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.

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.

Why you must do what gives you joy

Three years ago Mike Meadows, 47, had a game-changing heart attack that resulted in open-heart surgery and six by-passes. May 2, 2016, on his fiftieth birthday, Mike wrote the following on his Facebook page. (You can read more about the details of his cardiac wakeup call at the end of the blog.)

Mike Meadows' cubicle on his 50th birthday cropped
Mike at work on his 50th birthday.

“I want to say a big thank you to everyone for the warm birthday wishes for big 5-0. Not to get too philosophical on you, but I promised myself something almost three years ago after heart surgery and this birthday was just cause to renew that promise.

” With the realization that I have more years behind me than in front of me, that promise was to spend more time doing those things I love without having a detailed plan in place. Not that there’s anything wrong with goals, mind you. But far too often in the past I’ve said, “One of these days I want to….” or “I wish I could do this but…” and then find some excuse for not doing it. I always wanted to see down the road and see where things were going before stepping out just doing it.

“That all changed with that promise. That’s why I’m on the Humane Society board. That’s why I continue with photography—canines, weddings (This year will be my busiest year.), families, seniors, and so forth. And that’s why I finally started playing the piano for college music students again. I’ve been trying to get on the roster of accompanists for the last couple of years, and I finally got on board for the fall semester of 2015 and continued this past spring semester and hope to return again in the fall. It’s certainly been a breath of fresh air and a stress reliever for sure.

“So it was very fitting that on my birthday, I had the opportunity to play for a young lady’s cello recital on my birthday. It’s been a real privilege to work with some really talented young people and awesome instructors these past couple of semesters. I am very glad to be playing again at this level and in this capacity.

“I have a quote on my computer at work that says, “The best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago. The second best time is now.” And that’s pretty much the way I’m approaching life right now. Life’s too short to put off the things that bring us joy while we keep ourselves busy with “life.” Where will it lead? Who knows? But you’ll never know until you start.”

 What gives you joy?

Mike has discovered a wonderfully freeing truth, and I applaud him for recognizing it and doing something about it. That moment of recognition he experienced, and the resultant promise he made himself, reminds me of a marvelous poem I read years ago.

 sunny-windowI lost my soul today

For the sake of cleaning and computers and junk.

It was a wonder-day of beauty.

Rapturous leaves afire in the sun entreated me;

Butterflies beckoned, birds entreated with song;

The great sky, wide and blue as the ocean,

Implored me to drift on the miracle tide

Of gladness and renewing.

But I turned away.

There were chairs to be dusted, floors to be vacuumed…

Floors, mind you! Common carpet and dirt

That must absorb my being.

And the ecstatic world without

Pleaded with me in vain.

A book lay open on the table.

In it were hidden jewel-truths

More wonderful than gems in the depths of the earth.

”Gather us! Take us! Be comforted and inspired!”…

But there were keys to strike on a computer,

Documents to be typed and files to be sorted;

Papers, mind you, which must absorb my soul!

A Master Musician there was—

I might have heard Him had I paused to think it

This golden afternoon, the music of angels….

But there was junk in the garage that must be cleared away—

Junk, mind you! Stacking newspapers, sorting recycling, and categorizing things for my garage sale

That must smother my soul.

And the Great Musician played, unheeded.

Had I moved a few steps, I might have listened;

Had I gone a few paces from the cluttered path….

But I lost my soul today,

For cleaning, computers, and junk.

There will be many days when I may organize and type and clean.

I traded Beauty for an hour of cleaning

I sold my birthright to meet one more deadline.

O Beauty, stand once more upon my threshold!

O Day of Wonder, beckon me again!

That I, the penitent, may open wide my dwelling

And plead with Loveliness as she has pled with me.

—adapted from a poem by Angela Morgan

The first time I heard mental health connected with things that give us joy was in 1999 when I agonized about my career and read the book, What Color is Your Parachute? [1] The purpose of this book is to help you find a career you love. One of the most memorable exercises for me was to think back through your life and remember the times you were happiest. What were you doing at those times? What brought you the most fulfillment? In what activities were you most likely to lose track of time? Those are the things that give you joy.

Following the path of joy means I must stop doing those things that frustrate me and emotionally bankrupt me. I now leave committee and board work to others. I am very selective in my viewing habits, including Facebook, and am good friends with the “off” button. Violence, blatant sin, and rude disrespect drain my soul and I no longer tolerate them. The things I love that make the day worthwhile are being with my wife, observing nature, gardening and bird-watching, playing the piano, writing, and something new: coloring.

What about you?

 

Epilogue: The rest of Mike’s story

It all started on the day after Thanksgiving, 2012. Yes, Black Friday has new meaning to me. I was working at my computer one minute, and the next I found myself kneeling in the floor, clutching my chest in severe pain with all the classic symptoms of a heart attack. I sent my son across the street to my in-laws for aspirin, chewed a couple of them, and then got to the hospital. Within an hour or two I found myself looking out the window of a helicopter on my way to Indy.

After a heart catheterization to determine where the blockages were and to what extent they blocked blood flow, it was determined that I had a multitude of blockages but specialists weren’t in agreement regarding my readiness for surgery. Apparently, if you do surgery too early in the process, the grafts don’t mature. The diagnosis as I heard it: “You are now a ticking time-bomb.” Or as my family doctor succinctly pointed out when he saw the report, “Wow, your heart’s a mess!”

Upon my very anxious query, I was told by the doctors that if I were to start having heart issues again, then I would probably have similar symptoms to those I had on Black Friday. I guess the operative word here was probably. Fast forward eight months to late July. We had been experiencing a triple-digit heat index in Indiana for several days. I noticed that climbing the back stairs at work left me unusually winded and with a slight but vague tightness in my chest, but I attributed it to the smothering humidity and the heat of summer in Indiana. In the back of my mind, I wondered if my heart was acting up, but since I had no pain or other symptoms, I tried to ignore that little voice. A couple of weeks later I had finished shooting a wedding when the vague tightness in my chest returned. I thought it rather strange because it hadn’t bothered me all day, and the weather was cooler. I went home, started working on the wedding photos, and fell asleep. When I awoke around 3:00 a.m. the tightness was back and didn’t leave.

