Tag Archives: Patience

Just a little more…

“I’m supposed to be writing something, but I can’t think of anything to write!”

I complain to my daughter.

“What?” She says.

“What should I write about? I can’t think of anything.”

It’s been a long two weeks. At first I was looking forward to a time of exile. Perhaps I could accomplish something. My life is the endless quest to accomplish, accomplish, accomplish….but it seems as if God always has other plans.

I am doing dishes. The dishwasher is broken, so I do them by hand. And it never fails. I drain the water. And clean the sink. And I find one more. Just one more. Just finish that one, and then you can sit. Then you can write. Then you can read. Then you can learn that sonata you’ve wanted to learn. Just one more.

But after that one, there is just one more….

But life doesn’t give you the instruction manual. I see myself at sixteen. I am full of ambition and hope. I see my High School yearbook, full of promises and dreams. I read the “Stay in touch!” from the people that I haven’t spoken to since they wrote that close to 40 years ago…

My brief foray into video games happened at age 15. It was 1978. Asteroids, or some such. I put my quarter into the machine and waited for the instructions to tell me what to do. And while I waited the machine beeped. And then it said, “Game Over”.

I never played again. I don’t like feeling stupid.

At 20, I’m in college trying to fit in, trying to be someone else. I am trying so hard not to be the guy who can’t even figure out Asteroids. I don’t know how people behave. I am keenly aware that I look at the world differently and I loathe myself. I study what other people do and try to imitate them. I don’t know how to matter to anyone, and in my quest to matter to anyone, I lose the friends who care about me. The game was over before I even started.

But there is always another change. So move. Get another job. Pay some more bills. Try to get to a point where I am not paycheck to paycheck and I might even get a few dollars put aside.

But there are only so many hours in the day, and so many of them are working, working, working. And there are bills. And they pile up. And you have to put food on the table. And there are diapers. I’ll get to writing after just one more. Pay off one more loan. Work one more job.

If I could accomplish something, maybe I could get my father to pay attention and see me. If I could just do more maybe my life would matter. Maybe I could leave a legacy behind…

I think about it from time to time. But there are 12 hour work days. One right after another. Horrible pay. No advance. Year after year. Putting food on the table. Paying bills. Just one more, and then I can start my life’s work, my life goal.

Maybe then I won’t end in a mass grave where no one knows my name…

Do more. Work harder…and finally, you hit middle age and then come the chronic illnesses.

For many, many years now my wife and I have had one life-threatening, rare illness right after another. Some have no cure. Some involve surgeries. Some we just live with. Constant pain. Dislocations. Heart trouble. Ruptured colons. Ehlers Danlos. Complex Regional Pain Syndrome.

Maybe I can get something accomplished when the next round is finished. But there seems to always be just one more…

And then you hit fifty five and the machine starts to beep at you. The day when the neon flashes “Game over” is far closer than it used to be. And I still haven’t written that book. I still haven’t done anything that really matters. I still haven’t finished that Sonata. Wrote that music. Accomplished anything, really. I’ll get to it someday.

And then the exile. Quarantine. Outcast, unclean. Locked away.

I say to myself, “This is my life’s goal! I now have plenty of time and nowhere to go!”

But my wife is so sick she can’t get out of bed. My daughter needs full-time care. The dishes need done. The laundry is piling up. Just one more…

“What do I write about, Maggie?”

“I don’t know anything. I don’t get those words…but look, the tree is starting to get yellow…”

And I look, and sure enough the broom bush is starting to blossom.

And the jasmine is breaking open its perfumed buds into tiny white flowers; and the roses are in bud; and birds are singing.

And I think about it….

I put some tomato plants into the ground, and I think about it.

I trim some bushes and I think about it. I pick some mint and make a mojito and I think about it.

This evening I zoomed with my grandson in Colorado. He laughed at my ostrich puppet and called me “Grandpa”. I thought about that too.

And I thought that maybe I have been looking at this whole thing all wrong.

Maybe I’m not just sitting by the asteroid machine waiting for it to start. Maybe I’ve been knocking them all back one after another my whole life. Or maybe life isn’t a video game without instructions after all and the smartest thing I ever did was just walk away from that stupid game and went outside. I just wish I could have embraced that about myself a lot earlier.

Instead of life being about how much we accomplish, maybe we should just learn how to rest. Maybe that is what it is about. It isn’t about putting away more money in the bank, or leaving a legacy, or making your life matter, or getting a high score – because in the long run, none of those things will make me matter at all.

