How to Handle Failure and Loss

July 28, 2015 our sweet black Scottish terrier, Maggie, slipped through the fence and was gone…forever. She was a hunter and loved to chase jackrabbits. That’s all it would have taken. We scoured the property and the surrounding desert. We left her bed and a dish of water at the place someone said they saw her. We took her picture to all of the neighbors, local businesses, and the post office. We checked in with the animal shelter day after day, but she was gone.

maggie-and-molly
Maggie (left) and Molly (right)

If you love a dog you understand what we’re going through. You’d think we’d be over it by now. After all, it wasn’t a child (thank God). We still look for her and can almost see her trotting back proudly from dispatching a jackrabbit, her tail in the air and her pink tongue hanging out. We think of her every day when we feed Molly, our little white dog. Yesterday, we talked again, Karon and I, about how much we still miss Maggie. As an experiment, I called Maggie’s name. Molly immediately jumped down from my lap and looked in every corner of the yard and then in the house. She misses her too.

I don’t think we’ll get over it.

Every loss is significant.

Mom and Dad lived into their nineties. Dad died at 93. Mom lived until 97. They lived wonderful lives and were citizens of the world, missionaries to the Caribbean and equatorial Africa. If you’ve read my other blogs, you know that as I grew older abandonment issues and many other things distanced me from them emotionally to the extent that when they died, my overwhelming feeling was relief.

To my surprise, I feel a greater loss as the years go by. I especially miss my mother and our first thirteen years in our West Indian home (when I knew her best). I see her hanging out the wash, her arms tanned from the tropical sun. I see her playing the piano and watch her keeping books for the mission. I remember when she picked me up from school and I shocked her with, “We’re going to have to hurry like hell!”—a phrase I obviously picked up somewhere other than the staid Shultz residence. We shared a deep love of color and beauty, so profuse in the tropical flowers with which she surrounded us. And I understand her so much better now at this stage of my life, a woman transplanted far away from her family that she never saw and separated from the two children that she loved because of duty and obedience to God. I would like to ask her about all of that, and, perhaps in heaven, she will again remember the things that I remember, and we can enjoy those memories together.

Many of us grieve fractured relationships. People we loved and trusted have disappointed us. Grown children live irresponsibly and discard our most deeply prized values. We mourn relationships we have lost or have been unsuccessful at saving, and we still remember the good times with those people or with those children when life seemed simpler and our world seemed safer. We remember the dinner table when we all laughed when one of the children passed gas. We can see the sunlight in their hair and hear they innocent chatter as they play on the monkey bars in the back yard. We remember family get-togethers when there were no political issues to separate us or illnesses to leave empty chairs where smiles used to be.

We mourn the loss of bodies that moved easily or without pain, and yearn for the days when getting dressed in the morning took five minutes instead of forty-five minutes. We miss the “good old days,” days perhaps different for each of us, but remembered in a golden glow of nostalgia.

 How to handle failure and loss.

 1. Remember and enjoy the good things.

Last night we saw the 1951 movie David and Bathsheba and I found it surprisingly moving and insightful. When David was confronted by Nathan and the full realization of his failure and sin was overwhelming him, he collapsed in prayer. In those moments, God reminded David of the good times in their relationship: when God called him by Samuel’s anointing, when he saw God in every star, lily of the valley, and care of his sheep, and when God helped him, not the least of which was killing Goliath. We cannot bring back the one who has died, but we can find joy in recalling the laughter and joy we shared together. We cannot undo the time we failed, but we can remember the hundreds of times we did not fail!

2. Remember that everyone deals with loss, even Jesus.

Madeleine L’Engle, in Walking on Water, describes the first time this realization hit her.

 “One time I was talking to Canon Tallis, who is my spiritual director as well as my friend, and I was deeply grieved about something, and I kept telling him how woefully I had failed someone I loved, failed totally, otherwise that person couldn’t have done the wrong that was so destructive. Finally he looked at me and said calmly, ‘Who are you to think you are better than our Lord? After all, he was singularly unsuccessful with a great many people.’

“That remark, made to me many years ago, has stood me in good stead, time and again. I have to try, but I do not have to succeed. Following Christ has nothing to do with success as the world sees success. It has to do with love.

Jesus’ losses and disappointments were massive: (a) the loss of divinity and heaven during the Incarnation; (b) the death of Lazarus; (c) the intense humanity of the disciples (“Couldn’t you watch with me even one hour?  [Matthew 23:40]); and the failure to succeed with many people: the Pharisees, the rich young ruler, and Judas, to name just a few. But Jesus did not allow his losses to define him.

 3. Remember that God is always with us.

A secondary result of salvation—wonderful beyond description—is God’s continual friendship and presence with us. He cares deeply for us and is intensely interested in the tiniest details of our lives. Before Jesus departed this earth, he told the disciples, “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Comforter, who will never leave you….I will not abandon you as orphans (John 14:16-18).

All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. (2 Cor. 1:3)

A book which always encourages me is that ancient classic The God of All Comfort by Hannah Whitall Smith. The language is dated, but Ms. Smith’s insights are simple and remarkable. For example,

“A wild young fellow, who was brought to the Lord at a mission meeting, and who became a rejoicing Christian and lived an exemplary life afterward, was asked by someone what he did to get converted.