I jumped online and tried to self-diagnose and talk myself out of any misgivings I was having, but around 5:00 a.m. I told my wife that I thought I should get to the ER merely as a precaution. I figured they’d run tests and send me home. Within about twenty minutes of my arrival, they informed me they were sending me to Indy in an ambulance…my blood work showed that I was having another “cardiac event.” Upon arrival in Indianapolis, they immediately performed another heart catheterization, and it showed multiple blockages with the most serious being each of the main arteries feeding each side of my heart, which were both 95% closed. I guess if I had ignored my non-symptoms, I could have easily dropped dead without further warning.

They informed me that prompt surgical attention was a necessity and they started pulling a team together for the next morning. When they completed the surgery, I had six bypasses to call my very own. It’s certainly not something I would have wished for, but due to family history, it was something that wasn’t totally unexpected either. The thing that surprises me is that while I escaped further tragedy by a narrow margin, dodging a bullet wasn’t something that lingered too much in my mind. What I couldn’t shake was the nagging urgency that life now seemed to possess: the realization that life is really finite and there is an ending point of our time here on earth. No longer was the future just an open-ended question mark with a vague, fuzzy date of completion. If I wanted to make the most of my time here before the transition of death, then I needed to do something about it. Now.

[1]  An updated edition is available each year on Amazon.com.

Manage Your Self-Talk

What is self-talk? Everybody does it, consciously or unconsciously. Unconscious self-talk is often destructive; but conscious self-talk can lift your faith, keep you on an exercise program, and help you overcome bad habits and even lighten depression.

Positive or negative?

I was a first-grader. It was the Big Day, Field Day: Races, pennants outlining the race venues, prizes, and, of course, parents. Two images stand out in my mind about my race:

Image #1: my Dad on the sidelines, yelling “Come on! Come on!”

Image #2: myself as I ran, hearing an inner voice urging caution, telling me to be careful not to fall, and that I couldn’t win anyway. That inner voice was self-talk. Unfortunately, it easily beat out my Dad’s encouragement.

He and I were both disappointed in me that day. Maybe that was the beginning of my lifelong dread of sports and competition. Did someone threaten me? Had I fallen or failed at previous races? I don’t know where that voice came from, but that same self-talk dragged me down for years.

Positive self-talk, however, can win the day. Remember the Little Engine that Could? As he faced a huge hill, he kept telling himself “I think I can, I think I can.” Then, when he succeeded and he was racing down the other side, he said, “I thought I could! I thought I could!”

I told myself I couldn’t, and I didn’t. The Little Engine told himself he could, and he did. Yes, it’s just a kid’s story, but time after time real life people have told themselves they were winners in spite of others telling them they couldn’t. But they did! Wilma Rudolph had little hope of becoming a runner after developing polio, among other things. But she went on to break Olympic records. [1]

Self-talk in the Bible

From the very beginning people have engaged in self-talk. Satan influenced Eve to sin by telling her that she would become as wise as God. That temptation became her self-talk. “The woman was convinced. She saw that the tree was beautiful and its fruit looked delicious, and she wanted the wisdom it would give her. So she took some of the fruit and ate it” (Genesis 3:6, italics mine).

 

The words “self-talk” do not appear in Scripture, but the phrase “say in his heart” does. Observe Abraham’s self-talk surfacing after God promises him and Sarah a child in their old age.  “Then Abraham fell upon his face, and laughed, and said in his heart, Shall a child be born unto him that is an hundred years old? and shall Sarah, that is ninety years old, bear?” (Genesis 17:17, kjv, italics mine). Abraham’s past experience almost overrode his faith in what God could do. A common problem for all of us!

 

And the psalmist wrote, “Only fools say in their hearts,
“There is no God.”
They are corrupt, and their actions are evil” (Psalm 14:1, nlt, italics mine).

We don’t know what in these fools’ experience prompted this self-talk, but it does sound familiar, doesn’t it?

 

These examples describe people who are unconsciously “counseling themselves.” Likely they were unaware of how self-talk was controlling them, but the biblical writer interpreted it as the motive for sin and the reason behind difficulty in maintaining faith. The Bible, especially the Old Testament prophets, did their utmost to motivate their people to consciously change their self-talk, advising God’s people to consider their motives and actions and live their lives according to faith in God. The New Testament writers clearly understood this issue—that self-talk must become conscious and positive–and we, in our mind’s eye, can see them grabbing the lapels of new Christians and practically shouting in their faces, Wake up! What are you doing? Listen to what you’re saying! Remember what God is saying!

Your self-talk: its origin

Cartoon man - who is that talking in my head copy

Your self-talk probably originates from your past life experience. Key creators of self-talk ./are our parents and other influential people, including teachers, peers, and those you want to be like. Positive, uplifting parent figures repeat their words unconsciously in our minds the rest of our lives: “You’re a winner!” “You’re a good girl!” “I love you!” “You can do it.” Negative, bullying, and abusive parent figures also repeat their putdowns over and over again: “Loser!” “Crybaby!” and “You’ll never amount to anything!”

Few of us will be victims of the heartless abuse of bullies, but don’t we unconsciously play the insults and slights of others over and over again in our minds, amplifying the damage until it’s all we hear? I’m convinced that negative and destructive self-talk fuels much of the depression we experience; perhaps even leading to suicide. Suicide has many and complex causes, but rates among all age groups continue to rise.[2] Surely negative self-talk gets some of the blame.

Our perception of what others think can be just as destructive as actual words—even if we’re wrong. The world has for years idolized slender women with Barbie doll proportions. As a result, the self-talk of countless females undermines their self-image and makes them feel ugly and worthless because they don’t measure up.

