Sunday, April 27, 2008

A Better Way

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”

~ Galatians 5:22,23

Well, it’s 11:30 p.m. on Sunday evening and I am not feeling very proud of the way I acted today. Our day started out fine; Keen and I went for a 3 mile walk in the morning, followed by several hours spent in the yard planting our garden and seventeen trees. Then we decided to go to Manhattan for a movie. So far so good. Afterwards we stopped by the house where our two youngest sons live. After taking one look at the length of the grass in the front yard, I stormed inside to give Kirk a piece of my mind. It was one of those times when I spoke first and thought later. Did I need to say something to him about the situation? Yes. But did I need to get so angry and make him feel one inch tall in the process? No. To make matters worse, I got mad at Keen for not joining me in the butt chewing. (He’s always been more of a softy when it comes to the kids, which I guess balanced out my “rule with an iron fist” parenting style.) At any rate, our otherwise nice weekend ended on a sour note and left me in tears. But Keen and I worked things out, and I’ll apologize to Kirk.

“As God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.”

~ Colossians 3:12

As for coming up with a column for this week, I wasn’t feeling too inspired after the way I acted. But then I came across this story about Billy Graham and it seemed very fitting. I just thank God that His mercies are new every morning - and tomorrow is a brand new day.

“Not that I have now attained [this ideal] or am already made perfect . . . but one thing I do – it is my one aspiration; forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead. I press on toward the goal to win the [supreme and heavenly] prize to which God in Christ Jesus is calling us upward.”

~ Philippians 3:12-14

Nestle, Don’t Wrestle

Author Unknown

The title of Billy Graham’s autobiography, "Just as I Am," says it all. His life goes before him speaking as eloquently as that charming southern drawl for which he is known.

If, when I am eighty years old, my autobiography were to be titled "Just as I Am," I wonder how I would live now? Do I have the courage to be me? I'll never be a Billy Graham, the elegant man who draws people to the Lord through a simple one-point message, but I hope to be a person who is real and compassionate and who might draw people to nestle within God's embrace. Any one of us can do that. We may never win any great awards or be named best dressed, most beautiful, most popular, or most revered, but each of us has an arm with which to hold another person, each of us can pull another shoulder under ours, and each of us can invite someone in need to nestle next to our heart. We can give a pat on the back, a simple compliment, a kiss on the cheek, a thumbs-up sign, We can smile at a stranger, say hello when it's least expected, send a card of congratulations, take flowers to a sick neighbor, make a casserole for a new mother, give a high five, say "I love you" in language our teenagers will understand, or back off even when you have a right to take the offensive.

Do you make it a point to speak to a visitor or person who shows up alone at church, buy a hamburger for a homeless man, call your mother on Sunday afternoons, pick daisies with a little girl, or take a fatherless boy to a baseball game?

When Billy Graham was asked about his secret of love, being married fifty-four years to the same person, he replied, "Ruth and I are happily incompatible." How unexpected. We would all live more comfortably with everybody around us if we would find the strength in being grateful and “happily incompatible.”

Did anyone ever tell you how beautiful you look when you're looking for what's beautiful in someone else? Let's take the things that set us apart, that make us different, that cause us to disagree, and make them an occasion to compliment each other and be thankful for each other. Let us be big enough to be smaller than our neighbor, spouse, friends, children, and strangers. Every day, remember: nestle, don't wrestle.

“Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble.” ~ I Peter 3:8

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Broken Places

“This is what the Lord says: I have heard your prayer and seen your tears; I will heal you.” ~ II Kings 20:5

Last night I watched a show about a woman who survived a brutal rape after being strangled and left for dead. She had this advice for other victims:

"The anger and bitterness will come and you have to feel that to heal from it. But just don't let it destroy your life."