“‘Oh,’ he said, ‘I did my part and the Lord did His.’

“‘But what was your part,’ asked the inquirer, ‘and what was the Lord’s part?’

“’My part,’ was the prompt reply, ‘was to run away, and the Lord’s part was to run after me until He caught me.’ A most significant answer; but how few can understand it!

God’s part is always to run after us. Christ came to seek and save the lost….This is always the Lord’s part; but in our foolishness we do not understand it, but think that the Lord is the one who is lost, and that our part is to seek and find Him.

We must simply believe what the Bible says about God’s love for us and His determination to be with us and to help us. We don’t have to explain it, feel it, or defend it, just accept it.

4. E + R = O (Event + response = outcome)

This formula was concocted, or perhaps repeated, by Matthew Cornell, a man whose blog I read the other day. He struggles with imagining the worst possible outcome, always reacting negatively.[1] For example, when he receives a letter from his insurance company, he immediately imagines that he is being canceled or that his rates are going up, and dreads opening the mail. It’s easy to imagine the worst when we lose something important to us or when we face an embarrassing situation or failure. But such events, losses, or failures do not define us. Our response defines us. My granddaughter, Krissy Klotz posted this on Facebook recently: “There are always going to be hard days. The way you respond to them defines you.”

As I mentioned above, Jesus suffered unimaginable rejections, disappointments, and pain. But he did not let those things define him. When bad things come our way, we need to learn to respond with a childlike innocence and curiosity instead of imagining the worst right off the bat. What can we learn? What good and positive thing is God going to bring from this? (Romans 8:28)  It may take months—or years—to get to the point where we can see it, but God promises that it will come.

 

[1]  http://www.matthewcornell.org/blog/2005/10/9/e-r-o-event-response-outcome-dealing-appropriately-with-crin.html

Why you should believe in angels

Most everyone, it seems, believes in angels. Popular American culture has encouraged this view with classic Christmas films like “It’s a Wonderful Life,” and “The Bishop’s Wife.” Today in 2017 scores of current television shows and series have angels as their primary theme. An ABC news poll in 2008 found that more than half of all adults, including one in five of those who say they are not religious, believe that they have been protected by a guardian angel during their life.[1] An AP poll in 2011 found that 77 percent of adults believe that angels are real.

Do you believe in angels? I do.

Angel Number One

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Our girls  in 1971.

In 1970 Karon, I, and our two girls were attending the Oregon State camp meeting. We had borrowed a large and luxurious Oldsmobile from Karon’s Dad so we could pull a small trailer we borrowed from L. T. and Helen Flynt. (We were always borrowing things in those days.) One afternoon we were on the way from the somewhat isolated camp ground to town and the car died. Nothing we could do helped and all of my mechanical knowledge could fit onto the head of a pin. We sat by the road for quite a while, now and then trying to start the engine again. No luck. Interestingly no traffic went by at all. We were getting increasingly frustrated when Mimi, our four-year old, suggested that we pray about it. Of course! For some reason, I said, “Good idea, Mimi. Why don’t you pray?” And she promptly prayed a simple, faith-filled prayer that, as I remember, went something like this, “Dear God, please fix this car and don’t let it stop any more. Amen.” That was it.

Shortly thereafter we noticed a man walking towards us down the road, the first person we had seen. He walked over to my open window and asked what was wrong. I told him. He offered that he was a retired GM mechanic and if I would release the hood, he’d take a look. In a few moments, the engine was running, and “it didn’t stop any more.” The man laughingly refused any compensation and walked away. We were able to take our outing, finish the camp meeting, and return the car and trailer without incident. Who was the man? No one at the camp ground knew of a retired GM mechanic. What are the odds of such a person showing up at just the right time? Karon and I are sure that he was an angel who came in answer to a child’s simple prayer of faith.

Angel Number Two

Our first pastorate began one year later in Culver City, California. We were young and inexperienced, but we never doubted that God had called us to that church or that he was working among us. Our church building was on the corner of two busy four-lane boulevards. A KFC, gas station, and a Jack in the Box drive-in sat on the other three corners. Fire engines often roared screaming by during worship services. Our congregation was made up of two main groups: longtime Christians and baby Christians. We never knew what was going to happen. We even had an encounter with a demon-possessed woman. However, before she started attending, we had a much more wonderful visitor.

When you entered the church, stairs led you either up to the sanctuary or down to the basement where there were classrooms and a kitchen. Sunday services took place in the sanctuary. Wednesday evening prayer meeting and Bible study was held in the basement and was a much smaller, more intimate group. After a short Bible study, we spent our time sharing prayer requests, holding hands, and praying aloud. Our eyes were shut when we heard someone open the door upstairs, come down to the basement, and take a seat in our circle. When there was a break in praying, our unknown visitor began praying for us. It was a beautiful, powerful, and altogether heavenly prayer prayed by someone who knew us intimately but also knew that God was at work. His words were filled with power, hope, and strength. He prayed that God would anoint us, use us, and protect us in our fledgling ministry. When he said amen, someone else began to pray. Later, when we opened our eyes, he was gone.

