Resting in the Everlasting Arms

 Everlasting Arms

Deuteronomy 32:27: Our eternal refuge with Our Creator eternal, and God’s almighty arms underneath are everlasting.

I am almost three weeks into my radiation treatments for prostate cancer (my prognosis is positive and the treatments are quick and painless, and I am thankful that so far I have had no adverse effects), and share a ride with a woman whom I’ll call Sharon from our church. It’s nice to have company on the 32-mile round trip drive, and I’ve gotten to know Sharon better over the past couple of weeks.

The past couple of weeks, Sharon has shared a number of stories from her past with me. She grew up in Derry, a small town in New Hampshire and went to the local high school, where Robert Frost taught for a while. (She told me she did not have him as a teacher.) The population was so small that one school bus covered the entire attendance area. And I thought I had a long bus ride in high school! Sharon went on to say that buses were only for students through grade eight. After that, they were on their own. Her father went to work at 6:30 AM and dropped her at a traffic circle about a half mile from school. The janitor lived at the school so he had the building open and stoves going when she arrived. I imagine it was a glimpse of Paradise to come in to a warm building from the New Hampshire winter.

Sharon’s older brother was born in 1930. While he was still an infant, his mother stood holding him in their living room while an electrical storm raged about them. Lightning struck the house, traveled into the room and hit the baby, not harming the mother at all. Of course the infant suffered neurological damage and had seizures and other medical problems the rest of his short life. He passed away at age seven when Marge was four, and she spoke with great tenderness of taking care of this unfortunate child.

I had never heard of a babe in arms being struck by lightning, much less while being held in loving arms. It seems to me a parallel to how God treats each of us as God’s eternal children. We are babes in this world, and as the storms of life rage about us, sometimes we are struck by any number of destructive forces. But no matter how we are harmed or the extent of our injuries and diseases, the arms that hold us are everlasting. Let us praise God for God’s goodness, care, compassion and eternal vigilance over us, who are to the Creator as babies to their mothers.

 

 

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The Pursuit of Happiness

Happy Boy Flier

Matthew 5: 12: Be filled with joy and be happy…
Happiness cannot be traveled to, owned, earned, or worn. It is the spiritual experience of living every minute with love, grace and gratitude. -Denis Waitley
I don’t know if you heard about an editorial in The New York Times by Arthur Brooks, president of The American Enterprise Institute, who wrote explains happiness stems from three sources: genetics, events and values.

While half of one’s happiness is genetic, Brooks wrote that 40 percent of happiness can be attributed to events in one’s life and 12 percent boils down to circumstances well within one’s control.

“Everybody’s got these cheerful co-workers who are very annoying, and you think they must have some sort of secret potion. ‘What are they drinking, man?’ But the truth is, half of your happiness is genetic. And understanding that only about 12 percent of your happiness is under your control … you really can control it.”

What are these circumstances one can control to achieve 12 percent of total happiness? Brooks noted that there are four: faith, family, friends and work.

“Don’t waste your time on money, don’t waste your time on these things, spend your time on faith, family, friends and work, making sure that your work serves others and creates value. And if you do those four things, you’re going to get the maximum amount of happiness.”

While a promotion at work, a new house and even a chocolate sundae bring joy, Brooks wrote that the resulting state of euphoria is fleeting — a temporary feeling.

“People will work for years, just to make a boatload of dough and buy that dream house, and six months later, they’re back to their old bummed-out ways,” Brooks wrote.

So while 40 percent of happiness is attributed to events in one’s life — such as that new house, or a professional accomplishment — the happiness experienced from these milestones is short-lived.

Because of this, Brooks advised not to “bet your well-being on big one-time events.” Instead, investing energy in faith, family and friends is a better investment for long-term happiness.

“Knowledge is absolute power in this case. It’s so important. Every time I write about (happiness), it reminds me of the things that I am doing wrong, and it makes me a better dad.”

Mr. Brooks’ reminder is an important one, but it is only a reminder. An itinerant rabbi told the world the same thing over 2000 years ago when he sat thousands of people down on a hillside in Palestine and reminded us of the source of joyful living. Praise God for the gifts of joyful living and for his one and only Son.

