly, “As I prayed for you before the service began, God told me that you and your wife are concerned about finances. He wants you to know that He’s got this. Don’t worry.” With a smile, she added, “that’s all.”

Months later after she found work, God reminded Karon that, during this six-month period that she was at home, all three of our kids recommitted their lives to God.

Assistance

  • When the girls were little and before Jon was born, we moved from Oregon to Southern California to begin our very first solo pastorate. For those unfamiliar with this highway, I-5 travels through some breathtaking scenery with vistas of snow-capped mountain peaks amid soaring Douglas fir trees. It’s possible to drive it all at once, but even back then Karon and I were not ones for driving through the night. We had decided to stop about halfway, making it a two-day trip. Karon drove the car with the girls in it and I piloted a U-Haul truck jam packed with our belongings. Just before we pulled out of Portland, a friend brought over a little gray kitten as a gift to the girls. It was in a little box with a food and water dish and they were delighted. Karon and I exchanged baleful looks, but we were trapped. There was absolutely no room in the car, and so Dusty, the recently christened kitten, joined the furniture in the truck. She was securely settled and we checked on her every time we stopped.

As we approached the town of Yreka the truck began to make menacing groans and finally wheezed to a stop along the town’s icy roads at a gas station that also rented and repaired U Haul trucks: the only one in town, we discovered. Karon scouted around for a motel while I waited for the mechanic to look at the truck. We gingerly opened the back of the truck to check on Dusty. She was carsick and her cage had become dislodged. Her frantic little form was soon cuddled into the girls’ arms and we decided the mess would have to be cleaned up later. We were all freezing and Karon and the girls retreated to the car. The mechanic had examined the truck and now shook his head mournfully. “Fuel pump,” he muttered. “Totally destroyed.” It’ll probably be at least two days before we can get a replacement.”  My shoulders sagged. Have you noticed that bad news is always worse when you’re cold, hungry, and tired? After a moment, he snapped his fingers and said, “Wait a minute. I have one fuel pump I took off another truck that might get you there. It’s a long shot and so you’re probably out of luck. But let me check.”

He trundled off into the warmth of the garage and closed the door. I shivered over to Karon and told her that we might have to bunk here in this frozen paradise for a while. We looked at the girls, who were happily playing with Dusty. Could even this cat have been part of God’s strategy?

“Hey!” It was the mechanic. “What are the chances? I never would have believed it! This is exactly the fuel pump you need. Somebody is certainly looking out for you. Tell you what. I’ll work on this late and should be able to get you on the road by 10 a.m.” And he did.

What were the chances that a small-town mechanic would have just one fuel pump in his shop, and that it would work on our truck? God took a hand.

Finances, with guidance thrown in for free

  • In 1972, we drove from California to Indiana so I could attend seminary. Another long drive. We still had two girls, but no cat. (Sadly, Dusty had died in L.A.) Karon was pregnant with our third child. A benefactor had paid my first year’s tuition and we had sent ahead one month’s deposit on a rental house. Besides that, we were pretty much broke. However, we felt God was leading us and we firmly believed that He would take care of us. I had a part-time job as an associate pastor lined up that might just pay for food and rent. After that? We trusted God to handle it.

As the baby grew, Karon lined up an obstetrician. The appointment was $10. We knew the delivery would be by Caesarian section, which would be several days in the hospital and surgical expenses. Of course, we had no health insurance and few resources. One day a cashier’s check for $500 appeared anonymously in our church mail box. We’re still not sure who did it, but God knows. Two weeks before the delivery date, the doctor examined Karon and pronounced her in fine shape. He was going on vacation but would be back in plenty of time.

The next night Karon went into hard labor! That big baby was not going to endure two more weeks in his cramped quarters. With our obstetrician out of town, we drove to the hospital. Some doctor would surely be on duty. It so happened that the doctor on call at Community Hospital was Dr. Robert McCurdy, the finest surgeon in Anderson. We had not met him; however, he had served as a missionary doctor in Kenya when my parents were there and he held them in high regard. He delivered our son, Jonathan, who, at 8 lbs., 11 oz. was presented to us by a smiling nurse as a “big, fat boy.” For over a year our little girls had been praying for a brother.