It’s only as I write this, forty-six years later, that I realize that this unseen visitor, this angel, prayed for us before the demon-possessed woman arrived. Her stay among us was brief, maybe six months, but when she was present, worship was interrupted, hymnals dropped, babies cried, and a chilly spirit settled over us like a pall. Karon and I visited in her home one day—I think to pray with her as she had been ill—and as we prayed for God’s Spirit to heal her, Karon opened her eyes to see the woman glaring at us with uncanny, deep hatred. That was our confirmation of the demon possession, which explained so many things. Thank God she never returned, nor did the chill she brought to worship. Our heavenly visitor prepared us for that experience with his powerful prayers. Karon and I are sure that he was an angel.

Angel Number Three

Ten years later we were living in Anderson, Indiana. I was doing a lot of traveling and speaking at missions’ conventions. It was mid-March and normally tulips and daffodils would have been pushing up through the soil by then. But it had been an unusually cold and snowy winter, and a freak blizzard had almost stranded me on the way home from the Indianapolis airport at 2:00 am one morning a week earlier. This week I was driving back and forth to North Webster, Indiana for nightly meetings. The last night as I left the church for home, a two-hour drive, I heard ice hitting the windshield. For the most part, however, the roads were passable, and I continued home without incident until the last thirty minutes or so. Just south of Marion I hit a patch of black ice and my car began sliding sideways across the road at about 40 mph. Thankfully, there was no traffic at this late hour. The two-lane road fell away on both sides and was lined by huge trees and the occasional billboard. As I slid out of control I saw the large iron posts of a billboard careening toward my window and I braced for the inevitable crash. The car lurched to a stop, spilling the hot coffee I had just bought at a Marion drive-in. I quickly realized that I was okay. I jumped out to see if the car was damaged. It was not, having stopped less than six inches from the huge iron post supporting the billboard. Immediately I had a vision of an angel standing between me and the billboard pole as he stopped the car in safety. There could be no other explanation as the ground was slick with mud not yet frozen with no boulders or trees to break the onward rush of my car. I believe that angel saved me. (However, he did not help me find a telephone or summon a tow truck.)

Angel Number Four

My parents, Clair and Retha Shultz, recount the following experience in their book, Tracks of God.[2]  They were in Africa, far from home, having traveled to see a doctor. Before returning home, they spent the night in a guest house. “During the night a hard, lingering rain came down. Roads in the country are usually just dirt roads. When the roads are dry they are very dusty, and rain turns them into very slippery mud. The next morning we saw the road was bad, but thought we could go on, so we started. Soon we started up a slight incline and the car began to skid sideways and even turn around. When we had come to a complete stop we saw a man walking a short distance ahead of us, coming toward us. He came over and spoke to us saying there was no way we could drive on the road. He reminded us that there was another way that would take us to the highway, but it was a tricky road to follow, and we might get lost. He said, ‘If you want me to, I will get in the car with you and direct you so you can reach the highway. When we get there, I will walk back and finish my own journey.’

“He helped me turn the car around, traveled with us, told us to turn here and there, with no road signs to guide us and finally, with his help, we saw the paved road just ahead. When we stopped the car, he got out, said goodbye and started walking back to his former place on the road. Who was he? We had no idea. Did he ask for a tip or money? No! It was a bit strange that he happened to be right there when we were sliding off the road, even helps reverse the car, so it slid over where it should be, and then acted as our guide to the highway.”

I believe that man was an angel.

angel-protecting-daniel-in-the-lions-den

What does the Bible say about angels and their interaction with us? They…

  • deliver divine messages (Daniel 8:15-18; Luke 1:11, 9, 26; Acts 8:26)
  • help and serve Christians (Hebrews 1:14).
  • interact with us without our recognizing them (Hebrews 13:2).
  • are used to help answer prayer (Acts 12:7).
  • observe Christians in our lives (1 Corinthians 4:9; 1 Timothy 5:21).
  • are curious about Jesus’ intervention for us (1 Peter 1:12).
  • encourage Christians in dangerous times (Acts 27:23-24).
  • are interested in the human mission to spread the truth about Jesus (Luke 15:10); and
  • they care for Christians at death (Luke 16:22; Jude 9).

The following two references bring me great encouragement, and not only in times of trouble.

Hebrews 1:14

14 Therefore, angels are only servants—spirits sent to care for people who will inherit salvation.

thomas-blackshear-african-american-painter-watcher-in-the-nightPsalm 91:11

If you make the Lord your refuge,

if you make the Most High your shelter,

10 no evil will conquer you;

no plague will come near your home.

11 For he will order his angels

to protect you wherever you go.

My brief but unforgettable encounters with angels—and those of others—remind me time after time that God is aware of my needs and takes the initiative to provide for me and my family. It comforts me to remember this because sometimes I forget that God is always with me.

I’m thinking that you, too, have had angelic encounters. Why don’t you share them with me and with others? These stories can only bring encouragement and hope.

[1] http://abcnews.go.com/US/story?id=5833399

[2] Pp. 92-93, Tracks of God, ©2006 by Clair and Retha Shultz, Chinaberry House, Anderson, IN.

2017

No matter who we are or where we are, each new year brings new challenges and hope in Christ. My daughter, Mimi, says it beautifully.