 

One Way

One Way Sign
John 14:6-7: Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”

I don’t know if you have ever driven yourself to distraction. I used “to distraction” rather than “crazy” in an attempt to be sensitive to mental health issues, but every time I hear either phrase, I think of my mother who used to say to my brother and me, with great regularity, “Boys, you’re going to put me in Staunton!” By this, she meant the men in the white coats were going to take her away to the Western State Hospital, a state run mental facility located in the Shenandoah Valley. I assumed all the mothers whose kids drove them over the edge were taken to Staunton until I met some people from Tidewater who talked about being taken to Williamsburg, the site of the Eastern State Hospital. I don’t recall how state mental hospitals came up in conversation, but apparently it did.

I was thinking about being taken to Staunton about a month ago when I realized I have been driving myself to distraction by trying to multi-task. I know, multi-tasking is the hip and fun thing, and all the cool kids are doing it, but just trying to do so had just gotten to me. (I’m even not sure it is possible to multi-task: some studies indicate that when people are multi-tasking, they’re not really doing several things at once, but rather shifting their attention rapidly from one task to another. And, as you might imagine, it’s rather easy to drive yourself to distraction doing this as well, multi-taking or no.)

I realized I needed to stop trying to do more than one thing at a time as the result of what psychologists call a “precipitating event.” Paul being knocked off his donkey is a classic example of such an event. I had come home one afternoon and, as was my custom, as I climbed out of the car, I took up in my hands the bag containing leftovers from lunch, about three Food Lion bags of groceries, a stray tool that needed to come in from the car and mail for the day. Before I loaded myself down, I had put the strap from my laptop case over my shoulder. And because I had my hands full, I held the key to the door in my teeth (don’t try this at home and don’t tell my dentist) so I would be able to open the door without having to take the key out of my pocket. I did all this because I am a guy and I am too lazy to make another trip. Hence, multi-tasking.

Being right handed, I needed to use my right hand to open the door, so I shifted the grocery bags so that their handles hung from my left wrist, which also had the effect of turning the thin plastic straps into a rather effective and extremely sharp blade. You know what I’m talking about.

So, as I was trying to get the key from between my teeth and hold on to my heavy burden, disaster struck. It was a disaster of my own making, but it was a calamity nonetheless. As I took the key from its resting place, the plastic bag garrote cut into my poor defenseless extremity and then parted in the middle. My food supplies for the next couple of days landed with a crash on the hard porch and, suddenly relieved of about thirty pounds on the left side of my unfortunate body, I lurched to the right under the malevolent influence of gravity and my fourteen-inch laptop. The net result was that I fell over in a heap, twisting my torso to avoid falling on the computer and pulling some very large abdominal muscles in what turned out to be an extremely painful episode.

As I said, it was my fault for trying to multi-task, save some time avoid walking an additional 100 feet and get on to something else. I had no need to hurry: it was a pleasant 70 degrees; there was no precipitation, and I wasn’t being pursued by wolves, jackals, ocelots, zombies or middle schoolers.

It was at this point that I began thinking seriously about doing one thing at a time and doing it well And so I have tried to do so this past month, and I think it has created a remarkable change not only in my behavior and also my attitude. I relax and take my time. As a result, I’m not frustrated or harried as much, and I haven’t damaged $17.00 worth of groceries so far this month. I feel more relaxed, and even find myself driving slightly below the speed limit, that is, if there isn’t a BMW hot on my bumper.

The spiritual implications of this are, I think, clear. We need to relax, slow down where possible, do what we do well and take the opportunity to use and enjoy the gift of each millisecond that God has given us. We won’t do everything God has for us to do in this life, or even half of it the tasks God has for us. God is bigger than that, and because of the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we have all the time of eternity. Amen.

Poem: Ladies of the Church

I posted my piece on the ladies of the church last week, and my friend and former colleague Mary McElveen and also former Poet Laureate of the City of Alexandria, put this on her blog.