Satan plants negative and defeating self-talk in your minds constantly. Satan’s constant goal is to destroy you. He diverts your attention away from Bible study and tells you the Bible is full of contradictions. He reminds you of your weaknesses over and over again, tempting you to sin and then hammering you with guilt when you give in. Nighttime is his playground when you are drifting to sleep or sitting at the computer ready to shut it off. His temptations seem overwhelming. He resurrects the past and dangles before you all of your failures and mistakes. He megaphones the insults and putdowns of others into your soul and tells you that you’ll never be better, only worse. If you only sit or lie there and let the waves of damaging disapproval wash over you, you are a sitting duck.

What are you telling yourself about yourself each day? What are its sources?

Managing your self-talk

You turn a major corner when you take the reins of self talk and consciously counter the negative memories and pessimism. It isn’t enough to enjoy a sunny day now and then. You must deliberately program yourself to turn off the old tapes and create new ones, instead. Jesus was a master at this (of course).[3]

 

Try these things:

  • Ask God to help you. Only God, our Creator, understands us spiritually, emotionally, and physically. He wants to help you. He is willing to help you. He is waiting to help you! What’s more, He promises to help you.
  • Figure out what your self-talk is. What is its source? Whose voices are you listening to? Your peers? Your parents? The Holy Spirit’s? Satan’s? Ask someone close to you who you trust to help you if you’re not getting anywhere. I have benefited greatly from the insight of a couple of professional counselors who helped me unravel my guilt, fear, and anger. It’s important to have a Christian counselor.
  • Ask yourself if the discouraging things you are telling yourself about yourself agree with what Scripture says about you. Many Christians live defeated lives because they totally overlook what God says about us. (1) God loves the world. He did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world (John 3:16-17). (2) God forgives you no matter what. Stop dredging up the past that God has already forgiven. (3) God will never leave you because you are valuable to him (John 14:16). (4) God is the source of all comfort (2 Corinthians 1:3). Perhaps it will help if you rephrase these and place them where you will see them every day. For example, “God loves me as I am.” “God forgives everything I have done and will forgive more if necessary.”
  • Substitute negative self-talk with positive. Paul outlines this strategy: “And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you” (Philippians 4:8-9).

One last thing

Try not to criticize others. Everyone is fighting a battle. Instead, make it a point to constantly encourage others. Help them believe in themselves. And start with that person in the mirror.

[1] (http://www.tnhistoryforkids.org/people/wilma_rudolph)

[2] http://www.cnn.com/2016/04/22/health/suicide-rates-rise/ ).

[3] When the Pharisees belittled Jesus’ work and accused him of working miracles by Satan’s power, he immediately countered with the truth. “If I am empowered by Satan, what about your own exorcists? They cast out demons, too, so they will condemn you for what you have said. But if I am casting out demons by the power of God, then the Kingdom of God has arrived among you” (Luke 11:19-21 NLT). Remember, also, Jesus’ use of scripture in countering Satan’s temptations (Matthew 4:1-11). Note that Satan was also using scripture, but twisting it. This is why we must know scripture.

 

The Things of Home

 

It was an old 78 rpm record that contained one of my favorite stories. I still can hear the lovely voice of Loretta Young tell the heartwarming tale, “The Littlest Angel,” about a four-year old boy who doesn’t quite fit into heaven because there’s simply “nothing for a little boy to do.” The Understanding Angel takes the cherub onto his lap, wipes his tears, and asks what he misses most. At the end of the story we find that it was the ordinary but irreplaceable things of home: a butterfly with golden wings, captured one bright summer day on the high hills above Jerusalem, a sky-blue egg from a bird’s nest in the olive tree that stood to shade his mother’s kitchen door, two white stones from a muddy river bank where he and his friends had played like small brown beavers, and a tooth-marked leather strap, once worn as a collar by his mongrel dog, who loved him with absolute devotion. The box containing these simple things was the littlest angel’s gift to the Christ Child and the gift that pleased God most.

I know it’s only a fanciful tale, but I think the author, C. Tazewell, understood how God values the things we treasure since they bring us joy, and since the cherub’s simple gift contained the very things the little boy Jesus would also play with when he wandered the Galilean hills.

joyful Hummel figureSeveral months ago, our daughter walked over to our china cupboard and opened the door. There sits “Joyful,” a small Hummel figure of a girl playing her guitar, her legs straight out before her. Jodi said, “When I see this figure, I know I’m home.” Joyful was an engagement present to Karon and me long before Jodi was born and she has never known our home without it. How is it that this little piece of pottery can evoke such powerful feelings? It is one of the “things of home.”

The familiarity of furnishings and objects warm our hearts. In many cases, items in our home have stories behind them. Just like “Joyful” suggests home to Jodi, seeing a picture or item immediately reminds us of a good period in our lives, a beloved friend, or an event that symbolizes something, like our marriage.

My things of home

Right now I’m sitting at my desk where I write, read the Bible (on my computer), pray, design greeting cards, and connect with the world. My desk itself is a sterile IKEA piece that’s cheaply made. But the objects on and around it make it “home.”

bookHolding the computer monitor one and a half inches higher (so I can sit properly) is the “Better Homes and Gardens Complete Guide to Gardening.” I haven’t used it in more than a decade and its most useful function now is that of a block. But seeing it there each day transports me back to the Midwest where I pored through its beautiful pages, reaped landscaping ideas, and sought answers for marauding Japanese beetles. Its beautifully photographed pages are bright in my mind’s eye.

karon and other photosPhotographs, of course, are of my beloved wife and family. My kids and their spouses smile at me from a Florida restaurant where we celebrated our fiftieth wedding anniversary. Karon’s smile lights the room, the trilogy of photos taken for her mother when Karon was a teenager. For fifty years that smile has lifted and blessed me more than she knows.

Chinese lampA Chinese carving of an old man that my father fashioned into a one-of-a-kind lamp casts a warm pool of light. My parents purchased this carving in Trinidad, our onetime home in the British West Indies, and it has been a part of my childhood home ever since I can remember. Just to see it ignites wonderful memories: smells of curry wafting in the evening air, exotic flowers in the yard, and sultry breezes billowing mosquito nets at bed time.