Along the Narrow Path

The door swung open and we stepped across the threshold of another new year.

Close your eyes and imagine yourself standing at the doorway to 2017. Were you someone eager and hopeful, tiptoed or even crouching, ready to skip or leap with a grin into the open space like a little child ready to get outside and make footprints in fresh, undisturbed snow? Maybe you were reluctant and even afraid to step out, like someone standing under a ledge watching a downpour, not wanting to get drenched in the run to your parked car on the far side of the big parking lot. Some of you might have stared vacantly at the open space ahead, taking great effort to just take one step. Maybe your heart is numb, worn out or depleted from challenges, disappointments, even grief you walked through in 2016. You might have marched through, slamming the door…

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Election Day Thoughts

I am thinking today about Percy Bysshe Shelley’s sonnet, “Ozymandias.”

“I met a traveller from an antique land,
Who said—’Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal, these words appear:
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.'”

Shelley–and the Bible–remind us that even the mightiest human kingdoms are temporary. I remember this as I ponder the direction of our nation. I celebrate being anchored in eternal truth and remember that when Jesus says (in Revelation) “I make all things new” He is not talking about this election…or this nation…or any nation. In God’s Kingdom there is no deceit or narcissistic power-grabbing; but what our hearts long for: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

The Truth about Getting Old

“You’re not old, grandma, not really old!”  One woman’s five-year-old granddaughter comforted her about turning 65 and, holding her face in her hands, assured her that she really was still a valuable person.  Getting old is a problem if even little children don’t want you to become an old person. Why?  Where does a little child get the idea that old is bad?

Today when our youth oriented society hears “old,” they immediately conjure up images of incontinence and vacant-eyed Alzheimer’s patients. It seems that most everyone in this country associates getting old with bad things: poor health, deteriorating appearance, being dependent on others, and even irrelevance. “In the workplace, if you reach a certain age, you’re getting a message that you really should get out of the way, make room for younger people, and at the same time, getting a message that you’re a burden on society if you do.”[1] It is almost to the point that to refer to someone as “old” is offensive.  And we do not like to talk about dying. But that’s another blog.

Did you ever think about being old when you were young? I never did. That happened to someone else, like my parents. Mostly I never even thought about it. It was at my fiftieth birthday party that the “old” jokes started coming out. We all laughed when somebody gave me an application for AARP. It was hilarious that I was given a cane with a horn on it. Other gifts were a magnifying glass, a nose hair trimmer, a couple of quarts of prune juice, and a box of Depends. This was all good-natured fun and we loved it.

But now–suddenly, (if you can call two decades “suddenly”)—here I am, almost 72. Now, don’t immediately jump to my defense and say, “That’s not old!” It’s okay. However, my body and mind are undergoing something big, and I want to talk about it.

I have found myself woefully unaware of the profound effects aging can have. On top of that, I am surprised about how intensely these changes affect me when I thought it would be “no big deal.” And, if I fulfill my parents’ genetic legacy, I’m just a novice at aging with decades still to go.

Growing old: the bad news.

  • Aging changes your body, like it or not.

I used to think, when looking at my parents, “Why do they look so sad all of the time?”  Now I see those same expressions on my face! It was not sadness, disapproval, or anger. It was gravity! We praise those who, like actress Cicely Tyson, are still starring in Broadway shows at 90, but the truth is most of us will not be this vigorous at 90, even if we exercise, eat right, and keep a great attitude. Our bodies wear out, period. We wear out at different rates and from different things, but we do wear out. Genetics deals each of us a different hand when it comes to aging. I hope that you’re in the majority of the population who do not have arthritis. However, neither Karon nor I can wear the shoes we used to because our feet hurt too much. Your hair may be white but your face is still smooth. My hair may still be mostly brown, but my face looks like a road map.

We find our list of doctors growing to include urologists, ophthalmologists, cardiologists, rheumatologists, and, for some, oncologists. Our shopping trips now take us to aisles at Walmart we never expected to be in. We look around, embarrassed, when we select Depends Shields, “for drips and dribbles.” (I can imagine the young graphic artist who designed this package rolling his eyes. He never imagines that he, too, will need such things.) We ask people to speak to our left side because that’s our good ear. And why does everyone mumble these days?

The Mayo Clinic suggests that we can expect these changes as we grow older: your cardiovascular system, your bones, joints, and muscles, your digestive system, your bladder and urinary tract, and your memory.[2]

  • Aging can change your mind, like it or not.

Most of us older people have moments when we can’t remember where they put our keys or forget or confuse people’s names. Like the two couples below…

Two elderly couples were enjoying friendly conversation when one of the men asked the other, “Fred, how was the memory clinic you went to last month?”

“Outstanding,” Fred replied. “They taught us all the latest psychological techniques, like visualization, association, and so on. It was great. I haven’t had a problem since.”

“Sounds like something I could use. What was the name of the clinic?”

Fred went blank. He thought and thought, but couldn’t remember. Then a smile broke across his face and he asked, “What do you call that flower with the long stem and thorns?”

“You mean a rose?”

“Yes, that’s it!”

He turned to his wife, “Hey Rose, what was the name of that memory clinic?”