I thought that was a very balanced way of looking at it. On one hand, you can't run from that pain. It's like you have to embrace it before you can move past it. As I’ve shared before, pretending about anything doesn't take you anywhere but to another pretend place. On the other hand, you can't let feelings of anger and bitterness absorb you, or they will ultimately drain you of all joy and keep you from living your life fully.

At the end of the show, the woman quoted Ernest Hemingway when he said:

"The world breaks everyone, and afterward many are stronger at the broken places."

This morning I received a column, Dispatches from Kansas, by my friend Tom Parker. I wrote a blurb for the back on Tom’s book by the same title. Tom writes about nature, bird watching, and life. If you think I’m open about the things I share, you should read some of Tom’s work. He is gutsy and real in his writings.

After reading Tom’s latest column about a recent trip to Colorado for a wedding and a visit with his now grown sons and their families, I decided to ask his permission to share a portion of it, and he obliged me. The entire column can be found on Tom’s blog at:

This is an excerpt:

“On the way [to Colorado], Lori told a friend who was catching a ride with us of the time when our younger son, Benjamin, tried to kill me. I was logy from lack of sleep and wearily focusing on driving and the passing scenery, and surprised, too, when she inched further into the sad tale with details I had tried to forget. It was not a story she shares willingly and yet here she was enumerating the methodical dismemberment of our home and the sundering instant when I opened the garage door and felt the rifle butt slam into my face.”

After spending time with both of his sons, Tom reflected on their visit:

“For the first time in many years I could look at Benjamin and not feel repulsed. Among his many tattoos was a new one in memory of his grandfather and namesake. He showed it to me and I did not flinch . . . There were only the memories sloughing off, and something like forgiveness and the willingness to once again become vulnerable.”


Maybe you or I have never endured or survived anything as traumatic as this, but most of us can relate to the emotions expressed and the insights gained. That’s the thing about writers; they share what most people feel but would never dare say. I appreciate Tom’s honesty and thank him for allowing me to share it with all of you.

“Things I would not tell anyone, I tell the public.”

~ Michel de Montaigne

Monday, April 14, 2008

A Change for the Better

Yellow Lily by Patricia Kohls Barrett

“The Spirit of the Lord will come upon you in power . . . and you will be changed into a different person.”~ I Samuel 10:6

The changing seasons are a gentle reminder that change can be a good thing to be embraced. As a continuation of the theme from last week’s column, I’d like to share a poem written by my friend Pat Barrett titled: “Commitment to Change.”

Commitment to Change

By Patricia Kohls Barrett, 3/31/08

The road to change is not straight
It’s rocky with valleys and hills
The path demands focus on goals
To develop desirable skills

I am committed to proceed
I will persevere and move forward
When I trip on a rock and fall
I will get up and progress onward

Commitment demands persistence
To only “try” merely means to “fail”
When one “tries” they plan to quit
When there’s a bad bump in the trail

I will use each bump as a launching pad
As I forge ahead breaking new ground
Shaping my own personal course
From what seemed an impossible mound

Each step is a bit of transformation
Change must be slow and deliberate to last
A step back is only temporary
To boost to a level unsurpassed

Onward and upward I proceed
To become what I intend to be
I’ll turn obstacles into schools of learning
As I press on to become a new me

“He makes all things beautiful in His time.”

~ Ecclesiastes 3:11

There is a saying that goes: “If nothing ever changed, there would be no butterflies.” That reminds me of a placard I have on top of my computer that depicts two green caterpillars perched on a tree branch. There’s also a Bible verse from Psalm 138:8 – “The Lord will fulfill His purpose for me.” One of the caterpillars is looking up at a brightly colored butterfly floating through the skies above. The caterpillar comments to his friend: “You’ll never catch me going up in one of those things!”

Columnist Mary Beth Danielson once said: "If growing up is the process of creating ideas and dreams about what life should be, then maturity is letting go again." There’s a lot of truth in that statement. Hanging on to our preconceived notions about who we are and what our life was “supposed” to be, only keeps us cemented and stuck in our current position. Just like the caterpillar, we have to let go in order to be free to fly to higher heights than we ever imagined possible.