The red, white, and blue afghan was lovingly crocheted for us by Helen Ford, church secretary at South Bay Church of God in Torrance, California where we entered the ministry as youth and music ministers. She and her husband, Frank, were wonderfully supportive toward us, and even loaned us the down payment for a car!

pencil holderSome other sentimental things surround me: a coaster made by Kimmi Lyon, my granddaughter; while a graphics major at AU; a pencil holder with an inset photo of Curt, my grandson, sitting on my shoulders at Disney World. (He now is 22, an engineer, a weight lifter, and engaged to be married.);  and a beautiful hardwood chiming mini-grandfather wall clock, a farewell gift from North Anderson Church of God after completing a nine-year pastorate.

M&J StitcheriesElsewhere in the house are a cross stitch of two ducks made by my mother when I was a boy, some needleworks made and given by my two daughters when they were young, and many more family photos.

Karon’s Things of Home list is mainly photographs of family and our piano, given to her while she was in high school by her Mom and Dad, John and Flo Neal.

What are your favorite things? I’m not talking about food, music, or sports, but rather the simple, little things that make you feel at home.

Is it wrong to enjoy things?

Sometimes we may almost feel guilty for feeling such affection for “things” when the Bible tells us to treasure things in heaven and not of this earth. However, don’t you think that being comforted by things is far different than worshiping and hoarding them, as misers do? I do. I can easily imagine how wonderfully it comforted Jesus—with no home of his own—to stay with Lazarus, Mary, and Martha. I can see him taking a nap in the back of the house while the ladies fixed dinner, awakening to the marvelous fragrance of baking bread and the sound of clinking dishes down the hall as they set the table. The dour Pharisees criticized him for attending banquets, but Jesus didn’t care because he enjoyed life. I’ll bet he knew a few good jokes, and we know he attended wedding receptions since He provided more wine when the host ran out. He was a human as we are human, and gave us the faculties to appreciate the beauty of His world and the comforts it provides. He strolled the beautiful Judean hills ablaze with wildflowers and surely took pleasure in the singing of birds at sunset. As God He rebuked the wind and the waves, but as a man he needed a cushion to sleep on in the back of the boat.

As we grow older we must downsize, which means ridding ourselves of things we no longer need. My parents had a house, attic, and two sheds full of things when they finally made the plunge to sell the house and move into something smaller. What was hardest for them to relinquish were their many souvenirs from around the world. They were flabbergasted that others placed no value on their Indian and African artifacts. Even after we children and grandchildren took our favorites, many were given to a local charity. Wisely, Mom and Dad kept their favorites; a couple of these stayed with them through two more downsizings until the end. That’s the way it is with the things of home. What has value to one is unimportant to another. How could it be otherwise? Yet they have inestimable value.

The gentle ticking of a clock and the faded photo of a young couple on their wedding day speak to us of home, where we are at peace and can shut out the madding, noisy world. To wake up in the morning among familiar, timeworn surroundings and to have those we love greet us with a friendly gaze: these are true riches. We can easily let go of a big house as long as the accommodations into which we move have space for a few favorite reminders of the wonderful life we have lived.

If you are a caregiver for the elderly, inquire about their things of home. Make sure some familiar belongings accompany them to a new apartment or facility where everything may be strange and intimidating.

Does God have favorite things?

You and I are the “things of home” to God. The Bible brims with the story of God and His desire for honest companionship. Eden in its incredible, pristine beauty was created for one reason: as a beautiful home for the ones He loved. When careless behavior and selfishness sabotaged and destroyed that plan, God found a way to salvage the original dream that flowed longingly from his big heart. His astounding self-sacrifice restores to us and to God the chance to be together and to have loving, honest companionship. He keeps us and will take us with him forever!

CW & Ree 1938
Claire and Retha Shultz, around 1938

This old song was my Mother’s favorite. She and Dad—in their younger days— often sang it as a duet.

My God And I [1]

Austris A. Wihtol and I.B. Sergei

 My God and I go in the field together;
We walk and talk as good friends should and do;
We clasp our hands, our voices ring with laughter;
My God and I walk through the meadow’s hue.

My God and I will go for aye together,
We’ll walk and talk just as good friends do;
This earth will pass, and with it common trifles,
But God and I will go unendingly.
[1] © 1935 New Spring (Admin. by Brentwood-Benson Music Publishing, Inc.)

 

Letting Go

letting go
Seven days ago was that perfect day gardeners dream about: sunny, a light breeze, time on my hands, and work that needs to be done. This is what I love and have always loved. I remember even as a child the satisfaction of sweeping dead leaves from the sidewalk and weeding flower beds so they look better. The love of growing things and landscaping yards has been my hobby for as long as I can remember. I have scoured plant catalogs for days as spring approached and woefully discovered that what arrives in the email rarely bears even a slight resemblance to the bountifully blooming plant pictured on those pages. Nevertheless I persevered: fertilizing, spading, weeding, and planting. I drew landscaping diagrams on graph paper and witnessed the circles and lines transform into flowering crab apple trees and beds of brilliant tulips. I wore out wheelbarrows and shovels and frequented local nurseries so much they knew me by name. I designed pergolas in California and rock gardens in Arizona. And I loved every minute of it.

Seven days ago Karon also answered the gardener’s call and tackled a project that involved moving rocks, a furniture dolly, and a wheelbarrow. Not that long ago I would have been the one moving rocks and wheeling them to a new spot with the furniture dolly. Seven days ago, not so much. Work like that now disables me for several days and so, much to my chagrin, I step aside and let Karon do the “big” jobs. Instead, on that perfect day, I settled for a less arduous task of trimming last fall’s dead foliage out of the planter and around the bird feeders. I felt the warm sun on my shoulders and listened to the house finches fussing over the sunflower seed in the feeder. My favorite music was playing from Pandora in my back pocket. Yes, it was a glorious day. In about an hour I had filled up the trash can and slowly stood to view my handiwork. Yup, it looked great!

The next morning it was hard to stand up and I reached for my cane. Burning pain accompanied those familiar aches in my back and down my legs. It subsided long enough for some tennis with friends, but by afternoon I knew that my evening plans would not materialize. Karon went to the church dinner without me. My pain sidelined me from our Sunday service, too. Odd, sitting home on Sunday morning.