Some normal, mild memory loss comes to almost all of us with aging, but many will face more serious cognitive impairment, dementia, or Alzheimer’s. (My mother died of Alzheimer’s.)

  • Aging robs us of family, friends, and independence.

According to the U. S. Census Bureau, 800,000 people in the US are widowed each year. 87% of those are women. Loss of a spouse is ranked as the number one stressor. 60% of these widowed (men and women) will experience a serious illness such as cancer, shingles, or heart disease in the twelve months following that loss.[3] In addition to this there is an increased likelihood that a recently widowed person will die (between 30% – 90% in the first three months and around 15% in the months thereafter). This is one of the best documented examples of the effect of social relations on health.[4]

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My Mom and Dad, Clair and Retha Shultz in 1999. He died in 2003.

The loss of independence is extremely difficult. I remember someone called me after church one Sunday and said, “Dave, I followed your parents home from church today and your Dad was all over the road.” Not only that, but he was parking half on and half off the curb. More frightening was the thought of the accidents that might happen. We finally had to insist that my Dad relinquish his driver’s license.

As he entered the nineties, my Dad struggled with a deep sense of irrelevance. Not only was his car gone, but so were his study and woodworking shop, two places that defined him. Then his mind began to fail, as did his ready wit. When I look in the mirror I see my Dad’s wrinkled face looking back at me. I am trying to prepare myself for these contingencies.

  • Age can diminish spiritual vitality.

The Bible talks a lot about age and offers many examples of people who maintained or lost spiritual vigor. Notable is King Solomon: “As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods, and his heart was not fully devoted to the Lord his God, as the heart of David his father had been” (1 Kings 11:4 (NIV).

Dan Davis, a Lifeway author, writes[5]: “Notice how this verse does not begin. It does not begin ‘When Solomon was young and imploring the Lord for wisdom’ or ‘When Solomon had just completed building the temple….No, it begins ‘When Solomon was old.’”

Worldliness, you see, creeps in slowly….it sits down and talks like a friend. Worldliness does not, at first, talk to you about bad things. It just talks to you about…things. Before long trivia fills your mind. Television programs, games, and doctors’ appointments become the focus of your days. And slowly, the eyes of your heart become heavy, start to close, and eventually you fall asleep. You stop reading the Bible, stop praying, and stop thinking about God. And that was Solomon’s undoing. Solomon was still smart, but he lost his focus and abandoned his first love.

Constructive responses to growing old.

 Even in the face of such daunting statistics, we can face the future with hope and joy. David Roper in Our Daily Bread [6] observes, “Old age does not have to focus on declining health, pining over what once was. It can also be full of tranquility and mirth and courage and kindness, the fruit of those who have grown old with God.”

  • The human spirit can transcend difficulty.

ree-glamor-shot-2005
My Mom, Retha Shultz, posing for a “glamour shot” at 90. Mom lived until she was 97.

I am blessed with stellar examples of this upbeat and give confidant attitude. My Mom used to say that “old” was one decade beyond wherever she was. She meant by this that she would not let a fatalistic and downcast mindset overtake her.( You can read her story here: That was then. This is now.)

flo-on-ferris-wheel-columbus-oh-2007
My mother-in-law, Flo Neal, riding the Ferris wheel at the Ohio State Fair in 2006, the year before she died at 1986.

My mother-in-law, Flo Neal, became noticeably more vibrant in her eighties. She refused to allow pain or handicaps to limit her. In fact, we didn’t know almost until her death that she had terrible pain in her legs from peripheral arterial disease. Until the day she died, at 86, she disciplined herself to reach out to her neighbors and friends, many of whom still testify to her dynamic spiritual impact.

  • This body is just our temporary home. Our spirits are eternal.

Paul’s illuminating words underscore this essential truth. “God, who first ordered ‘light to shine in darkness’, has flooded our hearts with his light….This priceless treasure we hold, so to speak, in a common earthenware jar—to show that the splendid power of it belongs to God and not to us” (2 Cor. 4:6-7, J.B. Phillips). We must remember every morning that our fragile and transient bodies are but a short-lived residence for our spirits, which are unconquerable!

David Roper, who I quoted above, must use a walker because of peripheral neuropathy. “I’m trying to learn, however, that my limitation, whatever it may be, is a gift from God, and it is with this gift that I am to serve Him….Seeing our so-called liabilities this way enables us to go about our business with confidence and courage. Rather than complain, feel sorry for ourselves, or opt out, we make ourselves available to God for His intended purposes”[7]

  • Being active can vastly improve the years we do have.

helen-karon-and-dave-90th-b-day-june-2012
Karon, Helen, and I in Seattle at her 90th birthday party in 2012. She’s still going strong!

Medical science continues to discover how vitally important exercise is for the human body, no matter how old you are. Helen Flynt, my adopted mother, now in her mid-nineties, still walks three miles a day, a longstanding practice that surely contributes to her energetic schedule. In a recent email, she told me that, “I try to limit activities to two a day, if possible” (in addition to walking, of course). She also attends special events, such as a Regional minister’s meeting, a three-day affair in Portland (she lives in Seattle), a Mariner’s baseball game, and regularly is involved in weekly church functions and monthly interest groups, such as Quilter’s Anonymous. Until a year or so ago she also was in the Senior Swingers Orchestra that performed several concerts a year, but she dropped out because “it was taking too much time for rehearsals and programs.” I am exhausted just contemplating this schedule.

