Saturday, November 7, 2020

How to Deal with a Challenging Life


My pyracantha sports gorgeous clumps of orange berries, but don’t even think of breaking off a branch for a bouquet. Prickly thorns make you cry “ouch.” In the same way, life can be beautiful but sometimes makes us cry “ouch.” Our hopes and dreams can be dashed in the blink of an eye.

In high school, I was tall and oh, how I wanted to play basketball. But my doctor refused permission because he detected a heart murmur. Ouch. I wanted to buy a clarinet, but we couldn’t afford the instrument. Ouch. But those were just childhood pinches.

As grownups, dashed hopes and dreams hurt a lot more. A marriage ends. A stab to the heart! We lose a loved one. A stab to the heart! We lose jobs or health or even contact with others because of COVID. More stabs!

Accept what you cannot change.

At age 16, Joni Eareckson Tada dove into the Chesapeake Bay, broke her neck and in the blink of an eye became a quadriplegic. She was a talented artist, but she spit out the paint brushes her counselor coaxed her to hold in her mouth. She would have none of it. But as she accepted her condition, she learned to paint, holding the brush between her teeth.

She not only learned to paint, but she went on to found a worldwide ministry, Joni and Friends, which ministers to handicapped and disabled people around the world.

It took a while, but Joni accepted what she could not change. In time she married, and now in her 70’s, she continues to lead a productive life. Each year at Christmas I read a book by Joni titled A Christmas Longing with paintings and beautiful thoughts about longings beyond this life. We all have them.

I haven’t faced nearly the challenges Joni does, but I’m face to face with the reality of aging. I have to accept the fact that I am no longer as young as I used to be. That’s a reality I have to accept.

Change what you can.

Don’t just mope. When Joni couldn’t paint with her hands, she learned to paint with her mouth. Most of our challenges are not nearly that daunting. If you lose a job, apply for another and wait to see how God blesses you in it. If it’s a relationship challenge, ask (or extend) forgiveness and do something nice for the other person. As Janine says in one of her talks, “Grace wins, every time.”

I accept the fact that I’m getting older, but I also pursue all the avenues I can to stay healthy—eat properly, exercise, see doctors about conditions that arise. In other words, I’m accepting my stage of life but I’m changing what I can to adapt to it.

Praise God anyway.

When Paul and Silas were in prison, they sang hymns and converted the jailor. We too can praise God in the midst of our predicaments. Not for the predicament. But for Who He is. He is on the throne. He hears our prayers. And He deserves our praise whether He answers yes, no or wait a while.

Perhaps the challenges of life on this earth are meant to get us ready for heaven. Someday we’ll have new bodies that won’t crank and creak. Someday we’ll enjoy total health. Someday we’ll be immersed in an atmosphere of total love and grace. We can only imagine!

To Wrap Up.

If only we might live by this quote from Reinhold Niebuhr: “God grant us the serenity to accept the things we cannot change, the courage to change the things we can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

We are in the midst of a pandemic. And of political upheaval. Who knows what our Thanksgiving and Christmas celebrations will look like? Will we be able to attend tree lightings? Church services? Family affairs? Will we be able to shop as usual? Well, whether we can or can’t, it’s still Christmas. We are celebrating the birth of Christ. Perhaps having the holiday stripped of some of the elaborate trappings will help us focus on that.

When I worry about my situation, whatever that may be, I read Job 38 and 39 where God reminds Job that He is Creator of the universe and all its creatures. And as the song goes “He’s got the whole world in His Hands.” That includes us and our current situation. Happy or sad. Hopeful or depressed. Smiling or crying "ouch." God is with us. He loves us. He cares about us. He’s there for us. Let’s take a deep breath and trust Him to work things out.

Think about:

What are some things in your life that you’d like to change but can’t?
What is one thing you might do to get your mind off the problem and onto a solution?
For what can you praise God today?


Saturday, October 17, 2020

Looking Back to Look Ahead


            Paging through an old journal, I came across a long-forgotten, challenging decision. I had taught part time at a Harrisburg business college. Just when I had the opportunity to become a full-time instructor, I was also invited to teach part-time Christian education at a seminary. What to do?