Maybe it is finally realizing that I DO matter, because Christ died for me and has restored me to his image and not a hair can fall from my head without my heavenly father…

And maybe I’ve been so busy trying to win some imaginary game, hoping that some imaginary person might recognize my worth that I forgot how to just live.

Youthful habits are hard to break, though. But I am going to try.

I’m going to try to just sit and listen to the birds. I’m going to see the jasmine and watch the roses open.

And most of all, I’m going to love my wife, continue to perfect Lebanese Hashweh and maybe just play the piano because I enjoy it, and not because I have anything to prove.

And I pray above all else that my heavenly father will forgive me for all the time I have wasted trying to prove something that didn’t need proving. And instead, I need him to teach me how to just stop and rest and finally know what it means to be accepted in the Beloved – to listen to the music. To quit talking. Quit overthinking everything. And just walk through the woods. Listen to that bullfrog outside. Smell the jasmine. Watch TV with my wife and daughter and praise God that I have them to walk through this valley with.

Sometimes I forget what a tremendous blessing it is to have a wife. And not only that, but a wife with whom I am never alone. 25 years of marriage, and I have not had one day alone, even when she is ill. Not everyone can say that, and that, it seems to me, is far greater than any earthly blessing. I wouldn’t trade that for anything.

So I gave my daughter a hug. Now I know what to write. I’ll get to it in a minute. After one more dish….

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Filed under Abuse, Coronavirus, Hope, Trust

What to say?

I’ve been having a hard time finding words to say. Perhaps it is because I’ve said them before, or perhaps I am just tired. The world now is experiencing what many of us have experienced for years.

Some of us know what it is like to have a debilitating, and perhaps deadly, illness that doctors can’t do anything about.

But I really don’t mean this to be a “I told you so” post, because it isn’t. Quite the opposite, in fact. I mean it to be a comfort with the same comfort that my wife and I have learned over the years of struggling with isolation and illness.

It has something to do with idols. Where do we turn when we don’t have any answers? Where do we go when we don’t have any strength? Where do we place our trust when the world is upside down.

When it strikes hard, your idols are revealed. That is painful, and it is a hard ride, but it is glorious in the end. As long as you learn what the Psalmist finally learned:

(Psalm 33:16-22)  16 The king is not saved by a mighty army; A warrior is not delivered by great strength.
  17 A horse is a false hope for victory; Nor does it deliver anyone by its great strength.
  18 Behold, the eye of the LORD is on those who fear Him, On those who hope for His lovingkindness,
  19 To deliver their soul from death, And to keep them alive in famine.
  20 Our soul waits for the LORD; He is our help and our shield.
  21 For our heart rejoices in Him, Because we trust in His holy name.
  22 Let Thy lovingkindness, O LORD, be upon us, According as we have hoped in Thee.

Remember all of the money that you spent on conferences? Remember all of the power that you gave your favorite celebrity pastor? Remember the televangelist that promised you that you would be healthy, wealthy and wise?

Remember all the books you bought? The long theological debates that you had online?

Remember when you thought that the person you voted in office would really save you from all your troubles?

All of the times you thought that your righteousness and your own hand would save you?

Just 6 weeks ago, I spoke to someone who told me that these kinds of diseases only happen in other countries, where they don’t know how to eat healthy food, and sanitize themselves, and live like proper Christians….

And to a certain extent, we tend to think the same way. These kinds of things happen to others. Not to us.

We are God’s people. We are American Evangelicals! We finally won the cultural wars! We are back in the business of building that “city on the hill” for the whole world to see. The American dream!

Funny how things disappear, isn’t it? Funny how it proves true, over and over again, that we are but dust. Like the flowers of the field, we fade and die.

And God sends things to remind us that the greatest assets that men and women have – wisdom, righteousnesses, social charity, cultural wars, armies, battleships, money, power, institutions (even “Christian” ones) – will all fade and die and be forgotten. One tiny virus brings the world of men to its knees, until the Keeper of Time says, “stop now”.

It is interesting how and illness that no one can do anything about can change our perspective.

And why is this? Because God will never give his glory to another.

So here is the comfort. God has ways of stripping away our trust in horses, armies, kings, medicine, doctors, politicians, elections, church leaders, celebrities.