Obviously, Helen’s energetic lifestyle is beyond many of us, but we all can exercise, even if it’s only walking regularly. Karon and I play tennis three times a week. Don’t imagine us leaping across the courts with tanned and muscular bodies. No, but we do play doubles with other seniors, a great way to enjoy the sport when your joints complain. Most in our group are old hands at joint replacements, cataract surgeries, and back surgeries like mine. As beneficial as the exercise is the hour and a half we spend laughing three times a week. The point is to enjoy the fresh air and sunshine. Move, move, move. Your body is built for exercise.

  • Our spiritual life is capable of endless growth and enrichment!

Even as our bodies weaken, our spirits can blossom as never before. I love this promise from Psalm 92:12-15

But the godly will flourish like palm trees
and grow strong like the cedars of Lebanon.

For they are transplanted to the Lord’s own house.
They flourish in the courts of our God.
Even in old age they will still produce fruit;
they will remain vital and green.

They will declare, “The Lord is just!
He is my rock!
There is no evil in him!”

Many of us are still busy with activities, travel, and hobbies. Even in retirement it is easy to let time for Bible reading and prayer slip away. How tragic if now, with flexible schedules, we slide God and His Word to the back burner. This is why illnesses, pain, and difficulties can be our friends, because they make us realize our need for constant connection with God.

arlyne-wells
Arlyne Wells (taken from her Facebook page in 2016)

Arlyne Wells was in a dreadful automobile accident twenty-four hours after her high school graduation in 1989. Left a quadriplegic for the past twenty-seven years, she exudes an outgoing positive attitude and daily uses her Facebook page to post uplifting and positive scriptures and quotations. She has a great sense of humor. She surely faces constant and enormous physical and emotional challenges, disappointments, and pain, yet she chooses to invest her time by cultivating her relationship to God and encouraging others. This focus allows her to keep upbeat and optimistic rather than allow her handicaps to defeat and discourage her. Arlyne is not old but she is facing many challenges typical of old age. She is doing it with grace and a growing spiritual vitality born of her strong will and intention to help others.  I want to do this.

[1] Laura Carstensen @ http://www.npr.org/2016/02/06/465819152/times-have-changed-what-should-we-call-old-people

[2] See the full article here http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/healthy-aging/in-depth/aging/art-20046070  This article also suggests the best ways to stay as healthy as possible.

[3] http://www.widowshope.org/first-steps/these-are-the-statistics/

[4] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2636447/

[5] http://www.gospelproject.com/2013/01/07/creeping-worldliness/

[6] “ Red Hackle,” Our Daily Bread, September, October, November 2016, November 27, Our Daily Bread Ministries, PO Box 2222, Grand Rapids, MI 49501-2222

[7] Ibid. “This Gift.”

The Grief Walk

A counselor recently told me that loss is recorded in our minds, hearts, and even our bodies. I pray that these words will help you deal with your losses.

u.b.healthy

Image result for griefAs a nurse, I experience many emotions with families that cross my path. The spectrum involved in one day can sometimes be dizzying and is often exhausting. The powerful emotions surrounding loss can easily overwhelm even the most veteran nurses when tragic loss arrives during a “normal” work day, unannounced and uninvited. A chaplain offers a prayer, nurses gather to cry and hug, and then the serving resumes. We proceed through our shifts and appear to be unscathed…but loss always leaves a mark, whether acknowledged or not. The grieving process is the healing process. As nurses we talk through our losses. We manage them alone at night while the rest of the world sleeps. The goal being to walk all the way through the grief and experience healing that can then ignite deeper compassion and nursing care that promotes true health and wellness for our patients as well as ourselves.

Our response…

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Incredibly insightful and hilarious observations about recovery from major surgery.

In the hospital:

  • Make sure and have someone take a picture of you immediately after surgery while you’re still pain-free from that marvelous anesthesia and you haven’t seen the hospital food yet. You won’t look that good again for weeks. (RANT: By the way, why don’t they give you that anesthesia for pain when you’re banging shamelessly on the “nurse” button and when she toddles in an hour later and says cheerfully, “Here’s some Tylenol for you, dearie.” Tylenol is as useful as a mint-flavored suppository.)
  • Do not put your best foot forward or put on a cheerful grin and say you’re doing great. They will believe you and send you home within the hour, still hooked up to your catheter and IV bags.
  • Don’t be a hero when you use the handy dandy hand-held urinal for the first time. Throw your fuddy-duddy inhibitions to the wind and ask for help, or you’ll wish you had. (And it takes a loooooong time for them to change the bed.)
  • Remember that Murphy’s Hospital Laws are in full effect:
    • Murphy’s Hospital Law #1: your dazed, bleary-eyed drooling is in direct proportion to the importance of the visitors who have just come to see you (like Pastor Jeff and Robyn).
    • Murphy’s Hospital Law #2: there will be a mix-up on the scripts they send you home with. (Two surgeries and we’re batting one thousand.) When you call to get the right script, the joyful voice on the voice mail assures you that when will return your call within 24 hours. Translate this, “some time before Jesus comes.”
    • Murphy’s Hospital Law #3: the script you finally get is not covered by your insurance and costs $375 for thirty days.