She wrote, I wrote [this] for a friend who was asked to say a few words about a lady at the church who died of cancer. Gloria was one of those indefatigable volunteers, and probably has heaven organized and running like a top.

Thank you for letting me post your poem, Mary. Every church has its church ladies.
They are legion,
the church ladies:
the hands that smooth the tablecloths, brew the coffee,
bake the cookies, make the sandwiches,
arrange the flowers.

They think of everything,
then do it.
They are the voices on the phone
the fingers on the keyboard,
the gentle nudge
reminding, recruiting,
reorganizing and regrouping—
doing the things no one has time for,
for the people no one has time for… and for us all.

They are all things good:
secretary and sorceress,
chauffeur and counselor,
teacher and student,
greeter and galley slave…

And I can’t help thinking that if Jesus is among us,
He is cleverly disguised
as a church lady.

Blessings

Blessings
Our choir at church recently did an SATB version of a song by Laura Story called “Blessings.” The words and ideas struck me, and, when I heard the solo version on the radio while doing some painting at our church, I took that as a sign that I should post a link to it here. Enjoy!

Here’s a condensed version of an interview with Laura Story in which she talks about how the song came to be written.

Laura Story had a highly successful career as a contemporary Christian singer. She would have described herself as blessed in the conventional sense of the word. In 2005, she married a handsome athlete and began working in music and women’s ministry at the 4,000-member Perimeter Church in Atlanta. Her 2008 national debut Great God Who Saves, won a Dove Award for Inspirational Album and earned Laura two consecutive nominations for Female Vocalist of the Year.

But a brain tumor hospitalized her husband in 2006. The faith Story sang about was put through the unexpected fires of fear and loneliness. Most young newlyweds don’t imagine being kept alive at one point by breathing machines or having to find their way through significant post-operative vision and memory loss. Could grace notes resound from such a life-altering struggle?

The answer, according to Laura, is a resounding “Yes!” She declares, “We have a voice that wasn’t there prior to this suffering. I can hardly begin to tell you of the hundreds of hurting people we’ve prayed with, people going through more than we have. This is a chance to share the Gospel.” The song “Blessings” came from her experience.
She says of it:

The song shows that we still have more questions than answers. But there’s a decision that I find God is asking us to make. Are we going to judge God based on our circumstances, or are we going to choose to interpret our circumstances based on what we hold to be true about God?

Our circumstances have magnified the blessing of marriage. As high school sweethearts, we faced the strong chance that our long-awaited marriage bond might last just two years. Once you’ve rallied through a life-threatening illness together, the rest of it is like a surprise; every day is a new gift that might not have been there. It’s not as big a deal now if he leaves his socks on the floor.

It hasn’t been easy. Everyone wants to be a mature and equipped follower, but would I have signed up had I known what it would take? God has grown us up, deepened our faith, our awareness of our great need for Him as a Savior, daily. We knew it before, but we didn’t see it.

Life is filled with things you don’t expect, but the Bible tells us to respond by trusting God and continuing to worship Him. Martin hasn’t received complete healing, and that can be hard when we view God as all-powerful and all-loving. But here we are now saying, “Yes, this is how faith works. God has proven to be faithful.”

We have been truly blessed out of a circumstance that at first didn’t seem like much of a blessing at all. God is love. He tells us so repeatedly in the Bible. Yet sometimes it doesn’t feel like He loves us. What if we pray for our loved ones to make it through, but they pass away before we even say goodbye? What if we pray for our children to grow up healthy but instead we watch them suffer a life-threatening illness? What if we pray for that little extra money to make ends meet, but we end up losing our home?

It’s devastating when we don’t see God’s answers to our prayers. “We cry in anger when we cannot feel You near.” What if the very thing that is best for us isn’t the same as what we’re praying for? All the while, God hears each spoken need. He loves us way too much to give us lesser things. God is watching over always, directing every moment we experience. So if He isn’t answering our prayers how we think He should, does that mean He isn’t answering? Or could it be something else? Could it possibly be that He’s really blessing us?

These are thoughtful, heartfelt words from a spiritually aware young woman. May the song that she has written and that we will sing help people struggling to find the blessings in their lives.