And the purpose for all of it is for us to finally fall on our knees and say, “Our soul waits upon the Lord. He is our help and our shield.”

We can’t even get toilet paper unless he decrees it. And that is a wonderful thing, for he is good and his lovingkindness is forever.

We hope in YOUR lovingkindness, O Lord. Remember us, for the sake of Christ. He is our help and our shield.

Amen.

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Filed under Coronavirus, Trust

Do unto others

It is easy to belittle the overweight man when you eat all you want and never gain a pound.

It is easy to ridicule the chronically ill when you haven’t been sick a day in your life.

It is easy to be exasperated with the parents of a special needs child when you don’t have a special needs child.

It is easy to say, “They just need to spank that kid more” when it isn’t your child.

It is easy to say abuse never happens when it never happens to you.

It is easy to say that sexual assault isn’t that bad, when it didn’t happen to you.

It is easy to say, “I know that guy. He is such a wonderful man. He could never do something like that” if you aren’t the one he has preyed upon.

It is easy to say there is no such thing as a wolf when you refuse to see the sheep’s clothing.

It is easy to rail against welfare and food stamps if you have never been hungry.

It is easy to scoff and mock the one who struggles with same-sex attraction when all of your sexual sins are vanilla and hetero.

It is easy to tell a woman that she has to return to her husband when you have never been in physical or emotional danger.

It is easy to tell a person with anxiety or depression to “get over it” when you don’t have anxiety or depression.

It is easy to say, “Words can’t hurt you” when you have never been subjected to the repeated and regular assault of vicious and contemptuous words.

It is easy to tell another parent how to raise their child.

It is easy to tell your unbelieving neighbor that all they need is Jesus when they are bleeding from wounds you can’t see and couldn’t understand.

It is easy to tell someone that racism doesn’t exist anymore – especially if you are white and middle-class.

What is hard is to rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep.

What is hard is to bear one another’s burdens.

What is hard is “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

What is hard is to “esteem the other better than yourself, in lowliness of mind.”

To do what is hard takes patience. To do what is hard means to give of yourself and be quick to hear. It takes sacrifice and love and empathy and kindness.

To do what is hard means we have to put aside our pride and understand that we are not the measure of a man, and our experiences are not the infallible, inerrant final word. To do what is hard means that we must put on Christ,

6 Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God:
7 But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men:
8 And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. (Phi 2:6-8)

But in order to do that, we must put to death the old man. It is the old man that is the expert on everyone else’s life. It is the old man that is the busybody and talebearer. The wicked are characterized by scoffing, not the righteous.

The new man is different. He is being conformed to the image of Christ, who never ridiculed, never mocked, never belittled. When the poor and the lame and the blind and the deaf came to him, he healed them. He listened. He fed them. He commanded us to do the same.

Paul said that the only one capable of helping someone with a fault is the “spiritual one” (Galatians 6:1). The spiritual one is the one led by the spirit, filled with the fruits of the spirit – love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, patience…”

The spiritual one is the one who has learned how to listen, to walk alongside the wounded. She is the one with patience and longsuffering. He speaks words of kindness and edification, not mocking and ridicule.

It takes the new birth to be a spiritual one.

Until you have learned to listen, study to be silent. You don’t know everything. Until then, pray for wisdom. Be diligent to listen. Quit being afraid of people different than you and don’t fear the reproach of men for doing what Christ commanded.

Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand. (Phi 4:5)

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Filed under Pastoral ministry, Patience

The Humility of Caleb

“But My servant Caleb, because he has a different spirit in him and has followed Me fully, I will bring into the land where he went, and his descendants shall inherit it. (Num 14:24 NKJ)

I’ve been thinking about Caleb lately. Caleb was a slave in Egypt and saw the plagues that God brought on them. He cheered when the Red Sea covered Pharaoh. He sang Miriam’s song of Redemption. He watched his nation under the watchful hand of God travel through the wilderness. How he longed to receive his inheritance!

When the congregation came to the border, ready to invade and take their inheritance, they rebelled. They were afraid of the giants in the land.

And Caleb’s hopes fell. His desire and expectation crushed. And then God spoke to Moses. “Caleb will enter. He was faithful.”

But he had to wait for 40 years. And the worst thing about it was that there was nothing he could do about it.

The other thing that I’ve been thinking about is humility.

Humility is learning that the world is about God’s glory, not your own. Humility is understanding that without the positive decree of God, you won’t take your next breath. Humility is knowing that our God is in the heavens, and does whatever he pleases.