At home:

  • Get used to the jazzy, new look of old people after back surgery:
  1. You will have permanent, tractor tire-like indentations in your hair and skull from using your CPAP machine not only at night but also for two naps each day.
  2. Your knee-high white compression socks add a lovely fashion statement when combined with your silky black basketball shorts.
  3. Have you ever noticed old people have coffee and ice cream stains on their shirts? Behold, stains are us!
  • Tips for showering. When you have graduated from your walker to your cane for everyday use, leave the walker in the shower to use as hand rails. Yep, it’s nifty.
  • Keep your grabber handy for when you drop things in the shower. However, if you drop the bar of soap, call in the troops because you will run out of hot water before picking up that slippery son of a gun.
  • Keep your grabber handy all of the time, period. I have successfully used it to retrieve apples from the fruit drawer in the refrigerator, a box of oatmeal from a high shelf, and countless other things. However, Karon doesn’t like it when I substitute it for a tender pat on the behind.

Why I Love the Bible

Little boy hugging an old book

When God’s voice is muffled by pain and fear and I cannot discern what He is saying, God’s Word speaks brightly with clear and unmistakable hope and peace.

When the world is frantically whirling about and news reporters “interpret” the news more than report it, God’s Word is my sanctuary of truth, honesty, and peace.

When my selfishness and self-centeredness prompt me to compare myself with others and even imagine that they have unkind motives rather than give them the benefit of the doubt, God’s Word stops and corrects me, reminding me to be kind.

When the entertainment industry splashes profanity and godlessness into my living room, God’s Word is my light and pure hope.

Thank you, Father, for your Word, my anchor, rock, and solid foundation.

Thank you, Lord Jesus, that you are God’s Word! (John 1:1-14).

“Your word is a lamp to guide my feet and a light for my path” (Psalm 119:105).

“All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right” (2 Timothy 3:16).

“For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires” (Hebrews 4:12).

Three Ways the Internet Destroys Faith

I wouldn’t want to live without access to the Internet. Instantly we have free entrance to libraries of information in hundreds of languages and instant translators. I ask my iPhone for directions to the nearest restaurant or even to do math problems. It instantly complies and never gets tired or impatient. Scores of Bible translations are freely available and I take them everywhere. Gone are the days of tiring research with note cards and library card catalogs. Gone are cumbersome and indecipherable road maps, thank goodness.

Internet Addiction

BUT… the Internet is forever changing our lives, our social interaction, and our faith. Manners are disappearing. Decent grammar and the ability to form coherent sentences are evaporating.   Contemplation and silence are unknown to millions of people. The world of fantasy is replacing reality for our children and teenagers who are hypnotized by its flickering screen, portal to fabulous and addicting entertainment—but also pornography, violence, and vulgarity.  Movies, sports, and games rob employers of millions of hours of work time every day as workers send emails and play solitaire and fantasy football from their desks.

Here are three dangerous ways that the Internet is eroding our faith.

1.     The Internet is fast.

Americans are impatient for any number of reasons, and, because the Internet is fast, we are even less patient! “The implications of this impatience are…shocking. Amazon has calculated that a page load slowdown of just one second could cost it $1.6 billion in sales each year.”[1] In other words, when online shopping, customers will wait an average of only three seconds before going on to a different site. Think about it. How long do you wait for a web site to load? How long are you willing to wait to be seated at a restaurant? Or how quickly do you grow impatient when you are put on hold when making a telephone call?

  • The demand for instant communication and gratification sabotages conversation and relationships. Recently I observed a couple at a restaurant, each glued to their phone and barely saying three words during the entire evening. Kids ignore everyone and everything but their gaming devices. Parents fail to teach their children about social graces, like ignoring an incoming call on their cell phone when talking with someone, because they are just as bad as their children.
  • Impatience for return communication makes trust and faith far more difficult. The Internet provides instant results, and so when we pray we expect an instant response from God, as though he were a bellboy. While waiting for Him to respond, we often go online to social media like Facebook and Wikipedia for our answers instead trusting that God is answering our prayer and working things out. We often accept what we read on the Internet as truth without examining who the writers are or what they motives may be.

Faith, however, does not come instantly. God requires waiting and patient endurance. Unlike today’s merchants, God is not moved by our impatience or frustration at His perceived slowness.

The following verses from James highlight the dynamic and growing faith relationship between us and God.

When all kinds of trials and temptations crowd into your lives my brothers, don’t resent them as intruders, but welcome them as friends! Realize that they come to test your faith and to produce in you the quality of endurance. But let the process go on until that endurance is fully developed, and you will find you have become men [and women] of mature character with the right sort of independence. And if, in the process, any of you does not know how to meet any particular problem he has only to ask God—who gives generously to all men without making them feel foolish or guilty—and he may be quite sure that the necessary wisdom will be given him. But he must ask in sincere faith without secret doubts as to whether he really wants God’s help or not (James 1:2-6, J. B. Phillips[2])

Note the connection between faith and problems, waiting and trusting God, and development of character. We must learn to walk within the rhythms of God’s patterns. We must wait and pray. We must watch, i. e., observe how God acts and interacts, and pray. We must read His Word and trace His character there. All of this takes time—a lifetime—and patience. Learning to wait on God brings serenity and peace. My observation is that today’s wonderful speed in communication is only making us more frantic and dissatisfied.