            The business college was half the distance as the seminary and offered much greater financial security—with benefits. But I had earned a master’s degree in Christian education, and serving God was where my heart lay. It was a tough decision. But after much thought, discussion and prayer, I went with the seminary.

            For several years I commuted an hour and a half each way a few days a week. In sun, rain and snow, I climbed over the Bethel Mountain. I remember getting off I-81 at Tower City and praying my way up that long hill on Route 209.

            The seminary had three levels with the parking lot off the basement level. No elevator, of course, so I toted bags of books and teaching supplies up two loooong flights of stairs. I sometimes came home exhausted. But happy.

            Teaching adults stretched me. Professors led chapel services, and I was horrified to learn that category included me. What in the world could I speak about to a chapel filled with full-time professors and wannabe preachers?

            That chapel was the first place I attempted to present the book of Philippians from memory. And it was well received. People told me they heard things they never realized reading the scripture.

            Teaching a class titled “Women in Ministry” gave me the germ of an idea to write my book Sisterhood of Faith. My students were women who had dedicated their lives to full-time Christian service, but they didn’t know what that meant for them. The seminary’s sponsoring denomination allowed them to take preaching courses but did not ordain women. So, they wondered, what had God called them to do?

            Preparation for that course opened my eyes to the myriad of ways God has worked through women down through the church age. Yes, there were often challenges as women in leadership faced tension and rejection, but that only made them more determined to find a different way to serve God. And they did. And so would the women in my class.

            After I gave up that position, I wrote my book, and my book and seminary experience gave me credibility, which led to speaking.

            Bill and I once walked to a waterfall in a park. The walk was longer than we anticipated, and the falls were but a trickle. But a sign there read: “A long walk to a small but beautiful falls.” After that, whenever we experienced a small pay off for a big output, we joked that we’d taken a long walk to a small but beautiful falls.

            In a way, my life has been like that. I’ve never held a job long enough to warrant a pension. And if I were not married, I could not have pursued seminary and writing and speaking.

            But as I look back at early life experiences—teaching Good News Club in my home, serving in my church—they all contributed well to making me who I am today.

            My years of teaching high school, my years of teaching at the business college and my seminary experience built upon each other to equip me for writing and speaking. My love of scripture inspired me to memorize, which became an important part of my speaking ministry.

            And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.” (Romans 8:28-29 NIV)

            Life can be challenging. There’s no doubt about that. But we have a God Who is bigger than the challenges, a God Who can turn burdens into blessings and challenges into contributions. A God who works all things together for good.

            Look back and see what He has done in your life. Then look ahead and consider how He might have prepared you for a special future.


Saturday, September 26, 2020

You Are Invited . . . To Be "All In"!


If you invited me to a reunion dinner these days, I’d probably give a half-hearted response. I’ll come . . .  if I’m up to it, if the COVID thing settles down, if the weather is nice. I would want to come, but I’m not too eager to join groups right now.

Do you know Puritan churches once offered a “Half-Way Covenant”? In those days infants were baptized and became church members only after they made a confession of faith in Christ. Until then, they could not take communion or vote in church affairs. But many members failed to take that step, and then the question became, could their children be baptized?

To bolster church membership, they offered a Half-Way Covenant that allowed such children to be baptized into church membership. Problem solved.

But was it really? Is a half-hearted response to spiritual matters any response at all?

Last week, Janine challenged us to “Own It.” I’d like to challenge us to be “All In.”

Christ invites us to live the abundant, fruitful life (notice the grapes on the invitation). But what does it mean to be “all in” for Christ? I want to be “all in,” but am I?

For starters, it’s not a matter of policy but of purpose. Is Christ the Centerpiece of my life? Do I care about what honors Him and what distracts me from Him? How often do I think of Him? When I’m in a snit, does what pops out of my mouth reflect His respect for others?

Well, I’m working on this. I’m not perfect in spite of the fact that I’ve had a few years and a lot of practice. And wrong thoughts are just as bad. I wish there were a way to block thoughts the way we block telephone calls. The best we can do is hang up when the thought rings through.

Then it’s not a matter of Sunday church attendance but of everyday abiding. On good days and bad days. Even when we feel God abandoned us. Remember Jesus said, “Abide in me,” or as newer translations read “Remain in me, as I also remain in you” (John 15:4 NIV). Do we seek to know Jesus better? How might we do that?