Without humility, no one sees the Lord, for he will not give his glory to another. God resists the proud, but gives strength to the humble (1 Peter 5:5).

But having a theoretical knowledge of humility isn’t enough. Humility must be experienced and learned. For pride is so deeply engrained that we don’t even know it is there. Since God loves us and has promised us the inheritance, he has ways of showing us our pride and calling us to repent of it. And one of the sneakiest forms of pride is revealed when God brings something into our lives that is bitter and difficult, and there is nothing we can do about it.

When we are faced with giants, mountains, Pharaohs, armies; when the dark valleys and black clouds cover everything; when the hurt is too deep, we want to fix it. We want it to stop.

Most of the time, we can find a solution. Most of the time, we can find comfort and peace. Most of the time, there is something that we can do. We get hungry, we eat. We get thirsty, we drink. We get hot, we go swimming. We get cold, we put on a jacket or start a fire.

But we don’t learn humility that way. Humility comes when we are hungry, thirsty, cold, tired, and there is nothing to do about it. Humility comes when the black clouds and giant soldiers block the inheritance and we aren’t strong enough. Humility comes when difficulty becomes unbearable, and there is no solution.

That’s when we go to our knees and cry out to God.

But what about those times when God seems to be silent. What about those times when we know the promises of the Scripture, but we don’t see them anywhere on the earth. What about the times when God’s providence tells us to wait?

This is where Caleb and humility cross paths. Job is known for patience; Elijah for prayers; Samson for strength; Solomon for wisdom.

Caleb should be known for humility. He knew that he didn’t have the strength to overcome the giants, but he knew that God could. His humility gave him courage. But when everything collapsed, and God told him to wait, he waited. His humility was then tempered in the wilderness for forty more years.

We see his character revealed again, forty years later. He said to Joshua, who was now the leader:

7 “I was forty years old when Moses the servant of the LORD sent me from Kadesh Barnea to spy out the land, and I brought back word to him as it was in my heart.
8 “Nevertheless my brethren who went up with me made the heart of the people melt, but I wholly followed the LORD my God.
9 “So Moses swore on that day, saying,`Surely the land where your foot has trodden shall be your inheritance and your children’s forever, because you have wholly followed the LORD my God.’
10 “And now, behold, the LORD has kept me alive, as He said, these forty-five years, ever since the LORD spoke this word to Moses while Israel wandered in the wilderness; and now, here I am this day, eighty-five years old.
11 “As yet I am as strong this day as on the day that Moses sent me; just as my strength was then, so now is my strength for war, both for going out and for coming in.
12 “Now therefore, give me this mountain of which the LORD spoke in that day; for you heard in that day how the Anakim were there, and that the cities were great and fortified. It may be that the LORD will be with me, and I shall be able to drive them out as the LORD said.” (Jos 14:7-12 NKJ)

He was ready. He was 80 years old, and ready to drive out the giants. The Anakim were the biggest and baddest of them all, but Caleb was ready. For forty years, he didn’t rail against God. He didn’t become angry towards his brethren, but still called them brethren. He told the truth about them, but held no hatred in his heart. He waited patiently for the Lord’s time and when God said “now”, Caleb was ready and eager. Did I mention that he was 80 years old?

This is the humility of Caleb. What do we do when faced with a tremendous trial and our hope is deferred? What do we do when that which we long for seems so far away? What do we do when there is nothing that we can do except endure the pain? What do we do when we have exhausted everything that we know to do, when we have said all that there is to say, done everything there is to do? What do we do then?

Wait. You can’t fix it, but you can join Caleb and lift up your eyes to heaven where Christ already is. The inheritance is certain because God promised it. The inheritance is certain because God cannot lie. The inheritance is certain because Jesus died for us and rose again and is even now at the right hand of the Father.

But on this earth, everything is still under the curse. The tears aren’t wiped away until he comes again. The whirlwind still rages all around us. Do what you can, but know this: you can’t fix the curse. You don’t understand the power of sin. You can’t change a heart. You can’t even change your own heart. But you can pray and wait and love. That’s humility and it is only learned the hard way.

You who fear the Lord, trust in the Lord. He is their help and their shield (Psalm 115:11).

A proud man thinks he can fix anything. Humility is learned when the giants come, and God says, “Not now.”

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Filed under Hope, Patience, Prayer, salvation