 

A Painful Realization

Later, as I sat reading the Bible and writing in my journal, I sensed that another milestone was arriving that I don’t want to acknowledge: soon I am going to have to give up gardening. I can hardly even write these words because it’s inconceivable to me that this day may be near. But I’m afraid it is.

As we age we start saying “goodbye” more and more often. The children grow up and leave home. The grandchildren grow up, too, and get married. We retire and leave meaningful work we loved. We sell the house and downsize, probably the first of other such moves. We attend more funerals than weddings. We adapt to hearing aids and patronizing strangers. We catch a look at our reflection in the Walmart window and see our father or mother instead, stooped and wearing big tennis shoes. Can that be us? Yes. I’m afraid that very few of us look like the “vibrant” older adults on the cover of AARP magazine.

Socrates quote

I’m learning that letting go is part of aging: we must let go of the demand that everyone agrees with us, looks like us, or thinks like us. We must let others—even our children and grandchildren—be themselves. I must let go of my perfectionism. (I know, I know. But it’s so hard when everyone needs my advice and so many pictures need straightening.) I must let go of things that are not good for me, and now—sadly–that includes some of my favorite things.

Many people—some not that old—face difficult change. Even children cope with cancer, cystic fibrosis, autism, and their parents’ divorce. Thousands face eviction, evacuation, or the catastrophic loss of life and limb in natural disasters and war. If we don’t die first, we will all grow old.

Our national and world situations seem worse than ever, and there is a lot of discontent these days on the Internet:  people rail at change and post online about being “mad as hornets” about this and that. I admit that I am disgusted along with the psalmist who pleaded to God, “Don’t let liars prosper here in our land” (Psalm 140:11). I fear America no longer even faintly resembles the America I know and love, and the majority of voters share neither my ideals nor my hopes. Every generation faces similar wars, losses, and personal disappointments.

If all we get from disappointment and aging is bitterness and anger, are we not missing the most fertile years of our life to become like Christ? We can learn to face loss without becoming resentful. We can learn to accept change without blaming others or God.

 

Good from Loss

I remember hearing a missionary friend once tell me that his life had been characterized by lots of goodbyes: goodbye to friends, favorite restaurants, familiar neighborhoods, and family. But he went on to say that he discovered there also were many hellos: new friends, new foods, and new things to appreciate. Maybe we can learn to look for hellos: more time for reading, perhaps; or more time to pray. Some may face the frightening prison of Alzheimer’s disease, but most of will always be able to pray. God is endlessly creative and has the knack for making things out of nothing. (Read Genesis.) Cannot He create fresh ideas in our aging minds and bring us to refreshing discoveries about transferring our reliance from what we have lost to what we still have; and ultimately to God alone?

We must learn to let go. These are the years to get rid of our controlling demands and our stubborn wills. Have you ever thought that anger is a demand? These are the years to take time—we have plenty of it—to cherish others and find ways to encourage them and help them to feel good about themselves. These are the years to finally study the Bible and ask God to reveal himself to us in different ways. Now is the time to learn contentment and to accept—with joy—what each day offers.

Perhaps every generation is surprised by aging. Even though we as children have seen our pet turtles and goldfish die and, more recently, our parents fail, it’s a shock when we are the ones who hurt every morning and walk everywhere with aching feet. Perhaps being forced to let go is God’s way of gently forcing us to prepare for the transition from a physical world to one of the spirit, from being independent to interdependent to dependent.

let go and let God copy

Last year one of my first blogs was about my mother’s transition from life to death and her phrase,” That was then. This is now.” My mistake was thinking it was easy.

 

The Costs of Fear

It seems that everyone is fearful these days. The Nairobi, Beirut, and Paris terrorist attacks have immobilized us. Reporters talk of “palpable fear” in European cities. Everyone has an opinion about how nations, ours included, should respond. The desperate plight of refugees streaming out of the Middle East exacerbates an already difficult situation. Facebook mirrors this awful tension. The media pumps it up with suffocating rhetoric.

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Of what are we afraid? In the 1950s we were terrified of atomic bombs and communists. America’s biggest fears in 2015 are, according to the Chapman University Survey of American Fears 2015, (1) corruption of government officials,(2) cyber-terrorism, (3) corporate tracking of personal information (4) terrorist attacks, (5) government tracking of personal information, (6) bio-warfare, (7) identity theft, (8) economic collapse, (9) running out of money, and (10) credit card fraud.[1] Today in late November, many Americans are afraid of Muslims, the takeover of our nation, and further erosion of our cherished ideals.

 

These huge global and national fears are shoveled on top of the things that regularly sprout anxiety and tension into our lives. Senseless, random crime unnerves us. Winter snow and ice may sabotage Thanksgiving and Christmas travel plans in clogged airports and on freeways. Family tensions twist the happiness and joy out of get-togethers. We all face different stressors such as insufficient income, high job stress, or family dysfunction. Deep inside are the unspoken fears we seldom voice: we are afraid of ending up with a stroke in the back room of a convalescent home reeking of urine. We are afraid of failing, afraid of embarrassing ourselves if somebody knows us as we really are, and afraid of not being good enough. No wonder many people are anxious and afraid.

 

Fear can be a good thing when it keeps us from stepping on a rattlesnake. If fear prompts you to lock your doors and to look before you leap, that’s a good thing. But long-lasting fear is not only unpleasant, it is dangerous. It raises blood pressure and fosters depression. When afraid, we make poor choices. We may react too quickly or so slowly that we put ourselves in harm’s way. When fear overtakes a city—or a nation—people get hurt or killed. Fear of others produces riots, looting, and mayhem. Fear starts wars.

 

Ultimately, fear destroys your hope for the future. This is perhaps its most costly outcome, because people with no hope and no reason to live will do just about anything—or nothing.