2.     Too much world. Too little wonder.

The Internet spews everything the world has to offer onto our doorsteps twenty-four hours each day. World news floods our screens. Advertisements for movies and the latest miracle potato peeler (have you noticed they’re always $19.95?) pour onto our laptops and cell phones. Social media beep and chirp incessantly with tweets from this celebrity and Facebook photos from a grandchild of Aunt Lucy’s second cousin. Sports trivia, fantasy football, and Candy Crush absorb all of our time, and we even pay good money to get more information. We cannot seem to get enough online shopping and we keep signing up for exclusive sites that swamp us with hourly information from our investment advisors. More sports, more games, and more movies are streaming to us in an engulfing flood that grows exponentially and becomes more suffocating every day.

William Wordsworth, one-time poet laureate of Great Britain, observed almost three centuries ago that industrialization destroys our connection with the beauty of the natural world. Can you imagine his horror were he to observe today’s society?

The World Is Too Much With us (an excerpt)

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers,
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not.—Great God!

We are drowning in information, noise, and sound bites. We are constantly being sidetracked with rabbit trails, clicking this and that. It can be a huge time waster. Our minds are cluttered with trivia. Buying and getting consume our days. How is this achieving your life goals?

When did you last watch the moon rise on a cool autumn evening? When do you recharge your weary spirit and give yourself a break from that relentless To Do list and those unending emails? When have you examined your motives for living such a pell-mell life?

And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? (Mark 8:36)

3.     Hazardous Exposure

The huge benefits of the Internet come with a shockingly high price tag. You cannot escape the blatant disdain for morality and Christianity that the media pour forth endlessly. If you are not careful your own opinions will be colored by those who not only disbelieve in God but feel that those who follow him are limited simpletons with an I.Q. of a rock. This is called worldliness.

With all of that wonderful information there also comes an insidious flood of time-wasting, desensitizing, and deeply demoralizing information. Most Christians I know hardly blink an eye at choosing to watch programs and films that glorify vulgarity, obscenity, violence, cruelty, and even pornography. This is called worldliness! Even with Safe Search running on your computer or mobile device, an offensive ad or photo may surprise you. Temptations abound at every corner. In fact, the Internet provides more temptations per square inch than anything else in the world. Like most temptations, sin begins innocently enough, gradually escalating from the innocent to the objectionable, and downhill from there to deadly. “Just one more click,” we say…

Perhaps the most pernicious characteristic of the Internet is that anyone can access it alone, most of us with no safeguards and no accountability. We want no restrictions for ourselves and we often don’t restrict our teenagers and children. Many wonderful filters[3] are available to install on your computer and mobile devices. Why not be smart and use them? Should you find yourself objecting to the idea of restricting your Internet use, I ask, “What are you defending?”

Epilogue

In case you’re interested, these are some of the ways I use the Internet safely.

  • I don’t want news headlines splashed across my screen when my computer boots up, so I have disabled those feeds.
  • I use Safe Search, a free feature of Google Search that acts as an automated filter of pornography and potentially offensive content.
  • I use Facebook selectively because I find that the noise of hundreds opinions and posts becomes burdensome. I without hesitation unfriend people who use language or write posts that are offensive.
  • Most search engines display ads. However, many allow you to restrict the types of ads that pop up. (The ads you see are chosen for you by the clicks you make when browsing the Internet.)

On a related note, I begin every day with scripture and writing in my journal, no exceptions. God usually speaks to me about what I’ve read and often directs me to adjust my thinking or behavior. His Word cautions me about Satan’s current strategies to derail me. This way, I center myself in God before I allow the world to influence my thinking.

I would love to know what things you find helpful.

[1] http://www.fastcompany.com/1825005/how-one-second-could-cost-amazon-16-billion-sales

[2] The New Testament in Modern English by J.B Phillips copyright © 1960, 1972 J. B. Phillips.

 

[3] To see available filters, type “Christian Internet Filters free” into the search line of your search engine; e.g., Google, Bing, etc.

Joy Unspeakable

Hope and joy wait everywhere. Read my daughter Mimi’s blog about her life experience

Along the Narrow Path

I think when most people hear the word “joy” they think of those moments when we are, as Elizabeth Bennet so beautifully puts it in the movie “Pride and Prejudice”, incandescently happy. Joy is happiness that wells up and spills over. Those celebration moments that we’ll remember forever, the mountaintop experiences that make us pause to soak in, gasp in wonder, or give a deep sigh of contentment…those are moments of joy.

The standout moments in life that covered me in the heart-bursting, gold-sparkling, warm, fuzzy, happiness type of joy are when I walked the aisle with my dad toward my love and when each of our babies was born and we heard “it’s a girl!” for each one.

I had an experience of overwhelming peace and love one summer in the San Bernandino mountains, alone with God by a creek, laying on a rock in the sun. I can’t describe how…

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