Interestingly, we never got a bill from Dr. McCurdy’s office. After a couple of months, we inquired, only to be told that Dr. McCurdy had written off the bill for his services, including surgery, as a gift to my parents in appreciation for their influence on his life. God takes a hand.

Even with these generous gifts, many other bills had accumulated. Around that time Dr. Sid Guillén, head of the language department of Anderson College, called to ask me if I would teach two units of beginning Spanish for second semester. He was in a bind. He certainly must have been desperate to ask me. I’m not sure where he heard that I had a Spanish minor with my undergraduate degree, but he had, and I said yes. Remember earlier I mentioned that God had directed me to choose Spanish as my elective in high school? Do I even need to mention that the income from those two classes paid every outstanding balance we had, and in full?

Were these all just coincidences?

Some people will choose to believe these were all just happy coincidences. Not us! All of our lives we have asked God to help us, to save us, and to direct us. At the wedding altar we committed our lives not only to each other, but to him, until death do us part. And because of His generous love, deep commitment to people, and because He always keeps his word, we have not once lacked for any true need. No one leads a charmed life and many problems and difficulties have come our way. But God promises to be with us always, night and day.

Not everyone has the guarantee of this marvelous protection, and we don’t have it because we earned it or deserve it. God gives it to those who follow him and put him first. If you do that, you, too, will experience this extraordinary kind of living. This is the promise: “Therefore, I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear….  But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well (Matt. 6:25,33).

William Cullen Bryant summarized it in his classic poem, “To a Waterfowl:”

He, who, from zone to zone, 

Guides through the boundless sky thy certain flight, 

In the long way that I must trace alone, 

Will lead my steps aright.

 

 

Why and How to Write a Journal

It seems like everyone is writing these days. Multitudes are expressing their opinions on the web. Texting is a worldwide phenomenon. Blogging is big, and, of course, it seems everyone is writing a novel or short story. But none of this is journaling. What exactly is journaling?

When I was young, the only people I knew who kept a diary or journal were teeny-boppers who wrote loopy letters with pink ballpoint pens and dotted their i’s with little hearts. But the practice of keeping a diary or journal goes back hundreds of years, with the earliest known example coming from Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius.[1] Visionaries from Leonardo da Vinci to Charles Darwin jotted down their thoughts and ideas. This art of recording thoughts and daily musings has been found to be beneficial for everything from keeping scientific notes to self-discovery through self-expression of emotions and ideas. We have greatly benefited from the journals of great men and women, learning about their struggles, aspirations, and accomplishments. Without journals, thoughts would remain disorganized and discoveries such as those made by Lewis and Clark would be lost. You could even say the gospels are journals of a sort.

Journaling can be for everyone, not just famous people or teenage girls smitten with rock stars. Without exaggeration I can say that my journaling has been a life-changer and maybe a life-saver. I first discovered journaling when I was in my mid-40s and sinking into depression. It was a safe place to spill out my uncertainty and desperation. In time the hundreds of yellow pages on legal pads became an eye-opening record that documented my slide into confusion and sadness.

What’s more important is that journaling became the pathway that God used to enter my darkness with his light and hope. Writing down only my thoughts grew to also be writing God’s thoughts about me and to me. He reminded me of scriptures that healed me and of His Spirit who would not leave me an orphan during those long and confusing months and years. You can see why I cherish my time of journal keeping and why I still do it almost every day.

Journaling is simple. It’s free. It requires no money for equipment or lessons. You can’t fail. You don’t need a partner and nobody grades you. You can stop anytime you want, take long breaks, and pick it up again whenever you want. All you need is a pen or pencil and something to write on. I started with legal pads and now do it on my computer.

Here are a few ideas that might help you get started.