A Christian need not be fearful.

name tag 1 copyIt seems to me that Christians who live in fear misunderstand who God is. Perhaps they have not read the Scriptures that proclaim God’s sovereignty and power.[2] Maybe they have overlooked the fact that this is His world.[3] Could it be that they don’t know Jesus Christ, who left heaven to become a person like us, to provide salvation now and forever[4], as well as personal friendship and help? Maybe they’ve forgotten that “this world is not my home, I’m just a passin’ through.” Possibly they never heard that Satan is a defeated foe[5] and those of us who trust Jesus not only have the power to always defeat him[6] but hold tickets to a front row seat for that Day when Jesus returns to set everything right and make all things new.[7]

 

If you are fearful, know that your feelings are normal. But faith must sit in the pilot’s chair of your life and heart. Christians need not fear anyone or anything.[8] I AM is our God. Do not live in fear. Do not allow the enemy to cloak your outlook with fear. Consider again the God you serve. No one can blemish or stain his name.[9] No one can change what Jesus Christ has done or will do when He comes again.[10] Distance yourself from all of the naysayers and fear mongers. Jesus said this:  “Love your enemies and do good to those who persecute you”.[11] Perfect love casts out fear.[12]

 

When you start to feel unsafe and wonder why God hasn’t swooped in to save you (physically), remember that Christians for generations have lived under oppression. Not only in the Roman Coliseum have Christians faced death; many today are being persecuted and killed just for professing faith in Jesus Christ. God’s Word shows that God allows much of it for his own reasons but that He works ceaselessly in the midst of tyranny to bring people into His Kingdom. He promises victory of the spirit now to all believers.[13] Ultimately He will judge and bring to justice evil and those who work evil.[14] In the meantime, we are to proclaim His name and His Kingdom.[15]

 

Be reminded that these are the results of walking with Christ: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. [16]Fear and hatred are Satan’s plan for you, not God’s!

Walk in joy and peace

 

name tag 2 copyThe genius of the Christian life is Jesus Christ, himself. Not only has he saved us now and forever; not only has he promised us heaven so that we can be with him where he is[17]; not only has he promised us the twenty-four-hour-every-day friendship and help of his Holy Spirit;[18] but He faced every fear you and I will ever have and far worse. He walked through abandonment, loneliness, misunderstanding, betrayal, torture, and crucifixion, and conquered death. He’s the one who said, “Because I live, you, too, will live.”[19] “I am with you always even to the end of the age.” [20] “I will not leave you as orphans.”[21]

 

When fear shows up today and lays claim to you, say, “Excuse me! Not today! I am a child of God and Jesus tells me, ‘Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me.’”[22]

[1] https://blogs.chapman.edu/wilkinson/2015/10/13/americas-top-fears-2015/

[2] Colossians 1:15-20

[3] Psalm 24:1-2

[4] John 1:12

[5] Revelation 20:10

[6] James 4:7

[7] Revelation 21:5

[8] John 14:27-29

[9] Philippians 2:6-11

[10] Revelation 1:17-18

[11] Matthew 5:43-48

[12] 1 John 4:18

[13] Ephesians 1:18-23

[14] Matthew 25:31and verses following

[15] Matthew 28:18-20

[16] Galatians 5:22-23

[17] John 14:1-3

[18] John 14:16

[19] John 14:19

[20] Matthew 28:20

[21] John 14:18

[22] John 14:1

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Green Thumbs and Parenting

I love plants. I always have. From infancy our homes in the tropics were surrounded by glossy, split-leaf philodendrons winding up the trees in whose shade Anthurium lilies grew. My mother often had hanging baskets of orchids on the verandah where their exotic colors and shapes swayed in the warm breezes. Our neighbor’s house was hung with gigantic, lush ferns that she watered every morning. Riotous hibiscus plants bloomed outside our dentist’s windows. Whenever I catch the heavy, moist fragrance of growing things I get homesick for those idyllic days.

2014-06-16 12.29.34Perhaps my love of plants stems from wanting to recreate this green environment. In any case, everywhere we have lived I have planted, fertilized, landscaped, mowed, pruned, and potted. And nature has richly rewarded me with bright nodding flowers bordering our houses, brilliant daffodils heralding the arrival of spring, and fragrant crab apple trees along the driveways.

People have told me I have a green thumb. They mean it as a compliment and it makes me happy to think I may have some special ability to help plants flourish. But, if truth be told, I don’t really have any unique gift. What I do have is a love of plants that motivates me to learn what they need to flourish and work hard to provide it. We have lived in many climates and I am always rewarded with a beautiful yard because I study up on climates, rainfall, hardiness zones, and the individual needs of various plants and flowers. Then I try to meet those requirements.

I remember reading in a gardening magazine that the difference between a nice yard and a beautiful yard is whether or not the gardener will get up off the couch and water the clematis when it’s dry. And perhaps people who shrug as they smile, saying they have a “brown thumb” are describing someone who has other priorities than not overwatering or underwatering a plant and making sure it is getting the proper amount of light.

Parenting is a lot like gardening

Sometimes we look at families who love each other, support each other, and in which everyone flourishes and we think “they must have a special gift.” We see well-disciplined children and young adults who readily pitch in around the house and wonder how it happens. It’s not rocket science. Good parents work hard to understand their children. They study psychology and understand how important it is for Mom and Dad to always present a united front. They read the Bible and have incorporated the dignity and worth of the marriage relationship into the home. They are committed to discipline even when they’re tired and it’s late. They set good examples for their children in their devotional lives. They plan family times together. They attend their kids’ events and programs. In other words, like a gardener studies plants, good parents learn what makes children flourish and then work consistently to ensure that their family’s needs will be met.2014-03-25 06.42.38

My wife, Karon, has helped me learn this lesson. The girls were in high school and middle school and Jon was in elementary school when my job required a lot of travel. I was gone almost more than I was home, sometimes for three or more weeks at a time. One time after a weekend trip, I drove home from the airport, walked into the house, and saw Karon and the kids playing Monopoly on the floor. The dishes were still on the counter and my obsessive-compulsive nature surfaced. I said something like, “When are you going to do these dishes?” Karon never moved from the floor and sweetly said as she locked her gaze onto me. “Somebody has to raise these children.” It hit me like a bombshell. The lesson was doubly powerful because I deeply loved my children and was working hard to provide for them. Yet I was failing the family because of my absence. I was out of touch with what they were doing and with whom. Worse, distance was growing between us all. Not too long after that we had a family council. It was unanimous. I should return to pastoral ministry so that I would be home with the family.