“Now to Him Who . . . is able to [carry out His purpose and] do superabundantly, far over and above all that we [dare] ask or think [infinitely beyond our highest prayers, desires, thoughts, hopes, or dreams]-- To Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations forever and ever. Amen.”

~ Ephesians 3:20,21 (AMP)

Monday, April 07, 2008

Change: The Pain and the Power

“For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

~ Jeremiah 29:11 (NIV)

I believe that God has a good plan for all of our lives – a plan that gives us “hope and a future.” But sometimes we’re too afraid to take the risks or face the fear that goes along with change. (Believe me, I’m preaching to myself right now, too.) Yes, familiarity is nice – and comfortable, but sometimes we reach a crossroad in life, and if we have the courage to take the road to change, it can lead to new and exciting adventures that make our former experiences seem dull and boring.

“We do not err because truth is difficult to see. It is visible at a glance. We err because this is more comfortable.”

~ Aleksandr Isaevich Solzhenitsyn, Russian novelist, historian (b. 1918)

In Robert McGee’s book titled “The Search for Significance,” he writes:

“[N]othing forces us to remain in the mold of the past. By the grace and power of God, we can change! We can persevere and overcome! No one forces us to keep shifting our feet in the muck of old failures. We can dare to accept the challenge of building a new life.

Dr. Paul Tournier once compared life to a man hanging from a trapeze. The trapeze bar was the man’s security, his pattern of existence, his lifestyle. Then God swung another trapeze into the man’s view, and he faced a perplexing dilemma. Should he relinquish his past? Should he reach for the new bar? The moment of truth came, Dr. Tournier explained, when the man realized that to grab the new bar, he must release the old one.

Our past relationships may involve the intense pain of neglect, abuse, and manipulation, but if we do not begin the process of healing, we will be unable to experience the joy, challenge, and yes, the potential for failure in the present.

We need to be honest about the pain, the anger, the disappointment, and the loneliness of our past. We need to put ourselves in relationships that will encourage us to feel what we may have suppressed for many years. This will enable us to begin . . . to experience hope and, eventually, healing. Change is possible, but it is a process. Does this seem strange? Does it seem difficult? We may have difficulty relinquishing what is familiar (though painful) for what is unfamiliar because our fear of the unknown often seems stronger than the pain of a poor self-concept. It seems right to hang on. Proverbs 16:25 says, ‘There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.’ Any change in our behavior requires a release from our old self-concept, which is often founded in failure and the expectations of others. We need to learn how to relate to ourselves in a new way. To accomplish this, we must begin to base our self-worth on God’s opinion of us and trust [Him] to accomplish change in our lives.”

“It’s not so much that we’re afraid of change or so in love with the old way, but it’s that place in between that we fear . . . It’s Linus when his blanket is in the dryer. There’s nothing to hold on to.”

~ Marilyn Ferguson, author and public speaker

I’d like to close with a poem my sister Mary wrote two years ago which vividly describes the pain and fear associated with change. As some of you may recall, Mary went through a tumultuous marriage and divorce several years ago; she knows firsthand how difficult change can be.

“Our dilemma is that we hate change and love it at the same time; what we really want is for things to remain the same but get better.”

~ Sydney Harris, journalist, Chicago Daily News & Chicago Sun-Times

By Mary Van Kirk

Dark eyes watching
What is out there?
Who is out there?
I want to know.
Or maybe I don’t.

Change is painful
But it won’t kill you
So why is it so hard to do?
I don’t like pain.
I want change.
But don’t always want things to change.
What am I afraid of?
The unknown.

Dark eyes watching.

“Do not [earnestly] remember the former things, neither consider the things of old. Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth; do you not perceive and know it, and will you not give heed to it? I will even make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.”

~ Isaiah 43:18,19