  1. Keeping a journal is not for everyone. If you find out it’s not for you, no harm’s done and no need to feel guilty. If you want to give it a shot, I suggest doing it for at least a month to adapt to this new habit.
  2. Journaling requires solitude. It is private and if you have someone looking over your shoulder or questioning your work, you won’t feel free to express your honest feelings. If you’re always around people, find a secret place to be alone. Maybe a park or even the bathroom or closet.
  3. Journaling requires silence. Turn off your music, take out your ear buds, and turn off your phone. Don’t check your email, Twitter, or Facebook. If this is a challenge for you, then use a pad and paper and put away your computer altogether.
  4. Journaling requires time. Like any writing, the good stuff usually doesn’t come at once. Thoughts build on each other and you will be examining your motives, actions, and ideas.
  5. For Christians, journaling requires a Bible. Here’s where a computer becomes so helpful: you can instantly check references and look for verses of which you only remember a word or two. But be careful not to get sidetracked by ads, tasks, or the countless interruptions that electronics flood you with every second.
  6. Journaling is personal and for your eyes only. Grammar and spelling are unimportant. No one will see what you write nor should they. Because of this, you can spill out every last thought, dream, frustration, and emotion. This catharsis is extremely helpful

Going deeper

  1. Invite God into your journaling. By that I mean begin with a prayer requesting His presence and reactions.
  2. Allow Him the chance to comment. After writing a few sentences or a paragraph or two, I begin a new paragraph and wait for Him to speak. I then write what I believe He is saying. Of course this can be subjective. It never takes the place of what the Bible says. Even so, I believe you will find that He draws the good out and gently reproves sinful thoughts and attitudes.
  3. Read back through your journals and notice recurrent themes and issues. Are you making progress?

Above all, journaling is a voyage of self-discovery, a place to record spectacular things like epiphanies and God sightings and amazing things like hummingbird sightings and the blooming of a new rose. In this sacred space nothing is off limits and you will find that God is never offended no matter what you say.

I hope journaling will open your soul and bring you hope and light.

[1] https://www.fromthegrapevine.com/lifestyle/famous-people-who-kept-journal-albert-einstein-marie-curie-mark-twain-charles-darwin

No Troubles, only Joys

Calvin-and hobbes--transmogrifing machineI miss Calvin and Hobbes. I especially loved Calvin’s transmogrifying machine. Really just a cardboard box, he used it to change himself—and any other willing subject—into dinosaurs, worms, or chickens. No request was too extreme or beyond the amazing ability of the transmogrifying machine to whisk away your present trouble by transforming you into whatever life form that didn’t have those problems.

Lots of times I’ve wished for that machine. Oh, not that cardboard box, of course. But something that would zap away my problems, pain, or circumstances. Or at least change them a little.

Recently I had a dream about a mother who had many handicapped children, some severely. Several were in wheelchairs, others suffered from cystic fibrosis, paralysis, or Down syndrome. Overwhelmed with the both the number of children and the complexity of handicaps, I sympathized with her and said I was sorry that she had so many burdens. She looked at me with genuine surprise and said “I have no burdens. Only joys.” I can still see her genuine smile and radiant eyes.

I am captivated by the radiant joy of that dream woman with all of the children. She wasn’t just enduring the handicapped children; she was cherishing and enjoying them. Her joy came from inside, a deep artesian well. I have known real people like her, people whose spirits weren’t crushed by pain or handicap, but rose above it somehow. Instead of wishing for a transmogrifying machine to zap away their problems, they attain a new level of life, as though their problems become stairs to a higher plane of living.

The apostle Paul wanted to escape his troubles, too. He suffered with a recurring problem that was very painful. He called it his “thorn in the flesh.” When he begged God to remove it, God replied that, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:7-9). No mention of an easy exit.

Difficulties place us in a hallway from which two doors open. We can choose the door that leads us to God and a deeper understanding through the pain or we can take the door marked Exit which in reality leaves us wallowing with questions like “If only…” and “Why me?”

God’s goal is always to move us beyond the physical to the spiritual when true victory is won. God is eternally present. No victories are won in the past or the future. He is the source of overflowing hope, joy, love, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, perseverance, and goodness. Every day He gives me occasions for gladness and opportunities to draw closer to Him. Through pain he opens doors of opportunity to learn more about Him, to meditate upon His character, and to spend time with Him. Spending time with God is the greatest gift and the one we most often squander. It’s the gift nobody seems to want.