Several years later I was again consumed. This time it wasn’t traveling, but a building program. They girls were older and pretty much on their own. This left Jon with lots of time alone after school and I was in meetings almost every night. We were blindsided when a good friend of ours from church confided that Jon was planning to run away and stay at their house. We cleared our calendar, took him out to dinner, and tried to understand what was going on. The upshot of his thinking was that he was not needed in our house. We both had our careers and were too busy for him. I get choked up just reading about this, and I am deeply grateful that Jon was open with us and gave us a second chance. It can happen so innocently. But it’s a lot like gardening: if somebody doesn’t get up off the couch and water the clematis, don’t be surprised when it’s dead the next time you look for it.

Assault

Never before have our families been under such assault by a hyper-busy culture further intensified by electronic communication on every side. If they are to survive, parents will have to break the cycle and value their children. Now, don’t get me wrong. Many parents who deeply love their children are practically slaving to provide for them. But are they giving them what they really need? They do not need entertainment, gaming, or the latest cell phone. They need family time around the table when everyone sits down and electronics are banned until the next morning. Parents are often the worst offenders, always available to the office but never available to their kids. Children and teenagers need consistent discipline and loving role models. They will survive without designer jeans, but they will not survive your absence. They are very forgiving when they know you love them. Sometimes that love must be tough.

A-family-pray-before-bedtimeOne exemplary family I know did not allow their kids—even in high school—to own a cell phone. There are many reasons for kids to have phones, but here’s the point: the good influence of their family was being destroyed by the constant effluence of disrespect and godlessness pouring into their minds, and so they removed the source of the garbage. Another powerful habit that was nonnegotiable was church attendance. They always sat together every service; Mom, Dad, and the kids. One might expect those children would be rebellious and eager to get away from home as soon as possible. Just the opposite. They are wonderful young adults.

Don’t feel guilty

As I write this I am keenly aware that many parents—and many of them are raising their children by themselves– are fighting to keep their heads above water. The pressures of society are staggering. Peer pressure in the teen world can be suffocatingly powerful. If you are one of these parents, my heart goes out to you. Please don’t feel guilty about anything that I have said. Pour out your heart before God and He will help you. Even a few moments each day in His Word and in prayer will keep you steady and provide emotional energy. Bring your kids before him constantly. Ask Him to send his angels to guard them. Pray for your kids. Pray with them. Do the right thing. Seek support if you need it. Be consistent.

At the end of the day

There are times our kids make poor choices and we can’t do a thing about it. We can love them, pray for them, and do our best, but they will leave us, embrace sin, or make a mess of their lives. Just as the best gardener loses plants, flowers, and even trees, the best parent may lose children. I can’t think of anything more painful than this. For such parents I say, do not play the “If only” game. Do not keep asking, “Where did I go wrong?” Think about this. Even Jesus was singularly unsuccessful with some people. Judas was his trusted confidante but turned against him. Many Pharisees never understood Jesus and until his death they were convinced His miracles were empowered by the devil. And, like the Father, we keep praying, waiting, and hoping that someday the prodigals will come home.

That was then. This is now.

Why we must accept change in our lives.

Ray, Beulah, and Ree as a baby
My mother as a baby with her father and birth mother.

My mother was a remarkable woman. Her mother died of cancer when my mom was six and her only sister, Ruth, was three. She had three stepmothers, two of whom also died while she was still at home. No one spoke to her about her losses as was the pattern of that generation. My grandfather was a wonderful man, but times were different then and he was dealing with his own grief. My mother was launched into adulthood, a naïve young girl without even the slightest idea of what caused pregnancy. A gifted pianist and devout Christian, she went to Anderson College[1]) with a strong faith in God and hope for the future

CW & Ree separate college photos finished
Mom and Dad in college

There she met my father, Clair Shultz. He was the youngest of seven children in a family hit hard by the depression. Inventive and mischievous, he went to college because a Sunday school teacher saw his potential and talked him into it. Mom fell for his pranks, like putting firecrackers under her dorm room door, and they were married in 1935 on a Christmas Day when it was four below zero.

Their ministerial career began with the pastorate of a small church in Noblesville, Indiana. Two short-term Minnesota pastorates followed, after which they decided to apply for missionary service in Trinidad, British West Indies (where I was raised). Later assignments included some time in Jamaica and then in Kenya, East Africa. They learned Swahili in their 50s.

Change everywhere.

I never realized until just before my father’s death that Mom was the strong one in the family. She endured tropical storms, tarantulas on the front porch, rats the size of housecats in the kitchen, and the near-death of her infant son with whooping cough. She taught Sunday school with flannel graphs, did the mission bookkeeping, and helped start a Bible training school. She also managed the onslaught of change that characterized the rest of her life. One of her biggest challenges was when my sister and I, each at the age of thirteen, were sent back to the States to go to school.

In every place she lived, she had to change. She changed families (thinking of young missionaries as her kids), cultures, and devastating accidents. She traveled around the world more than once, documenting her travels in aerograms written in her delicate hand on airplanes and from distant hotels.

Mom Shultz for obituary
Mom five years before she died

Her biggest adjustments came after she and Dad retired. She was diagnosed with primary lateral sclerosis, a disease which gradually robbed her of mobility: first a cane, then a walker, and finally a wheelchair for more than twenty years. We watched her and Dad downsize from a three-bedroom home (filled with shells from Barbados and zebra skin rugs from Africa) into a two bedroom condo (with spacious bedrooms), and then into an apartment in an assisted living facility. Always she went to something smaller, something less. She gave away her favorite Blue Danube dishes, her bronze flatware from Thailand, and her Chinese buffet. When Dad died at 93 (she was 92) she downsized into an efficiency and finally, no longer able to manage on her own, into skilled care; first a private room and then a double. She gave up e-mail—her lifeline to others—and her checkbook. We watched her gradual devolvement and sometimes joked about her unwillingness to relinquish a final bookshelf of Bibles and well-worn favorites. Pneumonia precipitated her move to skilled care. Now totally cared for by others, her life had shrunk from the entire world to a hospital bed. Gradually dementia shuttered even that world. She died in 2011 at the age of 97.