Bible study and prayer are good places to start. Take just 15 minutes a day and you’ll read through the Bible in a year. But we can’t just read—we must do what it says. Christ’s Sermon on the Mount outlines His desire for us to lead lives of kindness and forgiveness. Do I extend that kind of grace to others? How are you doing?

There’s also the matter of serving Him instead of suiting yourself. Does God ask me to enter full-time Christian service or to serve Him in my family as a wife or mother or sibling. Christiana Tsai of China turned down good positions so she could live in her family’s apartment complex and talk to relatives about God; she led 55 relatives to Christ. Might God call you to an office? Or a classroom? Or on a stage? Have you ever considered what He might expect from you, given the way you’re wired?

I’ve served God in many ways during my 80 years on this earth. The ways have changed according to my age, but He has something for each of us at any age and any stage. We serve Him as we care for our families, training them in His ways. We serve Him in our workplaces as we show His traits to others. After all, we are made in His Image. And God works within us to help us mature in Christ:

“He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ” Philippians 1:6 (NIV).

But the first step of it all is not just being religious but of establishing a relationship, a relationship with Christ.

Not everyone will be saved and go to heaven. God is Holy, Pure, Perfect, and nothing less than perfection can come into His Presence. Ever since God established a relationship with the nation of Israel, He required sacrifices to cover the sins of people. Christ died to take the punishment I deserve. He has become the final sacrifice required to make us holy with God. Have I accepted Him as my Savior? Yes, I have. Have you?

Let’s cooperate with God. We aren’t half-hearted in caring for our families or doing our jobs. So we should not be half-hearted in our relationship with God. I’m working on being whole-hearted and all in! Are you?

Friday, September 18, 2020

Book Review: Gracelaced


Gracelaced: Discovering Timeless Truths Through Seasons of the Heart by Ruth Chou Si;mons

This is one of the most beautiful books I’ve ever read. But it’s not just the art. Ruth Chou Simons offers insight into 32 spiritual concepts themed around the seasons of the year. Winter, “Resting in God’s Character,” offers topics such as “dwell,” “lean,” and “rest,” with all of the author’s thoughts supported by scripture. Spring, “Rehearsing the Truth,” addresses “new,” “beloved and “delight,” among others. Then there’s Summer and Fall.

Simon illustrates her points with beautiful paintings. Printed pages are edged with blooms; some are lined to add your thoughts (although I couldn’t bring myself to write in the book). Some pages show a plain background with a verse or quotation in calligraphy. Others show photographs taken by the artist; including some of her husband and six sons. All are equally impressive. Reading the book is a walk through an inspirational art gallery.

Published by Harvest House Publishers in 2017, the book is 7 ¾ “ x 1.25” by 9.25”. Slick pages and a textured cover add to the book’s coffee table appeal. This is a gorgeous gift book, but you’ll definitely want to keep a copy yourself.


Monday, September 14, 2020

Book Review: Countdown 1945


Countdown 1945: The Extraordinary Story of the Atomic Bomb and the 116 Days that Changed the World by Christ Wallace with Mitch Weiss

This book gives you a glimpse into the personal life of Harry S. Truman, who was probably as surprised as anyone when he became president upon the death of Franklin D. Roosevelt. But an even greater shock was to find himself facing the decision of whether or not to drop the atomic bomb. The book delves into the lives ordinary people who found themselves working on the development of the bomb without ever realizing the magnitude of their assignment.

From European conferences with heads of state to life at Los Alamos, a community of thousands worked together on a secret project, you’ll read of conversations and emotions that led to the development and detonation of the atomic bomb. And you read of the aftermath, the impact of realizing what they had created, after Hiroshima and Nagasaki were bombed in 1945, an event that ended World War 2.

I liked the way the authors organized the book around events that occurred during the 116 days leading up to dropping the atomic bomb. I also appreciated photos, such as that of Colonel Paul W. Tibbets waving good-bye from the Enola Gay before leaving for Hiroshima on August 6, 1945. Back matter includes extensive notes, bibliography and detailed index.

The extensive research required to write this book is obvious with documented conversations and behind-the- scene glimpses into duties and after-the-fact feelings about the event. An important read to remember the struggles faced by the men and women who peopled our history.