That was then. This is now

I first heard the phrase, “That was then. This is now,” when they started downsizing. More and more frequently she said the words as if to remind herself that change is inevitable and fighting it is pointless. One of her caregivers, who also was a close friend, marveled frequently that Mom never complained about her disease or her losses. When we asked her about missing Dad, she would say, “That was then. This is now.” To a woman who years before had sacrificed her children to serve the Lord, the scriptural pattern had become her bucket list. “Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal (Matthew 6:19-21). I see these words as one of my mother’s greatest legacies to me.

We spend so much time resisting change and complaining about circumstances. We gripe about the neighbors who never mow their lawn and we worry about the solvency of Social Security. We desperately hope that cancer won’t knock on our door and that no one in our family will die too soon. We’re sad to think that the children will grow up, spread their wings and fly away, and then complain when they move back home. Living out my days in a nursing home with overworked nurses and hallways that smell like urine is one of my biggest fears is. I think many have that fear.

If truth be told, we cannot do much about most of these things. But a life lived in fear is no life worth living and I think we underestimate our resiliency and inner resources to adapt to change. The human race has endured the unspeakable in wars and concentration camps. Foreclosures have left us homeless, wars have left us childless, and disease and accidents have left us with lifelong pain. History teaches us, if we will pay attention, that even with such loss and pain people rise above and beyond to find meaning and make a difference. I want to be one of these people.

Things to Remember

  • Enjoy the life you have.

With all of the loss and pain you may have endured, there are good things to celebrate. Try to think about what you have instead of what you don’t have. Thank God for your body, even if it is disabled or ravaged by disease. It’s the only one you have and you need to make peace with it. I’m not saying that life is easy or that you can think positively and change circumstances. Life is hard. But you are a survivor. That was then. This is now.

  • Don’t play the “If only” game.

Many spend their lives wishing things were different. “If only I had married differently.” “If only my daughter had not been in the car with the drunken driver.” “If only…” we can do this for years and it changes nothing. We must grieve our pain—with help, if necessary—but we eventually can make peace with our past. That was then. This is now.

  • Find a creative outlet.

God made you to create. He is The Creator and has made you in His image. Creating things, whether writing a poem or rebuilding a car, is extremely healing. I have written about depression in another blog, and I will be writing about living with pain in another. What I know is that deciding to begin blogging has changed my perspective remarkably. It has given me a place to process my past and to gain perspective from all those gracious enough to respond. What creative things can you do?

  • Reestablish your faith.

Downsize your wants and stop accumulating. Beauty fades. Riches are fleeting. Anchor your life to what no one can take away. Reach out for God and you will find him. How wealthy is that person who invests in eternity!

C. S. Lewis said, “If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.” Bingo. It is my contention that the Bible offers the best future for any of us. Those who cast their lot in with Jesus Christ are assured of life forever with him, above and beyond pain, sickness, and death. And it gives me great joy to think of Mom is heaven, lifting her coffee cup in a toast and saying, “That was then. This is now!”

[1] Now Anderson University http://www.anderson.edu/

Mating Rattlesnakes? Really?!

It was early morning. Brewing coffee smelled like breakfast. The dogs were fed and settled into their morning rag doll poses. I stumbled outside with bleary eyes to fill the bird feeder, retrieved it from the hook under the big mesquite tree, and stopped to look at the sky. Another beautiful day. But that’s Arizona.

As I leaned over the faded blue plastic tub in which I store the seed, I stopped. Something wasn’t right. I rubbed my eyes and focused. Yes. Right behind the seed tub: a huge rattler coiled and lying quietly. Suddenly its abrasive rattle sounded the alarm. I backed away very quietly and hurried inside. Adrenaline was surging wildly through my now wide-awake body. My wife looked up as I entered the bedroom. She was a picture of peace with our dog, Molly, on her lap. “Rattler!” I blurted. “A big one!” No more peace.

I retrieved the gun and checked for snake shot. (If anyone knows where you can buy snake shot for a revolver, let me know. It seems that no one is selling it any more.) Cautiously approaching the snake, which was now in the strike position and swaying, it again flicked its tail a few times to warn me. I stopped and stared. Is that two rattles? Must be a mutant with two tails! It sure is a big one. I realized I would have to pull out the bin to get a good shot. Thankfully the snake remained where it was, ready to strike. I stared again! Two snakes together! Yikes!

Dead rattlers still connected
The male is belly up and therefore appears white. He was 43″ and the female 41″ long.

I aimed the gun and pulled the trigger. The first shot killed them both. Of course, I shot a second time just to be sure. When I pulled them out into the driveway to cut off their heads, I saw that they were mating! I guess I interrupted a little romantic moment. Too bad. So sad. I laughed now that the frightening moment was gone and wondered if they knew what hit them in their early morning ardor. Those rattlesnake babies be won’t seeing the light of day, thank you very much!

The sad end of a love affair gone wrong.

 Three years earlier I had encountered a single rattler in a similar encounter. It was my first experience with both my gun and a rattlesnake and I was shaky. It was behind a couch on the same porch and it took me three shots to kill it. I later had to do some extensive patching in the stucco where most of the shot had landed.

Altogether we’ve killed six rattlers on our nine-acre property. My son-in-law and his boys killed the first one. Such masterful butchers are they! The rattlers were babies, just as deadly.

Some people ask why we would live here where we must be so vigilant. “Well,” we say, looking at the Huachuca Mountains that fill the southern horizon with grandeur and ever-changing cloud formations, watching the hummingbirds dart from one red yucca bloom to another, and thinking of the ice-free winters we enjoy and the quiet and serenity that surround us and feed our souls, “Just crazy, I guess.”